Faith’s Journey and Grasping Hope focus on the lives of two people, but the cast of supporting characters is large. From family members and friends to co-workers and customers, the list of people waltzing through the pages of my books is long. It has to be. You can’t tell a person’s story accurately without acknowledging the people they come in contact with. It’s these interactions that give readers insight into who our main characters are at their core.
While you may not need to name the guy at the movie theater who takes a ticket or the girl who hands your main character their sweet tea in the drive through, a short glimpse of some of the lesser seen characters adds depth and realism to the story. To discover a slice of a character’s past helps readers understand and relate to the main character on a deeper level.
In Faith’s Journey, Katie returns to the church from her childhood. In the pews she sees the people who play a part in her memories from attending as a child. Not every person is named, but a few snapshots let the reader have a more intimate view of Katie’s life growing up in a country church in southern Illinois.
Naming and writing the characters becomes a challenge at times. None of my characters are real. They are the products of my imagination, but there are times when real life has given inspiration. When naming my main character, I chose a name I love dearly, the name of my great-grandmother. Katherine Angeline Winterstein Robinson McGowan and I spent many days together when I was a little girl. She taught me to embroider, quilt, and a few other sewing related crafts. She told me stories of when she was a little girl. I loved my granny, and I wanted to name this character after her.
However, Katie McGowan is not my great-grandma. Katie’s choices, reactions, and personality in my books is nothing like the person I knew growing up. She looks nothing like my great-grandma. I’ve simply honored her with the same name.
I also knew a Cal growing up. I don’t believe the man I knew ever had the blessing of being a father in his life, but he was the type of man who would be a father to many who needed one. He isn’t the character in my book, but he’s the type of person I wanted in Katie’s life. Cal was the perfect name for Katie’s father who she adores.
Sometimes it’s a familiar action that makes it between the pages. Growing up, there was a couple I loved to sit with through Sunday services. My mother never minded as long as I was quiet. The man always had a peppermint in his pocket, and I always ended up with it. The memory is a sweet one that I’ve learned is similar to the experience of many who grew up in country churches. Though the character doesn’t return for any other scenes, I gave Katie a similar memory as she surveys the familiar faces in the pews upon her return to her home church.
One of my favorite characters to write was Gigi B. Readers can meet her in Grasping Hope and see her again in Relentless Love when it releases in June 2020. Of all of the characters I’ve written, she is the one most closely inspired by someone in my life. I have an adopted aunt, really my mom’s best friend I’ve been close to my whole life. She’s not nearly as old as Gigi B, and she doesn’t quite have Gigi B’s flair for the dramatic. But I’ve always seen her as stylish and funny and sassy and wise. It’s a unique combination that picked me up when I wrestled with my first broken heart as a teenager, and it was that type of person Katie needed in her life as well.
Gigi B’s life experiences and the words she speaks in my books are all her own. They aren’t life memories placed inside the pages of fiction. But who the character is to the ones she loves is a picture of who my aunt is to me and, I’m sure, other in her life.
By the Book: Creating a great cast of fictional characters adds realism and depth to a story. The characters in your own life do the same for you. They provide comforting memories for the future, encouragement for today, and, sometimes, even challenge us to grow in faith. Just as they are characters in your life, you are a character in theirs. Measure each day’s interactions using 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 to determine whether or not you’re allowing God’s love to flow through you to the characters He brings into your life.