I'm coming down to the last edits for my debut book. And I'm digging deep to make my characters memorable. I've discovered myself thinking a lot about the non-academic things I learned during those months away from school and, like any writer, my rumination ends up somewhere in my work.
I can tell you a character's favorite color, in narrative or in answer to a dialogue question. Fine, you've got that piece of information that's necessary at the end of the book. Or you can see the character discover her favorite color.
True story: My favorite color is green. Okay, now you know. But here's what's several layers below that: Every year we bought a small box of fireworks, went out in the street with the neighbors, and the dads lit the fuses of the little cones, log cabins, and snakes. I really liked those fireworks. But when I was ten, we went to a real Fourth of July fireworks show. Out-of-state relatives were visiting, so we drove three cities away to have dinner in Chinatown and go to the big regional display.
We sat in a grandstand. Even though the adults were excited, I wasn't impressed until the first rocket shrieked skyward. After the big boom, gold and silver glitter formed a huge ball. I fell in love with fireworks that night. Red, white and blue flares turned night into day. Ohs and ahs punctuated each rocket burst. The fireworks went on much longer than our little boxes on the street at home.
Toward the end of the show, two rockets criss-crossed above us. There was no kaboom, but when the chemicals ignited, pink and green chrysanthemum images shimmered then slid toward the ground. When I saw the green sparkles in that firework, I knew I'd never seen a more beautiful color. Now, when someone asked my favorite color, instead of saying I didn't have one, I would answer green.
See how much you learned about my family. About me?
I could have told you this, also true, story: My college guy friends and I sat around the RISK board, building armies, rolling dice, and attacking each other. And talking about anything but the finals we'd start taking the next day.
"What's your favorite color?" one of the guys asked me.
Another guy, who'd gone to my high school said, "Nobody's favorite color is green. That's stupid."
I thought about how many times I'd been singled out for admitting green was my favorite color. After all, race cars were never painted green because green cars were unlucky.
The oldest friend, who'd served in the Army to pay for college, chimed in. "Actually, it's a great favorite color. It's the color of money."
I've never hesitated answering that question since.
You can see how easily those two stories could be incorporated into my WIP.
Your past can be yesterday or an hour ago, it doesn't have to be some memory you've dredged from the depths of forgotten years. But it does need to have a hook into your life. Those small, subtle ways to share how your character grew up, how they learned to think and believe what they do, are what makes your characters memorable. They're what makes you memorable.
I've blown up a lot of space ships—remember, I write science fiction adventure romance. No matter how spectacular the destruction is, what counts is how it affects my character and why it affects them. You've read books that tell you all the information you need to know. Maybe you didn't finish them because they lacked that heart connection.
Hooking into a significant small event in your past is a way to open your heart and connect with your readers. The subtle nuances of your character building can let the reader discover things organically. The actual event in my story doesn't have anything to do with the character's favorite color, but those memories served as the springboard for a moment in time that impacted my character.
I bet you've thought of at least one summer memory that you could use some form in your WIP. Come on, share it with us.
Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong. She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.
A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told. Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.
Look for P.R.I.S.M., a young adult science fiction story of survival, betrayal, deceit, lies, and love, this summer.
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