Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Making Your Characters Your Friends

By Judith Keim, @judithkeim

Part of the How They Do It Series

JH: Characters can make or break a novel, so it's a good idea to get them on your side as soon as possible. Please help me welcome Judith Keim to the lecture hall today to share some thoughts on befriending your characters.

Judith Keim was born and raised in Elmira, New York, and now makes her home in Idaho with her husband and long-haired dachshund, Winston, and other members of her family.
Growing up, books were always present—being read, ready to go back to the library or about to be discovered. Information from the books was shared in general conversation, giving the family a wealth of knowledge and a lot of imagination. Perhaps that was why she was drawn to the idea of writing stories early on. She particularly loved to write novels about women who face unexpected challenges with strength and find love along the way.

A hybrid author who both has a publisher and self-publishes, Ms. Keim writes heart-warming stories of strong women who face challenges and find love and happiness along the way. Her books are based, in part, on many of the places she’s lived or visited and on the interesting people she’s met along the way, creating believable characters and realistic settings her many, loyal readers love. Sign up to receive her newsletter and to be on her review team.

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Take it away Judith...

A number of my books are out as parts of various series. Some of you may be acquainted with the Hartwell Women, the Fat Fridays group, and the Beach House Hotel series. If so, you can imagine my excitement at starting a brand-new one—The Salty Key Inn series. Fun and easy to begin anew, right? Not if you don’t know your characters well enough to call them good friends.

I’d been so used to knowing all my characters well that I’d forgotten what it was like to start fresh. Not only did I have to dream up the main characters—their appearance, their dreams, their conflicts, and goals, I had to place them somewhere.

I started with this story blurb: The Sullivan sisters – Sheena, Darcy and Regan—are surprised to learn that they’ve inherited a hotel in Florida. But the gift comes with a twist. They must live there together for one whole year while they fix up the hotel to receive guests. If they succeed, they will inherit the remainder of their uncle’s estate. If not, they lose it all. Each young woman has a strong reason to want to do this.

While this, I think, is a fun premise, it isn’t necessarily an easy story to write. Who in the heck are the Sullivan sisters? And what in the world does their hotel look like? And if you’re a “pantser” like me—developing a story as you go—the characters aren’t your friends for a long time. You have a hint of what they’re like, but until you really well acquainted, you don’t know if they like bagels or toast, beer or wine, sun or snow. You get it. It’s all in the details.

All writers have to be concerned with goals, motivation, and conflict for their characters. But like so many other writers, I strive to go much deeper than that, creating characters that are memorable. I think about my characters a lot as I write. But by the time I reach the end of the first draft, I’ve gathered enough facts about them through actions to know I have to go back to the beginning and make changes to them to make their characteristics consistent.

How do you make characters distinctive? A reader more easily identifies with a character when you give him or her a unique trait, habit or appearance. A certain high-pitched laugh or the familiar tapping of fingers when uncertain can make the reader feel they know that character well.

Characters must grow and change in a story. This is true for any book, but the character arc becomes extended when you write a series. Though a reader might think she knows a character in book one, she needs to continue to learn more about each one throughout the series.

What if you have a “bad guy” in the book? Those characters, too, need to be developed in such a way that they seem real without exaggeration or a concentration of only bad qualities which might make him/her a cardboard creation without depth.

Without becoming friends with your characters, a writer can’t make them come alive. And without your readers feeling as if they know them well, the characters remain on the page and not in the reader’s imagination..

With that in mind, I’m very excited to introduce you to the Sullivan Sisters in Finding Me-The Salty Key Inn Series - 1. Sheena, the typical oldest sister, Darcy, the sassy middle-child, and Regan, the beautiful youngest sister were not close as children. Bringing them together, forcing them to live under a difficult situation brings out the best and worst in each of them. I hope you grow to love them as much as I do. Good characters make interesting friends!!

About Finding Me – The Salty Key Inn Series

Sheena Sullivan Morelli and her sisters, Darcy and Regan, receive the unexpected news that their Uncle Gavin Sullivan, the black sheep of the family, has left them a hotel on the Gulf coast of Florida. The gift comes with a twist. They must live together for one year at the hotel and prepare the hotel to receive guests within a year. Sheena, eager to escape her role of unappreciated wife and mother, can’t wait for the opportunity to find herself. Dreams of sitting on the beach sipping margaritas are shattered when they see the property in need of renovation. But they begin their work of meeting the challenge. If they succeed, the bulk of Gavin’s estate will be theirs. Facing the unexpected, working together, the three sisters learn a lot about each other and the gift of family love.

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  1. Thank you so much for having me here...writing is a lonely job so it's such fun to share ideas and thoughts with others! Have a great day!!

  2. Judy, I think part of how you as an author differentiate between characters in your "Beach House Hotel" books is by showing education level through their word choices. Then you unexpectedly give this uneducated person wealth. This sort of approach give us, the readers, surprises to look forward to. Always love that in a book!
    Thanks for the post.

    1. Kyrsten, thanks so much! I love surprising myself and my readers as the story unfolds!

  3. I'm already a fan of the Beach House Hotel series, so I can't wait to start this new adventure in Florida where I make my home. Judith Keim is such a wonderful writer! Her characters come to life in the first few pages of her books and I'm hooked right from the start. Looking forward to downloading "Finding Me", Judy!

    1. Pat, Thank you so much for your kind words!! Readers tell me that I make them want to move to Florida! I loved living in Florida myself and meeting great people like you!! Hugs...

  4. I foresee many busted pipes and good looking construction workers in the sisters' futures. Sounds like a fun series!

    1. doesn't always happen that way, but you never know what troubles they'll get into.Putting three sisters together is fun!

  5. Great article, Judy! Sometimes you have to think of your characters as members of your extended family, lol.

    1. Or not! LOL...seriously, you have to know them well or it doesn't work. I end up loving my characters so much I don't want to let them go! Thanks for your support! Hugs...

  6. Very interesting post Judy! I know the feeling of loving your characters. By the time I finish a book, my characters are my friends and sometimes I find it surprising that they are make-believe.

    1. So true...they become real friends! Thanks!!