Pamela Varnado is a member of the Pink Fuzzies but I'm posting for her.

Making Your Characters Real from the Inside Out

We’ve all read a story with a larger-than-life hero or an unforgettable heroine. But what really makes these characters connect with the audience while others fall flat? What makes EVE DALLAS, STEPHANIE PLUM, JESSE STONE, and RICHARD RAHL memorable? (see footnotes)

In my opinion, internal conflict is the key to making your characters sparkle on the page. This is how readers understand motivations and actions. This is what makes each character tick.

What happened during Eve Dallas’s childhood to make her such a staunch defender of the underdog? Why is achieving justice so important to her? Finding answers to these questions is only the first step.

Then the hard work begins.
How do we, as writers, transfer those characters to the written page? I assure you it’s easier said than done. For it requires a journey through the writer’s inner conflicts. It requires a self examination of our own insecurities, those nagging uncertainties that keep us from believing in ourselves.

Let’s dissect three such hindrances to making characters memorable
Fear of exposing ourselves to the world: When I first started writing, I struggled with this every time I sat down at my computer. Being a Christian, I was afraid of what my pastor and friends would think about me writing romance. I second guessed every word on the page. No swearing allowed, no vivid sex scenes. Only after I could separate myself from my writing and step outside my comfort zone was I able to release my creative energy and write protagonists readers could relate to and fall in love with.

Fear of facing inner demons
: Life is not always pretty. We’ve all seen or personally experienced life-changing events. Learning to tap into my past heartaches, pains, and failures helped me to breathe life into my characters. I used all those raw emotions to show how my heroes/heroines handle the conflict in their lives. Along the way I discovered that just as my characters had to endure an emotional journey to grow, I did also.

Fear of rejection
: There’s always a small part of ourselves in every character we create. Either the person reflects who we are now or who we desire to be deep down inside. In essence, we’re putting ourselves out there to be judged, never an easy thing to do, but something that must be overcome. Unforgettable characters find the courage to take chances. They evolve over time and learn to trust in themselves.

In closing, I once overheard the quote: Pain and fear are temporary. Glory is forever. I remind myself of this every time doubt creeps into my writing. I use it as my motivational mantra. Holding it close to my heart helps me to purge my internal struggles and write my own larger-than-life characters.

Are you up to the challenge?
Pamela will welcome comments and questions.

Pamela Varnado writes sensual romantic suspense and paranormal. In 2007 she sold a short story to True Romance magazine and is currently a 2008 Daphne du Maurier contest finalist. In addition, she is a coordinator for the 2008 Unpublished Moonlight and Magnolia Awards.

Eve Dallas, heroine in J.D. Robb’s novels
Stephanie Plum, heroine in Janet Evanovich’s novels
Jesse Stone, hero in Robert B. Parker’s novels
Richard Rahl, hero in Terry Goodkind’s novels


  1. Beth Trissel // December 20, 2008 at 11:33 AM  

    Wonderful mantra. I will hold to that. :)
    Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  2. Scarlet Pumpernickel // December 20, 2008 at 5:10 PM  

    Pam,Wow, great blogg!Now I can see why your writing sparkles and you consistently place in contests. Not to mention getting an invitation to submit to an editor at Presents following revisions suggested through the Instant Seduction Contest! Hehehe, thought Scarlet had forgotten about that didn't ya!

    Pam rocks!


  3. Mary Ricksen // December 20, 2008 at 6:15 PM  

    I love when characters tell us what made them what they are. The hard part is showing that and not telling, or back telling. Tell us how you do it?

  4. Terry Odell // December 20, 2008 at 9:36 PM  

    I can't write unless I know my characters, and since they're shaped by their pasts, that's a vital point in their stories. The fun of discovery is peeling away those layers. My first hero really wasn't aware that he is trying to make up for not being able to get to his grandmother's side when she had a stroke, and he carries the guilt (although it takes the heroine to point it out to him) that if he has to make his peace with it.

    Another hated his childhood, but he's also carrying guilt (seems to be a common theme in my heros!) that he left home and never made his peace with his father. That came from Dan Fogelberg's line, "Papa, I don't think said I love you near enough" from Leader of the Band. I heard that line and knew that was my hero's conflict.

    If we don't know our characters' histories and fears, we can't test them.

    To repsond to Mary -- you have to trickle in the history in bits and pieces as they become necessary to advance the plot. Don't dump it all at once. In the JD Robb books, we learn a little more about Eve in each book -- but if you're not blessed with a contract for an endless series, you need to do this over the book -- build it to the climax.

  5. Mona Risk // December 21, 2008 at 8:33 AM  

    Great post, Pamela. For me the characters make the novel. When I write, I put myself in the head of the heroine. I cry and laugh for her, flirt and fall in love with the hero. I literally transpose the emotions I would feel into the lines. But I remember that my life is full of conflict, so everytime my hero and heroine are starting to relax I throw an obstacle in the path of their happiness. Conflict, conflict, conflict...

  6. Pamela Varnado // December 21, 2008 at 4:35 PM  

    Mary, you're right, showing and not telling a character's backstory is a skill that's important to master.

  7. Pamela Varnado // December 21, 2008 at 4:37 PM  

    Mona, like you, I always try to put myself in the character's head when I use his/her POV. It helps me stay in deep POV and show my story instead of telling it.

  8. Pamela Varnado // December 21, 2008 at 4:41 PM  

    Terry, I agree with you. Stories are about characters. That's why understanding what makes them tick are key to ensuring they sizzle on the page.

  9. Pamela Varnado // December 21, 2008 at 4:43 PM  

    Scarlet, thanks for the kind words. Now I just have to deliver what the editor wants.

  10. Pamela Varnado // December 21, 2008 at 4:45 PM  

    Beth, mantras are wonderful tools. They help me stay focused and deliver a strong story.

  11. Mary Marvella // December 21, 2008 at 5:33 PM  

    Thanks for you insight, Pamela!