James M. Patrick

The Author

Category: The Writing Process (page 1 of 2)

This series will take you through the writing process in careful detail.

Character Creation
What’s in a Name?

Creating Strong Characters

Last week, we discussed the importance of having strong and complex characters. We now understand the characters act as the medium between you as the author and creator and your readers. Without strong characters, your well thought out and executed story will simply fall flat to your reader. It takes strong characters to make your story memorable. This week, we will explore just where to start.

What’s In A Name?

There is a quote from William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet where Juliet asks this very question. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Does the same understanding translate to character creation when writing a story? In truth, it depends on the writer. Does the character’s name have a deeper meaning? Take my name James, for example. James means origin and popularity. That meaning has little or anything to do with who I am. Let us say however, you are creating a character of great and powerful leadership. The name Richard fits perfectly, as the meaning of the name is “powerful leader.”

When creating a character’s name, it is important to remember two things. First, no matter what the name will be, your readers have not met the character yet. In not yet knowing the character, the name to begin with is of little importance. Your reader will come to know your character no matter the name. With that in mind, the name you decide to name a character, unless it has a particular fondness to the author, is of little importance.

So, how does one go about deciding on a name for a character? Some writers have a profound ability to come up with names off the top of their head. For others, myself included, coming up with names is a more difficult task. Luckily, there are tools all over the internet for aiding in the process. A simple Google search of “random name generator” will display a long list of such tools. Depending on the genre I am writing, there are several generators that I use. Here is a list of several of them:

http://fantasynamegenerators.com/ – This is a wonderful tool when it comes to names for just about anything that you need. From fantasy names for elves and dwarves, to fictional cities, armies and everything in between.

http://random-name-generator.info/ http://listofrandomnames.com/index.cfm?generated – If you already have an idea for backgrounds and histories and just need some random names, these are your tools.

http://www.fakenamegenerator.com/gen-random-sp-us.php – This is a must if you want some names as well as a collection of random information on main or supporting characters. If you need fake addresses, phone numbers, email addresses or even credit card information, it is all there.

Some Things To Keep In Mind

Once you have decided on a name, there are some things to keep in mind. Most of us have a story to go along with why we are named what we are. Maybe we share the name of a favorite uncle, or perhaps the middle name of our grandmother. No matter what name we were given, there is typically a reason we were given the name. The same is true for your character.

As part of character development, knowing why a character was named has the ability to play at least a small part in your overall story. Perhaps a long lost family member will show up at some point and knowing how a character was named will be a test as to the truthfulness of the claim. It is such trivial details such as this in your prewriting process that can contribute in a big way to your overall story.

Another consideration could be given the name of a dead relative or loved one. How did the person die? Was it from particular mission or cause? If so, perhaps the character feels obligated to pursue the same cause. Take a fantasy setting for example. A man named Hewald was killed while searching for a mystical sword before your story takes place. Your main character is also named Hewald and as a sense of honor takes up the mission. The possibilities are endless.

*Side Note* While preparing for my first novel Ashes Will Fall, I had put together such an extensive collection of character background information that I was able to write my short story series Rudy’s Rangers. In fact, I have several other projects in the work from the background from the character creation from just a single book.

When it comes to naming characters, do not be afraid to utilize the tools available to you. Random name generators are there to aid in the task. If you feel generators are not the correct tool for you, do not hesitate to search name lists or even the phone book. Now that we explored naming characters, next week we will take a look at Part One of character histories. In the meantime, keep your pens, pencils and computer keys going and write your heart out.

Character Creation
Voice

Over the past several weeks, we have explored the basics of character creation and building backgrounds. I hope by now that we all are on the same page as to the importance of in depth character history in telling a compelling story. Today, we are going to take the first step in using the histories and bringing your character’s to life.

It Is How They Communicate

The number one manner in which people communicate today is the same it has been for centuries, talking. In the present say, that can also include texting or even writing emails, as in this context they are the same thing. How can that be, you ask? Well, no two people speak, text or write the same. Other than fingerprints or DNA, a person’s voice is what makes us all different.

Communication is more than the sound of a person’s voice, though the tone is included in the voice. Voice is the tone, tempo, vocabulary and even mannerisms one uses to communicate. Is the person speaking easily excitable, or do they gesticulate wildly with their hands and arms? Do they have an extensive vocabulary, or do they curse a lot? These are all factors that come together to form your character’s voice.

One of the best ways to examine the differences in people’s voices is a rather simple process many writers overlook. The art of listening. All too often, when we communicate with others we do not actually listen. Instead, we pay attention to what is being said while we wait for our turn to talk. Listening, or rather, active listening is a practice that can greatly enhance your understanding of communication and thus, the manner of your character’s communicating.

Next time are witness to a conversation or discussion (without being too obvious or creepy about it), pay close attention to the conversation and the actions of those involved. Watch how they half listen and find the point where they stop listening and simply wait for their chance to talk. Listen to their voce, tone and inflection as they explain a key point or reach the punch line of a joke. Study the manner in which people communicate so you can apply them to your characters.

Voice is Not Dialog

It is important to understand at this point that voice and dialog is not the same thing, though the two go hand in hand. In order to have effective and compelling dialog, the writer must establish their character’s individual voice. How is this done? Well, it is taking everything we have gone over so far; physical description, character history, experiences and even education come into play. This is where it all comes together.

How to Bring it All Together

This is where the magic happens. You have done all the work in developing your character, now it is time to bring them to life. How you bring your characters together is going to be different, not only for each writer, but for each character.

By this time in the process, you have gotten to know your characters and understand where they have come from. Now is the time to actually make them. Where have they have been and what they have done becomes the attitude in which they communicate. Their education and the lessons they have learned become the vocabulary they will use. Where they were raised determines if they have an accent and what type of accent they will have. It is even possible that your character has been raised poor and now that they are grown, they cover it by dressing as though they are affluent.

This is the actual fun part of character creation. This is where you bring them to life. Use everything you have done up until now to help you in the task. There is no right or wrong in this step, so long as your characters are and remain individuals with their own personality and voice.

Now that we have reached this point, you are almost done with the character creation process. The final step that we will be covering next week is the small, personal traits that each character has to further round them out.  So until next week, keep your pens, pencils and computer keys going and write your heart out.

Character Creation
History – Part 2

A Character’s History

Over the past few weeks, we have gone into some detail over why building strong characters is important as well as how creating extensive and complex histories for your character can greatly enhance your story. Today, we are going to take a look at how to create the history, and how much fun it can be.

Pre-Birth

Now, many may think that a character’s history may begin at birth, but that is not always the case. In real life, our families, or lack thereof, play as big a part in our early development as the events that shape our lives. Consider if the character’s parents struggled with conception or if they already had children. While on the topic of siblings, take into account those early years. Think about the older brother who is fiercely protective of a younger sister, or the younger brother who idolized his older brother. How about the older sister who terrorizes a younger brother or the resentment of an older brother with a younger sibling always tagging along no matter where he goes? These are all things to consider before you even begin a character’s history.

Early Childhood

Take a moment to think about your early childhood. Perhaps you have memories of riding bikes with your friends, playing tag in the yard until the sun went down then catching fireflies and collecting them in a jar. Maybe your childhood was not as quite as picturesque and you spent your days worried about making it home before the sun went down when the scary men waited in the shadows to torment you. All of these memories and experiences play a part in shaping who you are today.

Your characters are no different. The events of their formative years are just one aspect of their development, but are vital to their creation process. Remember, you are creating what will be to you a living and breathing person. Just keep in mind, no childhood is without both the good and bad, so make sure that you include both. People are not singular, there is purism in everything.

Young Adulthood

Oh yes, the teenage years. This is the time in our lives when we get our first taste of freedom and are touching upon the world of adulthood. For most, this is when we experience our first adult feelings of love; experiencing first love, first kiss and first heartbreak. This is also the time of our lives when we are typically confronted with the vices of adulthood. Perhaps this was the time when you had your first cigarette, or confronted peer pressure to try marijuana. Not to mention this is also the time in our lives when many have their first sexual experience.

It may be a good idea to brainstorm or even have a checklist of such events and milestones when creating characters. Do not hesitate to take your own experiences into account, as well as the stories you have heard from others. By using real life experiences, you have the chance of making your characters even more believable. Remember, you are creating a person, the more authenticity you can scrounge up, the better your characters and stories will end up.

Early Adulthood

As you well know, this is the time of life where most come into their own. With school now behind you, the responsibilities of life confront you head on. Work, bills and in many cases, starting a family are all part of the bigger picture. When it comes to your characters, keep all of that in mind. If they have chosen not to start a family, is it because of professional pursuits or for issues with commitment from their childhood experiences. Remember, you are not only creating the history here, but you are also getting to know them. Never forget, in order to tell your character’s story true, you have to know everything there is about them.

Rest assured, though this alone may seem like a daunting task, there are ways to make it easier. For starters, the more you do it, the easier and more enjoyable it will become. Also, as I stated above, don’t hesitate to make a checklist or even a template to follow. There are no rules against using tools when you work. Whatever you can come up with to help, go for it.

Remember one thing, you are a writer, and writing should be fun. You are creating a person, you are fashioning a history that will bring them to life. Enjoy the process. When that obscure idea comes to mind about something they did as a child, grin while you write it down, laugh at the memory of something funny. Those emotions will come through to your readers when it comes time for them to read it.

I sincerely hope that you are not only getting some useful information and ideas from this blog series, but you are also excited to begin the process. If you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. Though the easiest way is through Facebook, you can also comment here. I would love to hear back from you. So, until next week where we will discuss how to take the history you created into how it effects your character, keep your pens, pencils and keyboard going and write your hearts out.

 

Character Creation
History – Part 1

Greeting all, and welcome to the first part in a real understanding in what a character history really is. Before we get started on actually creating some histories, I wanted to give you some insight as to why it is an important aspect to your writing process. I hope after you read this article and know what it is all about, you will understand just how important and helpful a thorough character history will be when you begin to write.

What is History?

Does the concept of history lead you to think of a monotone middle aged teacher droning on about dates and names which you must memorize in order to pass a class? If it does, that is a shame. History is at heart, the story of OUR world. Additionally, if you find history without purpose and lacking in practical application, it is possible you have a common misconception of its true intent.

Take a moment and think about the last time you had a get together with some friends. Maybe you were at a party or a barbeque, sharing drinks and laughs. Good food and good friends always bring about good laughs. But what were you laughing about? I am willing to bet at least some of those laughs came from a story someone was telling about their past. Maybe it was the time Henry mistook a rake as an alligator on the golf course, or the time Lisa got so drunk her husband had to throw her over his shoulder and carry her to the car. These are the stories that make up our history and give people a glimpse of where we have been.

History, we all have one. They are what make us who we are today. Being raised by a single mother and witnessing men in her life that leave the moment things got tough causes Patty to grow up not trusting men. Seeing his family struggle to simply put food on the table, Junior follows in the footsteps of many of his classmates and begins selling drugs on the corner and eventually climbs the ranks and ends up ma major player in the drug trade. Each of these brief histories creates a rich base for any number of characters. The beauty is that as writers, we can make up anything.

Why is History Important Anyway?

When I was developing my first novel Ashes Will Fall, I spent endless hours on my character’s histories. I wanted to create characters with a rich history that my readers could not only relate to, but be able to feel for. Rudy Valentino, an army ranger with a drinking problem, never able to forget the woman he loves but no longer has. Heather Gil, a news reporter who buries herself in her work and indulges in cheesy romance novels to escape the memory of the career she has and the life she gave up with the only man she would ever love. Nick Ruben, a man who lost everything when his family fell victim to the ruthless drug lord Juan Chavez. For each of these characters and more, I have endless pages of histories for. In fact, it was from these backgrounds I was able to write my first short story series Rudy’s Rangers.

When creating a character’s history, you are creating a roadmap to where they are when the story begins. It is all about the journey. As the writer, you must understand their motivation. Understanding the motivations for them to act in a specific manner will greatly help you tell their story. Let’s take an example of a flawed character that plays the role of an anti-hero. Sure, he may steal, cheat and lie but when faced with a woman in the dead of the night with a battered face and torn clothing pleading for help, he stops at nothing to protect her. Why would he act in that manner? This is where a character’s history comes into play.

Getting to Know Your Characters

The best way to tell a story is to know who you are writing about. By intimately knowing every facet of their lives, you can better tell their story. But, how do you get there? The answer is simple, you create their history. You actually create the memories of their childhood; first love and heartbreak, their first car accident, the loss of a loved one, and even the pack of baseball cards they stole when they were twelve. You not only create who they are, but you have an intimate insight into every last dark secret of their lives.

Now, here’s the real secret. The entire purpose of knowing everything about your characters, you will know exactly how they will react in given situations. Even if sometimes they do something you are not expecting, and characters tend to do that, there is a reason for it. So, when you are establishing your plot and coming up with conflicts, you know how they will react. In other words, simply by knowing your characters, it will help you actually tell their story.

Now that we have taken the time to understand exactly what a history is and how helpful it can be, we can get started in creating some. Next week, that is exactly what we are going to do. So that you never miss a new post, make sure that you subscribe to the RSS feed or even follow me on Facebook. Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments, as I am always here to help, though it is easiest to contact me on Facebook, as I am on there nearly twenty-four hours a day. Seriously, I would love to hear from you about your thoughts on this and my past series, so don’t hesitate. Until next week, keep your pens, pencils and keyboard going and write your hearts out.

Character Creation – Strong Characters

Creating Strong Characters

Last week, we discussed the importance of having strong and complex characters for your writing projects. We now understand the characters act as the medium between you as the author and creator and your readers. Without strong characters, your well thought out and executed story will simply fall flat to your reader. It takes strong characters to make your story memorable. This week, we will explore the elements of making those strong characters.

Playing Games

A few years ago, I began playing the table top role playing game Dungeons and Dragons. Now don’t judge, it is actually a lot more fun than you might imagine. It began as a request from my teenage son, who I believe got the idea from the television show The Big Bang Theory. He asked if I had ever played and when I told him no, he asked if we could give it a try. Being the father I am, I got the whole family involved.

If you have not played before, the first part of the game is taking a pre-designed character sheet, and creating your own character. From the race of your character (we are talking human, elf and dwarf here), their abilities, the way your character looks, and their history. Though we would eventually play the game, we were swept up in the creation process.

Creating a character for your stories should be no different. Becoming lost in the process, turning a blank page into what will be a living, breathing person should be thrilling, not simply a task to complete. Trust me, the difference comes through in your writing. Allow yourself to enjoy the process.

There are several aspects of character creation. Over the next few weeks, we will take a deeper look at each step, but today, you are going to have a look at the very basis of each.

History

If you take a look at where and who you are today, you will know that you simply did not become that without a lifetime of experiences and trials. If you were to become the character in a book today, how could where you have been simply be excluded? You have a lifetime of memories and stories of where you have been that make you who you are. Your characters are no different.

Very few books begin when a character is born, but every history begins with it, and sometimes even before that point. Who your character’s parents are, where they were born and raised and their experiences in life make them who they are where you book begins their story. Knowing those histories will help you develop your characters and also play a big part in making them and your story more real.

Why a Character is the Way They Are

Once you have a history, it is time to implement it into forming who your character is today. By taking their history, you will be able to explain why your character may have issues with commitment or trust, how they can walk through a door and know where every exit is located and be able to pick out who their threat in a room are. You can explain why your character has a prejudice for a particular people, or why they hate birthday parties. This is where you begin to form the aspect of who your characters actually are.

Voice

Do not be misled, this goes far deeper than simply the tone emitted when air passes through the vocal cords, though it is included. It sets the tone for your character overall. Is your character inherently sarcastic or overtly serious? Do they have a dry sense of humor or laugh at almost anything? Do they have expressive eyebrows or behave animatedly when they speak by waving their arms around? These are all factors in a character’s voice.

What’s in a Name

This is a topic that people either take very seriously, or take the Shakespeare approach, “What’s in a name?” Does your character’s name play a part in who they are, or is it just a name. If the meaning of a name plays a part in your story, such as Jeffrey being the bringer of peace, or Bella meaning beauty, then it is important to take care in choosing one.

Idiosyncrasies

The final stage of bringing your characters to life is the small things that make them human. Not only is this a physical description of height, hair and eye color, but include so much more. Scars, tattoos and even personal style also play a part. It is the little things that make a character real.

Now that we have a starting point and a basic understanding of where we are going with this series, I hope that you are as excited as I am to get started. Next week we will dig into what exactly a character’s history is all about. Just so you do not miss a posting, make sure that you subscribe to the RSS feed or even follow me on Facebook. Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments, as I am always here to help., though it is easiest to contact me on Facebook, as I am on there nearly twenty-four hours a day. So, until next week, keep your pens, pencils and keyboard going and write your hearts out.

Character Creation
An Overview

Who Are Your Characters?

When you pick up your pen and put it to paper to write a story, what is it exactly you are undertaking? It may sound like a simple question, but the more you think about it, the more complex your answer will become. In simple terms, a story is a series of events narrated for the enjoyment of your reader. It is a fitting, if abstract answer. The real question to consider is not what a story is, but who the story is about.

As a writer, it is far too simple to believe the story we are writing is ours. After all, as the author you are creating everything, therefore the story is yours. Do not fall for this train of thought. As Admiral Ackbar said, “It’s a trap.”

When you dissect a story into its basic element, though the author is telling the story, it is not in fact their story. In fact, the story you are telling belongs to the characters. You may be asking, “How can that be? I am the one creating the character.” That may be true, but in the process of telling their story, your readers are not going to see them as imaginary people created in the mind of an author. They will be seen as real people, with the most trying time of their lives playing out in the words of the pages.

Why Are Characters So Important?

Take a moment and think about some of your favorite books. What is it about those books that make them particularly special to you? What makes them so memorable? Let me give you some examples. Chris and Saul (Brotherhood of the Rose) show the emotions of brotherhood even though they were not blood relatives and the betrayal of their segregate father Elliot; John Clark (Without Remorse) is driven by revenge to hunt down the killers of the woman he loved. Clearly, the common element in those examples is the characters.

When you write a story, you are taking a small element or events from their lives and sharing it with your reader. Typically, those events are going to me the most trying and difficult moments of their lives. You are going to tell their story. Even though as the writer, it comes from your imagination, it is their story. The characters act as the medium between you as the author and creator and your readers. Without strong characters, your well thought out and executed story will simply fall flat to your reader. It takes strong characters to make your story memorable.

What Makes A Strong Character?

As stated earlier, your story normally will not involve a character’s entire life. Typically, the story will begin at a specific point in their lives where the plot begins. The problem is, the lives of your characters do not begin when your plot does. There is an entire life they lived up to that point. They have experiences they faced, they have loved and lost, have faced trials and tribulations, all of which added to who the character is at the time your story picks up.

Strong characters begin with depth. They are more than a name and a physical description. In your mind as the writer, they have to be real. You have to know and understand their history so you know who they are now; they must have their own voice in vocabulary, tempo and sound; and last but not least, they must each be individuals. After all, how boring would a world be if everyone spoke and sounded the same?

How Do I Create Strong Characters?

That is the question. Simply put, it is not a short process nor are there shortcuts. There is the name of course, physical description, a lifetime of experiences which shapes them into who they are when the story begins. There is of course more to it, and rest assured we will get to that over the next few weeks in this blog series. It may seem an arduous task, and it is, but the more you work at it, the easier it becomes. Now that we have a basic understanding of how vital strong and complex characters are, let us explore the process. In the meantime, keep your pens, pencils and computer keys going and write your heart out.

 

The Writing Process
Final Draft

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After spending weeks, months and in some cases years, the entire writing process has finally reached the final stage. From pre-writing, to your working/first draft, onto your polished draft, to the heart retching editing/proofreading stage and you now have the final draft of your manuscript in your trembling hands. As you scroll through your manuscript, you may think that all of your work is complete, but in actuality, you have only reached the end of phase one, and are about to enter Phase Two. Don’t fall into a false sense of security, there is still more work to do.

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The Writing Process
Part 5
Editing and Proofreading

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Over the past few weeks, we have taken a close look at the full writing process. From prewriting (my personal favorite), to a working draft and finally a polished draft, it was all about creation and enjoyment. Before you can move onto the final draft and a publishable manuscript, it is time to discuss the most painful and least enjoyable step in the process. That’s right, editing and proofreading.

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The Writing Process
Part 4
Polished Draft

The Writing Process – The Polished Draft

In our previous post, we discussed the the working draft of your manuscript. This week we will be discussing the polished draft. This is not the final draft of your manuscript, as there are a few more steps to the progress before we get there. If you picture your first/working draft as a newly mined mineral, the polished draft is where it becomes a gem. That being said, let’s get started.

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The Writing Process
Part 2
Prewriting

Prewriting

 

technology-1095751_640Last week, we discussed an overview of the complete writing process. Now that we all have a better understanding of the process as a whole, we can take an in-depth view of each stage. As I have said previously, no two writers have the same process or style, so there is no single catch all that works for everyone. So, what may work for me may not work for someone else. The process that I will be discussing is what works best for me. I hope that in the end, I will have given you ideas that can be incorporated into your writing process. That being said, let’s jump into the prewriting stage.

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