Creating Rich Characters – Prompts

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While my days are spent grinding out my WIP, I thought I’d share an old post about writing character bios, specifically about using prompts to expedite the process.

The prompt-list below looks more complicated than it is (a result of explanations and examples). For some prompts, a word or two is sufficient, while others require some contemplation. Unsurprisingly, I force my main characters to endure the entire process; incidental players get a pass with a mere smattering of details, and everyone else falls somewhere in between.

Ultimately, I believe that this pre-work pays off, not only in rich characters. To me, the process of writing flows with greater ease. My characters are immensely cooperative in telling their own stories when they know who they are.

The External Character

woman-1801830_640Physical Description: Appearance goes without saying, but add at least one remarkable feature: glass eye, cleft chin, crooked teeth, chewed nails, scars, moles, beady eyes, or rumbling voice. Remember, even beautiful people are imperfect.

Gestures, Mannerisms:  A distinguishing physical habit not only defines a character but makes him memorable. A character may habitually pick his teeth, clear his throat, rub his jaw, trace an old scar, purse his lips, fidget with a button, wink, spit, raise one eyebrow, stroke a beard, belch…

Quirk: A distinctive behavior that goes beyond a gesture: Won’t eat anything green, corrects improper speech, loves bad puns, doesn’t like to be touched, is afraid of heights, always misses the bus. There are numerous lists of quirks on the web.

Attribute, Trait: People have a blend of traits. Pick one or two for your character that stand out. Maybe she’s stubborn, lucky, picky, impatient, naïve, or flippant. Lists of attributes are also readily available on the web.

Skills, Abilities, and Interests: No real person is great at everything, and neither is your well-rounded character. Does your character have an education or special training? In what skills does he excel? Where is he lacking? What does your character do for a living? What does he do during down time?

Mix it Up: People are multi-dimensional. Villains can have redeemable qualities. They may rescue animals, love old movies, grow roses, or play chess in the park. Likewise, heroes have their flaws. They drink too much, have hot tempers, always run late, get easily flustered, or are slobs.

Don’t Overdo It: Creating a one-eyed, belly-scratching, kind-hearted, hypochondriac swordsmen with a penchant for chocolate is fun, but most characters will require much more subtlety.

The Internal Character

woman-1596954_960_720Backstory: Each character has a formative life that shaped him. What was the character’s childhood like? How strong were/are his family ties? Where are his parents and/or siblings? What significant event of the past shaped who the character is today? What was the character doing before the first page opened?

Secrets: A secret impacts a character’s attitudes and behaviors. It adds interest to the story because it can create tension or mystery in interpersonal dynamics. What is the character’s secret that no one else knows?

Goals: What does your character desperately desire? A protagonist’s overarching goal will often drive the story, and conflicting goals between characters may be a major source of tension. Consider that the main characters will have goals related not only to the main plot but to subplots.

Obstacles: What is the main obstacle that stands in the way of the character reaching her goal. This may be a nemesis, a personal flaw, or a condition of the culture or world. Remember that villains aren’t the only ones that can stand in a character’s way. Obstacles can be large and small and there are usually lots of them in the protagonist’s path.

Active Pursuit of Goals: At some point in the story, the character moves into an active role in overcoming obstacles and achieving goals. What triggers the change for the character? How does the character take or attempt to take active control?

posing-1022162_640The Big Fear: This is the one that terrifies – betrayal, loss of control, inability to protect loved ones, failure, death, aloneness, disgrace, insignificance, poverty, aging. It may drive the character’s goal or be an obstacle he must overcome. Fears have a basis in experience – where did this fear come from?

The Mask: A character’s mask is directly related to his fear. The mask describes how a character compensates for the Big Fear, or hides it from the world. For example, a character fearful of betrayal, may act overly independent or refuse to get close to others. Often the mask comes undone during the course of a story and the character is forced to face and perhaps overcome her fear.

Cross-Character Relationships: Another way to add interest and tension is by creating similarities between conflicting characters, and differences between companionable characters. What might the protagonist and villain have in common? Perhaps they both love horses, appreciate fine wines, or fear water. Along the same lines, how might the protagonist and his cohorts clash? One curses constantly and the other finds it offensive; one might play an instrument poorly while his companions cover their ears.

There you have it – my prompts. I hope this is helpful. Let me know if there’s something I missed!

 

**Images from Pixabay**

I had a love affair

 

pixabay free image, geralt

pixabay free image, geralt

In October, Julie Holmes graciously invited me to guest post on a blog she co-hosts: Meet Your Main Character. I shared a rather personal love affair I had with…well…read and see.

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I had a love affair.
Never consummated, mind you.

He was far too young, barely 20, and I’m middle-aged. Plus I’m married to a kind and caring man who makes me laugh. I’m blessed…in addition to being a realist. It could never have worked.

Yet, there was something about him that thrummed the heartstrings. Perhaps, it was his many failings that I related to, the human misinterpretations of how he measured his worth. He suffered the need to impress, a fear of failure and disappointing those he loved, of not measuring up to the outer façade of success. He wanted power, he wanted privilege, he wanted to be valued for what he did, because who he was just didn’t cut it.

I’ve felt those things. I remember feeling starved for love, grasping at smiles with barbed fingers and calling it destiny, overpowering any potential with suffocating need. I wanted validation for the object and trappings that was me. For beneath the skin, I’d learned, was nothing of value.

Perhaps what enchanted me was his capacity to dig deep into pain, to confront his failings face forward, to rise above, let go, and forgive his blindness. I saw humility in his startling encounter with his soul. I witnessed grace in that moment and fell in love.

For him it was a process, a paring away of the coarse petals of identity and fragile beliefs, each layer uncovering the mysteries and offering truths. Perhaps it was the courage and trust, the willingness to step with faith from the ledge.

I think I fell in love with his capacity to love…wholly…without fear, without shadows, without filters. How often do we meet a soul peeled bare. How rare is the courage to accept with open arms the messy lives we tote on our shoulders or drag behind us like a sack of rocks. I wanted a love like that…fearless, wondrous, unconditional.

Perhaps it was because he chose to live as he believed. His life wasn’t separate from his principles. He offered no excuses, no rationales, no exceptions. In this way too, he was intrepid, worthy of fidelity, and unpretentious. It was simply his way of being in the world.

Myths of the Mirror

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His name is Conall, and he was born in my head. He grew up on the keys of my laptop, loved on the pages of my first book. As real as he is to me, he lives only in the chambers of my heart.

It could never have worked. It took me a long time to let go.

Then I fell in love with Morgen
And Gryff after him
And…on I go, crafting new loves in my heart.

Tell me, have you ever fallen in love with a character?

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