Newbie lesson #1 – Planning out characters.

For the past few weeks I’ve been a part of the Young Writer’s workshop – which has been awesomely put together by Brett Harris and Jaquelle Crowe.

What I love about the workshop the most so far is the facebook group that is filled with the most awesomely amazing nerds ever. They all support each other, answer questions and read each other’s work. (I got my first beta reader btw!)

I really love being a part it!

It does mean that I’m exposed to a lot of brand new writers though. Writers who haven’t written their first novel yet. Writers who don’t know how to write that fist sentence or how to plot that first character. There are questions being asked on the group every day.

Inspired by their questions, I have decided that I want to write a writing lesson on one of the basics of writing.

How to create a character.

So here it is.

How to create a character – My own method.

In my time writing I’ve discovered that no matter how bad the rest of your story is, people will still love it if you’re characters are well written. That’s not a promise but that is how it works for me. For me characters are the heart of a story.

So that’s why it’s the first thing I want this series to cover.

Let’s get into it.

The first thing you need to do to create a character is grab a piece of paper. I use a normal A4 sheet with lines on it. You will hopefully not need too much more paper than that at first.

Now what do you put on the paper?

(there is an example of how it should look at the bottom of the post. Fill in sheet style)

Name:

At the top of your paper write down your character’s name. If you can’t think of anything go check out this baby naming site.

I like using a name with a meaning behind it, because that way I already have the first aspect of my character figured out. (example: Nava- beautiful. Bellona – goddess of war)

Gender:

In the next line write down either male or female… simple right?

Age:

Third line is age. I was taught that if you’re a new writer try to keep your characters around your own age – give or take two years. That way you can relate to them and as a result they’ll be more realistic. If you’re a grown writer who wants to write children’s books you may skip this advice.

Appearance:

Now the fourth part is where things get exciting.

In about 6 lines (on the paper) explain how your character looks. Go into detail.

When I was just starting out I thought that all you needed to describe a character was eye and hair colour. I was very naive back then.

No – eye and hair colour is not what takes to make a character appear to your reader. Instead try to go into depth in how your character looks at certain times of the day. Think about how they move. Think about the tiny scars that cover their arms etc.

Good things to use in descriptions are how they move, what kind of body build they have, how they dress, if they have long thin fingers or short chubby ones. These details help make a character real so take a minute to write down as much as you can think of.

Where necessary also add how they feel about their appearance.

Hermione had large front teeth. She hated them.

Doesn’t that give way more of an impression than eye colour?

Character’s life

Now take another six lines and fill in a bit about the character’s past and present.

Before you can write a story you need to know what mindset your character is currently in.  So go ahead and write down what you have figured out about them by now.

Here you should basically start by writing a quick overview of the character which can be prompted with questions such as. What social class is your character in? How caring is this character? How many family members does this character have, who do they care for the most etc.

Next think about their past. What have they lived through? What was a couple of defining points in their lives? Who helped them along the way?

Lastly what is your character’s current mindset? What is your character busy doing with in their life before your story begins? What is your character doing day in, day out? Does your character have any goals?

This will help you know who your character is when you just start off with a project.

That’s it. Those are five simple areas that if answered correctly give you a character.

Now write.

The next step would be to honestly observe your character. I’m going to give you a scene and then you just place your character into the scene and write it out so you can see what kind of character you have.

This helps because it sets you into the mindset of your character, and if the character acts out of the guidelines you built, you’ll be able to decide how to fix that problem before you start with your main project.

Scene

Your character is about to have a lesson in (insert interest of choice) and is laughing with their friend to the side when their instructor barks at them to come show off what they had been practicing the week before.

How your character approaches the lesson is up to you.

Got it? Go.

When you’re done, feel free to share your writing with me. I love reading how other writers interpret my prompts.

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How to incite an inciting incident.

Inciting incident

Since I just started working on a new rough draft I get to struggle with starting strong and the inciting incident. In discussing this with someone I realized that some people are confused by the thought of an inciting incident and so I’ve decided that I want to write a post on the topic so I can just make it clear what an inciting incident is and how you create one.

The inciting incident is a plot point in a novel where your main character (MC) is taken out of the life they are used to and put into a new situation. To put clearly it is when your character’s life goes from normal to not so normal.

 
How to create an inciting incident.
I want to start with a simple tip.
Ask yourself what does your character consider to be normal? You get different kinds of normal for example…

My normal is not having a teacher since I’m homeschooled and waking up at 8am.
A vampire’s normal on the other hand is going to bed at 5am and waking up at 6pm.

My normal is eating toast and drinking tea.
A vampire’s normal would be eating raw flesh and drinking blood.

Your MC’s normal is what you are going to be disrupting. Whether your MC’s normal waking up at 8 am or drinking blood it is still their normal.
Find your “normal” and then decide how to disrupt it.

 
Next thing you need to know is where in the story the inciting incident takes place.
Some people think that the inciting incident is the beginning of a story. It can be but that’s not its defining factor. The inciting incident is simply when things are set into motion.
Some people like starting their story with the inciting incident to make it immediately interesting while others like to show you a little about their character in their normal life first so you can get to know them. How you start your novel is totally dependent on the story but if you can’t decide feel free to talk to me about it in the comments.

The only general rule for the placing of the inciting incident is that it has to be in the first act (first quarter) of the story. If you put it in the second then your story’s start is probably boring and the rest of your plot will be unbalanced.

The last thing I have to say about constructing the inciting incident is that the MC is not the one who incites the inciting incident… if that make sense to you. The MC is generally just pulled into it and someone or something else is the cause for the disruption in your MC normal life.

One of the best examples of an inciting incident (and I’ve used this before) is that of The hunger games.
The inciting incident is the moment of the reaping. When Prim’s name is called and Katniss takes her place to participate in the hunger games.

It’s a good example for multiple reasons but mostly because it shows really well how the character’s normal was shifted and she was placed into a new situation.

 


What is your character’s normal and how will you disrupt it?

You might also what to go read one of my older posts “three main plot points” where I discuss plotting.

I hope you found this helpful so now I just want to challenge you to go out there and plan that novel of yours.

3 steps to creating character goals that won’t bore your readers

Character goals

I have recently decided to give you valuable content so you see, whenever I write a writing lesson post for you I feel it’s just not good enough. After all I actually want you to learn something not just get half built second hand information.

 

So it wasn’t once or even twice that I started a post and then shook my head and said to myself BUT THEY ALREADY KNOW THIS!

Nearly four times I wrote something and deleted it.

Luckily this is that fourth time and as you can probably tell I have not yet deleted my stupid ramblings instead I will continue to write this post and it will be about…. um…

3 steps to good goals.

YES! That’s it.

 

Step one.

Define your character’s goal.

So what is a character goal?

The easy answer is it’s the thing your character wants but a little more complicated. You see while it is something your character wants it needs to drive your character to do things. It needs to make them active.

A goal is also specific with a clear way of achieving it.

A good example of a goal is my wish to be a published writer. It makes me active, makes me write and blog and research agents and genres. My goal has a clear end point that states that if I get published then it’s achieved.

That’s what a goal is and what your character needs.

 

In my story that I’m working on my main character Felix has the goal of mastering his magic power. (cliché I know)

It drives him to practice and to train and even talk to people who can help.

It has a clear point where if it takes the commanded form he has it under control.

 

Step 2.

The next thing you need to make your goals important to your readers is something that has many names. Some call it a dreadful promise, or something to dread but I like to call it stakes.

This is what will happen if your character fails to achieve his goals.

You get two types of stakes, the kind that is fulfilled and the kind that your character evades. I prefer the kind that is fulfilled and plan on using it for my next story but I’ll give more on the details of making that work in a moment

First you need an effective stake.

Ask yourself why is your character going after this goal?

Then ask yourself what is he risking by doing this?

Lastly ask yourself who would want to see him fail? This is usually the antagonist or villain.

Now that you have all those questions answered ask one last question what is the worst thing that can happen to my character while he is attempting this goal?

Based off what you know now create your stakes.

 

If I continue on with my story as an example then Felix’s stakes are losing his position of power. If he doesn’t master his goal then he will lose his position in the ranks of his family’s army.

 

Just like the goal itself the stakes needs to be clear and precise.

 

Now as promised let’s talk about fulfilled stakes and why I prefer them.

You have been telling your reader that something bad can happen but if you don’t let it happen it means that at the end of the book these stakes appear void. After all they didn’t happen so there probably wasn’t any way that it was going to happen anyway. If none of your stakes for your goals big or small happen then it’s simply a character breaking his or her way through the opposition with nothing ever going wrong which means no real tension.

Let’s say these stakes are fulfilled and your character is thrown into some deep trouble, now your reader starts to worry and your character needs to be resourceful. Your reader gets to see so much more than just your character walking over everything that can go wrong and instead sees them handling the problems.

 

If you are going to go with fulfilled stakes then there is one thing I need to mention here.

Just fulfilling the stakes isn’t enough, you need to make things worse.

Everything is going bad but your reader already in part knew that this could happen so now you add on top of this something that they didn’t know. You make failing the goal even worse.

Let’s say your readers knew your characters where dangling over a pit and now you make your characters fall in. It’s bad but it’s also expected. What isn’t expected is the monster living in the pit and thus that monster makes falling in the pit even worse than your reader first anticipated.

 

Step three.

Now it’s time for the last thing that makes your reader care about the goals. It might just be the most important one in fact.

Suffering

For some writers it’s against our nature to hurt our beloved character who we sculpted out with so much love. You mustn’t fall for this though, if you want your readers to care your character needs to suffer.

Readers know a goal is important when a character goes to great length to get it. A goal is important when a character is willing to offer things and get hurt to achieve it.

 

There are different levels of suffering but first I want to cover physical vs. Emotional.

Physical is the level of suffering new writers tend to fall on and it’s a mistake I’ve made quite a few times myself but emotional suffering is stronger.

I’ll use lord of the rings for a reference here since I watched it just the other day.

Frodo got stabbed quite a few times in the movies and we cared but not for long. I mean he got hurt but the physical pain only kept our interest momentarily whereas when we lost Gandalf the blow was emotional and it kept our attention. We were reminded that the goal is so important that Gandalf was sacrificed.

It kept our attention longer, made us want the goal more, and it made us sympathise with the characters.

 

Now for the other methods of suffering.

It starts at inconvenience. A character wants something and is willing to inconvenience himself for the goal. This doesn’t really make the reader care about the goal but it works at the beginning of a story to just capture their interest.

 

Then it goes to discomfort. At some point the character starts taking the goal even more serious and is willing to discomfort himself. Perhaps it’s by doing something such as staying outside a store all night to be the first in line for a new toy.

 

The next one is real physical pain.This is when the character cuts off their own finger or jump in front of the cracking whip. It’s when they are willing to be hurt for their goal.

 

The last stage is loss.This one hurts the most because it means you are willing to give something that meant so much to you away for this goal.

It’s  Rupunzel’s hair being cut off to stop the witch in tangled or Anna running to Elsa instead of Christoff to catch Hans’s sword.

In Harry Potter it’s when he willingly goes to Voldamort.

All these heroes knew they were going to lose everything but still threw it away to achieve their goal.

 

Tip: when you make your character suffer it’s good to make the suffering grow worse and not less throughout the book.

 

I hope this helped and that you are at least a little excited to go planning out your character’s goals.

Let me know if you like this post and know that my next writing lesson will be next month somewhere. Until then you can go take a look at these other writing lessons.

Now go and make your stories the best you can and remember that striving toward goals will make readers love your character more than achieving it.

 

 

 

8 things to know before you write your first “first draft”

8 tips for new writers

I’ve been talking to some young writers who would like to start a novel, and while talking to them it occurred to me how many things new writers do that keep them from finishing their first draft. Sometimes it’s because they want someone to read and give them feedback while they are writing their first draft while at other times it’s because they just don’t know where to take their story because of a lack of planning.
Then I remembered how much I learned while writing my first book’s draft and how many things I wish I had know or been prepared for. Perhaps if I had been warned my plot wouldn’t have fallen flat on 5000 words. While I had pushed through I was very close to simply calling it quits.
So this post is for those of you who are thinking of writing a novel.

8 things to know before you start to write your first novel.

1. To get through your first draft takes a lot of discipline. Yes writing is fun, but there will be day where you just don’t feel like writing. I’m not trying to throw you off or keep you from writing by saying this, I just want you to be prepared because it’s true and it’s often where people give up on their writing. The truth is that writing will get hard but even on those days you need to put your butt in front of a computer (or pen) and keep writing. You will need to be disciplined to keep writing. The best way to be disciplined is to make sure you write at least 100 words every day.

2. You can find that even though you are disciplined in your writing a day might come that you need to kick up the motivation. I’m stubborn so my motivation is proving a point most of the time, or because I really want to reach the end of the book but if that doesn’t work you need to find a way to motivate yourself, perhaps the reward system can work for you. (500 words for a cup of coffee?)

3.  Expect to learn a lot while writing. I’m not talking random facts; I’m saying that you will learn a lot about yourself. You will also learn that you suck at writing…
Not that that means you’re a bad writer, it just means that this is your first time attempting something like this and I’m sure any successful writer can tell you that their first draft of their first story also sucked. It’s not a bad thing it just means that you have things to improve on. When you realize that your writing is worse than you would like it to be, don’t give in, and embrace it. Yes it’s bad but you can only improve your writing if you write.

4. This is another thing you need to know about your first draft, your writing will improve. I have no doubt about it. As you write your brain becomes more accustomed to the way sentences sound and by the end of your 120 pages you will have gotten much better. Don’t be surprised; let it motivate you to keep writing.

5. I often hear young writers who has never finished any book tell me that they don’t plan because they’re more on the seat writers. If you’re a pantster (someone who writes without a plan) then that’s great, but if you tell me you’re a panster and then later tell me that you keep losing interest before you can finish your novel then I suggest you try planning.

It takes a little extra time but it really does help. If you know where your story is going then you will never be caught in one of those moments where you ask yourself “well what do I write now that won’t be boring?”

6. Here is something more common among the young writers on forums on the internet; they often start to worry about title, covers and dedications before they even finished their first draft. These things don’t matter at the moment, just focus on finishing your novel.
Yes a good title is always nice but the title is focused on the audience and getting them to buy your book, and guess what, that doesn’t matter until you have a book to sell. You don’t need a good title or a cover when you are writing your first draft. You want to know what I’m calling my work in progress? Felix vs Aida… it’s not the title it will keep but it helps me remember in which Word file the story is being saved.

7. I feel I need to say that

you don’t write your first draft for an audience. You write it for the story. A friend of mine has this habit of sending you bits of her first drafts, and I love my friend to bits, I see potential in her writing but her first draft is just like mine, not all that good. So please I’m asking you while you’re writing don’t give your writing to someone just to be read so they can give you praise, it puts people in an awkward position. The only exception is for when you are in a writing group and you have discussed reading your work out loud. Even then people might give you bad feedback and this has also kept people from writing so that is where the whole don’t write for an audience comes in. While you are writing your first draft you are writing the story your way, and other people don’t have a say. Only when you start to edit do you start considering other peoples feedback.

8. The last point I want to make is that your story will grow. You might have had a simple idea but as you write the idea will twist and turn. Again this is where your planning helps, it keeps you from making drastic choices… but these twists in your idea isn’t a bad thing and that’s what I want you to know. Don’t panic because you’re not sure whether or not to implement a change. Examine it from all angles and ask yourself if it fits, if you want to add the change go for it. This is your first novel you have free reign on how it goes.

 
I hope this helps the new writers out there and if you happen to have a novel finished then share something you feel young writers should know.

If you have a unfinished novel lying somewhere or you have a spark of an idea without any substance then I challenge you now to go take a look at it and turn it around in your head a few times to see if you can get something from it.

How to write a murder scene.

The perfect murder scene doesn’t have to be bloody or outright traumatizing it just needs to get your reader to keep turning the page.

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  •  The first thing you want to do is plan what needs to happen. Who dies and who kills? Where does the scene take place? Perhaps in the woods? What is the murder weapon? You need to plan all of this.

 

  • Why is this happening? Why does the killer want to kill the victem (If your answer is because he is a serial killer and he was bored just stop right there and go create a better villain.) You murderer doesn’t even  have to know the victim he just has to think the victim is in the way of his plans.

 

  • Now write your rough draft of what happens keeping a completely straight face.  Don’t write things like the maniac from hell was carrying a knife. With fire blazing in his eyes he gave a laugh filled with menace.  Sometimes simple descriptions work best for example: the knife glinted in the moon light and she turned to run. He was on top of her in moments and the blade cut into her back between two of her ribs. She gave out one more hushed breath. Her last breath.

 

  • During the scene you need to build suspense. Complications should happen like they always do. Perhaps the victim fights back or runs. The gun fire could miss.

 

  • Sentence length in a scene like this is important. Long sentences build tension. Sort sentences gives a quick pace. The trick is to know when to use which one and how to mix them just right.