Got two minutes? Then check out this week’s quick tip:
(My apologies, I didn’t get this published yesterday (Tuesday), so this will be a ‘Wednesday Two-Minute Tip. 🙂
Hello and welcome…I am a freelance editor and an editor for The Wild Rose Press, as well as an author. I often struggle with my own writing, and I have found that sometimes, a little reminder of ways to improve the process can be helpful, so, I like to share these moments of brilliance with others :). But, in this busy world of ours, who has time for pages and pages of writing tips? That’s why I’ve condensed mine down to quick flashes you can read in (approximately) two minutes. Enjoy…
Disclaimer: All of my tips are suggestions, and are only my opinion. And, for the most part, there are exceptions when going against my advice will make your story read better. Take what works, leave the rest.
I am afraid that, rather than being a character driven writer, I am a plot driven writer. The ultimate goal is to be both, to create realistic, sympathetic characters readers connect with, and a plot that showcases them, helps them grow, and keeps readers intrigued. I am SO not there yet. But, I am always trying to learn, trying to improve. When I set out to write a book, I think of something awful that could happen, then I come up with a character to fit the scenario by asking myself, what kind of person would this be the most devastating to?
For my upcoming WIPs, I am determined to create rich, compelling, realistic characters readers can connect to and want to get to know. I’m asking for your help. What characters, in tv, books, movies, have really stuck with you and why? What qualities make you connect to fictional characters? I have been thinking about this recently, and considering some of the characters I have loved the most. Using television, here are some examples of the qualities I admire and why I love these characters:
Leslie Nope – Parks and Recreation – She is a very good friend. She works hard, and she’s passionate about her town and her job. All her life, she has had the same dream, to be in politics. Her flaws are that she’s a bit controlling and sometimes a bit neurotic. One of her good qualities, her integrity, is also a flaw. She sometimes goes too far in doing the right thing, confessing her mistakes, etc.
Raylan Givens – Justified – First of all, he’s yummmyyyy. But that’s not really his most compelling trait (or is it…? 🙂 ). Raylan is very good at his job, but he makes mistakes. He is tough, but sometimes he gets his ass kicked. He respects the law and abides by it, most of the time. In order to see justice done, he’s bent the law a few times, even broken it. He’s risen above his poor and troubled childhood and become successful, yet he hasn’t forgotten his roots, and that the hill people in Kentucky are his people. He’s protective of them, but polices them at the same time. He’s cool, but not in an over the top way with cockiness and cheesy lines.
Gemma Teller – Sons of Anarchy – People think I’m nuts, but Gemma is my favorite character. She’s tough, but loving. She loves her family beyond all else, and will do whatever it takes to protect them. In the world of Samcro, the ‘whatever’ is more extreme than most of us regular folk can imagine.
Dexter Morgan – Dexter – Sigh…. My favorite character of all-time. And he’s a serial killer. But, he’s a serial killer who kills other killers. Admirable, right? And he does it in such a cool, creepy way. I adore Dexter and miss him sooo much. He is an intriguing, sympathetic character, even though, especially early on, he can’t feel emotion. It’s fascinating to watch him attempt to get along in the ‘normal’ world and fake emotion, all the while being privy to his true, inner thoughts and demons. Dexter’s most admirable qualities are that, even though he is a killer, he has a code he lives by, and he follows that code to the letter (for the most part…), he’s very, very clever, he’s good at what he does (hmmm, this seems to be a recurring theme in my admiration for characters), he’s loyal and although he only loves a few people, he loves them deeply and will do anything to protect them, even from himself. Oh yes, and he’s very creepy and very sexy.
So…now that I know what I love about certain characters, the challenge is creating a character that others will feel that way about. But, I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to do that. I am challenging myself to learn and work hard and figure it out. Does anyone out there have tips for me? What characters do you admire and why? What are some things you do, as a writer, to create memorable, sympathetic characters?
Until next time…happy writing!
*** If you would like to send me a few sample pages (around 7500 words or so, even though I will not edit that many on the blog. It just gives me more to choose from) for me to edit and share on an upcoming blog post, please do so in the body of an email to AliciaMDean@aol.com. Please use the subject line: “Blog Submission” This is for published or unpublished authors. In the email, please include whether you would like me to use your name or keep it anonymous, and whether or not you would like me to include any contact info or buy info for your books. Also, you can let me know if you would like for me to run my edits by you before posting on the blog. Please keep in mind, this is for samples to use for blog posts. I will not edit or use samples from all the submissions I receive, but I will use as many as possible.
How to write a novel? That is the question. There are probably as many answers to that question as there are people who ask it.
Wanting to write and actually doing it are two very different things. I am well acquainted with the sometimes grueling process of churning out a story. Over the years, I have tried many methods for creating and completing manuscripts, and have tweaked and honed it down to a workable (for me) process.
Using specific examples from one of my own novels, Without Mercy, I share my method in this mini how to book. The first eight steps actually deal with plotting while the last two are designed to help expand your outline into a well-developed draft. There is no one, perfect way to create a story, but there will be a method, or methods that work for you. I’m not sure if this is the one, but it works for me. Only you can decide if it also works for you. Fingers crossed that it does!
*** Warning – Please do not purchase without reading a sample. (This is solid advice for any book, fiction or non. If you are not intrigued in the sample, you will likely not enjoy the book)
Amazon: Click Here
18 responses to “Tuesday Two-Minute Writing Tip – Building Character – Now I need YOUR help….”
I don’t watch television, so I’m not sure who these characters are, sorry. However, I’ve found that the authors whose characters capture me are those who engage my emotions from the first page. Usually by revealing a character’s relatable fear or dream on the first page or two. Or showing them with human foibles that many people share, like gossiping. I begin caring because they remind me of me or someone dear to me. Then I can cheer for their success. Working to be a better writer never ends, I’ve found…that’s why I appreciate my editor. :>)
Good point. Yes, engaging a reader’s emotion is important. It’s great to give your character flaws, but you have to be careful not to make them unlikable. Thanks for your input, and the kind words about your editor. I’m sure she appreciates them 😉
Why do we have to be either character-driven or plot-driven. We write what works best for us. My fav characters are ones who are flawed yet make me root for them. Of all the characters you’ve mention, I only know Gemma (Hubs watched every episode on Amazon Prime). Very flawed character but she did what she did to protect her family. Not that that excuses her actions but it makes them understandable. I need to understand the characters’ motives (and agree with them) to root for them.
I don’t know why we ‘have’ to be, but some of us are one or the other. The goal is to be both. You can’t have plot without character, and vice versa. Yes, she was very flawed, but I understood her motivations. Exactly, didn’t always agree with her methods, but I could sympathize. Thanks a bunch for stopping by and providing input!
Alice, consider reading “The Memories We Keep” by Walter Zacchius or “Memories of Violets” by Hazel Gaynor. I will never forget the story or characters in those two books. However, I think your books are just as good.
Thanks for the recommendations, Winona. Awww, what a sweet thing to say. I’m flattered!
Probably much that I’d have to share here would be a repeat of your statements, Alicia. Not much in addition I can say about Dexter other than I too miss him terribly. Michael C. Hall was brilliant in his portrayal of a serial killer who murdered those most deserving–other serial killers! If only we could gather up all known SKs and program their brains that way the world would be a much better place. And then we have Justified. Everything you said about Raylan plus some! I had to be careful not to wiggle around in my chair to much when DH and I watched the show together. 🙂 But another favorite of mine was Boyd. Walton Goggins did a grandstand performance as a “mean as a snake” antagonist and a worthy adversary to Raylan, yet he had redeeming values, most notably, his undying love and loyalty to Ava. (You probably knew Boyd was supposed to have been killed off in the first season, didn’t you?) Great finale. Still another series I’m addicted to is The Walking Dead (believe me, I didn’t think I would be because, frankly, I’m not a zombie fan, but DH got me involved). The show actually revolves around the arc of the main characters in this creepy apocalyptic setting…how from the start, they go from being scared sh**less and in shock to learning how to survive. Rick is the main character and his arc seems to be most profound, but there are others whose growth for survival is unbelievable. Great show! Like you, A.D. I think it has to be all about balance—character and plot.
Yes, Michael C. Hall was phenomenal, perfect in that role. It would indeed. Boyd…absolutely! I adored Boyd, and Walter Groggins was indeed amazing. Boyd’s love for Ava was his most redeeming quality, I think. Boyd was fascinating, you never knew what lengths he would go to. He was highly intelligent and yes, mean as a snake, but charming when he needed to be. I love the way he combined his backwoods accent with eloquent, articulate dialogue. I did not know he was supposed to have been killed. I’m glad he wasn’t. The series finale was perfect, for every character. I know…I really need to watch Walking Dead. I’ve heard too many good things about it. One of these days…
Gemma is a fascinating character. So is Raylan. Both are flawed. You can see good and bad in both. And each stays true to his/her character, no matter what.
I think that is enormously important in character development, and it’s something I strive for. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but Gemma’s actions at the end of season 7 (???)–if you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean–made me hate her, and the show, at least for a bit. But it made perfect sense for the character. She would do anything to protect the club, her son, and her position. Raylan’s character played perfectly off Boyd Crowder’s, from the first episode to the last. When those two weren’t interacting, the show wasn’t quite as interesting to me. Boyd is another character who was true, start to finish.
I’ve seen Parks & Rec but not enough to know too much about Leslie Nope, and I’ve never seen Dexter. (I know, I can’t believe it either!)
Another perfect character for me–Joe Carroll in The Following, played by James Purefoy. Perfectly evil, and likable at the same time! Did you see year two (??) when he got mixed up with that woman? She and her twin sons were so crazy, they even freaked Joe out!
Then there’s Red Reddington (James Spader) on The Blacklist. The character is written (and played) so perfect, you can almost predict what he’ll do (although not exactly what he’ll say). I’ve been watching since it started and still can’t decide if he’s a good guy gone bad through no fault of his own, or just a good guy gone bad. One second he’ll be tearing up, then next gunning down an opponent.
i’ve been trying to think of a character who hasn’t stayed true to self, but none are coming to mind. I’ll be back if I think of any!
Yes, it is enormously important for a character to stay true to his/her character. And, yes, Raylan and Gemma both did that. I have seen the entire show now, and I did not hate her at all for what she did. I know it makes me twisted, but I thought it should have been done long ago. I could not STAND Tara. You know, your last comment makes me realize, I don’t think Tara stayed true to who she was. I think she was a horrible character. She went from doctor with a rigid sense of morals, to reluctant biker old lady, to scared of everything, to I’ll just kick some ass here, to I’m reluctantly in love with Jax, to going bonkers because he dumped her and refusing to leave even when he told her to, to I’ll stay and be a wife and mother no matter what, to let’s get out of here Jax, to oh wait, you won’t go, I’ll go without you and betray you and the club, etc, etc. Well, I could go on, but I actually meant to do an actual blog post on the finales of my fave shows and what led up to them. Anyway…I hated, hated what Jax did at the end of the show, both ‘big’ things. Ridiculous. I actually thought those were out of character, because, Tara herself betrayed the club, so if it’s ‘code you die by’ that you kill whoever betrays the club, then he should have killed Tara. She did far worse than Juice did, and he was a marked man.
LOL, okay, my rambling thoughts are pouring out. I guess I’m a bit passionate about the way things ended up in that show.
I agree, the Justified was the best when Raylan and Boyd were playing off each other. But, through the years, they had some fascinating and unusual villains. It is my second favorite show, ever, right after Dexter. You MUST watch Dexter some day. (I love that we love the same kind of shows :))
I’ve heard good things about Blacklist, but the premise doesn’t really intrigue me. I should probably watch it, though, because I know James Spader is brilliant in the role.
Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for reminding me that characters must stay true to their character.
You are absolutely right about Tara, Alicia. I remember thinking that at the time, that whole season, like what the…?! She completely disregarded who she was. I admit Jax is one hunky guy, but come on. I still didn’t like what happened to her though. Ugh. 🙂
Yes, she did. She KEPT changing who she was. Maybe what happened was a bit extreme, but what Jax did about it was ridiculous.
I’m wondering if this post might go on for some time… I just had to second Leah St. James’ spot on (in my opinion) observation of Kevin Bacon’s FBI agent Ryan Hardy pitted against notorious serial killer James Purefoy’s Joe Carroll in The Following. The first 2-3 seasons were great, but I lost some enthusiasm after Joe’s execution. At first and still, I am a giant fan of The Blacklist. Probably, more accurately, I’m an undying fan of James Spader. The manner in which Red Reddington can be interrogating an adversary in his suave and gracious manner and then turn and shoot him between the eyes just slays me…. What??!! Wasn’t so impressed with Megan Boone originally, but I think she’s improving. You need to catch up on it, Alicia. 🙂
LOL. Yes, I believe this could go on forever. Right, I forgot to address her ‘Following’ comment. I LOVE Joe Carroll, and James Purefoy was phenomenal. Kevin Bacon was great, but I think Purefoy carried the show. I hated that it ended, but with Joe’s execution, it just would not have been the same. Okay, Blacklist and Walking Dead. Gotta watch them. Have you seen The Fall? It’s a very moody, gritty, psychological show set in Ireland. It only had, I believe 5 or 6 episodes in each of the first two seasons, but I am fascinated with it. Very well written and well-acted.
I don’t generally watch much TV so I haven’t seen any of the series you mentioned. But I confess to being addicted to The Walking Dead. No one in my family can believe it, and I catch a ton of harassment over it.
I also tend to write plot driven fiction. My observation in character driven fiction is that your narrator has to be deeply involved in the story. Almost like another character–easier said than done. For me, the gold standard for narration and internal dialogue is Gone With the Wind. Sometimes I just open it up, let the pages fall where they may, and read a few pages. Today it falls open at page 621.
“Shall we let the bugles sing truce?” he smiled down at her, a wide flashing smile that had impudence in it but no shame for his own actions or condemnation for hers. In spite of herself, she had to smile too, but it was a wry, uncomfortable smile.
“What a pity they didn’t hang you!”
I have heard so much about Walking Dead. I must check it out. Very good points. I LOVE Gone With the Wind. Great passage. LOL, so cool that you do that. I have a copy myself. I might give that a try. Thanks for stopping by!
Get out the rope now. I haven’t watched any of the shows you mentioned, though I did try to watch one SoA once and couldn’t get into it. My guess is it was the last season and the characters were nobodies to me coming in that late. Haven’t heard of The Following and never ‘got’ Dexter so after one or two attempts I gave him up–though he was very hot! But I have been watching The Backlist for a few weeks now and it seems interesting. We’ll see how it goes, if something better doesn’t come along.
Ok, characters that stay with me… Gibbs- NCIS. He’s damaged to the point of keeping a shield around not only his emotions, but his heart. He’s never gotten over his losses and I’m not sure he ever can. But you know he loves in everything he does and says to those close to him, his team. He would truly die for them and you know it’s just who he is beneath all that gruffness, and not heroism, that drives him.
I can’t really think right now so I’ll stop with him.
I write character driven and the first thing that comes to me is a character. They don’t always give me their name up front (which drives me crazy to have a wip filled with XXX instead of a name!), but I know a lot of who they are in those first thoughts. From there I ask what drives them and the plot developes more slowly. Why do they do this or that, and what flaws make them who they are? What makes them memorable in positive ways, how can they be bad and still be loved? How does their actions affect the plot?
Are they the right character for this story? It’s not for me to determine, because they are telling THEIR story while I write it, and aren’t just stuck in ‘the next one’ by the writer with an idea needing actors to fill the roles.
CAN they be bad and loved at the same time? By bad, I don’t mean like those you mentioned, rather by choice. Or happenstance. I don’t write ‘bad guy’ stories, but my heroes/heroines aren’t always ‘good’ in that something in their past has made them hard or unforgiving, or ‘unlovable’ or just NORMAL humans.
Are their morals impeccable? I think that would depend on the reader. People are human, flaws and all, as are our characters–or as they should be–no matter the genre.
I guess I’m saying, instead of heroic in their individual circumstances, what makes them ‘human?’ I let that drive my stories. The plot will fall in place as it needs to if I let my characters take the lead. I have to admit, that often gets interesting, and sometimes leads to delete, delete, delete–along with some chuckles! 🙂
Sorry this is so long!
No need to apologize, Calisa. I enjoyed your comment. Definitely thought-provoking. I’ve never watched NCIS, but I like Mark Harmon (That’s his show, right?) Thanks for stopping by!