Character Building

Story Character Building

By Justynn Newman

 

You have created a wonderful, detailed, and dynamic setting for your book to get place. Now you are on the right track. You conquered procrastination and you have your setting, and maybe even some of your plot.

 

The next step is to populate your story with characters as dynamic and awesome as your setting. Making a complex, interesting character can be difficult. Almost as difficult as it can be to meet such a person in real life. However, you are a writer, and it is your duty to make such characters. You may feel lost and you may struggle with creating someone with a full range of feelings and views. It is much easier to just throw in a character with a cardboard cutout personality, but nobody wants to read about them. Below I go over a few techniques that I find helpful for creating well-rounded characters.

 

How to Create Well-Rounded Characters in Your Story

 

Role

The first thing to do is think about what your character’s role in this story is. Are they the protagonist, antagonist, antihero, hero, loser, etc? Once you know their role you can begin to flesh them out. What do they look like? How do they present themselves? Are they funny, mean, intelligent, dramatic, or something else? A robot from the 7th dimension would act and talk quite differently from Steve the Days Inn manager. That’s a bit of an extreme example, but keep in mind what your character is like at their core. Also, avoid focusing on just one trait. Come up with a few personality traits for your character. Incorporating multiple traits will help your character come to life!

 

Reason

Now that you have their basic personality down, you can start asking the most important question: why? Why is my character like this? Why do they behave this way? These questions are excellent tools in determining how your character became the person they are now. Take this time to write up a backstory. Who are/were their parents? What was their childhood like? Find out what shaped them and really try and think as this character would. Many times, it’s hard to separate your own opinions from your character’s thoughts and beliefs. With a well-developed story for each character it becomes easier to avoid having all your character’s voices muddle together with themselves. Keep your characters separate. Developing them before the story begins makes them more solidified as an individual’s: they become entities separate from yourself.  If you make your characters distinct, then they will come across as distinct to your reader.

 

Motivation

Next, think about what motivates your character. Everyone wants to accomplish something and your character probably does too. Getting down to a character’s base motivations and goals will help you seamlessly incorporate them into your story. Think about your plot and your setting. Ask yourself, how can this character move, hinder, or add to the overall plot progression here?

 

If the answer to the question above is that they cannot contribute to the story, then scrap them. The people in your story are there because they are significant. If a character does not add anything substantive to the story, or worse takes away from it, then they need to go. It can be hard to let go of characters, but it is something all authors must do. Who knows, you may always be able to incorporate that character or idea into a future piece.

 

That is my tidbit of advice, feel free to share your though processes and techniques for building characters below!

Comma Advice

Commas Save Lives

By Hope Hall

 

Commas are complicated. They come with too many rules and just as many exceptions to those rules. Even if you want to break the rules, you have to know them to break them. And once you know them, you can recognize when following or breaking the rules works in your favor.

 

So here’s some comma advice to keep in mind.

 

When you join two sentences with a conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so), throw a comma in front of the conjunction of your choice. The comma will keep the conjunction from running into the next sentence.

 

Consider the difference between

 

John ate a slice of pizza, and Sarah glared at him.

 

and

 

John took the last pizza slice and ate it.

 

In the first sentence, we actually have a two-for-one sentence, the first sentence being John ate a slice of pizza and the second being Sarah glared at him. So we separate them with a comma and the conjunction and.

 

The second example though is a little different. It has two verbs, took and ate. But John is the only subject doing those verbs. We have only one sentence. In the latter sentence, and joins two verbs, not two sentences. So we don’t need a comma to separate the verbs.

 

In this instance, the comma’s presence or absence alerts readers to what they’ll read next. Are they going to read another sentence or something that is still part of the sentence they just read?

 

Commas also set apart introductory elements from the main part of a sentence such as

 

In the kitchen, the empty pizza box lay on the counter.

 

Because Sarah hadn’t eaten since yesterday, she was very hungry.

 

Now consider this sentence

 

Sarah was very hungry because she hadn’t eaten since yesterday.

 

Although this third sentence has the same element as the second sentence, because she hadn’t eaten since yesterday is no longer introducing the sentence, so it does not need to be separated from the rest of the sent.

Creative Inspiration: Where does it come from?

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By Editorial Intern, Anjali Ajmani

Being a writer, I can say most of my creativity surfaces from my own experiences. If I’m writing a short story that features a dog, the dog is probably going to look like one of my dogs: blonde with floppy ears and a curly tail. If I’m trying to decide the setting for my story, I’ll probably pick a city or a town that I’m familiar with, like Albany, Georgia, which is where I was born. This way, the setting for my story will be believable and realistic. When focusing on my characters, I usually fashion them to look like people I know or people that I’ve seen before. Writing is easiest when I can see what I want to write in my mind.

 

Plot ideas often come from events in my life. If I’m having a bad day, I’ll write out what I’m feeling easily because the feelings are fresh. Vacations that I’ve taken serve as strong inspiration for stories. Thinking back to my childhood soccer games and playground days serve my creativity well. Sitting in a library surrounded by books helps me best get into a creative mindset. PetSmart is another place that gets me thinking creatively. All I have to do is look at the birds being silly, and I become inspired to write.

 

My creativity also stems from my imagination. I once wrote a short story featuring talking apples. A mother goes to Publix and buys several different kinds of apples for her and her daughter. I got the idea after visualizing food, in this case, apples, having feelings and telling stories. I wanted to write a story about apples that feared being eaten. I based the names of the apples off of their types. The Granny Smith apple was named Smith. The Pink Lady apple was named Lady. The McIntosh apple was named Mac, and so on. Smith and Lady share a night together while the other apples tell each other the stories of their lives before they arrived at Publix. The following morning, the daughter decides she wants to eat the Granny Smith apple as part of her breakfast, and Smith dies. This story is really a story of what ifs. What if apples could talk? What if apples had dreams and fears? Asking yourself questions can provide inspiration for a story.

If you’re struggling in the creative department, try not to become frustrated. Brainstorm through your life. How have your own experiences shaped your creativity? What are your sources of creativity? Are you a traveler? Are you an athlete? Are you a foodie? Are you an inventor? Everyone has their own unique creative inspiration. I’d like to hear about yours.

 

 

 

 

How to Get Book Reviews

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By Editorial Intern, Anjali Ajmani
 

My experience in publishing has been in self-publishing thus far. I never looked into how to get book reviews before; as a result, my poetry anthologies remain on Amazon utterly review-less. That’s okay, I tell myself. It’s poetry, which isn’t particularly jabbered about on the market anyway. Then I compare my anthologies to other poetry volumes to see where those ones stack up on reviews. As it turns out, those poetry volumes have plenty of reviews. Talk about jealousy overload! The good thing about my self-publishing endeavor is that the whole shebang is a learning process. No one gets gazillions of reviews just like that.
 

Reviews are super important. A review is your best form of advertising. Nobody will know just how great your book is if you don’t have the reviews to show for its greatness. Of course, not all reviews will be positive, but that’s okay. The point is that reviews make you more credible. The more reviews that you have, the better. People today are driven by recommendations. In other words, if you like a book, chances are you’ll recommend that book to a friend. Right? Likewise, if you like a movie, you’ll probably tell all your friends about it. Reviews get people talking and give you exposure. As a published author, exposure is crucial.
 

So how do you get reviews, anyway? You have to have a plan in place. That plan begins with asking people for reviews. Friends and family are your best bet in the beginning. After all, they know you and they are most likely familiar with your work. Plan to give out several free copies of your book to family and friends. Kindly ask them for a review. Remember, no bribing! A review should not be a product of force, but something that is written honestly and naturally. Reviews are prominent on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, and of course, wherever else your book can be found.
 

Other great ways to promote your book include advertising on social media, YouTube, your blog or website (if you have one), or a podcast. Let your friends, followers, and subscribers know that you’ve published a book and let them know that you’d love to get feedback on your book. The more people who know about your book, the better. Remember that getting reviews is a process and requires patience. You are your best advocate. So, how have you been getting book reviews? How are you promoting your book? I’d love to hear back from you about how to get book reviews.

 

Why You Should Never Throw Away Your Old Writing

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By: Editing Intern Zoe Andrews

Don’t worry, Writers, I understand, we all do. There are some things you write that seem so terrible you can’t possibly let them see the light of day. This feeling may be particularly prominent when it comes to your older writing, perhaps from when you were a wee lad or lass. You, at your ripe young age, were so full of joy and excitement that you wrote about everything and anything. What the cat down the road could have been doing all day, why the universe is out to get you, or some great adventure you dreamt of one night but you woke up before it ended and so your story never ended either and you shoved it away into the depths of a computer file.

Worse yet, now that you are a more sophisticated writer and you have a better grasp on grammar and what would be considered “good writing”, these little bits of ideas seem even more horrendous! Oh, the days when we didn’t know “their” from “there”. You look back at these works with the intention of maybe fixing them up but you get so overwhelmed by how badly written they were that you give off a cringe and quickly shove them back into the hidden file where they belong. I am guilty of this on more than one occasion.

But, Writers! Please, take another gander upon those poor lost children and look past their flaws. Some of them are coal mines with hidden gems. I have stumbled upon some great lines and ideas while delving into their depths. Although these short attempts may be filled with grammatical flaws or plot holes, there is still room for great work. You wrote it after all, so there must be something great about it! You were full of ideas when you wrote these, and you weren’t bogged down by what to do and what not to do. You had complete freedom in these stories, and I promise something good came of it. When I look back on my old writing from when I was still in middle school, I get jealous of myself. Why can’t I have such fun and wondrous ideas now? So I cheat, I take from these works and use them in new projects where my grammar is better and my knowledge of writing has grown.

By throwing away these wonderful works of youth and inspiration, you are essentially throwing away a gold mine. Just because something didn’t work in this situation, doesn’t mean it won’t be perfect for another one. Save all your writing and when you are feeling especially in need of new ideas or something fun to write about, go back and browse through them. Even if you don’t find exactly what you need, I promise you will have enjoyed yourself enough to get back to work on your current project.

Writers, So You’ve Done Your Research, Now, How Much Of It Should You Include?

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By Editorial Intern Zoe Andrews

 

As an aspiring author, the fear of looking like a complete dunce through your work can hang over your head like a mistletoe at an office party. In order to battle this, many authors will spend hours researching what they are writing about.
Perhaps your story takes place in a mining town and your main character is a miner. It would probably be a good idea to research how mining works, what all of the instruments and processes are called, and even the colloquialism of the miners.
It’s good to know what you are writing about, otherwise someone reading it may look at it and think, this writer has no idea what they are talking about, and you have just lost credibility (unless of course, your story takes place in a mining town in a different universe on a planet called Yvelerak, in which case you aren’t bound to earthly conventions of mining).
However, this extensive research can be just as detrimental as not doing research at all. If little research is the office mistletoe, let’s call this abundance of information the punch bowl at the party that your one heavy-handed coworker made a little too fun.
It’s okay in small doses. You can even get away with a few glasses, but if you start losing count, you’ve probably had too much. The same goes for the technical lingo and information you shove into your story to make it more believable. You want your reader to believe you have been in a mining town doing hard labor in the mines, but not that you sound like you want them to believe that.
I once had a writing teacher who told us about a story she was working on for one of her grad classes. The main story took place in an archeological dig, so of course she researched and researched until she could have a discussion with any archeologist. Her teacher, though, tossed the paper at her and told her it was awful. Definitely harsh, but his reasoning was sound.
She had compiled so much information, and inserted so much of it into the story, that it made the otherwise five pages’ worth of plot into a seventeen-page encyclopedia of archaeology. There was so much mumbo jumbo her teacher could hardly stand to read it. The same thing will happen to your readers if every other line is explaining, in depth, how mining works, where the rocks go, and why it’s called what it is.
If the reader doesn’t need to know where the rocks go after the miners dig them out, then don’t tell them. It’s good that you know in case you decide it becomes relevant later, or if it’s mentioned in passing, but don’t overwhelm your reader all at once.
Now, what is considered too much information is all dependent on how long your story is. For a short story, I would say try to only explain things if it is absolutely necessary to convey your plot. Otherwise, the page count is so short, you won’t have enough room to fully engage the characters and conflict. In a longer story, you have much more wiggle room.
Say you have an average book length of about two to three hundred pages. Assuming this story has much more happening in it than a twenty-page short story, it will most likely be necessary to explain why the miners are putting the rocks where they are or how the machines work.
It might even be necessary to explain why Big Jimbo is the name of your mining drill—it used to be called ‘the Drill’ but one of its operators died and they all decided to honor his memory by naming it after him. Your reader has prepared themselves to sit down and be completely engrossed in the world you have created.
If you are writing a trilogy, you have even more room to explain your world and the world of the miners. At this point, your reader will want to know how everything works, because, with such a long story, the miners will probably find themselves in many more situations involving mining equipment and processes.
Maybe there is a cave-in and your character has to find a way out because no one knows he was down there and all he has is his equipment—he heard the story of Old Chancy who died down there after three days with no food and trying to eat his left thumb, because he was right handed you see, and he didn’t really need it.
The important thing to remember is to know your limit. If you don’t have work the next day and you have a ride home, indulge all you want in the punch. However, if you have to be up at 6AM to take your child to school, it’s best not to go too far.
Know how much space you have and work within it. Always remember that you are writing your story because you want to convey something, and unless you’re writing a how-to manual on working in a mine, don’t overwhelm your reader with technicalities.

7 Ways to Crush Your Writer’s Block

writers block

By: Editorial Intern, Anjali Ajmani

 

We all know that writer’s block is frustrating. Picture it: you’ve written several chapters that you feel great about until one morning you hit a door. You felt like you knew where you were going, that you knew where your characters would take you, but then you don’t. You start to type some words, but nothing seems to flow like you want it to.

 

I have heard that when an author experiences a bout of writer’s block, it’s important to write through your lapse in creativity and to just see where your writing goes. Having tried that myself, I haven’t found it helpful. What ends up happening is that I delete whatever it is that I’ve written. My advice to authors is to take a break from your writing. Your writing will not decide to abandon your desk or your computer’s drive one day. The following list will help guide you, the author, out of your writer’s block. One of my favorite English professors in college constantly reminded my class that writing is a ‘process of discovery.’ Let your freedom from your writing help you discover something about yourself and your project.

 

  • Grab a dictionary or a thesaurus. Look up new words. You’ll see that when you find a word that you like, you’ll start forming pictures in your head. You might even get the perfect sentence for what you want to describe. Sometimes, it takes just one sentence to break through the dam of ideas in your head.

 

  • Grab a children’s book. Children’s books are simple, but inside those pages of simplicity are lines of beauty and wonder. When I read a children’s book, I’m usually reminded of my childhood. I think back to my favorite childhood authors, becoming inspired to change the tone of my writing. At times, I realize that the tone of my writing is too serious. Having a children’s book to fall back on helps me soften any rigidity in my writing.

 

  • Try a different genre of writing. Give your mind a break from your usual writing routine. For example, if you usually write fiction, try composing a poem.

 

  • Exert yourself. I find that pulling weeds helps me get my frustration out. There is something about that little tug of destruction that I find enormously satisfying.

 

  • Go to the grocery store. Yup, you read correctly. The grocery store. Pick up boxes and read ingredient labels. Buy ingredients for a soup or a salad, something that requires a hefty mixture of items. Be choosy. Find the freshest tomato, or grab the bread that just got done baking. Think of your writing as ingredients for that soup, salad, or whatever it is that you want to make. This thinking will provide you with the mental structure that you need to get out of your writing rut.

 

  • Meditate. Find the place that makes you the most happy. Clearing my mind is easiest when I’m sitting outside under the stars.

 

  • Brainstorm. When I was having trouble working on my novel, my mother told me to journal words, places, feelings, and anything really that could give me a shot of inspiration.

 

The most important thing to realize is the following: accept that your writer’s block is not an end to your writing.

What Makes a Book Great?

What Makes a Book Great

There are two questions that I get asked all the time that seem to be a set up for disappointment:

 

1. What makes a book great?

 

2. What are your favorite books?

 

I always get the feeling that I am expected to give some sort of profound answer to the first question. Whenever someone asks me, they take a deep breath before they ask the question, add a dramatic pause between “book” and “great” and then lean in, waiting for their mind to be blown. Each and every time, I also take a deep breath, stare off thoughtfully into the distance and try to think of some poetic way to capture the essence of “great writing” …but each and every time, my answer is the same: feeling.

 

The greatness of a book has as much to do with the person reading it as it does the person who did the writing. A great book is one that gives its reader a memorable and personal experience. A reader who enjoys literary classics may get a stronger “feeling” while reading James Joyce than they do while reading J.K Rowling. A child curling up in bed might get a stronger “feeling” when they are read Goodnight Moon than when they are read Wuthering Heights (although both might help them go to sleep).

 

This is why it is so important to understand our audience when we write. Whether it is a book, a short story or column in the newspaper it helps to have these three questions answered:
 

1. Who is reading it?
2. Why are they reading it?
3. How have they changed or how do they feel when they are finished?

 

My favorite books are those that have left me with the most memorable and significant feelings for the time period in my life. I have read many “great” books but these seem to stand out from the rest:

 

1. Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown
2. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
3. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
4. Something Upstairs by Avi
5. Maniac MaGee by Jerry Spinelli
6. Night by Elie Weisel
7. The Dead (from “Dubliners”) by James Joyce
8. Escape from the Antarctic by Earnest Shackleton
9. Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck
10. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson (controversy and all)