Archive for the ‘How to… (Writing Tips)’ Category

Here’s the next post in this series where I discuss TV shows and movies and the knowledge that we can gain from watching them. We can apply that knowledge to our writing. As always, I never pretend to be an expert. I just like exploring my own thoughts on the matter as I write these blog posts! I welcome all comments and would love to hear what you think about this topic.

Make sure you check out my previous post, titled, “How to be the strong and silent type, with Chewbacca from Star Wars.”

Veronica Mars Season 1 Kristen BellAs writers, it can be difficult to create a flawed character. I think this comes from the fact that we put so much of ourselves in so many of our characters. And who wants to admit they’re flawed?

The truth is, however, that we are. And our characters should be too. “To err is human,” and all that. The more flawed our characters, the more believable and relateable they are.

I’ve been watching Veronica Mars with the crew for ReWatchable, a podcast we put together to rewatch oldies but goodies — those shows that aren’t airing anymore, but were so amazing we have to watch them again. In some cases, we’re introducing the show to people that have never seen it before, and they get to talk about their experiences with the superfans.

This is my role for Veronica Mars. I’ve seen bits and pieces before, but definitely not the whole thing. So far I’m loving it, and part of that has to do with Veronica Mars — the character.

Veronica is a complex character, and she’s got tons of flaws. That might sound like a bad thing, but I think it keeps her real. If she always solved the crime by dinnertime (50 points to Gryffindor if you know that reference) she would feel more like a superhero then just a plain old super sleuth.

Veronica gets things wrong sometimes. Sometimes she’s duped. And sometimes her life really, really sucks.

All of that adds up to make a three dimensional character. It’s important to remember that when building our own characters. Veronica is a little arrogant and a lot cynical. She doesn’t usually see the good in people, and sometimes that can ruin her relationships with others.

But people are really like that, and the more human they seem, the more the viewers or readers will be invested in that character. They want Veronica to be right. They want Veronica to grow as a person. They want Veronica to finally trust other people.

And when it inevitably happens, it’s going to be that much more rewarding.

Have you seen Veronica Mars? What other characters can you think of that have a lot of flaws but eventually learn and grow because of them? Do you usually have trouble writing flaws into your own characters? (I know I do.)

Here’s the next post in this series where I discuss TV shows and movies and the knowledge that we can gain from watching them. We can apply that knowledge to our writing. As always, I never pretend to be an expert. I just like exploring my own thoughts on the matter as I write these blog posts! I welcome all comments and would love to hear what you think about this topic.

Make sure you check out my previous post, titled, “How to shock the socks off your readers, with Colby Granger from Numb3rs.”

Chewy and HanHopefully you guys have read my thoughts on Star Wars as someone who has just recently watched the original trilogy for the first time. It’s pretty relevant, because we’re going to be talking about Chewbacca today!

Chewy was one of my favorite characters in the films, which is interesting because, well, he doesn’t really talk. I mean, he does speak, but not in a language we can understand.

I thought this was an interesting character trait, and something that would be quite difficult to accomplish in a novel. If your character can’t talk, how can you give them a personality? How can you tell your readers exactly what they’re thinking (assuming the POV isn’t theirs)?

The easy answer to this is to “show, don’t tell.” We’ve heard it a million times, and I think it applies here more than anywhere else. If your character can’t — or won’t — speak, the best way to show your readers exactly the type of person they are is through body language.

You should already be doing this with your other characters, but it’s doubly important if a character has no dialogue.

In the movies, Chewy’s movements were paramount to understanding him. While you could make a distinction between when he was happy or when he was upset by the sounds he made, it was much clearer when that was backed up with physical actions. Whether he was hitting someone or hugging them, it made it so much easier to understand his emotions.

A character in your book that doesn’t speak needs to do the same things. They need to interact with other people in order to show those characters what they’re thinking. A hand firmly planted on a hip versus a hand fingering the fraying hem of a shirt speak volumes of two different emotional states.

While dialogue is an important facet to your novel, so is physical action. Even more so when your character won’t be speaking at all. That physical action in place of dialogue is the literal answer to showing and not telling. A character that doesn’t speak would create a challenge for an author, I think, but one that’s definitely worth pursuing.

Do you know any characters in a book that don’t speak? How did the author get around them not being able to communicate verbally? Do you have any characters that don’t speak in your work? What’s your favorite scene starring Chewbacca? 🙂

Here’s the next post in this series where I discuss TV shows and movies and the knowledge that we can gain from watching them. We can apply that knowledge to our writing. As always, I never pretend to be an expert. I just like exploring my own thoughts on the matter as I write these blog posts! I welcome all comments and would love to hear what you think about this topic.

Make sure you check out my previous post, titled, “How to be strong and go to prom, with Allison Argent.”

Warning: Spoilers for the show Numb3rs up until the season 3 finale! Also note that I haven’t watched any episode of season 4 or beyond, so if you know more about his possible arc (or lack thereof), please don’t reveal any spoilers!

I just finished the season 3 finale of Numb3rs and was completely blind-sided.

Colby Granger Numb3rsWhat do you mean Colby was a spy for the Chinese? What do you mean he’s been duping everyone for TWO years? What do you mean he’s been in cahoots with Dwayne Carter THE WHOLE TIME.

Yeah, I never saw that coming until it literally unfolded before me.

But why? And how can we incorporate this into our own writing?

First, it’s all about the character. Colby was a good ol’ American boy. He was in the army. He was a rookie FBI agent. He was a good guy. He did his job well, he was funny, and he got along with the team. He was a team player, he got stuff done, and he looked out for his friends – particularly his partner, David.

Next, you introduce just a subtle hint that something is kind of fishy. But make sure it’s not enough that your audience KNOWS what’s going on. Maybe it raises a few eyebrows, but by the end of the episode/movie/chapter/book/etc., your audience still sides with the character and believes him to be a good guy. This happened to Colby when one of his best friends turned out to be a Chinese spy. Don [Eppes, leader of the FBI unit] didn’t like the way Colby had covered for his friend, and still didn’t trust him after Colby had basically turned his friend over to the authorities.

Then you make it seem like everything is okay. The writers of Numb3rs let a few episodes go by before they brought it up again. Everything seemed fine. There’d be a hint of what had happened here or there, but nothing obvious. Nothing in your face.

Finally, blow the lid off the whole can of a worms. In the season 3 finale, Megan [Reeves, behavioral specialist] kept asking what was wrong with Colby. He played it off. Gave some good excuses. I believed him. Then, at the last minute, the bomb dropped. The Janus List was discovered, revealing the names of multiple spies. And guess which name was last on that list?

Colby Granger.

WHAT? Yeah, I was floored. Looking back, it does make a bit of sense. He did cover for his friend. Dwayne did say that he knew things about Colby that David didn’t. Colby was acting nervous and agitated near the end of the episode. I thought Don was just overreacting whenever he wouldn’t let Colby go out on a lead by himself. But it turns out I was wrong.

Or was I?

The jury is still out. I’m not totally on board with the idea that he’s a Chinese spy. We weren’t given a solid reason as to why, and it’s possible there’s way more going on than anyone realizes. I guess I’ll just have to get watching season 4 and let you guys know if if anything changes. 😉

The point, however, does stand. The best way to shock your audience is be subtle. Don’t let them get to the point where they’ve figured everything out before you can reveal it to them. Doctor Who and Sherlock are really good at this. Then, once you get to the the climax,  at the last possible moment, rip the lid off of everything and throw caution to the wind. Don’t just give them some fireworks. Give them the Fourth of July Grand Finale Special.

Your readers will walk away breathless and wanting more.

What show or book have you watched/read that has really blown your mind? Have you ever gotten to the end of watching or reading something and felt like you had to go back and look for all the clues you missed the first time around?

Here’s the next post in this series where I discuss TV shows and movies and the knowledge that we can gain from watching them. We can apply that knowledge to our writing. As always, I never pretend to be an expert. I just like exploring my own thoughts on the matter as I write these blog posts! I welcome all comments and would love to hear what you think about this topic.

Make sure you check out my previous post, titled, “How to have a massively intelligent character without alienating your audience, with Charlie Eppes.”

Allison Argent is one of the main characters on the show Teen Wolf, and she has a complicated life. Her boyfriend is a werewolf and her parents are werewolf hunters. It’s your classic Romeo and Juliet type storyline, but with a twist.

In season 2, her parents have forced her to stop seeing Scott. Her mother – who is one intense individual, let me tell you – tells her that she has to be strong. She tells her that she shouldn’t want to be like those other girls that only worry about boyfriends and prom. Allison replies with the question, “Can’t I be strong and go to prom?”

Teen Wolf Allison Dancing

This line is a perfect summary of the type of person Allison is. She’s not a tomboy, but she’s not a girlie-girl either. She’s a perfect blend of femininity and strength.

Oftentimes, unfortunately, female characters that are presented as strong lose their softer sides. It seems that many writers have trouble balancing these two sides of a woman. Just think about Katniss. She’s tough. She’s strong. And she usually comes off as someone that is not good with emotions or vulnerability or intimacy.

And while that’s fine for a character like Katniss, whose personality has been shaped by the tragedies in her life, that won’t work for every single female protagonist (or antagonist for that matter).

Or every male protagonist. This isn’t exclusive to females, but I think we tend to pick up on it faster because we’ve been trained to see men as the heroes and females as the damsels in distress.

Teen Wolf Allison and BowThis is where Allison comes in. She’s tough. She can wield a bow like she was born with one in her hand. She’s faced down werewolves and other monstrous creatures. She’s had to deal with betrayal, tragedy, and death.

And yet, she cries. She gets scared. She loves Scott and would do anything for him. She’s smart, but she’s real. She’s a girl.

She’s complicated.

So many times writers want to have that strong female protagonist in their stories, but they end up sacrificing the complexities of the character. They become one-dimensional, and that’s no good.

So, how do you avoid that? It’s hard because your character’s circumstances have to dictate their personality. There’s a lot of things that go into making someone who they are – whether they’re a real person or fictional. But the best piece of advice I can come up with is to not limit yourself. Make them strong and tough and fearless. But nobody is like that 100% of the time. Make them weak when it comes to their family, afraid when it comes to the possibility of losing their boyfriend. Strength and weakness are not mutually exclusive. We all have our triggers, and we all have our soft spots. Our characters should too.

Who’s your favorite strong female character? Do you have a tough girl in one of your stories? How do you balance her strengths and weaknesses so she comes across like a real person?

And if you want another examples of a strong female character that is also vulnerable, check out my post on Emma Swan.

Here’s the next post in this series where I discuss TV shows and movies and the knowledge that we can gain from watching them. We can apply that knowledge to our writing. As always, I never pretend to be an expert. I just like exploring my own thoughts on the matter as I write these blog posts! I welcome all comments and would love to hear what you think about this topic.

Make sure you check out my previous post, titled, “How to turn a bad guy into a good guy, with Damon Salvatore.”

Numb3rsNumb3rs is an oldie but goodie (as in, it’s not on TV anymore) that I used to watch when it was live on TV. I never saw the whole show, or even a large part of it, but seeing as it’s on Netflix Streaming in its entirety, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stare at David Krumholtz watch it from the beginning.

If you’re unfamiliar, the show centers around two brothers. One is an FBI agent (Don) and the other is a brilliant mathematician (Charlie). (Don’t make that face. I don’t like math either. But this show is awesome.) Charlie consults for his brother and helps him solve cases. It’s a pretty basic plot, your typical procedural, but the writing is strong and the characters are dynamic and interesting.

I’m only through the first season in my rewatch, but I knew I wanted to write a post on Charlie and why he’s such a fantastic character.

You see, it’s easy to have a genius main character. They have all the answers. They can solve all the problems. They wrap up the plot in a neat little bow and look hella cool doing it. And that’s fine, to an extent. But what happens when that alienates your audience? What happens when the character is so smart the readers can’t follow along? It makes them feel stupid, and they end up putting down your book.

That’s what makes this show so great. Don is our second main character. He brings Charlie down to our level. He’s a good agent, but he’s not a genius, not like his brother. He often doesn’t understand what Charlie is saying when he starts spewing out all those mathematical terms that the average viewer won’t understand either. Don makes Charlie slow down and explain it in layman’s terms.

Without Don, the audience would say the show was too confusing and wouldn’t tune in every week.

Numb3rs Charlie 2The other great part about this is what Charlie does to explain the conclusions he comes to via his mathematical analysis. In one episode, he explains to Don that he can take the locations of various murders and use them to pin-point the area of origin – the area where the killer most likely lives. Instead of showing Don the equation and going through it step by step with him – which wouldn’t help, because Don (and the audience) wouldn’t understand – Charlie points to a sprinkler that’s sitting in their yard. Knowing where each drop has landed, he would be able to reverse their trajectory and find out exactly where they originated – where the sprinkler is located.

See, that I understand.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a clip of that scene, but here’s another one that does a good job of making math understandable and interesting:


 
The same thing happens in Sherlock. John Watson isn’t on Sherlock’s level, and when Sherlock has to explain something to him, he’s indirectly explaining it to us too. Sherlock by himself wouldn’t be as interesting or as engaging. He would mostly just be looking at things for a few seconds, telling the cops who did it, and walking away. At least with John there, he has to take the time to bring him into the loop, along with the audience.

So, how do you do this in your book? If you’ve got a super-intelligent character (ie. Hermione), make sure there’s another character that your audience can better relate to (ie. Harry or Ron). It’s not that your audience isn’t intelligent – and this is by no means me telling you to dumb down your story in order to make it more understandable – it’s that extremely intelligent characters often need an Average Joe to slow them down and tell them to explain their conclusions. Otherwise, you have something like:

*Sherlock walks into a room, looks around*
“Mrs. Pennyworth was killed by Mr. Jacobson with a curling iron and a box of tissues at 8:36 yesterday morning.”
*Sherlock walks out of the room*

Sure, that’s all fine and dandy, but it makes the solutions to the problems seem too easy and too obvious, even when they’re not.

Plus, let’s face it, most people don’t have an IQ equal to Sherlock’s. We need someone like John to make him talk in English.

Do you have a super intelligent main character? How do you make him or her relatable? Who’s your favorite smart person on TV? Have you ever seen Numb3rs?

Here’s the next post in this series where I discuss TV shows and movies and the knowledge that we can gain from watching them. We can apply that knowledge to our writing. As always, I never pretend to be an expert. I just like exploring my own thoughts on the matter as I write these blog posts! I welcome all comments and would love to hear what you think about this topic.

Make sure you check out my previous post, titled, “How to write a dynamic character arc, with Caroline Forbes.”

It’s been a couple of months since I’ve written anything in this series, but it’s always been one of the more popular ones, and I figured I should probably get back into it! Not only is it fun to discuss our favorite characters and see how their stories can relate to our own writing, but I really just have a good time talking about them in general.

Especially Damon Salvatore.

See, I figured something else out. You guys like it when I talk about Damon. He is consistently (I may as well just use the world “always” here) the top search term people use to find my blog. The previous post I wrote about him (“How to write about guilt, with Damon Salvatore”) was the first post in this series, and still gets hits each and every day.

And, hey. Who am I to argue with statistics?

Besides. Just look at him.

Damon Salvatore TVD

Damon is, of course, one half of the Salvatore brothers on The Vampire Diaries. When we first meet him, Damon is not a good guy. He kills people without remorse. He revels in the fact that he’s a vampire. He manipulates people. And he does everything he can to steal Elena away from Stephan, just to get one up on him.

But here’s the thing. Damon slowly becomes a good guy. We’re into the fourth season now, and he’s still not quite there. Sure, he’s loads better than he was back in season 1, but he still messes up. He still goes out of his way to annoy people. He still tries to take Elena away from Stefan. Except now he’s not doing it to get one up on his brother. Now he’s doing it because he loves Elena.

Now he cares about her.

And that’s the key. You can turn any bad character into a good character by giving them something to care about. It doesn’t matter what they’ve done in their past, as long as they’re willing to change and as long as they feel remorse. For Damon, the catalyst to his change was Elena.

It happened subtly. You saw him stop trying to manipulate her. You saw him (mostly) stop killing people. You saw him do things or not do things because he knew what she would say if she knew what he was up to. You saw him start actively being a better person, because he knew it was what she wanted (even if she didn’t know it yet herself!).

And in our writing, these subtleties must also be present. Girls love the bad boy, and I’ve read plenty of books with an MC like this. But the change can’t happen all at once. For most of these tragic, damaged characters, they’ve been living their lives like this for years. Most likely since they were kids.

I’m sorry, but no girl is going to make a guy drop his personality and change at a moment’s notice just because he has feelings for her. He’s going to screw up. And he’s going to keep screwing up. And he’s going to screw up again, until he figures out that he actually wants to change because it’s not only the best for the person he’s in love with, but also for himself.

It’s a beautiful story arc for any character – guy or girl. Damon is a perfect example of it because he’s still not all the way there. He’s not Stefan, not someone who automatically thinks of others and tries to do the best thing for everyone just because it happens to be the best thing for everyone. Damon isn’t as selfish as he once was, but he often doesn’t care what happens to a majority of the other characters, so long as Elena is okay.

He’s flawed, but he’s allowed to be. He should be. You don’t go from being a merciless vampire who doesn’t respect pretty much any human life to a fuzzy bunny of a vampire overnight. Life doesn’t work that way, and art is an imitation of life. We must reflect the flawed, complex, contradictory nature of humans (or vampires!) in our writing in order for it to be realistic.

Is your MC a bad guy (or girl) gone good? How did you pull it off? Do you like the new Damon, or did you like him better in season 1?

Here’s the next post in this series where I discuss TV shows and movies and the knowledge that we can gain from watching them. We can apply that knowledge to our writing. As always, I never pretend to be an expert. I just like exploring my own thoughts on the matter as I write these blog posts! I welcome all comments and would love to hear what you think about this topic.

Make sure you check out my previous post, titled, “How to be neurotic, with Schmidt.”

Just about any writer can create a character that everyone will love. Like Ron from Harry Potter or Lucy from Narnia. They’re fun and likeable and endearing. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But one of the greatest talents an author can have is to create a character that you dislike, and then slowly make you fall in love with them. I think The Vampire Diaries does this in a great way. Damon, especially, but even Rebekah and Klaus fall into this category.

But today we’re going to talk about Caroline.

When we meet her in season 1, she doesn’t seem to have a lot of (any?) redeeming qualities. She’s selfish, insensitive, insecure, bratty, and shallow. Although she’s best friends with Elena, she feels she has to compete with her for everything – Bonnie’s friendship, boys, and cheerleading, just to name a few.

As the season progresses, Caroline begins a relationship with Elena’s ex-boyfriend Matt. She starts to change as a result of this, but the old Caroline rears its ugly head more often than not. In the second season, Caroline is turned into a vampire. At first, she struggles with it, like all new vampires do. Her personality is heightened. Where she would have been quietly envious before, now she is furiously jealous. Her possessiveness and insecurities are even more pronounced.

But she starts to get a handle on it. She learns how to be a vampire and, oddly enough, how to really be herself. She becomes aware of her flaws and actively works to change her less than favorable habits. She becomes more confident in herself, and the rest of her personality (the good parts) shines through. She’s a strong and fiercely loyal friend. She’s one of the kindest and most trustworthy people on the show.

Caroline’s arc was well-played. It took the better part of two seasons for her to grow into herself, but it really paid off. She’s an integral part of the group now and does everything in her power to always do the right thing. She’s my favorite female character on the show.

So, how do we do this in our own writing? The first thing is to set up an unlikeable character. Pick some traits and apply them to this person, keeping in mind they need reasons to act this way. In season 1, Caroline felt she was second best to Elena at everything, and that’s why she felt inferior and did her best to have everything that Elena did.

Then something needs to change this person. They need a reason to grow and come into their positive qualities. For Caroline, it was becoming a vampire. She realized that the world was a much bigger place and that there were larger problems to deal with than who she went to the decade dance with. Though, granted, this was still a big deal to her! You can’t change their personalities completely – Caroline still has her flaws and there’s still a shadow of her former self in there, but you need to make us believe that the character has changed.

This change has to happen over time. Caroline struggled with her heightened emotions and personality for some time before she was able to get a grip on her cravings and outbursts. And when she changed, it was a marked difference from how she used to be. Even though there needs to be a touch of that “other” person still in the character, we need to trust that they are a different person now.

What do you think of Caroline? Did you enjoy seeing her change over the last couple of seasons? Is there another character you can think of who had a similar storyline? The first one that came to my mind was Cordelia from Buffy.