Tag Archives: writing tips

Writing Success: 3 Easy Steps to Develop Your Writing System

Have you tried writing a book but failed to finish it? Do you wish you could have some writing success, but each time you set out on an idea, something stops you?

Do you have a writing system?

Having writing skills are only half the battle. If you want to be a successful writer, it helps to establish a solid, reliable writing system that evaluates your writing process. To do this, you need to experiment with three key steps to designing the best system for you.

No Writing System = No Books

Let me tell you about the book I didn’t finish.

And that other book I didn’t finish.

And that other other book I didn’t finish.

That’s not counting the outlines I half started, or the ideas I jotted down then lost.

Before I had a system, I started every book in a different way. Sometimes I tried to dive right in. Sometimes I tried to make an outline. Sometimes I tried to use a template to create a synopsis. Before having a system, I finished a total of one book. It took three years and was a complete mess. I left it for long periods of time and had to re-find my way around the plot every time I returned to it.

Since finding my system, I’ve finished four books, three of those within the past year and a half. Having a system has completed changed how I write and allows me to approach each book in a consistent, easy, and predictable manner. It removed uncertainty and guesswork and as a result, my success rate has shot way up.

What is a Writing System?

The word “system” tends to make people think of computers, programs, and a lot of scary, technical things that have very little to do with creativity. But that’s a misconception. Systems are actually very important and useful to writers. They make it possible for them to churn out a solid first draft—and do it more than once.

So what is a system?

The technical definition of a system is a set of rules, an arrangement of things, or a group of related things that work toward a common goal. What does this mean exactly? Well, to put it in simpler terms, it means a set of steps you can take to achieve consistent results. A good writing system is useful to a wide range of writing levels and has several traits:

  • Generic: It can be applied to different projects and still produce similar results. In this case, it means you can apply it to any genre or writing project with minimal variation.
  • Repeatable: You can use the same steps over and over without having to reinvent the wheel each time.
  • Well-defined: It has clear, well-defined steps and tasks that you can start and complete.
  • Accessible: It can be used anytime, anywhere, with minimal restriction on access and tools.
  • Easy: It’s not difficult to implement. It should reinforce and organize the habits you have, not force new ones. Effective writing comes from effective systems, and more importantly, easy systems.

When a writer defines their writing system, they set themselves up to actually finish a book—and enjoy their writing process. “ When a writer defines their writing system, they set themselves up for writing success. Here are three steps to design your writing system.

3 Steps to Design Your Writing System

We all want the same thing: to be able to write a good book and then to be able to do it again.

We want to be able to effortlessly translate what’s in our minds into stories. Well, it will never be truly effortless, but it can certainly be easier once you design a system that works for you.

Believe it or not, creating a system is a learning process in of itself. Let’s take a look at the three steps to design a writing system that works for you.

1. Define your needs

Before you can create a system, you have to know what you’re looking for.

Here are some critical questions to ask yourself:

  • Am I more of a pantser or a plotter?
  • What is something I do every time I start writing? Do I outline? Research? Sit down and just start writing?
  • What is my approach to writing?
  • What essential elements do I value most? For example, is it plot? Theme? Character?
  • What are my writing habits? Do I need time tracking? Motivation? Reward system?

Knowing the kind of writer you are will help you identify the key elements of your system. By answering these questions, you know what your system needs to help you accomplish every time you start a new story.

For example, the following is how I would answer these questions:

  • I am a plotter. My system needs an easy-to-use plotting tool.
  • I tend to start my book with an outline. My system would benefit from including a consistent format for outlining.
  • I write in multiple phases, usually with two to three drafts. My system should have a good way to track different versions of the book.
  • I do well having a consistent word count goal, both over a period of time and on a daily basis.

Your system must be: repeatable, accessible, easy, and reinforce what you already do rather than force you into something completely new.

2. Evaluate Your Options

Of course, just because you know what you need doesn’t mean what is available out there will match everything on your list. Nothing ticks all the boxes.

It’s not unusual for a new writer to feel like they need to fit their writing method into an existing tool, especially if the tool is popular and well-known. I made this mistake with Scrivener. While I am by no means knocking Scrivener, which has helped many writers write their books, it’s not for me. Its many tools and features felt overwhelming when I tried to use it, and I gave it up quickly after a brief stint and sought out something simpler.

In my opinion, it’s best to mix and match your options rather than forcing yourself to stick to one. There are two components to consider: methods and tools.

Methods are ways you approach writing. This is where the plotter/pantser philosopher comes in. Check out this article to figure out the kind of writer you are.

Tools are what assist you in your method. Here is where it gets a little tricky, but it’s easy to be dazzled by all the tools available out there. Remember that you absolutely do not have to use them all or even any of them. They are only here to help your writing method.

Tools come in different categories:

Plotting Tools

These help you plan your book. It’s worth it to explore options based on how much detail you want to go into when you plan. Keep in mind that it’s okay not to use any of them if they don’t suit you. Some writers prefer to pants without plotting at all, or just writing a simple outline in Word.

Here are a few plotting tools to get you started:

Writing Tools

These are what you use to write your book. Tools like Scrivener and Novel Factory also offer space to do the actual writing and give you the option to separate scenes and chapters, but some people, like me, prefer to keep the book together on something simple like Word.

Accessibility is also a factor. I used to write everything in Word, but now I use Google Docs, which allows me to acces the document from anywhere instead of having to email copies to myself back and forth, which also causes confusion from too many versions.

Editing Tools

These are the tools that help you put that finishing touch on your book, such as checking your structure, grammar, and word usage. These tools can vary a lot in functionality. Personally, I am still looking for the perfect one.

At The Write Practice, we love ProWritingAid. You can check out the full ProWritingAid review here.

Not sure if ProWritingAid is for you? The Write Practice looked for the best grammar checker, and in this review, we compare the top tools: ProWritingAid, Grammarly, Ginger, and Hemingway.

Something useful to keep in mind is that no editing tool can ever replace the expertise of a professional editor.

Project Management Tools

These are the tools that help you build habits and stay on track.

A lot of people don’t understand how “project management” works. It simply means setting goals and meeting them in a timely fashion. I tend to keep things simple in this department—an excel sheet with four columns. Column A is the date, B is the total words I should have on that date, C is the actual word count, and D is how much I am behind or ahead by.

This method works for me because I’m a fairly seasoned habitual writer by this point. But a year or two ago I needed a little extra push to stay on top of things.

Here are a few tools I tried:

Keep in mind that there’s also nothing wrong with post-it notes and whiteboards to keep yourself on task.

Ultimately, the point of this tool is to keep you on task. There’s no such thing as too simple, too silly, or too weird. If a pretty list or gamifying your goals works for you, then by all means go for it.

3. Compile Your System

A good writing system will carry you from beginning to end every time. While small parts of it can be tweaked to match different projects, you should be able to refer back to your system and make it work for you every time. To achieve this, you should avoid making parts of your system too specific and strive for as generic and flexible as possible.

Here are a few examples:

STEP: List out all chapter titles before writing

This step is too specific and rigid. You may not be able to think up appropriate titles or want to change the titles later. There’s also a possibility you will feel obligated to stick to the chapter titles you came up with, which may compromise your writing pace.

ALTERNATE: List out story arcs before writing

Story arcs are more functional and flexible, and provide you with a better guideline for your writing.

STEP: Write full character bios for every character

A lot of writers do this, but in reality, this is not always doable and in fact may seem daunting, especially to new writers. A lofty task like this may slow you down and make you feel like you’re failing if you don’t complete it.

ALTERNATE: List out at least five key facts about each main cast member

This is a less monumental task and is more likely to be completed quickly.

STEP: Use Scrivener to plot out each book

Restricting yourself to specific tools is never a good idea. Sure, it’s common to find a tool and stick with it, but it’s better to allow yourself room to explore. Avoid naming specific tools in your plan.

ALTERNATE: Use a plotting software to plot out each book

This leaves you room to try out tools and methods without feeling like you have to stick to one.

At the end of the day, a system is what works for you. Tailor and tweak your plan so that it makes life easier rather than something that you feel obligated to stick to. Using your plan should feel freeing and effortless.

If it doesn’t, something needs to be changed.

Example: My Writing System

As a reference, I’d like to share the novel-writing plan that I use. I developed this plan while working on Headspace and it’s carried me through three more books in the past year and a half.

  1. Determine story idea: I write a one-sentence summary of the story.
  2. Write story synopsis: I describe the story in one to two pages, focusing on what the core of the story is really about.
  3. Develop a cast: I don’t do story bios as I prefer to find out who my characters are in the first draft.
  4. Scene list: I use Hiveword for this; reference this revision list article.
  5. Write first draft: I usually budget six to eight weeks for this, but no more than three months. This draft is very rough and is mainly used to figure out exactly what happens in the story. I write with Google Docs for easy access.
  6. Plot treatment: I will address this part in a later post, but essentially this is where I figured out, chapter by chapter, what needs to change from draft one to draft two. This is done with the help of the revision list.
  7. Write a second draft: This usually takes two to three months. I have the plot treatment and first draft open as I write, and reuse what I can. I also keep a new revision list for this step.
  8. Repeat the plot treatment/rewrite steps: I repeat steps six and seven until the book is satisfactory.
  9. Book goes to editor and beta
  10. Final revision

This is a system that works for me. There might be a better system that works for you. Feel free to experiment as you figure out what your system will be! What steps bring you success? What steps aren’t helpful after all?

Your system doesn’t have to match mine. It just needs to exist, and it needs to work for you. Remember, having a writing system can determine whether or not you write a book that gets published.

What system of steps do you use to finish a book? Let u know in the comments.

By J. D. Edwin

Source: thewritepractice.com

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How To Use Instant Messages In Fiction

In this post, we look at instant messaging in storytelling and tell you how to use instant messages in fiction.

Texts, instant messages, and chat rooms are central to modern talking. When people talk, they do it online and through websites or apps. We talk on the internet almost more than we discuss things in person.

They are an important part of dialogue in storytelling.

TOP TIP: Learn to write better dialogue with The Dialogue Workbook

The first text was from Neil Papworth in 1992. It said, ‘Merry Christmas.’

Apps like Whatsapp, Messenger, and Telegram have millions of users. Instant messages are a modern dialogue type that no writer can ignore.

Instant messages make frequent appearances in the stories Cell, Beastly, and Gossip Girl. Texts are also used in shows like Sherlock, essential to its plot.

Here’s how to use instant messages and text messages in your story.

What Are Instant Messages?

An instant message can be:

  1. An SMS (text),
  2. A Private Message
  3. A Chat room
  4. An Email

How To Use Instant Messages In Fiction

When used in fiction, the Instant Message should always:

  1. Say something about your characters or plot.
  2. Explain something about your characters or story.
  3. Cause something to happen as a result.

An IM serves the same literary purpose as any scene with dialogue: to communicate.

Here are tips on how to use instant messages in fiction:

1. Use The Right Format

A chat dialogue or SMS (text) should stand out from the regular story.

Distinguish any chats in your draft with an indent, new paragraph, and underlined or bold text. Chats with multiple people should be shown like a script, with each speaker’s name aligned left.

Show emojis as typed-out text, or describe them using brackets. Do not use creative, downloaded fonts to show the use of emoticons or text.

William Shunn says that editors or designers make the final decision, but in your drafts, always underline to make chats clear.

Example:

InternetUser7: hey
InternetUser22: hello!
InternetUser7: is the formatting correct?
InternetUser22: yes!
InternetUser22: 🙂

2. Use Abbreviations

‘BRB’, ‘G2G’, and ‘LOL’ are common abbreviations where people talk on the internet. Get to know some internet shorthand. Pay attention to how people use them in real online conversations.

InternetMatters and Webopedia list thousands of internet shorthand terms.

Consider the tone, style, and context of the scene first. What would your character say, and how would they spell it?

Example:

  1. Good Usage: ‘Did you see that meme I sent you yesterday? Lol!’
  2. Bad Usage: ‘Grandma just died yesterday. Lol’

The bad example is common, and it comes from the rumour that LOL really means Lots Of Love. If you do your research, you won’t make the same mistakes!

3. Named Or Trademarked

Writers don’t always have to name a specific app or site in their story.

App or website names don’t have to exist. They can be made up for the plot, like Morley Cigarettes from The X-Files.

What about names like Whatsapp or Messenger?

It’s okay to say most brand names, as long as the mention isn’t harmful to the brand.  That can be slander or libel, and a topic for another day.

Example: 

  1. Real Common Noun: ‘Did you get my Whatsapp message?’
  2. Fictional Common Noun: ‘Let’s talk on SkyPlace.’
  3. Unmentioned: ‘I got your SMS/text yesterday.’

4. Take King’s Advice

‘Writing a story about phones. Here’s the first iPhone from 2007. No reason to post this. I just thought it was a hoot. For the children among you, SMS was text messaging.’ – @StephenKing on Twitter, July 15, 2018

Stephen King used Twitter to announce a story about phones in 2018. King wrote the novel Cell in 2006. Cell combined zombies, phones, and texts into one plot.

Riddles, maps, and texts appear often in Stephen King’s work. Cell uses them to build tension in the earliest scenes.

Another King tale, Mr Harrington’s Phone, also uses the text message as element of suspense. Reader discussions on the Stephen King Forum discuss these often. For suspense, it worked!

Example:

‘I just checked, and one message read. *C C C sT*. Maybe it meant something, maybe Mr Harrigan wasn’t that dead after all.’

5. The Longer Chat Room Chat

Groups are different to simple, two-person chats.

Beastly by Alex Flinn (2007) is one good example of group chat dialogue. The first chapters introduce characters through a chat room.

  1. Group chats have more than one speaker.
  2. Distinguish, like a Q&A interview, with speaker names and sentences separated by a colon.
  3. See one dialogue ‘bit’ as one scene.
  4. Never stretch chats to several pages: short and relevant is important.

Study real chat rooms. Writers write, but also eavesdrop for their craft. Online board games can get writers used to the tone and style of typed conversation.

Example:

User12: hey guys
User93: hi
User66: hey
User99: hola!
User12: what’s new?

6. Use It As An Element Or The Whole Plot

Chats can be a small element, or the whole plot.

Messages are used often to the Gossip Girl novels (2002 to 2011) by Cecily von Ziegesar. Texts fly back and forth between almost each chapter.

Cell doesn’t use them as much.

Include chats in your outline. Know how many, and what is said. Write down what the consequence of the chat is.

A single text can brighten or sink your day, right?

What will texts mean in your plot?

Example:

These are texts that could have powerful meaning, and implications, for any person who gets them.

  1. ‘Please send help, xtra-terrestrials are coming!’
  2. ‘I’m pregnant. Call back.’
  3. ‘We need to talk.’

7. Spelling & Grammar

A 2011 study shows that texts don’t reduce a child’s ability to spell. Contrary to prior belief, exposure to internet-speak might actually improve spelling instead. Scholastic confirms the same idea.

Grammar is still important, even for instant or online messages.

An SMS (text) still needs the right tone or style, and should match the speaker and their emotion.

Ask questions:

  1. How does the sender feel?
  2. How will the recipient react?
  3. How does the sender spell?
  4. Does the sender make mistakes, or use autocorrect?

Writers will notice that online grammar is not always perfect. For stories, this can be allowed, but only if this can be justified by your character.

Grammar in an SMS (text) can be seen as an accent or dialogue. While there is a right way to spell it, there is also a likely way that your character might choose to say it.

Example:

Proper Spelling: ‘@Rox: Show me the way to the old whiskey bar.’
Varied Spelling: ‘show me the way 2 the old whis-k bar’

Essentially, there are a hundred ways to spell it. Choose the one likely for your characters.

8. Mentions Of Other Technology

An IM isn’t the only type of dialogue you can use. Fiction can use anything, like status updates, code snippets, or original sheet music.

Jeffery Deaver’s novel The Blue Nowhere (2001) uses parts of accurate code. The Lord Of The Rings contains several detailed maps.

Added resources can be roughly drawn by the author in first drafts.   Indicate their place in your draft with placeholders. Add the rough resource as an insert.

If you can’t draw, describe.

Example:

  1. They came to a large, strange symbol. [Symbol #1]
  2. They came to a large, strange symbol. [Drawn Circle With Dot]

The Last Word

I hope this post with its tips for using instant messages in storytelling helps you with your fiction.

Source: writerswrite.co.za

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When Are You Ready for Professional Editing?

By Lisa Poisso

Many writers equate preparing for a professional edit with revision. We’ll cover a few revision tasks in this article, but revision is only half the battle. Preparing your manuscript is the first part of getting ready for editing. The second part is preparing yourself.

Knowing when a manuscript is ready to be sent off for editing is fairly straightforward. The manuscript should be thoroughly revised, incorporating a close review of the plot, character arcs, story, and writing, outside feedback, and a healthy dose of author-powered proofreading. The manuscript you submit for editing should be the very best ambassador of your storytelling and writing abilities it can possibly be.

Knowing when you yourself are ready for editing may seem less obvious. You could choose to approach editing as a brief but unpleasant course of medicine you should hold your nose and chug as quickly as possible. Or you could choose to make more of it, as a relatively rare window allowing you to peer inside your writing in a new way. You, as a writer, are ready for editing when you’re warmed up and ready to grow.

Getting Your Manuscript Ready for Editing

A sparkling novel, like a scintillating diamond gem, is created through cutting and polishing, not simply the pressure that initially forms the stone. A first draft is still a lump of coal. It’s raw potential. A first draft has no business sticking its snoot beyond the cooling fan vents of your computer. It’s for your eyes only.

Editing a less-than-thoroughly-revised manuscript limits the book’s creative and commercial potential. It burns editorial cash and time on issues you could and should have addressed yourself. There’s no need to pay an editor to teach you fundamentals you could’ve found on websites like this one or feedback you could’ve gleaned from critique partners and early readers.

There’s a reason editors suggest revision strategies like the ones I’ve listed below: Together, they give you ample opportunity to make your work as solid as you’re capable of on your own. That’s the secret sauce in making a manuscript ready for editing.

1. Put the manuscript away for at least several weeks. You can’t revise what you can’t see, and you can’t see your own work with fresh eyes until you’ve dried out from the initial deluge of writing. Give yourself at least two weeks away from your manuscript; I recommend eight weeks or more.

2. Revise in layers like an onion, not front to back like a book. Revisions begin at the top—not at the first page of the book, but at the top layer of the manuscript. The number of drafts you generate is less important than making a dedicated revision pass for each layer: character arcs and story, plotting, individual scenes, writing depth, and proofreading. Especially if you’re new to writing, follow a systematic approach. I recommend Janice Hardy’s Revise Your Novel in 31 Days (free web articles) or the full plan in Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, or get Beth Hill’s encyclopedic masterpiece The Magic of Fiction (affiliate links).

3. Set a deadline. Once you’ve completed your first story-level revision draft, assign yourself a deadline for completing the rest. Story revision tends to take longer than other types, so you should reliably be able to use that to guesstimate the time needed for the rest. If you’re a sucker for some sweet external pressure, find the right editor and book your edit to give yourself a deadline with a deposit on the table.

4. Write a synopsis, even if you’ll be self-publishing. A synopsis is an unambiguous conclusive tool for proving that the plot and character arcs hang together. If you’re having trouble articulating the conflict and stakes or showing how one thing leads to the next, you have more work to do.

5. Get outside feedback. Take an initial temperature reading after your first draft with one or two trusted alpha readers. After the next draft or two, seek informed feedback from writing peers (critique groups and partners). As you get further along, test reader reactions from people you don’t personally know who actively read your genre.

6. Read the entire manuscript out loud. Hearing your book read aloud will reveal a whole host of things you overlooked during revision. Listen to the entire manuscript, noting issues as you go. Reading silently to yourself isn’t the same; you need the slower pace and different input of the hearing the text. If that much reading aloud seems overwhelming, use a text-to-speech feature or app.

By this point, you should be reaching your self-imposed revision deadline. You may notice you’ve begun endlessly fiddling with details of description or dialogue, fussing over the writing rather than structurally improving it. That’s the clarion call: time for editing.

TIP: The Storyteller’s Roadmap at One Stop for Writers has a Revision Map that gives you a good idea of what story revision can look like.

Getting Yourself Ready for Editing

Preparing yourself for editing is arguably more important than preparing your manuscript. Are you crouched in defensive mode, poised to protect your vision from outside influence, or are you ready and open to exploring new depths in your work? It’s the difference between being the naive target of other people’s visions for your work and being an informed master of your creative output.

1. Are you grounded in the craft of storytelling? What you don’t know about writing fiction can hurt you. So many new authors begin writing with the assumption that an awesome idea or scenario is all they need. Without an understanding of how the story engine works, your success will be based on instinct and luck. Level up: Learn the craft.

2. Are you a reader? Can you imagine a songwriter who listened to no music and played no instruments? Me neither. If you’ve never read the sort of book you’re trying to write, why not? If you have no idea what’s on the bestseller lists right now, why should you expect readers to buy your book? Writers write for themselves; authors write for readers. Know your readers—be one.

3. Are you expecting the editor to do the heavy lifting? If your preparation consists of whisking through your manuscript while mumbling “I’ll let the editor fix that,” that’s exactly what you’ll get: editing focused on fixing basics a wordsmith should already have mastered.

4. Are you ready to evolve? Your first few novels and edits are your classroom as a novelist. Are you ready for a major step in your creative evolution? Criticism can be intimidating, but turtling from feedback prevents you from growing as an artist. Editors suggest and recommend; they don’t mandate. The throttle is yours. Are you ready to accelerate?

When You’re Not Ready Yet

Most people assume that writing the book is the hard part. They don’t see the part of the iceberg below the waterline, the real development that takes place before and after the first draft.

Like everything else about writing, revision is a skill. You’ll get better with time and practice. If you need help at first, a story or writing coach can help you prioritize and focus your efforts.

In the end, revision may reveal fatal flaws in the manuscript, or you may decide the story has potential but your execution isn’t there yet. That’s okay; better to know that now than after you’ve paid for editing. Sometimes getting ready for editing means shelving the manuscript for now and writing another.

Onward!

Source: writershelpingwriters.net

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Info Dumping: What It Is and How to Avoid It

Info dumping is a common piece of feedback for authors who include too much information in their stories. If you info dump, you will slow the pace—and worse, you’ll likely bore readers. You never want to bore your readers.

So how do you know when to include a “chunk of info” and when it is better to strip your scenes to the bone? (Almost always, by the way.)

In this article, you can learn what info dumping is, along with some common ways writers accidentally do it. You’ll also learn some editing questions that can help you condense your writing, leaving your reader with only necessary information that develops characters or advances the plot.

A Common Writing Mistake: Info Dumping

When I first started writing, I absolutely info dumped, something not uncommon for new writers (and especially for a science fiction author or fantasy author—all that world building, you know?).

Although I wasn’t told that I info dumped in so many words, I remember being super excited to share part of my YA fantasy story with an agent after attending a Writer’s Digest workshop. I edited the opening scene multiple times. I had other people read it for mistakes. I hit send, and—

I was told I needed to show, don’t tell. Whomp, whomp.

If you’ve ever been given this advice, don’t fret! It mainly means that you’re info dumping and that the story doesn’t need to include all the details you’ve shared.

While any revision work is hard work, I promise that when you learn how you info dump you can become more conciseness on when to not to info dump in your story. Cleaning up areas where you info dump will make your story smoother. It will make the reader’s experience far more enjoyable. And you will be way prouder of it than you ever were before!

To do this, you need to figure out how to trim your scenes instead of bombarding an entire scene with uninteresting and weightless details. Let’s learn how to identify info dumping, and ways to avoid it.

Definition of Info Dumping

Info dumping is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Imagine you’re under a bucket of water, and someone pours the whole thing on top of you. Now imagine a bucket that’s ten times larger, and imagine that you’re being drenched in exposition instead of water. Info dumping is what happens when the author gives the reader a massive amount of background information in a matter of pages instead of letting the story unfold.

It’s generally a mark of lazy writing (not good), and more than often will disinterest your readers (really not good), which could lead to them giving up on your book.

3 Common Types of Classic Info Dumping

Here are some common ways a writer info dumps in their story: “ Avoid info dumping at all costs! Here are three ways writers info dump in their stories.

1. Blocks of Info in World Building

Sometimes writers think that they need to explain everything to a writer instead of trusting the reader’s intelligence. In these cases, they often drop “chunks of info” in a scene because they think that if the writer doesn’t get all these details, they won’t be able to make sense of what’s going on.

Usually this isn’t the case, and the information drowns the scene instead of enlightens the reader.

World building info dumps most commonly happen in exposition. They substitute action with wordy details about everything in the setting or history of the world. More often, putting a character into action with their setting is a far better way to show a story’s world rather than tell a reader what makes it special.

Think about this. Even in opening scenes with massive worldbuidling, like Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games or any of Brandon Sanderson’s epics, the primary focus for the scene is on the protagonist trying to do something, not District 12’s life history. We get to know District 12 because of how Katniss navigates the woods and avoids Peacekeepers and shops at the Black Market.

Sure, it’s important to give a reader some information about what makes District 12 special (and deprived)—but we only really learn about District 12 when Katniss interacts with her home.

Avoid giving the entire history of your story’s world. Instead, allow us to get to know the world through either shallow or steep world building.

For shallow world building, think Harry Potter, where we learn about the world and the School of Wizardry with Harry.

For steep worldbuilding, think The Ways of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. Sanderson, in all his books, assumes the reader gets what he’s talking about and keeps going. You need to trust the reader’s intelligence and imagination with steep worldbuillding, meaning you don’t explain everything and instead focus on the plot as it charges ahead.

Writer’s tip: Putting a character into action doesn’t mean every scene needs to be a car chase, but a character should be trying to accomplish or do something. When obstacles get in the way of this movement, there’s conflict. Conflict is what forces decisions. And decisions are what make a scene by developing characters and advancing the plot.

You can learn more about basic, important scene structure in the six elements of plot. Or, read more about how to establish the setting in your story in this article.

2. Character Info Dump

Have you ever read a book with a classic character exposition info dump? The kind of introduction of a character that explains every detail about them, from their childhood to the radiant blue color of their eyes?

Character info dumping  is probably one of the more popular ways writers info dump. They think they need to give a complete breakdown of every physical and emotional detail about the character.

Spoiler alert: you don’t.

It’s much better to introduce a character, as I mentioned above, through action rather than description. Sure, it’s great to know a defining feature or quirk about a character, like Katniss’s braid or Zelie’s white hair (Children of Blood and Bone) or the radiant smile of Jay Gatsby:

He smiled understandingly—much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life.

The Great Gatsby 

But what’s really going to hold a reader’s interest isn’t what they look like—other than those few defining features. It’s what a character does—how they act and treat others.

To avoid character info dumping, allow the scene to unfold in a way that challenges the character from getting what they want. Focus on how a character makes decisions, not physical descriptions.

Avoid an emotional info dump, too. In these dumps, a reader might find themselves thinking, “Wow, this character is super whiny.” Which means they will start to get annoyed by the character and how much they’re complaining or sharing.

I’m a big believer in internal character arcs. I argue that stories aren’t masterwork-worthy unless the internal arc is as intriguing and important as the external events driving the plot.

Still, in most manuscripts I’ve edited, you can eliminate at least a third of those internal tangents. As a tip, if you can say something in ten words instead of five hundred words, the shorter option is almost always the better choice.

Read more about how to develop a character in this article.

3. Dump Through Dialogue

Avoid long paragraphs of dialogue at all costs. A novel is not a script—and even in a screenplay, you’ll notice that characters have way more conversations that break up dialogue than giant monologues.

Sure, there are opportunities in novels where you might need that big speech. Atticus Finch’s closing argument in To Kill a  Mockingbird is a great example of when lengthy dialogue is appropriate—when the reader will hang onto every word instead of skim whatever is being said.

“In the name of God, do your duty.”

To Kill a Mockingbird 

However, dialogue is, more often than not, far more interesting if it’s broken up with (shocker) action (a character doing something while they talk—body language can be as emotionally effective as words themselves) or other dialogue (create a conversation instead of a wordy explanation of something).

When you’re writing, flag any areas of lengthy dialogue in your books. Then, ask yourself if you need to really have the character say everything, or if it could be discussed with other characters. If it’s not the time for a conversation, see if you can replace content with actions that show instead of tell, like:

  • A detective examining a dead body instead of talking about it.
  • A wizard walking through a magical shopping area rather than being told about it.
  • A spouse proving their love by doing THIS instead of telling their partner why they love them so much (although you’ll probably want some dialogue here).

Read more about how to write dialogue in this article.

Places Where You Might Be Tempted to Info Dump

Aside from getting a viewer reacquainted with what has happened so far this season on The Good Wife, info dumping can be used effectively in comedic works of parody or satire. It can take the form of an “as you know . . .” lecture, in which one character tells another what has been going on for the past fifty pages, in case the reader hasn’t been paying attention.

This conversation would never realistically happen. A cousin of the “as you know . . .” lecture is the villain monologue, which thoroughly explains the villain’s evil plot for destroying the world/kidnapping the princess/eating the last cookie. God forbid the reader be smart enough to pick up on subtle hints along the way.

Create an Enjoyable Reader Experience

Moral of the story: info dumping usually flags poor writing rather than effective storytelling. When a writer avoids info dumping, they’re far more likely to engage the reader in the character’s journey, because the reader can concentrate on how the plot and setting are challenging the character, rather than being told all about, well, everything.

A great reader experience is grounded in memorable characters, which is better experienced through decision making. It’s also enlivened by a plot that moves forward with sound, structured, and intentional scenes that only include the details we need to know, for the present moment or for later in the plot. It cuts out everything else.

To help you identify when it’s time to cut out details, consider these editing questions:

  • How can I eliminate at least ten words in every paragraph?
  • Am I explaining something about a character or setting, or showing how the character interacts with their surroundings? (You can have some details to explain important setting elements that are significant to the larger story, like a wand made of holly that possesses a phoenix feather core.)
  • Does this detail matter? In other words, if I take “X” sentence out, will the reader or plot lose anything because of it? Will it cause confusion, or clarity and connection through condensed description?

Every writer needs to learn how to “kill their darlings” at some point in their writing process. Wouldn’t it be awesome if when the time came, you’d already avoided the large passages of info dumping?

What are some ways you’ve info dumped before? How did you edit these sections of your story? Let us know in the comments.

By Abigail Perry

Source: thewritepractice.com

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How to Handle Criticism: 3 Strategies to Make Criticism Work for You

You invest a lot of yourself in your writing, and putting your creative work in front of others is scary. Your mind floods with questions like, What if they don’t like it? What if they think I’m dumb? What if I’m no good at this? And what if someone doesn’t like it? Do you know how to handle negative criticism?

Here Come the Rocks and Rotten Tomatoes

No doubt about it, folks. Publishing is a courageous act. When you send out submissions, you set yourself up for rejection from publishers. When you share your story in a writers’ group, you open yourself to negative feedback from peers.

When you publish a book or post on a blog or put something up on social media, you become subject to emails, comments, and reviews — and sometimes that includes destructive criticism. As a writer, for better and worse, you gain exposure in the public arena. And that means a criticism.

3 Strategies for How to Handle Criticism

Makes you want to don a suit of armor, doesn’t it? But what if, instead of avoiding the negative feedback, you could actually put it to work for you? Make it friend, rather than foe?

I’ve been thinking and studying on this for several weeks, and I’d like to share three strategies that could help you harness criticism to drive your success. Here’s how to foster a more effective reaction to criticism:

1. Practice Rejection

A couple years ago, Tim Grahl released a book called, Running Down A Dream. The book is a truthful look at the sort of struggles we go through as creatives. In one chapter, Tim tells the story of Jia Jiang.

When Jia was a young boy in school, his teacher conducted a class activity where the children would say something they liked about each student. When it was Jia’s turn, he stood in front of a silent classroom. No one had anything good to say about him.

He was so devastated by this experience that it followed him into adulthood. Until he decided to face his fear of rejection head-on. He came across Jason Comely’s Rejection Therapy Game. The game has one rule: for thirty days you have to be rejected by someone, at least once, every single day.

The first day, Jia asked a stranger to loan him $100. He was surprised to find it wasn’t a big deal when the person turned him down. He went on for a hundred days, asking to be a greeter at a coffee shop, to give a lecture at a college, to play soccer in someone’s backyard, and being rejected more often than not.

That’s some powerful therapy

Imagine the perspective he gained through this exercise, the impact this had on his emotional intelligence. He used the helpful feedback to his advantage, allowing him to acquire greater empathy and learn strategic ways to ask for things.

But the best lesson he learned is that rejection is not something you have to be afraid of. He crafted a response to criticism that served his interest.

Tim ended the chapter with this: “If you practice getting rejected, the pain you experience with each subsequent rejection lessens. —Tim Grahl

I’m not suggesting you should go out and actively seek rejection (though apparently there’s some benefit to that). I am suggesting a change in attitude towards criticism. It’s a good idea to prepare for rejection and destructive criticism, for it’s sure to come your way.

Preparation is a great first step in handling criticism effectively.

An important principle to remember is this: it’s your work under the microscope — not you. The writing, not the writer.

With your writer hat on, you should fully engage with your work, emotionally. But when it’s time to put on the editor, publisher, and marketer hats, you’ll perform better if you can manage an emotional separation, allowing you to consider criticism more objectively, mining the gold, and discarding the dross.

For more on this, see Sue Weems’s excellent article on How To Plan for Writing Rejection.

2. Consider the Source

It makes an enormous difference where the criticism is coming from. Depending on the source and type of feedback, it should be examined and filtered in different ways.

Criticism from a random stranger, such as a bad review on Amazon or a negative comment on a blog post, can probably be safely ignored unless it becomes a common theme in the feedback you receive. You have no way of knowing if the person has any expertise or authoritative experience driving their criticism. Without that, it’s just one person’s opinion, without a leg to stand on.

Criticism from family and friends warrants a huge grain of salt. There’s usually too much emotional history there to be reliably objective. It’s complicated.

Vibes from the tribe

Criticism from your tribe, your writers’ support group, is something to treat carefully. In such a situation, I suggest looking for each reader’s response to your story, rather than advice on how to repair any problems they perceive. And remember, that response — how one reader experienced your story — is individual and stems from that reader’s personal taste.

Having a tribe is paramount. There’s a tremendous amount to be gained as a member of a writing community. In your tribe, expect to get honesty, support, camaraderie, and any number of other benefits. But you shouldn’t necessarily expect a professional action plan for fixing your work.

Recognize that others in the group are coming from a place of wanting to help you grow as a writer, and be willing to extend the same courtesy. But realize that most members are struggling to learn the craft themselves. They’re at a point where they really can only give their personal reaction to the writing, not an expert opinion or actionable advice about how to fix it.

Pain from the pros

And then there’s criticism from writing professionals. This has the most weight behind it and can therefor knock you flat, if you’re not prepared. Or boost you up, if you are. This is where you can really listen and learn, using their constructive feedback to move you to a whole new level with your writing.

Here’s how to handle criticism from professionals: When you find an editor or mentor that you trust, do what they say. There’s little point in getting expert advice if you’re not going to follow it. If you defend against their every suggestion and rationalize every one of your choices, they’ll soon tire of working with you.

And don’t forget to cut yourself some slack. Accept that you’re not going to hit it out of the park every single time. Be prepared for constructive criticism and receive it with gladness. Struggle and failure are part of the process, not an indication that your efforts are doomed.

3. Combat Self-Criticism

You’ve heard it said that we are our own worst critics, and you’ll get no argument from me on that score. We tend to magnify our own imperfections and often, instead of using them to motivate improvement, we let them immobilize us.

So here’s something you can do with a choice piece of self-inflicted unfair criticism — flip it on its head. I’m going back to Running Down A Dream for this. Do what Tim did when he caught himself thinking thoughts like “You’re never going to be good at this” and “This is a complete waste of time.” He said:

I started trying to pay attention to my thoughts as they came in. If I saw a particularly negative thought making repeat appearances, I would write down the thought and then come up with an affirmation to directly combat it.

Gotta love the Z man

Tim had been using Zig Ziglar’s affirmations to help overcome his doubts and fears. He added two affirmations that apply nicely to us, as writers:

  1. I give grace to myself and accept that perfection is not the goal; only truth.
  2. I am proud of being a writer and consider it an honor to serve the world in this way.

By taking a negative thought and reversing it, we can use the criticism to empower us, motivate us, and fuel our enthusiasm for the work we’re doing.

The Joy of Criticism

So, take a deep breath and give thanks for the criticism. It really is an amazing thing to be able to create stories and share them with the world. When we engage in such mighty endeavors, criticism is sure to come. As well as gratitude, delight, and reader satisfaction.

The bitterness of criticism only serves to make the accolades all the sweeter.

How about you? Do you use any other strategies for how to handle criticism?

By Joslyn Chase

Source: thewritepractice.com

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How Symbolism Adds Depth to a Story

I think we all agree, stories need to be more than a character, goal, and a series of scenarios that keep the two apart. Reading isn’t a mechanical action after all, it’s something we do to escape and enjoy. So, to deliver a true experience, we want to write fiction with layers, pulling readers in deeper as they go.

This depth can be added a number of ways—through subplots, character arc, subtext, theme, and symbolism. Of them all, symbolism is one of the simplest methods to deploy, packs a serious wallop, and is often underused. Let’s talk about why you should use it. 

Symbolism can turn an ordinary object (or place, color, person, etc.) into something that goes beyond the literal. Babies represent innocence and unlimited potential, spring is synonymous with rebirth, shackles symbolize slavery, the color white brings to mind purity.

Symbols like these are considered ‘universal’ because the associated meaning is so well known within a culture or society. As such, using universal symbols in fiction means writers can deliver a deeper message without having to state it outright. Not only that, symbols tighten description too. By its very nature, if something is understood to be symbolic, it’s conveying something more.

A symbol can also be personal in nature. This is where it means something specifically to a character or specific group.

For William Wallace in the movie Braveheart, the thistle represents love since one was given to him by Murron when they were children. To most people, love in the form of a prickly weed wouldn’t typically compute. But as it’s used throughout the film at poignant moments, the audience comes to recognize this personal symbol for what it means.

So whether the symbol is universally obvious or one that’s specific to the protagonist, it can add a layer that draws readers deeper into the story. The setting itself can become a symbol as a whole should you need it to. A home could stand for safety. A river might represent a forbidden boundary.

More often than not, your symbol will be something within the setting that represents an important idea to your character. And when you look within your protagonist’s immediate world, you’re sure to find something that holds emotional value for him or her.

For instance, if your character was physically abused as a child, it might make sense for the father to be a symbol of that abuse since he was the one who perpetrated it. But the father might live thousands of miles away. The character may have little to no contact with him, which doesn’t leave many chances to symbolize. Choosing something within the protagonist’s own setting will have greater impact and offer more opportunities for conflict and tension.

Perhaps the symbol might be the smell of his father’s cologne—the same kind his roommate puts on when he’s prepping for a date, the scent of which soaks into the carpet and furniture and lingers for days.

Another choice might be an object from his setting that represents the one he was beaten with: wire hangers in the closet, a heavy dictionary on the library shelf, or the tennis racquet in his daughter’s room that she recently acquired and is using for lessons. These objects won’t be exact replicas of the ones from his past, but they’re close enough to trigger unease, bad memories, or even emotional trauma.

Symbols like these have potential because not only do they clearly remind the protagonist of a painful past event, they’re in his immediate environment, where he’s forced to encounter them frequently. In the case of the tennis racquet, an extra layer of complexity is added because the object is connected to someone he dearly loves—someone he wants to keep completely separate from any thoughts of his abuse.

Motifs: Symbolism on a Larger Scale

Connecting readers with our stories is what we all hope to achieve as authors. This is why the stories we write often contain a central message or idea—a theme—that is being conveyed through its telling. Sometimes the theme is deliberately included during the drafting stage; other times, it organically emerges during the writing process. However it occurs, the theme is often supported by certain recurring symbols that help to develop the overall message or idea throughout the course of a story. These repeated symbols are called motifs.

For example, consider the Harry Potter series. One of the motifs under-girding the theme of good vs. evil is the snake. It’s the sign for the house of Slytherin, from which so many bad wizards have emerged. Voldemort’s pet, Nagini, is a giant snake. Those who can speak Parseltongue (the language of serpents) are considered to be dark wizards. By repeatedly using this creature as a symbol for evil, Rowling creates an image that readers automatically associate with the dark side of Potter’s world.

Because motifs are pivotal in revealing your theme, it’s important to find the right ones. The setting is a natural place for these motifs to occur because it contains so many possibilities. It could be a season, an article of clothing, an animal, a weather phenomenon—it could be anything, as long as it recurs throughout the story and reinforces the overall theme.

Themes can either be planned or accidental. If you know beforehand what your theme will be, think of a location that could reinforce that idea—either through the setting itself or with objects within that place—and make sure those choices are prominently displayed throughout the story.

By ANGELA ACKERMAN

Source: writershelpingwriters.net

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Genre Conventions: How to Satisfy Suspense Readers by Meeting Expectations

When you sit down with a book, are you hoping for a particular type of story experience? This is a common desire, since readers—know it or not—are drawn towards specific genres and genre conventions.

From a writer’s perspective, knowing these genre “flavors” and how to create them to satisfy reader expectations is key to writing stories that will keep readers coming back.

In addition, understanding the genre conventions and obligatory scenes helps you push yourself farther and reach higher to innovate and twist what’s been done before, astonishing readers . . . and even yourself!

How to Write for Suspense Genres

Something amazing has happened to me in my writing so many times that I’ve come to expect it rather than be surprised by it. It’s this:

I’ve planned, plotted, and written most of my story and I’m nearing the finish line. I have a pretty solid idea about how the story is going to end, but I let my mind wander a bit and a new twist for the finale leaps into view. Usually, all it requires is a few tweaks in the previously written parts to set it up, and I’ve added a whole dimension to the story.

Thriller readers expect an extra twist like this before the story’s conclusion. A false ending is one of the genre’s obligatory scenes. If I leave the false ending out of my thriller, I leave readers unsatisfied at the end of my book and they may not even realize why.

They simply won’t move on to my next book, and I’ve lost a reader. I never want that to happen. And you don’t, either.

So, let’s dig into what readers are looking for when they pick up a book in the suspense genres.

Note: I’ve drawn a large portion of this information from Shawn Coyne, author of The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know.  

Mystery Genre Emotions

According to Shawn Coyne, the core emotion readers want to feel—the reason they make mysteries and crime stories their choice of genre—is intrigue. They want to be challenged with a stimulating puzzle and get a chance to solve it while exploring the lives and relationships of engaging characters in interesting settings.

The puzzle usually involves at least one murder, which can also evoke feelings of fear and concern for the characters. And the story’s resolution should bring a feeling of fulfillment or surprise, as well as a pleasurable release of tension when the criminal is brought to justice.

If the mystery is not a “whodunit” murder, but instead a caper or heist, the reader may cheer for the perpetrators and feel anxiety over whether they’ll get away with it or not.

You can help generate these emotions for your mystery readers by creating characters they can care about. It’s also critical to design an intriguing puzzle with clues and red herrings, delivering all the information in the right order for readers to solve the case or experience t

Mystery Genre Conventions

A genre convention is something readers expect to find in a story from a particular genre. If the element doesn’t make an appearance in the story, readers will be disappointed without really understanding why, so it’s important to include these conventions in your mystery story.

The MacGuffin

The MacGuffin in a mystery is something pursued by the characters, the Object of Desire, and it drives the story forward as the pursuit unfolds. It can be something tangible, like treasure or a coded message—an example is the Maltese Falcon in the story by that name. Or it might be something intangible, such as secret knowledge or proof of innocence, like Roger Thornhill’s quest in North By Northwest.

In a murder mystery, the MacGuffin is most often the solution to the crime.

Clues and Red Herrings

These are the pieces of information gained by the sleuth that send them along a line of investigation. Clues, if interpreted correctly, lead to the solution while red herrings lead to dead ends or false conclusions. For more information about clues and red herrings and how to create and plant them in your story, check out my Ultimate Guide to Clues and Red Herrings.

Antagonist making it personal

As the protagonist sleuth gets closer to the truth, the more uncomfortable the criminal becomes until, at some point, the antagonist makes it personal. This can mean anything from interfering in the investigation and planting false clues to mislead the protagonist, to attempting to “bump off” the protagonist altogether.

A shapeshifter

Someone, somewhere along the line, is exposed as a shapeshifter, hypocrite, or traitor. This is a secondary character who says one thing and does another, impacting the protagonist’s progress in solving the puzzle.

The betrayal doesn’t have to be momentous, and the shift involved doesn’t have to be for the worse. An apparent enemy can prove to be an ally, for instance.

A clock

While a mystery doesn’t apply the same kind of time pressure as a Thriller, without some kind of a clock moving it forward, the story can drift and get flabby. Limiting time is an effective way to keep a mystery story fresh, active, and moving toward a resolution. It’s something readers and writers alike have come to depend upon in the mystery genre.

Clear threat of escalating danger

This danger does not have to be physical. It can imperil the sleuth’s credibility, sanity, or dignity.  Or the threat may impact something else significant. This escalating threat raises the stakes, keeps the reader emotionally involved, and helps drive the story forward.

These six conventions of the crime genre, which includes mystery, are set forth by editor Rachelle Ramirez in her article, How to Write a Crime Story.

Let’s move on now to the obligatory scenes.

Obligatory Scenes of the Mystery Genre

When crafting a mystery story, be sure to include these key scenes in your planning. Without them, your mystery will likely fail to resonate with fans of the crime genre. These iconic moments don’t each need their own scene but may be combined as the story progresses.

A crime or the threat of a crime

According to both Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, long-acknowledged authorities on the subject, this is the definition of a mystery story. It must have a crime or the plausible threat of a crime. Usually, this is what occurs in the Inciting Incident of the story.

An investigation

The sleuth, your story’s protagonist, must actively pursue a solution to the crime and bring the culprit to justice, or enact an alternate, satisfying resolution. If the story is a caper or heist, the plan must unfold and lead to the capture or escape of the thieves.

Speech in praise of the antagonist

This is rarely something as formal as an actual speech. Instead, it entails a character pointing out the antagonist’s prowess or apparent superiority in some way. Perhaps as a warning to the sleuth or a secondary character’s admiration of the antagonist.

Protagonist discovers antagonist’s MacGuffin

At some point in the story, the sleuth comes to understand the criminal’s core pursuit—what he’s really after. For example, the motive behind the crime may become clear, representing a big jump ahead in reaching the solution.

Initial strategy fails

Most successful stories begin with a character, in a setting, with a problem. From there, they go into a series of try/fail cycles until the ultimate “try” of the story’s climax. So, the initial attempt must fail, forcing the protagonist to change strategies and try again. And again.

Core Event in the climactic scene

In a mystery, the core event involves exposure of the criminal and revealing the solution to the crime—explaining what happened and how the truth was discovered.

In the case of a caper or heist, the core event is the enactment of the plan—putting it all into action and moving toward completion or failure.

Criminal brought to justice

The final obligatory scene, which may or may not happen during the story’s climax, is bringing the criminal to justice or an equally satisfying resolution.

In the case of a caper or heist, this is where the protagonist either succeeds and gets away or is caught.

Remember that readers want to feel intrigued by the mystery. Be sure to present a challenging, interesting puzzle and deliver all the pieces to the reader for a satisfying conclusion.

For more about Mysteries, see How to Write a Mystery Novel.

Emotions of the Suspense Genre

Readers of suspense read to experience the feeling of . . . suspense. That uncertainty that comes with knowing there’s something going on below the surface but only getting hints as to what it might be.

These are the stories that mess with your mind.

The suspense genre teeters on the border between mystery and horror. It involves piecing together—not necessarily a crime, as in Mystery—a bigger picture of a hidden reality. You’ll often see these sorts of books categorized as psychological thrillers, but I class them differently since thrillers demand an unrelenting fast pace, whereas suspense can move along at a variety of paces.

For example, one of the most enduring suspense stories ever written is Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca. Fraught with suspense and an underlying sense of peril, it nevertheless moves at a leisurely pace through the dim halls of Manderley.

Remember that Alfred Hitchcock was the Master of Suspense and you’ll have a fair idea of the appeal suspense lovers are looking for. To help you develop this kind of emotion in your readers, work on creating a great atmosphere for suspense. Focus also on techniques for pulling readers into the setting and foreshadowing events. “ The suspense genre teeters on the border between mystery and horror. Learn more about its genre conventions in this article. Tweet thisTweet

Suspense Genre Conventions

Because Mysteries, Thrillers, and Suspense are closely related, they share many Conventions and Obligatory Scenes. In this section, I’ll reiterate where necessary, but focus on the difference between genre conventions.

Menacing atmosphere

Setting is crucial in a Suspense story. A richly drawn, sinister atmosphere is key to creating the mood and tension suspense readers enjoy. The setting can be thick with foreboding or superficially bright with unsettling indicators that all is not as it seems.

A secret plot

The unknown antagonist is brewing something diabolical beneath the surface of the story that the protagonist seeks to uncover.

Don’t know who to trust

The hero of the story will be surrounded by secondary characters, but she’ll have doubts about which of them she can rely on and which might be trying to harm her. This is the primary dilemma of the suspense novel.

It’s personal

In a mystery or a thriller, the antagonist makes the hero his target at some point in the story’s progression. In a suspense story, it’s always personal. In most cases, the hero has been the target from the start.

Clues and Red Herrings

As in a mystery, the protagonist will gather information to help her form an accurate picture of what’s going on. In a mystery, the clues generally help solve a crime that’s already happened. In a suspense, the pieces lead the hero to discover an evil plan in progress or that will hatch in the imminent future.

A Shapeshifter

Like a mystery, the suspense story will feature at least one shapeshifter—a character who seems to be one thing yet proves to be something else. Remember, the shapeshifter doesn’t have to go from good to bad but may instead be someone the protagonist thought was against her who turns out to be an ally.

High Stakes

The risk to the protagonist must be real and significant—usually hinging on life or death. And those stakes should rise as the story progresses. The scope of that risk—meaning the consequences of the hero failing to discover the truth—most often keeps to the lower end of the scale, affecting only the protagonist or a small circle of contacts.

Obligatory Scenes of the Suspense Genre

These scenes represent the must-have moments in a suspense story. Leave them out, and you risk losing readers who sense something vital missing from your book.

Hero enmeshed in the unfolding danger

You must give your protagonist a compelling reason for being in the dangerous situation and show how they can’t turn back, crossing the point of no return.

An investigation

Your protagonist must gather information to make sense of her dilemma and formulate a plan of escape.

Initial strategy fails

As in all effective stories, once the character is in a setting with a problem, her first attempt at overcoming the problem fails and she is forced to scramble for a new plan, usually at greater risk to herself as the stakes rise.

Core Event in the climactic scene

The core event of a suspense lies in the hero exposing the big, underlying secret and destroying the evil plan or escaping its grasp. Or perhaps not. Suspense does not always have a happy ending, though readers do prefer them.

Suspended resolution

Often (but not always) in a suspense story, the ending is left up in the air, an ambiguous conclusion. Readers must decide the final outcome for themselves or remain forever suspended in uncertainty. This is in keeping with the overall unsettled, disconcerting tone of the story. And leaves possibilities open for a sequel.

For more information about what makes a Suspense story and how it differs from Mystery and Thrillers, I invite you to read How to Write a Suspense Novel.

Emotions of a Thriller

Readers dive into thrillers expecting to feel excitement, to experience danger and thrills without actual risk. They want the stimulation of traveling to far off, exotic places without leaving home, the buzz of being privy to momentous secrets, the breathless high of jumping from one narrow escape to the next while staying safe. They want an action story.

Thrillers, like crime stories, also play on a reader’s sense of justice and sanctity of life. Thrillers tend to pit bad guy against good guy and bring the good guy out on top. That is a major appeal of the thriller.

And readers want something more from thrillers—they want to know what it feels like to inhabit a particular sort of world. That’s why there are so many sub-genres of thrillers—to provide the emotions and sensations craved by readers for each milieu.

For example, in addition to the emotional appeals listed above . . .

  • Espionage and Secret Agent thrillers let readers experience the thrill of international intrigue, clever tactics, and breaking the rules to achieve a crucial end goal.
  • Disaster thrillers allow readers to feel the vicarious terror of panic and destruction, giving them the opportunity to speculate how they would react under such dire circumstances.
  • Military thrillers give readers a chance to get down in the trenches and feel the fear, the tragedy, the intimate violence of war as well as rousing emotions of heroism and patriotism.
  • Technothrillers allow readers to feel like they are insiders to safe-guarded military and technological information, like they have a Top-Secret clearance to access vital issues of national security.
  • Legal thrillers bring readers into the fascinating machinations of the legal system, letting them take part in high-profile (albeit fictional) trial proceedings and feel the associated angst and prestige.
  • Financial thrillers allow readers to feel the cachet of wealth and the power that comes with it, and to experience lifestyles of the rich and famous.
  • Serial Killer thrillers let readers feel the brush with death and get a peek into a mind so deranged they’ll never be able to understand it.
  • Medical and Bio-thrillers are terrifying on such a fundamental level that they create feelings of mortal weakness and helpless fascination.
  • Political thrillers impart a strong fear factor as well, inviting the paranoia of conspiracy theories and government takeovers.
  • Paranormal thrillers allow readers to be beguiled by the other-worldly and unexplainable, giving them a little chill of excitement.

You can facilitate these emotions for your readers by pulling them deep into the story setting, making sure they understand what’s at stake, providing effective and exciting action scenes, and delivering the information they need to be active players in the reading experience.

Designing cliffhangers that work is another powerful way to evoke the target emotions in your thriller readers. “ Want to learn the genre conventions for a Thriller story? Check out this article!

Thriller Genre Conventions

You’ll notice a lot of crossover in the conventions and obligatory scenes. For this section, I heavily referenced Rachelle Ramirez’s article Secrets of the Thriller Genre.

Here are the conventions you’ll want to include in your story if you’re writing a thriller. Readers want them. Readers expect them. Don’t disappoint.

Vibrant atmosphere

The setting is a vital part of a thriller and should be portrayed in clear and specific detail, bringing it alive and making it immediately threatening.

The MacGuffin

Remember, this is the Object of Desire, what everyone is after. Nuclear codes, diamonds, cold hard cash—whatever it is, make it crucial for both antagonist and protagonist to obtain, pitting them against each other.

The Inciting Crime

The crime or threat of a crime that kicks off the story must contain some clue about the MacGuffin.

Protagonist has a special gift

There is something—a unique talent or ability—that sets the protagonist apart. His superpower. He may suppress that gift or foster it, but in the end he must unleash it to overcome the villain.

Ticking clock

The pace of a thriller is almost relentlessly fast, and the countdown is an important convention. It doesn’t have to be a literal ticking clock, but you must find some plausible way to apply the pressure of time in your thriller.

Protagonist pursues an investigation

The hero needs to be actively engaged in an effort to catch the criminal and put a stop to his dastardly plans—following up on clues and hunting or being hunted.

High stakes

Nothing less than life itself can be on the line. The lives of innocents must be at stake and depend on the hero’s victory over the antagonist.

Elements of suspense

The story must contain the elements of suspense, providing information that allows readers to predict and anticipate outcomes, heightening the emotional investment and driving the narrative.

Unyielding antagonist

In some types of stories, the bad guy can be reasoned with and possibly dissuaded from his course of action. In a thriller, that’s not the case. The villain is intent on destruction and determined that nothing will stop him.

Speech in praise of the villain

Someone, somewhere in the story, must remark on how cunning or invincible the villain is, highlighting the hero’s disadvantage and lengthening the odds.

Protagonist is the final victim

In the climactic scene, the protagonist is the last barrier between the antagonist and his goal of annihilation—he becomes the final victim and either triumph or ultimately fails.

Clear threat of escalating danger

Not only is there a danger, not only are the stakes high, but that danger must escalate and the stakes must rise in a cause-and-effect chain of events throughout the story.

The Shapeshifter

Again, the shapeshifter or hypocrite is an important part of the story, someone whose deception impacts the protagonist in a real way and usually in a vulnerable moment.

Justice or injustice prevails

In a thriller with a positive ending, the villain is brought to some sort of justice, appropriate to his crimes. In a thriller with a negative ending, the villain gets away and injustice prevails.

However, these are not the only two options: the villain can escape justice (for now) but his evil plan is destroyed. He will rise again with a new plan in the sequel.

Obligatory Scenes of the Thriller Genre

Remember, these are the scenes that will make your thriller. If you leave one out, you will break your thriller. Don’t do that.

Inciting crime indicating that a master villain is at work

The crime must have a perpetrator, leave victims in its wake, and be of such a clever or dastardly design that it must be the work of a master criminal.

Clear point of no return

There must be a point at which the protagonist can never go back to the way things were before. This scene pinpoints the moment when the hero’s world is knocked off its axis.

Initial strategy fails

The protagonist’s first attempt to foil the villain’s diabolical plan fails, setting off a try/fail cycle that escalates up to the climactic scene.

Protagonist discovers antagonist’s MacGuffin

The hero gains insight into the villain’s intentions as he discovers and comes to understand what the bad guy is ultimately pursuing.

Villain makes it personal

At some point as the story progresses, the protagonist’s efforts to obstruct the villain’s plan land him square in the bullseye. The antagonist targets the hero as his primary victim, bringing the conflict to a personal level, and the two are on a collision course for a head-to-head battle at the story’s climax.

Hero at the mercy of the villain

This is the climactic scene where the hero faces the villain at overwhelming odds and has to dig deeper than ever before to unleash her special gift—the thing that turns the tables and makes it possible for her to defeat the antagonist.

False ending

Just as the reader is catching her breath and thinking all is resolved, the antagonistic force rebounds to challenge the hero again.

For more information, check out How to Write a Thriller Novel.

Give Your Readers What They Crave

These landmark scenes will give your story what it needs to hold and satisfy readers. They help your book to resonate, making your audience happy, because those bedrock elements of story are in the reader’s DNA, bred and nurtured through years of absorbing stories.

So, use these conventions and obligatory scenes to make your story work. The trick is in innovating them so they feel fresh to the reader. Bring your own voice and creativity into the process to make that happen.

Above all, remember that readers read to feel something, and what they want to feel from the suspense genres . . . is suspense. And all its glorious offshoots—excitement, dread, anticipation, intrigue.

If you’ve followed this series of articles, The Elements of Suspense, you’ve packed your writer’s toolbox with dozens of techniques and must-have skills for grabbing readers and creating a suspenseful story. And that’s exciting!

How about you? Do you recognize these conventions and scenes in the stories you read or watch? Tell us about it in the comments.

By Joslyn Chase

Source: thewritepractice.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

How to Come Up with Story Ideas: 6 Foolproof Strategies for Any Writer

You’re a writer. You want to write a story—but for whatever reason, you’re not inspired right now. Or maybe you are, but you just can’t think of a story idea that really interests you. You need some strategies that can teach you how to come up with story ideas.

And you’d like to use these ways to come up with story ideas consistently.

Creative writing is like a muscle: use it or lose it. Coming up with ideas is part of the development of that muscle. And boy, do you have to come up with a lot of ideas if you’re going to be a short story writer.

In this article, I’m going to show you different strategies for coming up with ideas for short stories and how to train your mind to continuously come up with ideas.

Why Finding Ideas Helped Me Write Consistently

When I was first starting out, I didn’t write consistently. Partly because I didn’t know a writing habit was a necessity to be a writer, and partly because I wasn’t trying to “become” a writer at the time. But mostly I wasn’t writing consistently because I didn’t have story ideas consistently.

When I started getting my short stories published, that changed. After that first publication, I got the bug, as they say. I needed to see my words in print, and I needed to see them often. Feeding that high required me to churn out short story ideas pretty much constantly.

I’ve probably written at least a hundred short stories at this point. Not all of them are good. In fact, most of them aren’t. A lot of them didn’t make it past the first draft stage because the story idea wasn’t great and they just fell off.

But it doesn’t matter that they weren’t all winners. What matters is writing all those stories trained my brain to watch out for story ideas consistently.

It wasn’t always easy. I struggled to come up with ideas in the beginning. But as I said, writing is a muscle. It takes time to get that muscle really beefed up.

To exercise my brain, I use these six strategies. “ Have you ever struggled to come up with a brilliant story idea? Try one of these six foolproof strategies!

6 Ways to Come Up with Short Story Ideas

Below are five of my favorite ways to come up with short story ideas. They are in two categories: active and passive.

  • Active meaning you intend to write a short story and you need an idea now.
  • Passive meaning an idea is not an emergency.

If you’re new to short story writing, I’d suggest focusing on the active strategies for a while. The passive strategies are what you’re really looking to master, but these will develop over time. Mastering these are how you train your brain to shoot out ideas continuously.

Remember as you look through these strategies, that the key to everything here is a notebook, a note-taking app, or something of the kind. All the ideas in the world mean nothing if you don’t remember them when it comes time to sit down and write!

1. Prompts

Strategy: Active

The most obvious way to come up with ideas for stories is to look at writing prompts. They’re everywhere. Google and you’ll find lists and lists and more lists. We have some here and we also post a couple a week on our social sites. There are prompt books, prompt games, prompt newsletters. There is no shortage of writing prompts out there. There are even story idea generators, like this one.

Want to get started now? Choose a writing prompt below and start writing!

  • A middle-aged woman discovers a ghost in her house.
  • A long journey is interrupted by disaster.
  • A young woman falls in love with a person she’s never met in real life.
  • A talented young man’s deepest fear is holding his life back.
  • A young prodigy becomes orphaned.

Some writers feel like writing from a prompt won’t produce an original story, but that’s nonsense.

You’ll notice a couple of the prompts above might remind you of famous stories. That doesn’t matter! Prompts are the basic idea of a story. The writer is what makes it original.

A hundred writers given the same prompt will come up with a hundred different stories. The thing that makes a story unique is you!

2. Writing for a call

Strategy: Active

Many short story anthologies and magazines are themed, and will advertise when they are open for reading submissions. They’ll often give a specific prompt. (Again, prompts don’t mean you end up with the same story as someone else.)

Writing for one of these “calls” is a great way to get ideas for short stories. You also know exactly where you’re going to send the story when you submit, so you don’t have to spend a lot of time finding a home for it. I have more on this strategy in my How to Publish a Short Story blog series.

I’d suggest doing some research online for anthologies and magazines that publish your genre. Keep an eye on those places by signing up for their newsletter if they have one, or at least checking in to see what they’re accepting once a month.

There are also places online that do some of the work for you and gather calls for submissions across the internet. Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. Horror Tree. This one isn’t just for horror! (It used to be, but they’ve exploded in the past several years and have really branched out.)
  2. Submittable. If you’re not already familiar with Submittable, you will be very soon after becoming a short story writer. The basis of this company is to provide a space for anthologies, magazines, and indie presses to accept submissions. You will be dealing with them at some point when you’re getting your work out there. A few years back, they started posting calls for submissions as well.
  3. The Grinder. I’ve been using this tool for years. Not only do they post calls for submissions (in a really great searchable way), but they’re also a tool for tracking your submissions.

3. People Watch

Strategy: Active OR Passive

People watching is the all-time winner for writers when trying to come up with ideas. You’ll see a lot of writers sitting around in coffee shops with their laptops. They’re not just writing; they’re spying.

Characters (and stories) don’t come from a vacuum; they come from things the writer experienced in their personal life. People, events, family life . . . it all gets stitched together to make a story.

I’ve dubbed people watching as active or passive simply because when you’re first starting out, this strategy will be more active. You’ll specifically be watching and listening to conversations in order to come up with ideas. After a while, your brain will automatically be “tuned in” to what’s around you and this will come naturally. You’ll catch a snippet of conversation walking by someone in a store and boom! Brilliant story idea.

The next time you’re out in public (or just looking out your window as people pass by), pay attention. Be present and watch your surroundings. There are tons of ideas surrounding you.

Need practice people watching? Try paying attention to these things the next time you’re in public:

  • What are people wearing? Description is important, even in short stories. If you’re like me, you live in leggings and t-shirts and are totally unaware of what fashion is. I wouldn’t be able to write a teenager if I didn’t go out and see what teenagers were wearing.
  • How do they act when they think no one is watching? This is by far the most amusing thing to watch out for. People are weird, let’s just leave it at that. Go see for yourself.
  • How do they act when people are watching? How do they interact with each other?
  • What are their mannerisms when having a conversation? You have to have action beats to break up dialogue in stories. If you want to stay away from just saying “she smiled” over and over, you’d better bone up on some other action beats.
  • What are they talking about and how are they talking? I don’t want you to go over and sit with them, but try to pay attention to their conversation if you can. And don’t forget to take note of slang, dialect, and accents!

People can make a great source of inspiration if you let them!

Obviously, you can’t be taking notes over every little thing every time you’re out in public. You have things to do after all. But after a while, your mind will start to take note of things that pop out. In the beginning (or if you’re actively looking for a source of inspiration), you’ll need to pay careful attention to the things I listed above.

Eventually, you won’t have to all the time. In reality, a story idea doesn’t have to come from a “true story” you witnessed or an entire conversation you overheard. Snippets will do.

Years ago I was at a Lewis Black show and he did a bit about overhearing a snippet of conversation. He said he was passing someone who was talking to her friend and heard this:

“If it weren’t for that horse, I wouldn’t have gone to college that year.”

Now, he’s a comedian, so this inspired a good five minutes of jokes about how he couldn’t stop thinking about this. It’s been years since I’ve seen the show and can’t stop thinking about it. The sheer amount of directions you could go with a story to explain how that sentence comes about is mindboggling.

Keep your eyes and your ears open (and a notetaking tool on hand) and you’ll get plenty of passive inspiration as you go about your day.

4. The What If Question

Strategy: Active OR Passive

The What If Question is my absolute favorite way to come up with ideas for short stories. This strategy is pretty much what it sounds like: What if X were to happen?

This is another active or passive strategy. As I’m sitting here writing this, I can actively think of things that might happen around me.

  • What if an alien spacecraft landed in my backyard?
  • What if someone knocked on my door?
  • What if my roof caved in?
  • What if I got a phone call telling me I won a prize?

This is me actively looking around in my real-life personal experience for a source of inspiration. This is me teasing a decent idea out of my mundane surroundings. I’m forcing myself to look around and come up with something that might work as a story.

The passive side of the What If Question probably already happens to you. You probably ask What If? questions naturally.

As a writer, you need to take this one step further and train yourself to pay attention when you think these things. And if this doesn’t come naturally to you, practice! Take everyday life experiences and spin them in a new direction with the What If Question.

For example, you might see someone walking along, looking at their cell phone and you think: What if they walked out into the street without realizing it? You can probably picture the outcome, right? But you also probably have those kinds of thoughts daily and don’t pay much attention to them.

Train yourself to pay attention, to bring those fleeting thoughts to the forefront of your mind and play with them.

5. Move Your Body and Don’t Think

Strategy: Passive

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is a lot of writers get ideas while taking a walk. Whether they’re blocked on a project or are just brainstorming ideas, walking seems to be the key to successfully writing. (Stephen King, to give a famous example, has said he walks several miles every day.)

I go for a walk most days. (Preferably outside, but I live in Ohio, so that’s not possible a good portion of the time.) I’ve come up with dozens of story ideas while walking. I’ve also come up with dozens of story ideas while doing yoga. There’s something about the mundane movements of your body that frees your mind to wander.

So if you want a brilliant story idea or just need to get out of a bout of writer’s block, take a hike, literally. Busy your body and turn your active mind off.

Not into exercise? I hear you. The cool thing about this strategy is you don’t necessarily have to do something super physical for it to happen. You can also do something else mundane that doesn’t require much thought.

Try one of these when you’re trying to keep your body busy and your mind off:

  • Walking
  • Yoga
  • Chores (laundry, dishes, and gardening work great)
  • Coloring
  • Origami

Really anything will work as long as you’re not intaking information in the process of doing the thing.

6. Read

Strategy: Passive 

I can’t tell you how many times new writers have told me they don’t read, mostly because they don’t have time.

Here’s the thing: you can’t—I repeat CANNOT—be a writer if you don’t read.

Not only are you studying the craft just by reading, you’re getting ideas.

Sometimes you’ll be reading something and think you can do it better. Sometimes a phrase or word will trigger a brilliant story idea.

If you’re reading nonfiction books on the writing craft, you’ll often have an epiphany. If you’re reading in your genre (and you should be reading the genre you’re writing), you’ll get ideas to mash up, turn upside down, flip around, stretch out, and smoosh down. If you’re reading outside your genre, you could see a way to take a similar story and push it into your genre.

In short, read. Read everything. And then read some more.

If you’re stumped about what books to read, try Goodreads, asking your librarian for suggestions based on your favorite books, or join a book recommendation newsletter or book club. (We have one, by the way. You can sign up here.)

Ideas are everywhere

As I said at the beginning of this article, creative writing is a muscle you need to use consistently. Otherwise, it fades away. In order to use that muscle, you have to have ideas.

Coming up with ideas isn’t always easy, especially when you’re starting out. If you’re new to short story writing, start by using the active strategies above to get used to coming up with ideas. I promise, after a while, your brain will learn how to do this on its own and you’ll have too many ideas to write!

And don’t forget to carry around a notebook!

How do you come up with short story ideas? Let me know in the comments.

By Sarah Gribble

Source: thewritepractice.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

How To Edit Like A Pro

The Medium Is The Message

In 1967, Marshall McLuhan wrote a book explaining that ‘the medium is the message’. What he meant is that whatever tool we use has a big impact on the result we get. This is true for any text. How we write and how we edit greatly influences our work.

3 Media To Use To Edit Like A Pro:

  1. The computer: with its built-in functions of checking grammar, spelling, punctuation, as well as the ‘editor’-function
  2. ‘Read aloud’-function of the computer
  3. Editing the manuscript on paper.

1. The Computer

The computer is our first go-to for editing. Editing begins with proofreading. The computer has lots of functions built into word-processing which we can and should use. They tell us about wrong punctuation, spelling mistakes, and basic grammar mistakes. If you switch on the editor-function, then you get even more. All these hints are valuable and should be going into your edit.

Sometimes they fail, however, or they just don’t get that you are using an unusual spelling as a wordplay. These built-in features are very basic. Bear in mind, that there are specific grammar apps like Grammarly which give you more refined results. But all of this is just proofreading. We need to gear up to enhance the message of our text.

2. Reading Aloud

Have the computer read your manuscript to you. If someone else reads the text, you can distance yourself from it.

  1. You’ll hear what your style really sounds like to others.
  2. You’ll hear the excess words, the wrong conjugations and prepositions.
  3. You’ll notice if your sentence has the right ring.
  4. You’ll find out if your style is distinctive and consistent, or hotch-potch.

Please fix all of that before you proceed.

3. Final Edit: Paper, Please!

The final edit should be done on paper. But what about those trees? I hear you! That’s why the first edits should be done using the computer. The paper used for the final edit is vital to your success as an author. I can prove it to you.

The Experiment

I once did an experiment with a group of journalists. They were given an article full of mistakes of any possible kind, even wicked ones like semantic and structural mistakes (those are the ones computers can’t find). They were supposed to edit the article within a given time. Half of the group edited the text on paper, the other half did it in their word-processing tool. Guess who found more mistakes.

The group using pencil and paper found about three quarters of the mistakes, the others found barely one third. The analysis of the mistakes found showed that when you edit on your computer, you’ll almost always be limited to proofreading. Semantic mistakes, breaks in register, structural problems, and plot holes are much easier to find when you edit on paper.

That does make a powerful argument for editing a manuscript on paper, doesn’t it?

Paper Has A Superpower

When you edit on paper, you can make good use of the superpower of this medium.

Before you print, prepare like this:

  1. Change the font of your manuscript (for example, from Times New Roman to Arial) but don’t go lower than 12 pt. A new font will create a fresh look.
  2. Lines should be double-spaced. Leave a margin on the right side, about 5-6 cm wide. This will give your notes the necessary space.
  3. Make sure that scene breaks are visible. Scenes are the smallest unit of a novel or novella. Insert a blank line if needed. It’s easier to edit scene by scene.
  4. Print the manuscript on white paper, one page per sheet (don’t duplex print).

Once you’ve printed the manuscript, you can set to work. Paper lets you see the big picture.

Here’s how to reap the benefits:

  1. Fan out all the pages of a scene on your desk. On a computer, the readable section is usually just half a page of your manuscript.
  2. Check the lengths of your paragraphs. Too short? Too long? Always the same length? Even that can be boring. Variation is key.
  3. Check the white space of your manuscript. Your reader needs white space to get through the dense bits of your story.
  4. Check how often a character, symbol, or leitmotif comes up. Important motifs should reoccur.
  5. Repeat this with all your scenes. Check the lengths of your scenes. Your scenes can and should have different lengths (depending on their function). Extremely short or extremely long wouldn’t be good.

Finally, editing on paper even has a health benefit: when you do detect something, then your eyes can zoom in easily. It’s the zooming in and out that keeps your brain fresh and lets you spot more things to edit. Editing on a computer, your eyes tend to blink less, they get all dry and tired. Your attention span is shorter. But who wants to be tired if your master draft needs the final polish?

Be alert and enjoy editing!

The Last Word

I hope this post helps you to edit like a pro with its three easy steps to help you do it.

Source: writerswrite.co.za

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

How to Draw Readers in Through a Character’s Choices

Quick, what’s one thing you need in every scene?

This question can have a lot of answers – tension, conflict, stakes, emotion, action…on and on it goes. But I would argue one of the most important is one of the most basic: choice.

Characters with agency are always doing, acting, and pushing the story forward. Without action, the story stalls, which is why conflict is so important: problems, obstacles, challenges, adversaries…these things force our characters to do something to navigate past the things blocking their way. The linchpin that connects conflict to action and puts your character in the driver’s seat is choice.

Choices come in all shapes and sizes and should rarely be easy to make. Instead, they should force the character to weigh and measure, to think about possible consequences, who will be impacted, what will be lost and gained. If your character can’t see any good options at all, it comes down to what will do the least damage and to whom. Let’s look at some of the ways we can force our characters to make hard decisions.


Dilemmas: When neither choice is ideal, you have a dilemma. Decision-making will require weighing and measuring, because no matter what choice is made, there will be blood. Sometimes these choices come down to what the character is willing to sacrifice, or their preferences. Occasionally dilemmas can be between two positive choices, in which case it’s a win-win scenario.

Hobson’s Choice: This is the choice between something unwanted and an option that is even worse…kind of like expecting a raise at work but instead being given the choice of a deep pay cut or being laid off.

Sophie’s Choice: This scenario is one where the character must choose between two equally horrible options. Named for the book (and movie) Sophie’s Choice, in which the character must decide which of her two children will be killed, this is known as the impossible, tragic choice. However, it can also simply be a time-and-place decision when the character can only be in one place at that time.

Morton’s Fork: This choice is agonizing because both options lead to the same end. Die now or die later type scenarios. It’s a deceptive choice because there is only one outcome.

Moral Choices: Moral choices are those requiring the character to decide between two competing beliefs or choose whether or not to follow a moral conviction. Protect a loved one or turn him over to the police? Moral choices require the character to rationalize the decision so they can feel okay about making it.

Do Something or Nothing: In some cases, the character can choose to intervene or not get involved. These often carry a cost: a risk to their reputation (if not acting paints them as a coward), the moral repercussions of deciding to do nothing (after, say, letting someone die), or even a safety cost (if they choose to save someone who turns out to be a threat).

Make Sure Choices Carry Weight.

Brainstorm possible complications that will further stress your character, increase the stakes or fallout, and create a fresh twist to your scenario. Use these challenge questions to help you:

  • What unforeseen consequences could happen because of this choice?
  • Is there an unknown factor or missing piece of information that can allow me to create a reversal of the consequences and a fresh twist of fate?
  • What sacrifice can I build into this choice that disconnects the character from a safety net that’s actually holding them back (especially when this separation is needed for the character to grow and change)?
  • How can I tempt the character into making the wrong choice?
  • How can I raise the stakes further?

Surprise Readers With a Third Option

When it comes to wowing readers, one technique that never fails is to find the third option.

Imagine it. The walls have closed in, and your character has only two foreseeable choices. Neither is ideal, but there seems to be no other route forward.

All is lost…or so the reader thinks.

Because you–incredible story wizard that you are–have the character come up with a new, ingenious, and completely viable option so they can blaze their own trail. This third path will delight readers because it’s something they should have seen themselves but didn’t, and it upends their expectations in the best possible way.

The Firm provides a great example of this. Fresh out of law school, tax lawyer Mitch McDeere lands a too-good-to-be-true job at a law firm in Memphis. This dream job turns into a nightmare when he discovers the firm is engaging in white-collar crime for mobsters in Chicago. When he’s approached by the FBI, he’s given two choices—either continue with the corrupt law firm and eventually be thrown in jail, or work for the FBI as an informant, be disbarred, and be targeted by the mob.

The pressure is on and it seems there are no other options, but Mitch comes up with a third one: to turn over evidence for a lesser crime (mail fraud) that targets the firm instead of the Morolto crime family. This allows him to continue working as a lawyer, avoid jail, and escape the FBI’s noose.

When your character finds a third option that allows him to sidestep nasty consequences, he gets to keep his head above water and fight another day. And his ingenuity will give readers yet another thing to love about the character.

By ANGELA ACKERMAN

Source: writershelpingwriters.net

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