Different Types of Anxiety Disorders:
Last post was a broad overview of anxiety as a whole. Now we are going to dive deeper into individual anxiety disorders and what they would look like in your characters.
Agoraphobia: Literally “fear of the marketplace,” agoraphobia is ‘anxiety about or avoidance of places or situations from which escape might be difficult or in which help might be unavailable’ (Videbeck p. 233). This is more than just being a ‘shut-in.’ Many people with debilitating medical conditions can be homebound. The agoraphobe could physically leave the house or be alone, but the overwhelming anxiety is either too much to handle or makes life incredibly difficult. They have trouble shopping, making it to meetings, spending time with friends or family, etc. They may avoid travelling in vehicles. And often, they know their responses to the anxiety are extreme. The agoraphobe often feels trapped in their homes.
So how does agoraphobia develop? It can start with a panic attack at the grocery store with an overwhelming sense of doom and fear of death. The person may end up in the ER only to be told there is nothing wrong with them. They go back to the store a week later and have a panic attack in the parking lot as they think about what happened last time. So they turn around and go home. Then it happens going to work. Then in the car going to the park. Then walking to the mailbox. A person avoids these triggers one-by-one until they just don’t leave the house anymore.
Panic Disorder: ‘is characterized by recurrent, unexpected panic attacks that cause constant concern. A panic attack is the sudden onset of intense apprehension, fearfulness, or terror associated with feelings of impending doom’ (Videbeck p. 233).
Last post we discussed what a panic attack looked like and I have other posts on this subject as well. Visit my website at rwhague.com for more information.
After the first panic attack, the person is left waiting on the next. Soon the anxiety itself is being fueled by anxiety regarding panic attacks. As more panic attacks happen, the more the anxiety increases. The person often feels as if they are going crazy. All they can think about is the next one coming. Every sensation might feel like a threat—even hunger, thirst, tiredness can be interpreted as anxiety coming on.
Specific Phobias: These are things such as claustrophobia (fear of tight spaces), arachnophobia (fear of spiders), etc. Anxiety responses are extreme and can lead to avoidance. This seems as if it would be fine—just don’t go into closets. But when the tight space is an elevator or a car, life can be hampered. Most adults recognize their fear as unreasonable.
Social Phobia: ‘characterized by anxiety provoked by certain types of social or performance situation, which often leads to avoidance behavior’ (Videbeck p. 233). This can lead to isolation or interference in work or habits. The person recognizes their anxiety is unreasonable.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): ‘involves obsession (thoughts, impulses, images) that cause marked anxiety and/or compulsions (repetitive behaviors or mental acts) that attempt to neutralize anxiety’ (Videbeck p. 233). The person experiencing these obsessive and compulsive thoughts and actions do not want them. They are intrusive, recurrent, and persistent. Any attempt to get the thoughts to go away are ineffective. The individual recognizes that these obsessions and compulsions are excessive and unreasonable.
OCD is probably one of the most misunderstood disorders. Keep in mind there are two parts: the anxiety trigger (obsession) and the attempt at solution (compulsion). So fear of germs or contamination can lead to compulsive cleaning—but this is only one type of OCD. Obsession with the number 3 may require things to be done in 3s. Open the door three times before going through it, brush three times before moving on to next section of hair, etc. Here is a good video that helps explain this disorder: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhlRgwdDc-E
People with OCD are also fully aware of these irrational obsessions and compulsions. They do not want them and feel powerless to their mind’s whims.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder: is ‘characterized by 6 months of persistent and excessive worry (Videbeck p. 233). A person might be anxious through a stressful time of life, but usually these parts of life do not last for more than a few days to a few months. If after 6 months, the person continues to have uncontrollable worrying that impairs social or occupational functioning, they may have GAD.
Once again, the person knows their feelings are irrational. They do not want to be this way. But like a panic disorder, the anxiety often provokes more anxiety. The heart palpitations, tremors, tightness in the chest become intrusive—and when the symptoms abate the fear of their return remains prominent in the sufferer’s mind. This is often accompanied by sleep disturbances and insomnia.
Acute Stress Disorder: ‘development of anxiety, dissociation, and other symptoms within one month of exposure to an extremely traumatic stressor; lasts from 2 days to 4 weeks’ (Videbeck p. 233).
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: ‘characterized by the reexperiencing of an extremely traumatic event, avoidance of stimuli associated with the event, numbing of responsiveness, and persistent increased arousal; it begins within 3 months to years after the event and may last a few months or years (Videbeck p. 233).
It is important to note that not all suffers of PTSD are the victims. Often, they can be the perpetrators. For example, a soldier who shot a non-combatant accidentally might find themselves struggling with what they did. Usually after a traumatic event, a person has suffered a change in their view of the world. If something evil was done to them, their previously naïve self has endured something beyond their imagination. If they previously viewed themselves a good person, but they committed a travesty, this is a change in their fundamental view of themselves.
Often times, the mind will play the event over and over again as it tries to rectify their previous perceptions to form a more accurate view of the world and themselves. The mind is trying to protect the body by re-living the event and trying to solve it, but this is very distressing for the person to live through again and again.
Symptoms of PTSD include: intense fear, helplessness or horror; reexperiencing (intrusive recollections or dreams, flashbacks, physical and psychological distress over reminders of the event); avoidance of memory-provoking stimuli and numbing of general responsiveness (avoidance of thoughts, feelings, conversations, people, places, amnesia, diminished interest or participation in life events, feeling detached or estranged from others, restricted affect, sense of foreboding); increased arousal (sleep disturbance, irritability or angry outburst, difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response); significant distress or impairment.
Not all flashbacks are obvious to those not experiencing it. The person may ‘zone out’ for a moment or two. Often triggers are very subtle and those around them will not know why the flashback occurred. This is important to keep in mind in regard to children or individuals ho are not fully able to articulate the trigger or even the event that lead to the initial trauma.
And with all of these things, depression is often a common compounding problem that arises. Being anxious all the time uses up a lot of energy and often the body and mind just crash into a depressive state from being keyed up all the time. It is rare to find anxiety without some level of depression present.
Next post will be an over-view of different treatments of anxiety. Keep in mind, none of this is to be taken as medical advice. It is just a writer’s guide for character development.
We traumatize our characters all the time with violence—witnessed or experience—traumatic life events, or stress beyond their wildest dreams. It is not a far-stretch to assume that your characters might be experiencing things beyond their ability to handle. So, when you are terrorizing your characters, think about what level of terror you are creating. The goal of this post is to explain what happens in the body during these elevated levels of stress.
As always, this is not a tool to diagnose or treat any mental illness in anyway.
Anxiety is defined as “a vague feeling of dread or apprehension.” This can be caused by different triggers—external or internal. It is not the same as fear, however, which is feeling afraid or threatened by an identifiable external stimulus that represents danger to the person. Anxiety is unavoidable in life, but it becomes a disorder when it begins to significantly impair daily routines, social lives, and occupational functioning.
People suffering from anxiety disorders have unusual behaviors like panic attacks, unwarranted fear of objects or life conditions, uncontrollable repetitive actions, re-experiencing traumatic events, or unexplainable or overwhelming worry.
There are 3 basic stages to anxiety: Alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. They are characterized by the following:
Alarm: Adrenaline rushes the body and the blood sugar goes up in expectation of being expended on an action.
Resistance: The digestive system sends blood to muscles, lungs, and heart. Heart rate increases, breathing rate increases, and oxygenated blood goes quickly through the body. If the person is able to relax or adapt during this stage, things go back to normal.
Exhaustion: Body stores are depleted, yet the body is still being triggered to respond. There is not much capacity left. If this is left in a chronic state, it can lead to depression.
Anxiety is very uncomfortable. Logical thought can be difficult which makes getting out of the cycle difficult. People generally try to get out of the stress response by “adaptive measures.” These can be positive measures: relaxation techniques, imagery, breathing slowly, meditation, etc. Ineffective measures lead to things such as tension headaches, pain syndromes, and decreased immune systems.
Differences in levels of anxiety:
Mild Anxiety: wide perceptual field, sharpened senses, increased motivation, effective problem-solving, increased learning ability, restlessness, fidgeting. ‘butterflies in stomach,’ difficulty sleeping, hypersensitivity to noise.
Think secret agent going in on a mission. A little bit of anxiety is appropriate for the task at hand.
Moderate Anxiety: perceptual field narrowed to immediate task, selective attention, cannot connect thoughts or events independently, in ‘auto-pilot,’ muscle tension, diaphoresis, pounding pulse, headache, dry mouth, high pitched voice, faster rate of speech, GI upset, frequent urination
Think someone who just walked away from a car accident.
Severe Anxiety: perceptual field reduced to one detail or scattered details, cannot complete tasks, cannot solve problems or learn effectively, behavior geared toward anxiety relief is usually ineffective, does not respond to redirection, cries, ritualistic behavior (OCD symptoms), severe headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, trembling, rigid stance, vertigo, pale, elevated heart rate, chest pain
This is on the verge of hysterics. Think the woman on Airplane.
Panic: perceptual field reduced to focus on self, cannot process any environmental stimuli, distorted perceptions, loss of rational thought, doesn’t recognize potential danger, cannot communicate verbally, possible delusions and hallucinations, may be suicidal, may bolt and run, or totally immobile and mute, dilated pupils, increased blood pressure and pulse, flight, fight, or freeze
Thank God, this stage doesn’t last very long.
If a person reaches panic levels, they are in danger. Those around them who are part of the ‘support group’—family, friends, health care providers—primary focus should be on maintaining safety as they may harm themselves. Going to a small, quiet, and non-stimulating environment may help. Panic levels can last from 5-30 minutes. Talking to the person in a quiet, rational, reassuring voice is key.
But we’re talking about fictional characters, so ethics be damned! Wanna ramp up the tension? Have your character be in a state of panic and the person with them does everything WRONG. Conflict is key to your stories. Nothing is more interesting than watching someone do it the WRONG way!
Anxiety can be used a plot device and character arc as well. The more terrified of X the greater the sense of accomplishment when the goal is reached. In a previous post, I talked about Batman and how he harnessed his fear of bats to become a creature to be feared. So what causes anxiety in your characters? Is it a traumatic childhood that they need to face? Were they victimized in some way? How can they rise above their fears, defeat the underworld, rescue the princess, or save the kingdom? This is a story arc, or at minimum a character arc.
This has been a broad overview of what anxiety is. Next post will be about individual disorders related to anxiety.
Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing, by Sheila L. Videbeck, fifth ed., Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2011.
Often with writing, we put our characters through hell. Some of the worst experiences are narrated in our stories leaving scars on our characters. These scars show up in the form of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc. in our characters, but unless one has first-hand experiencing these things, they can be hard to get write. And in a world where our readers actually have their own mental health struggles, it is important that we get it RIGHT.
As a registered nurse, I have a different view of mental health that shows up in my character development. I also experienced quite a bit of post-partum depression and anxiety which gave me an eye-opening view of mental health and how it is handled in the US. Long story short: I wasn’t impressed. For the next several blog posts, I’m going to be using my old nursing school textbooks and using that information to show how to write convincing characters that are suffering with mental health crisis.
This will not be a guide to be used to diagnose or treat mental illnesses. It is strictly a writer’s character development tool.
A mental disorder is “a clinically significant behavioral or psychological syndrome or pattern that occurs in an individual and is associated with present distress or disability or with a significantly increased risk of suffering death, pain, disability, or an important loss of freedom.” (Videbeck p. 3) So basically, if a person has a moment of anxiety, it does not mean that they have an ‘anxiety disorder.’ Everyone gets anxious now and again. An anxiety disorder would be someone who deals with anxiety often enough that it is hindering something in their life. For example, they can’t go to work because of the anxiety, or they develop an eating disorder, or they can’t leave the house. The anxiety is so bad that life—or areas of life—become impossible or very hard.
I got to this point dealing with my anxiety where life was nearly impossible. I couldn’t sleep, eat, work, write, or take care of my child. It was one of the lowest points of my life. This led to depression and thoughts of suicide. It was not that I wanted to die—I just couldn’t keep living with this constant sensation of wanting to rip my hair out.
It’s been 9 months since the worst of it, and I am still recovering while under the care of a therapist. The anxiety is still there—it probably always will be—but we’ve been working very hard on using coping mechanisms. I’ve come a long way and still have a long way to go. But now I have hope, which is something I didn’t have before.
But anyways. . .
There are several different types and classifications of mental/psychiatric disorders. Keep in mind that all of these can come about for different reasons. Some are related to genetics, others physical health issues, stress, and trauma. Each impact a person to different levels and treatments are not identical. Here is a basic list of them:
Anxiety: A vague feeling of dread or apprehension; it is a response to external or internal stimuli that can have behavioral, emotional, cognitive, and physical symptoms. A person with an anxiety disorder demonstrates unusual behaviors such as panic without reason, unwarranted fear of objects or life conditions, uncontrollable repetitive actions, reexperiencing traumatic events, or unexplainable or overwhelming worry. They experience significant distress over time, and the disorder significantly impairs daily routines, social lives, and occupational functioning. (Videbeck p. 227)
Schizophrenia: Causes distorted and bizarre thoughts, perceptions, emotions, movements, and behavior. It cannot be defined as a single illness; rather, schizophrenia is thought of as a syndrome or as disease process with many different varieties and symptoms, much like the varieties of cancer. A person with schizophrenia is characterized by some of the following: delusions, hallucinations, and grossly disorganized thinking, speech, and behavior, flat affect (or seemingly lack of expressions during social situations), lack of volition, and social withdrawal or discomfort. (Videbeck p. 252)
Mood Disorders: Also called affective disorders are pervasive alterations in emotions that are manifested by depression, mania, or both. These interfere with a person’s life, plaguing him or her with drastic and long-term sadness, agitation, or elation. Accompanying self-doubt, guilt, and anger alter life activities, especially those that involve self-esteem, occupation, and relationships. (Videbeck, p. 281)
Personality Disorders: Diagnosed when personality traits become inflexible and maladaptive and significantly interfere with how a person functions in society or cause the person emotional distress. (Videbeck p. 319)
Substance Abuse: A person using a drug in a way that is inconsistent with medical or social norms and despite negative consequences. (Videbeck p. 349)
Eating Disorders: Can be viewed on a continuum, with people with anorexia eating too little or starving themselves, to people with bulimia who eat chaotically, and people with obesity eating too much. (Videbeck p. 373)
Somatoform Disorders: The presence of physical symptoms that suggest a medical condition without a demonstrable organic basis to account fully for them. (Videbeck p. 393) For example: a person who has a limp but no underlying injury.
Cognitive Disorders: A disruption or impairment in the higher-level functions of the brain. They have devastating effects on the ability to function in daily life. They can cause people to forget the names of immediate family members, to be unable to perform daily household tasks, and to neglect personal hygiene. (Videbeck p. 440)
Keep in mind there can be quite a bit of overlap within each of these mental health categories. A person suffering anxiety can have a personality disorder. Or a person with depression can have a problem with substance abuse.
Obviously, this is just a very broad overview of mental/psychiatric health. The following posts are going to be breaking down each of these disorders on an understandable level and providing applications for writers on how to incorporate these things into your stories.
Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing, by Sheila L. Videbeck, fifth ed., Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2011.
If you have been reading my blog for long, then you know that each of the personality traits that I have been describing have good elements as well as bad elements associated with them. Often, the names can be misleading in that way. Today we’re going to talk about neuroticism and what it looks like in a fictional character.
Because of the negative connotations associated with the term ‘neuroticism,’ researches have now started to call it ‘emotional stability’—which sounds just as bad especially if you are low in emotional stability. For the sake of this video, however, we’re going to continue calling it neuroticism.
A person high in neuroticism experiences negative emotions more than others of the population. This often is in terms of fear, but can be associated with anger and sadness as well. A person high in neuroticism is often afraid of things that other members of the population are not, especially as it concerns the future. When presented with a bad situation, a neurotic person will often assume the worst possible outcome. For example, if they show up to a coffee shop to meet a friend and the friend is not there yet, they may assume the friend has died in a car accident or doesn’t like them anymore and forgot all about their appointment. A person who is low in neuroticism will assume their friend is running late, order some coffee, and wait.
Neurotic persons often come across as vulnerable and insecure. Often, they have heightened levels of anxiety—some of which are associated with anxiety related mental illnesses such as agoraphobia—or the fear of leaving home.
Neurotic people also express a lower satisfaction with their lives—which is not surprising. Unfortunately, this is not associated with good outcomes when it comes to jobs or marriages as they tend to be unhappy in these ventures which also leads them to fail. They also have a higher mortality rate and are more likely to get heart disease.
This topic of neuroticism is especially pertinent to my life at the moment. Last year after weaning my son from breast feeding, I started having panic and anxiety attacks due to my changing hormone levels. I am still dealing with this and struggling to come out the other side of this newfound level of neuroticism. I was always a bit neurotic, but this is on a whole other level. Thankfully, a high level of neuroticism does not have to be a constant state for someone. There are ways to change one’s thinking to better cope with negative emotions.
Some of the ways I’m trying to manage my anxiety is by eating a better, more stable diet, taking adequate supplements, and mediation. I am also currently in therapy to better enhance these practices and come up with better ways of managing anxiety.
For people with phobias such as agoraphobia or claustrophobia, there are different methods of facing one’s fears and becoming more able to cope with them. One of these are exposure therapy where, often with the help of a therapist, a person confronts their various fears until they become more comfortable with them. The important thing to consider about exposure therapy, however, is that the confrontation to these fears must be voluntary. If the person is afraid of snakes and are tossed into a snake pit, they will not get over their fear of snakes.
So what all does this have to do with building a character? This is actually a fantastic starting point for a character arc. Having a character high in anxiety face their fears is a classic hero’s story. Think about Batman. The guy’s afraid of bats, so he exposes himself willingly to them and uses them as his whole persona. Of course, this is just the obvious visual of what’s going on underneath the story. Bruce Wayne is traumatized by the criminals who gun down his parents, so as he gets older, he trains and immerses himself in the criminal underworld, overcoming his fears, and fighting the demons who traumatized him to begin with.
You can do this will all sorts of characters! A musician that is too scared to play on their own. A guy terrified of kids who has to learn to be a parent. An adult forced to go back and analyze their traumatic past. All experiencing a neurosis or a high level of negative emotions and learning to overcome them and save the kingdom, win the girl, etc.
The higher the level of neuroticism or fear, the more dramatic the transformation will be. So go wild with it! My character Jared, who I talk so much about, is so terrified his hands shake continuously causing him to be unable to write anymore. So he’s a hard-working, highly intelligent kid who can’t pursue the tasks ahead of him because his hands shake from terror. The more nervous he gets, the more his prophecy of failure become self-fulfilled. Talk about tension!
So what sort of struggles are your characters facing? What are their greatest fears and needs to overcome? Tell me about them in the comments below.
If you are a regular patron of my blog, chances are you are high in openness, which is the next of our big five personality traits we are talking about today. This is part three of a five-part series on the Big Five Personality Traits. As a refresher, the Big 5 are a scientifically tried and true way of mapping one’s personality. When I write, I use each of these five personality traits to craft a character that is real to life as possible. Once I have their personalities down, I can map out with ease how each of my characters would react to various situations.
Each of the five personality traits are part of a spectrum, so what does a person high in openness look like compared to a person who is low in openness?
First, let's look at the term 'openness.' This is not someone who is necessary open to discussing their feelings or emotions as some might use the term. This is someone who is mentally open to ideas, people, or things.
A person high in trait openness are usually interested in learning all about the world -- or things outside of this world. They are creative and spontaneous. Open people are often more willing to be flexible and react well to change. While openness is linked to IQ, it is not determined by it. Generally, though, people with a higher level of IQ can imagine, create, or abstract faster than their peers.
So what is a closed minded person like?
Generally, they are the opposite. They are not as open to change, are less interested in learning new ideas, and like to keep things the same. They are less creative and like routines.
Whenever I talk about these two categories, I immediately think of two different types of people that I know. The 9 to 5 business man or factory worker who likes their life to be exactly a certain way, and a person like Elon Musk who dabbles into just about everything and is very open to a wide plethora of ideas.
Of all the Big 5 personalities, this is probably the least modifiable in your characters. Now, that’s not to say that factory person above can’t be an open person stuck in a rut who finally breaks free. That's basically the premise of the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. (If you haven’t seen this movie and want to, be warned as I'm going to mention some spoilers).
In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Ben Stiller plays a guy with a dull job and is constantly daydreaming adventures for his life. Then when his job is on the line, he goes on his own adventure and gets to live the life of his dreams. As you can see, throughout the story, his level of openness remains the same, but he's just now getting a chance to live his life by it. If anything, the story arc is about a change in his level of conscientiousness. He had spent his life being responsible and safe doing a job that was boring while his high level of openness was calling him to freedom. Once he learned to say 'screw it,' he became essentially a different person.
Consider this story in contrast to Flowers for Algernon. In this story, they take a gentleman with a low IQ who is also low in trait openness. He receives a treatment that increases his IQ, and his interest in topics and various pursuits increases rapidly. Things he would never have hoped to dream of learning come to him, enriching his life.
This story is a change in trait openness. It did not come about through normal means of a story arc, but rather through the intervention of scientists. It is relatively easy to lower a person’s trait openness through disease or injury, but it is not easy to raise it.
I mentioned earlier that each personality trait comes with pros and cons, but what con could possibly be linked to having trait openness? There are a few.
Consider a person who is extremely creative — every thought is free and unique. The ability to categorize and quantify their ideas becomes impossible. Their ideas can be revolutionary. They could ease the lives of thousands of people with their thoughts, but they first have to be able to explain what said thing is. Then you have to convince someone else to agree to it.
Many novelists run into this problem. They write a unique work of fiction that is a little bit sci-fi, romance, part-heroes journey, and a murder mystery. Then they try to sell it to a publisher, but the publisher doesn’t know where to set it on the bookshelf. It’s too many things. Many creatives live in anonymity with loads of talent but no financial gains. Risk averse publishers would much rather create a better mouse trap than take a risk on a truly creative venture.
Unfortunately, there is also an illness associated with people high in trait openness—Bipolar Disorder. This is because during a manic state, a person can become very fluid with their creativity and create all sorts of things. Ideas flow like water, but they come so fast and with so much chaos that it can be nearly impossible for a person in a manic state to hold onto one in order to turn it into something useful.
A creative person might also have higher levels of anxiety. What better way to freak yourself out than to imagine every horrible situation?
Here's the kicker though: Being creative and having a high IQ does track well for success. Life is full of variable, so being able to think on your feet is a skill worth having.
How open are your characters? Are they creative? Or do they prefer things to be the same? Do they think outside the box? You can create a large range of colorful characters with this one trait.
My character, Jared, in my story SURVIVING MIDAS is a child genius and very high in openness. As a slave, he stands out among his peers as being clever. This also makes him dangerous as he is more likely than the others to escape. Most of the conflict surrounding the story rides on this one personality trait. In a normal society, Jared would thrive, but here it’s likely to bring about his doom.
So, now we have covered 3 personality traits and already, you have a pretty good view of my character Jared. He’s very intelligent, high in openness, conscientious, but also a disagreeable survivor. Can you visualize such a character? You could take him out of his current setting and put him in several other roles: surgeon, CEO, entrepreneur, you name it, so it’s only one part of the story, but it is a key component. His backstory irons out the details of his personality, but these are great building blocks for you as a writer to start with.
Introversion vs. Extraversion
This post is going to be a bit shorter than my other analyses of the Big 5 Personalities because much is already widely known about these personality types. Essentially, an introvert is someone who is energized by time spent alone and an extravert is someone who is energized by time spent with others. This does not mean that an introvert is necessarily shy. They can be talkative—but generally they need time after being social to recharge for the next event. They can get lonely, but it usually takes longer for an introvert to get lonely.
An extravert is someone who enjoys being around people. This does not mean they can’t be alone or can’t enjoy time alone, but they find themselves fueled by being with people and socializing. They often have several casual friends and can hang out with multiple groups, but introverts generally find themselves comfortable around a smaller, close-knit group of friends.
Now as it relates to terms of success for the introvert vs. the extravert, an extravert is more likely to obtain success in one’s life as it relates to the business world. This has a lot to do with networking. If an extravert is frequently at social functions or chatting with all sorts of people, they are more known to people. When opportunities arise, often these people are considered over their ‘quieter’ counter-parts. Sucks, but true. The squeaky wheel gets the oil after all. In life, this should be a tip to all my followers. Don’t forget the quiet workers you haven’t seen all day if you are in management. Chances are, Mr. Extravert was probably running their mouth all day instead of working and Mr. Introvert might be more qualified and produce better outcomes than the loud mouth. Just saying.
Also for my introverts out there, although you don’t want to go to that office party, it may behoove you to buck up and do it anyways. You might keep your nose to the grind stone all day, but if Treece down the hall is chatting up the boss man, you might get overlooked for that promotion. It is good to keep up those social skills even if they feel oh-so miserable.
Now, how does this relate to your characters? Is your MC a King Arthur character—always at the party, always knows what to say? Life of the party? Or are they a behind the scenes Merlin character full of magic but mainly behind the scenes? You can turn this into a character arc as well.
Perhaps because of your character’s high levels of neuroticism and low extraversion, they hang out at home all the time until dwarves breakdown their door and insist on them joining their party to go defeat a dragon. Suddenly, their quiet life is thrust into a world of never being alone where they have to rely on their friends for survival. Although at their essence, the character will probably remain an introvert, they will still find themselves stretched by the experience and grow a lot.
When I developed my main character Jared, I wanted him to be the mirror image of Midas, the main baddie. Introversion wasn’t one of those things that I set out to make Jared be, it sort of just happened. He experienced a trauma and walled himself off from his friends. Interestingly enough, introversion and extraversion became the primary difference in the personalities of Midas and Jared. The primary determining factor between how these two respond to situations is hinged on this one factor, so don’t under-estimate its value.
So, like always, I would like to know about your characters, so be sure to drop your descriptions of your MC’s in the comments below. I read ever comment and reply to them.
To make matters worse, often these agreeable martyrs would then climb the ranks in the agency. After sacrificing themselves in unhealthy ways to the company and their patients, they would then seek to make sure all of their underlings and the ones who came behind them to do the same thing. If you complained about the long hours or refused to take a dangerous workload of unstable patients, you were looked down upon and considered to be someone who did not do their part. If you want to make agreeable people angry—refusing to be ‘part of the team’ is the way to go.
So with the knowledge in mind, I wrote one of my main character in SURVIVING MIDAS to be very disagreeable and the other to be the opposite. Jared just can’t seem to get along with anybody which can work to his benefit and detriment. Yeah, he struggles with interpersonal relationships, but he also has managed to stay alive despite the odds.
Katie though, is constantly looking out for others to the point of foolish self-sacrifice. She's polite, kind, and gets along great with the others in her community, even bringing together people who would not normally get along. Then I stuck Katie and Jared in a car trunk together and let them sort out their differences.
So this is something to consider when you’re writing your characters. Is your character more agreeable or less agreeable? How does that manifest? Is it causing drama, or is it something you've not considered in the slightest as it concerns your main characters?
Tell me in the comments below, and also tell me what that looks like. If a bully comes by and demands their food, do they hand it over without question? Or if someone says something mildly insulting, do they demand to take the altercation outside? Really figure out these things about your characters and stay true to it. Your story will thank you!
A well rounded, developed character feels real. They feel like someone you would meet at school, at work, or at the coffee shop. They could be your family member or part of your circle of friends. But how do you develop such a realistic character? How do you go beyond basic characteristics such as hair and eye color, job preference, and favorite color? In this post, I’m going to show you a tool based in science and psychology that I use to create my characters.
Non-modifiable features such as ethnicity, age, and physical characteristics (hair color, skin color, eye color, etc.) are important to character development only to a certain extent. While these features might give a reader a clue regarding the character’s background or culture, they are not certain. Families and cultures are diverse. Being part of a certain nationality doesn't determine personality (unless you're writing a stereotype--which I highly suggest you don't).
So, what will? Their personality. In fact, there is nothing more important that the quirks and baseline emotions that make up your person. If you have the character’s personality down, then certain things such as job preference, favorite color, favorite tv show, will flow together naturally.
When I have a character in mind, I will often take an online personality test to see where they line up. There are several out there to choose from. Myers Briggs is probably the most famous personality tests, but I don’t usually start there. I use the Big 5.
The Big 5 tests a person in the following 5 areas: consciousness, neuroticism (or negative emotion), openness, extroversion, and agreeableness. Now, when you look at this list, there are certain negative or positive connotations associated with each of these characteristics. When the data is analyzed, however, that’s not always the case.
For example, people extremely high in Conscientiousness (characterized by people who are always busy or are very orderly) can become too orderly. This can give rise to certain conditions such as anorexia. This is, of course, not to say that all people suffering from anorexia are high in Conscientiousness or vice versa, but the personality type that is common among people with this disease is Conscientiousness.
All of the big 5 personality traits are like this. They are a spectrum, and each are associated with pros and cons.
Conscientiousness is broken down into two categories: orderliness and industriousness. People high in orderliness have a higher sensitivity to disgust. Cleanliness is next to godliness. They often see the world as black and white, geometrical in shape, and everything in it has its own box. These are your perfectionists. Now this is not always bad, but you can see where it could go a little off the rails. With people extremely high in conscientiousness, anything perceived to be wrong or flawed must be removed or eradicated—or starved.
On the opposite side of this spectrum would be an individual unbothered by messes or disorder. It’s like the just don’t see the mess. Or they see the mess, but are not bothered by it.
In industriousness, your character has trouble sitting still and relaxing. They are always doing something—almost as if they have an aversion to inactivity. These people will often say they ‘just have to stay busy.’ The overly industrious person rarely relaxes and can wear their bodies down through constant stress.
That being said, persons with high levels of conscientiousness often find success due to their hard work. Their perfectionism and constant activities increase the odds that their ventures will turn out. Most people lie somewhere in the middle of the spectrum—neither unaware of messes nor overly concerned with them.
The most interesting part about these personality traits is that they are modifiable. A person can train themselves to become more conscientious over time. Often this can be done through forming a schedule and sticking to it, setting goals for oneself and working to meet them, and create habits conducive to accomplishing more work.
As an example, I’m going to talk about one of my characters who is very high in conscientiousness. In my novel SURVIVING MIDAS, my character Jared is a seventeen-year-old slave working on a drug farm. He has very little in terms of personal items, but each of them have a place and are always neat and tidy. His high levels of industriousness have not gone unnoticed by his captors. He's not particularly interested in their endeavors but his conscientious nature makes him good a this job by default. Because of this, he is given more responsibility than the others.
So that’s a very unusual setting for a character with high levels of conscientiousness. Notice that I didn’t say he had excellent hygiene—because his current life doesn’t allow him this luxury. But his personality still shows up in other ways throughout the story.
So where do your characters line up in the conscientiousness spectrum? Tell me about them in the comments below.
What is Self-publishing?Read Now
Do you want to become a published author? Do you have a manuscript on your desk just begging to be sent in to a publishing house? In this post—part one of a three part series describing the different routes to publishing, we are going to talk about Self-Publishing. What it is—what it’s NOT—and what it costs.
First off, let’s start with what self-publishing is not. Self-publishing is not something you do when you can’t find anyone to traditionally publish your story. If you are having problems finding someone to publish your story, first consider why this is? Is you story ready to be published? Does it need further editing? Input from other authors? Because the self-publishing market it tough—perhaps even tougher than the traditional publishing route. Every falls on the self-publishing author and their often small pockets. Marketing, cover design, copy edits—so if your product is not ready to be published or could see some more revisions, don’t try to rush the process. Take the time to really sit and look at your Manuscript to make sure it is all that it could be.
So if self-publishing is not really a second alternative to traditional publishing, then why do people do it? Easy answer: Money. With traditional publishing, an author will see most of the revenue of their sales going to other places. Often traditional publishers will not even look at a manuscript unless it is submitted by a literary agent. A literary agent works on commission—usually around 15% of the author’s product goes to them. Then there is the publishing house’s cut. Since the publisher is paying the overhead fee of actually publishing the book, the bigger houses often take upwards of 90% of the total book sales. Now this might not be true for all publishing houses—some indie publishing houses have higher percentages going to the author, but often the do not have advances paid to the author upon signing—so basically no money upfront but the potential for money later. I’ll talk more about traditional publisher in a later post, so if you like this blog, be sure to follow me. Also be sure to like and comment about more content you’d like to see.
So if a self-publishing author is able to take home almost 100% of their sales after publication, why doesn’t everyone go this route? Once again, the answer is money. All of those costs mentioned before that the traditional publishing house was paying for—well that now falls onto the author. So that’s things like cover design, editing, formatting, distribution, marketing—all of those things cost money and now it’s the author footing the entire bill.
So how much does it actually cost to self-publish a book? Unfortunately like most things in life, that depends. Does the author hire a publicity company to promote the book? Do they hire the best illustrator in the business to create the cover for their novel? How long is this stinking book? The more pages, the more it’s going to cost to print the book. Really, a person could pay as little or as much as they wanted on self-publishing a novel. In the end, however, the book may or may not sell.
There are so many options to go with in self-publishing—so many things to spend that hard earned cash on, but what are the most important things to actually fork over the cash on?
First off: Cover. Every heard the phrase: Never judge a book by it’s cover? Well, in the real world, that is the FIRST thing every reader does. If you can’t get your reader to pick up that first copy, then it doesn’t matter how fantastic the inside is. So don’t skimp on that cover. That being said—don’t always go for the most expensive either. Even if you get a world-renowned cover artist, that generally won’t matter to your readers unless they’re looking at the acknowledgement pages of all their favorite books. Instead, go for good quality rather than high price tags.
Another thing you don’t need to skimp on is the editing fees. The last thing you want your readers to find is a typo on the first page! Some reader will literally chuck the book across the room. There is nothing more unprofessional than this. And don’t think this is something you can do yourself. There would be nothing worse than to spend hours formatting your book so the pages line up perfectly on Microsoft Word to then find them helter-skelter in the margins of your book. You’re an author—a creator of worlds and lives. Let someone who’s a professional in margins handle the other part.
So those are the two major things to spend your money on when self-publishing. I hope this has helped—wait, what? What about advertising you say?
While it is true you can spend money on advertisements, I would not recommend putting all of your money in this. Think about how you view ads. Do you scroll past them or hit skip? If you have that intriguing copy, that’s great, but most of the best marketing tactics can be completed for free. And that’s through social media. Having a pinterest, a Twitter, a blog, these are things you can do for free. Now one marketing thing you can do—and I hope that you will do this—is get an actual website and a newsletter up. Keep in mind that any website or blog on another site like Tumblr or Reddit is not yours. It is owned by another company and you can be dumped at any time. So it’s important to have your own website and newsletter to keep in touch with your fans.
Next week, I’m going to be posting an article about Traditional Publishing then a subsequent post about Vanity Publishing—both of which are routes that I have personal experience in.
Offer of publicationRead Now
Those of you who have been following me for a while know I took a break for some mental health reasons. I’m back. Still not entirely whole, but here.
During my absence, I spent quite a bit of time focusing on my writing and working to make it all that it could be. One issue I was having with querying my MS, I believe, was that it was not where it could be. I thought it was perfect, but several beta readers and critique partners showed me what could be improved on.
Early winter, I participated in a Pitch War on Twitter and received a request from a small publication for my materials. To my delight (and utter shock if we’re being honest), they have requested permission to publish my works.
So, after I picked my jaw up off the floor, I did what any should upon receiving such an honor. I said thank you. And I need to think about it.
What????? Why would I dare say that? Shouldn’t I have leapt at the opportunity? Don’t get me wrong. I am excited, but it’s not my first offer of publication.
My first offer of publication came five years ago by a vanity press--at the time I didn’t even know the difference between vanity presses and traditional publishing. Basically, a vanity press will publishing almost anything--if the author is willing to pay. They promise to help market, which in this case meant they would set up a social media account on my behalf and have me do one interview without input or advice on how to best sell my novel. Needless to say, it made a lasting impression.
Do I think this publisher is the same as the last one? Absolutely not. I have done my research this time, and this publisher is offering real money with real royalties. But it’s never good to let one’s guard down entirely. More than anything, the previous experience taught me that it’s the stuff you don’t know you don’t know that will get you.
So what’s my next step? I already had outstanding queries with multiple agents, so I sent out messages saying ‘if you’re interested, you’ve got a month to kick it into gear and let me know.’ I know what you’re thinking--you already have a publisher, why do you need an agent? Frankly, because I still don’t know what the hell I’m doing. You hire a realtor to help sell your house, you hire a lawyer to sue your boss, you hire a literary agent to help negotiate your publishing contracts. The publisher is looking out for numero uno, and you should too.
I might not get an agent--it is a small publishing house after all and some still might not view a debut author worth their time. But either way, I’m pressing forward, and I’ll keep you up to date :D
Writing on PassionsRead Now
If you are looking through Twitter or other social media accounts, you will see many agents list certain books as part of their manuscript wish list or #MSWL. There’s even a site dedicated to this collection of things agents want to see. This is quite helpful as you are looking to submit your work. But there is a caution here: don’t write a story just because agents are looking for it.
Here’s the thing about the publishing world: the books that are submitted today won’t be published for usually two years if not more. And on top of that, it usually take about a year to write a book. So if you go on manuscript wish list today, select a topic and submit it in a year, there’s a good chance the agent whose list hole you were trying to fill was filled by someone else long ago.
This is the same with following trends and writing about those books. Say you read Twilight and thought--I can write something better than that. One year later, you have your paranormal vampire romance ready to go--but so do three thousand other writers. Now the market is saturated with a novel like yours, and no one wants it.
The problem with following trends is not just the saturation of the market, however. If you’re writing books solely for the purpose of appeasing an agent, your writing may be lacking the passion that it needs to turn heads. If the writer is not excited about the topic they are writing about, it WILL show in their writing.
So what do you do with your zombie apocalypse dystopian story that you wrote during your flurry of passion? Because this happens--you grow passionate about a project that is out of trend. Are you just stuck with this novel no one wants?
Don’t look for the nearest waste basket just yet! Hold onto it, because sometimes trends that were out of style come back in five years later. Keep writing, and keep filling the pages with your passion. As you write, your technique will improve. This is a marathon game, not a sprint. Those who don’t give up and hold on until the finish line are the ones who will make it in the end!
Writing anxiety in characters can be a challenge, especially for people who have never experienced a panic attack.
I used to be one of those lucky souls who had never endured such an event. Someone naive to the soul-crushing ache of a needlessly triggered fight-or-flight system. My bout came from an imbalance of hormones following the birth of my son, but others deal with anxiety for different reasons.
After two years, I can say now that I survived this event and, in many ways, I came out stronger. This is not to say that I am never afraid -- I get plenty afraid -- but I know how to handle my triggers and symptoms.
One thing I learned through all this experience, however, is empathy. As a writer, this skill cannot be overstated.
In order to write, you have to become someone else; you have to see the world through another person's eyes. How can you do that if you can't feel what they feel? In many ways, I was a bit deficit in this area. That's not to say I had no empathy at all, but it was not a honed skill. Now I know what feels like to be under this pressure and I'm far more patient to those who might be experiencing it.
Here's what I learned:
What is Anxiety
Everyone gets afraid. The fight or flight system is there to help us run from bears after all. But what if that system gets triggered at an inappropriate time? What happens if bears are nowhere in your neighborhood?
What if the trigger is a text message from your mom asking you to come home from Christmas? What if its the thought that you need to go to the grocery store? What if the rising bile in your stomach triggers you further into the anxiety spiral.
When the fight-or-flight system is triggered, the body is flooded with adrenaline as if a bear was attacking. It can make you feel like you’re going to die unless you do X. But X doesn’t exist. There is no threat, so there is no solution. Instead you’re overwhelmed with these hormones that do nothing but make you shake and steal your breath, with no outlet.
In fiction, we generally write about panic attacks in relation to characters who are experiencing a trauma or have experience trauma previously (PTSD). In cases of PTSD, there might be a smell, a sight, or a sound that triggers the flight or fight response. This is the body’s way of protecting itself from receiving another trauma. So a veteran might hear a car backfire in the parking lot of Walmart and hit the deck.
One of the misconceptions that I had regarding anxiety/panic attacks was that they always had a trigger. If the trigger could be avoided, then the anxiety could be possibly resolved. This is not true always true--or the trigger is so subconscious that it does not register to the person experiencing it. Anxiety can wake you from a dead sleep with sweats, heart palpitations, nausea, and a tightness around your neck.
Another misconception was that panic attacks are obvious. I assumed that if someone experienced a panic attack, the person would immediately know what was taking place. This is not true. In fact, people experiencing panic attacks often end up in the ER thinking they are experiencing a heart attack.
Perceptions Concerning Panic Attacks:
Thankfully, the culture is starting to talk more about psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression, but there can still be a stigma related to these illnesses. So when you’re writing about anxiety, consider how your character feels about these things. Do they fear the anxiety and allow it to consume them? Do they know what’s causing it? Do they feel like a failure because their anxiety gets in the way of their life? (This one was a big personal feeling of mine. I am a stay-at-home mom and couldn’t take care of my son during the worst of my anxiety crisis. This had a huge impact on my self-perception).
Or are they coping/trying to manage their symptoms through meditation, walks, breathing exercises, etc. Having a character go through the stages of acceptance with an anxiety disorder can be a good story arch.
So what does a panic attack look like? I’m going to describe one of my typical panic attacks. Keep in mind that not all panic attacks are the same for everyone, but this will hopefully be a good starting point for you in your writing:
Generally, it starts in the back of my mind, a little nagging feeling. Sometimes it’s proceeded by a headache (but mine are hormonally related rather than trauma based, so that might just be me). Then I get a tightness in my chest right below my throat. This stays throughout the panic attack and generally lingers for some time after. I get very restless--especially my hands. I start flexing my fingers, rubbing my arms repeatedly. Then I start clenching my teeth. Generally after this, I start pacing then try self-soothing motions (hugging myself, rubbing my arms). Nausea generally sets in at this point. If it’s bad enough, I will throw up. There’s a third element to fight/flight and that is freeze. That’s what I do. I don’t want to go anywhere/do anything. I sit in my chair or on the floor rocking back and forth running my hands through my hair. I sometimes claw at the arm rests or carpet. I want to scream.
So what’s going on in my head at that time? Well, my higher functions are turned off. More or less it’s a constant scream of ‘make it stop! make it stop!’ or ‘I can’t do this. I’m going to die. This is going to go on forever.’ It alternates between that and the TV show I watched last night. Seriously, sometimes it’s like my thoughts are completely separate from what’s going on in my body.
Generally, panic attacks last 30 minutes, but not mine. Sometimes they can start back up again -- especially if one of your triggers is the anxiety itself. (Since it's such an unpleasant experience, who wouldn't have it as a trigger?)
Thankfully, there are things you can do to keep panic attacks from getting that bad. A twenty minute walk kills mine. I no longer sit and rock--but the strange thing is my body rebels against this logic. When I first start walking, my nausea gets worse and I have to go to the bathroom. It’s like a part of my brain is telling me to do the opposite of what will help. It’s obnoxious. Deep breathing exercises work for some people, meditation, CBD, etc. The best thing is to remind yourself what is happening and to tell yourself that it’s just temporary and will go away eventually.
Anyways, that’s my experience with panic attacks. I have greatly incorporated my personal experiences with my writing. I hope that my story helps you better understand anxiety so that you can write it more effectively. If you have any questions or would like to share you’re own experiences, please comment below.
For those who have been following my blog, you know that I am documenting my journey to publish my YA novel, Midas and the Golden Child. I am currently querying agents for representation. I have submitted my query letter to my critique buddies on critiquecircle.com as well as receiving advice from family. I thought I would share some of the advice I have received from these groups as well as online articles related to the topic.
From Family: Looks good. I’d read it. (Level of helpfulness: 0)
From Writing Resources: Looks OK. Unfortunately, you need it to be remarkable (whatever that means). It’s too long It’s too short There’s not enough plot mentioned Try to get to the point of the plot quicker. Reword it like this: No, no, that’s not good, reword it like this instead. Don’t put hanging questions. State the goal of your characters instead. Example online: full of hanging questions. Be quirky and witty Be straightforward and to the point
A couple replies from agents: Looks interesting, unfortunately, it’s not quite what I’m looking for on my list. Strong project, unfortunately, I don’t have any contacts for a project quite like this.
So what is the best way to write a query letter? Who the hell knows.
A well rounded, developed character feels real. They feel like someone you would meet at school, at work, or at the coffee shop. They could be your family member or part of your circle of friends. But how do you develop such a realistic character? How do you go beyond basic characteristics such as hair and eye color, job preference, and favorite color?
Non-modifiable features such as ethnicity, age, and physical characteristics are important, but they are not the only things that define your character. A well-developed personality is key to creating a believable and relatable character. Personality determines how a character will react to their environment and relate to their culture. Once you have the character's personality down, certain things such as job preference, favorite color, favorite tv show, will flow together naturally. So how does one come up with a character's personality that is believable and consistent?
When I have a character in mind, I will often take an online personality test to see where they line up. There are several out there to choose from. Myers-Briggs is probably the most famous personality tests, but I don’t usually start there. I use the Big 5.
The Big 5 tests a person in the following 5 areas: conscientiousness, neuroticism (or negative emotion), openness, extroversion, and agreeableness. Now, when you look at this list, there are certain negative or positive connotations associated with each of these characteristics, but problems can arise on either end of the spectrum. For example, people extremely high in conscientiousness (characterized by people who are always busy or are very orderly) can become too orderly. This can give rise to certain conditions such as anorexia.
This is, of course, not to say that all people suffering from anorexia are high in conscientiousness or vice versa, but the personality type that is common among people with this disease is conscientiousness. In highly conscientious people, things are often black and white, geometrical in shape, and everything has its place. If something is perceived to be wrong or flawed, it must be removed or eradicated—or starved. Now, of course, if a person is low in conscientiousness, then things are often messy or left undone.
All of the big 5 personality traits are like this. They are on a spectrum with each having its own set of pros and cons. If you can figure out where your character is on this spectrum, you might be able to link certain traits together.
For example, my character Jared, is low in agreeableness, high in conscientiousness, high in neuroticism, medium in extraversion, and high in openness. Therefore, his room is clean, he’s always busy, but most of his work is based off of fear or his nervousness. He has a job to do, and he doesn’t take well to people who stand in his way—that’s the disagreeableness. This makes him a very efficient worker, but he can get under people’s skin.
Then, I take my other characters and develop their personality using the same method. Usually—in order to spice things up—I give them personally traits that might grate on the first character’s nerves just for drama. After that, stick them in a room together and watch them duke it out. If you’ve been thorough, the dialogue will often write itself.
After that, just to well round my character, I throw them into the Myers-Briggs and see what comes out.
The more you learn about personality traits and variations, the more it will assist you in your writing and the more realistic your characters will become.
You can find multiple sites that offer a questionnaire for your character, but in my experience, this has been the most efficient way of developing characters.
Why do people read stories? What causes them to put everything in their day aside to stare at a paper with little black scribbles on it? Why do you read?
Because it’s interesting? Okay, sure enough. But usually, it’s because deep inside, an emotion has been triggered that causes you to keep going. This is why people spend hundreds of dollars to read fifteen book series and spend thousands of hours consuming movies and tv shows. It’s not just interesting. It’s emotionally engaging.
Think about your favorite characters. If something bad happens to them, do you feel it? If they finally reach their goals, do you rejoice with them? Do you ever put the book down because you just can’t deal with the emotions anymore? I do. So, how does one generate such a visceral reaction in your readers? Here are some tips and tricks to make your hero an interesting and sympathetic person.
Have Them Rescue the Puppy
Why do we like Katniss Everdeen? What was our first encounter with this sixteen-year-old that made us fall in love? Was it not when she volunteered as tribute for her little sister? Even the people of the capital mention this to Katniss during her interview with Caesar. It's a touching story and one that invokes an immediate visceral reaction in readers as well as views.
Suzanne Collins plays up this trope as well in the scenes before the 'Reaping.' She starts out with Katniss bringing home food from her hunting, showing her to be a resourceful and self-sufficient person. Then come Prim, who's sporting a 'duck-tail' on her shirt because she did not reach around far enough to tuck it in. In other words, she's adorable and not self-sufficient. Like a puppy. So when she's called for the 'Reaping,' it's clear that this is going to be a death sentence for her. Until Big Sister steps up.
Now, Katniss, while deadly, is still just a girl. She's scared and from the perspective of her mentor, Haymitch, she's the puppy. But, even though she is afraid, she still steps up to protect her little sister.
Let's consider another story, a classic this time: The Wizard of Oz. Now in this story Dorothy literally does save a puppy. When the evil neighbor tries to turn Todo into the authorities, Dorothy plans on running away. For the first several minutes of the story we spend time on the dog saving mission rather than in Oz. It's an unusual choice, until you realize what the writer is doing. Besides establishing the desire to return home for the rest of the story, they are also creating a sense of 'likeableness' in Dorothy's character. Now we know who to root for, because she helped someone weaker than herself.
Often, your reader needs a reason to fall in love with your character. They need to be worthy of the next several hours of their attention. A common troupe is to give the character someone or something to rescue. Katniss sacrifices everything to save Prim. Dorothy runs away to save Todo. How does your character earn the love and respect of your audience?
Have Someone Love Your Character
Another way to make your character sympathetic is to have someone else love them. Even your villains and anti-heroes can benefit from this troupe. Have your villain come home to a happy golden retriever that he pets and grooms and feeds before taking off his coat and shoes. Give your young protagonist a family that she can embrace and show love for in return. If you have a team of people rooting for your protagonist, it will encourage your readers to root for them too.
Consider Gru in Despicable Me. First, the writers introduced Gru as evil and funny, but then when he returns home, we see all his minions fawn over him. He has his own little group of fanatics doing his bidding (and they're cute fanatics too!) These minions and their respect for their boss sell the plausibility of the rest of the story. If everybody hated Gru, including his subordinates, we would not be able to suspend our disbelief of a villain adopting and falling in love with three sweet orphan children.
Consider also the Mandalorian. The love is not as overt in this story. If anything, the Mandalorians are a class of people not prone to showing much emotion, but Mando is, in fact, loved, or at least respected, by his own people. Imagine for a moment if nobody stood in that role, if he was an unknown lone-wolf type. First off, it would bring his ability to bond into question. Why did he have no friends up to that point? But, secondly, his people make him more known and more likeable.
People are very social, and if there's someone out there that is disliked by everyone they meet, chances are, they will be unliked by your audience as well.
But what if my main character is a wandering orphan?
Well, did people love him? That still counts. They are still likeable. Tragedy destroyed that relationship, not anti-social behaviors.
Don't Make Them Perfect
How annoying is a perfect person? Their hair is always just right. They know the perfect thing to say. Everybody loves them. Blah, how boring. Give your character flaws—and lots of them. Now, don’t make them unloveable or unforgivable (see my previous posts), but give them something they have to struggle for.
Katniss doesn’t realize how likeable she is. She doesn’t naturally love Peeta. She’s ornery and harsh to those around her. Now, all of this is due to the fact that she’s had to fight and claw in order to survive her whole life. They are the flip side to the characteristics that helps her survive. But they don’t always make life easy, and they are things she has to overcome.
Bonus points if their flaws are fatal. Think Hercules’ strength—well—then again. Maybe not. Read my previous post for more information regarding how that went!
I hope this post has helped you think about ways to improve your character development. For my next post, I’ll be talking about the importance of developing your character’s personality and how it can be used to create traits as well as negative.
3 Things NOT To Do To Your Hero
When you write your story, you enter the mind of someone else—someone fictional, but I assure you, they feel more real than some of the people around you. Describing that person and putting their thoughts onto a page invites a reader to join you in this experience. That being said, if you want your reader to continue with your story and not chuck it across the room, there are a few ‘guidelines’ you are going to want to follow if your reader is supposed to root for your hero.
Readers can forgive many sins of your characters. In fact, flawless characters are rarely interesting. Even murder can be forgiven by your readers if done right. There are, however, some unforgiveable sins. Hurting animals is one. And I don’t mean Old Yeller style or To Kill a Mocking Bird style where the dog has rabies or some irreversible illness and needs to be put down. I mean killing a dog for the sake of killing it, or hurting animals in general. This is something that your villain might do—and your audience will hate them all the more. But if your hero is the perpetrator, that’s a sin many of your readers will not forgive.
Another unforgivable sin is the hurting of children. If your protagonist strikes a child, forget it. Credibility to their good nature is completely lost. Now, there have been incidents where a child is killed, but it has to be in the heat of the moment or by accident. Think about a war scene where a soldier is clearing houses and accidently shoots a child. Usually, this memory haunts them for the duration of the story as they live with remorse for what they did. If they intentionally kill or strike a child, however, they are not your hero. They are your villain.
Did you know that in the original mythology, Hercules kills his wife and children in a rage? How do you feel about him now? Yeah, that’s how your readers will feel about your character. Don’t do it.
I was watching the TV show Ratched the other night on Netflix, and was captivated by the main character. Mildred Ratched is deliciously evil, but ***Spoiler Alert*** halfway through the season, she has a massive personality shift. Suddenly, she’s not the anti-hero, but the victim and the sympathetic protagonist. I finished the season, but I won’t pick up season 2.
Now, the writers tried to back-pedal and say that she was just trying to save her brother, and therefore did all of those evil things. Here’s the thing, though: Mildred performed a craniotomy on an innocent person, practically turning him into a vegetable. That’s an unforgivable sin. But nonetheless, they try to explain it all away with a sympathetic story and proceeded to tell the story as if she is now the hero instead of the anti-hero. Sorry, but I’m not biting. You took an interesting character and killed her. Thank you and good night.
Don't forget about your protagonist or put them on the backburner!!
Imagine if halfway through the hunger games, Peeta shoved Katniss to the side, took her bow and arrows, and killed all the baddies? Katniss would no longer be the heroine we know and love. If you have read my previous posts concerning POV, you will see why most agents/publisher’s prefer 3rd person limited view. It helps keep your protagonist in the center of the action.
A good protagonist is not a passive part of the story, but an active part. This means he/she is making decisions to push the plot forward. Think of Katniss volunteering as tribute. She makes that choice. She chooses to pull out the berries. She is an active participant in the novel, not just a passive pawn that is moved across the board.
This is a list of three things not to do to your hero. My next post will be about ideas to do to your hero.
3 Tips For Stronger Writing
If I had a dollar for every post I’ve read about writing. . . but with inflation the way it is, I’m not sure it would make much of a difference. If you look around, especially on places like Pinterest, you’re going to find quite a bit of good information as well as conflicting information. Here are the best tips I’ve seen and the concepts behind them.
Use Active Verbs Rather Than Passive Verbs
For all of those people who did not find English as their favorite subjects, here’s what this means:
A verb is anything that causes action in the sentence. For example: The cat ran. In this sentence, the verb would be ran.
There are other little words that can help describe an action that was done to the subject. Am, is, are, was, were, are examples of these helping verbs. Example sentence: Katie was pushed by Eric. Was pushed is the verb phrase.
However, the example sentence can be reworded and written like this: Eric pushed Katie. The meaning is retained, but the helping verb is removed. Instead of something happening to the subject, the subject is doing something. This is what it means when someone says to use more active verbs rather than passive verbs. Now the sentence is stronger or has more of a punch.
For an even better punch, use precise verbs.
"Eric slammed Katie up against the wall."
"Eric jammed his shoulder against Katie's."
"Eric barreled right into Katie."
Each statement has a slightly different meaning and tells a lot more about the interaction taking place. #1 is clearly intentional, #2 could be rudeness or taunting depending on the surrounding test, #3 could be accidental. All could be summed up by pushing, but a lot is lost without a more precise verb.
Show, Don't Tell
This is one of the harder tips to explain, but it is important.
Which of the examples below gives you a better picture of the personalities of my characters?
"Katie was angry at Jared because he kept interrupting her."
Or . .
"Katie gritted her teeth as Jared cut in for the fifth time during her explanation."
I didn’t have to tell you Katie was anger, because most readers know that emotion that Katie is experiencing as described by her body language.
Other examples of showing and not telling:
Katie falls in love: When Jared entered the room, Katie’s breath fled. As he smiled, she kept staring at his soft lips, remembering their first kiss.
Katie is scared: The hairs on the back of Katie’s neck rose as Midas entered the room.
Katie is embarrassed: Warmth flooded her cheeks as the shattered dishes scattered across the floor.
You get the point. See how much richer the narrative is now that the body language has been described rather than the emotions told?
This can be done in scenes as well. Instead of telling us the inn was rundown, tell about the leaking roof, the curling wallpaper, the spiderwebs and drafts. This is the description of a rundown inn and that's what your readers will surmise without having to be told this directly.
Don't Head Hop
This is another one of those complicated things to explain. At first, I was skeptical about altering my manuscript in this way, but after fixing one chapter, it was clear that this was the way to go.
Point of view (POV) is a term describing whose perspective the narrative is told from. If you haven’t guessed, Katie is my POV character. There are several types of POV:
1st person: Think Katniss in the Hunger Games. Everything is told from the perspective of Katniss. “I did this. . . I saw this. . .”
1st person peripheral: Think Red in the Shawshank Redemption. Andy Dufresne is the main character, but the story is told from the perspective of Red. “When I saw Andy for the first time. . .”
2nd person: Usual used for instructional writing. “First you pop the hood, then you find the whatever greasy mechanical thing we are talking about. . .” (Not a car person).
3rd person: This is your narrator. There are 3 types of 3rd person (if this wasn’t confusing enough)
Omniscient: Think Death in the Book Thief. This is an almost god-like narrator who knows what everyone is thinking, and what everyone is doing at the same time.
Limited: Most stories I’ve read are in either this category or the next. Think Shutter Island. You are in the head of DiCaprio’s character. This can be fun, because you can have a lot of twists added. Your POV character might not be privy to a lot of the things that are taking place around them, or they might not be an accurate narrator. Then at the end, everything is revealed.
Multiple: Think. . . well . . . a lot of books. I’m going to go with the Count of Monte Cristo.
Here, Edmond Dantes is not present for every scene that takes place in the story, so he can’t be the POV for every scene.
1st person and 3rd person limited are very tight forms of narrative with strict rules. If your character does not know it, your narrator does not know it either. This is where head hopping comes in.
You’re bee-bopping along in Katie’s head, when suddenly, your author states that Jared looked over at Midas, and anger boiled within him. EEEK! Stop right there. You are in Katie’s head, and unless she can read minds, she doesn’t have insight into Jared’s personal feelings. Now, you can have her notice things about her friend--maybe his hands clutch the rail in front of him until his knuckles turn white. Maybe a sneer crosses his face, but you can’t be privy to his personal thoughts. This is head hopping.
But I want my reader to know different perspectives. . .
You can have multiple perspectives, but it’s not 3rd person limited. A single POV will make your narrative stronger. If you must have multiple POVs (like in the Count of Monte Cristo), I would recommend that you change your POV in the next chapter or after a clear scene break.
I would also recommend that when you change your POV, that you give each character their unique voice. One of my critiquers recommended that I have Katie state how many bunk beds were in one room. Here’s the problem though: Katie wouldn’t think to count them. But do you know who would? Jared, my other POV. So, if I’m writing from Jared’s perspective, I will have him notice certain things that Katie wouldn’t and vice versa.
3 Things I Did Wrong To Publish
This is Part 1 of a series documenting my journey to publication (hopefully!).
I just completed my novel, Midas and the Golden child. It is a YA Thriller that follows the kidnapping of young and naïve 15-year-old Katie Thompson, the daughter of an FBI agent. I have sent query letters out am now waiting for responses. In the meantime, I decided to start this blog following the process as well as discussing how this journey will effect my real life. I’m already quite the busy bee. I primarily stay home with my one-year-old, but work one day a week supervising nursing students in the hospital. Our home, however, is a mini-farm, so there is always work to be done between our ducks, chickens, and garden.
This is not the first novel I have written, but I was young and naive like Katie when I wrote the first one. I did not know the difference between publishing and self-publishing, nor the first thing about marketing. This posting, I’m going to talk about what I learned from that experience, and all of the new information that I’ve managed to collect this time. I am sure that as time goes on, I will continue to learn more and more about the world of book publishing, and I hope to share that with you as well.
Wrong About Editing
I believed the publishing group I went with would help me edit the story once it was completed. All I needed to do was propose a good story. Wrong. Wrong! WRONG! That is not how that works. Before you find an agent or a publisher, you must have a polished story--or at least a story that is as polished as you can get it. Editing costs money to the publisher, and if your manuscript is going to cost them too much, they will not invest in you--especially if you are a first time author. The competition is thick, and if they can make more money off of someone else, they will. Even if your story might be better.
If you spill your guts onto a page, it’s going to look exactly like that. Guts on a page. 1st drafts are messy, ragged, and often nonsensical. If you are not willing to go over and over your manuscript--your 600+ page manuscript, with a fine tooth comb writing is not for you. Also--if your manuscript is over 100k words (pages mean nothing), it is too long. WAY too long. Fantasy and Sci-Fi are exceptions, but most stories need to be around 70-90k words. Mine is 89k, and I worked my butt off getting it there. You must be willing to carve up your story and edit out as much as you can. If it does not contribute to the plot, it needs to go.
Editing is tedious. There was a grammar concept I was mistaken on. My critique partners showed it to me, but then I had to go back through my 89k words and correct every single time I did it wrong. It was not a mistake you could find through control+F either. I had to go line by line looking through every end quotation mark in my story to determine if I had formatted it correctly. Blah, that was a boring evening.
Wrong About Publishing/Marketing
I don’t know about you, but when I started out writing, I had in my mind that authors were these people gifted by God with a silver pen and words of angels. If you had the talent, you could put anything on paper and eventually, someone would notice your genius. What a bunch of bollocks. Like most anything, writing is a skill that takes years of practice to improve. A person might have a certain talent in one area or another, but if that talent is not watered and fertilized, it will choke out or remain stagnant. Most recommend writing at least once a day. I have not found this feasible with my current lifestyle, but I do try to write as much as possible. If I’m not putting pen to paper, then I’m at least thinking about my novel and the next thing that I want to write.
With this idea in mind, I picked a publisher that did not require an agent and sent them my manuscript. They accepted it. Easy-peasy, right?
Nothing in writing is easy. If it feels easy, you’ve probably done something wrong. I went with a group who, with my investment of $3,000 would publish me. They promised me they would help me with marketing and would share in the profits once we reached a certain sale total. Here’s the problem though--I already gave them money. If the book were successful, sure they would make more money, but I had decreased their incentive to help me out the gate. They set up an interview for me with a woman on an AM radio station who gave the wrong name on the interview. THE WRONG NAME. How can you sell books if the interviewer is putting the wrong name out? I complained, but it went nowhere. Their other ideas regarding marketing included setting up a Facebook page and Twitter account on my behalf--two things I could easily do myself (and that I had to pay extra for). There were no instructions or advice on how to use these accounts or how to market myself. Needless to say, the book did not have much success. Now it sits on my shelf reminding me of one of my worst financial decisions.
Wrong About Critiques
Critique groups and other readers are huge. Once you’ve stared at the same page for hours and hours, you will not be able to see the mistakes any longer. A fresh set of eyes is key--especially one that knows a bit about writing. I did not have anyone else read my story before attempting to have it published because I was embarrassed to tell people that I was a writer. Don’t be! Own it! It’s a cool world you live in and a neat skill. You’re going to have to sell your book, often that means selling yourself too.
I found a critique group that I like on Critique Circle. There are several other sites out there, but this is my home. You can sign up for a free account. The first two posts put you into the Newbie Queue which almost guarantees that you will receive a bunch of critiques. The benefits of critiques is not limited only to you receiving critiques, but as you critique others, you will begin to see the same mistakes in your own writing better and be able to fix them better. Being critiqued and critiquing has helped me become a stronger writer more than anything.
Another thing that Critique Circle offers in their forums is a critique of query letters. How helpful this section is will hopefully be determined soon!
I will keep you up to date as time goes on, and hopefully we shall see success right around the corner!
RW Hague is a registered nurse with over eight years of experience within the medical field. Using her medical expertise, she writes stories that are gritty and compelling.