Hi there! My name is Ella J. Smyth and I write Urban Fantasy romance. Today I’d like to talk about how I create my characters.
How do you come up with your characters?
When I begin to work on a new concept for a book or a series, the first thing I do is create a Pinterest board. I generally have a rough idea about the characters and what they should look like. My first question is always, “If somebody made a movie out of my book, who would they cast in the lead roles?”
I knew right from the start that my male protagonist Honiahaka Clearsight Fisher would have to be played by Native American model Martin Sensmeier. Honi is gorgeous with black eyes and hair, calm, rational, in control. Well, until he meets Adi (no spoilers!).
His female counterpart Adi Gutseel needed to be a bit of an ugly duckling. A girl that might look plain compared to the made-up, coiffed beauties we see on TV daily. Yet Adi is incredibly gorgeous in her own right. She is smart, brave, ornery, and Honi falls for her very quickly.
One night while watching House of Cards, I saw my perfect Adi. When I googled Kate Mara, I found photos of her without makeup in a ratty old hoodie. She was Adi, through and through.
Why is it so important to have images of my protagonists? I’m a very visual person. I write with photos of my casting choices open in my document. That way I can refer back to them, making sure I don’t change eye color from one chapter to the next, for example.
Sometimes when I don’t know which way to take the plot, I stare into Kate Mara’s eyes and imagine what Adi would say. It sounds weird, but somehow, giving my brain some concrete image to latch on to, really helps with exploring my characters and getting to know them better.
At the end of the first book, Adi and Honi were like best friends to me. I knew them. I knew their backstory. I knew their wishes and dreams and fears and struggles. That’s the point you need to get to as a writer. Once your characters are more real to you than some of your actual friends, you know you’ll write a good story.
Over to you: which fictional characters feel absolutely real to you? Who would you like to meet in real life if that were possible?
Growing up in Germany, Ella always had a passion for myths and fairytales. No surprise then that she married an Irishman and lived 6 years in Ireland, the country of Leipreachán, Sidhe, Púca and other fascinating creatures. There's nothing like walking at night through a deserted laneway, fog swirling around your feet, knowing that maybe, just maybe, on the other side of the hedge, there might be some old lady in a black cloak waiting for you...
If you got the shivers right now, you know why Ella feels compelled to write stories around the supernatural and paranormal. There's nothing like a delicious shudder making you enjoy life just a little more... Plus she’s a romantic.
So look forward to modern romantic stories set against the background of ancient myths and legends. Ella hopes you enjoy reading them as much as she enjoys writing them!
Find Ella and her books
Spirit Walker #3
Adi and Honi journey to Southern Oklahoma to meet Honi's Mekui'te tribe at the reservation where he grew up. Honi's infectious excitement almost erases Adi's apprehension at meeting his family, and she's desperate to make a good impression.Excerpt:
When Adi is met with silent hostility that gets worse rather than better, she realizes there may be more to the initial resistance Honi had warned her to expect.
Honi is confused and hurt by his family's reaction, and by Adi's increasingly strange behavior. She's claiming the spirit animals of his tribe are diseased and sickly, but they look just fine to him. On top of that, when Adi meets Honi's ex, Nina, her jealousy gets way out of hand, and threatens to drive them apart.
While mysterious forces manipulate and distort their realities, can Honi and Adi join forces to figure out what is happening before it's too late and they are separated forever?
Find out in the third full-length novel in the Spirit Walker series!
The wind picked up, carrying with it the smell of late fall, of damp vegetation and sour apples. It played with Adi’s hair, although she barely noticed the cold breeze. Too many eyes were staring at her. Adi’s skin itched with the attention. She wasn’t usually this shy, but the weight of all the glares made her afraid to lift her head.
“Come on, Adi, they won’t bite. Let me introduce you. They’re my family—they’ll love you.”
As much as I do. Adi understood Honi’s unspoken words.
How many people were there? Forty? Fifty? Had the entire Mekui’te tribe come out to greet them? Adi shivered. The smell of early snow made her nose twitch. It brought bad memories of a woman with white eyes, forcing her to make a choice between Honi’s life and a lifelong thrall.
She shuddered when an ice-cold gust blew across the open space where Honi had parked their rental. He had called ahead, laughing and joking with his old friend and mentor, John. The shaman of the Mekui’te tribe had expected them hours earlier, but they’d gotten held up at the airport. Their luggage had gone missing for a few hours, plus the rental car hadn’t been ready yet.
When they’d finally driven the five hours from the airport to the reservation, they had to take turns because both of them had been exhausted after the long trip from Germany back to the U.S. The closer they’d gotten to their destination, the more Honi’d woken up. His excitement to see his family again after more than a year had been so infectious that Adi’d swallowed down her apprehension.
Until now. She kept a smile on her face, trying to appear relaxed and at ease. Inside, she was anything but. There was something disconcerting standing in front of such a large group of people, most of who looked at her with suspicion.
Was it because she was a stranger? Had John told the community she was a spirit walker? She couldn’t imagine he had. So why the hostility that wafted from the silent group like an invisible cloud?
Honi was talking to a tall man with a black Stetson pulled deep into his craggy face. His eyes were warm as he hugged Honi to him. Adi remembered meeting him in the hospital when she’d sat next to Honi’s bed, waiting for him to wake up from a coma. His name was Jim Fisher, and he was Honi’s father.
She watched him for a moment as the two men chatted excitedly. He looked just like Honi would when he got older. Still tall and lean, only the lines around his eyes betrayed his age. Her boyfriend turned towards her and waved her over. She kept her eyes on Jim Fisher’s face as she approached, smiling politely.
His expression changed from one second to the next. Gone was the warmth, the humor. Instead, he crossed his arms and spread his legs, anchoring himself. Adi had already stuck out her hand, ready to shake his. Confused, she pulled it back. She looked at Honi, who seemed equally baffled.
After an awkward silence, Adi spoke, still keeping a timid smile on her face. “Mr. Fisher? Do you remember me? We met at—”
“I know who you are.” The words were harsh, underlined by his angry expression.
“You are the woman responsible for Honi giving up his entire future. For you, he dropped university, and followed you to Germany. And now you have the nerve to come here, with him, asking for my blessing? You, an outsider to this community?”
He stared at her, his dark eyes blazing with fury. Adi swallowed hard. She hadn’t been sure how she would be greeted. She’d been nervous about meeting Honi’s family, but had not expected this level of hostility towards her.
Her eyeballs grew hot, and tears welled up. Driving all the way to the reservation had taken forever. During the entire journey, Honi had told her stories about his family. About his relationship with John and many of the elders. He’d made her laugh so many times with funny stories about how lovable and unique the tribe’s people were. Adi had expected that they might be slow to accept her. But she’d been unprepared to be shut out like this from the very first moment she met Honi's family.
Adi's hands balled into fists. She fought back tears of exhaustion and humiliation. Then she blinked her eyes open again, fiercely determined to not show any weakness. A familiar emotion welled up. How dared they treat her like this? They didn't even know her. They had no idea what Honi and Adi had been through. It was a miracle that they made it out the other side alive and well. Adi had sacrificed the rest of her life in servitude to the faerie queen, with the understanding that Honi could never find out.
“Honi,” she whispered. When he didn't turn around and continued staring at his father, she repeated louder, “Honi!”
He whirled around. His obvious confusion and sadness calmed her down a little bit and softened her next words.
"I'm really tired. Can we please postpone all this until tomorrow? I don't want to stand here in the freezing wind and argue with these people."
She waved her hand dismissively at Honi's tribe—not the nicest choice of words, but she was pissed at her treatment. Honi's eyebrows drew together as the only outward sign of irritation with the way she’d just shrugged off his entire family. He took her arm and without saying another word to his father, he led her back to the car.
The plan had been to stay with his parents, but instead, Honi drove to the only motel within ten miles of the reservation. After he’d checked them in, he silently carried their suitcases into the double room. Adi was glad he’d done so without asking, because the tiredness was now so enveloping that she could barely keep her head up.
It wasn't a five-star luxury hotel, but the linens were reasonably clean, and the room smelled only a little. Adi sat down at the edge of the bed, too numb and exhausted even to cry. Honi sat next to her and put his arm around her shoulders. He looked as upset as she felt.
"I'm so sorry. I don't know why he acted the way he did.” He pulled her in tighter, and Adi put her head on his shoulder. “Let's get a good night’s sleep, and tomorrow we’ll go back and start over."