Tag Archives: fictional character

The Hero’s Journey: How to Leverage the World’s Most Powerful Story Structure

From Moses to Star Wars, the Hero’s Journey is the foundation of millennia of storytelling. How can you leverage it in your own writing?

Do you want your stories to “work?”

Writers work hard at their craft. They struggle to build a story that makes sense and delivers the goods on emotion and thrills.

And so often, even after months and years of labor, a writer can’t get their story to “work.”

There are a lot of reasons why a story might not work — why it confuses readers or fails to engage them emotionally — but one major reason a story doesn’t work is structure.

Thankfully there’s a structure you can use that has a proven track record of success. This successful record is so long, in fact, that we don’t know when it started.

That structure is called the Hero’s Journey, and it’s going to transform your writing.

What Is the “Hero’s Journey”?

Our understanding of this classic structure begins with American literature professor Joseph Campbell. Campbell was interested in the way mythology affects our lives today and began digging into myths — lots of myths.

In 1949 he published The Hero With a Thousand Faces outlining what has come to be known as his “monomyth,” a theory that all stories are, in fact, the same. That “same story” is the Hero’s Journey.

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before:

A girl from the middle of nowhere wakes up one day to find that things are horrible, and someone has to do something about it. But she’s scared, and can’t bring herself to stand up and fight back . . . until the village elder arrives and teaches our young protagonist the ropes.

The girl sets out to find the source of her society’s problems, forcing her to leave. Along the way she encounters new faces, some of whom join her as companions, others of whom try to kill her or steal her valuables. She suffers some loses along the way, learning some truly difficult lessons.

Then, she and her companions find the source of evil: some kind of mighty fortress. The heroes storm the fortress and come face-to-face with the villain. The hero and the villain square off and the hero is killed or mortally wounded . . . only to use her resources to recover and vanquish the bad guy for good.

The hero and her surviving companions return home triumphant and bestow some kind of blessing, like food, rain, or peace, on the community.

If you’ve heard a story like that, then you know the Hero’s Journey.

Here are some examples.

“I Know This Story . . .”

Have you heard the story of the orphan boy living in the cupboard under the stairs?

Or perhaps the story of the girl in District 12 (the crappiest District) who would not only survive an unwinnable deathmatch, but become a symbol of liberty?

Maybe you’ve heard of the baby boy who was going to die in a mass genocide, but whose mother put him in a basket and sent him down the Nile River . . .

If you didn’t catch those, here they are in order: Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games), and . . . Moses.

There are also variations of it, like the Anti-Hero’s Journey, a story arc for characters like Tony Soprano and Walter White. Either way, it’s still based off Joseph Campbell’s foundational research in The Hero With a Thousand Faces. 

So here’s the big question: Now that you know what it is, what do you do with it?

Hero’s Journey Step #1: Start Ordinary

We have Hollywood screenwriter and executive Christopher Vogler to thank for our condensed version of the Hero’s Journey. If you’re curious, his most notable credit is a film that makes explicit use of the Hero’s Journey: The Lion King. 

Fun sidebar: The Lion King and the story of Moses in Exodus have the exact same structure. Attempted rise to power, failure and flight, return and victory.

In Vogler’s simplification of Campbell’s theory, there are twelve steps to the Hero’s Journey (and I’m going to cover each one in-depth in this series, of which this post is the first).

The first step of the Hero’s Journey: The Ordinary World.

6 Common Features of the Ordinary World

Let’s take a look at the elements of the Ordinary World. Some of these are essentials, while others aren’t necessarily essential, but are common in the vast majority of Hero’s Journey stories you’ll encounter.

1. The Average Joe

Every story begins with an “Average Joe.” He or she is someone you could be, or could be near to.

Think about how simple or average Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen are, at least at first. Yes, they both have something interesting about them (Harry’s scar, Katniss’s hunting skill), but neither of these things are earth-shattering . . . yet.

2. No Parents

Another notable trope of this step is a lack of proper parents. Think about it: How many heroes do you know of whose parents are either missing, dead, or nonexistent? Orphans abound in heroic journeys.

Harry Potter’s an orphan, and Katniss has to play the mother role. Moses’s father is a mystery and he is given up as an orphan. Luke Skywalker’s parents are . . . well, you know. And Rey, in the newer Star Wars movies, is obsessed with finding out the truth of her family. More on that to come in December 2020.

3. A Disadvantageous Beginning

This has a powerful effect of bringing these heroes low. They begin at a disadvantage. How many heroes do you know of with a rock-solid family and support structure in place? There are some, but they are few and far between.

Take Peter Parker/Spider-Man, another classic orphan. He’s been adopted by his aunt and uncle (RIP Uncle Ben) because his parents are dead/missing/who knows. Even Superman, with his adopted Earth parents, feels like a stranger because his true parents died during the explosion of his home planet, Krypton. Even these mighty superheroes suffer from a trauma that human beings know all too well: the destruction of family and community.

4. A Simple, Mundane, Boring Life

Many elements of the Ordinary World are obvious. Your hero’s life is simple, mundane, even boring. He or she is often from the countryside, or lives as a stranger in the crowded, soulless metropolitan bustle.

5. Low Expectations

Other elements are less obvious. One is that no one expects anything of the hero. He is assumed to probably amount to nothing. That is, by everyone except the Mentor character (coming soon in Step #4!). It will be the Mentor who recognizes the hero’s potential heroism and talent and coaches him into that role.

6. A False Sense of Security

Another element of the Ordinary World is a false sense of security. Everything should seem, at least on the surface, peaceful and well. But in the underbelly of this world — or lingering outside its boundaries — conflict and injustice rages.

I’m reminded of the tranquil peace of the Shire in The Lord of the Rings, embodied by the jovial mood at Bilbo’s birthday party. Yet that mirthful spirit is erased once Bilbo uses his magic ring — the One Ring of Evil, we soon learn — to play a trick on everyone. From that point forward, the Shire is no longer peaceful and safe, but a fragile domain whose borders are penetrated by wraiths and wild creatures in search of Sauron’s Ring.

This, of course, is the Inciting Incident, the step where you SHOULD begin your story (for the sake of hooking your reader). But that Inciting Incident, or “Call to Adventure,” must happen in the context of a quiet, seemingly peaceful world where your hero is a nobody who isn’t expected to do much at all.

3 Ways to Create Your Ordinary World

How does this apply to the stories you’re telling? Here are elements of the Ordinary World you can use to bring your hero low before they begin the climb to greatness.

1. Upset the parent structure

To keep things fresh, don’t just “kill them off.” Maybe one is missing. Maybe the parents are divorced and mom/dad remarried, while the other is off on some adventure.

A great example of innovation within this element is Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, where Peter Quill’s journey (as an orphan, mind you) takes him back to his father with plenty of twists along the way.

2. Lower the expectations

In the beginning, no one can know how heroic your protagonist will be. Don’t fall victim to cheesy irony or heavy-handed foreshadowing. Keep your hero low, and bury him/her in the judgment of the community.

If you’ve ever lived in a small town, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The same can be said for the community, or “World,” itself. Often a community will expect nothing of itself because no one expects anything of it.

Think about that town you grew up near that was “trash.” Maybe it was your town. What effect does that have on its people?

3. Create a false sense of security

As the writer, you know conflict is coming. It has to come, either from within or without.

But the community, and possibly your hero, can’t know it yet. Everything needs to seem happy and fine. Remember that the effect of this false sense of security is suspense, a priceless effect you want to provide your readers whenever possible.

Let’s Get Ordinary

It’s time to start spicing and seasoning your storytelling with elements of this timeless and beloved story structure.

What are you working on now that could benefit from some of these archetypal elements? Why not try adding some elements to your current work-in-progress, or to a finished draft you’re struggling to revise?

And be sure to keep an eye out for my next article on Step Two of the Hero’s Journey!

What Ordinary Worlds can you think of in stories you’ve read and watched? Let us know in the comments.

By David Safford

Source: thewritepractice.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

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

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

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

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

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

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

M MacKinnon on How to Write Paranormal Fiction

Writing fiction with paranormal elements can be tricky, especially in a modern setting. You want your readers to suspend their disbelief and just go with the story. You don’t want them to roll their eyes because the concept of your paranormal world is too far-fetched. Today we’re talking with paranormal romance writer M MacKinnon to get her take on writing paranormal fiction.

How to Write Paranormal Fiction

Paranormal elements in a story should be necessary and seem natural within the confines of the setting and plot. The paranormal should fit in because it feels right and makes sense for the plot of the story, not because you’re trying to jump on a popular trend.

Paranormal fiction is a genre I fell in love with at a young age, so I was super excited to talk with this month’s interviewee to discuss how she developed her paranormal romance series, The Highland Spirits Series.

M MacKinnon is the author of The Comyn’s Curse, a paranormal romance set in Scotland. She began her writing career with Downton Abbey fanfiction. Eventually, she found The Write Practice and completed the first draft of her novel in our 100 Day Book course last year. The Comyn’s Curse is out in select bookstores and online merchants as of today.

You can get in touch with M MacKinnon via her website (where she offers a free short story for signing up for her email list), Facebook, or Twitter.

Now let’s dive into MacKinnon’s paranormal world!

Congratulations on the release of your first novel, The Comyn’s Curse! Tell me a little about the book and the series it opens.

I had no idea what paranormal romance is. After my first stay (a month) in Inverness, Scotland, I came home with a driving urge to write something about the magic of the Scottish Highlands. I did some research on legends and found the legend of the handless ghost who is said to haunt Rait Castle, near Nairn.

Something about the one paragraph synopsis (it was all I could find anywhere) called to me, and I became quite irate on behalf of the ghost. She had no name and in some tales wasn’t even a woman! So I decided to write her story, give her a name and a romance, and draw a parallel between the woman who had lived and died in 1442 and a fictional American girl from New Jersey, who is her descendant.

The book is my love affair with Scotland, its history and mysteries.

Part way through the plotting of The Comyn’s Curse, I knew that there would have to be more—the story just had to continue. So I decided to make it a trilogy and dedicate the next two novels to Aubrey’s two best friends who had supported her through her travails.

The second features her friend Kate, a police detective, and the third is about her friend Colleen, a nurse. Each will have a real legend from the past, each will involve the girls traveling to Scotland and finding love in the Highlands, and each will have a mystery and danger beyond the ghost story. The Piper’s Warning, Kate’s story, is in second-draft phase, and The Healer’s Legacy, Colleen’s tale, is plotted and about three chapters in.

I’m glad I made the decision, because I love my characters, including my ghosts, and I want to do right by them.

The novel takes place primarily in Scotland. I know you visited the country to do research. Can you talk about your research process a bit?

I really didn’t start my research until I came home, because the idea for the story didn’t come until then, but I was able to incorporate a lot of information gleaned as a tourist and quite a bit from the books I bought while there. I’m a huge history nut, and I tend to haunt bookstores. (See what I did there?)

My research on Rait, a ruined hall castle outside Nairn, came about first through a Facebook group called “Save Rait Castle”. When we went back last August for our second visit, I went first to the members of that group, who are passionate about the preservation of what’s left of the castle, and asked if anyone would be willing to guide my husband and me on a pilgrimage to the castle.

We met a wonderful Scottish gentleman named Victor Cameron, who has an acknowledgment in the book, got to know him, and spent an amazing day touring the castle I had written about for almost four months! A truly emotional experience. In fact, I stood in the doorway of the castle and cried.

If you couldn’t have visited, how would you have gone about researching?

I would have had to rely on the library and my bookstores, as well as social media sites like the one I found. I probably wouldn’t have written a book based in Scotland, though, if I hadn’t been there to experience its magic.

The Comyn’s Curse is a paranormal romance novel that has a backdrop containing real places and current events. How do you weave paranormal elements into a modern story? What techniques do you use to walk that fine line between a reader’s suspended disbelief and being too far-fetched?

Well, I knew I needed to have a modern romance in order to make the story click, and I wanted to make the life (or afterlife) of my ghost a bit more pleasant than history did, so I decided to create a parallel between the two main characters in the book, with Aubrey, my protagonist, unknowingly being the descendant of the Rait Castle ghost. The curse was created in order to give a reason for the ghost to be hanging around, with Aubrey being the solution she has sought for almost seven hundred years.

I had both my modern protagonist and her ultimate love interest come together in a purely normal way, but then find that each was descended from one of the lovers of the past. The paths of both couples intersected at key points in the book.

What made you decide to include paranormal elements in this story? Did you want to go in that direction from the start?

Yes, the story started with the real legend of the ghost with no hands. I couldn’t find any more than a paragraph on her, anywhere, but something about her fate called to me and I felt I had to give her a better life (or afterlife) than she had received in that one paragraph.

Even the castle is forgotten by many Scots who live very near it; they’d never heard of Rait Castle in the book store at the local Inverness mall! It just seemed wrong. I’ve righted history, and I think the ghost is very grateful.

Do you like to stay within paranormal canon, or make up your own ‘rules’ for your paranormal elements?

Well, funny you should ask! The first (and only!) time I pitched the book was to a young agent who told me that she didn’t think my book was paranormal romance at all, and she should know because she dealt primarily with that genre.

I was fairly devastated because I suddenly felt “genre-less,” but other authors told me to stick with my own thoughts on my own story, and fortunately I did. I was somewhat relieved to see in the Kirkus review that my work was a “pleasing cross-genre novel” that had “something for everyone.”  It explained a lot.

That’s tough to hear that from an agent. Did you think of cutting the paranormal elements to make it “fit” better in a genre?

No, I was never going to give up my ghost! I just felt that it was my fault that I hadn’t sold the concept in a pitch which lasted five minutes. The whole idea of trying to sell a book which includes history, romance, ghosts, and conspiracy in a few minutes was daunting, and frankly, I thought it was ridiculous.

What I did think about was how to find the genre in which the story fit best, and as I said to that agent, “well, it has ghosts, and romance, doesn’t it? How can that not be paranormal?”

She had no answer, which was fine with me.

Is there anything about writing the paranormal that was more difficult than sticking to reality?

No, since the paranormal part of the story was actually real history, that was the easiest part. Making it fit the modern era was a bit more difficult, but as soon as I met Aubrey, my protagonist, everything fell into place. It just seemed right.

You also have some espionage and mystery thrown in there. Can you talk about your plotting process?

I decided fairly early in the plotting that I would have not only the parallel stories of the past and present romances, but a mystery as well, because . . . well, I love mysteries. So I researched Brexit and invented a villain who was conspiring to undermine the new surge toward a second referendum for Scottish independence in the wake of Brexit.

I decided to structure the novel into “books” or parts, each beginning with a short piece from 1442, then two modern chapters, a modern “conspiracy” chapter from the POV [point of view] of the antagonist, and then two more modern chapters. The three stories parallel each other until the end, when they all come together in a climactic series of events.

What’s one thing you’ve struggled with in your writing and how did you overcome it?

I think the main struggles have been with the mechanics faced by beginning authors, such as head-hopping, show don’t tell, and over-use of proper English. (I was an English major, and the idea of not using semicolons when two independent clauses are put together was very difficult to overcome at first!)

I also tend to edit as I go, rather than just writing and then going back to it later, which can cause thesaurus headaches and insomnia as I lie there rewriting in the darkness, but I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing. I suspect it’s just my style.

Any other advice you’d like to give aspiring writers out there?

Any chance you have to join a writer’s group like The Write Practice, any courses like 100 Day Book or NaNoWriMo, DO IT! Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have it in you, or that your story shouldn’t be told. Find a good editor and be accepting of his/her advice—there’s a reason they’re in that business.

My most fervent advice is to find other authors and share, critique and allow yourself to be critiqued. The more you help others with their writing, the more they’ll invest in yours, and everybody wins! I’ve made some amazing friends doing this, and I don’t think I’d be looking at the launch of my first novel in a three book series without them.

What’s next for you?

After the launch of The Comyn’s Curse, I’ll refine and submit The Piper’s Warning, probably this summer. While that is going on I’ll dive back in head first to The Healer’s Legacy.

I have a YA fantasy novel, Slither, which is five chapters in and waiting patiently on the shelf for this Scottish stuff to be finished (I haven’t the heart to tell those characters that it may never be finished), and I fully intend to get back to that at some point.

I do think that fantasy and paranormal romance are my forte, but I’ll be staying in that genre, but I love mystery and may someday write a thriller too. Who knows? It’s part of the joy of writing, isn’t it?

Your Turn to Write Paranormal Fiction

Not sure where to start writing paranormal fiction? Try taking an obscure legend or myth and turning it into the basis for your next story. Be sure to make the paranormal elements necessary to the story, so that without them, it couldn’t work as it does.

Who knows—your paranormal story might just send you traveling the world!

M MacKinnon would like to thank Meghan McKeever of New York Book Editors and DartFrog Books for their support in getting her work into readers’ hands. The Comyn’s Curse is available now on Kindle and in paperback. And stay tuned for the remaining books in the series!

How do you keep paranormal fiction elements “realistic” enough for your readers? Let me know in the comments!

By Sarah Gribble

Source: thewritepractice.com

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Top 9 Influential Female Characters In Science Fiction

Let’s take a look at some influential science fiction female leads and see how we can use them in our writing.  Here’s some strong, complex creations … None of them scream, faint or need rescuing. They’re the ones getting the job done. These 9 are my personal trail-blazers of female science fiction. Let’s go!

1) Princess Leia

We had already seen earlier in Star Wars that Leia could handle herself. The way she dealt with Vader and Tarkin after she was captured showed us that. But it was when Han Solo and Luke came to rescue her that Leia became so much more than a conventional damsel in distress. By taking over what had been seen as the male role, rescuing herself and generally wise-cracking her way out of trouble, she created a whole new type of character.

Write Tip: Change the action around! Get your characters doing what nobody (even the other characters) expects. If you can get the reader wondering ‘Where did that come from?’, you’re halfway there.

2) Ellen Ripley

The ultimate case of the quiet one, a by-the-book member of the crew … Yet she turned out to be the baddest of the bunch. She could fight if she had to, but that wasn’t what she was all about. Ripley had heart, integrity. A woman who could rise to challenges and one-line with the best of them.

Ripley displayed a range of emotion beyond a science fiction action hero. Ripley wasn’t snappily dressed, or the Hollywood idea of a conventional female character when she first appeared but that didn’t matter … In fact, this added to her appeal. She was anyone who saw wrong and wanted to sort it.

Write Tip: A character’s journey can start with the triggering of an emotion. It creates empathy with the reader or viewer; everyone relates to them. Identify a strong one and probe it with a sharp stick.

3) Sarah Connor

Sarah had a journey too, from timid waitress to protector, to fugitive soldier. Events, as they had with Ripley, changed her. While learning you’re the mother to the leader of the resistance in the future would be enough to change anyone, Sarah handles it.

If the movie had been made in earlier days, Sarah would be screaming and fainting and waiting for rescue. Instead, she proved she could do whatever was needed to keep the people she loved safe. And while she was about it, she showed us that just about anyone could do it too, if they ever had to.

Write Tip: What doesn’t kill a character makes them adapt. Give them a logical reason to change, a vision of what could be if they do.

Science Fiction Was Never The Same Again

Thanks to these three, the world of science fiction would never be the same. It was as if the genre had cottoned on to what a lot of people knew to be true. Real women could be the focus of a story! Not just one-dimensional eye candy or a motivator for men.

These women were strong and capable. They were in control, and they did it all with a witty reposte, just to remind you that they had the answer and they weren’t afraid to lead the way. They weren’t just female versions of the male action hero with martial arts and big guns (although they could do that as well). No, they had backstory, baggage. It made them human, believable, even aspirational.

Let’s take a quick look at a few more …

 4) Sarah Jane Smith

Doctor Who companion, nosy journalist and one of the first to use her wits and intuition over muscle and firepower. As well as being totally fearless, she was one of the team, redefining the role from that of helpless decoration to one of strong equal. And doing it with an opinion.

Write Tip: Every partnership has a hero and a trusty sidekick, two parts of a whole character. Why not give the sidekick the real power (the hero need never know)?

5) Dana Scully

She was the rational sceptic to Mulder’s excitable believer, the woman of science, sent to debunk and explain. Probably the greatest reason for the show’s success, her dogged determination to find an explanation left you wondering just where the truth ended. Although not averse to action, she proved that you could be just as effective with a computer or a test tube.

Writers tip: Every story needs a basis infact, once you convince the reader that you know what you’re talking about, they’ll follow your fiction.

6) Olivia Dunham

Another intelligent one, with the baggage that made her the ideal choice to investigate the fringes. Like Scully, the quiet voice of calm when it’s all going crazy.  Reserved but with purpose and empathy, unmoved by the revelations unfolding before her. And she had a double in an alternative universe, which is pretty cool.

Write Tip: Once you’ve got your fact out of the way, always remember; nothing has to be true, but everything has to sound true.

 

7) Andorra Pett

Andorra who? I hear you ask. Well, she’s my creation, my contribution to the genre. Andorra’s an amateur detective for the space age. She’s a person more on the thinking side of things, independent and initially unaware of how clever she is. Out of her depth at the start, as Andorra’s story progresses, she learns so much about herself. What’s more, in the process, as have so many before her, she changes. She finds the strength to survive and the courage to grow.

Write Tip: Never be afraid to take your character (and your reader) out of their comfort zone. Their reactions might surprise both of you.

8) Kaylee Frye

An engineer, and why not? Women can do anything. Resourceful and yet naïve; dependable and vulnerable, all at once. As well as keeping Serenity running; she was the glue that held the crew together, loved by everyone. To top it all, she knew what a Crazy Ivan was!

Write Tip: Having engineers or other specialists in your cast gives you the ability to impart backstory in conversation, even in the middle of the action. A few short sentences between characters is so much better than pages of boring facts.

9) Kathryn Janeway

Starship commander and breaker of rules. In the same way that a man had to do what a man had to do, it was her job to keep everyone together and get them home. If the means justified the end, she was willing to try it. Sometimes emotional, sometimes calm, always adaptable, like any good commander.

Write Tip: You need a focal point, a constant. It can be part of your setting, a place or an object. Or it could be a dependable character, a rock in an ocean of uncertainty.

Which are your faves? Let me know!

By Lucy V Hay

Source: bang2write.com

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When Fiction Doesn’t Work—What Can Be Learned?

By Bonnie Randall 

Part of the How They Do It Series 

JH: You can learn just as much from a bad book as a good book.

Stephen King said “Unless you read, you do not have the tools to write.”

Books that whisk us deeply into a story, have characters who become dear friends, or use language in such a way that leaves us breathless, are powerful tools for writers, because those elements are replicable and take our fiction to higher, deeper, and more meaningful levels.

What, though, about fiction that doesn’t move you in any sort of positive way? Can writing lessons be gleaned from these pieces also? 

I am currently reading a novel that has me turning pages—but not in a good way. I am so frustrated from waiting for the reveal of the ‘Big Bad Secret’ the heroine is withholding that I am thumbing through and skimming just to get to the place where she coughs it up. The suspense is not working for me at all, and partly it’s because of the ambiguity surrounding whatever this secret is; there are no clear clues or indicators, and what is presented is vague.
Also, there has yet to be a clear reason why the character is being cagey about her secret in the first place. Additionally, while the character herself is being indirect, the plot keeps getting >thisclose< to revealing The Big Bad…and then being thwarted by convenient twists.
To add to the frustration, there are also interludes which come in the form of handwritten letters from one character to another—and said letters are heavily implied to be written by the heroine with the secret, and yet (I cheated) actually end up being written by the hero when all is said and done.

(Here’s more on What is “Bad Writing?” (And How Can We Avoid It?))

This does not feel like author cleverness to me, but instead like author trickery; it is one thing to not trust an unreliable character, but quite another to not be able to trust an unreliable author.

The take-aways from this reading experience for me are:

1. When employing the device of the ‘Big, Bad Secret’, strike a good balance that leaves your pacing on the side of suspense rather than frustration—and always have a good reason why your character is keeping their secret under wraps in the first place.

2. If you are going to use an ambiguous POV, make sure you do not leave your reader feeling tricked. There needs to be at least one Easter Egg in each ambiguous passage that raises doubt—and maybe even makes it fun—for the reader to wonder “Is this really Character X? Or could this be Character Y who is thinking / doing / saying these things?”

Now: How about you? Have you read a book that was a real miss for you, yet was still able to impart some good learning?

Please share whatever that book taught you to do (or not do), but do not reveal the title. (Because jeez…what if it’s one of my books?!) Seriously, we don’t want to book-bash, and besides: one reader’s trash is another reader’s treasure; the book I am referring to here, for example, has far more positive reviews than negative, and is selling rather hotly too (which begs the question—what the heck do I know, anyway?!)

Okay, folks. Your turn. And….GO!

Bonnie

Source: blog.janicehardy.com

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Creating Believable Villains

What are the trademarks of a villain?

Do they have dark, piercing eyes, a snarly grin, crooked-yellowed teeth, knobby fingers, an evil laugh? Or is there more to it than that? The antagonist can be the hardest character to write but also the most fun. How can we be successful at it? Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way.

Make them appear human – nobody likes a pure evil villain. They need to be likable or they fall flat. Give them a redeeming quality. Maybe we even want to cheer for them. Think Hannibal Lector or the Blacklist’s Raymond Reddington. Yes, they are evil but still have amiable qualities. We find ourselves applauding them.

Give them a clear motivation for their actions – we need to know why they’re doing their evil deeds. Their motives need to feel fair and just in their minds. Start with the basic reasons for their crime. Passion, greed, jealousy, but give it an added kick. Let’s place ourselves in their shoes. What makes them tick? Why do they think the way the do? In one of my stories the antagonist has a daughter who needs constant medical care for her deadly condition, so he justifies his actions to get the money to provide her with the necessary attention. This gives the reader empathy for the antagonist.

Give them flaws – we can’t make the villain’s life too easy. They need to work hard at being bad. Keep them in constant conflict, making things more difficult for them as the plot unfolds. Maybe they’re OCD and that keeps them from getting their hands dirty at a crime scene. Perhaps they’re disabled and struggle with getting around. Whatever the flaw, make it realistic.

Hide them in plain sight – don’t make the villain a klutzy moron. That robs the reader and makes them angry. We want to keep them guessing and surprised at the end of the story. Also, we can’t make the antagonist a minor character. This is cheating and doesn’t satisfy the plot. Give subtle clues as to who the criminal is, but make them the boy next door or the female everyone likes. This will give our stories plausibility.

Give your villain backstory – I like to do a full character sketch on the antagonist just like I do for my protagonist. Don’t cheat them in the development stage of your story. Get to know them. Sit down with them for coffee and ask some poignant questions. What are their dislikes? Loves? What is their deepest fear? What were they doing at the age of fifteen? We need to know them inside and out in order to make them come alive.

Fit their behavior appropriately – plant seeds along the way so when they commit a crime it doesn’t come out in left field. For example, if your villain is about to strangle someone give him big hands. Perhaps he works out to pump up his muscles. Or if he’s building a bomb, give him a military background or one in science. Remember, it needs to be realistic.

Creating villains can be fun. Study your favorite and then design yours to be believable and one that will keep your reader turning the pages!

By Darlene L. Turner

Source: almostanauthor.com

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Observational Walking

Observational walking is one of my favourite ways to de-stress and free my mind so I can focus in on my creative writing without distracting thoughts.

I also find it helps me if I am feeling a bit stuck, or just not sure how best to proceed with a story.

I am lucky that I live in the west of Ireland in the countryside and near the sea, so there are plenty of peaceful walks.

However, I have done this on city walks and in parks, so don’t let your surroundings stop you using this powerful tool.

Observational walking is a form of meditation and is not complicated.

You are simply walking at a pace where you can be aware of sounds and can carefully observe your surroundings.

A SLOWER PACE

old drawing of a sad man walking illustrating an article about observational walking.The pace might be considerably slower than your usual walking pace, so if you do a daily exercise walk you can do some observational walking as a warm up or slow down stage.

The key is being aware; listening and observing.

Listen for the sounds as you walk, whether that be birds singing, dogs barking, children playing, traffic, chatter.

It doesn’t matter, just listen and be aware without judging the sounds and without thinking about them.

THAT WANDERING MIND

If you find your mind begins to wonder about the source of the sounds, or other distracting thoughts then simply focus on your breath for a moment.

Each time you are distracted return to focusing on your own breath.

It doesn’t matter if you are distracted, or if your thoughts run away – you can return to focusing on observing your breath at any time.

This will provide the empty spaces in your thoughts and allow your inner creativity to emerge.

As you walk along let the sounds and sights you see come to you – rather than look around for them.

Again without judging or thinking – just quietly observing.

Observing your surroundings clears a space in your mind for creative writing ideas –  it also means you remember a great deal more.

The most trivial observation can grow into something much, much bigger.

This morning, for example, I noticed a woman stepping on a crack in the pavement. If I wanted to develop this further it might go as follows:

Mary walked quickly. She mustn’t have been superstitious, or else she didn’t notice a crack in the pavement. She didn’t slow down, and she didn’t step around it.

Jack noticed it.  Jack also noticed the small metal square embedded in the dirt. He snatched it up and dropped it into his briefcase before Mary had even walked the short distance to the edge of the footpath.

Okay so it’s not amazing but it is something. – a germ of an idea.

An idea that could be developed in a multitude of ways.

Creative writing activities such as observational walking clear the mind for ideas.

You can create anything. Even from a simple crack in the pavements like I did.

Or perhaps a strangely shaped cloud, or even a name carved in a tree or even oyster-beds in a bay.

In this newly created space in your mind ideas are allowed to form and emerge.

When you have a new idea always ask yourself what if? Here are some examples:

WHAT IF

One morning while I was out walking my dog paused to stare at a trampled trail leading to a hole in a field. I knew it was a fox hole having seen plenty of foxes in the area on previous occasions. But…what if it wasn’t a fox hole…

WHAT IF

The hole had been made by someone desperately trying to escape from something.

Or

If it was a portal to another realm.

Or

A shortcut to a children’s hiding place

Once you slow down and pay attention to your surroundings you will start to see a lot more than grass or footpaths.

There is a whole world out there ready to hand you ideas on a plate  all you need to do is stop for a moment and take a look.

‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.’

Albert Einstein

Source: practicalcreativewriting.com

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