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Points of Pain in Character Development

This is characters' month at Write that Novel and our guest today is romance author, Vonnie Davis.

Thanks for having me here as your guest today. I’ve been looking forward to my visit. Frankly, it gives me a chance to step out of my writing cave, squint at the sunlight and share some ideas with you. I was fortunate enough to retire early as a technical writer and, in the four years since, I’ve been writing various sub-genres of romance fulltime and enjoying every minute of it. I began as a writer with The Wild Rose Press and have eight titles with them. Now I write exclusively for LoveSwept/Random House and HarperImpulse, not because I wasn’t treated well at TWRP, for I was, but because contracts with the larger houses tend to tie you up with exclusivity and non-competitive clauses.
An important part of our writing process is character development, and we each have our own ways of creating and developing the people who will populate our stories. Whatever works for you is right for you. Because I write about four books a year, my process is short and simple.

I create my characters from the inside out.

I begin with the heroine and hero’s points of pain. Points of pain, we’ve all got them. Those sad and horrible events of our past, either from our childhood or even last year, that have altered our perception of life and the world around us.

Perhaps your parents divorced when you were young. That would be your point of pain. Did a dog attack you, making you fearful of animals? Or perhaps you were the middle child with a beautiful older sister, who always got her way, and a younger, charming one that everyone adored. You were the invisible daughter, unless something went wrong. That was your point of pain. Maybe you were teased as a teenager because of your weight. Or you were brutally attacked as a young adult. Or abandoned by your spouse to raise your small children on your own (Single mom of three waving her hand here and believe me when I say, it took me twelve years to trust again). All these classify as points of pain and, as such, affect how you and I react to others and certain situations.
The same holds true for our characters. So, we must initially know our heroine and hero’s point of pain, no matter how large or small. Maybe our hero was looked down upon because he lived on the wrong side of the tracks and he returns to his hometown years later as a millionaire. We can come up with hundreds of ways pain can be inflicted. In Those Violet Eyes, my hero lost part of his leg in the war in Iraq.

From here we decide, the inner strength of our hero and heroine. What have they done with their point of pain? Has it weakened them or made them stronger? Has the middle, ignored daughter become a bitter woman, blaming everything wrong in her life on someone else? Or has she worked hard to shine in her own right? Has our hero from the wrong side of the tracks turned into a wife-beating drunk or an ambitious businessman? My hero in Those Violet Eyes chose to open a ranch for children with amputee limbs. Has the abandoned mother worked nights to attend college during the day to get her degree to provide a better life for her children? (Degree waving momma here!)Because you see, we all have the choice to react negatively or positively to any situation—and so do our characters.
Then I decide their likes and dislikes. If your heroine was sexually attacked while wearing a pink sweater, would she refuse to wear pink ever again? If your hero went to bed hungry many a night as he was growing up, could he ignore a hungry dog? What are their push buttons. We all have those too. I can’t stand to hear a man verbally abuse his wife or hear a parent call a child nasty names. I get irritated with women who chose to be a man’s doormat. My heroines are always feisty; they turn adversities into advantages.

What things will your characters love and hate? Music?Do they prefer the quiet of classical music to relax or chest-thumpin’ music so loud it drowns out the bad thoughts? Junk food?Do they reach for that tub of ice cream when they’re upset or, as someone teased for their weight earlier in life, do they obsess over every calorie they put in their mouths? Sports?Religion?Education? Love of art? All these things become layers to their personalities. And as I layer them from the inside out, they’re slowly coming to life.
How has a character’s past history and personal choices affected his or her choice of career? Suppose we have a teenager lose a father from an unexpected heart attack. Have the heart attack happen while the father was shooting hoops with the tall teenager and we have a very real point of pain. Two, actually.The sudden loss of a parent and the feeling that maybe if Dad hadn't been shooting hoops in the driveway, he wouldn't have died. The teenager might even harbor guilt that he caused his dad's death. To assuage this guilt, the kid decides to become a doctor, a cardiologist. Every aspect of his life is dedicated to being the best doctor he can be. Can you see how this person is driven by his point of pain?

Since I’m a person with quirks, I love giving a quirk or two to my characters. It’s a lesson I learned from Shakespeare. He was a master at providing a bit of comedic relief. So, if I have a serious, no nonsense, uptight character, I toss in a quirk to make him or her more likable, more human, more like us. And if I can make my readers chuckle over the quirk, then I’m in writer’s heaven because I love a good laugh.
Lastly, I think about his or her appearance. Because it’s what’s inside that counts. It’s their heart and soul and points of pain that drive the story, not the color of their eyes or the size of their pecs. Although those things are nice, too. I just save those goodies for last.

I’d like to share an excerpt from Santa Wore Leathers, a novella from HarperImpulse and the kickoff for a series of books about the men of fire and marine rescue Station Thirty-Two. The series is entitled Firemen’s Wild Heat. I’m writing book one now about Wolf’s youngest sister and one of his co-workers.
But in this novella, the romantic couple is Wolf and Becca.Wolf’s point of pain? His parents were both killed in a fire while he was serving as a SEAL. He resigned his commission to come home to Florida to care for his four teenage sisters, who are now grown, yet remain an active part of his life. Becca’s point of pain? Both her father and her ex-husband walked out on her, so she’s an uptight, prickly man-shy woman who gives her love to a German shepherd, Einstein…

                   Two miles later they returned to Seashell Lane, jogging toward home in her gulf-side community on the northern fringes of Clearwater, Florida.Becca loved her neighborhood, a comfortable blend of retirees and small families. Her gaze swept to the town house next to hers. At least, until two weeks ago, when her new neighbor with his constant stream of female visitors moved in. The man went through women quicker than her ex-husband.
                  Just then his door opened, and man-whore stepped out on his small front porch. In a purely feminine reaction, she reached to smooth back her hair. Suddenly, Einstein wrenched his leash from her grip and took off.
                 “Einstein! Einstein, stop!” She sprinted after her errant dog.
                 Her neighbor pivoted. Einstein leaped, knocking him back against the door. “Whoa, there big guy!” He accepted the canine kisses and aimed dark eyes at her. “Is he yours? He’s some dog.” His large hands ruffled Einstein’s fur. Firm biceps flexed under her neighbor’s black Harley T-shirt, and the bottom of a wicked tribal tattoo peeked from beneath his right sleeve.
               “Yes. I’m sorry he jumped on you. He never takes off like that.” No doubt one dog recognized another.
                 “Man, I’d love a dog like him. A man’s dog, you know? I’ve got a cat. Not by choice, though. When my sister went off to college, she left Fluffy with me.”
                 Man-whore aimed a wide smile at her, his perfectly straight teeth a contrast to his tan. A dimple winked. The fact he only had one dimple was the singular flaw on his flawlessly handsome face. Now that she was within five feet of him, she could clearly examine his features. Having watched him through her window from time-to-time, she knew he was tall and muscular. But up close, she realized he had the body of a serious weight lifter. His long, dark brown hair was brushed straight back. The skin crinkled at the corners of espresso-colored eyes when he smiled, which he seemed to do easily and frequently. Yet, it was the vision of him holding a cat named Fluffy that nearly made her smile. Muscle man and putty cat.
                “You live next door, don’t you?” He jerked his head toward her home.
                 She bent to grasp the end of her dog’s leash. “Yes, I do.”
                He extended his hand when she straightened. “Dan Wolford.” His dimple flashed again and his smile did all kinds of twitchy things to her insides. “Most people simply call me Wolf.”
                I’ll just bet they do.
               She glanced at his hand for a second. No need to be rude, even if she didn’t care for his cavalier attitude toward women. She did the polite thing. “Welcome to the neighborhood, Dan.”
               "Wolf, please.” His large paw enveloped hers, and warmth spread upwards from her stomach, did a backflip and then dove downwards. Meanwhile, his dark gaze assessed her entire body and face, as if she were the most dazzling woman in sweaty running clothes he’d ever seen. His solitary dimple winked along with his thousand-watt smile. One dark eyebrow rose as if he were waiting for her to share her name. She wasn’t sure why she hesitated. She was reluctant.  Fueled by his cocksure attitude, no doubt. Now there was a clich√©, if ever she’d heard one.
                  His thumb rubbed slow, lazy circles over her knuckles detonating sensual signals straight to her core. Oh, he was good at this magnetism stuff.
                   Wolf glanced at her prancing, panting dog. “Einstein, does your owner have a name? It looks like she’s not sharing today.”
                    Oh, for Pete’s sake.
                   Einstein whined, his tongue lolling crooked from his mouth.
                   “Huh, looks like Einstein’s not talking either.” She tugged her hand free. “Excuse me. I have Christmas shopping planned for this afternoon. I better get going.” She pivoted toward her front door.
                     “Have a good day, Becca Sinclair.” His deep voice washed over her, sending an annoyed shiver up her spine. So the man knew her name all along and was just playing dumb. Was that sneaky arrogance or stalker creepy?
                     She glared at him over her shoulder. “If you knew my name, why’d you make a big deal out of asking for it?”
                     He shrugged and looked down for a beat before aiming his dark eyes at her again. “When a man finds a strange woman attractive, he asks around until he finds out something about her. Mrs. Minelli, two doors down, fears you’ve been pining away for your ex-husband.”
                    Sneaky stalker creepy.
                   She turned, snapped her fingers once and Einstein sat at her feet before she planted her hands on her hips. “I don’t appreciate being the topic of neighborhood gossip, Dan Wolford.”

Please visit me at my website: or my blog

Thanks, Vonnie, for sharing your ideas about your characters.  And thank you for introducing us to two of them who sound so intriguing they make us want to read the book.



  1. What great points, Vonnie. I like how you develop your characters a lot. Very organized and thorough. Excellent tips for beginning writers and old pros!

    1. Thanks, Jannine. For me, it works. For others, they draw up character outlines. I don't know that either is wrong. Since we're all unique, it makes sense to me that we'd each write in unique ways.

  2. Yep. One old pro here sitting up to pay attention and take notes. Thanks for sharing some, well, great points, Vonnie.

    1. Thanks, Margo. Our past hurts affect us more than we care to admit. At least I know mine do.

  3. Great writing tips - and wonderful excerpt!

  4. Points of pain - I'd never thought of the problems and conflicts we give our characters as we develop them - in quite that way. Thanks for sharing, Vonnie.

    1. It's a term I coined, Dawn, because I thought of my past pain, those points I could recall that shaped both me and the way I reacted to situations.

  5. Great advice, Vonnie! Thanks for sharing. Barb Bettis

    1. You're welcome, Barb. You know me...I love to talk. LOL


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