Wednesday, July 14, 2010


There's no one better to talk about the importance of characters than Allison Brennan. We are honored to have you here. Allison welcome!  Posted by Ruby Johnson.

Characters are People Too!

By Allison Brennan

“If I don’t write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind—they begin to seem like characters instead of real people.” – Stephen King, On Writing

Therein lies my philosophy, and perhaps my neurosis. Characters, to me, are people too and in fact, they should be real to the author, so much so that you’d recognize one of your characters walking down the street. Better, your readers should feel that if they met one of your characters at Starbucks, they would instantly recognize them—not simply their physical attributes, but their personality and mannerisms. That the character becomes so real that she leaps off the page in 4D—physically, plus their thoughts, feelings, dreams, and fears (the fourth dimension.)

One of my favorite workshops to present is No Plotters Allowed which I originally created with the incomparable bestselling author Patti Berg. While the title is rather dramatic (and the subtitle “Solutions to Writers Block for those who Can’t, Won’t or Don’t Plot” rather stubborn), it truly is a workshop designed to help people figure out why they are stuck.

I can’t write your book for you, but I might be able to identify your problems. Two of the reasons we’re not touching here for lack of time and space—1) Talent, or immature ability and the need to learn more about the craft of writing; and 2) Personal issues, i.e. an unsupportive spouse, dependents, or demanding day job.

The other reason is the most common, at least for writers who have made the commitment and have invested in learning the craft of writing (the investment, BTW, is rarely a financial investment. Like Stephen King, I believe in daily writing and through writing and editing I believe everyone becomes a stronger writer), is a stubbornness among writers to force their characters into a box. To make them perform as the writer thinks they should perform, to make the choices the writer thinks they should make.

My daughters noticed that I talk about my characters as if they are real people. For example, one day I was brainstorming with them (16 and 14) in the car and my oldest suggested something. I frowned and said, “But Lucy wouldn’t do that.” While it was a logical progression based on the information I’d shared with my daughters, it was a decision my character would not make.

I’ve found that more often than not, when I’m stuck in a book, it’s because I’ve forced my characters down a path they would not have chosen for themselves; or worse, had them making decisions they would not have made. This means backtracking—re-reading what I have written until I find the scene where I intruded in the normal course of events. I edit, thinking now about what would my character do or say or think. Sometimes, this means deleting a chapter or three or more. Sometimes, it’s an easy fix and I happily go on my way until I, ahem, impose my will on my characters yet again.

It’s like children. We all want to make our children do what we want them to. What we know is right. What we know is the best choice. But sometimes, our choices should never be their choices; sometimes, they need to make mistakes. And honestly? Sometimes we’re wrong (though I will not admit that to my children now, because as far as they’re concerned I’m always right, and I’d like them to believe that fantasy a little while longer.)

But with kids, we lay down rules and guidelines, and often find ourselves doing the same with our characters without realizing that our characters are not our children, but fully-developed human beings with their own unique backstory that has shaped them into the people they are today. We are all creatures of our past coupled with our God-given talents and personalities. We all have unique genetic codes that, when combined with environment, create us into unique human peoples. Our characters are the exact same, and until we start accepting that, we’ll be trying to force them into a mold that is both boring and rather sterile—all because we’re trying to protect them, and ourselves, from what we—and they—fear.

I have read many compelling characters in fiction, characters who leap off the page, characters who are more than the author in that they are, somehow, more real to me than the author who created them.

Nora Roberts is an author who does an amazing job creating very real characters and imbuing them with an authenticity that is rare and wonderful. Her JD Robb In Death series gives us a world that no matter how long we’ve been away, we slip into it like a hot bubble bath, with familiarity and a sigh. Eve Dallas, Roarke, Peabody, McNab,--but even more important, her secondary characters which are add depth and richness to the story that would be unattainable with cardboard stick figures, there only to move the plot along. Officer Trueheart, Mavis, Trina, even Galahad the cat.

Some other fictional characters who have stayed with me long after I close the books . . . Tess Gerritsen’s Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles (and secondary character Anthony Sansone, who is one of my favorites); Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter, Francis Dolarhyde, and Will Graham; Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller; Robert Crais’s Joe Pike; Lisa Gardner’s Pierce Quincy; Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn; and every character, big and small, in Stephen King’s masterpiece The Stand.

As Robert McKee says in his book STORY, “Character is story.” Stay true to your characters by butting out and letting them write their own story. It will be so much stronger, richer, and real.

I could go on all day about characters who’ve impacted me . . . but what about you? What are some fictional characters who’ve have stuck with you long after you closed the book?

I am giving away an autographed book to one lucky person. All you have to do is tell me the name of your favorite character and what makes them memorable.

Allison Brennan is a New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of fourteen novels and numerous short stories. The mom of five lives in Northern California and in her free time enjoys movies, video games, high school sports, and (of course!) reading. Book two in her Seven Deadly Sins supernatural thriller series, CARNAL SIN, is out now. And fan favorite Lucy Kincaid launches a series in January, 2011 with LOVE ME TO DEATH, followed by KISS ME, KILL ME in March. Visit her at


Allison Brennan said...

Thanks so much for having me here today! I'm also happy to answer questions, just ask away!

Judy Sizemore said...

Thank you so much for giving of your time and talents to help us. I couldn't agree with you more. As a trained actress, I have spent hours and days developing characters so they would be believable to the audience during performance. The actor must always create the character from within, but sometimes there are characters that are not well-written. That's when you really learn how important that backstory and history is. That experience has been invaluable to me as I write my first novel. I know how important characters are, and my heroine is driving the story for me.

As for a favorite, how can I possibly choose? From Sophie's Choice to Pip in Great Expectations to anything Shakespeare... so much rich history! My most recent favorite is Julie Powell from Julie and Julia. That inspired me to actively work on my book every day, even though I too have the dreaded and awful day job. I love her perseverence, and I know how good it feels to finally overcome and move out of a prison of oppression.

Thank you.

leggett_michelle said...

I would have to say the character that stayed with me the most was Duke Rogan and Nora English in the Cutting Edge!! Fantastic book!

Rachel Stevens said...

Hi Allison,
This post was well timed for me. The characters in my WIP were beginning to feel forced, and this gave me some insight into why. I did the mom thing and forced them into a situation that my h would never put herself in. Back with the red pen (or in my case the delete key).

My favorite character at this time (it changes frequently) is Maura Isles. She is so controlled, yet flawed in a way that most people wouldn't admit to or let their friends see. Her relationship with Daniel is human. Not a characterization, something that Tess twisted to give her a flaw. Love is strange and sometimes hurtful, but Maura deals with that the same way she does everything else in her life. She compartmentalizes.

Hope you have a great day- I'm off to edit-land.

Amy Thompson said...

My most memorable character is Patrick Kincaid because his story has enver been told and he richly deserves it!!

BookLover said...

I love Lucy Kincaid. She has seen so much and dealt with even more, and proved that she's a fighter and can get through even the worst. When I'm feeling overwhelmed, I think back to her and think that I too, can overcome these obstacles that I am facing.


savannahlady said...

Great site! I am so glad to have found it. I love your books. I also collect them.

savannahlady said...

My favorite characters are Kate Donovan and Dillon Kincaid in "Fear No Evil"! I love that book. The characters were so real and the book couldn't be put down, once started. Thanks for such a great read. Of course, I luv all your books. Thanks

Allison Brennan said...

Hi everyone! Thanks so much for visiting today :)

Michelle, I'm so glad you enjoyed Duke and Nora's story.

Judy, I've heard so many good things about Julie and Julia I'll have to either see the movie or read the book :)

Rachael, have you read ICE COLD? I just finished it. FANTASTIC. I'm more a fan of Jane Rizzoli, Maura is definitely complex and a real character, of course, I just find her a little cold. But again--that's her CHARACTER. I could see myself being friends with Jane. Maybe I understand her a bit more.

Thanks Amy! Patrick is a character in Lucy's series, which right now will have at least two books.

BookLover, thank you! Lucy is my favorite, too, and I can't wait for fans to read her first book. I love being able to write a series around her because she is so complex and driven. I'm writing her second book now and still learning more about her, and Sean Rogan (the hero.)

Hi Savannah, Dillon and Kate are back in LOVE ME TO DEATH! I had so much fun revisiting them, though it's truly Lucy's book they both have major roles. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I have got to say I am looking forward to the Lucy Kincaid books but I just loved Nora English and Duke Rogan in Cutting Edge. I have read everything of yours since The Prey and have yet
to find a book I did not like. Other author's characters I have enjoyed were Lily Bard and Jack Leeds from Charlaine Harris's Shakesphere Arkansas series and I agree with you about JD Robb's Eve Dallas and Roark. Looking forward to the Lucy Kincaid series.
Dinah Colegrove

Rachel J Stevens said...

I read Ice Cold yesterday. Kiddo is at grandma's, so I dug in and read from lunch till bedtime. It was wonderful. Tweeted to Tess that I ate cold leftovers because of her. :)

I had a 5 book marathon a couple of months ago, yours, and you kept me up all night for days!

Anonymous said...

All of your female hero's are strong women, but three stick out: Miranda, Sonia and Lucy. They all had extreme trauma's set forth upon them, and they survived. I can't wait to see what type of kick-butt attitude Lucy comes out with in her series. Here is hoping that her male lead is Sean Rogan (i think they fit good together) and that the murder of Lucy's counsin get's solved.

Allison Brennan said...

Thanks so much Dinah! Sean Rogan, Duke's younger brother, is the hero in Lucy's series, and he's one of the first heroes to grab me immediately. I usually know my heroine's first, and the heroes develop through the story, but as soon as he walked on the page I knew him and loved him :)

Rachel, I lost sleep because of ICE COLD. I'm honored that I kept you up! :)

Allison Brennan said...

Anonymous, I love all those heroines! Because of what they suffered and how stronger they are today. That they did not resign themselves to the status of victim. I also really love Carina, who doesn't have a big "trauma" but is a capable detective who can love big (and Nick needed someone like Carina, someone without baggage.)

Kathy said...

Allison your books are full of real peoople, not stick figures. Real flesh and blood folks I could just sit down and talk with. I've read The Prey and several others. Unfortunately all my books are in storage and I remember reading also reading Fatal Secrets and The Hunt. I just don't remember if there were others or not. I read one book by an author that catches my eye and if it pulls me inside and I'm lost then I go back to find more by the author. You rank right up there with Nora Roberts. It doesn't matter if she's writing as JD Robb about Eve and Roarke or one of her other books. I'm lost. Keep up the great work I'm hoping to grab another one soon.

Anonymous said...

My favorite characters are those that I can identify with; those who have qualities I aspire to have. It can range from the sexy, paranormal to the astute mystery-solving business woman. I don't have specific names because my favorite changes as often as I change books/authors. :)

Allison Brennan said...

Thank you so much Kathy! I appreciate your kind words about my characters. I try hard to make them real people and I'm so glad that comes across in my writing.

Hi Diana! I agree, being able to identify with a character is important, even if they have a job you don't have or experiences you haven't had :)

Jennifer said...

Allison. I first discovered you about 3 months ago with Original Sin and have been devouring all your books ever since. I love books with strong heroines. Though the character of yours that sticks with me the most is Jack Kincaid. I loved his story with Megan Elliott.

My other favorite authors include Nora Roberts and Suzanne Brockmann. The characters that stick with me the most are Roxanne and Luke from Honest Illusions by Nora Roberts. There story gets to me everytime and I have read that book about 5 times. I suspect I will begin re-reading your books soon too. :-)

Caroline Clemmons said...

My favorite characters are those who are a little out of the norm--heroines who are smart and quirky and heroes who aren't looking for a cookie cutter woman. I'm just starting to read your books and happy to learn I have lots of pleasure to look forward to.

Thanks for your insight.

Link Within

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...