by Sharla Rae
An author on deadline will tell you that the old saying â€œTime is Moneyâ€ is just as true with writing as it is with any other business.
Have you ever spent hours crafting a perfect description only to realize it breaks up the action? Did you delete it and then discover a chapter or two later that very description or part of it was needed?
Next time, DO NOT DELETE.
Instead, create a folder for your WIP called X-Files Title (of WIP). Example, X-Files Love and Fortune. Paste well written â€œcutsâ€ to your X-Files. Make them easy to locate. Preface each pasting with its origin, that is, the chapter it was cut from along with a brief description.
Example: Chapter one â€“ description-forest, Chapter two â€“ dialogue â€“ argument between Jane Dither and John the jerk.
Later, if you havenâ€™t used an X-File entry from a particular WIP, paste it to a general Description or Dialogue X-File. Once itâ€™s actually used, delete it from â€œallâ€ X-Files so you donâ€™t accidentally reuse it.
Itâ€™s simple and it works. And when youâ€™re on a deadline, itâ€™s money in the bank.
By Sharla Rae
Hey, whoâ€™s telling this story?
I can make my characters do or say anything I want them to.
Many beginning writers subscribe to this theory.
I hate to break anyoneâ€™s bubble but thatâ€™s hogwash.
When introducing characters, the author breathes life into them with a physical description, personality, goals and motivations. They look, act and think in a particular manner. Just like real people. If the character doesn’t stay true to themselves, their actions will make no sense and readers are pulled out of the story.
Would you believe it? No. Because in each case the writer showed the reader who these people are â€“ on the surface and deep down.
Two of the most common out-of-character traps involve age appropriate problems and inconsistent behavior. Ask these questions:
If a character does something that would never come naturally to them, they must have a good reason/motivation for the change of behavior. Example: The character who is afraid of heights might climb a ladder if a rabid dog is on her heels. An honest cop might rob a bank if villains are holding his family hostage.
My favorite tools to keep my characters in line are Character profile sheets, Horoscope personality profiles and Research.
The number one rule in using these tools is: Always connect the dots between them. Character profile worksheets serve as fast and easy reminders to writers. They include a list of physical descriptions, best friends, dress, enemies, ambitions/goals, sense of humor, temper, basic nature, personal quirks, habits, talents, hobbies, family backgrounds, profession, educational background etc. .
A common weakness in these profile sheets is that they shed little light on personality. Thatâ€™s why I dig deeper. I search horoscope signs for personalities that best match my characters. Whether you believe in horoscope readings or not, the personalities listed under sun signs provide a great basic outline of a particular personality.
Horoscope personalities are especially helpful in determining how a character will react to a particular situation. Example: How would a hero with a Cancer personality react if he lost all his money or fell into a fortune? Money is no joke to the taciturn crab.
There are many horoscope books but I love Linda Goodmanâ€™s Sun Signs. This treasure lists the general characteristics of each sign and more. For instance, Goodman describes the Taurus child, Taurus adult male and female, Taurus boss and employee â€” the total personality package. She also explains how these personalities interact with each other.
What about a characterâ€™s romantic relationships? Linda Goodmanâ€™s Love Signs is amazing. Each sun sign is listed and then coupled with all the other signs to point out what the good and bad matches may look like, why they work or why they wonâ€™t. Example: Aries with an Aries, Aries with a Capricorn, Aries with a Taurus etc. Goodman further breaks it down into the female and male of each sign. Example: Aries female with Capricorn male or Capricorn female with an Aries male etc. .
Note: While Linda Goodman has passed, her books are still available. I recently looked at another Linda Goodman book on Amazon called Linda Goodmanâ€™s Relationship Signs. The contents suggest it contains a relationship chart worksheet. Sounds very interesting!
Do your research.
Horoscopes donâ€™t cover nitty-gritty idiosyncrasies. What if youâ€™re writing about a thief, a slave, an ad executive etc.? Research types of characters by reading autobiographies and biographies of real people who share a similar background with your character. Writing about a serial killer? Read serial killer profiles. Writing about a Hollywood star? Read up on their lives, their business and what itâ€™s like to walk in their shoes. Then connect the dots. Determine for instance how your Aries female will handle her stardom.
Okay, say youâ€™ve chosen your sun sign and done your research, but the personality thing still doesn’t quite jive with what you had in mind. We all know people who donâ€™t fit the mold and characters are no different. So, can we color outside the lines or are these personalities set in stone?
Color outside the lines but donâ€™t let the crayon slide off the tablet.
Hereâ€™s a real-life example: My friend is a Gemini but she was born on May 24th making her very close to Taurus. Most of the time she is more Taurus than Gemini, but she does share traits of each. Itâ€™s okay to combine personalities if it suits your purpose. It actually makes for a more interesting character, perhaps one with more layers. Just make sure to outline the personality carefully and keep the character true to him or herself.
What about character arc/growth? While characters learn from experience and goals may change as the plot evolves, their basic personality won’t change. The manner in which they handle situations or problems should always reflect who they are â€“ even when they’re pressured into something that isn’t natural to them. Connect the dots. Like all tools, profile worksheets, horoscope personalities and research aren’t failsafe, but they are great guides for new writers and even for the seasoned writer who is writing a complicated character.
So, how do you keep your characters true to themselves?
Instead of: “Stop it!” James said. [He could be angry but then again he could be laughing hard and telling someone to stop it. But if we say: James said, angrily, we’re telling.]
Instead of: “Is she serious?” Amber asked, rolling her eyes.
Instead of: “Gosh, I love this song,” Jill said, dreamily. [Yikes an ly word]
Instead of: “Try it, you little weasel,” Jake bellowed. “Just try it.”
Instead of: “You jerk!” Pam screamed, swinging her handbag at him.
The same idea applies to the he or she thought tags.
Instead of: Can this day get any worse? Jane wondered.
Instead of: If he comes through that door, I’ll brain him, Jill silently vowed.
Punctuation can be used to negate tags that indicate strong feelings. To demonstrate what I mean, I’ll use one of my above examples.
“You jerk!” Pam screamed, swinging her handbag at him.
Given there is an exclamation mark after jerk, we know Pam said this with strong feelings. Unless we want her screaming to draw the attention of characters around her, we don’t need to “tell” the reader she screamed. Also, her actions indicate anger and that makes the tag an even bigger overkill. But what if Pam said it under her breath so as not to draw attention? Do we need to say, she whispered? It works. But we could also say: Pam sneered and leaned close, her lips a mere inch from his ear. “Jerk.”
Note: Don’t over use exclamation marks. Again, body language will work just as well.
It must be said, though, that having all the characters on stage constantly nodding, scratching, dancing and throwing things would be just as annoying — not to mention ridiculous — as too many tags. So a few tags are allowed and in some instances they work better for a tight, straight to the point sentence.
I know of no set rules on how many dialogue tags are allowed on a page. The best rule of thumb is to vary your dialogue and cut them when possible. And if you’re still unsure, read the page out loud. Too many tags make the writing sound choppy. They also distract.
The right balance will result in tighter writing that “shows more and “tells” less.
Interesting related websites:
So far as the Duke of Wolveton is concerned, Charlotte Longborough is a scandal waiting to happen.More info →
Being nearsighted in Regency London isn’t a crime—but it feels like one to a lady in disgrace.More info →
He’s the most irritating, inscrutable, insufferable lord in the kingdom.More info →
The FIRST ENCOUNTERS OF LOVE box set includes three stories of romantic firsts.More info →