It’s NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month!
Each November, NaNoWriMo helps writers set goals and connect with other writers as they try to complete a 50,000-word manuscript during this very hectic month. It’s free to participate, and many experienced writers act as cheerleaders, passing along advice and encouragement to participants during this whirlwind writing marathon.
In honor of NaNoWriMo, the authors at Oliver-Heber Books will be drawing back the curtain this month and allowing our readers to see behind the scenes as we discuss various topics about the writing process with our readers.
Just remember—writing is the one profession where no two people complete a novel in the same manner—so each guest author will be tackling a topic on writing from his or her own point of view and experience. The beauty is that, as a writer, you might approach a novel one way the first time and totally turn that process on its ear and do something WAY outside that box the second (or 22nd) time around.
With that in mind, I’m going to be sharing with you how I create characters for my contemporary and historical romance novels!
For me, characters are a starting point for any novel. Right away, I’ll say that’s not the same for all authors. Some focus on plot first. Others write scenes out of order and put them together as a puzzle. Still, different writers figure out the theme of their book or its conflict. But for me, character is central and the start of my creative process.
What’s the first thing a character needs? A name, of course.
When I create a character, I have to land on the perfect name. I’ve struggled with this sometimes for several days, trying out my choices aloud. Since I write romance, I need for my hero and heroine’s names to flow well when paired together. Traditionally, writers will choose names for their main characters that start with different letters of the alphabet. That means no Bob & Betty or Jack & Jill as your romantic leads.
Since I write series—and I want to avoid confusing readers since my couple in Book 1 will also appear in Books 2, 3, 4, & 5—I go the extra mile and don’t let any of those 5 couples share first names beginning with the same letter.
I also play with the number of syllables. I don’t want a name to be a mouthful, such as Alexandria Vandevender. But Alex Vandevender? Or Alex Vender? Not too bad. I also aim for a “hard” sounding letter for male names to imply strength. My Hollywood Name Game series had heroes named Rhett, Dash, Knox, Mac, and Wynn. I also aim for a softer sound for my heroines (even though some of them are as tough as the guys!). My Maple Cove small-town series featured heroines named Willow, Ainsley, and Sloane.
It’s also important to balance names. You don’t want both characters in a couple to have one-syllable or three-syllable first names. In my current *Sugar Springs* small-town series, I have a Gideon coupled with a Hope and a Ford matched with a Vivi (though her given name is Viviana).
In writing historical romances, I always turn to the Internet, researching names from that era and sometimes putting a special twist by altering the spelling slightly to make it my own. I’ve also consulted baby name books, old yearbooks, and even perused the obituaries!
Once I’ve picked my names, I begin to see those characters in my mind. I create physical descriptions for them, noting their height and body frame; eye and hair color; and anything else that might stand out physically about them, such as a dimple or type of hair (curly vs. straight). I even know if my heroines wear nail polish—and what color.
Now that I have my name and physical description, I begin playing with character traits. Is the person honest? Is that honesty reflected in being frank—or brutally blunt? That helps me understand their personality. By the time I’m done, I know if the character is playful, moody, the life of the party, the class clown, or the person who hangs in the kitchen during a party. I can tell you if they are dependable, ambitious, creative, courageous, or loyal.
Some of these traits are innate; some might be a result of that character’s backstory, the final piece of my puzzle. Are they patient because they had a younger sibling whom they cared for because their mother was an alcoholic? Are they disciplined because they grew up in a military family with a rigid father? Maybe they’re compassionate due to having been bullied, so they sympathize with an underdog since they can relate.
Of course, the backstory of a character will eventually be woven into my plot because it affects their decisions. My characters will, in part, make certain choices throughout the novel because of their previous life experiences.
That’s my process for inventing characters.
- Find the perfect name.
- Create a physical picture in my mind (or sometimes find a picture that captures that character’s physical essence).
- Assign them traits, such as humility or resiliency, which can factor into the storyline and its conflict. Those traits can also influence the goals my characters wish to obtain throughout the story.
- Then I spice things up with an interesting backstory that will make them multi-dimensional.
By fleshing out my characters first, it helps me think about what occupations they might hold and how they’ll interact with others, especially the character they’ll eventually fall in love with. I run a movie in my head as I write, “seeing” each scene unfold, and I definitely see these characters I’ve created and know how they’ll respond in a situation.
While this is my process, I do emphasize that it’s only one way to work. Other authors approach their stories from many other angles. You’ve now seen a glimpse into my writing world. Hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about how I create my people.
Award-winning, internationally bestselling author Alexa Aston lives with her husband in a Dallas suburb, where she eats her fair share of dark chocolate and plots out stories while she walks every morning. She loves reading, watching movies, and attending sporting events when she’s not watching Survivor, The Crown, or The Great British Baking Show.
A former history teacher, Alexa’s historical romances are set during the Regency, Medieval, and American Old West Eras—where she brings to life loveable rogues, dashing knights, and rugged cowboys and lawmen. She also writes contemporary romances which are light and flirty and sometimes contain a bit of suspense.