Your Hero’s Moment of Weakness

Many of us writers want our hero or main character’s to be inspirational. For them to make a lasting impression in that they will stand the test of time. So, we want them to be strong, intelligent, and attractive individuals. Basically, we want them to be everything we can imagine as the prefect hero. However, if you want the story to be realistic – then you must accept that your character needs to have flaws to be relatable.

I wrote some time back about character flaws. I wanted to expand on the topic and tie it in with your character’s personal journey as well as the roadblocks and climax of the story.

They can still have that personality trait or physical trait that sets them apart, but what if you insert a momentary hitch in their journey as in a moment of self doubt, depression, terror, misunderstanding, or jealousy as they approach the climax of the story. That hero will not be strong, intelligent, and attractive as we all wish, but they will be real.

For example:

Say your character is a great warrior who has a list of achievements longer than they are tall. It is okay to have that same character deal with moments of self doubt – it would be even more intriguing to have those moments of self doubt on the edge of battle or in battle, as if the warrior believes that  any moment they are going to fail and cost their own life. The character is assumed to be brave and strong just because they are a warrior with many battles fought. However, the flaw is self doubt. Another idea for that same scenario is for the brave warrior to face someone they are terrified of.

Say you’re writing a crime novel – have your hero be terrified of a gun because a close friend or family member was killed by a gun shot wound. Have that character have to raise the gun as a matter of life or death – I’ll leave it to you on if they pull the trigger. But having that internal debate and struggle will make them relatable.

To have your character as a perfect individual all the time with a clean emotionless journey will become boring to the readers and your character may seem arrogant and cocky.

A professional example:

Harry Potter (yes, I’m referencing again): in the Deathly Hallow’s when Harry realizes he must die to kill the Horcrux living inside him. There are a few moments when he’s making his way towards the Forbidden Forest that he wants someone to see or stop him. He wants Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Weasleys, and Luna in a wish to see them one last time or them to see him. Neville and then Ginny make actual appearances as he’s leaving, and lastly, his parent’s, Sirius, and Lupin in their ghostly forms. Harry was weak in those moments, but he was strong and brave as well. He didn’t want to die, but yet, he kept moving knowing that he was going to.

L. R. Mauck

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What’s in a Name?

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

rose

I do not think I’m alone in this, but choosing a name for a character is almost as trying as naming your child. There’s a weight and pressure that accompanies the character that needs to tell of their personality and their story.

Choosing a particular name for your character can give added meaning to the overall story. It can even be a certain trait that you want the character to live up to their name.

What to consider when choosing a character name:

  • A particular trait (physical or personality) the character lives up to
  • Historical reference (mirroring passed historical figures or a name from an era that your story is taking place in)
  • Symbolism
  • Name meaning
  • Location – where is the character from? Is the name to represent their birth country?
  • Heritage – race, religion, culture, etc.

For example:

Belle – Belle means beauty. In Beauty and the Beast – both cartoon and recent movies, they point out that Belle’s name means beauty and that she is beautiful herself, hence the name. It draws a contrast to the theme/plot of the story that you need to look inside a person to see who they truly are.

Also in the same movie(s) – the character Lefou – I mentally replace his name with “The Fool”. It’s fitting. He’s the stooge to the great warrior Gaston.

Harry Potter – Harry means: to torment by or as if constant attack (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary). The whole series, Harry is constantly under attack from Voldemort.

Also in the Harry Potter series – Draco Malfoy – “Mal” is Latin for evil, ill will. Other words that co-relate: malevolent, maleficent, malice, malignant and so forth. Draco is not necessarily evil in the books, but he’s not innocent either. He’s a bully and a character that is a victim of circumstance in how he was raised by a cruel father, much like Harry’s cousin Dudley.

Another name that has meaning: Mr. Wickham in Pride and Prejudice. He his introduced to the Bennet family and Elizabeth as a good character of interest. However, as the story plays out, he lives up to his name: he is wicked.

Twilight series: Edward Cullen: Edward’s character was supposed to originate from the early twentieth century. Edward was a common name for that period. That is an example of historically dating the name.

These are just a few examples of how author’s placed more thought behind their names than just choosing a favorite name. I will admit that sometimes as a character becomes more developed that it is okay to change the name. I have many times.

A side note: If you are looking for something completely unique or even fantasy – look up names that mean what you want the character to stand for. Then change a letter in the name. Say you want to use Belle – but it’s over done and obvious – so add a letter or change a letter: Bella, Elle, Bellia, Belliah, Aella, Cella, etc. You know what you want and what the name is to symbolize. So, get creative.

L. R. Mauck

A Lesson Learned

With my crazy-business schedule, I added a new task to my writing experience. I’ll admit to being hooked on fan fiction. Yes, it is not clean polished writing, but I do love how many fans can add their own plot twists or expand on an idea and make the story their own. So, several months ago I had a lovely writer’s block form. To try plowing through it, I started my own fan fiction story. Yesterday, I got brave enough and posted it.

I was thrilled to have a review within the first thirty minutes. Though, it was not a review that spoke of my fine editing skills or good intro to my version of the story. Nope, it was a negative review of how I lost the voice of the original character, making the character too passive. I’ll be the first to admit that it was a little hard to swallow the review. I had spent hours editing the five chapters I wrote and was pretty proud of myself for getting it as clean as possible so their wouldn’t be grammar errors that this blog even sees. But after an hour of pouting, I realized the commentator was right. I had lost the voice of the original story. I had been reading stories from the fans for so long that I don’t remember how the characters come across any more.

The lesson I learn is that my own writing and editing can not work the same methods in all scenarios. My personal editing style is to just get the rough draft writing, then over the course of several revisions, I can shape and form my character’s stories and personalities. It also changes the voice and pace of the story. I also need to look at my own writing voice clearer rather than mostly focusing on the correct grammar. I tip my hat to those who are skilled enough to mirror someone elses writing style, voice, and characters. It’s much harder than I thought it would be.

Another lesson was that I need a stronger back bone to accept helpful criticism. Don’t close yourself off when people are offering their viewpoints on your writing. Some times you do need that outside eye to see it in a different light.

Another note:

I have seen several different agents post on twitter warnings of the idle main characters. Basically that if the character isn’t moving, than neither is your story. Each word, phrase, and paragraph all needs to push to the climax of the story. If the character is spending more time in idle thought or no mention of their body language (fidgeting or expressions) while conversations are being exchanged, then the story seems as if it has stopped. Now, that doesn’t mean to litter your story with such physical movement of the characters, but the story itself needs to move along.

Large paragraphs slow down the story. Best for more intense or detail provided scenes. Short paragraphs speed the reader along – good for action scenes.

L. R. Mauck

Non-Traditional Characters

This is one of my “write outside your comfort zone” posts. Non-traditional characters is my own term when I refer to non-white characters. This is not about any social issues or working with my own personal tangent of motives. No. This topic comes from an open need for many different races in the world who do not have access to mainstream or highly available books within their races / cultures.

I saw a post on twitter of an article of how only a small number of books have the lead character to be people of color, Asian, Hispanic, or fill-in-the-blank. Even less books are written by the same groups. I’ve noticed that a lot of agencies are requesting books of the minorities and of the LGBTQ communities.

I’ll go a step further and include characters with disabilities: whether they are physically hindered, emotionally, or mentally. I, myself, am dyslexic. And as a writer, it’s a pain to deal with and I’m sure you, the reader, have noticed several grammar errors that I’ve failed to find.

When writing of different cultures, races, LGBTQ, or disabilities that you are not familiar with, you need to do a LOT of research. You need to actually get to know the culture/people. Cook the food, listen to the music, go to parades, volunteer at camps for special needs, watch you tube videos, find newspapers/articles, interview people, and so forth.

A couple of weeks ago I posted some links to Tedtalks videos. I highly encourage you to watch the last one listed “The Danger of a Single Story”. Chimamanda Adichie is from Africa and she spoke of how her culture has been misrepresented. The best part of the video was when she spoke of her roommate in college who wanted to listen to music from Adichie’s home culture and that the roommate was disappointed when Adichie pulled out a Mariah Carey cd.

I’m not saying you need to stop what you are doing and change everything you write just to include a larger diversified group, but I am saying that you need to consider it. This is a chance for you to grow as a writer and as an individual. Learn and expand your understanding. We are all human. Don’t limit yourself and each other. Your characters are not going to fit inside a neatly wrapped box. We all have different traits that make us unique individuals, so should your characters.

A couple of examples that were successful:

Stephanie Myers with the Twilight Saga brought out the Quileute Nation on the La Push reservation. Jacob Black was one of the main characters was Native American. And then Jacob’s father, Billy, was wheelchair bound. Billy Black was a strong sub character who played several important roles throughout the series. His disabilities did not limit his character, nor should they.

Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. Percy Jackson is the main character who has dyslexia, but with a plot twist it’s because he can read/translate Greek. Riordan said that he wrote the character because his own son was dyslexic and wanted a character that could relate to his son.

L. R. Mauck

What is Your Level of Readability?

write2A few times I’ve heard and read about writers needing to be cautious of their stories “voice” sounding age / education level appropriate of the characters involved. Such as if the story is middle school age children, than the characters should not sound as if they have doctorate degrees in science.

But I’ll take this one step further – your writing in general needs to be readable. You need to keep in mind the age group that you are writing, but need to remember that not all adults have higher levels of education.

For example: if you write a romance novel centering around the medical industry and you try to relate by using medical codes and large terms – you are limiting your audience. Sure, it may sound authentic, but it will discourage more readers who generally will not know or understand the terminology.

I believe I once read that newspapers and the press will write their articles in sixth grade level readability (I can’t find the source now) – which is the level of language most people converse in.  Having a lower level of readability allows the story to expand over a wider audience. However, if you are writing that medical romance – writing it with the same level of grade as Dr. Seuss book would be a little off-putting to adults.

What do I mean by grade levels? The reliable sources for testing writing readability (Flesch Reading Ease, Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, Gunning Fog Score, SMOG Index, and Coleman-Liau Index) typically goes by the American school grade level. Though, each will tests and search for different words and structure of their own scales, leaving the same material to fall under several different grade levels.

My suggestion to you is try writing your stories a grade or two below what your targeted audience is. Example: If it is for middle school age – typically fifth to eight grades than write third to sixth grade level. Just because kids are in the age range does not mean they have retain every single word from their vocabulary tests. Same way with the young adult group – aim for the middle school age range of writing, and so forth with other targeted ages.

Free web links to test your readability:

L. R. Mauck

 

Writer’s Research

I’ve come to realize that writers are perfectionist because it is demanded of them, physically or metaphorically. So, to write an accurate book that won’t leave the readers questioning your story you need to do research. Researching can fall under many, if not all, genres.

For example, you may need know more about a specific location, historical information, even a trade. Even in fantasy’s, you may need to research different mythical creatures, legends, and warfare.

Where to find your research:

  • Google / internet
    • Search engine – ask very particular questions and click on more than one site.
    • Wikipedia – though, I suggest to click on the source websites near the bottom
    • Check out other blogs. They can offer plenty of insight
    • Youtube
      • view events
      • search for local people to get a feel for their accents and terminology
    • If it is a location – check out that locations webpages
  • Books
    • Go to libraries or book stores – sometimes you don’t know what to search for until you see it
    • Amazon
  • Talking / interviews
    • If it is trade – call up or visit someone in the field
    • Ask others for their opinions or what they would do in a certain situations
  • Travel
    • If the location is near you or a similar event, go and experience it for yourself.
      • If it’s a historical novel – check out Renaissance Fair
  • Personal
    • Sometimes in order to get an accurate detail of knowledge, you need first-hand experience.
      • This can be mentally reliving a close ones death – writing down what you though, felt, and experienced. Or remembering the first time you kiss your significant other.
      • To get a feel of a historical fiction, I sat down at my antique writer’s desk, lit some candles and then used actual parchment, ink, and a quill to write what it felt like to be writing that situation.

I wish you luck in your writing. Keep learning, keep writing.

L. R. Mauck