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Jan's Writing Basics #8--Developing Interesting Characters

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Postby mymask » Wed Apr 21, 2010 10:42 am

Hey Jan, I don't have an assignment , I just wanted to say Thank you for these lessons. God Bless!
KATAB: (Hebrew) " To write, inscribe, describe, ENGRAVE." Lord may our words engrave in the hearts of Men, an image of YOU!

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"Compiled Master Class'

Postby Wanda » Sat May 01, 2010 1:21 pm

Hi Jan,

This is the first time I've read your lessons, not knowing they were here.
I'll be checking in from now on.

Could you please send me a copy of the "Compiled Master Class?"

Since I'm a newbie, I have a lot to learn.

Thanks so much

[mod edit to remove e-mail addy]

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Postby Calenmiriel » Tue May 04, 2010 10:29 am

Bear-Bear wrote:This is an excerpt from an OLD novel for teenagers I was working on some years ago. In this passage, my main goal is to give a quick introduction of Wanda. (Dan, the Pastor's son on the ladder, has already been introduced, so is already known to be pretty conservative and studious in speech and manner).
Dan was leaning out from the top of the ladder, sliding his hands along the gutter, trying to get a string of lights looped over a nail. "You are lifesavers, people! I'll be eternally grateful. Promise! I --"

He broke off, surprised, as Wanda took a few running steps and then did a cartwheel on the lawn. Although athletic, it was an unusual display of spontaneous zest for her.

She dusted off the blades of grass that clung to her hands onto her jeans. "Can't believe how great the shin's doin'. Didn't feel a thing on that one. Those Tigers are gonna rue the day at Friday's game, betcha."

Bounding over to the bottom of the ladder, she looked up at Dan, eyes sparkling with joy. Her dark brown, African American skin seemed to glow. All through last term's volleyball season, she'd been fighting a shin problem the doctor couldn't diagnose.



That was a re-write from this initial draft material ...

Dan was leaning out from the top of the ladder, sliding his hands along the gutter, trying to get a string of lights looped over a nail. "You are lifesavers, people! I'll be eternally grateful, I promise! I can't tell you --" He broke off in surprise as Wanda took a few running steps and then did a cartwheel on the lawn. Although athletic, it was an unusual display of spontaneous zest for her. She dusted off the blades of grass clinging to her hands, onto her jeans. "I can't believe how great my shin feels! I think it's almost healed!" Her eyes full of joy, she bounded over to the bottom of the ladder, looking up at Dan. Her dark brown, African American skin seemed to glow with enthusiasm. She had been fighting a shin problem during volleyball season last term that the doctor could not diagnose.


I'll take opportunity to ask a question rather than comment . . .

To me, "Her dark brown, African American skin seemed to glow." feels awkward. But how to introduce a person's race into the storyline? If I just say dark brown skin, then she could be a person with a tan, or Spanish American, etc. But doing it like this also makes me edgy. Especially since the acceptable terms for describing a group of people tend to change every 5 years or so. So, if the novel were to get published, a term used in complimentary fashion when written can be re-interpreted years later to be a snub or worse.

Suggestions? How do good writers handle that type of thing?


I have a suggestion! :D When I write about dark skinned characters I usually compare their skin to something that descibes the color without going into the specific race. Like for your story: "Her chocolate brown skin seemed to glow."
Or if you want to subtly suggest a physical feature: "Her smooth, chocolate brown skin seemed to glow."

Hope that's helpful to you! ^^
“There are thoughts which are prayers. There are moments when, whatever the posture of the body, the soul is on its knees.”— Victor Hugo

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Postby Calenmiriel » Tue May 04, 2010 10:49 am

I've never submitted anything like this before, so here we go! This a scene from a short story I just finished writing on April 30th. ^^ (Sorry, it's a little over 150 words.) >_<

She folder her hands in her lap, “What will we be having today, good sir?” questioned Charlotte with playful eyes. Each took turns packing a picnic lunch for their outings, and over time it became a surprising game between the two friends.

“Patience, fair lady,” his grey eyes were full of mischief. “Eyes shut?”

The honey-blonde nodded.

Lucius began removing the foodstuffs. He laid them before him and decided which to introduce first.

“Open your mouth,” he commanded, and she willingly complied. He touched the bread to her lips, and she took the bite.

Keeping her eyes closed, she analyzed, “French bread with basil pesto.”

“Yes.”

Charlotte opened her eyes and smiled widely at him.

“Lovely green teeth, if I must say so myself, Charlotte.”

Her victorious smile slid off her face and was replaced by an expression of puzzlement; followed by one of indignation. She put a shielding hand in front of her mouth. “Lucius! You meant for that to happen, didn’t you?” she accused.

He laughed good-naturedly at her and harder still when she went to smack him. He passed her a linen napkin. She swiped it away from him and began cleaning the green stuff from her teeth; all the while giving him a petulant glare.
“There are thoughts which are prayers. There are moments when, whatever the posture of the body, the soul is on its knees.”— Victor Hugo

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Postby glorybee » Tue May 04, 2010 11:33 am

Welcome to "class", calenmirel!

This was a fun excerpt to read--playful and romantic. I do indeed feel as if you've given me some insight into both characters, by their words AND by their actions.

A few points:

1. This is written in a very romantic, almost old-fashioned style--and consequently I'm not sure of the setting (time and place). Some of their dialog seems to be from a previous era (do modern people speak like that?)--however, other snippets of dialog, items in the scene, and actions seem to place it in the here and now. This may need to be resolved in your longer piece.

2. Your characters work well in their setting, but they seem (at least in this small selection) to be a bit flat and stereotyped. Again, I'm sure they're more fully developed in the larger work--but I wanted you to make sure you're considering that as you work on this. Romance writing certainly demands character "types"--just make sure that you make your own characters interesting and unique.

3. There's some tweaking to be done--spelling, punctuation.

This story is very promising--keep us posted, please, on your writing process and its ultimate destination!
Jan Ackerson

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Postby Calenmiriel » Tue May 04, 2010 6:19 pm

Thanks for welcoming me!

Thank you for the compliments on my writing. I try to portray each character through actions and words as you said.

Reply to Pointer 1.) It was supposed to have a romantic air to it, though Charlotte and Lucius are just best friends. (At least in the scene I posted.) The story is based in the early 1800's. It would make more sense, like you said, if the entire story was up.

Pointer 2.) Again, yes, they would probably be less flat and stereotyped if I had the whole bit up. :) Just as an explaination Charlotte is a head-strong character to Lucius who is more laid back but mischievous and arrogant.

Pointer 3.) Haha, yeah, punctuation is my weak point. XD I'm working on that...There's always tweaking that can be done! :D

Wrap up: The story is finished. It's 7 pages long on a Word document, but just because I hyper-cautious with my writing, I won't be posting it online. I just posted this scene because there's nothing too unique about going on a picnic. ^^
I've heard of the consequences of having original works online, and I've heard of some being leaked without the writer's permission. No offense to anyone! :) I'm just weird that way.

But thank you for reading it! :D
“There are thoughts which are prayers. There are moments when, whatever the posture of the body, the soul is on its knees.”— Victor Hugo

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Postby winstonsmith » Thu May 06, 2010 5:58 pm

I'm new to this and thought I'd give it a try.

This is a female character from a short story about the Tribulation....

“M-m-man it’s c-c-cold in here” was the statement of the obvious from Arli Ryan. Petite and youthful, she could have been the girl-next-door but she was ragged, with filthy bell-bottomed jeans, a faded tie-dyed blouse and long unkempt dirty-blond hair framed by a tattered psychedelic head band. The emaciated girl appeared a transported refugee from a long-ago Summer of Love and now she found herself deposited into the foul surroundings of a holding cell that would have made a medieval dungeon proud.

Tossing his lone blanket to his shivering cellmate, Jonny Goode glared through the dim light at what he suspected was once a quite attractive young lady. A political science professor, Goode had been arrested when he inadvertently mentioned the word “Bible” at his fortieth birthday party. “Welcome to the Ritz. Name’s Jonny … and yours …?”

“Arlene … I hate it. They call me Arli … you got any food, man?”
Goode snickered. “Well, we have an all you can eat buffet consisting of whatever unfortunate creature you happen to step upon, and once it gets dark, the main course … rodent du jour.”
Staring at Goode’s grimy, unshaven face, the ache in Arli’s stomach increased when she realized that his expression suggested that he was only half-joking. “I think I’ll pass ... I’m on a diet.”

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Postby glorybee » Thu May 06, 2010 6:41 pm

Winston, this is really interesting!

The one thing that jumped out at me was an early description of Arli, where you used 4 hyphenated phrases. I wonder if her physical description could be spread out a little, added here and there to her dialog.

These two characters (and their situation) are quite intriguing, and I'd definitely be interested in reading the whole piece. Keep at it!

Thanks for stopping by, Winston!
Jan Ackerson

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Postby AnneRene' » Mon May 10, 2010 8:14 pm

Jan, at your leisure, may I also have copies of:

The Compiled Master Class

And

Your lessons on onomatopoeia

Thank you and very much looking forward to reading them!

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Basics # 8 Developing Characters

Postby trinkes2002 » Wed May 12, 2010 5:49 am

Jan, here's my entry. This is a true character who lived four doors down from us when I was growing up. I could write a short story about her.

“Hide in here, child,” Miss Bester said as she opened the rickety screen door of her back porch. “C'mon now Johnny, scoot on in here—I won't bite. Hurry up before Mr. Appezeller finds you again.”

Little Johnny was shrewd, and if the Truant Officer caught him this time...butt whippings would surely ensue. He liked the old woman, even though his Dad had told him to “Stay away from that black woman, her and her whole brood.” She escorted him into the her parlor, as she called it, and gave him a tall, cool glass of iced tea.

“What you want to be when you grow, young'n?”

“Well,” he said. “I guess...I want to be President.”

“With you grades?” she remarked. “Here, read this book. Get to Isaiah, and look up the part about the foul-mouthed sinner what don't deserve no mercy—that's you.”

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Postby glorybee » Wed May 12, 2010 6:18 am

Oh, I'd love to read more about this character!

Add a few more details here and there about her home and her appearance for added interest.

This is a wonderful little glimpse at an intriguing character--actually, BOTH characters were intriguing.
Jan Ackerson

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A Character

Postby eearth » Wed May 12, 2010 2:02 pm

His name was Elmer, but the kids called him gramps behind his back. Gramps was always good for a soda or a slice of pizza, but they preferred to save him for when things were really tough.

Gramps always put a condition on his giving help. Gramps would never give money, because he could never be sure how the money would be spent. Also gramps always put a condition on his giving help. The person who received help from gramps, had to consume what gramps gave them in front of gramps.

Gramps said that once he bought a person a meal at McDonald, then he went on his way to buy a pair of tennis shoes. When gramps came back by the McDonalds to catch the bus, there was the person gramps tried to help, he was trying to sell the meal gramps had paid for.

Did I use the word gramps a little too much.
1 John 1:4 And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.

FREE writing lessons by Jan Ackerson can be found at:
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Now she is covering what the judges are looking for in the weekly Writers Challenge.

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Re: A Character

Postby glorybee » Wed May 12, 2010 2:16 pm

eearth wrote:His name was Elmer, but the kids called him gramps behind his back. Gramps was always good for a soda or a slice of pizza, but they preferred to save him for when things were really tough.

Gramps always put a condition on his giving help. Gramps would never give money, because he could never be sure how the money would be spent. Also gramps always put a condition on his giving help. The person who received help from gramps, had to consume what gramps gave them in front of gramps.

Gramps said that once he bought a person a meal at McDonald, then he went on his way to buy a pair of tennis shoes. When gramps came back by the McDonalds to catch the bus, there was the person gramps tried to help, he was trying to sell the meal gramps had paid for.

Did I use the word gramps a little too much.


Yep, you did. There's nothing wrong with a pronoun (he/him/his) every now and then.

You did a good job help me to get to know and understand Gramps...Id love to know evern more about him. He seems like a feisty old guy--could you write a bit of dialog, perhaps between him and one of his 'handouts', so I can 'hear' how he talks?

Take a look at your 2nd paragraph--your 1st and 3rd sentences are almost identical. You can omit sentence 3 and save some valuable words.

One more thing--the word 'Gramps' should be capitalized; it's his nickname, but it's used like a name.

This is a GREAT homework assignment--the main thing was to create an interesting character, and you've definitely done that. Thanks for this submission!
Jan Ackerson

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A little conversation

Postby eearth » Wed May 12, 2010 3:04 pm

"Hey Gramps" Joey snarled, "How come you'll spend five dollars on a meal for someone, but you won't give me one dollar".

"Well Joey, you know God created hunger. So I see feeding a person as fulfilling a God given desire."

"And Jesus turned water into wine, so GOD must approve of a little vino now and then", Joey smiled, figuring he had the upper hand in the conversation.

"True, what you say about Jesus and the wine. But you will note He also taught that we should obey the law, and I do believe you are under the Florida drinking age of eighteen."

Joey filled his lungs full of air and sat up erect. "Just once I'd like to win a disagreement with you."

"That would be easy Joey." Gramps shifted in his seat. "Just read God's Word, and catch me in a mistake. It happens all the time."
1 John 1:4 And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.

FREE writing lessons by Jan Ackerson can be found at:
http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpB ... hp?t=29535
Now she is covering what the judges are looking for in the weekly Writers Challenge.

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Postby glorybee » Wed May 12, 2010 3:42 pm

Now THAT'S what I'm talkin' about!
Jan Ackerson

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