That Time Merit Was In A Band . . .



I’ve shared with a few readers that the first iteration of SOME GIRLS BITE was, well, regrettable. Merit, the earnest main character, was in a band with her friend, Mallory. Merit was insulted by a club’s demand the band, which had performed at the locale many times prior, audition for its new owner. Merit went to the manager’s office to complain about the inconvenience, and she was attacked by a vampire in a dark, back hallway.

 I know. Awful, isn’t it?

The next draft of SOME GIRLS BITE had very little in common with the first one—primarily the sneaky vampire attack and the friendship between Mallory and Merit. It took another character coming to mind – Ethan Sullivan – before I knew who Merit really was. He provided a foil: fusty, imperious, gorgeous, and political to Merit’s earnestness, her desire to do good, her intelligence and stubbornness. 

 Sometimes creating a character isn’t about deciding who she is, but who she isn’t.

 It doesn’t always happen that way. Sometime a character comes to mind, fully formed like Venus rising from the foam. (Or in this case, my Ethan brainstorm). Others show me who they are one decision or comment at a time. Even characters created to fill a need can surprise me with their quirks, their triggers, their motivations.

 Keeping them straight and keeping them interesting can be a challenge.

 I generally remember the voice of each character, but I also have a continuity editor who ensures the details stay straight.  I keep “final” copies of each manuscript on my computer, and I can search those if I need to confirm a fact while drafting. That keeps them straight enough.

 Keeping them interesting is a different matter. For existing characters, the issue isn’t so much whether they’re interesting, but whether they’re consistent. Are their actions, thoughts, comments in this manuscript consistent with what they’ve said and done before? Do they develop as characters, but not so much that they seem to have changed utterly between novels? Do we learn something new about them in each novel, something that comforts readers (“Yes, that’s the girl/boy we know and love.”) or challenges them (“That action is out of character; he must be really, really upset. Now I understand how alone he feels.”)?

 New characters are a different issue. In series, each novel may present a new antagonist, new secondary characters, new tertiary characters. Or we may learn new and important facts about a previous secondary or tertiary character that brings them front and center to the plot. 

I’m not certain I know the secret to bringing a new set of characters on stage that feel fresh, although I certainly hope I manage to do it. I suppose the basics are easy—a different physical appearance, a different background. The nuances are harder—the personalities, the interests, the motivations.

 What about you? How do you keep your cast of characters fresh?

ChloeNeillphoto BIO: Chloe Neill is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Chicagoland Vampires and Dark Elite series.  She was born and raised in the South, but now makes her home in the Midwest–just close enough to Cadogan House and St. Sophia’s to keep an eye on things. When not transcribing Merit’s and Lily’s adventures, she bakes, works, and scours the Internet for good recipes and great graphic design. Chloe also maintains her sanity by spending time with her boys–her favorite landscape photographer/husband and their dogs, Baxter and Scout. (Both she and the photographer understand the dogs are in charge.)
 Photo credit: Dana Damewood
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8 comments to That Time Merit Was In A Band . . .

  • sagablessed

    Honestly I don’t know how it is done. I guess it is like a case of Sybil. I just get in my character’s head and “live” there for a bit. They change as things move on, but I have no definite parameters to judge the changes by.
    Each character is a living person…in my head.
    I guess I need to be medicated. 😉

  • Chloe, this is another timely post. I’ll be posting tomorrow about a character I created to be a foil for my POV character, and who became the lynchpin of the series. Because, as you say, she is everything he is not. And their rivalry fuels not only the character arcs, but also the narrative of each book. Just as people in our own lives can serve as mirrors, admittedly imperfect reflections of who and what we are, so the characters in our books can do that for one another. Great post.

  • quillet

    I wish I knew the magical formula to making characters fresh. I’d bottle it and make a million! All I can say about my own method is that I keep writing till the character Stands Up and Says Hello (as I call it). And when I say “writing,” I don’t just mean writing scenes, though I do that too. I also brainstorm ideas, scribble weird notes to myself, describe the characters, interview them and see what they have to say for themselves… Whatever works, till somehow it all comes together and they start to feel real. At which point I usually have to throw away some stuff that no longer fits, but that’s okay. 🙂

  • sagablessed

    Well said, David.

  • Razziecat

    Well, that’s the big question, isn’t it? I don’t know where these people come from! I’m just the physical body that puts them on the page 😉 I’ve had a character spring forth like Athena from Zeus’s head, fully formed as to appearance and attitude; and I’ve had others that I had to tease out bit by bit. I suspect that what they really are is aspects of myself that can’t find expression any other way. That gives me a lot to think about, because some of them aren’t very nice 🙁 The human psyche is a strange and wonderful thing 😀

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