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Monday, September 26, 2016

Creating the Masks...and Taking Them Off

By Courtney Pierce

Whether verb, noun, metaphor, or backstory, writers love masks. When our characters wear them, either literally or figuratively, they create interesting layers that peel back to reveal their inner dimensions. Hidden agendas steel under the cloaks of our antagonists. Trauma damage prickles beneath the skin of our heroines. What lurks behind their expressions and nervous ticks drives tension and suspense, and even humor.

In my current trilogy series about the middle-age Dushane sisters, my protagonist is a romance writer. After thirty-two years of marriage, she suffered the loss of her husband from a hit-and-run accident. Olivia Novak smiles in public, shakes hands, and greets readers like a pro, but then obsessively hunts down white Suburbans to find the culprit. She hounds the police to report the description of every vehicle she finds and records the license number. She cleans like fiend and talks to her cat to ease the shrapnel of her loss and loneliness. Her two sisters, Lauren and Danny, have Olivia's number, the only ones allowed a peek behind her mask.

Digging below the surface of our characters is a hoot for both writers and readers. The page fills with secret information that drives us to write more, want more. That’s why I love trilogies. I can burrow into my characters’ motivations, wishes, and wants. I can’t go that deep in a mere three hundred pages.

By the third book (I’m finishing Indigo Legacy now), I get to sit back like a therapist with pad of paper in hand. I talk to the sisters, ask questions, and take notes for their file. And darned if they don’t spill their secrets to me as I write. I raise an eyebrow in surprise as they blurt out the ridiculous. I scowl when they teeter over the line of morality. These complex characters come alive, like real people I know.


I peer over my glasses. “Why did you say that to Lauren in that way, Olivia?”

“I don’t know. I just did,” she says to me and sniffs.

“Double-down on that, Olivia. You didn’t want your sister to know how insecure you feel, but you need to have all the answers.”

Olivia pulls her gaze from mine in a moment of silence. “Maybe. But Lauren needs to stand on her own two feet. I’ve been alone for five years.” She glances back at me, her expression defiant. “I don’t have a man at my side taking care of me. Everything I do, I have to do for myself.”

“Your sister’s alone too,” I say.

Olivia stares at her lap and twists the wedding band she still wears. “I know.”

“You should apologize.”

“I will. But not yet.”

And so it goes . . .

Gestures and glances. Fiddling with jewelry with whispered responses. Heart food for writers when we write these scenes, like a shot of CoQ-10. I live to bore under my characters’ skins, because I’m boring into mine. Masks are removed with these small moments that deserve a whole paragraph.

Relationships have masks too. Characters might keep the peace on the surface while churning with self-doubt or fear. Fear of being alone, of dying alone, and reaching beyond their comfort limits to make sure that doesn’t happen. Past hurts toxify their ability to be trustful and open, preventing them from risking rejection. They shrink back at a seemingly benign comment, triggering an ingrained reaction like Pavlov’s dog. Readers understand and empathize, and root for my heroine to conquer her demons.

These are the little things that make characters interesting and relatable. They keep readers turning the page. And I, as their creator, feel triumphant when I get my characters over the hump to unmask who they really are.


Courtney Pierce is a fiction writer living in Milwaukie, Oregon. She writes for baby boomers. By day, Courtney is an executive in the entertainment industry and uses her time in a theater seat to create stories that are filled with heart, humor and mystery. She has studied craft and storytelling at the Attic Institute and has completed the Hawthorne Fellows Program for writing and publishing. Active in the writing community, she is a board member of the Northwest Independent Writers Association and on the Advisory Council of the Independent Publishing Resource Center. She is a member of Willamette Writers, Pacific Northwest Writers Association, She Writes, and Sisters in Crime. The Executrix received the Library Journal Self-E recommendation seal. 

Check out all of Courtney's books at:
courtney-pierce.com and windtreepress.com. Both print and E-books are available through most major online retailers, including Amazon.com


The Dushane Sisters are back in Indigo LakeMore laughs, more tears...and more trouble. Protecting Mom's reputation might get the sisters killed―or give one of them the story she's been dying to live.

New York Times best-selling author Karen Karbo says, "Courtney Pierce spins a madcap tale of family grudges, sisterly love, unexpected romance, mysterious mobsters and dog love. Reading Indigo Lake is like drinking champagne with a chaser of Mountain Dew. Pure Delight."

Colorful characters come alive in Courtney's trilogy about the Dushane sisters. Beginning with The Executrixthree middle-age sisters find a manuscript for a murder mystery in their mother's safe after her death. Mom’s book gives them a whole new view of their mother and their future. Is it fiction . . . or truth? 

Get out the popcorn as the Dushane Sisters Trilogy comes to a scrumptious conclusion with Indigo Legacy. Due out in early 2017.

2 comments:

Judith Ashley said...

Love it when characters surprise the writer with words or deeds. Loved The Executrix. I've Indigo Lake on my TBR list.

Maggie Lynch said...

I love your books, Courtney, and I also love it when characters surprise me as a writer or as a reader. I truly believe that our characters are reflections of parts of ourselves that often-times we haven't fully explored. That is the power of the subconscious to work its way into our fiction. It is also why I, as a reader, love stories that are character-driven first and plot-driven second. Those stories always ring more true to me. I believe that a character would act a certain way or do a certain thing because it is congruent with the way the author set up that character's backstory and personality.

Keep writing. I'm always waiting to get the next book.