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