Brandy Schillace: On Character Building (One Donut Shop at a Time)


I have a great affinity for donut shops…But not because I am especially fond of pastries.

It has more to do with the reality of such places. Here, the mundane becomes concrete and tangible: the florescent pink door handle, the flickering light of glass cases, the smell of coffee and powdered sugar (and crisping dough creations in the back-room oven). From the badly designed Styrofoam cups–with lids that never quite fit–to the faux wood shelves attempting to capture a sense of “rustique,” the donut shop is quintessential for one of my favorite fiction exercises… the character build.

Why? Why not create character in a chic Parisian cafe? Or a veranda in Venice? Or a yacht off the Caribbean coast? You could. But the goal is to create a real, live character–someone readers can identify with and believe in. Unless you spend a great deal of time traveling to or [...]

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Stephen Leigh, on Seven Strategies for Characterization, part III


5: Research

I flat-out love research, as I find it inevitably sparks new ideas for a story or novel. If you’re writing in the ‘Here & Now,’ it’s not quite as necessary, but unless you do exactly what every last one of your characters do, and you have the same background, education, and interests as all of your characters, you’re still going to need to go out and seek information. In my classes, I give my students this scenario: Your character is a upper-class woman living in New York in 1855. Your story starts with her waking up in the morning. How happens next? What’s she wearing? And from there, I give them a (brief) outline of how such a woman from that era would generally be dressing — which usually leaves them a little stunned.

As writers of speculative fiction, we generally have a lot of research to do. [...]

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Stephen Leigh, on Seven Strategies for Characterization, part II


In the first installment, I covered the first two strategies: 1) the Physical Details, and 2) Show vs. Tell. We’ll pick up from there…

Strategy 3: Dialogue

I think, for me, that this may be the Big One — the strategy with the most impact on characterization for both good or ill. If you fail at getting the dialogue right, the character will also fail, but if you get it right… well, then the character will stir and come to vivid life on the page.

With dialogue, we add an entirely new sense to the character, because as soon as you enclose words inside those quotation marks, the readers begins to not only see the character, but to hear her or him. We give the character a voice — and each character should have her or his unique voice. Everyone who grew up before the time of your phone telling [...]

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Stephen Leigh, on Seven Strategies for Characterization, part I


In my creative writing classes, I generally break fiction into four basic components: Character, Setting, Plot, and Theme. I spend more time on characterization than the others, honestly, since I think that no matter what genre you’re writing, the reader cares primarily about the characters. You can be a tremendous worldbuilder and create an incredibly intricate background for the novel; you can have a blazing plot with startling shifts and turns and unexpected directions (all properly foreshadowed, of course); you can lay a deep, meaningful foundational theme underneath everything to support the entire structure. That’s all fine, but if the characters are wooden and one-dimensional, it’s also all for naught. Yet if the characters are complex, real, and compelling, then the reader will forgive small defects in setting, plot, and theme… because it’s the characters we care about.

It’s the characters we remember when we close a book. We [...]

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That Time Merit Was In A Band . . .


I’ve shared with a few readers that the first iteration of SOME GIRLS BITE was, well, regrettable. Merit, the earnest main character, was in a band with her friend, Mallory. Merit was insulted by a club’s demand the band, which had performed at the locale many times prior, audition for its new owner. Merit went to the manager’s office to complain about the inconvenience, and she was attacked by a vampire in a dark, back hallway.

I know. Awful, isn’t it?

The next draft of SOME GIRLS BITE had very little in common with the first one—primarily the sneaky vampire attack and the friendship between Mallory and Merit. It took another character coming to mind – Ethan Sullivan – before I knew who Merit really was. He provided a foil: fusty, imperious, gorgeous, and political to Merit’s earnestness, her desire to do good, her intelligence and stubbornness.


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Revisiting Old Friends

Diana Pharaoh FrancisDiana Pharaoh Francis

As I mentioned previously, The Cipher is going to be reissued and I’m getting a chance to look it over again and make changes. This is something most writers don’t get to do. Or rather, this is something that we didn’t used to get to do. Before the rise of self-publishing (as well as small press publishing), once a book went out of print, it wasn’t all that feasible for a writer to republish her novels. Most publishers weren’t willing to reprint books without some major impetus–like the writer’s more recent books had hit big, for instance. So older books languished and writers didn’t have a reason to revisit them. I never thought I would revisit The Cipher with an eye toward revising. I thought it was a good book, so even with the reissue, I didn’t really think about it a lot until my editor suggested that if could [...]

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Faith Hunter and Rules of Thumb.

Faith HunterFaith Hunter

Today I’m talking about plot. Not pantsing or outlining. Not story arcs. And not my muse, who is pouting anyway, because I haven’t had to resort to his tactics lately. For those of you who remember my muse (David B Coe, you may skip the rest of this para) he is a six foot, four inch tall, hirsute, baldheaded man, with a beer belly, and wearing red cowboy boots, a red speedo, and cowboy hat. Oh. And he carries a whip. He isn’t pretty, which is a reminder that writing may be part of the arts, but it’s hard work and it can’t depend on my mood or some dewy-eyed concept of the life of a writer. It’s hard work. Very hard work. I do it whether I am having fun, or it feels romantic, or not. So. Plot.

Since I’m working on a series, my usual formula needs a [...]

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