Archive for character

Do You Really Have to Kill Your Darlings?

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2017 by Dawn Ross

Stephen King Kill Your Darlings

First of all, what are darlings? To writers, the term is used when referencing a piece of the story or a character that the author loves but really has little to do with the story itself. The advice you’ll hear from many writing experts is that you need to kill them, murder them, or to put it simply, get rid of them. Take them out of your story.

Eliminate or Change?

The problem I’ve encountered more than once is the assumption that they always have to be killed or gotten rid of. This is not always true. After all, if you as the writer love some element of your work, why should you get rid of it? For example, you really love a certain character but he or she doesn’t really add value to the story. How about changing your story or your character a bit so that they do add value to the story?

Moana’s Hei Hei Changed

I read that when Hei Hei the rooster was originally written in the story of Moana, he was a cranky and proud rooster (http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Heihei). But his part in the story really had no purpose other than to be annoying. So the writers had to rewrite him or he’d be cut. Hei Hei is a much different rooster now. He’s also a more important element to the story—he’s a source of comical trouble. Perhaps the character in your story won’t need such a dramatic change in character. Maybe he or she just needs a more dramatic part. And if, after trial and error, you just can’t make this character fit into the story, then you can reconsider eliminating them (or save them for another story). The same can be said for certain scenes or other parts that aren’t contributing to the story.

Don’t Force It

You might be told that you shouldn’t try to force it. This could very well be true. So ask yourself why you want to keep this darling in your story. Is it because you worked so hard on it and it seems like a waste to get rid of it? Sorry. This probably isn’t a good enough reason to keep it. Is it because you really like it? If it doesn’t fit in your story, save it for another story. Or is it because you think it’s an important part of the story? If you think it’s important but your professional critiquers doesn’t, try to figure out why. Then consider changing things so they see the importance too.

Listen

As a writer, we need to be willing to listen to the advice of a professional writer. We need to be willing to make changes to our stories in order to make them better. If you really want your story to shine, if you really want people to love your story as much as you do, you need to listen to and learn from your betters.

You are the Writer

Ultimately, though, it’s your story. Don’t let a strong critique force you into doing something you don’t want to do. Don’t be pressured or let your critiquer make you feel stupid when you say you don’t want to change this or that and the critiquer responds, “Ugh. This is why I hate little darlings.”

Consider All Your Options

There is nothing wrong with keeping something or some character you love in your story. There’s nothing wrong with wanting the story to end a certain way because you plan on writing a sequel. If the person or persons critiquing your story think a certain element or a certain character is useless and should be gotten rid of, consider their advice seriously. But consider all your options. There’s more than one way to do something.

Get Multiple Critiques

It also helps to get the advice of more than one professional writer. This way if everyone is saying the same thing, you know the critique is valid and not just an opinion. Critiques are invaluable in that they can help you become a better writer. But the line between critique and opinion can sometimes be blurred.

What are your feelings or opinions on “darlings”?

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Tips for Writing Dialogue

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2017 by Dawn Ross

Dialogue

We all have our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to writing. Me? I’m tend to be a little skimpy on describing the scenes and the characters. But I think I’m pretty darned good at dialogue. Other writers may not be so good at it. Perhaps the conversations between their characters seem too contrived. Or perhaps the characters come across as too stiff and formal. Or every character sounds the same. So here are some tips to help improve dialogue.

Get in the Characters’ Heads

-Motives

Each of your characters has a different motive. So what they say is generally going to be motivated by what they want. For example, say Jack really likes this girl, but his friend Kevin happens to know the girl isn’t really into him. So while Jack is busy talking about how great this girl is, Kevin will try to find a way to hint about the girl without hurting Jack’s feelings. Perhaps he will start out by pointing out all her flaws.

-History/Background

Another way to get into the characters’ heads is to remember they all have different backgrounds, different beliefs, different occupations, and so on. This is going to affect how they speak. Someone from the country may be more inclined to use slang. A doctor will be most likely to use correct medical terminology and medical jargon. Someone who is religious might go around blessing and praying for everyone or by often attributing things to God’s will.

-Personality

The different personalities of each character will also need to be considered. If Steve is self-absorbed, he might not care about why Sally is crying and so he’s either going to ask half-heartedly or not at all, depending on their relationship. If Joe tends to keep to himself, he’s not going to say too much in a conversation and to have him suddenly spill his heart out will not make any sense.

Grammatically Incorrect

People don’t always speak in a grammatically correct way. They might use slang or improper words like ain’t, y’all or irregardless. They might use a lot of filler words like um, yeah, well. They might use gone instead of went like, “She’s gone to the store” instead of “She went to the store.” They might use me when they should use I or I when they should use me like, “him and I” or “him and me”. They might end the sentence with a preposition, such as, “Where you at?” instead of “Where are you?” they might say should of instead of should have. The list goes on and on. And for the sake of readers, it will help if each of your characters has a different quirk. One way to get an idea for all the different ways people speak is to listen.

Be Clear About Who is Speaking

Be clear about who is speaking, but not by overusing names or by overusing tags. By overusing names, I mean by one character saying the name of the other character over and over. For example:

     “Hello, John. Good to see you.”
     “Hello, Fred. Good to see you too.”
     “So, John. How’s your family?”
     “Great, Fred. Blah, blah, blah.”
     “That’s great to hear, John.”

You see what I’m getting at. By overusing creative tags, I mean by always adding John said or Fred said. Some people get around this by using creative tags like John coaxed or Fred persuaded. This can get a little annoying for some readers. That John coaxed or Fred persuaded should be obvious by what they said and the way they said it, not by the use of a creative tag. Don’t get me wrong. Creative tags have their place. There will be times when you will want to say John whispered or Fred mumbled. But use these creative tags very sparingly and not just as a way to use something other than said or replied.

A great way to give an idea of who is speaking without the use of tags is with action. For example, consider the above conversation modified with actions:

     Fred eagerly put out his hand and grinned widely. “Hey, John. So good to see you.”
     John’s eyes lit up. “Hey! Great to see you too.” He grasped Fred’s hand and shook firmly.
     Fred clapped him on the shoulder. “Gosh. It’s been forever. So how’s the fam?”
     “Great.” John’s brows went up. “Can you believe Ashley got into Berkley?”
     “Wow! That’s great to hear.”

Action is a great way to add more feeling into the conversation. But one can overdo it on the action as well, so mix it up. Use said or replied when needed since readers find these tags less annoying. Use an occasional creative tag only where appropriate. Use action. Or, as you may have noticed in the last sentence of the conversation, use nothing. There are only two people speaking so there is no need always specify who said what. Another way you can get away with not indicating who is speaking is if your character has a unique voice. As stated in another article I wrote, there is no need to say Yoda said because everyone knows Yoda by the way he speaks.

The Conversation Has a Purpose

I can’t tell you how many times I planned for a conversation to go one way, but ended up having it go another. If you force the conversation, it sounds contrived. But if you let it flow naturally, you might end up going off on a tangent. What you need is to find a way to get the conversation to flow naturally so it goes where you want it to go. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Even though people in real life conversations have a tendency to veer off topic or quickly change the subject, try not to do this in your dialogue. Every conversation should have a purpose, whether it’s to convey information, to get an idea of the characters’ points of view, or to establish tension between two characters. For example, my sci-fi story is about the relationship between two enemies. So there is no reason to have a chapter where one of these two characters has a conversation with a third character about knitting. This is an extreme example, but you see what I’m getting at.

If you feel two characters need to have a long conversation before they get to the primary purpose of the conversation, see if you can find a way to slim it down or skim over to the good part. Although it is better to show than tell, sometimes it is acceptable to simply tell by stating they talked about this and that for a good hour while having tea or something.

Pauses, Hesitations, Interruptions

I have a bad habit of interrupting people and I’m not the only one. People interrupt other people all the time. Then there are those people who like to take the time and think about what they’re going to say before they say it. And there are people who hem and haw with filler words before they finally get to the point. Some people talk a lot with almost no pause for breath while the other party simply shrugs their shoulders and interjects a few uh-huhs and such.

Change of Subject is Purposeful and Explainable

Don’t let your characters simply change the subject without a good reason. Changing the subject without some sort of explanation can be very jarring for the reader and can make the conversation seem contrived.

Characters Lie

Have you ever asked someone of they’re feeling okay and they say yes even though it’s obvious they’re not? Have you ever spoken to someone who told you one thing but did another? Or a person who is nice to your face but gossips about you behind your back? People are not always truthful when they speak. You can make the lie obvious or not-so obvious, depending on your purpose. Just keep your purpose in mind. Let’s use the dialogue above and change it to show what I mean.

     Fred eagerly put out his hand and grinned widely. “Hey, John. So good to see you.”
     John’s eyes lit up. “Hey! Great to see you too.” He grasped Fred’s hand and shook firmly.
     Fred clapped him on the shoulder. “Gosh. It’s been forever. So how’s the fam?”
     John’s face fell. “Great.”
     “Yeah?”
     John shrugged. “Yeah. Just fine.”

John’s body language indicates things are not so fine but he doesn’t want to talk about it. Fred can be oblivious or he can pick up on it, depending on his personality, and you can reflect this in the continuing dialogue.

Conclusion

Remember, all things in moderation. Don’t have characters interrupt people all the time. If your character has a tendency to speak incorrectly, don’t force it so that every single sentence is wrong. If your character uses filler words like um, don’t interject the filler words every single time they speak. The overuse of anything can easily turn into an annoyance. Balance is the key. Balance your actions and tags as well.

These are just a few tips to help with dialogue. If you can think of some more, please feel free to comment below.

Tips to Improve Your Story by Writing Better Characters

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2017 by Dawn Ross

Toy Story on Writing Characters

I don’t care whether you have a sci-fi, fantasy, western, action/adventure, mystery, drama, or other genre. The characters in your story are just as important as the story’s plot. Without characters, you have nothing. With mediocre characters, you have a mediocre story. You could almost get away with a mediocre story if you have excellent characters. So how do you build great characters? Here are some great tips:

Write Their Backstory

When I began writing The Guardian of Destiny, I had a very difficult time writing the main character. I just couldn’t get into him. It wasn’t until I really got to know him by writing his backstory from his childhood to the present that made me really understand who he was. When you tell your actual story, you don’t have to provide your character’s entire backstory. Just include the parts relevant to the story and/or a few of the interesting parts that reveal why your character is the way he is.

Physical Characteristics

I’ve noticed some writers include very little character description and let the reader fill in the blanks. As a reader, I kinda prefer this myself. But I’ve come to realize that most readers want at least a little bit of a description. So make the descriptions unique or interesting. This is especially important when you have multiple characters. The more characters you have, the more difficult it will be for your reader to keep up with them all. So give them a unique feature or two. Perhaps one character has thick eyebrows or one has a unique color of eyes. Go beyond facial features. Perhaps one character has a limp or one is overly tall.

Ben Affleck

J.D., the character in my new sci-fi series, has a crooked smile. I like to think the smile looks a little like Ben Affleck’s. Jori has a Japanese look, though I never state this because of the genre. I try to hint at it with the color of his skin and hair, with the shape of his eyes, and with the fact that he occasionally uses Japanese words.

Gestures, Habits, and other Noticeable Characteristics

Speaking of the words a character uses, this is another way to help individualize your characters. People watching is something writers do all the time. It’s a great way to pick up on the little things people do that make them individuals. Perhaps you notice someone who taps their foot all the time or someone who plays with their hair. Habits can include someone who smokes or someone who is always drinking coffee. J.D. strokes his chin a lot. Jori and Terk curse a lot, Terk more so.

Strengths and Weaknesses

List your character’s most prominent strengths and even a few of his weaknesses. If a character has nothing but strengths, never does any wrong, it makes for a very boring character. No one is perfect, so even the best characters will have a few things they’re not good at. Jori has a lot of things going for him. He’s highly intelligent, has a lot of common sense, and is greatly athletic. He even has a tendency to be modest and considerate, though you wouldn’t know this in the beginning of the story. So it seems he’s practically perfect. But he’s not. He has a bit of a temper, which sometimes gets him into trouble. He also has a tendency to keep his feelings to himself, which makes other people think he’s an emotionless jerk.

I admit I’ve read (and liked) books where the hero seems to have no character flaws. It’s true some people like a story with a perfect white knight hero. So if this is your character, make sure your story makes up for the lack of character conflict in other ways, such as with a great plot and interesting twists.

Stand by Me Movie

Relationships

How the character relates to others says a lot about them. What are their relationships like with their parents, siblings, friends, coworkers, and others? Do they have a lot of friends, or few? Are they loyal to one spouse or do they like to sleep around? Depending on your story, you may even want to consider your character’s relationships with animals. One character I particularly like in my story is Mik Calloway. He’s a complete ass. And one way you can tell this is by how he is with his coworkers. Even though he’s hanging out with them, he only thinks negative thoughts about them. And he only admits that he’s hanging out with them because he doesn’t want to drink alone.

Occupation

Be sure to consider the character’s occupation when writing their character. Stereotypes exist for a reason, so think about the stereotypical dentist, racecar driver, jock, lawyer, cop, and so on. But be careful about making your character cliché. Even though people tend to fall into certain stereotypes, they are still individuals. Jori, for example, is immediately viewed as a stereotypical warrior with a bad attitude and hot temper. But as you will see later in the story, there is so much more to him than that. Use stereotypes to your advantage by perhaps making your characters see other characters in a stereotypical way, but then have them learn a lesson by learning otherwise later on.

Cardinal Richelieu of the Three Mustketeers

Beliefs

Your character’s beliefs go beyond just what their religious preferences are. Think about the core values of your character? Does he believe each man for himself or does he believe in helping others? Is he open-minded or stuck in his ways? Does he tend to see the best in others or the worst? Is he a strictly by-the-book kind of guy or will he break the rules to right a wrong or to get ahead?

A Character’s Journey

Whatever happens in your story, whether your hero is out to save the galaxy, meets the love of his life, destroys the evil warlord, or catches a serial killer, these events are going to change your character forever. Hopefully, they are going to help your character grow. Even the bad guy could learn something new. When you develop your story, think about what your character is going through and what lessons they can learn from it. Think about how their lives are changing and will change as the action progresses.

Create a Character Journal

I forgot where I learned this from, but it has been the most helpful piece of advice I’ve ever received when it comes to writing characters. The character’s journal consists of everything listed above, plus a few extra if you’d like. If your character journal is a physical one, cut out pictures of what your character might look like or what he might wear. If you can draw, draw the pictures. Draw his home and/or his favorite things. If your character journal is a digital one, like mine, attach images. One person I know uses Pinterest to collect pictures that fit their characters.

Conclusion

The more you think about all the aspects of your character, the better chance you have of creating a deep and memorable character. And the more memorable your character, the better chance you have of creating a memorable story. If you have any additional tips for creating great characters, please feel free to comment below.

The Kavakian Empire – Part Two Story Issues Update

Posted in Sci-Fi Part 2, The Kavakian Empire, Writing with tags , , , , , , on November 21, 2015 by Dawn Ross

I spent the entire Halloween weekend working more details into my outline. When I got done, I realized some serious shortcomings.

Part Two really is awesome. It has the perfect story elements for a good plot. And the plot escalates just like it’s supposed to. A good plot was something that Part One was very weak at.

I think I did a great job on Terk’s character in Part Two. He really takes the spotlight. And that, therein, lies part of the problem. Jori and J.T. are too wishy-washy. I can’t have that. Jori is the whole reason I am writing The Kavakian Empire to begin with. And J.T. is a major part of Jori’s story.

So on Halloween day, I brainstormed for ways to improve their characters. This is what I realized I needed to fix:

INCREASE CONFLICT
One reason Terk came out to be such a fantastic character is because he creates conflict. Jori and Terk were too wishy-washy because they just went along with everything. So, I tried to think of ways to increase their conflict

Internal Thoughts
One way to increase conflict is to get inside the character’s head more. The Emotion Thesaurus is helping me with this. By doing a better job at writing internal thoughts and emotions, I hope to shed some light on what my wishy-washy characters are thinking. And what they’re thinking can be a conflict because it might not be what the person observing them thinks they are thinking.

Take Jori, for example. He is very good at masking his emotions. So when I had him talking to his father, it looked to the reader like he was just going along with his father without much resentment. But by adding more internal thoughts, I hope to give the reader a better insight on how Jori feels about the man.

Use a Character’s Strengths Against Them
Another way to increase conflict is to understand that a character’s strength can also be his weakness. For example, my character Jori tends to care a great deal about certain people. I think most of us can agree that caring about people is a positive strength. But it’s not such a great trait to have when you’re part of a brutal warrior race, especially when a person you care about is supposed to be your enemy.

Conflicts with Friends
Conflicts with the enemy are a given. So writing Jori’s conflict with his father was easy. But what if he has a conflict with his brother, someone he cares deeply about? Writing J.T.’s conflict with the emperor was easy, too. But what if he has a conflict with one of his own men, like Harley?

Other Conflicts
The above are the types of conflict I used, but there are a number of other ways conflict can be used to help make a character more interesting. Conflict can be internal, such as when dealing with addiction or by having to make a difficult choice. Conflict can also be external. External conflicts don’t have to be just with people or society either. Someone could have conflict with an object, such as one a racecar driver might have with their car. Or it can be with the environment, such as needing to cross a mountain pass in winter.

ISSUE CORRECTIONS
Once I decided on what I needed to make my characters more interesting, I brainstormed some ideas on how to implement them into the story. I came up with several great ideas and grasped onto two situations that I felt would really spice up the story.

Coming up with more content meant editing and adding to my current outline. I added several chapters or subchapters and 4,890 words to my outline and I made revisions to a few of the chapters that I’ve already written. If you’d like to see the revised version of those chapters, please email me at naturebydawn at aol dot com.

NANO
By the way, I’ve been participating in NaNo, aka the National Novel writing month, at www.nanowrimo.org. Hopefully, this will keep me motivated so that I can finish Part Two in no time. You can find me on NaNo by searching dawnross.

Review of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , on October 31, 2015 by Dawn Ross

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression

I know I have a difficult time showing rather than telling my characters’ emotions. And I know I tend to describe emotions the same way every time even though each scene and each character might be different. The last chapter with Terk and Jako is a perfect example. So when the book The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression was recommended to me, I ordered it right away.

COMMON PROBLEMS TO WRITING EMOTIONS
Telling
Before the book gets into the emotions, it gives some tips for avoiding common problems with writing emotions. The problem I have was listed first, which is basically telling rather than showing. In chapter 11 of part two, a sentence reads, “He glowered at Jako and the weasel of a man finally had the sense to begin feeling uneasy.” Even though Terk can sense emotions, it might be more beneficial for the reader if I showed this part rather than just stated it.

Clichés
Another problem The Emotion Thesaurus mentions is with clichéd emotions. Grinning ear-to-ear is an example the book presents. So when a writer wants to show that a character has a wide grin, perhaps they should try to show it in a different way, or at least a way that is not overly common. My problem isn’t so much a trouble with clichés as it is with using the same expression too much. For example, chapter 11 seems to have a lot of scowling and glowering.

Not Balanced
Too much reliance on either dialogue or non-verbal expression is another problem The Emotion Thesaurus mentions. A writer needs to have both well balanced together. My problem is that my dialogue isn’t balanced well enough with the non-verbal expressions. In other words, the characters talk, but no one feels anything. Or if they do feel something, it is barely mentioned.

The Emotion Thesaurus mentions two more common problems with writing emotions, but I’ll let you buy the book and learn about them for yourself. The book also gives some very good examples of each problem and how to fix them.

THE EMOTION THESAURUS
The rest of the book is the emotions part of the thesaurus. Emotions are listed in alphabetical order from adoration to worry. There are 75 emotions total and each one is broken down into the following parts:

Definition
The definition is first. Some emotions, like embarrassment and shame, are synonyms. But there may be some slight differences that are important for a writer to distinguish between.

Physical Signals
The next section is the emotion’s physical signals. These are the signals that other people can see. There are a number of physical signals for anger including flaring nostrils, glaring, baring one’s teeth, turning red, pounding fist, and so on. Terk was partially angry and he showed it with his glaring and he smacked his hand down. But I could show a little more. He was also annoyed that Jako wasn’t afraid of him. I stated this, but perhaps this thesaurus can help me show it instead.

Internal Sensations
The next section is on internal sensations. These are things a character feels but doesn’t necessarily show. Depending on how angry a character is, their internal sensations can include sweating, quivering muscles, and more.

Mental Responses
The Emotion Thesaurus also lists the mental responses for a character. A character who is angry might also be irritable or irrational, among other things.

Long Term Consequences
If a character feels an emotion for a long period of time, The Emotion Thesaurus lists the cues for this as well. So someone who is angry for a long time, for example, might develop a problem with getting angry over little things, develop hypertension, or escalate into rage.

Suppressed Emotion
But what if a character feels an emotion but tries to suppress it? The Emotion Thesaurus covers this as well. Jori and Terk both have a tendency to try to hide their emotions. So if Terk wanted to suppress his anger, he might try to carefully control his tone, avoid eye contact, or clench his fists behind his back so someone like his father doesn’t notice.

Writing Tip
Each emotion ends with an additional writing tip. Some of the tips are specific to the emotion just presented while other tips can be applied in a number of situations.

CONCLUSION
For me, the three issues first mentioned all boil down to the fact that I do not show my characters’ emotions to the reader well enough. My writing isn’t balanced because I don’t show it and I tend to rely too much on common expressions. I really think The Emotion Thesaurus can help me. Rewriting part one with this in mind might make a huge difference when it comes to developing my characters better. But before I go back that far, I am going to rewrite chapter 11 of part two. Come back next week to see if I’ve made a noticeable difference. In the meantime, buy The Emotion Thesaurus from my Amazon A-Store.

Tips for Writing Fictional Characters

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2013 by Dawn Ross

MP900178865-Knight

I’m still reading the Gotham Writers’ Workshop book titled, “Writing Fiction” and it has been exceedingly helpful so far. I am on chapter two now and learning about writing fictional characters. Before reading this chapter, I thought to myself that my book has great characters. But after reading this chapter I realize that my characters could use a lot more development. Here is some of the information I have learned from this chapter:

Get to Know Your Character
Or perhaps I should say characters instead of character. The more prominent your character, the better you should know them. Ask yourself a lot of questions about your primary and secondary characters. What do they look like, what is their background, what is their personality, and how do they define themselves? Then put the characters in certain situations and determine how they should act. Here are some questions I might ask about the characters in a fantasy novel:

  • If visiting a new city or town, where would your character want to go first? A tavern, an apothecary shop, the shipping docks, or the palace, for example?
  • What would your character do if confronted in a fight? Run, try to reason with the other person, pull out a choice weapon?
  • If your character had to leave their small village would they be excited, nervous, or reluctant?
  • What class do your characters view themselves and how do they view other people in different classes?
  • If your character suddenly came into a lot of money, what would they do with it? Save it, buy some needed items, spend it all at once on extravagant items?

Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York's Acclaimed Creative Writing School

Show, Not Tell
Don’t just describe your character. Show the reader what they are like in four different ways.

  1. Action – Show your character doing something that reflects their personality. For example, if a drunk man is passed out in a tavern and his purse is visible and easy to take, will your character take it, try to wake the drunk man up to warn him, or ignore it and decide if the man gets his purse stolen it is his own fault.
  2. Speech – What your character says can reflect a lot about them. Do they prattle, do they speak intelligently, do they boast, or do they sound naive and gullible?
  3. Appearance – What does your character prefer to wear? Describe their posture and facial expressions.
  4. Thought – What does your character think about their surroundings? When your character watches other people do they pay more attention to the clothes they wear or to the weapons they might be carrying? Does your character walk into a tavern and pay more attention to how the barmaids look, how nice or rough the atmosphere is, if the tavern has decent entertainment, or if there are some gambling tables? Does what your character think conflict with how they act? For example, does your character hate nobility but behave reverently towards them?

The more I learn, the better I think my writing will be. “Writing Fiction” from Gotham Writers’ Workshop has a lot of helpful information and some great writing exercises to try. Asking questions about your characters is just one of many fun writing exercises to try. How much can you show about your primary character in just a paragraph or two? Remember, show, not tell.

Keeping Track of Fantasy Novel Characters, Places, and Terminology

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , on June 16, 2012 by Dawn Ross

When I was writing my fantasy novels, The Third Dragon and The Raven’s Fire, I found it difficult a times to keep the names and places straight. I also had trouble keeping the characteristics of minor characters consistent. Things could get even more complicated if I decided to change a character’s name or characteristic. But this is how I kept it all straight and how I am sure other writers of fantasy novels keep their information straight.

Make a List and/or Keep a Database
Whenever I need a new character in my fantasy novel, I decide on a name, what special physical characteristics he or she has, and what their basic personality needs to be. If the character is just in for a very small part, I keep the physical and personality traits simple. But if the character is going to show up again, I try to make these features more unique and recognizable. And I keep track of it all by keeping a detailed database (spreadsheet). Each character on the spreadsheet also has indicated which book and which chapter he or she is in as well as what they did. Obviously, more prominent characters need more room to describe so I usually put, see document titled such-and-such. That document is created and saved in Word with that title. If you don’t have or don’t like to use an electronic database, use notecards and binders. Also, create a separate file or database for each element – one for people, one for places, and one for terminology.

Create a Map
Because the places in a fantasy novel are almost always made-up places, it is important to have a map. When I created the world of Ungal, I first made a map. I decided on each province name, added prominent cities, places such as forests and deserts, and rivers. I also created a database which described what the people of those provinces tended to wear, what their general physical characteristics were, and what personalities their populace tended to have. It is also good to have a general idea of how big the place is, how wide are some of the rivers and how did people cross, and whether there were any major roads.

Find and Replace
Sometimes I found it necessary to change a person’s name or the name of a place. After changing it in my database, I had to make sure I changed it in my fantasy novel too. The find and replace feature in Word makes this extremely easy. But you have to make sure you update your database and notes too.

Edit, Edit, and Have Someone Else Edit Some More
Sometimes when you get a certain character in your head, it is difficult for you to switch gears if you change his name or how he looks. Even the find and replace won’t always help you locate all the places where the changes need to be made. So to help reduce possible discrepancies, edit your book. Then edit it again. Have someone else edit it too (preferably a professional editor who is willing to also help you correct story discrepancies as well as grammatical errors). On top of having a professional editor, have your friends and family read it too. And ask them to let you know if they find something they are not clear on.

Lots writers of fantasy novels use maps. Many of them also have an index of names, places, and terminology. Robert Jordan’s fantasy novels have an index for terminology such as the definition of and how to pronounce Aes Sedai. If your fantasy novel uses made up terminology to define certain groups of people, types of objects, or magical actions, it is probably a good idea to not only create a database for this info but to have an index at the end of your novel which readers can reference. You can have an index of people as well as a map.