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“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals—sounds that say listen to this, it is important.” - Gary Provost

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How to Plot A Complex Novel in One Day (It WILL take all day)

Now first, I have to say, that the plot you’re able to come up with in one day is not going to be without its flaws, but coming up with it all at once, the entire story unfolds right in front of you and makes you want to keep going with it. So, where to begin? 

  • What is your premise and basic plot? Pick your plot. I recommend just pulling one from this list. No plots are “original” so making yours interesting and complicated will easily distract from that fact, that and interesting characters. Characters will be something for you to work on another day, because this is plotting day. You’ll want the main plot to be fairly straight forward, because a confusing main plot will doom you if you want subplots. 
  • Decide who the characters will be. They don’t have to have names at this point. You don’t even need to know who they are other than why they have to be in the story. The more characters there are the more complicated the plot will be. If you intend to have more than one subplot, then you’ll want more characters. Multiple interconnected subplots will give the illusion that the story is very complicated and will give the reader a lot of different things to look at at all times. It also gives you the chance to develop many side characters. The plot I worked out yesterday had 13 characters, all were necessary. Decide their “roles” don’t bother with much else. This seems shallow, but this is plot. Plot is shallow. 
  • Now, decide what drives each character. Why specifically are they in this story? You can make this up. You don’t even know these characters yet. Just so long as everyone has their own motivations, you’re in the clear. 
  • What aren’t these characters giving away right off the bat? Give them a secret! It doesn’t have to be something that they are actively lying about or trying to hide, just find something that perhaps ties them into the plot or subplot. This is a moment to dig into subplot. This does not need to be at all connected to their drive to be present in the story.  Decide who is in love with who, what did this person do in the 70’s that’s coming back to bite them today, and what continues to haunt what-his-face to this very day. This is where you start to see the characters take shape. Don’t worry much about who they are or what they look like, just focus on what they’re doing to the story. 
  • What is going to change these characters? Now this will take some thinking. Everyone wants at least a few of the characters to come out changed by the end of the story, so think, how will they be different as a result of the plot/subplot? It might not be plot that changes them, but if you have a lot of characters, a few changes that are worked into the bones of the plot might help you.
  • Now list out the major events of the novel with subplot in chronological order. This will be your timeline. Especially list the historical things that you want to exist in backstory. List everything you can think of. Think about where the story is going. At this point, you likely haven’t focused too much on the main plot, yeah, it’s there, but now really focus on the rising actions, how this main plot builds its conflict, then the climactic moment. Make sure you get all of that in there. This might take a few hours. 
  • Decide where to start writing. This part will take a LOT of thinking. It’s hard! But now that you’ve got the timeline, pick an interesting point to begin at. Something with action. Something relevant. Preferably not at the beginning of your timeline - you want to have huge reveals later on where these important things that happened prior are exposed. This is the point where you think about what information should come out when. This will be a revision of your last list, except instead of being chronological, it exists to build tension. 
  • Once you’ve gotten the second list done, you’ve got a plot. Does it need work? Probably. But with that said, at this point you probably have no idea who half your characters are. Save that for tomorrow, that too will be a lot of work. 

After you’ve plotted the loose structure of your novel from this, see my next post to work on character

Let’s talk about starting to write

A lot of first time writers come up with a great idea for a story but have no clue on how to start writing it. In this post i will try to give a couple of pointers on how to do just that. But first let me point out that there is no one way on how to begin your novel. I do not claim that how i do it is the best way, everything i tell you here is just how i start my writing but hopefully it will help some of your guys out there. Understand that there is no correct order for these tips, they all are related in some way and creating one thing will lead to another in a different category. That being said, let’s begin!

Make a timeline

I always start by creating a timeline on which i can mark different events in my novel. I will assume here that, like me you have thought of at least one scene when you got your amazing idea. This is a great start which you immediately can put on your timeline. This timeline is going to become your best friend so i suggest you place it somewhere where you can access it easily. 

Now i name each point on my timeline with a short title, things like: this character dies, this battle occurs, this character get’s bad news,… Things like that. Then i place this title in a separate document and clarify what i mean with this title. I describe how i imagined the scene, which characters are present, what it is about, … everything i can think off off of the top of my head. Then before i start writing that scene i will reread this piece and maybe add a couple of things. 

Normally i tend to categorize and color code each title in my timeline and the separate document. I categorize them by something that suits the story: per point of view, per area they are in,… If done correctly (and by that i mean with a summary with a description what each category or color means) it can help you keep the timeline neatly structured so you only have to glans at it to know what is going on.

Start to build the basics of your world

In one of my previous posts i talked about world building, Here is a link to this post and i suggest you check it out to learn how to easily build up a world. 

World building consists of two parts: culture and environment. You need to create or now in which kind of culture your story is going to take place and choose in which environment this culture is going to exist in. Both influence the others greatly, for example you can not have a people who live in wooden houses live on a barren wasteland. They will need to live in stone housing and thus the environment influences the culture you create.

So start by brainstorming and try to come up with answers to questions like: Is it a fictional place or a non-fictional one, is it going to be in an urban setting or in the woods outside of the city, in what time period is it going to take place, …

This is the part that is going to take a lot of your own creativity to make your story unique so i won’t talk any more about this part. Check the link for a full explanation on how to easily create a world.

Create your first characters

In one of my previous posts i already talked about character development, you can find that post here. But the things i talked about in that post are a bit more advanced, what you want to know is how to create your first character. There are different ways to do this: you can create the character you want or create the character the story needs. Many a writer would critique the second way by saying that this makes the characters flat and ensures that the character has a lacks of an interesting character arc. Now i am a big fan of the second way so i beg the differ, i think when you create the character the story needs it ensures that your character fits the setting. It is then the job of the writer to make that character interesting. But we will get to that in a bit.

Whichever way you choose i always suggest you create and develop the basic characters first and with that i mean your pro- and antagonist(s). It makes sense that, because the story revolves around them they are the most important and thus they need the most development. As i have stated before the easiest way to remember how every character is are the character questionnaires which you find all over tumblr and other writing blogs. But in my previous post about character development i also stated that these questionnaires alone are not enough to make a character feel real. Definitely check the link out to know which tips i gave about that subject. 

When you created the main characters you are going to need to brainstorm. For example i will make a character called Tony (and let’s just say i already tried to develop him to the fullest i possibly could). Tony is going to need a set of parents and so i create Maria and Jack. My backstory requires him to be best friends with his cousin so i create Jenny. He is getting a masters degree so he is going to need a couple of teachers and since he is kind of popular he is going to need at least six good and a couple of semi good friend. BAM, i just created another twenty characters. You just keep this brainstorming going until you have been through your entire story and you will have a complete list of characters which you need to describe and create. Does every character need to be fully developed? No, If for example one of his professors only get’s mentioned once you probably don’t need to know who his parents were and how he defines himself as a human being. But his best friends do need the full treatment. 

Lastly i want to point out that you need to keep a list with all of your created characters where you sum up everything that is important about that character: his appearance, his personality traits, backstory, … so you won’t forget about their characteristics halfway through working on your book.

Filling up the timeline

The easiest way (and sort of the way i always did it before i even knew about it) to do this is using the Pixar story structure:

Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

Pixar are as most of you know the masters of originality and deserve to be an influence on new writers. What this story three folded structure entails is that it begins with sketching the origins and habits of your main character, then describe the factor that disrupts the main characters pattern and the effects it has on his life and finally describe how it all ends.  This is a great and easy way to come up with your timeline so use it!

After you have done this you will have at least have a couple of scenes in mind which you put on your timeline. Most importantly after you have combined this with your world building and your character creating you will probably have the beginning of your story. a point where you are sure the story of your character starts and probably the point which messes the world of the main character up. From then on it is easy to fill in the blanks, try the following step: how do my characters get from scene A to scene B, what happens in between and how do i make this interesting. This is applicable for every kind of story. I will give two completely different examples to demonstrate this.

  • Let’s say you are writing an action packed novel where they get from one action scene to the next needs a break from the action. So a thing you could do is let them get to a hideout to resupply (how they get there) and so they can figure out what will come next (how to make it interesting). 
  • A completely different example for instance is a love story where you have two romantic scenes but don’t know how you link the two up. Maybe one of them bumps in to a past romantic interest (how do i make it interesting) which makes him doubt his/her love for the other mc so he/ she wants to see the other mc to see what happens (how do they get there). But seeing her might make him forget all that. 

You just keep using this rule until your timeline is filled up and voila! You have a basic timeline to work with.

Mixing it up

As you are doing all of the above you will notice that none of the above steps stand on their own. Creating a part of the world will lead to you coming up with an interesting scene, creating that scene will lead to creating new characters to put in the scene, creating that scene may help you shape the place they are at and thus help you build up your world further, … And before you know it your story will write itself! And like i said in the introduction, there is no one way of doing it. Some stories require a lot of attention on world building, others need attention in the character development department. 

Research

First let me make clear that i don’t like to plan a story out until i have every detail. I don’t do this because wile you are writing, you will get new ideas which will replace old ones and thus it would be a waste of time to develop a complete idea only to have it replaced. But on the contrary a lack of research will make your story seem unbelievable so you have to find that perfect balance.

Now what are you suppose to research beforehand and what do you research wile writing? Well i always suggest you try to have a basic understanding before you start working and research the specifics when needed. For example if you are writing about a wood worker you need to know what his daily activities are, what tools he has in his shop, … But only when your character is making a chair do you need to know which steps he undertakes to make it. 

Writing can be intimidating and is something that takes up a lot of time. But if you ask any writer whether he he would want to go back to a time he didn’t write a guarantee you that none of them will say yes. Writing is something beautiful and helps writers in so many ways and it is just something that we enjoy. So don’t let the huge pile of work scare you off, in the end the whole process is something you will enjoy and once you start it you will find out that this is what your life has been missing all along.

What You Need to Know Most About Character Voice

I’m kind of embarrassed to admit I didn’t have much of an understanding of character voice two years ago. I’m an English graduate, and none of my professors in college really talked about it. I think I remember learning the definition in high school and reading it briefly in a few writing tips.

In truth, I’ve probably heard the fact that “voice is one of the biggest draws for getting an agent or editor” more than I’ve actually heard tips on writing voice. Since then, I’ve gotten to the heart of what voice is. Or so I think. You’ll have to judge for yourself. Here’s what I found for anyone who might be struggling like I once was, or anyone who wants to learn more. The stuff in this post is what helped me bring that elusive voice into focus.

First, by definition, “voice” can refer to the writer’s style, the narrator’s style, or, your characters’ persona, thoughts, speech patterns, and word choice.

Sometimes when people think of character voice, they think of first-person narration, but really, all characters have a voice of their own, even if they aren’t telling the story. To illustrate, here are three lines from Harry, Ron, and Hermione:

  • “Don’t go picking a row with Malfoy, don’t forget, he’s a prefect now, he could make life difficult for you…”
  • “Can I have a look at Uranus too, Lavender?”
  • “I don’t go looking for trouble. Trouble usually finds me.”

If you’ve read the books, I bet you can tell who said what.

Voice is made up of two things: What the character talks (or sometimes thinks) about, and how she says it. In other words:

What the Character Talks about + How She Says it = Voice

Hermione believes in following rules and frequently tells Ron and Harry to do likewise. She’s also very logical and intelligent. In the first line above, she chooses to warn Harry, and then explains, logically, why he should heed her warning. Ron usually says those comical one-liners, and his language is usually a little coarser than the other two, so his quote is the second one. Because Harry is frequently accused of things, he often has to defend himself, “I don’t go looking for trouble.”

 

What Your Character Talks About

So, What does your character choose to talk about? What does he not talk about?


In Lord of the Rings, the Hobbits often talk about food. They’re Hobbits, so they eat a lot more than the other characters and therefore food is important to their culture. Because they bring up food a lot, we know that’s what they are thinking about on their journey. They don’t casually strike up conversations about advanced battle tactics; they don’t have a war-based background. And any conversation they do have about battle tactics wouldn’t be on the same level as a warrior. So their background, culture, interests, and experience influence their voice.

If your character is a nutritionist, she might look at her lunch and talk about complex carbs, protein, calories, and vitamins. A fashionista might notice that her best friend is wearing this season’s color. A dentist might see people’s teeth first.

Remember, what your character chooses to talk about reflects what he’s thinking about. I know that sounds obvious, but have you really considered it? If your character says something, it’s also conveying to your reader what’s on his mind at that moment.

You can work that to your advantage by having your character say something surprising in a specific situation. If I have a character break up with her boyfriend, and she’s crying, and someone tries to comfort her, and she says, “It’s not Zach so much. Now I have to go to the dance looking like a complete idiot.” Not only is the response surprising—she’s not crying over the loss of Zach, but her potential embarrassment—it also reveals character—she’s more concerned with her image than the loss of her significant other.

Having that specific line stated in that situation conveys a lot about the character and her relationship with her boyfriend. It conveys what she’s thinking about most.

In Part 2 of this,  I’ll delve into how characters talk, mentioning some of the potential problems and a few minor techniques you can use for a character’s voice.

UPDATE: Read Part 2 here

How to Get Back to Writing-

Now this is straight from experience. If you haven’t written anything in a little while it is hard to get back in the swing of things. Everything you write feels a bit contrived, a bit desperate, but you know what, that’s okay. I had to take a few weeks off while traveling and when you go from writing every day to not writing at all, trying to get back into it just does not happen easily. But here’s how I got back into it in the quickest and least painful way I possibly could

  • Don’t work on anything you’ve been working on before at first. Likely you’ll have a standard for your writing that goes into your ongoing projects and if you have taken a long enough break from writing, you won’t return right away at that standard. You’ll just get more frustrated. So instead, pick a prompt and write something new. It can be a short story, a few scenes, something to go alongside of another project - anything like that. 
  • If your first sentence sucks, don’t delete it. The second one might be better. This goes for scenes too. The first scene was just meh… the next one might be eh - okay.  And it will improve from there. If your writing is just sounding horrible to you, just keep writing. Going back and editing and fixing it will not help you here. Just keep writing. Write 100 words. If it’s still eh… then write 200. I wrote 2,000 words just the other day before it started looking alright again. But, you know, it worked. 
  • Anything that sounds terrible just needs to be edited six months from now. Use that as your golden rule in times like these. Just until you get your mojo back. Just keep saying, yeah, I know it’s bad, but I can fix it later.  Believe it or not, that helps a lot. Just get to the story and keep telling the story. 
  • Work in sprints. Don’t let yourself stare at a blank screen for hours. Write for 15 or 30 minutes and then take a break. I do 15 minutes on, 15 minutes off and I get a lot more writing done that way than a solid 30 minute session and can keep that pace up for hours.  Maybe read a book in the 15 or 30 minute break. It helps to see good writing and to let yourself be just a little bit influenced by another writer. I don’t recommend this as a permanent solution, but a temporary aid. 
Mythology Links

Everyone know’s that research is important. So here are some links for people looking into mythology.

Greek Mythology

Roman Mythology

Egyptian Mythology

Norse Mythology

European Mythology

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Asian Mythology

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African Mythology

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Middle Eastern Mythology

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Native American Mythology

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Meso-American Mythology

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Multiple Mythologies

Mythological Creatures

15+ Tactics for Writing Humor

A monster-length master list of over 15 tactics for writing humor, with examples from The Office, Trigun, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Emperor’s New Groove, The Fault in Our Stars, Harry Potter, Pink Panther, The Series of Unfortunate Events, Elf, Enchanted, The Amazing Spider-man, and more. Be prepared to laugh.

(Please note that this article is best read on my off-Tumblr blog here so that you can watch the videos that go along with it, embedded into the post. Otherwise, enjoy reading it right here, with links to the videos.)

Introduction

I’ve been to a few workshops on writing humor, and I’ve read about writing humor, but the funny thing is, none of them really taught me how to actually write humor. But yet they all said the same thing: Writing humor is hard, harder than writing seriously, because if you fail at humor, you fail horribly.

I heard it so much, it made me fear failure rather than strive to develop that writing talent. For years I avoided writing humor, period. But the catch to that is that I also often hear how humor is a huge draw for an audience.

I read recently in Showing & Telling by Laurie Alberts that humor is hard to teach and that some writers believe it can’t be taught at all. If you know these writers, send them to this post, send them to this post, or send them to this post about why the concept that writing can’t be taught is bullcrap.

People think writing humor can’t be taught because they don’t know how to teach it. Some people can write humor, but can’t teach it. They don’t know how they are funny because it’s just intuitive and natural to them. I was at one workshop on humor, and the only “how-to” tip they gave was that humor had to just come up naturally in the story. But professional comedians slave away and work their butts off writing their jokes, and then practicing them. That’s not natural. Sure, some comedians do improv (Whose Line is it Anyway? was one of my favorite shows), so they’re more natural, but I believe most comedians have to work to be funny.

Look at shows like The Office. Those writers obviously know how to write that kind of humor. And they use some of the same humor techniques over and over–that’s not just happening, that’s planned out. It’s formulaic. Look at the Marvel movies. They have their own style of humor too. I once read an interview with Jeff Kinney, author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, in it he talked about how insanely difficult it is to come up with jokes sometimes.

So yes, writing humor can be hard. But it’s not impossible. After all the (non)advice I got on writing humor. (Sure, some of them did mention one or two humor tactics, but not how to do them) I decided to take it into my own hands. So I’ve studied humor on my own, and I’ve made my own “How to Write Humor” article that actually tells you (or rather myself) HOW to write humor.

It’s not all-encompassing by any means. And I’m still learning. And note that you might have a different sense of humor than me, but you should be able to revamp most, if not all, of these tactics to suit you. Some of the tactics I will talk about today overlap each other, so one example might actually fit into several of these categories.

15 Humor Tactics

Overstatements and Exaggerations

An overstatement or exaggeration is playing up something–making something seem bigger than it is.

Humor articles I did read said exaggeration or overstatements are a no-no, and then go on by giving examples like “My room was so messy, it looked like a bomb had gone off.” Well, guess what? That’s just a bad example. It’s cliche. And just… blah. (I’ll explain why it doesn’t work in a second.) The articles are right, don’t write that one! But the articles are wrong in saying that there are no good exaggerations. That’s not true. There are loads of good exaggerations and overstatements. Most parodies and spoofs are exaggerations.

Keep reading

How to Win Writing Contests—and Big Publishing Contracts

When I was in college, I wrote a story and—on the advice of my professor—entered it into a competition. It won third place, and as I considered my fifty dollars, I realized that I had made over twice the minimum wage writing that story. So I wondered, “If I worked harder, could I win more money?”

I was going to school full time and didn’t have a job, so I set a goal to win first place in a writing competition. In order to boost my changes, I decided to enter several contests. I worked for several months and entered them all within a couple of weeks. To my surprise, I won all six of the writing contests, including the International Writers of The Future Contest.

When I went to receive my award atop the World Trade Center, several editors approached me and asked to see my first novel. The outline interested the editors enough to start a small bidding war, and within a couple of days, I got a three novel contract. I went on to get rave reviews for that first novel and won a Philip K. Dick Memorial Special Award for it. I stayed on Locus’s Science Fiction Bestseller list for five months, and that helped set the tone for my career.

So, how did I win those contests? Well, I started by making a list of lists of ways that a judge might look at my work. For example, some judges might look for an ending that brought them to tears, while another might be more interested in an intellectual feast.

Recently, several people have asked me to share my list. I no longer have that original document, but here is a list of things that I might consider in creating a story that I want to use as an entry to a contest—or for a novel that I want to submit to a publisher.

First, a word of warning. When I was very young, perhaps four, I remember seeing a little robot in a store, with flashing lights and wheels that made it move. To me it seemed magical, nearly alive. My parents bought it for me for at Christmas, and a few weeks later it malfunctioned, so I took a hammer to it and pulled out the pieces to see what made it work—a battery, a tiny motor, some small colored lights, cheap paint and stickers.

Your story should feel magical and alive. It should be more than the sum of its parts. So as I list these parts, be aware that a great story is more than any of these.

Setting

My goal with my settings is to transport the reader into my world—not just through the senses, but also emotionally and intellectually. I want to make them feel, keep them thinking. This can often be done by using settings that fascinate the reader, that call to them.

1) Do I have unique settings that the reader will find intriguing? In short, is there something that makes my setting different from anything that the reader has seen before?

2) If my setting is in our world, is it “sexy” or mundane. (People are drawn to sexy settings. Even if we place a story in a McDonald’s, we need to bring it to life, make it enjoyable.)

3) Do I have any scenes that would be more interesting if the setting were moved elsewhere? (For example, let’s say that I want to show that a king is warlike. Do I open with him speaking to his counselors at a feast, or on the battlefield?)

4) Do I suffer by having repetitive settings? For example, if I set two scenes in the same living room, would one of them be more interesting if I moved it elsewhere?

5) Do my descriptions of settings have enough detail to transport the reader?

6) Did I bring my setting to life using all of the senses—sight, sound, taste, feel, smell, hot/cold?

7) Do my character’s feelings about the setting get across?

8) Do I want to show a setting in the past, present, and suggest a future? (For example, I might talk about a college’s historical growth and importance, etc.)

9) Can a setting be strengthened by describing what it is not?

10) Does my setting resonate with others within its genre?

11) Do my settings have duality—a sometimes ambiguous nature? (For example, my character might love the church where she was married, have fond memories of it, and yet feel a sense of betrayal because her marriage eventually turned ugly. So the setting becomes bittersweet.)

12) Do my settings create potential conflicts in and of themselves that aren’t explored in the text? (If I have a prairie with tall grass and wildfires are a threat, should I have a wildfire in the tale?)

13) Do my characters and my societies grow out of my setting? (If I’ve got a historical setting, do my characters have occupations and attitudes consistent with the milieu? Beyond that, with every society there is almost always a counter-movement. Do I deal with those?)

14) Is my setting, my world, in danger? Do I want it to be?

15) Does my world have a life of its own? For example, if I create a fantasy village, does it have a history, a character of its own? Do I need to create a cast for the village—a mayor, teacher, etc.?

16) Is my setting logically consistent? (For example, let’s say that I have a merchant town. Where would a merchant town most likely be? On a trade route or port—quite possibly at the junction of the two. So I need to consider how fully I’ve developed the world.)

17) Is my setting fully realized? (Let’s say I have a forest. What kinds of trees and plants would be in that forest? What kind of animals? What’s the history of that forest? When did it last have rain or snow? What’s unique about that forest? Etc.)

18) Do I describe the backgrounds (mountains, clouds, sun, moon), along with the middle ground (say a nearby building) and the elements nearest to my protagonist.

19) Does my setting intrude into every scene, so that my reader is always grounded? (If I were to set my story in a field, for example, and I have men preparing for battle, I might want to have a lord look up and notice that buzzards are flapping up out of the oaks in the distance, already gathering for the feast. I might want to mention the sun warming my protagonist’s armor, the flies buzzing about his horse’s ears, and so on—all while he is holding an important conversation.

20) Are there any settings that have symbolic import, whose meanings need to be brought to the forefront?

Characters

I want my characters to feel like real people, fully developed. Many stories suffer because the characters are bland or cliché or are just underdeveloped. We want to move beyond stereotypes, create characters that our readers will feel for. At the same time, we don’t want to get stuck in the weeds. We don’t want so much detail that the character feels overburdened and the writing gets sluggish.

So here are some of the checkpoints I might use for characters.

1) Do I have all of the characters that I need to tell the story, or is someone missing? (For example, would the story be stronger if I had a guide, a sidekick, a love interest, a contagonist, hecklers, etc.? (Note: if you don’t recognize those character types, Google dramatica.com.))

2) Do I have any characters that can be deleted to good effect?

3) Do I have characters who can perhaps be combined with others? For example, let’s say I have two cops on the beat. Would it work just as well with only one cop?

4) Do my characters have real personalities, depth?

5) Do my characters come off as stock characters, or as real people?

6) Do I know my characters’ history, attitudes, and dress?

7) Does each character have his or her interesting way of seeing the world?

8) Does each character have his or her own voice, his own way of expressing himself?

9) Are my characters different enough from each other so that they’re easily distinguished? Do their differences generate conflict? Remember that even good friends can have different personalities.

10) Have I properly created my characters’ bodies—described such things as hands, feet, faces, hair, ears, and so on?

11) Do each of my characters have their own idiosyncrasies?

12) Do I need to “tag” any characters so that readers will remember them easily—for example, by giving a character a limp, or red hair, or having one who hums a great deal?

13) How do my characters relate to the societies from which they sprang? In short, are they consistent with their own culture in some ways? And in what ways do they oppose their culture?

14) What does each of my characters want?

15) What does each one fear?

16) What things might my character be trying to hide?

17) What is each character’s history? (Where were they born? Schooled, etc.?)

18) What is my characters’ stance on religion, politics, etc.?

19) How do my characters relate to one another? How do they perceive one another? Are their perceptions accurate, or jaded?

20) Does each character have a growth arc? If they don’t, should they?

21) How honest are my characters—with themselves and with others? Should my readers trust them?

22) What would my characters like to change about themselves? Do they try to change?

23) Do my characters have their own family histories, their own social problems, their own medical histories, their own attitudes? Do we need a flashback anywhere to establish such things?

Conflicts

One of the surest ways to engage our audience is through conflicts. When a conflict is unresolved, and when the audience is waiting breathlessly for its outcome, the reader’s interest will become keen. They’ll look forward to the resolution unconsciously, and may even be thinking, “Oh, this is going to be good!” That state of arousal is called “suspense,” and it’s perhaps the most potent element of a tale.

1) What is the major conflict in my story?

2) Do I have proper try/fail cycles for it?

3) Is the major conflict resolved in a way that satisfies the readers?

4) Is it universal enough so that the readers will find it interesting? (Note that a conflict becomes far more interesting to a reader if it is something that he must deal with in his own life.)

5) Have I brought the conflicts to life through the incidents that I relate? In other words, are their ways to deepen or broaden the main conflict?

6) Do I have secondary conflicts? Most stories require more than one conflict. For example, a protagonist will often have an internal conflict as well as an external conflict. He may also have a love interest. He might have conflicts with nature, with God, and with his companions. So as an author, I must create a host of conflicts and decide how each one grows and is resolved.

7) How do my characters grow and change in order to overcome the conflicts?

8) Do my characters perhaps decide to adapt to a conflict, struggle to live with it rather than beat it?

9) How ingenious are my character attempts to solve their problems? Ingenuity often adds interest.

10) How driven are my characters to resolve their conflicts? Characters who will go to extremes are needed.

11) Do I have any namby-pamby attempts that I should delete? For example, if I have a protagonist whose main problem is that she doesn’t have the nerve to talk to her boss about a problem at work, should I strike that entire try/fail cycle? (The answer is that almost always you should strike out the scenes and replace it with something better.)

12) Is my hero equal to or greater than his task at the start of a tale? If so, then my hero needs to be weakened so that we have a better balance.

13) Does my protagonist ever get betrayed?

14) Does my protagonist have an identity conflict? At the heart of every great story is a character who sees himself as being one thing—charming, heroic, wise—while others around him perceive him as being something else—socially wanting, cowardly, foolish.

15) Do I have enough conflicts to keep the story interesting?

16) Should some of the minor conflicts be deleted, or resolved? (Remember that not all conflicts need to have try/fail cycles.)

Themes

Themes in the story might be called the underlying philosophical arguments in your tale. A story doesn’t need to have a theme in order for it to be engaging. Likeable protagonists undergoing engaging conflicts is all that you need in order to hold a reader. But a tale that tackles a powerful theme will tend to linger with you much longer. Indeed, such tales can even change the way that a reader thinks, persuade him in important arguments. Shakespeare made every story an argument, and the “theme” was the central question to his tale.

Some people will suggest that dealing with themes is “didactic.” Don’t be fooled. Those same writers will put themes in their own works, and usually they’re taking stands that oppose yours. For example, if you argue that morality is innate and central to what a human is, they’ll argue that it’s situational and we’re all just animals. They don’t oppose the idea of stories having themes; they may just be opposed to your views. So make sure that your arguments are rigorous and persuasive.

1) Can I identify themes that I consciously handled?

2) Are there themes that came out inadvertently?

3) How universal are my themes? How important are they to the average reader?

4) Are there themes that need to be dealt with but aren’t? For example, if I have a policeman who is going to take a life, does he need to consider how he will feel about that?

5) Are there questions posed or problems manifested that bog the story down and need to be pulled?

6) Do my characters ever consciously consider or talk about the main themes? Should they?

7) Do my characters need to grapple with important questions? If not, perhaps they should.

8) Do my characters change at all due to the influence of new ideas or beliefs?

9) If my theme is going to “grow,” become more important as the story progresses, do I need to add or modify scenes in order to accommodate that growth? In other words, do I need to let the theme help shape the tale?

10) As your character grapples with a theme, does he find himself led down false roads? For example, let’s go back to our cop. Let’s say that he shoots a boy at night, and feels guilty when he discovers that the boy wasn’t really armed. What the cop thought was a gun turns out to have been a cell phone. Would other characters try to influence him? Perhaps a senior officer might take him out to get a drink—because alcohol has been his salvation for 20 years. Another officer might suggest that the kid was trying to commit suicide by cop, and our protagonist that he ‘did the kid a favor,’ and so on.

11) Does my character ever have to synthesize a thematic concept—come to grips with it intellectually and emotionally, so that it alters the character’s behavior?

Treatment

Your “treatment” is the way that you handle your story. The number of items that come into play in your treatment is so long, I can’t get into all of them. We would need get down to the real nitty-gritty of putting a sentence together.

You’ll want to create your own list of items to look for in your treatment. If you notice for example that you’re creating a lot of long, compound sentences in a row, you might make it a goal to vary your sentence length. If you find that you’re using weak verbs, you may want to go through your tale and search for instances of “was” and “were.” If you find yourself using the word “then,” you might want to go through in your edits and make sure that incidents in your tale are related in sequential order, so that you don’t need the word “then.” If you find yourself stacking modifiers in front of nouns and verbs, you might want to watch for that in your editing. If you tend to over-describe things, you might want to watch your descriptions.

In short, whatever your own personal weaknesses are in writing, you’ll want to create a list so that you can think about them when you write.

But here are a few elements to consider in your treatment.

1) Is your tone appropriate to the tale? For example, let’s say that you want to invest a bit of humor into your story. You start it with a joke. Do you maintain the tone throughout the rest of the tale, perhaps layering the humor in, scene after scene?

2) Do each of your characters speak with their own unique voices? You’ll need to do a dialog check for each character before you’re done.

3) Do you as a narrator establish a voice for the piece, one that you maintain throughout?

4) Is every description succinct and evocative?

5) Do your descriptions echo the emotional tone of the point-of-view (POV) character?

6) Do you get deep enough penetration into your protagonist’s POV so that the reader can track their thoughts and emotions? If not, is there a good reason why you neglected to do so?

7) Is there music in your language? Do you want there to be? Ernest Hemingway once said that “All great novels are really just poetry.” With that in mind, listen to the sounds of your words. Consider changing them as needed to fit the meter and emphasis that you need.

8) Do you use enough hooks to keep your reader interested?

9) Could you strengthen the piece by using foreshadowing?

10) Do you use powerful metaphors or similes to add beauty and resonance to your work? (If not, you’re in trouble. Your competition will.)

11) Is your pacing fast when it needs to be, and slow when it needs to be?

12) Do you waste space with unnecessary words?

13) Is your diction appropriate for your audience? By that I mean, if you’re writing to a middle-grade reader, is the diction understandable to a ten-year-old.

Story Parts

Sometimes when you’re looking at a story, you need to think about it in “chunks.” Here are a few things that I think about when creating a tale.

1) Is the basic idea of my story original and powerful? (In a contest, entering a story with a mundane concept probably won’t get you far. For example, if you enter a story about a young man fighting space pirates, it probably won’t do well—unless you come up with some new technology or angle that sets it above all other space-pirate tales.)

2) Do you establish your characters swiftly? We should probably know whom the story is about within a scene or two, and we should probably be introduced in a way that tells us something important about the characters.

3) We also need to establish the setting in every single scene.

4) Do you get to the inciting incident quickly and cleanly? (The inciting incident is the place where the protagonist discovers what his main conflict is going to be.)

5) Are there any storytelling tools that I could use to make this tale better. (For a discussion of storytelling tools, see my book “Million Dollar Outlines,” which is available at www.davidfarland.com/shop.)

6) Does my story escalate through the following scenes, with conflicts that broaden and deepen?

7) Does my story resolve well? Do I have a climax that really is exciting? Is the outcome different from what the audience expects?

8) Do I tackle all of the resolutions in a way that leaves the reader satisfied?

Writing a story can be an exhausting exercise—intellectually challenging and emotionally draining. When you’re in the throes of it, it may seem daunting. But you’re never really done until the outcome feels magical, and if you take care of all the little things that you should, the outcome will indeed seem wondrous.

Happy writing!

Hello, writerly friends~ ♥︎

My Writing Advice Masterpost is back! Now featuring the best questions and answers from the last three years, along with all of the videos from my writing advice YouTube Channel!

This post will be updated every week with new writing advice videos, playlists, and responses! So, make sure to bookmark THIS page and follow my blog (maxkirin.tumblr.com) so you don’t miss a thing!

Writing Advice Compilations

Writing Exercises & Prompts

Motivation & Inspiration

Planning, Outlining, and Getting Started

Dialogue

Editing & Revision

Hot-Button Issues

General Advice

Publishing

Writing Music & Playlists

Miscellaneous

Last Updated: 06-20-15. Click HERE to see the latest update. Latest posts are in bold.

Quick Tips on Writing Powerful Female Characters

Alright, I’m not going to pretend I’m not a feminist. But regardless of your stance or whatever (and I’m really not going into personal opinions, motivations, or anything like that and I will act unbiased), here are some things to think about when you write female characters in positions of power

  • Consider the character’s opinion on her own status. A powerful woman will have an opinion on her gender, especially if she is filling a role traditionally held by a man, such as a ship captain, a political leader, or a business owner. (But if her opinions are too overbearing, even if it’s something the reader agrees with, it will be annoying - so don’t beat it over the reader’s head.)
  • What does she think of family life? Now, this is the complete opposite of my last point but really, you should know this for writing any character. Family life and living as a homemaker is often seen as the antithesis of what a powerful woman should want, but the truth is that, it doesn’t need to be that way. A character can want both. Consider that side of the character too. If she doesn’t want marriage and children, dig into why.
  • How does her personality play into her strength as a character? Strong women don’t need to be ice queens. Consider how their personality traits play into their strength. Perhaps her care for home and family wins support of her community. Or how her short-temper might make her just as frightening as any war-hungry king. 
  • “She is insane.” I’ve noticed that there is a fear today to write female characters in power that fail at their jobs or prove to be insane, brutal, or too weak to succeed. It shouldn’t matter the character’s gender, but who she is as a character. If she would naturally move to make choices that would lead her to failure, let her fail. 
Writing as a Lifestyle

You’ve made the time, now, make the most out of your time. This doesn’t mean writing as fast as you can. What’s the point of writing at all if you’re going to write crap? I mean do everything to get in your writing zone and stay there. This might mean finding your own quiet space where you can work without being bothered. For me, it’s more than that. It means watching what I do when I’m not writing, because that influences my productivity. Hunger, fatigue, brain fogs can all effect my fiction session. So I watch what I eat. Nothing can slow you down like poor health (physical, mental, or spiritual).

Your Work Space

It’s worth investing in items that will make your writing session more comfortable. When I first started this journey, I didn’t care much about my work space. Months into it, I found out what a difference a good chair, the right table height, and posture can make--it helped me write longer. I have an ergonomic keyboard and a trackball (that I can use with either hand) instead of a mouse so I can type more. I keep my laptop screen’s brightness at the lowest level to reduce the strain on my eyes. I also take eye vitamins now (and yes, they work.) I found I was more comfortable with a foot rest. Back in college, I started having severe pain in my hands. Luckily the doctors didn’t find anything serious, but now I take primrose and fish oils to help prevent the aches, so I can be more productive.If you want to write for many years to come, don’t skimp out on your health and work space. You can also make the most of your time by working out story problems while in the shower, eating lunch, or brushing your teeth, so that when your writing session starts, you’re ready. And of course, make the most out of your session by actually putting in the effort. Treat it like a job. Do whatever you need to stay focused.

Prioritize

If you work too hard, too long, you’ll crash. Breaks aren’t overrated. But you’ll get the most out of your time if you prioritize.

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Writing Intelligent Characters

Writing intelligent characters is tricky. It must be, because it’s done horribly so often. I come bearing advice to help you solve the problem!

First off, there are two kinds of intelligence. Crystallized, which is how much information you’ve got in your head and tends to increase as you age and learn more, and fluid, whichis the ability to figure out puzzles and otherwise figure things out quickly, which tends to decrease after a certain age because of the connections in your brain failing.

This is totally compatible with the theory of nine intelligences, by the way: it’s common to know more about one subject than another, and it’s possible to have a “good ear” and be able to figure out musical patterns without, say, being able to do calculus easily.

The two forms of intelligence need to be handled very differently, so let’s examine them separately.

Crystallized Intelligence seems easy to write on the surface. Just look up a subject online, and now your character knows all of that.

This is a terrible idea.

Crystallized intelligence is closely related to ignorance, or not knowing anything. Your character should not—cannot, realistically—know everything convenient to the plot. I’m looking at you, Artemis Fowl.

Skills and knowledge sets take time and effort to build, and yes, your character will probably have one, two, maybe three areas of focus. They should be related, for the same reasons you pity the Religious Studies/Accounting double major in college. Skills sets can be built on in the same field.

Note that eidetic memories are extremely rare, if they exist at all.

Fluid Intelligence is ignored a lot: we don’t really think of using it as a way to indicate a character’s intelligence, despite the fact that it’s a better indicator than just knowing stuff is. And if we do use it, it’s some Asperger’s-level obsession to detail exhibited by characters like Sherlock Holmes.

This is not necessary.

What you need is to avoid your reader going, “Oh my God, you idiot, how do you not get it yet?” It makes foreshadowing a little harder—when your character is capable of piecing together what it all means, some of the suspense can be lost. I like Rob Thurman’s books: the hints are all there, but the characters are written, even with a first person narrator, that you don’t figure it out thirty pages before the main character and don’t sit bored, waiting for the cast to come to the same conclusion.

A good example of a fluidly-intelligent character is Armin Arlet, from Attack on Titan. Towards the end of the anime, most of the Survey Corps are wondering what their superiors are up to and keeping from them, but not Armin. Armin, based on the clues and events, figures it out withput his supervisors having to tell him anything. Everyone saw the same things, but Armin could put it together coherently.

2

Hello, writerly friends~ ♥︎

You asked for a Writing Advice Masterpost, so here it is! Below you will find a collection of the best questions and answers from the last two years. Not only that, but they are also organized so you can find the answers to your questions quickly and get on with writing.

But wait, there is more!

This post is more than just a collection of advice, it’s a nexus for writing advice, resources, and information! That’s right, this post is going to grow over time. I will be updating this masterpost WEEKLY with new answers, writing advice videos, playlists, and more! So, make sure to bookmark this page and follow my blog (maxkirin.tumblr.com) so you don’t miss a thing~ ♥︎

Writing Advice Compilations

Prompts

Youtube Videos!

  • Virtual Writing Academy, a weekly writing class where we explore strange writing exercises. This is NOT a lecture. You are not going to learn by listening— but by WRITING. So, take out your notebooks because we are going to write!
  • Writing Advice Blitz, a segment where I answer YOUR writing questions.
  • Writing Challenges– prompts too easy for you? Looking for a challenge? YOU GOT IT. These challenges will push your writing skills to the limit!

Motivation & Inspiration

Planning, Outlining, and Getting Started

Dialogue

Editing & Revision

Hot Button Issues

General Advice

Publishing

Writing Music & Playlists

Miscellaneous

Last Updated: 10-25-14. Click HERE to see the latest update. Latest posts are in Italics.

No Plot, No Problem: How to Write Without A Clue Where it's Going

Now, I’ve been talking a lot in the past few weeks about planning novels and I just want to remind everyone, novels don’t necessarily need to be planned! Not at all. In fact, a good number of writers hate planning. It’s completely understandable. I don’t blame ‘um. So, how do you write without all the planing? Simple, you just do it. Here’s some guided tips:

  • What’s your premise? The premise can be summed up in one word or five - usually short and to the point. It’s a concept that carries the novel, like A Delicate Balance by Edward Albee: The dysfunctional family is dysfunctional ( 5 words ) or Twilight by Stephanie Meyer: sexy vampire love story ( 4 words ). Of course, I’m leaving things out and there’s more to it, but in a couple of words, you get the major gist of it.
  • Know your characters or at least, get to know them. You either should go into the story knowing them, or spend a lot of time getting to know them while writing. Getting to know them while actually writing will be a little harder, just because it might mean a lot more editing later on to make them consistent, but both ways are very effective. Why this is important: If the plot isn’t carrying the novel, that weight falls on the characters. Make sure they’re strong enough to hold it up! 
  • Write with the ending in mind. You might not know where it’s going, but always keep thinking of the possible endings. You don’t want a lame ending. Seriously, it makes or breaks a book. There are some books that I didn’t even like until I read the ending. There were books I loved and were tainted beyond recognition by the ending. You don’t want a bad ending. You don’t have to know how it’ll go or what it’ll be, but make sure it’s epic. 

You don’t need to plan the story out to make it successful. Seriously. It’s not for everyone and it won’t make your writing better or worse for not planning. These tips are meant to make you successful as you write. My next two projects are going to be “unplanned” because some projects just require that. There’s no way you can know how some situations will go until it’s down in writing. 

Legit Quick Tip #1

The words “feel/felt” are a sure sign that you’re telling instead of showing. If you notice it creeping up in your prose, find another way to express the same thing.

Example:

He felt like he was going to pass out.

Replace with - 

The floor seemed to sway under his feet.

Making Unlikeable People into Likeable Characters (with April Ludgate)

Unlikeable people can be a pain to write if they’re a main character. After all, our audience needs to like them enough to be around them for the course of the story. If our readers can’t stand them, they won’t want to read about them. But sometimes our protagonists are meant to be bad. They need to be bad. Heck, sometimes even the likeable people in our stories have jerk-qualities.

So how do we render their bad-qualities without driving our readers to throw our books across the room?

We turn our unlikeable people into likeable characters.

We make them such likeable characters, that the audience forgives, accepts, or overlooks that they are unlikeable people.

Here are six ways to do that.


1. Make their Flaws into Super Power Strengths (NOT THE CHARACTER ARC)

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In case you missed the caps, this tactic is not about the character arc. This isn’t a situation where you have your unlikeable character overcome their flaws and become a better person. That’s part of the problem when writing unlikeable people; we see their flaws as something negative (with good reason). Instead, start seeing their flaws as a strength. Shift that context. Put your character in situations where their flaws and negative characteristics actually help them and maybe even benefit others.

I’ve been writing about a character who has the compulsion to always tell the truth. He’s too honest (but yet, he’s not meanspirited). When I first started writing this character, everything that had to deal with this compulsion made him come across as weak and annoying.

So I had to stop and think about how to shift that characteristic to make it more cool and entertaining and seem like a strength. I asked myself, “How could this character use truth like a cool weapon? When he’s not meanspirited? How can being too honest work as an advantage, without it being rude? Without creating negative feelings or at best, a ‘vanilla’ feeling? Without being too saintly (in other words, annoying)?” Let’s just say that he’s made a lot of improvements since my first draft.

You can do the same thing. It takes some brain power and brainstorming time, but think about situations where you can turn your character’s flaw into an advantage. Is your character too selfish? How can that be a good thing? Maybe you can relate it to the importance of being self-reliant and exercising self-preservation. Maybe because he is selfish, he can detect routes that require the least amount of sacrifice possible–routes that self-sacrificing people wouldn’t even think of because they don’t have that strong selfish motive.

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