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Characters, Traits, & Synopsis | Write:Talk

WRITE:TALK is a blog series about the craft of Christian writing.
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Interesting Character...

Let's continue our discussion about building characters for your story. If you followed the assignment last time, you have practiced making three characters on a mission and one villain. We can take those and build upon their traits and maybe even write a synopsis for a story. If you don't have the total idea for the story worked out at this point, don't worry about it. You may be a pantser, and if that is the case, the plot will develop and surprise you as it unfolds. But, if you are a plotter, you will be compelled to nail it down before you write the first word of the Prologue.

What's in a name?

If you haven't yet, you need a main character with a name. Don't illiterate the names. Penny Parker, Danny Dickens, and Zelda Zoom are for the comic books and sound made-up. And don't overplay the character's traits with a name. Dirk Stone, for a main character, sounds like a shallow attempt to tell your reader that this guy's muscles are piled up like river rocks. On the other hand, don't miss cast the names. Making an old man with a cane named Ziggy Prancer seems like a swing and a miss. One of my favorite character names is Clayboy Spencer (from the movie Spencer's Mountian).

One approach I've used is to pick names is to think of relatives and combine different first and last names. One author makes a list of first names and another of last names, then combines them in random order. There are also name generators online. SeventhSanctum has a free name generator. You can choose male or female and get 50 names at a time.

Giving them traits.

Then give your MC some traits. You can use tags as we talked about labeling characters last time to make a dominant impression. Tags can be appearance, ability, speech, mannerisms, and attitudes.

Ross Thomas, in his book, Briarpatch wanted us to feel wariness about his character and used tags.

"Harold Snow smiled back. It was a sheepish smile, patently false, that somehow went with Snow's long narrow face, which the detective also found to be rather sheep-like except for those clever coyote eyes."

The descriptions add dimension to the character, allowing us to gain a quick insight into his nature.

Just write down what might occur to you about your MC. It is very important not to make him/her perfect. In the example I provide below of one of my characters, Oliver Williams, you'll notice the comment about him drinking on the job. OH NO! A Christian shouldn't drink on the job. My inner voice is yelling. But some do, and that is a real-world flaw. If you dare to write real stories that don't shy away from people's flaws and work them through the struggle, it might help someone. So be brave. Remember, even Peter was a coward in his low point of denying Christ. The gospel didn't leave that out. And neither should we. That was a real flaw that God forgave him of and helped him to grow out of. He became so brave in his faith that he was crucified and did not recant.

Think through what you want the traits of your characters to be.

Synopsis

Now with a couple of characters, you will need a premise. Some general idea that gets you from the normal day that your MC is having to an inciting incident and beyond. This brings up the question; How would you quickly describe your story? Some writers express this as a synopsis. That is a one or two-paragraph statement explaining what your story is about. Below, I'll provide an example from my book The Perth Incident:

Assignment

Pick two MCs of a story. Write a paragraph of traits for each. Then create a synopsis for a story. Use this outline for the synopsis:

  • Describe main characters
  • The inciting incident that starts their journey
  • The struggle and problems
  • The antagonist
  • The return home

Remember, this is just practice. Don't overthink it, just do it. Let it flow. Then send it to me, and I will take a look at it and send you my thoughts.

Now, Let me share some examples from my own work to get you started. Examples from my book The Perth Incident.

My Main Character, Oliver Williams

In his early thirties, seasoned WA (Western Australian Police) sergeant, single, quick-witted, down to earth, drinking too much on the job. He’s been talked to about it but continues. He is messy and a bit disorganized. He has a dislike for paperwork. Having some trouble getting over a breakup with his last girlfriend of 6 years, a local school teacher that was very controlling. He likes Western novels and wants to lock up criminals. He likes to work alone, resisting help from others. Gun on hip, he is a fast draw and rarely lets anyone get the drop on him unless he forgets his gun. WANT: Relive the good old days when the sheriff caught the lawbreakers to fix the world.

My Supporting Character, Susan Pearson

A single local reporter for the Western Australian Newspaper, 23, new on the job, but eager to do well, and is an over-achiever. Messy but very attractive in her 1970s mini skirts and tight silk tops. All in on the 70s style with bellbottoms, shades, long blond hair, Farrah Fawcett style. She doesn't trust authority and thinks the system is holding down women. The CB radio in her Flaming Falcon sedan is used often to get ahead on the next scoop. Looking for justice and the truth behind the big lie that authority promotes. Went to the local journalism school, Murdoch University, an expensive eleven thousand-person campus in Perth, Australia. WANT: to win awards for her work in her career, proving that she is special.

My Synopsis

In 1975 Western Australian Police Sergeant Oliver Williams begins an investigation of a victim when a dust devil explodes over the body, knocking him off his feet. Stunned by the pulse, he and reporter Susan Pearson pursue answers that lead to a journey they never expected. When they land in 1881 in old Perth, Australia as a slave and a deputy, the struggle begins to survive in their new roles and find each other. Soon their skills are put to the test; Susan in Bishop Hale’s School for Girls, and Oliver as deputy of the local sheriff. When the Emporium’s owner Montague shows up to turn their lives upside down, Susan and Oliver must work together to overcome the obstacles of the nineteenth century to return home.

The Synopsis needs a beginning, middle, and end. You can start with the MC and Inciting Incident that happens to him. That is Act I. Act II starts the journey. In this story, they end up in 1880. So what are they doing there and what is their problem? Then Act III the bad guy is mentioned and a comment about overcoming and getting back home.

"As iron sharpens iron, so one sharpens another,"

Proverbs 27:17

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