Fiction Writing: Using Real Life Experiences

We’ve all heard the super popular writing advice “write what you know”, but what does it really mean? And can it truly help our writing as much as the experts say it will?

Many writers will push disagree with me, but I believe the answer is yes. If you want to be a good writer, you will have to write about what you don’t know because you haven’t experienced everything personally. Even if you have experienced something personally, that doesn’t mean other people have experienced the same thing in a different way OR have a different interpretation. However, drawing from personal experiences, in addition to doing research and empathizing with someone else’s experiences, is a great skill to have. If you’re able to combine these skills effectively, your writing will improve drastically.

So how can you transform your real life experiences into a great piece of fiction? It all starts from being able to tap into your emotions. I think a lot of writers try to separate themselves from their work because they don’t know how to step inside their characters’ shoes or it just might require a lot of energy that can be difficult to tap into. As readers, we are often able to relate to characters because we can understand how they’re feeling. For example, don’t just write about a break up. Think about your break up and use that to shape your novel. Don’t just think about how unique your break up was, but how you can use that to connect with your readers. How did that situation change you? How could it change your character? OR were you indifferent about it? Asking yourself these questions will help humanize your characters and make them more relatable.

Speaking of breakups, I once used my experience to shape how my characters would eventually fall out of love. I remember feeling annoyed by the other person, losing interest in seeing them on a weekly basis, and ultimately starting to hate the things that they liked. I also knew I was afraid to be alone and I felt guilty that I wasn’t trying to fix things. What I was feeling was probably close to what many other people have felt right before a breakup. These shared experiences will make your writing great and relatable, even if your story takes place in a new or unfamiliar setting.

All in all, if you draw from your own experiences, you will be able to put more emotion into your characters and you’ll have a greater insight on how they would react to certain situations. This also helps you put yourself in your protagonist’s head and become a more empathetic writer.

-Kris Noel

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Hello, writerly friends!

Welcome back to my weekly writer’s life vlog where I talk about my writing process & offer advice and inspiration. Today I talk about what I’m doing for Camp NaNoWriMo (July 2015) along with a quick-talk on how “Kill Your Darlings” does not mean what you think it means.

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Keep writing, the world needs your story~ ♥︎

Writing a trilogy has a massive set of challenges with plenty of room for error, such as inconsistencies throughout the entire trilogy–or a series of books in general. But I’m going to specifically be speaking about a trilogy since The Stars Trilogy is, well, a trilogy.

First off, I’m going to mention that just because you’ve had one book in your planned trilogy published doesn’t mean the second book is going to automatically be accepted for publication. In fact, before my previous publisher folded, The Stars Are Infinite actually received a rejection the first time due to length, which could have been remedied had I spent more time with copy editing. In fact, the second book was the most difficult book I’ve ever written…and it’s the easiest one for readers to gloss over in a trilogy since the human brain naturally remembers the beginning and the ending much clearer than the middle.

If you’re shooting for a mainstream press, the publication of your second book depends entirely upon the sales of your first. A smaller press usually doesn’t have such stringent expectations, but it’s not going to be any easier for your second book to land a contract.

Also, while you may be tempted to write out the entire trilogy, I advise you don’t. After all, the edits for your first book may completely change the direction of your second book. The edits for When Stars Die completely changed the direction of the second book, even though it didn’t drastically change the first ten chapters. But I was glad I didn’t have the second book fully written out with the original direction I had in mind, or else I was going to have to rewrite the entire thing anyway. Yes, it’s great writing practice, but don’t create unnecessary work for yourself. The editing process with a publisher is already taxing as it is.

What are some things you can do to ensure a solid trilogy, to keep up with everything contained within it?

  1. Keep all of your notes from the previous book(s). This allows you to keep track of the  major points from your previous books so that you can seamlessly transition into the next book. It also helps to keep down on the number of inconsistencies as much as possible. For example, only witches can see Shadowmen (dead witches) in my trilogy, but in my second book, I made the mistake of allowing these Shadowmen to be apparent to everyone. Luckily my awesome editor, who doubles as my best friend, caught this, but now I know to keep the notes I wrote for the second book so that I don’t make some colossal error in the third book that may ruin the entire story.
  2. Keep all of your notes…period. Even if you don’t use some of the ideas you’ve written down for your current book, you may be able to implement those ideas in ensuing books.
  3. Re-read the previous book(s). Yeah, you are going to be reading your book to death during edits to the point where you’re going to start hating it. But even if you can recite your book word for word, it never hurts to go back to ensure you don’t miss a single detail when writing the next book in the series. Even the smallest of inconsistencies can have the potential to throw off the entire book.
  4. Keep lists of characters and their importance. Throughout your trilogy, your cast of characters is likely to grow, which means it can become complicated to keep track of them and when and where you’d like to use them. Thus, it helps to keep a list of all of your characters and their important functions to the overall plot of the trilogy. You’ll also want to keep track of character development.
  5. Keep notes on the world you’re building. You’re going to want to keep track of the type of world you’re building and how it’s developing. Use whatever methods work for you, whether it’s sticky notes or just a journal. You want to treat your world as you would a character, so it needs to develop .
  6. Don’t repeat. You don’t need to repeat a character’s history, physical traits, or even personality traits. Astute readers will remember all of these details, and many take the responsibility upon themselves to reread the previous book(s).
  7. Standalone. The best books in a trilogy can function as stand-alones while also being able to seamlessly transition into their following books. You’ll also want to keep notes of plots you have yet to tie off so that way you can ensure you complete these in following books.  
  8. Timescale. A lot of writers struggle trying to figure out just how far their sequels should be set. The Stars Are Infinite is set eight years after When Stars Die. The sequel to TSAI will be set a few months after. Whatever time you choose, make certain it is imperative to the story. Why does TSAI take place eight years after WSD? Because the protagonist in TSAI is different from the one in WSD, and she needed time to grow up in order for the plot to have more of an effect.

My Ask Box is always open for questions!

Three Tips for Improving your Multi-Sensory Writing

Many writers say they struggle most with appealing to one’s sense of smell, yet studies say our strongest memories are linked to specific scents.

The most beloved and engaging books are descriptive-rich, engaging all our senses as we move through the story. As writers, we usually have our favorite sense, finding it easy to paint compelling visuals while potentially ignoring, for example, the kinesthetics among us.

To create a full, engaging experience for our readers, however, we must write to delight all five of the senses: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.  Neglect one or several senses and a story becomes flat, one-dimensional and sadly cast aside.

If you’d like to better write to all five senses, here are my three tips:

1.) Create a Resource List of Sensory-Rich Words

Spend some time brainstorming a list of descriptive words that you can refer to when needing inspiration. Continually add to your list, expanding your categories as they evolve.  Your list could look like this:

Sound Words:  drone, buzz, bark, rumble, rustle, gurgle, quiet as midnight

Touch (feeling) Words:  spongy, dizzying warmth, gritty, jagged

Romantic Words:  bewitching, enchanting, cherished

Write World has a great post: Word list: taste, smell, sound

Here’s a few other websites that help:

Sensory Words by Vivian Gilbert Zabel

Another Sensory Words (PDF)

Sensory Detail Word Bank

Words to Describe Smell, Sound, Taste, Touch …

2.) Expand Your Vocabulary

Seriously.  To make your writing more complex and interesting, we need to know more complex and interesting words.

Make it a point to look up words you don’t recognize.  Read other author’s works, writing down words and phrasing that speak to you.  Visit sites like this. Make the thesaurus your good friend.  Download a “word of the day” app.  Buy a “new word a day” daily calendar.  Be creative in finding new words and use them daily. 

3.) Be More Present to Your Life

We are consistently surrounded by rich sensory experiences—IF we take the time to notice them.  The first day of school after a lazy summer.  Camping under the midnight sky.  The sounds of a Little League ball game.  A visit to the one-building department store in rural Wisconsin.  The elderly woman inching her way across the street.

Become a keen observer and recorder of the sensory intricacies of life.  Make it a habit to jot down your observances in a journal.  Quick snippets like “her hair was the color of a butterscotch candy” or “elderly lady bent over like a comma” can jumpstart your creative thinking when you need it.

I hope this helped! If you have any questions, feel free to visit my ask box!

A Writer’s Take on Interstellar: Try/Fail Cycles

In writing, a try/fail cycle is the main character’s attempt to resolve the story’s problem. There are at least three try/fail cycles in every well-written story (of this structure). Often the main character will fail the first two cycles, but not always. In Interstellar, the first try/fail is the first planet they visit, the second try/fail is the second planet they visit, and the third try/fail is the black hole.

A good writer wants each try/fail cycle to be bigger or better than the previous one. That’s one key to writing a successful story. Escalate. Escalate. Escalate. The writer has got to keep increasing the tension, the stakes, and the costs.

Like I said last time, Interstellar has huge stakes and costs, and the Nolans ramp them up to the max– all at the first planet they visit, the first try/fail cycle! Most writers wouldn’t be able to do that. Why?Because if a writer starts that big in the first try/fail cycle,  he or she has to jump over that bar to do something bigger or better, more suspenseful than that. If your story starts too big, with the costs and stakes all ramped up from the get-go, then there is nowhere else to take your story that can be bigger or better than what just happened. In other words, the story’s tension will all be downhill from there.

But the Nolans are exceptional writers, and they pulled off what most writers, even great writers, can’t. They managed to still heighten the stakes and tension, even after basically maxing it all out on the first try/fail cycle. These guys are freaking talented.

When I was watching Interstellar for the first time, after Miller’s planet, I was freaking out. That was only the first try/fail cycle. And there were still two other planets to visit! Where the crap were the writers going to take the tension next? How the heck do you escalate this story, from this point forward? I even wondered if it wouldn’t escalate, because I couldn’t conceive how it could, but I’d heard such good things about the movie, I knew the writers had to have figured something at least decent out.

The Nolans set the writing bar extremely high with the first try/fail cycle.

And then I proceeded to watch them jump over it.

Where the heck did Jonathon and Christopher Nolan come from?

And they were so clever in all of it. They were so clever in jumping over the bar. They didn’t try to jump over it by escalating the same things even more, which is what a lot of beginning writers do. They didn’t try to, say, go to a planet where one hour equals 10 years instead of seven. No. They were smart because they made each try/fail cycle so different (and yet just as satisfying). And by doing that, you are able to skyrocket all of them out.

In the first try/fail cycle, the main conflict is a person vs. nature conflict, as the crew has to deal with the enormous waves. It’s also a conflict that deals with sources, with time as a source. Those get skyscraped.

The second try/fail cycle (Mann’s planet) centers on a person vs. person conflict: Dr. Mann vs. Cooper. Yes, nature plays a role (when Cooper is suffocating), but it’s not the main focus. The Nolans gave us something different, and then maxed that conflict out, by Dr. Mann not only trying to kill Cooper, but by him stealing the ranger and blowing up the Endurance (an extremely high cost). In this try/fail cycle, we are facing an antagonist who can think and scheme and act in a conscious attempt to stop the hero. It’s intense because we feel Dr. Mann’s desperation, and when he says, while fighting Cooper, that a 50-50% chance of living is the best he’s had in years, we know that Dr. Mann will try to survive, no matter the cost. There is nothing to big, or too drastic, that he won’t attempt, and just knowing that, hikes up the tension.

Then we get the third try/fail cycle with the black hole, and again, it feels so different from the others. Cooper is facing the unknown, and that brings its own kind of terror and wonder into it. This try/fail cycle is more scientific, but it still brings high emotional tension and high intellectual tension with it, as Cooper has to watch himself walk out on Murph again and then figure out what is going on.

So the Nolans made each try/fail cycle different, and then ramped them up. By doing this, they were able to take the tension way, way up, exceed the audience’s expectations, and keep the story from feeling long and monotonous.

They were able to create huge conflicts, and were able to resolve them. This takes real talent. If a writer tries to create gigantic conflicts, then he or she is stuck trying to figure out how the characters are going to solve them. Sometimes the writer writes herself into a corner, and has to go back and shrink the conflict to something that’s easier to solve. But the Nolans had huge conflicts in their story and were able to pull it all together to actually come up with a solution for them. As an audience, I don’t think we fully appreciate the magnitude of this. But when you look at all the pieces (that at times seemed impossible to fit together, like ghosts and gravity) and conflicts, you’ll start to glean the talent it takes to pull it all together, and pull it all together so flawlessly.

Surely the Nolans are some of the most talented writers in Hollywood right now. That’s this person’s opinion anyway.

WHAT TO DO AFTER FINISHING A FIRST DRAFT.

  • Revise a different draft.
  • Write a new piece.
  • Read a craft article. (LitReactor.com is pretty good!)
  • Read a short story or book.

WHAT YOU SHOULDN’T DO AFTER FINISHING A FIRST DRAFT.

  • Revise it.

WHY NOT?

You have to be as detached from a draft as you possibly can when you polish it. You have to be able to trim the fat from your baby and take out all those words, sentences and fragments that are stopping it from being a great story. I’m sure those words you used are beautiful and they sound amazing, but if they’re stalling the plot they have to go.

HOW DO I KNOW WHAT TO KEEP AND WHAT TO THROW AWAY?

Read! The best way to know what a perfectly paced story is like is to read one. There’s no black-and-white, two-plus-two way to answer this, but this is what works for me:

  • Avoid adverbs, those words that tend to end in -ly.
  • Keep descriptions to a minimum. People are interested in your story. If they want to see what a place or person is like they go to Google images. If they come to you it’s because they want to be entertained.
  • Change passive voice sentences to subject-verb-complement sentences. You will get the same idea across in less words.

FINAL TIP

Try not to make changes on your first pass! If your word processor has a comment function use that to write the changes you need to make. If you read and edit at the same time you’ll be doing two things at once and you’ll get tired much quicker.

FINAL FINAL TIP

Enjoy yourself! You’re an artist. Write and revise for yourself. Love it.

How to Develop your Best Novel Writing Ideas

Writing a novel is no small task. Some writers spend years just eking out a first draft, followed by years of revisions. And that’s before they even think about the grueling publishing process.

On other words, you’re going to spend a lot of time with your novel. So you better love it. No wait – loving isn’t enough. You have to be in love with it. You have to be obsessed with it.

And obsessions cannot be forced. It’s normal to lose interest when you’re on your tenth revision, but if you’re losing interest in your plot or characters while writing your first or second draft, the problem may not be you or your novel. The problem may be that you tried to commit to something you didn’t love. And that’s never a good idea.

For many writers, the trick is to sticking with a novel is actually quite simple: find an idea that grips you.

Get in Touch with your Passions

Before you chase every crazy idea into the ground, stop and take a breath. Think about what moves you. Books you couldn’t put down. Movies you watched dozens of times. TV shows you couldn’t stop talking about. Songs you played so many times, you’re sure they have bonded with your DNA.

By identifying your passions, you can figure out what makes you tick, and that’s a great start to your quest for novel writing ideas that you can really sink your teeth into.

All your past and present obsessions hold the clues to your future obsession with your own novel. Pay close attention to your preferences for genre, theme, setting, style, character archetypes and above all–emotional sensibility. Make lists of what you love about your favorite stories and soon, you’ll see the shape of your own novel start to emerge.

Generate and Gather Plenty of Novel Writing ideas

Once you’ve made some general decisions about the novel you’re going to write, it’s time to start generating specific ideas.

Of course, the best novel writing ideas come out of nowhere. You’re on your hands and knees scrubbing the floor and suddenly that big magic bulb over your head lights up. Or maybe you have so many ideas, you don’t know where to start. It’s even possible that you’re aching to write a novel but are fresh out of ideas. Your mind feels like a gaping void.

Actually, story ideas are everywhere. The trick is to collect a variety of ideas, and let them stew while you decide which one is worth the effort. Here are some quick tips for generating ideas:

  • Hit the bookstore or library and jot down some of your favorite plot synopses. Then, rework the details to take these old plots and turn them into new ideas. Try combining different elements from your favorite stories. And use movie synopses too!
  • Load up on fiction writing prompts and develop each prompt into a short (one-paragraph) summary for a story.
  • Harvest some creative writing ideas from the news.

Create a stash file for your ideas. It can be a folder on your computer or a box you can fill with 3×5 note cards. You can also write all these ideas in a notebook. Just make sure you keep them together so you can easily go through them.

Let your Novel Writing Ideas Marinate

Some ideas are so great, you just can’t wait to get started. If you’re writing a poem or a piece of flash fiction, then have at it. If things don’t work out, you’ll lose a few hours or maybe a few weeks. But imagine investing years in a novel only to realize your heart’s not in it. Try to avoid doing that by letting ideas sit for a while before you dive into them.

The best ideas rise to the top. These are not necessarily the best-selling ideas or the most original ideas. They’re the ideas that are best for you. Those are the ones that will haunt you, keep you up at night, and provoke perpetual daydreams.

These are the ones worth experimenting with.

Experiment to See which Novel Writing Ideas Can Fly

There’s a reason people test drive cars and lie around on the beds in mattress shops. When you make a big investment, you want to feel right about it. You can’t know how a car will drive until you actually drive it. And you can’t know how a bed will feel until you relax on its mattress for a while. And you definitely can’t know what your relationship with your novel will be like until you experiment with it.

In truth, the experimental phase is when you start writing the novel–just like the test drive is when you start driving the car. But you haven’t committed yet. You’re still open to the idea that this is not for you. This might seem like I’m nitpicking over semantics, but you’ll find that discarding partially written novels wears on you after a while. If you play around with your story with the understanding that you’re experimenting, and if things don’t work out, you can always walk away without feeling guilty or like you gave up. Go back to your idea stash, and start tooling around with the next one.

How do you experiment with novel writing? I’m so glad you asked. There’s a lot you can do. Start by brainstorming. Sketch a few characters. Poke around and see what kind of research this novel might demand. Draft a few scenes. Write an outline. If you keep going through these motions and can’t shake your excitement, then you are finally …

Writing Your Novel

At this point, you’ve already started writing your novel. But suddenly, you’re not just writing a novel. You’re deeply, passionately, obsessively writing your novel. If a couple of weeks go by and you haven’t had time to write, you miss your characters. When you get stuck with a scene, you simply work on some other part of the story because you’re so obsessed. You have to fight the urge to tell everyone about how the story is coming along. Your trusted buddy, whom you bounce ideas off of, is starting to think you’re taking it all too seriously. “Maybe you should watch some television a couple nights a week,” he says, looking concerned.

This is a story that’s captured your full attention. And that’s a good sign that it will capture the attention of readers.

Many (or most) of your novel writing ideas might end up in a trash can or a bottom drawer. But every one of them will be worth it when all of that idea generating, planning, and experimenting finally pays off. Every idea that doesn’t work will pave the path to the idea that will set you on fire.

So no matter what, no matter how many ideas come and go, no matter how many drafts you discard, never give up. Just keep writing!

I hope this helped! If you have any questions or just want to talk, go to my ask box!

How to Write a Novel

Listen closely, friends. 

Are you listening? Yes? 

All it takes is one idea. A germ of an idea. Do you have that? 

Okay, now pick up your laptop or a pen and paper. Got that, too? 

Write down your idea. Every single bit of your idea. The good, the ugly, the questions you might have. 

Now repeat. Over and over and over. And eventually, it will start to look like a book. 

Eventually, it all fits together.

brianamaemorgan.com
How to Handle Harsh Critiques – Briana Mae Morgan

As a former English major with a concentration in creative writing, I’ve had my share of harsh critiques. I’ve probably even given a few. With each workshop class I participated in, I received constructive criticism and learned to thicken my skin. Does that mean I’ve transcended hurt feelings? No, I’m only human. However, what I have done is learn how to handle any harsh critiques I may get with an element of grace.

Don’t Take It Personally

Most of the time, it’s nothing personal. If someone sends you a harsh critique, it doesn’t mean that they hate you or your work. Although it may sting, keep in mind that your reviewer is trying to be helpful. And if the comments seem particularly mean-spirited, that person may simply be having an off day. Try not to take it personally.

Ignore the Haters

Don’t feed the trolls. If a critique comes across like a slap in the face, or it’s clear that someone is trying to start a fight with you, do not engage. It won’t end well for you or for anyone else involved, trust me.

Remember the Intent

People want you to succeed. More often than not, your reviewer is trying to be helpful. If they’re critiquing you, they want to help you make your work better. Keep that in mind when reading feedback.

Think It Over

Your reader or critique partner might not mean for their words to come across the way they do. Technology has made modern communication so much easier, but subtext and inflection get lost in translation. Before lashing out at someone regarding a comment they made, consider all the different meanings it could have. If you’re still uncertain, feel free to ask for clarification.

Focus on the Good

Note the positives. A good beta reader or critique partner will sandwich constructive criticism between praise. If the criticism stuns you, take a minute to consider the compliments, too.

You’re in Charge

Remember: you’re the expert. If someone says something about your writing that you don’t agree with, you don’t have to change it. You know more about your story than anyone else. At the end of the day, you’re the boss.

Getting a harsh critique may feel like the end of the world. Using these tips, you should be able to handle any constructive criticism that comes your way.

How do you handle harsh critiques?

"But my Plot isn’t UNIQUE or BIG enough!”

One thing that I worry about is that my plot isn’t good enough. I know lots of other writers who have had this issue in the past as well, and it’s all about having confidence in yourself and your ability to tell a tale. 

The plot doesn’t have to be groundbreaking, just think of how many people get fed up of Shyamalan twist-endings. They’re clever sometimes, yes, but they’re also not what everyone ever is looking for, and when they are forced into a piece of work it is painfully obvious to anyone who really values what you’ve written. 

What matters is the telling of the story. Your plot can be exceptionally simple, and you might write one of the most compelling books of our era. 

I found one thing that helped was to look at other works, and try and break them down into their very, very simplistic terms - the bare bones, the things the author would have decided up front perhaps. The things that… if told without the wonder of the story, might have been boring. 

Like A Song of Ice and Fire, for example, which tells the stories of Political struggle against a backdrop of Ice creatures who can raise the dead and force them to attack you. It’s basically a Socio-Political zombie apocalypse, with dragons. That could have gone either way; as it was, it went amazingly. Because Martin is a master of making every character a person, and building such a rich, colourful world that we believe it. 

So, what I’ve done is looked at a very popular work that spans multiple books. Harry Potter is widely known, so this should be useful to as many people as possible. It is also praised as one of the most in depth and atmospheric works for children, young people, adults, or just about anyone, having been translated, adapted and studied over and over. 


                           HARRY POTTER BREAKDOWN

Bread and Butter

So, when I asked Google what the heck the plot of Harry Potter was, I got this;

This is what I’m going to call the BREAD AND BUTTER of the story. It’s what happens in the day-to-day of the story. It’s perhaps the introduction J. K. would have given when first sending in her manuscript. It’s also a hugely unoriginal idea. 

The concept of a young Witch or Wizard attending a magical school where they can learn their abilities has been done before, a lot. It is basically the prmise of books like EarthSea and the Worst Witch. 

So next time you think your premise is overdone or uninspired, remember that it doesn’t matter. It’s not the premise that counts, it’s what you do with it. What Rowling did with it was create an in-depth world, full of structures and rules, populated by characters we all loved, hated, felt sorry for or routed for. She also made sure to include a way for us to learn more about the world, so she made her protagonist just as unaware of the wonder and horror as all of us. 

Tea

In this case, tea is gonna’ be the conflict of the story. The main arc. Because going to a Wizard School is freaking awesome and everything, but this story needs risk. Our characters need to be in danger, and they need something to overcome. Often writers get stuck here. They have a wonderful setting and they really want to write about their character doing this or that, but what’s the main goal? What is there to overcome? 

Very simply, Rowling’s villain is a man who wishes to purify the progression of magic by weeding out those who’s blood he see’s as tainted. He is a Hitler-figure, who himself should be ‘tainted’ in his own view. That’s the villain’s GOAL. It’s clear, and simple. 

If you think your villains goal is too simple, just look at Voldemort’s goal. What makes it more complex are the many twists and turns he and Harry both have to adapt too. His many failures, as well. 

Voldemort fits into many tropes, including the bad guy ‘selling his soul’ to achieve a vain goal, the bad guy murdering the heroes’ parents, the ‘more like you than you think’ trope, where a Villain and a hero are quite similar. I especailly like that last one, because J. K. played with it. Yes, she included it, and yes she gave a magical reason as to why. 

That just shows that unique elements can be added on to overdone ideas, to make them wonderful. 

Jam and Cream

This is where Rowling turns her simple ideas into something beautiful. Whether an idea is original or not, it will not matter if the depth is not there. Jam and Cream stands for all the little things

The fact one of the most hated antagonists was only a prime player in one book but left such an impression, the fact Hermione was disliked by the main characters at first, the fact Neville was the cowardly laughing stock of the group for years. Let’s see… The fact Sybil was right about almost all of her predictions and no one believed her, thus linking her with the Mythological figure Cassandra. 

The use of diversion and tension in The Prisoner of Azkaban, the fact that Harry’s own father was rather arrogant and mean at times, yet still a good person. The moral ambiguity of characters like Dumbledore or Snape. 

And…

That isn’t even naming the things the books got wrong. Because every author makes mistakes. Yes! You’re allowed too! J. K. has Dumbledore play the ‘I’m going to withhold information from you for the sake of the plot,’ card. We are also supposed to believe Harry forgave everything Snape ever did and named his son after him because he rather fancied his mother. Many issues are left unaddressed, such as the disinterest/damn right rudeness towards Hagrid in the final years, or the silly quest over the fake Sword. 

But in the end, if the story is told masterfully, no one is going to care. 

Basically, what I’m trying to say is, if you plot is overdone, don’t worry about it. If your world feels familiar, do more to make it your own. If your villain feels like a trope, give them more twists and turns, and maybe a reason for the trope that fits your world alone. If your characters feel stale, give them more scenes that address their personality. 

You’re doing fine, and your manuscript is totally fine. If you believe in it, there’s gonna’ be at least a hundred more people who would too. 

Open With A Punch

It takes about three paragraphs to decide whether or not I’m going to buy that novel I just mindlessly picked up in the book store. Sometimes I’ll read the entire first chapter if I’m still on the fence, but those are rare occasions. Nine times out of ten, I’ve made my decision by the end of that third paragraph.

That means the writer has three paragraphs to present an interesting premise, a strong voice, and a character I’m willing to spend 200+ pages with. And maybe that sounds like an impossible standard to meet, but I’ve bought more books than I can fit in my house.

Three paragraphs is more than enough space. Hell–I’d say I’m even being pretty generous by reading that much. I’ve met pickier readers who only went by the first paragraph. There was a particularly tough event my old writers group offered where we’d critique and rank our interest level based completely on the first sentences of each others stories (which was ridiculous in hindsight, because it actually is pretty impossible to get a solid impression from just one sentence).

Point is, you have a very limited window to grab a readers attention, so a strong opening is indispensable.

In my old writers group, we learned a little checklist for things our opening paragraph(s) should contain and accomplish. I don’t have the damn thing memorized anymore, but it went a little something like this:

  • Introduce your protagonist, preferably by name
  • Introduce immediate conflict and foreshadow larger conflict
  • Introduce your setting
  • Don’t open with a dream
  • Actually. Just don’t open with your character waking up at all
  • Also. No flashbacks.
  • And don’t open with dialogue
  • AND FOR FUCK’S SAKE DON’T TALK ABOUT THE WEATHER THAT’S SO BORING OMFG

The list I learned was a lot longer than that, but that’s the gist of it. Aaand now you can go ahead and forget you read any of that, because I personally think it’s stupid to put any sort of limitations on a person’s creativity. You wanna start with dialogue or a full weather report? Go ahead.

The novel I’m writing now begins with a flashback to an out-of-narrative monologue, then jumps into the main character’s point of view on the second page. My main character goes nameless through the majority of the novel.

Basically, I’m breaking all the rules I put so much merit in back in the day. But I’m still super confident in my opening. Why? Because I open with a punch.

So. How exactly do you open with a punch?

Voice. A strong, interesting voice catches me every time. Take a look at some of your favorite books and pick out what makes the voices unique.

Disorient me. Most of my favorites left me completely bewildered after those first three paragraphs. I’m confused. I have questions and no idea what the answers could be. I’ll probably start reading in the parking lot.

Action over explanation. Back story can almost always wait until after you have your reader on the line. It’s best to give them something to sink their teeth into before you go unloading all the lore of your world. I’ll be much more interested in (and less likely to skim) the back story if I’m already invested.

Seriously. Action. It’s important. Like I said, you can start your story however you want, but boring content will always be boring content. You wanna open your novel by talking about the weather? That’s fine. But it’s only interesting to read about if it’s something out of the ordinary. The blizzard of the century. A damn meteor shower. Something I can’t just walk outside and look at.

Give me an existential crisis. This one might be specific to me, but I have quite a few favorites that, instead of starting with action, use their openings to scare the shit out of me with some horrifying theory or observation.

Of course, these are just a few ways you can punch your reader with your opening. Play around, experiment, and write your own hooks.

Happy writing, lovelies

writers
  • write that sentence, that dialogue, that scene that terrifies you
  • don’t delete shit, just move it to another document
  • have a “bits and pieces” document for all the odds and ends you can’t fit anywhere else
  • think of the color of a person’s eyes, imagine something reflected in them, now write that scene
  • fiction doesn’t have to be 100% accurate, don’t research yourself to boredom
  • i’m being serious there’s a thing called suspension of disbelief and it’s magical (yes that’s me making a joke)
  • write something that makes you cry
  • write something that makes you laugh
  • write something you can’t explain to other people
  • write something you won’t remember until you read it the next day
  • don’t read about the publishing industry until you really, really need to. all it will do is make you unbelievably tired
  • listen to music from open world RPG video games, you’re welcome
  • always take a small journal or some paper and a pen with you
  • write by hand in a journal every once in a while
  • put the ending of your story in the beginning and see what happens
  • listen to input from other people. yes you’re the writer, but they’re the reader and they want to help you make something spectacular
  • said is not dead dude like wtf
  • the thesaurus is shiny and lovely and a great resource but don’t let words get in the way of your story telling, you don’t need to write prose as poetry for it to be beautiful
  • just finish the draft first, worry about perfection after
  • yes, you do have talent
  • yes, you can do this. you already are
Real People vs. Characters

As a writer, one of your main jobs is to get your readers to believe in the illusion you’re creating in your story. Deep down, we know that characters aren’t real people, but we suspend our disbelief to really put ourselves inside a fictional world. While characters can also be layered and complex, there’s a big difference—they’re not real people.

Here are a few differences to consider when building your own characters:

Characters are simpler than real people

I know, I know. How can I say that your favorite character from your favorite book series isn’t as complex as your next door neighbor? You know a lot more about your favorite character because you’ve followed their ups and downs for like 5 books now.

But the truth is your next door neighbor has a very real and very complex life and they’ll always have more depth than any character in a fiction novel. Authors only tend to focus on certain traits of a character; ones that pertain to the story and help drive the novel forward. Adding a lot more detail could bog the story down and feel unnecessary. Like I said before, characters can be complex and layered, but we’re only experiencing a powerful illusion. This is actually helpful for writers because it helps manipulate your readers’ emotions depending on what story you’re trying to tell. You get to guide your characters and where they’re going.

You’re only sharing a slice of life

Most of the time when you’re writing about a character, you’re only sharing the most dramatic moments of their existence. There’s a reason you’re telling the story and it’s not just them living their normal day-to-day lives. There’s usually the stasis that moves on to the inciting incident that gets them away from what they’re used to. We all know that real life can be tedious and boring for the most part. I’m not saying nothing exciting happens to real people, but we do work and go to school and sleep every night…the boring parts are usually cut out of fiction (depending on your story)

Again, obviously this all depends on your story, but there’s usually some excitement that pops up in stories that doesn’t always happen to real people. We are reading about what’s most representative of your character’s life.

You never know exactly what real people are thinking

This is one of the biggest differences between characters and real people. In novels, if the writer chooses to do so, the innermost thoughts of characters can be revealed. In real life, it’s impossible for us to know what someone else is thinking. They might tell us, but we’ll never have that sort of deep insight we’d have in a work of fiction.

Use this to your advantage as a writer because it doesn’t happen in real life.  Share your protagonist’s thoughts if you think it will help develop your story.

-Kris Noel