Are you making compelling characters? 5 questions that will help you decide

1) Does she make a memorable first impression?

Think about someone you recently met. You began creating an impression of that person before he or she even mutter a word. Before dialogue begins, we need to know where your character is in space and how she is absorbing it. Show us her body language. You may not want to give up everything at first, but you must lay the groundwork and reveal personality that will help your audience sympathize with her and feel for her as the story progresses.

2) Does my dialogue directly state what my character is feeling or thinking?

Unlike #1, if your answer is yes to this question you are not on the path to greatness. Stating feelings directly makes for stilted dialogue. Instead, try using subtle subtext. Perhaps your character says something that contradicts what the reader knows she is feeling or thinking, thus creating tension that will drive your characters and your reader forward.

Your story is about a million little things, some of which will barely be mentioned. Maybe it’s about the subversion of women or the patriarchal hierarchy of marriage or the ways in which technology is making us feel less secure. Your character will have these subtextual things swirling behind her words. How the swirling undercurrent affects dialogue will tell your reader a great deal about your character without directly saying the words.

3) What conflicts or obstacles stand in the way of my protagonist’s success?

Think external and internal on this one. Your story will likely contain both as your protagonist embarks on a journey toward becoming a more complete being.

The first obstacle your character encounters is that critical situation that changes her life forever. Once encountered, your character must overcome something, fix something, change something. What is it? How will she get there? What will go wrong? Who will stand in her way? Keep in mind, for an obstacle to work it must be logically connected to everything else that’s happening in the story.

4) Does your character have a strong arc?

Readers want to see transformation. The conflicts and obstacles you determine from question #3 will determine your character’s arc. Your character starts somewhere emotionally and physically, and she ends somewhere else. Change is inevitable for all of us every day, every minute. Know your character’s trajectory before you begin.

Creating a strong arc takes a great deal of practice. You can read more about writing positive, negative, and flat arcs here: Jill Rememsnyder and here: K. M. Keweiland’s site.

vogler-arc
Christover Vogler’s character arc example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Vogler

5) What is your character’s emotional want?

This is a big one.The word emotion derives from the Latin emovere, which translates as: to excite, to move, to stir or to agitate.

Emovere will drive every decision your characters make. A character may want redemption or revenge or justice or love. She may want something as simple and as complicated as a raise or a baby. Your job as the writer of her journey is to understand her deepest driving force and to think about it for every scene. Emotion is energy, and energy drives momentum that drives your character to overcome conflict and obstacles.

Listen to your characters before you write their journey. Remember, no matter how perfectly structured your writing, if you can’t move your readers to laugh, cry, scream or tremble, you won’t have succeeded in creating a world that your readers want to return to again and again.

#heebiejeebies

I write psychological thrillers.

Recently, I found several hashtags that brought forth a wealth of information for my psyche obsession. If you, too, write about things that go bump in the dark, whether the bump is real or in the mind of your protagonist, I recommend spending a bit of time on Twitter.

sandmancover1

 

Here is a list of some of what messes with the minds of our twitter brothers and sisters:

Cards against humanity played at midnight in a creepy victorian attic

Swarms of insects or the sound of swarming insects in the dark

Centipedes/millipedes

Black buttons for eyes

Someone standing stock still outside my window

Not being able to see what is under me when swimming

My best friend whispering to no one when we are supposed to be asleep

Being mauled by a rabid animal

Ouija boards

Teenagers circling me on an abandoned street

Skin rot

Someone saying, “I love you,” with a knife against my throat

Something happening to my kids

Internet scammers

Body jumping spirits

Rats

Over one hour on Twitter, I wrote so many story ideas into my story journal that my hand was cramping. If you are struggling with writer’s block, or if you just want to spice things up a bit in your current WIP, here are a few hashtags to get your creative juices flowing:

#heebiejeebies

#ImMostAfraidOf

#CreepsMeOut

Are there others that I should know about? Drop your recommendations in the comments.

What’s in a name?

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. – Ernest Hemingway

There is something to be said for those first moments of writing a new novel or short story, those moments when you simply let your fingers run free across the keyboard with no goal except to get the idea on the page. It is exhilarating. I wish sometimes that I could live in that moment forever. But I can’t, and neither can you if you want to get your work published.

There are many details to attend to after you get the skeleton of your new baby underway. Not the least of which is naming your characters. This may seem an easy enough task, a matter of preference, even, but it isn’t.

Let’s look at three different coming out stories, those of:

Florence and Bertha.

Pamela and Tammy.

Harper and Alexa.

In all three we have two young girls somewhere between fifteen and eighteen who are experiencing new love for the first time. Without knowing anything else about these characters, and before reading further, place them in a decade. Jot down some basic characteristics and features. Dress them. Decide where they meet.Continue reading “What’s in a name?”

Creating a vision board for your characters

Are you a visual person? Do you find yourself looking for pictures on Pintrest  of doppelgängers to the characters you are creating through words on the page? If so, creating a character vision board may be for you.

Generic vision boards tend to focus on sending a message into the universe about your desires and dreams. It is said that as far as the brain is concerned, this visualization is almost as strong as actually completing the thought or action presented. Hence, a vision board placed where you see it every day helps with positive programming and gives you a way to realign yourself with the song in your heart. Here are a  few great examples:

Vision board worksheet

EvelynLIM

Three steps to a five-year plan

These are great, and seeing them in action can give you ideas for your own boards as you apply the concept to your characters.

Turning the concept onto our characters

A vision board focusing on a character allows you to visually represent the background of that character in your work in progress in a way that puts the information in your face every time you look at it. This consistency brings him or her to life in your mind until you feel their reaction to every situation in a natural and consistent way. There is a bit of time involved with the initial creation, but the benefits of constant visualization is worth the upfront cost.

Here is an example of items you may want to include:

Character Visual Board
Making a character vision board is a individual as you are

Planning out your board

Jot down your characters values, goals, and inspirations. Think about the family and where she fits into the unit. Does he have a past or present love life? What was his favorite food as a child? Does she drink, smoke, party? Is she in good health or poor, has she ever had a surgery or nursed someone through an illness, or is she a loner who is estranged from her family? Does he like music, tattoos, a particular television show? Everything is important. You need to know this person as well as you know yourself, even if the information never makes its way into the novel.

Making your board

For the board, old school is best. Remember, you want this in a place that you can look at each day. Poster board works well.

You will also need images. Lots of them. Pintrest is a great source if you have access to a good printer. Also think newspaper ads, magazines, handwritten quotes, coloring books, photographs, flyers, brochures, and items from a craft store. Use whatever speaks to you. NOTE: If you use photographs that are precious to you, make sure you put them on the board using acid-free, removable adhesive.

The character vision board may work done virtually, as well, as long as it is somewhere you look every day, maybe several times a day, as you absorb your character’s idiosyncrasies.

Putting it all together

This is the fun part. Some people like a messy collage board, and others like things lined up neatly in groups or rows. Some like simple and literal. Others like complicated and metaphorical. Decide what you want, and go for it. For added depth and interest, consider using stencils, tape, stickers, and other decorative elements. When you finish, find a place in your work space where the board/s will live until the WIP is complete. And, after the work is in out for others to enjoy, you may want to take pictures of the board/s to draw interest from potential readers.

The ultimate goal is to create something that resonates with you and puts you in the mood to visit your fictional world every day. Connection creates desire. Desire creates words. Words create a story.

Your lack of respect for commonly confused words, confuses me

Yesterday a had a conversation that went, in part, like this:

ME: Your idea is good, and your protagonist is quite original and fun. One thing I would recommend is to research commonly confused words.

HER: It doesn’t matter. The reader will know what I mean.

ME: But it does matter. If you want to be taken seriously in your craft, you have to learn which word is appropriate in any given sentence.

HER: That’s what my editor is for.

ME: You have an editor?

HER: Not yet, but publishers have them, right?

ME: That’s kinda my point. If you want a publisher to find the wonderfulness of your content, you cannot let him or her be bogged down by the errors. There are too many people with wonderfulness out there. Fix what you can before you query.

HER: [blank stare]

It didn’t get better. And she is not the only one I have had this conversation with lately.

I was recently picked up by Flashpoint for my first novel. Before this monumental accomplishment, I queried a group of publishers, listened to their feedback, tweaked and tightened grammar and content, and repeated. My attention to detail did not make my manuscript perfect. Far from it. I will still be reworking parts and following the guidelines of my editor, but it was as clean and crisp as I could possibly make it.

For my friend above, her glaring error on page one was the use of the word “there” when she should have used “their,” and on page three was the use of the word “advice” when she should have used “advise.” One may have been forgiven, but two in three pages? Not so much.

If you know that you have trouble with commonly confused words, do a word search in your manuscript.

To get you started, here are a few of the most commonly confused words:

commonlyconfusedContinue reading “Your lack of respect for commonly confused words, confuses me”

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