Tag Archives: characters

Writing a Novel – Character Profiles

Welcome to the first post in my Writing a Novel series. Today we will be looking at character profiles.

Usually when I am embarking on a new novel, I plot first, then do character profiles. This time around, my characters, specifically my main character, have been clamouring to be heard. My plot, at this point, is still not completely clear in my head, but the characters already have very strong voices. So this time around I am starting off with character profiles (and hoping once I know them and their motivations a bit better, the plot will become more clear).

Simple Bios

A few years ago I discovered ywriter and one of the great features is that you can include character bios (which can be as detailed as you want), including their goals. There is even a tab for including a picture!

ywriter character profile

I spent far too much time searching Google images for pictures that fit my character descriptions, but it really made me think about how my characters look and even helped me develop their personalities (of course Nyssa has to be smiling in her picture, because she is such a positive, happy character). The Mac equivalent to ywriter is Scrivener, though I’ve never used it, so I’m not sure if it has a similar feature.

For the bio, I kept it simple at this stage. I included age, physical features, family, personality traits (both positive and negative) and goals. You can see an example of a character bio on the post NaNoWriMo — Character Outline.

Character Interview

With the character’s basic personality now in mind, it’s time to delve deeper. I like to do character interviews with the main characters to really bring the characters to life. In my post, Creating 3D Characters: The Character Interview, I talk about this more in-depth and provide some examples of questions to ask that really get to the heart of your character. And in my post, NaNoWriMo — Character Outline I show how these questions might be answered (using Harry Potter as an example).

Visualising Your Character

There are so many fun, creative ways to do this. Here are a few of my favourites:

A character collage. Write your character’s name at the top of a piece of blank paper and grab a heap of old magazines, some scissors and some glue. Cut out things that would suit your character and stick them on the paper. Does your character have brown hair? Cut out a actress with brown hair. Does your character love music? Cut out a picture of an ipod. Does you character wear jeans? Does your character love animals? Is your character a doctor?

charactercollage

Sketch. Blank paper + pencil. It doesn’t matter if you’re not very good at drawing, you’re the only one who will see it. Add labels, eg: ‘blue eyes’, ‘sword’, ‘permanent smirk’. Make it more than just a picture to show what they look like, let their personality and the setting of the novel shine through, too.

Powerpoint. This is especially good if you have several main characters. On each slide find a picture to represent how you imagine your character to look, then accompany with dot points that describe your character’s personality.

So is it really necessary to make such an in-depth profile of your character before you begin writing your novel? It’s really up to the author. For me, I find having looked at my characters in such an in-depth way before I begin I am able to really immerse myself in my character’s head as I write and their voices come across more naturally. Also, I don’t have to flick back to page seven to remember what eye colour my MC has or to page fifty to remember if my MC’s best friend has two sisters or three, because I know them so well (or if I really have forgotten, it’s much easier to just refer back to my character profile, than find where I mentioned it).

What do you do to develop your characters before you begin writing? Or do you just jump right in and let them develop as you write?

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Top 5 Reasons Why I Write

1. If I didn’t write my head would probably explode. My head is always so full of ideas I just need to get them down on paper.

2. It is a great emotional release. I don’t know how I would have got through my tough teenage years if I hadn’t been able to release my feelings onto the page (in poetry, in my journal, as imaginary characters).

3. I love to read. I am constantly inspired by the wonderful writing of my favourite authors. I remember as a seven year old being inspired to write stories based on my favourite Enid Blyton books and favourite fairy tales.

4. I have a wild imagination. I have vivid dreams that stay with me when I wake. I’m constantly thinking ‘what if?’ or making up stories for people walking by or imagining stories taking place in the landscape around me. No matter where I go there are always stories unfolding in my mind.

5. Characters ‘speak’ to me. Their voices speak their stories and I can’t ignore them.

Why do you write?

Helpful Writing Sites and Blog Posts January 2011

Time for the first ‘Helpful Writing Sites and Blog Posts’ post of the the year. I’ve collected a lot of great picture book links through the 12 x 12 challenge Facebook group, but I also have a few links in other areas of writing, too.

Writing (General)

Some Advice to New or Aspiring Authors

Some great advice and tips for writers new to the writing/publishing journey.

How to Make a Boring Character Interesting

This post outlines the various reasons your character could be coming across as boring or flat and offers some solutions to make your character more interesting.

Five Tips for Revising Your Novel

Literary Agent Courtney Miller-Callihan gives five tips that look at your novel as a whole when doing revisions, including a tip on character names and another on dialogue tags.

What Will Make an Agent ‘Gong’ Your Query

Thirteen reasons why an agent will stop reading your query–things to avoid when writing query letters.

Grandma Mary Can’t Market Your Book

Whether you intend to self publish or go the traditional publishing route, authors need to consider marketing. This post gives 7 steps to building a marketing plan and reaching out to your readership. It even includes a nifty chart you can use.

When to Quit Querying and Self-Publish

This post does a great job of presenting the various aspects you need to consider if you’re thinking about self-publishing after having little success with querying. It takes a very honest look at the possible reasons your work may be getting rejected and whether self-publishing is a viable alternative and also gives the honest facts about what it takes to self-publish. I love how honest, balanced and unbiased this post is in regards to self-publishing vs. traditional publishing.

Writing for Children

9 Factors That Make a Picture Book Successful

If you are a picture book writer this is a post well worth reading. These are nine important elements to writing an effective picture book.

The 6 Most Common Mistakes Made by Aspiring Children’s Book Authors

6 common mistakes this editor sees made by picture book authors and some advice on how to avoid them.

For All Picture Book Writers, Read This

Links to a four-part interview with Vice President and Editorial Director of HarperCollins Children’s Books and a three-part interview with Golden Books/Random House Editorial Director. Lots of great little nuggets of advice for picture book writers in both interviews.

Picture Book Tips from Successful Agents

Children’s book author and editor Tamson Weston consulted with agents on what makes a picture book successful and shared the top five tips for making your submission stand out.

Writing Easy Readers – Or How To Get 2nd Graders to Love You

5 quick tips for appealing to early readers as shared by an author of children’s chapter books.

3 Symptoms of the Week 2 Blues (and How to Cure It)

NaNoWriMo Diary – Day 10

Total number of words written: 16283

Words Written Today: 250 (so far)

Coke consumed: 1 can

Chocolate consumed: 1 fun size Crunchie, half a cup of Milo–by which I mean just dry Milo, no milk or hot water involved (so far, but it’s only 2pm) (have sadly run out of milky ways) I should probably also mention the caramel popcorn and starbursts, but technically they’re not chocolate 🙂

In NaNo land there is something known as the ‘Week 2 blues’ and unfortunately it seems to have hit me the past few days.On top of that, it’s been a super busy week in Mummy land. I’ve had antenatal appointments, immunisations for Miss 2 (which turned out to be much more of a drama than it was supposed to be), an afternoon at the cinema with a group of playgroup mums and the usual weekly shopping trip. I’ve just signed my son up for the local Christmas play, so we’ll be attending rehearsals for that every week, the first one was on Monday. I also decided this week the fridge was in desperate need of a cleanout, not to mention the cupboard under the sink. And November’s calendar is filling up fast!

Sunday and Monday were both low word count days. On Sunday I consumed at 3 cans of Coke, ate a great deal of chocolate and ended up getting KFC for dinner, but still didn’t get near the daily word goal. I did go to the movies in the afternoon, though, and even though I lost a few hours writing time, I think I needed that break and to get out of the house to reenergise.

Since there’s nothing I can do about life’s happenings, I’m going to focus on getting over these week two blues.

The Symptoms:

1. Motivational high of week one has pretty much all fizzled out. All the excitement of going into a new story, all the buzz of new ideas, that spurred an initial surge of words spewing onto the page has died down.

2. It’s getting harder to push words out onto the page. You find yourself staring at the page, letting distractions take over. Whereas in the first week the words seemed to flow onto the page easily, this week you feel like you have to pry them from your brain.

3. You know where you want your characters to go, but don’t know how to get them there. You have your plan, you know what your next plot point is, but trying to get them there has you stumped.

So how am I supposed to get past this week two slump? I know other NaNoers who have simply quit, deciding NaNo just isn’t working for them this year. Some have changed stories and gone into a new idea with renewed motivation (I did this last year). Some have decided to take the pressure off by not worrying about the word count and just writing what they can, when they can.

I still love my story idea, and I want to keep on, so here are some ways I’m going to try to tackle the week two blues that have worked for me in the past.

The Cure:

1. Stay focused on where I want my story to go, but also let it surprise me with plot twists and extra details. My characters have just found the first clue to a conspiracy that I had not planned at all. It was an interesting surprise and a nice addition to build upon my plot.

2. Push past the ‘writer’s block’ by just writing. Write or Die has been a big help with this in the past in getting from one point to another.Wordwars/wordsprints are helpful too, and there are always NaNoers around on Twitter who are up for some word wars.

3. Decrease distractions by writing on my laptop (which has only Word programs and is not connected to the internet).

I am so grateful for that week one padding I built up when my motivation was still high, it has helped a lot this week. At the moment I’m trying to keep just ahead each day. I find if I think, “I only have to write 900 words tomorrow to reach the goal”, it gives me motivation going into the next day, because the goal isn’t as overwhelming as staring at the prospect of writing 1667. And then when I’ve hit the goal, I think, “Well now it’s only 700 more and I’ll have written 1667”. It breaks it into chunks, which makes the goal seem easier to reach.

Author Jody Hedlund has a great post on writing after the initial passion has fizzled: How to Keep Writing When the Honeymoon is Over

How is everyone else going? Have you been hit with the week 2 blues? How are you coping with them? What strategies are you using to keep on going?

Helpful Writing Sites & Blog Posts February 2011 Edition

Before I do this month’s roundup of helpful writing sites and blog posts, I just want to send out my thoughts and prayers to those in New Zealand affected by the earthquake. If you wish to donate to the New Zealand Red Cross to help out those affected, here is a link: New Zealand Red Cross

Onto the most helpful sites and posts I’ve come across this month:

Writing

Punctuation Made Easy

This is by far the best site on punctuation I’ve found. It covers colons, semicolons, commas, dashes and apostrophes. It is very straightforward and clear and makes understanding how to use punctuation very easy. I always thought I was good at punctuation, but reading so many complicated posts on punctuation on the internet has often left me confused on whether I’m doing it right. This site is now my go to site when I need clarity.

The Very Basics: Ten Things All Writers Need To Do

Ten things writers should do if they want a shot at getting published.

Opening No Nos

Killzone author James Scott Bell outlines opening chapter no nos based on statements by literary agents.

Five Tips for Your First Five Pages

From things you shouldn’t do in your opening to things you should do.

Back to Basics – Dialog

This post explains the difference between a conversation and dialogue.

8 Ways to Pile on the Fear in Your Horror Fiction

Great post for horror writers looking for ways to amp up the fear factor in their writing.

The Power of Touch

A look at the way J.K. Rowling uses touch in the Harry Potter series as a way of showing emotion, rather than telling.

Creating a Magic System

A great post for fantasy writers on creating a magic system that fits best with the world in your novel.

Lovable and Admirable Characters

We all want to create characters our readers will want to read more about. Author Denise Jaden shares some advice she received about qualities your main character should have to ensure he/she is engaging and lovable.

How to Get the Biggest Bang for Your Plot Point

This post outlines where your main plot points occur in your manuscript and what you should be doing at these points to create a deeper connection with your reader.

Tightening Your (Manuscript’s) Belt

A checklist for eliminating unnecessary prose.

7 Ways Glee Can Improve Your Fiction Writing

Joanna Penn uses the popular TV show ‘Glee’ as a metaphor for ways to improve your writing.

Queries

How to Write a Bio for Your Query

Dot point list of what to include and also includes an example of what to do if you have no writing credentials.

What Your Query Says About Your Book

Your query letter is your first impression of your manuscript. This post tells you how much an agent can tell about your manuscript just by reading your query letter.

Query Me Crazy

Corinne Jackson shares an original query letter she wrote that kept getting rejected, tips she received from a literary agent to improve the query and a revised query she wrote using the tips from the agent that resulted in requests for  partials and fulls.

Just for Fun

The 46 Stages of Twitter

For anyone on Twitter, you’ll be able to relate to these ‘stages’.

Writing Compelling Characters

Harry Potter and Hermione Granger

Compelling means to evoke interest, attention or admiration and that’s exactly what you want your characters to do when writing a story, whether it be a novel or a picture book. You want your character to be interesting to the reader, no one wants to read about a boring character. You want your character to grab the reader’s attention, you don’t want your reader’s attention to wander to what they are going to be cooking for dinner tomorrow night because your character has failed to grab their attention. So how can you write a compelling character?

Bring Your Character to Life

Your characters should come across as real people, fully developed with hopes, desires and flaws. A flat 2D character is not going to keep your readers glued to the page and they certainly won’t care what is going to happen to that cardboard cutout character. Some ways you can create a more realistic character:

1. Write up a character bio, including their flaws and strengths.

2. Do character interviews, ask in-depth questions that will show personality.

3. Do a character collage, cut out pictures from magazines that represent your character.

You can do all this before you start writing to have a good picture of your character in your head before you start, or do it before editing if you prefer. You don’t have to include every detail from your character bio in your story, but having it there will help form the character in your mind.

Bridget Jones

Get Inside Your Character’s Head

This applies even if you’re writing in third person. As you write, imagine yourself in your character’s position.

What would you do if you were your character?

How would your character react to certain situations?

How does your character experience the world around him/her?

This is connected to making your character realistic, but it involves delving even deeper into your character’s psyche. You want your reader to not only see your character as a real person, but to be able to connect with your character on a personal level. You want your reader to experience the same emotions as your character. By stepping into your character’s shoes as you write, the character comes across as more personal and there is a better chance your reader will find themselves inside your character’s head too.

Give Your Character a Goal

Give your character something they want to achieve and show why they want it so badly. Give them obstacles along the way to achieving the goal, make it hard for them and allow them to fail at first (there’s nothing less compelling than a character who achieves things too easily or without consequence). Your character’s goal may change along the way, and that’s OK as long as it makes sense.

Ellie Linton (Tomorrow When The War Began)

For more ideas on how to write a compelling character check out Elana Johnson’s post ‘How to Write Compelling Characters‘ where you can find links to a variety of blogs blogging on this topic.

Creating 3D Characters: The Character Interview

I discovered a new writer’s chat on Twitter this week called #storycraft. It’s a chat dedicated to the discussion of various aspects of story craft and takes place Sunday 6-8pm (US Eastern time)/ Monday 8-10am (Australian EST). The topic for this week was about fleshing out characters so they are 3D and not flat cardboard cutouts, or worse, the dreaded Mary-Sue. A Mary-Sue character is one who is perfect in every way, beautiful, smart, loved by everyone… and boring because she has no flaws or quirks. The male equivalent is usually referred to as a Gary-Stu. If you want to test if your character is a Mary Sue there are many Mary-Sue litmus tests available online, here’s one you can try: The Universal Mary-Sue Litmus Test. It’s one of the most comprehensive ones I’ve come across.

One thing I do to ensure I have a 3D character is to do character profiles and character interviews before I start writing. By doing this I can ensure my characters are well rounded and well developed before I start writing them. It also helps me get inside their heads because I know how they will react to certain situations. My character profiles consist of basic background info: Full name; age; hometown; family; main strengths; and main weaknesses (it’s just as important to have weaknesses as strengths; real people have flaws, and so should your character).

For the character interviews I have a list of questions relating to different aspects of my character’s life and I answer them from the POV of my character. Here are some of the questions I ask (*note: I may not necessarily use the answers or background information in the story itself, it’s just a way to flesh out my characters in my head so I can find their unique voice):

Describe your family. (This is not just a list of the members of your character’s family, but how they would describe them.)

If your house was on fire and you could only grab 3 things, what would they be? (Shows what is important to your character.)

Are you religious at all, and if so, in what way?

What kind of music do you listen to, and why?

What’s the last thing you’d be caught doing?

What has been the best experience of your life so far? (I answer this one as the best experience of my character’s life prior to the beginning of the story, but you could also answer it in relation to the story too)

What has been the worst day of your life? (As before, I answer what it would have been prior to the beginning of the story, but you can answer in relation to the story)

Describe the kind of person you want to marry, if you want to be married at all.

If you go to school, what is your favourite subject, and why?

Sum yourself up in 5 words.

You can add as many questions to your interview as you want, you can include questions about friends, goals, dreams, work, etc. It’s up to you, just make sure they serve to add depth to your character and tell you who your character really is.

Do you have any questions you ask of your characters? What do you do to get to know your character before writing your story? Or do you just jump in and discover your character along the way?