WHAT Women Want?

‘Strong’. ‘Flawed’. ‘Complex’. Everyone has an opinion on what female characters should BE, right down to counting how many there are and what they’re talking about; whether having a boyfriend ‘weakens’ them or not; or what ‘strength’ actually means! Hell, this blog is no different.

In the past five or six years, female characterisation has gone from being sidelined to the forefront of writing discussion. This is obviously great, but has its problems too. After all, it’s pretty ironic when those wanting more varied characterisation, themes or storyworlds can’t always recognise it, even when it’s staring at them in the FACE.

So maybe it’s time to think about WHY?

It’s true that there have been some fantastic female characters lately. But a good dose of VARIETY is still not something we see as standard when it comes to female characters, which is probably why sooooo much femcrit is yet to catch up.

After all, like most of the male characters before them, most of these great representations of female leads are:

  • White
  • Straight
  • Able-Bodied

But they’re also one other thing too … a single word. Which is:

… ‘Beautiful’

That’s right – ‘Beautiful’ is the WORD OF DOOM! It’s the word I see most often when I read female character introductions in screenplays (a lot of unpublished novels too, now I’m on the subject).

Confused?? After all, ‘beautiful’ is a compliment, right? Well think on it this way. Female characters are often described by HOW THEY LOOK *over* WHAT THEY DO. Yet characters *are* supposed to be what they do … Their behaviour is supposed to be what drives them, not how good-looking they are.

Remember, a male lead might be good-looking too, but this is a given … They’re still more likely to be introduced by their character traits, than how they look. Gnash!!! Feminism aside, this is NOT good writing. (BTW, we may also see other variants of this word too, ranging from ‘pretty’ to ‘sexy’, so don’t be letting yourself off the hook yet).

So, this means female characters are unfairly burdened by writers (and filmmakers) from the page UPWARDS. Eeeek!!! But hey, don’t take *my* word for it. Check out what actress Amber Heard has to say on the matter in a recent Vanity Fair article.

Oh, and CastingCallWoe over on Tumblr and Twitter.

And @femscriptintros.

Yeah … bad, innit. THIS IS JUST FOR STARTERS, PEOPLE.

Here’s What Writers Can DO

Stop introducing female characters by the way they LOOK. Just stop it.

Look, no one’s saying your female characters *can’t* be hot, or that you’re an automatic misogynist if you use these words. Hell, I’ve done it myself. But that’s the point – WE ALL HAVE. And politics aside, it’s DULL.

So, just do what you do what you do for your male characters … dig deep. Consider their inner attributes. Their personality traits. Their BEHAVIOUR.

‘Cos great characters are what they DO.

Good Luck!

More on great characterisation:

Writing Adages Explained: ‘Characters Are What They Do’

5 Ways To Write A Strong Female Character

Why Strength Is The Missing Ingredient In Female Leads

Top 5 Ways Writers Screw Up Their Characters

10 Quick Tips For Writing Female Characters (plus free Cheat Sheet to download)

12 Character Archetypes And How To Use Them

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Some languages run on a series of relatively simple, consistent rules. English is NOT one of them! Because of this, pretty much all of us find English grammar tricky at times, dithering over tenses and puzzling over punctuation.

However, it’s worth facing down your grammar fear. In an internet-connected world, we all need to know how to write well. And you never know, you might just find that writing better is the key to that promotion or new job you’ve been after. These tips will get you started:

1) Spend some time learning rules by heart

The oddities of the English language can’t be conquered without a bit of hard work and rote learning. Make sure you understand how to write sentences that are clear and unambiguous. Learn how to place punctuation and order words correctly.

2) Become a lover of words

Following grammar rules isn’t about conforming for conformity’s sake. It’s about being able to express yourself clearly and fluently. Add to your new grammar skill by expanding your vocabulary too.

3) Be your own editor

Even the best writers make mistakes sometimes. Good writers know that proofreading and editing is an essential part of the writing process. Make sure you always give yourself time to read over and correct your writing before you send it to anyone else.

Take a look at this infographic by The Expert Editor for detailed grammar tips and writing tricks.

More Grammar, Words & Improving Your Writing

Are You A Grammar Nerd? Check This & Find Out 

3 Killer Typos That Blow Writers Out Of The Water

5 Killer Grammar & Punctuation Errors (Plus How To Fix Them)

8 Infographics That Will Help You Improve Your Writing 

10 Common Errors In Your Writing You Need To Fix Right Now

10 Useful Infographics To Help You Pick The Right Words

Top 10 Killer Words That Make The Reader Switch Off

Top 10 Words Or Phrases Storytellers Gave Us

12 Quick Tips To Improve Your Writing Right Now 

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Being new to any field is challenging, and time consuming. Writing is a demanding task, and being new at it is even worse – you have to learn new tricks. Here are four essential tips on how to become a better writer, I am sure they will help you. Good luck!

1) Enjoy it!

You have no idea how many times I’ve heard the phrase “I have to write again, but I don’t want to, I’m done.” My friends tried writing so many times, yet they all failed.

I love writing. There are times when I write continuously for days. I take my breaks, but no other distractions. From a former novice to another, I am telling you – if you don’t like it at all, quit. We all have our moments of boredom, but in the end, good writers end up back at their desks, trying to figure out how to improve. If you really don’t find yourself in that position, quit. For real, stop reading this article. I am not trying to sound mean or anything, but remember – youhave to enjoy what you do in order to succeed.

2) Have the courage to FAIL

There is no reason for you to be anxious about your abilities yet. If you decided to keep reading this article, it means you are prepared to succeed. You need to be patient though. If you want to improve, then you must have the courage to fail. This is how you actually make it.

3) Practice, Practice, Practice

Practice makes perfect! Take time every day to sit down and practice your writing. Even if you do not have any great ideas in mind, write down what you think about and expand on that. Also, make sure you plan your writing sessions beforehand. Believe me, even if you’re under the impression that you write too much, you never do. It’s the continuous process of practicing that keeps you improving.

Set targets such as 500 or 1,000 words per day, or even more if you can. Take time to correct your mistakes and learn from them. Make a special notebook to track your gradual improvement. Reward yourself for your accomplishments!

4) Don’t Try to Impress

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned lately is that you don’t have to try to impress anybody. Do not worry about how many views your article gets, or how many comments you receive. That should not be your focus when it comes to learning.Your only focus should be on becoming better and better every day, regardless of your ratings.

If you care too much, your writing will become mainstream and boring. I see that so many times. It is the sheep effect – one person writes about a certain topic and succeeds, suddenly that topic becomes so popular that all the writers start using it. It’s not original, and it’s not fun. Find your own path to success, and never let yourself influenced by other writers or trends.

Concluding:

Writing is a challenging art that requires patience and a lot of time commitment. Before you start putting an effort into it, make sure you are made for this. Also, practice a lot to perfect your style, and stop trying to impress people. That will hurt you more than it will help you, and you’ll end up dissatisfied with your writing anyway.

BIO: Brandon Stanley is a journalist at RushMyEssay.co.uk. He is also interested in writing articles concerning writer’s techniques. Apart from that, Brandon loves traveling and playing the piano.  Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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1) Understand the Benefits of Deadlines

You’re on a deadline. You’re doing your best to complete that script. It has to be outstanding. You have to develop impressive characters. It has to be on time. The deadline is pressurising you so badly you freak out. You push yourself to write more. It doesn’t work; you get stuck. You try to get some sleep. You can’t; you’re constantly concerned about that deadline. How do you deal with this pressure???

Hold on … Due dates are not your enemies. They should serve as an inspiration for you to get the job done … Let it help you change your perspective!

  • A deadline keeps you writing. That big mark on your calendar motivates you to do more work in a day, so you’ll get your script completed by then.
  • Deadlines help you create effective to-do lists. When you know how much time you have until the final deadline, you can plan it in a way that involves work, leisure, sleep, and fun. You realise there’s enough time for everything as long as you plan it carefully.
  • Writing under pressure can be a trigger of creative ideas. Sometimes the pressure will block you out, but sometimes that’s exactly where you’ll find your inspiration.

TOP TIP: When you realise that deadlines are good for you, you’ll shift your mindset. You’ll accept them and you’ll start acting in accordance with them. So turn this enemy into a friend!

2) Set Reasonable Expectations

How many polished scripts are you able to produce within a year? Two would be a reasonable answer. For many screenwriters, one would be a reasonable answer, too. Anything above three is not a reasonable expectation.

Stay within the limits of reality! Set your own expectations and stick to them. Don’t be ashamed to ask for don’t be ashamed to ask for help if you need it, or change your goals accordingly if you have to.

TOP TIP: If you get an offer and you know you won’t be able to fit that task within the projects you’re already working on, just say no.

3) Set Progressive Deadlines

You’ve heard this before, but here it is again: it’s all in your mindset. Your mind is the strongest weapon you have. It’s the thing that produces scripts, after all.

However, this can also be a self-destructive weapon that’s prone to distractions, negative talk, and self-pitying. It’s time to put a leash on this monster. Proper planning helps you do that.

  • Set a deadline for the outline. Plan when you’ll be done with the pre-writing stages.
  • Set a deadline for the first draft. The script won’t be flawless at this stage and that’s okay. The deadline will remind you to keep writing and stop being a perfectionist. You’ll have time for editing later on.
  • Set a deadline for reviewing, rewriting, and editing. Yup, all of it!
  • Set your final deadline. If you stay on track with all previous stages, you won’t have a problem to meet this one.

TOP TIP: When you’re starting a new project, plan how you’ll complete it within several stages. Develop a timeframe that helps you stay organized and meet the final deadline with no problem.

4) Focus at One Project at a Time

Multitasking is a myth. In most cases, it doesn’t make people more effective. It only makes them unfocused.

If you get blocked, it’s okay to take a break from that script and jot few ideas for another project. It’s okay to start the brainstorming for a new project when you’re in the middle of a current one. However, it’s never okay to mess things up and bounce from one script to another without staying focused on either of them.

TOP TIP: You cannot work on several scripts within a day. When you’re working on a particular project, focus all your energy on it.

5) Use a Calendar

Seriously. You need one. You don’t need people calling you to remind you that the deadline is approaching. The calendar will have that responsibility.

Google Calendar is the obvious choice for most screenwriters. It’s simple and effective. You can use it to set tasks for the day and highlight the deadlines. If you need a more inspiring to-do app that you can use on a daily basis, try Remember The Milk or Wunderlist.

Why is it important to note down writing tasks and deadlines? Because that approach puts you in the right mindset. It sends a signal of commitment to your subconscious levels. When you just say to yourself that you’ll write a script by a certain deadline, it’s easy to forget or go around that promise. You’ll think of a thousands excuses to prolong it. If you write it down in a schedule, however, you’ll have no other choice but to stay committed.

TOP TIP: Set progressive reminders in Google Calendar, just as you were setting progressive goals. This will push you to stay on track with the schedule.

Concluding:

Keep working! It’s okay to get stuck. After all, obstacles are part of a screenwriter’s job description. However, it’s not okay to give up or keep procrastinating. You have to convince yourself that you can and will get through this script within a reasonable timeframe. The above tips will help you meet that goal.

BIO: Brenda Savoie is a writing coach and content marketing magician at SuperiorPapers. Writing her first romance novel. Seeking contentment through mindfulness. Read her thoughts on writing and education at Best Writing Clues.  Find her on Twitter and Facebook.

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Screenwriting is all about telling the best story you can. Here are some handy hacks to help make your plot fly FAST! The following are a few of the most glittering trinkets in that nest, that may be helpful to blocked writers, newbies looking for guidance, or any writer on the lookout for some new approaches to try:

1) Start With An Ending

Half of the posts I see on social media about blockages are getting so far into a script and not knowing where to go.

With an ending in place – and note it doesn’t have to be THE ending, just what you imagine it might be – you have something to work towards, that you can build to, foreshadow, and adjust and come back to as your story unfolds. MORE: How To Avoid Plotting Hell And Save Writing Hours 

2) The South Park Method

No, it doesn’t involve poo. This one comes from South Park mastermind Trey Parker – who has plenty of experience in going from story to script with short deadlines.

Very often a story can end up a straight line – “A happens and B happens and C happens and D happens” and so on. But if you change your “Ands” into “Sos” “Buts” and “Therefores” it alters the landscape completely. Your story becomes “A happens SO B happens BUT C happens THEREFORE D happens” and the straight line has suddenly gained some interesting curves that will strengthen your story. MORE: 3 Things To Remember For Act 3

3) The Easiest Story To Tell

One of the simplest plot structures out there is “Someone Wants Something, But Has A Hard Time Getting It.”

This is unbelievably handy to graft onto a set of characters or a concept that needs direction; the basic elements of conflict and motivation are all there, along with a protagonist, goals, stakes and all the other stuff that helps make a good story. It can be applied to most genres and pretty much any audience member will be able to identify with that experience.

It’s particularly effective for short films, where a clear narrative is especially important. MORE: 5 Visual Representations Of Storytelling Structure

4) You Don’t Have To Save The Cat

Much has been made of Blake Snyder’s approach to screenwriting and its rigid moment-to-page method. Some love it, some hate it. Some wonder what exactly cats have to do with the whole thing.

But, much like starting with an ending, it’s equally helpful to set a goal for a particular page for a certain event to occur. If you decide your protagonist and her wife are gonna fall out by page 35, for example, you can lay the foundations for it on page 1 and really focus every scene towards that goal in the pages that follow. It creates a waypoint in your script that urges you to avoid rambling and overwriting in order to hit your mark.

So, while the cat doesn’t have to be saved by page 35, knowing a cat’s gonna be in that area removes a lot of the guesswork that can slow your writing down. MORE: 5 Problems With Structure ALL Writers Have 

5) Shroud Your Exposition

Exposition is usually necessary, but it can be the death of a good script when poorly done. Keeping it short and punchy if at all possible is always a good option, but on occasions where there’s a lot of it, you need to cover it up.

How do you do that? Subtext. If your character knows everything, or knows key stuff about part of the plot that they will have to explain, give them a reason NOT to explain it.

Say your protagonist is hunting a killer, and their BFF is going to be revealing the killer’s background to them at some point …. So, you could make it so:

  • the BFF knows who the killer is, or learns early on but doesn’t reveal it because it will destroy their friendship, OR
  • they have something to gain from keeping the secret, OR
  • maybe they don’t know and have a separate reason for finding out??

If you’re able to do any of the above at a critical moment then this is no longer just an info dump on your protagonist. It becomes a character reveal, a goal that drives the plot, or an important discovery, rather than just words that tell the audience things they need to know for the next scene. MORE: How Does Exposition Work? 9 Common Exposition Questions Answered 

Concluding

There are lots of ways to tell a story, and countless more ways to turn that story into a script. Some work better than others, and some work better for different people.

Despite what gurus and even working pros might say, there’s no guarantee that any one method will work. My own experience has turned me into a bit of a magpie: plucking the shiniest most effective of tricks and methods from the pile on offer and decking my writing nest out with them. Finding the ones that best help you to tell the best version of your story make them priceless additions to your writer’s toolkit, and even if these or other hacks end up not working for you, you’ll still learn something you can bring forward to the next project, the next draft, the next idea. And that is guaranteed to improve your writing!

Good Luck!

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Over 100,000 people worldwide identify as a screenwriter. No wonder it feels so difficult to stand out from the crowd. Unless you win a top ten screenwriting contest that is, which is only 0.1 percent of writers (yes that’s a real number.) So how do we get noticed? Luckily, there is more than one way to skin a cat (instead of saving it 😉!).

1) BRANDING – Build your online presence

This is so important in today’s society. Can you be Googled? As a screenwriter, if you can’t be googled or be the entire first page online then you don’t exist. That’s a problem. You’ll never stand out from the crowd if people can’t find you.

We’ll start with your basics. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You need to post on these at a regular pace that you can handle. For some people that’s 4 times a day per platform for others it’s far less. To avoid posting fatigue try using Buffer or Hootsuite. These will allow you to post to all your social media at once or even schedule them for a future date.

LinkedIn, Mandy, ISA, and IMDB are all a must. Creating complete bios will give you a huge boost to your online presence. After doing this myself, I became the entire first page on Google. To help you build your brand here are 8 Tips for growing your social media presence.

Top Tips:

  • ISA: use the “My Successes.” It allows you to enter any awards you’ve won which will show up when you are googled. It’s like guilt free bragging.
  • LinkedIn: Write compelling blogs on your profile. They populate when you’re searched and give a great first impression.
  • IMDB: An IMDB profile will be the first thing that pops up when you are searched. You will be right at the top. I mean come on, that’s just cool.

2) NETWORKING – Your greatest tool

Networking is your greatest asset to success as a screenwriter, bar none. It is what will provide you with more work and help get your name out there. Film Festivals are a great place to meet people at various stages of their careers. Some may be able to open doors where as others may be “lateral networking.” Lateral networking is great. It allows writers to band together, which can lead to future collaborations.

Stage 32, LinkedIn, Facebook, to some extent Reddit are also great places to network online. They allow users to interact with other writers, producers, and directors. You’d be surprised who you can meet at these sites. 

Top Tips

  • LinkedIn: Become an all-star status by making connections and writing blogs. This can lead to some great opportunities if you actively engage with people you connect with.
  • Meetup.com: A great place to join a local writers group. Find talent at local film festivals for future collaboration.
  • ISA: Has meetups on wine Wednesdays and every third Thursday at different venues around the world.
  • Facebook: There are countless writer’s groups just waiting for you on this platform and they are free!! Here’s Bang2writers, the official B2W Facebook group. See you there!

3) WRITING that killer script – NOT what you think it is

You do need a great script, but you don’t need to win Nicholl’s with it. In fact, I wouldn’t even expect your killer script to ever get made. (Sad, I know.)

What happens is that it becomes your calling card. Producers, directors, and even other screenwriters will fall in love with it and want to work with you on one of their projects.  That is how you start to get gigs. Paid gigs! Here is a great post to help you get a jump on How to write a killer script.

Top Tips:

  • Your subplots should reflect the main plot.
  • Create interest in every scene via twists, surprise, misleads, etc.
  • NO camera directions.
  • Don’t have conflict just to have conflict. It must serve the story or the characters journey.
  • Avoid cliché and tropes by taking them and creating something fresh.

4) AWARDS – NOT what you think they are

Like I said, you don’t have to win at the top ten film festivals to make it, but you do need to take that killer script you’ve written and get it out there. Make sure you enter contests within film festivals which have large attendance that will provide ample opportunity to network.

Being an award-winning writer at a festival gives you some street credibility when pitching your work to others. It gives you a bit of prominence and sets you apart because your work has been weighed, measured, and found worthy. Of course, the better known the festival, the more impressive your wins are.

Winning awards also allows you to see where you stand with your peers. Are you 1st place? 2nd place? A finalist? Why? Find out what is working and what is holding you back, so you can continue to succeed and improve your work.

Top Tips:

  • Many festivals and competitions offer feedback on submissions. These are a great way to improve your writing.
  • Always look for similarities when you receive notes from multiple readers. This will cue you in on what’s wrong with your script.
  • Try to attend film festivals that you’ve been nominated in because you will stand out from the crowd.

5) STUDY – become the ‘go to’ person!

You need to become an expert at screenwriting. It must be a part of you. The only way to make sure this happens is by studying. Read everything from random scripts to Aristotle. Learn this craft and become that sought out writer everyone wants to talk with at the festival. You’d be surprised how many producers like to chat with a screenwriter that really knows their stuff. It makes networking easier.

The next thing you know, you will be on a panel somewhere talking about our craft. Then you’ll be guest speaking at an event and eventually you’ll be hosting a seminar. Sounds unbelievable, doesn’t it?

It’s true though. There are over 100,000 screenwriters but most of them are casual. Rarely do you meet the writer who takes it to another level. That writer is special. Their knowledge and wisdom of the craft is sought out by others. Become that person. All it takes is a time and effort.

Top Tips:

  • Read Aristotle’s Poetics. The modern screenwriting masters all quote Aristotle. It’s for a reason. Study him and find out why.
  • Read the scripts of those break-out indie movies. Discover what was special about these screenplays that caused them to succeed where others have failed.
  • Don’t just watch movies; study them. Break them down until you can truly understand the core of the film.

There you have it. A clear path for you to stand out from the crowd. Nothing on this list seems as impossible or as improbable as winning a big ten contest. Every single one of these steps can be done and lead you towards the path of becoming a working writer. Even writing that killer script can be done.

Is it a lot of work? Yes, but anything worth doing always is.

Good Luck!

BIO: Geoffrey D. Calhoun is a multi-award winning screenwriter and founder of wefixyourscript.com where they provide professional feedback with a personal touch. Check them out for a free 15 minute consultation.

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One of the most-searched Google terms leading writers to B2W is ‘stereotype versus archetype’. These two terms are mixed up so often – especially in film reviews by clueless critics, grrr – it’s no wonder writers have trouble keeping track of them as well.Whilst stereotypes relate to ‘the simplification of an idea or person’ (hint: that’s bad!), it’s important to note archetypes are a GREAT place to start with our own characters. After all, we can’t subvert characters and twist them, without knowing what has gone before!

This is why this great infographic and accompanying article is SO useful.  It breaks down how archetypes are basically the ‘mould’ for characters of their kind, then giving classic examples of these types of characters. These character examples immediately help, because these characters have entered the cultural consciousness – even if we’ve never seen or read the story, we still have an idea of what the character is like.

From there, we can think about our own characters and how they relate to archetypes … For example, heroes and rebels were most often male, but now we’re seeing more and more female ones. This is good, but we’ve still got a long way to go when both care-giver and innocent characters are nearly always female. What if ours was male instead? Sages and Magicians are nearly always BAME people, too. What if they weren’t? How would this inform the story? What opportunities could this present? And that’s just for starters!

So make sure you check out the infographic after the jump, not to mention the STACK of handy links to other info on this site about this subject. Best of luck with your writing!

More Links On Archetypes And Characterisation:

12 Character Archetypes & How To Use Them

How To Avoid Stereotypes When Writing Diverse Characters

Why Strength Is The Missing Ingredient In Female Leads

How To Write An Awesome Lone Wolf Character

How To Ue Girl Power In Your Story

6 Things Every Hero Needs

6 Stock Characters That Need Retiring By Writers NOW

5 Secondary Characters Who Teach The Protagonist

5 Modern Kickass Hotties Who Are Actually GREAT Characters

Kicking Arcs: Action Hero Journeys 

4 Female Secondary Characters Who Deserve Their Own Movie

3 Questions For Your Male Action Hero Characters

The 1 Gender Swap That Could Make All The Difference In Your Story

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Originally posted on JerryJenkins.com as The Ultimate Guide to Character Development: 10 Steps to Creating Memorable Heroes.

Spellbinding stories feature believable, knowable characters.

I’d love to impart some gem that would magically make you an expert at character development. But this is as hard as it sounds. Fail at this, and it shows.

Consider some of literature’s most memorable characters – Jane Eyre, Scarlett O’Hara, Atticus Finch, Ebenezer Scrooge, Huckleberry Finn, Katniss Everdeen, Harry Potter. Can you name the novels they come from and what they have in common?

  • Larger than life, they’re also universally human
  • They see courage not as lack of fear but rather the ability to act in the face of fear
  • They learn from failure and rise to great moral victories

Compelling characters make the difference between a memorable and a forgettable novel.

10 Steps to Creating and Developing Your Main Character

1. Introduce her early, by name

[Note: I use female pronouns inclusively here to represent both genders.]

The biggest mistake new writers make is to introduce their main character too late. As a rule she should be the first person on stage and the reader should be able to associate her name with how they see her.

Your goal is to connect reader and character, so the name should reflect her heritage and perhaps even hint at her personality.

Be sure the name is historically and geographically accurate. I often refer to World Almanacs to find names for foreign characters.

2. Give readers a look at her

Don’t make the mistake of forcing your reader to see her exactly the way you do. Does it matter whether your reader visualizes your blonde heroine as Gwyneth Paltrow or Charlize Theron? Or your dark-haired hero as George Clooney or Ben Affleck?

Don’t make the description of your main character a separate element. Rather, layer in what she looks like through dialogue and during the action.

Hint at just enough to trigger the theater of the reader’s mind, just enough information to know whether your hero is big or small, attractive or not, and athletic or not.

The more you know about her, the better you will tell your story.

  • How old is she?
  • What is her nationality?
  • Does she have scars? Piercings? Tattoos? Physical imperfections? Deformities?
  • What does her voice sound like?
  • Does she have an accent?

Readers often have trouble differentiating one character from another, so give her a unique gesture or mannerism.

3. Give her a backstory

Backstory is everything that’s happened before Chapter 1. Dig deep. What has made your character into the person she is today?

Things you should know, whether you include them in your novel or not:

  • When, where, and to whom she was born
  • Brothers and sisters, their names and ages
  • Where she attended high school, college, and graduate school
  • Political affiliation
  • Occupation
  • Income
  • Goals
  • Skills and talents
  • Spiritual life
  • Friends
  • Best friend
  • Whether she’s single, dating, or married
  • Worldview
  • Personality type
  • Anger triggers
  • Joys, pleasures
  • Fears
  • Anything else relevant to your story

4. Make sure she’s human, vulnerable, flawed

For Superman, there’s Kryptonite. For swashbucklers like Indiana Jones, there are snakes.

A lead character without human qualities is impossible to identify with. But be careful not to make your hero irredeemable – a wimp, a scaredy cat, a slob, or a doofus (like a cop who forgets his gun).

You want a character with whom your reader can relate.

Create events that subtly exhibit strength of character. For example, does your character show respect to a waitress and recognize her by name? Would she treat a cashier the same way she treats her broker?

If she’s running late but witnesses an emergency, does she stop and help?

These are called pet-the-dog moments, where an otherwise bigger-than-life personality does something out of character—something that might be considered beneath her.

5. But also give her classic, heroic qualities

Be sure to also make her heroic or implant within her at least that potential. In the end she must rise to the occasion and score a great moral victory.

A well-developed character should be extraordinary, but never allow the victim. Allow her to face obstacles and challenges, but never portray her as a wimp.

Give your character qualities that compel the reader to continue. For example:

  • a character with a humble upbringing (an underdog) rises to the occasion
  • a character with a hidden strength or ability subtly reveals it early in the story and later uses it in an extraordinary way

Make her heroic, and you’ll make her unforgettable.

6. Emphasize her inner life as well as her surface problems

Your hero growing internally will usually contribute more to your Character Arc than the surface story.

Ask yourself:

  • What keeps her awake at night?
  • What is her blind spot?
  • What are her secrets?
  • What embarrasses her?
  • What passion drives her?

When she faces a life or death situation, you’ll know how she should respond.

7. Draw upon your own experience in Character Development

The fun of being a novelist is getting to embody the characters we write about. I can be a young girl, an old man, a boy, a father, a grandmother, another race, a villain, of a different political or spiritual persuasion, etc.

There’s nothing like personal experience to help you develop characters. 

8) Keep Character Arc in mind throughout

Whatever message you’re trying to convey through your story, it must result in a transformation of your character.

A well-written novel that follows a Classic Story Structure plunges its main character into terrible trouble quickly, turns up the heat, and fosters change and growth in the character from the beginning. That’s the very definition of Character Arc.

9) Show, don’t tell

If there’s one Cardinal Rule of fiction, this is it.

Give your readers credit by trusting them to deduce character qualities by what they see in your scenes and hear in your dialogue. If you have to tell about your character in narrative summary, you’ve failed your reader.

Show and you won’t have to tell.

For more on this, see my blog Showing vs. Telling: What You Need to Know.

10) Don’t skimp on research

Imagination can take you only so far. The first time you guess at something, astute readers will call you on it.

Say you’re writing about how you’d feel if you lost a child. Unless you endured this horror yourself, you’d have to interview someone who has.

Is your character a member of a profession with which you have no personal experience?

Interview a real one. You’ll find that most people love talking about their professions.

The #1 Mistake Writers Make When Developing Characters

Making a hero perfect.

What reader can identify with perfect?

Potentially heroic, yes. Honorable, sure. With a bent toward doing the right thing, yes!

But perfect, no.

In the end your character has to grow into heroism from a stance of reality, humanity. Render a lead character your reader can identify with, and in your ending she’ll see herself with the same potential.

Questions about character development? Ask me in the comments below.

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Fast Hell

Whether novelist or screenwriter, Bang2writers are always coming to me with the same two sad laments. These are:

  • ‘I need to get this novel/script written FAST!’
  • ‘I’m in plotting HELL … I don’t know how to get out!’

Two very different problems … but what if I told you the answer to both was THE SAME TIP?

Well it’s true my little grasshoppers, so make sure you’re sitting comfortably so you can pay attention!

The Punchline Approach

Whether you want to get out of Plotting Hell, or you want to get your draft written fast, I advocate what I call ‘The Punchline Approach’. With jokes, it’s the ENDING that is most important, right? Everything else leads to it, via Set Up and Pay Off.

I once talked to a small-time comedian in a pub. I don’t remember his name, but I do remember he was wearing a horrible bow tie and that he loved pork scratchings (he flicked them at people one their way to the loos, which were behind us). I also remember this timeless advice he imparted:

‘You want to write a decent joke? Start with the punchline and work backwards to find the Set Up.’

You can apply this to storytelling generally. Seriously! Check this out:

If you like The 3 Acts, like I do, you can see that going backwards doesn’t really CHANGE the midpoint at all (which is probably the most important bit of your plot, especially in terms of the arc and your characters’ journeys).

On this basis then, starting with the ending means you can ‘find’ your beginning, so you NEVER have the problem of starting ‘too early’ (probably the biggest problem of the spec pile). I’ve become so enamoured of this method, I’ve actually started seeing ENDINGS FIRST when I come up with new stories! Furrealz! And yes, it really has made my life muuuuuuuuch easier.

So, start with your ending and work backwards. I double dare you.

Your Ending Is Everything

This is the thing … If you know where you’re GOING, then you can work out where you should START. It’s simple really when you think about it, but can make ALL THE DIFFERENCE.

Most screenwriters know they shouldn’t start a draft without an ending, but they infrequently work backwards from that ending. Instead, they’ll begin in a linear fashion, which means that very often they will start too early.

Now, novel writing is slightly different in that you *can* start a draft without knowing the end. That said, if plotting is difficult for you, or you want to get your draft written FAST, then I recommend following The Punchline Approach.

It will also mean you have the best chance of writing an ending that has real impact too. Since audiences and readers report that endings REALLY, REALLY MATTER, can you afford not to focus on it?

Good Luck!

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No Spoilers

Goals, Wants & Needs

When it comes to characterisation, most writers know that a protagonist needs to want something – and stuff needs to block the way of him/her getting it. Those same writers will also know the antagonist will be one of those obstacles: perhaps s/he wants the same thing as the protagonist; or to get it first; or to prevent said main character from getting it altogether?

It’s Characterisation 101

From there, however, writers’ notions of characterisation will begin to falter, usually in 2 ways:

i) Comic Book Villains

Look, we live in the age of the superhero movie. The success of movies like the recent THOR RAGNORAK shows this subgenre isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon. Audiences invest in movies that carry the ‘good versus evil’ theme and we like to see heroes like Thor and his mates save the day. End of.

But even comic book villains can’t literally be comic villains anymore. You can’t just say they’re evil and leave it at that. Nor can you say they’re just crazy, which is why their EVIL PLAN makes no sense.

Your antagonist needs to be more rounded, have more overt motivations, even a smattering of back story to make them ‘relatable’. So your own antagonist needs to be the same.

This is non-negotiable.

ii) Secondary Characters That Don’t Pull Their Weight

If main characters like protagonists and antagonists need goals and counter-goals, then secondary characters need to pull their weight and either:

  • a) HELP the protagonist or antagonist or
  • b) HINDER the protagonist or antagonist.

It doesn’t matter if your secondary is the BEST-WRITTEN character in the whole universe. If they don’t have a PURPOSE in the narrative that relates to the above? They are not pulling their weight.

Y’see. secondary characters ALSO need role functions in stories, otherwise there is literally ‘no point’ to them. Role functions may include Love Interest; Mentor; Comic Relief; Straight Guy/Gal; Magician/Wizard; Care-giver; Expendable Hero and many, many others besides. You may merge them, flip them, or even create whole new looks at the various tropes that have gone before. (Basically, you can do anything you like as long as these characters pull their weight! Fancy that).

My 2 Tips, then?

1) The Antagonist Doesn’t Know S/he’s The Bad One

Who wakes up in the morning and says ‘Today, I shall be as evil as possible.’ No one, that’s who. Yet too many antagonists in spec screenplays and unpublished novels are evil for the sake of it, which impacts negatively on the resonance of their characterisation.

This is not to say every single antagonist needs a specific reason for their bad behaviour (like a traumatic past, such as a dead baby!), but a justification can help. Even in the case of literally evil characters such as Hela in THOR RAGNORAK, she’s the Goddess of Death … Of course she’s going to cause death, destruction and mayhem! That’s literally her job. LE DUH.

Yet even Hela has a strong motivation (besides ‘just’ being the Goddess of Death). After all, Odin was only too happy to use his firstborn as a tool to get what he wants … As soon as he got it, he locked her away and hid her very existence from her brothers, Thor and Loki and the rest of Asgard. No wonder she’s pissed. I would be too! I can relate to that.

So Hela’s quest is righteous, from her point of view: she is the eldest child, she deserves the throne. If that means raining fire down on the whole of Asgard and killing everyone, so be it. Remember, she is the Goddess of Death. Tough luck!

TOP TIP: You don’t need tragic backstories for your antagonists, but understanding WHY they do what they do can really help. Get into their shoes every bit as much as your protagonist.

2) Everyone needs ‘a reason to live’

When it comes to secondary characters, they literally orbit the protagonist and antagonist, HELPING or HINDERING them. That is their dramatic function and how the story is told.

On this basis, they inhabit LESS story space. Again, they have to – even with ensembles, audiences cannot cope with ‘too many’ characters (whatever this means).

But if secondary characters ONLY ‘help or hinder’ the two main characters, then they swiftly end up feeling like cardboard cut-outs. These secondary characters need their own elements to distinguish them from the rest, but not so many they take up too much ‘story space’.

With this in mind, it’s worth thinking about how NONE of these characters knows s/he is a small part in *someone else’s* story. Instead, s/he has a ‘reason to live’ beyond what that protagonist or antagonist wants.

In the case of THOR RAGNORAK then, Loki wants to be treated like a God again (and will do whatever it takes to get it). In contrast, Bruce Banner will do anything to try and avoid being the Hulk (Hulk just wants to SMASH), plus Valkyrie is trying to avoid her painful past.

All will come together to help Thor vanquish Hela, as we’d expect from this type of movie.

TOP TIP: What is the role function of each of your secondary characters? What does each of them want – what is their ‘reason to live’? How does this fit with the story as a whole?

17761123_10154582559506139_691836916590645085_o Want more about characterisation?

Then check out my book, Writing Diverse Characters For Fiction, TV & Film, out now from Creative Essentials. Available in paperback and ebook, from Amazon and all good book stores. Click on the link or the pic for more info.

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