Spend Some Time Brainstorming a Character or Getting to Know Yourself

When I agreed to take part in the blog tour for The Ultimate Brag Book about Yourself: A Hundred Questions about How Awesome You Are by Marla J. Albertie, I wasn’t entirely certain what to expect. As I paged through the book, I realized that it was a book of lists about you.

I’ll be honest. As soon as I popped this open, I realized that I wasn’t thinking about me. I’m getting to know a new character and it was her answers that I found myself working through. The year is 1969 so what 10 meals would she know how to prepare?

  • Pot roast
  • Meat loaf
  • Fried chicken, biscuits and gravy
  • Pan-fried hamburgers
  • Pan-fried pork chops
  • Hot dogs cooked in the oven with BBQ sauce

Hmm. That’s only six so obviously I still need to get to know her. I have to decide if she’d be into convenience foods like shake-n-bake or hamburger helper.

But even when you can’t answer a category of questions, it can be enlightening. I’m also working on a middle grade novel. What does my character like to cook? That questions is virtually irrelevant because she’s stuck on the family space cruiser. All she and her siblings have access to is a small variety of preserved foods and supplements. When she thinks about preparing food, she considers how the can create a nutritious meal that isn’t disgusting but she also longs for what they don’t have.

Even if I can’t answer the question Marla wrote, I find myself world building. Why can’t I answer this? What doesn’t my character have? What is her world/life like? Each list leads to world building.

That said, I really do need to go back into this and consider how I would fill it out as ME because Marla teaches how to vision board career moves. As you know, I’m all about saying yes to new opportunities but sometimes change requires a little emotional prep work.

Here’s a bit more about the book starting with Marla’s summary and following that with ordering information and the blog tour calendar. And don’t forget to come back tomorrow for a guest post by Marla herself.

Can you imagine all the things you like, love, and adore in one book? 

Let’s be honest. We tend to forget how amazing we really are. It is easy to see it in others, but when it comes to seeing ourselves, we tend to have bad vision.

This is why I wrote this book! All your favorites are captured at one time with space to write more. How often do we brag about ourselves, take time to think about what makes us happy, or do the things we like? If I had to guess, not as often as you would like. You deserve to brag about yourself, so why not? Not only is this a bragging book, but it is a book of ideas you can use to start your next project, business, career move, or anything your heart desires.

In this book, you will learn: 

  • How to vision board your next big career move
  • How to inspire yourself by seeing you
  • That you are worthy

This book is for everyone who wants to see themselves as the person they are. You deserve to be your own cheerleader. Grab this book today and start bragging on yourself!

ISBN-13 (paperback) 979-8887592923

ISBN-13 (e-book) 979-8887592930

Print Length: 218 Pages
Purchase a copy of The Ultimate Brag Book About Yourself on Amazon or get a signed copy on the author’s website. You can also add this to your GoodReads reading list.

You can visit additional stops on her blog tour – see the calendar below. And we hope to see you back here tomorrow for her post.


Creating the Introverted Character

Look closely to know if your character is truly an introvert.
Photo by Yan Krukov on Pexels.com

Yesterday I saw an article on creating introverted characters. I was super excited to see something that might as well have said “Creating Sue as a Character.” The reality is that I am a gold medal introvert. I can interact. I do interact. And then I am DONE.

So I clicked through and saw . . .

Don’t stereotype.

Consider what motivates the character.

How is this trait a strength vs a weakness? If you aren’t an introvert you might not immediately get this last one. Society is pretty determined to convince introverts that this trait is a flaw. But really? We know better.

And that was pretty much all that this particular article had to say. Really? What the actual heck?

Why was I so offended? This about it. This wasn’t new information. This was the same old/same old and what the author was really saying was “create a solid character.” Gee thanks. I’d never have come up with that on my own.

So here are Sue’s tips on creating a character who is an introvert.

Know the difference between quiet and introverted.

If you are an introvert, you already know what I mean. If you are an extrovert, read on. Introverts can be talkative. It can mean that they are energized or that they are on edge. Eventually they will need to power down.

Someone who is being quiet might be an extrovert. My husband has little to say and is very observant. But he’s an extrovert.

Know how your character recharges.

The difference between being an extrovert and an introvert is where you get your energy. An extrovert needs people. An introvert needs solitude.

But that information alone doesn’t tell you how this person recharges. I read, knit, and watch movies. Some introverts need to nap. My mom sewed or read.

Your extroverted character will also have a way to recharge. They might play a sport. Maybe they go dancing. They could be in a band. Everyone will have their own method.

When does your character speak up?

Most introverts have times when they will speak up. It might be around certain people or when speaking on a certain topic. I tend to be quiet around my cousins. My nuclear family? Not so much. But then you have to shout to be heard in that group.

Invite me to speak about writing to my fellow writers and I am there. Zero stage fright. But I’ve done it often enough and I’m confident in my topic. When is this the case for your character?

To create a rock solid introverted character, do the same things you would for every characters. They need a backstory, a motivation, and something they want. But they also need to really and truly BE an introvert.


Characterization: Ramp It Up with Secrets

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You know the basics of creating a solid character. Your good guy can’t be 100% good. Your bad guy can’t be irredeemably awful. Your character needs to grow and change. You know these things.

But something just isn’t working. Your character feels flat. What more can you do?

Find your characters secretes. And don’t quit looking when you find the first one. Your character should have at least two.

When I suggest that you give your character a secret, you probably think about what your character is hiding from the other characters. After all, everyone has something they don’t want other people to know about. And it can be so many different things.

Take a close look at your character. Maybe she is a top-notch student who prides herself on her grades. What is she accidentally saw her desk mate’s answer on a test question . . . and realized it was correct and then ended up changing her own. Your antagonist may look like a complete goth but read poetry. Your oh so fashionable teen may be colorblind and achieves the perfect look through mannequin shopping.

Once your character has one secret, think some more. What are the secrets that your characters hides even from themselves?

Your top-notch student is actually really struggling trig. She’s always helped her desk mate but now her desk mate is paying her back by helping her. And she doesn’t see it. Or she might not want to recognize the fact that the ring that steals answers for exams is led by her best friend. Maybe your character doesn’t realize that his girlfriend is drinking or that her boyfriend is abusing the diet his wrestling coach has given him.

All people have secrets. Some of them we hide from other people. Some we keep from ourselves. Your characters need to be just as complex to keep them interesting and believable.


Invisible: How to Characterize a Group

First my review of a most excellent middle grade graphic novel. The tag says it all – how can you be yourself when no one sees the real you?

Think of this as a Latine Breakfast Club. Five students who need their service hours are assigned to work together in the cafeteria. Why? Because they are all Mexican and one student is expected to translate for the group.

The problem? He speaks only rudimentary Spanish. And he’s Puerto Rican. But that’s okay, the others are Cuban, Venezuelans . . . oh, you get the point. The adults have lumped these kids into a single group. It is up to them to figure out who they want to be and what that means.

Excellent book! I would highly recommend it for classroom and library shelves. And, if you have a young reader struggling to figure out who they are, pick up this book for them as well.

Whether you are writing middle grade fantasy, ala Harry Potter, or a chapter book mystery, shades of the Boxcar Children, each character within your group needs to be unique. This point and how to do it were driven home by Invisible.

First things first, you need a spokes character. This character isn’t always going to take center stage but this character will often be the one doing the talking. In this case, it is because the principal appointed George as the group spokesperson. And the name alone indicates 90% of the problem. He goes by George, not Gorge. He’s 100% American even if that isn’t how everyone sees him.

Next you need to come up with ways to make each of your other characters unique.

  • The seated girl is Sara. She is a quiet loner who actually has a lot to say. She’s the only one who is both a good student and fluent in both English and Spanish.
  • Standing beside George is rich Niko. Everyone thinks he has it made but he’s struggling to fit in even as his parents try to make it to the US to join him. His housing situation is rocky and he worries about becoming homeless.
  • In the back are Miguel and Dayara. Miguel’s dad wants him to focus on baseball, but Miguel wants to focus on art. Dayara acts like a tough but she’s having troubles learning to read English, yet she’s willing to take the fall for her friends.

Even if you think of your characters as “the gang,” you need to find a way to make each one unique. Each needs to have their own voice and their own goals, separate from the group. Once you’ve figured that out, you can figure out how they will work together. Me? I’ve got some thinking to do.


Labor Day: Recharging and Contemplating the Work People Do

As I was considering this post, my first thought was that I only have one Labor Day book. That would be Become a Construction Worker. But then I really started thinking.

One of my books is The Who. Not many people get to make their livings as rock musicians but that’s at least part of what these four men did. Who else might I be overlooking?

There are the people who design toys and those who come up with the images on wall paper, wrapping paper, and even fabrics.

There are people working in transportation who drive metro trains, maintain tracks, and even those who repair buses.

A few weeks ago I met a man who used to work for the St. Louis County Parks. He worked on historic homes, maintained riverside parklands, and even got to help work on a barn.

The most interesting combination I’ve ever encountered in one person was a chemist who, on the weekends, worked as a trapper of nuisance wild life. Another surprising one for me was the 83 year-old sensei who still teaches kendo. When I was about 12 I met a printer as in someone who ran a press. I don’t remember what to call the type of press but it was fascinating watching him squeegee on ink and do test runs. There were so many moving, spinning parts and then out would come a printed page.

This is all something to consider as we create our character and decide what jobs various people are going to do. A lot of books that I read include writers, librarians, and people who work in book stores. There are teachers and principals.

Now, if you don’t have a pressing deadline, I hope that you are taking some time to recharge here at the end of Labor Day Weekend.


Two Is the Limit on Gestures and Expressive Verbs

In mid-June, I read Nathan Bransford’s blog post, “Avoid Aimless Stage Direction.” One of the things that he wrote about was making your gestures meaningful. He warned that generic gestures can be overdone. If your character sighs, shrugs, or sways with indecision she should sigh, shrug or sway no more than twice in the course of an entire novel.

Really? I wasn’t sure that I had read that correctly. Nope. There it is. “Don’t include more than two of a generic gesture over the course of an entire novel,” wrote Bransford.

But still I wondered, would doing so more often bother the reader? I suspect that sometimes it would not. But if they do notice it, it is going to really bug them.

I say this because I just finished listening to an audio book. I’m not going to tell you which book because I’m using it as a negative example. This was a thriller and every single time this woman felt threatened, she screamed.

“Hey, what’s the big deal? It seems like an honest reaction.”

And yes, it does. This story took place in a setting where the landscape itself is out to get you. One misstep can be your last. And there was a murderer. So the character had many opportunities to feel threatened. And so she screamed. And screamed. And screamed again. I’m not 100% certain how often she screamed but my guess would be 5 or 6. It might not have stuck out so bad but this was not an oxygen rich environment. Moments before she could barely whispering and now she’s shrieking like a steam whistle. I’m not even certain all that screaming would be possible.

But once I noticed it, I couldn’t stop noticing it. After a while, I could picture the whole thing as a Saturday Night Live or Monty Python skit. Confronted with a lid she can’t open, “SCREAM!” Startled by the doorbell, “SCREAM!” Oh, look. Today is Tuesday. “SCREAM!”

Nope. Do not do this. Limit actions and gestures to two occurrences. Your reader may not notice every exception, but when she does . . .


Characterization Exercise

Recently I saw a Q&A in Real Simple magazine where readers were invited to share their most controversial food opinion. There was the woman who doesn’t like potatoes and another who dislikes warm cookies. Another felt that lobster is overrated but another woman felt that the most overrated food is ice cream. Best food ever? One person insisted that it is Peeps (gag) and another spaghetti with parmesan and crushed potato chips.

Reading through the list I couldn’t help but think that this would make a fun characterization exercise. Here are ten questions for you to consider when creating your character. Obviously, you might need all of them but why not try?

  1. What does your character hate that everyone else loves? I live in a beer crazy city. I loathe beer. LOATHE. I also hate White Castle hamburgers and caviar just tastes like you’re sucking on a beach stone (or so I assume since I’ve tried caviar but not the rock).
  2. What food trend leaves your character cold? This could be fast food or a beverage or even something that is all over Pinterest. Think about it. Iced coffee. Pumpkin spice mania. Cookie dough ice cream.
  3. Name a strange food combination that your character loves. This one is going to be tough because no one thinks that their favorite combination is strange. It usually takes someone else to point it out. One of my friends loves candy corn and peanuts. It actually isn’t bad. My family growing up always ate cheddar with apple pie.
  4. What food does your character like but hates the smell of it cooking? Eggs? Rice? Just about any meat? Fish?
  5. What holiday food is unique to your character? Maybe their family always had lasagna or ham on Thanksgiving.
  6. What food does your character like only if it is fixed the way her mother made it? It could be meat loaf or fried chicken, mashed potatoes or biscuits.
  7. What food did your character hate growing up only to discover that their mom or whoever just couldn’t make it? I loathed oatmeal until my husband made it for me. I had to introduce him to tacos with actual taco sauce. Ketchup will not even be on the table. I will launch it out the back door.
  8. What travel snacks did your character grow up with? We had apricot nectar and Clamato, vienna sausages and saltines. My son grew up with Oreos and trail mix.
  9. What will your character never, ever serve because they hated it growing up? LIver and onions? Lima beans?
  10. What does your character consider comfort food? It doesn’t have to be the stereotypic mac-n-cheese. It could be BLTs or cottage cheese with sliced tomatoes.

Food preferences can show how old a character is, where they grew up, or just that they or quirky. Worried that your fiction may be stranger than fact? I grew up watching my father eat his favorite sandwich – peanut butter, baloney, mayo, a slice of onion and pickles. Gag.

Why not put a little thought into what your character will and will not eat?


Giving Each Character a Distinct Voice

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I’ve been watching Brendon Sanderson on Youtube again. He suggested a really interesting exercise to create unique dialogue for each of your characters.

In the past, the exerise that I had heard was to copy and paste your dialogue into unique documents. Each document would be the dialogue for one character. Then you review the dialogue for that one character and make sure that the voice is consistent.

I found this to be a really useful way to look for the individual traits that make each character’s dialogue unique. What do I mean? The swimmer sounds competitive and uses swimming terminology. The quiet, insecure character doesn’t make statements. She asks questions.

What Sanderson recommended is that you initially draft the scene using only dialogue. Don’t use tags. Don’t throw in beats of action. No description. Include absolutely nothing but dialogue.

Why do it this way? Because your character isn’t likely to be monologuing. If they are, that’s something else you need to fix. Your character is most likely talking to someone else who responds and on you go.

But with only two characters it is really easy to keep track of which character is which. Instead, include at least three characters. As you draft, consider what makes your character unique in this situation. Not only do you have the unique vocabularly and phrasing that your character would use, you have your character’s unique ambitions, motivations and goals. You are also more likely to note whether or not your character seems sympathetic in comparison to your other characters. And once you’ve perfected the dialogue, you can add in narration and introspection and all the rest. To see how an all dialogue piece of writing works, check out this short story Sanderson recommended, “They’re Made Out of Meat” by Terry Bisson.

During the dialogue discussion, one of Sanderson’s students asked him about using dialect. He pointed out that dialect is like seasoning and that you should use it very sparingly. He told about an element of dialect that he created for one of his fantasy stories. Before it went to print, his editor went through and cut over half of it.

From my experience, be very, very careful writing dialect. Some time ago, a very popular author wrote a book with a Southern character. She’s a New Yorker, her editor was a New Yorker, and her character’s dialogue sounded like a New Yorker doing Southern. It was horrifying. Not that everyone agreed with me. For the most part, New Yorkers didn’t note the problem. Southerners? They noticed.

Create rock-solid dialogue to give your readers insight into your characters and your story.


Try, Try Again: What to Do When Your Story Doesn’t Work

While I was writing yesterday’s blog post about why you need to know about inductive and deductive reasoning before you write a mystery, an idea popped into my head. It was an idea for a picture book mystery. If I played it right, it could be the first book in a STEM series. So instead of writing part of my work-in-progress, I sat down to draft this new book.

It was, no lie, a stinker. Hey, it is my manuscript so I can say that. It was boring. My characters were two-dimensional. There was nothing about it I liked. No worries. I hadn’t work on it for very long so I would just put it aside. Not every idea is a good idea.

Most afternoons, I spend time on the treadmill. While I was trit-trotting along to nowhere, I watched Kelly Yang’s SCBWI Winter Conference keynote. In her session, she talked about writing her latest book, New from Here. She spoke about problems with the first draft and her realization that her characters couldn’t represent every single child dealing with the pandemic. Instead, she needed to focus on how they dealt with it at a level most middle graders can understand, the family.

Okay. That made sense. But I had a niggling feeling that this advice could be applied to the manuscript I had left open on my desktop.

Nah. There’s no way. My story is a failed picture book. Hers is a successful middle grade.

But I still had ten minutes to go on that hateful treadmill. No, I don’t hate my treadmill. But wouldn’t it be easier to just abandon this manuscript?

Maybe, but a solution popped into my head. My POV character was every child. What do I mean? When I needed a treat that would go missing, I made the treat a cupcake, because everyone likes sweets.

But really? That’s not true. My son and I are both super picky when it comes to sweets. My cousin dislikes them in general preferring all things sour. I should have known better but I tried to make my character represent “every child.” Instead, I needed her to be an individual.

Yes, this is going to take me back to square one but that’s okay. It may also give me a character that can bring my picture book STEM mystery to life.


What to Remember When Characters Break the Rules

Do not create characters who are too good to be true. Even your protagonist needs to have a flaw.

We’ve all heard this advice, or something very like it, at one time or another. And it makes sense. Perfect characters are off-putting. They maintain, and hold everyone else, to an impossible standard.

To avoid this, we introduce character flaws. We make sure that our characters make bad decisions. Periodically, they have to break the rules.

That said, you have to make it work. This rule breaking can’t be random. And it can’t be meaningless. Here are four things to remember when your character breaks the rules.

You Have to Know Why

Your character may not know why she is breaking the rules. Your reader may not know why. But you have to know. What is your character’s motivation for breaking the rules?

My husband and I have been watching Season 1 of The Umbrella Academy. It is a little embarrassing to admit that my favorite character is Klaus. It might be his inappropriate sense of humor. Or the fact that he breaks every single rule and guideline. But even when I didn’t know why he broke the rules, I knew there was a reason. After all, his siblings were never surprised even when they were profoundly disappointed.

Look at Whose Rules Are Being Broken

Not all rules carry the same weight. A character who is part of a gang or cartel will break society’s rules. Why? Because middle class, law-abiding rules just don’t matter. Don’t take what doesn’t belong to you. Don’t lie. Pfft. This character isn’t going to care.

But the rules of the gang or cartel will be altogether different. Those rules are important because that is the society the character is part of. To the character, these rules matter.

Even a character who seems chaotic, and very few characters are as chaotic as Klaus, has a code. Know what it is and keep it in mind as you pick and choose which rules your character breaks.

Little by little you can make the reasons why clear to your reader.