nichepoetryandprose

poetry and prose about place

Posts Tagged ‘characters

a muse takes over – character arcs

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Every character in a novel needs a background and a story arc of their own, in order to make them interesting and realistic. This creates challenges as I proceed through the drafts of the five books of my sci-fi series ‘Meniscus’.

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In Book One (Crossing the Churn), I have only two main characters, Odymn and the Slain.

In Book Two (South from Sintha), they rescue three new characters from servitude under the Dock-winder aliens and a simple community begins to take shape.

In Book Three (Winter by the Water-climb), a transport crash brings six more humans to the settlement.

By Book Four (The Town at Themble Hill), the settlers  are actively seeking new recruits to the community and there are sixteen characters for the writer (me) to manage.

At the end of Book Five, even I don’t know how many characters will survive/be added!

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Character arcs assist with the forward motion of the entire story. Each character’s story arc contributes to the whole and is usually connected in some way to the main story arc.

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I express my character story arcs in a three-part sentence — what the character wants, the obstacles he or she encounters, and the resolution.

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For example, one of the new recruits in Book Four (The Town at Themble Hill) is Edward, a medical doctor. Although the settlers can get the help of an alien elder, a doctor who has actually treated human illness will be a great asset to the community. When he enters the story, he has been a Dock-winder slave, used to treat the ailments of other human slaves.

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In the Dock-winder city of Prell, Edward has been able to work with complex technologies. But in the new human settlement, deep in the Themble Woods, even simple tools like stethoscopes or standard pharmaceuticals don’t exist. Edward has to reinvent his approach to medicine, developing his own methods with available tools and embracing alien natural medicines and techniques he previously belittled.

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So, Edward’s story arc is expressed as follows:

Edward wants to help his patients but when technology is no longer available, he has to learn to embrace alien methods and natural herbal medicines.

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This sentence, once written, can help determine the mood of the character, his attitude towards other characters, his response in various situations and the risks he is willing to take.  Now I can revise my draft to make it consistent with Edward’s story arc.

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There are often three ‘bumps’ to move the character’s story arc along. Edward’s three ‘bumps’ are consistent with his story arc:

  • Edward is skeptical of the Argenop methods (the Argenops are primitive aliens, cute and furry)
  • He encounters a medical challenge that, with technology, could be easily resolved
  • He tries an alien, herbal treatment and learns to trust new methods

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Back to work!

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Copyright 2017 Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

February 9, 2017 at 8:32 pm

three fantasy characters

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On Friday, I introduced my current writing and drawing project – creation of a short fantasy tale. The story is about a young woman who tries to trade an old life for a new. The setting is an alien planet named Meniscus. I have three main characters:

  1. The young woman is a Human named Odymn. Odymn is in her thirties, living a life of servitude on Meniscus. Every night she escapes confinement to practice her passion of parkour.  Parkour is the discipline of moving through the landscape in the most efficient way possible, running, jumping, vaulting, climbing and rolling. The discipline involves strength, endurance and flexibility and has allowed Odymn to reclaim and have control over at least one part of her life. Odymn has bright red hair which is about to get her into a lot of trouble.
  2. The man she meets during one of her parkour adventures is a genetically enhanced human, a Eu-hominid. He is a rover, moving from place to place to earn his living. He wears a special kind of armour and weaponry which taps into the electrical forces in his body. He has strength and endurance but almost no flexibility. He does not engage in idle chatter, to say the least. So far he has no name, so I just refer to him as Eu-hom. It’s OK if you are thinking names are not my strong point!
  3. After some encounters with other hominids and creatures on the planet, Odymn and Eu-hom set off on some adventures. At one point they encounter Wen-le-gone, a sentient, passive, furry creature known as an Argenop. Wen-le-gone adopts Odymn as his friend but does not warm to the Eu-hom, not at all.

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Now that you have met my characters, I’ll show you what they look like.

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odymn

Odymn has a peculiar scar on her forehead. How she got the scar and what it means to her is part of the story.

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eu-hom

The Eu-hom is a rather serious character, not much of a conversationalist and not easy to befriend.

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wen-le-gone

The Argenop, Wen-le-gone, is the village healer and sage. Looks a little like my cat.

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Next time, I’ll show you drawings of some of the other humanoids and creatures of Planet Meniscus.

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Copyright  Jane Tims  2016

Written by jane tims

November 14, 2016 at 7:29 am

writing a novel – being consistent

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As I work on the Forth Draft of my novel ‘Crossing at a Walk’, I need to consult reference material.  I check the correct spelling and meaning of words, odd bits like ‘is Tim Hortons coffee spelled with an apostrophe?’ (no, it’s Tim Hortons coffee), and technical information such as the correct name for the shape of the windows of the Landing Church (‘Gothic with extended legs!’).

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gothic window

The windows in the Landing Church are referred to as ‘Gothic with extended legs’. This is an old church in Upper Canada Village in Ontario.

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I also keep a project-specific ‘guidance document’ (a ‘concordance’ or ‘style guide’) to make certain I am consistent about how I deal with people, objects and conversations within the text.

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Oliver

One of my main characters is Oliver, the former minister of the Landing Church. My ‘guidance document’ reminds me that Oliver always says ‘graveyard’ rather than ‘cemetery’.

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A ‘guidance document’ is a useful tool to prepare from the beginning of writing a longer piece of fiction.  It provides a set of rules to follow, to help me remember how I have previously dealt with many aspects of the book.  In dialogue, it tells me if a particular character uses the word ‘dinner’ or ‘supper’.  It reminds me that I put all business names in italics. It tells me to use ‘towards’ instead of ‘toward’ (the words are interchangeable and I often can’t remember which of the two I have typically used).  It means I don’t have to remember the title of Sadie’s university thesis: ‘Consideration of the Contribution of Writers to the Field of Cinematography’.  It also tells me details about the characters: Pat has a brother; Minnie has bright red hair; Reid’s best seller was titled ‘No Small Truck’.

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Some of the items I will only ever use once.  Often I have to look up information again and again, so I keep my ‘guidance document’ file open whenever I am working on the novel.

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matt

Matt Cromwell is a theatre student participating in the first writing weekend at Sadie’s writing retreat. The ‘guidance document’ reminds me Matt’s eyes are blue, he is 24 and he is a star-gazer in his spare time.

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You may wonder why I would forget these things.  Some items ensure consistency between my two books. In dealing with 70,000 words and 33 characters, I don’t need to keep everything in my head if I keep my ‘guidance document’ up to date.

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Copyright  2015  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

April 17, 2015 at 5:56 pm

writing a novel – getting to know your characters

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The Whisper Wind Writers’ Retreat – the setting for my novel

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Working on the drafts of a novel is like combing hair.  You start at the top/beginning and comb through the words and sentences, paragraphs and chapters, over and over.  Eventually the tangles comb out and the hair becomes smooth and shiny.

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I find the best way to do the ‘combing’ is to work at specific components of the story.  Developing symbols within the story is one.  Developing characters in the story is another.

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I have a lot of characters in my books.  In ‘Open to the Skies’ there are 44 characters, major, minor and dead.  This is probably too many, but it is a book about a community.

So far, in ‘Crossing at a Walk’, I have 33 characters.  These include Sadie and Tom, members of the community, and the six ‘retreaters’ (the writers enjoying a weekend at the Writers’ Retreat).

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A difficulty with writing a sequel, I feel responsible for all these characters.  Leaving one of them out of book #2 seems wrong to me.  But by book # 25 (!) I’ll have a whole planet to contend with. So I have to make choices.

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Each of my characters has a character sketch, a background story and a story arc.  As I’ve said before, I try to include three ‘bumps’ in each story line.

One of the ‘combings’ I do is to look at each character as he or she appears in the book.  I want to make sure the character is consistent with respect to appearance, back story, way of speaking, relationships, and so on.

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1.  Character sketch and background

As an example, let me introduce you to Ruby Milton.  She is the fourth character from the left in the sketches above. She is a minor character, a constant companion to one of the major characters.   Ruby is 64 and married (she was a Brunelle before she was married).  She is a retired librarian and now runs a U-Pick with her husband Lars.  Ruby, as a result of her name, loves all things red.  She wears red and she bids on a lamp at an auction because it has a red glass finial.  A quilter, she works a red patch into every quilt she makes.  She was also one of the characters who opposed the sale and relocation of the Landing Church in ‘Open to the Skies’.  Ruby snubs Sadie at every opportunity.

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Ruby would love my lamp with the red finial – it once belonged to my mother-in-law Mary

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It’s hard to have to keep checking on a character sketch as I write, so I prepare a chart of my characters.  I keep the chart file open so I can check on it as often as I want.

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Name Occupation Characteristics Age  Vocabulary
 Ruby Milton Librarian; runs a U-Pick Wears red; thin; a quilter; maiden name Brunelle; lived in community all her life 62 Cemetery; uses lots of contractions
 Lars Milton Retired Teacher; runs a U-Pick Tall; Full head of snowy hair 65 Graveyard
 Marjory Alworth Shop owner Nicknamed Margie; Ruby Milton’s daughter 41
 Betsy Alworth Waitress Ruby Milton’s grand-daughter 24

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2. Story arc

Ruby occurs three times in ‘Crossing at a Walk’.  She occurs because she is a friend to Pat, a major character; she runs a local U-Pick and food from the U-Pick is used at the Retreat; she represents the community’s continued interest in its landmarks.  She wants to continue to use the Landing Church for her quilting group and she participates in celebrations of the history of the covered bridge.  Ruby also represents the part of the community that Sadie hasn’t quite won over in her efforts to fit in.

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As I read my draft so far, I realise Ruby needs to change in some small way during the book.  So, in keeping with her importance as a representative of community, I add some elements to Ruby’s story.  At the auction, she won’t even acknowledge Sadie.  But during the book, Sadie allows Ruby’s quilters to use the church and treats Ruby as knowledgeable about community history. By the end of the book, Ruby greets Sadie as a friend and contributes a story about her memories of the covered bridge.

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inside a covered bridge

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I keep a table of story arcs for each of my characters, to help me build the story, be consistent and make sure that I find the story for each character.

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Name First occurrence Second occurrence Third occurrence Story
 Ruby Milton Ignores Sadie at auction (page 35) Asks to use hall for quilting group (page 146) Greets Sadie as a friend at a community gathering; tells a story about bridge (page 232) Pat’s friend; represents community;  changes her attitude about Sadie

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Ruby is a relatively minor character in the book.  However, I treat her with the same respect I give my major characters.  And she gives back to me.  She suggests turnings for the story.  And she helps make the community I have created for these characters more realistic.

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Ruby puts a bit of red in every quilt she makes

 

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Copyright  2015  Jane Tims 

Written by jane tims

April 3, 2015 at 7:35 am

writing a novel – character arcs

with 6 comments

Title: unknown

Working Title: ‘Crossing at a Walk’

Setting: a writers’ retreat – the renovated Landing Church, the hall and the rectory now used as a Learning Center, a Sleeping Hall and a home/base of operations for Sadie and Tom

Characters: main character Sadie, a writer; her husband Tom, a retired welder; people from the community; writers participating in the first weekend of the writers’ retreat

Plot: Sadie wants the first writers’ retreat to go smoothly, but the history of an old covered bridge keeps getting in the way

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I have finished the first draft of my novel.  Still lots of holes to fill and editing to do.  But I am now certain of the basic story-line.

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For the next while I will be spending some time with each of my characters.  I know a bit about them, because I have a character sketch and a drawing for each character.  Now I want to make sure each person has their own story arc.   I would like each character to grow in some way during the novel.

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some of the characters in my novel

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My first step is to print a copy of the draft ‘Table of Contents’ for my book.

On a separate page, I also list the events (or scenes) in each chapter and the characters involved in each event.

Then I use the initial of the character’s first name to show on the ‘Table of Contents’ where the character occurs in the story.  For example, my characters include Patricia and her brother Rob … marked P/R on the extreme right hand side of the ‘Table of Contents’.

Right away, I can see if a character falls off the radar.  I can also make certain the characters are distributed through the action so my reader doesn’t forget they exist.  For example, one of my main characters, Alexandra (marked A) doesn’t occur in four chapters … this may be OK but I want to think it through.

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Once I have completed this step, I have a list of additions to make to the manuscript (written up and down along the bottom of the page).

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I also write, in a simple sentence, the story arc of each character.  I write the arc in the format of: what the character wants, the obstacles he or she encounters, and the resolution.

Patricia (the rather sour-looking woman on the far left of my drawing above) wants to feel connected with her brother who left home and died years before – she reconnects with him by learning some of the details of his story.

Tom (below) retired from his career as a welder due to ill health.  He is surrounded by writers attending the writer’s retreat.  He is at loose ends and tries to find his purpose, discovering it embedded in his daily routine.

Matt (third from the left in the drawing above) is a theatre student who wants to attract a fellow writer.  In spite of repeated rebuffs, they find a common interest, the basis of a friendship.

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Tom, Sadie’s husband, doesn’t always feel comfortable around writers.

 

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I have learned from various courses that story arcs are often expressed as sub-plots.  The story arcs often occur in three ‘bumps’ in the action.  Although most of my characters occur several times in the book, this is a good minimum guide to follow for the significant events in their stories.

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Back to work …

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Copyright  2015  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

March 25, 2015 at 7:07 am

writing a novel – still editing

with 8 comments

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Title: unknown

Working Title: Saving the Landing Church

Setting: a writers’ retreat, including an abandoned church

Characters: main character Sadie, a writer; her husband Tom; people from the community

Plot: the story of how Sadie tries to win over a community in order to preserve an abandoned church

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Still editing.

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I am on Draft #7 of my novel.  In this draft I am going chapter by chapter through the whole novel to look for opportunities for improvement:

  • I need to make sure I am showing, not telling.  Instead of telling the reader that Sadie is afraid, I try to show the reader her fear, by writing about her accelerated heart rate, her dry throat, how her shoes seem stuck to the floor, and so on.
  •  I need to be sure I not only describe how the scene looks, but also include the smells, the sounds and the tactile experiences.
  • I am still looking for words I repeat in consecutive lines, a hard-to-break habit of mine …

One of the tools I have constructed to help me with fine edits is a chart about the characters.  I have character sketches (in both words and drawings) for each person in my novel, but it is tedious to refer to these over and over.  So, I constructed a table with the important details – how old the person is, what they look like, and so on.

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Especially helpful is a list of the words he or she uses.  For example, Sadie says ‘dinner’ for the six o’clock meal.  Her husband says ‘supper’.  Sadie uses the word ‘graveyard’, while most of the local people say ‘cemetery’.

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I have 44 characters in my book, including both major, minor and dead characters.  This is probably too many, but it is a book about a community.  Here is my table for a few of my characters:

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Character  Occupation Nickname Characteristics  Age in 2005 Words they use
Sarah Hatheway writer Sadie Plain, thin, oval face, short   brown hair 42 Bed and Breakfast; silly;   retreaters; dinner; graveyard
Tom Hatheway welder Sadie’s husband; strong, short   grey hair, pale 48 B & B; hey girl; clients;   supper; graveyard
Oliver   Johnston minister 42 graveyard; supper
Emma   Southkind homemaker Keeps a journal; solid; yellow   purse; curly grey hair, gentle 59 cemetery; supper
Mark   Southkind retired train conductor 60 cemetery
Katherine   Birch writing coach Kitty Language a bit coarse 62 graveyard; dinner
Alexandra   Connelly student  Tall; long brown hair 16  supper
Joe   Connelly accountant Alexandra’s dad; widowed; tall 45 graveyard

Written by jane tims

October 28, 2013 at 7:09 am

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