So you can read my books

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


What comes first for you as a writer? The person or the problem?

Your main character or the crisis of your novel?

Probably it can go either way for you, depending upon the inspirational stimuli.

For me, it is always the character. After all, how a problem is handled stems from the unique personality of your main character.

Take this scenario : An avalanche has stranded a small group of tourists in an isolated ski lodge. That night the tourists are murdered gruesomely one by one.

Someone in their midst is the murderer. But who? And who will be next?

Now envision four different novels detailing that night. One stars my Samuel McCord. The second Sherlock Holmes. The third Dexter. The fourth Hannibal Lector.

Hannibal Lector has no qualms or difficulty in killing everyone in the ski lodge to make sure he has killed the mysterious murderer. In fact, he makes a game of it, casting doubts in the minds of the couples that one is planning to kill the other.

He watches the disintegration of relationships with cruel amusement.

Dexter, bound by Harry's Code, cannot follow Hannibal's plan. But being a brilliant serial killer and a blood splatter expert, he can use his experiences in hunting down the killer. He, too, finds pleasure in the cat and mouse game.

Sherlock Holmes, after the first murder, has a good idea of the identity of the killer. With the second, he is certain of it. After that, the game is afoot, for the murderer knows that he knows. And two cunning minds are pitted against one another with helpless lives in the balance.

Elu, McCord's blood brother, is bound to the mirror world, meaning he can look through whatever mirror he wishes to. (And he has become something of a Peeping Tom.)

Bringing Sam into the mirror world with him, the two go from one room mirror to another. It is a race of mirror-peeping to find the murderer before he can kill again. And once they find the astounding identity of the murderer and the motive, they find themselves in a quandry -- they sympathize with the murderer!

Same set-up but each novel goes down different paths because of the main characters.

Think back on your favorite novels. What springs first to mind? The main character or the situation? Your answer probably reflects what first comes to you when you write your novels.

Look at the classics : Hamlet. Ivanhoe. Oliver Twist. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Kim, The Brothers Karamazov, The Great Gatsby, Elmer Gantry, Harry Potter and (fill in the blank.)

The characters pervade their novels so much that their very names became the titles to the books.

(What about WAR AND PEACE, WAR OF THE WORLDS, 1984, CATCH-22, LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA, you say? Hush, or I'll sic Gypsy on you!)

Let me talk about the anti-hero :

Too many movies and books have mistaken cool for character. Anti-heroes have a place in fiction --

but only if they are presented as admirable in some major way --

take DEXTER, mentioned earlier -- a serial killer who only preys on serial killers.

There is no place in fiction for your hero to be a back-stabber, a coward who betrays those who trust him. Readers want ESCAPE.

That is why too depressing a novel wilts on the shelf. I can get depressed for free by living my own life, thank you very much.

The reader has his/her own griefs and failures. That is why colorful, never-say-die characters are magnets to the readers hungry for triumphs in their own lives.

Not perfect by any means but the hero learns about his flaws along the way. He may discard some and cling to others.

But he becomes stronger, more admirable, even if he stays a thief or an assassin because of the decisions he makes in the novel.

Life is so grim for so many. Be the light of laughter in their dark lives.

Let your hero wince with the pain of the struggle but find humor in the storm if only to help the weaker ones struggling beside him/her.

Readers are gypsies. Be their haven to find refuge from the storm of their lives. Be that -- and your audience will find you.



  1. To my way of thinking, you can have a terrific plot but if the character is bland or someone the reader can't connect with, you have nothing.

  2. I write stories characters tell me.

    I always come up with the characters first. They form in my head and then hang out. Sometimes they snag a plot they like. I listen to them, because they are the story. Without great characters there is no plot--just a formula for one. :)

    I love the anit-hero. Dexter is one of my fav's. My current MC is an anti-hero and he's so fun to write. He's got a lot of potential to reach before the novel is complete.

    Thanks for the post.


  3. I'm like you: character first, though lately I've been starting with a setting that interests me. Then I research and trust that character to materialize.

  4. PS: I had a little obsession with Hannibal for a long time. (Uh, kinda still do) He is like the ultimate bad guy, but one you can't resist.

    The last Hannibal movie is an awful movie. The first three were killer. (total pun intended.)

  5. Jodi : DVD's helped me with my fascination with Hannibal -- I could fastforward through the more objectionable scenes, while still following what was going on. Yes, I liked the first three -- although Anthony Hopkins sadly didn't play him until the second.

    Yes, Victor is my anti-hero, hiding his fear and loneliness with humor, wise cracks, and a mind so sharp it could cut diamonds.

    Caroline : Yes, for me it is character. I like the strange crisis, but I must have a vivid character to be the Ulysses in it challenging the gods.

    Laura : Yes, THE PASSAGE is proof that a great set-up fizzles without a magnetic main character to hang your story on. Pee Wee Herman and Brad Pitt both have similar skeletons -- it is how the flesh is draped on it that makes the difference!

  6. Great post, Roland. As always I think you've said it perfectly. I am also a writer who first has to create characters before I can work on in depth problems.

    I really liked your last sentence in this post about being a haven from the "storm" for readers. That was really powerful:) I love that with writing we can have this kind of affect on our readers. Who knew that by simply writing words we could take our readers into a world...perhaps even one they'd rather be a part of than the present one now.


  7. LReneeS : In Lafayette as a young boy, Sherlock Holmes and Ulysses provided me with worlds in which I could lose myself. They gave me the hope that with my mind I could untwist the bars which bound me at that time. And the hope proved true.

    Thanks for visiting and commenting. It means so much to me.

  8. I agree, my tales are always about character first.
    I have to like someone in any story to go along with it-no matter how great the prose or cinematography, I have to like somebody. And the more I like the characters the more I'll go along with everything else.

  9. David : Exactly. I loved the witty dialogue and sauciness between the private detective Spenser and his love, Susan, and his hitman best friend, Hawk. No matter how lame the case might have sounded on the inside jacket, I went along for the ride with my old friends. And Robert B. Parker never let me down. Thanks for commenting. Have a great tomorrow.

  10. My stories usually evolve from a character too, but it's almost never the main character, weirdly enough. A lot of times it's the villain, or the person who witnessed something, and then it all expands from there.

  11. Jennifer : Oddly enough, I created the villainess Maija before I did her twin sister, the eternal Meilori Shinseen -- wife of my undead Texas Ranger Samuel McCord. Many of my secondary characters cross over from one of my novels to another, taking larger or smaller roles depending on the needs of the story. Thanks for dropping in and commenting.

  12. I really thought hard about which comes first after reading your post, and realised it is always character first for me. My characters tell me how they react to the problem, not the other way around!

  13. Characters always win on this. A well written character will always determine what course the story will follow, whereas a bland character will just mill along, being pulled by the plot when necessary.

  14. Ellie : Yes, I think for personal stories it must always be about character. In huge epics of war or disaster, authors weave the stories of many characters in many functions to show the huge scope of the event. But the tale always strikes me as impersonal somehow. Just when I get interested in the plight of one character, I am jarringly torn from the scene.

    Jamie : You're so right. No matter how interesting the scenario, if the main characters are just shallow prose-puppets of the author, I feel nothing for the story and leave the book to gather dust.

  15. I think the way you've got it here is how I conceive of it... the SET-UP first, then the character, then the primary plot. It can take a long time percolating before the right plot for a setup and characters forms (though honestly, now that I've added mystery to my genres, those plots are much easier for me)

  16. Well, it's confirmed. I'm strange. My wip came from a problem I had with two other books-I didn't like their premise and sought something different I could play with in my mind. It evolved from there. Many reincarnations later, I have it.

    My nano story came from an actor in a movie-I'll save it for a blog post.

    Provocative post.....