“Can I ask you something?” Lacy asked quietly.
Jace looked over his shoulder. “Anything.”
“This tattoo on your back.” She ran a finger down his spine. He shivered.
“Why do you have it? I mean, what made you get a wolf-dragon tattoo? It’s unique.”
“Do you want the short answer or the long one?” She trailed her finger back up his spine. “Just tell me what was on your mind. Did you design it?”
“Yeah, I did,” he said, his voice husky. Her fingers kept tracking his spine and he found concentration difficult. “I’ve always been fascinated with dragons. The
symbolism behind the myth. I love everything about them. But the dragon needs
temperance. With great power comes arrogance, conceit, and a thirst for even
more power.” He chuckled and glanced at her.
“Just about everything you’ve accused me of.”
Her hand stilled. “Jace, I—”
“It’s okay,” he reassured her, giving her leg a squeeze. “Don’t feel bad.”
“Go on,” she urged.
He continued to tread water. “Well, the dragon holds immense possibility while the wolf relies on his instincts to guide him. Combined, the dragon sees all the
possibilities before him, but the wolf chooses based on instinct. His heart
guides him. It’s a balance. The dragon embodies primordial power. The wolf
checks it with his ability to relate to others. The wolf takes on everything
the dragon is—his protection, loyalty, fearlessness, and strength—and enhances
it, makes it stronger. The two combined incorporate everything I want to be.
The tattoo is a reminder. Especially when I’m having a bad day.”
She laughed. “Or when someone accuses you of being conceited?”
“Pretty much,” he admitted. “Do you like it?”
“I do. You said you designed it. Does that mean you drew this?”
“Yeah. I knew what I wanted.”
“Wow.” She sounded impressed. “I had no idea you could draw. You’re talented.”
He grinned. “Girl, you have no idea just how talented I am.”
“And the dragon rises.”
Laughter burst from his chest. “Touché.”
A red-eared slider swam their direction. “Look.” He pointed at the turtle’s nose jutting out of the water.
Her grip around his neck tightened. “Let’s go back.”
“He won’t hurt you,” he said, laughing, but swam back anyway. He helped her out then hoisted himself on the dock beside her. He retrieved his shirt and offered
it to her. “Dry off with this.”
She took the shirt and mopped her face. “Pond water is so gross, but that was fun.” She gave him a demure smile. “Thanks. I needed that.”
He spent the rest of the day making her laugh. Being her distraction. But as the
afternoon waned, so did her spirits. She shifted from cheerful to pensive. The
temperature dropped as the western sun burned to the ground. “I guess we’d
better get back.”
She sighed. “Yup. Duty calls.”
They untied their horses and started back. When Highway 11 stretched before them like a winding, black snake, he trotted up beside her and grinned. “I saw the
girl I used to know today.”
They crossed the highway onto Monroe land then she turned and faced him, eyes full of pain and regret. “That girl is gone, Jace. She doesn’t exist anymore. If
that’s who you’re looking for then give up because you’re wasting your time.”
She gave Acer a nudge and galloped away. Frustrated, he urged his horse
forward. She wasn’t going to run. Not this time. He raced beside her and
grabbed her reins.
Eight hooves skidded on dirt and loose gravel and halted in a dusty cloud between the two farmhouses. His horse whinnied, tossing her head. She jerked her reins out of his hands. “That was a stupid thing to do,” she shouted. “I could’ve been
thrown!” Chest heaving, he jumped off his horse. His boots thudded on the
gravel. He stomped around Acer, trying to check his frustration. The girl was
scared, and he didn’t want to demolish the progress he made today. He reached
up and plucked her out of the saddle. “Stop running from me, girl.” He studied
her and saw her demeanor shift from anger to fear. “I’m not going to hurt you.
If you’d crawl out of your pain long enough, you’d see that.” She flung her
hands up, eyes glistening.
“You don’t think I’m trying? I’m drowning trying to save everyone else, but
who’s gonna save me?” She bit her lower lip and looked away. He drew her into
his arms and to his surprise, she didn’t fight him. He rested his chin on her
head and whispered, “Hold on to me. I’ve got you.”
Creating Character: Breathing Life into the Cast of Asylum
If you remove characters from a story, any story, all you’re left with is a news report, right?So, characters, even though they’re metaphors, should feel, act, and speak like people. If you plucked your characters out of your book and Geppetto’d them into real, living beings, would they withstand the test? Or would they fall short as too perfect? Or too flat? No one is princess perfect just as no one, not even the most obtuse person you know, is two dimensional.
- First impressions. What is the first thing you notice when you meet someone? Unfortunately, for most of us, it’s their physical appearance. When readers meet characters in a story, they must be able to “see” what they look like. I read a novel recently, and the author never clued me in on what eye color the main character had. For me, that was super annoying. Seasoned authors will tell you to character sketch and that’s one of the first things I had to sit down and do. I mentioned eyes, and for me personally, that’s a big deal. I tend to focus on eye color (for better or worse). You have three basic colors to choose from: blue, green, brown, and their variants. It’s how you describe the color and what shines through them that will help bring your character off the page. My main character, Lacy, had green eyes, but what about them? In Jace’s point of view, he described the color changing with her mood from a thoughtful forest green to glittering diamond hard. Conversely, Jace had blue eyes, but not the light, ice blue of Zach, his brother. They were dark, sometimes with a humorous spark, and other times darkened with desire. In moments your characters can’t speak, their eyes can. Any character can have green, blue, or brown eyes. Breathe life into them. Otherwise, you’re left with a main character’s eyes the same boring brown as your supporting cast.
- Give your characters flaws. This was hard for me to do. Even though I wanted Lacy, my main character, to react to diverse, difficult situations with unerring grace, I realized she couldn’t. I let her make mistakes: lose her temper with Jace, treat Hailey harshly, yell at Cat. I placed her in unthinkable circumstances. Of course, she was going to fail! Why? Because that’s what people do. How they handle and grow from their failures shows the reader of whatmettle your character’s made. Crawl through their head for their reactions. At the beginning of Asylum, Lacy suffered a brutal attack. As her rapist was leaving, I felt I had to show how absolutely devastated and angry she was. I can’t tell you how many times I re-wrote the scene until she uttered two words to himthat summed up everything she felt. As an author, I’m never happy using vulgar language, but at that point in Lacy’s life, those two words were exactly what she would’ve said. Even though I fought her (and myself), I eventually conceded they were the best two words to write.
- Character vernacular; keep it real! If it sounds stiff and too formal as you read it back to yourself, it probably is. I had to go back and edit in contractions, and even use words like, y’all. Two of my characters needed their speech to set them apart. Raul, born and raised in Mexico, needed to sound different. Think about how a foreigner doesn’t contract their words. They say things like, “I do not understand,” instead of,“I don’t get it.” Edwards, an older gentleman and from a different era, used words like fella instead of guy or man. Set your characters apart by what they say, how they sound. Otherwise, you’re back to a news report.
- Oh, the feels… Showing my character’s emotion instead of tellingabout it was what I struggled with the most. Those dang adverbs ending in ‘ly’ tripped me up more times than I can count. Don’t underestimate the power of movement. Show your character’s frustration by pacing, running a hand through their hair, heat rising up their neck, etc. In Asylum, I wrote, “Her feet slammed against the wood floor. Her socks softened the impact, and much to her disappointment, muted the sound.” This showed Lacy’s frustration. It took a lot of work to edit in how Lacy felt by her actions. Your character’s differing personalities will show through their actions. In Hailey’s case, she showed how she felt by simply sniffing. I didn’t have to say she was too haughty to do menial household chores to convey her personality. I wrote, “She sniffed. ‘I don’t plunge toilets.’” Can you see it? I can.
- Do you know someone who’s eccentric? We all do. Don’t be afraid to give your character a quirk or two. Cat entered Lacy’s life and quickly became her surrogate mother. Even though Cat wasn’t a main character, I wanted her to stand out as no-nonsense, and a bit audacious. She kept the farm running and everyone in line with nonsensical metaphors. One of my favorite examples is when she chastised Jace for picking a fight with Travis. She said, “Travis didn’t have anything to do with what happened to Lacy and you know it. I’ll admit, sometimes he has no more sense than a snake in a snowstorm …” Memorable, right? I mean, who wants to be compared to a snake in a snowstorm?
Breathe life into your characters. You’re omniscient, the master of your own universe. Whether your story is plot driven, or character driven, you need strong characters that will live inside the readers mind long after they’ve finished the book.