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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Wednesday Spotlight: Cate Masters

Making Characters Come Alive

I have another confession: I hear voices in my head. Not only that, but I see people (no, not dead people—though I hope to soon, because I have a great idea that includes a ghost). Most of the stories I write play out like videos running through my mind. The characters appear as vivid as if I’m watching a movie—and many times, I’ll have a definite actor in mind for the hero and heroine. The challenge is then to bring them to life on the page.

Someday I’m hoping a genius will invent a USB port to allow a writer to download directly from our brains. Until then, we must rely on basic hard work. :)

When one of the characters in a book I wrote several years ago bogged me down by rooting herself squarely in my path, I cowered at first. I had an image of her, but it was unclear and one-dimensional. And cardboard cutouts don't work well in novels.

I tried writing around her. This worked for a little while, but I still had to deal with her, finally, after I'd written all the other characters. She was stubborn, but I forced her into submission with a few tricks.

I tried calling her profane names, to loosen her up a little, but this only made me feel better for a short while. I tried forcing myself to write her, but this resulted in stiff, boring paragraphs that even I didn't want to read. I thought about why this character was such a problem. I decided that I couldn't get inside her head because I couldn't relate to her and didn’t like her all that well. In fact, I didn’t know her well enough to write about her. Like an actor preparing for a role, writers should be able to get into their character’s skins to effectively portray them on the page.

First, I conducted an "interview" with the problem character. I asked her questions such as: what was important to her in her life, how she really felt about the people, situations and events in her life. I did the same with the character's sister, her parents, her husband. Ultimately, most of this was set aside, used mostly as a foundation from which I could write the character's real story.

After I had done all of this, I felt more ready to approach this character. She still was the least cooperative, but this character evolved into one of the most complex and interesting in the novel. I never did get to like her much, but I understood her much better. I was able to make her less of an outright bitch and show her faults, her fears--in other words, she became human. To me, it's fine to portray a character as a villain, but also convey to the reader the underlying issues that cause that character to react to the world in a certain way. This enriches the reading experience for them, and the writing experience for you.

Cate Masters’ novels, novellas and short fiction appear at The Wild Rose Press, Eternal Press, Wild Child Publishing/ Freya’s Bower and Shadowfire Press. The proud mom of three adult children, she currently lives in central Pennsylvania with her husband, Benji the dog and their dictator-like cat, Chairman Maiow. Visit her online at and, or follow her on Facebook: or Twitter:


booklover0226 said...

I know of one author who has interviewed her characters. The interviews are posted on the site. I was able to learn a bit more about the character which I didn't learn in the book.

It makes me wonder if the author was having problems developing the character, too....

Cate Masters said...

I've interviewed characters after the fact, as part of marketing efforts. I had a lot of fun with it. It's not necessarily a sign the author's struggling to develop the character, but it's definitely a useful promo tool!

booklover0226 said...

To tell you truth, I always felt she used the interviews as a promo tool! LOL