Welcome to my writing pages! The main focus of this website is to offer writing tips, prompts, and inspiration to writers, no matter what their genre or skill level. You’ll also find information on my published works and the ones in progress. My schedule for posting is:
Monday Sparks: Writing prompts to fan your creative flame.
YA author M. Liz Boyle is back with “Characters You Meet Along the Way” as we dive into the fascinating process of creating characters for our stories. You can read her other guest blogs here. Thanks for coming back, Liz!
“It’s not where you go. It’s who you meet along the way.” Dorothy is credited with saying this in The Wizard of Oz. It’s a sweet quote to share with your family and friends.
I think sentiment also applies to authors. Think of your favorite books. Do you reread your favorite scenes because of what happens or where it happens, or because of who it happens to? Just like relationships are essential to life, characters are what make stories come to life. (I am not discounting the importance of setting or plot, but for this article, I’m focusing on characters.)
Here are some tips to make your fictional characters as interesting and varied as the people you know in real life:
Describe more than what you see.
When you meet someone, are hair and eye color the only things you notice? The tone of voice he uses and whether he maintains eye contact might make more of an impression. Does her body language put you at ease or make you wonder if she’s running from the cops? Before he answers your pointed question, does he check his watch or give you full attention? Is she only halfway listening to you as she periodically scrolls through her phone, or does she make you feel like she has all afternoon to listen? Qualities like these (and more!) are worth describing so your readers get a full sense of who your characters are.
Give your characters sayings or mannerisms that are unique to each character.
Maybe you have a mentor who often starts conversations with, “Listen, I was thinking….” Meanwhile your sister commonly skips up the porch steps and says, “Guess what!” Assign phrases to different characters to help distinguish their personalities.
Choose your character’s interests.
If you want readers to know certain details, let the character who is most likely to recognize those details describe them.
A character who describes her own clothing in detail will probably describe other people’s wardrobes, too. She’s interested in clothing, so she notices that in other characters. This fashionista character probably will not describe vehicles with the detail of a car collector. She might recognize a car as old enough to be in a car show, but she probably wouldn’t say, “Look at that 1960s Shelby Mustang with the racing stripes.”
My husband is a tree worker, and he can tell me all about the health and species of trees in a yard and their proximity to power lines and propane tanks, but he can’t ballpark what century the house was built in because it doesn’t interest him.
Here’s a snippet of a recent conversation with my dad that illustrates this.
Dad [about the first time he went water skiing, which was many decades ago]: The boat had a 30 horsepower outboard motor. It was a Mercury with a four cylinder.
Me: What color was the boat?
Dad: I don’t remember that.
Me: [wondering how he can remember the motor but not the boat color]
It’s unrealistic if characters are all-knowing, so give them interests like real people.
I hope these three tips help you design your characters. What other ideas do you have? Thank you so much, JPC Allen, for hosting me today!
Adventurous teenager Marlee Stanley has a knack for finding herself in natural disasters with her sisters and the Miles boys. When their adventures take a turn for the worse, will Marlee cave under pressure, or will her faith in God be strong enough to guide her to safety?
Liz is the author of the Off the Itinerary series, the wife of a professional tree climber, and the homeschooling mom of three energetic and laundry-producing children. Liz once spent a summer in Colorado teaching rock climbing, which she believes was a fantastic way to make money and memories. She resides with her family in Wisconsin, where they enjoy hiking and rock climbing. Liz and her husband have also backpacked in Colorado and the Grand Canyon, which have provided inspiration for her writing. She makes adventurous stories to encourage others to find adventures and expand their comfort zones (though admittedly, she still needs lots of practice expanding her own comfort zone). Follow Liz on her website, Facebook, Instagram, GoodReads, and BookBub.
Creating characters is the theme for JPC Allen Writes this month. As a character writer, I have to have a good grasp on my main characters before starting a story. But what about starting a story with a setting and see what characters it suggests? So that’s the prompt I have today: create characters for this setting.
This is a photo of Coney Island in New York, but imagine any amusement park next to a beach. Who would you find there? Families with young children, teens on a day trip, a young couple on a first date, an elderly couple celebrating their first date. What about the people working in such a place? Lifeguards, teens working a summer job in the park, managers overseeing the summer workers.
Once you have some ideas of who would inhabit a setting, then you can begin creating characters. Since my mind turns to crime, what if the mother of the young family sees her father, who left her as a child, working at the park? Or a couple of teen workers, who don’t like each other, going forces to investigate some mysterious accidents that have occurred on a couple of rides? Maybe it could the overworked manager who starts an amateur investigation into the accdodents and finds unexpected help with two of the teen employees he’s had the most trouble with.
From the list above, create characters for this setting and tell me how they interact with each other.
Instead of the names being arranged alphabetically or by country of origin, the names are arranged in categories by meaning. Some of the categories are astronomy, animals and insects, colors, courage and bravery, seasons and time, and mercy and forgiveness. In all 49 different categories for names, which are selected from all over the world.
I find this kind of grouping particularly helpful when creating names for a family of characters. Since fiction is an illusion, fiction writers need all the help we can get to support the illusion. Creating names that people would use in reality helps the illusion. And when you have a whole family of characters to name, it makes sense to name them in way a real family would.
Families name in patterns, and your fictional families should reflect that. Also having a naming pattern for each family helps your reader keep the characters straight. In my Rae Riley mysteries, Rae has two cousins, Amber and Coral, both nature names. Her best friend has two daughters, Liberty and Serenity.
For another example, if the father and mother of a fictional family are new age hippies, then you might want to select names for their children from virtues the parents admire. Or let’s say your family is pretty functional, supporting and loving each other. The names could reflect that without the reader even knowing it. Under “Happiness & Joy”, you find the names Abigail, Beatrice, Felicity, Isaac, Tate, and Felix.
Do you spend a lot of time naming characters? Where do you find names? What are some of your favorite names for characters?
As we wrap up May’s theme of historical fiction, I had one more prompt to spark a story. Since it’s also Memorial Day in the U.S., looking at old photos for writing inspiration seems a fitting prompt for today. Since I’m a character writer, I begin to build a story by understanding my characters first. But before I understand them, I have to find them and looking at portraits is one way that I do that. A person in a photograph with an unusual or intriguing expression will ignite my imagination. Such as the little girl in the lower right hand portrait above. Something about her posture and her expression makes me think she’s a character to discover.
So check out the photos below. Or look at old photos of your own family. Maybe one of them will snag your attention, and you’ll want to know more about that person and the time period in which he or she lived.
I am reposting this book review of The Daughter of Time from several years ago as I do a big push to get my current WIP finished by June 1. If you are a mystery fan and haven’t read this book, you’re in for a treat!
As a fan of mysteries, I had come across The Daughter of Time by Josephine Teyon lists of the best mysteries ever written. When I finally settled down to read it, I found it to be one of the most engrossing stories I’ve ever had the pleasure to discover, expertly combining history and mystery.
Written in England in the 1950’s, the novel features Inspector Alan Grant, laid up in the hospital with a broken leg and bored out of his mind. His actress girlfriend knows about his fascination with faces and brings him copies of photos and portraits to study. When he finds the portrait of Richard III, he can’t reconcile the face with the man’s reputation as the murderer of his tween age nephews. The girlfriend contacts Brent Carradine, young man doing historical research, and he and Grant begin to believe that the story handed down for 500 years about Richard III being a merrily murdering monster is false.
Although the characters and setting are fictitious, the mystery is not. Edward V and his younger brother Richard did disappear sometime after June 1483. Their uncle Richard, who became king when the boys were declared illegitimate, is the most likely culprit. But Henry Tudor, who killed Richard III in battle and took the throne, also had a motive.
Even more involving than this mystery is the one of how people interpret history. In the novel, Grant and Carradine stick to sources that were written during Richard III’s lifetime and must examine the motives of the authors. Was an author a sympathizer of the York family, the branch of the royal house Richard III belonged to? Or did he favor the Lancaster side, of which Henry Tudor was a member? The two characters also discuss how people lie about events to further their own agenda.
If you want to learn more about Richard III and his nephews, click here for the Wikipedia article. Many books have been written about the mystery, and it’s difficult to find ones that aren’t biased. The authors tend to be either ardent Richard III supporters or detractors. Very much like the people who wrote about Richard in 1483.
What novels have you read that blend unsolved real-life mysteries with fiction?