5 MistaKes Amaeture Writer's Make
Note: these are not in order. *
1. Flashbacks*: General rule: don't use them.
As with every rule, there are exceptions. I would strongly warn against using any kind of flashback in the first 50 pages of your novel. Writers use flashbacks as a crutch when their story is limping along. Some examples:
A. The author finds himself needing to sketch their character's childhood. If you need us to know her father was an alcoholic, let her cringe at the smell of alcohol on a man's breath, her fear as she worries that he will hurt her--just like her father did (anytime you jerk your character to another time and place, you risk losing the reader's interest).
B. Your character relives some important moment in their past. If it's so incredibly important, why doesn't the story start there? Seriously. if you can't live without it, change the timeline of your story so that it happens at the beginning. For instance, Luke Skywalker's childhood is shown to us near the beginning of the movie instead of having a flashback later.
When do flashbacks work? Again, this is tricky and risky. You have to know the rules in order to break them well. Be warned.
2. Writing what I call the Description Pattern: describe scene, describe character (including flashbacks), describe conflict, and finally, begin story. The writer feels he needs to set up his readers in time, place, and situation before starting the story.
In essence, this is showing versus telling. Start the story when your character becomes involved with the conflict. Show us your time, place, and situation by the characters interaction with it (She squinted as the sun blazed over the choppy, black waters.) Show us what she looks like (She absently tucked her frizzy blonde hair behind her ears). Weave these elements in the conflict instead of delivering them in chunks.
3. Poor Writing. Unbalanced writing (using too much description, too many adverbs, show versus tell . . .). I've written about this earlier, so I'm not going to go into too much detail here.)
4. Overkill and Wordiness. New writers have a tendency to describe a situation 5 different ways because they're not sure they've made their point. Have you ever read a book and thought, "Okay! I get it! Can we stop now!" That's when you know you've had overkill. A good example is showing us what our character is like, then telling us, and in case we haven't figured it out yet, give us a flashback. If that's not enough, we'll tell you all over again with different language. Another is the following sentence: Janet petulantly stuck her tongue out of her mouth. (In case you're wondering, "petulantly" and "out of her mouth" should be cut).
5. Bad story. There are a million different things that can go wrong with a story. Starting it in the wrong place, sagging middle, abrupt ending, weak conflict, unidentifiable characters . . . There are entire books on the subject. I suggest you read at least 5.
*This post is about writing, as opposed to querying. That's a whole different ballgame.
*Flashbacks are different from prologues. Prologues have there own benefits and risks.
5 Mistakes Middling Writers Make
A middling writer has moved past newbie mistakes. They've learned about the craft of writing and the business of publishing. They may have a published work, a creative writing degree, or an agent. But they have yet to really break in. I consider myself on the high end of this stage, and have suffered from many of these maladies myself.
1. Quitting. Mostly I see this happen because writers feel stuck. They've sent out a few queries to no avail. They've done a few things to further their writing careers (maybe read craft books, joined a crit group, etc), but are unwilling to invest further. Or they simply can't take it anymore. It's just not worth it. After all, this is a tough business.
This is what I call the 'weed out stage.' This is where people who write for the passion of it hang on, and those that are so so find something else to do with their time. Maybe it's for the best. But for those who couldn't give up writing if they wanted to, it's validation that this is really what you're meant to do.
2. Fear of failure. This manifests itself in many ways. I've seen 'closet writers.' People who are afraid to go to conferences because they can't possibly put themselves on the same level as 'real' writers. People who refuse to invest the time, money, and effort. Even people who are afraid of changes--changes like success. But mostly it's the people who want it so badly that they don't even dare try, or fail to push themselves. Because if they fail, they can't live with that (I was one of you once).
These people write, but never with their whole hearts.
3. Laziness. To be a writer, you have to be internally driven. You have to make yourself write. And keep writing. And keep learning. Writing is a lot of work. Work no one is paying you for. Work no one is pushing you to do. Sometimes life interferes, throwing you a curve ball you don't recover from. After the initial love affair dwindles, many just fade away.
4. Frustration. I've seen authors quit because of anger. Anger at rejection. Anger at all the 'time they've wasted.' Anger with the publishing system. This anger colors their writing to the point it kills the writer's joy. When this happens, take a step back and write for the fun of it. Never forget why you write. You write because you love it. If that ever changes, switch careers.
5. Writing what will sell, instead of what speaks to your heart. I've seen writers try so hard to come up with something different. Something new. Something that will sell. It almost never works (in fiction). Often, the ideas are weird. The writing forced. You have to write what you love. Period.
Writing Great Characters
No, not like Edward Cullen sparkle-in-the-sunlight sparkle.
I'm talking about how do you take your characters from flat to three dimensional and dynamic?
First of all, look at writers who are great at characterization. Stephanie Meyer immediately comes to mind. Now you can say what you like about Twilight, but there are very few authors whose books inspire the debate that her characters do ("Are you Team Edward or Team Jacob?"). Her characters had personalities that run the board from shy to overt and everything in between.
Have you ever noticed that Stephanie compares her characters to animals? If you think about it at all, you'll quickly realize that Edward is the powerful, sleek cougar who's trying not to eat the shy, wide-eyed doe (Bella).
The best writers use simple methods. This is one of them. Pick an animal avatar for your character. Is your hero a small, cunning fox? A powerful, roaring bear? A delicate and flighty bird?
Another method is to use personality colors. There are lots of different systems out there. I use Hartman. In a nutshell:
Red (the power wielders)
Blue (the do-gooders)
White (the peacekeepers)
Yellow (the fun lovers)
Everyone has one dominate and one or more passive traits.
In Witch Song:
Senna is a white blue
Joshen is a yellow blue
Senna is naturally shy and fearful. Her avatar is an abused dog. She longs to bond with someone, but she's been maltreated too much to trust. Joshen loves people and food . . . and well everything. He's the optimist of the two of them. He's always seeing adventure in and excitement in even mundane things.
Any guesses as to what his avatar is?
A monkey. *giggle*
How Do I Know When My Work Is Ready For Publication?
1. Have you outgrown an amateur writers group (meaning, are you the best writer there or can the group no longer give you feedback)
2. Have you read at least 5 books on improving your craft?
3. Have you presented your work to those who "*know what they're talking about" and received positive feedback (some examples of these might be editors/agent meetings at writer's conferences, published authors, personalized rejection letters, etc.)?
4. Do you know as much or more about a topic presented at a **conference as the speaker?
*You meet "people who know what they're talking about" at conferences and local writer's groups (you can also become a regular on their blog to meet online). Conferences will be a hit on your budget and require a lot of dedication. There are huge writer's conferences like World Con, where thousands of editors and agents are available, but the cost is significant. I'd recommend starting at local writer's conferences. They might not be as rich in resources, but they are a great/cheaper way to start.
**Eventually, you'll start to outgrow conferences as well, as a lot of the classes begin to repeat themselves (i.e. they always seem to have a class on how to write fabulous queries.) This is another sign that your writing is becoming publishable.
Start using the connections you've made at these conferences/online/writer's groups to improve your writing and network.
10 Steps to Unblock Your Writer's Block
1. Read a good book.
2. Listen to soundtracks or other music that gets you in a creative mood without distracting you(Josh Groban does it for me).
3. Turn off your internal editor. Repeat after me: The first draft is crap. And that's okay.
4. Get enough sleep. Eat well. Exercise. A strong body makes for a strong mind.
5. Don't argue with your characters. If they refuse to do a scene a certain way, change it. Even if that means rewriting the story.
6. Discuss the problem with someone. I've found that when I'm stuck, if I talk it out, it allows me to see it from a different angle and I can usually fix it--even if the other person doesn't say a word.
7. Re-evaluate the project. Drop it if necessary. That's only happened to me once. 100 pages in I realized it wasn't working. I needed to completely rework the story. I put it away and started a newer, stronger story. Since then, I've been playing with plot ideas for the older one. I'm going to start it soon. It's going to be much stronger.
8. Take a break from writing. Instead, read a dozen novels. By the end, the creative side of your brain will be tingling.
9. Don't overextend yourself. I can't create the depth necessary if I'm trying to move between two projects. Nor can I switch back and forth between editing and creating. Creative writing and editing do not play well with one another. When I'm writing, I DO NOT EDIT. They're two different mindsets. It takes weeks to completely engross myself in one or the other.
10. Write, edit, read. Do one of these daily.
Effectively Integrating Backstory
In my current WIP, I've been struggling with what to do with an important backstory scene. I felt it was integral to the story--something my readers would benefit from knowing. It set up the relationship between my characters, my MC motivation and weaknesses, sets up a strong undercurrent as it mirrors what is happening now, and sets up an ironic ending.
In short, including it would make the story stronger.
And yet weaker at the same time. Anytime you interrupt the forward momentum of the story by flashbacks, sometimes with prologues (as prologues set the reader up for A, then chapter one gives them A mixed with B, or even worse, straight B) you risk losing your readers.
So I was really struggling with what to do with this really important, life changing moment for my character. I toyed with using it as a prologue. I also toyed with splitting it into small chunks and delivering them as dreams.
Both of these methods seemed like I gave up as much or more that I gained. So I did some research. I studied out what some of my favorite books did with backstory information that the author considered integral to the plot.
One of the strongest influences was Catching Fire and Hunger Games (also Harry Potter). The MC father dies in a mine accident and the mother slips into depression, leaving the MC solely responsible for providing for her family at a very young age.
This moment was huge for all the same reasons my moment was. So how did Suzanne Collins integrate this information? She delivered it in small chunks, a paragraph or so at a time, when the character encountered experiences that drudged it up.
And it worked. It gave the character depth that couldn't have been achieved any other way.
So here's what I did. I wrote out the scene and saved it for later (when my book is a bestseller, I'll give it away for free on my website). Then I've delivered it in bits and pieces by way of memories. That way, my reader gets to piece together my character and her story one step at a time. This technique actually strengthened the story like a shot of steroids.
Here's a brief example from Daughter of Winter. My main character has just been beaten with a strap soaked in poison oak:
"The river felt so deliciously cool, soothing the itch and swelling . But only Rone's tight hold kept Ilyenna from bolting. She couldn't swim, and anything deeper than her knees brought up memories. Memories of water bouncing her along the riverbed like a child with a new ball. She remembered seeing the sky through a window of ice. Ice she'd clawed at until each and every one of her fingernails had ripped off. "
Not only is the reader moving along with your character, they're learning a backstory that keeps them reading.
Quick Tip: Adding Layers
Edits aren't just for murdering your darlings! You need to add elements like similes and metaphors. Make your themes and characters shine. Adding layers to your story makes it feel deeper and more realistic. I find that I come up with ideas for adding these layers as I go. Oftentimes I don't want to stop my momentum to rewrite the story, so I keep an extra Word document full of notes. After I've finished a rough draft, I go back and add a sentence here, a paragraph there.
Here's a few ideas of things to add to help you find your own layering ideas:
1. Add some type of religious views. Everyone, even atheists, have some set of beliefs. After all, believing in nothing is still a belief. (I add this because I royally suck at it :) )
2. A childhood memory that affects your character. I think it's fun to use something negative/embarrassing/sad. But especially embarrassing. It makes your character more approachable.
3. Some odd, but realistic tradition (they're fun to write!). After all, we Americans have many odd holidays. Halloween comes to mind. If you're writing contemporary, put a twist on a tradition. Like corndogs for Christmas Eve.
5. One flaw. Be it physical like a mole, scar, chipped tooth, broken nose, big ears, bushy eyebrows. I find that writers (me included) describe all the beautiful parts of our heroes and forget to add a flaw. That flaw is important. It makes the character real. Perhaps your character is exceedingly clumsy, stutters, bites her nails. My MC in my WIP bites the inside of her cheek when she's angry. There's a million and one different ways to make our characters imperfect. (Look at yourself for ideas).
How to Write Violent Scenes
How do you write a violent scene without getting too violent?
The short answer is balance. Plot wise, the villain's evil needs to be balanced by the hero's goodness. The blood and gore by the hero's attempts to stop it. It's all in how your character reacts to the violence, how it affects them, what they think of it. If you're truly in deep POV, it's not too hard.
In the actual scene, space out the violence with descriptions, thoughts, random interruptions (keep reading for an example). Make sure you use all the senses (Taste the blood, hear the ribs crack, feel the gun jump in her hands, smell the powder, etc0. I also like to throw in some random thought. So though your character might be in a fight for his life, he sees a car drive by, the driver oblivious. A dog might bark. These elements all help balance the scene.
If you find it gets too intense, make it so your character can't handle the gore. They cringe and look away etc.--simultaneously sparing your reader.
For example, here's something from my WIP. The scene is incredibly violent, but my character, Ilyenna, is fighting for someone else--Metha, a pregnant woman whose lover is beating her because she dared defy him. I'll color code the violence with the balancing moments (keep in mind that this is a DRAFT).
Balancing elements (like descriptions)
Metha spit in his face.
The thin line of spittle ran down his cheek. He daubed it with his fingers, gazing at it in shock. Grabbing Metha, he threw her to the floor. Drawing back his foot, he slammed it into her stomach. Metha gasped in shock and pain, curling protectively around her swollen belly. He kicked her again, and again. Ilyenna's mind refused to accept what her eyes saw. Time seemed to speed up while the rest of her slowed down. And then she remembered the Argon babies. The ones she had tended. The ones who even now might be dead. Like Metha's would be.
Rage boiled in her like a gnashing monster. She threw open the door and screamed, "No!" She shoved Darrien.
Without taking his eyes from Metha, he backhanded her so hard that blackness curled in from the outside of her vision. The blackness receded. Tiny sparks flashed. Shaking her head to clear it, she saw Metha, her face screwed up in agony as Darrien pounded her—his features contorted by a bottomless rage. He wouldn't stop until she was dead. He'll kill both her and her baby.
Without thought, she threw herself over Metha, screaming as loud and long as she could, "Rone!" A kick to her already bruised ribs stole her breath. Another made her whole body clench in protest. Another and a scream of pain tore from her throat. Her whole existence revolved around waiting for the next kick and the next explosion of pain. She realized her folly too late. She hadn't saved anyone.
He's going to kill all three of us.
Something cracked. It sounded like lightening. At first she thought something inside her had finally snapped, but she didn't feel it. And then the kicks finally stopped.
Ilyenna rolled off Metha and vomited again, and again, and again.
When her wretched finally stopped, she managed to look up.
Rone had come. He had Darrien underneath him, his fist working the other man into pulp. She tried to shout, but her words came out as little more than a hoarse whisper, "No, Rone, don't kill him. They'll execute you."
Creating Memorable Characters
It was during a very lonely time in my childhood that I discovered one way to create memorable characters. Laura Ingalls was always there on my bookshelf, waiting to take me on another adventure. She never judged me or called me names. She cheered me up when I was sad, and for a time, I forgot all about being lonely and unhappy.
She was my friend.
Since then, the characters that strummed the deepest cord inside me have always managed to achieve some level of friendship. I felt that I knew them. What they looked like, their weaknesses and strengths.
But it wasn't until I started writing that I understood the power of this secret. Your readers should see your MC as their friend. It's why people get so annoyed when their characters are cast wrong in the movie. 'Cause, by dang, my friend doesn't look like that. Think about it. All people are lonely at some point. All of us want to reach out and connect with others. One of the easiest ways to do this is through a book.
As Disney says, "See a need, fill a need."
People want friends. Give them one. Figure out what kinds of things people value in their friends and you'll be a long way to creating characters that will resonate with them. They don't have to be perfect, but they do have to be someone an audience would want to know. For the next several hours, you're audience is going to go through an experience with your MC. At times, they'll almost wish they were your character (sound familiar to real life?). Your characters enemies will be your readers enemies.
The best part. Both your MC and your reader will *defeat* them (unlike real life).
To Write, Or Not to Write, A Sex Scene?
There are so many things to consider in writing, or not writing, a sex scene (versus how to write a sex scene). Here's some things I've found helpful for me:
1. My characters morals are not necessarily my morals. But, like all writers, I can choose to bleep a scene when it gets too hot. (I write YA, and so I usually do).
2. Sex happens. Really. Not many people go through their entire lives as virgins. I write about characters in their late teens to early twenties--usually when the virginity thing . . . uh, goes away.
3. Sex happens, but so do consequences (having trouble coming up with any, think back to sophomore health class and all those nasty pictures). But don't stop there. Sex has emotion impacts on people. It changes relationships, permanently. I have a responsibility to represent sex as it truly is.
4. Don't write a sex scene just to have one. Do you ever feel like an author tossed in a sex scene because sex sells instead of because the plot/character called for it?
What did I miss? What other issues come into play when deciding whether or not to write a sex scene?
How to Find the Perfect Beta Readers
Don't have a beta reader?
Or two or three. Seriously, every good writer needs other writers/readers to look over their work.
At this point, it might be important to distinguish the difference between beta/alpha readers and critique groups. Alpha readers read your MS as your writing it and give their thoughts on how the story is working, etc. Beta readers usually look at the finished MS. In critique groups you generally bring a small amount to read out loud at a regular meeting. With my betas, we usually swap an entire book. With my alphas, it's usually a scene I'm struggling with, say 25 pages. I've learned from past experience, that when trying out a new partnership, start small. That way you don't end up with something you can't edit, whether because of taste or writing level issues.
So, how do you join a critique group? I'd discourage you from emailing your favorite authors. Instead, find a writers group that is open to any new members. This is a great way to start. Eventually, you're going to outgrow an open writers group. When that happens, you can start your own "invite only" group, or hope you are invited to one.
Good partnerships work well when both partners are:
1. On a similar writing level. If there is a wide dichotomy, one person will feel like they don't get what they give. That's great, however, for the less experienced writer.
2. Have similar outputs. It's frustrating when you write 25 pages every week, and your partner takes 6 months.
3. Enjoy each other's writing. Seriously, if you can't stand a person's writing, you probably shouldn't be editing it--if that person is in your critique group . . . well, I agree with Thumper, "if you can't say somethin' nice, don't say nothin' at all."
In a previous post, I showed you a sentence: Rocks and boulders circled the pool. But how can I add tension to the scene? Well, let me break it down for you:
My character (Daughter of Winter) is pinned between the villain and a cliff. It's a tense moment, but how do I convey that through showing? Well, read this section first, and then I'll break down what I've done (please note this is a DRAFT, and will therefore have errors).
The river narrowed and deepened. The air was thick and heavy with the smell of the water. With a sense of foreboding, she climbed up the bald expanse of a flat boulder and looked down. A waterfall crashed down a steep cliff before hurtling into a deep pool. Rocks and boulders ringed the pool like the teeth of a hungry maw. She looked from one side to the other. The cliffs went on for leagues in either direction. She had nowhere to go. The dogs were very close now.
She stared at the base, her whole body screaming to live.
The dogs crashing through the trees, baying happily when they found her. She turned, and saw Darrien astride his gelding. It surprised her that he was alone. What would he do to her?
He rubbed the back of his head, where she'd clobbered him. "That will cost you."
Everything. He was going to take everything she held dear. By the time he was finished, she wouldn't be Ilyenna anymore. Instead, all that remained would be a hallowed out husk. If she didn't bend to him, he would destroy her clanswomen. Only one choice remained for her now. She peeked over the edge and looked down, down, down. She felt dizzy and disoriented. Would it hurt?
His voice softened. "Come here, now." Understanding had dawned on Darrien's face.
She grunted. In this only, had she any modicum of control. She closed her eyes. But she couldn't bring herself to jump. Drawing every ounce of courage, she inched backward. You're the clanmistress. You protect your clan. No matter the cost. With each minuscule step, she expected to feel nothing but open air beneath her.
"Ilyenna, no!" She gasped out the breath she had been holding. Rone came crashing through the trees—his face white with fear and exertion.
Her heart squeezed violently within her, flooding her whole body with a burst of blood. Why couldn't he have loved her?
He paused before her, his hand outstretched. "Come with me, Ilyenna."
She shook her head violently, tendrils of her damp hair swaying. "I can't, you know that Rone. I have to protect them. Protect myself."
"We'll find another way."
Duty. Honor. She smiled at him, gently, trying to ease his pain. If she didn't do it now, she might lose her courage forever. "There is no other way." She stepped back, and this time, her foot caught nothing but empty air. She pushed off. Rone reached for her, his face twisting in despair. She heard his scream as she fell. Her heart plunged in her throat as she watched the ground rush up to meet her.
In this scene, I really have three major conflicts going on at one: Ilyenna's internal conflict--to protect her people, she believes she must kill herself; her external conflict with the villain; her conflict with her love interest.
Tension building words or phrases
Conflict (internal or external) note that conflict builds tension, but my purpose here is better served if they are separate.
The river narrowed and deepened. The air was thick and heavy with the smell of the water. With a sense of foreboding, she climbed up the bald expanse of a flat boulder and peered over the edge. A waterfall hurtled into a deep pool. Rocks and boulders ringed the pool like the teeth of a hungry maw--anytime you can make a description dangerous, you kill two birds with one stone. She looked from one side to the other. The cliffs went on for leagues in either direction. She had nowhere to go. The dogs were very close now.
She stared at the base, her whole body screaming to live. --setting this sentence apart gives it extra emphasis
The dogs crashed through the trees, baying happily (this adds a sharp contrast to the deadly scene) when they found her. She turned, and saw Darrien astride his gelding. It surprised her that he was alone. What would he do to her?
He rubbed the back of his head, where she'd clobbered him. "That will cost you."
Everything.--see how I'm mixing up my sentence lengths? Putting a sentence in its own paragraph, or its own sentence, gives it special emphasis. When the tension is really fast, my sentences are shorter.-- He was going to take everything she held dear. By the time he was finished, she wouldn't be Ilyenna anymore. Instead, all that remained would be a hallowed out husk. If she didn't bend to him, he would destroy her clanswomen. Only one choice remained for her now. She peeked over the edge and looked down, down, down. She felt dizzy and disoriented. Would it hurt?--adding the characters thoughts also gives variety and sets it apart.
His voice softened. "Come here, now." Understanding had dawned on Darrien's face.
She grunted. In this only, had she any modicum of control. She closed her eyes. But she couldn't bring herself to jump. Drawing every ounce of courage, she inched backward. You're the clanmistress. You protect your clan. No matter the cost. With each minuscule step, she expected to feel nothing but open air beneath her. --see how I'm dragging out the tension? Just like in real life, time slows during tense situations (actually, we speed up, but that's irrelevant).
"Ilyenna, no!" She gasped out the breath she had been holding. Rone stumbled through the trees—his face white with fear and exertion. --I'm building the tension by adding another conflict.
Her heart squeezed violently within her, flooding her whole body with a burst of blood. Why couldn't he have loved her?
He paused before her, his hand outstretched. "Come with me, Ilyenna."
She shook her head, tendrils of her damp hair swaying. "I can't, you know that Rone. I have to protect them. Protect myself."
"We'll find another way."
Duty. Honor. She smiled at him, gently (again, the word gently contrasts with the severity of the scene), trying to ease his pain. If she didn't do it now, she might lose her courage forever. "There is no other way." She stepped back, and this time, her foot caught nothing but empty air. She pushed off. Rone reached for her, his face twisting in despair. She heard his scream as she fell. Her heart plunged in her throat as she watched the ground rush up to meet her.
Quick writing tip:
Having problems with too many "be verbs?" Switch the direct object and the subject. For instance:
All around the pool were rocks and boulders.
Rocks and boulders circled the pool.
I've cut the sentence by two words. Now it's shorter, tighter, and more powerful.
What is Style?
Short answer: Style is the WAY you write. Think of it as the way you clothe and accessorize your writing.
Do you tend to write lengthy paragraphs or short? Do you overload with descriptions or lean toward the skimpy side? Are sentences clipped and to the point, or do you tend to be more round about?
One quick way to check out your style is to print an average page of your manuscript. How's your "white space?" I like my page to look pretty ragged. Big, honking paragraphs are a bad idea. I'll compare it to a meal. You sit down at a restaurant and the waiter brings you a steak the width of a dinner plate and the thickness of your thigh. And you have to eat the whole thing. Now, this might be a mighty fine piece of meat, but you'd still feel completely overwhelmed. By the time you finished it, bloated would be something you'd passed two hours ago.
Now, imagine that the waiter brings you a nice sized, bacon wrapped fillet Mignon, sautéed veggies, and a side of your favorite potato.
How do you eat it?
I'm betting you don't polish off one item at a time. Instead, you tradeoff between the three. It's the same way with your writing. Mix it up. Give your reader some description mixed with action (Sara pressed her wrinkled, tobacco stained lips together.)
Tension is like seasonings. Add it to everything. Each page, each paragraph has to have tension. If it doesn't: add it!
Chapter length varies slightly by genre. Literary fiction can go lots longer than YA. I write YA, and I feel that around 10 pages, plus or minus 2-3, is about perfect. I like my chapters to vary a bit--keeps the book interesting. Just imagine a teenager picking up a wheel block book, flipping through tightly packed words, enormous paragraphs, and 4 chapters in the entire book.
Some people will say that teenagers aren't patient enough to read that much. I'm going to digress and say that teenagers aren't patient enough to put up with the drivel. THEY WANT THE STORY, DANGIT! I'm the same way. I hate stories that go on and on and on and on and on and . . . do you get the point?
Orson Scott Card has said that he starts off with smaller chapters and gradually increases the length as the reader becomes inebriated with the story (I'm paraphrasing here. I couldn't help it. Inebriated was just such a great word!).
So how do you know when to make a chapter break? This is one of the artsy parts of writing. You start developing a feel for it as you continue. The more you write, the more your writing fits into chapters. Plotting has a lot to do with this. Each chapter should contain a mini plot, one piece of the larger picture. A writing buddy of mine, Jeff Savage, gave me an awesome tip a few years ago: Enter that chapter late and leave it early.
That one statement stuck with me. Think how powerful that is! And how versatile! How do you know where to start your book?
The example Jeff gave was a chapter that ended with his character hitting someone with a car on a dark night. He started the next chapter with the character looking down at the lifeless body. Can you see how powerful that is? He could have written about the man wrenching the car door open, his thudding footfalls as he ran up the embankment. But he skipped all of that. He began and ended his chapter with the most powerful parts.
The First 14 Lines
Arguably the most important part of your novel is the first 14 lines.
One could argue that if the cover and back of the book catch the reader's attention, the reader will then open the book and read the first page—a mere 14 lines. If they continue to like what they see, they will buy.
But there's another equally important reason.
Agents/editors pick up your MS and start reading from the beginning. If you're first 14 lines don't catch them, it doesn't matter how brilliant the rest is. They'll never see it. And neither will the bookstore patrons. So craft your first page (14 lines) with the all care and precision of a heart surgeon.
1--ABSOLUTELY NO GRAMMATICAL ERRORS.
2--*Don't start with the weather. This isn't a forecast. I don't care if the setting sun looks bruised or if thunder is rumbling in (though a few spread out lines is perfectly okay.)
2.5--Don't overdue the description. A good rule is keep it to one sentence per paragraph and no more than three paragraphs in a row before we get a break.
3--Start with tension. I try to start my novels with a mini story. One that can creates a lot of tension and can quickly be resolved (i.e.-in The Last Witch, my main character is accused of stealing.) This gives the reader insights into your character's motivations, behaviors, and social standing.
4--Show don't tell. IE-Shanna was smart. This is telling. Show me she's smart--Shanna quickly scratched out three lines of equations and masterly rewrote them. Finished, she plopped the pencil down and smiled. "Kid's stuff."
5--Please, please, please, don't 'head hop'. I HATE head hopping. Stick with one character's POV.
6--Introduce your main conflict somewhere in the first chapter. The mini story can be part of the whole plot.
7--Keep it realistic. Don't overdue the grandiose. We need to relate to your character, not laugh at their epic speeches/thoughts/quests.
8--Make me buy you're quest in the first 50 pages. I need to yearn for your hero/heroine to come together, your hero to save their world/family/farm. I'm not going to care if Hebeshon saves his gourd.
*There are no rules in writing. Only guidelines. But you have to know the rules to break them well.
Here's the first 14 lines of Witch Song.
Brusenna's straw-colored hair felt as hot as a sun-baked rock. She was sticky with sweat—sweat that trickled down her spine and made her simple dress cling to her. Her every instinct begged her to run from the glares sticking her like wasp stings. But she'd already put off her trip to the market for too long as it was.
The merchant finished wrapping the spools of thread in crinkling brown paper. "Twelve upice," Bommer said sourly.
A ridiculous price—no doubt made worse by the drought. Had Brusenna been anyone else, she could've bartered it down to half that. But she wasn't anyone else. And even though the villagers only suspected, it was enough. Careful not to touch her, the man's hand swallowed the coins she dropped in it. She wondered what marvelous things he ate to flesh out his skin that way. Things like the honey-sweetened cakes she could still smell in her clothes long after she'd left the marketplace.
As Bommer mumbled and counted his money, Brusenna gathered the packages tightly to her chest and hurried away. She hadn't gone five steps when a heavy hand clamped down on her
8 Master Achetypes for Females
1. The Boss (male version is The Chief)—motivation is control, success, career
Examples: Martha Stewart, Oprah, Murphy Brown Villain=Bitch
2. The Seductress—motivated by finding security for herself
Examples: Evita, Jessica Rabbit, Scarlet O'Hara Villain=Black Widow
3. Spunky kid—motivated by finding their own niche
- self depreciating
Examples: Bridget Jones, Lois Lane, Mimi from The Drew Carey Show. Villain=Backstabber
4. Free Spirit—motivated by following her heart
Examples: Lucy from I Love Lucy, Emma, Phoebe from Friends (hippies or ditz) Villain=Lunatic (they live in a different world and you threaten it—extreme environmentalists)
5. The Waif—motivated to be loved. Mistreated, damsel in distress.
- enduring—bending willow
- Impressionable—too trusting
- insecure—low self esteem
Examples: Rose from Titanic starts as a waif and changes to a spunky kid Villain=Parasite (latches onto someone)
6. The Librarian—motivated by intellect and knowledge
Examples: Scully from the X-files Villain=Evil Genius/Schemer
7. The Crusader—motivated by a cause.
- persuasive—especially in recruiting others to cause
- Self righteous
Examples: Mulan, Buffy, Xena Villain=Zealot
8. The Nurturer—motivated by love
- uncompromising—strong moral code
- martyr—no life because she lives for others
Examples: June Cleaver, Marry Poppins Villain=Smotherer, Matriarch
8 Master Archetypes for Males
From Tami Cowden's Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines Dynamic Heroes.
Archetypes (reoccurring symbol, model, or pattern) are created by the character's motivations and actions (the two can be conflicted).
Core Archetype—character remains the same throughout story
Evolving archetype—begins as one/transforms to another
Layered—more than one archetype
World views and attitudes—not actions of 2 archetypes
i.e.: MacGyver—warrior and professor, Rhett Butler—chief and bad boy.
Tips for creating realistic archetypes:
1. Goals must be both tangible and intangible (i.e.—Hero wants to save the farm because it's been in the family for 4 generations=intangible. Hero wants to save the farm because he needs a place to live=tangible).
2. Villains should never think of themselves as evil. Their actions seem right to them.
3. Character=views and motivations
8 Archetypes identified:
1. The Chief (alpha hero)-powerful. Motivated by the need to control.
- goal oriented
- decisive (follows through)
- married to careers
- not family guys (unloving)
- stubborn (always right)
i.e.-Fitzwilliam Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, Tony Soprano in The Sopranos, Nicholas Cage in Family Life. Villain=Tyrant
2. The Bad Boy—sons of Chiefs. Motivated by rebellion (in control of others, but not themselves).
- street smart (savvy)
- can do the right thing, but are resentful/spiteful about it
i.e. Founding Fathers, Rebels, Dr. House, Wolverine. Villain=Disfavored son.
3. Charmer—motivation=Do as little as possible to get what they want.
i.e.. McDreamy in Grey's Anatomy, Cary Grant, Charlie Harper in Two and a Half Men, Magnum PI. Villain=Devil
4. The Best Friend (often sidekicks)—motivation is to fit in and family.
- complacent/lacking ambition
- people run all over them
i.e.—George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life, George in Grey's Anatomy, Sam in LOTR. Villain=Traitor. Someone's moving on and leaving them behind.
5. The Lost Soul—motivation is to become part of the family of man
- overly sentimental
- tortured by past/disfigured/traumatized/Dark past they are trying to recover from
i.e.—Phantom in Phantom of the Opera, Dexter, Beast in Beauty and the Beast, Monk. Villain=The outcast.
6. The Professor—motivated by knowledge/truth.
- insular—don't feel emotion
- Inhibited—don't express emotions
i.e.-Spock, Gil Grissom, Dr Reed in Criminal Minds. Villain=evil genius
7. The Swashbuckler—Motivated by adventure
- unreliable/chases fun
i.e.—Hans Solo, Layne Frost (bull rider), Austin Powers, Jack Sparrow. Villain—sadist
8. The Warrior—motivated by their cause
- self righteous
i.e.—Luke and Anakin Skywalker, Maximus, Superman, Spiderman. Villain=Terrorist