Monthly Archives: May 2017

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character traits

Character Traits: First Steps to Authentic Voices in Your Story

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Character traits are used to describe how characters act in a given situation and illustrate the type of person they are for your reader. Writing characters with a strong, well-defined set of traits will catapult them off the page and into your reader’s minds and hearts.

In fact, these personality elements are so critical that I usually begin development of a persona with a handful of adjectives I feel most clearly represent my character’s demeanor. These details can focus on the good, like benevolent or clear-headed, or lean to the negative, like cowardly or miserable.  Remember, in life no one is entirely good or entirely bad, so if you want  characters to feel real, it’s a good idea to mix them up a bit.

I tend to start my list of character traits with an odd number of descriptors. That way, if I’m writing about a mostly positive person, I structure their basic personality with two or four positive traits then throw in one or two negative ones to add balance. For example, here’s a list for Dorn, a character from my fantasy novel whose character traits trend positive.

  • Honest
  • Law-Abiding
  • Kind
  • Compassionate
  • Rigid
  • Smothering

Notice the two negative ones I added in are magnifications, or reversals, of some of his positive traits. For example, in the story he’s a real rule-follower and has a reputation for integrity and honesty. But sometimes doing the right thing requires bending the rules, and that’s when his law-abiding nature becomes rigid and inflexible. Same thing with his character traits of compassion and kindness; he can go too far and overwhelm other characters with his need to care for them.

Some writers feel traits should be in balance, that is, for every positive, a negative. I disagree. I’ve never met anyone in real life that had an equal number of bad character traits to good ones. Something about that ratio seems contrived and forced. I also think this type of balance would make it difficult to determine what a character would do in an extreme situation, since they are neither mostly good nor mostly bad.

Character Traits Lists for Writers

It’s easy to think of common traits like loving, evil, grumpy, biased, or playful. Sometimes, though, pinpointing more precise traits can help you flesh out your character’s personality more fully. The more detailed you can get, the clearer you can write. Here are links to my favorite character trait lists. See what you can interesting traits you can find for your next character!

Ongoing Worlds


Please think twice before using a character traits generator to devise your next character. While these may seem fun, they are completely random and won’t give you the well-thought-out personality you want to develop for discerning readers. Instead, decide if you need a more positive or negative character. Then, choose an odd number (at least three) of strong traits that exemplify these attributes. Finally, determine how you can amplify, mirror, or reverse them to provide one or two counter-traits. Let’s try this for a negative character. Here’s a list for my character Tayvar:

  • Immature
  • Rebellious
  • Impulsive
  • Brave
  • Resourceful

As you can see, Tayvar might be a handful to control at times. But it turns out that when the chips are down, he’s able to pivot effortlessly and maneuver through a crisis because he doesn’t have any preconceived notion of rules and he’s willing to think on the fly. His impulsiveness becomes bravery and his rebellious nature inclines him to be creative and resourceful.

Got any characters you need to create? Try this formula and let me know how you like it.

See you on the next page!



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character development superpower

Why Character Development is Your Superpower

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You may be surprised to know that you were born with a superpower: character development. I can see you rolling your eyes already — stop it! Creating characters is something so easy, so natural, that you may have forgotten your knack for it. So, let me clue you in to how to reawaken that sleeping power and put it to work.

Characters have many roles in fiction. Some draw the story around them like a cloak; they’re the center point of narrative and dialogue. Others provide a counterpoint to a main character, allowing you to contrast traits and aspects through comparison. Still others are available to move the plot along from scene to scene or act as a metaphor for some timeless lesson, as Darth Vader represents the isolation and eternal sorrow that comes from doing great evil. However you use them, characters are a pivotal device in your writing. It’s important to get them right.

That’s a lot of pressure, and part of why character development makes some writers cringe. They get tangled up in details, psychology, physiology, timelines and background details and tire themselves out before they’ve begun. I know, because I once felt that way about creating new and powerful characters for my stories. Until I discovered the one thing I’d long forgotten.

How to Use Your Character Development Superpower

When I shifted my perspective using my superpower, I realized just how easy it is to create compelling characters. Are you ready to learn the secret of easy character development? Are you sure? Here it is:

You are a character. Use yourself.

Start by creating characters modeled on your own personality. Then, use your emotions, your strengths, weaknesses, fears, conflicts, secrets, quirks, and idiosyncrasies to bring one of your characters into life. You have intimate knowledge of your backstory, the niggling doubts your character harbors, the secret fascinations, and his or her Achilles heel. You know what makes this one tick because you are this one.

Once you get the hang of cloning yourself, or parts of yourself, you can turn up your character development superpower another notch by snatching characteristics of best friends, siblings, parents, and anyone else you know well. Remember that phrase, “Careful, or you’ll end up in my novel?” I’m pretty sure this is why someone penned that warning. A word of caution: Borrowing traits and quirks is okay; writing a person so clearly into your story that they or their loved ones can recognize them is not. You can get in trouble. Big trouble. And unless you want to end up writing prison characters exceptionally well, you should stay away from obvious clones from the real world.

After you’ve fleshed out a few characters in this way, you’ll be able to pull physical attributes from one person you know, the personality of another, the backstory of a third and so on. This combining will help keep the source of your characterizations under wraps, too. Soon, you’ll realize there’s an entire world filled with mix-and-match characters just waiting to be brought to life. Character development won’t be a chore — it’ll be an adventure. Like Dr. Frankenstein, you’ll have the ability to create from scratch a character of your own design. As he says:

“I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.”

So unleash your superpower onto the pages of your next story and create a character so lifelike they walk right off the page into your readers’ minds. You can do this!

See you on the next page!

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writing productivity hack deadline

Using These Every Week Can Increase Your Writing Productivity

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Is your writing productivity the pits? Are you working on a writing project you feel is never going to get finished? If it’s possible to rule a situation like this, then call me Queenie. I have a fantasy novel that I’ve been working on for, let’s see. . . over twenty five years.

That’s not a typo. I’ve hauled this half-completed manuscript through four states, nine houses, and raised three kids to adulthood — all without finishing. It’s a feat not everyone can accomplish, yet sadly, many of us do.

While you may not have experienced quite the same amount of,er, lag time, with your writing productivity as I have with my novel, you probably have a story, novella, novel, article, or collection that’s been in production for more than it’s share of time.

Recently, I got some great advice from a book on time management called The Five Second Rule by Mel Robbins. In it, Mel takes notice of the interesting phenomenon I’ll call work inflation. That is, work expands (or contracts) to fit the amount of time you give it.

For example, if someone says, “Hey, can you write an article about industrial laser diodes for DiodeWorld magazine?” you may put it on your list and “get to it when you get to it.”  You might take two weeks to write it, or two months, depending upon how fired up you are about writing about industrial laser diodes. But if the editor says on Monday, “Hey, can you write an article about industrial laser diodes by Thursday?” Wham! You write your article in three days. Amazing.

I should have figured this out for myself. After all, when I pitch stories, most editors ask me when I can deliver the final product. I set a deadline and do the work with ease.

The Simple Truth About Writing Productivity

When you don’t have an editor, magazine, publisher, or agent to set your deadlines, you must set them yourself. Otherwise, as with me and my fantasy novel, you may spend years spinning your creative wheels.

Who needs spinning wheels? Not me. I dusted off the old manuscript (and it’s so old that I have a hard copy and a copy on a floppy drive that is unusable) to finish up this project once and for all. I’ve got about 80k words written, but this all needs to be retyped into my current software before I can revise and finish the second half. I’ve tried this before: I’ve started retyping it several times, only to get distracted or bored before making much headway.

This time determined to succeed, I followed Mel’s advice and gave myself a deadline. I decided that it should take me no longer than three weeks to finish the typing portion. I faithfully log the number of pages typed each day so I can have a visual reminder of where I am in the process.

This time, I’ve made honest-to-goodness progress; I’ve typed more than half of the manuscript with a week and a half left, so I’m ahead of schedule. Having this deadline has given me a clear goal and seen me get further in a week and a  half than I have in over twenty years — hooray!

If you’re a writer who works from home, setting deadlines is a great way to keep yourself on track for specific projects and increase your writing productivity overall. And let’s face it, the more you write, the more writing you have to sell. The more you sell, the more well-known you become and this can only do good things for your career.

As I’ve played with this technique, I realize setting shorter deadlines is the way to go. If I had it to do again, I’d break my manuscript into thirds, with each one being “due” within a week. That way, it seems more manageable, less stressful, and each completed goal will give me a burst of accomplishment that can speed me on the way to the next milepost.

However you decide to use them, deadlines are a must-have tool for the prolific writer’s arsenal. What’s your next project deadline?

See you on the next page!


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