Finding Inspiration: Part Three- Characters Close to Home

Building Real Characters: How to Bring Them From the Page and Into Your HeartWriters find inspiration anywhere; at the grocery store, the bank, even the activities of driver sitting next to you at the red light, can get the muse flowing. Then of course there are my favorites: family and friends.

If you have a Facebook account, I’m sure you have seen the pictures posted by someone at least once a month that says: (in a nutshell): BEWARE, I’M A WRITER, ANYTHING YOU SAY CAN AND WILL BE USED IN MY NEXT BOOK.  I was at the bank the other day and had a lively conversation with my banker. Upon completion of my transaction, she asked me, ‘is this going to be in one of your stories?’ I laughed and said quite possibly.

It seems no matter how hard I try; my Muse is always working, always observing and cataloging the statements and actions of others, especially when it comes to my kids.

In the last few weeks, my children have shocked me with their ‘Remember when…’ tales. Being an only child, it never ceases to amaze me what  my four kids get into when they are unsupervised in their bedrooms. First, there was the ‘broken-glow-in-the-dark-stick incident’ that led to fluorescent yellow liquid being splashed over bedroom walls. (According to them, it wore off withing minutes, thus leading to doing it again in order to illuminate the room.  No evidence was left behind. Imagine my horror!!!) Of course a lot of sibling smacks upside the head, and then the sneaking to cut hair or trim their eyebrows disasters that ended with bad results. (Those I knew about, but it still makes me laugh to remember the results.) Funny stories that made my eyebrows shoot into the hemisphere and start to give the ‘you know better’ speech. But then I realized the issues happened months, even years ago. What’s the point?  All that’s left is ‘don’t do it again.’

Once the kids go about their evening activities, my Muse sorts through the information, while not inspiration for my adult characters’ lives, they make great character back story.

***Back Story: Insight into the protagonist nature or history through reflective flashbacks, scenes, or dialogue. This information is used to show how a character will react to certain situations.***

There are various ways to use back story.  Some authors like to use flashback during a scene or as a scene to show an incident that explains the reason for their character’s actions during the course of a story. (Think about the show LOST, whose episodes focused on the back story of a character’s life, decisions, made, and how they related to the present situation). In novels, the most common use is having a character allude to their past through dialogue, thought, or peppered in by the omnipotent voice. (Dialogue is the best way to share this information without slowing down your prose and boring a reader.)

How do you know what your characters back story will be?

By writing character outlines.

If you have  followed my blog, you know a large portion of my writing begins with focusing on deep character development. I love writing characters my readers can relate to either through their own personal experiences or someone they know. Creating well-developed back story can do that. Knowing where your characters have been, what experiences have affected them – good and bad – will give your characters a strong voice that makes them stand out.

Even if it starts from when they were kids.

In a nutshell, a well-developed back story lets you know your characters. Knowing and understanding your characters will explain their motivations. Motivations are what set up a plot. Reactions to plot twists/turns are what provide scenes. Scenes mixed with reactions are what create drama.

Whew!  Sounds like a lot of work, right? It is, but as with all things in life, you get what you put in. Taking the time to sit down and understand your characters will show in your writing. It will help you understand why they interrupt your writing, and no matter how much you want the story to go one way, they hijack your manuscript.

For more on writing character outlines and finding writing inspiration, visit my previous posts:

M.J.’s on Writing- Helpful Advice for Aspiring Authors

MJ

Sherry, Seline, or Shaniqua…What Is In a Name?

So, you’ve decided to write a story. Great. You know your plot, you know how the story starts and how it ends. You even have a cast of characters picked out. 
But what about names? Naming a character is like naming a newborn baby, a lot of thought must be put into the name. Whatever name chosen will be stuck with them forever more. Once the story is published, there will be no turning back.
There are millions of names to chose from, or make up. Whatever you decide, your character’s name tells the reader a lot about them before the first sentence is read. 
Names can tell your character’s ethnic origin…or confuse them.  Are they African-American, Caucasian, Hispanic, or Asian? Some names cross over between ethnic backgrounds, though the spelling may be different. 
Example: Christopher (English/Biblical) or Kristoffer? (Scandinavian) 
A name can also show what generation your character is from without mentioning their age.
Example: Edna is an older name, while Jada is from a younger generation. 
A great example of this is Twilight. Though the story has a modern day setting; some of the characters are younger than 18, while others are over 100-years old. Their names reflect that. The Vampires, who ranged from 100-years old, and older, had names from that time period: Edward, Carlyle, Rosalie, Emmet, and Jasper. Then of course there were Bella (Isabella), and Jacob who were obviously much younger. See the difference?
Now, back to your story. The name given to your character can be used to delve into their back story. What if they were born in say, 1994, yet their parents decided to give them a name from a previous generation for the sake of tradition? If your story is set in 2012 and the character is an 18-year-old female named for her grandmother, Rowena, how would she feel about that? Would she love and cherish that name because she was close to her grandmother, or would she loath it because of being teased as a kid? Explaining how the character feels about their name could be a key reason as to what motivates them in the decisions they make. 
Names can also relate to a character’s personality traits. For example, I have a son named Xavier. It has been my experience that nearly every Xavier I come across is just as hyperactive, hardheaded, and lovable. I couldn’t imagine him being name William, or Justin, the name just wouldn’t fit. But, that’s just me!
A name can also be the bases for character description. In one of my stories, the character, Yasmine (which is a different form of spelling of the jasmine flower) wears perfume all the time. It’s one of the things that grabs her boyfriends attention when they first meet. She also keeps her home, office, and car smelling nice. She’s living up to the meaning of her name, which is: a fragrant flower. 
Don’t forget about nicknames! The nickname given to your character by family, friends, and even enemies can relay to the reader exactly how someone views them. Is it short and sweet, rolling off the tongue with a lot of love? Or is it brash, harsh, and said with disdain?
Character names can also be the bases for a plot. Does the character love or hate the name they were given? Is it something they are proud of, or do they spend their life (or time during the story) running away from what it stands for?
Whatever you decide, remember, DO NOT use names for supportive characters that are similar to the key characters (Matt and Mathew, Jake and John). It’s best to choose names that begin with a different letter of the alphabet to avoid confusing readers. Of course, if similarity in names is a part of your storyline (twins, or the names lead to a case of mistaken identity), by all means, do so. Just be sure the reason why those names were chosen is pointed out so the reader will be prepared to notice the difference in characters.
Having problems finding a name off the top of your head? The simple remedy is to go on Google and search for the various name websites. Research anything from name origins, meanings, and ethnic backgrounds. Here’s a great one to check out: The Meaning of Names. 
Have fun!

MJ

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