Friday, September 25, 2015

Guest Post with Madeline Osigian: What I Need to Know About My Characters

Hey guys! I haven't continued the heroes series this week but today I have a character building related guest post. This comes from Madeline Osigian, a young writer and friend of mine. You can read more of her posts on her blog at . Enjoy her words of wisdom!

I know it sounds crazy, but I love talking with my characters in my head. It helps me give them different voices and antics. And I learn a lot about them.

Sometimes I create scenes for a character, and sometimes I create a character for a scene. Either way, I need to know a few things from them before I write them in a part.

1. Appearance. This can be general, such as hair, eye, and skin colors. I feel like this helps me get a sense of what their personality should be. For example, a brunette guy with green eyes might tell me that that character should be stern and serious. A blonde girl with blue eyes might tend to be more fun-loving but not as adventurous as she might be if she were a brunette. I’m not saying my characters are always these stereotypical, but knowing what they look like gives me a good jumping-off point to discovering the rest of their character.

2. Name. I love names! Seriously, I spend hours on baby names websites, so I have a good list of all my favorite names. I like to know my characters’ names: full names for main characters, first and last for secondary characters, and either first or last for minor characters. Villains (and even heroes, I suppose) could have multiple names, and it’s good for the writer to figure them all out at the beginning so the reader doesn’t get confused.

3. Age. If the book(s) span several years, you need to know what their starting ages are, birth dates or birth months, and what time of the year your story starts out in. The key is consistency. You want your reader to know you have an idea of where your characters are in their lives. That way Bilbo doesn’t have his 40th birthday in May and his 111th in December.  Minor characters can be vaguer: “an ancient man with a withered beard” or “a lanky teenager.” Remember that “a baby” can become a walker, a talker, and then a little kid if your book(s) span three years or so.

4. Personality. I prefer to figure this out before I write even their first scene although there have been times a character surprises me and wants to be something different. Is this person honest, thoughtful, and soft-spoken? Are they really what they appear to be? What will make them reveal their true colors? Do they get overwhelmed when faced with change? What are they most afraid of? What do they want most? Are they confused about their life’s purpose? Minor and secondary characters might not even need so many questions, but your primary characters most certainly do. Knowing someone’s personality will help with writing dialogue, actions, thoughts, and everything else that person does.

5. Past. Orphaned as an infant? Abused as a child? Apprenticed at twelve? Spoiled only child with adoring parents? First husband died? Moved from another country? Even if your characters and readers never find out the past, you as the writer should have an idea. The villain and main characters should all have a small part of the past that affects them because that’s how it is in real life. We may never see that little Johnny was scared of the dark growing up, but you bet it will make him avoid men dressed in all black today.

6. One little quirk. A secret. A habit. A dislike. A passion. A hurt. A thing for knives or stuffed animals or books. At least one something that makes them different from your other characters.

And then you’re off to the races! Er…writing. And writing. And writing. And eventually, you will find your characters refusing to do things you wanted them to in the beginning, and you’ll just have to go with it! This is just a starting point. These are just the few things that I like to discover in the beginning.

After I’ve written the book, I love finding my characters faces. This means searching the web, Pinterest, and IMDB for faces that look like whatever you’ve pictured in your head over the months or years you wrote your book.

Good luck!


Friday, September 18, 2015

Hero Spotlight: Alice and Sam

Today on the spotlight we’re looking at two classic heroes, both Fishes out of Water in their own way. Alice and Samwise Gamgee.

Alice is the classic fish out of water in Alice in Wonderland (and every remake, spinoff and sequel that spawned from it). She comes from the logic driven real world but wonderland operates on chaos and illogic. She must learn to handle each new creature she comes in contact with but for all her learning, the world never makes sense. Its really fun to watch her argue and reason her way through Wonderland and her journey inspired many other fish out of water stories in the process. 

Some retellings of the story change things up and make Alice actually from Wonderland, which I always thought steals the spark of the original. The reason wonderland works is it plays off a logical source. Madness is sometimes difficult to read if we don't have some sort of relatable, grounding character. In this case, Alice is that character.

Samwise Gamgee is not the victim of a portal related accident, but he is a hobbit in a very big, new world. Hobbits, by nature, do not interact with the outside world, content with a simple existence. So when Sam joins Frodo on his quest to destroy the ring, he encounters all manners of unfamiliar things, including elves, dwarves and orcs. He faces this new world not only with fear but with wonder as well. He’s hopeful and tries his best to keep up with the others.

He is not a naturally heroic hobbit but he is a loyal friend and will push through all obstacles to protect Frodo. He fights Shelob for goodness sake. That’s a huge freaking spider. Only the bravest would do that.

And Tolkein always saw Sam at the most relatable character in the Lord of the Rings. That’s just what the Fish out of Water supposed to be. Relatable and willing to face change with a strong heart and a smile. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Heroes and Heroism: The Fish out of Water vs. A whole new World

Welcome back everyone! Today we’re looking at the fish out of water trope.

This is a classic trope, especially in fantasy, and it’s not hard to see why. Introducing a whole new world becomes much easier when the hero is just as confused as the reader. This makes the fish out of water relatable and sympathetic all at once.

The defining conflict of the Fish Out of Water is, of course, the land. The surreal world unlike anything they’ve ever seen. They must adapt quickly to different laws and principals in order to survive, usually struggling to keep up with their fellow characters.

Take Harry Potter for example (who I know we used in the last example but, hey, he fits more than one trope), a boy who doesn’t know he’s a wizard until a half giant comes knocking on his door. and tells him so.

Suddenly he’s thrown in the wizarding world of which he knows nothing about. Of his two best friends, one is a pureblood wizard and the other is muggle born but also a genius who knows everything there is to know already. This was a brilliant move on Rowling’s part because not only is Harry lost in this new world, he also has people around him to guide him and answer his—and the reader’s—questions.

This is the thrust behind portal fantasies as well, in which someone from the real world is sucked into another dimension. Take the Chronicles of Narnia or Vision of Escaflowne.

If done poorly, this hero can come across as cliché, boring or a cheap way to make world building easier. But if done well, it can be a lot of fun, especially in young adult. High school, college and the prospect of adulthood is confusing and scary. Everyone at that age feels at least a little stranded on land. It’s nice to have someone in a fictional world that feels the same. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Hero Spotlight: Harry Potter and Vin

Welcome back! Today we’re taking a look at two great examples of chosen ones: Harry Potter and Vin.

Unless you’ve been living at the center of the earth for the past few decades, you know who Harry Potter is. My generation in particular has been inundated with wizarding culture. We practically grew up with the characters. So it’s only fair to give a shout out to Harry Potter, a chosen one in every sense of the word.

Some people take issue with Harry Potter as a character. Usually when they do, it’s for illegitimate reasons. Like the fact he has flaws. Or acts like a realistic teenage boy. Or doesn’t respond well to the pressure of losing everyone he loves.

And while I don’t have time to defend Harry against critics, I do want to use him as an example of the crushing pressure of the weight of the world on chosen ones. Because of a prophesy he didn’t ask for, Harry loses his parents in his infancy and is forced to grow up in an abusive environment. When he finds out he is a wizard, everyone he meets lauds him as some fantastic wizard, the only wizard to survive a killing curse. He is supposedly destined for great things.

But Harry is also an eleven-year-old fish out of water. He’d rather live as a normal wizard without so many expectations but he is constantly pushed into situations no child should face. He stands up to them of course, but with increasing consequences as he gets older. He even ends up with PTSD after the events of book 4.

I love these books because they show how screwed up it is to hail someone as a chosen one, especially a kid. It can have a lot of internal and external effects, all of which are explored in the books.

While Harry Potter is a prime example of why you shouldn’t build someone up as a chosen one, the Mistborn trilogy shows the inherent difficulty of interpreting a prophesy at all. One thousand years ago, a great hero was supposed to save the world. He did, but enslaved it, so we can’t really call that a win, can we? The story is set in the aftermath. But who is the real chosen one? Who was really supposed to save the world?

There are a lot of possibilities brought up throughout the books, but Vin is certainly one of the prime candidates.

Vin is one of my favorite main characters in anything ever. I love her. I love her so much. I love how she’s a survivor who wears tomboyishness and femininity with equal strength. I love to watch her work through her trust issues. I love how street smart she is. I really, really love her, just like I really, really love these books.

Not only does everyone rely on Vin to make things better, some even organize a religion around her. It’s a lot of pressure for someone who doesn’t even believe in her own capabilities. All the while, it’s hard to nail down exactly what the prophesy means or whether or not it’s even accurate. For fear of spoiling it, I can’t go into more detail, but it’s brilliant. Really. Mistborn takes a classic trope and questions its very foundation.

That’s all for this late Hero spotlight. Will be returning next week to look at the fish out of water trope! Until then, happy writing!

Monday, September 7, 2015


Hey guys! Guys! Guess what? HOUR OF MISCHIEF officially comes out today!

I mean... wow. I never thought I'd get to this point. I dreamed of it but I never really pictured it so clearly in my head. Even when I did, I always thought of this day as some far off date. But here it is. I'm freaking out.

This book never could have happened without the help of so many people. My friends, my family, my agent, Laura Zats, my critique group, my publisher, Shared Worlds creative writing camp and all my mentors through out the years. It takes a whole lot of people to make a book. So I thank all of those people who made this happen for me.

And if you love Young adult fantasy, check out HOUR OF MISCHIEF on amazon today. Thanks as always for reading!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Heroes and Heroism: The Chosen One

Welcome back everyone! Today we’re talking about another very common hero trope--one that borders on cliché, especially in fantasy. That being the chosen one. No matter how far under a rock you live, you know at least one example of a chosen one. Harry Potter, Aragorn, Luke Skywalker. All three of these heroes are heroes foretold to defeat an ultimate evil, unite their people, or save the world. Or all three if the prophesy is feeling ambitious. They are the last hope and the ones everyone looks to in times of trouble.

However, unlike superheroes, who choose to use their powers to save others, Chosen one’s are sort of… forced into it. Their mentors or family tell them from a young age, everyone knows their name and they must train in order to rise to the occasion of the prophesy.

The Chosen one faces responsibility, of course, but more than that, they face the weight of the world’s expectations. When you’re a prophesied savior, everyone expects something out of you. Some expect power. Some expect kindness. Some expect wisdom. And some people just want to kill you. Usually the villain threatened by the prophesy.

But the dilemma for many Chosen Ones? They don’t want all of this fame or responsibility. Harry would happy live a normal life at Hogwarts as an ordinary wizard with his friends. Aang would rather play and have fun than become the Avatar. Aragorn is more comfortable as a ranger than a king. And yet, despite what they want, they are still needed by the world.

A lot of people find this trope cliché and stupid, mostly because prophesies seem like a cheap way to make a main character special through no merits of their own. I don’t hate on this trope quite so much because while there are plenty cliché ridden prophesied heroes, there is a lot of interesting conflict that comes from unwanted responsibility. If you’re a chosen one, you’re caught in the hands of fate and often feel like you have no control over your own life. Or you look at the weight of what you must accomplish and doubt that you’ll ever measure up. There are lots of fun psychological things to be done with this trope.

We’ll get into more specifics during the spotlight, but remember: just because a hero type has been written to death doesn’t mean it can’t be done well and with a new twist. Just make sure you use the trope to its fullest potential and don’t gloss over how heavy the world really is.