Thursday, April 1, 2021

2021 - April through June - The Criminal-Villain Qualities List

 

Special Notice: This year, my Writer's Cheat Sheet Blog posts will be updated on the first of every month but quarterly. The next update will be Oct. 1st.

This year's posts deal with "lists" (also known as Cheat Sheets) that help a writer recall necessary elements before writing (or after) that make for a marketable story, a story worth telling and selling. 


The Criminal-Villain Qualities List 

The Antagonist in a story is The Who or The What that opposes or thwarts the Protagonist. In this month's post, we'll be looking at only The Who type of Antagonist.

It goes without saying that the Antagonist needs to be powerful and ruthless enough to succeed in achieving their goal or goals. The Antagonist goal is to stop or defeat the Protagonist at every turn of the plot.

However, The Who Antagonist doesn't need to be truly evil-evil. Yes, people can be horrendously cruel, greedy, exploitive, and egocentric but not all psychopaths or sociopaths are criminals. Even if that Who Antagonist is a person, being, deity, extraterrestrial, etc. somewhere within them is a spec of goodness or kindness.

And of course, there can be one or more Complicating Characters who are a story's antagonists. Complicating Characters are bent on complicating the Protagonist's life and goals. Complicating Characters act individually or they may team up to thwart the Protagonist on several levels, which don't usually include murder but create a great deal of mayhem, frustration, and anxiety for the hero or heroine.

To better understand your story's Antagonist, ask your villain or each complicating character: What is your "malicious intent?" In other words, name their one, dominant, secret, deep-down desire, want, or need—and why that is.

It might help to know if your villain is AN ORGANIZED CRIMINAL who possesses several (but not necessarily all) of these qualities— 

. acts aggressively

. plans the crime or attack in detail

. personalizes the victim

. controls conversation with the victim

. controls the crime scene

. removes weapons from the victim's reach or use

. requires a victim to be submissive and/or restrained 

. leaves very little evidence that can identify them (cleverly disposing of bodies)

Or is your Antagonist THE DISORGANIZED CRIMINAL who possesses several (but not necessarily all) of these qualities— 

. acts spontaneously, emotionally

. targets people they know, or who they think have done them wrong

. depersonalizes the victim, keeps conversation with victim to a minimum (they don't want to be dissuaded from hating or disliking the victim)

. attacks victim with sudden violence

. does not use restraints

. creates or leaves a chaotic crime scene and may leave the corpse at the crime scene

. leaves weapon(s) behind along with a variety of evidence

. may have sex with a corpse

Here's something you might not know— Villains have a VICE. A vice is: 

An evil, degrading, undesirable, or immoral practice or habit 

A serious moral failing

Wicked or evil conduct or habits, may be depraved

Sexual immorality, especially prostitution, rape 

A failing, a slight flaw or an imperfection (scar, tattoo, etc.) that is visible to others

A physical defect or weakness the villain hates himself for having and perceives others are repulsed by it or he is often ridiculed for it

The above lists are possibilities to think about that can help flesh out The Who  Antagonist of your story.

Lastly, I can't be say it enough —  A story resonates best with readers when there is a worthy antagonist, one who comes across as a person, not a puppet.

 *************




Friday, January 1, 2021

2021 - January through March

 
Special Notice: This year, my Writer's Cheat Sheet Blog posts will be updated on the first of every month but quarterly (the next post will be April 1). 

This year's posts will deal with "lists" (also known as Cheat Sheets) that help a writer recall necessary elements before writing (or after) that make for a marketable story, a story worth telling and selling. Such Cheat Sheets are the backbone of a producing writer's Project Bible. 


So, now let's start this new year off with— 


THE QUALITIES OF

 A PROTAGONIST 

(HERO OR HEROINE)


Most romance and fiction heroes (those alpha and beta men) of legendary stories come across as superior to real men in many ways. The same is said for heroines versus real women.

Now, go get a pen and a sheet of paper and recall a book you really enjoyed reading that had memorable characters. As quickly as you can, write down three POSITIVE qualities of the most memorable MALE character in that story. Once done, compare your three to this list of hero-protagonist qualities:

HAS A WOUNDED SPIRIT

HAS A CAUSE /JOB (OR IS BUMMED OUT BY HIS JOB AND NEEDS REJUVENATION)

PEOPLE ARE LOYAL TO HIM

HE IS LOYAL TO HIS FAMILY AND FRIENDS

HE IS RESPECTED AND FEARED

HE IS SMART / INTELLIGENT

HE UNDERMINES THE ROMANTIC LEAD's OR HEROINE'S DEFENSES

HE CARES FOR HIS PEOPLE'S PLIGHT (FAMILY, FRIENDS, COWORKERS)

HE IS TRUSTED AND TRUSTWORTHY

HE IS REALISTIC

HE HAS INNER HONOR, A CODE OF HONOR

HE IS DETERMINED, DECISIVE

HE MAY BE A LONER

Now, list as quickly as you can, three POSITIVE qualities of the most memorable FEMALE character in a favorite story. Once done, compare your three to this list of heroine-protagonist / romantic-lead qualities:

HER INTELLIGENCE MATCHES THE HERO'S

SHE IS SMART / INTELLIGENT

SHE IS CONFIDENT MOST OF THE TIME

SHE IS BOLD, DECISIVE, OFTEN A LEADER-BOSS

SHE IS MADDENING IN SOME WAY

SHE IS DETERMINED

SHE MAY BE STUBBORN

SHE IS INDEPENDENT OR INDEPENDENTLY MINDED (SHE THINKS SHE CAN DO IT HERSELF)

SHE IS NOT OUTWARDLY OR OVERLY EMOTIONAL (MOST OF THE TIME)

SHE IS SENSUAL (NOT NECESSARILY SEXY)

SHE STRIVES TO BE FREE, TO BREAK THE CHAINS THAT BIND HER 

SHE HAS A NEED TO FEEL AND BE SOMEBODY SPECIAL

SHE DOES NOT EASILY TRUST 

Did you notice as you went through all the lists, that these are admirable traits? Well, a Protagonist, be they male or female, must be highly admirable. 

Here's the secret, show the reader their MOST ADMIRABLE TRAIT when they come on stage by announcing to the reader their name (the name they will be known as throughout the story, not necessarily their full name). After all, a story is about SOMEONE, a person, so begin with that very special person on the first line of the first page, or within the first sentence or paragraph or within 500 words of the opening of the story. 

Doing so telegraphs to the reader the story is about "someone special" who is a person worthy of a reader's investment in reading the story.

So, how does your protagonist measure up as "hero or heroine" worthy?

A new year is like a blank book. 
The pen is in your hands. 
It is your chance to write 
a beautiful story for yourself 
in this the New Year of 2021!
# # # 



Tuesday, December 1, 2020

2020 - December - Characters Make The Story

 



Part 12 of 12  of Job titles for Story Characters • © 2020 All Rights Reserved



A lot of information has been included in this year's twelve monthly blog posts. That's why this end-of-the-year post is a summary— and a reminder. 

Topping the list of reminders is that plot is only as effective as the characters who showcase that plot. Write that in big bold letters and post it where you can see it every time you write a story.

Characters are so important that they can be sorted into categories by their job or function in the story. Knowing their story job titles and duties (job description) helps a writer create a far better story and stops overpopulating the story with a "cast of thousands." As you have learned this past year— 

Story job titles fall into categories of:

Major (or Main) Story Characters

The Protagonist (The Hero or Heroine)

The Antagonist (The Who or The What that opposes the Protagonist)

Major Secondary Characters

Romantic Interest or the Romantic Lead

Best Friend, Sidekick, Pal, etc.

Mentor, Advisor, Teacher, Sage, etc.

The Fool


The Entourages for the Protagonist are 

Friends, men

Friends, women

A Love Interest or The Romantic Lead (who is not a Major Secondary Character)

A Mentor

A Coach 

Pals (drinking buddies, poker pals, bowling pals) 

Family (parents, siblings, other relatives)

Neighbors

Work associates

Food industry workers (bar tender, waitress, etc.)

Health workers (doctor, nurse, etc.)

Tradesmen (plumber, mechanic, pool man, etc.)

Professionals (law enforcement, banking or financial, veterinarian, etc.)

. . . and so on.


The Entourage for the Antagonist (if a Who) can be

* Friends 

* Right-hand Henchperson or second in command

* Toadies, Monster-beings, Servants, Minions, etc.

* A Mentor

* Family (parents, siblings, other relatives)

* Professionals (gangsters, crooks, thieves, killers for hire, security enforcers, and others who procure things, obey orders, and carry out the Antagonist's plans and orders, and protect the Antagonist).


Tertiary Characters (Named Minor Characters), Symbolic Characters, and Prop People.


In the last three posts (September, October, and November) we discussed the sound of names (psycholinguistics), the merits of archetype names, tags and traits for names, and the value of having a master character worksheet (questionnaire).

Armed with the information in this year's posts, you should be able to write a story with far more believable characters.

If you're new to reading this blog, feel free to go to January 2020 and begin reading the posts.

And, thank you for being a faithful reader of this blog and for sharing the links with other writers. Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Strive to write well and tell a story well.

Catherine E. McLean

  





                         ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Revision is where the magic happens—

use this guidebook to take the frustration out of self-editing that draft you wrote during NaNoWriMo



Tell Santa you want this guidebook in your Christmas Stocking

                                                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

 

Sunday, November 1, 2020

2020 - November - Character Worksheets









Part 11 of 12 of Job Titles for Story Characters 
 © 2020 All Rights Reserved

    

Hair and eye color are nice to know, but what makes a character tick—how he’ll respond to stress, his fears and desires are what’s really important to give you all the delicious tension and growth an I-can’t-put-this-book-down story needs. — Silvie Kurtz 

I've periodically mentioned writers using a character questionnaire or character worksheet to quickly get at the personality of the story's main characters. Unfortunately, it's mind-boggling what you can find in the way of character worksheets and characterization forms online. One site I stumbled across a couple years ago had hundreds of questions, even including the color of the character's kitchen sink!

In truth, it doesn't hurt to look over a lot of such questionnaires and worksheets, just don't use them as is. What  you want to do is incorporate questions into your own "cheat sheets" that will quickly define and bring to life your main characters. Strive to keep that form as simple and uncomplicated as possible to avoid getting bogged down filling in blanks or checking off boxes.

Producing writers don't waste time. Producing writers rely on their own, customized forms so they get at the core values of their main characters that helps ensure a viable plot.

Here's a secret — ONLY ONE MASTER FORM IS NEEDED. That "cheat sheet" works for the protagonist and antagonist. And, it's also used for a story with a Second Major Character who has Point of View-Viewpoint and without whom the plot will fail. 

All other characters are minor characters and do not need detailed work-ups (when they become heroes or heroines of their own books, then it's time to use the master questionnaire).

Using one master form means asking THE SAME QUESTIONS to the main story characters. Doing so reveals how the characters are fundamentally the same and how different they are. Those differences make for well-rounded characters and allow for an engaging and workable plot.

Working with "cheat sheet" forms is more than jotting in an answer. It's about asking the right questions and, more importantly, asking WHY or looking deeper into WHAT THE ANSWER MEANS. 

There are some common, fundamental, questions that appear on nearly every worksheet or questionnaire and those are below. I've also added in the WHY and WHAT factors to consider: 

1) Character's name — first, middle, last, initials, and nickname (if applicable). 

Be sure the initials do not spell something derogatory, unless you're writing comedy or irony, that is. Evaluate every name for the meaning, how the name looks, sounds, etc. –-  Refer to "Naming Characters," which was the September 2020 Writers Cheat Sheet blog topic.

2) The character's function in the story.

That is, what is their "job title" for the story. Is it Protagonist, Antagonist or Second Major Character (like the Romantic Lead, Mentor, Sidekick, etc.). Remember, each job title has a set of specific tags and traits.

3) Age 

Why that age? Does this character look their age? Older? Younger? Do they feel their age? What advantage or disadvantage does that age give the character in life or on-the-job? (i.e., An 18-year-old doesn't have the maturity of a 50-year-old.)

4) Sex or Sexual Orientation

How do they feel about their sexuality? If applicable, what kind of lover are they (both how they see themselves and how their partner or partners see them sexually, sensually).

5) Marital status — single, married, divorced, widowed/widower, with a significant other, etc. 

How do they feel about that status? If divorced, what caused the divorce? Are they a confirmed bachelor/bachelorette, and why? 

6) Occupation

This is about what the character does to make a living. Why did they choose that occupation? Are they happy in their career?  If so, why?  If not, why?

7) Distinguishing physical characteristics (scars, tattoos, blemishes, etc.)

This is where you-the-writer describe their physical attributes of height, weight, eye and hair color, shape of body and face, tone of voice, etc. Always ask Why that hair color? Why that eye color? The answers can yield clues to tags and traits. Tip: people react to colors on a subliminal level, for instance, blond often equates to "dumb blond" whereas someone with earth-brown hair is seen as "down to earth." You could have a smart blond or a dumb brunette, but you'll have to work a bit harder to convince the reader that you've gone against the stereotype.

8) Personality traits —  the "internal," intangible (abstract) of their character. 

Are they basically a pessimist or optimist? Note: I've found using percentages works best for me because no person or character is 100% pessimistic or optimistic. It's also wise to record the character's level for being an introvert or an extrovert. And ask, how do these traits affect their actions when under stress or in their normal day-to-day life. Or even, how do such traits mold their character?

9) Habits - what are their concrete habits (thumping a pencil, biting nails), speech-diction (formal, informal, use of slang, or repetitive phrases, diction, syntax), etc.

What triggered or triggers the habit? How do they typically react to fear, love, hate, anxiety? If afraid, do they stand and fight, freeze in place, or flee?

10) Background — their genealogy, their family and their social class, monetary status.

This includes their education (as in schooling or military service), the nationality influences of their family-upbringing (Christian, Jewish, Southern Baptist, and so on, and what holidays they love or hate or celebrate), previous jobs (and, if applicable, why they left them).

11) What is this character's greatest strength?  

Most likely it's one of the 7 Cardinal Virtues, or perhaps a few of Aristotle's 12 Virtues, which you can look up on the Internet.

12) What is this character's greatest weakness (their Achilles' heel)?  

Most likely it's one of the 7 Deadly Sins — either the Biblical ones or the Modern ones, which you can look up on the Internet.

And here is a bonus to consider putting on your form: What is the character's self-concept? To get the self-concept, have the character answer this question: "I am . . . " (fill in the blank with whatever the character says, which will be a short phrase). Examples include: I am a self-made man, or I am a disillusioned soldier (corporate executive, etc.), or I am a closet romantic, or I am always the bridesmaid never the bride . . . 


So that's the starting lineup of questions for a get-to-know-your character questionnaire. Where you go from there will depend on the type of genre you write, the information you feel is vital in getting to know your main characters, and looking at dozens of character forms to get ideas on format (arrangement of the items) and the question-content you want to add to your form. 

And, remember — only include what is useful and helps you discover a three-dimensional character that readers will recognize.

*************

Next Month  - 2020 — December — A Summary 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To all who are participating in NaNoWriMo, I wish you success with your word quest!

# # # 


Thursday, October 1, 2020

2020 October - Character Tags & Traits

 

Part 10 of 12  of Job titles for Story Characters • © 2020 All Rights Reserved

Last month's blog was about psycholinguistics — how names resonate as positive, negative, or neutral and how that benefits a story. 

As you learned last month, imagery is tightly tied to the look and sound of a name. Writers should strive for an archetype name for their major story characters because, on a subconscious level, the archetype name triggers deep-seated recognition of tags and traits that go with that particular name.

But you may be wondering: What is a tag? What is a trait? 

They are defined as— 

TAGS are a descriptive detail, a label, repeated almost every time a character enters the story and which serves to identify and characterize him or her. Tags are concrete actions of cracking knuckles, drumming fingers on a table, biting nails, tapping a toe, etc.  Tags are "externals"— they are what can be witnessed, seen, heard, etc. Tags are concrete, specific, and credible (believable).

Now, a character's name is the most important TAG of all because it is THE TAG OF IDENTIFICATION. 

Names, particularly archetype names, come loaded with meaning and even character traits.

However, some tags label traits.  Such tags are physical clues to traits.

TRAITS are a character's characteristic habits, patterns of behavior, and mannerisms. The dominant impression is the trait that stands out the most and which should be shown to the reader from the get-go. Traits include: Is the character an optimist or pessimist? How does the character instinctively react when angry, happy, sad, etc.?

Traits are "internals" and abstracts— they involve the mind-set and personality of a character.  But here's a tip: Traits come in pairs: one is admirable and one is despicable (thus they are opposites, which helps balance out the character). For instance, at their best a character can be down-to-earth pragmatic but at their worst they can be very self-centered.

Traits come in the form of:

a verbal tic (they repeat a common phrase, which peppers their dialogue passages. For instance, in the TV series, Detective Columbo often says,  Just one more thing.

a particular way of speaking, like with an accent or dialect. For example Yoda of Star Wars' If no mistake have you made, yet losing you are . . . a different game you should play.

a physical mannerism or a repeating behavior (they smoke when nervous or chew on a toothpick, they bite their nails when anxious, they crack their knuckles, or they may even fiddle with something (a lock of hair, a token, a coin, etc.)

a way of carrying themselves, which can be their brisk stride, keeping a ram-rod straight spine, a mutinous set to their jaw, the meek hunching their shoulders, and so on.

a scent (their cologne, perfume, bath soap, or after shave, even their body odor from uncleanliness, fear, sweating, etc.)

Even if you love your protagonist and hate the antagonist, keep in mind that nobody is 100% good or 100% evil. It is the balance, or out-of-balance, personality traits that make a character "human," realistic, and believable to the reader.

If you need help with traits, google "Images of Character Traits." Or check out the book, A WRITER'S GUIDE TO CHARACTER TRAITS by Linda N. Edelstein, PH.D. 

One way to get to know a character is to journal in the voice of the character: 

to learn how they talk, speak, think

to get a look into their philosophies on life and death, right and wrong, and what's their moral compass

to learn about their education, job or sports experiences, etc.

to learn about their social-economic upbringing and heritage

to discover weaknesses and strengths of their character and what events in their life molded those

However, journaling is time consuming. Journaling also requires going back through what was written to locate tags and traits and sort them into which seem to dominate (likely three will for the story). And, of course, in the end, only 10% of what was in the journal is needed for the actual story. 

A quicker way to get to know a character is to use a "cheat sheet" called a Character Worksheet or a Character Questionnaire, which may include lists of tags and traits that the writer has collected over time or from various sources. In other words, as the writer goes down the lists they've developed, the subconscious will likely trigger a "ta-dah" or other positive response. Then the writer can look at the traits and tags and which fit will dominate.

Do remember that the only characters who warrant such journaling or character questionnaires are the story's major characters—Protagonist, Antagonist, and possibly the Second Major Character.

Which brings me to—   

Next month we'll look at Character Worksheets and Questionnaires.