That moment when you’re writing. You stop to think about your main character and brainstorm ideas about what you can do to make him/her a more in depth person. You wonder also about what the major issue will be that he/she must struggle with and in the end will allow him/her to grow.
When you’re in a competition, you give it your all, everything you’ve got. You may be nervous at first before you start because you want to win. You don’t want to lose. Then your mom, dad, or friend says, “Just do your best. That’s all you can do. That’s all anyone can do.” In your mind, losing is losing, not winning. But…..in your villains mind, losing is winning.
What do I mean by this? Remember in the previous post (Villains Part VI) I said villains take pleasure in the protagonist’s pain. Well, yes. If burning everything down so your main character will lose everything but gives your villain pleasure in that main character’s loss, then the destruction of all is worth it to them. Go for the gusto with your villain’s actions. Have your villain throw ‘fuel on the fire’ (so to speak) as many times as it takes to cause destruction.
Ultimately, what is the reason behind the importance of making a great evil villain? Readers who continue turning the pages of your story all the way through to the end.
You’re running in a race. You’re ahead. But, in order to keep your lead you must keep going strong. If you let up even once, you risk losing or falling behind. Think of your villain as running in a type of race. It’s the kind of race where he/she is coming at your main character (MC) and not letting up (remember, this is their job). So much so, that your MC gets kicked back down before they get even half way back up. Your villain is on a roll. They can’t stop because, if they do, they run the risk of losing and the MC overtaking them.
Think of many different ways for your villain to trip up your MC. Think outside the box. I am currently reading a set of books by Jeff Carson. They’re David Wolf mysteries. OH MY GOSH!!! Talk about heart pounding suspense. The villain(s) never let up. Often times, while in the middle of one of these books, I couldn’t stand the suspense any longer, so I went to Amazon and read the summary of the next book. Doing this reassured me things would turn out ok in the current book I was reading. Then I would start the next book right after the one I finished and go through the cycle all over again.
What caused this mind blowing suspense? The villain(s). AND, in most cases there were more than one. All from multiple subplots and all out to get the MC. If you want a great example of a true villain(s), read those books. You can find them on Amazon. See the link below for book 1:
Foreign Deceit by Jeff Carson
Have you ever played chess? If you have, you know that it’s imperative to stay one or more moves ahead of your opponent in order for you to have a chance at winning the game. The same goes for the villain in your story. They must always be thinking ahead of the main character. They have to do this so they are doing their job within the story. Otherwise they won’t be believable. Villains are devious. They plot and scheme, making your main character’s life miserable. They love it when the main character is down because that’s when they have a better opportunity to take advantage of them.
To best get a hold of your villain and understand him/her, do a character analysis of them just like you would your main character. They are three dimensional characters too and come with their own set of “baggage”. What in their life infected them so? To the point they are so nasty and evil?
In this character bio also include (and most importantly) a list of ways they can stay ahead of the MC. You might not use all of your ideas. That’s ok. Work what you can into your story. If you are the kind of person that doesn’t like to think in terms of evil, don’t worry about that. It’s only fiction.
Never underestimate your villain. They are more clever than you think they are. Creating them goes beyond having them do bad nasty things to your main character. Oh no. They go much deeper than that. They must know your MC well in order to know how to act against them. Part of the villain getting to know your MC means they must get to their weaknesses, AND they are well gifted at getting to know this information, AND they will know exactly how to use it against them.
Your villain is the architect of the inciting incident and the stories plot twists that follow. Their job is to create tension. Think of them as the mudslingers. They throw everything they can think of to thwart your MC.
On (April 8, 2021) I posted a photo of a lightning storm and titled the post Atmospheric Emotion. In your writing you will need to convey emotions to your atmosphere/setting. This then creates a connection to your readers because they start to feel these emotions too. Typically, darkness or a dark room conveys foreboding or unease. A warm setting with trees, green grass, a cozy cabin with a small pond depicts serenity. But what if you want that calm serene scene to depict foreboding without the darkness? What can you insert into that scene to create that foreboding? Perhaps it’s too calm. Maybe the friend of yours who lives there is no where to be found. Her belongings and car are there, but she is not. Her cellphone is sitting on the patio table, so calling her won’t do any good. Or, perhaps he/she was there a minute ago and now he/she is not. He/she vanished in the midst of this calm setting.
When it comes to emotions and projecting them onto a setting, you must go beyond narration. Just telling your reader the back yard was creepy or gave your main character a creepy feeling or a sense of foreboding, is not enough. They must FEEL that sense. These emotional projections from a story to its reader(s) is part of what makes for a great book/story.
I hadn’t been in my friend, Elliot’s, basement before. Elliot had always been so upbeat all the time; full of jokes. But the black walls and purple lights were the opposite of my friend’s personality, so it was creepy.
I hadn’t been in my friend, Elliot’s, basement before. I never understood why until now. In the past Elliot’s upbeat demeanor magnetized others. People drew to him. So, my breath caught in my chest, when I reached the bottom of his basement steps and flicked on the light. A deep purple glow radiated throughout the room in front of me. The color of the walls appeared to be black, but the purple light made it impossible to tell. A kind of mist seeped through a few cracks in the walls. It hit my nostrils and a dank stench reached my stomach, giving me the dry heaves. Peering to the left, a cot stood in the far corner. Was it my imagination, or was there an indentation of a body on the one and a half inch mattress? I inched that way to take a closer look. I came within five feet, and the indentation moved. No body was visible…..
I took my tea, opened the sliding glass door and stepped onto the back deck. The grass had been freshly mowed the day before and the flower gardens weeded. A well kept yard makes for a relaxing mood. I spotted the lounge chair to my right, walked over to it, and sat down.
I lifted my tea to my nose and inhaled the ginger fragrance, causing me to smile at the sweet scent. The sun peeked out from behind a cloud and shown through the sliding glass door. I opened it and stepped out onto the back deck. A warm breeze whispered by and pushed my shoulder length hair back as I took in the freshly cut lawn and sweet scented flowers. Standing there taking in all of the beauty reminded of a mental massage of sorts. I stepped over to the cushioned lounge chair and sunk in, closing my eyes and relishing the clapping of the leaves on the trees as the breeze moved them.
In Example 1 the bad sample tells us that the character feels creepy, but do you the reader feel it? In don’t. We get that the main character feels creepy, but WE don’t feel as creeped out as he/she does. We don’t even believe he/she feels creeped out because the seriousness of the situation doesn’t come across.
In the good sample of Example 1 we feel the main character’s emotions of fear and apprehension, and we feel his disbelief of a friend who is normally upbeat but has a basement that’s dark and dreary. We are as creeped out as he/she is.
In Example 2 the bad sample is rather mundane and stale. We understand the environment is relaxed in nature but it doesn’t come across in the writing. The environment doesn’t evoke emotion at all.
However, the good sample of Example 2 conveys the imagery needed to evoke the relaxed and warm atmosphere to the reader. We can actually identify with this because most of us have experienced this type of relaxation. But, it wasn’t told to us as in the bad sample. It was SHOWN to us. Did you feel relaxed? I did.
Overall, emotions play a huge role in any story, especially when it comes to atmosphere/setting. They draw your readers into the text and keep them there. That’s where you want them, and you want them there to stay.
What holds you back? What is one of your character traits that works against you more often than you care to admit.
When I was younger, and for many years, I was very naïve. I hadn’t had the experiential knowledge of many things that would have allowed me to make the correct decisions. In other words, I hadn’t learned anything about life. Worse yet, it took me a while to get past that naivety. Some individuals learn life’s lessons quicker because they are willing to rely on new information without letting their own opinions get in the way. Well…I wasn’t one of those people. I had a stubborness to me which made me more headstrong than most. The result is that I didn’t listen to good advice. Because I didn’t listen, I ended up hurt (not physically, but a lesson learned type of thing). It cost me financially at one point. That was one instance. Another example came in the form of a relationship. I became involved with someone I had no business getting involved with. I let my heart guide me and not my common sense and certainly not the advice of others to the contrary.
I should have listened to what others were saying. I should have listened to that conscience of mine. But I didn’t. I truly though I knew better. I learned my lessons in the end, but it took a long time to get to that point. It shouldn’t have taken that long, but it did. The silver lining came when I FINALLY learned. When I learned my lesson, that’s when things started to change for the better. I now knew how to avoid those missteps. I knew what to look for. My story changed and the ending was GREAT.
My character flaws at the beginning were naivety and stubborness. Over the course of my life (or story), I was presented with challenges that created setbacks based on my own behavior (character flaws). In the middle of it all, once I ended up hurt, these instances made me rethink what I was doing. I was able to go back in my mind and go over what wasn’t working, THEN I was better able to correct and attack my issues head on and take them in a more positive direction by changing my behavior. THIS IS THE PATH YOU MUST TAKE YOUR CHARACTERS ON when you are writing you story/novel/book. The character flaw(s) in your main character is a large part of what carries them on their journey throughout the story. If they don’t learn anything by the end of the book, how are they able to overcome the antagonist?
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
- Ethnic heritage
- Birth date
- Religious beliefs
- 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)
- 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.
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.