How Real are Your Characters?

The authors of Main Street started discussing character reality over the weekend. So I thought I’d share my views with everyone. Let me say upfront, I totally know the difference between reality and character reality.

Yes, there are people who drop into a Neverland and no longer can separate the two. Somehow authors and other creative people manage to straddle the two worlds and remain sane. We talk about voices in our heads. We aren’t going to follow the voice who tells us to go rob a bank, but we might have our characters robbing a bank. So the separation remains.

For me, the creative process of selecting characters for a novel takes place in an odd sort of way. It’s not the same each time. Most of the time, I have a physical description that emerges first and then all the back story, quirks, etc. begin to pull together. I don’t start to write the story until I know everything (or I think I know everything) about the character, including how that character prefers his or her coffee.

Then I begin to play with the what ifs and I’ve been known to discuss this with my character. Not really, but I play a scene in my head to see how that character would behave in those circumstances. I tweak the scene and do it again. I do that until I have several scenes and I know my story is going someplace.

Occasionally, I get blindsided. In my upcoming Christmas release with the Authors of Main Street, I revisit Mariner’s Cove. It’s always been a favorite story of mine.

Frank was the younger, college-aged cousin who created havoc for the older cousin, Archer “Brook” Brooklyn, IV.Β  But the irresponsible, bad-boy, Frank has played on my mind for years. And I wanted to use this quaint, New England, lobster town at Christmas. But every time I began to formulate plans for such a novel, it was as though those plans fell into a million little pieces of confetti and I didn’t know why.

So this time Frank emerged, as a mature adult. He’s walked away from motocross as he physically can no longer compete, but he won’t give up the sport or his love of riding motorcycles. That put him in direct conflict with his family. And his need for the adrenaline rush of winning was no longer being fueled in a courtroom. I had enough to send him back to Mariner’s Cove and give him a chance to re-evaluate his life, and what he wanted.

Enter Celine:

She’s that self-sufficient Yankee who leads a rather boring life, but she’s enjoying it. She’s not about to be bowled over by a cute guy, especially a rich one. As a waitress, she’s seen plenty and she’ not looking for a guy to come save her from her horrid life. Because life is pretty good!

They have barely started their relationship when Celine is a witness to an accident that send Frank off his motorcycle. At that point, my head knew I had my Christmas story. But as I wrote it (I refuse to tell and give away anything) something emerged. It was one of those OMG moments. It had never come up in the first Mariner’s Cove book.Β  And in my mind, at that moment, all sorts of things came together. It made prefect sense!

So yes, my characters will still catch me off guard. But how many times in real life have you been surprised at a close friend who reveals something to you?

Frank is real to me, as is Celine. The town is real – I’ve walked those streets, I’ve been aboard those boats, and I know the men who run them! Why? Because I’ve been in a hundred such towns. I’ve eaten those meals, known watermen, and I’ve known lawyers. I’ve been friends with the women who’ve been married to them.

And as for that accident… My niece was in a motorcycle accident with severe brain trauma.Β  My hubby spent ten days in a neuro-unit. That means I’ve spent way too many days of my life coping with brain trauma. I’ve seen full recovery and death. These things affect the stories I write. But they also enrich the stories and make them more real. So by the time I’ve finished, the characters are as real to me as I can get them. And according to my reviews, they are real to the people who read them.

I’m willing to release a few advanced copies of my upcoming Christmas story for honest reviews. If you’d like a copy just let me know. You can go to the contact page here on my personal blog and leave me your email address. Just put ARC (Advance Review Copy) in the subject line and I’ll send you a review copy of this novella.

Yes, Frank has grown up. Lives are about to change. And once the wheel starts spinning, we all know that there is no turning back the hands of time.

I love writing. I love creating characters and stories that take my readers away from their mundane lives. And I love hearing from readers!

A review said of another novel of mine:

This is the second book I’ve read by this author. She seems to have a knack for creating self-contained domestic worlds which draw me in so completely that when I resurface from a long reading session, I feel quite disoriented and out of place in the real world. That to me, has to be the chief sign of an excellent story-weaver.

Do characters become real to you as you write or read them? Do you feel disoriented when you must face the real world? I’d love to hear from you!

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35 Responses to How Real are Your Characters?

  1. Jan says:

    Every book I’ve read by E. Ayers has taken me away from my real world and let me see life through her eyes. Yes, it feels real within those pages. When I need a getaway from my life, I pick up an E. Ayers novel or novella, and enjoy a “vacation”! Thanks Ms. Ayers.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Cindy Woolf says:

    Great blog. I love hearing how you find your characters.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. jelquinn says:

    I’ve been wondering lately if authors still think about their characters before actually writing the story and finding their backstories and “how they like their coffee.” It’s great to know that writing-craft is still going strong!

    Liked by 3 people

    • E. Ayers says:

      Maybe it’s the difference between crafting a story and formulaic writing. There’s always been pressure on authors to churn out another story and to write to a known market.

      Let’s say this book suddenly sells over a million copies (I wish!), that means people will be looking for more such books. And there will be hundreds of motorcycle riding bad-boys who are actually good guys but choose to march to a different drummer and follow their own dreams. Other authors don’t have to think about the story. It’s already been written. They only need to change a few things and re-write it.

      If that happens, I’m just going to cross my fingers that maybe those million readers read everything else I’ve written and will continue to read what I’m writing because each book is different. And with luck, I can leave Frank tucked in Mariner’s Cove. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 2 people

  4. susanrhughes says:

    Mariner’s Cove is one of my favourites of yours, E. It has humour, passion and heart.
    I was just thinking the other day about the rush of first getting to know your characters. When I start writing I don’t know them very well, but as the story develops, I get a sense of who they are and their motivations. Something clicks and they become real to me. That’s the exciting part of writing.

    Liked by 5 people

    • E. Ayers says:

      There is a joy to finding the characters for stories and creating those story lines. There is an adrenaline rush to that process that other people don’t understand. Nor do they understand our agony when the rush is over and we’re still forced to keep writing.

      Thanks for a kind words on Mariner’s Cove. I never really think of it as a book – it’s a place. Maybe a few more folks will grab some copies and go on a “vacation” there.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. MRS N, the Author says:

    Your novella sounds fabulous, E! I love the main characters and the circumstances makes for excellent reading.

    As for me, when writing new characters, I close my eyes and have a long gab session. I then start writing. Like Susan, the more I write, the more I get to know my characters. It’s not unlike getting to know a new friend. You’re both shy at first and before you know it, you know each other inside and out. πŸ™‚

    When I read, it’s all about the characters. I want to be swept away, to escape my own problems for awhile. I need the characters to be real yet different from me. I’ve never traveled to certain places in the world and have never been a princess. Yet, those characters I am drawn to. It’s so disappointing when the characters are flat and don’t fly off the page.

    Liked by 2 people

    • E. Ayers says:

      No one is a princess in Mariner’s Cove, nor is it an exotic place. But it is a place to run and hide for a little while from life. And maybe we all have favorite places to run and hide. Sometimes there is the thrill of a city. Neil Diamond wrote lyrics about the noise being music and it is. When I write a small cove/beach town, I hear and see the waves crashing. It has it’s own music. Ah, but the idea of wearing a fancy ball gown and dancing the night away with a handsome prince charming, I think lingers inside of all of us. (Ah, at least in a book I can dance, because in real life, I can’t do more than trip my way across the floor!) πŸ™‚

      Liked by 2 people

  6. stephaniequeen says:

    Fascinating look behind the scenes of realistic character creation, E.! You’re right when you point out–and your readers, too–that the characters become just as real for the readers as they do for the authors. That’s what makes a story most engrossing and satisfying!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. “Real” characters are important to me as both a reader and a writer. I think what makes us want to read a novel is characters we can care about. Well-rounded characterization is most important. It comes before plot or theme or setting.

    Liked by 3 people

    • E. Ayers says:

      I so agree! There have been times that I really didn’t like the character but I was still drawn in just to see how they ticked. But if that character hadn’t been so realistic, I would have tossed the book.


  8. Jo Grafford says:

    Loved the peek into how you bring your characters to life. It’s amazing how very real some of our fictional characters become to us, isn’t it? Laughing when they laugh and crying when they cry…

    Liked by 3 people

    • MRS N, the Author says:

      It’s so true, Jo. My characters become a part of me and they talk to me as if they are standing beside me. I get so emotionally attached to my characters and when it is all over and they are released to the world, I feel a little sad, like a mother saying good-bye to her child on the first day of school.

      Liked by 3 people

      • E. Ayers says:

        Turning a favorite hero loose into the world is heartbreaking because he’s no longer mine!

        A friend once told me that she had fallen in love with the guy that her best friend was dating. And when they got married, she was asked to be maid of honor. She said it ripped her heart out. Ten years later, she and her best friend were divorced. She ran into her best friend’s ex. Now she’s been happily married to him for over 35 years.

        Liked by 2 people

    • E. Ayers says:

      The emotional involvement is impossible to explain to someone who doesn’t write! Nor do they understand when we cry our way through a scene.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Carol says:

    My characters form most of the time before the storyline, and they grow the more I write about them. All of what I write doesn’t make it into the book, but character’s feelings and background stay with me so I can add bits and pieces to their story. Great post, E.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Carol says:

    Reblogged this on Carol DeVaney and commented:

    Elizabeth Ayers talks of how her characters come to life. Great post. Check it out.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. okwriter says:

    Great post. I love how you gradually develop your characters and the time you take to get to know them. I look forward to the Christmas Anthology.

    Beverley Bateman

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Joan Reeves says:

    Thank you for an excellent post and good luck with the new work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • E. Ayers says:

      Thanks, Joan. Of course getting the characters to do what I want… Herding cats is easier. At least with cats, I can open a can of cat food, and kitties will appear from all four corners of the house. Characters aren’t that easy. They are way too human! πŸ™‚


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