Worldbuilding: Research, Common Sense, and Imagination

Worldbuilding. This is popular topic that I’ve been asked to write about, but to be honest, I’ve been wary of doing so. You see, I create whole worlds for fantasy stories or science fiction stories. I easily create entire means of transportation, technology, civilizations, and cultures, but I do not sit down and say, “Okay, so, if this planet is that far from the sun, the temperature of that planet will be this many degrees, and its days and nights will be this long while its seasons are that long.” Nor do I map out every single detail of everything in this new world. I’ve observed many such discussions in writing groups, and I’m always overwhelmed by all the detail (I totally applaud those of you who can go to such great depths of your story because I would get lost, but each person is different). There are a lot of great sites and blog posts that go more that direction. Here are a few examples:

Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions

Building Fantasy Worlds

Storywonk: Worldbuilding

Again, there are many more posts and sites dedicated to this subject. You’ll simply have to look them up.

Now, my own approach worldbuilding a little more simple. However, allow me to explain a few things. First of all, scientists in this world don’t know everything. Yes, they know a lot (more than me!), but they don’t know everything. There are minerals out there we’ve never encountered, occurrences on other planets or even moons we can’t explain. Yes, we do our best to apply what knowledge we have and make logical explanations, and this is good, but we will never really know unless samples are brought back to us for further studying or we go there to study. We don’t know what other worlds (even outside our solar system) are really like. We can do calculations, make careful observations, and explain things in a logical way, but we won’t know for certain if we’re absolutely right until we go there (I’m not really talking about Mars or the moon really but rather someplace further).

Now, having said all this, when creating worlds, I don’t stick to merely what I know. Yes, there are essential elements every planet should have like gravity, but I’m not going to go and determine just how big the planet it, how close it is to the sun in order to determine what the gravity is like on that planet. Why? Because it’s not important. Not to my stories at least. If my characters are traveling from planet to planet, they have a task to do and something to accomplish, and it’s not studying a new planet (unless that is their job). If gravity is important to the storyline (since it could have an affect on fight scenes or such if necessary), then yes, I’d do some brief calculations, bounce some ideas off more scientific-minded individuals, and figure out what I need to know about the planet’s gravity hold. However, if the character is going to that planet to meet with someone, get information, and then get off, there is no need to spend all that time developing a world where your character will only be for at least a day or so.

Basically, if it’s not important to the story, I won’t worry about it. I’m not going to spend pages and pages describing every detail of the planet. My characters are moving from point A to point B, and what they see along the way is what you get to see too. If a character happens to tell a story about the planet’s past, then the reader gets to hear that too. Otherwise, I keep moving.

What about civilizations and cultures? Well, what do you want your character to encounter? You can look around at the different civilizations of the day (both modern, extinct, and mythical) and come up with something unique. This would shape their buildings, social habits, and even politics. Let’s say you want your characters to run into some Viking-like society, so do some research to understand their habits. However, because these aren’t the Vikings, you have the liberty to use your imagination, get creative, and make up stuff. Mix and match cultures to come up with a wild blend of your own.

It all boils down to a single point: what do you want your character to encounter and how is it different from everything else in all other books out there?

Now, it may sound like I’m completely dismissing thorough research in worldbuilding, but I’m not. You can’t just slap together some details and hope your readers understand the world you’ve created. No, if you want to create a strong image for them, a world they will remember, you need to take a moment and imagine what the world looks like—imagine it clearly, so you can explain it clearly.

For instance, I have this one country in a world that has unusual meteorologic occurrences. It is a desert climate, but during the day there is a thick cloud cover of angry clouds. It always looks like it is going to rain and be a terrible storm. However, as the sun is setting, the clouds begin to pull back, and there is a break in the clouds where the sun can shine upon the land briefly before it sets. And then at night the skies are clear—the stars are bright. However, the next morning, the clouds are back. It is the only place in that world that this occurs. I cannot explain it scientifically, but this is what the story wants, and I do not argue with the story. If I do that, it will fight back by giving me Writer’s Block. I can see it clearly in my mind, and I write it.

One thing I’d recommend everyone to do a bit more research in is the structure of the government (any government in any age). See how the lower class is treated by the middle class and higher class. Observe who creates the laws, who enforces the laws and how, and who might be the exceptions to the law. Note punishments and how justice is served. Look at the educational system—see how the children are raised to think or not think. I say you should study these because these are fundamentals in how a culture is run. You may study multiple cultures and take a little here and something else from over there and create your own system, and that is fine. However, it is important to have a good handle on these elements because your characters will likely run into people involved in these branches (they may get in trouble with the law of that world), and instead of freaking out and then spending hours on Google before you finally toss the question to your writers group of how things should proceed, you will already know and can move on.

Use common sense (for instance, what goes up must come down—if you’re someplace with gravity), but also use your imagination. Don’t worry about all the logistics and if the critics or experts will say, “That’s not even possible!” Because you know what? They may be right. It might not be possible, but your story is fictional, and you can make it however you want it. Go ahead and create mushroom trees and purple skies, but remember, you don’t want to bog your readers down with description after description. It’s best to show the world as your character is passing through it. You can find all my different posts on description here: Cinemagraphic Writing: Description

Now, the only exception to this entire idea is if you have a character who is a scientist—someone who can scientifically explain just about anything. If you have her in your crew, you will probably want to know as much as you can about anything because she will talk, and you want her to sound intelligent and accurate.

If you’re the kind of writer who must have ever detail of the atmosphere of your world figured out, that is fine. There is nothing wrong with that. I highly admire your determination to get all the facts absolutely right. However, if you’re the kind of writer who is overwhelmed by having to know ALL these facts, and you’re about to panic, take a deep breath. I’m giving you permission right now to not worry about all those details. Right now, focus on the immediate environment your characters are in (is it desert or mountain? Medieval or futuristic?), do your best to describe that, and move on with the story. Focus on the story. You can always go back and add more detail during the revision process.

Writing a Strong Antagonist

The antagonist, the villain, the bad guy of your story is the main person standing the way of your protagonist reaching his goal. Of course, your story may have the main conflict be the environment, natural disaster, or within the protagonist’s mind. However, if the chief conflict in your story is a person, it’s important to remember that that character is just like every other character. He has his ambitions, goals, dreams, fears, regrets, secrets, and beliefs, but most importantly, he thinks what he is doing is right—for himself, for his friends, for his family, for those around him. He views himself simply as the misunderstood hero of a story but won’t complain or voice his opposition. He does what he needs to do, and no one will stop him. He may take advantage of his reputation to do what he deems is right even if no one else sees it.

At least, that’s how antagonists should be considered. Too often they’re cast as a cardboard villain. The only reason for their existence is to hinder the hero from reaching his goal. Usually their motives are revenge or world domination.

This is shallow.

It usually happens this way because the writer is so focused on finding out everything there is to know of the hero that they never even think about learning all they can of the villain. However, each character should be created equal, and the author should set aside time to ask the antagonist, “Why are you doing this?” If you ask this of your villain, be completely non-judgmental, openminded, and sincere. Yes, you know they’re going to be wrong, but you need understand that they don’t think they are. They may surprise you.

Now, some writers won’t ask their villain this question because they don’t really want to know the answer. Why? Because they’re afraid the real motive behind all this might change the face of the story as they know it. They really want the hero to be the good guy, but what if the villain isn’t absolutely wrong? What if he has some really good points although his solution may be wrong? What if he makes the hero look weak, shallow, and selfish? Writers may shy away from this because they don’t want to accept the possibility their protagonist isn’t perfect, but what makes the hero a stronger character is a stronger and more concrete villain.

Now though, for a fun exercise that could confuse your villain and maybe even add immediate depth to him, don’t have your hero shout at the antagonist, “You’re wrong! You’re evil!” But rather, have your protagonist pause and look at the villain from another point of view and then say, “You know what? You are actually really intelligent. I can respect that. Doesn’t mean I agree with you, but I can respect where you’re coming from.” This would totally throw your villain for a loop because they may be trying so very hard to show everyone their mean self, and when that suddenly doesn’t work, they falter and stumble a bit. They’re caught off guard. It’s easy for them to live up to the expectations of being cruel or such. If someone says, “You’re so mean!” The villain will merely laugh, “Bwhahahaha! You think this is mean? I will show you MEAN!” and goes to an extreme. However, if the comment is, “You’re quite intelligent,” the villain will automatically want to say, “I will show you INTELLIGENT….” but then pause and realize that makes absolutely no sense. Or even, “I realize it now. You’re doing what you think is right. You’re just misunderstood,” and the villain, “I’ll show you MISUNDERSTOOD!!” As you can see, it simply doesn’t have the some effect, but it is fun to do. Never know what would come out of it.

Now though, it is true that in real life some really bad people do horrible things for absolutely no reason whatsoever. They may be mentally mad or something. You want your story to be real, and that is real, so why not write a villain who just simply doesn’t care? This is entirely up to you and whatever you deem best for your story. However, don’t use this as an excuse not to explore all angles of your antagonist because you may never know what you will discover when you start looking there.

If your antagonist has some really good points, it forces you to develop your protagonist’s view to counter him. So, when you take the time to develop the villain of your story, you are actually investing in your protagonist, and you learn much of both of them! This is better for your story.

A Unique Kind of Character Interview

Character interviews and character questionnaires—the point of these is for the author of the character to get to know him by asking him rounds of questions. If it’s a questionnaire, it will look something like this:

Name:

Age:

Height:

Hair color:

Eye color:

Parents:

Siblings:

Favorite food:

Favorite color:

And so forth. This is a way to find out a lot about your character…but most likely stuff you may never, ever use because it’s not important to the story. I’m not saying questionnaires are wrong and useless—quite the contrary. They can be very helpful and useful to some writers, but other writers may find them overwhelming.

Now though, there is such a thing as ‘character interviews’. In these, the author asks the character a question, and the character shows his or her personality through the answers. These work exceptionally well in order to get to know your character for yourself, but there’s only one problem. You interview your own character, and the character is in your head, and your own thoughts could influence the character’s response. This isn’t bad because this is just a fact of writing, but what if there’s a better way to interview characters? This is something I’ve explored with multiple authors.

This new format is very similar to the new kind of author interview I introduced a few weeks ago. A fictional scene is set, two of us meet, we write in third person, questions are asked, questions are answered, and you see the character in action rather than merely hearing their responses. For the Character Interviews, I allowed the authors to choose the setting—something from their story world—so their character would feel comfortable on their own turf.

I then came in, and I am not a character—this was difficult for both author and character to comprehend, and they kept trying to tie me to their reality, but I had to stay outside their reality because it allowed me to ask questions that would probably get another character of the story killed. How exactly did I remain outside their reality? I set one rule: no touching. Even if a character did try to touch me, he would pass through me as through I were a ghost. This was incredibly helpful when I came face-to-face to some savage, bloodthirsty villains because I was able to ask them pointed questions they hated to hear, and if they lashed out at me, they couldn’t harm me. This accomplished two things: 1) took control away from the villains, and they loathe that, so it shows a different shade of them, and 2) allowed me to stay focused on the interview and questions rather than getting caught up in an actual story scene. The point of these interviews is to ask questions—not become part of a story. That is why I set that rule in place.

Not all characters I interviewed were antagonists. Sometimes I interviewed the protagonist, and depending on the character’s personality, it was either a witty and charming interview or it was a cautious, carefully probing questioning. Some characters were forthright and confident, but others were withdrawn, distrusting, and insecure. To each of these, I had to adapt my approach to ask them questions.

What does this kind of character interview accomplish? In this type of interview, there is the element of the unknown. Neither you nor your character know what I will ask next. You are confident that you know your characters very well, and instead of trying to trip them up yourself with difficult questions, you’re completely backing up your character. Both your character and you are absolutely engaged in answering the question—rather than you trying to come up with questions which your character may or may not answer. Having someone from the outside come in and interview the character in a story form really gives the author and the readers a chance to learn who that character is. Being able to use body language allows for the character to show his true colors without having to say anything. I once interviewed a villain who I enraged so much that he had to go and get a drink, but he was still furious and squeezed the glass until it burst in his hand…and then he answered my question. If we were just showing the question and answer, we wouldn’t have been able to show his full rage.

Since an outside person is asking the question, this allows the author to learn so much about their character because they are forced to dig deep and find answers to questions they may never have thought of to ask. Sometimes the author realizes their character is completely cliché and shallow. In these cases, I’d pause the interview and inform the author of my observations. If they wanted to know how to make a stronger character, I’d make recommendations, and then we’d redo the interview after they’ve had a chance to recreate the character. It is amazing to observe the difference between the two interviews once the author has really delved deep into his character and forced him to take shape rather than letting him be ambiguous. But most characters I’ve interviewed have been well-developed. It’s just a matter of probing deep and uncovering the truth behind their motives and the depth of their beliefs.

Here’s what a few of the authors, whose characters I interviewed, said about the experience:

Nan Sampson Bach

This was possibly the most fun I’ve ever had! I knew my villain had a short temper, even though he prides himself on being so controlled. Kelly managed to enrage him so much he completely lost it. It was hilarious! The questions really made me think too (seriously, it was getting hard to tell who was doing the thinking, me or him), about his motivations, his underlying belief systems and a host of other things. I thought I had a handle on it, but this interview brought up some good stuff I can play with. So not only a FAB time, but useful for me the author and hence for my readers too! Thank you, Kelly!

Matthew Dale

So I have to be honest, this interview was a mulligan. The first time Kelly interviewed this character, he did not perform well. I don’t have a lot of experience writing villains and it showed. That being said, this interview was a huge learning experience! Kelly was awesome. She was patient and encouraging, but was very direct about what could be improved. That directness was tempered with kindness and an attitude of wanting to see a fellow writer improve their craft, which cushioned her critique. The “redo” interview was much better, and I really felt like I got to know my own character. She really made me dig into his motivations, and she didn’t hold back in asking him tough questions. It’s helpful to sit down and actually role play a character, which is something I hadn’t really done prior to this interview. This was one of the best learning experiences I’ve had as a writer. I would encourage other writers who want to do this interview to be willing to listen to the opinion of others, and at least be willing to consider that opinion. You may learn something new about your character you never considered before.

Kristen Moger

I found Kelly Blanchard’s character interviews a fascinating journey into my own character. It is an interesting experience to take a character out of my own head and make them come alive for another person. As a writer, it is a challenge I loved as it brought me a greater awareness as to my character’s motivation and potential. Thanks, Kelly, for the opportunity.

Clint Brill

Kelly approached me to do a character interview and, for some strange reason, I agreed. I’d never done a character interview before so I wasn’t sure how it would work out. I was worried about it and considered making an excuse to get out of it. Even at zero hour, as I was typing up the intro to get the interview started, part of me was still trying to think of how to get out of it. I couldn’t think of anything and I’m glad I didn’t. The interview was a lot of fun, and I was sad when our time was up. Kelly has a way of putting interviewees at ease and make the interview fun. Janus, the character I used for the interview, is very reticent when it comes to talking about himself, but Kelly got him to open up and reveal more than he has in any of the stories he’s appeared in. She even got him to reveal his plans for the future. Those plans were a surprise to me because I didn’t know anything about them. Because Kelly was able to make the interview fun and interesting, I enjoyed the process and learned something about my character that I didn’t know before. Kelly is a skilled and delightful interviewer. She can interview me or my characters any time she wants.

Lia Rees

In my second interview with Kelly, I was able to explore the personality of a supporting character who previously hadn’t seemed real to me. The style of interview was vital to this exploration. Kelly entered the world of my character, Myriam, with curiosity and openness. She easily grasped the unusual setting, psychological climate and areas of conflict. She asked probing questions, gently suggested potential pathways, and showed a general spirit of empathy. Immersing myself fully in my character’s reality, I was able to draw from intuitive methods as well as intellectual ones to understand her better than I had before.

Virginia Carraway Stark

This is what it is like:

You open those doors in your mind that release your characters to be free in their world. When you go to those familiar places, you notice something different…A new door where there was no door before.

That is what it is like to be interviewed as your character like my character, Sasha Wheaton, was interviewed last week by Kelly Blanchard. It’s the same as writing in many ways but with the added dimension of penetrating, rational thought being added to the process. By adding this we don’t just stay in our character’s comfort zone but penetrate deep into their hearts and minds. You’ll find more there than when you first opened that door. A vital tool for all writers seeking to hone their craft, and if you’re a writer, you always are a seeker.

<~>~<~>~<~>

These are just a few examples of what people have experienced with this form of character interviews. I am currently still in the process of finishing all 25 interviews, and that won’t wrap up until next week. I will begin posting the interviews regularly once I’m finished, and you can find the interviews on my other blog: Meeting With The Muse

Writers have discovered this to be a fun and unique way to get exposure for their work as well as introduce their characters, story, and writing style to readers, and I intend to continue offering this service to writers. If you are interested, you may join my group on Facebook: Author Kelly Blanchard, and watch for the announcement when I open the invitation for more people to be interviewed.

You never know what you’ll learn in these interviews, and this is a very unique way to introduce you and your work to potential readers.

My First Interview

Last week I introduced the idea of a different kind of Author Interviews. One of the people I interviewed was Amy Preder, and she wrote a blog post describing her experience. Check it out! Next week begins the Character Interviews done similarly to these Author Interviews, and I plan to write a post about those once I have done a few. In the meanwhile, enjoy Amy’s post!

amy preder

On 25 May 2015, I had my very first author interview with Kelly Blanchard. I’ve been the interviewer before, but never the interviewee. I must admit, I was more than a bit nervous. I’ve read plenty of author interviews before. Most are dull, to say the least. I was definitely afraid of being another one of those dull, lifeless interviews. I am just getting started in writing, and I thought the last thing I needed was to hamstring myself by seeming boring or uninspired.

As it turned out, I need not have feared. Kelly’s style for this interview is not the same as the standard author interview. Instead, she swept me into a wonderful imaginary world, Kelly’s Muse Shop. Instead of a boring and predictable set of questions, we co-wrote a story. Each of us wrote ourselves as a character in this story. Kelly did a great job of putting…

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A Different Kind of Author Interview

Author Interviews can be done in person or online. If it’s in person, you’d likely sit across from the interviewer and be asked numerous questions, “So, when did you start writing?”, “Tell us about the book you’ve published?”, “Where do you get your ideas?”, “What advice do you have for other writers?”, and so forth. You have no idea what question they’d ask next, and if you’re on camera and are a natural introvert, this is torture for you as you try not to let your nervousness show through while at the same time, you don’t want to come across as overly excited about your books. There’s a balance, but who really knows where it is? However, my main focus of this post isn’t about in-person interviews. I can’t help you there, so you’re on your own! But I want to focus on online interviews.

These interviews are much less intimidating. There’s a screen between you and them, and what usually happens is the interviewer will email you a list of questions and ask that you send back the answers by a certain deadline. In the end, the format looks something like this (DISCLAIMER: this is a fictional interview—not based on any real interview but made up specifically for this post.)

Q: So, when did you begin writing?

A: I began writing when I was really young. I can’t even remember the first story that I wrote!

Q: What genre do you write?

A: Fantasy! And a bit of science fiction—if you can believe that.

Q: Who is your favorite author?

A: I really like C. S. Lewis and Tolkien. Very awesome!

Q: What inspired your book?

A: Well, I was sitting in a coffee shop when I overheard this guy asking this girl questions like if she wanted to go watch this movie or that movie later, and all her responses were, “I have no preference,” because she was really into the book she was reading.

Q: What is your story about?

 

And it goes on from there. You send the answers back, and what happens? Weeks later, the interviewer posts the interview on their site/blog, and it looks exactly like that.

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of that. It gets the job done, so it works.

But something seems to be missing. Could we do something more? Something more interactive?

These interviews tell us a lot about the author and their story, but I’ve never been satisfied with being told anything. I want to see! Pure dialogue reveals little about who the author really is because it lacks body language, facial expressions, and physical interaction with the author. We can’t really tell if they’re reserved, bored, or beaming with excitement. Those interviews simply give us the answers, but what if readers want to know more and get to know the author better to view them as truly human?

Well, I had an idea, so I ran an experiment—as you should know by now I am fond of doing. I’m still in the middle of it, but the responses I’ve gotten so far are very positive.

What did I do? I created a fictional place and invited authors to meet me there. They had to write themselves in third person as if they were a character of their own creation, but they were writing themselves. I did the same, and I took them through the setting I had created, sat them down, and had a chat with them. Some authors I took to a forest garden among castle ruins. Others opted for the palace library or the study in the palace. Others were more intrigued with the more modern-day Muse Shop I made up while few chose the setting of a coffee shop.

In these places, we met and chatted like friends but with me asking a lot of questions. To write this format, both of us had to be online at the same time, and we co-wrote via instant messenger. I told them I didn’t want dialogue tags because that would defeat the purpose of the interview since tags are more telling, but I preferred if they used body language instead. I asked for 27 volunteers and am currently in the middle of these interviews, but so far all the ones I’ve interviewed admitted they were nervous at the beginning because they didn’t know how this would work out, but they quickly slipped into it and became lost in the imaginary world I created. The next thing they knew, it was the end of the interview, and they were quite disappointed that it came to an end. Every person I’ve interviewed so far has used the word ‘fun’ to describe it, but here are some reviews a few people gave me after I interviewed them:

Kristen Moger

Kelly Blanchard’s interviews are a pleasure to take part in. She has a great imagination and encourages her interviewees to join in the creative adventure, all the while allowing the reader to discover an author in a new way that is far more interesting than the usual question and answer session.

Matthew Dale

I was unsure of what to expect going into this interview. The setup Kelly gave the volunteers beforehand was, unorthodox, to say the least, but interesting. The interview takes place in a fictional environment, and the author being interviewed is expected to write about themselves as if they are one of their own characters. I found this concept to be fascinating! Kelly is very friendly and easily approachable in the interview, and the process really forced me to consider my answers to her questions. Having been a newspaper reporter, I’ve done my share of interviews, even with a couple of published authors. I’ve never been the interviewee, and I’ve never had such an interesting, thought provoking, and overall enjoyable interview. Were I to give it an Amazon Star style rating, I’d probably rate it 5 out of 5. My only complaint is that the time for our conversation went by too quickly, and this is coming from a self professed introvert who has not had very much contact with Kelly prior to this interview. Definitely worth your time to do this, if for nothing more than a pleasant diversion from the norm.

Lia Rees

Kelly’s interviews are a pleasure to take part in. She invites you into a setting which is developed enough to offer scope for imagination, yet not restrictive in its demands. She is encouraging, builds a natural rapport with her interviewee, and easily shifts her focus to meet new ideas. Even allowing for the difference in our genres and styles, Kelly made my first ever author interview straightforward and inspiring.

Clint Brill

Kelly’s interviews are like all standard interviews with a simple Q&A session. The similarity, however, stops there. The idea of working through the interview in Third Person like you’re writing a scene for a character was a little odd at first, but it doesn’t take long to get into the fun of it. Her questions were thought-provoking and the “character interactions” between questions helped ease the tension and make the entire process enjoyable. More interviewers need to take a similar approach. I’d definitely do another interview like that any time.

Jacob Settlemyre

The interview was really interesting. Kelly is really good at setting the scene and making you comfortable when you first begin. It was like a real conversation. The talk was laidback and had a lot of possibilities. Of course she lets you explore and contribute. I learned a lot from the experience. Thanks Kelly!

Virginia Carraway Stark

Being interviewed by Kelly Blanchard about my upcoming novel, “The Hunt for Z’iaster’ was an interesting and imaginative romp that showed Blanchard’s clarity of vision of her world. I had never written about myself in the third person before and adding to the challenge of trying to think of how to describe and characterize my movements, voice and idiom was the challenge of being transported to Blanchard’s fantasy universe as well.

Blanchard encourages play over a standard, by the books interview and lets the interviewee lead with creation and imagination so that the interview takes place in another world, Kelly Blanchard’s world. In my case we started off in a royal garden and then rambled through a woods and into ancient ruins.

The suspension of belief and the removal of the bounds of reality are essential to the creative process. This is what was distinguishing about the interview. It was an effort of creation rather than a simple rundown of facts. There was no list of interview questions, and it was much more a conversation between writers that allows others an inside peek into the world of not one author, but two.

I am currently in the middle of interviews with two weeks of Author Interviews and two weeks of Character Interviews—two interviews a day, six days a week. Once all these interviews are completed, I will begin posting the Author Interview of one author on Wednesday and the Character Interview of the same author on Fridays on my new blog Meeting With The Muse. You can visit that blog now and see the Author/Character Interviews I already have posted there when I interviewed Kat Perrin for an example of the new style of interviews.

Am I saying all author interviews should be done like this? No. It is quite time consuming and a stretch of the imagination, and everyone’s schedules must be rearranged. However, the difference is nice.

Creating Distinct Characters

When you write, sometimes you worry about have your characters sounding too similar. Our characters are our babies. We want them to be perfect. We want them to be equally awesome, but if we make one character different, then that could cause an imbalance.

This is our subconsciousness speaking, and part of this is because we may have unknowingly based the characters off of us, and you can read about that in my blog discussing Author-Based Characters. However, right now, I want to how to make characters different from one another.

We need to let the characters become real. How do we do that? Well, you’re going to have to have a sit down chat with them to figure out most of this, but here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • A moral standard (or a complete lack of moral standards).
  • Give them something they’d disapprove of or absolutely won’t do. One character may be fine with killing, but another character may have a real conscience against this, and there they are unique.
  • Relationships/history with other characters
    • One character may be perfectly quiet all the time, but they come across this one specific character, and that quiet character suddenly explodes and becomes irrational and completely different than usual. All the other characters may be complete strangers to this new character except for that one, and that makes things different.
  • Is the character a loud person or quiet?
    • Loud and confident?
    • Quiet and confident?
    • Quiet and insecure?
  • Positive person or negative person?
  • Secrets? Regrets?

Of course, there are more things you can answer as to determine why they’ll act the way they do—full questionnaires based on this—but what you really want is their distinct voice in your head. You want to know how exactly they act.

Do they walk quietly into a room, observe everything and slip into the shadows? Or do they saunter in as if they’re in absolute control and love being the center of attention? When they’re angered, do they raise their voice and begin to shout, or do they become deadly silent? Are they sarcastic? Or do they take things literally?

Now, let’s say you have two characters you worry sound like each other. Here are a few things to consider: are they related? Are they best friends? Did they grow up together? If yes, then it’s okay for them to sound similar although they will encounter similar situations and respond completely different because they’re different people. At times they may say the exact same thing at the exact same time, and this will cause people to pause and look at them then shake their heads and carry on. Other times, one character may say something that sounds like another character, and whomever he’s talking to can point out the similarities, “And here I thought I left Nagging Martha behind!” “Well, I’m her sister, what did you expect?”

If you’re writing separate stories, but you’re worried your main characters are sounding familiar, try giving the new character unique qualities that the other one lacks. Or change gender from male to female. But if you really want to see the differences for yourself between those two characters, write out a random scene where those two characters meet. See how they interact with one another, what they think of each other. You may discover differences you hadn’t realized before.

However, if none of this is working for you, and you’re still struggling with making your characters distinct from each other, go to your favorite TV shows and favorite films. Watch your favorite characters from there. Don’t steal characters outright, but rather borrow certain qualities from different characters to create your own unique character. For instance, take Jack Sparrow’s drunkard, flamboyant behavior, and add the lie-detector abilities of Cal Lightman from the TV Show ‘Lie To Me’. That would be one very interesting character. “I’m sorry, I’m sober at the moment. I can’t tell if the person is lying or telling the truth. Ask me again after a few drinks. Where’s the rum??”

These are merely some suggestions as to how to think creatively when developing your characters. Remember, they’re flawed—not perfect, but that’s what makes them unique and more relatable.

What is the Alphasmart NEO?

What is an Alphasmart NEO? Well, here’s a picture:

 

AlphaSmartNEO

 

But what IS it? An Alphasmart NEO is basically a modern day typewriting without the paper. Here are some facts:

Pros:

No internet connection.

Light weight.

Body: slim but sturdy (if you knocked it off a table, it’ll be fine).

Connects to computer using USB cable.

8 files which have the capability of holding up to 10,000 words = 80,000 word-novel before you need to worry about transferring anything to the computer.

Saves IMMEDIATELY as soon as you type something—anything.

QUICK on/off (press of a single button).

Can print directly from NEO via USB cable.

Run on AA batteries.

Battery life: 700 hours.

Reasonably priced (can be found for less than $100 on eBay).

 

Cons:

No backlight to the screen (meaning you can’t write in the dark).

No mouse or touchpad. You use the arrow and certain specialized keys to maneuver around the file. It takes some getting used to, but then it becomes second nature.

No longer manufactured but can be found on second-hand sites such as eBay, etc.

 

NOTE:

People WILL honestly ask you what the NEO is! But this also gives you a perfect opportunity to promote your story because people are like, “What is that?”

“Oh, it’s an Alphasmart NEO. I’m writing my story on it.”

“You’re a writer??”

“Yep!”

“Wow! I’ve never met a real life author before! What’s your book about?”

It also acts as an extended keyboard should anything happen to the keyboard on your computer. Connect the NEO via USB, and you have typing functions once more! One time when I was in the middle of a semester in university, the spacebar on my laptop died. However, I had my NEO, so I connected it to my computer, typed up the report, and then printed it out in time for class. That was a huge relief.

So there you have it–a basic understanding of the Alphasmart NEO.

Now, there are two versions of the NEO (NEO and NEO 2). I’ve had both, and the only difference I could tell was the NEO 2 is black whereas the NEO is more of a darker olive color. The NEO has a sister called the Alphasmart DANA. This has more than just typing capabilities and has different programs and can connect to the internet. The catch? Less battery life. Because the DANA has a backlight for the screen, its battery only lasts 20-24 hours compared to NEO’s 700 hours.

Since the Alphasmarts are no longer being manufactured, there is a new tool being developed called the Hemingwrite. I don’t know much about them other than the appearance and their starting price, which is over $300. I don’t know anything of its battery life or capabilities, but here’s a picture of it beside an Alphasmart DANA, but you can find out more about the Hemingwrite here: Hemingwrite FAQ.

dana-wireless-vs-Hemingwrite1

(The Alphasmart DANA on the left. Hemingwrite on the right)

Personally, I like the Alphasmart better because it has proven itself irreplaceable to me. I’ve taken it on all my trips (because it’s easier to pull out the NEO and begin writing than to pull out a laptop, turn it on, and wait for it to load up). Whenever I feel like getting away from my computer without being tied to a power cord, I take my NEO.

To put it simply, if you want to write without distraction or if you like to travel and don’t want to damage your laptop in any way, the Alphasmart NEO will be your best friend. You can find it for less than $100 on eBay here: Alphasmart NEO on eBay. Now, if you do buy it on eBay, be aware that some sellers may not include the USB cable needed to transfer your work from NEO to computer, but don’t worry. A normal printer USB cable will do. It will look like this:

USBCable

Now, say you have the NEO and the proper cable, and you have writing you want to transfer over to your computer. Do the following steps:

  1. Turn on your NEO and make sure you’ve selected the file you want to transfer over.
  2. Plug the cable into the NEO and the computer.
  3. Open the document on your computer where you would like the writing to be placed. If you’re adding on to a story, scroll to the bottom of the document where there is no writing.
  4. Press SEND on the NEO, sit back, and watch the words quickly scroll across the document on the computer as if writing themselves. Go, get some coffee while you wait for it to finish

Now, I’m sure there’s another way to do it, but I’m not that techie. This is the way I’ve figured out that isn’t too complicated, and I like simple.

No, I’m not a salesperson, but I’ve been asked about the Alphasmart NEO enough times that I decided to create a blog post specifically about it because its easier to share a blog post link than to type up my knowledge of the NEO each time the question comes up.

If you get a NEO, I hope you the best with your writing adventures! It is a wonderful writing tool.