For me, a good book has to begin with strong, memorable, believable characters because these three elements make them become real people in the minds of readers. I’m often asked about the various characters in my books, if they are based on real people. Without realizing it, the questioner is passing on to me a great compliment when they think my characters are actual people. However, it would be illegal to use a real person as a character in a book, unless you had written permission.
One of the first things I do when I write a book is to create character sketches; this even before I do a story outline. Their physical appearance, their personality traits, their backstory (what kinds of life experiences made them the way they are), their inner conflicts (that is, what makes them a complicated character) – these are the elements that are important to me in character development. All of their thoughts and behaviors in the book serve these elements and prevent them from behaving “out of character.” That is why I tell people that my books are character driven rather than story driven.
In some books it is obvious that the characters are serving the storyline and trying to make it believable. But in my books the storyline is driven by the characters because if the characters behave in a way that is consistent with their personality, then the storyline is believable. If you’ve read all the books in my Tucker series, then you should be able to see that the storyline in each of them is pretty simple: good people, with complicated backgrounds, are faced with making difficult choices. That’s actually a pretty bland storyline. What gives it spice and intrigue is the characters.
Tucker, the character that no one likes when they first read about her, is the character that everyone comes to love because they reach an understanding of why she is the way she is, an understanding that produces empathy for her. Who in the world can’t relate to that experience? We’ve all had people misjudge our actions and intent because they really didn’t know us. And we’ve all judged people without getting to know them. In that way, Tucker represents all of us and is the character you’re glad you met and simply can’t forget.