It’s your friend, Christina Kaye, host of Write Your Best Book, and I can’t wait to dive into today’s topic. Welcome to episode six, where we’ll be talking about how to write well-developed characters with Angela Ackerman of Writers Helping Writers.
You may know Angela as the co-author of The Emotional Thesaurus and all those other great thesauruses that help authors develop three-dimensional, well-rounded characters. You may or may not also know that aside from being an author and part of an amazing writing duo with Becca Puglisi, who will also join on the show later this year, Angela is one of the founders of OneStopForWriters.com, an amazing website which has great tools for writing your book, including the character builder (my personal favorite), scene maps, timelines, and even an idea generator.
Let’s dive right into today’s topic, shall we?
As an author, probably one of the most crucial decisions you’re going to make, after what your story will essentially be about, is your protagonist and all her supporting characters. After all, you can have a great story idea, but if you don’t have a well-rounded, likeable, and relatable protagonist, all you have is a flat story idea. Girl meets boy. Falls in love. Struggle nearly tears them apart. They find their way back to each other. Love conquers all. Great story, right? Sure.
But who cares? We’ve read that story a thousand blue times. However, if we add in a cast of characters, most importantly your protagonist, suddenly, the story not only becomes more unique, but full of color and personality. That is…if you’re doing it right.
It’s not enough just to have a female protagonist named Shelly, for example, who works as a veterinarian and loves animals, who meets an adorable puppy owner and falls in love. That’s just not original enough. It’s not enough to make us root for Shelly, just knowing she’s a vet who loves animals and falls in love. Instead, you must come up with a backstory and something from her past that motivates her and explains how she got to where she is today. Beyond that, you need to add very specific character traits that make Shelly more than just a female who works at a vet clinic and falls in love.
Before we get to today’s guest, let’s do today’s book plug:
It’s a crime novel by one of my clients, Birgit Stubblefield called Beneath the Surface. And here’s the blurb:
“He clutched his head in his hands. His shoulders shook, but no sound came. Minutes stretched, interrupted only by the pop of burning wood.”
Ryan Collins had it all – financial freedom, an exciting career, and attractive women. A favorite photographer in the glamorous world of fashion, his lifestyle is the envy of many. Only a few know of the demons that haunt him.
When Ryan and Emily discover Oak Creek’s dirty secret, they become witnesses to a drug crime. With Ryan’s plans for a career change temporarily on hold, the physical and emotional attraction to Emily grows strong. But a twisted truth taught so many years ago spirals to the surface and strangles his heart. A romantic relationship just isn’t meant to be.
While assisting a friend with a documentary in the African wild, Ryan is forced to confront his terrors. As the battle within rages will he be able to permanently silence the voice this time? Will he find a way back to Emily, and the happiness he so desperately craves? Or is it too late?
Now go get your copy today on Amazon or visit the show notes and follow the purchase link to download a copy now.
Let’s bring in our guest host, Angela Ackerman and see what she has to say about character development.
CK: Ok, today on the show, as we’ve mentioned, we’ve got Angela Ackerman. Welcome Angela. Thank you for joining us.
AA: Thank you so much for having me.
CK: Sure. We’re really excited. I’m really excited. First, let’s start by telling everyone a bit more about you and your background in the writing world.
AA: Well, I started out writing fiction for children and young adults. That’s kind of how I got started with writing and that’s where I met Becca. The two of us met online and critiqued each other’s work and then just really realized that we jelled and we had a lot of the same ideas and from there we started blogging together and creating The Emotion Thesaurus among all our other books. I have written six books and I eBooklet. It’s kind of a little mini add-on to The Emotion Thesaurus. We’re working on our seventh volume. But our books have been picked up by different publishers in different countries. So, there’s—I think most of them have been translated now into seven languages.
AA: it’s really nice because we’re able to help writers all over the world and that’s kind of my passion and Becca’s passion. Our website is Writers Helping Writers and One Stop for Writers and we really really do live that. We got into helping writers because we know how difficult it can be to put all the storytelling pieces together and juggle all the different, incredible elements that go into a really great story and building strong characters and how to manage all those things. It can feel kind of overwhelming and that’s sort of where Becca and I came from as far as deciding to take what we know and give it to other people to try to help them learn as we learn. And it’s just been a really great way to sort of give back to the community in that so many people have helped us develop as writers and so it’s really nice to be able to do that for other people as well.
CK: Well, you mentioned The Emotion Thesaurus just now. How’d you come up with the idea? Did you and Becca come up with this together? And tell us how it can help authors with their writing. I’m a huge fan. When I discovered it, honestly Angela, I downloaded it and I’ve used it every day in my writing for years. So, you got to tell us more about that.
AA: Well, I’m super glad to hear that. That’s great. So, how we came up with the idea for The Emotion Thesaurus is like so many other writers, Becca and I found thath our characters were always frowning or shrugging or sighing or shoving their hands in their pockets and it was all so terribly boring. We found that every character was describing—you know we were describing emotions in the same way. And we just knew like there had to be a better way. There had to be a way to really think deeply about emotion and tailor emotional responses to each individual character because each character has their own personality. They’ve got their own way of expressing themselves. Their own comfort zones as far as emotional sensitivities and how they share what they feel with other people. So, we wanted an easier way to come up with ideas on how to do that. So, Becca and I started brainstorming lists online. We met at a site called The Critique Circle; which is a site where people get together all over the world and you can kind of match up with other critique partners. It’s an excellent way to get feedback on your writing and get the insight from other people that have varied experience and you know just learn as you go. And so, we started creating lists thinking about different emotions, like fear—ok, so what—how would a character express the emotion of fear physically through their body language? Through action? What kind of thoughts go through a character’s head when they’re in a state of fear? Because every single emotion changes the way you think about things. If you’re scared, you’re going to be really focused on the thing that’s terrifying you and your thoughts are going to go to the worst-case scenario. There’s going to be a lot of panic and things like that. And that’s going to look a lot different than if you’re happy or you’re satisfied or you’re worried. It’s always going to look different, depending on what those emotions are. There’s also visceral sensations which are the uncontrolled responses that we all have as people. Things like your heart racing and your adrenaline pumping, sweating different things that happen that we have absolutely no control over. They’re simply responses to that emotion that comes on. And so, thinking about what are those things for each individual emotion. What would you feel for anxiety? You know, the tightness in the chest. Different types of responses that there’s no control over. These are really powerful ways to show our characters’ emotions to readers because they’re universal. They’re something that every single person feels. So, if you describe it in a really evocative character; immediately the reader’s going to recognize what that means. So, it’s a really great way to show that emotion verses telling the emotion. Saying that somebody was anxious or saying somebody was mad. So essentially, The Emotion Thesaurus, it’s a second edition now. It’s been expanded to one-hundred thirty different emotions and it looks at all the different ways that you might express it through body language, thoughts, visceral sensations and vocal cues. Vocal cues are so many different ways to show emotion in dialogue beyond just the things that a person might say. And so we also really wanted to include that when we updated the volume. So that’s kind of what that book is about and it really met a huge need in the community because we didn’t realize that other writers struggled to the same degree that we did.
CK: Oh yes, we do! (laughing)
AA: Yeah, we started blogging them originally. We didn’t even have a book in mind.
AA: And people just wow! Like they showed up in droves and then they kept asking us, “well, can you do this emotion? Can you do that emotion?” And, eventually, Becca and I decided to turn it into a book.
AA: But it also became almost a doorway into a new way of thinking about writing and a new way of thinking about show don’t tell. So, we decided to start tackling other topics that were really difficult for writers as well. So, we’ve written books on how to describe sensory settings—so looking at all the things a character might see, smell, taste, touch and hear in any given setting. I think there’s two books that cover that. there’s about two hundred fifty different fictional settings that we’ve covered and almost every single one of those settings, we’ve visited ourselves to make sure that we—
CK: That’s interesting. That’s a really cool fact.
AA: Yeah, there’s a few things we did that were a little sketchy—
CK: (laughing) We won’t talk about it because you’re live on air! (more laughing).
AA: Yeah, Yeah.
CK: Don’t admit to anything.
AA: Oh yeah. Well anyway, we did get authentic details—let’s just put it that way.
CK: Yes. Ok.
AA: And we’ve done ones on personality because anything to do with characters is huge. The character is the centerpiece of your story. We really want to make sure we understand who our characters really are deep down; so that we can bring that authenticity to the page. We do that by really understanding a character’s motivations, their personality. Both the positive side and the negative side work together to make a complete person. It’s important that we think about both of those sides because I find that sometimes writers—they really love their character and they don’t want to thinking about the negative side to them, but we all have flaws. We all have negative aspects of ourselves that come out at different times; especially when your stressed or going through an unfamiliar situation. And let’s face it, that’s what storytelling is: dumping your characters into situations that they have to somehow navigate. So, we really do need to think carefully about personality. We really have to dig deep into character personality—that light and dark side so that it becomes so much easier to plan really unique characters without always falling on the same default set of traits—I guess is the best way to put it. And then we wrote a book on emotional wounds. That was, by far, the most difficult book that we’ve written because we look at one-hundred eighteen different types of emotional trauma. Real world trauma that you, I, our readers—we all have difficult things in our past that we have gone through and they’ve shaped who we are and our characters are going to be the same. They’re going to have backs stories, they’re going to have negative events that happened to them and things that they have not fully resolved and this is really important for character arc because in the very single story, there’s going to be a character that is being held back in some way. There’s something leaving them dissatisfied and incomplete or where they feel that something is missing from their life and in the course of the story, if you’re writing a change arc, your character’s going to grow and they’re going to change and evolve and become someone stronger that is going to go after and achieve a goal that is going to turn the world right again and make sure they do feel that they are complete now and like they’re fulfilled. But in order for them to be able to grow and change and evolve, they have to let go of whatever’s holding them back and that is all going to be tied to that unresolved emotional wound. Whatever past thing that has happened to them that they’ve never really worked through. Instead, they just kind of buried it and tried to pretend it didn’t affect them. It’s going to create a lot of dysfunction in their life and that dysfunction is actually getting in their own way of achieving the things they want. So, it’s a necessary part of storytelling where a character has to face that past wound. So understanding what it is is really instrumental in creating a whole 3D character who feels like a real person. So, yeah, we looked at different types of emotional trauma and all the different behaviors that come with it. All the dysfunction that comes with it. All the fears that come with it. And the different ways that your character’s going to have low self-worth as a result of whatever happened to them, the different types of world view they may have, the changes that may have occurred, how they look at the world differently after the event. All of these things are going to impact how they behave in the story. And that’s kind of what all of this stuff comes down to is how will our character behave in a story? How are they going to handle the different things that we’re going to throw at them, the different challenges, the different obstacles. And it’s really important for us to understand how they will behave because that’s really how readers navigate any story. They pay attention to how your character behaves in the story to understand what’s important to them, what they care about, who they should root for and ultimately, what’s the right goal and what do they want the character to achieve. They discover all of that by putting pieces together as your character goes along by watching them and watching their behavior.
CK: And your books help us do that. And you’ve got several. You’ve mentioned a couple of them. But there’s The Positive Traits Thesaurus, The Negative Traits Thesaurus you all need to check out. I’m going to put in the show notes a link to The Emotions Thesaurus, which they’ll be able to find the others as well. But one more quick question before we really get into the topic for today. I also wanted to direct our listeners to. You have the website, Writers Helping Writers. Can you tell us a bit about what we can find on there? It’s not just an “About Us” kind of website, is it?
AA: No, no, no. it’s not like an author’s website. Writers Helping Writers is literally what it says on the tin. It is where you go to get help. Specially, Becca and I help with show don’t tell. That’s kind of what we’re most known for. I mean we tackle any topic to do with writing. Our mission is to build stronger writers. That is what we’re trying to do. Like I said, paying it forward. Lots of people have helped us grow our craft and we just want to pass that on to others who are, you know, trying to work their way towards that dream of having their books in the hands of readers. And so, we—not only do Becca and I blog many different topics to do with show don’t tell, we also have a lot of great authors that come in. Many of these are really well-known writing coaches. We call them resident writing coaches. People like James Scott Bell, Jamie Gold. We’ve had Lisa Kraun with us. Many different, really high-caliber writing coaches that just have incredible insight. Every year we change it up. We have a few new ones come on board and a few leave us. And it’s excellent because I find that I learn so much better when I get to listen to the different voices and insight of different people that are subject matter experts in something. So, I can read two articles on the same topic and still come away with something. Some new insight with both. And I love that. and so we wanted to bring that to Writers Helping Writers and realty give everyone the opportunity to learn from these amazing writing experts. Becca and I have been blogging now for over ten years. There’s a lot—
CK: That’s a good follow up question. Yeah, how long has it been continued?
AA: It’s been a—I feel quite old when I think about how long we’ve been blogging there.
CK: My kids just hit twenty. I now no longer have any child under the age of twenty, so tell me about it. (laughing)
Ok, so let’s dive in really quick to today’s topic. Now, as you know, today’s topic is all about writing well-developed characters when writing novels. I sought you out for this podcast with this episode in mind because of your other website, OneStopForWriters.com. And we’ll link to it in the show notes folks. On there, you have a “Character Builder” tool. And I’m a member by the way, I’m on the site. Hands down, I use it more than any other tool. Will you tell us a bit about that right quick and how that works and how that can help authors.
AA: Absolutely, absolutely. So, I’ll just back up a little bit and describe what Onestopforwriters is because some people get confused. They’re like “what’s the difference between Writers Helping Writers and Onestopforwriters?” Writers Helping Writers is really strongly informational and it’s a lot of different articles and resources and things like that that we know about and we’ve listed and linked to or we’ve created ourselves. But, with Onestopforwriters, what Becca and I are trying to there is bring all the different tools that writers need to build successful novels and put them all in one place because we feel, unfortunately people have less and less time to dedicate to writing because they’re very busy. They’ve got lots of stuff going on, lots of family things and different commitments and other jobs and so we wanted to have an environment where everything you need is in one place so that you’re spending less time trying to think about what to write and trying to find the tools you need and then instead you’re just simply writing. So, Onestopforwriters has not only all the different thesaurus that we’ve written, but all the thesaurus that Becca and I have written together and that’s—I think we’re on the fifteenth thesaurus right now. So there’s actually a lot of different topics that we’ve tackled for show don’t tell, beyond the different books that people know us for. We wanted to have this centralized location for this huge database of information. A lot of it, characters specifically, so it all feeds into the character builder tool. This amazing tool will prompt you as you’re going through the different aspects of a character and it will supply you with ideas that are specifically tailored to the character that you are building. It’s able to do this because it’s pulling from all these databases of information that we’ve created over the years, like The Emotion Thesaurus, The Positive/Negative Trait Thesaurus, The Emotional Wound Thesarus. We have one that’s just on character motivation and so it pulls all the information in. so, what the character builder does is it really looks at the character as a whole. What’s going to happen to them in the story? It’ looks at things like their unmet need, their eimotional wounds, the things that are making them feel unhappy and incomplete. Just like we talked about before how your character starts the story in a place where they feel like they’re being held back, that there’s something missing from their lives. So, we look at all of those pieces to help you put them together so that you know exactly what your character’s trajectory is going to be in the story, exactly how they’re going to evolve and change and grow so that they can reach whatever it is that determined is the thing that’s going to be—it’s going to fulfill that unmet need that they have. So, it looks at their personality, emotional sensitivities, their behavior, relationships, their physicality. Just about everything you could possibly imagine to do with characters. It pulls it all together. But, the most—the coolest thing, I think, about the character builder tool is actually a character arc blueprint that it creates for you. The tool is actually hyperintelligent in the sense that, as it’s prompting you with information and asking you questions, it identifies certain answers that you give understanding that these are core pieces of character arc. So, what it does is, it will earmark those pieces of information and pull them together into a character arc blueprint for that character. Now this is a really powerful tool for planning a novel because understand what’s motivating your character, especially that internal motivation, the internal conflict. This is something writers really struggle to figure out. Like what does my character want? What’s going to fulfill them? What’s driving them? What’s missing from inside? What is their fatal flaw? All of these questions are things that the character builder tool answers because it identifies pieces of information and it will put it all together in this nice blueprint where you can read it and you can see your character’s entire story and where it’s going to go and it makes plotting so much easier–
AA: Once you understand that level of depth of your character. It’s a really great tool that makes building characters—really unique characters—that are going to stand out to your readers because they’re so authentic and life-like. It makes it much much easier and once you have a character that you really understand down to their bones, that’s when, as you’re writing the story and you’re putting them in different situations and scenarios, you are going to know how they’re going to behave. You are going to know the decisions that they are going to make and the choices and follow-up to those choices and their mistakes because you understand who they are because you did all this work to brainstorm who they are. So, starting with a character that is written life-like that has a lot of depth, that is complex, just like a real person, it can really make the difference in a novel and really make a difference as far as building the type of characters that readers just—they can’t let go of, like even after the story is over, they can’t let go of those characters because they seem so life-like.
CK: Let’s take a break and talk about one of our sponsors for the podcast.
Have you heard of Scrivener? Most have, but for those of you who haven’t, it’s a wonderful, amazing writing program created by Literature and Latte, and it has a ton of awesome features that help you plot and structure your novel. You can build character sketches, write your book scene by scene if you want, rearrange scenes, and even upload images and website links to help inspire you as you write. Say you are developing your protagonist. Scrivener not only helps you build your character sketch, but you can also upload a picture of your favorite celebrity who reminds you of your character for inspiration. Isn’t that cool? There are so many features, I can’t do this program justice, folks. But trust me when I say, there’s a reason thousands and thousands of authors are using this program.
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Now, let’s get back to Angela.
I tell you one thing and to just kind of bounce off what you just said, for me, when I use the tool, I feel like I actually get to know my character. Like, I feel like, they’re all the sudden—you know, everybody’s written a book—or all of us who are authors have written a book and you love your character, you love your protagonist, but I feel like using a tool like yours, I feel like they’re now my new friend or something because I know everything about them. I know what motivates them, what happened to them as a child. It’s just an amazing tool. My listeners have got to go on there and sign up for this and I’ll put a link in the show notes for everyone. Thank you for bring that to our world Angela.
AA: No, no. it’s exciting for us too because we’ve created so much information about characters and it’s wonderful to see it all be pulled together into one really smart tool that just makes everything easier because—
CK: It does.
AA: That’s kind of our mission right? Cause there’s so much to juggle.
CK: Yes! And you’re rocking it girl! Let me tell you!
AA: Thank you very much.
CK: Ok, so what would you say is the most common mistake that most authors make when they’re trying to develop characters for their novels?
AA: I would probably say that the biggest mistake is just not digging deep enough into their characters. Like, not understanding who they are and throwing them into the story. I don’t want this to be misconstrued, but I’m saying people should plot and not pants. That’s not really what I mean—
AA: Some people, pantser, like to do a discovery draft where they understand who their character is as they’re writing that first draft of the story and that’s totally fine. That’s a valid process and I have no issues at all with someone who likes to—
CK: Do that.
AA: Yeah, exactly. It works. But I would say that either way, whether or not you like to plan your character in advance or you like to discover who they are during the discovery draft. In both methods, it’s really important that you dig deep enough and you understand, especially your character’s back story. I think a lot of writers can sometimes, you know, they can get a few sparks of an idea about a character. You know maybe they can see what they look like and maybe they’re good at a specific thing, like they’re really good at photography or something like that and they start building this character and they have and idea for a story and they just want to throw them into it. We need to remember that each one of us—we’re individuals and we’re a product of however many years we’ve been alive. There’s things that have happened to our past—positive things, negative things. different ways we grew up. Differences in the education we have. All of these things make us who we are. They make us the people that see the world in a very unique way. And it will dictate how we interact with people in that world. And our characters will be exactly the same. So, I think probably the biggest mistake is people not taking enough time to think about that backstory component and really understanding, especially with what’s motivating our characters in a story. So, I would say that’s probably the biggest one.
CK: I agree with you. I agree with you totally. And when you get to know your character and their backstory, it just definitely makes a big difference in developing them and what you said earlier, when you put them in these situations, now you’re going to know how they’re going to react and why they’re going to react the way they do.
AA: Uh huh. I think a big part too of knowing who your character is, especially, is tied to the emotional component and understanding how those emotions are going to come out because the reality is that we tend to deal with characters who are damaged. You know, we create characters that have a lot of problems, a lot of struggles and we love that you know? We love taking broken characters and over the course of the story, you know, seeing them heal. It’s a powerful thing. But as a result of that damage, there’s going to be very specific ways that our characters are going to express their emotions. Some of them are going to try and keep everything in and not share anything. That becomes a real problem because we still need readers to understand what our characters are feeling at any given time. Understanding the subtleties of emotion and how our characters might express that emotion, even if they’re trying to act all tough. It’s really important. It’s important to know, you know, is our character the kind of person where they’re very expressive. You know, when something happens, you know, their hands are moving a lot and they feel very strong high and low ranges of emotion. Some people are like that. Other people, they’re more in control of their emotion and they are going to hold back a little bit. And so, the way they express are going to maybe come across in different ways through things they do for people or something they say that maybe they normally would never ever do in a million years, but in this one circumstance, they’ve been emotionally moved and so they do that thing. Like asking for help. People—I know me, I struggle to ask for help. That’s part of my own emotional baggage from the past and so it is difficult for me to do that. If you have a character where, you know maybe, their whole life they were let down by people around them and so they don’t like asking for help because it’s just another opportunity for someone to let them down. If you showed that really well through the story and then there was a moment where they reached out and asked someone for help, that’s really powerful.
CK: How great is that?
AA: Yeah, it’s a powerful emotional moment. This is all just part of really understanding who your character is deep down and especially with those emotions because that’s where we need to make the biggest inroads with our reader and connect with them and crate those bonds of empathy.
CK: I love that. That little point right there you just made. So let’s just play a little game here. Let’s give our listeners a specific example. Let’s give our listeners a specific example of how we can quickly—of course this is a very, you know micro version of it, but how we can develop a character properly. Earlier in the program before you joined us, I created a character called Shelly who just opened her own home vet clinic. That’s it. That’s all we have. How can we take that character of Shelly and make her more well-rounded and interesting/relatable for the reader?
AA: Well, I think the first thing you would want to do is any information you do know about them, that’s kind of your starting point. The beautiful thing about characterization and even the character builder tool is that you can start anywhere. Any piece of detail that you know, you can start there. So, with Shelley, we know that she’s opening a vet clinic, presumedly, she is a veterinarian herself. So, the question kind of becomes “who is Shelley and why did she open her vet clinic?” Why would she do that? was it a passion of hers? Does she really connect to animals and loves to help them? Is it an interest of hers or a skill she has? Maybe she has a very strong moral stance on animals and likes to be a caretaker for them. But it could be something else. It could be that she has something to prove. She’s opening this vet clinic because, I don’t know, maybe her parents didn’t support her. They don’t support her choices of being a veterinarian. Maybe they’re investment bankers or something like that and they wanted her to follow in the family footsteps. So when she’s like “No, I want to go to vet school,” they were very disapproving and thought she would fail and tried to just wear her down and get her to do the things they wanted. So, she’s doing this to prove them wrong. She’s doing this to prove that she’s going to be successful and she’s going to follow her own dream. It could be something else completely. Maybe she’s opening a vet clinic to make up for a past mistake. Maybe there’s an emotional wound there. When she was a child, she would go swimming with her young brother and he drowned.
CK: Oh my God.
AA: And she’s always felt responsible. She’s always felt like, you know, she couldn’t read him in time. She tried to reach him. Maybe a current pulled him out into a river or maybe he was on one of those diving platforms and it broke apart when he was about to jump and she couldn’t reach him in time. But whatever the circumstances are, she has to always felt like she failed him. Then when he needed her most, she wasn’t there. And so, as a result, she’s determined to save others and, in her case, maybe, animals are safer than people. Maybe she was hurt by people. Maybe her parents, you know?
AA: Maybe they loved her conditionally instead of unconditionally. Maybe she has another point of bad baggage in her past where she was with who betrayed her or cheated on her or something like that. so, her affinity is with animals, not people. She doesn’t ever want to let an animal down. She identifies with them. So, the great thing is that one piece of information that she’s opening a vet clinic.
CK: Wow! Look at that!
AA: You can ask so many different questions. So, that’s kind of where you could start. But when you understand ok, she’s a vet, you kind of go through these ideas. Was it this? Is she doing it because of her parents? Because her brother died? Generally, what I find happens with me is as I’m kind of going through these different ideas, something just clicks and it’s like “Oh yeah! That’s it! That’s the one. I can totally see it. I think that’s the situation.”
CK: That’s how I was when you described the younger brother. It’s so funny that you say that because when you went through the scenarios and you talked about the younger brother. I was like “Oh that feels right for Shelley.”
AA: Right? And see? That’s exactly it. The beautiful thing about brainstorming is we get to try on different ideas, like clothing. You know, you try it on and you see how it fits. You know, it may be a great idea, but not for this character.
AA: So, you put it aside for later use somewhere else. Whatever it is, that’s kind of where it starts. The other big question you want to be able to answer is the genre. Because again, as we’re building a character, the genre is going to be important. If this were a romance, then you know right away that, if it’s a romance, that Shelley is going to find love, presumedly, we’re writing a happily ever after.
CK: Yes. Let’s go with that. go with we’re writing a romance and there’s a happily ever after and she’s going to meet her someone.
AA: Exactly. Exactly. So then, you start thinking about, you know, her affinity for animals and why are animals safer than people? Why does she choose a career in a position where she’s in control of that relationship? She can help them. They won’t leave her. She has them until they get better and then they move on. She protects them and so you could start playing with ideas there where what happened to Shelley in the past where she feels a stronger affinity for animals than people? Again, maybe it was that she was betrayed by someone. That someone cheated on her and so she’s decided that she’s not going to risk her heart with people, but she still needs that love and connection. That’s very important to her, so she’s going to get that out with animals. But, if this is a romance, we know that that won’t be enough and that someone is going to enter her life that is going to challenge her ideas on all she needs is animals. That she doesn’t need a loving partner in her life. So, understanding the genre, I think is another critical piece.
CK: Yeah, I’m glad you mentioned that. That’s a very good point.
AA: Yeah. Cause it means that she’s protecting her heart and animals are safe. And it alludes to the different types of brokenness that she has inside her, which is important, where we can explore that more. But we also need to know where the story’s going. I mean obviously a romance is going to look one way. If it’s a mystery or a thriller or something like that, then probably the vet clinic is going to go on a different angel. It could be pets start showing up with a particular kind of disease or someone is sabotaging her in some way or something like that.
AA: So, how the elements of the story that we do know about the character—how they will play out in the story will change depending on what genre.
CK: Yeah, I’m glad that you brought that point up because that is very true and I hadn’t even thought of that myself, but that makes so much sense.
Guys, I just want to tell you all—which Angela and I did not come up with that whole scenario before we got online. She literally is just that brilliant. She literally just thought of all that just now. Just so you know.
CK: but than you so much Angela. It really has been a pleasure. Do you have any last words of advice for anyone? Any parting words of wisdom you want to impart on my listeners?
AA: I would say to try not to get discouraged. I know that writing is really heard and there is so much to learn and sometimes it can be frustrating or we feel like “Oh my gosh! I’m never going to learn enough. My writing is never going to be strong enough.” The thing is, we can’t focus on that type of thinking because it brings us down. Instead, we need to focus on taking the next step towards becoming a stronger writer or learning more about the industry or researching agents or doing whatever it is within our own power to get us to where we need to be. I think that, you know, because sometimes we make goals that are very big, like “I want to be a New York Times bestseller” or “I want to get an agent this year. Those are great goals, but they’re not goals that we have control over. I can’t control whether or not an agent is going to say yes to my manuscript. But what I can control is I can work really hard to understand what particular agents are the best fit for my work. I can make sure that I read up on all their guidelines. I can research query writing letters. I can make sure I’m getting the critiques. There’s lots of things you can focus your energy on and that is so much more powerful than feeling you’ll never be able to do it because the reality is people all around us do it every single day and we can do it too. So, I think that’s probably the big one. Just try to stay positive and keep working towards those goals because they’re so worthwhile.
CK: Yes! Amen Sister! I love it! Thank you so much once again Angela. Like I said everybody, all the things we’ve mentioned, the websites, the books, everything are going to be listed in the show notes.
Thanks Angela. I really appreciate it. Thanks for joining us.
AA: well thanks so much for having me.
CK: Thanks to Angela Ackerman for joining us for today’s podcast episode. Stay tuned next week when I sit down with Elizabeth Kracht of Kimberly Cameron and Associate, Literary Agent, and we talk about how to self-edit your own manuscript before you send it to a profession editor. You won’t want to miss this insightful episode, folks.
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