Tag Archives: tips

The 4Ds

And none of them is Daniele, pity

We imagined our characters, maybe watching a colleague closely for years or just having a glimpse of an old woman on the way back home in the metro. Whatever the case, we have the first idea of our characters and a vague idea of the plot. Now, we decided to tide up our characters (or nicely invite them to a tea party), and we started questioning them. We saw how comfortable it is to ask easy questions and how uncomfortable it makes us ask some more profound, strictly personal questions. 

It’s totally fine. But it’s still not enough. With your characters, you need to ask questions about their past, their dark secrets, and their manias. Think about how challenging it is for you to ask any question to a complete stranger, even where to find the closest pharmacy. And now consider how challenging is to answer a question since it’s still you speaking through your character.

4 Ds shape your characters

Suppose someone is describing a car to you:

“With a maximum top speed of 105 mph (169 km/h), a curb weight of 1993 lbs (904 kgs), the TR3 has a naturally-aspirated Inline 4 cylinder engine, Petrol motor. This engine produces a maximum power of 101 PS (100 bhp – 74 kW) at 5000 rpm and a maximum torque of 159.0 Nm (117 lb.ft) at 5000 rpm. The power is transmitted to the road by the rear wheel drive (RWD) with a 4-speed Manual gearbox. On the topic of chassis details responsible for road holding, handling behavior and ride comfort, the TR3 has Coil springs. Front suspension and Semi-elliptic leaf springs. De Dion axle. Rear suspension. The TR3 braking system includes the front and rear for stopping power. The TR3 model is a Cabrio car manufactured by Triumph, sold new from 1955. I’m going to sell my apartment to buy it.”

If you are ignorant of car matters, you’d most probably find this description ultimately futile. You have a lot of information, but you didn’t give anything useful to the general reader; no emotions mean no way for the reader to follow you into your story. Also, when that person added he would sell his apartment to buy it at the end of the description, you probably thought he was insane. Let’s imagine another person describing to you the same car in this way:

“Yesterday, an old man approached me at the market and asked me if I had ever watched La dolce vita by Federico Fellini. I’d never seen him before and found that question really odd. At any rate, I wouldn’t lose anything answering back, so I did. I told him that I’m a cinema connoisseur and mostly into old Italian movies. So he told me that he had the original car from the movie, the excellent Triumph TR3. That’s a magical, convertible, fashionable car as no one does anymore. When you accelerate, you feel the engine almost speaking to you, a roar full of stories and secrets. That’s more than a car. It’s an obsession now. I’m going to sell my apartment to buy it.”

Now, even if you’ve never heard of the car before, you probably start visualizing yourself seated in the front seat of this cult car, the engine speaking to you. You know this person is a cinema connoisseur and all the information you acquired is helpful in understanding the ultimate decision. It’s still a crazy conclusion to make, selling an apartment to buy a car, but now you know why. There’s a reason behind it.

Well, what we’ll do next time is to analyze the 4 Ds that will shape your characters and, therefore, your story:

Keep reading!


Peculiar traits

Peculiar traits and where to find them

You are on the bus; there are tons of people to add to your character palette around you. Humanity at its best and worst awaits to be acknowledged. Then you noticed a bald guy with a beard, so skinny you can count his bones. The guy is in his forties; his feet move rhythmically, following an invisible tempo. 

You start imagining which songs it’s trapped in his head and start counting the time: tap, taptaptap, tap, taptaptap. When you descend, you’re sure he was humming Eye of the Tiger by Survivor

What did you do?

You tried your best to be a Sherlock, trying to guess a song starting from the appearance of the guy and the movement of his feet. What you did is OK if you want to write some boring novel swarming with flat characters. Here you’ve committed to building round-believable characters, so let’s try to go the extra mile.

Let’s do it again

Peculiar traits

The guy in front of us has something in his pocket, with a keychain bulging a bit out. From the colors, it seems it is the BMW symbol, so he has some car keys in his pocket. Why would a 40-years-old with a car decide to spend time on a bus on such a busy hot day? A mechanic, maybe? Or his car broke and he had to take the bus? Then, you notice his feet moving rhythmically, following an invisible tempo. It’s not the rhythm he’s following that attracts you, but something else. It seems he’s pushing on an invisible accelerator and breaking and repeating it constantly.

A good man

He’s a good man, he’s always has been, but then something changed, something deep. His values changed, together with his life, after the accident. He was a family man, stressed enough to have money to pay a loan but not too much to get insomniac.

He was working a night shift when it happened when he passed that guy with a scooter. They argued, as always, when you’re driving in a busy city. But, this time, it wasn’t a typical argument. The guy in the scooter started to follow him, shouting at our guy in his brand new BMW. When finally they stopped at the traffic light, the guy in the scooter descended and yelled again. Maybe he was under drugs, perhaps he was insane, who knows?

Our guy remained inside his BMW, just waiting for the green light to go. Too tired and too nervous about spending time with this useless prick. And then it happened. The guy outside gave the first kick at the car door and it got dented. The light was still red; the traffic light seemed frozen, a match ready to burn the city at any moment. 

People snaps

People snaps. People lose control for the most surprising reasons. For our guy, that reason was his car; he couldn’t stand another kick, and every time that foot kicked his car, it made him angrier and redder than the traffic light in front of him. He opened the door, grabbed the guy and threw him with all his forces to the other side of the street. 

Fatally, the guy in the scooter fell badly, his head on the edge of the sidewalk. They said it was a once-in-a-while scenario, an accident, and he got heavily provoked. Police left all the charges, and everything seemed to return to normal.

Everything except the guilty sensation hidden inside him. His feet still thinking about that moment when he could put the first gear and go, his hand reaching for the keys inside the pocket, turning on an invisible engine.

What did we do?

We imagined a layered character doing something unexpected due to background we don’t know yet. In a book, even the minor characters must have a background story, even if it’s barely a simple, sketched one. This leads to the “so what” moment we discussed earlier. After that, we ask ourselves how a person with such a background will speak, walk and so on.

Curved shoulders, slight tic on one eye, moving back the glasses, or constantly sneezing three times. Add whatever you think is accurate for your character and his background.

In the following article, we will start speaking about levels to structure your characters correctly.

In the meantime, 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

A dirty job

How to be hooked

A few months ago, I was reading an exciting book called Hooked, by Les Edgerton. While I was hooked by the book, discovering new techniques to engage a reader, I find out something else. I found out a book that, in a few lines, was able to take me deep into the writer’s world. And it doesn’t happen every day. The book was A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore.

When I finished it, I asked myself: it would be the same if I’d rather watched a movie instead of reading this story in a book?

Literature vs. Movies

Which one has the most significant “hook”?

I don’t think it’s an easy question to answer. First of all, both books and movies are, and they will always be connected. All the best movies come from a fantastic book or script. And many books are more and more “visual”, citing and referring to movies. What changes sometimes is the audience they’re referred. In some cases, when people want to lay down on a sofa and relax, they don’t want to do it with a book in their hands. Maybe they’re with their wife, and they want to spend their quality time watching something together.

A book is private

Yes, this can be a first answer.

A book is a private game between you and the author. He never had to know how much time and effort the author had to put together to give birth to a single phrase, sometimes. The reader has to jump into the new world she has to discover, and the only way to do so is to forget there is a writer there, somewhere. In this sense, it’s obviously easier for an excellent writer to hook a reader. What a writer has to do is to whisper the right words in the ears of the reader, and he will be tempted to turn the next page.

A dirty, dirty job

Coming back to A dirty Job, you can it’s the quintessence of what I said before. You turn each page thinking:

“And now?”

Your precious key enters in a new keyhole. And this is a magic sensation, something rare, captivating. You feel like the first man entering a pyramid after thousands of years.

What is the story about?

The story is about a beta male who, after losing his wife, finds himself trapped in an unwanted and quite crazy job. Eventually, he will adjust to his new life and routine, but you won’t know who the enemies are and who the good boys are there until you turn the last page.

A world in which souls can be exchanged through an object. A book that profoundly influenced me when writing my book Souls Alive.

Thanks, Christopher Moore.

If you want to read another great book, have a look to The queen’s gambit.

Daniele Frau