The Author Forum is a new feature exclusive to BookPage.com. Each month, four authors will be asked a question about the craft of writing, giving readers an insight into how their favorite writers think and work.
To kick off the Author Forum, BookPage brought together Allison Brennan, Patti Callahan Henry, CJ Lyons and Marcus Sakey to ask: Who was your most challenging character to write, and why?
I’ve written villains of all kinds and never had a problem getting into their heads. In Sudden Death I initially chose to use the POV of my sane killer, “Karin,” instead of my mentally ill killer “Ethan”. When my editor read my manuscript, she suggested Ethan’s POV would be more compelling. I hesitated. How could I portray his twisted, illogical mind and his fall into insanity? I had to dig deeper than ever before to draw out a convincing psycho. I researched post-traumatic stress using college-level psychiatry textbooks to understand both internal and external symptoms of PTS. What helped the most was writing deep in his POV—putting myself in his head. The scenes seemed unreal, but came together when I switched for the last paragraph or two to the sane killer’s viewpoint. That enabled the reader to see what really happened juxtaposed against what the insane killer saw. Ethan was my most challenging character to create, but I was thrilled with the results. Pushing beyond my comfort zone with Ethan was scary, but ultimately satisfying.
PATTI CALLAHAN HENRY
The most challenging character I ever had to write was Nick Lowry from Losing the Moon – my first published novel. The novel was originally written in the first person point-of-view from Amy Reynold’s perspective, from her divided heart. My Penguin/NAL editor bought the novel, and then came to me and said she believed it would be a better novel if the reader also heard from Nick. Well of course I wanted a better novel so I agreed that this was a brilliant idea. Obviously I had not given any thought to living inside the head of a man in love with a woman he couldn’t have. Nick was never based on anyone I knew, or even a composite. From the conception of the novel, Nick was his own man in love with a woman he couldn't have, yet he was not a hopeless man by anyone's standards. He was a tough guy with a wounded heart, and I did my best to enter this heart and try to convey this odd balance between desperation and love from a masculine perspective. By the time the book was finished, I actually felt I knew Nick better than Amy as I had to work harder and deeper to convey his point-of-view. This was, by far, the most challenging endeavor I undertook in my writing career – and also by far the most rewarding.
After 17 years of practicing pediatrics and pediatric emergency medicine, it was a pleasure writing Lydia, the ER physician and main character in Lifelines, because she's who I want to be when I grow up. But I also love writing Gina, the emergency medicine resident, because I share so many of her insecurities and I love working through her issues and watching her grow and change. She's a challenge because she does reflect so many of my own life challenges—there's a lot of me in her, both good and bad.
In my second book, Warning Signs, Gina begins to face the difficult choices that will spark her transformation—and she faces her own mortality. She's going to go through hell before she gets her happy-ever-after, but it will be well deserved!
There's nothing like your first time. You're consumed by passion, but you're awkward. You don't quite know how to do it, what to put where… I'm talking about writing a novel, of course.
The toughest time I've had with characters was for The Blade Itself. Since there are only two major roles, you wouldn't think it would be tricky, but I had a hell of time. Their names changed, their personalities; first one was getting out of prison, then the other. Finally I stopped planning and started writing, and things worked themselves out.
I think the root of the problem was that I wasn't on deadline, leaving me free to twiddle around. There's no greater danger to a writer than time to twiddle.
Tom Robinson is an author publicist and media consultant working with authors across the country. Visit his website.