Friday, July 22, 2011

Author Curtis Hopfenbeck On Creating Characters

Please join me in welcoming author Curtis Hopfenbeck as thecurtis special guest blogger as he makes a stop on his virtual book tour with the release of THE LIQUID CITY.

Here’s a synopsis of the story: Shadoe Kilbourne is the consummate intellectual assassin, with an impressive arsenal of both wit and weaponry at his disposal.  Though he is Seattle’s most famous and flamboyant restaurateur and nightclub owner, he is also a man of great resource, humor and humanity.  His lethal charms and deadly ideologies are a devastating double-edged sword, brandished at will to put the bad guys in their place and get the good girls back to his.  Driven by vengeance, derived from a painful and poignant past we can only speculate on, his ties to the highest echelons and lowest corridors of humanity also make him the perfect middleman for those who seek to solicit his fervor and favor in the hunt for his brand of justice, both inside and outside of the law.
The jewel in Kilbourne’s corporate crown is the Liquid City, a high-tech, nautically themed, three-tiered bar/restaurant/nightclub that is considered to be among the finest on the planet.  It is also his base of operations where he and his equally lethal lotharios, Gio and Deity, determine the finality and fate of the nation’s most notorious criminals …when the courts fall short of their mortal mandate.  But Shad doesn’t just tip the scales of justice; he topples it with vigilantic impunity and acerbic wit.
In this first book in the series, Senator Robert Marcum, Seattle’s presidential hopeful, retains Shad to locate his long, lost daughter who has slipped into the oldest profession and beyond.  Seattle’s sadistic side unfurls before Shad and his overly competent cohorts as they track her downward spiral along the city streets and backroom sheets.  But every avenue dead-ends, and every lead dies almost upon emergence.  His usual sources for information are reluctant to talk, and those that do mysteriously disappear.  But within each frantic conversation is intimated a location and a lasciviousness whispered through trembling lips, an underground atrocity mythically referred to as the Devil’s Playground.
A name is rendered by a friend, of a woman who assists the dire and the downtrodden, who captures Shad’s already partitioned heart with both her strength and vulnerability, as well as with her equal wit and ample wisdom.  One connection leads to the next until the Devil’s Playground’s existence is ultimately confirmed
Along the way, obstacles and individuals abound in the form of mensches and mobsters, as Shad deals with not only the nation’s criminal element and Seattle’s sadistic city beneath the streets, but with three formidable femme fatales and a petulant police chief.  Fortunately, humor prevails at all levels, as Shad and his elite mercenary unit not only rescue the hopeful presidential progeny, but elude the feminine fray that tip-toes too closely to the lost love that continues to haunt his hollow existence.

Curtis was kind enough to answer some questions for me about his writing. I asked in what order do your characters come to life - name, physical description, personality? Of these three elements (name, physical description, personality), which is the easiest to develop and which is the hardest?

A great question, I will toil mightily for a great answer!  

The-Liquid-City-199x300I, unfortunately, am incapable of planning and premeditation in relation to my writing. Inspiration only comes during the physical act of writing. So, as my characters dictate their own fate, I am merely a scribe or a silent voyeur denoting their actions from pen to page. 

In my mind, the earliest inklings of new characterization begin with the personality that the character’s role needs to encapsulate and fulfill; once that personality is established the physical manifestations of that personality emerge and are carved out of theoretical stone. That being accomplished, I provide the character with an appropriate name. (Or at least a name that I feel is appropriate; name connotations, much like beauty, are very much in the eye/ear of the beholder/reader!)
In my book(s), that engineering process is reversed and revised. The name typically comes first in order to accommodate my readers in the assimilation of role characterizations and placement of hierarchical structure. Nebulousness and ambiguity within a fictional novel can be frustrating for me, so I like to provide as much literary structure and character scaffolding as I can, and the name is typically the first link in that chain. (And, by definition, light fiction should not purposely intellectually bankrupt the reader, it should be a fun ride with few cognitive speed bumps!).  

With that style in mind, the physical description comes next so that the new character can actually be ‘seen’ by the readers and a ‘face’ can be mentally superimposed upon that name.  

The third and final piece of that triangulation is the personality, which, I feel, develops complexly with time, and is somewhat situationally conditional based upon the task at hand or the writer’s intent. (Not to be confused with the reader’s perception, which can often run opposed to the author’s intent!)
In my extremely humble opinion, the physical description is the easiest aspect of those three characterizations to portray, it is merely the author’s visual representation of an empirical impression, …’it is what it is’, so-to-speak, and readers rarely take umbrage.  

The personality on the other hand is so deep and broad in scope, and yet so intrinsically personal to each individual reader, that readers will instantly excoriate you if they feel you’ve violated their personal opinion of what that character would or would not do in any given situation. The characters in the book are no longer your abstract creations, they are the reader’s friends/enemies and in many cases ‘real’ to them on an ethereal level.   Names and physical attributes are relatively one-dimensional and empirical by definition and design. Personalities are a three-dimensional abstract and dynamic in nature.

The name is probably the most difficult for this writer because you want it to be as character-specific and personality-appropriate as possible. It’s like naming your kids, and if they are main characters, you can’t go back and change them. Personalities and physical appearances can change at the wave of the written wand if wanted or warranted, but names, good or bad, remain the same and live on in perpetuity.  

In essence, I could never hope to surpass the canvases that are painted in the readers mind, and so I strive to provide the literary brushes and paint, and let my readers’ unlimited intellect and infinite imagination take them to places unknown, undiscovered, and quintessentially …their own!

My thanks as always, and much success to you all on your own literary journey, Curtis J. Hopfenbeck.
Liquid City
Curtis, thanks for guest blogging. I always enjoy learning about authors create their characters or I should say how the characters create a life of their own.

Now for a little background on Curtis. He garnered accolades for his writing at an early age. Grade school brought with it awards and recognition for both his innate skills and his immense humor, high school garnered ‘Feathered Pen’ and ‘Ink Slinger’ awards, and college brought about the coveted ‘Young Hemmingway Award’ for national excellence in writing, among others.

His Shadoe Kilbourne series evokes an “urban Bond’ mystique, suspense and humor” that have the critics in stitches and the public clamoring for more. GQ Magazine named his first book, THE LIQUID CITY, as “One Of The Best Books Of The Year” in 2010 along with John Grisham and Stephen King; and as “One Of The 10 Books You Must Read In 2011” by a United Nations awarded international website for the youth, along with Salman Rushdie, Ayn Rand, Jonathan Franzen, Ralph Ellison and Erich Segel.

His second book in the Shadoe series, REIGN DANCE, due to be released Fall of 2011, continues the humorous, yet vigilantic journey of Shadoe Kilbourne. Curtis is outlining a new Western series in 2012 as well, to fill the void left by Louis L’Amour and his Sackett series. He resides in Salt Lake City, Utah with Natalie, his wife of 20 years and their two children, Taylor and Caeden.  

How do your characters come to life? Which of the 3 elements is the hardest for you to create? As a reader, which of the 3 elements do you feel needs the most attention? Thanks so much for stopping by and for sharing your thoughts.


  1. Mason - Thanks for hosting Curtis.

    Curtis - Thanks for sharing the way your characters take shape. Like you, I think a lot about what my characters' roles will be and what kinds of people they'll have to be to fulfill those roles. It is interesting how that shapes who they are and what they do.

  2. Ironically half of my character's names come after I've finished writing - and it takes me less than thirty minutes to brainstorm some cool ones.


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