3 Tricks to Justifiably Explain a Character’s Sudden Change in Personality

Sometimes, writers get the urge to do something radically different with a character. Perhaps a narrative arc requires it, or it could be as simple as wanting to inject new life into your story. When changing a character’s personality, do so in a manner fitting with the fictional world that you have already established. Consider drawing on the common events found in daily life to make a character’s shift in personality believable to your readers.

Loss

In both fiction and real life, the loss of a loved one brings about unforeseen changes. For children, whose personalities are not yet fully formed, the loss of a parent can, and often will, trigger profound changes. Older people may find their temperaments changing as they work their way through the stages of grief. Some never get to acceptance, and the resulting hurt and pain can turn some people’s personalities inside out. Keep in mind that individuals react to loss in different ways. Some become melancholy and brooding, but denial is also common. Thus, you may find a character turning into an extrovert in an attempt to deny their grief. Loss causes unpredictable reactions.

Injury

Injury is another event that may change a person. Even a fairly common car crash can cause personality and mood changes. A traumatic injury affects the body, but it may also affect the mind. Brain injuries are notorious for causing sudden and profound changes. Physical damage to one or more areas of the brain is but one cause. Even in the absence of physical trauma, side effects like depression are not unusual. Other changes may include self-absorption or a lack of impulse control.

Stress

A growing body of research suggests that on-going stress can have multiple effects on people, including personality changes. While we all have had an occasional stressful day, unrelenting stress affects moods and behavior. As with loss, sometimes attempts to come to grips with only the symptoms of stress can result in the underlying cause going unaddressed. Attempts to downplay irritability and depression may precipitate personality changes.

Some of these personality changes may seem undesirable because, in real life, they frequently are viewed as negative. Still, there is an upside; sudden personality changes may be jarring, but they are often just the signposts of a larger journey to a better place. When taking the long view of a character’s evolution, let personality changes chart a path of growth.

Want to record memories of a loved one’s earlier days? Hire a freelance writer to bring the stories to life!

How to Write Court Cases: Plea Bargains

When you are writing any story involving a court case, especially a criminal case, it is enhanced by including a drama between the prosecutor and defense attorney called plea bargaining. This is high stakes poker in the legal profession. It pits lawyer against lawyer, hiding and showing their hands to get the best deal they can.

What Is a Plea Bargain?

Less than 10% of criminal cases go to trial. The others are either dropped or negotiated. This process of negotiating, plea bargaining, is so prevalent—and controversial—in the judicial system, portraying it accurately and realistically is almost mandatory to a story’s credibility.

A plea deal is the outcome of a prosecutor and the defense attorney bargaining for a reduced charge or reduced sentence in exchange for a guilty plea and no trial. There are as many reasons for a defendant to plead guilty as there are defendants. Usually, the reasons for a prosecutor are more mundane. Dockets are overwhelmed, budgets are tight, and sometimes victims are ready for it to all be over.

The Timing of the Offer

The circumstances under which a lawyer offers a plea bargain may be determined by the perceived strength of the case and the most likely projected outcome. Negotiations usually take place after the evidence is collected and the theories of the case are developed. Maybe the evidence isn’t as strong as the prosecutor would like to ensure a conviction at trial. No reason to show that card yet, though. Overcharging for the actual crime committed is a tool to threaten the defendant and extract a guilty plea. Is this abuse? The defense lawyer would say so—if the truth was known. Convictions are notches in an ambitious prosecutor’s belt. Plea bargaining adds those notches more quickly. But hast leads to lazy investigations, wrongful convictions, and letting the real criminals remain free.

The Plea Is the Story

Describing the plea bargain can develop characters through showing not telling. Not all defense lawyers are altruistic defenders of the accused. Not all prosecutors see doing justice as anything more than eradicating vermin. Expedience then becomes the better part of discretion.

Including the plea bargain in the story’s writing with its ins and outs, its “what ifs” of possible trade-offs, exposes not only the personalities of the actors—it also tells the story.

Writing court cases may seem intimidating at first, especially plea bargains. However, if you are able to understand the ins and outs of the legal process, then you will be able to write a compelling story. Also, don’t be afraid to dive into the gritty details, even if things don’t seem so black-and-white afterward.

Looking for more advice on how to write legal documents? Check out: What to Know About Writing Trials

What to Know About Writing Trials

When writing crime dramas, or about laws and the court system in general, having a court trial can be a great way to build dramatic tension. In order to make the most of these scenes, though, it is important to know how trials work from the pretrial stage all the way through to what happens after the last fall of the judge’s gavel.

Before the Trial

There are two major stages before a case actually goes to trial. First is the pleading stage, in which the complaint is brought to a judge to be decided if the case is fit to go to trial. There are essentially four parts to this process, which are the:

• Filing Complaint. The plaintiff or offended party will file a complaint with the courts, stating the wrong that has been committed against them for review.

• Summons. The summons is a notification sent to the defendant notifying them of the plaintiff’s complaint against them. The defense generally has about 30 days to respond, or there may be a default judgment against them.

• Motion to Dismiss. This is where the defense responds to the plaintiff’s complaint and files a motion to dismiss the claim.

• Motion for Judgement. This is where both parties either settle the claim out of court, push for a judgment based on the evidence presented or the court decides to move the case towards trial.

These steps are more often seen in civil suits rather than criminal cases. From here, the trial moves towards the pretrial stage, which is more consistent between criminal and civil court trials. The pretrial stage consists mostly of investigation and discovery. This is when the plaintiff and defense teams perform their separate investigations in conjunction with law enforcement to gather their evidence. There may be motions made with the court to suppress certain key pieces of evidence, such as an identified party in a lineup, the defendant’s statements to the police, or items found through a search warrant. Pretrial discovery can be somewhat limited when it comes to criminal cases, and in some jurisdictions, the prosecution may allow the defense to review their file through a process called open file discovery. Many criminal trials are resolved long before the case ever reaches a jury. Plea bargains are, essentially, a reduction in a potential ruling or sentencing in exchange for a guilty plea. Depending on how strong a case the prosecution might have, a defendant’s lawyer may strongly recommend that his or her client take the plea deal.

The Court Case

The trial is the most well-known portion of a criminal hearing, as well as usually the most publicized. A trial consists of seven stages, which include the:

• Jury selection

• Opening statements

• Prosecution’s case

• Defense’s case

• Closing arguments

• Jury instructions

• Verdict

Throughout these seven steps, it’s important to note that the defense is not required to call any witnesses or conduct any cross-examinations. It’s entirely up to the prosecution to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt.

After the Verdict

After a plea or a guilty verdict, the judge will proceed to sentence the guilty party. The judge determines the sentencing based on the minimum and maximum guidelines outlined by set statutes and can only be guided or influenced by the prosecution at this point. For felony charges, sentencing can include upwards of one year in prison while misdemeanors have a maximum of a year jail time. There are non-prison sentencing options as well, such as fines and probationary periods. After the sentencing, the guilty party has the option to appeal his or her ruling thought the federal appeals process. The appealing party presents his or her case in writing, including evidence, documentation and his or her arguments for the appeal. This appeal is generally reviewed by three judges who come to a final decision on the matter. If you want a federal case appealed, find out how long they take, why they’re granted and the probability of it succeeding.

Court trials may seem complex at first, but once you understand the basic structure and order in which they work, it becomes much easier to understand the process and be able to include a court trial in your writing. While you don’t have to include each and every step leading up to the trial, add what is necessary to add crucial details and information.

Every author benefits from having their story reviewed. Read about how you can get yours reviewed here.

How Can I Make My Cast of Characters More Diverse?

Think of all of the books you’ve read recently. Of those books, how many of them had white male protagonists? Probably most of them, right? Of those remaining, how many of them had white female protagonists? Is that your whole library? The world’s a big place, but unfortunately, media can be pretty myopic. Thankfully, as writers, we can change that. Here are some ways to make your cast of characters more diverse.

Female Perspective

Male protagonists are more common than female protagonists. That’s true for movies, where men take55% of all speaking parts. It’s also true for books, especially children’s books. Boys grow up seeing themselves as the heroes of the media they consume, while girls are relegated to minor roles at best. Writing layered and nuanced female characters will make your writing better, more interesting and more memorable.

GNC Representation

Of course, including female perspectives is just the beginning. While female protagonists are a minority, gender nonconforming (GNC) protagonists are almost unheard of. Thankfully, content creators like J.Y. Yang and Rebecca Sugar are leading the charge against cisnormativity in media, but all things still aren’t equal. We can do better as writers by including trans, nonbinary, and intersex characters in our work.

Racially Diverse

Truly diverse media should be racially diverse as well. People of color rarely see themselves portrayed as complex, three-dimensional beings in media. Racial diversity is about more than just including characters of color. Accuracy and empathy are also important. If you are writing an African-American character then it’s recommended that you study black culture to get a better understanding of that character’s perspective.

Sensitivity

In an ideal world, content creators from all walks of life would be represented equally. We do not live in an ideal world. Chances are, as a writer, you have some kind of privilege. Everybody does. That’s why sensitivity readers exist. As privileged people, it is our responsibility to amplify the voices of those without privilege and not to smother them. If you are writing about an underprivileged group that you don’t belong to, it’s critical that you listen to people from that group. Hire sensitivity readers. Don’t get defensive when they criticize your work. They know their world better than you do.

When people talk about diversity in media, they talk about it like it’s a trend. Like pogs or bell-bottom jeans, diversity will be out someday. That’s not true, though. Diversity is all around us. It always has been and it always will be. Whether or not we portray that diversity is up to us.

Here’s another article you might enjoy: How to Write a Convincingly Car-Savvy Character

Writing Mental Illness: Balancing Reality and Drama

People are amazingly diverse and have different life experiences. People struggle with many different things—deaths in their family, unemployment, and more. Mental illness is one of those things that is prevalent in society. As a writer, you may want to add a character to your plot who has a mental illness. However, mental illness can be a tricky and sensitive subject to include, so it’s important to write it correctly.

Is Mental Illness Necessary for a Good Cast?

Mental illnesses are relatively common. As you determine whether to add a character with mental illness to your story, this fact should be an element to consider. In any given year, about 1 in 25 Americans will experience some form of mental illness. Some people have serious illnesses like schizophrenia that will never resolve, although improvement can come through medication. Other people experience mental illness as it ebbs and flows through their lives. When you plan your plot, you may add a character with mental illness as a plot point, add interest in the condition, or use the character as a contrast to your non-mentally ill characters.

How Does Mental Illness Affect Your Character(s)?

Mental illnesses fall across a broad range of symptoms. Your mentally ill character may manifest some or all of the typical symptoms, and those symptoms may change through time. Their coping skills may change as well. Many people with a mental illness will recognize the issue and seek help. However, some illnesses make it difficult for a person to recognize the issue. Conveying those differences through character development should take those differences into account. For instance, those with anxiety disorders may seek relief by grounding anxiety with various techniques. Big, deep breathes can show a character dealing with an anxiety attack, keying the reader into what’s going on while the character grounds themselves. Disorganized speech may indicate a more difficult illness like schizophrenia.

Understand the symptoms of the disorder as well as overlapping symptoms. Many mental illnesses can present in similar ways. However, each illness has unique features that set it apart. You can use those unique features to develop your character.

Get an Insider’s Perspective

Since the array of symptoms and perceptions may vary to a great extent, you should consider talking with others about the experience. Consult with mental health professionals and individuals who have firsthand experience with the illness you have selected for your character. This can give you authentic details about how it feels to the sufferer and their friends and family. You can visit online forums, but always be respectful, discreet and appropriately cautious. Use a variety of sources for your research, and take a little extra time. Thecredibility of the characters will depend on how well you understand the issues from their point of view. Profound knowledge tends to promote compassion and respect, which are traits that can play well in your story. The more insight you can impart through your story, the more believable the characters will be. This leads to authenticity.

A character in your story who has a mental illness can add interest and a thread of real-life issues that many readers face in their own lives. How you develop the character will help determine if the issues ring true.

Looking for more character-developing ideas? Take a look at this other article: How to Write a Convincingly Car-Savvy Character

How to Write a Convincingly Car-Savvy Character

You’re writing away and you realize that one of your major characters is a car nut and you don’t know your wheel well from a wishing well. How can you make your story work? Check out these tips for how to more convincingly write a character who knows a lot about cars.

They’ve Always Got a Project

You can tell the car fanatics by the car sitting in their garage in some degree of disrepair. Maybe the vehicle is jacked up so that the character can roll under it, seemingly not nervous at all about oil or other car fluids dripping down on them. Give them a minute and they will fill you in on their latest improvement on their car. They also spend a lot of time detailing their main car and might even enjoy building their dream rides in miniature versions.

They See the World Differently

To a car person, a sports car isn’t just a sports car and a truck isn’t just a truck—they’re likely to know about these things, so they will be specific. Did you know that there are actually six different categories of trucks? What about the major sports car makers? You need to research these things in order to write a car character realistically. He or she might also use car-related lingo regularly in their speech. For example, instead of saying that they are tired of waiting, car enthusiasts might say something like, “Put it in gear, and let’s go!” instead. 

They Have a Deep Understanding of Car Mechanics

Let’s face it—a car-savvy person isn’t really a car-savvy person unless he or she has a deep understanding of how cars work. You could illustrate a character’s knowledge by having them mention different parts of cars and offer expertise to other characters on how to fix their cars. Think about the parts of cars that an average person wouldn’t know a ton about. Have the car-savvy character be the voice of knowledge when it comes to figuring out what a car does. These things will set your character apart as someone who is especially car-savvy compared to the other characters. 

If you don’t know much about cars yourself, you’ll need to make sure you do adequate research so you can make your character more realistic. If you really want to understand a car-savvy character, you might consider learning how to fix a car or taking a class on auto mechanics. Every little bit you learn will take you that much closer to creating a realistic character who’s a car enthusiast.

For more help with your characters, contact me to review your story and I’ll give you some tips!

The Writer’s Guide to Avoiding Carpal Tunnel

For writers, carpal tunnel can, unfortunately, be a common reality. Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is caused by compression of the median nerve as it passes through the front of the wrist. Over time, this compression can lead to constant numbness, burning or pain. Weak hand muscles can contribute to the condition, as can arthritis. If you’re a writer, here are some tips to help you make sure that you don’t fall victim to this inconvenient condition.

Carpal Tunnel: A Writer’s Worst Nightmare

Writers can spend hours at their keyboards, and many may find that they don’t do a good job of monitoring their posture, wrist position, or any pain they may be experiencing. CTS worsens with time, and without treatment, you can find yourself unable to perform the basic duties of your occupation as a writer. As soon as you notice pain or fatigue, break away from the keyboard for some simple stretches to reduce pressure on the median nerve.

Stretch Your Wrists and Arms Frequently

There are simple stretches you can do at your desk to lessen the risk of CTS. Performing a gentle wrist bend for five seconds, both up and down until you feel the stretch in your forearm, is a great way to give your wrist rest and provide a break for your brain.

Another easy exercise you can do from a seated position is to press your hands together in prayer position directly in front of your sternum. Lower your pressed palms until you feel the stretch in your wrist, and hold this for five seconds. You can also stand and press your palms flat on the table in front of you. Gently lean forward with your arms straight so that your shoulders extend to the ends of your fingertips or until you feel a stretch in your wrists.

Increase Your Hand Strength

People with weak hands are more prone to developing CTS. Simply stretching your fingers and then grasping them tight into a hard fist is a great way to strengthen your hands. Do this for one minute, then shake your hands out for another minute.

If you walk on the track for any part of your workout, try to carry a hand weight with you for a lap or two, then set it down and shake out your hands for a lap. As you do these exercises, make sure to take a stretch break to both ease tension in the wrist and loosen up the newly worked hand muscles.

Use a Timer

Writers like to get in the zone or lose themselves in the document they’re working on. Unfortunately, this can lead to several hours in a chair before you realize that you really should move your body and stretch your hands and wrists. Many cell phones have a clock feature that includes a timer. Set this timer to go off in an hour and put it across the room so that you have to get up and turn it off. If you’ve got wrist problems, taking a break is critical.

CTS impacts more than just your writing time. You may find that your hand hurts or goes numb. It may feel cold no matter how warm the rest of your body feels. Over time, you may lose gripping strength or start to have problems with dexterity. Take care of your wrists on a daily basis to reduce your risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.

Are you in need of someone to look over your story and tell you if it’s any good? Let me help!

Answer These Questions to Make Your Characters More Well-Rounded

Storytelling is an integral part of the human experience. Authors have created new stories since the dawn of civilization. A story can serve many purposes: to entertain, to educate or to build a common sense of community through shared cultural meaning. Whatever the purpose, writing believable characters is crucial to the composition of an engaging, compelling piece.

Being a social species, we naturally want to relate to one another. We often assess our own positions in life based on our perception of others in our community. In light of this, you can understand why creating believable, interesting characters can propel a manuscript to succeed.

What Do They Eat for Lunch?

Often, readers remember the smaller details about a character that an inexperienced writer may forget to include. When we meet a new person, for example, we may take in a number of tiny bits of information that don’t even register formally in our brains. We then synthesize all that information to help us make a holistic impression of the person in our minds. What someone eats for lunch can tell us a lot about them. Are they health-conscious? Do they have a set of beliefs that are strongly held such as ordering a vegan or halal meal? Based upon the foods they enjoy, can we discern clues about where they come from? Are they poor or rich? 

How Do They Get Around?

Your character’s primary mode of transport can say a lot about them as a person. Did they arrive on a motorcycle, in an Uber or driven in a limo? The details matter too, like what kind of car they drive or whether they wear a bike helmet. Characters who don’t wear a bike helmet are likely to be risk takers with a distaste for rules. If they drive a vehicle, what does it say about them? Do they have a preference for form over function or the other way around?

The condition of the character’s mode of transport is also expository. Do they maintain their bicycle or car? Do they take pride in its appearance? For a variety of reasons, some people value material possessions more than others and take better care of them.

What Motivates Them?

Most human behavior is explainable by understanding the reasons why an action was taken. For example, Iago’s endless scheming in Shakespeare’s famous play seems extreme and unnecessary until you understand his true underlying motivations. Motivation is so important that establishing cause is crucial to many court cases. Without the proper stimulus, people will not perform certain actions.

How Did Their Past Affect Them?

No one lives in a vacuum. As we travel through time, we change. Who we are at this moment is directly tied to the events of our past. Often, a glimpse into a person’s background can illuminate a great deal about certain aspects of their character. But it’s not just the events of their past — it’s also how they immediately reacted to those events, and what support they had to get through it, if any.

As you write your piece, consider questions facing your character as if he or she is the dynamic, complicated being that a real-life person is. When you do this, readers will naturally relate to the character who becomes more vivid in their minds.

Need an extra pair of eyes on your story to help determine what works and what doesn’t? Pick me!

Elements of an Exciting Car Chase You Need for Your Book

What an exciting book! Surprised young woman reading a book while sitting at the library

Many of us read books, not knowing that the person who wrote the story often took a long period of time crafting even a single page. This is especially true when it comes to action scenes. Being able to convey the excitement of an action scene while still being able to tell the story can be harder than people think. This is most noticeable when an author chooses to insert a car chase into their book. The following list entails some of the things to keep in mind when writing such a scene. 

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3 Considerations for Sci-Fi Worldbuilding

In science fiction, the world that the story inhabits plays such an important role in the story that the imagined world becomes another character in the tale. How the characters live their lives is very much determined by how they interact with their make-believe world. While there are many elements that go into creating a world for a sci-fi story, here are three of the most important ones.

Figure Out the Basic Infrastructure

The infrastructure of the sci-fi world determines just about everything in the story. Elements, like currency, food supply chains, social classes, etc., provide critical elements against which the characters play and sometimes fight against. They’ll also change, depending on what kind of sci-fi you write. The infrastructure will be different in a steampunk novel than it will be in a space opera. In many cases, the way the characters interact with one another and each other is also determined by the infrastructure. Star Trek is a good example of this. While an away team does have the option to take a small craft down to a strange planet, most of the time, Picard and crew get beamed down via the transporter. Crew members order tea from the ship’s computer. They don’t really exchange money. You get the idea. The basic infrastructure determines how they move about their world.

Choose Your Tech

Star Trek offers a good segue into the technical aspects of science fiction. Like the infrastructure, the tech that the characters interact with plays a big role in how the story plays out. The story’s technology tells the reader what kinds of resources are available to the characters. For example, Trek-level technology creates different parameters for the characters than steampunk-level technology would. Perfect technology is fun to think about, but overdone. How about something a little closer to home, like self-driving cars that can still malfunction and cause crashes? How would the characters deal with that? What reverberations would this malfunctioning tech have on the trajectory of the story? Whatever tech you decide on, make sure that the characters interact with it directly. It shouldn’t just be a set-piece.

What Date Is It?

This element ties in with the two previous ones. Clearly, the date for a steampunk novel would be different than a Trek novel, and the effect would be different. For example, since steampunk exists largely in the 19th century, it has elements of science fiction, but it also has historical elements and even alternate timelines. With this genre, some of the world is already in place; you know what happened during the Victorian era because it’s part of history. Clearly, this historical parameter affects how the tech will work and does so in a vastly different way than it would if you set the story 400 years in the future. The date also affects what the characters will be familiar with and what they won’t. For example, unless it’s a story like The Time Machine, Victorian-era characters wouldn’t know about President Kennedy. However, the characters in a Trek story might.

Worldbuilding in science fiction takes plenty of thought and planning. Whatever parameters that the author sets for the characters in terms of infrastructure, technology and time periods have an effect on the story’s outcome. When creating these worlds, it’s best to think of the story’s characters interacting with another full-blown character because that’s really what this new world is: another character.
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