Category Archives: Character Development

Shipping: 14 Ways To Develop Romance In Your Story

Man, do I love a good, believable romance.

I like the slow kind, where looks are exchanged, where she ignores him, where he adores her, where their journey leads to something beautiful and long-lasting. I like the kinds of romance where the undercover action is a result of commitment, not the possibility of it.

Good romance stories, in my opinion, have the reader fully engaged in the feelings of the couple long before they figure it out themselves. I didn’t know there was a term for this.

Oh, this is why I write fiction!

I can get emotionally involved in the romance of characters without actually getting emotionally involved! And that’s what we want as writers, we want our readers to push our awkward heroine into the arms of the tall, dark stranger who happens to have a soft spot for kittens.

Shipping: 14 Ways To Develop Romance In Your Story

Let’s just put a caveat out there: I’m assuming that this romance that you’re writing is the journey of two people who fall in love and decide they can’t live without the other. If you’re writing the kind of book that, ahem, is only interested in the physical rewards of a relationship, without the nuance, the subtext, and the mature emotional growth, then you don’t need any help. You just need a Barry White soundtrack.

If you’re interested in something more story-like, more journeyed, and more character-driven romance, keep reading!

But how do we do this? How do we “ship” our characters? Can we toy with the feelings of our readers enough that they are rooting for the couple long before the couple is rooting for themselves? How do we pace this romance in such a way that our readers want to see what happens next?

The following suggestions are only that, suggestions. Perhaps you can use a couple to more couple your couple.

Put them together. If they are going to fall in love, then they need to be in each other’s company, in a variety of settings. Maybe the settings could be more formal, intentional dates. But maybe, they wouldn’t have to be. Maybe they work together, or maybe they are neighbors. I think the best stories of true love have a lot of conversation. Now, your reader may not need to read every bit of it, but you can’t build a foundation of a relationship if they never spend time together. As sweet as Sleepless In Seattle was, it kind of drove me crazy that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan weren’t in the same room together until the very, very end.

Go slowly. No matter how you feel about “love at first sight,” it can feel forced in writing. It may be better for one character to have some sort of emotional response to the other — and it doesn’t have to be a positive one. He accidentally trips her and she calls him a jerk. She gets his coffee order wrong and he snaps at her, not because he’s a big meanie, but because he just lost his job. This emotional response, positive or negative, is the spark. Something needs to be ignited at that point.

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Show that they like being together. Now, there is probably going to be that tease factor — where she picks on him and he picks on her. They do kind of need to annoy one another. But deep, deep down, they like having the other person around. And it may be that they don’t know why. I’m not convinced that you need to figure it all out completely either — it could be that he’s that stable male figure she’s been longing for. It could be that she’s got a quality or skill that reminds him of his mother.

Make them need each other for practical things. Now we all need each other. We need our cars repaired, we need our taxes done, we need our trash picked up. Perhaps your characters could have occupations that provide legitimate, non-erotic services that would benefit the other. I say this, but I have seen way, way too many stories about a young, probably awkward and klutzy woman who just bought the inn/B&B/old house/coffee shop and is dependent on the boyishly good-looking contractor/handyman/plumber who is charmingly annoying. If you want your romance to stand out, be creative with your occupational choices for your characters. Need ideas? Try looking here. 

Demonstrate how confused they are. Our hero and our heroine need to be in conflict between their reason and their heart. Your reader needs to see this. She says she doesn’t like him or care about him, but that’s not what her actions show. He says that she is nothing special, but he lights up when she comes in a room. Friends may ask them about their googly eyes, and this is when they deny everything. You could have them lose sleep, have trouble eating, or find themselves distracted.

Give them a chorus to argue with. You hero and your heroine need to spout off about each other to someone. They need coworkers, BFFs, a sympathetic sister, a nosy aunt, someone, that they can talk about their love interest with. Of course, the friends see this relationship blooming more clearly than our hero and heroine do. These friends will have the job to give warnings, remind them of other decisions, tease them, manipulate the circumstances, and perhaps create conflict. The more complicated you make the supporting characters, the more drama you can create, and this is a good thing. Make sure these character and their motivations are well understood by your reader.

Create a pursuit. It could also be that one of them has more interest than the other. There should be decisive action by one to get the attention of the other. If you are going to tease the reader, you need to take your time with this. One of your main objectives is convincing your reader that they will get together, and the matter of when will keep them turning pages. In the pursuit, the pursuer needs to make some big mistakes. The pursuee should be offended, insulted or ignorant. Don’t make this easy. Put as many obstacles as you can in the path of the pursuer. But, don’t go so far as to discourage your readers or make your pursuer look like a weirdo. (Unless that’s your intention, which means you may be writing an entirely different genre altogether.)

Give them a clarifying moment when all could be lost. Your hero finds out that he’s being transferred to Poughkeepsie. Your heroine calls her local convent to ask if there’s an opening. The Ex shows up and wants to reconcile. You need to create a moment, I think late in the second act, in which it really looks like a permanent move is going to made by either one. What will happen next is critical.

Your hero and heroine realize that there are legitimate feelings here. Someone will have to make a dramatic move — either confess your feelings for this love interest of yours or lose them forever. Oh, this should be awkward, cringe-worthy and blubbering, but it must be done. This is the moment if you’ve been building this up all along, that your readers have been waiting for. Possibly, this is the moment that all of the friends have been hoping for. This is the moment in which they acknowledge to each other that they love each other.  And then? A permanent decision has to be made — you get to decide what that is.

Keep their actions and their analysis consistent. If you want him to be introverted, kind of geeky and OCD-ish, he may be much better at following directions than improvising. If you want her to be an extrovert, lively and free-spirited woman, then don’t make her too analytical about his intentions. The best way to create believable reactions in romance is to have thoroughly drawn characters. You need to really know them so that they are convincing.

“We are all fools in love”
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Make him want to “rescue” her. Please don’t think that I’m trying to stir the pot in 21st-century culture. But I believe that deep, deep down, a man in love wants to “rescue” the woman he admires. Back in the day, that rescue could have been from a dragon, starvation, the plague, or various Barbarians. But your tough-as-nails, feminist heroine is not perfect. Or at least she shouldn’t be. She needs to have weaknesses and make mistakes.

This is where your hero comes in. He needs to do something, big or small, that helps her out. We all need help from each other and this couple will need each other too. I think the best way to ship this is to create two or three of exchanges in which he “saves the day” for her. Make the first one an accident, but then make the next more deliberate. This will get her attention. She’ll be grateful. And if you really are going to put them together, then have her express her gratitude to him. Your readers will eat that with a spoon!

Make her want to get his opinion. A woman’s heart goes to the one she respects. He has a point-of-view on a particular issue — it could be something simple, like how to plant daisies. It could be something complex, like the US’s relationship with Sweden, but regardless, he has to have opinions that she respects. And she’ll seek it out. His viewpoint will be elevated above all other viewpoints in her mind. She may not do this deliberately, but she’ll do it just the same. Again, I’m not trying to appear to be overly Puritan, but he will need encouragement to pursue her. The best way for her to encourage him is to express respect or admiration. Make her see him as a hero. Your readers will too!

“The best love is the kind that awakens the soul and makes us reach for more, that plants a fire in our hearts and brings peace to our minds. And that’s what you’ve given me. That’s what I’d hoped to give you forever”
Nicholas Sparks

Make them both want to improve for the other one. She attempts competency, intelligence, or sophistication to get his attention. She may not even realize she’s doing this. All of a sudden his opinion of her matters and she can’t explain it. He has standards in something that she thinks is beyond her. She may sense this most acutely when some other girl is better than she is at something. Our heroine may find herself reacting to this emotionally. This reaction, of course, is noticed by her friends and the reader. This is so shippy, you’re going to have to call the harbormaster.

Make him willing to be uncomfortable for her sake. This is where the seeds of true love germinate: when we are willing to put down our own desires for the benefit of someone else. He may not even realize he’s doing it. Or he may deliberately choose to be uncomfortable for her sake. If you want to plot a developing relationship, brainstorm for ways that he would sacrifice for her. Start small, in subtle ways that he doesn’t know about. Then move to the bigger things. This list could be a great outline for you. Even if you aren’t writing from his point of view, having him do this, and then have others notice, especially your reader, will ship this like crazy.

Consider making them both cowards. They both have to be afraid of dealing with the issue. Even if they are brave in every other area of their lives, they need to be fearful of rejection. I think that a reader who recognizes this cowardice will identify with it. I also think that your reader could cheer on a character who kind of freaks out about the possibility of romance. Now, this will only work if it’s consistent with your character’s personality. I’m going to bet though, that of all the couples you know, one of the pair is the neurotic one. I saw my husband’s when I looked in the mirror this morning.

Admittedly, all romance stories are unique.Or at least the good ones are.

I believe that the uniqueness can come in the setting or the quirks of the characters. But the story of romance itself is an old one. It’s a literal or figurative dance between two people who balance each other out and eventually get on each other’s nerves.

If you’re a romance writer, maybe this little list will help you and those crazy kids you have falling in love.

There’s no ship like a relationship!


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

 

13 More Mistakes You Could Make When Creating Narrative Voice

 

Who is telling your story anyway? What is the point of view?

You’ve had a story in your mind for weeks.

Maybe you’ve twisted it, pounded it and cut it to pieces. You’ve already made many decisions on how it is to be told. But, have you put thought into the narrative voice?

The narrative voice is the voice of the point of view character that tells the story. With a well-drawn point of view character, a story can be rich and interesting. You want to take the time to get this right.

But be careful, many novelists make big mistakes in creating that narrative voice.

Last week, I blogged about 12 big mistakes that you can make in creating a narrative voice. This week? I have thirteen more potential mistakes. Never fear, there are plenty of ways avoid them.

13 More Mistakes You Could Make When Creating Narrative Voice

You may make your character sound too much like you. Many new writers create these characters that are really ideal images of themselves. They have few flaws and are a little too perfect. The words these characters say sound suspiciously similar to those that the author would say. Ask a reader who knows you well to evaluate if you’re putting way too much of you in your narrative voice.

You may get the gender wrong. In broad, sweeping, general strokes, men react differently to situations than women. Of course, there are exceptions — so if you are writing in the opposite gender, make sure your voice is authentic. As much as I liked A Fault In Our Stars,  I thought John Green could have made his teenage girl worry a little more about her appearance. Teen girls do that.

You may make them all strength and no weakness. Authentic, three-dimensional characters are those that feel real. Don’t be afraid to have your character make mistakes, offend another character or fail. Potentially, a balance of strengths and weaknesses will endear your character to your reader. They’ll identify with them more strongly and want to see them through to the end.

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You may get the tone wrong for the genre. Are you new to the genre you’re writing? Make sure you’ve read a few books in it. Specific genres have tones that readers expect. You don’t want your hero in your thriller to be too flippant or sensitive. You don’t want your romantic comedy to be bleak and morbid. Study the genre and shape your narrator accordingly.

You may sound too much like your favorite author. While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, in your own work, your own voice is critical. You develop a voice, both your own and your narrator’s, through practice. Write as much as you can and read as much as you can from a variety of authors to find words that are uniquely yours.

Your prose may be a touch too purple. Even if your character is a boa-wearing, poodle-holding, cigarette holder-clutching, frosted blonde, middle-aged, has-been diva, don’t overdo the descriptions, observations , and meanderings. Your first goal should be clarity. Simple writing, light on the adjectives and adverbs, will make your narrative voice stronger.

When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”
Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

You may sound dated. Fiction has trends just like everything else. The common narrative voice of most chick lit in the ’90s has a distinct sound that you may not want to replicate in your chick lit book. Read and study the current books in your genre so that you can know what is expected. If you read only older fiction, your voice could be unappealing.

Your sentences may not be varying enough. Shorter sentences are quick and denote action. Longer sentences take their time and are good for description and observation. Make sure in your prose that your narrator has a variety of sentence lengths to add interest.

You may have forgotten the sensory experiences of your character. What your character sees, tastes, touches, hears and smells is all important to the narration. By adding these experiences, you are reinforcing your setting and creating a potential for conflict. Sensory description can make your story come alive. Don’t neglect it.

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You may be too shocking. Writing fiction is art and art can be anything, but if you purposefully intent to shock and offend with graphic profanity, violence, or anything else that may make readers uncomfortable, especially in the beginning, you may find you will lose interest early. It’s better to use the narrative voice to ease them into the story and save more shocking narration for the moments that you need it.

You may be too sexy. This problem could fall into the too shocking argument. In writing romance, I’d suggest that more provocative talk escalate organically. Admittedly, I’m not a reader nor a writer of steamy romance, so I may have this all wrong. But in my humble opinion, your narrative voice needs an arc. By seducing your reader too soon, you’ll have nothing to woo them with in later acts.

“I will go to my grave in a state of abject endless fascination that we all have the capacity to become emotionally involved with a personality that doesn’t exist.”
Berkeley Breathed

You may not react enough during the inciting incident. Structurally speaking, something big needs to happen in the first few pages to get the story moving. Your narrator interprets this event and must make decisions regarding it. Make sure that their reaction handles the situation plausibly so that the reader wants to follow them on their adventure.

You may not be interesting enough and the reader doesn’t care. This is a hard one to fix. The narrative voice must come from a well-developed character. The more you work on your characters depth, the more it will show in your narration. Take the time to make your characters rich and three-dimensional.

The best narrative voices come from well-drawn characters.

The more time you spend in every aspect of your character’s life, the potentially richer your narrative voice could be. Who knows? Maybe you’ll wind up with a Jane Eyre or a David Copperfield?


If you liked this post, consider reading these about character development:

7 Defense Mechanisms You Could Give To Your Character or, 5 Super Powers & 5 Sources of Kryptonite for Abused Characters


 

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

The 9 Things Your Main Character Needs From You

Character development is one of my favorite things to do when I’m cooking up a new story.

With the development of character, it’s like I’m meeting a new friend who trusts me enough to send me on an adventure. I need my character badly for, without him or her, I don’t have a voice for my story. But my character needs me too. I have the necessities to make them come alive.

These are the nine things my main character needs from me.

A name.

This is obvious, and you can spend a lot of time looking at name meanings and overthink it to the point of ridicule, or you can call your main character Binky and be done with it. If you’re going to give a character a name, make sure that it has a distinct look and sound from the other character names (this is where I make the obligatory grumble to J.R.R. Tolkien for his choices with Sauron/Sauramon.) You also want to make sure that your name is appropriate to the setting. Make sure that it doesn’t have such a freaky spelling that your readers stumble over it. You want to make sure that there aren’t any cultural connotations with it, for example, the name Hillary. 

A general physical appearance, but not a laundry list.

Maybe I’m just lazy and impatient, but I usually skim over an author’s detailed account of their main character. I don’t care about how wide apart their eyes are, their aquiline nose, the ruddiness of their cheeks or that their hair is the red like copper, but not red like the sauce on my taco. I’m of the belief (and it’s because I’m so guilty of this) that the reader creates a mental image of the character in his own way regardless of what the author says. So unless your main character is a hobbit, and it better not be, keep your detailed description to yourself.

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”
Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

An archetype.

Before you get all huffy about how archetypes are really just three steps away from a cliche’, let me explain: an archetype is a predictable and recognizable role that your character will play in the story. Example are the mentor, the waif, the professor, the crusader, the swashbuckler, the free spirit, the nurturer. And if you use these archetypes as a foundation for the purpose of your characters, then you’ll better understand what they do in the story and how they relate to the plot as well as the other characters. They will only slip into cliche’ if you choose not to fill them with an interesting backstory, quirks, secrets, fears and mutually exclusive desires.

A family — even if they are all dead.

Even if you rarely mention them. Your character has to have come from somewhere. You will need to understand their family history well, especially if they have tragedy and dysfunction. And really, what’s the point of having a story at all if you can’t give them tragedy and dysfunction? Take the time to sketch out your characters parents, siblings and any other important family members. They have certainly shaped him or her. You need to understand that well. Consider how parents’ afflictions affect their children. Don’t forget birth order. Throw in some poverty for fun.

A skill set.

Everybody can do something. In fact, if your character is really good at one thing, they will be respected by your reader, at least in this area. The only exception to this rule could be children who haven’t grown into them. Before you figure it all out for your character, think about what life skills they rock at. Think about professional skills. What about languages they speak? Their animal whispering, their ability to make the perfect omelet? Think about oddities, like they can pop their shoulder out of its socket. Or maybe they can read minds. Your author’s skill set will distinguish him, so choose well.

“Never annoy an inspirational author or you will become the poison in her pen and the villain in every one of her books.”
Shannon L. Alder

A quirk.

A quirk is something particularly unusual and not necessarily a skill. It could be a dairy allergy or an obsession with border collies. A quirk could be an eccentricity or a lack of eyebrows. By adding a quirk to your characters, you make them more three-dimensional but choose carefully. You don’t want the quirkiness of the quirk to overpower everything else in the story. The quirk, as fun as it is, isn’t enough to make a full character. Choose one that plays nicely with the other characteristics of your character and may even add to the plot.

A lie.

This lie is not something necessarily that they KNOW is a lie. It’s something that they believe that turns out to be false. In the best books it’s the discovery of this lie, about halfway in, that changes the trajectory of the story for our hero. I think the best lies are those that have set the character out on the original quest. He’s seeking his objectives under a solid assumption, then the floor falls out from under him and he discovers he was deceived all along. Oh, if you do this well, your readers will EAT THIS UP!


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A fear.

Now bear with me on this. You don’t want something benign, like a fear of butterflies, you want something that’s really identifiable, like a fear of abandonment, a fear of humiliation, a fear of losing control, a fear of rejection. It’s this fear that’s going to cause your main character to make some serious mistakes, like alienating people or forgetting their big purpose. Everybody has these kinds of fears, even if they don’t realize it. A character’s deepest fear can be the motivation that’s driving them to make the choices that they do. As you’re working on your plot, consider what would happen if their deepest fear was actually realized!

A way to process information.

This is really important. Is your character someone who takes everything literally and for face value? Or is your character someone who can read between the lines, who picks up nuance? Does your character have empathy for others who may or may not get this information? Or does your character hoard information for himself and refuse to share? Is your main character scatterbrained? Impulsive? Indecisive? Inflexible? It’s this type of distinction that can really make your character become real to your readers. Take your time on this one — and consider making your character as different from you as possible!

If you give your character all of these nine things, and you sculpt this out with care and thoughtfulness, you’ll have created someone interesting and worth reading about.


Need help with characters? You may also like,

Five Character Types That Make Great Antagonistic Forces or

7 Defense Mechanisms You Could Give To Your Character


 

 

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

12 Mistakes You Could Make When Creating Narrative Voice

 

Narrative voice is the voice of the narrator in a story.

Every novel, especially those written in the first person, tells the story from a specific point of view.  If you’ve chosen a point of view for your story that is specific, you may find that it is complicated and difficult to keep the story only to their viewpoint. If done well, your narrative voice draws the reader into the story. The details of the thoughts and dialogue work together to make the narrator a sympathetic or likable character.

But if the narrative voice is put together thoughtlessly, your reader may bore quickly, dismiss the narrator and possibly discard your book.

Here are 12 Mistakes You Could Be Making When Creating Narrative Voice

12 Mistakes You Could Be Making When Creating Narrative Voice

You may get the age wrong. If you are writing from the point of view of a teenager or a child, you may be tempted to make them sound too much like an adult. Even if you know precocious children, make an effort to listen to kids that age to fit their words to their age.

You may get the dialect wrong. Within certain parts of the country, certain idiosyncrasies come out in speech. You can play around with this, generally, without too much trouble. But if you’re going to lay your “y’all” on thick, or throw in a few “fogettaboutits,” you may want to consult someone who grew up in that area.

You may be too committed to standard English rules. Dialogue is messy. People rarely speak in grammatically correct ways. If you keep your dialogue to precise, well-written sentences, your characters will be stiff and dull. If there’s anywhere to get away with breaking the rules of grammar, it’s in dialogue. Have fun with it.

“I am not an angel,’ I asserted; ‘and I will not be one till I die: I will be myself. Mr. Rochester, you must neither expect nor exact anything celestial of me – for you will not get it, any more than I shall get it of you: which I do not at all anticipate.”
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

You may have too much interior dialogue. Interior dialogue is a lot like backstory. Authors think they need it and readers skip over it. Mark up every place that you have interior dialogue and cut as much out of it as you can. Limit it to questions only. Or omit altogether and see if it’s missed at all.

You may make all your characters sound the same. Your characters should sound distinctive. Ideally, you can remove all of the dialogue tags from the draft and tell who says what. Even if it’s not that obvious, you can add individuality by adding catch phrases, stuttering, repetition, whining, commands, excuses, or one-liners.

A specific narrative voice can enhance the meaning and telling of the story.

You may have the time wrong. I am not a historical fiction writer for one reason: I don’t like research. But if you choose to write in a specific time period, you must be sure that your character speaks like they would then. Teen girls from the 1920s didn’t say, “Awesome!” If you take the trouble to find out what they did say, your dialogue will be interesting and authentic.

“Which of us has not felt that the character we are reading in the printed page is more real than the person standing beside us?”
Cornelia Funke

You may put in your own cultural preferences. Because I am a middle-aged white woman, living in New England in the 21st century, I run the risk of making all my characters sound like middle-aged white women living in New England in the 21st century. To make my dialogue sound authentic, I need to consider the culture, education, and status of my characters. These are certainly revealed in dialogue, so they should be correct.

You may make feisty unlikeable. One of the problems with reading dialogue is that we can’t accurately communicate tone or inflection. What may sound feisty and flirty to you could come across as crabby and unlikeable. This can put a distance between you and your reader. Ask your beta readers if they interpret your dialogue in any way other than what you intended. And then fix it!

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You may tell the reader too much too soon. Heaven help the writer who fills their dialogue with too much exposition! While you do want to be clear, and you do want your reader to know what’s going on, it’s hard to write exposition. I suggest you make your reader work for the important information. Assume your reader can fill in the blanks. If you scale way back, you can always add. Your beta readers can help you if you have gaps that need to be filled.

“There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil, a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome.”
“And your defect is a propensity to hate everybody.”
“And yours,” he replied with a smile, “is willfully to misunderstand them.”
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

You may have too much pondering. This is similar to interior monologuing, but pondering raises the bar on navel-gazing. A character who does too much of this can be boring, monotonous, and come across as a whiner. Your narrator’s deep ponderings should only be expressed if this is really critical to the plot. It’s far better to have not enough of this than too much.

You may take your reader down too many rabbit trails. While it is likely that your character is deficient in attention, too much stream of consciousness can be a turn-off. The world already has a Virginia Woolf. Consider whacking some of those tangential thoughts down into the briefest of distractions. Your reader will appreciate it.

You may reveal emotions that should be saved for later. Hopefully, you plan in the great scheme of your story to have your character grow and change. Their emotional state should grow too, this means that in their narration, they should intensify at a reasonable, steady rate. The last big climactic moment, about 2/3 in, is where the pinnacle of your character’s emotions are expressed. Too soon before that and you’ll have nowhere to go.

To have a strong narrative voice, you must practice. Write, write and rewrite.

The result of your hard work could be a Scout Finch or a Nick Carroway — two prominent voices in literature who uniqueness told unforgettable stories.


If you liked this post on narrative voice, you may also like:

Top 10 Things To Give Your Characters That Will Make Them More Vivid or, 7 Defense Mechanisms You Could Give To Your Character


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Fall In Love With Your Characters So Your Readers Will Too

By Jessica White

One of my favorite parts of writing is creating characters.

As a reader nothing makes me fall into a story faster than falling in love with a character.  It’s like meeting a new neighbor or making a new friend.  Even the antagonists are interesting to meet from the safety of my mind.   I love watching them grow in depth and complexity, learning their quirks, hobbies, backstories, and what makes them tick.  You can tell the exact same plot line from a million points of view, and each time it will be a different story, because each character will make different decisions.

For many writers, a character begins a bit preconceived. 

You’ll know something distinct about how they look, their gender, age, and maybe one or two characteristics about them.  That first glimpse is the same information you’d get saying hello to the cashier at the supermarket or the lady waiting next to you in line.  In real life, we know that in that brief encounter we can only make assumptions about who they are from what they’re wearing or how they speak. Yet that is often all we give the reader to go on when we don’t dig deeper into getting to know our characters

So how do you get to know your character better? 

That’s a hard question to answer.  The process is so unique to every author but ask yourself, “How do I like to get to know the people around me?”  For me that process is talking.  I talk to my characters. I often find asking the right question gets me very insightful answers.  For other writers it will be sticking their new characters in situations to see how they react and how they make decisions. For others it will be a bit of both.  The important part is identifying when you’ve developed a great character, and you’ll know that when you fall in love. 

What makes us attracted to people in real life is also what attracts us to great characters.
We like people that we can identify with and people that inspire us to be better people. In author speak…they have to be relatable.

First, they have to have weaknesses, flaws, and quirks.

Making Your Characters Memorable

Comic books are making a comeback in the TV market.

As I’ve watched all these beloved old characters be brought fresh into the 21st century I’ve noticed what I love about them is their non-superhero side.  Yep, it is Clark Kent (Superman) at the newspaper fumbling papers and not so perfectly in control. It’s Barry Allen (the Flash) struggling with the fact his father is wrongly incarcerated.  I can relate to feeling clumsy and frustrated by injustice.  I want them to succeed, because they also have a unique gift they can use to do good.  If we are realistic with ourselves, we all have that inner power to do good, pursue justice, and even attain greatness, but because it isn’t a superpower, we don’t always see it.  So watching superheroes do amazing things make us a little braver, too.

As a writer, it is easy to get to know our characters’ strengths, but it is often their weaknesses that the reader identifies with first. 

The reader needs each character to have flaws and quirks that they can relate to.  Often that is in direct opposition to the characters’ giftings.  The fact that the Flash could extract his father from prison without getting caught is half the internal conflict.  The other half is his desire to do good with his powers versus those who would do evil with theirs. 

cab JW

Second, they have to have a backstory

Unless the character is there in the background for necessity like the maid leaving the hotel room two doors down, one cameo and no speaking lines, your character needs some kind of identity and that requires a bit of backstory. The more you know about every character the more real your world and interactions will be.  Not only that but you can get some really awesome chemistry when you add the minor characters like the taxi driver that’s having a bad day or the lady sitting nervously in the waiting room of the doctor’s office if you take just a moment to let them express themselves. 

In my own book, there is a nun who is always cooking in the kitchen.  She has no lines, but she is identified as Sister Monica.  Now my readers never hear her backstory, they never see anything other than a general attitude and a few gestures.  But when I see her, I see this woman raised in Spain who came to America as a teen and joined the convent to escape the tenements and a life of working in the textile factories of New York.  She never learned English so she doesn’t speak much, but she listens. This comes out in her character’s mannerisms.  After one of the character’s mother dies, she teaches him to cook, because she too lost her mother and had to take over household responsibilities and understands how important food is to family.  She puts love into her cooking and it shows in how she lets him taste her soups and makes his sandwiches just the way he likes. While the reader may never glean the depths it’s there behind every description of every action.

You may think creating backstory is hard, but really it is saying what makes them who they are? 

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Third, they have to be real.

When was the last time you met a perfect person?  I’m sure you can say some model has a perfect body or hair, but really no one is perfect, and those pretending to be are obnoxious. So why do so many writers let their characters be perfect?  They have no physical flaws, always make the right decision, always have the right attitude for the situation.  Whenever I’m working with a new character who is still putting on a front, I always think of Ms. Frizzle’s quote, “Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy.” In the best scenes all three happen.  What happens when this character is asked to take a risk?  How do they respond to failure? When life gets messy, how do they handle (or not handle) it? 

This is a great exercise for leading characters, but authors often fail to do the same for secondary and tertiary characters. Often you end up with cookie cutter sidekicks, best friends, or servants.  For instance, the ideal butler answers the door, bids the person welcome to wait in the adjoining room while taking their hat and coat.  That’s fine, but the reader is going to gloss right over them.  If you want a reader to take note, have six-foot tall Frankenstein-ish, Lurch (Addam’s Family) answer with, ‘You rang.’ Immediately, they know something about the butler and the family who lives in the house.

Making Your Characters Memorable

Secondary and tertiary characters can set a tone and evoke an emotion in the reader by simply the way they appear, act, and speak.  A mousy old man with a limp in his step and a gentle smile, says that he’s been kept around long past his prime. A broad-shouldered woman with her hair tightly pulled back from her face whose words are snippy, gives the reader an immediate unease and a desire to not pass the threshold. 

So look at your character list and find one you don’t love.

  It could be the boring typical sidekick who adds no depth to the story, a whiney antagonist who doesn’t have a backstory  or the one-dimensional hero who needs more depth.  Pick one and spend ten minutes getting to know them better, who knows it might be love at first sight.


Jessica White
Jessica White

Jessica White is an admin for the 10 Minute Novelists Facebook group. Her book Surviving the Stillness came out last year. She blogs at https://authorjessicawhite.wordpress.com

Five Character Types That Make Great Antagonistic Forces

The protagonist pushes forward, but the antagonistic force pushes back.

An antagonistic force is a person in your story who is opposing your protagonist, either in small, accidental ways or in big obvious ones.

Because of the contrast and the potential for great conflict, you want to develop your antagonist as richly as you do your main character. These four destructive character types could make your antagonist richer and even more realistic.

Five Character Types That Make Great Antagonistic Forces

 

 

Little Miss Victim: Their life is so, so hard.

This person has mastered the art of getting others to do their work for them. They may not even realize that they are their own worst enemy. In fiction, this could be a puppy-eyed waif who has a constant look of want. This person could also be an arthritic ailing aunt who will remind you constantly of her troubles and how she really can’t do anything without help.

What makes them a good antagonistic force?

These types are resistant to change, especially if the change requires something radical on their end. They also refuse to take responsibility for their own state, so this can be a point of annoyance and resistance to the protagonist. They often can’t be trusted because their own interpretation of reality is so skewed. They may be passive to a fault, lazy beyond imagination, and manipulative. They really don’t want to do anything at all to help themselves so they have an armory of tactics that they use to get others to do their work for them. They may also be incredibly charming or attractive and they know it.

These type make life miserable for your main character, and that's exactly the point.

The Secret Sabotager:  Life isn’t fair, so it’s time to even the score!

This person is full of secret resentments and bitterness. They also see themselves as victims, but instead of being passive about it, these little devils deliberately manipulate circumstances to get others to fail.

What makes them a good antagonistic force? Their deviousness!

They could feign innocence when they get the coffee order wrong. They could “accidentally” misplace something important. They often come up with the cleverest lies and they do it so well that they’re actually believed. They also fight back against any kind of accountability. They despise authority figures. And they may talk a great game about how dependable they are, but they pretty much only do what they feel like will be the most advantageous to them.

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The Self-Important Martyr: No one else can do it like they can!

 This person is definitely a hard worker, but they know it. They push the expectations of themselves and of others too far, so they often slip into micromanaging details. They have control issues, big time. And they can’t allow anyone to have credit in what happens in the office, or at the church event, or at the family Thanksgiving table.

What makes them a good antagonistic force?

They complain about everyone’s lack of contribution. Want a good conflict? Put a self-important martyr and a little miss victim in the same room. The martyr will go on and on about how they are the only one to work while the helpless waif just sits there. Even if our martyr has offers from others, he/she may have such ridiculously high standards that they lose the help they want. “It’s just easier to do it myself,” they often wail. Yet they may also say, “if it weren’t for me this whole place would fall apart.” When you set up your protagonist’s goals, the martyr will be the one who micromanages them and wants to take them over.

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The Storyteller: “Guess what happened to me last night?”

This person is all about the entertainment. They long to be the center of attention at all times. They will interrupt to say what’s on their mind. They may not have a filter — so they could be inappropriate and loud. They have little regard for tasks or others’ time commitments, so they make people late with their stories. They may even have an exaggerated perspective on what a good story is.

What makes them a good antagonistic force?

Even though they don’t realize it, they can slow the protagonist down with their constant anecdotes and attention-seeking. If your protagonist is on a deadline, or the stakes are high, your storyteller could block them from getting things done. If they are corrected, the storyteller may get defensive.

Storytellers also like drama — so if they can gossip, divide allegiances, reveal secrets, start rumors or make insinuating suggestions all the better. They could be maliciously aware of what they are doing or, they may be completely innocent.

The Psychopathic Bully: This could be the most obvious and the most fun antagonistic type to write.

But the danger in writing them is that you can slip into cliche'and we really don’t need another Mean Girl, do we? This character is above the rules — whatever rules you’ve placed in your setting. And could even mean rules of morality. Yikes. We’re talking psychopath here and done well, they are the most fun to read about.

What makes them a good antagonistic force?

A true psychopath has no empathy for anyone. That means that there is little or no mental acknowledgment of suffering, pain, inconvenience or offense. A psychopath doesn’t care who he hurts or how. He/she is not the least bit intimidated by repercussions, in this life or the life to come. And if they show restraint, say, they choose not to do something violent or destructive, then it’s because they are just biding their time. The psychopath could easily be all of the above antagonistic types simultaneously. They agenda that they have, they will fully believe, is completely justified and they will stop at nothing to get what they want.

I’ve met every one of these character types in real life and I bet you have too.

Consider using them, without slipping too much into exaggeration, for your next antagonist.

They’ll make life miserable for your main character, and that’s exactly the point.


If you liked this post about antagonists, you may also like: 

Eighteen Ways To Write An Emotionally Abusive Villain

Or, 

Top 10 Questions To Ask About Authority Figures That Could Beef Up Your Conflict


 


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

16 Questions About Body Language & Appearance For Your Character

 

You’re an author, so your job is to fully communicate what your main character are thinking, doing, or even hiding.

Often you can do this in the way that you describe their body language.

In your first scene, your main character, Roy, might have just gotten his car stolen from someone he trusted. He’s going to show this in the way he stands and holds his duffle bag of clothes. Later, when he’s flirting with a cute girl in the Wal-Mart parking lot, he stands a different way entirely. He may offer her a piece of chewing gum in such a way that it feels more like a proposition. Hopefully, in the description of Roy and his antics, you can tell the reader far more more about him that what he’s letting on.

16 Questions To Ask About A Character's Appearance and Body Language

These 16 questions can help you determine if your character has something to communicate through their body actions in a scene.

Some of them could change with the action of the character. But some of these, that are a part of your character’s appearance, could communicate significance too.

These questions are not meant to be used all at once. Instead, use them for inspiration.

1. How does your character sit when no one is looking? Is your character conscious of how they sit? Are they going for comfort or for dignity? Do they scratch?

2. What makes their walk distinctive? Are they graceful or clumsy? Do they walk with a limp? Are they in pain? Do they walk on the tips of their toes? Do they clunk along?

3. When they talk, where do they usually put their hands? Hands in pockets could be a sign of insecurity. Playing with hair is a sign of flirting. Picking cuticles could be nerves or stress.

“I don’t mind making jokes, but I don’t want to look like one.”
Marilyn Monroe

4. Does their hair get in the way of their eyes? Do they touch it often? Women often touch their hair unconsciously when they want to get the attention of a man.

5. Does your character have any nervous tics, like popping knuckles or picking cuticles? What do they do when the cuticles bleed? Do they bite their fingernails or fidget?

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6. Would your character be strong in a particular area, say their legs or upper arms? Do they have a history of fitness? Do they walk or run much? Will this fitness play a role in the story later?

7. Does your character smile easily? Why or why not? What is it that makes them smile? Are they self conscious about anything regarding their smile, like their braces or yellow teeth? Do they ever bite their lips or fidget with cracked lips?

“Gussie, a glutton for punishment, stared at himself in the mirror.”
P.G. Wodehouse

8. When your character is bored, how do they hold themselves? Where do they put their eyes? What makes them bored? What do they do when they are irritated?

9. Are your character’s true emotions visible on their countenance? Or can they hide it well?

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10. Do your characters hands have callouses? Brittle nails? Does your character spend time keeping nails a uniform length or do they not care? Do they get manicures? Does their livelihood have anything to do with their hands?

11. Are there any visible scars that have a story for your character? Were there childhood accidents that can be explained? Abuse? Last month’s bar fight?

“Appearance matters a great deal because you can often tell a lot about people by looking at how they present themselves.”
Lemony Snicket, The Miserable Mill

12. Are there any tattoos that have a story for your character? Are the tattoos a whimsical decision or one well thought out? Does your character have a specific look they are after?

13. Does your character’s self-perception of their body make a difference? Is your character insecure about anything? Do they suck in their gut around the opposite sex? What do they hate when they look in the mirror? Do they love something specific? What do they wish they could change?

14. When your character is with others, do they stand with open arms, receiving others, or do they close up to reject others? Is your character a hugger? Do they have a problem with certain kinds of touching? Do they ever overdo it?

“Posture is Paramount.”
Cindy Ann Peterson, My Style, My Way: Top Experts Reveal How to Create Yours Today

15.  Is your character’s coloring — their hair, and skin color — significant to the story? Do they sunburn easily? Do they look like a particular nationality or race? Are they ever mistaken for another? Is their hair color authentic? Why or why not? Are they trying to look younger or older?

16. Are the cares of life evident on your character’s face? Are they wrinkled? Do they have the pale skin or the wrinkled lips of a smoker? Do they have worry lines or laugh lines? Freckles? Blemishes? Unruly eyebrows?

Your characters should be rich and dynamic creations that your readers fall in love with.

Consider these questions when creating their appearance and determining their body language. Through their appearance, they can help tell a great story.


Did you like this post? You may also like:

5 Super Powers & 5 Sources of Kryptonite for Abused Characters

Or, Top 10 Things To Give Your Characters That Will Make Them More Vivid


 

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

7 Defense Mechanisms You Could Give To Your Character

You’ve picked out your character’s eye color, hair color, and favorite ice cream.

You have even chosen their personality type, their deep dark secret, and deepest fear. You certainly haven’t ignored their greatest desire and figured out how their objective in the story works with, or against, this desire.

So have you thought about adding a few defense mechanisms?

7 Defense Mechanisms You Could Give To Your Character

A defense mechanism is a way that we handle stress.

Defense mechanisms are often involuntary and can be seen as a form of self-deception. Your main character needs one or two because he shouldn’t be perfect. They should have a reason that they react to certain situations certain ways. They also could have been taught how to do this in their dysfunctional childhood.

A defense mechanism is often a subtle nod to the past, a protective strategy or a bad habit. It could even be a lie that they have built their life on.

Your character should see this behavior as normal. Once you’ve decided what mechanism your character is going to use, then put them in a position where it will not work. He will have to make a tough choice as to what to do next. This could freak him out completely. Let’s all pull the rug out from under our characters.

DENIAL

Denial is probably the most common of self-deceptions. People just can’t admit the truth about their situation. “I can stop drinking anytime I want.” “I don’t have to tell her every day that I love her, she just knows.” People use this device because they are afraid of admitting that they are in the wrong. They also fear change, because if they fully understood what they were doing, they’d have to take responsibility for their actions. Those who deny are seeking comfort in the short term because they don’t want to deal with the future. Denial can be deadly, it can alienate relationships, it can cause disaster. Your main character should deny something but then come to a place where he has to face reality. This can set him on a series of uncomfortable changes that could be good for him.

INTELLECTUALIZATION

Intellectualization is kind of like denial, but it’s the logical justification for an event that allows the feeler to deny all emotions. People who are typically colder or less sensitive may react to bad news with no expression. They may be matter-of-fact about the event and appear to everyone to have complete control of their emotions. But they don’t. They may speak about logic, “there’s not much we can do about it now.” But then, something else will happen that will pull the plug on their emotions and they will reveal how painful they find the circumstances. Their emotions at this point could be very intense because they’ve kept it inside for a long time.

REPRESSION

Repression is another thing that people do to themselves. To repress is to forget a negative experience and to not deal with the pain and sorrow of it. People who repress their memories of bad experiences are afraid. They don’t want to relive the experience to be free from the emotional consequences of it. They also may want to avoid any responsibility that they may have. If you have a character who is repressing something significant, have them remember! Then spend the rest of the book wrestling with the fallout from this memory. Repression can stall personal growth, it can subconsciously force someone to self-sabotage their plans or activities.

RATIONALIZATION

Rationalization is another way that we lie to ourselves. We try to explain negative situations away. We cover up our mistakes and refuse to admit that our weakness could have caused them. The worst of us actually abuse others and then explain why we can get away with it. Rationalizers honestly believe that they will not be held responsible for their actions. They can’t fathom the idea that they are guilty. If your main character is a rationalizer, it could be that they aren’t that likable. Rationalization could be better suited for a villain who sees himself as a hero in his own eyes.

DISPLACEMENT

In displacement, the strong emotions, usually negative ones, are not given to the person responsible for them, but rather in another scenario. You poor main character has just been jilted by her boyfriend. He’s seeing another girl! Now your main character still has to do the grocery shopping, so she calmly gets through her list and goes to check out. The cashier asks her question, “do you have any coupons?” And our main character snaps back, yells at the cashier and bursts into tears. This is displacement because our poor jilted young woman placed her strong emotions on the innocent. Your main character can do this too!

PROJECTION

For example, Desdemona really believes that she is too fat. She went to school, minding her own business, and realized that she had been left out of an activity. Everyone else is going except her. She concluded that this is because she is fat.  She’s projected her conclusions about herself onto another situation. There was once a father I knew who accused my children of being depressed. I went to a friend, a social worker — someone I knew who could spot depression — and she found this accusation laughable. It turns out that the father had seen depression in his own children. He projected it onto mine because he didn’t want to deal with it. Your characters could do the same thing.

REACTION FORMATION

This term comes to me just as I finished watching clips of “Much Ado About Nothing.” In this Shakespearean play, two characters, Benedick and Beatrice spew banter back and forth, decrying how much they can’t stand each other. But their friends secretly believe that they love each other. The friends set them up to fall in love, but therein lies the question. Did they love each other? Were those fiery barbs really signs that they couldn’t bear to be apart? This is reaction formation. This is when what we say and how we really feel are in opposition to each other. This is an intense form of self-deception and it happily plays itself out in romances. Because of “Much Ado About Nothing,” I’ve decided to put a bit of this in my fantasy work-in-progress.

SENSE OF HUMOR

If you have a character that is the life of the party, a stand-up comedian or a class clown, you may have someone who is using their joking personality as a way to deal with their pain. I know that when I’m nervous about a situation, I make jokes. Part of me believes that lightening things up a bit will make everyone at ease. But the reality is that I want others’ attention off of me and my weakness. I’d rather not deal with the pain of the situation and I’m hoping, probably falsely, that humor is a good substitute for authenticity.

A well-rounded character is one that has weaknesses and isn’t completely perfect in the eye of the reader.

If you have characters that have pain in their past, consider giving them any of these defense mechanisms as they deal with those around them.

A good defense mechanism is far more interesting than eye color. For a deeper explanation of these defense mechanisms, click here.

For more tips on rich character development, try: 5 Super Powers & 5 Sources of Kryptonite for Abused Characters or Top 10 Questions To Ask About Authority Figures That Could Beef Up Your Conflict

Eight Ways You May Be Bungling Your Dialogue In Your Novel

 

“I’m not bungling my dialogue,” you say to yourself.

But you’ve had a few complaints from your beta readers about how they don’t like the characters. You’ve been told the story feels dead. While your plot is tight and your pacing is perfect, the characters themselves feel off. The trouble could be your dialogue. Dialogue is the soul of the characters. Dialogue is what brings the story to life for your reader. Are you bungling it?

Eight Ways You May Be Bungling Your Dialogue by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelists

You may be bungling you dialogue if . . .

 You’ve forgotten about the influence of setting.

Your story’s setting may play a role in the way that your characters speak. But too much dialect, slang or exaggerated speech can distract the reader. Dialogue brings action to the scene. You want your reader to focus on the words and actions of the character and allow the scene to flow smoothly. Anything that weakens the meaning, slows the pacing down or confuses the reader is working against you. How to fix this? Read the dialogue out loud. If you stumble over it, then you’ve put in too much regional nuance. If you can’t detect any hint of setting, consider adding a “Ya’ll” or a “Fo-gettabout-it”.

You’ve put in way too much exposition.

In some writing circles, they call this the “As you know, Bob,” mistake. This is when an author uses dialogue to pour out the background information in the conversation. While you do need some sort of exposition, it’s better to err on the side of not enough than too much. How to fix this? Highlight everything that is exposition and then read the draft out loud, skipping the highlighted parts. If you can tell what is going on without info, leave it out. Only put the least amount back in.

“[A]lways get to the dialogue as soon as possible. I always feel the thing to go for is speed. Nothing puts the reader off more than a big slab of prose at the start.”
P.G. Wodehouse

You use dialogue tags too much.

He yelled loudly. She whispered. He stuttered nervously. Now, there’s a lot of opinion about this. Some would say that the only tag you should ever use is said. And I can see that the simplicity of said allows it to be almost invisible to the reader. That’s a good thing. You don’t want to cause attention to anything except the story. But I would also argue that a well placed dialogue tag can create a visual image for the reader, as long as the verb was strong and possible adverb behind it was omitted. I’m also a fan of using a character body language to reveal the emotion. Like this: “I wish I knew more about Chad,” Cora bit her lip and twisted her hair. I’m hoping that Cora’s actions revealed her anxiety about a matter.

You’re just a little too formal.

Dialogue is where we can throw grammar rules out the window. A character wouldn’t always have their subjects and verbs agree. They may speak in sentence fragment. They probably use contractions. The best dialogue is loose and indicative of the complex person that it represents. And people are really emotional! Make sure that their true feelings are coming through somehow — even if they have something to hide! How to fix this? Read your dialogue aloud. Does it feel wooden or stiff? Rewrite it so that the true personality of the character is shining through.

You write the exact way that people speak.

This may seem contradictory to the previous advice, but one is about regional influence and the other is about unnecessary words. People speak poorly. Their conversations are full of empty words, stops, starts, repetitions and omissions. When we listen to a speaker, we take in the information of dialogue as a whole. We never focus on one word at at a time. We gather information from the tone and the body language. Good listeners can glean an immense amount of meaning from subtle cues. Few of these cues can be translated to the written page. How to fix this? Cut out everything that’s unnecessary.

“Dialogue concentrates meaning; conversation dilutes it.”
Robert McKee

You have no distinction between the characters.

Ideally, you want your characters to be so distinctive that you could take away the tags and have a clue on who was speaking. But that’s not always possible. The key to having distinctive dialogue is developing all characters well. The more you know your characters, the more their voice will come through. How to fix this? Spend time writing a perspective of the story from that character’s point of view. You’ll be acting as if you are that character. After a few hundred words, you may sense what they sense. As you craft their dialogue, try to slip back into that character. You’ll probably see a difference.

You ramble on and on without a break.

It is so true that there are people out there who do not know how to shut up. If rambling is boring to listen to, then it’s doubly boring to read. If your character really does have a long speech to give, figure out a way to break it up for the sake of the reader. How to fix this? Have someone interrupt and ask question. The speakers should cough and need water. Have the listener notice something and reflect for just a moment. Describe what they are doing with their hands. Or maybe describe their appearance while they speak. Describe their sweaty forehead, their great haircut, their wrinkled clothes or the way they are standing.

You forget about subtext.

Subtext is what is really being said between the lines. The couple might be speaking in hushed tones, nose to nose, about how much they like cheese, but they’re really flirting and are seconds away from a kiss. Then six scenes later, the same cheese issue comes up, but they are on opposite sides of the room, not facing each other and she’s whimpering. What is really going on? How to fix this? Make a note at the top of each scene describing what you want to accomplish in each scene. Also note the emotional temperature of each character. Use their body language to communicate one thing even if their words say something else.

Every word that you write must be carefully scrutinized.

The challenge (and the fun) of writing dialogue is that it’s not just your words that you’re writing, but you’re also giving your character words to say. With thoughtfulness and deliberate choices, your dialogue will not be bungled. And your story will come to life for your reader.


Want more articles about great dialogue?

Check out Top 20 Things You Can Give Your Characters That Will Make Them More Vivid

and

Top 10 Questions You Could Ask About Your Authority Figures That Could Beef Up Your Conflict!

Thanks for stopping by today!


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

Eighteen Ways To Write An Emotionally Abusive Villain

 

 

Let’s say you want to write a villain who doesn’t wear black, doesn’t have a weapon and doesn’t do all the things that typical baddies do.You want an emotionally abusive villain.

Emotionally abusive villains are scarier than the Darth Vader types, in my humble opinion. They can play with a person’s mind, trick them into thinking that they are safe, twist their reality and torture their soul. In real life and in real literature  emotionally abusive villains have been responsible for all kinds of evil.

Often emotional abusers are subtle.

They don’t go for the obvious name calling. Instead they want to be see as following the letter of the law. They’ll look good, but inside be crawling with nastiness.

Eighteen Ways To Write An Emotionally Abusive Villain

This list is an idea of how you can make your antagonist more evil. You probably have met people like this. (I’m sorry. Here’s a hug.)

They interrupt. Many people interrupt, but abusers interrupt because they hold contempt for the speaker. Their words are the most important and they don’t care who knows it. Your emotionally abusive villain should interrupt constantly.

They take someone’s exact words and throws them back at them. In an argument, an abuser will use anything they can to confuse or frustrate the speaker. Your emotionally abusive villain should always be listening for secret words that they can throw back in your protagonist’s face.

Makes assumptions about your motives. Your emotionally abusive villain should have a twisted sense of reality: they’ll believe that everyone is just as evil as he is.

“It is not the the bruises on the body that hurt. It is the wounds of the heart and the scars on the mind.”
Aisha Mirza

Drones on for hours about problems, talking in circles, wearing you down so you will agree just to get them to stop. Abusers are often illogical and love the sound of their own voice. Your emotionally abusive villain should tie your protagonist up into a web of words that are confusing and baffling.

Redefines words to make them mean what they want them to mean. Abusers believe that they are the authority on certain issues and they will make sure that you are educated. Your emotionally abusive villain should believe in their own “superior” intelligence and demonstrate it at every chance.

One-ups you at every opportunity. Abusers love putting you down. They can outdo nearly everything about your life because the want to be the best. Your emotionally abusive villain should look for chances to show off and then pout if they don’t get one.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”
Plato

Blames you for things that are out of your control. Abusers don’t see that you accidentally fell down the stairs and broke your ankle. Abusers claim it was your klutziness that did it. Your emotionally abusive villain should take advantage of your protagonists bad luck and make them feel as bad as they can.

Exercises financial control over you. An abuser will want to have a joint checking account with you. They will want to know how much things cost. They don’t mind loaning you money if they can use the loan to manipulate you later.

Subtly attacks the things you love, like your spouse or your pets. Abusers will sneer at the things that you have the most affection for because they don’t love at all. They really are jealous of the things you’ve opened your heart to. Your emotionally abusive villain should have nothing nice to say about anything.

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”
Henry James

Ignores your excitement about your passions or preferences. An abuser will often react passively to your good news or your next opportunity. They withhold affection and excitement on purpose because they know they can control you. Your emotionally abusive villain should be cold. Ice cold.

Mocks or makes fun of you, even in little things. An abuser often uses every opportunity to tease you or point out your flaws. “Oh, your toes have always been so fat!” Or, “are you going to spill the soda this time like you did last time?” Your emotionally abusive villain should think that this is what a good sense of humor is and accuse the protagonist of not having one.

Makes a big fuss over little favors. Abusers will never want you to forget that it was they that had the bus fare, or they were the ones that bought lunch that day, or if it weren’t for them we wouldn’t have umbrellas! This is all they’ve got, so they milk it for all it’s worth. Your emotionally abusive villain should remind everyone around them how they saved the day! THEY ARE THE HEROES!

“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

Claims that they will “always be there for you” but then balks when you do need them. Abusers must be seen as the hero, even though they rarely give selflessly. Your emotionally abusive villain should find plenty of excuses not to actually help out others when they have a need, but if there is an audience  . . .

Has an manipulative attachment to gifts. They are used as a reminder later, or they are to remind you that they owe you, or they are to help you get over your anger, or they are to used to control you. Villains like this may demand that their gifts be displayed prominently. They may keep score of who gave you what so that they can be ahead and “win.” Your emotionally abusive villain should never give a gift that isn’t used for an ulterior motive.

Disrespects your belongings, such as selling things without asking. They may assume that they can take something that was once a gift from them to you. They may treat an item of yours carelessly. Your emotionally abusive villain should never respect the property of others.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Denies promises that they kept. Abusers have no trouble making promises because it makes them look good, but they have a lot of trouble with inconvenience. Don’t trust them to keep their word. Your emotionally abusive villain should deny everything if someone reminds them of promises they’ve made.

Claims that you make things up. Abusers often claim that your imagination can’t be trusted. An abuser may also questions your reality. This is gaslighting and consistent, long term behavior like this can have brutal effects on a victim’s emotional state. This is one of the most insidious forms of emotional abuse and victims have been known to take their own lives simply because they don’t trust their own reality.

Withholds money or information because they like having the power. Abusers are incredibly stingy and will only give if they think that it is in their best interest. They will not give because it is the right thing to do. They give because they want power, regardless of what it is they are giving. Your emotionally abusive villain should work very hard to remain secretive and stingy.

Pits you against other people around you. Abusers deliberately seek out the weak and easy to manipulate. If they have an enemy, and they always have an enemy, they will orchestrate drama on purpose just to cause trouble.  Your emotionally abusive villain should always be looking for an empath to take advantage of.

So, I’m really glad I can recognize the emotional abusers in my life. These type of people are no fun at all to know in real life. But in fiction, they can be a great antagonist.

What else can you add to this list to make an emotionally abusive villain real?

 


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

5 Super Powers & 5 Sources of Kryptonite for Abused Characters

 

Super powers always come from somewhere.

Does your main character have super powers? If your main character has a history of abuse then you may have a super hero on your hands. This isn’t just the stuff of Marvel Comics. In real life, victims of abuse — at least those that have sought therapy, identified all facets of their past, and dealt with their pain — often display super powers that ordinary mortals don’t.

These superpowers came from years of practice.

Do Your Abused Characters Have These Super Powers? By Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelists

They’re survival skills turned up to eleven. If you have a character whose past is particularly tragic, consider using some of these characteristics to portray them. Keep in mind: all abuse victims are different. Their personalities will be just as varied as anyone else. Your superhero abuse victim could only have one of these, or even ones I haven’t thought of!

These are the super powers!

 

  1. They often are great communicators. They are used to being misunderstood so they’ve taken extra effort to say the right words, be precise and clear in what they mean. This is a superpower because the average mortal may not put as much care into it as they do. This is also why so many troubled souls are in the creative arts.
  2. They often can size up a situation really well. Sometimes they read others’ emotional cues so that they can avoid conflict. They will see body language and facial expression nuance that others may miss. They’ve been reading their abusers for years, so they know how to observe. This is a super power because of all the practice they’ve had. It can save them, but it can also cause them to be more isolated, so tomato, tomahto.
  3. They think fast on their feet. If they’ve been in an abusive situation, they’ve learned how to survive by snap decisions. They can turn on a dime. Often they’d rather make a choice, even a bad one, that sit still because it means there’s hope of success. This is a super power because their fight or flight trigger is well worn, but it’s not perfect. Sometimes they find themselves in bigger messes.
  4. They are really empathetic. Survivors of abuse are usually tenderhearted toward others. They tear up often and show compassion to others. Rejection is a fresh wound so they can identify with others’ pain really well. This is a super power because they will be one of the first people to step up to fight for justice.
  5. They are creative. Their past may have required them to come up with solutions for problems with few resources. They can think outside the box well. This is a super power because it works so nicely with the other powers. You really want someone like this on your side.

They also have weaknesses!

Does Your Abused Character Have These Weaknesses? By Katharine Grubb 10 Minute Novelist

  1. They have triggers, some that are even a bit weird. Victims of abuse have been repeatedly exposed to certain tones of voice, certain scenarios, certain patterns. If you have someone with an abusive past, not only will your character react to specific triggers — they may react and hide it from others. This is a complicated issue and if you want to get it right, study PTSD. This is kryptonite because it can come without warning and render them useless. You don’t want that in a crisis.
  2. They have trouble trusting others. Sometimes victims of abuse make a habit of keeping to themselves because they just don’t want to be hurt again. This is Kryptonite because relationships are vital to good mental health.
  3. They’re easily manipulated. They’ve been a victim of manipulators so sometimes they have trouble discerning who is trustworthy and who isn’t. However, you could have a survivor who is really self-aware and now can spot manipulators quickly. This is Kryptonite because they are the first to fall for predatory situations. Often this is a destructive and tragic pattern.
  4. They struggle with their identity and their self-acceptance. This is a life long struggle and it comes out especially in times of stress. This is Kryptonite because they may never fully see their true value, take chances or care for themselves like they should.
  5. They have bad memories associated with major events. Sometimes they may not handle holidays well. They may self-medicate around sentimental or emotional events that remind them of past pain. This is Kryptonite for obvious reasons. All of these super powers come with a severe cost. Being a hero isn’t often that great.

People with a history of abuse are complicated, paradoxical, and unique.

These ten qualities are far from a complete picture.

If you want to get into more detail about what drives them and what’s going on in their head, check out resources like these. Characteristics of Emotionally Abused People. Profile of an Emotionally Abused Victim. Abuse victim characteristics. 

 


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community.