#FixYourNovel #4: Characterization, Part 2

When I wrote my #FixYourNovel #4:  Characterization, Part 1 blog post for February 17, 2020, I planned to post Part 2 the following Monday. Life happened, though, and some medical issues forced me to hold off on Part 2 until today. Here’s the link to Part 1, in case you missed it or wish to refresh your memory: https://janetswritingblog.com/2020/02/17/fixyournovel-4-characterization-part-1/.

If you are bored stiff by the subject, just scroll down to the end of today’s post to find out what I’m currently reading.

As I did in Part 1, today I’ll share what two or three writers, writing coaches, or editors have to say about characterization. I hope readers and writers will find something of interest in my two characterization blog posts.

I’ve read a lot about how to develop memorable characters when writing fiction. As I read what other writers, or book coaches and editors have to say about characterization, I try to determine what the best advice is so I can put it into practice as I work on my historical novel.


Book coach Andrea Lundgren’s take on happiness in novels

In her October 7, 2019 guest post on A Writer’s Path, https://ryanlanz.com/2019/10/07/what-does-it-mean-to-write-about-happiness/, book coach Andrea Lundgren observed that novels rarely show characters in a state of happiness. Maybe there’s a flashback to a time they were happy, but the reader doesn’t see the character having a happy moment.

Ms. Lundgren suggests something that goes against the grain of accepted fiction writing advice. She stated the following in that guest post:

“Do we dare take time out, for them and us, to just enjoy life as it flows by, without making the scene “keep things moving forward”?

Ms. Lundgren continued:

“And does happiness only occur in little moments, in the troughs between peaks of activity when no one is doing or demanding or announcing anything? Maybe we need to start plotting for filler scenes, where nothing happens but that exchange of dialogue and silence that is a normal, happy moment of life.”

That resonated with me. Writing experts put a lot of pressure on authors to evaluate every scene and, if it doesn’t move the story forward, delete it. In connection with Ms. Lundgren’s post, it seems to me that having an occasional scene in which your character is just relaxing with a friend or enjoying an event might help that character seem more human and more likeable. And in that way, does that scene not in some small way move the story forward?


Editor and author David Griffin Brown’s take on character

Writing as a creative guest on The Creative Penn website on August 2, 2019, https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2019/08/02/writing-tips-creating-memorable-characters/, David Griffin Brown gives tips on writing memorable and compelling characters.

Mr. Brown opens his article with this:  “Fiction editors encounter manuscripts at all stages of development. A typical issue we see in early drafts is where one narrative element is given more attention than another.

“For example, with works of historical fiction, it’s common for writers to showcase their research at the expense of plot and character. On the other hand, with a character piece, the plot often drags in the second act. And in high-paced, sharply plotted thrillers, characterization can lag behind plot development.

“That being said, most manuscripts will benefit from close attention to character conflict, motivation, and relationships. But first and foremost, it’s important to let your characters act, react, and interact.”

Mr. Brown goes on to talk about emotions, conflict, and personal relationships between characters. He talks about the king of all fiction-writing rules:  Show, don’t tell.


Chris Andrews’ take on character and structure

In his book, Character and Structure:  An Unholy Alliance, Australian fantasy quthor Chris Andrews writes about the importance of (or possibly, necessity of) getting your reader emotionally invested in your story or novel. He writes that you must make the reader care.

Character & Structure: An Unholy Alliance, by Chris Andrews

Mr. Andrews’ book says, “Applying character to structure is an unholy alliance as far as many writers are concerned. Doing it well is the foundation of creating a long and successful career.”  He says if a writer gives in to his or her preference – character vs. structure – one will dominate and the other will suffer. A character must have a logical structure to work within.

Mr. Andrews writes, “You have to be able to develop, write and evaluate a story from both sides of your brain:  logic and emotion…. Combining story (what happens to your characters) and structure (how it happens) means finding the answers emotionally engage your audience.”

I like the following short paragraph in Mr. Andrews’ book: 

“Characters are about people, not events. Structure is how you tailor events so your audience can engage with your characters.”

Mr. Andrews’ book is one of the best books I’ve read about the craft of writing. He takes you step-by-step through the structure of a novel and how your protagonist should grow and change within that structure in order for your novel to engage your readers and be memorable for them.

I read Chris Andrews’ book last September and I wrote about it in my September 30, 2019 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/09/30/character-and-structure-by-chris-andrews/. His website is https://www.chrisandrews.me/.


Some new thoughts from Janice Hardy

In #FixYourNovel #4:  Characterization, Part I, I referenced Janice Hardy. Her blog post on February 26, 2020 was titled, “Oh, Woe Is Me:  Strengthening Character Goals.” Here the link to it, so you can read the entire blog post: http://blog.janicehardy.com/2010/05/oh-woe-is-me.html.

It’s about how a writer can make a novel’s protagonist’s life as difficult as possible. She gives lots of suggestions.


That was my inner response when I first encountered the term. In Part 1 of #FixYourNovel #4, I referred to character arc but didn’t address it.

A character arc is how a character changes over the course of a story or novel, but there’s so much more to it than that! People have written entire books on the topic of character arc. I read one in October:  Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development, by K.M. Weiland.

Creating Character Arcs, by K.M. Weiland

I highly recommend her book to others who, like me, are trying to master the art of writing fiction. The book addresses plot points, when your character arcs, minor character arcs, impact characters, and how to write a character arc in a series.


Biographical sketches

Throughout the writing process I’ve tried to keep in mind to make my characters distinguishable, but it’s time to revisit the question, “Are my characters distinguishable?”

By writing a biographical sketch for each character as I developed the basic bones of the plot for my novel in progress, tentatively titled The Spanish Coin or The Doubloon, I had a computer file containing details about each character. This was the place I made note of all distinguishable characteristics – everything from appearance, clothing, mannerisms, smell, occupation, world view, beliefs, background, family, and manner of speaking.

My hunch is that it is easier to write character biographical sketches before and as you write your novel, but it can be done after the fact. However you choose to do it, it’s a good idea to work through this step before hitting the “publish” button or submitting your manuscript to an editor, literary agent, or publisher.

I read that J.K. Rawlings spent five years writing the biographies of each of her characters before she started writing her Harry Potter series. Wow!

As you evaluate your novel’s manuscript, re-read each of your characters’ biographical sketches, every reference to them in your book, and all their dialogue. It’s time to beef-up those character traits and to check for consistency.

  • Have you made your characters’ motives clear so their actions are logical?
  • Did you reveal backstory a little at a time and sufficiently without doing an information dump?
  • You don’t have a character telling another character something they already know, do you?
  • Does your character have an arc and is it in the right place?

In summary

At this point, you might be saying, “It’s not enough for writers to invent characters? They must make each one distinguishable in appearance, actions, and speech; make them likable but not perfect; and make them memorable and compelling. Is that all?

No. A writer must also balance character, and plot, and setting. Characters must interact with one another. Characters must be believable. Characters must react to the circumstances in which they find themselves. They must have emotions. They must be motivated. Relationships and conflict are necessary; otherwise, there’s no story.

You see, there’s more to writing a novel than typing.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Winter Garden, by Kristin Hannah.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have satisfying creative time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. If you like my blog, please tell you real friends and your social media friends about it.


Links to my #FixYourNovel blog posts #1, #2, #3, and #4 Part 1:


Let’s continue the conversation

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Think back over the books you’ve read.

Which characters stand out in your mind and why?

Feel free to share as much or little as you want to in the comments below or on the social media I share this blog post on.

Janet

Five of the Ten Books I Read in February 2019

Wow! Where do I start? Although it was the shortest month of the year, February was jam-packed with good books. I read a variety of fiction, nonfiction, memoir, and “how-to” books.

Truth be known, I started reading several of the books in January and finished them in February. Each one probably warranted its own blog post, but I’ve condensed my thoughts into two blog posts – today’s and the one on March 11.

Here’s what I thought of each book, in no particular order:


Before and Again, by Barbara Delinsky

Before and Again, by Barbara Delinsky

I enjoyed this novel by Barbara Delinsky about a woman, Mackenzie Cooper, who runs a red light and causes an accident in which her five-year-old daughter is killed. The event results in a divorce and an estrangement between Mackenzie and her mother.

In an effort to leave her sad past behind and start a new life, Mackenzie moves from Massachusetts to Devon, Vermont and adopts a new name. Things go well for her until her ex-husband shows up in the small town where Mackenzie lives. It turns out that Mackenzie isn’t the only resident of Devon living with a secret.

I gave this story of forgiveness four stars on Goodreads.com. I was surprised to see many two-star ratings for it on that site. With an average rating of 3.5 stars out of 5, from the reviews, it appears people either really like it or don’t.

Creating Character Arc:  The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development, by K.M Weiland

Creating Character Arcs, by K.M. Weiland

This book is an invaluable resource for anyone writing fiction. It helped me focus on the protagonist in the novel I’m writing and organize her journey step-by-step throughout her story. The questions Ms. Weiland included in her book helped me to know my main character better, which enables me to write with more confidence than I had before.

If you’re learning to write fiction, I highly recommend Creating Character Arc:  The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development, by K.M Weiland. Or perhaps you are a fan of fiction and you’re curious about the structure of a good novel. Then, I think you’ll find this “how-to” book interesting.

A Week in Winter, by Maeve Binchy

A Week in Winter, by Maeve Binchy

This book was a bit of a surprise for me. A Week in Winter, by Maeve Binchy was the January selection for the Rocky River Readers Book Club. Since it’s not historical fiction, suspense, or a mystery, I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. That’s one of the good things about being in a book club. Sometimes members are exposed to a book genre they wouldn’t usually select for themselves.

Although I rarely listen to an audio book, an episode of vertigo prompted me to borrow the book on CD from the public library. The accent of professional reader, Rosalyn Landor, was delightful and helped to keep the setting in Ireland clearly in mind. The fact that I enjoyed listening to a novel was a bonus.

The author, Maeve Binchy, was a master of characterization. Each character has such a unique backstory or quirk, you’ll have no trouble keeping them straight in your head. In A Week in Winter, each of the ten chapters tells the backstory of a different guest or pair of guests at The Stone House on the west coast of Ireland. Ms. Binchy weaves their stories together perfectly as she brings them all together as guests at the inn the first week the old house was open for business.

The Midwife’s Confession, by Diane Chamberlain

The Midwife’s Confession, by Diane Chamberlain

After enjoying listening to the Maeve Binchy book, I decided to give the audio version of The Midwife’s Confession, by Diane Chamberlain a try. Ms.Chamberlain weaves quite a complicated story and cast of characters together in this novel set in Wilmington, Chapel Hill, and Robeson County, North Carolina.

One of three close friends commits suicide, leaving the other two women trying to find clues as to why Nicole felt that taking her own life was the only option she had. Layer by layer they peel back the parts of Nicole’s past they knew nothing about.

There was a horrible accident with a baby Nicole delivered as a midwife. What choice did Nicole make after the accident that changed the course of not on her life but also the lives of other families?

Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens

The prose in this book is beautiful. Delia Owens writes about the fauna of the marshlands of the North Carolina coast from a place of scientific expertise. This is her debut novel, but she has co-authored three nonfiction books about nature in Africa. She worked in Africa as a wildlife scientist but now lives in Idaho.

As an aspiring novelist, I’ve been cautioned about using dialect in my writing. A little bit of it can help put the reader in the location and time of the story; however, using it too much makes the reading more difficult and slow and also pulls the reader out of the story. Where the Crawdads Sing is a perfect example of this mistake.

I loved the descriptions of the wildlife native to the marshes of coastal North Carolina. Ms. Owens painted such a pictures with words that I could have visualized the marshes even if I’d never seen coastal Carolina marshlands.

I loved the story in Where the Crawdads Sing. I was interested in the main character, Kya, from the beginning. It was a real “page turner” due to the life Kya lived and the strong character she was. I devoured the book in 48 hours; however, the dialect was over the top. There was just too much Southern and African-American dialect. The dialect repeatedly slowed me down and pulled me out of the story.

If not for the excessive dialect and the Confederate battle flag being in the county courtroom in 1970, I would have given it six stars out of a possible five.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading/listening to The Glovemaker, by Ann Weisgarber; Jacksonland, by Steve Instep; and Girls on the Line, by Aimie K. Runyan.

If you’re a writer, I have you have productive writing time and your projects are moving right along.

Look for my #TwoForTuesday blog post tomorrow:  Two Books with a Strong Female Lead. I’m pleased to participate again this month in the “Rae’s Reads and Reviews” blog #TwoForTuesday challenge. Here’s a link to Rae’s March list, in case you want to participate: https://educatednegra.blog/2019/03/03/two-for-tuesday-march-prompts/comment-page-1/#comment-2084.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

Have you read any of the five books I talked about today? If so, please share your thoughts with me. Have I piqued your interest in reading any of these books?

Janet