Tag Archives: character development

Tedious Tasks

Hello everyone!

What is that one thing that your protagonist dreads doing because it is mind-numbingly boring or gag-inducingly disgusting?  This task can reveal a lot about your character and/or your world.  It is also a good way to make your protagonist relatable, because, let’s face it, we all have something we dread doing for one of those reasons.Man Looking at Pile of Dirty LaundryYour writing prompt for the next two weeks is to write two scenes in which your protagonist is required to do a distasteful task.

  • The first scene is where your protagonist is faced with this task for the first time in the book. This is your base line.  Establish the character’s feelings about the task (through showing, not telling) and/or dialogue.  Remember, your character does not have to succeed at the task.  Low baselines leave more room for growth.
  • The second scene is when your protagonist is faced with the task again after something big has happened. The character’s view of or appreciation for the task might have changed.  Or maybe this time there are consequences if the character fails to do the task (quickly, correctly, calmly, etc.).

*Remember to have some sort of believable tension in at least one of the scenes.  If the second scene is a wrap-up for the book or character arc, nostalgia or growth are acceptable emotions to aim for in place of tension; however, wrap-up scenes needs to be short.

Happy writing!

Katie

Advertisements

Developing Believable Protagonists

Hello everyone!

For me, the protagonist is what makes or breaks a story.  If I don’t like or relate to the main character, I won’t get on board with the plot.  I have stopped reading books when this happened.

The two crucial things to do are to make your protagonist relatable and to have him/her grow throughout the story.  Relatable characters are believable.

The Positive Trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait ThesaurusTwo resources I like for developing believable characters are The Positive Trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait Thesaurus, both written by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.  The lists for each trait really help with developing realistic, multifaceted characters.

As a way of ensuring that my protagonist’s thought processes, voice, and reactions feel real, I often endow my main character with part of my personality.  For a more in-depth discussion about this method, which some authors view as problematic, read “Who me? Not I!” by Gail Carson Levine.  She includes suggestions for writing characters that are nothing like you and some writing prompts designed to help you avoid accidentally writing yourself into your protagonist.  My advice is if you choose to write yourself into your main character, make it an intentional choice.

Below are three things that I consider vital when creating a believable protagonist:

  1. Know what’s motivating your protagonist and let that guide his/her actions and responses (“The Wonder of ‘Why?’: Getting to the Heart of the Matter”).
  2. Make sure your protagonist is not perfect (“Character Flaws”).
  3. Show how your protagonist feels through facial expressions and body language (“Writing Books with Emotional Savvy”).

Happy writing!

Katie

Character Interrogation

Hello everyone!

Have you ever mixed up the pieces from multiple games or multiple puzzles?  The result is a mess!  However, mixing up characters can be the key to getting out of a writing conundrum.

Naughty 1Occasionally, I will have a character who absolutely refuses to do what I want him/her to do.  No matter how hard I try, he/she will not do or say what I envisioned in a way that feels believable.  The reason is usually that he/she is underdeveloped.  In most cases, I am able to get to know the character better by asking and answering a series of questions.  In other cases, though, I am too focused on the story’s needs to be able to honestly answer the questions for the character.

Your writing prompt for the next two weeks is to learn about your characters by taking them out of their world.

1. Choose two characters from different pieces you’ve written and put them together in a scene that takes place outside both of their stories.

2. Choose one of the following situations to start the scene:

  • Put them in an interrogation room together. (One could interrogate the other or they could both be interrogating a third character.)
  • blind dateHave them go on a blind date. (Be sure to give some thought to the setting.)
  • Give them a task to accomplish. (It’s best if the task requires two people.)
  • Give them a problem to solve. (There must be consequences if they fail.)
  • Have the characters tell their stories to each other. (I did this with one of my villains from “The Four Crystals.”  Wow, the story was different from that point of view.)

3. Write the scene keeping both characters true to their personalities.

4. Read through the scene and note some of the following:

  • How did the two characters interact? (Were they friendly, civil, or hostile?  Could they work together?  Etc.)
  • Who took the lead?
  • Did either of them dominate the conversation?
  • emotions 1Did either character have a key mannerism or phrase?
  • What was each character’s primary goal in the scene (i.e. what was most important to each character)?
  • Did either character have a predominant emotion?
  • What did your characters do or say that surprised you? (For example, when I did this exercise, I discovered that one of my supporting characters was oblivious to her leader’s flaws.  Going into the exercise, I knew that she was a very loyal follower.  When she was talking to another character about her leader, I realized that she believed her leader to be infallible.)

Happy writing!

Katie

*I would like to thank sci-fi and fantasy author Olivia Berrier for sharing this writing exercise with me and for walking me through how to do it.

How do your characters grieve?

Hello everyone!

My grandmother recently passed away, and one thing that really stood out to me in the aftermath of her death was how differently everyone in my family grieved the loss.

I’ve learned that there’s no right way to grieve.  The grieving process varies from person to person based on a number of factors including, but not limited to, personality, the relationship between the deceased and the surviving person, and the circumstances surrounding the death.

grief 2Some people want to pack everything up and move on.  Other people need time to look at photos and objects that belonged to the deceased.  Some people talk about the loss, while others joke about ironic parts of the situation.  Some people cry buckets, and others don’t shed a tear.  Some people focus all their energy on taking care of others’ needs, and other people curl up in bed or in front of the TV.  Some people want to do something to honor the deceased’s memory, and others don’t want to think about the loss.  Working through grief is incredibly individualized, and everyone grieves at their own pace.

Your writing prompt for the next two weeks is to write a scene in which your protagonist loses someone close to him/her and/or to write a series of scenes covering the week after the death.  Below are some things to consider when writing.

  1. What was the protagonist’s relationship with the deceased?
  2. How does the protagonist handle his/her grief?
  3. Was anything left undone or unsaid between the protagonist and the deceased?
  4. What else is happening in the protagonist’s life (e.g. finals, an upcoming move, layoffs at work, etc.)?
  5. How are other people with whom the protagonist comes in contact grieving the loss?
  6. Make sure some sort of conflict arises as a result of the death.  It could be as simple as two people’s grieving styles conflict (e.g. one needs to clean up and move on and the other needs time to process the death).  It could also be that a longstanding feud or slowly building irritation comes to a head or that deceased had a secret that now comes to light.

Happy writing!

Katie

IMG_2279P.S.

I would like to dedicate this post to my grandmother, Margaretha Betz.  Thanks for everything, Oma.  I love and miss you.

The Wonder of “Why?”: Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Hello everyone!

In my last post, I talked about how to ask your way though plot and character development.  In this post, I want to talk about my favorite question of all: Why?

Why 7The reason I like why so much is because the answer to that question provides the motivation or foundation for all of a character’s actions.  For example, think about your story’s antagonist.  It’s easy for the protagonist to observe or hear about the antagonist’s actions (what he/she does).  A smaller group of characters, which may or may not include the protagonist, knows the process or methods the antagonist uses to execute those actions (how the antagonist does it).  But why the antagonist does something can only be speculated about unless the antagonist himself/herself reveals the reason to another character.  The reader might never find out the antagonist’s motivation.  In some cases, even the antagonist might not even be able to explain why he/she does something, but you as the author should know.

In other words, Why? gets to the heart of an issue and reveals the true motivation of a character.  Check out the sample questions and answers below to see what I mean.

Why don’t two characters get along?

  • Prejudice
  • Bad or inaccurate first impression
  • Personality clash
  • Opposing ideologies
  • Past history

The answer to this question determines how hard or easy it will be for those two characters to reconcile their differences or if reconciliation is even possible.

Why does a supporting character steal?

  • He/She doesn’t have money for food or other necessities
  • Revenge
  • In his/her (country, family, or friend) culture, stealing is socially acceptable
  • Attention seeking
  • Boredom
  • Sabotage – He/She deliberately steals what someone else needs for a plan to succeed

The answer to this question makes the supporting character likeable, pitiable, reprehensible, or daring.  The reason he/she steals is far more interesting than the fact that he/she steals.

Why 9Why is the protagonist having recurring nightmares?

  • Past trauma
  • He/She has been poisoned and hallucinations are a side effect
  • Fear or anxiety about an upcoming event
  • He/She watches scary movies before bed
  • The dreams are divine warnings

Each potential answer gets to the root of the problem, revealing to you as the writer what the protagonist must change or overcome to resolve the conflict.

I hope you have a better idea of why Why? is so important and that the examples help you to apply this essential question to your own writing process.

Happy writing!

Katie

Asking Your Way through a Story Idea

Hello everyone!

Writing a book is a lot like exploring.  You start with a vague idea and discover the rest as you go.  For me, the most important part of the creative writing process is asking my way through plot issues and character inconsistencies.

stop watchWhenever I run into an underdeveloped point in the plot or a behavior in a character that I can’t justify, I try to summarize the problem as a question.  Then, I write down the question and brainstorm answers for about ten minutes.  (Think of this process as a structured free write.  No idea is too crazy during those ten minutes.)

When the ten minutes are up, I choose the potential answer that I like best and explore it further.  (Sometimes, this involves doing another guided question free write.)  If the answer I selected solves my problem, great.  If the answer doesn’t fix the issue, I look back at my list of potential answers and choose a different one to explore.  I do this until I have the answer that works for the story and that satisfies me as the writer.

Below is a list of question words with some sample questions from my own writing projects:

What if…? (What if the crystals had power?  What if the villagers were wary of 21st century technologically?)

Who? (Who betrays the group?  Who stole the sheep?)

What? (What is the ultimate insult for a fairy?  What is my protagonist’s deepest desire?)

When? (When did the elves and humans start attacking each other?  When does my protagonist start trusting authority figures?)

Where? (Where do they fight the soldiers?  Where does my protagonist’s grandmother work?)

Why? (Why won’t the dwarf take them into the caverns?  Why does my protagonist want to befriend the new kid?)

three paths*Which? (Which route is safest?) (*I personally don’t use “which” as often as I do the other question words.)

How? (How do I get them out of the fight alive when they are outnumbered ten to one?  How do I get my protagonist to be more respectful to adults?)

I hope this gives you some good ideas for how to ask your way through your own stories.

Happy writing!

Katie

What Does It Add to the Story?

Hello everyone!

Have you ever heard the phrase, “kill your darlings”?  I have, and I used to resent it with every fiber of my creative being.  Why would I eliminate a favorite character, scene, or line?  That question is one I’ve recently had to answer.

My project for 2018 has been editing my novel, “The Four Crystals.”  After making some changes to the main characters’ personalities and motivations, which strengthened the plot and intensified the conflict, I arrived at one of my favorite conversations between two characters.  It no longer worked.

I tried valiantly to save the conversation, but eventually, I had to re-write it.  Cutting the original version of that conversation hurt.  But I was super proud of myself for putting my story’s needs before my own desires.  Then I kept going.

short cutIn a travel sequence, I had an issue fester between two characters over the course of 48 hours and finally culminate in a confrontation.  I had so much fun writing the sequence.  When I looked over it, I realized that those scenes and even the confrontation didn’t move the plot along.  I could tell my reader how long it took my party to go from point A to point B and summarize the main difficulties they faced in one paragraph.  I tried to justify keeping the sequence on the grounds that it contributed to my characters’ development, but the reader already knew there was hostility between those two characters from earlier scenes.  And the mini-confrontation didn’t grow the tension between them enough to justify keeping the sequence.  I had to cut it, and yes, cutting it was painful.

When it comes to editing, I’ve concluded that anything that does not advance the story and/or the characters’ development should be cut.  It makes the story more interesting to read.

My challenge to all of you is when you look at your own work, don’t ask yourself, “How do I feel about this character, scene, or line?”  Instead, ask yourself, “What does it add to the story?”  If the answer is nothing, cut it.

Happy writing, and be bold in your editing!

Katie