Worst Female/Male Character Types


You can’t have a story without them.

Well. I guess you could, but wow, what a boring story.  A story without characters would be like watching paint dry, or the leaves dance in the wind, or your nails grow.

But if you’ve been reading for any length of time, you will notice that cookie cutter characters DO appear in most of the stories that you read. Jenna does a really good job of summarizing the annoying stereotypes for you for both female and male characters.

One reason I really like this writer is because she doesn’t mince words – she calls it like she sees it.

And that’s how I tend to write my characters, too. They are gritty, nasty and generally assholes – with a heart of gold.

Now tell me that doesn’t sound like most of the people in your life.

Anyway, enjoy the videos. And avoid the characters Jenna talks about – unless I happen to write one of these characters into my story in which case, make an exception.



Brace Yourself for Thirty Days of Hell

Hi. My name is Karen and I’ve been clean for six months.

To be honest, it really wasn’t that hard to go cold turkey – I think I had gotten so fed up with the inconsequential fluff and the fact that it was sucking all of my time into a black hole of mindless clicking, that I tripped a wire and a light bulb went off in my brain illuminating a dark corner I had forgotten existed.

My desire to actually WRITE something.

Hi. My name is Karen and it’s been six months since I quit Facebook.

I haven’t missed it.

Like. At all.

My original intent of quitting Facebook was to give myself more time to do two things I REALLY enjoy:

  1. Read
  2. Write

I’ve been successful on the reading part. My Goodreads goal was to read 100 books this year and I’m currently at 93. I’m ten books ahead of schedule – on purpose. BECAUSE, I want to now turn my attention to my second goal: writing.

And now that it’s November, we all know what that means – NANOWRIMO!!!!

The site has been updated and my old stats are no longer there, but I think I’ve actually “won” NaNoWriMo … three or four times. This was back in the days when I was a stay-at-home mom and had A LOT of time on my hands, very little stress and got copious amounts of sleep.

But since I went back to work full time eight years ago, I’ve had to use every single brain cell I owned just to keep my head above water and keep up with the highly intelligent (and younger) people I work with. (Hello Heather and Tiffany!)

But my writing itch has come back and I feel compelled to scratch it again. The itch started small, a rub here and there, a momentary, mindless scratch on my arms, neck. Then my itch was occurring over bigger parts of my body and happening more frequently. Now, it’s all I can do not to attack my body in front of people and embarrass myself by scratching parts of my body that should NEVER be touched in public.

*ahem* But I digress.

My point being, I’m ready to start writing crap again.

And this, of course, means subjecting you, my dear cyber friend, to the wonderfully dark, disturbed world I like to call my imagination.

Dust off your straight jackets.

I’ve decided to do something a little different this go around. I’m not really ready to write a novel, hell, who am I kidding, I will likely NEVER be ready to write a novel, but rather, I’m going to stick to what I enjoy doing the most – writing short stories. Only, I’m going to stick to nine characters. I won’t use all nine characters in every single story but rather, pluck a few ones out of the lineup and toss them into the gladiator ring and see how much I can abuse them. You can see these characters on my fiction blog.

I’m not going to publish these stories here, but on my fiction blog. (And the girls I work with only THOUGHT they knew all of my secrets – bwahaha – silly girls). If you wish to read along, you can visit If you’re playing along, you can find me here on the NaNoWrimo site.

In the meantime, I have stumbled onto a really witty, funny, sarcastic writer on YouTube who not only makes me laugh but who flips my creative switch every time I watch one of her videos. I will post one of her videos on my blog daily (?) or as often as I remember to during the month of November in the hopes that it will spark your creative fire as well.

I am purposefully putting my NaNoWriMo goals out there because I’m hoping the girls I work with, who now, to my complete and utter horror, know about this blog and now my fiction blog, will give me so much hell at work that I will have no CHOICE but to complete this damn project if only to shut them up.

(Love you girls!)

Okay, let’s have some fun. *rubbing hands*


NaNoWrimo Workshop – Constructing Scenes

This was originally published on Write Anything, October 23, 2008.

Welcome back to Write Anything NaNoWriMo workshop week!

*taps monitor* Are you awake? Are you daydreaming? I hope you’re daydreaming about your NaNoWriMo project because guess what?

We start in less than 48 hours!!!

No worries, right? *gulp*

If you’re just tuning in (welcome!), we’ve been talking about various aspects of beginning a novel-length story this week. We’ve covered finding ideas, setting, character, point of view, and plot.

Today, we’ll cover constructing scenes – from start to finish – and tomorrow, I turn the floor over to you and you get to share what sort of progress you’ve made thus far and offer any NaNoWriMo advice.

Let’s get started …

Again, I will be referencing Plot & Structure – Techniques and exercises for crafting a plot that grips readers from start to finish by James Scott Bell because in my opinion, this is one of the best books about plot on the market. If you haven’t checked it out, seriously, dude, look at it. It’s good.

Most readers judge whether they will A. continue reading the story, or B. like the story within the first ten pages of reading the story.

So tease your readers, make them want to stick around and read the rest of your story with a killer beginning.

THE BEGINNING of your novel actually performs several tasks:

1. Get the reader hooked.

2. Establish a bond between the reader and the Lead character.

3. Present the story world – tell us something about the setting, the time, and the immediate context.

4. Establish the general tone of the novel. Is this to be a sweeping epic, or a zany farce? Action packed or dwelling more on character change? Fast moving or leisurely paced?

5. Compel the reader to move on to the middle. Just why should the reader care to continue?

6. Introduce the opposition. Who or what wants to stop the Lead from obtaining his/her goal/objective?

First impressions are everything when it comes to tempting people to read your novel. Blow your first impression and you’ll have twice the work to get readers’ attention.

Bell suggests the following to grab readers:

Opening Lines:

Start your opening lines with the character’s name (Bell suggests looking at some of Koontz’s work – he’s the master of killer opening lines. I agree). In addition to introducing the reader to your character right off the bat, make something happen to that character, “and not just something ominous or dangerous. An interruption of normal life.”

Give your readers motion, of something that is about to happen or has happened. If you do this, it’s likely your reader will want to stick around to find out what happens next.


We’ve all heard it – in media res – in the middle of things. Start your story in the middle of some sort of conflict. Using dialogue, as in an interrogation, is a good example of this.

Raw Emotion:

“We bond with the Lead through his deep feeling of a universal emotion.”

Look-Back Hook:

Suggest there is a not-to-be-missed story about to unfold.


A good example of attitude is The Catcher in the Rye. The character’s voice is almost defiant and blase about telling his story.


“The use of prologues is a venerable one, used by all sorts of writers in many different ways. But the most effective prologues do one simple thing – entice the reader to move to chapter one.”

Personally, I’m a huge fan of prologues, both in reading and writing. In fact, I plan on starting my NaNoWrimo project with a prologue. And on a side note: I bought Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight today and though the prologue is short, it’s powerful. Here’s an excerpt from Twilight’s preface:

I knew that if I’d never gone to Forks, I wouldn’t be facing death now. But terrified as I was, I couldn’t bring myself to regret the decision. When life offers you a dream so far beyond any of your expectations, it’s not reasonable to grieve when it comes to an end.

The hunter smiled in a friendly way as he sauntered forward to kill me.

Brilliant. That definitely makes me want to keep reading.

Bell goes on to explain these techniques in detail – it would behoove you to read his suggestions. Again, the beginning? Can gain, or lose, your readers. Hone up on it and be aware that it’s crucial if you want to jerk the reader out of his/her reality and into your story.

All of your hard work will (should) compel the reader to move on to THE MIDDLE.

Bell says, “What you do in Act II, the middle, is write scenes – scenes that stretch the tension, raise the stakes, keep readers worried, and build toward Act III in a way that seems inevitable.”

Bell offers some suggestions on keeping the middle of your story interesting and moving forward.


What is the Lead’s ultimate obstacle? To stay alive.

And it’s not all about just physical death, the Lead could have an aspect of themselves die on the inside, too. Or even something die in their professional life, like they are denied a promotion, or they are demoted, or they are involved in a scandal that puts the entire company in jeopardy.

The Opposition:

The Opposition (which Bell prefers to call the antagonist because not all antagonists are evil), should be stronger than the Lead. Why? Because if they are easily matched, then why should the reader worry?

And don’t forget to write your opposition with an empathetic view – it just makes for a better character.


An adhesive is any strong relationship or circumstance that holds people together.

“If the Lead can solve his problem simply by resigning from the action, the reader will wonder why he doesn’t do so. There needs to be a strong reason for the Lead to stick around, to keep the characters together throughout that long middle.”

Here are a few tips on making a strong adhesive:

  • Life and Death – staying alive is essential to one’s well-being.
  • Professional Duty – a cop can’t just walk away from his assigned case.
  • Moral Duty – a mother will fight to the death in order to get her child back.
  • Obsession – when you’re obsessed by something, then you’re just compelled to have it
  • .

Bell says to “ARM yourself for confrontation.”

ARM stands for Action, Reaction, More action. It is the fundamental rhythm of the novel. Think about it. Unless your Lead character is doing something, you have no plot. Plot results from the action of the character to solve the problems in front of him, all with the aim of gaining his desire.

Action requires that the character has decided upon an objective and that he has started toward it. This action must be opposed by something or the scene will be dull. So pick an obstacle, an immediate problem to overcome.

Bell goes on to explain how to stretch the tension, how to raise the stakes, how to energize a lethargic middle, and how to trim an overweight middle. Again, all GREAT tips to help you get past the middle hump.

A weak ENDING can ruin an otherwise wonderful book.

“A great ending does two things above all else: First, it feels perfect for the kind of novel it is appended to. Second, it surprises the reader. It is not so familiar the reader has the feeling he’s seen it somewhere before.”

Why are endings so hard? Because the novelist is like a plate spinner, you know, the guy who spins a dozen plates all at the same time while making sure none of them drop?

“Your plot will have lots of plates spinning by the time you get to the end. You need to get them off safely. You need a little flourish. And you need to do it in a way that is not predictable.”

Maintain the tension in the story until the last possible moment, then give your reader a knockout ending.

But in addition to the knockout scene, you need to give your reader a final scene in which something from the hero’s personal life is resolved.

Choose Your Ending:

1. The Lead gets his objective, a positive ending

2. We don’t know if the Lead will get his desire – an ambiguous ending.

3. The Lead loses his objective, a negative ending.

Don’t forget to tie up any loose information. And only you, the writer, can know if the information is important enough to wrap up. Missing pants are probably not that important. But missing money could be. If the loose information is important enough, you’ll most likely need to write an additional scene. This may entail some extensive rewriting – too bad, do it anyway. The majority of readers do not care for unresolved issues.

If it’s minor information that’s flapping in the wind, it’s probably enough to have a character simply explain it away.

You want to leave your readers with a last page that makes the ending more than satisfying. You want it to be memorable, to stay with readers after the book is closed.

Working to make your last page (memorable) … is worth every ounce of your effort. It’s the last impression, what psychologists call the recency effect. Your audience will judge your book largely by the feeling they have most recently, namely, the end. Leave a lasting impression and you will build a readership.

Whew! That’s it! I hope this week proved insightful for you. I also hope it got you excited about writing your novel for NaNoWriMo. Keep all of these things we’ve talked about this past week in your mind, but the bottom line is TO WRITE your story. Try not to think about it too much. Knowing all of this information is great, but the bottom line is, do what feels right for you and your story.

Next month is all about quantity, not necessarily quality. Get your words down on paper first, then you can go back and polish later.

It’s hard to polish something that isn’t there. 🙂

Thank you for sticking it out with me! If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year, look me up! I’ll be giving updates about my writing progress next month, so stick around!


NaNoWriMo Workshop – Plot

This post was originally published on Write Anything, October 22, 2008.

Welcome back to Write Anything NaNoWriMo workshop week!

Plot happens. Or in my case, it doesn’t happen enough.

I apologize for the lateness of this post, but plot … *insert heavy sigh here* is indeed my Achilles heel.

I normally have no problem finding ideas, settling on a (vague) character or finding that character’s voice, but plot … I have a problem with.

I think, at heart, I’m a short story writer. I can whip out short stories like nobody’s business, but when it comes to stories longer than 4,000 words? My brain completely locks up. I never know where to go, which way to turn and my stories tend to veer off the main highway and before long, I’m out in the middle of rural imagination land scratching my head and wondering how in the world do I find the road back to my original premise.

So, writing about plot? Is NOT an easy thing for me. However, I’ll try my best to make this post coherent and informative – for both you AND me. (And if you have anything to add, you’re MORE than welcome to do so!)

Plot, in essence, is the board, or frame, for your story puzzle pieces. You take an idea, snap on a few characters, insert them into a POV, border it with conflict and voila! You have a plot for your story.

Oh, if only it were that easy.

I’ll be referencing several areas from James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure because it truly is an invaluable how-to plot resource guide. If you don’t have this book, I recommend buying it – now.

You might be one of those writers who likes to have their story all worked out in your mind before you write your novel. You preplan, plan, revise the plan before writing. Perhaps you have index cards all over your wall or desk as you read this. (Guilty?)

Or, you might be one of those seat-of-the-pants writers who loves to plop down each day at the computer or over a pad of paper and just write, letting your story flow without planning, anxious to see where your story takes you.

Or, you could also be a ‘tweener (*raises hand*) who does a bit of planning but still seeks some surprises and spontaneity.

Which ever method you use, you have to ask yourself one question: Does it connect with readers? After all, that is the purpose behind plot.

Readers are subconsciously asking these questions when they open books:

What’s this story about?
Is anything happening?
Why should I keep reading?
Why should I care?

These are all plot questions, and if you want to make it as a writer of novel-length fiction, you must learn how to answer them.

There are a few basic plot elements, that if understood and applied, will help you come up with a solid plot every time.

Let’s talk about Bell’s LOCK system:

L is for Lead

A strong plot starts with an interesting Lead character. In the best plot, that Lead is compelling, someone we have to watch throughout the course of the novel.

O is for Objective

Objective is the driving force of fiction. It generates forward motion and keeps the Lead from just sitting around. An objective can take either of two forms: to get something, or to get away from something.

C is for Confrontation

Opposition from characters and outside forces brings your story full to life. Readers want to fret about the Lead, keeping an intense emotional involvement (and investment) all the way through the novel.

K is for Knockout

Readers of commercial fiction want to see a knockout at the end. A literary novel can play with a bit more ambiguity. In either case, the ending must have knockout power. A great ending can leave the reader satisfied, even if the rest of the book is somewhat weak. But a weak ending will leave the reader with a feeling of disappointment, even if the book up to that point is strong.

Now that you know the key points, you need to structure your plot. Plot is about elements, those things that go into the mix of making a good story even better. Structure is about timing – where in the mix those elements go. You need a three-act structure: beginning, middle and end.

For a breakdown of these three-act structures, you really must read Plot & Structure, but in essence, “a plot is about a Lead character who has an objective, something crucial to his well-being. The major portion of plot is the confrontation with the opposition, a series of battles over the objective. This is resolved in a knockout ending, an outcome that satisfies the story questions and the readers.”

But how do you come up with a plot that people will want to read about?

Bell suggests you ask yourself a series of questions. Here are a few to consider:

What do you care most about in the world? (If you care, you’ll write with passion. If you write with passion, that passion will transfer to the readers and they will care right along with you).

What is your physical appearance? How do you feel about it? How does it affect you?

What do you fear most?

What secret in your life do you hope is never revealed?

What is your philosophy of life?

“Answering these questions opens up a door into your own soul. From that viewpoint, you can better evaluate plot ideas. Does the story you’re considering hit a nerve inside you? If not, why write it?”

Here are seven of the twenty plots suggested in 20 Master Plots by Ronald B. Tobias:

1. Quest: as the name implies, quest is the protagonist’s search for a person, place or thing, tangible or intangible. (This will be the crux of my NaNoWriMo story).

2. Wretched Excess: people who push the limits of acceptable behavior, either by choice or by accident. This fascination for people who inhabit the margins of society is what makes this plot so interesting.

3. Sacrifice: your protagonist is sacrificing something from his/her life whether it’s physical or spiritual.

4. Forbidden Love: think Romeo and Juliet here.

5. Transformation: deals with the process of change in the protagonist as she journeys through one of the many stages of life.

6. Underdog: the protagonist is faced with overwhelming odds.

7. Temptation: the story of the frailty of human nature. If to sin is human, it human to give in to temptation.

We’ll cover constructing plots tomorrow, but for now, let’s talk about common plot problems and how to solve them.

Scenes That Fall Flat:

Always make sure scenes have tension in them. Even when characters are calm and relatively quiet, there should be an undercurrent signaling that things are not as calm as they seem.

Every scene should have that moment or exchange that is the hot spot, or the focal point.

Mishandling Flashbacks:

There is an inherent plot problem when you use flashbacks – the forward momentum is stopped for a trip to the past. If not used properly, the reader can get frustrated or impatient. The following are tips when using flashbacks:

1. Necessity – is it absolutely necessary?

2. Function – make sure it works as a scene. Write it as a unit of dramatic action, not as an information dump.

3. Navigation – getting in and out of a flashback can be tricky, so make sure it flows naturally. For example, write in a strong, sensory detail that triggers the flashback.

The Tangent:

The tangent is a side road that was not on your original plot map. It is a suggestion of your writer’s mind. You can ignore the tangent and move on, or you can follow the tangent for a while because it could lead to a better idea. Bell suggests that instead of continuing with your story, open up a new document and follow the tangent. If it fits with the rest of your story, copy and paste it into your story. If it doesn’t, keep it, it may come in handy for future stories.

Resisting the Character for the Sake of the Plot:

Sometimes, your characters will want to take over. Let them. See where they lead you. It could add a whole new element to your story.


The part of your story that slows down and appears sluggish. Here are some suggestions to get past this point:

1. Go back. Is there some place in your earlier pages that seems dull? Or beside the point? Have you lost sight of the Lead’s objective at any point? Keep going back until you find a spot where you felt good about the writing, about beingn on track. Come up with a better scene idea than the one that is already there.

2. Jump Cut. Jump to the next scene, move your characters forward in time, put them in a different location, if you wish. Sometimes jumping ahead can help you connect your story later.

Shut Down:

What if your imagination shuts down? There’s nothing there. Don’t panic – it happens to all of us at one point or another.

Bell suggests:

1. Recharge your battery. Write through it. Give yourself permission to be bad. Write first, polish later. (Hence NaNoWriMo. *smile*)

2. Relive your scenes. Not rewrite. Relive. Have you ever imagined yourself to be the characters? Tried to feel what they are feeling? Then try it. Let the characters improvise. Don’t like what they came up with? Rewind the scene and try it again.

3. Recapture your vision. What does you novel utlimately mean? What is it saying about life beyond the confines of the plot? How does it illuminate your vision of life? Every story has a meaning.

To outline, or not to outline? That truly is every writer’s question. And unfortunately, there is no fast and easy answer. It really all depends on you, the writer. You’ll need to experiment with both methods to find what works for you. Bell’s section on Plotting Systems (Chapter 10) offers some great advice for the NOP’s (the no outline people) and the OP’s (the outline people) complete with step-by-step methods you can try for yourself. But the bottom line is – what works for you? There’s only one way to find out – experiment.

Bell writes, “What makes a plot truly memorable is not all of the action, but what the action does to the character. We respond to the character who changes, who endures the crucible of the story only to emerge a different person at the end.

“So, look to create character change in your novels in a way that deepens the plot and expresses a theme. For when a character learns something or suffers because he changes for the worse, it is an expression by the author about the larger canvas – not merely what happens in the novel, but what happens in life.”

Lastly: Constructing Scenes


NaNoWriMo Workshop – Point of View

This post was originally published on Write Anything, October 21, 2008.

Welcome back to Write Anything NaNoWriMo workshop week!

“The choice of the point(s) of view from which the story is told is arguably the most important single decision that the novelist has to make, for it fundamentally affects the way readers will respond, emotionally and morally, to the fictional characters and their actions.” David Lodge

Let’s talk a little bit about point of view.

When I first became interested in writing, point of view confused me.

A lot.

First of all, I couldn’t keep them straight. I think the writing teachers I had back in school took great delight in watching our faces contort into all sorts of bewildered masks as they stood in front of the class and talked about the various points of views and when you should, or should not use them.

And if you learned NOTHING else from them, you did not, under any circumstances, combine them in the same story!

*insert horrified gasp*

That point was pounded so much into my brain I actually graduated from college with a lop-sided skull.

Now, you’re lucky if you read a story, any story and from any genre, that doesn’t have at least two different points of view in them. And in some stories, points of view change so fast that it leaves readers scratching their heads trying to figure out 1). which character they’re supposed to be following and 2). exactly whose story is it, anyway?

Even though I understand the difference between the points of view now, I still hesitate over which POV I should write my stories from, because a lot of times, picking the right point of view can make, or break, your story.

But first things first – let’s define the various points of view:

First-Person Singular POV

The most natural POV is the first-person singular, since all stories and trials originate with someone, an “I,” witnessing what happens.

The first person narrator can tell a story with herself as a central character or she can be one of the minor characters. Or she can tell somebody else’s story, barely mentioning herself except to show where the information comes from.

First-Person Multiple POV

You use several first-person narrators and alternate among them, usually beginning a new chapter with each change of narrator. This strategy offers a diversity of voices, viewpoints and ways of thinking without the arrogance of the omniscient sound.

Some pros and cons for First-Person POV:

Pro: It’s technically the least ambiguous. Readers always know who is seeing and experiencing the story. It’s subjective. You’re a bit more free with the voice – using slang, bad grammar, etc. And first person offers smooth access to a character’s thoughts. (You don’t have to worry about awkward switches in pronouns – which CAN get tedious).

Cons: We can’t take an outside look at our POV character. Sure, you could use a mirror, but that’s been overdone and is in fact, cliche – avoid that technique if at all possible. In a suspense story, it’s pretty much a given that an “I” character will survive – kill off your “I” character and the story dies with him/her. And it’s hard to create a compelling new voice for each story.

Third-Person Omniscient POV

In this POV, which is used infrequently in contemporary writing, the author knows everything about all the characters, places and events involved. The reader observes from many angles. The “camera” is conveniently set wherever the action is, akin to television coverage of a basketball game.

Third-Person Limited POV

This POV – and its variants – is the most common one used. There are at least three kinds of third-person limited POVs:

Third-person subjective POV – resembles first-person POV except it’s usually done in standard English rather than in the character’s voice.

Third-person objective POV – You don’t reveal the viewer – the way you don’t see the person holding a camcorder.

Third-person limited omniscient POV – this combines the objective and the subjective approaches.

Third-Person Multiple POV – this sounds like omniscient POV, and the difference may be subtle, but it’s best to see it as a series of third-person limted POVs minus authorial intrusions.

Objective POV (or theatrical POV) – this perspective is blurred under the third-person objective POV, but we should distinguish an objective POV, which does not focus on one person, from the limited objective POV.

Second-Person POV

The author makes believe that he is talking to someone, describing what the person addressed is doing. But the “you” is not the reader, though sometimes it’s hard to get rid of the impression that the author is addressing you directly. This POV is the least popular as it puts the readers on the defensive, most people do not like to be told how to think or what they are to do, even in stories.
(Source: Josip Novakovich, Fiction Writer’s Workshop)

There are a few more, but in essence, they are a combination of the ones listed above.

I think you get the point (of view – haha).

Here are a few POV exercises to try:

1. Take a piece of your own writing and rewrite it in
(a) a different viewpoint
(b) a different tense (changing from present to past, for example).

2. Take a passage from a favorite novel and rewrite it, changing viewpoint and tense. How does that change the story? Does it read better?

3. Relate one of the following scenes in 300 words, first from one viewpoint, and then from another:

The first day of school. A young teacher, fresh from college, faces his/her first class. (The viewpoint of the teacher, and then one of the pupils).

There has been a road crash. (Viewpoint of a by-stander, and then the crash victim).

A young woman helps an old blind man across the road. (Viewpoint of the woman, and then the man).

(Source of exercises: Nigel Watts, Writing a Novel)

It may take some time to settle on a particular POV for your story, but a POV that works for the story will make it better and more interesting to readers.

One word of caution: switching POVs often irritates readers and certainly most editors, unless you establish the pattern early in the story, writers should respect POV. Keep your readers inside one character head at a time and if you switch, make sure the switch is obvious by either starting a new chapter from another POV, or even a new paragraph – never in the same sentence.

Finding the best POV for your story is difficult and may take some experimenting. The only rule about POV is that there is no rule. If a particular technique works, use it. And if your story is not working with your current POV, rewrite it and change the POV and see what happens.

Next: Plot


NaNoWriMo Workshop – Character

This post was originally published on Write Anything, October 20, 2008.

Welcome back to Write Anything NaNoWriMo workshop week!

Did you miss the idea/synopsis workshop? What about the setting workshop, or Paul’s setting workshop? No worries. We’ll wait for you to catch up before we proceed …


Excellent. Today, let’s talk about developing characters.

For me personally, this is one of my favorite aspects of writing. I heart characters. Though ironically, I don’t spend a lot of time developing them. I tend to just throw in a vague caricature, a stick person with hair and eyes really, into the story and see what sort of personality develops through interaction.

Though fun, I wouldn’t recommend adopting this haphazard method of creating your characters as they tend to emerge more like (pretty) cardboard cutouts as opposed to something tangible and believable. Readers tend to not care about characters that look, and act, like paper dolls.

Me, Tammi, Dale and Andrea all participated in the 2007 Blog-a-thon together and Tammi posted quite a few character sketches in her posts. (Look in our July 2007 archives, category Blog-a-thon 2007, for more character sketches). Not only did she post them, she posted them “on the fly.” She’s quite an expert at developing interesting characteristics quickly and efficiently. So Tammi, if you have any tips for our readers on filling out character sketches, please share them with us!

I love this opening line in Josip Novakovich’s Fiction Writer’s Workshop about character: “Most people read fiction not so much for plot as for company. If a character matters so much to the reader, it matters even more to the writer.”

Characters become readers’ friends, they become aspects of ourselves. A great character will stay with us for a long time – mainly because we can relate to their struggle in some way.

But where do you find fictional characters?

The ideal method is “You can completely make them up, using psychology textbooks, astrology charts, mythology, the Bible or, simply your imagination,” says Novakovich.

Another method is the autobiographical method where you project your own experiences into the fictional character, though this is not necessarily one you should use most.

Biographical method is when you use people you have observed (or researched) as the starting points for your fictional character. Novakovich says, “using the biographical method, writers often compose their characters from the traits of several people … this is the fusion approach: you fuse character traits the way you fuse atoms.”

Another way to compose characters is the mixed method. In essence, you take a mixture of the approach approaches and make a potpourri of characteristics that blend nicely and are pleasing to the reader.

Karen Wiesner, First Draft in 30 Days, has some great advice about making character sketches:

When you flesh out character sketches for your story, write down everything that comes to you, no matter how trivial. Remember to give all your main characters (including the villains) internal and external conflicts.

Wiesner also recommends cutting pictures of interesting people out of magazines and keeping a notebook to help you visualize your characters. I personally used this method last NaNoWriMo and found it INVALUABLE; seeing pictures of my characters helped me stay true to my character’s personalities, goals and conflicts.

“If you can picture your characters clearly (says Wiesner), actually see them, chances are you’ll write about them in a more intimate, comfortable way – as if you know them well.”

To help you get a better feel for the type of information that belongs in a character sketch, consider the following sections when making your character sketches:

  • Physical Description – age, race, eye and hair color (and style), height/weight, skin tone, physical flaws, disabilities, mannerisms, etc.
  • Personality Traits – happy, somber, bookish, strengths, weaknesses, vices, hobbies, kind of entertainment and food, colors, etc.
  • Background – “Background is very important to defining a character and making her three-dimensional,” says Wiesner. “[It] can include information on the character’s parents, siblings, relatives, friends, old lovers, pets, life-shaping events and their long-term effects, etc. Did this character have a good home life during her childhood … what kind of schooling did she have? Was she popular, unpopular, in-between?”
  • Internal Conflicts – emotional turmoil.
  • External Conflicts – outside or situational conflict that’s preventing your character from accomplishing her tasks.
  • Occupation / Education – “A character is defined by what he does (or doesn’t) do for a living.” (Weisner)

From Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s 45 Master Characters:

Now that your hero stands drawn before you, she needs to have her personality colored in.

What does your character care about? If your character was stranded on a desert island, what are the three things he would want to have? Each character has a different set of values that dictates what these things are.

What does she fear? What would give her nightmares? Ask yourself what happened to this character at a young age to create this fear … then sprinkle this information to the reader along the way.

What motivates her?

  • Survival?
  • Safety and Security?
  • Love and Belonging?
  • Esteem and Self-Respect?
  • The Need to Know and Understand?
  • The Aesthetic? (Need for balance, a sense of order, to being connected to something greater than ourselves).
  • Self-Actualization? (to communicate who we are, to express ourselves).

How do other characters view her? How do your character’s clothes and desires fit in? What do other characters say about him behind his back?

Schmidt goes on to list, and explain, 45 master characters from mythic models- these are great springboards for developing full, rich characters. Here are a few examples:

Aphrodite: the seductive muse and the femme fatale.

Hera: the matriarch and the scorned woman

Ares: the protector and the gladiator

Poseidon: the artist and the abuser

Remember, readers want to identify with the characters they are reading. “It is what they do that makes them interesting,” says Nigel Watts, Writing a Novel. “A fascinating character is made fascinating, not because of who he is, but because of what he does. Looking into this matter further, we see that the interest in the character’s actions is not so much in the action alone, but in the anticipation of action: now what are they going to do?”

Identifying with characters happens two ways:

Empathy – recognizing something of yourself in the character


Sympathy – liking what you see … identifying the nice bits of yourself with the nice bits of others.

And lastly, writers need to care about the characters they create.

If you want to move people, you have to move yourself first. You must care about your characters in order for your readers to care about them. That means you should sympathize with them as well as empathize. You must have some sort of affection for your characters, particularly central characters, otherwise your disapproval will infect the story and your readers will be repulsed by them. Make your protagonists bad, by all means, fallible, two-faced and self-centered, but don’t despise them. (Watts)

Here are some exercises to help you get to know your characters better from What Would Your Character Do? by Eric and Ann Maisel.

** Family Picnic: Your character spends several hours at a family picnic attended by parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts/uncles and other extended family members. Does she enjoy the event or spend it hiding in the bathroom?

** Poolside Encounter: Your character is on vacation and while sunning herself by the pool, has an encounter with a stranger who asks a too-intimate question. How does she respond?

** Stranger in Town: Your character finds himself a stranger in a seemingly sinister town. Does he keep moving or try to investigate?

** Poker Night: Your character finds himself in his first high-stakes poker game. How does he play at the beginning? When he’s winning? When he’s losing?

** Stalked: Your character is being stalked. What hidden aspects of your character’s personality does this bring to the surface?

A little extra work goes a long way toward developing well-rounded, and interesting characters. Have fun!

Next: Point of View

NaNoWriMo, Writing Stuff

NaNoWriMo Workshop – Setting It Up

This was originally published on Write Anything, October 19, 2008.

Welcome back to Write Anything NaNoWriMo workshop week!

Today? We’ll be talking about setting. My good friend, and blog colleague, Paul Anderson, wrote a wonderful entry about setting. Thank you, Paul!

In the meantime, here’s a short primer to get you in the mood. 🙂

Setting evokes a vivid sense of place and time. It grounds the reader into your story and solidifies what is happening to your character. Setting can simply be the canvas you use to paint your story on, or it can actually BE a character in your story.

From Josip Novakovich’s Fiction Writer’s Workshop:

When and where does your story take place? Setting means a certain place at a certain time, a stage.

There is a common argument against detailed descriptions of setting: They can be outright dull. Many writers avoid laying out the setting because they fear boring their readers, but the lack of a vivid setting may in turn cause boredom. Without a strong sense of place, it’s hard to achieve suspense and excitement – which depend on the reader’s sensation of being right there, where the action takes place. When descriptions of places drag, the problem usually lies not in the setting, but in presenting the setting too slowly.

The importance of the setting could be expressed in this formula: Setting + Character = Plot. Out of a character’s relationship with the setting, or out of the character’s conflict with the setting, you get the plot (or at least a part of the plot, or a dynamic backdrop for your plot).

But the setting can be more than simply someplace for the character to hang out.

  • You can have the setting as an antagonist; setting can set the groundwork for the action. For example: westerns, journey stories, nature adventure stories, detective stories, war and prison stories.
  • Settings can have special effects that add to the overall mood of a story. Novakovich says, “In movies, music and landscape shots often appear as a backdrop for the action, especially to augment suspense, romance, and sometimes simply to dazzle you. The quality of photography – the selection of details, the angles of light and shadow – engage you most. In writing, we can achieve similar effects with words describing landscapes and cityscapes.”
  • You can use setting to steer the reader’s expectations. A snowy night or red flakes can foreshadow bloodshed to come.
  • Use setting to indicate when a scene begins and ends. You have an obligation to the reader to establish where your character is and what time of day the drama is taking place. “If you don’t tell when your action takes place, it might appear to happen in some generic time or always, as a repeated action. Unless you want that effect, indicate the days and nights,” says Novakovich.

Here are some questions to consider when writing about your setting:

  • What about the setting is important? Characters will notice things that are important to them or that hold special meaning for them. Their current state of mind will also affect what they notice.
  • What season is it? What kind of day within that season? Rainy? Hot? How does your character react to the weather?
  • Where are the characters within the scene?
  • Does your setting description match the mood of the scene?

Source: First Draft in 30 Days

Nigel Watts, Writing a Novel and Getting Published, has this to say about setting, “Characters and their actions need to be anchored in some sort of physical reality, otherwise they will lack a sense of substance. The setting of a novel is like the flour in a cake: perhaps less compelling than the nuts and dried fruit, but if you forget the flour in the recipe, you’ll have no cake.”

I know setting, for me, is one of the hardest aspects of writing. I tend to get so caught up in what my characters are doing and who they are talking to, that the setting becomes a blur, just some empty black space in the background; I’m sure my readers sense that as well. So, to make a setting real for your readers, you need to research it. Visit the place you want to set your story in. Read about it. Google it. Use any resource that you can. Watch movies that were filmed there, talk/email people who know the setting well. Read guide books (a personal favorite of mine), study street plans.

Don’t just look at the big picture, but pay attention to the details.

And don’t think you’re off the hook if your setting is imaginary. You must be prepared to answer questions about your imaginary setting or it won’t seem real to your readers.

Recreate a setting, don’t just describe it. “What the reader is seeking to do is vicariously experience what you are evoking … this means supplying them with sensory clues so they can make it real themselves. In this way, they will be able to think themselves into your skin because they will compare your experience with something similar to their own,” says Watts.

Now that you have a sense of what setting is all about, let’s try some exercises:

  • Describe the town you grew up in – the streets, shops, schools, churches, rivers, bridges. Don’t mention your emotions, don’t be sentimental.
  • Make a one-page list of all the objects you remember from your childhood home. Read your list and circle the objects that evoke the strongest feelings and memories of events.
  • Describe with care the most ordinary items you can think of. Look at them as though they were strange and unusual.
  • Describe three places you have been. Don’t use flowery language, mention the importance and some unimportant details you remember.
  • Now describe some places you have worked.
  • Describe a train, car or plane ride – the sensation of moving, what sounds do you hear?
  • Write a scene set indoors and include the occupants in the room. What time of day is it? What’s the weather like outside?

Are you trying the exercises? Have they helped you develop an idea for your story? These may seem like a lot of unnecessary work, especially right before NaNoWriMo, but if you’re truly stuck for ideas, or setting is one of your weaknesses (*raises hand*), then give it a shot. You’ll be surprised how your creativity snaps to attention and the ideas will likely flow as quickly as your fingers.

Next: character

NaNoWriMo, Writing Stuff

NaNoWriMo Workshop – Find, and Flush Out, an Idea

This post was originally published on Write Anything, October 18, 2008.

Welcome to Write Anything’s NaNoWriMo workshops! We’re taking this opportunity to help you prepare for NaNoWriMo next month. Please keep in mind, we’re not experts, we are simply writers who are sharing ideas. What works for me, may not work for you. BUT, it might give you an idea of where to start with your own writing. If you have your own tips or ideas you would like to share with the “class” (the Internet is a BIG class!), then by all means, comment. We love comments. 🙂

First things first, in order to write a story, you need an idea.

Of course, finding this great idea is easier said than done.

In fact, let’s not even call it a GREAT idea at all. Let’s simply look for an idea – if you put too much pressure on yourself, to find that all-elusive idea that is going to catapult you into being the next great American novelist, then you’ll likely put too much pressure on yourself and not settle on any one idea at all.

The greatest source of ideas for fiction is experience. It doesn’t even have to be your experience, the experience can belong to someone else; you can observe someone else’s struggle and use it for a story.

Don’t have a story idea? Karen Wiesner, the author of First Draft in 30 Days suggests you try brainstorming.

Constant brainstorming, or brewing (think coffeepot), is the most important part of writing an outline or a book. No writing system, technique, or tool will work for you … if you’re not brainstorming constantly during a project. You must brainstorm from the beginning of a project – before you even write a word of it – through the outlining, the writing, and the final edit and polish.

I firmly believe that creative writing is 75 percent brewing, 25 percent actual writing. Some writers are mentally involved with their stories that brainstorming takes the form of “mini-movies” reeling through their heads.

Or in my case, my dreams.

Don’t try to rein in or discipline your brainstorming – no matter how inconvenient it is. Brainstorming is what turns an average story into an extraordinary one.

Okay, so we need to keep our brains in permanent percolate mode. Let’s explore some ways to generate ideas:

  • Combine two story concepts – like Adam and Eve and Star Wars, for example.
  • Read the newspaper – take the event and weave a story around it. In the mood for a challenge? Open your story with that event and then write a story backward, to the beginning (like in the movie “Memento“).
  • Watch movies. Take a character from one movie and force him/her to interact with another character from a different movie. What sort of situation might arise by placing these very different characters in the same setting?
  • Take a story you really like – now tell it differently.
  • Take a story you really like – and write an alternate ending.
  • Look for controversial topics. Controversy gets noticed, and then more people read your writing. Find a new angle on some hot topic.
  • Generate a book title and then write a story based around that title. (This sometimes works for me).
  • Browse the odd news stories on Yahoo. (I often use this as a source for short stories. Seriously, there is nothing stranger than truth, seriously).
  • Draw on your childhood.
  • Look into the lives of your ancestors and tell their stories. Use your imagination and fill in the gaps.
  • Take a secondary character from a favorite story and write his/her story.

Now, let’s assume you have come up with an idea for your story. How can you flush it out?

Write a synopsis. Now I know this sounds strange, considering we usually think of writing a synopsis after our story is finished, but writing a synopsis before we write our story can actually help us mold our idea into something workable.

From the start, it is a good idea to keep a notebook next to the computer or have notepad open on the computer for planning purposes. The synopsis is usually written from the omniscient point of view and in present tense, but I like to write the pre-planned version of the story from any one of the characters point of view. Later, when it comes to writing the real synopsis, this point of view can be changed very easily. Source.

One of my favorite writing blogs, Paperback Writer, had this to say about synopsis:

With all due respect to the organic writers out there, I advocate writing the synopsis before writing one word of the novel. For me, it organizes my thoughts and reassures me on a couple of levels. I know if I can write an effective synopsis, I know the story inside and out.

I also use synopses for nailing down annoying/lengthy story ideas that won’t get out of my head. It helps get the pesky stuff that I don’t have time to write out of my head, and I always feel good dropping a full synopsis into the idea file.

Here are some links to help you get started on a synopsis:

Five Steps to Writing a Synopsis

Writing a Novel Synopsis

Still drawing a blank? Here are some writing exercises that may help jump-start your creative idea juices.

  • Two or three pages. Write down your first three memories. Can you make a story out of any of them? Try.
  • Two to three pages. Write down the first dreams you remember. Don’t mention that they are dreams.
  • Recall a physical or verbal fight, and construct it as one scene.
  • Two to three pages. Think about an incident that you avoid remembering – or can’t clearly remember – and write about it.
  • Write about a moment of terror you experienced, or about a blow to your pride.
  • Two to three pages. Write “My mother never … ” at the of a page, then complete the sentence and keep going.
  • Read Bible stories. Can you make variations?
  • Do historical events intrigue you? Do you keep wondering how things really happened? Write one to two pages.
  • Two to three pages. Imagine some event that could have happened to you but did not – something that you wanted or feared.

Well, what are you waiting for? Brainstorm! 🙂

Did you write a blog entry about finding ideas or writing a synopsis? Leave us a link in the comment section!

Next: Setting

NaNoWriMo, Writing Stuff

NaNoWriMo 2008 WINNER!


From the NaNoWriMo website:

Through storm and sun (and cold, crappy weather like today), you traversed the noveling seas. Pitted against a merciless deadline and fighting hordes of distractions (like website updates, family obligations and intestinal problems), you persevered. You launched yourself bravely into Week One, sailed through the churning waters of Week Two, skirted the mutinous shoals of Weeks Three and Four, and now have landed, victorious, in a place that few adventurers ever see. (But should! Come on writers! Focus!)

We congratulate you on your hard work, salute your discipline and follow-through, and celebrate your imagination.

You did something amazing this month, novelist. We couldn’t be prouder.

*blush* Why thank you.

Here’s a stupid short video that I shot at the university library today, shortly after I crossed that 50,000 word line. If you think I look tired, you’d be right. 🙂

(The sound is pretty crappy, so you might want to turn your sound up. Thank you!)

Can you imagine a world WITHOUT the National Novel Writing Month challenge??

I can’t. And I hope I never have to. Won’t you please consider donating? I know times are tough, but this challenge is one of the most amazing experiences out there and all for FREE! If NaNoWriMo blessed you, then please, consider donating and help them continue their writing goodness. 🙂



Reality Check – Last Excerpt


Here’s the last installment from my 2006 NaNoWriMo project.

I have comments turned off, not because I don’t want your feedback, but because I can’t afford to think about revising at this point – I hope you understand. 🙂

Please remember, this is straight from my rough draft – I’ve done virtually no editing. 🙂

Thanks for reading and KEEP WRITING!


“Should I wait here, miss?” the cab driver asked her.

That was probably a good idea. She didn’t even know if she would be allowed into the house, let alone allowed to talk to Marcus. Perhaps coming hadn’t been the best thing to do.

“Actually, yes, if you don’t mind. I’m not sure if he’ll even see me so … if you don’t mind, could you stick around for about five minutes? I’ll come back out and pay you if it looks like I’ll be staying longer.”

“Right.” The cab driver put his car into park, turned off the engine and settled back into his seat. “Five minutes, miss.”

She opened the door and made to get out when suddenly a body shoved her back in, a male body.

“Hey!” She was shoved across the seat, her body pushed up against the opposite door.

Dalton shouted to the driver. “Drive!

“What?” The driver sat bolt upright and twisted around in his seat to give Dalton a wide, startled look.

“Drive!” Dalton glanced out of his window, a look of trepidation on his face.

“Wait, please,” Brenna placed a hand on the driver’s shoulder then turned to Dalton. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“I came to talk to Jackie.”

Brenna continued to glare at him.

“My sister?” he supplied, his brows lifted. “Marcus’ wife?”

“I know who Jackie is, Dalton! Now get out of my way! I need to talk to Marcus and you’re not stopping me this time.”

“I won’t have to,” he said, his eyes trained on a figure bursting out of the house. It was a woman, and she was carrying a shotgun.

“Get off my property, you little whore!” Jackie started across the front lawn, the gun dangling from her skinny arms.

“She wouldn’t seriously shoot me, would she?”

Dalton ignored her and spoke directly to the driver. “If you don’t want your head blown off, I suggest you MOVE!”

The cab driver took one look at the woman with the gun coming toward them and roared the engine to life. They were moving two seconds later.

Brenna turned around and watched the woman reach the curb. She steadied herself and took aim.

“She’s going to shoot us!” Brenna continued to stare at the woman through the back windshield. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. A man was running toward Jackie. It looked like Marcus. It WAS Marcus. “There’s Marcus!”

Dalton slapped a hand on the back of her head and pushed her down to the seat. “You have a death wish, do you know that?”

The driver, panicked and not wanting to get shot, rounded the corner on two wheels, they were out of sight within seconds.

“If she had fired that gun, could I have had her arrested?”

Dalton sat back up and regarded her with narrowed eyes. “Just what the HELL were you thinking?”

“I … I … needed to talk to Marcus,” she answered quietly, shrinking from Dalton’s anger.

“At his house? With his WIFE home? What did you expect to happen? That you could just waltz up to their house, ring the doorbell and say in that perky little voice of yours, ‘Hello. I’m Marcus’ mistress. I was wondering, is he here? I need to talk to him. I hope you don’t mind.’” He snorted. “Are you mental?”

“I don’t think I’m the one you should be asking that question to, Dalton.”

“I’m not playing games, Brenna. Jackie is my sister, and I love her, but she’s nuts. Always has been. She’s unstable under the best of conditions, she’s certainly not going to allow you to walk into her home and shut yourself off in a room with her husband just so you can get a few answers.”

“Uh … where to, lady?” the cab driver addressed the question to Brenna, but his eyes remained on Dalton through the rearview mirror.

“Back to the lady’s house,” Dalton growled

The cabbie’s question served to ground them both. Long moments passed with neither of them speaking.

“WHY don’t you want me to talk to Marcus?” She crossed her arms and turned in her seat to stare at him. “What exactly do you not want me to know? What is the big secret?”

“Believe me, I’d tell you if I could.”

“Why can’t you? I’m going crazy trying to piece this thing together on my own. It would be nice if you would meet me halfway here.”

“It’s more complicated than that.”

“How so?”

Dalton waved a hand. “Your whole losing your memory thing.”

“I’m not made of glass, Dalton.”

He sighed. “Look. I realize this must be incredibly frustrating for you,” she snorted in response. He ignored her. “But you’re going to have to trust me on this. Dr. Connelly said you lost your memory because of something traumatic that happened to you. This is your body’s way of protecting itself. You’ll remember when you’re ready to remember. Talking to Marcus is not going to help you.”

“It would fill in some gaps.”

“It would hurt you,” he said softly.

“Why do you care? Wouldn’t it be better to make me remember? Then you would have the answers you need concerning the fire, you could get back to work, I could get on with my life, everyone’s happy.”

“It’s not that easy, Brenna.”

She felt like screaming. “It could be! Why do you feel like you have to protect me?”

He was silent for a long time. When she was sure he wasn’t going to answer her, she huffed out an irritated breath, moved closer to her side of the car and stared out of the window.