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.

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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

Telling my own story.

Most authors will agree that writing can truly be therapeutic. Sometimes we can work out our deep-seated issues with our characters. We can create the people we wish we were, and make the people we hate get their comeuppance. It’s a chance to explore a life that never will be, to embody a great hero, and to explore beautiful, diverse worlds. It’s a chance to tell our story. Which is why I chose to write about a woman who falls in love with another woman.

When I was around 11 years old I watched Titanic at the cinema, and realised that I liked watching Kate as much as I liked watching Leo. Of course, I was 11, and so were most of the other people I knew. “Lesbian” was used as an insult. So I kept quiet.

At 16 years old, a friend’s parent started a rumor in my school that I was lesbian. Kids threw stones at me.

Seven years later I went away to university, and people were way more understanding and diverse, and so I came out as bisexual to my uni friends. It wasn’t an issue, and I finally felt like I could be myself. Back at home, however, it took months of summoning the courage to tell my friends and family, and the resounding response I had, after all that soul searching and courage summoning was, “No you’re not,” and “It’s just a phase.”

I never discussed it with them again.

I’m now very happily married to a man. He knows about my sexuality and is supportive and amazing about it.

But, the reason I chose to write about a bisexual woman, is because I feel as though I never got the chance to be fully open and comfortable with my sexuality. I was scared of abandonment and rejection. Writing this down genuinely terrifies me. It shouldn’t, but my heart is pounding and my fingers are shaking.

I wrote my book for myself, for people like me, and people who see that all love between consenting adults is beautiful.

If I’m going to face criticism, then I need to accept myself the way I am, and the way I would anyone else who came out to me. I don’t feel as though I’m a good role-model, because I hide. I’m in awe of the people who are out and proud at any age.  I’m almost 32 years old, and I can’t keep being that 11 year old girl, terrified of her classmates. I’m a fully grown, bisexual woman, who wrote a story about another bisexual woman, a dragon, and a herd of murderous centaurs.

Thank you for reading, if you made it this far. It helped to write this down, hence the therapeutic nature of writing.

 

Writing, Writing Advice

Start Taking Yourself Seriously as a Writer.

Writers, like all creatives, often suffer from low self esteem. But there are also times when we feel unstoppable.

John Lennon put it best when he said “Part of me suspects that I’m a loser, and the other part of me thinks I’m God Almighty.

This quote probably feels as personal to most writers as it does to me. Sometimes we’re on top of the world, and we imagine ourselves watching the trailer for the movie adaptation of our book. We’re proud of ourselves for the stories we’ve created, the characters we’ve given life to, the thousands of words we’ve written, deleted and re-written until the point of madness. We dedicate a huge portion of our days to work hard on something which might never amount to anything for anyone else. But we did it for ourselves. Because we have to write.

And then there are the days when we question everything. There are days where figuring out how to describe a scene feels like trying to see through pea soup. Sometimes we feel crushed by the fruitlessness of our passion, and how it seems like everyone around us is progressing through life, reaping rewards, while we’re still stuck on the tutorial. What successes we do have feel like mistakes. We convince ourselves we just got lucky that one time, and we shouldn’t get our hopes up. That soon someone will realise that they praised the wrong person, and you’ll have to return that moment of fulfillment. Almost everyone feels like this at some point.

And for writers, the best way to combat this is to read.

It sounds so silly, but I promise you it works. Reading will do two things:

a) Teach you how to be a better writer

b) Prove to you that you are not the worst writer

Good readers make good writers.

I would go so far as to say that there’s nothing a writing class can teach you which you can’t also teach yourself simply by reading. This only works if you pay attention and analyze, but it is entirely possible. Look at the way other writers structure sentences, evoke emotion, set the scene, describe characters etc. And look at what you could have done better. If you find a scene which you can visualise clearly and you feel as though you’re being swept along by the story, try to figure out how the author is achieving that crazy brain magic. If you’re re-reading sentences, trying to understand what’s happening, or you’re bored out of your mind, try to figure out why the language isn’t inspiring you.

Your grammar and vocabulary will thank you. Your self esteem will grow, even if just by fractions. It’s a long and difficult journey, but even tiny steps forward edge you towards your goal.

And remember, no author, and no book has ever been unanimously loved. Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s (Sorcerer’s) Stone has over 5 million ratings on Goodreads, and 1% of them are 1 star. That’s a tiny portion, but that’s also over 50,000 people who found it completely unreadable (And that’s just the Goodreads users).

That quote by John Lennon is great because many people would argue that he is a loser, or that he is God Almighty. So many of the most recognisable figureheads  in our culture, the people we aspire to be as influential as, are polarising.

All art is subjective, but as reading is the most time consuming for audiences, disgruntled readers can be brutal with their negative reviews. The easiest way to avoid getting hurt by reviews is to not read them. Reviews aren’t for authors to torture themselves with, they’re for readers so they can figure out if they want to invest time and money in your book. Besides, once they’re on there you can’t remove them, and you can’t change the reader’s mind. Just don’t look. Get on with reading and writing and taking care of yourself.

It’s important to find balance. Low self esteem is harmful, but over-confidence can be just as bad. We should never think of ourselves as infallible. Mistakes, and recognition of mistakes, is crucial for our development as writers and as human beings.

Focus on growth, and accept that you will never know everything. Try not to think of your success as a pedestal, but rather an ancient tree with tangled, knotted branches. You can always climb higher and in different directions. The tree will never stop growing. There is always something new to learn and accomplish.

Whether you’re just starting out as a writer, or you’re writing your 20th book, you should be proud of yourself, and if telling stories makes you happy then keep doing it.

Thank you for reading.

Writing Advice

Deeply Flawed Diamonds.

“And what would you say are your worst qualities?”

It’s the question we all dread when it comes to interviews. Pointing out our flaws to someone whose job it is to scrutinize our character is almost impossible to do honestly.

“I work too hard,”

“I’m such a perfectionist,”

Come on. No one believes the standard answers. If we’re really truly honest with ourselves we’re kind of lazy, we daydream, we’re bad-tempered  and snippy, sometimes we’d rather dig our eyes out with a spoon than go to work, we pick our noses, we fart, we’d rather spend a little bit too long in the toilet cubicles than go back to that god awful desk…

I honestly don’t know why interviews bother to ask, because they never get a real answer.

It’s the same with literary characters. We know that to create well-rounded characters we have to come up with flaws. Bad habits make characters more relatable, because none of us are perfect, but it’s all too easy to give the “interview friendly” responses. We love our characters; they’re our babies, and we want readers to love them too!

“My character is deeply flawed. They’re too humble, too kind and adorable, and they have a weird defect whereby they poop solid gold…”

No.

Sure, your readers have to want to spend time with your characters, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be royal pains in the arse from time to time. If anything, when done correctly and balanced with good qualities, it just serves to make your characters more interesting and fun. Readers like to see themselves between the pages, and making your protagonists perfect just makes them seem alien, untouchable, and honestly, dull.

Flawed characters are wonderful!

Take, for instance, that lovable rascal Hannibal Lecter. He’s charming, funny, well-traveled, intelligent, a renowned forensic psychiatrist… oh, and he’s a cannibalistic serial killer. As character flaws go, that one’s a biggie, but I don’t know many people who aren’t captivated by him. Your examples don’t need to be as extreme as chowing down on long pig, but you get the idea. He’s the antagonist of the story, but he’s certainly the most memorable character.

Harry Potter might be the only one who can stop Voldemort, but he’s by no means the most intelligent, or the most perfect student at Hogwarts. He can be arrogant and impulsive, sulky and clueless, and that’s why we love him- because aren’t we all?

The protagonist of my current work in progress is a thief. She can be callous, stubborn, cruel, cowardly, she drinks, swears, and steals. And yet she’s witty, charming, she cares for the people closest to her and will endanger her own life to save them. She’s been through a lot, and putting on the mask of a rotten little shitbag helps hide her vulnerabilities. I absolutely adore her, and simultaneously want to throttle her, and writing her story has been the most fun out of anything I’ve written before.

Look at your friends, your loved ones, and be honest with yourself. Sometimes they drive you absolutely nuts. It doesn’t mean you don’t love them, it just means that they’re human, and that’s how your characters should be. Maybe you have a friend who is grouchy and hard-faced until you get to know them and realize they actually run a shelter for unwanted puppies and just have little faith in humans anymore? Or someone who won’t spend a penny to do anything nice, because they’ve been financially ruined before and never want to go through that hell again?

A writer’s job is to “collect” interesting people (figuratively speaking- please no kidnappings). Observe the douche-bags, the pushovers, the people who have you rolling your eyes one minute and grinning ear-to-ear the next. Those are the interesting characters. None of us are perfect. We’re deeply flawed diamonds.

For ideas of character flaws I highly recommend Now Novel’s character flaw list:

Character flaw list: 30 intriguing character flaws

I’m also on instagram @marielipscombwriting

Thank you for reading if you made it this far, and have fun creating your own beautiful disasters.