BonusParts A to Z: Character

I took a poll a few weeks ago about what this “C” post should be about. Since I didn’t give the option of Cookie, Character won out. (The other available options – Cursive and Color – I’ll touch on in other posts, since there were a few folks who showed interest in those.) But for now….

C is for Character

There are already a lot of books and articles out there focused on how to write great Characters, and it’s not my place to tell anyone else how to write their characters. Instead, I’ll tell you about how I write mine.

Beginning Concepts

Every one of my stories starts with a main character, and the main character’s conflict. This initial conflict can be very simple, like a young woman finding out she’s falling in love with her teenage rival, or quite complicated, such as a special forces bodyguard trying to help his assignment-turned-friend escape the government conspiracy rising up around them. From that conflict, a personality starts to emerge. Oftentimes, it takes the shape of a voice, a face, and a manner.

My characters have very distinct voices in my head. Some voices come in accents, such as Seven’s clipped Ukrainian enunciation. That character’s particularly precise way of speaking, without contractions, created a picture of a big man with a straight posture who walks and moves with an efficiency of effort. That became his manner and his form. The third basic part of Seven’s creation was his face. He had to be a good-looking man but also scarred by his past. I made that scar physical and on full display on his face, in contrast to its secrecy.

With those three basic building blocks in place, Seven was free to grow as I experimented with dialogue, situations, and relationships.

Telling Their Own Story

No character exists in a vacuum. Story beats and other characters, both major and minor, have an effect on them. As my characters’ voices become clearer and more distinct from each other in my head and on paper, they start to become more fully-realized people. And, I do think of most of my characters as people. They have lives before I pick them up, and they have lives that continue after I let them go. (The ones I don’t kill do, anyway.)

I’m a firm believer in letting characters run as free as they can. Of course, a story has to follow a plot, and a writer can’t let a plot get away from them. But there have definitely been times when a character’s voice has been so powerful that I’ve had to change the story to suit them. For example, in my Persona 4 story 1 More Chance!, Yukiko was originally going to marry Kou, as laid out at the start of the story. But as I began to write more of Yukiko, her own voice usurped my previously-laid plans, and she revolted against those plans. That led to a completely unexpected fourth arc of the story that I personally think works better than my original outline.

What Did We Learn?

My characters rarely start out as traditional archetypes. They may become that – or come closer to that – over their time in my stories, but I prefer to create not from a distinctive mold but from an amorphous and changeable possibility. To me, that’s what makes these characters people.

But what about you? How do you create your characters? Let me know in the comments or on social media!

 

BonusParts A to Z: Baddies

Baddies

 

BonusParts from A to Z

B: BADDIES

For this entry into the BonusParts A to Z, I’m looking at the Baddies: types, ones I’ve enjoyed, and a few specific examples to hopefully tease some interest.

What’s a Baddie?

Generally speaking, baddies are the bad guys (or gals, or nonbinary individuals) who create conflict within my stories. Not every baddie is evil, though. Sure, some are nefarious villains, but others are simply rivals or foils. They are characters of their own, meaning they can have their own backstory, their own moral code, even their own objective within the story.

The Baddie’s purpose is to offer a point of contrast to the Hero. They are an obstacle to a goal. This can range from a charming challenger for a love interest’s affections to a sadistic crazy person out to destroy all of humanity. It all depends on the story.

 

She recalled the mysterious stranger in the grimy duster. “Is he a bad guy?”

“‘Bad’ is relative,” the man told her.

“Well, what’s he like?”

“Traitorous, sadistic, egocentric.” He sniffed. “Atrocious table manners.”

A Baddie’s badness level often relates to the overall stakes of the story. Your average Romance probably won’t have a baddie who is a serial killer. By the same token, you wouldn’t expect a Thriller to have a baddie whose primary role was as a romantic rival. I’m not saying you can’t have a serial killer who isn’t also a romantic rival, but the stakes need to add up appropriately for the primary genre you’re writing in.

 

My Baddies and Me

 

For a long time, I argued against the necessity of baddies. I thought non-corporeal sources of conflict – societal discrimination, accidents, familial responsibilities – could be enough to propel a story forward. The problem is that conflict against something intangible like social mores or a car accident can only go so far. Instead, these kinds of intangibles initiate reactions in characters that then manifest as more personalized conflicts: the potential lovebirds facing prejudice due to their racial differences. The hero battling his demons of self-doubt. The heroine trying to reconcile her relationships with her traditional family and her nouveau riche boyfriend.

It wasn’t until I looked back on these stories (Sixes and Sevens, Fearless, and 1 More Chance!, respectively) that I realized that a story’s baddies could reside within my goodies. Totally valid, and lots of fun to write. But not as much fun as an actual Baddie.

A Rundown of Recent Baddies

I’m going to highlight some examples of baddies in my novella, Number Seven and the Life Left Behind, which anyone can read if they so choose. [Purchase link; opens in a new tab.] The story’s main protagonist, Number Seven, encounters a few different types of antagonists throughout his adventure:

  • Number Fourteen is an adversary to Seven. She does her job, but she does it with cruelty, and she’s got a pretty mean streak. She’s designed to be unlikable.
  • Number Twelve is a counterpoint to Seven. He’s a jaded professional who doesn’t really care about anything anymore. I created him to show that Seven’s working world is full of a lot of different people, and not everyone who disagrees with him has been corrupted. Some of them are just tired.
  • Number Nine is Seven’s rival, of sorts. She’s as good if not better an agent as he is, though she is portrayed as being more severe. She’s a foil to his endeavors. I wanted her to be a competent but frustrated woman fighting for respect in a predominantly man’s world. Seven doesn’t see her as an enemy except for the situation they’re in, and that’s what really makes her dangerous.
  • Number Two is the story’s straight-up villain. He’s Seven’s opposite in nearly every way. He’s vindictive, malicious, manipulative, and pompous, a man who will allow or do anything for sake of the grand plan, no matter who it hurts or how.

Not only did these characters serve separate purposes, they also offered diverse perspectives on the world in which the hero lives. And they were all a sheer delight to write. They are still baddies, though, and do not take the place of the hero. I’m not saying antagonists can’t have their own stories or their own motivations; some of the best are those whose points of view we can understand. But your story’s baddie is not the same as your story’s hero. Otherwise, it would be a different story.

Do you like writing Baddies? What kinds of Baddies do you prefer to write or to read? Let me know in the comments!

BonusParts A to Z: Alliteration

ALLITERATION

BonusParts from A to Z

A: Alliteration

Welcome to the first post in my BonusParts A to Z theme year! Every 2 weeks or so, I’ll take a letter from the alphabet and choose a word or phrase that begins with that letter and write about what that word or phrase means to me and my writing. This being the first post, I’m starting with the letter A.

When I initially sat down to write this post, I thought I’d look at character names that start with A, since I have so many of them. Just off the top of my head, there’s Aksel, Alana, Amber, Anan, and Aral. But each one of those characters means something uniquely special to me, and I couldn’t put my finger down on just one to write about. So, I turned to my style. One technique I use a lot is Alliteration.

What’s Alliteration?

Alliteration, for anyone out of the know, is when the same sound occurs at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words. Many tongue twisters employ alliteration, such as the popular Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. That repetitive hard P sound is alliterative.

People in the past have accused me of being a bit too in love with words. I don’t deny that. Words can create sadness or horror just as easily as they can beauty and joy. One reason I love stories is for their malleable structure. Of course, too much of anything is not necessarily a good thing. That said, every edit requires a concentrated effort to rein in the more whimsical flourishes that flitter off in my first drafts. Here’s one from my current work in progress….

He lay like a pale, dreaming doll, blindfolded, ball-gagged, and bound by long sashes of shimmering satin to the four corners of the bed. He was shirtless, and his trousers had been pulled open to the very last teeth of his zip. Crouched atop him was a petite woman who was mostly naked herself, save for a set of scarlet lingerie cut daringly from silk and lace. She turned at the interruption of their entrance, flame-red hair tumbling around her shoulders. While beautiful, she moved with a coordination that could more accurately be described as ruthlessness rather than grace.

That opening alliterative phrase – blindfolded, ball-gagged, and bound – came to me as many phrases do, as I was on the edge of wakefulness (a topic for another time). Using that basic phrase as a core, I built it out into a more complete description of the moment. I added more embellishments because they’re fun, and I ended up with the paragraph above.

When to use alliteration

Alliteration, like other stylistic devices, can be tricky to use. Too much, and it becomes messy and distracting. Not enough, though, and prose runs the risk of being boring. An editor or beta reader may read this and tell me to pull it back a bit. I myself might even go back in a later revision and decide that it goes too far. But for right now, I like it. And isn’t that what really matters?

How do you fashion phrases? Do you like alliteration? What would you tell me about the example paragraph above? Let me know in the comments section below!

Saturday Sentence Challenge: “Tour’s End”

Saturday Sentence Challenge answer: August 3, 2019

This week’s Saturday Sentence Challenge prompt over at the #TeamWriter Facebook Page was:

I am so very happy to see him come back all in one piece.

The first thing that struck me about this prompt? How the words should evoke a feeling of happiness or relief. However, the sentence construction, which is very stilted, made me feel nothing at all. There’s also the cliche of the phrase “all in one piece.” I believe that cliches become cliches because they’re true. I also think we can use them in our writing, so long as it’s done sparingly and to effect. Or humorously, though satire is a completely separate conversation.

As I’ve mentioned before, I try not to spend too much time on a Saturday Sentence Challenge prompt. Usually, I need at least a few passes before I get the right words. For this one, though, the sentences popped nearly fully-formed into my head on first thought.

Immediately, I knew whose voice I wanted to use for this prompt: June McAllister. June is the mother of one of my “Finding Mister Wright” protagonists, Rob, who spent time in the US Army. I got an image of Rob returning home, and June taking him in her arms. The powerful emotions associated with a mother hugging her son on his safe return home from a tour of duty filled my own heart with sympathetic joy.

I’m actually pretty proud of my answer to this particular prompt, which you can also read below (for sake of text-only accessibility):

I cried as I hugged him, my little boy who wasn’t so little anymore, who’d in fact grown big and muscular from carrying a fifty-pound pack every day through the far-off and frightening wilderness of war-torn Afghanistan. Thank God, thank God, I thought with every breath while this brave young man just squeezed me once and said, “I missed you, Mom.”

Happy writing to you this week, whether it’s your own or prompt-driven!

Saturday Sentence Challenge: “The Mechanic By Firelight”

Saturday Sentence Challenge Image teaser

Original image by Raheel Shakeel

 

I’ve talked about writing coach/author/editor Kate Johnston‘s Team Writer Saturday Sentence Challenge before. Briefly, each week, Kate offers members of the group a boring or grammatically-troubled sentence which we are tasked with sprucing up. The challenge is that we can only push this to two sentences, and we’ve got to make the reader feel something. This particular week, Kate provided a familiar cliche:

The thought passed through his mind.

Now, I’ve got a lot of characters who have a lot of thoughts crossing their minds. Some thoughts are crazy, others romantic, still others devious. For this particular prompt, my brain originally went a different way, with a different character, but the details in that first attempt went way off into deep raunch, I didn’t think it appropriate to share with mixed company. Still, I’ve always liked the idea of forbidden attraction. I just took it in a slightly different direction. Here’s what I wrote, as begun in the image above:

Firelight danced over the mechanic’s face, adding a glow to her smooth brown cheeks and full, glossy lips, and in that moment the hunter wondered how soft that cheek would feel if he stroked it, and how silky those lips if he kissed them. But then her husband sat down between them and, well, that was the end of that.

Of course, that’s not quite the end of that particular story. But sharing the ensuing details to that scene will have to wait for another day.

Did this Saturday Sentence Challenge answer from me make you feel anything? Have you partaken of any writing challenges, lately? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Saturday Sentences

The Setup

Every week, writer and writing coach Kate Johnston sends out to her TeamWriter Facebook group her Saturday Sentence Challenge. It goes like this:

 

Saturday Sentence Challenge rules - screen capture

As you can see, Kate challenges members of the group to take her provided “blah, grammatically incorrect, or just…really bad sentence” and tweak it into a sentence (or two, at the most) that encourages the reader to feel something. We can add or cut words and punctuation, change words, even add dialogue.

I love challenges like this because they’re short, simple, and often a refreshing change of pace from my current in-process projects. They offer an opportunity to step into another world or a different character’s shoes. This sidestepping, as it were, can even lead to new storylines, characters, and adventures down the road!

Last Saturday, Kate’s blah sentence prompt was:
The pie is really good.

The Process

When faced with a prompt, I let my brain romp freely until it stumbles over an idea with teeth. I don’t let it romp too long, though; with more than one longer-form project on my plate, I can’t afford to get too distracted. Luckily, Kate’s prompts come with enough leeway to go in lots of different directions, and I can usually find the direction I want to take within a few minutes. Tweaking takes more time, of course…but that’s what the challenge is about!

I’ve got a document where I keep these prompts, my process attempts, and my final results. It’s neat to be able to look back on them! And as I said before, I never know when a simple prompt idea might come back to me with greater force.

The Wrap-Up

It didn’t take long for this latest prompt – The pie is really good – to tickle my brain. I usually try to keep my group posts and prompt shares on the safe side, but this one went in a naughtier direction. It seemed only fitting: I’m at a point in one of my larger projects where romance is coming to the fore, and my writing mind is working through that. Thus, this result:

They finished on the floor, their clothes still half-wrapped around them, the panting and sweating of their long-awaited reunion calming to a cool relaxation. He thanked her in a whisper against her neck and told her she was amazing, because she was, then added in a cheerful snicker, “The pie was really good, too.”

If you’d like to join in on the fun of Saturday Sentence Challenges – and more! – check out Kate’s Facebook page!

Log in here!