Posted in Blog Post Museum

Q & A: Sculpting Your Fictional World

musemThis post is part of a blog museum, archiving old writing from a previous blog.

 

I’ve been working on a world recently (that I’m simultaneously using as a Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting while trying to get it ready to write a novel placed in it for NaNoWriMo this year), but since I’m rather busy, I don’t have a lot of time to devote to it. What are the most important points to focus on to make it really feel ‘real’?

-Almonihah

scupltingsmallWorld Building. It’s engaging yet sometimes intimidating from the start. But very difficult for me to give advice seeing that I know very little of the focus of your story.

It’s very easy to inflate your view of things during world building (afterall, this is crafting an entire world). We focus so much on the big picture that we can forget that worlds are built of details. And these details are what give a world life.

However, one doesn’t have to have all the details in place before they begin to write a story or even run a campaign. Sometimes, there should be gray areas and wiggle room left on purpose. This gives your characters/PCs room to breathe and discover your world as you explore. If you have too rigidly crafted down to every last detail, there is a lot of spontaneity that you can lose during the writing process. The world will feel less vivid and more boxed in.

So the first thing I suggest is that you examine what kind of story/campaign you want to tell and choose the most important details of the world that you feel MUST be nailed down. Is there a lot of travel in your story? If so, you may want to focus on general geography and climate of the area of travel. Are there special cities, locations or landmarks to include? On the flipside, maybe there isn’t a lot of travel, but it focuses more on the atmosphere and “terrain” of one city in particular. Even a city can have different “climates” within it – the right side of the tracks, the wrong side of the tracks, falling off the tracks… you get the picture.

Often, defining one aspect of a world will lead to hints about another.

For example, ask yourself how the climate and terrain affects the culture, history and legends of the people who live there. Do they eat differently, dress differently, adapt a different sort of fighting technique, or speak differently because of where they live? Or, in reverse, if you have an idea of the type of cultures, history or legends you would like to write about already, that may clue you into the climate and geography of the surrounding areas. The more linked the details of your world, the more cohesive it will feel.

Again, take it in bite-sized chunks. If your characters are only going to see certain areas of your world during the story, you don’t have to have a whole continent on the other side of the world fleshed out. If you happen to need that continent later, it will reveal itself to you in time — those sorts of things often develop themselves as you go along.

I apologize if this seems very general. If you have some specifics about your story that you would like to share as it relates to world building, I’d be more than happy to brainstorm with you. Feel free to send another question!

Posted in Blog Post Museum

Create Your Own Fantasy Weapon

musemThis post is part of a blog museum, archiving old writing from a previous blog.

Reinventing the Blade

bhinod
Bhinod

Come on. Let’s face it. Swords are cool… but when everyone and their grandmother is using a sword in your world, it gets a little dull after a while. Just because the elements of certain types of weapons are well known, that doesn’t mean you should discard the ideas completely. In fact, he best way to design your own instruments of mass terror is to figure out what it is about that double-bladed battle ax or two-handed long sword that makes it frightening in a dark alley.

Mixing and matching function and design from existing weapons is a good way to draft your new creation. Do you like the reach of a pole arm and the versatility of a double-edge sword? Or maybe your thing is wide fanning blades of a double ax coupled with a stout, bludgeoning grip of spiky doom!

Yes. Spikes of doom are good.

Take this original weapon, the Bhinod, for an example of a mixed-type design. First, it can be used as a one-handed or two-handed weapon. What you see in the picture is the two-handed version. However, the chain can retract all the way, and the grip of the sickle part clicks down inside the wooden barrel grip of the spear-point part. When in single-handed form, it works fairly similar to a normal hand scythe.

The chain can be used to flail, trip, choke and hinder opponents. The sickle can be used for close-in slashing, or thrown for a distance attack. The spear-point can be used for stabbing and piercing.

Throw in a strange name from another language and you have your design complete!

Weapon Functionality

Keep in mind that existing weapons are designed a certain way for certain reasons. Some are meant to have pointy bits that pierce into an opponent through openings in the armor. Some are meant to slash at an enemy and leave them a big gaping bloody mess. Some are built blunt and heavy, sometimes with spikes, with the idea that you can bash the living crud out of anyone who annoys you. Spikes are always good.

When designing your new type of weapon, keep the function and purpose of your design in mind. Ask yourself how effective it would be for the warriors using it. Ask yourself what sort of armor and weapons their opponents will be using. Would a piercing type weapon work better to get in the cracks of plated-armor knaves? Or maybe something heavy and blunt for knocking helms off… taking the head with it is always preferred.

To keep it short, your weapon can be a mixture of designs with a number of different types of attacks available. And though it’s a fantasy weapon, one should remember to keep it believable in size, weight and function. If you can’t answer the question of “What can this weapon do and why?” then maybe you should reconsider your design.

Spicing It Up

daggers
Photo by: Marshall Astor

If your world’s rules of magic allow, you may want to add another touch to your weapon: an enchantment or magical quality. This doesn’t have to be anything super calling-stars-from-the-sky extraordinary. In fact, most real warriors would scoff at having too much magic getting in the way of what should be pure battle goodness. But it never hurts to give your weapon a little extra pizazz.

Remember, not all enchantments have to have a positive outcome. You could always bug the crud out of your characters by giving them awesome weapons with really annoying side effects. That’s especially fun for characters that tend to be a little too snoopy and liberal on the pickpocketing than they should be.

One Last Option: Naming

Nothing is cooler than a weapon that is also a proper noun. If you look throughout the history of heroes and fantasy stories, many great stories have specially named weapons. If your new weapon is something legendary in nature, you may consider adding to its overall personality and uniqueness by naming it.

Now with all that said and done… what are you waiting for? Give your warriors some new toys to play with today! They’ll thank you. I promise.

Posted in Blog Post Museum

How Prevent Creative Burnout

musemThis post is part of a blog museum, archiving old writing from a previous blog.

Just_Watch
That’s not exactly the kind of “burn” I meant…

Long-term projects take on many forms: be it art, writing or music. It’s anything that a creator pours their soul into day after day after day for long periods of time. This includes things that may begin as hobbies that turn into something more serious over time.

Because it takes patience, nurturing and dedication to see a long term project through, all creators run up against the dreaded creative burnout or writer’s block at sometime in their life.

Back when I started my first webcomic project, it came in a flurry of excitement… only to leave me overwhelmed and burned out within the first three months.

From my experience, three months seems to be a fairly standard number for your first wave of “long-term project drop-outs.”

By that time, a number of things may have happened with the creator:

  • Their initial excitement for the project has worn off
  • They may not be getting as much public response as they had hoped they would
  • They came out with a flurry of creativity at the beginning and worked themselves out of “inspiration”
  • They discovered that the amount of work & time in up keeping their project was more than they could handle
  • They didn’t plan ahead and have now hit a dead end in what to write
  • They’ve missed a number of updates or personal deadlines due to any of the above reasons and have lost confidence in their ability to continue the project
  • Real life comes a-calling as it tends to do (curse it!)

In my experience, many of these feelings are perfectly normal for ANY long term art project you may choose to undertake. There are certain stages where every creator feels like throwing up the HIATUS sign and walking away in disgust at the pile of rubbish that they had gazed ahead at in starry-eyed wonder just a few months back.

If you’ve found yourself in this soul-telling situation, you’ll know the feeling I’m describing. You’re burned out. The project feels like it has no worth to yourself or any other breathing being on the planet. You’re the biggest failure ever in the eyes of the web community. And you just want to either fade away into obscurity or rip down your blog or Deviant Art account in a fury of frustration.

We’ve all been there, including me. I don’t go through this as often as I used to, for whatever reasons – but there was a time that I teetered on pulling my projects from the web. Then, at the last minute, someone would come to rescue my sanity and I would sit down and force myself to continue on.

I have to say that looking back over the years, I’m so glad that I never gave into my doubts and artistic frustrations. I would have lost out on so much… not just in my own personal artistic development but in all the friends I’ve made through my projects. Every time I find my mind swayed towards the futility of it all, I remind myself why I’m doing this all in the first place. Because I love it.

What do I suggest to prevent creative burnout?

As I said before, I think that no matter what we do, eventually we hit a point as creators where we question the meaning of our work. You could have a ton of people telling you that you’re the most wonderful thing since Photoshop… but unless you believe in yourself, your writing, your art, your world or your characters, nothing anyone is going to say to you will convince you to see it otherwise.

Ben_and_Leona_Wayrift~~} Have faith in your work. Remember to love your creations. Remember the wonder of exploring your characters, world, music or your writing, no matter what type it may be.

~~} Approach your work through the eyes of your audience. Shove aside all personal criticism and just look or listen to your work.

Sometimes I do this with Wayrift. I’ll finish a page, put it away for a little while… then open it up again, pretending I’m a reader. You may think it’s silly, but to put yourself in the position of your audience looking at your work is very important. Sometimes I have a particular reader in mind when I do this (if I know a certain character is a favorite with a reader) – and I imagine their emotional reaction to what I’ve just created. Doing this helps me to appreciate my own work in a way that is outside of the Creator’s Cling.

~~} Make sure that your creative endeavors are not eating up all your spare time… if they are, you’re certainly going to burn out. In order to create, you must have input that sparks inspiration. This means that you have to go out and experience life, draw from it all that you can and bring back to the sketch pad, computer or scripting page.

Hang out with friends. Read a good book. Watch a good movie. Read other webcomics. Take a walk or play your favorite sport. Play a good game. Whatever inspires you and gives you new materials or an outlook. It’s important to have time away from creation and a balanced life outside of your work.

~~} Beside that, I think it’s very important to set realistic goals for yourself. If you find yourself working too hard to make self-set deadlines, then maybe you should consider cutting back your schedule. It’s far better to work a little less than to burn out and quit working completely.

If you quit, you run the risk of losing momentum for your project completely. So unless real life is really bogging you down, my suggestion is to fight the artist-blues and keep plugging away at it. In the end, when you can look back on the final outcomes of your hard work, you’ll be glad that you did.

Posted in Blog Post Museum

Creative Collaboration: Friend or Foe?

musem
This post is part of a blog museum, archiving old writing from a previous blog.

friends
Photo by Bill in Ash Vegas

The nature of creation is often a solitary thing. A writer locks themself up in a little room somewhere quiet enough for thought and types away at their story. An artist works to bring to life the vision that is haunting their imagination. But once the creation is complete, more often than not, the creator then turns to present this work to the rest of the world for the fulfillment of sharing something that had once been nothing. And during that moment in time, the creator, creation and the world come together as one.

For most of my life, that’s how I thought it all worked. I’m a quite and personal type, shy to show my unfinished work to anyone but myself. The thought of collaborating with someone else on a creative project scared me. Afterall, all those group projects in school taught me that if you wanted quality work, you had to shoulder the whole job for yourself or nothing would ever get done.

Right?

Well… not always.

It was a number of years ago that I met my artistic partner in crime. We have been best friends ever since. This year, our online comic, Wayrift, will be turning seven years old. We have worked together on this project, through thick and thin… and kept a consistent update schedule of three pages a week.

For my characters and fictional world, there could be no better means of development than the interactive writing that I’ve done with her over the years. There is absolutely no way I could have fleshed out any of my stories half as much as I have without her help. I know that if I’m at a loss or struggling with a character or plot, all I have to do is sit down and brainstorm with her and we can figure something out. There is rarely ever something that I release publicly that she doesn’t get to see first for thoughts, input and proofing.

So why has our collaborated project lasted so long? Why has it worked so well? What are traits to look for in someone if you were to think about choosing a creative partner of your own?

We balance each other out.

Where I’m a very character driven writer, she is a very plot driven writer. I have trouble thinking up the plots and all the intricate plans that go into making an on-the-fly story work. She’s good at randomly switching gears even when my characters pull something she’s not expecting during our RPing sessions.

On the other hand, I help her to keep a perspective on the characters… their emotions… the way the plot effects them on an individual basis. Through my feedback we mesh together a series of stories that we hope are fun for everyone else to read in our weekly webcomic.

It’s important to choose someone that balances out your artistic weaknesses. Where you might stumble, someone else might excel. And in bringing your talents together, it makes a stronger whole.

We care about each other’s creations as if they are our own.

This is such an important thing with any creative partnership. Absolutely nothing in our collaboration comes before taking care of each other. Sometimes, we take a moment to touch bases with each other when our writing might overlap something in the other writer’s world. It’s not odd to hear, “Okay, I’m messing up your world now, aren’t I?” Usually, that’s not the case. But the idea behind it is that we think about each other’s feelings and value each other’s creations enough to stop and ask.

A good creative partner won’t see their own characters, worlds or work as a priority over yours. The collaboration is something that both creators should benefit from… things should be equal across the board. If one side becomes too much of the focus and the other creator gets little say in things, you no longer have a real partnership.

We have similar values and goals.

This is another aspect that is so very important. Though we don’t always agree on everything, usually we agree in the big, important things. We have a similar mindset about moral values. Our goals in creating our works are also very much the same. Neither of us are here to make money or to become popular… we do what we do because we love it and we enjoy creating our works to share with other people.

Be sure that you pick a creative partner you know and trust. They should be someone that has similar values in life overall… because there’s no faster way for a project to fold than when one is stepping over the moral line of the other.

Also, make sure that your partner has a similar goal in mind for the project. If they’re just in it for money and you’re there to create for the love of creating, chances are, your definition of a successful project will differ from theirs. And if you don’t meet their goal, they may leave the project high and dry.

Summary

Choosing the right creative partner is the most important key in making a successful collaboration project. Be sure that you pick someone you can trust and get along with for the long run, not just because you think they would be fun to work with. Choose someone who cares just as much about your work as their own and who has talents that compliment your skill set.

I’ve found few things as rewarding as the give-and-take inspiration that comes from working with a like-minded creative partner. I hope some of these suggestions will help you in choosing your own partner if you’ve been considering a collaboration project.

Posted in Blog Post Museum

Writing Good… er… Bad… Antagonists

musemThis post is part of a blog museum, archiving old writing from a previous blog.

 

Writers sometimes stumble into the pitfall of spending so much time working on growth and development for their protagonists that they overlook a whole dimension of depth they can add to their story. Developing strong antagonists.

Antagonist… Defined

Notice, first, that I’ve chosen to use the term antagonist. Not villain. Not bad guy. But antagonist. But what exactly IS an antagonist… and why should we care if there is a difference between these terms? Wikipedia defines it here:

The antagonist is against that which the main character or protagonist contends. An antagonist is often a villain, but may be a force of nature, set of circumstances, an animal, or other force that is in conflict with the protagonist.

Basically, this means that the antagonist is anything that opposes the main character of your story. That’s pretty simple, right? But have you ever considered the various subtle extremes of opposition this may include?

Based on the definition above, not every antagonist is the embodiment of absolute moral bankruptcy. They may not all be “bad guys.” In fact, an antagonist can be just as upright and law abiding (or even moreso!) than your protagonist. This could be particularly true if you are writing a story from the point of view of an anti-hero or villain.

The Importance of Antagonist Development

So why should you consider spending time developing your antagonist? Having a well-developed protagonist is far more important… right?

leethaxxorThe truth is, by developing your antagonist, you are actually spending time developing your main characters, too! How do I come by that? Well… if the antagonist’s part in the big picture is to oppose the protagonist, this means that they provide tension that makes your story compelling — who wants to read a story where there’s no opposition at all? Boring much?

Opposition and tension also provide a springboard for your character’s development. Afterall, your protagonist can only grow in the eyes of your reader if they have to overcome situations that force them to become stronger. If you consider it in this light, you’ll see that if you overlook the development of your antagonist, you could lose out on a lot of depth to the struggle that actually is helping you define and develop your main characters!

Will the Real Antagonist Please Stand Up?

So with that in mind, you may be wondering how exactly do you develop your antagonist in a way that it enriches your story and spurs your protagonist onward to greater things? Well, to start with, you should consider what kind of antagonist you want for your story? What? Oh no! This just got more complicated? No… no. Not really. This is the fun part!

Some possible types of antagonists include:

Rival – A character who isn’t exactly evil or bad, persay, but challenges your protagonist on an emotional or physical level. Rivals are usually a relationship that has been developing long-term… sometimes having existed even before your story begins. The great thing about rivals is that they don’t have to be antagonists developed on a larger, global scale (aka. taking over the world) to be effective. They just have to be there to push your character’s buttons and watch the fun unfold.

Anti-hero – A character who uses underhanded means in order to obtain a goal with an objectively positive outcome. Anti-heroes can be an antagonist simply because their methods may go against what your protagonist believes in… even if the outcome is the same as what your character desires. They’re often considered morally ambiguous in that it’s hard to decide how “right” or “wrong” their actions are.

Anti-villain – The opposite of the anti-hero. They believe whole-heartedly that their goals are true and right… but in fact, the outcome of achieving their desires are destructive and immoral. These characters may even seem to commit acts that are good and kind and have a charming and upright disposition towards others. Also portrayed as morally ambiguous.

Tragic Villain – An antagonist who is fighting against the protagonist, usually against their will. Often, these characters are forced into bad positions by powers stronger than themselves or do not have full control of their own actions.

Trickster – An antagonist that is often a mischief maker who often challenges the protagonist in non-violent ways. Can be a humorous character or just an annoying pain in the behind… but generally does not present a real danger or threat to your character.

Dark Lord – An omnipotent, evil character who is bent on world domination. Sometimes portrayed as a faceless or formless (shadowy) dark force that moves through the world.

Evil Twin – An antagonist that is exactly like the protagonist in every way… except that their moral standing is evil.

The Crew – A group of antagonists, who may be minions to a “Boss” or “Archenemy” character, and work together as a unit to thwart the protagonist and friends. The Crew often is considered a solo entity rather than a group of individuals and brands themselves with a catchy name (ie. The Turks). The neat thing about a Crew is that you can develop many different skill types and personality combinations within the unit… and eventually, individual members may develop enough to shoot off as their own entity in the antagonist world.

Archenemy – The antagonist that the protagonist sees as the main enemy or biggest threat. Usually a pretty strong force to be reckoned with, they may or may not be the leader of a Crew. The Archenemy may have the characteristics of any of the above antagonist archetypes and should be a strong focus of development in your story.

fightflightAs with anything in writing, these types are not the only kinds of antagonists out there. Mix, match and blend to fit your world and story.

Getting to Know Your Antagonist

Now that you’ve figured out what kind of antagonist works best in your story, you can use this foundation to develop them as a character. Just like your protagonist, seek to view them as a character with all the complexities of a real person. Things to consider when developing your antagonists are:

Origins — What was their childhood like? Where did they come from? What is their culture of origin? How did they end up as the antagonist?

Motivations — Why are they in conflict with your protagonist? What are their beliefs? If they are truly evil, what makes them that way?

Personality — What are their character quirks? What are their emotional strengths and weaknesses? What are their likes and dislikes?

Abilities & Skills — In what activities or knowledge do they shine? What are they not so good at doing? Do they have hobbies or activities they absolutely loathe doing?

Everything that your protagonist has, your antagonist can develop, too. So look at your main character and start designing your dream antagonist (their nightmare!) for your story today!

Posted in Blog Post Museum

How to Build a Relationship With Your Character

musemThis post is part of a blog museum, archiving old writing from a previous blog.

 

In past articles, I’ve talked about the importance of having a relationship with your character as well as the way to destroy a hard-earned connection to your creations. In this article, I want to focus on what you can do as an Author to establish this relationship with your characters. Just like with real people, you can’t dictate a successful relationship, but you can do things to improve or help cultivate one… just as you can do things that will help tear one apart.

Thought 1: Be Patient

As I noted before, relationships rarely happen overnight — be it with real people or with your characters. As an Author, you have to be patient and long-suffering, often to the point of thinking you’re NEVER going to get a response from your creations. But just like with real people, characters will pick a place and time of their own to open up and entrust you with new information. This may come after weeks of writing, roleplaying and developing… or in the case of my character, in months and years.

Some of my best characters have developed, quite slowly, over the span of numerous years. My oldest character will have been a part of my life for over 15 years… and he’s certainly not the same as the first concept pieces that I sketched back when I was younger.

Thought 2: Be Flexible

Ben_HeaderAs time passes, you will also change alongside of your character… which means your relationship will alter, too. Just like with real people, you have to be flexible to these changes. New characters will be created — some of which may seem more solid and interesting than the old, simply because you gain more experience in character design and development the more that you do it. But that doesn’t mean that the old characters aren’t as good or should be discarded!

I use to freak out when I discovered that my main character, Ben, was often the most difficult and distant character to feel and understand. I had it in my head that if he wasn’t feeding me a direct dialogue whenever I attempted to write for him, that it meant I had fallen out of touch with him and gone through a relationship lapse. Over time, I’ve found that’s not always the case…

Though this character still means a lot to me, Ben tends to be more of a casual character relationship as time has passed. He’s resolved a number of issues in his life and overcome a lot of the initial struggles that I designed for him long ago. Due to this, he’s taken on a different roll in my world, one that spends less time in the spotlight and fighting with internal struggles… and more of a supporting role for the newer cast that find themselves in a position to benefit from his experience and wisdom.

As an Author, I had to accept that this was his chosen path of development… and learn to back off and let the change happen. I became more content when I realized that his relationship has grown to a point where we don’t need to have that constant back and forth to be reassured Author and creation are still in tune. I know that whenever I need to write for him, Ben will respond in his own unique way and the emotional connection that I need will come.

Thought 3: Be Open

When characters share their life story events, it will be on their own terms. This can happen in the normal course of writing, but just as often when you’re not expecting it. I find a lot of my character revelations come when I’m doing mindless things like driving, showering or washing dishes.

The random information a character will offer you may be an important scene in their life. It may be an emotion or personality trait that you didn’t know existed. A new quirk that you just ran across. Or something completely random and silly. But always be open to it even if it may not seem ground-breaking… because they are entrusting you with just a little bit more about themselves. It’s one more shade of personality that helps you to understand them. One more thing that makes them more real.

And if you’re open to even the most trivial seeming aspects, then you’ll find that you’ll slowly be trusted to learn more.

Thought 4: Be Rested

It should go without saying that if you’re struggling with a bout of creative burnout, it’s not very likely that your character is going to be sharing much with you. You’re frustrated. You’re tired. You’re uninspired. You think your work is a piece of junk. And that mindset isn’t going to foster connections beyond anger and angst to offer you anything deep and creative.

Don’t ever force things on your character when you’re dragging and burned out. It’s the worst possible time for both yourself and your creations and you’ll run the risk of doing things that could destroy a hard-earned relationship. It’s far better to step away from things and do something else for a while… something that will refill the dried-up well of inspiration. Don’t let a passing block or burnout tear down everything you’ve built.

Thought 5: Be Gentle

R-E-S-P-E-C-T… Okay. Now I’m quoting old songs. But it’s such an important thing in any relationship, even with your own creations. When you start overstepping your proper boundaries, as Authors can do, you begin to dissolve some of the trust that a character has in you.

Chase_and_ZemiA certain amount of struggle and strife is important to help a character grow and develop. But there comes a point where an Author has obviously lost all respect for their character’s rights as a living being. They abuse. They demean. They completely humiliate all because they simply can get away with it. Afterall, it’s their character, right?

Eventually, the readers will stop responding with sympathy… and maybe even lose interest in your story and characters all together. It becomes tiresome when there’s nothing but abuse after abuse after abuse in a character’s life. There is such a thing as too much. Such a thing as breaking a character’s spirit down. At that point, the character has become a plot device for malicious treatment more than a real character.

At that point, you have no relationship left.

Be gentle… listen to your character’s hopes, wishes and dreams. Don’t grant them everything, of course. Don’t save them from every darkness in the world, either. Allow them to struggle and grow, but know when enough is enough. Each character will have a different threshold of this for you to discover. Don’t be afraid to test it, but recognize the signs of when it’s time to give them a break.

Posted in Blog Post Museum

Dangers of Breaking Relationships With Your Characters

musemThis post is part of a blog museum, archiving old writing from a previous blog.

 

In my previous post, The Importance of Building a Relationship with Your Character, I described a little bit about what it was like to be in a strong and working relationship with your characters. But, just like relationships with living people, these connections to your creations have to be maintained through communication and respect. There is such a thing as an Author overstepping their bounds into a character’s life in ways that may lead to stunting the development of that character… or halting it all together.

Learn to Let Go

It didn’t take me very long before I learned an important lesson in writing: The Author’s biggest mistake is ever thinking they are in control of anything during the writing process. As I mentioned in a previous post, writing is an art most thoroughly experienced when your characters are free to do as they please… not as it pleases you. You’re simply there to record the happenings.

markedtsuprofilebigHowever, all too often we try to force characters to conform to our plots and plans, unaware of the fact that by doing this, we aren’t allowing the characters the freedom to grow and develop as they naturally would. This also stresses any sort of relationship you might have with your character — after all, no one likes an overbearing control freak for a friend, family member or significant other. Your characters feel the same way.

How many times have you read a story or watched a movie where the characters felt completely flat and bland… as if their only purpose was to recite lines and act out their parts in the story? Or how about characters that we have watched grow and develop over the length of a story suddenly do something completely out of character just to satisfy the forward motion of the plot?

Readers can sense when a character’s integrity and spirit has been bent in order to further the intentions of the Author. It comes off as something unnatural and can be the starting point for the decline of the character’s development as a whole. Once an Author gets on the wrong course, it is sometimes hard to get the story back to where they need it to be. The character becomes nothing more than a forced puppet jumping from one plot point to the next.

It’s also the fastest way to destroy a hard-earned relationship with your character.

Consequences: Characters in Revolt!

About 75% of the time, if I find myself writing myself into a corner in such a way, my characters will completely rebel on me. They become distant, difficult to read and judge… sometimes impossible for me to write. I complain that I can’t “feel” their intentions and responses to the situations I introduce them into. Over time, I’ve learned that it’s simply their way of letting me know that I’ve gone off course… I’ve overstepped my boundaries… and they no longer want to play the game.

Dragon__s_ChampionEvery now and then I do get a character that’s placid enough to allow me to keep stumbling over myself in the wrong direction without pitching a fit. But very soon, I find myself becoming less and less enthralled with the process of writing… because it’s terribly boring and tedious to have to force one scene after another from my fingers on to the screen. I take a step back from the situation and try to find where I’ve gone wrong.

It’s far easier to connect… listen… understand… and allow your characters to do as they naturally would. You’ll find that the story begins to write itself and your relationship with those characters will begin to strengthen as you learn more about them. Writing isn’t wooden. It’s flowing and alive.

Just like your characters.

Ways to Break Your Relationship With Your Characters

Here’s a list of the ways that writers can destroy their hard-formed relationships with your characters. These are not the only ways, I’m sure. Feel free to list your own discoveries:

  1. Forcing a character to do something that’s not in-character to do
  2. Turning a character into a plot device
  3. Not giving a character enough breathing space for natural development
  4. Ignoring tangents that can lead to development for your character (especially when they seem to desire it)
  5. Forcing your characters into an unnatural or unrealistic love relationship (this becomes an EPIC FAIL to the readers, trust me!)
  6. Changing your character for any reason outside of natural character development processes (ie. reader feedback/demands, fads, fashions, net trends)
  7. Developing characters simply to embody some sort of intangible symbolic meaning (ie. “This character represents my feelings on XYZ issue.” “This character symbolizes the virtue of truth and justice in my world.”). These sort of characters work in certain kinds of stories… but when you become so worried about what the character stands for rather than who the character is, you’re going to find yourself with a boring and flat character on your hands.

Just remember my writer’s creed: The character will tell the Author what they need to know when the time is right. The character always knows best.

Posted in Blog Post Museum

The Importance of Building a Relationship with Your Character

musemThis post is part of a blog museum, archiving old writing from a previous blog.

 

Real characters are like real people. It takes time to get to know them…. in the same way that it takes time for someone to trust you enough to offer you a look into their inner secrets. Even the most simple of characters have the potential to become complex. You will never know everything there is to know about them… and if you think that you do, then chances are, there’s something else you’re missing in your relationship that keeps them from showing you more.

What? Relationship? With a character?

You heard me right.

When Characters Become Figments

Discovering_the_DestinyMy writing friends and I use the term “figment” to refer to characters we most deeply connect to. That is because they are more than just a character… more than just a name and design… more than just a conglomeration of personality traits that we though were cool to try to mesh together. They have become a living, breathing extension of their Author.

In fact, my some of my own figments have been a part of my life for over 15 years now… and are so interconnected to me, that I could never imagine my life without them. They are at once separate and a part of me. Some of them display aspects of my own personality good and bad. Some of them represent parts of myself that I keep secret from the public face. Some have talents, skills or personality traits that I find admirable and wish I could be like. Some have talents, skills or traits that I find interesting to merge, test and learn about.

But always, a figment is a character that I care for just as deeply as a living person. I respect their feelings and often find myself emotionally stepping into their shoes as I write for them. When they win a victory, I feel their success. When they are met with anger, bitterness, sadness or defeat, I feel that too. I’m sensitive to their struggles and strife… even if they are generally placed into situations far more dangerous and fantastic than anything I could ever live through. And at all times, I reach to maintain this open emotional give-and-take with my characters and in order to capture them on the page as if they were living and breathing people.

Does that mean that I’m always successful at doing this? Well… no. But that’s a topic for another post at another time.

How does that kind of relationship form? Well, just like any other relationship. Time. Trust. Communication. Understanding.

I plan on going into further detail about this as well. So stick around for future posts!

As a writer… ask yourself, which characters are your figments. Do you have any REAL figments… and if so, how did you develop the connection with that character that you have? Maybe you don’t have a character you’re connected to enough to call a figment… and if so, what do you need to do to being cultivating that relationship? What’s blocking the creator/creation communication that keeps you from really getting in tune with the characters that you are writing?

Do you have a figment-finding story to share? I’d love to hear about it!

Posted in Blog Post Museum

Character Development for Fiction Writing: Realistic & Human Characters

musemThis post is part of a blog museum, archiving old writing from a previous blog.

 

A Reason for Everything

Real life people think, feel and act the way they do for a reason. Events in our past, environmental factors, social factors, upbringing… all of these cause lasting emotions and color our view of the world. The same goes for characters.

Even if you are writing a fantasy story and your character can do astounding and wonderful things normal people can not do, when you take all that away, your character is still a person. Characters who are personified non-human creatures are just that – personified, making what is non-human human enough for readers to identify with.

If you want a character to be convincing to your reader, your character’s design must have some basis in reality. And realism starts with understanding that nothing simply “just is”… but there is a reason for everything.

Ben_DecemberIs your character just a big grouch? That’s fine but… why? It’s not good enough to say: “Well… he’s just angsty. That’s the way he is.” If you can’t support the character’s foundational personality with real and believable reasons, then your character loses a sense of depth. And you, as an Author, miss out on the opportunity to really get to understand what’s going on in that character’s head.

This doesn’t mean you have to explain everything about your character to your readers – there are certainly some things you will want to keep secret. And you don’t have to know everything there is to know about your character – that usually comes with time. As long as readers get the feeling that you have overall knowledge and authority of the character in your writing, your characters will come through as convincing and real.

You Can’t Be Everything to Everyone

We’ve all probably said “I’m only human” at some time on our life — generally when we’ve just made some sort of mistake. Another facet of creating a realistic character that your readers can connect to is knowing what makes a character human in the eyes of others.

Faults, mistakes, bad judgment calls… we’ve all had our down days… weeks… months? There’s not a single person that can claim to be perfect among us. And it’s generally when others stumble, struggle, even fall… but pick themselves back up again, that we come to care, sympathize, cheer on and laud someone else.

The same can be said of your characters. To truly become real, no matter good or evil – they must have faults, fears and moments of weakness. A character that never makes a mistake, never loses a fight, always knows the right thing to say, is loved by everyone, is always sure of what direction to go in, knows them self perfectly inside and out… is not just plastic-Barbie-fake… but downright boring and annoying. When someone is always a winner, what are the stakes in their struggle in life? Is there even a real struggle to be had?

Readers are not perfect, therefore, cannot connect to a character that shows no human flaws. In fact, readers may reject a flawless character as unrealistic and unbelievable. The character you strove to show as perfect in the readers’ eyes suddenly becomes the one that is least liked.

A rule of thumb is to always balance the good with the bad. For every how many strengths a character may have, they need to have something they aren’t so good at. You will find that as your characters struggle to overcome their weaknesses, that is when your readers will respond and connect to your characters the most.

What do you do to make your characters more realistic and human? What traits do you give them — do you have a certain development method to share? Let me hear it!

Posted in Blog Post Museum

Character Development Tips for Fiction Writing: Personality

musemThis post is part of a blog museum, archiving old writing from a previous blog.

 

An Array of My Characters' Personalities
An Array of My Characters’ Personalities

Those who know my various writings and works know that everything I create has a character-based origin. That is to say, I let characters be the driving factor of my stories… they are what designs my worlds, cultures and even my plot. Because character is the pillar on which my creative works stand, it’s very important for my characters to be able to stand on their own. I’d like to hope that they’re likeable (or dislikeable), strong, vibrant and alive to my readers. No matter how fictitious the circumstances they are put into, I want my characters to remain

true and alive… acting and reacting like real people would.

When I create a character (on purpose or by accident), I do it from the inside out. Rarely do I know what a character looks like until after I have discovered their motivations, desires, dreams and personality. To me, the saying “It’s what’s inside that counts” is 100% true. You can design a character that looks totally awesome… but if they are nothing but a flat, 2D character, there will be nothing there to keep readers feeling and connecting to that character.

I view character personality as two aspects:

  • Major Personality
  • Minor Personality Traits

Major Personality

This is the TYPE of person your character is — the rules by which your character always acts, reacts and views his/her world. These are the foundational laws of the character’s soul, things that you must abide by at all times as an Author. Once you have established these rules, if you break them, your readers may feel as if you’re “writing out of character.”

In old tabletop games, sometimes this was considered a character’s alignment. But it goes a little deeper than Good/Evil/Neutral. What are your character’s major motivations? How did the environment and community (or lack of) during childhood develop them? Did any major events in their life impress something upon them that has changed how they view the world? Etc…

These are the big questions.

Don’t know how to define your character’s Major Personality? Here’s a place to start for some basic ideas: Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a personality questionnaire designed to identify certain psychological differences according to the typological theories of Carl Gustav Jung as published in his 1921 book Psychological Types (English edition, 1923). The original developers of the indicator were Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, who initially created the indicator during World War II, believing that a knowledge of personality preferences would help women who were entering the industrial workforce for the first time identify the sort of war-time jobs where they would be “most comfortable and effective.”

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers-Briggs_Type_Indicator

At the site below, it lists 16 different personality types as an overview… and links to more in-depth explanations about each type. Though I wouldn’t hold fast to all the rules of these definitions, this is a good place to start thinking about who your character is or will be and why they are the way they are.

High-Level Description of the Sixteen Personality Types

Minor Personality Traits

These are the little quirks that add to the Major Personality type that help to flesh your character out and make him/her human. For me, these sometimes develop as I get to know the character better – just like you start to learn about all the cool and annoying things about people around you the longer you spend near them. And just like real people, characters should have their share of both cool and annoying traits.

There are so many different things that can make up the minor traits:

  • Do they have a special laugh?
  • A craving for a certain food?
  • An unnatural fear?
  • An overwhelming desire triggered by something in everyday life?
  • A favorite childhood hero?
  • A silly hobby they wish to keep secret?
  • A musical instrument they like to play?
  • A favorite song, TV show or game they annoy everyone else to tears about?
  • Is there something they seriously just suck at doing?
  • Is there someone they wish they could be like but are not?
  • Is there something they think they are good at but fall short at?

It’s a list of both the good and bad things that make them more human. Look at people around you… or even yourself. You can see these traits, borrow and change them and mesh them into the overall personality of your character to give them so much more depth than just knowing that someone is cheerful and responsible, shy and manipulative or angry and reckless.

If you’re coming up short handed, here’s a neat forum post that can give you some quirky ideas. I’m sure there’s more out there somewhere!

http://www.geekculture.com/ultimatebb/Forum9/HTML/000170.html

Do you have a character that you feel is flat and uninteresting? Give them a personality quirk and delve back to find out why it’s there.

Even if the character cannot express why they feel angry every time they see yellow curtains… something in their life happened to create this quirky response. And it’s up to you as the Author to explore to get to the root of the quirk. Doing this allows your character to tell you his/her story and may help you discover layers of personality you didn’t even know exist!

It’s a fun thing to try to jump-start some details of your character’s personality.