Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Getting Inside Your Character's Skin by Betsy Ashton

Any of you who have read my work know I love writing in the first person singular. Why? Because I can get deeply inside a character and gaze out through her eyes. I can say "her," because so far all of my first-person works have had female main characters. I really like the narrowed lens of a singular point of view. I don't want to know more about what's going on beyond what my character sees, feels, smells, etc.

I've stayed with one character for a three-book series, the Mad Max Mystery series. Max is a grandmother, a youngish grandmother. She's smart, rich, sexy, and snarky when she needs to be. She's strong minded and strong willed, a force of nature not to be messed with, particularly when it comes to her family, extended and nuclear. She can go from mild-mannered to tiger mom in 3.5 seconds flat.

Max is as familiar to me as my own husband. I know what she thinks (not the I ever really know what my husband is thinking). I know what she carries in her Jimmy Choo handbag. I know what she keeps on her bedside table, on her bureau, in her medicine cabinet. I know what caliber of gun she carries.

Writing Max is as comfortable as sliding into a favorite bathrobe and pair of bunny slippers, until she does something that surprises me. As I said, writing from inside her head leads me places I hadn't anticipated. I can put her in a situation and get out of her way. Readers seem to like her, so I continue.

On a challenge, actually a dog-dog dare, I decided to leave the Max comfort zone and delve into the dark realities of a psychopath. At least, I think That Thing is a psychopath. She's not sure, and since she tells her own story in EYES WITHOUT A FACE, who am I to argue.

I had to do a ton of research into various personality disorders. She could have been a sociopath or a psychopath, except she denies she's either. She is a narcissist, because she thinks only she can get revenge for people who are victimized and can't stand up for themselves. She hates people who prey on the weak, women, children, the elderly. A compendium of our society. She thinks she's the only one who can get rid of the perpetrators, because justice is too slow for her liking. She might be a vigilante. She might not.

That Thing doesn't want you to put her in any kind of box, with or without bars. She refuses categorization. She acts with conviction and with a range of poisons, knives, and ice picks. She doesn't use guns. Too noisy. Harder to kill up close and personal. No exploding heads, either. Her kills are tidier.

How hard was it to write Mad Max and That Thing concurrently? Damned hard. One was easier. I took a break from dark personality disorders, until Max had to deal with a demented, delusional villain in UNSAFE HAVEN. Then, the personalities merged.

I've heard from readers of both books. They say I scared them with That Thing. Good. That means they got into the story and into her rationale. What they didn't like was rooting for the "bad guy." Actually rooted for That Thing.

Thank you. You got the book.


Betsy Ashton is the author of the Mad Max Mystery series. Her stand-alone serial killer novel, EYES WITHOUT A FACE, is a departure from her normal fare.


Margo Hoornstra said...

It’s amazing what one’s imagination can do. Oh, the possibilities. Kudos to you for creating one creepy villain...or is she?

Jannine Gallant said...

Bad guys (or girls) have to have some redeeming characteristics. A rational for what they do, which makes them more realistic. If a reader doesn't feel a little sorry for the villain while being repelled by him or her, as an author we haven't done our job. Sounds like you're done your job extremely well, Betsy! My next scene in my current WIP is from my villain's POV. I'm going to keep this in mind when I write it and try to elicit a little sympathy. Great post!

Rolynn Anderson said...

Thanks for the character analysis, Betsy, and showing us how you become one with a your heroines. People are always surprised when we talk about our creations this way. Often non-writers ask 'You talk about her as if she is a real person...is your story based on truth...have you met this woman?' I smile the smile of an author: 'She's real all right...to me...because I created her.'

Andrea Downing said...

Interesting to read your take on writing in the first person, something I tried a while back but haven't so far continued. And writing the 2 books concurrently! Another accomplishment I haven't yet tried. Well done, and good luck with both.

Vonnie Davis said...

I enjoyed writing a book in first person. Then when I went back to third, I had to break the newly formed habit of using I/ma. Now I'm working on another first person book since it's part two of the Dom series. Congrats on your new book.

Brenda Whiteside said...

What Jannine said. And I too like first person, but my stories dictate that. Some just don't work that way for me. I've started a new series and wish it had presented in first person. It's been a while since I've written one that way. Hmmm, maybe time I did. This one sounds creepy in a lovely way. Congrats.

Diane Burton said...

I enjoy writing in the 1st person POV, like Alex O'Hara, my female PI. As you say, she's so comfortable to slide into. I'm writing the 4th book in that series and I see how she's grown since the first. But I also like writing 3rd person POV (as in my sci-fi romances & romantic suspense). Sometimes, it's what the story calls for.

I don't know how you could write That Thing. Scary, getting into the head of a psychopath. Good for you trying something different.

remullins said...

I do love that book cover and the series sounds great.

Leah St. James said...

I'm reading more and more first-person POV and am tempted to try it. First-person present tense tends to confuse me though. :-) And I'm having enough trouble with one book at a time. :-) I have your Mad Max books on my reading list, and now I'm adding "That Thing"! :-)

Betsy Ashton said...

Thanks to all who commented. I was out of pocket for a couple of days and missed responding. Glad I gave you a bit to think about. Thanks to all who have read/added my books to your lists. I hope I don't disappoint.