Discover your character

Make your character come to life

We talk about character creation and how important is this phase for the story design. I feel Getting into the character by Brandlyin Collins is one of the best books if you want to learn how to sketch your character.

First, ask questions

Rule number one creating a character.

First, ask questions directly to your character. Treat your characters as if they were real people, and sit down with them to know them better. I’ll tell you about an actual conversation with one of the last characters I created for a story I’m writing. First, I pictured him with the body and face of Alesana Tuilagi, the famous rugby player. That helped me have a tangible person in front of me, but it was like he was standing behind the curtains and I could only see his traits through them.

“Hi, what’s your name?”

Silence.

My character didn’t answer me back. I tried again to notice, to my surprise, that my character didn’t have a mouth; hence, his voice was kind of muffled. I got closer to the curtains and I felt it. A smell that only later I recognized as a snake smell and his voice made me shiver. I asked my question again, this time trying to understand his answer.

“My name is Lasghari, but no one has called me like that since I was 5. I mean, there are all dead.”

So, now I knew that there was a giant creature with no proper mouth that hissed while speaking and had a smell like a snake. Plus, I discovered my character was an assassin and a brutal one since he probably killed his own family.

“And now, how old are you? How can I call you?”

I didn’t dare to call him Lasghari. See, even though I knew I was speaking with an imaginary person, I had to feel it was real if I wanted to discover something interesting. The more we talked, the more I acknowledged in him the characteristics I saw before in people, mainly violent individuals I was unlucky enough to meet in the street. He slurred his speech, as he was drooling, the heavy breathing.

Then, I noticed a detail

His voice wasn’t just slurred and muffled because of his monstrous mouth, but he had something else. My character, I discovered again with surprise, was masked; a thick mask made of cement from crushed bones. I imagined him like an infernal baker, but instead of using flour, he used crushed bones.

Two hours later

We spoke for about two hours since I knew everything about him in the end. Also, I thought about deleting him from my tale because he genuinely terrified me. His background story was so intense and horrific that I asked myself if that was too much. 

No, he was too powerful, and I didn’t just give him the privilege of being the co-protagonist with another character. He turned out to be the perfect alter ego, the best way to speak about what I had in mind when I started writing the story. I wanted to talk about how violence begins in the first place, taking The Lucifer Effect by Zimbardo and mixing it with the thesis by Rutger Bregman and his optimistic history of humankind.

What a trip!

What a trip it was. When I finally let the two characters one close to each other, even though they were well separated by a solid wall, I heard the craziest stories. While they were speaking, I was taking notes, scribbling so fast that my hand was blue with ink by its end.

The second rule we’ll discover in another article is about finding the values that define your fictional characters. This is a very challenging part, so don’t blink, or you’ll miss it!

Keep reading my stories here and see you soon!

Daniele Frau

The characters

The soul of your story

Welcome to the most exciting writing journey part: the creation of characters. This is the moment you were preparing for, the two minutes of glory for your never forgotten underlying schizophrenic side. Yes, because if you are a writer, maybe you experienced speaking by yourself multiple times and not necessarily under the shower.

Characters, by Daniele Frau.

In the middle of the night

Correct me if I’m wrong, ok? You wake up suddenly in the middle of the night with the urge to scribble an idea. Ordinary people keep a water bottle close to their bed, but you don’t. Oh no, you have a piece of paper and a pen/pencil, right?

That sensation, the urge to put your idea down, is so intense that you cannot wait until morning. Then, if you’re lucky, you go to sleep. In your dreams, that story you had in mind, that tiny seed starts flourishing, growing slowly in your deepest fantasies. But it gets all trapped there, unfortunately.

True story, true characters

When you wake up in the morning, you take the piece of paper as written by an alien hand. True story, once I woke up with this written close to my face:

“G. is a spider born in a butterfly body. He ruminates about his former life while she sees a spider going slowly down to eat her. She doesn’t remember the spider language. Death.”

I remember it made me sick the whole day. I was writing something else, and suddenly I heard the screaming of the poor butterfly trying to remember her old language to save her life.

All this to say that all writers, deep inside, are troubled. We have so many issues and we’re not shy to put them on paper for strangers to judge us. However, there’s nothing more exciting than creating new, compelling characters. One thing I really despise is when an excellent plot has a flow in the characters’ construction.

You notice that, strangely, all the characters start meeting up only between themselves. Sometimes some new character arrives, as a cameo or a funny twist as in Friends and then it disappears.

Yes, I know I don’t have to expect much in a serial with pre-recorded laughing. Still, you can see when the characters are just flat figures moving their lips automatically.

Suppose a character is a poor skill-less actor. In that case, the best twist possible is to make him completely different, not indulge in his poor skill quality and stupidity until the end of time. And that’s precisely what happens.

The reasons?

People love these flat characters, they say. I don’t know about that. You can be lucky once or twice if people really start loving those characters for what they are and don’t want them to change. Though, most of the time, you just start digging your grave. 

So, now let’s start working on our character building and we’ll do so follow a book that I believe is one of the best in the market. For sure, it was a life-changer for me for many reasons.

A simple, economical way to auto-psycho-analyze your tiny writer’s brain.

I’m talking about the book Getting into the character by Brandlyin Collins.

Keep reading my stories here

See you soon!

Daniele Frau

Build your tree

Start from the roots

We realize how easy it is to start writing a story, having the right tools. But what is the content of your story? It comes from your everyday life, inspired by something you witnessed once, or some social problem? You need to ask yourself where the inspiration comes from to realize which tone is better to use. 

Your roots

Roots, image by Daniele Frau.
Roots, image by Daniele Frau.

These are your roots, the base from which you will build your story and the way you find inspiration afterward. Let’s talk about the inspiration for a moment. We’ve grown with the idea that we need a specific sparkle to write, a magic moment. Without that, we imagine the writers sitting in their rooms, desperate, in front of their typewriters. It’s not exactly like that.

Yes, you can have some blank moments, periods where you have nothing to say. Well, that’s the best moment for you; take this as a vacation, write ideas, and make your life full of experience, so then you’ll start writing again. Inspiration is a myth, solid and difficult to erase from people’s imagination, but still a myth. When I don’t have anything to say on a certain topic, I switch to another one. I start writing about mathematics, science, and economics. I write about topics far from my usual niche, and an idea naturally pops out.

For instance, a few days ago, I wrote an essay about international investments and wham! Something strikes my mind, an original idea about a real estate man that lives in the streets. The main secret here is the first rule every writer always has to keep in mind: 

Write, write, write.

If you don’t write, you won’t be able to clearly understand your limits, your common errors and as we said, you’ll feel increasingly tired of writing. See it like you were going to the gym. The more you go to do sport, the more you want to, because you feel your body is responding immediately. It’s precisely the same when you start writing, then you want to write more and more. 

Solid roots

So, you have an idea of a real estate agent living in the streets. Now you need to understand which tone you will use to describe the situation. It will be something like Jean Claude Izzo in Les soleil des mourants, or you would try a political angle? Do you want to write in a sarcastic-dark humor tone, as Jonas Jonasson? After you realize that everything will be easy, your pen will scribble so fast on the paper, faster than your thoughts.

Then, it’s time to write your characters. But this is a story for another time.

See you, people! As always, send me messages or comments here below and I’ll be glad to answer all of your questions.

Do you want to read some of my stories? Check them out!

Daniele Frau

Let’s play with words

There’s nothing like playing with words

In my previous article, I spoke about the most challenging part of writing a story. In the beginning, the beginning. So, how to go over this first scary step?

Snowflake

Yes, the snowflake method was one of the most helpful methods I’ve ever tried as a beginner. You have a story in mind and that story is nothing more than some vivid sensations and a bunch of perfect phrases you noted. But that’s not enough, clearly.

What happens next?

Most of the time, what happens next is you staring at a blank page. It seems you have everything in hand to start, but the key doesn’t turn and the engine is stuck. You check the gasoline (ideas) and discover the tank is full. So, what’s the problem? Let’s open the hood of the car, shall we? Hm, that’s the problem, you’re missing all the cables that connect the engine to the car. That’s why it wasn’t doing anything when you turned the key.

Let’s find the cables

The cables are easy to find. We just need to put them in the right place. Let’s leave the car similitude for a moment. For example, the best place to start is to write down in 15 words what is your story about. Suddenly, you realise you didn’t think it through. Your story is somewhere in your head, but it isn’t clear. Not having a straightforward plot in mind from the beginning is why you cannot move from your parking spot (oh, I’m back to the car simile).

Play with words

Play with words, write your story.
Play with words

We all know how difficult it is to write an entire story in 15 words. Too many things are missing! Plus, you have to write it in a way that sounds interesting to a reader and seems even more complex. I can tell you two of my favourite exercises to improve your 15-words writing:

  • read as many movie descriptions as you can and try to describe movies that you know by heart 
  • try to write epitaphs about people you knew or famous people

For example, this is how Forrest Gump is described in Britannica.com:

“Forrest Gump, American film, released in 1994, that chronicled 30 years (from the 1950s through the early 1980s) of the life of a intellectually disabled man (played by Tom Hanks) in an unlikely fable that earned critical praise, large audiences, and six Academy Awards, including best picture.”

How you can make it in 15 words?

The chronicle of 30 years of the life of an intellectually disabled man (1950s- 1980s).

Yes, there are a lot of things missing. This is precisely my point. Now you need to add. Divide this 15-words-description into 4 parts (beginning, development, middle, finale).

  1. Forrest is an intellectually disabled child who discovers he can do some extraordinary things.
  2. Forrest goes to war, understands he loves one girl and loses his best friend, Bubba.
  3. The girl he loves continues to escape from him. Forrest is lucky and gets a millionaire.
  4. The girl he loves returns, they have a child together and then she dies.

I know what you’re thinking: “where is the bench, that famous beautiful bench?” 

Nowhere, now, but the exercise isn’t finished here. We need to make each part of the story divided into 4 phrases, 15 phrases long. In this way, we can start speaking about him sitting on a bench and speaking to a stranger, his disabilities and his single mum believing in him, and his crush on Jenny. Step by step, your story starts to be interesting. 

What’s next?

Start doing some exercises, put some ideas together and write your famous first 15 words. Your story will start growing on an excellent base.

Read some of my stories here and tell me what you think about them.

To be continued!

What is the most challenging part of a story to write?

What is the most challenging part of a story to write?

The beginning in the beginning

When you first start writing, the easiest part is the beginning, or at least it’s what you think. Words flow so quickly that you feel you have a gift, and maybe you actually have. The issue is, when you let someone (not your mom and dad) read it, most of the time, they do THAT face.

Which face?

You know what face I’m speaking about, the lost look. Why is that? You start wondering if the story has a sense at all, and then you start questioning everything, even the editor trying to help you. The only solution is to take a step back and re-read everything, following the advice of the experts.

Beginners

So, I answered the first question, I think. The most challenging part of a story to write is the beginning when you are a beginner. The first line is so difficult to write that it takes 25% of my time, even nowadays. That line presents your book to the reader, and nothing will change that. The reader will understand your style and what the story is about just by reading that first line.

Now, I went to a book presentation a few days ago. Friendly atmosphere, cool people. Then, I bought a book copy and sat waiting for the discussion to start. I arrived there without preconceptions, open to discovering a lovely book and a new author.

Then, I opened the first page

The book was well-edited; no problem with that. I focused on the first line. Horrible, simply horrible. I closed my eyes, breathed and I tried again. Nope, still horrific. A nightmare for anyone who had ever written something, that first line told me, “run from this place”. Still, I tried my best not to run. I thought, “maybe I’m wrong; let’s give her another chance”. 

And I did

The most useless hour I ever spent, believe me. The writer and the other two presenters started speaking about how skilled the author is. Also, they couldn’t avoid talking about how magic was the love story (apparently, if there’s no love story, there’s no book, they said) and other incredibly dull things.

What did I discover?

I discovered that you need to read many good books, but even more bad first lines, too. First, a bad first line wants to tell you something clever but doesn’t show you anything. Something like “George was walking in a garden full of roses, the smell of the paradise and the colour of passion”. After a while, you will understand how important the first line is. Phew.

If you’re still asking yourself what is the most challenging part of a story to write, here’s the answer, then. This doesn’t mean it’s always the most difficult part. In the example of the bad start, the author forgot to mention something important, questions. Questions are something you cannot forget when you’re writing anything. Questions bring answers, and answers get other questions. 

Show, don’t tell

Show, don't tell, graphic by Daniele Frau.
Show, don’t tell.

In an excellent short video by Film Courage, Glenn Gers gives the six questions that you never have to forget when writing fiction.

  1. What this story is about?
  2. What is that they want?
  3. Why they cannot get it?
  4. What do they do about that?
  5. Why it doesn’t work?
  6. How does it end?

These macro questions lead to many others in something similar to fractals or the famous snowflake method

What is this story about? A man in his forties that never left his room. 

Why did he never leave his room? Where does he live? Does he live alone? How is it possible that he never left his room? How big is his room?

And so on, you got my point.

Let’s continue to speak about it in the following article!

In the meantime, have a look at my stories on Flyingstories.org.

Read, write, explore!

Daniele Frau