Guest Post: Samantha Ross – Recap of Carol Berg’s Western Slope Workshop

Are they real?

Are your characters real people? According to Carol Berg at the RMFW writers meeting on the Western Slope the answer has to be yes. Readers know it is a story, but the characters need to be alive. The goal should be that they are not characters, but people.

How do we do that?

Through Introduction:

Sum up the person through another’s POV. Start with the general overall such as gender, race, age and so on. Now move onto appearance. Keep in mind that you show rather than tell. What is the voice like, how do they carry themselves? Then attitude. Are they gruff, shy? Don’t forget to start showing gestures, patterns, and habits.

Maybe it’s a gradual introduction from the protagonist or antagonist. Or a few paragraphs. Create layers, and interactions with the setting and also with other characters.

Our people need to be complex. That means they have strengths, weaknesses, hopes, fears, dreams, and goals. Successes and failures both during the story, and before it started. Like everyone, they are going to travel through a range of emotions, thoughts, wants, actions, and reactions.

That character needs to want something here and now. They are also going to have a plan for the future. It may be a glass of water right now, and to win the big race next month. Remember it is colored by the emotional “why” they want it. Those whys are going to include things from the past, present, and future.

As we write this story, we need to create challenges/conflicts that showcases all the above. This person needs to be able to problem solve, take action, have the ability to grow and change as the story progresses.

Through Narrative POV:

 Whoever is telling the story at the moment has the narrative POV. Usually this is the protagonist, the antagonist, sometimes a secondary character. It is limited by the character; meaning every thing is filtered through this character at this moment.

A child at a funeral has a very different POV, vocabulary, actions and reactions than an elderly man. Even between two elderly men there will be things to contrast and compare. They each had a life before walking into the funeral that shaped them.

We learn who he is layer by layer. As he interacts with the other characters and setting, we start to understand him. We see what type of background he comes from, what he thinks of this moment he is in. There is action and reaction. There are choices, and responses. And more choices. And more responses. Dialogue both internal and external all reveals who he is, and what he is going to do. We see the contrast and compare in the narrative POV as he shows, or does not show his opinions, thoughts, and prejudices. How he acts upon these, or does not act reveals much about him. All of this shows us who he is.

We know that we have succeeded in making our characters into people when the reader says, “I knew he would do that!” When our readers thinks about this person outside of the book eagerly awaiting the next story to come out, or to simply open the book and keep on reading. Sometimes over and over.

Samantha Ross pictureSamantha Ross is a ghostwriter, freelance writer and editor. She lives on the Western Slope in Montrose, Colorado. For years she taught adults, organized lesson plans, developed curriculum, and encouraged everyone to be a success. One day she stumbled into her high school librarian who pointed her toward the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Now Samantha’s days are spent writing fiction and non fiction that covers a wide range of topics. If she’s not standing in front of her desk working, she’s spending time with her family and friends.


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7 thoughts on “Guest Post: Samantha Ross – Recap of Carol Berg’s Western Slope Workshop

  1. Thanks for this great report on Carol’s Western Slope program, Samantha. It’s great for us folks on this side of the hill to get information on those workshops we can’t attend. I’m always looking for more good information about character development because I like to write multiple POV novels.

  2. It was a great event. Carol’s presentations are always in-depth and clear. If she gets to your side of the hill, go see her.

    Carol offered some tools for making each character unique- grammar, word choice, speech patterns, gestures, and view of the world.

    Do you use these or do you use other things to separate the multiple POV’s?

    • One of the best ways for me is to immerse myself in the character when writing his or her POV scene — think, talk, and imagine I’m walking in the character’s shoes. I try to use all those tools Carol mentioned, but found that gestures are the hardest because any repetition of things like shrugging or nodding, even if perfect for the character, end up being distractions for the reader.

  3. I think it works better if they are beginning potential gestures- like a certain finger twitch that hints that he may be going for his gun. But we have to keep reading to find out if he will or not.
    There is a series that I love where the main character wraps her arms around her middle many times, and it doesn’t signal anything new. And I do find it annoying, The author already had enough other ways of showing the tension in that scene.
    I think if it is a meaningful gesture, dialogue, or some other tag that is unique to that character it makes a character more alive, more memorable.

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