G is for Give Your Characters Trouble

Meme created by Erin Penn

During several of the Craft of Writing courses at the SAGA Writer’s Conference (sagaconference.com next one scheduled for July 2024), the Faculty describe many things to give your characters: a solid background, emotions, friends and enemies, goals. But most of all, Trouble.

When things slow down, blow up their lives. Physical and emotional bombs – mix and match appropriately to genre. “I’m pregnant.” changes everything as much as a car explosion, especially when the character saying it is male. Explosions. Obstacles. A child who is sick at school and needs to be picked up ASAP, while the hero needs to stop a vampire coven before they wake at nightfall.

Every three chapters or so stop and brainstorm five to ten things of “What is the worst thing that can happen?” Pick one or two things from the list. And give your characters a gift that keeps on giving.

Below is a previous meme I made when I was offering advice to a young writer. Since all writing is in the author’s head, making problems can be difficult for young authors. It’s like they are attacking their alter egos. Until you can distant yourself from your characters, Giving Trouble can be challenging. But Giving Trouble is absolutely necessary.

Meme created by Erin Penn

Writing Exercise: Conflicting Wants

Anyone still have their New Year resolution in place to lose weight, or has the joy of fat, sugar, and salt won the year, yet again? One of the basic conflicting wants – eat healthy & be healthy vs joy of eating and joy in life.
Your characters have these conflicts too. Two mutually exclusive, yet base level things. Defining these wants can really help bring a character to life.
Edmund Schubert made an amazing Magical Word post on May 28, 2011, “What Else Does Your Character Want?”
We are going to do his challenge as a writing exercise, so be sure to read the whole thing. Don’t look at the comments yet, but after the exercise, go over them to help you think about this. Again, the URL is:
WRITING EXERCISE: Take a major character from one of your present WIP (work-in-progress) and define two conflicting “wants” the character has, and tell us in the comments below how those wants impact your story.
My Attempt: I’m presently working on expanding the Quest for True Love. The unnamed main character loves gaming and wants to win the game, especially having defined the goal “To find my true love.” BUT they also want to escape the game and get back to the real world. 

Other Cool Blogs: ProWritingAid

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

ProWritingAid blog provides many good hints about how to write better, with a wide variety of authors and editors providing content. Krystal N. Craiker wrote “Fantasy Characters: 4 Common Traits and Ideas on Creating Them” (August 31, 2022).

While she focused on Fantasy Characters, these traits apply to all character development.

  1. Creating Character Motivations
  2. Personality Flaws Make Characters Relatable
  3. Add Depth with Emotional Wounds and Secrets
  4. Express Their Emotions and Emotional Responses

Found out how she expands on these traits here: https://prowritingaid.com/fantasy-characters


Editing Rant: Romantic Diabetes

ID 1399397 © Photoeuphoria | Dreamstime.com

“Isn’t s/he the sweetest thing?”

First off, show, don’t tell us the character is sweet. Two, vary the admiration beyond being candy kisses and Hershey hugs. We don’t need Romantic Diabetes.

While the book contained slow-paced well-developed romance between a-beauty-and-a-beast where both the main romantic characters mature during the story, my toleration of the romance dwindled as I was thrown out of the story several times from the Mary Sue / Gary Stu moments. (See my Mary Sue post if you don’t understand the term.)

I didn’t mind the female character, a princess, being an ALL POWERFUL wizard unsure of her abilities because of her youth, or having battle-worthy skills, or perfect beauty. It is a romance after all. Romantic leads tend toward perfection in all things. Some amount of Mary Sue/Gary Stu is expected. (Not too much – “tend toward perfection”, but not BE perfection. Come on, now, tone this back.)

It is the stuff where she (and he) does something that I expect of royalty – and the romantic partner stops the story – just in case I missed reading what happened in the last sentence and go “they are the sweetest thing.” M.u.l.t.i.p.l.e times.

Most of the powerful things done weren’t “sweet” but noble. Very different.

Each time full-stop of the story the author was calling out to the reader “See, this is why you MUST love my characters – because they are cute/spunky/sweet”. Sorry author, you don’t get to tell me I have to love characters. You got to work for it.

And showing them doing something then telling immediately following the action is NOT TRUSTING your reader. Trust your reader.

Magical Words – Age Perspectives

Photo by Giacomo Lucarini on Unsplash

I’m going to address just one aspect of Tamsin Silver‘s amazing Magical Words (5/11/2016) post: Hump Day Help: 3 Things We Can Learn From Marvel’s Civil War:

The post itself covers three things: 1) working with a large cast; 2) The Purpose of an Added Character; 3) crafting a new breakout character.

Part of number two hit me hard, which is the different perspective age brings to the table. Introducing Spiderman to the greater Marvel Universe didn’t just introduce a new character to give us a fresh set of eyes, it introduced a YOUNG character. Tony Stark – while an immature narcissist who acts like a kid with the biggest toys available – is a full grown man, a business owner, and been a world figure for decades. Steve Rogers is even older.

Peter Parker, he is a teenager. The world-spanning questions of responsibilities and duties required by citizenship within humanity haven’t become hardened in him. Yet, at the same time, it is one of the most central questions of Spiderman’s origin. Civil War was the perfect time to introduce the character.

For writing, expanding the universe beyond a single age group provides different eyes to view the world. Young Adult (YA) gets wrapped up in coming-of-age questions. Other books focus on other considerations, but usually from only the perspective of the main character – therefore urban fantasy and romances focus on twenty-or-thirty-something people with no children while mysteries pivot on forty-to-fifty something people no longer with children. Each book providing just a small window into larger questions.

While reality has people isolated in friendship groups by age, reality also is the spectrum of age. I remember the hunger I had attending church while at college. The undergrad college consisted of two very stratified age groups – students and teachers. No parents, no children. Then I went to church once a week and I became reacquainted with the scope AND VIEWS of different ages. The division between college’s Ivory Tower population and the wider gamut available outside the brick walls was stark.

I needed those trips.

And creative works could use a wider range of ages to hold up the mirror of our imagination when reflecting reality.

Read Tamsin’s full article – again the link is: – and maybe watch the movie again. Review the use of a large cast and when and how AND WHY to introduce new characters.