Friday, November 18, 2011

Anita Clenney: Building Memorable Characters

A chance for two commenters (US and Canada) on today's blog to win a copy of Embrace The Highland Warrior.




My guest is paranormal romance author, Anita Clenney. She writes about some really yummy Scots. The ones I've *met* are the unforgettable types, and not just because they take up a lot of space in a room. None are the type to fade into the woodwork even when they're just sitting in the group. You get vibes of who and what they are--a bit at a time. I like Sorcha, but who I really want to get to know better in Anna. There's just something about her that draws me. 


Another fascinating character, seems on the surface, to be a bad guy.  Let's just say there have been some suspicious actions on his part which make me wonder. I've read both books (definitely 5 star reads and stories I can read more than once--oh yeah, that's my keeper shelf) and his actions make me wonder if someone has some sort of hold over him, or if he's protecting someone dear to him. Just a feeling, and I could be totally off base with this. I do know he has an agenda which is beyond what he appears to be. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series to see if I'm right or wrong...  


And this is the thing I like about certain authors and Anita in particular. The characters are like icebergs. You see them clearly enough to identify who they are, but there's always a hint of what's below the surface.
  
Anita's topic is about building characters who aren't easy to forget.

It takes several elements to make a good book. A great plot, intriguing characters, strong writing. All of these are important, but I don’t think any surpass the need for compelling characters. If the reader doesn’t connect with your character, she won’t care if you have the most spectacular plot in the world, or if you can string phrase together a paragraph in a way that makes her sigh.  Think about some of your favorite books, those that have stuck with you throughout the years. I bet they had great characters.

How do we make memorable characters? Let’s start with something simple, but still important. The name. A name is like a first impression. It defines who you are until someone--the reader in this case--gets to know you. The name Reginald gives an entirely different feel than Zeke or Bart. How about Faelan, Ronan, and Cody? They’re all warriors in my Scottish paranormal series. Let’s meet some of them.

THE WARRIORS

There’s Faelan, the only warrior who’s ever been assigned two ancient demons. Born in the 19th century, Faelan was most powerful warrior of his time. He was trapped in a time vault and slept for 150 years, waking to a strange world filled with modern technology and even stranger…modern females. Then there’s Ronan, 6’3 inches of raw, sexy warrior, better than Robin Hood with his bow, and equally at home with a sword or a bonny lass. Cody, the only other warrior who’s been assigned an ancient demon, might have pretended to be the tough boy next door, and he’s good at hiding secrets, but his world will never be the same after he finds out what’s been hidden from him. Shane is quiet but the fastest with a sword, and Niall is a one-man army, with legs like tree trunks. Tomas is a clan medic and Brodie’s the prankster of the bunch, always getting into trouble. Duncan is brooding and frustrated, and Sorcha likes flirting almost as much as killing demons. Anna, a stunning beauty, has chosen to remain a warrior forever, but destiny has some surprises in store. And my heroines Shay and Bree are more than just mates to these sexy warriors. They have talents that will shock even them.

I like my character’s names. They seem to fit their personalities. But sometimes the “final” name doesn’t come to you until you’ve gotten deeper into the character, seen his or her strengths and flaws. And if you have two protagonists, make sure their names work well together. They need good cadence just like the words in a book. Originally, Faelan and Bree were Faelan and Erin. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I can tell you that by the time I realized how horrible that sounded, she was Erin to me. I couldn’t think of her as anything else. But I forced myself to change her name to Bree. Faelan and Bree. Isn’t that much nicer? It took a while to get used it, and I had to do a “find and replace” (Erin with Bree) before I submitted it to my editor, but now I can’t imagine the character as anything but Bree.

But fleshing out a character goes way beyond their name. We need to feel these characters, see the way they dress, their stance, how they move. Little tics that give their emotions away. I always think of those guys who can take a corpse’s skull and use clay to recreate the face. Writers take a skeleton character and add on layers until we have a face, a body, a real flesh and blood person.  And that’s just the outside. What about the inside, where all that motivation is growing? Anger, pain, hope. That’s the really good stuff. What’s the character’s history? What was his family like? Did he have brothers? Get along or fight? Was he a bully or did he stand up for the underdog? Did lose his parents at a young age, get his heart broken by a girl? Maybe he lost a child, or lost part of himself in a war. Layer by layer, we build our characters, inside and out, filling them with hopes and dreams and fears, until we have someone the reader will hopefully fall in love with and never forget.



  • My question for you is, can you think of a character whose name perfectly fits?
     





EMBRACE THE HIGHLAND WARRIOR


When the powerful demon that left Shay for dead discovers her empty grave, he comes seeking retribution, believing she possesses an ancient book he has sought for centuries. 

Knowing she can’t fight the demon alone, Shay returns to her clan and the Scottish Warrior who betrayed her…the only man she’s ever loved, where she discovers that betrayal isn’t always what it seems.

Sometimes it’s far worse. Excerpt 




NY Times and USA Today bestselling author Anita Clenney writes paranormal romance and romantic suspense. Before giving herself over to the writing bug, she worked in a pickle factory and a preschool, booked shows for Aztec Fire Dancers, and has been a secretary, executive assistant, and a real estate agent. She lives with her husband and two children in suburban Virginia. 

To find out more information, please visit http://www.anitaclenney.com/, follow her on Twitter, or like her on Facebook

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27 comments:

~Sia McKye~ said...

Anita, welcome back to OVER COFFEE!

Boy, there have been some changes in your career in between the two visits, hasn't there?

Anita Clenney said...

Hi Sia, thanks so much for having me back! Yes, many changes in a short amount of time. I'm looking forward to visiting with your readers.

Kat Sheridan said...

Hi, Anita! The books sound fantastic (and I totally trust Sia's judgement on things like this!) For me, a character with a perfect name would be Scarlet O'Hara. You instantly know she's going to be firey, passionate and hot-headed. By the same token, in "Rebecca", the heroine has no name at all. For me, that keeps her almost a non-entity, and emphasizes how different she is from the flamboyant Rebecca. Sheer brilliance, naming a book after a character who's dead before the story even begins.

jowake said...

I love Elizabeth Bennett, she really fits her name I think. As a keen reader of the Pern books, I love all the invented names Anne McCaffery uses, they seem to fit so well.

Sia, would you email me please? I have emailed you a couple of times with no success.

Anita Clenney said...

Hi Kat! I've had so much fun writing this series. Scarlet O'Hara is a perfect choice. Her name says it all. I haven't read Rebecca, but you got me curious, so I popped over and googled it. Sounds intriguing.

Anita Clenney said...

Jowake, another good choice. A name really is important, or as Kat points out, the lack of a name. :)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Jo, I need to get to my ebox and look.


Anita, I thought Rhett was a cool name fitting a gambler in Gone With the Wind.Jo in Little Women, Scrooge in Dickens (also liked Fezziwig, too) Haggert in Harry Potter, Professor Dumbledorf as a name cracks me up.

I also LOVED the name Faelan.

Laila Knight said...

I found out the need to connect with characters when I started giving out my MS to critique partners. Readers should really be able to relate to them. Even if they're villains. This sounds like a great book with more hot Scots. :) I'll be off next week. Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Oh, and Sia, the December Christmas story thing sounds like an excellent idea. :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

While I know the main characters before I begin writing, secondary names don't come until much later. And then I confess, I brainstorm a couple dozen in less than thirty minutes and just match them up with the characters.
I guess I'm a lazy writer!

Rochelle Staab said...

Hi Anita (waving madly)! I love this post. It's amazing to me how, once we begin to dig into the background of characters, their personalities begin to take over and guide the story. And names for primary characters are so important, almost an accessory. You did a wonderful job naming yours.

I like Dashiell Hammett's "Thin Man" character names, Nick and Nora Charles. The name Nick (to me) is no-nonsense and to the point, the name Nora carries a cache of sophistication, both instantly relatable and memorable. (And I like the alliteration, too.)

So good to see you out and about in the blogsphere, Anita. Congratulations on the success of Embrace The Highland Warrior!

Liz Lipperman said...

AS one who devoured the first book in this series, I can't wait to get my head into book 2. (I hate deadlines!!)

As for the perfect name, I think Shirley McClain's character in Steel Magnolias (my favorite movie, BTW) was perfect as "Weezer."

And then there's Rhett Butler. Even the name makes me want to swoon.

Marilyn said...

It's odd how names come from deep inside us as writers--who knows from where. I named a dog Ears in my novel. I've never heard that name for a dog, but as I was writing, that's what came to me. Later, as I thought about it, I realized my young protagonist had no one to listen to her, except this dog.

More great things are in store for you!
M

Anita Clenney said...

Sia, those are great choices. Scrooge just says so much. And I'm glad you liked Faelan!

Anita Clenney said...

Thanks, Laila. Villains are so much fun to write. And I so agree that the reader needs to connect with the villain. Whether they hate them or have some sympathy. They need to feel the villain.

Anita Clenney said...

Alex, I don't think it necessarily takes a lot of time to find the right name. Some characters are easier to name than others.

Cody was the one name I struggled over. In the romantic suspense it worked, but when I revised the book to paranormal and he became a secret warrior instead of a secret soldier, I wasn't sure. I went back and forth with it, but ended up leaving it because the name has Irish and Gaelic origins and he was Cody to me.

Anita Clenney said...

Hey Rochelle (waving back!!) Nick and Nora really has a ring. I didn't understand the importance of naming as much when I first started writing, but it really says so much about the character, before we get to dig in deep and uncover the layers they're hiding.

Anita Clenney said...

Oh, thank you, Liz. I know, deadlines are the pits. They interfere terribly with reading time. :) Both Scarlet and Rhett are perfectly named,in my opinion.

Taryn Browning said...

Hi Anita, awesome post, girly! And of course, I loved Awaken and am looking forward to reading Embrace.

As far as names go, the characters in Harry Potter have great names that fit them wonderfully -- Bellatrix, Snape and Hagrid, to name a few. There are so many fantastic characters in that series! :)

Anita Clenney said...

Marilyn, that's great. Your subconscious must have picked up on that fact. I love it when a name has more significance than just a name.

Anita Clenney said...

Hi Taryn, I do love the Harry Potter names. Some are hard to pronounce, but they really fit the characters.

petemorin said...

Hi Anita,

I just finished a superb litfic, Chronic City, by Jonathan Lethem. His MS is Chase Insteadman, but the oddball star of the story was Perkus Tooth.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Oh, I love the name Chase Insteadman--truly gives a picture of genre and character.

Taryn, I knew I spelled Hagrid's name incorrectly, and Bellatrix and Snape were such neat names, too.

Clarissa Southwick said...

What a wonderful series, Anita. I can't wait to read the rest of it. I haven't really given much thought to names although I do notice when they don't work.Thanks for some good naming advice and congratulations on the latest bestseller.

Anita Clenney said...

I love the Harry Potter characters' characters names but I not only misspell them, I often mispronounce them. :)

Anita Clenney said...

Thanks Clarissa! Some names come easy for me. Some I have to wrestle around. I struggled with my villain names. There are four main villains so far. Tristol, Druan, Malek and Voltar. I was pleased in the end, but we all have preferences, and my husband (who was asked his opinion on the matter) didn't agree with my choice for the last two. So people are going to differ on the choices anyway.

Talli Roland said...

Hmm. That's a difficult question! Darth Vader seems to sum him up perfectly. Good luck, Anita, and thanks for the great post!

Clarissa Draper said...

Names are so important! I like how you pick your names. I love it when a writers chooses names that are unusual and yet memorable.