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Rounded Characters

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Recently, I’ve really been struggling with finding my protagonist’s motivation and core need, two vital ingredients for likable, believable characters. I think that to find this, you must look at the character’s whole personality. Today, I tried a new approach for character development that worked very well: mind mapping.  I use a free software called XMind.  This created a picture of my protagonist’s complete personality: strengths, weaknesses, fears. To start, I put his name in the center.  Then, I made a main topic for each of his personality traits.  Then, I created subtopics off of the main topics.  These are examples of the personality trait or how it affects their life.

Example:

Main topic: strong

Subtopics: he likes to exercise, he’s a good leader, he’s calm under pressure.

 

Click to see my protagonist’s mindmap

Nathaniel Kapaun mindmap image

 I learned two things today. First, find your character’s motivation and core need before you figure out the rest of their personality, and second, use a mind map and a character development worksheet. This forces you to think about your character in two different ways, it uses different parts of your brain. 

Flitting Around

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building-character

I’m in the developing characters stage in my current work in progress.  This time, I decided to only work on one character sketch at a time.  I chose this because I’ve found that if I try to work on all of them at once, I flit from character to character, ending up with many half-way developed characters, instead of one solid character.

Every day for about a week now, I’ve worked on building my protagonist for about 1- 1 1/2 hours.  Now, I only have three more questions to answer until I can move on to the love interest!  I think this will save time in the long run and create better formed characters. Sometimes, I’d want to move on to another character, but I’d force myself to think about my protagonist instead.  I find the enegram types and the four temperaments can help me create believable strengths and weaknesses in my characters, especially if my character is opposite from me, like my current choleric/sanguine hero.  Sticking to only one character also helped me focus and discipline myself, two skills that are writers need.

What are your favorite ways to develop characters?

The Letter

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I wrote this short story for a contest on Fanstory.  The prompt was to write about a tattered, stained letter with no return address.

 

“Sir, your truck is fixed.  Also, I found this wedged behind one of the seats.”  The auto repair man handed the mailman a tattered, stained letter.

“Oh, thank you.”  The mailman replied as he stared at the letter wonderingly.  It had no return address.  How strange! It looked old. How long had it been lost?  Its delivery address was on his mail route.

The mailman dropped the letter into a stack of outgoing mail, even though he felt tempted to open it and read the mysterious message.  The next day he came to work and was assigned his mail bag.  He rifled quickly through it, looking for the letter.  It was there. When he arrived at the address on the envelope, he put in the mailbox.

The next day he approached the house where he had delivered the tattered letter.  He opened the mailbox to put the day’s mail inside.  The stained letter was laying there, with a post-it note attached to it stating in red letters: Recipient doesn’t live here.  A strong curiosity overpowered him.   I want to read it.  What kind of message would be inside?  It looks personal and old.

The next day, the mailman didn’t find the letter in his delivery bag.  Still intrigued by it, he rifled through a box that held undeliverable items. The tattered letter was among them.  He secretively put it into his pocket and left to begin the day’s work.   When his shift was over he drove to a nearby coffee shop.

He slid into a corner booth and mused about the strange letter in front of him.  The recipient wasn’t found. What could it hurt if I read the letter?  I know I’m not really supposed to, but my curiosity is killing me. 

Why didn’t the person include a return address?  Is it because they are wanted by the police?  Was the person too ashamed to write the return address, for whatever reason? What if this letter would have repaired a relationship, but it was never delivered?  Is it a murder threat, or a murder warning? Since it was never delivered what were the consequences? Was it some other type of warning that was never given? Would this letter have saved someone’s life?

He knew his mind was wandering as he sat examining the envelope. Why is it stained? It looked like someone had spilled juice on it, or was it blood?  He sipped his coffee and sighed.  Alright, I’m going to open it.  It will probably just get thrown away anyway.

He broke the seal hurriedly, knowing he was doing something that he shouldn’t. It felt weird to be reading a letter meant for someone else.  He took the paper out of the envelope.  It was somewhat ragged too.

It read:

April 18, 2007

Dearest Alexandra,

If your love is still as fervent as it was last June, meet me at the downtown Starbucks on April 26 at 8:00 PM.  I’ve never forgotten you and I still love you.  I’ll be there waiting. If you don’t come, I’ll have my answer: our love was simply a summer romance and nothing more.  But, if you do come, we can run away and start a life together.  The obstacles that parted us will not be able to stop us this time.  Do not, under any circumstances, let anyone know about this meeting.

Forever Yours,

Michael

The mailman stared at the letter.  The date showed that the letter was from seven years ago.  He had not guessed it would be a letter between two forbidden lovers.  I wonder how long Michael waited for her that night.  Is he still mourning her loss?  Or was he able to move on?  What were the circumstances that tore them from each other?  It may have been a good thing that this letter was lost for all those years.  It may be that Alexandra is now happily married and perhaps, has a child?  If she saw his note now, it could cause discontent in her.  It could reawaken her feelings for Michael.  On the other hand, what if Alexandra was never able to move on and is still mourning the loss of her beloved? 

 He pushed these thoughts away.  He put the letter back in his pocket and left the coffee shop. Fate’s a strange thing, that’s for sure.

The Four Temperaments

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Recently, I’ve been learning about the four temperaments.  I’m reading a book called The Temperament God Gave You, by Art and Laraiane Bennett.  The four temperaments are choleric, phlegmatic, sanguine and melancholy.  Understanding each one’s strengths and weaknesses can help you understand yourself and others better.

The four temperaments are a very old method for figuring out personality.  Hippocrates (460-377 B.C) may have been the first to discover them.  His theory was that each temperament was created by an imbalance of fluid in the body, which is why they each have strange names.

Choleric: yellow bile from the liver

Phlegmatic:  phlegm from the lungs

Sanguine: Blood from the heart

Melancholy: black bile from the kidneys

I’ve also found that knowing the four temperaments is also helpful for figuring out characters.  It’s a very concise method, since there are basically four types (there are secondary temperaments too). This method is my second favorite for characters, next to the enneagram types.  I’m melancholy, and in my current novel, my protagonist is a choleric.

Here is an overview of the four temperaments.

Choleric (The Achiever) 

Generally, cholerics are people who get things done.  They are extraverted, confident and decisive.  They react the quickest out of all the temperaments.  The choleric temperament is the opposite of the phlegmatic temperament.

Strengths

Weaknesses

 

Practical

Rational

Driven

Courageous

A natural leader

Independent

Quick thinker

Passionate

Not easily discouraged

Doesn’t complain

 

 

 

Bossy

Not compassionate

Proud

Impatient

Prone to anger

Makes rash choices

Reckless

Demanding

Doesn’t like to listen to others, always wants to be in charge

Can’t relax

 

 

 

Phlegmatic (The Diplomat) 

Generally, phlegmatics are people who like peace and quiet.  They are introverted, reserved and slow to anger.  The phlegmatic temperament reacts the slowest out of all the four.

Strengths

Weaknesses

 

Team players

Encourage others

Settle arguments (as long as they are not directly involved in the conflict)

Patient

Not easily stressed

Meek

Easy to get along with

Good planners

Even-tempered

 

 

Plans, but never starts

Unenthusiastic

Overly-tolerant

Hates conflict

Indecisive

Procrastinates

Struggles with change

Holds grudges

Messy

Hard to motivate themselves

 

 

 

 Sanguine (The Enthusiast) 

Generally, sanguines are partyers. They like having fun and are people-oriented. They are extraverted, excitable and spontaneous.  The sanguine temperament is the opposite of the melancholy.

Strengths

Weaknesses

 

Life of the party

Motivates others

Inspires others to join in the activity

Optimistic

Generous

Wants to please

Energetic

Doesn’t hold grudges

Makes things fun

Likes volunteer work

 

Wants to be popular and fit

Talks too much and interrupts others

Disorganized

Doesn’t see the long-term effects of their actions

Impulsive

Irresponsible

Weak-willed

Naïve

Lacks follow-through

Struggles to be alone

 

 

 

 

Melancholy (The Idealist) 

Generally, melancholies are people who are serious and focused on the ideal.  They are introverted, intelligent and empathic.  Melancholies are the most introspective of all of the temperaments.  Many writers were melancholy.

Strengths

Weaknesses

 

Deep thinker

Likes serious discussions or debates

Loyal friends

Perfectionist

Analytical

Very disciplined

Organized

Appreciates beauty

Idealistic

Sees long-term effects of their actions

 

 

Tends towards depression and anxiety

Indecisive

Dramatic

Pessimistic

Skeptical

Dislikes change

Hard to please

Critical of others

Not open and friendly

Holds grudges

 

 

To learn more about the four temperaments, click here.   To take a personality test, click here.

Using Review in Word

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I found a great way to edit a novel or short story in Word.  I found it because a few days ago, one of my friends asked if I’d read a short story she was writing and give my opinion on it.  I was so excited to be able to critique someone else’s work.  I used review in Word to make comment bubbles to put my notes in.  This is helpful for either putting notes in someone else’s work and emailing it to them, or putting notes in your own work to look at for the next writing day.

sample page image
This is one page of my friend’s short story, with my notes on the side.

 

Here’s a super easy tutorial showing how to use review in a Word document. 

1. Open a word document.

2. Click on the tab that says ‘review’ at the top of the document.

review tab with arrow image

3.  Highlight the word or words you want to add a note about.

highlight word image

4. Click on the ‘new comment’ icon.

comment added image

To delete a note, first click the note, then click on the icon that says ‘delete’ next to the ‘add comment’ icon.

Viola! Enjoy adding notes into your Word documents:-)

A Snippet of my Novel

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“Are you hungry?”

“Yes, I haven’t eaten all day, and I’m feeling a little sick from it.” Chas answered.

“Then come with me, I’ll show you a good restaurant where you can eat. I have already eaten.”

Simon led Chas to his black car and they got into it. Chas sat in the passenger seat.  Simon drove to a small, dark looking restaurant.  Chas thought it looked unappealing, but he was very hungry, so he didn’t complain.

They picked a booth in a quiet corner.  Simon sat slouched down, with his elbows on the table.

Soon, a waitress with long auburn hair walked over to their table.  Chas ordered his food and Simon ordered a bottle of wine and asked for a mug.

The waitress returned quickly. “Your wine and mug, sir.” She said, placing Simon’s order in front of him.

“Thank you.” Simon responded.  Then, the waitress walked towards the kitchen.

“I feel kind of confused from hunger.” Chas said apologetically, after she had left.

“That must be nice.” Simon said bitterly.

Chas was very confused.  “What do you mean?”

“It’s a comfort for me to forget my life……that’s why I drink.” He raised his mug carelessly, as he said this.  “You probably think we have nothing in common, you and me.  You may be right.”

Simon had a way of speaking that made Chas feel uncomfortable.

“I don’t think we are at all similar, except for in looks.” Chas responded, cautiously.

“You may be right. So…..what did you think of the pretty witness at the court?  She seemed to know you.”  Simon’s brown eyes lit up strangely as he said this.

“Who?”

“You know who I’m talking about, Miss Monet! Everyone in the court was looking at her….especially you.”  Simon said.  Then, he slammed his mug of wine loudly on the table, causing the wine to slosh.  Chas started.  At first he thought Simon did this out of anger, but seeing that Simon’s face was expressionless, he wondered.

The waitress came back with Chas’ food and he began to eat.

“Miss Monet will make some man very happy when she marries him, one day.”  Simon stated after a moment.

“Yes.” Chas said simply.

“Is her affection worth being tried for your life, Mr. Delacroy?”  Simon asked with a slight smile.

Chas looked uncomfortable and wanted to turn the conversation away from himself.  “Thank you for saving my life.” Chas said seriously.

“I don’t deserve thanks from you.” Simon said, as he refilled his mug with wine.

“What do you mean? You saved my life!”

“It’s my job; I’m a defense lawyer, that’s what I do. It doesn’t mean I care at all about what happens to you.  Now, let me ask you a question, Mr. Delacroy.”

“Ok.”

“Do you think I like you?”

“I never thought of it. I’ve had more pressing problems lately than to think about your feelings toward me.”

Simon laughed slightly. “Think of it now.”

“You act like you do like me, but I don’t think that you really do.”

“You judge well.  I don’t think I like you, either.”  he said nonchalantly.

Chas finished his meal and rose from his seat to say goodbye to Simon.  Simon stood up too, but did not say goodbye.  He had a strange expression on his face.

“Another question: Do you think I’m drunk?”

“I think, Mr. Carter, that you have been drinking.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are drunk.” he replied, carefully.

“You know I am drunk.”  Simon’s lack of politeness was confusing to Chas.   Both men looked at each other in silence.

“I guess you probably are drunk.” Chas finally said.

“Do you know why?”

“No.”

“Because I don’t care about anyone and nobody cares for me either.   I’m very useless to the world.” he said sullenly.

“That’s sad.  You have skills that could be put to better use.”

“Maybe so.  But don’t be too proud of having your life together, Mr. Delacroy, it could change any day.”

Chas left this strange man, feeling disconcerted.