Editing

The Best Editing Step That Everyone Hates

Editing is the bane of many, if not most, writers’ existences. But just because it’s a long, exhaustive process doesn’t mean it isn’t a necessary one. In fact, it’s in editing that your piece goes from a first draft monstrosity to a polished, publish ready novel readers will want to stick with through until the final page.

“Writing without revising is the literary equivalent of waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear.”
Patricia Fuller

Editing is where we rip our stories to shreds. It’s where we take them from babies we nurture to enemies we destroy. We must become hyper-critical of our own works in an effort to draw out every piece that does not serve our story, every bit that makes a hole in our plot, every detail that is unneeded or conflicting with itself. Books have been written on the subject of editing, but for most, the beginning of editing begins with one single step that nearly everyone loathes.

Rewriting

Most will look at “rewriting” and almost immediately read “revising”. That’s largely due to the fact that revising is not nearly as arduous and hated as rewriting is. But that’s exactly why we must do it–great things seldom come easily, and it’s never as true as it is with writing–and we must do it first (and then several more times from draft one to draft “done”) in our editing process.

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Step 1: The Print Out

While you can split-screen this step, you’ll be tempted to cut and paste or edit in the original document itself, so we recommend getting an actual print out of your novel in its entirety. That means a hard copy of every word you’ve written is physically laying in front of you. Yes, it’s incredibly time consuming, and yes, that’s a lot of paper and a lot of ink, but its a small investment to make to ensure you’re editing effectively. Having it printed allows you to see your work differently and makes mistakes more apparent, but don’t bring out your red or blue pen just yet. For now, we’re going to focus on retyping.

Step 2: The Retype

Open your writing application of choice. For some, this may be Scrivener, for others it may be Word, or maybe it’s some other application entirely. Whatever it is for you, begin with a new document. You will now retype, word for word, your entire novel, from start to finish.

This may seem inefficient–after all, you already have your novel done!–but trust the process. Reading it and transcribing it allows you to catch each misstep you’ve made, both proofing errors (typos, grammatical mistakes, punctuation snafus) and developmental errors (plot holes, description conflicts, character inconsistencies) and fix them in real time. While revising may result in skimming over some of those mistakes, rewriting makes it much more difficult to miss them. When you do encounter an error, correct them in your new document. You may (ideally, you should) find yourself changing the order of your scenes, adding or deleting dialogues or beats, or switching up transitions. You will likely find that some passages became redundant as you wrote through your first draft and can be deleted, and that some things weren’t written with enough depth. Some things can be added in earlier or can be foreshadowed in earlier chapters because you know where the story is going with more clarity now. That’s okay, it’s all part of editing and will make your novel stronger.

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Takeaway:

Don’t edit your first draft. If you want to make in impactful novel that you’re going to pursue publication with, take the time and effort to rewrite it, not just revise it. Revising allows you to tell yourself “oh, it’s good enough” or skim. Rewriting forces you to consider your writing and makes every word accountable. So print it and rewrite it all. You work will be stronger for it.

How do you feel about rewriting? Have you used this strategy yet? Tell us below in the comments!

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Writing

Showing & Telling (Why They Both Matter)

“Show, don’t tell.” It’s probably the most repeated advice a writer hears. In fact, it’s so widely spread that we, as writers, sometimes struggle to understand that telling, too, has a place in great writing. How do you tell when to show and when to tell? What is the balance? That’s today’s topic.

Reporting vs. Experiencing:

One of the major ways to tell whether you’re showing or telling is in the timing. Active, engaging scenes happen in real time (even when writing in the past tense, “she said” instead of “she says”). If your reader is experiencing the scene and watching it unfold, you’re in “show” mode. If, instead, you are reporting what happened prior to the scene, you’re “telling.” That doesn’t necessarily mean a flashback is telling, as well-written flashbacks also unfold before the reader in a “real time” fashion. But if you are describing events after the fact, regardless of it’s timeline in the actual story, you’re in “tell” mode.

Scenes vs. Narration:

Scenes are all about action and dialogue and the movement of characters through your story. They are understandably harder to write than narration. We are conditioned in our day-to-day activities to narrate, after all. But it makes for boring novels. Readers don’t want to read page after page of dry exposition, they want to see the characters in action. That’s how they come to an understanding of your character’s personality, goals, flaws, and lives.

So, you must write not to tell your audience about everything secondhand, but instead to drop them into the story so they can experience it. Rely on dialogue and actions, set it in a concrete place that has substance. Describe to engage your reader’s imagination (but not so much that it stifles the theater of their mind) and allow them to see the scenes unravel before them.

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The goal is to write in such a way that your audience becomes unaware of your existence. We want them to be so involved in your characters that they forget they are reading the words altogether. And you can’t do that by telling them what happened. That can only be accomplished by engaging their emotions, and you do that by showing them.

But be careful to not cut out all of your narration. By doing so, you risk creating too uniform a read. The major bonus of narrative exposition is in it’s ability to slow things down for your reader and allow them to catch their breath. Varying the pace of your novel, you create a more expansive feel and allow what would have been a quick scene to feel more like several hours as opposed to several minutes.

Narration also allows for smoother transitions and less repetition. For novels which expand over months and years, for example, or for characters who take the same actions like run in marathons, narrative exposition can be used to create the feeling of it occurring without drafting scenes which would bore your readers. (“Days grew to weeks and to years, and the unfamiliar became familiar” as opposed to scene upon scene of the transition to familiarization, or “after the first race, they all seemed the same, in a way. Losses, or wins, it didn’t matter” as opposed to drawing out every race.)

Emotions vs. Feelings:

On a smaller scale, there can be instances of showing and telling within your scenes and narration as well. The best tip for these is to “show emotion, tell feeling.”

We want our readers to relate to our characters. The connection is built upon an understanding of our character’s emotions. But telling our audience what the character is feeling detracts from forming that connection–our readers must experience the range of emotions with them and grasp not only why they feel how they do by how. Far more powerful to show your reader the prick of pain in your character’s chest and the struggle of fighting back stinging tears than to simply say your character is sad.

However, some things we can assume our readers understand. Being tired is something we all experience relatively the same. Our arms feel leaden, or feet drag, our eyelids become weighted. And all of that description is fine, but your reader knows what it’s like to be exhausted, so tell them she’s tired and move on to how it impacts what she’s doing.

The World and Objects:

You don’t want your entire novel to be nothing but purple prose, so don’t shy away from simply telling your reader some facts so that you can move on to what’s important, but also be aware that it’s possible to show without delving into paragraphs about your subject. Create a deep world your reader can immerse themselves in.

Your character may drive an old beater. But how much more powerful is it for your reader to come to the understanding of how much of a beater it is on their own. Show them the rust that drifts in the breeze from the bottom of the door when they open it, let them see the character need to cross the wires to get the headlights to work.

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Similarly, your setting should be seen and not told. Don’t tell your reader the sun is beating down, show them the hazy lines of heat above the asphalt.

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” — Anton Chekhov

Takeaway:

“Show, don’t tell” is excellent advise, but writers must strike a balance between showing and (sparingly) telling to get the most out of their writing. Show emotions and settings and write in scenes, but use telling to smooth out transitions, create a crisper and more cohesive timeline, and describe feelings.

Have questions about showing and telling? Drop us a line below, and check out our free Master Lists for Novelists to help you make your writing shine!

 

Writing

The Art of Dialogue

Dialogue is easy to imagine and terribly difficult to write. It’s often called the hardest part of writing, and many writers who’ve mastered the other elements in their novels find their dialogue holding the rest of their book back. The difference between good dialogue and not so good dialogue is what separates amateur writers from the pros, so today we’ll take a look at how to make your dialogue seem natural and believable.

“Said” is NOT Dead:

Something that tends to trip writers up hails way back from their grade school days. Well meaning teachers would tell their students that “said is dead” in an effort to get them to find more creative ways to indicate who was speaking. But this was poor advice.

The truth is, in this industry, “said” is king. Because our brains have seen the word so much in life, we tend to skip over it entirely making the dialogue itself stand out. By using other words to indicate the speaker, like “growled”, “snapped”, “whispered” or the most hated of all, words that describe an action not speech related at all like “smiled” (who smiles a word?), our brains pay extra attention, making the dialogue feel watered down and putting the reader very much back into the printed words and less into their imaginative theater of the mind. If a long string of “said”s makes you nervous, insert a few attribution tags in the middle of the line (“I loved it,” she said. “It was a moving song.”) or intersperse them with beats. Sparingly use “said the man” instead of “the man said”.

Also, never attach adverbs after or before said. You want your readers to not just understand the emotion but to feel it, and that’s hard to pull off when you as the writer practically scream it to make sure they understand it. Let the character’s actions show they say something angrily, it gives your reader more credit. Make whether they said it softly or not irrelevant based on their body language (and their wording).  Don’t patronize your audience by literally spelling it all out, and don’t fall back on lazy writing by telling them an emotion outright.

Physical Beats:

If “said” is king, physical beats are the ethereal angels singing. Not only does adding beats between writing break up long strings of dialogue and also show who is speaking, it makes the writing pop with both verbal and physical meaning. It allows the writer to show their character’s feelings in a more profound way than telling their tone of voice ever could.

Your character could mumble their line, or they could run their hand through their hair, letting it fall back over their face like a mask. They could scream the words, or they could slam their hand on the dining room table, making the tableware jingle. They could say their piece nonchalantly or thoughtfully, or they could flick the ash off their cigarette or swirl the last sip of whiskey around the bottom of their glass. They could say something surprised, or the food could drop from their fork and their mouth could hang open.

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Not every line should be a physical beat, however, and they should be used to avoid a noticeably long string of “said” attributions or when the dialogue needs it to explain (which should be rare). Too much and you risk taking your reader’s thought line away from the dialogue itself and exhausting them. Mix beats in with “said” and experiment with how it reads silently and sounds aloud.

The Name Game:

There’s few things worse in dialogue than your characters using each other’s names every time they address them. It gets redundant to have your characters refer to each other by name every single line. Allow your beats or your narration to reveal that if you need to.

Ditto for using other indicators like “sis” or “cousin” or “my dear friend”. Often, it reads as if you’re trying to bash your reader over the head with information you already gave them. They already know your protagonist’s familial relationship with their sister if you’ve told them (and do make sure to, don’t get sloppy and reveal that sort of thing in dialogue exchanges because nobody approaches their siblings and immediately begins with “Hey sis”, they more often either use their name or, more commonly, know the person knows their talking to because they’re looking right at them!)

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Another name note: don’t switch up what the character is called throughout the scene. That means no flipping between “Mrs. Holloway said” and “Mary said” and “Mary Holloway said” and “the teacher said”.  Pick one and stick to it throughout the scene.

Avoidance, Misdirection & Misunderstandings:

Far too often, dialogue seems stilted because we try to make it read as natural despite knowing it’s fiction. We have our characters answer every question directly. But in real life, we rarely speak that way.

Let your characters avoid questions, or answer the unasked question. “Did you know they were dating?” doesn’t have to be answered directly. Allow your character to skirt the question. “I haven’t seen either of them in months” or “I don’t know why it matters, you’ve been dating that guy from the office for weeks now, haven’t you?” Ask a question in response to a question, let your characters dance.

Or let them misunderstand. “Did you get it fixed?” “Yeah, I worked on the car yesterday, got it all lined out. All it was–” “Not the car, Jerry. Did you talk to the bank?”

Allow characters to interrupt each other or change the topic. Mimic real conversation but keep it interesting–you don’t want it so real it becomes a boring small talk scenario where the weather and family are discussed politely and your reader gains nothing from the conversation.

Punctuation:

People tend to carry on conversations in massive run on sentences. Full stops are pretty rare in today’s world. Writing should reflect that in a logical way.

“I don’t see why you would think that. I didn’t find it rude at all. Just honest. Stop being a prude!” This is great and all, but most readers will find it somewhat less than realistic. Let’s try without all of those full stops.

“I don’t see why you would think that, I didn’t find it rude at all, just honest. Stop being a prude!” See how it reads more natural? You can even add the attribution in the middle (“…I didn’t find it rude at all,” she said. “Just honest…”) and dispense with the exclamation point unless you find it absolutely necessary (though the scene itself should let the reader know how worked up she is without the extra explanation).

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Perhaps your character is hesitant to reveal something, trails off, or the reader can only hear one side of the conversation. Use an ellipses (…).

Maybe your character is being cut off mid-sentence. Use the hyphen (–)

How It’s Said:

Just as few people have the exact same lexicon and formality in their speech, so should your characters have the same variation in theirs. What your characters say matters, and so does how they say it.

A first year college kid is more likely to say “That pisses me off” than “I find that rather irritating”. A prim and proper matron will “that was a surprising turn of events” sooner than she’d say “I didn’t see that coming!” Be sure the formality and language matches the character you’ve created, and make the speaking character evident in how they say things.

Takeaway:

The key to amazing dialogue comes down to letting it speak for itself without drowning it in unnecessary explanation and trusting your reader to understand the underlying meaning through the character’s wording, body language, and actions. Never, ever, explain your dialogue. A careful use of beats, well crafted lines and realistic subversions all add up to stellar and believable back-and-forths.

What do you think of dialogue writing? What areas of it do you notice yourself falling back on, and how are you going to improve going forward? Tell us below!

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Writing

POV (And Why It Matters)

Point of view. It seems fairly self-explanatory. As a writer, you only have so many options here, and as long as you pick one and stick with it, you’re fine, right? But as straight-forward as it seems, it’s incredibly easy to misstep and veer your reader in multiple characters’ heads without meaning to. This article delves into how to do it right, and what to avoid.

First Person:

This is the “I” voice. In first person narration, the reader feels as if they’re being spoken to directly to by your POV character (not the writer). The great thing about first person POV is that your audience gets an effortlessly intimate view of your character because they’re in their head.

In order to make this POV work, you need to have a strong, well developed character that is capable of creating an interesting viewpoint for your reader to view the world from. This is a difficult tightrope to traverse, because you must have a character that just interesting enough to not be boring, but not so interesting that your audience feels adrift inside the head of a lunatic (unless, of course, that’s what you’re going for!).

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Where it begins to get hairy is when the story needs information your POV character either can’t know or can’t express out-of-character. They can observe, but everything is seen through the filter of their experience and understanding.

One way to combat this is to have more than one first person POV character. This should be limited by scenes. Don’t head jump from character to character in a single scene; multiple POV characters are generally broken up by chapters, to avoid reader confusion as to whose head their in.

Omniscient:

If first person is the most intimate, omniscient has the most perspective. However, it’s an excellent option when your story has elements your characters won’t know, but the reader needs to see. This gives the reader more of a cinematic view of your story–instead of having the actor’s voice narrating the movie, the reader is simply seeing it unfold and having the benefit of catching elements your characters are unaware of. Think of it as the background music of your story–it can be the upbeat melody of an impending delight or the ominous tone of impending doom.

This POV may be distant, but the perspective is excellent. The danger is telling the story without the benefit of getting a first-hand view of the emotions behind it, so as a writer, you’re expected to describe them well without “telling” your reader what those are.

Third Person:

Third person POV is the middle ground between intimate first person and perspective omniscient. This POV has a wide range of variables and balances between the two, and allows for a myriad of ways the writer can experiment with it. It all comes down to how your narration is worded.

If your narrative exposition focuses on feelings or emotionally rendered sensations, it will evoke an almost first person POV feeling for your reader, but if it focuses on distanced, matter-of-fact descriptions, your writing will have a more omniscient POV feelings.

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Generally, readers feel more of a connection to intimate-styled writing, so as a writer, be sure to invoke those feelings. It leads to a richer reading experience, and from the language you choose to use, you inform your reader of much more than just the “here and now” aspects of your story–you also show the education, history, and culture background of your character. A character may simply see a “black dress” or may see a “fitted chiffon Chanel” and the reader can guess at the history of that character based on the level of details they notice and give importance to from your narration.

However, there is a line to how much intimacy you have to your writing. Typically, readers associate “depth” with “importance”. If you make everything deep, your reader will become disappointed when a character they’ve emotionally invested themselves in has only a minor, relatively unimportant role not central to the story. Thus, having narrative distance can work in your favor to relay information without creating an expectation of importance.

Takeaway:

Your choice of point of view will dictate the direction your novel takes. Make the decision by considering how intimate you want your writing to be and where you want your reader’s focus to sit. Remember that balance is important, regardless of which POV you choose, and write accordingly. Don’t “head jump” or switch POV characters within a scene (always either create a new scene or chapter or insert a linespace to indicate the change so as not to confuse your reader).

What POV are you currently writing in, and would it serve your story better to write it in a different POV? Tell us below!

 

Writing

Exposition in Novel Writing: How to Do It Right (And How Not To)

Within any narrative, there is certain critical information that is outside of the plot which the author must delivered to the reader. This background information is necessary for the reader to gain a better understanding of the characters, plot and setting, so they can have an authentic experience with the narrative. The sharing of this information is known as exposition. Quite literally, the author is exposing unseen particulars he or she believes are essential to the story.

Why is it used?

Through proper exposition, we learn characters’ past, perspective, opinions, and general backstory. We may learn a character used to be romantically involved with another character. We may learn something simple such as the character enjoys a certain type of food, or something more juicy, such as the character used to be in prison. Regardless of what we learn through these expositional techniques, it should be relevant to the story either immediately, in the future, or it may help to further the reader’s understanding of something that has already happened. Exposition may be setting us up for something we need to know in the future or just helps us understand existing character relationships. It can also be more specific to setting, but typically deals with character development.

Third Person Exposition

A talented writer can go about this process is several ways. Commonly, we may further our understanding through the author’s third person description.

Although Eliza was born in San Diego, she never called it her hometown, since she spent most of her childhood in San Francisco.

The author just revealed some pertinent information that will help us in understanding Eliza better. Now that we know she doesn’t identify much with her  hometown, we can apply that to her interaction, thoughts, feelings, etc. throughout the story.

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Exposition through Dialogue

The author may choose to share this expositional background information through dialogue. Characters can reveal a lot about themselves through their conversations with other characters. Conversations held in secret can bring a different level of knowledge to the reader.

“I wish you could’ve been with me last year when I was recovering,” he sighed to his coach.

Now we understand there is a physical and emotional struggle this character has been dealing with, which will certainly come up again as part of the story. When it does, the reader can readily connect the previously shared dialogue with the current situations. A first person monologue can also be used to let a character deliver their own information to the reader. Exposition can also come in the form of media within the story. Authors can present newspapers, letters, and television, which can go a long way in sharing critical events with the audience. By reading a headline or a letter, or hearing a news anchor deliver a headline, we can store crucial bits of data for future or past reference. In some cases, an author may use a prologue in order to introduce the requisite information, but this can inhibit the reader’s natural discovery of information and flow of the narrative. There may not be as much artistry when using a prologue to deliver the exposition.

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Telling, Not Showing

It’s a popular repetition in the writing community; “show, don’t tell”. But exposition has it’s place in writing. Not everything should be told directly to your reader, although the careful use of exposition can work to counter an overabundance of showing. Regardless of the method employed by the author, the exposition should be entertaining enough that the reader’s interest does not fade, but it should not dominate the story. Exposition, by nature, lacks action, so it is important that it doesn’t drag on because while it is being delivered, the story is not progressing.

Yes, the reader requires these details to make full sense of all the situations and relationships, but it must be done properly. If an author goes on too long with this process, the reader may begin to lose interest. The author must still be working toward the climax of the story and building action. It should be kept rather concise and, ideally, be quite interesting. If the method used to deliver this exposition doesn’t maintain the reader’s interest, the information can go unnoticed or forgotten, and the story ends up with a gap in the sequence of events, along with the reader’s lack of necessary knowledge.

Takeaway:

The author’s artistry must shine through in every aspect of the story. It’s not something that comes easily. The best authors share this information seamlessly after years of practice. Most people don’t even realize there is real thought and effort put into delivering this information to the reader, it just seems organic. We know what we need to know and that’s why we can truly appreciate a properly told story with classic exposition. Make your expositions count in subtle ways, because it should be the exception, not the rule in your writing.

How are you slipping well-crafted exposition into your stories, and what are you struggling with in getting it in? Let us know in the comments!

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Writing

Creating Deeper Conflicts in Writing

Conflict is not only an integral part of writing a novel, it is the primary part of writing one. Without conflict in your story, you have no plot, your characters are flat, and your writing serves no purpose. But how does a writer go beyond played-out story tropes and create engaging conflict that captures readers? It all comes down to finding differences in values.

Values & Conflict

Most new writers tend to think in terms of polarizing values when trying to create conflict, which is a great way to bleed it out of your story. If your protagonist values the simple life and your antagonist values wealth, naturally they’ll experience a severe clash, as one negates the other. But not all values are so black and white in the real world, and the art of writing is to present a fictional reality that mimics our own in some way.

When plotting (and sub-plotting), give some thought to varying the levels of contrast between values. Recognize that not all of your character’s morals and wants are either strictly “good” or “bad”, but absolutely capable of both being thought of as “honorable” (like love and safety) that can still be in conflict with each other. If your protagonist wants to marry his high school sweetheart but the government arranges marriages for the genetic viability of their offspring which would result in eradicated illness, that poses a wrinkle in each side of the equation. In fact, the closer you can get the reader to sympathizing with BOTH sides, the deeper your conflict writing becomes.

Internal Conflicts

We often think of character vs. character fights when we think of conflict, but truly remarkable writing deals not just with the interpersonal but also with intrapersonal. In fact, the most profound issues our characters can face is within themselves, and often mirrors the external issues they face in some way. This is how they grow, and that is the main journey our character will go on through our writing.

Try to pinpoint what values the character has that can be at odds with another value they have and exploit that imbalance. Perhaps she loves her husband, but he’s lost his job and she is torn by the fact that she also values financial security for herself and her sick child. Maybe he values his relationship with his father who happens to be drowning, but can’t save him because he’s terrified of water. Or maybe a girl values honesty but is sworn to lie to protect her brother.

The key is to take stock of what makes your character tick, find what he thinks is good, take two of those things he thinks are good and make them clash. Poke at his fears, his flaws, his ideals. Make him make a choice between to good things or between two things he doesn’t want, and make his choice in THAT affect not just his own life, but those around him, also.

All 6 Conflict Types

We’ve talked about internal conflicts (man vs. self) and one type of external conflict (man vs. man). We even touched on societal conflicts in our example of love vs government-arranged marriage (man vs. society). Let’s break these, and the other three, down.

Man Vs. Man:

This is likely the most often thought about when considering conflicts. It could be the protagonist vs. a villain archetype, or could present itself as arguing lovers or a parent and child with conflicting opinions and outlooks.

Man Vs. Self:

The internal part of the conflict, which we’ve already discussed. This type is almost always necessary in some form to create depth in your novel, and should be used in conjunction with an external conflict.

Man Vs. Supernatural:

Another external type, this pits your character against the unknown, magic, gods, demons, fate, or anything that “outside” of a naturally occurring foe.

Man Vs. Nature:

Going in the other direction of man vs. the supernatural is man vs. nature. This can include struggles again hurricanes, tornadoes, grass fires, earthquakes, floods, snowstorms, and the like. While not an unknown force, nature is still just as lethal and unpredictable and can add excellent stress to an already overwhelmed character, or used as a primary conflict where your setting is well defined.

Man Vs. Society:

One we briefly looked at was societal conflicts. This generally puts your character at odds with a “societal norm” which makes them an outcast against many. A great example of this is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s character Hester against society in “The Scarlet Letter”.

Man Vs. Technology:

Few stories capture this conflict as well as Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”. Man vs. technology doesn’t just entail high powered devices (Shelley hit on what happens when technology advances beyond our control and our hubris clouds our judgement) but it certainly can deal with the influence it has over our lives and where that influence is taking us. Many stories that revolve around this primary conflict use it to dissect AI or nuclear powers gone awry, but it’s truly limited by the writer’s imagination and can be quite powerful.

Takeaway:

A novel is nothing without a conflict, and the best tales told don’t rely on one alone but many, allowing their character to grow through their choices and the resulting realizations. To get the most out of the conflicts present in your story, figure out where the values lie in your characters and the opposing values of those against them, and make them believable.

What conflicts are you creating for your characters and how do their values, and yours, affect your story? Let us know in the comments!

Writing

Plotting & Story Arcs

We’ve all been told how important the plot is to a story. Who? What? Where? When? Why? A successful writer uses these elements and more to draw in their reader with the plot, but does so artistically and systematically. Outside of character development and setting, a captivating plot consists of the following elements: conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. While a narrative does consist of these items, successful writers have learned over the years how to craft these elements into one cohesive product, and at the same time, maintain each as identifiable story elements that can be analyzed and discussed on their own. Let’s investigate these components and see how they fit into the overall narrative, while breaking down their usage and looking at some classic examples.

Conflict

Every story worth telling has some form of conflict, which can also be referred to as an inciting incident. The protagonist encounters some form of struggle. These conflicts can be seen in the following themes: character vs. self, character vs. character, character, vs. nature, character vs. machine, and character vs. society. These themes are fairly self-explanatory, but the ability to develop these plots into well written stories, takes years of practice. Some notable examples of these would be Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air (character vs. nature), which highlights a man’s the perilous encounters on Mount Everest, and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love (character vs. self), which is a woman’s tale of self-discovery.

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Rising Action

The rising action is where the story gains momentum. Much of the exposition has already taken place, the conflict has been established, and the character is now on course for the highly anticipated climax. The author’s goal here is to build suspense and keep the reader interested, while not rushing into anything obvious. This is typically where most of the story takes place. There should not be any set length or limit to the rising action, as it serves to build into the climax. In Star Wars, we see Luke’s family killed, followed by Luke meeting Ben Kenobi, Han Solo, and Chewbacca, and eventually ending up on the Death Star to save Princess Leah. All these events are slowly, but captivatingly built with detail and intrigue, and lead to the climax.

Climax

The climax is where the conflict has reached its peak and the action or event is the most intense. Compared to the rising action, the climax is short-lived and generally comes toward the end of the story. This is a significant turning point and what the author’s audience has been eagerly anticipating. The characters have been developed, the conflict has been established, and the action and suspense has been building. The fight between Scar and Simba in Disney’s The Lion King, is a fairly obvious example of a climax. We all saw it coming, but now it’s here. They must battle and there must be a winner, there can be no ties.

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Falling Action

Our protagonist has defeated his enemy, hit the game winning home run, or kissed his true love after a series of sad or comical debacles. Now that the climax has taken place and the action has peaked, the story will naturally lose momentum. This portion of the story is quite sensibly called the falling action. Of course, this does not mean the story should lose interest or significance. The author can’t simply quit here. “What happens next?” is what the audience is now wondering. Once that home run has been hit, the author has a responsibility to tell us about the team’s celebration, or the upcoming wedding, depending on which story line you’re following here. In contrast to the rising action, significantly less time is spent in this part of the story, but it is still a critical component to the overall narrative.

Resolution

Now that the majority of the story has been told, the author must find a way to tie up the loose ends. This is called the resolution, or what your literature professor may have referred to as the denouement. The reader’s questions are answered, the characters’ secrets are revealed, and the reader is (hopefully) satisfied with their choice to stay the course and finish the story. This is decidedly different than the outcome of the climax. The resolution can be a natural part of the narrative, or can come in the form of an epilogue, as seen in many different novels. It’s the pay off for all of your work and for the reader, who gets to enjoy the fruits of the character’s labor.

Story Arcs:

A story arc is is the path the story takes from beginning to end, and typically features the character’s change in good fiction. But to craft a truly great story, your novel should feature multiple arcs. In fact, every character in your novel should have their own story arc, as each character should be pliable and change throughout your story in some way.

Some planning must take place to interweave these story arcs together, and critical scenes where you have multiple characters which include either alliances or conflicts will be crucial to getting that done. What may be of little importance to character A may have an extreme impact on the arc of character B, or the trajectory of each character can be thrown astray in a high-conflict scene in major ways to weave two or more arcs together.

While each scene should develop your story’s plot, use them to also advance your arcs together in unexpected ways.

Takeaway:

Authors spend their life crafting these skills with help from editors and publishers. It should be noted that including these five elements in not the entire formula for telling a story, and each element should stand on its own merit. Successful authors develop subplots, metaphors for their stories or characters, and other types of advanced literary devices. Knowing these building block elements will help put you on the right path for your narratives. Regardless, any story worth reading should contain these essential elements and they should always be well-developed and intentional.

Later articles will go into greater depth for each element to help you refine your craft and get the most from your story. For now, which of these elements is your strong suit and which needs work? Tell us below (and sign up here for free Master Lists for Novelists to help you flesh out your piece).

Writing

Creating Believable Worlds Through Setting and World-Building: 6 Things To Include

Writers across the board know that great fiction is character driven. But something most writers don’t know is that amazing fiction treats setting like a character. Your world building is just as important as your character development because it literally sets the scene for everything that transpires in your story. For some of your stories, the setting will be a factual place or a place that could be factual. For others, the setting is going to be wholly made up and fictional, with it’s own “rules” and feel.

They key to doing this is to be clear about how much your readers can intuit, and making everything else vivid enough to place them there. Here’s how you do that.

 

Macro-locations

This will likely be the overarching and least specific part of your novel’s setting. If you think of your novel as scenes revolving in different rooms of a house, the house itself is your macro-location. So if your story is about a suburban kid, your macro-location would be the country he’s living in (and gives your reader a general sense of the culture in which he resides, as France has differences from the USA which has differences from the Phillipines). If your novel takes place on a different planet or completely fictional world, that’s your macro. Factual places have predetermined and universal cultural nuances, but for fictional places, you as the writer should spend time thinking about what those nuances are and how to incorporate them into the story without telling the readers outright what they are.

 

Micro-locations

In the story-as-a-house analogy, your micro-locations would be the rooms. These are more vividly drawn and specific. A micro might be your character’s house. Your reader should be able to imagine it by the way you describe it; what color are the curtains? Does it feel like just a house, or like a home? Does it smell like fresh baked cookies or like mildew and neglect? Readers should be able to glean a lot from how your character feels about and reacts to your micro-locations, and a great deal can be foreshadowed by the state of them if you, as a writer, do your job utilizing them in contrasting and comparative ways.

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Demographics

It’s insightful for readers to have a backboard for where your tale takes place. Is it all human? Is there a racial majority, and how does your character fit into that (or not)? Are there aliens or other sentient species? What sort of tension exists between the different demographical sectors and how does it relate back to your characters? Everything from the predominant financial state to education level will be relevant and can be introduced subtly through descriptors like the general look and upkeep of the neighborhood or how your characters and the supporting cast speaks.

Culture

We touched on this in the macro-location section, but the cultural norms in your setting paint a colorful picture of not just how your character fits into their world, but also the world itself around them. Stories that feature magic or non-factual elements will spend a lot of time on this and should take into account how these elements work (readers typically like to know there is some rhyme or reason for why and how things work the way they do and what rules they adhere to). But the culture itself in any story is important. Is it culturally acceptable in your setting for people to dispose of trash in the street, or to recycle? To watch TV all day or spend most of their time at work? To value children or their careers? Create a vivid landscape and activities and landmarks that your characters would easily recognize to anchor the story in that location.

Contrasts in Locations

Because stories should move your character along a path to change, your locations should provide ample contrast to move him or her throughout the story. Not every micro-location should be safe and cozy. Let your world move throughout a range of locations and settings to provide danger or unease. It aids in character progression as they encounter very different locales that push their comfort and incites their fear/pain reactions.

Having contrast allows you to reveal your characters’, well, characters. Are they the type to run from danger? Are they the type to pull together closer with a loved one in an unknown location for safety or protection, or push away from each other in the comfort of the familiar?

Experiment with differing locations. Counter a nature setting with a cityscape. A dark, sinister place with a comforting, playful one. Give your story dimension and space for your characters to move in and explore.

Just as you can’t have all of your characters act the same way or have the exact same personalities, don’t let your settings all evoke the same emotions.

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The Details, Large and Small

A common misstep made my new writers is to create a detailed world in which only the overarching details are evident. Dystopian writers may focus heavily on the disparity of their world and reveal the catastrophic government influences it wreaks upon the poor citizens it rules, but your reader won’t be able to connect with that. Give them finer details, too. In the climate of that dystopian world, what are the personally experiencing? Their clothing, their food, their neighborhood in that dystopian state or country. The things your characters personally feel and see and hear and touch provides a personal entry into that world and gives meaning to the overall details you create. Make sure you have both large scale details about the world and small scale details that expand on them throughout your story.

Takeaway:

Your setting is an integral but often overlooked part of your novel that deserves attention to really make the story pop.

What part of setting development do you find makes the most impact in your favorite novels? Let us know in the comments!

(For Master Lists that help develop your novel from start to finish, sign up here!)

Writing

How to Develop Great Characters

Today’s topic of interest is character outlining and development. Let’s dive in!

Character Development

Plot is crucial to good novels, but truly great works aren’t just plot-driven, they’re character-driven. The key to a phenomenal story is richly developed and flawed characters with depth.

To create characters that evoke strong reader reactions, you must have a strong foundation for not just your protagonist, but for your entire cast of characters, even those that provide supporting roles and “background noise.” While you certainly shouldn’t info dump every piece of information you build your characters up with (using too much information and background on minor characters, for example, leads the reader to believe supporting characters are more important to the story than they really are and creates imbalance), you as the writer will intrinsically write deeper characters having a full, rounded view of their lives and pasts.

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Before beginning your story, you should have a complete understanding of the following elements for each cast member:

Weaknesses:

Every character must have a weakness. Stories are about change, and change can’t occur unless there are characteristics that are flawed. Flaws facilitate, or stunt, growth, and that struggle not only makes the reader feel invested in your protagonist, antagonist and supporting characters and their journeys, but makes the story feel realistic.

Flaws in your main character can be presented as either psychological (those that hurt your protagonist) or moral (those that cause your protagonist to hurt others), or as a combination of the two. And while superficial flaws add depth (clumsiness, a bum leg, etc.), a deeper flaw should be present to move the story along and should ultimately be present in all of your characters, because they all believe they’re the protagonist of the story, anyway.

Goals:

Every character should exist because they want something. That desire propels the story along, and fighting the obstacles along the way creates conflict. And because the entire cast thinks they are the hero of your story, every character has a goal. For some, that may be to protect a friend, or go on an adventure, or to eliminate a perceived foe that threatens their livelihood or beliefs.

When your characters stop having goals, they’re dead weight and their story is over.

Wants:

Wants in your story should be, to your characters, the “thing that attaining their goal will fix”. However, just like in Disney’s remake of the Frog Prince, nine times out of ten your character will be dead wrong about that. Because they’re chasing their wants to fill the void in their lives, attaining their goals only leads to the realization that what they want is not, actually, what they need.

Needs:

Tying it all together, the characters have interior weaknesses causing them to need healing. By chasing their wants and achieving goals that only provide a Band-Aid to the void, they discover that what they truly need is deeper, and that the only way to fully heal is to change by confronting the truth and fixing the psychological or moral issue within themselves (which should also coincide with them confronting and “winning” an external plot element). Typically, this means confronting a deep-seated fear or past, or dealing with the very thing they hate and try to avoid.

Disney’s Tiana wants to buy the restaurant. She needs to allow herself to slow down and love and be loved. This realization helps her confront her past and her current situation (characterization), and become her “true self”, and she then becomes a changed person.

A fantastic story is one that shows these moving parts in every character to varying degrees.

“And they all knew what they wanted,
What they wanted me to do,
I told ’em what they needed,
Just like I be telling you.”

-Mama Odie, The Frog Prince

Creating a character chart: 

Because each character will differ from the rest in appearance, past, personality, attitude and traits, its useful to create a character chart for each. Again, not all of this information will be revealed to the reader, but it is useful to develop a good understanding of your characters that will inevitably bleed into your writing.

Useful information includes name, age, appearance (hair/eye color, skin tone, race, height, weight, build, distinguishing physical features), family information (members, relationship status and standing), childhood, fears, motivations, background information, financial status, attitude, talents, flaws, and favorite/least favorite preferences.

(Get our printable, fill-in free character chart and all of the current Master Lists for Novelists here!)

Takeaway:

Don’t put your characters into a box. There is no “good guy” or “villain”, just like in reality there is seldom only black and white, but instead varying shades of gray. Character development is the process of uncovering your cast and creating a realistic environment for your readers. Define them by their personalities and them define the roles they play. Allow them to be more than two-dimensional, breathe life into them and your readers will want to follow their stories.

How do your characters stack up? What’s an area of character development you need to work on to get the most out of your stories? Comment and let us know!freestocks-org-425059

Writing

Ways to Outline Your Novel

Thanks for joining us! Today we’re going to be discussing where most writers choose to begin their journey in writing fiction; the outline. (To streamline your outlining, download our free outline template pack here. For other free Novel Writing & Editing master list templates, sign up here!)

Writers are typically cast into two different camps on this topic. You have the “pantsers” (those who “fly by the seat of their pants” and do minimal to no outlining before putting pen to paper) and you have the “plotters” (those who do extensive outlines before delving into their projects). While most traditionally published authors tend to be plotters, there’s something to be said for each style and ultimately it depends upon the writer’s personal style.

If you’re a pantser, you’ll effectively skip this part (though you may like the Draft Zero Method!). However, if you’re a plotter, there are a number of outlining methods you can use, or you can use a combination of methods to flesh out your major and minor plot points before beginning your writing.

The Traditional Outline

For structured writers, the traditional approach is often the go-to method for outlining. Using this method, you divide your novel into individual chapters and summarize the story arc in each one in a few sentences. You will get the general feel for each chapter and can easily see the trajectory of your plotlines using this method. Some writers will do this outlining on index cards, to make it easier to shuffle things around as they see fit.

The Three-Act Outline

Another favorite of the structure-loving writer is the three-act method. Instead of dividing the novel into chapters, this approach divides the novel into acts; Act I generally introduces the primary conflict, Act II introduces the turning point and climax, and Act III resolves the conflict.

The Hero’s Journey Outline

Like the Three-Act method, the Hero’s Journey breaks the novel into three parts. This is a popular method for fantasy and science fiction writers (Star Wars is a prime example), and typically has the protagonist refuse a call to action in Act I, be thrust into a series of trials in Act II, and “win” in Act III.

The Freytag Outline

This method breaks the story into not three parts but five; Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Denouement. Because it’s not as structured as most other methods, this is for the writer who has a little pantser in them.

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The Synopsis Outline

Very unlike the previous methods which break novels up into bite-sized pieces, the Synopsis Outline is a running summary of the novel in its entirety without scene or chapter breaks. This is an incredibly useful method for writers who want to submit their work to agents and publishers, if for nothing more than to have a novel synopsis for their submission packages.

The Snowflake Outline

The Snowflake Outline focuses on “building up.” It begins with a one-sentence summary of your story, from which you expand to summaries of your characters, settings, scenes, storylines, goals, conflicts and resolutions.

The Draft Zero Outline

Pantsers who want to try outlining tend to love the Draft Zero method, because it focuses on speed rather than limiting oneself to formulas. This is really just a super-fast write-through of your story, getting out the general story as quickly as possible on the page to refine through later drafts, and often leaves out details (single letter placeholders for character names, or general ideas such as “they somehow escape”).

Regardless of what method you use, or if you use a method at all, thinking of the overall structure of your story early on leads to better, more refined work later on and is worth the time to reflect on.

Takeaway:

How you outline is very much a personal choice, but it does help craft a more intricate story and there’s more than one way to do it!

What’s your outlining style? Let us know in the comments!

(For Master Lists that help develop your novel from start to finish, sign up here!)

I always have a basic plot outline, but I like to leave some things to be decided while I write. — J.K. Rowling

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