My first book The Bootlegger's Legacy was loosely based on people very much like myself. The two main characters, Joe and Mike could have been one of several people in my life. These were very ordinary people living somewhat boring lives dealing with mundane problems like money and family. They weren't very happy but didn't really feel like that was a big problem; after all nobody they knew was real happy; it was life.
The character who was at the heart of the story Pat Allen, the bootlegger, was not like that at all. He was a larger than life character. He experienced life as joy not a burden; until it was. There were also four strong female characters who matched their male counterparts in attitude and morality; with the possible exception of Pat Allen's suffering wife, Bugs.
All of these characters and most of the people in my books have one thing in common, they are flawed. Some more so than others, but they have serious faults. Of course, that should be expected. The perfect person would not make a very interesting character in a book. Sure it would be nice to have perfect people as husbands, wives, sons, daughters, fathers and mothers--but would you want to read about a perfect person? Probably not.
One aspect of my writing that is mentioned by reviewers is the language. Some like it; many don't. The words used by the characters are part of who they are. The gangster Giovanni would not be a soft spoken polite man; he would be loud and offensive--which he is. I've tried to match the language with the people and the circumstances. A good example is Mike Allen, the son. He goes through a transformation during the book from a more rowdy character to a religious reawakening. As a result at one point he scolds Joe for his language. Words that they have often used in the past --- now were offensive to Mike. He was a new person.
Before I started writing I was a mega reader. I read all kinds of books. Some I liked some I didn't. But I read a lot. Never thought too much about the process of writing; after all I was a reader and all I wanted to know was who did it? When I first considered writing myself I revisited some of my favorite books and re-read them with a different perspective. Several that I really liked had a interesting quality I had not noticed much before--they were consistent in how the characters acted within the story. Each character had their own personality and quirks. They could do something out of character but as a reader you knew it was out of character. This may have been the most important lesson I took from reading to writing. Know you characters and let them be themselves.
I have written before about how characters almost write the book themselves. Once I get going and I know who they are I let them just be. I know that sounds weird but it is what happens--the story goes this way because that is what this character would do. Of course on some occasions I will mix that up just to make it interesting. But my goal is to let you the reader get to know the characters; who they are, what they think and how they will act; and of course what they will say, even if it is a few bad words.
My favorite character right now is Vincent Malone. A man so flawed he is almost toxic. From what was going to be a great life of privilege and honor; disaster occurred as everything fell apart due to his weaknesses. For the next few decades he punished himself because of his failings. I wanted the reader to sense that Malone was a good man who had lost all of his confidence and was merely looking for a way to die in peace. He was done, a broken man. He had paid the price for his tremendous shortcomings and now he wanted to be left alone. That is how the first book starts--he's just about at the end.
What we get to see is how he re-builds his life from one strange circumstance to another. He starts to become a whole person again--still with an impressive list of faults; but we care about the man and we want him to experience happiness.
Just finished Fiction No More the third Vincent Malone book. Not to give anything away but at the end of this book Vincent does something that is generous, kind and selfless; all qualities he had lost. It is odd as the author to be proud of one of your characters because they are becoming a better human being--but I'm proud of Vincent.