Posts Tagged With: how to write

Is Your Story Stuck? 5 Questions You Need to Ask

Are you writing a novel or story and feeling stuck? Do you have the sneaking suspicion that your story went off the rails somewhere? Not sure what to do with your characters?

Don’t worry. You can fix practically any story problem just by asking yourself five simple questions:

1. Who’s really driving the action in this story?

Sometimes, we start writing a story with one character in mind, but a few chapters later, a different character takes over. That can leave you feeling stuck, and you may not even know why.

To find out if this is your problem, make a quick list of the main characters in your story. Then ask yourself this:

  • Who has the strongest, clearest, most specific goal?
  • Who has the most to lose?
  • Who appears in the highest number of scenes?
  • Who could be (or has been) hurt the worst?

Continue reading

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The Ultimate Guide to Character Motivation (Part 2)

ultimate guide to character motivation part 2Why do heroes and villains do what they do?

In Part 1 of this article, we explored Greed, Revenge, and Acceptance, three of the most powerful motivations in literature.

Now, let’s find out how you can you can create fascinating characters driven by the need for Identity, Love, or Survival.

I is for Identity

Who am I? That question lies at the core of countless stories.

A character driven to establish their identity often begins the story in a negative place, and then has a moment of clarity that tells them why they need to fundamentally change who they are. This is a common motivation for characters just starting out in life who strive to become someone better. It also works for mature characters who have fallen from grace and need to redeem themselves.

Young adult characters trying to establish their identity often come into conflict with parents, teachers, and friends who are growing in different directions.

Identity is also the motivation driving a character who is heir to a “throne” (literal or figurative) that he or she doesn’t want. The character often casts off the fate that has been preordained for them and sets off on their own path, to establish their own identity.

Identity can also be a rich source of conflict when society imposes a stereotype on a character, telling them that they have to “be” a certain way. Consequently, the character must struggle to prove their individuality. This can be a tricky motivation to pull off without falling into clichés. But if done right, it can be deeply moving.

In my Dru Jasper urban fantasy series, the heroine begins as an ordinary shopkeeper who has always regarded sorcerers with undisguised awe. But when her newfound magical powers make her a sorceress in her own right, she struggles to fit into her new identity.

Identity also often plays a part in heroic characters who are trying to make the world a better place, whether by improving society, elevating humanity, or stamping out a widespread problem. In many cases, the character’s true motivation arises from their personal quest to establish or change their identity.

L is for Love

Where would fiction be without characters motivated by love?

Romantic love is by far the most common type in fiction. But it’s also important to remember that “love” in the truest sense can also extend to the love of your friends, your family, your hometown, your country, or any other person, place, or thing.

Love is a powerful motivator. You can make any character go to great lengths simply by threatening someone, something, or someplace that the character loves.

This happens all the time in my books. Greyson, the love interest, must risk his life and even his mortal soul to save the heroine, Dru. Of course, because she also loves him, she just as often saves him in turn. These characters are series regulars, so their love is a continuing source of conflict.

Don’t write off love as a motivation for villains, either. A villain motivated by love can become not only a tragic figure by the end of the story, but also completely sympathetic and unforgettable to the reader.

S is for Survival

One of the most primal motivations, survival is at the core of most action-driven stories. For pulse-pounding excitement, not much can beat watching a sympathetic character struggle to survive against overwhelming odds.

In any science fiction, fantasy, horror, or adventure story featuring a monster with gnashing teeth, the motivation is starkly clear: don’t get eaten. It’s as simple as that.

The survival motivation also kicks in whenever a character becomes lost in the wilderness, shipwrecked, or otherwise stranded far from civilization. Plus, anytime a character is imprisoned, kidnapped, taken hostage, or captured, survival is at the core of your story.

In my Dru Jasper series, the characters are constantly faced with monsters, demons, evil sorcerers, and other deadly forces of darkness. Even though the series takes place in and around the city of Denver, there are plenty of dark alleys, abandoned warehouses, and even the isolated valleys of the nearby Rocky Mountains where the heroes must struggle to survive.

Survival can also be used metaphorically when a character’s career or marriage is at stake. The threat of losing a job or a spouse can feel like a threat to their survival, and drive a character to extremes. What new facets of the character will be revealed when they come face-to-face with their own mortality?

Exercise: What Motivates Your Character?

Pick a character from your story and ask yourself these questions. Write down the answers in your notebook. Think in terms of hypotheticals: what could happen in your story, compared to what’s actually happening. That will get your brain primed to come up with new ideas.

1. What would this character learn or change about their own identity, if they could? How might society expect them to behave in a way that goes against their nature?

2. Who or what does this character love more than anything? A friend, family member, or romantic interest? Who or what would this character do anything to save?

3. What could threaten this character’s life, if not literally, then metaphorically??

To recap, the most powerful motivations are: Greed, Revenge, Acceptance, Identity, Love, and Survival.

Think about one of your favorite stories or books. What motivates the villain? How about the hero?

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7 Keys to Creating Bloodcurdling Monsters

How to Create MonstersScience fiction, fantasy and horror stories are full of monsters. But one of the toughest jobs a writer has is coming up with creatures that are new and interesting.

When I sat down to write my urban fantasy novel A Kiss Before Doomsday, I knew that the bad guys would be undead creatures. But today’s readers have seen countless undead foes. How do you put a brand-new spin on such an old idea?

The Secret to Making Monsters

The secret to creating compelling monsters can be found in the word itself. MONSTER makes a useful acronym:

  • M is for Mind
  • O is for Origin
  • N is for Need
  • S is for Sketch
  • T is for Take On
  • E is for Eat
  • R is for Relationships

To create a truly unique, complex monster, look carefully at each of these aspects, then ask yourself questions and write down the answers. By the time you finish, you’ll have a monster that’s not only frightening, it’s also fascinating.
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4 Ways to Handle Foreign Languages in Fiction

How to Use Foreign Languages in Your NovelWhen a character in your story speaks a foreign language, should you write it out in that language, or in English?

How can you make the dialogue sound exotic without confusing the reader?

These are tricky questions.

Foreign languages can lend your characters and locations a more exotic flair, and even increase the dramatic tension in a scene.

But before you start sprinkling a certain je ne sais quoi into your prose, understand that you have four options.

Continue reading

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How Effective Is the Pomodoro Technique?

The Pomodoro TechniqueThe Pomodoro Technique is deceptively simple.

Set a timer for half an hour or so, ignore all distractions, and focus on your work.

On the surface, it seems far too simple to be effective.

But it does work. Amazingly well.

In fact, I can pinpoint the exact moment my novel-writing career took off a few years ago. It happened right after I adopted the Pomodoro Technique.

Once I started using a timer, eliminating distractions, and tracking my results, everything changed. Continue reading

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What Every Writer Should Know About Theme

What Every Writer Should Know About ThemeTheme seems to be one of those angst-triggering bogeymen that writers constantly wrestle with. But when you examine it closely, there’s really nothing complicated about it. Theme is simply the lesson the main character learns over the course of the story.

(Or, in the case of a tragic ending, the lesson they failed to learn.)

Every story, from the silliest comedy to the deepest work of literature, delivers a moral message on some level. It basically says “life is like this.”

Think about some of the most famous movie quotes of all time:

“There’s no place like home.”

“Greed is good.”

“Use the Force, Luke.”

All of those quotes point directly toward the theme of the story. Continue reading

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6 Best How-To Books for Writers

Countless best-selling authors have told me that in their early years, before they were published, they relentlessly studied the craft of writing. Consequently, I’ve had hundreds of writing books recommended to me.

Here are the very best of them all, the books I always keep within arm’s reach of my writing desk.

#1: Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody

Way back when I worked for a book distributor, Michael Wiese Productions sent me a sample copy of the original Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. I devoured that book, and it helped launch my career as a novelist.

The original Save the Cat! book series was aimed at screenwriters. This brand-new version by Jessica Brody seamlessly adapts Blake Snyder’s methods for novelists. It’s one of the best “how to write a novel” books of the decade.

Get it. Read it. Follow it. You’ll be glad you did.

#2: The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi

Whenever you or I write the first draft of the story, our characters tend to exhibit the same cliche body language: nodding, shrugging, grinning. Pretty uninspired stuff, really.

Solution? Crack open this book, which contains more than 150 pages of body language, internal sensations, and mental responses to every imaginable emotion.

Is your character determined? Show him rolling up his sleeves. Is she mortified? Show her covering her face with her hands. Instantly, this book will have your characters winking, swaggering, leaning closer, tapping their feet, tightening their fists — and coming alive on the page.

While you’re getting this book, pick up the rest of the books in this series. Believe me, you’ll use them.

#3: Writing Screenplays That Sell by Michael Hauge

Michael Hauge is a storytelling genius. He’s not only a best-selling author and inspiring speaker, he’s also one of Hollywood’s top story experts. He’s worked on projects starring Will Smith, Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise, Reese Witherspoon, and Morgan Freeman. This book is packed solid with practical, nuts-and-bolts techniques you can use to write a better screenplay, novel, short story, or any work of fiction. It’s no exaggeration to say that reading that book forever transformed the way I look at stories.

Plus, Hauge is a super, super nice guy. Every time I talk to him, I come away wiser. So check out his books.

#4: Scene & Structure by Jack M. Bickham

You really should read all of Jack Bickham’s books on writing, but this one in particular. It is packed with masterful techniques to keep readers hooked throughout a story.

Perhaps the biggest revelation in this book is the way Bickham breaks down cause and effect. Stories are told not just in scenes, but also in something he calls “sequels.” A sequel is a moment (or even a whole chapter) when the lead character emotionally reacts to the previous scene, revisits the big story questions, works through a dilemma, and decides on a new course of action.

If you want to become a successful author, you need to master the scene and sequel technique. This book shows you how.

#5: The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics by Dennis O’Neil

Even if you don’t read comic books, you can’t deny their enormous impact on popular books, movies, and TV shows today.

Best-selling novelist and comic book legend Dennis O’Neil breaks down the elements that make comic book stories work.

It’s also a fascinating primer on solid storytelling techniques that can benefit any writer.

#6: The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines by Tami D. Cowden, Carol LeFever, Sue Viders

I happened to pick up this book at the Tattered Cover bookstore nearly 20 years ago, and I have never since found a more practical guide to character relationships.

Aimed at romance writers (but useful to anyone), this book divides male and female characters into eight broad archetypes. Male types include The Chief, the Bad Boy, the Best Friend, etc. Female types include the Nurturer, the Free Spirit, the Librarian, and so on.

This is not in-depth psychology, here. But it works. Take a look at my Dru Jasper urban fantasy series. I have a Librarian named Dru and a Bad Boy named Greyson. They fall in love. By and large, the critics love them.

The genius of this book is that it shows you how the archetypes interact with each other. For example, how do the Bad Boy and the Librarian drive each other crazy? How do they work together as a team? How do they eventually change each other for the better? Read the book and find out.

What are your favorite writing books?

I’m always on the lookout for new books to add to my shelf. What titles have you found to be especially useful, interesting, or inspiring? Let me know.

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One Simple Trick to Write Everything Better

One Simple Trick to Write Everything BetterWhat if there was one single trick that could help you write better, faster, and easier than ever before?

What if that trick could help you organize your thoughts, get started sooner, and finish every writing project, from a blog post to a novel?

There is such a trick. And as a full-time writer, I use it every day.

Find out what it is on Fiction University.

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6 Secrets of Science Fiction and Fantasy World Building

6 Secrets of Science Fiction and Fantasy World Building

How do you, as a writer, build a new world that fascinates your readers, draws them in, and makes them want to come back for more?

If you write fantasy, science fiction, or horror, you need to do your world building the right way.

I’ve revealed the shortcuts and tips you should use — and the pitfalls you must avoid — over at Fiction University.

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Why You Should Never Be Afraid to Write

Writers' Forum magazine (UK)

Writers’ Forum is the leading writing magazine in the UK. Check it out.

One day, almost exactly 10 years ago, I walked into a bookstore in Hawaii and discovered something fascinating.

It was an overly large magazine, with big glossy pages that flopped over in the humid air, and it was chock-full of articles on how to write. The magazine was called Writers’ Forum.

It was from the UK, a long way away.

At the time, I was an angsty aspiring writer, so of course I devoured that magazine cover to cover, hunting for advice I could use to become a real author. I decided that someday, I wanted to see my name published in that magazine.

But was my writing good enough? I suspected not. At least not yet.

Little did I know what was about to happen next. Continue reading

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