Wr.Tu.Th: Character Development

It’s Writing Tutorial Thursday. Today we’re talking about creating really awesome characters.

Writing Tutorial: Character Development

Disclaimer: The information presented herein is based on what I, personally, have learned in my educational and professional careers. This tutorial is simply meant to offer some helpful tips.

INTRODUCTION:

What keeps us coming back to a story? It’s probably not the creepy house in chapter three (even though it was a damn good description). It’s the characters. Your story wouldn’t be anything unless there was a protagonist to relate to, root for (sometimes against), commiserate with, and follow.

So what makes a good character? How do you make one “come alive?” Well, I’m here to help answer those questions.

1) Know your characters. This doesn’t just mean what they look like. You should have detailed back stories for your characters—even the minor players. Make sure they’re well-developed. Yes, describe that they’ve got hair the color of cornstalks waving in the fall sunlight, but also describe who they are as a person. What are their dreams? Beliefs? Likes? Dislikes? Family history? Quirks? Eccentricities? Mannerisms? Think about who you are. How would you describe yourself or someone you know? That’s how you should be describing your characters.

Note: Don’t forget about your secondary characters. Giving life to many “background characters” is just as important. They might not need as detailed of a back story as your protagonist’s, but their existence needs to be just as believable.

2) Don’t pile it on. Think about character development like a five course meal. You wouldn’t want to eat all courses within the first ten minutes. That’d be crazy. Similarly, you don’t want to bombard your readers with every detail about your character in the first chapter (or paragraph).

Instead, pepper (get it? I’m continuing the food metaphor.) details about your characters throughout your story. Perhaps in the first paragraph you open with basic physical features, but it is not until chapter two that you reveal what your main character does for a living.

You may even choose to point out details as they pertain to the plot. For instance, maybe your story is centered on familial betrayal, and it isn’t until chapter ten that you let your readers know how many secrets your main character keeps from her family!

3) Make your readers care. It’s one thing to make your characters sound out-of-this-world attractive; it’s an entirely other thing to make them relatable to your readers. Ask yourself the question: “Why should my reader care about my character?” What’s your character’s objective? How do they get to that goal/point?

That’s usually where conflict comes in. (After all, if your story hasn’t any sort of action, it’s about as interesting as a used piece of gum.) How do your characters face internal and external conflict? You need to show how they overcome struggles and challenges. This is important in not only helping your characters to grow, but also in furthering your plot.

4) Remember dialogue. I love writing dialogue, so of course I’d put it on the list. But it’s true that it’s also very helpful in character development. How does your character talk? What does he/she sound like? Practice writing out things they would say. Do they have an accent? Do they have poor grammar?

(For more about writing convincing dialogue, stay tuned for next week’s tutorial!)

5) Pay attention. The best advice I can offer is to think about a favorite character from a favorite book. Why do you like that character so much? Is it because of his/her personality? Pay close attention to how the author presented him/her. Read, read, read. Take notes.

Do you have any other suggestions? Questions? Let me know!

And don’t forget: practice!

Happy writing!

Wr.Tu.Th.: Plot Development

Welcome to today’s Writing Tutorial Thursday. Today it’s all about Plot Development.

Disclaimer: The information presented herein is based on what I, personally, have learned in my educational and professional careers. This tutorial is simply meant to offer some helpful tips.

INTRODUCTION: Usually, works of fiction undoubtedly include a plot. Characters can certainly help, but it is the plot—the story—that draws the reader into the imaginary world you create. It’s no easy task to develop a solid plot, however. Sometimes authors leave their readers frustrated and confused, with many unanswered questions.

Hopefully I can offer some advice to make sure you hit important plot points in your work.

1) What’s the point? The biggest thing you need to figure out is your novel’s main goal. What is your protagonist working toward? You need to figure out what the whole point of your novel is before you can do anything else. Sit down and brainstorm. Think about what purpose you want your character to fulfill, how he/she is going to do so, what obstacles will get in his/her way, and what the outcome will be.

2) Who’s in charge, anyway? Decide how you will present your story. Choose which point of view to use.

3) Know your characters. You should know the ins and outs of the characters you are using to propel your plot. (For information on developing compelling characters, see this tutorial.) Similarly, your characters should not just stand in the background. They should affect the plot through their actions.

4) Conflicts. Conflict is what drives your plot forward. You need your characters to go through constant struggles in order to get to the final goal. Sprinkle conflict throughout your novel so that the characters not only move the plot along, but also grow with the experiences. (Hint: Your subjects don’t need to overcome every obstacle. Show how they learn from failures and mistakes.)

5) Let it flow. As writers, we tend to think five times faster than our fingers can type. (Or, at least I do.) Don’t try to force your plot, though. Let it come naturally. Meaning, each event or action in your novel should lead effortlessly into the next. Nothing should be jarring. Remember your school essays: transitions between paragraphs! Well, don’t forget to link all the events in your novel together.

Likewise, the pace shouldn’t falter, either. It will probably speed up and slow down as the story progresses, but it should definitely not stutter out completely.

6) Proper placement. The climax is an integral part of your story. So far, what has happened in your novel has lead up to this, so make sure it matches the rest of the tone of your story. For example, you don’t want to fill pages with foreshadowing descriptions, convincing the reader that something dire is about to happen to the main character, but then simply say he caught a cold and had to stay in bed for three days. What a letdown.

7) Know when to stop. We all love our characters, but the time comes when we must end the story. Your character has to reach his/her goal sometime, remember? You don’t have to tie things up in a neat little bow (in fact, it’s more believable if you don’t), but you shouldn’t drag things out either. (For example: Your character has overcome the primary conflict of the story, but since you have developed him/her so well, your readers can imagine that he/she can triumph over other conflicts in the future.) If you want to keep writing your characters, consider a sequel. Don’t continue the story when the story has clearly ended.

So those are my tips for good plot development. Do you have any other suggestions? Questions? Let me know! Don’t forget that the way to better writing is by practicing.

Happy writing!

WTT: Read

It’s Writing Tip Tuesday. Today’s installment is about reading. You’ve heard the old adage: read. Well, it’s true:

Read. Read everything you can. The more you read the better you write.

When you read, you open your mind to new worlds, new people and new experiences. Not only is it fun, it gets your creative juices flowing and encourages you to come up with new ideas. So get out there and read!

 

Wr.Tu.Th.: Beginnings

Welcome to the first installment of Writing Tutorial Thursdays. With these tutorials, I hope to help answer some of your most nagging writing questions; from how to write a great main character to what makes a great setting. (If you have any requests, let me know and I’ll be happy to come up with a tutorial just for you.) Today’s tutorial is all about beginnings.

 

Writing Tutorial: How Do I Begin?

Disclaimer: The information presented herein is based on what I, personally, have learned in my educational and professional careers. This tutorial is simply meant to offer some helpful tips.

INTRODUCTION: So you have the raddest idea for a novel. Sweet. Okay, how do you start writing one? Have no fear; I’m here to help you get started.

1) There are many ways (and none of them is the “right way”) to begin a novel. Many authors will tell you that a story just “comes to them.” (It does for me.) If that seems insane to you, a good way to start the creative juices flowing is to brainstorm. Create a mind map. Throw all your ideas about your story onto paper. This way you can get everything out into the open.

2) Be sure you have all elements needed for your novel. I am talking about fiction novels, so that means, specifically, character, plot and setting. You can also add in other details such as, genre, theme, point of view, length, etc. Get out your mind map and organize your thoughts into categories:

  • Characters
    1. secondary characters
  • Plot
    1. subplots
  • Setting

3) Create a killer opening line. The biggest, most important sentence you will write in your novel is the first one. It is what needs to hook your reader and keep them holding on. To write a great opener, here are some things to remember. I’ve used all of these in past stories.

  • Jump in. Start in the middle of action or dialogue. This creates a sense of urgency and creates excitement for your reader.
  • Be eccentric. Nobody says you have to write exactly like everyone else. You just have to get peoples’ attention. If that means opening with a 10-line sentence, then so be it. Just make sure it’s AMAZING…and not a run-on.
  • State it. Nothing grabs someone’s attention like stating a fact. It “slaps you in the face,” so to speak. Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is a great example: “It was a pleasure to burn.” Genius.

4) Let it flow. In the beginning, you have so many ideas you just can’t stop writing… So, don’t! Seriously, just keep writing. Let your ideas flow, no matter how weird they sound. Even if everything is jumbled on paper, write it down. You should see the scrawled handwriting in my notebooks when I first start working on something. But that’s part of the idea! The editing process comes later. The point in the beginning is to get it all down.

5) Don’t stop. Sometimes the dreaded writer’s block sneaks in. Don’t be discouraged. The best advice I can give you (that I’ve been given countless times) is to keep writing! It might seem like there’s “nothing in the tank,” but you mustn’t give up. Force yourself to sit at your computer, or open up that journal, and write. Even if it’s just to jot down a few ideas, write!

These are some ways that help me get started writing a novel, or even a short story. Hopefully they’ll help you, too. Do you have any other suggestions? Questions? Let me know!

Don’t forget: the way to better writing is by practicing!

Happy writing!

WTT: Pens

Welcome to the first installment of Writing Tip Tuesday, where I drop random hints, tricks and tips to help you on your writing path.

Tip 1: People often say to bring a notebook with you wherever you go. That’s good advice, but I think the better advice is to bring a pen wherever you go. If you come up with an idea, you can always write on a napkin, a scrap piece of paper, or even your hand. It doesn’t really help if you have a notebook and no pen, though. ;P

Do you have any writing tips you’d like to share? Let me know!