Tuesday How To: Make the Conflict Match Your Characters

So you’re all set to start writing. You have your  favorite drink or snack on hand, you have the timer set for at least 10 minutes, ready to get down at least some words that sound semi smart in this writing session, and you have your characters all fleshed out and ready to go.

Or do you?

Part of being a writer is working with conflict and how it affects your characters. Every conflict should affect characters in some way, but certain conflicts will affect them more.

Take the difference between a trained fighter and a plumber. If you put the fighter into an MMA ring, he would have no problems understanding how to fight and possibly win against the other fighter. You put that plumber in the ring and now you have a conflict. Does the plumber know how to win against the other fighter or not?

There is your conflict. 

I like to think of conflict as “What is the worst possible thing that could happen to this character that they could possibly come out of and possibly be happy?” 

An example I’ll give you is from the series I am currently working on. The main character in book one, when his story starts, is a weakling who lets other people make most of his choices for him. In the relationship with his best friend, he is the weaker of the two, and he lets her run the show. When the shift happens, when his best friend can no longer make decisions, he has to step up and be the strong one in their relationship. This is part of his growth throughout the series, and it creates conflict later in the series when she starts to make choices for herself again.

The best way to make a conflict is to decide how far you want to push your characters. What they need to be pushed forward into their world and fight for what they need. 

A good rule of thumb is to use opposites. 

Let’s return to the plumber and the fighter for a few moments. Let’s say the plumber is a pacifist and is against fighting, but his wife and kids are kidnapped by someone. Pacifist plumber tries the nice route, going to where the villain is keeping his wife and kids, but he gets his ass handed to him by the hulk like bouncer. Now Mr. Plumber has a choice, which creates conflict.

Should he go against his ideals and train to kick the bouncer’s ass and save his family, or should he keep his ideals and try to deal with the villain another way?

Depending on what you, as the writer, choose, it could be two very different stories. 

How do you make your conflicts match your characters strengths and weaknesses?

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How To Tuesday: Every Story Needs Conflict

We’ve all read stories where it seems like nothing is happening. Stories that are boring, or slow, or maybe the characters just aren’t working for us as readers. I find that most of the time when stories bore me, it’s because the conflict doesn’t resonate with me, or that there doesn’t seem to be a conflict, or high enough stakes for me to have an interest in the results. 

Every story needs to have some sort of conflict. 

Whether it’s the fact that your character can’t find the right shoes for their prom dress or the character has to diffuse a bomb before the timer goes off and he can’t tell what color word to cut because he’s colorblind. Your story needs a conflict, something to resolve for the story to feel complete. 

If you don’t have a conflict for your characters, it might as well be a story where everyone is happy and nothing bad ever happens. Even short stories need conflicts, something to move the plot forward and engage the reader and make them care about the characters and what happens to them. Even the simplest of things can become conflicts. 

The easiest way to come up with a conflict is to think of the word thing that could happen to your character and make it happen, but we will talk more about that next week. 

How To Tuesday: Female Characters

Over the past three weeks of How To Tuesdays concerning characters we have talked about how to find characters, how to name them, and how to develop characters. This week, is not necessarily a new How To, it is an addition to the rest of the information we have talked about.

This week, we are going to talk about female characters and how to write great female characters. For  a lot of people, this lesson will come as news, just because it’s one of those things that some writers do not realize until it is pointed out for you, and for others some of it might be obvious, but some of it might not be so obvious.

So without further ado: Writing Female Characters

Write Them as People

For as long as people have been writing characters, they have been writing women. The difference is the idea that women are people. Some writers write their female characters as stepping stones for their male characters or plot devices to move other characters forward. This is not the way to write female characters. They deserve to be people in your work and not just a plot device for your male characters. An example of what not to do is called the Sexy Lamp Test.

The Sexy Lamp Test is easy. If you can replace your female character with a lamp and the plot stays exactly the same with no changes, then you really should rewrite your female characters.

Another common theme is to write female characters as a plot advancement for your main character. The most common way that I have seen is to kill the female character, usually a mother or a lover that motivates the main male character to go after the villain or learn a new skill, etc.  This needs to stop in popular media, but it needs to be noticed by writers, readers and viewers first.

If you write your female characters as people, your work will shine, and you will avoid the usual cliches of female characters as cardboard cutouts.

Give Them Their Own Goals and Motivation

Just like any other character, your female characters need goals and motivation too. This will help a lot with making them feel like real people. Everyone has goals and motivation, whether it is something huge like to be a scientist, or a master shopper, or a small goal like wanting to wake up on time the next morning to not be late for work.

When you don’t give characters goals, whatever their gender, you create them as cardboard cutouts just revolving around a plot. However, there is an extra element to female characters if you leave out their goals and motivations. They become cardboard cutouts with sex appeal, and this is not necessarily what you want for your female characters.

Another issue about goals and motivations. Please don’t make your female characters only goal to get laid or be laid by the main character. Yes, it is a goal, but they should have more goals than to just be a sex object for the main character.

Give your characters goals and motivations and let them exist in your story not just for your main characters, but next to them.

Make Them Show Emotion and Change Throughout the Story

There is nothing worse than a character that does not react or change during the plot and action of a story. Whether they are male or female or anything in between, if they don’t change and react, then they might as well be a cardboard cutout or a lamp. This is especially important for female characters, because so often they are just there as plot devices and motivation for other characters.

Let your female characters react as people, let them show ugly emotions like anger and hate and let them react as real people would. Don’t keep them shiny and pretty, let them get dirty and downright ugly. Let them react and show them as you would a male character. Make them cry, or scream, or yell and be more than just sex appeal.

Make them change throughout their story, but make them change for the right reasons. If the only reason your character changes is because they get into a romantic relationship, then you need to examine your plot and try something new. This plot device is so overused, and so not the message we want to send to our young people. This is a common theme in teen romances that it needs to be corrected somehow. It starts with us, the next generation of writers and authors and creators.

Let your characters, whether male, female, or anything in between, be human and your writing will be the best it has ever been.

Happy Writing!

How To Tuesday: Write Developed Characters

 Hello Readers! Special Message here: If I seem short during this How To Tuesday,  blame WordPress. I had been working on this post for more than a week, almost 2000 words put into it, and then WordPress decided to be a butt and delete it all. So here is attempt number two!

Some writers will tell you that naming characters is the hardest part. To develop them all you have to do is write out their story and their arc, then edit it in later drafts. I think that it really depends on the character. Whether or not their arc is a wide sweeping arc or a simple event that sets their actions. Being a writer, and having several characters, I can tell you that sometimes their arcs come easy, and then other times it will be several drafts in and I will be staring at a blank page thinking “Who the hell are you? What the F*@K do you want?”

To write developed characters, with complete arcs and growth, there are three things to keep in mind: Backstory, Mid-story and post story.

Backstory

Backstory is important, but not always relevant to the specific scene you’re writing. You should make it match your character, but not too obvious that the reader feels like they were fooled. Unless your character is the luckiest person in the world, everything is not going to just fall into their lap. They have to work to get where they are when your story starts. They have to have failures and successes. Not just one or the other.

Depending on your story and your character arc, your backstory determines how your character will react to certain situations in your plot. If your character is in a bank robbery, whether they are a trained soldier, or a guy who adamantly hates guns and violence will change how they react to the gunmen.

Mid-Story

In the middle of the action, your characters decisions determine their growth and their arc. There are generally two reactions to growth in story. Your character can either accept the changes, or fight them tooth and nail. There are a thousand choices, several types of growth, but it all basically boils down to “I accept this” or “Not in a million years”.

The most important thing in Mid-Story character development is consistency. If your character encounters a barking dog at the beginning of the story and is scared of it, then if they encounter the dog again in the middle and are not scared, there better have been some kind of growth in between.

Post Story

Post Story is probably the least important development, but it is still important. Unless your character dies at the end of your work, or they are braindead, they still have to grow after the events of the story. Post story is more important if you are working on a series, but for stand-alone is still relevant.

Post Story is what happens “after the credits”. The hero has saved the girl (or vice versa), the evil baddie has been taken care of and all is well. So what are the hero/ girl’s plans after? Some choose to let the reader decide, hence the “Rides off into the sunset” ending. Still, some others add in small hints throughout the piece. Like for instance, your character loves knitting and is working on a blanket, but they are pulled into this elaborate plot against the president. “ALL I WANT IS TO FINISH MY DAMN BLANKET!” is repeated several times in your piece.

Post story they better finish their damn blanket.

No matter what your plot or your character arcs, do your best to keep them consistent and your characters will be well developed and readers will thank you for it!

Happy Writing!

Tuesday How To: Finding Characters

Writing without characters is like riding a bike without wheels, you won’t get too far. Sure, there are pieces out there that have limited characters, but they at least have one aspect that has to do with the development of a personality or skills. Look at Disney/Pixar’s Wall-E. There is no dialogue for the first half of the movie, but Wall-E and Eve have personalities and show some growth before the rest of the characters are introduced.

Characters are easy for some people, and difficult for others. Depending on the piece, characters could come easily, or they could hide from you for the first ten or more pages. I have had several experiences with characters, from my first story with the protagonist that had more than ten names, to my most recent characters who grow and become more alive with every new draft of my novels.

So this first installment we are going to talk about finding  characters. So let’s jump to it, shall we?

Depending on what your current project is, you could already have your characters. If you write fanfiction, which is writing based on someone else’s characters and setting, you already have your characters. If you are writing from scratch, you might not have any characters, or maybe just a few.

How you find characters will depend on if you have an idea or not. Sometimes characters, or their names will come first, and then their plots or ideas come after. Sometimes you have the idea and you just want to shake your character and scream at them “Tell me your name!”. Either way, I would like to believe characters want to be discovered.

With an Idea

If you started with an idea, I think the task of finding characters is easier. With an idea, and whatever parts of a plot you already have, fitting a character where they are needed becomes a bit easier. For instance, say we have the idea for a plot surrounding a bank robbery. The character we need can either work with the idea surrounding a bank robbery or be against it. What I mean by that is: Our character can have several personalities depending on the plot. Is the character part of the robbery, or just in the bank when the robbery starts? Does our character try to stop it, or just cower in the corner, crying for their mother? Make the character fit what you need the character to be.

An example that I have used in the past is the Camp NaNoWriMo April session. I was writing a novel based on someone falling into the addiction of drugs. I could have gone the easy way and said the character was male, twenty-four years old, was traumatized as a child and addicted to alcohol, but that is what readers would have expected, that seems to be the stereotype of drug dealers and users. What I ended up doing instead was making her female, type A, in medical school, and selling drugs without using them. This made her interesting, and went against all stereotypes.

Without an Idea

Coming up with characters on their own is definitely hard. Without the backbone of a plot, characters could be anything. Sometimes, characters come to me with their full names and their stories, but most of the time it’s like an awkward first date trying to pull information from them. There have only been a few instances where I come up with the character before the idea.

One of them is Georgia Rose Howell. This is a name that came to me in a flash of inspiration without an idea attached to it. I have tried several times to add her to other working ideas, but she refuses. She seems to be holding out for her own work, but she won’t give me any more information than just her name. She’s like Groot in that way.

Me: What’s your story?

GRH: I am Georgia Rose Howell.

Yeah, eventually I’ll find a place for her, but for now, she’s just a fancy name.

Next week, we’ll talk about naming characters and bringing them to life.

Happy Writing!