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WRITING YOUR FIRST NOVEL PART Five: Creating Unforgettable Characters

“Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.”
― Ray BradburyZen in the Art of Writing

 

A playwright in a local writing group I attend posed an interesting question. He wanted to know what the group thought attracted readers to read the same authors repeatedly. The consensus reached was that we return to our favorite authors because they give us characters we identify with, cheer for and care about.

Think about a series of books you are fond of and consider what brings you back every time that author publishes a new novel. I’m certain the genre is appealing and likely the author writes well and is entertaining, but many authors are as well. I think one of the main reasons we favor certain authors is the characters they create.

Harry Bosch, Jack Ryan, Kay Scarpetta, Sherlock Holmes, Dirk Pitt, Eve Dallas, Travis McGee.

These characters and countless others are part of our lexicon. They become important to us and remain with us long after we have read the first or the last novel of the series. My father handed me my first John D. McDonald book featuring the character Travis McGee when I was sixteen, telling me I would learn about life from McDonald’s words. I cannot tell you how many times I have read each of the twenty-one novels in the Travis McGee series over the years. A self-identified beach bum and salvage operator, McGee was more than that. He was a believer in justice, respected women, hated drugs and drug dealers, greed, and corruption. A modern-day Robin Hood who helped those who could not fight the system, a characteristic of many of the characters we embrace.

As a mystery writer, many of the names I have listed above are old friends, and while I do realize they are not real, their familiarity from novel to novel allows that suspension of belief we need to immerse ourselves in fiction. These authors make their characters unforgettable and so should we.

First Impressions

The first time we meet anyone we form an immediate impression, despite knowing we should not judge a person until we get to know them better. But we do, and your reader will form an opinion of your characters when they first meet.

As we discussed in Part Four of our series, “Plotting Your Story,” you should introduce your main character, or protagonist, as soon as possible in your first chapter. If you want the reader to become engaged in the story and read until the end, then make your protagonist compelling. Give your readers a reason to like the character, to feel empathy for them, for their plight.

You should introduce your main character quickly and important supporting characters within the first chapter, even if only by name, not appearance. Your protagonist should be alluded to even if not present in the first chapter. Let your readers see who they are rooting for and who they are not.

 

Types of Characters in a Story:

 

The Protagonist

Your story revolves around this character and your readers’ interest will, as well. As we discussed, you must define them clearly and quickly. This character is your story, he/she must define the plot and be the focus of the central action of the story. The conflict that exists in the story is what this character must face and ultimately make a choice on how to deal with. Put you protagonist in peril throughout the story to involve the reader in their plight.

 

The Antagonist

The villain is the foil for your protagonist and the source of their conflict. Introduce the antagonist early as you would your protagonist. However, you may introduce their evil deeds first and, dependent on the genre you are writing in, have them appear in the story or reveal their identity as the antagonist at an appropriate time.

 

Secondary Characters

All character’s other than your protagonist and antagonist fall into this category. These characters can play a pivotal role in the story or serve a role in a transitional scene, a clerk or service technician, a doctor, any role you need. The role of side-kick falls into this category, and these characters need development to convey the level of importance they carry in a story. Keep in mind, even the most mundane of characters is an opportunity to enrich your story. A taxi driver might appear briefly in one scene, but you have the choice to make that character memorable.

 

“There are no hundred percent heroes.” — Travis McGee, Cinnamon Skin, 1982, by John D. MacDonald

Making Your Characters Unforgettable:

  • Appearance: As you write your characters, no doubt you will know exactly what they look like. The question is how much of that description do you impart to your readers. There are two schools of thought, describe your characters the way you want your reader to see them or allow your reader to imagine them as they choose. Whatever you decide, do not throw out an ingredient list identifying characteristics. Incorporate those characteristics into dialogue or the character’s internal dialogue as your story unfolds. If you do intend on revealing hair color or any other feature, do so within the first chapter. If you tell your reader in chapter five, your character is a brunette, and your reader thinks redhead, their connection with the character could be destroyed.
  • Background: Your characters origins, place of birth, ethnic background, ancestry, education, career choices, sports participation, hobbies, etc. can all play a role in their development. What did their parents do for a living, what unusual events occurred to impact their lives, what childhood pets did they have, all impact who they are.
  • Communication: How do they interact with people? Is he friendly, curt, argumentative? Do they have an accent, special words, or phrases that they use that shows their personality and makes them unique? What does their voice sound like? What is their internal thought processes?
  • Relationships: How do they interact with family and friends? Do they make friends easily, are they awkward in social situations? Do they genuinely like people, are they shy?
  • Goals: Decide what do your characters want. What are the goals, desires, need that you should address in your novel to move the story to its conclusion. Stories are based on conflict, and you need to show how that conflict interferes with their goals and how to resolve the issue.
  • Flaws: Do remember that your characters do not need to be perfect. While Hollywood prescribes that all characters must be handsome or beautiful, the fact is real life doesn’t look like that. Give your MC a scar, have them throw a temper tantrum, have them drink too much or hate dogs or apple pie. Let them complain about their weight or their cousins. Make them real people.

 

There are some things to avoid.

  • All those classic boys/girls next door, the dumb sidekick, the brave solitary cowboy, doting mothers, rough Marine drill sergeants, all those stereotypes we have come to expect, don’t use them. Do not write the expected, give your reader a character that is unique.
  • Do not create simple characters. Give them dimension. You have a cast of characters that should be interesting. While you will focus on developing your main characters and those secondary characters that are important to the story arc, don’t forget to humanize your minor characters. Make them stand out, give them a funny line or a unique attribute. If you cannot make them real, don’t use them as placeholders to take you to the next scene, cut them from the story.

 

How do you create these characters?

“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”

― William Faulkner

Story coaches and experts will tell you that writing a character biography down to shoe size and favorite dessert along with a list of books they’re read is the only way to properly develop your characters. There are numerous character development sheet templates available online if you choose to microscopically dissect their personalities. There are some authors who write a multi-page biography before they commence writing their novel.

Then there are writers like me. I think of my story arc, imagine the character, give them a name and start typing. They will tell me their likes and dislikes as we experience the story together.

Again, as in all things writing related, choose what works for you. The main thing is to remember to create multidimensional main and secondary characters that enrich your stories and propel the plot to its conclusion.

 

“I will go to my grave in a state of abject endless fascination that we all have the capacity to become emotionally involved with a personality that doesn’t exist.”

― Berkeley Breathed

 

Resources:

https://www.mysteryscenemag.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3055:are-travis-mcgee-and-john-d-macdonald-still-relevent-&catid=54:reviews&Itemid=187

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/characters

AUTHOR DUSTY GREIN: INTERVIEW ON THE “DR. PAUL’S FAMILY TALK” RADIO PROGRAM.

From the Tacoma/Seattle, Washington area, author Dusty Grein recently appeared on the show, “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” on the Internet radio station, Impact Radio USA to discuss his book, The Sleeping Giant.

Sleeping Giant Grein

From Dusty Grein’s Amazon page: “10-year-old psychic twins Danny & Becca Brock must somehow save their family from impending doom. Join them and the other residents of their small town in the week leading up to one of the largest natural disasters in history. Mount Rainier, the tallest volcano in the continental U.S., has stood silent watch over Seattle and the Puget Sound area for millennia. On a clear September morning, something deep inside the heart of the sleeping volcano shifts. For the Brock family, and the millions of residents who live in the mountain’s shadow, life is about to change forever, and the unimaginable is about to occur. This book is a work of fiction, but it takes place in very real locations. More than 3.5 million people live in the metropolitan area along the eastern edge of Puget Sound, in Washington state. They live work and play in the shadow of one of the largest and most dangerous volcanoes in the United States. At 14,400 feet above sea level, Mount Rainier is the tallest mountain in Washington State, and is blanketed by no fewer than 26 glaciers, holding more snow and ice on its slopes than all the other volcanoes in the Cascade Mountain range combined. When this volcano erupts, (and scientists tell us that it WILL erupt, eventually) it will be one of the largest natural disasters in recorded U.S. history.” You can also learn about Dusty’s anthologies, his blog, his poetry, and his other works throughout the broadcast.

Dusty Grein can be reached at https://www.facebook.com/DustyGrein/

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Be sure to listen to IMPACT RADIO USA for upcoming author interviews and more!

IMPACT RADIO USA provides the best in news, talk, sports, and music 24 hours a day, 52 weeks per year. Launched in the spring of 2017, our goal is to keep you as the most informed Internet Radio audience.

As we are continuing to add content on a daily basis, please feel free to click on the “LISTEN LIVE” button to hear us 24 hours a day.

Beginning on Monday, July 3, 2017, “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” show will have live broadcasts 3 times per week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 11:00 a.m.  Episodes will be repeated at 3:00 pm

http://www.impactradiousa.com/

ImpactradioUSA 1

Changing POV

changingPOV

Changing POV is not head-hopping. The term ‘head-hopping’ means that a POV is changed so much in a scene that the reader is being forced to hop around so much they’re dizzy with it. And because of that they’re confused as to who is doing what, which is something you never want to have in your story.

So, how do you avoid that if you want to change POV in a scene?

First, make your character’s voice distinctive enough so that when you change POV it’s a seamless transition. This means that when you’re in a particular character’s POV you’re using a very distinctive voice for them, and I’m not just talking about the way they speak in dialogue. Each character should have a distinctive way of thinking and acting in addition to speaking. And you don’t need to make the differences super-obvious or extremely-different unless your story calls for that.

Two, understand what you want to do in a particular scene in terms of action and what information you want to reveal about the plot and characters. Sometimes it may be best to stay in one character’s POV because if you go into another character’s POV you’ll reveal a plot detail before you need to. I did this in the very first scene of my novel-in-progress because if I had gone into my other character’s POV I would have spoiled the key surprise plot element, so to speak.

Three, think of the development of the scene in a cinematic way. When you watch a movie for example, most of the time there are cuts within a scene to show the reactions of other characters to what’s happening. So if you feel that need to cut to another character in your scene, then you’re looking to change POV.

Now, I know there are what I call POV-purists who believe in one POV per scene and will only change POV with a line or scene break clearly showing that on the page. And that’s perfectly fine as I’ve read plenty of books written like that I enjoyed. But please don’t feel like you have to do that. Maybe the thought of changing POV in a scene is daunting or you’re not sure of how or when to do it. Don’t be afraid to give a try and in the meantime, study other writers and see how they do things.

Most of all, don’t feel like there is a set of rules governing POV that you can’t break unless you want to go to jail. Trust me, you will not be jailed for changing POV in a scene. If you do it and someone says you’re head-hopping, then you’ll need to look at your work more closely to make sure your changes in POV are seamless. But trust me, it can be done if you want to do it.

Writing Your First Novel

One of the common questions asked by novice writers on our sister Facebook site Writers Unite! is “How do I start?” To help new writers with the daunting but fun task of writing, I have begun a series of articles on how to prepare writing your first novel.

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Writing Your First Novel

Part One

Read

 “Everybody has a secret world inside of them. I mean everybody. All of the people in the whole world, I mean everybody — no matter how dull and boring they are on the outside. Inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds… Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe.”
― Neil GaimanThe Sandman, Vol. 5: A Game of You

All those words Gaiman speaks of rattle around inside of us. Eventually, the urge to allow them to escape becomes overwhelming. Time to write a story.

Fledgling writers come from all walks of life with a wide-ranging knowledge of the writing process. I remember my own experience when I decided to begin writing. Writing was not new to me, throughout my career I had written research papers, manuals, newsletters, speeches, and advertising copy.  However, crafting a fiction story was something I had not done since college. I recognized there was a lot to learn.

The question is where to start?  We can jump right in and begin to put words to paper or screen but are we providing ourselves and our future readers with the best effort we can make? Before we write, let’s explore the steps we should do to prepare ourselves to be good writers. Let’s begin with reading.

Read

What better than a book to fuel the imagination. One of my favorite quotes is from George R. R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons:

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”

Reading the works of others is fundamental to the writing process. Any genre and any author (even a not so skilled author) can provide you with useful information. I do recommend selecting best-selling books in the genre/genres that you wish to write in, as well. Successful works related to the story you want to write can provide you with trends and what the readers of the genre prefer.

What you do you as a new author gain by reading? There are several reasons:

Vocabulary:

Reading increases vocabulary by presenting words we may not hear or see on a normal day. A diverse vocabulary is a great asset for any writer by providing an enhanced collection of words that convey the meanings and emotions of your story. A large vocabulary also provides alternate word choices which improve your writing style.

Grammar:

Grammar rules are analogous to rules of the road. Authorities expect us to obey the speed limit, stop at red lights, and follow the other traffic laws. Otherwise, chaos ensues on the roads. The same is true for writing. Grammar rules provide a framework for writing a clear and concise story that a reader expects. When reading, pay attention to sentence structure, verb choice and agreement, how complex or simple the sentence are. You will begin to acquire a feel for the author’s style which can help you find your own.

Plot Structure:

Read to understand how the author constructed their story. How do they open their novel, what hook did they use to draw you into the story? Notice the author introduces their main and secondary characters, build tension toward the climax, or employ foreshadowing, plot twists? Learn what techniques work to provide the reader with an exciting and emotional experience.

Trends:

While you should read all genres for a better overview of style, you should also select numerous books within the genre that you wish to write in. Trends are not only for clothing, but genres are also subject to the latest fad or the focus of a best-selling author. Knowing what your potential reader might prefer when choosing a new novel. A word of caution, trends fade, and by the time your novel is ready for publication, some other trend may have taken your place. Write your story the way you want.

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In subsequent articles, we will look at these topics in more depth as well as other tools for the novice writer.

(Quotes: https://www.brainyquote.com/)

Writers Unite! Short Story Contest Winners!

Our FaceBook sister page Writers Unite! Short Stories hosted a contest in January 2017! We would like to present our winners.

The contest criteria:

Theme:  Love Conquer All

Genre: Open

Word Count: 3,000 words or less.

 

First Place:

The Girl With the Razzle-Dazzle Eyes by Milton Trachtenburg

https://docs.google.com/…/1NlKgkyQrq4_tBteGNQFx6xEKbT…/edit…

Second Place:

Paradise Beach by David Weeks

https://docs.google.com/…/1SHSTxf4bCz74_q1TlGPVdUzsmz…/edit…

Third Place:

Even From Behind These Walls by A.M. Ameenah M Hassan.

https://docs.google.com/…/14EKxFsSirU0k4TNDCE-n-4xrHM…/edit…

Honorable Mention:

A Mother’s Reflection by Leonie Hearn

https://docs.google.com/…/1_C5HyHW0rxl3M6btLBY-y4iDex…/edit…

Please join me in thanking our judges, Mandy Melanson, Dennis Takesako, and Dusty Grein. All excellent writers and all devoted to sharing their expertise with aspiring writers. I encourage you to visit their FB pages and author pages.

Also, special thanks to all who submitted entries. The judges were faced with a very difficult decision.

 

Writers Unite! Bookshop is now on the “WU!” Blog

In addition to the Bookstore post available Friday through Sunday on our Facebook page for you to post links to your published works, we are adding the Bookstore to our Blog.

You will find the Bookstore on the menu bar. Click on the drop down menu to locate your favorite genre and find a new book to enjoy!

If you would like to have your book info posted on our blog, please email us at writersunite16@gmail.com using WU Bookstore in the subject line.

Please include the following:

  • Book title, author’s name, and links to sites where your book can be purchased.
  • A very brief blurb about your book. (150 words or less)
  • Thumbnail copy of book cover
  • Books Rating: G, PG, R, X (this category must include a warning,)
  • The general genre of your novel. The books will be sorted by the main genre categories.

Those genres are as follows:

  • Action / Adventure
  • Contemporary/ YA
  • Fantasy
  • Historical
  • Horror
  • Literary / Other
  • Mystery
  • Nonfiction
  • Romance
  • Poetry
  • Sci-Fi
  • Westerns

Please follow these guidelines to ensure your book sales link will be included.

The Bookstore is now open!!!

Writers Unite! on Facebook

E. Rachel Hardcastle: Writers As Ghosts

 

 

Over the years, creative writing has been my candle in a world plagued with constant blackouts. I’ve struggled with everyday life and experienced loss, like many of you surely have, and being an introvert, I found writing to be an effective outlet for expressing my thoughts and feelings in a private and personal, but very public way.

The festering question was how can I fully experience life? The idea of merely existing between working, worrying about money or illness and watching the world attack itself through war, frightened me. I needed to explore the outcome of a berserk life like that.

Reading back through my published novels, I see traces of those morals and messages between the lines of every story. Like a journal entry, each paragraph acts as a personal signature, reading, there is blood and tears on these pages. They mean something to me. They can mean something to you. And, it’s been said by several of my loyal readers that there is an unintentional, almost spiritual voice nudging my words, urging people to change for the better, like a lingering ghost.

To me, writing a novel is a chance to explore my own beliefs and musings. I’d like to leave something of worth behind. Through this subconscious mission I type and my words find meaning. My voice is forever recorded. I want to haunt my readers in the best way because, like most authors, I long to be a memorable name upon the shelves; to have something drawing people to me and thrusting them forward as so many writers once did for me.

Now the Halloween season is upon us, take a deep breath as you write and feel a part of you cross over to the world you’re creating. Release a ghost that connects deeply with your reader. Release one that persists and exists as hundreds of characters living hundreds of adventures. Inject some of your memories, struggles and lessons learned into your writing.

You’re a writer for a reason, to be someone’s ghost when they’re on the train to work, in the bath or lying in bed at night. We’ll all be someone’s ghost for real, some day. May as well start early.

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emma-hardcastle

E. Rachael Hardcastle
Author & Editor

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