Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Character- the Orange with a Missing Piece

I’ve heard that there are two types of novels—character driven and plot driven. I think every good story needs dynamic characters. I’m not opposed to plot driven novels, since I my own stories are not for navel gazers, but I think character arcs are always the heart of any story.

Think of your characters like an orange. At the beginning of your story, your orange/person needs to have a section missing. The literati call this missing section the “inner wound”—I personally like the orange analogy. Throughout the story, the orange/person will learn something and “grow” the missing section, or heal the inner wound, and become complete and healthy. Often, the character won’t even know or understand what’s missing in his character or make-up until he’s called to rally and face the final showdown. He cannot face and conquer the outer demons until he’s first overcome his inner demons.

Here’s a step by step approach to finding your character’s missing orange section:
Your character’s name:
His role in the novel:
What is your character’s goal?
What happened in your orange’s past that severely wounded him? Who or what stole his orange section?

What incorrect thinking (core belief) developed as a result of the wound?

During the story, what are the turning points, situations or words that slam their incorrect thinking and force them to be proactive and grow?

What will they lose or not attain if they remain static?

What event throws them into self analysis and forces them into growth?

How does the change in thinking make them whole and worthy to go to battle and win?

Keep in mind that in a solid novel, every point of view of character needs a character arc. If you don’t want to write an arc for every character in your book then you have to stay out of their head. It’s just like in real life—we don’t know what everyone is thinking and we can only guess at their motivation. That’s the suspense of living (and reading.)

Some helpful character tools.
A character bible: A tool that will help you understand everything about your characters. The bible should include age, weight height, sex, schooling, occupation, where they are originally from and where they currently live. Your bible might look like this:
Character name:
Dramatic need:
Height and weight: (because your mom was wrong and these things really do matter)
Hair color:
Physical imperfections and quirks:
Social standing:
Home life:
Social affiliations, clubs, sports, hobbies:

Another great tool—Pinterest. Check out my Rose Arbor board for a look at my characters. I love this.

Dwight Swain in Techniques of the Selling Writer lists three categories for quirks or what he calls character tags. These tags make a character memorable and distinguishable.
1.     Appearance: tall, short, moles, sloppy, hairy
2.     Speech: accent, lisp, large or small vocabulary, slang and cliché usage
3.     Mannerisms: hair tugging, nail biting, hand wringing, doodler, nose tapper

Another helpful tool is Taylor Hartman’s Color Code. The Hartman Personality Profile also known as The Color Code, created by Dr. Taylor Hartman, divides personalities into four colors: Red (the power wielders), Blue (the do-gooders), White (the peacekeepers), and Yellow (the fun lovers). Whether or not you believe in classifying people and putting them into acorn shells is beside the point—your goal is to create realistic characters and this basic understanding of personality types  and motivations is invaluable.

I know writers who base their characters on people that they know. Do not do this. Stories like this never have a happy ending.

In closing, I’m including some character advice from talented writers.

“It all begins with the moment your character walks onstage. How you introduce your character is as important as how you end their story. They must prove tasty enough bait to hook the reader.”
Christine M. Fairchild
Sexy, edgy suspense An Eye For Danger (
Free editing tips & tricks
The Editor Devil's Guide to DIALOGUE & The Editor Devil's Guide to CHARACTERS

“Since I identify with my heroines, naturally I don’t want them to lose their money or their tempers. But you wouldn’t want to read about me, because I’m boring. My heroines have to be bold where I’m cautious, and disaster-prone where I’m merely clumsy. We all want happy endings, but we have to make our characters earn them. Really earn them.”
Jackie Diamond Hyman
Writing as Jacqueline Diamond

“Stephen King wrote one of the best books on writing that money can buy. There is one idea that he says he uses and that I have adopted myself. It's a fascinating way to pull yourself out of your work and look at it with a scientific eye.

Think of your story, any story, as a fossil buried in the ground. You don't know what it is when you start, other than it is a big fossil or a little fossil. But as you chip away, sometimes removing great big wheelbarrows of dirt and other times brushing away ever so dellicately with a brush, you begin to get a feeling for what you might have. Your mind may explode with ideas, but if you keep chipping away at the fossil, it will, sooner or later, lead you in the right direction. Eventually you will pull it from the earth, clean it up and be able to say--this is something which has never been seen before, or I know what this is, but isn't it neat how compact it is, and that fluted comb: no one knew there was such a thing.

Are you getting the idea? You story, as that fossil, can cure so many things: writers block, weak plotting, the discovery of a theme. And it can keep your art young and exciting, because each new story is a potential discovery of major significance. This fossil you've stumbled upon could be THE ONE.

I play around with this metaphor at times like this, and I really haven't found any part of writing it doesn't encompass.”
Clayton Bye
Author, Technomage: FROM EARTH TO EDEN II
Editor-in-Chief, The Deepening
Publisher, Writers on the Wrong Side of the Road


  1. Reminder--up next, plot. If you have something you'd like to contribute, please email me at

  2. this post is very interesting and easy to read .... I hope to visit again