You’ve seen the Lego Movie, right? Or at least heard of it, I’m sure. Who hasn’t heard someone belting out “EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!!!”?

I ask because I’m here today to explain how Emmet is really a fantastically written character. Why, you ask? Let’s take a look at him.

Emmet is the perfect cookie-cutter citizen. He’s one of those clique-y, politically correct fit-ins. He says all the right things, wears all the right things, “likes” all the right things. His life is pretty perfect, at least to him, because he’s oblivious that everyone around can barely see him for his lack of originality.

In other words, Emmet’s little world doesn’t need help. Or, at least, he doesn’t think he needs help. This is how every work of fiction should start out. Your character believes their world is perfect. They’re content. They know what they want in life. Heck, they may even be in a successful relationship.

But is their life actually perfect?

Let’s find out.

One day, Emmet accidentally stumbles into a deep, deep ravine behind his workplace. This is only the first road bump. The second rude awakening comes when he wakes up in an interrogation room. He learns the no one remembers him. They all think he’s boring. Nothing special.

And that’s what characters are, until they go on their journal. Nothing special.

Emmet goes on this epic adventure, where he learns that he CAN do things. He CAN be special, if he puts his mind to it. Then, in an instant, his entire new world shatters.

Most of the time, in a book or movie, this point comes. Since the character is just starting to find themselves — REALLY find who they truly are — it only takes a slight shake to kill their dreams. In Emmet’s case, it’s fourteen little words thrown at him like a ton of bricks.

“As unspecial as I am, you are a thousand-billion times more unspecial than me.”

And you know what? Emmet believes it. Why? Because he’s doubted himself all along, and he’s just been waiting for someone to confirm his suspicions. He isn’t special, he’s just a nobody.

Most characters doubt themselves until the moment they’re put to the test, in Emmet’s case the moment he realizes he has to sacrifice himself for his friends to live.

Your characters should always have this epiphany moment, where they realize what’s most important to them. This is what makes them who they’re becoming. This is the moment of truth. And it almost always makes them even more awesome than they were to begin with.

So, you see, Emmet is a really well written character. His characterization shows us how to build a character up and tear them down in just the right way to make them who they’re meant to be.

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So, what have you learned from Emmet’s journey?

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.

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Making Emotions Real

“Sometimes, the saddest parts aren’t where the character is crying. Sometimes, the saddest parts come from when they’re trying not to cry.”

This quote has changed the way I write.

I realized, after reading it fifteen times and pondering on it for a long while, that whoever came up with this is absolutely correct.

I mean, come on! Have you ever been reading a book, going along and enjoying it, and then you realize there’s this one character who is constantly bawling? (Guilty as charged, I have so yelled at a character for crying too much before.)

If you take a minute to look at real people, you’ll find that (more often than not) they don’t want other people to see them cry. And, therefore, they hold back the tears and set up their “I’m okay” facade. Just watch people around you every once in a while.

We’ve talked about how people have “tells” before. Well, people have what I call “emotion tells”. Like a tick that could be a quivering chin if they let it. Some people’s noses turn red when they’re trying not to cry. (I know a few.)

People are emotional by nature, but many also have a pride issue. For some reason, society has told us that crying make you look weak, and therefore most people don’t want to give in to their natural emotions. Because they think it will make them look weak.

Recently, I was writing a story where a character blames herself for stuff that keeps happening to both her and other people. Because of issues in her past, she also has abandonment issues.

Sounds like it could go really mushy really fast, with lots of tears and “don’t goes”, right?

Wrong.

I’m telling you, I actually cried writing her most recent scene. A scene in which someone she loves says they’re leaving. How did she handle it? Not with begging.

She stoicly, listlessly stood there and listened to him tell her he was leaving. She even let him yell at her. All the while, she watched the floor and distracted herself so she didn’t cry. Because she wanted to. Badly. He left, she shut herself in her room. Then, and only then, did she allow herself to let go and let it all out.

And you know what? Because she had been holding it in, and the tension had been building around it, it made the entire scene that much more powerful. That much more moving. Enough to move a reader (and writer) to tears over this character.

Do you want to hear a reader say, “Oh my gosh, I loved your book so much! It made me cry!”? Then maybe you should consider employing the method of hold it in until it has to get out.

If people are all fundamentally similar, doesn’t that mean your characters wouldn’t want to gush all over other characters? If your characters are real, why would they spill their guts with no reasonable motivation to do so?

Ponder that this week.

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I wanna hear about the first book that EVER made you cry. Or why you haven’t ever cried at a book. Ready? Set. GO!

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.

How to Write a Narcissist (And, Quite Frankly, Why You Should)

Narcissism: extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.

The term comes from the story of Narcissus, a Greek mythological god who disdained those who loved him and fell in love with his own reflection. (Which, by the way, led him to his death. Let’s not use him as a role model, okay?)

I’m writing this today because I recently found myself writing a narcissistic character in a novel I’m working on. (Also, because I’ve been watching a lot of Marvel movies lately – including Age of Ultron – and, let’s face it, Tony Stark is my perfect example for this post.)

So what’s the big deal about narcissism? And why should I be using it in my novel/movie/short story? And how am I supposed to write a narcissist?

Great questions!

1 – How to write a narcissist

It’s a lot easier than you would think.

Narcissists are completely self-centered. They can take ANYTHING and bring it back around to be about them. You say you’re tired, they talk about how tired they are. You say you ate some Ramen noodles, they tell the story about the time they almost choked on Ramen. Everything is about them and what they like.

I’ll give you one thing: this sounds like it could get really annoying to write. And maybe it can. I don’t know yet, as I actually kind of like my narcissist. (Weird.)

You can use their narcissism to your advantage too. My character works as a Personal Protection Specialist (not something I’d recommend a narcissist for), and it works because he likes the attention he gets when he does his job right. Play with their narcissism. Readers/watchers will love you for it.

2 – Why You Should Put a Narcissist in Your Story

Sub-section A:

Because it’s funny.

Anyone who has watched a movie in which Iron Man/Tony Stark appears knows that narcissism is entertaining. Mix it with a little bit of sarcasm, and it becomes an unforgettable character. Technically, no one should like a narcissist, but it can be done. Stark is a prime example of this.

Sub-section B:

They’re annoying to the other characters.

And everyone knows that annoyance creates conflict between your characters. Conflict is good. Conflict keeps people reading. Can you imagine trying to tell a narcissist something important? For the most part, they’re horrible listeners, and often very impetuous.

“We need a plan of attack.”

“I have a plan. Attack.”

Point. And. Case.

This can be used for the perfect “Divide and Conquer” scene. Use the narcissist to tear your characters apart (but only for a few scenes. We want people to like him, remember?)

Sub-section tres:

They are an automatic candidate for change by the end of the story.

Example: Iron Man

He starts out as a complete narcissist that doesn’t care how business is done. He’s in it for himself, and collateral damage is just that: collateral damage.

But then he changes.

He starts to see what his weapons are doing to other people, and a funny thing happens. He starts to care. He starts to look beyond himself and see that his actions affect everyone around him. And he changes to help those people out. He tries to break out the scientist that helped him build the first suit, and he stops to go back for him when he’s injured.

This doesn’t fit classic narcissism. And it shouldn’t. This is compassion, and everyone is capable of it. Even your narcissist.

Narcissists are fun, but remember they are people too. Despite their outward demeanor, they feel things deeply. And they ARE capable of change. Everyone is. They’ll probably end up being your tearjerker character. Use wisely.

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So, two things this week. 1) Do you love Iron Man as much as I do? And 2) Have you used a narcissist before, and if not will you do so in the future? Why?

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.

“Show, Don’t Tell”… What Does That Mean?

We’ve all heard the term “Show, don’t tell”. It’s in every book, magazine, show, movie, and article about writing. Every. Last. One. Unfortunately, not a lot of them are super good at explaining what that means. They just say “show, don’t tell”, and let us try to figure out the rest. Yeah, right! It’s hard enough to overcome writer’s block, but trying to obsessively-compulsively “show” and not “tell” while you’re doing it is SOOOOOOO frustrating!

Relax, my writer buddies! It’s really not all that complicated, and I’ll give examples. Never fear!

What is telling?

Simple as that. “Telling” is when you’re reading that book and all is going really well (and by “well” I mean it’s all going downhill so we can eventually get to the climax) and then, that dreaded sentence:

“(Insert character name here) was furious.”

Wait, what? How furious was s/he? How did they react?

Don’t lie to yourself, you’ve been there. We all have. Admit it. Come on, say it out loud: “I’ve been there.”

As writer’s we read that and instinctively know that something is off. We’re not sure what all the time, but we go back and do a double-take. We look for that reaction that we crave and we’re more than a little annoyed when it isn’t there. Then we go into the “what I would have done” phase of what I lovingly term “The Correction Bug”. (More on this next week. It’ll be a fun post.)

That’s when we get to the next step.

What is showing?

Showing is actually the most rewarding thing about writing. It’s when you write that perfect sentence, the one where you can see exactly what you saw in your head just by reading through it. A lovely sentence like:

“Black fingernails beat a consistent rhythm on the armrests of a gilded throne, a thin arm moving in motion with them. The porcelain skin trails up to a slender neck, which holds the imposter queen’s head atop its pedestal.”

That one’s mine, I’m really proud of it. Copyright 2014, Megan Fatheree, please do not use.

Anyway, can’t you just see the camera angle as it trails up from her feet to her face, to reveal an evil grin? I can, and I hope that’s what you saw to, or I shouldn’t be writing this post for lack of experience.

So, showing is just that. Make it DRAMATIC!!!

How do I “show” and not “tell”?

I have found that body language is prime in “showing, not telling”. Every time you go to write an emotion (e.g. “he was angry”; “she was sad”, etc.), stop yourself and ask “How would I know that if I can only see the person’s actions?”

Good question, right?

Sad is probably the easiest to show. Tears, quivering lip, frown, slumped posture. All are signs of someone whose very woebegone.

Anger is another easy one. You know how people look when they’re angry.

You can describe how anyone is feeling by their body language. Start people-watching when you’re out and about. Just wait, you’ll see what I mean.

But, “showing” doesn’t have to be relegated strictly to people and how they feel. Oh, no. It’s for settings too.

“The sunset was beautiful.”

Cop-out. Describe it, but don’t go into purple prose.

“The sun sent beams of orange and gold cascading through the sky. It reminded her of how she used to look at the world when she was young.”

Leave it at that. Don’t dish on backstory at this point. (We’ll discuss backstory proportions another time, or you can find my first backstory post here)

Describe things. Make your reader feel what the characters are feeling. One of my favorite statements is that “Sometimes, the scenes that make people cry the most are when characters are trying not to show emotion.”

(I probably didn’t quote it exact, but you get the drift.)

So, find your niche. Explore your best attempts at “show, don’t tell”. NEVER just say what they’re feeling. And stay creative!!!

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Okay, here’s the deal! This week, I want to know what YOU think about “showing, not telling”. Are you obsessive about it? Do you have no clue what you’re doing? I’m answering questions and reading every comment, so I’d love to hear from you!

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.

What Did You (Really) Say?

Ah, miscommunication. It’s the heart and soul of conflict.

I chose this topic for this week because I’ve been reading this book (The Fire In Ember by DiAnn Mills) wherein all could be solved if they would just COMMUNICATE!!! But, you know what? I love it.

So, how do we build a world around our characters where they don’t communicate perfectly? And why not have them communicate well?

Everyone has a reason to lie about something. Yes, even you. Think about it. There is always one memory, one embarrassing moment, one part of your most personal feelings that you CANNOT express, even when you need to. This often leads to miscommunication.

If our characters are to be real, then they will miscommunicate. They’ll leave things out (important things), lie to each other to cover up a painful memory. All these things lend to A) Backstory and B) Conflict.

Think on this: If you haven’t told someone an important piece of information, how can you expect them to understand your ations?

If you haven’t told someone you love them, how do you expect them to know and reciprocate your feelings?

If you (or your character) hasn’t told someone that they’re scared for their life because an evil person is chasing them down for the fun of it, HOW IS ANYONE SUPPOSED TO HELP???

People miscommunicate by NOT communicating a lot of times.

Example: Guy sees girl (or vice versa) in a situation that, to them, looks like cheating or criminal behavior. Guy/girl doesn’t go to ask the other one what happened, just assumes they were in the wrong. Relationship suffers greatly.

If that character had just asked what happened, they would have realized the guy/girl was being threatened/played/taken advantage of. And when they finally do realize this (as they should to settle the conflict), they’ll kick themselves and possibly want to go shoot someone.

As humans, our biggest strength and greatest weakness is communication. Therefore, believable characters should have both strength and weaknesses in their social and communication skills.

Some examples:

In the movie Love Comes Softly, it isn’t so much miscommunication as it is failed communication. Marty doesn’t want to leave, but she doesn’t want to stay if Clark doesn’t want her, so she leaves a note in his Bible that doesn’t end up in front of his face. Because it was a stupid idea to slide the note into the book where it can (and did) fall out, Marty thinks he doesn’t want her. SO not the case!

In The Fire In Ember (DiAnn Mills, copyright 2011) the main character has been fed lies all her life. She’s too scared to really communicate why and she doesn’t think she’s worthy of anything. So, instead of telling people what she knows and getting help, she clams up.

A lot of stories depend on miscommunication to run longer than twenty minutes (for movies) or 50 pages (for books). Without something to figure out, we’d have no conflict. And we all know we LOVE conflict. We love watching the characters duke it out or shout it out and we love to see the bad guy get beat. (Except in the rare cases involving fandoms with crazy people who think the villain should have won.)

So, miscommunication. Use it. Love it. Keep it close.

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

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The Villainous Dance of Villainy!

I guarantee not many of you will catch the reference in the title, but it makes me smile, so I’m going to use it. It also fits with what we’re going to talk about today. Did you guess what it is? Yep, that’s right. We’re going to talk about VILLAINS!!! For those extraordinary people who prefer the term “antagonist”, it’s the same thing. The bad guy.

When I say “villain”, I guarantee everyone’s mind goes somewhere different. For some, maybe it’s Moriarty from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series. For others, it may be a comic book character. For the majority of the crazy world out there, they probably instantly think “Disney”. Whatever it is that sparked in your head when I said “villain”, hang on to it. That is probably the bad guy (or girl) you love to hate, and we’re going to plunge ahead and talk about creating them.

But first, a random villainous quote from… a movie we should all recognize:

“I’ll get you, my pretty! And your little dog, too!”

Chills.

Anywho, the first thing I want to say about villains is that — even though they’re usually terribly evil — They tend to be pretty awesome. And, without them, we wouldn’t even have the books and movies we love so much. So, snaps for the villains!

(This is where you snap, it’s like clapping, only quieter)

I think one of the most important things that villains do is TALK! I mean, come on, who hasn’t looked at the page or screen and thrown up their hands and demanded “Quit monologuing, you idiot! This is how they always beat you!”

However, I’m more concerned with opening lines. (The good guy is supposed to beat the villain, so their monologuing doesn’t always concern me, just usually.) Okay, let’s run the reel for opening lines.

Professor James Moriarty (The Final Problem)

“You have less frontal development than I would have expected. It is a dangerous habit to finger loaded firearms in the pocket of one’s dressing-gown.”

Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmatians)

“Anita, darling!”

“How have you been?”

“Miserable, darling, just miserable.”

A villain’s opening words say a lot about what they are or what they are not. Many times, a villain’s opening words are quirky and offbeat, like Moriarty. Other times a villain feigns compassion, but you can always tell.

I put a lot of thought into the first words my villains say, because I want them to be memorable. I also want to immediately show the reader/watcher something about the heart of this character. Whether they’re motivated by selfishness, greed, lost love, or miscommunication, I like to clue the reader/watcher in on this.

Point #2 on villains–

WAIT! Another random villainous quote, from the movie Tangled:

“Mother’s feeling a bit… tired. Would you sing for me?”

That irksome woman.

Okay, Point #2!

Villains are dramatic, it’s in their nature (usually because they’re pretty narcissistic). So, aside from the obvious drama queen situations going on elsewhere, they need a grand entrance. They’re entrance introduces them for you, it shows the reader/watcher that “hey, this is the guy/girl to watch out for”.

My most recent villain entrance was simple, yet fully dramatic. The guy entered via a porch, silhouetted in the doorway. Effective, because then you can reveal him slowly.

My favorite movie villain entrance is probably the guy from the first Sherlock Holmes movie (starring Jude Law and Robert Downey Junior). They waste no time in letting you know that this guy is clinical. Creepy, but awesome.

More great movie villain entrances:

The Avengers

The Chronicles of Narnia: Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe

The Losers

National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets

Taken

There are others, but those are the good ones off the top of my head. Also, pretty much every Marvel movie ever. They’re really good at villain entrances.

Point #3

Take your time to flesh out your villain. Villains are humans, too (usually). They have weaknesses. They have feelings. They relate to people. Villains aren’t always monsters, sometimes they’re just misunderstood. They can be nice to certain people and evil to others. They can have normal lives outside of their day jobs. (The day job, of course, being villainy).

Random Villainous Quote! From Larryboy: The Good, The Bad, and The Eggly

“Maybe it’s diamonds, or rubies… or a fondue set! I love fondue.”

Your villain deserves just as much thought as your hero, and giving him feelings an quirks can actually make him likable. Yes, I said it. A likable villain. It sounds like an oxymoron, but really it’s not. If people dislike him too much, they may put down your writing. And no one wants that.

So, whatever direction you decide to take your villain, or whatever direction your villain takes you, remember to think before you publish. How do they walk, talk? What’s their backstory? How did they get to the point where villainy was their only choice? Or do they enjoy it?

Let me know about your most villainous villains in the comments below, or use the Contact page to email me directly!

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.

38 Questions to Ask Every Character

You’ve probably seen a TON of lists of questions that demand “These questions NEED to be asked”. And what’s on them? Mostly stuff that you don’t really need to know to unfold a great character. (NO offense, seriously. I just wish people would stop telling me I need to know what kind of underwear my character wears.)

This list is different.

I know because I read all those other lists out there and picked the things that (I think) every writer should know about their character. Some of them are just for fun, but most really help me narrow down how I’m going to write a specific character. I thought it would be nice, while we’re working with character development, to share these with you.

They’ve helped me build characters, as well as stories. They dig deep into the character’s psyche, so you know where s/he is coming from. And they SERIOUSLY reveal character.

I will also share some of my favorite answers, after the list. So, without further ado, let’s begin.

38 QUESTIONS TO ASK EVERY CHARACTER

1. How old is s/he (physically AND mentally)?

2. Did s/he have a happy childhood? Why or why not?

3. What are their past and present relationships and how do they affect him/her?

4. What does s/he care about?

5. What is s/he obsessed with?

6. What is his/her biggest fear?

7. What is the best thing that ever happened to them? Worst?

8. What is their most embarrassing moment?

9. What is his/her biggest secret?

10. What is the 1 word that defines him/her?

11. What do you know about him/her that s/he doesn’t?

12. What music does s/he sing when no one else is around?

13. What is his/her favorite movie?

14. What is his/her favorite piece of clothing? Shoes?

15. Who is his/her favorite person?

16. What calms him/her?

17. Does s/he play any instruments?

18. What is his/her catchphrase?

19. What is his/her favorite excuse?

20. What is his/her favorite song?

21. What annoys him/her?

22. What is the most beautiful thing s/he has ever seen?

23. What is the worst injury s/he has ever sustained? (in the past)

24. Has anyone close to him/her died?

25. What would s/he wish for if s/he found a genie?

26. What is the most frightening handicap s/he could sustain? (in the present or future)

27. When and where was s/he happiest?

28. What is something s/he can’t resist?

29. What is something people misunderstand about him/her?

30. What is his/her favorite holiday?

31. What are his/her hopes and dreams?

32. What would s/he die for?

33. What would mentally destroy him/her?

34. Why would s/he defend a stranger?

35. What does s/he lie about?

36. Does s/he have a positive or negative body image?

37. What object will s/he never give up?

38. What can s/he do at the end that s/he can’t do at the beginning?

A lot to take in, I know. Let me explain how this works.

It’s OK to think outside the box. Sometimes the answer will just pop out of nowhere, sometimes you’ll really have to think hard to get to the heart of the issue. (P.S. This list is also great to help create backstory).

I’ll give you some examples of some of my characters’ answers. They’re…. interesting, to say the least.

We’ll start with a question where my character dropped a quote in my lap that completely answered the question.

Q: What is his biggest fear?

A: “I am in the desert… This. This right here is my biggest fear.” (He’s afraid of dirt.)

Sometimes, the way your character thinks about something will come out in their answer, or even the way they talk. Like this answer from a Texas boy character.

Q: What is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen?

A: A Texas sunset by the Gulf beach.

Not how I would have put it, but characters do that sometimes.

Sometimes an answer can be as simple as…

Q: What is one thing she can’t resist?

A: A good churro.

Sometimes, your character’s answer will be symbolic. Usually of something in their own life. LIke…

Q: What is her favorite holiday?

A: New Year’s. New beginnings.

(Talk about backstory!)

Lastly, sometimes your character will give an answer that completely shapes how they see themselves, other people, or even the world.

Like this fragile flower:

Q: What was her most embarrassing moment?

A: Found boyfriend with her best friend. On date night.

Ouch. That probably shaped how she views guys and herself. Because of this, she doesn’t have great self-worth. Think about those kinds of experiences. Why the character is who they are.

Do that, and your characters will end up pretty amazing.

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.

Blah, Blah, Blah… (a guide to writing dialogue that won’t put your readers to sleep)

What makes good dialogue? When do you know you’ve spent too much time telling people things they never needed to know? Have you ever read a passage of dialogue and thought to yourself, “Oh, come on! That is so fake!”?

I know how you feel. Dialogue like this often suffers from a lack of studious editing. When it comes to writing dialogue, you should write from your heart and edit from your head. (This is also called “write hot, edit cool” and you’ll see it mentioned in a TON of creative writing courses, books, and blogs. It’s good advice.)

Dialogue writers also tend to give too much exposition, all at once. It’s an illness that is common among writers, but I am starting (right here, right now) a campaign to end it.

Overexposition sounds a lot like this:

“Who are you?”

“My name is Jane. I’m new around here, so you probably haven’t seen me before. I just moved in from Texas, but I must say I’m really enjoying this weather. I haven’t been in weather so nice in a long time, ever since my (brother/cousin/sister/parent) died in a car crash. It was raining that night, I remember that much. I almost lost it after that. Depression, suicidal tendencies, the works. Thankfully, I’m better now and looking forward to my new job. Did I mention I’m going to work at (insert local company)?”

First of all, all the first character asked was “who are you?” People usually aren’t so gushy around people they don’t know. And, depending on the situation, they may not want the other person to know who they are. There are 3 correct responses to the first question.

#1 = “I’m Jane.”

#2 = “Who wants to know?”

#3 = “You don’t need to know.”

So much simpler.

The second thing I saw in this generous amount of exposition (that’s putting it nicely) is that it’s too much, too soon. Where’s the characterization? Why aren’t we revealing this tragic backstory in bits and pieces, forcing the reader to keep reading to find out what really happened? Things to keep in mind as we move forward.

Okay, so you have the overexposition illness. Don’t worry, there are things you can do to fix it. So breathe, put down the cake you’re gorging yourself on, and listen to the rest of what I have to say.

Dialogue is a learned craft. A craft that takes time to perfect. However, I can give you a kick start.

People who aren’t good at dialogue can learn a lot from movie/screenplay writers. For examples:

“Are you giving me attitude, Spock?”

“I am relaying many attitudes. To which are you referring?”

or…

“I am a god, you dull creature!”

or…

“What was that?”

“You gave me the nod.”

“Yeah, the punch him in the face nod. Not the ‘throw him off the building’ nod. At most… at most that was a break his fingers nod.”

or…

“Do you know what the preservation room is for?”

“Delicious jams and jellies?”

Okay, so now that we’ve seen these golden gems of Hollywood genius, let’s talk about why screenwriting dialogue works and what we can learn from it.

Point #1 – Dialogue should expose true character

What?!?

Let me break it down.

Whenever someone talks, they tell us a little more about themselves, even when they don’t mean to. It’s the same with your characters. They’re people, right? So whatever they say should give some insight into what they’re all about. The “I am a god, you dull creature!” example (from Marvel’s The Avengers) is a prime example of this. Obviously, this guy is full of himself and that’s why he thinks that.

So, what can your character say that points to what they’re really like?

Point #2 – Dialogue should NEVER be “on the nose”

Unless you are writing a character who only says what they really think (like Spock, and even he isn’t “on the nose”) then you shouldn’t write what that character is actually feeling. Real people lie all the time. “How are you?” “I’m fine.” Things like that.

Characters lie too. They avoid questions. “Do you know what the preservation room is for?” (National Treasure)

Instead of answering “no”, Riley avoids the question with sarcasm of his own. People do this in real life, which makes it so much more believable on screen or in print.

Point #3 – Dialogue should elude to backstory

You’ll find that I am a HUGE fan of backstory. Dialogue is my favorite way to elude to an interesting story in the character’s past. Example:

“I’m not going to hurt you.”

“Why?”

“Because I won’t be like him.”

Him? Who is him? Why doesn’t he want to be like him? WHYYYYYY?!? (I know, of course, because I wrote it. Sorry to leave you hanging.)

When writing dialogue, ask yourself this: What happened in this character’s past and how does it apply to what he’s doing now?

Point #4 – SUBTEXT

I admit, subtext is a lot like backstory, but it IS different. Trust me.

Subtext is a helpful tool to help you avoid saying something too bluntly. Subtext is when you say something without really saying something. It’s difficult to master, but once you do you’ll find that it’s totally worth it.

Let me just say: “You were my new dream” (instead of plain old “I love you”) in Tangled. So much subtext! And then, tears. Okay, I’m done gushing now.

(Hint: classic lines are usually full of subtext)

I hope you found this helpful to help you craft dialogue for your character. It’s really important that they say what they mean, but in an interesting way. Never forget, they are your creation and your friend, so give them the treatment they deserve.

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Stay tuned for next week’s exciting conclusion to the 4-part character series!

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.

Perception Filter

An interesting concept, to be sure. I read once (and also heard someone speak on the fact) that everyone views life through their own perception filter, even without realizing it. What is a perception filter, you ask? It is a culmination of your entire backstory.

So why am I writing about this? Because it’s the same for your characters. Their backstory will affect their perception filter, the way they see the world. So many things come together to make this, that it’s best if your really know your character’s backstory, so that you know how s/he will see the things around him/her.

Let’s talk backstory, then.

For the beginning of this lesson, (and yes, it is a lesson) I will refer back to the crazy people known as fandoms that I mentioned in my first blog post. They’re really very helpful when it comes to teaching about writing, and I’ll tell you how. Without realizing it, those crazy people expose just HOW MUCH work went into writing those books and movies. I won’t go into all the details here (maybe in a later post, we’ll talk about fandoms) but I will use a few examples of what I’ve seen these people write that lends itself to backstory.

Example #1 – The Avengers/Loki fandom

One of the craziest fandoms out there. (Seriously. Don’t make them mad, they may maul you) However, they have great insight into Loki’s backstory in Marvel’s The Avengers. They wonder about where he went after the first Thor movie, and they deduce that he’s been through something terrible to make him so mean (their words, not mine). How did they get this much backstory on him, even though he didn’t say a word about it?

Insinuation.

Insinuation is your friend. Love it. Cherish it. Keep it close. Just because you know every single detail about your character’s backstory (which, by the way, is simply everything that happened before the book begins), doesn’t mean you have to tell the readers.

In a novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo last year, the following conversation happened.

“You’re wondering if there’s anything you could have done different, and you’re blaming yourself.”

“How could you possibly know that?”

“Because I do!” She crossed her arms and set her jaw.

Liam stopped to think, and finally came up with one question. “What happened to you?”

“Life.”

I didn’t tell you anything about what happened in her past, but look closely at the dialogue. She never addresses the questions head-on, and she never says what she’s really thinking. However, her comments lend themselves to her backstory. I personally think (but I could be biased) that her last statement, “Life”, denotes a tough experience she’s had in her past. I never say as much, but it is insinuated!

Example #2 – The Frozen/Disney Princesses fandom

Okay, not my favorite movie, you can like it if you want, Disney and I just don’t always get along.

Moving on.

Disney did a very clever thing when they (either on purpose or accidentally on genius) made the backstory to their movies connect. I put this under the Frozen Fandom category, because that is when people stood up and took notice.

More than one person has pointed out that the ship that Elsa’s parents are in looks exactly like the one in The Little Mermaid, and that Elsa and Anna’s mother looks eerily similar to the queen from Tangled.

When character’s backstories connect, it brings yet another depth to your writing. That guy she runs into, maybe she’s met him before. That coincidental witness, maybe s/he knows the villain. Things get interesting when characters know things about another character’s backstory that they shouldn’t. Try it some time.

Okay, so I know I started out talking about perception filters and kind of digressed from there, but now I’m back.

Reasons you should see life through your character’s eyes, not your own: 1) it brings them to life, 2) it makes them more credible, 3) your readers will go gaga for someone with his own, realistic world views.

But, how do you know how to build your character’s perception filter? Glad you asked! I have a list for you.

backstory
Look! A list! Kind of a worksheet, but trust me, it’ll be fun! Go ahead and download it.

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.

What’s In A Name?

Hi again, and welcome to week 1 of a 4-part, February-length series on building characters. Yes, I said it. BUILDING characters.

“But, don’t characters just come to you?” you ask. The answer is simple. No. And yes. Some characters just appear, fully built, and all you have to do is write down what they’re doing at the moment. Others take some work, and let me fill you in on a little secret. You’ll have to work to build people more than you’ll have to watch already built characters. Confusing enough for you? Good!

So, topic of this week: What’s In A Name?

Great question, right? (It is. The answer is yes.)

In my experience, people (and characters) either live up to or live down their name. Examples:

Mother TERESA = harvester. What did she do? She harvested people for the Kingdom of God through her kindness and all around good nature.

Mr. DARCY (Pride and Prejudice) = dark one. And who was he? The tall, brooding one.

Get the gist? Good, let’s move on.

Your character’s name is just as important as — if not more important than — their quirks, dialogue, and action. A character’s name is our very first introduction to who they really are. Before your character ever says a word, we get to know their name. A name reflects a promise of what is to come. Ever seen an action hero named Hubert? There’s a good reason for that. Hubert just doesn’t fit an action hero, and obviously writers recognize that.

“How do I know what the right name is for my character?”

Well, my friends, that’s a tricky one.

Generally, the answer is “When you know, you know”, but I realize that may not suffice here. So let me explain.

I keep a notebook specifically for “Name Searches”. When I need a new character, out comes the notebook and the baby names book. (Don’t worry writers, people will always freak out that you have a baby names book. They are to be ignored. One day, when they need a name, they won’t have anything to guide them.)

Anywho… 

I write a list of names that I like either for the meaning or the sound of them. Anything that stands out. Right now I’m just gathering ideas. I write all of them — and their definitions — in the notebook. List form, it’s easier to read.

After I’ve done this, I star the ones that REALLY stand out. The ones that just fit the character. And it will. The name you pick will fit your character, because you already subconsciously know what this character is going to be like. From these ones, I choose the first one to grab me by the hand and take me on a journey with the character, the one that says “Hi there, my name is…”

Having said all that, there are other days when I just know what the character’s name is. In a recent novel I wrote, I searched for three days to find the perfect name for one of the main characters, while the other main character stepped right up and announced, “Hi, my name is Brooke.”

So, really, when people say “when you know, you know”, they’re being honest. Sometimes you do just know. For those of us who don’t, there are baby names.

A lot rides on what you name your character, so be careful how you go about it. Don’t just flippantly toss a name on them. Give it the time and consideration they deserve. There’s nothing better than knowing that your character is going to have a long and memorable career, and you spent the time to really get to know them. Including giving them the right name.

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Tune in next week for part 2 of Character Month

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.