Tag Archives: characters

Fictional Mothers to Inspire Us

So last Mother’s Day, my mom really wanted to go see Gypsy, a musical our local theater was putting on for the weekend for free. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but let’s just say it was an ironic choice for Mother’s Day since the mother in the story is pretty awful to her daughters.

It got me thinking about how the fictional realm is often lacking in good mothers. They are dead or missing or abusive or there’s an awful step-mother or evil aunt or some other just plain horrid motherly figure instead. Sometimes they just aren’t mentioned at all. I thought about exploring why this was. Is it because people think mothers are important and therefore a lack of one makes a protagonist more sympathetic or different in some way? But I think it’s a little more of a complex issue than I’d like to cover in a short post.

So I decided that instead I’d list a few fictional mothers who are actually present and do an inspiring job at trying to raise their children to be their best. I couldn’t think of a lot, which is a bit sad, but here are the few that came to mind. Do you have any you’d add?

  • Ma from Room by Emma Donoghue– So some of you might recognize the book title. It has been getting a little extra attention since Brie Larsen won best actress in the Oscars for the movie version. But beyond just being a great story and a well done film, Room provides an inspiring mother character in Jack’s Ma, who does everything in her power to raise her son to be the best he can be in spite of horrible circumstances. Her love and perseverance are definitely inspiring.roomroom-xlarge
  • Molly Weasley from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling– Lily Potter isn’t a bad choice either, but when I think motherly I cannot help but imagine the fierce and protective Mrs. Weasley. She is inspiring in how she welcomes Harry into her family, does her best to raise seven children on a low income, and provides a good example to her children of how to live a brave and righteous life. Definitely an unforgettable fictional mother.mrsweasley
  • Sally Jackson from Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan– Sally is awesome in being a single mother. She loves Percy and does everything in her power to protect him, even going so far as to sacrifice her own happiness.  She is understanding and compassionate, giving Percy the love he needs without having his father around all the time. Definitely the right kind of mother for the demi-god hero. Sally jackson.jpg
  • Dr. Kate Murry from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle– She’s maybe not quite as major of a character as some of these others, but I remember her simply because I loved how smart L’Engle made her. She’s a fantastic scientist and she never fails to try to help her family throughout the books L’Engle writes.18131
  • An-Mei Hsu from The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan– There are four mothers in the story, and I think they all have their strengths, but I remember feeling the most horrified by An-Mei’s story, and the most impressed of all she overcame. Her strength in turn inspires her daughter Rose, who finds it in herself to leave a bad relationship with her husband. I think all of the mothers in the story show impressive qualities, especially in pointing out to children that there are times we don’t always understand why our parents tell us the things they do, but often there is a reason behind it, something they have learned from their own life.joyluckclub_013pyxurz
  • Maura Sargent from The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater– You might think having a psychic as your mother would be a little different. But that doesn’t mean Maura isn’t fantastic and loving to her daughter Blue. Blue Sargent grows up with a woman who wants what’s best for her and tries to help her to that however she can. ft_image
  • Vianne Mauriac from The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah– I put her in my female protagonists post too just because I thought she was inspiring. Vianne is alone, her husband off to war, when German soldiers decide to occupy her house. In spite of that, she continues to fight for what she knows is right, for her children and her country. She is an incredible woman, and a wonderful mother. Her bravery and persistence in spite of her fear definitely make her worthy of this list.81j3rfxrwml
  • Resa Folchart from Inkheart by Cornelia Funke- This is a bit of a spoiler, so don’t read if you are intending to read this book. Resa is initially missing in the first book, but she is returned and continues out the rest of the trilogy as a very strong and meaningful character. She is smart and industrious, and strives to help her family even in the face of great evil. Resa is an incredible woman, and it’s only a pity the series starts with the typical “motherless child” trope, because her presence in the next few books is lovely.inkheart

These are the books I could think of, but again I’d love to hear some suggestions. It is interesting to me how few books there are with really good mothers present! Even some of the ones on my list don’t have the mothers as really important characters. Why do you think that is?

Regardless, happy Mother’s Day to all those who are celebrating out there. And to any who don’t have mothers or have very poor ones, just remember you’re definitely not alone in the fictional (and the real) world! Hope that will maybe give a little comfort. Have a great day everyone!

1 Comment

Filed under Reading

Fifteen Fabulous Female Protagonists

It’s International Women’s Day, so I figured what better than a post about female characters and female authors…and then I figured why not combine those two subjects into one post. So here are some great women written by equally great women, or at least a few favorites of mine. I ended up having three memoirs on the list, but I figure each one of us is the protagonist in our own life, so I decided it would count. So here you go.


The Character: Esther Greenwood
The Book: The Bell Jar
The Author: Sylvia Plath
Why She’s Awesome: Esther is a talented and successful young woman. While she certainly falls into a period of mental instability throughout the novel, she nonetheless remains a fascinating protagonist to follow into the depths of her breakdown.


The Character: Celie Johnson
The Book:
The Color Purple
The Author: Alice Walker
Why She’s Awesome: In spite of all she’s been through, Celie remains resilient. Her struggles have been great and many, but Celie does not let that hold her back from finding happiness. She’s an incredibly inspiring character in her love for those around her, and her hope for better things.

Kristin Hannah.jpg

The Character: Vianne Mauriac and Isabelle Mauriac
The Book:
The Nightingale
The Author: Kristin Hannah
Why She’s Awesome:
You read so many World War II stories about men fighting or men leading resistance groups, but this book shows two strong women who fight for what’s right during the French occupation. Vianne and Isabelle both show incredible resilience and strength of character.

The Character: Emily Bronte300px-emily_brontc3ab_cropped
The Book:
Emily’s Ghost
The Author:
Denise Giardina
Why She’s Awesome:
Giardina’s imagined version of Emily Bronte doesn’t care about social norms, defying what is expected of her as a woman of her time. She is intelligent and extremely talented in spite of her odd qualities. She loves animals and isn’t afraid of debating with men.

The Character: Cath Averylg_fangirl-coverdec2012-725x1075_1402265047-3006
The Book:
The Author: Rainbow Rowell
Why She’s Awesome:
Cath Avery describes herself as a complete disaster. To be honest, it’s sort of true. But she is nonetheless a lovable character who struggles through a transition into a new environment while dealing with family problems and her own anxieties. Cath’s hope and imagination make her shine as a character.

The Character: June Woo and othersjoyluckclub_044pyxurz
The Book:
The Joy Luck Club
The Author: Amy Tan
Why She’s Awesome:
All of the women in this book are amazing, but June’s story does seem to be the one that begins and ends the book, so I thought I’d mention her most. June is a bit unsure of herself at times. She wants to be American and often pushes away her mother’s traditions, but after a while she begins to understand that her identity is wrapped up in her heritage.

The Character: Ayaan Hirsi Ali220px-ayaan_hirsi_ali_2006_cropped
The Book:
The Author: Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Why She’s Awesome:
One of the memoirs on here where the protagonist is also the author. Ali describes a brutal history including a female circumcision and other unjust practices she experienced in her family and the countries she lived in. Ali is brave and intelligent, and her pursuit of a better life is truly inspiring.

The Character: Orlandoorlando4-0
The Book:
The Author:
Virginia Woolf
Why She’s Awesome:
Well, this takes some understanding of the book, but Orlando actually is born a man and wakes up one day as a woman. To be honest, I liked that she didn’t really think all that much of becoming a different sex, other than realizing the restrictions placed upon her as a result. Orlando continued to live a free life, writing and searching for love. She’s pretty awesome as a result (plus she’s played by Tilda Swinton in the film version!)

The Character: Rachel Held Evansrachel-held-evans-feminist-christian-woman-lives-biblically-for-12-months-22
The Book:
A Year of Biblical Womanhood
The Author: Rachel Held Evans
Why She’s Awesome:
Evans writes a fantastic book about a journey to understanding more about life as a Christian woman exploring traditions of the past and present in her book. She’s quite funny and a talented writer, and displays a clever and open spirit that makes her works so enjoyable to read. As a Christian woman wrestling with what being a woman really means, I have to really recommend her book.

The Character: Offredoffred
The Book:
The Handmaid’s Tale
The Author: Margaret Atwood
Why She’s Awesome:
Offred lives in a society that severely oppresses its women. In spite of that she remains strong. She continually remembers the better times, and soon begins to pursue an escape. Her journey in her present oppression and remembering her better past life brings about great questions about sex and society.

The Character: Harriet Jacobsharriet_ann_jacobs1894
The Book:
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
The Author: Harriet Jacobs
Why She’s Awesome:
Many people read slave narratives describing the lives of men, but it’s even more interesting to read into the lives of those not only oppressed for their race but also for their sex. Jacobs shows a great amount of persistence in her fight for a better life for herself and her family. She is intelligent and strong, never giving up no matter how hard her circumstances become.

The Character: Jane Eyrejane1
The Book:
Jane Eyre
The Author: Charlotte Brontë
Why She’s Awesome:
Jane is a fantastic character. She maintains her own self-confidence in spite of everyone around her who tries to discourage it. She is determined to ignore the circumstances into which she was born, rising above it as best she can. Jane is clever and honest, and she never once gives up.

The Character: Skeeter Phelan, Aibileen Clark, Minny Jackson5168528_orig
The Book:
The Help
The Author:
Kathryn Stockett
Why She’s Awesome:
All three of these characters are fantastic. From Skeeter who is determined to have a career instead of a family, to Aibileen who is trying to inspire love in the children she watches in spite of the cruelty she faces everyday, to stubborn Minny who refuses to sit quietly and take abuse, all three of these women are amazing creations.

The Character: Janie Starks7268752
The Book:
Their Eyes Were Watching God
The Author: Zora Neale Hurston
Why She’s Awesome:
Janie is determined to find love, following her childhood dreams in spite of everything she’s been taught. Janie is tough and clever. She doesn’t back out of a fight. She lets Teacup teach her how to hunt and fish and wears overalls instead of dresses.

The Character: Anne Elliotanne-elliot-persuasion-2624403-283-359
The Book:
The Author: Jane Austen
Why She’s Awesome:
While most people lean towards Lizzy Bennet as their favorite Austen girl, I wanted to go for the more quiet Anne Elliot. She is quite prudent in her decisions about life, resulting in her giving up love in fear of it being the wrong decision. Anne is accomplished and intelligent in spite of not being quite the same fiery heroine as many of Austens other girls.

Here are just a few of the awesome women writers and characters. I could not include them all, and I also did miss some great ones created by men.

Who are some of your favorite female characters and/or writers? How are you celebrating International Women’s Day?


Filed under Reading

Human or Charicature: Finding Balance in Creating Characters

My mom and I watched a movie the other day that just confirmed for me why character development is so important.

The movie was Black or White. And I’m not here to sit down and pick apart the plot or messages about race or gender or any of the other potential problems. So if you’re here for that go home. But I would like to spend a small amount of time talking about the problems of character development and portrayal that this movie had. Now, screenwriting is very different than novel writing, I won’t claim otherwise, but I still thought it was a good example for my purposes.

black or white

Open on Elliot Anderson, a rich white grandfather who is trying to raise his mixed race granddaughter while dealing with the death of his wife and obvious alcoholism. Then of course there is Rowena Jeffers, Eloise’s black grandmother, a woman who embraces her cultural heritage and is trying to deal with the problems of her son’s decisions in continuing to be involved in drugs and crime, and his choice to not be a part of Eloise’s life. Thus ensues a custody battle between the grandparents.

Wow confusing enough? Definitely not an easy plot to keep straight, but the point I want to start talking about is that I could not enjoy this movie. And the main reason for that, the fact that I thought most of the characters were flat and that the development through the story was minimal.

Elliot Anderson had so many flaws that I simply couldn’t see past them to find anything I actually admired. He was completely dependent on his drinking, he was pathetic at dealing with Eloise in terms of getting her to do everyday things, he did not support Eloise having counseling, he was rich and used money to buy off others, and even used the n word and later tried to defend his choice. Now, if you’re going to try to draw me into this story at all, shouldn’t Elliot have some qualities I admire? Sure he’s lost his wife and daughter both, but because I didn’t really like him as a person those two facts didn’t allow me to have any sympathy for him.

Rowena was less flawed, but I found I knew very little about her as a character. The only real roles or characteristics the story seemed to give her was a role as mother-hen. And besides that I had no clue what she was like as a person, or really how she functioned one on one with her granddaughter or anything else. The movie spent so little time on her and so much more time on Elliot’s flaws that I couldn’t find anything really unique about her.

And then there was Eloise. Who again seemed more like her grandmother in just not being very well developed, not being given much of a chance to display who she was as a person or how she was changing in the story. She just seemed like any other little girl, going to school, dealing with some family issues. No sense of who she was personally or what she liked or what she wanted in her life.

black or white 2

Now, it’s one thing to make a character flawed. It’s another to make him or her so flawed that the audience simply cannot connect (or at least I couldn’t). I understood wanting to make the situation tough. The title of the movie is Black or White, which might remark on the problem of race in this custody case, but it also kind of plays on the whole idea of thinking things can be either black or white, when in many cases they’re more gray.

So yes, playing flaws up can be good, especially on both sides of the picture. Custody cases are messy. There aren’t always right answers. But if you make both sides either so underdeveloped or so flawed that I don’t see a good point in either, then you’ve lost the whole emotional depth that could have been achieved. Especially with Eloise. If she had been given characteristics that make her interesting and sympathetic, I would have been a lot more emotionally involved.

This last semester my literature class read several books by Denise Giardina. She’s a wonderful author who I very much enjoy. And one of the things I thought she did the best at was creating characters one couldn’t help but be interested in in spite of all of their problems. Probably one of the best examples of this was in Saints and Villains.

Saints and Villains

Saints and Villains has a similar principle in trying to show the complexity of issues we might want to see as black and white. But unlike the movie I just watched, this novel did manage to achieve a level of uncertainty about what the right decisions were that made me feel emotionally invested.

The main character of the novel is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who helped with Nazi resistance schemes, including a plot to assassinate Hitler. But other parts of the novel also cover a “doppelganger” Alois Bauer, a fictional Nazi officer. So, anyone reading that description probably just assumes Bonhoeffer is the protagonist and Bauer is the antagonist. But it’s not that simple.

Giardina creates flaws and positive aspects in both characters. In many ways I felt more sympathy for Bauer in sections than I ever did for Bonhoeffer. Similar to Elliot in Black or White, Bonhoeffer is wealthy and has had a relatively easy life all things considered, while Bauer has been abused and lived in great poverty until he worked his way up the ranks.

Our professor had us sit down one day and make a list of everything about Bauer that we liked. We were surprised by how long it became. Did that mean we wanted his cause to win? No, but we could still see the humanity even in someone from a part of history that we normally look down upon. We as readers could still be interested in him and his story even with the seemingly terrible choices he was making.

My point? It’s important to create characters who are complex, well-developed, interesting, sympathetic, flawed (but not too flawed), unique, etc, especially in stories that require less of a black and white, heroes and villains type approach. Don’t make them all good, don’t make them all bad (or at least not bad for the sake of being bad). Make them human, make them interesting. Try giving your characters their own quirky traits, things that make them stand out. Maybe use a worksheet and ask yourself questions about the character. It doesn’t all have to go in the story of course, but getting a feel for who they are outside of the story you’re telling is important, and it will allow you to weave in details more easily.

Gotham Writers

My favorite worksheet is the Gotham Questionnaire, but I know there are lots of great ones out there, so maybe search around and find one you like the best.

Characters are an essential part of story. They should be developed with careful consideration and given time to shine. With their help, more complex and interesting messages can be created, and readers can form a true emotional connection with the narrative.

How do you go about creating characters? How do you balance writing flaws and virtues? What characters have you seen as failures, and which characters have you enjoyed?


Filed under Writing

On with the Show- Fiction attempts

This is an exercise I wrote a few weeks ago playing with point of view for my fiction class. While I’m not sure the transitions between character’s minds works, it’s something I thought I’d share with you for this week. So without further ado, enjoy!

On with the Show

John wondered what was the appropriate thing to do in this situation. He shifted a bit from his spot watching his wife. Brenda stood just a few too many feet away from him for things to appear normal, but he bit his tongue on the issue. Her eyes kept darting back towards the hallway, shoulders stiff, head turning a tad too quickly a few times too many. He wondered vaguely why she hadn’t just left him in for the night. Wouldn’t that have been nice? Flipping to a random news channel and leaving it on for background noise, petting the cat a bit, grabbing a beer and kicking his feet up without fear of Brenda slapping at his toes with one of her magazines. Well, that was too much to hope for he supposed. He subtly adjusted his beret so Brenda wouldn’t see his facial expression.

Carol was late. Brenda glanced at her watch for the fifth time since they’d walked into the building. She shifted her purse and the plastic Target bag holding the bouquet she’d made John go out and buy. Her fingers tugged at the blooms, checking for withering ones. She huffed yet again. John had bought a handful of marigolds. Men were so oblivious sometimes. When she’d said bouquet she’d expected him to do better than to pick out a flower representing grief. He might as well just stick basil in it for good measure. After all, a hateful plant would do him justice. She glanced over to eye his baggy blue shirt with distaste. Why on earth did he choose clothes so ill-suited to his gangly frame? Sometimes it felt like she was really seeing him for the first time, like someone had flipped on a light switch in a dim room. She was about to remark that his beret was crooked, when the soft clip clop of heels distracted her, pulling her attention back to the tightly bundled figure of Carol. Sighing, Brenda fixed a little smile to her mouth without worrying if it matched her eyes.

“Sorry I’m late,” Carol said with a little huff both in an effort to catch her breath and to dispel the cold air from her lungs. She offered a feeble smile to the couple, catching just a whiff of the anxiety between them. Then again, she couldn’t imagine how difficult this had to be. She glanced at the large bouquet bagged in Brenda’s hand, then the little orange gift bag John was clutching, knuckles going white. Well, best to come well stocked to a starring daughter’s opening night. Especially if you also bore news of divorce. Carol shook off the thought and glanced at her friend more warmly. “Well, shall we go in?”


Filed under Writing

Top 10 Favorite Literary Characters

I was tagged on twitter to blog on this, so here I go, trying to narrow down my favorite literary characters out of all the books in existence.

Hermione Granger from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling– yes, she comes as one of my first because I loved her so much as a young girl. I remember as the class nerd I felt comfort in smart Hermione. I cried with her at Ron’s rudeness, I laughed with her at the boys’ illogical behavior, I rooted for her to win all throughout. Such an inspiring female character.

Lucy Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis– Well, following along those lines I can never forget my Narnia heroine. Although I liked Peter better as I read them later (older sibling problems), I still couldn’t help but admire Lucy’s faith and bravery, her belief in Aslan even in the hardest times.

Nancy Sykes from The Adventures of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens- Oliver Twist is one of my favorite novels of all time, and there are so many fantastic characters in Dickens. He creates such masterpieces, so funny and random and inspiring. But I always liked Nancy and her tragic story, her amazing heroic role in spite of her immoral living situation. Had to include a Dicken’s character, that’s the main thing.

Richard III from Richard III by William Shakespeare– this seems funny after my other very noble heroes to start with, but between him and Lady Macbeth, Shakespeare really does a fantastic job creating some remarkable villains. Sure, he’s pretty much a flat character in some rights, completely evil almost just for the sake of being evil, but he is a puzzling and remarkable character and Shakespeare portrays him so stunningly. Even as a Ricardian, I like this play simply for the genius of the Bard’s storytelling.

Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte-  Jane speaks to me so wonderfully. She is plain and small, poor and defenseless, and yet she remains strong and smart, passionate and talented, even in the face of all her trials. I admire her so much and never tire of reading her story.

Cyrano de Bergerac from Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand- He’s so brave, intelligent, poetic in spite of his obvious insecurities about his outward appearance. I love this story so much, but mostly I love listening to Cyrano woo his lady, or even better, insult a challenger who dares to mock his hideous nose. Such a wonderful story with a fantastic main character.

The Monster from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley– This character is so utterly complex, amazingly tragic in his own story (not the horrible creations of Hollywood that have destroyed him). The monster is a character to whom I’m oddly sympathetic. He is rejected by the one who made him, turned away by all who meet him. I love the complexity Shelley managed to give him, and cry over the fact that he’s somehow been reduced to a grunting green thing that has no personality.

Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee– Such a brave and inspiring man, and yet also just a loveable father figure. I know one of my earliest essays I was very proud of proclaimed Atticus as a true hero to his story.

Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien– I think I mostly picked him since he bridges Tolkien’s The Hobbit with this series. Nonetheless, I’ve always loved Gandalf. I think I love him most dragging Bilbo out his door, but his little bits and pieces of wisdom are also very inspiring.

Jack from Room by Emma Donoghue– Mostly I’m running out of characters I know I love, but I read this story over Christmas break and liked Jack’s unique take on the world. He’s funny and clever for his young age, somehow possesses wisdom alongside his lack of understanding. His story made me cry, cringe, laugh, and wonder.

So there, 10 characters I’ve liked or loved or at least been able to put onto a list. Voila, there you have it!

What characters do you love and why? What do you think are the main qualities you like in a character? Do you have any villains you particularly enjoyed in spite of all his or her badness?


Filed under Reading

What’s in a Protagonist?

I’m back! November has been insane but here’s a new post ready to be read for December since I’m getting back on track with writing.

My Thanksgiving weekend consisted of the standard relaxing and eating good food. But one little point stood out to me. And that was the movie my brother and I went to see.

Nightcrawler. I’d never heard of it before, but I decided to check it out in the name of spending time with family and enjoying my evening. To sum it up it tells the story of a man who takes up work as a “freelance journalist” filming crime and accidents in the area and selling them to major news organizations. Slight spoiler alert…he ends up taking things a bit too far.

Really, he ends up being a bit of a psychopath… but as I’ve read many psychopaths are, he’s charming and kind of funny in his own quirky kind of way, and he knows how to draw people in with ease. So in spite of it all, it’s difficult to really hate him the way you’d think would be so easy.

As I sat there that evening thinking over my emotional reaction, I wondered about what really makes a protagonist an audience can follow. I recently read Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure for class and had trouble stomaching it simply because I hated all of the main characters. I didn’t find anyone I really liked or admired. So I brushed it off as disliking the characters as my reason for not having any interest in the play.

But was that the cause? If I can become interested in the story of someone with such low morals, then does character really play that big of a role? Or is simply a matter of story, or other elements that form my opinions?

I was recently working on a book and thought about how my character’s low self-esteem might negatively effect readers opinions of her. I was worried maybe because the classic “to get others to love you you must love yourself” might ruin my story. But now I’m not really sure anymore.

If you google greatest literary characters you end up with types like Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, Hermione Granger in Harry Potter, Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, Sherlock Holmes, Tintin, Gatsby from The Great Gatsby, Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, Hamlet, Matilda, Jane Eyre, The Cat in the Hat, Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, Beatrice in Muchado About Nothing, Nancy Drew, Anne of Green Gables, Frankenstein’s monster, Captain Ahab from Moby Dick, Peter Pan, Pip from Great Expectations etc etc etc . Try it yourself and see what pops up or check out NPR’s 100 best listed here.

What are the similarities between all of these? Nothing other than all being entirely dissimilar. We have little girls and old men, romantics and obsessed madmen, lawyers and detectives, monsters and men, magical and utterly normal, super smart and somewhat dull, animals and humans, royalty, millionaires, crooks, orphans, and more. Everyone has their own favorites, but those who seem to be universally recognized in some capacity still remain quite different, not the standard heroes one might think would first be listed.

So is there an ideal main character type? Audiences often hate larger than life perfect ones, but someone selfish and rude or utterly prideful might push them away too. How does one build a perfect character? That is a tricky question to be sure.

Does anyone have any smart ideas on what makes for a good main character? Is there a way to build an ideal type that most people will like, or is it just a random process? I’m tempted to start doing character studies after this and find out what seems to be a common theme amongst them. But for now I’m simply left to ponder.

Any thoughts from my readers? Is there a certain character you love the most? What characters on mainstream lists do you most agree are legendary fictional achievements? What do you like to do in making your own characters.

Well, hoping to be back writing regularly for the rest of the month. Be on the lookout for more!



Filed under Reading, Writing

When Characters Bid You Adieu

I suppose I’ll start by referring to a random movie I’m not sure anyone knows. The movie is called Nim’s Island and, while certainly not a major cinematic success, it has a good illustration I want to talk about. Essentially, it’s the story of this little girl who lives on an island with her father with several animal friends and goes through a tough adventure after a storm sweeps her father’s boat off course and away from her. In the process, the author of a popular adventure series, Alex Rover, contacts her. Nim thinks the actual adventurer has come to save her rather than the writer, Alexandra Rover.

The parts that cause me to remember the movie most are the ones with the author. See, she, like me, talks to her characters. Alex Rover comes to life before her, comically watching over the writer who suffer agoraphobia and won’t even leave her house while writing his adventures. And through her character, Alexandra is eventually able to push herself to her limits and go try to help Nim.


Writer Alexandra Rover and her character work together


Now, I have related strongly to Alexandra in the past in understanding what it’s like to have such a strong connection with a written character as to feel almost like they’re real. However, what happened tonight left me dumbstruck; because the one experience Alexandra has that I haven’t finally happened. A character finally said goodbye.

I suppose this is a spoiler. So I’ll just go ahead and warn anyone who wants to see the movie. As I said, it’s not a fantastic film and I don’t really recommend it other than to understand what I’m talking about. But if you want to keep reading go ahead. Just know you’ll hear a part of the end of the movie.

As Alexandra begins to regret her decision of going to the island, Alex speaks out and decides to finally leave his writer to her own life. Here is the scripted section; I couldn’t find a film clip unfortunately:


Alex: You cannot be alone for the rest of your life, Alexandra!

Alexandra: I’m not alone. I have you.

Alex: No, you don’t. No, you don’t have me anymore. I’m sorry, but I’m not gonna be your crutch anymore.

Alexandra: What? Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay. Okay, look. You-We just need to figure this thing out, so you give me some ideas now. Come on!

Alex: I’m sorry, love. It’s over.

Alexandra: What? What are you talking about?

Alex: Alexandra, I quit. No more adventures. You’re on your own.

Alexandra: You-You-You can’t quit. I created you, and you have to do what I say, not-not the opposite.

Alex: Good-bye, old friend. Good luck.

Alexandra: But wa-Wait! Wait! Come back!


At the end of the movie, Alexandra begins to realize that Alex served his purpose, but that his time is done, and now it’s time to move on to new stories of her own rather than relying solely on a character. And I suppose I in my own way have done that.

Alex Rover

Throughout college, I’ve struggled heavily with my identity. I guess it’s always been one of those questions that I’ve been confused by the most, trying to understand who I am and what’s most important to me. And I feel like moving to college and being able to form my own opinions, values, and strengths has been helpful to me.

Freshmen year I created a character who almost completely lacked an identity at the beginning of his story. He had been cursed to look like someone else, he didn’t remember his past, he was an orphan without any real friends. And by the end of the book he figures out who he is, can look in a mirror and appreciate and love what’s there. It was a book of self-acceptance and self-discovery. Two things I needed very much.

The problem is that while still trying to figure out who I am, I’ve sometimes clung a little too heavily to my character. Even finished with his book I’ve often written countless other extras enjoyed still having him to lean on to feel confident, or to express other things I can’t in real life. And it had gone too far. I’d come to a point of wanting to live entirely through his life, not even allowing myself to focus on other writing or even continue working on making progress with my self-worth.

And tonight as I sat in the amphitheater the same way I had the last three years getting ready to start the school year, he spoke much the same way Alex Rover did to his writer.

We’d been listening to a speech from campus pastors about this year’s theme…about how life may have folded you one way, but God is folding you in another. And I suppose the topic just made me very reflective, looking down at the tiny fortune-teller folded in my hand and wondering what I was going to be folded like and recognizing that I had already taken a different shape than my first year entering my school sitting in that very same place. And I related to the pastor when he said life had sometimes folded you very hard, or sometimes even crumpled you up.

My character had been silent for a bit, but I could just tell whatever he wanted to say was more important than usual as he chose that moment to speak up. And sure enough, it was.

“I’m done.”

“Done with the story I’m working on?” I had asked curiously.

“No, done for good,” he’d said. “Move on, Emily. Find new characters. Write new stories. You’re at a different place in your life now, and so am I. You don’t need me anymore…to be honest you never did. You’re strong enough on your own, you just need to find a little more confidence. And I think you’re on your way there, but not with me.”


And then it was over, and I knew, it was done. Maybe, he’ll be back someday. But for now, his part in my life is over. He achieved his goal, and now I must move on to others to tell their stories and work on my own at the same time.

Because I think that is the beautiful thing about writing. In putting our problems down on the page, we find ways to cope with them. And what I was dealing with while writing this book is not the same thing I need help with now. Life is full of shifts and changes, and writing moves with it like a fluid always conforming to the shapes around it. Writers often have complete changes by the end of their careers from where they’ve started. Some become more successful, others less. But still their writing moves with them, is there when they need it, perhaps holds them back at others. And eventually they’ll have to let go if they ever want to move forward.

So, sometimes writers must bid characters adieu and start a new chapter in their lives. We outgrow our creations after awhile, even if they still hold a special place in our hearts and always will.

To anyone who thinks I sound like a crazy person, maybe I am. But I think we’re all a little crazy in our own way, and if this is my way of dealing with the world, then so be it. We each find our own paths to handle what we are given.

To my dear sweet Nalin who I came to love so much. Thank you for allowing me to express my desires and wishes, to live without shame. Thank you for making things clear to me that I’d never seen before. Thanks for always being a shoulder to cry on- or rather lending your own tears to make me feel better. Thank you for always listening, always caring. I appreciate your newfound confidence that you taught me to have as well. I am so grateful to look in a mirror now and smile and remember you taught me that that I find my own worth often with the help of others around me, but still it comes down to me in the end. Wherever you go next, I wish you well, and hope maybe someday you’ll come back.



Filed under Writing

The Art of Character Creation


So I’ll just start out by giving a brief summary of my summer. I’ve been doing two things mostly: watching TV and nannying.

I suppose in a way these two share a connection, though that may come as surprise. I suppose what both have allowed me to reflect a good deal on is the art of molding a person into what we know as a character.

Character creation is one of my all time favorite parts of writing. Most of the time when I develop a person for my writing I come to love them to a point of obsession. They’re like my children, my own creations I know better than anyone else ever could. I know their quirks, their likes, their dislikes, the way they look when they sleep, the food they’d gobble up in a heartbeat, the person that simply brings out the worst in them, their dreams and deepest desires. There’s something so beautiful in that. And that’s why I think some of this summer has been so fantastic.

I’ve done minimal reading. Something about this break has made me frightfully lazy. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t learned anything about writing.

Though television perhaps may seem a bit of a lower standard in terms of studying writing, there is no denying a writer puts work into each and every episode that airs. And while actors certainly play a key role in helping give that character life, it’s the initial writer who first births the idea.

Unlike in novels or movies, viewers spend a large amount of time getting to know television characters, perhaps one of the reasons it is so important to develop the character to a greater extreme truly showing off their complexities and unique personalities. Most movies give you a 2 hour window into a character’s life. In that time, you might get to know them well, but so much time is devoted to plot that often characters can seem to blend back into the background creating the same generic feel of others in their genre. Not to say I don’t think there are amazing movie characters because there are films that can easily reduce me to tears (the fact that Pixar’s Up is the first one I think of leaves me a bit perplexed but nonetheless provides a good example).

Books are perhaps more in depth than movies often are, filling pages that take hours to read rather than a short movie time span. However, authors too sometimes must cut back on areas of character development. First person often gives a great insight into the mind of the protagonist and yet side characters sometimes end up becoming rather flat. Writing on this makes me think of my English professor’s little rhyme to help us remember character development techniques: what they think, what they do, what others think about them too! However, when the plot is over and done we don’t see the characters everyday normal lives to a great extent. We get perhaps a glimpse in an epilogue of he or she with children or a significant other making their way in the world, but it’s not the same as glimpsing multiple scenes of them raising kids, having fights with a partner, crying over the loss of a loved one.

Television provides a unique lens into the lives of its characters. You spend 45 minutes with them through each episode. And unless we’re talking about BBC most often, there are at least 20 of these episodes in a season, and the show could run for five or more years!

My mother got me started on Bones this year. I started in season 4 or something like that. And though I initially rebuffed the idea of becoming hooked on another television series, I soon found myself all too fascinated by Dr. Brennan and her frank and (sometimes too) honest approach to life, or Angela and how brilliantly she works computers, or Dr. Hodges who never fails to get excited by something gross. And yet part of what gives me such love for each and every one of these fictional people is that I get brief glimpses into their semi-mundane lives alongside the drama of the crime show. I see Cam struggling to mother a teenage daughter, or Sweets confused with his love life, or Brennan’s strained relationship with her father. And every episode, every season there’s a new real life struggle that I get to glimpse the character in to accompany the disgusting discovery of a new crime. And unlike in movies or books I often begin to get a sense that I truly know the character the way I might more as an author. For as writers we discover parts of the character’s normal life, we just don’t always get to include it in our novels.


Didn’t you say something about nannying? I’m sure I’ve lost a few readers and I apologize. And yes, I did. Nannying has been my second glimpse of creating characters and actually relates rather well to television. This is because my characters live more of an episodic lifestyle than one out of a novel or movie.

My kids’ all-time favorite game we play they call Orphanage. Children for whatever reason often seem a bit fascinated by orphans (perhaps the reason so many children’s stories include these individuals as protagonists). And so, we created a game of three orphans living in a home for other equally parentless children, all of whom find that the place they’re living is anything but ordinary.

There are probably fifteen to twenty other children in the orphanage. And I play all of them. The idea is I’ll slip out, put on a different hat depending if I’m a boy or girl and then step back in to act out my part as one of their compatriot orphans. Sometimes I’ll be having drama with one of the other kids in the place, other times I’ll bring news of something odd going on. We’ve had a bit of everything, from werewolves attacking, to petrified students with a basilisk on the lose (sorry JK Rowling) to strange spells, to aliens attacking. Most recently I’ve taken a page from BBC Sherlock’s book and have started making the children solve a mystery in order to save a fellow orphan’s life.

However, in the process of all this I’m weaving together characters that the children have come to know and love. And because I often play this game for four hours at a time, five days a week, for four or five weeks of the summer, for three years, the tales are often episodic in nature. There are new major plot conflicts, but also minor ones such as a girl rejecting a boy, or another orphan being adopted again, or one of them trying to escape unwanted attention. And in doing so the characters really begin to create a life of their own. You have quirky Nick the beat boxer who never fails to bring a smile to people’s faces as the somewhat goofy comic relief, or sweet motherly Anna who tries to run the orphanage as best she can when the adults fail, flirty Italian Antonio who never gives up no matter how often he gets shut down, or even obnoxious girly-girl Ivy who spends most of her time talking on the phone about her nails.

Both the kids and I have fallen in love with some of the characters. If we lose the list I keep of who’s who, there are always characters they are guaranteed to request, ones they’re sad over possibly losing, ones they fear for when threatened. Just the other day when the latest girl was threatened in order to get them to solve the little homemade treasure hunt puzzle I’d developed one of the kids commented, “No she’s our friend!”

And so this summer has reminded me all the more that making a good character involves truly knowing them. In a novel it can be a bit harder because you may have less time to let your audience fall in love, but I think a key part of character development is truly getting to know each and every person as an author, figuring out how they’d react in different scenarios, knowing more about their childhood background, understanding their interaction with others. My assumption of course is in doing this you help open up the reader to a truly unique person, one that almost seems to have life in spite of how fictional they might be.

1 Comment

Filed under Movies, Writing