Welcome to my Writers Den series. This series was created by yours truly (Chloe @ Book Dragons) as I wanted to share my tips, tricks and advice on writing. Expect posts offering you advice on everything from outlining to character arcs and then we’ll have posts where we explore writing something purely based off of prompts.
So last week I gave a brief look into characters, plots and why I love tea. Ahem, today it’s all about those characters. So we’ll be building on what was said in last weeks posts about characters.
Characters have personalities – if they don’t then either it’s down to the world you’ve created; perhaps something magical has caused this OR you’re struggling with your characters.
Now I still struggle writing characters, and I’ve been writing for 6 years, so it’s not something that get’s easier with time. Your world and characters, are what will make your story succeed or flop. They’re important to get right.
Something that’s actually helped me with my writing is writing fanfiction, I tend to write fanfiction based around bands and then fabricate my own plot line, create my own characters etc. So yes, it’s fanfiction it’s still a lot of me working to create these characters, to make them not fall flat. Which is why we’ll be using fanfiction as our example here for something you can do to practice, if you’re maybe not ready to jump into the process of writing your own story just yet.
Once upon a time I told myself I’d never write fanfiction or read it…then I fell down the rabbit hole. Honestly fanfiction is super helpful if you want to perfect your writing skills.
The reason is simple.
The world is already built, typically its set in this world like a contemporary novel usually is. You’ve got a set of ‘characters’ who are basically real life people (which can be hard if you want to try your best to portray as realistically as they are in our world) then you have your own characters YOU create.
Now I’ve read a ton of fanfiction about different bands…something that always crops up though is insta love, and they all tend to follow a really similar plot line. It can get boring, particularly if they’re not the best of writers. As well as that it’s something we’ve read before just, different characters, different bands but same sort of plot, you know they’re gonna end up together. It’s predictable but not the good kind. Here’s what I try to do in my own fanfictions.
I create my own set of characters, they all have backstories and you have the main character who tends to get focused on more, but I do weave in the other characters stories. Within a band – a lot of fanfictions will focus on just one member of the band – it’s sometimes like the other band members don’t exist?
In mine I include them all, I have a plot line, I have back stories, I also try and write in lessons in life. I create characters who go through different things, who’ve experienced different things. I also use it to explore my own writing style, and often I do have dialogue where the female characters talk about sex, dating, periods etc.
Because it’s important, to me, for people to be able to read something and realise it’s ok to talk about that. It’s nothing to shy away from, it’s also to try and reach out to people and acknowledge them. Yes it’s a fanfiction, doesn’t mean I can’t try to show people that they’re not alone. That people do go through similar things to them.
As a writer, it’s so important to me, for my readers to be able to relate to my characters. There’s several reasons for this.
Firstly if they can relate, you’re halfway there to them enjoying your story if they can see themselves/pieces of themselves in characters they’re more likely to enjoy it and want to continue.
Secondly, there are many voices in this world, many more still who are not heard. As writers we all have voices, no matter how big or small, it’s important we remember that our stories; are a way for people to escape and lose themselves in other people’s problems and lives. BUT it is also a way for teenagers in particular to realise, that it’s ok to talk about things – periods for instance. Or that other people do turn to self harm, have eating disorders it’s important to represent them in stories to give them a voice.
The point here is that if you’re struggling with your characters, stop trying for a moment to create this character and just think.
- What can you relate to?
- What may other people relate to?
- What flaws is your character going to have?
- What secrets do they keep from the readers?
- What’s their backstory? How did it shape them into who they are now?
- Does the reader ever find out about their backstory?
The easiest way to create your characters, is to ask yourself these questions along with your own questions. Another thing that’s really important, is their behavior, how they act, react and dialogue.
Worry not, I’ve actually fallen in love with dialogue over the years, it’s a great tool to keep your story moving quickly, and interjecting descriptions when needed to set the scene etc.
*This is an excerpt of my own work – it’s also fanfiction – if you want to read it then click here to go read it. But please do not copy it*
So below is what the excerpt would look like if you used said all the time, no describing the movements, actions or anything. In a sense what you’ll see below is really basic but it won’t have the same effect dialogue should have.
Clo nodded and passed a pile of mail to Shan the other pile to Jodie. Then taking what remained she went to Rye.
“Yeah?” Rye said.
Sighing she sat on his lap.
“Not that I’m complaining but why am I your chosen seat?” Rye said.
“You looked sad.” she said.
“I was wondering when this would come,” Clo said holding something.
“What is it?” Shan stared at her.
“A late birthday present for Rye is what.” Clo said.
She passed it to Rye who took it.
“You didn’t need to get me anything.” he said.
“Erm yes I did. You bought me books last year,” Clo said.
“Yeah but-” Rye said.
“Oh my god open it!” Clo said.
That was painful for me to edit.
But whilst reading that did you lose interest? Was it really boring, it should have been. The reason why is firstly, ‘said’ was used every time there was dialogue. Said can be used, but I tend to couple it with an action as you’ll see below. Also all the dialogue, was written the same way, speech first then who said it after. You do not need to start every piece of dialogue like that, mix it up, equally do not use the characters name constantly. How I work around that in fanfictions (as there are usually a lot of characters) is I include the action or movement the person who’s going to be speaking is doing, then I put the speech after it.
Below is what I actually wrote.
Clo nodded and passed a pile of mail to Shan the other pile to Jodie. Then taking what remained she went to Rye who looked at her. His legs were still crossed “Yeah?”
Sighing she moved his leg and then sat on his lap leaning into him, Shan smirked at Jodie who returned the smirk. Rye mumbled “Not that I’m complaining but why am I your chosen seat?”
“You looked sad.” she replied flipping through the other letters and parcels, grabbing a parcel she began to open it. Rye resting his head on her shoulder as she did so. Pulling something out I had no clue what it was. Clo lit up though “I was wondering when this would come,”
Shan stared at her “What is it?”
“A late birthday present for Rye is what.” Clo chuckled passing it to Rye who was fighting a smile “You didn’t need to get me anything.”
Clo shifted slightly “Erm yes I did. You bought me books last year,”
Rye looked at her “Yeah but-”
“Oh my god open it!” Clo laughed leaning over for another parcel.
Was that better? Did it have more of an impact on you? Little movements that your characters do are so important like near the end Clo shifted slightly “Erm yes I did. You bought me books last year,” can you see how at the beginning I didn’t say how she spoke, or anything, I put what she did instead. She shifted slightly because well she was uneasy as for why I mean…take a wild a guess. That’s why you should mix it up in my opinion, it keeps the reader engaged and it doesn’t make them bored.
If you’re struggling for what other words to use other than said – I recommend going onto pinterest and searching it. They have a lot of infographics on there for all sorts of things writing related. It’s super useful. In terms of getting your dialogue to flow…that simply comes with time. Because I’m used to writing heavy dialogue, within fanfiction, it’s actually easier for me to write now than descriptions are. That’s not to say I’m terrible at descriptions, I’m just a tad rusty on them.
Next weeks post is ‘Planning Plots: the twists, turns and pitfalls’ I hope this post has been useful to you and if you click HERE it will take you to the Writers Den page, where I’ll list all published posts and there’ll also be some background information on me as a writer 🙂