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Most serious writers want to connect with an audience; preferably a big one. You have something to say. You have a story to tell. You want people to read it. One of the best ways to make people want to read your work is to create memorable and relatable central characters. Whether you are writing a short story, screenplay, or a novel, you want your readers to identify with and live the story through your main characters. To do this, you have to create three dimensional characters that live and breathe in your reader’s imagination. I’d like to share with you a method I learned for from professional, published writers.
I started writing in earnest when I began a career in marketing communications. In my early thirties, it became clear to me that writing was the thing I enjoyed doing the most when it came to work. I wrote promotional copy and content for radio and TV ads, brochures, websites, press releases, Power Point® presentations, sales contests and salesperson motivation, and on and on. In my forties, I wrote a few not-so-good short stories. At the age of fifty, I decided to try my hand at writing screenplays. I was scared shitless. Deep down, I really didn’t think I could do it. Some crazy impulse pushed me towards the cliff’s edge and over it into the unknown.
Fortunately, I was old enough to realize I needed help. At fifty, I didn’t have the time or inclination to fall into the traps most beginning fiction writers do. I had already suffered enough scars from learning how to write business communications. I wanted to walk as straight a path as possible in this new world of fiction writing. I knew that mistakes were inevitable. I just wanted to avoid the detours.
Somehow, I found my way to the Online Writers’ Program at UCLA. One of the first things I learned in my online courses was the necessity of building an original and compelling Protagonist and Antagonist plus an interesting cast of supporting characters. Unless you are an incredibly gifted genius, you will need to know your characters thoroughly before you start writing your story. You must know them in detail, including the seminal events that made them who they are today, commonly called their backstory. Why is this necessary? Because if you don’t know who your characters are and what they need and want before you start writing, they will almost certainly be flat, two-dimensional cut outs. At the very least, they won’t be original and interesting.
If you craft your characters carefully and thoughtfully, your story will write itself. Your plot will be character driven, rather than contrived. Your readers will become emotionally attached to your characters.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking: Enough of this baloney. Tell me how to write amazing characters.
There are two methods I can suggest. You can sit down and write everything you know about your character. Hopefully, you’ll fill several pages with your biographical information. If you can do this effectively, more power to you. There’s only one catch: You better know what to include in your character’s bio because, as we’ve said, you have to know your character inside and out. That’s why I prefer the second method, especially if you are new to creating fictional characters.
The second method, which I deveoped from my online courses at UCLA, employs a character template to build your character. I feel it’s better than writing about your characters in an unstructured format because it forces you to answer questions about them that you might try to avoid or just plain leave out. Here’s the template you can use to create central characters with more originality, specificity, and complexity. Filling out the template takes a bit of work, but in the end, I believe it can expand your audience and pave the way to greater writing success.
Build or Figure:
Past/present home life:
David Gittlin has written three feature length screenplays, produced two short films, and published three novels. For more information, please visit www.davidgittlin.com
This interview and a spicy excerpt from an early chapter appear at Fang-Tastic Books; a well-known book review site.
Can you tell readers a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to write in this particular genre?
I believe it started with my struggle with the forces of darkness and light within myself. A year after writing Scarlet Ambrosia, I see the story through a different pair of eyes. At the core of the novel is a young man’s struggle with the forces of good and evil within himself and the world around him. The vampire archetype, I now realize, is a metaphor for my heart’s dream to realize its divine nature. The supernatural powers and ramped-up energy level Devon acquires as a vampire make him half-human and half-god, something like the mythological Greek gods. He can choose to use his new powers for good or evil purposes.
I believe everyone has the potential to become a divinely human being. I’ve been a ‘spiritual seeker’ for most of my adult life. Awakening isn’t easy, but I’ve found it’s worth the effort. What happens for Devon is happening for me in a much subtler way without the super-human powers, but happily, minus the need to drink human blood.
What is it about the paranormal, in particular vampires, that fascinates you so much?
I’m fascinated by the supernatural powers of my vampire characters. They are very powerful beings with the capacity to dramatically impact the world around them positively or negatively.
Please tell us about your most recent release.
My latest release is Scarlet Ambrosia. I’m working on a sequel because I love the characters. Scarlet Ambrosia is the second novel I’ve published. The first one is a humorous Science Fantasy thriller titled “Three Days to Darkness.”
Do you have a special formula for creating characters’ names? Do you try to match a name with a certain meaning to attributes of the character or do you search for names popular in certain time periods or regions?
In most cases, I try to make a character’s name show something about the character’s personality and traits. I try not to make it too obvious. At other times, a character’s name just comes to me and I trust that the name is the right one. It’s interesting that the name often corresponds to a character’s traits by coincidence.
Was one of your characters more challenging to write than another?
The antagonist of the story, Egon Schiller, was the hardest for me to write. This is often the case in the stories I write. There is always a tendency to make the villain two-dimensional rather than a three-dimensional person with some good traits and intentions. I feel that the most believable villains are people who have, for one reason or another, given in to their dark side. A good example of this is Darth Vader.
Is there a character that you enjoyed writing more than any of the others?
Of all the characters in the story, I most enjoyed writing the female love interest, Mathilde de Roche. Her strength, heroism, and magnetism came naturally as I created her and as I wrote her throughout the story. That came as a surprise. I am, after all, a guy. Like most men, I find women unfathomable in the real world.
Do you have a formula for developing characters? Like do you create a character sketch or list of attributes before you start writing or do you just let the character develop as you write?
I participated in several online screen writing and novel-writing courses offered through the writers program at UCLA. Professional writers taught these courses. The teachers stressed that the most successful stories have memorable characters in them. I learned to create my characters before writing the story using a detailed character template. I’ve found that knowing what makes my characters “tick” helps make them more interesting and believable.
What is the most interesting thing you have physically done for book related research purposes?
I spent a week in Sedona, Arizona exploring the town’s art galleries, architecture and the energy vortexes.
When did you consider yourself a writer?
When I stumbled into my career in marketing communications, I found writing was the most enjoyable part of the job.
Where can readers find you on the web?
Would you like to leave readers with a little teaser or excerpt from the book?
Here’s a spicy excerpt from Chapter Two:
This woman was beyond beautiful. She was exquisite—no signs of breast implants or a nose job and no tattoos or piercings marred the natural beauty of her face and body. Her creamy skin felt like the finest silk to Devon’s probing hands. He unclasped her bra. His loins tingled at the sight of her full breasts. He caressed her erect nipples. She moaned.
The foreplay had started slowly with exploratory kisses and caresses. Now he could barely wait to enter her. Devon removed the last fragments of clothing from their bodies. The smell of her perfume, the feel of her body, and the sensation of her soft hands on his buttocks almost made him explode prematurely.
Being inside this woman was like nothing he had experienced before. Devon lost all sense of physical boundaries. The sensual pleasure of joining with Mathilde seemed to fill every cell in his body. He was only vaguely aware of moving inside her. Their rising passion consumed him. She kept repeating something in French. His back arched. He climaxed. The pleasure was too intense for his senses to bear. He lost consciousness.
He woke up next to her on the bed. She stroked his hair with one hand, propping up her head on one elbow.
Feeling embarrassed, Devon shook his head, unable to comprehend the reason for his lapse of consciousness.
“I’m sorry if I scared you. It’s the first time I’ve ever passed out during sex.”
“You didn’t scare me, ma chère. It only confirms what I was afraid of.”
“If we go on having sex, it will kill you.”
He laughed nervously. Had the sex been good enough to cause a blackout?
“I can think of worse ways to die,” he said, covering up for his discomfort.
She kept looking at him studiously.
“You kept whispering something to me in French. It sounded like: ‘Vous êtez celui que j’ai choisi.’ I think that means: ‘You are the one I chose’”
A whisper of red colored her cheeks.
“Your French is better than you admit.”
“I don’t understand. We’ve just met, Mathilde.”
“Don’t worry. It’s just a game I play with myself. You remind me of someone I once knew: a handsome, high-minded young man with a sensitive heart.”
“I’m flattered, but it sounds a little more like a fixation than an innocent game to me.”
“Please don’t play the amateur psychologist.”
She pushed him off the bed with a movement almost too fast to see. One second he lay facing her. The next thing he knew, he lay on his back on the floor. Her sudden display of uncanny strength and speed frightened him. Clambering to a sitting position, he began to collect his clothes from the bed.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t mean to alarm you. Are you injured?”
“I’m still in one piece.”
“I actually do study martial arts, in answer to your earlier question. Sometimes I forget my own strength. Let me help you with your things. Are you sure I haven’t hurt you?”
He had the impression she was lying.
“I’m fine. I just think it might be better to leave now. Who knows what could happen if you toss and turn in your sleep?”
“I apologize for leading you on,” Mathilde said. “I only intended to meet you in the bar and talk with you. I thought of it as a minor indulgence, to take my mind off things for a while. I let my curiosity about you cloud my judgment. Then, meeting you face to face, you had much more of an effect on me than I anticipated. I lost control of myself.”
“Is that something that happens often?”
“No,” she answered curtly. “I’m not that shallow.”
Devon’s thoughts and emotions spun like pinwheels. Part of him wanted to bolt out the door and finish dressing in the hallway. Another part, the accountant, needed explanations; wanted to analyze and quantify Mathilde de Roche. In the end, his own curiosity coupled with her charisma kept him rooted by the bedside.
“I’ve studied martial arts myself. I’ve never seen anyone move as quickly as you just did.”
She continued to regard him with a serious expression for a full minute before responding.
“You should leave now, Devon. I won’t be offended.”
A year after writing Scarlet Ambrosia, I see the story through a different pair of eyes. At the core of the novel is a young man’s struggle with darkness and light. The vampire archetype, I now realize, is a metaphor for my heart’s dream to realize its divine nature. The supernatural powers and turbo charged energy level Devon acquires as a vampire make him half-human and half-god, something like the mythological Greek gods. He can choose to use his new powers for good or evil purposes.
*Blog title inspired by Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”
Just in, this review of my new novel, Scarlet Ambrosia, now available on Amazon.com and coming soon to Barnes and Noble and iTunes.
“There’s a relatively new but rapidly expanding genre on the market called “urban fantasy,” that has as its older sibling the vampire novel, born of Anne Rice’s first book decades ago and now a genre in its own right. And then, there’s the classic vampire struggle between darkness and light—a struggle that immerses unwitting victims, vampires, and survivors in a world dominated by blood-lust.
“With so many vampire novels on the market today, one could wonder at the need for yet another; but Scarlet Ambrosia is a vampire story of a different color, seasoned not so much by the drama of blood-letting as by the more universal themes of self-discovery, human nature, and redemption. Ultimately this is what makes or breaks any genre; especially one such as the urban fantasy or vampire story, which too often tends to eschew self-examination in favor of high drama. And this is just one of the reasons why Scarlet Ambrosia stands out from the urban fantasy genre crowd.
“Sure, protagonist Devon’s outward battle is against an ancient evil vampire, Egon Schiller, but it’s also against himself. Devon is no stranger to the dark forces within him after years of therapy, but the darkness he’s confronting now proves far beyond his wildest dreams.
“Scarlet Ambrosia‘s inner light shines forth: a light that starts with Devon’s inner world and expands to embrace the wider concern of disappearances on the city streets.
“This part is predictable as Devon confronts an undercurrent of blood-lust and vampires in Miami’s underworld. What is less predictable is his foray into the drug world in search of evidence that will support an international investigation into one of Egon’s illegal activities, fostered by his encounter with the sly, alluring Mathilde, who harbors her own secret agenda.
“There’s a suggestion of romance between Devon and Mathilde that’s evident from their first encounter but which is suppressed in their growing focus on greater goals, which are developed as the quest progresses, as evidenced in Mathilde’s statement:
“Vanderling fears what Schiller will do every day he roams the earth more than he fears what might happen to us if we fail.” “It’s ironic how Schiller’s existence can matter more in the scheme of things than yours or mine,” he said. “When we first met, I told you I could handle Egon. That was another lie to help you feel more secure in your new situation.
“There is acknowledgement of the forces of light and darkness that occasionally rise up, unfettered, to try to take over people and the world. And as Devon becomes involved in kidnapping and worse, he finds all facets of his life are called into question with a series of decisions that reach out to affect even his relationship with his beloved parents.
“As lies, secrecy, and murders build, Devon finds himself paying for the bad decisions of others, and must come to admit his own inner nature before he can make a proper decision on honing his skills for either greater good or evil.
“The web of lies builds and threatens to immerse everything Devon holds dear, eventually spilling over into something greater than he’s ever known.
“Scarlet Ambrosia is not your usual vampire story. Its intrigue, romance, and thriller writing are all wrapped up in a bigger picture. It offers much food for thought in the course of following Devon’s evolutionary process and decisions, and it’s not a light-hearted romp through a vampire’s realm, as so many such novels offer.
“As such, it’s especially recommended for readers seeking more depth and undercurrents of philosophy in their literary choices. How does a protagonist not become the evil he fights in the process of battle? The classic vampire struggle between darkness and light just assumed a new cloak of complexity here—and wears it well.”
The Midwest Book Review gave “Three Days to Darkness” a “Thumbs Up.” It’s encouraging when anyone other than my wife, daughter, mother-in-law, and best-friend Joe Canzano responds positively to my novel. (My mother read half the book. She liked the writing but not the story).
Here’s the review by Diane Donovan, Mid-West Book Review eBook reviewer:
“The magic number is three. Three days to save the world. Three people to help Darius McPherson succeed. And three important life lessons to learn in the process.
The setting is a war being planned in Heaven itself by a reluctant warrior too young to be in Heaven in the first place, and the mission involves saving humanity from its own follies: no mean assignment for a young man killed in a drive-by shooting and suddenly tasked with saving the world.
Three Days to Darkness is about magic on many levels: the incongruity of Heaven and its purposes, the absurdities of Mankind, and the passionate concerns of a boy faced with apocalypse on a scale that moves beyond singular death and into the destruction of humanity itself.
As if this wasn’t enough, add demons and a road that literally leads to Hell (albeit paved with good intentions) and you have a fast-paced thriller novel that defies the usual genre definitions of fantasy, thriller or action piece and creeps into the realm of the impossible.
Three Days to Darkness darkens rapidly as Darius investigates company clinical trials, angel operatives, and deadly courses of action, spicing his approach with a cocky blend of offense and defense that presumes a degree of training he actually lacks: “Crooking his arm, Darius lifted his hand just below chin level with all five fingers splayed. He reminded himself of David Carradine as Caine in a “Kung Fu” TV episode. A more experienced angel operative would certainly prepare to attack with “way more” subtlety, he figured.”
Doses of humor are tossed in for effective comic relief as Darius questions why a Heaven governed by the concept of free will would intervene in the affairs of man – and why it would choose to do so for one event and not another: “Darius sat perfectly still for a while with his hands in his lap before speaking again. “I’m confused,” he said with a solemn expression. “On the one hand, you say everything that happens to a man is the result of free will, and on the other hand, you send me to Earth to stop a pill from going on the market. I don’t get it.” “Good observation, Darius. It sounds like a contradiction, but it’s more like a distinction. We have to pick our fights carefully. We try not to interfere with the operation of human free will. We sat by and watched in horror, for example, when Roman soldiers crucified Christ and terrorists flew commercial airliners into the Twin Towers. But there are times when we must take action, when a worldwide catastrophe could result from human failure, to put it in a shorthand manner. We intervened during the two world wars and the Cuban Missile crisis, to cite a few recent cases. We have also been involved when the psychological, moral or spiritual evolution of the species is at risk. A literal example of such a case was our influence on the outcome of the famous ‘Scopes Trial.’”
What lessons will Darius learn in his latest incarnation as a new angel? He has only three days to absorb them – or witness the end of all days.
Three Days to Darkness is a fast-paced, vivid read that incorporates all the elements of a superior mystery, thriller, and fantasy. It’s certainly not a portrait of a predictable afterlife, a conventional Heaven, or a banal post-life mission. All these facets merge to create a uniquely involving story
blending amusing moments with engrossing encounters between disparate forces; each with their own special interests and agendas.
And Darius? He’s in it for the ride, and takes readers along with him in an unexpected journey through Heaven, Hell, and beyond.”