Character Trait Entry: Eccentric

Definition: deviating from conventional or accepted usage or conduct, especially in odd or whimsical ways

Causes: a sense of entitlement (having earned the right to act however one wants), a lack of concern for what others think, a desire to break free from an overly strict or regimented past, growing up in an environment that held little respect for conventionality, dementia

Characters in Literature: Willy Wonka, Merlin, Miss Havisham (Great Expectations)

Positives: Eccentrics usually fall into one of two categories: those who choose to act eccentrically (because they can get away with it or because they want to thumb their nose at conventionality) and those who are compelled to do so (the mentally deficient). Either way, Eccentrics don't live by the rules and no one expects them to, so they are free to do pretty much what they want. They can get away with things that others can't, which is a nice little tool in the writer's arsenal. Because they are easily stereotyped, they are often underestimated or overlooked by society at large.

Negatives: Whatever the cause, Eccentrics are not often respected by their peers and can be misunderstood. Everyone has something (knowledge, love, time, passion) to offer, but the gifts of an Eccentric are not often sought out or graciously received. They live on the outskirts of community and fellowship and are often alone. Because of their strangeness, Eccentrics make convenient scapegoats.

Common Portrayals: millionnaires, geniuses, the elderly, celebrities, the mentally-challenged

Cliches to Avoid: the gajillionnaire who does whatever he wants because his money and his lawyers will get him out of any fix, old ladies with too many cats, hermits living on the outskirts of town, the eccentric mentor archetype

Twists on the Traditional Eccentric: 
  • Eccentrics are almost always old. Why not create an eccentric child or teen with mental faculties fully intact?
  • What about an Eccentric who is admired by society? Instead of people dismissing his oddities, they emulate them and make them part of the culture.
  • Eccentrics in literature are often secondary characters. Why not make your main character the odd duck?
Conflicting Characteristics to make your Eccentric unique or more interesting: apologetic, affectionate, happy, responsible, naive, proper

Weather Entry: Air Pollution

 WEATHER and PHENOMENA are important elements in any setting, providing sensory texture and contributing to the mood the writer wishes to create in a scene. With a deft touch, weather can enhance the character's emotional response to a specific location, it can add conflict, and it can also (lightly) foreshadow coming events.

However, caution must accompany this entry: the weather should not be used as a window into a character's soul. The weather can add invisible pressure for the character, it can layer the SCENE with symbolism, it can carefully hint at the internal landscape, but it must never OVERTLY TELL emotion. Such a heavy-handed approach results in weather cliches and melodrama (a storm raging above a bloody battle, a broken-hearted girl crying in the rain).

SENSORY DESCRIPTORS:

Sight: From a distance, air pollution can appear as a grey or brownish haze that lingers in highly populated urban areas or factory and production districts. From within the area, pollution is not usually visible in the air as a collective source, but rather seen as individual contributors--a thick grey plume chugging from a production plant, powdery white smoke drifting up from cooking vents on restaurants, fumes trailing out of idling vehicle tailpipes at a stoplight, smoke drifting from a lit cigarette, etc. Other pollutants are invisible to the naked eye. Pollutants can also have a natural source such as volcanic ash or smoke from wildfires.

Smell: Pollution smells can range from an oily tang to the air, to the gasoline scent of car exhaust, to an acrid burning plastic or a host of other things (sewage, etc). Sometimes, if a person has been exposed to the environment for a long time, these smells go unnoticed. Consider the source of the pollution when fitting in scents in your scene. A beer factory gives off the odor of hops, a bakery sends out the smell of yeast, both vastly different from car exhaust or car manufacturer. One of the most common personal pollutant smells is tobacco from cigarettes (slightly sweet and musty).

Taste:  Sometimes the air can have an acrid taste to it, but the pollution needs to be very strong to notice it. 

Touch:  In itself Air Pollution is texture-less (with the exception of ash, which has a powdery texture), but it does cause health problems (lung sensitivities, emphysema & asthma). Shortness of breath and a weighted chest are symptoms a person with these conditions may experience.

Sound: Air pollution itself does not have a sound, but the source often does (car engines, factory machines, crackle from a campfire, etc) and can be woven into the story if needed.

EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS:

Mood: Air pollution, depending on the level of contamination, can create a feeling of desperation or despair in the scene. It can also imply poverty or indicate poor living conditions or even a world where people are struggling to make a life, as most people do not live within such an environment by choice.

Symbolism: Technology; Industry; Corporate Greed; Capitalism; Man vs Nature; Environmental disaster; contamination

Possible Cliches:  Using pollution as a stressor for a cataclysmic event

OTHER: Pollution can be natural or man-made. It can come in the form of solid, liquid or gas and directly affects the world around us and the air we breathe. Levels of air pollution can have a range of negative repercussions, so understand what role pollution plays in your story to maximize the effects of it.

Don't be afraid to use the weather to add contrast. Unusual pairings, especially when drawing attention to the Character's emotions, is a powerful trigger for tension. Consider how the bleak mood of a character is even more noticeable as morning sunlight dances across the crystals of fresh snow on the walk to work. Or how the feeling of betrayal is so much more poignant on a hot summer day. Likewise, success or joy can be hampered by a cutting wind or drizzling sleet, foreshadowing conflict to come.

Character Trait Entry: Impulsive

Definition: acting on desires, whims or inclination without forethought

Causes: Living in an environment that encourages risk taking; a strong inclination to live in the moment and without boundaries; rebelling against a upbringing of rigid rules and expectations; selfishness; ADD or ADHD; a reaction to a near-death experience that brings home one's own mortality

Characters in Literature: Romeo (Romeo & Juliet); Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gabels); Fred & George Weasley (Harry Potter)

Positives: Impulsive characters are always interesting to be around as they are catalysts for change and conflict. Their ability to do and say what they please can be viewed by others as the ultimate freedom. Things 'happen' around these types, creating entertainment for others. If the impulsive character is also loyal to a friend, family member or cause, there is no limit to what they would do in a time of need. 

Negatives: Impulsives create problems for those who hold to forethought and careful planning, causing friction in friendships. Because Impulsives are reactive, they do not think about how their actions affect other people or the big picture until it's too late. These characters can take a situation from bad to worse, and lose the trust of others or be viewed as selfish. Impulsive characters are volatile, ruled by emotion. Impulsives are also more prone to addiction because of their inability to apply the breaks to their own behavior.

Common Portrayals: Dare-devils & adrenaline junkies; people with ADD or ADHD; kids labeled with 'behavior problems'; Artists, Actors & creative types; Hoarders; Shoplifters; Shop-a-holics; People prone to violence; Mobsters & criminals; Celebrities; Teenagers

Cliches to Avoid: The troublemaker student; impulsive sex leading to pregnancy; the 'single impulsive choice resulting in terrible consequences' as a plot device (especially when impulsive behavior is not a character trait); pairing impulsiveness with stupidity; the 'straight-laced girl who acts impulsive to fit in' plot device

Twists on the Traditional Impulsive:
  • Impulsives whose actions end in a good result instead of a bad result, and this causes unforeseen conflict. Think about it--usually bad things have to happen to get our characters into trouble. Wouldn't it be great to see the opposite? A challenge yes, but being able to offer something new to readers? Oh so worth it!
  • Characters who are both impulsive and intelligent. Because Impulsiveness is often paired with doing something stupid, wouldn't it be great to see a character's inner conflict because of his or her's opposing traits?
  • An organized, thoughtful character who must embrace impulsiveness for the greater good. So, rather than a personal gain, the character's impulsiveness is the key to something bigger. This would create a lot of inner turmoil, embracing a trait so unsuited to one's personality.

Conflicting Characteristics to make your Impulsive unique or more interesting: Selflessness, Kindness, Intelligence, Shyness, Lazy; Moral

Weather Thesaurus Entry: Mudslide

WEATHER is an important element in any setting, providing sensory texture and contributing to the mood the writer wishes to create in a scene. With a deft touch, weather can enhance the character's emotional response to a specific location, it can add conflict, and it can also (lightly) foreshadow coming events.

However, caution must accompany this entry: the weather should not be used as a window into a character's soul. The weather can add invisible pressure for the character, it can layer the SCENE with symbolism, it can carefully hint at the internal landscape, but it must never OVERTLY TELL emotion. Such a heavy-handed approach results in weather cliches and melodrama (a storm raging above a bloody battle, a broken-hearted girl crying in the rain).

SENSORY DESCRIPTORS:

Sight: Before: soil slipping away from foundations, tilting decks or patios, dry areas turning suddenly wet or seeping, leaning telephone poles or fences that used to be straight, cracked concrete foundations, trickling flows of mud, changes in drainage patterns on nearby slopes, bulges in the ground at the base of the slope. During: Mudslides take the form of fast-moving masses of debris, varying from a moderately muddy to a thick, rocky consistency. They occur on steep hillsides, often after heavy periods of rain. Slides pick up debris as they flow, increasing in volume and reaching speeds up to 35 miles per hour. Thick slides can carry dangerous debris, such as boulders, trees, and cars. The slide slows and spreads out as it reaches flat ground. After: Even after the slide has stopped, large mounds of earth can continue to fall. The aftermath of a landslide includes blocked roads, buried and destroyed structures, and hill/mountainsides with great sections sheared off.

Smell: water, dirt, mud

Taste: n/a

Touch: a shifting of the ground, soil sliding out from under you, a trembling in the earth as the slide grows closer, cracks and groans of houses shifting, a steadily increasing rumble as the slide nears

Sound: faint rumblings that increase in volume over time, trees breaking or boulders cracking together, gunshot-like claps when larger slides start, 

EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS:

Mood: Though there can be warning signs, mudslides often come on suddenly. Many victims are lucky to escape with their lives. When surveying the damage, they are left feeling vulnerable and helpless. The aftermath of a disaster of this nature can lead to an increased sense of camaraderie and community as people pull together in the face of devastation and loss.

Symbolism: the force of nature, punishment, the randomness of fate, God

Possible Cliches: mudslides as the result of irresponsible cutting and deforestation (though this is a realistic scenario)

OTHER: Certain conditions must exist for a mudslide to occur. Obviously, there must be a steep hill or mountainside. Slides are more likely to occur in places where vegetation has been removed through deforestation, construction, or wildfires. Slides happen during periods of heavy rain, when water soaks into the ground faster than it can run off, so if you want to include a mudslide in your story, make sure you don't forget the rain.

Don't be afraid to use the weather to add contrast. Unusual pairings, especially when drawing attention to the Character's emotions, is a powerful trigger for tension. Consider how the bleak mood of a character is even more noticeable as morning sunlight dances across the crystals of fresh snow on the walk to work. Or how the feeling of betrayal is so much more poignant on a hot summer day. Likewise, success or joy can be hampered by a cutting wind or drizzling sleet, foreshadowing conflict to come.

Blogging Tip: 3 Fast Fixes

A lot of people wonder how they can create a Breakout Blog that will help build platform and connect them to their audience. This series on Blogging Tips looks at ways to maximize blog performance to reach these goals. 

I love reading blogs & sharing posts via Twitter, FB & Google+ to help people get more exposure with their audience. Content is king, but there are small things you can do to create blog appeal. Here are 3 Fast Fixes to turn your blog into a magnet.

1) Titles:

I see an amazing amount of titles that are either a) much too long, or b) don't convey what the post is about.
  • Keep sharing sites in mind when you create titles. Long titles eat up space on Twitter. This takes valuable real estate away from hashtags which further your exposure, and may affect Retweets. If the initial Tweet dominates the update, there's no room for others to RT.
  •  Maximize Interest. Ambiguous or cutesy titles may seem fun, but on Twitter or Google+, your content has only minutes before it's pushed aside. Make your title a MAGNET to the eye and RELEVANT to the subject. Example: We had lots of Twitter traffic on Becca's post, Voice Tips from the Pros. If she'd titled it Open Up and Say 'Ah', would the post have drawn the same attention?

2) Pictures: 

On FB's Network blogs, Google Reader & Google+, Feeds are competitive. The average feed or reader is filled with blog posts. How do you capture a potential reader's attention and get them to click?
  •  Adding a picture to your blog post makes you stand out in Feeds. Pick something eye catching that embodies your post's message.  People click when they are visually stimulated. Text alone, people may skip unless the title is magnetic.
  • A Picture breaks up the text of a post. Straight text is...well, boring. Never underestimate the power of a picture or two. Like white space in a MS, it makes the read go faster.
  • Pictures offer a way to visually tie together your message. People tend to better understand the content of a post when they have something visual to focus on and apply the meaning to.  

3) Lengthy Posts:

This is a tough one, because some topics require length to be thorough. However, when a reader has limited time, a long post is an invitation to skip unless the topic is riveting.
  • Shorter posts help keep readers on your blog.  Think of it in terms of fresh chocolate chip cookies. You grab one, then another...and soon half the plate is gone. If a post has good content and reads quickly, the reader will often stick around for another post or two. This is an opportunity to turn a reader into a fan.
  • Give readers a reason to return. Long posts are sometimes needed to do a topic justice. So, if you can't cover it all in a moderate-sized post, serialize. Break the content into a series and readers will come back for more.
Find these tidbits on Blogging useful? Click on the label 'Blogging tips' to discover other little things that will make a big difference! 


To Plot or Not to Plot?

Today, we're happy to welcome Melissa Donovan as a guest writer. Melissa is a website designer and copywriter. She is also the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.

To plot or not to plot—that is the question. 
Except it’s not a question at all. A novel, by definition, has a plot. The question is how to plot. 
Should you throw a few characters into an interesting setting and hope for the best, relying on your own creativity and intuition to make a story manifest? Or should you start by writing a detailed outline in which you summarize every scene in advance? 
Both techniques have been proven to work. Some novelists swear by outlining; they need to know where they’re going or their stories don’t go anywhere. On the other hand, discovery writers say that it’s no fun to write a story if they already know how it ends.
Plot is Essential
A story must have a plot. That’s what makes it a story. Without a plot, you’ve got a character study or a piece of experimental writing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not a story. 
Popular opinion says that story is mostly about character. After all, readers root for the protagonist, fall in love with the sidekicks, and rail against the villain. Readers form emotional connections with the characters and relate to them.
Still, plot is essential. 
We all love Harry Potter, but who would want to read a story in which Harry is sitting at a desk all day composing spells? 
Harry typed a line. He made some changes, but he was having trouble getting it to rhyme. He got up and retrieved a butterbeer from the fridge. He was having a slow spell-writing day. 
Characters need plot. They can’t just sit around navel-gazing. Conflict and action move a story forward. Character alone does not. That much is obvious, but how does one tackle something as massive and complex as a novel-length plot? Where does one start? 
Discovery Writing
Discovery writing is the process of writing without a plan. That’s it: you just start writing. The premise is that a plot will emerge organically. It may sound risky (and to some it probably sounds unlikely), but it works for a lot of successful writers. 
For most discovery writers, the elements of story and plot are ingrained in their consciousness. People who have read a lot, for example, will probably find that story (and plot) manifest naturally as they write. Or, these writers let the rough draft flow through an open creative process and then hit it hard and heavy with revisions, extracting plot through a rewriting process. 
But some writers find that discovery writing is nothing more than a means to run around in circles. Characters start biting their nails and staring out windows. Nothing happens. And that’s not good. That’s not plot.
Outlining
Outlining is the simple process of planning a story ahead of time. 
Some outlines consist of a short summary for each of a story’s three acts. A more elaborate outline summarizes each chapter. An extremely detailed outline might delineate every scene.
Outlines provide a frame of reference and a series of milestones to write toward. You know where you’re taking the story and you can steer your characters in the right direction.
Of course, once the outlining is done, and the composition begins, new characters and twists may arise. A writer can either force the story back to the original plan or adjust the outline to accommodate any new writing ideas that emerge. 
Discovery Writing vs. Outlining
With discovery writing, you just in get in your car and drive. With outlining, you know your destination, and you have also plotted (pun fully intended) your route. 
Outlining and discovery writing are two different techniques for generating plot—but plotting happens whether you use discovery writing or outlining. Some plots are more complex than others, but plot is the key element that differentiates a story from a character study or an abstract piece of prose. 
There’s plenty of wiggle room between these two techniques. You might be using discovery writing primarily, but you have a few, choice plot twists planned out in your mind. Or, your outline might be watered down to its bare bones, so you can build on it as you discovery-write your way through the story. 
How Do You Do It?
Many writers have already found the technique that works best for them, and the trick in finishing a novel is to find the method that works best for you. If you’re struggling with your story, experiment with different plotting techniques. If your outline leaves you feeling bored, then dabble in discovery writing. If discovery writing leads you nowhere, then construct an outline. 
Which technique has worked for you? Have you tried both of these methods or do you use some hybrid of discovery writing and outlining?  

Character Trait Entry: Intelligent

Definition: brainy, clever, intellectual. Disclaimer #1: There are other closely-related words (such as clever or knowledgeable), but for simplicity's sake, this entry will focus on the character who is innately intelligent.

Causes: natural predisposition. Disclaimer #2: The debate rages as to whether or not intelligence is a fixed trait, as opposed to one that can change over time. For instance, some would say that the child who is exposed to many experiences has a chance of higher intelligence than a sheltered child, and therefore, experience contributes to intelligence. Others would argue that the innate intelligence is there regardless of experience. I'm clearly not highly intelligent myself, or I'd be able to ferret the truth out of this tangle. For simplicity's sake, I'm sticking with the former argument. Please don't fling flaming bags o' poo at me.

Characters in Literature:  Hermione Granger, Sherlock Holmes, Ender Wiggin (Ender's Game)

Positives: Highly intelligent people have a lot of knowledge, and can therefore offer information when it's needed. Most are also good problem-solvers, which is always helpful in a pinch. Really smart people have a lot of experience researching and therefore are good at getting to the root of things. They aren't often led astray by slant or biased viewpoints. Intelligence is a highly-respected trait, so intelligent people will often be admired and emulated despite their many negative characteristics.

Negatives: Because intelligent people are able to think quickly, they often become frustrated with those who can't keep up. The range of emotions they feel for those less smart can range from impatience to contempt and scorn. Smart people know they're smart; for a person who just wants to fit in, this can lead to negative behaviors such as hiding their intelligence, underachieving, and settling for mediocrity. Intelligent people are often exceptional in a certain area; this can lead to an underdevelopment in other areas, causing an imbalance.

Common Portrayals: computer hackers, nerds and geeks, scientists, mathematicians, doctors, spies, idiot savants, child prodigies, serial killers

Cliches to Avoid: the socially-awkward genius, the know-it-all school girl always showing off what she knows, eccentric scientists, the loner computer genius who secretly yearns for a connection with others

Twists on the Traditional Intelligent character: 
  • Your nerd doesn't have to be greasy-haired and bespectacled. For a twist, give her an attractive physical attribute--hair, eyes, legs, dimples.
  • Intelligent characters always seem to be surrounded by those less intelligent. How about pairing up your highly-intelligent character with people who are smarter than her? Talk about your tortured heroes...
  • Instead of making your genius socially backward, make her deficient in another area where those of even low intelligence excel: driving a car, baking, sticking to a budget, reading
Conflicting Characteristics to make your intelligent character unique or more interesting: adventurous, sweet, angry, athletic, humble, subservient, domestic

Weather Thesaurus Entry: Sunset

WEATHER and PHENOMENON are important elements in any setting, providing sensory texture and contributing to the mood the writer wishes to create in a scene. With a deft touch, weather can enhance the character's emotional response to a specific location, it can add conflict, and it can also (lightly) foreshadow coming events.

However, caution must accompany this entry: the weather should not be used as a window into a character's soul. The weather can add invisible pressure for the character, it can layer the SCENE with symbolism, it can carefully hint at the internal landscape, but it must never OVERTLY TELL emotion. Such a heavy-handed approach results in weather cliches and melodrama (a storm raging above a bloody battle, a broken-hearted girl crying in the rain).

SENSORY DESCRIPTORS:

Sight:

As the sun lowers beyond the horizon, the color spectrum of the sky changes to orange, pink and red hues. Clouds, dust or airborne particles appear back lit with vibrant colors, which casts the same color  filter on anything reflective (water, shiny leaves, glass, etc).  Shadows lengthen during sunset, increasing the contrast between the bright sunlight fading in the sky and non-reflective or absorbing surfaces (hills, mountains, trees, buildings, etc) creating a silhouette effect.

Smell: No smell is directly associated with sunset, however as the temperature cools, the lack of exposure to sunlight will 'dampen' the strength of certain smells (day-blooming flowers, pollution, garbage bins, soil, grass, etc). Night-blooming flowers, if present, will release their scent into the air.

Taste: N/A

Touch: The light from a sunset will warm the skin, but it is a fading warmth, creating an interesting opposition effect, as sunset by sight alone is often compared to fire.

Sound: As night approaches, bird activity lessens, and sounds from bees and insects becomes almost non-existent, creating a sound void.

EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS:

Mood: Sunset is almost synonymous with endings in writing. Sunset is the waning of the day, and a time where characters slow their activity and reflect upon recent events. Using sunset in a setting can create a feeling of time running out, of actions nearing completion and signal the 'letting go' of emotions for the time being.

Symbolism: Growing older; transitions; death; impending doom; earth cycles; letting go; endings

Possible Cliches: Comparing sunset to fire or a burning sky; a reference term for late-in-life years; riding into the sunset; watching a sunset as a romantic catalyst

OTHER: Sunset times and length varies with season and location.

Don't be afraid to use the weather to add contrast. Unusual pairings, especially when drawing attention to the Character's emotions, is a powerful trigger for tension. Consider how the bleak mood of a character is even more noticeable as morning sunlight dances across the crystals of fresh snow on the walk to work. Or how the feeling of betrayal is so much more poignant on a hot summer day. Likewise, success or joy can be hampered by a cutting wind or drizzling sleet, foreshadowing conflict to come.

More Tension-Building Tips

I saw the final Harry Potter movie last week. I think I'm in mourning. I'm also still pondering the tension piece of writing, and how important it is. Put those two pieces together, and you (or at least I) get an interesting question: How did Rowling manage to keep us turning those gajillions of pages through a 7-book series? I know there were long narrative stretches, backstory, and other potentially skippable parts. How did she do it? So I re-read book 5 and I noticed some really great tension-building techniques that we all should be applying.
  1. Add excitement/conflict to potentially boring scenes. Take the scene at the dinner table when Sirius tells Harry all that’s been going on in the wizarding world while Harry was stuck at the Dursleys. Dinner table + backstory should = boring. But it doesn't, because a couple of tension-building subplots are threaded through it: a) Harry and Sirius are both angry at Dumbledore and the reader doesn’t know why, and b)  information is deliberately being kept from Harry--information that directly effects him and he should have access to. Tension comes in the form of information that the reader and character don't have and strong character emotion because of it.
  2. Make the setting interesting. Even though this scene happens at a dinner table, the kitchen in question is located in a grimy, grungy, nasty dark wizard’s house that’s occupied by evil creatures and a hostile house elf. Knowing that anything crazy could happen makes the scene more appealing. Granted, every scene can't occur in a Grimmauld Place, but for situations like these, see what you can do to add interest, humor, fear, or uniqueness to the setting.
  3. Make sure that other things are going on. While they’re sitting around talking, Tonks is transforming her nose into various shapes for entertainment purposes. Peripheral humor is still funny and always welcome to the reader. Also, Ginny is rolling butterbeer corks on the floor for Crookshanks. This bit isn't critical to the overall plot, but it adds some action to a scene where there's not a whole lot happening.
  4. Delay exciting/important events. In my copy of book 5, Harry learns about his disciplinary hearing on page 33. The actual hearing doesn’t happen for one hundred pages. By delaying that important event, the tension stretches out, and the reader continues reading because they can't put the book down until they find out whether or not he's going to be expelled.
  5. Never give the hero a break. In the first quarter of the book, very few good things happen to Harry. During this time, he
  • is stuck at the Dursleys
  • has little or no word from his friends
  • is threatened with expulsion for using underage magic
  • is being blown off by Dumbledore
  • isn’t made a prefect
  • sees thestrals along with Hogwart's resident nutter
  • discovers that Hagrid is missing
  • has an embarrassing encounter with Cho
  • is considered a freak, liar, and attention-seeker by his peers
  • endures two week-long, literally torturous detentions with Umbridge
  • misses keeper tryouts, and
  • pisses off Sirius
During all this time, only two really positive things happen (leaving the Dursleys/reuniting with friends and being acquitted at his hearing). Otherwise, it is literally obstacle after obstacle for poor Harry. Sucks for him, but all that negativity serves to make the reader more sympathetic. We want him to succeed. And when he does, we're completely impressed because he overcame such opposition. If the path to success were easy, he wouldn't be a hero.


So keep these tips in mind when writing. By studying a master, maybe we, too, can keep readers hooked for hundreds of pages.

    Character Trait Entry: Charismatic

    Definition: having a special magnetic charm or appeal; having the ability to arouse loyalty or enthusiasm through charm or influence

    Causes: a knack for reading others and knowing what they want to hear, a need to manipulate others in order to get what you want, an honest desire to connect with people, a desire to motivate and help others, ambition

    Characters in Literature and History: Aragorn (Lord of the Rings), John F. Kennedy, Adolf Hitler

    Positives: Charismatics are great at reading people and situations. They're often able to discern motives and true intent. Building relationships and developing trust comes easily to them. Their ability to charm and influence others makes them natural leaders. 

    Negatives: Charisma segues effortlessly into manipulation. Charismatic leaders with great ambition often use their charm to win people over solely in an effort to achieve their goals. People become tools that are acquired, used, and cast aside. On the flip side, those with charisma are often the target of manipulation. Those with their own agendas may seek to befriend a charismatic leader in an effort to further their on purposes. Charismatics may grow weary of always being wooed only because of what they have to offer.

    Common Portrayals: politicians, prom queens, quarterbacks, visionaries, con-men, villains

    Cliches to Avoid: grasping politicians with an agenda, the reluctant leader

    Twists on the Traditional Charismatic: 
    • Charismatics are usually portrayed as 1) egomaniacs seeking to further their selfish goals, or 2) bleeding-heart philanthropists who live to make things better for the less fortunate. How about something in between, like a girl using her influence to raise awareness about the disease that is killing her boyfriend.
    • Instead of someone who is reluctant or narcissistic, try an eager leader who is completely ignorant of the flaws that work against his charisma (fear of public speaking, bad breath, no fashion sense, spits when he talks).
    Conflicting Characteristics to make your Charismatic unique or more interesting: average, clumsy, cowardly, grouchy, guilt-ridden, immature, sloppy

    Weather Thesaurus Entry: Clouds

    WEATHER is an important element in any setting, providing sensory texture and contributing to the mood the writer wishes to create in a scene. With a deft touch, weather can enhance the character's emotional response to a specific location, it can add conflict, and it can also (lightly) foreshadow coming events.

    However, caution must accompany this entry: the weather should not be used as a window into a character's soul. The weather can add invisible pressure for the character, it can layer the SCENE with symbolism, it can carefully hint at the internal landscape, but it must never OVERTLY TELL emotion. Such a heavy-handed approach results in weather cliches and melodrama (a storm raging above a bloody battle, a broken-hearted girl crying in the rain).

    SENSORY DESCRIPTORS:

    Sight: white, shades of gray, greenish-black, fluffy, puffy, full and thick, feathery, wispy and thin, scant, covering the whole sky, obscuring the sun/moon/stars, fast-moving, drifting, roiling

    Smell: n/a

    Taste: n/a

    Touch: wet, damp, misty

    Sound: n/a

    EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS:

    Mood: Different kinds of clouds can create different moods. Many people associate white fluffy clouds with happy memories. They can evoke feelings of contentment, joy, and optimism. Quick-moving clouds, usually accompanied by wind, can bring about a feeling that change may be coming. Dark, heavy thunderheads can create an ominous mood and heighten anxiety or fear. On the other hand, rainclouds can also bring about relief and excitement in an area that has been oppressed by heat or drought. Prolonged overcast skies can evoke feelings of oppression, irritability, and even depression.

    Symbolism: foreshadowing of ominous events to come, hiding or revealing information, oppression, light-heartedness, innocence

    Possible Cliches: mother and child laying in the grass and finding pictures in the clouds, clouds parting to let the sun shine on a happy occasion or event, dark clouds and thunderclaps that herald a villain's appearance, an overcast day that accompanies a character's gloomy mood

    Other: Here is a website for kids that discusses with simple explanations and pictures the different kinds of clouds, where they form, what they look like, and what they represent in the weather world.

    Don't be afraid to use the weather to add contrast. Unusual pairings, especially when drawing attention to the Character's emotions, is a powerful trigger for tension. Consider how the bleak mood of a character is even more noticeable as morning sunlight dances across the crystals of fresh snow on the walk to work. Or how the feeling of betrayal is so much more poignant on a hot summer day. Likewise, success or joy can be hampered by a cutting wind or drizzling sleet, foreshadowing conflict to come.

    Conflict vs Tension

    I've had a writing epiphany that I'm DYING to share with people who won't stare blankly at me while I talk and smile politely when I'm done. Lucky all of you.

    One of my critiquers recently said something that made me think. She kept writing notes in my manuscript like Where's the tension? and This would be a good spot to add tension.

    No tension? What's she talking about? The main character was just abandoned by her father. Her best friend was attacked by racist pigs. The family farm is about to go under. I mean, there is conflict ALL OVER the place, so how can she say there's no tension??

    Well, after chewing on this for awhile, I came to realize that I was confusing tension with conflict. Although the terms are often used interchangeably (and they CAN be synonymous), they aren't necessarily the same.

    Blake Snyder (Save The Cat) defines CONFLICT like this: a character enters a scene with a goal and standing in the way is an obstacle. That's conflict, and it's necessary to holding the reader's interest.

    TENSION in literature is important because it evokes emotion in the reader. Think of it in terms of real-life tension--that tight, stretched feeling in your belly that makes you all jittery. This is what you want your reader to feel in every single scene of your story. Tension connects the reader with the character and most of the time will keep them reading to the end of the book.

    How are the two related? Conflict should create tension. But it doesn't, not all the time. I think of the movies my brother-in-law likes to watch, where things are always exploding and I couldn't care less. Lots of conflict. No tension. Thank God for Teralyn, whose honest comments opened my eyes to this whole idea so I can a) fix my current novel and b) not write another book with this problem.

    So how, you might ask, do we write a book that's chock full of tension? Three things:

    1. Conflict in every scene. Yes, every single scene. It can be big and noisy (a fistfight) or it can be quiet (a person who wants two opposing things), but make sure it's there. Too many stretches without conflict and the story starts to drag. Your reader loses interest. Examine every scene to make sure there is a clear conflict. If there isn't any, either add some or just throw the scene out, because it's not moving your story forward anyway.

    2. Primal stakes. In order for conflict to create tension in your reader, the reader has to care about your character. For that to happen, the reader has to relate to your character's struggle. To paraphrase Blake Snyder again, a plot that hinges on primal drives like survival, hunger, sex, protection of a loved one, fear of death, revenge, love, etc. will connect with readers at a basic level because everyone gets those things. One of the problems in my story was that I was trying to push saving the family farm as the character's goal when I should have been pushing survival. In my head, the two were synonymous, but I focused on one and not the other, and the reader didn't make the connection. Make the stakes ones every reader will relate to, and you'll have the tension you need to keep them interested.

    3. Clear emotional responses. Sometimes the lack of tension is caused when a writer doesn't clearly convey the character's emotional response to conflict. I've read these stories where something nasty happens to the character but their response to it is flat or understated. And I think, if SHE doesn't care that she just got kicked out of school, why should I? This must not be a big deal after all. Make sure your character's response matches the conflict, in appropriateness and intensity.

    There you go. Light bulb on. This is probably old news to many of you, but I figure if I'm struggling with it, maybe someone else is, too. Pay it forward, peeps, pay it forward.

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