Tracey S. Phillips is the founder of the Blackbird Writers, as well as the author of Thriller Best Kept Secrets. You can find out more about her on her website, www.traceysphillips.com, or by clicking here, read her last post here, and find her books here, and here.
Sixteen years after Fay Ramsey was murdered, Morgan Jewell is still obsessed with finding the killer of her high-school best friend. They were supposed to move into the Indiana University dorms together. They were supposed to enjoy the best years of their young adult lives together. Morgan lead the search party right to her best friend’s body, and though nothing was ever proven, she still assumes responsibility for her friend’s death.
Morgan developed Perpetration Induced Trauma that blocked her memory of entire days leading up to the event. She became so obsessed with trying to learn what happened, that she changed her life’s course and became a police detective. It’s all part of the backstory I gave the protagonist of BEST KEPT SECRETS, published by Crooked Lane Books.
PIT syndrome, a form of PTSD, is caused when someone witnesses or takes part in a violent crime. It’s only one part of Morgan’s total character makeup. She is smart and driven. She has trouble with relationships but rents a room in a house with an elderly couple who double as parental figures. They take care of Morgan who sometimes has trouble taking care of herself. My character is a whole person with good and bad qualities—just like any other human.
How deep are you willing to go? When I write, I need to know my characters better than I know my own children. They become close friends, people I love to –or loath to—hang out with. I know their favorite foods and if they drink coffee, how they take it. I know what clothes they live in and even what spurs them to go shopping. If there’s a love interest, as with my romantic suspense books published under the pseudonym, Karissa Knight, I know what character traits draw the couple together and why.
In THE CLIENT, Wilhelmina Green is one of the best young criminal defense attorneys in Chicago. She became a lawyer because her father was a policeman. Mina’s dad took the family out of Chicago and moved to Normal Illinois after her mom died of ovarian cancer. He pushed his children—Mina and two older brothers—to be their very best. Because of it, Mina got a diving scholarship to Northwestern University. That’s where she learned to love diving, and where she studied criminal law. After she graduated at the top of her class, Milton, Wallace & Edwards hired her on the spot. She didn’t sign up for the angst that came with helping acquit guilty people of ruthless crimes and that’s what drives her to the dangerous sport of tombstoning.
I know my characters pasts and their motivations for the story I’m telling. I know what triggers tears and also what they’re most afraid of. In Mina’s case, I know what triggers self-destructive behaviors and her desire for punishment. In Morgan’s case, I knew her truth before she did. (Hint: Don’t read the last page of Best Kept Secrets first!)
This week I wrote THE END on a new manuscript. Quinn Saunders is happily married to Carson, her husband of twenty-eight years. While cycling in the foothills of Boulder Colorado, she witnesses his death. Her one true love is run off the road by a hit and run driver. For Quinn, the depression that follows drives her to take a variety of herbal supplements. The combination of herbals with her anti-depressants, causes Serotonin Syndrome where she becomes extremely paranoid and nervous. Even her hands shake uncontrollably. None of this really matters unless Quinn has something more to deal with. Something the reader will dread, too.
So what’s the ticking time bomb that drives this story forward? Quinn believes the man she dated long before marrying Carson has come out of the woodwork. He sent a photo of something precious that belonged to her mother. The photo comes with the message, I’m keeping these safe for you. Ray English, the ex-boyfriend, is stalking Quinn, but no one believes her. She’s behaving erratically, and she’s depressed and paranoid.
To deepen the story, I give Quinn more issues to deal with: a broken, unresolved past with her mother who now suffers from Alzheimer’s and a fractured relationship with her family. Quinn’s daughter was always closer to her now-dead father. Can she close the gap before her sociopathic boyfriend closes in for the kill? When Quinn’s daughter, Taylor, is abducted, we root for Quinn to get her act together and save her daughter.
Depth of character makes the story real for me. Characters, like people, are unique to their sets of memories and traits. Just like you and me, their pasts made them who they are.
This Post Has 34 Comments
Nothing like writing The End, Tracey. Congratulations. I love how real your characters are to you. That makes all the difference in the world.
Thank you Anne! You’re right. It’s not worth spending so much time with them otherwise. (wink!)
Thanks Sharon, I know you know how it feels!
I truly admire how you flesh out your characters to make them raw and real for readers. Nice!
Thanks Joy! Your characters are wonderful, too! Can’t wait to read your new book!
Way to go on finishing another manuscript!
I just keep swimming, Christine. Thank you!
It’s so much more satisfying to read a book where the characters have this kind of depth than the cardboard cutouts who behave superficially.
I completely agree, Sheila. I thoroughly enjoy your characters. Claudia Rose is someone I could hang out with!
Congratulations on finishing your book! The complexities of your characters is admirable. Just reading about it here has pulled me in. 🙂
Thanks Jackie! Right back at-cha. I love your two guys in the Harlow brothers mysteries. Football players turned etiquette writers! Love it.
Can’t wait for the new book! I love all your characters, even the ones who are more loathable than lovable.
Ah! Caryn Klein was my favorite. I loved writing her more than any other. She really brought out my dark side, and my love for writing thriller!
Time spent on your character bibles saves hours later if you are a plotter, Discovery writers who are willing to listen to their characters get a richer experience as they go through the revision process. Skip either of those steps and you will have character-lite portrayals and readers who will have trouble turning the next page. Thank you for the valuable tips and reminders.
Great tips, John. Whether your a pantser or plotter or somewhere on the spectrum, it’s always a great idea to keep track of those character details. Thank you!
Wonderful that you finished a draft! I like your complex characters, but wow, the dark side of them is REALLY dark.
Hehe. Aren’t we all? Okay, maybe not. Just havin’ fun! Halloween’s coming! My favorite holiday!!
Congrats on finishing another manuscript, Tracey! So happy to hear it. And it sounds intriguing; I look forward to reading it. You’ve given Quinn depth and plenty of conflict to keep your readers turning pages!
Thanks Margaret! Your praise means a lot to me. Like your Maddie, the characters’ pasts give them conflict, something to shoot for and a way to rise above it.
How fitting that you finished your book on the eve of Halloween, your favorite holiday, Tracey. Congratulations! We children’s authors, too, have to focus on depth within our characters since even young kids have life experiences, pro and con, that cause them to seek themselves and role models in the characters in a book.
You’re right, Sherrill. And I love your characters!
Congrats on finishing another manuscript, Tracey. I’m excited to check it out!
I hope that someday you’ll be able to! It’s the ms I’m pitching now.
Congratulations on “The End”. It’s great to write characters you really know. It helps drive the plot and makes for more honest read because people come to know them as people.
Thank you Donna!
Woohoo, Tracey — Way to go!
Thanks Laurie. It is a small accomplishment.
Way to be prolific, Tracey! Write on! (and it sounds fascinating!)
Thanks Laurie! Hope you’ll read it some day.
Congratulations on finishing your latest. I entirely agree about going deep. The better one knows oneself, the better the character development, storytelling, and writing.
Agree. As I’m always learning, studying and diving deeper into my personal psychology, I wonder if others have the same curiosity.