April 29, 2011

More on Creating Great Characters

While trying to find out how to make a character sympathetic, I found a few good more character-building goodies.

Inner Dialogue is vital. K. M. Weiland has 5 Ways to Write Character Thoughts Worth More Than a Penny.

Beth Hill says The Psychology of Character shows us that every time a character makes a choice, he’s revealing who he is.

What do Frodo and the evolved Superman have in common? You can relate to both of them. How to Make a Great Leading Character by Seth Frederiksen.

April 26, 2011

Creating Sympathetic Characters

Even though your characters seems to do everything right, you hate them. Or your beta readers hate them. What went wrong?

Two things: your character must be interesting and your character needs to be sympathetic. Whether he's a good guy or a bad guy, he should have those two qualities.

So how do you make a character more sympathetic?

Mary Lynn Mercer at Why Stories Work posted a thorough answer in The True Nature of Sympathetic Characters. She also covers a few things to avoid like a character that whines.

Darci Pattison posted a couple of really great ones: 9 Traits of Sympathetic Characters and then you can use those traits to Make Your Character More Sympathetic.

Every hero needs his fatal flaw. Apparently, there are nine types. I didn't know this, but it's pretty cool. Laurie Campbell's Creating Your Hero's Fatal Flaw

And finally, J. Timothy King gives 3 Steps to Sympathy that makes inappropriate behavior okay.

April 21, 2011

Upcoming Posts: Sympathetic Characters

I'm going to do some posts on creating sympathetic characters. I have a few links already, but I was wondering if you had any questions on the subject. What kind of advice are you looking for? What do your characters need to be completely awesome?

April 20, 2011

All-In-One Revision:
Raise Stakes, Build Conflict, Setting & Mood

I'm really excited about my latest revision system. I only go through and revise once, but I'm going through 3 phases to prepare for that, leaving myself notes on what to change and how.

Right now, I have one index card for each scene. At the top of each card is a sentence that summarizes the main conflict. I've used this system before, and it's great for focusing each scene on the conflict and for reorganizing the structure of the novel. But I've added something new this time.

On each card, I have:
  1. The scene number (so I don't get confused)
  2. The one-sentence summary for the scene
  3. The time of day
  4. What my main character wants
  5. What's keeping her from getting it
  6. How she feels
  7. Why she feels that way
  8. The overall mood of the scene (if different from how MC feels)
  9. How the setting intensifies/contrasts the mood
  10. How I can possibly raise the stakes

While I write out these cards, I'm creating meaninful scenery. The setting interacts with my characters and really comes alive. I've always heard that the setting needs to be a character, that it needs to create conflict. I never really understood that until now.

This method also helps me to create an primary mood for each scene and helps me to intensify the feelings of my characters. I think it'll lead to some pretty awesome subtext, too.

And who doesn't love high stakes? I mean, I thought I had some awesome conflict, but now... every card has some brainstorming on the back for how I can make it better.

Doing all of this takes time and brain power. I'm often tempted to skip one or two of these, but when I give thoughtful answers to each one, it's so rewarding. I'm getting really excited about this revision!

April 17, 2011

Synonyms: Finding Another Word For 'Walked'

One of my pet peeves with first drafts is that I always use "He walked here." or "She walked over there." So for a creative exercise, I set the timer for ten minutes and wrote as many words as I could think of that were more specific than 'walked'.

I started off with words like ran, skipped, crept, crawled, dragged, and dashed. The last five minutes had some pretty great ones. Waltzed, meandered, stumbled, snaked, and clamored. I think I came up with 54 words total. (I'll have to double-check, but I don't have my list.)

What common words plague your first drafts?

Got any other great synonyms for 'walked'?

April 14, 2011

RePost: Revising and Editing Part 3

Great advice on editing your novel (more or less) from people who know what they're talking about:

I try to leave out the parts that people skip. ~Elmore Leonard

To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself...Anybody can have ideas--the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph. ~Mark Twain

The personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there. ~Mark Twain

An author should
... Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it
... Use the right word, not its second cousin.
~Mark Twain

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

Substitute “d***” every time you’re inclined to write “very;” your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~Mark Twain

Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed. ~Ray Bradbury

You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance. ~Ray Bradbury

Vigorous writing is concise. ~William Strunk Jr.

Parts 1 and 2 on Revising and Editing have more practical resources, if you're interested.

April 11, 2011

Getting Nit Picky with Your Manuscript

So, when you think you have your basic plot nailed down and everything is in its place, what's that last step? Line editing! (Oh joy. Rapture.)

To help out with this oh-so-fun task, I have a few links to share. (Hey, it's what I do.)

The Infinite Checklist of Writing Tips has all those things you tend to forget, like eliminating "felt" and "started to". Excellent source to keep on hand.

Something I struggle with (especially when I write present-tense) is Cutting the Passive Voice, courtesy of Jennifer Walkup.

And you know those annoying words and phrases that everyone gets wrong? Altogether vs. all together, adverse vs. averse, bemused vs. amused. Yeah, here's a list of them: More Commonly Misused Words. Thank you to people like Meghan Ward. You keep me sane.

April 8, 2011

Revision Tips and Tricks

What do you look for when you revise?

As a start, here are The 4 Most Common Mistakes Fiction Editors See. This post stressed me out a little. There's just so much in there that I need to be doing!

Sarah Enni has a terrifying suggestion for revision: delete everything! Okay, save it first, but then delete it. I can vouch for this method. I've tried it. I hate it, but it works. Not only do you get better words when you start over, but you get over your fear of the dreaded blank screen!

Oh, and did you know there's a Golden Rule of Writing? I didn't think it was possible, but there is one rule that applies to all writers, no matter when or how you write, no matter what you're writing. There is one rule you must follow. (But I won't tell you what it is. You have to click the link. Sorry.)

And I just love this post by Ginny Wiehardt on Cliches and Description. Sometimes we as writers forget to be original with our descriptions.

Next Post: The nitty gritty!

April 7, 2011

For Those of You Who Write at Night...

As a quick sidenote, if you stare at your computer screen at night and then have trouble sleeping, you might want to try this program called Flux. At night, it'll warm the colors of your screen instead of the glaring blue-white screen you usually have.

April 5, 2011


Donald Maas has been tweeting daily Breakout Novel Prompts. You can follow him, but here are my favorites:

Before a new character debuts, give your MC an expectation or fear. Make the reality three times better or worse

What does your MC know about people that no one else does? Create 3 moments when he/she spots that in others.

In the last dialogue passage you wrote double the friction, disagreement, overt hostility or hidden agenda

What principle guides your MC? At what moment is it most tested? When does it fail? Put it into action three times.

Give your MC passionate feelings about something trivial: e.g., cappuccino, bowling, argyle socks. Write his/her rant. Add it.

In your climactic scene, what are 3 details of place that only your MC would notice? Cut more obvious details, replace with these.

During a big dramatic event, what’s one small thing your POV character realizes will never change or never be the same again? Add

What does a sidekick character know about your MC that your MC refuses to see? Force a showdown over it.

How does your POV character change in your current scene? Work backwards. Make that change unlikely, a surprise or impossible.

Choose a middle scene: What does POV character feel most strongly? Evoke that feeling without naming it, through actions alone.

Find any violence in your ms. Delete any shock, fear or horror. Replace with two *conflicting* emotions that are less obvious.

April 2, 2011

Revising a Novel's Structure

Speaking of revision, look at the goodies I found!

My last post mentioned the importance of revising your novel structurally. Guess what? Kitty Bucholz posted a four-part segment: How to do a Structural Edit on Your Book. In it, she shows what she learned in her Master's class taught by editor Nicola O'Shea. Also, here's Part 2, and 3.

In response to this series, Stephanie Shackelford added: Write yourself a review or revision letter. She makes some great suggestions, step-by-step.

The next posts will be more of the nitty-gritty, microscope-not-telescope problems that first (and second and third and fourth) drafts tend to have.
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