Tag Archives: Storyline

Stumped for Story Ideas? Try This One Tip

In a recent episode of Jane the Virgin, the main character, Jane, is stumped for story ideas. She already published one book, but that was inspired by her dramatic telenovela-like life. She’s convinced that she has no other story to tell.

one tip 2

When she shares her dilemma with her fellow writing-class students, they assure her that what she described is not a problem at all. She doesn’t need new story ideas. Why?

Because she can retell the same story.

Follow the Heat

Cheryl Strayed calls this “following the heat.” Her most famous book is Wild, a memoir about the hike that help her deal with her mother’s death.

But she wrote about that period of her life and the loss of her mother repeatedly. She wrote personal essays about it and fiction inspired by it. She told and retold her story as many times and as many ways as she could.

That’s following the heat.

There are so many examples of authors rehashing the same story ideas and telling stories about the same thing over and over again. Philip Roth is one of the most prolific American writers ever—somehow Newark, NJ manages to find its way into most, if not all, of his books. In the show, Jane’s fellow classmates astutely point to Jamaica Kincaid and John Updike and their tendency to return to the same themes or characters.

Tell and Retell

So, do you feel like you’ve already told your one great story?

No problem. Tell it again.

Tell it from a different perspective (e.g, a side character). Zoom in on a specific moment or zoom out to show how it fits into something bigger. Try telling your great story in a different format: perhaps a personal essay instead of a novel, or vice versa.

It’s OK to take the same story ideas and tell your story again and again and again.

Can you think of other writers who have told and retold the same story? Let us know in the comments.

By Monica M. Clark
Source: thewritepractice.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Stock and Cloned Characters in Storytelling

I was recently reading a novel, and a few chapters in, I realized I had mixed up two of the main characters. In fact, I had been reading them as if they were a single character. I’m a pretty sharp reader, and this has never happened before, so I tried to determine why I’d made the mistake. Was I tired? Hungry? Not paying attention?

I went back and reviewed the text and noticed that these two characters were indistinct. They were so alike that without carefully noting which one was acting in any given scene, it was impossible to differentiate them from each other. They were essentially the same character. Even their names sounded alike.

This got me to thinking about the importance of building a cast of characters who are unique and distinct from each other instead of a cast of stock characters who are mere clones of one another. 

Stock Characters

We sometimes talk about stock characters in literature. You know them: the mad scientist, the poor little rich kid, the hard-boiled detective. These characters have a place in storytelling. When readers meet a sassy, gum-popping waitress in a story, they immediately know who she is. They’ve seen that character in other books and movies. Maybe they’ve even encountered waitresses like her in real life. These characters are familiar, but they’re also generic.

When we use a stock character as a protagonist or any other primary character, we have to give the character unique qualities so the character doesn’t come off as generic or boring. It’s fine to have a sassy, gum-popping waitress make a single appearance in a story, but if she’s a lead character, she’s going to need deeper, more complex development so the readers no longer feel as if they already know her. She has to become fresh and interesting.

Stieg Larsson did this brilliantly in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the sequels that made up the Millennium trilogy. At first the protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, seems like a surly punk, the kind of character we’ve seen a million times before. As the story progresses and Lisbeth moves to center stage, we learn there’s more to her than meets the eye. She’s antisocial, and she’s a computer genius. She’s bold, brave, and tough. She’s not just some surly punk. She is a moral person with unique challenges — one of the most intriguing characters in contemporary fiction.

Cloning Characters

Stock characters are often taken from source material, sometimes as an homage and other times as a blatant rip-off. Such characters are problematic when they feature prominently in a story and have no traits that differentiate them from the character upon which they are based. Do you want to read a story about a boy wizard named Hal Porter who wears glasses and has a scar on his forehead? Probably not, unless it’s a parody of Harry Potter, whom we all know and love.

You can certainly write a story about a young wizard who is based on Harry Potter, but you have to differentiate your character from Harry. Make the character a girl, give her a hearing aid instead of glasses, and come up with a memorable name that doesn’t immediately bring Harry Potter to mind. And give your character her own personality and challenges.

As the book I was recently reading demonstrates, we also have to watch out for cloning characters within our own stories. For most writers, this is a bigger problem than cloning characters out of other authors’ stories.

Think about it: you are the creator of all the characters in your story. You might have based them on people or characters you know and love (or loathe). You might have conjured them from your imagination. But they are all coming from you: your thoughts, your experiences, and your voice.

While I’ve never mixed up two characters in a book I was reading before, I have noticed that characters who act, think, and speak similarly are common. And while a cast of characters who are similar to each other in every way imaginable doesn’t necessarily make a story bad, a cast of characters who are noticeably distinct from each other is much better.

Nature vs. Nurture: How to Avoid Cloned Characters

Cloning is the practice of making a copy of something, an exact replica. You can clone a human being (or a character), but once the clone comes into existence, it will immediately start changing and becoming different from the original. Its personal experiences will be unique. By nature, the original and the clone are exactly the same, but nurture (or life experience) will cause the clone to deviate from the original.

Here are some tips to make sure your characters are unique and not clones of each other or any character or person they are based on:

  • Give your characters distinct and memorable names. Avoid giving characters name that sound alike. Don’t use names that start with the same letter and are the same length, and don’t use names that rhyme.
  • Unless you’re writing a family saga, make sure your characters don’t all look alike. Try developing a diverse cast of characters.
  • Characters’ speech patterns will depend on where they’re from, but individuals also have their own quirky expressions and sayings. Use dialogue to differentiate the characters from each other. Maybe one character swears a lot while another calls everyone by nicknames.
  • Create character sketches complete with backstories. If you know your characters intimately, you’ll be less likely to portray them as a bunch of clones.
  • To help you visualize your characters, look for photos of actors, models, and other public figures that you can use to help your imagination fill in the blanks.
  • Once you’ve created your cast, ask whether any of them are stock characters. If any of your primary characters feel like stock characters, make them more unique.

Are You Using Stock Characters? Are Your Characters a Bunch of Clones?

The main problem with the book I mentioned at the beginning of this post was that there were two characters who were essentially functioning as a single entity, at least for the first four or five chapters, which is as far as I got in the book. Together, they shared the same purpose or function within the story. The best fix for that problem would have been to combine the two characters into a single character, something I have had to do in one of my fiction projects that had a few too many names and faces.

I can’t help but wonder if the author ever bothered to run the manuscript by beta readers, and since the book was traditionally published, I wondered how the cloned characters made it past the editor.

How much attention do you pay to your characters when you’re writing a story? What strategies do you use to get to know your characters and make sure they are all unique? Have you ever noticed stock characters or cloned characters in a story you’ve read? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing!

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

How to Develop Story Ideas Into Amazing Stories

I often hear practicing writers ask, “What if I can’t think of anything to write about?” Sometimes they even have notebooks full of observations, but they feel like none of them are good enough for a full story, and they’re not sure how to develop story ideas into amazing stories.

I’ve felt the same way, but there are more opportunities or seeds for story ideas in our notebooks than we think. It might be an image, a snippet of a conversation we overheard at lunch, or a social issue that grates against us. Once we have the seeds, how do we take those seeds and develop them into stories?

How to Develop Story Ideas

I love hearing the different ways writers develop story ideas into full length projects. It’s one part of the writing process that often remains cloaked in mystery. Sometimes, a writer isn’t sure how an idea develops, so they’ll say, “Oh I just write,” which makes the rest of us feel like failures when we sit down and nothing comes.

Sarah Gribble shared a great way to outline fiction in a post earlier this week, but what do you do in the space between “I noticed this thing” and “outline the story”?

Some might say, “Oh that’s the magic. You can’t teach that. It’s too formulaic. It just happens.” That might be true, but I can’t have my classes of fiction writers sitting around waiting for the magic to happen. I have to teach them how to make magic. (Do I have an amazing job or what?)

Here’s one way I help my students develop a story idea into an outline and draft.

Choose Something Specific

When students begin trying to find story ideas, they inevitably pick something too big.

“I want to write a story about the way technology makes us less human!”

“Global warming!”

“True love!”

“Space opera!”

These are all topics and themes that could yield great stories, but they are too broad and too general. We need to get much more specific to capture the humanity of these themes.

As I search through my notebooks, I look for a vivid image, event, or conversation. Here’s an example I found recently:

So good to have my sister here. Odd conversation tonight that stuck with me. She said her kids might not need to learn to drive the way self-driving cars are advancing. She said, “They use information from satellites, traffic cams and even other cars to minimize user error and fatalities.” It’s hard to imagine.

The thing that interested me was this idea of minimizing fatalities. Who gets to decide which one person can be “minimized” to allow the others to live in a car crash? I pulled the idea of self-driving cars along with that one phrase from our conversation: “Minimizing fatalities.”

Find the Heat

Once you choose a specific idea, find the hot spots in it or create one. A hot spot is a place where the temperature is higher or “a place of significant activity or danger.” It might be the inherent conflict in a conversation or the oddity in an image that could lead to or expose disaster.

Again, specificity is your friend. Some examples:

You overhear a conversation: “So help me if you leave with the hamster and espresso machine, I’ll …”

Or a headline from the news with an odd (and heartbreaking) image: “Woman who gouged out her own eye found standing next to church.”

Both of these moments hold immense potential for stories because they prompt us to ask, “Why?” and “What if?” The emotions behind these small hot places can be great places to develop an idea. If you can capture the emotion behind a moment, you can build any world you like around it.

A Character as a Hot Spot

Maybe your idea isn’t an image or event, but a person. If you start with a character, you can follow the same process by asking a few specific questions.

What does this character want from the moment we meet him?

How far is he willing to go to get it?

How can this character’s fears, anger, or insecurity get them in trouble?

You can short cut this by building from someone you know or using an actor or type. Then get specific. I can start with my Uncle John, because he is curmudgeonly and outspoken against technology, but I’ll need to change it up and give the character some details that belong only to him.

Also, remember you aren’t writing about a character’s life, you are writing about his or her problem. Specific, vivid details will make the character leap off the page.

An Example

The thing that interested me most in the conversation with my sister was this idea of minimizing fatalities. Who gets to decide which one person can be “minimized” to allow the others to live in a car crash?

I asked some questions: Who is responsible in a car crash involving a self-driving car? The driver or the car company? The tech company who built the algorithm? The satellite company reporting the data?

What if a new IT graduate buys a self-driving car and her grandfather disapproves? What if that same girl is in a fatal accident?

There are a number of hotspots in this idea that could create conflict, because there are so many emotions surrounding a crash and the element of responsibility. From here, I’m ready to outline the goal of my character, the conflict, and the climax that will guide my story.

Once you’ve explored the possibilities, you can outline the main beats of your story and get to drafting.

Do you have a method for getting from seed to draft? Do you have any tips for how to develop story ideas? Let us know in the comments!

By Sue Weems
Source: thewritepractice.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

How to Use Foreshadowing Like a Master Storyteller

Foreshadowing is a task writers have to approach with the same careful precision they use when threading a needle. It’s not always easy, but when done right, you’re in business. Hinting at a future revelation is necessary for authors of mystery novels, for example, but it’s useful for all writers looking to include a killer twist—no pun intended. Not sure how to use foreshadowing? Not to worry — today we’re covering techniques you can use to thread that needle.

2 Ways to Use Foreshadowing Like a Master

Foreshadowing is a delicate balancing act. You have to toe the line between throwing a random plot twist into your story and making the surprise too predictable for the reader. The trick is to leave a trail of bread crumbs. Here are two techniques you can try for how to use foreshadowing:

1. Drop hints

At first glance, it may seem like a near-impossible task to communicate to your reader that whatever you’re mentioning is going to be important later. How will they know what to look for? After all, there are so many elements to a story, some of which won’t matter at all for your twists.

Is there something significant about that green dress the heroine wears in chapter four? Does it matter that the neighbor walks his dog at three o’clock every day? Luckily, there are a couple of useful ways to clue your reader into the fact that something is important.

This is one of those ways.

See what I did there? By setting that sentence apart from the rest of these paragraphs, I made you pay attention. Now, all of a sudden, you had to insert a pause before and after those few words.

If something critical happens in your story that is going to come up again later, make sure it stands out in the crowd. Start a new paragraph, insert a break in your chapter, whatever you have to do.

A simple formatting technique can make things a little too easy, though. If your hints are hammered into the reader’s head instead of being gently dropped, the magic and mystery vanishes. Decide if there is a better way to get your point across.

2. Repetition is key

Repetition is another trick you can use to send your reader the mental message that they should be paying attention. Think of this as the technique teachers use in their classes. Though some might say, “Write this down; it’s important,” all most teachers have to do is repeat a certain point in various ways throughout the class and their students will make sure that information is in their notes.

Don’t tell your reader to “write this down,” but do rephrase and repeat the key points of your plot.

For example, in one of my sci-fi stories, two of my characters have different habits when it comes to how they put their coats away when they get home: Astrid always tosses her coat across the back of the couch and Dawn always hangs hers up. Every time Dawn and Astrid return to their apartment, I make sure to point out in some way that Dawn’s coat ends up on her hook and Astrid’s is tossed aside.

Later on in the story, Dawn is kidnapped and replaced by a doppelgänger. Though I don’t come right out and say it, it’s obvious that Astrid becomes suspicious of “Dawn.” Why? She doesn’t hang up her coat. It ends up thrown onto the couch along with Astrid’s.

This clue is essential to figuring out that “Dawn” is not who she claims to be, and if the reader is as perceptive as Astrid is, they’ll pick up on that.

Walking the Tightrope

Like with every aspect of writing, foreshadowing gets easier with a little bit (or, I should say, a lot) of practice.

Write with the mindset of a reader. Try to think how you would react to your own story. Is it too easy to figure out? Too out of the blue?

You’ll know what feels right in the end.

Do you have more suggestions for how to use foreshadowing? How do you approach your plot twists? Let us know in the comments!

By The Magic Violinist
Source: thewritepractice.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

How to End a Story With a Brilliant Twist

Don’t you love a great twist ending?

Often appearing in the middle or at the end of a story, a twist can completely transform the reading experience into a wild ride where anything can happen.

But executing a twist isn’t easy, and if done improperly, can leave your reader feeling deeply disappointed.

And that’s just what many writers unsuspectingly do.

The Wrong Kind of Twist

A “twist” is the revelation of crucial information that radically changes the reader’s understanding of the story. And to work properly, the twist must be related to a major choice made by the protagonist.

Many writers fail to make this connection. Rather, they think that a twist ending simply needs to withhold any important background information until the end of the story. And then, upon revealing it, they will somehow have reached a surprising and satisfying ending.

But this isn’t the case.

I found this to be true as a judge of the 2017 Fall Writing Contest, hosted by The Write Practice. The theme, “Let’s Fall in Love,” yielded many stories where characters simply “remembered” things that happened long ago. Perhaps they were visiting a cemetery where a loved one was buried, or a residence from childhood. The memories came back, and bits of information were revealed throughout the 1,500 word allotment. Then the story was over.

Nothing happened. Little changed.

Sure, surprising information appeared here and there, but it didn’t arrive in the context of choice. 

The revelation of surprising information is not climactic action. Information doesn’t do anything; it just explains.

Yet when that information accompanies a surprising, climactic choice, it enhances the complexity of the choice.

A bad twist is information posing as a choice. But a great twist reveals a choice that the reader usually can’t see coming, and why it is so impactful.

That’s the kind of twist you want.

The Right Kind of Twist

The best twists focus on Choice, and reveal one or two things:

  1. A contradictory motivation behind a major choice
  2. A hidden, contradictory major choice

Take Toy Story 2. 

The heart-wrenching song “When Somebody Loved Me” is a slow, painful twist that reveals the seemingly contradictory choice that Jessie the Cowgirl is making: to go to a museum, rather than entrust herself to another owner. Why? Because despite the nature of a toy (to be loved by a child), Jessie has been deeply wounded by her previous owner, and is too scared to make herself vulnerable again.

Tell me that scene didn’t rip your heart out! 

Or think of The Shawshank Redemption. The protagonist, Andy, has been making a very important (and methodical) choice during his 19 years in prison. The twist reveals it, completely changing the characters’ (and the viewer’s) understanding of Andy’s choices throughout the whole story. His secret choice has been contradicting his visible choices the whole time.

Tell me that moment didn’t change your life!

Both of these twists accompany and complicate a major choice made by a character. They also reveal something contradictory about the character’s nature.

That’s the stuff of a powerful twist!

How to Write a Great Twist

Executing a powerful twist ending isn’t easy. It takes lots of planning, drafting, and revising. And it won’t always work the way you expect. Here’s how to do it:

1. Plan Choices

When you outline and draft, focus on the big, high-risk choices your characters can make. Experiment with a variety of choices, some that are outside your plan or even your comfort zone.

And as your characters solidify in the world of your story, focus on one to two choices that will truly surprise your reader. Hone in on choices that seem to contradict outward appearances or add deeply empathetic context to their difficult choices.

2. Don’t Keep “Secrets”

Unless you’re in the Mystery genre, try not to keep secrets. Sure, be intentional and sparse with your exposition, but don’t buy into the lie that secret background information qualifies as a satisfying twist.

In fact, you should write versions of scenes where you intentionally reveal crucial information (those would-be secrets)! You may find that the scene works better with the truth on the table. It will certainly force you to focus more on character choice, rather than character backstory!

And even in the Mystery/Thriller genres, the best secrets are tied to choices as well. Usually these big secrets are wrapped up in lies, which qualify as character choices — especially when you show them in action.

Keep the focus on choice, and you’ll find yourself in a great position to start executing a twist.

3. Wait Until the Perfect Moment

The best way to identify the perfect moment is to answer this question: “When are the stakes the highest?”

It’s at that moment that you should unleash your twist, as it complicates the high-risk choices made by your character.

I relished the opportunity to do this when I wrote a murder-mystery play. After the “false” ending, just when the characters and audience believe that the evil has passed, the killer reveals his true nature in a deeply personal and shocking way, murdering someone very close to him. It altered every choice the audience had seen him make for nearly two hours, and was even a complicated choice in and of itself, motivated by anger and a thirst for revenge.

But it took a ton of planning, drafting, and revising to finally get right!

Do the Twist

A great twist ending is worth the effort. It sits atop the storyteller’s Mt. Olympus, right alongside eliciting a full-bellied laugh from your reader, or a puffy-cheeked cry.

Few stories are able to deliver it in a deeply satisfying way. Will yours?

Remember: These take lots of practice. You’ll hardly ever get a perfect twist right on the first or second, or even third, try.

But it’s totally worth it. For many of us, great storytelling twists motivate us to tell our own stories. We long to recreate the catharsis of an unpredictable twist.

So do it right. Focus on choices, and the seemingly contradictory reasons why characters make them. Don’t simply hide backstory, but use it to complicate the difficult decisions every character has to make.

So write on, fearless storyteller! And have fun planning and writing great twists that will thrill your readers every time!

What are your favorite twist endings? How do you surprise your readers with a brilliant twist? Let us know in the comments.

By David Safford
Source: thewritepractice.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Archetypal Characters in Storytelling

The hero, the mentor, the sidekick. We’re all familiar with archetypal characters in storytelling. We’ve seen them before. We know the roles they play.

Archetypal characters shouldn’t be confused with stock characters or stereotypical characters. Although we’ve seen all these characters before and will surely see them again, stock and stereotypical characters are based on character traits; archetypes are based on the characters’ function or purpose within a story.

Characters’ Function in Story

Archetypal characters fulfill a specific function a story. The herald signals change or the beginning of an adventure. The mentor imparts gifts, skills, or knowledge to the hero. The threshold guardian tests the hero or blocks the path forward.

Stock characters feel familiar because they embody a personality type — behaviors and attitudes that we’ve seen in similar characters before. The tough guy, the girl next door, and the wise old man or woman are all examples of stock characters. They may serve a purpose in the story (somebody has to serve the main characters at a restaurant), but what stands out is their personality, which sometimes feels cliché.

Stereotypical characters reflect social stereotypes, which are widely held and often inaccurate or misleading beliefs about groups. Stereotypes occur when traits, behaviors, and attitudes are assigned to an entire group. They often based on race, religion, gender, or geographical origin, and they are usually negative. Stereotypes make irrational assumptions about individuals based on the group to which they belong.

How can we tell the difference between an archetype, stock character, or stereotype? Let’s use the Knight in Shining Armor and a Damsel in Distress as examples. The damsel functions as a plot device, providing the hero with a goal (to save her), and the knight functions as a hero whose primary goal is to rescue the damsel. But the function these characters perform within a story (to save or be saved) need not be assigned to a damsel or a knight. A child could save a puppy. A witch could save a wizard. Or a lifeguard could save a swimmer.

If we remove the personality traits, we’re left with the function: give the hero someone or something to save, i.e., an archetypal function.

Archetypal Characters from The Hero’s Journey

Joseph Campbell discovered archetypal characters that exist in stories throughout time and across space. He presented his findings in the Monomyth (or Hero’s Journey), and Christopher Vogler later adapted Campbell’s findings in his book, The Writer’s Journey. Let’s take a look at the eight archetypes of the Hero’s Journey:

  • Hero: Protagonist who undergoes a meaningful transformation over the course of a story and who often changes the conditions of the story world for the better.
  • Herald: Signals that an adventure (or change) is imminent.
  • Mentor: Teacher and guide.
  • Threshold Guardian: Blocks a threshold that the Hero must pass; tests the Hero.
  • Shadow: The villain and other characters that stand in the Hero’s way; often they embody the Hero’s negative or undesirable traits.
  • Shapeshifter: A character or entity whose motives or intentions are unclear.
  • Trickster: Comic relief; Tricksters are often catalysts for change.
  • Allies: The Hero’s friends and helpers.

You’ll often see these archetypes in various combinations in storytelling. Some stories may not use a shapeshifter while others might have more than one trickster. A single character can embody multiple archetypes. For example, the character that performs the function of the Herald might also be a Trickster. The Mentor could act as the Threshold Guardian.

Other Archetypal Characters

The Hero’s Journey isn’t the only source of archetypal characters. There are other types of stories and other archetypes in fiction. Here’s a small sampling:

  • Anti-hero: This is an inverted hero, the protagonist is not likable or engages in despicable or immoral behaviors.
  • Audience surrogate: A stand-in for the audience, to inject questions and thoughts on behalf of the audience.
  • The Chosen One: A type of hero who is destined for greatness or tragedy rather than earning it.
  • The Cynic: This untrusting character often provides skepticism or challenges the status quo.

This is just a small sampling of archetypes you might find in fiction. You can have a lot of fun identifying archetypes, but make sure each one performs a function rather than represents a behavior or personality type. A common archetype I’ve noticed is The Oppressor, a character who uses their power to rob other characters of their rights, freedoms, and justice. The Misfit is a character that doesn’t fit in with mainstream society and either learns to fit in or eventually learns to be true to who they are.

Using Character Archetypes

Character archetypes can come in handy during the story development process. You might write a draft or outline and feel that it’s missing something. Maybe your story needs one of the character archetypes to mark the stages and progress of your protagonist’s journey.

Have you ever intentionally used archetypes in your stories? Are there any character archetypes you’ve noticed in fiction that aren’t mentioned here? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing.

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing


Setting of a Story: 3 Ways Going Outside Can Improve Your Writing

Our job as writers is to transport our readers into our stories. A high-octane plot and three-dimensional characters are obviously necessary to accomplish this goal, but so is an immersive setting of a story.

The setting of a story is often overlooked when describing a scene. We all want to move on to the next plot twist and wasting important space on what trees look like will just bore the readers, right?


To draw readers fully into a scene, we need setting. We want them to forget they’re reading and make them experience everything our characters are experiencing.

Sometimes, you can get away with building the setting of a story straight from your imagination. Sometimes, you can’t.

The Argument for Going Outdoors

I’m what you would call an “outdoorsy person.” I love being outside in any weather, at any time of day. Nature inspires me, clears my head, and gets me out of my desk chair for a little while.

You don’t have to be a nature person to get the benefits of absorbing your surroundings. And you don’t have to live in the middle of the woods to write about the outdoors. Even sitting on your porch or taking a quick jaunt around the block can infuse you with new energy and enthusiasm.

3 Ways to Be More Present

Okay, you’re outside, standing on a hill, looking at the sunset. Now what?

We’re constantly surrounded by everything we need to build a great setting of a story, but we often ignore all that in our rush to the next thing.

Pay attention to your surroundings. Immerse yourself in your own experiences, and you’ll be able to draw on them later.

NOTE: I’ve used a rural setting as an example, but this applies to urban settings as well.

Here are three things to think about while outdoors:

1. Your Senses

You already know the importance of using all five senses to improve your writing, but it can be hard to notice anything deeper than the obvious.

Let’s take our sunset example from earlier. It’s obviously gorgeous, and you can probably describe the colors of the sunset quite well.

Look deeper.

Close your eyes. Can you hear someone crunching through the woods in the distance? Songbirds? Traffic? The woman walking her dog across the field: Is she slumped from cold or fanning herself from heat? Young, old, talking on her cell phone? Is she attentive to her dog or zoned out? What does the air smell like? What does the ground feel like?

Pay attention to the less obvious and you’ll draw in your readers.

Remember: You don’t have to use all five senses in every description. Select the most useful senses for the scene.

PRO TIP: Try observing the same setting at different times of day or during different seasons.

2. Similes and Metaphors

Similes and metaphors add layers to your prose, allowing the reader to experience a deeper understanding of the setting. They also allow you to enhance character description and plot, establish mood and tone, and can cut down on overly verbose descriptions.

When you’re observing your surroundings, don’t just note the sensory details around you, but think about comparisons.

Right now, I’ve got a pile of snow outside my house that’s mid-melt and looks like a Smurfs hat. See, I didn’t have to describe the shape and curve of this particular pile of snow in order for you to get my meaning.

Back to the sunset on the hill. You’ve noticed the sunset is purple and yellow. That’s all well and good, but boring. What do those colors remind you of? For me, it’s a bruise, which enhances other aspects of my story, as my main character has just been betrayed by a friend.

The sunset swirled with varying shades of purple and yellow, spreading like an angry bruise across the horizon.

The “bruising sunset” is a bit overdone anymore, but you get the point.

Don’t just go with the obvious (aka, cliché) similes and metaphors. Think deeper. Get creative. Have some fun with it.

3. Spying

We don’t all have access to that hill at sunset, and we don’t all want to write about nature. (Though plenty of nature resides in cities as well.) If you or your characters prefer a more urban environment, pay attention to the people around you.

Yes, I’m giving you permission to spy.

I once encountered a middle-aged man decked out like a hippie browsing outside an antique store. Long gray hair, bellbottoms, bandana, smelled awful. He was so out of place, I just had to linger near him for a moment. He was chatting on an iPhone about his investments while thumbing through art prints. The whole situation stunned me.

To this day, he is still the most fascinating person I’ve ever seen. I possibly would’ve noticed him without consciously spying, but I wouldn’t have moved closer to hear his conversation.

No matter what you’re doing, pay attention to the people around you. What are they doing? How do they walk? Noting mannerisms can add layers to your characters. Are they talking to someone? What are they saying? Snippets of conversation can spawn an entire chapter idea, and introduce you to better dialogue.

Try not to be creepy, though.

Immerse Yourself

The setting of a story is just as important as other aspects of your writing. In order to establish an immersive setting for your readers and not rely on overused descriptions, you need to go outside and experience your surroundings. Observe. Take note.

Be present in your setting and your readers will be, too.

Any other tips to immerse yourself in outdoor settings? Let me know in the comments.

By Sarah Gribble
Source: thewritepractice.com

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Story is Conflict

If a story were a bus, conflict would be the driver.

Conflict steers a story, moves it forward, reverses it, stops it in its tracks, and slows or accelerates the pacing.

More importantly, conflict keeps readers glued to the page. Readers want to see how the characters will deal with conflict. Will they find solutions to their problems? Overcome their challenges? Resolve their issues?

Stories contain conflicts large and small, from an impending threat that would wipe out life on planet Earth to minor scuffles in which characters can’t agree on what to have for dinner. When well crafted and worked deftly into the plot, any kind of conflict can be interesting. 

Conflict is Difficult

Conflict makes life difficult for the characters, providing obstacles for them to overcome and challenges they must face head-on. It’s obvious that conflict is at the heart of any plot: the hero must overcome the antagonist or the central story problem. But the core conflict often looms over the many smaller conflicts that are peppered throughout a story, obscuring them.

Let’s look at Star Wars: A New Hope as an example (spoiler warning!). The story is set amidst an epic conflict between a rebellion and an authoritarian regime. The story’s hero, Luke Skywalker, finds himself caught up in this conflict as he sets forth on a journey to become a Jedi knight. Conflict abounds in the story: Luke’s uncle won’t let him go to the pilot academy; the new droid runs away and Luke must find it; the sand people attack Luke; his farm is raided by Stormtroopers who kill his aunt and uncle; Luke gets assaulted by strangers in the cantina; he embarks on a friction-riddled relationship with the smuggler Han Solo. And those are just a few examples of conflict from the first act. Conflicts large and small thwart Luke and his companions along every step of their journey all the way through to the end of their story.

Some conflicts are more challenging than others, but this constant onslaught of conflict makes the characters’ path through the story’s events challenging — and interesting. Some conflicts result in failure; others lead to success. Ultimately, the payoff is worth it: Luke begins learning the ways of the Force, rescues the princess, and joins the rebellion to help them destroy the Death Star. Victory is sweet.

Conflict is Everywhere

The conflicts in Star Wars range from interpersonal (friction between Luke and Han Solo) to physical (the scuffle with patrons in the cantina) to internal (Luke faces an internal struggle in which he must choose between joining the rebellion or remaining on his uncle’s farm) and environmental (Luke and his companions get trapped in trash compactor on the Death Star).

When looking for more conflict to bring into our stories, we need look no further than the plot, characters, and setting that we have established.

  • The plot, or events in the story, provide conflict by creating challenging situations for the characters.
  • Characters are perhaps one of the richest sources of conflict. From love triangles to minor arguments to major blowouts, relationships are fraught with friction.
  • The story world, or setting, often provides ample conflict — from major events, such as natural disasters, to minor inconveniences, like a leaky roof, a story’s setting can present plenty of conflict for the characters.

Conflict is Story

Every conflict heightens readers’ engagement, because in large part, we read to see how the characters will resolve the many conflicts that arise throughout a story — the big ones and the little ones.

That doesn’t mean you should stuff your story with conflict just for the sake of doing so. Each conflict should move the story toward its ultimate conclusion. You might find dozens of opportunities within a story where two characters might disagree with each other, and these conflicts could be interesting. But how do they contribute to the characterization, the plot, and the themes — or do they? Conflict is good for story, but it needs to have purpose or meaning. It needs to support the story.

How do you approach conflict in your stories? Do you focus on the central conflict and let other conflicts arise naturally? Do you find yourself going off on tangents based on minor conflicts? Share your experiences with story conflict by leaving a comment, and keep writing.

By Melissa Donovan

Source: writingforward.com

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