Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Alison Holt stops by to visit!

       If Alison stops by too many more times, I may have to make her an honorary Louisiana author! 

       Alison and I were catching up via email not long ago, and when I asked what she had been up to, she mentioned the usual - writing, publishing, and blogging. THEN, the truth came out - she has been rattling around in her big, old, empty house - suffering as all moms do, from empty next syndrome!

       I was quite excited when she agreed to put aside her ENS and write a guest post for us. Thanks so much Alison!

The Lobster Lover’s Guide to Creating Enchanting Fictional Characters

There are as many approaches to writing as there are writers out there putting pen to paper, or fingers to keys as the case may be. Some writers meticulously outline the events of each chapter, diagram every building and lay out every field or garden that’s to appear in their book. Others jot down every aspect of every character they intend to use to populate their story. One woman I met had an excel file filled with each of her character’s eye color, eye shape, brow line— angled, not angled, bushy or thin, plucked or shaved— their hair color, preferred nail color, height, weight, overweight, underweight, lisp, no lisp, sing off key or stutter. Her style is so foreign to me, yet her stories are full of life and a joie de vivre.

As I said, each writer’s techniques are different. So I asked myself, is there something that I do when I’m creating the people who populate my worlds that might help an aspiring writer create interesting personalities for their books or short stories? I came up with this list of my top five tips for creating interesting, sympathetic characters.

1.               Observe, observe, observe. This week I’m on a book selling expedition in Maine.  I’m at Young’s Lobster Pound watching a young mother trying to corral her five (yes, count them, five) young children while cracking away at a two pound lobster and breastfeeding her newborn baby boy. Her twin six year old tomboys are rushing pell-mell around the wood plank outdoor eating area tossing lobster legs at their three-year old sister. The little girl is on her knees belly laughing so hard I think she’s going to pee herself. A four year old boy is sitting quietly next to his mother reading one of my favorite children’s books, Make Way for Ducklings. There is so much going on, so much noise and laughter and stress that I’ve already created several characters in my head based on this one little family. Do I need to write everything down? No. For me, the simple act of observing has been enough.

2.               Taste. Describe to yourself the mild sweetness that changes once you dip the lobster into the slippery butter. Notice how the meat from the claws is less chewy than that of the tail. Now, go write a scene with your main character enjoying the succulent treat of a two pound Maine lobstah. Describe the incredible taste sensations she experiences while gazing out over the bay. Have another character spit out the meat because he can’t stand the texture. Any type of interesting character trait can only add greater depth to a fictional personality.

3.               Listen. Now listen some more. Hear how that big man’s soft words bely a wonderfully shy personality. Do you notice how he almost but not quite drops his “r’s” in the typical way of a native born Mainer? How lobster sounds like Lahbstah? Do you hear the colloquialisms he uses when describing his latest catch of “Lahbstah” or how the children are “yow-uns”, which when taken in context apparently means “young ones”? How about that woman next to him who speaks with the sing song lilt of an upper-crust southern belle. The one who’s words ending with “Y” really end with an “ah” sound, and who turns a single syllable word into a beautiful two syllable prosodic happening, as in “mah hayunds” instead of “my hands”.  Every little nuance you hear and catalogue in the hinter regions of your subconscious will help to bring wonderful life to your characters.

4.               Smell.  Yes, I said smell. Take a minute to stop and smell the roses. Now write a paragraph about the perfume your main character’s wife wears. Walk inside the lobster pound and smell the vats of sea water containing the cranky crustaceans. Now write that part about the distinctive odor the detective smelled at her latest crime scene. The same goes for the lobster itself. Go ahead, be brave. I actually went up to one of the Jamaican’s who works at the Lobster Pound and asked him if I could smell his hands. He didn’t throw me out of the place. Instead, he threw back his head and gave me a great big guffaw—exposing multiple caps and fillings in his yellowed teeth—before gracefully holding out his hands to allow me to take a sniff. Now there’s character building material for you.

5.               Touch. Rub. Beat upon. Caress. Do whatever it takes to really understand what your character will feel when he picks up a lobster. Prick your fingers on the sharp crustaceous nubs as you’re cracking the shell. Notice the difference between the hard shell and the soft insides. (Warning: those with weak stomachs might want to skip this step) Open a steamer (clam for you land lubbers) and take out the stomach. Rub the contents between your fingers and take note of the gritty feel and consistency. Have you ever had a character wonder what that green, gritty paste was on the collar of the latest homicide victim? Well now you know!

Alison with lobster
 I see interesting characters in every single setting I find myself in. How about you? I’d love to hear some examples of people you have observed who would make curious or quaint or brilliant characters in a novel. Let me hear from you! If you’d like to find out more about me, go to To purchase my books, please go to Amazon, Smashwords—for any type of Ereader, and to Barnes and Noble.  

Alison's new Fantasy Fiction The Spirit Child was just released and it is available to purchase.

About my good friend, Alison

Alison Naomi Holt writes what she knows. Her stories reflect the twenty years she spent as an officer moving through the ranks of the Tucson Police Department. During her career, she worked patrol to investigations, commanded undercover units and riot control squads and trained as a hostage negotiator. Always the one to rock the boat, she took a voluntary demotion toward the end of her career to supervise the department’s eleven man K9 unit. Her characters talk like real cops, think like real supervisors, and react like real people.

Alison's life as a cop gave her a bizarre sense of humor, a realistic look at life, and an insatiable desire to live life to the fullest. She loves all horses & hounds and some humans… 

The psychological thriller The Door at the Top of the Stairs, 

Two Alex Wolfe Mysteries - Credo's Hope and Credo's Legacy

The soon to be released fantasy fiction, The Spirit Child

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  1. Alison sounds terrific. Thanks for introducing me to her.

  2. Hi Kittie. I'm glad to have you on board. Thanks for the comment!


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