Tag Archives: Contasts are Good

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. 🙂

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Writing: Conflict

Within and Without?

In all stories there are two kinds of conflict. The inner conflict each character battles with as they face their day to day business, and the outer conflict the characters act out as the story escalates to its inevitable end.

how it works?

Conflict on the page transforms into rising tension within the reader.

Let’s look at a simple example:

The main character aka MC has a severe allergy to cats, and everyone knows she avoids them at all costs. Let’s also say she accidentally runs over one outside her home when she parks her car. Doing the right thing she rushes it to the vet. He can’t save it and she lands up using her rent money to pay the bill.

MC’s roommate aka RM loves cats and has a rescued cat hidden in her bedroom. She has been trying to get the nerve up to tell MC about her new adopted bestie.

When MC gets home and confesses she spent her rent money trying to save a cat, RM won’t believe it. Everyone knows MC hates cats. Probably ran it over on purpose. MC denies it. Here comes RM big chance to tell MC about the cat hidden in RM’s bedroom. But when she goes to get it, it’s gone.

flora-312815_1280bCan you guess where it is?

Conflict is based on relationships

All three characters are interrelated. What happens to one affects the rest—inside and out.

What do you do to bump it up? Any tricks you’d care to share.

One Character and 5 Possible Arcs

What is a character arc?

Simply, things happen, people change, and so do fictional characters.
As writers we throw things in our character’s way. Sometime it’s a mirror. They face themselves, revealing warts and all, which brings on a change. Or if we really, really like them we can throw a inciting incident at them and they can start an adventure.

Hero or villain, they drag the rest of the characters along with them. Arcs running amok.

Is there time for change?

How much does a person change over an hour, a day, a weekend? If they spend a weekend watching movies, it won’t be much. If they spend an hour running for their lives… Well, no doubt they’ll change a little, learn a new skill or two, and become stronger for it. Arcs should be gradual, natural and depend on the circumstances.

And the circumstances prompt growth.children boy-34124_1280

No one is perfect and we know it. Our characters struggle with this too. Some want to be married and can’t attract a partner. Some wish for more and don’t do diddly about it. Some just want the same things everyone else has, approaching it like no other because they don’t know what the heck they’re doing. Some just want to deliver pizza and land up saving the world. All this growth can be entertaining.

How do the characters feel about it?

Conflicted. Upset. It’s not like they set out to change. It happens as a consequence of what we sling at them. They discover who they are and what they are capable of doing. It’s their personal journey. At one extreme hate changes to love, prejudice to tolerance, and cowardice to bravery. The other is a mild mannered reporter pizza guy saving Lois the world.

stick-figure-297443_1280But here’s the thing. Not just heroes should have an arc.

I’m not saying the pizza guy that appears on page 12 should have pages and pages of notes Nope, that’s taking it too far, but if he is a reoccurring character you’ll want him to be more than a stick figure. Let’s just say, the more important the character the more defined the arc should be.

Some arcs to consider:

1. Day and Knight—pizza delivery guy changes to a completely new person. As a hero, he buys cape, mask, tights dedicates time to his six-pack.

2. Grows Up—pizza guy grows a facial hair. Working so hard he buys out owner. He may still be pizza guy, but now he’s new and improved pizza guy.

3. Change Up—pizza guy quits his job and become deli guy. Adding the two skill sets, he thinks he’s more informed, more skilled, new and improved, but he’s not. He’s basically the same guy in a new hat.

4. Day and Black Knight—pizza guy decides pizza is for suckers, quits and man-295495_1280buys doughnut shop. He takes over the block destroying all pizza parlors everywhere. Needing a new image, he buys a latte and a white cat with diamond collar. Unfortunately they both become very fat and  resort to online dating.

5. Happy Days—he’s really the pizzeria owner. To encourages others through example, he works as a pizza guy. Young people everywhere worship the ground he walks on becoming the best darn pizza guys ever. Satisfied with his success, he tips his hat back off his brow, tucks his thumbs under his suspenders, smiles proudly.

‘Nuff said. What about you? Anything you’d like to add?

Characterization: Tagging

Each person we meet is very different, even if at first they fall under an umbrella like lawyer, brunette, or teen. As writers we can use this to our advantage. But in our case, tag-35797_1280we want each character as different as possible.

One way to keep them sorted is to add tags.

Names must never start with the same letter or sound similar. The more different they are the better. If you can chose one with heritage undertones or deeper meanings, it’s all to the good.

Appearance—it’s the differences between the cast members that make each player stand out. So if everyone has brown eyes but one, she’ll be the tagged with blue eyes, ignoring the rest. Another may have a dimple, a limp, or a crooked smile. There’s more. What about—scuffed boots, torn jeans, creases as sharp as a blade, skin scrubbed pink, scruff—these hint at a characters very nature.

Voice—is as much about what they think as what they say. Like all of us, their words may have a deeper meaning than what comes out of their mouth. Their thoughts and body language might contradict what they say. For example if they lie constantly, let them think the truth and speak the lie. Let the contradictions flow, favorite sayings flourish, impatient interruptions break free.

Behavior

o External movement–in one case it could be the stance, always at attention. Where another could be the constant tick above their left eye. Incorporate mannerisms when using stage direction to indicate who they are without outright saying it.

o Internal Movement—includes inner thoughts, visceral reactions. How a character feels is not always how they interact. It might be a shock to see an old girlfriend in wheelchair when she used to be a tennis pro. The raw emotions fight to get out as they politely chat. Because we can slow time down to a crawl, we can let the reader in on the character’s inner thoughts. Let them witness him working out how to bring up the chair, then eventually changing his mind. It hurts to much. He doesn’t want to know.

When a character is confronted by an action, they will respond expecting a specific result. Give them core qualities that lead them to unique actions/reactions. Not all people respond the same way. It’s usually the odd man out that will bump up the tension.

Body Language—Keep in mind when using stage direction that much can be said without the character speaking a word. How they stand, sway, fold their arms people-220284_1280can say it all.

Hopefully this will give you some ideas on how to make your characters not only unique but easy to keep track of. Play with it. If you have other suggestions please share. I love to read your thoughts.

 

**Most info gleaned from: Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain.

Think You Need Therapy? So Do Most Main Characters.

Last time I brought up building character we talked about baggage and what it does for our cast of players. The funny thing is that like us some of them should get some help. The most eccentric characters can be the most fun. I’m not saying that all characters have to be completely mad, but a fear of spiders, being disgusted when their hair gets messed or a guest not using a coaster does add flavor.

The most well rounded, stable and what we used to call normal people are not the best choice for a main character. They are much too middle of the road to be entertaining, unless you throw a cream pie at them. Well, that’s always funny.

But seriously, normal people have a place in the supporting cast–shoulder to cry on, sage with wise advice, etc. They cope too easily with misfortune, and don’t have an emotional range that an entertaining story requires. Staying in character is a must, so normal doesn’t just throw a hissy fit when it suits the writer. Big no-no that.

Characters can bring humor to a tale, but the darker the problems they carry with them the darker the story can become which leads to the decision making process.

After you decide if your story will be a light read or psychological thriller, you’ll decide on the cast of characters you’ll need to bring it to life. This is also where plot and characterization snowball and evolve together. Here is when I make a general outline–mostly of plot points, and decide on how the characters will interact with each other and the future events.

What I try to do: I imagine a group of people trying to attain personal goals while events beyond their control take place. I already know that some characters will have agendas that have nothing to do with the story. For this example I’ll use a murder mystery because the lines are pretty clear as to what the story goal is. “A” is trying to find the killer. “B” is trying to get away with murder. “C” thinks he knows whodunit and wants lots and lots of money to keep quiet. “D” just wanted to have a nice dinner and is very upset that “E”, the victim, died at the biggest event of the season–not that she liked him very much anyway. If you put everyone in one room, there will be a heck of a show. Other cast members are there too. Some stand back. Some try to stop the arguments. Some just want to get out of there.

Since we are looking for conflict and tension I think we’ll have that. In fact, I strongly suspect that “D” might kill “B” for ruining her party.

Using baggage, and slightly off balanced characters can add flavor to your plot. So don’t let your main characters get any psychological help until after the writing is done. Slowly becoming “normal” can be part of your character’s arc.

What are some of your favorite characters? Do any of them need therapy or do you love them as is? 🙂