Let’s Talk Characters

Writing a novel is like making love, but it’s also like  having a tooth pulled. Pleasure and pain. Sometimes it’s like making love while  having a tooth pulled.”–Dean Koontz

I mentioned in a previous post how something seemed amiss with my writing. I called it having a case of the blues. None of us has written the perfect novel. I don’t believe that to be possible. Each reader won’t see the same words in the same light. Despite how much we may love our writing, there are most likely flaws. “How can we identify those flaws?” I hear some of you ask. Let’s take a look together.

One of the most frustrating things about being an aspiring writer, at least for me, has been not knowing if you’ve done something wrong. In order to correct a mistake, most people need to identify it first. Unfortunately, the only way to identify any writing mistakes is to hire an editor or have your manuscript critiqued. This means we have to open ourselves up to constructive criticism. A good critique partner will not only tell you when they spot a problem, but also why they see it as a problem. It is the critique receiver’s responsibility to be humble and listen. We must realize the ultimate goal of a critique should be to help make our writing better. Better writers tell better stories.

We’ll assume we’ve had a critique and multiple partners have pointed out problems with our characters. Cue the high-pitched scream and scary music. What should we do now?

Now that we’ve identified a flaw, we need to fix it. Nobody wants crappy characters dragging their story down. Here’s the kicker, there isn’t any concrete way to fix any potential flaw. It’s up to the individual writer to find the fix. Each writer will probably come up with different ways to do the same thing. Let’s take a look at a few possible ways to fix things.

1. How-to books. Orson Scott-Card, author of the Sci-Fi classic Ender’s Game, has a book called Elements of Writing: Characters and Viewpoint.  You can also find Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints by Nancy Kress. There are many different books which can help with different aspects of our writing. The only drawback with how-to books, is they cost money. Eleven bucks for advice and technique on writing better characters seems worth it to me.

2. A little help from your friends. We mentioned critiques and critique partners and most likely these people are your writer friends. Why not pick their brains and see how they craft their characters. Pick a specific scene and go over it with a writer friend to see why it didn’t work. Get as much detail as possible. Arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible. I’m not saying we should let our friends write our story for us, but a little input never hurt anyone. The drawback for this solution would be time, on both ends. Perhaps your writer friend doesn’t have that much time to give. We may have to sweeten the deal with promises of future critiques, you know, the I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine scenario.

3. The internet. Cyberspace has many things. From viruses to viral videos about cute kittens, the internet is vast expanse of undiscovered knowledge. Go to your favorite search engine and type in what you’re looking for. Sure, we may have to sift through several different sites before we find something that appeals to us, but the information is fast and free. The drawback for this solution is time. Searching the internet takes up our precious time, but we may discover a new blog or connect with some new writers.

4. Seek out characters in other mediums. Watch a TV show, movie, or play a video game. Every form of entertainment has some kind of characters we love. Maybe you enjoy the Walking Dead and find Rick to be a fascinating character. Analyze what you love about him. Find out what makes him tick. Try to find a common pattern to the characters you love no matter where you find them and apply those findings to your writing. This again sucks up your precious time, unless you’d be watching a particular show anyway. Who cares if you’re frantically scribbling down notes in front of the television in your Oscar the Grouch pajama pants? You’re not insane, you’re a writer!

After taking a long, hard look at myself in the mirror, I’ve decided to expose my character weakness. *Stands up in front of blog audience* “Hi. My name is Brian and I have a character problem.” Instead of hiding from my weakness, I’ve chosen to shine a spot light on it. October will be all about characters on Descent Into Slushland. We’ll have other writers over to share what went into their characters and how they created them. We’ll dissect characters from popular movies to see what makes them memorable. There may even be a surprise or two. I hope everyone is as excited as I am.

Let’s kick off character month a little early with the Story Board and their discussion of characters. I find it a bit suspicious that I’ve been struggling with characters and Patrick Rothfuss decided to focus on them for his second discussion. The universe speaks to us sometimes. Here is the hour-long video with surprise special guest, legendary fantasy author, Terry Brooks. I took two pages of notes from this discussion. It’s like having a how-to book come to life. Seriously, grab a notebook and pen. You can thank me later.

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6 comments

  1. I’ll definitely have to watch it later. Argh, I stumble onto all the interesting things at work. I’m sure you’ll get your characters figured out.

    And you have Oscar the Grouch pajama pants!!! Awesome! Since it’s gotten colder, I’ve recently switched from my clouds and sock monkey pajamas to my Halloween sock monkey pajamas. What can I say, I heart Nick & Nora, and I’m sure they heart me too (since I have winter flannels and summer capris).

    Argh, I missed writing again this morning. Still in recovery mode I guess. This whole week has been a blur to be honest. It’s weird though how if I don’t get writing in I feel stressed and it compounds. I’m hoping at least the weekend will be more fruitful.

    1. “I’m sure you’ll get your characters figured out.” That’s the funny part because I know exactly who they are, but it’s not translating to the page. Guess I’ll just have to keep learning.

      Well I’ll at least be able to help others. I believe this video helped a bunch. I’ll have to break down my notes and post the findings. Yes, I have Oscar the Grouch pajama pants, the Grinch too. My nieces think it’s funny to get me grouchy and grumpy stuff, because they say I’m so serious. I guess they forget who plays Pokemon with them.

      You’ll write when the words are ready. That’s what I like to think anyway. Perhaps you needed more of a break than you realized. Happy writing this weekend!

  2. I’ve found Orson Scott Card’s writing advice blog and his writing books some of the best, most practical advice out there. As for characters, it is frustrating when the magnificent and three dimensional character in your head appears on the page like a lumpy brick.
    But, that’s why we keep writing: so our words can match the excitement of our imagination.

    1. Isn’t it funny how sometimes we think our characters are great, but they aren’t? But the wonderful thing about creating characters is we can go back and tweak. I like when you said we write so our words can match the excitement of our imagination. Well said, and so true. Thanks for sharing. Happy writing this weekend to you too!

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