All posts by Sumanda

How to create a believable character

A blog post for The Story Mint.

No matter what genre you are writing in, you will have to create characters that populate your story. Creating characters might sound easy, give them a name and carry on with the story, right? Ever read a story where the character seems like a cardboard cut-out? Or seems erratic in his/her behaviour? The main reason this happens is because the character wasn’t created ahead of the story.

I found a character worksheet on the Harlequin website many years ago that truly helped me with creating a believable character. Even the peripheral ones. The easy answer is that for any character to be believable, you, as the writer must know everything about him/her. If the character is real in your mind you will automatically show this in your writing.

Your first start is to capture the physical and emotional characteristics that you want this person to have. Add their age, colouring, height, emotional baggage (we all have it), motivations, state of mind, occupation.

Then you add their connections to other characters and how they relate to each other. These characters also need description so add that as well. Even if your character is a fisherman with five daughters, but his only part in the story is going to be a short interaction with your main character for two or three paragraphs. His family life shaped him and knowing this will define how he will react. This is called backstory and every character has this.

By building a complete history for each character, that person becomes real in your mind and the interaction with your other characters will reflect a well-rounded character even though you may not use ninety percent of his/her background in your story.

 

The character worksheet is no longer available on Harlequin’s website so I’m adding it here:

 

CHARACTER WORKSHEET

 

Physical Characteristics

Name:

Age:

Birth date:

Birthplace:

Height

Weight:

Body Type:

Hair:

Eyes:

Nose:

Mouth

Clothes:

Personality Profile

Strenghts:

Weaknesses:

Ambition:

Beliefs:

Self-perception:

How others see him/her:

Hobbies:

Moral values:

Eccentricities:

Most defining characteristic:

Current Situation

Marital Status:

Educational background:

Occupation:

Food preferences:

Drink preferences:

Car:

Pets:

Present Problem:

How does this problem get worse?

How does this problem get resolved?

Synopsis about childhood:

Relationships

Spouse:

Occupation:

Location:

Defining Characteristics:

History:

Effect on plot line:

Best friend:

Marital Status:

Occupation:

Location:

Defining Characteristics:

History:

Effect on plot line:

Mother:

Marital Status:

Occupation:

Location:

Defining Characteristics:

History:

Effect on plot line:

Father:

Marital Status:

Occupation:

Location:

Defining Characteristics:

History:

Effect on plot line:

Child:

Age:

Occupation:

Location:

Spouse:

Grandchildren:

Defining Characteristics:

History:

Effect on plot line:

Sibling:

Age:

Marital Status:

Occupation:

Location:

Defining Characteristics:

History:

Effect on plot line:

Effect of previous relationships on present situation:

Gacgon the Sorcerer

The moon silvered the night as the cloaked figure shambled up the road to the castle nestled in the cliffs. Tired and annoyed, he gave the postern gate three thumps with his walking stick.

Minutes later the guard opened the view port and grumbled, “What?” with a sleep cracked voice.

“Go to Frederick, tell him Gacgon is back.”

The guard looked more closely at the man and rushed to open the gate. Not many would enter the castle by faking to be the owner. And he definitely didn’t want to be the one to keep the sorcerer out of his own home. The sorcerer wasn’t known for his compassion.

“Also tell him that you were sleeping on duty.” It was said with complete indifference. Gacgon firmly expected the guard to do exactly as told. The guard would lose his job and would be unable to put food on the table for his family. But his fate was out of Gacgon’s mind the moment that he crossed the flagstone courtyard.

He was ready. Years of research and the last year collecting the items needed for his triumph was at an end. The thought of the council’s regard after this act of magic convinced him that it was impossible to fail. That tiny lingering speck of self-doubt was all that stopped him from sending for witnesses to the magic. Once he was in possession of the fyredrake, the Council of Sorcerers had to acknowledge him the most accomplished sorcerer of all time.

No one had attempted this in more than a hundred years. Records relating to their creation were insubstantial, spotty at best. The fragment of parchment found while he studied the habits of the Hiato dragons gave him the clue to solve the riddle.

A controlled fyredrake excited his imagination to the extent that he was unable to concentrate on anything else. It took ten more years of study to ferret out all the legends regarding the fyredrakes. The snowspurt mandrake essence was the one ingredient that was the hardest to find.

He kicked awake a keep boy as he entered the main building.

“Tell Mrs Ratleigh I am home and have need of her in my laboratory.”

“No need sir, I was expecting you to get back tonight. I’ve prepared some mead for you as well as something small to eat,” Mrs Ratleigh said from the side entrance. The keep boy scooted into a corner out of Gacgon’s way.

“Good, Mrs Ratleigh, I’ll take the food and drink in my laboratory. We have much to do tonight,” Gacgon said and started up the winding stairs to his laboratory.

Mrs Ratleigh knew when her master was impatient. She grabbed the platter with the food and drink that she had prepared earlier and hurried to the laboratory.

Gacgon already had his largest cauldron next to the fire that he started with a simple spell. He was prepared for the exhausting hours that the fyredrake spell would take.

Genres and what they mean

A blog post for The Story Mint.

I have probably read every single genre there is. For me reading is a compulsion. I read notices, I read signs and one of the things I’ve come to despise are the advertisements in public toilets. Because I cannot not read them!

Since there has been a discussion regarding the genres of The Story Mint serials, I thought a brief overview might just be a good idea. This post will only focus on fiction. One thing that has to be remembered is that there is a fair overlap in genres. You might have a romance with elements of crime or a crime story with a bit of romance in between. The difference is usually found in the writing itself. Read a Harlequin book based on a crime, the story itself is romantic and the focus is on the romance between the man and woman, the crime is a secondary plot and is used to increase the contact between them. Then read a book like a Lee Child’s suspense and you have a crime story with a hint of romance. In this instance the romance is more a form of character building than anything else.

 

Chick Lit

Chick Lit is a sub-genre in Romance. It is written with female readers in mind, but always features a strong female character that is not going to fall for the guy as a matter of course. She is self-assured and comfortable with who she is. She also knows exactly what she wants and goes for it. Don’t be surprised if the woman does the chasing in this genre.

 

Contemporary

These are realistic books. Often this fiction fits into our current lifestyle. Included in this genre is the Slice of Life sub-genre where the aim of the story is to describe a slice of life. Contemporary books also overlap with other genres.

 

Crime and Mystery

These are your detective novels. It usually starts with a crime or mystery and the investigation into it. Think Patricia Cornwall or Dan Brown and you have a good idea of what this entails.

 

Espionage

These are the spy vs spy novels. My favourite espionage novels are the Jack Ryan series by Tom Clancy and the Bourne trilogy by Robert Ludlum, but not the movies. The Cold War was a great time for espionage books. Current espionage books tend to go more into electronic espionage as the latest Tom Clancy novels are doing.

 

Historic

These books are fictional stories based in a historical time. The Bal Maid of Great Condurrow is a perfect example of this genre. Jean Auel’s books are also historical although quite a bit further back in history.

 

Literary

These books are the classics, the ones that are prescribed reading. Think Chancy, Dickens, Shakespeare, etc. My personal favourite is “Much ado about nothing” from Shakespeare. Oh and “Emma” by Jane Austen.

 

Poetry

This should be easy to spot. Poetry has many forms, but there are definite indicators that will show immediately.

 

Prose

These are written mostly for theatrical purposes. Shakespeare obviously also falls into this category. There is a lot of dialogue and action.

 

Romance

These are the stories where the main element is the budding romance between a man and a woman. Nora Roberts is probably one of the best known in this genre. But since romance has such a large sub-genre list, it would take a blog on its own just to explain the various sub-genres.

 

Sci Fi/Fantasy

These two I have to split because there is a vast difference between these two genres.

Sci Fi is any story based on elements of new technology, futuristic and quite often on space travel and other planets. One of the pioneers in this field was Arthur C Clarke. As you can imagine there are several sub-genres in this field.

 

Fantasy is a completely different genre. There are also a lot of sub-genres in this field. Probably the most well know author of High/Epic Fantasy would be JRR Tolkien with “The Lord of the Ring”. One of the aspects of fantasy is the ‘world building’ that takes place, making these types of books large in word count. Fantasy books are also quite often written in serials. Technology does not play a role in this genre. Fantastical creatures, quests and the Good vs Evil, with Good winning most of the time. Then there is also the ‘magical thing’ that Good has to master to be able to win usually against astronomical disadvantage. Since this is my personal favourite genre I can give you several authors that were/are masters in this genre: David & Leigh Eddings, Brandon Sanderson, Anne McCaffrey, Elizabeth Moon (who also writes great Sci Fi), George RR Martin, Margaret Weis, Pierce Anthony, Robert Jordan, Raymond E Feist, Robin Hobb, Terry Brooks and the fantastic Terry Pratchett.

 

Suspense

When the writing keeps you on the edge of your seat because you can’t leave the book before finding out what happens. “We need to talk about Kevin” by Lionel Shriver is an excellent example.

 

Thriller/Adventure

These two also need to be explained separately. Although they are very similar it still is two different genres.

The Thriller is the one where someone is being chased or threatened by violence and death. One of the sub-genres is the Psychological Thriller where the mental state of the person is being attacked.

Adventure is your typical Greg Bear novels. These are the stories that follow a person(s) to a place/event and the ‘adventure’ that they experience. A good example of this is the Deep River serial.

 

Westerns

Stories set in the American west during the late eighteenth to late nineteenth centuries. Cowboys, highway men and all around shoot outs in saloons and single street towns.

 

 

There are a few genres that are not on the profile selection. These are some of the more obvious ones.

Young Adult (YA) – These books are aimed at the younger reader, mostly the 16 to 25 year olds. Think “Vampire Academy” by Richelle Mead or the Martha Dyer trilogy by Michelle Hodkin.

Horror – The ultimate horror writer would be Stephen King. Until today I still don’t know what happened in “Pet Cemetery”, I was just too scared to finish. But I loved “Carrie”.

Erotica – This is a sub-genre of Romance and for obvious reasons will not feature on The Story Mint. It is basically porn in book form.

Children’s Books – This falls mainly into two categories, the picture story books for small children low on word count and always with interesting graphics (“The Gruffalo” is my favourite). The other is aimed at the child reader for example “The Diary of a Wimpy Kid”.

Comedy – If you start laughing after the first paragraph you are reading a comedy. These also have several sub-genres. I have to say that in my opinion, the British are the masters of comedy. Jeremy Clarkson, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman are the first that come to mind. My favourite quote is from the back blurb on “Mort” by Terry Pratchett – “Death comes to us all, but when he came to Mort he offered him a job.

 

New genres are constantly being added or added as sub-genres, because of the variety that gets added with each new author’s point of view. So don’t stare yourself blind at the genres that are listed. There is always a new way of telling a good story.

Fairy Blessings

Kali pulled the weathered bag strap back onto her shoulder as she ran over the old troll bridge. Through the tall trees she saw the sun touching the almost invisible horizon. Harvest festival starts just after sunset. Thinking of the hot pastries and sticky fruit she loved made her mouth water. She might even try a taste of the honeyed mead this year. Kali wore her best shirt with the elaborate stitching on the sleeves she had learned to do this year. But bare feet flying down the dirt path took her past the silent fairy ring to Greenside Village.

The fairy ring was tended by the village with the usual offerings of fruit, nuts and craft. The amount decreased each year that the fairies stayed away. Some villagers believed they would not return. Only the elders remembered how much the fairies made the festivals magical. Just their fickle blessings were unwanted. Blessings were a double-edged sword. Hew, the last child blessed by the fairies, ended up crippled from only a stubbed toe.

A flicker of movement caught her eye when she stopped to place her offering at the fairy ring. Kali turned slowly as she tried to find the source. It took her a few seconds to see the skittish Fawn that stared at her, his one hand clasped tightly around a small tree trunk. Kali fell over backwards and landed on her backside in surprise.

“Good day… a … Sir Fawn… may I be of service?” Her heart pounding, Kali stammered the almost forgotten greeting to the fairy kin, as she scrambled to get back on her feet.

A sudden giggle escaped the Fawn, his brown eyes sparkled with suppressed mirth. “Good day young one, I seem to require your help. My name is Hest of the Half End Fawn Circle,” the Fawn introduced himself with a small bow.

“I am Kali Weaverskin of Greenside Village, how may I help thee?” She curtsied. Formal greetings with the fairy kin were most important. If offended, a fairy would lay a dire curse on you.

“Miss Kali Weaverskin of Greenside Village, I seem to have inadvertently become entangled with a vicious thorn,” the Fawn said. A look of pain flashed across his face. Kali glanced down to see a large thorn sticking out the back of the hoof.

“I will do my utmost to remove the thorn that troubles you, Sir Hest, Fawn of the Half End Fawn Circle,” Kali said. Fear pounded in her heart and pulled her throat tight. She squatted next to Sir Hest and gently picked up his hoof. She took firm hold of the thorn. One sharp jerk was all she needed to pull the thorn free. With a whisper and a wink the Fawn disappeared.

Kali stumbled back in shock. Did she truly hear him say bless you child?

Dusk pressed firmly down around her as she picked up her bag. She ran like never before to tell Grandma Aimes what happened.

Globster

The things you stumble across when doing research!
This morning I was working on an idea for a romance starter at The Story Mint.
The setup for the story was a young widow with two kids, boy and girl. Who is having a well deserved holiday. The love interest comes in when she is seen on a daily basis by a famous movie star who is working incognito on a screenplay. Sounds like a typical Mills & Boon story right? You got it 🙂
Now originally I had the story set in Seattle and he was working out of a two story house/apartment next to a park where she takes her kids on a daily basis. He becomes obsessed with her and finally approaches her. She doesn’t want to be involved with a movie star – too much publicity, etc. He changes careers (because he was fed up with the public lifestyle in any case) and they live happily ever after.
I decided to rather add a bit of local flavour to the starter since the other serials have all been in foreign (and sometimes frightening) locations. Well, for little old South African me at least. So I tried to set this story up in a South African City/Town/Whatever… and I came up with Margate! If you’ve tried working on a laptop in any South African city you’ll know that the selection of places that supply you with a power outlet is limited. BUT since I was sitting in Wimpy this morning working on my laptop, I thought of the big Wimpy right on Margate’s main beach. Perfect spot for our hero to watch our Heroin.
Since I’m a very fair-minded person, I decided to see what info is available on the internet on Margate and Wimpy and if the other serial writers would be able to google any info they needed to contribute to the serial. I found Margate, SA on Wikipedia (PS: what is with the unoriginality of the South Africans? Every single SA place I google, has been named after some other place…. St Lucia, Margate. I mean really!) and I was amazed to see that Margate’s claim to fame was a HUGE furry water animal that had a fight with some killer whales and then washed up on the shore. The thing was called Trunko. So obviously I google Trunko and it turns out thatTrunko was, in fact, a globster. In other words, a piece of decomposed whale that was unidentifiable because of its state. The fur was only exposed connective tissue fibers. Uhhmmm, Yuck!
Of course, now I’m stuck with this image of “vrot” whale carcass in my head… I’ll have to skip the romance until later.