Characters Inside and Out
I’m pleased to welcome thriller writer Mark Terry today to Oh Book Me! Mark knows a thing or two about building great characters, as evidenced from his new novel, Valley of the Shadows.
Character Details By Mark Terry
For writers, think about your own characters; for readers, think about your favorite characters in books.
Here are some questions.
1. Where were they born?
2. What the name of his/her parents?
3. What color is his/her hair?
4. What color are his/her eyes?
I could go on. And I will, but these are fairly basic questions, aren’t they? You would think so. Except, of course, I have some close friends and I’m not sure I can’t answer #1 or #2 about them.
Which may be the case with fictional characters, too. But the writer ought to know, right?
How well we know a character – our own or the ones we’re reading about – can be funny things. The good writer provides a sort of shorthand to the character, and we don’t necessarily know every little detail, just like, with close friends, maybe we don’t know every little detail either.
But we know them.
I recently finished a book about Jack Reacher by Lee Child. I know he was a Major in the Army, an MP, that his mother was French. I know he’s big, about 250 pounds, maybe 6-foot-6 or so. I know a lot of other things, but I don’t know what color his eyes are or the color of his hair. I know how quick he is, I have a good idea of how his mind works. Those are, ultimately, more important than the color of his eyes.
When I’m writing, though, I like to know a lot of those details, even if they don’t necessarily make it into the final work. But I also have a couple quirky exercises I do.
1. What’s on their refrigerator door? Is it bare? Does it have Post-It notes with things to do? In the case of Derek Stillwater, a Post-It might say: Beer, eggs, cheddar cheese, spare ammunition. Are there photos of relatives? Refrigerator magnets? What kind? Artwork by their kids? All of them tell us so much about the character, even if we never make it to the character’s kitchen.
2. What’s in the medicine cabinet? Ah, the secret of secrets. Tums? Toothpaste? Birth control pills? Prozac? Alleve? Preparation H? Spare toothbrush? K-Y Jelly?
How about you? What’s in your favorite character’s medicine cabinet? On their refrigerator door?