Hello, all! Thank you so much for joining me here today for a chat on creating compelling characters. For those of you who may not know me, my name is Charlie Cochet and I write several subgenres of gay romance including paranormal, mystery, suspense, contemporary, historical, fantasy, urban fantasy, and science fiction. I’m probably most known for my paranormal romance, my biggest series being the THIRDS. I’ll be using several examples from the THIRDS series since it has the largest cast of characters of all my books.
As you can probably tell, I love writing all kinds of stories, but once I’ve thought about what kind of story I want to write, I dive right into creating my leading characters. I love creating characters. It’s one of my favorite things about writing. Sometimes a character will come to me fully formed, like the mischievous Dexter J. Daley, and sometimes they’ll take a great deal of prodding, like the gruff Ash Keeler.
Since I write romance, I always start with my lead couple. For the THIRDS, I started with Dex. From the start, he was a pretty chipper dude. I could see his big boyish smile and the twinkle of mischief in his bright blue eyes. I knew he was going to be trouble. I also knew he’d probably be one of my more energetic, happy-go-lucky characters. He’s the kind of guy who’s always ready with a witty reply. Despite losing his parents at an early age, he was raised in a loving family. He’s protective of his adoptive dad and little brother. He’s smart, has a fierce sense of justice—which suits him well for his job in law enforcement—and is genuinely a good guy. Dex has many admirable qualities, but like any real person, he can’t be perfect. No character should be perfect, unless that’s a part of the story in some way.
For every positive trait, there must be a fault, and even a positive trait can work against the character. For example, Dex is resilient. If he’s knocked down, he will continue to get up. This has worked against him in situations where he’s been advised to back off or leave something alone. He’s headstrong, but at times stubborn. He’s cheerful, but he has a dark side he hides well. Characters also have plenty of quirks, usually inspired by the author or people the author knows or has come across. Dex is obsessed with coffee and the eighties. He gets that from me. I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed with the eighties, but it’s definitely my jam, especially classic rock.
Once I had Dex pretty figured out, he needed a partner. Enter brooding, sexy, jaguar Therian (shifter) Sloane Brodie. What kind of man did Sloane have to be in order to survive the likes of Dexter J. Daley? We’re talking about a guy who was introduced to his new team by being hung upside down by a bear Therian over a packet of Cheesy Doodles.
For one, Sloane needed to have the patience of a saint, and a good sense of humor. Granted, when the two meet Sloane appears to have neither. At least not for Dex. It was certainly an enemies-to-lovers situation. Dex needed someone who could ground him, calm all that frantic energy. Someone who could talk sense into him, make him slow down. Meanwhile, Sloane needed someone to bring him out of the shadows he was living in. Unlike Dex, Sloane spent his childhood in a secret research facility that tested on Therian children. He’s a survivor and fight no doubt about it, but a guy who never expected to find happiness in his life, much less love.
Where Dex is loud and cheeky, Sloane is calm and quiet. Sloane is very much a growling alpha, but Dex is a match for him in every way. As their relationship grows, they pick up traits and quirks from each other, just like people in a relationship do. As characters (and people) they never stop growing, learning. They make mistakes, they mess up, say something hurtful, do something hurtful. They talk, they apologize, they get sappy, and angry, and laugh at their own jokes.
When creating a world, your secondary characters have to be as developed and unique as your lead characters because the people in this world are part of your MC’s lives. They help form relationships, they influence. I can’t just mention Dex has a brother, or introduce him without him having his own unique personality. Cael has his own quirks, his own personality, way of talking, likes and dislikes. The way Dex and Cael interact with each other is very different from the way they interact with others. The same with characters close to them. Ash Keeler is Cael’s boyfriend, and Sloane’s best friend. Actually, Sloane and Ash are more like brothers. They grew up together, suffered in the facility together. Ash couldn’t be just some guy.
Ash is an example of characters not having to be likeable to be loved. Ash is very much a jerk. We’ll go with jerk because I’m keeping this PG. In the beginning of the series he’s offensive, a jerk, and he really doesn’t give a crap what anyone thinks of him. He’s a hothead, aggressive, and wants nothing more than to push Dex in front of a moving bus. But. You knew there was a but coming. As Ash’s relationships with those closest to him evolve, so does he. From very early on we know he’s a jerk, but then we see him with Cael. We see how he smiles, how he’s actually kind, and gentle. He’s helpful, protective, and even sweet. There’s no cursing, no aggression, no meanness. Soon his relationship with Dex changes, because of Sloane. Sure Ash still wants to punch him on occasion, but now his and Dex’s relationship is more of a bromance. They act like they hate each other, but deep down we know they love each other.
When creating a character, you need to ask yourself all kinds of questions. Who is this person? What are their strongest traits, their weakest? In a life or death situation, what kind of person are they? What music do they listen to? How would they react to certain situations? I’m not a big personality questionnaire person. You know those lists you find online that ask you everything from your character’s favorite drink to where their parents were born. Sometimes those can be helpful, but personally, I like my characters to grow organically. The more I write them, the more I can see who they are and what made them who they are. Star signs can actually be quite helpful in kicking things off with your new character. Dex is a Leo, so he shares many Leo traits, both positive and not so positive. It’s the little details that make a big difference. For example Dex’s loves gummy bears, but he likes to pick the red ones out first. He has an orange Dodge Challenger because his favorite color is orange. He and his brother like wearing crazy socks. Sloane is a nerd at heart. He loves Star Wars as much as Dex, wanted to be Indiana Jones when he was a kid.
Think about who your character is, who you want them to be, and what helped make them who they are. We all love a great story, but we keep coming back for the characters. I don’t know how many times I’ve re-read some of my favorite books, or re-listened to my favorite audios. They’re my favorites and re-reads because of not only the story, but the characters. Everyone time a reader tells me they heard Journey or Def Leppard and thought of Dex, I smile like a dope. You don’t need to make your characters perfect, but you do need to make them memorable.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Charlie Cochet is an author by day and artist by night. Always quick to succumb to the whispers of her wayward muse, no star is out of reach when following her passion. From adventurous agents and sexy shifters, to society gentlemen and hardboiled detectives, there’s bound to be plenty of mischief for her heroes to find themselves in, and plenty of romance, too!
Currently residing in Central Florida, Charlie is at the beck and call of a rascally Doxiepoo bent on world domination. When she isn’t writing, she can usually be found reading, drawing, or watching movies. She runs on coffee, thrives on music, and loves to hear from readers.