Tips On How to Write Characters with Wings (For both fanfic writers and original content writers)
So I’ve been reading a lot of fics lately where people are either
A) Putting wings onto canon characters
B) Making OCs with wings
So I decided that, with the influx of people who are writing winged characters (and therefore the influx of errors that come with writing winged characters), I’d make a little thing to help you slap a pair of wings onto anyone!
This is also a bit personal, too, because the MC in my upcoming novel has wings!
1. Know that there are a lot of types of wings to choose from
Part of being a writer is the desire to take something (whether it be a pre-existing work or an idea in your head) and make it into your own. So, instead of just going with the classic bird wings, why not spice it up a bit? If your character is an angel, you certainly don’t have to stick to the classic depictions of angel wings. Why not give them butterfly wings or dragonfly wings?
Here’s a small list of different types of wings to choose from:
Note that these wings are for animals who can fly. There are also animals who can “fly” that actually glide, such as sugar gliders and flying squirrels.
Yeah, so the options are pretty limited, but feel free to make up your own kinds of wings that aren’t necessarily based on a pre-existing creature’s wings!
2. Be familiar with the anatomy of your character’s wings and their limits
If your wings are completely unique, draw them out. A diagram or picture is key when it comes to things like description. I’m not gonna tell you what everything does and give you Animal Wing Anatomy 101, that’s for you to research. Know that there are different types of wings and that they have different uses, strengths, and weaknesses.
3. Never use the full extent of your research!
“But wait, Maddy!” you cry, writing utensil in hand and poised to stab me. “I thought we were supposed to were supposed to show our research!”
Well, you are. Technically that’s not wrong. But, readers don’t want to know ALL of it. Over-described wings are sometimes worse than under-described wings; what sucks more than not knowing what a character’s wings look like is having to look up wing anatomy in the middle of the chapter!
Only use the most basic of vocabulary when it comes to describing the parts of the wing. Most of the time, you just have to say “bat wing” or “feathery wing” and the readers get the basic idea. (Like seriously, do you think the readers know what a dactylopatagium brevis is????? It’s a part of skin on a bat’s wing btw)
4. Don’t bring your character’s wings up only when they’re needed!!!!
Unless your character’s wings can fade away when they’re not needed, wings are a 100% real, 24/7 thing! It’s bothersome when writers mention the wings in one chapter and then only bring them up when there’s a daring escape that needs to be performed! Most of the time, I forget that the characters even have wings at all!
There is also the fact that wings aren’t all pros and no cons. If they’re functional, they’re probably big, and if they’re muscular, they’re probably bulky. If your character is clumsy, they’ll probably knock things over constantly, and if they’re not clumsy, they’ll still knock things over constantly.
Your wings are two (or four, or five, or six quintillion) extra appendages; they’re a part of your character! You don’t have to spend every second reminding the readers that they’re there, but don’t go long stretches of time without even mentioning them.
5. Your character’s wings can be a good way to indicate their mood or to provide for that little bit of description that you think you make be lacking
Why wouldn’t you want to describe the wings? I mean, you don’t want to describe every minute detail over and over again, but it’ll boost your word count a lot more than you think. They can also be used to convey your character’s feelings without explicitly telling the reader! It’s like a new set of facial expressions!
See? You can tell he’s wary and ready to fight from the movement of his wings! Also he’s crouching next to a dead body but that’s not relevant right now
Here’s a list of wing language (?) that you can incorporate into your story that will not only increase your word count, but will also add to the sustenance of your story!
Kick someone’s legs out from under them
Snap someones neck (only for muscular wings like bat and bird wings)
Problems that may come with having wings
Poke out from under blankets and let all of the cold air in
Get pins and needles from being folded for too long
Writing Tip: Don’t Be Afraid of Mixing Dialogue and Action
So I’ve been reading a lot of amateur writing lately, and I’ve noticed what seems to be a common problem: dialogue.
Tell me if this looks familiar. You start writing a conversation, only to look down and realize it reads like:
“I’m talking now,” he said.
“Yes, I noticed,” she said.
“I have nothing much to add to this conversation,” the third person said.
And it grates on your ears. So much ‘said.’ It looks awful! It sounds repetitive. So, naturally, you try to shake it up a bit:
“Is this any better?” He inquired.
“I’m not sure,” she mused.
“I definitely think so!” that other guy roared.
This is not an improvement. This is worse.
Now your dialogue is just as disjointed as it was before, but you have the added problem of a bunch of distracting dialogue verbs that can have an unintentionally comedic effect.
So here’s how you avoid it: You mix up the dialogue with description.
“Isn’t this better?” he asked, leaning forward in his seat. “Don’t you feel like we’re more grounded in reality?”
She nodded, looking down at her freshly manicured nails. “I don’t feel like a talking head anymore.”
“Right!” that annoying third guy added. “And now you can get some characterization crammed into the dialogue!”
The rules of dialogue punctuation are as follows:
Each speaker gets his/her own paragraph - when the speaker changes, you start a new paragraph.
Within the speaker’s own paragraph, you can include action, interior thoughts, description, etc.
You can interrupt dialogue in the middle to put in a “said” tag, and then write more dialogue from that same speaker.
You can put the “said” tag at the beginning or end of the sentence.
Once you’ve established which characters are talking, you don’t need a “said” tag every time they speak.
ETA: use a comma instead of a period at the end of a sentence of dialogue, and keep the ‘said’ tag in lower caps. If you end on a ? or !, the ‘said’ tag is still in lower case. (thanks, commenters who pointed this out!)
Some more examples:
“If you’re writing an incomplete thought,” he said, “you put a comma, then the quote mark, then the dialogue tag.”
“If the sentence ends, you put in a period.” She pointed at the previous sentence. “See? Complete sentences.”
“You can also replace the dialogue tag with action.” Extra guy yawned. “When you do, you use a period instead of a comma.”
So what do you do with this newfound power? I’m glad you asked.
You can provide description of the character and their surroundings in order to orient them in time and space while talking.
You can reveal characterization through body language and other nonverbal cues that will add more dimension to your dialogue.
You can add interior thoughts for your POV character between lines of dialogue - especially helpful when they’re not saying quite what they mean.
You can control pacing. Lines of dialogue interrupted by descriptions convey a slower-paced conversation. Lines delivered with just a “said” tag, or with no dialogue tag at all, convey a more rapid-fire conversation.
“We’ve been talking about dialogue for a while,” he said, shifting in his seat as though uncomfortable with sitting still.
“We sure have,” she agreed. She rose from her chair, stretching. “Shall we go, then?”
“I think we should.”
“Great. Let’s get out of here.”
By controlling the pacing, you can establish mood and help guide your reader along to understanding what it is that you’re doing.
I hope this helps you write better dialogue! If you have questions, don’t hesitate to drop me an ask :)
If we’re being honest, one character is always the most fun to develop when you’re writing a new story. It must be the main character, right? The person you’re going to follow throughout the story, the one that means the most to you?
Nope. It’s the villain.
Villains are just FUN. You get to creep into the darkest corners of your writer brain and conjure up the most unashamedly detestable human being you possibly can.
This is how we look when we begin creating a villain.
But sometimes, it can be difficult to to make sure they’re fully believable humans. So here are the nine elements that have helped me out when developing these terrible people …
1) Hero’s Shadow:
The relationship between the main character and the villain is the most important one in the story, because it is the source of all conflict. Without the villain causing trouble, the main character wouldn’t have the chance to be a hero. Without that trouble, the main character’s weaknesses wouldn’t be pressured, which means they couldn’t change. The villain is a condensed and magnified embodiment of the inner weakness that the hero is battling. They’re the SHADOW of hero, the example of what will happen if the main character goes down the wrong path. Both are facing the same problem in different ways. For example Darth Vader and Luke.
2) Conflict Strategy:
In the pursuit of stopping the hero from achieving their goal, the villain is going to attack them on 1) a personal relationship level 2) a societal level and 3) an inner level. They’re going to attack the people around them, they’re going to cause consequences for the community surrounding them, they’re going to get into their head and plague them. Because the hallmark of a villain is that they’re the person who’s perfectly suited to attack the hero’s greatest weakness. Villains should have a distinct set of tactics to destroy the main character, on at least two levels.
This one’s expected. Of course a villain has flaws, it’s in the job description. But flaws do not equate to ‘He kicks turtles every morning before breakfast’ or 'His favorite hobby is butterfly stomping’ or, more within the realm of possibility, “He wants to kill the hero”. These are evil actions, NOT flaws. A lot of villains, particularly in movies, will be given horrible things to do without any explanation for WHY they do them. And it’s pretty easy to give them reasons: just give them human weaknesses! That’s it. Whether the actions they take are as small as theft or as big as blowing up a planet, these actions stem from recognizable HUMAN FLAWS. So like a main character, a villain needs mental and moral flaws.
Yup, even Maleficent has human flaws. And she’s a dragon part of the time.
4) Counter Goal:
All characters exist because they want something. And what do villains want? To get whatever the main character wants (for very different reasons), to stop them from reaching their goal, or another goal that directly conflicts with the hero’s goal. As long as that big tangible thing they want locks hero and villain in battle, you’re good. Think 101 Dalmatians: Cruella and the good guys are fighting over the puppies.
5) Surface Motivations:
Why is it that villains always have a team of followers? Because villains never outright state their true motivations. They always have a cover story, and that cover will paint them as righteous. Villains want to look like the good guy. So their real Hidden Motivations are defended by twisting perceptions of Good & Evil, by portraying evil acts in a positive light, by indulging their followers selfish emotions and desire to feel like “one of the good guys. "
Take Gothel for example: she’s a loving mother who wants to protect her daughter from all the world’s darkness. (Sure you do, Flynn stabber.)
Surface Motivations never stand up to logical scrutiny and a functioning moral compass, but giving your bad guy a compelling argument against your good side always makes things more interesting, which brings us to …
6) Counter Statement:
The main character needs to learn some kind of truth that will enable them to fix their lives, overcome their weaknesses, banish their ghosts. It’s whatever statement about "how to live a better life” you want to prove with your story. Your villain has other ideas. They don’t agree with that statement, have other beliefs about living life well, and represent an argument against it. For example, Voldemort: “there is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it."
Although your argument isn’t very convincing, Voldy. I mean, you’re living in the back of some guy’s head.
This is everything on the surface of the villain. The way they speak, the way they look, the way they act, their role in life, their status and power. This is the facade they project for the world to see, a calculated effort to control how they are perceived. This is closely connected to that surface want, because that surface is what they wish people to believe about them. Over time, the reader and the other characters are going to be able to see through this mask and see what it conceals. My favorite Disney example of this is Mother Gothel: on the surface she’s this bubbly mom who loves Rapunzel and wants to protect her from the harshness of the world.
You can think of this as the text …
8) Hidden Motivation:
And this is the subtext. That surface motivation they want the world to believe is a mask concealing their true motivation, which is always rooted in their flaws, selfishness, and skewed beliefs.
9) Ghosts, Justification, Self-Obsession:
These three are closely related, so they get counted together. Like main characters, villains have GHOSTS: events from their backstories that knocked their worldviews out of alignment, that marked the beginning of their weaknesses, that haunt them still. Because these happened, the originally benign person allowed themselves to turn into someone who could occupy the job of "villain” in a story. Usually, these events are genuine misfortunes and are worthy of sympathy, just like the ghosts of a main character. Think of Voldemort growing up in an orphanage talking to snakes.
BUT! When it comes to ghosts, the major difference between a hero and a villain is HOW THEY DEAL with these unpleasant past events. Both have suffered, but react to suffering in very different ways. A villain will be consumed by these events, obsessed with the real (or imagined) persecution or disadvantage they’ve endured, convinced that all personal responsibility is nullified by their status of injured party. Past tragedies become a talisman that grants immunity from decency.
This scene from A Series of Unfortunate Events sums it up. An adult makes an excuse for a terrible person by saying he had a terrible childhood. And Klaus replies:
Yes, maybe they’ve both lived through tragedy. But THE KIDS aren’t hurting others because of it.
Because villains, who are constantly victimizing heroes, are completely convinced that THEY are the true victims here. No matter what they do, no matter what they are, they blame everything on that ghost, whether it was another person, society, or circumstances. And later they blame the hero, who they see as the REAL villain. For example, Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame:
“It’s not my fault, I’m not to blame”
So! WHY are villains like this?
SELF-OBSESSION! Yup, villains spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about themselves and their plights and their plots. Think of any villain and it’s not hard to see the inherent narcissism behind everything they do. Like willingness to take action is the nonnegotiable trait of a main character, self-obsession is the trait that all villains seem to share.
So! Developing villains in this way has worked out for me so far. If it looks like it might be helpful for you, give it a try.
And in the spirit of creating someone to torment our main characters and ruin their lives, here’s one more maniacal laugh for the road:
Writing is a craft. It takes time for anyone to learn
and improve. But there are some shortcuts you can try, maybe adapt to your own needs. Here are 11 writing problems and their solutions, or hacks.
Too many ideas syndrome
Problem: You have too many equally good story ideas
and can’t pick just one to write.
Solution: Select your top 3 favorite stories and
write the first scene of all three. If you can’t decide, write
chapter. The right project will be easier to work with, you’ll have
fun writing it, you will be daydreaming about the story, you will
love the characters. So, give away three chances instead of one.
Outline spoiling the fun
Problem: Whenever you outline a story idea, it
completely spoils your will to write it. The mystery is gone.
Solution: Instead of outlining the whole story, just
make a clear goal on how your characters should end. Will they
succeed? Will they fail? Will they be happy? Will they find
redemption? Will they be wronged? Decide how your story should end
and explore the plot as you go. Remember, no one will read your
first draft, so just write.
Problem: If you are a pantser, you might get lost in
the middle of the story, especially after the first plot point.
Solution: Give your story an ending. If you know where
your characters will end up, you’ll have a better understanding of
which routes to take. Always keep in mind how the story will end. Use
it as the beacon of a lighthouse to guide you through stormy waters.
Problem: You don’t have story ideas. Or nothing you
have so far excites you enough for a novel.
Solution: Read a book or watch a movie completely out
of your genre. This works like magic, I promise. I’m not a sci-fi
person, but Akira has given me more story ideas than any movie and
book from my own genre.
Problem: You are scared of writing, scared of
starting a new story, or just scared of not doing a good job.
Solution: Write a fanfic. No one expects a fanfic to
be a masterpiece (although many are). Fanfics are done for fun and for
passion. So, write your book in fanfic format. You can even use
fandom characters and aus in the process. When the story is
completed, change back to original characters.
Editing as you write
Problem: You keep going back to previous paragraphs
and editing instead of moving forward with your writing.
Solution: Write your novel by hand. This might sound
like a lot of work, but it’s quite the opposite. The white screen
of the computer urges you to review, to make it perfect, academic
like perfect. The paper however, brings you back to the craft, to the
urge of filling lines and pages. Handwriting also gives you the
opportunity of sketching and doodling.
Solution: Go offline. Turn off your wi-fi. Use a
device without internet connection. Or, if you keep fooling yourself
and turning the internet back on, write your novel by hand. Give
yourself a daily hour of internet, but live offline. And if you take unnecessary trips to the fridge or the bathroom, try the pomodoro technique.
Lack of plots
Problem: Nothing relevant is happening, your story
looks kind of boring. Or the main plot is too weak for a whole novel.
Solution: Take a few days off. Just relax. When you are ready to go back, read what you have written so
far. Maybe you were just tired. But, if
the story really sucks, go back to basics. Ask yourself two questions.
What type of story am I writing? How will this story end? Follow the
answer like a map. Change what needs to be changed, even if you have
to delete the whole progress. If you lack plots, don’t add fillers, just go back to basics.
Weak main character
lacks personality, voice and/or visuals.
Solution: Give your main character three things. An
external battle. An internal battle. And an unique feature. The external
battle is their goal, what they want to achieve, what they dream
about. An internal battle is their fears, traumas, doubts, mental
issues, prejudices and triggers to overcome. An unique feature is what sets them
apart from other characters, maybe they have piercings, or tattoos,
or pink hair, or lilac eyes, maybe they wear neon boots, or a mask,
or mittens, maybe they are left-handed, or blind, maybe they have a scar, or a
birthmark. Every amazing main character has external battles,
internal battles and unique features.
Problem: You have no will to write. The passion is
gone. You feel empty.
Solution: If you don’t
have access to medical help, reading is a good way to reevaluate your
career and regain your passion for the words. Read lots of books.
Don’t worry about writing, just read. Lose yourself in fictional
adventures. Read sci-fi, romance, horror, fantasy, crime, family
saga, classics, foreigner fictions, fanfics, shorts, poetry. Immerse
in literature. Literature can save lives.
Problem: Dialogues seem too formal, or too much like
the narration, or characters lack individuality.
Solution: Read your dialogues out loud while acting
as your characters. You can find a quiet empty room for that. Be an
actor. Go for the emotions. Record your acting sections, after all,
you might improvise at some point.
What sort of questions should I be asking my beta readers?
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR BETA READERS:
When I send out my chapter to be read over by my beta readers, I always include a set of questions typed out at the bottom, grouped into different categories such as: plot, pacing, character, setting, etc.
You might want to tailor the questions depending on the genre or which chapter it is. For example, if it’s the first chapter you’ll want to ask them about how well your story managed to hook them, or if they managed to easily get an idea of the world you’ve introduced them to. If it’s the climax you might want to ask if the action scenes are fluid, and if the plot twist/s were predictable or surprising.
Here’s some example questions that you could use:
What is your first impression of the main character? Do you find them likable? Annoying? Boring?
After reading it for the first time, what is your first impression? Was it cohesive and compelling? Boring and confusing?
Did the first sentence/paragraph/page efficiently grab your attention and hook you in?
If you were to read this chapter in a bookstore/library would you be convinced to buy it? Or would you need to read further before deciding? Why or why not?
Did you get oriented fairly quickly at the beginning as to whose story it is, what’s going on, and where and when it’s taking place? If not, what were you confused about at the beginning?
Does the first chapter establish the main character efficiently? Do they feel believable?
Could you clearly imagine what the characters looked like? If not, who?
Who was your favourite character and why? Has your favourite character changed? (if this hasn’t changed feel free to skip this question)
Are there any characters that you do not like? Why do you not like them? (Boring, annoying, problematic, etc.)
Was there ever a moment when you found yourself annoyed or frustrated by a character?
Could you relate to the main character? Did you empathise with their motivation or find yourself indifferent?
Were the characters goals/motivations clear and understandable?
Did you get confused about who’s who? Are there too many characters to keep track of? Are any of the names or characters too similar?
Do the characters feel three-dimensional or like cardboard cutouts?
How familiar have you become with the main characters? Without cheating could you name the four main characters? Can you remember their appearance? Can you remember their goal or motivation?
Did the dialogue seem natural to you?
Was there ever a moment where you didn’t know who was talking?
Were you able to visualize where and when the story is taking place?
Is the setting realistic and believable?
How well do you remember the setting? Without cheating, can you name four important settings?
Did anything about the story seem cliche or tired to you? How so?
Did anything you read (character, setting, etc.) remind you of any others works? (Books, movies, etc.)
Do you feel there were any unnecessary scenes/moments that deserved to be deleted or cut back?
Do the scenes flow naturally and comprehensively at an appropriate pace? Did you ever feel like they were jumping around the place?
Was there ever a moment where you attention started to lag, or the chapter begun to drag? Particular paragraph numbers would be very helpful.
Did you ever come across a sentence that took you out of the moment, or you had to reread to understand fully?
Was the writing style fluid and easy to read? Stilted? Purple prose-y? Awkward?
Did you notice any discrepancies or inconsistencies in facts, places, character details, plot, etc.?
What three things did you like? What three things did you not like?
Can you try predicting any upcoming plot twists or outcomes?
Was there ever a moment when your suspension of disbelief was tested?
Is there anything you’d personally change about the story?
Was the twist expected or surprising? Do you feel that the foreshadowing was almost nonexistent, or heavy handed?
Feel free to tailor these to your needs or ignore some of them if you don’t think they’re useful. Basically, your questions are about finding out the information about how others perceive your own writing and how you can improve your story.
To all the writers who have ever been told “Your characters have to be three dimensional!” or “They should be well-rounded!” and just felt like saying: “What does that even MEAN?! What goes into a 3-dimensional character? Specifically? And how do you go about creating one?!”
Good news. There’s a way.
Great main characters – heroes, protagonists, deuteragonist, whatever you want to call them – have ten things in common. Ten things that are easily developed, once you know what to create within your character. So no one will ever be able to tell you “needs to be more three dimensional!” ever again. Ha.
1) Weaknesses: Main characters should be flawed, but I’m not saying this because it will make them more realistic (though it will) – I’m saying they need to be flawed because if they’re not, they shouldn’t be a main character. Story is another word for change, or more accurately, character growth. Not character as in “fictional person”, character meaning “heart and soul”. Story is someone’s character changing, for better or worse. Main characters at the beginning of the story are lacking something vital, some knowledge of themselves, some knowledge of how to live a better life, and this void is ruining their lives. They must overcome these weaknesses, if they’re going to become complete, and reach a happy ending. There are two types of weaknesses: Psychological and Moral. Psychological ones only hurt the main character. Moral ones cause the main character to hurt other people. Easy.
2) Goal: Characters exist because they want something. Desiring something, and the fight against opposition for that desire, is the lifeblood of story; and because character is story, it’s also desire that can breathe life into words on a page, and begin the process of creating a real person in a reader’s mind. It’s this ‘desire for something’ that sparks that first connection between reader and character. It makes us think “Well, now I have to find out if this person gets what they want.” This is a powerful link. (How many mediocre movies do we suffer through, when we could easily stop watching, because we’re still trapped by that question of “what happens?”) So if this is powerful enough to keep people watching an annoying movie, imagine how powerful it can be in an excellent story.
Like in Up, the goal is to get the house to Paradise Falls.
3) Want: If the main character wants something, they want it for a darn good reason. Usually, they think that attaining the goal will fill the void they can sense in their lives, the deficiency they can feel, but don’t know how to fix. And they’re almost always wrong. Getting the goal doesn’t help anything; which is why, while pursuing that goal, they discover a deeper need that will heal them. Which brings us to …
4) Need/Elixir: Main characters are missing something, a weakness in their innermost selves is causing them to live a less-than-wonderful life. Through story, these main characters can be healed. Once they discover what’s missing, and accept it, and change the way they live to include this truth they’ve uncovered … they’re healed. Learning this truth, whatever it is, forms the purpose of the story for the main character. The reader, and the character, think the story is about achieving that big tangible goal the premise talks about; really, underneath it all, the story is about someone achieving a big intangible truth, that will ultimately save their life and future. Often, this need is exactly what the character fears or professes to hate.
Like Finding Nemo, where Dory states exactly what Marlin needs to learn.
Not this kind of ghosts.
Ghosts are events in your character’s past which mark the source of their weaknesses and strengths. Because these happened, the character became who they are. All we need to know about backstory are these moments, because who the character became is all we care about. There’s really only one ghost you absolutely need: the source of their moral and psychological weakness. Something happened that knocked the character’s world off kilter, and everything from that moment onward has been tainted by what happened. This moment haunts them (hence the name), and holds them back from uncovering that need that will heal their weaknesses. Pixar are masters of this: the source of Carl being stuck in the past, curmudgeonly, unable of loving anyone new? Ellie dying; his ghost. In Finding Nemo, the source of Marlin being suffocating, protective to the point of being harmful, possessive, and fearful? His wife and 99% of his children being eaten in front of him; his ghost.
6) True Character: These are the strengths, values, convictions, fears, faults, beliefs, worldview, and outlook on life that make the main character who they truly are.
7) Characterization: This is everything on the surface of a main character. The way they look, talk, act, etc. All of this originates from those deeper elements of their being, the strengths, values, ghosts, weaknesses, needs, that make them who they truly are. So often, you can think of this as a facade they’re projecting, a way to shield the the truth about themselves, how they wish to be perceived. The story, and the other characters, are slowly going to see deeper than this characterization, revealing more and more of the reasons it is the way it is.
8) Arc: If the character is going to change from “Incomplete Person” to “Complete Person” there’s going to be a journey they go on to make that possible. The external story, the pursuit of that big tangible goal the premise is about, is causing an inner journey to take place. What they have to do in pursuit of that external goal will apply pressure to those weaknesses, and pressure causes change. This process has seven steps, but if I write it all here this post is going to be obscenely long. So I might wait and give this its own post.
9) Changed Person: Who is the character going to be at the end of this story? They better be different, or else the story didn’t work. How do they show how different they’ve become? What is the moral choice they make, that spins their trajectory from “the future doesn’t look so great” to “happily ever after”? This should be known right away, maybe even before anything else is settled about the character. This gives a distinct end goal, a way to work backwards, a destination in mind that you can navigate towards.
10) Fascination and Illumination: The surface characterization, and the brief glimpses of the true character underneath create curiosity in the reader/audience. What the character says, and the implied subtext beneath the dialogue, creates a puzzle the audience wants to solve. Actions they take work the same way; if the writer indicates there’s deeper motivation behind why a character behaves in the way they do, we buy into solving that mystery right away. We can’t help it. “Who are you really? Why are you the way you are? And how is that going to effect the story?” These are all the unspoken, almost not consciously acknowledged, questions that fascinating characters provoke. Searching out meaning, connecting the dots to find the truth – we can’t resist this. We’re not fascinated by tons of backstory and exposition about a character; we’re fascinated by story, by mystery, by the technique of withholding information and having to interpret and hunt out the truth on our own. So gradually, the story and the characters will force that character to reveal a little more, and a little more, until we have a complete picture of who this person is. Crucial that this information isn’t told up front. Gradually illuminate it. It’s just like getting to know a real person.
So how does this work in a real character? Let’s take a look at Flynn Rider/Eugene Fitzherbert, because almost everybody has seen that movie.
Moral Weaknesses: He’s selfish. He’s a little greedy. He’s a little rude. He uses his charisma and bravado to keep people at a distance from the real him.
Psychological Weaknesses: Insecurity, fear of vulnerability, feels like the real him (Eugene) would be unwanted, unlovable, and have nothing – just like when he was an orphaned kid. Also, he doesn’t know who he wants to be, what he wants to live for.
Goal: Flynn wants to get that crown. So he has to get Blondie to see the floating lights, so she’ll give it back to him, and then they can part ways as unlikely friends.
Want: Why does he want the crown? What does it mean for him? He actually states it (reluctantly) in song: “I have dreams like you, no really. Just much less touchy feely. They mainly happen somewhere warm and sunny. On an island that I own, tanned and rested and alone. Surrounded by enormous piles of money.” He senses there’s something off in his life, something is missing. But he mistakenly believes this missing piece is money, which will allow him to buy a lonely island, where he can live out his days as Flynn and no one will ever know Eugene.
Need: “All those days chasing down a daydream. All those years living in a blur. All that time never truly seeing, things the way they were. Now she’s here, shining in the starlight. Now she’s here, suddenly I know. If she’s here, it’s crystal clear, I’m where I’m meant to go.” He wants a crown … he needs to fall in love with Rapunzel. He needs to love something more than himself, and find out that love isn’t something to fear and push away. He needs to abandon the 'Tales of Flynnagin Rider’ ambition, and get a more worthwhile, new dream.
Ghost: The source of all of his weaknesses can be linked to his “little bit of a downer” childhood as an orphan. Interestingly, he isn’t aware of another facet of that ghost, and Rapunzel points it out to him. “Was he a thief too?” she asks. He looks taken aback, before answering “Uh, no.” Something’s gone wrong. The choices he’s making are not living up to that original role model.
Characterization: Flynn’s charming, funny, smart, charismatic, and arrogant (in a somehow charming sort of way). He’s also rude, contemptuous, and sarcastic. All traits that help him keep up that 'swashbuckling rogue’ facade, and push people away from the real him.
True Character: Underneath all that, he’s a Disney prince. That pretty much sums it up.
Changed Person: “Started going by Eugene again, stopped thieving, and basically turned it all around.” He started the story as the guarded and evasive Flynn, he ends as the selfless and thoroughly-in-love Eugene.
Fascination and Illumination: Imagine if everything about Flynn had been told, right up front. We know he’s an orphan, we know he’s upheld a fake reputation, we know he’s a kind and loving guy underneath it all, we even know about his “tales of Flynnagin” childhood dream. You know what happens? We like him … but we’re not interested in him. There’s nothing we need to find out. There’s no curiosity. And if there’s no curiosity, and nothing being illuminated, your story’s not going anywhere. So instead, we find out – alongside Rapunzel – more about Flynn as the story progresses. And that is how it should be.
Developing characters in this way, I’ve found, really reduces worries about how “well-rounded” and three dimensional I’ve made them. They feel real to me. And besides helping me create characters, this ten element technique has also let me analyze characters I like, which is strangely fun. It’s a great way to figure out why a character works, what causes them to be so effective, and how you can go about creating them yourself.
Yeah, I’m a bit of a nerd.
But if you want, try it out. Develop a character. Analyze a character. You might find it as useful/fun as I do.
HOLY SHIT MY LAST POST ABOUT WRITING WINGED CHARACTERS (which you can findhere) GOT A SHIT TON OF NOTES! SO I DECIDED TO MAKE ANOTHER ONE ON SHAPE-SHIFTERS!
are a lot of shape-shifting fics and stories out there. Like. A lot.
Whether they be about were-creatures or about characters that just have
the ability to shape-shift, a lot of the times- like with winged
characters- these shape-shifters are not written very well.
may be unoriginal, or they may be super Mary-Sues/Gary Stus when it
comes to the fact that they have an infinite amount of power or
whatever. So I decided to tackle the issues that come with creating a
shape-shifting OC or making a canon character into a shape-shifter.
1. Decide what your character’s shape-shifting will be mainly used for
can be used for a variety of reasons, and that’s why it’s critical for
you to figure out what your shape-shifter will mostly be using their
Here are some reasons why shape-shifters can use their powers:
-Battle (transforming into a bigger creature to overpower enemies)
-Disguise (transforming into something that blends in with the environment around them to hide from enemies)
-Forced to shift (AKA werewolves)
-Spy work (transforming into antagonist’s lackeys to infiltrate the base or even vice versa)
2. Set Limits Right Off the Bat
are incredibly powerful, and in theory, they can be practically
invincible when it comes to battle and hiding from enemies.
that should ONLY be in theory. Your shape-shifters CANNOT be
all-powerful like their abilities can call for them to be.
Here’s where Mary Sue/Gary Stu elements come in, because many writers
just state that their characters can shape-shift and leave it at that.
That brings up questions like:
“If he was running from the Big Bad™, then why didn’t he just shift into a wall or a chair and disguise himself?”
“If she had to fight the Big Bad™, why didn’t she just transform into a dragon and deep fry him?”
“Couldn’t they just masquerade as the Big Bad™’s minions and get inside the secret lair?”
the author tries to make up for the lack of rules by giving us some
half-assed explanation halfway through the third book.
As soon as the reader finds out that the main character is a shape-shifter, you have to lay down the groundwork for the limits.
Can they only transform into animals?
Can they only transform a certain amount of times at any given point?
Is there something that distinguishes them from the object/person/animal that they’ve transformed into?
Can they only transform into inanimate objects?
Can they only transform into other people?
Does transforming take a lot of energy and therefore they don’t do it often?
Is transforming painful?
Take Beast Boy from Young Justice/ Teen Titans/ various other things as an example:
He can transform into a lot of animals, yes, but they’re all obviously green and unnatural, making it difficult for him to blend in with other animals. his means that his shapeshifting would be most used for attack than for disguise.
need to set limits, or else your character will be all-powerful and the
plot won’t be all that intriguing to the readers; they know that the
protagonist will win, so they won’t bother to really get invested in the
3. There are many forms of shape-shifters. Just
because the mainstream media is all about werewolves with sixteen packs that
can cut glass doesn’t mean that you have to make werewolves only
Did you know that technically, a werewolf is just a subdivision of were-creatures?
prefix “were/wer” means “man” and is usually followed by the name of an
animal, ANY animal, to imply that the man (or woman) is transforming
Therefore, there could be werecats, weretigers, werelions, wereunicorns, and were[insert plural name of creature here].
should really look up the different kinds of shifters from all
different cultures and regions of the world. They’re actually quite amazing!
Here’s a list of some of my favorite shapeshifter creatures (Note that these are not all of the shapeshifters, just my personal favorites some of which I feel needed to be represented more in literature):
-Were[insert name of big cat here]
-Animaguses(Animagi?) (don’t use these they’re JK Rowling’s I just really like Animagi)
-Generic, run-of-the-mill shapeshifters
-Were creatures that are actually just the creature trying to masquerade as a human/ a creature that has a human form
-Transforming into huge gruesome monsters (it’s good shit 10/10)
4. You don’t have to describe the full transformation every single time. The first time is enough.
don’t want to have to go through long, agonizing paragraphs of
description every time your character changes, especially if they change
during a battle. They don’t want the bloody, gory action to be
disrupted by a description of a transformation that they’ve read a
hundred times before.
If you truly want to describe the
transformation more than once, though I highly advise against it, never
describe it more than three times, and make sure to make it unique every
single time. If you don’t think you can do that, just describe it once.
should, however, describe the symptoms that come with transforming. Is
it painful? Is it uncomfortable? Does it feel incredible because it
makes the character feel a rush of power? Gimme the deets, but not all
Things that happen during transformation that you can describe:
- Fur/scales growing (stinging and itchy)
- Bones breaking and reorganizing, as well as new ones appearing and old ones transforming
Relationships, especially in beginner writer’s works, have a tendency to feel forced. Even in some popular and famous works of fiction, the relationship doesn’t feel natural. It seems like a boring afterthought which the writer added in at the last minute. Far too often, I find myself completely indifferent to a character’s romantic life. A good romance in a story will give the reader a bit of second-hand infatuation. They’ll root for the relationship, beg for it. If the romance is well written, you can make a reader smile and blush just by reading a few sentences. When done properly, it can even compensate for a weak and cliché plot.
But first, decide whether the romance is needed. If you’re adding a character to the plot simply for the sake of being a love interest, it’s probably not a needed romance. You can still add it, of course, but it will be much harder to keep your story focused on the central plot.
Make sure the characters have chemistry.
The characters should compliment each other’s personalities. If he’s loud, stubborn, and aggressively opinionated, a more tranquil and soft-spoken love interest would suit him well. Two headstrong people wouldn’t be likely to have a lasting relationship in real life, unless they (impossibly) agreed upon every subject. But, there should be some similarities. While opposites do attract, polar opposites will not and the whole relationship will feel forced. The characters should have something in common. It could be morals, a parallel backstory, the same motivations, whatever. As long as there’s a reason for them to be drawn to each other, there’s potential.
Slow burn ships are fantastic.
Don’t make your characters fall in love right off the bat. There can be attraction, of course, but genuine feelings of true love don’t happen instantly. Your characters should become closer as people, feel at ease around each other, and truly know the other before they fall head-over-heels. The readers will crave the relationship far more, like dangling a treat right in front of a dog’s nose, but keep pulling it away. Teasing is a beautiful thing.
Find ways of showing (NOT TELLING) the characters are falling for each other. Have them stand up for one another, be protective. Have them break their own normal routine for the other. For example, a callous, guarded character could lower their walls for a moment if their love interest needs emotional support. These scenes can be awkward for the character changing their typical behavior and that discomfort can demonstrate how much they care for the other, altering their own selves for the other’s benefit.
Howeve, make sure that you combine these cute emotional moments with distance. Make the characters deny their true feelings or even distance themselves from their love interest upon discovering their feelings. The more the characters long for each other, the more the reader will long for them to be together. Build barriers between them for your characters to have to work to knock down. Keep them close, but maintain that distance until the moment is right.
“_____” translates to “I love you”
The first example of I think of when I think of this is The Princess Bride, where the male protagonist tells his soulmate “as you wish” when he really means “I love you.”
This falls under the category of show, don’t tell. Hearing a character say “I love you” has become so boring. Unless it’s done in a surprising confession or unique way, it’s boring and stale.
Come up with a phrase that you can repeat in moments throughout the story until it has a meaning of love for the characters and both know exactly what the other means when it’s spoken.
Taking a break can help create tension.
You know you loved someone if you leave them and feel awful. Apply this into the writing. Your characters can break up, then get back together in a joyous reunion.
Not every couple has a happy ending.
Sometimes, things don’t always work out for different reasons. An ending that leaves readers craving more can be a good move.
This was meant to provide motivation, but honestly, this is more of a list of ways to make sure you get it done, rather than make yourself “motivated”. Either way, this should benefit you somehow.
In the words of Chuck Wendig, “do not fucking multitask”. Carve out a specific time to write and use it to write. Don’t try to simultaneously write and tweet and check your email. Whether it be 15 minutes or 2 hours, write, and only write.
Take breaks occasionally. You can’t just sit there and fog up your creative lens. Go outside and go for a walk. Go to coffee with your friends for an hour. Do something to relax your brain for a while. It’s the same with studying. Don’t drive yourself up the wall because you feel you’re “on a roll”. Your ideas and plans will still be there when you get back. If you begin to get frustrated or your foot starts to fall asleep, take a break.
Use a rewards system. Say, for every 100 words, you get a piece of chocolate. After eating a regular sized Hershey’s bar, you’ve got 1200 words. Go you! (I personally fine this incredibly useful.)
Have people you trust hold you accountable. Have your best friend (or partner, if you’ve got one) check in when they know you should be writing to make sure you did.
Read books like a writer. Read a shitty book and pick it apart to find what you don’t like about it. Read a good book to find what you do like. Use these reflections and apply them to your own work. Nothing helps quite like learning from other people’s mistakes and success.
Don’t get stuck in the planning stages. You may get really excited while planning a story, that huge plot twist, a minor character’s backstory, etc, but keep in mind that at some point you’re going to have to sit down and hash it out. A lot of promising writers never get past the planning stages, so in the words of my very wise boyfriend: “Just write”.
Write in places that make your creative juices flow. Get cozy in bed with your laptop open to a word document, light a few candles, make some tea, get that incense going, and write. Music really helps to get in the mood as well, and if you would like to take a look at my writing playlist, here it is, free for public consumption.
Keep your mind open to new ideas and changes to your story. Your idea will develop and evolve over time, and the beauty of writing is that you can change anything you want and there are no consequences. If you decide to completely scrap a character, remove a subplot, add one in, or change the plot but keep the same characters, you’re totally free to do so. Nothing about writing is set in stone, so stay open minded to new concepts and changes and, most importantly, criticism. (I won’t elaborate on this because I might end up making a whole other post about this topic in the future.)
As always, this is just a compilation of the tips and tricks I’ve found the most useful in my own experience. They may not help, they may help a lot, it really could go either way or somewhere in between, but all the same, I hope this proves useful to you.
Browsing Reddit, I came across an extremely effective post about why some creatives respond very poorly to criticism, or even for those of us who respond well, why it can feel like an attack even though in your head you know it isn’t.
Criticism creates a mental conflict, but not always that kind.
Imagine if you wrote a final essay for your literature class, really
did your best on it, turned it in, and the teacher gave it 100%. Elated,
you take it home to show it off to your dad. Your dad says “You got a
D? You really should have tried harder.” You think WTF, you squint at
the paper and you’re pretty damn sure it says 100%, A+, Good work. But
your dad says “No, it clearly says 63%, D-, disappointing.” Then you
start to realize you’re living in some kind of warped reality where your
dad sees something on the paper completely different than what you see,
and you start wondering if you even know what’s real anymore.
This is what it feels like to get a criticism. It casts into doubt
your own definition of “good” which is probably the basis of your entire
creative process. It’s not even an issue of admitting weakness.
Admitting weakness is easy. What’s not easy is having your instincts
cast into doubt and not knowing whether to trust yourself anymore.
Do I trust this critic?
Do I trust myself? Some combination of the
Do I stand by my decisions or not?
Do I make changes even though I
don’t understand how they will help?
Will the changes completely
undermine the artistic vision I wanted for this?
Will it defeat the
whole point I was going for?
I can’t feel the emotional reasoning behind
making changes, so how will I know if my change is for the better or
Is the critic just not the right audience for this? Is the critic
biased? Is the critic just having a bad day?
Should I ignore them
altogether, and just keep doing this for the people who like it?
fans wrong and simpleminded?
Am I even doing anything of significance?
Should I give up here?
These are all questions which artists ask
themselves when they receive criticism. They’re tricky, ambiguous
questions that don’t always have a correct answer. Many newcomers don’t
even know how to approach these questions, so criticism can often feel
like a personal attack even if both sides mean well.
That’s not to say that criticism itself is bad, but if you get a
better idea of what a criticism is doing psychologically to the
receiver, you might find yourself offering more effective, well-received
This ties in pretty closely to the advice I often give on this very blog, about how to deal with negative feedback; above all, trying not to dwell on it. Before you give any response, always take time to calm down.
This is a pretty universal problem that affects all creatives across all media. You’d have to be as emotionless as a stone to not fall prey to it occasionally.
Part of being a writer is building up creative confidence. This is the faith in yourself to be able to write something and put it out into the world, and to know, deep down, that this work has value, to you and to your audience.
You may, later, discover that this work isn’t all that good, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that it was a stepping stone to the person you are now, and the work you’re producing today.
Whenever you create a piece of work, make sure you internalise why you made that work. What it meant to you. It doesn’t matter if that work was a prize-winning literary novel or a scrawling of Vegeta from DBZ drawn in pencil on lined paper. If the work expresses something you can’t contain, something you have to get down on paper, over time you’ll develop the creative confidence to accept that even if it’s “bad”, that isn’t what’s important. The end result isn’t as important as the work itself.
Creative Confidence isn’t something you just develop overnight. It takes work. It’ll probably take a few embarrassing moments too, and those will be the hurtful types that’ll lead to “arguments you win in the shower” 5 years later. It takes different durations for different people. However, if you work at it, it’s something I believe is within the reach of everyone.