Writing Process

My finished novel is with my editor. Yes, I know I’m an editor, but I have this firm belief that you should never edit your own work because you can’t see your own shortcomings. Meanwhile,  it’s time to begin working on the next book in the series. I thought I might blog periodically about my writing process. Hopefully it will be helpful to someone. Hopefully it will be inspiring to someone. Hopefully it won’t all come to shit. If it does come to shit, hopefully it will at least be a glorious pile of shit. Ahh. The glories of risk taking.

I decided to work in Scrivener this time around. I have dabbled in it before for outlining but I decided to try it exclusively for this next book. I like the cork board visual and the ease at which you can edit and move chapters and scenes around. There is a bit of a learning curve to using Scrivener, but there are tons of YouTube videos available. Scrivener is also inexpensive, and allows you a free trial to test it out. Note that I don’t get any kickbacks from the Scrivener folks. I just happen to like it.

First things first. I spent some time thinking about my story premise and kicked ideas around with my critique partner. If you don’t have a critique partner or critique group, let me recommend that you find one. Google critique groups in your city and join one. Not only will it help you get into a writing community, but you will learn a great deal about writing craft over time, and you will have a like-minded individual or two to kick ideas around with. Do take some time to find the right group for you. Each group is different and you will need to find a good fit.

My critique partner shot down the ideas I had initially. They were too normal and not particularly dynamic for my story concept. Since my main character is not normal (I am writing urban fantasy at the moment), the premise was too mundane. While driving I settled on “If you follow your passion you will find your purpose,” which I thought worked with where my character left off the end of the last book. While sitting at a stop light I texted my new premise idea and three-sentence outline to my critique partner, which he accepted as a good one.

I opened Scrivener and created a new book file. The first thing I did was write my premise in the notes. Having a premise helps you to focus on what your book is about. As you write pages with your premise in mind, you will end up infusing your pages with meaning, which is good for your readers

Good. 1st step done.

Then I set up an initial ten chapter template (see image) to begin outlining the new story. This ten chapter starting point is stolen from Writer’s Little Helper by Jim Smith, and for me, it’s a great way to begin plotting. I find the guideposts helpful to ensure a cohesive story line. Note that I don’t get any kickbacks from Jim for recommending his book. I just happen to like it.

 

My next step is to work out the opening scene, then the climax, and then the ending scene. After I get through that, I will add twists and complications and sub plots and such. I’ll let you know when I get there.

Conflict

I am in hardcore editor mode this month. Deadlines are looming. Contracts are pending. Submissions are stacking up. Layouts, covers, audio books, and revisions are in process. And I am ecstatic about all of it. Needless to say, I digress from my genre specific theme of recent weeks, partly because I have other things on my mind, and partly because I just don’t want to do the data research right now. We can come back to that topic later.

This week, the topic of conflict keeps coming up on the pages I read.

Or more specifically, the lack of conflict keeps coming up.

Let’s be clear.

No conflict on the page  = boring.

Here’s the thing. Readers read books for a number of reasons, but one of the main reasons is for entertainment. Readers immerse themselves in novels because the story plays with their emotions. Readers want to be swept away. They want to feel the joy, terror, pain, and triumph of your characters. Readers want to be entertained.

Readers don’t want to be bored. I don’t want to be bored.

So let’s talk about conflict for a minute.

Conflict is the struggle your character has which makes your readers cry, or squirm, or hold their breath. Conflict is what makes your readers turn the page, and the next page, and the next page. Either the page has some amount of conflict, or the page is boring.

There are two kinds of conflict that you should consider as you write:

  • External conflict: Those things that keep your protagonist from reaching the story goal.
  • Internal conflict: Those thoughts and emotions that cause your protagonist to have self-doubts over the ability to achieve the story goal.

External conflict consists of things that happen to your character. Internal conflict is things that happen in your characters.

Here is an ultra-simplified breakdown of how to create conflict:

  • Your character wants something.
  • Your character acts to obtain said thing.
  • Something else gets in the way so your character can’t have said thing
  • Your character reacts to failure and then tries again.

If nothing happens on the page, and nothing happens inside your character, then you run the risk of reader boredom.

Don’t be boring.

Make sure something happens on the page, on each page. It can be something big, or something small, or something internal, or something external, but make the effort to add conflict to your pages. You will have happy readers (and editors) if you do that.

Chess.
Chess.

The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

When is it YA?

I was scrolling through a Twitter pitch fest a while back where I favorited pitches I liked. If I favorited the tweeted pitches, then the authors knew to send me their pages. There are several of these pitch parties on Twitter, including #PitMad* and #Pit2Pub*.

My point, though, is if you scroll through the pitches, you might notice that the largest percentage of pitches seem to contain #YA in the pitch. #YA means that the writer believes their completed manuscript is a Young Adult (YA) novel. We discussed last week that YA is big business, and this may or may not have anything to do with the inordinate amount of YA pitches. It’s just an observation.

After so many questions from last week’ post on YA, I thought we could all use a little more clarity.

First of all, YA is not a genre. It’s a marketing category. YA includes all the books that are written for, and marketed to young adults. Genres for YA include romance, scifi, mystery, dystopian, fantasy, and everything else. There is no specific YA trope. The trope of a YA mystery should be a mystery trope.

The main thing for YA is that your protagonist should be a teenager who suffers from teenager issues.

Another clarification. YA is not easier to write than adult novels. Writing YA requires the same amount of skill and craft as writing adult fiction. I am not suggesting that people are writing YA because they mistakenly feel it is easier, but if they are, let me reiterate. Just because the readership is geared for young adults, does not mean the writing craft is easier to master. YA novels are complex, often written about touchy subjects, and tend to be written with a very close point of view, all of which can be very difficult skills to master.

When you write YA, you have to think about your audience. YA readers are moody teenagers, most likely. Or readers who identify with moody teenagers.

Consequently, point of view (POV) is of utmost importance in YA.

YA novels are immersed in the teenage protagonist’s point of view. The protagonist usually doesn’t have much awareness of an adult perspective, but they have a very clear POV of their own. YA typically is written in first person, present-tense, and is heavy on dialogue. Narrative is intimate yet casual.

Plot and pacing should be strong, and language should be tightly written. Long paragraphs of exposition tend to be boring, and that is not a good thing.

Writing YA novels is about writing stories that speak to teenagers, so the topic, the voice, the feel of the novel is important. The protagonist should be intelligent and have wit, because teenagers are intelligent and witty. Your characters are still teenagers, however and should act like teenagers, but it’s important that they are not so snarky that they are not likable. Readers need to like the protagonist.

Young adults have raging hormones, and sex, drugs, and alcohol are part of their reality. This is true whether you like it or not. Teenagers don’t want to be preached to. Did you at that age? Handle the touchy subjects with aplomb.

Endings are not always happy-ever-after. Endings are not even always happy for now. Sometimes they are not even hopeful, but the ending should be powerful.

All of these things are important when writing YA. But here is the most important thing of all. A good story is a good story regardless of marketing category or genre. Writers of good stories learn the craft elements of how to write good stories. They read in the genre they write in. They read other genres. They read everything. They write, and re-write, and they edit, and they revise, and they write some more.

Writers write the story they write because that is the story they have to tell, not because the the genre sells well. If  you are going to write a story, write one that you love because you most likely will be working on it for a while.

*#PitMad and #Pit2Pub are scheduled opportunities for authors to pitch their completed manuscripts to acquiring agents, editors, and publishers. See http://www.brenda-drake.com/pitmad/ and http://www.kristinvanrisseghem.com/pit2pub for more details.

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The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

The Novel Idea

Ideally, before you begin writing, you have the details of your novel worked out. But, before that, there is that flash of random inspiration of something that could, at some point, become a novel. Those flashes can come from anywhere. You could see a news story, and suddenly you have a dynamic plot that comes together like a toppling of dominoes. You could be shopping and come across some esoteric stranger, and suddenly you have a character with their backstory, character flaw, and primary motivation. Subconsciously, your brain is playing the What If? game and the visual somehow triggers the tidal wave of inspiration. I don’t know how that works necessarily. I just know it is exciting when it happens.

That inspirational flicker happens to many writers. The problem is that going from miraculous inspirational thought to novel is hard work. It takes time. And the would-be writer has to be tenacious enough to keep at it, sometimes for years.

So…How do you do that? How do you move from flash to finish? Everyone has their own process, but I thought I would discuss some potential techniques.

Whether you start with a plot idea or a character idea, the reality is that you have to fill your novel with interesting, real-appearing people who have traits, and flaws, and who act or fail to act in whatever situation you are inclined to put them in.

It might help if you thought about your characters as walking dichotomies. Think about what could be the two worst possible things thrust together inside of one person. Play the What If game to find opposites.

What if your main character was a Fireworks Designer? A firework designer is a chemist who designs fireworks with chemicals for the purpose of creating beautifully colored explosions. Fireworks Designers obviously have to be smart people. But what if they have an accident and lose their ability to see color? What if they are afraid of fire due to a childhood experience? Do you see the juxtaposition? The job contradicts the emotional motivator, and the result is an instantly more complex character. What if the Fireworks Designer is one of the few people in the world who knows how to manipulate a particular chemical combination, and the Secret Service just called because they found a chemical bomb in the White House? Do you see how this grows the potential for the plot and story? You could begin to write your story premise with just this much information.

Let’s try it again.

What if your character was a Fortune Cookie Writer? This is the person who comes up with the sayings inside your dessert cookie at your local Chinese restaurant. But what if your writer hated their job because they thought fortunes were ridiculous so they started writing atrocious fortunes? And what if somehow your Fortune Cookie Writer discovered that the fortunes they wrote were mysteriously coming true and people were dying as a result? And what if they just wrote 1,000 really horrible fortunes that were going to print in 24 hours? What if your writer needed to stop the presses before the time was up?

Now I haven’t thought these through to any logical conclusion for an actual story idea, but hopefully, you can see the point I am trying to make. To make your characters complex, give them problems to deal with. The complexity will help you move toward completed novel because you will have more fodder to feed the Muse.

It’s a start, right?

Next week we push the Muse a bit further.

The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

A Little Bit O’ Business

Happy New Year!

I know you’ve been working diligently over the holidays. You’ve been writing new book ideas down on cocktail napkins in between bites of spinach-artichoke dip. Or maybe you hid in the closet with a flashlight and your laptop in order to knock out your story premise while your in-laws napped on the couch. However you got your writing done, good for you. You are living that writing dream!

It might be time to skew the writing dream, just a bit, though. It’s a new year, and I think you can handle it. So, sit down.

You are a writer and you have the big dream of being published. It doesn’t matter to me whether you want to self-publish or get published by a small press, or one of the Big 5. I know you want to be published. I have enough experience to know this without a doubt.

I also know all you want to do is write. But the truth is that the business of writing is not just about the writing anymore. Sure, it’s your priority and your goal is to write the best possible novel that you can write, but the reality is that there is much more to it. Here’s why. When you publish, you suddenly become much more than a writer. You have to be a marketing person, designer, public speaker, educator, contract negotiator, and all the other jobs that go into selling a book.

You have to be a business person.

You have to think of yourself as a business.

You are a business.

Publishing is an industry.

You are part of that industry.

So take a moment.

Think of yourself as a business. What is your distinctive quality that sets you apart from all the other writers in the world? Realize that that one distinctive quality is your competitive edge. Do you know that there is no other person on earth who can write what you write the way you write it? Nobody can offer readers what you have to offer. You are unique, with unique life experiences, and a unique perspective, and all of that uniqueness filters out through your writing. No one can tell your story. How can you spin that into your writing, marketing, designing, public speaking etc? Take a moment and think about that.

Do you have a budget? No? Why not? You are a business and you should have a budget. If you are going to self-publish you will need to hire an editor, a cover designer, and a marketer. You can, of course, do all those things yourself, but chances are you don’t have all of those skills. More importantly, you won’t have a whole lot of writing time if you do everything yourself. Realize too, if you are published by one of the Big 5 you still must (sometimes even contractually obligated) market yourself and chances are it won’t be free. I know that you just want to write. Sorry. It’s just the cost of doing business. You either pay money or time folks and you can’t always choose which budget you are going to spend from. Think about that for a moment. Make a budget. Even if it is an imaginary one.

Do you need an upgrade? You should never stop learning or growing in your craft. Even Jeffery Deaver, who was a keynote speaker at the last Colorado Gold Conference, sat in several workshops and took notes. And he’s a multi-time NYT best-selling author. Do you suck at dialogue? Maybe you should take a workshop on writing dialogue, and of course, you will budget for that. Think about what you need to improve.

I could go on and will next week but, for now, I don’t want you to panic. The point is to take a moment and plan ahead so you are prepared. I feel like this is your year.

The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

Show V Tell

Last week we talked about the showing part in Show v Tell. This week we will take a look at the telling side of the equation.

What is telling? Telling is writing with a style that uses primarily narrative exposition. It is explaining the story to the reader. The writer uses this style to provide the backstory so the reader knows a character’s history or how things led up to current events. Or the writer wants to educate the reader on the villain’s prison history to explain why he is now a serial killer. Or the writer wants the reader to know all about the politics of Whigs to set up the story set in 1700’s Scotland. Generally, telling includes what is known as information dump, which is too much information given to the reader all at once. Telling is usually boring. As Chuck Wendig says, “When executed poorly, exposition is a boat anchor tied to the story’s balls. It drags everything down.”

Telling is supplying information through the narrator to the reader.

The key thing to consider is what is it that the narrator is saying? Is it something that can be expressed visually through action and interaction of your characters? You should probably revise the scene to express that information visually through action and interaction of your characters. Is your narrator providing long-winded information that the reader won’t need to know until chapter six? You should probably insert that part of the  information in chapter six. If your narrator is droning on and on about anything, you can bet you are telling, and it’s probably boring your reader to the point of closing the book. That is not good.

That said, do realize that both showing and telling are necessary to convey a story. Novels are  a mix of both showing and telling, and you should use both when you write. Don’t be afraid to tell your reader a bit of information. Not every part of a story will require strong imagery and active details. Not every part of a story needs to be shown. But don’t let your narrator run rampant.

I wrote some really bad examples of show v tell for your reading pleasure, in hopes that you might be able to see the difference between the two, and why showing is better than telling in fiction.

Telling

They went to the store and saw a funny clown with balloons. The clown had red hair, and black and white suit with giant puffy pink buttons. His face was painted white and he had a huge smile painted on his face with red makeup. His shoes were big and yellow and he had a loud horn which he used to get people’s attention. He blew up balloons. The balloons were all shapes and sizes and also were of many colors. Jim’s favorite color balloon was blue. The clown made the balloons into animal shapes like a dog, and a bird, and a dragon. He was really funny, too.

Showing

Bonk, bonk.
Jim turned around at the sound of the horn.
“Do you like balloons?” The clown stretched a balloon with his white-gloved hands.
“Uh, sure,” Jim said.
The clown inhaled a huge lungful of air and used it to blow up the balloon. He smiled when the balloon was full. As he wrapped the end of the balloon around a finger to tie it off, the balloon flew away, spiraling around the room while making fart sounds.

Can you see the difference? In the telling section, the narrator is just giving information, while in the showing section you can see what happened. Both showing and telling provide the same information, but as a reader, don’t you like the showing option better?

Next: Showing v Telling clues to look for in your writing.

The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

Writing with all your senses

I received an email last week from a writer who felt her pages were flat. This writer (and her critique group) felt that she didn’t seem to generate much depth of emotion for her readers. I asked for a few pages of her current work in progress and saw that this writer, who was working on a romance, limited herself by using only visual descriptions in her scenes. Because she was giving her readers only visual clues, she was missing out on opportunities to add depth and texture to her work, which would draw her readers in.

People have multiple senses that they use to experience the world around them, and so should your characters. Regardless of the genre, including each of the physical senses in your writing helps your reader to interpret the world that your character lives in. This also helps your reader to believe that your character is real and helps your reader to suspend disbelief. Your reader becomes engaged with the story and the characters and has to turn the page. This is a good thing.

I am going to use the romance genre to discuss the physical senses to show you what I mean, mostly because the five senses in  romance tend to be exaggerated. If you are not writing romance, you should still use all of the senses  to add depth, color, and texture to your writing.  Paint a picture for your reader that they can’t put down. Writing with all the senses turns average description into great description.

In our romance, picture our heroine sitting in a coffee shop. She has a cup of coffee sitting on the table. She is contemplating the disaster of last night’s date. We’ve described what the coffee shop looks like. We know what happened on her date. We set that up in the plot structure with scene and sequel. We know how our heroine feels. She is ready to give up on men. Then, our heroine sees a man who has just walked into the coffee shop. He has longish black hair and green eyes that pierce her soul as he glances her way. He is tall and handsome with a chiseled face. He looks good to her. But what else? If she only sees him, and your reader only gets a visual cue, then the writing comes across as shallow. This is why it is important to incorporate all the other senses into the scene.

The five senses

Sight is important. Sight tells your reader what your character sees, what things look like, what color something is, etc. but it is one-dimensional. Our heroine sees the man as he walks in. We know what he looks like. But is that it? Is that enough for her to be interested enough to reconsider dating?

Taste adds a texture and depth to your description. Our heroine discretely watches her hero over the rim of her coffee cup. She takes a sip. Her coffee is slightly bitter but overall it has a smooth and sweet taste of cream and sugar. Suddenly she wonders what this beautiful man’s lips taste like. Will his lips be sweet? What will he taste of? Then she wonders if she has lost her mind. A moment ago she was ready to give up all men.

Smell is a very powerful sense and is a great tool to bring your reader into the scene. Our heroine is holding her coffee cup. It is early morning and the smell of coffee which permeates the shop is warm and inviting. The scent reminds her of her father who always made coffee on Sunday mornings for the two of them after her mother died when she was nine. The smell of coffee triggers this memory of her father who was a wonderful man, her rock, and someone she could always depend upon. She misses her father who died a month ago. The scent of early morning coffee subconsciously reminds her of those warm fuzzy feelings as she glances over at her yet to be met hero. She wonders if he is as nice as he looks.

Sound can add emotional context for your reader. Think of the music that plays in the background of your favorite movie. You don’t necessarily notice the music, but it manipulates you and creates a mood you would miss out on if there were no soundtrack playing behind the action on the screen. Our heroine now hears the hero speak  as he orders a latte. He speaks with the twang of a Southern accent and she is suddenly excited that he has the potential to be a perfect gentleman, something last night’s date was not. The espresso machine whooshes as it heats the milk for the latte. The hero’s fingers drum upon his thigh in staccato beats which are counterpoint to the adagio of the music coming through the overhead speakers. She is emboldened by her rising emotions and she moves to stand in line behind her hero so she can order more coffee (and also get a heart-stopping view of his perfect bum). She hears him humming to the music. His voice is deep and sensual and she wonders if he is the romantic type who would read to her in bed.

Touch adds additional depth to the scene. When you see something soft you want to touch it. So does your character. Your heroine sees the sweater that your hero is wearing, and how it clings to his torso as he turns to smile at her. She wants to feel the hardness of his abs beneath the softness of the cashmere. What will his hands feel like as they caress her skin? Will they be rough and calloused or smooth and warm? She can no longer resist his charms. She reaches up, wraps her arms around his shoulders, and plants a big, wet kiss on his lips.

Yes, the above is exaggerated, especially if you are not writing romance, but hopefully you see how using all of the other senses in your scenes can add depth, texture, and possibility. Using the five senses in your writing opens the door for creating great description. Your characters can react to sounds, smells, tastes, and touch, not just the sight.

Go through your work in progress and add the five senses and see what happens. I expect your pages will come alive and you will be surprised by what you discover about your characters, and yourself.

Next time: Scene Setting

 

The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

Point of View

I was at Colorado Gold Writer’s Conference last weekend, and I honestly do believe it is the best writer’s conference in the United States. The workshops were spectacular, so much so that even NYT best-selling author Jeffery Deaver sat in workshops and took notes. It reminds me that there is always more to learn when you want to improve your writing craft. While at conference I had a conversation with an aspiring author who had issues with a couple of things, but their main issue was a very confused POV.

So what is POV? Point of View or POV actually consists of two ideas; POV dictates whose head the reader is in to view the action (think about looking out through the character’s eyes as if they were a camera), and POV also dictates how intimate the viewpoint of the reader is (does the reader know the character’s thoughts and feelings?) Yes, this is confusing. It is even more confusing because different people use different terms, and sometimes the same terms can mean different things. Don’t get hung-up on the terminology. Think of yourself as a movie camera and what you see as you look through the view finder is POV.

For genre fiction, generally POV breaks down to the use of First Person Point of View (1st POV), or Third Person Point of View (3rd POV). There are other POV options, but I am going to focus on these two today.

1st POV uses “I” for the main character. If you think about POV as being a movie camera, then the main character is the camera and the reader can only see what the main character sees, and know what the main character knows. 1ST POV can also be the sidekick (think Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes) but usually 1st POV is for the main character.

There are advantages and disadvantages to writing in 1st POV.

The advantages:

  • It is easy for the reader to identify with the character because they can get in your character’s head.
  • It is easier to share the character’s thoughts and feelings.
  • It is a great tool if you want to have an unreliable narrator.
  • The writing can be less formal.

The disadvantages:

  • Your character must usually be in each and every scene (there are exceptions to this. Some authors use 1st POV for the main character and 3rd POV for supporting characters. Think Diana Gabladon).
  • It is more difficult for the character to describe him/herself.
  • It minimizes the tool of characterization where your reader learns about the main character when other characters talk about or has an opinion of the main character (unless your character eavesdrops).
  • The use of “I” constantly can be irritating.
  • It is much more difficult to use subplots in your structure which could require your plot structure to be very simple.

3rd POV uses “he” or “she” for the main character. 3rd POV is the most common POV in fiction and offers the most flexibility and variety of options for the writer. Think about being a movie camera and sitting in the director’s chair while two or more actors do a scene.

The advantages:

  • You can use contrasting viewpoints that will entice your reader.
  • Your reader (and you, too) can take a break when you shift between characters.
  • It can broaden the scope of your story by allowing for conflicting viewpoints of multiple characters.
  • It is easier to move between settings.
  • It allows for multiple subplots.

The disadvantages:

  • You must give each character a unique voice so they don’t all sound the same.
  • You can confuse the reader by switching POV too often.
  • It is easy to get lazy and narrate the action instead of show the action (show v. tell).
  • It is easy to head-hop (jump from one character’s head to the next character’s head in the same paragraph, scene, or chapter. *Use only one POV character per scene or chapter, and be sure to use a scene break if you are writing from multiple character’s POV within a chapter).

Mastering POV is important because if you don’t do it well your chances of success are minimal. You will frustrate or confuse your reader and they will throw the book at the wall, or worse, give you a horrible review on Amazon. Sorry. Mastering POV will give you the ability to write characters that your readers will love so they can’t put your book down, and, POV is essential to your ability to write a great plot that keeps the reader turning the page. It’s all connected.

Next time: More POV

The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

Character Development: GMC

GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict) is essential for character development and is a major component of all well-written books that readers love. But what is GMC?

Goal = I want

The Goal is what the character wants, or thinks he/she wants. The goal is so important to the character they can’t let it go, even if the goal isn’t important to other characters. The goal must be relevant for that particular character otherwise it will affect your overall story logic, and if the goal is also urgent, all the better, because the urgency will help move the character forward in the story. The goal should be difficult to achieve and come with challenges and obstacles so that each decision that the character makes will make the goal harder or easier to obtain. You characters’ goals are what drive the novel, and stories without goals for  each character have an incomplete structure. You character should have short-term goals as well. The short-term goals may be steps to the long-term goal, or the short-term goals may just keep your character alive so they can achieve the long-term goal. Regardless, each and every character should have a goal.

Motivation = I want because

Motivation is the “why” part of the goal and expresses why a character wants that specific goal. It is the logical reason the character wants the goal more than anything else in the world. The motivation is what keeps the character from giving up. Strong motivation will create conflict and force the character to move forward. The character must choose the goal in spite of the conflict otherwise there is insufficient motivation.  If the motivation is urgent and/or compelling, this will also help move the character forward in the story. Note that coincidence is NOT the same as motivation. Coincidence happens when the writer has failed to plan a way for the character to get out of the pickle they are in, and it causes the reader to suspend their disbelief. If your character is escaping from evil minions and comes across a car with the keys in it, that is coincidence. Don’t depend on coincidence. Depend on GMC. Your reader will notice all those coincidences, even if you don’t.

Conflict = I can’t get because

Conflict is the “what” which keeps your character from achieving the goal and it is the conflict which is the whole point of the story. If your character reaches the goal immediately, then there is no story and you can just type THE END.  Dealing with each conflict that arises forces the character to decide how to move forward in order to reach the goal. The character may get side-tracked, but they never lose sight of what they want. They push forward. They fight. They will reach the goal or die because it is that important to them.

Types of Conflict

Ideally GMC is both internal and external for each character. The two types of conflict create depth and believability. For even more depth put the two types of conflict in opposition to each other. And for even more depth make the GMCs f one character oppose the GMCs of another character. This use of conflict will ensure that the story contains a natural tension which will keep your reader turning pages. Note that natural tension does not necessarily mean realistic tension. Fictional conflicts must be larger than life just like fictional characters.

Internal Conflict deals with the character’s emotional issues which complicate the character’s ability to reach the goal. The inner anxiety of the character creates tension. Internal conflicts (such as tropes listed here) can be nearly infinite with creative options and opportunities for the writer.

External Conflict consists of problems developed from events or other people which keep the character from reaching the goal, and it is the external conflict that is crucial for plot development. Think Man vs Nature, Man vs Man, etc…and how this relates to plot types.

Generally, writing a strong, well-rounded character, as well as developing a great plot will come down to GMC. A story’s tension is created by good motivations and a story’s momentum is created by good conflicts. You characters must have well thought out goals to make both possible.

Next time: Character Arc

The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

Character Development

I received a question last week about character development. A writer wasn’t sure if they should work out the plot first, or the characters first. My only response can be that every writer is different, and unique, and special, which means every writer’s process is different, unique, and special. Some writers start with the plot. Some writers start with the characters. Neither way is better than the other. You start where you start.

My friend Desiree Holt has written 170+ traditionally published novels in less than 10 years and is a force of nature. She amazes me with her energy, her diligence, and her creativity. She writes very fast, and she always, always, always comes up with her characters first. Desiree probably couldn’t write nearly so quickly if she had to come up with the plot first. So she writes her strengths and comes up with her characters, then she imagines what happens to those characters later as she develops the plot. Coming up with characters is easy for Desiree. It isn’t necessarily easy for anyone else. It is just Desiree’s different, unique, and special way of writing.

It is important to note that some stories are considered character driven, and some stories are considered plot driven. Character driven stories are those who have at least one unforgettable character who is interesting, flawed, and memorable. The story is less about what the character does and more about who the character is. Plot driven stories are those stories whose main focus is on what happens in the story and less on who the events happen to. The very best stories are those with dynamic characters trapped inside a plot with dramatic action. In my humble opinion, of course.

So let’s talk about some character types. This list boils down to the very basic kinds of characters you will see in any book or movie. It is a good place to start.

Protagonist: The central character, or the one whose name comes to mind when you ask the question, “Whose story is this?”

Antagonist: a.k.a. “the bad guy” or the protagonist’s opponent. Usually, the action of a story arises from some conflict between the antagonist and protagonist. Note that sometimes the antagonist is not a person.

Narrator: the fictional storyteller. Note that there are different types of narrators including first person narrators and third person narrators. Also, note that not all narrators are reliable. Sometimes the narrator lies.

Confidante: the character in whom the central character confides. The reader often learns about the central character’s personality through the confidante.

Foil: a minor character whose purpose is to provide contrasts to other characters, thus revealing the qualities of the other characters.

Spear-carriers (or extras): characters who provide some sort of view into the story world. These characters must necessarily be flat since they are rarely named or described in any detail. They tend to run in crowds. These are mostly background characters. In movies, they are the extras.

Stock character: a.k.a. stereotype characters. Actually these are a special kind of flat character who is instantly recognizable to most readers because they show up frequently in literary tradition. Stock characters can be cliché, and are key in many genres. Think absent-minded professor, bad boy, blond girl, cat lady, mad scientist…and the list goes on and on.

If you think of your characters as a type, you may find it easier to create them with more consistency, more depth, more real feeling motives, goals, and conflicts. Movies do this all the time. So do masterful writers.

Next time: more on character development.