Creating Unique and Multifaceted Characters

What exactly makes a character likeable? Is it the things the author tells us explicitly? That the character is this tall and looks like this type of person? Or is it something more? When I was in writing classes during college I often struggled with developing characters that were relatable. To me I knew so much about them and how could my classmates not know what I knew about the character. To make up for that confusion I began to deviate away from how I wrote and I started writing things like:

Kidera has a big fat nose with a wart on the end and she has pale skin that is similar to a piece of scrunched up paper and her eyes are glassy blue with red rims. Her breath smells like alcohol and she glares at me with a smile full of crooked yellow teeth.

While there are many physical characteristics explained there is little to no subtext and that means that this character is one-dimensional. Compare to the paragraph below. Again, not perfect but for demonstrative purposes it will do.

As I sat in my chair I noticed that Kidera’s aquamarine eyes seemed to be veiled by a glassy sheen and the edges of that sheen were blood red. She raised a wrinkled hand and scratched her cheek; it sounded like two pieces of sandpaper being rubbed together. After a moment she pulled a flask from her waist pocket and took a sip. My nose wrinkled as the burning stench of hard liquor reached my nostrils. Her lips were only slightly less colorless than her pale features except for the bluish purple bags that seemed permanent residents under her eyes. I grimaced as her bloodshot gaze met mine. Her lips parted and revealed a mouth full of jagged teeth.

 Here is a short exercise:

Write down everything you gleaned from the first paragraph. Ok, Now what about from the second paragraph? Make sure to also write about what you are getting from the subtext. When writing, subtext is often more important than what is on the page. Skilled writers use subtext to further the reader’s understanding of a character. The question is- how do writers master the art of subtext?

For some, such as in the snowflake method, the idea is to start off with one sentence and expand on that. Which is a great way to start except for when you have about a million ideas as well as lots of opinions about what your character should be like. Then  having to select one sentence can be a bit confusing. An alternative way to write your characters into life is to write a sample paragraph or even several pages. Get all of the word vomit out so that you can sift through it and decide what will work and what won’t work.

My main character in Duchess of Dark Mercies, Laila, has gone through a minor name change as well as some adjustments to her demeanor, physical appearance and her role in the story. Many of the things I know about her I discovered only after writing a lot of junk scenes. The best way for me to develop characters is to free write. To let my mind wander for a bit. Then after I find I’ve hit a wall I go back over what I just wrote, I take a piece of paper and I start to jot down things I notice about my character. I used the 5 W’s (Who, What, Where, When and Why)

Who is she talking to? (etc)

What does she wear? (etc)

Where is she in the story? (etc)

When is this taking place in the plot? (etc)

Why does she feel that way? (etc)

Once I start doing this I find that a whole lot of details start to stretch out and expand. Each time I pause and exam my character their world grows a little clearer. This is especially important when you get to motives. What exactly does my character want? Sometimes, the characters tell you before you even realize it. Sometimes you start reading a scene from your book and it dawns on you that your character really wants x,y, or z.

When writing use it to exam yourself and your own strengths and weaknesses. Just be careful not to superimpose your problems onto your character. Remember you are writing fiction; not your autobiography. There are exceptions to every rule and I think a good example of this is Tim O’Brien’s book The Things They Carried . This is where a writer uses a character with the same name  but makes sure to draw a line between reality and fiction. When I read the book back in ninth grade it was hard for me (as a reader) to separate the character Tim O’Brien from the actual living breathing Tim O’Brien. His characters are gritty and real (they are sticky). Even after all of these years I still remember how I felt about his characters. When you write fiction, the driving forces are the characters you create. Readers stick with the character even when everything else fades away. As you go about your life pause and watch those around you. What are they telling you subconsciously? When the world is spiraling towards being technology centered step back and focus on the humans around you. Listen to what they’re telling you even when they aren’t speaking. Take what you glean and start to figure out how you would describe each person. If you were to give an artist and description of them what would be important? Create sticky details that will last even after the reader turns the page.

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Witty Wednesday

Never underestimate the power of a horse who can blog. Julie is quite special. She has been with me throughout many difficult times and has always believed that I would overcome whatever was in my way. However, I must say that she isn’t the only one who believes in me. I have a whole team of cheerleaders and people who are saying you can do this. I just get tunnel visioned sometimes. I’ve addressed that fact multiple time on my other blog  and I do not want to focus on that. I have a different agenda for this blog post.

First and foremost, I want to say thank you to everyone who is cheering me on. You have no idea how much your support means to me. I am a bit bewildered by how much you all care for me. I’m a little shell-shocked I guess. Secondly, Julie mentioned how she was worried I was going to be living out of my car and I was worried about that fact as well but I have amazing friends and they would never let me live out of my car so know that I will always have some place to go.

The reason I’m writing this post is because I want to catch you up on what has happened in my life. I explained a bit of what happened on my About Me page and so I won’t talk about that again. I am in a unique situation where I find myself having to learn a whole new set of skills. While working in the horse industry directly I was comfortable. Once you know how to take care of a horse that information never leaves you. The problem is when you realize you have other interests as well and that you want to do something besides work in the horse world. Enter me.

Julie and I
Julie and me.

All of the sudden I find myself having to rethink how I present myself to others. I am someone who is very much “This is me, take it or leave it.” Which is a problem in the real world because people expect you to follow certain ways of behaving and most of the time the nuances of human interaction are beyond me. It takes me forever to realize that there is subtext in all human communication. Which is funny, because with horses you have to understand subtext.

This relates to writing because I want to be a novelist. My two overarching dreams (career paths) are to be a novelist and a horse trainer/ barn owner/ riding instructor. Somewhere along the way I forgot that learning to write well and to create content that is engaging takes a lot of trial and error and time. It should have been clear to me that in order to write well I need to put in a lot of hours just like with riding. You have to put in thousands of hours to become a good rider.

Maybe I am attracted to both writing and riding because they are both labor intensive passions. When I was little I was a horrible speller. I remember getting a quiz back and there was red marked all over it. I think at that point I decided I wanted to prove that teacher wrong. The same applies to riding. The first time I ever rode a horse I fell off and something inside me decided I wanted to be the best rider possible.

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I have trained horses and I have trained riders. I have done a lot in the horse world. I think the reason why I keep getting burnt out is because I forget that I need to develop skill sets in other industries. I need fall back plans. As a writer I want to be the best; I want to have novels on the New York Best Seller’s list in sci/fi and fantasy. I want to see my name on the front of books and I want people to know that achieving your dreams is possible. Just don’t give up.

Right now, my life is in flux and it would be easy for me to drop all of the difficult things and say OK, time to start over. That isn’t who I am though. I have started the process of becoming an insurance agent which is cool because I get to help people figure out what they need to keep their families safe should unexpected events happen. The truth is, though, I want to write stories and create worlds where people can escape from those difficult situations and find solstice in an imaginary world with characters that are relatable.

Which means that I will write no matter what. On this blog the author provides the definition for amateur; basically that an amateur is someone who does something for the love of that thing not because they get paid to do it or because it is their job. In college one of my professors said find what you love to do and find someone who will pay you to do what you love. The question is what do I love to do and is there a job/career out there that will pay me to do what I love?

I’ve realized that I love writing and that I’ll continue to write no matter what. I actually have a lot of things I do everyday; things some would say are jobs but I don’t always get paid for those things. I care for my three horses every day. Ideally I would be paying myself for that but I don’t. I write all the time and at the moment don’t get paid. I research topics and think and dream and imagine and create. The things I am good at all deal with the brain and I have yet to find someone who want to pay for ideas. No, they all want me to pay them to make my ideas realities.

 

president, thinking, ideas
president, thinking, ideas

Here is the thing- I would probably do pretty well in political jobs but I have no desire to do more grunt work. I have a complex I guess. One where I think to myself “I’ve spent years mucking stalls, I shouldn’t have to be someone else’s lackey.” Which is evident by my education and why national chains won’t hire me nor will entry-level jobs look at my resume. On the other side of the coin companies looking for specialized employees see my resume and say nope, not for us. You don’t have the qualifications we are looking for; we’re going in another direction.

Stuck between a rock and a hard place. Although it could be because I keep doing these things when I know I should be changing my habits. Also it could be because I read too many cracked.com articles, like this one that makes it hard for me to concentrate on what I should be doing.

Or maybe it is because I’m left-handed and therefore the world is out to get me. *cough* sarcasm *cough*

Whatever the reason for why I am at this point in my life; my main goal is to help others to avoid the pitfalls I’ve faced. What struggles have you encountered or are currently dealing with?

Guest Post by: Julie

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Hi There,

My name is Julie and my human is Felicia. Usually, I let her do the writing because I have better things to do, but I wanted to fill you in on events from my side of the fence.

Before I go any further I wrote one other time Right here. I would suggest reading that when you get a chance.

A quick bio about me: I am a beautiful Bay Trakehner mare born May 22, 1992. Felicia says I am the perfect height for her; when someone asks how tall I am she says I am 16.3 hands. Felicia has been my human since June 2008. I love her dearly and have traveled all over the place with her.

I want to set the record straight. Felicia loves me and would never get rid of me because she was tired of caring for me. Up until June 2013 I was an only horse. Wait, I have to back up a little bit because I want to tell you why Felicia is where she is.

Felicia is a dreamer and I love her for that. Felicia said that she wanted to go to the Olympics with me and I wanted to do whatever she wanted. However, as time passed it became apparent to both of us that we would not make it there. I was sixteen when we became partners and as you well know the Olympics are for horses younger than I. Felicia has had to deal with a lot of impediments to her riding career. She has sacrificed many things to keep me. In fact this morning I was hungry and I was biting the wood; more because I know it annoys her and she’ll pay attention to me but then she yelled “You’re not the only one who is hungry.” She has been really stressed lately, she barely spends any time with me. That might also be the fact that I am no longer an only horse.

One of Felicia’s dreams was to breed me and raise and train the resulting foal. She says it is because she wants a piece of me here when I go over the rainbow bridge. I agree, I want a horse I trained from birth to be here to take care of her after I make that journey. I worry about her because she seems so lost. Not at all the bright-eyed dreamer I fell in love with back in 2008. She’s lost her spunk and I think it has something to do with me. She had a stranger come and look at me and I refused to socialize. I could tell that Felicia was torn. She’s whispered the words I have heard before “I have to sell her.” Normally, I injure myself so that she forgets about selling me but I can’t injure myself because there is too much at stake.

I have two horses in my care. Lexy, my adoptive sister, whom I disliked at first but now I realize why Felicia felt the need to add her to our herd. Lexy is sick. She has massive lumps all over her and they keep getting bigger. Lexy has also told me stories that make me thankful I’ve lived a charmed, love filled life. As my 22nd birthday grows near I have one wish and that is that Felicia won’t be hungry anymore and that she’ll spend more time with us and less time looking like she is dying on the inside.

My filly, Fae, was born August 6th, 2013 after many months of waiting. When I was pregnant with her I knew that what I carried was important. Fae is my only foal and I love her to pieces. I call to her if she is out of sight and I am worried that she will leave me before I have finished teaching her everything she needs to know.

Felicia says that she will be OK if she has to let us go but I know better. People ask her why she keeps on taking care of us when it is so obvious that she is unable to provide for us financially.

The honest truth is that she needs us. She has a second chance with Fae to compete in the Olympics. Right now, it seems like Felicia is going to give up. That this real life story of hers is going to have a bad ending. My question to you is this- do you want to stand by and watch as she falls to pieces or do you want to help?

It could be as simple as sharing this post. Or contacting Felicia to see if she needs anything.

P.S. She has decided to stop living where she is living because she can’t afford it. She is preparing to live out of her car just so that our bills have a better chance of being paid.

Thank you for reading.

Sincerely,

Julie

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Below is Fae my mini-me.

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Fae’s sire, Lord Cosmo pictured below: (not sure why she came out so plain; I love her anyways)

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Last but not least is Lexy

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Advice

Brilliant quote

A Cavalcade of Literature

“Advice? I don’t have advice. Stop aspiring and start writing. If you’re writing, you’re a writer. Write like you’re a goddamn death row inmate and the governor is out of the country and there’s no chance for a pardon. Write like you’re clinging to the edge of a cliff, white knuckles, on your last breath, and you’ve got just one last thing to say, like you’re a bird flying over us and you can see everything, and please, for God’s sake, tell us something that will save us from ourselves. Take a deep breath and tell us your deepest, darkest secret, so we can wipe our brow and know that we’re not alone. Write like you have a message from the king. Or don’t. Who knows, maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to.” — Alan Wilson Watts

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Beauty Matters

What an interesting way to describe physical beauty. It makes one wonder if one is a beautiful or if infact I have too high of hopes for my “card number”.

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mona ace

You’re one of fifty-two people who mill about in a large room.  Each of you holds a playing card against your forehead.  No one knows their own card, but you can see each other’s.  The goal of this little game is to pair off with the highest card possible, but to accomplish this, your request for partnership has to be accepted by the other.  Of course the Aces and Kings are the most popular and they pretty much know right away that they’re the cream of the crop.  It’s instant mutual acceptance when an Ace requests to partner with another Ace.  It works fairly quickly with the Kings as well.  By the time this experiment is over, for the most part, Aces have paired with Aces, tens with tens, sixes with sixes, and twos with twos.

It must be kind of depressing being a two, being the last in the…

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How To (not) Be Successful at Life

It’s the thing on everyone’s mind. How to get rich, enjoy life and pretty much get out of the hole a person is in. Everyone dreams of being wealthy and of having more money than God. That’s a bit of a weird paradox, right? Being richer than God? Well, if you think about it when Jesus was walking the planet he was poor. He didn’t own a house, nor did he have a stable full of animals and he didn’t have stockpiles of food. He walked and he talked and he healed. He cared for everyone around him but he was never defined by his relationships to humans. He was who he was.

My question is, would you consider God wealthy? Would you consider that Jesus was wealthy? That right there is a question full of paradoxes.

The internet is full of ideas and suggestions and here do this or that. We, as an internet culture, have forgotten the importance of listening more than speaking. We have forgotten that sometimes a person just has to say what is in their mind but that we don’t have to respond.

This blog post talks about 20 things the rich do every day. The author then goes on to write about what the wealthy versus the poor do. My question though, is this- is the author writing about what the rich do? Or about what the wealthy do? I believe I am wealthy but I am not rich. I am wealthy because I have a life I love and I have people I love and I have the dreams to do more than this. I do not have a fat bank account. My question is what am I doing wrong? Why am I not successful (financially speaking)?

Here are 10 reasons why I think I am not successful:

1. I know I should plan but I don’t. For example this blog post is being written as I think about things. I have no outline, no formula, no spreadsheet for SEO keywords. Instead I am simply writing as I go along. A fly by the seat approach that never yields success. This branches out to life in general. I have no plan as to how I am going to succeed. I have dreams, ideas, and ideals but I have no concrete map/ check list to get me there. I think those who are unsuccessful find that when they are asked: Well, how are you going to do that? The unsuccessful have no answer. The first thing you need to do to be unsuccessful is throw out the game plan.

2. Assume you know what people are talking about. Are you one of those people who finishes other peoples’ sentences. Who says I’m not going to talk to them, I already know what they are going to say. Do you find people who ask questions and who dig for more information to be annoying? This is another epidemic that seems to be spreading like wildfire throughout the internet. We’ve heard it all, we’ve seen it all and frankly, we don’t really want to have our views changed. Obviously, a loud mouthed idiot is rude and inconsiderate and therefore should be avoided like the plague. When we ignore others and talk over them or even better, when we don’t allow them to talk at all, we no longer view them as people but as objects that have no emotion. I am a natural-born bossy person. I hate listening to other people and so I shut myself away from them. Or even better, when they talk I have my internal dialogue turned on high. The second thing you need to do to be unsuccessful is to disregard other peoples’ feelings.

3. Pretend to want to learn more. This is a big one. I know that I am guilty of this all the time. My chief complaint is that I’ve spent 16 plus years learning. I’m tired of learning and of feeling like I am expected to shove more information in an already overwhelmed brain. I frequently tell myself- I want to learn more. I want to grow but when I try to learn new things all I get is this sense of my brain wanting to implode like a black hole and like a black hole everything I know and remember disappears. The third thing you need to do to be unsuccessful is to seek out new knowledge without having a student mentality.

4. Say you are multitasking when in reality you don’t finish what you’ve started. I was going to be funny there and not finish writing the sentence. On http://www.cracked.com/humor-science.html they have articles about anything and everything. The writers are funny, interesting and provide insight into the mistaken beliefs the general public have about society. Some of what they write is insightful. However, talking about www.cracked.com led me away from the original reason for writing this paragraph. Case in point. The fourth thing you need to do to be unsuccessful is to start a task only to leave it unfinished.

5. Wake up in the morning, hit snooze and go back to sleep. Oh, I love sleep so very, very much. I enjoy my blankets all wrapped around me and the feeling of just lying there. Especially in the cold weather the last thing I want to do is get up, get dressed and go outside to feed horses. I used to wake up and get going an hour before I had to go outside. I would make breakfast, do daily devotionals and just mentally prepare myself before anyone else was up and about. I need that morning hour or so of quiet where I can just let my brain fire up and figure out what is going on. Instead, I lie in my bed half asleep until the last possible moment and then I rush around, glare at everyone who dare be near me and start the day in a rush. The fifth thing you need to do to be unsuccessful is to start your day in a rush.

6.  Have long term goals but not daily goals. I think this one needs a bit of explaining. I am a very controlling person. So you would think that I would have a plan for every single second of every day. That is incorrect. Sometimes control means you have a lack of control. I control my day by allowing it to have no structure or order. Think along the lines of anarchy. More importantly though, I procrastinate. I say, oh tomorrow. I’ll write or I’ll do that tomorrow. Laundry? Tomorrow. Figuring out where to live? Tomorrow. If I do set goals I constantly adjust them until finally the goal was to get through the day doing the bare minimum of required things. It’s the go with the flow mentality and although sometimes a person needs to just relax there has to be balance between goal setting and relaxation. The sixth thing you need to do to be unsuccessful is to set goals but not follow them through.

7. Know you need help but not ask for it. There are two extremes to this one. You can either ask for help too much or not enough. If you are like me you assume you can do everything on your own and that no one is going to want to help you or cares about your problems. Even worse; you know they care but you don’t want to trouble them by asking them to care. This one is what got me into a whole lot of trouble. I have pride and I don’t want to inconvenience other people. So, instead of going and filling out SNAP paperwork when I first lost my job I waited and waited until I’m so exhausted and overwhelmed that to me it is not worth going and filling out the paperwork; in essence I’ve decided that I am not worth it. Sometimes it seems like asking for help is too big of a task and when that happens you know that is when you need help. The seventh thing you need to do to be unsuccessful is to never ask for help.

8. Know you should budget but don’t think you can. I’m a spendthrift and I know that my budget is way below what I need to survive. So instead of figuring out ways to cut costs  I just give up on a budget, shrug my shoulders and say “Maybe, someday!” There is a whole host of reasons as to why a person might not want to budget but whatever the reason know that when you don’t budget you have no budget and no money. I’m at a point where I want to say “I would budget if I could, but…” I need money to make money. There that is the crux of the problem. People believe that a person has to have money in order to budget but the opposite is true (even though I don’t want to believe it) people have money because they budget. The eighth thing you need to do to be unsuccessful is to never budget your money, time or energy.

9. Accept defeat and fixate on the reasons why you failed. How many times have you sat there explaining away why something didn’t go as planned? “I would have paid my bill but…”  “I would have aced the test but….”  “I would have sent you a gift but…” the list is endless but there is one solution to fixing all of your problems. Accept that you failed and move on. Instead of saying “Oh but if x, y, or z had happened we would have won!”  say “It doesn’t matter what factors there are, I am in control of my success or failure and either way I take responsibility of the outcome.” Sure, you won’t be great at everything but take each experience as a learning opportunity and apply it to the rest of your life. The ninth thing you need to do to be unsuccessful is to focus on the problems.

10. Believe that no matter what you do you will be stuck where you are. This one, right here, is something many people believe. I was in sociology 101 and one of the things mentioned in class was that it takes six generations for a family to move up a social class. Six generations! So my professor was implying we just need to accept our lot in life? Yes and no. Do you really want to have ten houses or do you think you want them? Do you really want to have lots of money or do you think you want money because that is what society tells us we should want. One of the things we need to remember is that society, media and our culture all shape and define us. We can either go with the flow without assessing whether or not we want what we are supposed to want or we can stop in our tracks look around and change things. The tenth thing you need to do to be unsuccessful is to believe that your fate is set in stone.

If you are anything like me you probably just scrolled down to the bottom of the page and looked at the bullet points but not the paragraphs. Hey, I completely understand. I do the same thing whenever I read a blog post. I read the first paragraph or so but then I get bored because the blog post just doesn’t end. It is too much to digest. Welcome to the world of the unsuccessful- impatience, exhaustion, and the belief that this is as good as it gets is all you need to be a lifetime member.*

*hats, t-shirts and mugs were going to be included but I got distracted and I have no money so maybe next time.