Imagine

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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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Whether There Be Weather

Published October 2, 2012 by Ashley Townsend

Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.” John Ruskin

This is a sweet quote, and all, and normally I would agree. However, the weather (or lack of any change in the temperature) has left myself—and most of San Diego—in desperate need of reprieve from the mundane 108 degrees on Monday, 106 degrees Tuesday, and so on. I mean, for the love of all that is holy! It’s October! And it’s also been too hot to bake inside, something most of you know is a favorite pastime of mine, so we’ve taken to baking in the barbeque; we’re actually pretty good at it, too. Okay, reining myself back in before I go off on some incensed viral tirade about how I haven’t worn jeans or any variation of a shirt with sleeves since April; the heat is make it verrrrry difficult to practice my Fruit of the Spirit Challenge this week, so hopefully I can cool down—literally—by Friday. Anywho, the purpose for today’s update is to share with you all the joy I find in weather, and maybe I can pretend that I’m sitting in a pile of fluffy white snow and not contemplating dumping a bucket of ice over my head.

My younger sister, Katie, and I were discussing our favorite months while we baked (not literally, unfortunately) and made iced coffees in the kitchen. It got me reminiscing about what weather used to feel like, that moment in September when you look outside and suddenly know that autumn is here with winter close at its heels. As a kid when we lived in Colorado Springs, I always loved October. Each year on my birthday—tomorrow, by the way, and gifts are accepted!—it was always perfectly cool, and nearly every single birthday, there would be this incredible fine mist that would let you know winter was on its way, and I loved that.

Most of the leaves had fallen by then, leaving a carpet of reds and golds and pale yellows, though some golden-red stragglers still clung to the branches, swaying gently in the crisp passing breeze. Katie and I used to rake piles and piles of dried leave in our front yard and launch ourselves across the grass into the mounds. I even remember the smell in the autumn and early-winter air; somehow the crispness of the temperature heightened every incredible scent in around you, and the mulching leaves scattered in yards and across the street gave the air with this delicious, spicy aroma that made you think of pumpkin patches and hayrides and being a kid in autumn. Everything about it was, in all honesty, magical. When you’re young, everything is exciting and enchanting, and October was always that way for me, though I always looked forward to the coming of winter.

The first snow usually came in the middle of the night. Starting about a decade back, when Katie and I woke up in the morning in the Springs and saw that beautiful, powdery dusting of white spread over our small part of the world, we would smile at each other, grab a quilt—whether or not it was actually cold inside—beg our mom to let us have hot chocolate for breakfast, and then curl up on the couch together and sip our cocoa. It was our way of acknowledging the arrival of winter, and it was an even better excuse for some liquid chocolate. Then the first actual snow would hit, and by “actual” I mean enough powder for a kid to really play in, and it would send all the adults into panic mode because they weren’t sure if the roads were too icy to drive to work on before they realized that the driveway needed to be shoveled before they could even back the car out of the garage. But for us kids, that was when the world of fantasy was opened to us.

 

My sisters and I built forts the size of Smart cars that were connected to tunnels that went all over the deck, and we made ramps down the steep wooden stairway out back for smooth sailing on our boogie boards and sleds, though sometimes it was a little too smooth; Dad was a trooper and fixed the fence right up! Don’t underestimate the architectural genius and ability of a couple winter kids, though. We spent a solid week or more on some of the structures, and our igloos were so solid that someone could lie on the roof without it caving in or our dogs could barrel through the tunnels without knocking the walls loose. Ah, yes, we were quite the experts at snowmen and snow angels, as well. There was this insanely breathtaking hush that would fall over our part of the world when it snowed, a perfect quiet that—I don’t know—makes you want to smile or weep. It sounds silly, but it’s true. I remembering lying out front, the imprint of my half-finished angel beneath me, and I would just stare at the piles of snow on the branches above, filling my lungs with the exhilaratingly cold, crisp air and listening intently to the world around me. It was so perfectly quiet that every sound was distinct when the world slowed down like that, and it was then, lying on a powdery bed of white, my back wet with snow and my face warmed by the ever-present sun, that I would dream and imagine and create stories in my head. For me, the weather inspired me and opened this endless sea of possibilities. It was perfect for a kid who likes to dream.

The other day someone who had never seen snow before asked me with this terrified, wide-eyed gaze what it was like having to live with it? I just smiled and replied with one word: “Magical.”      

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