Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cooking Up Characters by Tina Pinson

Now, I don't actually mean I'm going to lay my poor sweet character on the chopping block and have my way at her with a Hachette, and make some kind goulash out of them. Nor will my character and I get all chummy, pull out our cookbooks and rustle up some grub.

Let’s face it. My characters aren't real. So to carry on a cooking conversation with anyone of them would be quite tough and I'd probably end up talking to myself.

But if I were to write a recipe for my character, what ingredients might I use?

Let's start with a dash emerald for eye color. Add a sprinkle of daisies for hair color. A couple of teaspoons of peaches and cream for her skin. D drizzle on some rose honey on her lips. I'd make her lean and lithe with just a pinch of fat. And voilĂ … the reader now has an idea about how my character might look.

Next I might garnish her with some clothes. Beings that I write Christian fiction, it is good to dress my characters. How I dress my character gives the reader insight to my character's tastes. It might tell you whether they are poor or wealthy.

Next we add dashes of their lives. Peel back the layers of their lives. I might sift in some spice about their job? Blend up whether married? Widowed? Single? Engaged?

From there I might sprinkle in some anecdotes from their past.

You might see how they grew up.

After I've added all these things, are you satisfied with the character? Or is she still just a bit one dimensional?

So after we've taken care of the aesthetics of a character, we need to begin to check out her psyche. What, beyond brushing her pretty blonde hair, or working her job, makes this character tick?

We need a dollop of heart. A smattering of emotion, (or maybe a gallon). We need to dice up her fears. Saute her hopes and dreams? How does she feel about herself? About the world around her?

The deeper I look in to my character, the more dimensional she becomes. The more I understand her. Is she funny? Sassy? A klutz?

Is she brave? Afraid? Driven? An Adventurer?

Granted… I'm not just going to list all this in a story. That would be utterly boring. But once I dissect my character and find out what makes her who she is, I can write her better. Write her and hopefully make a reader want to know more about her.

Here are some examples:

Read them and let me know what you learned, if anything, about the character.

From When Shadows Fall

His lips thin, his eyes lit with recognition. She saw a remnant of the man she loved and knew. He remained hidden deep behind the cover of sickness. She removed her costume hairpiece so he could see her hair. He smiled.

"Rebekah, love. It is you," his whisper was hoarse, weak. He could barely move. Following her movements with his hollow eyes only seemed to tax his strength, so he closed them. She wiped his fevered brow, allowed herself to cry, then laid beside him to rest. His breathing was labored, bones showed through his skin, but he was alive and she would do all she could to keep him that way.

"I love you," she whispered, and closed her swollen eyes to sleep.

Andrew woke, saw the man and practically planted himself in Rebekah. He stayed there shivering with fear until he realized who it was. "It's Daddy. Mommy."

Rebekah folded her arms around him. "Yes, darling, it's Daddy. And Daddy is very sick so we have to be very quiet. All right?"

Andrew nodded and took a closer look at Robert. Night had blanketed his wounds in the shadows. The light of day painted Robert's emaciation in full, horrific color. The look of him would unsettle anyone, especially a boy. Black rings encircled Robert's eyes. His skin was a pasty gray color that looked as flimsy as parchment. He was beyond sick. Rebekah wondered about the wounds that lay beneath the surface. She would concentrate on his physical healing and deal with the rest when the time arose.

Touched By Mercy

Jethro snorted and slapped his thigh. Allan sat in silence. Sam was at the Chicken Ranch. Allan had a dilemma of his own. How did he get Samantha to notice him? And what were Preston's intentions concerning her?
"So the Lord said you'd meet your new wife at the Chicken Ranch?" Jethro said with a mischievous smile.
"That's about the size of it." Preston's lips curled.
 "That does pose a problem. There's a house full of women over there."
Preston's eyes rolled. "You aren't telling me anything new, Jethro."

"Did the good Lord tell you how you'll know her? Any bolts out of the blue?" Allan flung his arm over the empty chair next to him.

"Maybe a letter from heaven," Jethro said solemnly. He and Allan looked up in quiet anticipation.

"Maybe a rash or a fever," Allan added, his gaze landing on Preston.
Preston sneered slightly. "All He said was, I'd know."
"Well, that poses a problem," Allan said.

"Jethro already said as much." Preston chuckled. "Are we talking about me or you?"
"Both of us," Allan declared. Saying what all three knew. "The Lord said your wife is inthat house and, while He didn't come out and specify mine was there, I've got my eye on someone. How can I be sure I'm not stepping in where the Lord wants you to be?"
Jethro laughed. "Have mercy, if this don't beat all." Allan looked at him through narrowed eyes. Jethro's hand went to his chest. "Don't look at me. I done picked my wife. You two have to work this out alone." With that he rose and left. Allan could hear him chuckling clean out the building.

From Counting Tessa
Strapped at her ankles and wrists; a prisoner in a birthing bed somewhere in the lowest corridor of a hospital with an unknown name, she lay panting. The lights sputtered and spit overhead, practically keeping time with the rhythm of her heart. A curse of life and death hung over her head. Life – the children in her womb. Death – her sentence when those children were born.
She prayed for the children to wait, but each contraction signaled their impatience. She prayed for freedom from her shackles, but her wrists were raw from trying to find release. The second hand of the large black and white clock continued to turn, ticking off the moments, giving her hope, however dismal, that she might greet the next day. But she knew when the solitary figure arrived—a dark angel in pale green scrubs—and uncovered a row of gleaming silver instruments, death awaited her.

What do you do to get to know your character better? Do you do a complete workup of them? So you understand them from the inside out. Learning their history? Their faith? Their fears?

Do tell?


  1. Great post, Tina! Really enjoyed your description of building a character and the ones you gave as examples. Fun!

  2. Thanks Lynn,

    Appreciate your stopping by to say hello.

  3. Thanks for the great ideas for character building. I want to read all your books so have them on my wish list. Thanks for sharing with us today.

    misskallie2000 at yahoo dot com

  4. Tina, you rock, girl. Multi-congrats. Like your blog posts! happy B-day too.