Tag Archives: Creating characters

Getting Down and Dirty in 7 Questions

5375244065_feb791c651_oGetting to know someone isn’t as easy as when we were little kids. That first meeting to best friends, or just friends, doesn’t happen within five minutes. Even if two people become buddies, there’s a lot they don’t know about each other.

How do you go from racking your brain, attempting to think of a conversation starter that isn’t the bumbling “What’s new?” or “How’s the weather?” to igniting stimulating, sizzling conversations that create deeper, more meaningful connections?

Here are seven juicy questions that keep the conversation going for hours:

  1. If you could time travel would you go to the past or the future? Why that choice?
  2. How do you wish to be remembered?
  3. If you could get away with a crime, would you? If yes, what would it be?
  4. If you could live forever, how would you spend eternity?
  5. In what ways do you hold yourself back?
  6. If you had one superpower, what would it be and how would you use it?
  7. If you could have the answer to any question, what would that question be?

What’s great about these questions is that they can take serious, humorous, or a variety of turns, and you end up learning a lot about the person answering the question without sounding like you’re in a Q&A.

In terms of writing, use these questions to flesh out your characters. The more you know about a character—even if it’s that the craziest thing they’ve done is skip a day of piano practice—the more realistic that character becomes, and the more readers will be able to visualize and engage with the story.

There are so many other open-ended questions that would also serve as phenomenal conversation starters. What are some you can think of?

(Photo courtesy of erjk.amerjka.)

Advertisements

Do Everything But Kill Your Characters: Why Struggle is Vital for Character Development

4454497924_202f4e6747_o

When we write, we all have characters that we love. We don’t want anything bad to happen to them. They’re our children, and like all good parents, we want to keep our kids safe. However, when characters are safe, they’re not interesting. More so, readers, and ourselves, don’t get to know who these characters are. We can’t discover what lies at their core. It’s only through the tough times that we get to truly know our characters.

Not long ago, I provided feedback on several chapters for a fantasy novel. These chapters were about midway through the novel, and after having read from chapter one to this point, I found myself not knowing who the protagonist was. Sure, she was a princess, the last of her family (the rest of them having died in peculiar accidents), and was on the run from evil fairies and a traitorous royal court. But her two loyal companions were always there to save her from any attack.

So, while the princess constantly thought about how she had to be brave and kind and show that she deserved the crown, I never got to see her in action. She was always standing around, waiting for her companions to fight off various sinister creatures. I got to a point where I asked the author, “What would happen if the princess was attacked, when there was no one around to save her?”

It turned out that the princess could take care of herself.

It’s easy for characters to think or say they’d act/react one way, but eventually something bad has to happen to them. Only when our characters are forced to act do we uncover their true personalities.

And, once characters face hardship—and the more that they confront—they grow. They can only become better people if what they care about is shredded to tiny pieces. Rip characters’ souls apart and they’ll be forced to build more resilient hopes, dreams, and spirits.

It’s not easy to knock down your characters, not only because you care about them, but because it’s emotionally taxing on you. Some of the hardest scenes I’ve written are when I’m ripping apart my protagonist. I become so emotionally invested in the story that I experience what my protagonist experiences, so by the end of stressful scenes, I am emotionally and physically spent.

But, I continue to write those scenes, because of all the books I’ve read, the best ones are usually those where the characters are torn down. Even if the book is fantasy or science fiction, I can relate to the core of the hardships they face, and that makes me care about the characters.

(Photo courtesy of Ewan Cross.)

Don’t Mistake Unpreparedness for Writer’s Block: Know What to Write Before You Write

 

Sometimes when you sit down to write nothing comes to you. You stare at the blank screen and you can’t picture anything. Frustration builds until you shove yourself away from your desk and leave writing for later.

Often, this inability to conjure anything to write is termed writer’s block. However, writer’s block isn’t always the culprit behind the inability to write. More often than not, nothing is coming to you because you’re not ready to write.

5033800896_b63b3f63f9_oWhen writing a novel, preparedness is extremely important. You need to know what you want to write about. This doesn’t mean that you have to plan out every chapter in advance. Often you’ll find that the story changes as you continue to write it. But, there are many steps involved with writing a book.

Take a minute to think of them.

What did you come up with?

Some of mine include:

  • Writing a one sentence summary. This boils your entire novel down to its main premise. It gives your novel direction. For example, “A mute snake-breeder becomes embroiled in the chase for a once-presumed extinct snake after discovering a blood-splattered scroll in a half-dug grave.”
  • Ask a boatload of open-ended questions. When jumping into more of the details, I’ll ask myself, “what if,” “who cares,” “how about,” etc. These types of questions help me flesh out the story, and help me spot any plot holes before I write myself into a dead-end. Also, open-ended questions are great for adding sub-plots and complexity to a story, thus making it more realistic.
  • Explore your characters. I usually don’t know all of my characters at the beginning of my story, but I know my main characters. I know what they look like, their backstories, how they’ll act, and more. Having fully fleshed out characters not only helps you know your characters inside and out, but helps you see where the story is going and, even, how much of a role each character should have in the plot. Sometimes the person you thought should be the main character isn’t the best choice.
  • Research. Many times there’s information already out in the world about what you want to write. Take time to explore this information. You never know what useful tidbits you’ll discover that will enhance your story. For example, if you’re writing historical fiction, you need to do intensive research on the time period you’re writing about. If you don’t, the piece won’t feel authentic. Even if you’re writing a futuristic science fiction novel, it’s still important to know what type of technology is realistic in the future. You have to be able to explain where nanites came from or how instantaneous travel is possible, or, if you’re writing a dystopian that occurs after World War III, you need to know what the consequences of setting off nuclear bombs are, etc.

Once you’ve done your research and exploration that blank screen will seem like less of a mountain. Ideas will come to you. Perhaps not immediately, ideas take time to fully form, and it’s likely you’ll discover that more ideas come as you’re writing; you’ll end up going back and adding those new story strands, creating a fuller, more complex, and intriguing story.

(Photo courtesy of NOAA Photo Library.)

Creating a Compelling Character

What comes to mind when you think about characters in fiction? How about your characters? How do you reveal them to readers?

Creating characters readers care about is an essential step to creating a successful novel. It’s not only a character’s physical description. In fact, what a character looks like is only a very small part of creating a compelling character, and probably one of the least important aspects to a character. (Think about it. When you and your friends read the same novel and then talk about it, how often do they picture the characters the same way you did? I know my imagination adds to characters. I’ve even had it where a novel says a guy has black hair, and yet I still picture him blond.)

Here are some ways to reveal a character to readers:

  • Voice. What a character says and what they don’t say tells you something about what that character is like. Also important is how a character says what they say. Think about the statement, “I love it.” If spoken flatly that statement means something very different than spoken excitedly.
  • Action. What a character does in a given situation, or what they don’t do. Action is character. Actions carry more meaning than words. People can say anything. It’s easy to speak, but it’s what a character does that’s truly revealing.
  • Background. A character’s background. I.e.- occupation, family, where he’s from, era, significant events of the past and how he handled those situations, culture, religion, economic situation, gender, race, individual skills and society’s evaluation of those skills, his philosophy of the world (how he views the world), etc.

A character’s reaction to significant events in his life is telling. Multiple people can experience the same event, but each individual reacts differently. Most people have lost a loved one sometime during their life, yet not everyone breaks down in tears or shuts down emotionally, or smiles and seems like nothing’s wrong.

There’s a quote a professor once shared with me. It sums up the previous paragraph. “Not every male who’s close to their mother ends up like Norman Bates.”

  • Internal World of the Character. What a character fears or wants in the larger sense. This relates back to last week’s post on internal pressure, where a character weighs his fear of a situation against the possible outcomes or gains from overcoming his fear.
  • Exposition. This is what you tell the reader. Exposition provides context about the character directly to the reader. This is a vital part of creating a compelling character; however don’t go overboard with exposition. Telling a reader something is good, as long as you don’t forget about also showing the character to the reader.

When creating a compelling character, you need something to tie all the pieces together. Characters, just like people, are made up of a ton of different parts. There’s a reason many consider humans puzzles. But just as puzzles can be put together to form a whole, so must a character. If a character isn’t whole, then his actions won’t make sense.

How do you go about creating compelling characters?