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JPC Allen Writes

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Ideas for building characters

Writing Tip — Fleshing Out Minor Characters

girlw-2022820_1280Minor characters can be tricky. You want them to be interesting while they are in their scene, fleshing out minor characters enough to seem real. But you don’t want them to take over the narrative from the major characters. (If you find a minor character taking over your story, maybe you should consider it for revamping as major character.) If appropriate to the story, I try to incorporate humor when dealing with minor characters. Readers will get a laugh or a smile as these characters help propel the story. I learned this technique from one of my all-time favorite series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

Never heard of it?

You’re not alone. Kolchak: The Night Stalker was a series of twenty episodes that originally aired on American television from 1974-1975. Before that there were two TV movies. Over the years, the series has developed a cult following, and Chris Carter, creator of the X-Files, credits it for inspiring his sow.

All the movies and episodes deal with Carl Kolchak, a rumpled, wise-cracking reporter, bent on getting his story out to the public, no matter what stands in his way. And what stands in his way are vampires, werewolves, aliens, and other assorted monsters. For some reason, whenever Kolchak starts to investigate a story, he runs into the supernatural.

What makes the series work for me is a perfect blend of humor and horror. When Kolchak believes he has stumbled across an otherworldly culprit, he always does research, consulting experts he thinks will help his story. The show cast strong character actors in those roles and let them shine.

  • When he finds feathers at the scene of a murder, Kolchak takes them to a taxidermist to be identified. The man gets extremely upset about how people don’t appreciate taxidermy as an art.
  • Several beheading murders prompts Kolchak to consult the curator of a museum exhibit on the Reign of Terror. While the curator talks to Kolchak, he fights with his assistant as they set up a guillotine.
  • Hoping to get at the college records of two dead students, Kolchak tries to con his way past the registrar with a lot of bureaucratic double-talk. Only she knows the bureaucracy backward and forwards and can’t be fooled easily.

In all these cases, the writers had to get information before the audience. By adding humor, they made what might have been dry dialogues into memorable exchanges that both moved the storyline and entertained.

What have you learned about fleshing out minor characters?

 

 

Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, Amy C. Blake

SONY DSCI’m so excited about May’s theme, creating characters, that I’m starting a day early! Here to discuss characters in her latest release is YA fantasy and suspense writer, Amy C. Blake. Welcome, Amy!

Which comes first when creating a story – characters, plot, or setting?

I usually have some idea of plot and setting, but I need to know my main character in great detail before I can do much with a story. Since what happens in the plot depends so heavily on my protagonist’s personality and background, I’d say character is the most important factor for me.

Do you use a different approach for villains and heroes?

My hero is a critical part of my story, so I get to know him/her completely before I start writing. While I also need to know my villain thoroughly, that character is somewhat dependent on my hero. In other words, I want my villain to be the best antagonist to fit my hero. For instance, in my Levi Prince series (my new release The Fay’s Apprentice is the third book in that series), Hunter is the perfect villain for Levi. Hunter is rich, self-confident, and insolent. Levi is poor, gawky, and self-conscious. In addition, the ancestors of the two boys shared a similar antagonism to theirs, a factor Levi is only beginning to understand by his third summer in Terracaelum.

Who was the easiest character you’ve created? Who was the most difficult?

The easiest character is a toss-up between Patience from Whitewashedand Levi from my Levi Prince series. Patience was easy because I tend to be impatient like she is. Levi was easy because he’s a homeschooled pastor’s kid like my own children. Christy from Colorblind was the most difficult because she’s super sweet but was also not a believer during much of the story.

What do you think is the key for creating main characters that readers can relate to?

I think it’s key that my main characters be real. They need to be basically likable people but with at least one flaw many readers share. As I mentioned earlier, Patience tends to be impatient. Many of us battle that tendency as well, so she’s relatable. However, Patience isn’t just impatient. She’s also kind to a young mother trying to pacify twin babies on an airplane, and I’m careful to show that side of her personality before I show her flaw(s).

What’s been your most unusual source of inspiration for a character?

My main characters are all homeschoolers, something I haven’t seen in the mainstream or Christian markets. As a homeschooling mom of four, I wanted to show that home educated kids are well-rounded, likable but flawed individuals, just like everybody else.

To follow Amy, visit her at the following sites:

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FaysApprentice_FlatOn Levi’s third summer at Camp Classic, he’s torn between two responsibilities. On the one hand, his parents expect him to watch over his little sister Abby, who has no clue their summer camp is a haven for mythical creatures. On the other hand, Mr. Dominic wants him to train at Fort Terra, a full day’s hike away from his sister, because of Levi’s previous encounters with the demon sorcerer Deceptor. Although he enjoys training with his friends, Levi finds life at Fort Terra difficult thanks to the ongoing tension between him and Hunter and the stress of having his former kidnapper Regin as his chaperone. When the woman Regin claims to be the evil sorceress Anna appears, Levi faces a whole new challenge. (Book 3 in the Levi Prince series)

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Award-winning author Amy C. Blake is a pastor’s wife and homeschooling mother of four. She has an M.A. in English from Mississippi College and has written articles, devotionals, and short stories for a number of publications. She’s also writing two series for the Christian market, her Levi Prince YA fantasy series and her On the Brink Christian suspense trilogy.

WhitewashedColorblind, and Tie-Dyed, featuring three homeschooled girls on the brink of adulthood…and danger, are available in paperback and Kindle. The Trojan Horse TraitorThe Fall of Thor’s Hammer, and The Fay’s Apprentice, about homeschooled pastor’s kid Levi Prince and his adventures in Terracaelum, are also available in paperback and Kindle. She’d love for you to visit her website at amycblake.com.

 

Writing Tip — Why I Love Figurative Language

light-bulbw-1246043_1280I added figurative language to my theme of poetry for this month because good figurative language is a poetry of its own. Figurative language draws me into a story like no other literary device. If an author comes up with a simile so perfect that I can instantly imagine it, or if he uses personification in such a funny way that I burst out laughing, he’s hooked me. I’ll keep reading in the hope I will find more literary treasures.

Because I enjoy reading figurative language so much, I love working it into my own writing. The more I’ve written, the more I realize how critical crafting original yet relatable phrases is to my storytelling and to connecting with readers.

Here are three reasons why I love figurative language.

Replacing adverbs

Pity the poor adverb. For years, he thought he was a respectable member of the English language, and now suddenly, he’s barred from all professional writing like he’s a paroled felon. The only people who give him work are elementary school teachers during grammar lessons and high schoolers writing their first novels.

As much as I wish I could use adverbs regularly, (HA! Slipped in another one) the ban on them has forced me to develop my skills at concocting figurative language.

In my upcoming short story, “A Rose from the Ashes”, the main characters is speaking with the county sheriff during a church dinner. The sheriff has volume control problems. But I can’t write “The sheriff said loudly.” So I came up with “I sat back. His baritone was pretty powerful for just one-on-one conversation, but sometimes he seemed to forget he was indoors and not issuing orders to deputies at a busy intersection.”

It’s much longer, but it’s more colorful and also shows how the main character perceives the sheriff.

And speaking of characters …

Building characters

To keep my readers in the head of my main character, I create figurative language appropriate for him or her. The main character in “A Rose from the Ashes” is Rae Riley, a nineteen-year-old amateur photographer. Her hobby influences her perception. She describes the harsh overhead lighting at the library where she works : “Why did every public place have to be lit like an operating room? Nobody needed to see the lint in the carpet or the bumps in the drywall.”

The figurative language does double duty. It lets the reader imagine the scene and get to know Rae a little better.

Adding humor

If a story can handle humor, I say put it in. Figurative language is a wonderful, and often easy, way to add it.

In the short story “Elk Magic”, Patrick F. McManus takes the idiom “beside ourselves” and twists it. As he travels into the Colorado mountains for an elk hunt, he rides in the cab of a truck with hunting guide Paul and fellow hunter Russ. “On several occasions, both Russ and I were beside ourselves with excitement, which made for a pretty crowded pickup cab.”

Readers understand the excitement of the hunters, and a well-worn phrase is given new life.

What are some memorable lines of figurative language you’ve read or written?

 

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