Tag Archives: creating characters

Emotional Rollercoaster by L.V. Gaudet

November has been a month of emotional rollercoaster.  Not just for me, but for the world.

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insanityLike a novel with no story, the growing insanity plaguing the world has climaxed with the terrorist attack in France.   The world is spurred to cry out both against it and at the world’s obliviousness to the terrorist atrocities being committed and ignored daily in other parts of the world by many different groups and individuals, all depending on where those cries are coming from.

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This has also caused a ripple effect of fear and hatred, growing with each wave, fed by ignorance and political agendas that have nothing to do with what’s really happening in the world and all about getting what is perceived as the popular vote or having their own voice heard.

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One side calls for the closing of the world’s or local borders to all outsiders.  The other side calls to embrace them, shelter them, and let them in.  Sorrow and fear live side by side, acceptance and hate.

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fearhateFear and hate spurs people to react in different ways.  The extremes in emotions on both sid
es cause more conflicts, turning neighbors and friends against each other.

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Good things that I should have been happy about and things that mattered to me this month are made small and unimportant compared to what others are dealing with somewhere else in the world.  Should I feel guilty for those small happiness’s?

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This post is not about what side of this debate I’m on.  It’s not really about this debate at all.

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It is about looking at humanity for what it is and using that to make your characters touch your readers.

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horrorHumanity is capable of the most outrageous of horrors, from the puppies cemented into a fish tank and left to die, to the world’s events.  The news every day is full of it.  Cold and cruel.  No horror writer can come up with horrors worse than humanity comes up with on their own.  But for all it appears on the surface, there is some driving force beneath it all.  Some series of events, combined with experiences, personality, strengths and weaknesses that drive each of these people to commit what they have done.

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Maybe this is what drives people to dark fiction and horror movies, the exploration and attempt to understand what makes people do such terrible things.

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Humanity is also capable of great feats of compassion, incredible strength of character, self-sacrifice, and amazing acts of courage and self-expression.

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As a writer, witnessing these real life events and people’s reactions to them has given me a deeper understanding of the incredible level of complexity that drives humanity and people as individuals.  Understanding the why of how that complexity works and what is behind it is something even the best psychologists and psychiatrists may not even be capable of.

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Pay attention to your own reactions and feelings to the things around you, in your own life and beyond, and you might get an understanding of how it might affect others.  How do those around you react?  Why do you think they respond that way?  Why do you?

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Getting the reader to relate to your characters, to love or hate them, feel for them, root for them or swear at them, is about how well you can relate to what might be going on in the minds of other people.

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Your characters need to be real, not just give the impression.  Make the reader forget they are fictional people.  What thoughts are going through their mind as they commit themselves to an action or inaction? Do they regret it before they start?  Are they blindly going forward without thought to the consequences?  And what about after?  How does it affect those around them?

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A character’s words and actions do not have to match what is inside them.  They don’t always for real life people.  People do what they think is expected of them far more than they do what they truly want to do.  Peer pressure, upbringing, expectations, culture, they all play a role in everyone’s actions and reactions.  So does fear of being called out by someone who does not agree, for right or wrong.

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Know your character’s culture, their upbringing, and the dynamics of the culture they are living in now.  Know their strengths and weaknesses.  Know how all this relates to real people and how other people may feel and respond in the same situation.

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Write your scenes, descriptions, and actions to resound with the reader.  Touch their five senses as they read.  Feel the body’s involuntary reactions, the wet of the rain, and the touch of the cold.  Feel the loneliness, despair, hope, and small sense of victory.  Feel what the reader feels.  Make the reader feel what you want them to feel.  Make them feel what your character feels.

.words have power
Words have an incredible power.  They can move people to both great and terrible things.  The impressionable person is changed for good or bad.  Opinions are changed.  Beliefs are reformed.  Make your reader evolve with the world and characters of your story.

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rollercoasterA story is ups and downs, highs and lows.  Envision the roller coaster, its peaks and valleys, the loops of rolling out of control, the thrill and fear and excitement.  The expectation.  Emotions, action and suspense surges, bringing the reader up.  A plateau.  Things level out, but the expectation hangs motionless in the air.  The reader knows it is coming, the peak, the biggest mountain before the frightening stomach-lurching drop to the deepest low.  But when?  Tease them with a smaller stomach-lurching drop followed by another rise to higher heights of tension.  When the ride ends, they should feel satisfied, fulfilled, yet just a little empty and yearning for more.

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The story that leaves the reader unchanged is the story that missed the mark.

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Where the Bodies Are is still available on various online retail sites while waiting for the changeover to the new publisher, Indigo Sea Press.

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Watch for The McAllister Farm to be released, hopefully some time in 2016.

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You can find my books both in paperback and various ebook formats at various online retailers, including these:

Amazon author page

Barnes and Noble

Smashwords

McNally Robinson

 

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Writing a Novel Series: Finding a Balance Between Fresh and Familiar by Christine Husom

I have enjoyed reading a number of series novels over the years, but had never thought of  writing one myself. Until I wrote Murder in Winnebago County, that is. The first book of my Winnebago County Mystery Thriller series was inspired by a tragic death, and the less than satisfactory explanation of exactly how it happened.

After a year of almost obsessive thinking about the death, it hit me. What if it wasn’t an accident? What if someone had deliberately hurt him? Who would that person be? What would be his/her motivation for murder? I soon thought of a number of characters who lived in the fictional Winnebago County in central Minnesota. As a former Wright County Sheriff’s Department officer, the semi-rural county was a natural setting for the story.

About halfway through writing Murder in Winnebago County, I knew I wouldn’t be able to retire the characters after only one case. They had become people I thought about almost as much as the live ones I was closest to. Dramatic incidents from my days with the sheriff’s department came to mind, and I formulated basic plots for the next two books.

What I learned from research and experience is three key elements for success in a story or book series are: creating realistic characters who continue to evolve with each book; writing an ending that leaves the reader wanting more; and letting the reader know what happened in a previous book without getting bogged down in lengthy descriptions.

  • Create characters readers want to follow and/or have a relationship with:

Write a background for each of your main characters as a base for their motivations, their beliefs, their morals. Much of who they are is based on their life experiences. Not all aspects of their past lives need to be included in the story, but may come to light in a subsequent novel.

How do they feel? What do they look like? Do they have a pet?  What are their strengths, their talents, their fears, their strengths, their vulnerabilities? How are they connected to the other characters? What role do they play in the story?

Create characters who become living, breathing, thinking, talking people who are interacting with other characters, going to jobs, falling in love, committing crimes, et cetera, for your readers. People want to see how your characters react under pressure, what they do when they get knocked down, how they handle compliments.

The protagonist and main character in the Winnebago County Mystery Thriller series is  Sergeant Corinne “Corky” Aleckson, a young sergeant with the sheriff’s department. Corky is dedicated to her work and loyal to her family and friends. Her longtime challenge has been pursuing her dream career without causing undo worry for her over-protective mother.

Corky has great instincts, but recognizes every day on the job is a learning experience. She gets called to task by the sheriff from time to time. She works closely with her friend and mentor, Detective Elton “Smoke” Dawes. They have a mostly comfortable, sometimes uncomfortable, relationship. A mutual attraction, which they push beneath the surface, occasionally rises.

While Corky is closely involved with family and friends, Smoke is more of a loner, a self-protective device he put into place following a failed long-term relationship. Although he sees his brothers and their children fairly regularly, he spends the majority of his free time fishing on his private lake, strumming his guitar, and playing with his dog.

  • Write an ending that leaves the reader wanting more.

The plot of novels, in general, and mysteries, in particular, start with a problem or situation that needs to be resolved. Each plot points builds on the next until the story reaches its highest point–the climax–which is near the end of the book.

Readers need to be satisfied the book has ended, so tie up, or at least address, loose ends. I usually do a one or two page summary, answering questions that were raised during the course of the story.

  • Letting the reader know what happened in a previous book without getting bogged down in lengthy descriptions.

This is the most challenging of the three elements. Each book in a series needs to written as a stand-alone book, yet fit into the series. Background information on the characters, laid out in the first book, needs to be shortened to a sentence or two in subsequent books.

In the second and third books of my Winnebago County series, Alvie Eisner, the antagonist from the first book reappears. In the fourth book, to be published later this year, Alvie Eisner is mentioned, and the antagonist from the second book reappears.

Two ways I address past issues and introduce characters from a previous story are through conversations between the characters and tapping into Corky’s thoughts about the situations or the people.

Although I hadn’t planned to write a novel series, the Winnebago County Mystery Thrillers has been fun. Each book presents its own set of challenges, but also reunites me with both familiar characters and introduces me to fresh characters and plots. And they constantly surprise me. My bad guys and gals may be spiteful and frightful, but  they give my Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department officers job security when they commit their crimes–another case to solve.

Christine Husom is the author of Murder in Winnebago County, Buried in Wolf Lake, and An Altar by the River.

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Creating Incredible (but Credible) Characters

What makes you the unique individual you are? Is it your looks? Your personality? Your upbringing? Your heritage? Your hopes and fears? Your strengths and weaknesses? Your likes and dislikes? It is all of that, and more. Those are the very same characteristics make fictional characters unique and so vital that when you’re  reading a book, you feel as if the story people are a part of your life.

Family and friends help make you who you are, or at least help show you who you are by the way you interact with them. In the same way, an author shows a character for who or what she is. If a character has that never-satisfied mother, that funny uncle, that supportive best friend, the author doesn’t even have to create the character, for the family and friends already have. It’s the character’s interactions that show who she is.

Enemies also make you who you are, and they make characters who they are. The stronger the enemy, the stronger the character. For example, a character who combats dragons is perceived as stronger than one who combats teddy bears. It is also a character’s enemies who help create the story because they give the story conflict, and without conflict there is no story.

And finally, how you talk makes you who you are, or at least makes people think that’s who you are. Do you talk with a lisp? Do you talk with an accent? Do you talk slowly as if savoring every word? Do you use four letter words? Do you speak softly, either because you are timid or because of passive aggressive tendencies? In that same way, dialogue shows who a character is.

The more an author knows about a character, the better she can show you who that character is. In older books, especially the classics, authors wrote page after page of character description, telling us who their characters are. Today’s readers, myself included, have no patience for such long drawn-out passages that go nowhere. We want to get right into the meat of the story. We want to learn who the character is by what she does, who she knows, and how she acts.

But first, the author needs to know who her character is.

(To help you learn more about your characters, click here: Character Questionnaire.)

Note: This is part of a presentation I’m going to be giving at the local library on Monday. so let me know if you have any suggestions or comments.

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Pat Bertram is the author of More Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fire,  and Daughter Am I.

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