Tuesday, August 20, 2013

My favorite part of writing is getting to know my characters. Although I was a chemistry major in college, I took quite a few psychology classes for fun. As a student, I loved contemplating the interplay of nature and nurture and life experiences, and as an author, I love it even more.

In my latest novel, On Distant Shores, I had great fun writing from the point-of-view of Lt. Georgie Taylor, a flight nurse in World War II. It was also a challenge, because Georgie is my opposite. I’m an introvert; Georgie’s an extrovert. I obsess over details; Georgie is bothered by details.

In the previous book, With Every Letter, Georgie’s friend Mellie says she needs time alone to think. Georgie pipes up, “I’ll go with you.” As you can imagine, she’s a true extrovert who adores people, loves to plan parties, and has met very few people she can’t befriend. She’s also a kind soul who is drawn to the underdog.

Getting to know a character like Georgie means looking at nature, nurture, and life experiences.

When authors start character development, we usually start with nature. What does she look like? Eyes? Hair? Face? Build? What’s her personality like? What natural talents and gifts does she have? In Georgie’s case, she’s cute, perky, and social. These are the types of qualities we notice when we first meet a person. While fun, they only give us a surface knowledge of the character.

Going deeper, we look at the character’s upbringing—the nurture. What was her family like? Rich or poor? Loving or distant or abusive? Harsh or lenient? Was she the oldest, middle, or baby? What was her childhood like?

Georgie was raised in a happy and loving and affluent family, the youngest of three daughters, sheltered and doted on. She was raised with strong moral values. This contributes to her strengths—her social confidence and her care for the outcast. But it also contributes to her weaknesses. She’s never had to make decisions for herself and doesn’t feel she can handle difficulties. Her greatest fear is that she’ll fail in a crisis and people will get hurt.

Going even deeper, we can explore the character’s life experiences. What choices has she made—good or bad—that have made her who she is today? What trauma has she endured? What joy has she relished? What difficulty has she faced? Has she overcome adversity and grown stronger—or has life beaten her down?

What made Georgie interesting to me is that—unlike most of the characters I write—she has seen almost no trauma. She’s been protected and loved, and nothing truly horrible has happened to her. While that seems idyllic, it causes problems. As a flight nurse serving in Italy in a combat zone, Georgie wonders if she’s in over her head. She fears she won’t have what it takes when it matters. Of course, as a cruel author, I put trauma in her life.

The interplay of nature and nurture and life experience brings out fears and flaws, strengths and weaknesses, quirks and habits, goals and dreams unique to the character. This is what makes her “human” and relatable.

Just as we get to know our friends slowly over time, from the outside in, as stories and traits are revealed, the author gets to know her characters. Then she figures out the best way to torture them.

In love. Because I care for my characters and want them to grow, to overcome their sins and fears and flaws, and to become the best people they can be.

How about you? If you’re a writer, what do you enjoy about character development? If you’re not a writer, what do you enjoy about getting to know a new friend?

Return to TBB on Friday for a chance to win Sarah's new release!

Sarah Sundin is the author of five historical novels, including On Distant Shores (Revell, August 2013). In 2011, Sarah received the Writer of the Year Award at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. Sarah lives in northern California with her husband and three children. When she isn’t ferrying kids to tennis and karate, she works on-call as a hospital pharmacist and teaches Sunday school. You can find her at http://www.sarahsundin.com.


  1. I like to get to know new characters because it's like getting to know a new friend...learning our differences and also what we have in common

  2. I agree! It's so much like getting to know a friend!

  3. Thanks for joining us, Sarah! Your books reflect your ability to make your characters come alive.


Newsletter Subscribe



Blog Archive

Powered by Blogger.

Historical Romantic Suspense

Historical Romance



Popular Posts

Guest Registry