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Posts Tagged ‘Writing Classes’

You’ve been itching to begin writing, and are so nearly there. But, what is a story without characters? Not a very good one, I can tell you in an instant.

Now, you could be forgiven if you believe a good idea is all that’s needed to write a successful novel. After all, you may be writing an action story. What do you need character’s for? Aren’t they just well toned guys flexing their muscles while shooting up the place? Well, without believable and interesting characters, you’ll have nothing but a lifeless story. Although, if muscles are you’re thing, you may not care if there’s not story 🙂

Okay. For those that aren’t quite sure, I’ll quickly explain the difference between a plot driven story and a character driven story.

Character vs Plot

Plot Driven Story: Usually action-based. The action is what’s classed as driving the story forward. For example, Transporter, Star Wars, Jurassic Park.

Character Driven Story: Character based. The characters drive the story forward. For instance, Rocky, Cast Away, It’s a Wonderful Life.

Now, you may be a little confused. After all, the Rocky films have a lot of action in them. Well, if you look at the original ‘Rocky’ film, the story is about a fighter and his struggle to become a world-class boxer. That is character-driven.

Why do we need to know our characters?

Imagine Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’. I think we can all relax in the comfort of knowing this is a character-driven love story. But, if Austen hadn’t ‘known’ Mr Darcy inside out when writing him, would we, as love-struck, female fans, still be romancing over him today?

We like and love him (some even dream of him), because we feel we know him. And that is what makes a good character. Someone your reader can identify with and relate to.

So, how do we get character’s like this?

First, you need to create them.

Antagonists, Protagonists, and Supporting Cast (aka Minions)

NOTE: Let me just make this little snippet clear. The antagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be a person. The antagonist is whatever hampers the protagonist (hero) from reaching his or her goal. 

However, as this post is about creating characters, our antagonist is going to be human.

So, where do I start?

Always with the antagonist, aka the baddie. They are the reason you have a story. Without one, your protagonist will easily reach their goal – leaving you with a dreary story and no plot.

First you have to decide the kind of character you want to create and make sure they get the correct label. A what? A Label. I made a mistake with the first story I wrote. My antag was a hitman who worked for the mob. But, as it was pointed out to me, the Mob Boss was the real antag. He was the guy giving the orders for the hit. Without him, my hitman would have been out of work. Thus, although my hitman was the main baddie, he was in fact a Minion. Confused? Good. Then, I wasn’t alone 🙂

To explain this a little better, I am going to use a well-know subject.

Jason Bourne. Girls love him and boys want to be him.

In the Bourne films, Jason is a killer. A hitman. Does that make him the antag? No. He is the hero. And this is because he’s trying to reach a goal, which is to remember who the hell he is.

Although it’s a variety of assassins who try to kill Bourne, it’s a CIA group called ‘Treadstone’ who initially orders the hits. This makes ‘Treadstone’ the antagonist. The assassins are mere minions.

And let’s not forget Marie, Jason’s love interest and the girl who helps him attain his goal.

Creating Your Characters

If I were to ask you to tell me about yourself, where would you start?

Five years ago? Ten? How about from the moment you were born?

That is where I want you to start with your characters… From the moment they were born. Write down who their parents were. What kind of upbringing did they have. Create family and loved ones they may have lost along the way. This exercise will run into pages if you do it right. It will round your

characters’ journey and define how they got to be the person in your story. Their likes and dislikes. Their flaws.

Use props – for instance, do they have a limp, or a squint? If so, how did they get it? Remember, Indiana Jones had a fear of snakes. We found out through a (long) flash back in the third film because he fell into a circus snake pit. Makes you wonder if George Lucas had already written it into his background, doesn’t it?

Research your character. If they attended boarding school. Research it. If they were in the army. Research it.

Basically, you are writing a biography. It has to be accurate.

Giving a Character Qualities and Flaws

If you are like me, they you would have rooted for Jason Bourne. Why? Because we liked him. But why would we feel like this? Remember, Jason Bourne is a killer. Does that now make us a hitman loving sociopath?

No. It means the writer has done their job. You want your audience to love your protagonist and cheer them on every inch of the way. If you make your characters too nice, your reader will tire of them and become bored. Likewise, if you make your characters hard-nosed and arrogant. They become unlikable because your readers cannot get close enough to start caring.

Jason Bourne is a man on a mission. He is a killer. And yet every now and then, a slither of emotion escapes and we see a man who cares about right and wrong. That is a character quality. He cares about the well-being of Marie, and this shows Jason’s softer side. Again, another quality, if not also a flaw. His ability to kill so easily, although it constantly saves his life, is a flaw. Having to suppress emotion in order to survive is a flaw. And flaws are what make us human. It’s these flaws that allow your readers to relate to your characters.

Steer clear of stereotypes. Make your character unique. A skin head with pink spiked hair and wearing Doc Martins is stereo-typical. Give him a unique quality that makes him stand out from the rest of the skin heads.

I’ll tell you a quick story I know my co-writer, Natalie Duggan, won’t mind. When I first paired up with Natalie to write the TV pilot ‘Legend’, I mentioned character backgrounds. Natalie thought I was nuts and that it was all a waste of time. She wanted to get to the story. So, I banged my head against the desk, argued until I was blue in the face, then just went ahead and wrote out the backgrounds anyway. I emailed them across and Natalie loved them. Her exact words? “Oh, wow. These are awesome. I really feel I know Roman and Nate (two of the MC’s).” Natalie now writes backgrounds on ALL her characters.  🙂

Okay, that should be enough to start you off.

So, do you create characters before you begin writing? What kind of techniques do you use when creating your characters? Do you make your characters too perfect? Are you plot-driven or character-driven?

If you want more of me, try checking out Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads, Klout, BranchOut and Linkedin

Upcoming classes: via Webinar, where we can interact and you ask questions.

14th July: Getting To Know Your Characters

21st July: From Idea To Story

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In May, I wrote a post  giving you guys two pictures and asked you to write me a scary short story.

Well, you didn’t disappoint. I’ve picked out the ones I liked and without further ado, (and in no particular order), I give you the first one by brilliant writer, Nigel Blackwell.

The Eye of Death

I watched her walk in the mist, up the hill from the pub, light steps, tight clothes, curves that screamed for testosterone’s attention, and her whole body lithe with life. If fair was fair in this world, it would have been a life that were mine, because well I knew her, but life ain’t fair.

It was the hook that did it. One minute I was watching it swing, maneuvering giant buckets for it to collect, ducking as it came by, covering my ears as it crashed into the lifting ring, and watching as it vaulted a ton of scrap metal high into the air, as easy as birds lift worms, winching it away to smelt in the furnace in that place of fire and iron and darkness, a place where men spoke in grunts and spit.

It weren’t a place for girls, especially ones with long, coal dark hair and skin paler than lime, not ones with skirts black, all tighter than tight and shorter than short on legs that were longer than long. No, it weren’t a place for them, but she were there. Radiant, dazzling, and winking at me. And I winked back. I took me eye off the hook, I did, an’ the hook took me eye off o’ me.

It swung back, lazy and smooth. Right into my eye. A hundred pounds of iron, twisted to a point and cast, fishing for my eye, its tip squeezing easy through the jelly, spearing my skull, stabbing out the back, cracking open my eye socket, sweeping me backwards, upwards, hanging me by me skull. I grabbed and pulled and yanked at the chain, lifting myself by pathetic inches from that godless scythe. I balled my lungs, ripping at my throat, near tearing out my voice box.

The hook arced me down, back to where I had stood; only not standing but legs thrashing crazy, hands clenching the hook, and concrete unmoving. My left foot snapped clean off, my right leg speared straight up, bones ripping soft organs, tearing open my lungs, leaving me wet rasps or nothing. My flesh and bones were tossed to the furnace’s pig iron river. I were naught bar a flame and a flash, and gone, but they buried me proper. Not there were much left to put in the ground.

That were then, see, and now’s now, and now she were not in that place, she were in mine, my yard, my graveyard.

Through she walked, crashing the gate, kicking the gravel, singing loud. Bad singing. The tonelessness of alcohol and pub songs half remembered. But that were good, not the singing of course, I ain’t stupid, but the alcohol, that were good. Good for her.

She staggered to the stones that ringed the yard and passed for a wall. Over she went, legs in the air and tight skirt tightening before she took pity on the heartbeats of men unseen, an’ smoothed it back into place.

Her heels sank in the cloying grass and suckling ground. Her head picked up, hearing the noise, same as I heard, a roaring of exhaust and a crashing of gears, a lorry straining up the hill. Not just any lorry, the big one from old Sawbuck’s yard, the one for towing, towing with a hook, a heavy hook. He was late from a job, like always. He’d be fast, like always. He’d have one headlight out, like always. And he’d turn at the corner of my yard, turn by the lane to her home.

She made it to the road, her singing forgotten and her arms out to keep from falling. The tarmac was firm to her heel and she swept across its glistening blackness, its white line, its potent danger, and over to the other side.

Sawbuck’s headlight clawed up the hill, close now, splashing left and right, drunk like she. It took a bend with a squeal of tire, the old man pushing to get home, just like she.

Her arms went out again and her toes poked forward, testing her shoes and her weight and her balance on the mud of her lane beyond the road.

The roaring came upon us, tarmac shining in myopic light, and glittering cats-eyes welcoming weary travelers. And her eyes glittered, too. Her skin reveled in fifty watts of headlight, her arms waving to keep herself upright. She lifted one foot to step back, away from the road, away from the thundering lorry, away from its danger.

It weren’t right and it weren’t fair, and neither were I, so I winked. Six feet of moldy flesh and bones, and a single eye for a single wink.

Her eyes bulged, her lips puckered round, and her cheeks lost their muscle. Her arms dangled, and her one leg kept still in the air. I held her rapt, like she’d held me.

The exhaust thundered and the wheels squealed. The single light swept past, taking the corner, marking the path of its curvature the tangent to its momentum.

But momentum weren’t for the hook. It swung free, slashing wide, snapping its wire taught, whipping back, following Sarbuck’s homeward and ignorant dash.

She weren’t ignorant, though, she saw it all, the swinging, the snapping, and the whipping. She felt its pain, too. The blunt hammer of sixty mile an hour iron crushing her ribs, folding her in two, lifting her up, spinning her careless. She felt the wait of moments before the smooth tarmac rose up to meet her, wrenching her head back, snapping her neck, splashing her limp on the ground.

And the light were away, with Sawbuck on home.

I waited for her to spread upon the road, and she to bid adieu to warm blood. Perhaps they would bury her near me, the same yard and within a yard, perchance.

It weren’t fair, but I ain’t a man of fair, because I ain’t a man, I’m dead.

And all’s fair in the eye of death.

THE END

Next week, I’ll post another one.

If you want more of me, try checking out Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads, Klout, BranchOut and Linkedin

Upcoming classes:

14th July: Getting To Know Your Characters

21st July: From Idea To Story

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