Posts Tagged novel writing
Those who visited my blog in the spring of last year may remember how I came about to publish my ebook Bad Daughter; since, in the greater scheme of things, this is rather a trifling detail, I can’t hold it against you if you do not. Still, for the purpose of this post, allow me to briefly recap the event that led to this mismanaged milestone in my writing career.
Around mid-April 2017, I came to learn about a fiction writing contest being hosted by Amazon UK for international authors old and new to win large in distinction as well as cash. The contest had been open for some time and there was just over a month left to the deadline, after which, the entered stories would be reviewed by a panel of renowned authors and publishing wizards assembled under the banner of, what is basically, the most influential book distributor of our time. A challenging feat, especially given the time constraint, but since the rules were fairly simple, I decided to give it a go. All I had to do was publish a story of above 5,000 words via KDP Select that was never before circulated in any form or medium. Right? Wrong.
My genius plan was that, even if I didn’t win first prize but my story was shortlisted, I could make some very important people in the industry sit up and take notice of my writing. Talk about being jacked up on confidence. What I missed was the inferred rule, i.e. the competition wouldn’t simply be on the storytelling aspect of each entry but will also factor in how much sales and positive reviews they generated before judges even took notice (because, obviously, any competition that commits £20,000 for the first prize would probably attract a hell lot of authors). But misconstruing the fine prints wasn’t my true inadequacy; it was my lack of vision and the inability to set my priorities in the correct order.
I had been toying with a story idea for some time for which I had just enough research materials to concoct a simplified plot with a justifiable character arc to produce a sizeable novella. At the time, I was convinced it was the perfect solution for this short order. Since the premise, too, was a notable departure from what I was used to writing, I felt this was a good opportunity to embark on something new without compromising too much of my time for the novel I was already working on.
It was still women’s literature but I knew even before I began writing that, for the sake of the central theme, the tone and style would have to differ substantially from my previous fictions. While I generally write contemporary romances with elements of chick lit for adults, the story I was planning to write was literary fiction banked on own voices appealing more to YAs and NAs. Yes, I was as confused about how to categorize my novella as this sounds. Already, I was beginning to wrinkle the fabric of my potential success. But I allayed my worries with the knowledge that this story would be published under a new pen name using my first and middle initials instead of the full name [not very original, I know].
As the first draft practically wrote itself, I finally began to comprehend how important a story I had to tell – one that was truly worthy of the public’s attention. Using fear of social stigma to silence victims of child sexual abuse too often begin from home and it needs to stop regardless of the source! Though my grasp of the subject was still not as extensive as my growing interest would have it, my opinion on the matter was decided. The route to fighting back abuse is through discussion, not silence, I felt. So I began to want to use my novella to get that discussion rolling. Perhaps, some vain part of me also egged me on with the notion that the subject may indeed get me past those thousands of entries into the top ten list, but I was also becoming uncomfortably aware that I could no longer play fast and loose with such a fundamental subject as this if I were to succeed.
Perhaps I should have stopped myself from publishing the novella then. Perhaps I should have forgone the contest and strived to write a full-sized novel with a stronger structure and clearer moral before making the ebook available to the public. Alas, I was too myopic to realize that stoking my pride because I had publically committed to entering the contest now could come back to bite my fulsome behind if my story was too inconsequential to impress the readers.
I pushed through and I was actually satisfied with what I had accomplished – over 37,000 words drafted and edited and compiled for publishing in less than a month! And the contest, too, was such a platform to get this story out on. It was like a fire had been lit under me and I had become desperate to get a book published under my name [albeit with only my initials]. The result? In my haste, I wrote my choppiest story to date and put it up for sale. What a stellar beginning to my career as a professional author.
If you are sneering at me, you are welcome to. Heaven knows I have directed enough sermons at me on the detriments of using shortcuts to achieve success. No sooner did I publish the ebook, I decided to rewrite it, to be shuffled entirely back to front. I thank my stars now that I didn’t go for print simultaneously and could sell only four copies of the ebook. Two of them were purchased by friends so I can always tell them when I upload the revised content but I feel sorry for the two schmucks who thought to give an unknown author an opportunity to prove herself. Hopefully, they will get the update notice that Amazon promises whenever an ebook content is updated.
You must be wondering why I have gone off the hinge berating myself on the eve of Valentine’s Day, confessing my most shamefully shoddy undertaking. Well, I know how authors are always chasing due dates; it is entirely easy to break down under pressure or be enticed by the opportunity of a publication, but don’t do it until you are absolutely sure your story is ready to be read by your audience. Not only will you be hampering the opportunity to write that compelling story within you, you will be doing your author self a disservice.
In other words, don’t be an impatient fool like me.
author advice, author confession, Creative Writing, daily post, Daily Prompt, novel writing, publishing tip, self-publishing, writers life, Writing, writing career, writing fiction, writing struggles, writing tips
So I have returned – my health rallied and my mind itching to get things moving. Though my doctor has informed me that I will need a second [precautionary] surgery to fully eliminate any danger, it will be some time before she again puts me under the scalpel – or scoop, in my case.
Anyway, I realized something about my author self in this past month of doing little more than lying in bed. I’m never more desirous to work on my novel as when I am experiencing a physical or scheduling constraint. It’s just as when I was slaving away like a house-elf for the corporate sovereigns. Then, too, I was desperate for the day when I would finally break free of my executive commitments and start writing the stories I am meant to write.
The day after my farewell at the office, I sat down at my laptop and wrote for nearly seven hours in one stretch. That first day, I had become unaware of any physical want that may draw me away from my creation; the consciousness of hunger, bladder pressure, or optical stress lay dormant before the high of being able to write without accountability to anything but the words adding pages to my manuscript. I ended up drafting the second half of my first [complete] novel in just over three months. Ecstasy!
That raw energy petered off all too quickly. Not that it bruised my ego at the time, as I fell back on the comfort of the new diversions that came my way. First, it was the online fiction writing course I did at the beginning of this year, which took eight weeks to complete. The exercise spurred me into writing a series of random flash fictions and short stories. By the time that was over, I was blogging on a daily basis. The challenge of responding to the WP Daily Prompt was so attractive and exhaustive that I allowed it to become an excuse to not begin editing my novel – after all, editing isn’t as much fun as drafting.
Then there was the Amazon writing contest, which at least got me to draft, edit, and publish my first [sellable] novella. A major milestone. And because I managed to accomplish the feat in less than a month, I felt motivated to dedicate more of my time and effort to writing fiction and consciously reduced blogging to twice a week. Sad to say, I didn’t devote myself to the endeavor nearly as much as I should have.
The shameful truth is I became lazy and complaisant. There’s plenty of time, I thought. After all, if I can produce and amend over 37,000 words for publication in less than 30 days, how long can it take to revise one 75,471-word draft? All I need to do is give two months to the task; maybe even less since the chief story was already written down. Pffft! Piece of cake! I got this!
And then this surgery. BOOM! Suddenly, my mind was flowing with scenes and prose, plots and characters for a new novel. Suddenly, I knew exactly which chapters I needed to slash from my first novel and what I should write to replace them in order to arrange the arcs of the story and characters into one cohesive piece. Yet, there I was, having to hold back the reins because I couldn’t even so much as sit up on my ass as type a page on my laptop.
Oh! How I writhed. I could take pills to allay the sting of my wound but there wasn’t any respite from the slow agony of the words blooming in my head, awaiting harvest. I was on edge with the heavy knowledge that these ideas could slip away just as quickly as they surfaced if I didn’t document them fast enough. This galvanizing commotion could quell at any moment. It made me irritable.
But, still, I misdirected the blame.
Arrogantly, I assumed that my problem was the inability to convert all this creative verve into anything productive. That it should return at such an inopportune time. If it weren’t for this stupid surgery, I could be listening to the symphonic clacking of the keys on my laptop, basking in the pride of writing fiction once more. The fault lay in my illness.
The fault did lay in my illness but the true nature of that illness dawned on me only when I went for a follow-up at the hospital. “Another surgery in a few months’ time.” No sooner did I realize that there will be another episode of lengthy convalescence in my near future when I wouldn’t be able to write that I finally came to term with the real threat. That I had been whiling away not-writing fiction for many months before the surgery took place. That before the advent of this renewed desperation to work on my novels, I had so easily settled into recuperative sluggishness because it was no different from the sedentary state I was already living. The recovery period is a mere month or so; what was I doing with my time when I was healthy?
I wasn’t having a mortality crisis but neither was six weeks a death sentence. Instead of grinding teeth over my temporary infirmity, I should be frowning upon my enduring wastefulness. Because despite my confidence in being able to write and publish a novella in under a month when I put myself to the task, the truth was that I wasn’t putting myself to the task. So I haven’t got this at all. I lacked industry, I lacked commitment.
Because speaking of that mortality crisis I wasn’t having, six weeks could have been a death sentence. It would have been a sorry end if I didn’t have at least one or six bestsellers to my name when the time came. And how mortifying when all those people who called me foolish for giving up a flourishing career to build castles in the cloud were proven correct. How would I even show my face to them then? Closed casket for me!
You know, we, writers, often take procrastination as part and parcel of the profession. We console ourselves with the idea that idleness does not really exist for us because we are always observing, formulating. A more stirring precept to hold fast to would be that we are slowly dying. There is just no time to waste.
Via: Daily Prompt – Panacea
Naming characters is one of my favorite activities in the fiction writing process. There are so many beautiful names out there, entrenched in the regions from whence they originate, the time in which they were first derived, the meaning hoped the bearer would inculcate – as a storyteller, I feel as though we are blessed with the opportunity to use so many of them. Without having to really populate the earth with our progeny, of course.
But naming characters requires some thought. Once our story is published, we’re stuck with them, so choosing names should be done wisely. And it’s not only the main characters that require such deliberate consideration. Think Mr. Thomas Gradgrind in Charles Dickens’s Hard Times. Though not quite the minor character, he was no protagonist either; but his name was selected precisely for its phonetic traits, which were meant to be attributed to the role he plays in the plot. Mr. Gradgrind was a middle-class businessman and later MP, but more importantly, he was the head of an educational system that only ever dealt in facts and had no patience for the human frailties known as emotions. He ground the rules and morality into the students and he graded them on their ability to churn out factual statements. Anything more or less was unacceptable, even among his own children. The reason we cannot fully hate him, even though we are wary of his methods and can immediately sense the ominous results they portend, is because he genuinely believes his methods are there for the benefits of his charges. Such is the tragedy of the man Gradgrind and his name squarely sets that tone among Dickens’s audience from the very first paragraph of this iconic novel.
Now, I do not consider myself anywhere as accomplished as Dickens or Shakespeare in choosing character names but there are some great directions I rely on. I thought I’d share them with you this week:
Time Period. Not so much as the period in which the story is set, but rather when the character in question was born. Certain names come into vogue in certain eras and this is a good clue to keep in mind when putting the backstory together for the character.
Locality. Another important factor in making the character feel real is giving them a name popular in the region where they hail from. This obviously may be the place where they were born but another avenue one can take is naming the character after the place of their ancestors. One of the things I truly appreciate in the stories written by today’s authors is how diverse their characters are starting to emerge as, rightfully reflecting the globalized communities of our real-time world. If the author wishes to enhance on that, they can easily factor in the character’s ancestral region as source of their name.
Parents. To reflect upon the riddle from The Conjuring 2,
I am given and I am taken.
I was there at you first breath,
But you did not ask for me.
But I will follow you till your death.”
Our names are given to us by our parents/guardians. Therefore, our names are as much a reflection of who our parents/guardians are as who they hope for us to grow up to be. It is only later through the passage of life that our names begin to engender the traits that become us through our accomplishments or failures. Until then, our names are really the properties of our parent’s/guardian’s hopes and dreams. How is that for the name being an important part of the character backstory?
Genre. We can just as easily rely upon the fictional realm in which the characters exist. Depending on the theme of the story, we can name the characters to symbolize the story’s distinctive features, e.g. a whacked up title like Lord Voldemort for an evil wizard bent on being unique and reigning over magic and non-magic folks alike. Obviously, Adolf Hitler was taken.
Root Meanings. Or we may name the characters the way parents often name their children in real life – to attribute certain qualities upon the bearer of the name. I always found it curious that Emily Deschanel’s character Temperance from the popular TV series Bones should have been named thus by her outlawed parents. Perhaps they wished for her to have a more moderate lifestyle than they experienced. In any case, Temperance Brennen certainly did grow up to demonstrate restraint in all things emotional, which allows her to so objectively and pragmatically view the world around her. However, we can get more creative with this where, instead of simply picking qualities for names, we name characters after roots of the characteristics we hope for, e.g. naming a very pious woman “Lisa” (meaning Devoted to God). There are a great many websites dedicated to relating the roots and meanings of each name. I started off with behindthename.com but trendier sites have cropped up since.
Alliterative Names. I love alliterating when writing. I know it is almost taboo in the author craft management community (unless specifically used as humor, of course) but there you have it – it is one of my writing vices. But you know where alliteration is perfectly acceptable? Names. Daniel Deronda, Peter Parker, Severus Snape, Bugs Bunny, Steve Stifler… Regardless of genre or medium, history is full of famous fictional characters with alliterative initials for their names.
Pronunciation. Speaking of alliteration, it does make for some tongue-twisting prowess to make them roll off the tongue. A character’s name should ideally be easy to pronounce without needing an instruction manual from the author. However, sometimes authors like to throw us off on purpose to add mystery to the characters, e.g. in Jane Eyre, until the titular character tells her young student Adele her name and Adele repeats after her, who – other than people from old England – could have guessed Eyre to be pronounced “Aire”? I always thought it looked more like “ire” myself (but that might be due to my personal rather-abrasive feelings towards the author). Or the fact that my brother still protests, “What the hell kind of name is Her-my-oh-knee? It’s supposed to be Her-me-own!” Well, take it to the Greek. While Brontë and Rowling could get away with it, not all of we possess the genius to follow suit and survive.
Name Generators. If the above guidelines are of no help to finding you the perfect name, chuck ’em and just generate a name online such as with fantasynamegenerators.com. This particular website, really a cure-all for me, has a solution for all sorts of permutation-combination of names according to genre, region, pop culture, and whatnot. Also, sometimes it’s just fun to click around to see what the site spews up.
A FINAL WORD OF CAUTION
The idea of coming up with names for your characters is to make them sound realistic (unless you are deliberately aiming for exotic) that is in keeping with the theme and setting of the story. However, at the same time, one needs to cross-check that the characters’ names do not echo in the real world, i.e. to avoid at the best of one’s ability to have a real-life person come back and say you stole their name for your character. Remember: in fiction, murderers have no middle names. It is a trick of the trade to leave out the middle name to avoid accidentally matching your character names with real people. The good news is that while editing, you still have the opportunity to change the names of your characters as many times as you like – only also remember to change the name EVERYWHERE that it appears in the manuscript.
Once you have named your characters, for the sake of skillfully managing them, try to keep the names consistent, which is, there should be a standard name by which the character is addressed unless there is a certain sect within the story which addresses the character with a variant or pet name, as well as dissimilar to other characters, i.e. try avoiding too many characters with names starting with the same initials, similarly sounding names, or names that rhyme with one another, etc.
But most importantly, have fun naming names!
[Now, for a personal message: This will be my last WRITING CHRONICLE post for the month of November as well as what I am assuming the first-half of December. I will be posting a blog for WEDNESDAY REFLECTION this week too but after that I’ll be out of commission until somewhere mid-December or however long it will take to recuperate from the surgery I will be undergoing next week. Not to worry! At this moment, the doctor says it is a precautionary measure and we will know more once the post-surgery tests are completed. Wish me luck because I hear it’s going to hurt like @#$% once the local anesthesia wears off!]
author advice, character creation, character names, Creative Writing, daily post, Daily Prompt, fictional character, naming characters, novel writing, story, writers, Writing, writing fiction, writing tips
Last week, for the final #AuthorToolboxBlogHop post of the year, I discussed how to find your character’s voice. It only seemed fitting that this week, I write about what to do with that voice once you have found it. That’s right, I’m talking dialogues.
Dialogues (and accompanying actions, of course) make up the parts of a novel I prefer to read most. In fact, they were a major determinant in the selection of my favorite authors. The more dialogues a story offers, the quicker I fly through it. Because that is precisely one of the advantages that dialogues provide – the ability to move the plot forward. Dialogues reveal new information and secrets that may deepen the conflict or bring about resolution. They make the reading easier by breaking up blocks of expositing prose and instead present a sense of unfolding action, quickening the pace in turn. In fact, did you know that, when perusing books in a store before purchase, readers often look for the amount of white space in the layout to determine how much dialogue the story contains and thus how quick a read it might be? I wonder if that is considered cheating, though.
Dialogues also have the ability to make characters seem more real. For one, real people don’t spend every waking hour observing and contemplating the world around them. No, they converse, they take action. But not only does adding dialogues to the story makes the characters come alive but it also provides a tool to reveal more about the characters. You can expose a lot more about a character’s backstory (and in a much more interesting way) by injecting habits, thoughts and beliefs, dialects and accents, vernaculars and technical jargons, etc. in a few quick dialogues than would be necessary with endless passages of exposition. Dialogues are a medium to strengthen a character’s voice, making it more distinct and consistent over usage, as well as to express the dynamics of the relationships they have with other characters.
There’s a lot you can do with dialogues. And as with any ambitious instrument, they are tricky. Some writers have a natural ability to write interesting dialogues – Jane Austen, Jennifer Crusie, and Julia Quinn to name a few of my favorites; others have to work at it. For the most part, it really requires an observant pair of ears. Yup, eavesdrop until you get the hang of emulating the way people speak. Or else, the following tips may come in handy:
Expositing. It is necessary to remember that people don’t constantly launch into soliloquies or solo productions in their day-to-day lives. The “di” in dialogue signifies an exchange of continuously flowing discourse between two or more persons, and therefore, should not be generally used by a character to narrate the story to another. Even when one character is in the middle of describing an event, other character(s) present should be reacting and responding – unless there really is a podium involved. But even so, keep the presentation short and cover it mostly through brief narratives.
Using fillers. Then again, not everything in real life should be imitated in art. While people often dawdle in small talks before getting to the meat of their conversation, there is little need to weigh down the dialogue in fiction with small talks between characters. If it is not revealing anything important about the plot or characters, ixnay on the chitchats.
Over narrating. Another mistake is giving blow-by-blow accounts of actions that surround the dialogue. Suppose a character throws a tantrum, saying something hateful to another character followed by a walk-out, there is no need to explain the character is angry. The dialogue and actions are sufficient. Let your characters show the readers what they feel and mean; you stick to editing.
The right dialogue tags. Which brings us to dialogue tags. With an endless supply of adverbs, it is often tempting to use the “he exclaimed” and “she retorted”. However, sometimes the “he said” and “she said” suffice. Using too many variations of dialogue tags may become obtrusive, and thus, distracting. Once in the flow of the dialogue, readers much rather forgo of all the additional explanation of how the characters are conducting their exchange; some of it sort of ebbs and flows into the momentum.
Injecting actions. Then again, sometimes action narrations may be used to replace dialogue tags. For example, in a scenario where the hero and heroine are immersed in serious flirtation, their body language can speak volume more than mere dialogue tags:
Eric tilted his head towards Vanessa, a corner of his mouth tipping up suggestively. “How do you feel about taking this conversation to someplace more private?”
Forgoing dialogue tags altogether. Again, sometimes when the dialogue between two characters picks up momentum, after initially setting up the format to show which paragraph of dialogue is being spoken by whom, the dialogue tags may be abandoned:
Don’t be so judgy,” Shabnam advised after putting some distance between them and the boys.
Obaira watched where they were walking to avoid making eye contact with her cousin. “What do you mean?”
“Here’s the most handsome boy in our batch paying you so much attention and you are doing your best to put him off. If I know you – and I do – that means you have something on your mind and it’s not pretty.”
Her cousin did know her too well. “Well, don’t you think it’s suspicious that he starts paying me attention right after I won the contest?” she whispered, looking over her shoulders to make sure the boys wouldn’t overhear. “I mean, we barely ever spoke before – other than to exchange a couple of class notes, that is.”
“I would think that that just proves like is attracted to like.”
“For a nerd, you’re pretty slow on the uptake.”
Shabnam rolled her doe-eyes. “Well, he is the top student in our class and you the top girl.”
~ Excerpt from Bad Daughter by Yours Truly
However, notice even while most of the alternate paragraphs did not have dialogue tags or action narrations, every once in a while I reinstated a tag or action to re-acquaint the reader with the character speaking a specific dialogue. While forgoing dialogue tags can help quicken the pace, going without them for too long can also make the sequence confusing.
Getting grammatical. Going back to the realism of dialogues, also important to remember that most people aren’t overly critical of using correct grammar in their everyday conversation. Vernacularly speaking, it is not “The King and I” but more “Me and the King”. So, depending on the education level and upbringing (and sometimes the era) of your character, best if they speak the way people of their time and culture would speak in an everyday setting.
Signs of hesitation. But then, in our every day, we do tend to fumble for the correct words a lot as we speak. Not the right move when writing dialogues. While using an “err” or “um” on occasion is okay (particularly when trying to emphasize a character’s hesitation or confusion), it is quite unnecessary in the general use and only serves to slow down the momentum we hope to provide through dialogues. Remember, we are trying to keep things real, not transcribing a court procession.
Phonetic spelling. Again, in a bid to inject realism, we may be tempted to write dialogues exactly the way they would sound when a character speaks in their dialect or accent. However, unless it is relevant to the plot or the traits of a particular character, we can stick to the generally accepted spellings for words. For example, in Harry Potter, Hagrid’s dialogues are heavily peppered with his West County accent to create the illusion of a less-than-sophisticated blundering-but-bighearted half-giant who “managed to learn to speak English” – it is an important trait that defines Hagrid and is also relevant for the sociological and “racial” divide in the plot. However, while the wizards all come from places far and wide in the United Kingdom, few others are seen to speak with accents because with such a varied cast of characters, it would make the reading material very confusing and arduous once we are done translating what everyone says.
Character names. This pertains to both the address within the dialogue and the using character names with the dialogue tags. The first is obvious: we do not continuously address the people we speak with by their names once the people in the conversation is already identified; we just keep talking by facing them or throw out our statements openly for anyone present to respond to. The second, with regards dialogue tags and action narrations, once the paragraph sequence is established to show who the alternate speakers are, characters names may sometimes be replaced by subject pronouns: “he said” or “she said”.
Consistent punctuations. It is an unfortunately-common mistake in manuscripts where authors keep mixing up which quotation marks they use to bracket dialogues. If you are using double quotation for your dialogues, stick to it. Don’t keep switching between double and single quotation marks at different parts of your novel. Even if you are undecided when you start drafting, by the time your manuscript has been edited and ready for submission/publication, your dialogue format should maintain a modicum of consistency.
One eye on the voice. Speaking of consistency, it is important to provide each character their unique and distinct voice, to be retained throughout the story. Characters cannot be slipping in and out of their… well, their characters. Also, the characters cannot all sound the same. Remember, the character’s voice is an extension of their psyche and therefore if everyone had a similar voice (ipso facto similar psyche), there would be no conflict, right?
Yeah, follow all these rules and you should be good. Piece of cake!
I think most authors, at least in the initial stages of their career, tend to lean towards writing either character-driven or plot-driven stories. Whether your stories are more plot-driven or character-driven is trivial, as both styles work suitably and most readers are able to dive into either form of literature with easy appreciation. What is important to remember when you write, regardless of which way you lean, is that the plot and characters in either narrative forms do not act independently of one another. Whichever style you may choose, the plot and characters each influence the outcome of the other and should work cohesively towards heightening the conflict and deriving the resolution to keep the story moving or having any true meaning. With experience, of course, it is hoped that our writing styles achieve a bit more pliancy with regards to these two types of narrative.
And the first step towards that endeavor is to realize WHAT EACH OF THESE COURSES OF NARRATIVE TRULY REPRESENT:
A CHARACTER-DRIVEN STORY deals with the internal and/or interpersonal conflicts of the character(s). It focuses on the inner transformations of a character or the character’s relationship with other characters in the story. Such a story aims to showcase the MC’s character arc, i.e. how he/she grows throughout the story. The character-driven story relies upon the plot to develop the character. The story offers a series of events through which the character arrives upon the elemental question that defines his/her transformation, or the transformation of his/her relationship with another. The character-driven story has the advantage of connecting at a deeper level with the reader because the characters are so often realistic and relatable.
A PLOT-DRIVEN STORY is one that focuses on events rather than the transformation of the character(s). The character undergoes a sequence of plot points, each of which compels him/her to make a choice, which then either works towards or against the character’s goals, pushing the story forward and backward, creating a story arc. The plot-driven story showcases how a character responses to the situations he/she is thrown into, often depending on split-second decisions rather than deep-seated character motivations. The conflict lies in the circuitous plot that all act in opposition to the MC’s goal(s). The plot-driven story has the advantage of plot twists, actions, and external conflicts which build the tension and keeps reader motivated through to the end.
AGAIN, HOW ARE THEY NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE?
In the CHARACTER-DRIVEN STORY, it is through the story arc (a.k.a. plot arc) that the character achieves transformation, whether reconciling with self or another. The events in the story push the character(s) to question their own motivations and desires as well as face their fears and flaws, thus helping the character arc to take shape.
E.g. The Big Bang Theory, where we witness Sheldon Cooper, an awkward academic genius who, through a series of mishaps and advisement of his friends, learns to navigate the emotional intricacies of the human mind and proper etiquette of the social scheme.
In the PLOT-DRIVEN STORY, who the character(s) is/are will decide how they respond to the situations they are thrown into. The character(s) still work towards a goal and the plot points act as the conflicts that keep the character(s) from achieving the end game, hence developing the story arc.
E.g. Supernatural and the Winchester Brothers, who are forced to vanquish the various monsters-of-the-week and, though they each love the other dearly, the situation pushes them to act against each other’s decisions as often as working together.
HOW DO YOU PLEAD?
I confess that my stories tend to be more character-driven. And while the plot does help my characters to “discover who they are” or “what they need”, I’m still mastering how to make my stories full of page-turning plot twists.
Which narrative course do you prefer to employ when writing your stories? Or for that matter, as a reader, are you generally drawn towards plot-driven or character-driven stories?
author advice, Character Development, character-driven, Creative Writing, daily post, Daily Prompt, narrative structure, novel writing, Plot, plot-driven, storytelling, Writing, writing fiction, writing tips
As authors, we can easily accept why the opening scene is the more popular topic of discussions among our craft management forums [read #amwriting and #writingtip chats on Twitter]. I, too, wrote about the importance of a good beginning on this blog once (first chapters) or twice (prologues). Okay, maybe it was three times (some bits to look out for when publishing). The reason is obvious: Regardless of how superb and valuable your story may be down the pages, write a flat opening scene and face the eternal disdain of your potential readers (agent, editor, or end audience) [or in case of self-publishing: critique partners, beta readers, and angels who give unrepresented writers a fighting chance].
But the God Honest Truth is that every chapter you write is important, right down to the last. The end may come at the end, but no way should it come last while planning your novel. In fact, I make a point of roughly ideating how I want my stories to finish at the same time as I plan the central theme and first scene. Outlining the rest of the chapters comes after. Or I don’t outline and just write scenes up for my own entertainment [which is actually not the thing to do when writing novels pay for your electricity].
The point is, a good ending serves several purposes that you simply cannot overlook:
- It brings the story to its logical (and most often desired) conclusion thus ensuring reader satisfaction and relief
- It reflects upon and clarifies the purpose of telling the story to generate active response from the reader outside the story’s realm
- It forms an enduring engagement between the reader and the story that outlasts the reading process
- It keeps the readers coming back for more, a.k.a. great marketing for your next book!
For that matter, it bears asking what makes a bad ending? Well, some of my pet peeves are:
- Characters behaving uncharacteristically [suddenly], which may have made sense with a gradual arc but the author forgot to layup the reader to expect such developments
- A forced rushed resolution to the plot conflict that leaves me stumbling around in the dark with no flashlight and a case of vertigo, asking “what the hell just happened?”
- Deus ex machinas that conveniently rescues the hero/heroine from their predicaments by introducing some unexpected new force into the story
- A long rambling essay that explains why things happened the way they did (frankly, at this point, I have read enough and don’t bother carrying on till the last line)
- No ending at all where the story just dwindles away without a resolution because the author obviously gave up
Well, that’s just the way of it, now, isn’t it? All of the above bad endings have a dank whiff of abandonment, which is just no way for an author to treat his/her work. I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes even when the characters, plots, and themes of a story is really gelling together, the ending isn’t completely obvious.
Or the original ending I planned no longer seems to be working.
Or I may have worked on the story for so long that I become too fatigued to give the ending a good go.
Or, or, or.
The many reasons why an author might botch the ending may seem nearly endless. Just as there are many lookouts to guide authors to a good ending (some of which I discussed in my post on how to write a happy ending for a romance novel). But a good way to avoid ruining the end of your novel is to simply put the story away for a while. Sometimes a little distance can provide new perspectives. Just as every relationship needs a bit of “me time” to flourish, so does the author’s relationship with a novel he/she is writing.
A very wise professional once warned me, “You want to do this? You want to write novels for a living? It’s not a sprint, my dear, it’s a marathon. Gear up and hit the gym!” Clichéd but relevant. Novel writing is a long arduous process that may not always be entertaining [as one would hope]. For the most part, it’s just a lot of tedious hard work. So even if you’re just a chapter or two away from the finish line, put away your work if the “THE END” does not convince YOU and if it’s taking a toll on your general good sense. Pause for some electrolytes. Come back to it later and work on something else in the meanwhile.
Err… What about the deadline, you say?
Lucky you. You have a deadline to work with. *smirks with jealous condescension*
The alternative to “taking a break” is going back to where you started. Again, just like in any relationship, sometimes we need a little reminding as to why we signed up in the first place. Just to get through the temporary turbulence, you know?
Where was I? Oh, yeah, circling back to the beginning.
If you’re lucky, you have a detailed outline to fall back on. If you’re not as lucky [which is probably the case, or else why would you be having any trouble writing?]:
# Sometimes you may go all the way back to the sheet of paper where you jotted down the inspiration for your story. A scene you witnessed in real life, an issue close to your heart, a character in a movie that interested you. The spark that made you think “what if” and got you writing. The fact is when you started writing your novel, you must have had a reason. Your personal agenda as the author. Depend on it to guide you. The ending is where you drive your message across.
# Speaking of purposes, sometimes you have to rely on your MC’s agenda. There is a reason why the character is on this dang journey. Where did they start? Where do they need to go? Do a little review and help your MC get there.
# Sometimes this can be the first chapter of the novel. Reading back to the opening can remind you where the MC was and how can the end change that situation for him/her. Or maybe it doesn’t change at all and the MC is back to square one and now must contend with the situation. Whatever the case, allow the MC to gain new insights to be able to handle the end – feed the character arc.
In fact, the first chapter is [as often as not] a good place to end. No need to emphasize on the relevance of coming full circle to create an impact. But bookended scenes also tend to do a good trick in getting my admiration so that’s a clue for me as a writer. Here, I must subject you all to a reminder of what a bang-up job J.K. Rowling did in coming full circle with the Harry Potter books. There were so many times I had an “Aha moment” while reading the series because some element in one book tied to something so unassuming in another that I was constantly returning to a previous book while reading a new one for reference. I still do, in fact, during my annual revision season. And how about coming back to that killing curse, huh? The “Boy Who Lived” lived again! And how his willingness to sacrifice himself protected those who were present for the final fight. Dumbledore’s man? – Lily Potter’s son through and through!
But bookending scenes may also have the opposite effect from wowing the reader [bringing me to why I came to write this post today, in the first place]. Last night, I got around to watching My Cousin Rachel, starring Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin (two actors I generally admire but who did a piss-poor job of convincing me of the characters they were playing). While I could see how the opening and ending scenes mirrored one another in the way where Claflin’s character Philip is just adopted and raised by his cousin Ambrose at the beginning of the movie and at the end has two boys of his own that he does not know how to raise, the reason for this mirroring quite escaped me. Especially since in a story that seeks to depict a series of misguided whims on Philip’s part where he first believes Cousin Rachel married then killed Ambrose for his money, then falls for her himself and refuses to listen to reason from his friends about her attempts to swindle him out of his inheritance, and then again is convinced she poisoned Ambrose and now is poisoning him until he plays a purposely-by-accident hand in her death himself that he comes to regret, the whole point of how he is raised or should raise his children has no bearing. I suppose since he was brought up in a virtually female-free society, he had little guidance regarding how to function like an adult male when impacted by Rachel’s glory but so what? His boys have their mom. Going back to the beginning with the did she/didn’t she, I felt, was wholly unnecessary – or should I say, having the whole did she/didn’t she at the beginning? And apparently, it’s adapted from a famous 1951 novel, too. But possibly the adaptation is the usual stupendous leap away from the original literature, who knows? [I have possibly saved you from watching the movie with this whopping spoiler; maybe you can read the book and tell me it is written better?]
Anyway, my point is, the ending of your novel deserves as much careful consideration from you as an author as the beginning. To answer the titular question here, the opening you write for you, i.e. to capture your audience; the ending you write for you reader, i.e. to satisfy the audience.
Last week, my post was quite academically dense. So this week, I thought I would write about something lighter – a home subject if you will.
I thought I would discuss writer’s block and procrastination. Yup, I’m airing out my most intimate limitations here. And let me just read out the disclaimer now because not everything I claim in the following paragraphs will resonate with every one of you. I’m writing about what has been my challenges (self-made or enforced upon) and how I manage to handle them.
Writer’s Blocks? Myth or Reality?
Very real. But not always without influence from yours truly.
If you have followed my blog from the beginning, you will remember that my longest absence from the creative writing outlet was four years. I started posting the first-draft chapters of my novel I’ll Be True on this blog and then halfway through, I disappeared. I knew the ending of the novel but the approach to the climax was ever elusive and I just couldn’t get through to the other side. Nor did I have the time or energy to work on it given how all-consuming my full-time career was. That was a REAL writer’s block.
More often than not, I suffer from self-induced writer’s block. What the hell is a self-induced writer’s block, you say? Well, it’s that uncomfortably comfortable zone that blends the line between a real writer’s block and procrastination. Let me give you an example. There are often times when I have the next chapter/scene – characters, dialogues, actions, etc. – at the ready but because I’m not fully convinced I laze about to give myself more time to percolate. Self-doubt and second-guessing prevent me from putting the scene in my head into my hard drive. Meanwhile, I do other things, anything on Planet Earth really. What’s stopping me? Not just laziness but laziness brought on by a subconscious notion that if I do document the words into a chapter and then it’s just all wrong, I’d be wasting my time and energy. That’s self-induced. That’s sabotage. I work mostly on MS Word. Easily erasable if the scene turns out to be rubbish. But I do not want to commit. I don’t write until I’m well and ready even though I know not-writing is the real waste of time.
What makes this procrastination is the fact that I hide behind less taxing more entertaining tasks such as binge-watching the old seasons of The Big Bang Theory before the new one airs. What makes this a writer’s block is that the fear that I’ll write a less-than-satisfactory scene is real and it’s crippling. Obviously, I have not perfected the art of draft-first-edit-later. And so on…
Swimming Out of a Cesspool of My Own Making
Fortunately, there are exercises that help me get out of my procrasti-blocks. Sometimes they work individually and sometimes I combine them when one doesn’t get me out of my funk immediately. They require, what I like to call, a “balanced indulgence” from the perseverer. If your problems are anything like mine, you can give these a try:
When – and only if – I can convince myself to really put my scene/chapter onto the pages, I will give myself a Free Pass ahead of time that I’ll not try to write the passage perfectly; it will be just gibberish that flows through my head. I tell myself this is just notes for so and so chapter, an outline, a short tête-à-tête between my characters that I may or may not use. I take away the pressure and put the proverbial wool over my mind. Now I know this method sounds like so much nonsense but sometimes it works. Keep in mind that such an occasion when this works is rare and a favor from fortune when it does.
Boring but it works. When I manage to whip myself into some form of discipline and commit myself to a particular time slot in the day to write, guess what, I get more writing done! This routine doesn’t stick for long periods – maybe a couple of weeks at a time or at most a month before I lose all concentration and go back to procrastinating – but while it lasts, I can really get ahead in my drafting and editing. The rules are simple. I will write for at least 30 minutes every day at so-and-so time (preferably early so that if my writing takes off I can clock in longer hours). And, again, there is no pressure to use this time to absolutely add chapters to my novel. I could be outlining, brainstorming, or writing just about anything as long as I’m writing at that time of the day. What happens, eventually, is my body and mind clocks in at that hour of the day to write. I itch to get to my laptop or notebook and get some work done. And ultimately, my novel does benefit from it greatly.
FREEWRITING MEETS WRITING PROMPTS
Freewriting – a term that was all the rage during my junior high years (a favorite activity of my eighth grade Language Arts teacher Mrs. Anger) but I have recently adopted this method to free up my head of the clutter. I have combined this with writing prompts because I feel there should be some guideline otherwise where is the challenge? Sometimes, if my mind is already free and receptive to suggestions, I just use the prompts (I use the Daily Prompts by WordPress) and hop to it. Other times, if my mind is already full of an idea, such as when I’m outside and something I see is inspiring, I try to develop that idea around the word prompt of the day, which is often more challenging. Some might call it cheating but I get some really creative work done this way and my writing skill continues to improve in the process. Also, doing this exercise in lieu of working on my novel helps me to loosen up and not resent my novel-writing goals. Oh! And one last thing. This exercise should be a timed thing, i.e. there should be a time limit like 30-40 minutes dedicated to this so as to not let freewriting occupy all your time and energy. Trust me on this, I got addicted to writing prompts really fast earlier this year, which ended up distracting me from writing my novel instead. You don’t want that to happen.
I don’t know about you but I hate sweating. Shortness of breath, heart ready to crash out of my chest, not so much – but soiling my clothes (yes, sweating feels every bit as unhygienic as that sounds) and the mottled red my skin turns to (I think the fact that there are people who get a “healthy sheen” and “golden glow” at the gym and look even more vibrant after a workout is completely unfair) is what keeps me from physical exercises. In the summer, I shower 2-3 times a day just to ensure there isn’t any sweaty residue stuck to my skin or clothes. I’m just schizo like that. And despite that, I must advocate that physical exercise is good for my writing. On days that I do work out, my body feels lighter and my mind more active. I want to do something, I need to write. And you know, getting that itch is half the battle won.
SAY WHAT NEEDS WRITING
On the off chance that there is no writer’s block and the only thing keeping me from putting my ideas to paper is my very lazy behind, I use a voice recorder. That way, a really good idea, or a fledgling idea that could turn into a really good idea, isn’t lost because I didn’t grab the opportunity to jot it down. If my laptop is on hand, I use the Windows Speech Recognition app to directly transcribe everything I’m saying (the app needs to calibrate for voice and pronunciations first so that one doesn’t really end up with sentences that make no sense), or else I just record into my phone for later transcription.
CHANGE OF SETTING AND TOOLS
I don’t always write comfortably on my laptop although since I’m a super lazy person and everything I write will eventually need to be on my hard drive, my laptop is the preferred equipment for writing these days. But my longest writer’s block (you know those four bleak years) was demolished by the resourcing of this really cool notebook and the perfect pen. Really, the smoothness of the pages to allow the pen to glide over, the width, height, and thickness of the binding perfect to rest my hand on, the sharp nib of my pen to get that scratchy sound that tells me I’m writing (!) all sort of brought me out my ennui. Also, I was on my first real vacation out of contact range from my office in over five years, sitting in a transit restaurant at Changi Airport, waiting for my secondary school friends to rescue me from years of monotony. The change of pace and space and the magic notebook-pen combo all were conducive to working on my novel again, Alhamdulillah! Yes, it was liberating enough to thank my maker.
All of the above exercises are my healthy go-to to start writing consistently again. However, sometimes all you need is a just a rich, smooth, foamy cup of joe. I don’t drink coffee every day just to keep this wonderful drug potent. But when I do, I fully allow myself to enjoy the sweet-bitter aroma to relax my eyes and mind, the effervescent sensation tingling behind the bridge of my nose and across my temples, curling up at the nape of my neck, from first sip to last. Mmm… I think I’ll have coffee today. Move my workstation to Crimson Cup. I feel a productive day coming on already J
Sometimes you just need to chuck everything and go on a trip. Like I always say, writing is a career like any other and it’s good to take breaks. Return refreshed and with things to write about. The problem with procrastinating is that even when I’m having a freakishly good time not getting anything done, it’s not satisfying. The guilt niggles so at the end of the day, I have neither done any work nor is the entertainment anything but fleeting. So I make sure to just give myself off-days in the week or block vacation time each season to keep from burning out.
I said the material for today’s post was going to be light. I didn’t say anything about it not being lengthy.
author confession, authors, Creative Writing, daily post, Daily Prompt, novel writing, procrastination, writer's block, writers, Writing, writing challenges, writing fiction, writing struggles, writing tips
In my twentieth installation of WRITING CHRONICLES, I went into great details about the various types of narrators and POVs that may be used in storytelling. A perusal will tell you that jumping POVs in the middle of scenes is one of my pet peeves. Of course, a scene may be told from the perspective of different characters but there are proper etiquettes to these things. When you are having a conversation with someone, how much would you enjoy being interrupted by the other person while talking? Or worse, if a third party straggler just decided to insert themselves into your discussion midway? The narrator and the reader develop a bond over the course of a story that requires similar decorum. Each character must wait their turn to have their say. Read the rest of this entry »
My life is perfect. Said no one ever. If they did, they’re lying. Human beings aren’t happy until they are bogged down by burdens and bellyaching about it something awful. Be it loud as a hungry cat or as passive-aggressive as my mother. [Hey! I love my mother but she gives me plenty of reasons to complain.]
See? We are never entirely happy and without troubles and flaws. This includes a writer with all expenses covered and the only task to accomplish is finish composing novels to publish and sell. So if the author’s life isn’t perfect, and the readers’ lives aren’t perfect, why should the hero and heroine have it easy?
No one wants to read about people who have it made. Stories are driven by characters and their challenges. Having too much sympathy for your heroes and heroines is equivalent to tying the proverbial noose around the shelf life of your book. You were too kind to your protagonist while writing? Well, get ready to have your readers write off your protagonist.
The solution? Make it hurt and make it count. In other words, make your characters believable and garner enough sympathy – even for that evil douchebag – to make them memorable. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find causes for their miseries – after all, we humans manage to complain about even the best of gift horses.
Easiest is making life difficult for the protagonist. Heroes and heroines tend to hold very deep-seated values, even the anti-heroes/heroines. Ego and integrity raise the stakes for them. Here are some great ways to drive that stake deep enough to leave your character with a gaping wound (by the way, gender-neutral usage of the terminology ‘hero’ henceforth): Read the rest of this entry »
author, character creation, Character Development, conflict, Creative Writing, daily post, Daily Prompt, imperfections, novel writing, tragic hero, Writing, writing fiction, writing novel, writing tips
I have decided that procrastination might be the primary vice of my writing career. I used to think I was too preoccupied with my corporate responsibilities but. now that I have switched to writing full-time, I realize the problem is that I can find ways to become preoccupied with just about anything. The burning question is how can a person who loves writing as much as I do be so out of sorts with the writing itself.
Well, I know how. Fear is at the root of my problem. I keep stalling because becoming a novelist is something I always wanted to excel in. Even with my multiple fallback plans, I have stored all my eggs in this basket. Honestly? I don’t want to have to resort to those fallback plans. The pressure is real. Hence, even though I can, in theory, believe in my writing capabilities, living by that faith is a whole other ballgame. Even when what I write seems to satisfy me, I keep wondering what if it’s not good enough.
Resulting in all the bottlenecking of my creative endeavors.
There are some ground rules I try to follow to jar me out of my whack. Mostly, it is to keep me from lulling myself into the fear sinkhole. They work too. Often enough to share the list of precautions with my fellow writers:
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