Character driven

J. T. Ellison kills people for a living. When she showed up to dinner one night at a nice restaurant and saw her victim alive and well across the room, she freaked out. Wouldn’t you?

J.T. Ellison is a writer, specializing in thrillers, and when she creates a character, she scans the Nashville society sections of the local magazines and papers to find the perfect victim. She just happened to run into one of those victims in real life—a person who was once just a face on newsprint. JT supplied the rest of the details from the depths of her imagination..

Oooooh, what fun!

Writers make the story real for us when they make the characters real to them. Sometimes writers need a visual prompt before they can imagine a character’s personality, predict their actions, know their tastes, feel their pain.

Some writers are plot driven, but I think I’m character driven. Soon after I read The Outsiders as a kid and fell in love with Soda Pop Curtis, I created my own character. He never appeared in any of my stories I wrote as a teen, and he wasn’t an imaginary childhood friend. But whenever I daydreamed, I imagined this person. Today that character is still very real to me. The perfect character. Maybe he’s just waiting for his story to be written.

When I first started my writing venture, I attended one of J. T.’s writing workshops, sponsored by the Tennessee Writers Alliance, and was giddy at the thought of creating my own character.

I wanted to try J. T. Ellison’s technique of building my character around a real person. Like I don’t do that anyway. I always write about people I know—I just don’t tell them. Taylor Swift and I have something in common. She writes about the bad ones, but I write about the good.

I considered perusing the society sections of the local papers, but we don’t have a society section. Too small town. Instead I trolled Facebook and MySpace and gawked at people I didn’t know. That just seemed too weird.

I even considered filling out a dating match for one of my male characters to see what type of girl would be interested in him. But I thought better of it. What if the real live girl thought she had found the match she had waited for all her life—only to find out it could never be?

Nooooo! That’s not my kind of story. My stories have happy endings. As the writer, I’m in control, so I can make it happen, at least in fiction.

Now that I’ve written this, I’m beginning to think I sound a bit deranged like one of those “characters” on Criminal Minds. Eeek. I hope profilers don’t read my blog and think I’m a serial killer. (It wasn’t even my idea to pull Tony the Tiger from the frosted flakes box. But that’s another story.)

I admire writers who create real characters. If I had to pick one of my favorite masters of character creation in addition to J. T., my choice would be Tyler Perry. The man’s a genius.

All of his characters evoke an emotion, but his Madea character is my favorite. Forever the hopeless romantic, I combine love and comedy. So does Perry, but Perry also uses his very real characters to unleash a profound message. He makes us laugh while, at the same time, makes us look dead in the eyes of truth.

That’s why Perry is one of my favorites. His characters are multi-dimensional. I feel as though I actually know them. They have an emotional impact on me.

What character is your favorite and why? What makes that character real to you?

For more information about J. T. Ellison, click on the book jackets to visit her website. You can also see her in person during the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville October 14-16.