Today it is my great pleasure to welcome Joanne Kennedy to My Book Addiction. So sit back, relax and enjoy!
Joanne Kennedy Guest Blog, Author of Cowboy Trouble
My Book Addiction and More; February 26, 2010
Creating characters for a romance novel is a dangerous, top-secret affair. Inevitably, most of your characters are based on real people. Sometimes they’re people you know well—friends or family members. Other times, they’re people you’ve seen—people who for some reason stand out in a crowd or intrigue you.
But then there are the Others—the ones who simply appear in your mind and leap onto the page. They apparently come from some other dimension, or from some deep region of your subconscious—and let me tell you, they’re a difficult, persnickety bunch!
When a friend or acquaintance becomes the basis for a character, you don’t necessarily want them to know they’ve become story fodder. I usually combine the appearance of one friend with the personality quirks of another. That way, people usually don’t recognize themselves—or if they do, they know other people won’t be clued in to their identity. This hopefully cuts down on the potential lawsuits!
Brandy, the missing teen’s spunky friend in Cowboy Trouble, is a case in point. Here’s the scene where she’s introduced. As you can see, some people might not see this portrayal as flattering:
Climbing the narrow attic steps, they tapped on the topmost door and heard a crash, then a thump before the door flew open.
“Sorry,” their hostess said. “I tripped.”
Plump and pretty, Brandy boasted a lush cascade of spiraling blond curls and blue eyes that glowed with good humor, but it was lucky she had good looks and a nice personality, because housekeeping was definitely not her strong suit. It was no wonder she’d tripped. A threadbare sofa piled with cast-off clothing was angled across the room, fronted by a cheap chrome-and-glass coffee table loaded with empty beer cans and pizza boxes that spilled off onto the floor. Shania Twain belted out a girl-power anthem from a portable stereo, and CDs littered the floor. Libby noticed the Indigo Girls, the Dixie Chicks, and Melissa Etheridge, plus some more Shania. Either Brandy was the strong, independent type, or she was overcompensating with music.
“This is the living room,” she said, gesturing around the tiny space. “My kitchen’s over here.”
The kitchen was about the size of a walk-in closet, and was furnished with a miniature stove, a dorm refrigerator, and a rickety table and chairs. In front of a tiny window, a chipped porcelain sink was piled high with dirty dishes and smudged glassware. “I don’t cook much, so it’s okay it’s so small. My bedroom’s the real showplace,” she bragged, leading them to a larger room decorated entirely in pink. Flicking on the light, she revealed a huge four-poster draped with an absurd pink fur blanket that appeared to have a brutal case of mange. Clothes littered this room too, and Libby tried not to notice the pink plastic handcuffs that dangled from one of the bedposts.
Cash noticed, though. “This looks like the rumpus room,” he said, smiling wickedly.
Brandy smiled back, a predatory gleam lighting her eyes. Shania might have told her she didn’t need a man in her life, but she obviously wouldn’t mind sampling a few along the way.
“That’s one way of putting it,” she purred. “I have parties. You’ll have to come sometime.”
© Joanne Kennedy, Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2010
Brandy’s personality is based on an old friend who was an absolute blast to be with. She was one of the most confident girls I’ve ever known, and life was one big party for her. She loved everybody, especially men, and she was one of those people who never met a stranger.
But that old friend wasn’t a blond, and that isn’t her apartment. Her appearance and surroundings are taken from other people. It’s like ordering from a Chinese menu. I take the looks of Person A, the personality of Person B, and put them in the apartment of Person C. In the end, I don’t think any of them would recognize themselves. Well, except the person with that apartment. That’s pretty hard to miss.
Brandy’s an example of a character who was deliberately, consciously constructed for the scene. Josie, the waitress in Cowboy Trouble, is the other kind of character—one who simply came to me as I wrote the scene. I don’t know where these intuitive characters come from, but I do know that you have to set them free and let them develop without too much direction. Otherwise, they rebel by losing their individuality and lapsing into stereotype.
Here’s Josie’s debut:
The waitress at Joe’s didn’t strike Libby as your typical Wyoming teen. Perky and bright, she sported spiky black hair liberally streaked with hot pink. It was razored short except for a high crest down the center and a long hank of pink hanging asymmetrically over her forehead.
“Hi. Welcome to Joe’s Place! I mean, Chez Joe. I’m Josie and I’ll be your server!” the waitress chirped. She might have the hair of a rock star, but her personality was pure Betty Boop. “What are you drinkin’ tonight, hon?”
© Joanne Kennedy, Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2010
Josie wasn’t the character I expected at all. I’d figured the waitress would be your typical overworked single mom, with sore feet and a sour attitude—but Josie came along and saved me from the stereotype. I’ve never known anyone remotely like her, and I have no idea where she came from, but she became a very important character in the book, and one of my favorite fictional people.
I’d hoped to use the overworked single-mom waitress to provide a contrast with Libby’s new life, but Josie wasn’t about to cooperate. The girl simply didn’t have any baggage, and the minute I tried to weigh her down, she lost her spark. Josie is Josie, and she refuses to be anyone else.
So between the sensitivities of the people you base them on and the needs of their fictional selves, creating characters is a delicate business—but watching a fully realized person slowly unfold and become “real” is also the most magical and satisfying part of writing fiction.
Who are some of your favorite fictional characters, and what makes them “real” to you? Is it telling details provided by the author, or do they just “feel” right? Let me know what works for you in the comments, and I’ll check back and see what I can learn!
COWBOY TROUBLE by JOANNE KENNEDY—IN STORES MARCH 2010
Fleeing her latest love life disaster, big city journalist Libby Brown’s transition to rural living isn’t going exactly as planned. Her childhood dream has always been to own a chicken farm—but without the constant help of her charming, sexy, cowboy neighbor; she’d never have made it through her first Wyoming season.
Handsome rancher Luke Rawlins is impressed by this sassy, independent city girl. But he yearns to do more than help Libby out with her ranch…he’s ready for love, and he wants to go the distance. When the two get embroiled in their tiny town’s one and only crime story, Libby discovers that their sizzling hot attraction is going to complicate her life in every way possible…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joanne Kennedy has worked in bookstores all her life in positions ranging from bookseller to buyer. She is a member of Romance Writers of America and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and won first place in the Colorado Gold Writing Contest and second place in the Heart of the Rockies contest in 2007. Joanne lives and writes in Cheyenne, Wyoming. For more information please visit http://joannekennedybooks.com/.
*Want to win a copy of COWBOY TROUBLE? Well thanks to the very awesome Danielle at Sourcebooks I’m thrilled to offer 2 copies of COWBOY TROUBLE to 2 winners. In order to win just answer Joanne’s questions in the above post. Giveaway is open to US and Canadian residents only. Good Luck to everyone!*
Carolyn Brown said:
This sounds like a fun, fun read. Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Please enter me in the giveaway!
Virginia C said:
My favorite work of romantic fiction is “Ashes in the Wind” by the late, great Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. “Ashes” is a soaring Civil War love story which shows the humanity and the tragedy of both sides of the conflict. Cole Latimer is a Yankee surgeon whose compassionate nature and strong physician’s ethics benefit both “the blue and the gray”. Alaina MacGaren is a beautiful young Southern woman forced to pose as a young boy in order to survive. In her disguise as “Al”, the young cleaning boy at the military hospital, she comes to know Dr. Latimer. The beginning of their relationship is that of sparring partners who form a tentative friendship. Once they finally face each other as man and woman, a deep, abiding love begins to grow. Their passion overcomes many doubts and obstacles and finally reaches full bloom. Both of these characters went through a personal growth process as the horror of the War Between the States and its lasting aftermath unfolded. Cole’s disgust and frustration when he was unable to save a life due to military interference was deeply felt. Alaina’s desire to be seen as a lovely young woman instead of a ragged boy was palpable. An unforgettable love story.
Maria D. said:
I have alot of favorite characters but one of my favorite female characters is Anita Blake because she reminds me alot of myself, not the tough and tremendously go getter parts but the parts of her that are unsure of herself and the parts where she would do anything for her friends. I really like her plus she’s really spunky. I also love Kate Daniels series and can identify with parts of her. If I can identify with any part of the makeup of the character it really helps to cement my love for the book
One of my favorite heroes is the hero in A Natural Father by Sarah Mayberry who is real in his feelings and has always had a crush on the heroine who he knows in passing.
Quilt Lady said:
One of my favorite heros would have to be Segar from Rachel and the Hired Gun! This man was so caring and of course he was a cowboy, they are my favorite type of hero lately. They really know how to take care of a women.
Beth C. said:
I don’t have any one favorite character overall. I like each one as I’m reading about them as long as it is well written. In some books the characters do seem more real than others. And if there is well done humor in the book along with any angst, that makes them seem more real to me.
Would love to win a copy of Cowboy Trouble. sounds like a good read.
My favorite fictional characters feel realistic and are so vividly portrayed that I feel their emotions, their hopes, their fears and their dreams. The way that they are described and their innermost thoughts and feelings are what I think is so profound. I am captivated with their lives and cannot let go until the book ends and even then I still think about them as if they were so real. The author who can bring these people to life is talented and creative. One of the most endearing characters is Atticus. He resounds throughout this novel and makes it an emotional and beautiful story.
Thanks, everyone, for responding!
Virginia, I agree – Kathleen Woodiwiss is one of the reasons I fell in love with romance.
Maria – I love Anita Blake too. It’s hard to make a touch character like that feel human and vulnerable, and I think LKH hits just the right notes.
Quilt Lady – I looked up Rachel and the HIred Gun, and it looks great. I love Western historicals, and one of these days I’m going to write one…
Beth – I hope you get to read Cowboy Trouble and enjoy it. It sounds like you like exactly the kind of characters I try to create. If you read it, let me know what you think!
Anne – you sound like the kind of reader we all hope for – one that really appreciates what we do!
And Carolyn Brown – thanks for reading! For anyone on this blog who doesn’t know, Carolyn also writes Western contemporaries and has some of the best spunky ladies and hot cowboys out there!
Lisa G. said:
Tell me, who doesn’t love a cowboy? I fall in love with one character in every book I readso it wouldn’t be fair to name just one. I will say Linda Lael Miller has some terrific cowboys in her books.
Lisa, you’re so right! Linda Lael Miller is definitely the queen of the hunky cowboys! Seriously, her men are strong and sensitive and somehow come across as very real. I love her books.
Congratulations on the new book Joanne! Linda Howard has created some really memorable characters for me and one of my favorites from her is Daisy from Open Season. I think I liked her so much because she seemed real, like someone you would love to meet.
Maureen, I so agree with you! I love Linda Howard – she mixes humor and suspense so well. She spoke at the RWA National meeting last year, and it was the funniest speech I’ve ever heard – really. My husband and I are still quoting lines from it. She’s terrific!
Tracey D said:
Jamie and Claire from the Outlander series. I swear, those characters seem so real to me. I laugh when they laugh, cry when they cry, sad when they are sad.
My favourite characters seem real, like they could be people I’d meet in real life.
Barbara Elness said:
I love Sookie Stackhouse in Charlain Harris’ series – she seems like a real person, only with a little something extra. I think all those little details that an author provides makes the character seem real. I especially like it when a character does something that I can really relate to – like an “I do that all the time,” sort of thing.
cheryl c. said:
A character becomes “real” to me when he/she touches my heart in some way. Some authors write so skillfully that you are able to understand the characters’ deepest fears and dreams. Some characters that left me with a lasting impression are Sebastian Ballister from Loretta Chase’s LORD OF SCOUNDRELS, Gillian from Julie Garwood’s RANSOM, and Phoebe from Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ IT HAD TO BE YOU.
Barbara, I love Sookie Stackhouse too. She’s absolutely unique, with flaws and quirks that Harris makes completely believable.
chey – (is that short for Cheyenne, my home town?) I think you’d like Cowboy Trouble. The characters sure seem real to me. I know this is goofy, but I cried when I finished it and typed “the end” because I knew I’d miss them. Now that people are reading the book and getting to know them, I feel better!
Cheryl – I agree. And I love Phoebe. But my favorite Susan Elizabeth Phillips character is Blue, from Natural Born Charmer. SEP is my favorite romance writer, mostly because of the way she blends humor with deep emotion and makes it work.
Everybody – I’m really enjoying this conversation. Feel free to “friend” me on Facebook! CT is my first book, and I’m so enjoying the chance to get to know readers.
most characters become friends to the reader as they do for me; getting to know them and going along with them on their journey makes them seem real as one gets lost between the pages of the book. One feels for their angst, problems and one feels for their victories, etc. The author has a lot to do with this.