Category Archive: Character Development

Writing Diverse Characters & Stereotypes

Map of Latin AmericaWe are nearing the end of Hispanic Heritage Month, and one of the things I put on my 2015 goals list was to support the creation of quality Latin American characters.

Today, I’m tackling three common stereotypes and misconceptions.



3 Misconceptions About Latin American People…

Real ones have dark hair, skin and eyes:
The dominant aspects of Hispanic DNA are pretty consistent, but not exclusive. Genetic roulette is a funny thing. Latin Americans can come in any physical variation, and I’ve seen this first hand with my own family. I have light eyes while everyone else in my family has ebony chips for eye color. One of my sisters has a facial profile that would mark her as a Mayan princess in training. Her nose practically starts at her hair-line, while the rest of my family have noses with a dished bridge.

Most of my relatives, including my parents and siblings are on the shorter side. However, one of my uncles was six and a half feet tall. Pictures of him bending over to hug my 4’9″ grandmother are quite amusing. Several of my family members have bone straight jet-black hair, others have light colored or wavy hair. One of my kids has textbook dark coloring. While my other kid has sandy almost blond hair, with blue eyes, and skin so fair it’s a nightmare keeping the kid slathered in enough sunscreen.

Everyone in Latin American is Catholic:
We are predominately a group with Christian sensibilities, and Roman Catholicism is the single largest religious influence. However, many people are moving away from strict Catholicism, and embracing other faiths. And there have been large Jewish communities in Latin American for hundreds of years.

My Cuban born and raised grandmother called herself a good Catholic, but her beliefs were all over the place and influenced by a form of spiritualism with African roots. This blending of per-contact myths and ceremonies with aspects of Catholicism is common all over Latin America. It’s something I find fascinating and I’ve been blogging about it over at Part-Time Monster for several months now.

Everyone in Latin American speaks Spanish and they are of Spanish ancestry:
Indigenous people, decedents of African slaves and those of non Spanish ancestry live all over Latin American. You can find people originally from almost every country in the world. And there are currently nine official languages, plus countless indigenous languages and dialects.

However, historically speaking having some Spanish ancestry was considered favorable. That’s because many countries had a caste system. Spanish born people enjoyed the top spot and were called Peninsulares. The children of two Peninsulares were a step lower on the social scale. As a person got less connected to a Spanish born ancestor their social rank plummeted. Race and class are still tricky subjects for some Latin Americans to talk about, particularly within the upper classes.

Bonus tip: We are name obsessed.
We tend to have a lot of names; it’s not unheard of for someone to have six or more names crowded onto their birth certificate. Part of that is because including both the mother’s and father’s surname is the preferred method of naming. Also reintroducing family names back into the name stream, so family lines aren’t lost, is very important. Plus we tend to give almost everyone at least one Catholic name. I gave my kids saints’ names and I’m not even remotely religious anymore. I suspect the tradition is encoded within me so deeply, I did it unconsciously.

What makes a good Latin American character is hard to pin down and no single set of characteristics is going to work. For one thing, Latin America is a huge geographic area, and each part is influenced by too many variables to count. If you want to include a character, do the research and don’t be afraid to seek help. I catch mistakes in books all time, and these are often simple issues that anyone with a basic knowledge of my culture would notice too.

Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15 to October 15, you can learn more about the event and it’s history here.

Permanent link to this article:

How to Write LGBT+ Characters

Join us in welcoming guest blogger, Hannah Givens. We met Hannah through another mutual blogger friend over a year ago and we fell in love with her super intelligent and pop culture rich blog,Things Matter. We asked her here today to talk about an important and seldom addressed topic: how to write sensitive and realistic lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender characters.This is a subject we knew almost nothing about, but we wanted to know more, and thought our readers would too.

Please give a warm Write On Sisters welcome to Hannah!

Pride Flag With Text

So, you want to write a queer character? Great! Your fiction will be more realistic, and your audience will thank you for your respect. Of course, it can be challenging to write outside your comfort zone, but it’s definitely not impossible.

For our purposes, your writing will fall into one of three categories, and your approach will vary slightly depending on the category.

1) Historical Fiction
As with any kind of historical fiction, research is your friend. How did people live during your time period? If someone didn’t want a traditional marriage or a traditional gender role, what other options were available? In ancient history, the culture might be open to male homosexuality but not female, or open to all homosexuality as long as all parties went home to their opposite-sex partners at the end of the day. Other cultures and time periods were less hospitable, and people had to find creative ways to break taboos. What code words and signals would a gay man use to meet other men in the 1900s versus the 1950s?
The most important thing to remember is that queer people have existed in every time and place, you just have to find them. It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom either, even if you’re dealing with a restrictive time period. Queer people can make their own happy endings, if that’s what your story needs — look at Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake, a lesbian couple in early-1800s America who lived in a de facto marriage for 44 years. It can happen.

2) Contemporary Fiction
With a story set in the present, research is still your friend, but in this case you’re fortunate to have all the primary sources you could possibly want! Talk to people, read blogs, read books, find out what it’s like. Use resources like the Diversity Cross Check tumblr to locate people willing to answer questions.
We’re in a transitional phase at the moment where homosexuality is becoming commonplace, but we’re not stopping there. People are exploring all kinds of new identities and understandings. Labels are many, varied, and personal. As a writer, terminology is something to treat with great care, keeping your character’s personality and backstory in mind. Some people are accustomed to the word “queer” being derogatory, and would never apply it to themselves. Others, like me, use the term as a general catchall for LGBTQQIA+ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Questioning Intersex Asexual and more.) People fall onto a whole gender spectrum far beyond male/female, and they have any number of pronouns to go with those identities. As a writer, if you’re not sure you’re using a term correctly or representing an identity accurately, hold off on that using it or presenting that character until you’re confident.
The most important thing here is that a queer person is probably not thinking about their queerness every second of the day. It’s totally fine to write an “issues” book or a coming-out novel, but don’t be limited by that — queerness doesn’t have to be the plot!

3) Science Fiction/Fantasy
In these genres, it’s totally up to you! You don’t have to worry about what it was “really” like in some other time period, you can design your world any way you want. If your story is based on Earth or is meant to be a human future, then modern issues might be an influence. If not, or if you’re far enough into the future, you have free reign to create not just characters but whole societies. This can be especially interesting if you want to explore different ideas of gender, like in the recent award-winning Ancillary series by Ann Leckie.
As with terminology, you’ll want to be reasonably secure in your point of view to avoid accidentally creating a world with unfortunate implications that will reflect back on you as an author. That’s easy to do even for the most well-meaning of creators. I’m not trying to scare you off, though. The most important thing here, and really with any genre, is to have the queer characters! Even if they aren’t central, you can still reference how queer people fit into the society you’ve created. If they’re totally nonexistent, if there’s no place for them at all, then I’ve got news for you… You’re writing a dystopia!

One More Most-Important Thing
Including the queer characters really is the most-est important, even if you make mistakes. In most circumstances and for most stories, you’ll write a queer character just like any other. But if you’re having trouble, or you feel like your research is getting the better of you, it never hurts to try things the other way around: Look at your existing lineup and try some experiments. What would happen if your POV character came out? Could one of your characters be transgender? At the least you’ll get some good practice in conceiving fully-formed queer people, and while you’re doing that, you may find your characters are already queerer than you thought!

Hannah GivensGuest Blogger: Hannah Givens is a history and museum studies student in the Deep South. She blogs about history, pop culture, sci-fi writing, and queer issues of all kinds. She is also the founder of the twitter hashtag, #queerpop, and a member of the Non-Binary Book Club. Find her at Thing Matter, or on Twitter with @HannahEGivens.

Permanent link to this article:

Writing Frenemies: Love, Hate, & In-Between

CC 2.0 Mauricio Delgado

CC 2.0 Mauricio Delgado

Frenemies are the staple for conflict-packed stories. It’s a relationship dynamic that runs the gambit of emotions. It’s the subtle barbs of a disgruntled coworker. It’s the lingering sad but quietly malevolent vibe of a jilted ex-lover. And it’s the deliberate backstabbing of a fair-weather friend.

Frenemies of every kind are particularly popular in teen character creation, but they’re nothing new to writers. Jane Austen played off the dynamic notion of an enemy masquerading as a friend in several of her novels. Just think of the complicated relationship between Isabella Thorpe and Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey.

How do people with common interests, who run in the same work and/or social circles, manage to cross the line?

Well, it usually begins with some level of self-interest. The corresponding behaviors range from the annoying to the pathological. This type of character plays a major roll in the project I’m working on this fall. My lead character, Jade, is a frienemie to her ex-boyfriend’s new girl with disastrous results for everyone.

Here are some of the character categories where you often find a frenemy lurking:

Me, Myself and I Friend:
This frenemy just has no real interest in others. Their world view has room for one star in the sky and they are it! It’s not so much that they want to hurt others, it’s just that others aren’t as smart, as dedicated, as driven, or as worthy of success as they are. They are single-minded and hard working; they win small and large contests with all the commitment of a world class athlete.

Personal Motto: Good things come to those who hunt them down and kill them with a big stick.

The Roller Coaster of Doom Friend:
They’re up, they’re down, and they’re lost. They’re looking for others to pity them, clutch their hands in support, and show them the way. Of course, once directed to a suitable path, they will still go the other way and cause chaos. This frenemy’s prickly and unpredictable nature means they require constant attention.

Personal Motto: What have you done for me lately?

Green Meanie Friend:
Jealousy’s glow is an ugly shade on anyone, but this frenemy is sporting some shamrock colored karma that demands some redecorating. At the core of envy is low self-esteem and a dose of greed. They want the other person’s success so badly they can taste it. And they resent and denigrate their friend’s accolades with growing malcontent. The Green Meanie doesn’t understand why success proves so elusive, unless their friends are sabotaging them. Paranoia and conspiracy theories are the Green Meanie’s true BFFs.

Personal Motto: Blowing out another person’s candle will make mine brighter.

Humans Are Stepping Stones Friend:
The path to success is paved with the discarded hulls of others. These frenemies are the first to wrangle an invitation to the party and the last to help with the clean up. They are often charming, attractive and know how to work any social situations like a public relations pro. They gravitate toward money and power, always realigning themselves with new friends for maximum gain.

Personal Motto: Life is a journey, and I arrive first and in style.

Most Valuable Player Friend:
Walking in the spotlight feels good, and it’s okay if a little light bleeds ever so gently onto others and long as the MVP hogs the focal point. MVP don’t mind if friends own a much smaller spotlight or if they’re successful in another area of the shared social web. But friends should never go head -to-head with the MVP on home turf, it will not end well.

Personal Motto: I play to annihilate, because he/she who dies with the most trophies, press clippings, and awards wins.

Love Lunatic Friend:
Stupid in the name of love, friends fall by the wayside when the object of this frenemy’s affections beckons. Likewise, their love is always the one true affection, whereas their friends get mocked for their silly crushes. No one can equal the scope of the Love Lunatic’s passion, save Romeo and Juliet of course. That pair is ideal in all things. This frenemy will only return to the fold once love has gone awry. In lost love’s melancholy stage, they will demand everyone’s full attention, until the next true love comes along.

Personal Motto: Love triumphs all, until it doesn’t!

The Grand Schemer Friend:
This frenemy knows just what they’re doing. They’ve learned the art of how befriend and betray at Machiavelli’s knee. They get close fast and study their prey from every angle. When they strike, it is without warning and for maximum suffering. If they are really good at being bad, they might even convince the injured party to apologize.

Personal Motto: Sometimes you need to lose a battle to win the war.

Young adult fiction is positively bursting with frenemies. Using many means (gossip, slander, blackmail), these characters advance their campaigns of self-promotion at any cost. Throwing in a frenemy character never fails to create some extra tension in a group.

Have you ever written a frenemy relationship? If so please share your experience.

Permanent link to this article:

The Key to Writing 3-Dimensional Characters

The most common advice I’ve heard for writing three-dimensional characters is to delve into their backstory, develop their personality profiles, and get to know them as if they are alive and kicking right beside you. Common wisdom seems to support that if the author knows their characters inside and out, then said characters will be three-dimensional on the page.

But it’s not always that easy. I just finished reading a book where all the characters were flat as pancakes, despite the reader knowing their backstories and character traits. The author attempted to give the characters depth by adding layers of information, except the problem with these layers is they were transparent. The reader could quite literally see through them to all the other layers. Do you all know about the onion metaphor? How the best characters are like an onion where you peel back the layers? The key to that working is you can’t see the layer below until you peel back the one above.

To put it simply, three-dimensional characters need SECRETS.

onion peeling

Now I don’t mean the characters must be withholding secrets from other characters (though they certainly can be), but rather that the author needs to withhold information from the reader regarding the characters. And when the author reveals that information, it should surprise the reader. When characters don’t have secrets, when they are exactly who they seem to be, they are predictable, and that makes the story dull.

So what kind of character secrets are we talking about here? Let me give some examples:

  • Personality Secret. People always present a certain version of themselves in public, but who are they really? Same goes for your characters. They all have a public persona, and that is what readers see first. But as the story progresses, peel back the layers and let readers find out who your characters really are. Maybe that strict vegan puts cream in her coffee when no one is looking. Or that grumpy lady loses her perma-scowl when she sees the old man next door.

  • Purpose Secret. This is when the reader thinks a character wants one thing but really they’re after another, or the character’s motivations are different than expected. This is a great way to add depth. Plus, this happens all the time in real life (always get the full story before making a character judgement, right?) and makes fictional characters feel as real and multi-faceted as you or me.

  • Identity Secret. Who doesn’t love a secret identity? It could be a secret the character keeps from others, or it could be a secret the character doesn’t even know themselves. It can be big (the character is really a princess!) or small (the character is so-and-so’s ex).

  • Opinion Secret. We don’t always say exactly what we mean, and neither should our characters. Writers can have fun with this by having a supporting character reveal what they really think of the hero’s plan at a crucial moment.

  • Backstory Secret. This is the most commonly used secret for trying to add depth to characters. The trick is to make sure the secret casts the character in a new light. For instance, if the hero is a tough guy and we learn that when he was five he was suspended for fighting, that adds no depth to his character because it’s predictable. But if we find out he was a peacemaker in his youth, then that’s a surprise and makes the character more intriguing because now we’re all wondering what turned this pacifist into a fighter.

The common denominator to all these secrets is they are contradictory to how the character was introduced. A secret must show the character in a new light, otherwise it’s not adding depth or dimension.

A simple test to see if your characters are three-dimensional is to ask this:

Does my character do anything unexpected?

If not, he or she is one-dimensional. And don’t mistake shocking for unexpected. I read a book where one character did some shockingly bad things, but he was set up to be such an awful person that these things weren’t unexpected at all. Therefore, he was a one-dimensional villain who was predictable and boring. And boring is what we’re all trying to avoid when writing stories!

Bottom line, characters who are three-dimensional are never who they initially seem to be. So give them some secrets!


Permanent link to this article:

The Back-up Antagonist

We recently had a guest join us to talk about creating characters with good character. If you haven’t read that post, I strongly suggest you do, since creating likable characters is always a hot topic with writers. However, it turns out I’m a contrarian. I’m crazy about unlikable characters that run from those skirting the edges of being jerks, to the ones that cross the line into the realm of the truly hated! I’m also one of those writers who’s nuts about secondary characters in general, the ones that were never meant for story center stage, but often find a way to steal a chunk of the spotlight anyway.  So put these two traits together and give me an unlikable secondary character and I’m in heaven.

I’ve been thinking about this composite character for over a year now, ever since I started writing a book featuring a bunch of teen criminals, and it turns out that when secondary characters are pompous, shady and egotistical, they serve a number of important story functions. These characters fall into some predictable patterns, too many to count, but here are four of my personal favorites.

Pirates and Mercenaries: When characters don’t care about being liked, they can say and do all the things the hero can’t. Since they tend to look out for number one, they don’t share the value of sugar-coating the truth for the sake of others. This character never lets the reader forget the stakes. They become the voice of the devil’s advocate. They up the tension and sometimes offer comic relief with the forces of their self-serving agenda and natural pessimism. Jayne from Firefly is the perfect example of this character, being unabashedly rude and the first one to speak up when a plan sounds stupid, or just lacking in financial gain.Firefly Jayne

Tough Love Mentors: Sure, everyone thinks they want a mentor who is kind, supportive and praising, but not all mentors are cut out to be that way. Mentors are who they are often because of wisdom gained through a lifetime of hard work and often harder knocks, and that can change a person. Tough love mentors are bitter, and callous, unwilling to trust. They hide behind a wall of ice, or in some cases, alcohol. Hamish from The Hunger Games is the perfect example. After watching countless tributes under his sponsorship die, he has given up caring about himself or others. That is until he finally believes he might have a shot at bringing a tribute home alive.

Hunger Games photo

The Absentee Antagonist’s Understudies: It’s easy to forget that in the Harry Potter series many of the unlikable characters are story stand-ins for the missing in action Lord V. The Dursleys, Crabbe, Fudge, Umbridge, even little Mrs. Norris are only there to provide obstacles, and in the end most of them never cause Harry any lasting harm. I like Argus Filch, he is a character who just oozes animosity and frankly looks like he smells bad, but underneath it all he is just venerable and scared of his own secrets getting out.Harry Potter

Kindness Killers: From high atop their sturdy soapbox, and speaking in a voice too high for mere mortals to hear, this character rains down upon a story with moral fortitude and impressive list of righteous conventions. This character strives to create change for what they think are all the right reasons, but they’ve gone terribly wrong. I think my favorite literary example is Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice, but who can forget Marianne Bryant in Easy A. She is just the right nasty blend of know-it-all faith and insufficient grace. Easy A crop

I love a large cast in stories. Give me groups of heroes or packs of story-helping characters, and if a few of them are quirky, creepy, and downright morally busted, all the better! If you don’t already have one of these powerhouse characters in your story, you might be missing out on something big. If you have a favorite unlikable character, please share them in the comments.

Permanent link to this article:

Do Your Characters have Character?

ShawnGriffithToday we bring you a guest post from one of our newer blogging friends, Shawn Griffith. Shawn runs a blog called Down Home Thoughts, and his site is packed with old-fashioned wit and wisdom. He’s on WriteOnSisters to talk about character, a topic near and dear to his heart. In fact he’s conducting a survey on character over at his blog. Make sure you head over there next and lend him your own down home thoughts on what character means to you. 

When outlining your main characters, you think about their purpose in the story, you contemplate various names, physical traits, habits, etc., but do you think about their character? By character, I mean those traits that make up how an individual, in this case, your character, reacts to the ups and downs that life (or an author) throws at them. Traits like the ones described in the Knight’s Chivalric Code; honesty, self-discipline, courage, justice, mercy, generosity, faith, nobility, and hope are great examples. Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics is also an example of a fictional code. The First Law states that “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.” What kind of character do your characters have?

Do Your Characters Have Character?

I believe that having a code of conduct for your characters helps make the decisions about how they respond in difficult situations a bit easier. It’s a good idea to keep your traits general at first. You can expand on the traits as needed. Since character is not easy to define due to its complexity, you should focus on no more than three or four attributes per group of beings. We’ve all heard the saying that actions speak louder than words. A character’s true personality or character will show in their actions. This is why knowing your character’s character is important. If you struggle with defining a set of social norms, the 5 questions below can help you develop your own social code for particular group.

5 Questions To Develop a Social Code
1. Is there a driving central theme or passion for this group? Klingon’s love battle and value honor above all else.
2. Are there specific traits you need this group to have (or lack) for your story to work? Orcs in Lord of the Ring are utterly bloodthirsty and destructive.
3. Are there traits you want to emphasize/de-emphasize? You have a culture that respects property very highly and your main character is kleptomaniac.
4. Do you need a society’s character to change in the course of the story? The peace loving Ewoks in Star Wars are forced to fight for their home with the rebels.
5. Does your society have a central character flaw or strength? Asimov’s Foundation has the planet Trantor where conformity, obedience and acceptance are expected.

Once the societal norm is established, look at the main characters and decide what are their strengths and weaknesses according to this norm. Use these questions as a starting point for laying a framework for your character’s character.

5 Questions for Character
1. What drives or compels them to do what they do?
2. What are their character strengths?
3. What are their weaknesses?
4. What is important to them?
5. What are they willing to die for?

Hopefully these questions have made you think about character in a new light and perhaps even the effect of that character’s struggle on the character of your reader. I would love hear your thoughts on this. Leave a comment so we can discuss it.

Shawn Griffith currently has two writing projects underway. One is a non-fiction work about the importance of understanding, identifying, and promoting good character development in ourselves and those we influence. The other is a work of science fiction and is in the formative stages. You can find out more about Shawn by visiting his blog Down Home Thoughts. It is a collection of wisdom, character and common sense thoughts passed along from his parents, grandparents and others, with a dash of stories, photos, book reviews and other writings.

Permanent link to this article:

Prime Inner Conflict (aka Conflicting Wants)

Earlier this year I wrote a post about Internal Conflict based on a character’s flaws, fears and morality. Like External Conflict, Internal Conflict can be numerous and varied. The only rule is it all must get in the way of the hero achieving his/her goal. If it doesn’t, you don’t have conflict, just baggage.

And then there is what I call the Prime Inner Conflict. This is a want or desire that doesn’t just conflict with the protagonist’s goal, it competes with it. The protagonist can have one or the other, but not both. Put simply, if the hero achieves his goal, he won’t get his inner desire; and if the hero gets his inner desire, he won’t achieve his goal.

For example, in THE HUNGER GAMES, Katniss’s main goal is to win The Games so that she survives and can continue looking after her family. However, she also wants Peeta to survive. This is a huge Inner Conflict because only one tribute will be alive at the end. Katniss wants it to be her, but also wants it to be Peeta. It cannot be both of them. These two conflicting wants torment her the entire book. And readers can’t put the novel down because they have to find out how Katniss will choose between her life and Peeta’s! Such a compelling conundrum!   


So armed with that knowledge, I started developing the heroine for my latest WIP… but I struggled to create her Prime Inner Conflict. I laboured over it so much that I began to question whether it was really necessary. If it was so hard, maybe my story didn’t need it! After all, everyone kept telling me that I didn’t need to write the next Hunger Games. Plus, my protagonist really, really, really wanted to achieve her goal! I couldn’t imagine there was anything else she’d want that much, let alone something that would make her consider giving up her goal. My character is very determined and principled – admirable qualities. Did she really need an inner conflict that would make her all self-doubty? Besides, there are lots of stories where the hero has an external goal and wants that external goal above all else. Right?

Then, serendipitously, I read a book where the heroine had no Prime Inner Conflict. She had Internal Conflict (Should she trust that boy? Should she help that girl?), but nothing ever dissuaded her from pursuing her main goal. For the first 50 pages this was fine, the story was exciting, the stakes were super high, and I was engaged in the heroine’s plight, and then… I got bored. Why? What had changed? Nothing, and that was the problem. The character’s goal was so one-note that I became frustrated with her. Didn’t she care about anything else? Why couldn’t she see that the world wasn’t black and white? And that’s when it hit me, why Prime Inner Conflict is so important – it’s real. Life isn’t simple, it’s not cut and dry, it’s messy and complicated. Characters who don’t wrestle with life’s inner conflicts (as we all do) feel fake and are harder to connect to and root for.

Clearly, I needed to discover my heroine’s Prime Inner Conflict, stat!

And I did. It was hard. It took a lot of soul searching. But I finally came up with something that felt real. And my story will be much better for it.

How do you develop your characters? Do you struggle with their Inner Conflict?

Permanent link to this article:

Writing Archetypes: The Wise Woman

Guest Blog PhotoToday we’ve invited back one of our favorite fellow bloggers, Natacha Guyot. I met Natacha over a year ago and I just adore her upbeat attitude and can-do spirit. She publishes books in her native French and in English, and this year has created an impressive list of publications in fiction and nonfiction. More on that below in her bio.

Please give her a warm Write On Sister welcome!

The Wise Woman by Natacha Guyot

One thing I find important about Strong Women characters is they don’t all need to rely on physical force to display strength. Strength can take numerous forms. Sometimes the media likes to focus exclusively on the kickass / physical resilience aspect. This very physical persona is often combined with an emotionless personality. It is damaging to all women when the portrayal of women risks confining them to another box full of male-lens-based clichés. Because this stereotype dominates, it makes the Strong Woman archetype look problematic and limiting. I have no problem with physically strong women, but not when it’s their only skill.  I love Sarah Connor, Aeryn Sun, Katniss Everdeen and many more, because these kickass women are three-dimensional and show strength in multiple ways.

Women who aren’t seen in combat or related activities can still be amazingly strong.
In the vast landscape of Strong Women, another archetype can be found: the Wise Woman. Regardless of her actions or role in a narrative, a Wise Woman is a Strong Woman to me. Her experience and her problem solving approach are testimonies to her strength of character and importance to the plot.

Here are five examples of the wise woman archetype in action.

The Diplomat:
She believes in negotiations and tries to avoid armed conflict and violence. She is set on retaining peace unless there is no other choice left. She is normally a talented speaker and listener. She is willing to find compromise but it doesn’t mean that she will give up on her values. In STARGATE UNIVERSE, Camile Wray is a huge supporter of civilian leadership, although it doesn’t always make for good decisions. A representative of the International Oversight Advisory, she is a figure of diplomacy from the opening of the show and is seen standing up to military and form alliances with several civilian members of the Destiny’s crew during the two seasons.

Dana Scully - The X Files WikiThe Agent of the Law:
She can be seen relying on physical force more often than other Wise Women, due to field experience and conflict. Yet the Agent of the Law’s work is to ensure the security of the people she works for, most often her country, though it can be a planet or even a group of planets depending on the settings of the fictional universe she lives in. The Agent of the Law is a versatile figure with many tools to solve problems, depending on her background. In THE X-FILES, Dana Scully’s medical formation and experience are what she uses to analyze cases. She looks at things through the scientific lens. Even when the system proves to have flaws, she still does her best to work within the law, to change things from the inside.

Rachel Scott - The Last Ship WikiThe Scientist/Doctor:
This character has many angles, but her calling is to find solutions through science. It is common to see her confronted by problems that look impossible to resolve. This hardship can take many forms: an incurable illness, an unusual patient who doesn’t respond like others did to a certain treatment, a pandemic strikes. Not all scientists/doctors deal with such situations but it remains a common pattern. In THE LAST SHIP, Doctor Rachel Scott is literally given the task to save human kind, by finding a cure to a virus which has been killing most of human kind. Even when supplies and equipment diminish and with the clock ticking, she has no choice but achieve her goal.

Luminara Unduli - WookieepediaThe Teacher:
Mentor figures can be a role of choice for a grown up Wise Woman. The teacher most often helps younger characters as they grow up during the story. She can also work side-by-side with her peers. She understands that education involves many aspects, both formal teaching but also field experience. She can lead by example. In STAR WARS, Jedi Master Luminara Unduli was introduced in Attack of the Clones with her apprentice, Barriss Offee. The two often appeared together in subsequent material, whether novels or television episodes, but not always. Luminara sought to make people think and see them learn by doing, including from their mistakes.

Joyce Summers - Buffy the Vampire Slayer WikiThe Mother:
The Wise Woman as Mother is normally a benevolent maternal figure. She has more life experience and offers advice and support. Even when they disagree, she wants her children to be happy and eventually become accomplished adults. In BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, Joyce Summers is a central figure in Buffy’s development. Finding out and accepting that her daughter is the Slayer isn’t an easy feat for the older Summers, but the two have a strong relationship and Joyce is Buffy’s rock and one of her strongest anchors to normalcy, despite how special her role and duty are.

While these archetypes can exist on their own, a Wise Woman can easily be several of them, depending on what role she plays in the story. She can also have different roles towards different characters. Archetypes help build a character, but including more than one can bring greater complexity to the character. The Wise Woman archetypes make a fantastic addition to many plots as primary or secondary characters.

What about you? Which Wise Women characters do you find compelling? Do you think that the media industries should include more diverse types of strength in the presented female characters?

SharianthCoverReveal BookcoverREVEALNatacha Guyot is a French author, scholar and public speaker. She works on Science Fiction, Transmedia, Gender Studies, Children’s Media and Fan Studies. She is a feminist, a fangirl, a bookworm, a vidder, a gamer and a cat lover. 2015 is a busy year for her, with A Galaxy of Possibilities: Representation and Storytelling in Star Wars, and Feminist Bloggers: The 2014 Collection (editor), both self-published. She also published her first work of fiction, a Sci-Fi novella for kids (in French), La Cité de Sharianth. She is currently working on several Fantasy and Science Fiction short stories.
You can connect with Natacha on her blog, Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter.

Permanent link to this article:

How To Create An Antagonist

Who is the antagonist in this story?

Who is the antagonist?

Today on WriteOnSisters we have another edition of “Heather encounters a story problem and finds a way to solve it.” I’ve admitted before that my ideas come from situations not character, hence my posts about How To Choose A Main Character and Creating Character Arc From Plot, so it serves to reason that if I don’t have a protagonist in mind when the idea forms, I don’t have an antagonist either. So how do I create an antagonist? I’ll tell you, but first…

What is an antagonist? On the bare basic level, an antagonist is your main External Conflict and prevents the protagonist from getting what he/she wants.

3 Types of Antagonists

  • The antagonist is an obstacle that gets in the protagonist’s way and prevents her from achieving her goal. This type of antagonist can be a person or nature or society (refer to this post for clarification). For example, nature is the antagonist in many survivalist films (like man trapped on mountain because of avalanche). Another example is THE FAULT IN OUR STARS in which cancer is the antagonist. There isn’t a person in that story thwarting the heroine; what prevents her from getting what she wants is her disease. Of course, an obstacle antagonist can be a person too, often seen in teen flicks as the bully character who gets in the way of the heroine for no other reason than because they want to. 

  • The antagonist is a villain who has a goal that goes against what the protagonist wants. This isn’t quite the same thing as an obstacle, where the antagonist simply blocks the protagonist’s goal. A villain has a goal of his own that often doesn’t even involve the protagonist until she is compelled to stop him because she doesn’t want his horrific plan to come to pass. Not surprisingly, this type of antagonist is common in crime stories.

  • The antagonist is a competitor, meaning he wants the same thing the protagonist wants. They have the same goal, and if one succeeds the other fails. This is common in thrillers, action-adventures and heist stories where the protagonist and antagonist are after the same priceless artifact, computer chip, or whatever.

Okay, so I have three types of antagonists to choose from! At first I thought I had an obstacle antagonist because there is a thing in my story that blocks my protagonist from achieving her goal. But that just didn’t seem like enough. I’m not one of those writers who insists every story needs a person be the antagonist, but I did feel as if having a human being thwart my heroine would improve the story. So I set about brainstorming characters who would complicate, disrupt and threaten her goal.

I didn’t think my story required a villain antagonist with a separate goal; there’s already enough going on. So perhaps a human obstacle or competition? However, with these last two the antagonist felt tacked on – no surprise, since that’s exactly what I was doing!

So if none of these worked, what was the solution? Turns out, a hybrid antagonist.

I thought it would be cool if the protagonist and antagonist had the same macro goal (go to college), but different micro goals (my protagonist is taking smart pills to boost her grades high enough to get into college; my antagonist needs a great story for her journalism portfolio to get into a competitive college program). These goals collide because my antagonist suspects my protagonist of cheating and starts investigating her and thus getting in her way. So what does that give me?

  • Same macro goal as protagonist = competition antagonist

  • Own goal separate from protagonist = villain antagonist

  • Gets in heroine’s way = obstacle antagonist

The conclusion? The 3 different antagonists are not exclusive; you can mix-and-match them!

So that’s how I created my antagonist. How do you do it?


Permanent link to this article:

I is for Internal Conflict

BLAST_IA couple letters ago, I talked about External Conflict – all those forces in the universe that are bumping up against the protagonist. Now we’ll discuss Internal Conflict – the sometimes black hole of doubt within the hero. Like External Conflict, Internal Conflict must get in the way of the hero achieving his goal. Most importantly, Internal Conflict forces the hero to make hard choices.

3 Tips for Writing Internal Conflict

  • Find your hero’s flaw. Inner conflict often arises from a character flaw. This is common in superhero stories where the hero has a powerful ability he can’t always control. So he’s always conflicted about using this power to achieve his goal, weighing how much it can help versus how much it can hurt. 

  • Use your hero’s fear. Fears make great internal conflicts, and can be anything from a fear of heights to a fear of failure, as long as this fear makes it difficult for the hero to achieve his goal.

  • Challenge your hero’s morality. Characters with beliefs that counteract their goals are always interesting to read! War stories and crime dramas often feature heroes that are morally at odds with their situation.

2 Examples

FAR FROM YOU by Tess Sharpe features a character brimming with internal conflict. First of all, she’s a recovering drug addict, and this daily struggle affects every aspect of the story. Second, her and her dead best friend share a secret that causes her a lot of emotional pain. Third, her attraction to her dead friend’s brother gives her all kinds of conflicting feelings. A character so full of flaws, fears and confused morality makes for a great read!

HOW TO LEAD A LIFE OF CRIME by Kirsten Miller has a fascinating protagonist fighting to maintain his moral standards at a school for psychopaths. Now that’s some powerful inner and outer conflict!

1 Link for more help

Since Inner Conflict is the basis of a great character arc, here’s a post on How To Create A Character Arc using what we talked about in this post: flaws, secrets, fears and morals.

And in case you’re just dropping in now, here’s our April A to Z list thus far:

A is for Antagonist

B is for Backstory

C is for Character Change

D is for Dialogue

E is for External Conflict

F is for False Stakes

G is for Genre

H is for Hero

Coming up:

J is for Juxtaposition

K is for Kittens!

Permanent link to this article:

Older posts «

» Newer posts