CHARACTER TRAITS


CHARACTER TRAITS

Natalie Bright

 

 

Whether you craft detailed character profiles or you let the character take you on their journey, it is helpful to really KNOW your character’s personality. By understanding the inner core of your characters, you understand their personalities, motivations, and how they will react to conflict and to each other. There are several books that make your job easier.

Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Dr. Linda Edelstein

From Sex to Schizophrenia: Everything you need to develop your characters! As a psychology-based book for writers, this is an excellent addition for your reference library. With insightful summaries, you can dig deep into motivation and conflict, and create complex characters that readers love.

45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt

This book explores the common male and female archetypes that have been used in story-telling for centuries. This gives you ideas for traits, habits, hidden secrets, desires and greatest fears as a foundation for creating compelling characters and storylines. Dig deep and ask why. This will help you understand your characters’ motivation, making them intriguing and realistic. And added bonus are the examples for each archetype drawn from literature, television and movies. This is a great book.

Happy Writing!

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Active Story Narration


Active Story Narration

Natalie Bright

Defined:story or account of events, experiences, or the like, whether true or fictitious. The art, technique, or process of narrating, or of telling a story.

Verbs can be a valuable tool in telling a story.

The right verb can evoke emotion, create strong imagery, and set the scene in the mind of your reader. Active verbs can be powerful and put your story in motion. In grade school when my sons worked on their homework using “spicey” words. I love that!

The “B” verbs have got to go: be, being, been, was, were, is. Hands up: who else is a “was” fan. I use it all the time. During my second pass of edits I find and replace as many of them as I possibly can. You probably have some common or overused verbs in your work. They only dull your sentences.

Here are a few examples:

Is fighting TO: attacked.

Was mad TO: flipped out.

Was walking TO: shuffled.

Was running TO: darted.

Don’t be afraid to let your verbs do the heavy lifting in your story narration.

 

COMMON THEMES FOR STORY NARRATION


COMMON THEMES FOR STORY NARRATION

Natalie Bright

My work in progress involves a narrow focus for research, but I’m finding so much great historical information I want the readers to know it all too. For my nonfiction book though, I’m forcing myself to stop chasing every topic that I might stumble across and instead, keep to the theme.

If you have trouble staying on task within your story narration like I sometimes do, you might consider writing under a common theme. Themes can be used for fiction as well. Write the theme in big letters and post it on your bulletin board so that you can be reminded. Your character’s motivation, conflicts, and the way they react to that obstacle can reflect the theme.

Some of the more common ones are listed below, and you might recognize them in your favorite books or movies.

Perseverance:

The main character never gives up no matter what obstacles are thrown in his path to achieving his goal. As the writer, you can make his life miserable, throw everything at him you can, and he will persevere.

Cooperation:

The main character is a leader who encourages others to work together, and the band of characters cooperate to solve the problem.

Courage:

The main character discovers his/her own inner strength to overcome fear and finds the courage to take the risk.

Acceptance:

The main character accepts their fate, accepts the reality of their world, or accepts others’ differences.

 

The Hero’s Journey: A Narrative Pattern


The Hero’s Journey: A Narrative Pattern

Natalie Bright

 

“There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.” WILLA CATHER

 

It’s impossible to cover the topic of narration during this month without touching upon THE HERO’S JOURNEY.

First identified by American scholar Joseph Campbell, it appears in storytelling across generations. Once you understand the basic narrative pattern you will recognize it immediately in myth and legends, more often in Hollywood blockbuster movies. Many filmmakers owe their success to this enduring story pattern.

The main character, the hero, accomplishes amazing feats on behalf of the rest of us. The story focuses on his journey or adventure. The hero is a universal character, crossing time and cultures.

The stages are as follows:

  1. The Ordinary World
    2. The Call of Adventure
    3. Refusal of the Call
    4. Meeting the Mentor
    5. Crossing the First Threshold
    6. Tests, Allies, Enemies
    7. Approach to the Inmost Cave
    8. The Ordeal
    9. Reward (Seizing the Sword)
    10. The Road Back
    11. Resurrection
    12. Return with the Elixir

One of the most obvious movies that uses this pattern of narration is STAR WARS. Luke Skywalker receives the call to adventure but refuses at first.  Watch this movie again and take notes as you follow the outline above. I encourage you to find out more about the Hero’s Journey and how it can help you develop your characters and the plot of your book.

Happy Writing!

 

SCENE AND SEQUEL


SCENE AND SEQUEL

Nattalie Bright

At a writer’s conference held on the campus of WTA&M University in Canyon, Texas, award-winning author Dusty Richards talked to us about scene and sequel when plotting. This is the method that he used to write his popular Byrnes Family Ranch series.

Scene structure = goal, conflict, disaster

Every scene starts with:

  1. character
  2. the viewpoint character
  3. what does he want to accomplish in the confrontation that about to happen
  4. a stepping stone to the big-picture story goal

The story goal in the scene can be stated through dialogue beforehand, internal dialogue through character thought, or stated in the opening line of the scene.

What happens next is the sequel. The pattern of sequel is:

  1. emotion
  2. quandary
  3. decision
  4. action

More on scene and sequel next week.

Follow us all month long as we blog about Story Plot. Happy writing!

 

LISTEN TO YOUR CHARACTERS


LISTEN TO YOUR CHARACTERS

Natalie Bright

 

A discussion at a writer’s workshop led by Jane Graves, an award-winning author of contemporary romance, changed the way I think about writing.

Her advice was to, “Hone in on the one thing that speaks to you. Freshness and originality comes from what you can imagine.”

Are your characters waking you up at night? Do their conversations light a fire in your gut? What do they want? Who are they?

I know this may seem abnormal to most folks, but my characters have complete conversations. I have no idea where they are or even who they are, but I know without a doubt that what I’m overhearing is important to my work in progress or something I’ll be writing in the future. My writing took on new meaning and depth when I started listening to what they were saying.

My big dreams were to be an award-winning romance novelist, but the words in my head were mostly kids, more specifically children who lived in the Texas frontier of all places. In the beginning of my writing journey, I pushed the voices out of my head and tried to create romance stories. The whole creative process was a chore; I hated the characters, the dreary plotline, and the editing process seemed like torture. What made me think that I’d ever be able to write a novel?

Janes’ words got me to thinking. What I’ve been obsessed with since a very early age, besides writing a book, is history and stories set in the Old West. Everything about that time period fascinates me and I consume historical fiction and nonfiction like air.

Believe me I’ve tried to change the ages of my characters so they’d fit a publisher’s specs, follow the advice of my husband who said if I’d write a marketable romance it would be easier to sell, and considered the ideas of a well-meaning editor who insisted I add a werewolf to make a western tale marketable. The writing process wasn’t fun anymore until I finally gave in the voices inside my head. I haven’t looked back since.  You are unique, and only you can write the story that needs to be told. Have confidence in your abilities and story-telling instincts. Have confidence in your characters. Let them show you the way.

 

THESAURUS


THESAURUS

Natalie Bright

One well-known author is quoted saying that if you have to look up words in a thesaurus, then it’s the wrong word. As a writer juggling a day-job and family, as many of you are, I think having word lists handy are a life-saver. Sometimes I know the word, but it’s late at night and the right word just doesn’t come. The only option is to reach for help.

Here are two of my favorite that I’ve found extremely helpful.

THE EMOTION THESAURUS by Angela Ackerman & Becca Pugllisi.

“A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression” is an alphabetical list by emotion. The term is defined by physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, and signs of acute cases. I kept writing that my character feels nervous, but I wanted to show her nervousness. The list of physical signals is lengthy and can be used throughout the scene. This is a comprehensive tool that writers of every genre would find useful.

CHILDREN’S WRITER’S WORD BOOK by Alijandra Magilner & Tayopa Mogilner

If you write for children, a grade-leveled word thesaurus is particularly handy. This one has word list groups by grade and reading levels for synonyms.

Happy writing!

Scenes Defined


Scenes Defined

Natalie Bright

Does your scene in your book play like a movie in your head while you write? It takes some concentration and the ability to block out the world around you, but I love it when this happens. I try to focus on every detail, no matter how minute, as I focus on the “moving picture”.

The scene is the unit of story, and in a book usually starts with a character arriving and ends when something has changed. A scene propels the story forward.

  1. Scenes in a book are anchored in a certain place and certain time.
  2. A narrative summary can describe the specifics of your scene.
  3. Scenes usually contain some type of visible action, not just internal thinking from the character.
  4. Do not use italics for internal dialogue, or what your character is “thinking”. Once the standard norm, the point of digging deep is writing inside your character’s head. This one is hard to break. We’ve discussed this several times in our critique meetings. Next time you read a recent release, notice that italics are a thing of the past.
  5. Keep the scene and action moving. No backstory in the first chapter (maybe two). Hook the reader and save the backstory for later.
  6. Skillfully weave your backstory into the story, these can be tension filled scenes into itself.
  7. End scenes (chapters) with a hook—a punchy, pithy statement.

 

River Valley Writer’s Workshop, Canadian, Texas


River Valley Writer’s Workshop, Canadian, Texas

Natalie Bright

Sponsored by the Canadian Arts Alliance and Texas High Plains Writers, we had a good mix of brand-new newbie writers to multi-published hybrid authors in April. In addition to local writers, I met people from Lubbock, Shamrock, Abilene, and San Antonio. This was the first ever workshop sponsored by the Canadian Arts Alliance.

One of the most interesting talks that really made an impression on me, was by young adult fantasy author, Kathleen Baldwin. She talked about the differences between two writing methods: pantsers vs. plotters.

Pantsers vs. Plotters

If you’ve been writing for a while, these terms are probably familiar to you. In case these terms are new to you, I will clarify the difference.

Plotters plot.Plotters work in a more controlled creative process than pantsers. Some begin with an outline, scene diagram, timeline, or even a lengthy book bible with character profiles and meticulous setting details. Some have visual storyboards with a guideline for which chapters they will work on that day, or a chapter-by-chapter or scene-by-scene outline posted on a wall. They usually know the ending and take their characters on a journey to that point.

Pantsers Wing It.They are in the zone, writing and creating and following their characters where ever they go.  They might begin with a great character or no more than a seed of an idea for a first sentence, or descriptive imagery for a unique setting, and then they’re off. The story takes over and they don’t stop to research or question why, they just keep going to the end with a complete book.

The Secret Life of Pantsers

The session in Canadian was nothing like I had ever heard before regarding the pantser vs. plotter method. Kathleen introduced us to our creative brain. We took an interesting quiz to determine if we lean more towards being a pantser or a plotter. Our personalities have a lot to do with influencing our creative process.

Pantserslove adventure and not knowing where their characters will take them. If they know the ending, they are bored. A pantser plots on the fly, relies on their subconscious creative mind or even on their dreams.

Plotters are brilliant planners who like working from outlines. They rely on the power of conscious creation, and usually like structure and order in their lives.

Studies have shown that there are just as many bestselling authors who are pantsers as plotters.

The main point of her talk is to know your brain. How can you maintain balance in your life? How do you minimize stress? One way is to write at the same time every day because we are wired to respond to habit/repetitive behaviors. When are you the most creative? Your creative mind blossoms when you reward it for brilliance. Give yourself emotional strokes for your creative accomplishments.

Try these Magic tricks for your brain: aim for ten ideas, state the most obvious and then state the opposite of that. For example, If Buffy the Vampire Slayer is walking through a graveyard at midnight she might see: a vampire jumping out and attacking her. The opposite of that might be; a happy clown pops out of the headstone. The second idea is very different, but too weird and doesn’t work for the story. List five or more opposite ideas, but less obvious. What works best? 1) An old lady sits in a rocker, knitting. 2) Buffy’s dead mother floats up singing a ghostly warning. 3)Buffy finds a baby sleeping. 4) Maybe the baby is a toddler, and it looks like Spike. 5) Little vampire Spike is trapped in a time warp, and is crying, lost, alone, hungry. Does this idea make sense for your story, characters and theme?

I have several friends who are pantsers and their stories are amazing. I felt very frustrated when trying to understand their writing method and put it to practice. My day job involves numbers and deadlines, and now I understand that my brain likes that sort of structure. I like having an outline for my story and realized that I don’t feel ready to write until the story has come together in my brain. I usually know the ending. It’s at that point that inspiration strikes and I am able to put words on a page, which is the exact opposite from the pantser method. After taking Kathleen’s quiz I discovered that I exhibit qualities of both processes, which might explain my hyper, squirrel-chasing work habits. I can never settle on one project. There are too many things going on in my head at once.

What about you? What process makes you feel the most creative?

It was a great weekend of inspiration to learn story craft, eat some great food, and meet some awesome creatives. If you ever have the chance to visit the beautiful town of Canadian in the Texas Panhandle, stop in at the Stumbling Goat Saloon for a burger and a beer, or The Cattle Exchange for a steak. So many other great places to dine along with unique boutiques for shopping. A must is The Citadelle Foundation which houses an amazing art collection.

 

Writer’s Resources


Writer’s Resources

Natalie Bright

 

A writer’s job never ends. When you’re not writing, then you are probably thinking about writing. Our characters and stories are not familiar with the term “taking a break.” They constantly ramble around in our head, or at least mine do. When you need a break from the life stuff and you need to turn off the story sparks in your head for a few minutes, think about listening to Podcasts. I’ve got into the habit of listening while I get ready for work every morning. Here are a few of my favorites.

Story Craft

Writing Excuses. “Fifteen minutes long because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.”

Hosted by several Sci Fi and Fantasy authors along with their guests, they’ll be talking about characterization all year.

http://www.writingexcuses.com/

Indie Author Self-Publishing and Promotion

Joanna Penn conducts great interviews covering a variety of topics relating to self-publishing and promoting your books as an Indie Author.  Podcast episodes are posted every Monday and include interviews, inspiration and information on writing and creativity, publishing options, book marketing and creative entrepreneurship. At episode #361 this week, she has an extensive backlist of interviews covering every topic you can imagine relating to the business. Well worth your time.

https://www.thecreativepenn.com/podcasts/

The Publishing Business

Sell More Books Show keeps me informed about the top news stories relating to the book industry. This is a weekly podcast focusing on helping new and experienced authors stay up-to-date with the latest self-publishing and indie news, tools and book selling/marketing strategies. The two hosts discuss and report, plus their easy-going, humorous banter makes this a fun listen.

http://sellmorebooksshow.com/

Educate Yourself

Maybe you can find a few minutes in the day to tune in while you’re working out, folding laundry, loading the dishwasher, driving to the day job. As publishing professionals every bit of knowledge inspires, teaches, and guides us to become better at what we do. Thanks for following WordsmithSix!