Creating Characters

Who Am I?
1998 Tricycle Gallery, London – Selected works from first solo exhibition – Linett Kamala

For me, when a book takes shape in my head, it’s usually because one of the MC’s has rented room inside my mind and won’t rest until I’ve allowed him or her , they or them, to breathe. They come running from the darkest recesses ready to take on the world. I’m just there to give them the transportation, maybe to guide them along their adventure.

My characters come alive, become thinking, feeling entities inside my head. I know them so well that after a few chapters they take over and I just go along for the ride, usually with a few, “Oh, so that’s what you’re going to do, huh? I hadn’t been thinking of that,” comments along the way.

Personally, I feel like to bring a character to life, I want to to begin with as many details about them as I can. Sure, they’re going to evolve, but that’s what editing is for. I’ve had characters start with one personality and show me they were someone else, entirely as the story took shape. You really just have to be willing tot go with the flow.

Trying to force a character into a box they don’t want to be in will only lead to stagnation and a lot of frustration.

Let your characters surprise you, amuse you, disappoint and horrify you. It’s the plunge I’ve taken that has been the most enjoyable and rewarding as I’ve grown more confident in my writing skills. Maybe your heroine isn’t your heroine after all, maybe it’s that secondary character you thought was just coming along for comedic relief, etc. Or, maybe the heroine royally screws up, gets her ass handed to her before she plays to the arch of redemption.

Whatever it is, let it ride. You might be surprised how much better these new paths may be.

As far as character sheets, you name it, I probably write it down. Names, birth-dates, parents,s their birth-dates. Appearance, skin, freckles, blemishes, scars, tics, quirks, likes and dislikes. I’ll even include favorite foods, music, movies, and games.

If it comes to me, I have to put it down. I even try and do a little section on their memories. I may or may not use any part of these character details in the final piece. I just like knowing it’s there. I like knowing my characters.

Do you base your characters on people you’ve met? Parents, siblings, friends, enemies, etc? When it comes to general appearance, I might take a cute identifying marker and apply it where wanted, but overall, they tend to tell me what they look like and I go with it. I’m pretty obsessive about trying to find photos online that capture the overall look of who I’m writing about. In my current novel series, each character has a photo and I keep the photos up as I write. I helps keep in their headspace.

[I never use real photos of regular people, only images of stock, model, actor/actresses.]

How you keep track of your characters is up to you. I know some people keep charts, tables, spreadsheets, and the like. However, I tend to keep mine in a regular file. It reminds me of the days pre-computer when I would fill endless notebooks with characters and story ideas.

I am fairly neat about it, though. I separate by family groups and keep important characters close. I also end up doing sub-groups. For example, in my new series my MC has more than one romantic relationship, and so I have a document titled “Aaela’s Boys.”

In another sub-group I have her extended family, including those unknown to her at this time. It just helps me keep it straight in my head. Which is surprising, since I fall into the organized disarray category of stereotypical creative person with ADD.

How about you? Where do your character inspirations come from? How do you keep track of your characters? Are you obsessively neat or someone who flourishes amid disorder? How do your characters reveal themselves to you?

Let me know down below!

x – H

The Tortured Writer

The tortured writer is me. Today. Typing these words. I want to work, but work won’t come. Why? A million little reasons.

In the last 12 months, I wrote six books. Words poured from my fingertips. I could not stop writing. I had to let them all out, these characters flitting about my brain like a cloud of fireflies. And, then I made the mistake of stopping for a heartbeat to relish my good fortune, following it up with a, “I shouldn’t say anything, I’ll probably get writer’s block.”

Guess what? The crash came swiftly behind those words, sweeping down the plains of my written-word verbosity like some great and much-storied Oklahoma wind. I should have learned my lesson by now.

Now, I’m eeking out lines, and forcing myself to edit. I’m reminding myself a dozen times a day – it only matters that you do something. Anything.

If I can’t write, I think to myself, I’ll work on building my social media presence. That counts, right? I mean, you can’t sell your work if no on knows you’re working.

Social media is weird for me, not natural. I’m an introvert. I know I need to be out here – networking, meeting peers, building a base. But, isn’t that why I’m a writer?

Communication is excruciating, so says my anxiety. Let the words do the talking, I tell myself. But, then I sit here and wonder, “What even is my voice?” What if my voice has the same rhythm and form as all of the others? Who will hear me? No one will.

Carving out a niche in this wild, infinite sea of other writers all longing to be heard, to be seen, to be READ, is maddening. I’ve tried it before and washed out after a couple of weeks. How do you find your chosen few, your tribe among all these other voices, when they seem so much better able to contend with … all of it? And you, you’d rather be plucking out your fingernails with pliers.

Between the blogs and other social media postings, when do they ever find time to write actual novels? Magic? Voodoo? Soul sold? Helpful doses of crack? Help an introverted, anxiety-riddled writer out. I am in foreign territory, a traveler in a strange new land, one I don’t particularly feel welcome in.

This whole – you must blog, tweet, Insta, etc … Exhausting. Social media is talking, pushing yourself to be bigger, brighter, funnier, sharper, edgier, a never-ending pageant to stand out. I can be as witty, sharp, snarky, and hilarious as the next person, I just can’t seem to do it on cue.

All I want to do is sit in my comfy room and write books, so that other people like me can perhaps read them and get lost for a while inside characters who aren’t always riddled with the pains of perpetual anxiety and the relentless cacophony of, “Is it even worth it?”

Now, see. All that blue-tinged word vomit above is my anxiety talking, again. I know it is. I know that to be successful you have to sell not just your work, but yourself. I know, more than ever, writers are expected to be their own PR firm.

It’s not that I don’t believe in my talent as a writer. I’m happy with my work. I love the stories I’m telling. I can see the potential in every piece. But, vicious anxiety will never allow me to wallow in the comfort of believing my own work is good, for too long.

“Oh, you’re bragging about how many books you’ve written this last year? You really dig what you’re writing? You think it’s good? Aren’t you special. Well, let me assure you, you’ll never get anywhere with them. Look at how many people are out there, all longing for the same recognition as you. You’re a good writer. I loved your work. Right. Get it straight, pretender. You’re not good enough. You read three different blog pieces today from writers who are far superior to you. You’ll never make it out of this comfy room. You aren’t a people person. The only one who thinks you’re funny is you. You might as well give up now. You suck. Why don’t you go buy a cake and stuff your feelings down with buttercream icing?”

My monster isn’t beneath the bed or hiding in the closet. My monster is the voice in my head, the one always waiting to kick me off a high and remind me I’m just a woman in a room recording words that no one really cares about.

I’m not just a writer, tortured, or otherwise. I’m a warrior, always fighting the unseen enemy, the one who whispers until I can’t think, can’t work, can’t sit still, can’t get away from. But, I’m always fighting.

I’ll get it together, back the enemy up until its in a box. I’ll hide the box in a deep recess and build a wall around it. And, I’ll be okay again until it knocks the wall down, slithers out of the box and sneaks back in to try one more time to convince me I don’t have a voice, or a platform, or a worthy talent.

I’ll keep fighting the good fight of every tortured writer, artist, poet, every lonely teen, and pageant winning beauty queen, and Pinterest loving SAH mom. Every former high-school football star, and every could have, would have, and should have been.

And hey, I wrote today. I wrote this. It’s a start.

Let’s Talk About Sex – Good Sex

Warning – This post is going to be highly NSFW and not for the viewing of anyone under the age of 18. I am not responsible for your innocence.

In fact, this is probably not going to be safe for anyone who thinks sex is icky and ewwy, or meant to stay behind closed doors. So, my dear reader, if sex talk makes you all the wrong kinds of hot and bothered, please enjoy these kittens.

Some background on the sex that shaped my world view. When I was ten, my grandmother started letting me read her Harlequin romances. If anyone had met my grandma, – one, they never would have taken her for a romance junkie, and two, they would have never believed she’d be letting her ten-year-old granddaughter read those kinds of stories.

Those cheesy, often sappy, sometimes tear-inducing books armed me with new vocabulary and an appreciation for men who were dominant, yet ultimately kind and caring. (As an aside, perhaps this is why so many women near my age went gaga over the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. I did not, and we’ll get to why in a bit.) It was an education in what happened after kissing.

A few years after my grandma’s Harlequins, I discovered those thick, historical romances affectionately known as bodice-rippers. You know the ones, the books your mom, aunt, or the lady on the bus tried to hide so no one could see the bare-chested Fabio look-a-like on the cover. I was sold!

If I had thought those little Harlequins were hot and steamy, the bodice-rippers took it to a whole, new level. My early and mid-teens were spent day-dreaming of well-dressed men or pirates who were secretly misunderstood Lords, who would jerk me up against them, tear away my Hot Topic shirt, and ravish me silly.

If you want to watch the evolution/revolution of sex as a healthy thing that women want just as much as men, you can see it unfold in historical romances put out over the last thirty years.

Back in the day, everyone was fairly modest in writing about sex. In the beginning, after the swooning kiss, the eager couple disappeared behind the bedroom door, and we, the readers, were left hanging, wondering if it was as hot as we hoped. These were the days when just having the word penis in a book was fairly titillating.

Over time, writers evolved into using words like tool, manroot, and appendage for the men, and flower, hot cove, and tight passage for the ladies. Sexxxy, right? Yeah, not so much. I can remember more than once saying aloud as I read, “Just say the damn words!”

My love of historical romance waned for a good ten years, once my real life exploration far outpaced what I was reading. On a whim one day I picked up a book titled, When He Was Wicked. I discovered writers like Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, Teresa Medeiros, Sarah MacLean, and other more modern Regency Romance writers and fell in love all over again.

These ladies were/are bringing sexy writing into the twenty-first century, and have continued to evolve, writing heart-racing sex scenes that don’t leave you wondering if the author was verklempt with every penis she inserted.

[However, I have idly wondered if after writing a particularly good sex scene, if they don’t sit back and cackle with delight at their masterful sex-writing skills, which I may or may not have done one or a dozen times.]

I truly knew times were changing when I saw the words cock and pussy used for the first time. Lately, I’ve even caught sight of that fantastically filthy word cunt being used in a sex-positive scene, rather than as an insult. Phew!

Sex is finally being treated like it deserves to be treated, as something innate to being alive. Lust, passion, desire – all good. What a disservice we have done ourselves by trying to keep sex this dirty little thing that was the sin of sins outside the locked bedroom door of a married man and woman.

Most writers are catching up, but we’ve got a ways to go when it understanding what makes written sex good. To explore that more, for myself, some years ago I joined a writing group dedicated to erotica in all of its various forms. Now, I’m not talking brown bag erotica that you read or watch and feel slimy about afterwards. I’m talking sex written in ways that made you stop and think about what you had been missing all of your life. Good Sex. Real, fleshed-out stories where sex played a glorious role.

It was that experience, combined with years of romance reading, and my own true life escapades that taught me how to write a sex scene that is both important to the story, and hot enough to leave the reader at least a little bit flustered at the end, if not in need of a good shag.

So, here’s what I’ve decided and/or learned as a reader, a writer, and a woman. Good sex rides a fine line between sexy and raunchy. Too many writers opt for raunchy. They throw in as many sex words as possible, all the cock and pussy you could ever want to read about, and that, to them, is hot sex. Their characters are jamming and ramming and grunting all through the book.

Now, I’m not saying those words can’t be used. Use them. Just don’t overuse them. Let them be words of impact. But, and this is a huge but, definitely make sure the words before and after them support sexiness, and not a groan of embarrassment for you, the writer. Grab a thesaurus and dare to be different.

It takes a lot of practice and a great deal of finesse to write a sex scene that doesn’t read like a bad porn. (Hint – jizz, spunk, splooge, yadda yadda – not hot. Ever.)

“Shove your big, hot throbbing cock into my tight, eager little pussy!” – No finesse. Not hot. No one needs that many adjectives in one sentence.

Look, you can use all the hard, blatant words all you want. Tits, asshole, balls, cunt – whatever floats your boat. Used in the right way, written sex can result in some highly enjoyable physical reactions. But, if you don’t support them with really solid writing, they’ll quickly shift from being page-turners to entire passages someone like me skips over.

Unfortunately, on self-publishing platforms everywhere, and even within the pages of traditionally published works, badly written sex is being put out there as good, and people are buying it. Why? Because we’ve shown them bad sex is fine. I mean, it’s published, right?

Which brings me, inevitably, to that aforementioned Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy by E.L. James.

If you are a fan of these books – turn back now. You aren’t going to like what I have to say.

I’m not going to delve into whether or not it’s a story of abuse. I am extremely well-versed in BDSM and there are plenty of platforms out there that have already addressed that aspect of this Twilight fanfic. What I’m going to talk about is the sex in this book, and the quality of the writing.

My overall opinion on the quality of writing in these books is – Dear Writing Gods, please don’t let the next generation of writers, and those older writers just getting brave enough to publish, believe this claptrap is good writing.

Fifty Shades is not a well-written book. It must have been through some divine bit of luck and timing, or her legion of Twilight fanfic readers ready to buy this book in published form, that it made it onto bookshelves. Otherwise, I have to believe the agents, editors, and publishers were all high on crack, and thought they were selling this as parody porn.

Fifty Shades became a thing, and again – lucky woman. She may not be a great writer, but she filled a need right as that need became a niche market, and boom, she’s uber-rich. I would have hoped her follow-up book would have proven that she had used some of that money on a writing class, but even reading excerpts on BadBooksGoodTimes (funny reviewer, check him out), all hope is officially lost that she will ever understand what good sex means.

TENSION

For written sex to be good, the biggest must-have is tension.

The audience has to believe these two people want each other. They need what that other person promises. Tension needs to be built from the very first encounter. This can be done with a one night stand just as easily as it can be done with a longer build-up, as long as the writer knows how to work that palpable heat between the two characters.

You can write a good, hard fuck as raw and nasty as you want without it reading like a skeevy excerpt from a penny porn. Unless, that’s your jam, then more power to you. It’s all in word selection and everything you’ve written up to that point.

You must be a good writer to be a good at writing sex, and that takes reading a lot of books with sex written out in them, and practice writing them for yourself. I think we all know that, yes? When you write something you have never experienced, or something you’ve only done cursory internet searches on, it shows. So, just like learning an instrument or how to take a beautiful photograph, you must practice, practice, practice. Reading as much sex-filled stories in your chosen genre also aids in setting up your guidelines, what turns you on, and what turns you off.

EXPERIENCE

Having experience is also a big plus when it comes to writing a memorably steamy scene. That doesn’t mean you need to have slept with a hundred people to blow your next sex scene out of the park. Quantity doesn’t always equal quality. But, what you do have to have is a real idea of how a situation feels.

If you’re going to have X spank Y, I want to know you understand what the flesh on X’s hand will feel like and the sensations Y experiences as his/her skin is struck repeatedly. Don’t just tell me, “X slams his palm against Y’s bubble-butt ten times. Y moans in ecstasy.” Meh – give me some reality.

When I read the sex you write, I want to think, damn, this writer gets it.

If you’re going to write about two would-be lovers standing close enough to kiss but not doing it, you want to be able use words that make the readers fall into that moment with them, until the air in the room is gone, until their hearts are beating just as hard and erratic as the characters, until it’s their lips tingling as they feel that almost kiss happen.

Seduce your readers. Be the lover, in words, that they’ve always secretly wanted. Write your sex scenes in a way that when it’s over, your reader is going to need .. a .. minute. Thank you.

[Tangent pause] Orgasms – Please, please write it out as come/coming. For the love of all that is sexy. Get your characters off as often as you feel it’s called for, but again we’re seducing minds here, not throwing poorly written stroke-fiction at our readers. Unless you’re into writing stroke-fiction, and in that case – stroke away.

AUTHENTICITY

Remember, sex is dirty, sweaty, lusty, fun stuff, and it almost never plays out like a well-choreographed ballet. Don’t be afraid to get them tangled in clothing, bang a knee, re-position, or have good giggle mid-coitus, every now and again. There’s nothing like a mind-blowing orgasm after a good giggle, when things have slowly slipped back into that intensely intimate space where two people are completely feeling each other, in every way.

If you aren’t sure what turns people on, start asking them, ask them which books with sex got them hot and bothered, no matter the genre. Start reading stories with sex, and discover what works for you.

Experiment in the bedroom. Hell, you can even interview sex workers, or people who openly do whatever it is you’re interested in writing. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about. We’re animals, and animals are sex-driven creatures.

If you’re writing a sex scene and you aren’t sure if it’s hot/sexy/authentic, etc… Hit me up – I’d be happy to read it and give you my feedback. I’ve read and written thousands of sex scenes over the last twenty years. I’ve got no issue with helping another writer out.

At any rate, just a bit of rambling for today.

xo
– H

Creating Character Profiles

We’ve all been there!

When I’m browsing a writer’s group I belong to on FB, I often see new writers asking for tips on how to build their story from the ground up. They have ideas, but they don’t know where or how to start writing those ideas into book form.

Seriously, I would never dream of calling myself an expert, and I’m pretty sure I spend just as much time fielding anxiety as I do getting actual work done. But, I’ve always been someone who enjoys helping others, and I always seem to have answer to those questions, so I thought – why not start writing it down somewhere?

The first thing I’m going to talk about is creating character profiles. I am a huge believer in them. In fact, I can’t get into a story without knowing WHO I’m writing for. Because, I’m one of those writers who’d tell you that I don’t write my characters, they write themselves.

I’m positive that if you’re writing fiction, you already have an idea, the overall story in your head, and the main characters that will feature throughout. Get them down in a file titled something like Working-Title-Here Character Sheet. There are a billion character templates out there, but I prefer creating my own documents. It’s just easier for me. You do you!

The following are some of the things I do for my own books. Keep in mind, I may go a bit overboard, but I absolutely believe too much is better than too little.

  • Tentative Character Name
  • Age/Birth-date
  • Place Of Birth
  • Height/Weight/Eye and Hair Color (Look, you  can go vague with hair and eyes, or go detailed. Depending on the character I do both.)
  • Skin Tone, Ethnicity, etc … 
  • Voice Style (Are they foreign? If so, where are they from originally? If your character is from a place that has many different vocal inflections based on what part of a country they’re from  – use  that.)
  • Where do they live now?
  • Who are their parents?  Siblings? (If they’re in the book, they’ll each get a character sheet, grouped with the MC.)
  • Are they in school? What grade? If they’re college, what classes would they be enrolled in? If an adult, do they work?  What kind of  work do they do, etc..
  • What are their likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, etc ..
  • Do they have any notable tics/habits?
  • Do they have mental illness of any kind – if so, what type, and why?
  • What is their backstory?
  • Where are they at in life Right Now? 
  • What is your tentative story arc for this character?

Keep in mind, you can revise, add, and change your notes, as needed.

I do this for each and every character in my books, right down to the some of the more interesting passive characters. I may not go as in-depth on a tertiary character as I do a main or secondary character, but I still like having that background feel for them. In my mind, you can never know when you might want to reference something in passing, or when you might want to pursue an avenue you hadn’t had in mind at first.

I begin with these basic ideas and as I write, and the character takes life in my head, they inevitably begin to tell me their story. I don’t force a character into a mold I dreamed up. If they’re telling me to go through door B even though I planned on door A for month, I go through B.

I love writing character sheets. The reader may never know that the character once fell of their bike and that’s where the small cut on their knee came from. But, for me, it just helps to flesh out this character and allows me to get a better understanding of who they are and how their story might unfold. I revise and update throughout the entire writing process.

Don’t be shy with your characters. I remember in the beginning feeling almost embarrassed for having so much information on my characters. Each book I write is my baby. Wouldn’t you want to know everything you could about your baby? Of course, you would. So, don’t be shy. No one needs to ever see your character sheets but you.

The more you find out about your character, their likes and dislikes, their quirks, their heartbreaks, their achievements, etc., the better you’ll capture their voice. It will begin to come naturally to you and before you know it, they’re dictating, and you’re simply ghost writing.

This is just a little taste of what I do to prepare to begin writing a fiction novel. Stick around – there’s more to come.

Until then – Keep Writing!