Characterization (part 1)
I don’t know how you start your stories, but mine always start with the characters. And while every writer has their own way of creating what will be a book in the end, I’m going to share a bit about my process. Keep in mind, this is what works for me. There is no right or wrong way to write a book. If it’s a book in the end, you did it the right way.
So, characters. Since I write four books in a series, I need four main characters to wrap the stories around. Each of those four people will have their own book at some point in the series but will appear in the other three books as secondary characters. So, once I have character names and occupations, I write short summaries of the main character and their story. Very basic, very vague, very much needing details at some point a little later.
For the Blue Justice series, I have four heroines all tied to the same family (think Blue Bloods).
For book 1, my summary is:
Police officer Isabelle (Belle) St. John loves her family. Her crazy, loud, law enforcement family. With three brothers and two sisters, she’s never without someone to hang out with—or fight with. From Sunday afternoon football in the backyard to being a bridesmaid in her cousin’s wedding, she’s happy with her life and knows she’s blessed. Her mother is the Chief of Police (a fact that doesn’t set well with some people who don’t think a woman can do the job); her father is a lawyer. Her eldest brother is commander of the SWAT team, another brother a beat cop like her, working his way up to detective. Her third brother—who is also her twin—works undercover most of the time, so she never really sees him much. Her two younger sisters are her best friends although she sometimes despairs over the youngest who is a freshman in college—and studying criminal justice. When Belle’s partner is murdered and Belle barely escapes with her life, she’s determined to find out exactly what happened. Her investigation tumbles her headfirst into a criminal organization with cops on the payroll—possibly including one of her own family members. She doesn’t believe it, but saw him with her own eyes. Belle is frantic to figure out who to trust. When homicide detective Ryan Marshall is assigned as the lead detective on her shooting, she’s leery about trusting him at first. But when he saves her life, she realizes that he’s on her side—even though allowing him to get close may mean sending someone she loves to prison.
I do this summary before I even do a character sketch sheet (which I will talk about in a later blog post). In this summary, I learn quite a bit about my characters already. For example:
- Isabelle St. John (who became Izzy, not Belle because she was just … Izzy. It fit her so much better when I started writing the story) is the heroine. We know she’s a police officer. She has a large family, and she’s basically had a good childhood. She grew up with type-A personality parents. She loses her partner in a shooting. Integrity is ingrained into her as she’s willing to send someone she loves to prison if it means she takes a criminal off the streets. This isn’t a lot to know for a character who needs to carry a story for 80-85K words, is it? But it’s a start. It’s gotten my brain spinning with enough ideas to go a little deeper into Izzy’s character.
- Let’s look at the hero. Ryan Marshall is a detective. He’s assigned to Izzy’s partner’s shooting. He saves her life and gains her trust. And that’s about it, right? Yes, I’ve got some work to do on Ryan, but here he’s becoming someone I’m interested in. Someone I want to know more about.
So, while I have a basic summary of my characters and a bit of the plot, there’s so much more I’m missing that’s required to create a story.
Come back next time for the next installment, and I’ll take you a bit further into my process that includes what you should know about a character before you start writing. Or, for the pantsers out there, what you should discover as you head into the story.
In the meantime, if you’re a writer, how do you start a new story? Do you have a process? I’d love to hear your thoughts.