Thursday, April 02, 2009

Thursday Talk-Time - Where Do Your Characters Live?

Welcome to Thursday Talk-Time with Karen Sandler - and a post on how she decides where her characters live...

First, full disclosure—I am the polar opposite of a pantser. As a former software engineer, I plan out my books to the nth degree before I ever sit down to write page one. I complete a detailed synopsis and fill a file with copious notes before starting chapter one.But even before creation of the synopsis comes my favorite part of the process—extensive character sketches. I like to know everything about my hero and heroine from where they went to school to what their favorite color is, from who their parents were to key turning points in their lives.

Most of the character sketch deals with the hero/heroine’s pasts, what made them who they are today. But there’s one important element that pertains to the here and now—where my hero and heroine currently live. Since much of the plot often revolves around their home and home town, I need as concrete as possible an image of what that happy (or not so happy) home looks like.

Once I’ve chosen the locale for my hero/heroine’s abode and decide if I want their residence to be an opulent estate or a one bedroom apartment, I then turn to a handy Internet resource—real estate websites. Sites such as and allow me to search their database of listings by location, price, number of bedrooms, acreage, etc. Most of the listings have at least one photo of the home for sale, some have multiple pictures, interior and exterior. Some even include video “tours,” animated views of the home in question.

For instance, in my March 2008 book, HIS MIRACLE BABY, the hero is a wealthy man who lives on a large estate in Granite Bay, CA. The estate had to include a guest house where the heroine would be living while she acted as surrogate for his implanted embryo. On the webpage, I searched for homes with 5+ bedrooms with a price above $2 million (hey, I said he was rich). I found a lovely farm style house on four acres with a small “granny flat” on the property.

I copied the photos from the listing and pasted them into a Word document for later reference. Then, when I needed to describe the grounds or the living room, I had the pictures at my fingertips. I also printed the original listing with all the details about the home, further ammunition for my descriptive passages.

Once I have a specific address, I can use a mapping program such as Mapquest to calculate driving distances to various locations mentioned in the story. For instance, when the heroine feels sharp pains halfway through her pregnancy and fears she may be going into labor far too early, I want to know the hospital is only ten miles away, but a twenty minute drive from the hero’s home. In my May 2008 book, HER MIRACLE MAN, it’s an important factor in the story that the hero’s isolated mountain retreat is at least an hour away from the sheriff’s station in Lake Tahoe, a route he’s loathe to drive with a storm raging outside.I’m not a slave to reality when I choose a home for my hero or heroine. I adapt the actual house to what works best for the story. If I need a small room upstairs to serve as the nursery, I put it there in my fictional home. But the information gleaned from the real estate websites gives me a framework with which to start and some good visual images to act as a launch pad for my creativity.

When Jana McPartand is deserted by the no good boyfriend who got her pregnant there's only one person she can think to turn to--her long-time crush Sam Harrison. Sam's known Jana since she was a kid and feels responsible for her, so he's glad to give her a hand. What neither one bargains for is the powerful attraction between them, despite Jana's expectant state. Can Sam remain free of entanglements when he wants nothing more than Jana in his bed and in his life?

Fostering Family: Love. Home. Family. They're what life's all about...THEIR SECOND-CHANCE CHILD, Silhouette Special Edition, February 2009

THE FAMILY HE WANTED, Silhouette Special Edition, April 2009

1 comment:

  1. Karen, this was a fascinating post as I'm a pantser who wishes she had more plotter in her... Will definitely be using your real estate websites, as I love browsing luxury homes...

    Found a fantastic pad in Laguna Beach with an infinity pool and its own private beach for the movie star hero in my latest book that way!