Feelings….character depth – Shannon Vannatter

Welcome, Shannon, and guests! Here’s something special to commemorate the Heartsong Presents line since it’s ending this month. Comment to enter the drawing for a copy of Rodeo Reunion. Ten copies will be split among names drawn during my blog tour from June 1st – July 1st. One winner will receive a baseball themed memory board personally crafted by the author. Winners will be revealed on the author’s blog on July 22nd.

And now, here’s Shannon with some useful writing tips.

Baseball Memory Board

Feelings, whoa whoa whoa, feelings . . .

Anybody remember that song? Yes, I’m showing my age, but I thought it might grab your attention. The main way I add depth to my characters is through emotions. Feelings bring characters to life. I reveal feelings through reactions, both visceral such a jaw tic and physical such as clenched fists to show anger.

Another great way to reveal feelings is through internal thoughts—the things characters don’t say. So many times I think things I’ll never say. Often because my thoughts are rude, selfish, or too vulnerable to reveal. Characters need to have those thoughts too.

Our feelings, reactions, and internal thoughts are all shaped by our unique backstories. The people who raised us. The people surrounding us as we grew up. The things that happened—good and bad—in our lives. The place we grew up. Life-altering events—it all makes us who we are. Our backstories shape our reactions, emotions, and thoughts.

By basing a character’s feelings, reactions, and internal thoughts on their backstory, everything they feel, think, say, and do rings true. Yes, there are very writerly rules about backstory dumping. If you start the book with everything that happened to your character since birth, the reader won’t get very far.

We have to make the reader care about the character before they will care about what made them the way they are. The best advice I learned on backstory is to sprinkle it lightly like salt. A line or two here. A line there. Just enough to make the character reactions understandable.

Another great piece of advice—reveal your character’s backstory like you reveal your past to a new acquaintance—a little at a time as the relationship deepens. When you first meet, you reveal little, maybe your job, whether you’re married or not, and how many children you have if any. The next time, maybe you talk about your parents and siblings. It takes months to reveal some things about yourself, years for others, and some things you never reveal.

Characters should be the same way. Readers don’t need to know every little thing about them. Just the important stuff that shaped them and only over time as they get deeper into the book and in a deeper relationship with the character.

Here’s a fun way to tackle backstory form the movie, Tangled:

Rapunzel: “So Flynn, where you from?”

Flynn: “Whoa, Blondie, I don’t do backstory. But I am very interested in yours.”

But she doesn’t want to spill either. Later, after practically everybody in the kingdom is chasing them, Flynn fights off guards and a horse, and lots of destruction, they end up in a cave which is slowly flooding. Trapped and thinking they’re going to die, Rapunzel apologizes for getting him into this mess. In a vulnerable moment, Flynn reveals his real name—Eugene Fitzherbert and how he became Flynn Rider, the thief.

Characters don’t necessarily have to be trapped and on the verge of dying to get their backstory out. But their backstory should be revealed slowly as the reader needs to know it and organically to fit the story. Divulge the bulk of it well into the tale—after your reader is rooting for your character.

If every feeling, thought, and reaction the character has is shaped by their backstory, the character leaps off the page, three dimensional, and full of depth.

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Central Arkansas author, Shannon Taylor Vannatter is a stay-at-home mom/pastor’s wife. She lives in a town with a population of around 100, if you count a few cows, and once climbed a mountain wearing gold wedge-heeled sandals which became known as her hiking boots. Vannatter won the Inspirational Readers Choice Award in the short contemporary category, The 18th Annual Heartsong Awards 3rd Favorite New Author and #1 Contemporary Award. 

She has ten published titles and is contracted for five more. Her books are available at christianbook.com, barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com, harlequin.com, and barbourbooks.com. Learn more about Shannon and her books at http://shannonvannatter.com and check out her real life romance blog at http://shannonvannatter.com/blog/.

 

Rodeo Reunion cover

 

Connect with Shannon on Facebook: http://facebook.com/shannontaylorvannatter, Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/29672798-shannon-vannatter, Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/stvannatter/, and Twitter: @stvauthor.

Rodeo Reunion: RAQUEL MARRIS NEEDS A MAN WHO’LL STAY PUT 

And Slade Walker’s not a likely candidate. Even if the former major league pitcher just agreed to coach her son’s little league team. The single mom can’t risk everything on a bronc-riding chaplain who’s only passing through Raquel’s small Texas town.

Slade is taking a hiatus from the rodeo circuit to meet the sister he never knew he had. But the pretty widowed nurse next door is making him think twice about hitting the road again. He can’t turn his back on the cowboys who need him, but Raquel and her boy need him, too. Can Slade fulfill his calling and finally find a place to hang his hat?

 

Purchase Links:

 

http://www.christianbook.com/rodeo-reunion-shannon-vannatter/9780373487851/pd/487851?event=ESRCG

 

http://www.amazon.com/Reunion-Heartsong-Presents-Shannon-Vannatter/dp/0373487851/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1431697907&sr=1-5&keywords=Shannon+Taylor+Vannatter

 

WAIT FOR ME, Jo Huddleston

Our guest, Jo Huddleston, is a multi-published author of books, articles, and short stories. Her debut novels in the Caney Creek Series and her latest book, Wait for Me are sweet Southern romances. She is a member of ACFW, the Literary Hall of Fame at Lincoln Memorial University (TN), and holds a M.Ed. degree from Mississippi State University. Jo lives in the U.S. Southeast with her husband, near their two grown children and four grandchildren. Visit Jo at www.johuddleston.com.

WAIT FOR ME finalFollowing is an Jo’s interview with a character from her novel. Wait for Me 

I’m in Coaltown, West Virginia meeting with  Claude Capshaw.

Hello. Are you the owner of Capshaw coal mine #7?

Hey, there. Yes, I’ve owned this mine for about a year.

Mr. Capshaw, do you own other coal mines as well?

Please call me Claude. And, yes,  I’ve bought coal mines in Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia. This mine here in Coaltown is my latest purchase.

Do you always live in the community where your coal mine is located?

That’s right. I need to be close to the miners when I buy a new coal mine. They need see me around and come to know me as the fair, honest man that I am. My wife, Lillian, doesn’t much like it when we move to a new coal community. In fact, she doesn’t like living anywhere near a coal mine and is a little standoffish, she doesn’t mix well with the miners and their families.

Claude, do you have children? How do they like living here?

We have a beautiful daughter, Julia. I think Julia likes it okay here. Her mother gives her a hard time about spending time with the miners’ kids and forbids her to socialize, especially the boys.

Why do you think that is?

Well, my wife isn’t much like my little girl and me. Julia and I can mix with the people here. But I know it’s hard on Julia when her mother wants her to stay apart from the other kids. Julia’s a normal high school senior, she wants to have friends, and she’s torn between what she wants and what her mother demands. I try to encourage Julia all I can.

How do you do that?

There’s a boy in her class she likes—Roberto. He works after school every day in my company store. He’s a good kid. I don’t criticize Julia or tell her mother when I see them talking. Like I said, Julia needs to have her friends. She’ll be leaving in September to enroll at West Virginia University. I’m in agreement with her mother about that—it’s important that Julia get a good education.

But I think my wife’s only purpose in sending her to the university is so she will be in better social circles up there. Her mother thinks Julia needs to meet more suitable and acceptable young men than those here in the mining community. I just hope her strict rules and plans for Julia don’t backfire and cause Julia to become disobedient. My little girl is a sweet child, but she has spunk. I just hope her mother doesn’t push her too hard or too far.

JO PK full  Jo is offering a free eBook for Kindle copy of her book to one commenter on this  post.

Here is the purchase link for Wait For Me: http://tiny.cc/bhigxx

 

 

 

Website www.johuddleston.com

Blog http://www.johuddleston.com

Blog http://lifelinesnow.blogspot.com

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/joshuddleston

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1615694.Jo_Huddleston

Purchase eBook for Kindle and print copies of Wait for Me at: http://tiny.cc/xndfwx

Here’s the back cover from Wait For Me.

Can Julie, an only child raised with privilege and groomed for high society, and Robby, a coal miner’s son, escape their socioeconomic backgrounds? In a  1950’s West Virginia coal mining community, can their love survive their cultural boundaries?

This is a tragically beautiful story of a simple, yet deep love between two soul mates, Robby and Julie. The American South’s rigid caste system and her mother demand that Julie marry an ambitious young man from a prominent family. Julie counters her mother’s stringent social rules with deception in order to keep Robby in her life. Can the couple break the shackles of polite society and spend their lives together? Will Julie’s mother ever accept Robby?

Characterization in a Single Title/Mainstream Romance by Liz Flaherty

You’ll enjoy Liz. Sit back and relax. 

I’m afraid, now that I said I’d do this article, that I’ve agreed under false pretenses, so let me start it with a duh-generating caveat. I have completed three single title books: a historical romance, a contemporary romance, and one that’s not hardly a romance at all. As of this writing, none of them are sold. That’s the “duh” part—you know, what makes me qualified to write this?

Well, number one, I’m a warm body with a keyboard. Number two, I LOVE characterization. Number three, even though I have enough rejections and editorial maybes under my belt to re-tree a forest, no one has ever rejected or editorially maybe-ed my characters.

It’s the easiest, laziest part of writing fiction, and doing it in single title/mainstream is just exactly like doing it in short/category except it’s…uh…even easier and lazier.

If you’re like me, your characters drive your story. Plot is incidental; it’s just what happens to those people. If you take away your characters—gosh, I hate calling them that; they’re people—the story no longer exists, because it’s not going to be the same story with others as its protagonists and secondary characters.

Oh, my goodness, have I just said something important? Well, that depends. If you write character-driven, you just said “duh.” However, if you’re a plot-driven writer, you probably said, “What is she talking about?”

Have you read any of Janet Ivanovich’s Stephanie Plum mystery series, starting with One for the Money? If you have, you know Stephanie’s a smart-talking “Joizy” girl with a hilarious grandmother and a cousin for every crime. If, on the other hand, you’ve read any of Lawrence Sanders’ Archie McNally series, you know Archie’s a rich guy in his 30s who still lives at home and drives a sharp little red Mazerati.

         They’re both young, attractive, witty, and charming. They both have families whose eccentricities add humor and depth to their stories. They both solve mysteries and murders, all the while creating more mayhem for next time. Gender aside, are they interchangeable?

Nope.

And that, my friends, is single-title / mainstream characterization.

Okay, we all know that we develop our people by giving them individual traits. In a category romance, our heroine may be a little clumsy, a chocoholic, or shy. Something terrible may have even happened to her, a long time ago. Our hero might be a channel surfer, or he might drive too fast, or he may suffer flashbacks of a war fought in a Third World country a long time ago. But any failings they have will be either minor ones that don’t seriously affect the story or they will be in their distant past. This is not because the author doesn’t want to deal with them but because category romances aren’t long enough.

Single title romances are, so all your people’s character traits—or flaws—can affect the story any way you want them to. And if you want that hero to be just six hours home from that war or that heroine to be just three days past the loss of a child, that’s fine, because you have room in single title to address their pain.

And that, my friends . . . oops, repeating myself, aren’t I?

And there’s another part of characterization. If a character starts out with a slightly twitching right eye or a dimple in her left cheek, make sure she keeps it or gets it fixed within the story. If he speaks in a dialect, make sure not to insert enough of it to get annoying, but don’t forget it altogether, or your readers will “hear” your first-generation Irishman speaking with Midwestern nasality. Repeat yourself—just not a lot.

Before I end this, let me add one thought that is purely subjective, speaking from strictly one reader’s point of view, that reader being me. I hate perfect characters. Just as I’m not interested in knowing any in real life, I’m not interested in reading about them, either, because there’s nothing there to identify with.

         Happy writing.

***

Liz Flaherty admits, only semi-apologetically, that she wrote this article a long time ago. In the time since then, those manuscripts she mentioned in the first paragraph—along with numerous others—have been sold and published. (She is unbecomingly proud of this, so don’t ask her too many questions—she’ll answer them.)

You can Google her name, or you can go to all the on-line bookstores if you’d like to read one (or nine) of her books. You can also visit her at www.lizflaherty.com or at http://wordwranglers.blogspot.com/ where she blogs every Monday. If you ever just feel like talking, drop an email to lizkflaherty@gmail.com.

 

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