As a romance author who strives to create engaging romantic sci fi story lines, one of the challenges I face when I put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) is finding character inspiration. Whether you are writing a romance novel or an out-of-this-world interstellar space odyssey, your characters are always the most important part of your story.
While strong character development is challenging, I’ve learned a few tips along the way that’s helped me give life and dimension to the characters in Dark Awakening. I’ve summarized the most important lessons I’ve learned along the way so that you can use them in your writing, too.
Understand the Dimensions of Character Personality
Your lead—typically the hero—requires a dynamism and strength that your other characters likely won’t. If you’re writing a romantic sci fi, for example, your lead will be the central figure upon which you build your story. Use these dimensions to build their personality:
- Identify his or her “why,” what motivates them to take action?
- Narrow down their “method,” explore how they go about taking action
- Figure out who they are when everything is stripped away; what makes them who they are?
Each dimension reveals new information about your characters, exposing the real them.
In Dark Awakening, Duncan MacKinnon is the hero of the story. He is possessed in his single-minded pursuit of gaining back his century’s freedom. The underlying characteristic that drives all his decisions is this singular goal. Understanding this about his character helps me to progress the story as it relates to the decisions he will make. And, because of this pursuit, he often makes decisions that seem at odds with the basic tenants of humanity, as seen by how he reacts—and interacts—to the woman he abducts. This polarity creates a delicious tension that drives his actions and ultimately allows him to grow and evolve beyond his character limitations.
Which leads me to my next point…
Don’t be Afraid to Give Your Characters Flaws
The best part about being a writer is that you get to decide what are flaws and what are strengths. However, don’t underestimate the power of a raging temper, a lustful appetite, or an affection for mind-altering substances. These so called “flaws” can color your characters making them appear human to your readers.
One tactic that I enjoy using is to give each of my characters a birth date. Once I know their birth date, I determine their zodiac sign and use the corresponding weaknesses and strengths for that sign as a basis for my character’s personality. For example, Duncan MacKinnon was born November 9. He is a Scorpio and as such, can be quick to temper, jealous, secretive and manipulative, but also very passionate, intuitive, calculating, and powerful. Understanding these character traits helps ensure that Duncan stays not only true to character but that he has opportunities to grow past his shortcomings as well.
I grew up on romantic greats from Kathleen Woodiwiss, Shirlee Busbee and Johanna Lindsey. I loved the heroines in their novels, but a part of me always wished they had just one or two flaws to make them more believable. The women were always the perfect blend of feisty, yet gentle; dependent, yet strong. They didn’t cry; they didn’t lose and they didn’t sweat! You’d have been hard pressed back then to find a woman who didn’t want to be like the women from these novels.
However, what I love about Dark Awakening’s Caitriona Sinclair is her vulnerability and her flaws. She cries; she wears her emotions on her sleeve and, as a woman who’s focused on her career, hasn’t given much thought (or time) to developing basic life skills. She doesn’t cook; she’s not into politics and she has never paid much attention to her appearance. In fact, it’s not until she’s taken to another century that she realizes just how lacking her life skills really are. But it’s those flaws and that vulnerability that make her so relatable for readers.
Another of my favorite characters in Dark Awakening is Brady Hawkins, the villain. He is despicable and driven in his pursuit of perfection. But it’s the very nature of this pursuit where we see his flaws. He will never be ‘perfect’ in the eyes of the Order, and it’s this struggle that highlights his inner turmoil and his own vulnerabilities.
Regardless if it’s a romance novel you’re writing or a historical fiction, flaws suck readers in and make your characters more likeable, so don’t be afraid to give your characters some depth and dimension by exposing their flaws.
It’s Okay to be Intentionally Vague
I know, I know, how can vagueness be a good thing when searching for character inspiration? But don’t assume your readers can’t read between the lines. In fact, you’re more likely to lose readership when you try to connect every detail. Instead, let your characters—and stories—be ambiguous and allow the readers to connect the dots.
My writing mentor once told me that it was okay to infer action as opposed to detailing everything your character does. It’s these voids that allow your readers to create some of the narrative and connect the pieces in the plot. Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that you leave gaping holes in your plot line, but neither is it important to spoon feed every last detail. In fact, I would argue that merely alluding to something in your character’s past is far better than delving into the details. You can then use progressive disclosure to layer in the details creating more intrigue along the way.
By leaving out these details, this not only draws your reader into more of the action, but also allows you to explore your characters’ back stories through additional books, mini episodes or blogging, something I enjoy doing here on my blog. (You can read the first of several character-driven mini-episodes here.)
As a romance author, I put these three tips into practice every time I set out to write a new story. Use them in your own writing, and let me know in the comments below how it played out for you.