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Getting Inside Your Character’s Heads

April 23, 2018

Any of you who have read my work know I love writing in the first person singular. Why? Because I can get deeply inside a character and gaze out through her eyes. I can say “her,” because so far all of my first-person works have had female main characters. I really like the narrowed lens of a singular point of view. I don’t want to know more about what’s going on beyond what my character sees, feels, smells, etc.

I’ve stayed with one character for a three-book series, the Mad Max Mystery series. Max is a grandmother, a youngish grandmother. She’s smart, rich, sexy, and snarky when she needs to be. She’s strong minded and strong willed, a force of nature not to be messed with, particularly when it comes to her family, extended and nuclear. She can go from mild-mannered to tiger mom in 3.5 seconds flat.

Max is as familiar to me as my own husband. I know what she thinks (not that I ever really know what my husband is thinking). I know what she carries in her Jimmy Choo handbag. I know what she keeps on her bedside table, on her bureau, in her medicine cabinet. I know what caliber of gun she carries.

Writing Max is as comfortable as sliding into a favorite bathrobe and pair of bunny slippers, until she does something that surprises me. As I said, writing from inside her head leads me places I hadn’t anticipated. I can put her in a situation and get out of her way. Readers seem to like her, so I continue.

On a challenge, actually a dog-dog dare, I decided to leave the Max comfort zone and delve into the dark realities of a psychopath. At least, I think That Thing is a psychopath. She’s not sure, and since she tells her own story in EYES WITHOUT A FACE, who am I to argue.

I had to do a ton of research into various personality disorders. She could have been a sociopath or a psychopath, except she denies she’s either. She is a narcissist, because she thinks only she can get revenge for people who are victimized and can’t stand up for themselves. She hates people who prey on the weak, women, children, the elderly. A compendium of our society. She thinks she’s the only one who can get rid of the perpetrators, because justice is too slow for her liking. She might be a vigilante. She might not.

That Thing doesn’t want you to put her in any kind of box, with or without bars. She refuses categorization. She acts with conviction and with a range of poisons, knives, and ice picks. She doesn’t use guns. Too noisy. Harder to kill up close and personal. No exploding heads, either. Her kills are tidier.

How hard was it to write Mad Max and That Thing concurrently? Damned hard. One was easier. I took a break from dark personality disorders, until Max had to deal with a demented, delusional villain in UNSAFE HAVEN. Then, the personalities merged.

I’ve heard from readers of both books. They say I scared them with That Thing. Good. That means they got into the story and into her rationale. What they didn’t like was rooting for the “bad guy.” Actually rooted for That Thing.

Thank you. You got the book.

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Betsy Ashton is the author of the Mad Max Mystery series. Her stand-alone serial killer novel, EYES WITHOUT A FACE, is a departure from her normal fare.

Featured, Uncategorized, Writing a Series, Writing Inspiration, Writing Life, Writing Style

How I Found Mad Max

March 14, 2016

Perhaps the title should be “How Mad Max Found Me.” I’m often asked by book clubs how I come up with my ideas. That’s both an easy and difficult question, because inspiration can come from a shopping list dropped at Kroger’s or a single child’s clean sock lost in a gutter in Blowing Rock, NC. But Mad Max has a distinct path to her literary birth.

Originally,  Unintended Consequences was about a husband and wife who undergo horrible changes when the wife is hit by a car and suffers an traumatic brain injury. It completely changes her personality. Written from both his and her points of view, I though I was so clever in depicting the wife’s descent into drug addiction and psychosis, and the man’s as he became more and more troubled by his wife’s behavior. Yawn.

I struggled through multiple (try at least 10) revisions, but I was never satisfied with the way the story shaped up. I fought to keep the twin perspectives, even though they weren’t working. And then one morning about 3am, I woke to a voice shouting in my head: “This is MY story, damnit. Tell it my way.” Well, yes ma’am.

Max had a way of grabbing my attention. At the beginning, she was a minor character. As soon as I took her “advice” and began writing from her point of view, the story sprang to life. She gave me latitude to let her be snarky when necessary, soft and tender when necessary, vulnerable at times. No spoiler alert necessary for the next sentence, because it’s revealed on the back cover. When her daughter is murdered, she comes into her own, buries her grief to be a strong grandparent and help solve the crime.

Max took hold of me. By the time I began Uncharted Territory, or as I call it, Max 2, I knew her inside and out. She still hasn’t revealed her complete personality. She reveals only what is necessary for the current narrative.

I live with her every day. Beginning a new Mad Max book is like inviting a good friend in for coffee. She blows my mind by what she is willing to do to protect her family. I wish I were like her, but only a little bit of Betsy is in Mad Max. I think a lot of Mad Max has made her way into me.

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