Our stories are often plagued with these common story problems, but if we don’t know how to fix them, we’ll never improve our writing. It’s important that you remember you don’t need to scrap your novel if you keep having the same issues over and over again. Hopefully this list will help you pinpoint what’s going on and provide ways for you to improve your novel.
Problem: Unmotivated Characters
If you’re having trouble figuring out where your story should go next, the problem could be with unmotivated characters. Characters aren’t in your novel just so you can push them around every once in a while and make them do things. They need to develop over time and keep your story going in the right direction.
Work on your character’s wants, goals, and motivations. You need to figure out what’s driving your character if you want them to do anything. Where do they want to end up? What’s standing in their way? What’s their plan? Who will help them? Think about everything your character will need to do to resolve your novel. Focus on what they want and what motivates their actions and your characters will stop being dull and lifeless.
Problem: Boring First Chapters
A boring first chapter is dangerous because you want to captivate your audience right away. You don’t want to lose readers just because of this, but sometimes it happens. You should give enough information to keep your readers interested, while also keeping them intrigued enough to figure out what happens next.
Putting emotion into your scenes from the beginning will not only help set the tone, but we’ll get an immediate understanding of your world. The best advice I can give is to construct a scene that helps us best understand your character. If they’re on the run, show us that they’re being chased. If they’re sad and lonely, construct a scene that lets us feel their isolation. You don’t necessarily need to open your book with action, but you do need to introduce the conflict. Think about what your character wants and go from there. Think of your first chapter as an introduction to an essay. You don’t go right into the points immediately, but you set us up for something good.
Problem: Plot Holes
Writers worry about forgetting to include important information in their novel that’s necessary to the plot. If you’re discovering that readers often point out plot holes in your story, maybe it’s time to reevaluate how you plan your novel.
Pre-planning or prewriting your novel often solves any plot hole problems. If you take the time to write out important scenes so you don’t forget them, your story will become stronger. However, if you’re not someone who likes to do so much planning, you can tackle plot holes during the editing phase. Take notes when you’re editing so that you can catch these plot holes and figure out where you can add necessary information. A plot hole does not always mean your novel needs loads of reworking, but it is something you need to take the time to fill in.
Problem: Poor Pacing
Poor pacing can ruin a novel, but luckily it’s something you can tackle head on before you even start writing your story. Good pacing helps add tension to your novel and helps you make sure there’s enough rising and falling action to keep your story interesting.
Planning out your novel ahead of time also helps solve pacing problems. You can create a timeline that helps you keep track and plan out when you want certain things to happen. Read up on story arcs and try to plan out your scenes accordingly. If you’re already done with your novel and you notice poor pacing, try rearranging scenes or spreading out the action.
A very common writing problem is info-dumping. This is when you tell your readers loads of information at a time without showing them anything important. Info-dumps usually occur in first chapters of novels, but they can happen anytime during the course of your story. Info- dumps can drag down your story and bore your readers.
Cut out long paragraphs where you explain what’s going on in your novel and show your readers instead. Avoid over explaining things that can be explained through action. Letting your audience figure things out instead is a much more satisfying reading experience and it lets your readers connect with your characters on a deeper level.
Anonymous asked: “How do you get past the planning stage of writing a novel?”
Personally, I try to plan as little as I can. I don’t have the patience to wait. I like to be writing. For major planners though, I know this can be the most daunting step. You’ve worked so hard to plan out a perfect book and now you have to sit down and write it.
“DON’T INFO DUMP,” said every writing-advice-giver ever.
And that advice is so annoying, isn’t it? You’re going along, writing your first draft…or maybe you’re revising your old draft…whatever stage your in, if you’re trying to build a world in a well-paced, interesting story, then it can be difficult to find places for brief bouts of exposition and backstory.
It would be so much simpler to just have a paragraph or seven where you spout out all of the relative information in one go so you can get to the meat of the scene. Or maybe you could find a way to use your powerful brain waves to transfer all that information to your reader. Or…can information be absorbed intravenously?
Stop worrying! There are more options for your in-narrative worldbuilding than info dumping or even exposition-sprinkling.
Did you know that there’s huge chunks of worldbuilding that can simultaneously be character development?
Yeah. I know. In the process of character development, you can give the reader any and all information they might need about your world.
So, what do we see here? There’s nothing inherently wrong with this set up, and it might be fun (and necessary) to write this as your first draft. But what are the potential problems?
A prologue exists - Now, I personally really like prologues, but you know who doesn’t? Agents. Publishers. And lots of readers. It’s often safer to just jump into the action of chapter one.
The purpose of this prologue, at a glance, is likely:
to introduce the world, or a specific aspect of the culture
to introduce backstory of an important, but not primary character
to introduce the backstory of the situation that our MC will find herself in.
The prologue isn’t narrated or focused on our POV character, Donna. One of the biggest complaints about prologues is that they so frequently don’t introduce the main character or the main conflict (and why should they? They’re prologues). But many readers feel cheated by starting with one narrator and then getting a new one once the main story starts.
So, instead of letting these issues remain, we have an alternative. Cut the prologue. It’s fun backstory, but it’s not needed in-narrative. It’s good that you, the author, now have it as a reference, though, so don’t feel like you’ve wasted time. Open with Chapter One and our main narrator.
“But…but…how will the reader understand Bill and where she’s coming from!? It’s so important for understanding the state of the world!!! ARGHHH.”
Don’t worry. All of this will be revealed in due course.
Okay, so here we have a tiny snippet of dialogue. This doesn’t encompass everything, but it’s a start. We’ve skipped Bill’s backstory, right? So what does that give us? Well, simple. If Donna’s our POV character, then it lets us readers get to know Bill through her eyes. This can go on. As Donna watches Bill interact with others, watches her lead, watches her flinch and close-off and open up…all of these actions will reveal her backstory.
What other benefits does this method of world and character introduction offer?
More organic feel of dropped details.
Information is given through dialogue and so we get to hear that information, but we’re simultaneously getting character voice
It’s easy to “show” how Bill feels about her past because we aren’t in her head, so there’s no chance for telling. Donna–and the readers–will only get the information that Bill gives plus all of her physical and tonal cues.
The omittance of details can speak as much or more about Bill as the details she gives. And since this story is being filtered to us through Donna, those details might be questioned or pondered. She talked all about ___, but I’ve heard so many people talking about ____, and she didn’t bring that up at all…I wonder why.
Here’s another example, only focused on the narrator this time. A picture of the world, and a whole lot about the character.
You could easily do one or the other–character or world, plot or world, backstory or plot–but when you take the chance to combine them, then you save on unneeded exposition, word count, and it helps keep things saturated and interesting.
It comes down to this: In many ways, our world is what we perceive it as, especially in the story we tell. So objective worldbuilding within a character and story-driven novel doesn’t quit grip the interest of the reader to the same extent. Worldbuilding becomes especially interesting when it’s revealed in relation to story and character. A lot of your note-taking worldbuilding (the stuff in the background) will be objective, matter-of-fact. But within the story, what matters most is what relates to the people and the matter at hand. Compiling your world building onto your character development is easy, because what a character reveals about their own world also reveals a lot about them.
A post from me wouldn’t be complete without some prompts/brainstorming ideas for this subject, so here you go.
Things to consider when worldbuilding in-narrative through your characters:
How they interact with the environment
How “normal” any given situation or place seems to them
How people around them are treating them and their reaction to it
How they and others are dressed, their thoughts on “fashion”
How their home-life is seen by others, how others’ home-lives are viewed by character
How character handles money or trade
How well-educated your character is and how that is viewed by others
How your character views the education of other people.
How your character deals with the political climate
The kind of foods that they like, the kinds they eat regularly
How strangers talk to them on the street
The kinds of people they’re friends with
How they view, treat, and are treated by other social classes
The environment of their workplace, how others treat them on a professional level
NaNoWriMo Prep: How to Plan a Novel without a Story
Before you start writing, when your story idea is in its very earliest stages, if you even have one at all, you should make a list of things you love in the books you read. List all of the story elements that draw you to novels. List the ones that excite you when they appear. Find patterns in the books you enjoy, and list those too.
If you don’t know exactly what you love about books, or how to start a list like this, go to your bookshelves, pick out four or five of your absolute favourite novels, and examine them. If you have time, read a few chapters of each. List what you love about those books specifically.
If you like Harry Potter–and I will always use HP as an example, because who doesn’t like HP?–instead of listing things like “Hermione” or “Hogwarts,” think about what you actually like about those story specifics.
For Hermione: Do you like Hermione because she’s a smart, self-determined female character? Or do you just like that she’s a bit of a know it all? Or are you happy to see characters with unruly, frizzy hair?
For Hogwarts: Do you like the boarding school setting? Or the enchanted castle? Do you like Scotland?
Whatever the answer is, write that down, and steal those story aspects to create something original and amazing.
Look for obvious things like character, plot, and setting, but also take into account how books are narrated and formatted. Think about themes, tropes, and language. Think about mood and tone and structure. The wider the variety of story elements you collect, the more helpful your list will be.
Here are some examples of story features to include in your list:
Third person narration
No love interests
Exciting chapter titles
Main characters with unusual interests
Scenes of friends bonding besides crackling fire places
Magic but you don’t know if it’s actually magic or not
What to do with your list?
Use it to plan your novel:
Use this list to help you figure out not only what your story is going to be, but how you’re going to tell it. You don’t have to include all of the things in your list in your story, but it will be an amazing source of story elements to have in your back pocket.
Use it as motivation:
While writing, keep track of the story elements you love that you’ve managed to fit into your novel. Keep that list on your desk or wherever you write. When you can’t find any other inspiration, take a look at it. Let it remind you of what you love about your story. Let it motivate you to continue writing it.
Use it when you get stuck:
Do you ever see those random story generators that get shared around the internet? They’ll generate random settings, random plots, random character names, random character traits, random murder methods. The list is long.
I don’t recommend putting random story elements in your book. I may be wrong, but that has never seemed like an intelligent idea to me.
However, if you have a large list of things you personally enjoy in books–if you have your own pile of character traits, settings, plots, etc.–there’s a good chance one of those things will inspire your next direction for the book when you get stuck. You may very well find a plot element, or type of scene, or character quirk that you will be excited to add to your story.
If you’d like, you can even keep a list of things you hate in novels, to remind you of what you should keep out of your book by all means necessary. Knowing what you don’t like can even help you figure out what you like. Simply look to do the opposite of the things on this list.
Anonymous asked: “How do you plan a novel? What are the next steps after developing the main characters?”
First, I want to say that there is no right or wrong way to go about this. Some people use charts and drawings or really long lists, summaries for each chapter, or just have a general concept of what the ending looks like.
The most important thing to figure out, if you plan nothing else, is to know what the central conflict that will be addressed at the end of the novel will be. You don’t need to know what happens, what the fall out is, or anything like that, just what is the conflict the protagonist faces? This is usually a very difficult question to answer if you don’t have a solid premise yet or are in the early stages of planning.
Aevee Bee’s post-mortem of We Know The Devil is basically required reading for anyone looking to write a visual novel or text adventure (or any videogame really.) Choice quote:
After we bounced concept art and character profiles we would both have such a grasp of the characters we could both write scenes featuring them; Mia would message me at like 12AM with “this vine is totally Venus” and I’d be like, yes, and also the person who smashed the glass against her face is Neptune. We literally developed this game by shitposting with our own characters, so please value that work; it’s how we came up from everything from the underage drinking to the truth or dare and seven minutes in heaven scenes.
The more i write, the more i realizehow much i love world building and character development. My problem is i cant come up with a good plot to save my life. Any advice?! Please help!
Plot is where I also fall down. I’m not even so much about the world building, I just love characters and how people interact, so I have to actively force myself to write plot.
The way I do it is to break it up into really, really simple things. I think I’ve posted how I structure my novel plans, but this is basically it:
(Sorry for all the blanks, but there’s no way in hell I am letting key plot elements out)
Now, if you’re thinking, but Joy, that’s just a scrap of paper with single descriptor lines numbered together, yes, you’d be correct. I cannot map out plot in any other way, I’ve tried, but this is how my brain apparently works.
All I know is I need to get from A to Z and I know there are scenes I want to include, so I write the scenes, then fit out where in the alphabet of my novel they fit. I number them, and then I fill in the blanks and connect everything together so that the start, the middle, the catalyst and the resolution all meet up, and then once I have this vague road map of where I’m going, I try and stick to it as much as possible while I write the thing into a whole. Sometimes the plan changes, and that’s okay, but mostly it gives me a sense of direction with where I am going towards something.
I like having my Point of Conflict mapped out clearly, so that I know where I am heading. And I’ll be honest, my plot is not unique. There is a start, a source of conflict, some comedic and romantic relief in between with oodles of world and character development until there is A Not Good Thing Which Causes More Conflict, and then there is The Resolution followed by more Character Stuff.
And that’s it. That is how I write and god help you if you can figure it out because some days I barely can. I guess the point I am making is, your plot doesn’t need to be complex. What’s the theme of your story, how does it start? Write that down as a one liner. What happens next? Write that down.
To give you an idea of how that would look, for most coming of age fantasy novels, it would look like this:
>Be at home on farm. Lament life on farm. >Visit Market with Friends. >Get into hijinks which establish Character Dynamics. >Hear a rumor at market about war, be certain it will never come to you. >Wake up in middle of night to find farm on fire, the war is here and it has most definitely found you. >Parents die, run off with pseud-parental figure who seems to know a lot about you. >Realize adventuring is fucking awful. >Discover you were adopted and feel confused/betrayed??? >Get in fight with dark ancient evil that tells you Things. >Lose hand as a metaphor for lost innocence.
>Several thousand words later: >APPARENTLY YOU ARE KING NOW SO GOOD LUCK WITH THAT
And that is…that’s pretty much every popular fantasy story since Tolkein. But it’s the worlds and characters that keep us coming back for more. So your plot? Your plot doesn’t need to be original, there is at this stage, no new ideas. Only interesting and well executed ones, and that’s what you want to aim for.
So don’t stress over things just yet. Get yourself a vague map, and then see where it takes you. Not everyone knows where they are going when they start out writing.
Is it possible to have a planet without a certain kind of environment? Like a world without tundra or deserts?
In a word: Absolutely!
In many, many more words (and a picture):
You have several options here. The first and most obvious one is simply this: Do whatever the hell you want. If you want your world to have never seen snow, then go for it! No rainforests? Be my guest!
But since you’re asking about possibilities, I’m assuming you want something more scientific than that. And I’m always happy to oblige.
Let’s establish something that is important to keep in mind when discussing fictional non-Earth worlds:
We know how Earth works and how it supports life. We know how other real single-biome planets work that do not support life. But we can’t know everything about things we haven’t discovered. Since our life is the only kind we know, it might be possible that somewhere out there, a planet that we cannot imagine living on actually does manage to support life. Extra-terrestrial life could potentially work in a variety of different ways, as could ecosystems and atmospheres and all other planetary components.
This can be less flexible if you’re talking about sticking humans onto other worlds. We know that humans need certain things to live (water, oxygen, etc.), so if you’re taking humans as we know them, then you’ll need to write a world that is prepared to support them.
So…how would you write a biome out of a world in order to support life as we know it?
There are several ways you can do this, as long as you remember that the key to any ecosystem is balance. Part of the problem with single-biome worlds supporting life is that they don’t offer any type of balance. Not enough plant life means not enough oxygen, too much flora with too little fauna might mean too much oxygen. So if you nix a specific biome (let’s say we kill off the hottest biomes, deserts and rainforests), then you need to make sure you give a sufficient placeholder. (i.e. If you erase a rainforest and replace it with nothing but dirt, then you have eliminated a potentially vital source of oxygen from the planet, thus upsetting the balance.)
Wait, so how do you kill off the equator-biomes of Earth?
Let’s imagine a planet:
The axis doesn’t tilt. This does several things, but it would most prominently: - eliminate seasons - isolate climates/environments/biomes
Here, you’ve got a planet that’s probably much farther from it’s sun than Earth is from Sol. Or it is orbiting a much cooler star. Either way, you’ve got to deal with the fact that the sun will always be hitting each part of the planet with the exact same intensity. You can place it closer, if you want, and have an uninhabitable equator and people only living on the poles, where the sun doesn’t shine so intensely (but you NEVER have nights!).
And there, you’ve given yourself an environment that could possibly kiss hot climates good-bye. This offers a chance for global balance (though individual cities and countries might not feel that balance). You can place water anywhere you like, just remember that it’s basically required.
How you decide to balance the eco-system of your world is up to you, but just based on the basic elements of how Earth’s biomes are created, how seasons and climates affect one another and change over time, you can do a lot to manipulate the characteristics of a new world.
And also notice that in this physical planet/climate/biome manipulation, we’ve created some really interesting culture possibilities just by default.
Fuck around with short games…. and I mean really short games.
All my twine games are unplayable bullshit like “do you like robot butts? y/n” if y, go to “wow you must like Genji. Tell me more.” etc and it only lasts about 5 boxes but it’s how you learn how to use it
While fucking around with the format and learn how to use it (if you’re anything like me) ideas for real / longer stories will appear to you and how to implement them, as well.
I mentioned I had more art and information about the Thunderbirds OC I’ve been working on, so here we go. Under a cut because this is going to get kinda long. XD (Also bear in mind some info may be subject to change.)
It’s finally here! I’ve finally gotten around turning my old planning guide into a video series– and just in time for NaNoWriMo!
Over the course of a couple of years of running this blog I’ve gotten tons of writing questions, and without a doubt the #1 question I’ve gotten is: “Max, how do *you* plan a novel?” Well, click on the video above to find out how I go about brainstorming, fleshing out, and plotting a book! :D
This planning guide is broken into two parts. The video above should be annotated to take you to the second part, otherwise feel free to click on this link!
Research writing/ planning articles and how tos such as tumblr blogs and nanowrimo links
Write down 10 things you specifically want to be in your novel.
What styles are you going to write your novel in? What POV? Is the narrator to the point, rambly, or satiristic?
Read a book based off of the same themes/ similar writing style you want your book to be.
Write a brief synopsis (a paragraph) of your novel idea.
Write 3 fake reviews that would appear on the back of your book. Judging from those, what kind of impact do you want to have on the readers?
Describe themes of your novel. (Religion, war, love, etc)
Describe your characters as if they were a color.
Separate your novel plan into chapters or parts. Give each section a title. Even if your plan is not yet complete, conjure up a vague idea of how your novel will go in your mind. Break up the plan into sections and title away.
Plan a scene revolving around your character finding out something they weren’t supposed to know. (It doesn’t have to be part of your novel! Consider it character building.)
How does your character relieve frustration, anger, and/or hurt?
What are the animals in your novel’s world like? If your novel takes place on modern earth, what type of animals can be found in your novel’s setting?
Have another character describe your main character, after your main character has died. Who, if anyone, the other character is describing the MC to is up to you.
Write one characteristic each for your top 5 characters of the novel.
What are your character’s sexualities? How is sexuality viewed in your world? Are gays a minority?
What are your character’s races? How is race viewed in your world? Are there minority races?
What is your world’s legal system like? Is it lenient? Harsh? What are some examples of punishments for possible crimes?
Has your character ever done drugs? If so, which ones? Why? With who, if anyone? Does your world even have drugs? If so, does it have a drug problem? How are drugs viewed in your character’s world?
Your character does something they would not usually do. What is it? Why did they do it?
Describe your characters as if they were a part of nature.
You’ve outlined your novel. Now do it again, using a different method.
Have an hour long planning sesh with chicken in a raft playing in the background.
Describe your main character eloquently and pompously.
What would your characters last words be? Profound? Silly? Personal? Sad?
Describe how your character would react if they found themselves homeless for a week. What would they do?
Create writing playlists for NaNoWriMo and Tramo. Base a playlist over a character, and what kind of music taste your charrie would listen to. Try to connect different moods and themes into your playlists. Share music suggestions with your fellow tramoers!
Describe your main character’s worst environment possible. (i.e., if they get claustrophobic, a small room full of a crowd of people) Find a way to incorporate this into your novel.
Find quotes to use as your characters’ mottos.
Review all of the planning you’ve done this month. Do you feel ready? Is there anything you need to change or add before you start writing?