The Surprising Secret to Creating Believable, Engaging Characters Your Readers Will Never Forget

We all know a good story when we read, watch, or hear one. But do you have a clear idea of what makes one story better than another? We could likely create a long list: vivid descriptions, compelling conflict, evocative emotional landscape, intriguing storylines, and much, much more. And while all of these are necessary for a good story, what’s the one thing that if it were missing there would be no story?

Character.

Many people are moved to write stories because they seek to make meaning of this crazy, beautifully confounding thing called life. And they’re compelled to explore the human condition, which means delving deep into the kaleidoscope of human motivation and behavior. This is why creating believable, engaging characters that your readers will never forget is essential. It’s also an art.

Constructing an interesting storyline that satisfies your readers’ need to know the answer to “what happened next?” is important, but when all is said and done, if your readers go away wondering “why?” did that character do that thing, they’ll go away frustrated and unsatisfied.

We want to understand why we do the things we do, and we look to characters for those answers. There’s a way to get to the core of that inquiry. We can study the ancient chakra system, which will help us begin to drill down inside a character’s core to unravel all her hidden desires and fears. This will better inform our creation of her, and it will help our readers embrace her as a flawed, yet lovable, character that they become emotionally invested in.

Stay tuned for more about how we can use this ancient, esoteric system as a practical application to writing deep, profound characters that come off the page and stay with our readers long after they’ve put our work down.

To get you moving in that direction, call a character to mind. Maybe it’s one from an in-progress short story, novel, or creative non-fiction piece. Or maybe you want to make one up for this exercise. (Think simply if you’re creating one: gender, age, physical appearance.)

Put your character on a plane or a train (or some other mode of transportation) en route to visit family for the holidays, and answer this question: What tacit agreement does this character have with her/his family?

Now write at least two pages about what unfolds as the character approaches, or arrives, at her/his destination.

Then either share your piece of writing or let us know what that process was like in the comments below.

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Fill-in-the-Blank Flash Fiction Friday – May 18

Here’s your Fill-in-the-Blank Flash Fiction Friday* opening sentence.


After the crowd had cleared, ____________________ waited until she/he was alone to plunge into the ____________.


The “Rules”

  • Fill in the blanks.
  • Finish the story in 1,000 words.
  • Post your story in the comments section below by the next Friday.

I’ll post the winner** on my social media sites AND

you could wind up in the Fill-in-the-Blank Flash Fiction Friday book
I just might maybe publish at the end of the year

Sending you mad writing mojo….

Johnnie
XXXX


*Writing is serious business, but sometimes it’s fun to have fun.

**Selection of the winner is arbitrary and depends on my mood, what I’ve eaten or haven’t eaten, how much sleep I’ve had, and my constantly shifting tastes…

Fill-in-the-Blank Flash Fiction Friday – May 4

Here’s your Fill-in-the-Blank Flash Fiction Friday* opening sentence.


Her fingers tickled the keys of the piano with the deftness of a surgeon operating on an infant’s heart when __________________ walked into the dank, dimly lit club.


The “Rules”

  • Fill in the blanks.
  • Finish the story in 1,000 words.
  • Post your story in the comments section below by the next Friday.

I’ll post the winner** on my social media sites AND

you could wind up in the Fill-in-the-Blank Flash Fiction Friday
publication
at the end of the year

Sending you mad writing mojo….

Johnnie
XXXX


*Writing is serious business, but sometimes it’s fun to have fun.

**Selection of the winner is arbitrary and depends on my mood, what I’ve eaten or haven’t eaten, how much sleep I’ve had, and my constantly shifting tastes…

Fill-in-the-Blank Flash Fiction Friday – April 20

Here’s your Fill-in-the-Blank Flash Fiction Friday* opening sentence.


With only two days left until the wedding, ________________ finished her/his martini, and left the bar to __________________ one last time.


The “Rules”

  • Fill in the blanks.
  • Finish the story in 1,000 words.
  • Post your story in the comments section below by the next Friday.

I’ll post the winner** on my social media sites AND

you could wind up in the Fill-in-the-Blank Flash Fiction Friday
publication at the end of the year

Sending you mad writing mojo….

Johnnie
XXXX


*Writing is serious business, but sometimes it’s fun to have fun.

**Selection of the winner is arbitrary and depends on my mood, what I’ve eaten or haven’t eaten, how much sleep I’ve had, and my constantly shifting tastes…

Am I a hypocrite?

Am I a hypocrite?

Some days it feels that way…

While I’m over here posting on my social media sites with the intention to inspire others to focus on their passions and put their writing first or organizing for my next workshop, or talk to do the same, I find that I, regularly, have very little – if any – time to write.

Because I’ve almost always been in a position of being the navigator – both in my personal life and at work – I think I have an underlying belief that I always have to look like I have it figured out to be strong and supportive and inspirational for others.

In the interest of transparency and authenticity, this post is a bit more personal than most, and I’m writing to share what my days are like – struggles included – so that you know you’re not alone and so you know that your being on the receiving end of my posts, newsletters, and all else makes a difference.

I’ve been acutely aware recently of a nagging feeling that I’ve lost my way, to a degree… not with my desire to create a life around writing and helping others write, but with the minutia of my day-to-day life.

As many of you know, I’ve been a college professor for many years now, and things have changed. Higher education is not held in high regard as it once was, and many students view their educations as a commodity they’ve purchased. Respect for professors seems to be a thing of the past. This reality creates a drudgery that morphs into a kind of ennui that I just can’t shake. (There are, of course, students who are exceptions to this, and they are the ones who make my showing up still feel worthwhile.)

I’m also a copywriter for a company that rents vacation homes, and as I know is true for many of you, the grind of an hourly paying job has worn on me. Yet, while it’s past time for me to move on, I’m not quite in a position yet to let the job go. That said, though, I have made a promise to myself that by the end of this year, I will. One bright light is that I will be cutting back my hours to half as of May 1 for health reasons. (More about that in a minute…)

When I’m feeling discombobulated, one of the things I do to clear my head is to visit Portland Art Museum. There’s an ongoing, rotating exhibit on the lower level called Object Stories. Currently, the exhibit is about disabilities. There are four exhibits, each focusing on an individual and her/his plight with some sort of disability. And there’s the interactive portion of the exhibit. One wall is filled with stickie notes where people have written down their disabilities. It’s a little overwhelming but mostly touching and poignant.

Another wall contains buttons that viewers can take and wear to spark conversations about disabilities. Oftentimes, many people with disabilities operate much the same way I mentioned above regarding my perceived “need” to feel like I’m appearing “normal” or on top of things – the beacon of light, the strong sail in the wind – or just merely a desire to seem like everyone else.

I know this because I’m one of them. I took two of the buttons. One reads, “I have a neurological hidden disability.” The other reads, “I have a physical hidden disability.” I’m still getting used to using “I” and “disability” in the same sentence, but both of these statements are true. (I’ve yet to wear them in public, though, because, to be honest, I dread the well-meaning advice and illl-informed questions. And while I know this is the point… it feels like one more thing to juggle and manage.)

And so, this is yet another obstacle in my path to live the kind of writing life I want, to grow a business that allows me to do that, and to fulfill my passion and purpose to help others tell their stories.

Since 2005, I have struggled with a chronic illness no one could name. After seeing numerous doctors, not being believed, being dismissed, and ultimately, sent away in frustration, I have found two doctors who – at long last – believed me when they heard my story, knew what I was talking about, and are helping me sort it all out.

I’ve had a diagnosis of fibromyalgia (in the past), a possible diagnosis of mast cell activation syndrome (in the more recent past), and have discovered that I have a problem with Sulphur toxicity (my body doesn’t process Sulphur but creates a gas, which has been, basically, poisoning me). We’re still unraveling this 13-year clusterfuck, but at least I’m feeling hopeful.

Part of my reason in cutting back my hours at one of the jobs is to give myself some time to breathe, heal, and get my legs… So far, the plan is that I’ll soon be starting home injections (B12) and a series of IV treatments. Specifically, I’ll be undergoing UVBI treatments – Ultraviolet Blood Irradiation. And it’s just what it sounds like, my blood will be irradiated with ultraviolet light.

Being one who always looks for the beauty, benefit, and best outcome of every situation, the idea of having my blood irradiated with light makes me smile. Maybe when it’s all said and done, I’ll sparkle a little more than I have in a long time. And maybe having the decreased hours will actually allow me more space for work I love and more time for what matters to me the most… my own writing, growing my business and clientele, and satisfying my deep desire to help people get stories outside themselves. Because I believe that this act alone – sharing stories – is what heals us, others, and the world.

So please know that over these next few months, when you see prompts, inspirational quotes, articles, and anything else I might share with you about writing, that even though I might be struggling to create the life I want, knowing that you’re on the receiving end keeps me focused, putting one foot in front of the other, and believing I can do the work I’m here to do.

We’re all in this together, folks, so let’s support each other. If you want to voice your struggles and obstacles with writing and/or creating your ideal life, please feel free to post them on the closed Writing Through the Body Facebook page. It’s a page focused on writing, yes. And it’s also a page for writers, who are people living in a culture that doesn’t value creativity and tells us that endeavors like writing are frivolous – a luxury. There’s power in numbers, so let’s stick together, support each other, and make our desires a reality.

Thanks for reading, for following my circuitous path to realizing my dreams, and for believing I have something to offer you. It keeps me going, and I appreciate it ever so much.

Sending you tons of love and mad writing mojo…

Best,

Johnnie
XXXXX