Today’s guest post comes from author James J. Cudney IV. His latest book Father Figure is on my to-read list – I bought it as soon as James started to tell me about the two central female characters in it. You see, James is not only the author of two books and a popular blogger but also is my friend. You may remember him from his first inspiring visit here.
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After our latest chat, James kindly agreed to guest post here about his newest work of fiction. In particular, he discusses how developing female characters was both a challenge and an honor as a male author. James, you have the blogging stage:
Today’s writer is James J. Cudney
After I wrote my first novel, Watching Glass Shatter, Christy, who is extremely generous and kind, invited me to discuss the main character, Olivia Glass, as a guest post on her blog, When Women Inspire. I was honored to talk about the book, especially when the focus was on how Olivia deals with her five sons.
I’ve just finished my second novel, Father Figure, and I’ve been blessed to participate on Christy’s blog again. But this time, the central characters in my book, Amalia Graeme and Brianna Porter, are very strong and independent women on a journey to understand who they are.
The first thing Christy and I discussed was how it felt for a male author to capture the authentic voice and perspective of female characters who are experiencing a very different side of life than I’m familiar with. My initial response is that parts were easy and parts were difficult, but there’s a lot more behind those words. I should probably start with how the idea for this book developed, as well as a brief overview of the story.
How the book Father Figure developed
Amalia Graeme is an abused 18-year-old girl living in rural Mississippi who is about to enter college far away from home. She falls in love, has her first intimate experiences with a man, and is taken advantage of way too many times. Brianna Porter, an 18-year-old girl living in NYC, is filled with angst and indecision about life.
She is reckless and tender while trying to discover the mystery of her father’s identity. Both girls are strong, yet they are tormented and confused. I wanted to tell the story of someone pushing beyond the immediacy of tragedy toward a future where there could be happiness and the possibility of change.
These two women couldn’t be any different, but they had a power about them because of what they wanted in life. When you have goals and a desire to succeed, it is inspiring and motivational. When I developed the character of Amalia, I thought of all the women in my life who were told they couldn’t do something, or they weren’t equal to their male counterparts. When I needed inspiration for Brianna, I watched the determination and analytical minds of women in their early twenties beginning to form and shape a new world for our society’s future.
On creating memorable characters
For me, developing memorable characters that readers can believe in and want to support is paramount to success and essential to developing a bond with readers. When a person goes through a life-changing, tragic experience, they can fall apart or they can grow stronger. From the very beginning, I knew Amalia and Brianna were the type of women to crawl from the depths of a seemingly bottomless pain to find the true future they were destined to live. It just wasn’t going to happen quickly. Nor without a little sinister intervention from me! Oops.
Building characters that readers will identify with is about finding the spirit inside of each voice. Understanding what goals and virtues drive a person. At 18, very few people know who they are or want they want. It’s perfectly acceptable to question all that exists around you while learning how to develop your passion and perspective on life.
I wanted Amalia and Brianna to represent real women with issues and fears, morals and desires, conviction and fortitude. I wanted them to motivate readers or demonstrate despite the many times things can go the wrong way or tragedy can strike, there is a way to overcome and conquer any setback. It may take hours, days, months or years, but it can and will happen.
There are moments where I feel awful for what I’ve put these women through in the pages of my novel. Then I realize I didn’t necessarily put them through it. They were as real to me as women I’ve met. Women who inspire us to be leaders and to question things that seem wrong. Women who are mistreated or abused, or think they can’t fight back. But most of all, women who show us what it means to be successful in the end despite any roadblock put in their path.
((Christy interjects here to say, “After reading James’ post I thought about how roadblocks can actually DRIVE us to do more as they give us strength. They can make us think “Heck, we’ve been through that sh*t so we’ll make it through whatever else comes our way now moving forward. OK, back to you now James.))
Brianna and Amalia both have relationships with men who shape and define their outlook on lives. Some of these men are good influences. Some are bad. But deep down, both women eventually fight for themselves rather than lean on anyone else to help them be successful in life. Amalia learns a few lessons the hard way. Brianna struggles how to accept who she is.
Despite the guys they date, or the fathers in their lives, there is something about them both that shows us the power of a woman who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to fight for it.
Challenges writing female characters
One of the greatest challenges in writing female characters is choosing a fine line between showing determination and heart. If you make someone too tough, she could come across as difficult to like. If you make her too weak, she could come across as too easy to forget. There needs to be a balance of traits that are both good and bad in terms of likability. Flaws show character and represent reality.
No one is perfect, but when someone can learn from past behaviors, challenge themselves to push forward, or present the journey of how she is making her decisions, readers will find a connection point.
I’m generally very open-minded and analytical, so it’s easy for me to develop this path in a character, but there are times where I jump too quickly into an action. That’s where I step back and think… it’s not ME making the decision, it’s a character who thinks differently and has a different emotional tie to the situation or the options in front of her.
This is where I find the physical, literal and figurative voices and the characteristics to make them shine. To make them realistic. To make them who they are.
It’s about fleshing out the range of feelings and considerations crossing through the character’s mind that I must incorporate into the story, dialog, and internal thoughts. Sometimes it’s adding a few specific physical actions that show readers a personality rather than through the dialog. It might be a gesture, a memory, or a description of an action she wants to do but stops herself from actually doing.
As a writer, I try to drop a few things like this into the scene so readers recognize patterns or discover similarities to how they might think or feel. I don’t want to overload it with assumed standards, nor go to anything considered sexist or gender-specific.
I’d rather show a few things that hint but let the reader interpret and define the voice of the female character. It would be too simple to remind readers of supposedly obvious characteristics that tend to be more female-oriented. It’s more challenging and impacting to get right into energy and drive that will show the personality.
I’m thankful for the honesty and openness of so many women in my life who’ve shared their approaches and feelings, as it’s helped me craft believable characters.
And I’m grateful to Christy for letting me spend a few minutes on her blog talking about how I developed the personalities and built the women starring in my second novel, Father Figure.
A short synopsis of Father Figure
Between the fast-paced New York City, a rural Mississippi town, and a charming Pennsylvania college campus filled with secrets, two young girls learn the consequences of growing up too quickly. Struggling to survive in a claustrophobic, unforgiving world, they embark on a journey to overcome all the pain, disappointment, and horror of their experiences.
Amalia Graeme, abused by her mother for most of her life, longs to escape her desolate hometown, connect with others, and fall in love. Contemplating an impending loss of innocence and conflicting feelings between her boyfriend and the dangerous attraction she’s developed for an older man, Amalia suffers devastating, life-altering tragedies. No matter where she turns, someone or something always steals her hope of finding happiness, protection, and love.
Brianna Porter, a sassy yet angst-ridden teenager raised in New York City, yearns to determine her life’s true purpose, conquer her fear of abandonment, and interpret an intimidating desire for her best friend, Shanelle. All the confusion stems from desperately needing to find the father whom her mother refuses to reveal, but an unexpected discovery of a journal leads Brianna to a shocking revelation about her missing parent. Unfortunately, by casting the net to find him, she’s unleashed a tragic history that was meant to stay buried and might now completely change everyone’s futures.
Through alternating chapters, set two decades apart, each girl’s plight unfolds revealing the parallels between their lives and the subsequent collision that is bound to happen. In an emotional story filled with mystery, romance, and suspense, fate intervenes forcing someone to make a dreadful decision that will leave permanent scars.
Get your copy of Father Figure now.