Category: character development

prompt 933

Give your character a physical gesture, a “tell,” that reveals something important about them. Why do they have this particular habit? Under what circumstances are they likely to do it?

(subplot 1/2) I’m stuck on one major subplot of my project I’m working on; have you ever heard of the Sentinel & Guide trope? Well I decided to rework it around my universe and I did it by having this group of empaths. Basically they need a partner to help them fight in battle. The Empath can do both defensive and offensive attacks, but their partner can do mostly offensive, but they don’t have powers like their Empath partner yet they’re still strong enough to take on a battle.

(subplot 2/2) With the S/G trope the Sentinel is the one who has the advanced senses and the Guide is just there to help them come back down, so they don’t do much- but I want to expand on my version but I don’t know how. The Empath is my version of the Sentinel but I don’t know what to turn my Guide into. I’m sorry, I read fanfic alot but this idea popped up in my head and I didn’t know who to ask, so if you can’t help that’s totally fine.

I must admit, I had to look up the Sentinel & Guide trope, but I think I know some ways to help you out. 

They way that I understood the Guide is that they are someone who has to “ground” the Sentinel. You say your Sentinel is an Empath, so how does being an Empath require someone to bring them back to reality? Are your characters just partners in battle, or is there any room for personal relationship in your story? A bad example of what I’m thinking of is L and Watari from Death Note. On one side you have a person who has near-magic levels of intelligence and analysis skills, and on the other you have his handler, who is somewhat of a fatherly figure and acts as a liason to deliver information to the “Sentinel” (I remember something about Watari being able to calm L down when he gets riled up, but I may be misremebering).  

Your Sentinel is an Empath, but your Guide can be a handler, or assistant, emissary, intermediary– the possibilities are endless. Even just using a thesaurus may give you inspiration if you’re looking to change the title. The direct opposite of an empath is a narcissist, although that word generally has negative connotations/is not exactly a superpower. Since empathy is the ability to share and understand feelings, the opposite would be one who has no ability to connect emotionally to others. If the Empath can’t stop themself from augmenting and aprehending the emotions of others, how does the Guide help to protect the rest of the team.

Who is the main character in this story? If you decide to focus on the Guide, I see no reason as to why they can’t have their own development outside of the Sentinel. If the Guides are capable of some supernatural ability, how does being a Guide affect their usage? There are a lot of directions in which you can go that allow the Guide to be so much more than ‘just’ a Guide. Just as a general warning, make sure your characters (and powers) have balanced strengths and weaknesses. That alone may prevent the Guide from being ‘just a Guide.’

I don’t want to force feed you ideas, but some plot points could be:

  • Guide becoming fed up with their position
    • Possibly want better assignment/different Sentinel
    • Guide not fully understanding why they have the role
      • Why Sentinels exist and the reason Guides are needed
  • Sentinel turning against Guide in moment of confusion
    • How Guide reacts to this (emotionally, physically…)
  • Guide feeling inadequate becaues of Sentinel
    • Guide finding their own self satisfaction/self worth
  • Guide dealing with the downside of their own powers

xx Sarah

How to Give Your Villain an Emotional Backstory That Isn’t Tragic

its-a-writer-thing:

In crafting a villain’s backstory, we often want the
origin to be as powerful as the character themselves. As Chris Colfe says, “A
villain is just a victim whose story hasn’t been told.”

Unfortunately, however, tragic backstories become tedious. Oh,
of course their parents were eaten alive in front of them, their home was foreclosed
on by a corrupt institution, the love of their life betrayed them, their
favorite TV show was canceled, and they couldn’t get the last scrap of mayonnaise
out of the jar. Someone get the fainting couch, quick.

At a certain point, it’s no longer a backstory – it’s a sob
story, which quickly transforms our empathy into pity, and finally into boredom.
We roll our eyes and wish the villain had kept the melodrama to themselves.

On the other side of that coin, having a character who
stomps on bunnies for no reason isn’t exactly relatable, and a well-rounded
character can’t just burst into existence one day fully formed. Everyone has a
history. 

So how can you give your villain a backstory that tugs on
readers’ heartstrings, without making it a sob story?

For this, we’re going to use Epic of Lilith as an example once again
(How
to Make Your Villain Domestic but Still Evil
), as well as Megamind briefly.
Some of these tips can also be applied to heroes, but we’ll stay
villain-centric for now.  

Keep reading

Hello ! I’m writing a novel where the MC and the Protagonist are two different characters. In regard to that, do you have some advices on how to plot the story ? Is it any different than usual ? (knowing that the MC isn’t just a passive observant and is trying to be involved in the protagonist’s plotline while still having her own subplot. She just doesn’t drive the main story)

Your protagonist is the character who grows the most over the course of your story. While they are generally the same character as the main character, they don’t need to be. This might be a bit confusing to write at the beginning, but it is not completely unheard of. I would argue that in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter is the main character while Neville Longbottom is the protagonist. I admit, it’s a bit of a stretch, but it gives a clear example of what I’m trying to describe. 

Your plot can be anything you wish, to be quite honest. Having two different characters for the protagonist and MC will not make or break different plot types. The protagonist could be the main character’s enemy (making your main character an antagonist), or someone the main characters mentors to grow– the possibilities are endless. Just make sure you give the necessary amount of time to your protagonist, because if she isn’t growing, then she isn’t a protagonist. 

For something like this, I would recommend against using multiple points of view when writing, because then your protagonist will become a main character, and then all of the hard work you’ve put in to build up a protagonist without her being a main character will be for nought. 

I wish I could be more helpful, but it isn’t all that different from writing a typical MC/protagonist combo. Writing with this cast structure is a really good exercise for anyone who is looking to test their character development skills. It can be much harder than it sounds. Good luck, and happy writing!

xx Sarah

I’m writing a story about two girls in highschool, A and B. They just found out that there’s a secret organization in the school ran by deliquents. They were threatened not to tell anyone or else the organization would reveal some of their horrible secrets in the past. A is terrified because this would ruin her reputation as a good student, but B isn’t. She’s planning on writing an exposée in the school paper (to get all the glory of cracking a huge case). But A and B are getting closer [1/2]

I’m planning to make B choose between A and the glory, and I need help on the reason why B would insist on wrting the exposée, even when they’re already close (without A knowing of course), up until the very moment she would have to make the choice. I’d really appreciate if you could help me out. Thanks! [2/2]

Greed. Selfishness. Fulfillment of some deep desire for power.  

I’m going to start this off with pseudo-case study. If you look at the social climate in some of the top univeristies in the United States, I guarantee that you will find students who are willing to sabotage their classmates for the sake of their own well being. It makes for a terrible environment, but when the stakes are high, some people will do anything to make themselves come out on top. Whether that be cheating, unplugging their roommate’s alarm clock, or purposely destroying a curve. That isn’t true for every student and every university, but people like that do exist. 

If B has the chance to write an

exposé that may increase her credibility, or gives her a chance at rising in the ranks at the school paper, she may be blinded by her own selfishness. In her eyes, the pros of writing the piece may outweigh the cons of possibly losing a friend. People aren’t always rational thinkers. If a person is motivated enough to betray one of their close friends, they will do it. Human beings are selfish creatures by nature– being selfish is a trait that is explained in part by Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Survival of the fittest, doing whatever it takes to get ahead.

Rebekah has answered a few[1,2] questions in the past about writing stories in the high school setting. I highly suggest that you read them over.

xx Sarah

NaNo Prep: 3 Character Design Tricks From a NaNo Pro

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We’ve officially entered NaNo Prep Season! This week, we’ve asked participants to share their thoughts on how to create great characters. Today, 13-year NaNo veteran Sarah Pottenger offers three tips on how to overcome some of the toughest obstacles to character design:

My 2015 NaNo was an exercise in frustration. I had the seed of an idea and a handful of interesting characters and relationships, but no plot. I hit 50,000 words by the month’s end, but I came to the crushing realization that I’d have to start over. 

In 2016, I was determined not to let that happen again. I had a long weekend off work last October, so I booked a room at a cute B&B not far from home. I holed up in that room with the Ready, Set, Novel! notebook and began to work my way through it. After 12 years of NaNoWriMo, it was the most planning I had ever done.

Since I had to spend the bulk of my time on plotting, I couldn’t get caught up in creating characters in the same ways I had in the past. I’m an overthinker in writing and in life; I will spend days obsessing over tiny details of a character’s appearance or choosing a name. But because I had to limit my character time, I had to boil it down to on the most essential things I needed to know about my major characters, and I had to work differently.

Here’s what I’ve learned about creating characters after 13 years of NaNo:

1. Start with the basics.

It’s October! NaNo Prep has begun, so I know what I have to do. The four things I need to find out about my characters are: 

  1. Their name 
  2. Their role in the story 
  3. What makes them unique 
  4. Their personality 

That last one sounds big, but I only need to know the broadest strokes—whatever it is about them that tells me how they will react and what they will do next. I can’t always articulate this when writing, but it’s instinctual enough that I know when I’ve screwed up and written something my character wouldn’t say or do.

2. Detailed questionnaires can be a time sink.

This is so hard for me. Remember when personal questionnaires used to go around on Facebook, and before that, e-mail? I adored filling them out. The character stuff that’s all over the internet is a huge temptation. I could spend a ton of time agonizing over my main character’s favorite flavor of ice cream, but is it relevant to my story? Surprisingly few of those questions are.

3. Know your weaknesses.

My two big weaknesses with creating characters are visualizing them and overthinking their names. I’ve figured out how to work around that by picking names beforehand and not letting myself change them during November, and by creating a Pinterest board in October with pictures of people who remind me of my characters.

It’s not a perfect system. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve changed the name of a major character in my 2016 novel after November. I wrote my whole 50k last year before I realized I had the wrong character as the antagonist. It has always been trial and error, but the years I’ve deviated from it have definitely been the most difficult.

Having swung across the entire spectrum of pantsing to planning, I finally feel like I’ve hit on the right way to plan without overplanning. I have my next Ready, Set, Novel! notebook, I’ve started my Pinterest board, and I’m excited for November 1!


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By day, Sarah
Pottenger is the curriculum coordinator at a Colorado elementary
school. By night, she is a were-novelist in search of the perfect
writing spot. A former ML, Sarah is a 13-time NaNo participant and
12-time winner who spends the entire month of November wearing her
NaNoWriMo sweatshirt and drinking far too much coffee from her
NaNoWriMo mug. What she really wants to know how soon there will be
NaNoWriMo socks.

Top imaged licensed under Creative Commons from Justin Kern on Flickr.

Theres a sizable portion of my story where the main characters go through training of various sorts; two of them are training in combat and to become symbolic leaders of a revolution and the other is being taught to control his new powers. This comes relatively late in the story and im worried that since theres really no montage equivalent in writing itll get boring. I planned to maybe put some romantic tension in, but will that be enough?

Author Wesley Chu tackled something similar in his book The Lives of Tao. He used the training period as a means of fleshing out the MC and building bonds between him and other important characters. So, at the end of that section of the book, the main character changed both physically and mentally. Authors write about extensive training periods quite often. Suzanne Collins, J.K. Rowling, Jim Butcher, Veronica Roth, and many more exploit this plot point to show differences between characters, strengths and weakness, and character development. Training times are excellent for showing growth, since it’s a time for literally nothing more than learning and improving. If you can reliably write how your characters change and grow during what I am assuming to be a particularly grueling time in their life, there is no reason to think that it will be boring. Your main character is learning how to control his new powers, so how is he dealing with the new responsibility that has been suddenly thrust upon him? How do they feel about becoming a symbolic leader? Both of those points are a lot of pressure to put on a person. There is definitely room for some emotional growth during that training alone. Since you say that this training comes relatively late in the course of the plot, think about how the added stress of the prior events affects their well being. Are nightmares or flashbacks affecting his ability to train? Is there any unchecked rage towards a certain group or person that has yet to be tied up? There are so many directions in which you can go to expand on what you have already written. 

If your characters knew each other beforehand, how does the training affect their friendship? If they didn’t know each other, how do they react being forced together in such a way? You characters could become completely different people because of the training and have to build their friendship from scratch. That last example was somewhat cliched, but it would add emotion and spark to your work. Since I do not have the full picture to your plot, I want to refrain from plot point suggestions. Just keep in mind the pressures that your characters will be under in this situation and how they react. 

As for the romance, I’m generally not a fan of adding romance when the plot doesn’t necessarily call for romance, but if you find that it is fitting for the plot and situation, go for it. I find that too many novels add romance just for the sake of pleasing a certain audience. When romance is shoved into a piece where it is not quite fitting, it tends to seem forced and takes away from the rest of the plot (read my mini-rant about sex scenes in media here). On the flip side, however, romance that is done right can be heartbreaking in the best way. If a few of your characters begin to develop feelings for each other and are pitted against each other during or after their training, that adds a special type of conflict for your characters. If one of the romantic interests is deemed to be unfit for the job, how do your characters react to that situation? There are so many roads that you could take to add drama and tension without making seem frivolous. 

If you decide to add romantic tension to your story, but it doesn’t seem like it’s enough to be interesting, it might be time to take a slightly different direction in your writing. Continuously adding different plot points to try to liven things up can lead to the storyline becoming cluttered and hard to follow. It is best to keep things simple and cause tension through the characters’ personal and interpersonal struggles. From the small taste of your world that I was able to glean from the question, I can imagine a great number of areas from which you will be able to draw fuel to keep your story interesting.

xx Sarah

NaNo Prep: How the Ancient Art of People-Watching Will Make You a Character Pro!

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We’ve officially entered NaNo Prep season, and this week we’ve asked some participants for their thoughts about building strong characters. Today, participant Tessa Fang shares some tips on how to use real-life people as inspiration for realistic characters:

In these crucial months leading up to NaNoWriMo, I have found that it is extremely helpful to prepare your novel. That way, during the 30-day sprint to the finish there aren’t as many hurdles to jump over.

So what is my favorite way to prepare for NaNo? I would say through character creation. Believable and likable characters are one of the most important aspects of any story. I have found that a solid understanding of different characters can fuel a story on its own.

Failing to prepare your characters well could ultimately lead to complicated plot problems and a lot of extra writing. During the revision process leading up to publication, I often found myself re-writing scenes because of unnatural character behavior.

By far my favorite, yet slightly creepy, way to create believable characters is through observation. Watching people is the easiest way to come up with character ideas, simply because there’s no guessing involved. In the months before November I try to go to as many public places as possible; public parks, restaurants, and malls being my favorite. I often bring a pen and a notebook, or a laptop if convenient, and just sit around and watch––while looking busy. 

“On a people watching excursion, take note of any behavior, saying, or habit that is unique, odd, likable, or gross.”

Through these “people watching” experiences I’ve discovered small things and eccentricities that can make characters relatable. I noticed that some people have slight accents, or pick the skin along their finger nail, or say, “You know what I mean?” way too often. I took into account who said “yes”, who said “yeah”, and who just nodded their head. During conversations, some people sat up really straight while some slouched back very relaxed. All these small details are important in understanding your characters and making them come to life.

So how do you actually create a character? It’s not just copying a single person and imagining how they would act in a certain situation, although you could certainly do that. But I like to go with a technique I call “Character Creation Through Stranger Mixology.” This helps create believable, yet unique characters. 

This is how it works: on a people watching excursion, take note of any behavior, saying, or habit that is unique, odd, likable, or gross. It can be anything: the fact that someone wears a bow in their hair, or that they always have untied shoes, or that they go out of their way to avoid touching anyone in a crowd. 

After you’ve collected all your traits, mix them up! Craft the character however you want. Maybe you want to craft someone who is a quiet, odd, but lovable introvert. Look through your list and give the character traits that match the general description. Then rather than having a slightly generic character, they develop small intricacies that bring them to life.

Good luck to everyone participating in NaNoWriMo this year!


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Tessa Fang is a 17 year old student at Winston Churchill High
School and CityDance Conservatory. She is especially passionate about math and
science; in particularly the connection between engineering, the arts, and
creativity. Throughout high school, Tessa has dedicated her time to exploring
these connections through creative writing, engineering, and design. Her latest
projects include the published novel, Incarceration; an interactive art exhibit, Silhouettes; and a website to build and print custom
journals, Younique Journals. To learn more, visit her website, tessafang.com

Top photo licensed under Creative Commons by Chase Elliott Clark on Flickr.

I’m having trouble with converting my female main. She’s a dedicated solider to a world wide theocracy that worships a goddess. It’s her job to turn in unbelievers and there’s a underground organization that captures her. I’m thinking evidence would be enough. But the events the group claims happened occurred in a sort of spiritual realm before life on earth. Other than written documents that’s it. I dont want it to come off as easy and she could just write them off as being unreliable.

If your main character’s beliefs are firmly planted in her head, then evidence will not be enough to turn her. This is shown in society today with people who firmly believe that the Earth is flat and that climate change does not exist. No matter how much evidence is shown or how many solid arguments are made, they continue to believe in what they have been believing their entire life. It is very difficult to change a human being’s core beliefs. And, since you stated that there is not a lot of hard evidence for your case, if you want to make your novel realistic, there would be no reason for your character to believe the organization unless there were other factors at play. 

There is an arc in the Stargate: SG-1 television series that deals with something similar to what your character is facing. In fact, throughout the entire series, the concept of false gods and rebellion is the main driving force of the plot. The protagonists of the series use a combination of knowledge and violence to convince the subjects that their beliefs are unhealthy and preventing the societies from thriving. Most of the subjects meet the protagonists with a mixture of disbelief and anger. These reactions are something that you would want to keep in mind for your character, especially if she is hard fast in her beliefs about the theocracy. In this case, the underground organization will need to use other options than just trying to teach your MC about the events. Kidnapping for a long period of time, showing her that the consequences about which she was taught do not matter, or even using some sort of force to coerce her into believing would need to be used. 

Now, if your character had an experience or two that lead to her questioning the theocracy (such as one too many “glitch in the matrix” type events), then she might react to the underground organization with more of an open mind. If your character’s world has censorship laws that limit the media that could be consumed by the individual, from where would her disbelief stem? One possibility is something like a raid on a secret meeting where she happened to find a book explaining the cause of the underground organization. That would expose her to the world of the underground organization and allow her to ruminate on the ideas before she was captured. There are a great number of options that you can choose to provide some sort of initial contact with the conflicting ideas. 

The main character’s previous exposure to the conflicting ideas or willingness to explore possibly forbidden actions will be what determines whether she believes the organization outright or not. Depending on what choice you make, be prepared to have your character undergo some intense conversion sessions with the underground organization. If your organization if hard fast in making your character believe them, they may resort to violence to get their point across. 

xx Sarah

Hello! Thanks for taking the time to answer. I meant to ask, what are some ways to show character change in a very evenly-paced, natural manner? A transformation? I know what my character is like at the start and the end of the story and what triggers the change, but I’m not sure how exactly to portray the middle ground, the point where he is neither at the beginning nor the end phase of his arc. I want it to be gradual and realistic, but I am not sure how one goes about this.

@radical-bears

You might be overthinking the concept of changing in a “natural manner.”

If you look at yourself (or your friends/family) and examine from where your personality changes stem, I bet you dollars to donuts that a lot of your growth and change was not evenly paced. Nautral growth and change are different for everyone, and trying to boil personality change down to something that is even would be incredibly difficult. 

Having an abrupt change could stem from something traumatic such as death or war, or even something “trivial” like learning that his childhood hero was not as strong as he thought. Abrupt personality changes generally come from an event that shakes a person to their core, presenting with a lot of emotional outbursts and actions that seem out of the ordinary. These types of powerful emotions usually dissipate within a reasonable time period (but not always– grudges exist for a reason), but there is still a lasting effect on the person’s personality. 

Gradual change is something that I associate the most with knowledge. Children often see the world as ultimately good and harmless, which is defined as their innocence. As they grow older and begin to learn more about their surroundings and their culture, they lose this innocence, usually becoming less trusting and more cynical. Similarly to the abrupt change, your character might experience some conflicting emotions or even rage about the event. He may or may not eventually find peace with the situation.

 A lot of people deal with difficult emotions by going through the “Five Stages of Grief,” so if the event is particularly traumatic, this could be a tool to guide your character development. There are a quite a few options for you to take. My ultimate recommendation is to try to pinpoint why your character is feeling his feelings, and how his interactions with the other characters and his surroundings drives the plot. Maybe find a PDF of a general psychology textbook online and do some reading. 

xx Sarah