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

Things To Remember As You Write

While preparing for NaNoWriMo 2019, I read more books in October than I had all year. I looked at each novel with an Editor’s eye in order to better differentiate what works and what makes a manuscript get shelved before finishing.

The amount of words my brain has trudged through in the past month is vast.

In no particular order, here are the five main story-telling problems I found during my Great Book Devouring Event of 2019:

  • INFORMATION DUMPING – This was the biggest problem I had and would shelve a book almost immediately if the author cheated and dumped a ton of info on me right away. Let your reader find out backstory via dialogue and short tidbits from time to time. Copious amounts of text explaining what happened in the past is a cop-out. Good writers are better than that.
  • EXTREMELY DETAILED SETTING AND WORLD BUILDING – Show me the world, don’t tell me about it. A good writer knows that the reader is going to devise their own idea of what the environment looks like in their mind. Don’t try and force your made-up world onto someone else. Share the mood, atmosphere, and locale with your reader and let them create their own landscape. You will draw in a reader much more effectively once they have put some work into the story and created their own stage together in their imagination.
  • SWITCHING FROM POV TO POV – Some authors can do this properly. Many can’t. If a writer is of the latter group, there is nothing that confuses the reader more than a poorly-strung-together story from various points of view. (I recently picked up a cozy mystery where three different POVs occurred within two paragraphs. It was so confusing, I shelved it after only halfway into the first chapter.)
  • DIALOGUE THAT SOUNDS FAKE – When editing your novel, read the dialogue aloud. Have friends read the dialogue aloud. Read it aloud again. If the words on paper sound silly when you actually speak them into existence, re-write it.
  • PLOT THAT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE – It kills me when a main character acts against his/her nature and nothing in the story explains why that choice was made. Also, subplots that trail off and never come to a conclusion are maddening. If you leave your readers open to a “how/what/why?” question once they are done reading your book, you have done them a disservice.

I would love to hear reasons why you shelve books before finishing! Feel free to leave a comment or join my Facebook author page to expound.

I hope this helps as you continue with your novel creation! If you are currently participating in NaNoWriMo, I wish you good luck and ample writing time. ❤️

Posted in For the Aspiring Writer

3 Days until Nanowrimo

Nanowrimo begins on November 1 and during the thirty days of this eleventh month, I will be creating the rough draft of my very first cozy mystery! With the help of my dear friend, Mr. Google, I have compiled a list of things to remember while I write myself into a stupor.

Gearing up for my second Nanowrimo adventure!
  • Set a goal before you start – This is the easiest to-do as Nanowrimo encourages you to write at least 1667 words a day in order to make your goal of 50k words by November 30.
  • Start with an outline – There are 3 different types of writers: Planners (they use rigidly constructed outlines, character sheets, and plot points), Pantsers (those that type by the seat of their pants in order to quickly get the story to paper), and Plantsers (the type of writers that have a basic idea of where they want the story to go but they allow the characters to create their own futures as they come to life). It’s been proven that when a writer has at least the basics of an outline down before they start writing, their writing speed increases and they don’t suffer as hard from the muddle of the middle.
  • Free Write – Ignore spelling mistakes or grammar issues and JUST WRITE. Get the story down. Don’t review anything you’ve written in order to edit. Your writing may sound absolutely awful and that’s normal. Focus on completing the first draft quickly so you have something to go over with a fine-tooth comb at a later time.
  • Get a First-Draft Friend – Pairing up with someone who will hold you accountable, whether it’s another writer or a coach, is a great way to instill a sense of purpose. Share daily triumphs and setbacks with your FDF in order to stimulate yourself and offer motivation.

No matter what genre you’ve chosen for your Nanowrimo project, all of these tips will work to help you be a more efficient writer. Feel free to join my Facebook Author page in order to follow my 30-day Nanowrimo journey and possibly find your own FDF there!

Posted in For the Aspiring Writer, plot ideas

Romance Novel Plot Ideas

I have so much fun thinking up new ideas for plot and story lines, I thought I would share!

Here you will find my running list (I add to it constantly) of romance novel plot ideas:

  • World War 2 Nurse from America falls in love with an injured German in a POW camp.
  • Two dog walkers get tangled up on neighborhood bike trail and one of them is bitten.
  • Person falls for their soon-to-be-ex’s divorce attorney.
  • Cat Burglar falls for subject in portrait they are hired to steal.
  • Person attends high school reunion and is charmed by the person that made their school life a living hell.
  • Author enamored with a real person they are researching for a non-fiction novel.
  • Small town resident is smitten with the owner of a traveling circus.
  • Big shot CEO is rear-ended by a hippie driving without insurance.
  • Mall janitor plays piano on break and is “discovered” by talent scout.
  • Spouse decides to save their failing marriage by having their significant other fall in love with them all over again.