How do I capture my characters?
Another month, another Round Robin. I enjoy writing these blog posts. Rhobin Courtwright always comes up with a challenging topic that makes me think (although my blog posts don’t necessarily show that. LOL) This month, we’re discussing how we expose our character’s emotions and thoughts and how we switch between characters. In short, how do I capture my characters, their personality, emotions, thoughts, and everything else about them?
With my characters, I really try to expose their emotions viscerally. When I’m scared, what does scared feel like? Does my heart race? Is it hard to breathe? Are my palms sweaty? Do I freeze? Do I get angry? Attack? Run? Would I react differently if the threat is against me as opposed to a loved one like my daughter? I take those personal experiences and then interpret that into my character, depending on her/his personality, experiences.
So, I work from this perspective and make my way through the labyrinth of my character’s mind. In this scene below from latest WIP title Snow Spirits, my protagonist Xué is a snow leopard shifter. It’s a broody, dark romance set during the Great Famine in China. This is a scene of her hunting. In order to portray this, I researched how snow leopards hunt, their unique abilities, their personality traits, etc. I even found rare footage online of one hunting. I also researched the animal she was hunting.
Excerpt of Snow Spirits
A few hours passed with no sign of life. Her heart heavy, she stood, leapt down from her perch, and turned toward home when a dark shadow shifted ahead of her. She stopped in midstride and zeroed in on the movement. A large p’an yang munched on some grass twenty yards ahead of her. A layer of snow covering its brown back, it inched forward from tuft to tuft, occasionally stopping to dig into the snow with its hoof to uncover more food.
Xué paused, her tail twitching, and then climbed above the spiral-horned animal, accelerating as she closed in on her prey. Its head jerked up, and the brown sheep scrambled in a zigzag down the steep hillside. She leaped after it, gaining ground with each stride. With a lunge, she swiped the back legs out from under the animal and pounced on top of it. It kicked out and bleated, but she crushed the top shank and sank her claws into its back. She dragged the struggling sheep back toward her, careful of its horns. With a powerful swipe, she ripped out its throat. Its legs thrashed one last time, and it stilled.
She crouched, panting next to her kill. Adrenaline rushed through her. Her heart pounded a rapid tattoo. The scent of fresh blood filled her, and she battled the instinct to eat a portion. Her stomach growled, but she ignored the ever-present gnawing sensation. Her village would have meat for the wedding. If she stopped to eat, she wouldn’t make it in time.
If I’m going to switch to another character, I do so in either a new scene or a new chapter. As each character has their own personality, I try to capture my characters, their personalities and quirks, and not how I think they should be. For instance, in my short story Mr. Hotness, Joe is a brick layer going on what he thinks is a bachelor party to Vegas with his friends. Little does he know he’s being set up. Of course, it wouldn’t be a contemporary romance if they didn’t meet before they “meet”. While no sex is contained in this particular excerpt, it does get a bit… hot. 😀
Begin excerpt of Mr. Hotness
Rather than stand and be part of the mayhem, Joe waited patiently for the crowd to thin before he rose to gather his bag from the overhead. He pulled on the strap, but the bag didn’t budge. Another tug still didn’t free the bag. Reaching up into the bin, he felt around to see if he could find the problem. One of the feet was stuck in a groove. He lifted and bumped into someone behind him.
He turned with an apologetic smile, and his eyes widened. The most beautiful woman he’d ever seen stood before him. Dark-brown hair contrasted with smooth, creamy skin. Startled gray-blue eyes stared up at him. Soft, pink lips beckoned to be kissed. A light floral scent teased his senses.
The bag dropped from his hands and tumbled into her, knocking her off balance. She fell backward, and he lurched forward to stop her descent but tripped over his bag and landed on top of her with an “oof.”
“Sir? Ma’am? Are you all right?” someone asked.
“Uh….” he said.
He bent his knee to get up, but it collided with her leg.
“Ouch!” The woman flinched and wiggled beneath him. Her soft curves pressed against him, and he relaxed into her, instinctively wanting to get closer. She pushed against his chest. “I can’t breathe. Get off me.”
Reining in his errant libido, Joe pushed against the floor on either side of her shoulders with his hands.
“Ouch! That’s my hair.”
He cringed at her second yelp of pain and dropped back down on her. “I’m sorry. How am I supposed to get up without hurting you?”
“I don’t know, but you’d better do it soon. You’re crushing me.” She shoved at him again.
The narrowness of the aisle, her body between him and the floor, his raging hormones, and hair that seemed to be everywhere impeded his attempts to rise.
“Can you spread your legs?”
He sighed. “So I can put my knees down without hurting you.”
The anger that had lit her eyes seconds before faded, and she said, “Oh.”
She slid her legs apart, and, for a moment, the intimacy of the position overwhelmed him. He hoped she didn’t notice. His reaction had to be the result of the months of celibacy. That was the only explanation. He clamped down on his desire and bent his knees. Turning slightly, he grabbed the armrest of one of the seats, pulled himself to a kneeling position, and then stood. He offered her his hand.
She raised her eyebrow before grabbing it. Heat burned the tips of his ears, and he grinned, pulling her up.
“I’m sorry. You startled me. I’m usually not that clumsy.”
“If you say so.” A mischievous smile turned up a pair of lips he desperately wanted to kiss.
Enchanted, he forgot what he’d been about to say and just stared at her.
“Sir? Ma’am? Are you okay?”
He turned to the woman, who looked even sexier after their tumble, if possible. She nodded.
The flight attendant smiled with relief. “Thank goodness. We need to clean the plane, so if you could move.” She motioned toward the exit.
“Of course.” He retrieved his bag and stepped in between the seats. “Ladies first.”
The woman shook her head, laughing, and proceeded ahead of him.
Her hips swayed, and her long, brown hair swished back and forth, the tips of it caressing her taut butt. Denim encased long, toned legs. An image of them wrapped around his waist, her head thrown back in ecstasy taunted him. Blood rushed south, and lust roared through him again. He swallowed and averted his gaze, only to find himself staring into the knowing eyes of the flight attendant. Heat burned his cheeks, but he hurried after the woman who took his breath away, loath to let her get away.
I like to humor myself and believe I’ve successfully portrayed a man’s thought processes and reactions in this situation. (Shh… I’ve based it a bit off of my husband, but don’t tell him. Grin Obviously, he’s my Joe.)
If you’re an author, how to do you capture your characters? If you’re a reader, is there anything particular that an author does that breathes life into a character for you?
Hi Marci, great extracts. I didn’t think to give extracts in my own post and now wondering if I should slide one in. Anne stenhouse
You should. It seemed easier than trying to describe what I do. LOL Perhaps I’m lazy.
I loved your excerpt from Mr. Hotness. I think I have to get this!
If you do, let me know whether you enjoy it or not. 🙂
Thanks for stopping by.
Great excerpts and I did get into your characters’ heads.
I couldn’t stop chuckling about the escalating embarrassing situation. Now to read the rest of Mr. Hotness!
Thanks, Skye. I enjoyed writing that scene. It something I could envision in a romantic comedy. 🙂
The excerpt with the wild cat was really cool! I’ve never been a cat, and to me, shifters are hard to write, because it’s not really possible to “know” what an animal thinks. But you did a good job with this one.
Oh, and the Mr. Hotness one was very hot! Nicely done. My husband recognizes himself quite a bit in my books! But only in the abstract, since my heroes are usually physically quite different from him. But in their hotness and their respect for women, they’re very like him. I call it a paean to my love.
I also enjoy getting into a non-human mind. Your snow leopard is very convincing.
(right now, my characters have 12 legs, each with a suction cap and tentacles, and…)
It’s more fun than mere humans, isn’t it?
There’s still a human in there, Bob. She’s part snow leopard and part human. So, the instincts are going to be there, but the snow leopard is also influenced by the human. Just as the human behavior is influenced by the snow leopard. Trying to separate the two would be like cutting off someone’s hand and expecting their performance to remain the same. 🙂
I enjoyed the excerpts. Good way to show your writing POV.
I hope I was able to both explain and show my writing POV, Beverley. 🙂 One might’ve been more successful than the other.
Hi Marci – I agree with everyone else – the excerpts really added something and I enjoyed reading them! Anne
Thanks, Anne. And thanks for stopping by.