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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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Wild-eyed John

Postby OldManRivers » Thu Apr 15, 2010 10:25 am

I had named him, Wild-Eyed John. To be honest, this grizzly, grey-bearded man of the streets never would tell me his name. Wild-eyed John was too busy preaching his hell-singed sermons to be answering the inane questions of folks like me.

“Are ya rightch with Jeeez-sus, young feller?”

John would fire those words at me with a holy fire, but his voice was not nearly as frightening as those piercing blue eyes that peered deep into your soul. Everyday I would nod; some days I would smile; once in awhile I would shout back an amen. And when I had the gumption to offer that nervous Amen, Wild-eyed John would echo back my “Amen” then turn his attention to another white-collared sinner on his way to work.

To be sure, John was a priest of the city streets, somewhat tattered but surely faded. Most of the street folks become invisible after a few days, but not Wild-eyed John. With his well-worn Gideon Bible clutched into his second-hand black suit and with his passion burning in his heart, this old, whiskey-ed warrior worked this parcel of concrete covered earth and worked it everyday until the day Wild-Eyed John showed up no more.
May God's gentle grace be with you.

Jim McWhinnie

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Re: New Character

Postby glorybee » Thu Apr 15, 2010 10:58 am

flyingcross wrote:Hi Jan,

My sister loves Jan Karon, and I'll have to say, there are some wonderful characters in them.

My new character.

Her glassy eyes took in nothing of the television that blared in front of her. This was her life, her choice, to drink to survive the onslaught of anxiety. It had brought her to this couch, this room, where no one else wanted to be. All she wanted was to be loved, and the only way she’d found it was by drinking. It just never ended up being love. Her slurred speech as she answered the phone told her daughter all she needed to know.
“Mom, I love you. Let me know when you’d like to come out. We’ve got a room for you whenever you decide to come.”
She hung up the phone, crying. She wanted to go, but she couldn’t go without a drink now. She had lost her family even though they wanted her as badly as she wanted them.

Thanks,
Cindy


Cindy, thanks for mentioning Jan Karon! She's a wonderful writer, and an expert at characterization.

Your own sad character is very well written, too! You really captured the despair of alcoholism in just a few words. My only suggestion is a formatting one: an extra white space between paragraphs.

Really well done--thanks for contributing!
Jan Ackerson

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Postby glorybee » Thu Apr 15, 2010 11:02 am

Freedomwriter, I'm not sure exactly what your question is...

Using "Joey said" or "Joey stashed a frog in his overalls" are both legitimate ways of tagging dialog. I'm not sure that one is better than the other; most writers use them both. For example:

I might use "Joey said" in a section where I want the pacing to be brisk.

I might use an "action tag" in a passage where I want the reader to know a little bit more about Joey.

In most stories, I'd use a variety of action tags.

Let me know if that doesn't answer what you were asking, and I'll try again...
Jan Ackerson

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Postby glorybee » Thu Apr 15, 2010 11:04 am

Jim, you get this week's gold star for that wonderful bit of character writing. I could see, hear, and smell this fellow--and the narrator!

I'd change one tiny thing--there's a 'your' in the 2nd paragraph that should be a 'my'. See it?
Jan Ackerson

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my homework

Postby Harvestgal » Thu Apr 15, 2010 11:54 pm

Just read the assignment. Didn't really read others so I hope I'm doing it right. Just don't have time. Here's my assignment though. I used a character from one of my stories "Huh" Called My Wild Golden girl. This is Marsha. More or less, didn't have time to really do it well.

Marsha ran down the stairs, skipping the last two steps. Her Dad looked disapprovingly. She sprang over to him and plopped a big wet kiss on his cheek laughing, “Oh Dad, your so funny.” Her locs flopped about her head unorderly. She then grapped a boiled egg from the pot on the stove and yelled in pain as she threw it into the sink. “Dang! That things hot.” “Didn't you know the water was hot, her Dad replied. She ignored the question running cold water over it, as she crushed the shell in her hand and removed it.. She began eating the egg as she walked towards the mirrow. “I love these locs,” she said looking herself over and eating her egg all the while. “Can't you sit down and eat.” her mother demanded. “No, time mom, gotta get to school. Today we have our midterms.”

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Wups,

Postby Harvestgal » Thu Apr 15, 2010 11:55 pm

Just noticed I broke all the dialogue rules with skipping spaces and all that, sorry. Just ignore that one this time. Babies crying and I don't have time to go back in fix it grammar wise.

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Postby glorybee » Fri Apr 16, 2010 6:50 am

Harvestgal, I like how you used dialog, description, and action to give your readers an idea of the kind of girl Marsha is.

There are quite a few errors in spelling and punctuation in your paragraph--care to give it a bit of a polish and re-submit it when you have time? Self-editing is a valuable skill for any writer, and it's very satisfying to find and eradicate those pesky errors.

No hurry--there are no due dates for this class!
Jan Ackerson

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Okay

Postby Harvestgal » Fri Apr 16, 2010 8:01 am

okay, I'll do that when I get home today. Self editing is in my opinion my main problem and something I definitely have to work on. Everytime I submit for the challenge and read it, I suddenly see all these errors. I guess I'm a bit lazy when it comes to editing but that needs to change.

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Here's my homework reposted with corrections

Postby Harvestgal » Sat Apr 17, 2010 4:32 pm

To be honest, I'm not sure how the dialogue grammer goes, if I'm suppose to skip a line and start a new paragraph only after the dialogue or If, I'm supposed to do that before the dialogue too. So correct me if it's still wrong.

Marsha ran down the stairs, jumping the last two steps and landing with a loud thud on the floor. Her Dad looked disapprovingly. She sprang over to him and plopped a big wet kiss on his cheek laughing, “Oh Dad, your so funny.”

Her locks flopped about her head disorderly. She then grabbed a boiled egg from the pot on the stove and yelled in pain as she threw it into the sink. “Dang! That thing's hot.”

“Didn't you know the water was hot,” her Dad replied.

She ignored the question, running cold water over the egg, as she crushed the shell in her hand and removed it. She began eating the egg as she walked towards the mirror. “I love these locks,” she said looking herself over and eating her egg all the while.

“Can't you sit down and eat.” her mother demanded.

“No time mom, gotta get to school. Today we have our midterms.”

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Creating More Interesting Characters

Postby choosingjoy » Sat Apr 17, 2010 5:51 pm

Recalling this, I also thought of Anna and hundreds like her who took all things in stride, even the wind and weather, and went about the business of life with hard work and positive attitudes. They seemed at peace with their God and their surroundings.


At your suggestion, this is from an old challenge article, and I did two things. I decided it was better to get off "they" in the last sentence and focus more on Anna; I also thought her character was more real with added description. See below:

"Recalling this, I also thought of Anna and hundreds like her who took all things in stride, even the wind and weather, and went about the business of life with hard work and positive attitudes. The stubbornness of Anna's chin and quiet light in her eyes spoke of both peace with God and with her surroundings."

PS.. This was a below par entry at best, and it was easy to find something to change. :mrgreen:

Then I found this wonderful character in "A Bride for Donnigan" by Janette Oke. (Might as well aim high, right?) : :wink:

"The boy quickly sidestepped the hand that would have cuffed his ear. His eyes danced merrily as he laughed at his mother's failed, weak effort toward correction, and he left the room, still licking his candy treat. "

I can see this kid!

I love this lesson. :grouphug
Thanks a lot, Jan
A child of the King!
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Postby DanielK » Tue Apr 20, 2010 2:12 pm

Hey, Jan!

Welcome back. Glad you had a nice holiday.

I couldn't find any bits from old stories that seemed to work for me, so I'll just write this one as it comes to me.


An empty beer bottle shattered by the side of her bed. Startled, Marie leapt up, and winced as her bare feet met a few small glass shards. Trying to figure out what was going on, she twisted round and surveyed the room. There, in the doorway, stood her father.

"Hey, girl, whacha doin'? Where my food?" The words came out blurred and indistinct.

"Oh, Thomas, you didn't get drunk again, did you?"

Thomas snarled at her. "So what? Huh? So what if I had a couple of beers? You gonna le'ture me 'gain?"

Marie felt her anger rising. "Thomas, how could you? Ever since Mom died you've spent all your time at that wretched pub, what's it called, The Shining Pint? Worst name I ever did hear. It's so filthy a pig would turn its nose up at it."

"Now girl, you watch yer mouth. I hadit wit' you le'turin' me all day long. If you no gonna get me food, then I hadit. You GET OUT!"

Marie was too startled to move. First anger, then pure animal fear flashed across her face as her father staggered towards her, fists raised.


I managed not to put too many unicorns or phoenixs in that one (how on earth do you spell the plural of phoenix?).

I've noticed that you quite often comment that my entries could use some more anchoring down in time and place, and I'm not always sure what you mean because they normally seem okay to me. So, if you're still after writing class topics, maybe you could do that some week? Just a suggestion. Also, I'm OK with that and who, but unsure of when to use that and when to use which.

Daniel.

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Re: Here's my homework reposted with corrections

Postby glorybee » Tue Apr 20, 2010 4:02 pm

Harvestgal, sorry that I didn't see this until just now! I'll send you a PM to let you know that I've responded.

As to your questions about when to paragraph: Each person gets their own paragraph for their own speech. When you switch people, you switch paragraphs. You've done it correctly in your "second draft" below. I've corrected a few small errors in red--but you've done a fine job of introducing your readers to Marsha.

Harvestgal wrote:To be honest, I'm not sure how the dialogue grammer goes, if I'm suppose to skip a line and start a new paragraph only after the dialogue or If, I'm supposed to do that before the dialogue too. So correct me if it's still wrong.

Marsha ran down the stairs, jumping the last two steps and landing with a loud thud on the floor. Her Dad looked disapprovingly. She sprang over to him and plopped a big wet kiss on his cheek laughing, “Oh Dad, you're so funny.”

Her locks flopped about her head disorderly 'disorderly' is an adjective, so it should go with 'locks'. I'd say 'disorderly locks' here. She then omit 'then' grabbed a boiled egg from the pot on the stove and yelled in pain as she threw it into the sink. “Dang! That thing's hot.”

“Didn't you know the water was hot?” her Dad replied asked.

She ignored the question, running cold water over the egg, as she crushed the shell in her hand and removed it. She began eating the egg as she walked towards the mirror. “I love these locks,” she said looking herself over and eating her egg all the while.

“Can't you sit down and eat?” her mother demanded.

“No time mom, gotta get to school. Today we have our midterms.”
Jan Ackerson

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Postby glorybee » Tue Apr 20, 2010 4:05 pm

Genia, in your re-write, I love the "stubborn chin". Wonderful!

Thanks for sharing the passage from Jeanette Oke. Can't you just see that little imp of a boy?
Jan Ackerson

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Postby glorybee » Tue Apr 20, 2010 4:23 pm

Daniel, excellent characterization! (But why does she call her father by his first name?) You appealed to several senses, and I felt as if I could imagine being right in that very room.

I've looked it up, because I wasn't sure--the plural is 'phoenixes'.

As far as your settings: I think the fault lies very much with me, and the assumptions I make when starting to read a Challenge entry. We just don't have many fantasy writers, and so that's not on my mind as a read a story...then there's a moment of slight disorientation when I realize "whoa...we're not in this world right now."

So I guess I'd advise you (and anyone else who uses a not-now or not-here setting): establish it fairly quickly, especially in a story of 750 words. If it's set far in the past, put an object from that era in the first few sentences. If it's set in an unusual place, same thing. (You're an excellent writer, so I don't have to tell you that it's not necessary to establish your setting by writing something like "Joe got into his brand new 1929 Ford truck and drove down the Yukon road.")

And if it's set in a fantasy world, that needs to be established fairly quickly, too. Try not to confuse your readers by using "normal" names or items that place your story "here and now".

As far as "that" and "which"--you might want to stop in at Ann's Grammar Basics and ask her. That's really her area (by which I mean...I don't know).

Daniel, thanks for stopping by! I wish I'd been half the writer you are when I was your age.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Here's my homework reposted with corrections

Postby Harvestgal » Wed Apr 21, 2010 3:50 am

glorybee wrote:Harvestgal, sorry that I didn't see this until just now! I'll send you a PM to let you know that I've responded.

As to your questions about when to paragraph: Each person gets their own paragraph for their own speech. When you switch people, you switch paragraphs. You've done it correctly in your "second draft" below. I've corrected a few small errors in red--but you've done a fine job of introducing your readers to Marsha.

Harvestgal wrote:To be honest, I'm not sure how the dialogue grammer goes, if I'm suppose to skip a line and start a new paragraph only after the dialogue or If, I'm supposed to do that before the dialogue too. So correct me if it's still wrong.

Marsha ran down the stairs, jumping the last two steps and landing with a loud thud on the floor. Her Dad looked disapprovingly. She sprang over to him and plopped a big wet kiss on his cheek laughing, “Oh Dad, you're so funny.”

Her locks flopped about her head disorderly 'disorderly' is an adjective, so it should go with 'locks'. I'd say 'disorderly locks' here. She then omit 'then' grabbed a boiled egg from the pot on the stove and yelled in pain as she threw it into the sink. “Dang! That thing's hot.”

“Didn't you know the water was hot?” her Dad replied asked.

She ignored the question, running cold water over the egg, as she crushed the shell in her hand and removed it. She began eating the egg as she walked towards the mirror. “I love these locks,” she said looking herself over and eating her egg all the while.

“Can't you sit down and eat?” her mother demanded.

“No time mom, gotta get to school. Today we have our midterms.”


Thanks for the corrections. No problem, I don't mind waiting for correction. It seems I really need to work on that "You're instead of your, I seem to always make that mistake. And thanks for that infomation about disorderly going with the locks since it's an adjective. That's really helpful for me. I didn't know. Thanks.

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