Using Arc Beyond Characters

I’ve talked about character before but I’m going deeper this time.

Have you ever thought about giving a character like arc to things that technically are not characters?

Did I just lose you? What I’m getting at is that characters are not the only ones that change within a story. At least they shouldn’t be the only one’s changing.

Your setting can change within the story. No, I don’t mean a new place. I mean the place changes with your characters. For example, a clock tower in the beginning is a familiar comfort but as the book progresses your character views the clock tower with greater and greater frustration at it’s ever present presence. The setting has an arc of change even if it’s just a change in perception. This adds tension, conflict, and tone to your story in a new and dynamic way.

Your culture within your story should change. If your main character is doing a good job the culture around them should change. It should arc. It can arc positively or negatively but as the characters move through the plot the culture around them should shift in some way in response to the character actions. Does your character make the world a better place? A worse place? Or a different place? Show it happening within the story structure to create a culture arc.

Taking the time to add this level of change and dynamic flow within your story will make your world more believable and your setting like the air the reader is breathing. Don’t pass up this opportunity in your story.

Take a few minutes and check your setting and culture arcs within your story. Do you have one? Or is it static and unchanging?

Happy Questing!

 

 

Ice Cream Characters

Characters are one of the hardest parts of a story to put together, for me at least. I tend to make them all the same base and just sprinkle them with different emotional toppings. But like ice cream there are so many versions of people it’s endless. So let’s dig into building character a bit. […]

Starting Fresh- A new book journey

 

After getting my first fully edited book done and out there I’ve started working on something new. I will not be writing the same way this time. This time I will be intentional about all of it.

This time I started with a question, something I needed to create an answer to in the form of a story.

The more I developed an answer to my question the more my fantasy world developed around the characters. The world, in turn, placed a mark upon the character’s lives, occupations, and upbringing. The old question of nature versus nurture.

I only know that the question came first and the story followed.

Now I’m piecing all it all together and here’s what’s flowing out of it. Consider these ideas when planning your next work. I’ve only learned how important these are through rejection slips, twitter pitches, and submission processes. These things can make your words sparkle or if not polished correctly create a dull sheen.

Plot Points- The mushy middle, I’m not talking about potatoes here. If your story falls apart in the middle because of lack of conflict or false conflict you’re going to have a problem. The middle is a third of the book and it needs just as much attention as the beginning and the end.

Darkest Moment– I’ve seen through Twitter pitch parties many editors/agents request material from the beginning and also for your ‘darkest moment.’ This is the point about two thirds through your story where all is lost and hopeless, when your characters make a choice to fight or give up regardless of the odds. Do you have a darkest moment? Yeah, me either. So this time I’m planning it to be sure it’s there on purpose and not on accident.

Mapping– If you aren’t using the real world in your story you need to map out a new one. Even if you can’t draw, do this. You create space, distance, and plot points you would not have considered otherwise. Here’s how I like to map.

Characters– You don’t realize how many characters you actually need when you first start out writing. Characters can easily become stale and cliché if not properly considered. Some stereotypes are nice to rely on but not for any recurring characters. Think of JK Rowling, she had a notebook for each character she wrote about in Harry Potter, because it matters.

Doodling– My favorite part. So I don’t have a secret here it’s just taking the time to explore different avenues you can take your story prior to writing it. This helps me because I get a better feel for the place and atmosphere of my book but I also understand what isn’t going to work and why. For this story I know I want to set it in a swamp. But that’s very generic. What kind of swamp- hot/cold climate, water/mud, wildlife, navigation by boat/land. These options will all have a direct impact on how my characters move and behave throughout the story.

Theme– While you may not know what your theme is right away, you should at least be on the watch for it. For example my new story is set in a swamp, why? Well I hadn’t really thought about it, it just occurred to me while brainstorming, which is normal. Most of us don’t give it an extra thought but build our next story level on top of it. But since I’m trying to be intentional I’m going to think it through and see if a swamp accurately reflects my story theme or if not why not.

Pinterest– I took the time to make a secret story board for this book. I searched relevant terms for what I wanted and found some concrete examples to go back to when I loose my way around that mushy middle we talked about earlier. I also have a firm grasp of character looks, new skills to reference, and plant life to draw upon as I write each scene.

What other things do you consider before you dive into a new work in progress? Do you use any special techniques to get your creative mind flowing?

A final thought for the perfectionists out there, regardless of prep work and planning, be sure to have fun with your first draft. It’s not going to be perfect, not even close, so don’t get hung up on little things. Keep moving and fix it later. I use a * to denote areas I need to flesh out or work out during editing and skip right over them. Thanks to Nicole Evens for reminding me of this.

Happy Questing!

Capturing Ancient Faces: Character Desctiptions for Writers

Somehow ancient sculptors are able to translate a person’s face, expression, life, into each piece of marble. Yet, somehow, when we write we limit ourselves to eyes, hair and height. A person is so much more. Real people have a soul and getting that onto your pages and into your characters is one of the hardest things to do.

Giving the physical description of a character is superficial and tells readers little about character that they can actually care about.

Adding in the flowery adjectives creates the pit of cliché difficult to get out of.

So what’s left? It’s nothing you haven’t heard before: show don’t tell. I’m so guilty of abusing character descriptions. A big sorry to all my beta readers out there, I’m a work in progress.

Show your characters physical description through:

  • Setting– Is your character overweight? Have them trudge up the steps. Is it a windy day? Have your character tuck her amber locks behind her ear as she reads in the park.
  • Specific Details– His blond hair was long. Should be: Pulling out the spar tire he asked the stranded woman, “can I borrow your hair tie while I change this?” She pulled the tie off her wrist handing it over, she watched as he pulled his blond rock-star hair into a tight knot.
  • Do Double Duty– All the details you have need to show more than one thing about your characters. Your readers are smart, don’t waste words on bland descriptions give them something to “read into” about your characters. If you say rock-star hair I’m assuming this character has a personality to go with it. If your character is reading in the park I’m assuming she is smart and a bit quiet.
  • Action– What a character does with their time reveals much. Use it to your advantage to show more. “Stay here kids,” Judy said getting out of the SUV to pump gas. As she paid inside she grabbed a bottle of cheep moscato telling the cashier, “please put it in a bag.” What does this say about Judy? She’s a tired mom concerned with safety (SUV), is polite (please) and may have a wine problem.
  • Emotion– How your character reacts to situations emotionally shows readers your character. Take it as deep as you can. Coach yelled from the dugout, “Hit it hard Billy or it’ll be laps till you drop.” What does Billy do emotionally? Not just the first emotion but the second and third. Billy frowned toward the dugout, tightening his grib and digging in his left foot he faced the pitcher ready. What does this tell us about Billy? He’s upset by his coach’s remark, then determined, and finally in the zone of concentration.

These tricks are essential not only in novels but in short stories where you have to pack in as much information as you can into a tiny amount of words. I hope these thoughts help you sculpt a character worth reading about in your next work.

If you would like more here is a writing exercise from Writers Digest.

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