Posts Tagged Emotion Thesaurus Angela Ackerman Becca Puglisi
I’ve read thousands of works, and one quick way to have a “paper doll” is for a character to be all good or all evil. When we begin writing, it’s easy to fall into this trap. Our heroes or heroines are versions of ourselves (minus any imperfections, of course). Our bad guys are every ex or person in high school who picked on us. They are evil personified. But then we soon realize?
Our characters are deep as a puddle, making them dull as dirt.
If we look to some of the most fascinating characters in history, books, and movies, we see a cast that includes Riddick (Chronicles of Riddick), Gordon Gekko (Wall Street), Wyatt Earp (history and the movie Tombstone), Tom Sawyer (literature), Annie Wilkes (Misery), Hannibal of Carthage, Hannibal the Cannibal (Silence of the Lambs), Batman, Iron Man, Poison Ivy, Detective Jane Rizzoli and Dr. Maura Isles (from Tess Gerritson’s series of novels and also television), Lestat (Interview with a Vampire), Molly Brown (from history and the movie The Unsinkable Molly Brown)….
and yes, then there is Scarlett…
Today to talk to you about how to create multi-dimensional characters that resonate with readers is WANA International Instructor, Becca Puglisi…
Take it away, Becca!
I was watching Gone with the Wind the other night—because, you know, it was on TV and I had four hours to kill. As a teen, this was the first “grown-up” book I read, and ever since, I’ve had a serious girl-crush on Scarlett O’Hara. Which makes no sense, considering what a horrible person she is. I mean, she spends most of the story scheming to steal her only friend’s husband. When that doesn’t pan out, she marries her sister’s fiancé to get his money.
She’s spoiled, materialistic, manipulative, and utterly self-involved. And yet, I love her as a character. If she wasn’t widely admired, I’d think there was something seriously wrong with me. But even after all these years, she continues to connect with people. Why is this?
For me, part of the reason lies in the duality of her flaws. As a spoiled brat, she embraces boldness to get what she wants. To pursue materialism, she needs to be resourceful. Cleverness goes hand-in-hand with her manipulative nature, and to obtain her selfish goals, she must be persistent.
Scarlett’s flaws aren’t one-dimensional. They have many facets—both positive and negative. This is how real people are. Our flaws, while limiting us and hurting our relationships, have beneficial features, too. Likewise, our positive attributes have associated negative elements.
I’ve come to understand that while most traits fit neatly into either the flaw or positive attribute category, many of them contain both good and bad sides. I recognize this in the traits that define me and the qualities I see in others.
The same should be true of our characters.
Utilizing both sides of a given trait will add realism to a character’s personality and increase your chances of him connecting with readers. Here are a few tips on how to tap into both sides of your character’s traits in the writing process:
Identify Your Character’s DEFINING Traits
This should go without saying, but it’s vital to understand your character’s biggest flaws and attributes. Make a list of which traits he embodies. Then, narrow it down to one primary flaw and one primary attribute. This will keep things clear for you, which will then ensure clarity for the reader.
For help figuring out which traits make sense for your character based on his history, you might find this Reverse Backstory Tool useful.
Explore Defining Traits from EVERY Angle
Once you’ve identified a primary flaw and attribute, brainstorm the behaviors and attitudes—positive and negative—that might manifest in a person who exhibits those traits. For example, if your character is controlling, his list might look something like this:
• micromanages others
• exhibits a lack of trust
• pulls people away from loved ones to increase his control
• manipulates others
• is good at reading people
• is passionate
• shows incredible persistence
Show BOTH Sides
Your list should contain some positive and negative elements for each trait. Utilize the good and the bad to give your character depth. Perhaps his knack for reading people can benefit him in other ways, such as making him a successful cop or judge.
Maybe his passionate nature drives him to give of his time or money to a neighborhood charity. Show both sides of your character’s nature, and you’ll create a hero or villain that smacks of authenticity.
Building realistic characters is a crucial part of writing a successful story. Know your character’s defining traits and tap into the good and the bad that comes with them, and you’ll be on your way to creating multi-dimensional characters that will resonate with readers.
Thanks, Becca! Who are some of your favorite characters in history, books or even movies? Why? Were they flawed? How? How did that flaw just make you adore them even more?
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
Comments for guests get DOUBLE POINTS.
Becca Puglisi is the co-creator of The Bookshelf Muse, an award winning online resource for writers. She has also authored a number of nonfiction resource books for writers, including The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Emotion; The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes; and The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws. A member of SCBWI, she leads workshops at regional conferences, teaches webinars through WANA International, and can be found online at her Writers Helping Writers website.
Happy Friday! We have a real treat. Becca Puglisi is here to give tips to take your writing to a whole new level. All writers struggle, especially when trying to convey emotion. It’s easy to beat the same words until they bleed and WE cry. This is one of the reasons that The Emotion Thesaurus is a must-have reference for writers. Becca and Angela took the time to put together one of the most innovative and valuable writing tools I’ve ever seen. We are thrilled to have Becca here today!
Take it away, Becca!
I considered writing today about that one thing you need to write a truly great story that the reader can’t put down. But we all know that there isn’t just one thing. Voice? Plot? Characterization? Motivation? Sure. All of the above. But since I’ve seen roughly a gajillion blog posts that cover these topics, I’d rather write about another important element that doesn’t get much press: emotion.
When your story lacks the appropriate emotion, the reader quickly loses interest and stops reading. When asked what caused the disconnect, they can’t always articulate it clearly. They say things like…
I couldn’t get into the story.
I didn’t connect with the character.
The stakes were high, but for some reason, I just didn’t care.
The main character wasn’t believable.
It just didn’t grab me.
There are a lot of reasons behind reader apathy. As a rabid reader myself, I can say that many times, when I toss a book aside, it’s because the character emotion isn’t quite right: there’s not enough of it; there’s too much; it’s poorly written; the emotion doesn’t fit the character and so doesn’t ring true.
Whatever the reason, reader apathy is bad. We want the reader to be emotionally invested and fully engaged in the story. We want them to be late to work because they had to read one more chapter to see what happened next.
We want them reading our books under their desks at school when they’re supposed to be studying biology. (I taught school; I’m allowed to say that.) One way to make sure that the reader is plugged in is to use our own experiences to infuse emotion into the story.
The pages should cry. They should sweat and tremble and bleed. The character’s emotion should be so realistic and gripping that the reader can’t help but feel it, too.
So, how do we make that happen?
I recently attended a local conference and sat in on a workshop by Ellen Hopkins—YA author of gritty, hard-hitting, edgy fiction in verse. During that hour and a half, she shared a technique for tapping into your own emotions and injecting them into your story. I thought it was brilliant, and effective, and a little terrifying. So I’d like to share it with you.
First, identify the emotion your character is experiencing—fear, for instance. Think of a time in your past when you clearly felt that emotion, then write that experience as the person you were at the time it occurred: a six-year-old boy, a kid at sleep-away camp, a college freshman, a newly divorced mom.
Writing the memory down will bring specific details to mind—sounds, scents, colors, and textures that you can include in your character’s fear-filled scene. Using these details will help draw the reader in so they experience the emotion along with the character. Then, when you refer to those things later in the story, they’ll trigger that emotion in the reader, and the desired feelings will return
It’s amazing how much you’ll remember when you dig up those old memories—which is scary, I know. We spend a large part of our lives trying to forget anything painful. Remembering makes us re-feel things we never wanted to feel in the first place. But it’s kind of necessary, isn’t it? Because how can we move the reader if we can’t recall and describe those intensely moving emotions?
This is why I truly believe that emotion is one of the must-haves for writers when it comes to engaging the reader. It’s one of the reasons Angela and I wrote The Emotion Thesaurus, to help us figure out how to better write our characters’ emotions. And it’s why we’ve decided to teach a course at WANA on the topic.
Using Nonverbal Communication to Wow Readers covers the techniques for showing character emotion, which will help writers build reader empathy and create an emotional experience that draws readers into the story. Participants will also receive a PDF copy of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression.
So if you’d like more ideas on how to convey emotion, we’d love to see you on March 6th. And if you can’t make it, do try Ellen’s technique on tapping into your own emotions. I hope it comes in handy.
Thanks for having me, Kristen!
ANY TIME! Fabulous post and I love it when you guys make me look good :D. *hugs* I hope you guys will give Becca a round of digital applause.
Becca Puglisi is a YA fantasy/historical fiction writer and co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression. She is currently hard at work on the next two books in this series, The Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Flaws and The Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Positive Character Attributes, which will be available the summer of 2013. Becca enjoys speaking at workshops and teaching about various writerly topics. Online, you can find her hanging out at her award-winning blog, The Bookshelf Muse.