In real life people have many different beliefs and philosophies which often clash and cause problems to become much more complicated than they would be otherwise. If this doesn’t happen in a story it tends to be less realistic than if you include characters whose beliefs and philosophies clash. Of course this doesn’t mean that you absolutely have to include different opinions, beliefs, and philosophies in your story, it just means that they will make your plot more complex than it would be otherwise.
Differing philosophies can also be used as the main conflict that drives your story. For instance one of the biggest conflicts in my WIP A Faerie Alone is between people who believe that magic is a good thing that is natural for people to have, and people who believe that magic is nothing but evil. There are also people who are in between these two viewpoints. Remember that in real life not everyone is at the two ends of the spectrum of beliefs, there are some people who are in between as well. This will help make your plot more realistic.
Now for the activity of this lesson. Simply take a look at your story and see if there are any clashing beliefs or philosophies in the people of your world. I already did this activity and wrote about it above. Remember you don’t need to post what you do if you do anything anywheres. You can simply keep it to yourself.
For this month I’ve decided to go over different forms of plot complexity. I’m sorry that this post is a week late but last week was weird for me. Whatever the post is here now and I will be posting the second lesson on Friday so that I don’t lose a week for this.
Many factors go into making a plot complex. These factors include character backstories, philosophy, scope of events, setting, and subplots. Basically imagine that you are making a quilt. Sure you can make beautiful quilts using only a couple of colours and a repetitive pattern, but they tend to be easier to make than quilts with more complex designs and these more complex quilts have more potential to be absolutely beautiful. Stories are the same way. They don’t need to be complex in order for them to be thought provoking and/or incredible though complexity can help.
A story is usually made with several plot threads and each thread combines to make it. A plot thread can be a character, a place, a subplot, or anything else. The way that the plot threads of a story combine and interact with each other is what makes a plot truly complex.
Now for the activity of this lesson, simply draw a plot map. The main plot thread will be straight and the others will interact with it and each other. I have decided that I won’t be posting my attempt at any of the activities for this month because of spoilers. You can do this activity of you want but you are not obligated to post what you make anywhere.
Remember the true post for this week won’t be posted until Friday since I got caught up in Valentine’s day and figure skating.
For the purpose of this post I am defining a ‘relationship’ as any connection a character may have with any other character. This includes family, friends, acquaintances, peers, and any person who sees your character walking down the street on a regular basis without saying hello. The way these other characters view your character can tell your audience a lot about your character. For instance if your character makes a mistake like say tripping while carrying a bottle of wine and the bottle smashes into a hundred tiny bits, and other characters are unsurprised by this you can infer that this character is a klutz. If other characters often come to your character for advice than you can infer that your character knows things and is good at helping others.
The thing about any character is that they have to have at least a couple of relationships. Though there are some people with absent or deceased parents, everyone has at least had parents at some point. The people who have raised your character still have a relationship with them even if they are no longer in your characters life and haven’t been for a while. Even a character who has lived in complete solitude for most of there life has at least two relationships.
So for the activity thing today you can write out a list of all the relationships your character has at the beginning of your story and how these other characters view your character. I’m not going to be doing this with Nyfo in this post because this activity is a little bit longer than the rest. You don’t need to post what you write anywhere.
Next week its a new month with a new writing lesson theme. See you then.
This is going to be a shorter post because I personally find the personality the easiest part of a character to figure out. When I do it I make a short list of character traits. Usually this list is only 3 or 4 traits long. This list is what I go off of to make sure my characters stay in character. This doesn’t mean that they can’t ever move away from this list or have their personalities change slightly, it just means that at their base this is who they are and if they move away from it they’d better have a pretty good reason for it.
These reasons usually have to do with trauma the character goes through throughout the story. An arrogant character may become a little bit less hot headed after their friend becomes seriously injured or even dies because now they begin to doubt if going in without thinking is actually the right thing to do. If another character does something really terrible to a quiet, thoughtful character they may suddenly become louder and more hot headed.
However these reasons also help to draw out the true personality of a character. This is because the baseline is only that, a baseline. People change as they grow as they experience new things and sometimes their true personality is clouded by social defense mechanisms and general social influence. The baseline is basically a characters true personality. So yeah personality is pretty complicated. That is why it’s not the greatest idea to do a personality test for your character because you will be generalizing way too much.
For this weeks challenge choose three character traits that best suit your character. For Nyfo I would have to choose arrogant, open-minded, and excitable. Remember that you don’t need to post your response to this challenge anywhere.
How a character behaves comes down to two details about the character, the personality and the circumstance. You can have more than one character who behaves the same way when presented with the same problem, however you don’t want all your characters to behave the same way. As with anything in writing you need variation. Without variation all your characters are just mass produced servant robots from a sci fi story.
I decided to include dialogue in this lesson because I find that dialogue is more often than not a part of a character’s behaviour. For instance a character who speaks politely will tend to behave politely most of the time and a character who swears all the time may act polite or may be altogether rude. There are languages such as Japanese where dialogue becomes a bigger part of behaviour because of all the nuances and potential to be rude, however since whoever is going to be reading this post is most likely going to be writing in English you don’t need to worry about that.
Behavioural dissonance is when a character’s behaviour and beliefs aren’t aligned. For instance a character may be rude to dogs but inside they may have started to love dogs. One of my pet peeves about writing is how often behavioural dissonance is done poorly. Usually to solve the problem of behavioural dissonance an individual will change their behaviour so that it is aligned with their new beliefs. This is easier than changing their beliefs after all. However I find a lot in fiction that when a characters beliefs change it is either not obvious so the change in behaviour comes suddenly or there is no change in behaviour at all. If you are writing a story where a character’s beliefs change make sure that their behaviour changes accordingly.
If you want to know how your character would behave in a situation that you aren’t that familiar with research the ways that real life people have behaved in a similar situation. If you dig deep enough you may even find some psychological academic articles which explain certain behaviours so that the behaviour of your characters is more realistic. It is always best to make your characters as realistic as possible.
Now for this week I want you to write a short scene where your character is buying something from a store. Think about what your character will say, how they will give their money to the cashier, and most importantly how they feel while doing it because though I didn’t mention it before emotion has a lot to do with behaviour. As with all my posts like this one you don’t need to do this activity or post it anywheres. It’s just a good thing to do if you want to understand how your character behaves better. Also I won’t be doing this activity, mainly because Nyfo doesn’t ever buy anything from a store. In her home village there is a barter system and the few times she is in a store during her story she is stealing out of necessity when no one is there.
The appearance of a character does not explicitly need to be in the forefront of the exposition ever in a story unless it related somehow to the plot such as how Katniss Everdeen wears a mockingjay pin, or how Harry Potter has a lightning bolt-shaped scar on his forehead. However it is also important to give your audience a mental image as to exactly what your character looks like. Personally I think the best way to do this is to add their appearance into a general description of the scene.
So it could be something like this:
The character stood with her friends at the edge of the ravine. Her blonde hair whipped all over the place within her ponytail due to the sheer force of the wind coming out what lay below her. She silently prayed that the elastic she had used would hold. Shuddering she pulled her ragged woollen cloak closer to her body as she looked down at the darkness within the ravine, a darkness that should not have been there.
I just quickly wrote this passage so please don’t point out any mistakes. If I were to actually write this into a story I would have put a lot more time and effort into writing it. I would have also named the character and maybe a few of her friends. Basically I just described a couple of features of a character in a natural feeling way. From this passage you know that she has blonde hair which she keeps in a ponytail and that she wears an old woolen cloak. Also from the whole hoping that the elastic doesn’t break part you may be able to infer that she has thick hair, but I’m not really counting on it. The colour of the cloak doesn’t matter here though it is most likely an off-white colour, neither does her eye colour or anything else about her. All the description I did for this character were paired with either something she did herself or a force that was put on her.
Of course this isn’t the only way to describe a characters description in a story. There is of course the whole looking at themselves in the mirror and commenting on their own appearance. Don’t do this please unless you think you could make something incredible out of it. Personally I think its best to use a mirror to describe a characters appearance after something has changed drastically with either their mental state or appearance. Then you can have the character comment about how they look like a different person and then you could relate those comments to something that happens later in that story.
But I digress. Another point I wanted to make about the appearance of a character is the fact that it is based on three different factors. Those being genetics, personality and beliefs, and location. Genetics effects the natural hair, eye, and skin colour of a character. The personality and beliefs of a character effect what clothes they prefer to wear as well as if they’ve modified themselves by say dying their hair or wearing makeup as. Location effects things such as what they find appropriate to wear, tans, and sometimes skin colour especially if your story is based in a time period before globalization and the second European wave of exploration.
So this is basically everything I can think of to talk about when it comes to appearance. I decided to continue the whole little challenge thing. This time I want you to describe one of your characters. You don’t need to describe them in a natural way, just know what they look like. I will end this post with the description of Nyfo so see you all next week for my lesson on dialogue and behaviour. Also you don’t have to do this, nor do you have to post this anywhere. Okay since that’s out of the way let me describe Nyfo quickly.
Nyfo is a faerie which means that she has long pointed ears and wings. Since she is from the Kingdom of Spring she has oak leaf green hair, bright green eyes with blue specks because of her father who was from the Kingdom of Summer, and she has light brownish-green skin. She cuts her hair very short, and is usually seen wearing shorter dresses because she hates it when long hair or skirts get in her way. Her wings are insect-like and are tinted green. They look most similar to a dragonflies wings. Also she has 3 sets of wings in total on her back like all fae.
This is the first question you need to ask yourself when creating a new character for a story. The most simple answer that people will give you as well as the first is simply their name. However who a person actually is transcends their name. This is why the name is one of the last things you should be thinking about when deciding who a character is. This doesn’t mean that you can’t name your characters before you actually develop them. I have had moments where the first time I think of a character all I think of is their name. This just means that you shouldn’t put much thought into naming your characters until later.
The first things I usually think about when creating a new character is their backstory and their personality. These two parts of a characters identity can tell you a lot including their viewpoints on certain issues and ideas, their experience, their behaviour, and the way they dress. For this week I’ll be writing about the backstory of fictional characters and how to know if what you have is enough for your story.
A good backstory simply tells you where a character comes from as well as giving any other details from a characters past that will be relevant to the story. It can also give a lot more information than what is directly relevant to the story. The more fleshed out a character the more detailed the backstory.
However a character can easily have a less detailed backstory and still be a good character. Take Luke Skywalker for example. All you know about Luke’s backstory when going into A New Hope is that he lives on Tatooine and is part of a small family. You don’t learn much else about who he is other than the fact that he is Darth Vader’s son. This is because all those other details about his life on Tatooine are irrelevant to the plot of Star Wars.
You will know when you have enough backstory for a character when you answer the question of where the character came from. What type of family did they have, where did they live in the past, and what major events happened in their life up to this point. You don’t need to know much more about a character past that.
Now I was thinking of doing a little writing challenge type thing with these posts. I will stop making challenges if it doesn’t work out, but for now answer the question that I explained above for either one of your characters or a character that you literally just created. Where did they come from? You don’t need to post your answers in the comments below, on your own blog, or anywhere for that matter. It’s just a handy piece of info to have on hand when you write a story.
For my character I chose Nyfo from my NaNoWriMo 2017 novel “A Faerie Alone”. Nyfo is a faerie in her early 20’s which is fairly young for a faerie by the way. She was born, raised, and still lives in the tiny Spring village of Clachefiode. Clachefiode is a very small close knit community. Her mother wants her to stay in the village and get a job but because of Nyfo’s innate love of magic she wants to go to the big city.
That small paragraph is all it took for me to describe where Nyfo came from and it explains many aspects of her character. I think that I’ll be using her for a lot of these challenges because she’s one of my lighter characters.
And so ends my first Writing Lesson post of 2018. Now let’s hope I keep it up.