C. Lee McKenzie ~ Guest Post on characters

Paul R. Hewlett here with the Under the Sea Giveaway Hop hosted by I am a Reader Not a Writer & The Musings of ALMYBNENR. Enter to win Alligators Overhead by author, C. Lee McKenzie (click her name to view her bio & other works on her Amazon page).  Alligators Overhead is a middle grade book that I will post my review of in a few days.  In the mean time, just to give you a tease of what her book has to offer, C. Lee McKenzie has been kind enough to guest post for us today.  Well, enough from me, onward to her post about characters.  Enjoy.


How Did You Find All These Messed Up People?
The most fun and the most challenging part of writing a story is creating interesting, messed up people and setting them loose in the world you’re creating. Notice I wrote, “fun” closely followed by “challenging.” It’s not enough to have a list of adjectives to sprinkle over your characters’ heads like magical pixie dust. No amount of “He was unhappy.” “She was shy.” is going to bring those people to life, and without engaging characters our stories fall flat. So how do you turn your Pinocchios into real, live humans in the minds of your readers?
When I’m developing a character, I like to reveal their physical characteristics and their personalities in the action.
So, for example, instead of telling the reader that Cory is a tall, famous, basketball player with issues, I could write: “Cory, the basketball wedged between one arm and his jersey, scribbled three autographs before he looked over the heads of his fans straight into the hard eyes of Coach.”  If I do it this way, I can insinuate more about Cory’s height and fame and foreshadow some trouble with his relationship to Coach. I can carry the story forward while I’m describing Cory.
When I’m at the beginning of a project I begin by asking these two questions:
   What does my MC want?
   Why can’t s/he have it?

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In Alligators Overhead, my middle grade novel, I introduce readers to Pete Riley as a twelve-year-old trouble maker who wants nothing more than to escape from the back water town he’s landed in and return to his life in the city. But it isn’t enough to have this former city boy playing pranks and making life miserable for his guardian aunt because he doesn’t like the living arrangements. Pete has to have a reason for his bad behavior, something that readers can relate to.
He can’t go back to his multi-plex movies or afternoon ball game with dad because Dad’s gone and so is Mom. Losing a family is tragic for anyone. It’s more so for someone so young who has little to no control over his life. We all know that as kids we didn’t have a lot of control. Our parents, our teachers . . . the adults made most of the major decisions for us, so we can relate to how Pete must feel, even if we don’t think his behavior is appropriate.
Pete’s not feeling that good about himself, and then to make things worse for him, “strange” things are happening that have nothing to do with his pranks. Now, I’ve got a character that’s in real trouble and surreal trouble at the same time. Bad for Pete. Great for my story because I have a messed up young person that I hope people will root for in spite of his bad behavior.
There are many questions you can ask yourself about your characters and each one will help you make those characters more interesting, more complex, and much more real for your readers.
I suggest that instead of focusing on the physical characteristics (unless these are key to you theme), focus on questions like these to find your characters.
* How does your character feel about himself?
In Alligators Overhead, I didn’t want to write that Pete had a low self-esteem. I wanted to show it in how he acted out.
* Is your character in harmony with the world he lives in or not? Why? Will this change for him during the story?
In the beginning Pete is out of step with his environment and he doesn’t have more than a mischievous interest in the Ornofree Swamp and the alligators. I wanted that to change over the course of the story.
* What does your character value above anything at the beginning of your story? At the end?
Between the beginning of the story and the end, I wanted Pete to experience a big value shift, but I didn’t want him to lose his spark and become the “perfect” boy. I left him with his devilish side a bit subdued, but not gone. After all that wouldn’t be any fun and it definitely wouldn’t be very real.
I hope this short piece on characterization will be of help in creating those wildly interesting, complex characters for your stories. Do you have some ways of your own to flesh out those characters and engage your reader in their lives? If so, please share.  Thanks for reading.

Take a minute to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below for your chance to win Alligators Overhead by C. Lee McKenzie.  Remember to stop back in a few days for a review of Alligators Overhead.  Also, please leave a comment letting Ms. McKenzie your thoughts on her post as well as her book or anything else that you think we ought to know.

                                                                  a Rafflecopter giveaway


Share A Heart

Indie author-friendly freelance editor, children's book blogger for picture books through YA, kid lit, SF/fantasy lover with special fondness for middle grade, pun-loving SCBWI member, meter-maid for poetry and rhyming picture books.


  1. Don’t need to win it – I already own it!

    • Thanks for stopping by Alex, it’s great to see you! I’m so glad that you already own it. Have you read it? If so, what did you think? I am posting my review in a few days, so I won’t give away my thoughts here, but I am very happy to be involved with C. Lee’s book and promotion. Have a great evening:)

      Paul R. Hewlett

    • Waving at Alex who is my inspiration when it comes to blogger savvy and endurance. He’s amazingly supportive and creative. His books should be on TBR lists for sure. I’m about to start reading Cassa Fire. Yay!

  2. I just wanted to say thanks because I was struggling to flesh out a bully, but now I found his weakness and also what made him mean. I was surprised to find out when asking my sons about bullies that they hadn’t been bullied. I was, by boys in elementary and junior high school. I’m glad those days are gone. I hated riding my bike past my friend’s house. Only later I found out rock throwing meant boys like you. Grrr.

    • Is that why my husbands tosses gravel my direction every once in a while? Here I thought I’d done something to make him mad. I can’t imagine doing that. 🙂

      Here’s to fleshing out your bully!

  3. What fabulous advice about character development. I really liked hearing Lee’s thought process and the questions she asks to build characters. Excellent example with the basketball snippet.

    Thanks for the giveaway! Stephanie and I loved Alligators Overhead and Pete and Weasel. I don’t have an ereader- but if I win I would love to gift it to a 5th grader in my co-author, Stephanie’s class (she can draw a random name). If that is allowed- please enter me! I think it would be a great way to help build the buzz with her 5th graders and their friends. 🙂
    GFC: Jessica Haight/DMS

  4. Thanks for the comment and entering Jessica:) It is always great to hear from you. I agree, what a great post! It is a must read for all authors in my opinion. I think everyone can find that little something to improve their MC with her thoughts. If you win, I’ll make sure to get a copy to whomever you choose. I think you’re right, that would be a great way to create buzz for the book. I would really like that, I think it’s a great book that should be in the hands of as many people as possible. Oops, I gave away part of my review, don’t tell anyone:) Thanks again, hope to hear from you again soon:)

    Paul R. Hewlett

  5. I’d love to read this cause it looks good.

  6. Thank you for the comment and entering the promotion! I agree with you that it looks good. In fact, if you really want to know what I think, stop back by later to read my review. Great to see you and I hope to see you here again soon. Have a great day:)

    Paul R. Hewlett

  7. I would love to read this book because I think it’s interesting how a character can have bad qualities but still be likable. It fascinates me, because that’s not always how it is in real life because you don’t get to follow people around and get to know them in the same ways that you do when you read a book. 🙂

    I think this book would be a great read.

  8. Thanks for the comments and for stopping by Cryscringle (I love that BTW)! I agree with your thoughts, Ms. McKenzie does a fabulous job with the characters in this book and I think that you will be very happy with it. Good luck and thanks so much for entering. I hope to see you back soon:)

    Paul R. Hewlett

  9. This sounds like a really good book. My daughter and I would really like to read it. Thanks so much for the giveaway.
    GFC dreamer616

  10. Thanks for the comment TammyAnn! I know that I loved it! I think that it would indeed be a very good book for you and your daughter. It would make a wonderful book to read together. As I mentioned Ms. McKenzie does a great job with great phrases and characters that would be really fun to read together. Good luck and thanks for entering! I hope to see you back here soon:)

    Paul R. Hewlett

  11. It sounds like an exciting adventure that my daughter would enjoy, thanks!

  12. Thanks for stopping by Darlene! It is so great to have you here. It is an exciting adventure and I believe your daughter would love it. I’m not sure how old she is, but if she couldn’t read it herself it would make a great book to read together. I hope to see you around here again soon! Have a great night:)

    Paul R. Hewlett

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