Tag Archives: fictional character

How to Talk About Policing In Crime Fiction

A few weeks back, I was drinking with some buddies at a writers’ convention when I felt a tap on the shoulder.

“I want to introduce you to a fan,” someone said.

Like any dignified author at this stage of my career, I whipped around so fast that the Brooklyn Lager bottle nearly flew out of my hand. A man in his sixties stood before me with his hand out—square-jawed, clear-eyed and firm of grip, in a well-tailored suit. He looked like exactly the kind of well-respected man who smiles and says “I don’t read novels” when I meet him in other circumstances. Exactly the kind of reader I’ve been trying to win over for most of my career. A prosecutor, I was told. Even better! Someone who had been in the trenches and would appreciate the nuances and shades of gray I tried to bring out in my novels.

“I just want to see you people get it right,” he said, shaking my hand.

“Thank you.” You people?

“Every week, I never miss the show.”

“Oh, that’s terrific.” I nodded. “Glad you like it. I’ll tell my friends who work on it.”

Of course, he was talking about one of the broadcast network television series I’ve written for. The ones in which justice usually wins out in the end, and the police and prosecutors are unmistakably the heroes.

We exchanged a few more pleasantries and then went back to our conversations. And quietly, I laughed at myself. Of course, he was talking about one of the broadcast network television series I’ve written for. The ones in which justice usually wins out in the end, and the police and prosecutors are unmistakably the heroes.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-cop by any means. In fact, I wanted to be a police officer for most of my childhood. And I don’t even think it’s enough to say, as many leftists like myself grudgingly do, “the police have a tough job.” There are parts of police culture that I don’t just respect, I envy. The hard work, the diligence, the ability to knock on doors day and night and talk to literarily anyone. And the humor. For Christ’s sakes, no one tells darker jokes or can make you laugh harder than an honest cop after a few drinks.

I have more than a few good friends who I revere in various police departments, and truth be told there have many years when I would have had a very hard time doing my job without them. Their stories need to be told, and I’m proud to have been among the people telling them, and grateful to have had the opportunity.

But those aren’t the only stories.

***

About a month after the writers’ convention, I had lunch with a guy I know named Sundhe Moses. We met at Junior’s, on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, near the housing project where he grew up. Sundhe spent 18 years in prison for allegedly shooting and killing a four-year-old girl as she roller-skated past a building in Brownsville. Earlier this year, Sundhe’s conviction was overturned and his name was cleared. In the decision, the judge cited the involvement of one Detective Louis Scarcella, who Sundhe said had coerced him into making a false confession by beating him and choking him. Scarcella denied doing any such thing, but it’s worth noting that twelve other convictions have been overturned so far in cases where the same detective is said to have abused defendants, fabricated confessions, and—this is true—used the same crack addict-prostitute as a key witness in six separate investigations.

“That’s thirteen people’s lives,” Sundhe told me over his sandwich. “People talk about police corruption. But if you take it out of that context, it’s almost more like the story of a serial killer.”

“That’s thirteen people’s lives,” Sundhe told me over his sandwich. “People talk about police corruption. But if you take it out of that context, it’s almost more like the story of a serial killer.”

Now it just so happens that I’m about to publish a novel about a cop who may be a serial killer. Such a thing is possible. A former California police officer named Joseph DeAngelo now stands accused of being the Golden State Killer, responsible for at least a dozen murders and more than fifty rapes over a forty-year period. And there are other cases around the world, including the infamous 10 Rillington Place killer John Christie, a War Reserve police officer who raped and strangled seven women in the 1950s.

But my novel, Sunrise Highway, isn’t really about that kind of individual pathology. It’s about how the rest of us could allow it to happen, in smaller ways, by being complacent, self-satisfied, or comfortable with the status quo. Making the decision not to ask the wrong questions at the wrong time, because it would unsettle the system and make our lives more complicated.

I wanted to tell a story about the pathology of a system that would not only permit a criminal to survive within it, but to rise up and get promoted as a leader (obviously, that couldn’t happen in, say, politics or corporate life). Yes, there have been books, a few movies, and a couple of TV shows like The Shield about individual dirty cops, but those are the exceptions. Most audiences want the lines between good and evil to be drawn clearly, and they want the heroes to trail no shadows in their wake. I wanted to write a book that asked some tougher questions about the world we’re living in.

“It’s not just the Scarcellas doing it on their own,” Sundhe told me. “A lot of other people have to be involved when there’s an injustice like this.”

I think it’s no accident that there’s never been a long-running TV show (at least none that I can think of) about a lawyer or a cop who defends the innocent and gets them out of jail. People want familiar stories after a long day at work and they certainly don’t want to be lectured. And I don’t blame them. I’m not in the business of lecturing anybody or showing them the light anyway. What I do want to do is give you something you’re not expecting, a suspenseful story from an angle that you might not have considered. And if you’re alive these days and halfway sentient, you have to admit the good guys aren’t always good. And getting down to the reality of that can be as riveting and scary as Silence of the Lambs.

If you’re alive these days and halfway sentient, you have to admit the good guys aren’t always good.

At the end of our meal, Sundhe, who is writing a book about his experiences, started talking about the difference between real life and what you see on the screen.

“You know what’s funny?” he said as the waitress dropped the check next to the pickles and cole slaw. “The other night I was watching a horror movie with my girlfriend. Can’t think of the name but there was all this tension in it because the killer was stalking this woman and her daughter.”

“Yeah?” I shrugged and picked up my water, thinking it could be one of a thousand films.

“And then at the end, just when you think they’re going to escape, he kills them both.”

“Ha.” I put down my glass. “Didn’t see that coming.”

“No.” Sundhe nodded. “And my girlfriend hated it. Because she didn’t think that’s how it was going to be. But sometimes life is like that. You don’t always get the ending you want.”

Source: crimereads.com

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LATE-LIFE FICTION NEVER GETS OLD

“The sooner growing older is stripped of reflexive dread, the better equipped we are to benefit from the countless ways in which it can enrich us.” ―  Ashton Applewhite, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism

Time to Tell the Stories

Don’t tell me I am too old for that.

I know how it feels, perhaps you do too……to be 60, 70, or even 80, reminding yourself that you can no longer do what you once could, wondering if you should even try.

It is instinctive, I suppose, the need to push back against those perceived limitations. Accepting that ‘age-based’ prognosis feels so much like giving up, as though my forty-year-old mind is surrendering to my eighty-year-old body. After all, I arrived at retirement years ago knowing there were still things to do, feelings to experience, mysteries to explore…along with the surprising realization that there were stories I wanted to tell.

Scratching the Writing Itch

To be sure my literary adventures, the stories I wanted to tell, have taken me down roads less traveled, but that has been the beauty of it. In this day of high-tech, low-cost Print-on-Demand publishing my storytelling efforts have not been held hostage by agents, publishers, critics, or my modest bank account. I am writing to please myself…and thankful for the opportunity to do that, even when I am my harshest critic.

Yet those less-traveled highways offer their own storytelling choices. One fork in the road may have me creating a warm and fuzzy, happily-ever-after tale, while the next one leads to twists, turns, and dangerous intersections…where unseen troubles may lurk.

Late-Life Fiction

Perhaps you can guess which path my late-life travels have taken.

LATE-LIFE FICTION NEVER GETS OLD two drops of ink marilyn l davis I call it Late-Life Fiction. It’s an obscure corner of the storytelling universe that feels like home to me.

In the course of twelve Tanner Chronicles books, my fictional friends have faced a litany of October and November challenges…good times and bad, illness and accidents, poverty and depression. Still, like real life, a healthy dose of caring love can soften even the harshest trauma. Consider, for instance, stories that include:

* Returning to the scene of an earlier desertion
* Wooing the stroke-stricken lady who was his high school crush
* A Second Chance pursuit has men playing with guns
* The down and out couple who are Going Poor together
* An infatuated pair too timid to take a relational chance.
* Life, love, and frustration with an Alzheimer’s spouse
* Life partners lost and found
* Second loves found, then lost

Even the longest journey may begin with a single stumble.

The November Adventure Stories

I have spent the last couple of weeks exploring the possibility of a new ‘November adventure’ story. In the process, I have paused a time or two to ask myself if I am on to something real. Or is the story I have in mind more apt to be cataloged under ‘Adult Fantasy’? In that case, I probably ought to turn up my oxygen, lay back, and chill out.
We all understand, of course, that ‘adventure’ is a relative term. I know beyond a doubt that the septuagenarian friends whose story I will be telling are more timid than bold, and more tentative than confident. But they have been around the block a time or two, and are the sort who keep trying, even in the face of long odds.

LATE-LIFE FICTION NEVER GETS OLD two drops of ink marilyn l davisStill, the questions remain. Can I imagine, and then tell, a convincing story about a handful of seventy-five-year-olds who are inexplicably convinced that they still have things to do, to see, to learn, and become?

Am I the only one?

Before long the next round of questions had bubbled to the surface. Am I the only November remnant, male or female, who harbors childish notions of how much potential Becoming remains at my age? Am I whistling in the dark …unwilling to face the reality of a worn-out, used-up life standing at the edge of a steep and slippery slope?

Of course, it is an ego thing …telling a tale about old folks who are unready to cash in their chips so soon, reluctant to discard the dreams they have nurtured for so long. From beginning to end my goal will be storytelling, not literature. I aim to make it quality storytelling.

Once Upon a Time, We Were…

LATE-LIFE FICTION NEVER GETS OLD two drops of ink marilyn l davisAny story that deals with what my creaky old friends can still do, and not do, will necessarily include age-appropriate depictions of the dynamic, idealistic young men and women they like to believe they once were.

Will I be able to put into words the challenges my November Knights and their ladies face? Will their geriatric capabilities be enough to win the day?

How about telling your own story?

Now or Never

What if you are among the multitude of October wannabe writers, most of whom do not share my unorthodox interest in Geriatric Adolescent fiction? Let’s say that your sort of story takes you somewhere else. Well, my friend, you are in luck. For no matter what you write, today’s self-publishing universe has a place for you.

First, however, let’s begin with this bit of cold reality. The latest numbers I have found indicate that more than 700,000 different e-books were self-published in the US in 2016. That’s right……a couple thousand a day, every day of the year. That, my friend, is serious competition, which ought to temper anyone’s expectations of finding an audience. Of course, your book might be the one that rises above the crowd, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

In my aging mind, the best approach to that reality has been to tell the stories I want to tell, the way I want to tell them, and take pride in my creations. At the end of the day, if they make a dollar or two, that’s great. If they don’t, I am still left with what I wanted.

I have charged ahead knowing that everyday people in every corner of the world are writing and self-publishing a growing tide of novels, family histories, family adventures, self-help manuals, even coloring books. Best of all in my tired old eyes, publishing an original novel in e-book and paperback formats and scoring your own Amazon Author’s page can be done for next to nothing. I have done that twenty times, beginning at age sixty-nine. You can too.

Rattle Those Bones

What’s in your closet?

Forty-five years ago our family moved to England so I could write the novel I knew was in me. We spent most of a year there, living out my foolish notion that serious writing required an exotic locale. Turned out that Winchester filled the ‘exotic’ bill much better than my original typed manuscript, which lay on a closet shelf for more than forty years before I resurrected it, whipped it into shape, and self-published it three years ago. As literature, it may have left something to be desired. As a memento of a particular time in a special place, it means a great deal to me.

By the time I was through with that project Roma was suggesting that we create a new story, recounting our family’s English adventure…the life we lived there, the sights we saw, the mistakes we made, and the life-long friends we met. The two of us spent a few months creating the story, before ordering five copies of the handsome paperback edition for Christmas gifts. Our total investment, from beginning to end was $37.00.

Is This the Day?

What is your life calendar telling you?

I cannot in good faith recommend late-life writing and self-publishing as the means to strike it rich. Yet, as an affordable and satisfying creative experience, it hits all the right notes for me.

Storytelling has allowed my June/July mind to engage with my October/November body, as I depict the forces of late-life playing in the lives I am creating.

That has worked for me.

Hopefully, others will find my results worth reading.

By Gil Stewart
Source: twodropsofink.com

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The 3 Secrets to Addictive Fiction

In today’s unbelievably competitive industry, how can you make your fiction the best?

Addict your reader.

Make reading your stories and novels an addictive experience. The reader who is addicted to your writing will plunge into your fiction and then fight to stay there forever.

But how can you addict your reader to your stories?

Use the secrets that all great authors have used throughout the ages to give the reader exactly what they want. There are literally thousands of these secrets, but in my work as an independent editor I have prioritized them and categorized them into the simplest possible arrangement—three basic categories.

I teach fiction through its three aspects:

1. character
2. plot
3. prose

However, beyond than that, I teach the secrets to making these three aspects addictive:

1. unforgettable character
2. inescapable plot
3. mesmerizing prose

 

Secret #1 Unforgettable Character

The most fundamental truism of fiction is that all great plot grows out of character.

You can design any type of plot you like. However, if it’s not grounded in the character of your protagonist, it will be nothing but a mish-mash of events from which the reader can disengage at any time and walk away.

On the other hand, you can design almost no plot at all, and if it’s grown entirely from the character of your protagonist, the reader will not only be addicted to your work, they’ll convince all their friends and relatives to become addicted as well.

Ask yourself:

How did James Bond become a cultural icon, although his plots are repetitive and he must frequently be rescued by a young woman he’s just met? What made Agatha Christie a phenomenon of her genre, although her mysteries so often hinge on her villains’ implausible acting skills and even authorial cheating? Why do we still love Cathy and Heathcliff, although Wuthering Heights is so bizarrely organized and consists almost entirely of a laundry list of inhuman behavior?

Because Bond, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Cathy and Heathcliff are the unforgettable characters from which their plots grow.

This means that character is where we always start.

So how do we make this character unforgettable? That work is based upon the character’s conflicting internal needs. These needs must be internal or they won’t be powerful enough to fuel an entire novel. They must conflict, or there won’t be any climax to this story. And they can be explored most effectively through the three basic human needs: love, survival and justice.

There’s a lot to discuss about a protagonist’s conflicting internal needs. And I’ll teach you all about them in my 2nd guest post for Write to Done: The 2 Steps to Creating Unforgettable Character.

Secret #2 Inescapable Plot

Now what is this unforgettable character going to do?

A story—short fiction or novel—is, at its most fundamental, simply an opportunity for the reader to spend time with your unforgettable character. To make friends with them. To bond. To allow this character to become a part of their life.

This means you must design a plot that gives the freest possible reins to the protagonist’s character—exploring it, exposing it, delving into it to reveal its most intriguing and hidden facets.

The paperback genre industry of the early 20th century can teach us everything we need to know about how to design plot. Those authors cranked out their genre novels regularly and reliably, treating fiction as a day job to which they showed up and worked five days a week, 45-50 weeks of the year.

What do readers get out of genre fiction?

A plot that hooks them quickly, takes them for a thrilling whirl, then throws them off a cliff.

This is rooted in our human addiction to things that come in threes: the simplest construct that exists that also retains a crucial layer of complexity.

And this is why I teach three-act structure: Hook, Development, Climax.

Within these three acts, we can refine our design based upon the importance of climax. Each act has a unique purpose, to which we can devote a full half of that act. And each act also needs a climax, to which we can devote the other full half of that act. That’s how important climax is.

Once we have these six structural pieces, we can refine our design even further by breaking each piece into six more pieces. In this way, we can quickly and easily design a plot of 36 pieces along a specific pattern.

I call this holographic design.

The reader has already unconsciously adopted this pattern through the reading of their first great story. It’s what they expect. Because it’s great storytelling. And, through proper design, it’s what we can regularly, reliably give them.

But how do we turn this simple design into a rollercoaster ride, one that will keep the reader addicted on every single page? There’s a counter-intuitive trick to this that gives your plot the essential contrast that throws your entire design into three-dimensional relief, gripping your reader, meeting their unconscious expectations, and making your plot inescapable.

I’ll teach you all about this in detail in my 3rd guest post for Write to Done: The 4 Steps to Designing Inescapable Plot.

Secret #3 Mesmerizing Prose

Finally there is the writing of this character-grown plot.

How do you turn a brilliant, well-developed idea into a novel of some 70,000-100,000 words—a novel that the reader can’t forget, can’t escape, can hardly put down even for a minute? Because 70,000-100,000 are a whole lot of words. And the reader has a life to live.

How do you write a novel that’s mesmerizing? One to which the reader is addicted?

You’ll hear a lot in the writing community these days about how to make time to write, how to write faster and more efficiently, how to get your manuscript finished. This advice is mostly about time management, on the assumption that your life is not set up for endless hours in front of the keyboard. However, focusing upon time management misses a crucial element of writing: you write because you love to.

Truly, if writing is not the one thing you love to do above all else, then go find out what is and do that. Life is too short for wasting on doing things you don’t love.

And if writing is the one thing you love to do above all else, then you don’t need time management. You need stamina. You need to stay in touch with your passion. You need, especially, to know what you’re doing.

Only through a combination of your passion and an understanding of your work can you make your time at the keyboard as productive as humanly possible. Only in this way can you produce manuscripts full of life, while also devoting yourself to the life that is your own.

Your first goal, of course, is to get a draft written. But there are tricks to the efficient writing of a first draft. And there are certainly techniques to editing that draft into polished prose.

I’ve developed a set of guidelines that I use for writing quick first drafts and then turning my clients’ drafts into powerful professional prose. And I often teach my clients these guidelines. Of course, I never teach them all—those are my trade secrets. But I learned them all from the published works of great authors. And you can too.

All you have to do is study in-depth hundreds novels line-by-line and practice for thousands of hours in order to discover what makes writing clear, strong, and vivid. Mesmerizing.

To which authors and stories are you addicted? Why?

By Victoria Mixon
Source: writetodone.com

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Fiction Writing Exercises: Narrative Arcs

Today’s fiction writing exercise is an excerpt from my book, Story Drills: Fiction Writing Exercises. This one focuses on story structure and examines narrative arcs within stories and across multiple scenes and installments of a story. Enjoy!
Narrative Arcs

An arc has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The events within an arc result in some kind of change for the story world, characters, or direction of the plot.

In serial or episodic storytelling, a story arc is an ongoing story line that spans multiple installments. An arc might last through several episodes of a television show or several issues of a comic book. In literature, an arc might stretch across multiple books in a series.

A narrative arc (or dramatic arc) is similar to a story arc, except it doesn’t have to occur across multiple installments of episodic storytelling. A narrative arc is any arc within a story, including the central plot and any subplots. Narrative arcs can occur within a single scene or span across a sequence of scenes.

Characters also experience arcs when they undergo a progression of transformation.

That’s a lot of different types of arcs. To make matters more confusing, the terms for story arcs, narrative arcs, and dramatic arcs are often used interchangeably.

Study:

You can use any type of story for this exercise: books, comics, TV shows, or films. Find a series that you’ve enjoyed, and examine a small sample of installments. For example, you can look at five episodes from a TV show or three novels from a series. Make sure you’re using serials, which use ongoing stories across multiple installments, rather than episodic installments, which are separate but loosely connected.

Make a list of three to five story arcs found across the installments you examined. Do the arcs intertwine? Are they occurring simultaneously, or are they consecutive? How does each arc relate to the central plot?
Practice:

Create a set of three story arcs that would span multiple novels in a series. If you’re already working on a series, feel free to create arcs within your project.

For example, start by writing quick summaries of at least five novels in a series (about one paragraph each, highlighting the central plot of each installment). Then come up with the three arcs, each of which would span multiple novels.

As an alternative, you can develop ideas for a television or comic book series.
Questions:

What is the difference between a story arc and a dramatic arc? Why are story arcs effective in serial storytelling? How is a character arc different from a narrative arc? What types of arcs are most important in storytelling?

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.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

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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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Write Fictional Characters as Complex and Realistic as You Are—The MBTI for Writers Series

What’s the secret to writing fictional characters readers fall in love with? What makes us reread our favorite novels, revisiting the same characters through the years like old friends?

Some writers are naturals at it. Lifelong people watchers, they seem to “get” how other people work without trying. So of course their fictional characters are complex and realistic. Of course their characters leap off the page.

But not every writer is an expert in people.

That doesn’t mean your characters are doomed to be cardboard cutouts. There’s hope for the writers who have something to say but aren’t sure yet how to create characters realistic enough to say it.

If you struggle to create characters who are complex and distinct. If you find yourself scratching your head at every plot turn, unsure of what your character would say or do or think next—then you know the struggle.

You know what it’s like to want your character to become so real, she takes over the story—but every word you write just reminds you she’s still a stranger.

So how do you flesh out a character who falls flat? How do you fix cliched, unlikable characters? How do you define characters who are too predictable or distinguish the ones who act just like every other character in the story?

There’s a tool for that.

It’s called MBTI. And it’s your new secret weapon for creating fictional characters as complex and realistic as you are.

This is The MBTI for Writers series.

Fictional Characters Made Easy: What We Cover in MBTI for Writers

  • What exactly MBTI is (the quick and dirty version for writers)
  • A simple overview of the 16 MBTI personality types (i.e. what’s really going on inside the heads of each personality type)
  • Quick tips for getting into each type’s head so you can see the story through their eyes—even when the character is NOTHING LIKE YOU (Because what better way to know how they would act and respond to the plot than to see the world how they see it?)
  • How to use each of the 16 MBTI types as a character mold to build out an endless cast of truly unique, surprising, and ultra-realistic fictional characters your readers will love (and love to hate)
  • What so many people get wrong about MBTI and how writers can use it to their advantage
  • Ways to build out each personality type so each one is new and unique—no matter how many times you’ve reused the mold

Series Contents

Out Now:

Coming Up:

  • See Through Your Character’s Eyes: How to ‘Experience’ the 8 MBTI Functions Like Your Fictional Characters Do
  • How to Make Each Character Type Unique—Even If You’ve Used That Type Before
  • 11 Smart Reasons to Create Your Next Fictional Character Using MBTI
  • Do You Really Understand Your Character? Cheatsheets for Writing Each of the 16 MBTI Types
    • ENTJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • INTJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ENTP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • INTP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ENFJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • INFJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ENFP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • INFP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ESTJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ISTJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ESTP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ISTP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ESFJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ISFJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ESFP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ISFP Character Design Cheatsheet
  • Common Arguments against MBTI (And Why They’re Dumb)

Source: mandywallace.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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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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