I didn’t read the book.
Me either, tbh.
I didn’t read the book.
Me either, tbh.
How do you make original characters? How do you design them?
That’s a really good question. I like questions about character design a lot, because that is one of the things people don’t talk about very often. They talk about character development, but they don’t talk about character design. So the distinction here, as I’m going to talk to everybody is character development is how the character grows and changes over the course of the story; it’s how the story affects the character, whereas character design is how you decide how to create the character in the first place, so there’s a lot of aspects to that and I could talk about all afternoon. The bottom line is there is a trick I picked up from an author called Jim Butcher, who wrote Dresden Files; he did a ___ journal years ago where he talked about some of his writing tips, and one of his writing tips were tags and traits. What these are, are things about the character that they come back to throughout the story in order to make the characters memorable and vivid on the readers mind, both visually and in terms of their personality.
So, tags are words that are used in association with the character, and traits are aspects about the character. The best example of this is Harry Potter; J.K. Rowling is really good at this. So, with Hermione brown frizzy hair is one of her tags. Every time you hear about someone with brown frizzy hair it’s Hermione. And one of her traits is bookishness, this teacher’s pet sort of thing. So, her trait is, so they don’t say ‘teacher’s pet’ every time Hermione is introduced, but she is always the teacher’s pet. She always the one with her hand in the air, and she is always the one answering the questions. So that is one of her tags and one of her traits.
So, in terms of Ron, the Weasley family is the only ones in the book ever described with red hair and freckles. So, everyone in the books who is on the Weasley family, red hair and freckles. So, whenever you see somebody in the books with red hair and freckles, it’s the Weasley family. Whereas you know they are not the only ones in the world with red hair and freckles, but they’re the ones, that’s how you remember and recognize the Weasley family. And one of their traits is they are poor, but they are happy and they get by. I don’t know what to call that trait, but their poverty, or their lack of resources, especially in contrast to Harry, is how they stand out. So, they are making the best with what they have, because their finances are stretched and they have a bunch of kids, where as Harry is alone and has a ton of money. So, they are using hand-me-down wands, and patching up their stuff so these are all traits, …, these are very memorable traits and tags to attach to your characters.
So, what you are trying to do when you are creating a character, is come up with tags and traits that make them stand out from the other characters in your story, and that whenever you reference them, the reader remembers, “Oh right, that’s that guy.” So, every time they talk about Ron’s red… every time you see red hair moving through the forest, you go “Oh, right, I remember what Ron looks like.” And you don’t just remember the red hair, you remember your whole mental picture of Ron. So, every time you refer back to one of these unique traits or tags, you remember the whole character. It’s a really great tip. So, I recommend looking that up. Tags and traits.
I have a quick questions about your childhood (inaudible). Did you always want to be a writer, or did you want to be something else when you were younger?
I… it’s hard to say, right? ‘Cause on the one hand, I have always, always, always been into reading. I was into reading, I was into books, that was my whole thing. I just read books all the time. I got into trouble constantly for reading books. My parents would have to come into my room and make sure I wasn’t reading books under the covers. So books were always something I was really interested in. But I didn’t necessarily… what I remember is in middle school, really starting to think, “People write these. Maybe I could write these.”
I was in the national spelling bee as a kid, so in 7th and 8th grade I earned my way to the national spelling bee. So, I was really good at spelling and grammar and words and just English in general, so I was just always good at that. I generally, I just write clean first drafts; a lot of writers don’t but I generally do. So, I knew I had that skill set, then in middle school I started thinking maybe I wanted to write some books. And I wrote a few little stories, for class and stuff like that, and I liked that, but it was embarrassing, and I didn’t want anyone to read it. And then in high school, that’s when I really started saying, “Yeah, I want to be a writer,” but I didn’t… I was just really scared of letting anyone read anything I’d written. That was just something, I didn’t want anyone to read it, because I knew it was bad. So, it wasn’t until college that I was really faced with the reality of, I have got to actually write something if I want to do this for a living.
So, what I was doing until then, even in high school, is I was mowing lawns. I started, initially I borrowed my dad’s lawn mower and I went door to door in my neighborhood and looked for lawn mowing jobs, and then I ended up borrowing money and buying a better lawn mower, so I ended up having a real lawn mowing business that I paid for college with. So, I didn’t take out any loans for college. I mowed my way through college; cut some grass. And so, I was doing that for money, and just to support myself. I didn’t have any passion about lawn mowing (I don’t know who does really) so that was just hard work to get myself through college. So, the whole time I became, I just learned on my own more and more about writing and what it takes to become a writer. And then in college that’s what they talked about, and the more I learned, I thought yeah, this is what I want. I’m passionate about stories and I’m passionate about words. That’s where I want to be.
So, I kinda just sorta… slipped into it I guess? It wasn’t, it was always my area of giftedness and it was always my area of interest, but it’s not like as kid I was like, “I’m definitely going to write a book.” I was still just very scared to show anybody anything I had written, so I could always not quite picture giving it, handing a manuscript to somebody and seeing “read this” because I knew it was going to suck because I wrote, so of course it’s going to suck. So that was always my feeling, until eventually I did take the plunge, and write some stuff for school. So that was my journey.
I do a bit of writing too, but whenever I get to a part of the plot where I get stuck, I start thinking ”Oh, my characters actions don’t make sense, they don’t correspond with where the story is going.” How do I get my characters and plot to make sense? I don’t know how to describe it. Does that make sense?
Oh yeah, that totally makes sense to me. That’s one of the main things you have to work on in editing, is make sure your characters actions are consistent. So, this a bit off topic, and I’m going to come back and answer this question directly, but readers expect consistency with the real world, except where noted, people expect consistency with the genre, and people expect consistency with the world. So, what that means, is unless you have magic or aliens or something, people expect the world to act like the world does. So, they don’t expect people to be like, “Yeah, and then I just walked on the walls for a while and then walked away.” And people will be like, people don’t walk on walls. So, they expect that. Unless you note it. If you give this person the power to walk on walls, and then they walk on walls, no problem. Then people expect consistency within the genre. So, people expect a sci fi book to have aliens and not magic, and they expect a fantasy book to have magic and not aliens. And then, people expect consistency within the work, which means when you establish something within the book or the movie or the story, then that shouldn’t be violated later.
So, a lot of times, what you’re talking about is called character consistency, and so, when a character does something or acts something that is contrary to their previously established desires, motivation or skill set, that is probably what you are talking about., I would think. And the great part about this is, the solution to this is the same as the solution to almost any other part of the story, which is finish the manuscript. So the funny thing is, that sounds flippant, but I’m actually very serious. That is the solution. The solution is you don’t fix it in the moment. You go, “Crap, I’ve got a problem,” and let’s say your at the end of chapter 10, and you realize at the end of chapter 10, your illiterate sea captain is reading a book. So you write that down, and you leave a note for yourself at the end of the chapter, and you go “Crap, this guy can’t read.” And you make a little note, and you say from here on out, I’m going to say he wasn’t reading. I’m going to forget about that; I’m going to say the book is gone. So now you start chapter 11 and he doesn’t have a book anymore. But later, you have a little note there. Later, when you’re done with the book, go back with your editing, and then you’ve only got one scene to fix and not an entire book.
So what you do, if you notice your characters are acting inconsistently, you notice your characters have done something that, “Oh crap, that ruins the plot,” you then go “OK, what should they have done here?” and you make a quick little note, and from here on out, you proceed as if they have done that. So, he shouldn’t have killed this girl here. So now I’m going to proceed as if she’s alive, even though I have already written the scene in which he murders this person. So then for the rest of the book, you are proceeding as if this girl is alive. Later, you have to go back and change it so that he doesn’t kill the girl. Or, a couple of chapters later, you go “Nope, he should have killed her,” so then you do it again. You make another note. And you go yup, he killed her after all.
(responding to a comment in chat) Yes, it is violent. I’m sorry. This is a murder mystery and she was alive the whole time.
But yeah, that is the idea. Leave a note for yourself, and fix it when you are done.
Have you ever received inspiration from dreams you had, and then wrote a storybook about it?
Hmm. That’s interesting. So, I have very much received inspiration from dreams. That absolutely, totally, happens. So every once in a while I’ll dream something and I’ll have this vivid… not that I… of course I have this vivid memory of the dream, I generally don’t write down the whole dream, maybe just whatever part of the dream I thought was cool, if it’s an image or a character or a setting, or even a feel, and I write that down in the notes I mentioned earlier, but I don’t write down which ones came from dreams, I just kinda throw it into the pile with all the other ideas I have. I do use those ideas later in stories. I can’t think of anything I did that was explicitly from a dream. I can think of ideas I wrote down that are from dreams, but I can’t think if any of them made it into books. I’m sure they did. I’m sure at some point I did, because I’ll dream about something, I’ll put it in the notebook, and then I start a new book and the notebook comes out. I wish I had a specific example for you, but I don’t.
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