Posted in Exercises

Characterization

There are three fundamental aspects that every single story has, regardless of good, bad, popular or unknown. Without those three pieces, you don’t have a story. They include plot, setting and characters. Those three elements are impossible to escape. Your characters are who the story is about, your plot is what happens during the story and your setting is where the story happens.

While I could delve into why it’s impossible to write a story without all three of those present, today I want to focus on characters. They’re often the main and central focus of the story for your readers. Making characters distinct for one another relies heavily on characterization.

Characterization itself is the distinct features each character has. This goes beyond just physical features and into personality traits and habitual quirks. These are your defining features that help your characters stand out from one another.

Speech is a huge place for characterization to come through. The way people talk often reflects the environment they’re most often surrounded by and were raised in. As an exercise, you can write down a list of common words with multiple synonyms (think car, soda, mother, etc) and determine which ones your characters would use. Would one of them use Mom while another uses Momma, or even Mother? Is it a vehicle or an auto?

Phrasing is important in speech as well. If you have someone who’s learned a second language, how they learned it will impact how they speak it. Someone who learned organically through immersion would have picked up more slang words and may still have some chunks missing from their vocabulary. Someone who learned through traditional schooling may have a more formal structure, but struggle with idioms and expressions.

As an exercise for phrasing, think about any idioms, expressions or sayings that might crop up. Think about how each character might use a variation of that central expression.

Habits are often linked to subconscious things that can tell us a lot about personalities. Someone who chews their nails might be very nervous or they can be bored. Similarly, someone who shuffles their feet a when walking might be less inclined to rush about to do things.

Even in the foods we dislike, some characters will try to mask the taste by mixing that food in, while others prefer to eat it first and get the worst over with. Still other characters will separate it from the other foods and try to avoid more than a few bites of it at all.

As an exercise, consider three subconscious habits your character might have. These are things they probably do without thinking. Does he wipe his feet before coming through a door? Does she do certain chores or tasks in a specific order? Do they have a specific reaction to being reprimanded? Will they only do certain things when they’re tired/hungry/scared?

Self-Expression covers how characters portray themselves. Someone who takes pride in their appearance might be vain, or they could be masking self-esteem problems. Similarly, someone who speaks their mind freely might be confident, or they may feel as if they have to constantly explain their thoughts and actions to avoid being judged.

Because self-expression is so easily varied, it might help for you to consider how your characters express themselves and why they do in a particular way. Examine things like how they dress, how much work they put into keeping their spaces (include housing, vehicles and work areas) tidy, how often they speak up and what sort of hobbies they enjoy outside of their work or job.

Posted in General

January Recap

It feels a bit like January has taken forever to move by. Just a couple of weeks ago I was writing a launch post for Crimson and Gold. I was also looking at my projects and trying to decide what to work on next.

A lot has happened this month, both in writing and in other life matters. I’ve sadly, had to start looking at getting a new computer as my current one is showing its age. Along with some slowness, it’s no longer handling some of the programs I use regularly thanks to reduced memory and updates to those programs. I’ve also noted that my keyboard is having some trouble with one side of my space bar and the n key. In some ways I’m looking forward to that as it gives me a chance to clean out my desk when I replace my computer (I’m also looking for ways I can recycle it.)

Alongside the launch, I also built a tracker to see how much I’m actually writing throughout the year. For January, that ended up being just over seventy-thousand. I’m really surprised at how much I ended up writing even without a focused project.

Building the tracker lead me to digging through my project list. That ultimately lead me to digging out a very old story for a complete rework. I’ve spent the last couple of days doing some exercises to help flesh out and build on the existing idea and will be working on the rewrite throughout February.

CRIMSONANDGOLDREVEALCOVERThe biggest thing for January was of course, the launch for Crimson and Gold. It’s exciting to be able to say it’s available on Amazon for $0.99 (USD). There was a huge learning curve involved getting ready for launch, and I’m looking forward to what comes next.

What happened in your January?

Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: Prior Engagements

Romance, Everett decided as he stomped down the altar’s runner, was entirely useless.

He’d spent more than two and half years courting Miss Lavender, and now today of all days, she announced she wouldn’t be marrying him.

Not even to his face.

She’d sent a letter.

The last six months of wedding preparations had to be undone. At least half of what he’d spent was permanently lost. That much he’d expected for some places, especially for the church. They used the fees and money to help keep the church in running order.

The fact he’d had the priests offering their condolences as if someone had died was what bothered him the most.

He yanked the church doors open, striding outside without looking at what lay behind. A yelp and he fell backwards, having collided with someone on their way in.

“I’m so sorry.”

Her voice was gentle and Everett looked up. Her basket had spilled, dried flowers and a few carefully letter papers littering the steps. All the same, she held a hand down to him.

“It’s not your fault,” Everett said. “I shouldn’t be letting my temper get me into a mood to stomp around.”

She smiled as he took her hand. He hardly needed the help up, but accepted. Everett straightened his vest and bent again, scooping up the things he’d spilled when they’d collided.

“Thank you,” she said. “Although, may I ask what has you in such a mood?”

Such a light, gentle tone, like kisses from the air. He had to chuckle, a little darker. “My bride-to-be had decided she won’t be marrying me. I’ve spent most of the day running around and trying to undo all of the wedding preparations. I…” He glanced back at the altar.

It looked like any other day of the week with how it was set now. Three bowls. One each for the land, the sea and the sky. On his wedding day they would have been surrounded by sprays of flowers and ribbons. Their rings would have been blessed in each bowl before they were allowed to place them on their fingers.

Thoughts for another time, Everett decided and turned with a shake of his head. “I am sorry,” he said as she counted her papers. “Like I said, I shouldn’t be letting my mood make me stomp around.”

“For something that heartbreaking, it’s understandable. Just, perhaps, be a little more observant before you run into someone else, please?”

The soft smile on her face melted some of his anger away. “Of course,” he said. “I—I’m so sorry, I don’t even have your name.”

“Blair,” she answered and inclined her head. “And you’re Everett Atoll.”

“Uh—yes. I don’t recognize you.”

“I’d be surprised if you did. My father’s one of your newest business partners. Ashton Carrier.”

Blair Carrier. He’d not only run into a young, gentle woman, but Blair Carrier herself. Masterful writer and champion of charities across the region.

“I’m so sorry Miss Carrier,” he said. “Please, let me make it up to you.”

“Blair!”

That wasn’t her father’s voice but she turned towards it all the same. The man who came up had to be at least ten years older than her. He caught her hand with affection on his face. “Are you alright?”

“Fine, Jacob. A little mishap, nothing more. I just need to see these are handled properly and then we can get back home.”

Everett knew Jacob. He’d been introduced as a family retainer during one business meeting. Doubtless sent to help Blair with her errands today.

Jacob sighed and offered a mocking bow. “As the lady demands.”

Blair laughed and turned, lifting one side of her skirt as she bowed to Everett. “I have some things to see to. If you need help with anything, I’m happy to assist.”

He couldn’t hep but smile. “Thank you, but unless you happen to know someone in need of a white lace dress, I’m afraid everything else is out of my hands.”

“White lace? I might know someone,” Blair said.

“Really?’” It surprised him and Blair laughed.

“I do like having a few nicer dresses.”

“It’s—uh, perhaps I can help you here and show you the dress? It’s at Missus Cleary’s now.”

“I’d love to. Oh, Jacob. I’m sorry.”

Jacob however, held up a hand, a smile on his face. “It matters little and gives me time perhaps to ensure lunch isn’t forgotten before someone else finds a need of your aid for some reason.”

Blair laughed and shook her head before she turned another smile on Everett. “Give me the hour and then shall I meet you at Missus Cleary’s?”

“Absolutely,” Everett said. “Thank you.”

“The pleasure is mine,” she said and offered a little wave. He returned it as his mood lightened.

She vanished into the church and Everett gave himself a little shake while Jacob beamed after her. “She is a marvel,” Jacob said and inclined her head. “I’ll see to it that the cost of the dress is covered for Miss Blair.”

“It’s already paid for,” Everett said and turned. “I’m happier that I don’t have another reminder of my prior engagement hanging about. Perhaps I should have mentioned it was a wedding dress.”

Jacob chuckled as he followed Blair inside. Everett watched over his shoulder a moment longer before he shook it off. He’d get rid of the wedding dress—perhaps offer to have some alterations added so it wasn’t as clear what its intended purpose had been.

Besides, he decided, it was only Blair Carrier being the kind young woman she was known to be. It wasn’t as if Everett would be foolish enough to romance another woman.

Not at least, so soon after his prior engagement.


by A.J. Helms

If you enjoyed this, you can find more of my works by visiting my books page or picking up a copy of my newest release, Crimson and Gold for Kindle.

Posted in General

Revisiting Old Ideas

If you’ve been following me, you probably already know that for most of January, I didn’t have a main project selected. I prefer having one main project a month because it helps keep me focused and not as inclined to bounce around on several different projects. Because of the launch for Crimson and Gold, I never got around to selecting one.

I did however, a couple of weeks ago, go back through and take a look at my project list. I have far too many in-progress stories.

I also have several stories that have been drafted, but haven’t been touched in quite possibly, years. The oldest of these is a story I’ve hung onto from around 2013. If I recall correctly, it was the NaNoWriMo novel I wrote for that year. At fifty-thousand words, there’s a lot wrong with it.

For starters, the plot is a stretch, even with some heavy suspension of disbelief. The characters also flat, and character arcs largely don’t exist.

There are however, good points. The concept itself is still solid. The idea at its core has some merit. It’s merely bogged down in what’s unpolished writing. I’ll also note that it’s writing from seven years ago. I’ve gained a lot of new skills since I last wrote it.

Although I haven’t looked at it in those years, I have kept it on my project list, and I think it’s about time I took it back out and revisited it.

Starting with a complete rewrite.