#FixYourNovel #4: Characterization, Part 1

Are the characters distinguishable, what are their motives, and are their arcs in the right places?

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

I’ve been trying to get up the nerve to publish today’s blog post for months. Who am I to have the audacity to attack such a topic? I haven’t even published my first novel.

Perhaps I should have left #FixYourNovel #4:  Characterization on the back burner until I had more writing experience. However, to be perfectly honest with you, I got tired kicking the can down the road. I got tired revamping my blog’s editorial calendar and shifting this topic further into the future.

I hope readers and writers will find something of interest in today’s post.

In my journey as a fiction writer, I’ve read about all aspects of the craft of writing. New articles and how-to books are published every day. It’s impossible to keep up.

Today’s blog post is a combination of the things I’ve read about characterization by people who know more about that skill than I do. It’s my job as an aspiring fiction author to wade through all the advice, discern what’s worth keeping, and try to put those gems into practice.


Author Kristin Lamb’s take on characters

I read a September 23, 2019 article by author Kristin Lamb several weeks ago and immediately added it to my resources list for today’s blog post. I love the title of Ms. Lamb’s article: “Characters: Audiences Read Stories, but Great Stories Read the Audience.” It pulled me right in. Her article can be found at https://authorkristenlamb.com/2019/09/characters-story-audience/.

Of course, I had to keep reading to find out what she meant. In a nutshell, Ms. Lamb said that every reader reads a book through their unique perspective. The character in a novel has “baggage,” but so does the reader. The reader brings her “baggage” with her but so does the reader. The reader brings her “baggage” with her into the story and that completes how an individual reader sees a character.

If there are three main characters in a novel and three people read it, it’s possible that each reader will identify with a different character due to the readers’ backgrounds and life experiences.

Photo by Frank Holleman on Unsplash.com.
Photo by Etty Fidele on Unsplash.com.
Photo by Pablo Rebolledo on Unsplash.com.

Also, I think “Great Stories Read the Audience” is an excellent way of saying a writer must know her target audience. I could try to write a novel that would appeal to everyone, but the finished product would probably appeal to no one.


Proofreader Louise Harnby’s take on characters

In https://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/blog/unveiling-your-characters-physical-description-with-style­­­­, Louise Harnby addresses how a writer needs to make her characters distinguishable. Some writers tell the reader what a character looks like or gives hints.

One method is to do what Ms. Harnby suggests:  let the viewpoint character describe another character, but don’t let it sound like a description in a police report. The reader doesn’t need to know every detail of how a character looks. Tell what is different about a character. Give each character a distinguishing physical or personality trait.


Author, editor, and writing coach Lori Freeland’s take on characters

Something Lori Freeland says in her June 3, 2019 blog post, https://writersinthestormblog.com/2019/06/down-with-the-rules/, also addresses a method a writer can use when describing their characters. It’s a twist on bending or breaking the writing “rule” that says a character shouldn’t describe herself or himself.

Ms. Freeland writes, “Main characters can describe themselves if they do it right…. Go ahead. Put your character in front of a mirror. But make it a funhouse mirror that emphasizes her faults and grows them larger than life.”

In this blog post, Ms. Freeland also comments about motivation. A writer needs to tell the reader what motivates a character. This clarifies the story.

To quote Ms. Freeland, “The internal journey of your character is as crucial as the external journey.”


Australian Fantasy Author Douglas W.T. Smith’s take on characters

Douglas W.T. Smith wrote about characters, voice, and dialogue in his April 9, 2019 blog post, https://dwtsmith.wordpress.com/2019/04/09/five-ways-to-improve-your-characters-voice-and-dialogue/.  He states something important about characters and dialogue:  “Remember, if the dialogue doesn’t advance the plot, give insight into characters, or show relationships between characters, it should be deleted.”

Mr. Smith goes on to talk about how a writer can make characters distinguishable by giving each one a unique speech pattern or word choice. From there he reminds the aspiring writer that all dialogue in a novel should be necessary and should move the story forward; otherwise, it is unnecessary.

Some things are better told through narrative. Mr. Smith writes, “Use dialogue when it’s needed – when it will show relationships or reveal character or plot the way no other tool will.”


Back to Louise Harnby

Related to that last quote from Douglas W.T. Smith, is this comment Louise Harnby made in https://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/blog/writing-dialogue-and-thoughts-8-problems-and-how-to-fix-them­­­­­:  “Dialogue should be purposeful. If you’re using it to introduce information, have the characters seek answers to questions they don’t know the answers to. Unveil backstory that’s known to the speakers through the narrator, not the speech.”


Author and Writing Instructor Janice Hardy’s take on characters

Janice Hardy’s April 30, 2014 blog post, http://blog.janicehardy.com/2014/04/five-ways-to-create-likable-characters.html, is titled “Five Ways to Create Likable Characters.”  This brings up a whole other aspect of characterization. As if making each character look and sound different from every other character weren’t enough, a novelist needs to make most of their characters likeable.

Ms. Hardy prefaces her list of five ways to create likable characters by cautioning writers not make the characters perfect. She says, “There’s a fine–and often moving–line between likable and perfect, which can make it difficult to create a well-balanced likable character.”

Ms. Hardy’s blog post goes into detail about how to make a character likable and how to make each character distinguishable, so please click on the link above and read her entire post if you want to learn more.


Until my next blog post

At my own risk, I’m announcing that my blog post next Monday will be a continuation of today’s. If the topic doesn’t interest you, please check in again in two weeks when I’ll write about some of the books I’ve read in February.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to The Long Petal of the Sea, by Isabel Allende while I’m partially-incapacitated with my fractured leg.

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

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and time, so I appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog today. I hope you’ll visit it every week to see what I’m up to.


Let’s continue the conversation

Do you prefer to read plot-driven novels or character-driven novels? If you’re a writer, which do you prefer to write?

Janet

19 Blue Ridge Mountains Trivia Answers

How many of the Blue Ridge Mountains trivia questions I asked in last week’s blog, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/08/11/19-blue-ridge-mountains-trivia-questions/, were you able to answer?

#BlueRidgeMtnsOfNC #PostcardBook
The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina by Janet Morrison

I indicated that all the answers could be found in the vintage postcard book I wrote, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. These trivia questions (and the answers supplied in today’s blog post) are my way of celebrating the fifth anniversary of the publication of the book by Arcadia Publishing on August 25, 2014.

Here are the questions and answers

1.  Why was Grandfather Mountain named a member of the international network of Biosphere Reserves in 1992?  Because it supported 42 rare and endangered species. Just on that one mountain!

2. What does Linville Falls in North Carolina have in common with Niagara Falls?  They are both caprock waterfalls, meaning the top layer of rock is harder that the underlying stone. Erosion causes the waterfall to migrate upstream over time. It is believed that Linville Falls was once 12 miles downstream from its present location.

3.  How did Edwin Wiley Grove make his fortune which enabled him to build the Grove Park Inn in Ashevile, North Carolina?  He sold Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic.

4.  What part did the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) play in the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway during The Great Depression?  The men who were members of the CCC assisted with the paving and landscaping of the Blue Ridge Parkway. What a magnificent gift they left us!

5.  When George W. Vanderbilt purchased Mt. Pisgah in 1897, what grand plan did the mountain become part of temporarily?  The 125,000-acre Biltmore Estate. (It’s no longer part of the estate.)

6.  What groups of people were housed at Assembly Inn in Montreat, North Carolina in 1942?  290 Japanese and German internees.

7.  Jerome Freeman bought 400 acres of land in Rutherford County, North Carolina that included the Chimney Rock around 1870 for $25. How much did the State of North Carolina pay for Chimney Rock Park in 2007?  $24 million.

8.  What new breed of hunting dog was developed by a German pioneer family in the late 1700s in the Plott Balsams subrange of the Blue Ridge Mountains?  The Plott Hound, which just happens to be the official State Dog of North Carolina.

9.  What is an early 20th century feat of engineering on the Newfound Gap Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park?  The road crosses over itself. This example of a helix is called “The Loop.”

10.  How fast can a black bear run?   30 to 35 miles per hour.

11.  It is illegal in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to willfully get within how many feet of a black bear?  150 feet.

12.  What is the name of the 57,000 acres of land purchased by the Cherokee in the 1800s and held in trust by the United States Government?  Qualla Boundary

13.  Is Qualla Boundary technically a reservation? No, a reservation is land that the United States Government gives to an American Indian tribe. The Cherokees purchased their land.

14.  Did the Cherokee people lived in tipis in the 1700s and 1800s?  No, they lived in houses.

15.  What forest contains one of the largest groves of old-growth trees in the Eastern United States?  Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest

16.  What hydroelectric dam was used in the 1993 Harrison Ford movie, The Fugitive?  The Cheoah Dam

17.  What is the tallest dam east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States?  Fontana Dam.

18.  One of the oldest postcards in my book is of Cullowhee Normal School in the mid- to late-1920s. What is the name of that school today?  Western Carolina University.

19.  Started in 1935, the Blue Ridge Parkway’s “missing link” was completed in 1987. What is the connecting one-fourth-mile long piece that filled the “missing link” called? The Linn Cove Viaduct.

How did you do?

How many of the 19 questions did you answer correctly? I hope you enjoyed trying to answer the questions and seeing the answers today. If you want to learn more about the mountains of North Carolina and eastern Tennessee, please ask for The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, by Janet Morrison, at your local bookstore, online at Amazon.com, or purchase it directly from the publisher at https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/. It’s available in paperback and as an ebook.

The contract I signed with Arcadia Publishing was for five years, so you’d better get a copy of the book while it’s still being published. I don’t know if my contract will be extended.

Since my last blog post

I’ve finally gotten into a rhythm for writing the scene outline according to C.S. Lakin’s template. It sounds backward to be writing the scene outline after writing the book, but the questions asked in the template, along with five questions I added after reading a couple of articles by Janice Hardy, are making every scene in the book stronger. It’s slow going, but well worth the time and effort.

Due to technical problems, I was unable to include images of any of the postcards from my book in today’s blog post.

Until my next blog post

If you’d like to follow me on Twitter, @janetmorrisonbk. If you’d like to follow my business page on Facebook, it’s Janet Morrison, Writer.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead and still listening to Resistance Women, by Jennifer Chiaverini.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Thank you for taking the time to read 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

Feel free to let me know in the comments section below or on Twitter or Facebook how you did on the trivia questions. If you have any other comments or questions for me about the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains, I’ll welcome and try to answer them.

Janet