By Kirsten Scott
The world lost a great author this week. David Eddings, the bestselling author of the Belgariad and Mallorean series, passed away on June 2, leaving behind legions of fans. Many, like me, believe that he was one of the greatest authors of all time, right up there beside Tolkien for the richness and power of the world he created.
Of course, Eddings wasn't a romance writer. So why, you may ask, am I talking about him here? I want to call attention to a gift Eddings had -- a gift for creating memorable characters. This is something all authors strive to do, and in some ways, what he did was very simple. But in other ways...well, let's just say a true master makes it look easy.
So how do you create memorable characters? I teach a class on writing to kids, and I tell them that they've got to find something unique about their characters. Something other than, "medium height, brown hair, and blue eyes." For each character they create, I make them tell me two or three things about their character that couldn't describe anyone else.
Two or three truly unique things.
Now this may sound easy. You can make up unique things all day long (he's got a tattoo of a lizard on his butt! he only drinks Gatorade! she eats ants!). The hard part comes in thinking of unique things that relate back to the plot, the conflict, and characters sense of self.
Ouch. Now I don't want to get too writerly on you, but this is interesting stuff. Think of the best characters from fiction. Harry Potter anyone? What are his two or three things? The lightening scar, that's number one, and that relates directly to his quest, right? His bed under the stairs, that's another big one. That bed marks him as different. As having a destiny apart from his miserable Muggle family.
In the Belgariad, the thief, the bear, and the bride of light were mentioned in a prophecy. They were essential to saving the world -- it only takes a few books to realize that the big burly guy with the chest like a ... um ... bear, IS the bear. And the guy with the twitchy nose who's always stealing stuff? Oh yeah. He's the thief. How did we miss that? (Man, Eddings was good!)
So these unique things don't have to be weird. I mean, describing someone as a bear isn't exactly a genius of a metaphor. But it works because it means something for that guy, who is also tough, brave, and loyal to his teeth. It sticks in your mind. It defines the character.
But let's take it out of fantasy and bring it back to romance. Anyone remember a certain hunky guy described as a "brick wall"? (You can save your answers for the comments. ;-) )
I wonder if this explains some of the draw of the vampire and werewolf books. You can't miss creating a memorable character when you make him inhumanly beautiful, and, well, a vampire. It's character and metaphor all in one (and even better when you make him a vampire who fights the urge to hunt humans!).
In my YA, my heroine's Grandma plays a big role. The reader doesn't quite know if she's completely senile or fooling everyone -- and that extends to her outlandish sense of style (she's got an obsession with matching track suits and baby doll make-up) and propensity for running red lights. I hope she's memorable to readers, like she is to me.
So taking this writing analogy one more level, I think we can all learn a little about ourselves by coming up with these two or three "defining" characteristics. I thought about this myself, and here's what I came up with:
1) I like to think I'm not competitive, but I'm really uber-competitive. That's why I try to avoid competition -- I really really really don't like to lose.
2) My first name (Kirsten is my middle name) means mermaid. I love this about myself. I love that my name is unique, and I love that it relates to water. I feel like I have a real calling to the water. When I was little, I actually sort of believed if I stayed under long enough, I'd learn how to breathe down there.
3) I chew obsessively on my cuticles. Tear 'em to shreds. Blood and everything. It's gross, it's infantile, and I can't stop it. It's the real me. A bit OCD, not a true lady, and a slave to her compulsions. :-)
So back to you, dear readers. What makes you YOU? If you were a character in a novel, what two or three things would the author pick out to describe about you? Do you refuse to sleep in anything but silk or satin? Do you harbor a secret passion for corn dogs or deep fried twinkies despite your commitment to a vegan lifestyle? Are your feet a size six but you shove them into a size 5 just because you always wanted to be a size 5? Are you an expert tae-bo boxer? Do you hoard gardening magazines even though you live in an apartment in the city?
Please, let us get to know you! And I want to hear who else remembers the brick wall!