Thursday, September 27, 2012

Books & Writing -- Creating Characters

We've spent several weeks on the topic of creating characters readers believe in and care about. Today some final thoughts.

Character's Voice
Listen to the voices of your characters. Every character’s voice needs to be distinctive. You don't want them all to sound the same. If you’re not careful they may sound like you. People have various ways of filtering the world’s input—some are auditory, others visual, or kinesthetic. These differences affect how a character perceives their surroundings and how they speak. 

What is voice?
• It’s what a character says and how they say it.
• It’s what they talk about, their interests and who they are.

Characters are the story.
If you give your characters freedom, they’ll write your story. The movie As Good as it Gets with Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt is a great example of a character driven story. Jack Nicholson plays the role of an obsessive/compulsive author. His neighbor Greg Kinnear is an ultra sensitive homosexual who drives Jack Nicholson's character crazy. The love interest is Helen Hunt. Her character helps put Jack Nicholson’s character back together. These characters drive the story. If you want to study a well done character driven story this is worth every minute of your time.

As a writer, I love it when characters take over and carry me along for the ride.

You want to:
• Listen to your characters.
• Feel how the characters feel. Interview them if you must.
• Look at your characters from another character’s point of view.
• Be sensitive to a character's feelings.
• Don’t hold characters in a vise. Let them breathe, grow and run with their own stories.

You want your characters to change and to grow as the story moves along. After all, what fun is it to read a book where nothing happens to the characters on the inside? They've got to discover something or someone, grow, give up, accept . . . in their gut they've got to change.

Dialogue is part of your character.

What does dialogue accomplish?
  • Dialogue needs a reason to be on the page. You don’t want to simply fill up space.
  • It advances the plot action.
  • It pushes a viewpoint character forward to solve a problem or a wrong decision.
  • Makes characters real.
  • Reveals who your character is on the surface and on the inside. It should reveal basics of class, education and personality.

 Examples of two very different characters:

“I shall have a cup of tea, black, and a small salad. No tomatoes, as tomatoes upset my digestion.”

“Gimme pie and coffee, sweetie. Got any apple?”

It's amazing how much you can know about a character simply by what they say and how they say it.

  • Through dialogue you discover facts by the questions asked and answers given.
  • Dialogue sets a mood and reflects the character's mood.
  • It intensifies the conflict. Readers love the give and take between two characters who verbally punch and counter punch.
  • Dialogue conveys information to readers and helps a writer avoid long passages of narrative.
  • Dialogue brings immediacy to the story so readers feel like they are part of the action.
  • It provides a change of pace and can move a story ahead more quickly.
  • It should create suspense or tension.
  • You can use it to tie up loose ends.

Dialogue is more than just a conversation.

  • Combine dialogue with movements and gestures to create pacing.
  • Interject thoughts. Hidden responses often reveal more about a person than what they might have said.
  • Good dialogue is artificially concise. It's a balancing act, concise but not so concise that it sounds unnatural. READ DIALOGUE ALOUD SO YOU CAN HEAR IT.
  • Good dialogue is emotional. You want the choice of words to engage readers and convey emotion.
  • Bare dialogue speeds up a scene and adds tension. Bare dialogue is speaking only, without tags or pacing. There is no narrative. It is used for a brief exchange. Capture the character's speech patterns so readers will know who is speaking.

Common Mistakes Using Dialogue:
  • Using too many direct connections, such as names to identify the speaker or using tags such as he said or she said. Leave these off whenever possible.
  • Describing dialogue--examples--he said angrily. He extrapolated. Rather use a character's actions to convey the mood or the pacing of the dialogue, "I said stop. Stop now!" We know how this character feels without describing it. If he's really mad you might want to add an action to he says, such as, he brought his fist down on the desk.
  • Use of unnecessary dialogue. Remember that dialogue should move the action forward. Don't write it down if you don't need it.

Helps for learning realistic dialogue.
  • Listen to the way people talk. You can sit in a restaurant or bus station, or any place where people gather, and observe and take notes.
  • Listen for emotions. What do people sound like when they're angry, bitter, content, cynical or . . .
  • Read and study lots of dialogue.

 Quote by Dwight V. Swain.
“Always strive for the provocative line. Hunt for at least occasional new, fresh, original ways for your characters to say whatever it is they have to say. In their proper places, slang, colorful analogies, personification, and the like can prove very effective.

How do you find the provocative line? Write whatever dull cliches come handy, then go back and rework. Complex may then become as tangled up as a meatball in a can of spaghetti. Jumpy is reworked to jerking like a crawdad on a hook or wriggling like a barefoot boy on hot cement”.

I hope these sessions on creating characters have been helpful. It's time for you create the people who will tell  your next story. Have fun!

Grace and peace to you from God,


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

TODAY'S THOUGHTS -- Talking Politics?

In case you didn't know, we have an election coming up. Hah! Yeah, I figured you'd heard something about it. I'm not here to tell you what you should do, though I've been known to do that. I want to talk about our attitudes and our sometimes careless need to be right.

I know a lot about this. I'm a passionate person. I know what I believe and why I believe it. However, that doesn't mean I'm always right--even though I'd like to think so.

During this election season, I've decided to speak out about what I believe because I'm concerned that we may be losing the country I love. I've been convicted about my need to pray and to speak out as a conservative. However, in my passion and certainty of what's "right" I sometimes speak carelessly. For that, I am sorry. And believe me, I've received some flak for my statements.

I do believe that God would like us to stand up for truth and for righteousness, but I think he shakes his head and weeps for His children when they tear one another apart over something like politics. Well . . . about anything at all. I don't think we're ever supposed to tear each other up. We are supposed to love one another.

So, my word today is to speak with care and in love. It's okay to be passionate about a topic (Jesus was), but let's remember that we're family and we're in this together. So, let's pull together and love one another.

May God's will be done.

Grace and peace to you from God,


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Books & Writing -- Creating Characters

I've been absent from my blog recently, but I promise we'll soon complete this series on creating characters. Today, I'd like to look at a tool that we can go back to again and again while creating and working with our characters. This will help define a character and remain true to who they are.

Archetypal Roles
An archetypal role is simply a model of a character (it can also be used to help define a story). If you begin with an archetypal role, constructing a character or even a story plot will be easier.

I've listed some examples below. There are many more. You may want to create your own list. For instance if you find a character in a movie you're watching or book you're reading and you think that character might be someone you'd like to use in a story add them to your list. I found one just the other night and she was so perfect for my next book that I changed the one I'd previously chosen. You may want to watch the movie several times to help you pin down the character.


• Cinderella—The movie Pretty Woman follows this archetypal role for the Cinderella story, right down to the white limousine at the end. Julia Roberts creates a perfectly spunky Cinderella in this rags to riches story.

• Coming of Age. Luke Skywalker is a good example of this type of character. 

Hero Quest—Jesus Christ is the most famous archetypal role for this type of character. He is the savior, who gives his life for others. A more recent and creative version is the hero in the movie the Matrix. He is THE ONE who came to save mankind.

• Come to Realize—This is most clearly seen in the prodigal son. In the Biblical account the young man leaves home and quickly spends his inheritance on wine, women, and easy living and then seeing the error of his way returns home to the open arms of his father. There are lots of creative ways to use this type of character.

• Romance—There are a number of architypal roles—tragic love (Romeo and Juliet), forbidden love (The Thornbirds and a more recent example is Avatar). Unattainable love is poignantly demonstrated in the movie (Anna and the King of Siam, written by Margaret Landon).

• Monster slayer—The hero or the heroine is in peril and the monster slayer destroys the enemy. (James Bond). Another type of monster slayer is portrayed in a movie called Extraordinary Measures where the father of two very sick little girls fights the system to save his daughters' lives.

• Fugitive—This is the character who is unjustly accused. In the 1960’s
there was a television program called “The Fugitive. Harrison Ford played the character in a more recent movie taken from the weekly TV show. The character and the tale was based on a true story, about an innocent man running from the law.

• Beauty and the Beast—This is the story of a repulsive character who is transformed or redeemed by love (The sin eater in The Last Sin Eater)

I hope these will be helpful as you continue to romp through your story. Remember, have fun.

Grace and peace to you from God,


Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Quiet Moments With God -- A Shout Of Faith

I started the morning with coffee, my devotional and Bible reading. I love quiet mornings with the fragrance and touch of a cool breeze and the sound of birdsong accompanying a word from God. This morning was delicious. God's presence quieted me as I read from Streams in the Desert. As with most days, I was moved and encouraged. 

These words shouted at me from the page. I knew God was trying to get my attention.

"The loud shout of steadfast faith is the exact opposite of the groans of wavering faith and the complaints of discouraged hearts. Of all the secrets of the Lord (Ps. 25:14), I do not believe there are any more valuable than the secret of this loud shout of faith. The Lord said to Joshua, "See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men." (Joshua 6:2). He did not say, "I will deliver" but "I have delivered." The victory already belonged to the children of Israel, and now they were called to take possession of it. But the big question still remaining was how. It looked impossible, but the Lord had a plan."

These summer days have been difficult ones. I have done much too much complaining and some days my faith feels as if it is being blown by the wind. I've been walking through a shadowy valley. And though I seek the light on the hilltops, sometimes I am unable to see it. And I am hard pressed to believe in what seems impossible. 

But God is full of love. He sees me and has compassion on me. He quiets my spirit with inspired writings and His presence. As I rest in Him I am reminded of His ability to accomplish the impossible. Nothing is impossible with Him. Nothing.

I have been called, just as I am with all of my faults and frailties. It is not me who accomplishes the work, but God in me. If he can bring down a mighty wall simply by the faith of believers and their obedience to His instruction then He can help me accomplish what He's called me to do, which requires far less faith than that of Joshua and the Israeliltes.

Me and God are in this together. I'm not alone. And neither are you.

Victory is ours.

Grace and peace to you from God,