Characters Are People Too

character quote 3The characters I create for my stories get into my head and speak to me. They come alive and become real people. I speak about my characters as if they are real people. This is something my husband doesn’t understand. He always tells me, “You do realize those people aren’t real, don’t you?” But to me, they are real. I’ve made them real, and they have become living, breathing beings.

When I write, my characters tend to take over. I have a plan for them and a direction I’d like them to go, but they often follow their own path. And sometimes, it’s not the path I planned. I go with the flow though and let them take the lead. This strategy doesn’t work unless you know your characters well and can dig deep inside their heads.

chracter quote 2I’m a firm believer that characters can either make or break a story. A story may have a great plot, incredible writing, and interesting twists and turns, but if the characters are flat or underdeveloped, the story won’t draw me in. Characters have to be real, human – people I want to befriend and root for (or punch in the face). I need to feel like I know them on a personal level. If they don’t feel real, I could care less what happens to them, good or bad.

There are certain things to consider when creating characters. Here are some questions to ask which will help you gain a deeper understanding of your characters. The more you know about them, the easier it is to get inside their heads and let them take the reins.

Background

Where does your character live? What kind of family life does he have? What was his childhood like? Who are his parents? Does he have any siblings? What does he do for a living? What kind of skills and talents does he have? What is his educational background?

All of this information shapes the kind of person he is, which brings us to our next section.

Characteristics

What are his strengths? What are his weaknesses? What unique personality quirks does he have? Is he social or more reserved? How would he walk into a room? Would he make a big production out of a situation or keep it under wraps? Is he a generous person who gives freely or is he more focused on himself? Is he self-motivated or does he require a little push? Does he easily get upset or is he more laid back?

These questions can help decide his motivation and determine how he might respond in certain situations, which is important to consider when creating believable characters.

Habits and Expressions

This next section could go under characteristics, but I’m writing it separately simply because habits can affect a person’s demeanor. Some habits can even leave a good or bad impression. So consider the following when you develop your characters:

Does he walk a certain way? Does he lean on things? Does he chew gum or bite his fingernails? Is he a coffee drinker? A smoker? A drinker? How does he handle money? What does an ordinary day look like for him? Is he always on the go, or does he stop to smell the roses once in a while? Does he tap his pencil, roll his eyes, cross his legs, pace the floor? Does he display certain facial expressions or pose with certain postures? Is he fidgety? How does he handle uncomfortable situations?

characters

Outlook and Attitude

How would this character describe himself? What does he believe in? What haunts him? What are his biggest fears? What are his plans for the future? Does he have a positive attitude or a negative attitude? What motivates him? What are his pet peeves? What makes him angry? What makes him sad? How does he react when he’s angry? What does he do when he’s upset? What is something he would risk his life for?

Interests and Favorite Things

What does this character like to do? What are his favorite books and movies? What kind of music does he listen to? What is his favorite meal? Does he have certain political or religious beliefs? What kind of car does he drive? What does his house or apartment look like? What would his dream vacation be? What is the best gift he could receive?

Physical Appearance

What is his height, weight, posture? What kind of physique does he have? What color are his eyes, hair, skin? Does he cut his hair a certain way? Does he wear glasses or have facial hair? Any significant scars or tattoos? What kind of clothes does he wear?

Character quote

Each character in your story needs to have his or own own unique qualities. Even if your readers never know any of this information, you do, and knowing this will bring your characters to life and make them more real.

Happy writing!

Ideas to Help Write Better Characters

Great tips on character development and a bit of info on an upcoming writing contest.

Rachael Ritchey

In honor of the upcoming Adventure Writing Contest that starts the end of February (click here for more info) I want to help writers by offering info and websites that will hopefully help us all be better writers.

That’s the goal.

Today we’re going to look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (click here for more detailed information from simplypsychology.org). Maslow originally published this motivational theory back in 1943, then I believe it was updated in 1954. This is a psychological look at what motivates humans from our most basic needs up.

But maybe you’re wondering what this has to do with writing fiction? A lot actually, and it could go a long way to helping write better, more believable characters whose behaviors are directly related to their motivations and deepest needs.

Maslow's_Hierarchy_of_Needs By User: Factoryjoe (Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs.svg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The chart…

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Character Archetypes – How to Create Dynamic Characters

With the current chaos going on in my life right now (new job in a new grade level in a new school, getting a new AC unit installed in my house, going solar powered, working on new WIP, etc…), I haven’t written a new post in a while.  My brain has been going 100 miles an hour lately, and I haven’t been able to put anything comprehensive down on paper in weeks. Let’s see if we can fix that today.

Although I’m not a traditional romance writer, about a year ago, I became a member of my local chapter of RWA. This fabulous group of people consists of all walks of life, and not all members are romance writers, myself included. Men and women, both published and non-published, make up this group: Indie authors, traditionally published authors, screenwriters, teachers, students, former attorneys and active military members, technology gurus, mothers, fathers, real-estate agents, and even a woman who writes for Harlequin and had one of her books turned into a movie. Needless to say, the writing expertise within this group is pretty well-rounded.

I originally joined this group for the insights they offer about the craft of writing. Regardless of genre, the information obtained from the many seminars I’ve attended through this group have helped me become a better writer.

The last seminar I attended focused on archetypes. For those of you who don’t know what that is, an archetype is a pattern of behavior that is universally present in characters in classic storytelling. It can be better summarized as the universal personality traits of a character. These personality traits are pretty standard, regardless of whether it is a character in a movie, book, or play or a person in real life.  As I review each one, you’ll probably get images in your head of people you know or literary/ movie characters you’ve seen or read about who portray these characteristics.  Let’s get started, shall we?

There are female archetypes and male archetypes, some of which are interchangeable. Every archetype has positive and negative personality traits, but the best characters do not fall under one specific archetype. They are made up of a combination of these traits.

I’ll go over the female archetypes first.  There are 8 main ones.

  1. The Boss. This girl is a real go-getter. She climbs the ladder of success. Queen Elizabeth is a good example.
  2. The Seductress. She’s an enchantress. She charms those around her to get her way. Scarlett O’Hara is a classic seductress.
  3. The Spunky Kid. This is a woman who is gutsy and true. She’s a loyal friend to the end. Pretty much every character Meg Ryan has ever played can be classified as a spunky kid.
  4. The Free Spirit. This is a person who is an eternal optimist. She dances to her own tune. Phoebe from the TV show Friends nails this archetype.
  5. The Waif. She is the damsel in distress. Sleeping Beauty, Bella from Twilight, and Audrey Hepburn to name a few.
  6. The Librarian. She is controlled and clever. She doesn’t have to be a bookwork or a scholar though. Hermione Granger from Harry Potter and Belle from Beauty and the Beast are librarians.
  7. The Crusader. She is a dedicated fighter. She has a cause and fights for the greater good. Katniss from the Hunger Games and Wonder Woman are crusaders. Go girls!
  8. The Nurturer. She is serene and capable. These are people who nurture the spirit of others (can be animals and plants too).  One person comes to mind with this one: Julie Andrews. She played a nurturer in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music.

Let’s move on to the male archetypes now.  Again, there are 8 main ones, and you’ll find that some are similar to their female counterparts.

  1. The Chief. He is a dynamic leader and wants to be in charge. He is goal oriented and has time for nothing but work.  Michael Douglas in Wall Street or Captain Picard from Star Trek exemplify this archetype.
  2. The Bad Boy. He’s dangerous to know simply because he walks on the wild side. Danny in Grease or Prince Harry would be considered bad boys.
  3. The Best Friend. He’s sweet and safe and never lets anyone down. Patrick Dempsey in Enchanted and any Tom Hanks character.
  4. The Lost Soul. This man is a tormented being.  He’s a recluse and lives in solitude. The Beast in Beauty and the Beast, Shrek, and Wolverine are lost souls.
  5. The Charmer. He’s a smooth talker. The fairy tale Prince Charming. George Clooney plays these characters. Jack from Titanic was also a charmer.
  6. The Professor. This guy knows all the answers. The Professor from Gilligan’s Island, Frasier, and Sherlock Holmes are considered professors.
  7. The Swashbuckler. This is Mister Excitement. He’s an adventurer and often breaks the rules. Indiana Jones and Han Solo are swashbucklers. (Hmmm, Harrison Ford seems to play these characters a lot). Maverick from Top Gun is also a swashbuckler. I would say Will Turner from Pirates of the Caribbean is too.
  8. The Warrior. He is a noble fighter who acts with valor. Superman and To Kill a Mockingbird‘s Atticus Finch are warriors.

You’ll notice that some of the female/ male archetypes are similar. And there are some male characters who fit into the female archetypes and vice versa, like nurturer. Newt Scamander from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Mrs. Doubtfire, played by Robin Williams, are both nurturers although they are male characters.  The best characters are dynamic and complex. They don’t fit into one generic mold. They are a combination of one or more of these archetypes, just like each one of us is.

This is a guideline only. Not every character you write will fit perfectly into a specific archetype, but neither do we. As writers, we are observers of life. Use the people around you as inspiration.

Mastering Character Development

Character development is the most important part of fiction writing, yet the hardest to master.  This article explains why.

by Meg Dowell On a page, you are in control of time. Outside of it, you aren’t. I have read and experienced many fascinating stories in my lifetime. I have also experienced many poorly executed stories. The deal breaker for me are a story’s characters. If, by the climax of a story, I do not care […]

via This is Why Character Development Takes So Long to Master — A Writer’s Path

Author Confessions Round 10

What do I like best about my writing?  Hmmm. I never really thought about this before. I think the thing I like best is that I use a unique voice.  I don’t try to imitate anyone else’s writing and don’t strive to be like other authors. I use my own style, writing my story my way.

I also like the characters I create. As I’ve said before, I’m all about character, so I take the time to develop each one in depth to the point where they become real to me. All of my characters are unique and have very distinct personalities. Character development is something I feel pretty confident about, and I would consider it a strength as far a writing  is concerned.

Author Confessions Round 8

I am all about character. Characters can either make or break a book for me. Good storylines and exciting scenes are worthless if the characters have no depth, are unrelatable, or I just don’t give a crap about them. Good character development is not easy to do. As a writer, I have to get into my characters’ heads, know how they think, and how they react in certain situations. I walk with them and let them drive the story. Readers have to experience that journey as well. Flat characters ruin good stories. As a reader, if I don’t have an emotional connection with the characters, the story isn’t worth reading.