Tag Archives: Characters

Toolbox 11: 5 Things to Include When Building Characters

This post was written for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop where we share our new discoveries on the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, and blogging tips. Posted every third Wednesday of the month. For rules and sign-up click here.

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Someone made a comment about my method of description. It got me thinking about what I do and why I do it.

It starts with tagging

Many of you know I outline and when I’m getting the ideas down, none of my characters have names. Just as in a logline, my characters are: 16 yo misfit, honest cop, alien cop, vic, ex-girlfriend, obvious enemy, best friend. I use place holders for each character I need.

I outline the now and the history, giving most characters a common background. I’ve discussed before how a shared history can bump up the drama and motivations between all the characters. It may seem like work but once the history is in place, the rest takes care of itself.

appearance is about climate, lifestyle and how they thrive

A character’s appearance can be chosen by weather, time for hygiene, what they eat/drink. I have a cop in my latest WIP and he works hard—sometimes too hard—so he’s not clean shaven, his shirt has stains of sweat, fast food and coffee. It doesn’t bother him because he’s too focused on what he needs to do next. He lives in the Pacific Northwest and because it rains a lot, he wears a fedora and a trench coat. For the record, he’d never make it as Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe.

Tags must be unique to each character

The trick is give each character individual traits. All of them can have brown eyes but one. All of them can be dark haired but one. All medium build but one.

For example, my cop is the only character with thinning mousy hair, blue eyes, trench coat, and fedora. He may share other features with the rest but I don’t focus on them.

How they say it

My cop uses a brutally honest manner without an internal editor. He thinks he’s a people person as he storms around invading pretty much everyone’s personal space.

Early in the story he’s given a secret that he has some major trouble keeping. If it wasn’t for his partner, he’d have blabbed right away.

not actions but reactions

I tag his emotions (reactions) with specific actions. He pokes a finger in faces when he’s angry, expels breath like steam when he’s trying to maintain control and blinks surprise when others don’t see him as the person he thinks he is.

Who wouldn’t love a forthright, honest man, who would do anything to protect the innocent.

When he puts it that way he sounds great… but is he? Most see a loud mouth cop, who thrives on conflict.

(freebie) Characters bloom a little more with each revision

Every time I go through my WIP everyone becomes more unique and assertive. Feedback–thanks everyone–has helped make each character their own person.

What about you? Any tricks to characterization you’d like to share?

Update: still nothing from Nelson PD. I plan to phone and see what I can glean from the assistant that passed on my request. Feeling all shy again. *sigh*

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Writers: Can You Make Fear Work For You?

We all know, the greater the emotion, the more we feel alive. It may start deep down, but as the emotion builds, it’s near impossible to ignore. I chose the emotion fear because it’s the easiest to relate to. Everyone has been afraid at least once.

Why drag you down this rabbit hole?rabbit-1

The writer’s job is to tell a story and to evoke emotion. If done just right, the story becomes larger than life and the reader has a great experience. Amazingly enough, some readers, me, want to be frightened. Even if it’s from the safety of their bed. They read horrors and hear every bump in the night. hehehe

Using fear, let’s open a window

Think back to the worst thing that ever happened to you. Imagine it and let that moment become intense. If you’re having trouble, try one of these examples:

  • you’re in a dark room and something uninvited is there with you
  • you wake up trapped in a coffin
  • alone in the wilderness and you’re being stalked by a hungry animal
  • you realize you’ve infected your family with a deadly disease
  • your doctor tells you, you’re going insane

After a moment or two, offer yourself a possible escape. Hold on to those feelings and align them with what your character faces when their story begins and their stakes if they fail.

Stakes and Suspense

Anyone can build suspends as long as they understand where the fear-1940184_1280character’s fear originates and then let it increase a degree at a time.  The more they hope for success; the more they may lose. If they have a natural deadline, the more they’ll push. The more they push; the more likely they’ll make a mistake and lose ground, increasing the stakes.

Do you have other techniques to enhance emotion and raise the stakes?