Showing posts with label characters. Show all posts
Showing posts with label characters. Show all posts

Friday, August 8, 2014

Where do Characters Come From?



Where do you get your characters? They can come from many sources. Characters can be based on someone you know or a composite of people you know. You write from your experience. You might base a character on a name you’ve picked out or someone you’ve read about in the newspaper. Or you decide on a theme or a situation you want to write about and then decide what kind of characters would fit into that idea.

How do you introduce your characters?

Here’s a great four-sentence exercise:
1.      Introduce a character (age, sex).
2.      Bring character home to dwelling place
3.      Greet someone in the home, tell something about the mood of the character.
4.      Move character out of room (off camera).

You’ll be surprised how much you will learn about your character from such a short exercise! Start out each character like this to find out about him/her. Fill in the information and find the emotional connection.

Some writers like to create an entire character profile even before they start writing. I don’t necessarily recommend that, although some people need a skeleton to flesh out before they can start writing. It’s probably a good idea to at least fill one out as you write (especially if you’re writing a book) just to keep the facts straight. You don’t want your hero to have blue eyes in chapter one and turn up with brown eyes in chapter 20. And you want him to act and re-act consistent with his personality as you write. Or fill in a character sketch if you have a character that seems flat and needs fleshing out.
How do you come up with your characters?

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches
writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreamsis based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series, Dare to Dream, has just been released, and her non-fiction book Cowgirl Up: History of Women's Rodeo will be out in September. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Basic Writing : From Pre-Writing to Editing



Basic Writing : From Pre-Writing to Editing


Pre-Writing
Concept/Idea (Brainstorm about chosen idea. Write everything that comes to mind.)

Conflict/Problem (Without a problem there is no story. Be sure the problem is solvable.)
            Possible Conflicts: man vs man, man vs nature, man vs self, man vs society, man vs circumstances

Characters (No more than 7 main; the story becomes unmanageable and readers lose track.
 Devise: Names, Personalities, Relationships, Appearances, What makes them special.)

Plot (Devise 3 attempts to solve the problem. Then figure out why they won't work?)

Solution/Climax (How does the main character solve the problem? Is it reasonable as you’ve written her/him?)

Conclusion (Wrap up loose ends with all of the characters.)

Also Pre-Writing
Opening-be sure your beginning snatches the reader’s attention (pull action from within the story then go back and begin at the beginning to catch the reader up)

1st Plot Point-main character discovers there is a problem

2nd Plot Point-main character feels threatened but unsure what to do

3rd Plot Point-problem is at its worst and seems hopeless THEN main character figures out what to do

Climax-problem or antagonist pulls out all the stops to ‘get’ main character

Denouement-main character about to give-in then finds courage and knowledge to solve the problem

Resolution-main character ends the problem for good then wraps up loose ends with other characters

Writing
There are two main types of writers, although many of us fall into combo categories:  Planners and Pantsers.

Planners don’t write until they have a basic outline of how the story will unravel. Some even outline each chapter. Planning doesn’t mean you can’t change something, or add more while writing a chapter. It simply helps you remember everything you wanted to include in the story. (This is how I write.)

            Pantsers (writing by the seat of your pants) begin writing and don’t stop until the story is told. This technique is very popular but requires extreme editing and revising. It also allows for free flow of imagination and creativity. (This is how Odessa came out and why it needed (and still needs) so much revising/editing.)

New paragraph for each new thought or idea or speaker.

Use quotation marks around the “words” spoken by the character. Instead of dialogue tags (he said, she remarked) use action. (His gaze flicked away from her face. Her voice dropped so low he could barely hear her.)
Each speaker requires a new paragraph.

Watch verb tenses: if you start in the past keep all of your verbs past tense; if you write in the present tense make sure they are all present tense verbs.

            Right-He ran down the road then stopped at the intersection.
            Wrong-He ran down the road then stops at the intersection.

Present tense is seldom used. I find present tense confusing and disarming. You are telling a story that occurred in the past, so use past tense verbs.
Watch out for point of view (POV).

            POV confuses a lot of beginning writers. It means knowing what a character is thinking or planning. Knowing their viewpoint.

            Many MG stories are generally told in third person while many YA books these days are in first person. HOWEVER, there is no rule about this. Write the story in whoever's point of view you wish--just keep it balanced.

 If writing in the first person (I, me, my , we, our) you CANNOT know what others are thinking or planning.  It takes a lot of dialogue to understand others’ thoughts or desires.

·        The only way to know what everyone is thinking is to use third person omniscient.
·        But be careful because even that gets tricky.
·        If you switch POV, be sure to designate it with a space or asterisks *****.
·        Never change POV inside the same paragraph (called mind hopping, it becomes very confusing).

Beware of ‘Purple Prose’. This is highly descriptive writing that may sound awesome but sometimes does nothing to promote the story. You should have some description so the reader can visualize what the character is sensing, just don’t go overboard.

Every word, action or dialogue should propel the story forward. If you have chapters or even paragraphs for character development alone, remove them. Chapters with too much description of surroundings or too much backstory/history get boring and readers will skip ahead anyway so edit down to only what is necessary to tell the story.

Don’t tell too much of the story up front. Let out the line slowly, keep most of the story as a mystery with clues until the climax when you can reveal more. Too much too soon and the reader loses interest in the story.

Revising
Don’t be afraid to revise, revise, revise. Get feedback from others and make changes to your story that YOU think will improve it. NO ONE writes the perfect story the first time.

My first book, Odessa, was revised about 8 times and even after publication I'm itching to revise it again because by five books later my writing has improved so much I'm no longer happy with Odessa.

Let your story sit on a shelf for several weeks or a month. Work on another project. Then reread the story and errors, misspellings, weak characters, weak plot lines, etc will jump out at you.

Editing
Once you have the story to a level you are happy with it is time to edit.
Remove as many adverbs as possible and replace them with stronger verbs. To locate adverbs easily, highlight them using the ‘replace’ box in the ‘editing’ box of MS Word. Highlight –ly and most adverbs will appear. Read through and eliminate as many as you can.

Highlight the following words in the entire manuscript then go through removing or replacing them with more powerful words/phrases:
AND
THAT
SAID (or ANY speech tags-replace with action)
any word you see repeated often

Remove as many adjectives as you can. Do not use duplicate adjectives such as “very beautiful”. If something is beautiful that is enough. Very becomes redundant. Better yet, describe HOW it is beautiful without using the word. Beauty is subjective.

WEAK: The river was beautiful that morning.
BETTER: Sun rays leaking through the early morning mist, lent the river a mystic quality.

Use Spell Check and look-up words that are misspelled.
Pay attention to punctuation. If you’re not sure about its usage this website will help  http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/566/01 .

Probably MOST IMPORTANTLY--learn from your editor. My first book, Odessa, looked like a dying warrior after a lengthy battle with dragons--it was covered with red gashes. My latest book, ending edits now and soon to be released (Harpies Book Two of Seraphym Wars Series) looked as though it had taken a short walk through nice woods--a couple of little scratches! Even my editor was surprised and happy with my writing progress. So the bottom line is this--make notes of your mistakes then PRE-EDIT after your final revision. You'll save your editor a lot of time and frustration and yourself money and embarrassment. 

Here's a little blurb about Harpies. Watch my website for its release: Under the Hat of MG/YA Dark Fantasy Author Rebecca Ryals Russell



Transported to a planet he'd never heard of was the least of fifteen-year-old Griffen's problems. Learning to control his suddenly increasing strength and new ability to pull lightning from the sky takes some getting used to.  Angry preteen Seth joins the quest; meanwhile discovering his combusting ability as a fire-starter. Driven to find the last Vigorio, a young girl able to experience others' emotions, they journey together toward their destinies as warriors against Narciss, Ruler of Tartarus and his Legio of demon-dragons. Narciss’s Harpy henchmen have other ideas, however.


Monday, July 9, 2012

More Plot Possibilities...


Writer’s block? Try one of these:


·      Change of scenery: write a scene that takes place at: a park, the beach, the forest, the country fair, a theme park, the mountains, a relative’s house…
·      A Big Contest/Big Game/Big Prize is announced. Your character wants to enter, or maybe is convinced to enter by someone else…
·      Your character goes swimming.
·      Your character is called into the boss’s office. (Or, if writing a children's book, the principal's office.)
·      A stranger asks your character to do him/her a favor.
·      Your character sees someone in trouble.
·      Someone your character knows is in the news. Who? Why? What is your character’s reaction?
·      A fire breaks out. Or an earthquake. Or a tornado.
·      Your character sees a ghost.
·      Someone has been reading your character’s private journal/diary.
·      Someone breaks into your character’s house. Why? Do they steal anything?
·      Your character gets caught red-handed.
·      Your character does something he/she knows he/she’s not supposed to do.
·      Your character tells a lie.
·      What is the very worst thing that could happen to your character right now? Make that happen! How is your character going to get out of it??

Dallas Woodburn is the author of two award-winning collections of short stories and editor of Dancing With The Pen: a collection of today's best youth writing. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three years in a row and her nonfiction has appeared in a variety of national publications including Family Circle, Writer's Digest, The Writer, and The Los Angeles Times. She is the founder of Write On! For Literacy and Write On! Books Youth Publishing Company and is currently pursuing her Master's degree in Fiction Writing at Purdue University, where she teaches undergraduate writing courses and serves as Fiction Editor of Sycamore Review.

Friday, March 9, 2012

What I Learned From the Movie "Young Adult"


I recently saw the movie "Young Adult" starring Charlize Theron. The premise: a writer of young adult novels returns to her small hometown to woo her high-school ex-boyfriend. Only problem? He's married with a newborn baby. Not exactly the recipe for a fairy-tale romance. But the screenwriter is Diablo Cody, who wrote the smart and quirky movie "Juno," so I went to see "Young Adult" with pretty high hopes.

Well, suffice to say it didn't live up to my expectations. After the movie ended, a woman sitting in front of me turned around and addressed the theater: "What did y'all think? I was not impressed." Still, I believe there is something to learn from every experience, so here are some writing take-aways I got from "Young Adult" that might be helpful to your own writing, too:
  • Write anywhere and everywhere. In the movie, we see Charlize Theron's character working on her young-adult novel in coffeeshops, restaurants, in her bed and at her desk. When she checks into a hotel, the first thing she does is plug in her laptop. That said, I was annoyed by the portrayal of her getting incredibly drunk every night and waking up hungover, yet still magically being able to finish her book. I think the drunken artist/writer is one of my least favorite cliches. I also didn't agree with the way the movie depicted the YA genre as shallow, uncomplicated, and easy to write. If classic books like Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird were published today, they would be considered YA.
  • Be mindful of your details. Charlize Theron's character constantly eats junk food throughout the movie, and a lot of it -- a family-sized meal at Kentucky Fried Chicken, pints of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, liters of Diet Coke. Yet she remains supermodel-thin and looks down on other characters from her hometown for being "fat." There is no way she could eat that way and look the way she does!
  • Avoid stereotypes. Charlize Theron's character returns to her small town, and her stereotypes about "small-town people" are reinforced. The comic-book lover is a "boring loser" who paints model action figures and lives with his sister. The women her age all got married at twenty and never left town. They wear tacky sweaters and have no idea who Marc Jacobs is. It would be one thing if this was just how Charlize Theron's character saw these people -- that would fit well with her character -- but that is not the sense we are given from the film. Case in point: a scene towards the very end, when one of the young women who lives in this small town asserts the stereotypes to be true: "People here are all fat and dumb." As someone who now lives in a small Midwest town, I personally know this is not only completely untrue, it is also offensive and, in terms of writing, sloppy. Push past stereotypes! Deepen your characters!
  • Have your characters grow. This is perhaps the biggest problem I had with the movie "Young Adult" -- Charlize Theron's character doesn't grow or change from beginning to end. She is immature, narcissistic, and self-centered when we meet her, and she is the same way when the credits roll. It's fine if you choose to write an unlikeable character, but even unlikeable characters should have likeable sides to them. The best characters, in my opinion, are nuanced people. What makes me care about and root for a character is seeing them grow and change, hopefully for the better. Charlize Theron's character certainly had plenty of room to grow, yet she didn't take any steps forward, not even baby steps. I left the theater thinking, What was the point of that?
Have any movies -- good or bad -- taught you something about writing? I'd love to hear your comments!

Dallas Woodburn is the author of two award-winning collections of short stories and editor of Dancing With The Pen: a collection of today's best youth writing. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three years in a row and her nonfiction has appeared in a variety of national publications including Family Circle, Writer's Digest, The Writer, and The Los Angeles Times. She is the founder of Write On! For Literacy and Write On! Books Youth Publishing Company and is currently pursuing her Master's degree in Fiction Writing at Purdue University, where she teaches undergraduate writing courses and serves as Assistant Fiction Editor of Sycamore Review.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Writing Elements Mix – Is There a Right Balance?

Writing can be thought of as a recipe, a handful of plot, a quarter cup of setting, a third to a half cup of dialogue, and a half cup of action and forward movement. Then you also need to add just the right amount of theme, character, and style. Stir it all together and bake for several months (might be longer, depending on your oven), and that’s it.

Ah, if it were only that simple.

Today, there are a number of rules to writing that didn’t plague writers years ago when the world was slower and people actually had time to sit and read at a leisurely pace. Writers had the luxury of setting scenes in detail and didn’t have to worry about ‘telling’ too much.

Now, publishers want your story to begin with a BAM. Grab the reader right away, or you’ll lose her. And, it’s important that setting and telling are limited. In addition, don’t forget to magically weave backstory for your characters seamlessly into the mix.

So, what is the right balance of writing elements that will create a successful story?

Well, there really isn’t a pat formula. Each story will call for its own particular amounts of elements, and each publisher will have her own set of rules that the author must adhere to. But there are certain basics that all stories must contain.

The five basic elements of a story are:

Plot: The arrangement of circumstances and/or events in the story, including conflicts and resolution.

Character: Without the main character and supporting characters the plot is useless. It is the character’s struggle to overcome the conflicts or obstacles in his path that gives the plot life.

Setting: This element includes the physical backdrop of the story, the time period and location.

Atmosphere or Tone: The mood, including the setting, characters and their clothing, weather, and other elements within the story, determines the tone of the story.

Style: The author’s way of expressing herself is the style. Sentence structure, diction, choice of words, point of view, imagery, and symbols are all means of conveying a story that is unique to the author.

In regard to the amounts or balance of each element, the objective is to create a story that continually moves forward toward a satisfying conclusion while holding the reader’s attention. You can have a plot driven story, or a character driven story, you can also have a story with a lot of dialogue, but you need to be sure the story is focused, coherent, and engaging.

Often, as you self-edit your own work, you won’t be able to see if the elements are just right; you should have it critiqued and have an editor take a look at it to see if you’re on the mark. And, then after all that, it will be up to the publisher’s editor to give the final say on whether you have just the right balance of writing elements for a successful story.

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children's author and children’s ghostwriter as well as the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move. You can find out more about writing for children and her services at: Karen Cioffi Writing for Children.

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Get your copy of Walking Though Walls (a middle-grade fantasy adventure set in 16th century China).


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How to Write Better Endings to Your Stories

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Characters or Story - Which Comes First?

A number of articles about writing for children, and other genres suggest knowing your characters inside and out before beginning the story. In fact, information suggests that the author build the story around the characters once they are fully developed. While this is good advice, and many experienced authors recommend this technique, there are some authors who occasionally watch their characters unveil themselves right before their eyes.

This is such an interesting method of writing. Your character introduces himself and gradually reveals bits and pieces, and blossoms as the story moves along. Sometimes a story doesn’t begin with this intent, it just happens. This is known as the seat-of-you-pants method of writing.

You do need to be careful with this method though, you may lose track of all the bits and pieces that make up the character. So, a good way to keep track of those quirky telltale marks, expressions, behavior patterns, and physical features is to note them on a separate page or character card as they become unveiled. You wouldn’t want your character to have brown eyes in one chapter and blue eyes in another - unless of course, it’s a science fiction or paranormal and part of the storyline.

So, is there a right or wrong answer to the question of which comes first, characters or story? That depends on the writer.

While it may be important to know your characters, and even have a family and background established for them, even if every bit and piece of that information is not used in the story, you can also become acquainted as you go along. As your story develops you may find out if the character is fearful in certain situations, or if he is heroic. Sometimes it’s impossible to know this about a person, let alone a character, until circumstances create the possibility of the question.

It is one’s environment and circumstances that help develop his or her characteristics, fears, hopes, and so on. The same holds true for your character.

Using an example: How would a child who never saw a mouse before react to one? There’s no way to answer that question until it happens. Even the setting itself would lend to the possible various reactions of the child. If the mouse was in a field and the child wasn’t too close, you’d get one reaction. If the mouse was in the child’s closet, and the child stuck his hand in the closet to get his sneakers and touched the mouse, there’d be quite a different reaction.

So if you’re so inclined, having the story help develop the character can be a useful tool. But, again, be sure to keep track of all the new features your character unveils along the way.

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children's author and children’s ghostwriter as well as the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move. You can find out more about writing for children and her services at: Karen Cioffi Writing for Children.

Check out the DIY Page and don’t forget to sign up for The Writing World Newsletter that has great monthly writing and book marketing tips and it's FREE.



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