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Crafting Characters

Do You Really Know Your Characters?

A couple of years ago, I stumbled upon a character questionnaire, and I felt like I hit the lottery. I can’t remember where I found the first one, or how I came about using it, but since that fateful encounter, I have come to depend on them.

Within the Bad Girl ranks, we have several plotters, several pantsers, and several plotsters (is that what you’re calling yourselves? Idk idk idk). I am solidly in the former category, hardcore like. If I don’t plot out every detail—every chapter, every scene—I hit a brick wall. It’s inevitable.

I’ve attempted writing without my roadmap and, while I can do it, it generally takes me three to four times longer than if I’d just sat down and mapped it out in the first place.

See how his face is hidden behind that hood and you can’t really tell who he is? That’s why I put this here. Totally the only reason. *shifty eyes*

 

I know a lot of authors feel the first 10-20k words they write of a book could, potentially, be throw-away because they’re getting to know their characters in that time. A character questionnaire does the same thing for me, but I do it upfront and pre-story instead of within my writing. It shows me exactly who that character is who’s sort of foggy in my mind…allows me to flesh them out completely.

A quick search on google will turn up quite a few options for questionnaires. Over the years, I’ve amassed several, and because I was flying from one project to the next, I didn’t have time to really sit down and consolidate or figure out which questions are the most important and which questions are the ones my characters always skip over (thus the ones I don’t need).

Well, after a year of going gangbusters, I had a little break in December, and I set out to do this. I compiled all my questions, printed them out, then color coded them based on the type of questions they are. Then I went to good old Scrivener and created a section in my template sheets for character questionnaires. Instead of filling out question after question with no rhyme or reason (and thus having a hell of a time trying to find an answer when I’m on chapter 20 and need to know right now what that traumatic event was that happened when the character was five), I broke them up into twelve (yes, twelve!) sub categories, each containing multiple questions—as few as ten all the way up to 105). Some of you totally just groaned and rolled your eyes, while others had a mini orgasm, amirite?

Some of the sub-categories are:

  • Basic info (things like name, birthdate, hometown, etc)
    You’re probably not going to find out much useful information in this section, but it’s good to have for facts later on in the book.
  • Physical description (besides the standards here, there’s also questions asking about scars or tattoos, how the character feels about his/her body, if they have any nervous physical habits/gestures, etc)
    This is a surprisingly eye-opening set of questions. Sometimes something as simple as “How do you feel about your body?” can bring about something that shapes your character—say a history of an eating disorder, or maybe a parent who has one and has pushed his/her beliefs on their child.
  • Personality Traits (what’s their biggest fear, street smart or book smart, etc)
    This was really a catch-all for me, because so much of how we view things make up our personalities. This section has, I would say, the biggest opportunity for specifically helping with storyline.
  • Childhood/History (everything from what kind of childhood did they have, to how many siblings, to are they keeping any deep, dark secrets)
    This is another great section for digging deep and getting answers you might not have thought about otherwise.

That was a very minimal snapshot of what kinds of questions I answer before I start any project. In the end, I generally end up with roughly 10k words worth of questions and answers (in total from both characters). And I’ve never once done the questionnaire and had it be completely useless. There has always, always been something that’s been incorporated into the storyline based on something the character’s told me during the questionnaires.

I take some time before I sit down to plot my outline and fill these in for the two main characters, and I do so as if I were the character. If my character is a forty-year-old plumber named Bob, I answer those questions just as Bob would, so I’m already putting myself into the head of the character. It’s a great way to get a sense of what kind of personality your character has, what kind of sense of humor they have, and their general disposition.

One other thing to consider when filling these out: not only do you get great information from what your character answers, but you might also find you get insight on them from what they don’t answer, so pay attention to that, too!

Do I have any other plotters out there who love questionnaires like I do? Or maybe you’re not a plotter, but you do this anyway? Or maybe these make your left eye twitch… Tell me how you connect with your characters and figure out who they are!

10 Comments

Sex and Violence

The other day, I was sitting around, thinking about Captain America: The Winter Soldier (you know, like you do). Specifically, I was thinking about the opening fight scene, and how smart it was.

captain-america-the-winter-soldier-scarlett-johansson-chris-evansFor those of you who haven’t seen the movie (what are you doing? Stop reading this! Go! Go see it now!), the scene involves Captain America, the Black Widow, and a legion of strike commandoes rescuing a ship from modern-day pirates who are holding it and its crew hostage, awaiting a hefty ransom. Before our heroes’ plane has even reached the drop zone, Captain America is jumping out of it without a parachute. He hits the water, climbs onto the ship, and proceeds to knock at least a dozen people on their asses by way of smacking them in the head with his shield, tossing them overboard, or a combination of the two.

Note. He hits them. He punches them. He knocks them into the water. Brutally efficient. And entirely non-lethal.

We cut to the Black Widow, who takes a slightly different approach. She goes in guns blazing and shoots, garrotes, or electrocutes everyone in her path without a moment’s pause.

There’s more that happens in the scene, but let me stop right there before I give  the whole game away. Ostensibly, this is an action movie. People are in that theatre because they want to see some good, bone-crunching violence.

But what the film’s writers, directors and actors handed us was more than just a bunch of people beating each other up. They gave us character development, and they gave it to us with a nice, easy-to-swallow action movie coating of panache. We’re ten minutes into the movie and we know that Cap will get the job done, but he’ll do it with the smaller possible number of casualties, whereas Widow will shoot first and ask questions later. If ever.

Simply put, they showed it to us instead of telling it to us, and the vehicle they used to show it to us with was violence.

Look closely and you’ll see: every action sequence of the movie fills some other purpose beyond satisfying the audience’s bloodlust. One establishes character. Another raises the stakes and reveals information about the enemy. Yet another is the backdrop of the biggest reveal of the movie, and the final fight scene? I won’t give too much away, but it packed a punch, and not just a literal one. It got me in the heart. It made me feel.

And that’s why the movie is so damn good.

As a romance writer, the guilty pleasure through which I ply my trade isn’t violence (though I occasionally manage to find an opportunity to work some of that into my books, too). It’s sex.

People expect sex in a typical romance novel. They enjoy it. Who wouldn’t? It’s quite conceivably the reason they bought the book in the first place.

But here’s the thing. To make your book memorable. To make it sizzle. To make it resonate. You have to use the sex scenes you write for way more than titillation.

They have to establish character. Or reveal something about the plot. Or raise the stakes for your hero or your heroine.  They’ve gotta punch your reader right in the feels.

rightinthefeels

Otherwise, they’re boring and gratuitous. Just like an action movie that drags on and on, with pointless fight scene after pointless fight scene. It might be pleasant. But it won’t stick with you, or inspire you to write long, rambling blog posts in which you recommend the movie to your readers and friends. 🙂

Because in the end, sex and violence might sound like all you need to make a story great. But in reality, they’re just the tools you use to tell your story with. The way you use them is what makes your story great.

8 Comments

Get ‘Em Where They Live

One of my favorite things about writing is creating people. It’s the chance to make someone up and live vicariously. As a child, I loved to “play pretend” and become someone else.

Oh who am I kidding? I still love to play pretend. I once donned a beret and spoke with a British accent for 48 hours just to see if people bought it. I was 22. 😀 Damn, that was a fun weekend.

For a lot of writers, the character comes first, but there are those characters – you know the ones – who give you way too much grief in their creation. They’re hard to grasp as fully formed, multi-dimensional people. In the past I’ve blogged about using zodiacs and other tools to help you flesh out your pretend people. Today I offer you:

Better Homes & Gardens for your Heroes and Heroines

Think about it. How and where does your character live? What do they call home? Are they contemporary or shabby chic? Minimalist or clutter collector? Full of frills or monitone man cave? This could define what you’re missing in your characters.

For example, my heroine Leah, lives in a small rental home not unlike this: 

Cottage-style-interior-design-1

Her furniture would be second hand at this point, but what does this room tell you about Leah? She has a decent amount of stuff. Plenty of knick knacks and collectibles, but they’re kept organized. Clean lines, lots of books, pictures, photo albums, and fresh cut flowers. She likes to keep things and she puts them all in a well thought out, proper place that’s asthetically pleasing. Might she be sentimental? Possibly a romantic? Who is she spying on with those binoculars? Or is she bird watching?

I have a hero in another book and his home looks a lot like this:

Modern-minimalist-gray-living-room-interior-design-rendering

Bright, neat and tidy. No clutter for this hero. Lots of thought and money spent on lighting, high end electronics, mainly uses neutrals, somewhat minimalist with some funky art pieces and deco area rug. Is that a bust of Beethoven? Bottle of red wine? Do you think this guy is haphazard? Often unprepared or detail oriented? Is he a little OCD or the kind of person who’d trample sand into the house and leave it there for weeks? Would you trust him to do all of your logistics and computer infiltration?

Tell me about the person who lives here:

midcentury modern den

I mean besides the fact that Syd and I would rob them of their lamps first chance we got. What else would you theorize about them?

What about the hero or heroine who finally gets the girl or guy and brings them back to this:Moroccan-designrulz-00997

What kind of lover would they be? Would they cook a meal for their significant other? Take their time and woo, appealing to all the senses? Would the sex be wham bam thank you ma’am or more likely to last an entire weekend with breaks in between for food and hydration?

You get where I’m going with this? What if your character doesn’t have a home? What does that mean for his or her conflicts and motivations?

Next time you’re stuck, be it with characterization or even plot – I swear this will help your plot too – consider the homes in your story. If home is where the heart is, you need to know where your characters live.

Write on,

McGovy

15 Comments

Sketching: The First Stage of Plotting

Confession time – I haven’t plotted a book in over 2 years.

Yes, that’s right.  I said 2 years.

For various reasons, which I won’t try to excuse myself for, my last manuscript took a very long time to complete.  I had good intentions, even started out pulling 1K a day, but things just didn’t work out the way I’d planned.  So here I am, 2 years later, finally querying that manuscript and starting to plot my next.  Yes, I have all those same good intentions, but this time I have one more book under my belt as well.  This means another book of good and bad, tackling dead ends and finding ways out of them, learning my writing strengths and building good habits.  Perhaps this one will go smoother?

But I digress.  This post is not meant as a pep talk or a kick in the ass.  This post is meant to get me moving, and hopefully someone else out there in the same time dimension that I am.  So today we’re talking sketches.

I got the idea of sketching from Karen S. Wiesner’s book First Draft in 30 Days.  If you’re new to writing, or are a pantser looking to turn plotter, this is a great place to start.  The book breaks down the forest into trees, so to speak, which is very important for people like me who think in pieces.  Though I don’t follow everything exactly the way Ms. Wiesner suggests, I found it very helpful in developing my own methods. One of which is sketching.

Sketching in plotting is just like sketching in art.  It’s your first glimpse into what your manuscript is going to look like, more specifically your characters, setting, and plot. Depending on what you write you may use one more than another.  I write character driven stories so my character sketches are pretty elaborate, while my setting sketches are fairly basic.  My plot sketches are almost always developed after I figure out who my characters are; sometimes I don’t have a clue what my plot is until after I define them.

Character Sketches

Character sketches are like a vault that stores all of the important information about your characters.  Mine usually open up with the physical traits:  name, hair color, eye color, height, weight, age etc…  Sometimes I may just list an actor or actress whom embodies that character.  Then I start getting into the social aspects, like their occupation, income level, family status, friends. Anything that gives me a basic image in my head.

Those are the easy things for me to come up with.

Next comes the personality stuff, which I intertwine with past and future.  How did this character become so closed off from the world?  Why does he/she need to change and how?  What conflicts do they face in getting there, both internal and external?  Remember, a person’s past usually defines who they are in the present and can certainly impede whom they want to become.  You need to be sure it all makes sense together.

You can put anything you want in your character sketch; there’s no right or wrong answer here.  Anything that helps you discover your characters.  I usually do sketches for any character with a POV, but some find it helpful to do them for ALL their characters.  I put them all in an excel spreadsheet because yes…I’m that dorky.  I would assume sticky notes work just as good.

Setting Sketches

Setting sketches are similar to character sketches, only — you guessed it — give an image of where your story is taking place.  Are you in a small town or a big city?  On a farm or in a high rise condo?  If the majority of your scenes take place at a farm, jot down what sort of crops are grown or animals are raised.  If it’s in a tiny apartment, make note of what floor they are on (do they hear footsteps constantly?)   These are all details that will help pull your reader into your setting, and shouldn’t be overlooked.

And don’t forget the timeframe and climate!  In my last manuscript, the season became very important to the plotline.  Knowing up front will save you a lot of edits down the line.

Plot Sketches 

And finally – plot sketches.  This is where the backbone of my story begins to take shape.  At this stage I give my story a beginning, turning points, a black moment, a climax, and its end.  This isn’t meant to detail every single second of my manuscript, but more to give me a general direction.  Once I have this defined, I can work on the in between scenes that get me there.  It could be as simple or as detailed as you want at this point.  Mine is usually very vague (as is my explanation), but if you tend to build your plot before your characters, yours could be very detailed.  Just do what works for you.

Between now and my next post, I plan to complete my sketches.  If you’re in the same place as me, give it a try!  If nothing else, you won’t have to hunt for that page where you mentioned your villain’s eye color to be sure of consistency — you can just glance at a file!

Happy Sketching!

Jenna P

8 Comments

Read Your Own Subtext

My last book, Take What You Want, got a lot of reviews that made me smile, but one in particular really made me punch the air and say, “Yes! This is what I was doing! Yes!” It was from The Brunette Librarian, and the snippet in question said:

Josh and Ellen are realistic, down to earth, and you easily fall in love with both of them. It may sound silly, but I liked how dedicated each was to their chosen professions. Most girls aren’t the Anastasia from Fifty Shades, they are more like Ellen. Hardworking, honest, and once in a while ready to throw caution to the wind.

As writers, we know that we’re telling stories within stories within stories. There’s the main plot. The subplots. The little tiny sub-sub-sub-plots that we threw in just for our own amusement that no one else may ever pick up on.

And then there’s the subtext. The things you imply without ever entirely stating them aloud.

Whether you write fantasy or futuristic or paranormal or contemporary, you are creating a world in which your characters operate. With little tiny choices and seemingly insignificant details, you establish the parameters of that world. And through subtle—or not-so-subtle—manipulations of those details, you can impart a message on your readers that goes beyond the moral of your story. You can show them your values, and a glimpse of the kind of world you want to live in by letting your characters live in it.

Personally, I want to live in a world where women are empowered. Where women pursue careers in the sciences, and have professional goals and ambitions that go beyond just getting their man. So when I write a female character, I do my best to give her those things. Her career may not be a main plot line in the story, but with any luck, the passion she has for a pursuit outside of her relationship comes across.

I want to live in a world where people are accepted regardless of their sexual orientation, so I try to add in characters of various orientations, or drop in the word ‘partner’ occasionally, or try not to have characters assume other characters are straight all the time. I want to live in a world where we respect animals, so I sneak in the occasional character who never orders or makes food containing meat. I want to live in a world where scientific literacy and school smarts are valued, so I create characters who are professors or graduate students or researchers or teachers.

I decide what kind of world I want to portray. And then, to the best of my ability, I create it, and use it as the backdrop against which I tell my stories of love and sexual awakening and self-acceptance.

So the next time you’re plotting out a new story, consider your subtext. Decide what sort of world you wish were the norm, and then create it. Let your readers live in it, so that someday, maybe, they’ll start thinking of it as the norm as well. If you’re editing a completed manuscript, parse out the choices you made and see if they reflect the messages you’d like your readers to receive.

In other words, read your own subtext.

Because the messages you convey often lie well beyond the words you actually say.

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Likeability: Like it, or not?

Over the past month or so, I’ve noticed a number of online discussions in the publishing world revolving around the importance of a character’s likeability. Depending on who you ask, it may be seen as a hallmark of lazy writing, or even a sexist insult. Likeability is bad now? Huh. News to me. So what about all those rejection letters and contest feedback and contest feedback scores that say otherwise? Well, that’s the thing: the anti-likeable camp comes from Serious Fiction, and most of us poor slobs aspiring writers getting the rejections and mean contest results are trying to break into popular fiction of various genres. It goes without saying that these worlds are different, and the expectations of their readers are different—not that they are better or worse, just different. In all this, I believe there are things both sides of fiction can learn from this controversy.

 

The Serious Fiction Fallacy: a lot of the criticism of likeability by authors in the literary establishment seem to misunderstand what likeability means (or what I think it should mean, anyway) with respect to fiction. In real life, people who are likeable are nice. They’re moral. They help people. They don’t cause a lot of trouble. But as we know, fiction is so not real life. If a character is truly nice, and moral, and good, it takes a damn talented author not to make him or her insufferable (I’m thinking of the goody-goody throw-up-in-your-mouth characters of a certain massively successful male author in particular. Spoiler alert: he’s not that good.) In fiction, likeability is related to how well we as readers can empathize with a character’s motivation. To me, I think likeability is best equated to relatability, not whether we’d want to cosign on a five-year lease with the person.

 

The Genre Fiction Fallacy: judge much? This is especially true of female main characters, double for heroines of romance and women’s fiction. OMG, are we hard on our heroines! If they’ve had a sexual past before (or during) the story, they’re sluts. If they are virgins, they aren’t “realistic.” If they’re sweet or shy, they’re doormats. If they are snarky or sarcastic, they’re bitter. It seems like no matter what attributes you give your heroine, there will be haters—and that’s not even touching physical descriptions. I think this might stem from the theory that our readers put themselves in the role of heroine in romances. I’m not sure how true that is. I know I don’t read that way, personally. But anyhoo, maybe that’s where the general vibe comes from. Here, likeability seems directly related to whether a heroine seems like friend material—and that sells the whole genre short, in my opinion.

 

When “nice” is synonymous with “likeable,” one side sees writing those types of characters as pandering to the lowest common denominator, and the other side sees it as necessary to sell books—and we get yet another means for one type of writer to distance themselves from and disrespect the other. Let’s just throw the concept of nice out of the equation, shall we? Let’s replace it with interesting, conflicted; crazy, yet full of conviction. After all, aren’t the most beloved characters across fiction from high-brow to low maybe not ones we’d want for friends or roommates, but ones who make us stay up reading until three o’clock on a weeknight because we just have to find out their secrets and what they’ll do next?

Have you, as a writer, ever run afoul of these expectations of likeability? And as a reader, who are your favorite characters—and where do they fall on the scale of likeability?

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A Tribute to Fathers – Both Real and Fictitious

With this weekend being Father’s Day, I thought it only appropriate to devote my blog today to fathers – both real and fictitious.  Fathers inspire us and support us.  Fathers offer up funny anecdotes to weave into our stories.  Fathers are often our heroes, and unfortunately sometimes our villains.  Good or bad, fathers have helped shape our minds into the plot spinning mazes they are.

The Real

I was terrified to tell my dad that I was a writer.  After all, he’d paid to send me to school for an engineering degree and here I was trying to get published.  When I finally worked up the nerve he was completely supportive, of course.  And every time I talk to him now he asks how the writing is going.  I know it seems stupid, but just having that little bit of approval is always like a propeller for me.  I stopped worrying about what people would think and started concentrating on what really mattered – growing as writer.

Of course all this wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the other important Daddy in my life – my husband.  I am very lucky to have a husband who offers to take the girls outside so I can have some writing time, and who understands the importance of writing conferences and monthly group meetings.  My husband isn’t afraid to do the typical mommy duties if it helps me out, and is always an open ear for reading a scene aloud.  As writer’s, we need that support from our husbands to live a healthy balanced life.

wedding-pic Me & DadIMG_1928

 

 

 

 

 My better half

 

The Fictitious

I heard an author once say that her heroines always had some sort of dysfunctional relationship with their mothers, and though the writing was literally right there in front of her she never realized the similarity this had to her relationship with her own mother.

You may already do this subconsciously but if you don’t, understanding the relationship your characters have with their fathers is a great way to add depth to them.  Is your heroine a high-maintenance Betty who needs to learn to stand on her own feet?  Is your hero a struggling single father determined not to leave his child?  Does your heroine spend her days alone because she’s afraid of rejection?

Maybe a good or bad father is at the heart of all this.  That high-maintenance heroine might’ve been a daddy’s girl.  That struggling hero might’ve grown up without a father.  And that lonely heroine might’ve only done wrong in her father’s eyes.  When you think about the motivation behind your character’s behavior, considering the root will not only make them more believable, but also relatable.  It’s much easier for a reader to forgive the bad parts of your protagonist if they understand where it came from.

say anything Godfather-fathermonstersball

So, how have the fathers in your life helped you as a writer?  Do you have any interesting plots that have spun from a father/daughter relationship?  What are your favorite father/son relationships in literature or movies?  Please share and help us salute them!

Happy Father’s Day!

Jenna P.

 

 

 

4 Comments

Listen to Your Character…’s iPod

It may be cliché, but the first thing I do when I start a new writing project is make a playlist. Writing to music helps me in lots of little practical ways—it keeps me focused, and it drowns out some of whatever else is going on in my house that might otherwise be distracting. But more importantly, it helps me get into the mood of the piece I’m writing.

I have playlists for certain kinds of scenes. Thumping-bass alt-rock for action scenes, lilting love songs for happy moments, sultry numbers for…ahem…intimate encounters. I have playlists for certain characters, because my big strong alpha male certainly does not think to the same beat as my quirky heroine. Listening to these playlists immerses me in the scene and puts me in touch with the moods and feelings of the people I’m writing about.

But what I never really recognized until quite recently is that the act of making the playlist is an exercise is character-building, too.

I’m currently working on my first male/male romance in a while, and when I started, I assembled a collection of songs for my hard-working, by-the-book, too-school-for-cool hero. It was a mix of a bunch of different things, but a lot of it was earnest rock featuring male vocalists. Peter Gabriel, REM, Dire Straights, and Dispatch each showed up a few times. It was perfect, and it embodied the character I was writing. I was churning out the words.

And then it came time for a POV switch, and my typing-fingers stuttered to a halt.

I couldn’t write my disaffected, jaded jock to the same soundtrack. They would sound the same! I needed a way to help keep their voices distinct.

So I opened up a new playlist, and the half hour or so that ensued was not procrastination. It was really and truly an exercise in learning my character’s voice. As I selected songs, I had to think about whether or not each one fit this new guy’s vibe. They were also rocks songs performed by male vocalists, but they were different. Ben Folds, Frightened Rabbit, and Barenaked Ladies kept speaking to me. The more I thought about the common threads running through the songs, the more I picked up on notes of discontent, sarcasm, irreverence, and bone-deep hurt, pushed back and hidden beneath layers of chords and hipster chic.

Lightbulb moment

Just like that, I’d found my character. I’d found his voice and his heart. I took about two seconds to save that playlist, and then I was diving back into my document, head-first.

So the next time you’re not sure what your character sounds like, consider listening to him. And if that doesn’t work, try listening to his iPod instead. 🙂

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Alphas, Betas, Gammas and Antis – A Hero for Everyone

We all have those heroes we love the most. The ones who make us stand up and cheer or make our hearts do giddy back flips. Why do we love them? What is it that makes us connect and root for them? I won’t attempt to give a lengthy answer (everyone would answer differently anyway), but I will divide these heroes up into 4 main subgroups so we can study what works.

I’m including the women here too. Heroines. Though some prefer to call them heroes as well. Whichever term you prefer, the fact remains that the hero is no longer a cookie cutter image of the male town sheriff with a white hat and a handsome steed.  Particularly in paranormal, sci-fi, and fantasy fiction, our heroes are all over the spectrum. 

I won’t drone on in long hand about the characteristics of each, but instead sum them up in short lists.

(I love lists! And parenthesis! And exclamation points!!!)

The Alpha Hero:

Confident

Leader

Dominate

Competitive

Deliberate

Powerful

Aggressive

Often physically heroic

Examples:

Alcide – Sookie Stackhouse Series/True Blood

Thor, Captain America, Wonder Woman

Buffy  

thor

 

The Beta Hero:

Caring

Comforting

Easy going

The “nice guy/gal”

Clever

Practical

Responsible

Often intellectually heroic

Examples:

Toby Maguire’s Spiderman

Sam Neill in Jurassic Park

Ryan Reynold’s in The Proposal

Willow (early seasons of BtVS) 

willow

More recently there’s been an emergence of a third hero type:

The Gamma Hero. 

In short, it’s a mix of both Alpha and Beta, with the best characteristics of both.  This mix has been around forever, but now it has a name. Think Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park. Jack Ryan from the Tom Clancy novels and movies (The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, etc.). Often using their wits and taking a back seat to the person in the limelight, they will step up to action if that’s what it takes.  I can’t help but think of the Hulk. (lol…Gamma…get it?) But seriously, Bruce Banner, if he was alone in his body/mind, is more Beta, but the Hulk is all crazed green Alpha. Having that side makes him more Gamma overall. There can be a big gray area on who’s a Gamma, but the judgment call really lies in the eye of the beholder.

redoctober_se_sm01

Finally, there’s a type of hero who falls outside of all three.  He/She may have characteristics of any of the above, yet they will always remain outside the lines.  The Anti Hero. (A personal fave!)

The Anti Hero:

Character traits contrary to the traditional hero, but still has heroic qualities

Sometimes does bad things that aren’t “evil”

Doesn’t fight for justice, but is motivated by personal desires/set of rules

Isn’t always friendly or caring to those except an inner circle (if even then)

Is loyal to few people (if any)

Doesn’t want limelight or attention

Often ends up doing something heroic as secondary to his/her primary goal

Examples:

Severus Snape

Wolverine (Squeee! =))

The Punisher

Spike (from BtVS)

Lisbeth Salander (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) 

lisbeth

Which do you prefer?  Why? Do you love the Alpha because of the promise of strength and justice?  Do you favor the Beta’s wit and easy going ways?  Are you drawn to the Anti-Hero’s blurred lines of right and wrong, justice and punishment?  Or do you like to mix it up?

Tell me about your fave hero(es). There’s a little something for everyone!

 

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A Hero Only a Mother Could Love

Recently I had coffee with a friend of mine who’s also a writer, and she mentioned how hard it’s been writing her latest manuscript.  Her problem?  She hates her hero – which isn’t a good thing when you’re writing a romance.  Her bigger problem?  She’s already sold this guy to her editor, so she’s kinda stuck with him now.

My first question was, of course, why don’t you like him?  Does he have crooked teeth?  A Dracula-like widow’s peak?  Tiny chicken legs, perhaps?

crooked teeth                dracula                   everlast-chicken-legs2

Unfortunately, her reason for disliking her hero had nothing to do with his physical appearance and everything to do with his personality.  The guy was a flat out male chauvinist – and what woman wants to fall in love with a male chauvinist?  Not many.  And when you write romance that’s a HUGE problem.

So, I got to thinking about what I would do in her shoes.  After all, I’ve been known to create protagonists that, at first glance, wouldn’t be very likable.  For instance, the protagonist in my second manuscript was a beautiful, wealthy, adulteress.  She had what seemed like the perfect life, and yet she wanted to steal someone else’s.  Hell…I hated her at first.  And I remember asking myself how I could make this home-wrecker into a character my readers want to root for.  And the answer was in her backstory.

There had to be something in this woman’s past to lead her to starting an affair with a married man.  There had to be a reason why she continued it, even though she hated herself for being involved with him.  There had to be a motivation for her to want to change it, other than getting caught or finding someone new.  I knew I couldn’t make my readers agree with her choice of adultery, but could I make them understand it?  If I could, I just might be able earn her a little sympathy.

This isn’t always an easy thing to do, and there are definitely some flaws or wrong doings that can’t ever be understood or overcome.  But think about it for a moment – these characters are built every day.  A serial killer who hunts down those who slip through the cracks of justice.  A chemistry teacher dying of cancer who begins producing crystal meth to safeguard his family’s future.  A suicidal bodyguard who goes on a killing spree to avenge the kidnapping of the little girl he was hired to protect.  We root for these characters; we don’t want them to get caught.  These characters are intriguing to us, and these characters sell.

dexter     BreakingBad     manonfire

So, back to my friend’s problem at hand.  My suggestion to her was to go to the root of the problem.  Why was her hero a male chauvinist, and was there anything at all that would make her forgive him for being such?  Maybe he was raised by his father who taught him this was the way to treat women and he didn’t know any better.  Maybe he’d been burnt by a woman before and vowed to never let that happen again.  Maybe it was his defense mechanism to keep everyone away.

Whatever the reason, it only had to be enough to make her understand.  Once she had that, she would learn to love him as the story went on and his character arc brought him to the man she wanted him to be.

So the next time you sit down to character build, give yourself a little bit of a challenge.  Sometimes the heroes we love most are those who are strong enough to make it the furthest!

the godfather

Hugs!

Jenna P.

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