3 Tips for Showing Character Emotion

Ah, character emotion. It’s one of the hardest things to write right. It’s also one of the most important. You can have a deep, complex character, a compelling, well-crafted plot, and the setting descriptions nailed down to the tiniest details. But if you can’t write character emotion in a compelling way, your book will be only half as rich as it could be.

second-edition21As you may already know, if you’ve been hanging around the writing world for a while, Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi of Writers Helping Writers have just released a new book! So, to celebrate The Emotion Thesaurus: Second EditionI’ve compiled several tips I’ve discovered while on my own writing journey.

1. Don’t Resort to the Face

Many authors, myself included, tend to go straight to the face for signs of emotion. In my first drafts, all my characters smile, frown, and glare; their eyes shoot daggers and glisten with tears and shift away slyly. It’s true that the face does show emotion, but other parts of the body are equally good–or even better at it. When was in my Sherlock phase (if we’re being honest, I never grew out of it), I learned to watch people’s feet to deduce their emotions. Crazy, right?

unhappy-389944_640That’s not to say you can’t use facial expressions. When done right, these can be powerful descriptions. Take the following passage for example. I’ve read this book a total of one time, and that was two or three years ago, and yet I still remember how much this description stuck out to me:

[A] forehead with a singular capacity . . . of lifting and knitting itself into an expression that was not quite one of perplexity, or wonder, or alarm, or merely of bight fixed attention, though it included all four the expressions[.]

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities


Just to be clear, I wouldn’t suggest actually writing descriptions like that (unless you’re actually Charles Dickens); the point is, it is possible to write good emotion through the face.

2. What is your character thinking?

Any good psychologist will tell you that there is a thought behind every emotion. It’s not always a conscious thought–in fact, unconscious thoughts and underlying beliefs are often more powerful. The Emotion Thesaurus (including the Second Edition) has a section all about thoughts and mental responses.

This isn’t something you do every single time your character feels an emotion. It also doesn’t have to be internal monologue (though it certainly can be). In other words, you don’t want a character who’s all emotion and no conscious thought, nor do you want a character who’s all thoughts and no feelings. That would just seem… odd.

3. Every Character is Different

Just because Ron Weasley has the emotional range of a teaspoon… yeah you get the picture. Every character will probably have a different emotional range. On top of that, some people tend to be very private about their emotions, while others spill them openly. And guys and girls experience emotions differently. (I hadn’t quite nailed this down when I wrote my first novel. You do not wanna read it.)

And, of course, different characters will express the same emotion differently. Just as a quick example, I have one character who tends to snap at people when he gets angry, but when presented with the same situation, another of my characters will have a full-blown temper tantrum.

The best advice I can give you is to get to know your characters. Showing emotion is just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath every emotion and reaction is a history, a backstory, a wound, a set of beliefs. Of course, there’s no way I can get into all of that today! (Hint: Angela and Becca have a bunch of other thesauruses that talk about all that!)

Giveaway!

One last thing here: there’s an epic giveaway going on right now!

To celebrate the new book and its dedicated readers, Angela and Becca have an unbelievable giveaway on right now: one person will win a free writing retreat, conference, workshop, or professional membership to a writing organization, winner’s choice (up to $500 US, with some other conditions which are listed on the WHW site).

What conference would you attend if the fee was already paid for…or would you choose a retreat? Something else? Decisions, decisions! This giveaway ends on February 26th, so hurry over and enter!

Are you excited about the new Emotion Thesaurus?

Do you have any tips on showing character emotion?

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The Pitiable Antagonist

Gollum. The Phantom of the Opera. Draco Malfoy. Severus Snape.

What do all of these have in common? They’re all antagonists, of course.

And, probably, we have another emotion associated with them besides hate.

Sometimes, we love to hate the villain (Umbridge, anyone?). If they’re evil enough, we might love being terrified. Occasionally, we might even decide we love them, in a weird sort of way (Moriarty!!!). But it is rarer to pity the villain. Why?

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Well, first off, pitiable villains (or antagonists) aren’t right for every story. Certain stories may require certain sorts of villains, depending on the plot and the themes present. I’m going to skip giving you an explanation and assume you can decide for yourself what kind of villain you need. Let’s say you want to create a villain your readers will develop a certain empathy for…

1. Backstory. Please don’t make this a clichéd backstory; we don’t need another villain who is incapable of love because of some dark event from his past. (That is to say, it’s not wrong to write a backstory like that, I just think it would be neat if you were more creative.)

snape2Backstory is key, because that’s usually what makes us pity the villain in the first place. Think how much our attitude changed toward the Phantom once we learned what happened to him. And Snape. I actually hated Snape for the first 6 ¾ books. And even when Harry learned his whole backstory, I still didn’t like him… but there was an empathy present that I had never had for him before.

2. Empathy is different than pity. I know I sometimes use the words interchangeably, but honestly they’re different. Empathy is being able to understand another person, to feel their emotions even. Pity is feeling sorry for someone. A lot of times, the two go hand-in-hand.

But when it comes to villains, empathy is usually already present (or should be). We need to be able to empathize in at least some way with the villain, even if we don’t agree with him or approve of his moral choices. We don’t have to love him, we don’t even have to pity him. But give the villain something the readers will identify with; it can even be something as small as being addicted to bacon (because isn’t everyone addicted to bacon, deep down?).

Pity, when directed toward the villain, plays a completely different role than empathy. Pity unlocks something in our hearts that allows us to feel compassion for someone whom we thought was unlovable. Of course, everyone experiences emotions differently, but I think that’s what generally happens.

For example, Gollum. I wouldn’t necessarily call him a villain, but he’s definitely not a loyal sidekick either. He lies and deceives, and even goes so far as to try to get Frodo killed. Plus, he’s after the Ring, which is never good news no matter who you are. But Gollum is also a very tortured character, twisted and demented by his lust for the Ring. He was not so different from a Hobbit once, and the Sméagol side of him still longs for the way things used to be.

3. Make sure pity doesn’t take away the villain’s strengths. Unless that’s the whole point you’re doing it, of course. Every character has a mix of both strengths and weaknesses. It’s really easy to give the villain too much strength and not enough weakness, but pity can sometimes have a way of flipping that around.

For example (and this is a completely unofficial, off-the-record statement) my villain has… certain persons involved with his backstory that have not yet… been revealed. In fact, I haven’t even decided if I want to write it that way or not. But just plotting out my poor villain’s tragic past has made my pity meter start beeping like crazy (actually, I think it exploded once, it was so bad). Unfortunately, if I choose to actually write about said events, I’m going to have to find a way to not completely strip my villain of everything that makes him the depraved, fearsome, epic bad guy that he is.

That’s all the tips I have for you today, but I love villains (especially when they give you the feels), so I might just have to start writing more about them.

Do you have a favorite villain that you pity?

(Or a favorite villain in general?)

Lessons from Lemony

Why are you doing an entire post about Lemony Snicket? Isn’t this a writing blog, not a fangirl blog? Why Lemony Snicket, and not one of your top favorite authors?

If that sounds like you, let me tell you now: you’re asking all the wrong questions.

If you’ve read his books at all, you know there’s no one else quite like Lemony. He’s a very good writer, and yet he broke almost every writing rule I know of. His books are, in all honesty, pretty ridiculous, and yet I couldn’t put them down. How does he do that??

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Probably the most important thing I learned from reading Snicket’s books is that you shouldn’t be afraid to break the rules. I don’t mean this in a bad way, as in, actually doing something illegal. I mean rules about writing. Have you ever heard that you should never, ever, ever stop the story to explain something to the reader? That’s one of the biggest no-no’s of the writing world.

And yet, Snicket is notorious for stopping in the middle of an action sequence to extensively define a word. Or starting a new chapter with a completely unrelated story about his own life. Or breaking off to engage the reader in a Very Fascinating Discussion about the water cycle, which has nothing to do with the story at present.

But here’s the thing. Lemony Snicket actually increased my vocabulary with all of his digressions. If not for him, I still wouldn’t know what the words austere or ersatz meant. And if you just skim over the parts about his past life, you’ll actually start missing important clues. Even the water cycle ended up being important.

So, takeaway #1: Don’t be afraid to experiment with the rules. There are times when they shouldn’t be broken, but if you follow them too strictly, you may end up missing something.

The characters are next on the list. Now, the characters could be better, and by that I mean most of them are static characters (meaning they don’t change much over the course of the story. I like to see characters’ struggles as they change.) Toward the end, Snicket went a little deeper, but overall, his characters are just memorable. You can’t help but love every single one of them, and if you can’t love them, you love being annoyed by them.

Each of the characters has their own talents, whether it’s inventing, reading, cooking, poetry, mycology, or even villainy. Side characters tend to have quirks rather than talents, such as being a horrible violin player, or having a bad taste in fashion, or being in love with the most boring job in the world.

Takeaway #2: Make each character memorable. Give them a tag, something that separates them from all other characters. Give the reader a reason to love them. I could write an entire series of posts just about how to accomplish that, but we must move on to the next thing I love about Lemony:

20180426_211727His secret codes and messages. Everyone loves the challenge of finding and decoding hidden messages. Like the letters “VFD” hidden in the eye symbol. Like when the first letter of every sentence spells a word. Oftentimes these messages are hidden in plain sight.

I actually have suspicions that he hid a message throughout A Series of Unfortunate Events. I haven’t found anything yet, but the illustrator, Brett Helquist, once hid a secret, encoded message in the illustrations for a different series, so it’s not completely unreasonable. (The series is Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett, if you want to know.)

I also love the importance Snicket placed on books and libraries. Every single one of his books features a library of some sort, even if it’s just a tiny collection of books. Usually, one of these books contains the answer to a puzzling question of a mystery. Books contain knowledge, and Snicket reiterated that message over and over. It’s kinda refreshing, seeing as we live in a world overrun by technology. It’s like that feeling you get whenever you walk into a library. You know, it feels almost shut off from the rest of the world, because decades if not centuries of knowledge rest on the long rows of bookshelves, and it’s one of the few places where you can truly say, “The world is quiet here.”

Have you read anything by Lemony Snicket?

What do you think of his unique style? His ridiculous characters?

Seeing the World through His Eyes

Some people call it stepping into their shoes. I call it seeing through their eyes. Either way, it means basically the same thing: taking on another’s viewpoint, thinking the way they think, seeing the way they see, experiencing things the way they experience them. It’s crucial when writing, because every character interprets the story differently. Everyone’s the hero in their own eyes. And as authors, we must learn to adapt a viewpoint other than our own.

Empathy is a big part of that. Usually, empathy grows with writing. I have found that the more I write, the more I am able to empathize not only with my characters but also with real-life, flesh-and-blood people I know. I am able to take on their point of view, see situations the way they do, and thus understand their reactions to them. It’s a gift… and it’s also a curse I sometimes wish I didn’t have.

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Since seeing the story through the main character’s eyes is such a big part of writing, you can imagine the lengths authors go to. As you probably know, writers are a bit crazy. We are known to do all sorts of weird stuff in an attempt to see through our characters’ eyes. Like listening to classical Russian music for twelve hours straight (I haven’t done this yet, but I need to), or running through the woods at midnight screaming bloody murder because you think a serial killer is chasing you (also on my to-do list). Or joining the Mafia, getting kidnapped by the local Dark Lord, or stealing nuclear weapons from the government. Let’s keep it legal, people. And did I mention safety?

The point is, you should strive to see things the way your characters do. Simply knowing who they are is not enough. Empathizing is not enough. In order to write well, you have to actually be able to look at things and interpret things the way they would. I PROMISE that it gets better and easier the more your write. But it never hurts to step into your character’s shoes for the day and see how they would react to your everyday circumstances. Unless your character is a psychopath. Please don’t ever try that.

That’s not all there is to it, however. If you have mastered the art of viewing the story through the character’s eyes and not your own, you have mastered one of the most difficult aspects of writing. But as a Christian, I don’t want to limit myself merely to my characters.

I have often asked God to let me look at the world the way He would–not through my own sinful eyes. Not through the filter of my own selfishness or anger, not in light of my own problems, but with love. And not my own incompetent love. God’s perfect, unconditional love.

It’s amazing what a simple prayer like that can do. Sometimes God does it without me even thinking to ask. He has shown me issues in this world that I am passionate about. He has honed and deepened the calling He placed on my life. And when God helps me look at the world through His eyes, I am overwhelmed by a fierce love not often felt. Instead of being afraid of all the evil in this world, I see people who are lost in the dark. People who have never heard God’s name. It’s terrifying and saddening at the same time. The little things that used to matter fall away, and instead I see a bigger picture.

It’s like that song by Brandon Heath called “Give Me Your Eyes.” Technically, I shouldn’t put the lyrics on here because they’re copyrighted, so you should look them up yourself. I use the chorus as a prayer sometimes. And really, we all should be praying it all the time. It’s not just for crazy writers. According to Philippians, God wants all Christians have the same mindset that Christ did.

So, seeing the world through you character’s eyes is crucial if you want to write a good story. But seeing the world through God’s eyes will help you write a great story. One that will help you, the author, grow. One that glorifies Him.

 

Have you ever sought to see the world through another’s eyes?

If you’re a writer, what was the hardest character you’ve ever written?

 

The Power of Empathy: How to Keep Readers in Thrall

Funky 6Hi everyone!! Today, I have a very special post… I am absolutely THRILLED to have Angela Ackerman on my blog! She’s here to talk about character empathy. So, without further ado, I’ll hand things over to her. 🙂

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Gluing readers to the page. This is a writer’s goal each step of the way, from gaining the attention of an agent, to compelling an editor to make an offer, and finally, to enthralling an audience. We strive to make people experience something powerful when they read our words. To genuinely FEEL. To care.

Sounds…um, not easy? I know! Building empathy requires skill, knowledge and practice. Writers must become deeply in tune with a reader’s emotions and learn how to use these feelings to bind them to the story.

 

Girl with booksMake Outsiders Become Insiders

When a reader opens a book, they have certain expectations. They know the book’s genre and the jacket copy offers a peek into what the storyline is about. However, at this point, they are still Outsiders. They have not yet invested in the protagonist or their journey. The author has a narrow window of time to draw readers in and convert them into close confidants. Insiders.

Encouraging empathy is the way to make this happen. When readers are brought into the hero’s or heroine’s point-of-view, they not only begin to understand the character’s world, they actually can share their experiences, something done by keying into real human experiences.

Each of us knows how it feels to make a mistake, to screw up in a way that disappoints others and ourselves. Likewise, we also know what it is like to face a difficult challenge and triumph, proving to ourselves and others that we are capable and worthy. These are two situations out of infinite possibilities that readers will read and recognize because they too have had these experience and felt the emotions that go with them. When a writer shows emotion-bound experiences like these through the character’s eyes the reader connects to them and the character. They remember their own past experiences and it created a sense of shared understanding—brotherhood. And this allows empathy to form.

Empathy is a powerful bond where a reader invests in and cares for the hero or heroine. The character is more than a name on a page; they take on bones and shape, and become someone worth caring for. This emotional investment means a reader will feel discomfort and anguish at the losses and excitement and satisfaction at the wins. Whenever readers find themselves caring about what is at stake, the author has succeeded at making them Insiders who root for the protagonist all the way to the finish line.

 

5 Ways To Encourage Reader Empathy

Humanize your character. Real people have strengths, flaws, and weaknesses. Characters must also have a blend of these. They should be imperfect and make mistakes, but also be likable. Give your hero at least one commendable trait that makes him worthy to cheer for.

Get inside their bones. Make your protagonist believable by giving him realistic desires, emotions, thoughts, and fears that an audience can relate to. These commonalities will resonate with the reader’s own beliefs and feelings, reinforcing that bond. Allow the character’s self-doubt to bleed through to some degree, showing the reader his vulnerable side.

Clearly define the needs, goals, and stakes. Scene to scene, readers must always know what the character is fighting for. Leave no doubt as to what he is trying to achieve, why, and the cost of failure.

Hobble characters through challenges that readers will sympathize with.  Readers bring their own life experience to the book, so use it. Story conflict and personal stakes will remind readers of their own past where they faced similar roadblocks. Pile on challenges, make the hero sometimes fail, but also show growth and successes on the journey.

Never betray the reader’s trust. Writers must know their characters inside and out, and make sure their actions, thoughts, and beliefs align with who they are. If a character acts in a way that does not fit his nature, the reader will feel betrayed. Dig deep. Get to know the character, including what past wounds haunt him. And always plot with intent. Manipulating a character’s choices or actions just to bring about a plot twist or complication will always ring false.

Remember, well-drawn characters are worth the work of developing because they are the ones readers can’t forget…not a week after reading the story, or a month, or a year.

 

What are some of the stand-out characters you love? What drew them to you and caused that empathy bond to form? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

Angela Ackerman

Angela Ackerman is a writing coach, international speaker, and co-author of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, as well as five others. Her books are available in six languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. Angela is also the co-founder of the popular site Writers Helping Writers, as well as One Stop for Writers, an innovative online library built to help writers elevate their storytelling. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

 

#NaNoPrep: Overcoming Impostor Syndrome + Giveaway!!

Hi everyone! Today I have a very special post as part of the Writers Persevere event that authors Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi are running for the next few days to celebrate their newest book, The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma. This book looks at the difficult experiences embedded in our character’s backstory which will shape their motivation and behavior afterward.

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To help them celebrate this release, many of us are posting stories about some of the obstacles we’ve overcome as writers. (I also posted about this on Sunday… if you haven’t had a chance to read about overcoming fears, you can do so here.) As we all know, this isn’t an easy path. Writing is hard and as writers we tend to struggle with doubt. Sometimes too, we don’t always get the support we need to follow our passion, or we have added challenges that make writing more difficult. Because people are sharing their stories this week about how they worked through these challenges to keep writing, I wanted to post about it too.

When it comes to a character’s past (which The Emotional Wound Thesaurus is all about), there is a common problem: the character can’t seem to move past it and change. Ironically, we as writers are prone to the same problem. We feel like we don’t know what we’re doing, and that we’ll never move past the difficult stage we’re in right now. In other words, we feel like impostors. We are constantly presenting our identities as writers to the world for it to see, but when it comes down to it, do we really know what we’re doing?

I realized something yesterday (and I’ve realized it before, but yesterday it really hit me hard). In the three years or so that I’ve been seriously pursuing writing, I have grown. A lot. I laugh every time I remember writing the beginnings of my first novel. I barely knew how to structure a plot, much less map out a character’s growth. I remember getting frustrated because my characters weren’t complex enough to make that neat little chart that shows the steps of a character arc. That feeling lasted for a long time, too. I felt like I couldn’t move past it. 

And now? Character development is my favorite! For my WIP, my main character’s journey was practically the thing that made me want to write the story in the first place.

I also remember my first time trying to edit a draft of a novel as a whole, rather than fixing specific things as I spotted them here and there. I got so bogged down. And now? Now I’m nearly finished with the official second draft of Twelve, and it will be complete by Christmas break. At least, that’s my plan. My deadlines tend to get pushed back.

I have found that the cure for Impostor Syndrome is to just keep writing. You will improve, trust me. But you won’t be able to see any improvement unless you compare where you are now to where you were sometime in the past. So don’t get hung up on what you don’t know now. Instead, look at the things you didn’t know a year ago. And keep writing.

I’d like to give a huge shout-out to Angela and Becca, because I have been following their blog and reading their books for three years now, and they have taught me so much about writing. Like I said a minute ago, you have to keep writing in order to improve your craft. That’s not the only thing you can do, however. You can also learn from professionals – people who have been where you are now, and know exactly what you need to learn.

I highly recommend all of their thesauruses (thesauri?), but The Emotional Wound Thesaurus is by far my favorite. And that is saying a lot. It has taught me much of what I know about character development. You can use it throughout all stages of the writing process, too. If you’re just starting to plan out a character’s journey, it has tons of tips and ideas to get you started. And if you already know everything about your character’s journey, this book will help you go deeper still.

As you can probably tell, I’m really excited about the release of this book, so please join me in celebrating! Do you have a story to share, or some advice for others? You can join Becca and Angela at Writers Helping Writers from October 25-27th, where we are celebrating writers and their stories of perseverance. Stop in, and tell them about a challenge or struggle your faced, or if you like, write a post on your own blog and share it using the hashtag #writerspersevere. Let’s fill social media with your strength and let other writers know that it’s okay to question and have doubts but we shouldn’t let that stop us.

Giveaway Alert!!

There’s a prize vault filled with items that can give your writing career a boost at Writers Helping Writers.

I would love for one of you to win something that will help you get closer to your goal!

The giveaway is only from October 25-27th, so enter asap. And don’t forget to share this using the #writerspersevere hashtag so more prizes will be awarded!

Do you have a story to share, or advice for others?

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#NaNoPrep: Fantastic Words and Where to Find Them

Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with Newt Scamander or his magical beasts.

One of the biggest issues all writers have during NaNoWriMo is… yep, you guessed it, writing. Duh. If you do the math, 50,000 words divided by 30 days is approximately 1,667 words per day. That may seem feasible, but you’re going to be writing nearly 2,000 words every. single. day. for thirty whole days. It’s definitely possible, but is it easy?

Um… no. It is not easy.  What will you do when writer’s block strikes (and, unless I’m wrong, writer’s block is a part of every writing project)? What will you do when you get bogged down and the story is barely moving at all? Where are you going to find these elusive, magical words?

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Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

Unfortunately, you probably will experience writer’s block at some point during NaNoWriMo. Writing prompts are a great place to start. Pinterest has literally thousands of them, and the NaNoWriMo site also has some. But everybody suggests writing prompts, and sometimes, they’re not that helpful.

Here’s a list of ideas to get you started. If you have anything to add to it, definitely let me know!

Write backstories. Last year, my novel featured twelve characters who were either main characters or main supporting characters. I still don’t have all of their backstories. NaNoWriMo is a great time to explore your characters’ histories. Write detailed, extensive scenes from the past. And even if it doesn’t end up in your final manuscript, it counts, because it’s a part of your first draft.

Go off on tangents. Do you have a random scene stuck in your head that won’t fit anywhere in the manuscript? Go ahead and write it. Do you know about the history some ancient dark lord that used to rule your fantasy land? Go ahead and explain it, even if it has nothing to do with the present moment. Do you know the names of all the plants growing by the side of the road? Go ahead and name them all.

Write up a ridiculously detailed acknowledgements page. I did this last year, because I was desperate, and ended up not counting it because it felt like cheating. It’s not cheating, because it’s a part of your first draft, but I’m such a perfectionist that it felt like it. In your acknowledgements, name all the people you can think of, even fictional characters who have inspired you. While you’re at it, write up other front matter… a table of contents, a copyright page… anything and everything you can think of.

Have a couple of scenes lingering in the back of your mind and save them for a rainy day. I found this technique immensely helpful. I am a pantser, so I don’t do much planning before I start writing. But I do plan the basics. I tend to mull over my story in my head and watch scenes as if I were watching a movie. Because of this, I ended up writing a couple of detailed scenes, without actually writing them down. It’s very reassuring to have that. If you sit down to write one day and realize the words won’t come, you’ll still have those mental scenes to whip out at a moment’s notice.

Utilize NaNoWriMo’s word sprint tool. Maybe you already do. Word sprints are the best! You set a timer and see how many words you can write before the time runs out. You can either race against yourself, or get other people involved and race against them. Last year, I actually set a personal record for how many words I could write in half an hour. It was because of a word sprint. Use them! They help!

If you know any other helpful tips, definitely let me know because I may actually add it to this post.

What are you writing for NaNoWriMo this year? Do you have a personal experience you’d like to share?

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The Difference between Salvation and Redemption

I’ve been doing a lot of character development lately. It’s my new favorite aspect of writing. I’ve been reading a lot about the different Myers-Briggs types (and yes, each of my twelve main characters is a different type), delving into backstories, and figuring out their inner motivations.

My latest endeavor is to answer this question: What is it that drives them? What are they seeking, and hoping to find? These questions are closely connected to their inner motivations. Of course, all of them are driven by something different. No one is quite desiring the exact same thing, although they share the same external goal for the story. They all have different histories, and different character arcs. Every single one of them has a unique internal longing.

That being said, of course some of them will be similar. For example, and this is the main point of this post, two of my characters are seeking almost the same thing. I’ll call them Character A and Character B, for the sake of character-author confidentiality. For some odd reason, most of my characters have a habit of having intricate, secretive backgrounds which somehow always end up playing vital roles in future stories that haven’t been written yet. So, for the sake of a spoiler-free post, I will tell you their stories but not who they are. Get to the point, you say. What do these two characters want?

One of them is seeking salvation, while the other is seeking redemption. I had to stop and think about this after I wrote it. Don’t the two words mean the same thing? More often than not, they are used synonymously, especially when referring to the Christian faith. But no… they are not really synonyms. The root of the word “salvation” is “save,” and the root of “redemption” is “redeem.” Redeeming someone is very different from saving someone. Saving someone implies protecting them. From danger, perhaps. From death, even. Saving implies rescuing. But nothing more.

Redeeming someone, on the other hand, is more than just rescuing someone. Redemption involves a price. If you redeem something, you are buying it back. If you redeem something, it is yours. But it always comes at a price.

It’s easy to see why the two words are used synonymously when referring to Christ. Jesus, through his life, death, and resurrection, gave us both salvation and redemption. He saved us from death – by taking sin upon himself – and serving the punishment for that sin: death. And because he paid that price for us, he redeemed us from sin. He bought us back to be his own. And now, if we believe in him, we not only are saved from death, but we belong to him. We are his children.

In the cases of Character A and Character B, one of them is seeking redemption, but the other is seeking salvation. This too is easy to see. Character A grew up in a dysfunctional family. As a child and teen he was abused – both physically and emotionally – by his parents. He was bullied by other children. He was wronged in a lot of ways, and this traumatic past has shaped the rest of his life. He doesn’t trust anyone but himself, not even God. In fact, he wonders if God exists at all. He wants salvation.

Character B, on the other hand, is haunted by a past she no longer wants any part of. She’s made mistakes; she’s been lured in by sin’s enticing temptations. Her sin hurt the people in the world she loved most, not to mention herself. She’s mad at God and feels she doesn’t belong anywhere, not even in the shelter of God’s love. She wants redemption.

So there you have the difference between redemption and salvation. Salvation is a rescue; redemption is a purchase. Character development is definitely one of the harder things about writing, but it’s also one of the most fun and rewarding aspects too.

My favorite resources for developing a character’s backstory or motivations are the Emotional Wound Thesaurus and the Character Motivation Thesaurus (both are from Writers Helping Writers. I’m very excited because The Emotional Wound Thesaurus is going to be released sometime this October!!) Even if you don’t need them as writing resources, check them out anyway. They’re awesome.

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Plot happens when many characters’ journeys cross paths.

A character’s journey, for me, quickly becoming more important than the plot of the story. It makes sense… the characters are the ones interacting with the plot. A lot of the time, the characters are the ones creating the plot in the first place. What would Pride and Prejudice be if Darcy wasn’t so proud in the beginning and therefore had no character arc? Or think about how the numerous plots of Downton Abbey would be different if none of the characters had distinct backgrounds, motivations, and personalities. No story would be the same without these elements. Characters are one of the primary driving sources behind any story.

I’m curious to know… have you done any interesting character development? And do you have any favorite books with well-developed characters?

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The Last Hurrah

Hello, friends, and welcome to the Monthly Theme! You probably noticed that my blog looks different. I was bored, so I redesigned it. I think that now it echoes my personality more.

I know I haven’t done a Monthly Theme in quite a few months, so really it shouldn’t be called “monthly.” But I came up with a pretty good one for the month of August…

Adventure!!

This may seem like a strange one to choose. As you know, by the time August comes around, summer is winding down, and the month is full of hot, dreary days.  By the time August comes around, we look forward to the cool, crisp promise of fall and the start of the new school year (or not…). By the time August comes around, we’ve done all of our fun summer stuff. It doesn’t even have any holidays.

I hold a different view. August, to me, has always been sort of a last hurrah. It’s always an exciting month. A few Augusts ago, I started writing a story. That story led to another story, which in turn led to another… the story kept growing bigger in my mind, and now I have an entire saga waiting to be written. This August in particular, I’ve felt very productive in my writing. It’s definitely been an adventure… I’ve been working on a LOT of character development (I hope to do a related post soon), a bit of plot development, and the story has been generally sitting on my mind. Last August, I went to Camp Attitude, which always holds tons of new adventures. And there’s always a church-wide camping trip at the end of the month (which I just got back from a couple of days ago). Not to mention that epic solar eclipse we had last week.

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Aside from personal adventure, there is adventure to be found in lots of fictional works. It’s a fairly common theme, if you could call it a theme, and even stories that don’t focus on adventure as a main part of the story at least contain hints of it. Adventure is associated with taking risks, with excitement. It’s associated with new experiences and the rush of adrenaline. Now, if you are positively paranoid about anything that promises danger and have no desire to do anything out of the ordinary, then perhaps a life of adventure is not for you perhaps Gandalf will invite thirteen dwarves to your house and you will get roped into an epic quest.

I think everyone, though, (yes, even Bilbo) longs for some sort of adventure. Something bigger than their ordinary lives. Like Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Even if we don’t know it, we all know we were meant for more than this provincial life. (Hint: It’s because God made us that way. He designed us to live in a perfect world with him. We’re the ones who messed it all up.)

While our thirst for adventure can lead to moments of self-discovery, it can lead us into all sorts of other stuff too. Oftentimes, this is how characters start their journeys. The character wants an adventure, so he goes and finds one, and bam!, there’s a story. This isn’t the case all the time – sometimes a character is thrust into something without a choice. But consider the following questions:

Why was Lucy snooping in somebody else’s wardrobe?

Why did Harry trust a perfect stranger to take him to school?

Why did Christine agree to go with a creepy masked phantom?

Why did Neo choose the red pill?

Why did Roland stop fleeing his pursuers to help Mercy?

(That last question is from the first scene of my book. :D) There are answers to all of these questions, but the most simplistic answer is that they all wanted an adventure. They all believed that something bigger was out there. And that’s the key word here: belief. If Lucy didn’t have that child-like faith, she never would have been able to get into Narnia. If Harry didn’t believe what Hagrid told him, he never would have made it to Hogwarts. And so on.

So, while adventures presented in stories are somewhat romantic (meaning they are romanticized – that is, made out to be better or more illustrious than they actually are), adventures in real life are very different. Let’s face it: None of us will ever stumble upon Narnia. None of us will ever receive our Hogwarts letter. None of us will ever get roped into a magical quest. But all of us were made for more than this life we are currently living. And if we set out in pursuit of it, it will be an adventure.

Not the kind of adventure you read about in books, but the real kind of adventure.

One that lasts for eternity.

I’d love to hear about your summertime adventures! Also – do you have a favorite book where one of characters goes on an adventure?

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In Honor of Tolkien

Hi everyone, I’m really sorry I haven’t blogged in a while. Maybe I’ll tell you about my Camp NaNoWriMo adventures sometime, but today I have something special to write about. Apparently there’s this thing going around where lots of bloggers write Tolkien-related posts in honor of the release of The Fellowship of the Ring on July 29, 1954. (I missed the anniversary by a day, but who cares.) Therefore, as a huge fan of Tolkien, I will dedicate this entire post to talking about, and fangirling over, his books.

Favorite Character:

Samwise Gamgee.

If you asked me who my favorite character was, I would not hesitate, not in the least. Sam is my favorite character, hands down, no arguments.

Why?, you ask. Well, first off, I always love the sidekicks for some reason. Sam Gamgee, obviously. Ron Weasley from Harry Potter. John Watson from Sherlock. Even amongst my own characters, I love all the sidekicks the best.

I could give you an exhaustive list of all the reasons I love Sam, but that would just lead into…

Favorite Chapter in the Entire Trilogy:

“The Choices of Master Samwise,” from The Two Towers.

(WARNING: SPOILERS)

If you’ve never read the books, go read them the ending of The Two Towers is quite different from the way its respective movie ended. The book ends in Shelob’s lair, when Sam thinks Frodo is dead, so he takes the Ring with the intent to destroy it himself. (In the movies, we don’t see this part until The Return of the King.)

Anyway, in this chapter, we really get to see Sam’s character come out. He’s in quite the predicament: He’s just traveled across half of Middle-earth with his best friend Frodo, only to be attacked by a gigantic spider when they are so close to the end of their journey. He is devastated because he thinks Frodo is dead, and he is torn between his duty to his friend and his duty to Middle-earth. The last thing he wants to do is take the Ring and destroy it himself. He longs to go back home to the Shire. He can’t bear to leave his friend alone in this dark place. But he knows he can’t stay with Frodo; otherwise the enemy would find them both and take the Ring. His heart longs for vengeance against Gollum for deceiving them and bringing them here in the first place. But he knows that wouldn’t be worth it.

I love seeing Sam’s internal struggle here. Deep down, he knows the answer, but he has to wrestle with it first. Eventually he sees that the fate of Middle-earth rests in his hands and that it is his solemn duty to finish what Frodo started. This passage is the reason Sam is my favorite character in the first place.

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Things I Wish Were in the Movies:

(MORE SPOILERS)

-Tom Bombadil and that whole part about the Barrow-downs

I know Tom Bombadil was a pretty ridiculous character who added almost nothing to the plot, but I liked him. I think there were some things which he said and did that were important. And the Barrow-downs, which also added nothing to the plot, were pretty creepy. They were kind of a part of the whole Tom Bombadil subplot, too. I think it would have been fun to see.

-Éowyn and Faramir’s romance

The movies did mention it, but it was infinitely better in the books. The reader sees them get to know each other, and their love grows as the story goes on. It also offers more closure for both of the characters. It’s one of my favorite parts.

-Arwen

Um… Talia? Arwen is already in the movies… duh!

Exactly my point. She was much different in the books. Now don’t get me wrong; I have no problem with the movie’s version of Arwen. It’s just that she plays a lot bigger part than she did in the books. Like I said, I have no problem with it. It just bothers me a little bit.

Favorite Quotes:

I’m limiting this to book quotes. Otherwise we’ll all be here all day. Also, I’m only going to mention my personal favorite quotes, which does not include the really famous ones that everybody knows and loves.

“You can trust us to stick with you, through thick and thin – to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo.”

-Merry

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment.”

-Gandalf

“I am Aragorn son of Arathorn; and if by life or death I can save you, I will.”

-Aragorn

“The Shadow that bred them [the orcs] can only mock, it cannot make: not real new things of its own. I don’t think it gave life to the orcs, it only ruined them and twisted them.”

-Frodo

That’s all I have for now, aside from the fact that Tolkien has been an inspiration to fantasy authors everywhere, including me. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you in the comments about anything and everything Tolkien-related.

Do you have a favorite character? A favorite scene or chapter? Or any other Tolkien-related comments?

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