craft,  the writing life,  thoughts

It’s All About The Characters

Characters are a passion of mine. I love people watching and finding out what makes a person tick. I think most writers are empathic in this way. A friend of mine recently asked me how writers come up with compelling heroes and heroines. Something Marion Zimmer Bradley once said to me in a rejection letter years ago floated to the surface of my mind. She said, “Stories are always about characters.” So where do our favorite writers get their characters? Well, from those around us, of course. Most often my own characters come from people I’ve known or met briefly. I often exaggerate their traits. So it’s not like I can say one character in a novel equals one person I know it real life. It’s not like that, not exactly.
No, in fact most of my characters are a mix of several people. Even my heroes and heroines. There’s also that mixture of fantasy in there; things I make up about the characters that resemble no one I know in real life. Heroes get a dash of alter-ego with characteristics I find admirable, but don’t often possess. That doesn’t always mean looks or wit or the ability to kick the bad guys’ keister while maintaining that ‘cool wind’ sex appeal, but can be about emotional strength as well. At the same time, even a hero has to cry or show weakness, otherwise (s)he is less human to the reader.
Characters are a multi-faceted thing. My mom once told me that I kind of freaked her out when I talk about my characters because she can never tell if I’m talking about a character or a friend. She even went as far as to wonder aloud, at one point, if I had multiple personalities. I imagine many jokes like that have been made at the expense of writers and their vivid and often overactive imaginations. I’m of the firm belief that characters have to become real to the writer (insofar as the writer can pretend very strongly) in order for the writer to write them and make them believable for the reader. For me this sometimes means writing pages and pages of character background, interviews, and really finding out what makes him/her tick. Of course a lot of time the characters come easily and all that pre-writing isn’t necessary. It really depends on the character and how cooperative (s)he is.
So despite the genre the thing that remains consistent through all fiction is the compelling character who draws the reader into the story. Someone the reader can relate to and cheer for (or not). It’s the characters who make or break stories and dictate whether or not the reader wants to keep reading. That isn’t to say story and plot aren’t important, but I’ve read books where the characters were so wonderful, clearly the plot holes were less noticeable to the editor, and I was certainly more forgiving toward the writer.
All of this leads to the final question. Who are your favorite characters and why?

Steph is an award winning and bestselling author of thrilling steamy and paranormal romances, dark urban fantasy, occult horror-thrillers, cozy mysteries, contemporary romance, sword and sorcery fantasy, and books about the esoteric and Daemonolatry. A Daemonolatress and forever a resident of Smelt Isle, she is happily married and cat-mom to three pampered house cats. Her muse is a demanding sadistic Dom who often keeps her up into the wee hours of the morning. You can contact her at


  • Connie Connolly

    Before I answer who my favorite characters are and why, I am wondering if you do character building before all of your books? I know you say it’s not always necessary, but does it help more so than not? For someone who is struggling to break in to the writing world, my characters seem to be what’s holding me up. I have a general idea of who they are and what they are about, but I’m having a hard time “getting to know them” if you will. Any thoughts for me on this?

  • admin

    I do admit that I think about my characters a lot before I start writing. Sometimes I start writing first and the characters grow as I write. Again, it really depends on the book. One thing I’ve noticed is each book is different from the one before it and each one presents its own unique challenges. I really suggest the character interview. I find them tremendously helpful. Just make a list of questions and then ask the character to answer them. Check out my World Building Worksheets for Writers on the link to the right. It has an awesome character worksheet in it.

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