Category Archives: characterization

What’s Your Why? A Guest Blog by Darlene Foster

 I found this fabulous article on Lynne Klippel’s Business Building Bookssite and just had to share it.

Written on October 13, 2011 by admin in Author Inspiration, Writing

Kathleen Ragan, a stay-at-home mother, loved reading stories to her young daughters. She took them to the local library every week to pick out fresh books and made story time an important part of every day.

Kathleen began to notice a disturbing trend. All the books she was reading featured male heroes. As she began to study childhood classics by Dr. Seuss, she noticed the only female characters were negative ones – lazy mothers, gossipy women, or colorless sisters who had no dialog. She then started to study fairy tales and other popular children’s books. There were few featuring girls who were brave, intelligent, or leaders. Instead, the books featured princesses who required rescuing, were evil step mothers, and were wicked witches.

These were not the role models Kathleen wanted for her daughters. She began an exhaustive search for folktales from around the world featuring female heroines. It took several years of exhaustive research including reviewing more than 30,000 stories.

This research led to her book Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters, published in 1998. The book features 100 stories from around the world with female heroines and are ideal for reading aloud to children.

Why is this story important to you?

Writing a book is a big job. It requires an investment of time, energy, and effort. In order to finish a book, you must have a passionate reason WHY you are writing that book. That passionate Why will pull you forward and give you the energy you need to complete your book.

Kathleen was passionate about providing inspiring stories for her daughters. Her passion propelled her to do whatever it took to create her book and share it with the world.

What about you?

Use these questions to measure your passion for your current writing project:
1.Do you enjoy learning about the topic of your book?
2.When you have extra time, does it feel like a treat to work on your book?
3.When you share your book idea with others, do you feel excited and exhilarated?
4.Have you clearly identified WHY you are writing this book?

If you notice that you are not feeling passionate about your book, don’t give up right away. You have two options. You can decide to select another topic which feels more exciting. Or, you can make your current topic more enjoyable to write by adding stories, fresh research, or taking a bolder stand.

One of the quickest ways to increase your passion for your book is to have some conversations with your ideal readers. Discover their needs and determine how your book can serve them. Reconnect with your passionate heart for helping others and you’ll find you’ve

Darlene Foster is a Self-employed writer from Delta BritishColumbia. In her words:

“I am a writer, traveler, and dreamer. I am lucky to have a great family and wonderful friends. I believe “a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet.”

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WRITING A PREQUEL – SHOULD I OR SHOULDN’T I?

WHY, OH WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO WRITE A PREQUEL AND WHY IS HOLLYWOOD NOW LOOKING FOR COMPELLING PREQUELS?

Prequels have been dealt a bad hand. For many writers, they are considered taboo – bad luck, the death of your series; other writers calmly advise avoiding them when possible. So what’s the “plague of the prequel” all about? For one thing, they can be boring filler if we are not careful; who wants to read something that is just background fluff about our characters? Prequels can throw our entire published series off track; if the actions of the characters don’t lead them to the path they are on at the beginning of our already published novel, then the already existing novel won’t make any sense. Prequels can render our already established characters unbelievable. Now that I have completely discouraged the writing of prequels, here’s a good reason to write one: the readers want one; they want to know what happened before our novel took place. Our readers are curious as to WHY our main character behaves the way s/he does; they want to know more about her/him; where s/he came from; who s/he is; what her/his life was like before the book they just read. If our characters are compelling enough and we are very, very careful, we can create a prequel that will knock our readers’ socks off.  So how careful should we be and what should we be so careful of?

USE THE FORCE, BUT DON’T FORCE IT

Since hearing from my readers that they want to know more about my characters lives before my first novel, Webs of Power, I felt compelled to write a prequel; but I was also determined to avoid dumping a boatload of back-story on them. I wanted to know all the pros and cons of writing a prequel so I did a little research online.  I have never read so much about Star Wars in my life! It seems the inconsistencies in the back-story are a huge disappointment to the fans; apparently Star Wars fans are extremely knowledgeable about the characters in the series and the inconsistencies they found in the characters and in the stories of the three prequels are a huge source of distress and complaint. Now granted, I am talking about a movie here, but the issues movie prequels face are closely related to the issues book prequels face:

  1. The sequence of events must logically lead from the prequel to the established story and must be consistent with the already established story
  2. The characters must stay true to who they are to become
  3. The audience already knows where the character is going to end up, so the prequel not only needs to lead to this path, it has to make the journey interesting in itself

I want to address each of these issues separately, so the next several blogs will deal with the issues of writing a prequel as I see them.

 

What do you see as the problem with prequels?

 

Plot vs. Character: Which is the main course of your novel?

Can you carry a story with a strong plot if your characters are weak and two-dimensional? Can you have a publishable book with strong, three-dimensional characters but no plot? There are those authors who swear that the plot is what drives their book and there are those who swear it is the characters they so lovingly crafted. It seems to be a case of which came first – the chicken or the egg? Which is more important to your novel – the plot or the characters?

Crafting a well paced plot is a matter of art. Anyone can get a character from point A to point B, by having them walk down a street. A skillful author will have them walk with a purpose; amble about aimlessly; saunter into a room; slither down a hallway; race toward a goal, run from disaster, and so on. Plot is the action of the story, true, but it is more than that as well. It is the motivation for the character’s behavior. It is the reason this character came into being in the first place. There is a problem, a conflict that needs to be resolved. Enter the character who not only has this problem/conflict, but who is also the only one who can solve this conflict and do it in a way that entertains the reader and draws the reader into the story. Without the plot, you have a great, 3 dimensional character who is sitting around twiddling his thumbs…well, no, not twiddling his thumbs because that would be a plot – you would have a bored character; what is his motivation for being where he is? Why doesn’t he get up and do something? What could he be waiting for? Do you see where I’m going here? The plot may well be the action of the story, but without a character for the reader to care about and invest emotion in, there is no one to spring to action; no one to sit still and be bored; no one for the reader to wonder about. Try telling a story without a single, believable character and I guarantee you won’t get far. So are the characters the meat and potatoes of the novel?

We’ve talked before about creating 3 dimensional characters. They need to have a personality, motivation, background information, and so on and so on. But, what is the one, single, most important aspect of a character if your novel is going to work? They need to have a problem, an inciting incident, a call to action. They need to grow in some way, learn some lesson, solve a conflict, overcome an issue or something to that effect. If your character is truly 3 dimensional, there will be something he or she wants; some intrinsic conflict that needs to be solved that the reader will care enough about to stick around and find out how the character solves it. That conflict is the driving force of your plot! If you take a character who has nothing to learn, no way to grow and nothing to do, then you have a book about a perfect person (already unbelievable) who is just sitting there staring at a wall.

In his book “Hooked” Les Edgerton talks about the beginning of a story; how the first scene in a novel should be an inciting incident that happens to the protagonist. He says:

“…the inciting incident is the event that creates the character’s initial surface problem and introduces the first inklings of the story-worthy problem. In essence, this is the “action” part of the story, the part that is plot-based. This happens to the protagonist, then he does this to resolve it, then this and so on.”

In other words, the beginning of the story may be plot-based, but if there is no one for the plot to be about, then there is nowhere for the plot to go. There has to be somebody there to take action to resolve the story-worthy problem. So the question is, are the plot and the characters equally important? If there are no characters, then there is no problem to be solved, no one for the inciting incident to happen to, no antagonist to block the way. But, if there is no inciting incident, then the story goes nowhere. There is no action; there is nothing for the characters to do. So which is more important? In my opinion, the characters drive the plot; if the characters are not three-dimensional and believable enough for the reader to invest emotion in them, then the plot will be thin because no one will believe the actions of the characters. The reader needs to invest emotion in the character, be it love or hate; they need to care what happens to the character in order for your novel to keep their attention enough for them to read it through to the end. So what’s more important to you when you write, the plot or the characters?

Flesh and Blood from Pen and Paper

Every story needs characters; whether your characters are people, animals or inanimate objects (think Disney’s Cars), it takes believable characters to drive a story. A story may be plot-driven, but without 3 dimensional characters, the plot will fail. Who wants to listen to the woes of a flat, unbelievable heroine? Who’s going to turn the page to find out what happens to a character they can’t believe in, one who they don’t care about? The key to a good story is to get your readers to really care about what happens to your main characters, to believe on some level that they really exist and what happens to them matters. It is what will keep your readers coming back for more. How many people finished reading the first Harry Potter and needed to know what happened to Harry and his friends next? It wasn’t a want; they actually felt they needed to know. So how do you create flesh and blood out of paper and pen? For me, the first step is to have a story in mind that I want to tell and then populating it with characters. In order to create a believable character I have to get to know him or her. Some authors have conversations with their characters, playing both parts in their imaginations. Some authors have a formal interview with their characters. There is a quick and easy interview to start with at http://hubpages.com/hub/The-Character-Interview-as-a-Writing-Tool. Not everything that your character tells you will actually make it into the story; a lot of it will be back-story or motivation. One important thing to note here is that this system requires us to free write, to just let go and let the character’s personality take over, to not second guess or edit or even think consciously about what would sound better. The character needs to take over in order for us to know why they do what they do; why they act a certain way. We need to get into their heads, so they will get into ours. Finding out a character’s background will help us know what he or she likes and dislikes. It’s important to figure out how they grew up, what their challenges in life are, what drives them, what their goals and ambitions are. Again, a lot of this won’t actually end up being written into the story, but to make them believable we need to know how they would behave. Readers tend to be turned off to a character who behaves in a way that the reader sees as “uncharacteristic” of them. We wouldn’t have someone who loves dogs kick a dog out of his way; that would be uncharacteristic of him and the reader would lose faith in that character. I find that if I loosely base my characters on people I know or composites of characteristics of people I know, they tend to be more believable. I find things that I dislike about people and things that I like about people I know and combine them into a certain character. This is one of the reasons I call the stories I write “faction” not “fiction”; my stories are based on factual events that I have fictionalized and populated with my own characters, who are fictionalized versions of people I know, or composites of several people combined into one character. That’s what works for me. What works for you?