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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Author'sTips: Keep 'em Turning the Page with Three-dimensional Characters.

Keep 'em Turning the Page with Three-dimensional Characters

Lawmen and Outlaws Anthology and is available at on-line bookstores or at

Loretta loves to hear from her readers. Contact her at loretta(at)lorettacrogersbooks(dot)com or visit her at

One of the best rejection letters I ever received said, "We love the story premise, however, your characters are all one-dimensional."

In those early days of writing, I didn't have a clue that characters had dimensions. When we write romances, we're always advised to focus on the hero and heroine and their relationship. That intense connection has to be there, or the story isn't going to work as a romance. However, if there's nothing on the page except the aspects of the hero's and heroine's characters that relate to love, sex and romance, then the characters become cardboard, or one-dimensional.

The three-dimensional character is, first of all, believable. They appear as credible people. Think about the people you know-friends or relatives who stand out in their looks, style of speech, mannerisms, dress or quirky personalities. Like all humans, they have flaws and failings. In their own individual way, they seek to relate to others. Now translate this to the characters in your stories.

The trick to creating a 3D character is to add details that aren't strictly necessary to the plot, yet helps readers visualize the characters in our stories, to hear their voices, to see their flaws and vulnerabilities. The critical trick in this is to do it without losing the reader, who will quickly become disinterested if you go overboard with character development.

In my novella, McKenna's Woman, featured in the recently released anthology, Lawmen and Outlaws by The Wild Rose Press, the hero, McKenna Smith is a tough outlaw who kidnaps the young, innocent heroine, Audra Tadlock. At this point, you can see that McKenna and Audra are one-dimensional characters. I wanted McKenna to be more than an unfeeling, dangerous, kick-ass bad guy, and likewise, Audra would have fallen flat if she'd remained naïve and unchanged throughout the story. The following are excerpts from various scenes in McKenna's Woman to show how dimensions were added to turn McKenna and Audra into real people.

Excerpt #1: In the waning light, she spotted the saddlebags. With deft fingers, she unbuckled the straps and searched inside until her fingers touched the cold hard barrel. It knew it. I knew he'd have a gun hidden away. Wrapping her hand around the weapon, she withdrew a derringer. A quick check showed the small pistol held two shots. . .

What do we know? In this short excerpt we know that Audra isn't content being a captive. She's taken advantage of McKenna's absence from camp to find some sort of protection that will aid in her escape. This girl has spunk.

Excerpt #2: She sat nursing a cup of coffee when McKenna returned holding a prairie hen like it was a prized trophy. Rehearsing every detail of her escape inside her head, she silently plucked the bird.
"You're mighty quiet tonight, Audra. Got something on your mind?"

Damn. For days I've rattled on non-stop about this and that and everything. Naturally he'd think I'm up to something. She hoped he couldn't read her mind.

Excerpt #3: Think, you ninny. Think of something to say. He'll get suspicious. . .ooh!

"How did you learn to take pictures, McKenna?"

He was silent for a moment. "My father taught me. He had his own shop."

She didn't know why she was surprised at this declaration. Somehow she'd never thought of McKenna as having a family.

"You're not from Texas are you?"

"Now, why would you think that, little girl?"

"Because sometimes there is a refinement to the way you speak-as if you are more educated than the average. . .what are you, a photographer, a cowboy, or an outlaw?"

McKenna slanted a side-ways glance. "Well, I'm not a cowboy, that's for damn sure."

What do we know? McKenna has a sense of humor-dry that it may be.

Continue excerpt: She picked up a pebble and tossed it at him. "Stop making fun of me. I don't like being treated as if I'm stupid."

"All right. My mother was a teacher. We lived in York, Pennsylvania. The Rebs came, burned most of the town, along with our home. My mother had a bad heart. Thankfully she died before seeing my father gunned down because he refused to take photographs for the Confederacy. And before you ask, I was sixteen. And did I join the Union-yeah."

"It must have hurt you deeply to witness your parent's tragedy." Memories of her own parents' cruel deaths assailed her.

Audra's heart lurched when he strode to the cart, then settled again when he flung back the canvas and opened the burlap sack that held several bottles of whiskey. Instinctively her hand felt for the derringer hidden deep inside her pant's pocket.

They supped in silence. McKenna drank more than he ate. Bleary-eyed, he waved the bottle toward her. "You got any soul-bearing secrets, little girl?" Before she answered, he said, "Nah, you've led a sheltered life."

She gave a mock sigh. "I don't have any skeletons in my closets, McKenna. Not like you."

He tipped the bottle to his lips and swigged deep, drew the sleeve of his shirt across his mouth. His words were slurred, his eyes bleary. "Wadda you mean-skeletons?"

"You're no ordinary photographer, McKenna. I may be young and naïve, but I don't think wearing a tied-down six-gun is a prerequisite for taking pictures."

What do we know? Without describing McKenna's age, physical features, scars, height, weight, etc. I've added dimensions to his character through dialogue. What do we now know about him? Yes, he is an outlaw, but more than that, he's educated, he comes from Pennsylvania, he joined the military at a young age to seek revenge against those who killed his family, and while he still suffers from the tragic death of his parents, it's this tragedy that has shaped his character. We've also gained a small peek into Audra's character. Let's venture further into the story and look a little deeper to see what we know beyond the fact that she is only nineteen years old.

Excerpt #4: McKenna's hips straddled her and Audra felt the hardness of him against her abdomen. When he released his kiss, his mouth descended to capture the rosy peak of one breast. Audra drew in a quick breath of air. What was McKenna doing to her? What was he doing to make her want more than she could imagine in her wildest dreams? Unconsciously, her body surged upward. Panic and wondrous anticipation seized her from within and shook her to reality. She placed her hands against his chest. "No. . .stop. I beg you to stop."

Excerpt #5: Audra's body stiffened. "This is wrong. . .don't you understand. I can't. . .please, McKenna, it's indecent.

Excerpt #6: Audra shuddered, every nerve raw and tense. Her thoughts drifted back to the nightmare, and in the darkness she once more saw her mother's face, how she'd begged the soldiers to stop. Would she ever be able to forget or would she forever be haunted because she'd been too young to protect her mother?

What do we know? Although, he is her captor, one part of Audra wants to give herself to McKenna, but because of something she'd witnessed as a child, Audra associates sex with being wrong, perhaps even dirty. I've managed to build a commonality into McKenna's and Audra's characters by giving them tragedies that adds dimensions that shapes and molds them.

Excerpt #7: When the sobs stilled, she sat on the edge of the bed. McKenna wrapped a strong arm around her shoulder. She sat beside him, her hands tenderly enfolded within his own, her eyes downcast. She listened first to the deep sigh he expelled, then to his softly spoken words.

"Making love is a natural act between a man and a woman, Audra. It isn't wrong or indecent unless you make it that way."

What do we know? Yeah, he's robbed banks, held up stagecoaches, served time in prison for murder, but if we look back to where he relates about his parents, we see that McKenna still has a spark of decency and compassion. He could have, after all, satisfied his sexual appetite without second thought-but, he didn't.

Excerpt #8: She wanted to enjoy his nearness, to hear the soft laughter in his voice. She wished the tender moments could go on forever. On the other hand, she wondered how long it would be before he said something to completely destroy the mood.

"How can I be happy with you, McKenna, when you've vowed to kill the man you claim is my twin brother?"

What do we know? Audra is at a crossroads in her life. Although, she is still McKenna's captive, her feelings for him have changed. Her emotions are raw as she agonizes over the choice she must face. Who will she choose-McKenna or the brother she thought had died years earlier?

To keep readers turning the pages, you, the writer, must add dimensions to your characters, whether it is the hero, heroine, antagonist or secondary characters. Your goal is to make the reader laugh, cry, fall in love with hero and heroine, and yes, hate the villain.

McKenna's Woman is featured on page 175.

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