Spontaneous Stories

Sometimes, I have scenes spontaneously appear in my mind that replay consistently throughout the day. I don’t know the characters, I don’t know the story, but a distinct bit of dialogue, a feeling, a circumstance. Now, I’ve written here on my blog before that I don’t believe writing has any magical aspect to it–I still don’t. So, these scenes must sprout from my subconscious.

The thing is, I like making up theoretical situations and having characters act on opposing sides, then seeing where the conversation goes. What can motivate those opinions? What sort of justifications can those characters make up to support their actions?

But I’m not talking about these moments of writing–or rather of thinking. I’m talking about these scenes that spontaneously pop into my head, those which I haven’t purposefully pursued.

Human nature has always fascinated me. In high school, I took all the psychology classes that were offered, and eventually double majored in it with creative writing at university.

Why does anyone do anything? As a writer, that’s a critical question, since a character has to be motivated, even if it’s a basic desire, such as hunger. I guess my curiosity branched from myself, then outward.

But still, these scenes that come unprovoked. Are these questions that I’m too afraid to approach head-on? The goal to these isn’t to find an answer, but to explore motivation. So then, are these the unjustifiable motivations that irk me?

I don’t know. All I know is that these unprompted scenes are the ones that tend to stick with me and demand to be written, and I listen.

What about other writers out there? Have you ever had a similar experience with scenes coming unbidden?

-Rachael

The Big Question

Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on Pexels.com

HAPPY NEW YEAR! How is it already January 7th? I had planned on making a post closer to the new year, but, here we are.

Okay, so you have your character. Now what? Where do you go from here? The next step is asking yourself the Big Question: What does my character want? This is the most important question because it will dictate the plot, but more on that later. If the author doesn’t know the character’s motivation, it will be apparent to the reader that the character is a loose cannon, and the story will suffer. In every scene, as the writer, you should ask this question (“What does my character want?”) and answer it. If you can’t answer it, something needs to be edited, added, or clarified.

What drives my character? What halts my character? Both of these questions are dictated by motivation. There are two different types of motivation: main motivations (main plots) and little motivations (subplots).

The main motivation or The Big M is something that takes the whole novel to be answered. (**Side note: The Big M may not always end with what is deemed as a “success,” but might actually be a “failure”—that’s okay. Both of these are acceptable answers to the Big Question.) The Big M is the reason we—the readers and writers—are compelled to continue reading or writing.

Examples of Big Ms: finding a career path, someone to love, God; going on an adventure; accepting death. If you aren’t sure what your character wants, go back to those key personality adjectives (check out my previous blog post for more on that). If you’re still stuck, try googling master lists of character motivations—or Pinterest. Think of the classic conflicts too, like Man v. Man or Man v. Technology, etc. The main motivation will also be something that in a series will transfer to the next book as the or a component of the series arc. This will also dictate your characters’ growth.

The little motivations or “Little Ms” are things that can be solved easily in a scene or two. These can be base needs, like food or taking a nap, or little conflicts between characters. They can also be subplots, but within a series, should be solved by the end of each novel.

Motivations can also be negative (called aversions). This is only a strong NOT wanting. For example, let’s say your character wants to get into a specific University, so then the motivation becomes NOT wanting to be rejected. Think: What does my character not want to happen? Another way to look at this is through fear. What is my character afraid might happen?

Your main character has to yearn for something, and that yearning will determine the scope of the plot (to be explored in another post). Once you’ve decided your character—or characters—the next question will be, is my character going to get X (Big M) by the end of the novel (“success” or “failure”)? Determine this and you can start plotting!

You can also start writing without having this all figured out, but with a clear motivation in mind as you write, the plot will become clearer and clearer as the steps to accomplishment or failure will seem obvious.

Motivations also help us shape our characters’ morals and values, but that’s a topic for another day!

Character Creation

Where does a writer begin? Well, a story doesn’t exist in a vacuum! For stories to exist, characters must exist. How does a writer begin to create characters? Well…that’s more complicated.


As I said in my previous post, character and plot for me are deeply intertwined, but a good way to create a character is by first imagining something like the start of the Sims game. (Did you ever play? It’s okay if you didn’t, I’ll explain what I mean.) The game opens in a room with a pop-up window that asks whether you want your character to be male or female, it then goes through age, physical appearance, clothing, and personality. This is exactly what a writer must do before the real writing can begin.


Gender

For me, the gender of my character is apparent from the get go, but if it isn’t, I might ask myself a simple question: Would my story be better told through a male perspective or a female perspective? Your answer might be that it doesn’t matter, so then it becomes the writer’s preference—give it some thought and, after considering what you already know about the plot of your story, you might come back with a more specific idea of who your character needs to be. I think it’s important to know the gender of your character first because everything will build off of that later. The gender of your character may have a significant consequence on the effectiveness of the story. Remember too that if you can’t decide, then you can always have multiple characters telling the story (AKA multiple point of views), two voices, one for each genders.


Age  

How old is my character? This also fits into plot in a significant way. A story with a seven-year-old as the MC (main character) is going to vastly differ from a story with a seventy-seven-year-old MC. What is my story really about and what age would best tell this story? For example, if you have a character that is trying to define their identity (what their dreams are, what kind of person they are, what their values/morals are, etc.), it would make more sense for the MC to be somewhere within the 13-20s age range than in their 70s because it fits more with what’s natural.


Everything is connected; don’t skip out on giving the age of your character some serious thought before going forward.


Physical Characteristics

I’m a visual person, so when I create a character I like to see them—literally. Pictures act as a huge resource, helping to define what your character looks like. A great place to find inspiration is on Pinterest, since they have a plethora of searchable images, but also Instagram (check out portrait photographers).


Let’s say you’re writing a story that is a medieval fantasy, and you know that your MC is going to be a knight, but you don’t have a good image of what that knight looks like. Go to Pinterest and search “knight” and be amazed with the thousands of images you get as a result. You can redefine your search again and again as you get a better feel for what your character looks like. Try adding words like “illustration” or “portrait” to the search too.


Clothing

Don’t forget to give your character clothes! Clothes tell us a lot about our characters, like their personality and socio-economic status and because of that, clothes can be a great tool to “show” instead of “tell” the reader those details.


Ask yourself: Why is this character dressed this way? What is the significance of the clothing the character wears? Are clothes even important? Write your answers down and refer back to them at critical moments later on. You don’t necessarily have to write the answers in the story itself, but knowing the answers will help you as the writer get to know the character more and thus be better able to write the story the way it needs to be told.


Character Markers

Character markers are specific details that set a character apart from the others. It’s important to have character markers when the list of characters in your story is lengthy and the reader may easily confuse them (particularly true for tertiary characters that may only appear in two or three scenes). Character markers can be physical (think scars or tattoos), wearing a particular outfit, having an accent, unique hair, etc.


Fitness

Take the knight example again, his movement and his body are going to be dictated by the fact that he is a knight, which is to say he’s a trained soldier. This affects how he’ll react in different situations (i.e. whether he runs away, has a heart attack, or explodes with adrenaline).


May not be significant, but something to consider.


Facial features

To everyone’s own discretion, right?


I don’t think we need to profusely describe our characters, and I like to leave some of what the character looks like to the imagination. I want my reader to have the ability to “see” this character in their own way, so I will define my character with a few descriptions, but I won’t over-saturate the page with the tiny details.


Don’t be tempted to describe your character as “pretty” or “handsome”; what might be pretty or handsome to me is not necessarily what you will find pretty or handsome!
This is a lazy description. Also, does it really matter for the character to be seen as pretty or handsome? If yes, then the characters around the MC should be showing us that the MC is beautiful. (If it does matter for the character to be seen as pretty or handsome, then why? Maybe the character is a narcissist or maybe they have low self-esteem so making themselves up daily gives them a confidence boost. Give us a reason for why the character’s looks are vital to the story.)

Do you have a specific way of creating your characters? Is it similar to my “Sims” technique? I’d love to hear what you think and I hope this has helped you with your character creation!

-Rachael

“How do you write a story?”

“How do you write a story?” “Where does your inspiration come from?” I’m asked various versions of these questions anytime I tell someone that I’m a writer. Well, where does a writer get the inspiration for a story (whether it be a short story or novel or poem)?

This is how it happens: the writer goes to a quiet place and pleads to the muses…

NOT! Ha! Ha!

The truth lies somewhere in the middle: writing is both magical and ordinary. While we don’t have to make sacrifices to the muses, sometimes inspiration does come spontaneously—but sometimes, it doesn’t. One of the greatest arenas for potential inspiration is in the writer’s own life, the lives of others, or prompts. A great exercise when I’m feeling a little lost in a story is to take a random word and write for five or ten minutes on that word. Whatever comes to mind—no crossing anything out (or backspacing)!

So, how does the story process begin? Normally for me, I have an immediate image of a character and a scene. I have an idea of who the character is and what the situation is, but often I don’t know the particulars, like the main story arc or the character’s back story—those come once I start writing in earnest. See, a story doesn’t always start at the beginning. Sometimes, you start in the middle—or even at the end!

The most important part is to write the initial scene as quickly as you can. Don’t get caught up in the immediate barrage of unknowns. If I’m not sure about a particular detail, say, the main character’s name, then I put that in caps and fill it in later. Or, just write (or type) BLAH BLAH and move on to the part of the scene that you do know! Once I’ve got that initial scene written, then I read through and write all the questions, usually on a big legal pad, that immediately pop up. Questions will vary depending on how detailed the scene and how filled out the character is, but some of the questions may sound like:  

-Where is my character going? Why are they here? What brought my character here?

-What does my character ultimately desire? What motivates them? What is unique about my character?

-Who is coming along on this journey? Who are their antagonists? Who/what is the villain?

And…you might not have the answer right away for some of these—that’s okay.

You have a character and context; you’re on the precipice of something big! This is where the story begins.

This is also where my first blog series begins. Characters and Plots(—yes, I capitalized plots on purpose here). For me, the two are inseparable, but for the purpose of this blog series I will be separating them as best I can.

Topics I’d like to discuss:

Characters:

Flat v Round

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary characters

Traits (strengths and flaws)

Physical Appearance and Naming

Likability

Disabilities/Mental Illness

And more!

Plot:

Mechanics

Subplots

Ends

Series

Hero/Heroine’s journey

3 Ball Juggling Act

And more!

I will tag these posts as I write them, so at the end there can be an easy way to search for whatever it is you are looking for.

I hope you follow along and I welcome suggests for other topics or questions!