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15 Posts tagged with the characterization tag
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The Halo Effect

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger Feb 7, 2018

Should you chase the Halo Effect to sell more books?

 

I'm short and bald.... Well, shortish. According to the unwritten rules of personal bias, those are two strikes against me. I get no love from the Halo Effect.

 

I should explain. The Halo Effect is when you and I (independently or collectively) judge someone based on our personal biases. For example, tall men are generally viewed as strong and powerful before anything is even established about them. They don't have to speak a word before they are viewed as leaders. Obviously, not all tall men are leaders, but we have a cultural bias that often times causes us to assume that they are. They are given the benefit of the doubt. I'm sure there are tall men reading this, and they are countering the above statement with a litany of incidences that prove there are more drawbacks than benefits to being tall and male, but that is beyond the discussion I want to get into. What I'd like to discuss is how the Halo Effect impacts a writer when it comes to character development.

 

Think about it. If you want to know what your own personal biases are, look at the characters you've developed, particularly your protagonists, and then look to see how your personal character bias matches or defies societal norms. The question you are faced with is would it help you sell more books if you developed characters that are more in line with what society considers appealing.

 

Personally, I’d advise against chasing the Halo Effect in an effort to sell more books, but I fully admit that I don’t know if that is the right "business" move.  A lot of romance novels do very well, in part because they include characters that take full advantage of the Halo Effect.

 

I guess I'm perpetually pulling for the underdog. I love it when the shortish, bald guy gets the win.

 

-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

The ordinary protagonist

750 Views 3 Comments Permalink Tags: character, character_development, character_arc, characterization, writing_characters
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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

909 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, authors, writing, character_development, characterization
2

Character traps

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger May 22, 2017

Writing fiction, if you do enough of it, presents itself with traps that can get authors in trouble. Here are three character traps to avoid as you pen your next masterpiece.


  1. Know-it-all: One thing that drives me crazy when I read a mystery novel is when one character, many times a crack detective, has all the answers. What kind of poison was used to kill the victim? Well, it just so happens that our protagonist got a degree in chemistry. Figuring out the poison used is really no problem. Also, if you have questions about the victim's last meal, the type of watch he wore, the kind of razor he shaved with, etc., it just so happens the protagonist has read and committed to memory dozens of books on these topics and more. When a "know-it-all" takes over a story I'm reading, I lose interest because it's just too convenient.
  2. All-bad: When a villain is nothing but bad, I don't really get invested in him or her as much as I should. I want there to be something likable about the villain--some redeeming quality. In a way, it makes him or her more sinister if I fall into a false sense of security that the villain will do the right thing. When he or she doesn't, it's even more shocking.
  3. All-good: This is the inverse trap to the previous one. All-good protagonists are, in a word, boring. Flaws give a character depth and relatability. I can't identify with a character who has never done anything wrong and doesn't have doubts sometimes about whether he or she is making the right choice.


Take some time to examine your characters and make sure they're not falling into these traps. If they are, try rewriting to make them more complex.


-Richard

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


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Your Characters, Warts and All

 

The Basic Elements of a Character Arc

1,418 Views 2 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, authors, writing, characterization, character_traps
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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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What would your characters do?

Building character

1,040 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, authors, writing, character_development, characterization
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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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Defining Characters through Action, Not Description

Connect with Your Characters

1,119 Views 3 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, authors, writing, character_development, characterization
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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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The four roles of supporting characters

What would your characters do?

2,951 Views 2 Comments Permalink Tags: character_development, characterization, secondary_characters, main_characters
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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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Start a dialogue with your characters

Advice on character development

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You've got a protagonist. You've got a villain. You may even have a co-protagonist or two. And the bad guy has a past filled with characters that made him...well, bad. Then there are the background characters that need fleshing out in order for the reader to truly appreciate what they add to the story. And the protagonist has a dog. Your readers are probably going to want to know what the dog's thinking. And your classic villains always have cats. The cat deserves to be understood. What's it like to be a villain's cat?


Add all this up and you've got a messy character stew that is hard to digest. There's just too much going on. Who's who and why do readers need to care? If you divert their attention by giving them too many characters to keep up with, you run the risk of losing them. Lose a reader, and it will be harder for you to find the next reader.


That's not to say there aren't exceptions to my rule. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner is a notable example. It not only has multiple characters, but as many as 15 of them are, at some point in the story, handed the reins of narrator. It is a classic literary work of art. What Faulkner was able to pull off is remarkable. It's also a very difficult read that was written in a different era.


My advice is to keep it simple when it comes to character development. Keep the focus on just a few characters and concentrate on drawing your reader deeper into their stories.


-Richard

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Character Development Lessons from Breaking Bad

 

The Stranger in the Room

 

1,098 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, authors, writing, character_development, characterization
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I've created some pretty morally reprehensible people as a writer. Killers, swindlers, drug dealers, you name it, I've given some of my bad guys the worst traits. If they were real, I'd never want to have a thing to do with them. I'd do all I could to avoid even hearing their names.


But, here's my weird, totally illogical confession: I like the bad guys I create. I enjoy spending time with them during the process of writing a book. I love hammering out their character and exploring their pasts, trying to figure out why they are the way they are. When or if they die in one of my books, I feel genuinely sad. He or she wasn't just a good foil for my protagonist, we connected on an ethereal, totally fictional level.


I may be trying to justify my feelings, but I think my affinity for the bad guys I create is healthy. I think it's natural. As a writer, it's not my job to judge the actions of my characters. It's my job to observe and report. If I put myself in the position of making judgments of my characters' behavior, I will most likely start censoring myself and instinctively try to fix them. A fictional life isn't in service to anyone or anything but the story. The bad they do, they do for the good of the narrative.


If you haven't already, I encourage you to find a way to connect with your villains. Love them. Don't judge them.


-Richard


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Defend your antagonist

Write an obituary for your characters

1,701 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, authors, writers, writing, villain, characterization, antagonist
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I read my novels out loud as I write them. I am normally a very reserved person, but when I'm reading dialogue or particularly emotional prose, I let loose and zero in on the moment. It's actually quite liberating. It's kind of like a mental massage. Beyond that, here are three reasons you should be reading your work out loud:

 

  1. Consistent tone: Reading your book out loud as you write can help you establish a consistent tone throughout the book. Unintentionally switching tones can take a reader out of the story and cause them to eventually give up on your book. Hearing yourself give voice to the story keeps you on track.
  2. Connection to characters: Alone, in the privacy of our writing space, we are all actors at heart. We hear the voices of our characters clearly in our heads. When we are far from the shackles of inhibition, we read their dialogue out loud, and we feel the emotions our characters are feeling on a much deeper level. We connect with the story like never before. In a sense, we are living the story out loud. I find it very powerful.
  3. Effective editing: Reading your book out loud is a great self-editing tool. Editing your own work is hard because you know the story. There is a tendency to unintentionally gloss over mistakes because, in your mind, you've been there before. You know how the story goes. You just zone out. That’s okay. It's human nature. Reading a story out loud helps you zone in on those mistakes because they will very likely trip you up.


-Richard


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Keeping a Consistent Tone

Reading Out Loud

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Bending genres

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger Oct 3, 2016

Genre is not a dirty word. Recently I had a conversation with an author that got somewhat heated because he thought it was tacky to identify one's work in terms of "genre." He felt it prevented an author from being taken seriously. There was no convincing him that genre-identification was a crucial marketing tool. It is, in fact, a service to readers. It helps them discover authors and books that match their tastes.


The key is to not run from genre-identification. The key is to embrace the genre tag and write genre-bending material. How? It's all about the characters. If you create rich, multidimensional characters who are deeply flawed while remaining likeable and relatable, you have written a book that has appeal beyond its genre. As difficult a task as that might be, it is a clear-cut path to writing a book that has the potential to reach mass-market appeal.


Shunning genre-identification because you feel it hurts your chances of being taken seriously as an artist is a bit short-sighted. An artist should always challenge social convention. What better way to do that than to expand a genre, to write something that adopts the basic construct of a genre but also grows it at the same time. That is a spectacular feat, and dare I say, a noble endeavor.


That is my challenge to any and all authors reading this blog post. Adopt a genre, embrace it, and then change it. Make it yours. Take risks and give the readers something they've never seen before.


-Richard


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Write a Genre-Bending Novel

A Genre Conundrum (and Solution)

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Everyone I know

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger Aug 22, 2016

I am frequently asked if my characters are based on anyone I know. I'm sure most writers get the same question. To me the question is a bit baffling because the characters in my stories don't often represent the best of humanity. Even the good guys are extraordinarily flawed. Why would I admit to them being modeled after people in my life? My standard answer to that question used to be, "No, absolutely not." And it was an honest answer. I didn't think I knew anyone like my characters walking among us in the real world.


But the older I get and the more I write, I realize that my denial wasn't completely accurate. I still maintain that my characters aren't based on any one person I know. They are, however, based on everyone I know. I've come to recognize certain individual traits in my characters from people I've met. They are often exaggerated versions of those traits, but they are similar to the real world edition. And one character may possess different qualities from a wide range of people in my real life, a mashup of the most interesting--and often most troubling--aspects of real world folks. And, I'm more than confident that a few of my own shortcomings appear in the characters I create.


The point is that I don't live in a vacuum with no other people around. I can't help but pick up, on a subconscious level, those traits that I find interesting from the people around me. Whether it's a speech pattern or an attitude or even something as simple as the way someone smiles, those things are going to seep into my writing. But for those who know me, rest easy, I'm not writing about you. I'm simply borrowing an interesting aspect of your personality that makes you refreshingly human and can give my characters depth.


-Richard


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Connect with Your Characters

 

What would your characters do?

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Scars

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger Aug 1, 2016

 

I want you to be unkind to a character. Just for a development exercise. In fact, I wouldn't even call it being unkind. I would call it being cruel to be kind. Hardship builds character, and that's what you're going to do with this exercise. This doesn't have to be a part of your story. It can be background material, or it can be used to help you break through writer's block.

 

I want you to pick a character that you're having a particularly hard time connecting with. Now give the character a scar. Make it as big or as small as you want. Place it where you want. Make it any shape that you want. Describe it in great detail. This scar has a story, and you're going to write it. Scars are essentially snapshots of traumatic events in a person's life. Keep in mind that trauma doesn't equal tragedy. Cesarean scars represent trauma but not tragedy, in most cases.


Beyond the event that caused the scar, you also want to explore how the scar affected your character on a daily basis. Did it change the way he or she interacted with other people? Did it change the way he or she dressed? Did it shape his or her personality, for better or for worse? It's possible this scar is tethered to every significant event in your character's life, and it is the essence of who he or she really is. Or it may carry no significance at all. You decide.


By giving your character this scar for the purposes of this exercise, you are giving yourself a simple way to uncover the core of who your character really is and make that connection you've been unable to make.


-Richard

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Your characters, warts and all

 

Taking a character from good to bad

 

 

 

 

1,034 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: writing, character, character_development, characterization, character_arcs
1

 

He Here's a little exercise to help you get to know your characters. What would your character do when faced with the boring old frustrations of regular life? Strip away the heightened conflict they face in your book and give them a sense of the mundane. When you know how they react to real life, you know how they react to extraordinary fictional life events.

 

  1. Traffic: They say climbing behind the wheel of a car can test the character of any person. For our purposes, we are going to test the character of actual characters. How do they handle traffic? What do they do when they're cut off or get stuck behind a slowpoke on a two-lane highway?
  2. Elevators: Elevators are essentially boxes of awkwardness. How do your characters respond to stepping onto an elevator with strangers? How to they respond when the elevator breaks down for hours?
  3. Lack of coffee: We coffee drinkers have had that horrible moment where we wake up, shuffle into the kitchen, and realize there is no coffee to be had. It's a nightmare. How would your characters respond to such a gut-wrenching disappointment? If it's not coffee, how would they respond to being denied access to any vices they rely on in their daily routines?
  4. Loud talkers: You're in a movie theater, and the person behind you lacks the ability to keep his or her voice down during the showing. You know how you would handle such a situation, but how would your characters handle it?
  5. Wrong number: Someone calls you in the middle of the night and wakes you up. It's a wrong number, but the person on the other end of the line doesn't believe you, so they become belligerent and even call back several more times to further annoy you. How do your characters respond to such a situation?


 

By placing your characters in ordinary situations, you get a deeper understanding of who they are. When you can see them deal with minor annoyances, details about your characters arise that can add surprising depth to your characters' development.


 

-Richard

 

 

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Write an Obituary for Your Characters

 

The Stranger in the Room

 

 

 

 

1,643 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: authors, writing, characters, character_development, writing_exercises, characterization
1

I recently attended a workshop for playwrights. The medium is different from a book. The structure is different. Consumption of the material is different, but one piece of advice I got from one of the facilitators after my short play was read is universal. It can be applied to any storytelling platform.

 

The scene I had written focused on four different characters. I got fairly positive feedback from participants. Even the negatives were presented constructively. Overall I was satisfied with the experience, but what the facilitator said opened my eyes to a truth I already knew but had forgotten.

 

He felt one of the female characters wasn't as developed as the other characters. Paraphrasing, here's what he said:

 

I don't feel like you know her as well as the others. Why is she in the scene? I don't mean to ask why you put her in the scene. I mean, why did she choose to be in the scene? You have to know her motivation. You don't have to include that information in your play, but you have to know it. Once you know, the audience will get it. They will feel your connection to the character.

 

He was 100% correct. I hadn't connected with the character in question like I had with the others. I was using her as a device to advance dialogue, and that creates a shallow, underdeveloped character that shortchanges audiences and readers alike.

 

When you connect with your characters, you write with passion and care. You understand their motivations, and that understanding shows in your writing. Connect with your characters, and your readers will make the same connection.

 

-Richard

 

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

 

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What Do Your Characters Want?

Defining Characters through Action, Not Description

2,690 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, authors, writing, characterization, developing_characters


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