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Dwight V. Swain spent a lifetime writing newspaper and magazine articles, pulp fiction, and screenplays. For more than twenty years he taught in the.
Table of contents


  1. Creating Characters – 5 Mistakes Beginner Writers Make.
  2. Book Review – Creating Characters (How to Build Story People) by Dwight V. Swain?
  3. Hartwood: Bright, Wild Flavors from the Edge of the Yucatán?
  4. See a Problem?.

Once you create convincing characters, everything else should easily follow. To show what makes a character, you must come to a crucial choice that almost breaks and then makes the character.

Why create a character profile?

The make-or-break decision gives you plot. Think of Saul on the way to Damascus: While persecuting Christians, he is blinded by a vision; after that, he changes, becomes St. Paul, the greatest proselyte.

Everything I Know About How to Write a Story

Something stays the same, however; he is equally zealous, before and after. Of course, not all characters undergo a crucial change. With some characters, their unchangeability and constancy makes a story. Even his body collapses, but his spirit stays bellicose and steadfast. Here he is, at work:.

He refused to answer any more of my questions. His hands — with thick cracked skin and purple nails from hammer misses — picked up a hammer. Veins twisted around his stringy tendons so that his tendons looked like the emblem for medicine. He hit the broadened head of the chisel, bluish steel cutting into gray stone, dust flying up in a sneezing cloud. With his gray hair and blue stubbly cheeks he blended into the grain of the stone — a stone with a pair of horned eyebrows.

Creating Characters: How to Build Story People by Dwight V. Swain

Chiseling into the stone, he wrestled with time, to mark and catch it. But time evaded him like a canny boxer. Letting him cut into rocks, the bones of the earth, Time would let him exhaust himself. Seven years later I saw him. His face sunken. His body had grown weaker. Time had chiseled into his face so steadily that you could tell how many years had passed just by looking at the grooves cutting across his forehead.

But the stubbornness in his eyes had grown stronger. They were larger, and although ringed with milky-gray cataracts, glaringly fierce. So a caricaturist seeks out oddities in a face; big jaws, slanted foreheads, strong creases. The part of the character that does not conform builds a conflict, and the conflict makes the story. Find something conflicting in a character, some trait sticking out of the plane, creating dimension and complexity.

Make the conflict all-consuming, so that your character fights for life. Think of the basic character conflicts in successful stories.

Creating Complex Characters - Writing Tips

Loisel, unreconciled to her lower-class standing, strives to appear upper class, at all costs. Out of that internal conflict ensues the tragedy of her working most of her adult life to pay for a fake necklace. Only when she dies, of neglect, does he realize it. In all these stories, characters suffer from a conflicting flaw. Sometimes, however, a flaw may not lead to disaster, but to a struggle with a subsequent enlightenment. A flaw could result also from an excessive virtue.

Look at the opening of Michael Kohlhaas by the early nineteenth-century German writer Heinrich von Kleist:. Michael Kohlhaas But his sense of justice turned him into a robber and a murderer. Since his horses were abused at a border crossing between two principalities, and he could not get a just compensation in courts, Kohlhaas takes justice into his hands and burns down the castle where the horses suffered. In addition, he burns the city of Dresden, which protected the offenders. His sense of justice provokes a war. We have already begun to think about how to turn ideas about character into ideas for a plot.

Novakovich further develops these thoughts.

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This is not to say that what happens to characters is inevitable or predetermined. If you start by building a strong sense of your main character or characters, then add a dilemma, challenge or conflict, you will automatically be generating your plot. Starting the other way around, with a chain of events into which you then fit characters, can often be more difficult and less convincing. Look back through characters you have developed in your journal.

You may have already thought of flaws and conflicts for your characters. Find one or more characters now and give these characters a dilemma or a conflict. Does this give more of a story centred on these characters? Stereotypes can be helpful when we start thinking about creating characters. But developing characters, giving them unexpected contradictions and conflicts, helps to create characters that are living people, not just types or caricatures.

But what about minor characters? How deeply do peripheral characters have to be imagined? Do all characters have to be rounded? Most of the characters in the above examples could be called round characters because they have three dimensions, like a ball. These characters are complex, possessing conflicting traits. Loisel is both frivolous and responsible. The Swede is paranoid yet insightful. John Marcher is sensitive yet callous. In writing, you must not oversimplify —that is, create flat characters.


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Flat characters have few traits, all of them predictable, none creating genuine conflicts. Flat characters often boil down to stereotypes: fat, doughnut-eating cop; forgetful professor; lecherous truck driver; … shifty-eyed thief; anorexic model. Writers Write is your one-stop resource for writers. In this post, we have compiled a list of five mistakes beginner writers make when they create characters. What are the most common mistakes first time writers make when they create characters?

A character is a caricature. Give your characters a life. Surround them with evidence of their past, present, and future. Everyday things that happen to them make them human. They stub their toes, drop cell phones in water, and lose car keys. Writers create believable characters when readers are able to identify with them. They simply crowd pages and daze readers. Readers do not want to keep track of characters in a book. Less is always more.

Creating Compelling Characters

This also applies when writing memoirs. Work with four main characters. Make space for two characters who influence and support your two main characters. Make these characters memorable and quirky. Readers do not want to know the name of the waitress, the jogger, the doorman, the receptionist and the sales assistant.

You know…The flowery prose, the reaching for descriptive heights, the excessive internal monologue. Good writing means writing clearly and economically. It means using the five senses on every page.

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Creating Characters: How to Build Story People

I was particularly pleased to see you make the link between quirks or more generally, any sort of mannerisms and backstory. Thanks so much for writing this blog. What is the writing term for when two characters are with each other, but a reader has no idea why they are together?

I thought I had made it clear as to why my two main characters are traveling with each other, but apparently not. Thank you x Stop making those embarrassing mistakes! Subscribe to Daily Writing Tips today! You will improve your English in only 5 minutes per day, guaranteed! You'll also get three bonus ebooks completely free! Try It Free Now. Jason Black on December 23, pm Great tips! Eliot Night on December 24, am Excellent and concise. Erik on December 24, am Thanks!

Really helpful. Delilah Sorrelfeather on July 18, pm Thanks so much for writing this blog.