Ever wondered how to write great characters?
Ever wondered how to write great characters?
I’ve been writing since I was old enough (and had enough motor control) to hold a pen.
Even when a tiny tot I was always telling stories, usually about the adventures my cuddly toys had when no one was around. As I grew older, I told stories about the neighbourhood cats and the family of wood pigeons that lived at the bottom of the garden. Then, as I grew older, still my stories became about my favourite TV show & video game characters, with a few of my own creations thrown in.
Why am I telling you this? Only to illustrate the point that I have been telling stories and writing them down since I was an infant. My mum still has my very first official book “Jack Cat’s Magic Show,” safely stored with the family photos.
But it was in college when I hit my late teens that I started actually taking writing seriously and sending my stories out into the world. I also started trying to learn as much as I could about writing, how to get better at it, what not to do and how to market myself. Unfortunately, in my early years, I absorbed every scrap of information blindly and as a result believed a lot of myths I now know to be false.
Today’s blog is going to be about some of these myths. I would like to dispel them as in my opinion they can be harmful if believed.
While writing my upcoming novel Ghoul, I created a character designed to serve the function of a ‘talking head’ aka someone for Mya, the protagonist, to bounce ideas off. However, I understand talking heads are bad; they result in clunky dialogue that’s obviously just exposition in the form of dialogue. So, with that in mind, I tried to turn my talking head into a semi-developed character with her goals and motivations.
I made this character a Sphinx. I’ve always been fond of a bit of Egyptian mythology, as those who read Amenti will have noticed, and it didn’t take me long to decide where in London my Sphinx would live and she promptly moved into the Egyptian walk of Highgate Cemetery.
I started drafting a bit of dialogue between my Sphinx and Mya, and before I knew where I was my ‘talking head’ fast outgrew the role she was designed for and took on a life of her own. My Sphinx had become Kepi and all of a sudden I had another book growing in the back of my head.
While Kepi lives in the Highgate Cemetery close to the ghouls who dwell beneath it, there is another Sphinx in London. Ophelia and Ophelia even as a rough character concept was very demanding and spent her first hours of life in my head telling me her story.
Writing is a fickle beast.
Sometimes it comes easy; sometimes it does not. We can go for significant stretches of time with little or nothing to show for it. The blank page mocks us cruelly. Then there are periods of great abundance where sleep becomes something other people do because the ideas won’t leave us alone. Rarely is there a happy middle ground.
But that doesn’t stop us from trying, and you can create that fabled middle ground. You can train yourself to do almost anything.
Human beings are (generally) creatures of habit so why not make ourselves creatures of writing habit. Creating a habit helps you squeeze into the headspace for any particular task more easily. Setting yourself a nighttime routine will help you fall asleep sooner (usually), setting a morning routine will help you get to work on time, setting a writing habit will help you write each and every day.
Creating a daily writing practice helps, it took a while to settle in (apparently it takes at least 21 days to form a habit that will stick), but now that it’s there I find it easier and simpler to write at certain times of the day. Once I trigger my brain through the little rituals I’ve built up, it automatically shifts into writing mode.
Because I am a 30-year-old, straight, white English woman, who is about to talk about the touchy subject of cultural appropriation in writing. This has made me nervous because I am not coming from the viewpoint of one of the cultures being appropriated, but rather from the race doing the appropriation. Thus, a part of me is expecting to get shouted down and told I could not understand the issue because of my race, etc.
But, I am not going to let my nervousness stop me from having a conversation I think needs to happen.
The Festival was held in the dying days of summer.
The personality of the Island changed during the Festival, opening the gates for all things to pass. All women were beautiful and all men were prosperous. It was a time for magic. Men found long lost brothers, great treasures and made dangerous promises. Not all who saw it start would see it end.
Melanie took a deep breath through her mouth to avoid smelling the rank stench of the water and almost choked when she tasted it instead. The boat tipped on the grey water, leaning as if to capsize before rolling back. Hanging over the railing Melanie spat out the bile that rose up. When she was certain that the sour taste and the burn in her throat was all that remained she leaned back. The wind blew multi-coloured hair into her eyes and worked its way down her back, raising goosebumps. She pulled her artistically ripped leather jacket tighter around herself. It was big enough to fit around her and then some; it had belonged to her father before he had died and was nearly as old as she was. She pulled it up and buried her nose in its sweet smell of leather, perfume and an unknown scent that Melanie was positive was her dad. Her pocket buzzed. She reached in, felt around the sweet wrappers and change for her phone, knowing full well who the message was from.
A couple of weeks ago I spoke about characters that you love, I did so because I was re-reading a favourite book series and re-visiting these characters reminded me how important people are to a story. Of late, however, I have relearned the importance of setting.
Recently, I had a list of jobs I wanted to do in the evenings after work and not one of them has been done, this is because I was in Columbia.
Columbia being the floating/flying city in Bioshock Infinite.
SIDE NOTE: This is an awesome game and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys videogames. Even if shooters are not your thing chances are you will enjoy Bioshock. Shooter games are not my usual style of game, but I love this series both for it’s tragic and captivating stories and it’s mesmerising settings.
I want people to become lost in my worlds, just as I became lost in Columbia.
I’ve been writing now for over a decade, since I was in college, well earlier really but college was when I started writing regularly and sending out my writing for others to read and between college magazines, novellas, novels and recently nonfiction books and articles I’ve picked up a few things.
We are all learning and learning is very objective. What works for me may not work for you, a ‘writing myth’ to you may be true for me. There are, however, some lessons that were hard to learn. Things I wish I’d known when I started out. Today I would like to discuss some of the more common myths that when I read them as a teenager I believed but have now learned are not true, at least not for me.
There are lots of different ways to write, some people sit and write without a great deal of planning, they let the story lead them, let it evolve naturally. Some do a little bit of planning, they get a rough idea what’s going to happen and then let the story tell them the rest. Others (like me) plan the hell out of a story before they write the first word.
With any project, there is a level of commitment, but for a large project you need to be motivated, resilient (to overcome challenges) and have at least some time management skills. While writing a short story is a particular skill, and while some of the skills gained when writing longer stories can be transferred to short ones, some skills can only be honed and developed by writing short stories.
I know writers who can pen novels long enough to hold open fire doors and keep you gripped from page one right through to page one thousand and one, who then struggle to write a story three thousand five hundred words long.
With that in mind, I want to share my best tips for writing projects both big and small.
Halvar second guessed himself for the first time in centuries.
A short few decades ago one of the children, Lorens, had convinced him that a show of force to the humans would make them back off. A show of force would protect the clan and improve moral, no one enjoys the feeling of helplessness that comes from being persecuted. Fighting back would make them feel as if they had some control over their fate. So he had agreed, he had pledged his children to the fight, and they had been victorious. Lorens had been right, the humans had retreated, moral had improved now that they no longer felt helpless. The battles were easily won, and their losses were minimal.
Until the Inquisition reappeared.
Things had become harder after that, battles were becoming fiercer. The losses began to mount up, and some began to lose faith. But those who lost their faith were easily outnumbered by those who had faith. They held hope not because of Halvar but because of Lorens. They had no belief that Lorens cared for them, or that he even really knew what he was doing. But they all saw him fight; they saw him do things alone in minutes that no one army could do in a lifetime. That he was capable of such things gave them faith, that and his contagious determination.
But determination was not protection from a well-aimed blade.
Now Lorens lay broken before him, blood stained the grass, and his weapon was gone. The Inquisition had done its work. It was over.
But as he turned to walk away he stopped and listened. Over the sound of the flames he could hear Loren breathing, Halvar felt himself smile.
Perhaps they weren’t defeated yet.
Katie Marie wrote a Book. A big one and a couple of little ones. Check them out!