Posted in Characterization, Characterization

REAL Characters

In a previous article I wrote about creating characters for your story. I mentioned in that article that your characters must be as unique as possible. I also illustrated two lists of characteristics a writer can use to create characters. I am going to list them again here as a reference for you. There is a good reason, I promise.

  • Eye color
  • Hair color
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Ethnic heritage
  • Age
  • Birth date
  • Religious beliefs
  • Hobbies
  • Favorite color
  • Physical description
  • Political beliefs
  • Favorite music
  • Style of dress
  • Educational background
  • Description of home
  • Contents of wallet (this can say a lot about a person)
  • Habits

Digging Deeper

  • Strong character trait
  • Weak character trait
  • Best childhood memory
  • Worst childhood memory
  • One line summary of their personality
  • What triggers certain moods
  • What is their ambition
  • Sense of humor
  • What is his/her greatest hope
  • Character’s paradox
  • Character flaw
  • How does he/she see himself or herself
  • Philosophy of life

My goal in this article is to discuss HOW to use these traits to make your characters memorable and standout; to make them real. First, it’s one thing to describe in a story what a character’s traits are. It’s quite another to put this description to action. See examples below.

eg. 1. John had brown hair and blue eyes.
eg. 2. John swept his fingers through his brown, sweaty hair. He had been running the better part of an hour. His breathing labored, so he bent forward, leaning his hands on his knees. He blinked his blue eyes as sweat seeped into them. No matter though. The runners high is what he strove for, and he accomplished that.

As you can understand, example 2 gives a clearer picture of John. It makes him stand out as a human because we “see” him, and we come to know that he enjoys the sport of running. We readers can identify with him and how he’s feeling. Here is another quick example. Say your main character has a habit of cracking his/her knuckles. Don’t just mention in the story that they do this. Use this habit in an action. Maybe he/she cracks their knuckles when their nervous, or maybe it helps them think more clearly. Hey, you never know.

Another way we can use character traits to make characters real is to make one of those traits part of the story itself. Take religious beliefs for example. Maybe your story is about two people who are at odds with each other because of their religious beliefs. In the end they make it work somehow. Or, your main character may have a unique sense of humor. Work this into the plot. Use it to distract the antagonist at some point. Again, you never know.

Lastly, I’d like to hit on character flaw. THIS is a trait that every protagonist (and antagonist) must have. It’s what moves your main character forward and helps with their inner growth. I’m referring to the character arch here. The protagonist could have a character flaw such as being severely stubborn, to the point that their stubborness gets in the way of them accomplishing their goals. Yes, your MC will learn how to overcome this by the end of the story (that topic is for another blog post). BUT, it also makes them more real, allowing he/she to stand out.

In closing, how well we depict our characters in our stories depends on how we use their information to their advantage. Rich, well “seen” story people will give your reader a reason to come back to the story and want more. So, let’s give them something they will never forget.

Posted in Fiction

Character Names

What’s in a name? When we name our kids, we want to make sure we give him or her the right name. We want it to mean something. We want it to sound right. Maybe the child will be named after someone we admire? The process can be very simple or it can be long and tedious. The same can be said for story characters. I believe this is especially true for story characters.

In my novel The Triunix of Time my main character started out with the name Amanda. The antagonist started out with the name Dominick. Yes, I still laugh at that. At the time I named my main character I didn’t have a clear focus on where exactly my story line was going. I had an idea, but it wasn’t solid. Amanda was the only name that popped in my head at the time. It seemed like a nice name, so I chose it. Then, I realized I didn’t know how to take my story and carry it through to the end. I didn’t have a road map, and, because I didn’t have a road map, I didn’t have a clear focus about what my main character’s name should be. Yes, the two should go together, but in a way that blends. You don’t want to create a stereotype, so stay away from the name Biff for a tough guy. There are better names to give him that aren’t so obvious.

Since I needed to learn about story structure, I put my manuscript down for a while and did some research. In my research, I discovered the three act structure. I won’t go into the particulars on this. That’s for another post entirely. I delved into this structure and learned everything about it. I focused on what types of information and scenes are placed into each act. Once I learned this, I had a road map for my story. THEN, I picked it back up, I wrote my ideas into a journal. I brainstormed and visualized, and right in the middle of it all I also realized my main character’s name had to change.

I deleted the name Amanda and went on Google. BUT, I didn’t just look at names to look at names. What I did was look at names and their meanings. I wanted to choose a name that meshed with my main character’s goal and who she was as a person. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without knowing what the story was going to be. I needed to have that first. As it turned out, I did something VERY unique with her name. I’d tell you but that would give away part of the story.

My antagonist I worked much the same way. I needed to know what his motivations were. He was a bad guy but that’s all I knew. At first I gave him the name of Dominick. Here again, this was before I had a clear story line, so I was stuck. Once I learned story structure, I had a name for him; a nick name. It isn’t until later in the story that I dubbed him with a regular name outside of the nick name. (Laughing) He wasn’t happy with me either. I didn’t care. It worked and he was stuck with it. Here again, his nick name and his regular name also meshes with the story line.

So, give some real thought about your character’s names. Research and know your story. Jot down notes here and there that you can refer to later if you need to. Enjoy the process.

Posted in Fiction

Writing Struggles

For fiction writers everywhere:

No matter where we are on our writing journey, there is something we all struggle with. Whether it’s one thing or a compilation of a few things, it’s there sticking up out of nowhere. Recently, one of my followers on Twitter posed this question. What do you struggle with in your writing? I couldn’t honestly answer this question because I don’t usually struggle with any one thing in particular, and what I struggle with varies at different points in my writing. What do you do with it? How do you work with it?

Sometimes the problem has to do with not knowing when you should use dialogue and when you shouldn’t. I don’t think there is any one right answer for this. I use dialogue when the story calls for it. When I am writing I get this ‘itch’. This ‘itch’ is a strong feeling dialogue is needed or description or exposition is called for. For me it’s a feeling of just knowing. This doesn’t mean I am right every time. I do go back and realize later that I need to cut back on something. That’s okay. It really is up to you as the author when you use a device and when you don’t. It’s your story.

Character arc is another big one. How are we going to show our protagonists growth from beginning to end? Yes. Yes. This is huge. To make the story and your character believable there needs to be growth in this character from beginning to end. What in the story itself causes your protagonist’s grow? The story movement depends on how your character acts, reacts, makes choices, etc… Are your characters afraid and unsure of themselves from beginning to end? I hope not. They may be apprehensive at the beginning, but by the end of the story they should be braver or brave enough to bring down the antagonist. Larry Brooks, in his book Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing devotes a whole part to character. In fact it’s number 2 out of the 6 core competencies. I highly recommend this book.