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Remember the question "pouring out words" when I mentioned I had started a sea story?  Well, it cracked on like smoke 'n' oakum under studdingsails aloft and alow all through the summer, but it's now lying-to on a lee shore because one of my characters doesn't seem real to me.  Yesterday I was at the library for over three hours, flipping through almost all the writing books and reading the character development chapters.  Two or three times now I've gone through all the writing websites I know and read all the character development articles.  I've tried making character sketches (something I rarely do), but I can't get under this character's skin.  And this is the only female character in the book, so it should be easier, right?

Also, I know parental input isn't supposed to count for much, but whenever I let my mom read my stories (not very often), she asks about the most important female character, "Is she supposed to be you?"  But the only things I share with them that I know of are tenacity and sometimes creative drives of one sort or another.  (However, none of them has ever been a writer.)  I've consciously given some of my traits to my male characters, ranging from hair the same color as mine to a messy desk to indecisiveness to spiritual struggles mirroring my own to...all of the above, but she has never said anything about them. Why is this happening?
Thank you,

Okay.  So what is it that makes this character different from the others in your story?  Sounds like you don't have the same issue with any of the other characters?  Is the difference because she's your main character and the others are just supporting cast?  Is it because of her gender?  Is it because you really ARE trying to make her "you," and that's intimidating you?

I've always said that the most important question of all is "why?"  Go through your story and every time she does something (ANYTHING), ask yourself why she does it.  And be thorough.  

When she orders takeout, why does she do so?  Why takeout and not something from the fridge or freezer?  Is it because she hates to cook?  If so, why?  Why does she order Chinese instead of pizza?  How much does she tip the delivery person, and why?

Go crazy with this.  Eventually, you're going to be asking "why?" to some really important things, and you'll be opening doors in her head that you never knew were there.  And you WILL get under this character's skin.

But even the little things will add up to paint a picture of a person who's real, not flat.  We all are, after all, made up of lots of big things and lots and lots of little things.  We are who we are every bit as much because of the major traumas in our lives as due to the little joys and disappointments that have added up over the years.  And your characters are no different.

Hope that helps.

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Vincent M. Wales


I am a speculative fiction novelist (fantasy, science fiction, and so on). While I may be able to answer questions on non-fiction, my specialty is fiction. Please keep that in mind when asking questions.


For four years, I taught a series of fiction writing classes in Sacramento, CA.

BA in fiction writing.

Awards and Honors
My 2004 novel, ONE NATION UNDER GOD, won BEST FICTION in Fresh Voices 2006, BEST FICTION and BEST YA FICTION in the NCPA Book Awards, and placed as a finalist in BEST BOOKS 2005. In 2002, my novel WISH YOU WERE HERE won awards for Best Fantasy and Best Fiction/Drama in the 8th Annual SPA Awards. My latest work is a trilogy titled THE MANY DEATHS OF DYNAMISTRESS (a superhero memoir). The first book, RECKONING, was released in 2013 and won the SF category in the 2014 San Francisco Book Festival, took second place in the 2013 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards for the SF/Fantasy/Paranormal category, second place in the SF category of the 2013 Reader Views Reviewers Choice Awards, and was finalist in Foreword's 2013 Book of the Year Awards, Fantasy category. The second book, REDEMPTION, will be released in early 2015 and the final book, RENAISSANCE, is scheduled for release in late 2016.

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