Character development is a critical part of creating any story. Today’s guest, Mack Griffin, happens to be an expert on it. Mack’s company, Mack Griffin VO, LLC., is a veteran-based, independently run voice-over and character development business that provides various services to authors and publishing companies. He is also a voice actor and the podcast host of Beyond the Pen. He is a legend of thoroughly fleshed-out characters with background stories. In this episode, he helps Juliet Clark go in-depth and look at the characters of a fiction piece she’s writing from a different angle. You’re in for a fun episode where you get to listen to them brainstorm and dissect different aspects of the characters and see how they come to be. Listen in for more tips on how to build characters with depth.
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Character Development With Mack Griffin
This is going to be a fun episode. Our guest and I are going to do a little character-building in a very unique way. It will be a good one for fiction authors as well as non-fiction to read. Before we get started with his introduction, remember to go over and grab your free subscription to Breakthrough Author Magazine. It has lots of tips, anywhere from writing and clear-up to book promotion. Wherever you are in the process, it should be able to help you. The magazine is a great source of resources for a lot of authors.
Our guest is Mack Griffin. Mack Griffin VO, LLC is a veteran-based, independently run voiceover, and character development business that provides various services to authors and publishing companies. He also works with media and marketing companies nationwide and in the UK with their voiceover services to give life to their clients’ messages and emotionally connect with their target market.
His goal is to create a voiceover for digital marketing plans and audiobooks, a legend of thoroughly fleshed-out characters with background stories, and a worldwide podcast platform to help promote unknown and newly published authors. This is going to be fun. I’ll share a little bit more when we get into the episode.
I have been working on my first fiction novel for several years. I got going on it last January 2022, got a little bit into it, and then spoke to an art expert who questioned the premise of my story. He thought it was very controversial. I’ve been looking for another avenue and I was excited when I met Mack. He validated my original thought and added a lot to the characters that I hadn’t thought about before. It was a whole different angle that was quite interesting. Stay tuned. Mack is next. You’re going to enjoy this.
Mack, welcome to the show.
Thank you for having me.
You’re welcome. This will be a lot of fun. Our phone call was fun. We’re going to develop some characters here. Tell us a bit about how you got started.
I got started by acting, honestly. I grew up in the theater. I started going beyond the stage when I was fourteen and started singing when I was six. I went to school for it, and then it went downhill from there for a while because I went into the military. I wasn’t using the gift. It was one of those things that I didn’t think I needed to use anymore. Back in 2019, I met a group of geeks, nerds, and fun-loving people that enjoyed creating stories and playing Dungeons and Dragons. They needed a dungeon master, so I said, “I’ll do it.” I started creating ever since then. It hasn’t stopped.
That is fantastic. We were on the phone. Julie Lokun introduced us. I was telling Mack that I had started writing what I called Ellie’s Lie. I had the idea for two years. I appreciated Mack’s expertise because two of the people I ran the story by were ex-CIA and NSA. They can’t share, but they can share that they’ve been there. I started to get into the story a little bit and they were both like, “I would read that. The story kept percolating.
I haven’t written a new fiction novel in twelve years. I got into the story. The story is a little bit about Nazi Germany. There is an art that is stolen. I spoke to an art expert on a particular painter. I told him a little bit of background story and he was critical of the premise of the story. He thought it was very controversial. I’m not even sure why I pulled back.
I went to Pennsylvania and was running it by my relatives. They proposed some other storylines, but the other storylines didn’t feel right to me. One of them was that Nazi Germany was against homosexuality. We were thinking about introducing a lesbian aspect of the story, but I felt like I’m not gay, so I couldn’t muster what is real or not real.
I ran it by Mack when he was telling me that he did this development. I was so intrigued by everything he came up with. I’m thinking of resurrecting the book. I want to talk a little bit about it. The book is called Ellie’s Lie. She is a fourteen-year-old young lady who is Jewish. Her family’s Jewish. They have a house. They’ve had artwork that has come through generational wealth. Her parents are taken away. This whole family already had a pre-plan. She had money. She knew whom to contact. They had this plan for their children.
On the other side of this was our character, Klaus. Klaus is a German soldier. You brought some great new depths to him. I can’t even imagine. It’s been chewing on it since. Let’s start with fourteen-year-old Ellie. She is Jewish. They live in the Netherlands. She’s out in the backyard and the Nazis come. They pick up her parents and steal. They loot the house, and she’s in her hiding place. Let’s talk a little bit about what is Ellie like and how does she escape?
When it comes to Ellie, there’s a variety of ways that we could always play it. You could always play it as the innocent or ingénue, learning and understanding the way people perceive Jewish people in general. There’s a variety of different ways that we could run it. We could also look at her intelligence. You said that she came from generational wealth. In my mind, when I hear the word generational wealth, it brings up, to me, good education. There’s got to be a lot of books. If you look at a lot of the records of things that were taken by the Nazis, many of these families that had generational wealth had a ton of books. Plus, reading at that time was entertainment. It wasn’t music. It was books.
I can always see her as someone who, even at age of fourteen, has the understanding of, “We have a lot of books. I’m interested in books.” Let’s look at her parents. Let’s look at the grandparents. I always believe that if you go back at least three generations, you’re going to find everything that you’re doing started with that or even further. I always do three because it makes it a lot easier. Plus, you don’t have to create so many different personalities in your head. It’s like, “Which one do I keep?”
For me, if I see someone who has a lot of books and a lot of wealth, that means that they have some type of employment where they are in charge of people as a manager or they own a company. We’re figuring out the traditions and what their roles were. We’re talking probably around 1910 or 1920-ish from the perspective of the dad starting his career.
He’s a doctor.
That makes it even easier for me. What is mom? What’s her role?
She’s an educated housewife.
Is she involved in the community in some way, shape, or form?
That’s interesting because we don’t talk about mom and dad much in the book. I hadn’t developed that. Up to that point where I talk about them being taken away, it’s interesting that you said that about three generations. The main piece of art that was taken that is so valuable was something that went even further back. That artist was not well-known at that time, but they kept it because it was of a family member. It even goes back a little further on that. I didn’t get much into mom and dad’s character development other than the fact that they’re doctors and they had these artifacts that had come through generations. Some were valuable. Some, they didn’t see as valuable, but they were valuable.
The reason why I always look at the parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents is that we’re looking at nurture versus nature. We’re looking at the external environment and how that character connects and interacts with that. It’s the same thing with Klaus. There’s always something there. If we see that dad is a doctor, he’s part of the community in some way, shape, or form. Do you know what type of doctor you wanted him to be? Was he a surgeon? Was he a general family physician? What are your thoughts on that?
Back then, they pretty much did it all, didn’t they?
No. There were some specialties. The majority of them were your general family physician, but there were those that were surgeons. There were those that were specifically working with handmaids to confirm everything was good with them even though the handmaids pretty much did everything at that time. We say that he’s a general physician. He’s a family doctor. If he’s a family doctor, that means that the community knows of him, at least in a certain region or a certain area. Let me ask you this. In terms of where they were coming from or where they lived at the time, is it a big village? Is it a town or a city? Where did they specifically live at?
It might have been a seaport. I put a seaport in there. I looked at the map. That’s a great question. It’s large, but how big was it then? That’s something to consider.
If it’s a smaller seaport in a small fishing town, then most likely, everybody knew him. He was most likely the only doctor within that town. That gives a little bit more insight into how the community looks at him. You then have to understand and look at the process of how he took payments. There’s a variety of ones that were very open. They were happy to be there to help. All they cared to do was help. They didn’t worry about money. To some people, it was, “I can’t pay you, but I can at least give you food. I can give you this item over here.”
When you’re looking at their collection in their house, are there a lot of trinkets that were from the community themselves as payment? Was it something more of, “I saw this in the store and I liked it. Thankfully, because we had enough money to pay for it, we can go get it,” or was it, “I went in the store. Thankfully, the store owner I’ve been working with and taking care of saw that I liked it, so he gave it to me as a payment?” When you look at the way that people interact and react to certain things within the family, then it makes it a lot easier to understand the psychology and emotions of your characters themselves.When you look at the way that people interact and react to certain things within the family, then it makes it a lot easier to understand the psychology and the emotions of your character themselves. Click To Tweet
For time restraints, we’ll say that he is the only doctor within the community and everybody pays him with money if they can. If they can’t, then he does accept something else, like food or trinkets here and there. That’s why when you look at the house, there are a lot of books. There are a lot of little trinkets here and there. That would give you an insight into why there are so many books. Maybe our protagonist looks at the books a certain way. Maybe they were from friends that she liked, or it was because there was a certain memory attached to them. That’s why certain things hold true to the way that we react if we can’t get to it.
If there’s a family portrait, there is a certain emotion attached to that. When we go later on into this story that we were talking about, that’s why it’s so important. It’s not because it came from her grandparents or her great-grandparents. There is a specific reason why she is so attached to this. Maybe it was her father’s favorite portrait because there was a certain meaning to it at that point. Maybe it was from her mother’s side, not her father’s side.
I’m not an expert on it, but I do know the basics of certain cultures. In the Jewish forum, you had to have a dowry when you got married. It was something that helped to set them up for success or at least give them a good baseline to work with when they got together. Maybe that portrait was a part of the family. Maybe it was part of the dowry itself. There are a lot of little things like that. With the interaction of Ellie with her dad, were they close? Were they not close? Was he more harsh and stern, or was he outgoing, loving, and caring? Would he do anything for people around him, his daughter, or his family in general?
Look at his wife. It was a traditional life at that time. The wife, Ellie’s mother, may probably be the same way. Maybe she helped out her husband when he was doing certain things. Maybe she was a nurse at some point as well. Even a handmaid would’ve gotten married. It was not all the time, but it wasn’t like it wasn’t possible. The majority of them just didn’t get married.
Even if she was a handmaid at one point, maybe that’s the reason why people know them so much and love them. They brought in most of the population within this town. There are a lot of things. When you look at these characters, you have to understand how they are perceived within the family as well as perceived outside of the family. How much of an impact are their lives on the people within the house as well as outside the house? This all has an impact on Ellie and how she reacts to people and how she interacts with people.
Even if she comes from a traditional house, maybe she was told that she can’t talk a lot and she has to listen. Maybe there was a point where she got polio or something to that effect that made her not talk as much, or she was hard of hearing. You have to look at a lot of these little things that were going on during that time and see if you want to have that affect her or not. If it affects her, how does she get over that? How does she make that empowerment instead of a disability?
Even if she was sick at one point, maybe her father was always there making sure she was good. Maybe at some point, she couldn’t talk for a while. Maybe she had laryngitis. During that time, he may have gotten the idea of saying, “I know you can’t talk right now, but maybe this is a good thing because you are such a chatterbox. You love talking to people. Maybe this is the time that you can learn how to listen and grow as a person, a future wife, a sister, and a daughter.”
You can also look at and perceive how people react to certain things around them. Maybe this gives her an insight of, “I can do this. My dad is the world to me. This is something I’d love to do. This is something I need to do.” Maybe she does that a lot. All of a sudden, she’s gotten into the habit of not being a chatterbox so much. She listens a lot more and is able to appreciate other people’s ideas and how they react. She sees all this.
Maybe she has a love for psychology. Maybe she has a love of human behavior. We have a possible trait for her to say she is perceivable of everybody around her. Even though she knows somebody’s lying to her, she wants to see how far this goes. Maybe one of the little things that she has is that she loves to watch people and see them falter until the point where she can go to them saying, “I know you’re lying to me. It’s fine, but I want to know why you’re lying to me. Was it because of fear? Is it maybe you felt that you were embarrassed?” She’s trying to help them from that.
Maybe that’s another thing that you could perceive when it comes to her and her interaction with other children. Maybe she doesn’t interact with them as much because she doesn’t seem to think of them as interesting as adults. She may be considered the interference or the bookworm of this village. Even though she’s well-known, people don’t look at her that way.
In Ellie’s Lie, the lie is not revealed until the end. I feel like that probably doesn’t go to the heart of what we’re trying to do, but a lot of it does. It’s so interesting that you brought up when she escapes and when the Germans come and take mom and dad away. The whole escape was a trap door in the chicken coop. You brought up an interesting thought of being able to say that her father got paid with chickens. She could come out and say, “We have four new chickens. How are we ever going to get in that trap door?” There are ways to say that without saying, “Dad took payment in chickens.” I like that part.
I also can envision when the soldiers are searching the property that she has a hard time being in that space underneath the chicken coop. She’s not able to hear what’s going on outside because the chickens are so loud. They’re disturbed. That adds some to the story. Can you see how fun this is when you’re laying out characters?
Here’s what I loved about Klaus. We talked a little bit about Klaus. Klaus is a German soldier. He does what he’s told. You brought up something that was so intriguing. I always envisioned Klaus as this hard guy. Part of the lie is that he’s brought over being a German soldier as part of Operation Paperclip, which a lot of people don’t know. The CIA brought a lot of German Nazi soldiers into the United States after the war. I’ve got that down that they brought him because he is Russian and he also had some war crimes there that nobody knows about.
You brought in this part of the story where I always envisioned him being hard. You brought in the part that he loved Ellie, so he didn’t want to tell her the truth. He was afraid he would lose her. I never thought of that part of the story. I always thought of him as being hard. He was a spy. Talk a little bit about that because I love that you brought in the lies and the fear. As the book goes along, the premise is that Ellie doesn’t know she’s been lied to. Klaus knows there’s a lie. Their life ends up being a lie, but she doesn’t know that until a big event happens and it’s in her face.
For me, when I look at any type of love interest or due to her being the antagonist, I have to figure out what makes them tick like Ellie makes them act and react a certain way that they do. What is their upbringing? As we’re looking at him as a strong, stern-faced soldier, there is also the aspect of that generation that even if they were stern on the outside, a lot of times, they had at least one little thing that made them soft as the teddy bear in a little child’s hands. There’s always at least something.You have to figure out what makes them upbringing tick. What in their lifespan makes them act and react a certain way that they do? What is their? Click To Tweet
We have to figure out what that little thing is, and then react, “Why is he not like that anymore? What made him so stern? Was it the fact that this thing was taken away from him? Was he turned because somebody told him these people were going to come to take this away from him and that’s why he was so eager to step up as a soldier?”
In this case with Nazis, a lot of times, it was, “We’re trying to create this superhuman generation. We need to get rid of all the inferior races, religions, and thoughts.” We all know that there was a lot of propaganda against the Jews at that time. What was it that turned his thoughts on, “I have to hate these Jews right now. I have to hate them so much because of this?”
I was going to ask you that. You’re a historian of military and war. Did Klaus join them because he had to? Was there an alternative to not joining being a young man in Nazi Germany? Was there a choice?
There wasn’t a choice. it was the reasoning in general. Some of it was because of the labor laws that were going through and the things that were happening nationwide. The main reason why World War II happened in the first place was because of Black Tuesday, which was in 1929. It started the Great Depression. It started in Germany in 1933. The only reason why it did was that France called in all their I-owe-yous and Germany owed them a lot of money.
A lot of the funds that were supposed to go to the people and go to the industries within Germany were no longer getting that money. All that money was going back to France to pay for the debts. That’s one of the major reasons why Germany went directly after France. They were the reason why this all started. The Jews were simply an excuse to clear out the way per se.
They were the scapegoats of their time.
That’s all they were. They had nothing to do with the war. They had nothing to do with anything in regard to the Nazi party. Personally, in regards to Adolf Hitler, when he was younger, he was told he could never be an artist. Unfortunately, the person who told him that was Jewish. He held that grudge. To him, that was it. That was the reason why. He was like, “All these Jews were taking all the money.” You could see it because they worked in France. They were in all these high towers. He was like, “That’s the reason why we’re struggling so much.”
In regards to Klaus, it could have been something that had happened to his father or his mother. They could have had some good jobs, but then, all of a sudden, they lost everything. It could be anything from revenge to survivability to, “The government is calling you to be a part of this. You’re going to do it.” Those are the only reasons why people would do that. It’s the hatred or the fear. Those are the only two major reasons why.
Volunteering was pretty much being voluntold. You were voluntold by your family. If you felt like you were being stepped on because of somebody else because they were better with math, schooling, or whatever the case may be, you want to get rid of them. You can become that part and get the opportunities that you were supposed to have. There are all kinds of little things that you could put with that.
You can see that working with Mack could bring out the possibilities in your story. I didn’t even pay him. He volunteered to give me some information. I thought, “This transformed where it was going.” The brilliant part of this is when Kris Johnson, our book developer, gets fiction novels, that is her number one complaint. She’s like, “These characters haven’t been developed.” Instead of writing that show versus tell, they become talking heads.
I was talking about the chickens where you can emphasize that they have too many chickens from the conversation. Maybe the doctor walks in the door with two chickens under his arms and his wife says, “More chickens? How many chicken dinners can we have?” You can see how powerful it can be working with someone like Mack on a fiction novel and getting that development. I can see you with your own little Ancestry family tree writing all of this out and creating documents. Have you ever used Ancestry where you can go back and see the graves, newspaper articles, or stuff like that?
Where can we find you if we want to work with you or talk to you a little bit more about character development?
The first place you can always go see me is my website, MackGriffinVO.com. If you want to read some of the samples of my work, you can put /CharacterDevelopment. At the bottom, I have three samples of the way that I look at things. The First one is for a character and her family bloodline. The second one is for a fictional event that I created for one of my stories that has an impact on the character. The last one I have is a little bit of fantasy lore that I created for my friends a long time ago. I still look at it as inspiration to set the tone for a prologue for your stories. It has all my links and everything else. All my social media links are on there as well.
You can also listen to me on Beyond the Pen podcast. Me and my friend, Marccella, my sister from another mister, interview unknown and newly published authors to tell us about themselves, the books, but most importantly, the story behind the story. It’s that little area between the ink and the paper. It’s that whole little area right there of intent. You can hear us every Tuesday at 5:00 AM Eastern Standard Time on your favorite podcasting platform.
We are on over 45-plus platforms. We are always wanting to be able to help and support as many authors as possible to get their names out there. If you go to my Instagram, which is @BeyondThePenPodcast, you will notice that I have a couple of videos that I’ve done that deal with characters and how to look at them from an actor’s point of view instead of a writing point of view. I’ve talked about everything about what a foil/contrast does, examples, as well as why it’s so important to have that. It’s the same thing with a love interest.
I have some other things that I’ve done on there. I’ve even created a couple of examples of characters randomly. When I create characters, I roll dice to answer every little question that I have. That’s a great way of improv-ing and challenging your own writing. You ask certain questions about whatever you’re writing and roll the dice. Even if it doesn’t go the way that you would like it to, see how you can make it work and where it leads you. That’s pretty much everything that I do.
That’s fantastic. Thank you so much for being on the show. It was a pleasure spiffing Ellie’s destination here.
Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
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About Mack Griffin
MY MISSION Mack Griffin VO, LLC. is a veteran-based, independently run voice-over and character development business that provides various services to authors and publishing companies. We also work with media and marketing companies nationwide and in the UK with voice-over services to give life to their client’s messages and emotionally connect with their target market. My goal is to create a voice-over for digital marketing plans and audiobooks, a legend of thoroughly fleshed-out characters with background stories, and a worldwide podcast platform to help promote unknown and newly published authors.
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