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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Q&A: Boring characters?

A writer asked me this question:

I recently started writing a novel based off a couple friends and I wondering what would happen if we got thrust into a messy world of insane, chaotic, and anything considered un- or supernatural events.  I have already done a bit of tweaking to one character to make her a bit more agressive and aloof, but two other main character (out of four) are rather shy.  In real life, they don't talk much, and while they have come out of their shells quite a bit in the years I have known them, I doubt they'd ever be the type of people to rush head first into a life-or-death fight that could change the fate of the world you see in just about evrry novel on the shelves.  My question is, is it a bad idea to have them in the story?  I think with the dynamic our little group has it would be very interesting as characters, but I don't want them to be critiscized as boring or unoriginal.

My feeling is that all characters, whether main or secondary, should have their own distinct personality and backstory to go with it. They should also be somehow indispensable to the plot of your story.

Recently my editor asked me to do hero and heroine’s journey worksheets for a book I was going to write in order to help me fix some plotting and pacing problems. The exercise was very useful because I was able to fix some pacing problems I didn’t realize I’d had, and I also was able to better solidify the personalities of some of my secondary characters.

I didn’t realize this, but I hadn’t yet picked distinct personalities for some characters who had rather important supporting roles in the story. I always use 45 Master Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt and pick archetypes for my main characters, although I will often turn those archetypes on their heads so that they aren’t cliche. However, I hadn’t picked archetypes for my secondary characters, but I was forced to when doing the hero and heroine’s journey worksheets for my main characters.

In picking archetypes, the secondary characters became richer and more distinct from each other and the main characters. The secondary characters also suddenly developed stronger backstories to explain how they became the people they are in my novel.

So bottom line: Make each of your characters, whether main or secondary, have very distinct personalities that make each one very different from the other. If you have two characters who are too similar, then combine them into one character. Each character in your novel needs to fulfill a necessary role and have a personality that distinguishes them from the others--otherwise, the characters become a muddle of names who are just walking around your story world without function.

Once you start to make sure each character is unique, you’ll find them developing interesting personality traits and backstories to make them even more integral to your plot.

Lastly, and the most important writing advice I always give, is to write what’s in your gut. It’s YOUR story. Listen to your instincts and write what you feel would make it a story that you want to read.

Note: For those interested in the hero and heroine’s journey worksheets I used: for the Heroine’s Journey, I just released a Heroine’s Journey worksheet which is exactly the one I used, although with more description and explanation, as well as examples. For the Hero’s Journey, I used Christopher Vogler’s Hero’s Journey and adapted it to a worksheet. I usually can only do these worksheets after I’ve figured out the main plot turning points in the storyline, including the 3 disasters and ending.

Monday, August 12, 2013

NEW! Heroine's Journey worksheet

Heroine's Journey worksheet

I was asked to describe my Heroine’s Journey many times and I even taught several workshops on it at writer’s conferences, and so I decided to write a more detailed worksheet on the subject. I read about the Heroine’s Journey from several books and compiled what I learned here in one place. This is the same worksheet I myself use for my own novels.

Why the Heroine’s Journey? Because sometimes the story arc of a female character will differ from the traditional Hero’s Journey because of the affects of culture and time period upon the character because of her gender. This will create specific psychological differences in how a male and female character will respond to conflict in a story.

Joseph Campbell’s original book is based on the writings of psychoanalysts and the world myths. The Hero With a Thousand Faces is a psychological analysis of the classical myth formula that breaks down the myths into a basic structure, showing the psychological power of the hero archetype and the Hero’s Journey.

Maureen Murdock took Campbell’s work, her own psychology experience, and other psychoanalytical writings and world myths to develop the Heroine’s Journey for women. This makes it a perfect template for heroines, whether in romances or women’s fiction, because often a heroine’s story arc is more about internal awakening as opposed to the “quest” style of the Hero’s Journey.

This worksheet is based off of one I designed for myself to help me deepen my heroine’s character. I will use this worksheet for every heroine I write about, even if it’s a romance where there’s also a hero taking up 50% of the book (I’ll usually do a Hero’s Journey worksheet for him in addition to the Heroine’s Journey worksheet for the heroine).

Doing this worksheet enables me to double-check that the events in the story match up with how events should unfold in the Heroine’s Journey, which helps me with story pacing. The worksheet also helps me to structure the heroine’s internal arc so that it’s as deeply emotional as it can be and also psychologically resonant with readers.

This 15-page worksheet consists of the Heroine's Journey explained in detail, questions for you to answer about your heroine, and examples to explain each stage of the Heroine's Journey.

This worksheet is a tool I use to help revise my synopsis or my completed manuscript. It’s not meant to replace a synopsis because it doesn’t focus as strongly on the external events and conflicts in the story--it’s more focused on the internal events and internal conflicts of my heroine.

If you'd like the Heroine's Journey Worksheet, click the link below to pay using PayPal.

Heroine's Journey worksheet
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