#ROW80 check-ins, guest blogs

Creating complex characters with author Celine Jeanjean

Today, except for a brief ROW80 check-in at the end of this post, I’m turning the blog over to Celine Jeanjean, author of The Viper and the Urchin, for a discussion of character development. Celine’s book is full of well-drawn and memorable characters, and she offers some good tips below for how to make your characters shine as well.

And now, over to Celine…

When Denise asked me if I’d be up for writing a post about creating complex characters, I was so flattered! With that in mind, I’ve put together some of the things I did while building my characters, in the hope that it might be helpful. I focused specifically on two aspects: voice and dimensions.


assassin_fullThe Viper and the Urchin is told from both Rory and Longinus’ points of views. Rory is a scrappy urchin girl, while Longinus is a fastidious and snobbish assassin who’s afraid of blood. Since they’re very different, I had to make sure their voices were just as distinct.

The first thing I did was play around with their language by creating a list of curses, slangs, and general expressions for each of them. I find language can be really helpful in showing a character’s personality, as well as where they’re from and the world they live in.

Most of the expressions didn’t make it into the book in the end, because the right conversations didn’t crop up, or because I made up others on the spot, but I found it a very useful way to start developing each voice in my head.

Once I had a bit of a feel for their voices, I wrote a synopsis of the story as if each character was sitting down and relating the story to a friend. This was a great way to ‘practice’ each voice, and it also enabled me to get to know their personalities a little better. Would they tell the story in a few sentences or go into blow by blow detail? Would they take creative license and play down certain aspects and highlight others? (Longinus’ creative license turned out to be pretty extensive!)


I found the three dimensions of a character as outlined in Story Engineering by Larry Brooks incredibly useful as a base from which to develop Rory and Longinus. For anyone who hasn’t read the book, the dimensions are as follows:

1st Dimension: the surface and appearance of a character (they way she dresses, quirks, the way she talks, opinions, tastes, etc. Basically anything that can be perceived by an outsider)

2nd Dimension: the reason behind the choices and behaviours that define a character’s appearance – or the reason behind the character’s efforts to control her appearance. Backstory, agenda, etc, fall into that dimension.

3rd Dimension: what the character is like deep down, beneath it all (their moral compass, their soul.) The third dimension is usually revealed when the stakes and pressure are high and it doesn’t necessarily align with the first two.

Thinking about the layers of a personality in that way was really helpful in finding places to add conflict. A classic way to do this is to have the third and first dimension clash: the cad who turns out to have a heart of gold, or someone with the appearance of a hero/good guy who turns out to be a coward or a traitor.

Another way of introducing contrast within a character is by looking at the idea that appearance is driven by a combination of what a character thinks about herself and what she wants others to see. Those two things can be aligned, or they can be in contradiction. Especially if said character holds conflicting views about herself (as a lot – most? – of us do.)

For example in my case, Longinus is incredibly ashamed of his fear of blood, and deep down doesn’t feel like a good enough assassin – so he overcompensates by trying very hard to come across as the perfect gentleman assassin. He’s arrogant and superior, partly because he genuinely believes himself to be the best alchemist in town, as well as the best-dressed man, but also because it’s a comfort zone for him. It’s easier for him to be arrogant than to face his failings.

I found that adding contrast and delving into the why behind the quirks and outer traits helps makes them more than just a superficial, amusing details – it helps make them part of a more complete personality. Especially in the case of a humorous character like Longinus – spending time working out the reasons behind his many personality quirks stopped him (I hope!) from veering into the ridiculous, and made him a bit more complex.

So there you have it — I hope it’s been helpful. I don’t pretend this is the best way to go about creating characters but it certainly helped me with mine. If you disagree or if you use different methods when working on characters, I’d love to hear!

About Celine:

Celine Jeanjean PhotoCeline Jeanjean is French, grew up in the UK and now lives in Hong Kong. That makes her a tad confused about where she is from. During her time in Asia she’s watched the sun rise over Angkor Wat, lost her shoes in Vietnam, and fallen off a bamboo raft in China.

Celine writes stories that feature quirky characters and misfits, and her books are a mixture of steampunk, fantasy and humour.

To find out more about Celine or just to chat, visit her on:

Website: http://celinejeanjean.wordpress.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CelineJeanjeanAuthor


Twitter: https://twitter.com/CelineJeanjean

Lastly, here’s my midweek ROW80 check-in

Writing: Wrote 4,008 words in Called by Magic. Did 45 pages of critique. Started a character voice journal for Called by Magic.

Reading: Finished reading Roz Morris’s Writing Characters Who’ll Keep Your Readers Captivated. Finished reading Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. Just bought The School of Good and Evil by Soman Chainani, so I might start that one today or continue reading The 10th Kingdom by Kathryn Wesley.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop!

denise signature

#ROW80 check-ins, paranormal romance

Snowy midweek #ROW80 check-in

photo from stock.xchng
photo from stock.xchng

Well, the weather outside is frightful, but I have tea, a pile of blankets, and a fluffy white cat, so I’m snuggled up indoors and busily writing.

Some days the magic in a manuscript just works, and I’ve been fortunate to have a couple days like that so far this week. Words were flying from my fingertips Monday and Tuesday, so I’m just a few words short of my word-count goal for the entire week—and that’s only from two days worth of writing. I’m at that point in the story where the action is building, so maybe I’m just excited to reach the climax of the story. Who knows. Whatever it is, I’ll take it.

Last week I blogged about getting to know your villain. Something has happened in this WIP that’s never happened before. I have two villains, and I actually like one of them. He’s got the strongest voice of any of the characters—snappy and wry and quick with the comebacks. His motivations, his desires, his thinking processes are clearer to me than any of the other characters, and his back story is pretty fascinating. He’s rather unpredictable, but that’s part of the fun. But what do you do when you have a cheeky villain who always steals the spotlight?

Meanwhile, I’m still trying to get to know my hero and heroine. I feel like I don’t know as much about their normal, everyday lives—before goblins and warlock curses turned their world upside-down—as I should at this point. On the one hand, I don’t want to halt the progress I’m making with the story, and as the characters get deeper into the action, they’re revealing themselves to me. I see it this way: Much of what I’m learning as I write this first draft will influence how I revise the story. So I’ll just keep plugging away. In any case, I have a feeling that I’ll be doing lots of character exercises in the coming months to really make this story sing.

On a very snowy day in Virginia, here’s my midweek #ROW80 check-in. Stay warm and safe out there, everyone!

ROW80Logocopy1.) Finish a draft of “Good, Old-Fashioned Magic”: 2,700 to 3,000 words per week. Wrote 2,683 words Monday and Tuesday, so I’m on for this week. With some luck and elbow grease, I’ll have a finished draft of my first paranormal romance novella within a few weeks!

2.) Read to hone my craft. Reading chapter 7 in Julia Cameron’s “Walking in this World.” It’s all about flow and discovering a sense of momentum, so I’m trying to soak up as much of her wisdom as possible.

3.) Blog at least two times a week, on Wednesdays and Sundays. On target so far.

4.) Check in on Twitter daily and on WANA Tribe at least once/week. Yes on Twitter. Not yet on WANA Tribe.

5.) Comment on 5-6 blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. On track so far.

6.) Super-secret project: Write two articles/posts each week for that project. Nothing yet, since I’ve been caught up in WIP.

A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80), founded by author Kait Nolan, is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants, or check out the #ROW80 hashtag on Twitter.

What about you? Is the weather frightful where you live? How are your writing goals coming along this month? And do you ever find yourself still getting acquainted with your characters well into the first draft?

writing, writing process

Using the Enneagram personality types to understand your characters’ motivations

A couple years ago, I attended a seminar on using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)  for writing romance novels. While the MBTI yielded a great deal of useful information about my characters, I still felt like I needed a little more insight into my characters. Then, a friend of mine got me hooked on the Enneagram.

Unlike the MBTI, which types someone based on whether they’re an introvert or extravert (I or E), intuitive or sensing (N or S), thinking or feeling (T or F), or judging or perceiving (J or P), the Enneagram consists of nine different personality types, each numbered one through nine and with various labels, such as “The Reformer,” “The Helper,” or “The Peacemaker.” Knowing your type allows you insight into your deepest fears and desires, your key motivations, and, yes, your best and worst qualities. Within each type are various subtypes and variants and so forth, but it’s the type itself that can yield real insight into our characters—and ourselves.

type4FHere’s what I think makes the Enneagram so useful for writers: It allows us to see who our characters can be at both their best and their worst. The Enneagram reveals our greatest motivations, our deepest fears and insecurities, how we may have experienced our childhoods, our patterns of self-sabotage, and, best of all, what we are capable of becoming if we can overcome those patterns. And all of this makes great fodder for understanding how our characters will behave over the course of the story and why they behave the way they behave.

Whether you’re writing a villain or a hero, whatever your protagonist’s walk of life, the Enneagram offers a deeper understanding into your character’s actions and reactions as the story unfolds. A character who’s a Six (The Loyalist), for example, might be highly suspicious and distrustful of a prospective love interest on page one, but the Enneagram can offer a path for her to overcome her suspicions, open her heart, and fall in love by the story’s end. And nothing ends the days of cookie-cutter bad guys better than understanding the inner workings of your villain’s mind.

Using the Enneagram to find out what makes a character tick

type8MMy latest villain, for example, is an Eight, The Challenger. Using the Enneagram as a tool to understand his motivations and early, formative experiences helped me to take him from generic bad guy to a fresh character with depth and his own take on the story’s events. It helps to know, for example, that many Eights felt they had to grow up early and learn to take care of themselves. As adults, they often feel a need to be in charge and in control and, while they make effective leaders and are often very successful, they can fall find it difficult to allow themselves to be vulnerable and, at their worst, can be abusive bullies. (It’s important to note that, in another story, I have a heroine who’s an Eight. There is both good and bad in each of the types.)

If you’re looking for ways to understand your characters—or yourself—I highly recommend checking out the Enneagram Institute’s website, which offers an introduction to the Enneagram, brief tests, and overviews of the nine types. Additional Enneagram tests are available at this site.

What about you? Do you do personality profiles for your characters? If so, which tools do you find most useful? Do you use the Enneagram, either in your characters’ lives or your own?

revising, writing process

Working with characters during revision

An alternate title for this post was: Dealing with Zoe.

See, I love Zoe, the female lead in Made of Shadows. She’s intense, passionate, fiery, compassionate, and maybe a little nuts. Okay, a little might be understating. Zoe is a woman on the edge. The martial arts skills and motorcycle don’t help.

photo from stock.xchng

So when editing Zoe’s story, sometimes it’s hard to tone her down. I realize I need a little distance from MOS to see the places where Zoe’s zest is adding to the plot and when it’s just distracting. Like I said, I care about her. I want the reader to care about her, too, which means I’ll have to learn to love her a little less, so I can edit her story properly.

She’s an absolute contrast to Lithe, of Pierce My Heart, my other WIP. Lithe is a soft-spoken introvert. She’s also a tough-as-nails fae investigator, but her motto, if she had one, would be, “Grace under pressure.” Sometimes I’ve worried that Lithe’s voice isn’t strong enough. Unlike Zoe, I worry that there’s not enough of Lithe shining through in the story.

Thus, one of my primary focuses for the next few months is going to be character development.

Our characters need to be relatable and likable. If the reader doesn’t care about what happens to Zoe or Lithe, then why keep reading? We want our readers to love the characters as much as we do. And if we’ve stuck around long enough to tell their stories, chances are that we do love them.

What complicates the issue is that our characters need to be consistent. This doesn’t just mean that in chapter one our character (let’s call her Lucinda) is a diehard vegetarian and in the next chapter she’s woofing down filet mignon. Character consistency is about more than favorite foods and hair color–it’s about the psyches of our characters, who they are deep down and how that influences their actions.

If Lucinda is perennially mistrustful, we need to make sure she doesn’t just easily open up to other characters. (As in, “Oh, Rodrigo, you’re a really good kisser. Why don’t I tell you about my traumatic childhood?”) Every action needs to be consistent with who she is. It’s not just about what the author wants to happen or where the plot needs to go; it’s about what Lucinda would do next, or what she would do given the next progression in the story. So if she opens up to Rodrigo, there needs to be a damn good reason, and one that’s consistent with her character.

But Lucinda also needs to change, affected by the circumstances of the plot and her interactions with other characters. Lucinda on page 1 can’t solve the situation (say, defeat the bad guy). If she could, we wouldn’t be writing a novel about her. Something has to happen between page 1 and page 300 that allows her to emerge victorious (if that’s the plot). Lucinda needs to change.

The character arc needs to mesh with the plot arc. Maybe Lucinda learns to trust, and trusting allows her to let someone in who can help her defeat the bad guys. She changes from a loner to someone capable of teamwork and trust.

And that’s where I’m at right now: reading books and blogs about character development. I know my characters. I need to make sure the reader does as well, and that each action is believable and appropriate. I hit a turning point while writing MOS. I’d been stuck for a while, not knowing where the story should go next. I tried a new approach. I stepped back  and asked, “What would Blake do?” Ah, bingo. “And what would Zoe’s reaction be?” Ah, naturally. I let the characters drive the story, and the plot unfolded before me.

What about you? What are your stumbling blocks with character? Any advice for working with character during the revision stage?

writing updates

February writing:

So, this morning I woke to a new week to find that somehow I had completely vanished from the blogosphere last week. I try to post at least once a week, so I’m not sure how I managed this vanishing act.

Now, I was still around. I know I popped by to read people’s blogs, and I found a few new ones (I’ve just started reading Kristen Lamb’s and Jami Gold’s blogs, both full of fun and useful info.), so I’m sure some of you have comments from me. But no blog posts last week from me. What’s up with that?

Hmm. Well, one, I finally broke down and created a Facebook account, so if you’re on Fb, please log on and friend me so I can communicate with you via that avenue. And if you have a fan page, please recommend it to me, either via a Facebook message or as a comment here. So last week I expanded my horizons, both blogging and social media in general. But I assure you; I was around.

I also attended the Virginia Romance Writers’ monthly meeting in Richmond, where Rebecca York (Ruth Glick) spoke about the intersection of plot and character. She took a really interesting approach to the subject that got me thinking about my current WIP. Maybe it got me thinking a little too much because I spent a lot of time reflecting on plot and hammering out the details.

I haven’t been stuck. Far from it. I’ve been making good progress with the current novel-length manuscript I’m writing, but I’m taking a different approach than in the past.

My goal for February was to write 28,000 words. With one week to go, I’ve penned (OK, typed) about 23,500. But the current draft is only about 17,000. See, I ended up writing the same scene about four times before I was remotely satisfied with it. And I’m sending it off to my crit partners this week, so I’m sure that I’ll be revising it a few more times before it’s reader-worthy.

There are a few reasons for this, but mostly it boils down to one thing: My main character, Zoe, is the most stubborn, fiery, skeptical, hard-nosed, pain-in-the-ass character I’ve ever met. She doesn’t want to believe anything or trust anyone. But because of the situation she’s in, she’s going to have to start believing and trusting someone, ‘cuz she won’t find her way out of this one on her own. Imagine trying to get an impossible character to believe in the impossible. Yikes. I don’t feel too bad for myself, though I do feel bad for Blake, my male lead, and every other character who’s had to deal with Zoe’s insanity.

It’s meant a few rewrites of an essential scene. One of the points Rebecca York brought up at last Saturday’s meeting was that your plot has to emerge from your characters. It has to be believable based on who they are. Which, I know, sounds obvious, but it’s not always the easiest thing in the world, especially with Zoe. I like the unlikely pairing of  a skeptical character like Zoe, who could pretty much say “yeah right” throughout the entire book without batting an eye (relax, she doesn’t. and Zoe is way more colorful than that, anyway.). She’s frustrating, and that’s why I like telling her story. It’s when we’re writing the impossible, when we’re scratching our heads and thinking, “Now what the hell happens?” that things start to get interesting. So getting Zoe where she needs to go has been challenging and will continue to be, but I’m not complaining.

Normally, I just write a scene and keep plowing through the story. But I’m on draft two (2.2, technically), and I’m at the stage in my writing process for this story where I want each scene to build upon the previous. My first draft was somewhat sporadic as I learned about my world, my story, and my characters. The aim of this draft is to be cleaner, so I can move from points a to z, building the story as I go. Some scenes will be cut, others added, and some rewritten twenty times, but if a key scene is problematic, I know I’ll need to stop and work on it so I don’t get stuck later.

I’m not one-hundred percent certain that I’ve got the aforementioned scene where it needs to be, but I feel I’m getting close. More forward momentum is opening the story up to me. I know where I’m going now; my sense of direction is stronger than it was in draft one. Draft two isn’t a final draft. It’s intended to be a “from-start-to-finish” draft for my crit group. Later this year, I hope to get a stronger draft to my beta readers, who will have their way with this story and hand it back to me, hopefully full of questions and honest observations. So, onward I go.

So, I really am still around, even if my blog was eerily quiet last week. I hope everyone else is enjoying their own writing and having fun duking it out with their tough-to-pin-down characters.