Archive for the ‘Believable Characters’ Category

How to Use Psychology to Write Amazing Stories

February 5, 2019


 

 

 

 

 
 

 
 

Illustration © Charles Schultz

Remember the Charlie Brown comic strip? The enterprising Lucy one-upped the lemonade stand business model and parked herself at a booth offering “Psychiatric Help” for five cents.

I feel a little like that sometimes when I write this blog.

Believe it or not, psychology and writing fiction go hand-in-hand. Psychology revolves around understanding why humans think, feel, and behave as they do. Writers … the good ones anyway … are keen observers of human nature and capture it in their storytelling.

Writing is Psychology
Well-written characters will have history and family dynamics, with definable strengths, weaknesses, and personality problems. They engage in internal monologues about themselves, their relationships, and the world around them.

Such realistic characters make thought-provoking entertainment.

But you don’t need a psychology degree to craft a good story, just curiosity about the people around you. Practicing certain techniques will make it more available in your writer’s toolbox.

Here are three areas of focus:

1. Observation
Most writers are people-watchers. I know I am. I’m fascinated by the things people do, what they say, and any discrepancies between the two. The fictional characters most of us create may be “larger than life” in many ways but, to be good, they must also be someone the reader can relate to.

To that end, would-be writers need to make a habit of observing those around them and noting their behavior. What kinds of things do they say? How do they relate to each other? How do they solve the problems life throws their way?

People-watching is the writer’s research.

2. Body Language
Non-verbal communication speaks volumes. Hone this skill, and learn how to use it effectively in your writing. Non-verbal communication can reveal a person’s true thoughts, feelings, and intentions.

You can use non-verbal signals to reinforce your character’s words, but you can apply it to even greater advantage by using it to belie what the character says, tipping the reader that all is not as it seems.

The most common mistake writers make is using body language to tell us something we already know. Rather, body language should tell us something we don’t know. Body language works best when it’s at odds with what’s happening.

3. Visit Your Bookshelf
This may seem a little tongue-in-cheek, but it’s fabulous advice. Every great writer will tell you so. You can’t write well if you don’t read.

Think about it. Even when you think you’re reading just for the sheer fun of it, you’re actually learning how to relate to the world, and to each other. If the characters in the stories we read are believable, we attach to them on a variety of levels.

So, explore your bookcase for favorite volumes from yesteryear. Blow the dust off one and open it up. You don’t have to get very far into it to see the concepts good writers used to create fictional characters that feel real.

No Degree Necessary
We are all individuals, distinct from one another, but we all share similar emotional inventories. Each of us has experienced (to some degree) fear, anger, humor, guilt, love, lust, hate, disgust, longing, and a myriad of other emotions.

The characters we create will be based on what we know (which includes what we have read), and will be processed by readers according to their similar experiences.

When you write something that makes a connection like that with your reader, the effect can linger long after the book is closed.

* * * * *

Gentle Readers, my books have all garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;

**********

You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

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Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

Can You Make Your Narrative Voice Sing?

January 15, 2019

Telling a story is very much like taking a picture. You choose the elements you want to include and decide on the perspective.

For instance, imagine you’re writing a story where three very different singers – let’s say, Tony Bennett, Willie Nelson and Janis Joplin – are each singing “Itsy-Bitsy Spider.”

Interesting concept … right?

I’m sure you can hear how each of them would interpret the song, making it his or her own by imprinting it with his or her unique style.

The plot doesn’t change at all from singer-to-singer; we know that persistent little arachnid will get washed out of the spout, yet will eventually triumph over adversity.

But each version’s style is determined by the singer’s tone of voice, which notes are emphasized, the tempo and the background music.

A writer has to do the same thing with words to establish style.

Which is a long way to go merely to point out it isn’t necessarily what you say, it’s the way you say it.

That’s the narrative voice.

First-Person
If your story is written in the first-person, like most of mine are, the relationship you’re developing is between the narrator and the reader. Whether you want the reader to like, dislike, admire or loathe the narrator, the most important thing is to compel the reader, to keep them turning pages.

Take this excerpt from my award-winning novel ONE WAY STREET:

*****

    As soon as the Medivac left and our cover-fire slackened, the NVA began to probe our position again from both sides.
    We had no air support as we made our way back to the top of Hill 882, where we regrouped and formed the most nervous night perimeter I ever hope to be in. We were short of just about everything, from ammunition to grenades, and weren’t supposed to be resupplied until the next morning.
    “Can I ask you something, Blake?” I said to a weary-looking Thompson when he took the position next to me.
    “Sure,” he said, adding, “Wish I could light up a fag. I really do need a cigarette.”
    “You and me both.”
    “Barrett, you don’t smoke,” Blake said.
    “Yeah, I do,” I replied. When he stared at me I added, “But only when I’m scared.”
    He chuckled a little, but still sounded nervous, “I take it your knees haven’t stopped shaking,” he said.
    “I don’t know,” I said, “my ass hasn’t stop leaking long enough to find out.”
    He broke into a loud, whooping chortle, which he tried hard to stifle. The next man in the perimeter shushed him. Blake was silent for several moments, looking from the stars in the dark sky to the safety on his M-16. “Think we’ll be OK?” he said in a whisper.
    “I wish I knew,” I said, as I reloaded my own M-16. “But I wouldn’t be giving us very good odds.”
    “I was afraid of that.” Blake’s eyes looked up at the jungle without raising his head. “Was that what you wanted to talk about?”
     I’d almost forgotten the question I’d asked him.
    “No, I was just thinking about a guy I used to know,” I said, “a friend…but you wouldn’t know him…so never mind.”
    “What was his name?” Blake turned to look at me. He had blacked his face for camouflage and muddy streaks were caked on top of it. He could have been a clown, if he smiled. Or the devil himself, if he was angry.
    “His name was Albert Parker,” I said, “He used to live right across the street from me.”
    “Good guy?”
    I thought about it a moment. “Yeah,” I said, looking over at Blake, “a really good guy.”
   “You said he used to live across the street. Did he move, or something?”
     “No,” I said, “he died.”
    “Aw, that’s too bad, man,” Blake said. He adjusted his bandolier and started to lean back against the mound of dirt behind us. “What’d he die from?”
    “Coming over here.”

*****

Even though it is all coming from the perspective of the character Barrett, hopefully you can hear the dark undertones of the situation. It’s also my hope that you’re just dying to know what happens next!

Third-Person-Omniscient
This often used POV has no restrictions as to whose perspective you use to view the fictional world. Often it seems to be a know-it-all voice outside the specific time of the story. The clearest example I can think of is the opening of Charles Dickens’ A TALE OF TWO CITIES:

*****

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

*****

In this POV, the intimacy is formed with a trusted narrator who isn’t really part of the story. The narrative voice has a wisdom about the world, and the reader must trust that this voice will continue to comment on events and put them in perspective.

Either way, always remember, description is a tool to enhance the story, the same way a frame enhances a painting. If the frame is too ornate or large, it overshadows the artwork.

It’s like stepping on the gas pedal of your car; only do so in relation to how fast you want the car to go … and remember that great Stephen King quote: “Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”

* * * * *

Gentle Readers, my books have all garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;

**********

You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

**********

Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

Are You Creating Believable Characters?

November 29, 2018


My wife and I just returned from a marvelous vacation in the Caribbean, on the island of St. Lucia. It was a great time, that passed far too quickly, but I had a lot of time to think about the writing projects I have in the works.

I spent a lot of time listening to new conversations around me. It’s something I believe will prove valuable in the coming weeks, as I return to writing, by helping make my characters believable.

Because, and I know I say it a lot, but I also know I can never say it too often … knowing how to create believable characters is vital for any fiction writer.

If you’re not careful, whether it’s the hero, the villain, an orphan, or an unwilling savior, a character can easily become too predictable.

So, how do you prevent this from happening?

Original and Memorable Physical Descriptions
Think of one of fiction’s best-loved characters, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. He has a lightning-bolt-shaped scar on his forehead. This detail alone sets him apart.

Unique body language and gestures, as well as physical ‘flaws’ or distinguishing markers, such as Harry’s scar, help to create a vivid character readers are easily able to imagine.

What physical attributes should you focus on? Think about how they might suggest certain personality elements.

Describe Eyes Carefully
One of the first things many writers do is focus on a character’s eyes. However, too many beginning writers often let that simple attribute stray into the realm of cliché.

Think about other related characteristics. Does your character have a nervous temperament? If so, he might blink more than most people, which might be far more noticeable than the color of his eyes.

Height and Posture
People often infer things about others based on their height. But don’t merely say the character is tall to make him seem commanding. Compare him to something, to make the image memorable.

Posture is another attribute that can say a lot about a character. Hunched shoulders might suggest anxiety, but this posture could also convey that a person has led a life of labor, which might also be seen in rough, callused hands.

Also, consider contradictions. For example, if an ‘ugly’ character has a seductive voice, this contradiction with reader expectations generates interest, since it creates a sense of unpredictability.

Character Development and Environment
Characters should discover new things about themselves in the course of a story. However, sometimes an unchanging status can also be important. It can be used to convey tragedy and inescapable ‘fate’, should this be the effect you want to achieve.

Give your characters core beliefs that are tested and renewed, or altered. A believable character should be just as changeable (and sometimes contradictory) in outlook and opinion as real people.

How does your character’s environment affect his personality? If, for example, your character lives through a war, does this bring out fear or courage, pro- or anti-war sentiment?

A character might discover an inner strength he never knew existed.

Paying attention to lifelike character development also will help you set individuals apart. While some characters triumph over adversity, others fail. It’s a fact of life.

Make Fictional Voices Real
Finally, if you want your characters to feel real, they should talk like real people, so make their dialogue mimic real speech.

Make sure your characters’ styles of speech fit their backstories. If a character has a troubled past, for example, think how this might have affected the way they express themselves.

Think also about colloquialisms (slang) specific to the character’s age group, location and image. If a character swears frequently, is he angry? Or simply expressive and indifferent to social taboos?

Think about what the specific words a character uses suggests about him. To create individual, distinctive voices, create a checklist you can go through for each character.

Checklist
Ask yourself:
1. What is your character’s social status?
2. What is your character’s education level?
3. Is he privileged/underprivileged in relation to other characters?
4. How does he talk to other characters as a result?
5. What does this say about his personality?
6. How old is your character? Does he speak typically for his age, or are there details that convey something out of the ordinary about him (for example, a young character who uses bigger words than normal for his age group may seem precocious).

Including this variety of personality type and language in your story will help to convince your readers your fictional world is just as vivid, varied and interesting as their own, and who knows what kind of new, excited readership that can bring?

I’m willing to find out. Are you?

* * * * *

My novel “Blood Lake” was a Readers’ Favorite Bronze Medal Winner and a ForeWord Indie Finalist. It was also named a 2018 Book-of-the-Year Finalist by TopShelf Magazine.

* * * * *

Gentle Readers, my books have all garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;

**********

You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

**********

Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.


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