A character, let’s call him Roger, is accused of committing a murder he didn’t do. Roger goes on the run, dodging the police at every turn. A chance meeting with a mysterious blond leads to a confrontation with a nest of terrorists. All is remedied by the end as we learn that Roger has the information the police need to thwart the terrorists. Roger drives off with his new love, the no-longer-mysterious blond.
That’s all well and good, and you may have a great story on your hands. But what did Roger do yesterday? Last week? One year ago? Can you have a compelling story without knowing your character’s history? Is it necessary to delve into your main character’s life story?
The more you know about your main character, the more we will care about them. While you don’t need to write an entire biography about Roger, it would be helpful if we knew some of the things that will factor into the story. If he has specialized knowledge that will help solve the problem at hand, what does he do that would give him this information? If he is reluctant to get involved with a beautiful woman, has he just been through a divorce and is afraid to commit again? Your character will have assorted problems, accomplishments and other traits that make his life fascinating.
All stories, regardless of length, begin in the middle of the main character’s life. People we drop into our stories have already lived a full life. Your story is the aftermath of the events that occurred prior to the first sentence you write.
Take some time to explore your main character’s life before the beginning of your story. Even something as simple as a paragraph detailing the build up to their predicament you’ll be writing about is valuable.
Temporality and impermanence go together, for such is measured by the ticking clock, the circling shadow, the palpitating heart, or a single tear streaking down a lovelorn face. Sometimes a single moment can weigh more than the world.
Into everyone’s life, a little rain must fall, yet rain is also needed in order to preserve life. Vitality spills from the elements and is tried by them, and then passes back into them, energy dancing in and out of existence’s frame. A mere blink and being comes and goes, with each unit following the prefabricated biological action. Such is maturation, it happens to everything before entropy hastens decline. This universal occurrence defines matter, but spirit is external, invisible, and marks the transitions as they click by. Like a cosmic hologram playing out timelessly again and again.
Wise old timers see a rhythm or pattern in the lives they learn about so that at the end many say that life feels like a story, with chapters, dramatic themes, ups and downs, twists, and a hero’s journey in it for the bargain. Certain days meet certain nights, in an age of development, in a generation of particular bliss or tribulation, and the many are changed by another season turning in an uncertain world. Generation gap (external trial) or generational crisis (internal trial) bring hive-minded conformers or nonconformists who think free of the mind cage.
Individualism is the prize of freedom, justice, and prosperity, and yet some people or concepts go far to set themselves apart from the many, under any circumstances or trials. These are influential characters: protagonists, antagonists, hero, antihero, villain, thrall, etc.
Nut, germination, sprout, sapling, tree, nut = a forest
Information, Transformation, Replication, Termination = life cycle
A tree bears fruit of its own kind, and by such is it known. The soil in which its seed was planted suffered it’s germination, but how spitefully? How rich is the soil? How much rain found it? What of storms, frosts, fires, or plucking fingers? These factors shape the hologram of any growing thing, evidencing the holographic all. Adversity challenges through extremes and is marked by a seasonal yield. Crops are generations, and a generational account is a harvest tally.
Seasonal Development of a subject
Outer / Calendrical Time: important dates / durations
Inner / Emotional Time: important moments / events
Seasons of development illustrate generational/narrative Temporality, that which marks any progress of forms and or character/style. These things may offer generational bridges to be crossed, and on the echoing green there are no gaps or delineations.
And so it is important to take youths and elders back to moments of temporal shift, so that generations have a common reference point, and a character may be humanized and relatable. A first drive/ride, a walk under summer’s moonlight, the heart shape encased initials carved into trees by youthful kissers, the field where a boy saw his first dead body, where a girl found her maidenhood, where the orphan childhood ended, or the dawning of war.
That where is a when, and can be flashed back to or dreamscaped into developmental seasons/episodes whereby characters or concepts may be continually shaped. A scar. A favor. A smile. A good beating. How the growth weathers it’s environment reveals much about it’s nature/character.
Development is disposition. Are they weathered, delicate, perfect, deficient? This suffering or treatment of growth and developmental concepts visits the heart space the way that timelessness does, but instead of coming from out of cosmic nowhere these factors are the product of a systemic wheel of seasons, and that difference is as important as it is opposite to Temporality.
Natural themes predominate temporal matters, as opposed to supernatural or ethereal influences. We must simulate life experiences and so social development (or lack thereof) in our characters and or world, so that a sense of narrative progress and evolution may be shared with the reader. This is how living things in the text come to life, and how that character’s life is touched by temporality.
We are all comfortable reading the books we love. They’re like old friends, always there, always reliable. It matters not what you read, they are something you can hold onto and know that they will always be the same. They rarely leave the confines of their genre. That makes them something to look forward to.
As a writer, it is good to read in your genre to have a good feel for what you’re writing about. It would be difficult to write a fantasy novel if you didn’t know the difference between a Troll and a Paladin. But what is there to do if your writing begins to get stale, like everything else you’ve read before? That is the danger you face if you only read what you are interested in.
A good writer absorbs words and ideas that they encounter and read. That being said, if you only read one type of fiction, the kind you are writing, then you may only be versed well in that genre. It only makes sense. But there is another way to enhance your writing.
So much reading to do!
Your writing, and your reading scope, will increase if you take it upon yourself to read in other genres. Take some chances and pick something you’d never thought you’d read. There are a lot of great books in every genre, and a lot of them are free to read or listen to online.
A word about audiobooks: there have been many tests that show that anything heard is taken in and filed away in the mind. The same studies prove that if you listen to an audio story at fifty to one hundred percent faster than normal speed, you will recall it better. I myself listen to at least one audiobook a week as I write my new stories. I can tell you the stories in fine detail many months later.
Using the speed audio method, I have been able to sample some excellent books that I might never have taken the time to read. Here are a few genres I have read, some for the first time.
I am a big Western movie fan. The Old West ended about 125 years ago, yet it still lives in films and books. Everyone knows of the Old West, and yet it isn’t as popular as it had been 40 years ago and more. It’s a shame because the genre is rich with imagery and characters who will stay with you for a long time.
The Seventh Man by Max Brand
At random, I chose The Seventh Man by Max Brand. The story concerned Dan Barry, a man of great strength and pride. He takes on the seven men who have killed his prize horse, determined to kill each and every one of them on a crusade of vengeance. The authentic language of the cowboy, the outlaw, the gambler, and the lawman are here in fine form. Brand is one of the great Masters of the Western yarn, in the same company as Zane Grey.
I found the story to be well written and intriguing. It immersed me in the dusty trails and dense forests. The characters are people who could not be in any other fiction genre, so much a part of the world that they would not be able to survive anywhere else.
Hard Boiled Detective
Along with the Western, the Detective genre is another great American invention. Sure, others have created their own detectives, but the originals were created here in the U. S. A. it was Edgar Allan Poe who started things off. After that, there has been an explosion of detectives across every genre. I chose a few interesting novels by authors I know were among the best in their field.
Cop Hater by Ed McBain
The first story I dove into is Cop Hater by Ed McBain. What a powerful voice. The writing is crisp, clean and the dialogue real. Published in 1954, the language is raw, and often vulgar. The criminals are slimy and the cops have real lives. They all have fears, prejudices, and pride. A very good book. I’ll be reading more of the 87th Precinct in the future.
I then read The Moving Target by Ross MacDonald. It’s the book that introduces us to Lew Archer, down and out detective in the grimy and corrupt hell that is Los Angeles in the 1940’s. Little has changed about L.A. In the past 75 years, but that doesn’t matter. This is a classic detective novel, made unique by its laconic and indifferent narrator. Archer doesn’t care who is guilty or why anyone has done what they’ve done. He seeks the truth and will not stop until he’s dug up the roaches responsible. A good start to a character with two dozen novels to his resume.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. This book has been recommended by so many people over the years that I decided to read it. I actually read it and listened to it at the same time. I’m glad I did, because seeing and hearing Frankl’s words made them hit me much more.
Man’ Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl
The main part of the text concerns Frankl’s experiences in Dachau, the notorious Nazi Prison Camp. How anyone could survive under such circumstances is a testament to the tenacity of the Human species. Frankl studied the various types of prisoners in the camp, noting how different people reacted to their situation in very different ways. Some could not live under the harsh conditions. Many died trying to live to their next meal. A very few let the entire experience pass through them. They kept on, knowing that they would live to get out and return to their lives after the war. Frankl is one of these people. He committed himself to living and not giving up. Only those who knew they would survive actually did survive.
This is one of the most devastating books I’ve ever read. The horrors Frankl lived through are not anything anyone should ever do again. I would highly recommend this to get an uplifting view of the Human Condition and what people will do to their fellow Man.
In closing, I would recommend reading books in different genres for several reasons. First, it helps expand your reading horizons. Second, it will help your writing to see how other types of stories portray incidents you may run into with your characters. Third, the writer’s voice is always different in other genres. A cowboy talks far differently than a serial killer in Chicago. But that same cowboy would probably look and sound a lot like an asteroid miner in the year 2077. Both are on the frontier of their era. But you wouldn’t have known that if you hadn’t read either the Western or the SF novel. Reading one will certainly help you create the other in a more believable way.
Note: This post contains various affiliate links to the books referenced and as such, the author makes a small percentage of sales. This content is not influenced by advertisers or affiliate partnerships.
Creative Polish is an analysis of one’s literary voice for optimization. Not for grammar as much as for poetic elevations and mythic tone. This radical method suggests that one should overwrite, to go beyond systemized reductionism in order to transcend the language of the day. Editors trim for clarity or to emphasize proper grammar, which is their job, but some would delete glory because to them, it’s all been done before. Might as well tell the sun not to rise while we’re at it…
A good creative polish seeks to challenge the readership rather than bring everything down to the fourth-grade level. It’s more for creative obsessors than hobbyists. Having read much and been greatly inspired, and having a regular muse flash leading unto creative obsession, you will want to obsess over the words already written.
So… Having written in bliss from out of a bright muse flash nagging you sweetly all day, you return to the text the next chance you get to creatively polish the work.
Creative Polish Guidelines:
1: remember the chapter (section) you are polishing, because themes and scenarios should shape language and Inspire voice. (action pace, creepy pace, dialogue, etc)
2: when you read any sentence, look for the poem that could be there. No matter what the subject, no matter what the demographic, just remember eternity and forget now. Write to be rediscovered on post-apocalyptic bookshelves centuries from now after WW7, fearing no contemporary naysay or caution.
3: when you encounter the turning of a phrase, take care not to disturb its textual ecstasy. Butterflies are better with wings ON them…
4: vocabulary must challenge in order to compliment the reader’s intelligence. Be courageous with both existing terms and fictitious wordsmithing, from which all linguistic enchantment derives its fantastical delirium. Example: time machine
Let your obsession reach for perfection, but don’t embrace perfectionism.
Believe in what the muse brought to mind.
It is necessary to self-edit, self workshop, self-optimize.
It is unnecessary to be your own worst critic.
Some words will stay, some shall be rewritten, others deleted. The ones that remain from out of the original muse flash must quiver with mythic resonance, each sentence a poem, each phrase a mystery. Even if you were writing about mundane concepts, your voice should still be beaming bright so that the muse may be honored.
Adore the process, love the satisfaction, seek more from the muse, give praise to what you revere. You know what you like and dislike, and this polarity helps focus your voice. Your voice is emergent from creative obsession, is harmonized into oneness by reading well and writing lots, and so is both consciousness and unconscious in nature. Unconsciousness is limitless, and the words of muse and voice can transcend amazing thresholds of beauty and ugliness, profoundly touching both heart and soul.
Some people start from the beginning, 1: What Is Your Inspiration; some from the middle, 5: Creative Workshopping; and some from the end, 10: Adaptive Bookcraft. No matter what stage you are in or what direction the development takes, JWC Paragraphic Rift has a way for you to dial in and access the creative edit.
Let’s see if we can learn from each other’s dreams and grow as writers together.
We all have days when we don’t feel like writing. Things get in the way. The kids need something, and they always need something. Your mom calls and asks you to help her with something she saw crawl out from under the sink. Or you might not be in the mood.
Writing as Therapy
Do yourself and all of us readers a favor. Write. Write even though every fiber of your being screams that you don’t have the time, or that what you’ll write will be crap. It’s okay. Write the crap and get it out of your system. Who knows? Some of that crap could lead to something interesting.
There’s a concept called “free writing.” Free writing is where you sit in a quiet space with a pad and a pen. For ten minutes up to thirty minutes, write down whatever comes into your mind. The key is to get the pen moving even if you write about not having anything to write about. You will soon be writing something. Free writing is used a lot by psychic mediums to pick up a presence in a place where there is a haunting, but it’s also beneficial to free your mind from the clutter.
Let the Ideas Flow
Stuck somewhere that is not usually a proper place to write? Write in this place whether you’re waiting for someone to finish their shopping or at the hospital’s emergency room. Pull out your journal and write something. It’s good therapy that can clear your mind and also take your mind off of worrying needlessly. Writing is good for the soul, and your thoughts never have to leave the journal.
Let your finished draft rest for two or three months. I know that’s hard, but absence makes the novel grow better. If you now look at your work as a reader, you’ll see what works better for the story. While you’re waiting, play with the story in a separate place. Where are the characters now? What were they doing before you set pen to paper? Are there other adventures waiting for your people now that you’ve gotten them to your story’s end? Think about it. What harm could it do to combine writing therapy with character and event exploration?
Are you stuck on where to take your current story? Take the opportunity to write out possible ideas for your characters and their predicaments. Even if your ideas make no sense or don’t fit with the story you’re writing, that’s okay. Write it out. You may find another story waiting for you in your rambling thoughts.
Ever since I began to write seriously, just about every writer gave the same advice. “Write what you know.” It seemed to make sense at the time. I figured that if I stick to writing what I know, it will be more believable. Boy, was I ever wrong.
Denizen of Oz
If you accept the advice to stick with what you know, we would never have had Middle Earth, Oz, or the Lost World. These places, and many more, were created out of the imaginations of their authors. Did Tolkien visit The Shire? Had L. Frank Baum found something at the end of a rainbow one day? What about those dinosaurs in South America? I happen to know that Arthur Conan Doyle never set foot in South America. How could he then have written about that plateau filled with dinosaurs and those Cave Men?
The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The real answer is, of course, that these writers had incredible imaginations. Their minds operated on a much different plain than those around them. They could walk along the foggy moors of western England and come up with the Hound of the Baskervilles. They see a piece of amber with a mosquito inside it and conjure up the technology and architecture of Jurassic Park. They take Wagon Train, a classic television western, and morph it into an equally famous show set 300 years from now, Star Trek.
Hound of the Baskervilles
The ability to look at an ordinary object or person and extrapolate them into something completely different is something authors do every day. A great author can take a dictator from Romania Transylvania and transform him into Dracula. Bram Stoker had never met a vampire. His job as a secretary for an actor gave him no time to travel to Transylvania. What did Stoker do? He researched the area where Castle Dracula lived. His knowledge of the various locations in and around London and southeastern England is all that he needed to create Dracula. By the way, the book has never gone out of print since 1897.
You do not have to write about what you know. You only need to write about something you are interested in. If you aren’t interested or obsessed with, the subject of your writing will be flat and uninteresting. I have an interest in ghosts, and could probably craft an exciting ghost story. I do not know anything about hunting. If I wanted to write a story that had a hunt in it, I needed to do much research if I wish for my forest scenes to have any believability.
Passion makes all of the difference. Without this love, the foods we eat in restaurants would be bland and unattractive. Every book would be 215 pages and have the same characters living another day in their dull, uneventful lives. Every television show would use the same color scheme, lighting, and set designer and be about nothing each week. Do you have some idea now how passion makes the difference in everything?
Here’s an exercise for you to do. Try it once, and if it works, do it as often as you’d like.
Take a setting you haven’t written about yet.
Create three people and give them first names. Don’t do anything else with them.
Throw something unexpected at them that is outrageous. It could be a situation, an outside force, an animal, another person intent on doing them harm or something really crazy like something falling out of the sky.
Give your three main characters last names. What are they doing together? Why have they been there? Are they friends, relatives, or strangers to each other?
Have your three main characters deal with these events. They are in the center of it all.
Three Random Characters
Go crazy with this exercise. Don’t worry about how insane it gets. Focus on your people. How do they get out of the circumstances alive and unharmed? Do they get out of it unscathed? That’s up to you.
The point is to care about these main characters. Breath life into them, and feel what they feel, hear what they hear, and cry when they lose someone. Out of this will pour passion for them. You need to get very creative about keeping these three people breathing until the last sentence. The more you do this exercise; the better and more detailed the finished product will be. Make it as outrageous as you can think of. This chaos will force your brain to become inventive.
After you do this several times, change it up. Put yourself and two of your family members through the same exercise. Now you’re dealing with real emotions as you do anything to keep the family safe and unharmed. You’ll find yourself getting much more emotional now because you care about these individuals. Soon you will be able to write about characters you invented as much as your family. That’s because the main characters of your story are your family now. You gave birth to them, and you need to nurture them.
You didn’t know them before you invented them. But you know these people now. And that’s the point.
I think you would be amazed at the notion that if you create a character, in some capacity, you might begin to feel for that character. The whole concept of character development is initially intended to make the reader want to root for them in one way or another. But what if you had read 300 pages of a novel and all of a sudden you begin to feel for the character? It’s typical for a writer to become vested in said character, but to a reader it’s somewhat different. If you can pull off good character development, then getting the reader to buy in might be easy, but it can be difficult. Use of emotions and dialogue can press the issue when creating a character’s persona. You want your character to have layers. You want them to care about others and be cared for in the same notion. Without these, it can be quite difficult to root for that particular character. Build their persona with experiences in the novel. You can even do it with flashbacks.
Laura Linney’s character on Netflix’s Ozark is a great example of a strong female character.
Most importantly, you want the reader to care about what’s happening to all of your main characters. Without that care, they might as well not even read the book. What’s the purpose? If we don’t care about the character, what is our purpose of reading it? That is the most important aspect of the book. Any author can conjure up a good setting, action sequence, or tangible description of a character’s being. Here are some pointers as far as what to look for in developing a character we want to root for. First, build a foundation with a detailed description of not just what they look like physically, but also their personality specifically. For example, in a novel I’m working on now, we are introduced to Amanda Smith,one of the main protagonists, but the character development doesn’t focus on her. It focuses on her mother. We know Smith can be tough as nails and not take any flack from any opposition. Where does she get it? You guessed it. From her mother. Forming a relationship indirectly in that fashion gives us an idea of the family dynamic. Next, we use dialogue to really get in the head of her mother. She’s a cool customer when she needs to be. Her dialogue shows it. An excerpt from the novel shows us that she knows when to do what she has to do. “Get your ass in here now, Amanda Smith. You’ve got a lot of explaining to do!” or “Denise Smith slowly sipped her golden, brown tea.” This builds consistency throughout the novel. It’s actually an inconsistent consistency, but it works. She can be a hard ass in one scene but, low key in the next. It’s all part of character. The behavior becomes a “consistent thing” as you go deeper into the novel. Lastly, I want to share that I’m guilty as charged. I feel for her character and haven’t even finished the novel yet! I want to know what she eats for breakfast and what she’s going to do when she finds out that Amanda has yet again skipped detention to go to the mall with her friends. I give a crap about what she wears around the house and what her favorite TV show is, whether it’s The Wireor Ozark. Point made. This is what happens when the author grips you with good character development. I sure hope a good future awaits Denise Smith!
I sometimes look at my mind as a warehouse that has been passed through a blender. Can you picture that? Neither can I, but that’s what I see. I have seen so many films and television shows and have read so many books that my mind has split into two distinct warehouses. The first one is filled with filing cabinets. Each cabinet is a genre or a movie franchise. All of the ideas inside any particular cabinet are kept organized in neat folders. The second one is a vortex of swirling data. Nothing is in place, and ideas smash into other ideas.
My Mind Is A Blender
This second warehouse is where the ideas come from. It could be Jurassic Park‘s velociraptors hitting the Martian War Machines from The War of the Worlds. Out of that comes an idea of a squadron of WWII fighter planes “manned” by trained raptors. Weird, yes, but that’s how the process works. Not all of the ideas work well at all, but enough do to keep the vortex at high velocity.
When it comes to creating characters, I take a great deal more care with them than I do a story idea. Stories are made up of characters who are in situations they must get out of somehow. Without characters, you only have situations and challenges without someone to grapple with them. For me, characters come in different layers. Each layer is important, and they are all tied together. One cannot be separated from any of the others.
Each Layer Is Important To The Others
Here are some of the layers I use to create a character. Put as many of these things into your story and give your people’s existence some reality.
Prior Life. Their Back Story in other words.
Friends, Enemies and Relatives.
Eccentricities, Habits and Nits.
Real Life Dialogue, Idioms and Catch Phrases.
Believability, Honor and A Sense Of Humor.
Fears, Beliefs and Superstitions.
Speech Patterns, Tics and Accents.
Goals, Dreams and Ambitions.
Curiosity, Interests and Dislikes.
John Pentgram. He started as a college assignment. I had to write a short story for my Creative Writing Final. The class received the assignment on Day Two of the class. I began to write down ideas, and found they were all terrible.
Then, one evening, I saw an old episode of Get Smart. In it, Maxwell Smart discovered that the enemy spy he had been chasing could not be caught because he’s a vampire. That created a spark in my mind. What if I created a detective who has been bitten by a werewolf? Better yet what if he could control his werewolf urges and use his gift to solve crimes?
The result became Nigh Of Fate, the story all of the other Pentgram stories revolved around. I now have a set of stories that take place before he gets bitten by the werewolf, and a set of stories taking place after he’s been bitten.
Are You Afraid Of The Dark?
Surela of Valtoor. My friend Michael ran a D & D campaign for many years. I couldn’t play but I helped him come up with traps, creatures and impossible situations for his characters. One day, I came up with a character who had influence over cats and gravity. Michael thought I had the potential for a new set of gods and influences they give to mortals.
The next morning, I woke up with an idea about a female thief on a mission to steal a treasure that had never been stolen from an empty town that would not let you leave. I sat down and wrote the name Surela on the paper. Where the name came from I still have no idea. Writing their name down gave me the entire story, including her 5 inch tall, friend Lim and her Entallic horse.
Surela’s entire world revealed itself in the next two stories. With the details of the God Shards clarified, the rest of the world and its history unfolded in the next six months. I wrote with a speed I had never experienced before or since. As a result, I had over 100 pages of background material, from coinage to religions to maps.
The Land Of Variema
Franklin Adams. Suppose the Frankenstein’s monster survived his arctic adventure? Suppose he went west and wound up in Canada? Suppose he became a fur trapper and saved all of his money until he could move to the U.S.? Suppose his scars faded until they were gone, yet he remained un-aging?
Cut to the present day. Adams is a private detective living in the Midwood section of Brooklyn. With over 200 years of knowledge and wisdom, he is used by the Police to help solve crimes they deem unsolvable. No one knows who he really is, until 12-year-old Rochelle Horowitz put the dozens of stray pieces of Adams’ life together. She becomes one of his apprentices and the only one who knows his secret.
Ryan Dacalos. In the year 2227, Ryan is hired to steal the Khurlu, the largest diamond ever found. It is in a secure box on Mars, which is forbidden to any visitors by the Uni-World Council. The money he is offered is too good to pass up and Ryan takes the job. He is immediately set upon by someone who doesn’t want him to get the diamond.
The Khurlu Of Mars
This story all stems from an off-hand remark from my friend Michael. One day, he happened to be talking about the planet Mars. In the middle of the conversation, he said something about the “Great Martian Terra-Form Disaster.” The story instantly hit me.
What if there was a disaster directly caused by efforts to terra-form Mars? What if the governments of the solar system decreed that Mars was now off-limits due to the anticipated destruction of the Martian Eco-system? What if the colonies already established on Mars were given 24 hours to evacuate forever, and some important things were left behind?
All of these details hit me at once, including the character who became Ryan Dacalos, psychic thief and obtainer of lost objects. His friends, Burke and Astra, came later in the day as I wrote down the details as they hit me. These people and the various settings were all in place within the week.
I chose to write the book in the First Person, something I had never done before. That new aspect of writing proved to be no problem for me. I wrote Ryan as if he were actually living the adventure as I wrote it. This gave the story a real immediacy that I liked.
People are just people, and these individuals you have been introduced to are members of their community. They just have jobs that are a lot different than yours or mine.