Posted in characters, contemporary romance, creative writing, romance, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

HEA, HFN, and Realism

In most romance subgenres, happily ever after endings are a requirement. What exactly is an HEA ending, and how does it differ from an HFN or happy for now ending?

HEA and HFN both end happily. The main differences between them are for how long and on what terms will the characters be or remain happy?

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HEA’s simplest definition is that everything turns out for the best for the protagonists and any side characters. If there is an antagonist, they get what they deserved. HEA leaves the reader confident the happiness will continue long term with no major roadblocks or disasters.

HFN is often consider a more realistic type of ending. Not everything is perfect, but it’s pretty good for the moment and the circumstances. The protagonists’ lives have improved to a satisfying level, even if it isn’t the end goal and may not be permanent.

Now, let’s discuss making HEAs a little less predictable and, let’s admit it, less cheesy.

Make the characters work HARD for their HEA.

No quick resolutions or easy forgiveness. Leave the reader doubting it will happen right up to the last second. The “work” may be external or internal.

External work might be distance, others who keep them apart, lies or mistrust, etc. Internal work is a character overcoming internal issues, such as past hurts, commitment phobias, or held secrets.

Whatever type of work a character must do to reach their HEA, give them roadblocks and roller coaster ups and downs. Any time it starts to feel like things are getting to easy for them, hit them with another one that pushes them back a few steps.

Put a twist on a trope.

Romance has plenty of tropes to chose from. The difficulty is often making them unique and not just another Disney ending. HEA doesn’t always have to end with a kiss, sex, or a proposal.

What else signifies commitment? Exchanging house/apartment keys, adopting a pet, meeting family, etc.

The important thing to remember here is that the twist has to make sense and be relevant to the character’s arc. If a character is open and welcoming by nature, introducing her new love to her family at the end isn’t much of a twist, or very exciting. However, for a character who’s had to work through major issues with her domineering mother and has trouble opening her private life to people, introducing a new love to her mother would be a big step that showed trust and commitment.

Try unique situation and settings.

Very few real relationships reach the HEA moment over a candle-lit dinner or during a grand romantic gesture. Take a page out of reality and spice up a conversation over pizza or taking a walk and falling in love with a house listed for sale. Look for everyday moments that can be made special.

I love the scene from The Office when Jim proposes to Pam at a gas station. It’s a powerful moment, not only because it’s unexpected, but because his previous attempts at a grand gesture kept getting messed up and he simply couldn’t wait to start his life with her any longer.

Make the reader wait.

Whether this is a planned meeting that gets held up and makes a character doubt, a tough decision that is held off until the last moment, a sacrifice the reader isn’t sure a character will make, or something else, a pause before the HEA can up the reader’s anticipation.

In most romances, the reader knows there will be an HEA, but they don’t know how it will happen. If you’ve developed a strong story arc, every time the MCs get close, they’re pushed back apart, making the reader doubt their ideas of how it will all play out. Keep this up until the big moment. Then you can follow it up with a glimpse of what their HEA looks like long term.

One last note…

Make sure each character has their OWN happy ending before their relationship gets a happy ending. HEAs are even more unrealistic when the characters haven’t shown enough development for a reader to believe “true love” will last forever.

This doesn’t mean they have to be perfect, but they DO have to be capable of sustaining a long-term, committed relationship. Each character should have their own development arc and need to reach the climax of that arc before the story/relationship arc can reach it’s own climax.

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Posted in books, characters, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Writing a well-crafted ending readers will love

One of the worst endings to a TV series, for me, is still “Lost,” but it provides some good lessons in what not to do when crafting the ending of a story or series.

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Every subplot has to be relevant and tied up at the end. Readers hate being left with unanswered questions. When dealing with a series, of course some subplots span multiple books, but they still need to be resolved by the end of the series. Don’t introduce a subplot simply because you feel a chapter is lacking and you need to add something interesting. First, make sure it’s relevant to the main storyline and then follow the subplot to its conclusion to see if it is worth incorporating. Every subplot should have its own complete arc.

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Keep your subplots manageable. Every story has subplots to provide characters with a fuller life and help them grow and move toward their ultimate goal in stages. However, this can easily get out of hand if you try to develop subplots for every little aspect of the story. How many subplots is too many often depends on the length of the story. Novellas or short stories really can’t handle more than one. An average length book of 60-80k words can usually handle 2-3 subplots. 80k and up can handle 4-5 when the story is complex. Anything more than that runs the risk of leaving unanswered questions and upset readers, unless you’re Robert Jordan.

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Don’t forget what your characters wanted or needed to learn at the beginning. No matter what the story is about, it’s really about the characters. A plotline can’t exist independent of the characters. Maybe the MC needs to solve a mystery, and it’s a plot-driven story, but readers still have to get invested in the character moving through that story, which means the character’s arc has to be tied up as neatly as the story arc. Look back at who the character was at the beginning. Have they changed? Have their achieved their goals? Have they learned something important? If the answer is no to any of these questions, the character hasn’t arrived at the ending along with the plot.

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The ending has to make sense! This doesn’t just apply to avoiding Dues Ex Machina endings where something completely outside the story swoops in and fixes everything at the last second. It also applies to endings that don’t match the characters’ stories or personalities, defy logic, or seem completely unreasonable. Sometimes, you start out with an ending in mind, but the characters and plot elements change while writing. The ending needs to adapt to those changes as well.

Posted in books, characters, creative writing, writing, writing thoughts, writing tips, young adult

Categorizing young adult fiction

read-515531_1920I’ve been editing a young adult project I wrote a few years back and never got back to, and it reminded me of a comment I saw on social media a while back about whether YA is an age group or a genre.

Traditionally, YA has been categorized based on audience age and the age and experiences of the protagonist. Youth ages 12-18 are the  target audience. Themes focus on new experiences and challenges as characters approach adulthood.

As the genres have shifted over the past decade, there’s been some debate about whether YA is still categorized based on character age and audience age, or if it should even be considered a genre at all. It’s more complicated than simply saying it’s one or the other, or should or shouldn’t be.

It’s not uncommon for a teenage character to face challenges and themes that may not be suitable for a twelve-year-old reader. Is it still YA? The fact that half of YA readers are adults shows that plenty of grownups enjoy reading about the young adult experience. Is it still YA if adults are the largest reader group of a particular book? The wide variety of subgenres, topics covered, heat levels, amount of profanity, and character age ranges in YA shows how difficult it is to pinpoint what is and isn’t YA.

I didn’t read Lord of the Flies until I was in high school, yet the characters are pre-adolescent. The content, however, would make it a difficult read for middle grade readers.

To Kill a Mockingbird’s main character, Scout, is only six years old when the book begins, but deals with difficult concepts and themes which apply to a wide variety of readers of all ages.

Fahrenheit 451 is often listed as both YA and adult fiction, and is frequently on high school reading lists. However, almost all of the main characters are all adults and the story deals with complex themes and difficult scenes.

So what makes a book YA, and is it a genre or age range of target readers?

I tend to agree that YA as a genre attempts to pigeon-hole a huge variety of fiction into one category. It says more about the age range of readers someone out there thinks will enjoy the story more than what type of book it is. TO me, that’s not a terrible helpful category. You have to move on to subgenre to figure out what a book is going to be about.

Classifying a book has more to do with the point and purpose of the story than the age of the reader or characters. Does the story speak to the experiences of a young adult? The teenage years are often a time of self-discovery and trying to figure out where you belong in the world. Young adults face a lot of “firsts” that are often complicated to manage and can have a huge impact on the way they see themselves and the world, good or bad.

YA fiction tends to focus on the specific challenges and crises that go along with entering a new world (adulthood, moving towns or schools, first relationships and jobs, etc.), social and emotional growth and development, exploring boundaries (relationships, drugs and alcohol, sex, etc.), and self-discovery.

Of course, many adults face similar issues, which is why the lines get blurred so often between genres, however, teens tend to experience these things differently than most adults. This shifts the focus or perspective of YA fiction. A relationship at 16 is very different than one at 40. The same goes for jobs, school, sex, and much more. The thing is, though, that those experiences are interesting to more than just the teens out there living it because it’s about the human experience.

Despite what genre gets listed on Kindle or Apple Books, YA is more complicated than simply saying it’s a defined genre or an age group. An author may have a specific audience or purpose as they write, but readers take what they will from each book they read and catalog it in a way that makes sense to them. The exact definition matters a lot less than whether or not the story speaks to readers in a meaningful way.

Posted in characters, writing

Creating A Protagonist With Depth: Part Four

If you haven’t read the first three part in the series, you can find Part One HERE, Part Two HERE, and Part Three HERE.


Now let’s discuss how to fill out your character with some backstory, faults, contradictions, and conflict.

iStock_000014115888LargeBackstory

Now that we have the basics of your character and who they are at the beginning and end, it’s time to fill in the middle.

We do that with backstory. Why is your character the way they are?

Remember those personality flaws, fears, and annoying habits you created earlier? Now it’s time to find out where they came from.

The reason behind the flaw is what makes it interesting.

Ex: Lena from “Beautiful Creatures” is afraid of falling in love because of the curse on her family that tells her she’ll turn evil and hurt the people she cares about.
That’s more interesting than just being too shy to ask a guy out.

Like an iceberg, most of the backstory you come up with will never appear on the pages, but it will make your character who they are. 


Depressed young homeless womanFaults

Nobody likes perfect characters. They’re boring.

Every character needs a few faults.

Make a list of 5 faults your character has – let’s go deeper than not being able to make a free throw.

Personality flaws: unreliable, eccentric, immoral, volatile.

Fears: common or complex – Indiana Jones’ fear of snakes got him in trouble a few times.

Weaknesses: unemotional, domineering, perfectionist.


IMG_0454Contradictions

Faults aren’t enough. Your character needs to be contradictory at times.

Why? No real person behaves the way they should all the time.

We do things we know are wrong, go against our own beliefs, and do the opposite of what we intended to do.

This can go the other way too. Does your bad guy had a soft spot?

No one is all good or all evil. Your characters need to have a mix of both.


Man with SwordConflict

Every good character needs plenty of conflict, not just from situations they find themselves in, but internal conflict as well.

Go back to your list of fears…

Which of these fears will your character face and try to conquer in your story?

While trying to overcome the main conflict in the story, your character must also overcome internal conflicts that are holding them back.

If they don’t, their character arc won’t be completed.


Full, rounded out characters can make or break a story. Giving your character a life outside the story will help them come alive on the pages for your readers.

Posted in characters

Creating a Protagonist with Depth:Part 2

If you haven’t read Part One of this series, you can find it HERE.

Now…on with the show!

In PART TWO of this series, we’ll be talking about Stereotypes and Archetypes. If you’re not sure what one or both of these are, have no fear, they’ll be explained, and we’ll also talk about whether they should or shouldn’t be used and how to tell the difference.

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What are Stereotypes and why should you be careful when using them?

Stereotypes

  • A character that is so ordinary or unoriginal that they seem like an oversimplified version of a person, class, gender, etc.

Basically, this means the character is one dimensional. What readers see is what they get. There’s nothing deeper to their thoughts, personalities, or motivations. Simply put, these are not the most interesting characters. Certainly not what you want to model your Main Character after!

Why should you avoid this?

  • Stereotypes are rarely accurate. Not only can they be offensive, they make for poor characters because readers can guess exactly what they will think, do, say, or respond. That’s boring.

There are times when Stereotypes are used effectively in fiction. These are usually your secondary or tertiary characters who aren’t integral to the plot and provide “filler” in a scene or situation. They don’t add to the story, particularly, or move the plot along, and usually have very little page time.

Even when writing these types of characters, be careful to avoid writing a character that draws too heavily on ideas that may be found offensive or off putting. Stereoptypical character should be used very sparingly, even when writing secondary or tertiary characters.

Gabriel with swordArchetypes

What are archetypes and should you use them?

Archetypes

  • A typical character, action, or situation that seems to represent a universal pattern of human nature

Are they bad?

  • Archetypes can be used effectively when done right. For example, the “Hero,” “Innocent Youth,” or “Mentor” characters appear in many works of fiction.

Fantasy and Science Fiction often use archetypal characters, and you also see them quite frequently in comic book storylines as well. Popular examples would included Darth Vader and Anakin/Luke Skywalker from “Star Wars,” The Giver and Jonas from “The Giver,” and Sauron, Gandalf, and Frodo from “The Lord of the Rings.”

  • The challenge is creating an archetype without falling into stereotype. Even if your character is following an archetypal pattern, they still need to be complex and unpredictable at times.

In comic some comic books, the hero and villain are intentionally portrayed as stereotypical archetypes. Such as, the villain is ALL evil while the hero is ALL good. In such stark good vs. evil storylines, this works very well. Many other comics prefer to use more complex heroes and villains, which is what fiction/prose writers want to accomplish as well. No villain is completely evil and no hero is undeniably pure. There has to be more to the story, deeper reasons, secrets, hidden desires, and more layers than your readers can see in one glance to make sure you’re writing a well rounded and interesting archetype.

Next up is Character Arcs…what they are, how to use them, and what they will help you accomplish. In the mean time, I’d love to hear your examples of stereotypical and archetypal characters from books or comics you’ve read!

Posted in characters

The Emotional Letdown of Finishing a Book

Finally finishing a book is like digging into a Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt bar, right? 

Okay, some people might substitute champagne here, but I don’t drink, so I reach for my favorite chocolate, but that’s not really the point. The point is… IT’S NOT LIKE THAT AT ALL! 

Now, every writer is different, but for me, after that ten minutes of celebration that I FINALLY finished the book that had been killing me, screaming at me, begging me to finish… that’s when the total emotional letdown hits. 

What am I talking about? 

When you are writing a book, you become so emotionally invested in the characters that they become your family. You worry about them when you’re not writing. It might be worry that they’ll survive whatever harrowing situation you just shoved them into — because seriously, sometimes the author doesn’t even know know! — or if they’re going to cause trouble while you’re gone — because, again, that happens ALL THE TIME!! (cough, cough…Oscar)
You also miss talking to them when you walk away from the computer, because sometimes your characters are the only ones who really seem to understand you. They’re part of you, they know what’s rumbling around inside your head, and it’s kinda comforting to know your story is as real to them as it is to you. Not that that really makes sense because they’re all fake, but, well… you know what I mean, right? 
You’ve spent months, maybe even years, living in your characters world, building their lives bit by bit, and trying to guide them to their ultimate salvation… or death… you know, depending on which character we’re talking about 😉 You have spent a good deal of waking and sleeping hours devoted to their existence. 

And then… suddenly it’s all over. 

What do you do with all your free time after typing THE END? Who do you worry about when all the member of your real life family and friends are all safely tucked away in their day to day lives? Who do you try to guide, or help figure out how to escape a near death experience, or piece back together when everything comes crushing down around their ankles? You are left with an emotional vacuum that makes you sit on your couch thinking, “Should I open the book back up, or should I get my daily dose of Sam and Dean?” 
Sam and Dean certainly are tempting, but letting go of the book you just closed the pages on isn’t that easy. Even when you know it’s now in the hands of your trusted beta readers who are going to tell you everything that needs fixed or that you totally forgot to follow up on, opening it back up and taking a peek at it, just for a minute, is SO hard to resist. 
You could move on to a new book, but that feels like some kind of twisted cheating, like your characters are watching you, thinking, “Wait, what about us? You know you’re not done yet!” You feel a little lost, to be perfectly honest. At least I do. BUT, I know starting in on editing (which I hate) is silly until I hear back from my betas. 

So, what am I doing to patch up the emotional let down I feel every time I finish a book? 

Watching a little Supernatural, of course. Sam and Dean can pretty much fix anything. Ghost and demons need not be present for effectiveness 😉

And in a few days, I will start on book 4, because I am mean and I left book 3 totally hanging off the edge of a cliff 😉

What do you turn to when you need an emotional boost? 

Posted in characters, writing thoughts

What’s with all the weird names?

How many times have you read a book with names you have no clue how to pronounce, so you find yourself renaming characters and places in your head? 

I’ve done this plenty of times, in some of my favorite series, even. 

All of the words in my lovely picture to the left contains names of people or places from real books, many of which I have read, few of which I can actually pronounce. I have read too many The Legend of Drizzt Series books to accurately remember a specific count, but I will always pronounce his name as “Drits” because even in my head, I can’t pronounce “Drizz-it” without stumbling over it every single time. Even though I now know how to pronounce Hermione from the Harry Potter Series, my mom pronounced it as “Her-me-O-nee” through four books and it occasionally still creeps into my head when I see the name. 
I was recently asked “What’s with all the weird names?” in regards to my Twin Souls Saga books, which got me to thinking about names created for fictional characters and places. For my series and plenty of others, the names used come from real places or people.The tough to pronounce names in Twin Souls are actual Native American names I chose to use in order to accurately retell myths or create an atmosphere that fit the Pueblo storyline. The same goes for names like Bageera in The Jungle Book, Thénardiers from Les Misérables, and many other names in historical fiction. 
Other names, I have to admit, really don’t need to be that complicated. I couldn’t pronounce half the city or title names in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time Series, and I’d rather just say “Dream World” instead of Tel’aran’rhiod. Even though names like Tel ‘aran ‘rhiod certainly help to create a completely unique world, authors need to realize that readers are going to go with whatever they can pronounce easiest. 
If you’re fine with that, then by all means, create those kinds of names all you want. If you don’t want readers changing things up, strive for unique without being impossible to pronounce. Even though I have no clue how Al ‘cair ‘rahienallen is supposed to be pronounced, Robert Jordan did a great job with making many of the character names easy, yet unique by changing a common name like “Matthew” to “Matrim.” (Who, by the way is my favorite character from the series.)
There’s a fine balance between unique and pushing readers to rename your carefully chosen names for characters, places, and objects. I knew many of the traditional words in my Twin Souls Saga would be tough to pronounce and readers may end up coming up with easier to handle names. I’m okay with that, because the other option was changing names that are honored by many Native American cultures, and that wasn’t something I wanted to do. So, even though authors are famous for agonizing over names, there’s more to consider than just what a name means and whether it has the right connotation. 
What characters or places have you renamed while reading?