Monday, November 26, 2018

How To Build A Rocking Character Profile

Another Rockin' post by Reedsy for our IWSG crew.

It’s pretty indisputable that your book is going to fall a little flat without vivid, alive characters. So how can you go about writing characters that don’t make readers drop your book in disinterest? A tried and tested technique is to fill out of a character profile.

In this post, we construct a sample character profile for Roald Dahl’s Matilda to show you how you might go about it. Often cited as one of the favorite book characters of all time, and an easy source of inspiration for NaNoWriMo, Matilda is the perfect example of a character who’s easy to hold up to the light.

Hopefully, this will also show you how even a simple character profile can provide you with a springboard. If and when you start writing your book, you’ll have the solid starting point that you need to create a character that your readers will love.

Start with the basics

You won’t get very far if you don’t have these details.

Name: Matilda Wormwood!

Age: Nearly 5 when the action of the book begins.

What do they look like?

Having a firm idea of your character’s appearance will help you (and readers) visualise the character when necessary.

Eye colour: Blue.

Hairstyle: Dark and down, or tied with a ribbon.

Build: Small.

Glasses? No.

What do they sound like?

How a character talks and sounds is as much a part of their personality as their appearance is. Details like this can really flesh out your character and make them feel real, even if you don’t explicitly bring it up in every paragraph.

How do they talk? Articulate, honest, childlike.

Do they have an accent? English.

What about childhood?

Hurts, disappointments, and hopes from childhood may not filter directly into words and actions, but they will certainly color a character’s reactions and attitudes in later life. Since Matilda is a child for the entire novel, this is all the more important.

What type of childhood did they have? Sheltered, but unhappy. Grew up in an unloving environment.

Describe their education? The library and Miss Honey’s class are the most formative influences on her life.

Who were their role models growing up? Fictional characters from the books she read and loved — until she met Miss Honey, her first teacher.

Family details?

Family (or lack thereof) has a significant impact on a character’s attitude, development, and sensibilities. In Matilda’s case, for instance, her family shapes her worldview and informs many of the actions that she takes over the course of the book. As a writer, you should be completely aware of your character’s background.

Father: Mr. Wormwood is a dishonest car dealer who Matilda hates. He regularly deceives his customers and prefers TV over books.

Mother: Mrs Wormwood has a very distant relationship to Matilda. For five afternoons a week, she goes to bingo 8 miles away and doesn’t do much else.

Siblings: Michael, a brother who’s older than her. He takes after his father’s love of crooked business and picks on her often.

Friendships and relationships

This might be one of the sections that’s more obvious in the actual text of your book. Understanding how your characters function in the context of their relationships will help you nail the rest of your character’s biography.

Who are their closest friends? Miss Honey and Lavender, a girl who Matilda befriends when she finally goes to school.

Enemies? Miss Trunchbull is certainly an antagonist who makes life very difficult for Matilda.


Now it’s time to go deeper inside your character’s mind. While these questions might seem quite simple, they will help you work out their motivations, fears, and general demeanour towards the world. Most importantly, this is the section that will hold the most important part of your character in the context of your story: your character’s story goal and motivation.

What do they do on rainy days? Read in her room with a hot drink like hot chocolate, Horlicks, or Ovaltine.

Are they:

  • Street-smart or book-smart
  • An optimist or pessimist
  • Introverted or Extroverted

What makes them angry? Injustice and laziness.

If they didn’t have to sleep, what would they do with the extra time? Read even more books!

What’s their story goal? To find a loving family.

As you can see, in a very short space of time we’ve nailed down some key information about Matilda: from her physical appearance to deep cuts into her personality like her primary motivation for being part of a family that cares about her.

This exercise shouldn’t take longer than 15-20 minutes, which isn’t so much considering it’s the starting block for your characters. Character profiles are often for the author’s convenience just as much as the reader’s enjoyment — especially if you’re writing a fantasy novel with complex heritages or even doing a major rewrite — but they don’t have to be overly complex to be effective. If you need additional questions, you can refer to this character profile template or create your own questionnaire for your character. Just remember to probe deep so that you can really get to the heart of who your protagonist is!

Think of this as a springboard with which to really jump into your characterization. One step and you’re on your way to building a solid foundation for a memorable character, which will make for a memorable story.

Connect with Reedsy.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Write Tomorrow

(Did you just make a similar expression?)

There are so many articles on so many sites telling you that you should write. You are told how to write, how to schedule, and how to one of a thousand other things, each with a thousand variations on every topic. The tried and true "write every day" sure pops up a lot because, let's face it, even 5 words adds up over time. 

Now what does it all have in common? You just gave that expression again, huh? Yeah, it is an easy answer. Writing!

Everyone wants you to write in one form or another. Challenges such as so many words per so many days demand it. Tips from best selling authors demand it. Writing prompts demand it. S...There is that facial expression again. Demand? Such a strong word. They don't. They wouldn't. Now you're getting it.

Nudge. Suggest. Recommend. Propose. Offer. (All I got at the moment. Feel free to go back to the above face.)

What do the above have in common besides a thesaurus? They don't have anything to do with demand. You and your face were right. No demand. Now think about that.

Have to write. HAVE to write. HAVE TO write. HAVE TO WRITE.

How many times have you progressed like the above? From nudge to demand? And who brought forth the demand? The man in the moon? Nope! The Easter Bunny. Wrong again. Santa Claus? Strike three. There is no joy in Mudville.

YOU! Now you got it. You brought forth the demand. You made it exist. Yes, there are deadlines to contend with in many cases, but you decide how much of your time they demand. And in a lot of cases, you made/make the deadlines. You demanded them on yourself.

Now you're in demand's grasp. Now you're stressed. Now you've missed out on moments with the kids, parents, spouse, friends, pets, events, or just taking care of your health. All of this because of the demand you've imposed on yourself.

What for? Are you planning on croaking tomorrow? Is the world going to end? Are aliens going to blow us up? 99.99% not going to be the case.

And this all means? (Pssst. Go back and read the title.)

That's right. Write tomorrow. Or even the next day. Heck, a week from today. 

The holidays are coming. Moments with those in real life are important. Sometimes more important for your writing than actually writing. If you try to go too many ways, everything will suffer, writing may become a chore, and you may come to dislike it. All thanks to the demands that you put upon yourself.

So the next time you sense demand creeping up on you, take a breather. There is no harm in writing tomorrow. Just don't use it as an excuse to never write again and procrastinate. The world isn't going to end if you don't write for a day. In fact, sometimes your day and your writing may benefit.

Pssst...if you like to play in traffic forget all you just read. You are the 00.01% and better get it down before your untimely demise.

Have you ever put unnecessary demands on yourself? Do you take a day when needed and enjoy life a bit? Do you fear the world is going to end? Should I ask if you play in traffic?

Monday, November 12, 2018

Guest Stuart Horwitz: Using the Theory of the Iceberg

You have likely heard about Ernest Hemingway’s Theory of the Iceberg. In brief, Hemingway thought you as a writer should take out seven-eighths of what you know about a subject; the top one-eighth is the tip of the iceberg, what the reader reads. The catch is, the reader knows if you don’t know the other seven-eighths. Then they feel that your writing is not solid or substantive enough to enjoy, but rather just an ice floe on the loose.

Hemingway’s Theory of the Iceberg is also called the Theory of Omission. He even went so far as to believe that the quality of a piece could be judged by the quality of the material the author eliminated. That may mess with your target word count in a particular genre, but it’s more likely to mess with your faith. Can something really be gone and still be here at the same time?

I’ve seen it. I recently took a 3,000-word essay down to 1,700 words, while also adding some new material (always an option for a polished draft). I read it the other day, and I didn’t actively miss any of the good stuff that hit the cutting-room floor. What was there was everything I wanted to say.

To get there, you have to trust the process of revision, the same one that guides you to raise the best parts up a level. Those other parts, that weren’t the best parts—you don’t need them. Or rather, you don’t need them anymore. It might be difficult to part with those pieces that started a fire somewhere inside of you, and led to other discoveries that were closer and closer to the heart of the matter.

We can probably agree, though, that to do more than one draft of something is based on the understanding that we are not going to just use everything we thought of in the first place. Given this, when you embrace the Theory of the Iceberg it changes the way you view revision. You don’t have to agonize so much about whether something is in or out; now it’s more a question of whether it should be above or below the waterline.

This approach to revision takes a certain discipline. You might find yourself continually putting something back into the text, only to experience an ensuing uneasy feeling… and then remove it again. This restraint is the iceberg at work. What you are leaving is the clarity of the subject, its essence. This is no less than the difference between flow and sludge for a reader, curiosity and impatience, sparkle and doubt.

Iceberg-based decisions can cover everything from what words you use to how you understand your theme. On the most basic level, some words push other words further up towards the usable surface. You might start with some common ones that form your foundation, and then new ones arrive to rest on top of them and subsume the visible place in your text. On the other end of the spectrum, an iceberg-based approach can influence how you tackle an entire work by, say, writing the middle body of the chapters first, and then drafting an Introduction and Conclusion after what you are truly writing about becomes apparent.

Writers can engage in iceberg-influenced preparation activities. These might include drafting a 2-3 page character study of which you only use a paragraph’s worth of words, or semi-extensive research—not to stuff what you now know into a piece—but to be able to breathe life into certain passages with the perfect detail. The maxim here seems to be, “Use it, don’t include it.”

Finally, working with the iceberg requires patience. You have to really want to create a work of art as opposed to just be done. You have to want to create something solid, complete, evocative, and powerful. I know you do, I’m just elaborating on one conception of how to get there. For my part, I can’t help but smile at any decision whereby one tone of voice, scenic twist, or structural decision is submerged in favor of one I like better—but that I would never have gotten to without what came before it.

Oh that’s very icebergy, I think…

As founder and principal of Book Architecture, Stuart has spent nearly twenty years helping writers become authors, signing with top literary agencies, sealing deals with coveted publishing houses, or forging a successful path through indie publishing. He has written three highly acclaimed books which together comprise the Book Architecture trilogy: Blueprint Your Bestseller, Book Architecture, and Finish Your Book in Three Drafts. He lives in Rhode Island with his wife and two daughters.

*Iceberg image from Wikimedia Commons: By AWeith - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

IWSG Day November 2018 and The End of Another Contest

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. I encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

The awesome co-hosts for the November 7 posting are: Ellen @ The Cynical SailorAnn V. FriendJQ Rose and Elizabeth Seckman!

This month's optional question is: How has your creativity in life evolved since you began writing?

The submission period has closed for this year's anthology contest and it looks like we are shaping up to have yet another awesome collection on our hands. We are in the final throes of choosing our top picks to send to the judges and this is no easy task. The standard is extremely high this year and it is a thrill to read through such a diverse and exciting bunch of entries. Well done to all who entered!

In other news, the next Twitter pitch event is in January. Another exciting opportunity to get noticed by editors and agents. Don't miss it!

And for our new partnership with WEP (Write Edit Publish), we're hosting a competition to decide the theme for the February contest. 

Rules: Submit your idea for a WEP February theme by November 12 to admin AT Nothing too U.S. culturally bound. Should have wide appeal.

Prize: Feature in the December newsletter for the winner. And, of course, the winning theme will be the official February WEP theme!

Deadline: November 12. Winner announced in the November newsletter on November 28. 
Are you on Instagram? We run a different prompt for each day of the month. Participants are welcome to participate in comments or on their own feed. While on their own feed, the hashtag #theiwsg is used and @theiwsg may be tagged. Participants may use images, words, or some combination to answer each prompt. Each prompt is explained in more detail on the day of posting. 

This month's prompts could be particularly helpful if you're participating in NaNoWriMo. We're already one week in, so if you're already knee deep or even still thinking about whether to jump in, we're sending some power your way. Good luck!

Did you enter for the anthology this year? Looking forward to grabbing a copy? Interested in Twitter Pitch or WEP? Are you NaNoing this month?