Erotica author, aka Elspeth Potter, on Writing from the Inside

Monday, August 31, 2009

Lauren Dane Guest Post - Worldbuilding and Characterization

Please welcome my guest, Lauren Dane!

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Worldbuilding and Characterization

The first book I wrote was a paranormal. I loved the freedom of building worlds. They were my rules, my world, the characters did what I told them to. Of course when something didn’t work or make sense, that was all me too.

Building a world for your characters to inhabit is only part of the process though. In the end, any story that is about people and their relationships to each other will stand or fall through its characters. Over time, as I’ve found my voice and my "book legs" I find myself really drawn to characters as the foundation for the stories I want to tell.



In every book I’ve written and in every book I’ve read and loved, it’s always come down to the characters for me. When I read Susan Elizabeth Phillips, I’m drawn in immediately by her heroines. SEP has this way of creating characters who are so flawed, you may not even like them at first, but over the course of the story, she lures you in closer and closer, revealing her characters bit by bit until she has you rooting for them. Similarly, Nora Roberts breathes life into her characters in a way that will stick with the reader the whole book long. I finished High Noon a few months back and I thought about how she’d given me a woman, a single mother struggling to raise her kid and pretty much her elderly, panic attack prone mother, all while she was a hardnosed cop too. There were no stereotypes here. She’s not cold or cut off from her sexuality, she’s just busy and totally broadsided by this man who stumbles into her path. Much like Eve with her jagged edges and tragic past. And yet she grows and matures, she makes mistakes and she learns from them.

So when I write a book, I nearly almost always have a strong idea of who at least one of the characters will be and I fill in all the details as I begin to write. Somewhere between a quarter to halfway through, I have my epiphany moment when I realize what the key is to why my characters are the way they are. Once I get there, the writing is easier, but I always have to journey with them a while until I figure it out.

I don’t have a muse. I don’t have rituals. But I do believe, quite strongly, that every character worth caring about has a backstory. The author may not reveal all the details to the reader, but I don’t think a character truly lives and leaps off the page unless they’re fully realized, unless they have a history. Just like real people, I suppose. Authors can run the risk of revealing too much too soon and info dumping or taking too much time and frustrating the reader or seeming coy. I generally try to think about pace and how people react to each other as I reveal. Each couple will have its own dynamic; some men wouldn’t stand for a heroine holding back a secret until 80% of the way into the story, while other heroines figure out what the hero is trying to deal with and wait for him to find the right time to spill his secrets.



So in Laid Bare, the story is about opposites. Todd and Erin are total opposites when it comes to musical taste, politics, lifestyles and their approach to life. At the same time, Todd is a man who at first cannot allow himself to fully accept who he is sexually. He’s horrified and angry that he likes what he likes. Erin is not that person. Erin is a woman who understands herself. She is confident in her skin. She is ambitious and creative and sexual. She is not ashamed of what she likes and this is an issue with them, an issue that drives them apart for a decade until Todd returns to Seattle, a changed man, ready to be who he truly is.

As for Erin, she’s the character I knew before I even began to type. In fact, only a few other characters have connected with me on such an instinctual level. She lived in my head long before I wrote the book. Her history was something I knew going in, but how she dealt with it at any given time would surprise me. She wrote her own scenes a lot of the time, which is a rare and wonderful treat for an author.

And then there was Ben. Wow. Okay so this book was not supposed to be a ménage. In fact, originally I had a threesome scene planned, a single event and it was written with Cope, a friend of Todd’s and Ben’s brother. But Ben had his own plans and he would not let me alone until I finally wrote the story how he wanted. He loved Erin and he wanted to be with Todd and so I finally just gave in. And in doing so, I learned a lot about him and about Todd as well. Letting Ben have a bigger part to play in this book made it better, gave more insight into the story and the other characters. I’m glad I let it happen but wow was it a pain until I just gave in, LOL.

The moment when I truly understood Ben was when he was standing in their bedroom, looking out the windows over the city and I felt his loneliness because he couldn't bear it any longer. He craves connection and in being so understood and accepted by Erin and Todd, he finds it.

And in Todd, for me, it was the moment he stepped into Erin’s apartment and listened to her tell the story of how her daughter died. He gave to her, supported her, opened himself up so she could pour it all into him. And in that scene, Todd clicked with me and my story in a way he hadn’t until that point. He had more dimension, more layers. In that scene, he exposed himself to me in a way he hadn’t yet (not that way, pervs!)

Laid Bare was a project filled with absolutely unexpected moments. It felt so unwieldy at points, especially when it became a ménage 65% of the way in. But in writing it, in managing it and making it into something else, I learned a lot about myself as a writer and most definitely my characters. I’m a control freak in a major way when it comes to my work, so it’s these things, these unexpected bends in the road, that challenge me the most. And it’s the characters who ground me and carry me through. Or, well I hope it does!

Thanks so much for having me today! What about you all? Do you have any favorite literary characters? If so, who and why? I’d love to offer up a copy of my anthology from Spice, What Happens In Vegas…After Dark as a prize to one winner.

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22 comments:

  1. For me, it was the Toby Keith tee-shirt. Ug! But still ;)

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  2. Thanks for hosting me, Victoria!

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  3. I've always loved Rhett Butler from 'Gone With the Wind' such a complex character that his motivation throughout the book can be interpreted in so many different ways-I'd love to have time to write books like that :)

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  4. I have loved the Phantom from The Phantom Of The Opera ever since I first read it. Never been able to understand how Christine could choose Raoul over him. He was always more interesting and compeling.

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  5. I loved the mom in Jodi Picout's Change of Heart. I cannot think of her name right now, which so bad. Her daughter has dilated cardiomyopathy, and so does mine, so I really connected with that book. Man that is going to drive me nuts. I will have to go scrounge it up :)

    On the other end of the reading spectrum, I also loved Jack from Shalya Black's Wicked Ties. There was just something about him that I really liked.

    But, to be honest, I can normally connect with the characters in almost any book I read, so long as they are well written.

    Thanks!
    Amy M

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  6. Great post, Lauren. I love complex characters with tons of backstory (even though their pasts doesn't usually get into the story). I feel like I have to know the character well to write them and like you, sometimes the characters don't reveal themselves to me right away. I'm really looking forward to reading Laid Bare, it sounds wonderful.

    Francesca

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  7. My favourite literary character is Anne Shirley from the Anne of Green Gables series. She overcame so much, and survived.

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  8. I was going to try to think of a character from some book I read years ago but,then I thought I'd just say "Acheron" from Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark-Hunter series. I think his character measures up to any other I could have thought of. He's self-sacrificing, compassionate, passionate, and ass kicking tough to boot! Give me "Ash" over "Rhett or Ashley" any day!! Tamara Holbert....Tamara4ku@msn.com

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  9. For me, and I know this sounds generic, but that one character is Mr. Darcy. I've always been so fascinated by his character and I could read the book and watch the movies again and again :)

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  10. Mr Darcy! Good choice. A very well drawn character, great subtlety in how he's drawn. Acheron is also a great suggestion.

    Oh and good point about the Phantom! Such a tragic character, but three dimensional.

    Thank you Francesca!

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  11. I've always loved Jane from Jane Eyre. Her character is complex and independent compared to the other women during the Victorian era.

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  12. Hmm...favorite literary character...I always reading Henry the Eigth in whatever book he appears...something about him I enjoy..or love to hate. Either way :)

    Also a fan of Mr. Darcy. Definetly delightful.

    rachie2004 @ yahoo (dot) c0m

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  13. Hi Lauren and Vanessa! Lauren, what a great post! I love hearing about the way that you think and create and how your characters tell you what they need! Such great imagery!

    Favorite literary character is hard, but one of them is Claire from the Outlander series. She is totally strong and independent but not afraid to be a woman. Great role model (I love the story about her becoming a doctor and how it affected her relationship with her husband and daughter).

    Cheers,
    ~bella

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  14. No favorite. Too many to choose from. :) I like any character that makes me care about them beyond the scope of the book.

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  15. My favorite character (male roles) changes from year to year. This year I read some older bodice ripper books and really loved the pirate books by Marsha Canham (great Alpha men) along with an old classic titled Olivia and Jai and a series starting with The Bronze Horsemen set in WW2. I also read several erotic novels that I loved including your Chase Brother Series along with a few new authors to me, Beth Kery and Kate Pearce. Although I don't swap/trade/sell my books (and I have several hundred) I rarely reread them. The two series I have reread is Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and the Skye Series by Bertrice Small. Every time I reread them I discover something I had not noticed before. Great books...Although Not Hot Romance, they are very warm.

    mitzihinkey at sbcglobal dot net

    Thanks for the contest!!!

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  16. Fav character a very hard call for me, though the first ones that come to mind.

    I love Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird.

    From romance, hero - Kenyon's Zarek, he is just messed up and while he got his HEA he is still a PIA.
    And as LD might know from my fangirl gushing email, the heroine would probably be Erin because I loved how she was who she was and her taste in music. For many different reasons I could relate to her more than many other romance heroines that I have read.

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  17. Can I second the Sherrilyn Kenyon reference...but my vote is for Wolf! Hugh sigh...from page 1 he rocked my world.

    lyoness2009 AT hot mail **dot** c0m

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  18. Tough to say...perhaps Willy Wonka from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

    runningmatey at hotmail dot com

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  19. Thanks for the lovely post, Lauren! As for a favorite, I have a hard time choosing. One that's lingered for our family is Laura Ingalls from the Little House books, although it's the entire setting and time as well as her character that make the series memorable for us. Congrats on Laid Bare and your many other wonderful books!

    --Fedora
    f dot chen at comcast dot net

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  20. Was there a winner chosen for this giveaway. I've been following this post and can not seem to find the announcement.

    Thanks, Mitzi

    mitzihinkey at sbcglobal dot net

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  21. I emailed Lauren earlier this week - I am not sure.

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  22. Our random winner is Calila1988! Congratulations!

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