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Part 5: Creating Memorable Characters

Published March 5, 2016 by Ashley Townsend

Writing is an Art, I Tell You!

Part 5: Creating Memorable Characters

Aside from the questions I ranted about the other week, one of the most common things an author gets asked is, “How do you come up with your characters, and how do you handle them once they’re created?” *cracks knuckles* Step aside, Stephen King, because I’ll answer this one! (mostly because I’m sure he has a very different answer that doesn’t involve gifs and memes—so blah!)

as you wish

Characters can emerge from absolutely nothing, kind of like that Twilight Zone place in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (I think that’s the one?), where your thoughts create creatures out of the darkness and mist. Getting an idea for a character is the easy part—anything inspires me! But understanding them and knowing their purpose in your story is a completely different concept. This is the tricky part that can trip-up even the most seasoned author, because until a character becomes real to you, you’ll never break the surface of who they are and can misinterpret their reactions along the way. As a reader, this is just plain confusing. 

who are you

Before you create a character, you need to keep in mind that it helps to have different “purposes” assigned to each one—the steady tree, the flighty rocket, ultimate villain, perfect protagonist, sympathetic antagonist—and keep this design in mind to make sure they don’t deviate from their design too much.

You can do this fairly easily by asking yourself a few questions:

-What is their purpose in the story? Hero, villain, martyr?

-Are you supposed to sympathize with them, feel distant from their pain, or feel

          angry whenever they enter a scene?

-Will they have a change of heart, or should they remain steady throughout the journey?

Sarah, Will, and the gang began as simple concepts—a girl from the future, a vigilante with a broken past, the loving family next door, the steady best friend, etc.—and these general ideas worked as a starting point for their growth. Knowing where Sarah was from helped me to imagine how I might react to things a thousand years in the past, seeing everything in a different world for the first time, trying to blend in; because of Will’s history, I knew that he would be protective of those he cares for and more guarded, rejecting love when it’s what he needs the most. You will be amazed at how much growth your characters will take on, all on their own, when you give them a gentle nudge along the path they’re supposed to stay on. And be careful that you don’t fall in the trap of the “campy” character, where they’re always happy go-lucky and never seem to struggle with anything. Readers will always identify more with someone with human doubts and struggles and emotions who overcomes adversity—because that is relatable and hopeful—rather than a character who smiles and dances all. The. Bloody. Time. -_- Nobody can identify with this every day:

happy dance

Now that we’ve established how to create your characters, and also to steer clear of making a dull, one-dimensional protagonist, you have to remember that it’s important to become acquainted with them, too. Go for a walk and imagine conversations your characters might strike up because of something you see, or think about how they might react to a situation in your own life. It sounds strange to listen in on imaginary conversations between fictional beings, but it makes them feel more natural and real to me to follow them throughout the day. Making this a practice honestly helps the writing process, because you’re becoming more and more familiar with them each second you spend with your characters, and this attention to detail will really benefit your novel.

You also have to understand and be accepting of the fact that characters can evolve, and it’s your job to know how to handle them once they decide to move away from your perfect little personality mold. It might sound like a contradiction, but I can explain, I promise! Take Damien Lisandro, for instance: he was originally Lord Bormeo, a tall, thin, middle-aged man with a hawkish nose and absolutely no charm.

bored.gif

While writing Chasing Shadows, I realized that, although his character’s purpose was necessary to the story, he was not. So, I took the general concept of him and the way he aided the plot and turned him into Damien, the dashing, blush-inducing Spaniard who plays a huge role in Sarah’s investigation at the castle . . . and a large role in why I giggled so much while writing his scenes. Also, I may or may not have fallen in love with him a tiny.

in love mcgarrett

I will never regret making that choice to change, not a character’s role in the story, but some of his traits to make him more appealing to readers and *cough* myself. The A-typical protagonist or villain or antagonist can be so boring, and you shouldn’t be afraid to do some rewriting where your characters are concerned so long as they don’t deviate from their purpose. Make sense?  

So, that’s it! There’s plenty more that goes into creating characters, but these are the basic concepts I follow when whipping up a new bloke or lady in my stories. The best piece of advice I can give for you aspiring writers out there is to know who your characters are, but that also comes from knowing who you are as a writer. Be bold and confident, and let your own passion play out through strong-willed characters who stand outside the box. Nobody likes reading about vanilla!

captain jack sparrow vanilla

 

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Part 4: Oops, You’re Dead!

Published February 28, 2016 by Ashley Townsend

Writing is an Art, I Tell You!

Part 4: Oops, You’re Dead!

This post was going to be so large I had to break it into two, so next week we’ll discuss how a character moves from the drawing board into (semi) reality. I’m working backward, but I couldn’t resist when I found the perfect gifs to address the idea of dealing with a character once they’ve spent enough time in your story—also known as *cough* knowing when to kill them. When has a character reached their end? When is it useful to kill them off? The former is the most important question you can ask in regards to a character’s demise.

galavant fun

One frustrating thing I’ve encountered as a reader is the unnecessary death count just for the sake of having someone die. It’s like an author reached the end of their story, slapped a palm to their forehead, and remembered they were supposed to kill somebody off, so they choose some background character to avoid upsetting the plot. But was I attached to them? No. Did their death affect me in any way? Hardly. And if this is the case, then odds are the protagonist’s emotions over this character’s death won’t matter to you, which is exactly the opposite of what should happen. You should be emotional, justified, or outraged they died; their death is pointless if you aren’t wildly flipping through the pages to see if they’ll make it, or running like mad to stop the author from writing them out of your series.

 

Thornton No.gif

As a writer, everything we do should have a purpose, especially when it concerns death. I read so many books where filler is everywhere (snooze), and while most understand that not every moment of a story can be action-packed or filled with romance, creating dialogue or descriptions for the sake of word count is just lazy writing; you should be able to engage your readers and give them information they’ll need later on without putting them to sleep.

bored

 

The idea of lazy writing plays into that pesky issue of death-for-death’s-sake that I lamented above. Yes, Chasing Shadows has a . . . high-ish death toll, but every single character dies for a purpose. To avoid spoiling the story for those who have yet to read it (but, really, what’s stopping you? Get it here!), suffice it to say that these tragic passings either drove a protagonist into someone’s arms, explains a character’s actions, wedged a useful bridge between characters, or caused so much emotion in the heart of the reader (and writer) that it plays into the tone for the rest of the novel. Some of my favorite books were memorable because they made me feel like this:

nick miller crying

And there is one particular death in Defying Shadows (add it on Goodreads) that even I was crying over, and while emotion is good, I’ve always made sure that every loss I have ever created has a purpose and causes a chain of events that lead to certain points in the story. One important thing is to remember that it is never okay to kill off a character for convenience’s sake, because someone has to die, or because they’ve simply outlived their usefulness. Make it count! A character’s death should be marked by one of two things: tears for a martyr or a sense of justice when an ultimate evil is vanquished. Let me tell you, few things are more satisfying than killing off a villain who has been tormenting your favorite characters.

monsters.gif

I don’t like to make too many rules for writing, but I think this is something important to keep in mind—to have a purpose for a character’s demise and make sure that it is felt. And if you’re a reader like me, then you know how random character deaths get under your skin, so don’t make the same mistakes as a writer that have driven you up a wall in your favorite books. Remember that mantra: no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader!

 

Part 3: Did You Really Just Ask That?

Published February 19, 2016 by Ashley Townsend

Writing is an Art, I Tell You!

Part 3: Did You Really Just Ask That?

The only good excuse a writer has for delaying a blog post is because they were, well, writing. And I was, I promise! I was busying immersing myself in Serimone and working through the final three chapters of Defying Shadows (click here)—you know, that book I was supposed to finish months ago? Yeah. . . . But fret not, eager beavers! It’s going to be worth the wait.

Now, onto this weeks writing rant.

happy dance

Last time you learned all you could ever wish to know about writers block, and while deadlines and re-writes and copy-editing can sometimes be a very necessary drag in the writing process, there are some things that just burn the proverbial biscuits of every writer (inspired by conversations with authors over the past week).

Comments/Questions authors hate the most:

  1. Oh, you’re a writer. How cute.

mind

It’s not like I’m a professional panda hugger! (Although, dang, that job would be sweet) Whenever I hear this observation, yeah—no comment. . . . Which I see now is kind of a moot point after I commented, but we’re just going to ignore that fact for now.

  1. It’s been over a month. Are you finished with your novel yet?

for real

Oh, yes, please excuse my while I pull 400+ pages from the magical rear of the Story Unicorn, where every author stores their grand ideas that can be brought to life, macro and copy-edited, and produced in paperback in a solid 30 days.

  1. There isn’t really any money in writing, you know.

bonnet

Really? Oh, I had no idea! The only reason why I’d ever pour my soul out on a blank canvas is so that I could earn massive cash and swim in it like Scrooge McDuck. I’ll just call up Michelangelo and let him know we’ve been doing it wrong. . . . Okay, so that’s a bit dramatic, but you get the general picture.

  1. How hard could it be?

testing

Considering there are a few thousand workshops and conferences each year, support groups, actual writer-themed chocolate and alcohol called “Writer’s Tears” to comfort you when you receive poor reviews, and ENTIRE boards and memes on Pinterest dedicated to the struggles of writing, I believe it’s safe to say that it can be a bit difficult at times.

  1. Can you just give me the summary of your little book so I don’t have to read it?

ron swanson

  1. Don’t you want a real job?

what

Yes, I have heard this before. I was very calm at the time, but let’s be honest, when you spend approximately 40,000 hours pouring every ounce of mental strength into a story that you alone created, completely draining yourself emotionally and depriving yourself of sleep for something that’s meaningful to you . . . Yes, it can be a little painful to hear that people believe what you do is sweet, too easy to be a career, or completely childish. Honestly, when did being creative mean that you weren’t an adult, or that productive imagination meant you weren’t mature? And how did daydreaming become a bad thing?! Some of the greatest minds in history were considered “creative” geniuses and dreamers. 

daydreaming

Some people are born with the creative gene, but so many of us have had to hone our creativity over the years, working day and night to produce something mediocre that we had to re-work again and again until we got it right. Because it was worth it.

Writing isn’t for the faint of heart, and I’m not just saying this post applies to authors alone; I can securely bet a stack of my books that at least half of you can relate to these crafty jabs in some way. And you know what I’m beginning to realize? It’s okay! I read this interesting quote the other day, and I’ll probably butcher it, but basically it said to keep doing whatever it is that makes you happy, even if others tell you that your effort is wasted or you’ll never be good enough: Passion and effort are never wasted when you’re working toward a goal that pleases God, and the harder it becomes, the more rewarding it will be in the end. So, find that niche that makes you happy and go for it. You might even surprise yourself!

 

 

 

 

Jeneca Zody

writer and artist

The Overactive Imagination

The Writing and Randomness of a Physical Therapist and Sci-Fi/Fantasy Author

Brianna Merritt

Official Website

Amy Brock McNew ~Author~

Fantastical tales of love & war

Donna's BookShelf

Sharing my love of books...

Morgan L. Busse

In Darkness there is Light

of words & books

adventures of a writing bookworm who travels sometimes

It's Not Just Make Believe

I just want to write all day in Neverland

BooksAndBookmarks

You cant buy Happiness, but you can buy Books and that's kind of the same thing.

Mariella Hunt

I will never write enough

iwritemyheartdotcom

Writing Romance

Lisa Gefrides

REACH Co-op

Penprints

God. Life. Stories.

Mustard Seed Budget

FINANCES FOR YOUR MINISTRY

laf

laugh. art. fashion.

That Girl Who Reads Books

A book hoarder tries to read all the books she owns

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