Wednesday, August 24, 2016


This month, we Roses have been cluing you in on summer vacations, various home projects, and how they get story idea from head to page, among other topics. Since I am in the throes of beginning The Deep Well of Love and Murder, fifth in the series, process is a good subject for me. 

My first book contract came in 2009. Book five of the series is my eleventh such contract. Where the idea for a book comes from varies. I’ve gotten inspired by a family member’s general experience and once by a night spent in a cheap motel. Ideas have jumped from the page of a wedding announcement and a brainstorming session with my husband. 

When an idea comes, and if the idea is one I’ll run with, characters almost instantly materialize. It’s practically instantaneous. In fact, a character in the leading roll, often is the idea that sets off the storyline. 

And, so, the first thing I do, even before research, is construct my Character Sketch file. Here is what that looks like. This is the working file for the heroine in The Deep Well of Love and Murder. You can see it’s not complete. When complete, not all of it will make it into the book:


TITLE: Heroine

Character Name:  Laura Jane (Burns) Katz                              Nickname:

Birth Date and Place:  Long Beach, CA  1992

Character Role: ex-wife of Clark Katz and heroine, protagonist

Physical Descriptions:

                Age: 26

                Race: Caucasian

                Eye Color: deep green, wide-set

                Hair Color and Style: long, blonde

                Height/Weight/Build: smallish 5’4”

                Skin Tone: fair

Style of Dress: It’s spring so she wears sleeveless tight Tee shirts or t-strap tops and tailored shorts. No jewelry. She will wear cotton skirts if the event requires.

Distinguishing physical traits or mannerisms:

Personality Traits: Very outgoing and independent

Background: Comes from a dysfunctional family of an alcoholic mother and abusive stepfather. She left home at seventeen (the day after graduating) and moved to Flagstaff. Dropped out of college when she became pregnant and married Clark Katz. Had a miscarriage, but hung in there working two jobs while he loafed. In book one, he was involved with the theft of Lacy’s mother’s artwork and consequently arrested. She divorced him. When he got out of prison, he stalked her and went on to more serious crimes. Again arrested so when he got out again, she left for Chino Valley.



Internal Conflicts:

External Conflicts:

Occupation/Education: waitress and nanny

Miscellaneous Notes: 

Every character in the book will have a file like this one. Only the major characters (heroine, hero, villains or perceived villains) will have a complete work up. It’s very likely not all of the information will make it into the book. 

If a book is part of a series like The Deep Well of Love and Murder, the events will be added to my Series Timeline. Every birth, death, marriage, and major event will be entered. 

The research begins. When I start creating the character files, the story is percolating which sparks questions, and it’s time to get educated. I can’t write a character whose great grandfather was a Brazilian Gaucho without knowing what a Gaucho was and where and how they lived. If my character had an alcoholic mother, I might need some knowledge on how it could affect her. 

At some point, there’s no sure fire recipe, I write the opening paragraph and synopsis. Character information will continue to come in…the people in the book will open up more and more to me as the story progresses. That in turn will necessitate more research. And the synopsis will expand, get hacked, ebb and flow. 

It isn’t a straight line from idea to final product. This is the process that works for me.
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Leah St. James said...

Loved learning about your process, Brenda. I've done those types of character profiles, and they really help when you're in the middle of an intense scene and can't call your hero's brother Tom when his name is really Bob! (Not that I've ever done that...) :-) Thanks for sharing. I can't wait to read the finished book!

Margo Hoornstra said...

Sounds like a tried a true process. I'm a true pantser who really needs to get more organized. I should try it. Thanks for the insight. This series is high on my TBR list.

Barbara Edwards said...

I'm copying your idea for a character sketch. It sounds really useful and detailed. Thanks for sharing.

Jannine Gallant said...

I do a brief paragraph, handwritten in a notebook, for each character. Sometimes only a line with pertinent physical info for minor characters so I don't screw up eye color, etc. I use to put it online, but the notebook just seems easier for me to access. Getting this in-depth would be really helpful, however. Thanks for sharing!

Vonnie Davis, Author said...

Your idea is much more detailed than mine. I usually have 2 or 3 lines of phrases separated by ellipses. I refer back to it often, especially for minor things like fragrance worn or siblings' names. It's a great tool.

Alison Henderson said...

I write a similar character profile of each major character before I start, too, although not in quite as much detail. My series books don't tie together so closely that I need to carry much over. It sounds like a great process for you!

Brenda Whiteside said...

Thanks for the comments ladies. I'm on the road all day today head in to CO to visit son and family..

Andrea Downing said...

Like Margo, I'm a pantser but sometimes I do chapter outlines and I certainly do datelines for novels that cover several years. All I can say is WOW to your character outline.

Alicia Dean said...

Very helpful! I have a character outline but to be honest, I seldom use it. Yours seems more to the point and helpful. I think I'll give it a try. I enjoyed learning about your process. Hope you're having a great time on your trip!

Diane Burton said...

I do a quick paragraph for major characters, a sentence or 2 for minors. Sometimes I can't get into a character's head so your outline would help. Thanks for sharing your process, Brenda.