Character Building Pt. 2

Character Building Pt. 2

Hello,

Glad you all are here to read the second instalment in my character building series. In this post, I’ll explain how in addition to the interview, you can use little things to make your characters more rounded such as a flaw in their personality, their favorite song. 

First of all, especially for your protagonist and the supporting characters with larger parts you need to make a list of 10 things they would hate to have happen to them. If you’re stuck, if your story seems to be moving at a slow pace, change it up and stick your character into one of those situations. Using Clarice Starling as an example, one of the things she’s most afraid of is being taken off the case she working which happens to her in Silence of the Lambs. 

Second, when building your antagonist, you need to know all of this about them as well. It is also helpful to ask why. Why is he the antagonist? What made him this way? Chances are none of this will be written in your novel or story but it makes your character seem fuller, more realistic than a flat antagonist. Take Hannibal Lecter, his past was known to Harris by the time he wrote Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal and the small ways his background seeps into the stories makes Hannibal Lecter come alive.  Also, it helps if your antagonist is in some way a reflection of your protagonist. Look at the dichotomy in Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal and Clarice are both students of psychology but one took the lawful path and one the darker path. 

I know I seem to be talking about Hannibal Lecter and his series a lot in this post, and that is because I have found myself re-reading the series as I work on building my own characters. 

Third, doing research: is it really necessary when it comes to creating characters? My view is that yes, it is.  Say you’re a young college woman writing about an elementary school boy as your main protagonist. Do you remember what elementary school was like? Well I do, but I can tell you that it has changed so much from the 90s when I was there. What was the popular cartoon when I was a kid? I think it was Pokemon? But I don’t remember. Ask me what today’s kids want and I don’t know. This is even more important if you’re writing about something like the 1960s or the 1800s. There is so much that would go into creating an accurate character and especially if you are writing about a character of a different demographic or ethnic group. While all people have commonalities the way that a Hispanic household and a German household function are different. Adding little details can take your characters from great to realistic. 

Fourth, when creating a character it is important to consider their name and the rest of them. You would question how someone with the surname Garcia was from Germany right? Sometimes you can play with these things to defy your readers expectations, but if you don’t explain these things it could make it hard for your character to come across as believable. 

Finally, I find it helpful after interviewing my character, researching them, asking them what is their worst fear, etc. to cast someone in their role. It can help you to view a character so that you can describe them and add those little details that make a story rich and memorable. 

If you want to find out more about character building I’d suggest you read A Writers Guide to Characterization by Victorua Lynn Schmitt, Character, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress. Both books are in my library of reference material and they help enormously. 

Well, that’s all I have for this week. Happy Writing! Don’t forget to comment and share if you find this helpful! 

Jessica 

Writing With Migraines and Other Chronic Illnesses

Writing With Migraines and Other Chronic Illnesses

Hello everyone,

Sorry it’s been so long since I last posted. I was dealing with a major migraine. And that’s what I want to talk about today. How to keep up a writing and posting schedule when you have a chronic illness such as migraines or fibro. Personally, I deal with migraines and pain from fibromyalgia on a nearly daily basis. It makes it hard to do basic things like cook and when I’m dealing with that anything else falls to the back burner. But I do have some tip and tricks for handling life with chronic illness as someone in the writing/creative arts field.

  1. Set your screen refresh rate to the highest possible on the computer. You can do that by going to display settings> screen resolution>advanced settings> and then set the refresh rate higher. It helps your eyes out if you’re working a lot on the computer.
  2. Have a non-technology alternative. For me this means on days where I just can’t look at a screen I write with pen and paper. And on days that doesn’t work, I just have to accept that I need a rest day.
  3. Set reasonable goals for yourself. If you have to stop and get up from the computer every hour do it. Don’t expect yourself to be able to write 10,000 words in one go on the computer if that hampers your other activities.
  4. Accept that some days you won’t be able to be productive, and that’s okay too. This has been the hardest thing for me to accept when it comes to my writing productivity. Sometimes I just can’t focus and I can’t write for that reason. In that case, I try to come up with ideas or just let myself relax and watch Netflix.
  5. If you need something done that day, it helps to have someone you trust work on it for you. For example, some days when I can’t work I ask my boyfriend to read my work and give me feedback so I can keep working the next day. I am also working on creating a cache of posts for days when I can’t write so I have something to go up on the blog.
  6. Some days, you just have to struggle through it. On those days I recommend comfy clothes, as calm of an environment as possible and frequent breaks for naps and resting.
  7. I keep a journal of blog post ideas, story ideas, a scene list for works in progress and changes for stories. This helps on days when I can’t necessarily think, but I have to make progress. Like my novel. I spent time working on an outline and now I can just write out a scene and feel accomplished with the work I can do.
  8. Some days when you’re worn out, it’s better to write about how you’re feeling. This helps not only with your writing, as any writing is practice, but it can help to spark a new idea once you get your feelings written down. I find that I get the best ideas after journaling.

Well, that’s all I can think of for today. I’m fighting a migraine I’ve had for three days now and I hope that his post helps you cope and keep writing. If you have anything to add please let me know at jessica.entwistle@jessicaentwistle.com

Jessica

Monday Musings- How To Create A Writing Schedule

Monday Musings- How To Create A Writing Schedule

 

One of the biggest things that has troubled me as a writer is the creation of time to write. Where does writing fit in between college classes, a part-time job, chores and spending time with friends? If you’re like me and you have a hundred things going on at once, it’s hard to find time to write. But something that I’ve learned this last month as I got back into writing is that creating a schedule and making it a priority is how productivity occurs. Since I started to implement my daily schedule I’ve been able to write anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 words an hour easily on my novel alone. This means that I’ve increased my own productivity 100% since then.

Now there is no one size fits all program that will allow for the perfect routine. For me, I find that I’m most productive in the hours just after I wake and those right before I go to bed. Usually I spend my time waking up and playing Candy Crush or browsing the internet, finding idea after idea and I was doing nothing about it. Now, I am doing something.

In order to create an effective routine I did the following:

  • Told everyone in my social circle that I would be writing from the hours of 8-12 and that I won’t answer their calls, texts or anything unless it’s an emergency.
  • Created a writing space that I loved (More on that later)
  • Found a good radio station that keeps me focused. (For me that’s Taylor Swift’s streaming from Amazon Music)
  • Disconnect my computer from the internet. (Yes, I know I listen to music but that comes courtesy of my iPhone plugged into some awesome speakers.)
  • Closed the door to my writing space so I don’t get distracted.
  • Free write before I start on anything else.

Now, you may be thinking, what if I don’t have four hours to devote to writing a day? Just go with whatever fits your schedule. When summer classes start for me I’ll be down to just two hours a day of devoted writing time. But I find that making a routine makes it easier for me to sit down and write. I usually make coffee in the morning, pour myself a giant cup and free write as I drink my coffee and eat my bagel and cream cheese. After that I get down to business. Whatever I’m writing for that day I open and start working on. I also keep a notebook next to me to write down any ideas or questions that pop up. (Did I do the laundry? Is there an airport in this town?) This lets me write down the ideas that distract me, and then I can get back to writing.

Creating a Writing Space

When I moved into this new place with my boyfriend and our friend I made sure to set up my office first. When I write I need to have my reference materials, a pen and notebook for ideas, my computer and a steady supply of caffeine and munchables. I find that having a window in my office distracts me from the view of the street outside. So I put up curtains. I also have this cool corkboard my boyfriend was nice enough to mount in front of my desk. I keep my current stories on the left side, contest dates in the middle, and future ideas (The ones of many that I have chosen to be my next projects I mean.) on the right side. At this moment I have my MFA application requirements up on the board as well. DSC00002.JPG

I also have my Darth Vader figures there and my bin of reference magazines and a novel for reference. (The desk next to mine is my boyfriends and it’s kind of a mess most of the time.)

 

Free Writing

In order to start each writing session that I do, I free write. After reading Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, I tried free writing and have found that it helps me, both to clear my mind before I start to write and also to find solutions to problems that I can’t figure out in my story. One of my best ideas, the novel I’m currently writing actually, came from one of my pieces of free writing. Now some days I only need to write for five minutes, some I feel like I can’t start work until I’ve written for hours. Just find what works for you.

My Writing Routine

So, to recap, find a time that works with your creativity and find a place that you can write where you can focus. Tell those in your life who need you all the time you’ll be writing and that the time is for writing unless there is an emergency. At first they may not understand, but they will. Music can help to set the writing mood and focus. And don’t forget to stock up on caffeine and snacks, which most writers can’t live without.

 

Happy Writing- Jessica

Writing Wednesdays

Hello all, I’ve decided that every Wednesday I’ll be taking a break from writing my novel, and work on something for the blog part of my website. Today, I want to discuss character building.

One of the first things that I noticed when I started reading as a young girl was the colorful main characters in every book I read. From Hermione Granger in Harry Potter to Hannibal Lecter in Thomas Harris’ book series, the stories behind the characters drew me to their parts in the novels I read.

Let’s start with Hermione Granger: she is everything that I wanted to be as a young girl; an intelligent, driven women who uses her logic to help solve the big problems in the world. Then Hannibal Lecter, the charming suave cannibalistic serial killer who seduces an FBI agent away from her work at the Bureau and into his arms. Now, the two characters that I just named may not have been the main characters but their stories added layers of subplot and, in the case of the novel Hannibal the main plot of the story. Why am I talking about other writers fictional characters and not my own? Simple. It’s easier to define these characters as their stories are, at least at the moment finished. Mine however, are a work in progress.

Now, let’s look at how these characters were built, how they interact with their world and see how that can benefit the characters in our own story.

Hermione Granger is an eleven year old girl, new to both Hogwarts and the Wizarding world and eventually befriends our main protagonist, Harry. What does Hermione do in the stories? Well, she functions as Harry’s more logical mind, helping him to achieve things that would otherwise be a bit out of his range, either in the scope of his character or in the fact that Hermione acts as a sort of encyclopedia, helping Harry to decode the logic puzzle, the mystery of the Basilisk, rescue Sirius, learn spells for his time in the tournament, fight with him in the DA, and then in the sixth book; argue with Harry over his academics. She becomes even more essential in the seventh book, saving Harry from an attack by Voldemort’s snake. Now Hermione is indeed not the protagonist in the novels, but she is a character that everyone remembers. Now how can we use Hermione in our own work? For me, in the detective novel that I’m working on she manifests herself in the form of a mentor, someone with more experience working serial homicide than my main character. When I think of Hermione I think of a mentor, but a peer mentor, someone with whom my protagonist has a nearly equal relationship to and who can impart information I want my main character to know that he or she cannot necessarily find out in the story.

Now, as for Hannibal Lecter, he is a character in passing in both Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs but comes into his own in the novels Hannibal and Hannibal Rising. I found myself wondering about what he was like, what did Hannibal know that both Clarice and Will didn’t? He intrigued me as he intrigued the entire American public as a character and then as Anthony Hopkins portrayed him in the classic film. What role(s) does Hannibal serve both as a character and as a theme? Well, in the first two novels we see him in he is the anti-hero, the dark figure tempting both proteges of Jack Crawford. He functions as a bouncing board, a place for them to learn what they need to know and as a subplot to the main function: catching a killer. In the next two novels we get a much clearer picture of character. For my purposes Hannibal Rising serves much more of a purpose to discuss his character. That novel is entirely driven by the question: what makes Hannibal who he is?

We find the answer within the pages, the way his history is shown through tableau and scenes from his youth, it serves as a character study. Hannibal, we learn is a troubled child, forever traumatized by the knowledge that he participated in the eating of his sister and, it seems he is doomed to repeat the act of drawing people into the act of unconscious cannibalism and also a more human version of themselves. He acts on his desires, not fearing the repercussions from society. Now, while this is off the topic slightly, yes, the prequel to the series serves to demystify and deconstruct the character that has been one of the most feared villains of our time, it also shows how backstory, whether known or unknown to the reader layers the characters writers create with mystery and helps, in the case of very character driven narratives, to help readers question themselves and make a lasting impression on those who read the work.

I’ve found that asking myself simple questions about each character helps me to build a profile of them so I know what they want, and how they go about achieving their goal. In my head, when I find out these answers I see myself as interviewing a character, and watching their body language as well as what and how they respond to my questions.

  1. What trait does this character value above all else?
  2. What is the character’s worst memory?
  3. What is their happiest memory?
  4. How did they grow up? (Was it happy, sad, lonely?)
  5. What motivates the character to get up in the morning?
  6. What do they look like? (An obvious question, I know, but I mean deeper than just looks. What expression do they make when they’re sad, happy angry?)
  7. What is their favorite curse word? Why?
  8. Are they very physical? (i.e. do they gesture when talking, do they tend to hug people when they meet them?)
  9. What did they want to be when they grew up? (Did they achieve that goal, why or why not?)
  10. What is their greatest achievement?
  11. What is their most embarrassing moment? Why?
  12. What book do they read before bed, if any?
  13. What is their favorite food?
  14. How is their room/home decorated?
  15. If they could visit any place in the world on vacation, where and why?

 

These fifteen questions help me to get a deeper understanding of my characters and what makes them tick. I find that even just knowing the answers to this helps it bleed into my writing in subtle ways, like the gestures they make while speaking, the way the interact with colleagues and others and the background of a scene.

Well that’s all I have today for the blog as I have to go meet with my professor about my applications to MFA programs. Happy writing and good luck with your own adventures on the page.

 

Jessica