Thursday, October 9, 2014

"Write Your Novel Step by Step" - Free online book!

My complete book, Write Your Novel Step by Step, is now available for free on the Storymind web site.
Click the picture to start reading!
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Monday, October 6, 2014

50 Sure-Fire Storytelling Tricks! Free Online Book

My book, 50 Sure-Fire Storytelling Tricks!, is now available free on the web site, as well as in paperback and for Kindle.
Click the picture to read it online for free!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Visit our main Writer's Web Site!

For hundreds more free articles, streaming videos, audio programs and downloads for writers, visit our main writers web site at

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (25) "Who's Your Main Character?"

Of all your cast, there is one very special player: the Main Character. Your Main Character is the one your story seems to be about – the one with whom your readers most identify – in short, the single most important character in your novel.
You probably already know who your Main Character is. If, so, you’ll find this step opens opportunities to avoid stereotyping him or her. If you haven’t yet selected your Main Character, this step will help you choose one from your cast list.
First, your Main Character is not necessarily your protagonist. While the protagonist is the prime mover of the effort to achieve the story goal, the Main Character is the one who grapples with an inner dilemma, personal issue or has some aspect of his or her belief system come under attack.
Most writers combine these two functions into a single player (a hero) who is both protagonist and Main Character in order to position their readers right at the heart of the action, as in the Harry Potter series.
Still, there are good reasons for not always blending the two. In the book and movie To Kill A Mockingbird, the protagonist is Atticus – a southern lawyer trying to acquit a young black man wrongly accused of rape. That is the basic plot of the story.
But the Main Character is Atticus’ young daughter, Scout. While the overall story is about the trial, that is really just a background to Scout’s experiences as we see prejudice through her eyes – a child’s eyes.
In this way, the author (Dee Harper) distances us from the incorruptible Atticus so that we do not feel all self-righteous. And, by making Scout effectively prejudiced against Boo Radley (the scary “boogie man” who lives down the street), we see how easily we can all become prejudiced by fearing what we really know nothing about.
In the end, Boo turns out to be Scout’s secret protector, and the story’s message about both the evils and ease of prejudice is made.
Your story may be best suited to center around a typical hero, especially if it is an action story or physical journey story. But if you are writing more of an exploration novel in which the plot unfolds as a background against which a personal journey of self-discovery or a resolution of personal demons is told, then separating your Main Character from the protagonist (and the heart of the action) may serve you better.
Armed with this understanding, review the cast you have chosen for your novel. If you have already selected a Main Character, see if they are a hero who is also the protagonist, driving the action. If so, consider splitting those functions into two players to see if it might enhance your story for your readers. If you have already set up a separate Main Character and protagonist, consider combining them into a hero, to see if that might streamline your story.
If you have not yet chosen a Main Character and/or a protagonist, review your cast list to see if one player would best do both jobs or if one would better drive the plot and the other would better carry the message.
When you have made your choices, write a brief paragraph about your Main Character and/or protagonist to explain how those two functions are satisfied by your chosen character or characters.

This article is one of the 200 interactive steps in

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (24) "Selecting Your Cast"

Congratulations! Over the last few steps you’ve learned a tremendous amount of information about your characters’ attributes, self-image, outlook, and personal issues.
With all the work you’ve done, you probably have more characters than you need or want. Still, by keeping them around, you have had the opportunity to inject new blood into old stereotypes. As a result, your potential cast represents a healthy mix of interesting people.
The task at hand is to pare down this list by selecting only those characters you really want or actually need in your story.
To begin, make three categories, either as columns on a page or piles of index cards: one for obvious rejects, one for maybes, and one for the characters you are absolutely certain you want in your novel.
Put into the Keeper pile every character that is essential to your plot, contributes extraordinary passion, or is just so original and intriguing you can wait to write about them.
In the Not Sure pile, place all the characters who have some function (though they aren’t the only one who could perform it), have some passionate contribution (but it seems more peripheral than central), or are mildly interesting but not all-consuming fascinating.
In the No Way! Pile, place all the characters who don’t have a function, don’t contribute to the passionate side of your story and rub you the wrong way.
After distributing all your characters into these three categories, leaf through the “maybe” category, character by character, to see if any of them would fit will and without redundancy in the cast you’ve already selected.
If any would uniquely bring something worthwhile to your story that couldn’t be contributed by a keeper character, add them to your cast for now. If they would not, add them to the rejects.
Finally, look through the rejects for any individual attributes that you are sorry to see go – character traits you’d like to explore in your novel, even if you are sure you don’t want the whole character.
If there are any, distribute those attributes among your chosen characters as long as they don’t conflict with or lessen their existing quality and power. In this way, you will infuse your cast with the most potent elements possible.
You now have your initial cast of characters for your novel. In the actual writing to come, you may determine that certain characters are not playing out as well as expected. At that time, you can always cut them from your cast and redistribute any desirable attributes among your other characters.
Or, you may discover there are some essential jobs left undone, and you’ll need to create one or more additional characters to fill that gap.
But, for now, you have finally arrived at your initial cast – the folks who will populate your story’s world, drive the action, consider the issues, and involve your readers.
In the next step, we’ll explore the nature of your Main Character before turning our attention to your story’s theme.

This article is one of the 200 interactive steps in

wp040b08b3_06Step by Step Story Development Software

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Character Exercise: 108 Year Old Film Clip

Narrative isn't everything.  Many experiences in fiction and real life have no narrative at all.  While movies are often thought to be one of the most story-oriented media, here is a film clip that has no story, yet has tremendous meaning.  It was shot in San Francisco in 1906, just six days before the Great Earthquake.  Though there is no narrative, we cannot help but wonder what stories unfolded for the people we see just one week later.

As a good writer's exercise, pick a person or two that you see in the clip and write a short article that might have been published in the newspaper a week after the quake about their experiences.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (22) "Character Points of View"

Now that you know something about the personalities of your potential cast members, it is time to find out how they see your story.
In this step, you’ll have each character write another paragraph from their point of view, but this time describing the basic plot of your story as it appear to them.
This will make your story more realistic by helping you understand and describe how each character sees and feels about the events unfolding around them.
Some characters may be integral to the plot. Others may simply be interesting folk who populate your story’s world. Be sure each character includes how they see their role (if any) in the events, or if they seem themselves as just an observer or bystander. If they are involved in the plot, outline the nature of their participation as they see it.
Again, you don’t want to go into great detail at this time. What you want is just an idea of how your story looks through each character’s eyes. This will help you later on not only to decide which characters you want in your story, but how you might employ them as well.
In the next step we’ll get to know your characters even better by investigating any personal and/or moral issues with which they grapple.

This article is drawn from:

wp040b08b3_06Step by Step Story Development Software

wpc9342079_06Build your Story's World, who's in it, what happens to them and what it all means with StoryWeaver!  With over 200 interactive Story Cards, StoryWeaver takes you step by step through the entire process - from concept to completion.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (20) "Character Trait Swap Meet"

In the last step you made sure each of your potential characters had a vocation, name, gender, age and perhaps additional personal attributes.
In this step we’re going to swap around some of those traits to make your list of potential characters even more original, interesting and memorable than before.
Our creative minds tend to fall into the same patterns over and over again. As a result, our characters run the risk of becoming overused stereotypes. By exchanging traits, we can create characters that transcend our inspirational ruts and become far more interesting and memorable.
Don’t feel pressured to alter the original collection of attributes you had assigned to any given character if you are truly happy and comfortable with it. Still, mixing things up a bit just to see what happens can’t hurt and just might just turn out to build an even more intriguing character.
Task One: Swapping Jobs
In this section rearrange your characters' jobs until you have created a new cast list with all the same information except different vocations for each.
For example, a Mercenary named Killer and a Seamstress named Jane are inherently less interesting that Seamstress named Killer and a Mercenary named Jane.
Swap jobs around a few times, locking in the combinations you like and reverting to the original arrangement of attributes for those you don’t. Then, move on to Task Two….
Task Two: Swapping Genders
Every culture has preconceptions of the kinds of vocations appropriate to each sex. Adhering to these expectations makes characters familiar but also makes them predictable and ordinary.
By changing the gender of at least some of your less interesting characters, you can breathe new life into them.
For example, a male Mercenary is typical, a female Mercenary is not. A character called "John's Wife" does not necessarily have to be female, especially in this day and age.
Referring to your revised cast list including the new vocations, swap gender assignments among your characters to create even more interesting cominbations.
Task Three: Swapping Ages
We tend to write about characters our own age, or to assume a particular age by virtue of vocation. For example, an action character such as a Bush Pilot, or Spy is usually set as ranging between 25 and 50. An elementary school student is usually 5 to 12.
But what if you had a Bush Pilot in the range of 5 to 12 and an elementary school student of 25 to 50? In fact, these characters are not only more interesting, but easier to write, simply because the contrasts they express spur all kinds of creative inspirations.
Referring to your newly revised cast list from Task Two, swap the ages around to create a new list with these additional changes.
Task Four: Swapping Additional Attributes
Just as you have done with jobs, genders and ages, swap around any additional attributes you may have assigned to your characters to see if they make your potential cast members even more interesting.
When you have settled on the best possible combinations of attributes for each character, move on to the next step to audition these people for a role in your novel.

This article is drawn from:

wp040b08b3_06Step by Step Story Development Software

wpc9342079_06Build your Story's World, who's in it, what happens to them and what it all means with StoryWeaver!  With over 200 interactive Story Cards, StoryWeaver takes you step by step through the entire process - from concept to completion.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (17) "Gender Specific"

It's time to start listing some of your characters' attributes. One of the most fundamental is their gender.
For every character you are going to want to check the gender box on their interview sheet: Male, Female or Undecided.
Most characters will have an obvious gender, though some (like a shark or the wind) might be neuter or indeterminate. Usually, a gender helps the reader know how to relate to a character, as it is one of the first things humans instinctively try to determine, right after friend or foe.
Gender alters our entire sense of a person, critter or entity, so note one for every character in your list, if you can.  Don't be afraid to experiment with assigning a gender other than your original intention, but don’t overthink the plumbing, as it were. For now, just go with the obvious choice if you like and we’ll mix things up a bit later on.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (12) "Expected Characters"

In Step 11 you made a list of all the characters explicitly named in your revised synopsis. Now list all the characters that your synopsis doesn't specifically name, but that would almost be expected in such a story. Include any additional characters you intend to employ but didn’t actually spell out in your synopsis. Again, list them by role and name if one comes to mind.
Suppose a story is described as the tribulations of a town Marshall trying to fend off a gang of outlaws who bleed the town dry.
The only specifically called for characters are the Marshall and the gang, which you would have listed in Step 10. But, you'd also expect the gang to have a leader and the town to have a mayor. The Marshall might have a deputy. And, if the town is being bled dry, then some businessmen and shopkeepers would be in order as well.
So, you would list these additional implied characters as:
Gang Leader
Deputy (John Justice)
Don’t list every character you can possibly imagine – we’ll expand our cast in other areas in steps to come. The task here is no more than to list all those characters most strongly implied – the ones that the plot or situation virtually calls for but doesn’t actually name.
Add these new characters below those in you listed in Step 11. Then, in the next step we’ll add some more!

Write Your Novel Step by Step (11) "Who's There?"

Congratulations! You’ve completed the first part of your journey toward a completed novel. It was a heck of a lot of work, but it is all about to pay off.
From here on out, we’ll be drawing on material you’ve already created. What’s more, each step from this point forward is far less complicated, requires far less effort and is shorter to boot!
In this step, for example, we’re going to look for characters in the material you’ve already created. You don’t have to invent anything new. In fact, it is important that you don’t!
Read through your revised synopsis from Step 10 while asking yourself “who’s there?” Make a list of all the characters explicitly called for in your story, as it is worded.
To be clear, don’t list any characters you have in mind but didn’t actually spell out in your work – just the ones who actually appear in the text.
You may have given some of these characters names. Others, you may have described simply by their roles in the story, such as Mercenary, John's Wife, Village Idiot, etc.
If a character does not yet have a role, give them one as a place-holder that more or less describes what they do, who they are related to, or what their situation is.
If a character does not yet have a name, don’t hold yourself up trying to think of one now. Well have a whole step devoted to inventing interesting character names down the line.
For now, just list the characters actually spelled out specifically in your synopsis as it stands.
John - The Mercenary
An Archeologist
Painless Pete - A Dentist
A Clown
A Freelance Birdwatcher
Do NOT include any characters you have in mind but didn’t actually mention. Do NOT include any characters who may be inferred but aren’t actually identified. All those other characters will be dealt with in the next few steps.
So, get on with it and answer the burning question, “Who’s There?”
Excerpted from the book, Write Your Novel Step by Step

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Introduction to Archetypes

Archetypes are not inventions, but representations of elemental human qualities.  In fact each embodies a family of qualities not unlike families of elements in the periodic table.  It is as if we put all the Rare Earth elements into one character and all the Noble Gasses into another.
This means that while each archetype has many component pieces, they all work in harmony to create a character of singular identity that we recognize as a facet of ourselves, made tangible, so that we might understand that aspect of our inner narrative.
Historically, students of story have identified a multitude of characters based on personality types that they have labeled as archetypes.  As useful as these are for creating characters based on relationships, or subject matter, true archetypes have no personality.  Rather, they are the fundamental processes of our own hearts and minds made manifest, incarnate as functions within a narrative just as they are functions within us.
As an example, there is a Reason archetype to illustrate how our intellect approaches the problem at the core of a story.  And in opposition, there is an Emotion archetype to exemplify how our passion comes to bear on the issue at hand.  In totality, there are eight archetypes, each composed of eight individual elements, working in concert to illustrate the broad stroke primary colors of our psyches.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Characters - The Attributes of Age

Writers tend to create characters that are more or less the same age as themselves. On the one hand, this follows the old adage that one should write about what one knows. But in real life, we encounter people of all ages in most situations. Of course, we often see stories that pay homage to the necessary younger or older person, but we just as often find gaps of age groups in which there are no characters at all, rather than a smooth spectrum of ages.
In addition, there are many considerations to age other than the superficial appearance, manner of dress, and stereotypical expectations. In this lesson we’re going to uncover a variety of traits that bear on an accurate portrayal of age, and even offer the opportunity to explore seldom-depicted human issues associated with age.
The Attributes of Age
People in general, and writers in particular, tend to stereotype the attributes of age more than just about any other character trait. There are, of course, the physical aspects of age, ranging from size, smoothness of skin, strength, mobility to the various ailments associated with our progress through life. Then there are the mental and emotional qualities that we expect to find at various points in life. But the process of aging involves some far more subtle components to our journey through life.
Anatomical vs. Chronological age
Before examining any specific traits, it is important to note the difference between anatomical and chronological age. Anatomical age is the condition of your body whereas chronological age is the actual number of years you’ve been around. For example, if you are thirty years old, but all worn out and genetically biased to age prematurely, you might look more akin to what people would expect of a fifty year old. Nonetheless, you wouldn’t have the same interests in music or direct knowledge of the popular culture as someone who was actually fifty years old. When describing a character, you might choose to play off your reader expectations by letting them assume the physical condition, based on your description of age. Or, you might wish to create some additional interest in your character by describing it as “A middle-aged man so fit and healthy, he was still “carded” whenever he vacationed in Vegas.” Such a description adds an element of interest and immediately sets your character out at an individual.
Far too often, characters are portrayed as speaking in the same generic conversational language we hear on television. The only variance to that is the overlay of ethic buzzwords to our standard sanitized TV through template. In other words, characters act as if they all through alike, even if they had completely different cultural upbringings. But aging is an ongoing evolution of culture, rooting the individual into thought patterns of his or her formative hears, and tempered (to some degree) by the ongoing cultural indoctrination of a social lifestyle.
Characters, therefore, tend to pick up a basic vocabulary reflective of both their ethnicity AND their age. For example, a black man who fought for civil rights along side Dr. Martin Luther King, would not be using the same jargon ad a black man advancing the cause of rights today. And neither of these would use the same vocabulary as a young black man in the center city, trying to find his way out through education. To simply overlay the “black jargon” template on such characters is the same kind of unconscious subtle prejudice promoted by “flesh colored” crayons.
Sure, we all learn to drop some of the more dated terms and expletives of our youth in order to appear “hip” or “with it,” but in the end we either sound silly trying to use the new ones, or avoid them altogether, leaving us bland and un-passionate in our conversation. Both of these approaches can be depicted in your characters as well, and can provide a great deal of information about the kind of mind your character possesses.
Speaking of character minds, we all have a culturally created filter that focuses our attention on some things, and blinds us to (or diminishes) others. Sometimes, this is built into the language itself. When it is hot, the Spanish say, “hace calor” (it makes heat). This phrasing is due to the underlying beliefs of the people who developed that language that see every object, even those that are inanimate, as possessing a spirit. So, when it is hot, this is not a mindless state of affairs due to meteorological conditions, but rather to the intent of the spirit of the weather. Of course, if you were to ask a modern Spanish speaking person if they believed in such a thing, you would likely receive a negative reply. And yet, because this concept permeates the language (making everyday items masculine or feminine), it cannot help but alter the way native speakers of the language will frame their thoughts.
As another example, the Japanese population of world war two was indoctrinated in the culture of honor, duty, and putting the needs of society above those of the individual. Although most countries foster this view, in war-time Japan, it was carried to the extreme, resulting in an effective Kamikaze force, and also in whole units that chose a suicidal charge against oncoming forces, rather than to be humiliated by defeat or capture.
Corporate Japan was built around these Samurai ideals, and workers commonly perceived themselves as existing to serve their companies with loyalty and unquestioning obedience. But when the economy faltered, those who expected to remain with their companies for life were laid off, or even permanently fired. This led to a disillusionment of the “group first” mentality, especially among the young, who had not yet become settled in their beliefs. So, today, there is still a gap between the old-guard corporate executives, and the millions of teenagers to whom they market. Age, in this case, creates a significant difference in the way the world looks.
Continuing with the notion of generation gaps, I grew up when the rallying cry was “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Of course, now we’re all in our fifties or even sixties, so we are forced to admit that we, ourselves, have in fact become “the Establishment.”
But that is what is visible and obvious to us. The real difference between my generation and the post Yuppie, post GenX, GenY, Gen? Generation is far more foundational. In conversations with my daughter I discovered that while I see myself on the other side of the generation gap, she does not perceive one at all! This is due to primarily to the plethora of high-quality recorded media programs, which capture so many fine performances and presentations when the artists and great thinkers were in their prime. We live in a TV Land universe in which no great works ever die; they are just reborn on Cable.
To my daughter’s generation, it is only important whether or not you have something worth saying. How old you are has nothing to do with your importance or relevance. In short, the difference between my generation and the younger generation is that we perceive a difference between the generations and they don’t!
In summary then, the age in which you establish your worldview will determine how you perceive current events for the rest of your life. When creating characters of any particular age, you would do well to consider the cultural landscape that was prevalent when each character was indoctrinated.
Comfort Symbols
We all share the same human emotional needs. And we each experience moments that fulfill those needs. Those experiences become fond memories, and many of the trappings of those experiences become comfort symbols. In later life, we seek out those symbols to trigger the re-experiencing of the cherished moments. Perhaps your family served a particular food in your childhood that you associate with warmth and love. For example, my mother grew up during the Great Depression in the 1930s. Her family was often short of food. So, as a snack, they would give her a piece of bread spread with lard and mustard! Now the thought very nearly sickens me, but she often yearned for that flavor again, as it reminded her of the love she received as a child.
Once we have locked into symbols that we can use to trigger emotional experiences, we seldom need to replace them. They are our comfort symbols upon which we can always rely. This has two effects as we age: One, we latch on to performers and music, as an example, that age along with us. We recall them at their prime when we first encountered them, and also have spent years aging along with them. This leads us to suddenly wake up one day and realize we no longer know who they are referring to in popular culture magazines and entertainment reporting televisions shows. In other words, the popular culture has passed us by. Two, we see many of our symbols (favorite advertising campaigns, a restaurant where we went on our first date, etc.) vanish as they are replaced with new and current concerns. So, the world around us seems less relevant, less familiar, and less comfortable, just as we seem to the world at large.
When creating characters, take into account the potential ongoing and growing sense of loss, sadness, and connection between characters and their environment. And don’t think this is a problem only for the elderly. My 24-year-old son laments that there are kids growing up today who never knew a world without personal computers! He says it makes him feel old.
Physical Attributes
Babies have a soft spot on their heads that doesn’t harden up for quite a while after birth. Cartilage wears out. Teens in puberty have raging hormones. Young kids grow so fast that they don’t have a chance to get used to the size and strength of their bodies before they have changed again, not unlike trying to drive a new and different car every day. I can’t remember the last time I ran full-tilt. I’m not sure it would be safe, today! Point is, our bodies are always changing. Sometimes the state we are in has positive and/or negative qualities – other times the changing itself is positive or negative.
When creating characters, give some thought to the physical attributes and detriments of any given age, and consider how they not only affect the abilities and mannerisms of your characters, but their mental and emotional baselines as well.
Sure, we could go on and on exploring specifics of age and aging, but since it is a pandemic human condition, it touches virtually every human experience and endeavor. The point here is not to completely cover the subject, but to encourage you to consider it when creating each of your characters. It isn’t enough to simply describe a character as “a middle-aged man,” or “a perky 8 year old boy.” You owe it to your characters and to your readers or audience to incorporate the aging experience into their development, just as it is inexorably integrated into our own.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Free Story Structure Chat on Skype - July 25th

I’m holding a free one-hour chat on story structure this friday evening from 7 – 8 pm. PDT on Skype.  For me, this is to test the system to see if I can hold paid classes in this manner.  For you, it is a chance to ask any questions or bring up any topics on story structure and discuss them with the creator of StoryWeaver and co-creator of Dramatica (me!)
This chat is limited to the first nine respondents, so email your request to join to  I’ll let you know if you made the cut, but if you didn’t, don’t worry because the paid classes (and they won’t be very expensive) are coming soon!

–Melanie  Anne Phillips, your blogger

Friday, July 18, 2014

Get Into Your Characters' Heads!

One of the most powerful opportunities of the novel format is the ability to describe what a character is thinking. In movies or stage plays (with exceptions) you must show what the character is thinking through action and/or dialog. But in a novel, you can just come out and say it.
For example, in a movie, you might say:
John walks slowly to the window and looks out at the park bench where he last saw Sally. His eyes fill with tears. He bows his head and slowly closes the blinds.
But in a novel you might write:
John walked slowly to the window, letting his gaze drift toward the park bench where he last saw Sally. Why did I let her go, he thought. I wanted so much to ask her to stay. Saddened, he reflected on happier times with her – days of more contentment than he ever imagined he could feel.
The previous paragraph uses two forms of expressing a character’s thoughts. One, is the direct quote of the thought, as if it were dialog spoken internally to oneself. The other is a summary and paraphrase of what was going on in the character’s head.
Most novels are greatly enhanced by stepping away from a purely objective narrative perspective, and drawing the reader into the minds of the character’s themselves.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Fire Your Protagonist!

Many authors start with a Protagonist and then build a cast of characters around him or her. But as a story develops, it may turn out that one of the other characters becomes more suited for that role. Sticking with the original Protagonist causes the story to become mis-centered, and it fails to take on a life of its own.
To see if this has happened to your story, try the following:
Take each of your characters, one by one, and try them out as the Protagonist. Give each a job interview. You ask them, “What would the story’s goal be if you were the Protagonist? What would you be working toward? What would you hope to achieve? How would you rally the other characters around your efforts?”
More than likely, you will find one character who seems just a little more driven – a character whose goal seems far more important than any of the others, one that not only affects him but all the other principal characters as well. That character should be your Protagonist, and it may not be the character you originally cast in that role. If it isn’t, fire your Protagonist and hire the new one!
Sure, you’ve become attached to the original character, but if he or she is no longer write for the job, well, business is business. You have to think about what is best for the entire company of players in your story without playing favorites.
Of course, with a new Protagonist, you’ll need to re-center your story and possibly to change the nature of the goal. But in so doing, your story will gain a renewed sense of purpose as this new character takes the helm.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Write from your character's point of view

Perhaps the best way to instill real feelings in a character is to stand in his or her shoes and write from the character’s point of view. Unfortunately, this method also holds the greatest danger of undermining the meaning of a story.
As an example, suppose we have two characters, Joe and Tom, who are business competitors. Joe hates Tom and Tom hates Joe. We sit down to write an argument between them. First, we stand in Joe’s shoes and speak vehemently of Tom’s transgressions. Then, we stand in Tom’s shoes and pontificate on Joe’s aggressions. By adopting the character point of view, we have constructed an exchange of honest and powerful emotions. We have also undermined the meaning of our story because Joe and Tom have come across as being virtually the same.
A story might have a Protagonist and an Antagonist, but between Joe and Tom, who is who? Each sees himself as the Protagonist and the other as the Antagonist. If we simply write the argument from each point of view, the audience has no idea which is REALLY which.
The opposite problem occurs if you stand back from your characters and assign roles as Protagonist and Antagonist without considering the characters’ points of view. In such a case, the character clearly establish the story’s meaning, but they seem to be “walking through” the story, hitting the marks, and never really expressing themselves as actual human beings.
The solution, of course, is to explore both approaches. You need to know what role each character is to play in the story’s overall meaning – the big picture. But, you also must stand in their shoes and write with passion to make them human.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Give each character a personal goal

Personal Goals are the motivating reasons your characters care about and/or participate in the effort to achieve or prevent the overall goal. In other words, they see the main story goal as a means to an end, not as an end itself.
Although a personal goal for each character is not absolutely essential, at some point your audience or readers are going to wonder what is driving each character to brave the trials and obstacles. If you haven’t supplied a believable motivation, it will stand out as a story hole.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Introducing Your Characters in Act 1

Some stories introduce characters as people and then let the reader/audience discover their roles and relationships afterward. This tends to help an audience identify with the characters.
Other stories put roles first, so that we know about the person by their function and/or job, then get closer to them as the act progresses. This tends to make the reader/audience pigeon-hole the characters by stereotype, and then draw them into learning more about the actual people behind the masks.
Finally, there are stories that introduce character relationships, either situational, structural, or emotional, at the beginning. This causes the audience to see the problems among the characters but not take sides as strongly until they can learn about the people on each side of the relationship, and the roles that constrain them.
Of course, you do not have to treat these introductions equally for all characters and relationships. For example, you might introduce on character as a person, then introduce their relationship with another character, then divulge the constraints the other character is under due to role, then revel the other character as a person.
This approach would initially cast sympathy (or derision) at the first character, temper it by showing a relationship with which he or she must contend, then temper that relationship by showing the constraints of the other character, and finally humanize that other character so a true objective balance can be formed by the reader/audience.
Don’t forget that first impressions stick in our minds, and it is much easier to judge someone initially than to change that judgment later. Use this trait of audiences to quickly identify important characters up front, or to put their complete situations later, thereby forcing the reader/audience to reconsider its attitudes, and thereby learn and grow.
No matter what approach you take, you have the opportunity to weave a complex experience for your reader/audience, blending factual, logistic information about your characters with the reader/audience emotional experience in discovering this information.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Character Dismissals

Over the course of the story, your reader/audience has come to know your characters and to feel for them. The story doesn’t end when your characters and their relationships reach a climax. Rather, the reader/audience will want to know the aftermath – how it turned out for each character and each relationship. In addition, the audience needs a little time to say goodbye – to let the character walk off into the sunset or to mourn for them before the story ends.
This is in effect the conclusion, the wrap-up. After everything has happened to your characters, after the final showdown with their respective demons, what are they like? How have they changed? If a character began the story as a skeptic, does it now have faith? If they began the story full of hatred for a mother that abandoned them, have they now made revelations to the effect that she was forced to do this, and now they no longer hate? This is what you have to tell the audience, how their journeys changed them, have the resolved their problems, or not?
And in the end, this constitutes a large part of your story’s message. It is not enough to know if a story ends in success or failure, but also if the characters are better off emotionally or plagued with even greater demons, regardless of whether or not the goal was achieved.
You can show what happens to your characters directly, through a conversation by others about them, or even in a post-script on each that appears after the story is over or in the ending credits of a movie.
How you do this is limited only by your creative inspiration, but make sure you review each character and each relationship and provide at least a minimal dismissal for each.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

How to Create Great Characters!

Strangely enough, what makes a character “Great” has little to do with what makes a character dramatically sound. This is easy enough to see if you consider the differences between the characters Austin Powers and James Bond. Both could be seen as Protagonists, and both could even be seen as heroes, and yet their personalities, mannerisms, interests, and attitudes are quite dissimilar. What makes them the same is their dramatic function; what makes them different are their personalities.

Dramatic function is part of a story’s logistic structure. Without a function, a character is little more than window dressing. Yet, even the most strongly drawn structural character is quite forgettable without a charismatic personality. Stucturalist writers tend to start with the function (Antagonist, Protagonist, etc.) then build a personality on that foundation. Intuitive writers usually want to get to know their characters first as individuals, then determine what function they should play in the structure.

No matter which kind of writer you are, you will eventually need to develop your characters’ personalities. So, here’s a great trick to brainstorm your characters and perhaps even learn something about your plot along the way.

I call this method, “Mix and Match.”

More than likely, you remember a childhood toy that was a book with pictures of faces, each cut into three pieces: top, middle, and bottom. The top section of each face had the hair, the middle section covered the eyes and nose, and the bottom section displayed the mouth. By flipping parts of each page, you could create all kinds of different people, swapping the hair of one with the eyes of another and the mouth of a third.

We can apply a similar concept to character attributes and physical traits to create dynamic personalities.

As an example, lets start with two ordinary, forgettable characters with only three traits each (Gender, Age, and Role) and mix and match to create more memorable characters

Character #1: Male, 38, Mercenary

Character #2: Female, 9, Shoplifter

Pretty forgettable, right? Okay, let’s mix and match:

Character #1: Female, 38, Mercenary

Charcter #2: Male, 9, Shoplifter

Now think about how these characters changed their personalities, just by swapping a single attribute from one to the other. A Male Mercenary, age 38 simply has a different “feel” than a Female Mercenary, age 38. Why? Due to our cultural indoctrination., we expect certain things of men and certain things of women. We therefore expect a Male Mercenary to have a different personality than a Female Mercenary. In other words, it would require a different personality of woman than a man to become a Mercenary in our society. So, we (as creative authors) tend to subconsciously assign those personality traits to the character, even though we have really only spelled out the character’s role and gender.

Let’s try another swap:

Character #1: Female, 9, Mercenary

Character #2: Male, 38, Shoplifter

Again, we impose our own subconscious expectations of each character’s personality upon him or her so that we have a completely different feel for each than we did before.

Let’s try one more:

Character #1: Male, 9, Mercenary

Character #2: Female, 38, Shoplifter

Once again, the personalities change.

We might find that one of these characters strikes our fancy as being interesting to develop and put into play. But more than likely, we haven’t found the “Great” character we are looking for. What we need are more traits and attributes, and more characters to swap them among.

What I usually do is list various traits and attributes on 3x5 cards, cut them up into individual items and then assemble them like the Face Book to create potential characters for my story.

For example, I might have a group off different traits/attributes in each of the following categories:

Name Age Sex Height Weight I.Q. Hair Color Hair Style Mannerisms (graceful, clumsy, abrupt, etc.) Physical Impairments Physical Enhancements (keen eyesight, etc.) Physical Quirks (i.e. twitch) Religious Affiliations Religious Beliefs (not necessarily the same as affiliations) Hobbies Skills Talents Accent Speed of Speech Place of Birth Marital Status Previous Marriages Special powers Job or Role Pets Siblings (alive and dead) Personality Traits (sourpuss, practical joker, deadpan serious, etc.) Sound of Voice (deep, high, breathy)

Well, I could go on an on with this list, but you get the idea. The best way to compile a list of categories like this is to read the newspaper, watch television, or sit in a coffee shop and look out the window.

Now, in each category, you need to come up with as many different items as you can.

For example, in the first category, Name, we might have the usual Joe, and Sally, but also Zippo, Teaser, Tweezer, and Mulch. The weirder, the better.

Let’s take our Female, 9 year old Mercenary and name her Sally. Now how does her personality change if we name her Tweezer, or Mulch instead?

In tangible reality, there is no indicated difference between Sally, the 9 year old Female Mercenary and Tweezer, the 9 year old Female Mercenary. And yet, we cannot help but feel they are different because of our cultural indoctrination.

As a brainstorming technique for creating “Great” characters, the mix and match method is the best way I’ve found to break away from the same old forgettable stereotypes.

Now most of this you’ll need to do this manually, but in fact there is a place in the Dramatica Pro software that can help take some of the drudgery out of it. From the main Dramatica Desktop, click on the Brainstorming tile. Then, select the Character Generator Tile. Here you can automatically generate characters by arbitrarily assigning them names, genders, and structural functions as archetypes or complex characters.

And speaking of structural functions, have you noticed that none of the attributes we assigned to our characters above gave any indication as to their status as a Protagonist, Antagonist, other archetype or complex functional character?

If you are a structuralist writer, you’ll first start with your Protagonist (or whatever structural function you wish to begin with) and THEN play the mix and match game on that foundation. If you are an intuitive writer, you’ll start with mix and match and then pick one character and determine what function he, she, or it should play.

Take Tweezer, our nine-year-old Mercenary. Would she be a better Protagonist or Antagonist? When you pick a structural function, it ties the character to the plot and further defines the foundation of its personality. And, because you have likely chosen a role for your character, such as Mercenary, the combination of roles among your characters can actually start to suggest the outlines of a plot!

Of course, some things will likely have to be changed to make the characters and plot more consistent. But, this refining process is just part of the ongoing development of your story. The real trick is to break free of the stodgy, ordinary character we create by falling into our well-worn mental patterns, and mixing and matching to create arbitrarily intriguing characters.