Creating characters in our books is never entirely straightforward, and so many are influenced by our own lives and the people in them; one might think it would make writing them easier, but that’s not always the case. There are so many reasons for starting over in life, and they all come with their own challenges and feelings depending on the why. Exploring our emotions and looking back to times we’ve started again and changed the path of our lives from the smallest to the most significant ways can help our characters come to life on our pages.
1. Tap into your feelings, the good and the bad
In my women’s fiction book, The Silence in the Sound, the protagonist is inspired by actual events, and her journey is very similar to mine. At first, it seemed like a breeze to tap into my feelings, and the words flowed easily on the page, but once I had to reach deeper and Georgette’s character became more complex, I soon felt I was drowning in heartache—raw and exposed. At one point, as Georgette developed along with her relationships, I found myself struggling with self-loathing as the traits she showed were familiar at the coming-of-age time in life. Looking back and inward, I didn’t like what I saw. But alas, Georgette’s journey is about starting over and recreating herself. Don’t we all do this at least a few times in life? At first, the prospect is exciting, and the possibilities appear endless. We’ve grown, evolved, and made the difficult decision to move on, leave, start a new chapter, and maybe never look back. But can you really… never look back?
2. Clearly define the reason for a new beginning
In real life and book life, starting over is often never easy. Whatever we are fleeing or moving on from is still a part of us and a part of our character’s lives. It’s essential to the story, our stories, and to know ourselves and our characters—to understand who they and we are, we need to see why this must happen and what would happen if it doesn’t. What are the stakes?
The stakes are significant to define. Without knowing or suspecting what would befall us if we didn’t do what was needed, would any of us ever change? It’s the same for the reader. We need to know why this is important to the character’s journey. But first, we need to see the back story.
3. Looking at the past
In creating a solid character, we need to know about their past. What makes them who they are and what drove them to where they are, subsequently taking us on it with them as the reader. In a coming-of-age story like Georgette in my book, we see a character at a time in her life when there usually is a lot of change. The character is in the beginning stages of adulthood, and isn’t that always a challenge? So much is new at that time, jobs, love, friendships, decisions on where to live, what you want to be, and what you want your life to look like. It’s also a time we are looking at what we don’t want to be. Like Georgette, we may have come from a life that doesn’t suit us or is damaging to us. At this age, we are at a time where we can create our own life, but much like in real life, sometimes the past isn’t always easy to escape, and in so many good books, we find characters facing the same challenge.
4. Has everything changed?
Life’s obstacles define us and make us who we are. It’s the same for our characters. Overcoming the biggest struggles often makes incredible people in real life and our characters’ lives that breathe on the pages of our favorite novels. When we pull our characters from a tough spot and bring them to the change that they desperately need to move both them and the story, how were they affected? Is everything perfect now, or as often happens in real life, is there a difficult transition? Are they fearful someone might come looking for them? Are they guilty about leaving someone or something behind, or maybe they are finally free of something that they’ve been trying to escape, and there is nothing but better days ahead? Tap into your feelings and use this to bring authenticity to both the character and the plot.
5. A glimpse into the future.
As readers, we want to see why the act of starting over happened, the challenges the character has faced in going through the process, and when it comes to their future, it is no fun to be left hanging unless the book is one of a series. I know of many books, my own included, where the story is left open-ended. The reader can envision where the protagonist and all the characters might be but simultaneously give a glimmer of hope or a hint, wrapping up the journey I find incredibly important. I hope I did that well enough for my readers; thus far, they have not complained. In real life and book life, we want to know, even in the slightest way, if the journey and all the obstacles were worth it.
A raw, gritty New Englander, Dianne C. Braley found love for the written word early on, reading and creating stories while trying to escape hers, growing up in the turbulent world of alcoholism. After putting her pencil down for a time, she became a registered nurse finding strength and calm in caring for those who couldn’t care for themselves. While living in Martha’s Vineyard years ago, Braley cared for ailing Pulitzer prize-winning novelist of Sophie’s Choice, William Styron. He and his books helped her realize she missed crafting stories, and she had some of her own to tell. The Silence in the Sound, Dianne’s debut novel, is set to release on August 23rd 2022.