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I was a psych major in college, so this is one of my biggest writing PET PEEVES.
1. If your character has lost a loved one, been raped, been tortured, has a stalker after them, etc. etc. MAKE THEM REACT APPROPRIATELY. If you have never been through what your character has been through, do some research. Read memoirs. Look up online how people cope with these situations. DO NOT assume you know what it’s like. Especially if it’s something really, really horrific. Unless there’s some big reason for it (like your character grew up in an extreme environment, has seen intense graphic battle, etc.), your character cannot watch their girlfriend be tortured and then act like a well-balanced individual the rest of the novel. CANNOT (At least not at first). Your young character cannot lose their mother, cry for a bit, and then move on. No. These are things that change a person, that deeply effect them. And if you don’t understand that, then do your research, or don’t put those things into your story.
2. If your character is going to have a mental disorder, please make sure you understand what that mental disorder is - NOT just how the media portrays it. Bipolar disorder is different from being moody. Schizophrenia is a highly specific disorder, not a broad term used for anyone who hallucinates. Eating disorders are often much more than the pressure to be skinny. A quick wikipedia search on the mental disorder is a great starting place, and can often clear up a lot of your possible misconceptions. If your story is going to center around a mental disorder, however, you need to do a lot of research. Read psych books from the library. Search the internet for a good, long while, and make sure what you’re reading is from a reliable source (like a .edu site).
3. Make sure that your character’s actions have corresponding motivations. People rarely act without reason. Even if our actions are spontaneous, there is usually a reason why we need to do spontaneous things. Sometimes we don’t understand what the reasons are - they could be buried deep, deep inside of us - but there is always a reason. You don’t have to explain your character’s reasoning to the reader, but you need to know it to be able to create convincing scenarios. If you’re stuck, try googling things like… “Why do people lie?” … “Why do people seek revenge?”
Of course the easiest solution to all of this would be for everyone to know everything about psychology. :P But that’s not possible. Luckily, most of psychology is natural - we recognize normal human behavior, and artificial human behavior. Have some fellow writers or some friends read over your work, and ask them to focus specifically on the believableness of your characters. If you didn’t catch it, they might be able to. And remember to always get more than just one opinion. (You can always message me about your characters… I’m obsessed with them right now and would be happy to help you ^_^)
“Prune out the small words that qualify how you feel and how you think and what you saw: ‘a bit,’ ‘a little,’ ‘sort of,’ ‘kind of,’ ‘rather,’ ‘quite,’ ‘very,’ ‘too,’ ‘pretty much,’ ‘in a sense,’ and dozens more. They dilute your style and your persuasiveness.
Don’t say you were a bit confused and sort of tired and a little depressed and somewhat annoyed. Be confused. Be tired. Be depressed. Be annoyed. Don’t hedge your prose with little timidities. Good writing is lean and confident.
Don’t say you weren’t too happy because the hotel was pretty expensive. Say you weren’t happy because the hotel was expensive. Don’t tell us you were quite fortunate. How fortunate is that? Don’t describe an event as rather spectacular or very awesome. Words like ‘spectacular’ and ‘awesome’ don’t submit to measurement. ‘Very’ is a useful word to achieve emphasis, but far more often it’s clutter. There’s no need to call someone very methodical. Either he is methodical or he isn’t.
The large point is one of authority. Every little qualifier whittles away some fraction of the reader’s trust. Readers want a writer who believes in himself and in what he is saying. Don’t diminish that belief. Don’t be kind of bold. Be bold.”
-From On Writing Well by William Zinsser
- Start today. We often think that we’re not ready, that we don’t know enough, that we need to do more research, that we don’t have enough time, that we aren’t yet qualified. These are all great excuses to prevent us from taking the first step. Ask yourself two questions: A) What do I want to create? B) What is the first step in creating it? You may discover that the first step is going to the store to buy yellow legal pads and a pen. Once you’ve got the tools, the next step to place these tools on a flat surface and begin writing.
For the rest of the writing tips, please visit “Ten Ways to Unleash the Writer Within“on the Huffington Post website.
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46. Go to a Mall or Park. Just walking around or sitting in a very social setting will show you the different ways people talk.
47. Listen. Listen to what other people are saying around you and how they are talking.
48. Have a Friend Read Out an Extended Conversation With You. If you have a long conversation between two or more characters, then read it out loud with a group of people to make sure it makes sense and sounds right.
49. Nuances in Speaking. Nobody speaks perfectly. In fact, far from it; each person has a unique way of speaking.
50. Learn to Love Said. Said is one of the few words a reader will automatically gloss over. Coming up with synonyms is at best unnecessary and at worse, damaging to your story.
51. Use Quotation Marks. Unless you are James Joyce, then use quotation marks. It does not matter if they are single or double; just be consistent.
52. Avoid Qualifying Said. Be careful when you add a verb next to said, such as “quickly said” or “cautiously said.” If you do your dialogue right, you won’t need those extra verbs most of the time.
53. Know Who’s Speaking. With two characters, it is easy to tell who is speaking. But if you add more, make sure that the reader can follow who is speaking.
The villain of your story needs to be just as fleshed out as his or her good-guy counterpart. To truly pit the two against each other, they need to be equally thought out in your mind.
Here are some exercises that can help you to get better acquainted with your antagonist. I would recommend that these would work just as well for your protagonist, or any character you feel needs to be filled in a little more.
- Go through magazines until you find a picture of your antagonist. Post the picture above your computer.
- Spend at least five minutes three times a week with your antagonist while writing your short story or novel. Ask questions and let him answer.
- Write one or all of the following scenes in your antagonist’s point of view, whether or not you plan to use his viewpoint in the story:
- love scene
- action scene
- flashback scene from childhood
- Choose a prop (piece of clothing, object, music, etc.) that will enable you to slip into your antagonist’s voice at will. When you write from your antagonist’s POV, wear or use this prop.
- Pretend you’re your antagonist, put a CD on, and dance in your living room.
- Pretend you’re your antagonist and write an essay titled “What I did last summer.”
- Create a timeline for your antagonist’s life. Fill it in in detail.
- Just as an actor must get into his character, spend one day as much as you can in your antagonist’s head, thinking his thoughts, holding his attitudes, being with his feelings.
- Create a collage of all of your antagonist’s favorite things.
- Choose a movie star that most reminds you of your antagonist and watch all of this star’s movies-in a row, if you can.
I feel like number three is especially useful. Even if you never use the scenes, actually sitting down and writing out scenes from your antagonist’s life will help you to build them as a real person, not just a stand-in force of evil to make your protagonists appear more awesome.
My action scene is so awkward. How can i fix it? When you are writing action, make sure to have a friend to reread it for you!
- NO. 1 action tip: Fast and furious. Action is fast and furious or else it falls flat. Which means do not bog down your action scenes with details. Do not explain that Anne ran past the alluring, old victorian-styled house and quickly hid herself behind the hawthorn hedge. When Anne is running for her life, she finds nothing alluring and only runs past a house. Do not try to write your action scenes “poetically”.
The extra details only interrupts the flow of the action. Leave out details such as description of the setting and character and explaining what is happening or what has to happen.
- Pacing is critical. The scenes before and after the action have to lead up and lead out of the action. Think “roller coaster”. Give people room to breathe. Random action scenes are random (?) and unfulfilling.
- Brutal editing. You will probably write a full action paragraph, and in the end, only use one sentence. Cut out all the extra fluffy words.
- NO. 2 action tip: Watch action. If you are not able to have family or close friends fight each other, watch a movie! I recommend watching foreign action films as well. I watched a Mexican gang movie, and it was ruthless. If you want a movie recommendation, feel free to ask! Good luck writing ♔
I have more action tips, but this is getting long. I have never seen good “poetic action” scenes. If you’ve done it, I’d love to see how it worked out! feel free to leave me a message!
“I wrote what I liked reading. I wrote about characters I was deeply interested in.” - J. K. Rowling
It matters to your readers if you care about your characters. Sometimes, like scribbling gods, we are interested in our Plots–how we can mess up the quiet lives of our characters, or how interesting we can make their situations—but the characters may not matter as much because they are being propelled by the plot. They are riding shotgun to the plot that’s really driving. They can react, white-knuckle the door, scream, maybe even fling the door wide, but they don’t get to drive, and partly because they just aren’t as interesting as the cool plot we’ve given the keys to.
Don’t sacrifice your characters for the sake of your plot. If the people in your stories are not deeply intriguing, then your story won’t be either. Build complicated, fantastic characters, and the rest will come much easier.