Tag Archives: Character

More tips from the masters: On POV, character & vocabulary

As I near the end of my Write a YA Novel in 9 Months class led by authors Jonathan Maberry and Marie Lamba, I thought I’d share you with what I’ve learned along the way.

Here is part 2 of techniques and tips I’ve learned on writing for the YA or MG market.

Which POV?
1st person can be limiting. It’s a challenge to not break the one character’s POV. With 1st person you must remain in the same voice throughout the story.  Check to make sure that only the thoughts of your MC are delivered.

There are benefits to writing YA/MG in 1st person. It brings us directly close to the character, and we all know that kids are self-involved. Second, you can create internal exposition which allows for us to discover what’s going on beneath the MC. Third, it keeps us in suspense as we can’t see all that is going on.

Tip: Use dialogue scenes to give us other character’s POV without breaking from 1st person voice.

Writing in 3rd person can also be limiting. It doesn’t present the opportunity to give us all of the MC’s thoughts. The benefits are that you can hold back secrets and we can see the story from different angles. It can create suspense as we can see other parallel events happening that the MC is not aware of.

Tip: Pull off books from your book shelf and see how characters are introduced. Does it work for you? Copy what that author did.

Exercise: Write a passage where you introduce a character.

On Creating Character
Don’t name two characters starting with same first letter. For example,  David, and Deena. Or Jack and Jill. “Jack and Jill ran up the hill to kill the zombie.” We laugh instead of feeling scared for our characters because their names are so silly.

Got Character?

And please don’t use any of these names: Fred, Ted, Ed. “Howdy,”  Fred said. “Howdy yourself,” Ted said.” You get the issue here.

Have the MC describe how he sees or feels about other characters. In doing so it reveals his own character.

Show us character in the details the MC sees. The hardness of a chair beneath him, how he feels about an object, a photo the MC carries around, or the smell that reminds him of his dog back home, etc.

Stay away from clichés such as labeling a character a bully. Go deeper than that.

Simple gestures can say volumes. For example, “Josh took two steps back while Amy took two steps forward.”

If writing in 1st POV, how does the MC see the other characters through his eyes? This tells us volumes about the other characters and also about the MC.

Exercise: Write down your major and minor characters then list how they would describe themselves through their own eyes.

Exercise: Describe something from your MC’s perspective.

Vocabulary for YA/MG
Write smart. Don’t dumb down the language for kids. Kids read up.

Make sure your language is appropriate for the age. Try not to write “trendy” language. For example: “That’s fat. Cool. Rad.” It could make your book outdated later.

Exercise: Revive memories of being the age of your YA characters. Draw a picture of the neighborhood you grew up in, pin pointing details. Remember what you saw, what you felt, and how you reacted to events there.

Tip: Take a scene and strip out all words but the dialogue to see how your character’s talk. This reveals the beat of character’s words and speech. Then flow it through your book.

See tips to writing a YA Novel from the masters Part 1


Filed under Writing Techniques, Young Adult

Tormented characters: Love em’ in pain

Ahh, a tormented soul. Love them.

They fill my favorite books and movies. Angst in all forms. I love to write them. In my novel, A Human Element, coming out March 2012 our tortured hero loses loved ones through tragic circumstances and goes on to lead a life of abuse and self destruction. Can he be redeemed or redeem himself?

I loved the challenge of writing a tortured soul.  I embraced it as my comfort zone. And perhaps that’s why we love the tortured hero. It forces us to step out of our safe world for just a bit and find comfort in the uncomfortable.

I love to see how much torment we can pile on a character, how lost they become, how near the brink of desperation they reach. And then either redeem them or let their demons take them. What is it that drives us to write tormented souls? In a way we must relate to their pain on some level and that brings out the flawed humanity in them that we all have.

What about you? Are there any tortured heroes you particularly love?

Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff

Some of my favorite (and obvious) tormented souls: Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. Maximus from Gladiator. The English Patient from the movie of same name. Maxim de Winter from Rebecca (yes, I love Laurence Olivier). On a subtler note, Newland (Daniel Day Lewis) in Age of Innocence and Lewis in a totally different role as fierce Hawkeye in Last of the Mohicans. Let’s not forget the ladies, more recently with Maggie in the tragic and sad Million Dollar Baby.

A quest for peace never to be found

And I love tormented Tristan in Legends of the Fall. A massive beautiful movie, fraught with tragedy and  wonder. Add the grand landscape of Big Sky Country and sad sweet music. In a way it’s a modern King Arthur tale of unrequited love, competition for love and a lot of fighting, in war and family.

So much pain inside

Tristan is hopelessly flawed, breaking hearts and family apart with his demons. A wild child who is one with nature. Okay, he’s totally self-absorbed and thoughtless but he’s tormented. He just can’t help himself, right? As the old Indian family friend says, “He was the rock they broke themselves against”.

I love that. Have you ever done this at times in love or friendship? To the point where you lost yourself and had to break free or be dragged down? Or have you been the rock? Have the characters you write?

Okay, I admit that I am not a Pitt fan but his character got me in this movie. It may promote the cliche that women prefer jerks, but hey – aren’t some redeemable? Apparently not with Tristan. But you can understand Susannah’s attempts and years of trying to. She can’t help herself either.

He can only love when the bear inside him sleeps

Tristan’s demons never went away. They moved about inside him. He was always restless, seeking peace in self destruction over his part in his brother’s death. He could never find that peace until the bear lay sleeping inside him. He could only give in to love when the bear was dormant. When it awoke it was his master. He gave in to it in the end. He became the bear and in doing so found peace.

One with the bear

Watch the trailer again below, remember the sweeping epic of a wide open country and the beauty and darkness that comes from it. Feeling like I need to see the movie again…

Who’s one of YOUR  favorite tormented characters? Tell me here and why!

Next week its back to the bad asses. We’re getting close to Halloween so a good bad ass is just what we need!


Filed under Characters

What inspires us to write: inspiration from grief

As you know my book, A HUMAN ELEMENT, is being published in March 2012 by Echelon Press.

I wish my mom were still alive to be a part of that. But here’s the thing. If she were alive I would not have finished writing a book. I would not be getting published. I wouldn’t be here right now doing this if it weren’t for my mom.

She died from cancer 2 years ago. This strong and vibrant woman. I watched her become a shadow. And then I watched her go. I took care of her in the final moments. Then she slipped away. And I knew I had to make my dream come true. Write my first book. And then another. I had wanted to do it for years.

My mom loved to read to grandson, Joshua. Wish she could read my books now.

My mom’s life was gone. Mine half over. But mine was still here to conquer. She was always my #1 champion. I had to now my be champion.

She was my mom. My safety net. My battle of wills. She defined who I am and who I hope to be.  She was the world’s greatest character, the shining light to so many. And she’ll now be the model for a character in my newest novel.

So, I guess you could say I wrote from grief. It healed me. It comforted me. It made me feel like I was doing something for my mom.

The author, Michael Kimball, wrote his novel US from this sort place. How true his words are in this article and here.  “There is a lot of love in grief”. That is true and comforting, isn’t it?

Another author who wrote from grief is Ann Hood. She lost her will to read and write after her 5 year old daughter died suddenly from virulent strep. She eventually took up knitting to comfort her. From her healing grew the tale The Knitting Circle about a woman who loses her 5 year old daughter to meningitis and how knitting comforted her during a time of terrible anguish.

Maybe someday I’ll write about those last few days and moments with my mom. But it’s still too close for me just yet.

Me and my mom. She was the best (and afraid of water!)

So I wrote for my mom first. It was my way of talking to her then. To heal. To accomplish something I told her I always would. Now I have and I can write for me. My first book maybe the one that sits in a drawer. Don’t we all have one sitting in a drawer? Someday I’ll come back to it. Maybe. But that book led to another. And now another. And now a 4th one I am starting. All in 2 years. What a long way I have come.

So, thanks Mom. For bringing me to what I always wanted to do in my life. Write books.

I know I am not the only story like this.

What drove you to sit down and write that first book? Was it a special person or an event? What keeps driving you?

I found some answers here by other authors on what inspires them to write. Is one of these yours?

How did you finally write your first The End? Tell me here.


Filed under Inspirational

Best selling author L.J. Sellers on when a character won’t let go

I am thrilled to have best selling author on today L.J. Sellers.

Author L.J. Sellers

She is an award-winning journalist and the author of the bestselling Detective Jackson mystery/suspense series: The Sex Club, Secrets to Die For, Thrilled to Death, Passions of the Dead, and Dying for Justice. Her novels have been highly praised by Mystery Scene, Crimespree, and Spinetingler magazines, and the series has been on Amazon Kindle’s bestselling police procedural list.

L.J. also has three standalone thrillers: The Baby Thief, The Suicide Effect, and The Arranger. When not plotting murders, she enjoys performing standup comedy, cycling, social networking, and attending mystery conferences. She’s also been known to jump out of airplanes.

Today L.J. tells us what happens when she just can’t get a character out of her mind.

Lara Leaps Into the Future
by L.J. Sellers

What do you do when a minor character is so much fun you can’t let her go? You plot a novel just for her. That story became The Arranger, a futuristic thriller involving two wildly different concepts: a software technician who devolves into a killer and a national endurance competition called the Gauntlet.

This unusual story developed from several concepts that came together for me: a character I couldn’t get out of my mind, a vivid opening scene I had to use, and a growing concern about the effect of long-term unemployment on our country.

The protagonist is Lara Evans, one of the task force investigators from my Detective Jackson series. In the fifth book, Dying for Justice, Evans had a major role, and I had such a good time developing her character and writing from her perspective that I knew she needed her own novel. After five Jackson titles, I was ready to take a break and stretch my creative side.

One day as I watched paramedics carry someone out of a house, I thought: What if they had witnessed a crime? What if the paramedic became a target? Instantly, I had a premise and an opening scene. Of course, I thought of Lara Evans, who had been a paramedic before she became a cop.

Around the same time, my concern for the economy led me to wonder: Would jobs become commodities that were ripe for exploitation and crime? From there, my antagonist was born, and I knew I had to write a futuristic thriller. But I didn’t want it to be dystopian or supernatural. Like my police procedurals, I wanted it to be gritty and realistic.

Now I had 1.) a protagonist, an ex-detective working as a freelance paramedic; 2.) a setting, a distressed economy 13 years in the future; 3.) a premise and opening scene; and 4.) an antagonist to exploit the situation. All I had to do was find a way to bring it all together.

Lara Evans’ energy and physical fitness led me to create the Gauntlet, an intense contest that also includes an intellectual component and provides jobs as the prize for the winner’s state. So I plotted a story set in a bleak near-future, in which a paramedic witnesses a crime and becomes a target for a killer, then competes in a national contest. Believe me, it was the most challenging outline I’ve ever developed.

Yet writing The Arranger is the most fun I’ve ever had as a novelist, especially the breathless competition scenes. I also became quite attached to my antagonist, and his role in the story developed into a character study. Readers have already asked if this is the first book in a new series, but I don’t know yet. My own future is a little harder to predict.

Catch up with L.J. Sellers here:

Buy The Arranger on Amazon and Barnes and Noble


Filed under Authors, Characters

Love the bad ass: guys who inspire characters

I love a bad ass. I do.

Bad ass Russell

Always wanted to be one. Failed miserably at it. But I love them in the movies and books. And I especially like to write them as characters. Real life bad asses give me inspiration.

In my one book my MC lets his mean foster father go up in flames, drinks, gets off with prostitutes, but has a sweet spot for the weak and gets his butt kicked trying to be a hero. Who gives me inspiration to write this guy?

The ultimate bad ass. Russell Crowe. He kicks butt gladiator style in the movies and real life at times. He doesn’t care what you think of him. Piss off, mate. As Maximus said, “are you NOT entertained?!”

Russell kicking butt gladiator style

Let’s see if Russell fits in to the Urban Dictionary’s description of a bad ass:
The epitome of the American male. He radiates confidence in everything he does, whether it’s ordering a drink, buying a set of wheels, or dealing with women. He’s slow to anger, brutally efficient when fighting back. The bad ass carves his own path. He wears, drives, drinks, watches, and listens to what he chooses, when he chooses, where he chooses, uninfluenced by fads or advertising campaigns.

Cool and mysterious

Yep, that’s Russell all right.

He lives his roles in real life. “If you’re gonna be a pirate, wear a patch,” has been his motto.

Then there’s the claims he threatened to kill a “Gladiator” producer with his bare hands and described the climactic scene of the film, for which he won an Oscar for best actor, as “sh*t.” And the many public fights under his belt. Let’s not forget biking and smoking while eating fast food – now that’s bad ass.

Biking + smoking = bad ass

How can you attain bad ass status?
Forget about societies rules and conventions. Nothing illegal but step away from “normal”.

Be honest all the time. Speak your mind anytime it is necessary.

Master the art of brooding.  James Dean had it.  And yep, Russell’s got it.

Be mysterious. The more people know about you the more normal you are.

Have a bad ass look. Wear all black and cool sunglasses. Be a tad unshaven.

Be physically fit. Shoot a gun, ride a motorcycle, drive a stick, hold your own in a fight. Be intimidating.

Have a soft heart for the weak. Back to Russell and Robin Hood. A bad ass always sticks up for the underdog.

Get bad ass hobbies. Ride a motorcycle. Smoke. Play in a band. Throw out a good curse when necessary. (Russell. Russell. Russell. Russell…ok, I am not advocating smoking only that bad asses do it)

Be ready for anything. Most bad asses carry a knife. You gotta be handy with the steel.

Walk with a swagger that says “I don’t care what you think about me, and that’s how I know you want me.”

A good brood = sexy

Have a mean stare. Cross your arms whenever you can. And never lean against anything.

Always be nice, until it’s time to be mean. In the words of Patrick Swayze from Roadhouse, “be nice until it’s time to not be nice.” Rest in peace, Patrick.

So there’s my bad ass for today. More to come. Cause I like em’ bad.

Who’s your favorite bad ass?


Filed under Characters

I like big butts and I can not lie. Real not fake.

Oh My God, look at her butt. I mean her butt…it’s just so big. I can’t believe it’s so round. It’s just out there. Gross.
I like big butts and I can not lie.

A big, gorgeous butt

This song got stuck in my head recently.
Watching a fake butt shake did it.


Having fun on a girl’s night out recently, we gals wandered through a lingerie store. A store that sold fake butts. I didn’t know these things were on shelves for the buying. I have been lucky not to ever have to wonder about where to get one.

Then I saw her.

A big, gorgeous woman packed into a neon green lace balloon standing in the hallway between the dressing room doors for all to see. She peered behind her, admiring her greatly endowed butt cleavage and asked her friend:

“Does it look real?”
“Hmmm, Lorraine, shake it a little. Let me see.”
I was mesmerized watching undulating buttocks and thighs jiggle in delight.
“Faster, Lorraine! Faster!”
The jiggle became a blur of rippling cellulite.
“Oooh, that’s real good.”
“But does it FEEL real?”
“Hmmmm…” getting a double squeeze in. “Yep, soft and bouncy.”
“You sure it doesn’t look fake?”
“Nahh, big and grabby.”

I wanted to cheer her on and belt out:
Has your girlfriend got the butt? (Hell yeah!)
Tell ’em to shake it! (Shake it!) Shake it! (Shake it!)
Shake that healthy butt!

It was a good public butt shaking that made me realize, why DO we stuff our butts? Is it because we want attention, we want to stand out?

Nemo did this. “He touched the butt.” **whispering** He wanted to prove something.

He touched the butt. That's a pretty big butt.

As writers we want to prove we can write.
Is that what we try to do when we stuff our scenes with fake stuff? Add flowery prose. Dangle pretty adjectives and endless adverbs. Making ourselves puff up inside with our fancy sentences.

We’re shaking the fake butt.

Most people know a fake butt when they see it. It covers up the beauty of the natural butt. Every butt is different, like your book.

Don’t puff up your words to sound better.
Has another writer told you this? To not shake your words at us to say “Look at me! This is what I am trying to convey in this scene! This is what my character is feeling! This is what is happening, in case you didn’t know!” **sheepish** me.

Less IS more.
I’ve been told to say it in less. Use one description, not three. Use a simple word versus a fancy one. If its raining, just let it rain. Not. The whizzing drops flung themselves about in a hysterical, wet torrent like a raging monsoon. This is what first drafts are about. Then time to weed whack. I should know!

Do you have an image system in your book?
Is it consistent? Let’s not cram images in our books to dazzle us with fake visuals that don’t mean anything. They have to make sense, connect us to a character, an event, or a place. I admit to being a butt stuffer at times with this.
**sheepish** again. It’s when I go back in editing I hope I pull most of it out. All that stuffing covers up what you’re book is really about. What your premise is. Who your characters are and what they experience.

Ask yourself.
What are you shaking? Are you the real thing or fake? Be you.

A bigger butt isn’t going to make you more glamorous. It just covers up something great hidden underneath. I should know. My butt is big enough!


Filed under Comic Relief, Writing Techniques

Write-On Wednesdays! A.L. Sirois On Targeting the Short Story Process

I am excited to have author, artist and musician Al Sirois on today.

Al Sirois

Al is talented writing across genres and media. He writes novels, short stories, flash fiction, white papers, newsletters, brochures, press releases, web content, book and music reviews, and song lyrics. Add ghost writing to his long skill set too. He’s been publishing since 1973 and has been nominated for the Nebula Award and the Pushcart Prize.

He also claims to be a decent drummer and cook! Plus he is great to have as a classmate in our Write a YA Novel in 9 Months class when sage advice is needed on the craft of writing.

I asked Al to tell us today about his process for writing short stories.

Targeting Story Length
By A.L. Sirois

Probably my favorite form of fiction – to write, at least – is the short story. I’ve written dozens and dozens of them over the years. The first story I sold was very short, about 450 words. Today it would be called “flash fiction”.  Back in the day, it was called a short-short.

My second sale was about twice as long. Since then I’ve sold stories of all lengths from tweets of 140 characters up to novellas of 20,000 words. My average length seems to be just over 4,700 words.

When I started writing I had no concept of length insofar as planning a story. I simply wrote until I came to the end. After I started to sell, however, I decided to figure out the optimum length of a story. That is to say, what length would give me the best return for my effort? It so happened that at that time, the mid to late Seventies, when the magazine market was a good bit healthier than it is now, 7,000 words was pretty much in the “sweet spot.”

There were a couple of reasons for this. For one thing, that was a very good length for magazine editors, because they could run four or five stories of about 7,000 words each by different authors, whose names they could use on the magazine cover to attract buyers. Longer slots were reserved for the Big Names. So if you were a newbie, you stood a better chance of selling a 7,000-word piece than one of 10,000 words, let’s say.

For another thing, pay structures were such that a writer got a good pay day for a story of that length as opposed to one of 3,000 words (or 450).

So I started thinking in terms of 7,000 word stories. This meant paring down some ideas, or expanding others. It limited the number of characters and scenes, forcing me to be both precise and concise. Every word had to count… no more could I just spew the stuff out. I had to plan everything. In other words, I had to focus my writing.

So I suggest that when one plans a short story, one should keep a target length in mind.  Turn the initial idea around this way and that, and decide how much story the idea can realistically bear. This protects one from sprawl and forces one to limit one’s staging.

I know ahead of time, then, how many characters the story will tolerate. I can plan where I have to put the various pieces of infrastructure such as plot points and pinch points. I know how long the set-up is, how long the third part “attack” is, and where the mid-point shift occurs.

Al's Think Tank

I find that when I follow these rules, far from restricting my creativity, I am actually stimulating it because I have placed boundaries around it that ramp up the tension. Because I allow myself only so many words in which to create a scene, the action and emotional content of those scenes becomes distilled, refined.

Do you have to have all this in mind from your story’s initial concept? No… but it won’t hurt to give it some thought early in the process. It could be a valuable tool to add to your kit.

Thanks much Al for your advice and focused process in the making of a short story!

Find Al here:

Friend me on Facebook –alsirois
Twitter – @alsirois
Blog – www.alsirois.com/2009/wordpress/

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Filed under Authors, Writing Techniques

Write-On Wednesdays! Thriller Author D.L.Wilson On Making Characters Count

I am excited to have  thriller author David Wilson on today, writing as D.L. Wilson.

D.L. Wilson

He is the author of the bestselling thriller, UNHOLY GRAIL, by Berkley Books which has been translated into 8 foreign languages and is getting international rave reviews. Check out his latest thriller, SIROCCO, by Mont Clair Press.

Find David here : www.dlwilsonbooks.com
Read the first 9 chapters of SIROCCO SiroccoFreeChapters
Listen to an audio excerpt here

David gives us his in-depth view on how to make your characters count.

Making characters count
During my introductory years as I attempted to learn the basics of novel writing, I heard repeatedly the importance characters contribute to the success of a novel. Authors kept repeating the fact that characters count and they count big relative to the success of most novels.

Characters Must Come Alive
An author must create characters that readers can relate to. The people in our stories give meaning and dimension to the plot. Characters must come alive with the words we use to describe them. Readers must be able to visualize each character and relate to them as if they were real live people.

Thriller author Michael Palmer writes a detailed 2-3 page summary of his main characters’ lives—upbringing, family, habits, likes, dislikes, living situation, job history, education, and personality traits. I even go so far as to find physical traits of actors and actresses from TV and movie magazines that give me a visual image of my characters. I clip out a number of pictures relating to each of my primary characters and include them in the profiles. I scan the pictures into my character profiles summary of each character.

Use Computer Technology
I use two monitors on my computer. One is for the manuscript of the novel I am writing and on the other monitor I either display my Novel Analysis Form, photos of scene locations, technical research relating to a scene, or my character profiles. My Novel Analysis Form is a detailed outline of the novel done on a Word Table. It includes columns for Chapter/Scene, Time, Story Line, Point of View, Characters, Tension/Conflict, Setting, and Comments.

When I’m writing about any of my main characters, I keep their profiles on my second monitor to provide me with an intimate glimpse of who they are. It is important to make characters real and believable, as well as very exciting, allowing readers to relate to each character and try to project what they will do next as the plot progresses.

Thriller Characters Should Thrill Readers
Some readers and authors will say that the characters are not as developed in thrillers. Characters play an important role in every genre including thrillers. They may not be the primary focus of some novel genres, but they must always be interesting, captivating people. I try to provide the characters in my thrillers with both external struggles relating to the basic premise of the novel to solve the escalating threat and internal struggles relating to his or her life.

The interplay of these two types of struggles continues until, at the climax, the resolution of one gives the protagonist the skills, insights, and wherewithal to resolve the other. The internal struggle helps the readers empathize with the protagonist, and the external struggle helps drive the momentum of the story to an exciting climax. In thriller novels, the characters should thrill readers.

Your Characters Should Be Real Live People
Creating real live people requires your characters’ language and speaking to match their personalities. Dialogue must add dimension to your characters. Readers must hear them and visualize them in order for them to be a real part of the story. Every bit of dialogue should contain some level of tension that will advance the story.

Dialogue should be straight and to the point, not filled with extraneous words and phrases that would make it boring. When I review my lines of dialogue, I think about eavesdropping on a conversation in a restaurant. If you wouldn’t eavesdrop on the dialogue you have written, rewrite it. Good dialogue is hard to master, but it is vital to creating characters who count.

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Filed under Authors, Characters, Writing Techniques

More Hot Tips from the Philly Writer’s Conf: On Character

Still lots of good stuff to report on from the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference June 3-5!

More notes on character – presented by Gregory Frost, Author of ShadowBridge and many more works.

Grab readers in your first para with the MC’s voice. Create image of MC in our mind from the get-go.

Don’t rely heavy on character description. We need their voice to build character in our mind.

Don’t give reader everything in building character.

Don’t stop the “movie” to explain. Avoid all urges to explain. STOP. Repeat. Again. Avoid all urges to explain!

Present events and let them pass before reader’s eyes so they can judge what is going on.

Characters must show reactions to situations, not reactions by the author.

Don’t lead reader by the hand. Let them find out.

TIP: Write first draft of few pages to explore characters. Start out intuitively to write these first pages of your novel. Stop so far in (20+ pages). If it seems to be working then stop and outline entire book.

Element to characters:
Desire. All that happens in the novel occurs because of desire.
MC wants something bad enough and will do anything to get it. Your MC must yearn for something. Show us early on in the book what your MC wants, yearns for.
Not sure who’s story it is? Pick the person who suffers the most, hurts the most. Make it that person.
Decide who tells the story best.

Exercise to do to create a detailed character:
Choose a container, wallet, jewelry box, laundry basket, any etc. and make a list of what your character(s) keeps in this place. Choose the right items that ring true for each character.  Make it detailed to create a unique an identity from this list. Can you find elements for narrative thread from the list?  (ie. Theater stubs, what happened before/during or after). If so, add them in to book.

NOTE: Get Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction (book). Used as textbook across campuses. Expensive. Try locating on EBay.


Filed under Characters, Writing Conferences, Writing Techniques

Hot WritingTips from the Philly Writer’s Conf: On Plot

Kelly Simmons, Author of Standing Still & The Bird House on Plot

Kelly gave us great ideas on how to prepare the plot of our book BEFORE writing it so we don’t get 80 pages in & have to re-write it all.

On Plot: Ride the 7 C’s
Tip: Combustion and Coordination are most important

Most plot problems from beginning. Creating a premise with such interesting characters and high stakes will automatically inspire interesting plot and things to happen with combustion. Start properly vs. revise. Build tension. Create combustion plus conflict as it relates to premise. Look at your plot and see where you can add those what-ifs and extra high stakes.  The engine of your plot is your premise. Then combust it. Then add higher stakes.

Your book’s premise must answer these questions.
1. Where are we?
2. Who is the lead?
3. What do they want?
4. Why should we care?
5. Where are they going?

Example: Jason and Joshua are brothers who attend the same high school and learn of a Columbine-esque plot about to go down the next day. The novel unfolds over 24 hours when they must save their classmates. Now we have possibilities for more conflict. Make better:  Jason and Joshua are twins. They are in love with the same girl. Their Dad is a cop and comes to the scene. Jason doesn’t know Joshua has a gun. Mother committed suicide by gun. Twins have an invalid sister in a wheelchair and both want to save the sister. Com-BUSTED!

Action + Voice + Setting + Premise must all be coordinated together for your story to flow. Before writing, experiment with POV to see if a good fit for your premise. Exercise: Write down plot premise. Then write down opening scene in different voices.

Stuck in the middle? Add some conflict. This can get you out of that sagging middle we all dread. Change locale, add excuse for an argument, add a surprising situation. Kelly echoed Gregory Frost in emphasizing here the 3Ds of writing conflict: Desire + Danger = Drama.

Look at your characters voice. Strip out all prose/exposition and just look at their dialogue to see the beat of their voice. Flow their beat throughout the book. Step outside of your outline to listen to your characters as they grow through your book as they may change from your outline. Ie. Would this character do this or that? Is that true to them and their voice? Maybe it was in the beginning but not now.

Give the reader a character they enjoy. A character you sympathize with, a character who longs for something and then take away what they most want. Give the reader a character to enjoy – but not necessarily like.

Wrap up your novel in a satisfying way that serves the premise and reader anticipation. Tie up loose ends.

Know when to end. Is your book too long? Then look at where there is overwriting. End sooner if need be. Too many plot points can be too much – know when plot is done.
Tip: Where should novel start? Write the synopsis and elevator pitch first to find out.
Tip: To make your writing stronger brainstorm more and (over)write less.

What quadrant of writer are you in? Dreamer * Outliner * Non-Outliner * Doer.  Find a good combo of two. Ie. Combo of being a non-outliner and dreamer might need more of the “doer” in them to get the writing done. For me, I am an outliner and a doer but I need more of the dreamer in me to sit and “think outside the box” and be creative.

Different plots = Different Styles Some plots demand a particular type of writing. Ie. Thriller/suspense should have action first, scare readers early on, fast pace, punchy dialogue. Exercise to do: Write opening paragraph or page in different voices. 1st person, 3rd person, 3rd person limited, Omniscient, even 2nd person (very difficult! Hard to write)

Now plot on!


Filed under Plot, Writing Conferences, Writing Resources