Discussing characters as people

So, my really good friend Dona Sarkar has been talking about characterization on her blog. She and her agent have come to the conclusion that maybe Dona has had trouble selling because, despite having awesome, high concept stories, her characters might not be as three dimensional as necessary to sell a book.

I have ALWAYS thought that characterization was my weakness in writing. I have a really hard time fleshing them out and making them real. Or I do flesh them out, but tend to repeat personalities from one character to the next in one book to the next. Kind of like I’ve never analyzed people as individuals enough to really see what a well-rounded person is like. Or I make them like me in too many ways, which is boring, truthfully.

Is this why I haven’t sold another book since VENUS ENVY? Maybe so. I’m constantly told by editors that my writing it great, they were intrigued by the plot of the story….but they just didn’t connect with the character enough. Or the didn’t fall in love with the character. Or they thought the character was weak (that one I didn’t get, as she wasn’t weak at all, but had a flaw she was going to have to overcome). But, as I have always felt that character was my weakness, I’m not overly surprised by these comments.

On the other hand, and to sooth any sudden panic on the part of anyone reading this blog who is thinking “Oh, crap! Now I don’t want to read VENUS ENVY because Shannon sucks at characters,” I have to say that, in the case of VENUS, I managed to bypass my weakness and create a couple of great characters. When my editor told me that Venus’s character was one of the best she’d read, I was kind of in awe. And I truly couldn’t have said how I did it.

Venus, however, is an entity all unto herself. She is larger than life and was very clear to me in the very beginning of writing that book. On the other hand, I don’t think she really became three dimensional until I was about two thirds of the way through the book and discovered what her weakness was. What made this goddess “human?” That discovery not only completely brought to life the character of Venus, it also finally allowed me to finish a book I had kind of been stuck on.

The other heroine of VENUS ENVY, Rachel (the “Cinderella” if you will) turned out great, too. In fact, in my reading a characterization book last night, 45 MASTER CHARACTERS, by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, yesterday, I realized that, unknowingly, I had created Rachel exactly to the model of Demeter (The Nurturer) as Schmidt describes in the book. I had created her instinctively right down to the flaws. With the same fears and problems because she doesn’t have the family/children in her life to nurture as is engrained in her nature. I was flabbergasted to say the least.

So why do I have such a hard time with characters in other books I write? Why have I thus far been unable to duplicate these terrific people that people my books. (One of the articles I read yesterday, I think by Sherrilyn Kenyon, says never to call your characters characters. They are people, and once we begin to think of them that way, they start to be more three-dimensional and real.)

I’m still not sure why I haven’t been able to hit on the magic formula for creating people that come to life. I’ve done it once…I just need to figure out how to do it again. Dona and I are going to exchange any wisdom that we hit upon as we both struggle with this. I think I made some inroads yesterday, reading some characterization books…really reading them and not just skimming the checklists. I don’t do well just filling out character charts, either. I just end up not being able to think of all the details necessary to fill them out. I feel like I’m kind of blocked when it comes to life details of my people.

Maybe some character studies of real people are necessary. If anyone has any great ideas, I would be more than thrilled to hear them! Please let me know.

Oh, and don’t forget to stop back by Friday, September 1, for a chance to win a cool prize in honor of the first day of school!

Shannon