Shaun Takes Over and Talks About Character

            Hi! I know this is Carrie’s blog and you all look forward so much to hearing from her, but today I have commandeered it and I may do that once in a while because she is such an incredible woman and I don’t want her to be so overworked that her magnificence dulls.

An adorable Florida man who moved to Maine
Look! It’s Shaun!

By the way, this is Carrie’s husband. Actually, it should be Carrie’s Husband because that is the actual title I have come to be known by to a good portion of our friends. My birthname is Shaun though, if you didn’t already know, and I am okay with being Carrie’s Husband, because she is that crazy awesome!

            But I digress. I am not an author by any means and Carrie asked me to talk about something to do with writing, maybe a prompt. Ugh, my brain hurts already! So, I took a few minutes to mull over what I would have a hard time doing if I was trying to write a book (I have tried and many accolades to you writer folks.) and I came up with so many ideas it is embarrassing. But I got stuck on one and that is, character traits and/or development. Heck, maybe these are two totally different subjects to you, but as I said, writing is not my bailiwick.

            I thought, “I have no idea how to give words on a page human traits and make them feel real to people. How would I do that?”

Well, I decided that I would sit down and just think and reminisce about the people in my life who influenced me as a young person and who helped make me who I am today.

            My mother and father divorced when I was two years old and I never saw him again until I was nine years old when he came back into my life bearing my two-year-old half-sister. He and my mother eventually got married again, my mother adopted my half-sister. They had another child, my younger brother, and eventually got divorced again when I was in my early  twenties.

I never really liked my father nor did I mesh with his viewpoints on life, although as we both matured, we grew into a polite relationship of acceptance. In reality I just gave up on arguing with him and trying to make him see anybody’s point of view other than his own. Within this paragraph, there are hundreds of story possibilities, but I am only telling you this so that I can say that I was raised and influenced mainly by my mother and my grandfather. There were times when my mother and I lived on our own, with roommates (friends of my mother’s), and also with my grandparents.

Thinking about my mother, father and grandfather brings back so many memories, both good and bad, and to replicate their personality traits would be relatively easy because even as my memories seem to fade, memories of them are still strong and vibrant. 

           So, to make that supremely realistic character I am going to ask you to not think about those people in your life that are so easily remembered, but go beyond them and dig deeper. Think about someone whom you may have forgotten, someone who may not have been in your life long perhaps, but still left an impression, good or bad. We do need both kinds of characters after all.

Just writing this is causing me to remember people that I have forgotten. People who I didn’t otherwise know, but for a brief, chance meeting, but who still left an indelible mark upon me. Such an experience, possibly long forgotten by you, can help you create a character of difference or help you get out of a rut where you feel your characters are not deep enough or possibly seem to similar. 

            I don’t know if anything that I have written will be useable advice to you, but I can say that I have been thinking about this off and on for about four hours now and I have had a great time. Regardless of whether or not I have helped, I would recommend taking this thought journey! I am not one into yoga or meditation but just sitting quietly and pondering this I have basically run the full gamut of emotions and rejuvenated many memories that had faded from the forefront. Truth be known, my eyes are watery ,but that is just part of the process and sometimes I can be an emotional wimp. If there were no emotions involved, it doesn’t seem like a worthwhile experience whether you are trying to create a better character or you are just reminiscing.

            Carrie and I have spoken about character building, in many ways, on our podcast Dogs Are Smarter Than People and I would invite you to listen if you haven’t yet made that journey. There’s a link below.

            Thank you taking the time to read my ramblings and may you have a happy and safe 2021!

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Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness on the DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE podcast as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow. There’s a new episode every Tuesday!

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Love Me! Love My Character! Writing Tips.

It’s the last of our posts about making characters (or at least the last one of r a bit). Check out the tags to see the others.

Orson Scott Card (citation down below) has a list of ‘devices’ that he says makes readers love characters. I’m going to run them down here, because I’m running out of time in my week! 

First off: Physical Attractiveness. 

  •  The hot factor.: If other characters are attracted to them, we will be too, he says. 
  •   Sometimes this can make your readers hate the character so be careful.  She/he shouldn’t be annoyingly attractive. That’s dull. 

You think I’m dull? 
No, Harry, never you. You eat have oat milk in your fridge, bananas in your freezer, speak English, Cantonese, and Spanish and are an amazing dancer? How could that be dull? 

Altruistic Awesomeness.

  •    – We root for the victim.  We also can eventually show how the victim is no longer a victim in our awesome story arch. 
  •   – We root for the savior. We want Petunia to rescue the dog/cat/alien/hamster/boy.  
  •   – We root for the sacrificer. It’s hard not to love someone who suffers to make the world better. 

I totally have the altruistic awesomeness down pat. 

The Doers

We root for the character who wants something, who goes after a dream. The bigger the want/dream the more we tend to root

The Bravehearts

We like the character who is brave, who takes risks to do what needs to be done (if those risks are morally cool). 

Those Who Have ‘Tude

How a character feels about herself or others impacts how we feel about the character. 

The Rest

We also tend to like characters who are clever, who volunteer, who are dependable.

And we also like characters with a little quirk – that imperfection or tic that makes them an individual.

Think about Ron in Harry Potter. He’s loyal as all heck. He takes risks to do what’s right (steals parents’ car, goes in off-limit places).

He is brave but he freaks about spiders.

He is smart in certain ways (outwits the magic chess board), but he is flawed too. He’s a bit jealous. He’s a bit insecure. He’s a bit lazy when it comes to studying.

Yet we love him. His flaws and quirks and reactions and choices make him adorable and one of the most loved characters in one of the most popular children’s books ever. 

Yes, it is I, Ron Weasley

Card also gives a quick run-down on what we don’t like in characters: 

  • Hurting another character on purpose, especially if the character likes causing pain
  • Killing someone for selfish reasons
  • Being self serving
  • Breaking promises
  • Super big words/formal speech in dialogue (We usually give this to the bad guys. I actually give it to a good guy, cause I’m a rule breaker like that)
  • Being totally psycho in a bad way
  • Attitude – whining too much, complaining too much, lack of humor, etc….

Resource

Card, Orson Scott. CHARACTERS AND VIEWPOINTS. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books

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LIKE YOUR DAMN CHARACTER

So, we’re still talking about characters here and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say:

It’s important for people to like your main character.

Obviously, this isn’t always true. There are exceptions, but just in general, okay? You all can debate about it in the comments if you like. It might be fun. 

A big key to the reader liking your character is:

YOU LIKING YOUR CHARACTER.

It’s hard to write 75,000 words or even a picture book if you despise your main character. It’ll come through to the reader. 


Another big key to character likability is: THE FIRST IMPRESSION. 



That’s the big moment when the reader first meets the character.

So think about your reader and whether or not they are going to like a character that they first see picking their nose (some will/some won’t) or rescuing a bird (some will/some won’t) or jumping off a swing or telling off a teacher or moping in their room or playing in a sandbox.

This first impression is shallow.

It isn’t deep and it’s not enough to sustain the reader throughout the book, but it’s the first link the reader has to understanding the character. It’s important. It’s just as important as a lead sentence. I swear it. 

And it’s also important to remember that if that first impression is unpleasant (say you are writing a romance novel geared towards straight women and the male romantic figure is expelling gas out his rectum while studying ear wax when we first meet him (Note: This is gross not quirky.), it is really hard sometimes to overcome that first impression. You, as the writer, have to work super hard.

 Even if he looks like me? 
Yes, Fabio, even if he looks like you. Maybe even more so.

Finally, readers usually want to feel sympathetic to the main character. They want to relate to him or her or it. But they also want to be curious about that main character. The main character shouldn’t be EXACTLY like the reader, is what I’m saying. 

For the rest of these posts on character, check out the tags CHARACTERS, MAKING CHARACTERS or WRITING CHARACTERS. For other writing tips, just check out WRITING TIPS.


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And to hear our podcast latest episode for DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, all about Making Sexy Mission Statements and Writing Platforms, click here. And all about Why Brilliant People Sometimes Aren’t The Successes We Expect is here.


HELP US AND DO AN AWESOME GOOD DEED

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness on the DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE podcast as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow. There’s a new episode every Tuesday!

Thanks so much for being one of the 255,000 downloads if you’ve given us a listen!



How to Write Awesome Characters

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?

  1. A good trait
  2. A bad trait
  3. A quirk
  4. 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.

Xo
Carrie



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How To Write Great Characters.

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.



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And to hear our podcast latest episode for DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, all about Making Sexy Mission Statements and Writing Platforms, click here. And all about Why Brilliant People Sometimes Aren’t The Successes We Expect is here.