Family Background

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Pick one of the character’s family members. In this instance, I chose a sibling. What comes to mind when that sibling thinks of the character? I got this idea from a free writing prompt: What scared you? I’m not sure how I decided to write from the POV of the sibling of a secondary character, but what I wrote gave me so much insight into the secondary character that he became quite easy to write.

(Yes, these are tips to get to know ALL your characters, not just the primary ones. I’m not suggesting you do each exercise for every character, but if you are struggling with a character, try one!)

Character Background

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Write a short story of a defining moment of the character’s past. I picked a fairly mundane event when my MC was cleaning out the attic. I learned a lot about his childhood and his family that way. Another time, I wrote about a pivotal moment in the character’s youth that brought about everything that happened to him. It took place years before the story starts but is important for my understanding of the character.

Point of View Switch

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Even if your story has only one POV character, try writing a scene from a different character’s point of view. Experiencing the world through a different character can actually help you realize things about your POV character. When I added a secondary POV character to my story, I learned a lot about my primary POV character. For one thing, I learned how the other characters view him. More than that, I realized things about his voice. I learned that he is fairly introspective but is willing to talk about his thoughts to those who seem safe or will listen. I learned that he experiences the world mainly through his thoughts and emotions (in contrast to the secondary POV who experiences the world through his senses and actions).

Describing Your Character

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Describe your characters from the POV of multiple other characters. Knowing how others see your character can help you as a writer in defining him.

Describe your character without mentioning her hair or eyes. Think like Sherlock Holmes. What would Holmes know about your character just from looking at her? What about her appearance gives clues to her personality? Is there anything distinctive or defining about her appearance?

When this method really came home to me was as I was describing my MC’s little brother from an outsider’s point of view. He noted that the little boy had a skinned knee and red scratches on his arms, the kind you get climbing trees. That defines the little brother so well in just one line. Why can’t I do this for my main characters? So I set out to try it.

Happy Writing!

Getting to Know Your Characters Series

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The way I come up with stories is by asking “What if?” questions. The few times I’ve thought up cool characters, I haven’t been able to milk a story out of them yet. I find it interesting then that the most consistent compliment I get on my writing is that I have solid characters, and I obviously know them very well. Those two things go hand in hand. When you know your characters well, it comes out on the page. They feel like three-dimensional, well-rounded, real people.

I have used several techniques to get to know my characters. The first is just to work with them a lot. Revising isn’t just a plot or craft thing; it helps with characters, too. But there are other devices and ideas to break the ice with your characters.

Over the next few weeks, I will share some of the techniques I have used. I hope they will help you in your writing endeavors to create characters with depth. Perhaps more than that, I hope they will help you to enjoy your characters and to have fun writing!

Three Different Characters

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I am having so much fun writing! I was nervous because this story is mainly the interactions between three guys, all of whom are soldiers. None of them are real emotional or open. When I put them in a room together, my initial desire is to have them all talk things out, but they wouldn’t. There would be lots of awkward silences. 🙂 I really want their interactions to be authentic. Once I got going though, I’m having a blast. It’s fun how different they are.

One has been through a lot of trauma so realistically would be suffering from PTSD. That made me nervous because my original vision of him was as a strong, save-the-day kind of guy. Writing him is actually coming a lot more natural than I expected.

My main POV has a lot of internal thoughts and is the most outwardly emotional of the three. He has a desire to protect and care for others, but I don’t always get that across right. He cares about others but doesn’t come out and say that. Usually he just beats up whoever is threatening them. 🙂 I think the first conversation between him and the trauma character went really well. He was caring but not gushy.

Then I started writing from my secondary POV character. He has a heart but it’s buried. He has no patience for weakness or incompetence. He doesn’t step softly around the trauma character, which actually made me chuckle when I was writing him. Whereas my primary POV would have not said anything or asked if the trauma character was okay, this guy just called him out for not doing things right.

They are all so different. I kept putting off writing because I was afraid of messing things up. It’s amazing how everything is just flowing. I’m having so much fun I want everyone to read what I’m writing. This is how writing should be. I should love my story so much and write it so well that I can’t wait for others to read it. Praise God for the return of creativity!!

The Return of Creativity

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Six years ago, I graduated with a Masters of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults. I spent the next year and a half writing the story that had been on my heart for a long time. I had a blast. I could hardly wait to get out my paper and pencil. One rainy Tuesday, I poured cup after cup of coffee and hand wrote twenty-two pages, a record that still stands. (For those of you who computer write, that’s twenty-two double-spaced computer pages.) I made myself cry multiple times at work as I thought out scenes while folding stacks of clothes. My writing was amazing (comparing to myself). With only three drafts, it was good enough to send to friends. One friend called to tell me she had planned to read a chapter or two and couldn’t put it down! She sped through the first fifteen chapters. She was super excited. So was I. I was having a blast. I finished the manuscript and set it aside for a little while to brew.

In fall of 2012, I moved. I turned to writing, as I usually do, to anchor myself and give me something solid during a time of transition. Writing is also my recreational activity, but now, it was my job, too, as my health prevented me from working outside the home. I embarked on a new story (rather an old one that I was revisioning). I was excited to get my manuscript ready for publishing, but it was like pulling teeth. After fifteen drafts, it was still terrible. I would go back and read that story that had gone so well and wonder why I couldn’t do that again. When I thought I finally had things near submission ready, I had the opportunity to join a critique group. They told me I have a lot of work to do. I didn’t enjoy writing anymore.

So I took a break. I had some other lovely family things going on that needed my attention anyway. Sometimes, I feel as though I’m letting people down (almost everyone has been so encouraging and genuinely interested in my progress). I feel as though I’m letting my degree go to waste. Most (if not all) of my classmates are published. Why aren’t I? I finally realized I need to give myself grace. I’m still settling in to a new place, trying to put down roots and make friends. I have a family now, and I don’t want to miss out on precious moments that pass so quickly to write a story that will still be there when I’m an empty nester.

I realized I couldn’t NOT write, though. But what I had been doing wasn’t writing anyway. It was polishing to get submission ready. I decided not to care about publication for right now. I just want to love my story again. I picked up in a new place, and guess what? I’M HAVING A BLAST!!!! I can hardly wait to get to my pencil and paper. I fall asleep imagining scenes. I want to tell everyone about my characters and their struggles and how much I love them. I want to share what I’ve written because this is a good story. My writing isn’t as good straight out of the pencil as it was when I first graduated, but it’s a whole let better than it was when I was pulling teeth!

I still may not update regularly because I have a busy life now (yay for making friends!!). But as I have no writing buddies in the area, I may post here when I just cannot contain how excited I am about my characters and my story. Praise God for the return of creativity!!

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