J.A. Stinger

Words Can Inspire The World

Filtering by Tag: Characters

Twenty Ways to Build Character #wrtr2wrtr #Amwriting

Do your homework.

Writing is a hell of a tough racket, and if you’re lazy about it, it will defeat you so fast it’ll make your head spin.

So before you type Chapter One into that virginal word processor page—and then sit for weeks wondering what to do next—do your homework for each one of your characters. Write a character outline.

Nota bene: I didn’t say, “write a description.” Color of eyes and hair, height, weight, and so on, are not important. What matters is the inner character, the mind, the soul, and the handful of values she holds dear.

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Recently I was reading a promising romance novel, and then, in the midst of chapter six, I found myself placing the book face down on my kitchen table in frustration.

The hero was absolutely perfect.

And I was bored out of my mind.


A perfect man—that sounds amazing, right? That’s what we want in a romance novel. We want our heroine to find the perfect man to live happily ever after with.

Sure, it sounds nice, but it’s not exactly exciting.

If he’s already perfect, what’s left for the heroine to bring to his life?

Let’s take a look at why the perfect man isn’t perfect for a riveting romance novel.

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How Attractive Should Your Characters Be?

The other week in a lady nerd group, a friend of mine was talking about how much she hated it that in so much children’s literature, the villains were ugly. And I was like, “YES YES A THOUSAND TIMES YES!”

Even as a kid, it bothered me that Cinderella’s evil stepsisters were hideous. I loathed Roald Dahl’s depiction of the character Augustus Gloop, a fat, slobby boy obsessed with eating who gets a frightening comeuppance.

As an ugly child, it was easy for me to see the injustice in how often the villains and fools in stories were unattractive.

Some writers still fall into this trap as adults! I was once in a romance critique group with a woman who had a loathsome female character in her story. In more than one place, the story described this character’s fat body in disparaging detail.

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Have you mapped out your #character arcs? (And some fun news!)

Happy Sunday, writer. Did you have a great week?

These past few days have been pretty nice for me. After about a month and a half of working restlessly on our free #WriteBoss course and the new Fearless Writer Workshop (link here and here if you want to check those out), I finally got to take a breather and slip back into a semi-normal work schedule. Hurray!

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How Do You Describe a Character’s Looks In His or Her Point of View?

One of my more popular blog posts is my master list of physical descriptions. If you’re writing in third person with multiple points of view, it’s pretty easy to work descriptors in there.

However, if you’re working in first person, or third person from the point of view of only one character, giving your reader a mental picture of what the protagonist looks like can be tricky… and most readers want to be able to picture him or her in their mind.

My main advice is this: unless you can figure out a clever and natural way to set it up, don’t do a whole paragraph early on about your character’s looks.

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Trouble With Your Plot? Three Reasons to Kill Your Little Darlings

I love helping writers and one service I offer that’s been particularly valuable is plot consult. Writers who are struggling to finish or who start off with one idea after another only for that great idea to fall flat? They call me. Querying and getting nowhere? Again, contact me.

I’ve busted apart and repaired hundreds of plots. Thus far I’ve yet to meet a plot I couldn’t repair.

But, in my many years of doing this, I’ve seen enough troubled plots to note some common denominators for a failed story. One ingredient for plot disaster stands apart.

Little darlings.

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Every reader loves a good villain, and most writers love them too.  If you rack your brain about some of the most memorable characters in books, movies, and on TV, I’d bet more than a few villains pop up.

I personally find antagonists fascinating.  Sometimes I find them even more fascinating than many heroes out there, and it’s difficult for me to take my attention and shift it back where it belongs (and before you say I should make my villain my main character, I’ve already done that a few times.  Great minds think alike!).

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What Do Your Characters Look Like?

I knew what my characters looked like, but my artist, though he’s talented and awesome, was not a police sketch artist–he needed a photo to work from.

I had seen photos of actors and models who resembled my characters, but I couldn’t use them without permission, and besides, I didn’t want my creations to look exactly like any living person. So I got creative.

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I’ve been asked this question twice recently–in a conversation on G+ and by a student at my Guardian masterclass the other week. In both cases, the writers had encouraging feedback from agents, but one crucial criticism: the characters all seemed too similar. And probably this wasn’t surprising because of their story scenarios.

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