Character Development – Is there a right or wrong way?

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Several years ago, the editor working on The Greeks of Beaubien Street sent me a rather terse message. Coming to the end of the story, he still had no idea what Detroit detective Jill Zannos looked like. I was baffled because I know I’d mentioned that she was a beautiful Greek woman, in her thirties, tall and slender. What more did this guy want from me?  Exhausted to have to read to the end to find out she was a loner with no girlfriends or that her boyfriend was a jerk, he also disliked the periodic memories of Jill’s childhood, from the encounters with her odd neighbor, being picked on in elementary school because she was Greek, to the lamb’s head cooking in her grandmother’s apartment. (A memory from my own childhood.)

Reflecting on the type of stories I’ve read, generally I’m satisfied with a short description of a person’s physical attributes, and then my imagination fills in the blanks. In my books, I might say someone’s a blond or brunette, that they have big breasts or are overweight. Violet, the daughter of Pam’s ex-husband in Save the Date, is morbidly obese at the beginning of the story but after two books, she’s lost weight and although still overweight by conventional standards, is healthy and happy. I felt it was important for several aspects of the story to define her weight, her hygiene, negative attributes of her personality, but little else. As the story grew, we discovered that Violet was intelligent; completing her master’s thesis, shy, quick witted and creative

I might emphasize weight gain or loss as an attribute of their mental health; “she was so upset she couldn’t eat a thing,” or “in a moment of despair, she stuffed a donut in her mouth.”

Last night, I began reading a new series the name of which I won’t mention because I don’t want my critique to be taken the wrong way by any perspective readers. Suffice to say, in spite of some rather detailed character descriptions, I’m getting used to the writer’s style and hope I’ll finish the first volume. In the first chapter, he’s introduced the main characters and I know an exhaustive list of their physical characteristics, their history, what they did in their youth, what subjects they majored in in college, and what their personalities are like, including quirks and limitations. Although it seems a little draggy to me, I can see that I’m being led someplace where this information might be necessary. I’ll let you know.

As my characters develop, I’m just learning about them. I don’t have all of the answers at the beginning of a book so I am unable to tell you everything about them right from the start; it will be revealed later, as the story grows. I love to send out hints here and there, and careful readers tell me they love it that I force them to read between the lines sometimes. Unlike my fellow author of the new series mentioned above, I tend to piecemeal out to the reader the history of the character through reflection or interaction with other characters. However, not everyone likes my method.

It’s just my way, not the right way I’m sure, as my encounter with the editor confirmed.

For more information about the Greektown Detroit Detective Stories, go here.

Suzanne Jenkins

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Her anthology of romance titles with eleven other authors, A TOUCH OF PASSION, has just become the 2016 WINNER of The Romance Reviews Readers’ Choice Awards.

Suzanne writes page-turning contemporary romance, mystery, and women’s fiction with passionately gripping characters that stay with readers long after they turn the last page. The Detroit Detective Stories, beginning with The Greeks of Beaubien Street are a reflection of American fantasy with historical reality. Pam of Babylon books consistently rank in the Top 100 Best Sellers in American Drama with over 500,000 downloads.

Suzanne’s stand alone novels include Someone Like You, the Family/LGBT themed Alice’s Summertime Adventure, suspenseful The Savant of Chelsea, Slow Dancing, The Liberation of Ravenna Morton and Perfect for Him, her latest romance story. “Bring the tissues,” readers say.

Burn District, Jenkins new sci/fi series, follows an American family as they flee from political insanity to save their lives in the Arizona Desert.

Her short story, Vapor appeared in Willow Review, Spring 2013.

A retired operating room nurse, Jenkins divides her time between the west Michigan lakeshore, the Brandywine River Valley, and the mountains of Southern California, traveling across country with her husband, Jim and dog Oscar in an RV, to visit their children and grandchilden on different coasts.

Visit http://suzannejenkins.net where you may subscribe to an email list entitling you to free stories and excerpts of soon to be released and new releases.

   

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Suzanne Jenkins

About Suzanne Jenkins

Get Suzanne's newsletter and never miss a new release! Receive a FREE Pam of Babylon short story by signing up at http://suzannejenkins.net Suzanne's Gift to You! DOWNLOAD FREE and Bargain EBOOKS Start the first installment of Suzanne's bestselling series, Pam of Babylon FREE! Download Today - The Greeks of Beaubien Street 99 Cents (Greektown Detroit Detective Stories) Also free, Atlas of Women, a compilation of the novella, Mademoiselle and four short stories, and Burn District: The Prequel. Her anthology of romance titles with eleven other authors, A TOUCH OF PASSION, has just become the 2016 WINNER of The Romance Reviews Readers' Choice Awards. Suzanne writes page-turning contemporary romance, mystery, and women's fiction with passionately gripping characters that stay with readers long after they turn the last page. The Detroit Detective Stories, beginning with The Greeks of Beaubien Street are a reflection of American fantasy with historical reality. Pam of Babylon books consistently rank in the Top 100 Best Sellers in American Drama with over 500,000 downloads. Suzanne's stand alone novels include Someone Like You, the Family/LGBT themed Alice's Summertime Adventure, suspenseful The Savant of Chelsea, Slow Dancing, The Liberation of Ravenna Morton and Perfect for Him, her latest romance story. "Bring the tissues," readers say. Burn District, Jenkins new sci/fi series, follows an American family as they flee from political insanity to save their lives in the Arizona Desert. Her short story, Vapor appeared in Willow Review, Spring 2013. A retired operating room nurse, Jenkins divides her time between the west Michigan lakeshore, the Brandywine River Valley, and the mountains of Southern California, traveling across country with her husband, Jim and dog Oscar in an RV, to visit their children and grandchilden on different coasts. Visit http://suzannejenkins.net where you may subscribe to an email list entitling you to free stories and excerpts of soon to be released and new releases.

3 thoughts on “Character Development – Is there a right or wrong way?

  1. Yes, I’m w/ you. I don’t spend a lot of time on descriptions. And I don’t know a ton about my characters when I first start. I always have to go back and fill in stuff. All my heroes tend to look alike. Tall, dark and macho. I write a series, and when several of these guys are together, I might have the heroine think that they are the same type as the hero. I have said before, my heroes tend to look like my husband, if he were taller, younger and slimmer.
    Rebecca York

  2. Good article. I don’t want to be inundated with detailed descriptions of characters (not rooms, either). For goodness sake, I have an imagination. Let me use it. Hair color, basic body shape (tall/short, burly/wiry). That’s all I need. Info dumping (as the writer of the book you’re reading does) is a turn off for me. Dribble in the info. A little here, a little there. Give me enough in the first chapter that I want to learn more about the character. You are right, though. There is no right or wrong way to describe characters. Some people do like to know everything up front.

  3. I totally like your way better, Suzanne, rather than having to read through continuous descriptions. For some reason, when the author gives me a lot of details on what a character looks like, I get kind of mixed up because when the character starts acting their way through the book, I have to tell you, I always form my own vision of them. Give me the basic body types, tall, slim, fat, short, hair coloring and some hints to their personality and leave it to me. I’ll figure it out as the story moves along 🙂 Now this might be because I’m an author – maybe readers feel differently…??? I’d love to know if they do.

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