Warts and All

I’ve been participating in Camp Nanowrimo ( http://campnanowrimo.org) this month and while not writing 80,973,947 words a day, I am hitting my 1000 mark most days. I actually have a plot to work with this time and characters that I love!

Please excuse me while I do my happy dance.

For this little camping venture, I did a lot, and I mean A LOT of character work before I started. My focus: make each important-move-the-plot-forward character three dimensional. I started by focusing on their flaws, because it’s our flaws that get us into trouble most of the time. And the same should be true of our characters.

Here’s the thing I find interesting (and makes the writer’s world a whole bunch easier). Character traits can be a two-edged sword and in my humble opinion, those are the best kind. After sorting out what kind of person your character is, narrow all those lovely (or not so lovely qualities) down to one primary attribute and one primary flaw and hopefully they are related.

For help figuring out which traits make sense for your character based on his/her history, you might find this Reverse Backstory Tool useful – so good! This is by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi from http://writershelpingwriters.net .


The Good, Bad and In Between

Once you have a sense of the ‘two edged’ characteristic, you will want to list the behaviors and attitudes that might be evident in a person who exhibits this trait – both positive and negative. My protagonist, Anne, is confident. Some would say overly so. Her list looks like this:

  • is a take-charge kind of gal
  • doesn’t include others’ feedback or suggestions
  • people are attracted to her and she is respected
  • can come across as arrogant or prideful
  • lets her attempt things she wouldn’t otherwise attempt – in a good way
  • lets her attempt things she wouldn’t otherwise attempt – in a bad way
  • can let her over-estimate her abilities in situations which can get her killed
  • can put people at ease
  • can be brazen in her approach

It’s important to show BOTH sides. That’s the way you will achieve depth. No one likes a character who is either all good or all bad. ABC’s show, Once Upon A Time does a great job with making the standard, told a gazillion times fairy tale characters surprisingly fresh and well-developed.

Regina, the Evil Queen/Step-mother from Snow White and the Mayor of Storybrooke is a kick-ass villain. Anyone who challenges her and expects to win must be someone of equivalent fortitude and skill. She is trouble.

She is strong-willed, confident, smart, charming and she would lay down her life for her son. She does NOTHING by half measures. She embodies confidence. She is a complicated, beautiful woman with issues. You know what she’s been through. You know why she feels like she does about things like love, family, and friendship. There are moments when you hear yourself saying, “I hear you, Regina. Been there, done that.” This woman could write the book on ‘loss’. You feel her pain and her anger. It’s not contrived or just splashed on the script for convenience.

Her character has grown and changed over the three seasons of the show. Still the Evil Queen at heart, but always charming and confident that she’ll come out on top. No matter what.

When you have your list of traits- pro and con – there’s another benefit which I LOVE. This list will help you create scenes. I simply went down my list and brainstormed scenes where Anne would show these attributes. Since it is a romance, I then ask myself: what kind of man would fall in love with a woman like this, who could deal with her bossiness or tendency to jump first, think later? What kind of antagonist would threaten her and how or why? What could make her doubt herself or scare her? And HOW would you threaten or scare a woman like this? What could humble her? The scene possibilities grow and grow!

It’s important, this three-dimension stuff. It has been what has kept me from that “I LOVE your book and want to buy it and pay you lots of money” acceptance letter. Let me know how it goes in the comment section. Anything to add?

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Are You Writing Characters Your Reader Will LOVE?

In my pursuit of the well rounded, three dimensional character, I began reading – REALLY reading, Robert McKee’s book, Story – a book I HIGHLY recommend.

OK lovebugs, this is what I’ve learned so far:



They are your babies, your creations, your soul whisperings.

McKee says this: (pay attention)


Repeat after me: empathetic, empathetic, empathetic.

Empathetic : the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings

Empathy = “like me”

As a writer you need to understand: empathetic characters connect with the reader.


Reader says:  Hey! This character and I have some things in common. This PROTAGONIST and I share a humanity. I would like to have this character as a best friend, lover, sister, brother, partner in a bank heist, random stranger I am stuck in an elevator with, neighbor, mother, etc.

 Hell!  I might even want to BE this character. 

Subconscious logic ensues:

A] The PROTAGONIST is like me.

B] I want the PROTAGONIST to have whatever  it is that s/he wants BECAUSE I EMPATHIZE with her/him and …….


Now, here’s another dimension to this whole EMPATHY thing.

As a writer, you HAVE to make sure that  ALL (I repeat: ALL) of your characters are EMPATHETIC ….. even the bad’uns. They deserve love just like everyone else. They don’t think they’re bad’uns, just misunderstood. But then, aren’t we all? 

Watch this interview with John Stewart and David O. Russell, director of American Hustle.  Empathy thing = spot on.



McKee’s advice: “If you can’t love them, don’t write them.”

Do you, as a writer, struggle with this?? What helps you LOVE your little darlings?