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writing

Don’t Have Stupid Characters

By | Writing Tips | No Comments

The post title is pretty self explanatory but let’s delve into it a bit shall we? How many of us as readers get annoyed when we figure something out long before the character and then the story drags and drags as mentally we just keep saying “Come on already. They totally should’ve caught on by now!” It makes what could’ve been a great experience into just an okay one, and a just okay book into down right awful.

Most of the time as readers we like to be given information that the characters don’t know, however, when there’s an event or a situation that should’ve been a light bulb moment and the character is just clueless and still doesn’t know? That’s a problem. This reads untrue to any semi-smart human being and even if you have a dopey/stupid character — fine — but make them that way all the time, with all decisions. When characters don’t learn or realize things for an extended period of time it feels like the author is extending the conflict because there’s nothing else going on.

This falls right along with giving your characters some common sense. When they take everything at face value and don’t question what they’re being told, yeah it feels fake and contrived, like the author had no other ideas for conflict. The trick would be throwing in an instance or two as a subplot when a lapse in common sense raises the stakes (especially in an already high stake climax plot wise).

Yeah, No.

Being too easily manipulated also comes to mind, and it can really ruin the realism of any story. So don’t fall into that trap. An example? The Prince in Mirror Mirror, he seemed pretty smart and with it (And I actually kinda liked him) until he took the Queen’s word at face value and wouldn’t listen to Snow White. Yeah I’m aware it’s a spoof type movie and fun, but really? They couldn’t give him a little more intuitiveness? And then turning him into a guy who acts like a dog didn’t help either. I definitely want some more good prince characters out there à la Prince Henry from Ever After. So I guess I’ll just have to write those stories myself but more on that later.

We relate to stories most easily when the characters are relatable, have faults, and make mistakes, but this doesn’t mean making them blind to all possible flashes of insight and inspiration. Let’s give our characters some life and make sure they aren’t acting stupid in very convenient places just to extend plot and word count.

Cheers!

Make sure to check out the latest DanielleWAM post When Your Writing Gets a Burst

5 Ways Your Novel Can Stand Out in the Vast Sea of Fantasy

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How to make your novel stand out? Read Part 1 in the new novel writing blog series all about Crafting That Jaw-Dropping Novel.

As both writers and readers know there’s an expansive amount of books to choose from when it comes to fantasy. If you include paranormal in this as a sub-genre (most don’t, but bookstores still do) it becomes an even bigger melting pot of novel upon novel with very little to differentiate between them.

As an avid reader of both fantasy and paranormal I’ve found what I really like and what works. As a writer I’ve tried to implement what I know and here’s 5 key ways to separate yourself from the pack.

1. Make Imperfect Characters with a Distinctive Voice and Backstory

Novels where characters are too perfect or cookie cutter fade into the many others like it. Readers want to see the flaws, the mistakes, the messes. Then it’s all the more enjoyable to be with them when they learn from their mistakes or get themselves out of a mess. Characters feel all the more real when their  voice is inherently their own. Use specific and individual phrases, metaphors and vocabulary. Say your character is a hair stylist who’s hung up on some thoughts. Writing “her mind was in turmoil” is fine, but using “my mind twisted on the thought, like hair getting caught in a cheap hairbrush” is better and builds realism. But why is this character a hair stylist? Did she used to be a financial analyst and got down-sized? Does she have a mom who ignores her siblings to play bingo all day and she has to support them? Fill in all the minute backstory details of ALL your characters’ lives. Even if the background stuff never makes it in the story, knowing those details will colour how these characters act, speak and react.

2. Have Both Internal and External Problems

As much as there are many readers who enjoy going on an emotional journey with a character (I’m not one of them) like in literary fiction, in real life that’s not how it works. Everyone’s day to day life is affected by outside influences, whether that’s nature and storms, or finances, or other people’s mistakes, or illnesses or downright evil agendas. Therefore over the course of a novel more of us can relate and take a journey with someone when there are additional problems. The key is to have both. Create obstacles and don’t let anything come too easily to any of your characters, but also have an emotional journey. As these outside things happen to your characters it should change them and we, as readers, want to see that change. Having both of these things is like having that all illusive piece of cake, but then discovering there’s also a delicious piece of pie at the back of the fridge and you get to eat that too!

3. Use a Full Plot Arc

This mostly deals with novels from a series but not always. Having a novel end with only a cliffhanger is a huge deterrent. Even if it’s a good novel, and I really want to read the next one, have some resolution! There should be some resolving/falling action at the end of every story. The best series novels I’ve read are ones where there’s an end to each novel, but there’s still questions and a bigger picture that will be worked out in future novels. It’s hugely annoying how much cut-off cliffhanger endings has become the trend in YA novels of late. So many series aren’t a trilogy, they’re one long novel broken up into three. It makes for some very dissatisfied reading. This topic really needs to be delved into so much more. Which means in the near future I’ll be tackling this completely in more posts, but it needed to be included here for sure.

4. Raise the Stakes

Novels where all the main character has to do for the entire plot is choose between the jock and the boy next door? So forgettable. What if the jock’s father were the tyrant leader of a community and unless your mc (main character) chooses his son he’ll close down any and all travel out of their city? Would you read that? Yeah I know it sounds a little unrealistic, but the right author could take that and tweak it and fill out the characters and have a pretty good story. Point is, add depth to your story. Risk lives, risk communities, risk worlds, when your characters (both mc and secondary) won’t lose something super important it’s less investing. How many of us were on the edge of our seats to find out whether or not Harry would die or Voldermort would win and enslave the entire world? Imagine now that even though Harry was a wizard in this amazing world, the only choice he had to make was between Ginny and Cho? (no contest btw, Ginny and her blazing look so awesome!) That book would’ve been so much less enthralling. Don’t get me wrong I love romance and want it in almost every novel I read (That’s the only thing I wanted more of from Harry Potter btw, but that’s a totally different post) but there’s gotta be more going on, or your story won’t stay with the reader.

5. Build Your World Down to the Last Detail

Some of the most favourite and lasting fantasy novels are those with amazingly built worlds. Wheel of Time, Narnia, Eragon, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter. There are many reasons why these books are so successful but exceptionally detailed worlds is a big reason in all of them. Time and time again I pick up a book so excited for it, but then it falls flat. Authors need to flesh out the details. I’m finding lately the worlds are built so thinly that there’s absolutely nothing to grab onto. Have specific cultures and actions. Build a history. What makes this world different? Why would we, as readers, want to visit here? What’s good about this world you’ve built? What’s bad? Could you build a working set for a film from the details you have? If not, you gotta build more. Have your magic be consistent. Enjoy the people and settings you’ve created and we will too.

That’s 5 ways to build a better, more stand out novel. Realize how important it is to understand your book inside and out. Writing is a craft. It is something to learn and grow in. Talent helps, but you gotta build your ability to be noticed in this age of digital media. Here’s hoping you can write that amazing story you know is in you!
Check out today’s post on DanielleWAM: WAM Moment of the Week

Blog makeover day is tomorrow! Just saying 😀

Cheers!

Talking About Your Next Big Idea. Amateur or Professional?

By | Publishing, Writing Tips | No Comments

Doesn’t matter what subject it is, there will always be differing opinions. Fact of life. But as writers we have to wade through so much garbage, that I’d say every single person out there who has any aspirations of being a writer needs to take any advice about writing/publishing with a huge grain of salt. As in like a massively sized boulder piece of salt.

Essentially you gotta work your way through everything and pay attention to things that are said consistently, but read the opposing views, and then do what works for you and what feels right. Read lots and research lots about writing and the skills required for the craft. However just because a best-selling author says something doesn’t mean it’s true for everyone. Suggestions and posts I make might not be everyones cup of tea either, so read even my posts with a discerning eye.

Ya or nay? Discussing your WIP

Where am I going with all this? Well, I’m having a bit of an inner debate on whether or not I, as a new author, should be discussing -in detail- my current novel with others. In the last little while I’ve seen a lot of opinion regarding talking about your current WIP (that’s work-in-progress for all you newbie/non-
writing folks) and there seems to be a split right down the middle.

Many seem to feel talking about an idea and what you’re currently in the midst of writing is amateurish and screams of insecurities. Others say that in fleshing out ideas and discussing your project with others is the sign of a professional as you’re building up an audience and garnering interest.

My opinion? For the longest time I felt like I could and should be talking about my book as much as possible. As I came across more articles that addressed this and said that I shouldn’t be talking about my WIP I shifted my view to try and see their points. I think that in this day and age of rampantly expanding e-books/self-publishing and the astoundingly far reach that is social media, an author would be doing their book more harm than good if they kept quiet about it.

To clarify though, I think that if a writer’s idea is in its infancy and their novel is just barely started out, I’d be leery of how much and what you share with others. I would say don’t start talking details until the novel and its basic plot and theme are set in your mind. When you start to second guess yourself and let others influence your imagination and thoughts, it can be confudelling. Some have said that a good rule of thumb is to not discuss anything until your first draft is written. This is a good basic rule of thumb I think. But for me personally it just wasn’t what I wanted to do. I hashed out and plotted an entire series of four books (which later turned into six) before I was done chapter two of Book 1. So my ideas and themes were pretty much nailed down. On the pro side for discussing before your draft is finished, sometimes those who are totally removed from the world you’ve created can solve problems that you had no solution for. This happened to me with one specific detail I couldn’t quite get to work. Talking about it over dinner with my husband and our two roommates at the time, I had a solution before dessert. Discuss what you want and be open, but be wary and don’t allow too much influence, this is your work, your voice! It’s when you get a lot of different ideas and advice from a ton of people and you try to implement them all that you run into trouble. If you hear the same thing from 3 different people it should receive due consideration, but if its a single person take the advice as simply that one person’s thoughts.

At the same time have a short pitch of specifics things to say to friends and family. (ie an elevator pitch) Be enthusatic, love it and own it. It’s your work. You SHOULD be excited about it. So I say share it! (after you’ve nailed down the basics in your mind of course. :D)

What say you all those other authors out there? Sound off in the comments below.

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Comparisons Sometimes Can Help. My Villain vs Voldemort

By | Publishing, Website stuff | 2 Comments

Many times when a person starts comparing themselves to others the outcome isn’t good. However when it comes to character development I find comparisons to be invaluable.

Now I was in the shower when I hashed out some really key details about my main villain. Maybe it’s just me but I tend to get my best thinking and brain storming done about my novels and my characters while in the shower. Go figure its always when I’m surrounded by water and nowhere near a computer or notebook. (Not that I could use them while wet anyways). Thankfully I was able to retain most of the thoughts I had until I got the opportunity to write them down.  
Lego Voldemort – Sweet

What I’d done was compared my main villain to Lord Voldemort. As far as literature goes, he’s one great bad guy in contemporary work. And as I’m extremely well aquatinted with all things Harry Potter it made sense for me to flesh out the flaws and motivations for my main villain in comparison to Voldemort. What an amazing character JK Rowling developed! He went from a sociopathic, attention seeking teenager (who murdered his father) to someone with devoted followers who wanted to place himself as supreme ruler and to subjugate all Muggles.
Now I agree with many others in the writing sphere that when promoting or trying to sell your novel it is probably best not to compare your work with some internationally recognizable names. But I find it immensely helpful with my own characters. The more I thought about Voldemort and his history and all of his motivations the easier it was for me to flesh out my villain. 
In thinking about how my villain was different from Voldemort I nailed down some very essential characteristics and motivations. Was my villain a sociopath? Was he(she) an attention seeking teenager? Did he commit murder at a young age? What was her childhood like? Did he want a large following of people who worshipped him? Or did she prefer to work from the shadows, manipulating people in an underhanded, hidden behind fake names kind of way? By taking the details I knew and understood about Voldemort and then putting that in direct comparison with my villain I got some great work done, and was a huge eye opener at the same time. (You’ll notice I alternated between referring to my villain as a he or a she. This was so there’s no spoilers. 😀 )

What you read can have huge impacts on your writing see What You Read Will Always Affect Your Writing, but in addition you can analyze great books and great characters that you love and use them to grow and develop your own characters and writing. Happy Writing all! 😀

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