Tag Archives: characters

Creating Characters from Personal Experience

Although I have had limited time lately to engage in any long term writing, I have been playing around with character profiles for a story I am planning to rewrite. I say this because I want to refer back to a couple of my previous posts where I discussed writing from personal experience. In this case, however, I want to focus more on using that personal experience toward developing characters.

Instead of creating outline sketches for character development, as well as as for the plot and general storyline, I prefer to construct my characters from real people whom I know or have known and, there have been quite a few. It also means I don’t need to overtax my limited imagination – just my memory as I go along – plus, reality truly can be more interesting than fiction.

It is usually not just one person from whom I construct any single character, but usually two or three. For example, and without ratting out names, I know several people I draw on for ego-centric personalities, ranging from occasional selfishness to flat out narcissism. By the way, one of my red-line narcissistic “acquaintances” (code for meaning unnamed friend or family member) is at least somewhat aware and surprisingly unapologetic for their deep-seeded self-centered attitude. This particular “acquaintance” is actually rather proud that they use other people as if we were placed on this planet to serve them and only them.

Profiles like that, at least to me, are so rad and off-the-chart that they make it easy to create interesting story characters. Frankly, some of the people I know are so intriguing that it is nearly impossible for me not to apply at least some of their of traits to my characters. In fact, I enjoy character development so much that sometimes I prefer to wrap a plot around the characters or selection of characters, rather than creating a character to fit the plot.

Another “acquaintance” has influenced my character development positively and negatively. This acquaintance, having never driven, used a computer or spoken on a cell phone, pretty much has refused to leave the past and, perhaps not so coincidentally, is a bit conceited. They will never read this or any other blog and lives in their own stagnant comfort zone, actively rejecting any notion of expanding their horizons past 1950.

In this case, I applied their mature age and physical features to the character in the story, but flipped their personality to someone who, through drive and determination, adjusts to new cultures and an evolving world.

I could list several people, individually or in combination, I know that I have used for character development in my stories, but I won’t, because my life wouldn’t be worth the price of a milkshake. A couple of them, and they know who they are, suspect it anyway.

 

Writing History, Right

 

Noah

I’m a history nut. Historical non-fiction and historical fiction is what I enjoy reading most. When I read that stuff I expect the writer to know what he or she is talking about. I don’t think it’s too much to ask, is it?

I’m also an aviation enthusiast. My wife would replace the word, “enthusiast,” with the word, “fanatic.” I prefer the former. So being a fana…um, enthusiast, it’s another area where I expect an author to do their homework. Information is too easily accessible, today, to accept lazy writing. There is no excuse for having your characters going out to the airport and boarding a Boeing 707 when your story takes place in 1949. There were no 707’s in 1949. A quick Google search would have told you that.

Recently, I read a crime thriller. Something I don’t normally read. The bad guy works for the U.S. Government. The Government, as in many recent books and movies, were all bad guys. He enters the story flying an F-14 Tomcat. Now, okay, it’s a novel so I’ll forgive the fact that the Navy gave a civilian an F-14. My problem is when he lands. The writer says that he “engaged the reverse thrusters.” Reverse thrusters? On an F14? It’s a jet fighter not an airliner. Sorry, no reverse thrust on an F14. Am I being too much of a geek to expect that to be correct? I don’t think so. But he got away with it because 99.9% of the population doesn’t know an F14 from a Piper Cub. But okay, I’m just enough of a geek that it bugged me.

Now, like most writers, I tend to write what I like to read. My novel, ‘Jenny,’ is an historical piece that takes place in 1928 Texas. Obviously things were different then. It’s up to the writer to know, or at least find out, just how different. We’ve already established the fact that it’s no longer hard to do. I actually find the research enjoyable. I have a Model T Ford that plays a prominent part in the story and I did a lot of reading and Google searches on Model T’s. I like finding out things like the fact that the car’s gas tank was under the front seat. I love passing information like that on to the reader. I even watched a video by a guy who owns one. He showed how to start it. I got a kick out of that and worked it into the story.

And the history itself has to be right, too, of course. Not just the little details. If it’s 1928 you have to be careful that you don’t have your characters talking about something that happened in 1932. Make sure you don’t have them heading out to see ‘Gone With The Wind.’ That wasn’t until 1939. You have to do the research. I’m sure this scares a lot of people away from doing period pieces. It’s time consuming, that’s for sure. But, again, I like it.

But a writer can also have fun with history. Embellishment often works when doing historical novels. Putting your own slant to an historical event. In a great novel about the old west called, ‘Little Big Man,’ Thomas Berger decided to make George Armstrong Custer slightly insane. There’s no way to know if he was, or not, so he could do that sort of thing. He shoots down a bunch of other western myths, too. Terrific book. But even there, his history was on the mark. He just made use of a little artistic license, that’s all. (Which reminds me, mine is up for renewal, soon).

However, I don’t think you should mess with the facts as much as Noah’s biographer did (see cartoon). Then you’re leaving the historical fiction genre and moving into fantasy. If I pick up a book about ancient Rome and it starts with Nero pulling up in a limousine, I can be pretty sure that the writer didn’t do his research. Or that this is gonna be a really good story!

 

 

 

Tools of the Trade

In any job, you have certain tools that are required to be able to do your job properly. Writing is no different. In general, writing requires some sort of writing implement consisting of either a computer with word processing software or ye olde pen and paper. Of course, it also helps to have a fairly decent understanding of the language you are writing in, and a good vocabulary helps as well as basic grammar. Then, of course you need an idea. But is that all you need?

Within the last year, I have met all kinds of writers: pansters, plotters, plotting pansters, natural storytellers, experienced authors, etc. But the one thing that stands out among everyone I’ve met is that the successful writers have empathy. You can write the most gorgeous scene to ever be written, but if your characters are lacking in emotion, you will be lacking in readers. If you can’t understand what it’s like being your character, then no one will be drawn in to your book to find out more. They won’t care enough about your characters to want to learn about them.

It sounds odd to have empathy for imaginary people who only live in your head but think about it. When you go to a movie that catches you up in it, what has drawn you? What is it that hooked you in the first place? What made you care enough to involve yourself emotionally? What about your favorite book? My guess is there was at least one character that grabbed you and held on. You got involved with an imaginary character. Why? Because you were able to empathize with them. And that is because the writer got inside that character and was able to understand him/her and write from their point of view.

As you know, CJ Stuart and I have been doing challenges ths month. We’re both doing the Blogging A to Z Challenge, and I’ve been doing a poetry challenge. Yesterday, the poetry challenge required me to write a persona poem. This is a poem written from a different perspective than my own. There were some really good ones. The best told a story from a fountain pen’s point of view. My blog friend, Lizzi Rogers, wrote from a statue’s perspective. And I wrote from an old woman’s view. (I have included my poem at the end of this post.)

All of us had to be able to consider what it was like to see through another’s eyes, even if those “eyes” happened to be inanimate objects. What makes a story compelling isn’t just a good plot. You also have to have believable characters who get you emotionally involved with them. Mark Twain said, “write what you know.” He was talking about emotions. It isn’t enough to create an imaginary world people want to live in. You must also create people that others want to empathize with. We all want to know that others are going through the same things we do. We want someone to cheer for.

This week I challenge you to write with empathy. See the world from a different perspective than your own. Go out and think about what someone else might be experiencing and try to understand life from their point of view. Or maybe, see things from a new angle. I wonder what the tree in my backyard is thinking…

Have a great Monday!

Jesi

Advice from Atropos*

By Jesi Scott

 

Look at me.

Look at me and dread the day you

look like me,

skin creasing, folding in on itself,

hair greying, thinning, turning white

as age gnaws on my bones.

 

With age comes wisdom,

or so they say.

Let me tell you what I have learned

in this lifetime.

Life is hard and unfair;

it is ugly and messy and so full of disappointment.

It leaves you scarred, your body marked,

and, sometimes your soul, for all eternity.

 

You will cry and beat your fists in rage;

it’s how we come into this world,

and how some of us go out, still fighting

the current that draws us inexorably

toward the waterfall without a paddle;

we all go over, willing or not.

 

But there are moments…

Oh, such moments!

Such sweet, pleasurable, blood-racing,

breath-holding, firework moments…

the touch of someone’s hand on

your’s, the sound of a baby’s first laugh,

the scent of fresh spring rain,

the silk of his or her lips on your lips.

Oh, how I will miss the simple

pleasure of a kiss.

 

So, look at me.

Look at me and remember these days of your youth,

for they will not come again.

Remember the hard days, and the good;

relish every heart-stopping, goose-pimple, champagne-bubble moment,

because these are what get us through,

and make life worth living.

 

*Atropos is one of the three Greek goddesses known as Fate. She represents one of the three ages of woman known as The Crone.

Dusting off the Trash

Last night I had a dinner meeting with Amanda, and right before we parted ways, I made the confession that I had absolutely nothing ready to blog about today. Nothing.

She advised me to just write a stream of consciousness, I think that is what she said to do, but basically just start writing whatever comes to mind, just go with it.

Great advice, except for one small thing, I just can’t do it. My stream of consciousness usually revolves around the kids, the grocery list or other mundane crap that I am pretty sure you do not want to read about. Instead, I picked up the book that I am in the middle of and began my procrastination regimen.

Currently I am reading Stephen Kings On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. This is not one of those “How to become a Writer” sort of book, it is basically a biography of his storytelling and language and I am loving it.

Anyways, back to my procrastinating, tonight’s chapter was about the making of Carrie. Now I’ve heard the story of how he had thrown away his first draft of Carrie and his wife dug his manuscript out of the garbage and told him that it was worth his time. What I didn’t know was Stephen King never liked Carrie White. She only started out as a three page first draft before he trashed it.

In the middle of this chapter, he states that he made the realization that stopping a piece of work just because it is difficult, whether emotionally or creatively, is not a good idea.That sometimes you have to keep going even if you don’t feel up to it and sometimes you’re doing good work when it really feels like all you are managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position. (Ha, love that!)

That was my spark. Both for this blog post and so much more.

I started writing, really writing, when I was 21 years old. I am fixing to be 31 and I have published absolutely nothing. Want to know why? In all of my years as a writer, I quit 90% of what I am working on. Why? Because it feels like I am writing a big pile of crap. Or I become emotionally detached from my characters. Or I get a new, prettier, shinier idea to play around with. Or it just became too hard. It’s not that I am a bad writer, I just walk away too quickly.

Last year I made a resolution to finish something. Anything. As long as I finished whatever I started. True to my promise, in July I finished the first draft of my novel. And it felt good. Really good. Then in November, I participated in NaNoWriMo with the idea of doing a FanFiction piece of an old Fairy Tale. Then on Day one, I couldn’t seem to stop thinking about the characters in my finished draft from over the summer so I knew what I had to do.

Write what happened next. In that month, I completed what will either be a Part Two of my first novel, or a second book to the first one. Either way, I have two finished first drafts that I have been working on. I am no where near full completion, but I am still hacking away at it.

It hasn’t been easy. There are days that I think what I have written is complete crap. (Guys, no matter how much you tell you me what I’ve got is good, we still have our inner demons that kick us while we are down, but thank you though.)  Some of my characters are painful to be in, physically painful, but I have kept going. Even when a critiquer informed me that my favorite character was a piece of crap low life. Even when my hardest character to write turned out to be one of the favorites in my group.  Even when I knew I had to write that gut wrenching scene that left me in tears, I will persevere.

When this book is completed, I have full intentions to dust off an old half written first draft and complete it. I will keep going. I will finish. I am a writer and it is what I will continue to do.

Do you have any unfinished projects that need dusting off? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

Till next time,

~AJP

I think my head just exploded

There are many things about being a writer that are fun, but there are challenges as well. Two of the biggest challenges that many of us face is remembering that not everyone can hear the characters in our head and that there are times and places when we really do need to act like “normal” people.  😉

I don’t know about you, but I have been known to carry on conversations with certain characters. It usually happens when one is being particularly obstinate about something in the plot. No, it doesn’t matter that they are usually right. The fact that this imaginary character (and oh the screams of denial that just went up) doesn’t matter. They know the plot better than I do. After all, they are the ones living it, aren’t they? All I am is a means to get the story out to the people. My job is to sit there and type.

Then there are the characters that refuse to die. One novel is on the back burner right now for just that reason. I was going to kill off a supporting character about a quarter of the way into the book to give the main character more motivation for seeking vengeance against the big baddie in the book. But noooo, that character refused to die. Oh, I could hurt her a little but she wasn’t going to die. Nope, no way and no how.

Sigh.

Fortunately, most conversations with my characters happen when there is no one around. But there have been times when I’ve been out for a walk or running errands and I wind up talking out plot points. I usually realize it when people start pointing and whispering. Let me tell you, folks really do look at you oddly when you talk to yourself. They tend to hide their children and consider calling for help if you are discussing things like planetary invasions. People are funny that way.

The biggest challenge to acting normally usually come when I am actually writing. I’ve learned not to be out in public when writing fight scenes. People really do get alarmed when, in the middle of the library, you suddenly stop pounding away on your laptop and starts choreographing a fight, complete with hand and feet movements. I tend to forget thing like that. Even if I don’t get out of my chair, I might stop and try to figure out the best way to deliver a strike while preparing for a block, especially if the attack is coming from an unexpected angle. For me, it is easiest to do that if I actually make some of the arm and hand movements. They might be shortened movements but they are still enough to cause raised eyebrows.

The problem is, when I’m deep into the story, that is where my mind is. I forget there are other people around me. I might be on another planet, hip deep in battle, or walking a courtroom, delivering my closing argument. That is what I see in my head, not the kids just out of school for the day and their parents looking for books or dvds to keep them occupied.

So I have to keep myself grounded when I’m out of the safety of the house writing. Fortunately for my sanity, what there is of it, other writers have said they face the same challenges. I hope they do and they weren’t just humoring the crazy writer lady. . .hmmm, is that anything like the crazy cat lady?  😉

It Hasn’t Been Written Yet

No cause for alarm, my title does not serve as notice to my fellow bloggers that I didn’t get my post for today written. 🙂

This post is actually inspired by one of my fellow bloggers.  During our first week here at Twisted Writers, AJ Prince posted an interview with each member of this group on the day of his/her first post.  You can see the interviews on her blog, For the Love of… which did a great job of giving you a glimpse into our differences and similarities.  For example, I don’t think any of us are strictly plotters.  Also, neither Jess nor I want a gravestone. We instead like the idea of a tree. The interviews are fun, so go have a look if you like. Have one of us in particular you need to know where we would go visit if we could, like right this minute? (Spoiler alert, I want to go to Hogwarts.  She didn’t specify that it had to be a *real* place.) You can check them out here:

It was David’s reply to what fictional character is most like him that had me inspired for this post.  Instead of confessing who we are most like despite our best wishes (like me), or flat out refusing to give away that information (Amanda), David said “I don’t think they’ve written one yet.”

I love that.  Who knows what was going on in his head to prompt that answer exactly, but what spoke to me is that in this world where (arguably) it’s all been written before, there are still reasons to keep writing because some details, some worlds, some characters haven’t been written yet.

I read and write a lot of romance. Of course, the “Will they or won’t they” storyline isn’t new. Boy meets Girl and they have a conflict and stumble their way towards a happy ending.  Not exactly revolutionary.

What is revolutionary is when a voice emerges that hooks us in to whatever story the author gives us. Jane Austen put pen to page, informing us that:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Readers for ages tuned in and flipped pages to see what would happen to Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. Knowing that they would probably end up together in the end did not change the fact that their story captures hearts and her characters remain beloved by new generations.

Every time a reader picks up a novel with a romantic theme, for example, since that’s my genre, it’s a great possibility those characters will end up together, but it doesn’t diminish the tension that we feel hoping that all will get resolved.  Will Katniss choose Peeta or Gale? Or neither? And will she, or they, even survive? I didn’t know, I had to keep reading those Hunger Games books to see! (Just a note here, I am emphatically Team Peeta, though the actor who plays Gale, a/k/a Thor’s brother, makes that a little harder on me now that there are movie versions of the book characters I love.)

Every genre has its tropes and most all books and stories have something that has been done before in some way or other. What hasn’t been done, though, is seeing those similar stories done in your context, with your characters, and in your voice.

David said he didn’t think a character had been written like him.  It’s quite possible that there isn’t, because he is unique (and awesome by the way). The possibility of seeing a part of yourself in a character you read, or recognizing some aspect of your life in the story you are reading is part of what keeps us reading. There’s comfort in knowing we are not alone. Equally, it’s encouraging as a writer to know that there is the possibility of reaching a reader with something we have written.  Knowing there is the possibility a story line, or line of text from something we write will resonate with a reader is part of what keeps us writing.

So remember as you write that there may be someone out there who hasn’t yet found that character that is just like him/her. Feel encouraged that what you write may strike a chord with someone in a way nothing has before. Trust that even with your simplest words on the page, someone may connect with them in a way you wouldn’t have imagined.

Just keep writing, because “it”, that something that will be special to someone who reads your work, hasn’t been written yet. And you must write it!

Have a great week!

~CJS