Get To Know Your Characters [NaNoWriMo Prep]

NaNo is coming! It’s about 20 days away… already. It’s coming up fast and there’s no stopping it.

Some people outline their novels, some people don’t. There are some people who do quick writing exercises or prompts as practice to prep for the upcoming writing streak. Some people don’t.

No matter what you do or don’t do, that’s okay. I personally love to outline and I love to try new things with my characters to get to know them a little better.

So, here’s a fun exercise to do with your characters.

NaNoWriMo 2017 Prep: Get To Know Your Characters

I got this idea from my 15-year-old cousin. She had English homework one night and had to do this for the protagonist of her summer reading book.

I have to admit, I was a bit jealous. I never had fun homework like that.

The idea is to think a bit outside the box and to get to know your characters on a deeper level. To the naked eye, it doesn’t make sense, but to a writer, it’s pretty clever.

So, ask yourself this:

Is your protagonist (or any character) more like…

  • May or December?
  • A Jeep, a Corvette, a Saturn, or a Mercedes Benz?
  • Brown or blue?
  • The letter A, the letter M, or the letter Z?
  • Vanilla ice cream or chocolate mousse?
  • New York, San Fransico, Salt Lake City, or New Orleans?
  • A hammer or a nail?
  • White, rye, or pumpernickel bread?
  • A short story, a poem, an essay, or a play?
  • Soap or dirt?
  • Fire, water, earth, or air?
  • A lock or a key?
  • The comics, the sports section, the business report, or the editorial page?
  • A snowstorm or a rainy day?
  • A horse show, a hockey match, or a track-and-field event?
  • A forest fire or a mountain stream?
  • A TV game show, a soap opera, a situation comedy, or a drama?
  • Science fiction, mystery, romance, or horror?
  • A cat, a dog, or a goldfish?

My cousin’s teacher had the class do this on themselves first so they could get a feel for the assignment. My cousin said she was more like “pumpernickel bread” because it’s a funny word. That right there actually sums up her personality. She’s a funny person and can sometimes be a dope. The fact that she immediately thought “pumpernickel” was a funny word and laughed just sums it all up.

With this exercise, you can get to the heart of your characters. It seems silly and random, but you just might learn something new about them.

Have you done anything like this before? Do you think you’ll try this exercise? Let me know in the comments below and we’ll chat!
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Creating Characters: What’s Your Favorite Part?

Creating characters for your novels isn’t necessarily an easy task, but it’s important and it can be fun.

We talked a lot about characters this month. There’s a whole lot more to explore when it comes to characters, but I think we covered a decent amount. I’m sure there will be another month when I discuss characters again. (That means, yes. Yes, there will be another character-orientated month.)

So, I’m asking a simple question today. What’s your favorite part about creating characters?

creating-characters-favorite-part

A lot goes into bringing character to life and making them unique from other characters in your novel and other characters from other novels written by other people.

First, there’s the physical description. How long do you spend trying to decide whether or not your protagonist has brown, blonde, or purple hair? Did they get their green eyes from their mother or father? Or maybe from her great-great-aunt?

What kind of clothes do they wear? Do they always try to look presentable or do they just not care? Make-up? Jewelry?

How tall or short are they? Are they a twig or husky? Do they have a huge nose or teeny-tiny ears?

Then, there’s the personality. Are they self-conscious about that huge nose? Or do they not care what others think about them?

Are they nice to everyone or just their close friends? Are they pleasant to be around? Do they have any normal/weird habits or hobbies? What’s their favorite anything? Food, clothes, color, etc.

Third, you have their background story. What’s their family and home life like? Do they have any friends? A large group or just one best friend?

How did they get to where they are today? What kinds of decisions do they make?

Now here’s the important question: do you like to plan your characters out, like I just did above, or do you like free writing and see where they take you?

I think writing characters is so much fun because you can place them in certain worlds and situations that you can’t normally be part of. Your characters are a little piece of you and you live vicariously through them.

So, what’s your favorite part about creating your characters? Let me know in the comments below!

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What’s In A Name?

This past April I wrote something a little different for Camp NaNoWriMo. Instead of my usual mystery novels or super-power fantasy novels, I decided to retell my favorite fairy tale.

I wrote The Lost Girl, a retelling of Peter Pan.

First things first, I had to do a bit of research about the time period. Peter Pan takes place in about 1904.

So, when coming up with a name for my lead female character, I looked up the most popular names from the 1900s. Grace was number 42 (according to the list I found).

I chose the name Grace because I think it’s a pretty name. It’s a common name. It’s simple. Even though it was popular way back then, it’s still pretty common.

The name Gwen is number 78 on that list. I like the name Gwen, but it’s never my first choice.

I was also trying to find a name for Grace’s mother as well. I ended up using Grace as my main character and a different name for her mother. Gwen didn’t make the cut at all. And to be honest, if a new female pops up in my story, I will not choose the name Gwen, no matter how big of a character she is.

Because while I don’t mind the name Gwen, there is just something about it. Something I don’t understand.

What's In A Name: Gwen

I’ve read a fair share amount of Peter Pan retellings lately. It’s partly why I decided to write my own. Peter Pan is my favorite and I thought of a great idea from the ABC show Once Upon A Time and from all the Peter Pan tales I had been reading.

If you follow my book reviews, you’ll know I’ve read some Peter Pan tales and I haven’t been a fan of a few of them. More than a few of them, actually. But I still add those tales to my to-be-read list anyway. They all sound good and I love Peter Pan, so why not give them a try?

I’ve noticed that fairy tale retellings have become pretty big lately and a lot of retellings that are coming out are about Peter Pan. This means getting The Lost Girl out in the world will either be pretty “easy” (I say that lightly) or really hard.

But I know there’s one thing my novel has that the others don’t: a different name.

Every time I go to my local bookstore with Kris, we always search through the young adult section. As I said, fairy tale retellings are what’s currently “in” at the moment and there are a lot of Peter Pan stories.

I found the novel Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell through Goodreads. The main character’s name is Gwen.

Then I found The Neverland Wars by Audrey Greathouse at the bookstore. The main character’s name is Gwen.

There was another novel I found at the bookstore, but I can’t remember the name or author at the moment. What I do remember is that the main character’s name was–Drumroll, please–Gwen.

I went back to the bookstore a few days ago and discovered a new Peter Pan story titled Everland by Wendy Spinale. As I picked it up off the shelf, I said to Kris: “I swear, if the main character’s name is Gwen…”

I started reading the summary in the front cover flap and stopped after the second sentence, which read:

“The only ones who have survived the destruction and the outbreak of a deadly virus are children, among them sixteen-year-old Gwen Darling and her younger siblings, Joanna and Mikey.” (Curtosy of Goodreads).

Why?

I don’t understand why the name Gwen is so popular among Peter Pan stories.

Is there something I’m missing? Is it a coincidence?

What I do know is that if I ended up choosing the name Gwen for my character, I would be changing it right now. Part of me wants to change Grace just because it starts with the letter “G.”

I don’t know if I’m overthinking things or not. I don’t even know if I have the right to be bothered by this. I just think it’s weird. None of these authors could choose a different name other than Gwen? Gwen doesn’t even have a special meaning that has anything to do with Peter Pan.

What’s even more strange is that Unhooked was published in February 2016. But The Neverland Wars was published May 9, 2016 while Everland was published May 10, 2016. All three books were by different publishers.

Weird, huh?

Names are important. And if you want your book to stand out from the rest, you have to give your characters names no one will forget; especially if you’re writing about the same topic as many others.

Have you ever noticed anything strange about different books like this? What do you think about this “Gwen” fad in Peter Pan stories? Let me know in the comments!

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Ingredients for Mystery Soup

No two stories are alike. Each story is different and unique from another. Sure, there are cliches in the world of writing, but each outcome is different from the one before it. The possibilities are endless.

Yet, there are some things that each story have in common with each other: Elements. Or, ingredients as I like to call it.

It’s what makes a story a story.

Ingrediants for Mystery Soup Rachel Poli

All stories need five elements in order to make it a true, compelling tale.

1. Characters — The main person (or animal, alien, robot, what have you) the story revolves around. Plus, supporting characters to help or hinder the protagonist along.
2. Setting — The place where the story takes place.
3. Plot — A series of events and actions done by the character(s) that center around the conflict.
4. Conflict — The main struggle of the story. Usually, there are two sides to the conflict, good and bad, where your character is on one side.
5. Theme — The main idea or moral of the whole story.

Sounds easy enough, right? Sure.

But what does this mean when you’re writing a mystery novel? I’ll tell you what sort of ingredients you’ll need in order for you readers to beg you for dessert.

Characters

There are four main types of characters you’ll need for a mystery novel.

1. Detectives — Who is solving the crime here? No, you’re “detective” does not have to be part of the law enforcement. Your detective could be a young adult investigating on his or her own trying to figure out what truly caused their parents’ car accident.

2. Victims — Did they die? If so, I’m sure they had friends and family. Were they robbed? They need to be around to report the crime and give their statement. Maybe they have their own suspicions of who did it.

3. Suspects — Someone has to be the culprit. A crime doesn’t commit itself. Then again, your protagonist can’t catch the bad guy on their first go. There should be more than one suspect.

4. Witnesses — Someone might have seen something or at least heard something. Someone has to call the police. Maybe they’re the one who walked in on the dead body. Who knows?

Setting

Just like any other story, the setting is important. You want your readers to have a good sense of where they are and what’s going on, right?

Did your crime take place in a large city where crime happens multiple times a day? Or maybe a small, secluded town where the population is five and crime almost never happens there. Invite the reader to these places.

Someone, most likely the protagonist, will have to investigate the crime scene, right? Let’s assume there’s a dead body in the room… where is the body? Does it look clean? Does the scene have blood splattered everywhere? Is the place a mess (signs of a struggle) or pretty clean?

Give your readers some clues as your protagonist finds them. Give your readers a chance to investigate with your characters and possibly figure it out before them.

Plot

Most mystery plots come in the form of questions. These questions need to be answered by the end of the story or you’ll have some pretty angry readers.

Mystery plots can include:

  • A problem or puzzle that needs solving
  • Something that is difficult to explain
  • Secrets, the unknown
  • Something or someone that is missing
  • A crime that’s committed (robbery, murder, etc.)

Conflict

As stated before, a conflict is mainly between two sides. For mystery, the sides would be the good guys trying to solve the crime and the other side would be the bad guys running and hiding so they don’t get caught. Or the bad guys have a reason for what they did, but your main character doesn’t believe in their theories.

For conflict in a mystery, you need…

1. A crime — Basically the plot of the story. Who, what, where, when, why, when, and how?

2. Clues and evidence — Help your readers solve the crime alongside your protagonist. Give them “a-ha!” moments when they find a new clue and piece it together with evidence. No one is going to get anywhere solving the crime without any clues.

3. Red-herrings — Red-herrings are distractions, false evidence, dead-ends, whatever you want to call it. No one can solve a crime perfectly on their first try. They may view a clue the wrong way. Maybe a witness led them astray, whether done on purpose or not is up to you.

Theme

Well. This one is pretty much up to you. You decide what moral lesson you want your characters to teach your readers.

Well, now that we have all the ingredients to make our mystery novel, let’s mix it all together and begin!

Pre-heat the Oven

The beginning of your mystery novel should introduce everything. The characters, the setting, the plot. Your characters should figure out there is a problem and begin to learn how to solve it.

Bake

The middle of the story will include your characters finding clues, piecing together evidence, investigating crime scenes, interrogating key witnesses, making mistakes, making breakthroughs. Finally, they’ll have their “a-ha!” moment.

Time to eat!

The ending is where everything gets wrapped up. Your investigator explains the whole crime from beginning to end making sure there are no loose ends for your reader, no more questions asked. The culprit is then taken away and everyone else can celebrate.

At that point, you should go bake yourself a cake in real life. Because that’s when the editing begins.

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Inspiration Station: Anatomy of A Character

Anatomy of a character inspiration station

I know some people like to allow their characters to develop naturally through the course of the story. Others don’t know anything about their characters until they write them down. Then there are some who plan and plan and plan their characters out.

For me, it all depends on the novel.

For my George Florence series I had personalities in mind for my characters. Then I wrote them and they turned out completely different.

For my Take Over novel I had their personalities planned and so far they’re sticking to them.

For my Diary of a Lover novel, I let the characters run the show.

So you never really know what is going to happen whether you plan or not.

However, there are definitely a few things you should know about your character before writing them:

1. First and last name
2. Gender
3. Age
4. Career and/or Education

As long as you know those four key points (and I guess number four could be optional) I think your character can wing it for the novel.

Then again, it can be fun to plan. If you are a planner for your characters then I would suggest this:

Character Chart by EpiGuide.

It’s a very in depth profile for your characters. Some information most likely isn’t needed, but a lot of the information is something you wouldn’t even think to include.

It’s fun to try anyway.

How to Name Your Characters

Naming Your Characters: First Names

Your name is part of what makes you you. That’s no different from the characters in your story.

Some people say that names aren’t important. It’s the description and development throughout the story that creates loveable, relateable characters.

I think names are pretty important as well. Plus, they’re a lot of fun.

There are two ways I come up with names for my characters:

1. I check the meanings behind them.

I love to look up various names and check their meanings. It makes the character feel more one with the story, if that makes any sense.

I think it shows that you put thought into the name of your character. It shows that your character is important to the plot somehow. It’s like the Story Gods have chosen that name for your character because they have a big destiny to fulfill–which is your plot.

For example, in the very first novel I wrote, Diary of a Lover, I named the protagonist Venus. Venus is love-struck by a boy in her class. She comes on too strong. She doesn’t know how to take no for an answer.

Knowing that little bout of information about her, I chose the name Venus for a few reasons.

One, Venus is also known as the Goddess of Love. The meaning of her name is literally “love.” Right off the bat, that tells you something about Venus.

Two, Venus is a unique name that you don’t hear very often. This makes her stand out as a character. It tells you she is someone important. Plus, because it’s not a common name, you’ll always think of her when you think of Venus.

2. I do the complete opposite of checking the meaning–I come up a random name on my own.

This kind of contradicts everything I just said, but there are no right or wrong ways to name your characters.

If you create a character and a name suddenly pops into your head… Use it. There was probably a reason that name was your first instinct.

For example, I came up with the name George for my George Florence series because I was trying to think of a “goofy” name. At first, George was a goofy detective, but George Constanza from Seinfeld popped into my head. Thus, George was born. I don’t know what made me think of Seinfeld, but the name stuck.

George’s personality has changed drastically since then, but I’ve written George for a few years now that he has just become one with his name. He’s grown into it and it suits him.

Names can have a lot of meaning behind the characters. Choose wisely.

I have a baby name book that I tend to use a lot, but here are some of my favorite websites to find names:

Baby Names
Baby Name Genie
Behind the Name
Fantasy Name Generator

Did you like this post? You can read about Last Names here!

Character Spotlight: Hunter Gray

CS Hunter Gray

Today I’m showcasing the male protagonist of my NaNo novel, Second Chances.

You can also read all about Lesley Chapman if you want.

Questions for the Author

What is your character’s name? Does he/she have a nickname?

Hunter Gray is his full name. Aside from maybe his mother, no one calls him anything else.

What color is his/her hair? What color are his/her eyes?

Hunter has blonde, fluffy hair and blue eyes.

Who are your character’s friends and family?

Hunter doesn’t have any siblings. His father has long passed away and his mother was sick for a long time. He spent most of his time taking care of his mother. He doesn’t have many friends, either. The friends he does have tend to get into a lot of trouble.

Where does your character live?

Hunter lives in a house with his mother. For the majority of the story, he “lives” in jail as he’s being tried for murder.

What is his/her biggest fear?

Hunter has many fears. He’s afraid that his mother will never get better, he’s afraid that he’ll get locked away for the rest of his life even though he feels as though he deserves it.

Has your character ever been in love and/or had a broken heart?

Yes and yes. In the beginning of the novel we see Hunter fall out of love and then get his heart broken not too long afterwards. It’s bittersweet.

What kind of clothes does he/she wear?

Hunter loves to be comfortable and casual. He enjoys jeans and sweatshirts when he’s out and about. If he’s in the house, he’ll stay in sweatpants.

What is he/she doing on his/her day off?

Hunter enjoys staying home on his days off. He takes care of his mother so he tries to keep up with the cooking and cleaning whenever he doesn’t have school or work.

What is his/her overall personality like?

He always tries to do the right thing. He cares for others, but he also cares about what they think about him. He quickly gets self-conscious thus getting himself into trouble.

Questions for the Character

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

“I was able to get a full-time to support my mother when my father died without a college degree. I know it’s better to have a degree, but I needed to work with what I had. And I had no money.”

What is it that you most dislike?

 “Fake people. I know a lot of people who are fake and only talk to you because they think they can get something out of you. It’s not fair.”

What is your greatest regret?

“Making friends with the wrong crowd. They got me into drinking and I made the biggest mistake of my life. I drank and drive and accidentally killed a person. I wish I could go back in time, but all I can do is pay the consequences.”

What is your best trait?

“I try to help a lot of people. I’ve been unfortunate with growing up without a father, a sick mother, and no money. I don’t judge anyone and put myself in their shoes whether they’re in a better situation than me or not.”

What is your worst flaw?

“I get pretty down on myself a lot. No one likes to be around someone who is always negative and doesn’t have respect for themselves.”

What is your hobby?

“I like doing jigsaw puzzles. It relaxes me and helps me look at life in a different way. Everything is jumbled up and a mess, but once everything falls into place, it will be beautiful and everything will work out.”

Who do you most admire?

“My mother. Even though she’s been sick all this time, she still manages to smile and stay positive.”

6 Tips on Naming Characters

IS 6 Tips on Naming Characters

It’s not as easy to name characters for a book as it seems.

Just like the plot, setting, and word choice, names take a lot of thought from the author.

1. Make sure we can pronounce the name.

Can you pronounce Iphnkch? Neither can I.

2. Use a unique name.

I don’t know anybody named Iphnkch, but there are other unique names out there. Flip through a baby name book and pick out out of the ordinary names that maybe you haven’t heard of before.

Also, it might not hurt to make up names once in a while, especially if you’re writing in the science fiction and fantasy genre. When I make up names I scramble the letters in names I know. For example, I have a character name Lechar in one of my novels. I spelled “Rachel” backwards to make “Lehcar” and then switched the “C” and “H” to make the sound flow better.

2. Check the meaning of the name.

The meaning behind a name can be a hit or miss. Sometimes it matters, sometimes it doesn’t. Some readers will already know the meaning behind some names, some readers won’t. Some readers may look up the meaning, others won’t. However, I do think checking the meaning of a name is fun for the writer and can hold a hidden meaning behind the plot–if the reader does decide to look up the meaning. Maybe that’s just me, though.

3. Check the setting and era of your story and name choice.

Check the top 100 names for each year. Check the origin of each name. The top baby names from the 1950s are much different from what they are today. Also, make sure you get the origin right. It’s doesn’t make much sense to have a female born and raised in Japan and speaking Japanese knowing no English named Amanda.

4. Let the first and last names flow together.

When I say let the first and last names flow well, I mean watch the syllables. You don’t want the first name to be one syllable and the last name be six syllables long. It will take the reader a while to get through and may end up twisting their tongue. I prefer having both names being anywhere between one syllable and four syllables, occasionally five syllables.

Alliteration is also fun, too. If you want someone’s name to stand out and roll right off the tongue, alliteration is the way to go.

5. Choose carefully.

There’s about 7 billion people on this earth, according to Google. There are too many people to count with the same first name. Ironically enough, there are plenty of people out there with the same first and last name. Make sure you give each name justice and make a note that each character is purely fictional and not based off of anyone in any way, shape, or form. You never know who might be offended, especially if they’re name is used as a murderer.

You also probably want to make sure the name isn’t from a main character of another big novel or series. For example, you shouldn’t name your character Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen.

6. Nicknames and middle names.

Nicknames are fun. I think a nickname definitely shows personality in the characters. Some people have nicknames based on their full names (for example, Nicholas and Nick) and some have nicknames based on something they love or something they did. It’s almost like a memorial for something. Nicknames can mean a lot of things, so have fun with that. Also, it says a lot when certain people call the character by their full name and others call the character by their nickname.

Middle names are a hit or miss. There is no reason we should know any character’s middle name unless something huge is happening, like they’re taking a big test or doing something for the government. Even then, a middle initial would probably suffice. I give all my characters middle names just in case. If you give your character a middle name, you should make sure the middle name flows along with the first and last names.

Hanging Out With Fictional People

Via Pinterest
Via Pinterest
Show of hands: who would want to hang out with fictional characters?

Let’s be honest… pretty much all of us would, right?

What if you could only hang out with the characters from one novel? Which novel would you pick?

What if you could only hang out with one character from each novel? Would you pick the main characters or secondary ones?

What if you could only hang out with characters that you’ve created? So, that means no hanging out with Harry Potter!

At least one character from all the novels I’ve written have a piece of me in them. So if I chose to hang out with them, I’d be hanging out with myself pretty much.

I’ve been putting all my effort into my novel George Florence so I would love to hang out with him and Lilah, but I would also love to meet the characters from my other novels, as well.

I think it would be a very tough decision if I had to narrow it down to just one book or just one character.

What about you?

People Watching

I went on a mini-vacation with my sister and parents this past weekend. It was a great time and we had a lot of fun.

We went to the aquarium (which is my favorite), walked around the seaport, got ice cream, went shopping, etc.

On the way home, we pass by a casino that my parents go to every so often. My sister and I have never been there before, so we decided to stop in and hang out there for a few hours to avoid traffic.

I didn’t win anything, but it was still a lot of fun. In the end I only lost 20 dollars because that lasted me the entire few hours we were there. In that sense I did better than my parents and sister. So I guess that can be called a win.

The place was huge to have so many different gambling areas. It also had its own outlet stores inside. We didn’t shop at all, but we did walk around to look at what kind of stores they had.

It was interesting being in a casino from a writer’s point of view. It’s fun to people watch. To people watch in a casino… Well, that’s a lot more fun.

I feel like the casino would have made a great setting for a story and some of the people would make interesting characters; whether you tried to write their story or if they were just minor characters hanging out in the background.

–The lady in the bathroom: I was washing my hands and there was a woman at the sink next to me. She took out a bunch of 20s from her purse; she must have had at least 1,000 dollars–or that’s what it looked like. She just took them out of her purse and fanned them out in her hand and stared at them as though she was alone. Now, did she bring that money to spend? Or did she win it all? By the way she admired it, it seemed to me as though she won it.

–The lady with three machines: There was a lady sitting at a slot machine and both machines on her right and left were vacant. So naturally she took over all three machines. You should have seen how fast she was pushing those buttons. And from what I could tell, she wasn’t winning anything on either machine.

–The man who drank, smoked, and lost: I think that sums it up; a man sat at one machine lighting one cigarette after another, drinking down his alcohol, and kept losing on one machine. We left that room and when we went back to it later, he was still at the same machine doing his thing.

I don’t go to casinos nearly often enough to label people, but I’m sure you guys can use your imagination. I’m sure you can also imagine what other kind of people were there whether you’ve been to a casino or not.

There are interesting characters all over the place. You just have to watch out for them.