Posted in For the Aspiring Writer, Uncategorized

How to Bring Fictional Characters to Life

On the subject of character creation, a majority of writers across the Internet will advise you to start from a blank character sheet. You’ll be instructed to envision the character in your mind to determine what they look like, what they sound like… You’ll need to come up with their age and occupation, as well as hobbies and favorite foods. Finally, you’ll be told to jot down adjectives that describe the character’s nature. Is she kind? Is he honest?

That’s great. It’s important to understand the type of person your character is, but the one thing I can’t fathom is how you’re expected to list out all of these qualities for someone you’ve yet to meet.

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Other writers will tell you that you need to first determine what your character longs for. What will their main character arc be for your short story, novella, novel, etc?

How on Earth can you come close to truly knowing what your character wants without having ever been introduced?

My process for the creation of a character is very much different than the typical advice listed above.

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When the idea for a novel comes, whether it be the dream-like tendril of a soft caress upon my mind or a slam-dunk, freight train of a whopper that hits like lightning, the first thing I do is determine what sex of protagonist I wish to create for this fiction. This helps me to focus my internal camera–just a smidge, mind you–upon the former blob of a character I had just a moment before.

When I’ve determined that, I picture the ordinary world in which my character currently belongs.

For this example, just to make it easier to follow along, I’ll say my novel idea revolves around a commune in the 1970s. The leader of the commune is suave, personable, yet enigmatic. My protagonist will be a fledgling reporter, who has found out a secret about the leader and wants to infiltrate the commune in order to get the story.

In the few seconds it took me to come up with that premise, my mind is already whirling with ideas. Writing about a working-class female, especially in the 70s, would be something I could definitely get on board with. I’d love to explore the gender differences of that time period, as well as use my female character’s wiles in order to go undercover and solve a puzzle.

What do I know about my character at this very moment?

She is a female. She is a reporter. That’s it.

I don’t know her age, her personality, her looks, nada. I don’t know whether or not she works at a large newspaper or for a small-town print.

I would never consider to assign her personality traits at this point. Why? Because we still haven’t met. Don’t worry, I’m about to introduce myself.

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At this point, I’ll open up a new document or pull a fresh sheet of paper from my desk drawer. I bet you think I’m going to start a list, don’t you? No. Lists are for groceries and baseball coaches. We’re writers so… let’s do what we do.

My character is currently sleeping. What happens when her alarm clock goes off? Does she even own an alarm clock? Perhaps she lives out in the middle of absolute nowhere and wakes up when the rooster crows. Her options at this point are limitless.

I begin to write. Flash fiction at it’s finest right here. This is how I breathe life into my character and allow her (or him, or whatever pronoun I’m using) to reveal themselves to me. What happens when she wakes up? Does she make her bed or leave it messy? Is she a shower or a bath girl? What does she eat for breakfast and who does she talk to while she does it? Does she live with anyone or by herself? Why? Does she have a tendency to dally and have to rush to get off to work or does she stick to a self-imposed schedule and make sure she’s at her job on time?

I will continue this piece of prose until I’ve come to the end of her day. Does she creep into her bed clad in risque lingerie or does she flop into the unmade mess, clothes from the day still upon her frame?

This is how I meet my character.

At some point throughout the writing, the hazy blob I had at the beginning will start to focus. Like she’s standing in front of a lens being shifted millimeter by millimeter, her outline will come into view. I’ll realize that she’s a waif of a girl, with long, stringy blond hair reminiscent of the top of a cornstalk. (She is from a rural area but did indeed own an alarm clock with no cock-a-doodling within her hearing range.)

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She is soft-spoken and intelligent. She lives in a boarding house on the outskirts of a medium-sized city. She lives by herself at the young age of 22. Her parents were–and still are–members of a organized cult in Iowa. That is where she grew up. She fled at 16, a victim of sexual abuse and indoctrination, to Wisconsin where she now goes by a false name.

She began her career at the local newspaper as a night-shift janitor. In her spare time, she began to pen the memories of her life within the cult and realized she had an aptitude and love for the written word. She procured her current position by leaving poignant articles covering the town’s current events on the editor’s desk nightly before she left at the end of her shift. (She makes her bed every morning and, at night she climbs in gently, wearing an old t-shirt and loose-fitting shorts, by the way, not a negligee. Also, she has to wear socks at night or she gets too cold. Wisconsin, am I right?)

At this point, I have envisioned how she holds her fork, how she takes her coffee (black, it’s the cheapest), how she gets to work, how she reacts to co-workers, her typical lunch and what she wears as she goes about her day. My character is real to me, not a white sheet of paper on the desk labelled CHARACTER SHEET. I can envision the beginning of her arc but I would never–louder for those in the back, NEVER– lock her into such growth. She has so much more to show me.

You learn who your characters are by writing about them. Allow them to speak to you through your typing (or frantically scribbling) hands. I swear on the Girl Scout Handbook, if you allow your character to find their own voice instead of assigning them one, that character will spit things out you never dreamed of.

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Give your creation–your characters–the ability to make magic. You’re not the puppet master here; picking up strings and dropping them to make your characters move. You’re the stage.

Let them dance as they will.

Posted in For the Aspiring Writer, Uncategorized

A Day in the Life of a Fledgling Author (With Kids!)

How many times do you think I’ve asked myself, “Why didn’t I start writing full-time before I had children?”

Many. Many times.

As it stands, if I try to get any writing done when my little ones are up and about, I’m interrupted several hundred times. An hour. Snacks are the number one request from my tiny army but yesterday, I turned and came face to face with my youngest who was extremely discouraged that a Tide Pod did not taste like it should.

He’s a little bit behind the trend of other fellow Tide Pod eaters but I digress.

I want to use this post to encourage other fledgling authors (with children in tow or not) that you can find the time to write even when you’re being bombarded from all angles.

Let’s take a look back at yesterday, a Saturday, and see how I did.

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5:45am CST – Baby Boy (Age 3) stands next to my bed until I lift an eyelid and jump. He requests that we get him ready for school.

5:48am CST – Baby Girl (Age 5) trudges down the stairs after the cries emanating from her brother wake her out of a sound sleep. He is displeased by the fact that school is closed on Saturdays. I close my bedroom door in hopes that allowing the husband to sleep will guarantee me as a shoe-in for Best Wife Ever once he awakes refreshed and baby-free. Then, I can coerce him into some writing time, ALONE.

6:01am CST – Babies demand a Minecraft show. Age 3 hates Minecraft shows but demands it just the same.

6:02am CST – Age 3 demands anything but a Minecraft show. And a snack. Age 5 jumps on the bandwagon and explains how she will JUST DIE if she doesn’t get a granola bar.

6:05am CST – Granola bars distributed and coffee pot switched to the on position. Booming noises radiate from upstairs. I book it up the steps only to find Age 3 putting on every pair of socks his sister owns. He is also doing this completely naked.

6:06am CST – Explain to Age 3 that he is not a part of the Red Hot Chili Peppers tribute band and relinquish one pair of socks to him to wear on his FEET. Stuff him into a fresh pair of drawers, much to his dismay, and march down the stairs again. I march, he jumps. He then slips on the rug at the end of the stairs and finds himself sprawled, spread-eagled on the foyer. Cries ensue. Reminding him that he has a granola bar to eat stops the cries mid-bawl.

6:13am CST – Sit on the couch and review my life choices. At least I have coffee.

7:12am CST – Enjoy the sunrise from my kitchen window and explain to Age 3 that we aren’t supposed to get out of bed until the sun comes up. He takes that as a directive that it is NOW time to go to school and puts his backpack on. More cries ensue after I remind him, once again, it is a weekend.

7:45am CST – Age 5 grabs a drum and wooden spoon and sits outside the master bedroom before deciding that playing a Neil Peart solo is in her best interest. When Dad opens the door, he is in a grumpy mood at her interpretation of an alarm clock. So much for my Best Wife Ever nomination.

7:48am CST – Ply the husband with coffee. He is appeased.

8:01am CST – Sit down at my computer with headphones in place to try and get some writing done. Get distracted by Facebook videos. Spend thirty minutes perusing a murder that occurred in Iowa over 50 years prior. Chalk this up to cozy mystery novel research so I won’t feel guilty.

8:40am CST – Frown into the refrigerator and remind myself to put a grocery list together. Feed kids a mixture of oatmeal, leftover chicken, and goldfish. Their palates are not refined. The meal goes over well.

9:14am CST – Sit back down to write. As soon as my tail hits chair, Age 3 requests a shower in the master bedroom so he can write on the glass walls. Cries when his request is denied. I distract him with a remote-controlled car. Problem solved.

9:15am CST – Realize the noise from said car distracts me as well and any hopes of writing are dashed for the time being. The pile of laundry on my dining room table screams out to be sorted (and its voice is almost hoarse because it’s been screaming for three days). Hang up laundry.

10:31am CST – Determine that my author website needs a new page for my nom de plume, Charlee Chance. Spend time crafting a half-assed page just so SEO will start logging on Google. Envision what I would do if someone snatched up the website for her name and gasp. Purchase website to ensure that doesn’t happen.

12:05pm CST – Lunch. Or breakfast, really. Leftover chicken, avocado, and cheese bites. Keto is easy as pie. Mmmm… pie. Shut up, brain.

1:00pm CST (on the dot) – Kids down for naps. Promise Age 3 he can take a shower tonight instead of the normal bath. He is adamant in his demands.

1:12pm CST – Explain to husband that I am entering my writing space (four feet away from him) and I’m not to be disturbed. Headphones go on.

1:19pm CST – Husband waves for my attention to look at a weird looking bug from a gardening Facebook page he belongs to. I frown. He apologizes. (It was a weird looking bug, I admit.)

2:49pm CST – Age 5 comes down the stairs with brush in hand. Finish my session with over 2k words written. Feel accomplished and excited to write more but those sleep tangles won’t brush themselves out.

3:15pm CST – Age 3 races down the stairs, ready now — more than ever — to head to school. Cries once again when reminded about the school district’s schedule. Distract him with an invitation to play Barnyard Bingo.

3:29pm CST – Battle Royale final standings for Bingo: Mom – 4 / Age 3 – 1. We don’t hand out participation trophies in this house.

4:15pm CST – Frown into refrigerator once more to plan dinner. Chastise myself for not getting a grocery list together. Bust out frozen deer sausage (Thanks Mom & Dad!) and clean my kitchen because it looks like a bomb went off.

5:03pm CST – Begin cooking, start a new pot of coffee. Luckily, my pantry is never, ever low on coffee grounds.

5:45pm CST – Dinner is eaten, Cinderella is on the TV, and I figure I can get in another 30 minutes of writing.

5:51pm CST – Tide Pod incident

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6:01pm CST – Age 3 gets his shower an hour early to wash off all the laundry detergent. Swears he didn’t eat any, but bubbles pop out of his mouth as he makes those promises. Teach Age 3 how to properly gargle water and spit.

6:41pm CST – Age 3 uses his new-found knowledge of gargling and spitting. With his milk. In the living room.

6:43pm CST – Clean up milk-splattered floor and rug. Reiterate that we only expectorate into the sink, shower, or outside. Age 3 is discouraged.

7:14pm CST – Age 5 gets into her bath upstairs. Age 3 strips down and climbs in, unwilling to believe that he is clean enough from his earlier shower.

7:45pm CST – Age 3 and Age 5 lay together for our nightly ritual of story, song, then off to bed. They can’t come to a consensus of what to read so Dad picks out book. Crying ensues.

8:02pm CST – Kids in bed, back downstairs to write. Get distracted by the worn copy of Stephen King’s On Writing next to my keyboard.

8:49pm CST – Write 200 more words before realizing my brain is too tired to string cohesive phrases together. Take my dog-eared soft-cover of On Writing to bed and finish a few chapters.

10:15pm CST – Have an epiphany about my main character and jot it down in my phone’s notes. Drift off, knowing I’ll repeat another day just like this one tomorrow.

I want to encourage each and every one of my fellow writers out there that, if you love the craft, the process, and the results of your creativity, you will find time to write.

If, for some reason, I was unable to write while my kids were down for naps yesterday, I would have stayed up as late as I needed in order to get the job done. It would have been crap, worthy of the bonfire set up in my backyard, but it would have been progress.

That’s what rewrites are for anyway, am I right?

Posted in For the Aspiring Writer, plot ideas

Nearing the Finish Line of Preptober 2019

For those of you participating in this year’s Nanowrimo, we have only a week remaining of Preptober. How are you faring?

Planning, planning, and MORE planning!

This is the time for us to flesh out our plotlines, subplots, character arcs, and every other detail that goes into writing a full-fledged novel.

For those of you that aren’t aware of the term “Nanowrimo”, it’s where you spend the entire month of November churning out a rough draft for a novel. Aspiring novelists commit to writing 1667 words a day in order to have themselves a 50,000+ word manuscript come November 30.

If you are interested in joining me on Nanowrimo 2019, let me know. I would love to support you on your writing journey! Feel free to join me on my Facebook author page to keep up with my progress AND share yours!