Characterization Part 5

Characterization Part 5

By Natalie Bright


I’m reviewing my notes from past conferences and blogging about characterization. Please feel free to comment on any tips you’ve learned on developing believable and likable characters. The past few blogs have been a hodge-podge on all concepts of developing characters. We’re digging deeper again this week, because really, you just can’t know enough about your characters.

Have you completed a character questionnaire yet? There are tons of great examples on the web.

Keep Digging Deeper

What is the one unique component of literature that humans enjoy? The key that all writers strive for? The take-away that readers can take pleasure in?

The answer: emotion.

We can read a story and find joy or fear. We can laugh out loud at the antics of a main character, or we can weep for concern at their plight. The power of the written word is an amazing thing.

As a writer, we must dig deeper. You have your character’s profile and you know their attitudes. As Steven James said, “What are your characters passionate about, desire, most ashamed about, afraid to pursue? Now give them what they want the most and snatch it away. Dangle her heart’s desire in front of her and never let her have it.”

Finding Emotion

We’re just human, with human emotions and life experiences. Real life events of experiencing or observing provides the basis from which our characters emerge.

How can your character respond to death unless you draw upon your experiences in being at someone’s bedside when they passed? How can your character experience love lost unless you weep as you write it? How can you write about the power of indifference without drawing upon your own past? Even if you haven’t experienced the emotion, then you can probably find someone who has.

Authors can’t be sissy’s about this. We have to go there. We have to revisit those painful experiences again and convey them to our readers through the fictional characters we create. I’m not saying it has to be the exact same experience, but you can apply the emotions you’ve felt to fictional situations. As your heroine meets those challenges and overcomes the obstacles, this becomes the character arc.

Developing the Character Arc

Character arc is defined as the emotional problems through which the protagonist (and antagonist and sometimes secondary characters) must face to achieve their goal. 

As bestselling author Steven James points out, “At the heart of every story is tension, and tension is that unmet desire which includes both external and internal.” As your character tries to achieve that desire and overcomes the antagonist, they change, they grow, they become better for their experiences. You must dig past the surface elements of your story and determine the why

Some of the most common arcs are: going from emotionally dead to being emotionally alive, learn to accept other’s faults, overcome a fear, learn to take risks, overcome guilt, learn to accept his own faults; and the list can go on and on. These are most obvious in movie screenplays where characters struggle with some emotional dilemma that is resolved at the end regardless of the action going on around them.

More Conflict Please

In order to dig deeper, Jodi Thomas suggests all dialogue reflect some type of conflict. “It’s not necessarily a conflict between the two characters speaking. One could be having internal conflict while they’re saying something else,” Thomas says.

Author Jennifer Talty explained that, “conflict is the fuel that starts your story. The internal motivation of your character is the fuel that drives your story.” 

As the core conflict between the protag and antag increases, the internal emotional conflict escalates and becomes your character’s arc.

For more information, Goal Motivation Conflict by Deb Dixon is an excellent addition for your writer’s reference library.

Have fun and keep writing!



Characterization Part 3

Characterization Part 3

By Natalie Bright


From last week, did you develop a history and family chart for your character? Next, let’s dig even deeper and consider how their life experiences might influence their actions and responses to the conflict in your plot.

The Power of Control

When you get right down to it, I think people throughout the world and through time have experienced the same emotions. Being human means we have the ability to practice self-control and we cover our genitals (and there are always exceptions). Fictional characters would draw on those same emotions. They’d also be influenced by traits of their experiences, both past and present.

Author Steven James talked about the power of control in a main character in a special session at OWFI con in Oklahoma City. Self-control and silence are remarkable traits for the hero. “Heroes don’t back down,” he said. Stillness, silence, body stance, and a slow response can evoke power. Would 007 ever run from the room screaming like a girl? Through internal dialogue, your main character may be having a total meltdown but on the outside the villain only sees calm and control. This makes an intense scene for the reader.

Develop the Differences

reflect on the differences for your protag and antag, and then take everything to the next level for fictional characters. For example, consider the Texas Panhandle where I live. A visitor from Florida commented how busy everyone is here. She said we’re always going somewhere to do something, evidenced by our recurring reference of “fixin’ to”.  She told me that people in Florida don’t seem to be that busy at doing anything or even making plans. Her comment surprised me in that the differences would even be that noticeable.

We’ve seen this a hundred times; a character is put into a new situation, a new city, or a different world in which their normalcy is now outside the norm, and often times extremely strange.  Develop the differences.

I remember talking to a group of Chinese college students who were amazed that they could drive outside of town to where there were no people.  They were shocked to drive down a dirt road to our home and not meet another car. At the time, they lived in apartments owned by my in-laws and they would ask the strangest questions, “Who gave you permission to buy this building.” “How were you assigned to this land?” “Who tells you how many cattle you can own?” They couldn’t comprehend that my husband managed property he actually owned, which he was capable of repairing and leasing to people of his choosing. The idea that families could own grassland and decide how many cattle the land will support was an unbelievable concept to these exchange students. To me, being assigned an apartment and having a job which I didn’t choose seems just as strange.

What If

I love meeting new people and learning about their lives. Aren’t humans fascinating? Fictional characters can be just as enthralling. Dig deeper to determine the differences between your heroes and villains and then make them larger than life. Create conflict. Utilize both external and internal issues and build intensity with emotion.

As the character dynamics swirl around in your head and as you consider the “what if”, you’ll come away with a ton of conflict for your plot line based on the feelings and desires of your characters. Once you really know your fictional creations, you can let them take you on their journey.

Bestselling author Jodi Thomas pointed out, “Characters are interesting only to the extent that they grate on each other.”

Have fun and Keep writing!



By Natalie Bright

The spark for your story might begin in various ways. It might be a theme or message, or perhaps a unique setting or time period. Events for a plot might spring to mind based on a favorite historical incident. Whatever the case, at some point the characters will form the central part of your novel.

When you think about the books you’ve read, which ones stand out the most? Can you recall the setting or the plot elements? You may not even remember the author’s name. More than likely you remember the characters.

There’s no question that we’ll have several generations of readers who’ll remember Harry, Bella or Katniss well into their adult years.

Actions have Reasons

One of my favorite authors writes character driven plots. Jodi Thomas, New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author of 37 novels has a degree in family counseling, with that insight into human dynamics, she creates unforgettable characters who feel more like friends.  “There are two reasons why people do what they do: 1) one reason they tell others 2) the real reason,” she said. Doesn’t that put a whole new spin on what motivates your characters?

Over the next few posts, we’ll take an in-depth look at characterization and how their motivation can be used to move the plot along. I’ll share tips and techniques from all of the classes and conferences I’ve attended.

Chat with you next Monday!

Steven James Keynote on Characters

Middle grade Monday 

Steven James Keynote on Characters

OWFI Session, 5 May 2012

by Natalie Bright

The keynote speaker for the Oklahoma Writers Federation Inc 2012 meeting was Steven James.  Following is a list on his observations regarding character development:

*  Your main character is a putty person. They change shape as a result of the struggle of the story, and as the story transforms, the character emerges always different

* One moment can pivot your entire book; heroes don’t back down

* Every verb you choose shows status for your character

* Raising the stakes of the antagonist also raises status of MC

* Develop characterization using internal dialogue, show sarcasm by thoughts, not words, posture, body language.

*Main Characters always have self control.

*Give your main character what he wants the most, then snatch it away.  Or,

dangle what they want the most in front of them and never let them have it.

* Main characters must interact with every sub-character; don’t waste characters. For every minor character in your book, the MC has attitude, history, intention

* Your #1 Goal as a writer:  always give the reader what he wants or something better!