Outside Forces

On my vacation journeys, I found ample time to people watch. I saw some pretty interesting action/reactions that I myself would not do or say. This is important as a writer to understand that other people are different in many ways.

I talk about behavior a lot because it’s important to any character and story to evolve characters and who they are. Or even make sure they don’t evolve, that they stay exactly who they started off as. Or make them de-evolve into the ‘bad guy’. Either way, as they bumble along, it’s important that they have reactions to situations.

Personality can be affected by outside forces. These extenuating circumstances can often cause a character to act… well out of character.

What outside forces am I talking about? The kind that can suddenly or even gradually force a person to act irrationally in one single moment or over a designated period of time.

Here are a few examples:

hunger/low blood sugar
Sun/Overheating
Sudden weather change

Thirst
Headache/Illness
Other people’s screaming children/loud noises
Bad Drivers

Greif*
Shock/fright
Injury/Pain
Exhaustion
Drugs
Alcohol

*While grief is an emotion, it is caused/forced by outside forces and is not(hopefully not) an everyday emotion.

It’s important to make sure that they still have some of their personality within the moment or shortly after. Also, note that it can be frustrating to have everyone that’s “Drunk” Behaves the same or have everyone “grieving” reacting exactly the same. If you’ve ever been to a funeral or watched a movie with one in it, you can see that individuals act individually. While variation doest mean I would have people acting in extremes (Unless necessary) I would have subtle differences or meaningful moments of uncharacteristic behavior that has a poignant place in the story or character development.

My advice about outside forces.
When used well they can add a dynamic and depth to any character. They can show perfect Pauline has a limit to her seemingly unending patience or that Fury driven Frank has a soft spot for kittens being abandoned in a garbage bag at the side of the road. 

-Sheryl

Other people posts

People Watching

Static Vs. Dynamic

My Posts From The Start

Copyright © 2017 All rights reserved

Bumble

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Who Would Do What?

I recently spent a day at a theme park. It was hot, fun and full of a wide range of emotions. A fun little writing exercise I thought of while waiting in line for a ride has sparked today’s post.  My imagination run’s wild at times.

I like to think a lot about characters and how each behaves differently from the other. How would they react in certain situations?

More importantly, how would each character act if put in the same situation. It would be erroneous to believe they would act the same or all act the way I would have behaved.

I want to make sure I keep my characters individual as possible. That doesn’t mean that they can’t react the same, but that some would not. So how does that work? How can I keep enough variety?

I’ll start by setting up the scenario so you don’t have to read it over and over.

It’s a hot sunny day at a loud and overly busy theme park. The line up to get on to a popular ride is at least an hour-long. There is no shade and irritability is a common sound among parents hissing ‘stop’ at their children.

This particular ride is terrifyingly tall and raises the riders to the top to drop them quickly. Every time I looked up at it some would grit their teeth, some would pale while others would become excited and some nervous.  It has six sets of four seats in a row. Groups of people vary in size.  The excited and relieved people corralled in the staging gates are let into the area to find seating. A lone rider sits leaving a single seat open on a row of three unbeknownst to him. A family of four wants to ride together but there is only the single seat on one side and the three empty beside the single rider on the opposite side.

Example 1

“Excuse me, sir. Would you mind moving to the single seat on the other side so we can ride together?” The father asked.
“Oh, yeah sure. I didn’t realize there was an empty seat.” He said getting up to move.
“Thanks, man.” The father smiled. 
“No Problem.”

Example 2

“Excuse me, sir. Would you mind moving to the single seat on the other side so we can ride together?” The father asked.
The man threw his eyes up to the sky. “Fine. Even though I just freaking sat down and buckled in.” He said begrudgingly.
“I appreciate it man, thanks.”
“Sure whatever.” The man stalked off to the other side to sit.

Example 3

“Excuse me, sir. Would you mind moving to the single seat on the other side so we can ride together?” The father asked.
“I do.”
“It would be nice.” The father prompted. “We’d like to sit together.”
“Not my problem.” The man ignored the protests of the children for the separation.

Example 4

“Excuse me, sir. Would you mind moving to the single seat on the other side so we can ride together?” The father asked.
“Piss off.”
The tired family separated unhappily yet silently.

With each example, I had the single rider’s response increase in hostility. There are infinite ways this could go. The father could involve the ride attendants. The man could involve the ride attendants. They could get physical and evicted from the park. The ride attendant could get physical with the belligerent single rider.  The family could have been lying about the one empty seat and the single rider would have to wait another turn. Karma could get either and the ride breakdown.

How a person responds is as important as how a person initiates.

Example 5

“Seriously? Come on man there’s a single seat on the other side. We want to ride together.” The father said frustrated.
The man looked at the Father, seeing he was tired from the long day…

Again the single rider can respond in any way from polite to outright rage. This would depend on who that person is on a basic level. Unless there are extenuating circumstances well foreshadowed I wouldn’t have someone kind and calm, tell the man to Piss off.

Assessing the possibilities of alternate outcomes can also lead to possibly a more interesting angle, change the story or direction completely or cement the readers’ feelings toward a specific character, which is very important to do. If a reader doesn’t care one way or the other they might just stop reading or complain about wasting their time.

My advice about exploring the possibilities.
It’s honestly a lot of fun and if you take the time to try you might find a better angle or even another angle for another story altogether.

-Sheryl

Other reactive posts

What Do I Do About That?

What’s Your Story?

My Posts From The Start   

Copyright © 2017 All rights reserved

Grit

That Was Random

In my last post, I mentioned a run in with a man who was so abrupt and rude it almost threw me for a loop. I maintained my composure, but it got me thinking.

I tucked him and his behavior away for a potential character and I couldn’t stop thinking about him. His outburst was random, and in my opinion unprovoked. However, if I look closer his behavior was probably normal or at least justified in his opinion. So why was this so important?

Characters.  

Character building is not just about what happens to a main character throughout a story but how to build one before putting any of them in. I’ve mentioned before that I like to give every character, minor or major, a history. I give them a past that determines how they are now. A back-story. 

Writing a random run in with a random person in a book can be tricky. If it has nothing to do with the story or the protagonist’s journey then it will be superfluous. However making it meaningful is just as tricky. If it’s blatantly obvious then the reader won’t appreciate it. If however I can make it part of the story and meaningful while keeping it totally random then all the better.  

My example is loosely based off another run-in with a man this weekend at the local farmers market. 

Amber checked her watch and took a deep breath. Ten minutes in line for the store to open. It took forever to figure out a birthday present for Dale and this store advertised they were getting the newest fit-bit in stock a week before the others.

The doors opened and she stepped forward. There were seven people ahead of her. She knew this because she counted them at least a hundred times out of boredom. As she got to the entrance a man in a Tommy Hilfiger jacket stepped in front of her.

“Hey.” She called out to the man. “Get in line dude.”

He turned and smirked at her with his beady brown eyes and graying stubble covered chin. 

“I am in line and I’m in a hurry.” He turned his back to her without a trace of remorse or anything resembling human decency. 

With fists at her side, she pressed forward. She went right to the counter and the man was just handing out the boxes to everyone as they approached.  She took hers, went to the accessory wall, and found the one she was looking for. She reached out for the last blue zipper accessory so dale would have options and a hand snatched it before she could.

She looked to see Hilfiger jacket man laugh and walk away. Normally she would scream and make a scene outing the jackass for what he is. 

“Karma will get him.” Amber muttered and took the dark green zipper accessory. She was buying a gift for Dale the least she could do was follow his mantra.

Karma had been more than a bitch to her so she knew damned well that you get what you put out. Pursing her lips, she headed for the checkout. There were two open and she got in line. If she was lucky, she could get to work on time. She inched forward until she was next.

“Next.” The cashier called out. 

Before she could approach, Hilfiger Jacket man stepped around her and took her turn. 

“Oh you smarmy little shit.” Amber uttered under her breath. “Karma, karma, karma…” She whispered as she got to the other cashier.

Luck was still on her side as she got to her desk before Valery strolled up.

“Good morning Amber, you look better today.”

“Thanks. I feel better.”

“I need to ask you a favor.” Valery smiled kindly. She approved of Amber’s new persona. She was working hard to make up for her selfish ways. It wasn’t a secret that she was pregnant. A single woman with no talk of a boyfriend, it was no wonder her stress was so high. 

“Sure boss.” Amber smiled back. “What can I do?”

“There’s a man in my office for an interview. I double booked and I have a man in Clifton’s office. Can you take the one in Clifton’s?” Valery asked and held out the interview questions. 

“Sure.” Amber jumped up and took the question sheets as Dale peeked around his cubicle and tried not to grin. 

“Be brutal they’re applying for the new assistant position and will be working directly under you.”

Amber nodded as Valery walked away. She gave a giddy squeal as Dale gave her double thumbs up. 

“You’re right about Karma Dale. I could have been a total bitch to some ass-hat this morning, but I let him be a miserable jerk and minded my business.”

“And now you’re getting an assistant. Go.” Dale waved her off and she went to Clifton’s office quickly. 

Amber opened the door and walked in to sit in Clifton’s chair. “Good morning Mr…” She glanced at the sheet. “Kyle Travis.”

The man stood and held out his hand to shake. His face paled as she smiled. Mr. Hilfiger jacket recognized her from earlier. 

Amber shook his hand. “Let’s get started shall we?” She sat as sweat beaded on Kyle’s forehead and he took his seat.

The original run in was a man who kept budding in front of my husband and I as we waited our turn at the market. It was very frustrating. Now I didn’t give him an interview, but he was so random and owned his rudeness that he made for great character fodder. Tucking these random run-in’s away for reference later, is key to good writing in my opinion. I take from what I experience and embellish, twist and maneuver it to fit into my story in a random and fun way. 

For Amber her journey is about becoming a decent human being. What she does now that she has this man by the proverbial short hairs will determine how far she’s come. It was nice to have her not pop off and take the high road. 

My advice about random run-in’s.
Write them down for future use. Inspiration comes from life and there is no better inspiration than a total jackass who gives you a great template to work with.

-Sheryl

Related posts

People Watching

Individual Arcs

Round vs. flat

Copyright © 2017 All rights reserved
Trace

What’s Your Story?

Back-story. Background Story, History, Origin story, whatever you want to call it, it is what makes a character who they are before the story started. How important is it to create back-story for characters? Without history and experience a person is pretty dull and can become unbelievable.  Even if a back-story never makes it directly into the manuscript it’s important for it to be there.

A character may be a jerk, but why? Why is it important as the writer to know where a character came from?

To illustrate easily let me ask you… What’s your story? What makes you… you? Everyone has one and this should be true to wrting as well. Writing a generalized jerk is okay, but one that picks specifically on red heads and girls with freckles might have a deeper reason for doing so. That doesn’t mean I have to even mention the reason just that the character only ever picks on those two types.

There are several types of back-story. Here are some that I’ve used.

Influential –

The type that defines a person. For example Jill and Jane were raised in an extremely abusive household. Jill grew up fighting against domestic violence and has a tender caring heart, while Jane internalized and let the situation take seed. She now abuses her daughter and husband and has developed a dependency on alcohol and prescription drugs to cope. Not every situation has to have the same impact on a person. In this case I would have Jill actively speak out against any form of violence or bullying. Jane might be the one that causes all the strife in Jill’s life.

Small –

A minor character or even major one may have an issue with mustard. Perhaps they were forced to eat it as a child and sat crying at the table for hours until they choked it down.  They may not be actively aggressive or upset about mustard now, but they certainly wont touch it and my even be repulsed by someone who eats it. 

Ongoing –

A back-story that hasn’t quite ended. Someone may have had to care for a sick relative and has reached their limit. They are still caring for said relative but the manuscript picks up middle to end of the care process. This can be a great way to have a character spring-board into their journey. They may have to choose to end said relatives life out of mercy, desperation or loathing. They may love them till their last breath and on their dying words are told something that forever changes their life. This sort of back story would pop up often and easily lead to flashback scenarios. 

Trauma  – 

The back-story that causes major change or a huge shift in a character. A happy-go-lucky person, who is strong and successful is injured or loses everything suddenly. A family is suddenly cut in half by a tragic accident causing the protagonist to question their life. 

Back-story’s go hand in hand with plot devices. For my characters they have a story to tell. Whether its outright and part of the plot or arc, or if it’s subtle and shown in their behaviors, preferences and life choices. If Johnny has no respect for police officers and it gets him in constant trouble, there is a reason.

Keeping track of back-story is very important no matter how small a part they play. I use charts and lists to make sure everyone has a reason for what they do and don’t do. Does this mean a character’s back-story is set in stone? Nope, I’ve added and removed things to suit them and where I want them to go. But it helps to know where they started if I want them to seem real.

Minor/flat/static characters generally have untold back-story. The exhausted overly cheerful hot-dog vendor works 15 hour days to support his dying wife. The crying child climbing the shelves in the supermarket, driving everyone crazy, just lost his father in a plane crash and struggles to cope. Do I mention all those details? No. Probably not.

The Main/Rounded/Dynamic Characters will have their back-story come out at some point or in small doses along the way. They are after all on a journey of growth and change.

My advice about Back-story
Make sure everyone has one. Decide who gets to reveal them and who doesn’t. Keep the minor characters simple and express their back-story by very subtle means. It’s super annoying to be brow beaten by a paragraph delving into the reason Mike the mechanic rips off his customers. Just that he does, is enough.

-Sheryl

Other character building posts.

Who are you again?

Snoopy McSnooperson

Copyright © 2017 All rights reserved
Climbing

Round vs. flat

Characters are an important part of every story. They are the vehicles to which the story rides.

The diversity of characters in a story should be great. No one character should be exactly like another. (Unless they are meant to be)  I mentioned Dynamic vs. Static characters. Within either of those groups lies another option. Round vs. Flat.

Rounded characters are full, interesting and often multi-layered in their approach. Regardless of the complication or lack of in a character I keep track of them in detail. Consistency is key to character writing.  Rounded doesn’t mean dynamic. Dynamic is changing and evolving(or de-evolving) while rounded means the character has a rich character. Often with a background story that should be reviled in a timely manner within the story. They have emotional depth and react to things and situations. The more rounded a character is the more realistic they feel to the reader.

A rounded character takes time to grow and develop. They need a lot of attention even if they are minor in the story. I like to give minor rounded characters one very distance flaw or quirk. Sometimes they get their own mini side story. For example a character that is picked on my a main character may have a breakdown or a moment of strength. They may impact the main character’s journey but not change it.  Amber picked on Rachel. I let Rachel interact with Amber, Dale and Scott and eventually Rachel stood up for herself just as Amber is starting to question her behavior and life choices. I gave Rachel a back-story, emotional responses, opinions, thoughts and feelings. She reacts to situations but isn’t a key part of them. (See ‘what if’s of imagination’)

Flat characters are the two-dimensional ones. They often have little to no impact on the story. They come and go and are there as a prop for a scene.

Examples of Flat characters
Waiter/Waitress
Counter clerk/sales person
Receptionist/concierge
Co-worker
Relatives
Police officer/fireman/paramedic
Panhandlers/Buskers
Person bumped into on bus, street etc.

Whether they are reoccurring or a one-off flat characters don’t need a lot of attention. I barely give them a presence. A general description if necessary. I don’t go in to detail over what they wear, how they look or act. These people are the cardboard cut-outs and are meant to be. I dislike very much when a flat character gets a full paragraph of introduction then absolutely nothing happens with them. They go nowhere and do nothing.  I don’t care what colour their eyes, hair, skin and clothes are if they have no impact on the story whatsoever.

My advice about flat vs. Round characters.
I often say I write what I like, what I want to read. The same is true for the opposite. Judge carefully who needs depth and who can stay in the background. Two dimensional characters tend to stay that way. If you give them more than you have to make them more.

-Sheryl

Related Posts

 The “What ifs” Of Imagination

Squeaky Clean

Wisely Perpetrating Gullibility

Copyright © 2017 All rights reserved

Timely

Static Vs. Dynamic

There are many facets to writing characters in a story. I like to make mine as layered and real as possible and use charts and lists to ensure I know who they are from their quirks right up to major character flaws that define them.

A dynamic character is one that changes over time. They start off one way then learn and grow as the story or stories progress. Sometimes this happens by design and sometimes it happens out of creative circumstance. This doesn’t always mean for the better. A character can rise up from the ashes or descend blindly to the depths of hell. There is a caution here, having a character spontaneously change is frustrating and weird. There must be foreshadowing, cause and effect put into play. If Scott went crazy for no reason and just snapped it would be weird for the reader. Unless I’m going for shock value. Even then I would have foreshadowed it a little.

On the flip side of a dynamic character are static ones. The static character remains steady. They don’t grow and develop or crash and burn. They simply are there and stay that way.  Most often a static character is on the side or comes around infrequently. I’ve noticed the “advice givers” or wisest of characters are often static. they don’t have a journey to make they’ve already been there and done that.

Examples of typical stationary characters:
Boss’s
Parents/relatives
Best friends with no strife in their life
Teachers
Co-workers not tied to the story
The guy selling hot-dogs on the corner
The advice giving barista
Doctors and or nurses
The doorman/server/maid/concierge

Basically, anyone in a dynamic character’s life that are not directly a part of it. There have been times when a static character is pulled into the story and becomes dynamic, but I choose them carefully and try to replace them with another static character.  I’ve also had characters that are constantly around the most dynamic and still stay the same. Not everyone needs to grow and evolve or fail and de-evolve.

A static or background character runs the danger of becoming inert. They can easily have an impact on the story, good or bad. They can easily help the dynamic’s of the story move along their path. A static character isn’t a one-off appearance. They are there more than once, often a support system of sorts. They should not always be dull or invisible. I call this the cardboard cutout character. The one that is there but not.  The easiest way to give them some color is to give them humor or make them the ‘middle-man’.

Confusing growth with change is easy to do. Circumstances can change for a static character, they can react/act within that change and still remain static.  Dale is a character that hasn’t grown, rather his circumstances have changed and he adapts within his set parameters that I created. He is still the same and hasn’t become more or less of a hero, nor has he become or more or less of a villain. Scott has changed for the bad. He is slipping into an old dark shoe that has nothing to do with this story but affects his personality. This is known as back-story. His change was foreshadowed with actions, expression, and words.

My advice about Static vs. Dynamic characters
We spend a lot of time focused on the Dynamic characters. I think it’s important to give Static one’s depth too. Give them a history, purpose, range of emotion and response. They don’t need to learn, but they shouldn’t be cardboard cut-outs either.

-Sheryl

Character related Posts

I don’t know how to do that.

Becoming Bad

Copyright © 2017 All rights reserved

 Blindly

Individual Arcs

I’ve recently explained the main story arc and it’s components. I touched on the smaller arcs within the main story. I thought I’d go a bit further into the little bits that make a story juicy, that make the characters real and seemingly come to life.

The individual story arc.

Each character with purpose in a story should have their own story. The closer to the protagonist or antagonist the characters are; the better the story they should have. Or they should have more influence at least.

This doesn’t mean every character in a story needs a full on arc of their own, that would be dreadful to write (IMO) let alone read.

This can feel daunting to think about but I’ll try to explain how I go about keeping it from becoming overwhelming.

The Main:  Sasha
The Secondary Main : Cal
Sub Characters:
Valery
Anne
Scott
Amber
Dale
Mr. Clifton (Boss)
Baylor (Antagonist)
Mystery character yet to be revealed (Main antagonist)

Sasha and Cal will have the interactive story arc. They are the main characters. Side characters with major influence will get bigger parts to teh story and a much richer story arc. Others will likely just fall within other story arcs as influential but not instrumental.

Sasha

Beginning: Pushover/victim – Gets attacked at work by bully, gets attacked by Baylor
Middle: Baylor pursues her as does another antagonist – she learns to stand up and save herself
End: (This part is not up for discussion yet)

Sub Beginning: Resistant to romantic relationships due to bad experience
Sub Middle: Slowly gives into Cal’s advances 
Sub End: (Cant let you in on that just yet)

Cal 

Beginning: Homicide detective moved to new precinct in search of Baylor
Middle: Keeps Baylor’s recent interest(Sasha) from him, then loses her
End: (A secret)

Sub Beginning: Is interested in Sasha romantically
Sub Middle: pushes her to face her past and move on
Sub End: (Hmm… a secret)

Valery

Beginning: Sasha’s pushy best friend/ boss that nudges her into the dangerous situation
Middle: Provides nervous and worrisome reactions to illustrate the seriousness of Sasha’s situation
End: Helps give big clue to help Cal… (The rest is a secret)

Sub Beginning: party girl with no desire for steady relationship
Sub Middle: Finds a man that keeps her interest and listens to her rant about Sasha being in trouble.
Sub End: (Still a secret)

Scott 

Beginning: Tries to get Sasha to have sex with him constantly
Middle: Gives Sasha a weird vibe. Also picks up on the fact she’s in trouble and helps Valery. Goes off the deep end over Dale and Amber and also Sasha’s rejection.
End:  Causes trouble.

Sub Beginning: He’s up to something
Sub Middle: Jealousy eats him alive. He’s definitely up to something
Sub End: (A secret too)

Baylor

Beginning: Attacks Sasha
Middle: Keeps attacking until he gets her – but is kept from harming her and is forced to hand her over to his boss (who is worse)
End: (This is a secret for now) 

Sub Beginning: na
Sub Middle: na
Sub End: na

I didn’t go through them all, and I didn’t actually give much away.  For my own notes its all filled in but with A LOT more detail. with interactions listed, what they specifically do to influence the story etc.

Now Sometimes I don’t have a sub-plot for a character or they don’t have much impact so they don’t get a lot of face time. Or I haven’t figured out how or if they will impact the story. I have gone back and added situations and scenarios after the story is written. This list is a guideline and not set in stone for me. Sometimes an arc falls flat and needs to be removed or changed to make it work again. For me keeping this stuff straight is just cautionary, I already know what’s going to happen, and sometimes even that can change if I’m inspired. There are times when I have a character that has a purpose but I still need to work them in… if they can fit.  I like to think of my stories as malleable so my mind is always open to possibilities. I often sit and ruminate, playing out what will and will not work.

My advice about individual story arcs.
Super necessary, it is so much more fun to read a story that has the supporting and sub characters actually influencing and interacting in the main arc than for them to be the ‘cheer’ section or the background noise.

-Sheryl

Other posts I wrote

(Insert description here)

Sound and selfish advice

Copyright © 2017 All rights reserved
Ruminate

Don’t talk like me!

So I’m a newbie writer. By that I mean I haven’t been writing seriously for long. I’m bound to make mistakes, everyone is. One that I have to keep my eye on is writing individual dialogue. It is super-duper easy to write individual characters talking all the same… as I talk. For narrative it’s totally fine but characters, need their own voice. Even with the best of intentions I find it easy to forget the little things that keep that character unique.

So what do I do about it? I refer to my character bio’s often, where I keep specific details on each individual. I establish a clear voice in my head of how each person sounds. How they contract certain words, what jargon they use. Do they say yes or yeah. No or na. It doesn’t have to be a lot of differences for every character, but one or two distinct variations.

Here are some ways to make a character speak distinctly from others. (*Extreme suggestions should really be limited to one character)

  • Never contracts words*
  • Uses old-fashioned words such as indubitably, propitious and quiescent *
  • Says um or ah from time to time
  • Uses pauses for dramatic effect
  • Says Yes only or often uses Yeah
  • Uses similes all the time
  • Constantly uses metaphors
  • Never stops with puns(Must be well done and fit the scenario)
  • Jargon junkie
  • Says the word Like, like all the time.
  • Uses nicknames
  • Uses local dialect
  • Never swears (Could be cute about substituting “Holy Christmas that’s loud!”
  • Swears often or has a favorite swear word they use like a noun.
  • Calls everyone dear or hun
  • Geographical slang such as Y’all or Eh.

This list can go on and on. The point is to give each character a vocal quirk to make them unique from my own way of speaking. Now if you use a phrase or a character has a very unique verbal quirk, it’s fun to have someone else pick it up. As long as they or someone else point it out for fun. It needs to be addressed in a humorous way for it to make sense to the reader.

“Listen up everyone.” Terry waited for everyone’s attention. Scott clenched his jaw and forced himself not to groan. Amber bit her lip and looked at her newly fascinating pen. This was going to be a boring meeting.
Terry straightened his tie before continuing. “As you two are abundantly aware we are competing with Laverne and Associates to win the contract for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.”
Dale rolled his eyes to the ceiling. “You can just say RCMP.”
In Dale’s opinion Terry wasn’t the right designer for this high-profile project. Sasha should  be heading up this one or Scott. Dale let Valery know he wasn’t thrilled to be working with Terry.
“No I cannot.”
“Tight-ass Terry will sink this project faster than the titanic.” Dale muttered to Amber and she snickered behind her hand.
“Do you have something to say Dale?”
“Nope.” Dale cracked his neck from side to side. “Go on, dazzle us with your recycled ideas.”
Terry narrowed his eyes and clenched his jaw; this was the worst possible team.

Dale is a ‘Nope’ kind of guy because he’s brash, rude and often insubordinate. He uses it often but not to people he likes. Terry, well he’s the pompous blowhard unaware he has little talent of his own. He’s disrespected, so uses big words and speaks in what he perceives to be smart.

My advice about character dialogue quirks.
It is extremely important for your character to stand out from the others and the narrative. Even if it’s just a little. Put thought into it and if the character is from a region you’re not familiar with do some research to find out if there is a local dialect or saying used. 

-Sheryl

Other posts:
Oops! What did I just say?

It’s really very unnecessary

Copyright © 2016 All rights reserved
Specific

Who’s who in the grand scheme of things

When I create a character such as Sasha, I build them up from the bottom to the top. It’s called backstory From their childhood and any traumas or lack of, all the way through life experiences to their present day. They need moments that define who they are, incidences good, bad and mediocre to sculpt their persona. Coworkers, strangers and friends that come and go or stick around are important. Family however are the most important. Whether they have none or too many members needs to be established. Family shapes who we are and should play a part in my characters life as well.

I create family trees for everyone. How important they are depends on how deep, the roots and branches go. The mains and prominent villains get the biggest trees or the ones with the most details. Each family member has a small bio whether it’s used or not. A vague reference to Uncle William being the family drunken mess could play a big part on my character Sasha’s views and behavior toward drinking. Perhaps he scarred her with a particularly bad episode so is leery of ever getting drunk enough to lose control. Maybe Grandma Jillian was a remarkable woman who struggled through one adversity after another and solidified Sasha’s strength and determination in life. Was it her great uncle, who threw her high in the air scaring her and missing once that caused her fear of falling? It’s important to know who they are and what role they play.

Is it always black and white or set in stone? No, I’ve changed family members to fit the story to led a moment or two to influence Sasha. My point is that without a history, without friends and family influence or lack of a person is empty of life experience. She had a family but her friend Anne didn’t, she grew up alone bouncing from obscure relatives to foster homes. She has issues and they show in her interaction with Sasha. Are they in your face, holy crap she’s damaged interactions? No that’s not realistic. People brood and often hide their feelings only letting shreds out. Mystery is tantalizing and even if its small it will foster the readers interest in the character.

How far do I go back? Usually one generation beyond use(I’ve even gone forward one preparing for the future). If she only ever mentions her Grandparents then I’ll go back to the great grandparents and their children. Not all branches are full or finished if its completely unnecessary. If Sasha’s grandma mentions she had two siblings but I talk about a third that might be noticed. That is why I use family trees. Even for the bad-guys especially if they come in to play even a little. Mine are created in an excel spreadsheet, each member has a description. Height, age, birthday, build, eyes, hair and skin color. Ethnicity and languages they speak and job. A brief bio on their history if necessary. I add to this and edit all the time. Maybe it wasn’t uncle William but Uncle Paul instead. It really depends on how I want to progress the story.

Each tree is important, for each book I have a small forest of trees big and small. For BiaAtlas I have three main family trees and I’m careful to maintain accuracy.

My advice about family trees.
Don’t look at it as a chore. It is the opportunity to build depth into your story and characters. It may or may not be needed but it helps me keep who’s who sorted out and provides a wonderful source for potential drama or character growth.

-Sheryl

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Tree

Covered up with paint and lies.

When I write depth into characters can be complicated and simple at the same time. Complicated because they need a history, a set structure of behaviors, actions and reactions. Simple because they are human and can be unpredictable when necessary. When I start out building the foundation for a character like Sasha, I have to have her backstory set out and ready to work from. She struggles to get a head and seems to fall short on the luck end of the scale. Something from her past haunts her and holds her back. Now her boss handed her a project laced with false promise and subtle threats, the content goes against her morals but she needs the money. I tend to start someone like this already low, have life toss her a few more blows before she is able to shake them and rise above. Sasha is the kind of person that hides what’s beneath, not well, but she tries. Her shame is in her self-perceived weakness of character, a failure as a woman who should be strong in the face of adversity. 

Sasha hung up the desk phone hard on her friend Anne and sat back in her chair. Anne and Valery weren’t giving in, they were going to drag her out to the bar tomorrow no matter what they had to do. She reached over and closed the ominous file that her boss gave her hours ago. She packed it in her briefcase with her laptop and sighed heavily. The project had to be illegal, everything about it felt wrong. The email she just read from her lawyer said the Smithson’s lawyer won the argument and they didn’t have to pay her back for the leaky roof they lied about nor the huge crack in the foundation they hid. Of course not, why should Sasha catch a break today? It was a long shot but the shady owners had left a lot of nasty surprises that they covered up with paint and lies.

She swallowed hard as her turbulent mind made her stomach jump and taught nerves cry to go home, the falling down shamble that it was, and crawl into bed and stay there for the next week. Valery would be popping by in a minute to make sure she wasn’t going to bail and run on their dinner plans tonight. Sasha closed her eyes, took a deep breath and composed herself. She slipped into an uncomfortable façade and smiled as her door opened. Best to play along, then they would leave her alone so she could cry later.

People in the real world behave this way, smile, fake it and let nobody know. People react differently to situations and not always the way I would. I try to pay attention to others and to how they handle things. Sometimes it goes against my sense of logic and that is what I need to write in to a character. Something that frustrates or annoys people. Because that is real. I can’t have everyone doing and reacting to things the same way. They can’t all agree and they can’t all get along. They can fake it, they can even show their displeasure, they key is consistency. Sasha isn’t likely to yell at her friends for being friends, she will suck it up and crawl into her misery shell later. Sasha is coming up to the anniversary of the day that reminds her of the worst day of her life. Her friends won’t let her wallow, and things are not looking up for her. The meanie I am will write her downfall and it’s going to be a hard fall. Don’t worry someone will help her through it all, support her while she gets back up and dusts off the crap I throw at her.

Some, not all people put on airs of one sort or another. A false face presented to the world. Not everyone pretends to be happy, some people pretend to be jerks, or unhappy or even sick. I mean come on all you have to do is look at co-workers, how many are genuinely happy to see the boss emerge from their cave of wonders to  judge your efforts on looking productive?

My advice about facades in characters.
They make people interesting so I recommend adding them to make a character feel real to the reader. Take some time to watch people, real live people in action. Pay more attention to them and even yourself.

-Sheryl

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Over used and oft abused.

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Facade