How to Make Characters Come Alive

Or, it’s aliiiiiiive! Mwahahaha!

I’m currently busy with the character sheets for the novel Porselein I’m writing. The five sheets are taking quite a bit of time to complete as I’m being very thorough (not just for myself, but also because it is part of my writing course homework!). These characters are my main, important characters that I really need to know a lot about in order to make the story believable. I mean, it’s already fantasy, so that “willing suspension of disbelief” must be there.

Starting off with the very basics

In completing a character sheet, I normally start with the most basic elements – full name and physical description. If I have a specific face in mind, I will sometimes use a photo as reference. I’ll also use photo references to get an approximate idea of the character (as you can see from my “Ruon Chronicles” and my “Porselein” Pinterest inspiration boards). This is usually where I’ll also mention whether or not they have any birthmarks, tattoos, piercings, that kind of thing.

Start to fill in the blanks

When you start to fill in the blanks, look at things like whether they are single or not, what their family looks like, how many siblings they have (if any). By doing this, you will see that a bigger picture will start to form around the character regarding their history and their relationships with other characters and places in the story.

History

By starting to fill in their history – schooling or lack thereof, their deepest secrets/the most awful thing that they have ever done. What was the three biggest things to happen in their lives and why are they so important? Was your character bullied, abused, etc.? How would their history influence where they are now?

Personality

Usually by this time the personality of the character has also started coming to the fore, leaving you with the reasons why they use self-deprecating humour, etc. Start with them on a scale of introvert/extrovert and go from there.

Add lightning

That is to say, add some conflict and plot points and there you have it. A character that won’t just feel two dimensional or stereotypical. And remember – it takes practice, practice, practice!

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How I Outline My Stories

I specifically didn’t want to do a “How to”-article as I know there are about as many ways of outlining as there are writers. Rather, I would like to show you how I outline stories (or novels) – maybe it will help you, who knows!

My main way of outlining makes use of a macro outline and a micro outline.

Macro Outline

A fancy name for my “big outline”; it is the first of the outlines that I do for a story. Instead of going into a lot of detail about what I am going to put in the story, I only list the scenes and the main arc. This outline can also be a bit vague, as that will be fixed in the micro outline.

Micro Outline

In the micro outline I zoom in on the scenes and outline only a specific scene – this includes details as to what will happen in that scene, bits of dialogue I want to include, and may even contain notes as to how some of the details will come into play later in the story. I also make side notes of the different promises I make to the reader in order for me to remember them and be able to fulfil them in due time.

But sometimes…

Sometimes, however, specifically when it comes to micro or flash fiction, I would still rather just pants the story. I very seldom will sit and do a whole outline; usually it’s just one or two bullet points, if that.

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The last writing update of 2017!

With just half a month to go until 2018, I thought it best to give a last update on my writing for 2017 as well as looking forward to 2018.

Patreon fiction – The Box of Secrets and The Ruon Chronicles

The Box of Secrets have stalled a bit over October and November as I readied myself for NaNoWriMo (and then the pawpaw then hit the fan with a family crisis and me having severe anemia on top of all my other stuff…), but I am glad to say that part six’s first draft is finished, as well as the first scene of part 7.

Part 6 will be posted in January, and The Box of Secrets will finish in March or April 2018. (There may be a bridging part to link Secrets with Grove of Graves.) The Box of Secrets will then be ready by end of May 2018 to be put onto Noisetrade Books (yay!).

This will mean that you’ll be able to read the whole of The Box of Secrets in one volume – for free! I’m thinking of donating all the proceeds from, Secrets to either a Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s foundation, but I first need to figure out the ins and outs of that before I can give a definitive go-ahead on this plan…

You can read parts 1 to 4 on my Patreon page in the meantime.

Afrikaans fiction – Papier en porselein

Then, my dear NaNoWriMo project which failed dismally (in that I did not write the 50K words). I am going to work on this project over my December vacation and then start writing in earnest in January 2018.

This novel (if you are new to the blog) is an Afrikaans one that’s more urban fantasy than high fantasy, so it’s also kind of a new genre for me.

Looking forward to 2018

My main projects for 2018 will be The Ruon Chronicles (The Box of Secrets being first on the list followed by Charms of Life and Death) and Papier en Porselein, which I want to have finished by July 2018.

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Flash Fiction: And He Wore Green in His Beret

This flash piece was written for Microcosms last Friday. My prompts were “soldier”, “aftermath of war”, “post-apocalyptic”.

And He Wore Green in His Beret

“You know what tomorrow is, don’t you?” his son asked, looking up at him, his eyes large and brown.

Aliel sighed and glanced at the rusted metal trunk that held his uniform.

“How can I forget?” He stood, his chair creaking almost as much as the house did in the wind. The house was old – 30 years. Built before the war, it was one of the few places that was still inhabitable after the war.

He took his crutches and walked to the doorway. Across the yard stood a row of graves. Some held bodies, like that of his brother. Some only had a roughly hewn tombstone, like that of his mother. Perhaps, he thought, after tomorrow the ghosts of the past will go to rest. He looked down at his calloused hands, pushing away the red-and-black memories that still haunted his dreams.

 

Aliel waited on the road that led into the town. The only part of his uniform that he wore was his beret. After all, he had promised his wife that he would never put it on again until his funeral.

She was standing amidst the crowd with their son, and he tried to spot them as they walked by in the procession; men of nondescript age who was left to use canes and crutches and wooden limbs after the war that changed the face of the planet.

He stumbled when something landed at his feet – many of the men did. Then he saw what it was – a small, budding branch of one of the trees, its bright green leaves only just unfurled. He bent, picked it up, and stuck it in his beret, the same as he did twenty years ago when he asked his wife to marry him. The day the war ended.

 

My NaNoWriMo 2017 Novel!

At last! My NaNoWriMo novel for 2017 has a premise! Behold! (I wrote it in English, but the book is still going to be in Afrikaans… for now.)

In a world where the mask you wear and the magic imbued therein can literally determine your social station, talented mask maker Liza-Rose Emmerly wants nothing more than a quiet life plying her trade, but when the ruler of the city state Tiravnalone  asks her to make him a mask, she is thrown into a  world where she must choose between her own life and mind and that of others. To make the mask will mean ruin for many, but renewed vigour for her ailing city-state and safety for herself and her loved-ones. It seems Liza-Rose is left to make the decision  alone until quack doctor, Eric Wellnicht, shows up on her doorstep, asking her to make a choice that  will haunt her for the rest of her life.

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Celebrations for NaNoWriMo 2017 start!

or, a super kickoff party
This year’s theme for National Novel Writing Month is superheroes. So, this year’s survival packets were wrapped in a Spider-man bag and even contained coffee and sugar as well (as it should!).
Held at Doppio Zero in Rosebank, Johannesburg, we celebrated the impending Month of Writing, pimped our plots, and played writers’ bingo.
We also each received a small calendar (perfect for keeping in a notebook, methinks) on which to note our word counts. And, speaking of word counts, the Challenge is on! Who will have the most words on day 1 – Johannesburg, or Cape Town?
The Writing Commences!
I am not going to be at the NaNoWriMo day 1 write-in, as traffic from work to the write-in will be a bit hectic and I can better use that time to start writing. (I can’t take the day off as I’ve only just started a new job.)
That said, next weekend (the last one of October) will be The Planning Weekend, during which I hope to get the whole novel planned out in a macro outline and some scenes in micro outlines. I’d better also stock up on tea, coffee, and jelly beans!

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NaNoWriMo Prep 2017 – A Cover and Initial Feedback

It’s nearly the middle of October and, though I wish I could say that my planning is in full swing, it’s more like in half swing… It’s not that I have lost the muse or anything, it’s just that apart from being busy I went and became ill for nearly a whole week. Well, I guess rather now than in November, right?

Initial feedback

Initial feedback on the story and the style has been better than I had anticipated (yay!) and now I feel a lot more confident in writing Papier en porselein. After all, this is quite new territory for me! I am still busy doing research (and continued more with that during Illness Week than actual planning) and am finding that the story is slowly but surely coming together. I still need to make my antagonist stronger, though. He is still a bit two dimensional and boring. But, I still have two weeks left for that before Writing Starts!

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Cover

In the meantime (and to make my NaNo page look a little better) I have also created a simple cover for the book…

PAPIER en PORSELEIN

Current WIPs, Short Story Accepted, and NaNoWriMo 2017

Writing update time!

So, I have ended up doing quite a bit of writing, but feeling like I am not really getting anywhere because the writing consists of so much planning.

Worldbuilding different worlds, changing my mind

The previous NaNoWriMo’s had me knowing exactly what I want to write and what I would spend the month writing. This year, however, I’m flip-flopping between two WIPs. Now, after changing my mind many times, and at first being certain that I was going to work on The Ruon Chronicles, I have now changed my mind for the last time. I am certain of that. Ok, I am 90% certain of that.

I decided that I will no longer use NaNoWriMo to work on The Ruon Chronicles, but will use it to work on a standalone urban fantasy (I think it’ll be classified as such, anyway) novel in Afrikaans. This is the one I want to enter for publication in about September next year. So, if I can get the first draft done by December, which would be absolutely awesome. And it would give me about seven months to finish said novel.

The working title for this novel is Papier en porselein (Paper and Porcelain). It is an idea I’ve been playing around with for quite a while and now I have at last found the story in that world that I want to tell. Let the countdown to NaNoWriMo begin!

Short stories

While I am busy sorting out the planning and worldbuilding, I am also trying to get back into actually sending some of my short fiction off for possible publication. I also want to try and enter competitions other than the flash fiction ones I take part in on some Fridays and Saturdays. At the moment I am busy with one Afrikaans and one English short story.

I also got the great news on Friday that a magazine has accepted one of my stories! Yup… an actual magazine, with pages and printing and everything *swoons*

Getting back into writing in Afrikaans

As you can probably notice, I am trying to write more in Afrikaans at the moment as I have neglected my Afrikaans fiction something horribly!

Random life update

If you have been following my blog recently, you would know that I recently started a new job. The good news is that it is going very well and I am really enjoying my new role very, very much. It’s still a bit weird to not be part of the same team I’d been part of for eight years, but lucky for me the new team I am a part of is awesome and I already feel at home.

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Flash Fiction: Twelve Years

“Father, what is there?” Adrei asked.

Costin did not need to look around to know where his son was pointing. He took a swig from the half-empty bottle.

“Nothing,” he said, liquor thick on his breath. “A staircase.”

“Let us go see!”

Costin glanced around. Oh how he wished cameras were here, but he knew why they had been taken down. He had seen the footage himself before it was destroyed – before the castle lost all tourists but those who were in search of the supernatural.

“Andrei, no!”

“Please?”

 

Costin climbed the stairs slowly, his hand on the cold wall to steady himself. The little hand in his was as cold as ice.

 

The door at the top of the staircase revealed a half-burned, decaying floor with a hole in it and a trail of sooty footprints. Costin took another swig from the bottle and felt the liquor burn his throat. He slowly walked towards the hole, peering into the dark depths when he got close.

 

Costin felt the ghosts of the past around him.

“Lots of people died here, there is even a princess!” Andrei whispered. He still had the stature and voice of a six year-old. “She sings me to sleep at night.”

Costin wanted to step forward, but unseen hands grabbed at him. The bottle fell, breaking and spilling its liquid into the hole in front of his feet.

“Do not worry, father, they will not let you fall,” Andrei smiled. “Not like you let me fall.”

Costin started crying.

“Will you come again tomorrow?”

Costin nodded.

Andrei laughed, disappearing from his sight.

“It has been twelve years,” Costin sobbed.

“You will come again tomorrow,” the voices said.

Costin retraced his footsteps, going in search of more drink.