Emilie Richards and I have been chatting back and forth on our blogs for the past week. This is the third of four installments. Hope you’re enjoying our conversation! Be sure to comment for a chance to win one of our books. Emilie will give away Sunset Bridge and I’ll give away Summer’s Child to randomly selected commenters on each of our blogs. Good luck!
Emilie: Do you have a favorite way of making a character sympathetic, a way that draws the reader in immediately?
Diane: One surefire way to make an unsympathetic character more sympathetic is to give them someone they love deeply. Tim in The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes had a sister he would–and did–do anything for, so even though he is manipulative and breaks the law big time, most readers will understand him better because of that human emotion. Another way is to know they grapple with right and wrong. Savannah in The Good Father is torn between her hunger for money and her love of a little girl. Vulnerability is another great way to help readers fall for a character. In One Mountain Away, I remember being drawn in instantly by Harmony’s vulnerability. Everyone can identify with being vulnerable.
Taking our conversation in a slightly different direction, how real do your characters become to you? I like to go the geographic area where my character lives and pretend I’m in that character’s skin or at least hanging out with her there. After a couple of days of doing that, I feel like she’s a friend of mine, and when I finish the book, I don’t want to let her go. What’s it like for you?
Emilie: You’re asking at the right moment. I just sent in my newest book after working steadily on it forever. So after the initial elation, I realized I felt so lonely. Where did my friends go? I no longer have an inside track on their lives. But it’s not always true. Some characters, like some friends, are always a bit mysterious, a bit harder to fathom. Even when the book’s on the shelf, I wish I knew them better, that I’d gotten them to “fess up” all their secrets.
Marjorie, one of our readers and commenters here asked several good questions. One, on characters, was this: “How do we choose which character should change and also choose the events that lead to it. Care to offer any insight on that?
Diane: For me, it’s the character or characters I’m asking the reader to invest in the most. I don’t ever write from a formula and neither do you, but I can say I a) create a character with flaws and a dilemma b) make life so difficult for her (or him) that she is near the breaking point, and c) have her discover on her own not only how to survive and become a better person for the experience. So the events usually come to me organically from the character’s circumstances. In The Good Father, Erin has lost her little daughter in an accident. Now I’ve thrown a little girl her daughter’s age smack into her path. What she chooses to do helps her grow.
Meredith also asked a “non-character-specific” question I’ll turn over to you, Emilie: “How do you get started on a book?” Since you and I are nearly ready to start our next novels, that’s a good question!
Visit Emilie’s blog on Friday for the last installment of our chat!