Tag Archives: writing basics

Developing Believable Protagonists

Hello everyone!

For me, the protagonist is what makes or breaks a story.  If I don’t like or relate to the main character, I won’t get on board with the plot.  I have stopped reading books when this happened.

The two crucial things to do are to make your protagonist relatable and to have him/her grow throughout the story.  Relatable characters are believable.

The Positive Trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait ThesaurusTwo resources I like for developing believable characters are The Positive Trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait Thesaurus, both written by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.  The lists for each trait really help with developing realistic, multifaceted characters.

As a way of ensuring that my protagonist’s thought processes, voice, and reactions feel real, I often endow my main character with part of my personality.  For a more in-depth discussion about this method, which some authors view as problematic, read “Who me? Not I!” by Gail Carson Levine.  She includes suggestions for writing characters that are nothing like you and some writing prompts designed to help you avoid accidentally writing yourself into your protagonist.  My advice is if you choose to write yourself into your main character, make it an intentional choice.

Below are three things that I consider vital when creating a believable protagonist:

  1. Know what’s motivating your protagonist and let that guide his/her actions and responses (“The Wonder of ‘Why?’: Getting to the Heart of the Matter”).
  2. Make sure your protagonist is not perfect (“Character Flaws”).
  3. Show how your protagonist feels through facial expressions and body language (“Writing Books with Emotional Savvy”).

Happy writing!

Katie

Advertisements

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

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!

Optimal Editing

Hello everyone!

When you set out to be a writer, the thing they don’t tell you is that you will spend most of your time editing.  And, whether you like it or not, editing is a time-consuming process.

This year, I have been focusing on editing my novel, “The Four Crystals,” but I began the editing process two or three years ago.  The biggest mistake I’ve made during those years was trying to take my novel from a rough draft to a final draft in one edit.

untitled

It didn’t end well.

What I have learned from reading other writers’ advice is to focus on one thing per edit.

I really liked the way Allison K. Williams broke down the writing and editing process in her article “Seven Drafts.”

The names of Allison K. Williams’ seven drafts are:

  1. The Vomit Draft
  2. The Story Draft
  3. The Character Draft
  4. The Technical Draft
  5. The Personal Copy Edit
  6. The Friend/Beta Read
  7. The Editor Read

I hope you find “Seven Drafts” by Allison K. Williams as helpful as I did.

Happy writing!

Katie

Word of the Day

Hello everyone!

I love words!  Word choice is crucial to my enjoyment of a song, movie, or book.  The perfect words and references make the experience rapturous while poorly chosen ones make it painful.

Your writing challenge for the next two weeks is to build a story using one or more words as your foundation.

  1. Go to merriamwebster.com and write a story using the word of the day.  The word of the day can be used in your story or be the theme of your story.
  2. For something even more challenging, go to merriamwebster.com 5-7 days in a row and use all 5-7 words in your story.  Make sure there’s a plot!

revising 1*Remember, this is a writing exercise.  If you like the story and the words don’t work, cut them during the revision phase.  (Considering I’ve never edited something just once, I should probably say “phases.”)

Happy writing!

Katie

How to Succeed at Writing: Working through Frustration

Hello everyone and happy Presidents’ Day!

While working towards my 2018 goal of editing my novel The Four Crystals from beginning to end, I hit a snag in completing my weekly goal.  Apparently chapters 3-5 heard me say I was going to edit one chapter a week and conspired to detain me longer than that.  If they weren’t essential to the plot, I’d show them who was boss and cut them.

thNeedless to say, feeling stuck is very frustrating.  It’s made me question why I torture myself with writing when there are other things I enjoy that require less effort.  When I get depressed with my own writing journey, I find inspiration from reading about what established writers do.

Below are a few articles which recently helped me.  I hope they also inspire you to keep writing.

In case you don’t have time to read them, here’s a quick summary: 1. Find a writing space, 2. create a writing routine, and 3. make yourself do it.  (They say it much more elegantly than I just did.)

“Mark Ellis – A Writer’s Life” by Mark Ellis

“10 Habits of Highly Effective Writers” by Robert Blake Whitehill

“Ten Ways To Succeed at Writing Without Really Trying” by Ruthy Logan Herne

Happy writing!

Katie

Establishing Goals: 3 Strategies for Following through with a Resolution

Hello everyone!

At the beginning of a new year, it is customary to make one or more resolutions for the upcoming year.  I have never accomplished anything by just making a resolution.  Consequently, I stopped making resolutions years ago.  Instead, I set achievable goals for the upcoming year.

In my mind, there is a difference between a resolution and a goal.  Merriam-Webster.com lists many definitions for resolution, but the one that best fits my way of viewing it is 1c: “the act of determining.”  My definition of a goal is the second one given by Merriam-Webster.com: “the end toward which effort is directed.”  For me, a resolution is something I mean to do while a goal is something I work to accomplish.  I might resolve to finish writing my novel, but until I make it a goal, I will never bring that desire to fruition.

My writing goal for 2018 is to finish editing The Four Crystals so that it will be ready for target audience beta readers at the start of 2019.  When I look at all the editing that is required, this is a very daunting task.  In order to achieve my writing goal for 2018, I am applying three strategies.  I hope they will help you as well.

  1. puzzle 13Break the Task into Smaller Tasks: Henry Ford said, “Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.” Generally, when I feel overwhelmed by the size of a project, I try to avoid it.  To prevent myself from procrastinating my way through 2018, I decided to take Henry Ford’s advice.  I broke my overarching goal of editing The Four Crystals in 2018 into pieces that I could accomplish on a weekly basis.  My smaller, less daunting goal is to edit one chapter a week.

 

  1. checklist 1Track Your Progress: This gives you a visual of your progress. It can be very encouraging.  It can also help you to get back on track if you lose sight of your goal.  For just that purpose, I created a template for the entire year.  Every week, I either write “yes” or “no” in the box that says “Accomplished Goal.”  If I edited an entire chapter, I write the chapter number below the “yes.”  If I fail to meet my weekly goal one week, that is okay.  Maybe I was sick or I was working on a short story and did not have enough time to edit an entire chapter.  There is nothing wrong with failing to meet my goal for one week.  If, however, I notice that I have not accomplished my weekly writing goal for two weeks in a row or that I am only meeting it every other week, I know I have to give myself a kick in the pants and apply more self-discipline.
  1. whisper 5Have an Accountability Partner: I have never been good at holding myself accountable. If I make a plan that only affects me, there is a strong chance that I will change the plan if I don’t feel like doing it.  To make sure that I actually accomplish my 2018 writing goal, I shared my writing goal with one of my writing groups and asked them to check on me every time we meet.  Peer pressure is a wonderful thing when used appropriately.

What are your writing goals for 2018?  If you’re willing to share them with me, I would love to read about them.  You can tell me your wring goals in the comments below or via my “Contact” page.

toasting 1Here’s to a productive year of writing!  I hope that these strategies help you to meet your own writing goals for the new year!

Happy writing!

Katie