So awhile ago, in preparation for my blog, I’d practice writing posts and sending them to people via an email list. This is one of those posts from the beginning of the year after I went to Stone Mountain, a giant rock with guys on horses carved on it in. And besides having a fun day with my three younger siblings and Mom, I also learned a bit about writing. So here we go!
1. An epic rock mountain + a trench coat = me feeling very very dramatic.
2. Your characters should have a side of themselves that contrasts with their normal personality.
3. Characters should have flaws that they work out in the story.
4. When your Character does something physically toiling, don’t forget about it.
Most of the time I keep my musings to myself. The imaginary friends and worlds in my head do not often come spilling out of my mouth unfiltered in public. But in this case that was compromised.
If you have ever stood on the top of Stone Mountain you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t, allow me to paint the picture for you.
He stands on the cold rock, facing the distance. The wind, carrying the smell of ash and brimstone, blows his hair and the ends of his tattered coat. Around him the rock face is peppered with craters, and behind lay the ruins of a once great kingdom.
The place is barren, and expect for the few trees that cling to the surface of the rock it could have been the moon.
“And well it could be,” he thought to himself, “This stone is so high you could catch a star at night if you tried. It towers above the world, detached from its suffering so that even the water in these craters is not poisoned by diseases, and the trees still stand unconsumed by fire.”
His feet are tired but he doesn’t sit down. Instead he stands and stares at the burning world below him. He does not cry, only observes, but a great sorrow reflects in his eyes as he watches his world die.
All the heroes are gone, all who said they’d win have lost, all who said they’d fight have fled, and with them all the hope in the world.
The wind blows again, it whistles thought the shattered castle and sings of days long ago; days of prosperity and happiness, days of hope and peace, days before the end of the world. He clenches his hands at his side, anger suddenly sweeping over him, enraged at the unfairness of the world.
When first he started he did not know why he came, only that he had to do something rather than nothing. But now it was clear, now everything was clear. He’d known he would die with the rest, and he too had lost hope, but on a madman’s impulse, or divine intervention, he climbed. And they had seen him, the enemy had seen him. But they did not stop him, only mock him because they thought he was a madman.
But that was their mistake. Because now he saw it. He saw all the lies and tricks for what they were, he saw the death and heard the cries of the innocent, he saw the world in chaos and flames, and he didn’t like what he saw.
All this aroused in him a deep sense of hatred towards his enemy, the ones who’d caused so much destruction. And a deeper sense of loyalty to his kinsman and all who’d suffered at the hands of the wicked.
He straitened his shoulders and spread his feet, looking out at the burning world with new determination.
“I am not the same man I was,” he declared to the winds, “I will no longer be a coward, but a knight. I will no longer be a fleer, but a fighter, and I will fight this battle! I will be like this mountain, this rock. I will stand as a force against the rest, strong and solid. Clear will I be, knowing truth and lie, and not stumbling before the wicked, but cutting them down and freeing all they have enslaved. Hear me all you evil ones! I, a man you thought was no one, a man you let slip by, will be your down fall! For God who is almighty has strengthened my heart and made me a knight. And as long as I draw breath, I will fight you! I will be at your throats; you shall fear me! For today I have seen the truth and uncovered your lies. Beware all you who dwell in the darkness, for I, a soldier of light, am coming to shine on the world!
I think I may have gotten a little carried away, and okay that’s not exactly what it looks like. But that’s what was playing in my head a lot up there. It was really more like this GIGANTIC boulder with trees growing at the base, and few at the top along with some little craters. (unfortunately there were no ancient ruins) I had a great view, and if you looked hard enough you could see sky-scrapers in the distances. Plus there’s that cool stone carving in its side.
Anyway, the point is, being dramatic is fun, give it a try. (in both real life and writer’s life) Just don’t over do it too much. For example, after I had walked down the mountain, if I’d tried to hold onto that particular dramatic feeling and continued to rant to myself about the destruction of the world, it wouldn’t have worked very well. But you can still keep the dramatic-ness going with something like… a trench coat! Because trench coats are cool.
To give a character more depth, one thing you can do is give them a side of themselves that contrasts with their normal personality. So if your character is carefree and happy-go-lucky, have a time or two were he’s serious and sticks to something. Or someone who is really confident, or even arrogant, sometimes have him be scared and unsure of what to do. For good or ill, having little or big character reveals gives a story flavor. You can even use it to give insight into the way your character acts.
For example, in one of the shows I saw at Stone Mountain, a characters was acting like a silly, frivolous teenage girl who was constantly trying to pull her phone out and play with it. But at one point, when another characters was talking about spending time with his family for Christmas, she admits that she didn’t get to this year. She gets serious and tells how much she misses her family, and one of the reasons she is probably so attached to her phone is to stay in touch with them.
Now it only lasts for a bit, before she goes back to her silly carrying-on’s, but it shows that she’s not all flimsy and floppy and that she truly cares about something other than twitter. That gives us a little more insight, and in stories, it helps us feel a little more connected to that character.
Another thing you can do, is give your characters flaws and have them work through it in the story. This one is really good because we can all relate to people who have flaws, because lets face it, we all do. And you can make it be the focus point of the plot or more of a side thing. Even a side thing that later dramatically affects the main plot works good. You can use it lots of places. The main point is that no one can relate to someone who is perfect. None of us are perfect, so giving characters flaws helps make us relate to them, and having them overcome those flaws makes them admirable.
In another one of the shows I saw, everything pretty much centered around this. It was about four misfit toys, a doll who couldn’t smile, a superhero who wasn’t super, a barrel of monkeys with only one monkey, and a robot that didn’t have any smarts.They are charged with protecting the spirit of Christmas (it came in a convenient little bag). The whole story was about each of them in turn overcoming their misfit-ness and saving Christmas from the evil Jack-in-the-box.
See, they made an entire, cute little show about Characters overcoming their flaws. So don’t be afraid to make your characters a little messy.
Have you ever been on a long hike, or played in a sports game, and you got home feeling really tired and sore? Don’t forget how that feels. I know it sounds a little funny at first, but if your character goes through something similar you’ll want to remember so you can write it down accurately.
I don’t come across it much, but a big turn off for me when I’m reading a book is when the author is way off base or forgets to describe the physical toll on a character. If your character gets stabbed in the arm, falls off a ledge, or walks a hundred miles, don’t forget about it!
Many times when I’m looking over my writing, I have to fix up some of the scenes where a character has fallen off a cliff or is dying of dehydration, and make it more realistic. Because if they are too unrealistic the reader gets distracted and drawn out of the story. And no one wants that. If you’re not quite sure about what it’s like to be… say… lost in a desert and the effects of it, then research it. A little bit of research can go a long way.