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Shop talk (anything and everything on writing)

When the words won’t come, creating characters part 2

mills and Boon page

There are moments when you are writing a story and you are inside it and everything is falling together in this wonderful symmetry and your fingers aren’t typing fast enough to keep up with what is unfurling on the page. Unfortunately, there are also moments when your characters have disappeared off for a tea break, and you are left alone pawing uselessly at your keyboard. And everything you try just falls flat.

So, try Story Magic! One teaspoon a day and in 28 days you are guaranteed to write like a Nobel prizewinner. Available in Hemingway, Steinbeck and Greene flavours.

No. Really. I made that last bit up. But there are lots of ways you can kick start your imagination. I’ve already talked about creating characters through their possessions. But you can also create them by thinking of opposites. For example, start with a handsome man. Then think of an opposite. Maybe he wears scruffy clothes. Then think of a trait. He’s very kind to his mother. But then, maybe he beats up his wife. It’s quite an absorbing technique and it very quickly gives you a believable character, because most humans are a bundle of contradictions. Once you think you know your new character, you can supply more contrast by introducing another character.

Of course, you can’t write an entire story by introducing contrasts. You have to eventually flesh your characters out. But I’ve found that, after a paragraph, that you are so intrigued by this new person, that your words start flowing again.

Here’s an example I wrote:

Everything about him was a contradiction. He was fat and he walked with ridiculously light steps, as if he were twinkling along, his hands held up slightly, his fingers splayed. He minced along the street like a caricature of a Soho queen, and yet in the boot of his car he had a stack of dog eared porn mags. His car, too, was a contradiction. He was a detective, a private detective, mind, but whereas the other lads had cars that could pass for skips, his was clean, almost obsessively pine fresh. He hated the way the others kept their cars. Rab, would you believe it, even had a slice of bacon under the front passenger seat.

Not the most brilliant prose, but I hope you see what I mean.

About elainecanham

I started blogging because I'm a writer, and I thought I ought to. Now I realise that I blog because I lwant to; even when I can't think of much to say. I do a lot of work for local businesses - get in touch if you like my style.


14 thoughts on “When the words won’t come, creating characters part 2

  1. I like this idea. I’m going to use it as an exercise in our student writing group. Thanks! 🙂

    Posted by Deborah | May 3, 2014, 11:25 am
  2. …you blog for the same reasons I do,Elaine…and I reckon you prob’ly write fro the same reasons I do too… LUVVIN IT! cheers , m’Lady 🙂 great post !

    Posted by Seumas Gallacher | April 22, 2014, 11:59 am
  3. I knew I could learn a lot from you the minute I read your ‘about’ page. I was so right. I am going to try and create characters like you described here… awesome blog and amazing accomplishments…oh and thankyou for checking out my blog:)!!

    Posted by NS | April 21, 2014, 4:27 am
    • I’m glad it’s inspired you. Thanks for the compliments. I liked your blog very much – somehow, I don’t think you need to worry about being uninteresting.

      Posted by elainecanham | April 21, 2014, 7:31 am
  4. My post won’t appear until Monday noon New Zealand time!

    Posted by Bruce Goodman | April 20, 2014, 9:52 pm
  5. I’m putting it up today, Monday 21st, because it’s nearer to Easter! Thank you for the suggestion, and I hope it works! Keep the writing blogs going. I really like them!

    Posted by Bruce Goodman | April 20, 2014, 9:31 pm
    • I’m planning to do one every Sunday. I’m doing the wp 201 course at the moment and it’s inspired me to be more organised. Stuff on writing on Sundays, creative things on Wednesdays and ranting on Fridays. Sounds good, anyway. I’m off to look at your post

      Posted by elainecanham | April 20, 2014, 9:47 pm
  6. ‘Tis done and scheduled for 7th June 2014! It’s a little out of season, and maybe you won’t see why it’s inspired by your suggestion, but the story certainly changed because of your suggested technique. The story’s called “Easter egg drop”. Sorry I can’t post it earlier. There’s a queue!

    Posted by Bruce Goodman | April 20, 2014, 8:49 pm
  7. I’m going to try it now; but it won’t appear on my blog until mid-June. It’s not that I’m stuck, but it sounds a productive and fun technique to use.

    Posted by Bruce Goodman | April 20, 2014, 7:43 pm


  1. Pingback: How to create interesting characters | The Proof Angel - April 30, 2015

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