E: Today, we have the pleasure of welcoming an author who uses the tagline Fantasy with a Touch of Funny — Karilyn Bentley! Karilyn is here to answer some questions I posed her about how she develops her characters.
I find that each author approaches their characters in their own way. One way can be the right way for one author, proven by published work, and not so for another. Karilyn is known as a pantser in the writing world. She doesn’t spend a lot of time plotting. This holds true in her character building.
I love the way this author wrote her Demon Huntress series. The books are written in first person, present tense, which is not the usual. It helps make it unique. The reader and character, Gin, are discovering her world together.
Now to the interview.
You have just received a call from your publicist. They have asked you to write a trilogy, carte blanche, no limitations except appropriate guidelines for a full-length novel in the genre of your choice. First reaction?
K: OMG, how cool! Second reaction: I’m not worthy and will screw it up. Third reaction: Get over yourself. They wouldn’t have asked if you weren’t worthy. Fourth reaction: OMG, how cool!
E: I want you to be a bit analytical here. What starts rolling around in that head of yours? That is, what sparks ignite the idea of a story? Please elaborate – no simple answers here.
K: It depends. Sometimes I see something in the paper or online or the news and think, huh, that would make a really interesting story if I tweaked it a little bit. Other times I hear the characters in my head telling me to write their story. Since they often don’t have a story, more like a backstory, it takes a while to flesh out a plotline.
E: Do you use parts of dreams you have had, experiences with ‘nasty’ bosses (real people), your unconscious, personal emotional feelings such as jealousy, fear and love to write realistic characters?
K: I do not use dreams because my dreams are so odd they make no sense at all upon waking! While I have never used nasty bosses as characters, I did base my Demon Huntress urban fantasy heroine, Gin Crawford, on a woman at work. I thought she’d make an interesting character and only later after taking a personality writing class did I discover the woman was a borderline personality. That was a rather intriguing discovery. Other than that woman, I try not to put people I know in my books. Which isn’t to say that I don’t base character’s conversations on real conversations I’ve overheard, especially male conversations. I try to use my personal emotions to try to write character’s emotions since it lends a sense of reality to the story.
E: Let me break the interview for just a moment and share an excerpt from Devil Forget Me, release April 1. Note the snappy, clipped dialogue, and internal dialogue with herself which portrays Gin’s humorous side, and her confused state about what fighting minions is all about. Dialogue shows a lot about a character.
“Gin!” Smythe yells, heavy steps drawing closer.
“In here! Found another minion.”
Smythe steps into the doorway, filling it with his muscular six-feet-five-inches, his black brows rising for a second as he stares at the headless minion. “Good job. Two of them. What do you think they were doing here?”
“No clue. I didn’t ask.” Maybe I should’ve been a bit more curious about what plans I ruined for the minion, but why talk with evil when you can kill it?
“I’ll let the cleanup crew know another one is back here.” He turns, takes a step, then turns back. “You think it has something to do with the demon in the Agency?”
I shoot him a get-real look. “Seriously? Why would it? We’re in Dallas. The Agency demon is at the Agency in Boston. What would it be doing here?”
He shrugs. “Just a thought.” His words remain as he walks down the hall toward the first dead minion.
The justitia makes a tiny pop noise as it transforms into a silver-linked bracelet surrounding my wrist, while I stand frozen in place, staring at where Smythe stood. Why would he think these minions had anything to do with the Agency demon? Talk about a stretch of the imagination. Or maybe I can’t see the connection.
Finding the demon hiding in the Agency is on our to-do list. Right at the top. Smythe, my twin brother T, and Eloise, the Agency healer, are all working on it. With no luck. We all feel like we should know who the hell this demon is, but every time we try to puzzle it out, our thoughts scatter to other topics.
A clear clue there’s some sort of spell or magic at work to keep this demon hidden.
We’re on to him, or her. At least we will be. Once we can break a spell. If it is a spell. Maybe there’s nothing happening.
What was I thinking about?
I glance at the dead minion as footsteps draw closer. Right. I was thinking about the dead minion and how it would suck to be on the cleanup crew. Wasn’t I?
Well, it would suck to be on the cleanup crew and have to get rid of minion evidence. Better to be the sword that knocks them dead than the broom that sweeps it clean.
E: Pretty cool, right? If you haven’t read any of this series, you are most definitely in for a real treat when you do.
Do you follow a plan how to develop characters?
K: No. The one time I tried this idea the character stopped talking to me and then ended up totally different than how I tried to write him.
E: Once you think about a character, is there a thread you use to flesh them out?
K: No. My characters tend to talk to me and I write down how I hear them. I learn new things about the characters as I continue to write the story.
E: Which takes me to my next question, how restraining are you, when a character begins to tell their story? Do you let her talk? See what she has to say? Do you have to reel her in when she takes your ‘plan’ in another direction? Do you discover the character as she/he is revealing themselves or create them as you want them?
K: I’m not restraining at all. My characters don’t like to be fleshed out (besides basic characteristics like what their job is) prior to me starting to write their stories. So I always let them speak and write down how they come to me. With Gin, the heroine of my urban fantasy series, I did have to rein her in based on beta reader feedback since she came across as annoying and not sympathetic. Your heroine can have all sorts of problems (and Gin does!) but they need to be sympathetic to the reader if you want that reader to finish your book.
E: How do you figure out what your characters look like? Is it important to know where they live, when they live, what educational level they have? If so, at what point in the novel development does this become important?
K: I like to know where my characters live and their education level since that is important to the story. It’s important to know from the beginning of the story since location and education have a lot to do with what makes the character. As far as figuring out what characters look like, well, my little secret is I’m awful with faces. As in, if you don’t look exactly like your social media picture when I meet you (same haircut, same clothes), I won’t recognize you. It’s a little embarrassing, especially at conferences where people I interact with online (but have never met in person) come up to me and I’m all, who are you again? Yep, embarrassing!
I see colors of people and characters, like their hair and eyes, and their height, and that’s about it. When authors go into great detail about how their characters’ facial features look, my brain just short circuits. Unfortunately, it does the same in my books. I actually wrote and published one of the books in Gin’s Demon Huntress series without describing her or the main characters. Yikes. Hopefully the reader read the other books in the series and understands what they look like! All that to say: characters’ appearances don’t matter to me and are usually written in during editing.
E: How do you balance story-structure, theme and character building? Are they so interwoven a writer looks at them all at once?
K: For me they are all interwoven. My writing tends to focus more on the characters and the plot than the theme. Probably because the word ‘theme’ reminds me of a bad day in college Literature class. Ha!
E: Do you develop one character at a time? That is, you know what type of character you have as your main protagonist and develop the others to build conflict and arc tension?
K: Yes, I do. Although until I read this question I hadn’t actually thought about it, but I do hear the voice of a character or two (depending on the story) and then build the rest of the characters to go along with the main one (or two).
E: In your process, does the backstory and character conflict support the story, or do you create the story to support the backstory and character conflicts?
K: It depends on the book. Some books, like the Demon Huntress series, had a backstory that each book explored. Other stories I’ve written work the opposite.
E: Please use one of the series you’ve already written. Where do you get your inspiration for characters?
K: As stated in a prior question, in the Demon Huntress series, I took the character of Gin Crawford from a woman at work. Then I added a lot of what ifs (obviously the woman at work did not hunt demons with a special bracelet!) and progressed the character from there. The other characters popped into my head as I continued to write the story. Then I had to flesh out those characters and figure how they related to Gin. The story changed a lot as I wrote it once the characters appeared. The original plot had two guys as the love interests but by the end of the first book it became evident she was really only going to fall for one guy.
E: When do you do a detailed character workup in the process of writing a story? Or do you?
K: I never do.
E: At what point does your fictional worldbuilding begin? Is it much like how you build your characters?
K: The worldbuilding is right up front. I can’t write unless I know what world the characters are in and how that world affects them. My worlds are fantasy so I have to know the rules of the world from the get go or else I’ll make mistakes.
Karilyn Bentley’s love of reading stories and preference of sitting in front of a computer at home instead of in a cube, drove her to pen her own works, blending fantasy and romance mixed with a touch of funny.
Her paranormal romance novella, Werewolves in London, placed in the Got Wolf contest and started her writing career as an author of sexy heroes and lush fantasy worlds.
Karilyn lives in Colorado with her own hunky hero, two crazy dogs, aka The Kraken and Sir Barks-A-Lot, and a handful of colorful saltwater fish.
Demon Huntress Series