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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

 

Lady in White

Published July 2, 2012 by Ashley Townsend

“Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; Thou wilt make me full of gladness with Thy presence.”

Acts 2:28

Ruth Elizabeth Wimpy Smith

July 2, 1927—February 22, 2011

How could I possibly describe in a few brief words all that my grandma was and the impact she had on our lives? The truth is, it’s impossible; I can do my best to tell you about the things she did, the caring grandma and friend she was, and the fact that she loved her granddaughters. It wouldn’t do her justice to just tell you how fondly I remember the way she said “’Bye” on the phone—how her voice would get super soft and sweet as the word stretched out, and you could hear her smiling. I could try and explain her to you and paint a picture of the incredible woman I knew, but it’s impossible to just sum up someone so special, a lady who had room in her heart for everyone.

Ever since we were little, Grandma would throw her granddaughters these elaborate tea parties. Us girls would get all dressed up and pick something from her costume jewelry, and we ‘d spend the entire afternoon chatting and enjoying ridiculously gorgeous treats and tea from our china cups. Now I realize how much Grandma looked forward to those parties and what they meant to her, all of her favorite girls gathered around her, laughing and smiling. When each of us grand-girls turned ten, we received a special pin, and on our sixteenth birthdays, she gave us the completed journals she had been writing in since the day we were born, one special journal about each girl. Each year, she’d mark our heights on the wall in the laundry room, and it was always my goal when I was young to reach Grandma’s belt (in later years when I grew, she joked that we should get her a hat).

In recent years, she and my grandpa (the one who taught me my ABCs) took my sister, Katie, and I to the zoo a lot. We would ride the bus, and I still smile when I think of Grandma saying in exasperation, “Oh, Don!” when Grandpa tried to stand up on the top deck of the moving bus to better see (I love his curiosity!). My grandma always walked a little slowly, so I’d hold her hand, which was so cool and soft and reassuring. And then we would just stroll behind the group, holding hands and talking, just the two of us. Those walks became my favorite thing, some of the most special moments I can remember. I get a little teary-eyed thinking that we won’t get to hold hands for a very long time, but I look forward to strolling hand-in-hand again one day.

My grandma and I used to bake together, too, though we always seemed to get distracted and mess something up. We’d laugh over our baking gaffes, swearing that we would do better next time. Well, the next time we got to talking and forgot to add bananas to the banana muffins, and I still remember Grandma’s cute laugh and the way her nose scrunched up as she said, “Well, that’s new!” I know she would have loved to hear me relaying these stories, because she loved stories and writing; I got my ink-stained blood and love of books from her. Grandma was ecstatic when I told her that I wanted to be a writer someday because I would be living both of our dreams. She gave me a copy of Jane Eyre and wrote inside, “May this book inspire you to write your own masterpiece!” She passed away—peacefully in her sleep, completely healthy; the way I want to go—six months before she could realize her words had inspired me. When Rising Shadows came out on Tuesday, I spent a lot of time thinking about her and remembered that she wasn’t there to share my tears of joy. But I know that she is proud of me and overjoyed that I wanted to follow in her footsteps. And though I still wish she was here on earth so we could hold hands during those special moments and just sit together, I know that she is where every living soul wishes to be someday: Paradise.

“All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel (grand)mother.” -Abraham Lincoln  

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