How do you write real people with real issues? I write inspirational fiction and shy away from calling it “Christian fiction” because of the genre’s tendency towards squeaky-clean people or the other side of the spectrum: wrong-side-of-the-tracks bad boys or girls.
My preference is for a multi-cultural cast of characters. They have screwy childhoods and destructive tendencies that evolve into redemptive qualities at the end. Sometimes Not everyone deserves a happy ending, and not everyone who gets a happy ending deserves it.
Characters need motivation: a reason why they do things. If your bad girl is promiscuous, why is she promiscuous? If it’s because she likes sex, why does she like sex? Sound like a stupid question? “Because it feels good,” “it’s a part of the genre,” or “sex sells” are convenient and lazy reasons. Dig deeper with your character. It’s her way of taking back the power over her body that was robbed from her by an assault. Or, she uses sex to get what she really wants — intimacy from a man — because it’s what she was told she had to do to get it.
I’m writing a character for my next book who has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’m fleshing her out by interviewing people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The character, named Isoke, is a hardened war survivor with abandonment issues. In addition to my research, the experiences of those people help color Isoke’s world for me. How can she sustain relationships with PTSD. Can she sustain a romantic relationship with someone who does not understand her or her feelings? If she can, how?
My characterization form, which I cobbled together from different sources, is kind of (REALLY) long, but useful. If you’d like a copy, drop me a comment or e-mail me at email@example.com