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63 Posts tagged with the character_development tag
1

The bad guy formula

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger Jan 15, 2018

 

I'm going to break an unwritten rule today and talk about a television/streaming show instead of a novel, but I'm doing it for a very good reason. This particular show, I believe, has one of the best bad guys I've ever encountered in any medium. Novelists could learn a lot by the way the creators of Godless have crafted the character of Frank Griffin as played by Jeff Daniels.


I won't give away any spoilers, but I will share with you why I think Frank Griffin is such a compelling and mesmerizing bad guy.


1. He's charismatic. Granted, his charms mostly only work on bloodthirsty outlaws, but they follow him faithfully because he shows them a kind of twisted, fatherly love. They look up to him, and that gives him a presence that outshines everyone else.


2. He knows how to show kindness. Don't misunderstand me. He's not a kind man, but he can show kindness to strangers that makes you think there's something redeeming about him.


3. He's unpredictable. You don't know what will set him off, and that keeps you on your toes with Frank Griffin. He doesn't dole out outrage equally.


4. He is ruthless. When something sets him off, he doesn't react with just rage. He reacts with an intent to destroy. He doesn't care who gets hurt.


5. He is fearless. He is convinced that nothing can kill him and that makes him even more dangerous.


As you write your next bad guy, you would do well to remember these five traits of Frank Griffin.


-Richard

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Richard Ridley is an award winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.


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A messy character stew

The ordinary protagonist

130 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, authors, writing, character_development
1

"Be a sadist."

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger Jan 2, 2018

Today we begin with a quote from an American literary legend:


"Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them - in order that the reader may see what they are made of." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Bagombo Snuff Box


Add to this sadistic advice what my wife recently said to me. She told me about a frustrating situation she'd recently experienced, and she finished her story by saying, "It's one of those bad situations where I guess you're supposed to learn something. I'm really tired of learning from bad situations. I'd like to learn from a good one every now and then."


Bad stuff happens. In life and in fiction, bad stuff is constantly making an appearance. That bad stuff is a useful tool in building character. That's what Vonnegut was saying. If you have a story that doesn't involve struggles and obstacles, your characters will never learn. They will never display their true selves. They will never have the opportunity to change and grow. As a writer, you are responsible for bringing bad stuff into your characters' lives. As a writer myself, I can tell you that's not always easy to do. I have become emotional for what I have had to do to various characters over the years. You probably have as well. That's a good thing. If we feel it, the readers will feel it.


As Vonnegut says, "Be a sadist." Do bad things to your characters because it's how you add dimensions to them, and it's how you advance your story.


-Richard

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Richard Ridley is an award winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.


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Write an Obituary for Your Characters

Why the development of secondary characters matters

384 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: authors, self-publishing, writing, character_development, kurt, vonnegut, sadist
1

In a recent post, I explained the importance of obstacles as a way to bring conflict into your story. Another way to create conflict is to consider multiple ways a character could view a situation—then have her choose the worst one. Why do this? Because how your character responds to this choice shows your readers who that character truly is.


For example, let's say that Gloria, your protagonist, has just exited a deli with a bag of warm bagels when she spots Alison, a classmate from her weekly photography class, walking half a block ahead. Gloria picks up her phone and dials Alison's number, only to see Alison screen the call and toss her phone into her purse without answering it.


What does Gloria think about this situation?


If she thinks, "Alison's probably thinking about something important so doesn't have time to chat right now," where's the conflict?


However, imagine that Gloria thinks, "Alison just sent me to voice mail! Maybe she doesn't like me!" Now you have something interesting for your readers to chew on.


The way you have Gloria respond to her line of thought will show your readers what kind of person she is. Does she throw a bagel at Alison and make a joke about it? Does she go back to her office, shut her door, and eat the entire bag of bagels? Does she avoid Alison in class, or does she make a point of sitting next to her and chatting her up? Those questions are for you to answer, but how you choose to do so is a wonderful way to provide insight into Gloria.


-Maria

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Maria Murnane is a paid CreateSpace contributor and the best-selling author of the Waverly Bryson series, Cassidy Lane, Katwalk, and Wait for the Rain. She also provides consulting services on book publishing and marketing. Have questions for Maria? You can find her at www.mariamurnane.com.


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Advice on Character Development

First person or third person? That is the question.

465 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, authors, writing, character_development, character_flaws
0

My editor once told me that the way to write an interesting novel is to put a series of obstacles in front of the main character. A successful author offered similar advice: put interesting characters into an interesting situation, and you have the foundation for an interesting story.


These statements may sound simplistic, but they are also true. Challenges create conflict, and good stories need conflict. The way your characters respond to obstacles also shows your readers what those characters are made of, who they really are. That leads to emotional connections - positive or negative - between your readers and your characters, which keep your readers engaged. If they aren't engaged, they probably won't be your readers for long.


It can be trying to come up with obstacle after obstacle, but if everything came easily to your characters, where's the payoff for your readers? Without the struggle, what's the point?


When I wrote the first draft of my first novel, I gave it to a trusted friend to read. She told me that she thought it was funny, but she also said "Everyone is so nice." I took her feedback seriously and added in some not-so-nice characters to clash with, to present obstacles in front of, my main character. At the time I didn't realize that what I was doing was adding conflict, but in hindsight I get it.


"Seinfeld," my favorite TV show of all time, was famous for being "a show about nothing." That was a marketing stunt of course, because a show about nothing would be boring. The more things that get in the way of what a character wants, the more interesting the story. So torture your characters (figuratively or literally, depending on your genre), and see how they react. Your readers will thank you.


-Maria

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Maria Murnane is a paid CreateSpace contributor and the best-selling author of the Waverly Bryson series, Cassidy Lane, Katwalk, and Wait for the Rain. She also provides consulting services on book publishing and marketing. Have questions for Maria? You can find her at www.mariamurnane.com.


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Quirks make characters real

What's the best piece of writing advice you've ever received?

744 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, author, writing, conflict, character_development
1

I know this a blog for authors, but allow me to jump into a discussion about a television show today. This show isn't just any show. It is perhaps the greatest show since Norman Lear's All In the Family. I am of course talking about Vince Gilligan's Breaking Bad. Having binged watched the entire series three times, I feel like I have an intimate knowledge of each character, and as a result, I know why the show works.


It doesn't work because Walt is a genius who uses his brain to get out of the toughest spots. It doesn't work because Hank is a crack DEA agent with incredible instincts. It doesn't work because Skyler is a devoted mother who will do what it takes to keep her children safe. It doesn't work because Saul is the greatest legal mind in New Mexico. It works because Walt, in pursuit of doing a noble thing, commits horrible atrocities and ultimately puts his family in grave danger. It works because Hank is so single-minded that he bends the law to bring down the bad guys. It works because Skyler loses sight of the best way to keep her family safe and thinks she can safely manage a criminal empire.


In other words, it's the flaws of the characters that make the show so innovative and great. If they were good people who never violated common (and even uncommon) morality, the show wouldn't have lasted a full season. Remember that as you write your next novel. It's not the good that your characters do that sets them apart, it's bad they do in pursuit of good.


-Richard

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Richard Ridley is an award winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.


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Character traps

Make Your Own Rules

645 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, authors, writing, character_development, character_flaws
3

Want to write a successful book? Here are the three key elements as I see them to penning a novel that will stand the test of time and reach a broad audience.


1. Deep rich characters: Great characters can be genre benders. J. K. Rowling wrote a young adult fantasy novel about wizards, magic, and fantastic creatures that appealed to more than young adults with an affinity for wizards, magic, and fantastic creatures. Rowling made her characters believable. Even though they carried wands and attended a school for wizards, she made them vulnerable and flawed and essentially like the rest of us muggles. Her Harry Potter books are the very definition of genre benders. They definitely reach demographics beyond the young adult fantasy readers.


2. A tight plot: Nothing drives me crazier than a sloppy plot. A tight plot means a logical progression of information that leads to a satisfying conclusion. It doesn't necessarily mean that it's unique or clever. It means that there is a place for everything and everything has its place. A Simple Plan by Scott Smith is a fairly common conceit. Three guys find a bag of money, and their attempt to keep it and split it three ways leads to corruption, paranoia, and murder. The book is an entertaining read because Smith stays on point with the plot. He never loses sight of it.


3. Passion: Readers can sense when a writer phones it in. It's hard to explain, but when an author approaches a story with passion it becomes the book's DNA. The reader can feel it in the pages. Write with passion. If you're not feeling it on a particular day, walk away. Leave it for when the passion comes back.


There you have it. Three areas to help hone your craft. Focus on these and the other elements of story will follow.


-Richard

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Richard Ridley is an award winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.


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The bestseller formula

The plot

1,065 Views 3 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, authors, writers, plot, character_development, story_elements
1

One of my favorite books is The Dog of the South by Charles Portis. If you aren't familiar with Portis, he's probably best known for his novel True Grit, the same True Grit Hollywood adapted not once but twice for the silver screen. True Grit is a great book, but it features characters with extraordinary...well, grit. And beyond grit, a couple of them are skilled at dealing with bad guys.


The Dog of the South features a protagonist by the name of Ray Midge. There is nothing extraordinary about Midge. He's just a normal guy whose wife has left him for another man, and they've left for Mexico and Central America in Ray's car. Ray sets out on a journey to get his car back. He doesn't have any special skills. He doesn't even have grit. He just wants his car back, and if he gets his wife back, he'd be okay with that too.


For my money, the ability to make Ray Midge so compelling is much more impressive than making a character like Rooster Cogburn compelling. Cogburn had his demons. He had a rough and tumble past. He lived a life that left scars. He's ripe for the spotlight. Ray was just an everyday Joe who had a bad break. From a storyteller's perspective, building a story around that type character takes a yeoman's effort. Through Midge, Portis demonstrates his own extraordinary skill at character development, and I tip my hat to him.


How about you? Can you name a book that features an ordinary character in such a compelling way?


-Richard

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Richard Ridley is an award winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.


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Character Development Lessons from Breaking Bad

Why the development of secondary characters matters

954 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, authors, writing, character_development, protagonist
1

Your brand's obit

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger Sep 7, 2017

 

I had once shared on this blog a character development strategy I had learned in college. It was simple and slightly morbid. Our creative writing instructor had us write obituaries for our characters. It turned out to be an incredibly effective tool for developing characters. You never understand someone, even a fictional someone, more completely than when you lay out their accomplishments in obituary form.


It occurred to me recently that you could do the same for your author brand. I know that sounds a bit nuts, but hear me out. Consistency is a key component to building a successful brand. That consistency comes from understanding what your brand is. As we've discussed previously, your author brand is a hybrid between a personal brand and a corporate brand and that can be a tough tightrope to walk. The more you understand what your brand stands for, the better you will be able to deliver that message with consistency.


In your mind, separate yourself from your brand image. Sit down with a notebook and a pen and scribble out a lifetime of achievements for your brand. Personify your brand. Pretend it once existed in the real world and lived a life like anyone else. Did your brand fight for injustice? Did your brand spend its life hobnobbing with celebrities and live a more external life?


Have fun with it. Nothing is out of bounds. Your brand can be as simple or as grandiose as you want it to be. Just make sure that it reflects a message that you can consistently deliver for the life of your author's brand.


-Richard


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Richard Ridley is an award winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.


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Branding: The rule of consistency

Consistency: how to develop a living platform

984 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: writing, branding, character_development, author_brand
0

I'm in there

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger Jun 1, 2017

I used to proudly tell people who asked, and some who didn't, that I never write about the people I know. How could I? I write science fiction, horror, and thrillers filled with awful, terrible, not very nice people. Some were even monsters, literal monsters. I don't know anyone or anything like that.


I realized sometime later in my writing career that I lied about not writing about people I know. Well, not lied. I misunderstood my own source of inspiration. I thought I was drawing on a deep well of imagination and creating characters (and creatures) that were wholly unique. I wasn't. I was giving my fictional characters the characteristics of people I knew in real life. Not knowingly. And, I'm not even certain the people who've influenced me would recognize themselves in the characters I write because what I've actually managed to do is to take a little bit from a multitude of real people and implant all those little bits into one character, giving him or her or it their own personality built from the familiar parts.


I recently discovered I even put myself in some of my characters. I had a play produced this year that featured a character who always referred to an article he'd read on a topic, presenting himself as an expert based on said article. Months after completing the play, I caught myself doing the very same thing to my brother-in-law. It was a sad epiphany, but it was a valuable lesson. I am, in a lot of ways, what I write. How about you? Do you or the people you know make appearances in your book, either wittingly or unwittingly?


-Richard

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Richard Ridley is an award winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.


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What would your characters do?

How to love your villain

832 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, authors, writing, character_development, characterization
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One of the most crucial jobs you have as an author is to build character. Not your own, of course, although you are most likely going to learn something about yourself during the course of writing a novel. I am speaking of building character in the fictional sense. Different authors have different ways they go about building characters. Some authors do background stories. Some do fake obituaries that enable them to see characters from the point of view of other fictional characters. Some authors stick to existing archetypes and follow a blueprint that's been used before.


And then there are those authors who hold true to the philosophy that adversity builds character. They will throw a character into a meat grinder starting on page one and let the conflict itself build a character. For my money, it's not a bad philosophy. It's called the empty-vessel strategy, and it can be very effective at drawing a reader in. Think about it. There are no pre-conceived notions about the protagonist from the start of the story, so readers can put themselves in the characters' shoes and grow with them.


This method has its downside. You run the risk of not allowing readers to care about the character early on in the story, and readers may reject the choices the character makes because it's not something they would do. The trick is to make the choices so difficult that readers literally can't decide what they would do if they were in your protagonist's position. The hard choice made will then be appreciated and accepted.


Conflict not only drives a story. It can also build character.


-Richard


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Richard Ridley is an award winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.


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What would your characters do?

Building character

856 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, authors, writing, character_development, characterization
3

I am of the mind that when it comes to including a character's physical features in a book, the fewer the better. I know I am probably on the rare side of this debate, but even as a reader, I prefer scant physical descriptions as opposed to a detailed list of soft curves and sculpted physiques. If a description serves a narrative purpose, I'm fine with it, but a lot of times it feels as if physical descriptions are included to give the reader a sense of what characters look like, and it can come off as wedged prose that sticks out like a sore thumb.


I am more interested in how characters move--how they fidget nervously or conduct themselves in pressurized situations with a steady hand. To me, that makes characters more relatable than the color of their eyes or how chiseled their chin is.


Don't get me wrong. I will include physical descriptions, but most (not all) are about scars, flaws, and imperfections that have shaped the characters. I find warts much more interesting than beauty marks, so I tend to give my characters a lot.


Recently, my editor asked me to include a line or two about a character's physical description, and I did, but it was not easy. I kept fighting myself. Eventually, I allowed myself to sprinkle scant descriptors in passages throughout the novel, so it didn't appear as if I was force-feeding the reader a physical description of the character.


How about you? Where do you fall on the physical features debate? More or fewer?


-Richard

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Richard Ridley is an award winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.


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Defining Characters through Action, Not Description

Connect with Your Characters

1,041 Views 3 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, authors, writing, character_development, characterization
0

Compelling

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger Apr 17, 2017

When I'm asked to describe a book I love, I will invariably use the word compelling to describe it. Whether it's the plot or the character development or some other element of the story, I have found something compelling about the book. The question is what does that really mean?


Yes, there is a clear definition of the word compelling. In short, it means I found the story irresistible. I can't tell you how to make a book irresistible in a quantifiable way. There's no formula that I can give and say, "Use this and your book will be compelling." I mean I could, but that would make me a con man who you should stay far away from.


But what I can do is tell you what I think makes a book compelling. I find a story compelling when it strikes one of two chords:


  1. It's familiar. I can relate to some aspect of the story. Either I recognize myself in the protagonist or I know the setting. I'm compelled to read more because I can picture myself living the story.
  2. It's plausible. Even in a fantasy-based story, if plausibility is the base on which the story is built, I find the story compelling. Sure a vampire might be terrorizing a town, but if some junk science is introduced that casts a shadow of plausibility on how vampires can exist, I will find the story more compelling. I don't even need full plausibility. I just need a sliver of, "Hmm, I suppose it's not totally out of the question." Of course, the more ironclad the plausibility, the greater my attraction to the story.


So, that's what makes a book compelling to me. What makes a story compelling to you?


-Richard

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Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.


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The Horoscope Prompt

The Resolution Matrix

1,000 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, author, writing, character_development, story_elements
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How to develop a plot

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger Apr 10, 2017

There are lots of rules for developing a plot on the Internet these days. Most lists are the same old same old. Today, I'd like to give you a list of elements for developing plot that you may not have heard before. Use them as you see fit.


  1. Unknown: Your protagonist is driven by the unknown. Some unanswered question is gnawing at him or her, and the desire to find the answer is the force behind your plot. The question can be a "who," a "what," or a "why" question. An example is, "How does he get the woman across the hall to fall in love with him?"
  2. Stakes: Your protagonist has to have something at stake in order to push the plot forward. In the example above, he's trying to win the love of the woman across the hall. The stakes could be as simple as if he loses her, he will be letting the one perfect woman go, or it could be as complicated as his identity as a time traveler who's come back through time to make sure that his past self and the woman get together in order to save all of humanity.
  3. A touch of hopelessness: As you progress through the story, the reader must buy into a sense of hopelessness that the protagonist might not succeed. They have to buy that there are real consequences for failing. If your protagonist is constantly winning, then you're making the journey not quite as gripping as it could be. The conclusion of the story should feel like a sigh of relief or sadness. It shouldn't feel like an expected outcome.


-Richard


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Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.


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Turning Subplots into Plots

The Time-Sensitive Plot Device

977 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, authors, writing, character_development, plot_development
2

You've spent hours on and off the page with your main characters. You know how they vote. You know their favorite drink. You know the micro-expressions they make when they lie or hide their true emotions. There's no other way to put it. You know your main characters inside and out.


But you might not be as informed about your secondary characters. You know those characters that help drive the plot or enhance setting, but you don't spend a lot of your word count diving too deeply into what makes them tick. That could be a mistake because they aren't just for show. They serve a purpose beyond what you may have intended.


These secondary characters help you define your main characters. How your main character interacts with them or feels about them reveals something about your main character. In short, your main character's development is often tied to these secondary characters, so that's why it's important to know as much about these secondary characters as you do your main characters.


I know you've got a lot to think about when you're writing a novel. There are a lot of moving parts, and it easy to let one element of story lag behind the others. The element that is most often neglected or not fully explored is the development of secondary characters. You are missing the opportunity to write a truly enriching story if you gloss over the development of those secondary characters.


-Richard

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Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.


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The four roles of supporting characters

What would your characters do?

2,796 Views 2 Comments Permalink Tags: character_development, characterization, secondary_characters, main_characters
1

Re-readable books

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger Mar 20, 2017

 

My wife recently read a book from start to finish in a single evening. The next night, she cracked open the same book and read it again. No, it wasn't one of my books, but that's OK. We have an understanding. She's allowed to enjoy books I didn't write.


In talking with her about it, I quickly realized what made the book so enchanting to her. It was the characters the author had created. My wife shared with me aspects of their lives, dialogue, relationships, backstory. She talked about them as if they were people she'd known her whole life. What we didn't talk about was the plot of the book. It almost seemed irrelevant to her.


Well-developed characters can not only make a book readable, they can make it re-readable. Think about it. The allure of a mystery that relies on clever plot twists and the unknown to hook readers doesn't quite have that same allure once the twists are revealed and the unknown is known. You may have enjoyed the book immensely, but chances are you aren't going to read it again.


The exception to this would be the same book, but with extraordinary character development. Then the book has an appeal that extends beyond the mystery it reveals. You may re-read the book just to reconnect with the characters you miss. You know the mystery within, but that no longer matters because you're a fan of the characters.


If you want to write a book that is re-readable, the part of your craft you need to develop is character development. It is the one aspect of storytelling that keeps readers coming back over and over again.


-Richard

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Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.


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Start a dialogue with your characters

Advice on character development

1,097 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, authors, writing, character_development, characterization
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