Home of Ane Ryan Walker, Teller of Tall Tales, Writer of Short Stories

Tag: chacterization

Where does your story start?

There’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question.

I know many authors in various stages of their careers, and not a single one willing to say, “I know exactly where my story begins.”

Once in a rare while we know where to start the story, but not often, and certainly, not always.

As writers we have so many things to agonize over, such as “who does the story belong to?”, and “who will be the primary character?”

We need to decide so many things when we start a new story that we often overlook the obvious when we decide who will tell the story. For Romance writers, we know the story must be told by both sides, the “he said, she said” that keeps romance readers coming back. They love (no pun intended) a gripping story and so of course, they want to know why she behaved that way, and what he thought about it, and why he put the time and energy into winning her back. Did she make it worth his time?

If you have an audience that comes back again and again, you know you’re probably telling the story correctly. But how much do you agonize over the very beginning of the story? How do you decide when you’re just starting out who the story belongs to and how it should be told.

A general rule of thumb is when things change, the story begins. Always a good place to start. Change brings conflict. Conflict and its resolution or lack thereof, is often what keeps readers reading. But, unless we can identify and sympathize with the primary character, then you, as the reader are not likely to buy in for the long haul. And believe me, 400 pages is the long haul.

You must create and open with a character we love, or at least can identify with for the duration of the story. This simple direction is indeed a tall order.
How do I make you love my character? Or at the very least, how do I get you to accept him for who he is, like you but not like you, and still make him interesting.

In a word, backstory.

All of the things I, as the writer know, about the character, who he or she is, how they came to be in the moment fraught with conflict and change, and I must make you care about him and want to know why that happened.

You can love him or hate him, but he must arouse your curiosity, make you ask why? and also wonder, what happened next?

If you fail to incite this interest, you haven’t found the the right character, or the true beginning of your story.

About Writer’s Block

  “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”

― Shirley Chisholm

Writers write. Ask any writer. If they could stop writing, they probably would stop writing. For the rest of us, we write to still the voices in our heads. We write to get our stories out into the world.We write, publish, and repeat the process. Endlessly.

If you ask me about that thing known as “writers block”, I’ll tell you it doesn’t exist. I can pretty much prove it. No other profession allows its practitioners to claim that no work can be accomplished today, tomorrow, this week, next week, or anytime in the near future, because they are suffering from a “block”.

Plumbers block? No. Dentist Block? No. Nurses Block? No. Accounting Block? No.

Trust me, if you are a writer and you’re not writing it’s because you choose not to write.

But wait, you say. I really do have writers block. What can I do? The answer is simple. It’s a choice you make, either a form of procrastination to avoid criticism, rejection, or some other form of negativity. So, you ask, how can I fix that? Start writing. Yes, that’s right. Make a plan and stick with it. Just start writing.

Writing when you have fear is difficult. Fears need to be faced in order for you to overcome them. So of course, the answer is simple. Start  writing.

Having difficulty with your story? Keep writing. Many writers know, you can not fix a blank page, so fill the page, then worry about fixing it later. Nobody–or let me say rarely–does anyone love a first draft. Usually it takes a lot of work, self editing, story restructuring, critiquing, and professional editing to get a story into decent shape.

Did I mention the upside of continuing to write in the face of adversity (i.e, laziness, fear, procrastination, martyrdom, or anything else that prevents you from writing)is you will find your true voice and your writing will improve if you just keep writing.

Write What You Know

  “Both desire and imagination are stored in the mind of the individual and when stretched, both have the potential to position a person for greatness.”

― Eric Thomas

Storytellers who write what they know…what they have experienced, what they have observed in others, what they have lived through, and what they deal with on an ongoing basis are the people who write what they know.

You can tell as soon as you start reading, you’re engaged in the story. This person is someone who writes from their soul. Their grammar and punctuation need not be perfect, but still,  you get them. More importantly, they get you.

When, as writers we reach down to the core of who we truly are, we find the truth of our existence. What we call our core story. No matter how many ways we find to tell our story, successful writers never search for a theme. They know their core story and they are successful because they tell it over and over again.

So, how do we recognize our core story? We know it, instinctively from our formative years. Think about it. When you first became interested in story. As children, we all had our favorites. Stories, that is. We had one thing we couldn’t get enough of, a book or story or a type of story we would read over and over again and again.

For many mystery writers it was Nancy Drew, or the Hardy Boys. For me, it was Cherry Ames, Student Nurse. For writers who pursue adventure stories it was usually something like, Robin Hood. Our taste in reading is often a hint to our preference in writing–the type of story that we know and love to tell, over and over again.

Secondary Characters

How important are secondary characters?

Very Important. Think for just a minute how you might see The Harry Potter series without Neville Longbottom. Or perhaps Pride and Prejudiced with Jane Bennett.

Not so interesting, huh?

Important to remember the names for secondary characters. They should not be similar to the hero or the heroines name. The first names of these character should never start with the same letters. Names that sound similar or start with the same letter can be confusing to your reader. You don’t want the reader to confuse Crissy the servant with Sissy the villain. That would not be good. Remember, sound alike–Katy, Kathy, Cody–can confuse as well.

Where some writers will provide a full interview to get to know their primary characters, it isn’t always necessary for secondary characters. Does that mean they are less important? Less well-developed? No.

While they may not require the same depth of development, secondary charterers require the same amount of attention to the in development. Supporting characters who are well-developed are those who provide the proper support for your hero and heroine. Their development provides depth for the story and layers of interest to your novel.

Secondary characters provide a unique perspective through which the main characters can be viewed. What they see, hear,  and think about your hero or heroine and the behavior gives additional insight to the main character.

Characters, like people, are often judged by the company they keep. If you wish to define a characters moral core, the companions they choose are a good gauge of moral compass.

Sometimes the secondary character allows us as readers to compare and contrast the desirable qualities between heroes and secondary characters.

Secondary characters can contribute to a story by the use of valuable dialogue. They will know–and so will your editor–which questions should be asked and which subjects the hero wishes to avoid, but shouldn’t. They hep to increase the conflict by introducing the taboo subject, and sometimes outrageous behavior.

Secondary characters are not held to the same high standards which we impose on our heroes. They do not benefit when they advance to primary status in follow-up stories. And be assured, romance readers love to see the secondary characters follow-up with their own story.

 

 

How About Characters who are Villains?

We spend a lot of time writing and rewriting the hero.  After all, everyone expects him to be perfect. Especially if you’re writing Romance.

Romance readers are a finicky group. They’ve earned the right to be by their support of the fiction market. Many genres include romance, i.e, romantic suspense, historical romance, paranormal romance, contemporary romance…you get the drift. The largest percentage of the fiction market is some type of romance.

But, regardless of what specific genre you write, you sooner or later have to write a villain to oppose your hero.Remember our discussion about conflict?..how it powers your story?… how it makes every story more interesting? Well, the well written villain is the way to go.

Villains are the heroes of their own stories.Their behavior–same as the hero–defines who they are for your story purposes. Your villain will be ruthless, calculating,merciless, and a natural leader. If he’s not a natural leader, who will follow him? So maybe he’s charismatic, too.

There are different shades of evil,the same way there are different types of heroes. His motives, match his traits, and are reflected in his actions. You must show your reader who he is. In order to depict a villain who is not merely melodramatic, you will be required to explore his nature and therefore the evil of his nature and the evils’ origin. We are, after all not born good or bad, but develop into who we are by our life experience.

Be even more careful with the villains backstory. There is no need to dump it onto the page, or into your story. Save it for the perfect moment, the revelation of who the villains truly is and why he wants what he’s striving 300+ pages to accomplish.

The evil nature of a villain has many components. Greed, corruption, domination, deviancy, these traits represent the shadow side of human nature. In other words, these traits are the things we would like to be–just once, or possibly on occasion, in our everyday lives. Tell the truth, sometimes don’t you desire revenge rather than justice? Especially when the hurt is fresh, or when we are angry with others. The wicked character, our villains, act on the desires we deny.

Getting Experience

Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you.

― Aldous Huxley

How many writers have heard the adage, “write what you know”?

If I had a published book, short story,novella, or even an article for every time I was given that advice, I would be a wealthy writer. And likely well published.

But how many of us receive that advice and don’t get it?

I suspect most newbies and many aspiring authors do not understand the advice and are afraid to ask, what do they mean by that–write what you know?

Bring your life experience to your writing.  Convey the emotions you have experienced in your life through the actions and body language– the experience of your characters. This is about an emotion which helps your audience to identify with your character.

It is not relevant what type of relationship you had with a person, let’s say for example, your mother.  Everyone has a mother.  This is the connective tissue you can explore when building character.  You mother might have been:

  • distant
  • absent
  • abusive
  • loving
  • supportive
  • courageous
  • fierce
  • strong
  • ferocious

Regardless of the attributes the other person brings to the relationship, the experience of knowing another person intimately is the goldmine we delve into when we write what we know.

Relating to the characters you build is as easy as a walk down memory lane in past relationships.  Not just romantic relationships, but all relationships, acquaintances, and chance encounters.

Mining this gold is what makes the serious writer an astute observer of the human condition.

Often writers, will spend hours observing human nature at work.  Well, literally at the mall, the courthouse, the post office, etc.  If you find someone staring at you while you wait patiently, or not so patiently in line at the grocery store, bank, or the gas station, they are most likely not stalking you, but rather observing human behavior for characterization in future works of fiction.

Mining the depths of not only behavior, but the possible motivation for the behavior is what gives our characters depth and adds layers to the stories we tell.  It is simply reporting on the human condition.

Write what you know.

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