The Key to Creating an Unforgettable Cast

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I'm pleased to have Courtney Vail visiting with me on her book tour for Kings & Queens. Courtney is big on characters, so this post comes naturally to her. Feel free to share your thoughts.

Before I ever wrote one word of Kings & Queens, I fully developed all my characters with sketches. Beyond the traits, quirks, interests, goals, I actually dug into each of the main character’s psychology. I wanted to discover why the characters behave the way they do, how they think, how they process information and deal with stress, attraction, conflict, antagonism.  

 Weirdly, they were almost fully formed from the start and I just had to peel back the layers. I sometimes wonder if they’re actually alive in some other realm because they feel that real, not only to me but readers too. Reviewers have said that they loved them ALL, that they felt like friends, that they ARE unforgettable, that they were like a 20-layer cake. Readers continually asking me how my characters were doing was what inspired me to write the sequel, Sapphire Reign.

So, how did I give my characters that kind of depth? By taking everything into consideration and then SHOWING all those elements through action, dialogue, decisions and voice.

Like take, Majesty, my MC. She is a very strong character, and she’s quick witted and likes to verbally spar, and all that was originally spawned from her having to grow up with a weird name.  Some people would cave and sink into themselves, but Majesty turned it into a positive thing and turned herself into a victor instead of a victim. And she developed a quick wit to overcome and to win over oppressors. She lives life as though she has a scepter in hand and always strives to win. Authors sometimes give their characters weird names, and there are no repercussions for that. It would make no difference if the character were an Ashley. But that’s not me. In my book, I take every little thing into consideration. You can’t just stick an offbeat name on someone without that having some kind of effect.  She suffered and rose up to become that name. So that past struggle is chucked front and center into the present.

Another example , Derek grew up without a mom for most of his life and he has a crap relationship with his dad, so he doesn’t eat right, have any fashion sense or moral center. He’s all over the map along the debauchery path since he’s had no one to look up to and no one to live for except himself. His actions are birthed out of a need for self-preservation rather than outright rudeness. He’s not a jerk, just an insensitive, wounded, guarded teen.  I know I will write many more books should the Lord continue to bless me with time, but there’s something unique about Kings & Queens and I just don’t think it can ever be recaptured. And I think that’s because of the characters. In all of literature, there will never be another Derek. And Derek is special. His past is haunting and present, horrifying. He is a walking fa├žade and at the same time, vivid truth. He’s both the ugly and the beautiful side of human nature.

And there will also never be another Warren, who is only seen as people THINK he is rather than who  he REALLY is. He’s one of those kids, easily labeled as a geek because of intelligence. But he’s a misunderstood artist, who is constantly insulted and down to one friend. His voice has an edge to it because of his aggravation and it also reflects his much more vast vocabulary. The idea for Warren came about because I wanted to switch up the stereotype of what a Christian should be and look like, and Warren, still stuck with one foot in Goth culture, defies the norm. He’s the fan favorite of the book I’d say, yet he has the smallest amount of screen time of all my POV characters. And I think he’s a favorite because people can identify with his pain of being overlooked and harassed and I also didn’t make him annoyingly insecure. He’s intense instead.

All that thought that I put in to character psychology is how my characters end up feeling real, like they’re jumping off the pages. So, when you are developing characters, if you want them to be unforgettable, don’t neglect to look deep within.  You may also be surprised at the treasure and scope and dimension you find. And if you are surprised at these beings you invented and are able to bring that to life, readers won’t soon forget them.

Kings & Queens Synopsis 
Seventeen-year-old Majesty Alistair wants police to look further into her father's fatal car wreck, hopes the baseball team she manages can reclaim the state crown, aches for Derek...or, no...maybe Alec...maybe. And she mostly wishes to retract the hateful words she said to her dad right before slamming the door in his face, only to never see him again.

All her desires get sidelined, though, when she overhears two fellow students planning a church massacre. She doubts cops will follow up on her tip since they're sick of her coming around with notions of possible crimes-in-the-works. And it's not like she cries wolf. Not really. They'd be freaked too, but they're not the ones suffering from bloody dreams that hint at disaster like some crazy, street guy forecasting the Apocalypse.

So, she does what any habitual winner with zero cred would do...try to I.D. the nutjobs before they act. But, when their agenda turns out to be far bigger than she ever assumed, and even friends start looking suspect, the truth and her actions threaten to haunt her forever, especially since she's left with blood on her hands, the blood of someone she loves.

Courtney Vail
Author Bio

COURTNEY VAIL is the author of the YA suspense novel, Kings & Queens, through Little Prince Publishing, and she has two more titles slated for release this year through Little Prince. 

She enjoys braiding mystery, suspense & romance with some kind of weirdness. Her addictions to crazy coffee concoctions, Funny Bones, Ben & Jerry's, and bacon keep her running and writing. She currently lives in New England with a comedian stud and a wild gang of kidlets.


  1. I love the cover art. That's some really neat lip work with the crown, etc.

  2. Lots of good stuff here, Courtney. And your novel sounds like a great read. Thanks for hosting her, J.L.

  3. Thanks for featuring Courtney! her book sounds very intriguing:)

  4. Great synopsis. Sounds like a great mystery. The cover caught my eye!

  5. It's great to meet Courtney and best wishes for her and Kings & Queens!

  6. I love how you come up with background for your characters. After spending so much time with my characters, it's easy to believe they're real sometimes.

  7. I love how you describe your main characters, they do feel so real. You gave some great takeaways for building multidimensional characters. Congratulations on Kings & Queens! It sounds like a great read.

  8. I have loved this cover since the moment I first saw it. It's already been pinned to my "Book Covers I Love" Pinterest board! But I didn't know until right now what it was actually about. For me, characters are always the most important element in a story, so to hear all about your in-depth character development in Kings and Queens makes me REALLY want to read this!

  9. Writing character sketches before writing the story is a writing technique I should adopt. Thanks for sharing.

    Majesty has much to struggle with, especially her last encounter with her dad.

  10. A wonderful look into the characterization process! It makes a story seem so real and easy to relate to when an author cares as much as you do about writing people, and not just characters. Thank you for sharing!

  11. Thanks to Courtney for a great post - and what a cool cover! I usually learn more about my characters as I write, but I have to know what they want.

  12. The cover is haunting. I enjoyed reading about her process of delving into the characters before setting out to write the story. Very interesting.

  13. Thank you everyone for your sweet comments. I am having issues commenting to everyone. Sorry. It's not opening up for me. Thanks, Rachel, for pinning and buying my book! I have had books ruined for me when the characters weren't given enough attention, especially when an author relies too heavily on the story's concept.

  14. Oh, I love...LOVE the cover of this book. And the synopsis has me wanted more. Great post! I need to add this to my TBR pile! Thx.

  15. The time you've put in on your character sketches shows in your writing, and makes the story sing. :)

    There's nothing worse than reading a 'pretty good' story held back by flat characters. Great post. :)


Don't be shy, I'd love to hear what you think.