Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

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How God Used My Fictional Character to Teach Me True Things

November 6, 2015

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What if our characters are real?  What if they are actually the souls of unborn children who died before birth, and God gives them to authors as inspiration for characters in our stories?  What if we will meet all our characters someday in heaven?

When I came up with that fun fictional concept last week, I didn’t intend to write a story about it.  I just thought, “Haha, this is a cool idea.”

But a dear friend urged me to write a story, so I decided I would have some fun with it.  I flung my “Is this the best use of this concept?” worries to the wind, and sat down and wrote the first thing that came to me, the idea that tugged at my heart – a near-death scene where I encountered my most precious fictional character, Kevin, from beyond the grave.

It was like lightning struck.

It was fun, the way skydivers find jumping out of a plane fun. 😛

The entire couple of hours I worked on the story, adrenaline buzzed through my body.  I poured out words without inhibition, completely honed in on the emotions of the scene, blind to everything around me.  When I finished it was like I was walking on air.  I floated upstairs and went to bed, worn out and slightly totally obsessed.

I knew this story would be exciting and interesting to write, but I had no idea it would leave me full of tension and aching with yearning.

I had no idea that for two days I would cry out to the Lord for help and wisdom, terrified that I had built my own character into an idol by envisioning him as a sinless saint from heaven.  (I already adored the guy as my character, and now he’s perfectly sinless and “alive”??)

I had no idea the adrenaline would leave me with muscle cramps and no appetite for half the week, and I would lose four pounds in four days from the stress of remembering the story, re-reading it (more aftershocks of adrenaline!) and sharing it with some fellow authors in my writer’s group and elsewhere (*terror* Will they despise this chunk of my soul??).  It was not a real experience, but as far as my emotions were concerned, it might as well have happened in reality.

And I had no idea that as time passed, God would suddenly hush the siren-cry of character worship and catapult me into a spiritual ecstasy so joyous that I (the totally introverted shy person!) would go grocery shopping and smile at everyone I passed and want to talk to them, even mentally fish for ways I could share the gospel as I went because I was full to bursting with Christ’s joy.

What is this madness??  God, who am I and what did You do with myself?? 😀 

For the first couple of days, I thought I had made the most horrific writing mistake of my life.

I prayed for wisdom and just waited for some convicting inner urge to delete the whole thing and never think of it again.

I felt like it blurred the lines between reality and fiction and was too close to a “ghost story” for my personal comfort.  I thought it was completely off-the-wall-weird and I deserved rotten tomatoes flung at my head.  I thought I had walked right into a swamp of temptation and my imagination had led me astray (it wouldn’t be the first time).

But I prayed that God would use this piece of writing for other purposes, to glorify Himself to me.

Suddenly, while thinking about the themes in the story, my heart was captured by eternity and my Savior in a new and incredible way.  I had been seeking the Lord in a stale fashion for a long time, going wearily through the motions because I should, despite having no deep feeling there…and suddenly I was all feeling.

My emotions were gushing over, uncontainable.  I could no longer gripe about any hardship, rather bursting forth with reasons for praise and gratitude.  I started delving into God’s word not because I should but because I was delightfully starved for it, and I got fresh bursts of adrenaline simply reading about heaven.  I overflowed with prayer of all kinds throughout the day, not just simple thank-Yous or petitions, but full-hearted, amazed exaltation.

Things that Kevin said in the story convicted, encouraged, and uplifted me.  His glorified zeal for the Lord was infectious!  I started applying his words to my daily life across the board.  Discussions about the story with fellow writers who read it led me to more snowballing epiphanies and spiritual joys, both about my stories and my real life.

Wow!  God really doesn’t care about my prayers being organized or eloquent – He is patient and doesn’t mind me taking time to formulate my words or pause for a minute just to feel in awe.

Wow, He has perfect, personal love for me.

Wow, Lord, You have given me the promise of heaven!

Wow, when I am suffering You cradle me in your almighty hands like a mother holds her hurting child.

Wow!  When I push my characters to overcome their flaws, and I’m sad about their pain but know it is best for them, that must be how God feels about the trials of our sanctification.

Wow to everything.

My “revelations” about God were not new. Mostly they were things I already believed, grasped, and agreed with in theory – in my brain.  But pouring them out on paper, experiencing them so intensely that I was physically in pain for days afterward, suddenly they became tangible truths wrapped tightly around my heart and flowing out of my actions and words.

And the timing was impeccable.

This week my daughter’s neurological issues worsened.

For some time we’ve been waiting impatiently for her neurology appointment in mid-November, watching her increasing symptoms with concern.  But in the past week week her speech clarity took a nosedive.  She struggles to speak articulately, a new problem that is deeply concerning.

A few weeks ago, I might have been a distraught mess at this new development, frustrated by my helplessness, and angry at the lack of speed in the medical world.

But it is very hard to feel grumpy or angry about anything when you almost died and met your character from heaven, 😉 and had him gently point you toward the earthly service of Christ and the love of God that holds us even through agonizing pain.

I have wept to see my daughter struggle, and wept imagining the worst.  Trust in God doesn’t erase pain, though He holds us through it.

But I am not angry, not despairing, because my eyes are set on life beyond this fallen world, and the Savior who bought me for that life.  He is the surpassing treasure that will sustain me no matter what else happens!

The road might be hard ahead.

But because of what I’ve learned from that short story, I feel prepared by God to meet it.

I am blown away by God’s kindness.  I can’t stop talking about it!  Not only did He revitalize my faith right when I needed it (so I could hold His hand tighter rather than flailing and panicking when things got harder), but He also taught me these lessons through one of the things I love most: writing stories, my characters, and exercising my imagination.  He used my favorite thing to touch my heart!  He could have brought me these lessons any old way – sermons, blog articles, a simple talk with a friend – but he chose to do it through my own passionate storycrafting.

I almost wept with joy as I realized that.  What a personal, sweet expression of His individual love toward me!  It was like a parent giving their child a new folder full of schoolwork, and decorating it with stickers of their favorite animal – or giving them glasses to see with and getting them frames in their favorite color.  But this was deeper and more delightful than those kinds of tiny tokens.  It was an approving and loving validation of my imagination’s worth and why He gave it to me.

God used my own fictional character I love to take rarely-applied truths from the depths of my mind and apply them to the depths of my heart.

I can’t quite express why that was so incredibly special to me, that He taught me this much and used this writing experience as the catalyst…but it was a gift, and I treasure it.

One friend has joked that my stories make me bold.  They break me out of my shell to talk passionately, or make me do crazy things (like snap surreptitious photos of random strangers just because they look like my characters).

I guess this is why God gave me stories.  To make me brave.  To make me bold.

I don’t think this particular story is “going anywhere.”  It’s esoteric, odd, and probably only touching for fellow writers who share the yearning for their character to be real.  It’s slightly messy, with no real plot.  It will never be published.  It’s so deeply personal and so true to my imperfect soul that I cringe at parts to think that I’ve actually shared this with anyone!

But I realize now it wasn’t for anyone else, so their opinions don’t matter. God meant it for me.

I will never forget this tiny story, because God used it like a lightning rod to set me ablaze again for Him. <3

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
    the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
    with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

– Revelation 19:6-10

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The Simmering Mind’s Awesomest (a.k.a. Very First) Giveaway Ever!!

September 28, 2015

YAY!!!  Here it is, my surprise!  I’m SO excited to finally bring this giveaway to you!

Awhile back my Facebook page reached 150 followers.  I’m continually amazed by the wonderful people who enjoy my posts (both here and on the page) and leave their comments in discussions, making this corner of the internet a fun and talkative place.  You guys are a blessing to me!!  So I wanted to do a giveaway to thank you all. 😀

But first, hugs all around!!

Okay!  Enough hugs now!  (*brushing off shirt and feeling kind of awkward because I’m not usually a huge hugger*)  😛  Let’s get down to business. And by business I mean FUN!

Giveaway Details:

There will be FIVE WINNERS!

And each winner will get to choose between SEVEN AWESOME PRIZES!

Many who follow my page are fellow writers, but not all are, so I tried to create a good balance of prizes that will appeal to writers and non-writers…a little something for everyone.  Winners may each pick ONE of the following gifts.

Without further ado, here are the prize options!

1. Watercolor bookmark

These bookmarks are designed and painted by me on heavy paper, and inscribed with one of the inspiring quotes about books that I’ve shared on my writer page in the past.  (I will create more as necessary! – with different quotes!)  If more than one option is available I’ll let you pick which bookmark you want. 🙂 This would be delivered by snail mail.

2. Sneak peek of one of my books

If you’re bursting with curiosity about my writing projects, choose this prize and I will email you a full chapter from either The Trusted: Book One of the Kraesinia Trilogy (my young adult portal sci-fi) or my secondary project, Absconders Series #1: Renegade (young adult dystopian sci-fi).  Blurbs for both projects can be found on my books page.  If you choose this prize, all I ask is that you don’t share the chapter publicly online. 😉

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3. A beautiful little notebook

Unlike the other prizes, which can be duplicated if several winners choose them, I have only one of these gorgeous notebooks with a clasp to give away, so this prize is on a “first come, first served” basis!  It will be mailed by snail mail.

4. An original piece of flash fiction

I’ll write it just for you!  You can choose to have me share it on my blog for everyone (with or without a dedication to you, the winner), or I can email it to you privately.  I’ll even take requests for topics, characters, or premises!…although I can’t guarantee what the muse will come up with in the end. 😉

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5. A blurb clinic

As many of my writer friends know, I LOVE to write blurbs (or “back cover descriptions”).  I love helping people make their own blurbs better, too!  For this prize, I will take any blurb you’re struggling to write and help you revise and polish it so you can put your best foot forward when you go on submission or self-publish.  My forte is speculative fiction, but I’m happy to help with other genres too!

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6. A thorough edit and critique of the first three pages of your work-in-progress

I’m a meticulous editor, both when it comes to my own books and the books of friends who ask for my edits.  The first pages of your book are the best opportunity you have to hook your readers!  If you choose this prize I will go over your first three pages with a fine-tooth comb and point out any problems they might have, as well as highlighting their strengths and making encouraging suggestions.

My green edits on a friend's manuscript - page blurred to protect the innocent. :P

My green edits on a friend’s manuscript – page blurred to protect the innocent. 😛

7. Your choice of one of these e-books from fellow Christian authors

I will e-gift this to you from Amazon – any one of the books from the list below.  I can provide you additional information about any of the books, if you need help choosing!

Time for Fun!

Now, I don’t like it when giveaways are clearly designed just to gather more followers.  So even though new followers are awesome (please, come one, come all – the giveaway’s open to everyone!) this giveaway is dedicated to my faithful readers and page followers, because I like you guys lots. 😀  You can complete any or all of the “tasks” below to enter – things most of you have already done.  Sharing is awesome, but totally optional!

This giveaway will run from the 1st to the 5th of October, and then I will announce the winners here on the blog and contact them by email!! *happy dance*

May the odds be ever in your favor! 😀

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Writer Wars: The Prolific and the Percolators

September 16, 2015

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Yesterday I read an article I enjoyed.  To me, the lesson was: take your time writing books, pay attention to quality, and don’t feel pressured to pump out multiple novels a year, but rather do what you know is right for your stories.  Since I don’t have much time to write, and I am committed to seeing books through even if it takes years to hit gold in revisions, I appreciated the message.

But if your point and purpose as a writer is to take someone’s breath away, capture a riveting story, translate an idea — whether fantasy, love story, science fiction, human interaction, tragedy, thriller, family saga, memoir, non-fiction — in a way that raises hairs or gets someone shouting “YES!”; if you’re compelled to tell that story so beautifully, so irreverently, with such power and prose as to make a reader stop to read a line over just to have the opportunity to roll those words around one more time, then don’t listen to that advice [to write 4 books a year]. – Lorraine Devon Wilke (emphasis hers)

I posted the article in my writer’s group, not noticing that the article was somewhat condescending in tone toward those who do put out many books a year.  She implied (perhaps unintentionally) that writing many books a year means your books will be sub-par.  I heartily disagree!  Some of my favorite authors are extremely prolific.  But I failed to notice that overtone while I was appreciating the other aspects of the article that reinforced how I tend to do things.

Others drew my attention to a response article (be aware if you look it up – there is coarse language), in which Larry Correia tore the original one apart sentence-by-sentence, taking the opposite tack…that writers who take their time are the real hacks, not the other way around:

For most authors our first book is crap that probably doesn’t deserve to see the light of day. I’ve seen them referred to as books with training wheels. Pragmatic professional types stick that piece of crap in a drawer, move on with life, and write more books. Maybe they’ll come back to it and pick out all the good bits to use in other projects later, or they’ll try to edit it again once they have more experience (or your heirs will wait until you are dead and then publish it to cash in on your name), but the important thing is they move on.

Idealistic, literati artistic types will waste six years polishing that turd. At the end of it, the turd might even be so shiny it no longer looks like a turd, and they’ll publish it to rave critical reviews, and rejoice in their whopping $1.75 an hour they made from writing before going to work their shift at Starbucks. Meanwhile, the “hack” will chuckle, cash their royalty check that pays all their bills, and get back to work on book #15. – Larry Correia

Reading the second article was difficult for me, partly because I’m no fan of mocking sarcasm and rude language, but mostly because it was an extreme example of the mindset that made me appreciate the original one! 😉

At the same time, it also had good points.  Going slow doesn’t guarantee quality either.  It’s important to actually write and not just think about writing.  Etc.

At the end of the day, I was disappointed at the writer world.

Clearly there aren’t just “Mommy Wars” – there are “Writer Wars” too.  We can’t just disagree with each other.  We have to call each other “hacks.”  We have to call each other’s books “turds.”  We have to make fun of people who put out fewer books than we do and accuse them of being unprofessional.  We have to tear down the people who put out more books than we do because clearly they aren’t doing it “right.”

At the end of the day, we’re all doing the same work.  We do it at different paces, for different reasons, by different methods, and with different results.  Of course we do, because we are individuals!

But we all care about our stories, right?  We care about our characters, our worlds, and our readers.  We want our books to be the best they can be, and we search for ways to accomplish that.  We’ve all felt the sting of rejection, and celebrated the joy of a beautiful review or positive feedback.  We know what it is to get lost in a fictional universe, and try to balance that work/fun with “real life.”  We’re all human beings with feelings, and life is hard for all of us.

We have much in common.  And the important thing is to give the world good stories.

Doesn’t the world have room for both kinds of writers, the practical prolific ones and the dreamy dilly-dalliers (and all the ones in between)?  The world needs all kinds of stories, from all different personality types and backgrounds.  We need plotters and pantsers, literary and genre writers, indies and traditionally published, and yes, the prolific and the percolators.

Can’t we appreciate each other’s strengths and learn from one another without sniping at each other’s perceived disadvantages?

I don’t get it.  I truly don’t.

All I know is that the world of Christian writers and publishing should be different.  (And all praise to God, we usually are!  The thread in my group of believers was gracious and polite, even though several didn’t appreciate the article I shared.)

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.  But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits,impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. – James 3:13:-17

If you like to write fast and hard and earning lots of money is your goal, go for it!

If you like to write slow and gently, and prefer to prioritize ideals, that’s cool too.

Basically, “You do you,” as Chuck Wendig wrote in a third article I just saw this morning.  Do what you feel called to do.

Reading Jeff Gerke’s The Irresistible Novel (click that link for my review) primed me to take the writing advice I like and leave the stuff I don’t.  This controversy reminds me that the same goes for publishing advice too.  We should all be teachable, and yet remember that God didn’t make us to walk the same paths.  We are all members of one Body, and we fill different purposes in His world.  We all have different processes, and that’s not only okay, it’s GREAT!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a battle scene to write.

Slowly.

As inspiration comes to me.  😉

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. – Philippians 2:3

What’s your style?  What are some of the best things you’ve learned that help you write better in your own style?

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7 Ways Your Characters Might Be Weak (And 11 Ways to Fix Them!)

January 12, 2015

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I’ve been working on my science-fiction trilogy for almost ten years now.  (Whew, it seems like an eternity!)  I started writing it at fourteen years old, and often dreamed of being like Christopher Paolini and becoming a famous published teenager.

Now, looking back, I am so, SO glad I didn’t get published back then!

My story, my writing, and my characters were weak.  Of course they were!  I was a newbie.

Right now I’m working on version 5.3 of the first book, and to my surprise I realized that this is the first time I’ve really found my main character.  MY MAIN CHARACTER!  Some of the side characters were pretty strong.  But my main protagonist was just a little flat, shallow, predictable…weak.  It’s been astounding and exciting to see him grow from a two-dimensional nice guy to a much more driven and engaging protagonist.  No wonder this book is still unfinished.  I had a weak character, and he was the one practically running the show!

If you’re a young or inexperienced novelist (or even a more experienced one!), let’s face it – you probably have at least some characters who are weak.

But that’s okay!  There are many ways to work on this problem, and it’s really exciting when you start seeing your characters better and expressing them more deeply as you learn your craft.  In a minute I’ll talk about some of the ways I’ve learned to find my characters and make them stronger.  First, here are some red flags that should signal to you that your characters are weak…

Your Characters Might Be Weak If…

1.  You don’t really know what they want.

We’ve all heard (I hope) that characters need goals, or should want something really badly.  That’s where plot comes from!  Goal + Opposition = Conflict!  But I used to have a hard time figuring this out.  What did my characters want?  All I could come up with was, “Well, they want to glorify God in everything.”  Soooo perfectly Christian and inspiring!  But incredibly weak.  That’s not a “goal!”  That’s simply the reality of being a child of God indwelled by the Holy Spirit.  And if we’re honest with ourselves, when are any of our motives ever that pure?  Pretty rarely.  If your character’s “goals” are vague, generic, or aimless, your character might be weak.

Don’t let your character be like this…or at least not for the whole book, please!!

2.  You can’t imagine them doing something bad (or good!).

If they’re just too pure to commit evil, if they never get themselves in trouble, always do what’s right, and don’t ever lose their tempers or say something unkind…then your character is too perfect and totally unrealistic.  Conversely, your villain may be weak if you can’t imagine any inkling of good in him or her.  The strongest characters reflect human nature – and human nature is a mixed bag.  Even the best human being (besides Jesus Christ!) is flawed, and even the worst are redeemable (though they may reject that offer of redemption!).

(But they really shouldn’t be in books either!)

3.  They all talk/think/pray the same way.

Sometimes this is hard for us to gauge as writers, but a perceptive reader will usually pick up on it.  Instead of having unique ways of speaking and thinking, maybe your characters are all deeply emotional, or all talk in snarky banter, or all pray the same kinds of prayers following the same format and using the same phrases.  Real people are all different (that’s where a lot of conflict – and therefore plot! – comes from).  Characters should be different too, in more than just their looks and habits.

Snarky is cool.  But characters all need their own "name tags."

Snarky is cool. But characters all need their own “name tags.”

4.  They don’t change, learn new things, or grow.

If there’s no discernible difference in their attitudes between the beginning of the book and the end, you are probably lacking a character arc.  (There are some character arcs where the character changes the world rather than the world changing them, and that’s called a flat arc, but even these characters should be challenged in their viewpoints during the story.)  A story about a hero doing heroic things and then ending the story as a hero is probably…pretty weak.

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5.  They never fight.

Going along with #1 and #2, if a character doesn’t really know what they want and is too perfect to do anything wrong, they will be passive characters.  When you have real people that want things and aren’t perfect – fights happen!  Unkind words are exchanged, and grudges are held.  Even the closest and best relationships in the world will be marred by occasional disagreements…and in a book, complete peace and love between the allies is kinda boring!

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“Doth your mother know you weareth her drapes?”

6.  They never surprise you…or, you don’t really know why they do what they do!

Strong characters are consistent – but that doesn’t mean they can’t surprise you!  Sometimes when I really know a character they will do something completely unexpected.  Those times are delightful, because usually I can understand exactly why they did it, even if I didn’t see it coming.  But if I never know what a character is thinking or why they do what they do, that’s a big problem.  If there’s no logic behind your character’s behavior, they might be weak…and on the flip side, if they are rote and predictable, that’s also a red flag.

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 7.  They are unnaturally resilient.

Let’s say you have a healthy, happy, well-rounded character who functions well in society…and then it turns out they were abandoned by their parents at six years of age and grew up in terrible foster homes??  That doesn’t compute!  If your character has suffered in the past, they are bound to carry scars that affect other parts of their lives.  My trilogy’s main characters are orphans, and in some earlier drafts they were way too well-adjusted for teens whose parents died in a mysterious car fire during their formative years.  It’s been a little too much fun a learning experience “messing them up” for my revisions. 😉

Odds are your character isn’t half this happy to show off their scars.

Ways to Find Your Characters and Make Them Stronger!

Over the past 10 years, here are some things that have helped my characters really stand up, break out of their boring shells, and come into their own.

1.  Keep getting older and learning.

Yeah, I know…frustrating.  Getting older and gaining life experience isn’t something you can make happen.  It takes time.  I put this here to reassure you that if you feel like your characters are shallow – it will get better!  The older I get, the more I notice and understand human nature, and that experience makes its way into the pages of my books.  In addition to the richness that comes from getting older and wiser, you can also expand your awareness and experience by reading a lot, watching movies and TV with good character development, and just plain ‘ol people watching.  Pay especially close attention to the age group your characters fall into.  If you’re a YA writer, hang out with teens when you can.  Etc.

2.  Find out what they have to lose!

You MUST know what your characters want.  If you are fumbling with vague responses like, “He wants to save the world,” dig deeper.  WHY does he want to save the world?  Because his girlfriend lives in it?  Well, why is she so important to him?  What does she fulfill in his life?  What could your character NOT STAND to lose?  What would they rather die than lose? – or, what would they die to gain?  When human beings feel threatened, when what we cherish most or desire most is at stake, that is when the interesting stuff happens and our true nature flares up.  Passivity will kill your characters!  Give them something to pursue.

“Who’s been digging up my nuts??” (Beatrix Potter reference. Yeahhhhh, I’m a mom of littles.)

3.  Let your characters make mistakes.

Like overprotective parents, we sometimes want our protagonists to always do the right thing, to be a good example to others in everything, and “do us proud.”  Let them loose!  Let them make mistakes.  Let them sin and repent and deal with the mess.  Let them grapple with tough emotions.  They will be stronger for it.

4. Study Myers-Briggs Typology.

If you’re unfamiliar with Myers-Briggs theory, here’s a good place to start.  MBTI has become a valuable part of my writer toolbox!  Don’t just learn the basics of what the letters stand for, though – dig deeper.  Find out about cognitive functions.  Learn the difference between Fe and Fi, Te and Ti, Se and Si, Ne and Ni.  Learn some theories about “shadow functions.”  Practice typing people around you and learn how to use MBTI to understand others better.  It’s a lot of information at first and seems confusing, but when you become familiar with the theory it starts to be a natural part of your thought process.

If your character stubbornly refuses to be typed, odds are you could be writing them inconsistently, you could be pushing them into a personality that’s really not their own, or your own personality could be intruding into theirs and coloring over them (my ENTJ protagonist acted like a semi-INFJ for years because of this).  Again, let them loose and see where they naturally go.

Image from: http://cdn4.sportngin.com/attachments/photo/0851/3230/MBTI_chart_3_large.jpg

5.  Fill out character profiles.

Some writers find extensive profiles annoying or overwhelming.  You don’t have to fill it out all at once.  Consider keeping one around and adding to the categories as ideas come to you, or just keep a simple character document with info you can refer back to.  Focus less on tertiary details like their favorite color, and instead really brainstorm their backstory.  Even if it never comes up in the story, it’s where they came from and should be very important to you as the author.  Here is the character profile I made for myself, which is detailed but streamlined – it’s downloadable!

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6.  Learn about character arcs.

K.M. Weiland’s series is a good resource for this and I’ve found it extremely helpful as I write this (hopefully last!) draft.  Don’t just have a hero doing hero-y things and ending as a hero.  Let him grow from weak to strong.  Show her development.  Challenge him.  Bring him or her to the depths of despair, and pour more despair on top, before letting them rise from the ashes.

Image from: http://www.musik-therapie.at/PederHill/images/Struct1.gif

7.  Find out what creates conflict between people – including friends.

We all know of a protagonist and an antagonist, but it’s also important to bring out the things that rub your protagonist the wrong way with his or her comrades and friends.  Try to figure out what about each character might drive another character nuts…and then let that happen, especially in stressful times!  It’s how the real world works.

Don’t be this writer, gentle soul though you may be!

8.  Get comfy with how they think and talk.

Find one of those questionnaires people pass around the internet, and fill it out using your character’s voice.  Do a stream-of-consciousness style document of their thinking process.  Fill out a journal.  Get comfortable and familiar with the way they think and speak.

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9.  Write short stories to spotlight them.

Especially if you’re working on a weak side character, writing a short story from their point of view can be very enlightening.  Choose an important piece of their past to write about, or something about their story that doesn’t come into the actual book.  Have fun with it, and apply what you learn to the real story too.

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10.  Make sure to give them quirks.

Every character should have some quirks.  That doesn’t mean every character should be weird, but there should be something about them that distinguishes them from other characters.  Imagine that you had to make a minimalist painting of your character (like this one of Hermione Granger), or represent them on a book cover with a single object.  What might that look like?  I confess I’m still working on this for some of my characters!  The point is, don’t make them an average Joe.  Give them some distinguishing features, mannerisms, habits, and possibly also favorite items they hold and/or use frequently (like my character Josh, who has a beloved brass pocket watch).  Make them unique!

11.  Be realistic about their baggage.

Don’t let them be ridiculously resilient!  If they have a sordid past, read up on real people with similar troubled histories.  Find out what it’s truly like to be an orphan, to be abused, to be blind, or deaf, or whatever difficulty your character has faced or is currently facing still.  (That’s one criticism I have of Harry Potter.  Harry grew up under the staircase with cruel relatives beating him down all the time, and yet he’s totally honorable, brave, and selfless in almost every way?  I know it’s youth fiction, and he’s certainly not a flawless person, but it still strikes me as odd that he wasn’t more “messed up.”)

I have a character with an awesome robotic arm – yet it wasn’t until recently that I researched amputees in order to write a short story about her history.  I was stunned at how little I had really thought about her “baggage” before!  There was a lot of it to explore as I wrote that short story.  Before she had the cool prosthetic, she had to go through the trauma of losing a limb, and I’d never really considered before how traumatic it had been!  Sure, scars can make a character look cool.  But don’t just throw them onto your characters like neat stick-on tattoos.  Remember that getting that scar really, really hurt, and probably still hurts to this day…and understand and portray your character accordingly.

An old sketch of my character's metal arm.

An old sketch of my character’s metal arm.

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What are some examples of weak or strong characters?  Have you found any other helpful ways to get to know your own characters?  I’d love to know about them!  (The ways, but the characters too!)

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6 Favorite Brother-Sister Relationships in Fiction

December 8, 2014

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Romance.  Parent and child.  Sisterhood.  Brotherhood.  Sibling groups.  Friendships.  Partners.  Mentor and student.  Master and servant.  Leader and followers.

Personally, although I enjoy reading about many different kinds of relationships, I’m a big sucker for a strong brother-sister friendship, mostly because the trilogy I’ve been writing for almost 10 years, The Kraesinia Trilogy, centers around a brother and sister.

This kind of relationship is friendship, it’s family, and it contains the fun dynamics of opposite genders interacting, yet without the angst of romantic tension.

Here are six of my favorite fictional brother-sister duos!

1. Simon and River Tam (Firefly – science-fiction TV show)

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River: “I remember everything. I remember too much. And some of it’s made up, and some of it can’t be quantified, and there’s secrets, and…”
Simon: “Hey, i-it’s okay.”
River: “But, I understand. You gave up everything you had to find me. You found me broken. It’s hard for you. You gave up everything you had.”
Simon: “Mei-mei, everything I have is right here.”

I love this pair so much.  Simon is a capable young doctor.  River is a brilliant girl who is traumatized and not right in the head after years of being experimented on secretly by a government program.  Not only does Simon leave behind his career and everything else to rescue her from the facility, but he diligently and tenderly takes care of her throughout the show, hides her from the government, keeps her out of trouble (when he can…that’s a job and a half), and searches for ways to heal her hurting mind using his medical experience.  River, meanwhile, also turns out to be a psychic with epic battle skills.  Basically, they’re both awesome.

2. Nicholas and Kate Nickleby (Nicholas Nickleby – classic novel by Charles Dickens)

“My darling girl,” said Nicholas as he embraced her. “How pale you are!”

“I have been so unhappy here, dear brother,” sobbed poor Kate; “so very, very miserable. Do not leave me here, dear Nicholas, or I shall die of a broken heart.”

“I will leave you nowhere,” answered Nicholas— “never again, Kate,” he cried, moved in spite of himself as he folded her to his heart. “Tell me that I acted for the best. Tell me that we parted because I feared to bring misfortune on your head; that it was a trial to me no less than to yourself, and that if I did wrong it was in ignorance of the world and unknowingly.”

“Why should I tell you what we know so well?” returned Kate soothingly. “Nicholas—dear Nicholas—how can you give way thus?”

“It is such bitter reproach to me to know what you have undergone,” returned her brother; “to see you so much altered, and yet so kind and patient—God!” cried Nicholas, clenching his fist and suddenly changing his tone and manner, “it sets my whole blood on fire again.”

I have always loved Nicholas’s fierce protectiveness over his sister and his determination to do anything for the welfare of her and their mother after their father passes away.  Both Nicholas and Kate are smart, upright characters on their own, and deeply devoted to one another.  When I first read the book, their relationship reminded me strongly of my book’s protagonists, Kevin and Catherine, though my characters are less dramatic and, uh, Dickensian.  Teenage males in modern books don’t just “burst into tears,” and the girls simply can’t “swoon” spontaneously at an emotional moment.  (Well, they could.  But they’d lose all reader respect.  Hahaha.)  Yet it works for Dickens…mostly because he’s Dickens.

3. Katara and Sokka (Avatar: The Last Airbender – youth fantasy TV show)

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Katara: “I will never, ever turn my back on people who need me! I’m going back to the village. And I’m going to do whatever I can!”

Sokka: “…Wait! I’m coming too.”

Katara: “I thought you didn’t want to help.”

Sokka: “You need me. And I will never turn my back on you.”

This relationship has more moments of snark and bickering than tender affection, I admit.  But Sokka and Katara are close, having been effectively orphaned by the death of their mother and the departure of their father to war.  They may have entirely separate agendas at times, but they also work well together, and never abandon one another in times of need.  Katara is the caring, motherly figure and often the conscience of their little traveling band, while Sokka is a fierce warrior and provides regular comic relief.

4. Aquila and Flavia (The Lantern Bearers – historical fiction by Rosemary Sutcliff)

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Aquila leaned against a tree and watched her, making a discovery.  “You have grown up while I have been away.”

She looked up, the flowers in her hands.  “I was grown up before you went away.  More than fifteen.  And now I’m more than sixteen – quite old.”

Aquila wagged his head sadly.  “That’s what I say.  I don’t suppose you can even run now.”

She sprang up, her face alight with laughter.  “What will you wager me that I do not reach the terrace steps ahead of you?”

“A new pair of crimson slippers against a silver buckle for my sword-belt.”  Aquila pushed himself from the tree-trunk as she swooped up the skirt of her yellow tunic with the flowers in its lap.

“Done!  Are you ready?”

“Yes.  Now!”

Flavia was half a spear’s length ahead of him as they reached the steps of the terrace before the house and whirled about under the old spreading damson tree that grew there.  “Well?  Can I still run?  I can run faster than you can now, and I’m a girl!”

Aquila caught her by the wrist.  “You have sharp, hollow bones like a bird, and it is not fair.”  They flung themselves down on the step, panting and laughing…

This story, set in ancient Britain, is perhaps not as well known as the others I list here, but it’s one of my favorite books of all time.  The writing is beautiful and all the characters so real.  To be fair, Aquila and Flavia are separated for most of the story so we only get small glimpses of their relationship, but they are beautifully sweet toward each other.  The two of them are said to be so inseperable that their tutor once declared they should have been twins and it was cruel of fate to require Aquila to wait two years for his sister to be born.  I love to see a sibling relationship where there is no envy, meanness, or competition (beyond fun races, of course!).

5. Eomer and Eowyn (The Lord of the Rings – fantasy trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien)

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 And he looked at the slain, recalling their names.  Then suddenly he beheld his sister Eowyn as she lay, and he knew her.  He stood a moment as a man who is pierced in the midst of a cry by an arrow through the heart; and then his face went deathly white, and a cold fury rose in him, so that all speech failed him for a while.  A fey mood took him.

“Eowyn, Eowyn!” he cried at last.  “Eowyn, how come you here?  What madness or devilry is this?  Death, death, death!  Death take us all!”

Here is another sibling pair grown close through the loss of their parents.  Eomer and Eowyn were orphaned young and taken in by their uncle, the king, who raised them as his own.  Both hold high responsibilities as nobility of the Rohirrim.  We don’t get to see a lot of their relationship, given that they are side characters in a much, much greater plot and they are usually busy doing separate things in different places…like saving the people of Rohan and fighting for all of Middle-earth, for example.  But we see touching glimpses of their closeness, like Eomer’s utter grief when he discovers his sister fallen on the battlefield and believes her to be dead.

6. Carda and Michelle Chase (The Spacetime Legacy – urban fantasy series by K.M. Carroll)

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His twin sister Michelle sat at the kitchen table with a fork, a glass of milk, and an entire coffee cake.

Carda gestured at it in outrage.  “You took the whole cake?”

Michelle shrugged with a mischievous grin.  “I’m not getting a plate dirty, right?  Grab a fork.”

I don’t have a screen cap or anything for this story because it isn’t a movie – EVEN THOUGH IT TOTALLY SHOULD BE.  Carda and “Mish” are redheaded twins who discover they have magical powers, battle powerful villains, and save the world, then kick back and have pizza on the couch together afterward.  I loved this relationship for its casual, down-to-earth realness.  If Nicholas and Kate Nickleby are the dramatic, swooning, sobbing Dickensian example of siblinghood, Carda and Michelle perfectly embody the modern sib-set – more likely to poke sarcastic fun at each other than fall in each other’s arms and cry, but fiercely devoted best friends who always have each other’s backs.

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Most of these siblings remind me a little of my own characters, Kevin and Catherine – and in some cases they were inspirations in the very development of my characters!  They all have a special place in my heart.

Are there any other awesome, close fictional brother-sister duos I should know about?  Please let me know!  What’s your favorite kind of relationship to read about?