Category Archives: Characters

What makes a great character? Many things and I’ll add them as I figure them out

Writing External Conflict

It can be defined as anything getting between the protagonist and their goal. The easiest example is the antagonist. The measure of tension is based on the determination between the antagonist and protagonist. The more cunning, and skillful the antagonist the harder the hero must work to succeed.

One thing to keep in mind is the main antagonist of the story doesn’t have to been in ever scene. In some cases, other things get in the way of the hero’s success.

In a scene the antagonist can be anything from the setting to a ally.

Some examples a protagonist may face are:

  • Any character determined to stop them
  • Settings: a flood, blizzard, unfamiliar location, imprisonment, stuck on the road with motor trouble
  • A group of characters: law makers, rule enforcers, and simple peer pressure
  • Consequence from an event: broken bone or other physical damage, loss of memory, loss of transportation, loss of support and/or trust, loss of safety net

Throughout the story there will be all kinds of things to challenge the hero and their success. What’s your favorite?

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Writing Internal Conflict

What causes internal conflict in our characters?

tug-40797_1280Want vs Need:  Often a character is torn between what they need and what they want. An example is marrying for love or money. Another might be keeping a child or giving them up for adoption.

The more heartfelt the choice and its consequences the deeper the inner conflict.

Recovering from past wounds: All our characters should have a backstory full of past wounds and regrets. These wounds will only heal if they are confronted and conquered. Until then the inner pain will stop the character from chasing their dreams or desires.

Dragging baggage through a story or letting it go can be a huge source of inner conflict.

Beliefs and assumptions: How a characters sees their world shapes their reactions within it. An example is their world is a cold place to raise a child, so they may go to great lengths to prevent conception. Another would be if they could only find love then everything would be okay.

It doesn’t matter if the belief or assumption is true. What matters is how the character choose to behave because of what they believe.

Armor or mask: Some characters present a false self to their world. They keep tug-40797_1280aa wall around them or wear a mask as they interact with the world and the other characters in it. Fear of rejection or of judgement can put the mask in place, but emotional armor doesn’t really protect anyone.

In mysteries, its purpose is to hide the killer.

A common source of inner conflicts is fear: What frightens a character the most? Change? Exposure? The truth? Fear of never learning from past mistakes, phobias, torn between two possible futures—making a decision and living with it forever.

Fear of the unknown.

Each conflict demands the character make a conscience choice, commit to it and accept consequences. This can happen once, or repeatedly depending on the character’s journey.

Which is your favorite inner conflict?

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Characterization: Adding Drama, Flesh, and Fun

In my book, White Light, I play on the difference between characters. The contrast of age, belief system and personal needs brings out the best and sometime the worst in them.

The Characters Source for drama:

  1. Emma: A young woman who is emotionally and socially stunted inherits a house.
  2. Great-Aunt Alice: A ghost, psychic and murder victim leaves her best friend alone and her grandniece with a new start.
  3. Mrs. Perkins: An older woman who has outlived her peers needs a new reason to get up each morning and takes Emma under her wing.

Three women: One older woman alive, one older woman passed on, and one spider-web-309451_1280young woman beginning her adult life.

And they all need each other to get what they want.

In this case it is to solve a murder.

Not all mysteries are dark and in my case I wanted to add some laughs making the work more of a beach read.

Adding the fun

I’ve included a few quotes to hopefully, and here’s where I cross my fingers, show you my approach in lightening the mood. Emma has just failed Mrs. Perkins’s psychic ability test.

I turn on my heel and take the cleaver back to the kitchen. I’m not sure if putting it back where I found it is a good idea. Would Mrs. Perkins prefer to wash it before it is put away? As I’m mulling this over, Mrs. Perkins enters the kitchen still tucking her blouse into her slacks.

Her slippers slap the floor tiles as she heads for the coffeepot. “I still don’t understand what took you so long. I should’ve had a plan B, apparently you are unreliable.”

“Unreliable? Me? What were you doing all tied up in the hall closet anyway?” I drop the cleaver in the drawer.

Mrs. Perkins still doesn’t believe Emma isn’t psychic and pushes Emma into doing readings like her Great-Aunt Alice.

A blazing sun overhead suggests a warm summer’s day. Mrs. Perkins tends her Lily of the Valley with a small purple watering can. “Oh, good you’re up. Stay right there.” She puts the can down and pulls off her gloves, pointing a forefinger skyward which I’m interpreting as hold on for a moment. She smiles and goes in her back door.

I rub my eyes and take in the deep blue sky through the high leaves. The wonderful drone of a lawn mower in the distance soothes me.

I sit on a patio chair, put my feet up on a planter, sip my coffee, and am almost asleep again when Mrs. Perkins calls from her yard.

“Here’s a handful of messages for you.” She waves little slips of paper at me. “Make sure you call each one of them back. They made me promise.”

I carefully put my mug down on the cement and join her at the fence, scanning the top message. “This is asking for a reading. We talked about this.”

“Yes, but it isn’t up to me to tell them. That’s up to you.”

I didn’t start this. She made this mess. “This is getting out of hand.”

“I didn’t start this.”

I slap my forehead. “Yes you did.”

“Well, I didn’t mean to.”

Now that I believe. I read a few more messages, and, when I glance up, she’s gone back to her flowerbed. “Oh, no, you’re not getting out of this that easy. Come back here. Put the can down and talk to me.” My gaze drops down to my toes. I’m wearing neon green nail polish.

Omigod! I didn’t do that.

Now, I need her for a different reason. “Mrs. Perkins…Millie…I’ve had another episode.”

Fleshing them out takes timered-lips-1213161_1280

I know a lot about my players and what I know about them helps me keep them in character and push the story forward. By the time the book was edited and published they were living breathing people.

What do you do to enhance the drama, flesh out the characters, and lighten the mood? All of us are dying to hear. 🙂

Writing: Where Should Character Arcs Lead?

As writers we strive to show time passing through character arcs. We know they had a past because they face personal issues during the story, and this raises a question. Should we consider what happens when their personal issues are resolved?

Most of us dream of a better life in the future. Some of us make our dreams come climbing-157588_1280btrue and others, like myself, dream pipe dreams that may never happen. All our dreams put hope and motivation in our hearts.

Personally, I think too much about the past and wish I had the philosophy Bossman does. He believes that without all the chaos and heartache in our pasts we wouldn’t be the lovable people we are today.

Whether I agree or not, I prove the theory when I write. My characters are the way they are because I’ve given them a backstory.

Every once in a while I rewatch a series. Lately I’ve been rotating through Bones, Castle and Elementary and I’m noting the arcs in the main characters.

Why some character arcs work:

Castle grows as a writer and adds to his resume by becoming a private investigator.

The addiction Holmes and Booth have is a constant reminder of human frailty. And I think, a better arc because no one really recovers from addiction. It hangs over a person’s head and will weasel its way back to the forefront at any opportunity. The threat is a constant and daily threat.

Joan Watson has moved from doctor to life/addiction coach to investigator, therefore, the door is open to other careers as she changes with her personal needs.

Why Some arcs end:

Kate Beckett was admired from the start. She was strong, level-headed and red-lips-1213161_1280tortured by her mother’s murder. Eventually she lands up resolving the murder and finds peace. Letting her find peace stopped the series from moving forward. They did try sending her to the FBI and giving her a conspiracy to solve but they didn’t have the same oomph. Instead of getting rid of the character the network decided to cancel the show.

I guess what I’m saying is, even if you don’t have plans for a series leaving the door open and hinting at future dips in the road isn’t such a bad thing. It leaves the author and the characters places to go and grow.

Do you or your characters ever wonder if they’ll find peace?

Writing: Adding Inner Conflict

Last week I posted about writing conflict. And although I meant to include inner conflict, I proved to myself I know less than I thought. Enlightened, I decided to find out more.

All fleshed out characters have a longing or a need. Let’s define longing as a deep thinker-28741desire or wish that they’ve never acted upon. Their deep need is the awareness that something is missing, but they can’t identity what it might be. One or the other drives a character toward an inner goal.

Arc:

Within the character arc is where all the changes take place. For example, MC starts off selfish and works her way to being selfless. As with the story arc, we need tension and tension comes from what stops the character from achieving their goal.

Disney is a master at letting the audience know what the character longs for or needs. It doesn’t matter what they strive for. What does matter is going through the stages of trying, failing and trying again. Little by little the character earns their right to achieve their goal.

While there is doubt whether the dream will come true, Disney has never failed to give me a heartwarming ending.

Here are some possible obstacles:

vulnerability

  • Loving from a distance and reaching out
  • Trusting another character without reservation
  • Taking a chance like singing the lead

frog-47683Fear

Whether it’s a broken heart or a phobia, fear is stopping your character from achieving their goal, during their arc they need to get over it.

hard decisions

  • Brain vs Heart
  • Wrong and Legal vs Moral and Illegal
  • Living up to anothers expectations vs Doing what is right for them
  • Wants two things and can only have one. Example, boyfriend and husband.

In the end, all of us must make choices. Our characters are more human if they have choices too.

Anything I missed? Please feel free to add to the list. 🙂

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