Tag Archive: Characters

My Story Binder

Something that’s mentioned fairly often but doesn’t get talked about clearly is a story bible/story binder. I’ve loved the idea of having a story binder for a while, and I started making one for House of Mages, but it didn’t really go anywhere. There’s not a lot of guidance for writers who want to make one. Well I went looking back in April and decided to start a story binder for my Camp story, The Heart of the Baenor. It now also holds the notes for The Dark War Trilogy, since they take place on the same planet, and I thought I’d share with you what I included in my binder in case you’re in the same boat I was in and are wondering what to include in your own.

This is the front of my binder, the cover of which I got from a blog I follow (I’ll link to all of the print-outs I used at the end of the post.) I believe it’s a 1 1/2 inch binder. It was originally the story binder for House of Mages, but I ended up not doing much with that, as mentioned above. Now what was in it from House of Mages is in a much smaller (but, coincidentally, still purple) binder, while this one is actually getting used.

Opening up the binder, you see some random notes and stuff sitting in the front pockets, like a choir announcement that I wrote the ages of my characters on, pictures for character profiles I haven’t put together yet, spare graph paper, a list of characters to make profiles for, etc. The first page is a short synopsis of the story that I wrote while at camp in case anyone asked what my story was about, because I stink at explaining things verbally. It’s kind of a lame synopsis, but it’s only temporary, so oh well.

After that we have the first forty-nine pages of my book, which I printed out so that I could reference back to things if I needed to while writing at camp. It’s about the first seven and a half chapters.

Next I have a prompt envelope. In there I have little tiny, flimsy strips of notebook paper with prompts copied onto them. I recommend that if you use a prompt envelope you put your prompts on something more durable than I did. ;P (Also, I stink at doing fonts freehand, so the font on both sides of the envelope looks really bad.) I got this idea from Alyssa at The Honeydrop Post, and I’ll link to the original post at the end.

Then we have a “novel overview.” It has the title (of the trilogy), the genre, estimated word count, date started (July 1st, if anyone was wondering), and a few other things.

Ah, my favorite part of the whole binder. Characters. I love characters. But I like even more that I feel like this part is pretty, and since I’m not generally very creative or good at visual art, I’m rather happy with that. ^-^

Unfortunately, we can’t jump right into the beautiful section. We have to start with my list of character profile questions. I adapted the list from Life of a Storyteller’s character questionnaire, which I’ll link to at the end.

And we’re still not quite to the pretty part yet. Now we have my character list, which I’ve color-coded according to book. Or rather, what book they’re most prominent in, since a lot of them are seen in at least two if not all three books.

Nissa Quail, the main character of The Shadow Raven (book two in the trilogy). I adopted the basic idea of this page from Alyssa Hollingsworth at her blog of the same name (I’ll link to the post at the end), and changed it to suit my needs. I added in the character’s aesthetic, their Divergent faction, and their top five favorite things to do. I also added, just for The Dark War Trilogy, which book they appear most in. The font on this one looks a lot better than those on my prompts envelope because I traced an actual font. #lifehack. I used graph paper for this, and I really like it because it helps me keep things even, which is nice to look at.

Beyond the character’s cover, which has just a few basic facts, we have the in-depth character profile. Each of mine is an average of ten pages, and it answers the questions on the list above. I do the headings in a certain color depending on the character, which helps it to stand out. Nissa’s favorite color is black, so hers are boring, but Coraline’s, for instance, are metallic blue. Most of them are colored pencil, because that’s what I have, but a few of them (like Nissa’s) are in pen, which I prefer for headings partially because it’s bolder and partially because the point doesn’t get run down and have to be sharpened.

My pretty tabs. ^-^ The main tabs came from the same package that a lot of my print-outs came from, but the patterned ones I made with scrapbook paper I never use and a square hole punch. I folded them over and glued them to the covers of each character and I’m really happy with how they came out.

I would say that the plot section is the one I use the least often, but that’s actually not true for this story. At least not at this point. In most cases, plot would be what I use least, but with overlapping storylines it’s kind of important to know what’s going on. ;)

I looooooove this template for this story. I ended up putting it into a spreadsheet instead so that it’s easier to insert times and extra POV characters, but I wouldn’t have thought to do that if I didn’t have this template. (I’ve blurred out some things to avoid spoiling anything. I’m too excited to share this when it’s ready to give away spoilers now. ;) )

And this section is the reason that the plot section isn’t the least used. I really need to flesh out this section. I have some worldbuilding for this world, but most of it is here on the blog. I keep meaning to print out my worldbuilding project posts and put them in here, but I always forget, so this section is pretty scarce.

This sheet is adapted from a deity worksheet printout from Jessica Cauthon’s blog. In physical form, I colored the headings as with my character worksheets and added in an aesthetic for each. Each of these is only a page long, and I should probably expand them a bit so that I know some more about the gods, like what their symbols are and what their preferred offerings are and stuff. *makes mental note*

These tabs aren’t very pretty. I made them out of file folders and used stencils on the font, so the titles aren’t even and they don’t look pretty. But hey, they do what they’re supposed to.

This is Kaloris’ flag. A lot of people have asked me how I made them, so I’ll answer that here, as well; I traced the emblem and then colored it all in with markers. I’m really happy with how it turned out. I have them for Mandoria and Roenor, too, but I’m keeping those secret for now.

This is the beginning of an info sheet for Kaloris. I haven’t done much with it, as you can see. I actually didn’t copy this one from a printout, I picked the questions after reading Storyworld First by Jill Williams (which I highly recommend. It’s great). The fields on here, since you can’t read them, are “origin of name,” “blessed by” (as in which gods they believe they’re blessed by), “values,” and “education.” I’m haven’t decided yet what else is going to go on there, but eventually it’ll be a lot longer.

Shae-Nir is one of four regions of Kaloris, and I have tabs for two of those four. The third is barely ever talked about (I regularly forget about it, actually, because it’s so unimportant) and the fourth is the bulk of the country, so its info goes under the main Kaloris tab.

Yes, I traced this. No, I don’t have the artistic ability to have drawn that on my own. I said in my notes that one of my characters has a “traitor’s brand,” so I figured I should probably know what that actually looks like. Thus the above drawing.

This is Roenor’s country overview so far, and it’s actually more fleshed out than Kaloris’ at the moment. It has the same four mentioned above, as well as its antagonistic qualities, beautiful qualities, three things I love about it and three things I hate, and its relationship with each of its neighboring countries. The ribbon is on there because I saw it laying around and immediately thought of Roenor, for whatever reason.

It was a massive pain in the neck to staple this thing in. The top staple took me one or two tries, and the bottom took me at least four. But it was worth it for it to look cool. This story binder is basically my creative outlet in visual stuff.

Resources

Cover and the majority of the printouts – Ink and Quills. It has a lot more sheets than the ones I used in this binder, too. It has worldbuilding sheets, character sheets, goal trackers, a lot more plot trackers than I used, etc.

Deity sheet – Jessica Cauthon.

Character sheet basis – Alyssa Hollingsworth. Hers has more information on it than mine, so you should check it out and see if it suits your needs better than my adaptation or not.

Prompt envelope origin post – Honeydrop Post. This post actually has more in it than just the prompt envelope, that was just what I latched onto and borrowed.

Character profile questionnaire – Life of a Storyteller. I’m pretty sure I omitted some of these questions when I put together my own list, so I think hers has some “extra” to check out.

Other story binder posts to check out

Creating a Story Workbook Series: Part 1 – Which Notebook? This is the first of a seven-post story workbook series on Jessica Cauthon’s blog.

Creating a Story Bible: The Basics. This one is another beginning of a series, this one on RJ Blain’s blog.

Creating Your Very Own Story Bible. This one is written by J.M. Butler on Farah Oomerbhoy’s blog.

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Character Interview: Cor Claris

If Tiberius is my favorite character from The Last Assassin, Cor is a close second. He’s basically Catessa’s nephew, and he’s so sweet and wise. ^-^ I think my favorite line of his is:

We can’t just leave them! They’re our family, not some casual friends we can leave when the going gets tough. You should never leave just because the going gets tough. When you become friends with someone it’s a promise that you’ll stick by them through thick and thin. How much more so when you make yourselves family?

He’s extremely wise for his age and he’s adorable and I just want to hug him every time he comes into the story. But anyway, on to his interview.

 

Cor: *comes in and takes a seat across from the interviewer, his feet dangling above the floor* Hello. *smiles*

Interviewer: *returns the smile* Hello there. How are you?

Cor: I’m good. How are you?

Interviewer: I’m doing well. Should we start?

Cor: *nods*

Interviewer: What is your name?

Cor: Cor Maenon Claris.

Interviewer: How old are you?

Cor: Nine.

Interviewer: Do you have any siblings?

Cor: I have a little sister named Lily. She’s two. *grins*

Interviewer: Are you excited to have a little sister?

Cor: *nods, still grinning* Absolutely! I’ve always wanted a younger sibling.

Interviewer: *can’t help but grin* That’s cool. I don’t have any siblings.

Cor: That’s cool, too. It’s quieter that way.

Interviewer: *laughs* I”m sure it is. I’m going to ask you the next question, but I think I probably already know the answer. Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

Cor: Extrovert. I love people. *grins*

Interviewer: I have a feeling you’ll like this one. What is your favorite food?

Cor: Druan’s cinnamon rolls! I miss those.

Interviewer: Who’s Druan?

Cor: My grandfather, basically. He’s actually my great-uncle, but grandfather is easier and my real grandfather – my dad’s dad – died before my mom was born. I’ve never met my mom’s parents.

Interviewer: Mm. Do you know your real grandfather’s name?

Cor: I think it was Kane. And my mom’s parents are Maenon and Rielle. Lily and I were both named after them. My middle name and hers. We might be meeting them soon.

Interviewer: That would be nice.

Cor: *nods*

Interviewer: *after a pause* What’s your favorite color?

Cor: Blue. The color of the ocean.

Interviewer: Why the ocean?

Cor: My dad’s a merchant, so he sails a lot and I tend to go with him. I’m almost more comfortable on the sea than on land. *laughs*

Interviewer: Do you have a favorite book?

Cor: Soldiers of the East. My mom used to read it to me when I was little, and then I read it to myself once I could.

Interviewer: What’s your favorite animal?

Cor: I really like dogs. I wish I could convince Mom and Dad to let me get one. Or if you want a fake one, the Caeceus from Soldiers of the East. I’d love to be one of the soldiers of the Pastyna Regiment riding the Caeceus valiantly into battle. *grins*

Interviewer: That certainly sounds exciting. Do you have a favorite character?

Cor: Seeker Kassis. He’s good at helping people without getting caught by the Eilram.

Interviewer: *doesn’t have any more idea than you or me what Cor is talking about* *nods* He sounds like a pretty cool guy. Besides reading, do you have any hobbies?

Cor: Fishing, climbing things, scaring my mom, playing with Lily, stuff like that.

Interviewer: Which of these do you think is most important: Kindness, intelligence, or bravery?

Cor: Kindness. But all of them are important.

Interviewer: What about these two: Honesty or selflessness?

Cor: Both.

Interviewer: Is there something you can’t leave the house – or ship – without?

Cor: *thinks for a minute, his green eyes focusing on the ceiling* Not really. I mean, clothes, but…

Interviewer: *laughs* Thank you, Cor. That’s the last question.

Cor: *grins and hops off the chair, heading out of the room*

 

Well that was the most fun character interview I’ve written yet. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. :)

How To Write Likable Characters

I’ve decided that the key to writing likable characters is to make them complex and layered. Characters are what I – and I think most readers – connect to and come to love most in a book, so it’s important to write them well.

I will like pretty much any type of character – creepy psychopaths, classic villains, flirts, princesses, peasants, assassins, blacksmiths, con men – so long as they haven’t done anything utterly unforgivable… And so long as they’re deep and layered. Unless it’s a spoiled brat of a princess, in which case there’s a good chance I’m going to hate them no matter what. (Unless you’d like to take that on as a challenge to write a deep, layered spoiled brat princess that I can actually tolerate…) It’s hard to like a villain who’s nothing but an obstacle for the protagonist, and it’s hard to like a protagonist, no matter how “good” they are, if their only goal is to destroy the villain. There must be more to them than that. They must have goals and motivations and deeper personalities than what they show to the people around them. Give them layers. Give them facets.

Sometimes I worry for my mental health because some of my favorite characters are psychopaths and massively evil characters who literally scare me, and then I remember that I also have favorites who are the good guys who want to help people and keep the world functioning smoothly and will do just about anything to save someone they care about. When I look at all of my favorites – the good and the bad – I see one common thread: They’re complex. How do you make a complex character, you ask? Let me tell you what I think helps to make a layered, multi-faceted character.

Give them goals

I don’t just mean “save the princess” or “destroy the bad guy and save the world” or “destroy the protagonist and achieve world domination.” I mean short term goals, long term goals, complex goals that they’ll pursue whether or not it fits the overarching goal of “save the world” or “destroy the world.” A lot of times it’s good if these goals create conflict, whether between characters or within them. The main character of my planned NaNoWriMo project, The Shadow Raven, wants to gain power and get revenge on the person who hurt her. The second main character, on the other hand, wants only to do well in the role he’s been thrust into and doesn’t feel very confident in it. The main character is very confident in her goals, and thus she helps to encourage Character B, partially to help him and partially to further her own goal of power. On the other hand, the main character’s confidence is something that Character B isn’t very comfortable with and thus it causes tension between them.

In my current project, The Last Assassin, the main character is looking for a place where she feels like she belongs. Unfortunately, she’s torn between several options and her indecision tends to leak into the rest of what she does. It also mingles with an insecurity encouraged by the villain of that story, which is caused because of his goal to destroy her. Conflicting goals can be really interesting and add a lot to a story. That said, goals don’t always have to conflict. Sometimes it’s better to have characters with goals that align well so that your character can have an ally they know they can trust. Or can they…

Give them motivation

Again, “I want to save the world because it’s the right thing to do and it’s my job as the protagonist” and “I want to destroy the world because I’m evil and it’s my job as the villain” are boring motivations. Try to come up with a deeper motivation for your characters. Backstory can be a gold mine of motivations. Maybe the main character wants to defeat the villain because they know he killed their mother, or maybe the villain has some deep-seated grudge against the protagonist’s ancestor. These are still fairly cliche motivations, but they’re better than the generic good guy and bad guy motivations given to begin with. And try to think outside the box a little. What if the villain’s grudge wasn’t with the protagonist’s ancestor, but the sidekick’s, so he’s actually after the sidekick? Or what if the main character only thinks that the villain killed their mother, and really it was someone else entirely; maybe the villain isn’t even the villain at all, and they’re now looking for someone they don’t know. There are a lot of possibilities for motivation.

Give them a flip side

If you’re working with a protagonist, give them a dark side. If you’re working with a villain, give them a redeeming quality of some kind, whether it’s an actual good side or just a fun trait. The massively evil villain in my book House of Mages has a few fun scenes near the end in which he’s calling out the protagonists on a bunch of cliches and making puns left and right. You still loathe him because of all of the awful things he’s done to the protagonists and he has no good qualities when it comes to good versus bad, but for those few scenes he’s enjoyable to read.

The main character of The Last Assassin has a rather dark past which over the course of the book she grows to believe is a defining feature of hers, despite her friends’ coaxing otherwise. The main character of The Shadow Raven has a side of her craving power.

Give them flaws

Perfect characters tend to be very annoying to read. They could be the most good, virtuous character on the planet, but if they’re too perfect it’s not likely I’ll enjoy reading them. So give your characters flaws. Give them weaknesses. It can be fun to give them weaknesses in their job. For instance, the main character of the third book in the Dark War Trilogy doesn’t feel like she’s ready for the job she’s given. She doesn’t feel like she can accomplish it, and this is her weakness. Her fear and insecurity are her flaws.

Villains need flaws, too. They may not be the same as your protagonists’ flaws – they may have more psychological flaws while your protagonists have more physical flaws or vice versa – but they need flaws. One of my villains is overly prideful. When his methods are turned on him he fumbles. Another villain of mine doesn’t understand compassion because she’s never seen it up close, and certainly not directed toward her. These are flaws that can be used to defeat your villain or to redeem them, as the case may be.

Don’t forget your villains

Hopefully it’s been evident in the rest of this post, but don’t neglect your villains. Don’t give your deep, interesting character a dull, flat villain to defeat. A well-written villain can add so much to a story, whether they’re seen “on screen” a lot or only in a few scenes. Never let them fall by the wayside. Now, this applies a little differently if you have an abstract villain like doubt or fear or the unfamiliar, as obviously those are developed rather differently. But always pay attention to your villains as much as your protagonists. They’re characters too, and they can accomplish just as much as the good characters in your story. Let them affect the protagonists throughout the course of the book in some way, and give them everything I’ve mentioned above just as much as the protagonists. Even a nearly pure evil villain can be enjoyable to read and we can love to hate him as the readers if he has the right ingredients.

 

Hopefully this post was helpful and you enjoyed reading it. Are there any other qualities you’d suggest for what makes a good character?

Character Interview: Tiberius Alister

Tiberius is a character from The Last Assassin and a fairly good friend of Catessa’s. He’s a pirate, as well as quite possibly my favorite character in the whole book. I hope you enjoy his interview.

 

Tiberius: *walks in and takes a seat* Hello.

Interviewer: Hello. How are you?

Tiberius: I’m doing quite well. How are you?

Interviewer: Doing well, thank you. Shall we get started?

Tiberius: *nods*

Interviewer: What is your name?

Tiberius: Tiberius Alister. Or Black Tide.

Interviewer: Black Tide? How did that one come about?

Tiberius: Black is my favorite color. *gestures to his entirely black outfit* Tide comes from both the ocean herself and a similarity to my first name.

Interviewer: Interesting. How old are you?

Tiberius: Twenty-three.

Interviewer: Do you have any siblings?

Tiberius: A little brother, Theo. It’s been a while since I saw him, but I think he’s working as a scholar now. He’s probably almost an adult by now.

Interviewer: What do you do?

Tiberius: I’m a sailor. I haven’t been home in a while since I’ve been on jobs.

Interviewer: Where is home? Does Theo still live there?

Tiberius: *nods* He does. Nistren, Mandoria. I haven’t even been to Mandoria in a while. I’ve been more in Roenor and Kaloris.

Interviewer: Are you an introvert or extrovert?

Tiberius: I’m an extrovert, but I also love my alone time.

Interviewer: What is your favorite food?

Tiberius: Licorice.

Interviewer: What is your favorite book?

Tiberius: I tend to prefer atlases to real books. I find the world fascinating.

Interviewer: What is your favorite animal?

Tiberius: If I had to choose, I like dogs, but I’m not really a huge animal person.

Interviewer: Is there a job you’d rather have than the one you have now?

Tiberius: *shakes his head* No. I like the chance to travel the world and put things right.

Interviewer: And how do you do that? Put things right, I mean.

Tiberius: Ridding the seas of pirates, stuff like that. *seems unsure of his answer*

Interviewer: What are your hobbies?

Tiberius: Playing cards, sparring with the crew, stuff like that.

Interviewer: What traits do you look for in a potential wife?

Tiberius: Someone with a love of the sea, fun to be around, an adventurer of some sort. Someone who would enjoy sailing with me.

Interviewer: Which of these is most important to you: Kindness, intelligence, or bravery?

Tiberius: *thinks for a moment* Probably kindness, with bravery in close second. All are excellent traits to have.

Interviewer: And honesty or selflessness?

Tiberius: Selflessness, but again they’re extremely close.

Interviewer: What is something you can never leave the house – or ship – without?

Tiberius: My sword. *pats the silver hilt of the rapier at his hip*

Interviewer: That was the last question. Thank you for your time.

Tiberius: *nods* My pleasure. *shakes the interviewer’s hand before leaving*

The “Boxes” I Put My Characters In

People say it’s bad to put people in boxes, and the same applies to characters. I say that if you know they won’t fit neatly in the box it can help you get to know your character to put them in it. It can help you understand their values and flaws and strengths better. Here are the boxes I’m mostly talking about:

Harry Potter Houses: Yep. I’m a nerd. Although, not a Harry Potter nerd. I have yet to read it. (Long story short: It’s on my tablet and my tablet broke.) However, Pinterest and just HP’s overall popularity have pulled me into the fandom without reading it. I probably have a full mental list of every character who dies, and I am well-acquainted with the houses. I can accurately match my characters to a house, in most cases, and get backed up by a quiz.

Divergent Factions: Yep, more nerdiness. What can I say? I’m a bookworm, of course. I know few writers who aren’t. Anyway… I have read this one, and though I wasn’t a fan of the books I was fascinated by the faction system. This one helps me a lot in getting to know my characters, and it’s another that I can usually accurately match myself and then back up with a quiz.

MBTI: Meyers-Briggs is a sixteen-type system that measures your ratio of introvert-extrovert, intuitive-sensing, thinking-feeling, and judging-perceiving. This is one I can’t successfully assign my characters on my own because there are a lot of them and there are four pieces. I can almost always tell you whether a character is I or E (introvert or extrovert), but beyond that I entrust typing to the test.

Alignment: This is a new one that I haven’t used much yet, but is interesting. It’s a test that sets you in one of eight types: lawful good, neutral good, chaotic good, true neutral, lawful evil, neutral evil, or chaotic evil. This is another one that’s fairly easy for me to gauge myself, but I still go to the test to know for sure. (Not that tests are the be-all and end-all, but you know what I mean.)

As an example, I’ll use my character Livi Brooklyn and put her into each box.

HP: Prediction: Hufflepuff, through and through. Quiz reaction: Hufflepuff.

Faction: Prediction: Amity. Quiz reaction: Amity (Divergent, officially, but every answer is Divergent and Amity scored a lot higher than anything else.)

MBTI: Guess: ESFJ. Quiz answer: ENFP (I told you I’m not as good at predicting that one.) Ooh, and this slogan fits her perfectly: “What do you mean ‘life is boring’? Are we living on the same planet?”

Alignment: Guess: Chaotic good? Quiz answer: Lawful Good (with a lot of answers in neutral). Livi? Lawful? Huh.

I know that no one ever fits in one particular box, and characters shouldn’t be an exception, but if I know that she’s a Hufflepuff and Amity I know she’ll do anything for anyone. If I know that she’s an ENFP I know that she sees everything as fun (and if you search on Pinterest for “{insert MBTI type here}” it’ll pull up things that relate to that type. I have a character who’s board is currently dominated by these, if you’d like to see what I mean.) Looking over these gives me more of a feel for the character, too. Lawful Good tells me that she’s good (duh) and that she respects some authority, be that official authority or her own set of standards. These “boxes” all help me get to know the character better. (Fun fact: Livi’s first three are the same as my character Cordain’s, from The Heart of the Baenor, and the fourth might be too but I haven’t taken the test for him yet.) Boxes can be restricting, but when used properly they can actually have the opposite effect and help unleash the character.

Just for fun, here are the “boxes” I belong in. ;)

HP: Ravenclaw (tests have given me Ravenclaw and Gryffindor multiple times each.)

Faction: Divergent (Abnegation, Amity, Candor, and Erudite are all really close in the results.)

MBTI: INFP (This one has actually been steadily the same.)

Alignment: Lawful Neutral (a lot of mixed answers. I seem to truly be Divergent. ;))

How do you feel about “boxes” for character development? What HP house/Faction/MBTI type are you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. :)

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