PEERING OUT FROM UNDER A ROCK: Character Breakthrough

by Normandie Fischer, @WritingOnBoard

Holiday planning and travel shoveled silence on top of my writing time again. In spite of that—or maybe because of the down time and those moments of writing when I couldn’t, of note taking and thinking—I had a breakthrough.

(Isn’t that a delicious word? Breakthrough. Breaking through the confusion. Breaking through the sludge of exhaustion.)

Until then, I hadn’t realized I had a major story question that needed answering. I was pantsing along (as opposed to filling in plot holes ahead of time), writing in snatches, taking those notes, and thinking about the scene in front of me. But because a story written that way tends to stall during down time, I turned to the tried-and-true, outline-so-you-know-what’s-coming-next method that might let me actually move forward.

I already knew my bad guy would have an ah-ha moment, but self-awareness wasn’t his strong suit. And putting someone else first? He’d never done it. Everything he did had a selfish motivation, and consequences to others mattered not at all.

So how did I imagine he’d make this out-of-character decision? I couldn’t just toss in a deus ex machina to rescue him or give him a sudden finding-Jesus moment.

You’ve probably run into a contrived plot device where some unexpected power or event shows up to save the day. Deus ex machina literally means “god from the machine,” a device where a new character flies to the rescue (where did he come from?) or where something unexpected and unexplained happens so that the story problem is miraculously fixed.

I’m not suggesting that miracles don’t happen or that people can’t experience a radical change of attitude and behavior. But these changes have to make sense.

The Essential Scenes in every best-seller

Essential scenes cover

Create a powerful story with these essential scenes!

We hate spam too, so we won't send you any. Promise. Powered by ConvertKit

Our characters should face challenges that either propel their growth or stall it. Many antagonists stall, which is why they get to play the bad guys. Most protagonists grow and change, which is why they get the heroic roles, even if they’re merely the hero of their own life. But whatever a character’s role, there has to be something in his history or his personality that will make his shift (or his stagnation) believable. As authors, our job is to set the stage and provide enough background that readers will think ah ha! instead of huh?

 Remember A Tale of Two Cities? If Dickens hadn’t deepened the character of Sydney Carton to show his hopeless love for our heroine, we’d never have understood the power of his sacrifice—and we’d have felt cheated. But because Dickens fleshed out this bad guy, we rooted for him and agonized for him when he offered himself for the sake of true love. Dickens thus turned an anti-hero into a hero.

Back to my stalled work in progress.I had a beginning and an outcome, along with the shift in circumstances that would set the stage for character change. BUT, an about-face for my villain would require more. There had to be something about him that would propel readers into a sigh and an of course he’d choose that route.

All good stories show character growth and change, but not all have characters who make a truly radical shift in attitude and behavior from bad to good (or good to bad). We love the thief turned hero, the murderer who saves a child’s life, the careless vagabond who morphs into family man. But if we’re going to write these characters into our story, we need to give them a reason for the shift, just as Dickens did for Sydney.

I try to figure these things out when I create character sheets, but this time I’d obviously left a gaping hole or two. I’d figured out what had lured my antagonist to villainy. Now I needed to know what in him (or his past) might propel him to leave his hedonistic life. What about him might allow self-sacrifice?

I’m happy to say that my other books worked their way to character completion in a much more orderly fashion. I wrote; they spoke; the picture revealed itself. But if one must take time off for whatever reason, it’s serendipitous to have that time off present a key piece of information.

Aiming for the gold here, right?


Twilight Christmas

Two orphans. A big sister with Down Syndrome. And a community in need of miracles.

It’s up to ten-year-old Louis to protect Linney from the bad men. He knows what can happen to handicapped kids. He’s seen it before.

Only, it’s getting harder and harder to keep her warm and safe in this old storage barn as Christmas celebrations unfold around them.

And then there’s Annie Mac and her crew, who are involved in the pageant excitement. So is Lieutenant Clay Dougherty, her kids’ faux-father and the man who still makes her yearn for a whole lot more than she’s comfortable offering, especially when she’s plagued by crazy-making nightmares.

So many questions: Can Louis save his sister? And will Annie Mac find the peace she needs? What about poor Clay and the other Beaufort folk?

Normandie Fischer studied sculpture in Italy before receiving her BA, summa cum laude with special honors in English. Known for her women’s fiction—Becalmed (2013), Sailing out of Darkness (2013), and Heavy Weather (2015)—she ventured into the realm of romantic suspense with the release of Two from Isaac’s House. In early 2016, a novella, From Fire into Fire, will continue the Isaac House saga. Normandie and her husband spent a number of years on board their 50-foot ketch, Sea Venture, sailing in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico. They now live in coastal North Carolina, where she takes care of her aging mother. You can find Normandie on her websiteFacebook, and Amazon.

7 Character Non-Negotiables

by Michelle Griep, @MichelleGriep

What’s more important . . . plot or character? Yeah, that’s a loaded question. The answer is they’re both important. But today let’s focus on character.

To make a really great character—meaning one that sticks in a reader’s mind for a long time after they shut the book—you need to have a few essential elements. Okay, I lied. It’s more like seven.

1. Conflict

Is your character feeling like life is all rainbows and happiness and their pants aren’t digging in at the waist? Too bad. You’ve got to mess it up all up for him. Make it rain. Break his happy bones. Give him a weight gain of five hundred pounds.

2. Desire

What does your character want? He’s got to want something. A burp to ease his heartburn. A new Porsche. Maybe some Smart Wool socks because his toes are cold. What’s his goal and what’s motivating him to get there?

3. Confusion

Misdirect your character and you misdirect the reader. That’s a good thing. As long as you’re keeping your character guessing, you’re keeping your reader guessing as well. Just make sure to tie things up by the end of the story and make everything clear.

4. Credibility

Your character has to deserve his losses and earn his victories. Coincidence won’t cut it or your reader will slice you to pieces with a one-star review—a sharp, pointy, throwing-ninja star.

5. Flaws

Nobody loves a perfect character. They’re annoying. Every character needs to have some kind of flaw, even if it’s just a zit on the end of her chin. Okay, that’s annoying too. Don’t use that flaw. Make up a better one.

6. Cluelessness

Don’t make your characters all knowing, unless your character is God, and that seems kind of heretical. The point is that it’s fun for the reader to know something the character doesn’t. Makes the reader feel all superior and hey-look-at-me-I’m-brilliant.

7. Success

Every now and then your character needs to be successful. Yeah, you’re supposed to be upping the stakes, leading to a blood-gory climax, but along the way the reader needs a break. Put little park benches of wins for your character to give the reader a rest from the action.

Next time you’re working on an epic, make sure to include these traits in your main characters.

TWEETABLES
7 Character Non-Negotiable by Michelle Griep (Click to Tweet) 

What’s more important . . . plot or character? Michelle Griep (Click to Tweet) 

__________

12 Days at Bleakly Manor

Imprisoned unjustly, BENJAMIN LANE wants nothing more than freedom and a second chance to claim the woman he loves—but how can CLARA CHAPMAN possibly believe in the man who stole her family’s fortune and abandoned her at the altar? Brought together under mysterious circumstances for the Twelve Days of Christmas, Clara and Ben discover that what they’ve been striving for isn’t what ultimately matters . . . and what matters most is love.

Author Michelle Griep

Michelle Griep’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. She is the author of historical romances: The Innkeeper’s Daughter, 12 Days at Bleakly Manor, The Captive Heart, Brentwood’s Ward, A Heart Deceived, Undercurrent andGallimore, but also leaped the historical fence into the realm of contemporary with the zany romantic mystery Out of the Frying Pan. If you’d like to keep up with her escapades, find her at www.michellegriep.com or stalk her on FacebookTwitter, or Pinterest.the next level.

Building Your Characters from the Inside – Part 4: Epiphany

by Susan May Warren

By now, you should have figured out how to make your character suffer, and what his Black Moment is going to look like (and if not, that’s okay – just go and reads parts 1-3 at these links: Part 1:Values, Part 2:Conflict, and Part 3:Black Moment). Today, we’re going to talk EPIPHANY.

What is Epiphany? It’s the moment, right at the darkest in the plot when the character wakes up to the truth that has been dogging him the entire book and goes, AHA! (Accompanied by a little hand-to-head thump).

It’s the moment when they figure it out, or perhaps the moment when they reach DEEP INSIDE to gather up the strength – physical or emotional that they didn’t know they had, to complete the task.

How do we find that? 


Hint #4: Give the Character a new look on life

Start by asking your Character: Where do you belong?

HUH?
Listen, we all belong to different groups in society…whether we want to or not. For example…when I watch television, I gravitate toward the Home/Garden channel, What not to Wear and Alias reruns. Because I want to be a woman with a beautiful home, the right appearance and a strong, adventurous life. We put ourselves in the groups we want to belong to…not the real groups in which we actually belong. I wouldn’t willingly put myself in the harried homeschool mom group, although that is sometimes my reality. Nor the “Sometimes I wear my pajamas until noon” group, although…again, that happens often enough for me to have legitimate membership. My handyman Joe, from my book Happily Ever After, doesn’t want to acknowledge that he belongs in the “Loser in Relationships” group, At the same time, he knows he doesn’t belong in the Happily Ever After group. Yet that dream is there – to have a family,

When we’re writing a Christian book, there has to be a spiritual component to the plotting, God’s handiwork woven through the plot. Instead of Joe seeing himself in the Happily Ever After category…I needed to bring him to the place where he sees himself as Belonging to God. As God’s child.

What does that mean for your character? Let’s go back to the greatest dream and greatest fear answer from Hint #1: Everyone has a dream. But something keeps them from achieving that dream – maybe it’s a lie they’ve believed. Maybe it’s a secret they’ve harbored. Maybe is a sin they committed. For Joe, his dream is to restore his family. But he’s afraid of his own weakness, his own fear that he’ll be just like his father and leave under pressure. So, in order to change, and move into the Happily Ever After group, he’ll have to see God as his strength.

Up until now, your character has been largely egocentric (with the exception of the noble cause). Now, God brings him this last step. Overwhelmed, at the black moment, ready to withdraw with his security blanket, he gets to see God reach out and save him. And the thing is, if you’ve written the story right, in a way that the reader not only connects with your character, but sees himself in that character’s shoes, God’s intervention can extend from the pages into the readers heart. It can minister, and change lives. In this “AHA” moment, your character sees that lesson that God has been about teaching him. Whether it’s letting go, or forgiving, or trusting in God for strength.

So – what will it take to move your character from the place/group he is in now to the NEW place he’ll belong to at the story’s end? What truth? What act? What AHA?

Now, as a writer, you know what needs to happen on your character’s journey.

  1. Establish your character’s identity , and along the way reveal his motivations. That’s your back-story.
  2. Remind us of his values and his purpose in life.
  3. Establish his competence.
  4. Chip away at his competence until everything falls apart.
  5. Throw in the black moment just as his greatest fears are about to come true, that moment when he has to battle between his inner values, and face the choice of reverting to security mode, or changing.
  6. Change his life with an Aha moment that make him able to grow and, hopefully, reminds us that God is at work in our own lives.

Creating a character doesn’t have to be about mining your brain for interesting quirks. Simply sit down with your hero/heroine and have a little chat. (Preferably in a room with a closed door where no one can hear you!) Hopefully you’ll discover a character who leaps from the page and into your reader’s hearts.

Don’t forget if  you missed parts 1-2 you can find them at: 
If you want to know more and take your characters even deeper, at Novel.Academy, we’re diving deep into the editing process with a series called Extreme Book Makeover! We’ll be looking at everything from the structure and characterization, to scenes, scene tension, storyworld, dialogue, emotions, wordsmithing and even polishing your novel. Get that course, and over 100 more when you join Novel.Academy. Check out our free lessons and see for yourself!

Your Story Matters. Go, Write Something Brilliant!

Susie May

TWEETABLES

What will it take to move your character to the NEW place~ Susan May Warren (Click to Tweet)

Susan May Warren is owner of Novel Rocket and the founder of Novel.Academy. A Christy and RITA award-winning author of over fifty novels with Tyndale,BarbourSteeple HillSummerside Press and Revell publishers, she’s an eight-time Christy award finalist, a three-time RITA Finalist, and a multi-winner of theInspirational Readers Choice award and the ACFW Carol. A popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation, she’s also the author of the popular writing method, The Story Equation. A full listing of her titles, reviews and awards can be found at: www.susanmaywarren.com. Contact her at:susan@mybooktherapy.com.

The Inner Turmoil of Your Characters

by S. Dionne Moore

We all have an inner demon, that one area of our life or tragic event of our past that we struggle to overcome. This inner demon doesn’t have to be something terrible; it can be something as simple as pride or a tendency toward selfishness. For many of us it’s more than one thing. Some people wear their inner demons for all to see, or talk about them ad nauseaum. On the flip side, there are those who are reticent to speak of their struggles or who hide them well. In our stories, inner turmoil is an essential element to creating a realistic hero or heroine, and how each character shows or doesn’t show their inner turmoil makes for some great characterization.

As writers, we go to great lengths to develop outside obstacles for our characters to overcome, often forgetting to make the hero/heroine real to our reader. A reader will connect with a character whose inner conflict they can relate to. Before you set pen to paper, or fingertips to keyboard, know your Most Likely Reader (MLR) and target a problem common to their age group.

With my MLR being mothers whose children are grown and gone, the heroine in my debut novel, Murder on the Ol’ Bunions, begins to experience the full onslaught of Empty Nest Syndrome as one by one her children cancel their plans to come home for Easter dinner. Empty Nest Syndrome taps into LaTisha’s greatest fear, that of not being needed.

Of course, being a cozy mystery, LaTisha also has a murder to solve. Solving the death of her former employer, Marion Peters, helps distract LaTisha from her quickly dwindling dinner guest list. This distraction also adds a dimension of realism to the character’s inner turmoil—how often do we experience the need to cork emotional upheaval (inner turmoil) in order to deal with outside problems?

Take characterization to new heights by making sure your hero/heroine has a solid inner conflict. Make sure it is a characteristic common to your MLR, or one your MLR will understand and identify with, then weave it into your story, or even put the inner conflict at odds with other characters. The best stories often use this tool (one character’s weakness is another character’s strength) to improve the conflict or tension in their novel.
Finding the MLR for your story takes some research. Let’s say you have done your research and found that the most likely reader of your romantic suspense are females between twenty to forty years of age. This is the group who you want to target when planning the inner turmoil of your heroine. Write the story with them in mind, their struggles and fears, hopes and disappointments. Not only will your story be stronger for it, but you have also simplified your marketing plan by understanding the makeup of your MLR.

TWEETABLES

S. Dionne Moore is a historical romance author who resides in South Central PA with her family, surrounded by the beautiful Cumberland Valley and lots of fun, historically rich locations. Brides of Wyoming is a repackaging of three historical romances set in Wyoming and due for release November 1, 2016

Dionne Moore, an obvious pseudonym, is the author of the LaTisha Barnhart Mysteries. Books one, two and three (Murder on the Bunions, Polly Dent Loses Grip and Recipe for Deceit aka Your Goose is Cooked) are all available via Kindle.

For more details: http://www.sdionnemoore.com


Murder on the Bunions (A LaTisha Barnhart Cozy Mystery Book 1)
LaTisha Barnhart’s bunions tell her something’s afoot as she delves deeper into the murder of her former employee, Marion Peters. When LaTisha becomes a suspect, the ante is upped, and she is determined to clear her name and find the culprit.

She’s burping Mark Hamm’s bad cooking to investigate his beef with Marion. . .getting her hair styled at a high falutin’ beauty parlor to see what has Regina Rogane in a snarl. . .playing self-appointed matchmaker between the local chief and a prime suspect. . .and thinking Payton O’Mahney’s music store lease might be the reason he’s singing out of tune when discussion of Marion’s murder arises. LaTisha’s thinking she just might use the reward money to get her bunions surgically removed. But she’s got to catch the crook first.