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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Falling in Love With My Characters . . . Again

Falling in love is exciting.

Falling in love again is a different experience altogether, one that in my case came about after my husband and I joined together to face a tough situation thrust upon us by the actions of another. Working with Gwynly for two years as we dealt with considerable challenges in order to bring the stressful situation to a close showed me a depth of character I hadn't seen before, and my appreciation and respect for him deepened.

At the end of that l ordeal, I wanted to show Gwynly how much my love for him had grown. Inspired by Nicholas Sparks' book The Wedding, I planned a surprise vow renewal. Six months went into the planning, and the outcome was a memorable ceremony, one that showed Gwynly I would marry him all over again.

Character Concerns

Earlier this year, I received Revision Notes from my agent, Rachelle Gardner. A few of her comments revolved around my two main characters.

My heroine began as a capable and determined woman, but as the story progressed she lost some of her spunk, so much so that at times she came off as wimpy and–I hate to admit this–even whiny. Not good!

My hero was a friendly man with an engaging manner that endeared him to everyone. He treated people well. Very well, in fact. All right, since I'm confessing, I'll tell you the truth. He was too nice. The man had a serious problem in that he had no problems–or at least not enough of them to count.
Character Conversions

In the early stages of the rewrite, I redefined my main characters. Before I did that, however, I had to grieve the loss of the characters as I'd first created them. These two characters had lived in my fertile imagination for over three years, and, as you can imagine, I'd become quite attached to them. Bidding their former incarnations farewell took time.

Once I was ready to move on, these are seven steps I took as I reshaped my hero and heroine:
  1. I revised their back stories and gave them more clearly defined issues.
  2. I intensified their desire for what was most important to them.
  3. I gave them stronger motivations for their choices and actions.
  4. I determined how to strengthen my heroine.
  5. I made my heroine's behavior more consistent.
  6. I decided which weaknesses my hero would have.
  7. I gave them both more emotional depth.
Character Chemistry

Once I had a handle on my main characters' new personae and my new plot, I began writing. Because I'd gone though the process of letting go of the earlier manifestations of my characters and had taken time to get to know the present ones, the story began to flow. As I spent time with my new and improved hero and heroine, I experienced a thrill similar to the one I felt when I witnessed a whole new aspect to my husband's personality emerge during the trial we faced. My hero and heroine are more likable, more realistic, and more fun. I've fallen in love with them all over again.

While making radical changes to characters who'd been so dear to me wasn't easy, I know it was the right thing to do if I want to have a marketable story. I loved the characters as I'd originally written them, but I'm even happier with them now.

I Wanna Know . . .

Have you ever had to let go of a character you created? How did it feel?

Have you ever made significant changes to a character? What steps did you take?

Have you read a book and come across a character you felt wasn't as strong as she needed to be or one who had no real flaws? How did that make you feel?


Wendy Paine Miller said...

How cool to read about the renewal of vows.

I've had to significantly change a character. 2,3 and 7 needed work. I like how you outlined the changes you made in this post.

~ Wendy

Sherrinda said...

Oh Keli, I love to hear about your love for your husband. What a wonderful testimony to God's grace and mercy.

I haven't experienced changing characters...yet! I am sure when I do decide to go back to my first MS, I will need to do alot of refining and changing, but since I am moving on, I will try to make these new characters have more depth.

GREAT post! I love seeing your list for changes. Very helpful.

Diane said...

I'm glad the difficult situation brought new revelation and love for you and your husband. This year is 15 years for me and mine. God is good. :O)

Jessica Nelson said...

I've had to revamp my characters. I still worry a little about one heroine. We'll see what happens with her. ;-)
Thanks for sharing about your process, and how wonderful about you and your man! Very romantic...

Julie Jarnagin said...

Yes. I've had to tell my character to get over it when they got whiny.
Very cool about the vow renewal!

Cindy said...

Oh, P.S., I haven't been by since you changed the look of your blog. I really like it!

Cindy said...

Lol, my P.S. came before my actually message. Sorry, I guess the first one didn't go through.

Anyway, I said that it was so sweet you and your husband renewed your vows and you planned it as a surprise.

I've had to change one of my character before in the past and it was hard. I saw her through different eyes as my readers but when I saw what they saw, I realized that my heroine needed to be nicer and more vulnerable and love people more.

Also, I just read a book where the hero was way too nice and I wasn't sympathetic to the heroine at all. So much so that I almost stopped reading the book. It really made me realize how important it is to get our characters across to our readers in a certain way and really make them relatable. (okay, going to try to post this again and see if it works :D)

Jan Cline said...

Wow, this was really helpful to me. I have just begun my second novel and Im looking for ways to deepen my characters. The list you gave is great.

Keli Gwyn said...

Wendy and Julie, you understand how tough it can be to change our characters. Kudos to you for seeing the need and taking the steps.

Jan, I wish you well as you deepen your characters. That can be such fun and so rewarding.

Cindy, thanks for the compliment on the blog template. I was quite happy to find it and to figure out how to make the tabs link to pages on my website since I'm not an IT wiz.

Planning the vow renewal was such fun. Since our daughter is one of those who has a hard time not dropping hints when she knows a BIG secret, I kept it from her too. I think she was more surprised than Gwynly, especially when she learned that she was to be my maid of honor.

Terri Tiffany said...

Ok--I might have a whimpy character and reading what you said makes me worry:) You have amazed me when I think of the revisions you are going through. So many and your attitude is wonderful with it! I thank you for this informative post!

Anne Barton said...

I fell in love with your hero & heroine the first time I read your story, and now I can't wait to fall in love with them again.

You do a wonderful job of creating characters I care about, and then you put them in the perfect situations (or maybe not-so-perfect ones!) where they have to grow and give and take.

It's very sweet that you renewed your marriage vows!

Keli Gwyn said...

Terri, I doubt your character is wimpy. The fact that you can step back and observe him/her from a distance will be your greatest ally as you make your assessment. If you determine your character does need to be strengthened, I feel certain you'll do a fine job of it.

Anne, your kind words mean so much to me. You know better than anyone what a daunting task I faced as I embarked on the rewrite. I hope that when I finish you like the new M&E better than their former selves. I've added a hefty dose of spices to the mix, and I'm pleased with the results.

Laura Marcella said...

I can't think of a book character who has no real flaws but I can think of a television character: Sully from Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman! Ever see that show? Sully had some minor flaws, but his flaws were all based on good intentions so they could hardly be called flaws at all. And I had no problem with him being so perfect, haha!

Congrats on your vow renewal. That's so sweet and romantic!

Jamie D. said...

Laura, I was completely in love with Sully myself. What a guy... *sigh*

Keli, so sweet to hear about your own "falling in love again" story. What a wonderful testament to your relationship. :-)

I'm currently "rewriting" my characters as well...but I didn't feel the need to give the originals up entirely. Once I dug deeper into the back story and motivations, I understood better how they would relate to each other and the situations they were in. They became more rounded, more complete "people" to me.

To that end, I'm changing the plot to suit the characters better, rather than forcing them into a plot they don't fit. Switching over to character-driven writing, which is new and exciting for me. :-)

Best of luck with your revisions...

Jill Kemerer said...

I've been thinking about the same things you listed in my own wip right now. I just started revising a book, and it hit me that the hero has plenty of internal conflict, but not enough of anything else. It's great to know I'm not alone!

Laura Frantz said...

Keli, What a wonderful post! I, too, understand the grieving part of recreating characters. I've had to do it myself. One of the most startling things that happened not long ago was to realize I'd created an unheroic hero. I don't think my critique partner even liked him! So I had to soften him and make him less intimidating. Not so easy to do, especially since I really loved him, warts and all. But he was better for it, I think, and hope readers agree.

You have such great insights. Thanks so much for sharing. Your husband sounds absolutely heroic to me:)

Anonymous said...

Very informative post. I've one character in mind I need to think on as I run through your post again, taking mental notes of the revision I need to do!
A friend of mine refers to revisions in characters as 'killing your babies.' Sounds horrible, I know! And painful.

T. Anne said...

Good for you for going back and manhandling your MC! I think it's great insight to realize where the flaws in our stories are. Sometimes it takes another pair of eyes to find them. I can't wait to read your books!

BTW, thank you for sharing such great information over at my blog regarding character voice. You are such a great teacher!!!!!

Jody Hedlund said...

Hi Keli!

I was noticing the similarities of our posts! And I'm sure your characters are very much alive. To have captured the attention of so many different people in various contests, you know you're infusing them with life. But, sometimes we'll find that we need to give them new problems or more conflict even when we've brought them to life. I had to revamp my MC's ARC in The Preacher's Bride, essentially give him a different main weakness to work through by the end of the story. He still has his original one, but my editors didn't want it to be his main weakness. So, I had to change that, which was no easy feat! So, I can relate to what you're going through!

Billy Coffey said...

I try to let my characters go in some sense, but it's very difficult. Most of mine are based in some small way upon people I know, it's easy to err on the side of reality rather than my imagination. Loved your list. It's going into my notebook.

Heather Sunseri said...

This is great info for me today, Keli. My husband has just accused me of making my MC's love interest entirely too perfect. He's not really, but I was having a tough time proving it to him, so I'm going to be taking a hard look at that.

Terri Tiffany said...

I saw on Rachelle's blog you are coming to Orlando for the RWA conference! I had just looked it up and was considering doing it as a possibility. I wish we could meet up!

Keli Gwyn said...

Terri, I do plan to attend RWA® Nationals in Orlando. I'm quite excited because I get to spend time with my CP, Anne Barton, whom I haven't seen in person since the RWA conference in San Francisco two years ago. I'm also looking forward to meeting many of my writer pals and blogging buddies.

I hope you decide to go to Nationals this July. I'd love to meet you face to face.

Nishant said...

It's very sweet that you renewed your marriage vows!
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