To me, characterization is more important than plot.
With three protagonists I strive to make them not only different physically but also emphasize their cultural differences. Each one comes from a singular economic background which reflects her speech, manner of dress, education, facial expressions, the way she walks, what she likes to eat—her attitude toward life.
It says a lot when Tess shouts “Ma!”—Beany calls “Mama”—and Lucy addresses her “Mother.”
I’ve given much thought particularly to developing my African-American characters. Have you ever run across a paragraph like this?
Several women crowded into the restaurant. The redhead in designer jeans chattered non-stop and waved to the maitre d. A stout woman tagged close behind, pulling her raincoat across her stomach. They were followed by a thin black woman.
What a disappointment. All we know about the “black woman” is that she’s slim, has no personality and appears to be naked.
Seriously though, does the author think “thin black woman” says it all? If that’s the only picture this author can conjure, that’s pretty lazy writing.
My black characters are not boring—or stereotypical. No one would call Wixumlee “Mammy.” In my pre-Civil War story, this “colored” woman is blond, wealthy and fashionable. She’s politically aggressive. A radical. Violence frequently serves her purpose. She can be stubborn. And mean. A bully. She’s also fair. And brave. Determined. Protective. She can be compassionate.
Wixumlee is the prime example of my core belief that no person is all good or all bad.
People are not black or white. They’re gray. Complex. Contradictory. People don’t behave the same way every time the same situation arises. They fumble. They fudge.
Our characters must fumble and fudge, too. That’s what makes them interesting. There’s no greater reward for me than a reader exclaiming, “I love the characters!” And most often, “I love Tess!”
Wixumlee–she can be a little scary. That’s why I love her.