One-Line Characterization

The world is full of people.  Depending on our situation or lifestyle, we might come into contact with as many as hundreds of people every week, or as few as a dozen.  Few people manage to live without human contact of any kind.  For me, I have about five different places I might find myself on a given day where the number of people around me meets or exceeds a hundred.  When I’m not with my family, I’m probably out in one of these areas, interacting with people.

Assuming I have five different social circles, each with a hundred people, that means I see five hundred people per week.  A couple overlap, and my family intermingles with these circles, but that’s the general figure.  Five hundred faces I see every week.  Five hundred people with completely different lives, who think thoughts wholly unknown to me.  I know many of their names, and can name the recognizable traits that allow me to tell them apart, but these are five hundred acquaintances, with some friends scattered among them.

How many people does your main character see in a week? Continue reading “One-Line Characterization”


Ageless Characters

Many middle grade books have a fundamental problem with their main characters.  Someone who is supposed to be sixteen seems twelve– someone who seems twelve seems sixteen.  The latter occurred in Brandon Mull’s The Beyonders trilogy; the former occurred in Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart and The Rithmatist.  Perhaps this problem only plagues those named Brandon.  It would make sense, except I encountered the same problem in my own writing.

In my scene, I had a character who was supposed to be twelve.  Unfortunately, he seemed six.  His brother, supposed to be sixteen, seemed twelve.  Of course, my method was not ideal– since the scene was just a prologue and the rest of the story would happen five years later, I scrapped the idea altogether.  If you’re writing middle grade and have this problem, don’t do what I did.

However, while I was struggling with the scene, I realized a few things.  Number one, this problem can be pinpointed.  Number two, it can be fixed.  (Hey, that’s pretty much the way it is with all story problems.)

This problem has annoyed me in many books, long before I ever encountered it.  When I did encounter it, I knew what was happening, and I was able to trace it back to dialogue.  Everything the two characters said made them seem younger than they should have.  They didn’t seem real. Continue reading “Ageless Characters”

How to Make a Character Sympathetic in 15 Seconds

Walk-on characters are the best.  The balloon seller who gives a toddler a balloon, cracks a joke, then disappears from the main character’s life forever. The coworker who says something weird that makes the main character realize something really important. The mailman who drives past the camera sporting a fluorescent purple mustache.

Well, maybe not that last one, since he’s not even a walk-on– he’s just a weird person who may not have even been paid for his contribution to society.  But the first two, along with the thousands of other characters who appear in stories without staying long enough to become side characters, those are walk-ons, and they are amazing.

However, there are a few kinds of walk-ons.  It is the privilege of some to literally walk on and off the set, perhaps with a quip or a meaningful something or other in there.  Others merely stand there as promises to explain potential awesomeness later in the story.  And others– and these are the best– die. Continue reading “How to Make a Character Sympathetic in 15 Seconds”

5 Ways to Avoid a Question

Questions are made to be answered… aren’t they?  Rhetorical ones aren’t, as illustrated by the first sentence, but the laws of society dictate that normal questions have normal answers.  The drawback of such questions is, infallibly, that the person asking them gains information about you.  Knowledge is power, and power lets people manipulate you; therefore, questions are evil tricks designed to put you a place lower on the social ladder.  Everyone should know how not to answer a question.  Thus, I would like to present 5 ways to avoid a question! Continue reading “5 Ways to Avoid a Question”


I have a few questions floating around my head.  Before they decide to start a family inside my head, I’d like to let them out.  Answer as many as you can– most will be opinions.

Firstly, a question about a technique in starting stories: “Bullets flew past my head… but how did I get here?”  Personally, I don’t like this technique because it provides an all-too-convenient bed for an infodump.  Who in their right mind soliloquizes about the events of the past week when they’re running from the villain’s Legions of Terror?  However, when the true beginning to your story is too large for a prologue, can’t become a first chapter, and won’t be left out, you need to stick it in somewhere.  If the next chapter is the ideal size for a snappy beginning, it seems perfect to switch the two, presenting the first part in a series of flashbacks and remembrances.  It must be carefully done, however, to keep from infodumping.  So, my first question: what are your thoughts on this technique?

Secondly, a slightly moral question: is it considered cannibalistic to eat a creature with the same cognitive development as yourself?  Those who eat their own kind are cannibals, but what about other creatures with the same brain power?  Let’s say cows suddenly gain human-style brains.  Cows begin building their own civilization and consorting with humans.  Would it be considered morally wrong to eat hamburgers, then?  Similarly, if aliens landed and said, hi, our planet blew up, can we move in with you?  What if someone realized that these aliens taste really good?  Would it be wrong to eat alien a la king?

And lastly, what have I got in my pocket?