Tag Archives: character development

My Hero

I’ve been writing stories, or at least making them up, since I can remember. I’ve been writing romantic stories since 1986. But since 1990 all of my heroes have begun to look the same. Normally that would be a problem for a professional writer.

But it’s not a problem for me. Because all of my heroes are based on my husband. 🙂

I’ve been working on my novel Little Miss Lovesick, which I plan to release as an ebook next month. Reading it over again for the first time in a few years, I’m seeing how many of John’s characteristics appear in the hero, Matt. Tall, dark and handsome. Makes the heroine, Sydney, laugh. Kisses like fireworks. <giggle>

Of course, all the heroes in my stories aren’t John verbatim. That would be boring to read – and perhaps eventually boring to write. But we’ve been together since our sophomore year of college, so there are plenty of bits and pieces to use. Sometimes something real simply gives me an idea for something I later make up.

In any case, I think John’s a pretty romantic guy. So I’m sure one way or another I’ll be making up romantic stories for the rest of my life. I’m a pretty lucky girl.

Relationships Make Life Worthwhile

I mentioned last week that I would probably write about relationships on Monday. This post is late because of the relationship I’m involved in right now – my Mom is visiting me in Sydney from Michigan. Tomorrow is her last day so we’re trying to spend as much time as we can hanging out and getting the last few things checked off our lists.

I haven’t been thinking much of my imaginary relationships this past month. John and I agreed that my career could wait another month, but I’d never have this time with my mom again. (The last time we spent four weeks together 24 hours a day, I was a high school senior!) But I’m sure when I get going again next week, all kinds of things will start creeping into my mother/daughter relationships in my stories. I’m as curious as you are to find out what happens!

The most important relationship in my life is the multi-faceted relationship I have with God. My husband comes next, with friends and family coming much farther down the line. I don’t know why that is, but I wonder about it. Does every married person feel that relationship is so far ahead of all the others that it’s worth mentioning? Probably parents feel that way about their children?

My musings make their way into my writing as I make up characters and imagine how they get along with family and friends. I think it’s the most interesting thing about reading other people’s stories, too. I was just reading Stardust by Neil Gaiman last week. I love the sound of his writing, the rhythm and flow and wordchoice. But I have to admit, I was so swept away by the film – the particular actors they chose, their chemistry, the way they looked at each other and talked to each other – that it’s one of the few films that I enjoy more than the book. (Shocking, I know.) Nothing against Neil’s writing or story choices – his episode of Doctor Who this year was my favorite one of the year! I just happened to enjoy the story choices in the movie even more. (Robert DeNiro as the airship captain was brilliant!)

I hope this month-long visit with Mom is everything she hoped it would be. And I look forward to seeing how it affects my writing.

Where Are You From?

On Wednesdays, I’ll cross-post my blog from Routines for Writers here…

I’ve been traveling for just shy of a month now. (I just got home today!) So many times someone has asked me, “Where are you from?” I’ve been more confused about how to answer than most people need to be.  🙂  I live in Sydney, but I’m not Australian and my American accent confuses people if I say, “Sydney.” My most recent home in the U.S. was in Los Angeles, but I don’t live there now and I wasn’t raised there, so it sounds weird to say, “Los Angeles.” I feel like I’m from Michigan because that’s where I was raised, but I haven’t lived there since 1993. At one point, I was with my sister Bonnie who visited me when I was in New York and she elbowed me and said, “Just pick one!”

It’s true that people probably don’t really care; they’re just making conversation. But it took me quite a while to come up with a phrase that worked for me. When I visited the Empire State Building on Saturday (at sunset, can you saySleepless in Seattle?), I answered the question with “Sydney, for now.” It took me nearly 90 minutes to go through the line to get to the top, so I had a lot of time to think. (I was alone with hundreds of strangers.  🙂  )

I feel “from” Michigan because I was raised there and that’s where all my values and ideas were created, to some extent at least. Most of my family and all of John’s family live there, and it’s “home” for both of us on many levels. I feel kind of from California because that’s home base for us while John continues to work in the film business. We’ve spent about seven years living there since 2001, and we have people there we call family and our home church. But Sydney is also home. It’s my address. It’s where John is. We have friends and a church and jobs there, too.

As I was pondering all of this, I realized that I can – and already do – use all of these “homes” in my writing. My characters mostly have a Midwestern value system and work ethic. They often respond as I respond to the city – loving the opportunities, creating a family along the way, and always finding a way to live near something green or, better yet, water. They also have a tendency to wonder at why people who seem so similar can be so different or how such different people can be bound in their similarities – something that has been part of my consciousness since living in Australia.

Because I was in New York for a writer’s conference, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I felt as a visitor to the city, and watching how locals acted and spoke. I tried to remember the sights and sounds and smells. (I loved waking up Sunday morning in my cozy little room in The Library Hotel to a thunder and lightning storm! I’ll tell you more about the awesome hotel in a future post.) All of this is swirling around in my mind and coalescing into stronger backgrounds for my characters. They don’t have just a backstory that comes to me when I think of them, but an additional layer that I know comes from all the different parts of me.

It’s exciting! I love seeing my stories come together with greater depth and, hopefully, greater impact. How do you meld the different pieces and time periods of your life together into better stories?

What Kind of Character Will I Be?

On Wednesdays, I’ll cross-post my blog from Routines for Writers here…

I have ten days to complete the last three assignments for the last three classes of my master of arts in creative writing degree from University of Technology, Sydney. When I turn in a script for a short film, the climax scene of my superhero novel, and the first 15,000 words of a new urban fantasy, I’ll be done with my degree. Yay!

Then the next morning I’ll be flying from Sydney to Los Angeles to visit friends and go to a writer’s retreat, then off to New York City to attend the Romance Writers of America National Conference. It’s going to be a busy month, even without homework!

So while we’re talking about character this month, my thoughts are turning inward. What kind of character am I becoming? How have I changed since the last time I was in the pressure cooker of higher education?

  • Perfectionist – One of my biggest hurdles from birth through getting my bachelor degree was perfectionism. On the one hand, it’s helped me to be a high achiever. On the other hand, it’s brought out some of my worst qualities. I tend toward blaming people when things don’t go the way I want them to. I become highly critical of all aspects of the process. My standards are sometimes almost unattainable. But I began this last period of schooling knowing that would be an issue for me. I thought about my actions and responses from day one, wondering if I was reacting like the person I wanted to be rather than the person I once was.
  • Impatient – A partner issue to perfectionism is impatience. Though it often comes out as complaining, my impatience is often directed at myself. I can do better, I know I can. I haven’t worked hard enough. I could have worked harder on that. But it’s often directed outward as well. That teacher isn’t as prepared as he/she should be. We aren’t being pushed enough. We aren’t being taught how to excel in our work in the way I was expecting, in the way I wanted. But this time around, I seemed to be surrounded by people encouraging me to relax and do my best and let everything else fall into place as it would.
  • Persevering – I’m not a quitter, but for the first 22 years of my life, achievement came easily to me. I didn’t know what to do when I didn’t win at something, or achieve something. I usually moved on, assuming I wasn’t good at X or Y if I couldn’t do it straight away. But time has taught me differently. I’m a much better writer than many people. But many others are better writers than I can even imagine being. This time through school, I understood that some things needed to be worked on harder and longer. Some pieces would be well-received by my university audience, and other pieces were only getting praise from non-academics. I’m still sorting that out. But I have found the areas in which I love to write and, even if I get lower grades for writing in a genre or style that my academic friends don’t understand, I’m proud of myself for persevering down the path I know is right for me.

As much as I’ve wanted a chance to pursue this degree for the last ten years, I’m glad it’s over. There have been more disappointments than celebrations. I’m not yet convinced that I’ve been taught anything to make me a better writer. I suspect qualities will come up over time, or perhaps in the company of my other writer friends who knew the before and after writer, that prove I’ve learned a lot in the last sixteen months. And I’m sure a big part of my failure to see obvious growth is because of my perfectionist qualities.

But the process has made me a better person, or at least it’s helped me to see that I am growing as a human being. I’m closer to the Kitty God had in mind when he created me. And that makes me happy.

I’m also closer to the kind of person who will enjoy and work hard at a successful career as a fiction writer. I know more about what working hard means – and it doesn’t mean you didn’t work hard enough if you didn’t work yourself sick. I know how to better balance all the aspects of my life in a career that is not only demanding, but where I’m the boss – so I’m becoming a better, more reasonable, and more patient boss.

I’m not sure the last sixteen months and $30,000 has made me a better writer. But the process has helped me to understand better how to grow as a person. It required more prayer than I would’ve expected. More patience with myself than I’ve ever allowed. And more support and encouragement from my friends than I would’ve been willing to ask for.

In the end, I know that God picked the right time and place for me to go through this, and I know that I’ll continue to see and reap the benefits long after I’ve been handed the piece of paper. I think the best part of the whole process has been watching God grow me into a better person every day, and being surprised and awed that he thinks I’m worth so much time and effort.

But then I think about how much time and effort I put into my fictional characters…


Fun Ways to Dream Up Characters

On Wednesdays, I’ll cross-post my blog from Routines for Writers here…

My apologies for getting here late today. I had two meetings with teachers yesterday about my final assignments for my final master’s degree classes and my brain is FULL! LOL! On the other hand, those meetings and my homework gave me ideas for what to write to you today. I am juggling three different stories for my classes right now. Count them – three! It’s a bit overwhelming. So I’m thinking about characters – new ones and old ones – a lot right now. Over the last few days, these are some places I’ve been finding inspiration.

  • Movies – I went to see the new Arthur as a homework break on Tuesday. (Discount Tuesdays at The Ritz cinema in Randwick – gotta love it!) I wasn’t sure what I’d think of Russell Brand, but I knew I loved Helen Mirren and the trailers looked funny. I needed something to make me laugh, so I was hoping. And boy, what a fun movie it was! When I wasn’t laughing, I was crying, and sometimes I was doing both! In fact, when I told my friend Rachel about one of the end scenes, I couldn’t help crying again in the re-telling! LOL! Movies that do that to me stay with me for a while, and I’ve been thinking a lot about what I loved about both characters (as well as the cute love interest played by Greta Gerwig). I’ve got some ideas about how to make my own characters act in such a way as to make me laugh and cry more, and those feelings should flow over onto my reading audience.
  • Books – I’m reading Gone by Michael Grant. It’s a YA about the sudden disappearance of everyone over age 14. It’s mostly interesting, a bit slow in parts, but the characters are well differentiated. My characters are generally criticized as not being well differentiated so I’m thinking as I’m reading. I don’t find all of the characters believable, and the POV is a bit too far away for me to feel an emotional bond with anyone, but I’m trying to think of how to make my characters more different from each other and this book is helping.
  • Friends – Last night I went to Max Brenner’s chocolate cafe with some friends for Girls Night Out. On the one hand, we’re all so similar – and that’s why we get along so well. (There are days when I wonder if Rachel and I are twin sisters from a parallel universe.) On the other hand, of course we’re not so similar that anyone would confuse us with each other. At the very least, we have three different accents – Ruth is originally from Germany, Rachel is Australian born and raised, and I’m American. But my target audience won’t find it believable if I make all the characters from different countries just to make them different! LOL! Still, under the influence of laughter and chocolate, by the time we ended the evening I’d decided to put my GNO friends in my new book. (Mel, you don’t know this yet since you missed last night!) Suddenly, I was thinking up lots of quirky ways my characters could develop simply because a few of them are now partially my friends in disguise. At the very least, it’ll help me break through the wall of similar characters I always seem to start with.
  • Daydreaming – These last few weeks I’ve had a long-recurring daydream in increasing frequency…what if I had a Monica? I’ve wanted a Monica of my own since season three of Friends. I’ve thought about putting an ad out this semester – Looking for a Monica, must be happy only when everything is sparkling, will pay accordingly. I am one of those people who live in the uncomfortable tension between hating to clean and hating to have a dirty home. So I daydream about how to find a Monica. Sometimes I daydream about having my own band who will play any music I want, any time I want, live in front of me. When I’m busy like I have been, I constantly imagine how marvelous life would be if I had an Angela Lansbury-like cook, like from Beauty and the Beast. Someone sweet and kind who makes me healthy meals that taste delicious, and who makes sure I eat in just the right way to lose some fat but not my running muscle. Someone who can make anything taste delicious and make it ready at the exact moment I am a) hungry or b) have time to eat. Ahhh…mmm… Oh, sorry, got lost in that one for a minute!

I’m sure you’ve thought of all of these ways to create or build or differentiate your characters. But it sure was fun talking about it with you! I’ve never had to work on three projects at once, and I can assure you it’s not optimum. But it needs to be done now, and the pressure is possibly helping me go places in my writing that I haven’t gone before. That is both a good and a bad thing. On the one hand, the crew of the starship Voyager got to explore space that no other Earthling had seen. On the other hand, they were lost and couldn’t get home. That’s not so good. That’s an unfinished and therefore unpublished book!

But see, if I let my mind bounce around all of these other stories and universes, it will help me get silly and funny and creative in my own universe. I’ll let you know what happens!

What Are My Characters Really Like?

On Wednesdays, I’ll cross-post my blog from Routines for Writers here…

When I read Shonna’s post from Friday on the writing book Fiction is Folks by Robert Newton Peck, I was struck by one of her quotes.

As you mature into a professional writer, you will do well to study the way people really are. Not what they ought to be. p.9

When I say “struck,” I really mean “smacked across the side of the head.” Ouch! I’ve known for years that one of my biggest problems as a writer is that I tend to see people as they almost are, as they could be, and sometimes as they ought to be. It’s one of the things that scared my mom the most when I was growing up. I wasn’t as interested in nice, well-adjusted boys. I wanted to save the peripheral boys. I could see what great people they could become…later. I was the Boy Rescuer.

Now as it turns out, I married a boy in whom I could see a world of possibilities and promise. 🙂 He grew into a pretty fantastic man over the years (21 of them last week!). But I read that quote from Peck and I thought, oh man, if I’m unwilling to see real people as they really are, how in the world will I ever train myself to see my pretend people as they really are?!

But the other side of the coin is that I’ve had a good life and been a good friend to people by believing in who they could be. Surely there is a way to leverage that positive characteristic into my writing. I think it’s time to go back to my character diamonds and look at the characters’ arcs.

In fact, this just occurred to me as I was typing – what if I overlay the character arc in four words across the three acts? Over Act One, say a character is clueless. Then over the first half of Act Two the character becomes curious. During the second half of Act Two the character gets frustrated with her lack of progress or overconfident with her apparent progress. And finally in Act Three, she becomes caring and confident. This is pretty close to the character arc for Alicia Silverstone’s character in Clueless.

Okay, this is why I write! Because if I just keep going, I tend to find some answers! LOL! 🙂 I’m so excited! I have to go write now!

Character Diamonds

On Wednesdays, I’ll re-post my Routines for Writers blog post here. I hope you enjoy!

I’ve heard a couple of different people talk about character diamonds over the years. David Freeman in his Beyond Structure weekend uses the diamond shape to suggest the major character traits you can use throughout the story to make the character interesting, consistent and sometimes a little unexpected.

The idea is to have two major characteristics that define the character, one quirky or unexpected characteristic, and another trait that is a mask. The mask is what the character has developed to cover his deepest fear. (Or whatever is the biggest internal problem that you’ll explore during the story.)

In the screenwriting workshop I attended last month, Slaying the Dragon, the character diamond was used to show how character creates plot. The four points of the diamond are for recording a) the flaw that masks the character’s biggest fear, b) the biggest inner fear, c) the biggest need, and d) the plan the character develops to meet their need. This plan doesn’t work, of course, and as the character works his way along the hero’s journey he ends up having to change plans.

I have to come up with a new story for one of my classes so I’m going to sit down with my whiteboard and colored markers and draw out both kinds of diamonds. For each major character I’ll brainstorm what traits might be most interesting for each character, and what fears or problems. Then I’ll pick two major traits and – since I like writing humorous pieces – one odd or quirky trait.

The mask will be the same on both triangles. All of the traits from the first diamond will help me figure out what would naturally show up on the second diamond. All of those points together will help me develop plot points that naturally extend from the character.

Notice I used “naturally” twice? Nothing bothers me more than watching a character do things that I don’t believe they would do. Unless I’m the one who wrote the piece.  🙂