Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Author Terry Spear On Creating Characters

It’s always a pleasure to welcome award-winning author Terry Spear back to Thoughts in Progress as the special guest blogger as she tours blogdom.

Terry’s soon-to-be release is HEART OF THE HIGHLAND WOLF. Here’s a brief synopsis of it: Ian McNeill, laird of Argent Castle finds his capital squandered through unwise investments and the wolf clan's home that has been theirs for centuries is in danger of being forfeit for nonpayment of taxes. When a movie producer contacts him with the notion of using his castle to produce a movie, Ian abhores the idea, but it's his only salvation. Even worse, his people become extras in this epic Highland movie. But when one American werewolf romance author, Julia Wildthorn, slips into the castle under the guise of being with the movie company, except she is trying to jumpstart her muse with writing a book set in old-world Scotland--specifically about his castle and his people as the characters in her newest book venture--she and Ian tangle.

Terry stopped by today to talk about ‘Getting It Straight in the Highlands’ when creating her intriguing characters.

Mason asked me to talk about how I create my characters—name, physical description, traits; the order, which is the hardest, etc; and do I keep a journal or log of my characters so that I don’t overlap.
First, thanks so much for giving me a topic, Mason! After writing so many blogs for different sites, it’s hard for one person, like me, to come up with something new! So thanks!

First, I create names for my main characters. I often use the Character Naming Guide, although in some cases I’ve seen a name somewhere and loved it so much that it becomes a character’s name. But often, I select a character’s name based on something more.

Here are a couple of excerpts from HEART OF THE HIGHLAND WOLF that explain some of the character’s names.
“The most optimistic of his quadruplet brothers, Cearnach’s name suited him—victorious or warrior from the woods. Ian believed their mother had to have known something of their personalities before they were even born through some kind of innate knowledge—all except for Ian himself. He was the gift from God. And look where that had gotten them. He assumed his mother had named him as such because he was the first born of the four brothers. She was probably relieved to birth the first of them and get the whole thing over with.”
They are quadruplets! And another excerpt:
“Guthrie, like his name, could no more be harnessed than the wind, free to willfully roam where it would.”

And the other brother is Duncan, the dark warrior. So for each of the brothers, I picked out special names that would help to define their personalities.
Cearnach is almost always happy-go-lucky, yet when he is given the task to take charge as the second oldest brother when Ian is not there, he is all business, just as much a warrior.
Duncan is darker in personality, ready to slay his enemy, thinking in terms of the worst-case scenario, not as trusting.
Guthrie is a free spirit who marches to his own drummer, and now has gotten the clan into a financial mess. He’s a financial wizard, normally, and tends to keep his nose in the financial books.

But since Ian is the main character, his personality will deepen even further. Since he’s the eldest, the clan, the wolf pack, the castle and all their survival depends on him. He feels responsible for everyone’s actions and must be capable of turning around their financial straits to the satisfaction of the clan. Throw in a major distraction, a female red werewolf, who isn’t who she claims to be and we see a very new side of his personality.

And that’s how I do it. I start with a name, an idea of some of the major personality traits, and for the main characters, throw them into conflict so that I can showcase further personality quirks. I don’t plan it out to begin with. I can’t. They come to life as I write the story.

I don’t keep journals on my characters. As I set the story in a new place, new major troubles, the characters breathe a life of their own. When I was writing the second book in the Highland wolf series, I wrote about the youngest brother, the dark warrior, Duncan. I reread the parts that he was in in HEART OF THE HIGHLAND WOLF, and made sure that I didn’t deviate from his character. But depending on the circumstances, any individual will act differently based on those circumstances.

For instance, when he is protecting his clan, it will be different from when he is trying to take down the thief who stole their money in a land far away from his ancestral home. Add to that a female wolf who makes him nearly forget his mission, when he is the kind who is always business all the time, and on top of that the master thief is hitting on this single female…and you’ll see a new side to his personality. The dark warrior, sure, but the besotted dark warrior.

I love creating stories! Creating conflict is the best way to show off a character’s personality traits, and oftentimes I don’t even know how they’ll react, or I’ll think out several scenarios, until it fits with their character traits and use that one.

No mystery to any of it. Except…what was the color of her hair again? And yes, names. I had two heroes starting with a “D” name, before I wrote the second Highland wolf tale, and now that makes three. And I had written one of my vampire romantic suspenses with the hero’s name beginning with the letter “D.” So when a fan wrote and asked about one of the “D” heroes and didn’t give the title, I couldn’t remember which hero he was! Let’s see, there was Devlyn, Darien, and Daemon. And Duncan, of course! Hmm, maybe I should keep a log! And for heaven’s sake, avoid any more “D” hero names for a while! Thanks again for having me, Mason!

What do you think about the quadruplet brothers’ names? Which would you prefer to meet up with on a chilly, wet day in the Highlands?

Terry, thanks for guest blogging. I always enjoy learning more about how you create your stories. It would be hard for me to pick between the four brothers, I like all the names. Wishing you much success with your writing and looking forward to HEART OF THE HIGHLAND WOLF.

Now for a bit about Terry. With almost 70,000 copies sold, Terry is a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves and a Librarian. She received her MBA from Monmouth University. An eclectic writer, she dabbles in the paranormal as well as writing historical and true life stories for both teen and adult audiences. Terry lives in Crawford, Texas. For more information on her and her writing, visit her website at http://www.terryspear.com/, find her on Facebook at http:///www.facebook.com/#!/terry.spear, on Twitter at https://twitter.com/#!/TerrySpear and at Smashwords at http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/tspear. Look for these exciting upcoming releases from Terry: DREAMING OF THE WOLF (Fall, 2011), THE WOLF AND THE SEAL, and THE HIGHLAND WOLF IN PARADISE in 2012, plus much more.

What are your thoughts on the brothers’ names? Do you like unusual names or simple names? Sorry I’m still not around blogdom, but I do appreciate you stopping by here. Thanks so much.


  1. It´s so interesting to hear about Terry´s process of picking names. This is also very important to me as I can´t begin to write the least bit about my characters before I have named them. Somehow, the name defines them in my mind. In real life it is different, however, as some people are strong enough to influence the way I regard a name.

  2. Mason - Thanks for hosting Terry.

    Terry - I'm the same way - I can't really do anything with my characters until I've named them. Those names prompt just about everything else.

  3. Hi, Dorte, I so agree! It helps to lend character to them in my own mind's eye!

    Margot, it's the same for me with titles. If I can't come up with a title, even if the publisher changes it, I can't write. I have to have a title to make the book "real."

    Oh, and I brought a secondary character back from an earlier book and had to change his name because my editor felt it wasn't enough of a hero's name. Now after I had written 2 books with him being one thing, it was awfully hard changing it for me in the 2nd one!!! Can anyone say which story that was, and which character I'm talking about?

  4. Oh, and it's my birthday today, so how about if someone from either the US or Canada gets a birthday present from me? One autographed HEART OF THE HIGHLAND WOLF. Works for me!

  5. Happy Birthday, Terry!!
    Names? I've always liked the unusual. Grabs the eye. The one I got the most comments on was a sassy little girl named Bodine! Loved the blog and the premise.

  6. Thanks, Caroline! I have to work because we're too short handed after the holiday. :( So I'll celebrate tomorrow with my daughter instead!

    I love Bodine! It is fun to pick out different names. :)

  7. I'm going to have to check into the Character Naming Guide. I always wonder about the origin of names in my favorite books. Thanks for the post!

  8. Hi Brinda, it's a great guide book for names!

  9. Picking names? I keep a baby name book by my computer, I also find names by watching a mosvie and reading the credits. So many unusual names out there.

  10. I do enjoy unusual names for characters....I can't wait to read this book! Love Terry's writing

  11. Mason, great topic of discussion.

    I love hearing how authors name their characters. I am a reader that likes to compare the name with the character's personality. My faves are the "unusual" names. So far my favorite name in the wolf series does not belong to one of the males. My favorite name is Lelandi. It's exotic, pretty and a name I can pronounce. ;o) Pronunciation can sometimes be an issue with the "unusual" names, but I still like them.

    Terry, maybe the next topic could be "Does a character's backstory develop as you are writing the book or before?" I always wonder whether an author develops the history as situations come up in the book to explain actions or reactions. Or, if they know the characters history when they begin writing and that dictates the situations they are put in so they can deal with their issues. Don't know if that is something that has been covered or if anyone else might be interested in knowing. But, it is something I think about.

    Again, great topic. I look forward to reading more of your books and more on your writing process.

  12. Character names are so hard. I love hearing how people come up with them.

  13. Sometimes names don't come to me for a while, although I do write down details about each character. And I keep the names short and simple.

  14. Jeannie, sometimes I use the baby name book on the internet, or just hear an interesting name somewhere too. :) Thanks!!

    Maria, thanks so much!! I read a comment in general about why authors come up with such weird names. But everybody would be boring if they were all Johns and Janes. :)

    And oh, yeah, I love Lelandi's name. When I wrote Bjornolf in the YA The Beast Within, it means bear wolf and someone asked me how do you pronounce it. Bee-yor-nulf. He's a descendent of Norsemen berserkers, so that was fun.

    For me, sometimes I know a character's background. But often I add to it as situations present themselves. Great question, Maria! Thanks!

    Holly--I agree. When you write a lot of stories, it begins to be hard to have not only unusual names for the main characters, but for the secondaries, because what happens if readers fall in love with your secondary characters and you have need to write a sequel about them?

    Alex, that sounds like a winning idea. And not naming them with the same sounds or same first letter which can make it hard for readers to follow who you're writing about. :)

  15. Great blog post. Always interesting to hear how a writer develops her characters.

  16. Great point about conflict being essential to character development and showing sides of a character to a reader!

  17. Happy Birthday Terry!
    I love unusually names. I just wish some of the tough ones gave you a little glossary on how to pronounce them. I read a story recently where the character sounded out his name phonetically to another character. It was great, I was completely off base on how to pronounce it. It also makes it easier to talk to someone else about the book when you both pronounce the name the same way. Sorry to ramble. :) Thanks for sharing how your develop your characters.
    But if I had to pick the brother, I would pick Ian, a gift from God.

    beckerjo at verizon dot net

  18. Laughing!! THis is really interesting on how you choose names. I'm stumped, my brain turned to mush, about the character you used in two books and were asked to change his name. The only character that first comes to mind is Leidolf, he's been in several books, what did you once call him Leopold? Just Kidding!! I'm enjoying the hunky Highlanders in this book. So far I've only met Ian and Duncan. And I'm waiting for them to get out of the street Clothes and put on the Kilts. LOL

  19. Picking names is fun - love to see how other writers go about it. Thanks for the insights! Looks like a terrific book :)

  20. Thanks, Ann! I sometimes envy writers who can sit down and write out a whole character's life history before they write the story. I've never been able to do that. :) I learn about the character as I go. :) Just like readers do. :)

    Elizabeth, oh absolutely!! No conflict makes for boring characters. Conflict shows whether they have true grit or not. :)

    Jo Anna, thanks so much! I wouldn't have thought to pronounce Bjornolf's name in the book if my critique partner hadn't asked me how to sound it out. So in the book, the teacher asks how he pronounced it. I think that's a neat way to do it too. :) Oh, and Ian is definitely a gift from God. :)

    Hi, Donna! I'm thrilled your loving the MacNeill wolf brothers!! Okay, the mystery named wolf was in Destiny of the Wolf and Wolf Fever. :) Now do you know who he is?

    Thanks so much, Jemi!

  21. Terry, That's all you had to say: I think Chester Ryan McKinley is the name of the character you had to change to just Ryan McKinley because Chester I guess isnt' hero enough. Chester laughing, sounds too studious with big horned rims. RYAN is my son. He's smart and my hero.

  22. LOL, you've got it, Donna! I loved Chester's character in Destiny of the Wolf, and so had fun bringing him back in Wolf Fever. But my coworker didn't like his name, and neither did my editor. But what's a writer to do when the poor guy already had a name in BOOK 2? :)

  23. Hi Terry! Belated Happy Birthday. Even though you had to work, I hope it was a good one. I like my main characters to have names with meaning. So, I tend to use a baby name book to help me along.

    Your latest book sounds fabulous, like all the rest :).

  24. I liked reading how you choose character names.

    Mason, I hope things get better soon.

  25. Hi, Isis, thanks so much! I'm taking today off to celebrate, although my computer just went down for the count, AGAIN, and so it looks like that will have to be my next priority.

    Thanks, Carol!


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.