Tag Archives: characterization

Patterns Of Power

In Janet Burroway’s book Writing Fiction, she talks about Patterns Of Power in writing and how both the protagonist and antagonist should be matched in order to keep the reader guessing as to the outcome of the struggle between the two.

She cites the different ways in which power can be shown: brute, physical strength, charm, knowledge, moral power, wealth, rank, etc. Usually the characters hold many forms of power in their own personal arsenals and that makes for a very suspenseful and complex play between the competing forces.

This got me thinking about Eric Byrne and Transactional Analysis which first hit the best seller lists in the late sixties and early seventies. I found his concept of Parent, Adult, Child to be fascinating and very true to life and the ways in which people wield power over others.

What I found most amusing and have seen in fiction stories is how when one person begins acting like a parent the other will most likely slip into their ‘child’ mode and either rebel like a kid, or become emotional like a small child. I’ve seen an example of this when a main character visits a teacher she had when she was in second grade, and even though the main character is an adult she suddenly feels as though she is that little kid again, feeling shy or tongue tied.

I believe in Transactional Analysis and the three states of Parent, Adult and Child. The more I think about this, the more ideas I get about dialogue between characters and characterization.

Have you noticed this power play in your daily life, or in fiction? How would you script a play between someone who is acting like a parent confronting someone who chooses to act the child, or the adult role? Or two adults playing the child, or …? You get the point.


Nancy A. Niles is the author of Vendetta: A Deadly Win, a contributor to the book on writing entitled Novel Writing Tips and Techniques From Authors of Second Wind Publishing and a co-author on the book Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story all three published by Second Wind Publishing Company.


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The Moth

While surfing the web the other day I came across best-selling author, George Dawes Green’s website and learned about The Moth.
He is the founder of The Moth. It is an event where people get on stage and share unscripted stories. He’s being hailed as doing his part in preserving the tradition of story-telling in the digital age.
I listened to some of these stories and found them to be inspirational, humorous, interesting and a lot of fun. I like this idea of spontaneously getting in front of a group of people and telling a story, whether that story is something that actually happened in your life, or just a story that’s been bumping around in your head.
Would you share stories of your past, or of your dreams, or of something that caught your attention and just won’t let go? Would you find the experience to be freeing and inspirational? I think this would be a great thing to do in writer’s groups, or in interviews with authors.
The stories we carry are the stories of our lives and of who we are. As a story teller this idea intrigues me. What about you? What stories would you share in front of an audience?

Nancy A. Niles is the author of: Vendetta: A Deadly Win

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Writer Beware–POV Confusion/Character Overload by Juliet Waldron

I recently reviewed a book by first time indie author, a gifted natural story-teller. Her book centered upon a long-ago tragedy in a small, tight-knit backwoods town.  I found the story difficult to follow, because of frequent POV shifts, sometimes as often as every few paragraphs. There is usually a double drop between these shifts, but she also had a habit of changing voice. Sometimes the new POV is first person, sometimes third. Occasionally, I found myself stumbling from first person to third person subjective, or yanked straight out of the story by bursts of the venerable 18th Century third person omnipresent. Many of her narrators are unreliable, as well, and there are many, many characters, almost an entire town, but few of them are well fleshed out. However, each one, Rashomon-like, has a unique piece of information about the pivotal event.

As compelling as the idea was, I’d have to say thumbs down. Unfortunately, her tale is both interesting and important—and probably still inflammatory in some quarters. Local people no doubt remember with horrible clarity where they were on the day when a labor dispute went terribly wrong and police waded into strikers, killing one of them.

Elaborate Point of View shifts are tricky business even in the hands of more far more skillful writers. If I’d been her editor, I know we could have worked it out, but she clearly had problems making a choice about who her main characters were to be. Although it might have created new difficulties in telling the story, the loss of focus that resulted from all that switching around made my job as a reader far harder than an author has a right to ask.

My diagnosis is that the story hadn’t jelled when she began to write. In her rush to get the inspiration down, to cover all the bases, she created a huge maze of information and very nearly couldn’t unravel it. A novel, (which is, after all, an artificial creation and not reality) needs a core character(s) and a core point of view.  This gives the reader a place to stand among whatever whirligigs of narrative and event the author can contrive.

So, if you are thinking of finally writing “that book,” decide who/what/where/when before you get going. Laying the groundwork, pouring the foundation, you might say, is the place where a writer truly has to start. Find the eyes you want to see events through, and please don’t, for the reader’s sake, use too many pairs!



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I find many ideas in the non-fiction world that seem to naturally blossom into ideas for fiction novels. I am currently working on one such novel. It was an experience I had after a huge upheaval occurred in my life. The scenes have been dramatized in keeping with a suspenseful fiction novel. However, at the time the events were very dramatic to me because they were really happening.
My quandary was how much more dramatic to make the scenes and by adding more drama was I making them unbelievable? I toned things down a bit and finally came to the conclusion that the main character’s thoughts and reactions were just as important as the events which she had no control over. And her thoughts and reactions went straight to who her character is.
Now, I am finding that a couple of different stories could spin off from this main idea using other characters with diverse perspectives on the same events. It is a type of mind game I play with myself sometimes and one of the joys of writing fiction. I have had stories become something completely different than what they started out to be, even though they grew from a very specific idea.
I’ve read novels that seemed to be going in a certain predictable direction and suddenly take a turn that astounded me. The Juror, by George Dawes Green is one such novel. He seems to have found a balance between the character driving the story and the events ratcheting up with every change the MC experiences.
In The Juror the antagonist also changed as the story progressed and took the action to new areas and it was not a story that I found to be at all predictable. That is good writing.
Are there any stories or books you’ve read that seemed predictable but kept taking not only detours but kept shifting the power between the main players, and also had many changes in events and within the antagonist and protagonist?
Nancy A. Niles is the author of Vendetta: A Deadly Win and Lethal Echoes.


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A Little Touch of Evil

Writing is a type of purging. It cleanses and rejuvenates; it releases the bad vibes and draws in the positive ones. Writing is good.

But what happens when writing is used as a negative sword? What happens, say, when you write a character in such a horrible light there is no means of redemption?

Take that one step further: how about writing that horrible character based on someone you know? Is that such an evil thing to do?

My personal opinion is no – not if the situation warrants a bit of retribution. It’s just a little touch of evil. After all, what you write is fictional. It’s made up. It’s all coming from your head.

It feels really, really good when you can exact a certain type of permanent vengeance with the flick of a pen. It’s a battle you win, no matter what, as long as you don’t name real names or recall to the exact detail certain events related to said foe.

As I sit with a drooping halo slipping down the back of my head, I will confess: I took great delight in writing a character less nasty and psychotic than the actual person I based it on. I was a bit kind, but I was mostly mean and more than a little evil.

Why would I do this? Human nature is my excuse. I found out some things recently that peeled back the innocent mask of someone I know and exposed a monster whose lack of conscience has hurt people I care about and who continues to hurt others.

A real-life character just like fictional ones I would write, this person’s dark narcissism is hidden behind innocence and light. The cookies at the kitchen table hide the sharp knife under the plate.

But . . . it’s payback time, baby.

Oh, the name has been changed to protect the guilty. Somewhat changed, that is (syllabic homophones to the rescue).  The physical description is exact, but I could be depicting one of a million other people.

Because the fictional  incidents are different and the statute of limitations has definitely run out on a few things, I’m in the clear. There’s nothing this person can do short of owning their antisocial behavior – and that’s not going to happen.

As writers, when we portray people we know in our characters we take care to write them in a positive or neutral light. But, what of those we abhor? The best comeuppance is to immortalize your traducer. As long as care is taken, I believe one can pull out most of the stops and let the brittle tarts fall where they may.

La vengeance se mange très-bien froide!

J J Dare is the author of two published books, several short stories and about thirty works-in-progress.

Current enthusiasm is co-authoring at Rubicon Ranch


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Writing Noir Fiction by Nancy Niles

By Nancy Niles, author of Vendetta: A Deadly Win.

I’ve always loved books that had the “haunted hero” as the protagonist. The policeman who is avenging his family’s murder, while blaming himself for their deaths, the confirmed criminal who is wracked with regrets, the war veteran who witnessed his whole platoon being wiped out and cannot come to grips with the fact that he alone survived.

Who doesn’t question themselves from time to time or second guess their decisions, or regret mistakes that they made in the past? Isn’t that part of what makes us all human? And aren’t those questions, regrets and second guessing catalysts to growth and knowledge? I certainly hope so!

One of the reasons I so enjoy the Noir genre is the philosophy that goes on in the head of the MC. I like that she is flawed and at times indecisive and frightened, and in many of the books she is actually a criminal, or has been involved in criminal activity in the past. It seems that her criminal behavior is needed for survival as most times she runs with very unsavory characters and is thrown into dicey situations.

Even the scenery in the Noir novels speaks to the life of the MC, usually very bleak, dark and hostile. But eventually some light does shine and when it does it’s explosive. I’ve been studying this genre and writing in this genre for the past few years and find that the deeper I reach into myself the closer I come to writing “true” Noir.

Having a basically sunny personality I enjoy letting the darker side come out and play with this genre. Finding a balance between bleak and just plain whiny, though is sometimes a challenge. (Thankfully I have a good editor who sometimes draws blood with the very deep cuts she makes.)

In my latest novel, Lethal Echoes, My MC, Tina Munroe has a very bleak outlook on love since she had a horrific experience with the first love of her life. When she starts falling in love with Lex she fights the feelings and when he tells her he wants to discuss some ‘conditions’ with her, she is sure that she’s not going to like what he has to say.

His ‘conditions’ are merely that they trust and respect each other and by that he means he doesn’t want her lying or hiding things from him. He wants to be a part of her life, but as a partner, not as a boss or dictator.

This is new for Tina and the idea intrigues her, but when he gets shot because she allowed him to get involved with her case she turns to her dark side for strength. Without giving away too much of the novel I show how the dark side comes to her aid and she steps into criminal activity with a vengeance. It saves her life and the lives of others. She understands her dark side, but it is the loving, vulnerable side that needs nourishing and she finds that the two can co-exist quite well.

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Staccato: Script vs Novel – by Deborah J Ledford

As I mentioned in a previous article to the series Staccato: Inception, the novel actually began as a screenplay. Staccato was the third script I wrote back in the ‘90s. After the visual of the hands hovering over a piano keyboard, clasped in handcuffs captured my attention (a rendition of what is now the cover of the book), I knew I had the basis for a great sub-plot. Motion picture scripts are ideal for my way of writing—captivating visuals, intriguing characters and most of all, dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.

Those of you versed in screenplays know that you cannot go into too much detail, especially how the characters react to situations because this is the actors job, and even the mention of “ticks” or body language is not to be implemented within the pages of the script. Your job as the screenwriter is to merely provide the locations, vaguely set up the characters, and give them lines of dialogue to propel the action.

Novels are another beast and the major reason I switched to writing novels. Composing full-length prose allow you the freedom to create the characters and scenes as they come to you. It is important to completely flesh out locations, especially setting the scene at the top for the reader so they can put themselves there. The way you the writer indicates body language is also acceptable and necessary to make the characters come to life.

Hidden clues are also much easier to show. For example, the mere foreshadow of a clothes hamper which will later contain a bloody shirt can prove to be a captivating visual. Images are more lasting and hard-hitting when used with finesse as well. If you thoroughly give the reader mouth-dropping images, they will remember your book, and look forward to your next.

Most of all, it is a must for the novelist to convey realistic, lasting characters. Characters the reader can connect to, those with heroic capabilities, as well as human flaws, rife with ticks, fears and foibles. The screenwriter must rely on performers, directors and editors to convey these elements.

The novelist has more “power,” if you will, to present the complete picture that comes to them, an ideal representation of their original concept.

I plan to re-write the original screenplay for my second novel in the Steven Hawk/Inola Walela series, Ice on Fire, but not before this manuscript is available in printed format—the fleshed-out, full blown, complete version of the “Movie in my mind.”

Deborah J Ledford is the author of the debut suspense thriller novel Staccato, now available from Second Wind Publishing, Amazon, Kindle, and independent book stores.


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Hands, Feet, Fingers, Toes

It is not necessarily true that a picture is worth a thousand words. It takes only a few words, if they are the right words, to create vivid portraits. The secret is to choose significant details — details that mean something, that promote the story, that evoke emotion — rather than to write long passages of trivia.

In The Blue Nowhere, Jeffery Deaver tells us about Wyatt Gillette, a computer wizard, by focusing our attention on Gillette’s hands. Gillette has thick yellow calluses on the tips of his muscular fingers, and even when Gillette is not at a computer, his fingers move constantly as if typing on an invisible keyboard. I know somewhere in the novel Deaver described Gillette, but did he really need to? Don’t we get a feeling for the character from those two significant details?

By describing a character’s hands, we can describe the character. A man with manicured and buffed fingernails is different from one with grime permanently etched into his cuticles. A woman with bitten fingernails is different from one with dirty, broken nails, and both are different from a woman wearing designer acrylic nails. The color of nail polish a woman chooses tells us about her character. And clear nail polish on a man would tell us about his character.

We can describe hands in many ways: claw-like, thin, scrawny, big-knuckled, blue-veined, plump, fat, chubby, arthritic. Characters can have tattooed hands. They can wear gloves, a simple wedding band, or multiple rings on each finger.

Hands also do things. They wave, point, gesture, touch chins or noses, and each of these gestures and mannerisms tells us about the character.

What is there to say about toes? Think about a woman who wears severe suits and a severe hairstyle but paints her toenails crimson. That contradiction makes us want to know more about her. Or think about a man with a mincing walk stemming from shoes so small they pinch his toes.

I know it’s easier to talk about writing in general, but most of us (or maybe just me) can benefit from a more pointed discussion. So think hands, feet, fingers, toes.

Pat Bertram is the author of More Deaths Than One,  and A Spark of Heavenly Fire now available from Second Wind Publishing, LLC.


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