Tag Archives: craft

Characters In Novels: Use Shorthand To Characterize Them

Characters In Novels: Use Shorthand To Characterize Them

We’ve all had the problem: how do you make fictional characters seem real? Characters in novels aren’t real people, but when they come alive in your story, they seem real. There’s an easy way to get that effect.

Consider the people you know. How do you think about them?

Let’s say someone mentions a person you haven’t thought of in years. You think:

  • That’s the older guy with the scruffy six-day beard; or
  • She’s confident — always quick to smile, wears nice clothes; or
  • He’s a grabby sleaze; or
  • He’s always talking about cars…

As soon as you think of someone, whether you know them well or not, you have a mental image of them: a visual and verbal shorthand.

I started writing a new novel a couple of days ago. This morning, I had a bunch of character names, ages and occupations. I had a mental image of each of them, and it was time to write down their primary traits.

Forget your characters’ bios, think about their traits

Some writers like to write character bios. I’ve never been able to do that. If it works for you, that’s great. It just doesn’t work for me. I need to see the characters in action. People are defined by what they do, so after I’ve established a character, I think about his primary traits.

Here’s a list of character traits to start you thinking about traits. Chances are good that even if you’ve only written a few thousand words of your novel, you know what your characters are like. Write down your impressions, now. Then as you write, you can show that she’s confident, or that he’s grabby, or whatever.

Before long, your characters will seem real to you, and they’ll be real to your readers too.

124 Powerful Fiction Writing Tips: Win Readers And Fans, And Increase Your Sales Today

124 Powerful Fiction Writing Tips: Win Readers And Fans, And Increase Your Sales Today

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Heart To Heart: Romance Writing For Beginners

Heart To Heart: Romance Writing For Beginners

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Series: Romance Writing, Book 1
Genre: Writing
Tag: writing fiction

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Updated: April 23, 2018

Novelists’ Craft: Writing What You Don’t Know

Thriller
You’re an author. You can write any book you choose. Inevitably, you’ll get ideas for books you wish you could write, but the big rule is “write what you know”… isn’t it?

If everyone stuck to that rule, there’d be very little science fiction, and few mysteries. You can write any book you can imagine, and can research.

You’ve never killed anyone, but you want to write a thriller. How do you get into the mind of hit man? You don’t have children. How do you write from the point of view of a mother whose six-year-old is kidnapped?

Please take this to heart: all writing is discovery.

Let’s say you want to write a thriller about a hit man (or a hit woman.) This will be a real challenge for you if you’re anything like me, and are squeamish about using snail bait, or swatting a spider.

Nevertheless, if I had a great idea for a book, and the main character happened to kill people for a living, I could write it. And so could you.

Here’s why. Fiction is all about emotion. You’ve had every emotion everyone else has had. You’ve been angry — and you’ve gone beyond anger to primal rage. Neither feeling is comfortable. You may want to tap into that when you’re writing about your hit person. Not for the killer, but for the person who’s hired him.

For your killer, you’d want to tap into other emotions: determination, and a sense of confidence and expertise, perhaps. The emotions you’d explore would depend on your hit person’s character.

What about the woman with a kidnapped child? I hope neither of us has had that experience. However, you’ve had similar experiences. Perhaps your child disappeared for a moment while you were shopping. Or from your backyard. Even if you’re childless however, you can imagine yourself into that scenario.

Fiction is all about emotion. You need to trigger it in yourself, and then learn how to write to trigger it in your readers. The emotion is always what counts.

Therefore, since I’m very squeamish, and I wouldn’t like to experience the sheer terror of a child going missing, at this stage I wouldn’t consider writing about the hit man, or the mother with a missing child… not unless I got a great idea, and HAD to write it.

How to write what you don’t know

1. WRITE IT. Write a first draft, before you start researching hit men, or how many children go missing over the course of a year. Just write whatever strikes you in the moment. You can research once the first draft is done. If you research first, I can promise you you’re unlikely to write the book.

Use your imagination, and get into the emotions.

2. Research while you’re writing your second draft. You’ll want to research where your hit man lives, what weapons he has, how he travels, how he’s hired, etc.

For your kidnapped child book, see if you can talk to someone at a personal security agency.

Writing what you don’t know is fun, when you use your imagination, and then research.

Image from Morguefile