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Friday, February 15

Three Ways One Stop for Writers’ Character Builder Tool Will Help Writers

creating characters
By Angela Ackerman, @AngelaAckerman

Part of The Writer’s Life Series

JH: Writers are almost always looking for useful tools to help them develop their stories, and today, Angela Ackerman visits the lecture hall to share her new character-building tool. Please give her a warm welcome.

Angela Ackerman is a writing coach, international speaker, and co-author of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression (now a expanded 2nd edition) as well as six others. Her books are available in six languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. Angela is also the co-founder of the popular site Writers Helping Writers, as well as One Stop for Writers, an innovative online library built to help writers elevate their storytelling.

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Take it away Angela…

Angela Ackerman, characters, creating characters
Angela Ackerman
I don’t know about you, but one thing I really enjoy is innovating. I’ve always been this way, especially when I seek to learn how to do something well, like writing fiction. If there’s something I need, I look for a tool or resource that can help me, and if I can’t find one, I try to build it. My writing partner Becca Puglisi is the same, which is why we are such a good fit as we create our Thesaurus book series. And this is also why Becca, Lee Powell (the creator of Scrivener for Windows and Linux) and I create such amazing tools at One Stop for Writers. Our site is all about innovating, and we love bringing new ideas to life that will make storytelling easier.

Yesterday One Stop for Writers unveiled a new tool: a hyper-intelligent Character Builder. In a nutshell, the Character Builder is comprehensive software program we’ve integrated with our signature thesaurus database (a massive collection of character-centric description built over the span of ten years or so). There’s nothing out there like it.

Janice saw my excitement level about this tool is off the charts and so kindly said I could geek out about it here to describe some of the ways it can help you craft deeper, more powerful characters.

1. Deep Level Character Exploration in Half the Time

Because this program is integrated with our description thesaurus database, popular Idea Generator, and our behavior-specific lists, it’s designed to offer writers specific suggestions for characters as they build. For example, if a writer wanted to explore possible backstory wounds for a protagonist, they would be prompted to choose one from our database (which contains a large range of traumatic situations like Domestic Abuse, Wrongful Imprisonment, Growing Up in Foster Care, and Being Stalked). Writers can also create their own custom wounding events if they’d rather, too.

Once a wound is chosen, the Character Builder prompts the writer to add more detail by providing a list of dysfunctional behaviors common to people with this exact wound, a list of personality traits (positive and negative) that often emerge when one has experienced this trauma, and it even offers ideas for possible fears and harmful misbeliefs the character might have because this trauma was part of their past.

Suddenly, instead of knowing the answer to one question: what is this character’s backstory wound? the writer has collected a ton of information on the character’s mindset and behavior! This means they will have a better understanding of the type of goal that would help this character become someone happier and more complete. (It’s basically like having a personal psychologist on staff for your characters!)

Backstory is only one area of exploration, of course. Strong characters need to have a personality, behaviors specific to them, motivations, physical features, secrets, skills, beliefs, and more. They will also have certain emotional sensitivities, triggers that will set them off, and a fatal flaw that will be their undoing. This tool makes sure no stone is unturned.

2. A Character Arc Blueprint

Another wonderful aspect of this tool is something called the Character Arc Blueprint. If your character has an arc, you need to know what that will look like so you can write their journey. The blueprint pulls key information from all areas of your character’s profile to provide you with a snapshot of their inner journey: the difficulties they are struggling to move past, the goal that will make life better, the reason why the character needs it so desperately, what’s at stake, and how the character’s fatal flaw will play a role in success or failure.

You can then use this blueprint as a guide to plan the plot, ensuring the character is continually challenged, forcing them to reexamine old beliefs and ideas, and pushing them to fight opposing outer forces while overcoming obstacles from within.

3. A Powerful PDF to Source, Print, or Export

Building a character and having all their information in one place makes referencing easier as you write, especially if you want to experiment with new ideas as you write that will affect the character’s arc. Adapting the profile is quick and easy, and you can immediately see how changes will affect the character’s inner journey.

But many writers like to write offline, and use other programs like Scrivener or Word, so we needed to make sure you could take characters with you. This is why each character profile can be turned into a smart PDF that can be printed out, saved, or exported to other programs (like Scrivener). Here’s a test character to see what that looks like.

Strong Stories Need Well-Developed Characters Driving Them

Character creation is one of those things we shouldn’t try to shortcut. When we do, characters feel more like hollow stereotypes or archetype clichés rather than unique individuals that can command a story. Yet getting to know a character properly can be a lengthy process, especially when we need to dig deep to truly understand how broken they are and what motivates them.

We designed this Character Builder to put all the information you may need at your fingertips so that creating well-rounded characters is more efficient. If you’d like to see it in action, check out this video:

Giveaway Alert! (contest is closed)

Would you like to take the Character Builder for a test drive? Leave us a comment! One Stop for Writers is giving away a 6-month subscription to a Fiction University reader on this post.

And if you like, you can also go here to grab a 1-month subscription for 75% off. (Limited time, so hurry!)

Do you have any questions or comments about this tool? I would love to answer them!

About The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression

becca puglisi, angela ackermanThe bestselling Emotion Thesaurus, often hailed as "the gold standard for writers" and credited with transforming how writers craft emotion, has now been expanded to include 55 new entries!

One of the biggest struggles for writers is how to convey emotion to readers in a unique and compelling way. When showing our characters' feelings, we often use the first idea that comes to mind, and they end up smiling, nodding, and frowning too much.

If you need inspiration for creating characters' emotional responses that are personalized and evocative, this ultimate show-don't-tell guide for emotion can help. It includes:
  • Body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses for 130 emotions that cover a range of intensity from mild to severe, providing innumerable options for individualizing a character's reactions
  • A breakdown of the biggest emotion-related writing problems and how to overcome them
  • Advice on what should be done before drafting to make sure your characters' emotions will be realistic and consistent
  • Instruction for how to show hidden feelings and emotional subtext through dialogue and nonverbal cues
And much more!

The Emotion Thesaurus, in its easy-to-navigate list format, will inspire you to create stronger, fresher character expressions and engage readers from your first page to your last.

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  1. What great timing! This is exactly what I need right now!!

  2. Wow, this looks amazing, Angela! I do most of my character building (including a picture to approximate who I have in mind) in OneNote. Would this program be compatible there? When I import pdfs into OneNote, I can't make alterations, only add comment boxes alongside. Thanks!

    1. I will ask our developers as I don't use One Note myself. We're all on different time zones, but as soon as I hear back I'll let you know. :)

    2. OS exports PDF, and OneNote can import PDF, so yes, you can draw it over. But One Note isn't a PDF editor so you won't be able to edit the PDF. You would have to make changes to the PDF at One Stop and then re-export it. :)

  3. Sounds amazing! I tend to be more intuitive about character building, but the idea of a "one stop" for all is excellent.

    1. The one thing that's handy about this tool is it works for pantsers and plotters. You can fill in as much or as little as you like, experiment with different ideas, and often the questions that encourage you to think deeper help set on that gut instinct about your character.

      I could see a lot of people who like to get to know their characters via a discovery draft completing the character profile as they write. This way when the draft is done, they've gathered all the information they need about the character to bring it all together in the second draft, making sure certain elements are brought out more and things like fears, personality, behavior, etc. is more consistent.

  4. Thanks Darwin--we hope it will be! :) Thanks for visiting. :)

  5. I love using stuff like this. Really helps put an outside angle on projects that you've overworked in your own head.

  6. Replies
    1. Thanks Janet! We're happy to bring something to the storytelling table that makes life a bit easier for writers :)

  7. Thank you for developing this! I'd love to try it out.

    1. Good luck in the draw! And if you don't win, consider taking advantage of the 75% off offer as that probably won't come around again. :)

  8. What a great tool! I'm just starting a new project, so I'm excited to try this out!

  9. Wow!! Congratulations, Angela! This looks like an awesome tool! :D

  10. Hi Angela

    What an awesome tool. Can it also be used to work out personality conflicts between the protagonist and antagonist?

    1. Oh yes! I actually just drafted a post on how this can be used to compare profiles between a protagonist/antagonist, a protagonist/love interest, or any other character combo.

      With protagonists and antagonists, we want to encourage friction points. Maybe they have traits that rub against one another (a protagonist that is irresponsible and an antagonist that is meticulous and focused, for example) as these will force the character to grow and change and work harder to win. There could also be conflicts regarding moral traits. Maybe one character is a big believer in fairness and opportunity for all, while the other is all about self-protection and putting oneself first. This will lead to different lines in the sand, and different ways of going about getting what they want.

      Characters can also have comparable or similar traits and that's what makes things hard. If both the protagonist and antagonist are intelligent, brave, and resourceful, they will be evenly matched. That will cause the reader to wonder who will come out on top. :)

      We are planning more robust relationship-comparison tools down the road, but these are some ideas on how to create profiles now to find areas of contrast or similarity that will lead to strong clashes.

  11. I have several of your books and find them quite useful. This sounds like a great tool.

    1. Thanks Katherine! So many people have asked for an app that would bring together all our thesaurus content, and One Stop does this and so much more. :) Happy writing!

  12. This tool looks quite thorough and helpful for the complex process of matching traits and wounds to motivations and behaviors. Thanks for offering this giveaway!

    1. Yes, absolutely. We should always know how our characters fit in the story and what drives them, and what draws other characters to them...or the opposite. Digging deep into a character's psyche and history will really give us a level of understanding that makes planning motivation so much easier!

  13. Had a look yesterday at your video and it looks awesome. Am definitely going to try it out, even if I don't win :)

    1. Wonderful, Lia! I hope you find it really helps you explore your characters more easily!

  14. I love this. Thank you for this wonderful tool.

  15. Thanks, EW - good luck in the draw!