I’ve got “blogger’s block,” folks. Been like this since I returned from vacation. So I’ve decided to just do a rambling post about characters and hope there’ll be something worthwhile in the mess when I’m finished.
I’ve found an author I like, Mary Kay Andrews. I have read three of her books: Save the Date, Summer Rental, and Ladies Night. The main characters in each of the books got me thinking about the importance of character development in fiction writing. Andrews’ characters are likeable, and the reader can identify with them.
In Ladies Night, Grace is a professional lifestyle blogger. She and her husband live in a beautiful mansion in a gated community in South Florida. They are wealthy. Grace, an interior decorator, blogs about recipes, decorating, parties – all things associated with high-end, gracious living.
One night she wakes up and discovers her husband is not in bed. She goes on a search and finds him in the garage, in his Audi. With him is Grace’s young assistant. She is naked. Grace goes berserk. She gathers up their articles of clothing scattered on the garage floor and burns them in her outdoor kitchen. Grace drives hubby’s $175,000 Audi convertible into the swimming pool. She hastily throws a few things into a bag and flees to her mother’s place.
Her husband locks her out of the house and takes over her blog. He cancels the credit cards and denies her access to the bank accounts. When she hires a lawyer and has a court hearing, the judge is unsympathetic. Because Grace is the one who left the family home, things do not go in her favor.
I don’t relate to Grace until her state of poverty forces her to change her lifestyle. She now lives in an apartment with her mother, above the family bar called The Sandbox. Grace must swap out designer outfits, shoes, and handbags for thrift store clothing. She wears a thrift shop dress and her mother’s cast-off sandals to her court hearing. When Grace gets new shoes, they’re from Payless.
Grace now seems a part of the real world we know and understand. Andrews does a great job molding her characters – all of them, but especially Grace. Grace grows and changes throughout the novel, another sign of good character development.
When I write, I usually have a good idea of what my character is like before I begin. Often, the character develops as the story unfolds, but I don’t think this is the way the “professionals” do it. A lot of writers use elaborate character charts to document every little detail about him before the story begins. They know all the physical attributes, right down to the jagged scar on his forehead that he got when he fell out of a tree when he was ten. They know he hates lima beans but loves his Granny’s banana pudding. They know their female character likes rainstorms. They know she eats potato chips and chocolate ice cream when she’s depressed. They know her first boyfriend, Nelson Biddle, kissed her after the 7th grade dance. These list-making, chart-filling, character profilers know everything. Everything. Whether or not this helps develop the character to the point of being likeable and relatable to the reader, I don’t know. I’ve never gone that far, although I know my character well in my head.
How do you develop your characters? Do you think they’re memorable to the reader?