Vice Versus Virtue: Creating Complete Characters
“Claire, Taylor Mistry is so frustrating. Why would she even consider Brandon when she has better options?”
Wow. Like, just wow. Calm down. She took pause, okay? She was finally getting attention from her first crush, so she took pause. Sheesh, wouldn’t you do the same?
That was a hot question after my first novel, Mistry by Moonlight, came out. I felt like I was defending a friend, and maybe I was partly defending myself. After all, you can’t write an entire novel from someone’s perspective and not put a little bit of your own character in them. I’ve written a lot of books—twenty, in fact, and I’m working on a few more. It is a bit insane because twenty of them are written from different characters’ perspectives. They’re all from different backgrounds with different traits, different views and find themselves in different situations. But that said, each one of my main characters is a part of me. They are a fragment of my personality. I think that anyone who reads all my books who knows me would be able to pick the qualities that my characters share with me. Maybe if you mashed them all together I’d be the product. But…that’s a creepy thought; let’s not do that.
I like them all. I have to like them all, because we’re on the same team. They’re my creations, my paper children, and I do respect them and their decisions.
I can relate to them all—some more than others—but even so, I don’t have a favourite. I mean, naturally I enjoy writing some more than others just because a few are a little more silver-tongued or risk-taking. I think that of them all, Taylor from Mistry by Moonlight and Ruby from Forever Ruby are probably the most like me, though I am slightly more Ruby than Taylor in her way of thinking. But then, I really loved writing Nora from Knowing Nora because she is just so kind. However, it’s almost to a fault because she doesn’t stand up for herself.
I don’t always agree with them all. There are a few characters of mine that have disappointed me, which is probably strange to hear considering arguably I could re-write them in a different way. But I create them as people, and I don’t want them to change. I want them to be flawed, because the best people are. The best take chances and make mistakes and learn from them. I like that they frustrate me and my readers because that is what makes them real. Not everyone is perfect, but that’s just what makes them human.
But then there are the supporting characters and, well, I have less of a tolerance for some of them than others. My main characters would agree with me on that. Can you blame them? It’s hard to see the good when you’re being tortured, beaten, teased, or ridiculed. The thing about supporting characters is they’re more black and white than main characters. They have to be, because it’s common to only get to know one side of someone rather than stepping back and appraising every part and motive. It’s a fact that not everyone gets along with everyone. That’s okay.
So, you’ll never hear me having any sympathy for Tynan Webb from my ebook Foresight (plug: available only on Amazon Kindle) or even Kyle Young from my next book Knowing Nora (shameless!). Though, that’s not to say that they are all bad. Maybe they’d plead the same argument that Jessica Rabbit did: “I’m not bad; I’m just drawn that way”—or written that way. Sure, just don’t expect Detective Ingall or Nora Hadley to be easily convinced. Or maybe Nora would be, she’s rather forgiving. Sigh.
There’s a quote at the end of The Amazing Spiderman that just explodes my mind because it’s literally amazing: “I had a professor once who liked to tell his students that there were only 10 different plots in all of fiction. Well, I'm here to tell you he was wrong. There is only one: ‘Who am I?’”
So love them or fear them, characters are the heart of any story. I’m a firm believer that once you learn about their favourite things, opinions, interests, heritage, and families, you have a sound idea of who they are. You will know where they’re likely to find themselves and the type of people they’ll probably be around. Before I start a story, I first and foremost need to know who is telling it. Once I know that, then I’m no longer Claire Merchant; I am a character telling my own story, like I’ve been waiting to tell it forever.
Claire Merchant is the YA author of Mistry by Moonlight (2013), South Coast Son (2014), and the just released Forever Ruby. We look forward to at least three more books from Claire: Knowing Nora, Midnight Mistry, and Mistry at Dawn. You can follow her on Twitter @sailorclaire.