Saturday, November 15, 2014

Conference Report: Talk on Character Development by Elsa Winckler

Author Elsa Winckler presented a talk on Karakterontwikkeling in Afrikaans at ROSACon2014. Thanks to Anthony Ehlers for this article on Elsa's talk.

Finding Characters Ripe for a Romantic Journey – with Elsa Winckler

Characters are the central medium to tell a story. This is the belief of Elsa Winckler.

A romance author in both English and Afrikaans, Elsa often finds inspiration for her characters in newspaper or magazine articles. She believes you can’t separate plot from characters when you have the central idea for a story.

Ask questions

For example, for her latest Afrikaans title, Van altyd af, her heroine was drawn from a real-life story about a horse whisperer.

 This raised the questions: What kind of character would communicate with animals? Maybe she would be ostracised because of this gift. Maybe she would be guided by her emotions, ruled by intuition.

How could an author use this to create conflict? Maybe the hero’s mother was killed by a horse. When she meets the hero and is attracted to him, she can’t trust her emotions and is bewildered by her attraction to him.

Internal and external conflict

These were the genesis of her engaging, steamy novel. From this, she makes sure that the character’s external conflict forces them to face their internal conflict. The hero whose mother was killed by a horse has unresolved issues with opposite sex – having to deal with a pretty horse whisperer makes him confront his inner demons.

This creates tension between your hero and heroine. How the character faces their external conflicts helps them resolve the internal conflict.

Another important piece of advice when creating characters is to ask yourself: How did they get to that place in their lives before the story starts that makes them ripe for this journey into love? In the first few pages of the story, the readers must get an idea of just how ready they are for this journey.


Here are some of her tips for getting to grips with characterisation.

Star Signs. These are a great resource for getting to the dominant traits of a character.

Environment. A character will have different views and morals if they come from a city or the country.

Find the unique characteristic. Find the one telling detail that sets them apart from other cliched characters.

Decide on a type. Use the four Greek archetypes (melancholic, choleric, sanguine, or phlegmatic) to decide a character type. The Briggs-Meyer template of 16 personalities is another resource.

Social background. A character who grew up in a orphanage will have a different set of language, needs, etc., than someone from a comfortable middle class family.

Pin It. Elsa uses Pinterest to put together wardrobes, accessories and other elements of her characters. It creates a mood through colour.

Music. Music is another element to use – either to inspire you while your write, or to tease out in the narrative.

Food. Eating and drinking is one of our most primal needs. Find a way to bring it in in a way that illuminates the character.

Dislikes. Maybe your character doesn’t like dogs, or doesn’t eat chillis. These quirks makes them more authentic.

Show contrast. Don’t make characters one-dimensional. Maybe the sarcastic hero is a secret sentimentalist. The strong heroine is afraid of the dark.

Limit secondary characters. Don’t bring in too many subplots or characters, and if you do give them an interesting story of their own to follow.

Find out more about this engaging author on

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