Fiction Writing: Top Character Creation

This is the second installment in my Fiction Writing Series and it’s all about characters.

“He’s such a character.” A phrase people say to endear a quirky action by someone they like, and a wonderful way to understand what to include in our fictional characters. Readers need those attributes to inspire a fondness for the overall story, like the ugly duckling who turns into a swan. Many times when a reader anticipates the next scene he or she will skip the description and move to the dialog. The setting can wait while we find out what happens to the character.

Step Two:

SwanCharacter Development

A book reviewer, who references the fictional character as if he or she is a real person, gives the biggest complement to an author. The author made the writing decisions, but the reader attributes those decisions to the character, and it shows how well-developed they are.

As writers we should look to other authors as motivation for those times the writing gets hard. We need to remember they are normal people just like us who struggled with their writing as well. I like to read or watch author interviews as a reminder and it seems to help me move forward with more confidence.

Reading is another great way to see what works in a character and why people love or hate them enough to recommend the book to other people.

Answer this question first:

What are your characters?

In most cases the answer is human, but there are other choices in fiction writing.

  • Human
  • Witch/Wizard
  • Mythological character
  • Werewolf
  • Space alien
  • Vampire
  • New unique creature

Once you decide it becomes easier to decide their characteristics. For the non-human characters develop a list of characteristics that differ from humans. Their speech patterns, the way they walk, their interactions, and anything else you can think of to make them real.

Next, answer this question:

Who are they?

Each character will be identified by their everyday lives. An interesting plot puts some disruption into their normal routine and takes them forward into the story. Decide what each character does. Are they in school, or police officers, thieves, painters, ranchers, businessmen, fire fighters, serial killers, or any other profession you can image?

Once you know what they do every day it’s easier to keep track of their interactions with others, their speech patterns, and for world building.

Then, answer this question:

Where do they come from?

A wealthy character will react differently than an orphan. Someone who just went through a loss acts different from someone with no major losses. Every unique culture has differentiating opinions, taboos, norms, and motivations. The knowledge of a character’s background gives a writer what they need to make big decisions in a story.

Not every character needs a ton of details, but the main characters need that extra development. Also, when you have uncertainty about the actions or dialog you can go back to the background to make those choices.

Finally, answer this question:

What are the specifics?

This is where you decide the gender and names of your characters. With gender you have two options. However, the name choices are extensive. The internet and resource books make it a lot easier. You can go to baby name websites and search for definitions, first letters, nationality, or other criteria that will help you decide.character meme

The one rule to remember in choosing a name: unique names are more difficult for readers to keep track of and remember. The more common or short the name the more likely the reader can relate to them and recall it when they review the book or tell friends about it.

In order to decide how your character will react in many situations you could fill out personality quizzes and answer the questions as your characters. Tons of websites offer quizzes from Facebook to teen magazines. Other avenues for questions are media interviews, Reddit’s AMA (ask me anything) with celebrities, or twitter ask hash tags. Just take the questions and answer from your character’s perspective.

Of course, the best way to develop a character is to incorporate personality traits from people you know. The exact replica isn’t necessary, but if you know how someone will react in life then you can decide how your character will respond in your story.

What are the best ways to develop interesting characters? Is it important to know about the character before you begin writing? How do you tackle this process?

I would love to discuss with you about this and I love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading my blog.
A.G. Zalens

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NaNoWriMo—Training Lean, Mean, Writing Machines

Kristen Lamb's Blog

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Yesterday Jami posted about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and I really hope you guys take her class because she is truly a gifted teacher. Today, I want to talk a little bit about what writers (especially new writers) can gain from NaNo.

NaNo Teaches Endurance 

I remember years ago thinking, “Wow, if I could just write a thousand words a day, that would be AMAZING.” When I looked at professional authors, it was like watching a marathon runner—all the while knowing I couldn’t run a flight of stairs without requiring oxygen and possibly a defibrillator to restart my heart. I so struggled to get words on a page, and Lord help me if I saw something shiny.

Of course, after years of practiced discipline, I generally have a thousand words written by breakfast. When I fast-draft (which I do for all my books), my average is abnormally…

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Fiction Writing: Prepare Before You Start

Writing a fiction novel is doing something fun and creative, which fulfills the advice to do what you love. Yet, the storms come when a writer starts a novel without the necessary background in place.

This gave me the idea to blog about what I’ve learned during my journey to write a novel and I’ll spread out the steps and how to incorporate them over several posts.

My first step started with the concept.

Every minute spent on the prep and outline of my novel supported me during the process. I developed a complete concept and plot, and I managed the story to the end.

Step One:

CloudsDecide Your Overall Concept

Years ago, my first attempt at writing a novel centered on two characters perfect for story building. After a lot of notes and careful character description, I wrote the first pages. A few hundred words later, I stopped. All the big decisions wrecked my momentum. I never plotted the story and the writing stalled.

To avoid my mistake make certain to craft a concept, which will move the characters to the story’s end.

Answer this question first:

What type of genre will keep me interested while writing thousands of words?

The books we love to read come to our minds. However, a historical suspense, though fun to read, involves a lot of research and strategy. Those who love to read, study, and search history may choose this genre, but if that doesn’t describe you then you might pick a genre you want to research.

Many lists of genres exist ( Book Genres from The Guardian) and you can pick something general or specific. It depends on your approach to the story. A plot that includes the paranormal may need room to evolve and bring in other concepts and creatures. Stories based on a real situation may benefit from a specific genre to keep it on track.

Next, answer this question:

Where and when do I want my characters to live?

Look back at the last question and decide what place you want to research. The place and time you’re willing and eager to devote time and effort on fact-finding.

A town, city, farm, outer space, new universe, new planet, anything you can describe and use to give your characters somewhere to live, visit, or explore. The past, present, or future gives the story something to describe and bring substance to the characters and their journey.

Then answer this question:

What is the purpose of telling this story?

If your story has no purpose than the readers will wonder why they spent so much time reading it. At the end the conclusion should resolve something in the story.

An emotional reaction at the finish gratifies the reader, allows them to find closure in the story, and anticipate the next book. Any novel, which stops with loose-ends and a “to be continued” better conclude at least one main aspect of the story. A hook for the next book in a series only works after the plot’s resolution.

What is your process before you write the first word of a story? Do you have any advice for those who struggle with this?

The next section is character development, and I will write out the way I developed my characters in the next installment blog post.

I hope you enjoyed my post and look forward to talking with you!

Thanks for visiting my blog,

A.G. Zalens

These 4 Popular Writing Techniques Baffle Me

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A new popular book, praise of the highest quality, amazing cover, compelling synopsis, and a short time to read. I start and realize the style doesn’t appeal to me. Disappointed, I try to read it, but usually abandon it before I finish.

Others love, love, love these stories and the authors have reached the perfect audience. I just don’t qualify and I wondered what aspects lost my attention.

I’ve narrowed it down to four styles that I tend to stay away from.

One Drama Packed POV with Little Action

I enjoy teenage angst in stories; it validates those awkward and emotional years. However, at some point the validation becomes excessive, and turns from “I know that feeling!” to “Make it stop!” A small portion of rich angst flavors the whole story, any more chips away at its beauty.

For me, a story coated with drama feels like my best-friend has taken over my mind for several days. Even though I anticipate the time with her, I’d rather not hear her every thought summed up in 100k words or less.

Another POV introduced into the book breaks up the internal voice and adds a new viewpoint. Especially when it’s from the perspective females worry over the most. The guy.

For example the girl might think this: He’s mad at me. I know it. He walked in, saw me, nodded, and kept talking on his phone. He only does that when he’s mad.

And then the next scene we get the guy’s perspective: Oh, there she is, I wish I could talk to her. At least I get to look at her cute dimpled smile while I finish convincing this difficult jerk to take back his crappy product.

Multi-POV, it’s the way to go.

Stylized and Figurative Language

You know, the books overwhelmed with metaphors, similes, accents, or stutters. In sporadic intervals this language brings a new angle and intrigue. The overuse becomes so predictable I can foresee the next metaphor before it pops into the text.

I understand the desire to include them, that transition to creative mode, clichés rejected, perfect comparisons found, and satisfaction of a show well done. However, every scene should include more dialog, internal voice, and action than metaphors, similes, and accents.

It’s perfect for back-story or short chapters of an alternate POV, but an entire book without a change is less like Shakespeare and more like a stuffy neighbor showing off.

Romance For No Reason

It’s possible for intended romance to lack romance; if the book is a romance than that’s a problem. All other books can do without the romance, especially if it doesn’t work out. The reader knows when it’s forced. I would rather its exclusion than its confusion.

Several issues with romance includes: the characters don’t know each other, no dialog has taken place between them, their dialog is always negative or disrespectful, it happens too fast, no redeeming qualities are present in one or both characters, or there is no evidence given that the characters actually like each other.

Romance requires a lot of care, preparation, and development. Anyone who writes romance should read at least ten romance novels before they include it. Knowing love doesn’t always transition to writing amazing romance.

History For The Sake of History

I know people enjoy their historical fiction. If the story takes place in Paris, readers expect abundant details. If the year is 1969, then Woodstock, hippies, long straight hair, and peace should appear somewhere in the story.

However, when the book’s theme doesn’t relate to the age, events, or structure of a building, it probably shouldn’t be included. Any past war that is irrelevant to the modern-day story should be brief in description, if described at all.

Just because the main character is reading a historical book about birds, it isn’t necessary to include a five-page quote from the book, unless your book is about birds. No matter how beautiful the text, the history of birds doesn’t belong in a science fiction fantasy romance.

Short descriptive and quick transitions move me through the story. The irrelevant history stalls it and I skim those parts. Any book that isn’t a historical fiction should exclude multi-chapter history lessons, unless it’s of a new world and the history provides substance.

What styles have turned you from a book? Are they popular or a rarity?

I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading my blog!
A.G. Zalens

5 Worthy Tips for Effective Editing

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My definition of editing: read through a paragraph, re-write, read out loud, approve, move on, find self-editing source, reread paragraph, see a problem, re-write, approve, move on, and repeat.

I misjudge the time frame for editing my book, by quite a lot. Yet, I’ve learned that strong writing is required for progression, so it will turn out best for me later on.

Since my brain has run on words and their appropriate order for a while, I thought I would share some things I’ve learned.

1. Clean sentences move the story forward.

Most often people advise to shorten sentences. However, I find it more helpful to say clean your sentences. A clean straightforward sentence gives all the information while using strong independent stand-alone words. This can be achieved with both short and long sentences.

For example:

Jenny is so happy to be running down the street with the crisp warm sun beating down on her heard and all of the other runners keeping pace beside her.

The sentence gives pertinent information, but several words muddy the point. Trimming words moves the reader along faster and makes the point sooner.

I might change it to:

Jenny ran beside her competitors, a smile stretched her lips, her eyes squinted, head down, shielded from the warm determined sun.

It isn’t much shorter, but it gives the same information in a more concise manner that shows the action.

2. Reduce metaphors and similes

I read a book once that had so many metaphors and similes I wanted to trash it instead of finish it. After multiple metaphor riddled paragraphs, I figured the purpose could only be to up the word count, because they didn’t enhance the story.

Metaphors should be used to clarify unusual experiences most people can’t relate to, or to make something more specific.

3. Overused words

Here are a few such words: literally, pretty, interesting, beautiful, ridiculous, awesome, great, good, seriously, nice, like, and feel.

I’ve included every single one in my writing, which has tacked on time and effort in this editing phase. These words are useful placeholders, but they are vague words most readers pass over. Words that can mean something different to every person won’t express the character’s experience. However, they do make for more authentic dialog when used sparingly.

4. Telling words and phrases

Some include: start/began, knew, could see, the sound of, heard, felt, and realize.

It’s better to state the action instead of telling about the action.

For example:

Brook started to walk when she heard the sound of a car, and she realized it might hit her.

It’s more dramatic to cut the telling words.

A car’s engine roared. Brook sprinted toward the building. Her feet hit the curb, as a forceful wind passed behind her. The car tire’s squealed to a stop.

5. Redundancies

Most redundancies are common words and phrases, so they’re difficult to spot.

A short list includes: stand up, sit down, lay flat, jump up, turn over, end result, enter in, and repeat again.

Once we cut the redundancies, our sentences are cleaner and more efficient.

I hope my list has helped. I would love to read your comments and thoughts about your editing experiences.

Thanks for reading my blog!
A.G. Zalens