Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Author Tiffany Craig Brown: Creating Believable, Empathetic Characters

It’s my pleasure to welcome author Tiffany Craig Brown here today as she makes a stop on her Pump Up Your Book Virtual Book Tour with her latest release, HEAVEN’S RAGE.

Tiffany is joining us to talk about how to develop believable and empathetic characters. But first here’s a synopsis of HEAVEN’S RAGE:

Homicide Detective Ian Buchanan is assigned to the murder investigation of Richard Tate, a retired military helicopter pilot. Buchanan quickly determines the victim’s three former wives and college girlfriend all had motive and opportunity to commit the crime. As each of these women takes him through her volatile relationship with Tate, the detective finds himself sympathizing with his suspects rather than with the victim.
GINA RODRIGUEZ is a career naval officer determined to break through the invisible barriers of a male-dominated military. It’s 1989 and along comes Dick Tate to charm her through a whirlwind romance that leads to an explosive relationship with a drunken and abusive husband.
MEG MCALLISTAR is devoted to her son, but manages to get away one night a week to party at a nearby naval base. During one of those evenings in 1982, she meets the recently divorced Dick Tate. Two years later they marry. As Dick’s bitter resentment of his first wife grows, Meg is subjected to his frequent fits of rage.
JORDAN CAMPBELL is just completing her Army training when she meets Dick Tate, a young pilot-trainee. Their brief romance is threatened when they each receive orders to opposite sides of the country, prompting them to wed quickly. Shortly thereafter, Jordan discovers she’s pregnant and is discharged from the Army.
COLLEEN MORGAN and Dick Tate are both members of their college swim team. After dating for a couple of months, Dick is becoming serious, but his chameleon-like moods trouble her and she decides to end the relationship. 

Now here’s Tiffany talking about believable and empathetic characters.

Heavens-Rage-front-2Know your character 
We’ve all heard the phrase, “write what you know”. In fiction, this bit of advice extends not only to your story line but to your characters. Start with people in your life, note their character traits and imagine how they would react to the situation at hand. Keep that vision in your head while writing about a particular character in your story. (The key here, though, is not to let on to your friend or family member that their personality is the inspiration for your character. They might, understandably, find that a little creepy!) 
Another way to “know” your character is to engage in people watching. Wherever you go, you run into different types of people, each with individual personality traits. Watch them. How do they look and how does that play with their speaking style? Study their body language; watch their behavior and how they react to their environment and other people. Keep a note-taking device with you, be it a notebook or an iPad, to jot down ideas you derive from this exercise. 

Understand your character 

When writing fiction, one of the most difficult challenges an author faces is to create characters for which the reader can feel empathy. Whether your character is a hero, villain, victim or a minor part of your story, your goal is to have your readers feel the character’s emotions. This is where your understanding of your character comes in. Regardless of their exterior qualities, or maybe despite them, who your character “is” depends upon their past experiences. Their memories (happy and sad), trauma, resentments and inner demons all fit together like puzzle pieces in their development and impact their personalities, their morals and their behavior.  
Create a Character Profile
The profiles you build before you write your story helps bring your characters to life, making them believable because, in a sense, they are real, if only in your imagination.  

Before I “put pen to paper” for my mystery novel, HEAVEN’S RAGE, I created a spreadsheet listing each character’s name, gender, age, ethnic background, body type, hair and eye color, education, family members, character traits and background.  

Once I had developed the basic idea for my story, I determined who my main characters would be and then built their families, friend and coworkers around them. This helped me create each character’s personality. At that point, I gave them a name. I spent days researching names and the meaning behind them. For example, my character, Gina, thought very highly of herself, so I decided to make her full name Regina, which means “queenly”. I paid equal attention to my character’s surnames.  

Compiling this information about each of your main characters before you write your novel will help develop characters to which your readers can relate and find believable.
Tiffany, thanks so much for guest blogging. You’ve made some good points here about what makes up a character, especially one that readers will enjoy knowing more about.

Here’s a little background on Tiffany. As the daughter of a career Air Force officer, she has traveled the world, living in such exotic places as Ethiopia and Japan. Some of her first memories include bathing beneath waterfalls in the African bush. She also saw first-hand the effects of extreme poverty and disease which taught her to appreciate how lucky she was to have been born an American. 

After a tour in the Army and a brief marriage, Tiffany moved to San Diego, California with her two young children and enrolled in college. Three years later, she transferred to California State University, Sacramento, where she received a B.S. in Business Administration. Following her two years as a financial consultant, Tiffany used her financial knowledge and writing skills to gain the position of Corporate Communications Manager for an investment firm where she met her husband. She spent the next 20 years working in various capacities within the communications field. 

Tiffany served as Director of Advertising for the Natomas Journal before taking over the role of Managing Editor in 2000. During that time, she also sat on the board of the Natomas Business Association. She resigned from the Natomas Journal in 2003 to fulfill her dream of writing a novel. Tiffany resides in Sacramento with her husband. Her grown children live nearby and visit often.

For more on Tiffany and her writing, visit her website at www.tiffanycraigbrown.com
Do you enjoy stories more when you recognize traits in the characters that resemble people you know? Thanks so much for stopping by today.


  1. Tiffany, thanks again for guest blogging and these helpful tips on creating believable characters. Wishing you much success with your writing.

  2. I think it's a great idea to really understand our characters--otherwise, they're not going to ring true for our readers. Nice tips!

  3. Tiffany, thanks for the spreadsheet tip on creating characters. I will try it.


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