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In 1757, in Poor
Richard's Almanac, the wise and astute Benjamin
Franklin wrote: "Little strokes fell great oaks."
Important message tow writers in that saying, because it
is through incorporating little strokes (details) that
writers create and develop unforgettable characters.
Little strokes turn stick-characters into real people.
What do I
have to say that I want others to hear?
And do I feel
Little Strokes = details. Concrete, vivid, easily
identifiable character traits.
Oaks = readers. Those folks we must convince that this
product of our imagination (our book) will transport them
from reading words on a page to becoming an active
participant in the story. Writers negotiate readers into
a willingness to suspend disbelief.
Now everyone recognizes everything is negotiable and that
there's an art to negotiating. This is valuable insight
to the writer because negotiating is exactly what writers
do when developing all novel elements. A major portion of
learning the art of negotiating is in recognizing that
the old saying is true--you might cut the deal but the
devil is in the details. We've all heard that a million
times. What we haven't heard that is of particular
interest to us, as writers, is to acknowledge that, yes,
the devil is in the details, but so are the angelic gems.
What do I mean--we negotiate a novel?
Exactly that. As writers, we begin a project in vastly
different ways. Our creative processes are different.
Some of us start with an idea. Some with a character.
Some with an event--a plot. Some, and I tend to fall into
this category, develop plot and character simultaneously
with the setting.
There is no right or wrong way, only diverse ways, and
whatever creative process works for you is right.
Remember, it is in our diversity that we writers find our
strengths and enhance them.
So our methodology isn't important. What is vitally
important is that regardless of how we approach writing a
book, at the end, we have a book. That means we have
negotiated every element in it. At some time, in some
way, we have had to answer hard questions.
When starting a new project, the first question a writer
should ask themselves, in my humble opinion, pertains
more to the writer than to the book:
Questions the writer should ask him/herself:
passionately enough about this character,
or plot, or setting, or this issue
to invest months of my time and
energy--my life--in bringing this book to
If not, then why bother writing it? Why
set yourself up for failure?
Because to invest in any project you
don't love and see value in and believe
to the depths of your soul that having
made these choices and written this
book harmonizes with the writer's own
If you, the writer and human being, love
the book, see value it, and feel it
is in harmony with you, great. Press on.
If not, don't invest. Your time
is too valuable to waste.
should then ask themselves about the book:
In the whole
world, who is the best possible person to
say what I have to
say and want others to hear? Why is this
person the best? What motivates
him or her? What does s/he risk in
tackling the challenges of reaching the
story goals? Is this risk, these
challenges, this story goal worthy of him
or her as a protagonist?
A character wants something. If no one,
or nothing stands in the way of
getting it, then you have no conflict, no
story. So the writer needs an
Who most wants to stop the protagonist,
and why? What motivates the villain?
What does s/he have at risk? Are the
actions s/he will take in this novel
worthy of a respectable villain? And are
both the protagonist and antagonist
likely to be found in this setting?
Let's get down to the core
of story people.
Story people emulate real people, though they are
actually just the creative genius of the writer who
develops them. Creating something or someone from nothing
and convincing others the creation is real IS creative
genius. And writers do this by incorporating those little
As writers, our key responsibility in the creation
process is to craft specific characters for specific
story roles. Every character has to grow and change by
the events encountered in the novel. Not as a reaction to
what happens--reactionary characters are victims--but as
a direct result of his or her choices made by
experiencing novel events. This is where the angelic gems
of simultaneous development of story people becomes
Think of the novel as a three-legged stool. Each leg
represents a specific novel element: character, plot, and
setting. If the character leg is short (underdeveloped
stick characters), then the stool wobbles. The stool
can't support much weight without tipping over.
By developing plot, character, and setting
simultaneously, you, the writer, keep the stool (the
novel) level. This strengthens the odds of saying what
you want to say that you want others to hear--(the
Novel elements should be so tightly connected and
interwoven with each other that to change one trait in
one story person, one plot event experienced by one story
person, or to alter one scene setting alters the course
of the novel and the character's destiny.
That sounds pretty daunting, doesn't it? Like a lofty,
but unrealistic goal?
It isn't, and it's not. Writers craft the perfect
character for the perfect plot and have it occur in the
perfect setting to express its theme all the time. More
often than not, by accident, not because they've analyzed
But to analyze the process strengthens our flexibility
and makes the process far less painful (read that: more
writing and less rewriting). All we must do is
negotiate--making choices--until we have credible,
logical, reasonable characters acting naturally.
Naturally for them, that is. This insures that the
character is capable of carrying his or her weight in his
or her assigned story role.
Because we write commercial fiction, we should
acknowledge specific facts:
1. Readers' most beloved characters are
ones they most strongly identify
with--people like them. Admirable people
who entertain them.
Writers should remember that readers' are
armchair adventurers who want to
explore interesting places, dynamic
events, and hard issues--but they want to
do it from the safety of their recliners.
Our characters give them the
opportunity. Story people aren't truly
like readers, but they are like the
people readers want to be. They're
admirable, heroic, logical. They have
common sense, worthy goals, and they are
tough opponents. Strong
qualities--and that goes for villains,
too. The main characters are all, in
a word, competent.
Competent characters can carry a lot of
weight--face more complex challenges
that are worthy of our admiration. We can
sum this gem up really quick.
When's the last time you admired a wimp?
Someone purely evil?
Purely evil is predictable, safe in that
the reader and the other characters
know EXACTLY what to expect from this
villain. But someone perceived as good
who commits evil acts is far more
realistic--and more frightening because
neither the reader nor the other
characters know what to expect from the
antagonist. What will s/he do? How down
and dirty will s/he get? Give your
villain redeeming qualities. Even a
psychotic sees himself as good and his
actions as just.
2. Readers expect story people to
confront obstacles. Remember: Conflict is
the spine of the story. They also expect
for those obstacles to not be a cake
walk. The story people have to struggle
or they're unworthy of a hero/heroine or
villain's time. Even when doing the wrong
thing, story people must be motivated for
the right reason.
Life can't be easy on your story people.
They must suffer, struggle, claw their
way through escalating obstacles with
escalating risks to attain their story
goals. And those goals have to be of
consequence. Like weak villains, no wimpy
aspirations for goals will do. Whatever
the character must tackle--not want or
need but MUST tackle--should be what
matters MOST to the character. Must carry
the highest possible risks to that story
person. And the odds of attaining that
goal have to be formidable and in doubt.
What all this means is that every person in your book
should be there for a specific reason, have a specific
task to perform, and by the end of the book, that
character changes in some way from who they were at the
beginning of the book. The change is character growth,
and through that growth, the reader knows the
consequences of the journey. Remember: nothing worth
having comes easily. And if the character--primary or
secondary--does not change, then they have not earned
their space in the novel, so eliminate them.
Years ago, a good friend, Deb Dixon, was fond of saying
"Kill every secondary
character in your book. If they refuse to die, then let
em live." Wise advice, because if you try to
kill the secondary characters and they refuse to die,
then that signals the writer that the character is
performing a specific story role and has earned his or
her space and place in your novel.
Has someone along the way in your writing career called
your story people, "cardboard characters?"
One-dimensional? Stick-people? Underdeveloped?
Stereotypical? If so, and you didn't deliberately intend
that they be, then you can see the benefit in refreshing
or revising your approach to character development.
Memorable characters are 3 Dimensional: physical,
emotional, and spiritual beings.
strokes or details that give the reader insights to all
three of these aspects, assures the writer that they are
well rounded and fully developed people. The characters
didn't just drop into this setting, this plot, in this
novel set with this style and tone by accident.
Everything about them--including their speech patterns,
the way they dress, their body language--tells the reader
who these story people are and proves they are both
universal and unique. To be unforgettable, a story person
must be both.
Universal traits are those most of us, as human beings,
identify with and feel empathetic toward, and are
typically tied to emotions. Not all of us have committed
murder. But all of us have experienced the desire to
commit murder. Let's look at an example.
We are the parents of a five-year old boy.
A pedophile, convicted and sentenced to prison on three
separate occasions for child molestation, has been
released under the Department of Corrections "Early
Release Program" due to overcrowded prison
conditions. Because of his record, we know he is not one
of the five percent of pedophiles who can be
Five hours after being released from prison the pedophile
molests a six-year old boy.
Now, how do you emotionally react to this news? Do you
understand the urge to murder him?
How do you think the parents' of the molester's fourth
victim feel toward the molester? Toward their son? Toward
the Dept. of Corrections for cutting him loose? Toward
the government for tying funding to crowding in prisons?
How do you think the parole board feels? The warden of
the prison? The guard who opened the gate, letting the
molester walk out of jail? The entire Dept. of
Corrections? The governor--for not blocking the release?
All these people, and many more--including their own
families? Can you imagine being the spouse of the warden,
the wife of the governor? The other parent? All the
frustration and rage--and disappointment at your spouse
for letting this happen. The child of one of those
parents? Can you imagine the guilt? The shame--spoken to
you by others, but also the worst kind: that unspoken but
seen in the eyes of someone you love?
These are core-level universal feelings. Emotional
reactions that many of us human beings share.
Not all of us have had the same experience in which the
character is currently engaged in our book, but we
understand what the character is feeling. We all can
associate love, hate, shame, embarrassment, humiliation,
fear, grief, and/or guilt. We understand the feelings
even if the event itself is alien to us. These are our
common bonds with most other human
beings. These are our universal traits.
Unique traits are those applicable to us. Convictions,
ethics, beliefs, social mores--all of those traits that
come as a result of our personal histories, backgrounds,
and experiences. Those traits that mold our unique
characters. Force us to take a stand, to see where on the
fence we sit. We choose what we emphasize in our
character, and that makes us unique.
Early on in life, we adopt the values and social
behaviors--our perceptions of the world we live
in--through our parents and/or influential people in our
lives. As we grow older, we pull out all those learned
things and we choose which ones to keep as our own, or we
revise them to fit ourselves and our convictions, or we
ditch them altogether and adopted new means we feel fit
us best. That's taking responsibility for ourselves.
That's being a grown up. Blending and shaping our unique,
individual traits. Choosing for ourselves.
Now, a little warning:
Do not craft or develop a perfect character. Perfect
people are incredibly boring. They're always right,
always do the right thing for the right reason, and we
can't measure up so we resent them. They make us see
things in ourselves we don't want to see. At times that
can be a good thing--new insights--but not when we view
only perfection. Perfect story people make us resent them
because, by all that's right and good, we try to be
really, really try--and we fall short every time.
That makes us human beings. Flaws are normal. Everyone's
got them. If your character is perfect, s/he is not a
credible human being. Not very interesting either.
On an entirely different topic, a dear friend named
Phyllis Rowan once said, "It takes a lot of heat to
temper steel." Well, it takes a lot of work to
temper people, too. We struggle and sacrifice and strive,
and we do things to be--in our own eyes--better than we
were before we did them. To get better, we first have to
be sick. Flaws are sickness. Since we all have them,
flaws are identifiable. And if they're tied to a
universal emotion, they're real. That makes the character
real and worth remembering.
Here's a simple formula
for creating an unforgettable character:
Find the character's Achilles' heel--their greatest
fear or weakness or vulnerability. That's the character's
internal conflict. Then stomp it. That's external
conflict in the book. The stomping is your plot.
Every character needs both--internal and external
conflict--to be a 3-D character. Flat characters we
cannot identify with, or get attached to, and we
certainly don't feel empathy with or for them.
Now how exactly do we determine all this stuff?
A method that works really well for me is the character
interview. (I use the one developed by Florida First
Coast Chapter RWA member, Kim Kozlowski.) Sit down and
pretend to be interviewing this character, but NOT as a
biographical journalist. As a close, close friend. You
are the character's confidant, s/he trusts you. Now, s/he
will open up and tell you his or her darkest secrets and
You listen to what the character tells you about him- or
herself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. About
their family, the most important person in their life,
their most embarrassing moment. Keep talking until you
know that character's every high and low, every triumph
and failure, from birth until right now. And listen
carefully to how the character describes him- or herself.
This gives you valuable information about his/her level
of self-esteem, self-respect, confidence.
Then ask a couple of other characters to give you a
thumbnail sketch of how they see this character you're
interviewing. Note the character's physical environment,
social status, economic status. Listen to how both talk.
What they say, and how they say it. This will give you
deep insight into the characters' story roles, and their
ability to execute them.
Note the emotional responses/reactions in the characters,
the impact of events on them. What do they feel
passionate about, fear, crave? Goals and aspirations and
dreams and wishes--and their belief in their own
abilities to acquire them. Which of these were passed on
by parents, influential people in their lives? Which have
been adopted by them as an adult choice?
Move on to the spiritual realm. I'm not referring to
religious beliefs, though that is part of what comprises
the spirituality of this character, I'm referring to
actual character traits. What matters most? Why? What
does this character believe in enough to die for? What is
his or her tolerance level for disagreements? If
confronted by person who shouts at the top of his lungs,
opposing what the character says, does the character
Walk away? Stand and say, "On this issue, we'll have
to agree to disagree" and then consider the topic
closed? What are his/her ethics, standards, convictions?
Does s/he believe in miracles? Ever experienced one? Ever
You get the idea. The important part is to invest some
time in exploring these story people and their individual
character. Know them better than you know your spouse, in
many cases, better than you know yourself. (You will,
because we find self-directed scrutiny uncomfortable. It
breaches our comfort zone, so we shun it.)
The more effort you put into to this discovery process
interviewing, the more sure-footed you are in actually
writing about this person. It doesn't mean your
characters won't surprise you. It means they will, and
those surprises will delight you and your readers. Why?
Because regardless of the surprise, it fits this person
to a T.
There's a simple explanation for why these surprises fit
the characters. When we focus intently on something, we
absorb tons of information. Sensory perceptions are
activated. Much of this info we consciously ignore. But
our subconscious ignores nothing. It absorbs everything
and forgets nothing. And it takes everything literally.
So our subconscious mixes it all up--every broad stroke,
every tiny detail we have absorbed--and then, when we're
on autopilot writing, the subconscious corrects little
conflicts and challenges that we consciously don't know
yet exists. It a sense, it fixes what's broken and spits
it out to us with all the kinks repaired.
Interview your characters, listen to what they have to
say, and the way they say it. This might sound crazy to
anyone other than writers, but the truth is, in exploring
and listening to the character discuss themselves, or
describe another character, you, the writer, develop a
bond of trust rooted in respect. That frees the character
to develop in a sense, to open up, and that gives you all
the little strokes you can imagine and then some to make
this story person real and living and breathing on the
page. It also gives you insights that drive the plot.
Those insights personalize this story to this person. If
any other character were the main character in it, the
story would be different.
The characters will tell you things you never expected.
Goals, motivations, internal and external
conflicts--their quirks. Profoundly interesting things
that intrigue you and fascinate the reader. And that, my
friend, is entertaining. Important, because the writer's
number one priority is to entertain the reader. Only
through entertaining them do you insure that they will
continue reading, thus have the opportunity to hear what
you have to say that you want the reader to hear.
No writer can ever forget that what makes a character
entertaining is also what makes that character
unforgettable: they are created from the inside out.
Where what matters most to the character is what is at
risk and tested to the max in the novel events.
Unforgettable characters endure a range of emotions, they
have opinions, attitudes, goals. They are passionate
about everything and indifferent to nothing.
- A hero never wimps
- A heroine never
- A villain never
The writer never wimps
Thats right. The
WRITER never wimps out. Often the temptation is there,
but the writer must fight it. S/he must not become frigid
because the story is treading too
deeply into places (fears, challenges, obstacles) the
writer doesn't want to go.
If you haven't visited the Writers' Aids Library and read
the article on Villains, you might consider it. The
stronger villains are the better. Weak, wimpy people
can't cause a lot of trouble. They aren't strong enough
to carry much weight. That means they don't have the
ability to overcome great odds. And the way that
translates in the book is they aren't much of a threat.
A weak villain requires little from a hero or heroine. So
if you create a weak villain, you're also making your
hero or heroine weak. You don't have to be clever or
courageous to beat the socks off a weakling, now do you?
But if your villain is strong. Logical, credible, smart
and competent and capable of inflicting enormous damage,
and well-motivated to inflict enormous damage, then your
hero or heroine has to be pretty damn sharp to best them.
That's heroic. Worthy of the name hero or heroine. They
deserve the honor of being called one. They've proven
they've earned the right.
Until now, we've really focused on universal qualities
that we all share as human beings--our commonalties. The
qualities we have--or wish we did and hope we do, if
we're ever confronted with the novel situation our
character is confronted with now. These are qualities
that touch our lives. Make us human. But what
specifically makes a character unforgettable?
What makes people individuals?
Their quirks. Those little strokes, or details, that make
us unique individuals. Those little things, sometimes
tiny things, that are always telling things about who we
are inside that gives deep insight to those who know us.
Now, let's take a look at an example of unique
We could do a
psychological profile, or interview anyone, but I'll use
myself as an example because revealing my darkest secrets
and fears is no big deal to me, but it
could be a huge deal to someone else. I don't care if I
look silly, so long as you learn something from it. Silly
is a price I'm glad to pay to give you insight.
Let's say, I'm the heroine in this book. The reader needs
a visual image of me so s/he can become a part of the
fictional dream. So, the writer describes her: She's got
a thick middle, dyes her hair red, and has blue-green
eyes that crinkle from a squint and a little sag in her
You, the reader, can visualize me, but what do you know
about me? Nothing.
You might assume I
overindulge in sweets and hate to exercise or that I
suffer from a glandular disease, but you don't know it.
You only know what the writer has told you, and so far
all the writer has given you is a photograph. Laverne
Brigman, hands down the best critical analyst of creative
writing in the world, puts that photographic description
into perspective. "It's flat and dull."
What makes it flat and dull? The photographic image
contains universal elements, but there's nothing unique
in it. So far, the reader hasn't been given one insight
into who I am or what I'm about. And if that's all a
reader gets of me--a flat, dull photograph--then are you,
the reader, convinced that you want to invest hours of
your time in reading my Story? Are you convinced I'm
worth the effort? I'm not. No one is--nor should they
But what if the writer deepened that description:
Scattered photographs atop the piano proved she was a
natural blond. She didn't deny it, she just didn't like
remembering it. Some years back, she dyed her hair red to
signal her family she was majorly ticked at them. She
refused to yell. She hates yelling. Hates it. Abusive
husbands yell at blonde wives. Blonde wives are small and
helpless and insignificant. They're hopeless. But
redheads, redheads command respect. No one yells at
redheads--not even new husbands.
Now, you've got insight into the person. Let's go a
little deeper, into the shades of red.
At least that's how her penchant for dyeing her hair red
started. But even years after she she'd gotten the
courage to ditch the abusive ex--and gathered even more
courage to remarry a nonabusive man--she never lost her
aversion to yelling . . . or to that small,
insignificant, hopeless feeling that came with it. So
when at odds with her family, she had to find a way to
let them know she was displeased. She dyed her hair red.
Her personality change came inside the box and took
effect the moment the dye was applied to her hair. She
became a dynamo to be reckoned with. And after a time,
she no longer had to dye her hair. Only to present the
Once when extremely
displeased, she left and then returned home with two
boxes of hair dye. One was "Lightest Auburn."
The other, "Raging Red." She gathered her
family in the kitchen. "Okay, guys." She
plopped the boxes down on the counter. "Which is it
going to be?"
The family trembled. They knew that the darker the red in
Mom's hair, the more ticked Mom was, and a majorly ticked
Mom meant Armageddon was about to descend upon every
family member's head. There would be no refuge. There
would be no peace.
Now you know a great deal more about this person. But
let's say everything's sailing along smoothly at home.
The family is appreciative and respectful. Mom comes home
with a box of "Raging Red" hair dye.
The family freaks out.
"What have we done?" They feel guilty, though
they've done nothing. Then direct blame elsewhere, accuse
and quiz each other, "What did you do? Whatever it
was, take it back now. Get on your knees if you have
to--before she goes red! For God's sake, you know how she
gets when she's Raging Red!"
But the writer has Mom explain. "No one has upset
me. I just need some spunk." She thinks, but doesn't
say--because two of her children are blond and she
doesn't want them to feel blondes are insignificant,
helpless, or hopeless. Redheads can deal with anyone and
anything. They've got guts and courage and spirit that no
one can undermine for long. And, being a Raging Red,
she'll remember that every time she looks in the mirror.
So the motivation for dyeing the hair red has done a
total one-eighty, surprising the writer--and yet it fits
this character because the writer and the reader, know
what that dark red hair means to this character. We know
and understand feeling insignificant, helpless, and
hopeless. We intuit that something has triggered these
feelings in the character.
We know that, at times,
we all have to pick ourselves up and press on, just as we
know that at times we need to kick ourselves in the butt
and remember: "We are not the person we were. We are
the person we've become."
Now, because of our
experiences and the insights we've gained from those
experiences, we have grown and changed. We now have the
tools to meet our challenges constructively. The red hair
just helps remind the character, the writer, the reader
that all of us choose how much something impacts us. How
much power we give it. We choose what we will and will
not tolerate, and we will NOT tolerate feeling
insignificant, helpless, or hopeless. Ah, yes. We've
grown, and we've changed.
In incorporating a unique character trait tied to
universal emotions, the writer has given us insight into
a character that no photograph could convey. Now, the
family--the other characters--might be confused by this
shift in motivation, but sooner or later they'll figure
it out. In the interim, the reader is right there with
the character because they've got the inside track. The
readers know what the red means. They might not yet know
the trigger, but they know there's been a trigger and
someone's pulled the sucker.
Test 1. Close
your eyes. Pretend you're in a grocery
store pushing a buggy down an aisle. You
pass the canned goods, the bread, the
cookie row, and now you're in personal
care and hygiene products. On the shelf,
you see a box of red hair dye. What is
the first thing that comes to your mind?
Do you see that box of red dye
differently now than you did before?
Now, it's test time.
Test 2. Now visualize yourself in
your shopping mall. You see a redheaded
woman. She's teary eyed. Do you wonder if
she was a victim of domestic violence at
some time? If she dyes her hair red to
signal her family she's ticked off? Do
you see her differently than you might
If you responded "Yes" to either test, then the
writer has opened a door in a reader's mind. Given that
reader new insight, a different perspective.
A flat photograph--a still shot--can't do that. It isn't
strong enough. But the writer has given the reader a
physical description and deep insight into the
character's emotions and spirituality--the whole person.
The universal and the individual quirks.
CHARACTER TO PLOT OR
PLOT TO CHARACTER? EITHER? NEITHER? OR BOTH?
If your plot is laid out
prior to your doing character interviews, how can you,
the writer, know what's at risk for the characters? Why
these are the greatest risks for this particular
character? How do you know the character's goals are what
they are, and what motivates them to act (vs. being
reactionary like Perilous Pauline tied to the railroad
victim, which is unheroic)?
You can't know these things. So if your creative process
is such that you plot first, then you're going to have to
craft characters with all the needed elements to best say
what you have to say that you want others to hear by
gearing the characters and their traits specifically to
the plot you've created to integrate those universal and
unique individual ties. I heartily recommend that you
keep the plot flexible enough to incorporate conflicts
attuned to the unique individual. Otherwise, you will
lack full-integrated novel elements that make these
people the best people in all the world to experience
this plot and tell this story.
If your creative process works so that you develop the
characters first, then you'll need to adjust the plot so
that this plot is the perfect plot to tell the story of
these characters--saying what you, the writer, have to
say that you want others to hear.
However your creative process works is right for you. Any
approach it is right so long as it works for you. But to
have strong and unforgettable characters, the stool
legs--character, plot, and setting--have to all fit and
work in harmony with each other so the stool--the novel
as a whole--doesn't wobble or tip over or collapse.
If your current character-discovery process is fluid,
fine. Fantastic. Whatever the process, know far more
about the characters than you ever put in the book. Then
you'll never have to worry about inconsistencies, about
someone acting or reacting out of character. At least,
not without that character being strongly and
compellingly motivated to do so. You, the writer, won't
have to stop and ask yourself how a character would react
in any given situation. Being real and fully developed
people to you, you'll KNOW how they would react. Every
strength and weakness, every secret, their deepest dread,
and most absurd dream.
You'll know that this person in this story role typically
has these traits and this kind of background and is apt
to be found in this setting. Everything works together.
Every single element feeds and enhances all the other
novel elements, including tone and style.
And I want to discuss tone as it relates to character for
You all know I'm fond of
sayings. Well, I've written one for you that I hope will
serve as a reminder on the relationship between character
and tone. It's an important relationship, because it sets
the mood of the scene. The reader senses that mood and
absorbs it, and that goes a long way toward carrying the
reader's emotional response to the scene and what's
happening in it, and what's happening inside the
"When the soul weeps, there is nothing so vulgar
That's the saying. And it's meant to remind you that the
setting and tone of the scene should mirror your
character's current emotional status.
Now, some writers artfully choose to use contrast in
intensely emotional situations. If it's contrast you're
after, then make it sharp and stark, and the character's
emotional reaction to that contrast crystal clear.
Otherwise, you'll confuse
the spit out of your reader. An example: if the character
is mourning and the sun is shining. Then the reader's
emotional reaction to it, should be stark. Indignant.
Why? Because we process details we note in harmony with
our current emotional state. If a character's ticked,
make it storm. If it's sunny, then the sun is arrogant in
daring to shine.
Some of you have probably heard my favorite take on this,
but just in case: You are the character. You're standing
beside a lake. You're a man whose son has just died. What
do you see? Moss and vines choking the oaks. Cracks in
the wood shed. Shadows and dark, gloomy water. In short,
glaring reflections that give the sense of your misery.
Now you're a different character. A little girl. You're
standing in the same scene near the same lake. Only
you're riding your bike "no hands" for the
first time. What do you see? Sun sparkling on the water.
Butterflies fluttering their wings. Happy, free things.
Liberated things. Ones that carry the emotional sense of
What we notice reflects our inner state.
In considering all we have discussed in this series and
combining it with what we know individually and factoring
in our own unique perceptions of our world, we have
compiled a wealth of knowledge that arms us as writers.
The result is we can create characters who are no longer
characters but real, living, breathing human beings with
significant contributions to make to our books in the
eyes of all those who read them.
Make no mistake. When you write a book, you have the
opportunity to change lives. In crafting and molding and
developing characters, you definitely do that.
On making that statement, the first question I'm always
asked is, How do you measure your success?
The answer is simple. Find your own individual box of red
hair dye, incorporate it in the novel, and then trust
your readers. They'll let you know.
You'll receive letters from readers addressed to the
characters. Miss Hattie, from the Seascape novels, has
gotten a good bit of mail. Duplicity's attorney has
received a lot of mail from prisoners wanting her to
prove their innocence. Some included their entire legal
You'll get feedback in tearstained pages from people
pouring their hearts out to you because you touched an
emotional chord in them and they knew--through your
characters--you'd understand. And you'll be told that
when reading your work light bulbs went on in readers'
minds. Your work helped readers reconnect to their
values, beliefs, and convictions or that they gained a
new respect or appreciation for something previously
ignored that you explored in a book.
You'll know. The readers will see to it. And they'll see
to it because you didn't create a character, but an
admirable human being to whom they feel attached. You've
developed an unforgettable character. You've learned from
Benjamin Franklin the value of those little strokes.
Copyright Dr. Vicki Hinze. All Rights Reserved.
Hinze is an award-winning, best-selling author who
routinely shares her expertise at national writers'
conferences, online, and through her writing guides. Her
latest non-fiction book is ALL ABOUT WRITING TO SELL,
from Spilled Candy Books for Writers. This 589-page ebook
covers everything you need to know about the craft of
writing, the publishing business, and the secrets to
getting published. ALL ABOUT WRITING TO SELL is available
at www.SpilledCandy.com as a download or
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