Search:
 
 

Posts tagged with: character development

How Do You Find Your Characters

Many years ago, I was like a shaky legged fawn stepping into the world of writing. I had written before, for myself and for my school newspapers, but this new world was totally different and scary as hell. I knew if I was going to survive I would need a strong man by my side so I began my search for the man I knew whose name was Hudson Alan Mitchel.

I searched every store, every street corner, and every office I entered, but I was always disappointed. Yes, there were plenty of men in all those places but none were Hudson.

This went on for months, during which time I began to write his story. It came to me like I was listening to his dreamy baritone voice over the radio. (Yes, at that time there was no podcasts or You Tube channels). Taking long walks and listening to him like we were connected by our cell phones, I learned what he liked and didn’t like. I discovered all of his dreams from childhood and on. I felt his angst over the burdens and problems he carried as a major league ball player. I became aware of whom he trusted and who would put a knife in his back because of his fame. And he revealed to me his most personal desires. He wanted a woman just like me. (Yes, when he told me that, it was a sigh worthy moment.) But sadly, I was blissfully married to my own hero and being the decent guy he was Hudson said he would always be my friend.

But I didn’t have an idea of what he looked like. I knew his heart but not his face.

He assured me that we would meet and soon.

I wanted to meet Hudson so much, face to face, and touch his cheek and let him know that I would do anything to find the woman of his dreams for him. I wanted him as happy as I was. Then, I thought why not start the search for Hudson’s dream woman right away. It would be so great to be the one to orchestrate their cute-meet.

One sunny afternoon, I sat on my patio, flipping through a catalog when Sileen Wright caught my eye. She had long, nutmeg brown hair and dark eyes like I did, but she had a cute button nose like Sandy Bullock and a body I’d need to exercise like ten hours a day for a year to achieve. But physical beauty wasn’t all Sileen had going on for her. Her smile reflected her warm heart and her witty sense of humor. She had a look that told you exactly how she was feeling.

I felt privileged when she told me about her family and her dreams to work for NASBO (National Association of Small Business Owners). However, I picked up on the sadness when she spoke about those dreams. She hid the sadness quickly and I didn’t pry. I knew who could help her figure out her problems­~the man who I trusted. They were perfect for each other.

Maybe a month after, Sileen and I met, I attended my first big writer’s conference at Penn State’s main campus. For three days, I learned more about the craft from great writers such as Merline Lovelace. ~I love Merline’s work and not because she gave me such great advice. Her writing is wonderful.~ Anyway, my critique partners and I stopped at a local café and while we enjoyed Ben and Jerry’s ice cream (I know, I know about the Creamery now!) Hudson appeared. It was love at first sight. Yes, I mean me. But at last, remember I was married. So, it was love at first sight for Sileen and Hudson and their story took off in my imagination.

After years, their story is now going out into the world and you all are among the first to know how Sileen and Hudson’s love affair started.  Perfect Fall is up on all venues for a preorder price of $.99 now.  It will release in four short weeks on July 18, 2017 at $4.99. Grab your copy today and if you feel like sharing the information with your friends, please do!

 

AMAZON

B&N 

I Books

Kobo

To me the story is all about characters. Finding a picture of my characters and interviewing them is usually how I begin to learn the direction and theme of my stories. Where do you start? Do you just dive into write and learn about them as you go?  Do you use character charts?

 

 

Autumn Jordon is an award-winning, sneaker wearing Ruby. She loves writing both contemporary romance filled with chuckles and romantic suspense/mystery meant to keep you on the edge of your seat, guessing. Visit her website www.autumnjordon.com for information on all her works and to join her newsletter.

Getting to Know Your Characters Through Audio

I’ve been an avid reader ever since I learned to decode strings of printed letters into words, but it’s only now that I have a smartphone that I’ve really gotten into audiobooks and podcasts. I have to admit, I’m not the biggest fan of listening to fiction—it takes me way longer to listen to a book than to read it, and once I’m into the story I want to load it into my brain as quickly as possible.
Close-up of a microphone
But I love using audiobooks to research my characters.

When I started writing Marriage: Impossible, which featured a Navy SEAL hero, I was lost. I didn’t have any close friends or family in the military, and I certainly didn’t have any firsthand experience. How was I going to get far enough into my hero’s head that his dialog and internal thoughts would sound like those of a Navy SEAL? I started watching documentaries and reading blog posts.

But audiobooks were what really helped me. To get to know my hero, I listened to all kinds of audiobooks, from autobiographies of Navy SEALS to journalists’ accounts of modern warfare. If I was working out, cooking dinner, or doing laundry, I was also listening to my latest audiobook.

Immersing myself in my hero’s world on a daily basis flipped a switch in my brain, so that the mindset and word choices I had been struggling with began to flow. Finally, my hero sounded like a Navy SEAL.

I also discovered self-publishing podcasts. My current favorites are The Creative Penn, featuring an eclectic selection of guest interviews, covering everything from using dictation to increase your daily word count to Facebook ads. Joanna is such a great interviewer that I tend to come away with useful information whatever the topic. For a more marketing-focused podcast, I also love the Self-Publishing Formula.

What about you? Do you listen to audiobooks or podcasts for fun or research? What are your favorites?

Writing Difference with Roxane Gay

Last week, I took a day off from security guards, sex demons and assassins (the WIP) and joined a group of undergraduate English majors, MFA students, and other writers on the University of Minnesota Mankato campus, where we had the pleasure of listening to the amazing Roxane Gay talk about writing difference.

Though Gay is both a fiction and non-fiction writer, my exposure to her work has primarily been through her eloquent, insightful essays (and her Twitter feed, @rgay), where she takes on race, gender, sexism, feminism, social class, sexual violence, homophobia, privilege, identity, corruption, and the intersectionality of these topics. While Gay’s non-fiction subject matter can feel fraught and political and scary and huge, the craft talk most emphatically was not—except for a comment about the need for publishers to be more inclusive about the writers they publish, and to expand the breadth of human experience published books present to the world. 

Ahem.

Nope, this was a one-hour craft talk about writing difference in an authentic way. And unlike institutional racism, sexism, homophobia and the patriarchy, character development is a writerly choice, something I fully control in my own work.

Note the simplicity of Gay’s phrasing: “Writing difference.” It’s as inclusive as it gets. It doesn’t value any difference over another. It excludes no one, and meets every writer where they’re at. It’s about me, the writer, writing characters who are different than me. Hell, I’m a middle-aged, middle-class, straight Caucasian woman who writes about vampires, sirens, werewolves and sex demons—whose ancestors are aliens—and the phrase still works.

Here are some quick hits from my notes from Roxane’s session. Any errors or misinterpretations are, of course, my own:

  • Writing difference is about authenticity, about reaching beyond stereotypes and “lazy, half-assed assumptions.” Don’t merely write “the sassy gay friend, the fiery Latina, or the wise black maid. Dig deeper.”
  • People who are different than you are people first, and different second.
  • When writing difference, start with universal emotions. There’s natural common ground here. 
  • “No one is any one thing, right?” No one is solely racist, or sexist, or disabled, or LGBT, or homophobic. We can’t assume that any person—any character—is part of any monolithic whole. People are multi-dimensional. Characters should be, too.
  • Research is important. READ difference. Read across genres. Expose yourself to others’ realities.   
  • As a writer, it’s okay to not know. It’s okay to simply try. Even if you don’t quite hit the bulls-eye authenticity-wise, your attempt means you’re acknowledging that humanity isn’t a monolithic whole. Acknowledgment is a move in the right direction.
  • “Writers write what they’re called to write,” but authenticity is key. If your story needs a character of difference, write one—but it’s problematic, and inauthentic, and perhaps an issue of ethics, to write difference as a marketing ploy, or as a way to hop on a bandwagon, or to fetishize.

Though Gay writes both fiction and non-fiction, she says that fiction writing is her “happy place,” a way to “self-medicate.” Soft-spoken Gay clearly relishes the power she wields when writing fiction. “I control my characters. I create entire worlds.”

Yes. And by writing difference in an authentic way, we, as writers, help create the world we want to see—one character, one book, one difference at a time.

To get a taste of Roxane in action, here’s her “Confessions of a Bad Feminist” TED Talk from last year.  Bad Feminist is an awesome book, and I very much look forward to Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, coming in June 2016.

What are your thoughts about writing (or reading, or watching) difference? Can you recommend any authors who write difference well?   

-tammy

It’s Never Too Late to Learn Something New

I’ve been writing novels for a long time now. I can say that I’ve learned how to write a novel and I’ve learned how to meet a deadline.

But I get stuck. I lose my way even though I have an outline. I have to rewrite. I struggle sometimes with imagery and just plain bad writing. And I sometimes lose confidence. I have accepted that these things are just part of the job.

I’ve also discovered over the years that when I’m feeling doubtful about my writing it helps to go read a book on writing craft, or storytelling, or character development and try out new techniques or new processes. Going back to basics and/or learning something new frees me from self-doubt and the writing doldrums.

So, since we’re in the midst of the Winter Writing Festival, and I figure lots of you are struggling with self-doubt, have lost your way, or are stuck on a scene, it might be helpful to provide a list of great books on the craft of storytelling and writing.

Below you’ll find a list of my favorite books on the craft of writing. Some of these books changed my life. Others are used all the time as I plot or troubleshoot.

The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition by Christopher Vogler

The book discusses mythic structure and the hero’s journey as first outlined by Joseph Campbell. My take: This was the first book I ever read on story structure and it was an enormous eye-opener. It probably should be on every novelists shelf. But, a word of caution, romance authors will be left scratching their heads. The hero’s journey explains a lot of stories out there, and a lot of popular movies, but it doesn’t work for romance novels.

 

 

The Virgin’s Promise: Writing Stories of Feminine Creative, Spiritual, and Sexual Awakening by Kim Hudson (with a forward by Christopher Vogler)

This book discusses fairytale structure and can be viewed as a companion book to the Writer’s Journey. My take: I’ve been waiting for this book for years. It was published in 2010 and it discusses stories that don’t fit mythic hero’s journey structure (like romances!) If you’re writing stories about characters learning to live a fulfilled life, then this book will help you understand that structure. I truly think every romance author should own this book and study it.

 

Scene and Structure (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Jack M. Bickham

This book discusses scene and sequel structure. My take: This is a book that will help you improve pacing, regardless of what kind of genre you may be writing. The book focuses on thrillers and suspense novels, but romance authors can get a lot out of it as well.

 

 

 

Goal Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon

This is a seminal book that provides hands-on help in crafting three-dimensional characters and understanding what people mean when they talk about conflict in a story. My take: This book changed my life. Seriously. I had no idea what conflict was, and I kept writing stories that got rejected with the words “no conflict” written all over them. If you have been told that your manuscript is lacking in conflict, you should read this book.

 

 

Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maas

Written by a well-known literary agent, Donald Mass’ workbook provides advice and exercises to make your novel stand out in a crowd. My take: The exercises in this workbook are so useful, whether you are trying to fix a scene you’ve already written, or plot a novel from start to finish. The exercises are also very useful during brainstorming sessions with other writers. A lot of the questions I ask during the WWF brainstorming sessions on Wednesday mornings come right out of this workbook.

 

Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story by Ursula K Le Guin

Beloved author and poet Ursula K. Le Guin provides her take on the craft of writing. My Take: If you’ve ever read one of Le Guin’s books, you know that she writes beautifully. Her book on writing craft (including such issues as comma placement) was utterly liberating for me.

These are my go-to books when I’m looking for inspiration or when I’m stuck. What books on craft or storytelling are on your shelves?

So Who is Mr. Darcy?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog called “Using Archetypes to Find Your Story” in which I talked about an archetype system developed by Caroline Myss, and a cool set of cards that I use for character development.

MyssCardsI was a little stunned at how popular this particular blog became, not only among our diverse readership, but within the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood itself.  Our Yahoo email loop kind of exploded for a day or two, especially when Darynda Jones emailed me (publicly) and asked me if I could use the Caroline Myss archetypes to describe Mr. Darcy, the original romance hero from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Have I mentioned that P&P is one of my all-time favorite books?  So naturally this was a challenge I couldn’t resist.  I immediately fired off an email, which sparked more discussion on our Yahoo group.  Eventually the Sisters insisted that I turn my email into a blog post. 

So, here it is, a slightly edited version of the email I sent to Darynda in answer to her question about Mr. Darcy’s archetype.

Dear Darynda,

I just flipped through my deck of archetype cards and I think Darcy would be some amalgamation of a Judge or Mediator.  A Judge balances justice and compassion.  But on the negative side a judge offers destructive criticism.  A judge also mediates between people, and Darcy certainly did a lot of that. 

photo3The Mediator archetype is similar to the judge.  A mediator negotiates fairness in personal and professional life, and has respect for both sides of an argument.  The shadow side of a Mediator negotiates with an ulterior motive. 

When you consider the way Darcy convinced Bingley to leave Netherfield because Jane was an unworthy match, you can clearly see how Darcy was both a judge and a mediator.  And, of course the title of the book gives you a clue, since we’re talking about pride and prejudice.  Darcy spends a lot of time judging people. 

photo1 This points out something I didn’t say in my blog post — you don’t have to give your character just one archetype.  Characters can have more than one. You can blend them.  The archetypes are there to help you brainstorm at the beginning, and analyze at the end so you are sure you’ve got a memorable character with lots of layers.  I always give each of my main characters one archetype and then one of the “child” archetypes.  There are several:  wounded child, nature child, magical child, eternal child, orphan child, divine child.  I think Darcy is probably a Magical Child. The shadow traits for a magical child are pessimism and a disbelief in miracles.  By the end of Pride and Prejudice Darcy is closer to believing that anything is possible.  So he moves through an arc that takes him from the negative traits of his archetype to the positive traits of it.

Also, by giving each character a “child” archetype you can brainstorm a backstory for them that explains why they have these positive and negative traits. 

photo2

By the way, since we’re talking Pride and Prejudice,  I would probably say that Elizabeth Bennet is a Rebel.  She challenges authority and rejects spiritual systems that do not serve her inner needs.  Just think about Lizzy’s verbal zingers and her determination to marry for love and not for money.  And think about how the social system reaches out to grab her at the black moment and potentially destroy her future.  Her willingness to tell Lady Catherine off at the end of the book underscores the fact that Lizzy is most definitely a Rebel.  She’s also probably a wounded child, which means she had to deal with a seriously dysfunctional family.

So, there you have it, a perfectly useless (but really fun) exercise in analyzing the archetypes used by another author. 

So here’s a challenge just for fun.  Follow this link to the Caroline Myss archetypes and try to analyze your favorite book boyfriend.  Post the results below. 

I’ll sweeten the pot, by giving away an autographed copy of Last Chance Book Club, a book seriously influenced by Pride and Prejudice, to one random poster.

Are You A People Watcher?

I recently found out some troubling information about someone I know. Though I’m not surprised by the news, I am surprised that I had no inkling of this person’s bad behavior happening right under my nose.

That left me wondering – am I a good judge of character?

If not, if I live in some fantasy land where everyone I know is either good or bad with no ulterior motives, then how could I possibly write 3-dimensional, complex characters?

First impressions are important, but I reserve my opinion about others until I get to know them better. As a rule, I give people the benefit of doubt. If an acquaintance is using a guise, I’m likely not going to catch on . . . unless that person directly tries to snooker me. Tsk tsk. I pity the fool.

It’s not that I’m not observant, but, rather, something needs to trigger my awareness.

Sadly, if I was a crime victim – *snort* See this chip on my shoulder? Pretty impressive, huh? – and the police sketch artist asked for a description, well, the page would be woefully sparse.

I’m simply not a people watcher.  I’m a face value kind of gal. I don’t read into things. Especially with strangers or passers-by in my life. I’ve my own agenda, my own very full life with a load of responsibilities and demands looming in every crevice of my mind. There’s simply no room to register the goings-on of the neighbor with nocturnal yard work habits, the broke softball coach with the addiction to pain killers, or my daughter’s friend’s recently divorced Girls Gone Wild mom.

I’m no peeping tom, but I am fairly good at reading people’s body language. From an author’s prospective, the ability comes from conveying emotions, actions and reactions on paper so that the reader identifies with characters.  Everyone’s body language is different, but there are commonalities in movements and shifts in speaking patterns that indicate truths, lies, and swings in personalities.  The lack of eye contact with every lie, giggles when nervous, erratic hand gestures when livid, most people can read these non-verbal communications. But what of more subtle clues, such as a repeated movement each time a fib is spoken, shifting weight when anxious, or the single twitch of the jaw line when angry. One must watch others closely.

So is it possible to write characters that not only leap from the page but put the reader in a stranglehold without submersing yourself in other people’s lives? Yes! (I hear introverts everywhere cheering.)

T.S. Eliot said “No real vital character in fiction is altogether a conscious construction of the author. On the contrary, it may be a sort of parasitic growth upon the author’s personality, developing by internal necessity as much as by external addition.”

Nice. Need more?

Often, we don’t have to look further than our own circle of nut jobs, I mean, family, friends and coworkers. But sometimes even that is not enough.

If I want to people watch, I watch a movie. It dawned on me that watching a flick is one way I assemble character traits to which I am not accustomed. Not always consciously either. Truth really is stranger than fiction and often not as believable. Movies are the perfect place to gather tidbits, quirks, and overall personalities. And I don’t have to leave the comfort of my recliner. A myriad of individuality and behavior is as close as the push of my remote control button.

Don’t know a murderer?  Need a visual cue on the mannerisms of proper nobles in a high court? Not familiar with a vampire’s intense hunger? How about the intense hunger of a Casanova?

Larger than life on-screen characters may yield (or trigger) traits or idiosyncrasies for your own characters. Think Sergeant Riggs in Lethal Weapon, James Bond, Jack Sparrow, Indiana Jones, John Wayne in ANY movie, and Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra or as Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Or maybe not so larger than life characters, Jimmy Stewart as the paranoid Scottie Ferguson in Vertigo, Natalie Portman as manipulating Anne Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl,  Christoph Waltz as the scarily calculating and sadistic SS Col. Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds.

Great guns, the possibilities are endless.

Honestly, why sit at the Starbucks eavesdropping or stalk people the mall? Watch a movie. Assemble traits, plug in quirks, add your own bolt of lightning and scream “It’s Alive! It’s Alive!”

But He’s Your Villain

Recently, during on one of my fellow sister’s post, I stated that my villain in EVIL’S WITNESS actually came to my house. Some thought that statement was cool. Others raised their brows. Well, I’m here to tell you he did—figuratively he did.

While writing Evil’s Witness, which releases in six short weeks, I had such a great handle on my hero and heroine, John and Stephanie. I knew their dreams and secrets. Heck, I even knew what toothpaste Steph liked to use and which gun was John’s weapon of choice.

However, when it came to my villain, Victor, I knew he was the bad guy, stole money and wanted to do really bad things to John and Steph, but not much else. When the plot line of my book started to look like a sway back mare, I knew I had to invite Victor into my home.

It was a snowy, blustery night when he came to my door. The tree tops howled as the raging winds bent them at odd angles and mad gusts picked up handfuls of snow and sent them to the swirling heavens. Was God telling to be careful?

I stayed alert as Victor followed me into the living room. He paid no attention to my DH who watched a football game on the television and DH paid no attention to Victor, until later.

I asked Victor to sit beside me and while he shrugged off his calf’s skin leather jacket, folded and draped it across the sofa’s back I picked up my pen and notebook. My first question surprised him. “Why did you dye your hair platinum blonde?”

A micro-second before his gaze darted away, I saw Victor’s insecurity. His answer surprised me. I hadn’t expected the Russian Mafia prince to show emotion over his hair. The reason why he colored his hair was just the tip of Victor’s emotional iceberg. An iceberg I probed, digging for the real Victor.

Over the next hour we talked about his life, his career choice, his feeling toward Steph and John and his relationship with his family. I could see his mannerisms and hear his forefather’s dialect, even though he tried hard to mask it.

I couldn’t jot notes fast enough. When my DH decided it was time for Victor to leave because it seemed I was having too much fun with the guy, I had this overwhelming sense that a friend was leaving my home and would travel on a dangerous road. In my mind, I cautioned Victor about his actions and where they might lead him. He simply smiled, and said “Sometimes a man has no choice. He must do what he has been trained to do, without question.”

After the door had closed behind Victor, I dashed off two new chapters. One was inserted into the front of the story because my readers had to know the real Victor and what motivated him to carry out the acts he did. The other lifted my sagging middle out of a dark grave and gave the plot new life.

Victor is one of the favorite characters I’ve written. I will admit I loved writing about him and in his voice. Yes, he is a villain, but after our meeting I understand his whys and his secrets and his dreams.

Have you ever fallen in love with a character?

The Latest Comments

  • Autumn Jordon: You’re very welcome. I learned a lot.
  • Bev Pettersen: Such a helpful post, Thanks Autumn. And also thanks to Vivi, Rae and Judy!
  • Autumn Jordon: Everyone of these cover designers is so talented. I wish I had their eye for detail.
  • Autumn Jordon: I totally agree, Kate. I think it takes a certain eye to make an awesome cover.
  • Autumn Jordon: They did a amazing job answering my questions, didn’t they. I also learned a lot.

Archives