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Hey, you. Yes, you. You were planning on blogging for the rest of the night anyway--why not take 20 minutes to read a short story?
- Are you into dystopian futures and mind control? Here’s Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron.
- Are you into vegetarianism—and plot twists? Here’s Roald Dahl’s Pig.
- Are you into impossible man v. nature situations? Here’s Jack London’s To Build a Fire.
- Are you into small towns rooted deeply in a dark tradition? Here’s Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.
- Are you into dialogue and metaphors? Here’s Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants.
- Are you into creepy matriarchs with shady pasts? Here’s Stephen King’s Gramma (presented in 13 short “chapters.”)
- Are you into unrequited love and latecoming epiphanies? Here’s James Joyce’s Araby.
Your characters and how to love them: 4 simple steps to a believable cast.
At the heart of every novel, short story or fanfiction are the characters. Whether they be good guys, bad guys, major, minor, based on real people, works of fiction, background, foreground or anything in between- your characters make up your writing and knowing them, inside and out, is the key to making them believable.
While it may seem obvious the look of your character is vital to how he, she or they are envisioned by the reader. If the character does not have a particular look in your mind then it will be ever more difficult for the reader to imagine them as being real people. Think about it, no matter how hard you try you cannot imagine a person without a face and that is exactly the principle we are putting into play here.
I’m not saying you have to describe every single character in detail for the reader to get it, not at all. I’m saying YOU have to know how they look, every detail, right down to a little scar on their right hip or a mole on their…nevermind. This is also vital for knowing your character, inside and out, which will later help in their development. If you know the superficial details then it will become easier to know the deeper ones.
However, when it comes down to it, these characters are, for all intents and purposes, real people and every person is flawed in some way. Nobody has flawless skin, flawless hair and a flawless body unless they have been Photoshopped and, unfortunately you cannot Photoshop real life. (unless your piece is set in a time when real-life Photoshopping is a thing that can happen- in which case, you can). Try to bear this in mind when creating a character, everybody has insecurities and this includes the people you create.
Hint: If you’re finding it difficult then think of an actor who you would like to play your character were it a film, then try to describe them. This will aid in describing real people and may help the reader imagine them.
Everybody has interests and if you don’t then Tumblr is probably not the place for you. Whether it be writing, singing, dancing, fashion, gaming, reading, fitness, music, cheekbones with legs on the BBC, gardening, interior decorating, just lounging around in your pants watching RSPCA Animal rescue (cough cough) or anything in between, we all have something that occupies our time and the same goes for your characters.
In order for your characters to even seem remotely real and believable they have to have things to do when they’re not saving the world/ wiping out humanity, just like any other normal person would. For example I know someone who’s novel features a Vampire who enjoys playing Tetris in his spare time. Interests make your character three dimensional they make them real to you as well as the reader. If you can’t imagine a character in their spare time, or envision them living their day to day lives outside of the novel then the characters are not strong enough yet and need more work before they can be placed in the scenario of your choice.
Once again, you don’t need to explain every iota of this to the reader, or even write much of it down. If its there, and you know its there, then not only will the reader pick up on that but it will be much easier to write the character into the story.
Note: It is worth noting here that the character should have interests relevant to them. Its no use giving a character born in the underclass of society an interest in fine cuisine or a collection of rare gemstones, interests should come with the character and time, age and social status should be noted when writing.
Why did the chicken cross the road?
Lets face it: the answer is never to ‘just get to the other side’ and if it is then that is a really badly written chicken. Why does he want to get to the other side? whats over there for him? why does this chicken even grasp the concept of roads?
Okay, so that may seem a bit of a stupid time to have an existential crisis over a chicken but my point still stands: Nobody ever just does things for no reason and the same goes for your characters. In order to make them believable then you need to know why they are doing what they are doing? Why is your protagonist the one to step up and defeat the villain? Are they getting paid, or just the only one brave enough? Are they trying to impress someone, or just rise above what they have been labelled as? Is your antagonist trying to blow up the world for fun or do they believe in a greater good? Do they just not like your protagonist and would much rather see his head on a spike in their front lawn?
These are all questions you need to ask yourself before you write your characters into the plot of your story. Why are they doing what they are doing and what are they getting out of it? If a character has no motivation then they will fall flat and confuse the readers. Out of everything so far the motive of the character is the only one I advise you completely narrate throughout the story. Maybe not all at once, maybe not clearly but at least leave clues and hints as to why, let your readers have to turn back pages and go ‘OH, SO THAT’S WHY THEY DID THAT’ and help yourself feel like a cryptic genius.
Note: If they are completely insane and just doing what they are doing for a laugh this still counts a motive. They may not see sense or reason but ‘doing it for fun’ is still a motive for doing something and it should still be documented that this is their reasoning.
4. Other little bits and bobs.
As we all know, real people are not built up solely on looks, interests and motives or else science would be well on their way to getting me that robot butler, but its these three things which are the core of any believable character.
These are the roots to making them seem real but there are other things you need to consider to make them live and breathe as you write them. As writing down every single detail would take forever and make this post go on forever, I have decided to give you a checklist of questions to answer when writing your character (Not all of these will apply to your writing so just answer the ones that do). These are just a few, feel free to add your own and go into as much detail as you want: the more detailed the character the more deep the character.
- Where do your characters work when they’re not saving the world/ destroying it? Whats their main source of income? Why do they work there? Do they enjoy it? Why?
- Where do your characters live? Is it a nice neighborhood or a run down apartment? Why?
- What are the names of your characters parents? (Remember, these are real people too with lives they have lived, remember that while writing them) Why did they give your character the name they have?
- If your character was not born to mortal parents, how did they come about? Where did they come from? What is their purpose?
- If your character has a mythical ailment (eg. Vampirism, Lycanothropy) how did they get it? Who turned them? How old are they? How have they adjusted to life?
- Where do your characters come from? Do they still live there? Why did they move?/ Why did they stay?
- Does your character dye their hair? Why? Where do they get the dye from? How do they afford it?
- Where is your characters favourite place to go? Why?
- How many relationships has your character had? Why did they end? Do they miss them?
- Is your character allergic to anything? How have they coped if they are? How severe is the allergy?
Remember, these are just basic questions to help you round off your character. I hope this helps you create a cast both you and your readers fall in love with.
The Things He Took
It was midnight and she was cold (but she’d decided to go outside and so she did dammit), so grabbing a slight box, she slipped out the door. She found a narrow bench on the grass and tried to rub her hands warm, but it was late and she was already tired again. She pulled a cigarette out and tried to bring it to life but then her hands began their tremor and everything spilled from her hands. She paused a moment to think, ‘well fuck,’ and then dropped clammy hands to search the grass. Lit and ready she sat, ready to feel happy again when a presence dropped next to her. It was her boy, sitting to her left.
She exhaled, “I’m sorry I can’t like you more. He took that with him when he left. I used to get all giggly and red and squirmy around boys and it was great. You’d hate it, but you’d love it all the same because it was the feeling of liking another human being without even knowing who they were, it was for no fucking reason really, and it was wonderful. I had that with him all the time, but he took the feeling with him. I haven’t even wanted someone else, I haven’t wanted to be pushed up against everything and the kitchen sink in haste, panties on the floor, thigh against thigh, and wanted the other person so fucking desperately.
Maybe I would have been okay. I was so sad all the fucking time when he left but maybe I would’ve been okay. I never got what I needed though – I never got a ‘hey – I love you, you know that?’ Instead I had eyes peering down at and admonishing me: ‘stop being so sad’ they would say. I pulled myself out of that hole but I built up a shell on the way out and now I can’t get giggly and cute around you and I don’t want to fuck you but I probably will try to convince myself that I do and tomorrow we’ll wake up tangled up together and I’ll hate myself and I’ll hate him and I’ll try not to hate you because that’s not fair. I’ll press a kiss to the top of your head and leave. There won’t be anything else, because I’ll ignore your calls and texts and messages if you bother to leave them.
I’ll believe everyone who tells me that you’re too good for me and that I’m not beautiful and let you go. Every other boy that I come across will simply be a rinse and repeat of you and maybe I won’t bother to spend the half hour telling him everything that I’m telling you but you’d better believe it’s true. There’s nothing I really want anymore, not you, not anyone else, and certainly not him.”
She peered over the stub in her hands. There was no one.
What he took with him when he left home:
2. His cell phone.
3. His father’s leather bible, which every sunday, his father would clean off with a small bottle of Vaseline and a soft green cloth, his scarred and weathered fingers rubbing the jelly over the front and back of the book and then using the soft green cloth to buff it. Cleaning the dirt gathered along the edges with a wet q-tip and picking up the remainders with a small absorene dirt eraser, sanding away the marks and the smudges that were found on the pages inside. His father would miss it more than the very air in his lungs.
He took it from him.
4. Three blankets.
5. A pair of steel toed hiking boots.
6. A razor.
7. His sisters notebook diaries chronicling her six year struggle with anorexia nervosa, containing lists of foods that she ate or pretended to eat, lists of different ways to prepare a certain type of meal, etchings of stick figured shaped people doodled in the margins, lists of hospitals and programs she had attended that had worked, for a while, until food was found flecked around the edges of the toilet bowl, and plates and spoons were found hidden in the closet, the clothes hamper. Then new hospitals and new programs and even longer lists.
8. A bag of trail mix.
9. A bottle of Sunscreen.
10. A compass.
11. His inhaler which he hadn’t really needed since middle school, but for some reason, couldn’t help but carry around. In his right pocket, next to his keys and the tiny piece of mint gum he always had, weighty and reassuring against his leg.
12. A well read copy of the Catcher in the Rye.
13. A small piece of blue copper azurite he’d found in the woods three miles away from his high school.
14. His mothers eyes, they were always telling him he had his mothers eyes, the soft hazels flecked with specks of green that were always hard when she wanted them to be and soft when she wanted them to be. He hadn’t exactly mastered that, his eyes always seemed to be stuck someplace in the middle. A hard soft space with no room left for anything else to grow.
15. His sisters black watch.
16. His collection of ticket stubs.
17. A small can opener.
18. A yellow eared map of Venice which he’d shoplifted from the bookstore a couple blocks away from his house. A quiet, dusty place full of old books and wooden globes and bookends shaped like mermaids and lions. The owner was a grizzly old man who was always looking at him funny whenever he was in there, as if he could tell exactly what he wanted and didn’t like it. But the old man had to turn around sometime, and it was then that he made his move, shoving the map and the ribbon that bound it deep into the space between his jeans and his underwear.
19. His I-pod.
20. A package of plastic cutlery.
21. A mix CD he had made for his sister while she was in the hospital. He had titled it Oceans and Oceans and filled it with melancholic folk songs and catchy punk pop hits and old school rap and hip hop melodies, and all of the kinds of songs she had loved. She had smiled at him, her skin all diaphanous and pale with too many wires coming out of her arms and nose, and had kissed his hand and told him that she loved him and that he was her little tugboat, pulling her safely to shore.
She died just two hours later.
22. A pack of note cards.
23. A poster of the moon from his sisters room.
24. An invitation to his sisters funeral that his mother had printed up on fancy card-stock paper with her name and his fathers name and his name, and his sisters name in the middle. The ceremony had been big and quiet and his father had read a bible passage about the soul and the path of righteousness and his mother had told him to stop fidgeting, but he couldn’t stop. He was crying too hard.
25. A heavy wool jacket.
26. Sixty dollars from his mother’s purse.
27. A rolling suitcase.
28. A family photo of them all at the fair a long time ago when he was small and before his sister had gotten sick and before his father had forced his sister to read ten pages of the bible every night that she was home on leave from the hospital even though her fingers had been far too weak to grip the pages and eyes far too blurred to even read the words.
29. An empty pill case.
30. A drawing of a blue whale that he had made in the second grade.
31. A pillow.
32. A couple of fish from his sister’s aquarium.
33. A container with air holes to put them in.
liquid sugar (you can't eat video games)
I went to McDonald’s on my lunch break.
There were a bunch of lines to choose from to wait in and I chose the longest one because the cashier working that register was a young, cute, pale-faced blond girl.
I stood in line and waited and went, Mmmm… inside my head because it smelled good in there and because I was hungry and wanted to eat and because the the young, pale-faced blond girl looked so cute that I wanted to eat her too.
After five minutes of waiting it was my turn to order. The young, cute, pale-faced blond girl looked even younger up close. I was pretty sure she was underage.
Most Likely Underage Cute Cashier Girl: Hi, welcome to McDonald’s. Can I take your order?
Me: Yeah, hi. Can I please have a Southwest Salad with grilled chicken and a large iced coffee with cream and sugar.
Most Likely Underage Cute Cashier Girl: Sure. Is liquid sugar okay, sir?
Me: If I had a porn star name it would be Liquid Sugar…
I wanted to say that to her but I didn’t.
I didn’t because I thought it’d be best not to kinda sexually harass Most Likely Underage Cute Cashier Girl.
Me: Liquid sugar is fine…
She rang me up and I got my food and coffee and I sat down to eat.
Right after I sat down a Spanish guy came over and sat down at the table next to me.
He smelled like he had rubbed a million different magazine cologne samples all over his body before leaving his apartment.
I wanted to tell him that if I had a porn star name it would be Liquid Sugar but I was pretty sure he wouldn’t have cared.
He should care though, I thought. He should care…
I began eating my food when a homeless guy wondered into the restaurant and sat down in the empty booth across from me.
He smelled like the exact opposite of the Spanish guy.
He smelled like he had rubbed a million different pieces of shit all over his body before leaving his box.
The homeless guy reached into his pocket and pulled out a huge handful of change and then put it down on the table. Then he reached in and pulled out another handful of change and put that down on top of the first pile.
He began counting his change by individually sliding the coins away from the huge pile with the tip of his pointer finger.
The change made a cool sound as he dragged it across the table top.
The change went, Scrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…
I took a huge bite of salad and went, Scrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr… inside my head. Scrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr… Scrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…
Then I thought to myself, That’s a lot of change he has. Scrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr… He should go to the arcade. Scrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr… I’d be a horrible homeless guy. Scrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr… I’d buy, like, a bagel, and then I’d totally just go to the arcade and have the time of my life and then I’d be like, “Ow, why am I so hungry?” later on.
It was weird.
I felt comfortable around the homeless guy.
I felt a certain camaraderie with him.
I felt like we were old “‘Nam buddies” even though I was way too young to have ever served in Nam.
I think it was just because he was homeless and I knew there was a really good chance that I was gonna be homeless someday too.
Like a really, realllly good chance.
I waited for him to finish counting his change. Once he was done I got up and sat down across from him in his booth.
Me: Hey, excuse me, but there’s a really good chance that I’m gonna be homeless someday too so I guess I was just wondering if you have any tips for me?
Homeless Guy: Um, yeah… Yeah… Ummmm, when you first get alotta change your initial instinct is gonna wanna be to go to, like, Dave & Buster’s or something and just spend all of it there playing video games. Don’t do that. It’s fun and shit but you can’t eat video games and you’ll be hungry later.
Me: No. You can’t. You can’t eat video games. And I would be hungry later.
Homeless Guy: You can’t. Video games aren’t food. Video games… No… Video games aren’t food. They should be food.
Me: Yeah… They should be… Hey, if I had a porn star name it would be Liquid Sugar.
Homeless Guy: Hahahaha. Liquid Sugar. If I had a porn star name it would be Milky Surprize, but surprise would be spelled like “prize.” Like P-R-I-Z-E so it’s like a double meaning. Like it’s a milky surprise but my cum on your face is also like a prize. Hahahahaha.
Then he coughed two really wet, phlegmy coughs into his hand and began counting his change again.
His change went, Scrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr… Scrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr… as he dragged it across the table.
I got up and went back to my seat.
I hated him.
His porn star name was better than mine.
A LOT better than mine.
I didn’t know why I talked to people.
© Calvero 2013