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Top Three Tips On Mastering Character Traits

As writers we are actively encouraged to portray a variety of characters, with varying shades of positive and negative traits. The characters may have different skills from us, they may have more or less qualifications, and they will have undoubtedly gone through experiences that we as the writer have not. If every character only echoed our own lives, mimicking the qualities we have, the story would fall flat.

One of my readers recently asked me a great question: Lorraine, do you think it’s OK for a writer to  attempt to portray a character with qualities the writer doesn’t have? For instance, I am not funny at all, but I would love a secondary character to have a sense of humor, which means there is a risk the character will sound lame rather than really funny. I have read a short story where the character was supposed to be wise, but the writer was not particularly wise, so the wisdom was on the ‘weak side’. Do you think it is better to stay away from qualities you do not possess or to try anyway?

As writers we need to portray meek, strong willed, sarcastic, funny, intelligent or even obsessive characters. It is inevitable that we will write a character we are not familiar with, and so, here are my;

Top three tips for mastering character traits.

Watch and listen to other people.

It’s not only what people say, but how they say it. Their tone and volume of voice add to the weight of the words spoken. Possibly more important will be what their body language says. It’s true, writers see the world through different eyes, because these subtle things need to be taken into account. We can make a character more funny by his antics and the response of his supporting characters.

Research the subject matter

There will come a point when we need to know more about a specialized subject matter, so that we accurately portray our character to our readers. Whether its about science, motor sports, mental health, how to fly an airplane, or simply how long it takes for a broken bone to heal. If you don’t do your research, there will be glaring holes in your story that your readers will pick up on.

Thankfully we have search engines at our fingertips, with a few clicks and the correct tag words we can pull up vast amounts of knowledge. So take the time to research, don’t just guess.

Alternatively, speak to people who know first hand what it’s like to be homeless, or to be a policewoman. Tell them you’re a writer doing research, and that you wish to portray your character with accuracy. They might be willing to help you.

Hone your craft.

Read books and ‘how to’ blog posts, listen to podcasts, or take creative writing classes. No matter how many novels you write, you are always going to learn something new. Write more, read more, and be brave enough to seek feedback.

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How do you make sure you portray characters correctly? Have you avoided a certain trait because you weren’t sure how to write them? Share your experiences with me, you know I love hearing from you.

Thanks for stopping by, until next time, Much Love.

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© Author Lorraine Ambers and http://www.lorraineambers.com, 2019.
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The Eternal Scribbler Guest post

Guest Post – The Eternal Scribbler.

As writers we have to a pretty hefty job of carrying all those characters, worlds, ideas around in our heads desperate to come out and be added to the blank page.

Today I want to talk about the first few pages of your book.

The first pages of a book are what sell it. You can have a fancy cover, great blurb and a dazzling plot – but if you fail in the first few pages, you could have lost your chance to shine.YA fantasy romance Author Lorraine Ambers Desk Beta Readers

This is one of the reasons I usually write my first chapter last or at least after much more of the book is written. This allows me to move the scenes around and sometimes find a mid-scene that works better for the first chapter.

From publishers to readers, those few pages have to be gripping (not talking suspenseful, unless…you know…you’re writing a suspense novel!) but they need to draw the reader in and make them want to keep reading.

No point having the best action scene, romance or climatic ending ever if nobody is able to actually get to it.

So take those first few pages extremely seriously.

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Here are some thoughts on what you should have in your first chapter (preferably in the first few pages)

• Voice – Don’t wait until you are further into the book before you show your voice, get it right out onto the page at the start. If I’m reading a book I want to know the author has a strong command of writing, a voice that can clearly be heard through the words.

• Senses – Engage the reader immediately with sensory detail. If you get to chapter 3 before we even have a plethora of sensory information, then you’ve missed something. Be aware of getting caught just using sight and sound. Use all five of the main senses to fill out your world. Whether it’s the sharp smell of horse manure in the street, or the bitter taste of fruit on the turn. Let’s get some details!!

• Location, location, location – No we don’t need to know the longitude and latitude, but we need some detail about where this story is set. Character and dialogue can often place a story, but don’t forget to set the scene. Are we storming a castle? Trudging through a muddy field? Maybe even just listening to a grieving mother in the kitchen of her small apartment. Give the reader some direction as to where they are when they start reading.

• Characters – Now, some writers state they want to meet the protagonist or antagonist in the first chapter. Since my manuscript doesn’t actually start with meeting my protagonist but in dealing with the aftermath of her going missing, I ignore what “some writers” suggest. You don’t have to have your MC right in the thick of it, but make sure whoever you have on stage first has an important role in the plot, even if they just throw in a set of magic beans and vanish. Those magic beans better be pretty important!

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But these characters need to be interesting or likeable. While characters we hate are fun too, it’s recommended we don’t add them at the beginning as it can drive a reader from continuing – so keep your obnoxious, love-to-hate-them characters for later on.

Make sure there is some depth to these characters. That means they react, they emote, they live the scene. Let’s not just follow them around with a camcorder seeing what they might do. Give them a voice, give them a purpose, give them a mental state!

• Plot – your first few pages should touch on the plot. It should hint or whisper or build on something that is coming up. We don’t want to see characters going through daily routines and ending with nothing. If you haven’t even hinted on what the plot is about then you’ll be boring your reader.

Readers want to get a sense of something happening. Not sure what, so they will want to read more. Nobody…and I mean NOBODY wants to read about your character brushing their teeth, picking out clothes and then leaving for work. Unless all that banality ended with you exposing that this mild-mannered, mousy gentleman is actually an assassin off to execute a government official – you should probably skip it.

So think carefully on what you are putting in your first pages. Think about the books you love and re-read their first pages. See what those authors did to catch your attention.

Happy Writing!

For more great content, find Ari over on her blog: http://www.theeternalscribbler.wordpress.com/

Author Lorraine Ambers writing novel

©Lorraine Ambers 2017