I’m B. A. Binns (http://www.babinns.com), and I’ve been an RWA member since 2007. I belong to several local chapters, including Chicago North, WisRWA, Rose City and YARWA. I’m also a member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). In 2010 my manuscript Damaged Goods became a Golden Heart finalist, making me a member of the Unsinkables as we 2010 Golden Heart finalists call ourselves. My debut YA novel, PULL, was published by WestSide Books (http://www.westside-books.com/) in 2010. PULL is finalist in the Young Adult category in the National Readers Choice Awards contest (http://www.okrwa.com/NRCA/nrca.htm), and is on the 2011 NerdsHeartYA tournament shortlist (http://nerdsheartya.wordpress.com/ ). And I truly believe it’s all because of the characters.
WHICH COMES FIRST
The chicken and egg argument has an answer for this writer: characters come first. I remember great characters long after a book ends. Plot details fade, but Harry and Hermione and Ron are forever. If Bella were a different kind of girl would Twilight resonate so strongly? I constantly work to create the kinds of characters my readers will care about and empathize with, warts and all. My job involves mixing the right collection of strengths, weaknesses, virtues and flaws so the characters will sit in readers memories long after they close the pages of my books. That means I have to really care about my own characters, and really know them up close and personal. I create my protagonist and antagonist, learn their strengths and weaknesses, their flaws and talents, and the things that give them joy and that bore them to tears. Like a lawyer who asks a witness no question he or she doesn’t already know the answer to, I don’t devise a plot twist until I understand my people well enough to know how they will handle that issue. Each scene-ending disaster and dark moment is crafted to hit the hero or heroine’s unique personality.
GETTING TO KNOW THEM
There are probably as many different methods for discovering your characters as there are writers. Mine involves my secret – I’m a closet schizophrenic. I do more than just hear voices inside my head. I see the characters that make their home inside me, touch them, smell then and answer back. And, when they’re involved in romance, I even know how their skin tastes.
I’ve sat in a hot tub with a sociopath: she was truly creepy BTW, I won’t do that again. I recently went on a cruise with a high school hunk; who says writing is a lonely job? I even take my characters grocery shopping with me. And don’t get me started on what happens when I try to pick out a movie we can all enjoy.
These are the sacrifices I make to craft real characters. My con man hero told me how much he regrets that look that comes in a woman’s eyes when she realizes she was a fool to trust him. My musician hero admitted that he has two murder victims on his conscience, a blackmailer sucking every penny he makes, and a wife out to dig up his secrets. My sociopath—I won’t reveal the details she let slip, but I won’t be turning my back on her any time soon and I feel real pity for the students in the middle school where she teaches and for her daughter.
HOW IT WORKS FOR ME
In PULL, my debut novel, the hero David told me his feelings of guilt and loss after domestic violence took his mother’s life. So I threw a girl suffering from an abusive boyfriend in his direction. David’s sister Barnetta tearfully confessed her lost self-esteem as a motherless six-foot tall, overweight freshman, so she views her brother’s new girl as a threat. I then tossed the abusive boyfriend in Barnetta’s path. The result has both teens and adults caring about the kids’ futures.
BTW, the boy confessed his own family secrets to me. That confession earned him the lead role in my WIP, tentatively titled Multiple Choice, where he’ll be thrown plot twists to force him to deal with his issues as a teen alcoholic.
TIME TO SHARE
I’d love to hear about your favorite characters, those you’ve read and those you’ve written. Hit the comment button and let me know what makes a character come alive for you.