Tag Archive: characters

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?

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Guest Post: General Leia — Aging on the Silver Screen

General LeiaOur guest today has been here several times before. Most recently she blogged about writing Wise Women Characters, a must-read post if you want to find some fresh ways to show women as strong, without making them fighters. She also invited us to take part in her fabulous SciFi Women Interview series early this year. She is a scholar with a broad background in gender and media. Her extensive research into the depiction of underrepresented characters in the Star Wars universe sparked a whole book: A Galaxy of Possibilities: Representation and Storytelling in Star Wars and it’s available from Amazon. Please welcome Natacha Guyot.

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS featured the main trio from the original saga trilogy, including Leia Organa. While it made complete sense to include her, seeing an older female SciFi character on screen isn’t common. An older Leia Organa in the new movie was thus a strong choice, and might help attitudes change regarding women characters in films and television. Indeed, the “youth at all cost” can be damaging societally speaking, when on the contrary, people should be embracing all ages for all genders in terms of representation. The fact that backlash occurred against Leia’s older figure shows that there is still room for people to accept something as natural as women aging and still being capable of great professional and personal accomplishments.

Like in her younger days, Leia Organa held a significant position in Episode VII’s narrative and continued to be a leader figure, which was refreshing. Yet, I refuse to say that “General Leia” is better than “Princess Leia” because I believe that both titles had validity in the universe and nobility title, including “princess” shouldn’t diminish a character’s credibility nor should be considered “girly” in a bad way. Leia has inspired many people for years because she was more than a “pretty girl who could shoot a gun”. She was a leader from the start and had great strength beyond her physical resilience.

While the presence of older women isn’t widely spread, including in Star Wars, small roles, some important regardless of limited screen time, have appeared in the Star Wars movies since the very first one, A NEW HOPE, released in 1977. In it, Beru Lars raised her nephew Luke Skywalker. This maternal figure soon gets killed along with her husband, to allow Luke to begin his journey. In RETURN OF THE JEDI, political and Rebellion leader Mon Mothma partakes in a crucial briefing, along with male military counterparts.

The Prequels also included a few older women in supporting or minor roles, mostly mother and Jedi figures. The latter case is Jedi Archivist Jocasta Nu in ATTACK OF THE CLONES. Where male elder mentors are included in all trilogies so far with characters such Obi Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn, Luke Skywalker, women are still to occupy such positions. In that, Jocasta Nu, who briefly showed up again in the CLONE WARS series, is an exception.

In THE FORCE AWAKENS, Leia Organa has a multi-faceted representation, which shows actual care to her character from the movie’s script writers. Due to that, she ties all the previously included threads of older female characters in the saga’s films. Her portrayal encompasses both the professional aspect, respecting her as a political leader as a General in the Resistance, and the personal. In the latter case, the narrative gives her space to be a (former) romantic partner with Han Solo, where the relationship still has great depth, no matter the longtime separation. She is also a mother who struggles with what her son has become, but still has undying faith in his return to the Light Side. The same way, she is a sister who seeks to find her brother Luke and bring him back to help in the fight against evil forces.

By allying professional and personal, the story gives Leia the possibility to show how she has developed off-screen over the decades. Despite struggles of all kinds, she continues to fight for what she believes in, including when it requires her coming to the battlefield. When she first appears in the movie, after several mentions from multiple characters, it is at the end of a fight, where she came aboard one of the crafts, even at the risk of being shot down in the process.

A final point that was thankfully not ignored was her Force potential. While she isn’t presented as an actual Jedi, and any training she might have received or not is left unknown, she still remains able to sense strongly for her loved ones. THE FORCE AWAKENS picks up from when she reacted twice to her twin brother’s situation through the Force in the Original Trilogy. Indeed, a shot clearly shows her shattered when she feels Han’s death. While a very brief moment, it is significant to see Leia’s potential and skills acknowledged during such a pivotal event.

In the end, the Star Wars movies have included older women in most of them, though until THE FORCE AWAKENS none has had as much screen time as Leia Organa. There is still progress to be made, but here is to hoping that Leia’s influence will continue to bear fruits, not only in her portrayal in the upcoming movies, but also more generally speaking, so that older women may still be valued in narratives of different genres and formats.


Guest Blog PhotoAuthor’s BioGalaxy - Revised Cover
Natacha Guyot is a French researcher, author and public speaker. She holds two Master’s degrees: Film and Media Studies (Paris III Sorbonne Nouvelle) and Digital Culture and Technology (King’s College London).
Her main fields of interest are Science fiction, Gender Studies, Children Media and Fan Studies. Besides her nonfiction work, she also writes Science Fiction and Fantasy stories.
Natacha’s Blog | TwitterFacebook | Goodreads | LinkedIn



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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.

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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.

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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.

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3 Tips for Using Color Theory In Your Writing

Some like it hot, but I like it RED.

In September I bought a red house. I know what you’re thinking, who does that? Someone with a secret barn obsession? Turns out lots of people love red houses and Pinterest is full of people lamenting their lack of red house. Why? Because red triggers emotions. It’s a color that invokes power, vitality and well … life. It is the color of blood after all. No, I’m not being ghoulish in homage to Halloween, it’s a fact. Red makes people feel something powerful. It’s the color of excitement and danger. It’s also the color of love and sex. As colors go, red is pretty hard to beat for evoking a strong response.

Advertising executives have known about psychological properties of color for decades. When creating company logos and ad campaigns they always chose colors that help trigger consumer’s buy-it button. For example, blue signifies a company is trustworthy, while green shows they’re natural and/or earth friendly.

You can do the same thing with your fiction writing. Here are 3 tips for adding more color to your pages.

1. Learn the basics of color theory.

You don’t need to go all Mad Men and memorize the meaning of every color, 2013-01-20-Color_Emotion_Guide22just get the basics down. Finding a good chart to keep near your writing space will help. Lucky for all of us there are a number of good articles and infographics on different aspects of color theory, like this one analyzing company logos by color from the Huffington Post.

Some paint companies will also have charts available to download. Home decorators know that wall and furniture colors help control mood swings and can increase a person’s creativity and work level. You can also hit home improvement stores for some paint sample cards. They really come in handy for keeping a key color in mind.

2. Give all your lead characters a personal color palette.

It might be hard to decide your character’s perfect colors. So take this test: Without thinking too much, imagine your protagonist reaches into his or her closet and takes out a favorite jacket. What color is it? The character that just reached for a brown leather bomber is nothing like the character that reached for the same jacket in lime green.

You may want to check out the color thesaurus from Bored Panda. This is a great reference tool for determining the names of colors in some key color groups. Here’s the panel for red, my favorite of course.This-Color-Thesaurus-Chart-Lets-You-Easily-Name-Any-Color-Imaginable8__605

You can also think about the traits you want your lead characters to embody. If you want them perceived as stable and confident pick blues as their main color. If you want the reader to perceive them as artistic but friendly, choose shades of orange. If your villain is always in black (like almost every other villain in the world) you might want to rethink that. Color done right can be intimidating and it exudes a high level of confidence.

You will need to remember that every color has a positive and a negative aspect. Yellow is sunny and happy, but it’s also the color of betrayal and cowardice. Green is peaceful, but also the sign of greed and envy. Also remember all color theory is culturally influenced – white signifies purity in some countries but not others. You will need to know the cultural rules of your target audience before choosing your character palettes.

3. Include colors in your plotting and settings.

With a pop of unexpected color you can surprise your readers, or make them understand something big in the story is about to happen. If you create a setting that follows your protagonist’s main color palette you keep them stable and happy. But by using clashing or contrasting colors you will take your characters out of their comfort zone.

Heather is the authority on all things Hunger Games, but for me the Capitol is always about color!


The edge of Effie’s dress against the backdrop of neutrals.

When Effie arrives into the story she brings a blast of color. Her hair and bright clothing is shocking in the coal dust-covered drab world of District 12. Everything about the Capitol’s wealth, extravagance, pageantry, and excessive vanity is all wrapped up in brash and garish color. While the soldiers and tributes are often in neutral tones of white, black and tan. This helps to create more physiological distance between the groups in power and those serving them.

Using color to trigger emotions is a great tool for every storyteller to know and it’s a trick most film makers already understand and use with great effect. Think about the girl in the red coat from Schindler’s List as a classic example. Learn by studying how other writers and artists use color to change the mood, or by experimenting with your own work in progress.

Use color wisely and watch how it changes the intensity of your scenes, shakes up the status quo and revs up your own creative juices.


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6 Tips for Writing Minor Characters

The Cheshire Cat

The Cheshire Cat

I’m sure most writers know how to craft a major character; they understand the importance of their leads and that they should occupy the most page space. Yet every story needs supporting characters. Today, it’s all about the minor players, those characters we see briefly and yet are so well written they’ll stick with us. Sometimes the minor characters can steal the show. It’s not uncommon for TV shows to migrate a single episode character into a recurring one because viewers demand more.

Follow these tips and you’ll create a few background characters worthy of a readers’ attention.

  • Give them a reason for being there. I know it’s tempting to flood your pages with all the colorful characters your mind can dream up, but if characters have no role to play in the plot, they need to go. Remember it can be a small part, or even an addition to the subplot, but they should serve a purpose.
  • Make them relate to the protagonist or antagonist in a meaningful way. It helps to use them as a contrasting character point. If your protagonist is a stickler for details who methodically follows a ten year life plan, running across someone who never has a plan might be the ideal situation for creating an emotional shake-up.
  • Tie them to a fixed place or single role. Context helps readers keep characters straight. If you confine the minor character to a single location or the same job the reader is more likely to remember them. Keep that helpful teacher at school, or make confusion over seeing the teacher in a new context part of the exchange.
  • Use them more then once. This is not a hard and fast rule, but it helps. One effective method is to mention the character’s name in passing before or after you’ve show them to the reader. As I pointed out last week, talking about absent characters is a great way to help readers remember them.
  • Include some personal details. It’s best if you use both physical details and emotional ones. You don’t need to tell the reader everything about a minor character, it might be better if you didn’t, but you should know their backstory. With minor characters I tend to think the writer should include a ballpark age, a hint to temperament and one standout physical detail or quirky trait.
  • Keep in mind this is a minor character, so don’t go crazy. You may not want them overshadowing the protagonist. Or maybe you do. Sometimes minor characters have a viewpoint to share that changes the story in an exciting way. If they refuse to stay silent, maybe they have the makings of a secondary character.

Although great minor characters help every book, in series books they become an even bigger asset. Put simply, minor characters make your world building feel real. You don’t need to make every character walking down the street a work of art, but giving the reader a few fresh, funky, powerful minor players is fun and appreciated by most readers. Who knows, you just might create a character worthy of staring in your next book.

Click here for more posts by Robin

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10 Things I (Don’t) Hate About You

10_Things_I_Hate_About_You_filmKat, the protagonist (portrayed by Julia Stiles) in the film 10 Things I Hate About You, is not a likable character.

Nor does she strive to be likable. It’s more the reverse with her; she’s intentionally rude, domineering, and opinionated.

Since the film is based on The Taming of the Shrew, making her a bit of a tyrant is the main point of the story. And Kat comes through like a champ; she attacks life with her unbridled opposition. She never lets conventions, other people’s opinions or even rules stand in the way of what she wants. She speaks her mind, argues with her friends, questions her teachers and disagrees with her family.

As a consequence of her no-holds-barred personality, she’s feared, avoided, disliked, and antagonized by everyone who knows her. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Kat must classify herself to her guidance counselor.


The point is Kat — people perceive you
as somewhat …

Kat smiles at her, daring her to say it.


No … I believe “heinous bitch” is the
term used most often.


Many of the writers I know are working their fingers to the bone trying to create characters that are the opposite of a Kat. They want to craft the quintessential book friend, someone so universally likable that every agent, editor and reader will want that character to walk off the page and join them for a cup of coffee.

When I’m confronted with a protagonist like Kat, I’m conflicted. Shouldn’t I want to root for her? She is the heroine of the story and I do enjoy a character with a few rough edges. But shouldn’t I also dislike her (at least a little bit) for being so confrontational?

Why do millions of us enjoy watching cynical, intimidating Kat in action? What makes this character work, when so many more likable characters don’t?


  1. Comic Relief: Kat delivers her insults in droll, clever and sarcastic bursts. The humorous, intellectual nature of her one-liners defuses some of the power of her cutting barbs and we’re always laughing with her, not at her.
  2. She Has a Supportive Backstory: Kat has deep, emotionally-charged reasons for most of her behaviors, reasons she chooses not to disclose until she’s ready. Characters in pain should show it, it’s scary if they don’t. Everything Kat does makes sense in the context of her character’s history.
  3. Her Goals Are Evident: Every character needs to want something and Kat wants to attend a prestigious university. However, her controlling father wants to thwart her plans. She’s willing to wage an all-out war with her father to achieve her objective.
  4. Our Own Expectations: We know how this story turns out, and that happy-ever-after ending makes us feel good. We Happy Ending Shotmentally gloss over any negative emotions and rejoice that true love eventually conquers all. Expectation is a powerful tool, it’s also easier to accept annoying behavior if it’s predictable and fits the storyline perfectly.
  5. We Can Relate: We can all remember feeling like Kat, a smug, scared, pissed off teen. It often takes some kernel of empathy to help us connect with a prickly character. And it helps if we can understand the character’s choices and believe we would act the same way in a similar situation.
  6. Superior Intellect: Let face it, we value the truly brainy and we’ll often look away when they act like toddlers. This simple fact is the foundation of many unlikable characters. If you must create a character that embodies a number of negative traits, make sure they can calculate data with the speed of a super computer and it’s all good. Kat is brilliant, hard working, politically aware and a great student.
  7. It’s All About Balance: This film is a game of dysfunctional character bingo; we lose Kat’s actions in a sea of imperfect characters. This story is interwoven with too many conflicting motives, lies, and schemes and no one is playing fair or being honest.
  8. The Train Wreck Effect: Sometimes you just can’t look away from an impending disaster, seeing characters get the crushing defeat they so richly deserve can be the main reason we stick around till the end. In this case Kat’s ego gets tattered, but she survives. However her antagonist, Joey, will go down hard.
  9. We Learn to Flip Our Perceptions: Kat is a character with a large number of negative traits, but those same traits become positive in a fresh context. It’s stubbornness when Kat battles someone, and determination and resilience when she joins their cause.
  10. They Included A Softener: Kat isn’t bad, she’s smart and sassy. She truly loves her family and when it comes down to protecting her own secrets or helping her sister, she chooses her family. She also learns forgiveness and to focus on others for their good qualities, instead of dwelling on their negative ones.

Granted, what makes a character likable for me, might make them unlikable to another person and creating potentially unlikable characters isn’t the safe choice. But it’s taken me a while to realize I’m not very interested in safe. I want twisted, confused, conflicted characters and I think Kat’s a great example of how to do it effectively. I don’t want to have coffee with Kat or become her BFF, but she’s a challenging character. I could have hated Kat, but I didn’t, and that’s because for the most part, she was written just right.


For more WriteOnSisters posts by Robin click here. Or more posts about character development click here.

Take the Quiz: Which character are you from 10 Things I Hate About You?

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9 Tips for Various Stages of Your Novel

As writers we often find ourselves at various stages with our work. Here are three popular stages and three posts from us to help you find a way through the challenges each stage creates.


B6 Chart_FotorStage 1: Just getting started? It is the hardest part. Lucky for all of us Heather has three great ways to plot your story.

Outlining – Method 1: Basic Story Beats

Outlining – Method 2: Active Beats (aka “Show Don’t Tell”)

Outlining – Method 3: The Wall of Sticky Notes (aka “The Board”)



ShortRound SidekicksStage 2: Fleshing out the cast of players? No problem, Robin has some ideas to help you invite some new friends to the party.

Casting Call: 3 Fictional Character Archetypes

Casting Call: 7 Sidekick Archetypes

Casting Call: 3 Villains, It’s Good to be Bad



annualbluegrassStage 3: The work is done, but it needs more polish. Caryn has ideas to help you save on those huge editing bills.

Self-Editing: How To Pull the Weeds From Your Manuscript

Avoid Rejections by Making Sure Your MS is Agent Worthy

To Be or Not to Be: Avoiding Passive Verbs  

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/3237/

Casting Call: Queens, The Archetype of Female Power


While I would argue that a woman can play any character, hero, villain, mentor, the Queen might be considered the most dynamic of the female archetypes. Queens are by nature powerful and public, making them ideal protagonists or antagonists. I had a hard time picking my top queens, but here are three of my favorites.






The Benevolent Ruler Queen:
This emblem of supreme power must wear many crowns. A reigning queen, ascending by her own merits or heredity, is expected to put duty before personal happiness. She will also find herself under closer scrutiny than her male counterparts. In a monarchy, the queen offers the young_victoria Webhope of stability by providing her country with heirs and an unbroken line of succession. The queen can be perceived as a fertility symbol, a surrogate mother figure and a spiritual leader. When the queen is married to the legitimate ruler, she may hold more symbolic than tangible power. In this case she might be expected to confine herself to civic affairs. The benevolent ruler archetype also translates into a CEO, a high-ranking political figure or a First Lady. I like Young Victoria for this archetype. I thought Emily Blunt brought a perfect blend of strength and vulnerability to the role.

The Beauty Queen:
Blessed with good looks, this queen knows how to make the most of her birth gifts. She can use her beauty to open doors and ascend to dizzying heights in her social arena and/or career. When you couple beauty with high intellect you have the makings of a perfect villain, or spy. This archetype is where you also find the femme fatales, the prom queens, and the high school queen bees. Beauty queens are too often maligned characters, typecast as vapid or evil, but they don’t have to be. Throw in a healthy dose of disdain, a quality of toughness, and a hint of naiveté, and you have the making of some fresh characters. Physical beauty is a social hot button; it’s closely tied to extreme emotions of jealousy, or devotion. You can try to avoid the negative stereotypes, and create queens who are thoughtful friends and socially conscious citizens. Or not, just embrace the cliche with Mean Girls. Rachel McAdams created a flawless version of the queen bee.

snow-white-huntsman-movie-poster-charlize-theron web

The Evil Queen:
From Snow White to Cinderella, this archetype is a staple of children’s literature. In my opinion, the best evil queens are the ones forced into their moral decline by poverty and desperation. It’s engaging to watch them rationalize their cruel actions, or see themselves as victims. A person with unlimited power and lots of hangups can deal out the damage, and everyone around the evil queen walks on eggshells. Distrusted, reviled and beset by opposition, these queens let their anger fester until they snap. I do enjoy a touch of madness in this archetype, and if the writer can bury a kernel of decency under all the outer trappings of wickedness, I’m thrilled. In a contemporary setting, the evil queen model transitions into the monstrous teacher, the obsessive lover, and the neighborhood watch captain with serious control issues. I recommend Snow White and the Huntsman. It has a great narcissistic murderous witch of an evil queen to study.

Queens are fantastic archetypes, brimming with attitude, flavored with nuances. You can go with one who’s foreboding and malevolent, or nurturing and maternal. Make them hideous crones, or an enchantress; the scope and dynamism of female power is limitless.

Looking for more on archetypes? Click on any of these other Casting Call posts, villains, sidekicks, lovers with baggage and more.

Up Next: Heather with R: Reading Overload in the Information Age

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/a-z-challenge/casting-call-queens-the-archetype-of-female-power/

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