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Developing Characters

Saturday, January 14th, 2012


When developing characters for your stories, you need not only a physical description, and general background, but also habits, wants, memories, favorites and fears, Hopes and hatreds. There should be a reason for everything your character does in the story. The grown man who gulps down his food because he grew up the youngest in a family of nine children. The female engineer who’s afraid to voice her opinion, imagining her father telling her “nice girls don’t do that”.


Sometimes actual people can be used as a framework for your characters.   The operative word here is “framework”.


1. Take one or two characteristics from a real person. The way she snaps her fingers as she thinks. Or the way his smile lights up his face making him look boyish. Or maybe take her curly blond hair, or his smoky gray eyes. But don’t develop an entire character around a real person.


But you may argue, “My uncle is such a card; no one will believe he’s real.” Until, other members of your family start pointing out how much your such-and-such character reminds them of Uncle Joe. So, if you must have your character bray a laugh like Uncle Joe’s, make sure he looks nothing like him, or has enough other interesting habits to minimize the comparison.


2. Create combination characters. If you chose characteristics from people you know, create combination characters. How about combining your mother’s love of cooking, Cousin Thelma’s red curls, and Aunt Flora’s ability for snappy comments into one character.


This is also useful for the antagonists in your story. If you have the “bad guy” resemble a friend or family member, friction could develop between you and the real person. But if the evil-doer has your brother’s limp, a friend’s large hands, and cousin Adam’s constant sniffles, then they’re just characteristics, and can come from anywhere.


3. The good, the bad, and the humorous. Everyone has bad habits, even the hero and heroine. The antagonist should have some good habits or characteristics, too. A fully fleshed-out character has a good side, a bad side; a public persona and a private one. Miss “Goody-Two-Shoes” may turn into a witch and cast an evil spell or two in the privacy of her own dark cave. Mr. “Stay-Away-If-You-Value0-Your-Sanity” may be the best dad in the world to his motherless children.


And a bit of humor never hurt. The female student who swipes her favorite male teacher’s favorite pen, then finds a spreading spot of ink on her sweater when she meets him in the hall. (No one told her he used a real ink pen.) The young boy who hides a puppy in his room and it gets out and eats his father’s socks.


4. Individual history. If your character does something “out of character”, make sure there’s a reason in his background to explain it. The prominent businessman who steals candy because he never had enough money when he was young. The attractive female executive who doesn’t know how to talk to men because she was teased for being shy and clumsy all through school.     


You don’t need to put the reason right before the unusual action. It can be mentioned briefly at the beginning, or referred to during conversation. But, like a well-woven tapestry, that shows new details at every inspection, it should be there.


5. Forms and Profiles. There are many character profile forms out there. They should include: physical description, education, family history, former employment, travel experience, outlook on life, innermost hopes, favorite things, secret fears, habits, ambitions, and friends and family members. It can include important past incidents and secrets.        


How do you develop your characters? Do you use profile forms or simply write a brief “history” for each? Do you take characteristics from actual people or do you create them completely from fiction?  


Other articles of interest:

1. Janis Hubschman’s: Creating Characters at




Stretch Your Reading Muscles

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012



It’s the start of a new year and I’ve set a goal of blogging at least once a week (for now, it could go up later). The focus of this blog has changed. From now on, the postings will be more concerned with writing matters as opposed to the current events as it has in the past. I’m not sure how articles will be divided between here and the section, but matters will resolve over time.


Let me start off by saying I’ve always been a reader. I cut my reading molars on science fiction and fantasy. Over the years, my tastes have grown and diversified into horror, crime, thrillers, mystery, and suspense. I never got into either romance or historicals, but occasionally read Womens Fiction.


My CP (Crit Partner) writes YA with a distinctive Scottish flavor. So, when I heard about two series — the Highlander series by Karen Marie Moning and the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, I managed to get copies of both. (This isn’t always possible for me as being visually challenged, I only have access to those books that have been recorded.)


While I enjoyed Moning’s Fever series, I haven’t appreciated the Highlander series as much, as they are basically romances. But Gabaldon’s series blew me away.


Did I mention I don’t usually read either romance or historicals?


The first Outlander book drew me in and captured my attention from the get-go. I’m on the fifth book, “The Fiery Cross” and intend to finish the series. These books, by the way, are all good sized books. The shortest one is at least 500 pages,   and the one I’m reading is over 900 pages.


Usually, I try to read and analyze at the same time. For the Outlander series, it worked for a page or two, but then the story wrapped itself around me and I’d be back in the Scottish past with Claire and Jamie. There is a bit of fantasy in each book, but it’s the excellent writing that keeps me reading. The characters are so believable you find yourself giving them advice on what to do and how to do it. One of my favorites is Jocasta Cameron, Jamie’s blind aunt. She’s depicted as a strong woman who lost her sight — which to me smacks of reality. Being in her situation, I feel her frustration, aggravation, and annoyance when people either don’t tell her what’s going on, or ignore her. Give the series a try, maybe like me, you’ll like it.


Which brings me to the second part of this article — stretching your reading muscles. I write Urban Fantasy, so tend to read a lot of it. But since I have police detectives and other officials in my books, I also read crime and detective fiction. I try to learn something from every book I read, no matter how small. How to set a certain mood, how to use an expressive gesture to its best effect, or blending in description without using narrative. Showing a character’s actions or reactions instead of telling how she feels. Every author can teach you something, even if it’s how not to do something. And one of the best ways to do this is to read authors in genres other than the ones you feel comfortable in.


I don’t like westerns or books concerning wars. But I’ve read some and have picked up new ways to write action scenes, though I’d leave out all the rot about describing the weaponry. (Thanks but no thanks, Tom Clancy.) And I’m reading more romance, but tend toward the paranormal or romantic suspense. One of my favorites is J. D. Robb’s Eve Dallas series; a blend of science fiction and romance.


So, this year, go forth and read. Pick a genre at random and give something new a try. You may like it. Spread your reading wings and soar!   


It’s Nanowrimo Time!

Monday, November 1st, 2010


It’s Nanowrimo time.

Don’t sit there wasting time,

Write, and let your writing shine,

During Nanowrimo time!


For those of you who aren’t aware of the significance of November, it’s  Nanowrimo month. Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Notice how the first letters of each word are used to make up the name, who woulda thunk it? The point of this posting is to let you know I will be taking part in Nanowrimo this year, so my posting to this blog may (read as will definitely) grow a little lax. Feel free to chart my progress with me at the associated blog


Or use the link marked Barbaras Writing to get there.


The POLAD stands for Passages of Light and

Darkness and is where I’ll be posting my writing, and publishing attempts. If you’re interested stop on over. And though this month posting will be sparse, I’ll be back in December. Take care.