Each of us has our strengths and weaknesses when we write. Do we recognize them? We should. But no matter what they are, they will contain much of what we are and what we know personally.
I feel that one of my strengths is in setting the background of a story so that the reader feels he or she is actually in that place. Having traveled quite a bit has given me a view of many locales and I can use the pictures in my mind to set a scene. Failing that, I can pull up an actual photo of a place that I have visited and describe it, or even a photo of a place I’ve never been and use that. After a while, my mind begins to create its own visions of the places I want in a story.
I do the same thing with characters. If I look closely at any of the characters in my stories, I will see bits and pieces of someone I know. Those little quirks of personality that I remember from someone I’ve met will always find their way into my fictional characters and make them more interesting, and real. That’s fun to do and it’s a good way to start. Once I’ve given a character a foundation of traits, it’s easier to imagine others. Sometimes they are good; sometimes bad.
In my novel, A Spirit in the Heart, I have a main character that is part American Indian. I spent a lot of time in Minnesota and I met people who share some of the same attitudes that I let that character express in the book, but I also wanted all his good attitudes to prevail.
Everyone we know has something about them that sets them apart. Maybe they are exceptionally frugal; or they’re a miserly sort; or giddy, or grumpy, or scared of everything, or annoyingly happy all the time….whatever. Those are the things that give a character substance and can make the reader love them or hate them.
And then there is plot. Alas, I have to admit that here is where I sometimes struggle. Okay, we all know that many romance novels don’t have much of a plot (no offense intended to those that do), but that’s the way I began with Caribbean Charade. I followed a formula of woman/man has crisis in love life; woman/man meets someone else that both attracts and annoys them; they start to get together; no they don’t; together again, off again. Well you get the picture. This goes on until finally they admit that they love each other and it’s happy ever after time. That was my first novel.
The second one became a bit more complex, and the third one I am working on is more complicated still. So I’m learning as I work and I believe I’m getting better as a writer.
My goal is to make everything from characterization to setting to plot come together in one dynamite story. For me, that can be a challenge. For others, it may be easy. But all of us have strengths and weaknesses, and we have to recognize them. We need to play to our strengths and strengthen our weaknesses. That’s how we become better writers.