Building Character

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.

Helen Keller

In fiction, much like real life, character is built by one’s life experience.  The ability to engage with a character without showing their life story  right up front is a basic skill ever writer learns. Sometimes the hard way.

Short stories differ from novels and novellas in that  the time to establish character is less in a short story and therefore, a different type of telling is used, usually dialogue exchange.  Characters can tell you a lot about their fellow travelers on the fictional journey and should be used accordingly.

But in the longer piece of fiction, characters are built, and many aspects must be addressed.  Such as, physical description.  What does your character look like and how will you let the readers know?

What does your character sound like?  Is the voice strong?  Commanding?  Authoritative? Or is the voice meek, mild, submissive, or even absent?

Is the character a person with a gentle touch, or more like a” bull in a china shop”? Is the behavior which determines their presence intentional or accidental?  Are they aggressive or just clumsy?

For the more intimate moments, the writer should let us know how others respond to the characters we build.  Reaction, though limited and more focused, is often poorly interpreted.  This is a significant problem with single or first person point of view.  Your narrator is often reactive to the behavior of other characters and can easily misinterpret the behavior or intentions of others.

During the intimate physical exchange or even during the “dance of attraction” don’t forget to let us know how your hero and heroine stimulate each other, touch, sight, or smell.

Olfactory response is the earliest indicator of recognition for us humans, and often invokes powerful memories which in turn stimulate neurological responses.  Intimate and even unknown fears are sometimes triggered by the sense of smell.  So if you’re looking for an opportunity to motivate your character to one of those little “turn around ” a deep-seated fear connected with a specific odor might serve.

Don’t forget the motivation comes from the history of the character you built,  and that is the path through which the great story is achieved.  You can only hope to thoroughly engage your reader with a spell binding character, well motivated, and easily identified  with, before you can craft a story that won’t be put aside.


“Where do you get your ideas?”

A question all too familiar to most writers, whether they are seasoned professional with a hard track record of novels multi-pubbed in many foreign languages or the aspiring writer  who has just — mistakenly– shared their aspiration to a career of full-time writing.

This is a common question for two very good reasons; 1) people are genuinely interested in how your process works or, 2) the can’t think of anything else intelligent to say to someone who makes their living as a writer.  After all, full-time author isn’t a real job, is it?

Happily or sadly, dependent on which side of the argument you fall, people do make a living at nothing but the writing.

So back to the question, where do the good ideas come from?

They are all around us.  The good ideas are in the people we know and those we don’t know, the folks we’ve grown up with and those we pass on the street.  The good ideas are everywhere if you know how to mine them out of your everyday life.

What will you do when faced with a life changing decision?  What do you think the people you know really well– your nearest and dearest do, when faced with a life altering choice?  Would they sacrifice one loved one for another?  Would they sacrifice their own life for someone else?  Or would they sacrifice another in order to live?

The choices we make on our best day as human beings is not usually the choice we offer our characters in a novel.  Those choices are much more difficult.  The things we know– or think we know about ourselves can all be called into question in our fiction.  This is what we mean when we talk about writing what we know.

In fiction we build characters who help us tell our stories, of what we think we would do– or hope we could do, or even help us tell of the better person we would like to be, if we aren’t telling the cautionary tale of  history which shows us the path others have chosen, much to their regret.

That is what fiction is all about, after all.  Telling the story.  Choosing the path for our characters, writing what we know and asking –” What if?”

So share with me, where do your good ideas come from?

What really works best for aspiring writers. . .

The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.

― Leo Tolstoy

I’ve been writing a lot lately about the hopes, dreams, aspirations and desires of the aspiring writer.  We all know who we are and how hard we work to make those dreams come true.  But Leo Tolstoy–a writer himself– had it exactly right.

Most of us believe we are patient people.  I don’t even attempt to kid anybody about what I’m not, which is patient.  Anyone who’s ever met me will tell you I have the patience of a gnat in heat.  Not good.

I have good intentions though, and we all know how those are used.  Oh, and I do have time.  As the old song says, “Time is on my side. .  .yes it is.”

That’s because I’ve been writing, and consequently learning to write for the last ten years.  I’ve studied craft in every aspect.  I’ve learned from masters in the field, experts in every genre, and mentors as well as writing coaches.

All that’s left is to just do it.  After another round of editing, professional this time.  If I learned nothing else, I learned you always need a pair of professional eyes on the final manuscript.  So that’s where we are now.

The blog will continue and I will continue to share what I learn each and every day.  I do know truly successful writers never stop learning.  They work on improving their craft every day.  So that’s the plan.

I will continue to blog on Mondays about all things writing and reading.  About storytelling of every kind.  Occasionally I will do a movie review, because to me it’s simply a different sort of storytelling.  I will be happy to share some serial stories throughout the year along with my blog mates, and even on occasion a little flash fiction.

Now all I need to know is, what interests you?

Leave a comment and tell me what you’d like to hear about.


I have wondered at times what the Ten Commandments would have looked like if Moses had run them through the US Congress.

― Ronald Reagan

I wonder often what my writing would look like if I listened to my heart and not the criticism of others.

—Ane Ryan Walker

It’s true.  We –meaning aspiring authors–spend time, sweat, blood, tears, and lots of cold, hard cash learning the craft of fiction writing.  It sometimes takes years and multiple approaches to learn all that goes into a completed manuscript.  But sometimes, just every once in a while mind you, we lose our way.

And just what do I mean by losing our way?

I mean we become so hell-bent on pleasing the “others”, those we believe might have more knowledge, or more experience, or god forbid, more talent than us, to tell us how to write our stories.

I think this happens to many aspiring authors.  You should not let it happen to you.  It is not necessary, and it is never helpful.

I do take the advice of trusted friends, but when I ask for assistance with a writing project, I am specific about the help I want from others.

You should be clear about what your expectations are, and do not invite critiques from those who seek to interfere in your writing rather than assist you in the process.

Do you want them to read for content, sort of  “does this make sense?”  or constancy, are the details always the same, the eyes and hair I stared with are the eyes and hair I have at the end of the story. Or do you desire help with punctuation and spelling.  Don’t trust spell check or auto correct, it’s wholly unwise.

Grammar not perfect?  Isn’t the thing you wanted corrected, is it?  You can, and many do, learn or brush up on grammar skills from a book.  I highly recommend this to many seeking advice, or a critique.

If you don’t trust your critique partners, or if they don’t trust you to take what applies and is helpful from a critique, perhaps you should work on the skill of self editing.  Or hire a professional.  Many enter contests to receive the initial feedback they require on new projects.  But with this type of feedback there is no give or take and you should ask yourself if you’re willing to pay attention to the consistent criticism you receive from contest judges.  Some contests train their judges, and many do not.  If the feedback you’re getting is from a published author, does that make it better feedback?  Sometimes.  Not always.

You need to ask yourself what’s wrong with the feedback you’re getting.  Maybe, just maybe, it’s a little close to home.  In other words, if it offends you, maybe it’s too close to home.  Something you aren’t willing to hear, or change.

When I began writing, I was resistant to many lessons regarding craft.  I was, after all a wonderful storyteller.  Everyone said so,my friends and total strangers. But a wasn’t a very good writer.  Sure, I wrote business proposals, memos and correspondence with clear concise thoughts, but it wasn’t fiction and it certainly wasn’t romance.  I was a good writer, just not a good fiction writer.  Today, I know the difference.

You must be willing to recognize your shortcomings along with your strengths.  This is what will help you grow.  And by the way, many of those initial critiques and contests feedback pages, were right on the money, even though I didn’t want to hear it then, I recognize that  now.

But I can help, or at least suggest things that might help.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers:  Renni Browne & Dave King

Revising Fiction-Making Sense of the Madness:  Kirt Hickman

and for those of you who despair of grammar rules,

The New Well-Tempered Sentence, A punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager and the Doomed :  Karen Elizabeth Gordon

But the most important thing to remember is never lose your sense of humor and press on to . . . the End.