How to Use Description to Show Character Development
This is a follow-up to my post How to Make Your Descriptions Less Boring. In that post, I talked about the difference between static descriptions and dynamic descriptions and argued that as long as you’re using dynamic descriptions, readers will be much more engaged and you can throw out the old “don’t use description because it’s boring” advice.
Static descriptions don’t move or get interacted with. They exist almost like a painted backdrop to a play or the background on an old cartoon.
Example: The grass was green.
Dynamic descriptions, on the other hand, take on the voice and perceptions of your point-of-view character, and are interactive. They combine description, action, perception, and character development.
Example: The grass outside the house was so green James couldn’t believe it – it almost looked fake. After looking around to make sure no one was watching, he squatted down and ran his hands through it.
If you’re new to description, trying to use more dynamic description is a great starting point…
…but there’s so much more you can do with description once you understand how to work with it!
Something For Writers to Keep In Mind: THINGS CHANGE AS YOU WRITE
Sometimes your story doesn’t want to heed to your plan, sometimes you get half way into your story and you feel it going somewhere else. Let it! Let your story guide you where it needs to go. Because if you force it back into the plot you’ve planned, you risk making it harder for you to write and that takes away the richness of your story.
Sometimes your characters end up doing a full 180 degrees on their characteristics. That’s okay! Your villains can find redemption. Your heroes can fall from grace. Your characters can lose their optimism, they can become corrupted and immoral, or they find hope. You characters can change, they can develop and grow!
Sometimes things change, sometimes your story evolves as you write. That’s okay. Don’t let it stress you out.
Do you have any advice on how to add excitement to a story which has a really predictable ending? Like, I'm writing a story with a paragon Greek hero as the MC, and I need him to win the day at the end. A planned sequel will end up being a lot more exciting and interesting, but the first one plays out like any other adventure novel. How do I make the story more interesting and emotional without sacrificing the happy ending? Thanks in advance.
Individual scenes can have emotion, excitement, or tension while a story still has a predictable plot. I’ve read literally hundreds of romance novels, nearly all of which are have similar plots devices and HEA endings. But each one is different, and so people still read it.
Think about what makes your story different from whatever original you’re basing it off of, and figuring out how to use those things to make it interesting. Additionally, people reading it may not actually know the original, so they may not know that it ends with a happy ending.
I’d also just say–most stories have happy endings. The thing is that you don’t know until you get to the end of the story that the ending is going to be happy, usually. And characters can still face obstacles, difficulty, and loss between the beginning and the happy endings.
Think about Harry Potter. It ends with Voldemort defeated and Harry, Ron, and Hermione on to a new, happy chapter of their lives. But there’s a huge amount of drama before we get there.
On the other hand, if your story has no tension or conflict, then you need to rethink your plot. But if you have tension and conflict, a happy ending won’t ruin your story.
five steps for not writing a boring story? i can never ever write something that doesn't end up boring 😂
Hiya! Thanks for your question. Writing an engaging story is complicated, but it can be done.
First off, there are so many aspects to writing a gripping story. Honestly, it can’t be done in five steps (and certainly not in one blog post). To prevent a boring story you need strong characters, an exciting plot, good pacing… the list goes on and on.
So rather than type out a 3000+ word response, I’m going to give you a mini-masterpost of the key aspects of writing a non-boring story with links to other LGF posts. Here you go:
Do you have any advise on how to open a story? I have all my characters and my plot and my conflict and everything but I don’t know how to start. How to keep a reader hooked and interested enough to keep going.
This is a little ironic, because I’m about to rewrite my opening three chapters for The Warlord’s Contact from scratch for about the tenth time. But practice does make perfect, and boy have I learned a lot through this process.
Sometimes you look at a story and you just know how it needs to open. It’s the most obvious choice in the world, and it’s clear why no other option would work.
Unfortunately, that’s not often the case. Usually, the beginning to your book will take preplanning and rewriting and replanning and bit more rewriting, and all the while you’ll never quite be sure you chose the best spot to open to, or the right characters to introduce, or the proper setting.
Here are a few specific methods of thought for tackling your first chapter…
How many types plot structures are there and how are they used?
Hiya! Thanks for your question! Plot structures are important for creating a good story.
There’s an infinite amount of plot structures depending on the story you’re telling. Some types are better than others within certain genres. Here are the most common plot structures, and how they’re used:
The Four Main Plot Structures:
Also known as dramatic structure, this is the most simplistic of plot structures, and probably the one you were taught in elementary school. In this type of story structure, the climax falls in the middle, and the latter half of the story consists of falling action and the resolution. This was developed to analyze Greek and Shakespearian plays that use a five-act structure.
Why it’s good: It allows authors to explore the consequences of one’s actions. It’s also good for story analysis.
Why it’s bad: Long resolutions get boring fast. Modern novels don’t use this because no one wants to read a story where the villain is defeated in the middle.
When to use it: Children’s books and short stories
It’s good to use in children’s books because the goal of most children’s books is to teach kids a lesson. Using Freytag’s Pyramid gives writers the chance to teach kids the consequences of doing something wrong (lying, bullying, etc.). It works in short stories because the limited length prevents the denouement from being too long and boring the reader.
Examples: Any of Shakespeare’s plays
The Fichtean Curve:
This is what most modern novels use, no matter the genre. The Fichtean Curve features a varying number of crises (or mini-climaxes) within the rising action to build up to climax about two-thirds of the way through the story. The falling action is short and used to wrap up loose ends or establish a new way of life for the characters.
Why it’s good: Putting crises throughout the story will keep readers hooked until the end. It also helps to keep good pacing. Despite being frequently used, this structure is loose enough that anyone can use it and make it unique for their own story.
Why it’s bad: Too much action can be overwhelming. This structure also doesn’t work well with certain story types such as Voyage and Return, Rebirth, or Comedy.
When to use it: Action-packed stories, Overcoming the Monster plots, or Quest plots
Examples:Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, World War Z by Max Brooks, or Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
The Hero’s Journey:
Another common plot structure that is seen in modern novels (especially western literature), and can be combined with the Fichtean Curve. Often, modern novels are a combination of the two. What makes the Hero’s Journey unique is that the protagonist must go through a literal or figurative death that completely transforms them. The death is usually, but not always, the climax of the story. Another key difference in The Hero’s Journey is that the protagonist must atone for their past rather than overcome it or move on without going back.
Why it’s good: Allows for great character development in character-strong stories.
Why it’s bad: Nearly every western novel, film, or TV show (successful and unsuccessful) uses this plot structure. It’s a little overdone, but if you can put a good personal twist on it, it can work out just fine.
When to use it: First-person stories, stories with small casts, Voyage and Return plots, or Rebirth plots
Examples: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, or Divergent by Veronica Roth
In Media Res
Latin for “in the middle of things”, In Media Res is a unique plot structure. Rather than start with an exposition that builds up to the action, In Media Res starts right in the middle of the story. If you were to start your story at the second or third crisis point of the Fichtean Curve, you would get In Media Res.
Why It’s Good: Dropping people in the middle of the action will hook the right from the beginning.
Why It’s Bad: Starting with the action can be disorienting for readers. Make sure you fill in the backstory as the plot moves on.
When to Use It: Stories with small casts, Crime plots, or Mystery plots
Examples: Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, The Lord of the Flies by William Golding, or The Iliad by Homer
There are plenty more plot structures, but these are the main four, and all others are based off these in some way. Keep in mind that most stories use a combination of these plot structures, so you don’t have to stick to just one.
Thanks again for your question! If you need help with anything else writing related, feel free to send in another ask. Happy writing!
NaNo Prep: How Understanding Conflict Will Make Your Plot Explode
November is almost upon us, and in the build up to NaNo, we’ve asked for guest contributors to share their advice on how to craft great stories that will engage writer and reader alike. Today, author Cari Noga tells us why “GMC” should be in everyone’s vocabulary, and how it’ll help drive your plot.
heard something like that before, and filed it away with other
writing advice. Take it out, shake it off, and prop it up it next to
your coffee mug. Besides caffeine, you won’t find a better buddy on
your NaNo odyssey.
definition. Conflict is the obstacle(s) between a character and his
or her desire. It varies with novel genre: the enemy agent out to
kill the hero; Mom’s new job that forces the middle-school kid to
move and change schools; the character’s yearning to spurn
expectations and do what she really wants. Conflict is fundamental to
advancing plot, setting it back, twisting and turning it, as the
characters wrestle with their particular nemeses. It’s also crucial
to reader engagement.
In the best stories, we become invested in a
character overcoming their conflict. We root for them to get what
they want, worry when they seem to succumb, and, above all, keep
turning pages to see which way it goes. Steven James, one of my
favorite writing coaches and a bestselling thriller author himself,
puts it this way: You don’t have a story until something goes
Your plot shouldn’t be predicated on a decision that your character wouldn’t make. Writers will sometimes have the character make one big decision that doesn’t fit with their personality, reasoning, etc. that kicks off the entire plot. Unless there’s a very good in-story reason for them to be making that decision, though, don’t have your plot based on an out-of-character decision. Doing that muddies your character and your plot and makes the entire thing make less sense.
Quick Writing Tip: What Does Your Main Character Want?
This tip is especially for those of you beginning NaNoWriMo next week. Your revision process will be much easier if you can answer this question now: What does your main character want?
When a character wants something – and goes after it – we can’t help but feel more connected to them. It doesn’t matter whether they want something abstract (like love or redemption), or something concrete (like a new job, a shiny red bicycle, or a rubber chicken). When readers see how fired up your character is, they are going to pay attention.
But even more importantly, desire gives meaning to your story. It’s impossible for a reader to weigh whether or not your character is succeeding or failing if they don’t know what your character wants in the first place.
Your character’s desires will drive their action, define their conflicts, and determine how invested your reader gets in their success or failure.
So, what does your character want more than anything in the world? Why do they get up in the morning? What gets your character excited? Why are they on this planet?
Start thinking about this now - it will save you lots of time later on!
Are weak plots really bad? Bc I can't really think about a real good one
For this, we need to answer the following questions:
What is a plot point? What makes a plot point strong?
In order for something to be a plot point to begin with, it must provide a point within the plot where the story could go in more then one direction. In most situations, it’s the character’s choices (generally those of the main character, though not necessarily) which pick the direction the plot takes from this point.
Looking at a plot point from this angle, we can deduce that the plot has a lot to do with who our character is. This makes sense. Goals are absolutely necessary for almost every story imaginable, because if your character doesn’t want something then you have no plot.
So we have a character who’s striving towards their goal. How do we turn that into a strong plot point? Characters who have goals should also have beliefs, (or in some cases, secondary goals), and these two things must conflict somewhere. Anywhere the character must choose between them, we have a foundation on which to build an interesting, strong plot point. On the other hand, if we don’t have these things, our plot point won’t ever be as strong as it might otherwise have been, no matter how many cool things we throw into it.
So to create a strong plot point we can start with a character who needs to make a choice in order to reach their goal. We make this choice more interesting by throwing road blocks at the character. It might help to ask yourself these sorts of questions:
What can we throw at this character to make them change their choice partway through?
What can we throw at this character which we know will stress them out personally?
What can we throw at this character after they’ve made their choice, which they’ll have to now overcome because of the choice they’ve made?
What sort of consequences will come out of this choice and how do we show them?
And if you’re willing to do some work in order to find a realistic way for your character to get out of the situation: What can we throw at this character which will turn this into their worst nightmare; the most awful possible version of this situation?
Knowing what makes a strong plot point, we can finally answer the question: Are weak plot points really bad?
Plot points with weak foundations are really bad, yes. Weak plot points which don’t revolve around a character making tough choices in order to reach their goals will generally fall flat to readers.
But, not every plot point needs to be a crazy, chaotic mind blowing twist either.
Sometimes the choices we find most emotional and stressful are the ones everyone else tells up should be easy. The key to engaging your reader in a plot point is to convince them that this is emotional and stressful for your character and that your character believes there will be consequences to making a bad choice, and to instill in them the need to know what choice your character will make and what outcome that choice will bring.
tl;dr Plot points don’t have to be unique or fancy or even action-packed in order to engage a reader. They simply need to show a situation where a character the reader is already engaged with has to make a decision which will change the course of the plot.
(Minor Edit: I had a dyslexic moment and read ‘plot points’ instead of simply ‘plot’ five times in a row, so that’s what the answer is specifically about. But since a plot is made of a bunch of plot points with sentimental connecty stuff in between, this is still all the same advice as I would otherwise give. Write some good plot points with solid, emotional foundation and your plot will be sturdy enough to carry a reader through, I promise ^^)
Tony is an average seventeen boy. He loves music but he’s too shy to play for an audience, he’d love to have a stable friendship but he’s too scared to be put aside by others so he acts the part of the lone wolf. See? Shy and a loner, the average teen boy. Tony is not exactly happy of his situation but he’s got used to it and doesn’t plan to change things. Until he met Gianni. Who’s Gianni?
Tony è un diciassettenne nella media. Ama la musica ma è troppo timido per suonare davanti ad un pubblico, vorrebbe un’amicizia stabile ma ha paura di essere messo da parte così recita la parte del lupo solitario. Visto? Timido e solitario, un adolescente medio. Non è contento della propria situazione ma ormai ci ha fatto l’abitudine e non ha in mente di cambiare. Fino a quando non incontra Gianni. Gianni chi?
This was all over the papers today, the headlines pretty much say it all as not much information has been released.
“The teenagers allegedly stockpiled balaclavas, masks, cable ties, petrol, fire lighters, screws and knives. They are said to have planned to make pipe bombs and were allegedly in possession with two versions of the Anarchist Cookbook which includes bomb-making instructions.”
“The boys said to have intended to use weapons to murder pupils and teachers at their school while dressed in clothing to that worn by the Columbine High School killers.”
“Yesterday they appeared at Leeds Youth Court charged with conspiracy to murder, one of the duo is also charged with the aggravated burglary of his girlfriends home.”
“One of the boys mouthed ‘I love you’ to his parents who were sitting in the public gallery.”