Friday, March 19, 2010

Character Building 101: People, Not Names

Every writer knows that a story is not a story unless it's got good characters. Lovable (or unlovable) characters can make readers really love your book. Just remember one little rule about creating characters: Try to make them more than just names on paper. If variety is the spice of life, then personality is the spice of character building. There are a few tricks you can use to make characters better and unique, some of which I have used when creating the characters from my book: Sophia, Del, Philippe, and the Countess. By the way, I'll be using them as my examples.

Trick #1: Opposites
Characters that have personalities that are opposite of each other give your story some chemistry. Characters with opposite personalities can hate each other (like Philippe and the Countess) or they can get along perfectly (like Sophia and Del). Allow me to explain...
The Countess- meanest person on the face of the Earth. She never does anything for anyone else unless there's something in it for her and cares only for herself. So, if the Countess is the person that won't do anything for others, Philippe is the guy that's going to bend over backwards for anyone. He's very kind hearted and generous. He would always be the first to help someone who came to him in need, which kind of explains how Sophia gets mixed into this. Remember, opposite personalities can get along too. Del and Sophia are like sisters, but are completely different. Sophia is quiet, a little shy, and used to being on her own. She doesn't really want to get noticed and tries to stay under the radar. Del, on the other hand, has a personality up in the stratosphere. She's not afraid to put herself out there and stand up for herself. Unlike quiet Sophia, who tries to stay in the background, Del is more of "Look out world, here I come!" Opposite personalities are fun to play around with to see how the different personalities will react to one another. It's just like chemistry class, without things blowing up and burning your eyebrows.

Trick #2: Recognizable
Give your characters personalities that are recognizable and readers can connect to. This way your characters seem more real because when readers see it they will think "I know someone like that." It's okay for characters to have wild personalities that are out of this world, that just makes your characters even more outstanding.

Trick #3: Weakness
Remember, no one is invincible although we may want it to be that way sometimes. Characters are still human (most of the time, unless you're a fantasy writer) and everybody has weaknesses. Example #2- Sophia is a bit of an emotional wreck. On top of that, she's plagued with fears of her mistress, the Countess. Philippe is suffering from a broken heart and tends to let his gentlemanly (is that a word?) qualities stop him from fighting back when he should. Del is stubborn beyond belief. She's doesn't like letting people help her do anything; she has to prove she can do it herself. Weakness helps your characters grow and develop as people.

Trick #4: Inner Conflict
Everybody has things going on in their lives that no else knows about. The same should go for your characters. Conflict gives depth and gets readers to sympathize with your characters and what their going through. Simple as that.

Trick #5: Emotion
Another way to add depth is through emotion. If you want to make your characters people, they need to have feelings. Again, emotions help readers relate to characters and let them seem more real. When it comes to writing emotion, it's better to show than tell. It's way better to say "Her vision blurred as tears flowed freely down her cheeks and she erupted into pained sobs," than it is to say "She was sad."

It's as simple as that. Good characters need emotion, conflict, and weakness all rolled into one recognizable (or extraordinary) personality. Now, go and bring new characters and stories into the world. Happy Writing!

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Book Review of Epic Proportions

It's a book review of epic proportions! I'm reviewing not one, not two, but three-- count 'em, three-- books at once. Today's triple threat consists of The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy, The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley, and Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. First, let us travel back in time to the French Revolution in The Scarlet Pimpernel...

Synopsis: It is 1792 and France is in the grip of a seething, bloody revolution. Mobs roam the Paris streets hunting down royalists, barricade block any chance of escape and everyday hundreds die under the blade of Madame Guillotine. But in the hearts of the condemned nobility there remains one last vestige of hope: rescue by the elusive Scarlet Pimpernel. Renowned for both his unparalleled bravery and clever disguises, the Pimpernel's identity remains as much a mystery to his sworn enemy, the ruthless French agent Chauvelin, as to his devoted admirer, the beautiful Lady Marguerite Blakeney.

My Thoughts: Unlike a lot of older books I've read, The Scarlet Pimpernel is not wordy and hard to follow. It's very easy to get into this book. It's very well written and you learn some new words along the way (like flippancy). It's really a great book. If you still need something to get you excited for this book, here's a little something from chapter 10: "It does seem simple doesn't it? When you want to kill a chicken... you take hold of it... then you wring its neck... it's only the chicken that does not find it so simple. Now you hold a knife at my throat and a hostage for my obedience... You find it simple... I don't."

Next, let us travel to Brooklyn in The Haunted Bookshop...

Synopsis: The story finds Roger Mifflin once again being heard from in his own ebullient way. Mifflin has settled down and now runs a second hand bookshop in Brooklyn. No ordinary shop this, as Mifflin's sign which hangs outside the Gissing Street address will testify: "Parnassus at Home R. and H. Mifflin, Book lovers Welcome, This shop is haunted." Among the livelier spirits who inhabit "Parnassus at Home" are, besides Proprietor Mifflin and his loving wife Helen, the radiantly beautiful Titania Chapman, set to lie in the Mifflin household by her rich father in order to correct the evils of a finishing school education, the friendly dog Bock, and a young advertising man, Aubrey Gilbert, smitten by Titania's beauty and eager to learn the world of books for her sake.

My Thoughts: Trust me, this is a really good book. It's got something for everyone; there's comedy, romance, action, and mystery. It's one of a kind, I've never read anything like it, and I've read a lot of books. The Haunted Bookshop is very entertaining and impossible to put down.

Last, let us journey to Europe at the start of WWI, but forget the history books. Brace yourself, this is not the war you know. Let's dive into Leviathan...

Synopsis: It is the cusp of WWI, and all the European powers are arming up. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ fabricated animals as their weaponry. Their Leviathan is a whale ship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet. Aleksander Ferdinand, prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battle-torn Stormwalker and a loyal crew of men. Deryn Sharp is a commoner, a girl disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She's a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered. With the Great War brewing, Alek's and Deryn's paths cross in the most unexpected way... taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure. One that will change both their lives forever.

My Thoughts: I've never read any of Scott Westerfeld's books before, but this one kept appearing everywhere. When books haunt me like that, it usually means that it's a good book. This instinct has yet to be wrong. There are two sides of this story so there's twice the story, twice the adventure, twice the awesome. If you read this, be sure to read over a towel because the action will spill out and get everywhere if you don't.

And that's the triple play. You can find these books at your local library or bookstore. Happy reading!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Random Monologue #1: Amusement Parks

Here is one of the monologues I like to do for writing practice. I wrote this one at the end of the summer. Enjoy.

Amusement parks always seem more like amusement parks when the sun is going down. Right at that point when the sun is almost gone, but not quite and all the lights have been turned on. It's only then, I find, that all the sounds of the park become more defined; the applause and groans of people winning and loosing games, the shouts and screams of passengers as a roller coaster drops down that first big hill, and the soft grinding of roller coaster cars running down twisting tracks.
Despite the enticing beckoning of neon signs and bright depictions of other rides, I find myself waiting in line for a somewhat milder ride to give the adrenaline currently pulsing through my veins time to dull. I stand, hands in my pockets, waiting in line between two strangers and vaguely listening to the Demi Lovato song playing over some nearby speakers and savoring the sweet and sugary aftertaste of cotton candy.
The term "amusement park" plays with my mind. It seems so appropriate, at least to me, advertising the only reason these brightly colored, neon laden attractions exist; so people can come, ride roller coasters, play games, and forget every worldly care for one day. The whole place is designed to be hypnotic and mind numbing. The outside world disappears in the smell of hot dogs and the warm evening air of summer.
The line lurches forward unexpectedly and I rush to take my seat in my solitary car. I lean back and put my feet up on the metal lip on the front of the car. Slowly, the metal beast rumbles to life and everything starts to spin. Through the dull noise, I catch a few lines of the Demi Lovato song still playing over the speakers.

"But you're so hypnotizing,

You've got me laughing while I sing,

You've got me smiling in my sleep."*
Shouts from a nearby roller coaster blur the music. I smile. I rest my arm against the back of the car. As the ride makes another revolution in its never ending circle, all my care spins out of my thoughts and spirals into space.

*lyrics from "Catch Me" by Demi Lovato

Let me know what you think and try righting your own monologue and leave it in the comments. All you have to do is describe what's going on around you and your thoughts. It can be about anything and any length. (and yes, I do except a minimum of two words.)