Use your background to create great characters

I’m one of those readers who really digs a good character; I’m a writer who is always always trying to find ways to make the characters who populate my stories authentic. I want those characters to come alive for a reader they way they have come alive for me. I work at it, but I know I don’t always get it.

So my tagline always mentions that I’m a character driven writer. So I thought it best to keep concentrating on character in my blog—even when guests visit.

Today, Susan Gottfried kindly agreed to give it a whirl. If you don’t know Susan, well, you’re really missing out. She has a humor to dye for and her characters in her novels about rock and roll are driven by a beat that’s authentic and real.



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 Susan Guests at GonzoInk

When Thea asked me to blog today, she suggested I write about my background in the music industry and how it helps me build my characters. It’s a great idea. After all, my writing is built around my love of the music industry. While my first four books feature a rock band and its irresistible Toasted Marshmallow of a character, Trevor Wolff, I have all sorts of other characters waiting in the wings. There’s Boomer, the KRVR DJ. There’s a record producer named Samson. Tiny Tim is the man who looks like Colonel Sanders — yes, of KFC fame! — but who owns radio station KRVR.

Anyone who follows my blog has met Trevor’s groupie, Pam. And, of course, there’s the Roadie Poet, whose name describes him better than I ever could.

Okay, so I’ve never owned a radio station. Never done serious production work, although I’ve played with it. I’ve certainly never been a groupie, either.

Then what the heck am I doing? What happened to write what you know?

It’s easy. I’ve been around most of these people. Working first in a record store (anyone remember what those are?), in radio, and finally on stage crew and as a promoter, I’ve met people. Lots of them. One thing you can’t help but notice is the way in which people fall into types. Cliches? Stereotypes? Maybe. After all, cliches and stereotypes come from a kernel of truth.

What’s fun is taking those cliches and stereotypes and turning them on their heads. Sure, Mitchell is the good-looking frontman, with his romance-hero silvery-blonde hair. Where the cliches would have him be a self-absorbed jerk, I let him be a real person. He’s a jerk to the media, but a devoted family man. He’s fully aware of the power he holds as the ShapeShifter frontman, but at the same time, he’s as conscious as possible of the danger of abusing that power.

I do this for one simple reason: when I began meeting record label executives, my fellow radio station personnel, the tour managers, the bands, and everyone else involved in the music business, I was star-struck. I’ll admit it.

No matter how often I kept expecting them to live up to the glamour I put on them — stereotypes and all — I was shocked, time and again, at how down-to-earth most of them were. I was faced with real people who transcended the expectations I’d pinned on them.

When I looked around at the Rock Fiction on the market at that time, I was shocked to find how cliche-ridden it was (and, in some hands, still is). One of my goals as a writer was to bring you the gorgeous, glamorous rock star world, but in a sense you could understand. I wanted my rockers to be real people who transcended the stereotypes the same way the real-life folk did.

My readers tell me that the ShapeShifter boys do exactly that. They are real. At times, painfully real.

It tells me I’ve accomplished my goal. But instead of setting my sights on a new goal, for one of the few times in my life, I’m aiming for a repeat performance. I’m aiming to top myself, with a new set of characters. You won’t see them until 2013 at the earliest, so take a few minutes and pick up one of the books in the Trevolution. Come meet my rockers. And then, let me know what you think. I love reader feedback. Like my music industry contacts, you guys often transcend the stereotypes.

Bring it on. 



Thea Atkinson is a writer of character driven fiction.

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Posted in guest blogging, Uncategorized, writerwednesday exercises
9 comments on “Use your background to create great characters
  1. […] Use your background to create great characters ( […]

  2. shah wharton says:

    Great post Susan – and I’m glad I found you here too Thea. 😀 X

  3. Maddy says:

    Well they always say write about what you know……..maybe I need a new life. Great interview – best of luck with those new characters.

  4. They are definitely real – you write the characters so well that I feel like I know them 🙂 The interesting one is Roadie Poet – that chap has layers which I think people wouldn’t see at first.

  5. Alice Audrey says:

    You certainly succeed. It’s your characters that keep me coming back for more.

  6. […] over at Thea Atkinson’s blog today, talking about how my background in the music business helps me create […]

  7. […] Use your background to create great characters ( […]

  8. Thanks for hosting me today, Thea. Do you believe the last time I was here was a calendar year ago? Wow. Time flies. Feels like we’ve been buds forever.

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All Thea's novels are available on Kindle, Nook, Sony, and Kobo

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