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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

3 Characterization Tips I learned From Capt. Jack Sparrow

Please welcome guest blogger Mina Khan

First, I’m honored to be on the FFnP blog. I have spent many days & nights reading and learning from posts here. I hope my post gives back to readers at least a part of what I have gained.

When I think Pirates of the Caribbean, I think of Captain Jack Sparrow. While there are many twists and turns, snappy dialogue, and adventures in the movies, I would say what people remember are the characters, especially that of Sparrow. Actor Johnny Depp makes the character come to life and be almost more real than our next door neighbor, and as writers we must do the same for our protagonists.

Now Rukh, the hero of The Djinn’s Dilemma (my recent Harlequin release), is a genie assassin who can melt into shadows, fly through the ethereal plane, read his targets’ minds, and control the air. How do you make someone like that real?

After much head banging (my fellow FFnP authors I’m sure are nodding in sympathy), I went back to Jack Sparrow for inspiration (why yes, it involved popcorn) and he reinforced the following tips:

1. Don’t make your character a Mary Sue or average. While Rukh as described above makes for a very manly Mary Sue…he would still be overly-perfect if I left him at that. Readers would sneer at him rather than love him.

On the other end of the spectrum, you don’t want to make your character well-polished, but average. Imagine a morning commute in the metro in Washington D.C. packed with pleasant looking, professionally-dressed workers. Which Average Joe will you remember? The one that stands out. Your character should be unforgettable, exciting and unpredictable. Yeah, Captain Jack Sparrow is definitely all that plus more.

So here’s a description of Rukh from the POV of my heroine, Sarah:

Just a hint of his tattoos, a few blue-black tendrils, peeked from the collar of his periwinkle blue shirt. The darker gray silk tie, neatly knotted at his tawny throat, was the straw that broke her. The mix of cool refinement and dangerous wildness left Sarah’s heart beating in her throat, turned her knees weak. She grasped the counter edge for support.

And I gave him a sense of humor & surprising dialogue (Sparrow is a master of saying & doing the unexpected):

She(Sarah) jotted down the order, then forced herself to meet his gaze. “It’s going to be a bit of a wait, we’re short-staffed this morning.” The next words rushed out of her. “And breakfast’s on me.”

“Normally I wouldn’t protest,” he said, leaning closer. “But in public, I’d prefer a plate.”

An image of Rukh, hair untied, licking whipped cream off her navel flashed through her mind, left her staring.

2. Every authentic character –hero, heroine, villain etc. – must believe in something and live by a personal moral code. Sparrow is a pirate and embodies much of the ambiguity the term carries, yet he has a moral compass. That’s what leads him to rescue Elizabeth Swann in The Curse of the Black Pearl, and return to rescue his crew in Dead Man’s Chest, among other things.

Rukh sees himself as taking care of the world’s trash, i.e. taking out the bad guys. The problem is his latest target, Sarah, isn’t bad. That’s what makes Rukh an honorable assassin, that’s what leads him to find out more and more about his unsettling target (Sarah, the heroine) until he ends up falling for her.

3. A hero should be heroic –be courageous even when he’s afraid, do the right thing even if it hurts, and be loyal to his friends or the heroine as the case maybe. At times, Sparrow comes across as selfish or even downright cowardly…yet he always redeems himself. In At World’s End, Sparrow wants Davy Jones’ heart & immortality, but in the end he saves Will instead and gives him the infamous immortality.

In THE DJINN’S DILEMMA, at one point Rukh puts Sarah’s needs ahead of his own and makes a choice that hurts him, makes him lose the very person he wants the most. The man made me cry while I wrote that scene, and then again during edits. A character doesn’t get more real than that.

I’ll be popping in throughout the day and looking forward to questions, comments, and bonding over Johnny Depp!


Mina Khan is a Texas-based writer and food enthusiast. She daydreams of hunky paranormal heroes, magic, mayhem and mischief and writes them down as stories. Between stories, she teaches culinary classes and writes for her local newspaper. Other than that, she's raising a family of two children, two cats, two dogs and a husband.

She grew up in Bangladesh on stories of djinns, ghosts and monsters. These childhood fancies now color her fiction.

You can find her at:

The Djinn’s Dilemma

Rukh O'Shay, half-djinn and assassin, is used to taking out the bad guys. But his latest assignment, Texas Journalist Sarah White, is nothing like he expected. A glimpse of her bright aura reveals her gentle spirit, while her beauty makes him long for only one thing—to taste her.

Sarah shares the raw desire to connect with Rukh. He can turn her on with a glance, and satisfies needs she didn't even know she had.

But Rukh had been hired to kill her—and the only way to save her is to find out who wants her dead before someone else finishes the job….


Cindy A Christiansen said...

Excellent blog. Very helpful and who doesn't love Capt. Jack Sparrow? Great example.

I've noticed that same thing with some of my characters. In a way, I feel like I'm going a little over the top with the character, but those characters are the ones that readers like and remember.

Thanks for pointing it out so well and sharing!

Victoria Dixon said...

OMG, I love the plate line! This goes along with something I've noticed for some time: readers love characters who are either heroic, intelligent or funny. Preferably a combination of any of the above. However, your sample of Jack is right on target and very helpful as a precise example. Thanks!

Mina Khan said...

Thanks for visiting Cindy! So glad you enjoyed the post. :)

I think as writers sometimes we tend to be too careful of the words and underwrite, instead of giving in to our imagination and let it all spill onto the page.

Happy Writing!

Mina Khan said...

So good to see you here Victoria! Glad my post was helpful :)

Joya said...

Fun stuff! Love your character's comment about normally needing a plate. Too cute. I think a sense of humor is essential in a hero, no matter the circumstances. Great post. :)

LRHunter said...

Wow. It isn't just the hero that makes the hero memorable--the heroine does her part, too!

Look at her reaction to him. Me, I'd be rolling my eyes at this over-the-top and slightly off-putting man, and looking for a banker or schoolteacher to date. But because of the heroine's reaction to him, I can set aside my own sensible, prim, ideas and just flow along with her. Is that the essence of good storytelling? Not just to make up a story, but to give the reader they key to it all?

Sounds wonderful! (And I wish I could see auras--it would save so much time and trouble.:))

RedPeril said...

Excellent choice of character for dissection! ^_^

Distinction is best remembered when it has reinforcement. Jack Sparrow isn't just unique in appearance and speech patters...his entire demeanor is off-beat enough to make him stick firmly in the minds of all who encounter him.

I love that your Jinn is more of an endearing anti-hero with potential than a total goodie-two-shoes. I think that leaves a lot more room for intriguing character growth. ^_^

~Angela Blount

Mina Khan said...

Thanks for visiting y'all!

@LRHunter: You're right...the heroine plays a very important part. To paraphrase: No character is an island :)

@RedPeril: Jack Sparrow is totally unpredictable and still in character :D

L. j. Charles said...

Great post, Rashda/Mina. I learned a lot, so grateful I have such a smart CP.

Lucie j.

Runere McLain said...

Congrats again on THE DJINN'S DILEMMA, Mina. Love seeing you here as well.

Great post, with fantastic advice when constructing characters in a story. It's difficult to meet that balance between believable, and that something that sets them apart. But you've done it so very well!


Mina Khan said...

Thanks for your kind words :)

warriorranch said...

Great reminder! The character of Jack Sparrow and the way you described him is the reason I keep watching the movies. Without Jack... well, need I say more.
I was afraid in Shades of the Orient to give my hero a sense of humor. One day I attempted it... showed it to a trusted friend and... they loved it. I'm learning to be more brave all the time.
Thanks for the encouraging reminder!

Hildie McQueen said...

I am so glad I read this post! Excellent job breaking down the characterization and also you have peaked my interest about your book.

Mina Khan said...

Thanks for visiting, y'all!

Pages of Romance said...

Capt. Jack is a perfect example of how off beat a character can be and still on some levels be attractive and heroic. He is by far the most memorable of all the characters. Great advise!

Teresa Reasor said...

I'm so sorry to be so late reading this. I enjoyed it immensely. And it is so true.
Teresa R.

Anonymous said...

I liked your analysis of Jack Sparrow and especially Rukh's comment about the plate and the heroine's emotional response. You have a great sense of humor. Wish I could come up with funny stuff like that.
Carolyn Williamson
P.S. I finally finished and submitted the book I wrote for Donald Maass's class - now crossing fingers

Hilywatson said...

That true as Cap. Jack Sparrow also make me learn lot one main thing is even if you are fully drunk than also you have your mind in full conciousness that you have guts and ability to fight with any situation and also win over it.

Anyway thanks a lot for this.