volo press character development

How to Terrorize Characters: Character Development

Getting to know your character well means being able to write about them in a realistic manner. One question to ask yourself about your character is what scares them. Here are some ideas to help you direct your thinking on this aspect of your character’s development.

 

Levels of Fear

Not all fear is created equal. Sometimes, we are merely afraid that something will (not) happen. Other times, we would sacrifice our lives to make sure that something did (not) happen. When considering your character’s fears, it can be helpful to come up with a variety of things that scare them along the spectrum of fear.

For example, it might have scared Erika Wogo (Show Her) to have her readership on her blog dip for a week. Her logic being that people were no longer interested in what she had to say, possibly meaning that she no longer knows what she’s talking about regarding how to be an appropriate Handler, meaning she might not be the most desirable Handler in the city, meaning she might lose the interest of her Master, meaning she might be returned by him (the scariest thing of all for her).

Notice how her lower level fears tie into a scenario (being returned by her Master) that truly terrifies her and motivates much of her behavior throughout the novella. The lengths that she will go to in order to keep Khaled’s favor are extreme, as you may have read.

Things That Scare People

Here is a list of fears that I ran across in my practice as a psychotherapist (and life in general). This list is by no means comprehensive, but can help you start thinking more deeply about this aspect of your character’s development.

  • Balloons
  • Clowns
  • Insects
  • A specific gender
  • Sexual contact
  • Vehicular traffic
  • Job loss
  • Dentists
  • Cats
  • Standing out
  • Blending in
  • Having no purpose
  • Working “too much / hard”
  • Mental illness diagnoses
  • Physical illness diagnoses
  • Academic failure
  • Dogs
  • Driving
  • Public transportation
  • Rodents
  • Blood
  • Certain colors
  • Death
  • Religion
  • Parenthood
  • Infertility
  • Being / staying single
  • Being / staying married
  • Prescription drugs
  • Doctors
  • Reptiles
  • Being alone
  • Planes
  • Birds
  • Ghosts
  • Caves
  • Being around other people
  • Basements
  • Silence
  • Public speaking
  • Familiar things
  • Intimate / Serious conversations
  • Sobriety
  • Commitment
  • Intoxication
  • Loss of control
  • Being in charge
  • Inadequacy
  • Embarassment
  • War
  • Peace
  • Unfamiliar things

Track Fears

Creating a trail of motivations for someone’s fears helps you develop their character.

An example would be someone who is afraid of being in a management position. Ask yourself why they would be afraid of this. One track: “If I’m in charge, I could make a mistake.” –> “If I make a mistake, I’ll be fired and I’ll be embarrassed in front of my colleagues.” –> “If I’m embarrassed in front of my colleagues, my friends will find out.” –> “If my friends find out, they won’t want to spend time with me any more.” –> “If my friends don’t want to spend time with me any more, I’ll spend the rest of my life alone–my biggest fear!”

 

The track could also be more direct, such as: “If I’m in a management position, people could end up dying.” — > “When I was babysitting my 5 siblings one night 15 years ago, a fire took the life of my two youngest sisters.”  –> “I should never be in charge because I’m not a good enough manager to keep people from dying.”

 

Remember: A character’s rationale for their fears doesn’t have to make sense to you, it just has to make sense to them and fit a logic that is backed up by the world and circumstances you have put them in.

 

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Character Development: Taking Offense

It’s helpful to have a strong, realistic understanding of who your characters are so that they behave believably and consistently throughout your story. Knowing what might offend your character and why is a great place to start building their personality so that you can help it come through in your writing. Here is a list of questions to ask yourself about your character in this regard.

 

  • What are three things that would make your character become disgusted with someone they loved (such as their mother or their spouse)?
  • Throughout their life, when has your character been confronted with things or situations that lead them to feel offended?
  • When your character has been offended, what deeper emotions were involved (anger, disrespect, disgust, fear)? Why did it matter so much to them what someone else said or did?
  • When your character has been offended, what have they done about it? Did they organize a formal protest? Sit in their room and stew? Become violent?
  • Do people around your character know what offends them and what doesn’t? How? Has the character openly voiced their opinions or have people been able to pick up on how they feel through obvious or subtle behaviors (word choice, avoidance, facial expressions, etc.)?

 

Answering these kinds of questions can help you more solidly understand your character so that your work reflects a realistic person reacting believably to the story as it unfolds.

 

 

 

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Favorite Sex Position: Character Development

Many people who write fiction try to have an intimate knowledge of the character’s that they are creating. In theory, having such a deep understanding about even small details related to a character can help the character be written in a way that appears genuine, realistic, and three dimensional to the reader.

This post contains pictures of naked people in the sexual positions I will be listing later in the post. You’ve been warned. 

 

One intimate question you may want to answer about your character, even if you are not writing any erotic scenes, is what their favorite sexual position is? More importantly, why? Is is about comfort, speed, intimacy, or emotional distance?

Starting to ask yourself these kinds of questions can help you add more layers to your character so that they have a stronger “page presence” and are more likely to resonate with your readers.

Don’t Judge Your Character

Just because you don’t like, wouldn’t condone, or don’t plan to attempt a certain sexual position, doesn’t mean that your character would feel the same way. If you can’t separate yourself from your character you could slip into making all of your characters very much alike because they’re behavior never goes outside of your personal comfort zone.

For example, the main character of Show HerErika Wogo is a doggy style lover. Considering the trauma she endured at the opening of the book, I don’t think I would enjoy that style at all if I were her. I wouldn’t ever want to even try it, most likely. But again, that book wasn’t about me: It was about Erika.

 

Sexual Positions

Here are a couple of common sexual positions. I’ve added some possible reasons why people might enjoy these positions (besides pleasure, of course!) just to help you start thinking more about which positions your character might like and why. A simple Google search will turn up a multitude of other sexual positions to choose from.

 

Missionary

A  lays on their back and opens their legs. B settles between A’s thighs and penetrates the anus or vagina. Variations can be created by changing angles and leg positions, or adding bondage equipment or pillows.

 

 

This position is most often depicted in romance novels and movies, so it’s often considered “boring.” Your character may prefer it if they are someone who is:

  • afraid of change
  • doesn’t like to take risks
  • doesn’t enjoy sex (they don’t want to put a lot of effort into being ‘creative’ so they just copy what they’ve seen / heard of others doing)

 

Doggy Style

A gets down on their hands and knees on the floor or bed. B penetrates the anus or vagina while standing or kneeling from behind.

 

Can reflect or support the idea that a character:

  • Is not a fan of intimacy (they want as little eye contact and physical contact as possible)
  • Doesn’t like being hot. This position allows for great air flow, especially when the air conditioner has gone out or they’re having sex outside (camping trip?) and it’s ridiculously hot.
  • Has had an injury that doesn’t allow them to open their legs wide, so squeezing them together while bent over is more efficient / comfortable for sex.

 

Writing is Life. 

 

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Profanity Honest Character

Writing Honesty: Profanity

When creating a character who is supposed to be an honest person, there are multiple ways to showcase this trait. The use of profanity is one of them. Learn how to use profanity to make your character not only seem more believable, but more trustworthy.

 

Character Development Using Profanity

I don’t know of a single person in my life who I have a close relationship with who I’ve literally never heard use profanity (even if they don’t think I’ve ever heard them!).

There’s a good reason for this. Profane language has a specific flavor in our vocabulary that simply cannot be substituted. “Darn” is not the same as “damn” just like “frustrated” is not the same as “furious.” Yes, they’re related, but which word you choose to use gives information about the context, you as an author, and your character as a person. After an argument with their wife, does your character mumble “bitch” or “witch” under their breath? When protecting their grandchild from a raging house fire, does your character tell them to get “the hell out of here” or “the heck out of here”? How your character responds in these types of situations can be an opportunity for you to show the reader what your character is like instead of overloading them with narrative and “telling” them.

That said, this doesn’t mean that you cannot possibly have an honest character who doesn’t use profanity. Nor does this mean that your villains and other dishonest characters MUST use profanity. I’m just pointing out that you have an option to strengthen the visibility of a character’s honesty in the fact that they are profane when they speak.

 

The Relationship Between Profanity and Honesty

Profanity has a bad rep all throughout the world. My speculation is that this is partly due to the fact that curse words are a type of “naked” and aggressive language in a world where people often want things to be softer, quieter, and more pleasant. Instead of hiding portions of meaning or intensity behind euphemisms and G-rated words, someone who uses profanity doesn’t shy away from “tellin’ it like it is,” so to speak.

Often (though not always, of course), if this character is willing to be open and up front with others, there is a certain level of honesty that they have about their own lives. Cognitive dissonance may be an issue with them much less regularly than with your other characters.

 

Adjusting the Dial on Profanity

When, where, with whom, how much, and exactly which curse words are all choices that are up to you to make when it comes to building your characters mannerisms. Here are some questions to ask yourself and help figure out where you want to stop the dial on the “profani-meter” of your honest character.

  • Do they use profanity with / around children?
  • Do they use profanity with / around the elderly?
  • Do they use profanity in ‘professional’ situations (board meetings, job interviews, etc.)?
  • Which curse words do they use the most (fuck, shit, damn, hell, bitch, bastard, motherfucker, asshole, etc.)?
  • If they ever do try to “tone it down,” do they leave profanity out completely or use watered-down versions like ‘darn’ or ‘heck’?

 

Got more tips related to using profanity when creating characters or writing a story? Leave a comment!

Character Development: Children’s Roles: Mascot

Creating a Mascot for your fiction can help make a particular character seem more realistic in the eyes of your readers.

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What are Children’s Roles?

Children’s roles are a specific set of coping mechanisms that children tend to develop throughout chaotic situations in their childhood. This could include the loss of a parent, a family struggle with addiction, or even a move to a new place.

The four major roles are Family Hero, Scapegoat, Lost Child, and Mascot. Most children have played these roles at various points throughout their lives, but some kids get “stuck” in one of these roles and it can be problematic for them as they grow older. However, while they are in the midst of the chaos (parent loses a job, being severely bullied at school, parents divorce, etc.), these behaviors are how they cope with the pain.

What’s a Mascot Like?

A Mascot is often referred to as ‘cute,’ ‘playful,’ ‘funny,’ or a ‘jokester.’ You may have seen, heard of, been friend with, or even been a Mascot yourself. For the last time, let’s use our example of a single, alcoholic mother. After losing her job due to her consistent drunkenness, she decides to drown her sorrows in yet more alcohol. As noted in previous posts, this means that bills are not being paid, clothes are not being washed, groceries are not being purchased, and so on. Te household containing her and her 4 children is in chaos. While the Family Hero is filling in as a pseudo-parent, the Scapegoat is doing the exact opposite. The Lost Child is finding ways to get their needs met while drawing as little attention to themselves as possible and interacting with others physically as little as possible. The Mascot may find ways to distract from the pain being felt by the family.

The Mascot often has a knack for easing tension with their looks or by invoking laughter (you may even see dome puppies respond to tension in this way). When the mother and the Scapegoat look like they’re about to get into a fight, the Mascot might come to show off a picture they drew, a new outfit, their face after trying to put on makeup, or a new joke they just heard. They may see the Family Hero as a wearing themselves thin to cover for the absentee parent, the Scapegoat as someone who makes tension and chaos worse instead of better, and the Lost Child as a neutral being just trying to stay upright on a wildly swaying ship.

Human beings are some of the most social animals on the planet. We crave human contact and attention from birth. The Family Hero gets their attention from their peers and the accolades they get from others who see them “doing so well.” The Scapegoat gets their attention from getting into trouble or joining a gang. The Lost Child seeks only to be left alone. The Mascot wants everybody to be happy, or at least appear that way, so they find solace and power in being able to draw attention away from the problems of the family, even if only for a little while.

Pretending not to understand when things get “too serious” may lead a family to shy away from sharing very much with the Mascot because they aren’t seen as being able to comprehend the seriousness of the situation. This child makes it easier to bear being part of such a painful family situation.

Mascots as Adults

If the single, alcoholic mother of four goes to treatment for her addiction and gets some treatment for her children, they may be able to wrench themselves loose from these roles. However, if this doesn’t happen, it’s very easy for a child’s personality/sense of self and their role in this chaotic situation to become enmeshed.

When this happens, the Mascot becomes an adult who finds ways to ease the discomfort of others in showy and superficial ways. This person may often be called a ‘class clown,’ or be said to ‘think everything is a joke.’ They may live in boarding situations in order to always have an “audience” so to speak.

The most comfortable employment situations for Mascots would be professions such as a stand-up comedian, fashion model, actor / actress, stripper, or prostitute. For Mascots who used their looks to ease tension as children, it is not uncommon to find out that they were molested by their parent or other close adults in their lives.

 

Mascots / Class Clowns in Fiction

A Mascot character will often be one who uses sex to get what they want out of relationships with others. They may be loved by someone else because they make them laugh and don’t take anything very seriously.

Until they begin an entertainment career of their own, they may work in other professions that allow them to interact with people on a consistent basis. This might include being a delivery driver, working as a server at a restaurant, or even being an actual clown for kids birthday parties. They could also work as boyfriends or girlfriend for rent, commercial models, or music video dancers (“video vixens”).

Having a Mascot character with a realistic backstory can add depth to your piece and possibly offer some extra paths for you to explore when it comes to how your character will behave in new situations they run into in your story.

Stay gready, Friends!

 

Character Development: Children’s Roles: Lost Child

Creating a Lost Child for your story can help make a character more realistic in the eyes of the reader.

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What are Children’s Roles?

Children’s roles are a specific set of coping mechanisms that children tend to develop throughout chaotic situations in their childhood. This could include the loss of a parent, a family struggle with addiction, or even a move to a new place.

The four major roles are Family Hero, Scapegoat, Lost Child, and Mascot. Most children have played these roles at various points throughout their lives, but some kids get “stuck” in one of these roles and it can be problematic for them as they grow older. However, while they are in the midst of the chaos (parent loses a job, being severely bullied at school, parents divorce, etc.), these behaviors are how they cope with the pain.

What’s a Lost Child Like?

A Lost Child is often referred to as ‘the quiet one,’ ‘wallflower’, or ‘independent.’ You may have seen, heard of, been friends with, or even been a Lost Child yourself. Let’s use the example of a single, alcoholic mother once again. She loses her job due to her consistent drunkenness and decides to drown her sorrows in yet more alcohol. As noted in previous posts, this means that bills are not being paid, clothes are not being washed, groceries are not being purchased, and so on. The household containing her and her 4 children is in chaos. While the Family Hero is filling in as a pseudo-parent, the Scapegoat is doing the exact opposite, and the Lost Child is finding ways to get their needs met while drawing as little attention to themselves as possible.

The Lost Child may spend most of their day doing something that helps this disconnect from reality including reading (me), playing video games (me again), writing (once again, me), or browsing the internet (yep, me). This child wants to distance themselves from the painful living conditions that their family provides. They may see the Family Hero as working too hard, see the Scapegoat as getting too much negative attention, and just wants to blend into the background so that they can be left alone.

Human beings are some of the most social animals on the planet. We crave human contact and attention from birth. The Family Hero gets their attention from their peers and the accolades they get from others who see them “doing so well.” The Scapegoat gets their attention from getting into trouble or joining a gang. However, the Lost Child does not seek attention. Where a Family Hero strives for As and a Scapegoat may flunk out of school completely, a Lost Child wants to do well enough that they don’t get in trouble for getting horrible grades, but don’t get singled out for having great grades. This child strives to do work that is passing and nothing more.

The Lost Child may be left behind on a family vacation or have their names routinely forgotten by people the go to school with (including teachers). Being consistently quietly busy by themselves, these children are often seen as “low maintenance.” If mom is passed out on the couch and the Family Hero went downtown to bail the Scapegoat out of jail, the Lost Child would simply forge a signature on the permission they need for tomorrow, make themselves a sandwich, grab a soda out of the fridge, and spend the remainder of the night in their room watching television after completing their homework with careful mediocrity.

This child makes it easy to forget that there is another responsibility in the house that is not being met by the mother. This child offers relief to the chaos of the family situation because they don’t add any extra stress. The mother in this scenario does not have to be concerned at all about the Lost child.

While many parents used to attempting to manage multiple, rambunctious children may see the Lost Child as a blessing, these children are commonly deeply troubled. Many of the young people who have been notorious for committing mass shootings at schools would be considered a Lost Child.

Habitually pulling away from in-person relationships means that they can develop a warped expectation of control in relationships. In the virtual world, if someone posts a video they don’t like or writes something negative about them, they can not watch the video again, go to another site, or even shut down the computer or smart phone completely. This means that they find safety and normalcy in removing themselves from interactions with other humans beings in the simplest ways possible. Sometimes severe bullying or exclusion can lead to them believing that death (of themselves, their peers, or both) is the most efficient end to the strife caused by being in any kind of relationship with someone who is hurting them in some way.

Less drastically, this child may never learn how to develop healthy coping, communication, and other interpersonal skills so that they can maintain friendships or even date. Until they are offered skills training, therapy, or even just a self-help book, they may never be able to heal and begin to have healthy views of themselves, other people, and human relationships in general.

Lost Children as Adults

If the single, alcoholic mother of four goes to treatment for her addiction and gets some treatment for her children, they may be able to wrench themselves loose from these roles. However, if this doesn’t happen, it’s very easy for a child’s personality/sense of self and their role in this chaotic situation to become enmeshed.

When this happens, the Lost Child becomes an adult who searches for ways to get their needs met while keeping human interaction as low as possible. This person is often called ‘quiet’ or ‘shy’ and accused of having ‘no personality’ or being ‘boring.’ Because they equate human relationships with pain, they are likely to live alone (maybe with their original family under certain circumstances).

The notion of finding gainful employment may seem daunting, but they will try to find a way to do “background” work (such as working backstage at a theater, working behind the scenes of a television show, being a grocery stock member, being an office building janitor, etc.) or solo work (writing, video transcription, copy editing, etc.).

Starting a family is often the furthest thing from this person’s mind because they don’t want to risk falling into the type of chaos that the experienced as a child. They are likely to masturbate regularly as opposed to attempting to find a consenting sexual partner. They may pay for sex as well, but this may be relatively rare since it involves another human being.

 

Lost Children / Wallflowers in Fiction

This character is often the one who has no idea that someone is attracted to them and would run scared if they knew anyway. Someone trying to show / teach them that not all human interaction is painful might make for a good romance or romantic portion of a story.

This character would be much more likely to rely on WebMD and YouTube videos for any minor or moderate medical conditions.

Because they like to work solo or in the background, they will rarely (if ever) be a celebrity of any kind. They will stay on top of their finances just enough to not get called by bill collectors, but not enough to get solicited by American Express. If they did fall on hard times for some reason, they would likely do without various things (even food) or go to a formal financial institution before they would think to attempt relying on someone close to them to help them out with a loan.

This character is likely to be highly socially awkward and visibly uncomfortable in group settings (sweating, eyes glued to the floor, never putting their phone down, etc.).

Having a Lost Child character with a realistic backstory can add depth to your piece and possibly offer some extra paths for your to explore with it comes to how your character will behave in new situations they run into in your story.

Stay gready, Friends!

 

Character Development: Children’s Roles: Scapegoat

Creating a Scapegoat for your story can help make characters more realistic in the eyes of the reader.

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What are Children’s Roles?

Children’s roles are a specific set of coping mechanisms that children tend to develop throughout chaotic situations in their childhood. This could include the loss of a parent, a family struggle with addiction, or even a move to a new place.

The four major roles are Family Hero, Scapegoat, Lost Child, and Mascot. Most children have played these roles at various points throughout their lives, but some kids get “stuck” in one of these roles and it can be problematic for them as they grow older. However, while they are in the midst of the chaos (parent loses a job, being severely bullied at school, parents divorce, etc.), these behaviors are how they cope with the pain.

 

What’s a Scapegoat Like?

A Scapegoat is often referred to as ‘the bad one,’ ‘Bebe’s kid,’ or ‘the black sheep.’ You may have seen, heard of, been friends with, or even been a Scapegoat yourself. Let’s use the example of a single, alcoholic mother again. She loses her job due to her consistent drunkenness and decides to drown her sorrows in yet more alcohol. As noted in previous posts, this means that bills are not being paid, clothes are not being washed, groceries are not being purchased, and so on. The household containing her and her 4 children is in chaos. While the Family Hero is filling in as a pseudo-parent, the Scapegoat is doing the exact opposite.

The Scapegoat may spend most of the day sleeping, rarely making it to school on time or at all. This kid just wants to get away from the stressful situation that is being part of this family. They may see the Family Hero working their ass off attempting to keep everything together (as a parent and a child) and doesn’t want to put themselves through that kind of stress. They will often do things to get attention that are considered problematic, such as getting pregnant as a teenager, using drugs, joining gangs, committing crimes, or bullying or being generally violent and abusive towards others (including family members). They are likely to struggle with their academics and may even flunk out of school. The Scapegoat will often come home late at night or not at all since they may find more comfort and stability with their pimp, gang leader, etc.

Their destructive and problematic behavior makes it more difficult for the focus to be on the central problem of mom’s alcoholism. People within the family and outside the family might think, “There lives would be so much better if Sheena would just get her act together.” The mother may not realize how much of a burden is lifted off of them when the Scapegoat’s problems overshadow her own.

Scapegoats get the attention that all children crave, but they get it for getting expelled, breaking laws, or getting arrested. The mother might often berate the Scapegoat: “What is wrong with you?” “Why can’t you grow up?” “Your brother’s never acted like this!” “You’re the worst most ungrateful child I’ve ever seen!”

Therefore, even though the Scapegoat does things that a problematic, it begins to feel comfortable as they take on the labels that they are fitted with by schools, law enforcement, family members, friends, and classmates. Their behavior is often an outlet for feelings of rage that they are not having their basic needs met by their family unit and have had to look outside the family for feelings like love, connectedness, and appreciation. Until they are offered a self-help group, non-judgmental companions, or therapist, these feelings may never be directly expressed in a healthy manner.

 

Scapegoats as Adults

If the single, alcoholic mother of four goes to treatment for her addiction and gets some treatment for her children, they may be able to wrench themselves loose from these roles. However, if this doesn’t happen, it’s very easy for a child’s personality/sense of self and their role in this chaotic situation to become enmeshed.

When this happens, the Scapegoat keeps looking for new ways to be ‘the black sheep’ in different situations. This person is often called a ‘career criminal’ as an adult, but could also be noted as an unmotivated ‘pot head’ or other drug addict. They’ve given in to the feelings of helplessness that have surrounded them in their chaotic family and decided not to fight against it, but just to ignore the core issues that caused it.

Sometimes the idea of getting a job is unattractive to them because it means following rules, having a boss, and having to be somewhere on a consistent basis throughout the week (i.e., too much work). So the Scapegoat may find ways to make money that don’t take a lot of effort or oversight (selling guns or drugs, doing odd jobs when they feel like it, etc.)

Sometimes the idea of having a family isn’t appealing because they don’t want to end up back in a family like the one they grew up in. Therefore, the Scapegoat might intentionally remain single, though they may have many ‘sex buddies’ available to them.

Scapegoats / Career Criminals / Burnouts in Fiction

This character is often the one who attempts to keep potential love interests at bay. They may have sex with them, but that’s as far as it goes. A love interest trying to break down this emotional wall could make a strong romance.

This character may not believe that they can rely on people in the medical community, so health problems as “solved” with drugs or simply ignored. Good for a tragedy.

Due to an inconsistent work history, this person may have accrued some debt that can follow them and cause problems between them and others when bill collectors call, items are repossessed, or the character borrows money that they cannot (or have no intention to) pay back.

This character is apt to see people who are industrious (such as the Family Hero) as “suckers” working for “the man.”

Having a character who is a Scapegoat with a realistic backstory can add depth to your work and maybe even offer you some extra avenues to explore when it comes to how they will behave in the new situations they come across in your story.

 

Stay gready, Friends!

 

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Character Development: Write the Walk

Who knew you could tell so much about a character from the way they walk?!

 

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It may seem like an odd trait to focus on, but the various aspects of someone’s walk can be a great avenue for expressing things about their personality. In my experience as a therapist (and you may have seen this in your own life) people with various dominant personality traits may walk in a particular manners. And walking alone only tells part of the character development story. Having your character walk with a group or just one other person can give the reader some insight into the kind of person they are as well.
Here are some examples.


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Invisible Heels

I went to middle school with a guy who was always bouncing on his toes. I always imagined that, by the time we finished high school, he was going to have the biggest calves in history. It looked like he was walking with 2 or 3 inch heels on that nobody else could see.
The overarching theme for why someone walks like this (especially if they walk quickly) is that they are impatient, which can also mean they are judgmental and stubborn. Here are a couple of reasons why a character you’re developing might walk like this (besides physical pain):
  • They’re anxious. Either in the moment, or perpetually (as I suspect was the case with my classmate), people may exhibit anxiety or nervousness by not letting their heels touch the ground. This could be due to anything from past trauma to stimulant use.
  • They’re eager. Someone who is excited for something they are really looking forward to may walk in a similar manner. Someone who is experiencing some kind of situational mania (they just won the lottery, they just accepted a marriage proposal, etc.) may be on cloud nine. What better way to manifest that kind of exuberance than by trying to levitate? 😀

Slow-Poke Jones

I’m guilty of being one of the slowest casual walkers you will ever meet in your life. People pass me on the sidewalk as if I’m crawling and they’re sprinting. I understand that part of this has to do with being obese (I’m working on it!), but part of it may have to do with my laid-back, low-energy personality. In character development, having your character’s walk be slow can represent the following about them as a person:
  • They’re in control. If a meeting can’t start until you get there or you don’t work and aren’t looking for a job, you have all the power. What’s the hurry? Taking time to smell the roses and fully experience your trek from your limousine to the top floor won’t do any harm. This person may wait for no one, but have many people (eagerly) waiting on them. Kings, presidents, mob bosses, dictators, and the like may have a slower-than-average walk for this reason.
  • They’re simple-minded. On the other end of the spectrum, someone may be a slow walker because they have trouble with basic multitasking. They are looking at things, smelling things, hearing things, feeling things, thinking things, and walking all at the same time. All these other non-walking activities are slowing them down due to sensory overload.
  • They don’t want to go. You might have expressed this in a few other ways, but a nice nuance to add in when someone doesn’t want to go somewhere is that they walk slowly towards that place. The groom that shuffles slowly to his spot at the front of a Christian wedding. The 10-minute walk to school that takes 30 minutes today because there’s a bully lying in wait. These are the types of scenarios in which having someone walk noticeably slowly just shows the depth of their reluctance and feeling of helplessness.

Road Runner

I have several people in my life who I see as Road Runners because I walk so slow. But there are others that, even for an average walker’s speed, move very quickly. When walking with children, the children often struggle to stay 5 or 10 feet behind. Small dogs might even get left in the dust. Here are a few specific traits that your quick walker may have:
  • They’re anxious. Sometimes people walk very quickly, even when they’re not going anywhere in particular. Just enjoying the warm weather with a walk through the park can turn into a marathon for whomever they’re walking with. Generalized anxiety may have the person feeling as though they must move quickly even though, if asked directly, they could not tell you why and likely don’t even realize they’re doing it.
  • They’re impatient. Sometimes people walk very quickly because they’re ready to move on to the next activity, destination, topic of conversation, etc. Because they may not have control over who they’re talking with, the distance to the restaurant they’re going to, or what they’re going to do once they get to the park, they want to just hurry up and get there and get it over with. These kinds of people may have severe problems with control in relationships. Their way is the right way and there will be no discussion (Translation: If you can’t walk at the same speed I do that’s your problem, not mine). They may also have problems with compassion for people who think, feel, and behave differently from them.

The Dabbler

This person may walk at just about any speed, but it still takes them a while to get to their destination because they can’t focus on getting there. They stop to have conversations with strangers, they pluck flowers, they try to find the owner of a stray dog, and so on. This character may, of course, have severe AD(H)D. However, a couple of other issues could be at play:
  • They’re forgetful. If someone’s memory is beginning to fade due to a condition such as dementia, not being able to focus on a task like walking—especially with so much stimuli around—can help tell that story. When my great-grandmother was struggling with Alzheimer’s disease, she couldn’t get through one room of the house to use the restroom without talking about 3 or 4 different things on the way or even forgetting why she was walking in the first place.
  • They’re afraid. Much like the slow walker who doesn’t want to reach their destination, this person may be stalling while they make a plan, think of what they’re going to say, or try to figure out a way to not get to their destination at all via a viable excuse.

Walking in Groups or Couples

Light-years Ahead

When your character is walking ahead of a group, it could mean that they are the only one who knows where the restaurant or concert is. However, in less pleasant character development, walking ahead of the group shows impatience, arrogance (they assume the group is just going to follow them blindly), or judgement (they don’t want to be seen in the same company as the group for whatever reason).
When someone does this in a couple, it could be a matter of religious protocol (the woman walks x amount of steps behind the man as a show of respect). However, it can point to there being a rift between the two people. For example, let’s say Mary tells her husband she’d like to walk around the new mall downtown to see what stores are available. If he agrees, but then walks 10 feet ahead of her throughout the visit instead of walking beside her, it can show that he thinks he’s better than her, is feeling impatient or resentful towards her, or even has tired of her and wants his single life back. Walking far in front of someone can show some deep levels of disrespect and disconnection.

Side-by-Side

Walking beside someone or with the rest of the group often symbolizes someone’s high comfort with and strong connection to those people. Characters can also show their devotion to, obsession with, or interest in a person over the task at hand by walking beside that person. If Jake and George are walking to a place that George has never been to before, Jake can guide George there while walking beside him instead of putting great physical distance between them as he leads. He can use hand gestures and words to direct (i.e., “Let’s take a left here,” “Now we’re gonna to down these stairs.”).
People also stick with their designated groups because they don’t feel comfortable, but they don’t want to stand out. If they walk too far ahead or behind, someone’s bound to notice and tell them to slow down or hurry up. If your character is shy and / or new to the group, they’ll probably conform to the group’s walking speed and pattern in order to not “rock the boat” socially.

Back of the Bus

Our Havanese, Charlie, who died in December 2015 used to play this role beautifully (unfortunately! :D). The Labrador and Jack Russell would drag me up the street if it weren’t for head leashes. But Charlie was always 3 or 4 feet behind us. Being a low-energy, calm dog we’d rescued from an abusive situation, I chalked it up as him being either nervous about walking around outside or trying to give me respect by letting me “lead the pack.” Who knows?!
With humans, there are also various reasons why someone might choose to stick to walking behind a person or group. Walking leagues behind a group could denote feelings of inadequacy, estrangement, or even criticism towards the group. Again, the emphasis may be on not appearing to be associated with the group.
When walking with a single other person, walking behind could be an expression of uncertainty about the relationship, a lack of trust between the two people, or a strong disinterest in going to the next destination with them (physically or romantically).
These are just a few ways I’ve observed that authors can take advantage of describing someone’s walking patterns to flesh out their personality more genuinely during character development. None of this is set in stone, but is meant to help us as writers think more deeply about the characters we create and the details that make them who they are.

 


Got a dollar? Got a million? 😛 Every little it helps!


Character Development: Children’s Roles: The Family Hero

Creating a Family Hero for your story can help strengthen character motivations and make your readers relate to them more.

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What are Children’s Roles?

Children’s roles are a specific set of coping mechanisms that children tend to develop throughout chaotic situations in their childhood. This could include the loss of a parent, a family struggle with addiction, or even a move to a new place.

The four major roles are Family Hero, Scapegoat, Lost Child, and Mascot. Most children have played these roles at various points throughout their lives, but some kids get “stuck” in one of these roles and it can be problematic for them as they grow older. However, while they are in the midst of the chaos (parent loses a job, being severely bullied at school, parents divorce, etc.), these behaviors are how they cope with the pain.

 

 

 

What’s a Family Hero Like?

A Family Hero is the ‘perfect’ kid. You may have seen, heard of, been friends with, or even been a Family Hero yourself. Let’s use the example of a single, alcoholic mother who loses her job due to her consistent drunkenness and decides to drown her sorrows in yet more alcohol. Needless to say, this means that bills are not being paid, clothes are not being washed, groceries are not being purchased, and so on. The household containing her and her 4 children is in chaos.

The Family Hero is the kid who wakes up extra early to get their other siblings off to school on time (with a hot breakfast that the Family Hero made). This kid strives to excel at everything that they do. They are often in a leadership role outside of the household as well. They might be a first chair violinist, captain of the football team, or in AP classes. They will often get a 4.0 GPA or very close to it. They may get a part-time job to help pay bills and keep the family afloat. They may be the one who physically applies for unemployment benefits or other kinds of financial assistance (for instance, asking grandparents for money) if the parent can’t or won’t.

This kid spends very little time actually just being a kid. They take on many of the responsibilities of an adult. They often juggle all these extra tasks in an effort (subconscious, mind you) to take attention away from the dysfunctional aspects of the family and try to ‘fix’ it. Their worldly success makes it harder for outsiders to view the family as a whole or even the parent(s) as having any kind of problem. “They can’t be that bad, Joe had the brains to start his own business at 16 for Christ’s sake!” neighbors might exclaim among themselves.

There is some level of appreciation for the Family Hero from the parent, though it might go unexpressed, or the focus of praise may be only on the good done outside of the home. “You’re such a good kid!” “I’m the only parent on the block with a child with a real job. I’m so proud!” Note that the parent will likely steer clear of mentioning that the child has only done these ‘good’ things in order to pick up the slack for the parent.

Therefore, even though the child has a lot of outside success, internally they often feel things like guilt, shame, frustration, and hopelessness. The Family Hero role is a facade that they can hide these feelings behind. The extra activities they engage in are often their only outlets for these feelings. Until they are offered a self-help group, non-judgmental companion, or therapist, these feelings may never be directly expressed in a healthy manner.

Family Heroes as Adults

If the single, alcoholic mother of four goes to treatment for her addiction and gets some treatment for her children, they may be able to wrench themselves loose from these roles. However, if this doesn’t happen, it’s very easy for a child’s personality/sense of self and their role in this chaotic situation to become enmeshed.

When this happens, the Family Hero keeps looking for new ways to fill the same role in different situations. The Family Hero will often be called a ‘Workaholic’ as an adult. Being able to manage people and situations can be soothing for the Workaholic since they weren’t able to do so with the trauma they experienced during their childhood. They love long hours and difficult situations. They feel restless on vacations or when there’s a lull in their work.

 

Family Heroes / Workaholics in Fiction

This character is often the one who doesn’t pay attention to a potential love interest’s advances, which can be great fodder for a romance.

This character is also often not likely to pay attention to health problems (they think they’ve only had a cough for a few days, but it’s been a few months), which can be perfect for the start of a tragedy.

This character often continues working even though they have millions of dollars put away and could retire on any given day. For some supporting characters, bitterness will ensue. They will be frustrated by the Workaholics inability to realize how lucky they are to have been so financially successful since many people literally have to choose between working full time or being homeless within a few months. For other supporting characters, they may continue to admire the Workaholic. They may see this unwillingness to stop working as an unwillingness to stop living or some deep-seated passion for the specific type of work that the Workaholic is doing (feeding the homeless, finding homes for orphans, etc.).

Having a character who is a Family Hero / Workaholic with a realistic backstory can add depth to your work and maybe even offer you some extra avenues to explore when it comes to how they will behave in the new situations they come across in your story.

 

Stay gready, Friends!

 

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Character Development: Always

Character development and plot management: Used just right, ‘always’ can get someone dumped (and maybe even divorced!).

 

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“Always” could be used to initiate a feelings of distance and judgement in a relationship that eventually lead to a breakup. The person using the word would often be the one who has a hidden (or not) desire to leave the relationship.

how characters might say ‘always’

Here are the phrases that include ‘always’ that can get your character nto a lot of trouble, especially in the heat of an argument. These are only a few examples, but you can come up with some usages that fit your story.

“You always say that.”

“You always do this!”

“You’re always late.”

“You always take their side.”

“You’re always like this. ”

 

who uses ‘always’

In this context, ‘always’ is more likely to be used by a character who is generally seen as aggressive (maybe even assertive). This person will often have extreme reactions to certain events and be judgmental towards others regularly.

For instance, this character may save up money to pay for an abortion for their virgin daughter because she’s gone on one date with a boy. This person may also believe that someone is an alcoholic because they had a can of beer at a party instead of a glass of wine. This is the type of character you might consistently feel the urge to say “Will you relax?!” to.  Controlling people who see the world in black-and white would also be more likely to use ‘always’ in this context.

why always hurts

To use ‘always’ when speaking about someone can easily trigger up their defenses. This is especially true if the character is being told that they are “always” doing something they think is negative. For instance, “always smiling” is a lot easier to hear that “always nagging,” in most cases. However, in a culture or context in which smiling is inappropriate (for instance, at a funeral, while being fired, or during a serious discussion) even “always smiling” can become a slight.

Saying that someone “always” does something, says something, or acts a certain way damages the part of the ego that views the self as special. Characters who are predictable aren’t special (in some people’s view). Therefore, being said to always be a certain way or behave a certain way can feel disrespectful.

As an added bonus, your character may not actually “always” do what they’re being charged with. This can heighten their frustration with the other person or the relationship in general because they are falsely being accused.

For example, let’s say a manager tells an employee that they “always” come to work late. Well, if this employee has been late for work twice in the past 6 months, they may feel indignant, shocked, and angry at their supervisor’s overreaction to their third tardy. Will they curse at their supervisor? Beat them up? Quit the job?

 

 

The supervisor in this example could be outright lying about the situation as well. Maybe the employee has never come in late, and this has been recognized by other staff on the team. Why would the manager say this anyway? Are they losing their memory? Is this part of some delusion they need to help cover up a painful truth about themselves? Are they purposely trying to distract from the fact that they’ve been stealing from the company?

Look at all the different places a little word like ‘always’ can take your work! Write on!