Lazlo Ferran, Romance, Vampire, Werewolf, Magic and Science Fiction writer writes a guest post on Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar’s blog: ‘How to Write Strong Female Characters‘ This article shows what difficulties are faced and some possible solutions when writing female characters from a male feminist point of view.
Rip: Grail of the Secret Sun
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Excerpt from Rip Orange
After perhaps an hour, during which time Tom began to believe his carriers had unlimited strength, the leader stuck his hand in the air and the column stopped. The snow seemed to ease and then stop altogether. While the strange leader laid out thick, flatbreads and salted rinds of meat on plates, the clouds cleared, and the sun began to warm Tom’s cheeks.
“Not so bad after all!” he joked.
His rescuers crowded around Tom while their leader, the only one wearing a white fur coat, raised a water-bottle to his patient’s lips.
“Good to drink?” Tom asked, feeling nervous.
The leader nodded. Tom tried a sip and found it to be water, clear and refreshing. He waited for any side-effects but only felt better. After eating some bread and meat, he felt better still and grinned. The leader raised Tom up by his shoulders and showed him the terrain ahead. The mountain path dipped down to a dry valley and then rose to a line of green hills. These lacked the icy caps of those Tom could see either side of the mountain they were on, but beyond these, far beyond and just poking through a haze of cloud, he could make out a single peak, rising much higher than any other hill or mountain. Upon its tip he could see no snow but only two jagged peaks, one white and one black.
“Where are we?” Tom asked.
The leader of his rescuers pointed to himself. He said, “Inyan! Inyan!” and pointed to Tom, who replied:
“Tom. Tom Merriweather.”
Inyan shook his head and pointed to tom. “Omacron! Omacron!”
“Omacron!” Inyan’s men echoed.
“No! Tom!” Tom repeated, but Inyan only laughed and moved to Lucky. He repeated his introduction.
“Alan!” Lucky replied. “But everyone calls me Lucky.”
“Alan Lucky!” Inyan replied, laughing. “Tallana!”
“Where are we?” Tom asked.
Inyan shook his head and furrowed his brow. Tom swept his arm around to encompass the whole landscape before them.
“Ah!” Inyan replied. “Atalan’Tea Llantu.”
“Okay. Nice.” Tom asked, “And that?” pointing to the high peak in the far distance.
“Tpatam t’akalliyan,” Inyan replied.
Inyan’s words sounded strange to Tom, guttural, with lots of glottal stops and sudden sounds that surprised him. But he found Inyan’s face reassuring. The stranger had a long face and doleful eyes that seemed sad in some way. His cheeks converged with his mouth in jowls that would make him look more and more like a bulldog as he grew older. But when Inyan smiled, he did so with his whole face, the creases in his cheeks disappearing as if a sun radiated from within. It was a simple, innocent smile that Tom had never seen in anybody, except children, during the war. And in Inyan’s eyes, as well as the apparent sadness, there lay a stillness that seemed like lake that had lain undisturbed for centuries. These features made Tom smile, so that he decided that he liked Inyan. Without thinking Tom reached out and took Inyan’s hand. At first the strange man from this strange land seemed unsure of Tom’s touch, but seeming to come to a decision, he clasped Tom’s fingers within his own and shook Tom’s hand heartily.
“Peroturnakar!” Inyan said, pointing to the sky.
“I’ve heard that word before!” Tom replied, not understanding the significance of the sky.
“Peroturnakar!” Inyan said, looking sad.
Tom looked up again and thought he saw something strange through the clouds. It seemed to him that high up there, above the clouds, the sky consisted of rock, faint but hanging impossibly over them and mountainous landscape.
Excerpt from Rip Blue
My brother had a ball. When you tried to kick it, it moved away from you. I grew tired trying to hit the thing.
“Don’t think about kicking it,” he told me. “The ball is designed to read your intentions. Think about nothing.”
It felt very satisfying when I finally got a foot on it and sent it into the back of the net.
A ‘beeping’ interrupted his memories.
So I have been asleep?
He tried to open one eye, but it felt gummed up. Screwing his face up to make tears, he eventually managed to open one, only to see a panel, which proved to be the source of the ‘beeps.’ A sign flashed, ‘Hello Omah,’ in in red letters. You’re in waking up phase. I’m administering stimulants. Please drink the water.’
“Oh great! Thanks! I hate cryo-sleep!”
A distant hum occurred at the same time as his cryo-chamber began to incline. The glass-lidded container, little more than a box, began to raise at his head’s end and continued inclining until he lay at a forty-five-degree angle. The lid opened and straps released his arms and legs. He felt sharp stabs of pain as a needle retracted from each arm, but didn’t have the energy to say:
Omah remembered the water and tried to reach for a cup in a tray section of the chamber’s rim. But his arm wouldn’t move. And then he noticed how black the water in the cup looked, blacker than ink. It seemed warm and inviting and seemed to expand as he looked at it. He felt he could jump right into it, Deep within the liquid, far, far away, there seemed to be a faint light.
It came as a relief to see an attractive, blue woman approaching him in a white jumpsuit. But when she smiled he saw that her eye sockets looked completely empty, not empty as in the eyes are covered over, but as in a black depth, like a liquid, filled her sockets, a depth so fathomless that Omah lost his balance trying to find their bottom. He slid out of the chamber, teetered for a moment on numb feet and began to fall forward, onto a glass cabinet of surgical instruments. A moment stretched out for what seemed minutes, allowing Omah to think:
“What a strange place to die!”
Omah had no control of his feet, so it came as a complete surprise when the trolley, upon which the cabinet sat, rolled out of the way just before his face hit the pane of glass. The trolley crashed into a wall shattering the cabinet and sending glass shards skittering across the floor while Omah fell in a painful heap on the floor.
“Oh shit!” the blue woman cried, hastily turning Omah over. “Are you alright?”
“Yes, I think so!” Omah gasped. “I … don’t know how that happened!”
“I know how you fell – toxins in your muscles making them unusable. I don’t know how the hell you kicked that thing out of the way!”
“Well, it didn’t move on its own! Your foot must have kicked it. Freakiest thing I ever saw! I better let the others know what happened. Let me get you into a chair!”
Excerpt from Rip Red
Omah’s head-up display on the visor of his helmet indicated to him the likelihood of criminal activity with a coloured halo around each citizen; blue for law-abiding, white for untouchables, red for Scum. He had always had a visceral tendency for violence:
His mother thought he had a look like a, “Whipped dog.”
His father told him to, “Keep his collar clean.”
The funny thing was that he had never seen a dog.
He took another look at the row of columns under the Hall on the far side of the street and suddenly couldn’t remember what he had just been thinking. Not only that, but he had the feeling something had changed irrevocably.
A puddle near his feet dragged his attention away from the display in his visor. The more he looked, the more he felt as if he were being sucked into the black water. It seemed endlessly deep, but a dim light, like a lantern lost at the bottom of the sea, seemed to beckon him down. Without thinking Omah stretched his gloved hand toward the puddle, but a boot stepped in the puddle, sending ripples out across its surface. It was only water. Omah looked up, feeling angry, and stared into the empty eye sockets of a man. Where his eyes should have been, only endless, dark emptiness could be seen. There was no light at the back of the eyes at all. It’s repulsiveness shocked Omah, making him jump back.
“Look out!” the man screamed.
A car’s horn blared, somewhere close behind Omah. He heard the screech of brakes as he leaped for the sidewalk. An instant later, the fender of a black car entered the space where his body had been. The car accelerated away before Omah could get its license plates.
“Thanks!” Omah said, scrambling to his feet and stretching out his hand to the stranger.
“No problem! You nearly got hit! I just wanted to ask the way to the Mayor’s Office?”
“Oh.” Omah couldn’t think for a moment, because the man’s eyes now looked completely normal. “Back that way, second left. It’s on your right, about two blocks down. You can’t miss it.”
“Thanks! Take care.”
Shalto Denner leaned as casually as he could against the side of the brick column buttressing the City Measurers Hall under the colonnade. Shaded from the main street he lit the rollup he had stuck above his ear. He had thought about giving up many times, but it marked you out as Void scum; an emblem that could save your life in tight situations. This was one.
He recalled that his good looks had often caught him out, so he slipped on a pair of dark shades. He still looked handsome; silver hair above a craggy face, cross-hatched by age lines and azure eyes. A girlfriend, more generous than most, had described his face as like a crystalline rock face, carved into the likeness of a man.
‘Can’t keep it up long enough to satisfy a woman anymore,’ he mused.
His thoughts were interrupted by a sparkle of light in the crowd. Looking more closely he saw the distinctive black helmet of a Municipal Policeman’s helmet and slipped round the corner to hide down Subaltern Street.
Omah could see a sea of blue, flecked with white in his display, no red. This made him suspicious. From the corner of his eye he thought he saw a single flick of red vanish round the corner of the old Measurers Hall.
“Ah ha! Got you!” he muttered. The midday heat made sweat seep into his collar. He slowly shook his head once to sooth an itch. He decided to pass Subaltern Street and double back, round the block.
“Something’s going on, Sector 4, corner of Subaltern Street and Main. Falcon 2 requesting back up.”
“Roger 2. Falcon 3 right behind you, half a block, on the right.”
“Crossing to right now. Stop on the intersection and wait. I’m gonna circle round and flush him out. Suspect he’s the lookout for something. These buggers always have complex crimes in mind these days.”
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- Development editing
- Proof reading
Development editing is looking for ways to organise and rearrange the text to tell the story better. A good example is for Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate, as mentioned in lesson 4. Structure. I took the few pages just before the climax and inserted one paragraph at the beginning of each chapter of the book in italics. I could do this because the Main Character (MC) used a tape recorder, so we don’t lose tension by revealing whether the MC lives or dies.Copy-editing
Copy-editing is basically getting the gammar right. It is done to improve the flow of ideas for the reader, clarify what you are saying and sometimes to reduce the length of text. You will probaby find that you also correct some typos, thus saving yourself work during the last stage; proof reading.
- Do it twice. Once reading forward, to improve the flow, and once as in 2.
- Start at the end of your story and work back, reading once sentence at a time. This way, you are less likely to expect what you read and miss the typos
- Use a macro to check for unmatched speech marks. I doubt there is a writer on the planet who can write a book without leaving out some or putting them in the wrong place.
- If something feels awkward, it is. Try rewriting it in as many different ways as you can think of. Eventually you will get it right. You might even improve the story.
So you have your plot of Rudolph’s adventures all worked out and you know where the climax and twist will be. Now you are considering writing the climax and want to know how to show tension when Rudolph can’t get the tractor down a narrow alleyway, or gets stuck in a snowdrift. So how do you show the tension?
It’s not as easy as you might think!
Action Words and Expletives
The first rule is to use more action words when you are writing action sequences. These are words like ‘ripped,’ ‘spun,’ ‘yelled,’ ‘wrenched,’ and ‘panted.’
Here is an example. See how this sentence sounds quite calm.
– He knew he needed to get through the door. He put down the axe and walked up to the door. He pulled on the handle and it opened. He went thought the opening and all was well.
That definitely lacks tension. Let’s try it again:
– He had to get through the door. He only had seconds left! He threw his axe down, spun round and leaped toward the door. Grabbing the handle, he pulled and pulled but the door wouldn’t budge. Using all his strength, he gave it one last almighty heave and wrenched the door open. The wood cracked and splintered as the lock broke, and he was through!
“What’s the problem Rudolph?” Santa yelled.
“The door! It’s bloody stuck!”
Okay, so I went a bit over the top there; it’s twice as long. But it’s much more exciting.
Notice the use of words like ‘grabbing,’ ‘cracked.’
Also notice saying ‘had to’ instead of ‘knew he needed to.’ Forget about considered thought in tight situations. People just act and think later when they are desperate. This is one place where we definitely don’t need to know what the hero is thinking.
Also note the use of an expletive (swear word) by Rudolph. You might not want to use expletives in your writing but it’s a fact that people swear a lot when under pressure. Leave swear words out and you risk losing realism.
For the last reason above, short sentences are good in action sequences. We want simple action, and short sentences tend to increase the pace.
Another trick is to use time. If the hero is not only fighting against an evil adversary or obstinate door, but also against the clock, this will dramatically increase tension.
I used this a great deal in Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate.
Adversity or Obstacles
Elements of adversity of obstacle can also add tension. In the example above the door wouldn’t open easily and he had to wrench it open. Small accidents can also increase tension. He needs a key to unlock the door but he drops it, as people do when tense or in a hurry. Both accidents and obstacles also prolong the tension, which also helps create tension.
Use of Commas
The use of less commas during action sequences can increase tension, but this is a technique not all authors employ. If you try it, you still need to observe good grammar rules.
A Word of Warning about Length of Description
As you probably noticed in my example above, quite often action sequences can make the prose longer. For this reason, you will need to allow a bit more space for describing action, perhaps as much as 50% more space. But on the other hand, if you use short sentences carefully and avoid any description of inner feeling, you can sometimes keep the prose in action scenes as short as elsewhere.
Slowing the Pace
It may sound crazy, but sometimes you will want to slow the pace!
You can’t have climactic scenes throughout the whole book. This would be exhausting to read, and would ignore the whole point of climaxes. But you may want more than one climax. In The Devil’s Own Dice I knew there would be a big battle in the middle of the story. Inevitably this has to be very tense and a climax of some sort. But I didn’t want it to be the final climax. This made things tricky. I got round it by making the lead up to the battle quite leisurely and keeping the tension high afterwards. I also had a strong ‘insight’ scene after the battle, so that we see a previous love affair in detail and how it affected the main character. This kept the pace up, because of the tension of an affair, but also allowed the reader a bit of a contrast to battle. I had to make sure the final climax was even more exciting, but on the whole I think the reader feels they got a bonus, rather than a let down
Using Chapter Breaks and Scene Switching
I put these 2 factors together because they sometimes amount to the same thing.
Because you will want the climax somewhere near the end of the book, each chapter should, on the whole, be more gripping than the last. This drags the reader along and won’t let them put the book down. For this reason, you should normally end each chapter on a cliff-hanger. That is, they should either be just about to learn something, or have just seen some action but not know the outcome. This will make the reader want to turn the next page.
If the book has a large cast and a complex arena of action such as the invasion of Earth in my science fiction book Worlds Like Dust, you might try switching between different areas of action, either at section breaks or chapter breaks, rather than trying to describe it all simultaneously. Allowing yourself to describe one piece of action completely before switching to another increases tension, because the reader is wondering in the back of their mind what has happened to so-and-so in the other scene. Tolkien does this brilliantly in Lord of the Rings. You must handle continuity very carefully when you do this.
So, in conclusion, to vary pace, use:
- Action Words and Expletives
- Short Sentences
- Adversity or Obstacles
- Reduced Number of Commas
- Chapter Breaks and Scene Switching
Join me for the final part of this series 6. Editing in two weeks’ time.
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So Rudolph is desperate to guide the tractor on Christmas eve, but his nose won’t glow properly. Erma makes him an enormous apple pie to make him happy and promises him a good night in bed afterwards. She wants that new TV!
How do you you get the structure of your story right?
For your first draft, don’t worry about structure. Just get the story down. It will come out chronologically, that is, with the events in the order in which they happen. They may not stay this way, but that’s fine for now. Too many writers worry about writing a blockbuster with their first draft. You won’t. All writers have to write a second draft, so don’t try and avoid it.
By now, you will have the basic story written, and hopefully the characters will be starting to interact naturally and seem real. You will also have enough ideas to keep the reader’s interest, but the pace may be uneven and the first few pages may seem a bit bland.
All stories, including those of Tolkien, J K Rowling and plays by Shakespeare, have a beginning, a middle and an end. In plays, these are called the first, second and third act. But they can be subdivided. Your story needs to have this basic skeleton:
- Optionally, a twist
- Ending or denouement
What is a hook?
The hook is really what happens on the first page, and probably in the first paragraph or even the first sentence. It is the bit that hooks a reader into wanting to read the whole story. Research has proved again and again that when a potential reader sees your book description, likes that and then decides to read the first page (as they almost always do in a bookshop, or on Amazon), they will decide within a few seconds, thirty at the very most, whether they want to read the rest or not.
That is all the time you have to really grab them! So make your first paragraph, and if possible, your first sentence, really grab them. Make it unusual, even odd, and make sure it contains some emotive words. For instance, have a look at this first draft of the first sentence of our Rudolph and Santa story:
Santa asked Rudolph to meet with him. He then proceeded to tell Rudolph that he has lost his sleigh, so they will have to hire a van. Rudolph says okay but he has to check with Erma, because he told her he should always check any changes to his working conditions with her. ….
That is okay, but it’s not going to make somebody want to read the rest of your book. Let’s try again:
The telephone rang in Rudolph’s apartment.
“It’s for you Rudolph!” his wife, Erma, yells up the stairs. “It’s Santa. Says its urgent!”
Rudolph turned away from the bathroom mirror and ran to the phone.
“My nose will never glow properly again!” he told himself.
“Rudolph! Is that you?”
“Yep, it’s me Santa.”
“I’ve lost my sleigh! It’s Christmas Eve. You know what that means?
“I will have to use a van! That means I don’t need you!”
“I can’t pull the sleigh? Okay. Wait, Erma is trying to tell me something.”
Erma tells her husband. “Your union rules say you have to deliver the present. That means you have to drive the van!”
Now this is much better. First of all there is a lot of dialogue. Readers tend to prefer dialogue. They want the characters to show them what’s happening. They don’t want the narrator to tell them. It’s called ‘show, don’t tell,’ and is an important trick for story-telling. Basically people want to work things out for themselves. Good writing should have at least 50% dialogue, or monologue.
You can see also that there is a sense of urgency and tension with the dialogue. And already we can see that Erma is going to be instrumental in the events that follow.
How do you write a climax? First of all, you should work out in your head what sort of climax it is. If its action, then you will need to use many more action words like ‘ran,’ ‘desperately lunged,’ ‘screamed,’ ‘screeched to a halt,’ etc. Try to use shorter sentences at this part of the story too; it makes for more tension. By now the reader should have had all the insight they need into the main characters’ emotions and motivations, so you can spend much less time on this. Focus on the action and make the reader anticipate the moment of climax by building a scene of terror or dramatic tension or scenery.
On the other hand, your moment of climax might simply be psychological. If you are writing an emotional love story, it might be the scene when the man finally proposes to his long lost love. Draw it out. Use lots of warm phrases like ‘heart burst with happiness’ or ‘finally she knew she had found true love.’
In our story it might be that Rudolph delivers all the presents on time and gets a big bonus from Santa. Not only can they get a really good wide-screen TV but he can take Erma on the honeymoon they never quite had (due to heavy work schedules at the time).
A story doesn’t need to have a twist, but a twist can leave the reader feeling, ‘Wow! That was a great book!’ so you might want to try it.
There is not much I can tell you about the twist, except that you should have planned it from the start and given readers small clues that something peculiar might happen. And then when it comes, it must be as big a surprise as possible. They will feel cheated if they either anticipated it, or if there have been no clues whatsoever that something was coming. Leave them gasping or saying “Wow!” and you have a fan for life! A really good example is the twist at the end of The Sixth Sense and. In our story it might be that Rudolph’s father was actually a farm reindeer, and so Rudolph turns out to be the best tractor driver ever!
The Ending or Denouement
It might seem a bit obvious to say a story needs an ending, but it does need to be structured. It needs to leave the reader with the message you worked into the story (see the Themes tutorial) and don’t forget the character needs to show that they are changed of have learned something. You might also need to explain the twist a bit. But if you know there will be a sequel, you might not want to explain anything, but simply put the twist in the last sentence and leave the reader desperate to read the next book (as I have done in The Synchronicity Code). This is the moment when you want all the strands to come together so that the reader says, “Ah! Ha!”. Then they will be satisfied and want to read your next book.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this tutorial, you might need to address other matters of structure during the second draft.
The second draft is really where you take the first editing step; structural editing. If you are paying a very good editor, they will suggest these changes to you. But what is structural editing?
If you have a lot of background and character building to get into the first chapter, it’s going to seem slow to some readers. Other readers won’t even buy the book, unless they get a feel for how good the climax is going to be. Fortunately, you won’t need to worry about this once the reader has read a few of your book. But how do you get round this problem with your first book?
I have found that sometimes it helps to take a preview out from just before the climax and put it in near the beginning or even before Chapter One. For instance, in Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate, the climax is a confrontation between the main character and his arch enemy. Fortunately for us, he has recorded what happened on a tape-recorder, so his wife can set down the events. This is done in the form of a small insert, in italics, at the beginning of each chapter. In this way, I feed the reader a taste of what is to come later, and make them want to read more. Judging by the reviews, this technique seems to have worked quite well.
Take a Tip From the Movies
Lastly, I have discovered some very useful techniques used by movie makers. You might not want to try these ideas at all, but here is the structure for Gladiator. See how it develops the tension and keeps the watcher glued to the screen? You might want to try something similar with your books, especially if they are action adventures.
- A film should start with a scene that shows the main character doing what he/she does best
- Then comes the opportunity
- And then the new situation
See you next time when we discuss 5. Varying the Pace.
And if you are wondering about the third draft, this will come later, in tutorial 6. Editing.
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Basic Rules of Characterisation
So, in our story about Santa’s sleigh problems, we have Santa, Rudolph, and Rudolph’s wife, Erma!
Now how do you create characters for them? There are no hard and fast rules, but be wary of simply writing the story as it comes into your head without setting the characters. If you do this, the most likely outcome is that all the characters will sound like the same person, or sub-personalities of the same person. For instance:
“Wow! I got an egg for my birthday. Thanks Erma. I really love you. It’s exactly what a male reindeer wants!”
“It’s okay Rudolph. Wow! I really love you too. I’m glad it’s what you wanted.”
Can you see some things wrong with this conversation?
- The both say, “Wow!” In reality, two people rarely use the same expressions as each other. Erma, being female, is probably younger than her partner (I am being politically correct here!), so she might say, “Dude!” instead.
- ‘Rudolph’ is a name of 2 syllables, unlike ‘Erma.’ If they have been living together for years, she would probably have shortened it to save time. ‘Rudy’ is more likely.
- She is female, he is male. Males don’t say, “I love you” as much as females. Males usually cover their emotions so he is more likely to say something like, “You’re sweet,” or, “So nice of you.”
- And men tend to say as little as possible in emotional conversations. So Rudy probably wouldn’t expand by saying, “It’s exactly what I want.”
- Males tend to be less expressive of their emotions at all times, so there will be less exclamation marks in their conversation.
Now let’s try the conversation again:
“Wow! I got an egg for my birthday. Thanks Erma.”
“It’s okay Dude! I really love you too. I’m glad it’s what you wanted?”
See how the dynamics have completely changed. Now we begin to see their characters emerge. I deliberately left in the word ‘too’ in Erma’s reply because it accidentally adds something Erma might add on purpose; if she wanted to be sarcastic and elicit a further response from Rudolph. Also note that I added a question mark at the end of her reply. She might be uncertain whether she had satisfied him; women are more sensitive to the emotional state of partners so they are constantly probing to find out what it is. They also like to engage in conversation more than men so add cues in this way.
So you have seen how factors like gender, age, race etc. need to be taken into account in conversations between characters. And ALWAYS been vigilant for signs of them sounding the same. If you are unsure, swap the speech round. Pretend that Rudolph is saying Erma’s lines. If it sounds false, then you need to rework it.
But those are only the basic rules. The reader will want to see character development.
What is character development?
When writing any novel, there are certain elements always seem to enhance a book’s appeal. One is that the main character should always be changed by their adventure or learn a lesson from it. In this way, the reader sees that the character grows and the reader can grow with them. Great examples are:
Harry potter becoming more worldly as his adventures progress
Frodo Baggins learning that pity can be a good thing and in general becoming so wise that the Elven folk invite him to go over the sea and into the West with them at the end.
Luke Skywalker growing from a farm boy to a worldly Jedi knight.
As in real life, this is a long process so don’t make it happen in the first few pages. Plan what things will change them and plan the scenes to show this. But in order to do this, you will need a sense of the person’s core character.
The Character’s Core
It may seem a little odd to you but I will come to the character’s physical appearance last. The core of the character is what we are concerned with here. The trap that many writers fall into is to make the main character in their own image. In other words, the main character seems just like the writer. It’s very easy to do, and in fact, almost impossible to avoid completely. You need to develop a good deal of depth for the main character (MC), so it’s natural to draw on your own traits and experiences.
But we all have sub-personalities. We all have a side that gets angry very easily or is prone to love too easily. As we grow, we learn to control these ‘sides’ of ourself. However, writing is a great opportunity to let these people back out into the open again. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I love writing so much!
For instance, my main character in the Ordo Lupus books 1,2 and 3 is an ex-secret agent with the rare gift of being able to see Evil before it happens. He is also incredibly unlucky, but because of his talent is always able to survive and even turn these events to his advantage. I based these characteristics on myself. Although such moods or events are rare in my life, they do seem to happen. Readers seem to recognise these traits in themselves and many have written to me saying how much they identify with the MC.
If you use this technique, you will find endless inspiration in your own life without giving too much away about yourself. If you are writing about somebody in a bad situation, writing about it as a sub-personality will also keep you more sane that writing about your whole self! This technique works equally well if you are writing about somebody of the opposite gender to yourself.
For secondary characters, you could use sub-personalities of your self but I like to use 2 other techniques.
The first method is to think of somebody you know well or have known well in the past. It needs to be somebody with whom you have laughed and cried with, or at least had an argument. Base your character on them, and use the same physical attributes if you like. If you are really bold, you can tell your friend you are doing this as a compliment. But ALWAYS change the name! Don’t embarrass somebody. Also be aware that if your friend knows that the character dies horribly or does something terrible, they may not like it.
The second is to use somebody famous; maybe an actor or actress. This can work very well if the actor/actress is very well loved and has done great emotional scenes in movies or on stage. I have used this technique to good effect in one of my books.
I left this until last because in many ways it is the least important factor. But a physical appearance can reinforce a trait and become an effective cue for the reader.
For instance, dark hair or dark eyes can often suggest a malevolent personality. It’s probably a Western prejudice but nevertheless it exists. If you make a baddy blonde, good-looking and blue eyed, be prepared to make him or her really bad to compensate. Two examples that work well are Bond’s adversary (played by Xavier Bardem) in Skyfall and the priest assassin in Angels and Demons.
My MC in the Ordo Lupus books 1,2 and 3 has eyes of a different colour. This not only suggests a weakness but also a strangeness and rare gift of sight.
In general, you should always give a weakness or fault to a main character. Without this, it will be harder for the reader to identify with them. In our case, le’t say that Rudolph’s nose only shines brightly when he has had too much to eat and he is happy. So at the moment it is not shining, which means that he cannot guide the sleigh properly. See how you already feel sorry for him? Or at least, I do!
Lastly, I always keep a separate word file filled with a list of characters’ physical and psychological traits. Not being able to find out whether you gave a character blue eyes or brown at the beginning, and having to hunt to find out can be very frustrating.
So to recap:
- Take gender, age, race, sexuality, culture etc. into account when writing dialogue
- Use sub-personalities of yourself for the main character(s)
- Use friends for lesser characters
- Use actors or famous people for lesser or minor characters
In the next tutorials we will look at:
5. Varying the pace
If you want to ask me anything, or have an opinion to express on these tutorials, don’t hesitate to leave a comment: