Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Advice

How to write three-dimensional characters

Characters are arguably the most important aspect of any story, and they’re annoyingly easy to get wrong. Flat, uninteresting characters can ruin a book, no matter how great your plot is. Your readers aren’t going to feel fully immersed in the story if they’re seeing it though the eyes of a cardboard cutout. However, great characters will keep your readers invested in the story, and ensure it sticks with them long after the end. Few things in life are better than experiencing every joy and heartache with a well-written character.

Here are 11 things to think about when developing your characters.

  1.  The basics. Character profiles are the best way to begin filling in the basics of who your character is. They cover things like physical description, home life, work life, beliefs, backgrounds. This character profile template from Reedsy is great. Once you have the basic details of your character down, you can really start to add the finer details which bring them to life. Remember that when assigning traits to your characters, you want them to mesh together. Our upbringing influences our personality, our environment impacts who we are as people. And please, I beg you, don’t make all your characters the same. People come in endless combinations of race, ethnicity, gender, body types, abilities, disabilities, personalities, etc. and your cast of characters should be no different.
  2. A goal. A character’s goal forms the basis of their story. This is particularly important for your main character as it will drive the narrative. Your character’s goal should come from the desire to improve their life in some way. Are they lonely and seeking companionship? Bored and craving adventure? What is holding them back from achieving that goal? What is their motivation? What is the catalyst that will push them towards pursuing it? That’s your story.
  3. Purpose. Every character in your story must serve a purpose. This is often easy to achieve with your protagonist, antagonist, and love interest, but what about the best friend? What about those random encounters with minor characters? If you have no idea why you wrote them, cut them. If the story would still pan out the same way without them, chuck them out. Save them for a story where they serve a purpose.
  4. Flaws. I will die on this hill. Flawed characters are the best characters. I wrote a post about this a year ago. I read so many books where the main character and the love interest are beautiful mannequins, and their biggest flaws are that they’re just too humble, or too selfless, or they just don’t realize that literally everyone they meet is instantly in love with them. NO! Give them a big nose, or crows feet around their eyes. Make their bodies soft, or angular, or give them a bad posture. Make them snap, and sulk and embarrass themselves in front of their love interest. I hate to break it to you, but your main character, no matter how strong or beautiful or wonderful they are, farts. You don’t have to show that, but we do need to feel like they’re a real person.
  5. A unique voice. It should be easy to identify which character is speaking in your story, even without dialogue tags. Give your characters a vocabulary. Do you have characters that swear a lot? Do they invoke deities in times of frustration or relief? Even something as simple as the word “Yes” could be “Yeah,” “aye,” “yep,” “affirmative,” “as you wish,” and so on. Each of those invokes a different voice, a different tone. A character’s vocabulary should fit in with their background, their upbringing, social status and how educated they are. If your character has received no education, hangs around with people of a similar social status and has never picked up a book in their life, then they are unlikely to have a large vocabulary. However, if your character has no formal education, but is an avid reader, then that would make sense for them to have a wider vocabulary than is expected of them.
  6. Conflicting traits. No one is pure good or pure evil. Even the most odious, cruel, malicious person will have some redeeming quality. Let us see it, even if just a glimpse. We need to see a shred of humanity in villains, and we need to see the threat of darkness in heroes. Everyone has differing opinions on morality, and not everyone will agree on everything. Make your characters disagree, give them a personal code of right and wrong, and have them question it now and again.
  7. Something to lose. They may believe they have nothing, but that’s rarely true. We all have something we care about; family, friends, pets, house plants, careers, talents, our senses, limbs, teeth. The threat of losing those things can be a powerful driving force for your characters, and a devastating turning point if they fail to save them.
  8. Failures and mistakes. No one has ever gone through life without making a single mistake. Make your characters suffer, have them run headlong into a trap, or choose the wrong path. Make them say the wrong thing and jeopardize relationships through their own foolishness. Have people be annoyed at them, or tell them they won’t follow them anymore. Readers love to see characters at their lowest, because it makes it all the more satisfying when they crawl out of that pit.
  9. Desires, interests and attractions. Not everyone feels physical desire for other people, but most people want something. Of course, there are big, important things like acceptance, friendship, adventure, knowledge, but often we see something we just have to have. Maybe your brave hero is also an artist, and when all this is over they just want to sit down with some oil paints and lose themselves in a new project? Perhaps your spaceship captain wants to bring about universal peace, and then take their navigator to get one of those golden glazed donuts they saw while fighting back the xenomorphs on B deck? Desires often lead to subplots, and help make our characters more human.
  10. An arc. Some of the most compelling stories are so impactful because of the character arcs. Sometimes that arc is transformative, taking the character from one end of a spectrum to the other (eg. a selfish character becomes selfless by the end of the story.) Other times the character matures, or has their perspective on the world altered, or the character realizes that they are the best person for the job from the beginning, and follows what is known as a “flat arc”. Their are stories, like Hamlet, which center around a declining or negative arc, where a character gradually fails and falls into tragedy. All of these have their merits, and all of them have their pit falls. A a writer you need to figure out your characters’ point A and point B, and fill in the line between those with story.
  11. A life beyond the story. Unless you’re writing a life story, your characters lives shouldn’t begin and end within the pages of your book. If we first meet your main character at the age of 21, then they need to have lived for those previous 21 years. They need to have experiences, memories, things they are embarrassed or proud of, regrets, fears, hobbies, phobias, loves, friendships, dreams and ambitions. If they survive til the end of the book, then we need to believe that they have a future. This is not to say that you need pages of exposition, recounting every memory and life experience of your characters, but they need to feel as though they belong in their world, and that they are “worn-in”.  Let your characters draw from their own life experiences when searching for answers, let them form conclusions based on what they believe about their world.

 

I hope this helps. Thank you so much for reading.

Instagram

Uncategorized, Writing

It’s been a while

So, what’s going on with my stories?

I am currently working on a trilogy of stories, set in the same world but revolving around different characters. The trilogy’s title is The Unbound Saga.

Book 1: The Thief’s Pardon

TTP is going off to an editor really soon. I’m already so proud of this story, and I can’t wait until it’s all polished and wonderful. I think I must’ve read it 1000 times and it still makes me feel so many things. I can’t wait until I can release her into the world. I have a playlist of songs which inspired The Thief’s Pardon, so If you’d like to listen to that the link is right here

Book 2: The Ash Prince

TAP is currently going through the first round of self-editing. It’s so much fun to delve back into this story, because I haven’t touched it for months (whilst I’ve been working on the other two books). This is definitely my longest and most ambitious story so far, and I know that when it’s finished up people are going to enjoy it. It’s an epic fantasy with an enormous heart.

Book 3: The Shepherd’s Watch

This book will tie everything together. I have big plans for TSW, but I need to make sure that all the pieces are in place throughout TTP and TAP. I will say that I’ve had a lot of fun (and headaches) designing a hard magic system for this story. Right now I’m just in the planning stages of this book, but I’m so excited to begin work on it.

 

So, there’s a lot going on, and hopefully in the next few months I’ll have some announcements to make in terms of release dates, newsletters, giveaways etc.

I’m also teaching a creative writing course at my local community center starting in June, which is extremely exciting and absolutely terrifying.

Thank you for sticking around.

 

 

 

Writing, Writing Advice

The New Year Self Sabotage Monster

Happy New Year one and all!

This time of year is good for one of two things, setting goals and sneering at people who set goals. I’m a goal setter. I want to lose the weight I’ve gained since moving to the US, drink less caffeine (I got into the habit of drinking diet coke or pepsi before bed and wondering why my heart felt like it was exploding out of my chest), and I want to be nicer to myself.

I also have writing goals. I want to finish and polish my 2nd book, The Ash Prince, which is a companion novel to The Thief’s Pardon. I would love to find a publisher for them both. I’m still working away on writing prompts for my #365prompts challenge on my Instagram page.

Oh, and I want to read more.

I know a secret though. I know I’m going to screw up at least one of those goals… probably all. I’m going to have days where I fall off the diet wagon and eat sooooo much food. I’m going to have days where I tell myself I’m good for nothing (Actually, I did that on New Year’s Day because I filled in my planner on the wrong day). I’m going to have days where I don’t write, or I think about deleting the whole thing and giving up. And that’s fine.

It’s fine because I know I’m going to have those episodes. We all do it. How many people do you hear say “I’ve ruined my diet” or “I’ve broken my resolution.” They haven’t. They had one slip-up.

New Years resolutions give us the perfect opportunity to wuss out. But the secret to succeeding is to know that slip-ups are normal. Between 2015 and 2017 I lost around 8 and a half stones in weight (about 120lbs). It was hard. It felt like it took forever. I exercised, I ate healthily, I said “no” to so many treats, but sometimes I said “yes”. I had to learn to climb back on that wagon so many times. Then I moved to America and then America happened and I gained some weight back. The wagon is kind of rumbling off towards the horizon but I know I can catch it again. I’m fine with it. Losing all that weight in the first place taught me to be patient and to believe in myself, because at the start I could barely walk, and by the end I ran for 10 miles. You can do more than you think.

Life never goes the way you intend it to, so you have to be flexible and cut yourself some slack. Giving up on your goals because of one mistake is like buying 365 eggs and throwing them all away because one egg has a crack in its shell. You might even have a run of bad days, a week of binge-eating, not writing, and all round hedonism. So? You still have 358 perfectly good eggs.

So, no matter what your goals are, work through the slip-ups, keep pushing to achieve the dreams that make you happy, and accept that every success worth celebrating is built on the bones of past failures.

 

Thank you for reading. You’ve got this.

Writing, Writing Advice, writing challenges

2019 Writer Challenges.

New Year’s is right around the corner, and with it comes the drive to push ourselves further. This year has been a tumultuous one for me. My dog and I moved from the North West of England to the middle of the east coast of the USA. To say it has been bonkers is an understatement.

But, I’m settled in now and ready to start next year full of gusto, aplomb, and vim and vigor and really challenge myself to grow as a writer. In this blog I will list a few you can attempt if you fancy it.

  1.  365 Prompts: I’ll be posting a new writing prompt on my instagram page every day next year. It’s entirely up to you how much or how little you want to write, but my hope is that by the end of next year, I’ll have 365 pieces of writing that I can build ideas from.  If nothing else, getting into the habit of writing every day helps vocabulary, voice, flow etc.
  2. 1 Million Words: My awesome writer friend Kristy Westaway is aiming to write 1 million words by the end of next year. Sounds impossible, right? Well it’s certainly not for the fainthearted, but it is possible if you write 2740 words per day. Even at 1370 words per day you would have half a million words down by the end of the year. It’s a tough challenge and sounds really impressive!
  3. The Genre Explorer: step out of your genre comfort zone, both in terms of reading and writing. I for one tend to stick to fantasy for both, and I would love to expand my literary palate. I plan to make a list of books in different genres that I want to read, and then dip my (writing?) toe into each of them. You never know unless you try it!
  4. The Finish That Damn Book Challenge This is a simple one. If you’ve been sitting on a half finished manuscript, or have an idea for a story that just won’t go away, then do yourself a favor and just finish it. Make 2019 your year. Make it MyNoWriYe (Not quite as catchy as NaNoWriMo, but the sentiment is there and I tried really hard.) Whatever, just finish your book.
  5. 12 Short Stories: Write a 5000-10,000 word short story every month. By the end of the year you’ll have your very own short story anthology. A wise woman (Kristy Westaway again) once said, “That’s a very good way of documenting your writing journey, even if you don’t publish it.”

 

I hope some of these will be useful and fun. The most important thing with writing is that you enjoy it. Good luck to all of you with whatever you decide to challenge yourself with next year!

Thank you for reading.