Recently, Shaun and I realized that we were a little much for our community. Some of our friends assured us that this was okay. That Maine was full of characters.
“You’re dynamic,” they said.
This made Shaun happy because the word has sort of a superhero aspect to it. DYNAMIC MAN has a pretty cool ring to it.
But since I’m a writer and editor and writing coach, I thought, “Whoa… So I’m evolving? Cool.”
This, of course, confused poor Shaun also known as Dynamic Man, so I had to explain it a bit too him. And then I figured I might as well make a blog post about it because I’ve probably talked a bit too much about Hot Customs Guy and butt shapes lately.
What’s a dynamic character?
It’s a character that changes in the course of your story.
They grow. They evolve or devolve. They learn something about their world and that learning impacts who they are.
Sadly, being quirky doesn’t equal dynamic. To be dynamic your character has to change somehow.
The change in the character can be HUGE or it can be SMALL, but for a character to exist there has to be some change.
Important thing to remember: Not all characters are dynamic even if they are your lead character, but (especially in kidlit) dynamic characters are pretty much the thing.
A place where you tend not to see a dynamic character is in multiple installments of a series. Think James Patterson novels following one guy or woman. Think Sherlock Holmes’s character.
But almost always the main character will change in a story because of the things that happen in your story. Sometimes that change shifts their world view or gives them new positive characteristics, but sometimes that change is just a strengthening of the awesome that’s already there.
And sometimes that change is someone heading to the dark side like poor Anakin or that guy in Breaking Bad whose name I can never remember. Walter? Walden?
But for a character to be dynamic, there needs to be change. I’ll be talking about static characters this week, too! So hang on.
NEW BOOK OUT!
It’s super fun. An adult paranormal/mystery/romance/horror blend. Think Charlaine Harris but without all the vampires. Instead there are shifters and dragon grandmothers and evil police chiefs and potential necromancers and the occasional zombie and a sexy skunk.
Be ready to resurrect your love of the paranormal in the first novel in the Alisa Thea series—the books that give new meaning to quirky paranormal.
Alisa Thea is barely scraping by as a landscaper in small-town Bar Harbor. She can’t touch people with her bare skin without seeing their deaths and passing out, which limits her job and friendship opportunities. It also doesn’t give much of a possibility for a love life, nor does her overbearing stepfather, the town’s sheriff. Then along comes an opportunity at a local campground where she thinks her need for a home and job are finally solved . . .
But the campground and its quirky residents have secrets of their own: the upper level is full of paranormals. And when some horrifying murders hit the campground—along with a potential boyfriend from her past who may be involved—Alisa starts to wonder if living in a campground of paranormals will end up in her own death.
Join New York Times and internationally best[selling author Carrie Jones in the first book of the Alisa Thea Series as it combines the excitement of a thriller with the first-hand immediacy and quirky heroines that Jones is known for.
It’s fun. It’s weird. It’s kind of like Charlaine Harris, but a little bit more achy and weird.
Share this if you want and also because it would be super nice of you!
So, you’re probably looking at the blog post title up there and thinking, “What?”
Stay with me a second; I’ll explain, I swear. I’m going to boil down the basic elements of crafting a good story by using my rescue dog, Gabby.
Gabby is the sort of dog who people love or hate.
Gabby is the sort of dog that lets children climb all over her and hug her and kiss her nose.
Gabby is also the sort of dog who judges people by smell.
If you have alcohol on your breath, she will sneeze and then bark at you. If you are male and have ever had a serious time taking cocaine and you are in my house? She’ll bark incessantly at you and never stop even if your cocaine use was over a decade ago.
So, why am I mentioning this?
Gabby is a conflicted character. You want a character like Gabby in your story.
A conflicted character is a dog or person with a goal. There is a motivation for that goal and a conflict.
Gabby’s goal is to keep me safe. She is super focused on making sure nothing happens to me or her dog brother Sparty or her cat sisters, Marsie, Cloud and Koko.
Her motivation? Probably because I feed her or because she’s a Great Pyrenees, and that breed’s instinct and training is to keep her charges happy and safe. We are basically her sheep.
Marsie insists she is nobody’s sheep, but I have seen Gabby carry her around the house. She is totally a sheep.
And it might be because Gabby was abused as a puppy and spent her first year chained to a tree, always chained to a tree, never off a tree. She came to us small, terrified, malformed and malnourished. This is her backstory. All characters have backstories, the what happened before we meet them, the what happened that made them who they are when the story begins.
When Em and I picked up Gabby in Cambridge, Gabby was beyond terrified.
Every car was about to run her down. Every person was about to hit her. I sunk to her level and she pushed herself against me. Her ears were infected and full of pain. Everything about her was pain. But there was something else there. It was fear and want and need. She wanted to be loved so badly. She wanted to love back.
The entire time we were in Cambridge she didn’t bark once.
The entire car ride back and the whole first week? She never barked.
“I have a miracle dog. It is a silent Great Pyrenees,” I told everyone.
The vet laughed.
The rescue organization people laughed.
I was so wrong.
Gabby started being able to sleep with both eyes closed. Gabby’s ears got better. We got her surgery on her knee. She took walks without being afraid that trees were going to fall on her, without thinking that every car held a monster inside of it that would hurt her.
She ate, but she would never fill out.
And she barked.
She barked at everyone who reminded her of where she used to be. She barked at dogs she didn’t know. She barked and jumped and tried to be as threatening looking as possible when she is easily the dog least likely to ever bite a human and most likely to snuggle. You know when experts say dogs hate hugs? Gabby would let you hug her all day.
Actually, Gabby’s dream day would just to be constantly hugged.
So, she’s got a lot of back story there?
What’s the conflict for Gabby or for your characters?
The conflict is the struggle. The conflict is how the reader engages with the character. It’s why the reader keeps reading. It’s how empathy is built. It’s how story is built.
So every character has this trifecta of things:
As a writer, if you muck this up? You’re story will be flat.
As a dog friend/owner, if you don’t realize that your dog’s goal might conflict with a happy silence that comes with a life without barking? You’re going to have an unhappy dog.
So, Gabby’s trifecta of character is:
Wants to stop threats by barking (goal) because she wants to keep her happy home and the creatures within it safe (motivation we all understand), but everyone gets a headache when she thinks squirrels are threats and barks too much at them (conflict).
Meg’s in A Wrinkle in Time is:
Wants to get her dad back (goal) because who doesn’t want to get someone awesome back (motivation that is pretty understandable if your dad rocks), but dude, she has to travel through time and deal with this great darkness, basically like all the evil in the universe because why not (conflict).
But what makes a character conflicted?
Basically anything that stands in the way of her goal.
This can be herself (Gabby wonders if barking is her true calling and doubts herself – an internal conflict).
This can be others (The neighbors call the police because of Gabby’s barking – an external conflict).
This can be the environment (Gabby is in space and cannot bark because there is no sound. Horror! – a conflict caused by setting).
Writing Tip –
Make sure your main character has that trifecta of conflict, motivation, goal.
Write about wanting to sing when you have to be quiet.
Write about wanting to tell a secret.
Write about being a zombie who is allergic to meat.
Do Good MONday –
So, I wrote a lot about Gabby being a rescue dog. All my dogs have been. If you have the money, consider donating to a dog rescue. If you have the time and space and need and love, consider adopting. If you have the time, find a rescue near you and be a volunteer. I’ve done home visits and photos for rescues. If you don’t have any of these things, but have social media, share a rescue’s site or a post about a dog (or cat or gecko). You could be the step that helps bring a dog like Gabby to her forever home. Even the smallest things help.
Here are the rescues where I got Sparty the Dog and Gabby the Dog.
I just want to let everyone know that INCHWORMS (The Dude Series Book 2) is out and having a good time as Dude competes for a full scholarship at a prestigious Southern college and getting into a bit of trouble.
Here’s what it’s about:
A fascinating must-read suspense from New York Times bestseller Carrie Jones.
A new chance visiting a small Southern college. A potential love interest for a broken girl obsessed with psychology. A damaged group of co-eds. A drowning that’s no accident. A threat that seems to have no end.
And just like that Jessica Goodfeather aka Dude’s trip away from her claustrophobic life in Maine to try to get an amazing scholarship to her dream school has suddenly turned deadly. Again.
What would you do to make a difference?
After his best friend Norah was almost abducted, Cole Nicholaus has spent most of his childhood homeschooled, lonely and pining for Norah to move from best friend to girl friend status. When birds follow him around or he levitates the dishes, he thinks nothing of it—until a reporter appears and pushes him into making a choice: stay safe at home or help save a kidnapped kid.
Cole and Norah quickly end up trying to not just save a kid, but an entire town from a curse that has devastating roots and implications for how exactly Cole came to be the saint that he is.
Can Cole stop evil from hurting him and Norah again? And maybe even get together? Only the saints know.
From the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of the NEED series, Saint is a book about dealing with the consequences that make us who we are and being brave enough to admit who we love and what we need.
BUY NOW! 🙂 I made a smiley face there so you don’t feel like I’m too desperate.
Hi! If you’re just joining us we’re talking about character this week. To find the posts about character, just look at the tags WRITING CHARACTERS or MAKING CHARACTERS.
So, in the comments of a blog I used to guest star in, a writer, Helen, mentioned that she once took a writing class and “the teacher said every character had to have a good trait, a bad trait, and a quirk of some kind. I’ve often wondered if that was good advice.”
I think that’s pretty simplistic, actually, no offense to that teacher. But it’s not bad advice. And it works as a fantastic base.
What Does Every Character Need?
A good trait
A bad trait
A motivation (Yep. I added that in. Everybody wants. Everybody needs. Especially characters.)
Lots of times when teaching people to write, we try to reduce things down to a magic formula that is as simple as possible, because that’s kind of what people want: We want it easy.
And it can work. I mean microwave popcorn works. But is it as good as real popcorn, popped over a campfire? Um. No.
Writing is like that too. We can try to create characters (quirky or not) by going like this.
Good trait: Brave Bad trait: Leaps without looking Quirk: Collects phobias
Want/Motivation: To be loved
But that doesn’t really make a character real or whole or detailed or anything like that.
Also, people tend not to have just one good trait, bad trait, or quirk. These things shift and change.
People and characters are not static things that can be defined so easily.
Just try to define my character that easily. I dare you!
I mean, I ADORED Harry Potter when I first read him, but sometimes he’s a bit of a pain-in-the bum when he gets all mopey and secretive and annoyed at Ron. Right?
Similarly, I love my daughter of awesome who is normally a sweetheart, but sometimes she’s a bit of a pain-in-the-bum when she gets all humans-must-not-chew-food-anywhere-near-me.
Choices Define Our Characters
When I talk at schools all around the country (pre COVID), I tell the students that character is determined by the choices someone makes in real life and in books.
Major characters have choices. Quirky characters have choices.
When the kids decide to follow the Cat in the Hat that forms part of their characters. When Harry feels empathy for the snake that’s jailed in the zoo that forms part of his character.
What else forms a character?
How they talk How they feel How they want What they want What they feel What they say What they do How they act Why they act How they fidget Why they fidget THE CHOICES THEY MAKE!!!!! (This is the big one, honestly. That’s why I keep stressing it.)
The stronger those things are oftentimes the more real or the more quirky the character is.
Think about in Winn Dixie. That little girls wants so hard and how she talked and felt were so vivid that they not only make her character soar, they also make the book soar.
As authors for kids or even adults, we need to know the why and how of our characters (or we have to just trust the why and how depending on what kind of writer we are) and we have to work. It isn’t always simple and that’s good. Really good.
Okay. More tomorrow! I have revisions to do.
LET’S HANG OUT!
HEY! DO YOU WANT TO SPEND MORE TIME TOGETHER?
MAYBE TAKE A COURSE, CHILL ON SOCIAL MEDIA, BUY ART OR A BOOK, OR LISTEN TO OUR PODCAST?
On one of my Patreon sites I read and print chapters of unpublished YA novels. THE LAST GODS and SAINT and now ALMOST DEAD. This is a monthly membership site (Hear the book chapters – $1/month, read them $3-month, plus goodies!). Sometimes I send people art! Art is fun.
On this, my second site, WRITE BETTER NOW, you can do a one-time purchase of a writing class or get two of my books in eBook form or just support our podcast or the dogs. It’s all part of the WRITING CLASS OF AWESOME.
It’s a super fun place to hang out, learn, read, and see my weirdness in its true form.
Lots of times when people review my books they call my characters…. Get ready for it… QUIRKY.
This bird looks a little quirky here and I wish he were one of my characters, but he isn’t. He may be soon though.
Now, when I think of quirky, I think of my uncle Kilton.
If you are a man, Uncle Kilton will grab your bicep and check out your guns the moment he meets you. If you are a woman?
If you’re a woman … he guesses your weight. Now that’s quirky. It is also annoying, actually, but it’s definitely quirky.
If he can’t tell your gender? He’ll do both.
The quirkiness doesn’t stop there.
Uncle Kilton once ate a worm in his corn on the cob and said, “Mmm…. Protein.”
He chews pieces of grass and wears green maintenance worker pants with a white undershirt and flannel shirts. People call him Kilty.
He likes to rescue cats. He has about eighteen old pick-up trucks. He’s also built a telescope and is a millionaire. He has never gone on a vacation in his life.
So, compared to him I tend to not think my characters are ‘quirky.’ But it also gets me thinking about what makes our characters – characters. What makes them unique or quirky or flat or lovable? What makes them real?
The ultimate in quirk.
This week we’re going to try to find out. We’re going to look at major character. Those are the characters the story revolves around like the CAT in CAT IN THE HAT or HARRY POTTER and RON and HERMIONE. In our books there are also minor characters and placeholders but I’m going to blow them off for now, which makes me feel both powerful and mean. Sorry minor characters!
All these posts will be tagged MAKING CHARACTERS if you’re reading them after 2020.
LET’S HANG OUT!
HEY! DO YOU WANT TO SPEND MORE TIME TOGETHER?
MAYBE TAKE A COURSE, CHILL ON SOCIAL MEDIA, BUY ART OR A BOOK, OR LISTEN TO OUR PODCAST?
Basically, his article is saying that people limit themselves by defining who they are, what they can do, and what resources they have. This article is wildly popular with 31,000 likes, which means he’s made a ton of money off this point of view. And with over 19,000 Twitter followers, Mr. Hardy is pretty popular, too. He has posts that link to his articles like “10 Steps to Being a Millionaire in 5 Years (or Less).”
If you look at his twitter posts, you’ll find a lot of encouraging things about success and motivation and morning routines that guarantee success.
But we’re talking about just the first point in his article., which is that a goal must be wild and huge. It must be urgent with a time component. It must motivate you and he quotes Napolean Hill who wrote in the book, Think and Grow Rich, “Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything.”
This is lovely.
He also quotes Marcus Aurelias, a Roman emperor. And also Canadian author Justine Musk, who he introduces as only, “Elon Musk’s wife.”
There are a lot of white men talking and quoting and thinking going on in the first few paragraphs of Dr. Hardy’s piece. It’s all about going after what you want and making no excuses about your situation or self because those things will make you fail.
There are twenty more points in Dr. Hardy’s article, but we’re only going to talk to the first one because it relates to writing and why so much writing falls flat.
As with all things in life, you get what you want. If you prefer to make excuses and justifications for a lack of progress, then just admit you prefer your current station in life. Self-acceptance can be a beautiful thing.
However, once you desire progress more than convenience, obstacles no longer stop but propel you. As the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius is famous for saying,“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
Hardy, per Medium article cited above
You have to have your main character have a desire and they need to pulsate with it. Your main character needs to be passionate about something. They need to go after those passions. There needs to be a bit of urgency about them. The obstacles that happen are the ones that your character needs to smash through in order to get to what she wants.
What is it your character wants more than any damn thing in the world?
Who does your character have to be to get that?
Now, how about you?
What do you want more than any damn thing in the world?
Who do you have to be to get that?
Writing Tip of the Pod:
In life, Hardy says that our ambitious goals must be:
Full of a motivating desire
Hard as hell
Tied to a timeframe to make them urgent.
Do this for your characters, too.
Dog Tip for Life
Don’t be afraid to remember you aren’t a solo show. Think about who can help you become who you want to be and achieve what you want to do.
If you listen to the podcast, you’ll hear:
Us cooking hand pies and Shaun’s delightful name for a hand-pie take-out window
Carrie ranting about articles
Carrie worrying about meeting Shaun’s aunt
The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License. Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song? It’s “Night Owl” by Broke For Free.
The Write. Submit. Support. format is designed to embrace all aspects of the literary life. This six-month course will offer structure and support not only to our writing lives but also to the roller coaster ride of submissions: whether that be submitting to agents or, if agented, weathering the submissions to editors. We will discuss passes that come in, submissions requests, feedback we aren’t sure about, where we are feeling directed to go in our writing lives, and more. Learn more here!
“Carrie’s feedback is specific, insightful and extremely helpful. She is truly invested in helping each of us move forward to make our manuscripts the best they can be.”
“Carrie just happens to be one of those rare cases of extreme talent and excellent coaching.”
It’s with Steve Wedel. It’s scary and one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Buzz Books for Summer 2019. There’s an excerpt of it there and everything! But even cooler (for me) they’ve deemed it buzz worthy! Buzz worthy seems like an awesome thing to be deemed!
Order this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?
Get exclusive content, early podcasts, videos, art and listen (or read) never-to-be-officially published writings of Carrie on her Patreon. Levels go from $1 to $100 (That one includes writing coaching and editing for you wealthy peeps).
A lot of you might be new to Patreon and not get how it works. That’s totally cool. New things can be scary, but there’s a cool primer HERE that explains how it works. The short of it is this: You give Patreon your paypal or credit card # and they charge you whatever you level you choose at the end of each month. That money supports me sharing my writing and art and podcasts and weirdness with you.
Usually, I have a little list in my head of THE COOLEST THINGS THAT HAPPEN TO CARRIE IN ONE WEEK. This is how I keep the horrible things from bothering me, and believe me thanks to Sparty’s breath smelling like the litter box and Gabby having some doggy indigestion, things haven’t been too swell around here. (Note: How goofy is the word ‘swell?’)
And, I think I already have a winner for the COOLEST THING THAT HAS HAPPENED TO CARRIE THIS WEEK!
I was out taking photos and all strung up with cameras and lenses when I saw a librarian walking across the parking lot.
She also saw me.
Her face lit up.
I instantly panicked and stressed about the overdue books in a bag in my car. I wondered if I had enough cash in my camera bag to cover my fines. Would she tackle me? Would she slap my wrists with something? I didn’t know… Maybe I could outrun her, hide in the produce section of Hannaford’s Maybe…
But then she smiled and said, “Carrie! I read your book!!!”
And then I remembered that she isn’t a librarian in my actual town. Doh!
And then she told me that she read my ancient, old book because another librarian talked about it on a listserv and then she said the most amazing words an author can hear: I LOVED IT, CARRIE. I really loved it.
But it gets better than that because then she hugged me!!!!
There is nothing better than a librarian hug. Except maybe a kid hug. But they are pretty close.
I hope you all get hugged by librarians this week or at least dog kissed. Gabby would be happy to provide the service:
And speaking about kissing… let’s talk writer advice here with:
Lines of Desire and Character Wants
Desire. It sort of sounds like erotica, but desire needs to be a part of all story. Not the rated-x kind, but the kind that relates to your character and your character’s longing.
Humans are always wanting, needing, and desiring.
We are born. We want to be fed. We want to be held. We want sleep.
And so it goes all our lives. When it’s about your characters’ multiple levels of desire, it is often about yearning.
What is it that your character yearns for above all else? This is also often called the super objective. This is the place where readers connect with your character – this yearning. It’s what resonates with them. Why? Because they yearn too.
A lot of writers have super objectives and desire lines inserted into their characters without even realizing it. Their character pops out yearning and it’s merely a tweaking of that in prose.
But sometimes? It isn’t that easy.
So what do you need?
You need two main things: A concrete desire and an internal desire are the big ones that are meant to drive your character through most (if not all) of the book.
What is concrete? It’s something real, tangible. It’s making a team. It’s getting a kiss. It’s saving a town.
What is internal? It’s what happens on the inside. This is where the characters emotional desires are pulling her or him through the book. It could be a want for home, family, friends. It could be to feel worthy. It could be to feel loved. This propels the character through the book, too.
So, along with that, in theater when we do character studies, we think about these three questions in every scene we play. So in writing, we’d think about these things in every chapter we write.
These are the characters’ questions:
I want –
I need –
I must have –
And we fill in the blanks. In each scene, we see those three objectives and how they relate to our character. We can do that with novels too. What is it that the character wants, needs, and must have (super objective, greater than all other objectives, the desire line of objectives)?
The super objective or must have is what creates that arc throughout the entire piece/novel/play – the want that provides the throughline and arc.
Pretty cool, huh?
Random note: You can do this for more than just your characters. You can do this for your life. What is it you want, that you need, that you absolutely must have?
DO GOOD WEDNESDAY
You want to make a difference in the world. I know you do.
According to its website, Amnesty International is “a global movement of more than 7 million people who take injustice personally. We are campaigning for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all.”
Zara in the NEED books was big into writing letters to political prisoners via Amnesty’s network.
This link brings you to a page where you can sign a petition to add your voice to thousands of others who are calling for an end to the assault on Syria’s Easter Ghouta.
Random Marketing and Book Things
My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who became a spy was all official on March 1 and I’m super psyched about it. You can order it!
Kirkus Review says:A captivating true story of a spy, secret hero, and baseball player too.