Tag Archives: character development

Q is for Quirky

Q is for Quirky 2015 A to Z Challenge -- April J. MooreMy dad’s not necessarily being quirky here; acting silly, really. But you get the idea. Readers like characters who have peculiar behavioral habits, or quirks. It’s what makes them interesting, endearing, engaging . . . and human. When you think about it, we all have these idiosyncrasies to some extent, (which we may not recognize in ourselves) so we may forget to give our characters these reader-loving traits. Chances are, some of your favorite movie, television, and literary characters have quirks—they’re part of why they’re your favorite.

Maybe your character . . .

  • Laughs at inappropriate times.
  • Rocks back and forth while waiting in line, or standing in a crowd at a party.
  • Has an adverse physical reaction to those who misuse grammar while speaking.
  • Straightens up unfolded towels in other people’s bathroom, or messy clothing in a department store.

Check out this list of character traits and quirks that you’re welcome to steal.

Do you make it a point to incorporate quirky habits in character development? 

A to Z Challenge 2015

P is for Portrayal

P is for Portrayal 2015 A to Z Challenge -- April J. MooreI admit, this is fairly broad, so let’s stick to characters here. Readers want to fall in love with characters; they just do. We crave connections with other humans, even if those humans are fictional. Usually, when we swoon over a book, it’s because characters left an impression.

Readers don’t have to “fall in love” with characters though to enjoy them. Make them memorable. How you realistically portray your characters can make or break a reader’s overall enjoyment of the book.

How do you do this? Here’s a few suggestions.

1. Dialog. Readers should have a clue into the character’s personality by their first few lines of dialog. Do they ramble on when they’re excited? Get discombobulated when they’re angry? Using punctuation–without going overboard–is a way to also show their emotions when speaking. Try to reveal a piece of your character with every line they speak. How they talk to a bank teller or a TSA agent, is very telling about a person, so think about the little things. A great example of this is The Rosie Project by Greame Simsion and Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places

2. Use of the five senses. Author Ken Harmon, in my critique group, is always reminding us of this, which is good, because we tend to forget how important this is. Incorporating your character’s reactions to their surroundings gives the reader a deeper POV and insight into the character. How would they react to going into the house of a cat-hoarding agoraphobic? By using the five senses, you’re not only creating a richer scene, you’re developing the character’s personality, which readers love. This is where all that showing (instead of telling) comes in handy. For help, envision yourself in the scene, then try it with different people in your life: your spouse, your mother, or your sister. 

3. Body language and gestures. As I’ve mentioned before, 55% of communication is nonverbal. Even if we don’t realize it (which is probably most of the time), we express ourselves, whether it’s our likes, dislikes, fears, and other emotions through gestures. In writing, these say a lot about characters and the trick is to keep them consistent throughout the book. If your character can be self-conscious, she might, periodically throughout the book, glance in mirrors wherever there is one; straighten her clothes, put her hand to her mouth to check for bad breath, etc. Tie one or two of their emotions to body language and gestures. Sometimes, a gesture is much more effective than words; actions can speak louder than words.

4. Observation. When they walk into a room full of people, what’s their first thought? Do they look for certain people? And why? How do they react to what others are doing and saying? When they watch someone pick their teeth, or their nose, do they judge? Do they stare with interest? Do they look away? What a character sees going on and how they portray it to the reader is an important tool to developing them as a memorable character. 

What are your tips for portraying memorable characters—likable or not?

A to Z Challenge 2015

A Few Things I Learned from the NCW Conference

Another amazing NCW Conference. What a weekend of fantastic presentations and workshops. Here’s a sampling of what I learned:

Publishing Industry changes/trends

  • Consumers are the new publishing gatekeepers. Websites like WattPad, which allow writers to post their work online for readers to critique, is getting the attention of agents of editors, who want to know what readers want. Those in the book industry peruse sites like these to find out what readers are reading and will approach writers with contracts.
  • E-books are having little to no impact on print book sales.
  • Dystopian books (particularly in YA) need to be extremely unique and must stand out from similar books to be considered by an agent.
  • New Adult fiction, aimed at 18-25 year-olds, is gaining lots of momentum.

Children’s book Publishing

  • According to Laura Backes of Children’s Book Insider, children’s book sales (both e-versions and print) are way up; board books are especially hot right now.
  • Editors are seeking middle grade books right now, particularly those geared toward boys.
  • Word counts are changing in kids’ books. Picture books (ages 3-5) are at 500 or less, and for ages 4-8, the word count is 800 or less.
  • Illustrations are doing more of the storytelling these days (thus, the decrease in word count)
  • Turn illustrations into an app; broaden the story’s capabilities.

Creating Compelling Characters from Todd Mitchell

  • Weaknesses in a character are what make them interesting and bring your character into focus.
  • Characters should have both conscious and unconscious desires that may or may not conflict with one another, and plot drives a character’s unconscious desires to the surface.
  • Make your characters do something that you would never do; have them make big mistakes.
  • Be interested by your character, but if you know them too well, they won’t surprise you. If you don’t allow your characters to surprise you, they won’t surprise your readers either.
  • Mitchell offered a great way to get started on developing a character by filling in the blank: He/She is the kind of person who ______________________. For example, my answers were: She’s the kind of person who turns the toilet paper roll around in other people’s bathrooms. He’s the kind of person who makes restaurant servers cry. These are great ways to “find a window into your character.”

Plot from Todd Mitchell

  • Plot must escalate and accelerate. Each scene should increase in tension, making things worse for the main character and show what’s at stake.
  • Focus on internal rather than external problems by challenging your characters in emotional ways. The action in a story works best when it’s the external representation of an internal conflict. 
  • Killing off the main character is often a cheap way to avoid change. Life is more challenging than death.
  • Keep turning up the heat on your characters. Find ways to constantly challenge your characters until they’re exhausted; then see what they do.

Marketing with Jon Bard 

  • Create a “tribe” made up of people with a common passion, concern or viewpoint, and when the time is right, market your book to the “tribe.”
  • The author/reader relationship is a connection, not a transaction.
  • Instead of having links on your blog that direct readers to where they can buy your book (which never really sells books) offer readers something else based on your common interests and passions. Once you’ve established a relationship, then offer links to your book.
  • Do this by creating a Lead Magnet. Offer something, such as an informative video or a free ebook, or top ten list, etc., that is only available to those who offer their email address. 
  • Participate in groups where your “tribe” members reside, then use social media to point people to your Lead Magnet. Reach out to bloggers, podcasters, e-zines, etc. 
  • Stop pushing your books on readers and start pulling them to you. It’s not about you; it’s about your readers and what you can impart on their lives.

Queries & Synopses with literary agent, Kimiko Nakamura

  • Queries: Agents like when it shows you’ve cyber stalked them; just don’t send flowers
  • Queries: Don’t bury the lead, such as title, genre, and word count.
  • Queries: Cliche beginnings can pigeonhole your work; originality counts so stand out.
  • Synopsis: must have clarity of plot and pacing.
  • Synopsis: Knowledge of industry-standard formatting is extremely important. It shows you’re in the know.
  • Synopsis: Agents/editors expect to know the ending; don’t hide anything.

There were several presentations I wish I could have attended, but it’s tough to be in two places at once. Overall, the conference was a huge success. As soon as our conference Creative Team Video is available on YouTube, I’ll post it.

I’m also thrilled to announce that Edward Hamlin‘s fiction submission (Grace), for the Top of the Mountain Book Award took first place and Jerry Eckert‘s memoir (Weeping Kings and Wild Boars: Moments of Magic and Sorrow from Forty Years of Trying to Save the World) took home the top prize for nonfiction. I’m very excited to see both of these books in print, which I suspect will be within the next year or so. 

Happy writing!