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January, 2008

W.R.Benton Western Fiction

Casting Compelling Characters: Part II
Let them breathe on their own
By  Rebecca Forster

Details, details, details, create characters that your readers will forever remember.
left off last time (see last month's IN Fiction column) by giving my character, Josie Baylor-Bates, a new place to live, moving her from Venice Beach, California to Hermosa Beach where she would be open to the people who came to there to enjoy a shared passion – volleyball. Her home became very important to the development of her character and not just her hometown – her house itself.

During her evolution I had to question why I was led in the direction of creating a house and home environment that was of the utmost importance to this emerging character. Yes, she was an army brat so the constant movement in her childhood might make her long for a house of her own. But I felt the desire for a home could symbolize something deeper, a longing and need that would also impact her professional and emotional life.

Suddenly I realized there was a compelling reason that Josie needed to feel grounded: her mother had disappeared when Josie was 13 and home was never the same. Josie was always looking for a sense of well-being and stability she didn’t have as a young woman. If no one was going to give it to her, she would create it herself.

That nugget of information led me to realize that Josie would have an emotional need to be loved but an intellectual aversion to appearing needy. Therefore, the man in her life had to be equal to her – neither Alpha male nor Beta. Her law partner became a grandmotherly sort; a woman ready to retire who wanted to take on a partner to whom she could pass on her practice.

As these characters fell into place, I understood that I had created a family for Josie, one that would protect her if needed, save her if needed, but also allow her to grow. Josie’s abandonment issues also meant she would champion the underdog in any courtroom drama.

Finally, I opened up the law practice without restricting the types of clients she would take on. While I kept the practice small, I didn’t limit it to women’s issues, but rather problems encountered by a small beach town. High profile cases would come calling, but Hermosa Beach would be where Josie’s heart resided.

Josie Bates became more complex with each draft of Hostile Witness. Through Silent Witness and Privileged Witness her history took on a life of its own and affected every decision Josie made throughout those books. The new Josie affected the way I plotted the books, the dialogue, the action sequences.

Readers told me that Josie felt real to them, that they admired her, that they would know her if they met on the street. This reaction was a far cry from what would have happened if someone had published the first cardboard cutout Josie. The extra work meant a character that readers remembered, a goal every writer strives for.

So if you find that your story feels lifeless, one-dimensional or without options, it could be that you have more work to do on your character’s “life.” Don’t be shy. Dig deep. It is only with memories and experiences to draw on that our characters can act and react to the situations we create in our plots.

Change is a good thing. Layer their history. Acknowledge every detail and understand how it affects your characters. Let them breathe on their own.

Giving birth is never easy, but in the end it’s worth every ache and pain

Read Rebecca Forster's excerpt from Silent Witness.IN Icon

Rebecca Forster, a USA Today bestseller, began writing on a crazy dare. Upwards of 22 books later, she concentrates on legal thrillers. Currently on the stand are Privileged Witness (Signet, 2006), Silent Witness (Signet, 2005) and Hostile Witness (Signet, 2004). She is married to a Superior Court judge and has two sons.

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IN This Issue
Easy Readers
Write Angle
Writing Piffle
Remember The Reader
Making It Real
Out Of Order
Reality Suspension
Devilish Details

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Bald Ego
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Writer’s Block
The path to inspiration starts
Upon the trails we’ve known;
Each writer’s block is not a rock,
But just a stepping stone.

Poetry Is Not
Penned to the page
Waiting for us to admire.
It is only a lonely thought
Caught by tears on fire.

Silent Echoes
A quiet rhyme upon a page
Is what a poet gives;
Some gentle words whispered in trust
To see if memory lives.

Bard From Deadlines
What makes a poem finally work
Is not the time it takes;
It’s how the poet used the muse
To prophet from mistakes.

Be Mused
The art and craft of poetry
Are not so far apart;
The craft comes from the cunning,
The rest comes from the heart.

Fine Vintage
Don’t plant your poem on the page
As though you’re hanging drapes;
It’s shape and flow should come and grow
Like wild summer grapes.

Getting It Write
Writers write what they know best,
Their passions, fears, and dreams;
Writers rarely write about
What other call their “themes.”

Double Vision
A writer’s life is paradox,
It’s more than what it seems;
We write of our reality,
The one inside our dreams.

The echo of a promise,
The thunder of a sigh,
The music of a memory,
A child asking why.

Letter Perfect
Twenty six symbols arranged on a page
Can send a soul to heaven or torment it with rage,
Can free a fragile world or hold it in its net--
The power and the magic of the mighty alphabet.

The Write of Passage
The jump from writing just for fun
To getting paid for it
Begins when you first realize
You know you’ll never quit.

It is not the magic of his wings
That sets us free from our bond.
It is the muse within ourselves
That lets our words lift us beyond.

Photo Poet
Consider your mind the darkroom,
Consider your life the lens,
Consider your eye the camera
On whose focus the poem depends.

Rising Moon
A poem is a rising moon
Shining on the sea,
An afterglow of all we know,
Of all we hope to be.

Star Light
Writing a poem,
Reaching a star,
In making good art
We find who we are.

Spider Web
A poem is a spider web
Spun with words of wonder,
Woven lace held in place
By whispers made of thunder.

The final draft upon the screen,
At last my poem’s through;
A verse of only four short lines--
I rewrote twenty-two!

Read All Of Charles Ghigna's Poetry at

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