Posted in writing advice

Creating a Protagonist with Depth: Part Three

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

Now, on to today’s discussion!

Character Arc

What is a character arc?

It’s your character’s journey from who they are at the beginning of the book to who they become by the end.

(Hint: these should be different!)

  • This is basically the main question your character arc needs to fulfill throughout the course of a story. Developing a strong character arc will help you create a character with depth.

There are 3 stages to a character arc.

STAGE ONE

Arc Stage 1

The Catalyst

You need something that will force your character onto the path that will change them from who they are to who you want them to become.

This can be a physical and internal stumbling blocks.

The catalyst is a problem – something your character needs to overcome.

For example…

Tris finding out she’s Divergent.

Katniss volunteering for the Hunger Games to save Rue.

The journey to overcome this problem is what will test them and force them to grow personally and emotionally.

STAGE TWO

Arc Stage 2

During the second stage, your character attempts to resolve the problem from the first stage.
Of course, things can’t go to easily for your character.
In order to make sure your character keeps growing, they need to continue to face new obstacles.
Translation: Things keep getting worse.

Why?
As your character faces new problems, they learn new skills, become more capable, more like the person they need to be.

STAGE THREE

Arc Stage 3

This is the resolution stage, where your story reaches its climax and your character discovers who they are becoming.
This is NOT always the resolution of your characters’ completed arc
If your are writing a series, this may be the first realization for the character of who they want to be or will become.

Your full character arc may stretch over a series of books, but within each book you should have the three stages of the character arc, with the character reaching an important realization at the end of each book.

Making sure your character changes and grows throughout your story will help create a more believable and relatable character.

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.

StripedShirtWomanStereotypes

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 writing tips

Creating a Protagonist with Depth: Part 1

Where do you start when you want to create a really great character?

That’s a question that any writers, bot new and established, ask. There’s no black and white answer, but this series will offer up tips on creating strong characters that are layered and offer readers a reason to connect and share their story.

Today, I’ll start off with two popular options for getting started on Character Development.

Option One

Character ProfilingCharacter Traits

  • Start with the basics: Who is your character?
    • Create a character profile sheet and be as detailed as possible
      • Physical characteristics
      • Eye/hair color, weight, height, etc.
      • Personality traits
      • Happy, gloomy, morose, optimistic, etc.
    • Likes/Dislikes
    • Fears/Dreams
    • Talents/Goals
      • Secret or otherwise
    • Flaws
    • We’ll talk about this on in more depth later

Option Two

Start with a Picture

Instead of starting from scratch, find a picture you think is interesting and describe what you see. Go deeper than how they look. What motivates these characters? What are there goals? What are they afraid of? Start making a list of character traits that will help bring them to life.

Take a look at these two characters and tell me what they’re afraid of, why someone might be afraid of them, what they love, what they dream about, what their favorite flavor of ice cream is, or even what their secret fears are. Most of what you come up with you won’t actually use, but it will help you understand them.

I’d love to hear what you come up with for these two characters, so feel free to post your ideas in the comments! And don’t forget to come back for the next installment of Creating A Protagonist With Depth next week.

Posted in writing thoughts

It’s Done…Walk Away

DeathtoStock_Medium6I have to start this post off by saying, it was inspired by a post my lovely writing buddy, SeriouslyGina, recently posted on her blog. She was talking about the awfulness of querying agents and trying to write that perfect query letter that simply no one can refuse, despite the fact that it is like a rainbow unicorn made of sparkle dust and dark chocolate.

Hint: It doesn’t exist.

Querying is my least favorite part of writing. Maybe that’s why I gave up on trying to find and agent or pitch to publishers and went almost entirely indie. Actually, there are a whole bunch of other reasons for that!

In all honesty, though, thinking about what a torment querying is reminded me of some advice I got from one of my painting instructors in college that has really helped me in my writing and other areas of life. It was simple and kind of a silly thing to stick with me for almost fifteen years, now that I think of it, but oh well.

I had been working on a single painting, a master study of a JW Waterhouse painting, for the majority of the semester, and it just never seemed quite “done.” My painting professor, the incredible William Hatch, finally walked up behind me one day and said, “It’s done. Put your paintbrush down and start something new.” I didn’t think it was done. In fact, I have a print of it hanging in my house and every time I walk by it I think, “Ugh, I should have fixed that part.” But, there’s no sense trying to paint on top of a print and I don’t have the original painting anymore, and I’m not quite that much of a crazy person.

I think Professor Hatch might have just been sick of looking at that painting when he told me to put down my paintbrush, but even if he really did think it was as good as it was going to get, his comment actually stuck with me and I’ve applied it to more than just painting.

I often reach a point in a project, writing or otherwise, when I just have to put it down and say, “It’s done.” When I’m writing, that’s usually after way too many edits when my eyes are crossing and I’m beginning to hate my own book because I’m so tired of looking at it. Before I actually get to that point, I tell myself, IT’S DONE…WALK AWAY. I don’t go back to it. I move on to a new project and don’t look back whether I have that nagging feeling that it could use a little more tweaking or not. It’s just done.

I heard a piece of advice once, and I can’t remember who it was from but I’m pretty sure it was one of those huge 19th century writers we all aspire to be. The advice was to never read your published book. You’ll always find little errors or things you could have tweaked, sections that could have been stronger, blah, blah, blah. It will never be perfect. No book will ever be, nor has ever been perfect. NOT A SINGLE Girl with Book 3ONE.

Instead of chasing your starburst and sunshine with sprinkles on top masterpiece, write the best book you can write, find great beta readers, even better editors, friends who’ll support you no matter what, and pour your heart and soul into your story.

Your book will never be perfect, but the message you share and the way it impacts your readers will make up the difference.

Connect with me online:

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Posted in writing, writing advice, writing thoughts

Runts and Writing

Calendar DeadlineI’m one of those people who likes to do the things they don’t like first…except when it comes to cleaning bathrooms. I put that off as long as possible. It struck me, though, as I was eating some Runts, that you can’t really do that with writing. As I was picking out all the bananas and oranges to eat first because I like them the least but feel bad just throwing them away, I had the thought that most of my least favorite parts of writing and publishing can’t really be done first just to get them out of the way.

My two least favorite parts of writing are editing and marketing. Editing, I just don’t like because it’s time consuming and annoying and I can never remember how to use a comma properly in every situation. Marketing is just plain tough and time consuming and will totally eat up your whole day if you let it.

In a perfect world, I could just do both of those first, get them out of the way, and then move on to the fun parts. Writing. I can do it with food and chores, so why not writing? Admittedly, it’s tough to edit something you haven’t written, and even though you can start to market a book before it’s published, you still have to have something concrete to market and know how to do it right.

So, how important is having a plan and sticking to it when writing?

Important. 

Here are a few thoughts to consider:

Marketing

The hardcore marketing will usually start once a publication date is finalized, but more general marketing needs to start 6-9 months pre-publication. How do you do that when you’re only on chapter 3?

Ask for input on social media. 

  • What do you think of these names for a (fill in the blank) type of character?
  • Anyone live in ___________? What’s a great first date restaurant, unique location, bad area of town, etc.?
  • Do you believe in ghosts/werewolves/demons?

Get them invested in the idea of your book before you ever even finish it. Make them a part of the writing process so they feel connected to it before they even read a single page. Just remember to include the title or working title in your posts.

Give readers sneak peeks.

Shark2 Teaser 3Post a short excerpt. Tell readers what your character said or did that made you cry/laugh/stare at your computer screen in shock. Make some promo teasers like the one below with interesting quotes or taglines that readers can share.

The more you get readers involved in the pre-publication process, the more excited they’ll be to finally get their hands on a copy once it’s released.

Tours, Guest Posts, etc.

On a more technical note, you also need to be setting up tours, guest posts, events, etc. well before the day your book is going to come out. Most good tour companies are booked at least two months out. Plan ahead.

 

Writing

Sadly, there’s really no way to knock out the editing before you actually do the writing. So, how do you stay on schedule with your writing? Everyone is different, but here are a few ideas that have worked for me and author friends I know.

  • Deadlines: whether this is a deadline for finishing the book, a chapter, or section, sit down and give yourself a reasonable time period to accomplish a set amount of work. Mark it on your calendar.
  • Writing Groups: Make yourself accountable to someone else. Readers can be great at keeping you on track when they’re waiting for a new book, but a writing group that meets regularly and requires you to have something for the other members to critique can help you stay on track.
  • Daily/Weekly Goals: whether this is a word count goal, set amount of time, plan a time that you will use just for writing. Your creativity often needs to be trained to come out and play at certain times.
  • Bribery: Seriously, this works. Give yourself a reason to meet your goal. Chocolate? Shoes? A night out? Whatever motivates you, use it.

 

Sometimes we’re stuck dealing with the order things just have to be done in, but there are ways to make it work for you. I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions for dealing with some of your least favorite parts of the writing/publishing process.

Posted in writing, writing advice, writing thoughts

Falling Flat or Finishing Strong

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Ever feel like this guy when you’re trying to work out the ending to your book? 

I agonize over the endings of my books, series endings especially. I’ve mentioned this before, but instead of just whining about it, I thought I’d share some insights I’ve learned and some tips from other authors.

Tips From Other Authors

KM Weiland offered up some great tips on her YouTube video. You can watch the full video for her whole discussion, but here are the highlights.

1. Wait until the resolution to tie up any loose ends. In other words, don’t interrupt the action to talk about Carlos’s shoe size or Betty’s grade on her science paper. Rope 2

2. Tie up loose ends BEFORE the climax. If you really need to let everyone know whether or not Skippy found his lost shoe, spit it out before Joe and Susie head off to fight the zombie horde.

3. Make the unfinished business exciting enough to be included in the climax. If Clara’s long lost aunt is going to drop back into the picture, she better have something to do with the solving the mystery or winning the fight or it’ll just be a distraction that pulls readers out of  the story.

Brian Klems offered up some great writing tips in his Writer’s Digest article, but here’s what relates to finishing a book:

1. The hero should be the catalyst. No one wants to invest time and energy in a character only to see someone else step in at Sexy young soldierthe end of the MC’s story and save the day. What was the point of that character going through everything they did if they don’t do anything in the end?

2. The hero should grow internally. What does this means? Basically, the problems the hero faced or struggled with in the beginning need to be resolved in the end and be part of the reason he’s able to triumph at the climax. If you’re dealing with a series, maybe the growth is incomplete, but there should be growth all the same.

3. A new and better hero should emerge. The MC needs to have earned the right to be called a hero by the end of the story. If they don’t demonstrate that they can do something the others characters can’t (and we’re not just talking supernatural abilities), why is he or she able to save the day over any other Joe-schmoe in the book?

What I’ve Learned

The ending can make or break a book. I’ve been disappointed too many times for it not to effect the way I write. I’m slightly obsessed with making sure my books don’t peter out in the last few chapters because, as a reader, I hate that! Here are a few of my own tips to avoid writing that ending that makes your readers cringe.

1. Complete your character arc. What was it in the beginning of the book that your character struggled with the most, that defined who he or she was and why they felt like they couldn’t meet their goals? Have you resolved it by the end of the book? I’m not talking situational problems. This needs to be deeper emotional wounds that have held your character back. Have they overcome some part of what’s been holding them back? If not, take note of what those wounds are and how they need to be fixed in your final chapters. Questions

2. Answer the freaking question! Okay, this makes me think of “Lost” and how confused and irritated I was when they wrapped up the sixth season and 90% of the hints and mysteries were completely abandoned. If you bring up a challenge, hint, clue, noticeable item, etc. and then never mention it again, readers are going to be left saying, “What about…?” And that’s annoying. Either get rid of those plot points that never panned out, or make sure they’re followed up on.

3. Redemption and justice are musts. Unless you want to end things ambiguously on purpose, take a look at the major players in your book and make some tough decisions about what they really deserve. Does your bad guy need to die, or will he find redemption? Is your MC going to save the day or meet with spectacular failure because of his less than stellar choices? If your readers don’t feel like everyone got what they deserved, even if it wasn’t the ending they saw coming or wanted, the ending will feel incomplete and leave them at odds when they set the book down.

Crafting the perfect ending can make you want to tear your hair out. Maybe it will never be perfect, but hopefully some of these tips will help you write a complete ending that will hold readers’ attention and leave them feeling satisfied and ready to go grab the next book!

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Posted in writing, writing advice, writing thoughts

Holiday Writing…or Not Writing: Choosing a Genre

2014-12-08 09.13.19With the holidays approaching, I’ve been seeing loads of posts and promos for Christmas books. I was even a part of one promo for #ChickLit4Xmas, which was lots of fun. I’ve never been particularly into reading Christmas themed stories. I have nothing against them. I’ve simply never been drawn to them.

As I’ve been seeing all the holiday books being promoted, I realized I’ve never even written a single Christmas scene is any of my books. At least I don’t think so. It’s been a while since I’ve reread some of my early books. I’m pretty sure all I have are some birthday parties and a brief mention of Christmas in Shark Out Of Water.

One might start to think I have an aversion to writing holiday scenes. It’s kind of funny actually. I really don’t know why I haven’t written a holiday scene before, but it got me thinking. How do writers choose what genre they’re going to write? Obviously, I can’t speak for all authors, and I didn’t think about this early enough to take a poll, but here’s why I write what I write along with a few tips on how to choose your genre.

I write in several genres and subgenres ranging from YA paranormal/sci-fi/dystopian/urban fantasy, to straight up romance, to new adult (a rather new venture), to some unpublished projects that are just plain YA drama no otherworldly twists and turns at all. So what genre for what story?

Basically, the way I decide how to choose a genre depends on three things.

1: What is the main conflict of the story?

Is it personal or situational? Personal implies a lot more internal struggles while situational may be more event-driven. Figuring out what you want the driving force behind the conflict to be can be a challenge, but this question helps you narrow down whether you’re going to be thinking along the lines of faster paced/question driven writing or deeper emotional trials that won’t need bam-bam-bam events to pull the reader through the story.

2. What type of stumbling blocks will your characters face? 

This question in particular helps me chose the age range of my characters. With YA, parents are an issue, as are friends (more so than in other genres usually), limits on what they can and can’t do, firsts (big decisions, relationships, sex, drugs, alcohol, etc.), and self-discovery.

2014-12-08 09.22.48With New Adult, some of the YA issues still apply, but you add in facing the grownup world with jobs, bills, being on their own, dealing with consequences without parental backup, failure, and so much more. There’s more freedom for the characters in some ways, but a new set of responsibilities can limit them as well.

With fiction for adults, you’re facing day-to-day life with work and family, dealing with past mistakes, reality of the life they’ve chosen/ended up with, wanting more or something different, having to grow up and actually be an adult, serious relationship issues, etc. Asking yourself these question can help point you in the right direction for ages of your characters, which will help you narrow down your genre choices.

3. To paranormal or not to paranormal? 

Maybe this isn’t a question every writer asks, but I do. So far, all of my published YA books have some sort of paranormal/sci-fi/urban fantasy element, but I have other projects, finished and unfinished, that just didn’t work as anything but straight drama. Why? Because the source of their main problems are real problems, not imaginary ones. My adult romance series, Date Shark Series, doesn’t have a single ghost, demon, curse, or magic power anywhere. I wanted to focus on actual relationship problems we’ve all faced at one point or another and I didn’t need anything outside reality to do that.

Figuring out the driving force behind your conflict will help you decide whether or not your story needs something paranormal.

So, these are the questions I ask myself when I start a new project. Sometimes I already have these worked out when the idea hits me, but sometimes I don’t. If you’re uncertain about what direction to take your story, try asking yourself these questions. If you have questions you ask yourself to help you decide, I’d love to hear them! 

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