How Characters Change in Stories (And How to Write Believable Change)

You’ve probably heard this one before: Your character must change throughout the course of your story.

I see a lot of confusion over this concept. Writers can normally nail the change (weak to strong; bad to good; cynical to optimistic) but it often comes from a weird place that doesn’t sit quite right with what we know about the protagonist. Or it’s too big of a change (or too much of a “fairy tale ending”) to be believable.

Let’s take a look at how writers should deal with character change.

No one likes change

In real life, people change in small ways, but they’re resistant to that change. Change happens slowly, in a sort of cocooned metamorphosis, like a caterpillar to a butterfly. It doesn’t happen overnight, it rarely happens without lapses into previous behavior, and there better be a good reason for it to happen to begin with.

The thing that makes change in stories so fascinating for people is that, despite loathing change, humans want to believe we’re capable of changing, preferably for the better.

So your characters must change in order for the story to be worth reading. But they don’t have to like it.

Think of this: Your character changes because of the things happening around him/her. Not because they want to. Your character is forced to change by circumstances they can’t control. To survive and/or thrive, they must change to combat those circumstances.

Events trigger change

Character change is triggered by an event. A big one. It doesn’t have to be “big” as in a death or massive explosion (but it definitely can be!). It can be something smaller, like hearing your friend’s parents are getting divorced or your oldest child graduating from preschool.

Note that your character doesn’t choose this event. It’s an outside force that’s thrust upon them.

Then more events happen throughout the second act that force your character forward in a struggle toward transformation.

The triggering event is proportional to your character’s change. Something small shouldn’t send your character completely overboard. Something large shouldn’t have them shrugging and going back to normal.

Change should be believable

Do I really believe Scrooge woke up with a personality completely opposite from the one he had when he went to sleep? Not quite. I tend to think ole Scrooge went back to his miserly ways right after the shock of the ghosts wore off. Maybe not quite as miserly, but still.

That’s why aiming for a more subtle change often makes more sense within the confines of your character’s personality.

If a timid man is forced to defend his friends and family, that doesn’t mean he’s going to start playing a superhero all over town. That means he now knows he’s capable of stepping up with the going gets tough.

A grumpy teen might change her attitude and treat people with a little more respect, but that doesn’t mean she’ll suddenly become a do-good saint. It most likely means she’ll just stop snapping at her parents.

Of course, maybe the opposite is true. Maybe your timid man becomes the new Batman. Maybe your surly teen goes off to build houses in Haiti. It’s possible. But remember, the more massive the change in your character, the more important and life-altering the triggering event must be to them.

You should know your character better than anyone, so make sure their change happens in a way that’s realistic for them and proportional to the size of the trigger.

Realistic is better than drastic

You know your character has to change, but your readers aren’t going to empathize with that change if you step outside of bounds. Keep your change realistic and in line with your protagonist’s personality. And be sure to check out this article for details on moving your character through each step of change throughout your story.

What’s the protagonist’s change in the story you’re currently working on? Let me know in the comments!

By Sarah Gribble

Source: thewritepractice.com

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My No-BS Guide to Confidence

f I had to pinpoint one trait that all successful freelancers have in common, can you guess what it’d be?

It’s not intelligence… Or experience… Or a high degree of skill… Or even education.

The one trait I’m talking about is: Confidence.

It’s incredibly simple: If you think you can’t do something — you can’t.

Without confidence, you may be able to make some headway, but it’s like paddling upstream…  At best you end up working too hard to achieve too little — and at worst you end up exhausting yourself and going backwards.

Ultimately, no amount of effort or skill can fully compensate for not believing in yourself. Your subconscious mind — the director of the “movie” you call life — will find ways to help you sabotage yourself and turn those deeply held negative beliefs into reality.

This is what Carl Jung meant when he said, “Until you take what’s in your subconscious, and make it conscious, it will rule your life, and you will call it ‘fate.’”

As someone who’s been on both sides of the fence — having gone from having very little confidence, to understanding how to feel confident in many situations (even if that confidence sometimes seems “unwarranted”) — I’m in a unique position to give you a good insider’s perspective that might help you turn things around.

1. You don’t need to reprogram yourself

A lot of people put time and energy into trying to “reprogram” their brain to be more confident.

But you don’t need to do that.

You just need to deprogram it.

You came into this world pre-equipped with an enormous amount of confidence. You don’t need to add any — you just need to remove the mental junk that’s currently blocking it.

This is great news! Instead of rewriting the code in your brain, you just need to delete some, which is infinitely easier.

Think of when you first learned to walk…

You had no “proof” you’d be successful.

In fact most of the evidence pointed in the opposite direction of success — you’d spent weeks or months crawling on your hands and knees, even falling right on your ass.

Did you beat yourself up about it?

Did you hire a coach? Do affirmations?

Did you think about quitting because it wouldn’t work?

Obviously you didn’t do any of those things. You kept on smiling and having a good time because you knew it was going to work.

As you got older, the people around you helped condition you to be less and less confident over time through criticism, presenting their opinions as “facts” you needed to abide by, and even pushing their preferences onto you as the “right” way to be, do, or live.

In spite of everything that’s gotten in the way before now, it’s still relatively easy to get your inborn confidence back any time you want to. You can probably even do it fairly quickly if you’re focused about it.

You just need to erase, and from now on tune out, the critical noise that started blocking it in the first place.

2. Choose to be responsible for your own confidence

Let’s start off with a simple decision you can choose right now, this minute.

It’s just a choice — I’m not asking you to suddenly be confident, or even to picture yourself as confident — only to decide that you are going to take responsibility for your own confidence.

Allowing your confidence to be dictated by other people’s behavior towards you, or by the circumstances and events that happen around you, ultimately leads to misery (usually sooner than later).

That’s because you have no control over those things — you’re reduced to being a helpless passenger along for the ride (which usually doesn’t go where you want it to).

If you want strong, lasting confidence, you need to decide that it will come from you, and only you.

That way, it’s no longer at the mercy of what’s going on around you. You are always in control of your own fate.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what to do to get your confidence up and running again just yet. All you need to do right now is take responsibility for it. By doing so, you’re giving yourself a solid foundation to build on.

3. Realize confidence (or lack of it) comes from your thoughts

People sometimes say to me, “But Danny, how can I be confident when my boss is a jerk? Or when my spouse yells at me right before a big presentation? What then?”

If you look for reasons to not be confident, you will always find them.

But the opposite is also true: If you seek out evidence of your own awesomeness and personal power — regardless of what others are doing — then that is what you’ll find.

For example, imagine if, after being yelled at by your spouse right before a big presentation, you decided that their lashing out was just a result of them having a stressful week at work and a few sleepless nights.

In other words, it had nothing whatsoever to do with you.

Notice how nothing has changed, other than your own thoughts.

Yet if you consistently practice reframing techniques in the way I just showed you, over time you’ll notice that instead of taking other people’s behavior personally and letting it decimate your confidence, you become impervious to it and let it all roll right off your back.

If this seems like some sort of mind trick, or intellectual dishonesty, consider this: I promise you that there is nothing more dishonest — and no bigger piece of mental trickery — than letting someone else’s mistreatment of you make you feel bad about yourself.

4. Give yourself more credit

There’s a reason I’m always telling people “my story” — that I have no college degree, held menial dead-end jobs until I was 34, and so on: If I could be a total screw up for decades and still turn it all around, why not YOU?

But even though I tell these stories all the time, people still email me in disbelief, arguing that I must have had experience, must be exceptionally organized, must have been born with a high IQ, etc — even though none of those things are true.

This is a weird thing that humans do. We project advantages and amazing qualities onto people we see as “experts,” even when we have no idea if those observations are real or imagined. Psychologists even have a name for this behavior: the halo effect.

The truth is, even the smartest people know surprisingly little.

For example, I once watched two Harvard law professors arguing about whether something was illegal.

Just think about that! Two of the smartest legal minds in the world — from the same Ivy League school, no less — holding literally opposite views on whether something is legal or against the law.

Do you realize what that means? It means that the world’s dumbest person can choose either side of that debate, and still have the exact same chance of being right as both of the two legal geniuses who are arguing about it!

The line between average and great is much, much thinner than you think. It’s mostly just a choice you make.

5. Be nice to yourself

Imagine having one or more employees working under you… Would you expect them to do amazing work if you were verbally beating them up all the time?

Not only would they be miserable, and produce poor work — they’d probably walk out on you.

Yet we beat ourselves up all the time … and then we wonder why we’re not getting to where we want to be in our careers, our fitness, our relationships, or our finances.

The key to stopping this self-defeating behavior is to realize that doing it doesn’t just feel bad… it’s also standing in your way of making progress.

It might seem like you can beat yourself into being better, but I’ve never found that to work, especially in the long term.

You can absolutely succeed regardless of what others do to you, but you cannot succeed without YOU in your own corner. If you want to be confident and successful, constant self-criticism is a behavior you cannot afford to keep.

6. Starve what you want to die

Sometimes a negative thought pattern has picked up so much momentum over time that it’s hard to stop.

It’s a lot like putting the brakes on a train that’s been moving full-steam ahead for a while — it takes some time and effort to bring it to a full halt.

Similarly, if you’ve been beating yourself up about something for months or years, it’s hard to change your thoughts about it on a dime.

If you find yourself in that kind of situation, you can at least distract yourself from the negative mental loop

In other words, while you may not be able to change the negative thought into a positive one right away, you can at least “starve” it by not giving it as much attention.

You can do that by adjusting your thoughts about it a little at a time, or even distracting yourself from it completely.

For example, if you’ve been struggling to lose weight, you can adjust your mental story from “I’ll never lose weight” to “Maybe I’ve just been too down on myself — I think I can make this work if I start small and build up my confidence. This week I’ll take the stairs instead of the elevator…”

There’s also nothing wrong with avoiding the mirror or the scale for a while, if those things only seem to lead to negative thoughts that keep you programmed for failure.

Over time, that negative thought pattern will become weaker and weaker, and you’ll be able to notice a negative thought and change it to a positive one with very little effort. And if you keep practicing that habit, you can even eliminate the negativity completely.

7. Don’t listen to “realists”

People love to try to convince you you can’t do something because it’s not “realistic.”

But have you ever thought about what reality actually is?

The word “reality” is just a way of describing what has been true up until this point.

It says little — or nothing — about the future.

By definition, growing and improving means that you’re doing something you’ve either never done before, or that no one else has ever done before.

If everyone listened to the “realists” about what’s possible, everything would always stay the same.

We probably wouldn’t even be here since the world as we know it likely would not have developed. Nothing good in this world was created by a “realist.”

Steve Jobs explained this very well in a short video that completely changed my life when I watched it for the first time about 7 years ago — I suggest you check it out too:

8. What you say is as important as — and maybe more important than — what you do

This is controversial, but in my experience it’s absolutely true.

In the Netflix special Miracle, Derren Brown coaches a woman through her first time eating glass.

His advice to her would shock most people: He spent a few seconds on the technical instructions of how to chew up the glass — and the rest of the time focusing on positive self-talk.

This scene illustrates a fascinating phenomenon: When you say something to yourself (whether out loud, or even in your thoughts), your subconscious mind can take it as a sort of “command.”

If the glass-eater had “prepared” by telling herself it would hurt, do you know what would have happened? It would have hurt.

Whenever, and I mean whenever I get an email from someone who has repeatedly failed at freelancing, despite having “tried everything,” I always look for — and virtually always find — sentences like this within their email:

“I’m very frustrated…”

“I’m so overwhelmed…”

“It seems like nothing works for me…”

“I can’t make it work…”

Feeling this way is understandable. And everyone needs to vent sometimes.

But I’m telling you right now that talking this way repeatedly for prolonged periods of time — whether out loud to others or in your own head — is the same as asking for more failure.

I know it doesn’t feel that way, but that’s what’s happening.

You need — need — to find a way to start to turn those thoughts around.

I’m not suggesting you outright lie to yourself, since pure denial can backfire.

For example, waking up one morning and saying to yourself “My confidence is soaring, I’m sure I’ll get a promotion today!” — after years of telling yourself you’re the worst employee at the company — probably won’t work.

Your subconscious mind is a tricky thing, and it can reject ideas that are too far off from what you’ve been telling it for so long.

However, you can start to soften these thoughts, and over time you can replace them completely.

It’s a lot like taking a blow torch to metal: First you have to heat the metal up, then you can bend it, and eventually you can mold it into whatever you want it to be.

I’ll leave you with a few examples of how you might start to soften your thought pattern:

“This has worked for others. Maybe it can work for me too.”

“I can find a way to do it.”

“I’m worthy of success and I deserve good things to happen in my life.”

“I’m sure there’s a better way to do things I haven’t thought of yet. I’ll read some blogs to see what I might be missing.”

“Maybe my negative attitude has been affecting me more than I realize. A good night’s sleep can help me feel more confident in the morning.”

These are just a few examples off the top of my head — you can use whatever thoughts feel good to you.

More importantly, do you feel the relief in those statements?

That relief is your original self-confidence — the same amazing confidence you were born with — starting to reset to its original factory setting.

If you re-create this confident state of mind by making a habit out of being nice to yourself, before you know it you will feel damn near invincible.

By

Source: freelancetowin.com

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Stay Thirsty

I love a good ad campaign.

When I started running a small publishing business years ago, I had to teach myself advertising and marketing. I read some classics on the subject, such as How to Write a Good Advertisement by Victor O. Schwab and Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples.

My favorite, though, was Ogilvy on Advertising by the legendary ad man David Ogilvy. This volume made me appreciate what goes into successful ads, and just how hard they are to pull off. It also made me realize that some of the same elements of a good ad can be applied to our stories.

One of my favorite campaigns was “The most interesting man in the world” commercials for Dos Equis beer.

A typical spot featured “vintage film” of this man in various pursuits, while a narrator recited a few facts about him. A few of my favorites:

• He lives vicariously through himself.

• He once had an awkward moment, just to see how it feels.

• The police often question him, just because they find him interesting.

• He once taught a German shepherd to bark in Spanish.

• When he drives a car off the lot, its price increases in value.

• Superman has pajamas with his logo.

At the end of the commercial we’d see him—now a handsome, older man—sitting in a bar with admiring young people at his elbow. He would look into the camera and say, in a slight Spanish accent, “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do I prefer Dos Equis.”

And then, at the end of each ad, comes the man’s signature sign off: “Stay thirsty, my friends.”

What was so good about this campaign?

It was risky. Having a graying man as the lead character in a beer ad was, as they say, counter programming.

It was funny without trying too hard. The understated way the deep-voiced narrator extolled the man’s legend was pitch perfect.

It had a complete backstory, revealed a little at a time in the mock film clips.

These are qualities of a good novel, too: risky, in that it doesn’t repeat the same old; a bit of unforced humor is always welcome; and its backstory renders characters real and complex without slowing down the narrative. All that we can learn from “the most interesting man in the world” campaign.

And from the man himself we can learn, as writers, to live life expansively and not just lollygag through our existence. Not waiting for inspiration but going after it, as Jack London once said, “with a club.” Believing, with Jack Kerouac, in the “holy contour of life.”

We ought to be seekers as well as storytellers, a little mad sometimes, risking the pity and scorn of our fellows as we pursue the artistic vision. Then we park ourselves at the keyboard and strive to get it down on the page. Why go through it all? Because the world needs dreams rendered in words.

Writer, keep after it and someday this may be said of you as well: “His charisma can be seen from space. Even his enemies list him as their emergency contact number.”

Stay thirsty, my friends.

Source: writershelpingwriters.net

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How to Be the CEO of Your Life

Photos by Megan Tsang Hand

May 24, 2019, was my last day as a high school English teacher. Last week I gave myself a bit of a vacation as my husband and I spent time visiting his family and friends in Virginia and lounging at the beach. So I consider today, June 3, 2019, my first day of work as my own boss.

Related Reading: So…I quit my job!

I’ve dreamt of being an entrepreneur since before I was old enough to correctly pronounce the word. But juggling my writing business with my teaching career for all these years has taught me that whether you are self-employed or not you do have the power to be the CEO of your life. And if I don’t hold on to those lessons that I’ve learned I won’t truly live the life of an unbossed woman even as a full-time freelancer and entrepreneur as I could easily run myself ragged trying to meet deadlines and care for clients. So let’s discuss how we can all truly live like a boss.

Know thyself.

First and foremost, I’ve learned that to be the CEO of your own life you have to know yourself. Alyssa Mastromonaco agrees with me. Alyssa has worked for Bernie Sanders, John Kerry, and President Barack Obama and in the June issue of InStyle magazine, she offers advice on how to be your own chief of staff. She says, for starters, you must ask yourself some essential questions:

When do you function best? Are you cool as a cucumber or prone to bouts of anxiety? What are your priorities? Are you goal-oriented? How do you keep track of impending tasks? How do you fuel yourself? Do you need to eat healthy? Sleep a lot? Work out?

I know I function best early in the morning. That’s why I’ve spent the past several years getting up at 4 a.m. That’s how I managed to freelance for several publications, blog, and run See Jane Write while also teaching full time.  That’s why I will continue to be an early riser even now that I’m self-employed.

Maybe you work best in the morning, too. If so, you’re going to have to put your big girl panties on and set that alarm for an hour earlier so you can work on your writing before you head to your day job. If you work better late at night, turn off the TV and get to work.

If you’re as cool as a cucumber I salute you. I envy you a bit, too. I have wrestled with overwhelming bouts of anxiety since I was a child, anxiety that can send me into full-blown panic attacks, anxiety that could easily keep me from getting things done. But I see my therapist regularly and I plan, plan, plan. I know that having a plan for my day, my week, and even my month calms me.

I fuel myself with prayer, exercise, and quality time with my husband and my closest friends. So when I skip my morning quiet time or my daily workouts or go weeks without a date night or girl time I start feeling like my whole world is crashing around me. Therefore, I must make these things a priority.

Alyssa Mastromonaco’s book So Here’s the Thing is out now and is definitely on my TBR list.

Be a goal digger.

If you want to be an unbossed woman, if you want to be the CEO of your life you also need goals and a plan for achieving them.

To set my goals for June I first reviewed my goals for the year. What things do I need to do this month to move closer to achieving my 2019 goals? And what goal will be my top priority?

My #1 goal for the year was to quit my day job, which I’ve done. But to make sure I don’t regret this decision I need to keep growing my business. So my top priority for this month is to increase my monthly recurring revenue by $1,000.

Another goal for the year is to write for 10 of my favorite publications. So this month I will send pitches to two of my favorite media outlets.

I want to reach 10,000 followers on Instagram this year, so I’d like to increase my IG following by 1,000 this month.

Because I want to go to Dubai at the end of the year, I need to renew my passport this month.

And to help with my goal of losing 40 pounds I plan to walk/run 100 miles this month as I do every June.

Other plans for the month include three speaking engagements and booking a venue for my husband’s 40th birthday party. I also want to read Elaine Welteroth’s forthcoming book More Than Enough and see her speak in Atlanta.

So, let’s review…

June 2019 Goals & Plans

GOALS

#1 Priority: Increase my monthly recurring revenue by $1,000

Send pitches to two of my favorite media outlets

Increase my Instagram following by 1,000

PLANS

Renew my passport

Book venue for Edd’s 40th birthday party

Speak at the Southern Christian Writer’s Conference, The Women’s Network June meeting and the American Advertising Federation Montgomery June meeting

Read More Than Enough by Elaine Welteroth

See Elaine Welteroth speak in Atlanta

What are your goals and plans for June? What changes will you make this month to be the CEO of your life?

Source: seejanewritebham.com

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Limiting the Number of Characters

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig 

This is the second post in a short series about making our lives easier as writers. One thing that I’ve tried to be more conscious of as the years have gone by is limiting the number of characters I introduce in a story or series.

With a cozy mystery series, for example, the field of characters is already going to be pretty crowded. You have a sleuth and a sidekick and around five suspects. And then you have recurring characters: friends and family of the sleuth and  some sort of police presence.

The more characters we add, the harder it is for readers to keep up.  And we run the risk of not having the space to make the characters more than one-dimensional.

One bit of advice is not to name every single character in your book.  The waitress at the diner can just be the waitress.  If we name her, we may be making her role in the story seem more important than it is…and leave readers trying to remember another name.

Another tip is to evaluate the number of characters you’re introducing. For my new series, I took a look to see if it was possible to combine roles.  In one instance I could, which just meant that a character needed to help out with a cat rescue at the beginning of the book.

More reading about combining character roles can be found here:

Clare Langley-Hawthorne’s “A Cast of Thousands

If you do have a large cast of characters even after combining roles, there are ways to help readers keep track of them. It’s a good idea to make characters distinguishable from each other by using quirks, diction, and recurring details about their physical appearance as reminders.

You can also tag supporting characters who haven’t been on stage for a while (Jane’s hairdresser, Sheri, opened the door). Or: Sheri walked in. “Long day at the beauty parlor, y’all. Three customers didn’t show up!”

More information on working with large casts of characters can be found here:

September C. Fawkes’ “Working With a Large Cast of Characters

As a reader, do you ever have trouble keeping up with a lot of characters?  As a writer, how do you try to help readers keep up (I’ve seen some books with a ‘cast of characters’ list at the front)?

Source: elizabethspanncraig.com

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Seven Common Problems Writers Have With Characters

Most writers love creating characters and writing about them – but it can be a struggle to get characters right.

If you’re normally quite plot-focused, you might find yourself creating characters who are lifeless “pegs” that fit into the right-shaped spaces in your plot.

If you’re much more character-focused, you might struggle with the size of your cast (more isn’t always better!) … or you might find it really difficult to let your characters suffer and struggle.

In today’s post, we’re going to look at seven common problems that writers struggle with … and some ways to get past them.

Problem #1: Creating Characters Who Are Three-Dimensional

If you’ve been writing fiction for a while, you’ve probably come across the advice to avoid writing “flat” or “two-dimensional” characters. These are characters who don’t really seem to come alive. They might seem a bit boring, thin, or shallow to the reader: there’s no real depth to them.

This can be a tricky issue to spot in your own writing – but if you’ve been told that your characters seem “flat” or unengaging, or if you suspect that characterisation isn’t your strong point, you might want to:

  • Spend some time really thinking about your characters. Who are they, deep down? What’s happened in their past that’s shaped them? How have the events of your novel impacted them?
  • Let your characters have moments when they act in ways the reader doesn’t expect. Maybe your sweet, nice protagonist gets pushed too far and shouts at someone; maybe your grumpy mentor figure shows their kindly side.
  • Show your character changing throughout your story. Perhaps your protagonist really is shallow and boring at the start of your novel – but the things that happen to them, and their reactions, lead them to grow as a person.

Not all characters need to be well-rounded, of course. Characters who only appear briefly and aren’t important to the plot shouldn’t be too fleshed-out (or your reader will start to think that the taxi driver or waitress or bank manager are more important to the plot than they actually are). In some genres, too, flat characters make sense: comic characters might be known for one or two funny or exaggerated characteristics, and don’t necessarily need to be rounded out.

Further Reading: Three-Dimensional Characters: 3 Ways to Create One, Writes With Tools

Problem #2: Juggling a Cast of Multiple Characters

Some stories have a tight, focused cast of characters – but others are sprawling epics. (Game of Thrones, anyone?)

If you’ve got lots of characters – particularly lots of main or viewpoint characters – then it can get tricky for your reader to keep track of everyone. It can also create problems with the reader’s engagement: perhaps they really enjoy reading about two of your characters, but they’re not very interested in the other six that you keep bringing in.

To thin down your cast a little, it’s worth asking yourself whether you really need so many characters. Do you have to bring in two brothers for your protagonist, or would one be enough? Does that grumpy woman who lives down the hall have any real impact on the plot?

Walk-on parts don’t count here. No-one’s going to be bothered by you having a taxi driver to get your characters from A to B, or a bartender to serve them, or a cashier at the bank to tell them they’re overdrawn. Avoid naming these characters, and readers will assume they won’t recur (and thus won’t need keeping track of).

If you do need to stick with lots of characters, it helps to:

  • Introduce them in small batches. Don’t open your novel with a huge party scene where you introduce all ten of your key characters – the reader’s going to end up confused and overwhelmed.
  • Group them together in some way. It can be easier for readers to remember and keep track of characters if they’re partnered up or in small groups (e.g. perhaps a married couple, a family unit, colleagues, and so on).
  • Give a bit more information when characters reappear than you normally would – e.g. you might need to remind us that Jason is Sarah’s colleague, for instance, or have characters referring back to the incident that was taking place in the last scene in which we saw them.

Further reading: The 10 Rules of Writing Large Casts of Characters, K.M. Weiland, Helping Writers Become Authors

Problem #3: Letting Characters Solve Their Own Problems

This is can be more of a plot issue than a character one, in terms of your writing. If your plot involves your characters being rescued by coincidence, an outside force, or someone who isn’t in your main cast, then your readers will feel frustrated or even cheated.

This is particularly true at the ending of your story. We want characters to earn their happy ending: we don’t want the hero to succeed simply because the (normally competent) villain makes a blindingly stupid mistake.

If your characters are constantly being rescued by other people, or if their successes rely on a change of coincidences, look for ways to let them solve their problems through their own strength or wit.

This problem might be related to the next one, too, if you hate to let your characters struggle.

Further reading: How to correctly use a “Deus-Ex-Machina” and not die trying, Duilio Giordano Faillaci, Medium

Problem #4: Making Bad Things Happen to Your Characters

Without your characters facing problems … there’s not much of a story. Your main characters, particularly your protagonist, need to go through some difficult, sad, or downright painful events.

Depending on your genre, this could mean a lot of different things. The heroine in a romance might not suffer any physical injuries – but she might well be upset or hurt by a love interest, or might be distressed by a broken-off engagement.

In many genres, there’ll be all sorts of bad things that happen to your characters. They might be hunted by a serial killer (crime), they might be haunted by something strange and inexplicable that’s happening to them (mystery), or they might be running for their life or trying to save the world (adventure).

As a writer, it can be difficult to allow anything bad to happen to your characters. Remember, though, that if your characters effortlessly sail through the story without any sort of upset or harm, readers aren’t going to find it particularly engaging.

Let your characters get hurt, let them be miserable, and especially let them face up to the consequences of their actions.

Further reading: Making Bad Things Happen to Good Characters, Ali Luke, Aliventures

Problem #5: Giving Characters Realistic Flaws

I hinted at this in the last section: your characters, even the good ones, should have flaws that cause them to do things that complicate the story for them. This can often be a core part of your character’s growth.

If you have an irritable protagonist with a hair-trigger temper, perhaps they snap at their best friend one too many times … and their friend stops speaking to them.

If you have a character who’s a daring adrenalin-seeker, perhaps something goes wrong with their motorcycle stunt – and they get hurt. (Or worse, someone else does.)

Flaws also make your characters more realistic, and they help us empathise with them. Characters who are too perfect are usually two-dimensional (see #1) and they can be annoying or just hard to engage with.

Further reading: How to Craft Brilliant Flawed Characters (a #StorySocial recap), Kreisten Kieffer, Well-Storied

Problem #6: Allowing Characters to Strive for a Goal

Your characters, particularly your protagonist, should have a goal that they’re trying to achieve. This might be something fairly small – and, if something bad has happened right at the start of the novel, it might simply involve returning to the status quo.

Often, your character’s initial goal isn’t the one they’ll end up striving toward during the rest of your novel. Perhaps they’re chasing a promotion at work, or trying to pass an exam, or preparing for a trip abroad. Their goal might be ditched or superseded by the events of the plot (e.g. the exam suddenly seems much less important when the person they love most falls mysteriously ill, and doctors are at a loss to help).

Make sure your character has something that they want to achieve (or to avoid – e.g. getting fired) right from the start of your story. This helps us to root for them – and encourages us to keep reading to see whether they get the thing they want.

Further reading: Most Common Writing Mistakes: Characters Who Lack Solid Story Goals, K.M. Weiland, Helping Writers Become Authors

Problem #7: Reining Characters In

Finally, this is a problem that some writers can have – particularly those who don’t tend to create an outline. (Not that I’m knocking that: my first drafts are very exploratory and I pretty much never have a full-blown outline in place.)

Some writers feel that their characters “take over” or “come alive” and send scenes spiralling off in unexpected directions. While that can be a fun way to write – and potentially a great way to come up with new ideas or plot twists – it can also end up with your scenes devolving into a bit of a meandering mess.

If you feel that your characters take over in this way, it’s worth drawing a clear distinction between bits of writing you’re doing that are intended to be exploratory, and bits that are part of the plot. Maybe you have a rough draft of a scene where your protagonist goes off in a direction you really didn’t plan – that doesn’t mean you have to stick with it!

If it becomes clear that your original plan wouldn’t be in keeping with your character’s personality, then you might need to look for ways to nudge them back onto the “right” path. This could mean throwing extra complications into the mix – either to prod them toward further action (if your characters mostly like to sit around, drink tea, and have a nice chat) or to rein them in (if your characters tend to do outlandish things that are hard to come back from).

Further reading: When Characters Go Their Own Way, Juliet Marillier, Writer Unboxed

Getting characters right can be really hard – but also very much worthwhile. I’m sure you can think of characters who’ve stuck with you for years after you read about them – characters who you loved like friends.

Source: aliventures.com

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Short Stories as Mini-Trilogies: Can it Work?

By Sarah Dahl, @sarahdahl13

Part of the Focus on Short Fiction Series

JH: Just because they’re short, doesn’t mean they can’t tell a long story. Today in our series “Focus on Short Fiction” Sarah Dahl returns to talk about writing trilogies – in the short form.

Technically, short stories have less time and space for everything: fewer characters, less world building, simpler arcs and subplots. Most times, there are no subplots, of course, and world building has to be spot-on: You need to create a sense of the people and place with just a few strokes of your pen. The drama is usually focused on one plotline and has one climax, very late in the story. Mastering this craft is mastering setup, timing and arcs, characters and resolution within as little space as possible. Writing short means writing without all the fluff and concluding absolutely on point.

But what if you have more to say about a character and his journey than fits into one short story? Can you write short stories that are connected, that carry on? Or let’s say: a mini-series, a trilogy that people can actually enjoy as such?

Giving more room – Do the story justice

To create a connected mini-trilogy or series you need to adhere to the rules of writing short for each individual story: be precise, on point, and conclude satisfactorily each time.

Do you feel a topic or characters you created for one short story only deserve to live on? Could you write a meaningful sequel – or ideally round it all up as a trilogy?

Here’s what happened to me: I only wrote my trilogy about Viking warriors Aldaith and Nyssa as a fun exercise without intention to even publish their first story. And I didn’t ever imagine that story to evolve into a trilogy.

I wrote their first encounter – “The Current – A Battle of Seduction” – after a brainstorming session with my writing buddy, to kill some block and boredom. No pressure of publication, just to keep writing something. I fancied the idea of a steamy game between two bloody, exhausted, adrenaline-pumped warriors: a bold shieldmaiden cornering and seducing a self-assured warrior. I wanted to rediscover the fun in writing sassy characters. And created an irresistible pair.

Two things happened: The exercise became a wonderfully sexy, fast-paced read with an outstanding female character. Nyssa is strong and fierce; she slays men on the battlefield and “in bed” (or in this case: a stream). Likewise, many readers fell for the confident yet vulnerable warrior Aldaith. They loved the dynamic between the pair. Without planning it, I had created an extraordinary couple whose story had only just begun.

Just like my eager readers, I felt there would be more depths to discover with these two, and that the roughly 8,000 words didn’t do them justice. So what I originally imagined to be a mere exercise and stand-alone suddenly needed at least a sequel.

More than just sequels – Planning a trilogy

The second thing that happened was: I edited and published the story I never planned to publish, and with publication the question of “form” became more important. To write just one sequel to “The Current” felt incomplete and random. A rounded-up trilogy with a starting story, middle development story, and ending story would be more enticing. Like throwing spotlights on the characters’ main turning points. Readers who fell for my couple would be able to follow their story further and to a satisfactory conclusion.

It took several inspirational walks in the forest to discover Nyssa and Aldaith’s complete story. In their second story (which I planned to be of a similar length, for balance and focus) I wanted to show proper development, on a much tighter scale. Their story in “The Current” started as a playful game of seduction to release post-battle tension. A hot game with an unexpected ending. Now what next?

Of course they wouldn’t be able to forget. They would fall for each other. They would yearn to be with the other in more ways than just for fun and fighting.

So I wondered: what would be a turning point for them, from fling to true lovers?

For story 2, I had to find the most emotional turning point, to zoom in on the point in their journey that propelled their relationship to something much more, life-changingly more.

What happened then was the story “Bonds”.

Zooming in on milestones and turning points

Nyssa and Aldaith are literally swept away by passion and adrenaline in “The Current”. Their sensual game is an outlet and attempt to reconnect with reality and feel more human again.

Then in “Bonds” I show how that passion changes its form, from loose fling to committed lovers. They discover the depth of their love and how that is a double-edged sword: They find their unbreakable bond – but also are now “bound” to each other in ways that could hinder their warrior lifestyle. For the first time, they know fear. The revelation hits them at the worst time possible: when relentlessly, and seductively, training for an upcoming battle.

Three parts of a trilogy – Make it three acts

So without planning it in advance (but you can do that of course, and I recommend it! ;-)) I laid out my first two stories like this: “The Current” introduces the protagonists, their world and views, and drops them in the middle of some steamy action. Similar to how you would start a novel, but more to the point and faster paced.

“Bonds” now forms what would be the middle section of a book, where the characters grow, make progress, but due to their fears reach a point of no return that complicates things and forces them to choose.

Naturally, story 3 would have to contain a major setback and the final push of my characters to a fulfilling climax and resolution of their journey. What went from fling to lovers needed to become “love of their life”.

Many inspirational walks later I connected dots from the previous two stories, and out came: “Battles”. In this concluding story the warriors face battles on many levels: They stand in the shield wall, but a devastating turning point lets them question everything they knew in life. They battle fear, pain, and unwelcome decisions. In the end, their lives are summarized with the help of modern voices: I inserted intersections of contemporary archaeologists discovering their graves, and with that the secret of what came after the last, life-changing decision the two made.

“The Current – A Battle of Seduction”:

Marked from the latest battle, Viking warrior Aldaith wants to recover by a stream. But instead of finding solitude, he stumbles on the fearless shield maiden Nyssa. The fierce beauty invites Aldaith into the water to engage in a very different kind of battle – one for which his training leaves him unprepared.

“Bonds – Under the Armour”:

Viking warrior Aldaith and his shield maiden Nyssa engage in a heated skirmish to prepare for an imminent battle. But the looming slaughter makes their sensual duel get out of hand in more ways than one …

“Battles – Sacrifices for Love”:

Shoulder to shoulder, in life, love, and the battlefield – that is what Viking warrior Aldaith and his shield maiden Nyssa promised each other. On their way to the battleground he dreams of their very own sensual rewards after the upcoming campaign. But what begins as just another shield wall turns out to be the ultimate test of their bond. This battle might be their last …

Telling more than fits one short story

So in the span of just three shortish stories unfolds what normally would take up a whole book, just without ANY fluff and subplots. Just introduction, middle part, ending. Of course this structure is much simpler and to the point. What normally happens over hundreds of pages has to be shown with the help of spotlights on the major turning points only. But it works, because I loosely applied three acts and an arc that spanned the three stories. Three stories instead of one gives some space for character development and depth that would not fit into one short story or even fit the FORM of shorter stories as such. And still, they can be read individually too, because there are satisfying endings to each.

To plot or to pants – use arcs

All this is a lot to pull off and get right, and to be honest, I didn’t plot it all. I took step by step and crafted the stories in line with the rough idea of having good character arcs: one in each story so that it could stand alone, and one for the trilogy of all three stories. End every short story with a revelation that furthers the entire plotline and leads to the next story. This may sound harder than it was for me, because I didn’t think so much about it (I’m a pantser anyway) but just followed my instinct about what would be most interesting to zoom in on with these two.

The themes for each story now read like this: opening up to someone (making yourself vulnerable) / Falling deep for each other (discovering the fear that comes with love) / Making major sacrifices for each other (overcoming that fear together). Or simply: from fling to lovers to love of their lives.

Over to you: do you write short works, or “shorts”? Would you like to develop one further, into more? Have you thought about writing a mini-series or trilogy with shorts? Would you like to read such a mini-trilogy?

Source: blog.janicehardy.com

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Storytelling Exercise: Three Acts

Today’s storytelling exercise is an excerpt from my book, Story Drills, which is filled with fiction-writing exercises that impart basic techniques of storytelling. Today’s exercise is from chapter forty-five. It’s called “Three Acts.” Enjoy!

The three-act structure is one of the simplest and most effective ways to outline or analyze a story and its structure. The three acts are as follows:

  1. Setup
  2. Conflict
  3. Resolution

In the first act, the plot and characters are established, and we learn what the central conflict is. It’s roughly 25 percent of the story, but this is a guideline, not a rule.

The second act is the longest of the three acts, usually about 50 percent of the narrative. In the second act, the story builds up to a climax in which the conflict hits a boiling point.

Finally, the third act resolves the conflict. The third act is usually about 25 percent of the story.

Study:

Choose five stories you’ve read, and break them into three-act structures by identifying the setup, conflict, and resolution for each one. Summarize each act in just a few sentences.

Practice:

Create five story premises, and quickly draft three-act outlines for each one. Use a single sentence to describe each of the three acts. A couple of examples are provided below.

Natural Disaster:

Act I: A natural disaster is impending.

Act II: The natural disaster claims the lives of half of Earth’s population. The other half struggles to survive.

Act III: Earth’s survivors rebuild.

Romance:

Act I: A teenager from a prestigious family falls in love with someone from the wrong side of the tracks.

Act II: The couple tries to hide their relationship, but eventually they are outed.

Act III: The teenager is forced to choose between love and access to the family’s wealth and support.

Questions:

Why do you suppose the three-act structure is universally applicable to almost all forms of storytelling? Would it be possible to write a story with no setup, or with the setup at the end or in the middle? What happens if the three acts are rearranged? Can any of the acts be left out of a story?

By Melissa Donovan

Source: writingforward.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

 

25 Story Starters for Writing Fiction

Are you a storyteller? Do you want to be a storyteller?

If you’re interested in writing flash fiction, short stories, or novels, then you’re going to need lots of ideas, especially if you want to write professionally.

Some of us have too many ideas; others don’t have enough ideas. Maybe we have a solid idea for a story, but something’s missing. We need to spice it up by adding subplots or characters. Maybe the setting or story world isn’t rich enough. Perhaps your story lacks theme.

Story starters are a great way to get ideas for writing stories, but they can also be used to generate ideas for improving stories that are already in the works.

Story Starters

Today, I’d like to share twenty-five story starters. You can use these story starters to inspire a new story or to breathe new life into a story you’re already working on. Use them to write whatever you want — flash fiction, short stories, or a novel.

  1. We all know about conspiracy theorists. They believe the moon landing was a farce. Come up with a new conspiracy that theorists rally around. The public thinks they’re crazy, but are they?
  2. The world is run by politicians, but sometimes, ordinary people get caught up in political drama and intrigue. What happens when a bike messenger, a restaurant server, and a daycare teacher get unwillingly drawn into the affairs of state?
  3. Technology has developed at a splitting speed over the past century. Before we know it, every house will be equipped with a robot and a virtual reality system. But what happens when a couple of kids venture into the wrong area of the virtual reality and get stuck there?
  4. Witnesses to crimes can find themselves in grave danger, which is why there are protection programs for such persons. But what if the witness decided to join forces with the prime suspect? What does the witness get in exchange for false testimony that acquits a terrible criminal?
  5. Take a look at the world we live in. In some places, life is pretty good. But in other places, life is difficult for most people, especially where there’s a lot of inequality, poverty, and oppression. What if an oppressive culture used war or the media to spread itself around the globe? What would that look like, and would we ever overcome it?
  6. After a family moves into a new house, one of the kids looks for a hiding place to stash some secret belongings and discovers a panel at the back of a closet. Assuming it leads to the attic, the kid removes the panel only to find a window that looks into a world populated with magic and monsters.
  7. Two politicians are in a heated race to win a critical election (governor, president, etc.) and through negative campaigning have become arch enemies. But their kids go to the same college and have fallen in love. What happens when the relationship is revealed in the media?
  8. All the evidence in a brutal, premeditated murder points to one primary suspect, including footage from security cameras. The problem is that there’s no motive, and the alleged killer insists on his or her innocence. Who committed this heinous crime?
  9. While working on a more fuel-efficient space shuttle that will transport tourists to and from the moon, one engineer stumbles into a way to make faster-than-light (FTL) engines a reality.
  10. A stranger comes to a small town that hasn’t seen a new resident since the town’s youngest child was born sixteen years ago. The stranger rarely leaves his or her formerly abandoned home except to buy groceries and strange supplies from the local home improvement store, and the townspeople think something’s not right.
  11. Step back in time hundreds — or perhaps thousands — of years. The leader of a small tribe is butting heads with the tribe’s healer. Meanwhile, a powerful neighboring tribe is infiltrating their territory.
  12. Inspired by Jurassic Park, a biological engineer is committed to recreating dinosaurs. While researching ancient dinosaurs, the scientist stumbles into evidence that fire-breathing dragons once soared over the land and decides to recreate those instead.
  13. While representing an accused killer, the attorney falls in love with the client, partially because he or she believes the accused is innocent.
  14. Teenagers love to rebel and experiment. But what happens when one teenager’s antics end up on video and go viral? Bullying and humiliation ensue.
  15. After working hard for decades, the main character has finally managed to retire and purchase a condo on a small, tropical island, where he or she intends to write a novel. But strange things start happening — things go missing, there are creepy noises, and our character feels like he or she is constantly being watched.
  16. For centuries, humans have wondered if we are alone in the universe. The answer finally comes when aliens arrive. But it’s a time when tensions are high between the nations of Earth. Will humanity unite, or will some nations form an alliance with the aliens?
  17. A young couple believes their fairy tale has finally come true and they will live happily ever after. They are recently married, have good jobs, just bought a home, and there’s a baby on the way. But the fairy tale seems to unravel as secrets and lies begin to surface.
  18. When a foreign operative embedded in the CIA disappears with loads of government secrets, all hell breaks loose. But is this operative truly a foreign spy, or is it a citizen intent on blowing the cover off of government corruption?
  19. A mid-sized tourist plane crashes on a remote deserted island, killing all but a handful of survivors. Rescue is on the way until a devastating storm arises, barring access to the island. Now these urbanites must learn to live off the land and with each other.
  20. After serving a ten-year sentence for a heinous crime she didn’t commit, a former college student gets a new identity and becomes a private investigator intent on exonerating herself.
  21. A group of teenagers spends a summer day on a scavenger hunt in the woods just outside of town. When they reconvene to name the winner of the hunt, one of them doesn’t show up and cannot be found.
  22. When a kid finds out both parents are out of work and the family might have to move in with the grandparents, he or she decides to solve the problem by starting the modern version of a lemonade stand — an online enterprise.
  23. One couple’s nasty divorce leaves their two young children in the custody of their grandparents. Will the couple put aside their differences to get their children back?
  24. Dreams come true when a foster child is finally adopted. But the child’s new family is filled with secrets, and he or she begins to suspect that it wasn’t a chance adoption after all.
  25. The main character receives a strange inheritance from an unknown deceased relative: a key ring with no keys on it. Unusual events occur whenever the key ring is present.

Have you ever used story starters or writing prompts? Where do you find inspiration for writing fiction? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment, and keep writing.

By Melissa Donovan

Source: writingforward.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Storytelling Exercise: Tone and Mood

Today I’d like to share an excerpt from Story Drills: Fiction Writing Exercises, which helps beginning to intermediate storytellers develop fiction writing skills. This exercise is from chapter sixty, and it’s called “Tone and Mood.” Enjoy!

Tone and Mood

Tone and mood give a story a sense of atmosphere—how a story feels—its emotional sensibility.

Atmosphere is often established through a story’s setting: An old abandoned Victorian mansion beneath a full moon on a windy night can elicit a dark and creepy atmosphere. However, tone and mood can also come from the characters. A clumsy, awkward character can evoke a humorous tone for a story. And events can shape a story’s tone and mood; consider the difference in tone between a story about a star athlete making it to the big leagues versus a story about the effects of war on a combat veteran.

Tone and mood may also be driven by a story’s genre. For example, the identifying feature of horror is that it’s scary. Romance is romantic. Any genre can be infused with comedy, although there is little humor in a tragedy. An adventure story can be lighthearted or terrifying; a science-fiction story can be thrilling or cerebral; a mystery can be grim or gritty, or both.

One author might use a consistent tone throughout all of their works. Another might use different tones for different projects. And some authors use multiple tones in a single story: A suspenseful scene can follow a funny scene, or a tense scene can follow a sad scene. The tone can even change within a scene: A light or casual moment can turn grave in an instant. A changing tone affects the rhythm of a story, giving it emotional and atmospheric cadence.

Sometimes tone and mood develop naturally from the story’s characters, plot, and setting. Other times, tone and mood might be unclear, and it’s up to us, as authors, to establish a story’s emotional atmosphere.

Study:

Create a simple outline of about five chapters from a novel you’ve read, and then write a couple of sentences describing the tone throughout these chapters. Then scan through the text, and mark any changes in tone. When you’re done, review the story’s structure through the lens of tone. What is the overall tone? Can you detect a pattern? How do the tone and mood change as the story builds up to its climax, or do they remain static?

Practice:

Choose two descriptive words for how your story will feel—its tone and mood. Here are a few examples: lighthearted and adventurous, dark and humorous, or mysterious and contemplative. Create a quick sketch for a story, including at least three characters, a setting, and a one-paragraph summary of the plot. Be sure to include details about how the tone and mood will be established. For example, a dark and humorous story might be set in a mortuary with a fumbling, silly protagonist.

Questions:

What effect does tone have on readers? Can tone and mood be used to strengthen a story’s characters, plot, or theme? What are some ways authors can communicate a story’s tone and mood throughout the narrative? How is tone related to genre, or are they related? What happens when the tone and genre are contrasted (humor within a horror story)? Do you prefer stories with a consistent tone and mood throughout, or do you prefer a story that takes you on an emotional ride, moving through a range of tones and moods?

 

By Melissa Donovan

Source: writingforward.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

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