Tag Archives: writing advice

Character Interrogation

Hello everyone!

Have you ever mixed up the pieces from multiple games or multiple puzzles?  The result is a mess!  However, mixing up characters can be the key to getting out of a writing conundrum.

Naughty 1Occasionally, I will have a character who absolutely refuses to do what I want him/her to do.  No matter how hard I try, he/she will not do or say what I envisioned in a way that feels believable.  The reason is usually that he/she is underdeveloped.  In most cases, I am able to get to know the character better by asking and answering a series of questions.  In other cases, though, I am too focused on the story’s needs to be able to honestly answer the questions for the character.

Your writing prompt for the next two weeks is to learn about your characters by taking them out of their world.

1. Choose two characters from different pieces you’ve written and put them together in a scene that takes place outside both of their stories.

2. Choose one of the following situations to start the scene:

  • Put them in an interrogation room together. (One could interrogate the other or they could both be interrogating a third character.)
  • blind dateHave them go on a blind date. (Be sure to give some thought to the setting.)
  • Give them a task to accomplish. (It’s best if the task requires two people.)
  • Give them a problem to solve. (There must be consequences if they fail.)
  • Have the characters tell their stories to each other. (I did this with one of my villains from “The Four Crystals.”  Wow, the story was different from that point of view.)

3. Write the scene keeping both characters true to their personalities.

4. Read through the scene and note some of the following:

  • How did the two characters interact? (Were they friendly, civil, or hostile?  Could they work together?  Etc.)
  • Who took the lead?
  • Did either of them dominate the conversation?
  • emotions 1Did either character have a key mannerism or phrase?
  • What was each character’s primary goal in the scene (i.e. what was most important to each character)?
  • Did either character have a predominant emotion?
  • What did your characters do or say that surprised you? (For example, when I did this exercise, I discovered that one of my supporting characters was oblivious to her leader’s flaws.  Going into the exercise, I knew that she was a very loyal follower.  When she was talking to another character about her leader, I realized that she believed her leader to be infallible.)

Happy writing!

Katie

*I would like to thank sci-fi and fantasy author Olivia Berrier for sharing this writing exercise with me and for walking me through how to do it.

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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!

Timing Is Everything

Hello everyone!

When figuring out how long a project should take you to complete, especially something you’ve never done before, give yourself plenty of time.

A few weeks ago, I conducted a video interview with sci-fi and fantasy author Olivia Berrier.  My plan was to post that video today.

This was my first time ever trying to edit a video using Filmora or create subtitles on YouTube.

wrong way 3

Let’s just say there was a learning curve, and that I will post the interview later this month.

Olivia Berrier gave me one piece of advice which is not in the interview but that applies to this situation: When creating a timeline for a project, double or triple your time estimate.

Happy writing and may your project timelines be more accurate than mine!

Katie

Daily Inspirations

Hello everyone!

Have you ever noticed how everyday things can be the best inspiration?  I recently got two parakeets: first Orville, then Wilbur a week later.  Orville was lonely, so it seemed like the right decision to get him a brother.

It struck me that my interactions with my birds were a lot like the way I develop characters for a story.  I got Orville for companionship and planned to let our relationship develop based on his personality, but I got Wilber to fill a hole in Orville’s life.  (I had a function and name, all that was missing was the character.)

silhouette 1

Once Wilbur joined our family, Orville’s true personality came out.  The quiet bird who let me hold him, became a vocal hand-avoider.  As a result, I had to re-think the way I was training both birds.

 

Carrot 1

My parakeets have been so inspiring to me, that I’ve decided to turn them into characters for a picture book.  I have several ideas for the theme, but it could still change.

Your challenge for the next two weeks is to use something new or ordinary from your daily life as the foundation for a picture book, short story, or poem.

I’d love to know what your inspiration is and whether you will be writing a picture book, short story, or poem. If you’re comfortable sharing, please post in the comments below.

Happy writing!

Katie