Friday, October 29, 2010

Don't Hate Me Cause I'm Perfect....NOT!!

Please help me welcome multi-pubbed, award-winning author and fellow Berkley sister, Kylie Brant, to Mysteries and Margaritas. She's the author of thirty-one romantic suspense novels for Silhouette and Berkley. She's a three-time Rita finalist and has been nominated for five Romantic Times awards, including a win for Career Achievement. She claims that her two Daphne du Maurier awards, won for mystery and suspense writing, are the only things she regularly dusts!

She's here today talking about her not-so-perfect characters, and as a bonus, she's giving away an autographed copy of her latest suspense novel, DEADLY INTENT.

So, take it away, Kylie

I Meet the Most Interesting People...

Okay, a lot of them are products of my imagination, but they *are* intriguing story people, at least. People who, if they were real, I could admire and respect. People I'd be proud to call friends. Not because they're perfect. Perfection is boring :) My characters are flawed, sometimes deeply. They struggle to overcome obstacles to do the right thing. They've become good people despite sometimes traumatic incidents in their pasts. They're complex, because the most interesting people are multi-faceted, with layers that aren't easily pierced.

When I'm coming up with a new story sometimes it's the suspense plot that will occur first, but more often it's the characters who first spring to life, fully developed. Then the suspense idea closely follows and I ask myself, 'How would these story people react to that situation? What will it make it particularly difficult for them to reach their goal?" There's always an external conflict of course, usually in the way of a villain. But giving characters a flaw or an emotional conflict means they have an inner struggle as well.

My characters, despite any other flaws, are extraordinarily patient :) Some linger in my mind for years, waiting for their turn to have their story told. Others are more demanding, surging to the forefront and beating on the walls of my imagination, refusing to be ignored any longer. Just as in real life, the squeaky wheel is often heard first.

From my earliest years I've always been fascinated by why people do the things they do. In that way I suppose I imagine them from a psychological point of view. Naming them and giving them physical attributes are probably the last things I do for character development, and are the most deliberate actions I take with them. Oddly enough, the physical description of my characters often requires the most thought. I don't necessarily 'see' them so much as I 'know' them--what and who they are and what events have shaped them. I often land on their descriptions simply through the process of elimination--let's see, I haven't had a green-eyed heroine in several books :) Perhaps because of this quirk, the most difficult question I'm asked is: if your book were a movie, who would you cast as the leading characters? I always have to go back and remind myself, okay, what did they look like again? I tend to think that who people are inside is ever so much more interesting than what they look like!

Somehow my cast always seem to have at least one character that adds some comic relief. I don't do this consciously but I have a slightly twisted sense of humor and it sort of works into the stories, even if I don't necessarily plan it that way at first. These characters, whether a health-conscious partner detective, a tattooed scientist with unusual luck with women, or a pint-sized angelic looking lab assistant with the mouth of a sailor lighten the otherwise dark subject matter. They also provide a foil for the main characters, and through their eyes we're given an outside look at the hero and heroine.

The villain, of course, is the most interesting character to write, because evil is riveting. Delving into what events twisted people into psychopathy is endlessly fascinating. Perhaps because I had a perfectly ordinary upbringing, devoid of homicidal maniacs or anything more traumatic than having to wear braces for three years, I have to dig deep for these crazed characters at times. Unfortunately, the news is awash with horrible things that people have been forced to endure. But its also full of stories that prove the resiliency of the human spirit. And I think that factor, when it comes to the closure of the story, makes for the most satisfying of endings.

Some characters I've read have stayed with me always. Scout, from To Kill a Mockingbird. Holden Caulfield, from Catcher in the Rye. Huck Finn. What unforgettable characters have you run across in your reading?


Kari Lee Townsend said...

Great post, ladies!

I love characterization. I think it's one of the most fascinating aspects of writing a novel. Mine tend to be quirky and I always havea comic relief.

Lately I've been trying to dig deeper and really round out an ensemble cast. Funny, I can do. It's the darker, edgier characters that are more difficult for me.

Thanks for getting my creative juices flowing :-))

Liz Lipperman said...

Kylie, again let me welcome you to M & M. I have the most fun with my comic relief character and the villain. I'm in the second book of a series and I have to say, I'm having difficulty deciding how much is too much repeating backstory in book Two. I guess I just need to write the book as if it was a first book for readers. Any thoughts on that?

KylieBrant said...

Someone pointed out to me that the favorite characters I mentioned in the post are all 'dark'. I had never thought of that, but apparently those are the type that stick with me!

KylieBrant said...

Good question, Liz. I always look at the in death books by Robb for an answer (since I have a continuing series, too.) She does short intros to the character's back stories for those readers who are new. You get the intro to Roarke's criminal past and gorgeous looks in just a few sentences. Eve's backstory gets woven in and out of the story with sentences sprinkled here and there, a paragraph of introspection. Just enough to bring everyone up to speed. My biggest problem is making sure I'm keeping track of all my characters so I can re-introduce them without changing their eye color, lol.

Donnell said...

Good morning, Kylie, Liz! M&M ladies ;) Kylie creates wonderful characters. Interesting that the psychology comes before the physical. I hope you don't mind if I play with that idea, Kylie ;) As for memorable characters, it's probably no surprise to you who mine is. Rebecca from "Rebecca" by Daphne du Maurier. Imagine a character who is never on the page. She is in the hearts and the imaginations of the characters who are... And yet you know her inside and out.

Also, I'm a huge fan of Gabriel Allon, Daniel Silvan's protagonist in his thriller series. Such an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth man.

Wonderful post!

Donna Cummings said...

Great info, Kylie! I really liked the part about how you don't see your characters but you know them. I'm the same way -- it's almost like their faces are kinda blurred out (to protect their identities! LOL). I almost need somebody to invent the actor to play them. LOL

Unforgettable characters? Mmm. It's usually Suzanne Brockmann's, and she's got a zillion of them in her series, but they're all so distinctive!

Liz Lipperman said...

Kylie, I hear you about changing the eye color. Matter of fact, I just wrote about that very same thing on Monday's blog. Check it out.

Great advice about weaving in backstory in a series.

KylieBrant said...

Donnelle, I haven't read Silva but always mean to. It sounds like his protagonist is much like Lee Child's Jack Reacher, whom I love :)

KylieBrant said...

Yes, Donna, I feel the same way. I have to etch in their features, a deliberate step. The psychological makeup is so much easier for me. I like it when readers tell me what actors they imagine for the characters :) Much easier!

KylieBrant said...

Yes, Liz, it's sort of a pedestrian thing to worry about but when we put 3 books out a year we do have to make sure everyone doesn't look alike! I have three go-to heroes...for all my guys I tend to visualize Matthew McConaughey, Goran Visjnic or Clive Owen. Doesn't make for much variation!

Anita Clenney said...

Like Kylie and Donna, I have trouble really seeing my characters physically. I know roughly what they look like, but I can't bring them into sharp focus.

I love quirky characters and I love writing villains. For some reason writing secondary characters and villains comes easier than the hero/heroine. These other characters seem to have more distinct personalities and flavor right off the bat. Not sure why that is.

Edie Ramer said...

Oddly enough, the physical description of my characters often requires the most thought. I don't necessarily 'see' them so much as I 'know' them

I'm the same way! It's nice to know I'm not the only one. Some of my unforgettable characters are from Jane Austen's books. And Little Women. Loved Jo and the March sisters.

KylieBrant said...

Anita, I always find it easiest to write the villain. Those scenes fly by! Introspection for my protagonists come the most difficult for me. I'm easily bored :)

KylieBrant said...

Edie, I can't begin to count the number of times I read Little Men when I was young :) For some reason I liked it better than Little Women, but read all the Alcott books over and over.

Cassy Pickard said...

Kylie: This is great! I am off-the-wall impressed with your productivity. What an accomplishment. I wonder how many characters you have "grown" in all those stories.

I have found that helping my characters reach deeper and become more human has been a little hard. I can see them, hear them and anticipate what they will be doing or saying. The larger challenge is being sure my readers are on the same "page" with me.

One multipublished mystery writer told me that he never described his main character (long running series) but rather let his readers create an image of their own. It was through the character's actions and comments that he became "real."

KylieBrant said...

Interesting comment by that writer, Cassy. Lee Child's recurring character of Jack Reacher also has a sketchy description. We know he's a larger man--tall and strong. Short cropped dark hair. But other than that we're left to 'draw in' his features. Wonder if that is deliberate?