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My Secrets to Bringing Characters to Life

Updated: Apr 4

Crafting characters and bringing them to life is the most laborious part of my writing process. This is where most of my “thought time” begins. To help me during this process, I employ two strategies. After determining my main cast of characters, I first turn to the Enneagram, a personality profile tool developed in the 1950s.
from Pond Island
Enneagram used in Deadly Secrets

In the Enneagram, there are nine basic personalities. Each person's behavior is influenced by how their personality feels at any given moment. It's a useful tool for understanding how someone who is typically calm may behave when under a state of extreme stress or heightened joy.

For instance, you may be the Reformer personality (also known as the Perfectionist), but when you are under stress you may behave more like an Enthusiast.

I find the Enneagram to be a great tool for when I ponder my characters secrets and how they may react under different circumstances. I also find it helpful to keep my characters fresh and unique.

(I read somewhere that director Steven Spielberg employs the Enneagram in his works; but like Stephen King, he hasn't gotten back to me to verify this tidbit yet. Understandable. He's very busy, I'm sure.)

With my main characters’ personalities chosen, I next flesh out each one using a character grid. This process takes me deeper into their personality and the role they play in my story, including their deep dark secrets. I consider their occupation; goals; personal motivations; inner needs; flaws; traits and quirks, to name a few. I don’t always know everything about my characters, so I may leave that part of the grid empty.

Take Vernon for instance in Deadly Secrets from Pond Island. I had no clue of his occupation. Somehow, he wound up as a landscaper, which proved perfect for providing clues into unraveling the mystery behind the boxes Larry Summers stowed away in his hoard.

Once I've determined my characters basic personality traits, I begin writing. I'm not a real plotter when I write. While I do have a story line and plot bubbling about in my mind, I find the story unfolds as I begin putting words to paper. This is what's called a "pantser" in writing circles; we pantsers write by the seat of our pants. I find writing this way doesn’t confine me. It gives me and my characters the space we need to roam free. (Can you guess my personality type?)

As a pantser, I oftentimes have new characters pop up in my story. Like the unexpected house guest, I had no idea they were going to appear. In Deadly Secrets from Pond Island, Kyle Evans wasn’t part of my original plan. However, when Vanessa began reading some of the newspaper clippings Larry Summers kept, she found Kyle's name circled in an article. This tidbit sparked Kyle's character. As I wrote, Kyle's character came to life. Vanessa learned he was part of a cooper wire theft ring, which took him to an abandoned chicken processing plant, and finally to a halfway house where he currently lives in the fictitious town of Port Logan. This is where I derive real joy in writing. There’s a surprise lurking around every groove in my brain.

There is one character in Deadly Secrets from Pond Island who was inspired by a real person: John Thompson, or Oh Boy, as the Port Logan town locals refer to him. I was 17 years old when I met the "real" Oh Boy. My brother and I were with our father traveling down the winding roads of Greensburg, Indiana heading to an auto auction - one of our dad's favorite activities. On our way, dad said we needed to make a quick stop and pick up his friend. We pulled up to a small house on the outskirts of town and an older man piled into the backseat of dad's car. My dad explained that his friend had had a stroke and all he could say now was "Oh boy." To illustrate, dad had a bit of fun and asked Oh Boy a few questions which Oh Boy answered with emotion. Unlike the character in my book, this man was not shunned by his community. My dad and his friends would often take Oh Boy out for a night on the town - which entailed a trip to the local taverns. I remember to this day how intrigued I was by this man. I promised my young self then that one day when I wrote a book, Oh Boy would become a character in my story. Other than John Thompson's stunted vocabulary, that is the only similarity he shares with the real Oh Boy.

I realize as a writer, the personalities I've crafted may not come to life with the reader as they do in my mind. Afterall, you can't hear them jabbering on in my head (and they do jabber). This is a good thing as my mind can be a strange place to be at times. But I think it’s great for you to have the chance to hear my characters come to life just as they spoke to me.

For Deadly Secrets from Pond Island, I was fortunate to find Maria Marquis, a wonderful narrator. Maria brought my story to life in my first audiobook. She captured my characters in much the same way I heard them chattering about in my mind.

Releasing my debut novel on Audible is a great achievement for a pantser like me. I hope you visit the world of Port Logan and enjoy the characters and their town as much as I did when they first dropped in on me during an unexpected visit.




 
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