Creating Real Characters


SnowedInI was a theater nerd in high school.  I ran around with my loud, flamboyant friends, wearing strange clothes and filling the hallways with show tunes.  You all probably would have wanted to kill me.

Fortunately for everyone, I have grown out of that crazy stage (ha!).  Well, sometimes I belt out show tunes, but only when I’m in the car.  However, there are other lessons I took from being a young thespian that have come in handy with my writing.

Anyone who has done any acting knows that for every scene, you have to find your character’s motivation.  You’re playing the secretary who interrupts the board meeting – what is your motivation?  You’re the park ranger who sneaks into the campsite – what is your motivation?  You’re the sensible librarian who finds herself making out with a stranger in the grocery store – well, your motivation is probably that he’s really hot.

But that’s not enough.  To create a real character, you need to figure out the librarian’s background – does she have a penchant for public make-outs?  Does something about dairy turn her on?  And not just her background, but her motivation for everything she does.  Why does she wear her hair that way?  How does she choose her outfit in the morning?  Or does she lay it out the night before?  Is she organized and put together, or does she leave work with a pen stuck in her ponytail?

It’s these rich details that make a character pop, and these are what readers connect to.  These details make it easier to accomplish that most sacred of acting and writing rules:  Show, Don’t Tell.  When your librarian lays out her outfit, complete with accessories, the night before, the reader knows she’s organized and precise, and maybe a little uptight.  When your librarian pulls out her ponytail at the end of the day and three pens fall out, the reader knows that she is a little scatterbrained.  (Or possibly a hoarder…)

These kinds of details can also help you avoid stereotypes.  We all know the one about the uptight, repressed, shushing librarian.  But relying on those characteristics as shorthand for your character is not only lazy, it’s also potentially offensive to your readers.  And trust me, you do not want to piss off the librarians.  (I kid…but only because I am a librarian in real life.)

So what did my adolescent theater training teach me about writing?  Dig deep to find that motivation.  Show, don’t tell.  And whenever possible, sing show tunes.


By day, Sarah Title is a (sort of) mild-mannered librarian in West Virginia, and by night, she writes funny, steamy, comfort reads. Her first book, KENTUCKY HOOME, was released by eKensington in April 2013, and she has released another book, HOME SWEET HOME, and two novellas, “Kentucky Christmas” and “Snowed In,” with eKensington (now Lyrical). She also contributed to the anthology, DELICIOUS, with Lori Foster and Lucy Monroe. Her newest book, TWO FAMILY HOME, will be released by Lyrical Press in August 2015. Find her on the internet, where she talks mostly about her dog: Sarah is represented by Louise Fury with the Bent Agency.

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