Being a Better Writer: Common Problems with Character Emotion

This post was originally written and posted December 1st, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

After almost a year of doing this, I’ve covered a lot of the more general subjects, so as I was considering what to cover next, I decided that today, I’d dive into some specifics. Something that I have a strong rapport with: realistic characters.

More specifically, we’re going to look how writers handle giving their characters emotions, and where a lot of the common pitfalls occur.

So right from the start, I’m going to assume we’re all on the same page here. We want our characters to have emotion. We want them to be well-rounded, well developed … real, in other words. We want characters who are complex, with multiple facets to their character who remind us of real people. We want a character who seems real. We do not want a flat character.

But the challenge is that writing such a character is quite difficult, and many authors fall into pitfalls along the way. And I’m not speaking of just novice writers out there either, plenty of long-term authors can still be guilty of making any number of these mistakes, falling into traps by either cutting corners or not realizing what they’ve done. And for it, their work suffers. Characters become “props” in a story, interchangeable parts that simply drop into scenes or events to fulfill a purpose.

So let’s look at the earliest traps first—the ones that trip up the youngest writers—before we move on to the more advanced stuff. These are errors that—make no mistake—experienced writers still make, but are more likely to be found in younger writer’s material. Errors that can be easily overcome with a little effort and work, but still manage to trip people up.

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Being a Better Writer: Character Descriptions

This post was originally written and posted November 17th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Today’s topic inspired was by a bit of a firestorm I saw with regards to a story that someone had written. And while the firestorm in question will definitely not be the subject of today’s post, nor do I wish to get into that as it is nearly an entirely separate topic, today’s topic will brush up against it for a brief moment.

Today, I’m going to talk about character descriptions.

Character descriptions are something that every new writer struggles with, and often many somewhat experienced writers as well. Because when we get right down to it, character descriptions fall into one of those writing areas where no one teaches you how to do it, and everyone assumes that it’s fairly straightforward and to the point. “You shouldn’t need to be taught about this,” the public mindset seems to say. “How hard can it be? You just describe your character!”

Well, as it turns out, and as most new writers discover when they put their pencil to paper for the first time, describing your characters is much more difficult than it appears. It’s hard. Many writers, in a fit of panic (or without realizing it), will simply throw out a narrated description of basic looks—eye color, hair, figure, etc—and then just jump right into the story, without realizing how jarring and unappealing to the reader such a description is. Only upon going back do most of them realize how truly unappealing it is for a story to start off with “Bob was Asian, five-foot-seven-inches, with brown hair and brown eyes … etc, etc.” Only when they do realize how unappealing it is does the real panic set in, when they realize that they have no idea how to do any differently.

Which is why I’m talking about this today. Because to many readers, how you describe a character can be a make-or-break point for the entire book. Young writers don’t quite realize how important something as simple as a character description can be to the reader’s acceptance of a work. Plenty a time has been the moment when a reader has picked up a book, read only a few paragraphs, run across a poor character description, and put the book back on the shelf. Why? Because even if they don’t consciously realize it, a poor character description is often an indicator of other problems with the book, be they weakness of story, poor attention to detail, or just in general a low-quality read.

Yikes. Suddenly the amount and care for detail you put into your character description takes on a whole new level of importance, doesn’t it? It might not just be something that’s a nice part of your work, it’s something that the very reading of your work may hinge upon.

Kind of makes it important to get right.

So, where do you start? How do you go about making sure that your character description is going to be something that keeps your reader flipping through your pages? Well, to start, you’re going to need to know a few things about your work.

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Being a Better Writer: Character Versus Plot

This post was originally written and posted November 10th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Today we’re going to talk about a lesser-considered aspect of storytelling and writing. I’ve bandied about with a few different introductions to the concept and summarily discarded all of them, so instead I’m just going to jump right in and tackle things.

Effectively—and understand that I am for the purposes of today’s concept, grossly simplifying—every story out there, written, told, or seen, rides a sliding scale into one of two categories: They’re either a character-driven piece or a plot-driven piece. That’s it. These are your options, and understanding which your story is going to be, as well as more importantly, how to achieve this, will play a part in determining the success of your work.

Okay, some of you are nodding, some of you are confused, a few are wondering where I’m going with this. So let’s look into this one a little more deeply.

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Being a Better Writer: Micro-Blast #1

This post was originally written and posted November 3rd, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

I’m back! Woo! Man, does it feel good to by typing away at a keyboard this morning!

So, as I was looking over my list of topics this weekend, I came to a realization: A large part of what I had left to do from my list was mostly there because I’d never felt they would make a sufficient topic on their own. And the few topics that hadn’t been left for that reason had been left untouched for their own reasons; namely, that they were better-suited to one-on-one Q&A sessions, truly massive and in-depth writings, or very specific break-downs.

“This is no good,” I thought to myself. How can I manage to tackle all of these small issues in separate posts? They’d be small. To the point. Too abrupt. But I still wanted to cover them.

Which is why today I’m doing the first ever Micro-Blast! Why do separate posts for each one of these small topics or general ideas, when I can do several of them in one, quick, condensed post! This way, I can clean out the last of my old list before moving on to a whole new range of topics. So, without further ado, let us begin with the blasting!

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Being a Better Writer: What’s a Memorable Scene?

This post was originally written and posted September 8th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Still off the grid in Alaska. This post was uploaded ahead of time for your viewing pleasure.

Welcome back for today’s Being a Better Writer post. It is a bit more nebulous topic, and so I’m going to try and approach it in a bit more relaxed manner. Rather than moving from point to point, or even prepping more than the initial idea beforehand, I’m just going to talk about it and see where things go. Partially because I feel like being a bit more relaxed today, partially because I want to see how well this works, and lastly because the topic itself can be a little nebulous.

So, what does make a memorable scene? And here’s where we run into a few differences, right with the first answer. Because to me what makes a scene memorable is something important happening. But that might not be the same answer that others give. In fact, others might give a completely different assessment of what makes a scene memorable. Perhaps it has to do with the main characters. Perhaps it’s the final battle, the most energetic portion of the story. Even upon thinking about it, my own answer that it is something important doesn’t exactly hold a sum total, because there’s a secondary element to consider, in that it be interesting. For me, these are two things that I put into my mind when I’m writing: What’s important about this scene? And is it interesting?

But that probably isn’t what’s going through other writers or readers heads when they do their own scenes. They might be going for clever dialogue. Or maybe even a funny joke.

So why when I’m asked what makes a memorable scene, do I think of importance and interest? I think part of it comes from what I’m looking at as a writer. The last thing that I want my reader to do is be forced to slog through things that aren’t important. Look, let’s be honest, anyone with half a decent talent for prose can sit down and write a lovely several thousand word piece on a character’s experience of cleaning a kitchen. Sliding the washrag across the counter, doing the dishes, cleaning the windows, putting things away … this can be done pretty easily.

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Being a Better Writer: Worldbuilding Colloquialisms

This post was originally written and posted September 8th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Still off the grid in Alaska. This post was uploaded ahead of time for your viewing pleasure.

So today’s topic is a bit of an interesting one. Let’s put forth a scenario to get us started. Have you ever been reading a story that was either Sci-fi or Fantasy, and then suddenly been reminded that it’s a book when a piece of dialogue sounds completely out of place? I’m not talking foreshadowing or eye-catching, I mean something that’s completely ill-placed and breaking of the book’s world, like a medieval fantasy character using the phrase “awesome” or making a political joke that relies on modern political climates to be funny—which means in the context of the book, it’s entirely out of place.

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Being a Better Writer: Letting Characters Live

This post was originally written and posted September 1st, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Still off the grid in Alaska. This post was uploaded ahead of time for your viewing pleasure.

Welcome back! I’m alive again! And feeling all the better after getting some solid sleep over the weekend at long last. One would think I’d be wise enough to let myself get some sleep while sick, but experience is proving that this isn’t the case. And on another positive side, I’ve finally joined the ranks of those who watch Gravity Falls! Which is enjoyable. There have actually been a few moments that have reminded me of the older seasons of The Simpsons with their attention to clever, careful jokes, including a season 1 brick joke that had me cracking up late at night.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a new show, I recommend it. Think Disney does the X-files, and if that sounds cool, give it a go. Now, onto today’s topic…

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