Keeping the Love (for Your Characters) Alive

March 24, 2011

By the middle of a non-fiction article, it doesn’t matter if I’m feeling less enamored with a source. Say Dr. Horatio Blowhard provides me with brilliant information to end all colic, but he’s harsh and behaves badly during our phone interview. I don’t need to love him or even understand him in order to write my article.

But, with fiction it’s different.

My stories begin with characters not plots. I’m usually going about my business, driving kids from Point A to Point B or unloading the dishwasher when one or two people pop into my head and start talking. If I like these people, they will more than likely become H&H for my next story.

I begin with such enthusiasm, learning all the wonderful things there are to learn about someone early in a relationship. There are a lot of smiles and deep sighs. After all, she’s beautiful and funny; he’s sexy and romantic. And then, the rose-colored glasses get crushed under the weight of something ridiculously stupid. The heroine cries too much. The hero’s kind of a dick. Crap!

So I push back in my chair and stare at the screen and all 20k words I’ve managed to write before I realized these two people suck.

“Fine,” I say. “We’re breaking up.”

And at first they don’t seem to care.

But after a few hours—days in some cases—they start to see what I see (or I start to see what they see), and we meet for coffee and a conversation about how we can make things work. After all, I don’t want to give up 20K words without fighting for them first.

How do I fight to keep the love (for my characters) alive?

  • I daydream about them, especially using music. Like any relationship, the more you keep that special someone on your mind, the more your affection grows. The key is keeping in mind their positive characteristics. If you dwell on the negative, then this tip will backfire fast.
  • I find pictures of real people who look like H&H. In a college PR class, I learned that having a good headshot is important for success in business, because people connect with a face. I know as writers our imaginations are a bit more active than most people’s, but even the most vivid imagination can benefit from a picture ripped from a magazine, a picture that brings you eye to eye with the one(s) you love.
  • I talk to my characters and even interview them. As I go about my non-writing day, we have conversations in my mind. I ask them questions, and—at the risk of sounding like I’m bonkers—they give me answers.

In the end, it all boils down to respect. The more time I spend with my characters, the more I understand their motivations and behaviors, and while understanding them might not make me like what they’re doing on any given page, I do still love them. And that love carries us through to the final page.

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