As writers, we deal with constant challenges developing characters, constructing workable plots, and keeping our readers engaged as they travel through 300 plus pages. For this post, I’m focusing on developing fleshed out characters.
Create vision boards with your characters in the center. I prefer to create one vision board per character. However, you can create a vision board for up to three main characters of your novel. Cut out images from magazines that reflect the personality traits and passions of your characters. Make sure you include their occupation, marital status, and dreams on the board.
Pretend you are a journalist and interview your characters. Ask them what motivates them to get out of bed each morning. What do they desire most? And how will they strategize to reach their goals?
Design a chart with your characters’ strengths and weaknesses. Make sure that you include their blind spots such as weaknesses seen and witnessed by the other characters. We all have blind spots. And these blind spots help us develop our stories.
Write lists of the characters’ physical attributes. This includes hair color, eye color, body type, and their clothing style.
Write a chapter in the first person so that you can get into the character’s head. You can continue writing your novel in the first person or return to writing in the third person.
Creating fleshed out characters means that we step outside of our own minds and hearts. We birth characters from our imagination and yet, they are separate entities from us. Characters should surprise and shock us instead of coming across as navel-gazing. Just like a parent must let their children find their own way in the world through making mistakes and taking risks, so must our characters. It’s only our job to create worlds, experiences, and problems for our characters to experience.
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If you aren’t fortunate in having a spouse or best literary friend to beta read your drafts as you write a best-selling novel, here are some tips. I have never rewritten an entire novel starting at a blank page. Instead, I chose a much safer route–safer that is, for my ego.
I usually edit or proofread as I go along. So each day I begin my writing process by going over the previous day’s work. I don’t catch every error this way, but I’m able to stay on top of the story and strengthen my prose, which gets stronger with every chapter. Often times I find out that my ending is spectacular but the beginning of the novel pales in comparison.
If I run across this situation, then I might rewrite the entire first chapter or at least, cut the fat of unneeded dialogue, long sentences, and paragraphs that don’t go anywhere. I also whittle down the description by combining verbs with nouns, something I learned as a journalist years ago. I enjoy sharpening sentences and making them bounce off the page, but when I sharpen sentences then I find I must also sharpen paragraphs.
I look for sentences that clunk along and I either rewrite those sentences or I toss them if they don’t propel the story forward. In fact, any words or sentences that impede the story’s flow ends up in the desktop recycle bin. Next, I look for on-the-nose dialogue and delete it. I clean up phrases that seem redundant when combined with dialogue such as, he shouted, “Darn those Yankees!” Obviously if I’ve used an exclamation mark for punctuation, we already know that the person is shouting.
I then look at sentence structure since good sentences flow into each other and should delight the reader. So if every sentence begins with a noun or pronoun, then I go in and rewrite the sentences adding, “however,” “meanwhile,” “as,” or “Looking in the opposite direction, he scanned the horizon…” In other words, I look for more creative sentence starters beyond the simplistic noun-verb-preposition formula. However, if you are trying to create a staccato effect, then the noun-verb could work when in the right hands.
Next I look at character descriptions to make sure that they are congruent throughout the story so a character doesn’t start out with blonde hair and blue eyes and then six chapters later, she’s a brown-eyed brunette. I’ve actually caught such errors and end up chuckling to myself. This type of problem doesn’t occur if you storyboard your characters ahead of time and you nailed down their physical attributes down to the types of clothing they wear. One man I spoke with about character descriptions told me to cut photographs out of magazines and place them on a board so that I could keep track of my crowd of characters. I love this idea.
Obviously, if you have a chamber or small cast of characters, then you’ll not run into this problem. I write multiple narrative novels often so I confuse characters with each other. I also recommend storyboards for the plot, timeline, and main events in the story so that you don’t run into story descrepencies down the road. You don’t want the reader scratching her head saying,” Wait a minute, I thought this character was captured in chapter four so how is she captured again in chapter six when she’s already in jail?” It happens.
Last but not least, end every chapter with a page-turner also known as a cliffhanger. I learned this trick when I posted my stories on Authonomy many years ago. This involves cleaning up the last paragraph, often deleting it from each chapter. You can end with dialogue as long as the character asks a question or you can end with, “then she heard a knock at the door, but when she went to answer the door, it wasn’t who she expected.” (Or something to that effect). Basically, your job as an author is to tease the reader and get them to continue to the next chapter.
So start a novel strong and end it on a powerful note. Don’t drop the ball along the way and know your characters and story lines inside out. You’ll know you’ve done this when you can whittle your story down to a single sentence description or to a five minute elevator pitch. And actually, you require a good grasp of your story when you write the synopsis and the shorter pitch. I learned this when I wrote screenplays and it’s not something we learn overnight–takes practice and the help from editors or writing colleagues. (I’ll get to writing pitches in a future post).
Resources that prove helpful during the rewriting process include back issues of writing magazines such as Writer’s Digest or The Writer which you can find at your local library. And speaking of libraries, ask your librarian where they keep writing craft books, which may or may not prove helpful. Some authors prefer freedom from writing dogma and rules. I have found myself rebelling at times.
The more you write (I recommend writing every day, even Sunday), the stronger your writing muscle becomes and you also hone your intuition that serves you in the writing process. After all, a good author goes with the flow.
I am an intuitive coach who specializes in motivating and inspiring artists and other creative types. Sign up for a session at Metaphysics 4 Everyday Living or e-mail me at wholemusicexp at gmail
I pulled this post off of my other blog, Bonjour Bellingham. It makes more sense to have this post here.
As Authors we face the challenge of transforming stories in our imaginations into images and sensual text. And in fact the greatest challenge novelists face comes when they create flesh and blood characters from intangible imaginings. But don’t fret, I have a solution…
I started reading a library copy of Martha Alderson’s The Plot Whisperer and I love the author’s idea for creating collages for characters and plot. She inspired me to create three vision boards yesterday (two for my completed fourth novel and one for a novel in progress) featuring my characters and setting. And don’t just stop with collages and vision boards, create scrapbooks for setting, plot, back story, the characters’ astrological charts, and images that resemble the characters that roam through the imagination.
First, you require a pile of old magazines, a pair of scissors, large sheets of paper and crafting glue/glue stick. Optional–music that connects you to your character. For instance, while I worked on my vision boards for my novel Love Quadrangle, I listened to Bach’s Goldberg Variations. This piece of music runs as a theme throughout my novel so this helped me feel the energies of my characters and story.
Second, rip or cut out any magazine image that relates to your characters, their setting, their hobbies, interests or to scenes in your novel (helps if you have at least written a rough draft). Then arrange and paste the images on large pieces of paper.
Third, cut out words from magazines that describe your characters or the themes of your story and paste those on the boards along with the images. If you choose to go the scrapbook route, then just do the same on the scrapbook pages.
The downside of the scrapbook is that you have to remind yourself to look through it periodically so you can pick up the energies of your characters, setting and story. The upside is that it saves wall space and you can keep the book neatly next to your computer.
If you went with the vision boards, hang them above your work space and glance at them often. I find that the boards help with building story, developing character further and help you to empathize with your characters. Just like Law of Attraction followers use vision boards to manifest their heart desires in the world, the vision boards for novels can also manifest your novel into the hands of publishers and not just through magic and synchronicity.
I found that my novel came to life even more after I made the boards because now I could finally see my characters as real people. My passion expanded and when our passion expands we send out strong positive energy to the Universe. The Universe responds. Suddenly something that seemed intangible one minute took on new life, like a seed sprouting and growing into a fruiting plant.
The magic happens because we delve into our subconscious mind and so we’re even able to solve plot and story problems as we give our left brain a rest. In the creative process our thoughts and feelings flow through us and so do solutions. It’s the same as taking our mind off a problem and going for a walk then returning home with inspired action.
I first heard about vision boards when I did Julia Cameron’s program The Artist’s Way. In one of her chapters, she included an exercise of ripping images from magazines (without analyzing the images) and pasting them on large sheets of paper or notebooks. I put the collages away in a closet, then months later when I pulled out the collages, I noticed how many of the images manifested in my life without me giving much thought at the time. I believe that the subconscious mind has a direct link to our souls so this explains the magic somewhat.
So find some magazines, large sheets of paper, markers, glue, and scissors then vision board your completed or drafted novel. This process will also help us manifest movies for our novels since we put energy behind actual images. What do you have to lose? And it’s fun.
If you want to enhance the fun part of the process, blow bubbles, use color crayons, and listen to your favorite childhood music. Add sparkles and stickers. This gets you in touch with your innocence and inner child where true creativity lies. Don’t forget to let me know how it goes.