Monday, March 10, 2014

Characters Make the Book

by Becky Martinez

People are always asking about how I come up with characters and this month I am teaching a class at Savvy Authors on creating great characters. Because I think characters are such an important element of any good book, this month we will be focusing on characters here at the Write that Novel blog. We’ll hear from authors on how they come up with their characters and we’ll be interviewing characters from a number of books.
Today let’s look at the importance of good characters as I take a look at the start of my series. The first book, Dead Man's Rules has just come out for Kindle and print. These characters have been in my mind for so long that when I came to write them, they just flowed out on the pages. I felt like I had known them for years.

What is it you remember after reading a book?  The plot twists and turns? The action?  Sometime those can be memorable and you might keep thinking about them after putting down the book. But is it the action or how the main character actually dealt with the events or how that final twist affected the main character that you remember most?

I have always maintained that great characters are part of what stays with us about a book. From my first reading as a child I can remember how characters affected me. Going all the way back to one of the first books I checked out of the library – Horton Hears a Who, I was drawn in by the character. I wanted that elephant to succeed. In later years, I felt the same way about Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, and Pip in Great Expectations. I felt I got to know those characters and I wanted them to have good outcomes.
In the past 30 years I have read a lot of series novels. I enjoy seeing the characters come and go in various romance series, like the Blossom Street people of Debbie Macomber or in the Bitter Creek Series of Joan Johnston. These are characters you might find anywhere but with real problems and they make you care about the people.

My new book, Dead Man’s Rules, takes readers to a fictional town in New Mexico and introduces the characters of Cere Medina, her mother, Lottie, and Freeda Ferguson. These are three very different women who all want different things and are going about getting them in different ways.
When people say where do you come up with your characters, I never have a set answer. They can come from anywhere. Usually they are a big compilation of people I either know, wish I knew or just plain made up.

I also have to admit in some ways most of my characters are a little bit of me too. For instance in Dead Man, all three of these women have tiny parts of me. For Lottie Medina, it was that small town young woman headed to the city. For Cere Medina, it was that competitive woman who wants to succeed, at almost any cost. For Freeda Ferguson, it was that often unconventional character who wants to live life on her own terms.
But for all of them I worked at making them people whom readers would want to see succeed. While Dead Man’s Rules is Cere’s story as she fights to get the story and get her man, the events also help her grow.

And that is key to creating a great character too—character growth. One of the reasons I have always enjoyed the story of Elizabeth Bennet was her growth and that of Mr. Darcy. Their realizations of how their pride and prejudice could be overcome through love was a big revelation to them both.
I’ve used that idea of growth for Cere as well, and I am working on instilling Freeda’s growth into the second book of that series, Dead Man’s Treasure, where Freeda finally gets the one thing she thinks she has been wanting for years – to get to know her father and spend time with him. But things turn out very differently than she ever expected.

Lottie’s story will be at the heart of the final book in the trilogy, Dead Man’s Secrets as she learns the little town and all she thinks she knows may have been all lies all along. It will also be the story of Estrella Tafoya, who must grow and learn to believe in herself.
And at the heart of all three mysteries is the ghost of a man who to me is the most fascinating character – Marco Gonzales – the dead man himself, whose young life and shooting in the first book sets everything in motion.

Marco’s story was the most fun to invent and that to me is what makes a good character – inventing the story around them and then making them live and breathe on the pages.

Who are your favorite fictional characters and why do you think they're special? I'll be giving away a copy of Dead Man's Rules to one lucky commenter.


  1. The 2nd Mrs. DeWinter in Rebecca. We never know her name but she's so vivid. Melanie Wilkes in Gone With the Wind. She's such a contrast to Scarlett. Such a warm, caring woman. Stephanie Plum. What a hoot. Love to read her misadventures.

  2. Diane - Yes! These are some of my favorite characters too. Mrs. DeWinter is a wonderful character, and Melanie is one of those women you just want to root for. I love Stephanie, and I'm always eager to see what kind of trouble she and Lula and Grandma get into.


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