Posts Tagged ‘building believable characters’

First, a bit of business.
My third Quarantine eBook Giveaway is live, today through Monday.
Free books! Tell a friend.

Now, onward to a writing quandary that has been rattling around in my pea-brain this week.

When I was writing speculative fiction (alternate history, high fantasy, science fiction), my process was unaffected by changes in modern life. I was writing about times past, alternatives to the present, or imagined futures, so I didn’t have to worry about current trends or innovations. At most, if a piece was set in the near-future, I might have to extrapolate forward from the day’s news, but in general, I had free rein and could build the world as I wished. (more…)

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If I were to have followed the standard advice of “write what you know” (meaning only write from personal experience), then none of my books would ever have come into being. I would never have written about anything historical (how could I, if I was born in 19-hrmahrm?), or about anything set in Brittany, or certainly I could never ever have written anything to do with dinosaurs (who could?).

The only book I’ve written that had a shred of “what I know”ishness to it is Dreams of the Desert Wind. The setting was a place I lived in for a time (Jerusalem) and I drew on a lot of personal experience for descriptions of the street scenes (like the one mentioned here, with “Samovar Man“).

No, when I started writing, if I’d written only what I knew, then I’d have written a book about working in IT (now there’s a page-turner), or something set in the world of classical music. (more…)

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This is what momentum looks like.

Despite work deadlines, two days down with a stomach bug, a major financial planning session, and getting a windshield replaced, I still managed to get another scene completed and entered. This was Scene 3 (begun last week), which ends Chapter/Day One, and it was the first time for a couple of things.


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Writing on the novel continues, albeit slowly. In the middle of Scene 3, now.

In talking to my wife about my struggle, I mentioned that it felt like I’ve broken through a barrier, and that both my interest and enthusiasm had increased, to which she responded with a question: why is that?

I honestly hadn’t thought about why—I was just glad it was—but it engendered an interesting discussion.

Last week, I posted about how in this character-driven novel, I must engage in a lot more forethought. As I explained, writing about how a character reacts to action is a lot easier than writing about their motivation before that action is undertaken. That reality hasn’t changed, certainly not in the last week or so.

What has changed, though, is that I’m finally getting a handle on who my characters are.

This is a critical point, for me.

I’ve built and rebuilt my characters’ backstories close to a dozen times. I’ve changed family structure, occupations, names (lots and lots of names), affiliations, history, and well, damned near everything except their gender. I’ve also worked and reworked my outline, refining it, bringing in subplots, dropping subplots, chucking extraneous secondary characters, tightening it all up.

So, when I started writing, I had a pretty good handle on where my main characters had been and where they were headed.

All set, right?



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Going back over early notes for this novel, I realized that this project has been rattling around in my head for over a decade.

The first outline I wrote up has a note on the top: Tabled Jan 2004.

Initially, this was very depressing. (more…)

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Hampden Pocket WatchAs a writer, I’ve always been fascinated by so-called “famous last words,” but not the pronouncements made heading into battle or climbing the gallows steps. In those situations the speaker has prepared, is aware of what is likely to come, and has given their words some forethought as “famous last words.” Lines spoken at times like these are spoken for posterity, and are likely to contain not a small amount of “spin” for the history books.

No, the final utterances that intrigue me are those made suddenly, spontaneously, where the speaker may not be fully cognizant of her surroundings or the situation. At times these last words are puzzling, but while they are possibly no more than the product of a dying brain, they can be quite beautiful. In other cases, however, I believe we can glimpse the true nature of the speaker’s personality. Was she angry? Was he compassionate? Were the last words of love or of rebuke? Last words—when you don’t know they’re last words—can be the most meaningful, the most significant.

Here are four examples of last quotes; the first two are enigmatic, more evocative than illuminating, while the second two pretty much define the person who spoke them.  (more…)

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Stack of BooksI’m still only at about 80% on the health scale–this head cold is a brute–but there’s a definite upward trend, so I figure I can manage one post this week. A dozen topics have risen to the top, only to slip from my focus, except for one. Luckily, it’s a writing topic, so I can indulge myself.

I think it’s fair to say that my writing has evolved over the years. Some of this evolution has been instinctual, which is to be expected from an autodidact like me. Just as I sometimes know that something works without knowing why it works, so do I just sometimes know that something works better without knowing why. Much of the time, though, I am cognizant of the changes in my writing, as they are the result of a conscious shift. Perhaps I’m correcting a bad habit (e.g., an over-reliance on the Rule of Three), or maybe I’m shifting away from one method or style in favor of another.

But then there are the times when a change has been so subtle that I don’t notice it at all. Such is the case with how I deal with antagonists. (more…)

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