Writer Words

Q&A Sunday: Creating Characters

You guys ask some really amazing questions. I really have to think about them. This one is no exception.

Aliana said…

I haven’t come across a character in any of your stories that I didn’t like or relate to….well except for the male characters.  How do you develop characters that fit your stories?  How do you decide their personalities?  From their names to even their physical description?

I have to say, that is one of the biggest compliments I could get! That you can relate to my characters tells me they’re as real to you as they are to me.

I think that’s the secret. For me, they’re not characters in a book. They’re people. Sure, I’m telling their life story, but they’re real for me.

How do I find them? Well, that’s fun!

Names are always interesting to come up with. I have a spreadsheet with all the male and female names that I like and want to use. I’ve searched baby name websites, pulled names from people I know, and used an old baby book my husband bought a long time ago (when he wanted to write a book). I’ve also asked readers what names they like. All of them went into my spreadsheet. When I use a name, I color code it so I don’t forget (after 21 books, I do forget sometimes!) which series the name was used in.

Once I have a name, the character starts to come alive for me. Usually I have a general idea of what they look like and go searching for pictures to match what I know of their personality and appearance. I’ve pulled pictures from paid sites, but usually I find people on Pinterest. Sometimes they’re perfect, usually close enough. I print out the pictures and include them in my series bible so I can look at them at all times.

Just like with my kids, a name and a picture give you a lot when figuring out who they are!

Maybe it’s better if I give you an example…

Husky & HotYou all know Carrie and Drew, right? From Husky & Hot? Want to know where they came from?

I started with Carrie. My great-grandmother was Carrie also. She was 79 when I was born so I’ve only ever known her as someone who was a mom / grandma / great-grandma. My Grandma Carrie was the quintessential grandma. I went to her house when I was little and had wet hair in the winter. She sat me down and dried my hair with paper towels because she didn’t want me to get sick. She also always gave everyone of us a dollar every single time we saw her. She prayed for everyone constantly. She was one of the kindest people I ever knew. She was my Carrie.

Drew was someone I knew was going to be a little rough around the edges. He had a big heart, but was someone easily dismissed by a lot of people because of his appearance. I’m a sucker for a guy with tattoos and knew Drew would have a bunch of them. His name though, his name was one that I thought went well with Carrie. There wasn’t more of a reason than that!

Knowing who they both were, I could go looking for pictures. I knew these women were going to be bigger women and struggled to find pictures that really worked, but I knew I could change her body as long as I had her face. I found Carrie on iStock and loved her eyes – the cat eyes mentioned in the books. Drew I found a close enough picture on Pinterest (and never saved it!).

Carrie was set for me. Drew still needed a little work. A lot of times, that comes out in the book. As I write, I figure out who they are. Especially with the Big & Beautiful series, writing in the first person point of view, I’m inside the head of the women. I wanted Drew to be a little more of a mystery. In real life, when you’re dating, you don’t know what he’s thinking. I wanted that same frustration for me as the writer, you as the reader, and the women as the characters. Hopefully it worked!

All my characters are a little different from each other, just like people in our world. I want them all to be unique. For me they are unique, and I’m hoping they are for you as well!

Thanks so much, Aliana, for your question! If you have a question, send me an email (mary (at) maryethompson (dot) com) with Q&A in the subject, or post it in the comments below, and I’ll answer your question right here on the blog!

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Q&A Sunday: Meet & Greet

It’s Q&A Sunday! I’m starting to enjoy this, but I need more questions! If you’ve got anything you want to know, please leave a comment below and I’ll answer your question!

For this week, I have a question from Vicki!

If you could meet one author, who would you meet and why?

I’m very lucky in this sense because the one author that I’d love to meet is one I’ve already met, twice!

IMG_5402I’m a member of Romance Writers of America and every July there is a national conference. I’ve been able to go the last two years and both years I made an effort to reach out and meet my favorite author, Jill Shalvis!

Last summer when I was at Nationals I was battling Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I found out about it after I’d already planned to go and wasn’t willing to let it stop me. I attended a workshop Jill spoke at and went up to her afterward. I told her I was there because of her – it’s the truth. The first romance novel I ever read was one by Jill and I was completely hooked. I couldn’t stop reading them and within a month had decided it was what I wanted to write. I owe my career to Jill and her incredible story telling.

This year I met Jill at the Literacy Signing the night before the conference begins. I told her we’d met the year before but she didn’t recognize me (I had some hair this year). When I said who I was she immediately remembered me and said she’d been thinking of me! Oh. My. God. Jill Shalvis was thinking of me? Wow!

But that’s the kind of person she seems to be. She cares about her fans. She worries about people. She’s funny, and smart, and talented, and kind. How could you not be a fan of someone like her?

Thanks so much, Vicki, for your question! If you have a question, send me an email (mary (at) maryethompson (dot) com) with Q&A in the subject, or post it in the comments below, and I’ll answer your question right here on the blog!

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Q&A Sunday: Plots

I’m back for another Q&A Sunday with a question from Aliana…

How do you come up with the plots of your stories or the center of a series?
Do you draw from personal experience or pure imagination?

I love this question! I have to tell you I have more ideas than I have time to write, which is a great problem! I’ll get to them all eventually, I hope!

I almost always start a plot idea with a title. I don’t know why but titles almost always come to me before I start a story. Once I have a title the story starts to take shape. I like my series titles to all work together so when I have one title the rest fall into place. If the others don’t fall into place and make sense then I start over until I can come up with enough to make sense for the whole series.

Pieces of the story will usually fall into place based on the title, but most of my stories also have a scene or even the idea based on a song. I listen to country music which is full of love stories gone wrong and people falling in love. Even one line in a song has sparked an idea!

Once I have my title and my inspiration, the rest gets filled in with a mix of my experiences and imagination. Even though I’d love to say I’ve done everything my characters have done, I honestly haven’t. But I have done some fun things and used those in my stories.

When I was 21 I went skydiving, which is what Cat’s experience in Wait For It was based on.

I’ve taken a few trips to the Grand Canyon like Claire and Aidan in Lush & Lovely.

The house Xander, from Chubby & Charming, grew up in is the same one I grew up in.

I have a neighbor upstairs that you’ll read about in Wish For It!

I even broke my ankle white water rafting and have no doubt a character someday will do the same!

BB9 Cover 3The majority of the stories is usually just my imagination though. I put in little parts of myself into each story. Whether names of people I know, situations I’ve heard or been in, or things that I’m familiar with. I’m always looking for inspiration though. I make up stories about the people I see out. There were two cute brothers behind me in church one day and they became the Davoli brothers! A bodybuilder at the gym is Graham (in the upcoming Puffy & Precious). I’ll turn anyone I see into an upcoming character, but don’t piss me off or I might have to start writing romantic suspense so I can kill you off!

Just kidding.


Thanks so much, Aliana, for your question! If you have a question, send me an email (mary (at) maryethompson (dot) com) with Q&A in the subject, or post it in the comments below, and I’ll answer your question right here on the blog!

Q&A Sunday: Co-writing

Welcome back to Q&A Sunday! Sorry I missed last week. We drove to West Virginia and home again to drop our kids off to their grandparents, and to be honest with you, I just forgot! But, I’m back now!

So, this week I have another question from Vicki. She asked,

If you could co-write a book with any author about anything subject, who would that author be and what would that book be about?

This is a really hard question for me to answer. There are so many authors out there that I admire the hell out of. Amazing, wonderful authors that are so crazy talented. Many of them I would worry about not being able to do their work justice.

I’ve also never thought about co-writing. I have some amazing writers in the different groups I’m in, but working together on a project has never been something I’ve given much thought to.

But, since Vicki asked, I’ve been thinking.

WW Barefoot BayI’ve looked into Kindle Worlds recently and have considered writing for a few of those. Roxanne St. Claire is hilarious and clever and insanely creative. Her Kindle World, set in Barefoot Bay, Florida, is funny and sexy and has something for everyone. I would love the chance to write in her world! It’s something I’m considering for 2017.

(If you haven’t read any of these books, you’re missing out. Click the book cover and it’ll take you to Rocki’s page and you can read all about this series. Plus, the first book is free!)

I know writing in a Kindle World wouldn’t really be co-writing with an author, I’ve tried to think of other options. There are a lot of contemporary romance authors that would be fun to write with. Authors that would stretch my talents and my creativity.

Honestly though, it’s hard for me to say I’d want to work with anyone before I’d want to work with Jill Shalvis. She was the first contemporary romance author I’d ever read. If I hadn’t found her books, I wouldn’t be writing at all right now. Her work drew me in from the start and made me want to keep reading, and reading and reading and reading. I haven’t stopped since that first book I read of hers.

I hope that was a good enough answer! I promise to let you know if I work with anyone, but I know it won’t be any time soon!

Thanks so much, Vicki, for your question! If you have a question, send me an email (mary (at) maryethompson (dot) com) with Q&A in the subject, or post it in the comments below, and I’ll answer your question right here on the blog!

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Q&A Sunday: Taking A Break

I’ll be honest with you… I’m tired!

It’s been a long week and an even longer weekend, if you can believe that! I’m not answering a question today because, to tell the truth, I’m worn out!

  We threw a birthday party for my kids yesterday. They both have summer birthdays and hosting more than one party is tough since summers are always so busy, so we just throw one big party! It’s wild, but so much fun.

We had 15 kids and a slew of adults and so much fun! One of our local parks has shelters that you can rent out so we picked one with a big playground next to it and let the kids wear themselves out. Hubby grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, I baked six dozen cupcakes, and family and friends helped us make it a success.

And now I’m worn out. So I’m taking a break today! I’ll answer more questions next week. If you’ve got one for me, post it in the comments below or send me an email. I’m running low on questions so send them in! Please!