Category Archives: Useful Articles

Cause and Effect

Hello everyone!

Cause and effect are vital to consider when telling a story.  Events don’t just happen.  Something allows them to happen.  Take a look at history.

What caused World War II?  Well, Hitler coming to power was a big part of it.  But what allowed Hitler to gain power in the first place?  Several things.  One being that he was a good orator, and Germany was weak both politically and economically.  What led to Germany’s predicament?  The Treaty of Versailles was largely to blame – Germany got a debilitating deal after World War I.  Why was the Treaty of Versailles so skewed against Germany’s interests?  You can keep unwinding this thread as far as you want.

Cause and Effect (1)Just as historical events led to World War II, something that happened before the start of your story should account for the state of your character’s world at the beginning of the book.  Equally important is making sure that events that occur earlier in your book lead to later events.  If an event does not force something else to happen, you probably don’t need that event.

An easy way to know whether or not you have good cause and effect in your book is to phrase the events of your story in a continuous run-on sentence.  You should always say, “this happened because of this.”  Never say, “this happened and this happened.”  “Because” means that the action is moving.  “And” is a sign of rambling, and rambling leads to bored readers.  After you’ve created your run-on sentence, rewrite any sections of the book where you found yourself saying “and” instead of “because.”

Keep your story moving, and happy writing!

Katie

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What’s the Big Deal with Dashes?

Hello everyone!

I was recently editing a chapter book, and I needed one character to interrupt another.  I knew I should use a dash, but which one?  Below is a summary of what each type of dash does.  I threw in the hyphen for good measure.

Primary Uses

hyphen and dashesHyphen

  • Compound nouns, verbs, and adjectives

En Dash

  • Date, time, and number ranges
  • Scores
  • Shows conflict or connection between two things or ideas

emphatic (3)Em Dash

  • Interruptions
  • Instead of commas, parentheses, or colons (Em dashes are more emphatic and less formal than the other forms of punctuation.)
  • Two em dashes replace missing or omitted letters or words

For a more comprehensive list of uses and examples of how each type of punctuation is used, read the articles below.  (They are the ones I found most helpful when deciding which form of punctuation to use.)

“Hyphens, En Dashes, Em Dashes” by The Chicago Manual of Style Online

“Hyphen” by The Punctuation Guide

“En dash” by The Punctuation Guide

“Em dash” by The Punctuation Guide

Happy writing!

Katie

Sensational Settings

Hello everyone!

Have you ever read a story and had trouble visualizing where it took place? Did you ever skip a paragraph because it was just description and you didn’t care enough to read it? As a writer, you must walk the fine line between setting the scene for your reader and giving too much detail.

This three-part exercise is to help you learn what details about your setting are essential to share and how to seamlessly work them into your story.

Binoculars 3Part 1: Observation

  1. Go outside. Close your eyes. What do you feel? What do you hear? What do you smell?
  2. Now open your eyes. What do you see? Walk around. Is the terrain uneven or level? Touch a tree, the grass, the side of a building. What is the texture like?
  3. Now shout. Whisper. Speak at your normal volume. Sing. Does your voice echo or disappear?
  4. Write down your observations. Try to write a minimum of three for each sense.

Writing 5Part 2: Write a Scene

  • Write a short scene that takes place in the location you observed in Part 1. Use sensory details to describe the setting. Be careful to work the details into your story instead of dumping them on the reader in one or two description paragraphs. If someone wanted to read paragraphs about trees, they’d study forestry.

Example of a well-set scene:

Stephany walked onto the front porch and looked across the street to where Mrs. McGuire was putting her flower beds to rest for winter. A gentle breeze chased dried leaves across the sidewalk and played with the stray wisps of hair that had escaped Stephany’s messy bun. She wrapped her hands around her mug and smiled. As she sipped her coffee, the delicious steam warmed her nose.

(The action begins in the next paragraph.)

In that paragraph, the reader has been given basic information about the neighborhood, time of year, and even a little about Mrs. McGuire and Stephany.  The reader can picture where he/she is and is ready for the action to begin.

Mood 3Part 3: Use the Setting to Enhance the Mood

  1. Choose a problem for a story.
  2. Write three crucial scenes in the location you observed. Use the details you share about the setting to help set the mood for each scene.
  • Beginning: introduce key characters and the baseline for their lives
  • Middle: the problem has been introduced and the protagonist is dealing with it
  • End: how it ends and how the characters have changed

Example:

Problem – The protagonist’s spouse is cheating on him/her.

Beginning – The protagonist doesn’t know his/her spouse is having an affair. The weather is good, and I only mention beautiful or pleasing things about the setting.

Middle – The protagonist knows about the affair and is trying to decide whether to ignore it or confront his/her spouse. I draw the reader’s attention to things that need fixing or to weeds in the yard or flower beds. The sky is cloudy.

End – The protagonist has just signed the divorce papers and is moving out of the house. It is cool and partly cloudy. The house is barely mentioned, and when it is, the stated features are either imperfect ones or ones that make the protagonist feel nostalgic. The focus is on the road, especially the point where trees block the protagonist’s view of it.

*Remember, this is an exercise. You do not need to write the entire story unless you want to.

Happy writing!

Katie

The Wonder of “Why?”: Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Hello everyone!

In my last post, I talked about how to ask your way though plot and character development.  In this post, I want to talk about my favorite question of all: Why?

Why 7The reason I like why so much is because the answer to that question provides the motivation or foundation for all of a character’s actions.  For example, think about your story’s antagonist.  It’s easy for the protagonist to observe or hear about the antagonist’s actions (what he/she does).  A smaller group of characters, which may or may not include the protagonist, knows the process or methods the antagonist uses to execute those actions (how the antagonist does it).  But why the antagonist does something can only be speculated about unless the antagonist himself/herself reveals the reason to another character.  The reader might never find out the antagonist’s motivation.  In some cases, even the antagonist might not even be able to explain why he/she does something, but you as the author should know.

In other words, Why? gets to the heart of an issue and reveals the true motivation of a character.  Check out the sample questions and answers below to see what I mean.

Why don’t two characters get along?

  • Prejudice
  • Bad or inaccurate first impression
  • Personality clash
  • Opposing ideologies
  • Past history

The answer to this question determines how hard or easy it will be for those two characters to reconcile their differences or if reconciliation is even possible.

Why does a supporting character steal?

  • He/She doesn’t have money for food or other necessities
  • Revenge
  • In his/her (country, family, or friend) culture, stealing is socially acceptable
  • Attention seeking
  • Boredom
  • Sabotage – He/She deliberately steals what someone else needs for a plan to succeed

The answer to this question makes the supporting character likeable, pitiable, reprehensible, or daring.  The reason he/she steals is far more interesting than the fact that he/she steals.

Why 9Why is the protagonist having recurring nightmares?

  • Past trauma
  • He/She has been poisoned and hallucinations are a side effect
  • Fear or anxiety about an upcoming event
  • He/She watches scary movies before bed
  • The dreams are divine warnings

Each potential answer gets to the root of the problem, revealing to you as the writer what the protagonist must change or overcome to resolve the conflict.

I hope you have a better idea of why Why? is so important and that the examples help you to apply this essential question to your own writing process.

Happy writing!

Katie

Asking Your Way through a Story Idea

Hello everyone!

Writing a book is a lot like exploring.  You start with a vague idea and discover the rest as you go.  For me, the most important part of the creative writing process is asking my way through plot issues and character inconsistencies.

stop watchWhenever I run into an underdeveloped point in the plot or a behavior in a character that I can’t justify, I try to summarize the problem as a question.  Then, I write down the question and brainstorm answers for about ten minutes.  (Think of this process as a structured free write.  No idea is too crazy during those ten minutes.)

When the ten minutes are up, I choose the potential answer that I like best and explore it further.  (Sometimes, this involves doing another guided question free write.)  If the answer I selected solves my problem, great.  If the answer doesn’t fix the issue, I look back at my list of potential answers and choose a different one to explore.  I do this until I have the answer that works for the story and that satisfies me as the writer.

Below is a list of question words with some sample questions from my own writing projects:

What if…? (What if the crystals had power?  What if the villagers were wary of 21st century technologically?)

Who? (Who betrays the group?  Who stole the sheep?)

What? (What is the ultimate insult for a fairy?  What is my protagonist’s deepest desire?)

When? (When did the elves and humans start attacking each other?  When does my protagonist start trusting authority figures?)

Where? (Where do they fight the soldiers?  Where does my protagonist’s grandmother work?)

Why? (Why won’t the dwarf take them into the caverns?  Why does my protagonist want to befriend the new kid?)

three paths*Which? (Which route is safest?) (*I personally don’t use “which” as often as I do the other question words.)

How? (How do I get them out of the fight alive when they are outnumbered ten to one?  How do I get my protagonist to be more respectful to adults?)

I hope this gives you some good ideas for how to ask your way through your own stories.

Happy writing!

Katie

Character Flaws

Hello everyone!

dogEver read a book or watched a TV show or movie where a character was just too sweet, or too good, or too, well for lack of a better word, perfect?  Those characters are boring to read about and watch because they aren’t relatable and don’t have room for growth.

I have found three activities to be especially helpful when assigning a flaw to a character:

  1. I go to the core of who a character is by identifying his/her deepest desire, strongest belief, and biggest fear.  I then select a flaw that fits that type of person.
  2. I look at a character’s strength(s) and then ask myself, “What is the negative side of this strength?”  For example, a compassionate character could be overly sensitive.
  3. I delve into the character’s past and look for any event that could count as traumatic.  I then assign a flaw that developed in response to that trauma.  For example, a character who was robbed might be paranoid or have trouble trusting.

If you’re looking for more ways to give your characters a much needed flaw, I recommend that you read Now Novel’s article “Character flaws: Creating lovable imperfections.”  It covers three different types of (perceived) flaws: physical, emotional, and ideological.  It also talks about how those flaws could repel and attract different characters and how a flaw could cause a character’s feelings about another character to change, for better or worse, during the course of the story.

For a great writing exercise for finding a character’s flaw, read Gail Carson Levine’s blog post “Nobody’s Perfect.”  She uses the fairy tale “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” to demonstrate how to do the exercise and has three writing prompts at the end of the post.

The Negative Trait ThesaurusFor an extensive list of personality flaws, check out “123 Ideas For Character Flaws” by Writers Write or get a copy of The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

Happy writing!

Katie

How to Grow from Past Mistakes

Hello everyone!

So, I have been reviewing my writing goals for 2018.  At the beginning of the year, my plan was to take my novel The Four Crystals from a rough draft to a polished draft by the end of the year.  I had a plan to accomplish the daunting task (breaking the editing process into weekly segments and tracking my progress); however, I made a few mistakes.

The first one was thinking I could take a rough draft to a polished draft in one edit.  It took longer to edit the first fourth of the novel than I had been anticipating.  Then, I realized that due to all the changes I had made to the first fourth of the book and all of the plot changes I was planning on making to the remaining three-fourths, it would be quicker to re-write the remainder of the book than it would be to edit it.

Fairy Tales 3My second mistake, which I technically made years ago when I started writing The Four Crystals, was not reading a variety of fantasy books before I started writing one.  Up until this year, I didn’t understand that there is a difference between fantasy and fairy tales.  After all, they both have magic, fairies, elves, dwarves, and quests.  Some of my writer friends kindly alerted me to the fact that The Four Crystals, which I wrote to be a fantasy novel, read more like a fairy tale – probably because I have read so many fairy tales and fairy tale spinoffs.  Once I learned that there was a difference, I started reading fantasy novels to get a feel for what beats I would need in my novel.  I also needed to figure out which fantasy clichés I had accidentally put in my novel.  (The wise old mage working with the know-nothing teenage boy might have been one of them.)

Mistake 11.jpgThings I have learned from this year’s mistakes:

  1. Read a minimum of five books in the genre you want to write before you start writing (ten is more advisable).
  2. Do multiple edits and focus on one thing per edit (e.g. characters, plot, dialogue, etc.).
  3. Set a goal, but if everything falls apart, DON’T GIVE UP! Learn from your mistakes, regroup, and try again.  (The failure rate for people who give up is 100%.  I will not be one of them.)

My goals for 2019 are to complete a new draft of The Four Crystals and to write at least the first book in the mystery chapter book series I started brainstorming and researching during the second half of 2018.  (Don’t worry, I already read over 20 mystery chapter books to make sure I understood the genre.)

Happy writing and happy New Year!

Katie

P.S.

I would like to shout out a special thank you to the two people who most supported and encouraged me after I discovered that I needed to do a major re-write to The Four Crystals: my brother and creative consultant, Gregory, and my friend and author, Olivia Berrier.  I don’t know what I’d do without the two of you!