Tag Archive: character development

4 Core Components of an Awesome Sidekick Character

I’ve always loved sidekicks, Chewbacca, Samwise Gamgee, Ron and Hermione.

Sidekick characters can enhance the story tension, help flesh out the protagonist, and move the plot forward in a number of significant ways. Several of the masterplots that Heather and I wrote about last year include a sidekick character as a possible component. Sidekicks are often included to give the main character a partner, someone to talk to, which helps limit the need for internal dialogue, but they can be so much more. In the hands of a skillful writer, sidekicks are even capable of stealing the spotlight from the main character.

There are four core aspects I like to think about when writing a sidekick character:

1. Emotional Growth

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Sharing common traits and interests is one way to create character bonds, but they can also be created by friendly conflict. A great protagonist is a complicated character, and their friendship with the sidekick character should reflect that. I want these characters to challenge each other emotionally and change because of these interactions. If the protagonist is reluctant about the quest, make the sidekick a true believer and let them push the future hero into action. If the protagonist is rash and ruled by emotions, pair them with a cool and logical sidekick, someone who can teach the protagonist how to think before acting. When there is emotional contrast between these two characters, I find the relationship exciting to watch. Of course, these characters can be alike in a few ways (perhaps they share the same honor code), but I like it best when this pair knows how to disagree.

2. Sidekick Motivations

Sherlock

No two people, no matter how close, share precisely the same motivations. Everyone wants, needs or secretly desires something different. Although the sidekick and main character will travel the same path, I like to make their reasons for wanting to reach their end goals different. For one character, completing the quest might mean fame and riches. For the other, the quest might be a spiritual journey. I often associate the best sidekicks with the push and pull created by them clashing with the hero. Contrasting motivations provide great conflict and help build story tension; it also give the characters an opportunity to compromise.

3. Sidekicks Need a Moment to Shine

Guardians of the Galaxy

The sidekick’s moment to hold the spotlight is often brief, but critical to the story. These defining plot points take just about every shape, but some of the best sidekick moments often involve self-sacrifice. Many sidekick characters will give their own life to save the hero’s. The sidekick’s big moment can also work in reverse; the hero only finds their courage because the must save the sidekick. The reality of storycraft is the hero must live to fight another day, but the sidekick is expendable. That means this story device can get overused and feel too predictable, but it can also be the most touching part in the story and a true transitional moment for the other character.

4. Contrast is Key

The Iron Giant

Protagonists come in every form, and so can sidekicks. The visual contrast between these two characters might be small, or it might be huge, as in the case of pairing non-human with humans. I think contrasting outer forms and inner strengths helps the reader keep the two characters clearly defined, and makes it possible (and even likely) that each character will have unique skills to bring into the story. I love it when the sidekick can do something the hero can’t. One of the biggest complaints I have about sidekicks is when they feel like a pale reflection of the hero. I want the sidekick to have value that extends beyond just being the protagonist’s buddy. If the sidekick doesn’t serve a single plot function, there is a strong likelihood they shouldn’t be in the story in the first place. Clearly separating these two characters into unique beings is a critical step to making the sidekick character shine.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, nothing elevates the quintessential hero like the perfect sidekick. Find the right mix and you might create a powerful pairing, one the world will never forget. There are a million different ways to create a sidekick character. I’ve already written about some of the most popular sidekick archetypes, like the cheerleader, the class clown and the skeptic. You can read that post here. However, even that post is just a small sampling of possible sidekick characters. They can be young and old, strong and weak. They can be pillars of righteousness, or shady criminal types, and I’m crazy about them all.

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts about sidekick characters. Did they make stories better? Please share in the comments.

 

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3 Tricks for Character Names

3-character-naming-tricksFor a long time I hated naming my characters. No sooner did I settle on a name and I would realize another book (or three) used the same name. The main reason I got myself into this renaming mess was because I followed some widely accepted writing advice, I used charts of popular baby names for the years my characters were born in.

Big mistake!

Why?

Because every other writer is using those same darn charts!

Lately, I’ve also realized that the reason some character names resonate with me is not because they are popular names, it’s because they are unusual names. The kind of names I don’t hear everyday.

Finding unusual names that fit a character perfectly is never easy, but these three tricks have helped me uncover some fantastic names. Names that work with my story and not against it, and I think they can help other writers.

#1 – Use Juxtaposition:

There are times when using names that clash works best. Juxtaposition can reinforce underlying story themes and create subliminal messages without being too obvious. I don’t know for sure what these famous authors had in mind as they named these characters, but it seems like juxtaposition was a factor.

Take the names Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty. The use of homophones in the name Sherlock Holmes invokes a feeling of security. It’s encoded with a slew of comforting messages, who wouldn’t want (and place their trust in) a surely locked home? Whereas the name Moriarty is too reminiscent of the word mortality and produces a feeling of unease and danger. It’s also notable that many of the first names in the Sherlock Holmes books are generic names for the Victorian era (John, Mary, Irene) elevating the exceptional siblings with their unique names of Mycroft and Sherlock away from the crowd.

It looks like juxtaposition was also intended with the names Katie Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler from GONE WITH THE WIND. O’Hara is likely derived from the surname of an ancient Irish ruling family. While a Butler is a male servant. This juxtaposition echoes the relationship dynamic of the two characters perfectly. Scarlett perceived herself as better of the Rhett, and in many ways viewed him in terms of what he could do to serve her needs.

#2 – Themes Work Great for Collections of Names:

I just finished a project where I used all themed names and I loved it. There is no better example of a major author using themed names than THE HUNGER GAMES. This book used two main themes, nature and Roman history. Most people realize Katniss is the name of a water flower that looks like an arrowhead. But there is also Gale Hawthorne (a hawthorn is another flowering plant) and these best friends have sisters named Primrose and Posy. Katniss and the other rebels battle President Snow. This is also a good use of juxtaposition because snow is a natural enemy of most flowers. Both major and minor character have names taken from organic sources, like Rue (a medicinal herb), Clove (aromatic flower bud used as a cooking spice), and Crane (a long-legged water bird).

The second grouping is the names with Roman history overtones. Examples of these names include: Seneca, Cinna, Cato, Plutarch and Caesar. These names and the bread based names of Peeta and Panem, reinforce the idea that the Hunger Games are modeled on the Roman era Bread and Circuses, a program of using large-scale entertainment to keep the masses docile.

Another bonus of using the theme method is it gives the impression that all the names go together and that helps improves the world building. It clearly worked that way for THE HUNGER GAMES, so it should work for the rest of us.

#3 – Witty Names:

I used to think only certain kinds of books could use witty character names, but I was wrong. Everyone loves an inside book joke. And witty names don’t have to be funny, they can be names with two meanings, or with a hidden meaning.

One of the masters at this form was Ian Fleming. His James Bond books overflow with witty character names like: Tiffany Case, Plenty O’Toole and Auric Goldfinger. In case you didn’t know auric is another word for gold. This doubling of the word helps denote just how much this character loved the shiny stuff. Fleming also created the lively moniker of Caractacus Potts (a crackpot inventor) for his children’s book CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG. However, many of the movie’s witty names owe their life to another character naming giant, the author Roald Dahl. Dahl wrote the screenplay for CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG with Ken Hughes and those two writers gave us a sugar heiress named Truly Scrumptious and an overly explosive prone dictator named Barron Bomburst. I’m sure Fleming would have approved.

It’s fun running a Google search on a character’s name and having it turn up a root meaning worthy of a giggle. Who can forget Dahl’s Veruca Salt from CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY? However, few readers might know her first name was adapted from a form of wart. And warty she was. The same book also gave us Arthur Slugworth (a slimy spy), and Mike Teavee (a kid who lived for watching TV).

These three tricks have drastically changed how I name my characters. I will never use a baby name list again. I hope one of these ideas will also help you find some great new character names. Please share your tips for naming characters in the comments.

If you’re one of our blog subscribers, you may have noticed that you’re not getting post updates from us. We have a programming malfunction with our subscriber service, but we’re working hard to fix the problem. You may have also missed Heather’s last post on the Hero’s Emotional Midpoint.

A Princess Bride Linkup Party_

And you may have also missed the announcement for our upcoming Princess Bride Blog Linkup Party. We hope you (and your blog) will join us for a weekend of Princess Bride themed blog-hopping fun.

 

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The Hero’s Emotional Midpoint

This week I’m honing the middle of my WIP, so it’s time to dust off the Archives and refresh my knowledge on a story’s midpoint…

Emotional MidPoint

Originally posted on Aug. 4, 2014. Updated and reposted on Sept. 5, 2016.

Awhile ago I wrote about Mapping the Mushy Middle of a story. This is a plot-centric approach to figuring out one’s story. However, story is a two-sided coin made up of plot and character. For every plot point there’s a corresponding character arc moment. So I blogged 3 Steps to Creating Character Change where I discuss the hero’s flaw as it presents itself in Act I, causes trouble for the hero in Act II, and is eventually overcome in Act III.

Yet even after figuring all that out, I still have trouble wrapping up my stories with a satisfying character transformation. In a story’s finale, not only is the plot resolved and the character flaw overcome, the hero must be changed. And I’ve found that overcoming a flaw isn’t always enough to change the hero.

BookCover-NovelFromMiddleWhat to do?! In times like this, I seek out books on writing craft. Many of these simply reword stuff I already know and aren’t very helpful, but I managed to find one that took a different but blissfully simple spin on Character Transformation:

WRITE YOUR NOVEL FROM THE MIDDLE by James Scott Bell.

It’s short and sweet, just 85 pages, and the premise is that once you know the Mirror Moment at the Midpoint, it will clarify what your story is about so you can figure out where the hero begins and how he changes by the end. I recommend reading the whole book (it’s only $3 for the e-book version), but I’ve summarized the gist of it here in 3 steps:

1) Figure out the hero’s death stakes.

No matter how strong the physical death stakes are (i.e. a murderer is literally trying to kill the hero), I think every story also needs psychological death stakes or emotional consequences. It’s easy to spot psychological death stakes in romance – if the lead doesn’t win the heart of his soul mate, he will be lonely and miserable for the rest of his life! His heart will metaphorically die! I find coming up with psychological stakes more difficult in thrillers (the physical death stakes are so high and exciting they can easily take over the whole story), but the ending will resonate much more if the hero has psychological stakes too. 

2) Create the hero’s Mirror Moment.

Bell explains two ways characters may reflect on their situation, one for plot-driven stories and one for character-driven stories. MIRROR 1: Hero looks in the mirror and considers the incredible odds against him (plot). MIRROR 2: Hero looks in mirror and muses on the person he is now and/or could become (character). (Note: Literal mirror not necessary.) But because I think all stories need plot and character, I say do both! After all, when considering the odds against, the best heroes would naturally lump their own shortcomings in with those odds.

This Mirror Moment complements the action that takes place at the Midpoint that I talked about in my Mushy Middle post. Basically, the Midpoint (be it a False Victory or a False Defeat) is powerless without your hero’s reaction to it.

3) Transform the hero.

The Mirror Moment hones in on who the hero thinks she is, and the Transformation is who she must become to win the Final Battle. Generally, these things are opposites.

After reading this book, I realize one of my problems is that I create heroes who are already prepared to win the Final Battle. Figuring out the psychological stakes and creating a Mirror Moment forces me to start with a hero who can’t possibly win and needs to change to do so.

What about you? Would a Midpoint Mirror Moment help you figure out your character’s journey? Deepen your story? Finish your book? I hope it helps me with mine!

 

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WOS ANNOUNCEMENT: We’re hosting a Princess Bride Blog Linkup Party the weekend of Sept. 24-25. This is your chance to share your thoughts and opinions on this classic tale. Plus, Robin is a HUGE fan and thought it would be fun to connect with other bloggers who love the book/movie. For all the details, click here.

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5 Overlooked Pixar Storytelling Tips

Pixar Tips For WritersI bet most writers have heard of Pixar Studios. They are the huge animation powerhouse that is now owned by Disney. They’re best known for a string of huge blockbusters films, all earmarked for family viewing. Even if you don’t make a point of watching Pixar films (and by the way you should), you may have stumbled across a helpful and widely shared infographic about the 22 storytelling basics attributed to Emma Coats, a former member of the Pixar creative team.

After watching hours of Pixar movies with my kids, I’ve realized there are some less well-known Pixar tricks. Some of the things I noticed relate to the Pixar 22, while others aren’t mentioned at all. However, I can say with certainty they show up time and time again in Pixar’s films.

Heather and I both love watching movies and they’ve taught us a lot about story craft. Heather wrote about her experiences in a post called Watching for Writers. I’m following her lead today with 5 overlooked storytelling tips I learned from watching Pixar films.

1. Have a Theme:

Pixar admits to loving a good theme; it’s number #3 on their storytelling list. What they didn’t mention is the themes they like best are always about the value of self-sacrifice. It shows up when Flick ventures into the unknown to save his ant hill in A Bug’s Life. We see it with Eve, who is willing to put everything aside as she strives to finish her mission directive in Wall-E. And it’s in Brave when Merida finally accepts her role in preserving the safely of her clan, even if that means marrying someone she barely knows. Whatever the storyline, putting personal needs aside for the sake of someone else is a critical stage in almost every Pixar film. In some, such as Brave and Cars, this realization shows up in the climax as part of the character’s change. While in other stories, like in Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, the safety of others is always something the characters are willing to fight for.

2. Give Characters Opinions:

Number #13 on the Pixar list is: give your characters opinions. However, what isn’t mentioned is reversing those opinions is also critical to the formula. At least one character will always revise their core opinions of another character during the course of the film. It shows up in Finding Nemo as Marlin learns to let go and trust others (including the wacky Dory). And it’s in Cars as Doc realizes that beneath McQueen’s bragging is a kind heart. Revising popular opinions is one of the core plot points of Monsters, Inc. The whole society is based on one belief: that frightening children will produce scream power and save their world from a power shortage. Yet they must revise that core viewpoint in order to survive. Characters with strong opinions are fine, but knowing when and how to revise those viewpoints is makes characters great.

Eve3. Value Teamwork:

Pixar says in their number #19 storytelling tip that coincidences are perfectly acceptable for getting characters into trouble, but they are not acceptable for getting characters out of trouble. In almost every film, it is teamwork that gets Pixar’s characters out of trouble. The value of teamwork is a concept that shows up with both good and bad repercussions in The Incredibles. It’s even Mr. Incredible’s moto, “I work alone!” that ultimately drives his number one fan Buddy to a lifelong quest to kill all superheroes. Lightening McQueen shows the same disregard for his pit crew in Cars. Later both characters realize their mistake and make amends. Mr. Incredible accepts the support of his whole family, and McQueen builds a new pit crew and decides to stick with his original sponsorship team. Playing into this aspect of teamwork, Pixar always reminds us of the value of family. When Remy marshals the other rats into helping him cook (Ratatouille), or when the ant colony stand up to Hopper and his gang (A Bug’s Life), it is solidarity that gives the hero their strength. The reoccurring role of community and family factors into almost every Pixar climax.

Backup Antagonists-14. Include Extra Antagonistic Forces:

Pixar favors clear-cut villains. There is often nothing redeemable about their bad guys, and several of them (most notably Hopper in A Bug’s Life and Mor’du in Brave) meet with a rather gruesome end. Pixar villains are young and old, male and female, and even robotic with the 2001: A Space Odyssey homage to Hal of the villain Auto in Wall-E. Pixar also favors what I like to call the back-up antagonist. This is a character who is not the main antagonist and is often not inherently an evil character, but adds significant tension to the protagonist’s life anyway. It’s often the back-up antagonist that sparks the protagonist to make a critical change in Pixar films. Later these back-up antagonists will often evolve into a supportive role. We see this with Anton Ego the bitter food critic who later champions Remy’s right to cook in Ratatouille, and with Mirage changing sides and handing over useful information at the end of The Incredibles. There is also Doc who switches from McQueen’s jailer to his mentor in the second half of Cars.

Toystory 25. Secondary Characters:

Pixar likes strong male friendships and almost all of their films have a sidekick character, included in their huge casts of secondary characters. These characters are frequently quirky and easily distinguishable from the other characters because Pixar gives each character (from service robots,  to slinky dogs, to caterpillars) a collection of critical attributes to make them interesting. Unfortunately, that means some of these secondary characters are stereotypes or even caricatures, and in terms of female or minority characters there are sadly too few. Still each minor character creates an impression on the viewer and we remember them. From the adventurous and trusting Dot in A Bug’s Life, to the neurotic dinosaur in Toy Story, to the no-nonsense clothing designer Edna of The Incredibles. These are fleshed out supporting characters and we know who they are and what they want.

What do you think? Is Pixar doing a great job as a storyteller? Do these fives aspects of the Pixar model help or hinder the storytelling experience for you?

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/5-overlooked-pixar-storytelling-tips/

Character Development: The Reaction Chart

Creating characters to populate your novel or screenplay is a lot of fun. You get to devise different backgrounds and opinions and alliances and secrets and all kinds of interesting stuff that brings the cast to life. But you can have the most detailed character sketches and richly drawn cast ever, and your story could still fall flat. How? It all comes down to how your characters react.

Character Reaction Chart

A couple months ago I wrote a post about how characters interact with each other (Character Development: The Interaction Chart). Today I’m focusing on how characters react to story events. This is especially relevant with ensemble casts who are together as a pair or group for much of the plot, common in such genres as horror, buddy comedies and heists.

I’ve created two types of Reaction Charts: General Emotions and Plot Points.

The General Emotions Reaction Chart

This one is handy for the brainstorming stage and/or the pantser who doesn’t plot out their story. Put the general emotional situations your characters will likely encounter together in the top row, and the character names in the left column. That top row will differ depending on what genre you’re writing. You can have as many columns as you need. Here are a couple examples I came up with…

General Emotions Reaction Chart — Comedy Reaction Chart - ComedyGeneral Emotions Reaction Chart — Horror

Reaction Chart - Horror

The point of making this chart is to ensure the characters don’t react the same. I was reading a book a couple weeks ago, a creepy horror that started off pretty good, but as the story went along I became bored. Why? Because even though the characters had different POVs and personalities, every time they faced the monster, they all reacted exactly the same way! Why have three characters if they’re all going to do the same thing? In my opinion, the fun of an ensemble horror is seeing how each character reacts, who is going to screw up, who is going to fight the monster, who is going to run from the monster, etc. If everyone reacts the same, you might as well just have one person encountering the monster (or going on the road trip, or robbing the bank, etc), and that simply isn’t as interesting.

The Plot Points Reaction Chart

This chart is for the plotter who made an outline, or for the pantser who is done their first draft and wants to check their characters’ reactions to actual story events. Basically, this is a handy way to see how each character reacts to the major plot points of the story. (For a review of these plot points, check out this post: The Basic Story Beats.)

Reaction Chart - Plot Points

The point of making this chart, besides to diversify your characters’ specific reactions to the plot, is to track how the characters’ reactions change as the story progresses. For example, a character who reacted by rushing into danger at the beginning might learn to hold back and plan first before confronting the enemy. We all know our characters should grow and change, but sometimes it’s hard to see how that is happening within 300+ pages. That’s why I find this chart so useful.

What about you? Do you chart your characters’ reactions? Or do you have another way to keep track? Let me know in the Comments!

 

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Writing Lovable Rogues

Lovable RoguesLovable rouges are not villains, they are fascinating antiheroes. These characters are everywhere, in books, movies and on TV. They are young, old, male and female. And they have wowed us as protagonists, love interests and sidekicks for a long time.

A few notable rouges are:

Tom Sawyer from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean

Fred and George Weasley from Harry Potter

Logan Echolls from Veronica Mars

Zaphod Beeblebrox from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

It’s not surprising they’re popular, because these bad characters are so darn amazing. Traditionally they’re easy on the eyes, combining poise under pressure, with a sense of humor and killer fight moves. They walk the fringes of society with conviction, clear-cut goals and style. Their wild side calls to us. We want to break the rules and run wild with them.

Rogues share five common attributes, by using these traits any writer can turn this naughty character into something very nice.

tnt-the-librarians-john-kim1. They have a keen intellect:

Darn this character is smart; they can think fast on their feet and plan circles around the other characters. They’re not just street smart, they’re often book smart. Rogues have a smattering of knowledge in almost every area and off the charts skills in at least one or two key areas. They are the ultimate chess players and the world is their board. To catch up with a rogue’s mental processing, you need to think twenty steps ahead of everyone else. Crafty schemes with long-term objectives, make these characters ideal for dishing out twisty story surprises.

 

whitecollarreturns2. Their confidence is sexy:

Rogues make eye contact. While lesser criminals hide, these characters never shy away from the spotlight, as long as it serves their needs. Sharp dressed or in rags, these characters feel at home in their own skin. Even when a rogue is unsure of the right path, they have faith they can and will find a path around any obstacle. They grab hold of life with both hands, and that passion makes other character what to get close. They are shining stars, burning bright in their own universe. Rogues have the wherewithal to be loners, or self-assurance to be leaders of the pack.

 

 

Sawyer From Lost3. They know how to manipulate:

Smooth con men with a wicked grin, rogues know how to get what they want. Sometimes they take it; other times they sweet talk their victims with a wink and smile. What rogues might lack in manners, they make up for in charisma. Some of this polish is natural, a byproduct of good looks and a surplus of sex appeal. Some of it is being a skilled observer. Rogues are wise interpreters of human behavior. These characters excel when it comes to adaptability and make some of the best fictional chameleons.

 

Angelina_Jolie_in_Mr._and_Mrs._Smith_Wallpaper_5_8004. They’re viewed as unethical, yet abide by a personal code:

Rogues know they don’t play by society’s rules and they’re not particularly conflicted about it. They often show up as gentleman thieves, stealing as much of the glory as the gold. Some rogues have a Robin Hood complex, they fight to balance the odds. While others are just so good at being bad they see their skills as a gift. Rogues find the beauty in being a great assassin, a liar or a forger; it’s an art form. They’re even able to walk the moral high ground in their own minds. If society didn’t want them to be the bad guys, they shouldn’t make it so darn easy to cheat.

 

To_Catch_a_Thief_19555. They hide a difficult past:

A hint of mystery in any character is enticing, but in a rogue it’s necessary. They keep everyone in the story off balance. Even when they offer us a suggestion of their hidden depths, they wiggle out of it. There is always a suspicion of a backstory worthy of a few tears, but getting a rogue character to come clean is going to take some leverage. Rogues know information is power, they don’t grant just anyone a free pass into their personal pain. What (or who) they care about is a closely guarded secret, for telling anyone that bit of information could be orchestrating their own downfall. Most rogues have been on the outside looking in for a long time. Trust is not given lightly, and even if they grant it, they will remain ever vigilant for signs of treachery. This need for secrecy turns up the story drama, and makes for spectacular misunderstandings and explosive betrayals.

 

fireflyLovable rogues don’t enjoy hurting innocent people. They have a line they do not want to cross, but if someone pushes them too far, they can release the most ruthless part of their character.

Then people get hurt.

 

the-mummy-movie-poster-1999-1020199235Rogues love to push the envelope and test themselves. It’s common for them to get swept up into monumental troubles. It’s all part of what makes them exciting characters.

Most important of all, we must root for the rogue to win. If we can, then it’s a flawed character we can learn to love.

 

 

I would like to hear what you think of rogues. Love them, or hate them?

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/writing-lovable-rogues/

Character Development: The Interaction Chart

Last week I shared Ten Questions To Ask Your Characters to make sure the supporting cast is as well-rounded as the protagonist. But that’s just step one to developing a novel’s cast. Now that we know who everyone is, what they want, and what their role is in the story, it’s time to figure out how they interact with each other.

Character Development-Interaction

How To Make a Character Interaction Chart

To start, list all character names in the left column and the top row, beginning with the protagonist. Read across to figure out how that character interacts with the other characters; read down to find out how others react to that character.

Character Chart

The above example is super simple just so I could demonstrate how to read the chart. Now for the details of what goes in each little box…

1) Relationship.

State the basic status of the characters’ relationship. Do not only use words like “brother” or “neighbour” or “wife.” Though descriptive, these definitions tell us nothing about the characters’ personal interactions. Instead, clarify the relationship with words like: ally, enemy, friend, lover, competitor, etc. After all, one’s brother can be an ally or an enemy.

Also note if the relationship changes over time; two brothers may start as enemies and end as allies, or two co-workers may start as friends and end as lovers.

Another thing to consider is that the characters may see their relationship differently. One may think they’re dating, but the other thinks they’re just friends with benefits. This is why in the chart there are two corresponding boxes for each relationship – one for each character’s POV.

Character Different Opinions-Chart

 2) Behaviour.

How do the characters behave around each other? Some examples: friendly, hostile, affectionate, dismissive, concerned, suspicious, etc. Like with the relationship status, these behaviours can change over the course of the story. Also note if there is a difference in behaviour when two characters are alone with each other versus in a group.

3) Opinion.

What do the characters think of each other? This, of course, can vary greatly from their behaviour. As we all know, people often hide how they truly feel about a person (i.e. behaving in a friendly manner when deep down they hate the person and are planning their demise), but of course you the author must know the truth.

How to Use a Character Interaction Chart

A story is simply a series of conflicts between characters. Charting your characters’ interactions is an easy way to see if you have enough conflict. When I first made this chart I realized I had conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist, but minimal conflict between my protagonist and the other characters. No wonder my first few scenes had turned out a little flat. And this chart makes it easy to see that conflict doesn’t have to be openly hostile; it can be a secret difference of opinion or an awkward behaviour. And last but most important, make sure all this conflict affects the protagonist’s journey.

In conclusion, use this Character Interaction Chart to ensure you have enough conflict between the characters to sustain the story.

What about you, fellow writers? Do you use charts to map character interactions? Or do you have another system? Let me know in the Comments!

 

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Writing Fish-Out-of-Water Characters

fishwaterThe fish-out-of-water character is one of my favorites. It is remarkably versatile and there are so many story situations it works perfectly for (18 according to TV Tropes). I’m currently writing a fish-out-of-water character, which should not be confused with using a fish-out-of-water plot device.

A fish-out-of-water character adds comedy, or gives depth and diversity to the worldbuilding. C-3P0 from Star Wars: A New Hope is the perfect example of a fish-out-of-water character. Although he plays several important roles in the main plotline, the story would not fall apart without him. Other characters could be rewritten to carry his part of the story without any significant plot loss.

The same could not be said of Marty McFly in Back to the Future. In this case, the protagonist being a fish-out-of-water, namely a person trapped in the wrong historical time, is a huge part of the plot. Of the two, the fish-out-of-water plot device is the more common.

See the distinction?

Both types (character driven and plot based) share four elements.

1. Juxtaposition: The fish-out-of-water character needs to look, sound, and act differently from others characters.

C-3PO has a gleaming golden body. This contrasts sharply with the other characters who are dressed in monochromatic neutrals of brown, white and black. He maintains an overly erect posture, while the other protagonist characters (often to avoid injury) are slouching and/or crouching. He speaks in clearly enunciated full and complete sentences and uses a superior and elaborate vocabulary, while others speak more causally and/or use slang.

Marty also dresses differently from those around him. He maintains a casual fashion style, relaxed body posture, slang-rich speech patterns, and more erratic mannerism. The 1950’s kids Marty encounters are extremely repressed, and the world they live in is slower paced than Marty’s. The kids reflect the common values of 1950’s America about class, race, and gender roles, while Marty’s sensibilities are decades more evolved.

 

2. Self Awareness is an Issue: The fish-out-of-water character might not understand their outsider status. Once aware they are often unwilling, or unable to change.

In the case of C-3P0, he is a bit of both. His protocols are his lifeline during unfamiliar situations and he sees his worth reflected in the value of his programming. Yet his programming is almost worthless in real world situations and he can respond inappropriately to a crisis.

Marty knows he is not fitting in, but he is unwilling to change. He attempts to disguise his behaviors to blend in. However, he gets tripped up a lot, mostly when he thinks his actions reflect the correct behavior.

 

3. Differences = Benefits: Ultimately these characters offer prospective and/or clarity because they are unique.

C-3P0 is able to see solutions and problems others might miss. His suggestions are often off-base or ill-timed, but he wants to help. Often his only function is to translate for R2-D2, who has many useful abilities.

Marty uses his modern and assertive perspective to teach his teenage father how to stand up to his high school bully. This one change in Marty’s family history snowballs and when Marty returns to his own timeline his father is a new man, confident, strong and successful. This wouldn’t have happened without Marty interjecting his values into the situation.

 

4. Supports Theme: The fish-out-of-water character’s journey often reaffirms the story’s overall theme.

C-3P0’s character arc mirrors one of the biggest themes of the Star Wars franchise, Public Interest vs. Self Preservation. C-3P0 starts off only slightly loyal to others, but slowly he begins to risk his own safety to help his friends. C-3P0’s shift in perspective is echoed in the shift of Han’s character from self-centered mercenary to hero.

For Marty it was always about family. Marty felt like an outsider in his own home, but by going back in time and being forced to walk in his parent’s teenage shoes, he finally finds a way of connecting with them. His experience teaches him the value of love, and he starts to cherish the family he worked so hard to save.

The fish-out-of-water character sometimes assimilates by the end of the story, but not always. C-3P0 never fundamentally changes, instead the other characters learn to value him for his differences.

Or the fish-out-of-water character can return to his own environment at the end. Marty returns to his correct time, but as an improved version of himself.

 

Some of my favorite fish-out-of-water examples from books, movies and TV are:

Miss Elizabeth Charming of Austenland. She flies thousands of miles from home to take part in a Jane Austen theme vacation, but has never heard of Pride and Prejudice.

Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop. This streetwise African-American cop, runs headlong into the privilege and prejudices of a rich and famous world. And still gets the better of them.

River and Simon Tam from Firefly. This sister and brother pairing are out-of-place almost everywhere. It’s why they are stronger, and more fiercely loyal to each other and the other crew members, than anyone initially gives them credit for.

All the Hobbits in any book written by J.R.R. Tolkien. No one has ever put together a better cast of fish-out-of-water heroes.

And the best fish-out-of-water in water is: Nemo and Marlin from Finding Nemo.
Once this father and son team leave the small, safe world of the reef, neither is prepared for the challenges of the deep blue.

What about you? Do you have a favorite fish-out-of-water plot or character?

 

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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: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/writing-the-back-up-antagonist/

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?

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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.

Bio:
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.

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