I’m up to 6900 words now. Might get a little more time tomorrow. I’m still getting used to these characters and trying to find a balance in the early going.
Basically, Jenny is a TV news woman who does local interest stories. She’s aging and her station wants to diversify and get younger at the same time. They promoted her to Assignments Editor, which is off-camera. Also makes room for a targeted replacement.
She would like to do hard news, but the deck is stacked against her. I know where this is all going, but am trying to find a balance. She’s a single mother of a college student who is also a major character. There are the workplace struggles. Plus a plot I want to get into.
I want the plot to unfold slowly, but am afraid if I don’t call it out in the first two pages I might bore some people. I want to challenge myself with a mystery-box style, but it’s obvious to me there’s going to be a learning curve. I’m trying to use some subtle imagery to call things out, but I don’t think it’s working too well. Things like an image on a kombucha bottle, a restaurant sign, and a few others.
I’m using a lot of workplace tension to try to keep the interest up. Jenny is trying to get her former cameraman used to her replacement. Struggling to find a schedule that keeps all the reporters busy, that kind of thing. She’s also haunting the basement to look through old files from various newspapers her conglomerate absorbed over the years. Maybe one of those will bring the kind of news she wants to dive into.
Finally, I sent Jenny on a day trip with her son. He’s failing Geology and has the opportunity to do some extra credit with a scintillator. This is basically radioactive prospecting. Her news research is starting to come together with his research paper.
I really should start my other story, but I’m dwelling on this for a while. It would probably help to get two going so I can bounce back and forth.
Who knows what tomorrow will bring. Might return to outer space with Percy the Space Chimp. Might stay where I am for a few more chapters.
Welcome to our morning-after-Halloween coffee. I know. You were up all night sneaking the Chocolate Peanut Butter Pumpkins out of your kid’s candy bags and you deeply regret mixing them with the pumpkin spice vodka.
Don’t worry. Nobody here is wearing so much as a mask. Our coffee is pure and unflavored. Even the cream is just the way it came out of the cow. You’re in a safe place.
But it hasn’t been easy setting things up for today. I’ve been living in the UK for years now, so I had no idea that an insidious drug cult has taken over America. My first clue was when the plane landed in Atlanta. A group of young women screamed as they entered the terminal. No, really. Screamed. “PUMPKIN SPICE LATTES!” When my next flight landed in DC, several passengers menaced a Dunkin’ Donuts employee who was attempting to close down for…
I don’t know what it is about Wednesday’s, but I’ve been posting authorly stuff on Wednesdays. This isn’t by design, it just seems to work out that way.
I’ve written a fair number of characters at this point in my career. I’m not claiming to be an expert at anything, but I get compliments on my characters. Part of my secret is observation. I observe not just real people, but characters of other writers too. This includes performances by actors. I admit to being a little bit jealous of Carol Peletier.
If you don’t know the character, it’s because her last name is never used. I had to Google it myself. This is Carol from The Walking Dead television show. The comic book version had a different arc, and she is dead now.
TWD is a love/hate show. People seem to fall into one camp or the other. I’m going to beg the indulgence of any who don’t like the show, particularly the writers among the crowd. Carol is one of the best characters of all time. Let’s meet her.
Here she is; mousy, weak, worst haircut of all time. She is an abused wife, and mother to a daughter who needs protecting from Carol’s husband. She is portrayed by a wonderful actress named Melissa McBride.
I think it’s really cool that she’s mid to late 40’s. This isn’t Scarlet Johannsen, or Milla Jovovich. Now I love those super babes from the movies, but Carol breaks that mold. (How old was Bilbo Baggins when he set out from the Shire?)
This is a good thing. It adds some believability to an unbelievable setting. I figured Carol was cast to be someone emotional and eventually to become meat for zombies. (What’s known as a redshirt.)
Carol starts off cooking, doing laundry, and being the mommie to the survivors. Nobody is safe on this show, and she lost her husband. This was a good thing. She also lost her daughter, and this was bad. So we started with an underdog and put her through the ringer.
Humans live an almost tribal existence. There are no hospitals, jails, fire departments, or nursing homes in this environment. Some groups of people are bad, and others are in a similar situation to the main cast. Any single mistake could be your last mistake post appocolypse.
When the main cast finds a friendly place, it’s Carol who becomes the welcoming committee. This is who she wants to be. Doesn’t she look sweet? Almost grandmotherly. (Thank God hair continues to grow during the Zombie appocolypse.)
She pitches right in with the new people and plans barbecues. She checks on the sick and serves as a liaison to new friendships.
But Carol has been through some crap. She’s seen her daughter become a zombie, and watched as a friend killed her. She’s been attacked and had to defend herself. She learned to use weapons, because she had to. She also learned what she could about medicines and treats the sick.
In one segment there was a disease going around. When it became obvious that two people were not going to survive, it was Carol who delivered the mercy killings. This was out of mercy, and out of caution for those who were not yet sick. It’s an impossible world, but Carol seems to be the one capable of making impossible decisions.
That’s a great character. She has an arc, and manages to change to survive in a world gone mad. She even manages to save a little bit of grandmotherly Carol in the process. Why I love her is that she’s an even bigger character than that. You see this is Carol too:
Carol is a killing machine. There is a bit of the psychotic in her makeup. She isn’t completely psycho, because she is emotional about it. She simply reserves those emotions until trouble has ended. There isn’t a bit of emotion when she’s killing zombies or humans who really deserve it.
There is one episode, called The Grove. It’s so powerful it spawned a thousand internet memes. At this point in the program, Carol had adopted two girls. The story line took a bit of an Of Mice and Men turn, only it was one of the girls who wasn’t right. (+/- 12 years old.)
The older girl, Lizzie, wasn’t right. She killed her younger sister and said it would be okay, because she would come back. (They always come back, but as zombies.) Carol and another character, Tyrese, we’re looking for the main group. They both have responsibilities, like finding food. Plus there was a baby to care for. Lizzie couldn’t be left alone with the baby, ever.
Carol decided that Lizzie couldn’t be around other people. Remember there are no counsellors, or care facilities available. Check it out for yourselves:
I think this is one of the most powerful bits of film I’ve ever seen. It ranks right up there with the burning of Atlanta, and the shower scene in psycho.
This program is full of testosterone driven moments, and there are plenty of macho characters too. For me, it’s Carol that is the standout character. She doesn’t want to be this person. Circumstances force her to be what she is. Even if you disagree with her decisions, she has a logic behind every action.
Carol continues to get stronger and stronger. She doesn’t do ninja backflips. She doesn’t high kick her way out of trouble, or play the sex kitten. She doesn’t have some asinine catchphrase. She doesn’t try to stand behind the throne and manipulate power. She’s just Carol, trying to survive and make sure her friends survive too.
This week during what amounted to a Viking style raid by some other group, it was Carol who found the weapons and protected the innocent while the main support was afield. And she did it all in about as cold blooded fashion as I’ve ever seen.
Carol has evolved from mousey redshirt into a capable, even dangerous, survivor. She’s capable of making decisions others cannot, and never once asked to be in charge. That’s a great character arc, and I wish I’d have invented her first.
Authors need to be creative thieves. Stock Carol in your memory. Maybe some small piece of her can help you with your next character.
Kit Campbell ran a blog series about character archetypes recently. I really enjoyed it, and invited her to post about it over here. Her blog is fun and informative, so please check it out. You’ll figure that out when you read her bio. Besides, she calls me a Squidder, who doesn’t want to be a Squidder? Take it away, Kit:
Much thanks to Craig for having me! Recently I ran a series on my blog, Where Landsquid Fear to Tread, about character archetypes. Craig and I got to talking, and here I am. Now, Kit, you ask, what is an archetype? An archetype is something considered to be a universal type that things/people/stories tend to fall into. So character archetypes can be found in stories and legends throughout history, up to and including stories today. And the nice thing about understanding archetypes is that you can see them—and how to twist them—both in your own writing and in the media you consume.
I’ve selected five of the most basic archetypes to go over. The number of character archetypes varies depending on who you talk to, but these tend to be fairly universal.
The Hero archetype is perhaps the most well known. After all, most stories have heroes of some form or another. Archetypal heroes tend to either be orphans or are orphaned shortly after the start of the story, and they are forced out of their home by the plot. They tend to be uniformly good, and are often special in some manner. Examples of archetypal heroes include Luke Skywalker, Simba, and King Arthur.
The Villain archetype tends to be the opposite of a hero archetype. Archetypal villains are uniformly evil and also tend to be selfish and power hungry, uncaring as to who gets hurt in their quest for their goals. Archetypal villains tend to receive more criticism than other characters, as many people see them as being underdeveloped in characterization. Examples of archetypal villains include the Wicked Witch of the West, Emperor Palpatine, and Jafar from Aladdin.
The Mentor archetype, again, is very common. Almost all archetypal heroes have a mentor who helps them on their way. Mentors act as a guide to the hero, helping them prepare for what lies ahead. They’re typically presented as old men, though exceptions exist. Mentor characters are often removed from the story to force the hero to go on alone. Examples of archetypal mentors include Obi-Wan Kenobi (original Star Wars movies), Gandalf, Dumbledore, and Merlin.
The Evil with a Heart of Gold archetype (link: http://landsquidattack.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/character-archetypes-evil-with-a-heart-of-gold/) tends to be very common, though not as obvious. Characters who are evil with a heart of gold start the story on the villain’s side, but are eventually drawn to the hero’s side and turn against their original master. They are redeemable, and tend to have been good in the past. Sometimes they are echoes of the hero, where they turn to evil at a point where the hero has prevailed in keeping his/her morals. Examples of characters in the Evil with a Heart of Gold archetype include Darth Vader or the Terminator. If a previously evil character sacrifices themselves for the hero, they are probably Evil with a Heart of Gold.
The Damsel in Distress archetype is another one that sees a lot of criticism for lack of characterization. Damsels in distress tend to exist more as objects or goals than people—someone for the hero to rescue more than anything else. They tend to be women, but this is not always true. Unlike the other archetypes discussed here, damsels in distress can morph into other archetypes if they stay in the narrative. Examples of the Damsel in Distress archetype include Princess Peach, several fairy tale characters, and Robin from the Batman comics.
This is just a sample of the character archetypes. Some people will break these down into sub-archetypes, or combine some into a bigger archetype. (For example, someone might include Evil with a Heart of Gold under the larger title of the Villain, with a definition for the Villain that includes anyone acting in opposition to the Hero.) In fact, for something “universal,” it’s kind of interesting how much variation there is, depending on who you talk to.
I hope this gives you a basic idea of character archetypes. Feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions!
It is a little known fact that Kit was raised in the wild by a marauding gang of octopuses. It wasn’t until she was 25 that she was discovered by a traveling National Geographic scientist and brought back to civilization. This is sometimes apparent in the way that she attempts to escape through tubes when startled. Her transition to normalcy has been slow, but scientists predict that she will have mastered basics such as fork use sometime in the next year. More complex skills, such as proper grocery store etiquette, may be forever outside her reach.
Kit’s stories have been published in half-a-dozen anthologies. Her two novels, Shards, an urban mythic fantasy, and Hidden Worlds , a fantasy adventure, are available from Turtleduck Press.
Charles Yallowitz and I are doing a blog exchange today. His post was about character development as a way to keep a lengthy series interesting. My post is how to display the character growth over a stand alone book.
Please visit Charles’ blog and consider following him.
Character growth is something all authors struggle with. I’m not an expert, but I have some seasoning. There are many ways to weave character growth into a story, but I’m going to limit this to what I know. Maybe we can have some good discussions in the comments.
All of my novels are stand alone stories. I don’t have the length of a series to get to the point. The goal is to give the reader a powerful emotional experience through the character’s growth. In a stand alone story this could be an emotional roller coaster.
Keep in mind that emotions aren’t limited to tears and heartbreak. If that’s your thing, go for it. You could be writing about humor, fear, patience, or other emotions.
Charles Yallowitz became my friend through WordPress. He’s the author of the fantasy series, Legends Of Windemere. The length of this series intrigues me. I asked him how he keeps the tales interesting over a long series. My own efforts are all stand alone novels, and he graciously offered this advice.
Thanks to C.S. Boyack for giving me a chance to write a post for his blog. My name is Charles E. Yallowitz and I’m the author behind the Legends of Windemere fantasy series. This is a 15 book series and I’ve already published the first 6 books while having written the first 9. It’s less confusing than it sounds unless you’re the one writing it, which is the topic at hand. How does one keep a long series going with an overarching plot and keeping people interested?
SUBPLOTS AND CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT
At least that’s what I use. You see, the overarching story doesn’t get fully revealed in my series until Allure of the Gypsies, which is Book 3. There are hints and whispers in the previous books, but those focus a lot on establishing the world and characters. The hope is that a reader will get attached to the heroes and villains more than the plot, which creates a connection that can be used to continue the series. A character will rise, fall, tumble, soar, and live an actual life with the main plot being more of a backdrop. The best comparison I can make here is how we go through school. Education and graduating are the overarching story/goal while our social lives and experiences evolve us as living beings.
Let me try to show this by taking the first hero to be introduced, Luke Callindor, and show his tale book by book:
1. Beginning of Hero– This is the introduction where Luke lies to get a mission at Hamilton Military Academy. He is pitted against a Lich and a demonic assassin even though he’s an inexperienced warrior. The overarching plot is hinting at the end, but most of this is about how Luke makes friends and steps into the role of a hero.
2. Prodigy of Rainbow Tower– More of the overarching story is revealed through villain scenes and the introduction of Nyx. Luke’s evolution is continuing with him handling a few losses and learning that being a hero is rather unforgiving. This book also introduces several locations, species, and the magic system of the world. So there’s character development, a further blossoming of the main plot, and world exploration.
3. Allure of the Gypsies– You’ve seen him as a hero, but now it’s time to see him as a ‘human’ being. The main story is introduced and events draw all the heroes toward this path. This is also where you learn more about Luke’s past, which is a way to give a character depth, history, and a fresher outlook. His personal subplots get a few twists here too. I recommend avoiding the straight line subplot because real life is rarely so simple. Things that are tend to be boring.
4. Family of the Tri-Rune– When you have a long series and multiple heroes, it helps to give them breaks from time to time. Not remove them entirely, but have them step to the side and focus on a subplot. That’s what happens with Luke here. He still gets his scenes and has a presence, but his role here is exclusively subplot and ‘sidekick’ to the character who is the focus. This prevents him from becoming stale, overexposed, and shows how he works when he isn’t the main hero.
5. The Compass Key– Events from the previous book have left Luke emotionally unstable for a bit. This is where he does some soul searching in the face of the overarching story hitting its stride. An item is needed to combat the main villain and access corrupted areas that he feeds off, which is the focus of the book. Luke and the other champions spend time coming to terms with their destiny and trying to figure out how to work as a team while their enemies have been united for years. From here you can see how a series can get strength from character developing off and around each other. It creates openings for future subplots and, in one book’s case, an entire story revolving around a character’s decision.
6. Curse of the Dark Wind– The most recent book ends up pushing Luke into the spotlight and gives him a chance to shine brighter than the others. Each character gets a book like this, but Luke does get more due to him being around since the beginning. A trick to keeping this interesting is to not always think you need your characters to be the ones doing the saving. Luke is infected by a curse and struggling to survive while the others are searching for a cure. So while the story is focused on him, Luke is more in a ‘defiant damsel in distress’ role. This is another way to keep a long series going. Put your characters into a variety of roles to flush them out and make the reader excited about what you will do next.
To be honest, there are characters with more intriguing evolutions than Luke, but he has the longest running one. As you can tell, I put a lot of faith in this part of the story and the associated subplots. You can even say that the overarching story is secondary and not the driving force of a long series. It’s the characters and how they grow, which will connect to a reader and keep them going. Many stories draw out the question of ‘what will happen to the characters next?’. For a longer series, it might be more beneficial to evoke the following question in a reader:
What will this character do next?
I have Beginning of a Hero on my Kindle app right now. The series intrigues me, and I can’t wait to dig in. Here are some ways you can contact and follow Charles: