Ros Baxter explains the art of character development, from mermaids to mathematicians.
Y’know, the question I’m most often asked once people know I’m an author (apart from ‘how much do you earn?’) is ‘how the hell did you think of that?’ – usually after they’ve asked me what I write about, and I’ve filled them in about my thrice-arrested mathematician, my tail-less mermaids, or my extra-terrestrial ice-cave loving.
And I have to confess – the ideas are never the problem. The harder part is taking some kernel of a (sometimes pretty wild) idea and working to make the characters real and relatable. I don’t know about you, but for me there’s nothing worse than reading some beautifully constructed story where I couldn’t care less about the hero and heroine.
I want to get involved in their lives. I want to root for them, shout at them, cry when they screw it all up, and then cheer them home across the finish line. That’s the hard bit.
And the inspiration for characters like that comes from real life. Who do we love? Who do we relate to? Why do we care when some almost-stranger falls over in front of us and has a cry? What makes us care? I once wrote down a recipe for why I LOVE some book or movie character:
- a dash of ‘a little bit like me’
- with a teaspoon of ‘bad things have happened, she deserves a break’
- a cup of trouble (the worse the better)
- a hot dash of unexpected courage
- two or three shakes of quirkiness – the little weirdnesses that make us all individuals
- avoid sifting (this is a good life rule generally, I’ve found)
- mix together with someone (or someones) who make her think (and act) differently
- stick her in the oven and make sure she rises nicely (to the challenges)
My latest character, Lola, is big on the quirks and flaws. She’s a feisty mathematician out to save the world, who falls for her polar opposite – a moneymaking banker who doesn’t thinks Doctors without Borders is a porno. I give her more than a single cup of trouble, as we follow across fifteen years, three arrests and a trip to the Southern Ocean to save the whales.
And through it all, she does indeed rise. She evolves, working to learn the big life lessons – especially how to follow her heart, change the world and decide if Mr Wrong really could be Mr Right after all.
If there’s one universal truth, it’s this: You’re always wearing your worst underwear when you land in trouble.
Lola’s parents told her that everyone can make a difference. And she believed them. She’s been fighting the good fights since she was eleven years old. But at 23, Lola falls hard for an Australian stockbroker who thinks Doctors Without Borders is a porno and Joni Mitchell sounds like a harp seal being battered to death. She cuts him loose, but over the next fifteen years, through protests, misunderstandings, humiliating predicaments, and a number of poor underwear choices, their lives and paths continue to converge. Along the way, Lola learns a few important life lessons: Never wear a red lace thong to a strip search. Make sure you take motion sickness pills if you’re going to the Southern Ocean to save the whales. And sometimes, Mr Right can be all wrong, and Mr Wrong just needs time to find the right path. Lingerie for Felons is Bridget Jones meets An Inconvenient Truth, about doing the right thing, finding the right person, and always thinking through your underwear choices.
Ros Baxter digs feisty heroines, quirky families, heroes to make you sigh and tingle, and a dash of fantasy from time to time. She has published Sister Pact (a romantic comedy co-written with her sister Ali) with HarperCollins, and Fish Out of Water and White Christmas with Escape Publishing. Sequels to Sister Pact and Fish Out of Water are coming out in 2014, as well as new romantic comedy: Lingerie for Felons. Ros lives in Brisbane, Australia, with her husband Blair, four small but very opinionated children, a neurotic dog and nine billion germs.