Be like Bull in Developing Your Characters

bull-posterThere’s a new show on CBS that parallels the writing life. Bull stars Michael Weatherly (NCIS) as a psychologist who specializes in trial science. The science of getting in the heads of jurors to help present a case you can win. Bull and his team take on cases of innocent people (of course I suppose trial science can be used to help the guilty get off.) and analyzes what is needed for those individuals to be found not guilty when the media and initial evidence points to their guilt.

Dr. Bull preps the defense counsel on what questions to ask during jury selection to find jurors who will be sympathetic to his client. After the jury is selected he hires people to be a mirror jury. Each juror’s personality, convictions, and worldview are matched to the real jurors to create a fake replica jury. Bull’s team have mock trails to discover what the outcome would be based on various scenarios.  What is in the background or character makeup of each real juror that could influence the verdict and how can they present the case and the client to these twelve to gain their confidence for a not guilty verdict. Fascinating stuff.

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As a writer, we create characters we want our readers to sympathize with. Otherwise, they won’t read to the end. We need to dig deep as we create our characters and find out what is their underlying motivation. They must be more than one-dimensional. If your heroine had an FB page what would she post? How are your hero’s finances and do your characters love their jobs? We need to get into their heads. Did the protagonist have a wonderful childhood or is there a family secret that taints his view of the world.

Bulls team digs into the background of each juror and based on that information creates a profile on how they would probably respond to various pieces of evidence and information shared during the trial. A recent episode was a malpractice trial. The doctor was a brilliant physician but an egotistical jerk. The patient was suing because a lifesaving hysterectomy prevented her from ever having children. She felt it could have been avoided. The sympathy of the jury squarely with the patient.

Challenge of winning over the reader

Of course, Bull’s team discovered the special machine used to do the surgery was the culprit that caused the excess bleeding that led to the doctor’s decision. The challenge was to get the jury to look beyond the doctor’s arrogance to be open to the idea the manufacturers of the surgical equipment were at fault. The doctor had to allow himself to be vulnerable on the stand. The dramatic scene with the doctor admitting he only has one talent—being  a surgeon—but he lacks people skills in every area of his life. It wins the jury to his side.

Our characters must win over our readers. The cranky old guy should reveal how much he misses his son who died in the war. The addicted mother needs to share with her daughter what pushed her over the edge. The fiancé admits his fear of being a father because his dad was abusive.

Keep up with social media and current events to create believable characters

Research into each juror helps Bull craft questions for the lawyer to bring the desired result. We writer’s need to know what our readers want. What questions are we seeing on TV and social media? What is trending? Those are the things that make for fresh plots. Things that address real or perceived needs. Settings and situations that make the reader curious. A friend of mine has her character building a tiny house. Another author explored negative mothering that left the heroine struggling with self-worth.  Reality shows are all the rage and those settings can make for interesting plot twists whether romance or murder. Again, the types of characters populating these settings draw the reader to follow your story to the end.

Each episode of Bull ends on a high note for the client and a takeaway lesson. Our novels need the same sort of conclusion. And if our characters are relatable to our reader the conclusion will meet the felt need. And just as I look forward to the next episode of Bull, your readers will anxiously await your next novel.

How do your characters mirror life?

How do you build character’s your readers relate too?

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Writing For The Reader’s Enjoyment

woman reading book

Write so your reader keeps following you.

I’ve always heard you should write for your readers. Which seems reasonable. After all we want them to buy our books. Let me share how I understand what writing for your readers implies.

Oftentimes our rough drafts are full of lots of stuff.  All the things we want to say about everything.  All the details we know about each character, every room, all the historical data. EVERYTHING! Hopefully, during your numerous rewrites most of this wonderful stuff will be deleted. At least they should.

You don’t agree.

You say the details are important. Depends on the details.

Without the details who will understand the complexities of the heart surgery our hero’s mother is going through. Even though the hero’s mother never makes an appearance in the book.

An in-depth description of the room the character walks through and never returns to again.

Telling the reader what the villain is thinking while we are writing from the hero’s point of view.

Determine what details carry the story. The character’s obsession over having a heart attack. The villain telling the hero an important fact so the reader can piece together the clues along with the hero. Less is more is the adage for writers to cling to as they try to keep the reader engaged.

Real people in our real world

There are real world examples to justify even more why we write to the reader.

We all have at least one friend, relative or even our spouse who over explain things. You know what I mean. They can’t just tell you they got this great deal on bananas at the store. They tell you about all the other fruit too. Or you ask their opinion on which paint is best for interior painting and you get the history of the creation of paint.

Then there’s the people (all of us can talk like this when we’re excited.) They tell us every detail about an incident and then circle back around and tell us over again. Maybe adding a detail.

Of course, none of us has ever written like this. Ahem.

The readers follow the characters

Readers remember what they read in a previous chapter. We don’t need to repeat every detail when a new character enters the scene. This isn’t real life it’s fiction.

So, if your characters are cops and they are investigating a crime, when the chief enters- they fill him in. That’s the sentence.

Unless there is information we haven’t told the reader about the crime we don’t need to restate it. The readers go everywhere with our characters so we don’t really tell it like we would in real life.

Keep dialogue on point

Small talk unless it tells the reader something about the character should not exist. So don’t have your character pick up the phone, say hello, and chat about trivial things for a page. In our real world we might spend an hour visiting with a friend before getting to the point. But our readers aren’t that patient. They want to find out what happens next.

TwainKeep your vocabulary engaging yet simple

Mark Twain said “Why use a five-dollar word when a fifty cent word will do.”

Unless you are writing to academia or a technical book, keep your words simple.

If a reader has to reach for the dictionary, you’ve lost them. Be sure the word can be understood within a sentence. And even then is there a simpler more descriptive word. A fancy word that no one knows does not impress a reader. Enough of those in your work and they will stop reading.

Avoid adjectives

We aren’t writing for our English teachers. Adjectives are not the readers friend.

“Mary was miserably silent.” The sentence tells the reader nothing.

They want to experience the silence.

“Mary sat in the hard back chair, her lips flexing between a pout and a straight line. Tears fought for space on her cheek.”

This tells the reader so much more. They can feel her misery.

How do your characters talk?

Does your dialogue for a teen or child sound like them or their parents?

“Why, Charlotte, you should be ashamed of yourself.”

Instead: “Char, you’re so messed up.”

Give them flaws

As much as we want our heroes and heroine to be the pillar of perfection. Show their flaws. This gives the reader hope. Following the story of a woman fighting depression and winning might encourage a reader to get help.

A heroine who always says and does the right things is not only unrealistic, it’s boring. The reader can’t relate to perfection. Because our readers are human.

Non-fiction writers need to reach the heart

Even when writing non-fiction, share your ideas so the reader can relate without pointing fingers at them.

Avoid writing: you should…If you had or your problem….

Rather, say I have found. Research shows.

Share a story from your own life illustrating the point without sounding arrogant.

check list-tinyA check list

My challenge to all of us. Go through your manuscripts while you’re editing and before submission and ask yourself if you are getting to the heart of your reader.

Am I preaching or encouraging.

Does my character’s armor have some tarnish?

Do my ten steps to…whatever…have an ah ha moment.

Do I need to explain the history of the zipper to establish a time period?

Does this wonderful scene with my secondary characters shopping really move the story along?

We want our books to be passed around, shared and recommended and it will only happen when we focus on the readers and not ourselves.

 

What revelations have you come to understand about writing to the readers? Share in the comments. I’d love to hear it.

 

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Ten years in the Making: A Book Contract

contract

 

If you follow me on Facebook, you saw my recent announcement. I received my first book contract. It only took 10 years to get there. Oh, let’s not forget 20 rejections, many rewrites and several edits. Years of improving my writing skills through online writing courses and writing books.  Ten years of attending conferences. Submitting to magazines and websites with both success and failure. I’ve made the acquaintance of many writers, both newbies and seasoned pros. During my ten year journey I have added agents and publishers to that list of acquaintances.

Help others on the journey

I’ve written over a hundred book reviews and supported my fellow-writers anyway I can. I enjoy helping promote their books and sharing words of affirmation when they were discouraged. I have purposed to invest in others while I worked toward the illusive contract.

Keep learning

Actions such as joining critique groups, following writing blogs and reading a lot propelled me toward the goal of publication. This has been ten years of perseverance and determination. I’d confess “I am a writer” when I wanted to keep that proclamation to myself. Established writers encouraged me to learn how to use social media.  Then I started this blog, Writer’s Patchwork, where all these writerly parts are sown together into the bigger quilt of gaining a contract. (Clever play on words.)

Cindy's Editor's Choice Award-2

My award. I am so blessed.

Never give up

Anyway, the point I’m trying to press home is don’t give up. Don’t get discouraged and keep helping others in the industry. Keep focusing on your goal and over time you’ll get that book contract.

Come follow me

It will probably be a year before my novel will be available for sale. During that time, I will be posting the next stretch of my journey. Even though I have a contract, a mountain-load of work remains to be done before I see my book in print. I’ll share my experiences in hopes of inspiring all of you to keep going. And give you a glimpse into the process of contract to book shelf.

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Abuse a Common Core Dilemma in Novels

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Photo from Morguefile.com

We have a challenge to create believable stories. Writers must draw from the world around them, transforming life experiences and lots of research into a story that moves the reader. Love stories that stir the romantic in all of us. Mysteries with twists and surprises which leave the reader satisfied at the solution. Historicals and Fantasies with a you-are-there feel. Whatever the genre, every story has to have a core dilemma. Something readers can relate to on some level.

angry-woman

Photo from morguefile.com

Core Dilemma

The latest novels I’ve read focused on the heroine dealing with abuse. Often verbal but at times physical. The two novels I have penned also deal with abuse on different levels. This topic is a very popular core dilemma in fiction. The storyline usually has the same key elements. The hero or heroine struggles to put the abuse in their past. They wrestle with the lies in their heads. And past abuse weighs heavily in their reactions to their present.

In some stories the abuse is in the moment and continues until deliverance takes place near the end of the story. Leaving the audience wondering how their life after the The End will all play out.

photo from morguefile.com

photo from morguefile.com

Time periods

Historicals may have a different story resolution than contemporary fiction. Laws and attitudes were very different in say 1840 or even 1950 than they are today. Domestic abuse was view differently in past centuries. A modern story may have a bolder response with organizations and laws to protect victims giving various options for the endings of contemporary novels.

photo by morguefile.com

photo by morguefile.com

Abuse is ever present

Why is it such a popular plot twist? Domestic abuse is a dark, ugly subject that is often easier to deal with in the pages of a novel. As the hero overcomes and becomes stronger the abused reader is given hope. The characters in our stories address the heart issues hidden inside the abused. Other characters either dear friends or villains can be influential in bringing healing for the reader. The friend can encourage or protect while the villain pushes the protagonist to face the demons of abuse and defeat them. Perhaps a crack in the armor of denial. Relatable story characters gaining victory over abuse brings hope to the reader. If the author is fortunate, he might get a fan letter saying his story inspired the reader to get help. What an awesome thought.

photo from moguefile.com

photo from moguefile.com

Victims know if your story rings true

Don’t soft sell the truth. Victims know the depth of their pain, and a whitewashed story of easy healing won’t fly with them. Be careful not to be too graphic lest you turn away readers who can’t stomach the details.

Get the facts right. Do your research. Present realistic conclusions even if the conclusion is a sad one. Some writers choose to mingle a lot of facts and provide strong secondary characters to bring about the healing. While others leave the ending unresolved in hopes readers will become aware of the problem and seek help for themselves or others.

As a Christian writer, my goal is to bring hope to a lost world. Not preaching or condemning but open a door to consider God is the strength needed to get through difficult times. So when I write about abuse He is the final solution that brings healing. Even if it requires the character to cling to their faith over time as layers of ugly abuse fall away.

What is a core dilemma pattern you’ve discovered in the last few books you’ve read?

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Picturing Your Character: The Heroine

Monday I shared a new technique I was exploring to create my characters for the novel I’m working on during Speedbo. I shared a compilation of pictures I found on the internet to create my hero Dan Sweeney.

Now I want to show you a collection of pictures I found to help create my Hispanic heroine.

At the Start of the story Isabella has waist length hair

My character had waist length hair

My character had waist length hair

She is five foot two from Guatemala, adopted as a young girl. Isabella Wilson is starting over after the death of her husband. She gets a make-over cutting her hair short.

She becomes more stylish

Shoe Shopping

She enjoys wearing three inch heels. I am a practical footwear person myself so I went virtual shoe shopping to find what Isabella liked. Fortunately she doesn’t go for too outlandish of a style. Three inch heels help her feel more in control because she is so short.

I found perusing photos on the internet really was an interesting way to get a clearer picture of my characters. Keeping the photos handy as I tell my characters’ stories. References to their appearance chapter by chapter remains the same.

What techniques do you use to help create a character? Do you virtual shop for their clothes?

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Picture Your Character: The Hero

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Choosing your characters’ looks is always a challenge. As I work on my Work In Progress (WIP) I want to picture my characters. I tried something this time a few writers use to keep themselves focused on their characters. I searched for pictures on the internet to refer to as I write. The process became a bit of a challenge. There wasn’t one photo that fit the image I’d envisioned. I thought I’d post the three pictures I used to help me create a compilation character. It took a bit for Dan Sweeney to reveal himself to me. Even his name changed once we got acquainted. Dan Sweeney didn’t like the name Joe Martin. I guess Joe was a bit of a cliché name for a soldier. Dan is a wounded warrior with a prosthetic leg. He is blond and blue eyed. Looking through hundreds of photo sites, I found this soldier.

Photo one: Interesting. right hair color and eyes.

Find a picture like this for your character.

Find a picture like this for your character.

Looks pretty good.

But Dan has scars and a missing a leg. So I found this photo.

Photo 2: Wounded Warrior wrong hair color though.

Other characteristics from a second photo.

Other characteristics from a second photo.

Which gives me lots of interesting possibilities for my story. Dan has a scar on his jaw and neck so he grew a short beard and longer hair like the character Detective Marty Deeks of NCIS LA.

Photo 3: Eric Christian Olsen has the hair and beard I envision.

Eric Christian Olsen's press photo is the perfect inspiration for my character.

Eric Christian Olsen’s press photo is the perfect inspiration for my character.

Now I imagine a blond haired blue-eyed wounded warrior. He is 6 feet 2 inches and has to-die-for dimples partially hidden by a short trimmed beard. He has two missing fingers on his right hand, the pinkie and ring finger. And of course his prosthetic starts just below the right knee.

Can you envision him too?

I’m sure you have the perfect imagine in your mind based on your own creative imagination. As you read a novel, you’ll have your own image of a character that will carry you through the entire novel. As a writer it is important to keep the image in your head so he doesn’t suddenly grow a few inches or scratch freckles on his nose that weren’t there a few chapters earlier. The characters’ pictures should be posted in a prominent place to refer to as you write both to inspire and speak to you as you create their stories.

On Wednesday I’ll post my heroine’s photos.

How do you find inspiration for your character’s appearance?

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A Writer’s View of Always the Baker Never the Bride

 

Always the Baker Never the Bride by Sandra Bricker is a delicious read.  Between each chapter of this novel are recipes, wedding and party tips, menus and invitations. So fun! Gives the book a you are there feel.

I loved the unusual family dynamics of Emma and her love interest Jackson. Emma’s parents have a very dysfunctional relationship. Emma works hard to maintain peace not understanding what is under the surface.  Jackson sisters are so protective of him after the loss of his wife.  Working alongside supporting their little brother’s new hotel venture. Succeeding in driving this accomplished businessman to find secluded places for refuge from the smothering.

From a writer’s standpoint the dialogue is so believable.  It offered a great peek into all the character’s personalities. Jackson’s older sisters are a delight to get to know. Sandra Bricker captures their adorable southern drawl with a few words like sistuh, sugah sprinkled in but doesn’t overdo it with lots of phonically spelled words.

Our heroine, Emma Ray Travis is a world class baker who also has diabetes. That adds a special flare to the character. But to me was also the negative. It was like the smoking gun. Why give your character diabetes and not write some drama around it? A diabetic who has total control of her disease especially under stress seemed unbelievable. I was disappointed that Emma never once needed rescuing from a diabetic reaction.  Sandy Bricker made it a point to emphasize how good Emma was at keeping on top of her disease. I couldn’t decide if the author was trying to show the reader Emma’s need to control everything or if it was a statement that diabetes is not a death sentence to a normal life.

That observation aside I learned a lot about the art of writing reading this one. I will be looking for more of Sandra Bricker’s books.