Posts Tagged ‘characterization’

This post will contain spoilers for The Walking Dead which aired November 6th, 2016. If you haven’t seen the episode, turn back now!

Last night The Walking Dead took us along for the ride with Daryl and his adventures with Negan. These adventures include being locked in a dark closet and tortured with super happy music all day. Sometimes Dwight, (also known as Burned Face Guy,) would take Daryl for a stroll in the yard, which consists of a big cage full of zombies and prisoners. The Savior’s main compound is big and prison-like, but if Daryl is a good boy and decides to join Negan, he’ll get a studio apartment including a bed, chair, kitchen, and even a TV so that he can watch himself on The Walking Dead. (I know they probably have a DVD player or something, but it was funny to see the TV in that room.)

We did get to learn a little bit more about Negan. He’s just as crazy as he first appeared, a real tyrant ruling over his army of loyal ants. How loyal are those ants, exactly? We also learned what happened with Dwight and his wife Sherri after her sister Tina died in the woods and they betrayed Daryl. This came via tell instead of show, where the villain gets to share a customary evil bad-guy speech.

Tina was supposed to be Negan’s fiancé, but she didn’t want to marry him. He was just being a nice guy allowing her to marry him so that she wouldn’t have to work so hard for her insulin anymore. Of course, Tina didn’t like that idea and the three of them ran off. Tina was eaten by zombies; Dwight and Sherri stole Daryl’s crossbow and motorcycle and returned to Negan. In order to save her husband, Sherri married Negan and Dwight worked himself up to being a big dog in the Savior’s army. Of course, he still had to have his face ironed. That’s unfortunate.

If we base the timeline of The Walking Dead on the age of Judith, who is still a baby under a year old, all of this has happened in the span of maybe one or two months. Negan is way more forgiving than expected! It’s fine that they didn’t spend a whole episode hanging with Sherri and Dwight, because last season had a lot of other important things going on. This type of storytelling is lesser than if we’d seen it happen, do we really care about Dwight and Sherri when they are torturing Daryl, who we all know and care about already? I’m guessing we’ll get to spend more time with Sherri and Dwight before it’s all done, but at this point, it’s their fault for returning to Negan instead of going with Daryl to Alexandria.

Also, I’m not the only one thinking “There is only one Negan vs. many unhappy people.” No matter how many people claim to be Negan, there is only one. As the escaped guy told Dwight, if there was an uprising he would be screwed. Too bad Dwight doesn’t seem to be the leader they need, not yet, anyway.

The leader they do need is Daryl.

Last night’s episode was another great look at the characterization from a fan favorite. Daryl is a prime example of how strong characterization can not only shape a story, but uphold it through dark times.We watch him take his torture silently, with that same stoicism we’ve all come to know. Even in the midst of fear, he still takes the opportunity to try to escape, reminding us of his resilience and confidence in his skills. Sherri begs him to go back, but he won’t, because he believes he can get away. After being recaptured, and forced to listen to Elvis crooning about loss, he finally lets it all out. I think, however; that just helped him grow stronger. Sometimes you just need a good cry.

We watch him take his torture silently, with that same stoicism we’ve all come to know. Even in the midst of fear, he still takes the opportunity to try to escape, reminding us of his resilience and confidence in his skills. Sherri begs him to go back, but he won’t, because he believes he can get away. After being recaptured, and forced to listen to Elvis crooning about loss, he finally lets it all out. I think, however; that just helped him grow stronger. Sometimes you just need a good cry.

Daryl knows what is at stake, but he won’t give up, and this is something we’ve seen from him since the first season. He could have turned against the group after Meryl was lost, but he stuck by them and continued to survive. When Negan asks him “Who are you?” he answers “I’m Daryl,” because he knows who he is at the core; he doesn’t need a false identity to know what he’s capable of.

Daryl is a true survivor, which probably isn’t true for a lot of Negan’s followers.

 

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“Jokes on you, shit sandwich was always my favorite.”

 

Negan lets him live. Why? Negan is building his character for us as well. Yes, he’s a crazy man with a baseball bat, but he’s also smart. He was smart enough to see the weaknesses in people and build the Saviors around fear. He also knows that there is only one Negan, which is why he’s trained his soldiers to say “I’m Negan.” By giving them a new and shared identity, he’s making them feel part of something bigger, pushing back against possible rebellion.

Those who do not wish to live under the tyranny of the Saviors need someone like Daryl, but Negan also needs Daryl. Killing him would be easy, but breaking him would prove a point to those witnessing the process.

If Negan’s soldiers can see a man like Daryl break down and change, then any misgivings they have about Negan will be quelled. It’s a dangerous game, and one I don’t think Negan will win, at least not in the way he wants. Daryl is walking a very fine line. Either he needs to start gaining support from Dwight and Sherri and others, or he’s probably going to die. A crazy man only has so much patience.

At the very end, Daryl makes his first move with Dwight. He understands. Dwight had to think about someone else, so he gave up. Daryl says that’s why he can’t, and at first it may seem like he’s saying “I don’t have anyone else to think of,” but I actually think this means the opposite. He has a lot of people to think about, everyone at Alexandria, and he can’t become a Savior because he can’t turn on them, even if it costs him his life. Again, this is the same characterization we’ve seen from Daryl before. He had an opportunity before to join a villainous group, but he can’t and he won’t.

Other thoughts:

Poor zombie nerd guy might have been a good ally if he knew about Daryl.

Sherri is in a prime position to do bad things to Negan, like poison or a knife to the throat if she has the guts and opportunity. Andrea never did with the Governor, but we don’t know Sherry very well.

Speaking of Sherri, I bet she’s going to be one of the first to rebel and possibly die.

Thanks for reading! If you have anything to add, please leave a comment.

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This week I started up my National Novel Writing Month project on November first. That means spending time in a whole new world with a whole new cast of characters. These characters have been in my head since January, building up some basic background information for me to work with as I get started. Despite that, I’m just getting to know them and learning how they interact with each other.

One of the easiest ways to write a story is to know your characters. Stories consist of two key elements: an event and a character’s reaction to that event. A character’s motivation will dictate their reaction. By allowing your character’s motivations to drive the plot, the story moves forward organically. When stories move organically, they are more believable to the reader.

Motivations are discovered by character development. The character’s role in the story is only the first step of characterization. The antagonist’s role is to create a problem, and the sign-697220_960_720protagonist’s role is to solve that problem. But why? The answer comes from character background, personality, and current events; a complex combination that produces motivation. Side characters also have motivations, and they are created in the same way. They can either help or hinder the protagonist, but either way, those reactions need to make sense based on the narrative of their characterization.

I already knew who was playing which role before I began writing. I knew the backgrounds for my protagonist and antagonist. I knew the background of the primary side characters. I knew the activating events. Now that I’m putting the characters on paper, they begin to develop their personalities.

What I’ve learned in my first week is that my protagonist is not only intelligent and willing to ask questions, but is also playful and caring. It will be interesting to see her grow and change over the course of 50,000 words knowing what is happening around her. I’ve also learned that the antagonist is much colder than I expected, even when he’s attempting to hide his true nature.

Another type of motivation comes from character relationships. When two characters connect, it builds emotional investment for the reader. The more a character resembles a real person, the more a reader will connect with them. Real people have friends, family, or lovers that they connect with, and so should your characters.

It also gives the characters deeper levels of motivation; it may cause them to act when they would otherwise be still. Producing driving forces through the people they care about is another organic way to drive a story forward.

What I’ve discovered this week is that my protagonist is quite close to her younger sister. Not only does it give her motivation to act, it also adds to her personality. By allowing the reader to witness this relationship, they are given another reason to care about what happens in the first few chapters.

So remember:

  1. Organic motivations make it easier to move a story forward
  2. Motivations are created through personality, character background, and relationships with other characters

As of today, I have 4,950 words on my NaNoWriMo project, which puts me a little behind but I’m worried about it. I’ll catch up.

Thank you for reading. If you have anything to add please feel free to leave a comment.

Spoiler Alert: If you have not seen The Walking Dead season 7 episode 2 on October 30th, turn back now! This is your only warning.

This isn’t a review, but more of a look at the successes and failures of storytelling through mass media. I think last night’s episode was a clear success based solely on the characterization, but the storytelling was well done, too.

Although last week’s episode was the big reveal, this episode was even more revealing. Morgan and Carol are back, rescued by people from The Kingdom.

Now, I love the renaissance festival, but at first glance, The Kingdom isn’t such a place. Until you meet King Ezekiel and Shiva.

 

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“Hast thou come to feast upon pomegranates?”

 

It’s a great form of characterization for this show. We’ve seen a deceptive character before in the Governor, and his attempt to make Woodberry seem like Main Street, but his deception was for a sinister purpose. Carol can also be deceptive, hiding her true  nature to give her the upper hand. Ezekiel is something new. He’s a character playing a character, not for deception but to keep his people’s minds at ease.

At first, it’s easy to think that maybe he’s unstable and perhaps has a mental illness. After the fall of civilization, a person with delusions of grandeur could be given the opportunity to live out their own reality. Carol is barely able to contain herself when she meets him, and I think her face said what those of us who haven’t read that far in the comics were all thinking.

looney

As we learn, however; Ezekiel has not fallen off his rocker. He knows he’s not the king. Showing up with a tiger made him legendary, and he just went along with it, using his time in Community Theater as a jumping off point. The people like having a king and painting his quotes all over the town in scrolling font. (Do they have a stencil or did a calligrapher survive?)

Okay, so maybe it still is a little nutty, but at least they aren’t carving up people and roasting them on an open fire. When you really think about it, running around in armor with swords, spears, cleavers, and bows and arrows really isn’t that much different than what our own group of survivors has been up to. Daryl with his crossbow, Michonne with her samurai sword, and even Rick with his axe are merely missing the fake accent and regal titles. Plus, most of the people in the kingdom are dressed as modern day people and they even have guns on hand for emergencies. It’s an interesting mix.

They’re also under contract with Negan’s army. One of the things I enjoyed most about last night’s episode was the subtle rebellion. Ezekiel doesn’t want to risk the lives of his people, but he also knows the Saviors are bad. So, they feed the pigs walkers. This is an interesting concept and brings up some questions.

First, do the pigs turn from eating the contaminated meat? We don’t know and they are soon butchered off camera1. Secondly, the fact that pigs are fine eating a still squirming walker is kind of terrifying. I know pigs can chew through bone, and eat rotten food, but this is a whole other level. Last, if you eat meat from an animal that has eaten a walker, can you be turned? This last question is interesting because it’s kind of like marinating the pig from the inside. Corn fed cows taste different than grass fed cows. Does bacon from a walker fed pig have a strange taste?

If it is the making the Saviors sick, they haven’t noticed it yet.

Also, Ezekiel hasn’t told his people about the Saviors. He’s done this on purpose to prevent them from wanting to fight. The situation wears heavily on those who know, as is evidenced by the knight who gets into a scuffle with a Savior. It’s clear that Ezekiel understands the danger where others do not, and makes me wonder what he’s seen or been through with Negan. Then again, he was a zookeeper tending to tigers, which gives him insight into dealing with unpredictable wild animals.

There was also great characterization this week for Morgan and Carol. They have both been shaken to the core. Morgan is hiding it a little better, trying to resolve who he was with what he became and what he needs to be. He’s a man in a crisis of faith. Carol, however; is on the opposite end. She’s seen her confidence in what she became crumble and hated what she saw: an angel of death. They are the same but different, and somehow they both need to find the middle.

I’m curious to see what Carol learns from her solitude, and what her actual plan turns out to be. With the Saviors running around it’s hard to believe she’ll be left alone living right off of the road in her little house.

Also, how will they respond when they find out what happened with Rick and Company?

Next week it looks like we’re going to meet up with Daryl and what tortures are in store. Will Burned Face Guy switch sides? Is the teaser trailer only teasing? Maybe we’ll find out, or we won’t.

Other thoughts:

Shiva eats as much as ten people. What are they feeding her? Walkers? She seems happy.

Carol moved into such a cute little house with its own gothic cemetery. There has to be a story there.

Could Ezekiel be the key to healing both Carol and Morgan… and maybe even Rick?

The Kingdom is a nice little town, too bad all I could think was “this place is going up in flames.”

Thank you for reading and if you have anything to add, please feel free to leave a comment.

This post will contain spoilers for parts one, two, and three of my serialized story The Hunted.

If you haven’t read it yet, you can find it at the following links.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

And now, on with the post!

To begin my world building process, I always start with an idea. Don’t we all? I’ve stated before that I’m not a plotter. I don’t write an outline. I’m also not actually a pantser. I’m a weird combination of the two. When I first come across an idea, I have more of a pantser type of writing style.My plottery ways come later. (Yes, plottery.) I write the scene in my head. I may skip over giving characters or places names. The idea is to recreate the vision into words before it is sucked into oblivion.

Sometimes, this is as far as a story will go. That’s fine. To get the idea out is the main point of this exercise. It’s not about perfection but about testing the waters. I can always tell if I can breathe more life into a story by this initial scene. Sometimes, this beginning won’t make it to the end and be cut. Other times, this part of the story may be moved. Most often; however, it is the beginning and will remain at the beginning.

For The Hunted, part one represents the opening of the world. When I wrote it, it was bare bones. The town and the maid didn’t have names. Lexanna had a slightly different name. The attack from the demons was an isolated event. It’s like a play where the stage is dark and the spotlight shines on one bright place, leaving the rest shrouded in mystery.

When I began part two, I moved Lexanna from her hometown to a new place. This meant that I had to differentiate the first town from the second. I knew the world was being born.

Place Names

The town names were the first thing to be added. Shirgrand – the name of Lexanna’s hometown, Orvigrand- the town where the refugees are taken, and Harbigrand – the King’s town.

I had a very specific thought process in creating these names. First of all, it is a fantasy world which means I wanted something a little bit unusual. I didn’t want it to be too fantastical. I also wanted to denote that both towns were larger in size. I had mentioned that Lexanna’s parents were the strongest magicians in the region. Putting them in a small town didn’t feel right. I also decided that Orvigrand is where the regional lord lives. This may seem counterintuitive to my placement of the most powerful magicians, but there are reasons for it that will be revealed later.

To denote the larger size of the towns, and by adding something familiar to readers new to the world, I used the word grand as a suffix. This then becomes a naming convention. Towns of larger size will all have the word grand at the end. To further denote this, one of the testimonies mentions another location – a village. Shishnils. This may seem like a nonsense word, but if you break it down you can see another naming convention. The first three letters are Shi – Shishnils and Shirgrand have this in common. This denotes a smaller village near Shirgrand. Nils is based on the world nil – or none- which puts it opposite to grand and gives it a smaller feeling overall.

Another reason for using the word nil as the suffix comes down to what is revealed about magicians. They are assigned to locations to live and work and they are fond of luxury. A smaller town would be less appealing, and that means there are no magicians there (none, zero, nil.) If you need magical help, never run to a town that ends in nils.

The next place names to be added was a very important place name – The Ossuary of Minds. In this story, I chose to use the word magician instead of mage, wizard, or sorceress. When you write a lot of fantasy it’s nice to change things up. Similarly, I wanted to use a slightly different name for where these magical people congregate. Ossuary is actually a very ominous name, (but The Hunted is meant to be a dark story.) It deals with the dead. It’s a tomb of dead minds. This is deliberate, and the truth of it will be part of the story. (Some of you may be able to guess.)

Finally, I added some regional names. Klimok – the region in which Lexanna lives, and Nexem – a forest through which they must travel. I also named two mountain ranges and a river. This is when I begin to draw the map.

rathelas

Normally I draw my maps by hand, but I made this one with my awesome paint skills.That makes it easier to share.

From this blank map, I can start to add new locations.

rethalas1

By creating a map, I give myself an idea of distance. It also gives the world a more tangible feel. I can keep my locations straight in my mind.

Characters

Lexanna’s name was originally Lexa. It’s a small change, but in lengthening the name it had a better flow with the character. From her name, and the idea of a fantasy setting that isn’t too fantastical, I derived my naming convention for characters.

Names which are similar to common names in Western civilization in the modern era, but changed slightly, is not an uncommon way to name fantasy characters. It’s a simple convention and especially good for people who are bad at making up names. Just look up a name, change a few letters, and ta-da, you have a fantasy name.

The name of Lexanna’s maid, Mircy, is again deliberate. It stems from the word Mercy, and if you thought that, then congratulations! You guess correctly.

For last names, I went with one or two syllable combinations picked randomly for sound. I’m going for a harder sound in the story. A lot of K, G, and X sounds give the language a certain flavor, even if the only words we ever learn are places and last names.

The one name that should stand out among the others is that of the mysterious stranger: Yogindar. His name is longer than two syllables and is not a recreated Western sounding name. It’s a harsh name, and heavy. The difference in his name is a clue to his character – one that will be revealed.

Putting it Together

As you start to put these pieces together, it’s like finding the pieces of a puzzle and snapping them into place. More of the world is revealed merely through the names and places you create. With solid naming conventions, it’s easier to tell the story overall. It also gives your readers a subtle guide to understanding a world that is otherwise alien. In all, good naming conventions just make the whole process better for everyone.

The main thing to remember is that it doesn’t matter if you are doing your world building in advance of writing or while you write. The only important thing is it happens. The more you write, the easier this process becomes until it feels automatic. That automatic feeling is actually just your confidence kicking in, and that’s a great place to be for writing.

Thank you for reading! If you have anything to add please feel free in the comments. Next week The Hunted will return with Part Four. Who or what was hiding in the shadows outside of Pilser Tower? Tune in next week to find out!

 

Recently, my friend on Twitter, @SoroiyaS, asked me to help her with some dialogue for writing an argument. After talking with her for a bit, I realized this would be a great topic for a blog post! It’s even better that I have other posts on dialogue already, so maybe I’ll continue to do a whole series over time.

Arguments. Everyone has them. They are discussions that are charged with emotions on both sides. Often times no one is really listening to anyone but themselves, or the insults and injuries they hear from the other side. Everyone involved thinks they’re right, and the others are wrong. People say things they don’t mean, are spiteful, or really let “the hurtful truth” out in full force.

Conflict is important to the story and arguments are one way to add or intensify conflict. Characters who get along all the time aren’t realistic. Best friends, spouses, siblings; we all get annoyed and fed up. Putting your characters in these situations will make them more human.

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Pacing

One of the key elements of an argument is the pace. This isn’t going to be a normal conversation. It’s going to move quickly as one person tries to talk over the other. It is very important to speed the pace along with dropping your dialogue tags.

This is easy to do with two people. It becomes more challenging the more people you involve in the argument. The key is to be wise with your tags. Use them only when necessary. Arguments should not feel sluggish.

Let’s look at some examples.

“I told you it started at six.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“Yes, I did!”

“Whatever.”

She clenched her jaw. “Are you calling me a liar?”

This example starts in the middle, but you can see how a quick back and forth sets the pacing. Let’s look at the same example with a third party.

“I told you it started at six.”

He shook his head. “No, you didn’t.”

“Yes, I did!”

“I don’t think you did,” his friend muttered.

She glanced in his direction. “Shut up!”

Tags are important indicators of who is speaking. Keep it clear and hold firm to the emotional tone, and keep moving.

Action Tags

Along a similar line of keeping tags out of the way, action tags are useful in setting the tone of the argument. Using tags like said, asked, or yelled are unnecessary. Let your punctuation work for you. Actions peppered throughout an angry scene can help the reader feel exactly how angry, (or frustrated or annoyed,) the characters are feeling.

As you can see in my above examples, my tags are all action tags. Using these sparingly at the right moments will keep the pacing moving and can heat up or cool off a conversation. This is how you steer dialogue where you want it to be.

Eye rolling, jaw clenching, heat rising in the face, crossing your arms; these are all examples of actions angry people take. Body language is just as important in a story as it is in the real world. You can also skip someone speaking altogether by showing how they are standing or their reaction to what the other person just said.

Word Choice

Another way to get a reader into an argument is through word choice. This will be a direct result of your characterization and setting. Despite that, choosing certain words will cause an automatic response in readers.

Some common modern words that are considered triggers in arguments are quantifying words. “You always” and “you never” really get arguments moving. This is true in real life and adding it to the story makes it more realistic.

Dismissive words like “whatever” are also key words to trigger annoyance and anger in characters. Readers will recognize them. Even words such as “okay” can be turned around into something dismissive if paired with a tag for sarcasm.

This is also another way to steer the conversation. Heat up the argument or cool it down. The outcome of an argument can change the direction of the story.

Heat it up:

“I told you it started at six.”

“No you didn’t.”

“Yes, I did!”

“Whatever.”

She clenched her fists. “Are you calling me a liar?”

“You’re always so dramatic.”

“I’m not dramatic!”

He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, right. You’re not dramatic at all.”

“Shut up!”

Cool it down:

“I told you it started at six.”

“No you didn’t.”

“Yes, I did!”

“Whatever.”

She clenched her fists. “Are you calling me a liar?”

“No, I’m saying that you’ve been busy and maybe you just forgot to tell me.”

“I remember telling you. Maybe you forgot that I told you.”

He thought for a moment. “Maybe. I didn’t miss it intentionally.”

These arguments are going in two very different directions. As the author it’s up to you to decide where they are in their relationship when it’s over, whatever that relationship might be.

Research!

This is one of our favorite words, isn’t it? Of course everyone argues, but learning about arguments can help you understand their dynamics. In the age of the internet many marriage counselors and other psychologists have advice on arguments and managing anger. There are also some sights that post problems between couples, how they argued, and how they found resolution (or ended things.)

Learning from others will also broaden your characterization skills and even help you find new conflicts to incorporate into your stories.

Remember:

  • Limit the number of dialogue tags to keep up the pacing
  • Use action tags sparingly to help express the emotions of your characters
  • Word choice is key to helping your readers feel the intensity of an argument
  • Steer the argument to heat up or cool down depending on where you want it to end
  • Research real arguments and real arguing techniques

Thank you for reading today. I hope you find something useful here, and if you have more tips, feel free to share them in the comments!

 

Last week I talked about the rules of dialogue based on some issues I’ve seen in self-published works recently. Following the rules makes it easier for readers to follow along with conversations between characters. Today I want to talk about an equally important topic of creating conversations that sound realistic.

Writing dialogue is different than writing narration, and it also changes depending on if you’re writing in first or third person. It comes down to remembering that in your writing you will have different voices, just like people have different voices. The narrator has one voice and each of the characters have their own voices. This may sound complicated but it comes down to our good friend characterization.

Creating the Narrative Voice

The narrative voice is often the first voice created while writing, (not always but often.) Through the narrative voice you can set the tone, atmosphere, and pacing of the story.  When in the third person the narrator is detached, reporting on what happens even when viewing it from within the head of the point of view character, whether that character is the protagonist or another character.

In first person it’s a little bit different because your narrator is also a character in the story, and that should be reflected through similarities between the narration and the character’s dialogue.

Another question to consider is that if your characters have an accent or dialect, will your narration have the same accent or dialect? Will the narrative include slang or be more literary? The answers to these questions will help to build the narrative voice.

One of the main aspects of the narrative voice is to remember it is the voice of the storyteller. When we tell stories verbally, we have a different cadence to our pattern of speaking than when we are in conversation. In most cases, the narration will follow the technical rules of writing. There may be some variance when writing in a
perceived accent or dialect as to whether or not the narration uses slang. For the most part, however; the narration will have a different rhythm to dialogue.

Creating Character Voicesspeech-bubble-1426773_640

When your character speaks, it should be a direct result of their characterization. Each character will have their own unique perspective on a conversation and that will tie directly into their background, motivation, personality, and role in the story. How characters respond to the world will directly influence there contribution in conversation.

Consider whether a character is talkative and bubbly, or if they are reserved, shy, or sever. The amount a character speaks and their word choices will reflect their personality beyond their mood.

For example, a talkative character might say something like; “Oh my gosh, you won’t believe what happened at the store! I was in the freezer section looking for pizzas and there was a lady with a rainbow wig looking at the peas. It was the strangest thing.”

If we take the same story for a quiet character it might go more like this; “I saw a lady with a rainbow wig at the store today.”

From these examples you can see how the same information can be delivered in different voices. Word choice and punctuation make major changes to the delivery and tone.

You also want to consider what your character knows about the plot, and what is hidden when they speak. Are they keeping secrets or are they straightforward? Dialogue is a great tool for misdirection if used properly, to keep your reader (and characters) guessing.

The age of your character will also be important to how they speak. A child will have a different cadence than an adult. The word choices of a teenager will be different than those of an elder.

Consider the time period of your novel and words that may or my not have been used. Only a few small changes to the word choice can change the tone of dialogue completely.

Consider the following example:

“I cannot go to school today, mother. I am feeling under the weather.”

Now look at it again:

“I can’t go to school, mom. I think I’m sick.”

It’s the same line, but by changing the word choice it has a completely different tone, attitude, and indication of character and place in history. Word choice will sometimes come down to research if you’re writing a historical novel or even writing characters outside of your age group. In the last fifty years a lot of different slang has come and gone.

Similar to creating a narrative voice, you want to ask yourself about accents, dialects and slang the character would use. It is important to note that over use of accents can make it difficult to read. Using accents to “flavor” the writing is a good thing, but you don’t want it to overpower the story.

Eliminate Stiffness in Conversations

Poorly written dialogue can feel stiff and unrealistic. It is reminiscent of actors on a stage who do not fully know their lines. Knowing your characters is only the first step to relieving stiffness in their dialogue. There are a few other things to try to find your problem areas.

Research the way people talk to each other. That means you need to really listen to other people. Family, friends, and co-workers are just the beginning. Movies and television are helpful, too. You can also watch YouTube videos or live streaming to hear people talking in real time without being scripted.

Read. Read. Read. That’s right, pick up other books and read them. Pay attention to the dialogue. Learning from other writers is something we should all be doing. You may also start to notice when you’re reading poorly written dialogue, and that’s a good thing. Being able to spot problems will help you with your own writing.

Say the lines out loud. Yes, this can be embarrassing, but if you hear the words, you will be able to hear the problems. This doesn’t need to be done in public.

Plan your dialogue in advance. We all do this in real life. You have imaginary conversations with that co-worker who chews really loudly at their desk. Maybe you have something to reveal but are nervous, so you practice in front of the mirror. Planning out your dialogue while you do other things will make it easier to write once you sit down with your pen or at your keyboard.

Remember that dialogue should be written as people speak, not as writers write. Very few people speak with perfect grammar. If everyone in your story sounds like a text book, the dialogue will be unrealistic.

To recap

  • Creating different voices in your story is part of characterization
  • Your narrator is also a character, even they aren’t a physical character, with its own voice
  • Your character’s age and personality will dictate how they speak
  • Research, Read, Rehears your dialogue
  • People do not speak with perfect grammar, and neither should your characters

That’s all for today. I hope this is helpful and if you have any more tips please feel free to leave them in the comments.

This post contains spoilers from Fear the Walking Dead which aired May 22, 2016. If you have not seen the episode come back later.

What in the hell did we just watch?

Seriously, this episode was a nightmare. It wasn’t the type of nightmare that forces you to stay awake because there may be a zombie in the closet. Oh no. This was the type of nightmare which ends with you staring in utter confusion as the preview for Preacher starts to play.

To top things off, the episode was moving at a frantic pace in order to cram all of the ill conceived plot devices in before the hour ended. The storytelling was disjointed and chaotic. Perhaps that was on purpose to showcase the chaos happening on the vineyard. All it did was serve to show just how little plot and character development was being used.

Fear the Walking Dead needs to change the title to Missed Opportunities. The list of weird, pointless decisions in the storytelling continues to grow. It’s too bad because for a couple of episodes it was starting to get better.

I want to discuss insanity. Mental illness is a real issue with real problems and real stigmas in the real world. Using mental illness as a turning point for a character can be catastrophic, and that’s the feeling I get from this episode. It was already bad enough last week when Chris started to fall off the deep end. Nick has always had issues because we know he was a drug addict, but his sudden flip to siding with Cecilia made very little sense. To top it all off, Salazar falls into religious delusions and hallucinations about his wife. That’s three characters making huge changes in two episodes. Is there something in the water? Maybe the land is cursed.

Let’s break down the demise of three lines of character development:

Chris

We discussed last week that he could be suffering trauma. Sure. This week he goes full tilt crazy by fleeing into the night. Not only that, but he ends up holding a stranger’s child hostage. Really? He becomes the pirate he killed. Did he also eat Reed’s heart and cut down one last immortal before the final battle? From being a scared kid to terrifying a kid, this leap is too far and too fast.

Travis, my least favorite character, was actually one of the better characters of the episode. Staying with Chris until he is well is what Travis would do, and that’s the best we can expect from the episode.

Nick

Okay, so Nick has always been a special character because he has issues that are unique to every other character. Being a drug addict comes with a set of problems. Nick’s drying out ended quickly. From being half dead at the quarantine to totally cleared up the very next day on the Abigail.

His discovery of the blood making him invisible was good. He never tells anyone else and they obviously just think he’s crazy already. Why is Nick covering himself in blood all the time? Even after he tells Madison outright that he’s invisible, she doesn’t put it together. It’s fine, she tends to be slow on the uptake, but still frustrating.

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“For the last time, it’s not a vampire phase.”

I do believe he thinks he’s invincible. That’s not far fetched at all. What I don’t believe is that he teams up with Cecilia instantly. Sure, she might persuade him over time, but within a 24 hours a stretch. I get that he wants to stay safe, and even thought maybe he was just playing along. Nope. The end of the episode proves otherwise. It doesn’t make sense. He abandons his family for people he just met? I don’t buy that, not after begging to let them stay.

Salazar

This is a tricky one. Could the boy at the church have triggered massive PTSD? Sure. Out of all the issues happening, this breakdown is the most plausible. It would have been nice to have had hints of this throughout the season, especially knowing he is leaving Ofelia behind with people he doesn’t trust. I think this could have been powerful, but it wasn’t, merely because it happened in such a chaotic episode. We also lose one of the best characters in the series.

On top of that, we now have yet another antagonist and conflict resolved within a couple of episodes. The pirates were built up and then easily dispatched. Alex from flight 462 and the pregnant pirate are left behind with no resolution. (Will they come back despite hundreds of miles and needing “payment” to cross the boarder? Probably, because that’s predictable.) Getting into Baja after so many arguments was boring. Cecilia was introduced with such fervor from the church scene last week, and now she’s gone. This place we worked all season to reach is burning to the ground.

Our cast is now cut into the three groups. Travis with Chris, Madison and friends, and Nick with the fanatics. Where are we going from here? Who knows. When we get there it will only last one episode.

I believe the show is trying very hard to differentiate itself from The Walking Dead. Crazy people is not really that different. Rick has been slowly descending into madness ever since the Prison. The little girl who believed the dead were her friends is another example of insanity the show recycles.

Fear the Walking Dead had an amazing opportunity to be different, and they bypassed that in season one. Instead we get halfhearted attempts to build tension for characters we do not yet care about.

Do we want to get the characters on the water? Great. There could have been a far more organic solution to that than Strand meeting Nick in the quarantine and seeing potential. Do we want to deal with pirates? Okay, let’s actually deal with pirates. Do we want to go to Baja? Fine, but let’s go there for a reason that will keep us there, not because of a mystery that turns out to be pointless.

Give the characters plausible motivation to drive the story other than contrite plot devices. That is the lesson of Fear the Walking Dead.

This is the mid-season finale. That means the rest of the story begins August 21. Will I be interested in watching the rest? Maybe or maybe not. Now that we are at the end, however; I want to change up the blog.

Starting next Monday I’ll be writing up character analysis from different popular shows, movies, and even some books (or characters that exist in multiple media.) I want to dig up the clockwork and show how a well built character functions (or how a poorly built character comes apart at the seams.) I’ll continue to use spoiler alerts at the top of those posts. I hope you join me!

Thank you for reading! If you have anything to add please feel free to post in the comments.

 

This post contains spoilers from Fear the Walking Dead on May 15, 2016. If you have not seen the episode, come back later.

The key to good storytelling is consistency.

It’s similar to a muffin. In every little bite you expect there to be a little bit of soft bread, and a little bit of blueberries, chocolate chips, or whatever. You don’t suddenly expect there to be a pebble or a puff of flower. Last night’s episode of Fear the Walking Dead was a pebble.

I have a lot of issues with the episode and they all are rooted in the inaction of season one. It’s easy to forget that the survivors in Fear the Walking Dead were sheltered for a good portion of time at the start of the zombie apocalypse. How long they were under the protection of the National Guard wasn’t really clear. We were thrown forward in time from the first night of chaos to an unspecified date. If we calculate time based on the facts that we know, it was long enough for the army to cut down several hundred thousand zombies (LA is huge, and the streets were empty once they took Travis out on patrol.) They also set up a highly functional medical quarantine where the very important “we’re all infected” fact was learned.

The first time Travis was taken out of the quarantine, he didn’t understand what really happened out in the world. There was a scene where the soldiers attempted to get him to shoot a zombie waitress from long range, and Travis is confused by the ordeal. The first real encounter with the dead is when Salazar released them from the stadium during the rescue of Nick. From there they ran straight to Strand’s house, were forced to say goodbye to Chris’ mom, and boarded the Abigail. The end of season one and the start of season two happen on the same day.

This is important because we have been with our survivors every step of the way from that point. The number of times they have encountered zombies has been limited. 1) The island with the crazy family. 2) The beach with the wreck of Flight 462. 3) Some random floaters. 4) Nick’s walk to Luis’ house. 5) Zombie pirate. You can list them on one hand!

Yet last night the survivors get into a scuffle with the zombie church goers from the top of the show. The scene adds to the confusion with these free range zombies hanging out where they died.. We all know how easily walkers get distracted. Maybe the poisoning had just happened. It’s hard to say because of the order in which the episode was run. Church. Avoiding the border patrol. Then back to the church. Sure, I guess it could have happened shortly before they arrived.

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“The power of Christ compels you!”

That’s another thing; the border patrol. We’ve been building up all season to get past them for what? This plot point which has been a driving point for much of the season was completely useless. We didn’t even see the exchange (or lack thereof) go down. The only thing we got out of it was getting rid of another throw away character that never needed to exist in the first place due to his not adding very much to the plot at all. He was a “saving grace” to get our cast out of a corner with the pirates, that was all. Adios, Luis, we hardly knew you.

At the church, our highly sheltered survivors battle the fresh zombies, easily stabbing them in the head with relative ease. They’re acting like pros when they are not. Their intimidation level is way too low for the lack of time spent in danger. To go along with this, when Nick is talking to Cecelia about how he’s “so tired of the killing” it’s a head scratching moment. Sure, we’ve seen some death, and yes, I can see people being scared and not wanting more people to die, that’s not the issue. It’s traumatizing, and I don’t doubt he wants to be safe. The real issue was the way in which he delivered the line. He said it like Rick, or Maggie, or Michonne. It doesn’t add up.

I admit that writing a series is hard. It’s easier for The Walking Dead because they already have strong source material. Fear the Walking Dead is having a case of the prequel blues. It’s based on the fuzzy, mysterious world building that birthed The Walking Dead, but it’s missing the point of being a prequel. It went from prequel to “we’re just going to see what’s happening in another part of the world.” That’s fine, of course, but it still takes place in the past. The characters need to be learning what we already know, and there is a fine line to walk between moving too slowly for the audience, and moving too fast for the characters. Right now this show is struggling with the latter.

This is why spending time in the early days of the apocalypse would have been better. We moved these characters from “early days” into “a lot of bad has already happened.” It feels as if the show is trying to recreate the confusion Rick felt after waking up in the hospital. I’m going to tell you now that it can’t be done, especially for long-time fans. It can’t be done for the new fans at this point, either, because of the inaction of season one. It would have been more interesting to watch them deal with things before anyone knew anything. (And I’m not talking about the confused mush that we were given.)

Another big issue with last night’s episode is with Chris. He’s gone from timid kid feeling guilty about letting pirates onto the boat to a psychopath wanting to murder his step-family.

What?

Yes, Chris is suffering trauma, but this is an unexpected turn, and not in the mind blowing “oh my god, why didn’t I see it coming?” type of way. What was his motivation for this twist? Madison not believing that Pirate Reed was about to turn, and that’s why he shot him. Okay, so she doesn’t believe him one time and now the best answer is murder?

Is there a possibility that Chris could make a turn toward this type of behavior? Sure. Does it make sense that it happens right now? Nope. The primary reason it doesn’t is because only two episodes ago he was hesitating to kill possibly innocent strangers. Suddenly turning on one of the few people with whom he has an attachment in the entire world doesn’t fit his character at this point. It could eventually. But right now is too soon.

Chris’ character arc is now suffering from what I consider “Anakin Syndrome.” That’s basically when you want to showcase how a character turns to the Dark Side but have completely goofed up in their development. They are too caring, just, friendly, or innocent in their behaviors when suddenly, out of the blue, they massacre a village full of Sand People.

Using the “annoyed with authority” trope is exactly what happened to Anakin (and a big reason why the Star Wars prequels are terrible.) It seems to be what’s happening to Chris. Madison’s concern of Chris’ behavior is plausible, and the fact that she overreacts to everything is annoying, sure. At the same time, Chris killing Pirate Reed could be a tiny first step in the direction of antagonist, rather than the flying leap he is making.

My last thoughts are on Cecelia. I want to call her Evil Hershel. The Abigail compound in Baja is reminiscent of the Greene Farm; picturesque, self-sufficient, and housing zombies. The big difference here is that Cecelia doesn’t think there could be a cure. She’s fully accepted that the zombies are dead. They’re just, you know, like any other ancestor spirit except we can see them.

I’ll admit I don’t know much about the beliefs of the dead in Mexico much farther than the celebration of the Day of the Dead. I could be wrong, but I don’t think the beliefs include the idea that our ancestors are just beyond our field of vision trying to rip our guts out for a snack. The fact that she’s totally okay with her dead family becoming flesh eating monsters is disturbing, even more than Hershel hoping for a cure. At least they keep them locked up, I guess. The real creepy, possible psychopathic killer in the episode (other than Cecelia, obviously,) is the little boy who feeds the zombies a live puppy and doesn’t blink an eye. Our survivors need to keep an eye on that guy.

Next week is the mid-season finale. What consequences will our survivors be able to bring the show back level before the break? Maybe we’ll find out next week but with this show, who knows!

 

Today I want to talk about characterization again. I know, I know, it seems like a topic that comes up a lot in storytelling. There’s a good reason for that. Your characters are one of the most important elements to your story, if not the most important. Why do characters hold such a lofty position? It’s because they are the access point through which your readers enter your world. Without relatable characters, readers cannot become emotionally invested. Without emotional investment, boredom sets in and readers stop reading.

Caricatures are a common issue in the “unrelatable characters” category. This is probably a term you’ve heard but maybe it’s one you don’t quite understand. We have all seen caricature drawings of ourselves or celebrities. It’s ridiculous and silly and meant to make you laugh.

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Lincoln Goes to the County Fair

Caricatures in writing are the same thing. Instead of giving characters balloon heads and tiny feet, you expand on ridiculous personality traits. Great examples of caricatures are the tropes found in melodrama. The villain with the curled mustache tries to tie the syrup sweet heroine to the train tracks only to be rescued by the valiant cowboy on a white horse. Meanwhile, the vamp is showing a little leg in an attempt to lure the hero away from his lady love. They have over-the-top personality traits and stylized dialogue.

“Curses! Foiled again!”

These types of characters can be fun to write, but it becomes easy to fall into the trap of using caricatures too often. One or two caricatures in a story can bring about instances of comic relief if done properly. When there are too many caricatures or it is done improperly, it can ruin a story for the audience.

It’s easy to rely on caricatures in comedy to the point of overuse. Pushing every character over the top is exhausting for a reader. Although it may be funny initially, as the story continues readers want complex characters that grow and surprise them, even in a comedic story.

A lot of good comedy comes from a team of one “serious” and one “funny” character. This is a classic set up. When everyone in the room is “funny,” it can be difficult to keep reading for an entire novel. Also, if the funny character is a caricature, this can also become and issue. If the serious character is not strong enough in complexity, the caricature will take too much focus away and that can be very aggravating.

Consider Jar Jar Binks from the Star Wars prequels and the hate that surrounds the character. Not only was the caricature unappreciated, it was also considered offensive. It was made worse by the fact that the characterization throughout the films was lacking as well. In the end, the whole story suffered due to poor characterization and having a caricature made it worse.

Building Realistic Characters

When you’re designing your character, you want to create a balance of good and bad qualities. Protagonists must not be perfect. Villains require qualities that allow their humanity to shine through. Real people make mistakes or can surprise you with moments of kindness. Just because a character starts as a caricature doesn’t mean you can’t build on that foundation to add complexity.

The first step is seeing thing from each character’s perspective. Remember, a villain doesn’t wake up saying “I’m going to be evil today! Mwahaha!” Real people have a tendency to believe they are right, even when they are wrong. Consider any political or religious argument you have ever heard. Both parties think they are correct and the other person is an idiot. This same type of “right/wrong” conflict is what drives your protagonist and antagonist instead of the pure “good vs. evil.”

Let’s look at the melodrama characters again and see how flaws and perspective can change them from caricatures into characters.

Hero: Strong, brave, and kind; he always does the right thing no matter what. The ‘right thing’ may not always be a clear cut issues. Perhaps the hero is strong and brave, but that makes him do stupid things because he also feels invincible. He might be kind, but only to the right people. This guy can also be a jerk if he thinks you’re the “wrong people.” He judges whether or not you’re right or wrong based on his own opinions rather than the facts. He’ll defend his lady love no matter what!

Heroine: Sweet, demure, and would never hurt a fly.  She’s sweet, that’s for sure, but a lot of people in the town think she’s fake. No one can be that sweet all the time. Demure? More like manipulative. She acts innocent to get her way, and is actually quite good at scheming. Playing dumb is the name of the game, but everyone knows she’s intelligent and her goal is to win and play the victim. Her family is poor now but they used to have a lot of money, and she’s not going to let some no-good businessmen push them around.

Vamp: Sultry, backstabbing, “immoral.” The vamp has led a difficult life. She wasn’t given the same opportunities in her upbringing as the heroine, and had to find her own way to survive. Falling in with the “wrong crowd” was the only way she could make enough money to get by. Dancing at the saloon may look like a bad thing to the other women, but none of them have ever gone hungry or slept in the street. Their judgmental attitude toward her only proves they’re not really as good as they pretend to be.

Villain: Mean, corrupt, and greedy. He is the wealthiest man in town. He’s a banker, and he got that position by working hard and going to school in the city. He understands the economy, and the dusty Western town is in real trouble financially. He puts the value of money and acquiring new property high on his list because it will aid in growth. Sure, he has to foreclose on the heroine’s farm, but they haven’t paid the mortgage in nearly a year and are living on credit at the general store. That kind of behavior is hurting the other people in the town. A developer is offering to buy the land and put in new business that will bring new money and new jobs, too! The farmer could probably make more money in a new job than he ever has with his farm, which could save the family. His manipulative daughter and her boyfriend are the real problem.

Looking at the characters in this new light changes the plot. It gives gray area to the story and adds to the possibilities of the plot. Instead of the “good vs. evil” it gives the story a real-world feel that gives readers a better chance of staying interested.

Do you have anything to share about caricatures? Feel free to share in the comments!

This post contains spoilers from Fear the Walking Dead on May 1, 2016. You’ve been warned.

This is not a recap of the episode, but a discussion of the successes and failures in storytelling from popular media. Hopefully we can all learn and grow together as writers.

Fear the Walking Dead has steadily been turning itself around, or so it seems, replacing inaction with action. Once again, last night’s episode upped the game by putting the cast in motion rather than forcing them to stand still. Again, we are faced with the best episode of the series so far. I hope to say this every week for the next three weeks.

Today I want to focus on some of the character arcs and how the choices characters make can drive a plot. Last night’s episode was very good mostly because characters behaved as their previous characterization dictates. That’s a key element in believable storytelling. This episode had some great moments which could be character altering for several survivors. Last week Chris faced a similar experience with the man begging to be killed on the plane. This week we bring danger and trauma to everyone on board the Abigail.

We finally learn about Strand, who truly is a shady guy and always has been. I’m happy to say Strand’s past was revealed in flashbacks and not just him telling the story. (Show not tell!) We learn he used to buy junk debts, he’s a con artist, and a thief. We also see him get caught up with the true owner of the Abigail, named Thomas Abigail, and they fall in love. It’s the classic tale of wealthy man meets shady guy in a bar and makes him his henchman. Strand is racing to Mexico not only for a safety, but to be with his man, who also is in charge. That information puts a lot into perspective.

Of course, Strand is all about “survival of the me” when it comes right down to it. Jumping ship when the pirates show up was fitting, proving his bark is worse than his bite. He’s a rogue, not a fighter. The real reason the rest of our survivors are alive is because Strand really isn’t a killer, he’s a henchman; a scout.

Madison makes a big character move when she attacks one of the pirates. I’m still unsure that she has what it takes to survive long-term, but that moment is a big turning point. I only think she will survive because I believe the point of Fear the Walking Dead is to have a woman as the focal character where The Walking Dead has Rick.

Madison, however; isn’t a leader. Travis isn’t a leader, either. They’re “parents.” They try to parent the cast the way they parent their kids.I would like to see Madison make more changes in the direction of being a good leader. She certainly doesn’t add up to Michonne, Carol, Maggie, or Sasha at this point – all of which could be leaders. Carol made big changes. Can Madison do the same?

This episode again showed why the teens drive the story. Alicia’s error with speaking to the pirates finally comes into play. Yes, it was a stupid mistake but now we have true conflict.  Alicia continues to make her mistakes, trusting the younger pirate, and even giving him a hug. Come on, Alisha, your boyfriend may be dead but don’t’ go jumping at the first pretty face you see. Actually, do jump because otherwise there won’t be a story.

Their conversation is important. A new name is thrown into the game; Conner. From the young pirate (I think he is Jack?) we learn that Conner is in charge, but he listens to Jack’s council. Everyone is waiting for Conner to decide what happens, and maybe Alisha and her family will be allowed to join Conner’s group. Why does this seem familiar? Oh, right, it sounds a lot like Negan and his Saviors. This group feels like a mirror of that group, only younger and in their raw beginnings.

Unlike Negan, we get to meet Conner this episode.

In order to play the hero, Travis reveals his skills as a mechanic, which he hopes will save his family. Good ol’ Travis, finally doing something stupid to help the story along. In the end, Conner takes Alisha and Travis hostage. Excellent. Now we have a rescue missions to either solidify them as a team or tear them apart.

Lastly, I want to talk about Nick on his secret mission to the shore. First off, how much time does he spend in his room that no one noticed he was missing? Were they all just pretending they didn’t know where he was? I couldn’t tell. Also, where is this non-firebombed town? Perhaps we should be scrounging for supplies?

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“If this is what napalm does, we should have stayed on land.”

Despite these questions, last week I said that Nick is becoming my favorite character, and that continues as he progresses from drugged out teen to zombie apocalypse survivor. Maybe it’s because of his past that he isn’t as afraid of the walkers as everyone else. Having survived the withdrawal of his addiction might put things in a different perspective. Plus, he is still an addict, just because he’s not currently using doesn’t mean he’s magically cured. The drive of teenage immortality and whatever drove him to drugs in the first place could be in play.

Nick isn’t Carol or Daryl at this point, but I would say he has a lot of characteristics similar to Glenn. He’s more reckless than Glenn, but he has the same confidence to be able to go into an infested area. He’s also smart like Glenn in being observant to zombie behavior. Glenn was able to rescue Rick in the beginning not because he wasn’t afraid, but because he has observed the walkers and understands how they respond to the world. Nick is quickly gaining this same type of information.

Nick also has the same attitude toward the walkers in this early stage that we often see in the current cast of The Walking Dead. He has the nonchalance to their presence in the world., accepting when they appear without being terrified. There will be walkers and we can get past them. He is still learning but I would like to continue to see him grow in this direction.

Nick picks up Thomas Abigail’s henchman Luis, and they save the day, as much as it can be saved. The real question is if Luis is truly a savior or if he will only bring more conflict in the days to come.

Other Questions

Will Strand finally decide the other survivors are worth saving, now that they’ve saved him?

Will Alicia continue to follow her teenage hormones and get everyone into more trouble?

Will a zombie baby chew it’s way out of the pirate mom’s tummy?

Hopefully we find out with only three episodes remaining of the season!