Monday, July 2, 2007

Character Building

As I get deeper into writing the first book in the Alexa Tate series, I'm realizing that to capture the complete essence of my characters, I need to know every little thing about them, even the things I'll probably never use.

With that in mind, I thought I would share some of the facts about Alexa that I'm using to understand how she acts/reacts/thinks/feels.

MUSIC: Alexa likes alternative rock with a bite. Her current favorites are Evanescence, Linkin Park, Breaking Benjamin, and Three Days Grace. I think it's because no one who hunts villains (even a girl who hunts in stilhettos) could possibly listen to anything less than hard, edgy rock and roll. I also think the darker undertones in her life find a voice in these type of lyrics. Whatever her reasons, she relaxes better listening to Evanescence's FALLEN than to anything else. Her MP3 player is her lifesaver when she wants to go anywhere and stay blissfully ignorant of any evil intentions. Of course, with Alexa, the desire for blissful ignorance is always fleeting.

BOOKS: Honestly, with a full time job, a string of blind dates from hell, two men stalking her, and a city full of evil waiting for her to hear it, she rarely has time to read.

TV: Ditto the book thing. Although she does make an exception for E.R. But then, who doesn't?

HOBBIES: Shopping. Alexa believes strongly in shoe therapy. She buys name brand clothes, not because she's conscious of her image but because she enjoys spending money on nicer pieces of clothing. As a result, she owns less but the items in her closet are amazing. She also loves to hang with her best friend Trisha. She hates clubs and bars. Without the buffer of her MP3 player, the sound of lust, lies, and hunger for power are deafening. She loves to play sports, especially tackle football and swimming. She learned early on, however, to hold herself back. A girl who can swim 400 meters without ever coming up for air or who can flatten a 280 pound man with one shove of her hand tends to draw unwanted attention to herself.

FEARS: Just one: failing. After her parents were murdered, a hard kernel of blame lodged in her heart and stayed. Despite the fact that she was on a vacation with Trisha's family at the time (her one foray beyond the boundaries of NYC and one she isn't anxious to repeat), she is convinced she should have known something in time to save them. It drives her relentlessly to hunt down those who hurt others.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: 5ft 9in, lightly tanned, straight black hair falling down below the middle of her back, light green eyes, clothing size 8, shoe size 9, athletic and toned.

FOODS: Alexa loves meat. Any kind, doesn't matter. She craves protein the way some women crave chocolate. I don't know if this is because she is athletic and her metabolism needs protein or if her kind have to feed on meat. She doesn't have much of a sweet tooth but she does love donuts. Especially cream filled.

DRINKS: Diet Coke. Bottled water. Never any alchohol. The one time she drank, it lowered her defenses enough that every stray emotion in the room rushed violently through her. Once was enough, thank you very much, and she never touches the stuff now.

PARENTS: Benjamin and Elizabeth (Ben and Libby to their friends) were returning from an antiquing trip through Virginia (one of Libby's many short-lived hobbies) when they found a little black-haired, green-eyed baby girl sitting silently beside the road, miles from anywhere. They loaded her into their car, drove to the next town, didn't care for the local authorities so they took her home with them to NYC and long story short, petitioned for adoption and were able to bring their daughter home eight months later (these things take time, you know). Ben taught history at a local high school. Libby managed their apartment building and raised Alexa.

CHILDHOOD: Alexa was a silent, serious child for the first few months with the Tates but then she slowly blossomed into a happy, friendly girl. The only time she reverted to her earlier silence was when the Tate's traveled outside of NYC. They soon stopped planning outings to the country. Alexa was encouraged to explore her strengths but even her parents were a little freaked at her first swimming lesson when she refused to come up for air and indeed, didn't need to. From Libby, Alexa learned to love shopping, to hide her talents when necessary, and to fiercely protect those who couldn't protect themselves. From Ben she learned to to play football, to cling to family, and to treat others with quiet respect.

HER NAME: Libby refused to name her for several months as they worked through the adoption process. She claimed she needed to know her child before she could choose the right name. Ben did what he did best and humored Libby. On the day the adoption became final, Libby announced that her daughter was Alexa (no middle name) which means "savior of mankind".

Okay, okay, I'm sure you're bored stiff by this but this is just the start of the details (many of which will never see print) that I need to know to be sure of who Alexa is in any situation.

Off to turn Alexa loose to hunt.


  1. Random but have you heard 'Let the Bodies Hit the Floor' by Drowning Pool? There are parts where it's a bit creepy but I think it matches, what I've read about Alexa sort of like a awesome theme song when she's hunting.

    And I think you have to know your characters like they're real people because if they're fleshed out to you as a writer it comes across to the reader. There are some stories where you can tell the character was the author's favourite because they have little ticks that make them real, without these things they could be anyone's characters or be for any story.

    Billy Talent also has some good songs. Like Devil in a Midnight Mass.

    [I don't know if you actually listen to these songs when you write yourself to help stay in character]

  2. Jage - I haven't heard anything by Drowning Pool but I will go check it out. I listen to Evanescence while I'm writing Alexa.

    One of the best series I've read where the characters are so vivid and instantly recognizable from each other is the "In Death" series by J.D. Robb. You get the sense that the author knows even her murder victims intimately. It really makes for a gorgeous literary experience.

  3. CJ - I have a copy of "Bodies" if you want me to send it your way. :)


  4. That would be great! When I get my website up and running (a project for AFTER I sign with an agent/sell the book), I'm looking for an appropriate song as background music when the site opens.

    Of course, I have to be careful not to choose something that will cost an arm and a leg in royalties but still, a girl can dream.

  5. I like the extra info here. It makes her seem more like the girl next door who happens to have super powers.

    Are you doing this for all the characters in your book?

  6. Mayberry-

    I'm doing in-depth character building for the main characters and a smaller version for the recurring minor characters (like Mrs. Norris who truly does not need her cane).

  7. I went through a period where all I read was Nora Roberts. Nothing but Nora. I love the way she builds even the smaller characters so you feel as if they have a life going even when they're outside the main character's sphere of influence.

    When I went to write and got stuck it was like, WWND. Fact, there is something as too much of a good thing, lol. I had to give myself a break away from her books, I've only read one or two of the "In Death" books before I began to go into overload.

    And you have to be really careful with music because what you have on the page can influence the reader too, and if they're just browsing the site to get an idea of your style and they're greeted with something screamo they might leave and never come back even if the books are something they would love.

    Anyhoo, I meant to ask, are you using a premade character sheet or just winging it? Because I have a pretty detailed one lying around if you want to take a look at it although it's more like a character reference sheet type thing. Well, that's what I use it for anyway.

  8. Jage -

    I did the same thing w/Nora. I only read the In Death series now because I completely love it. Her other stuff I can leave on the shelf.

    I'm currently reading debut authors, looking for interesting voices, cool plot lines etc.

    You're right about the music. I want to do an instrumental track that captures the haunting/slightly disturbing quality of Evanescense without turning away those who dislike rock. Of course, first I need to sell my book, then I can worry about stuff like that!

    I'm currenltly winging it with the character building. I'm going to fill a binder with details on the characters, the different plot lines and when/where they'll arc, descriptions of locations etc. I would love to see the character sheet you described in case it works for me.

    Can you email it to

    Thanks, you rock!! =)


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