Cardboard Characters


 

Cardboard Characters

Natalie Bright

One of the most difficult tasks for a writer is to create fictional characters that seem real and believable to the reader. I love books in which characters seem to jump off the page and ones that remain in my head long after the book is closed.

Much Like Cardboard

Are your characters more like cardboard; stiff, emotionless, without personality? They have names and faces, but they are just on the surface of your story and nothing more. The solution: dig deeper into your character’s motivation.

As an author, you must torture your characters. It is impossible to reveal deep character feelings and personalities without applying deep, intense pressure. The ways in which they react to that pressure reveals their temperament and psyche.

Using Character Profiles

Complete character profiles on both your protagonist and your antagonist. There are many great example forms available online.

Don’t stop at the name. Create a birthdate, a history of where they were born, family description, dominant characteristics, weaknesses, and physical limitations. Create historical events for your character that might have happened in their life such as school’s name, college, children’s names, etc.

Write A Letter

Many of my author friends write a letter in first person POV from their character. Don’t think; just free write. Let them reveal their secrets, desires, fears, self-image.

This trick worked great for me on the story I am working on now. My main characters are a young mule-skinner and a Comanche brave. I am alternating chapters between their points of view. I want to show the contrast between how very different their worlds are, yet they are both sixteen-year-old boys. They each wrote me a letter about their different worlds. One holds a great hatred for his father, and the other resents the physical limitations he has to live with. Now I have something to build upon and add the conflict. At this point, writing is more fun than work.

Keep moving forward and thanks for following WordsmithSix!

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WHAT’S IN A NAME?


WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Lynnette Jalufka

 

Finding the right name for a character can be a challenge. I’ve spent hours searching for the perfect one through books and online. I look at meanings, spellings, how the name sounds, and if it fits the time period and setting of the story. This varies, depending on the importance of the character.

A name can show personality. A woman called Cassandra gives an impression of elegance and formality. If she goes by the nickname Cassie, she’s playful and care-free. Your characters can also act contrary to what their names imply. Or don’t name them at all. That alone is significant.

Keep in mind how your readers might pronounce your characters’ names. I have a friend who can’t discuss the science-fiction novels she reads with her husband because they say the names so differently. Consider putting a pronunciation guide in either your book or online if the names are unique, especially if you write science fiction, fantasy, or even historical periods like Anglo-Saxon England. You want your readers to fall in love with your characters, not stumble over what to call them.

The People – Part 2


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

The People – Part 2

By Nandy Ekle

Last week we talked about giving our characters layers. We talked about the surface layers. So, as promised, we will go deeper into character development. A little knowledge of psychology is helpful, but the main tool is to know people around you. And people watching is an excellent way to gather information.

For one of my short stories, My Sweet Prince (in the anthology One Murderous Week, available in print from any bookstore), my main character came to me after driving home from a weekend trip. I stopped at a convenience store for a cup of coffee and the store clerk was sitting on a stool behind the counter, chewing a wad of gum and reading a romance book. And suddenly I could see several layers behind her eyes. Here was this young woman working all night long in a store. She likes to read romance books, probably as an escape from a dull job pulling a boring shift. The gum smelled like bubble gum. Personally, I like to chew gum to help stay awake when I need to. But I also noticed a bruise on her arm. The bruise could have come from anywhere, and that was the whole point. I really knew nothing about this woman other than the little clues I could see in my fifteen minutes in the store.

So, back to Jack Torrence from The Shining. His surface layer was arrogance and anger. And Stephen King made the statement later that he didn’t like Jack’s arrogance. But really and truly, the arrogance was necessary because it hid a deep well of layers that would only work if there was a hard shell to cover them up. He has guilt, anger, shame, confusion, sadness, and self-loathing. And every single time I read the book, I stumble on a layer I had not seen before. The reason it all works so well is if arrogance is all there was, we would never be able to sympathize with Jack. However, if the story opened with all the deeper darker layers instead of the surface, Jack would not have been a believable character.

Next week we’ll talk about some of the psychology involved in creating a believable, likable character your readers will cheer/weep for.

Your homework, think about a situation you’ve been in recently where you meet a group of people for the first time, like a party. Think about one interesting person you met. List the clues you see to tell you something about this person. What is it about this person that stands out in your mind? How can this become one of your characters?

Towns


Outtakes 368

Towns

By Cait Collins

 

When setting the location for your story, what do you look for?  Do you choose an actual place or is it from your imagination?  What draws you to the city or town?  Where is it located?  If the location is in the United States, which state are you considering?  Are you familiar with the city or town and the state? What’s the population?  Who are the biggest employers?  Is there a college or university in the area?  Is there a historic district?  Did any major, historic event occur in the area?  Describe Main Street.  Where are the popular hang outs:  a bar, a diner, the library?  Is there a well-known landmark?  What is the major building material:  wood, brick, native stone?

Are the locals affluent, middle class, under privileged, or a mixture of all classes? What are the major ethnic backgrounds?  Describe your antagonist, protagonist, and major supporting character’s homes.  Where’s the best place to buy an ice cream sundae?

Does it matter if your setting is real or from your imagination?  Not really because all of this information, and more, is necessary to build the setting for the story.  While the location is essential to the work, it should not take over the tale.

Try living with your character


Try living with your character

When creating a character try this exercise.

As you build a character or characters, you should be able to see them and answer questions about them. As you take action and make choices during the day, do the same with your character.

What do you eat for breakfast? Does your character eat breakfast? What foods do they like or dislike?

Do you wear a particular style of clothes? What does your character WEAR? Why do they like to wear them?

Do you go to the store? Where does your character shop and what do they buy?

What do you do for fun, sports or hobbies? What about your character?

What’s important is NOT what the character did, but what you learned about what you know about the character.

Rory C. Keel

CHARACTER


CHARACTER

Natalie Bright

 

“What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?” HENRY JAMES

 

As David Morrell reminds us in his book LESSONS FROM A LIFETIME OF WRITING, plot and character are intimately related. Every character that comes on scene has interaction with your main character and will establish a relationship with that main character. Your protagonist will interact with each of those minor characters in some way, and their actions and dialogue move the plot along. Is that relationship from the past or a new one? (Be sure to add Morrell’s book to your writing reference library.)

According to E. M. Forster, main characters are multidimensional. They surprise us, they are complex, and they are difficult to describe succinctly. They are defined by who they are.

The iceberg theory is a style of writing coined by American writer Ernest Hemingway. “The dignity of the movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above the water”. Same is true for characters and their stories. What is obvious to the reader implies a much larger truth and depth. That is why the majority of your character profile will never appear in your story, but you know your characters intimately. As one workshop instructor explained, the writer should know what is in the main character’s closet.

What does your character want, and what obstacles can you throw in their way to prevent them from achieving that goal?

THE WAY I SEE IT


THE WAY I SEE IT

Lynnette Jalufka

One day, two of my coworkers were pushing carts down a walkway, heading toward each other.

One shouted, “Whoa!”

The other kept going, until the carts collided, spilling their contents on the floor. “Why didn’t you say ‘stop?'” he asked. “What’s ‘whoa’ mean?”

Obviously, one coworker has had experience with horses, and the other has not. I can relate. Because of my equine background, I say, “whoa” instead of “stop” all the time. I also respond faster to “whoa.” It’s part of who I am. It’s part of how I connect to the world around me.

The same goes for your characters. Their background and experiences should color how they see the people, places, and objects in your story. In my upcoming novel, I show that my protagonist is a horsewoman by how she constantly does comparisons to the equine world. She evaluates people by their horses first.

Drawing from your character’s own experiences will give them depth and personality. In short, making them alive to your readers.

The People – Part 2


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

The People – Part 2

By Nandy Ekle

If you’ve ever dealt with people—any amount of time at all, even just a moment—you know every single person in the world is made of many layers. Even newborn babies. I remember watching my babies, just a few hours old, sleeping and wondering what they were like. 

Your characters must have layers just like real people do. If they don’t, they won’t be believable. They won’t connect with your reader. Your reader will close the book and say, “Who cares.” So inventing a character takes careful work.

You have the outside layer, the surface. This is what the world in your book sees—not necessarily what the character looks like (unless your story is about overcoming a physical condition). This is the part of your character, your person, that starts the story.

The next layer is something that maybe is not so evident right away. 

Here’s an example. One of my favorite books is The Shining, and the layering is exactly why. When the story begins, we see a man in a job interview. The interviewer is talking away with Jack, explaining the job, and explaining that he knows about Jack’s past problems. The very first line of the book shows us Jack’s attitude toward his prospective employer—he’s arrogant. He’s angry that the problems of the past are drug out into the open when he thought he slayed them. And he’s angry that this prissy little man talks to him as if he is intellectually challenged. So immediately we empathize with Jack. We all know what these things feel like.

But we find out later, only a few pages into the story, that the anger and the arrogance are only shields he has built as defense mechanisms. His inner layers are far more complex and far darker than we have any idea about. 

And we can identify with that as well.

Next week we’ll talk about the deep stuff. 

Homework: Describe in the comments below how your favorite character appears to his/her world. Then describe the first sign that reveals a deeper layer, and what that layer is.

Favorite Literary Characters


Favorite Literary Characters

by Adam Huddleston

Since the theme this month is characterization, I wanted to mention a few of my favorite characters from classic fiction.  Of course, this list is by no means comprehensive.

One of my most beloved book series is The Dark Tower by Stephen King.  While many fans of Mr. King’s magnum opus would site the main character’s side-kicks as their favorite characters, I have to go with the protagonist, Roland Deschain.  He is simultaneously endearing and frightful.  His gun-fighting abilities are fascinating as is his doggedness at pursuing the story’s ultimate goal.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien hosts a literary ton of characters.  Of all of them, my favorite is Aragorn (AKA Strider, AKA King Elessar).  He is the prototypical hero and Tolkien provides him with excellent dialogue, great actions, and a wonderful arc.

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the author presents the tale in a story-within-a-story format.  In other words, one character is telling their story to another character, who in turn is telling it to another, who in turn is telling it to the reader.  My favorite character is actually Dr. Frankenstein’s creation, often referred to as the monster.  He is intriguing and pitiful.  The creation’s murderous actions are horrifying, but he is also a sad character that the reader feels empathy towards.

What are your favorite literary characters?  

Under the Bed


Outtakes 367

Under the Bed

By Cait Collins

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to clean the junk out of my house.  I’ve made a start by cleaning out the closet in the master bedroom.  Then I started to focus on the closet in my study.  About a third of the upper shelf is loaded with boxes containing my “under the bed shopped but unpublished works.”  I’ve started pulling down boxes and found some promising pieces as well as some real duds.  The duds are in the trash, but the promising works I’ve decided to hang on to for a while.

If I have multiple copies of a manuscript I’ll trash the extras and keep just one copy.  That way I can reduce the number of file boxes on the shelf.  Once the clean out is complete, I’ll take a good look at the remaining pages and decide if the work is salvageable.  If I determine the work to be worth saving, I will type it into a new Word document make making updates and changes as I go.  Then I will destroy the paper copies.

Should I decide the story is no longer interesting to me, I will shred it, and then I will pack the empty file box into a larger box to take to Goodwill. Hopefully I will have an empty section of shelves when I’m through.

I don’t know about other writers, but cleaning out the mess and organizing the storage spaces helps me focus.  My desk and work area at the office are relatively cleaned off.  I don’t keep many photos and nick-nacks on my work station. I really do work best that way.  If I trash the junk,  I think more clearly.  I can work smarter and better.  I make fewer mistakes when I my work area is neat.  However, the same does not hold for desk drawers.  What I can’t see doesn’t bother me.