By Lisa Harris, Author of Deadly Intentions
When I first started writing, I remember taking the first chapter of a story to my critique group and reading it out loud to them. I was unpublished, but somehow knew I had a gripping best-seller on my hands. At least that’s what I thought until they told me the truth. They recommended that I take my chapter home and rewrite it because my characters were nothing more than cardboard figures.
I’ve learned a lot about writing since then, and one of my main goals now is insuring my characters come to life for the reader. But how do you do that? I know many authors who interview their characters before they start writing, or use an excel sheet to keep track of motivations and fears. While I don’t do either of those, I do work hard to get to know my characters while I’m writing, and always insure I know their past, because at some point, I want their past and present to collide. I want to make the story personal. And here’s the reason why.
I watch a lot of police procedural shows and one of the things I’ve noticed is that when the main characters’ lives are at stake, I’m much more involved in the story compared to when it’s just another case to solve. Realizing this has made me think about my own writing. The deeper my hero and heroine are involved in the plot on a personal level, the more they have to lose when things go wrong. And in turn, the deeper my readers will engage with my stories.
For example, in Deadly Intentions, my hero, Josh Solomon, ends up hunting for his wife’s killer. This situation gives him a very haunting backstory that merges the past with the present. The result is a very personal involvement for Josh as he races to find a startling truth that could affect thousands.
There are many questions you can ask to bring out your characters’ personalities using detailed lists that you can find online. Make sure, though, that you move beyond the basic physical appearance and job description. What are their secret dreams and desires? What have they lost in life? What do they fear? What do they want? Do they have any vices? What do they see when they look in the mirror? Then find a way to tie those into the story. In the end, you’ll have story that jumps off the page and into the readers’ hearts!
Bestselling author LISA HARRIS is a Christy Award finalist for Blood Ransom and Vendetta, Christy Award winner for Dangerous Passage, and the winner of the Best Inspirational Suspense Novel for 2011 (Blood Covenant) and 2015 (Vendetta) from Romantic Times. She has sold over half a million books. She and her family have spent over fourteen years working as missionaries in Africa where she runs a small non-profit organization that works alongside their church-planting ministry. The ECHO Project promotes Education, Compassion, Health, and Opportunity and is a way to "speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves...the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice." (Proverbs 31:8) When she's not working she loves hanging out with her family, cooking different ethnic dishes, photography, and heading into the African bush on safari. For more information about her books and life in Africa visit her website at www.lisaharriswrites.com