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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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?

Characters & The Five Senses


Characters & The Five Senses

Natalie Bright

 

The main character Hassan in the movie The Hundred Foot Journey, is a culinary genius whose talent propels him to a world-renowned chef.  The title refers to the distance between Hassan’s family who relocates to France because of a tragedy and opens an Indian restaurant across the road from a traditional French restaurant. I have watched this many times, and I always tear up at the same scene.

The Power of Taste and Smell

One of my favorite scenes is the perfect example of how the power of taste and smell can be used to create powerful emotion.

While sitting in his darkened, closed restaurant overlooking the Paris skyline, Hassan hears a young co-worker on break. He raises his head, pauses, and then slowly rises from the floor. The young man is eating. “Do you want some?” he asks.

As Hassan dips pieces of fried bread into the dish, the young man explains that his wife cooks the traditional Indian way on an open fire in the courtyard of their apartment using spices from their homeland. Tears well up in Hassan’s eyes and you can see the emotion and internal conflict on his face. His mother, who had died in a fire, was the one who had taught him the use of spices. The family’s relocation from India to France had been a struggle of cultural differences. All of this is visible as Hassan buries his face in his hands and sobs. You understand the conflict that is going through his mind. There is no dialogue. He doesn’t voice his pain, but you know. It is a very powerful scene triggered by smell and taste.

INCLUDE THE SENSES

Characters should experience several of the five senses in every scene. This pulls your reader into the emotion and setting and reveals the conflict that the character is experiencing. During the editing process, I find it’s easier to deliberately focus on enhancing the five sense during one pass. As I read every scene, I think about the reality for that character. What more can be revealed? For example, the smells of food, the sounds of nature, the feel of satin fabric, etc. Dig deep into the slightest, most minute detail of what that character is experiencing. Maybe it’s good as written, but maybe it can be better.

Here’s Your Homework

Think of your favorite movie and watch a scene that triggers emotion based on any of the five senses. If you have a particular scene in mind, be very specific with your search terms to find it on YouTube.

Watch the scene several times. Now, turn off the video and write that same scene. Be descriptive about the senses that trigger the emotion. Fill your pages with emotion and rewriter the scene.

THE WRItINNG LIFE QUOTES


“One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.”
—Lawrence Block, Writer’s Digest

THE WRITING LIFE QUOTES


“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.”
—Elmore Leonard

The Writing Life Quotes


The Writing Life Quotes

Natalie Bright

 

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”
—Samuel Johnson

The Writing Life Quotes


The Writing Life Quotes

Natalie Bright

 

“Making people believe the unbelievable is no trick; it’s work. … Belief and reader absorption come in the details: An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything.”
—Stephen King (Writer’s Digest 
an interview with King in our May/June 2009 issue)

The Writing Life Quotes


 

“Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. … It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.”
—Enid Bagnold

A Few Quotes for Motivation


A Few Quotes for Motivation

 

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”

— Anne Frank

 

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

― Sylvia Plath

 

“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”

— Stephen King

 

“People say, ‘What advice do you have for people who want to be writers?’ I say, they don’t really need advice, they know they want to be writers, and they’re gonna do it. Those people who know that they really want to do this and are cut out for it, they know it.”

— R.L. Stine

 

Happy Writing!