writeworld responds

Creating Distinct Personalities within a Large Cast of Characters

Anonymous said: hey! i’m writing a story and it’s centered on eight friend and telling their stories, problems and relationships between each other. they’re eight and i’m afraid that people might get lost or don’t remember them, most groups of friend on the media are of six people or five max seven, though i’m struggling to make each one special so they’re easy to remember but still. Eight friends are to many people? should i make the group smaller? thanks you’re a helpful page!

The cast of characters should be as large as it needs to be to tell the story. Full stop.

As far as making each character unique is concerned, your characters don’t have to be special snowflakes, as exclusive of one another’s personalities and interests as the Bratz dolls. You don’t need to separate your characters into neat tropes like The One Who Likes Sports and The One Who’s Super Into Science, etc, though that is a perfectly valid way to do things. Your characters’ differences can be more subtle. 

For example, let’s look at eight Harry Potter characters: Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood, Ginny Weasley, Draco Malfoy, and Cho Chang. These are all pretty distinct characters in the Harry Potter series, but they each have things in common (or not) with the others which drives plot.

  • Draco is the foil of Harry, but both struggle under weight of society’s expectations.
  • Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, and Ginny were all sorted into Gryffindor, an indication that they are all brave and strong-willed (though it takes Neville a hot minute to work up to the strong-willed bit).
  • Cho Chang and Luna Lovegood are both Ravenclaws, so they both value wisdom. However, Luna is a loner, while Cho is popular.  
  • While we’re on the subject of popularity, Draco and Ginny are both popular as well.
  • Both Ginny and Cho are described as beautiful. Both love to play Quidditch. Both date Harry at some point. 
  • Harry and Neville were both born at the end of July. A prophecy made by Trelawney could have applied to either of them. They were both raised by someone other than their parents. 
  • Harry and Ron both hate doing homework, while Hermione loves it. All three end up working for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.
  • Luna and Draco are both blond. Ron and Ginny, siblings, are both redheads.

The list can go on and on. I guess my point (other than the fact that I love Harry Potter) is that each character can have a lot stuff, personality or otherwise, in common with the others while remaining unique. You would never mistake Luna for Cho, Hermione for Ginny, or Harry for Draco. They’re so different, and not because they fit neatly into boxes which cut away any connection they might have to each other, but because what they have in common affects each of their characters differently. 

The other thing that each of these characters has in common is that they are important to the plot. If you take any one of them away, the plot is diminished. If you can take any of your characters away and still have a complete plot, do it. Simplify. If not, keep it as is. 

I don’t know if this answers your question, but I hope it helps! 


Rephrasing to Remove Unwanted Words

 asked: what are some ways I can replace the word ‘got’ in my story. Not for receiving things, but for phrases like ‘he got back up’ or ‘it got darker’.

This is a question of word choice, which falls under the jurisdiction of style. While I am hesitant to influence your writing style, I will show you a few examples of how I might reword the phrases you provided.

‘he got back up’

  • He stood.
  • He struggled to his feet.
  • He heaved himself off the floor. 
  • “Time to go,” he said, standing up again.
  • He extended a hand, and Tom helped him up.
  • Yani was slow to rise, and he groaned as he felt his joints pop under the strain of his tired muscles.

'it got darker’

  • Night fell.
  • The lights blinked out.
  • Twilight faded into inky night.
  • His eyes adjusted to the new darkness.
  • Darkness crept in, and soon Alex could barely see his hand in front of his face. 
  • Night spread thickly across the fields until all that remained of light was a faint sprinkling of stars.

Sometimes all it takes is a slight shift of focus. I observe that it got darker, for example, but that wasn’t all that happened. A character’s eyes need to adjust, maybe, so I could slant my description to include that. I could talk about night spreading or falling or blooming or twilight fading or ebbing or melting. 

I just figure out what I want to say very generally then rework that phrasing until it suits my style, the mood of my scene, my character’s voice, etc. Easy peasy. All it takes is practice and lots of it. 

And these sorts of things are relatively easy to change during the editing process. While I’m writing along, if I notice that I’m not particularly happy with my wording (like “it got darker”), I make a note to change it later and keep going. First drafts don’t have to be perfect. That’s sort of the point!

Thanks for your question, and I hope this helps!


EDIT: Obviously, you don’t need to embroider every phrase. Not everything needs editing. This post was intended to help rework phrases you may be unhappy with, not to encourage you to make a mountain out of every molehill, so to speak.

O also weighed in on this:

  1. Rearrange your sentence. Let’s use “it got darker” as our example here. Let’s put it in some sort of context:

    Clarissa, having given up hope and assuming that the dog needed feeding, walked away. It got darker. Manny was still on his hands and knees, uprooting begonias, searching for his missing contact lens. 

    You could join it with another sentence, such as:

    Clarissa, having given up hope and assuming that the dog needed feeding, walked away. The sky darkened as Manny dug up his begonias, looking for his missing contact lens.

    You could have just changed “it got darker” to “it darkened” or “the sky darkened” right away, of course. Personally, though, I prefer the cadence of the sentence when coupled with the begonias and the search for the contact lens. 
    Similarly, you could replace something like “we got sick after eating at that Tex-Mex place,” try “that Tex-Mex place made us sick.” (Of course, you’ve now shifted more of the blame onto the Tex-Mex place. It hasn’t been proved that the Tex-Mex was the sickening agent, but it’s possible. Changing “got” in this way can often rearrange responsibility in your sentence; be careful of this.) 
  2. Change your verb. How about “he stood back up”? Sometimes, that doesn’t work, and you want the near-heroic quality that getting back up involves. But instead of “he got tired by the end of the day,” maybe you want “he was worn out by the end of the day,” or think about substituting “I got angry after Willy, my pet zebra, knocked over my vase” with “I screamed at Willy, my pet zebra, when he knocked my vase.” The screaming shows us that the speaker was angry, so we don’t need to explicitly state it. Look for strong verbs that make your point clearly. 

So basically, read what you wrote, and see if you can do it in a different way. Sometimes you won’t be able to. But thinking about the verb you’re using coupled with some sentence rearranging will help you escape from most of these holes. (Please note that we could have said “will “get” you out of these holes.)

One more thing, related to the word “got.” (This is a pet peeve of O’s and is only peripherally related to the conversation.) Saying “I’ve got two jars of sauce” is not correct. What you are saying there is “I have got two jars of sauce.” Just say “I have two jars of sauce.” 

We hope this post GOT you out of a hole.

- O

Avoiding Cliche When Writing a Lesbian Couple

 asked: I want to write a story about a lesbian couple. What are some cliches /stereotypes that I should avoid?

There was this awesome post a while ago that I think might help you out. You can start there, maybe.

Really, though, this is a matter of doing your research and being thoughtful with regard to your characters and their relationship.

By thoughtfulness here I mean that you have done your research—maybe interviewed lesbian couples, for a start, and reflected on the expectations and restrictions placed on lesbian couples by the culture and time period in which they live—and that you endeavor to represent these characters as people first and lesbians also. 

As long as you are thoughtful in your representation of these characters and their story, you ought to be fine. This is not to say that you’re going to get it right on the first try. Fictional relationships fall short of the complexity of real relationships, and so our expectations as readers are sometimes not met. Sometimes the many facets of deep, romantic relationships are not written as we’d like them to be, or as complexly as we think they should be. That’s a matter of writing to your audience in while maintaining your own style, and it takes time and effort to achieve.

Your first try in your first draft won’t be perfect. Don’t give up. Keep honing your skills as a writer by developing your characters and their relationships as clearly and thoughtfully as you can. It’s worth it.

That said, TVTropes is a great place to browse cliches, stereotypes, and tropes on pretty much any topic. You might have a look at these indexes from their site:

If you’ve got more/better resources for us, feel free to submit them!

Thank you for your question!


Stimulating Conversation

Anonymous asked: Can you help with conversation starters? Like how to get your character interacting with a character who is more on the recluse side?

Sure thing, anon! Here a a few tips for encouraging believable interactions between reclusive characters and their peers:

  1. Ask a question. This is my favorite tactic. Right off the bat, at the very onset of dialogue, have a character (not the recluse) show up and ask a question. A few examples:
    • “What are you doing here?”
    • “How can I help you?”
    • “How do you take your coffee?”
    • “Where were you this morning?”
    These questions all have two notable things in common.
    1. They are about the recluse. They use the word you. Get the recluses to talk about themselves or things that they know, and you’ll have a much easier time of it. If they have to respond to questions when they don’t know the answers, reclusive characters may not be prone to productive runs of dialogue.
    2. They’re open-ended. The more outgoing character is asking a question that must be answered with something other than a “yes” or a “no”. You want it to be something leading, something that forces the reclusive character to either give a legitimate response or be totally rude.
  2. Give them something worth talking about. If you hand her a bomb or him the front page of the September 11th, 2001 issue of the New York Times, you’re essentially passing along a conversation piece. Now the characters have something in common: they’ve both witnessed something worth exploring through dialogue. It might be that they’ve both encountered an odd person or survived a plane crash or witnessed a crime or eaten crappy pizza. Regardless, give them something notable in common, something worth taking about, and the reclusive character might even kick off the dialogue!  
  3. Physically give or take away. This is a bit more specific than handing a reclusive character something worth talking about. If the reclusive character wants or doesn’t want something, and the more outgoing character is the person that can give or take away that thing, there’s a conversation there. You might start by the more outgoing person presenting a thing like:
    • hot tea
    • pen
    • gun
    • textbook
    • infant
    Now have the reclusive character react through dialogue.
    • hot tea: “Wow! That’s so nice! You didn’t have to do that…”
    • pen: “Thanks. Mine just ran out of ink. How did you know?”
    • gun: “Why would I need this?”
    • textbook: “That’s not the right edition.”
    • infant: “Can’t you get someone else to watch your kid?”
    In a few of those responses, the reclusive character did an interesting thing: they asked a question. Questions are a cheap and easy way to keep dialogue going. Get both sides asking open-ended questions that the other can answer or that they can answer together, and you’ve got a full-on conversation started.
    Enough with the giving. What about the taking away? Imagine if the more outgoing character was taking that thing away. How might your reclusive character react to having an infant grabbed from his arms or xer hot tea spilled or the pen taken right out of her hand while she’s try to write? That would make for some dialogue, no? How can you invent interesting situations for your characters to have items taken away or given to them in such a way that it would spark a verbal reaction?
  4. Super-size the awkward factor. So much so that they have to actually say something. If you’ve got two people trapped in an elevator, for instance, or if they’re sitting side-by-side in the only two seats left on the bus, or if someone just fell off of their horse into a pond, there might be room for some dialogue in there.
  5. Don’t forget why dialogue exists. Dialogue exists, at least in part, to reveal a character’s motives and personality, give the reader information about the plot, and move the reader through the narrative in an interesting way. If you stray from these goals with your writing just to coax a reclusive character out of their shell, you might not be using your dialogue most effectively. A reclusive character can stay quiet for chapters without any problem if you have no good reason to make them speak.

For more on dialogue, check out This is a Towel: Dialogue. Also consider reading The Passion of Dialogue to learn more about why a character, and by extension a writer, might choose to communicate through dialogue.

Thank you for your question! If you have any comments on this article or other questions about writing, you can message us here!


Creating a Process: Getting Your Ideas onto Paper (And into a Story)

Anonymous asked: I feel very frustrated because I feel that I have forgotten how to write a story. My mind is full of ideas but I don’t know how to put them on paper and this makes me feel very angry with myself. Sometimes, I think that I have read so much advice that I am confused. Right now, I’m just writing character profiles. But I want to write stories, but I can’t. What do you guys recommend that I should do?

I don’t think we’ve addressed your particular predicament yet, so I’m going to do that now.

Listen, this is normal. What you are feeling, this confusion and sense of being overwhelmed, it’s completely normal.

Try this:

  • Walk around with a notebook or a few scraps of paper tomorrow and jot down ideas in your free time. Try to keep your ideas small, like a sentence or even just a phrase. “Johnny finds a secret door.” “Sanga won’t do her chores." 
  • Mind map. Write down those little fragments of ideas and, if one strikes your fancy, circle it and mind map it while the idea is still fresh in your head. Again, try to keep your ideas in phrase-to-single-sentence format.
  • Take your ideas and your mind maps and write little scenes. Maybe they are just clips of dialogue back and forth. Whatever you like. Write out fragments of the story now instead of fragments of the idea. Keep it short (or not).
  • Expand. What happens between those little fragmented scenes? Maybe more little fragmented scenes, maybe chapters of story. Don’t think about it too much, just let the words flow. You don’t have to edit at this point. Don’t overthink your style or plot or character development. Just write.
  • Fill in. Everything that you haven’t written to complete the story? Yeah, write that in. You probably think it’s boring or else it might be really hard for you to write since you saved it for last. Write it anyway. No one said writing was easy.
  • Edit. Go through and streamline your story. Throw out stuff that didn’t work. Break up your action with exposition and vice versa (unless you don’t want to). Insert scenes or characters or plot points for clarity.
  • Proceed to next story. I don’t know what you want to do with the one you’ve just finished, but you do whatever you’re going to do with that one then move on to planning the next idea.

That’s a basic writing process. If that doesn’t work, let me know where you got stuck and we’ll go from there.

Some other tricks that I think might help:

  • Instead of trying to come up with some awesome beginning, just write "Once upon a time” and start somewhere. Literally anywhere will do.
    • “Once upon a time there was a coffee cup named China who was lactose intolerant.”
    • “Once upon a time they were fighting and he punched her in the face.”
    • “Once upon a time no one liked Garson Homily because his parents were weird.”
    The cool part about “Once upon a time” is that you can put it in front of any idea just to start writing that idea. It removes the pressure, the necessity to begin a sentence, because by the time you finish typing it you’re already four words in. And you can delete it later! I use it all the time when my fingers are stuck just hovering over my keyboard.
  • In our article This Is a Towel: Beginning and Developing Plot, we talk about three ideas (the first three under the link list) to expand plot. You mentioned that you write character profiles, so you’ve probably got characters in mind. Use these quick and dirty tips to come up with plot for those characters.
  • Writing well means writing often. In Lift Yourself from a Writing Depression, we list some methods for just developing the habit of writing every day. For you, it may be to try to write something in a narrative format every day. Writing is not like riding a bike. Once you learn what works for you, you can still fall out of practice, so it’s important to write often. Very few writers can get away with long periods of time away from pen and paper. Write a story or a piece of a story every single day whether you feel like it or not. Make yourself contribute or complete a narrative. Write drabbles. Work on your saga of Fred the Unicorn. Whatever. Just write.

Thank you for your question! Please don’t hesitate to shoot us another message. I hope some of this helped!


Do you have a writing process? What is your method for writing stories?

A Few Quick Thoughts on Promoting Your Writing Blog

Anonymous asked: How can i promote my writing blog? literally no one is reading it.

This is very, very common. We see great work in the “writeworld” tag every day that gets only one or two notes. So, why is that and what can you do about it?

  • Lots of people use Tumblr for something other than reading creative writing. Maybe this isn’t the right venue for your audience. Check out this list for websites where your writing might get more attention. If you’re good at book reviews, I suggest getting active on GoodReads and then linking to your Tumblr in your profile. You could keep your Tumblr while you grow your fan base on one of those other websites, then direct your fans to your Tumblr for more of you and your work.
  • “What have you done for me lately?” This is a common mentality among bloggers (and everyone else). It often helps to build your audience by offering something other than your creative writing like writing help, reading lists, book reviews, or even just your personality. I’ve seen lots of successful writers share their experience for more exposure in the reading and writing communities (yes, those are two different things), and I’ve seen just as many successful writers inject a healthy dose of their own personality into their blogs to get people interested in them as well as their writing.
  • Tit for tat. Offer critique for critique. You could offer to reblog another upcoming writer’s work with your thoughts, thus gaining exposure for them on your blog, and they could do the same. I recommend reading Tips on giving critique and Tips on taking critique to make sure you’re giving the very best critiques you can.
  • Join the Tumblr writing community. Never be anonymous again. Message lots of people all the time offering your opinion on subjects related to reading or writing. Go to the tinychats the writing help blogs host (or make your own and invite us!) and communicate with popular blogs. Don’t be creepy; offer assistance or solid opinions on topics you feel you know well. Ask questions. Make your own writing help blog! Get involved, is what I’m saying. As long as you’re not a complete troll, it can only help.
  • Enter competitions. Sometimes just being in the running gains you exposure. You don’t have to win to get readers interested in your work. You just have to enter. So enter.
  • If you feel comfortable doing it, write fan fiction. Fan fiction comes with a build-in fan base to expose to your writing. Once you get some fans there, you can introduce them to your original work. See Cassie Clare and E.L. James for examples of how this definitely works.
  • Send us an Ad Space PetitionA little advertising might be just what you need! Send us a banner and a link and we’ll add you to the ads on our sidebar.
  • Tell everyone. Again, stop being anonymous. You’re missing opportunities to get your name out there! Post about your writing blog on your personal blog and Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and Reddit and LinkedIn and all the other social media sites you haunt. Tell your friends about your writing blog and ask them to spread the word if they can. Message all the writing help blogs and critique blogs and let them know why they should be paying attention to your writing. Get out there. It’s scary, I know, but if you want fans you have to go out there and get them.
  • Tag properly. “Writing,” “creative writing,” “spilled ink,” “poetry,” “prose,” and other related tags help readers find what they’re looking for. Check out those tags and see how other writers are tagging their work. Try their methods and see how they work. If they don’t, switch up your tags. If you’re writing in response to a Writer’s Block from WriteWorld, tag it “writeworld” so we, at least, can see it. Remember, only the first five or so tags count, so tag wisely.

If you’re thinking, “this is a ton of work,” good. You’re right. It’s hard work to promote yourself. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun or that you can’t celebrate your growing fan base, but it does mean that you have to put a significant amount of time and effort into finding and nurturing your audience.

Success is an option, not an absolute. You have to earn it.

Go earn it and good luck!


P.S. It might also be helpful to read over our 18 Tips for Tumblr Writing Help Blogs and Tips for Tumblr Writing Help Blogs, Round II: Primary Blog vs. Side Blog. They’re for writing help blogs, but some tips and cautions still apply.

Picture Prompt Blogs

Anonymous asked: I’m a very visual person and looking at pictures often inspires me to write. Do you have any suggestions for blogs that are solely picture-based and could serve as great inspiration for myself and other writers? (Not inspirational/motivational pictures, just interesting/beautiful pictures) You guys have the Writer’s Block pictures which is awesome and I was wondering if you know other things like it.

Here are the blogs we follow that either include picture prompts or are made up exclusively of picture prompts:

And here are some splendid bonus blogs that are also picture-oriented and inspiring:

Got more for our anon here?

"Tell" Makes a Great Placeholder

asked: My resolution this year was to finish the first draft of my novel. Well, I am writing more. That’s great. The thing is that I find myself feeling like some parts of my writing are not up to par (the storyline parts, not the literary aspects). Anyway, everything is starting to sound the same and I feel as though I am telling more than showing. There are just some things that I don’t know how to express. Any advice?

Yes! Try getting it all out there before you critique your work too harshly (or at all). By all rights, your first draft should suck a little anyway, so you’re doing yourself a disservice by judging your work before it is finished. That’s like deciding if a cake is going to be good before you’ve even finished mixing the ingredients!

Sometimes I just “tell” through the parts of my story I’m less enthusiastic about writing or where I’ve skimped a bit on the particulars during planning. I make a note of where I’ve done this and move on, using moments where I “tell” as a sort of placeholder for where the story needs some beefing up. Sometimes, when I am really just done with a section, I’ll put an all-caps reminder to myself (“KIM DRIVES TO BAR”) of what I plan to write, and start in on the next section, which I will, in theory, hate less.

There are happy times when your brain is fresh and full of these great concepts and the language flows fluidly and all is well in the world—both real and imagined, but that’s not always the case. It’s worthwhile to re-assess the direction of your story during times where productivity can feel like a hard slog, just don’t get bogged down in the details, and don’t let it stop your from moving forward. Remember, you can always go back and “show”, adding more detail and sprucing up your sentence structure, once you’ve got more meat on the bones of your story.

When I do this kind of thing, I often end up getting ideas for how to spruce up a “tell” section of my story while I’m writing later on in the narrative. It helps to know loose endgames for your story from the beginning, that way you’re guiding the plot toward a goal instead of trying to rein it in blindfolded. Do yourself a favor and keep going toward the finish line of your story, taking short breaks along the way if necessary. You will find your way eventually if you can power through the rough patches and just get it all out there. 

Thank you for your question and good luck with your novel!


Writing Magic: Distinguishing Magic-Speak in Writing

Anonymous asked: That post on languages was really useful. Thank you for it. It also brings up a question. What formatting would you suggest to write with with a character who has a magical power which they use with their voice (e.g. forcing someone to obey a command with a certain tone because that’s what one of mine does)? Because I now plan to use Italics to show a different language now.

(This is the post they’re talking about.)

We suggest that you use italics. Since magic spells or the force of magic through the spoken word would still be considered an alternative language, the use of italics should not be awkward for the reader. In fact, it’s the norm.

Here’s an example of force of magic through the spoken word:

Christian leveled his gaze with Helena’s and whispered, “Come to me.” His voice had all the power and subtly of a snake poised to strike. Helena’s eyes slid out of focus and she jolted forward, her body slack, as if pulled into him by some inexplicable force.

“Good. Very good,” Christian said, and a smile twisted the corners of his lips.

And here’s an example of a magical language:

Doreni horestim elos.”

The witch clapped her hands over the cauldron, which sparked blue then silver-white. The smoke curled around her gnarled fingers and rose up into the night air like poisonous vapor.

Gustia turus horestim!”

All at once, as if inhaled by the cauldron itself, the smoke surged back down, sucked into its boiling depths. And the witch laughed, her eyes wild in the flickering light.

“Uh, Jordan,” murmured Kit, tugging at the sleeve of his hoodie. “Jordan! Let’s get out of here.” He felt her leave his side, heard her crunching footsteps retreat into the shadowy forest behind him. But he didn’t move.

The witch scooped up something dead and damp with blood. “Fliera MORI!” she cried, then tossed the thing into the cauldron. The liquid within swallowed it up with a wet, echoing belch.

“Yeah,” said Jordan, though he knew Kit was gone. “We should go.”

As you can see, we used italics in both instances and the intent could not have been clearer. Just be sure you create an atmosphere appropriate to your particular brand of magic-speak. Use the description around the dialogue to enforce the magic in your dialogue.

Thank you for your question! Does anyone else have suggestions for this anon about depicting magic-speak?

All-Caps for Emphasis

misaki-is-the-yata said: Is using all caps during dialogue a bad idea? Just a quick short sentence to emphasize the moment. In my story, MC gets kissed by his friend. Dad sees and starts laughing because the boy is flustered. MC yells out, “It isn’t funny!” Can that be caps?

If it works for you, do it!

You see all-caps used a lot nowadays in Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction where youthful characters tend to exhibit extremes of emotion. This method makes especially good sense for younger age groups because many of you whippersnappers use all-caps colloquially (e.g. in the comments section of YouTube, in text messages, on the Twitter, etc.), so you’re already used to having all-caps around as a stylistic device.

Still, it’s pretty common to see all-caps used for emphasis in dialogue across all genres of writing, though sparingly. After all, all-caps is quick and easily-understood. Italics is another common alternative. (As in, “Hey, kid! Hey! I’m talking to you!”)

Some people dislike these methods of emphasis. Some people are okay with these methods sometimes, but feel they lose their punch if used too often. Some people don’t even like exclamation points. Know going in that you won’t please everyone. You have to use what makes sense for your style in your story.

Whatever you end up doing to add emphasis, be careful that you’re not unintentionally cutting corners. The use of something like all-caps to indicate a raised voice is technically telling not showing, though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Moving through emphasized dialogue without much narration can ramp up the intensity and get readers from point A to point B of the scene faster than narrative explanation. On the other hand, because using all-caps emphasis often pushes a scene forward more quickly, you’re missing out on some opportunities to write the details of action occurring within the scene or to expound on a character’s emotional state.

If you’re looking for a way around using all-caps or italics, try breaking up dialogue with action which contributes to the movement of the scene. I humbly present this mediocre example for your consideration:

After school, Josh and his friends were waiting for Rashish near the gym parking lot.

“Hey, kid!”

Rashish walked right by the group of jeering boys. He didn’t even glance their direction. Heading straight for his car, Rashish focused on the pavement beneath his quick, measured steps. Halfway there.

“Hey! I’m talking to you!” By the sound of it, Josh had really lost his cool now. They were behind him, but Rashish could hear their footsteps approaching, gaining on him. He sped up.

Separating what Josh said to Rashish into two parts gave the second half of his dialogue extra emphasis because I was (sort of) able to build intensity through the action of the scene. We were in a different place in the scene by the time we got to that second “hey.” The stakes had changed a bit, so (hopefully) my readers did the mental work of upping the ante all by themselves, no all-caps or italics for emphasis required. See what I mean?

Not every editor/beta is going to let all-caps fly, but it’s not hurting anything to add this extra emphasis in your drafts. Even if you don’t end up using all-caps in the final draft, it’s worth it to call attention to the intensity of that dialogue by highlighting it with all-caps for future edits.

Final take-away? If you want to use all-caps to add emphasis in your dialogue, go for it! Your style, your story, your dialogue, your rules.

Thank you for your question, and I hope this helps! (And be sure to check the notes of this post for comments from other writers. I bet there will be a lot of great opinions and advice on this topic!)


Word List: "To Make Something Appear Older"

Anonymous asked: I’m trying to write about a concept, in this part of my story. When something that’s new is made to look old or weathered. (I.E: If you buy brand new jeans with fade marks and rips.) Is there a word for that?

Here’s a list of a few words that mean “to make something appear older”:

  • abrade: to wear off or down by scraping or rubbing.
  • age: to make old; cause to grow or seem old.
  • antique: to make or finish (something, especially furniture) in imitation of antiques.
  • corrode: to eat or wear away gradually as if by gnawing, especially by chemical action.
  • distress: to mar or otherwise treat (an object or fabric, for example) to give the appearance of an antique or of heavy prior use. (shoorai)
  • doctor up: alter and make impure, as with the intention to deceive.
  • fray: to wear by rubbing (sometimes followed by through).
  • wear: to cause (garments, linens, etc.) to deteriorate or change by wear.
  • weather: to discolor, disintegrate, or affect injuriously, as by the effects of weather.

We think the two best options for you from that list might be age, distress, and weather.

NOTE: The words on this Word List are not necessarily synonyms. If you feel you could improve upon this Word List, please message us with your recommendations. We appreciate all civil messages we receive, and will amend this Word List as suggestions for its improvement are made. Thank you!

This Post Is Really Very Interesting

anonymous asked: I know that a writer should avoid useless words like ‘very’ and 'really’. But what about the characters using those words?

Do it. That’s how people talk.

This is one of those rules that’s only applicable part of the time. The reason why people say not to use “really” and “very” is because saying “really tired” is a substitute for “exhausted,” which is a much more precise and powerful word. The rule is about economy and precision; it’s nothing against the words “really” and “very” by themselves.

So if you’re writing a story you still can use these words in narration, but know that when you do, a more powerful word is probably lurking somewhere beneath it. But, for example, if you’re writing a story in the first person, your narrator still might say these words a lot because that’s how people talk:

  • I stared open-mouthed at Hailey. She was pretty. Like, really pretty. The kind of pretty people paid to look at in magazines. 
  • I wanted very much to open the door at the end of the hall, but I couldn’t find the courage. Every night on my way to bed, I watched it and its gleaming brass doorknob all the way until I reached my bedroom door. I never approached it, though. I hardly even went into the study, whose door was nearest it. Still, my curiosity remained set upon it, and no matter how I tried to ignore the door, I was well on my way to becoming really and truly obsessed. 

In dialogue it’s even more forgivable:

  • “I’m really tired tonight, honey. Maybe we should just go to sleep.”
  • “Your mother and I are very disappointed in you.”

Again: there are no hard and fast rules in writing. Whenever you see one, examine it and think about why it exists. Then you’ll know if it applies to you and whether or not you even agree with it.

Thanks for your question; if anyone has any questions or messages for us, this is the place to send them.

- O

Representing Right/Wrong Through the Protagonist/Antagonist, and Worrying Over Whether or Not Your Story Will Appeal to Your Audience

Anonymous asked: Does a story have to contain a definitive protagonist and antagonist? I would like the entire point of my story for the reader to ask what is wrong and what is right by presenting it from two different sides in which the other is made to appear in the wrong…but I worry that this will make it unappealing.

A story does not have to have a defined protagonist or antagonist, and the protagonist and antagonist do not necessarily represent Goodness/Badness or Wrongness/Rightness in a story. (Notice the prominent capital letters; these words stand sentinel over big ideas. Beware.)

It seems like what you’re describing is a situation where there is Wrong and Right, but again, there is no rule that you must represent these concepts through your protagonist and antagonist.

An antagonist opposes the protagonist, the leading character of a story. That is all that is required of that role, and it can be filled by one character or many characters or natural disasters or institutions or some dark creature manifesting itself in the protagonist’s soul. Your call.

But representing Right and Wrong in your story? That is one of the timeless aims of storytelling. (Not for every story, mind you, but it’s definitely a prevalent theme.)

To address whether what you write will be unappealing, this is a matter of subjectivity. Many people might read your story, and many of them might love it or hate it or feel altogether meh about it. What you can do is research your intended audience, and really put your back into writing the story as well as you can, and editing it as well as you can, and finding people who love it and will represent it to the world as well as they can. That might be the best case scenario. Whether or not your style or the story itself is appealing in the end is up to individual readers to decide.

Learn more about protagonists and antagonists, and also about morality stories!

Thank you for your question!


  • Anonymous asked: To the anon wondering about not having a definite Pro/Antagonist, George R.R. Martin, I believe does that very well. He gives us one perspective, then goes on to use the view point of another story’s protagonist. I think he also uses that to explain the “rights and wrongs” of his universe. He explains why characters do what they do and how it can become miscued. And ASOIAF is wildly popular, si=o I don’t think there’s a need to stick to the old ways! :)
Describing a Completely New Race

Anonymous asked: Hi, I went looking through your entire skintone toolbox, and I have a question- my story includes a group of people who have almost exclusively lived on this island for generations. They are not of a race as we define them, as they are a completely separate group so I’m having difficulty on describing their skin color (not white). I don’t want to be offensive to anyone, but it’s also not a race that we in society recognize as they exist exclusively in my story. Help? Does this make sense at all?

Immediately, we can think of a few things:

  • You’ve got two aspects of offensiveness to contend with here:
    1. offending your real audience and
    2. offending the people of the new culture in the story.
    These are separate issues and should be addressed separately.   
  • If the race you’re describing is really completely new, then you’ve got some leeway. You’re less likely to outright offend an existing race of people if the one you’re describing isn’t really real. You still need to be careful, though. You could be unintentionally appropriating aspects of existing cultures and races for your story. Pro-tip: don’t do that. It is highly controversial to use aspects of other cultures or races to bolster your new culture’s exoticism or its fantastical elements. These cultures may not be your culture, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less real or deserving of your respect. People are not exotic. Skin tones are not exotic.
  • If the viewpoint character is a part of this new culture, then you’ve got a different set of priorities and a different vocabulary than if your viewpoint character is not a member of this new race. Members of the race in question would know how to describe themselves. Non-members are going to be subject to their own cultural norms, their own biases and vocabulary, for describing skin tone. These may include but are certainly not limited to historical events that may have pitted one race against another, negative (and positive) stereotypes regarding race, and class associations with race. 
  • If, for example, you’re writing in a deep third-person perspective and your character isn’t the most respectful of people, you are more likely to use correspondingly less than respectful analogies and descriptors, possibly even racial slurs. Intent intent intent. The character is biased, so the description is biased. This makes sense. If you’re writing from the third-person objective perspective, however, any disrespectful descriptions (aside from those in dialogue) cease to have any connection to a character’s opinions. Instead, the descriptions are reflective of your own ignorance and bias.
  • If you are unaware that you’re being disrespectful, the first step is to accept that you can be disrespectful. It is, in fact, possible to misrepresent and offend a person or group of people completely by accident. The second step is to learn how the aforementioned disrespect could occur and to look for signs of it in your own writing. The third step is to remove hurtful and disrespectful descriptions from your writing. If you’re being disrespectful on purpose or if, when you learn that your descriptions are disrespectful, you opt to leave them as-is, be prepared for a massive negative response. 
  • Anncolie had a great observation: “this post seems to focus on skin tone a lot but there’s way more identifiers for race like hair texture, facial features”. Though the anon did specifically ask for help with describing skin tone, other physical features can definitely be unique to certain races.

Things to think about when deciding how to describe your new race if the viewpoint character is a member of the new race/culture:

  • How do these people describe themselves? This is an entirely new race, so you get to decide their cultural norms. What is important to them? Would they liken their skin to the sky and celestial bodies (“bright as stars,” “the black-blue of the night sky,” “yellow as the sun,” etc.), or perhaps to their natural surroundings (“like the river bank,” “like the long shadow of a tree,” “like sand,” etc.)? 
  • How does skin color vary within their population? And, to connect this to the previous question, do these people describe variation between their own skin colors in terms of lighter/darker or redder/bluer or duller/shinier or flush/ashen or what? 
  • What is the desired skin tone of this culture? Are people not of this particular tone treated differently? How so?
  • What offends this culture? Do they hate it when their skin color is compared to coffee or wood or dessert foods? Do they hate being compared to each other? To people outside of their race? 
  • How do other races look to this new race? What kinds of words does the new race use to describe other races? 

Things to think about when deciding how to describe your new race if the viewpoint character is a member of one of the “known” races/cultures (and by “known” I mean known to the world prior to the appearance of this new race):

  • Remember that one race may be a part of many cultures. It is extremely uncommon in our modern society (or pretty much any civilization in history) for one culture to be uniformly one skin tone or to have a whole race of people comprise only one culture. Keep this in mind as you write from a “known” culture’s perspective: bias is often born from the small, seemingly insignificant differences between people. And most often, it’s the majority that looks for groups to exclude, not the other way around. 
  • Construct features of your “known” cultures, especially through a lens of race. How would these “known” cultures react to the existence of a new race? What words are the media of the “known” cultures using to describe the new culture? What vocabulary have individuals been given by their culture (including words learned from the media, their family, their education, etc.) to describe other races?
  • How would individuals from a “known” culture react to the existence of a new race? Does it vary from culture to culture? How would these individuals describe this new race in a racist manner? How would they describe the new race in a manner as respectful as possible? Look at how these issues are handled in real-life current and historical events for ideas of how to handle them in your story.

Those are our suggestions. Check out “Describing Skin Tone” for more awesome resources on describing the color of skin, and make sure to have a look at “Race Building Guide & Resources” by Yeah Write! for more on exactly this subject. 

Thank you for your question! If you have any comments on this post or other questions about writing, you can message us here

-C & Q

Followers, any ideas?

On Correctness

Anonymous asked: counterpart help- Do they have to be the same gender? Or can they be the opposite?

Well, if you would please open your copy of Completely Non-Negotiable Writing Rules to page 211, we’ll start reading just after the diagram.

You will quickly find that you do not own this book.

This is because Completely Non-Negotiable Writing Rules does not exist.

This is because there are no completely non-negotiable writing rules.

Do what you want. You’re creating the story. Make your character counterpart male. Make your character counterpart female. Both! Neither! Kick the gender binary and make your counterpart character genderqueer! It’s up to you. This is your story, after all.

WriteWorld strives to give advice about writing, but none of our advice is implicitly “correct.” There is never a “right” way. The information we give is a result of living, reading, lots of research, and personal writing experience, but that does not mean that we are ever objectively, totally, even remotely correct.

We’re glad to give advice on broad topics, but to ask us whether one thing is technically “correct” or if you “can” do something is doing yourself a disservice.


This flowchart cannot answer this question to your satisfaction and neither can we. We cannot and will not give you permission to write anything ever. That is not our purpose. Do your own creative work. As a fiction writer, that is your privilege.

Thank you for your question! If you have any further questions or comments about this post, don’t hesitate to send us a message.

- O

anonymous asked:

A little while ago, I asked you for tips for when you're writing fanfiction and you sent me a link, well I never saved it in my favorites and since right now I can only get on my mobile it's really frustrating to look for it. I hate to be a bother, but would you mind sending a link for fanfiction tips again?

This one?


A Beginning from the Middle

Anonymous asked: Right now I have a good premise for the middle of the book I want to write. But the only problem I am having is getting to the suspense, I need to introduce the characters and the setting but I don’t know where to begin or even what the setting or characters should look or what their personalities should be. Any tips for how to get past this?

There are a few ways to do this that I have used:

  • Leave yourself clues. Go ahead and write the part that’s in your head (the middle, in your case). By that time in the narrative, your characters will be in the middle of their arcs and they’ll probably already have been described physically, but glean what you can from what you write in the middle. As you come up with new hints for yourself about your characters, the setting, and the rising action, write them down! Maybe go back to the beginning and write scenes or paragraphs as you think of them while you’re working on the middle and the end. That way, you don’t lose momentum, but you still learn about the beginning (which is pretty important, actually).
  • Go read up on plot theories. If you do a little research on plots, it might help you rationalize the middle you’ve already developed.
  • Go read up on genre. You mentioned suspense before, so that may be a good place to start. Regardless, figuring out what genres you’re working in will point you toward the character and plot norms of those genres, which will in turn give you some starting points for your narrative. You may even check out other books in your chosen genres for ideas. Don’t lift the ideas from these books, per se, but learn from them.
  • Go read up on character types. What kinds of characters will you need for the plot you have now to function? You’ll probably need a protagonist (scratch that; you will definitely need a protagonist), but there are other types of characters that may be needed for your middle action to work. Maybe a villain/antagonist? A sidekick? A love interest? Develop these archetype by archetype if you must, then tweak as desired.
  • Add mile markers. Your characters must have done something to get them to the action that you have in mind. Brainstorm some of the things they might have done to lead them to whatever point you’re at right now (in the middle), then decide which of your ideas are strongest and build on those.
  • fuckchrisevans added: For the “writing from the middle” suggestion: I recently wrote a story for my creative writing class, starting from the end and working backwards. I found it helpful to write down many possible scenarios of how the characters arrived at that place; I ended up with about 15 different versions of back stories, then from there I combined elements I liked from each until it made logical sense. It’s important to make everything coherent throughout… Hope this helps!

I’ll be adding more as I think of them, but hopefully this is enough to get you started on the right track. If anyone else has ideas for how to develop a beginning from a middle, message us and we’ll add your suggestions to this list.

Thank you for your question!

Rough Drafts

Anonymous asked: I have a realllly dumb question, so please forgive me. What is a rough draft? I have heard up to ten different explanations on the definition, and have no idea anymore!

A rough draft, also known as a first draft, is your first attempt at writing your story, and that means different things to different people. 

For me, it’s the first time you put all of your ideas on plot and characters for your story down in the format you intended for your story.

I once read somewhere that a rough draft is “a late stage in the writing process”. I think that’s because it assumes that you have done all of the work of learning a language and developing a style and figuring out the structure, character development, and the plot as well as digging into the mountain of necessary research and that are you are now, finally, ready to put all of that knowledge you’ve been accumulating since kindergarten into the story format of your choice.

That idea takes a lot of the pressure off for me because I know that most of the preliminary work is already behind me and my focus (the rough draft) is part one of the two writing processes wherein I get to play.

Because you write the story, yes, but you write it knowing that this is not what you’re going to send to the publisher.

The key is to give yourself permission to not make sense, to drop or pick up weird plot lines at random, to introduce characters badly and write dialogue that doesn’t even sound like dialogue (something I have a major problem with). I can play in my rough draft because I never, ever have to show it to anyone.

This is the secret: Your rough draft doesn’t have to be made of diamonds.

In fact, it will be full of inconsistencies and grammatical errors and times where you said the hero’s name was Dan when really his name was Steve.

People often to think that authors’ rough drafts are this majestic beacon of light, and it’s easy to see the published work and forget all the mistakes and the stupid ideas and the crimes against English grammar that helped build it. I’m begging you to remember the rough draft doesn’t have be perfect. 

But what is a rough draft? It’s a possibility. It’s a promise to yourself. It’s a landmark.

I don’t know. You’re making me all nostalgic. Go write or something, would you?


La Petite Mort

anon asks: How does one use la petite mort in a sentence?

Thank you for your colorful question, anon. Alright, everyone, it’s time to learn about la petite mort!

La petite mort is a French phrase meaning literally “the little death” (la: feminine article for “the”; petite: feminine form of “little”; mort: “death”, which is a feminine word).

This phrase has taken on a rather more titillating meaning than it’s literal definition, however, and most people today know it as an idiom for “orgasm”.

It is so much more than that.

La petite mort, which can also be understood if “the” is used in place of “la”, can refer to any release, especially those of the metaphysical or spiritual variety. It can also describe a short period of malaise, transcendence, or climax that comes with the metaphorical expenditure of your “life force”, which can be explained by the release of oxytocin in the brain after an event like an orgasm.

You can also get the feeling of la petite mort by reading a great book, experiencing a shock (one from which you might even faint), seeing a beloved friend or family member after a long absence, or undergoing a thrill of fear or excitement (like riding a rollercaster for the first time).

La petite mort, when used to describe negative experiences, is interchangeable with other idioms like “a part of [one’s self] dies inside”. When used to describe events akin to orgasm, la petite mort is synonymous with the idiom “a beautiful agony”.

Here are a few example sentences:

“How could anyone declare that the flesh is essentially sad, that la petite mort, which doesn’t even last a minute, casts a pall over all lovemaking, which, it is widely known, can last for hours and hours, and go on interminably?” - The Insufferable Gaucho by Roberto Bolaño and Chris Andrews

La petite mort, in this instance, refers to “orgasm”.

“She felt the petite mort at this unexpectedly gruesome information, and left the solitary man behind her.” - Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Hardy is using la petite mort to describe Tess’s feelings “after she comes across a particularly gruesome omen and meeting with her own rapist” (x).

In reading The Fault in Our Stars, I experienced what can only be described as la petite mort, relentless waves of joy and sorrow that crashed like flood waters against the beating walls of my heart.

I use la petite mort in this case to convey a sense of overwhelming emotion. I could easily exchange it for “a beautiful agony” here.

Michelle felt the thrill of la petite mort every time her mind’s eye replayed that moment, that awful moment, when the bullet ripped through Leo’s heaving chest.

La petite mort here describes the thrill of intense sadness where a part of Michelle’s inner self dies whenever she forcibly recalls seeing Leo shot.

Remember, la petite mort is dramatic, theatrical. Do not use it unless the feeling you wish to describe is incredibly intense, like a shock or a thrill. La petite mort is not a prolonged feeling. Our advice to you: use with extreme caution.