character building

Common themes for your protagonist and antagonist

A rather tongue in cheek checklist of the most often used characteristics for leading characters in novels.
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Feel free to add more in the comments.

Observation exercise for character development

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There’s no getting away from the fact that your story will need people. You will need to invent characters to populate the imaginary world within your stories. Making them honest and believable can be hard; I’ve read books containing characters that seem like robots, so devoid of honest emotion are they. So what can we do to make our characters more real? You practice observing real people, that’s what.

Go into the busiest part your nearest big town or city, find a seat, sit on it, and watch. Have a notepad and pen with you, and an ipod if you must. Watch the people passing you by and ask yourself questions.

What is their mood? How do I know this? What gestures and facial expressions are they making to show me their mood? What is their gait like? Write down the mood you think the person is feeling and everything they’re doing to show you that.

For couple or groups, watch how they interact. What is the group dynamic? What place do each of the people hold within the group? Who’s the leader and who’s the wallflower? What are each of the participants doing to show you all of this? Their facial expressions, gestures, gait, tone of voice, speed of speech, words used (if you can hear their conversation). You can even write each of these things down as a keyword if you find it hard to remember what to look for.

If you see a couple arguing, fantastic. Note those expressions, gestures, voice characteristics etc and see how they differ from the other people you’ve watched. Parents with children will have another unique set of expressions, gestures and voice characteristics. Are they telling the kids off? How are they showing their frustration, irritation, anger?

Groups of youths will interact different from senior citizens, groups of men will be different from single women, police will be different again, stall holders, newspaper salesmen, market traders, every person will have their own unique set of facial expressions, hand/arm gestures, body movements, and voice characteristics to show you their moods. By watching, asking yourself the right questions, and making notes, you will build a valuable store of information to help you show your characters’ moods and interactions in more believable and true way.

This may seem like basic baby-steps kind of stuff, but it’s amazing how little notice we take of each other these days. Our society has become so insular and self centred that we have forgotten how to interact with each other. Everyone seems to be texting or talking on their smart-phones and everyone’s head is permanently turned downwards to look at the little screen in their hands.

We’ve forgotten how to recognise the non-verbal language of our own species, and this is a simple way of getting that skill back again.

The (not quite) Definitive Guide to Females in Fiction

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So you’re writing a novel? Making a movie? A TV play maybe? Whatever type or genre of fiction you’re creating, the chances are good that you will be including female characters. Women play many roles in works of fiction and their presence is a necessary part of a balanced dynamic within the team of characters. In order to make your work of fiction both entertaining and plausible, your females must play the correct roles in the correct way. Those male writers out there wishing to create the best work possible for their audience, creating believable female characters can be a nightmarish task. Men find women difficult to understand in their real lives, so creating believable fictional ones is an added layer of anguish that they don’t need. Writing any work of fiction is hard work, so anything that can make the process a little easier is welcome, right?

In order to help those male writers negotiate their way through the minefield that is the female, I have drawn up the following Guide to Females in Fiction. I have separated the guide into the following sections:

The pre-teen female.

The teenage female.

The beautiful young female.

The plain young female.

The older female.

The alien female.

This guide is written from the point of view of a male team leader.

The pre-teen female.

The very young female child character will be  streetwise and emotionally strong way beyond her years. She will be clever and show the sort of basic common sense that always tends to evade her older counterparts. As the dominant male, you will probably be her father or her mother’s long time boyfriend. Discipline is not your forte, and she will never obey you when you tell her what to do, but will always do her own thing. This will tend to get you and your team into all sorts of trouble, but she’s a kid and you won’t mind her undisciplined outbursts.

Often, she will be the only one who knows what’s really happening and will have to resort to all sorts of tricks to get the rest of you to realise your new best friend is really a spy, a monster is hiding out a few yards beyond your camp, and that you really can’t trust Sheriff Jones after all. Neither you or your team will believe her, of course, until she single-handedly saves the whole team despite being only seven years and four months old.

Despite loving her Mother, she will be a daddy’s girl and she will view her place as being at your side during your most dangerous adventures. Being streetwise and clever, she will have no problem stowing away in a trunk of equipment to ensure she gets to accompany you on your latest mission. The more emphatically you explain to her that it’s too dangerous for her to come with you, the greater will be her determination to disobey you. Helpful tip – always be sure to thoroughly search all boxes of equipment, and never leave rugs piled in the back seats of vehicles.

If, once you discover your stowaway, you find she’s brought along her pet dog, you will need to be even more on your guard than ever. That dog will run away at the most inconvenient moments, and she will always run after it, even when it’s in no danger and even when she and all of you are in great danger. Yelling at her to stay hidden will do no good. She will dodge bullets and monsters as she follows the little hairy guy, and you will be forced to follow. You and your team may very well suffer injury and loss of life while hunting for the girl and dog, but due to her age and your secret admiration for her self-reliance, you again decide not to discipline her.

The child will, of course, become a captive of your arch enemy. This will force you and your team to divert from the mission in order to rescue her. Once again, you will probably suffer injury and loss of life. Your team is shrinking by the minute. You need not worry about her safety though, her charm and streetwise abilities will ensure she practically rescues herself and/or charms the pants off your arch enemy. The offending dog will help her in this. His sudden new found ability to understand the most complicated of verbal commands will ensure he is able to ensure her escape and incapacitate the bad guys. Having initially wanted to get rid of the dog, you will now begrudgingly accept that he deserves not to go to the pound after all.

As you are no longer with her mother, she will constantly try to find you another girlfriend. She will, of course, easily find the perfect woman for you, whom you will have always failed to spot yourself.

Your team members will never complain about her presence, or the way she keeps fucking up the mission. They will each love her like their own, and she will be on first name terms will all of them. You will trust them all with her implicitly, despite the fact that several of them are time served criminals and all of them have not had so much as a sniff of a woman in weeks.

The teenage female

The teenage female will always be an angst-ridden mess. She will either be a goth or a sex kitten, but whichever guise she adopts, her emotions will bring you and your team nothing but trouble. Her anguish will be a direct result of your treatment of her while she was growing up, combined with her reaction to you having divorced her mother.

Her presence on your adventure will be caused by her mother’s need for time away from her troublesome teen, to go on holiday with her new beau/complete a new contract at work/help her sick father or whatever. Having been dumped on you for the summer, she will resent your presence and regard your mission as a heap of crap.

The teenage female will think the new man in her mother’s life is a jerk, but she won’t tell you that. She will pretend he is the greatest thing since soft toilet paper, just to make you squirm. You will, of course, fall for this badly hidden artifice every time, and the guilt will ensure you do exactly as she wants, thus almost killing your whole team and scuppering your mission. She will refuse to believe your warnings of danger, and will happily put everyone in danger on multiple occasions. Due to your guilt at being a shit father, you continually refuse to discipline her.

She will be permanently plugged into earphones, through which she will listen to heavy metal/punk music to avoid having to listen to you. On occasions, she will spend hours texting her friends on her mobile phone.

If she has adopted the goth guise, she will get herself a criminal boyfriend and have him tag along with you all. You size him up immediately and warn her about him, but she ignores your warnings and indulges him just to annoy you. Pretty soon, he will rob you and try to make off with his ill-gotten gains. The loss of expensive equipment ensures you and the team are trapped in the middle of nowhere and can’t call for help. If you yell at the teenage goth female about this, she will say she hates you and run off after her criminal boyfriend. This will force you to go after her, thereby delaying your mission and causing further danger to all team members. She is your daughter though and going through the hell of her parents’ divorce, so you don’t mind really.

If she adopts the sex kitten guise, she will dress in figure hugging clothes that always expose her midriff and burgeoning cleavage. Your team members, all red blooded males, will never get turned on by her and you will never have cause to worry despite her inappropriate attire around them.

Like her goth counterpart, she will have earphones and the same tuneless music and ever present mobile phone, the latter of which she uses to moan about you to her friends.

She will have a boyfriend but you don’t like him. He will have once been a bit of a lad, but that is all in the past, he’s a nice guy now and only wants the best for her. Despite his continual reassurances, you refuse to trust him and try your best to keep him away from her. You will fail, and when your mission reaches its dangerous climax, it will be he who rescues the situation and helps ensure your survival. Only then do you realise he really does want only the best for your teenage sex kitten daughter, and welcome him onto the team.

As you are divorced from her mother, both of the teenage female types will have unresolved emotional issues with you. This will make itself apparent during your stilted conversations, during which she constantly accuses you of not understanding her, abandoning her, not caring etc. These conversations usually end up with her stomping off in a huff, earplugs in place and Metallica on at max volume. This also applies if her mother is deceased, forcing you into a position of permanent father.

At first, you will deny her claims, and when the conversation reaches the yelling stage,  the sex kitten teenage female will run away with the newly nice guy ex-convict boyfriend. Once she and the boyfriend get into trouble, she will realise she made a huge mistake. The monsters/bad guys with guns/landslide/tornadoes will however, ensure she can’t get back to you. Never mind, the ex-convict, newly nice guy boyfriend will keep her safe. This is usually done shortly before he returns to save your sorry ass.

The teenage female brings with her a lot of emotional baggage. She will claim to hate her mother for dumping her on you. She will claim to hate you for leaving her and her mother. Despite these normal teenage turmoils, her streetwise knowledge and partially remembered science project will be the only thing to ensure your mission’s success.

 

The beautiful female

She wants to come along on your adventure. You don’t want her to, but like the pre-teen female,  she stows away and you don’t find her until it’s too late to send her back. It may be that she’s the only one with enough money to finance it, so you reluctantly agree. She could be a reporter from some backwater newspaper or your nosey neighbour. Whatever her position in life, she wants in and she’ll find a way to get what she wants.

Once firmly ensconced within the team, she causes nothing but trouble. Despite being told to keep quiet, be careful, stay here, don’t touch, listen carefully, she will wake the monsters, get lost, get kidnapped, get trapped inside somewhere, and all manner of other scenarios. All the time she’s doing this, she will believe she’s doing the right thing and not once will she realise that she should’ve just done as you told her and sat down and shut up. You and the team will be forced to waste time and resources searching for her, losing vital equipment or supplies, and getting at least one useful member of the team killed. Despite being a total nuisance to everyone all of the time, you won’t mind because she’s beautiful and you’d like to have sex with her.

She will scream a lot at times when silence really is the best policy. Despite this habit causing the bad guys to find your hideout and/or the monsters to wake up, you won’t mind because you want to have sex with her.

She will fall over when running away from monsters and bad guys.

She will argue with you and denounce your mission as a waste of time, but you still want to have sex with her.

She knows you want to have sex with her, and might use your attraction to her advantage. While you’re having sex with her, another couple of your team members are dying. You mourn them, but ultimately you don’t mind because you hope to have more sex with her.

Your mission might necessitate you venturing into an environment where the average daytime temperature may be forty below zero. There may be mountains to climb or seas to swim across, creatures to wrestle, icy winds that blow down buildings and all manner of other horrors. Despite this, she will wear nothing more than a bra and g string with high-heeled boots and spiky leather wrist cuffs and will never complain of being cold. The acres of exposed flesh will never show so much as a single goose bump. You and your team members wrapped in layers of fur and leather should be in awe of her ability to withstand the cold.

She will never be troubled by the demands of a menstrual cycle, will never need to pee or shit, and will not end up stinking like a camel in a Turkish sauna. Her legs and armpits will remain hair free during the weeks of your mission, her mascara will never run, her facial skin will remain flawless and spot free, and her lips will display a constant rosy blush.

Once your mission is over and her antics have cost you every one of your far more valuable team members, you will marry her.

 

The plain female

The plain female will make up for her lack of looks with knowledge and skills that will help ensure both your mission’s success, and your team’s survival. Not having the burden of being the love interest means she is free to be a contributing member of the team. Her specialist knowledge and skills will do this for her and will more than make up for her lack of beauty.

Her presence will come about by accident. She will ‘stumble upon’ you and the team while in the midst of almost losing your lives and will use her considerable knowledge and/or skills to save your sorry asses.

You will not want to have sex with her and this will enable you to appreciate her skills and quickly realise her potential as a permanent member of your team.

She will know you don’t want to have sex with her and will be content for you to value her for her knowledge and skills.

Her lack of beauty will not bother her, for she has always been more interested in science/martial arts/astronomy anyway.

She will never wear makeup. Her hair will most often be kept short, but if not, then it will always be tied back in a low ponytail or braid.

Despite her lack of beauty and subsequent lack of experience in romance, she will be uncannily wise in matters of the heart and will issue forth pearls of profound wisdom which ensure everyone’s relationships with everyone else thrive.

Her lack of beauty enabled her professor father to indulge her in a superior education of ancient arts and obscure mystical practices, at which she excelled. When he died in mysterious circumstances whilst in the far east, she inherited his journals that furnished her with yet more specialist knowledge.

Her father was spurned by the scientific community because of his weird beliefs and she has suffered by association. This experience gave her personality a hard edge and an ability to endure far beyond that of the beautiful female.

She never speaks about this earlier part of her life and she refuses to discuss the ‘awful things’ she has seen and come into contact with. Despite this reticence, she just happens to be exactly where you need her, when you need her, so that she can translate the artefact/explain quantum physics/reprogram the positronic brain of the artificial intelligence/mix the correct rare herbs/ predict the planetary alignment, which you need in order to succeed.

Once you and your team return from this current adventure, you don’t hesitate to offer the plain woman a central role within your team. She accepts without hesitation because she secretly loves you and knows you won’t survive long without her knowledge and skill.

She knows you don’t want to have sex with her, but she lives in hope.

 

The older female

The middle aged older woman comes in two main forms. The first is an embittered hag. She mourns her lost youth and rails against ageing. She might be financially comfortable, but the money brings her no joy.

She will always wear far too much makeup in an effort to hang on to her lost youth, and will wear clothes more suited to a female half her age.

She will engage in sex with much younger men. She knows they are after her money but indulges them anyway for she knows that she is no longer the younger, more beautiful female. Once they tire of her and leave, she becomes an enraged harpy intent on ruining them for the rest of their lives.

She will fall in love with you and chase you shamelessly. Despite your protestations, she continues to chase you and may grant sexual favours to your team mates in order to gain access to you or information about you that she might use to her advantage.

You don’t want to have sex with her. She knows this and hates it.

She will drink far too much, usually because of some past hurt by a man she used to love who deserted her.

She will have a beautiful daughter with whom you will be in love, but she will not want to let you near the girl. This is because she’s jealous that you don’t fancy her instead of her daughter. If her earlier attempts to gain information about you bore fruit, she will use this in an attempt to convince her daughter that you’re not worth a damn.

If you continue to refuse her advances and pursue her daughter, she may try to thwart your plans or even try to kill you.

The second main type of middle-aged female, is the wilting waif who sobs a lot. The very act of living life terrifies her, and she needs her controlling husband to guide her.

Her controlling husband is often the central bad guy, but she will never believe it of him. After all, he’s always guided her and given her a good life. He can’t help it if she makes him angry sometimes, he works hard and brings in the money.

Her main reaction to problems is to drop into a chair and sob. With constant reassurances, she will dry her eyes and look to you to sort everything out for her.

She is a burden, but she is so nice that no one minds.

You don’t want to have sex with her.

The old, older female also takes two main forms. In one form, she is the landlady, the domestic help, the airplane passenger who comforts the scared beautiful female, the grandparent who spends most of her time reminiscing about her younger years.

The second type of old older female is the wise old crone. The ageing queen of her tribe, she rules with a firm hand and is the sole repository of knowledge of ‘the old ways.’ With her death comes a new age of modernism in the tribe, which often involves some of your team members remaining and marrying fur-bikini-clad maidens.

 

The alien female

The alien female also has different forms, like those of her Earth counterparts.

The alien female child always behaves with impeccable manners. She has an excellent education and is well versed in science before the age of ten years. Her relationship with her parents is one of respect and obedience. She never yells or swears, but can sob if something really terrible happens.

The adult alien female will always have large breasts, which are clad in nothing more than the flimsiest gossamer. She will wear this garment through wars and picnics, in all weathers and in all environments. It will never become inadvertently dislodged, showing a flash of alien nipple for your delectation, despite her having to fight an army of huge ruddy-legged bog-swagglers on a daily basis.

She will happily discuss her species’ sexual practices without embarrassment and will express a scientific interest in yours.

She will naturally know nothing about kissing or Earth style sex, and it is your sworn duty to teach her. You will of course make sure she knows this is an entirely normal way Earth humans greet each other, to ensure she grants you as much time as you feel you need, to ensure she has learned this most vital inter-species communication technique.

She will always fall immediately in love with you. She has been waiting for decades for her planet to be invaded, just so she can meet her ideal man – you.  Not one single male on her entire planet is good enough for her affections. Nope, you’re the one, buddy.

Despite having a far superior intellect, she will allow you to convince her to put her entire civilisation at risk to save you, just because you do that weird kissing thing she finds so amusing.

You may lose team members on her planet, who choose to remain behind with their new wives.

She wants you to stay with her but you realise that Earth needs you more. You have a tearful goodbye, during which you promise to return one day. She believes you and remains unsullied for the rest of her life, not knowing that you were fucking the beautiful Earth female just days later on the journey home.

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So there you have it my friends. The (not quite) Definitive Guide to Females in Fiction. I hope you find it helpful and educational. To those men out there writing fiction, know that your female characters will follow in the footsteps of those given life by generations of writers before you.  I leave it up to you to decide whether that would be a good thing or bad.

Character building and why flaws are important.

I’m getting excited for my new release, Bygora Vandos, which will be out during the second week of October.  This book is the second volume in The Sinclair V-Logs series and sees Sam Sinclair take on an undercover job that ends up costing him dearly.

In Bygora Vandos, we find out more about Sam as a man, a little of his history and a couple of the most powerful events in his life that have shaped him and the way he interacts with people.  Like all people, Sam has experienced bad times and understanding them helps us to get to know him as a person and aids us in connecting with him in a much closer way.  Sam is an interesting and sometimes, complex character.  A man with a strict code most of the time, he understands that from time to time, circumstances call for him to step outside of his code.  Although he doesn’t like having to do this, occasionally it’s necessary for him to get the job done.  Like all people, Sam sometimes makes mistakes, he’s a person not a robot and giving him flaws makes him real.  Nobody is perfect.

As you are no doubt aware, when meeting someone new, it takes time to get to know them fully.  As time goes on you find out more about the person, their likes and dislikes, their morals, what motivates them and the things that get them down.  This is how all of our relationships develop, it’s normal human interaction and I feel this to be a very important aspect of character building in fiction.  Sometimes, an author gives you everything there is to know about a character right from the start, and that disappoints me greatly.  Without anything more to discover, the character becomes boring and I quickly lose interest, and I’m sure it’s the same for most people.

When building your characters, remember to hold back, especially if you plan more books with the same character.  It gives us something to look forward to in later books so that we buy them to find out more about the character we’ve come to like from your previous volume.  As my dad used to say when he caught Mother and I talking about women’s dress sense, “it’s not what you show that titillates us, it’s what you don’t show.”

Psychology for character building

I know it sounds obvious, but when building your main characters, protagonist and antagonist, it’s important that you build them to be people whom you would like or hate.  A good guy, the hero/heroine, must be someone you would like and the bad guy/gal should be someone you wouldn’t like.  If you can’t build them to inspire the appropriate emotional responses within yourself, how can a reader feel the right way about them?

This is not a universal rule though.  There are some protagonists and antagonists who break the boundaries a little but even with these characters, there should be a thread of something within them that can inspire the love, hate, fear, admiration etc.  My main character Jake Elloway in Acts of Life is one of those guys most people find irritating, someone you wouldn’t immediately like, but he has qualities that do inspire the right feelings in the end.

It is important to know a bit about human psychology when building characters.  The more you know about the human condition, the more realistic your characters will be.  It’s worth buying a few books on psychology or doing a basic course to give you a bit of insight into how to make your characters real.  I’m lucky, my mother worked in psychiatry since I was two years old, so I’ve grown up to have some insight into people, and I’ve also spent time studying people and their relationships with each other.

Just as a quick for instance, don’t make your hero/heroine too perfect.  Let them have flaws, failings and weaknesses like real people do and your readers will identify with them more easily.  Likewise, don’t make your bad guys too evil, for even the baddest badass has some redeeming features.  It doesn’t have to be much, just something to help your readers know these people are real, plausible and just like them.