Tag Archives: Randy Ingermanson

Take Control – Please!

Letting your character take control is essential to maintain the illusion that the events in your story are real. Yes, every story is an illusion and what makes it believable are the details as perceived by the character. When writing a representational story (where the writer never addresses the audience), you will need to let the character not only tell but experience story events in their fullest. That experience becomes believable to the reader when the characters actions, reactions, thoughts and perceptions feel genuine. The only way to make that happen is to let your character take control.

Letting your character take control doesn’t mean the story will run afoul and destroy your plot – it’s about enhancing the plot by making it and your character feel real and not contrived. It is about choosing and placing the important details. It’s about the details that make him tick, that color his world, that give him motive and have created his common sense and hence his intuition.

There are three things you can do to let your character take control effectively:

1. Understand how a character perceives and relates to his world

  • Physically through the five senses of touch, taste, smell, sight and sound.
  • Common sense which integrates what we’ve experienced through the five senses. It also helps us see the patterns in our life.
  • Intuition which recognizes the patterns in our lives and allows us to see or project where those patterns may lead us. Your character makes decisions for a reason which must feel genuine to the reader.Emotions which build upon experience and learning and provide a basis for motive and motivation.
  • Emotion is a reaction and colors how information is integrated. For example, a character may react to a strict upbringing by either always being afraid and leery of authority, or may have a total disregard for it. Either way, this will affect how he reacts in specific instances, the words he uses (metaphors) to describe places, people and events.
… larger than life characters … have a sense of self regard. Their emotions matter to them. They do not dismiss what they experience. They embrace life. They wonder about their responses to events and what such responses mean. They take themselves seriously…Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

As your character lives in his world, he’ll perceive it through is senses, color his experience with his emotions, use his version of common sense and apply his intuition to move forward. When he does this successfully, he’ll be in control, his responses genuine and readers will love him for it.

2. Explore your character
This goes beyond the standard descriptions some writing advice advocates. As Les Edgerton points out in Hooked, a character’s physical description – unless markedly different from the norm – does relatively little to draw the reader in. A character doesn’t usually describe himself. He may describe someone else which in turns grounds the reader. But HOW he describes someone or the scenery around him tells us a lot about him and the lens through which he sees the world. He may even have physical reactions such as running his fingers though his hair when he sees someone’s unkempt hair or a desire to vomit at a certain smell. Thus, you can show rather than tell when you know your character well and you let him take control.

…possibilities only emerge when we demand more from the idea, when we ask more why and what result questions. Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

The easiest way to do this is to write a detailed background history for your character as if you were there. As you get to know his trials and tribulations, the major influences in his life, his fears and desires and yes, even the little things that comforted him, it will become easier to show him in a genuine and full way because the all the important WHY questions become answered. Why does he do that? Why does he feel that? Why wouldn’t he…? Why, if he’s in a responsible position, acting irresponsibly? Why is he so caring about x and then so obtuse and mean about y?

3. Use the things you know about your character against him.
This puts him in a situation which shows who he is and compels him to act (whether running to or from the situation). If your character takes control of the story, his reactions may surprise you. The added benefit is that it cures your writing of the murky-middle syndrome. Often times I’ll ask my character what he sees and how he feels about things. Between his perceptions and his gut reaction, the story moves forward and I have little work to do except to write.

Fictional Characters come to life by giving them individual traits, real weaknesses and heroic qualities that readers can recognize and empathize with. You play these against each other to achieve drama. For instance, a man who is afraid of heights but who must climb a mountain to save his love. The Fiction Writer by Nina Munteanu

In his book, Writing Fiction for Dummies, Randy Ingermanson sums up why you should let your character take control: A character’s past determines what sort of person you have coming into the story. The past is only the imperfect guide to the future, though. Your character has a free will and can choose to break loose from his past and pursue a new future. But will he succeed? Your goal as a novelist is to make it plausible that he might without making it a certainty.

When you know your character this well, he’ll control the story without you losing control.

Happy Writing!

Book Review: Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson & Peter Economy

This book is for you if:
You’re new at plotting and you don’t know where to begin;
You want a concise yet usable refresher course on plotting, character and world  building;
You’re revising your novel; and
Especially if you’re a pantster!

Writing Fiction for Dummies is all about making sure your novel has all the right components for success. As author Randy Ingermanson says in his opening notes in Snowflake Pro, a design program for novelists:

Good fiction doesn’t just happen, it is designed. You can do the design work before or after you write your novel. I’ve done it both ways and I’ve found that doing it first is quicker and leads to a better result for me. But you may find that doing your design after you write your novel works better for you. It doesn’t really matter when you do your design work, as long as you do it.

And this book covers all aspects of the writing from finding your target audience, to choosing your creative paradigm, using the principles of powerful plot, editing and getting published.  However, it’s not for dummies – it gives credit that the reader is intelligent by succinctly providing information and tips. I like that I don’t have to read an entire book on character or plot or revision and then have to distill the information I need.  Plus, the book has great examples to illustrate each point.

These authors are masters in taking you through the steps logically. For example, Part II: Creating Compelling Fiction takes you from building your story world, to creating compelling characters, plot layers and examining theme. Part III gives you the tools to edit and polish your work by analyzing characters, story and scene structure and then editing scenes for content.

Truly, I always thought I was a panster at heart until I realized that I was simply plotting and outlining in my head. Writing fiction for Dummies has given me the tools to put those points on paper. Now my plots are multi layered, my characters are deeper and I don’t have the headache from keeping all that information in my head! I still can’t write a detailed outline – it’s just not me. But, I’m a more organized pantster now who has lots more fun brainstorming the deeper “what if?’ scenarios.

I’ve started a new series and I can’t keep five books worth of information in my head. Chapter 8: Story Line and Three-Act Structure is my starting point for the basics and I brainstorm from there. I planned the big picture first – key points for the beginning, murky middle, climax and ending for each novel.  Now I have an idea of plot arc, character arcs, emotional arcs and where each story in the series needs to end. I still have lots of room for random creativity as my characters take me on unexpected turns in their journeys and I can let them do that with confidence because I know I have enough of a plan so that key story elements aren’t derailed. Most importantly, I know that if the novels grow in unexpected ways, I can revise the plan because as our characters evolve, so do we as writers and so must our plan.

Whether you’re writing your first or tenth novel, revising your draft or reviewing, Writing Fiction for Dummies is a resource every writer must have. It’s a quick reference guide filled with checklists and thought provoking questions on critical elements … and I can hardly wait for the revision process because now I know what I’m doing!

Happy writing and revising! It’s always a joy to create!

To learn more about authors Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy, visit their sites at: