Character worksheets usually have lists of features that supposedly add depth to the people who populate your works of fiction. Some include things like their favorite flavor of ice cream, which is not much help for historical fiction. And how does that help you write their reaction to discovering a body on the library floor? Other worksheets ask for life extremes, like the greatest fear or happiest moment. I don’t rank the events of my life on a scale and couldn’t tell you what my happiest moment. I’ve had many, lucky me. Most people will conventional answers like “speaking in public” or “the birth of my first child,” which I find completely unhelpful in character development.
I want to know how my characters live. Where do they work? What do they eat? What do they do in the evening? What do they read? That tells me more about their everyday selves — the one I’m writing about, mostly — than the easy-to-ask questions in the worksheets. Besides, I’m nosy about these things.
All my characters are curious people with big dreams, even the bad guys, so they all read something. Penelope ‘Penny’ Trigg, the protagonist of my Lost Hat, Texas, series, has a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from the University of Texas at Austin. She can’t afford art books, but she loves to get them for Christmas. One of her most treasured books is a collection of photographs by the Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide. For fun, Penny likes science fiction and fantasy. Being an independent artist-entrepreneur herself, she gravitates toward indie authors like Lindsay Buroker, Sean Platt, and Johnnie Truant.
Tyler Hawkins, Penny’s venture capitalist boyfriend, mainly reads technology and business journals. Every now and then, like on a long flight, he’ll read something like Barry Eisler’s international thrillers.
Otilia ‘Tillie’ Espinoza is a romantic through and through. She prefers contemporary romance, especially ones with plus-sized heroines. She loved Katie Graykowski’s Perfect Summer. She also reads all of Courtney Milan’s books. She wishes there were more sexy romances with Latina heroines. The hero can be whatever, as long as he’s gorgeous and kind to animals. Krystal Cameron likes snappy paranormal chick lit and zippy fashionista mysteries, like those by Diane Vallere. Sadly, these heroines tend to encourage Krystal’s less than orthodox decision-making strategies.
Of the older generations, only former English teacher Alfred Muelenbach possesses an e-reader. He loves the thing and carries it everywhere, using it to re-read the classics for free. He’s currently binging on Anthony Trollope’s Palliser series. Marion Albrecht never has time for anything other than the avalanche of information streaming from Texas A&M University to its county extension agents, of whom she is one. She owns all three Victorian mysteries by M. Louisa Locke and fantasizes about reading them in the bathtub, but she’ll pretty much have to sprain an ankle for that to happen. Like many law enforcement officers, Sheriff Hopper reads paperbacks by John Sandford, C.J. Box, and Craig Johnson. Edith Burwell Jones reads Texas history and poetry by Texas women.
Now, doesn’t that tell you more than today’s flavor of ice cream?
Anna Castle writes the Francis Bacon mysteries and the Lost Hat, Texas mysteries. She’s earned a series of degrees — BA Classics, MS Computer Science, and Ph.D Linguistics — and has had a corresponding series of careers — waitressing, software engineering, assistant professor, and archivist. Writing fiction combines her lifelong love of stories and learning. Find out more at www.annacastle.com.
When the internet service provider in a small town in Texas blackmails one client too many,
murder follows. Photographer Penelope Trigg has to rattle every skeleton in every closet in Lost Hat to find the killer and keep herself out of jail.