The Curious Case of the Nameless Character

Recently, I listed opening a book with a nameless character as one of the 5 Reasons I Put Your Book Down. In comments, I was asked to elaborate a little more for the benefit of those who are wondering why it’s such a big deal. I attempted to answer in comments, but (in classic form) my answer grew a bit beyond its context.

Here is why I personally believe the technique of not naming your characters can be risky one–and when I think it can work: Read more

Character Quirks

I recently listened to an older episode of the (brilliant) podcast Writing Excuses on the subject of Character Quirks. About halfway through the podcast, there was a bit of confusion when the contributors realized that they all had different interpretations of what a character quirk actually is.

This bites us a lot when talking about writing–there’s no firm authority defining all the terminology we use.  So–what is a character quirk? How does one use them well? How do you use them badly? Read more


handlebarmoustacheFor me, villains are the most difficult characters to write. I find that I have to spend alot more time developing their character and carefully editing their dialogue than I do any of my other characters, hero/heroine included.

It’s difficult to nail down a convincing “evil”. The world is filled with cardboard villain cutouts.. people who want to take over the world, but we’re not really sure why. Evil is so difficult to write convincingly that alot of people just default to crazy or mentally disturbed. There is an evil that is perfectly sane and doesn’t stem from some hideous childhood event. It hasn’t lost its moral compass, it consciously, willingly set it aside. Read more

When Characters Meet

Meeting new people can be awkward. It’s as simple as that. While writing fiction, sometimes we’re faced with the dilemma of introducing very different people under unusual circumstances. Some time ago, I had a conversation with a friend who needed to do just that–but was drawing a blank on how to go about it.

Here’s what we came up with: Read more

Naming Woes

One of the questions I come across the most on writing forums is ‘How do you name your characters?’ Naming can be especially challenging when writing fantasy and science-fiction, because often you’re creating names for a society or culture that doesn’t actually exist.

There are a lot of name generators around the web (which can occasionally spit out something suitable), but there are a couple other tricks I like to use when searching for names: Read more

Describing Characters

There are a few things that really make me groan and roll my eyes when reading a novel. One of them is the “creation story”. I’ve been reading fantasy since my age was in the single digits, and if I read “In the beginning…” one more time, I think I really might just shoot myself. Or, at the very least, put down the book and walk away.

Another thing that really grates on me is the “mirror description”. Many authors, wishing to quickly and thoroughly communicate their character’s appearance, resort to having their character check themselves out in the mirror. The character inventories their appearance with a great deal more attention to detail than people generally do, using a multitude of (often cliche) adjectives.

Most people when looking in the mirror think something akin to: “Damn, time to shave”, or “I need a haircut” or “Where the HELL did that pimple come from?”

Unfortunately, the characters of an embarrassingly large number of novels do this:

Karen stopped in front of the hall mirror before leaving for work. She had a small, oval face with even features and pillowy lips that rarely required lipstick. Glossy, auburn waves cascaded over one shoulder, accentuating her petite, hourglass figure….

… blah, blah, blah.

This is painful. Read more

More on Characterization

I’ve heard writing fiction described as “socially acceptable schizophrenia”. As writers, we attempt to create entire people out of whole cloth–each of them separate, unique individuals. This can be quite a feat, and here are a few tricks I’ve learned that help me keep my multiple personalities separate.

1. Give your characters a theme song.
The human brain loves to link concepts with music. This is one of the reasons music can be so powerful, why we have trouble listening to certain songs after a break-up, or have emotional attachments to music we heard as children. To help you mentally isolate your characters and keep them from melding together into sort of mushy, grey extensions of ourselves, find a “theme song” for each of them–something that represents the personality and temperament you’re trying to portray.

Once you’ve found your character’s theme song, only listen to it while writing or brainstorming about that character. This will create that mental link between the music and the concept, and the song will act like a little light switch whenever you need to get “in character”.

2. Consider your narrative voice.
This is most applicable when writing from a 3rd person point of view, which is the most common POV used for modern fiction. Going back to the characters I described in my earlier post on characterization: When writing Gideon, my quiet, reserved main character, I use a slightly more distant 3rd person. I don’t get too involved in descriptions of his thoughts and emotions, instead relying on dialogue and action to illustration what’s going on inside.

On the other hand, Tay (my loud, effusive, smart-mouthed secondary character) reads like a lively stream of consciousness. A third character, Sera, is a much more emotional, introspective character. I make an effort to illustrate her emotional reaction to the things that go on around her, and the conclusions she draws from those impressions.Varying your narrative voice when changing your POV can really help separate and define your characters.

~ RM

Developing vivid characters…

Sometimes it can be difficult to create a vivid, memorable characters who are all individuals in their own right. A cast of characters that comes from a single brain is going to feature the writer’s own personal preferences and bias–and this repetition can easily make each character seem very much like the last.

We often look at characters in a story as individuals, but I think it can be helpful to consider them as a whole, with each character a part of the “machinery”, with a defined role and purpose. Defining their purpose in the story is very important. Throwing in people willy-nilly creates a very confused background that can obscure the story you are trying to tell. Read more