Tag Archives: Characters

Good People Making Bad Choices: Could this be your character?

Good people making bad choices is something that many of us struggle to fathom. I mean, surely if they were ‘good’ then they would ultimately go with their better judgement. Good people uphold values such as human dignity, even when it’s tough. World War II was when this phenomenon really came into the public eye, as the world struggled to accept that all Germans were not monsters. In fact, the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the person directly responsible for Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’, found that many of the war criminals standing before them were mild-mannered, courteous people.

And the moment any psychological phenomenon becomes interesting, writers tend to perk up and listen. Does this relate to my character? Maybe this is why he did what he did? Or if you’re anything like me, how could I tie this into a ‘what if’ question for a future concept? Could it be the something that my readers will mull over long after they’ve finished?

Well, let me tell you a story. Those of you that have heard of Milgram’s experiments on obedience will recognise the scenario I’m about to dramatize (I’ve taken the Milgram’s procedure and brought it to life with the help of some fictional characters), for others, you’re about to discover what the average person is capable of.

When Ben saw the ad for a learner experiment, he read it twice.

“Surely it can’t be that simple,’ he thought, ‘you’re basically getting paid to turn up!”

But that’s exactly what the typed page on the university noticeboard said. Thinking of Emily and their upcoming anniversary, the prospect of some easy cash was enticing.

When Ben turned up, he was introduced to Geoff. Geoff was middle-aged, and kind of mild-mannered looking with his glasses and round belly. The experimenter, this guy tall and serious looking with his white lab coat and clipboard, held out the tip of two straws. It seemed the person that drew the short-straw would be the learner, and the other, the teacher. Ben had never done any teaching, but he wasn’t keen on drawing the short-straw just because…well, it’s the short-straw.

His relief when his red straw drew out and was twice the length of Geoff’s had his tension easing. He gave Geoff an apologetic smile, to which Geoff responded with an affable one of his own. The experimenter, Ben couldn’t remember whether he introduced himself, took Geoff to a chair. Geoff had a few minutes to read a piece of paper before the experimenter strapped him into it.

Geoff looked down at the metal straps holding his arms down, and Ben watched as the experimenter smeared electrode paste before attaching electrodes. “The paste is to prevent burning and blistering.”

Geoff smiled in gratitude. “I have a heart condition, I thought I’d let you know.”

The experimenter continued with the paste and the electrodes. “Although the shocks may be painful, they won’t cause any permanent tissue damage.”

Ben’s shoulders felt a little tense. This was a little more…well…medical that he’d imagined. But the experimenter was calm and collected as he came took Ben to an adjacent room. Ben was confident he knew what he was doing.

Ben took a seat and the experimenter pointed to a dial and some buttons before him. “You’re going to ask Geoff some questions. We want to test his memory.”

Ben nodded. Seemed straightforward enough.

“If Geoff makes a mistake, I want you to administer progressively larger shocks to Geoff each time.”

Ben frowned at the dials. Their descriptors had words like Slight, Moderate, Strong, Intense, Extreme Intensity and Danger: Severe Shock. “Okay.”

The experimenter held an electrode to Ben’s arm. “This is 45 volts.”

The tingling buzz was a shock, but not painful. Ben mentally shook himself, he was being silly. The experimenter knew what he was doing, and this was probably important.

Geoff got the first few questions correct. But then he started making some errors. Very soon, Ben was dialling up to 75 volts and Geoff was grunting in pain. He looked at the experimenter, discomfort making him shift in his seat.

The experimenter made some notes in his clipboard. “Please continue.”

Ben pulled in a steadying breath and asked the next question. At 120 volts, Geoff shouted that the shocks were becoming painful. Uneasiness was making Ben’s hand tremble. He turned to the experimenter. “I think…I think we shouldn’t go any higher.”

“The experiment requires you to continue.”

Ben turned back to the dial. Maybe Geoff wouldn’t get too many more wrong. At 150 volts Geoff demanded to be released from the experiment. At 180 volts he cried out that he couldn’t stand it any longer. Ben was now sweating, each show of pain from Geoff had his teeth gritting and his chest constricting. “We need to stop.

The experimenter shook his head. “It is absolutely essential that you continue.”

Ben looked at Geoff, who was now panting. He looked down at his hand wrapped around the dial. It is absolutely essential that you continue.

Geoff continued to cry out at each shock. By the time the dial was at 250 volts, he was crying out in agony. At 300 volts Geoff stopped responding to the cue words. The experimenter told Ben to treat these as a wrong answer.

Ben shot up from his chair. “This is wrong,” he shouted. “We’re hurting him!”

The experimenter’s gaze was steely. “You have no other choice but continue.”

Ben hovered; half standing, wanting to run; half sitting, and hating himself for it. This was wrong. He wasn’t someone that does this to people. What would Emily think of this all?

But he had no choice. The authority figure standing beside him, unyielding and demanding, had said so.

Disgust and dread stung the back of Ben’s throat as he notched the dial up to Extreme Intensity. He pretended he didn’t hear Geoff’s scream as he pressed the button…

Now, I wonder if you’re empathising with Ben’s discomfort, but secure in the knowledge that you would be different?

What Ben didn’t know is that Geoff was a confederate, an actor and accomplice, to one of the most famous experiments into obedience to authority. There was no shock, no pain, no deadly electrical current. The experimenter knew this, as did Geoff.

Ben, on the other hand, had just shown us what the average-Joe was capable of.

When they first devised this experiment, Milgram and his researchers predicted that no more than 20% of normal, psychologically balanced human beings would comply with the direction to continue shocking the learner past 135 volts. They predicted no one would continue past 255 volts.

What they found was that 65% of participants continued to the highest level of 450 volts, and all the participants continued to at least 300 volts. Milgram’s experiment has been replicated in multiple countries, with males and females, and across different settings. Milgram felt safe to conclude that the average person could be directed to commit horrific acts if obeying an accepted authority figure.

Once you’ve processed what this means for ourselves and humanity, you’ll start considering what this could mean for a character and a story world. Did we just witness the birth of a villain? What if Ben was an apprentice, and this was his master? What if his master progressively increased the violence that Ben believed he had no choice but inflict? Ultimately, who would Ben become as he aged, and eventually became a master himself?

Or is Ben going to live with his choices for the remainder of your narrative? What if this was a single event, and Ben went home to Emily and their anniversary? If Ben internalises the decision he made to hurt another, he may not acknowledge (or know) the influence that authority has over us. That would be a tough cross to bear (and yep, a wound was just born!).

If you like the post don’t forget to share it!

By Tamar
Source: psychwriter.com.au

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

 

Today’s #AtoZChallenge: Genres–Zombie Apocalypse

The A to Z Challenge asks bloggers to post every day except Sundays during the month of April on a thematic topic. This year, my second year with A to Z, I’ll cover writing genres.

Definition

Zombie Apocalypse: in which the widespread rise of zombies hostile to human life engages in a general assault on civilization

Tipsa to z

  1. The literary subtext of a zombie apocalypse is usually that civilization is inherently fragile in the face of truly unprecedented threats and that most individuals cannot be relied upon to support the greater good if the personal cost becomes too high.
  2. For a zombie event to be apocalyptic, it needs to involve a large number of undead, shambling around, or, if you’re into the more modern zombies, running.
  3. Being undead must be spreading throughout the population or it’s not apocalyptic.
  4. Initial contacts with zombies must be extremely traumatic, causing shock, panic, disbelief and possibly denial, and hampering survivors’ ability to deal with hostile encounters.
  5. The response of authorities to the threat must be slower than its rate of growth, giving the zombie plague time to expand beyond containment.
  6. The society must collapse as zombies take full control while small groups of the living must fight for their survival.
  7. Zombiism must not only spread throughout a population but throughout the geography. It can’t be contained in a single area.
  8. The stories usually follow a single group of survivors, caught up in the sudden rush of the crisis.
  9. The narrative generally progresses from the onset of the zombie plague, then initial attempts to seek the aid of authorities, the failure of those authorities, through to the sudden catastrophic collapse of all large-scale organization and the characters’ subsequent attempts to survive on their own.
  10. Such stories are often squarely focused on the way their characters react to such an extreme catastrophe, and how their personalities are changed by the stress, often acting on more primal motivations (fear, self-preservation) than they would display in normal life.

Popular Books

  1. Day by Day Armageddon by J.L. Bourne
  2. Dawn of the Dead by by George A. Romero
  3. Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
  4. The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
  5. The Mammoth Book of Zombie Apocalypse by Stephen Jones
  6. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
  7. The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman
  8. World War Z by Max Brooks
  9. The Z Word (Apocalypse Babes) by Bella Street
  10. Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Click for complete list of  2018 A to Z genres

By Jacqui Murray
Source: worddreams.wordpress.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Are You Riding the Horse, Or Is the Horse Riding You?

Are you in control of your life? Or do you let life control you?

You may have expected a blog on writing craft from me. But this time, I decided to use my psychological expertise to help you take charge of your writing life.

Many people let the negatives control their lives. They take their black cloud of doom with them everywhere. You know those writers. Shh… No names.

The horse is riding them—and they don’t even try to climb back on and ride that horse.

They think that due to negative circumstances, they can’t reach their goals, can’t have writing success.

Others realize they are in charge of their lives, in spite of the negatives. They ride the horse—take the reins, control where they are going.

I’m awed by Helen Keller. How many of us could face severe adversity with such courage and grace?

Here’s one of my favorite quotes from Helen Keller.

One cannot consent to creep when one has an impulse to soar.

 Wow. Talk about riding the damn horse.

 How can you ride the horse?

Your life consists of what you do each day, each hour, each minute.

When you put yourself in charge of chunks of your day, you’re in charge of your writing life.

Consider my Winner and Super Star Lists.Cue the drum roll.

WINNER AND SUPER STAR LISTS

 Keep reading. No skimming!

My Winner and Super Star Lists are way cooler than To Do Lists.

Creating WINNER and SUPER STAR lists every day will boost your productivity and boost your mood.

WINNER LISTS:

WINNER LIST items are things you know you can complete in the block of time you have available that morning, afternoon, and/or evening.

They are DOABLE in the time you have allotted. Doable.

Don’t go all delusional. Don’t load your list with things that would take eight hours and expect to accomplish them in two.

You can’t put everything you need to do, or everything you want to do, on one Winner list.

For a 3-hour block, my WINNER list could have these two items:

 

But – Super Star items don’t always move to the Winner List right away. It depends on deadlines and priorities.

It’s important to keep assessing your needs. Do what needs to come next, not what you’d rather do.

If you have several chunks of writing-focused time in your day, make a WINNER list for each chunk of time. Revise as needed as you go through your day.

Did you quit your writing task to answer the phone? Make a call? Do laundry? Declutter a room? Check e-mail?

Did you waste 25 minutes supposedly fixing a cup of tea, but you really did five other housey-things or time-wasters too?

SUPER STAR LISTS

 SUPER STAR LIST items are the things you’d like to do AFTER you’ve completed your WINNER LIST.

If you complete your WINNER list in less than your allotted block of time – you have the remaining time to start a Super Star item.

You must COMPLETE THE WINNER LIST FIRST.

 NO LIST HOPPING. 

Here’s where people set themselves up to fail. They make awesome lists, then item-hop, or list-hop, or never look at the list again.

YIKES!  They do what they’d rather do instead of what they need to do to succeed.

You may make WINNER and SUPER STAR lists for your week or weekend also. I call those long ones Master Winner and Master Super Star lists.

But always make a short WINNER list for each block of time. Blocks can range from a half hour to three hours.

Winner Lists keep you accomplishing your goals. You succeed. You stay motivated.

If you create a 53-item mega-list, you may be so overwhelmed, you lose your day to NetFlicks.

Other items will try to sneak on one of those lists.

STOP. THINK.

Do not go on autopilot and slap it on a WINNER or SUPER STAR list. It may belong on one of those lists, or not.

Maybe it belongs on a third list–the MAYBE List.

MAYBE you’ll do it, MAYBE you won’t.

 No snickering.  This is an important list!

Put that item on the MAYBE List. You won’t lose the idea.

MAYBE you’ll put it on one of your real lists (Winner of Super Star) the next week.

MAYBE you’ll look at that item next week and realize it should be on a list for three months from now, after your book is completed.

Start that AFTER MY BOOK IS COMPLETED list. Don’t lose a good idea.

Creating Winner and Super Star Lists should become as automatic as buckling your seat belt.

Create those lists every day, and you’ll be in control of your life. You’ll be riding your horse, and you won’t get thrown off.

I’ll digress. But the story below is all about staying on track.

My husband’s a private pilot. Years ago on a family vacation in Florida, he broke some ribs surfing. But we had to fly out the next day. A hurricane was expected to strike the coast that afternoon.

Since my husband was in pain from his broken ribs, it was up to me, non-pilot me, to do some of the easy-breezy flying from Florida to the mid-west while he tried not to move.

I’d flown single engine planes before for hours at a time. Flying was easy and fun. I maintained speed and altitude, switched fuel tanks every 30 minutes, checked for air traffic, and followed a railroad track.

I was happy about following a railroad track. So much easier than navigating with the fancy avionics.

I told myself I could fly the plane. I enjoyed flying. It was a fun challenge. And — I didn’t have to land.

I didn’t focus on the negatives. I didn’t catastrophize.

If I needed help, I had the expert sitting next to me. He could take the controls anytime I woke him up.

I had fun flying and followed the railroad track. No problems.

A couple of hours later I read a water tower that named a town I wasn’t supposed to be near. I was 200 miles off course.

I’d followed the wrong railroad track.

Follow the right tracks. Don’t get off course.

Winner and Super Star Lists help you stay on track every day. Keep your Winner Lists doable for that block of time, and you’ll accomplish your daily goals. And weekly goals. And monthly goals.

You’ll ride that horse, you won’t let it ride you.

Source: writersinthestormblog.com

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Do characters work personalities shape a story?

How important is a character’s work situation when it comes to shaping an overall impression of a character.

Looking at four basic work situations where the job is an ordinary job in that it can be recognized as a normal occupation. Piloting a space ship would be considered a normal job, as it’s just another kind of vehicle that can be driven. Growing a garden in burnt out soil after a war, everything is knocked back to basics, where getting mixed results would be considered normal.

1) The job is performed in an ordinary way under normal circumstances yielding normal results.
This probably wouldn’t create an impression about the character.
2) The job is a situation dealing with ordinary or unusual situations yielding hapless results.
Might make the character appear less than desirable.
3) The job is dealing with unusual situations yielding as best as can be expected results for the circumstances, including failure.
Generates some respect for the character even if things don’t work out.
4) The job is dealing with ordinary or unusual situations constantly yielding spectacular results.
Creates a competent gets the job done type of character, one that people would appreciate reading about.

If the majority of character’s jobs in a story were sticking to one of the four types listed, how much of a driver would that be for a story. I could see option #4 setting up an action packed adventure story. Option #1 would be just a passive background, more informational about a life style rather than a working part of the plot. Option #2 might drive a comedy or a tragedy. Option #3, being less predictable creates a background for the overall story, perhaps contributes more to the style of writing.

Source: sffchronicles.com

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5 Things a Writer Needs to Know About a Character with a Mental Illness

To make a character real, they need to mirror the reality that we experience. This is a challenge, because the world each person lives in is highly individual and deeply diverse. As a psychologist, working with people affected by mental health diagnoses is what makes my job so challenging and yet so rewarding. As a reader and an editor, I love to read characters living with these backgrounds. I love it because I learn something new every time. But when it isn’t captured authentically, if the character is the stereotypical depressed mother who can’t get out of bed, or maybe even absent, then I wish they knew the following:

  1. It’s Everywhere

About 1 in 5 adults will experience a mental illness at some stage of their lives. Mental health issues can affect anyone, irrespective of gender, race, culture or socioeconomic background. If you haven’t experienced mental health challenges yourself, then someone you know and love has.

As a writer, this means it wouldn’t be uncommon to find a character dealing with something similar in your book. It can be your protagonist dealing with anxiety, your villain having a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder, or your hero’s mother suffering from Munchausen’s by Proxy. In fact, because of its prevalence, the inclusion of some sort of mental health challenges for a character in your book will lend your story authenticity.

  1. Stigma is Alive and Well

We’ve all read the articles or seen the Facebook clips, heck, I personally advocate the message that mental illness are legitimate as a physical illness; they can be chronic, debilitating, and treatable.

But the reality is that gender equality, acceptance of diverse sexual orientations, and equal opportunity for those living with disabilities has been something people have been fighting for a long time, and we’re not quite there yet. Mental health stigma is a very real experience for many sufferers of mental illness, but what amplifies these adverse effects is the internalising of mental health stigma.

The belief that there is something fundamentally flawed with you because you aren’t able to ‘snap out’ of it tends to be incorporated into a person’s self-concept. It can be a barrier to help-seeking and treatment and can undermine your self-esteem. If you have a character with a mental health diagnosis, then be cognizant that it’s hard to feel good about yourself when you’re fighting a pain no one can see.

  1. Each diagnosis is a snowflake

The diversity within any single mental health condition is significant, and every writer needs to be cognisant of this. A label such as obsessive compulsive disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is going to give you a broad understanding of what you’re going to see in your character. But what that looks like for your particular person on the page is going to be a nuanced product of their history, biology, and social context.

It’s considering each of these variables; the interaction of their psychology with the environment that has moulded them (and will continue to do so), is how you’ll move away from stereotypes and two-dimensional characters.

  1. Mental Health is a Roller-Coaster

If you have a character living with a mental health condition, then the usual ups and downs that life likes to pitch at you are going to be amplified. Your key refusing to slot into the keyhole of your front door can feel like the last, fragile straw that breaks you; whilst a smile from a stranger can be enough to bolster your plummeting self-esteem.

Mental health conditions take what our brain does in its everyday life (feel worried about something that could happen, feel sad at the prospect of tomorrow, believe that our workmate doesn’t like us) and dials it up. The emotions are stronger, the thoughts are more powerful, and the urges they provoke are harder to resist. This can vary from the desire to eat an entire New York Cheesecake to desperately needing to control your world to plotting a way to end the prime-minister’s new immigration policy.

Incorporating these challenges authentically can be tricky as some of the choices these characters make can be difficult to understand. Understanding the emotional and cognitive foundation of your character’s mental illness is essential.

  1. Great Characters do Great Things

For all their challenges, mental health diagnoses are a painful opportunity to discover some amazing things about ourselves. The darkness they bring only makes the light brighter. People that live with mental illness need to learn to be flexible, self-aware and resilient, and if that doesn’t capture a character arc, I don’t know what does. If you drag a character into some deep wells of sadness, fear, or disillusionment, then you’ve just created a moving contrast for the heights that humanity can reach for. What’s more, these challenges (like any) are a wonderful way to explore the power of connection. There are supports out there. There are people passionate about helping. So remember, capturing the hardships of mental illness is only the half the picture. It’s the stories of human triumph over adversity that is the other side of the mental health label.

What’s your thoughts? Do you have a character with a mental illness? How did you make sure they were authentic and realistic?

By Tamar Sloan
Source: psychwriter.com.au

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

15 Ways to Make Your Characters Suffer (for the Good of Your Novel)

Note: This post was originally published in 2016, and was updated in June 2018.

Do your characters suffer enough?

Even if you’re writing a light and fluffy romance, at some point, someone in your novel is going to need to get hurt.

I’m not suggesting all-out graphic torture here, obviously – unless that suits your genre. Suffering comes in a lot of different forms – and I’m going to go through a bunch of those in a moment.

In general, making characters suffer should do at least one, ideally both, of these:

  • Advance your plot: bad stuff may well need to happen in order for your heroes to get to (and earn) their happy ending. Often, some degree of suffering is what drives the plot: the protagonist is unhappy with their life as-is and wants to change things.
  • Deepen or reveal character: either we see who someone really is when they’re hurt (someone who seemed a bit of a wimp turns out to have hidden strength; someone who was nice on the surface reveals a vindictive side) … or it’s part of their character arc.

Any and all of your characters can get to suffer: heroes, villains, and those with walk-on parts. The main difference is in how the reader will respond.

Our natural reaction to seeing someone hurt or in pain is to feel sympathy towards them. If they’re a particularly nasty character, though, we might well feel they’re getting their just deserts. The more awful they are, the less likely we are to feel sorry for them – even if their suffering is pretty extreme (think Ramsay in Game of Thrones, for instance).

If a minor character suffers, the importance of this may well be how the hero (or villain) responds: do they help? Are they distressed? Amused? Indifferent? Introducing someone who’s in some kind of pain can also be a good way to instantly get the reader’s sympathy.

15 Ways to Make Characters Suffer

There are some fairly obvious ways to hurt your characters: physical violence being pretty high on the list. However, that won’t always suit your novelistic purposes (sure, you could break your protagonist’s legs, but that may make the rest of your story fall apart) – and it’s not appropriate for every genre.

Keep in mind, too, that suffering and misery alone aren’t going to make for a very interesting story: what’s important is how these alter the characters and the plot (generally, if something’s impacting one of those, it’ll impact the other).

If you’re a bit stuck for ideas, though, or you feel like your characters should go through a bit more misery but whacking them around in a fight isn’t going to quite cut it … here are different ways to make your fictional people suffer.

This is not, I suspect, an exhaustive list – please do add your ideas in the comments! I’ve split these into “physical” and “non-physical” (though obviously there’s an overlap in many cases); other than that, they’re not in any specific order.

Physical Suffering

#1: Sleep Deprivation

As any parent of small children can tell you, this can be pretty horrific! 😉 It brings together physical exhaustion and emotional/mental difficulties too, so it could be a handy one to go for if you’re avoiding outright violence, or if you want something more emotionally draining than purely physical pain.

The cause of the sleep deprivation is (or should be!) significant; if nothing else, these will impact on how the character feels about it (and how easily they can solve it). A young baby? A snoring partner? Insomnia? Deliberate torture?

Handy for: plot complications (character may be unsafe to drive, operate machinery, etc); seeing who a character is / how they respond under pressure.

Example: Season 4 of Dexter begins with Dexter and his wife Rita pretty sleep deprived due to baby Harrison crying at night – this kicks off the plot as Dexter accidentally brings the wrong file to court, resulting in a violent killer going free.

#2: Hunger

A character who’s hungry has a very basic, pressing need to fulfil. This might be a temporary situation (they’re stranded somewhere with no food and possibly no water) or a more ongoing form of suffering that drives the whole plot.

Handy for: pushing characters into making tough decisions (anything from “steal to feed a child” to “resort to cannibalism”).

Example: In The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins (as you might guess from the title) hunger drives the plot. Teenagers compete in annual “hunger games” to win food for their communities.

#3: Health Condition

Any long-term physical health condition could impact on (quite possibly drive) the plot. It doesn’t necessarily have to have a constant presence: for instance, if a character occasionally suffers strokes or migranes, that could be a source of stress and conflict but not something that limits them at every moment. It could be anything from minor to debilitating.

Handy for: (if the condition exists from page one) limiting a protagonist who might otherwise be too powerful or succeed too easily; (if the condition arises during the novel) forcing a protagonist to come to terms with the loss of their hopes or dreams – or even to face their own mortality.

Example: One of the main characters in Linda Green’s And Then It Happened ends up in a coma, due to a head injury, part way through.

#4: Pregnancy

While it felt awkward to count this as “suffering”, pregnancy will at least limit a character – morning sickness and exhaustion in the first trimester; increasing size and tiredness in the third. There’s also the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy, and how your character reacts – which quickly shades into more mental types of suffering. In some romance novels, pregnancy (particularly accidental pregnancy) can be a source of conflict and story tension.

Handy for: other characters’ responses (e.g. concern for pregnant character and unborn child); racking up the tension for the reader if the pregnant character ends up in a dangerous situation; possible drama surrounding any complications, or simply the labour and birth.

Example: Intelligence operative Angela Burr in The Night Manager is pregnant with her first child – this doesn’t have any particular dramatic impact on the plot, but does make her more potentially vulnerable, particularly as she gets more involved in the action towards the end of the series.

#5: Long-Term Injury

A broken leg or arm, or a serious wound, can limit a character’s actions for a fair amount of time. These aren’t necessarily going to cause continuous pain (a broken limb will be very painful in the immediate aftermath, but assuming it’s treated and the character has painkillers, it’s going to be more like an inconvenience than a source of agony).

Handy for: keeping a character on the sidelines during a particular part of your plot; other characters’ reactions to the injured one; how the character reacts to having to rest and recover; initial drama and conflict as the injury gets seen to.

Example: In The Accident Season, a YA novel by Moira Fowley-Doyle, various characters suffer injuries – when the story opens, Cara (the narrator) has sprained her wrist, and her older sister Alice has fallen down the stairs.

#6: Short-Term Injury

This doesn’t have to be minor (it might well be life-threatening), but it should be resolved fairly quickly with minimal lasting effects. E.g. if someone has lost a lot of blood, they could be bandaged up (and possibly treated in surgery) but back on their feet after a couple of days.

Other short-term injuries might be painful (bruising, burns) but not incapacitating.

Handy for: immediate pain and trauma; getting a character back into the plot quickly; potentially changing the relationship between the injured character and character(s) who help; works well in light/comic novels too.

Example: In Off to be the Wizard, a comic speculative fiction novel by Scott Meyer, the protagonist Martin suffers a number of fairly amusing minor injuries, particularly in the early chapters.

#7: Incarceration

A character is – rightly or wrongly – imprisoned. The suffering here could simply be the loss of their freedom, or that could be compounded by other types of suffering (separation from their loved ones, being ill-treated or tortured, hunger…) If the incarcerated character is a more minor one, then the protagonist might be pushed to rescue them, particularly if they’re in danger or being used as leverage.

Handy for: getting them out of the way; giving them time to reflect on how they’ve screwed up; furthering the plot (e.g. through their escape attempt); could easily be part of their character arc.

Example: Tony Stark in Iron Man is captured by terrorists early on during the narrative: this is a hugely important moment in both his character arc and the plot of the whole Iron Man series: he invents the Iron Man suit in order to escape.

#8: Torture

The character is deliberately and repeatedly hurt (physically, but you can bring in psychological angles too) by another character. This is – at least ostensibly – usually for information but it could be a form of punishment … or, if your antagonist is particularly heinous, just for “fun”. It can potentially have a medical component: the torturer isn’t causing them pain for pain’s sake, but because they’re testing the character in some way.

Handy for: making your villain pretty darn unredeemable; pushing good characters to their limits; blurring the moral lines (under what circumstances would the mostly-good guys torture someone?); causing your protagonist a great deal of anguish if someone else is being tortured in order to break them.

Example: Firefly’s Mal (Captain Reynolds) and Wash, in “War Stories” are tortured by bad guy Niska; significant primarily for the character development / interaction between them (and to some extent for other characters too, particularly the relationship between Wash and his wife Zoe).

Non-Physical Suffering

You can put characters through hell without a single cut or bruise. Here are a few ideas:

#9: Financial Problems

Money (as most writers notice at some point!) can be a massive source of stress. This can work for almost any character, however well-off – e.g. they lose all their money, or they go through an acrimonious divorce, or money is a serious source of relationship stress.

Handy for: putting pressure on a relationship; forcing difficult decisions (especially if physical suffering – e.g. hunger – is on the horizon); conflict between characters.

Example: The gulf between rich men and their (usually female) assistants, who are paying off student loan debt, kicks off drives the plot in The Assistants by Camille Perri.

#10: Losing a Job

On its own, this isn’t necessarily a form of suffering – but assuming the character wanted or needed the job, then it’s likely to lead to financial or social difficulties. They may face a crisis of self-identity.

If losing a job is a bit drastic, an explicit or implied threat to a character’s job can be a milder way of achieving some of the same effects. In children’s or YA fiction, expulsion from school, or the threat of it, can work in a similar way to an adult losing a job.

Handy for: relationship problems (with spouse, former co-workers, etc); character blaming themselves; freeing up a character to have more time for interesting things than going to work every day!

Example: A fairly large source of tension in Season One of Marvel’s Agent Carter is the gulf between Peggy Carter’s work in law enforcement and the highly illegal activities she’s undertaking on the side in order to protect Howard Stark (who she believes – rightly – is not guilty of the crimes he’s been accused of).

#11: Social Problems

Perhaps your character is rejected by their community, or is misunderstood or vilified. They might be at fault or they might be blameless – or perhaps something in between. The pain this causes could range from feeling a bit lonely to being devastated; if you’re writing something fairly dark, it could well lead to the character being hunted down and physically attacked.

Handy for: questioning identity, potentially striking out in a new direction, feeling like they have nothing else to lose, potentially making some bad choices

Example: In K.M. Weiland’s Storming, Hitch, the protagonist, returns to a close-knit community that he left years before – and there’s a lot of animosity towards him (particularly from his sister-in-law).

#12: Bereavement

One particularly effective, if horrible, way to make your character suffer is to kill someone they love. This might be part of the plot (the antagonist murders their best friend) or it might be part of the back story (their spouse is dying or has died before the story begins).

Handy for: deep distress and despair; questioning of their purpose; potentially strengthening their resolve to succeed in reaching their goal.

Example: Detective Jamie Brooke in Joanna Penn’s Desecration has a terminally ill 14-year-old daughter who passes away part-way into the novel: a huge source of grief for Jamie, but also a critical part of the plot, as the body is stolen.

#13: Mental Illness

There’s a whole range of potential suffering under the broad umbrella of “mental illness” – depression, anxiety, eating disorders, drug addiction, PTSD, etc. You might have a protagonist with a backstory of mental illness – or your protagonist might have a friend or relative suffering with a particular mental health difficulty. I’m sure it goes without saying, but do approach these with a bit of caution and sensitivity.

Handy for: starting off the novel with a character already facing a difficult struggle; introducing mental health problems part way as a result of traumatic plot events.

Example: Jessica Jones, in Marvel’s Jessica Jones, is suffering from a form of PTSD (plus, if not outright alcoholism, at least alcohol abuse) from the first episode.

#14: Esoteric Suffering

I’m using this as a catch-all for types of suffering that might crop up in speculative fiction, horror, and some thrillers. Think psychic powers or super-powers: pain or suffering caused by something at least somewhat supernatural, which could be anything from some kind of advanced technology to magic-wielding humans to an evil demon.

Handy for: something painful (quite possibly cripplingly so) that doesn’t have lasting effects; showcasing antagonist’s power even at a distance; creepy or unsettling effects; causing or interacting with other types of suffering.

Example: The Hunter in Ceila Friedman’s Coldfire trilogy can inflict this sort of pain, particularly in the form of nightmares.

#15: Fear

One fairly simple (but often potent) form of suffering is to have a character who’s afraid. This doesn’t necessarily have to result in any eventual injury or harm: simply having them really scared can ramp up the tension, and can potentially push them into difficult or bad decisions.

Handy for: increasing tension without increasing the body count; keeping scary things just slightly off the page (often scarier!); pushing characters into a corner; making them make a brave decision (or live with the fact they didn’t).

Example: Five-year-old Jack in Emma Donoghue’s Room goes along with his mother’s plan to free them (which involves rolling him up in a rug and pretending he’s dead) despite being understandably scared.

 

And in case that list isn’t quite enough for you, here are some bonus ways to pile on the suffering:

  1. Your character’s own stupid decisions caused the Bad Thing to happen to them.
  2. Your character’s brave, heroic act caused the Bad Thing: they stood up for justice, and it go them shot / arrested / etc.
  3. Your character isn’t the one suffering (or not the only one) – someone they love is in pain.
  4. It looked like something was finally going to go right for your character … but then it all came crashing down.

If, like me, you’re sometimes a bit of a wimp when it comes to letting your characters suffer … write the first draft as lightly and fluffily as you want, then pile on the suffering in subsequent rewrites. It’ll make for a stronger, more compelling novel.

By Ali
Source: aliventures.com

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Basic Plot for the Beginning Writers

If, like many people, you labor under the idea that for “real” writers, plot comes effortlessly, dismiss that illusion now. While some writers were born with a sense of how to tell a story effectively, more of them do study the elements of plot and pay serious attention to how other writers successfully construct a narrative.​

Playwrights have this stuff drilled into them, but fiction writers often get away without basic instruction in what makes something dramatic.

It’s not magic. The elements of a good story can be studied and learned.

In fact, you’ve probably already studied them in your high school literature classes. It doesn’t hurt to review them now, from the perspective of a writer and not a student. They may seem simple, but without them, your other skills as a writer — your ability to imagine believable characters, your talent with dialogue, your exquisite use of language — will come to naught.

Start, of course, with a protagonist, your main character. The protagonist must encounter a conflict — with another character, society, nature, himself, or some combination of these things — and undergo some kind of change as a result.

“Conflict” is also known as the “major dramatic question.” Gotham Writers’ Workshop puts it this way in their guide Writing Fiction: The major dramatic question “is generally a straightforward yes/no question, one that can be answered by the end of the story.” What will happen to King Lear when he divides up his empire and estranges himself from his one faithful daughter?

Will Elizabeth Bennet of Jane Austen‘s Pride and Prejudice get to marry for love, and will she or one of her sisters marry well enough to save the family from financial humiliation?

What sorts of changes do these conflicts bring about? Elizabeth Bennet learns the dangers of letting prejudice interfere with judgment.

King Lear acquires humility and learns to recognize superficiality and sincerity. Both are wiser at the end of the story than they were at the beginning, even if this wisdom, in Lear’s case, comes at a dear cost.

Elements of Plot

A story will hit various landmarks on its way from the story’s beginning to the fulfillment of the dramatic question. The introduction presents the characters, the setting, and the central conflict. Involve your protagonist in that conflict as early as possible. Today’s readers will generally not wade through pages of exposition to get to the point. Don’t make them wonder why they’re reading your story or novel. Hook them in the first page or pages.

From there, the character will face various impediments to the achievement of his or her goal. Known as rising action or development, this is part of the story’s satisfaction. Readers like to see a struggle, like to feel as though the payoff at the end is deserved.

Again, Pride and Prejudice provide an excellent example. If Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy liked each other immediately, and their friends and family immediately approved, their marriage would be much less satisfying, and nothing much would have been learned along the way, except that it’s great to fall in love.

Note how other writers build dramatic tension during this part of their narrative. How do they keep us interested in the outcome of the story? How many impediments are necessary to make the reader feel satisfied at the end? None of these decisions are necessarily easy. Part of your growth as a writer entails developing a feel for a successful story arc.

The rising action leads to the climax, the turning point in the story, which in turn leads to the resolution. The central dramatic question is solved one way or another. Peter Selgin provides a good example in his book By Cunning & Craft:

Climax is the resolution of conflict, the point of no return beyond which the protagonist’s fate — good or bad — is secured. Romeo’s suicide is the climax…not because it’s the most dramatic moment, but because it seals his fate and determines the resolution by preventing him and Juliet from ever living happily ever after.

In the denouement, the author ties up all the loose ends. Elizabeth and Jane Bennet get to live close to each other. Lydia stays far away in the North, where she can’t bother them much, and Kitty’s better qualities are drawn out by frequent visits to her sisters. Everyone we like lives happily ever after, and in a matter-of-fact three pages or so, we get all the necessary details. Likewise, the denouement for Lear takes only part of one scene: all the players of the main plot die, but under Edgar, England is reunited.

Two Disclaimers

First, much successful fiction does not follow these rules exactly. But even works like Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, which seem focused more on language than action, introduce dramatic questions to keep us reading. (Will her party come off? What’s up with her and Peter Walsh?) A lot of fiction that doesn’t necessarily seem plot-driven turns out, on closer scrutiny, to depend on tried and true strategies we can trace back (in Western literature, at least) to Aristotle’s Poetics.

Second, these basic elements may not occur in the order listed above. Try to identify them in your reading. Question why the writer decided to tell the story the way he or she did. Note the dramatic decisions. And, of course, think about all of this as you craft your own stories. At the end of the day, something has to happen. It seems elementary, but it can be quite complicated. By all means, experiment, but spend some time on the basics, too.

By
Source: thebalancecareers.com

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Dependent Personality Disorder: Psychological Disorders for Writers

Personality disorders are fascinating–many are comparatively rare and they all lead to some pretty unreasonable and difficult to understand behaviours…which kind of makes them ideal for writers! Personality disorders capture the extremeness that our complex mix of nature and nurture can create—encapsulating that on a page is a challenge, but also exciting. If you’re looking for an extreme character, they can be your antagonist, your protagonist’s parent (and the source of their wound) or if you’re feeling really game—your hero, personality disorders are a goldmine! No matter which character, they will lend a layer of difference and interest to your story.

It’s doing it authentically that’s the key.

Today we’re delving into Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD). DPD is characterised by a  pervasive  and excessive  need  to be  taken  care of  by others. This  leads to  submissive  and clinging behaviour  and  fears of  separation, beginning by  early  adulthood and  present  in a  variety  of contexts (imagine the anxious toddler who fears separation and you’re getting the idea). The following characteristics are what you’ll see in a person with DPD:

  1. Has difficulty  making  everyday decisions

These characters struggle to make everyday decisions without an excessive amount  of advice  and reassurance  from others (e.g.,  what  colour shirt  to  wear to  work  or whether  to  carry an  umbrella). They will tend to be submissive and let others (often a single person—generally a parent or a spouse) assume responsibility for most major areas of their lives. Adults with this disorder typically need others to decide where they  should live, what  kind of job they should have, and which neighbours to befriend. With all these challenges, it’s not surprising that individuals with DPD struggle to function in the workplace, particularly if independent initiative is required. They may avoid positions of responsibility and become anxious when faced with decisions. Adolescents  with this  disorder may allow their  parent/s to decide what they  should wear, with  whom they should associate, how they should spend their free time, and what school or college they should attend.

This need for others to assume responsibility goes beyond age-appropriate and  situation-appropriate requests for assistance from others (e.g., the specific  needs  of children, elderly persons, and persons with a disability). DPD can occur in an individual who  has a  serious  medical condition or disability (in fact, chronic physical illness can predispose a person to DPD),  but in such cases the  difficulty  in taking  responsibility  must go beyond what would normally be associated with that condition or disability.

  1. Has difficulty disagreeing with others

Because a person with DPD has a powerful need for support and care (even overprotection and dominance), they will fear the loss of supporter approval. They will often have difficulty expressing disagreement  with other individuals, particularly those  on  whom they are dependent. These individuals feel so unable to function alone that they  will  agree with  things that they feel are wrong rather than risk  alienating their carer. They don’t get appropriately angry at others whose support and nurturance they need for fear of alienating them.

This means your character will be willing to submit to what others want, even if the  demands are unreasonable. This places them at risk of abuse, as their need to maintain an important bond often results in an imbalanced relationship.  They may make  extraordinary self-sacrifices or tolerate verbal,  physical, or sexual  abuse. It’s important to note that if  the  individual’s concerns regarding expressing disagreement need to be  realistic (e.g., realistic  fears of  retribution  from an abusive  spouse – this behaviour would not be considered evidence of DPD).

  1. Has difficulty doing things on  his  or her  own

A character presenting with DPD is unlikely to do anything independently because of a deep-seated lack of self-confidence in their judgment or abilities (as opposed to  a lack  of  motivation or  energy). Individuals  with this  disorder feel uncomfortable or  helpless when  alone  because of this  exaggerated fear of  being unable to care for themselves. Your character will  wait for  others to start things because they believe  others can  ‘do  it better.’  Only if you give them the assurance that someone else is supervising or approving, are they likely to function adequately.

  1. Goes to  excessive  lengths to  obtain  nurturance and  support  from others

These characters will proactively foster their dependence and elicit caregiving due to their self-perception that they are  unable  to function  adequately  without the  help  of others  (as opposed to being unable due to age or disability). Many of us have done this one some level—pretended we were incompetent so someone else did something for us (that’s how I got my husband to make mashed potato every time we had it). People with DPD dial this up, and perceive that they are genuinely incapable. They may fear  appearing more competent, because they may believe that this will lead to abandonment. To add another layer of complexity, because they rely on others to handle  their problems, they often don’t learn the skills of independent living (thankfully, I already knew how to make mashed potato), thus  perpetuating dependency.

  1. The prospect of being alone is frightening

Individuals  with  this disorder are often preoccupied with fears of  being left to care for themselves. They  see themselves as so totally dependent on the advice and help of  someone else that they worry about being  abandoned by that person when there are no  grounds to justify such fears.

If a close relationship ends (e.g., a  breakup  with a  lover or  the death  of  a caregiver),  your character may urgently seek another relationship to  provide the care and support  they need. Their belief that they are unable to function in the  absence of a close  relationship motivates these  individuals to become quickly and indiscriminately  attached to another  individual (and yes, that is risky and yes, it does leave them vulnerable).

  1. Negative Self-Talk

Individuals with DPD are often characterized by pessimism and self-doubt; they tend  to  belittle their abilities and assets, and  may constantly refer to them­selves as ‘stupid.’ Your character will  take  criticism and  disapproval as  proof  of their worthlessness. If they are involved in an abusive or unequal relationship, then their partner is likely to reinforce these beliefs.

Told you it was interesting! Weaving a character with DPD will be a challenge, particularly if you’re looking for a reader to empathise with them (their neediness makes them highly egocentric), but also a fascinating opportunity to capture how disordered our thinking can become.

By Tamar Sloan
Source: psychwriter.com.au

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The Joys of Writing Tragedy

Tragedy is one of the oldest and most fundamental forms of story-telling. It’s a mode that focuses on suffering, that connects its central character to the wider world, and that is deliberately designed to make audiences consider the fragility of their own lives. It can be a powerful tool for writers in any genre.

In this article, we’ll be looking at what tragedy is, what defines its protagonist, and how to make use of it in your writing.

Defining Tragedy

Tragedy as we now know it emerged from Greek plays around 2500 years ago. It reached its classical golden age in 5th century Athens, but our understanding of its form is most shaped by a book from a century later. In his Poetics, the philosopher Aristotle explained the origins of the form, as he understood it, and its defining features. The points he singled out shaped tragedy from then on, as it was kept alive by the Romans, revived in the Renaissance, and used and adapted by authors, poets, and playwrights ever since.

Tragedy is built around a downward arc. The protagonist experiences an unhappy transformation, ending in death or at the very least disaster. This is how many people identify a tragedy.

But there’s more to a traditional tragedy than this.

For the reader, a tragedy should be an unsettling experience. The story highlights the uncertainties of the world by showing that even the most powerful can fall due to events outside their control. In classical theatre, those events were usually driven by supernatural forces. In modern writing, they are more likely to be about the structures and injustices built into our society.

At its best, tragedy draws a mixture of emotions from the reader. There’s pity for the character experiencing the downfall, but there’s also fear. This fear is partly for the protagonist, but it’s often also fear of them. The rage of Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Hardy’s Mayor of Casterbridge creates a mixture of emotions, as the audience is torn between empathising with the character and worrying for the people they harm. It’s a deliberately unsettling experience.

The arc of the story should also evoke mixed emotions. It should feel both unavoidable and unacceptable. This undermines the audience’s sense of the world as a just place.

The character’s fall connects in with a wider sense of destruction. Hamlet’s tragedy is also that of the Kingdom of Denmark, as the royal house and by extension the nation goes into decline.

The face of tragedy has changed in recent centuries. Some of the features that Aristotle considered essential are no longer evoked, and the focus has moved away from supernatural interventions in human lives. But the core of tragedy remains the same – evoking emotions through injustice and the suffering of a central character.

The Tragic Character

If you want to write a tragedy then, as with so much of fiction, you need to start with the central character.

The tragic protagonist is normally a noble figure, one who clearly has good intentions, at least at the start. Walter White from Breaking Bad is a great modern example. He just wants to look after his family and his own medical bills. It’s the path he follows to do this that leads to somewhere far less virtuous.

Even if they aren’t noble, the central character needs to be sympathetic. For the tragedy to work, the audience has to care about your character and want them to avoid their approaching doom. They have to keep caring about them, on some level keep liking them, even as they do terrible things. If we didn’t like Hamlet, then we would stop caring for him as he kills Polonius and drives Ophelia mad.

This draws attention to another important feature of a tragic character – the fatal flaw.

All characters should have some flaws and failings to make them relatable. But for the protagonist of a tragedy, a powerful, fundamental flaw is vital. This is the characteristic that motivates much of their actions and that eventually leads them to disaster.

For Shakespeare’s Macbeth, this flaw is unchecked ambition. He is willing to do anything to achieve power. This leads him to destroy his support base by betraying those closest to him, to offend people more powerful than himself, and to behave so badly that he loses all hope of redemption. The fatal flaw drives his downfall.

It’s the fatal flaw that binds together character and plot in a tragedy, preventing the story from being something that just happens to the character.

The character arc that emerges from a fatal flaw can’t just be that the character ends up dying. In the right circumstances, a character’s death can be noble and heroic, which would rob a tragedy of its unsettling negative emotions. Most tragic characters die, but this isn’t the sum total of their downfall.

In a tragic arc, the character suffers, both physically and emotionally, through the course of their downfall. They lose the things that are important to them, most critically their sense of identity. Hamlet loses his mind, his family, even his reputation. Macbeth descends from national hero to hounded villain. Michael Henchard loses his hard-won position as mayor of Casterbridge and the respect of family and friends. Only when you’ve robbed the tragic protagonist of everything that made them who they were, when you’ve flattened all their achievements and left them in despair, does the time come to kill them off.

To give your character’s arc real tragedy, it should feel inevitable. The way that their fatal flaw interacts with the world means that they cannot avoid disaster. Hamlet’s inaction prevents him from fixing the problems at court but won’t let him step away. Henchard’s pride drives him to success but also to disaster, as he cannot compromise to the needs of others in his life.

But while the character’s downfall should feel inevitable, it should also feel unacceptable. However much we might hate Macbeth, we have followed him for so long, come to feel his fears so much, that we still feel a pang of remorse at his death. When Hamlet falls, we aren’t left feeling that justice is served, but that a greater injustice has been done.

Writing Tragedy

When preparing to write a tragedy, much of your attention should be on the tragic protagonist. But what else can you do to evoke the tropes and tone of tragedy?

Strange as it might sound in a story where defeat is inevitable, uncertainty should also be a feature. Tragedy whips the rug out from under the feet of both the protagonist and the reader. If the world worked the way the protagonist believed then they would be able to thrive despite their tragic flaw. If it was as just and reasonable as readers expect, then tragedy would not unfold.

Uncertainty can also be achieved through varying the outcome of individual situations. Small, unexpected successes create hope rather than a slow grind towards disaster. They help to keep the outcome uncertain, and so increase the impact as disaster looms. A character’s occasional wins make their losses more distressing by contrast.

It’s in the tension between uncertainty and inevitability that tragedies achieve their unsettling effect.

Try to tie the character’s downfall into a broader sense of destruction and despair. If your setting is the modern world, you might set their story against a backdrop of inequality or government failings. In an epic fantasy, it might be the collapse of an empire.

It’s vital to engage readers’ emotions. They need to feel the loss and despair of the character on their way down, as well as the sense of injustice overwhelming them. Think about how you can show this through he protagonist’s actions, through the view from inside their head, and through the way you describe the world around them. At the start, you need to engage the audience’s sympathy. After that, it’s their sense of despair.

This can lead to some unfortunate clichés and toxic tropes. It’s particularly important to avoid falling into these traps. Killing of the female love interest of a male protagonist can increase the sense of disaster around him, but it also perpetuates a world view in which women are robbed of agency and our stories are all about men. Could you find a way to ruin that relationship that is still heart breaking but shows the woman making her own choices? Can you make the people around the protagonist more than just props in his disaster? Showing their lives, feelings, and decisions will make it all he more tragic when the world falls down for them as well.

Tragedy is one of the most powerful tools in a writer’s arsenal. It can be used in any genre or setting. Its structures help you to create a compelling character and a story that will hit readers hard. If you can start from a fatally flawed character, build a wider disaster around them, and avoid tired old clichés, then it can be your path to something compelling.

Just ask Aristotle.

By Andrew Knighton
Source: refiction.com

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How Do I Create Believable Characters?

Creating complex, ​well-rounded characters requires time thinking about how your characters look, where they’re from, and what motivates them, among many other things. A good way to help bring your characters to life and to establish a back story for them is to develop answers to a set of questions about them.

While much of the information you develop for your characters during the process will never be shared directly with readers, it will help you to understand the character better and more realistically portray how they will react to situations and other characters in your story. The more you know about your characters, the more realistic your story will be.

 

  • 01
         Where Does Your Character Live?

 

  • Novelist and writing professor Michael Adams (“Anniversaries in the Blood”) has said he believes the setting is the most important element of any story. It’s definitely true that character, if not story, in many ways grows out of a sense of place. What country does your character live in? What region? Does he live alone or with a family? In a trailer park or an estate? How did he end up living there? How does he feel about it?

    Knowing where your character lives can help you to understand how he might respond to certain people or situations.

 

 

  • 02
           Where Is Your Character From?

     

    In a similar vein, where did your character’s life begin? Did she grow up running around the woods in a small southern town, or did she learn to conjugate Latin verbs in a London boarding school? Obviously, this influences things like the kinds of people your character knows, the words she uses to communicate, and the way she feels about a host of things in her external world.

 

 

  • 03

    How Old Is Your Character?

    Though this might seem like an obvious question, it’s important to make a clear decision about this before you begin writing. Otherwise, it’s impossible to get the details right. For instance, would your character have a cell phone, a ​landline, or both? Does your character drink martinis or cheap beer? Does he still get money from his parents, or worry about what will happen to his parents as they get old?

 

 

  • 04

    What Is Your Character Called?

    Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? According to novelist Elinor Lipman, absolutely not: “Names have subtext and identity. If your main characters are Kaplans, you’ve got yourself a Jewish novel, and if your hero is Smedley Winthrop III, you’ve given him a trust fund. Nomenclature done right contributes to characterization.” Your character’s name provides a lot of information about ethnicity, age, background, and social class.

     

  • 05

    What Does Your Character Look Like?

    Is your character tall enough to see over the heads of a crowd at a bar or to notice the dust on the top of a refrigerator? Does she deal with weight issues and avoid looking at herself in the mirror? Though you need not have a crystal clear picture of your character in mind, physical details help you imagine how your character moves through the world, and this, in turn, helps your readers believe in the character.​

     

  • 06

    What Kind of Childhood Did Your Character Have?

    As with real people, many things about your character’s personality will be determined by his background. Did his parents have a good marriage? Was he raised by a single mom? How your character interacts with other people—whether he’s defensive or confident, stable or rootless—may be influenced by his past.

     

  • 07

    What Does Your Character Do for a Living?

    As with all of these questions, how much information you need depends in some part on the plot, but you’ll need some idea of how your character makes money. A dancer will look at the world very differently from an accountant, for instance, and a construction worker will use very different language from either one. How they feel about a host of issues, from money to family, will be in some part dependent on their career choices.

     

  • 08

    How Does Your Character Deal with Conflict and Change?

    Fiction involves some element of conflict and change. They’re part of what makes a story a story. Is your character passive or active? If someone confronts her, does she change the subject, head for the minibar, stalk off, or do a deep-breathing exercise? When someone insults her, is she more likely to take it, come up with a retort, or excuse herself to find someone else to talk to?

     

  • 09

    Who Else Is in Your Character’s Life?

    Relationships and how people interact with others reveals character. They’re also excuses for dialogue, which break up exposition, offering another way of providing necessary information. Think about who will best help you convey this information and what kinds of people would realistically be in your character’s world in the first place.

  • 10

    What Is Your Character’s Goal or Motivation in This Story or Scene?

    In longer stories or novels, you will have to ask this question repeatedly. Many of your character’s actions will result from the intersection of what he’s trying to achieve and his personality, which is composed of everything you’ve invented in answering questions about him. When in doubt about how your character should behave, ask yourself what your character wants from the situation and think about the answers you’ve given to all of the questions.

    By
    Source:thebalancecareers.com

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