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Writer's Block/Character interactions :)

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Question
Dear sir,

I'm Ingrid and I'm 17 years old. I dream of one day becoming a great author or at least a professional writer :)

There's an after-school club that I go to in the afternoons. It's really nice; we're like a group of people who want to improve our ability as writers, and the two teachers running the club are always trying to keep things fun!

One of the projects we have to currently work on is writing a short story; the genre, style, all of it is entirely our choice. The only thing is that there are like some stuff that's set in stone already. Our teachers did this to really challenge our writing :)

One part is the characters: we don't have a control in that. We got our characters in a fun way.

Basically, we were asked to develop one character, and then this character would be like added to the collection; so one contributed character per student.

We then all got copies of these characters, were given a set number of characters to choose, and those chosen characters have to be used in the story. But it's our choice to decide on who has like what role and stuff, and like how many major or minor characters there are.

This was easy enough cause I went through the sheets and I chose who fit what best in the story I had in mind.

But now I'm just kind of stuck on dynamics. Like who would fall in love with who? Who could really be friends with who? Who would get along fine or who would brush hairs with each other?

I mean it sounds simple and easy for other people, so I feel kind of lame that I can't figure this out...I think it's because like a lot of the characters (from everyone in the club) share a lot of similarities, and a lot of them are also very complex.

I hope my email makes total sense and you can help me! Thank you :)

Answer
Hi Ingrid,

I apologize for the delay in my writing. Your question isn't silly and you shouldn't feel foolish. You just hit upon the single most important element that sets a great story apart from a good story; it's characters.

I could write pages and pages and pages about characters, but for now I'll summarize thusly:

1. Remember that characters are people too. No one in your class is perfect and without flaws, and your characters shouldn't be perfect either. For example, one of the characters in my book series that I'm working on is really smart, and he's fairly rich (or at least he was), but he has very little people skills. He's bossy, socially awkward, and doesn't have many friends. They can't be good (or bad) at everything.

2. If you want to understand how characters interact, you have to understand psychology. You have to understand what motivates them, what drives them. My understanding their goals and objectives then you'll be able to understand what they think is important and how they would interact with others. If you have Microsoft Excel you can email me and I'll send you a copy of the character sheets that I use to help me figure this out.

3. Remember that characters aren't static. Every experience that they live through changes them in some way. Characters, especially over a long period of time, should grow and evolve in response to their life's experiences. To use a popular character as an example; compare Harry Potter from the first book/movie, to Harry Potter from the last book/movie. While there are some underlying traits that didn't go away, many things about those characters are different.

4. Remember that, as Shakespeare said, All the World is a Stage as we are just actors upon it. What I mean by that is don't try to force your characters to interact together. Figure out what characters have what backgrounds in common; do they go to the same school? Do they go to the same church? Or have the same job? Once you start seeing where characters overlap in their lives you'll be able to compare that with what drives them and motivates them as individuals, and then the nature of their relationships would start to reveal themselves.

5. Finally, remember that life is random. Things aren't planned perfectly. There's not really such a thing as a "storybook ending". I made a list of random ways to die. I either use a special dice or a random number generator, but I figure out how all of my characters will die. I don't know how George R.R. Martin does it, killing off a main character is hard. In my second book, the main character of the first book dies at the end of the first chapter. I wanted his death to be a surprise, and totally random. By using my number generation chart I came up with "trampled by wild animals". And there you have it; the random chaos of the universe. Sometimes this randomness will affect people's luck or fortunes. Sometimes the randomness will affect the character dynamics. As another example, in the 9th book in my series, two groups of soldiers on different ships that are sworn enemies are forced to work together because both ships are damaged and not working together would mean death for everyone. But, randomly, because each ship has the parts that the other ship needs, they are forced to work together and change the dynamic of their interactions.

I hope all of this helps and makes sense. If you have followup questions, please let me know.

Kind Regards,
-Johnathan

Writer's Block

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Johnathan Clayborn

Expertise

I can answer a many questions about writer's block. I am particularly helpful in the areas of character development, storyline development, etc. and I can provide authors with an array of tools to help them organize their work. I am also quite good at discussing how to work in symbolism, allegory and themes throughout your piece. As a psychology major I can help you answer questions about a character's behaviors or motivations.

Experience

I minored in English for my Bachelor's degree. I have also written several books and I run a small publishing company (before you ask, we're not accepting submissions at this time). I have written both fiction and non-fiction books and I have been published in newspapers and written articles for major internet websites.

Organizations
Alpha Chi, Psi Chi, Kappa Delta Pi, APA

Education/Credentials
MS, Educational Psychology, BS Psychology (English minor)

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