How can we write women characters better in this modern world of equality without losing a woman’s femininity? Benjamin tackles this question in his latest post. I found it extremely helpful, so I thought I’d share it with you. He’s covered other topics including ‘Villains’ and ‘Heroes’. Lots of great tips and insight into good storytelling. You can catch up on all his other ‘Storytelling’ posts on his blog-
The most common mistake I see male writers make when writing women is to write every woman the same. All women are written as stereotypical women who are good at cooking and cleaning and staying at home and not having an opinion. Then there’s other male writers who, trying not to seem sexist, go in the complete opposite direction and write all women as aggressive, leather-bound power bitches who are really good at fighting and making witty comebacks.
Neither approach works, because in either case the writer is painting all women the same. Now here’s the thing, some women are stereotypical, and some women are tomboys. And neither of them feel that they need to be anything different, because they don’t. That’s who they are. They’re individuals. Every woman is different. The problem comes when we write all women as being one way or another. It’s unrealistic because that’s not…
So you’re ready to start the first draft of your novel – great! What if it’s so epic that a huge producer (as in hugely famous) wants to make it into a movie? That’s even more fantastic! Some of you reading this may have to do that one day. How awesome would that be? Have you already been daydreaming of who you’d cast in your movie? Let’s face it; most of us envision our stories on the screen even before we put fingers to keyboard. This is actually very helpful when considering how your characters will respond to events in your story with their mannerisms, quirks and personalities. Here’s an exercise to get your producer juices flowing.
If Steven Spielberg called for advice on casting for your movie, who would be your first choice?
Is your story a swashbuckling adventure with a shot of rum humour? Maybe Jonny Depp is who you have in mind for your hero. Or do you see the dashingly romantic Orlando Bloom as your protagonist?
Are you writing a sci-fi novel? Do you see Leonard Nimoy as your strange wise man, or perhaps he fits the role of a High-Elf wizard in your fantasy novel?
Who would you just love to cast as your main Protagonist?
Who would be perfect in the role of your main Antagonist?
Your Protagonist’s Love Interest?
Your Protagonist’s Mentor?
Your Protagonist’s Sidekick?
Your Protagonist’s 4 Main Followers?
Your Antagonist’s Sidekick or Main Henchman?
Pinterest For Role Call
By now most of you know how much I love to play around on Pinterestand create secret boards for what I’m working on. I create boards for my character roles, costume ideas, writing tips for the genre I’m currently writing in and so on. After my book is published, I make all the secret boards public to, hopefully, gain readers from my boards. (This a little sneaky tip I learned about social media marketing from a lecturer at WriteCanada, the annual writer’s conference I attend in Toronto).
Do You Need To Fire A Famous Actor?
As you write each scene, ask yourself if the actor you’ve chosen fits the role you’ve cast them in. If the actor isn’t working for your character – cut them loose! Don’t feel too bad. I’m sure Brad Pitt can find employment elsewhere. I find this casting exercise very helpful and inspiring. There’s freedom in ‘hiring’ professionals to play around in your imagination. And it’s so much fun!
If you missed my other blogs on writing characters, you can catch up here:
Most best-sellers and box-office hits have a main character that goes through an enormous transformation and either becomes a hero or ends up becoming a villain. (Anakin as he turns to the Dark Side). The result is what keeps us talking about it long after the story has ended and we’ve slid back into our own reality. It’s this change that intrigues the audience and keeps them riveted to the story, not wanting to put the book down or leave the theatre for a refill of popcorn for fear of missing something huge.
Award-winning novelists seem to agree that there are four (sometimes five) key elements to character arc which drives a compelling story arc.
4 Key Elements For Character Arc #WritingTips
Your story will usually begin with your main protagonist and their setting. His life lacks something he needs and causes a sense of something unfulfilled.
The need may be fuelled by a yearning which he may or may not be aware of.
The yearning may come from a backstory that caused them to feel weakened by a loss of love, ability, or perhaps a sense of purpose, and makes them fearful, limited by their circumstances and feeling unable to change. The yearning is most likely to be the opposite of what the protagonist’s life is like now. Identify their yearning in a single sentence and let that drive the story arc, for example, he wants to be free (of something or someone), to find true love, to go home again (or make a home for himself).
Something happens to your protagonist that changes their view on their daily life and stirs a desire for change. This is the Inciting Event.
This will all happen in Act 1. After the event that happens to your hero to stir their desire, you’ll be ready to think about your story arc and which scenes belong in Act 2. This took me some time to figure out, but I think I have the most important points now. Remember we’re not writing yet, just outlining. Simple point form or one-sentence sticky notes will do.
Creating Intensity Toward The Anticipated Conflict #WritingTips
About a quarter of the way into your novel, the hero will be frantically searching for a reason behind the villain’s antagonism. The hero may not yet realize there’s an underlying cause for the building conflict, or they may have a vague idea but not yet know what’s at stake. The villain may still be taunting the hero to make them give up and turn back.
Before the halfway point of your story, the hero will realize the true nature of the conflict which is imminent and the ultimate power of the villain. Do your notes on story arc build up to your halfway conflict? Include your notes on the hero’s personalityand flaws that hold them back, how their mentor tries to persuade them to believe the truth, plot twists, and some fun scenes with their companions for comic relief (The Avengers).
Next time we’ll look at how to generate conflict and why it propels the story.
You probably have a pretty good idea of who your protagonist, their main sidekick, and the evil antagonist are and what they’re doing when your story starts; but how did they become who they are? Why is your protagonist a charming young female who loves to wander the forests of a mystical land on horseback? Why is her companion an outcast from a faraway land? What led your antagonist to despise all Elves?
What’s the story behind your story?
How do you find out the backstory of your story? As you know, I’m learning this whole process as I go along – like most of you too, it means. Thank you for joining me on this journey. In my research I discovered that the best information to start with is the character’s birth. (Duh.)
I also found as I wrote my first NaNoWriMo novel draft last fall, it really does help to plot all this before you start writing your novel. I wasted many hours last November going back into a previous chapter to correct something I didn’t realize about my character until half way through. I mentioned I switched my focus half way through the story, right? The first half was superhero and the second half was – well, I’m not exactly sure but it wasn’t superhero. Something I learned from a fellow NaNo writer was to write all the main characters on sticky notes or in a journal with their own page (the method I chose), then add anything you discover about them as you write so you don’t lose track of information.
So let’s start with your protagonist.
Ask where they were born and any unusual circumstances surrounding their birth. Was it an easy birth? Was the father present? Were they delivered by a doctor or a travelling healer? Maybe in their realm they were delivered by supernatural means. How many siblings did they have? Write as much as you know about your character.
Then go on to childhood. Did they go to school? Who was their best friend? What was their favourite subject? Did they excel at anything? Did their experiences as a child influence their career choice? Were they homeschooled or sent away at a young age to apprentice with someone? Were they born with all the knowledge they would need in life? How did that happen?
If they’re an adult when the story begins, what drove them to be in the situation they’re in now? Did they suffer prejudice, health issues or a failed relationship? Write as many life events as you can think of and add to and erase when you begin to write. Many ideas will change as your story unfolds.
Then do the same for your major antagonist. Ask why they’re angry, mean, and vicious. People don’t start out that way as a newborn baby so what happened in their past to steer them down that path? Is the antagonist driven by fear, guilt or jealousy? Why do they have metal teeth or wear a mask?
Do the same for two or three minor characters and any new ones you add later. Write only what’s important to your reader.
Take a look atThe Watcher by Sara Davison as a great example of backstory for her protagonist, Kathryn Ellison, and Great Expectations as a wonderfully written backstory for the antagonist, the embittered Miss Havisham.
Good Morning, readers, and welcome to our blog on Interviewing Characters. Today I’m with Colin Wade from Singularity.
#CharacterInterview Lynne: Colin – first, let me say “happy birthday!” Colin: (Laughs) Thanks. It was quite an accomplishment for me.
Lynne: I understand you’re a pilot for Deep-Sight Space Exploration. How long have you been working for D.S.S.E.?
Colin: Not very long. I mean, I’ve been with them for a long time, in training. And I’ve done some odd jobs here and there but this is my first time doing anything this… big.
Lynne: Yes, I heard your current mission is rather ambitious. Can you explain the goal?
Colin: The mission is to study a singularity. The central point of a black hole. Research into black holes is nothing new, but this is the first time we’ve ever attempted anything this close to one. The D.S.S.E. seems to think we’ve got the technology in place to study it safely but in greater detail than we ever have before. The data we get back from this one mission should match or even surpass what would normally have taken us decades with the previous tech. It’s a good time to be in astrophysics.
Lynne: How is it going?
Colin: Slow. (Laughs) So far it’s been surprisingly difficult to find viable black holes. But it’s probably just the regions we’ve been exploring. Ang seems to think it’s just a matter of time before the perfect one shows itself.
Colin: Oh, sorry. My onboard computer – the Artificial Neuron Generator for Universal Studies. “Angus” sounds too formal, though, so I just took to calling him “Ang”. He doesn’t seem to mind.
Lynne: I see. I hear this is your first time as captain.
Colin: It’s my first time on official duty as a captain. I mean I’ve had training. I’ve done the tests. But actually sitting in the chair on a live mission is a completely different feeling.
Lynne: Do you find space to be a lonely place?
Colin: It’s certainly different. I don’t mind isolation, necessarily, but space is different from simply finding a quiet room or spending time alone in the woods. To have literally no other living being around for incalculable miles is a feeling hard to describe. Ang keeps me company, though. For an AI he’s not bad to talk to. Plus he plays music for me.
Lynne: Oh, really? What kind of music do you listen to?
Colin: It changes. Ang’s gotten into the habit of picking songs based on my mood. I like a lot of oldies by Sarah McLachlan and Elton John. Lately, Ang’s been playing mostly “Take Me Home” by Phil Collins. And of course, David Bowie has some good ones for my particular career choice.
Lynne: I LOVE Bowie! And yes, I suppose he does have some fitting songs. What made you choose space exploration as a career?
Colin: I never really asked myself that. But if I think about it I guess there’s a lot of reasons. The biggest attraction was probably that it’s quiet. Not that I don’t like people. I like them in small quantities. A little bit at a time, or a few people at a time. But I do my best work on my own, in a quiet room, with all of space to look at. Compared to people, astrophysics is easy.
Lynne: Do you miss home?
Colin: Oh yes. Way more than I thought I would. But they did warn me that isolation can do that.
Lynne: Is there anything you’d like to say to any friends or family back at home?
Colin: Oh geez. Well, the first thing would be to thank everyone for the razor. It’s been working like a charm. I’ll give a shout out to my mom and dad and my sis. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there on my birthday to see everyone, but duty calls. We’ll do a barbeque at mom and dad’s when I get back. I’ve been practicing. I feel like I’m forgetting some people, but whoever you are, just assume that I miss you too. I’ll see you all as soon as I get back, and thanks for all the well wishes. Ang, do you want to say anything? (Brief silence) Really? Ang just says hello. He’s being unsocial.
Lynne: Well thank you so much for doing this interview, Colin. It’s been a pleasure talking with you.
Colin: Oh, the pleasure’s been all mine. It’s been great to hear another voice.
Well, reader, that was an interesting interview. I couldn’t imagine being alone in space for months at a time. Although listening to Bowie and staring at the stars sounds very peaceful.
Which of your characters would you interview? Why did you choose that character? What would you ask them?
You can read more about Colin Wade and his extraordinary space mission in Singularityby Benjamin T. Collier.