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?

Keeping it creative

A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.

― Colin Powell

Recently, I took a class about keeping your muse satisfied, keeping your creativity in tip-top shape, and trying new things to keep the good ideas front and center.

There is a lot that goes into the care and feeding of a reliable muse, and for those of us who pursue the writers life, we want to at the top of our game when it comes to keeping creativity fresh.  After all, it’s our lifeblood, right?

This course was all too brief, and very reasonable in terms of cost, as are most courses offer by the  The ability to improve any aspect of craft is available there and for those of you who aren’t sure about the craft, this is a wonderful venue for learning craft.

We talked about a number of ways to keep yourself active, positive and successful in the long-term writing life.  For some, this is never a problem.  There are many authors who write in multiple genres for multiple publishers and have no difficulty, providing they are allowed to have input to deadlines.

Of course, there are others who cannot sit down and produce a viable page during designated writing time.  No creativity on demand.  Because they feel creativity doesn’t work like that.


Writing is a job.  Ask anyone with any other type of job about the loss of enthusiasm for the job they hold other than writing.  It happens.  Some days no one wants to go to the hospital and deal with sick people.  But MD’s and Nurses don’t call in sick themselves with Medical Block.

So there you have it, writers block, not real.  You’re just too lazy to do your job.

But if you’re not writing due to a lack of creativity, that’s another thing entirely.  What can you do to improve your situation?

Enhance your creativity.  First, try doing something else.  Have some fun, try another art form, read for pleasure, take a walk, have lunch with a friend.

Energy sapped so low you need a real jump-start to get back to writing?  Try rearranging your furniture.  Maybe the energy flow is negative, how about some Feng Shui?

How about inspiring quotes?   You know, I really like them.

I have more than one positive reinforcement on the walls of my office.  Some I chose for myself, and some were gifts from others, writers who know how long and hard I’ve worked to call myself a writer.  I’m going to share a few with you, in hopes that you will respond by sharing with me, too.

In no particular order,

“Home is where your story begins”

“Create something everyday”

“Don’t judge a book by it’s movie”

“Now is your happily ever after”

But I did save my favorite for last.  It’s a little girl pointing to her left and the sign reads, “Complaint Department– 200 miles that way”

Share with me what makes you smile, gets you going, or gets you back to work.  And Thanks for stopping by.

You are what you write. . .

Whatever we expect with confidence becomes our own self-fulfilling prophecy.

― Brian Tracy

No, no, no!

I’m not saying if you write Romance you’ll be magically transformed into a romantic couple, but it could happen.  I’m not saying if you write children’s stories you’re childish, but maybe you are –in a good way.  I’m not saying if you write horror, you’re a horrible person, Oh God, I hope that’s not what I’m saying!

What I am saying is sometimes we need to change our attitudes and expectations in order to make positive changes in our lives.

Sounds simple doesn’t it?  Think that’s going to be easy?

No, it is not.

Simple does not equal easy.  If you’re expecting to do one little thing and have your life change without the attendant difficulty, you are so wrong.

Change– real change– takes work, commitment, focus and the right attitude.

You have to want the change.

And you must be willing to work for it.  But changing your attitude first is the right way to tackle big life changes.

Start with a positive environment, and add hopeful, positive encouragement from yourself and those around you.  In fact, I’d go so far as to tell you you need to lose the negativity around you as a good first step.

I am serious when I say, anyone who brings a “you can’t do that or shouldn’t even try” attitude with them is quickly deprived of my company.  Often, we doubt our ability to try new things, and new ventures, while often exciting are also difficult.  Why would you make these things more difficult by dragging a naysayer along on your personal journey?

Seriously, I’m not suggesting that you won’t get things wrong, or require the help of others, but a gentle push in the right direction or a correction with intent to improve are far different than those who are quick to jump in and tell you to “let change go.  It’s just not good for you.”

So, tell me why you find it hard to make changes.  Tell me what works best for you. Please share a story which shows us why things that are difficult are often worth the effort.