Tag Archives: plot

What a Character

They’re all around us. The people whose outfits demand a raised eyebrow, whose accents incite chuckles, or whose topics of discussion could give hard-boiled news anchors a full-bodied blush. They are the real-life characters in your daily routine, and they make wonderful additions to your story, too.

Most of my fictional characters are fairly normal human-beings. They all tend to be semi-well-adjusted adults of various ages, with typical jobs, cars, homes, and families. But every story needs some quirkiness. It breaks up the normal, and wakes up your reader.

man-looking-through-binocularsI like to add some fun to a story with folks like Jib Boeller, a middle-aged man who insists that he saw the aliens who abducted the missing photographer. Rowan Kirk is a character I invented who refuses to wear neck-ties – why give an attacker a weapon already in place? – and who is fluent in nearly one hundred different languages, if you count all the most common computer programming scripts. I’m currently developing Ingrid, who is 118 years old with the appearance of a twenty-something supermodel. She’s a gourmet cook who loves opera and dangerous stunts.

My eccentric players are fictional, but their most defining character traits are certainly borrowed from my reality. I have friends who “speak” computer, see aliens, and jump from one adrenaline rush to the next. Every time I hear about someone doing something outrageous, I write down the basics and look for opportunities to include them in a story.

I don’t write them in such a way so that they could recognize themselves and be offended. I just include the details that make me curious about them in the first place. I believe that if I, as the author, am interested in them, then my audience will be, too.

Go ahead and give your reader a character who wears tiger-striped pants and chews fruflamesit gum whenever he wants to remember his computer passwords. Give your hero an Aunt Gilda who wears blue-glittered false eyelashes and drives a hearse with flames on the fenders.

These quirky folks don’t have to be your protagonists, but how a point-of-view character reacts to their idiosyncrasies can speak volumes to your reader. A vignette with a peculiar personality can provide your readers with respite from an otherwise tense scene. A well-placed kooky character can also help connect you to your reader. They will recognize their outfits, their mannerisms, or their habits, either in themselves or in someone they know.

Great characters are everywhere, just waiting to be part of your next tale. Keep your eyes and ears open and your pencil handy.

Kimberly Black


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When Your Story Stalls

Have you ever gotten to the mid-point in a story or novel and found that you can’t go any further?  Something isn’t working and you can’t quite pinpoint what it is.

Whether you’re a seat-of-the-pants plotter or an outline maker, there are countless things that can veer your story off course.  How do you figure out where it all went wrong?  It’s simple and complicated at the same time.  Every story should have the four basic elements: Point, Theme(s), Character Arc(s), and Scenes that drive your plot to its conclusion.  Any or all of these things can be the trouble spot.

When your plot grinds to a halt, usually the point at which you have stalled is not the place where the actual plot-related problem has occurred.  If you go back about three chapters you can usually find where the plot failed.

Check the scene functions starting at that point.  Does each scene perform at least one function related to any or all of the four elements?  Does your main character’s personality speak to your plot’s needs or impede the progress?  It is not always apparent when you first conceive of your main character whether you’ve picked the right one.  Maybe one of the other major characters is actually the one who should be the hero.  Maybe one of the minor characters has shown themselves more worthy of carrying the plot to its conclusion.   Have you advanced the character arc for your hero or villain, or have they stalled?  Does he have the right motivation?

If reading three chapters back does not reveal the sticking point, go back another chapter and continue in this fashion until you have found the place where everything went wrong.  Reading for errors at any point in the writing process is always a good idea.  More than likely you will find the problem within the first three chapters ahead of your stopping point, but be persistent until you find and fix the error.  Read through several times using this method.  If at first you don’t succeed, put it down, walk away for a day or two, and try again.

The solution is there waiting to be discovered.  The complicated part is looking at the plot with fresh, objective eyes and taking the precious time out of your writing schedule to do so.  The simple part is when you find and fix it.

As Dorothy Parker once said, “I hate writing.  I love having written.”

Where is your story stalling point?  What techniques are the most helpful to you?

Suzanne Bogue

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Read, Read, Read

The most common writing advice I have received is to “read, read, read and write, write, write.” When I first heard this, I thought the reading part was easy. After all, I loved to read; it’s one of the reasons I’m a writer. But at the time, I would finish a book, make a mental note of whether I thought it was good or not, and move on to the next one. Recently, I discovered a different approach to my reading. I started noticing the pieces that make a book work and applying them to my own writing. So here’s my advice on reading:

First, learn about the mechanics of a story by reading books about writing or attending writing workshops. That way you’ll know the basics of what to look for. Then, when you finish a book, ask yourself what you liked about it. Was it the interesting characters, exciting plot, vivid descriptions, or did something else jump out at you? Likewise, if you didn’t like the book, or worse, couldn’t finish it, ask what went wrong. Were the characters flat, the plot boring, pacing too slow? Reading books in this way helps you to know what to put in to your writing and what to leave out. And it enables you to reach the ultimate goal of writing a book your readers can’t put down.

Lynnette Jalufka


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