Pat Bertram on Creating Interesting Characters

Hello my Freaky Darlings,

I have a very special treat for you today. Pat Bertram is here to discuss how to create interesting characters! This is part of Pat’s blog tour to promote her new book Daughter am I.

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Pat Bertram

Interesting characters make interesting stories, not the other way around. An author develops interesting characters by putting them under pressure, giving them much to lose, and letting them change because of their experiences. And the author makes these characters at least a bit larger than life. Who wants to read about characters who sit around watching television all the time or who repeatedly have the same tiresome argument with their children or who can’t resolve their problems? We deal with that every day. We don’t need to read about it. On the other hand, if the traits are too idealized, characters come across as comic book silly.

Depth of character is revealed in the choices a character makes while at risk. Without the element of risk, there is no real story, only a string of episodes. Think what Superman would be like without Krytonite — totally uninteresting and flawed in his perfection. But Kryptonite is a purposeful flaw, put there to make Superman more interesting, which makes him seem even more of a comic book character. Oh, wait. He’s supposed to be a comic book character!

To offset the problem of idealized characters, many writers try to create a purposely-flawed character, such as a boozing cop or a mother who can’t communicate with her teenager, but this seems an unnecessary distraction unless, of course, it is a vital part of the character’s motivation. For the most part, though, flaws flow from the story.

A character must lose occasionally or make mistakes. Where is the suspense if every time a character attempts to do something she succeeds? And in that loss is a shadow of the flaw, because the setback must be realistic. Did the character lose because of arrogance, assuming she knew what to do when she didn’t? Did the character lose because she wasn’t physically fit or knowledgeable enough? Did the character lose because she didn’t plan correctly, because she was unfocused, because of her inner conflicts? Such losses force a fully realized character to change so in the end she can succeed.

DAIIn the beginning of Daughter Am I, twenty-five-year-old Mary Stuart has no real direction, no purpose, but when she learns she inherited a farm from her recently murdered grandparents — grandparents her father claimed had died before she was born — she becomes obsessed with finding out who they were and why someone wanted them dead. She drives halfway across the country with a feisty crew of octogenarians, friends of her grandparents, and even though she discovers they all had ties to the mob, she doesn’t let her good sense override her obsession. Though understandable, this obsession is her flaw, and if she doesn’t grow during the course of the story, if she doesn’t learn from her setbacks, the obsession could become a fatal flaw. Fatal or not, her obsession makes her real, makes her a bit larger than life, and makes her interesting.

Pat Bertram is a native of Colorado and a lifelong resident. When the traditional publishers stopped publishing her favorite type of book — character and story driven novels that can’t easily be slotted into a genre — she decided to write her own. Daughter Am I is Bertram’s third novel to be published by Second Wind Publishing, LLC. Also available are More Deaths Than One and A Spark of Heavenly Fire.

Thanks for stopping by Pat and I hope the rest of the tour goes well.

9 thoughts on “Pat Bertram on Creating Interesting Characters

  1. I am currently of the mind that characters are stubborn, annoying and need to accept their fate. I’m certain I’ll agree on all your wonderful character insight as soon as I kill off my detective.

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  2. Hi, Joan. Thank you for being part of my blog tour. It’s been a fun ride, but the best part has been the people I meet along the way. I think you win the prize for being the farthest away!

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  3. Interesting. Sometimes I get so caught up in listening to my characters I forget to really think them through. They do have flaws – many – but I’ll have to make sure they come through in the writing.

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  4. Pingback: First Lines and Free Time « Bertram's Blog

  5. Pingback: West Of Mars — Win A Book! » Blog Archive » Pat in Triplicate!

  6. Susan, I’ve been posting my outtakes, too. I just realized yesterday that I have about ten thousand words that I edited out of A Spark of Heavenly Fire that will make great blog posts.!

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