Showing posts with label tips for writers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tips for writers. Show all posts

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Weekend Writing Workshop #7 - How A Writer Creates Characters and Makes Them Stand Out (Part One)

So you've got a great idea for a story. You're sure it's going to work. You've got the start, middle and ending all clear in your head. It's a wicked quest, or intricate love triangle. It's a coming of age story, or it's sci-fi piece.

The world you create is one thing. And it really could be amazing. The problems may start, or have already started to poke huge cracks through your story. Whilst it could be plot holes, nursery level grammar, or something else, what can you do about it?

Look at your characters.

Are they one dimensional? You may not think so, but they possibly are. This could be a huge reason why the story isn't working. If it cannot work for you, the creator, how can it work for other readers?

Your characters have to possess multiple layers to their personality and make-up. It's not enough to say 'Sarah has brown hair.' Is it relevant to the plot?  If so, expand on this. What hairstyle best pleases Sarah? Why does she wear it the way she does? Is she trying to impress someone, or just please herself?


A serial killer could be considered one dimensional, because we could not generally envisage doing things that they do. Often they plan their kills, so this area has great scope and potential for development. It won't be enough to say 'he's bad because his father never said 'I'm proud of you, son.' There has to be a reason for why they do what they do. If you give the reader enough back-story, they'll appreciate it.

A man who leaves his wife could be under financial pressure, having an affair, esteem issues through having lost his job - perhaps all three. A man just does not get up in the morning and decide to end a 25 year old marriage. Give the reader some breadcrumbs as to why.

Vampires, werewolves, witches and demons. You know, not every vampire has to be 'hot.' Not every witch has to be cool, or own a black cat. It may not be erotic to pitch your heroine to a demon, just so she can convert his bad ways. Fantasy characters have to have certain believable elements about them. The ones I like the most are characters that could - if you stretch the suspension of disbelief enough - fit right into our world. Yes, they  may do things that differentiate us from them, but that's how it should be, right?

Don't over egg your pudding.

Sometimes, your readers will want to catch their breath. Give your characters a break too. If it's a novella, accept that you will have to keep things tight, but a full length novel lets your characters have fun, relax, smile, cry - in essence they grow and enrich the story because you have allowed them that privilege.

If you throw them from one scene to the next, eventually there needs to be a payback. The scenes must link together and be part of a bigger picture that ties up in the end. If you give your characters yet another car chase, what's the point if they had one earlier in the story?

Writing a death scene.

Your readers invest in you their time and their energy into the characters you have created. If you kill one of them off, you had better have a good reason. It's not enough to kill character AB because you ran out of story. What if you need them later? 

Write the scene with great care. Make your readers feel it. The death of anyone should have an impact. The fact that your scenes are about fictional characters should not lessen the impact if readers care about them.

Pretentiousness in your characters.

You can't have a character quoting Keats one moment before committing a stupid act in the next scene. They should not use overlong sentences to make their point. This type of badly drawn character is the one I detest the most. A character can be honourable, charming and cool. Just use the dictionary and thesaurus for what you need, then set them down and write how you truly believe they would act, and use lines that they would say. It's got to be believable, otherwise your readers won't buy into it.

More next time. Until then, happy reading and writing, and er...oh yeah, editing and re-drafting. Don't forget that little puppy.

Previous WWW Tips are here


Sunday, 28 June 2015

Weekend Writing Workshop #5 Novel or Novella? Which Should You Write?

"Just turn to the last page, alright? The water's getting cold."

It's a busy world, and all this technology has made it rather busier. We are more connected than ever before, yet perhaps more disconnected from things that we really want to do. As readers, we want stories that are engaging, characters that are interesting, plots that twist and turn, whilst serving to excite us at the same time.

Sometimes, we just don't have time to read a full length novel.

But what about writers? Don't we have to make that decision too? Do we really have time to write that full length novel. A story of some 300 pages will take a significant amount of your time, not to mention the energy required.

However, in my experience, there's no need to panic. There is no real rule (except in traditional publishing) that a novel should be a minimum of 70,000 words. And if you want my really important and special tip from me, I really do believe this:-

"The story you need to write is the one that is inside you. It will be completed only when it is completed."

What does this mean? Well, for some of you,you will need to adopt a routine for your writing. That means several thousand words a day. For others, you won't stop until a chapter or particular scene feels right.

For me, It is any and all of the above, plus this:-

"I don't actually have anything until the book is written and completed."

I am fully seized of understanding why people say 'Oh yeah, I am writing a book.'

It takes time and effort and of course, it should. But in the end, you want an end date, otherwise it is like Captain Ahab hunting his whale. He is intent on doing it, but the pursuit is destroying him. That's why the undertaking of writing a book should never be done lightly.

Maybe you start off with an idea, and writing goes well for a while, before you run out of steam at say, the 30,000 word mark. If that is so, maybe it needs a rethink, but perhaps, it is your writer-mind's way of saying 'this just isn't meant to be a full length story.'

Plenty of short stories hit the mark better than the long ones.

So make a start, and see where you go from there - and good luck!

I've just written a thousand words today - and am happy with it. At some point, you really can start to believe in your writing ability, without ego or misplaced support from others. You will know what you you have created, it's just a case of what the world will think of your creation!

Catch up on the previous writing tips here

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Weekend Writing Workshop #4: Characters or Story? Which should Writers attempt first?

Stories start with inspiration. Maybe you visited somewhere, or you saw a new programme that reminded you of a factual event, and you decide to put a fictional spin on it. Then, there are other stories that beg to be told simply based on your experience of life

And of course, a writer is inspired by the other books he or she reads.

In my case, I am inspired by all of the above, and many more I haven't listed. I mean, one of the latest books I am reading, 11/22/63 by Stephen King, is based on one of the key moments in US history, and is proudly stating the fact that it is SK's first time travel novel.

I think time travel is a tricky concept to make work, so maybe I'll do that when I'm better at the writing craft.


If you write the Story first, that's fine, but unless it is a novella or mini-novel, you'll find yourself running out of things to happen to character 1 2 or 3.

Unless your book is really tight, and features just a handful of characters, you end up adding a new character to flesh out a plot line that would have eroded with say characters 1 and 2.

The story must have a hook, or a MacGuffin, which, in the case of my favourite film, the martial arts wuxia movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, really needed. For fifteen minutes, nothing much of note happens. The cinematography is a work of art, and it is like director Ang Lee is trying to seduce the viewer with his visuals, and indeed, the film is a visual feast.

Pretty pictures alone do not a good film make, and just like your story, it must have that MacGuffin - the thing that is hard to describe to anyone else, but if it's in your story, and you have a McG....then you have a hook that will keep your readers interested.

Even when you have this in place, you might run out of steam after say 30,000 words, so a full novel won't happen. Maybe this is one story in a short story collection - you might excel at that kind of writing.

A sharp, witting, engaging story is what I believe people want. Even if it is a horror, make it fun. It doesn't have to be terror on each page, it can be paced so it creeps up on people. You can add funny episodes inbetween. Why should you do this? Well, people want to be entertained. If it is a constant barrage of depressing vignettes, you may lose your reader, even if it is a perfectly good story.

Shape your story, and you will keep your readers attention. 


If the story is like a cake with a nice texture, your characters are like the flavour of your book. If you don't like the taste, it's unlikely you'll be rooting for them. Of course, some authors go out of their way to create unlikeable characters - but that doesn't mean that they are not interesting. How many times have you read a book, hoping that the Bad Character who wants to hurt the hero or heroine of the tale will meet a grisly end (The Lovely Bones, anyone?). So bad characters may taste ugly with a capital UG....but you kind of have to have them to make the overall dessert more enjoyable!

I've read stories that were perfectly fine in themselves, but had forgettable or pointless characters. If you read about Adam's predicament on one page, then Sarah's on another, before Becky, Drew and Penelope are dropped in on you, you may have forgotten who Adam was - and worringly for the author - why you are supposed to care about Adam in the first place. 

So, what's the answer?

Everyone can have their view, so I'll tell you what works for me. I sketch an outline of the story. Now these notes could run into several pages, so sketching an outline is not a quick exercise, nor is it for the faint of heart. Sitting down and writing is hard enough without having an outline, which includes:-

  • A start
  • A middle
  • An ending
  • A brief description of each character (not necessarily what they look like or what they wear - what is their FUNCTION in the story)
  • If writing a series, try and complete as much as you can in one book before just ending it. Readers dislike books that appear to be padded out to fill a trilogy, so don't do it if you don't have enough story in the first place
  • Not every book has to have a prologue or an epilogue - do this on your terms no-one else's
Once you have your outline, look for plausibility and logic. Could the story happen? Even in fantasy worlds, it has to sound / read as a believable plot. Logic - do the characters do stupid things? If your character hears a noise in the night, but just has to go and investigate it, perhaps this needs a rethink. Sometimes hiding out of sight is an option. You'd do it in real life (unless you are totally kick-ass) so why wouldn't your characters? Just because they are fictional and free from actual harm, doesn't mean you should treat them that way. Logic must play a part in your characters' actions.

The 2am Lightbulb Moment

You're asleep, and you know you should be asleep at this time, but you awake to find ideas flooding your brain like some kind of orgasmic aneursym. DON'T go back to sleep before you jot these things down! Truly, I had a lot of inspiration after hitting the pillow. And the ideas are often good. Maybe it happens because we are truly the daytime you have to fit writing in around the cat, the girlfriend, the parent, the guy selling something of no interest at the door.  Oh dear, looking at the above, I really do need to get out of the house more!

Until next time, happy reading and writing!

Previous WWW Tips are here