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Hello and thanks for reading this. I write fantasy stories, and I have no trouble coming up with character descriptions and personality, but they always tend to feel like they have been thrown into the world at that second simply to exist until the story is over, then disappear. I am pretty new to writing, and this may be common, I don't know. Anyway, is there any way I can make them feel more real? Like they have been there before the story starts, and don't solely exist to make the story work?

Hi, Tyler!

I saw your question in the pool, and thought I'd try to give you some guidance.

Okay, I think I know where you're coming from because I'm like you---I also come up with the character's background and personality and then insert them in the story. Keep in mind that how we do it is NOT the "normal" way to write. Most writers think of a world, fully formed, that includes the people who live there. So their backgrounds are tied intricately to the plot, and this problem doesn't come up.

But that doesn't mean how WE do it still can't work! Here's a few things to try to "ground" your characters in the world and make them feel at home:

1) The "Walk In The Bar At Quitting Time" method:

If you walk into a bar or restaurant right at the end of any work day, you'll find dozens of people huddled around tables talking about annoyances and triumphs that happened during that day or week. They're sharing, cajoling, complaining and drinking away, while talking about PAST EVENTS. This is one the biggest ways to ground your characters and make them "feel" like they were there before the story started. Fantasy, contemporary, futuristic---doesn't matter. The situation is still the same. Let's take an imaginary character . . . we'll call him Arnie. What did Arnie have for breakfast, before the book opens? Let's say he planned to have leftover rabbit stew (setting this in the Middle Ages-ish), but winds up having porridge instead. So what? Big deal. Why is that different that makes it notable and worth telling his friends about? Now comes the "what ifs" in this story. In the trade, it's called "backstory" and, while the event doesn't actually show up on the page for the reader, they get hints of it through dialogue with other characters. So, your main character, Bob, walks in a tavern and sits down. Arnie walks up and says, "Hey, Bob! You'll never believe what happened to me this morning!" Then, and THIS IS THE IMPORTANT PART, you give them shared knowledge! Arnie says, "You remember that rabbit stew I made yesterday?" Bob nods and replies, "Sure. Good stuff. Thanks again for inviting me over to share." Arnie then gets a weird look on his face. "Well, I'd planned to have it for breakfast too...before it went bad, you know. But it was GONE! There was this big bubbling pot of porridge over the fire. I LOVE porridge, but I don't know how to make the stuff." So, they sit there stumped for a moment, while Bob makes some suggestions on how Arnie wound up with a pot of porridge. Could his mother have stopped by without telling him? Did he wind up taking home one of the "ladies" who cooked and then left? Etc., etc. It doesn't have to have a resolution, or maybe Bob reminds him that his neighbor shopped by while he was drunk the previous night. Or some such. Either way, by discussing it, post-event, the reader is told that Arnie is a part of Bob's life pre-book. Poof! He's part of the world.

2)  The "Unfinished business" method. Since you're starting the story in the middle of these people's lives, something happened yesterday. All of us have things "on our calendars" that need to be done in the future. It can be as simple as taking the car in for an oil change, giving the dog a pill or picking up the dry cleaning. Simply create some businesses in your town, any business will do. Obviously, make them logical, but don't feel it necessary to stick to ONLY the necessities. There are some weird businesses in any town, that people will travel for miles to visit. Your main character needs to stop by (or remind himself to stop by) THREE of the stores for some reason during the first three chapters. Birthday gift for a sister, pick up a specially ordered sword that's finally done, or even a hard-to-find herb that only one guy in town sells. The mere act of having the character complete an act that was THOUGHT OF pre-book is enough to ground the character.

Hope those help you out a little. Feel free to ask any follow up questions you might have and I'll do my best to steer you right. Good luck!  Cathy

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Cathy Clamp


I'm happy to answer questions about any aspect of writing novels, from the beginning kernel of an idea through completion. I can help with writing a query letter and synopsis to an agent or editor. I can explain publishing terminology and acronyms. I can also assist with questions about verifying the credentials of agents/publishers and how to proceed once you've been accepted for publication. I can teach the rules of formatting a manuscript, creating viable plots, characterization and flow in the following genres: romance, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, suspense, horror, women's fiction, mainstream and mystery.


I'm a USA Today bestselling author of urban fantasy and paranormal romance for Tor/Forge Books. Along with a co-author, I've published fifteen novels (combination of mass market and trade softcover) since 2003, and have contracts for four more books through 2011.

Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Western Outdoor Writers, Horror Writers of America.

Tor/Forge Books, Western Reflections Publishing, BenBella Books, Running Press, Wild Child Publishing. Many others.

My educational background is limited to real life experience of publishing novels commercially for the past five years.

Awards and Honors
USA Today bestseller, Waldenbooks Mass Market Paperback Top 20 bestseller, Nielsen BookScan Top 20 bestseller, RT BOOKreviews Career Achievement Award winner, 2009, Book Buyers Best Award for Paranormal, Romantic Times Best Werewolf Novel, Write Touch Readers Award, EVVY Best Historical Chronicle Award, The Lories Best Paranormal. Many others.

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