Posts Tagged Emotion Thesaurus Angela Ackerman Becca Puglisi

The Duality of Character Traits–Why We Need the Good, the Bad and Even the Ugly

Oh, Scarlett

Oh, Scarlett

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?

Because the Scarletts of the world get THINGS DONE....

Because the Scarletts of the world get THINGS DONE….

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 novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Comments for guests get DOUBLE POINTS.

Also, check out our upcoming WANA International classes HERE and our specials HERE.

BIO:

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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.

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Making the Pages Cry

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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!

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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.

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BIO

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.

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4 Writing Crutches that Insult the Reader’s Intelligence

Prose so simple the cat gets it…um, no.

I would wager that most of us do not sit up all night thinking of ways to treat our readers like they’re stupid.  Yet, it is a common problem, especially with newer writers who are still learning the craft. All of us can slip into these nasty habits, if we aren’t mindful. It’s as if we get so wrapped up in our story that we mentally stumble in that brief span from synapse to keyboard, and inadvertently end up treating our readers like they need to ride the short bus. So today, I put together a list of bad habits to make it easier for you guys to spot when you are coaching the reader.

Offender #1—Adverb Abuse

One of the reasons I am such a Nazi when it comes to adverbs it that they are notorious culprits for stating the obvious. “She smiled happily.” Um, yeah. “He yelled loudly.” As opposed to yelling softly? To be blunt, most adverbs are superfluous and weaken the writing. Find the strongest verb and then leave it alone.

The ONLY time an adverb is acceptable is when it is there to denote some essence that is not inherent in the verb.

For example: She whispered quietly. Okay, as opposed to whispering loudly?

Quietly is implied in the verb choice. Ah, but what if you want her to whisper conspiratorially? Or whisper sensually? The adverbs conspiratorially or sensually tells us of a very specific types of whispers, and are not qualities automatically denoted in the verb.

Offender #2—Qualifiers

It is really unnecessary to qualify. We get it. Using qualifiers is similar to adding in needless adverbs. If we have just written a scene about a heated argument, trust me, our characters don’t need to “slam the door in frustration” (yep…got it) or “scowl with disapproval” (uh-huh) or “cry in bitter disappointment” (gimme a break).

The qualifiers add nothing but a cluster of extra words that bogs down the prose.  If someone slams the door right after a heated scene of arguing, the reader gets that the character is angry, frustrated, upset. We don’t need to spell it out.

Like adverbs, it is perfectly okay to use qualifiers, but it’s best to employ them very sparingly (and only ones that are super awesome). Allow your writing to carry the scene. Dialogue and narrative should be enough for the reader to ascertain if a character is angry, hurt, happy, etc. If it isn’t, then forget the qualifiers and work on the strength of the scene.

Offender #3—Punctuation & Font as Props

You are allowed three exclamation points every 50,000 words—just so your editor can cut them and then laugh at you for using exclamation points in the first place.  Hey, a little editor humor :)99% of the time exclamation points are not necessary if the prose is strong.

“Get the kids out of the house!” he yelled. (Yep)

I recently read a non-fiction book where the writer used an exclamation point on every single sentence. I felt like I was learning marketing from Billy Mays. At best, the guy was shouting at me for page after page. At worst, he was monotone, because when we emphasize everything, we emphasize nothing.

Ellipses do not make a scene more dramatic, just…make…the…writing…more…annoying. Ellipses can be used but, again, very sparingly.

In fiction, bold font and italics are almost never acceptable. Again, if the prose is well written, the reader will stress the word(s) in his head. Trust me. We don’t need to hold our reader’s hand, or brain, or whatever.

Is it ever okay to use bold font and italics? Sure, if you write non-fiction. In non-fiction we are teaching, so certain key words or points need to stand out.

In the world of fiction?

No bold font. That is the tool of an amateur. And italics? We can use it, just not very often or we run the risk of insulting our reader’s intelligence. If you come to a point where you believe it is absolutely necessary to use italics, I suggest trying to strengthen the scene first.

Offender #4—Telling Instead of Showing

Most of us have been beaten over the head with the saying, “Show. Don’t tell.” There is a good reason for that. Telling is a lazy method of characterization. Most readers are pretty sharp and like figuring things out on their own. Thus, if we spoon-feed information that should be given via the story, we risk turning off the reader.

New writers are almost always guilty of telling instead of showing. Why? Simple. They’re still learning techniques that are going to take time and practice to develop. Yet, all of us, regardless our skill level need to be wary of this narrative crutch. To be blunt, telling is far less taxing on the brain, so our lazy nature will try to take shortcuts if we aren’t careful.

Actions speak louder than words. Yeah, it is easy to just tell the reader our antagonist is a real jerk, but it is better to show our antagonist doing things that make the reader decide this for himself. We accomplish this by creating an antagonist who simply does things jerks do.

Good writers don’t tell readers a character is ticked off. Good writers show she is ticked off. Crossed arms. No eye contact. Clenched jaw. Slamming doors. Remember that over 95% of communication is non-verbal. Use this to your writing advantage. When creating characters, think about what actions will define your character’s nature or mood universally.

For a character’s nature: If you want to create a cad, think what actions cads do that would make everyone in a room label him the same way—checking out every woman who walks by, openly flirting with other women, using breath spray every 5 minutes, telling sexist jokes, etc.

For a character’s mood/mental state: Regardless of culture, we can tell if someone is mad, hurt, sad, or happy by body language. Make a list of all the body language cues for the mood you wish to create. A book on body language can be extremely helpful for the more subtle stuff. For instance, people who lie often rub a body part (wringing hands) or tap. Why? Unless people are sociopathic, it usually causes mental stress to lie, so the rubbing or tapping is a sign of energy displacement.  See, these are the sort of details that make good writing into much better writing.

I would also recommend picking up a copy of Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi’s The Emotion Thesaurus. This is a tool every writer needs to have handy.

What are your thoughts? Are there some other pet peeves you guys have that I missed? What makes you put down a book? What methods transport you? What makes you hurl the book across the room?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of June, 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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

***Changing the contest.

It is a lot of work to pick the winners each week. Not that you guys aren’t totally worth it, but with the launch of WANA International and WANATribe I need to streamline. So I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners will now have one business week  (5 days) to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of June I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

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