Tag Archives: craft

How To Develop Your Writing Voice

(Author’s Note: For June, July & August, this blog will be posting on Mondays & Thursdays only!)

A writer’s voice is a complex, hard-to-describe thing.

I think it could be compared to a rich cheese, a well-crafted symphony or a good wine.

The complexities of each of these come from a variety of sources —  Cheese, music, and wine are complicated. Voice is complicated too. 

How To Develop Your Writing Voice by Katharine Grubb

A writer’s voice can be influenced by many different things. 

Each of my children could re-tell me the story of The Three Pigs, but they would all do it differently. The differences between their interpretations will lot to do with their individuality. The distinction between the different presentations would be their voice.

So how does our voice develop? I’d like to suggest beginning novelists tinker with influences. Show me a writer with a rich voice, and I’ll show your someone who has read great books most of their life. A writer with strong voice studies voice either consciously or subconsciously, and this is reflected in the words they put down. You can also find some practical tips here. 

How do you find your writer’s voice?

 A writer with a strong voice will be one who writes often. He is at ease with a variety of words. He may understand the use of grammar rules and manipulates the rules to serve his purpose.

To find you voice, you must have three things: Exposure to beautiful words, regular writing practice, and time.  There is no short cut.

Exposure to beautiful words:  You need to read. Read as many books as you can. Read your genre, but don’t be snobby about other genres. Try reading the classics, and try to figure out why they are so great.  Read writing blogs but always be reading and thinking about what you’re reading so that the words settle into the climate of your subconscious just perfectly. Then when the atmospheric conditions are perfect, you have a storm of words that is wonderful and dramatic and maybe even scary.

Regular writing practice: Developing strong voice is much like developing muscles for great athletic accomplishment.  If you sit at the keyboard repeatedly and daily put your thoughts together in a coherent way, you get better at it. You may  be able to train yourself over and over to see grammatical errors, then you’ll get better and more efficient at spotting them. With practice, you can say things more clearly and precisely.  Make a daily word count goal and keep it. Or plan to write a half hour each day. Find the way that’s best for you and do it!

And then there’s time: It’s common to suggest that after 10,000 hours one has mastery of a skill. You may not be able to track that in this lifetime. Don’t worry about it. Instead, focus on what you can to in the next ten minutes. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish. Believe this: no time is ever wasted. What may look like a loss is really life experience. You can make up for lost time. YOU CAN.

A writer with a great voice will also know their strengths.

Are you funny? Encouraging? Are you really good at analyzing LOL cats? Put your energy into this! You’re probably passionate about it too. And people will notice that you are good at it and they will want to hear more from you. Become an expert. Read everything you can get your hands on about your favorite subjects.  Apply the principles in new and exciting ways.

It is voice, I would like to argue, that carries the most artistic weight of our storytelling.

The nuances, the experiences, and the complexities make us who we are. Thus, our stories will be unique to all of us. Look for ways to enjoy your life, read and write and you’ll be working on your voice.

You won’t be able to help it.


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Life Lessons Gleaned from Novel Writing

By Carolyn Astfalk

After I’d given birth to my first child, I vowed I’d never allow any task or experience to intimidate me again.

After all, despite my worries and fears, I’d just delivered a little human being, sans medication no less. If I could do that, I could accomplish anything.

But time has a way of dulling memories, especially those surrounding childbirth. (Thanks be to God.)

When in November of 2010, I decided to give National Novel Writing Month a shot, I was intimidated.

Surely fifty thousand words in thirty days would be less daunting than childbirth, right? But the bold sense of empowerment I’d felt after my son was born had faded. And childbirth had a clear advantage when it came to completion. A healthy pregnancy culminates in birth at the appointed time without much determination on my part. Birthing a novel? Those words weren’t going to write themselves, pushing themselves out of orifices and spilling onto a page in a coherent format, i’s dotted, t’s crossed, plot threads wrapped as neatly as a swaddled newborn.

Completing a novel may be a monumental task often compared to birthing a child, but the truth is, it takes a different set of life skills.

What I discovered, however, after completing those fifty thousand words and several books worth more, is that those skills and habits translate well into other areas of life. The lessons I’ve learned can be applied to a variety of tasks, projects, and seemingly unattainable aspirations. Put simply, writing novels taught me how to accomplish big goals over long periods of time.

Here are the universally-applicable life lessons I’ve learned:

  • Never stop learning. However much you may know or think you know, you’ve not learned everything there is to learn. However skilled you’ve become, you can improve. Whether it means taking classes, skimming blogs, listening to podcasts, attending workshops, or reading books, others have lessons to share with you. Be a ready learner, easily teachable and eager to improve.
  • Be patient. Big tasks take time, particularly those that involve big changes and new ventures. The world is not waiting for your success. Often what you see in your mind’s eye is a streamlined path to success and completion, free of barriers, setbacks, or a realistic assessment of how much time things take to come to fruition. Do not rush to the finish simply in order to check an item off of your list. Take the time to do things the correct way, even if it adds weeks, months, or years to your plans. Things worth doing are worth doing right.
  • There will be setbacks. There will be sick children, family emergencies, death, births, vacations, and celebrations. Your pace will slow or you’ll backslide. Your motivation will wane. Your time will ebb. Your feelings will change. Persistence is imperative. Don’t worry so much about your rate of progress so long as you resume moving in the right direction, however slow your progress,
  • Get over yourself. Humility is an underrated virtue. Yes, you are unique and special, and perhaps your accomplishment is stellar. But there are millions of other unique and special people on the planet who have also done great things. Maybe things much greater than your thing. Don’t let pride creep in, preventing you from accepting constructive criticism or the simple fact that everyone has an opinion and you’ll never please everyone. You can accept that even if what you’ve done isn’t the best or greatest, it has value, if not for others then at least for you.
  • You have unique value independent of whatever you do or don’t do. You may fail. You may succeed. You’ll probably do both many times over. Regardless, you retain your dignity. Don’t confuse who you are with what you have or haven’t done.
  • Don’t go it alone. Even the most introverted of introverts can’t go it alone. We’re meant to live in a community. You’ll need others, even if only a few trustworthy allies, to offer a listening ear, a helping hand, or a commiserating (maybe virtual) hug. Learn from others’ mistakes and successes, and then share your experiences with others. Having trouble staying motivated? Your compatriots can offer accountability too.
  • Just because you can’t do a lot doesn’t mean you can’t do anything at all. It’s the old “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” So, you’re only able to make minimal progress. Maybe your rate of success is abysmal. That does not negate the value of what you’re doing. Small steps, small increments of time, and little acts, however seemingly insignificant, have purpose and meaning and will eventually grow into something much larger.
  • Don’t make your ambition your life. This thing you hope to accomplish, it’s not everything. Balance your life as best you can, being sure to care for yourself as well as the important people in your life. Make relaxation and your spiritual life a priority. You will be better off for it. Time spent outside of the relentless pursuit of your goal is not wasted time. Time spent re-charging or re-fueling, or sometimes, doing nothing of consequence, is exactly what you need.

Success – let’s be real, getting by – in some areas of our lives comes easier than others.

You may not need reminders or lessons in some disciplines. Because I had the necessary drive to write that first novel, I hung in there long enough to learn these lessons. The challenge is to apply them in cases in which my natural motivation is lacking.

With fourth births and three published novels behind me, I hope I can take these lessons and apply them to other areas in my life. Maybe I could apply them to the neglected areas I choose to avoid or ignore for the same reason that so many people set aside the seemingly impossible idea of writing a novel. Things like adding exercise to my routine, keeping up with the housecleaning, de-cluttering neglected areas of the home and garage, losing weight, and on and on. Surely you have a similar list. (Please say that you do.)

I’ve written a novel, but that was just the beginning. The lessons I’ve learned will help me accomplish my other goals too.


If you liked this post, you may also like:

Top 10 Ways Good Marketing Is Like Good Parenting or,

What’s Your Definition of Success?


 

Carolyn AstfalkCarolyn’s debut novel, Stay With Me, will be released on October 1, 2015. At that time, she hopes to earn a few pennies to contribute to her family’s wealth and offset the time and financial drain of her word habit. Until then, you can find me playing with letters and words at My Scribbler’s Heart Blog. Carolyn resides with her husband and four children in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Five Reasons Why I Would Write Series Fiction (And One Reason I Wouldn’t)

What to read?

I’m at the library, looking for something to check out and I see a row of similar-looking spines, books all by the same author, some with numbers on them. It’s a little army of series fiction! (And almost always one of those numbers is missing!)

Five Reasons Why I Would Write Series Fiction (And One Reason I Wouldn't)

I have an irrational insecurity around serial fiction as a reader.

I feel like I have to start at book one if I’m going to start at all, and then, I wonder, will I feel compelled to read all the books in the series? What will I miss out on in the literary world if I get to the end of Adam Dalgliesh’s career?  I skip over the series and go to a stand alone instead. As a reader, I think I want the whole story wrapped up in one tidy package. And I want my literary diet to be broad. If I pick up the first Harry Potter, for example, I feel, and I’m sure that’s just me and my neurosis, that there’s an expectation that I have to read all of them. I don’t want that kind of pressure. Maybe I’m not a series type of reader? Not all of us are. But, if I’m going to be a successful novelist, then there’s some good reason why writing a series is a great idea.

Series novels are good fits for plotters who love details.

Every successful series writer must plan their little hearts out. They aren’t planning the events for 300 or so pages, they are planning for 3-8 times that amount. All that planning allows for the plot bunnies to come around to book five. This planning allows for the backstory to weave its way in and out across many plotlines. This is a complicated process and there are some authors who love the freedom that comes with many books in a series.

Series books don’t wrap things up neatly.

This is also a good thing for novelists who like to meander. Most novels have restrictions to them: that every little tangent needs to serve a purpose. But not a series. What is left undone in book 1 can be explained in book 2. If this is done well, then the reader is interested and wants to find out more.

The FIRST EVER Conference for 10 Minute Novelists will be held August 9-11, 2018 in Cincinnati, OH. We’re featuring Donald Maass, James Scott Bell and Janice Hardy! Come and learn with us!

Series books can provide rich character arcs.

If the main character is a teenager in book one, and a father of six in the very last book, then you can assume some changes happened in their life. This long arc creates a beautiful canvas on which the author can create some interesting art. The character development itself becomes as important as the plot. And it’s this character that the reader may fall in love with and want to know more with subsequent books.

Series books can show off all the characters, not just the big stars.

Sometimes those secondary or tertiary characters are appealing in their own right. A series allows a writer to delve into their secrets and experiences. Complicated characters that intertwine together can make for some great stories. These background characters are perfect for creating new plot lines, falling in love with and making framing for a murder. What is your protagonist’s ally in the first book could be their betrayer by book seven.

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Series books do require a great deal of commitment.

Series books are challenging for the author! But the best reason of all to stick with it create a series is that once the first book is successful, the subsequent books have built-in readers. These are the fans you can reward with consistent references and hints of the past. Multi-book ideas can be a rich experience for the writer and the reader. Maybe I’ll get over my literary neurosis and commit to writing (and maybe even reading) a series.

And that one reason? I’m afraid to be tied down to one genre.

I’ve hopped around the genre spectrum to know that there’s fun in creating a fantasy world, developing a romance and crafting a mystery. It’s all the fear of missing out, see, and maybe that’s what makes me a neurotic human.

So, if you’re a reader or writer, consider series fiction.

You may find it well worth the hard work.


If you like this post, you may also like:

Four Reasons Why Authors Shouldn’t Be Nice In Their Stories


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

12 Reasons You Should Go To a Writers Conference

 

One way to grow as a writer is to attend a writers conference!

Now, I’m not a writers conference junkie, but I’d like to be. I know enough about them to understand that if you are in a climate controlled hotel ballroom, surrounded by writers from all over the world, with speakers and experts in front of you, then you’re in a great place to grow.

12 Reasons To Go To A Writers Conference by Katharine Grubb

Why?

You need to meet other writers in person.

In my limited conference experience, I’m always amazed at the diversity of the writers that I meet. They all aren’t bloggers like me. My writer friends don’t all have tendencies to publish quirky comedies like me. They may not know the first thing about writing a novel in 10 minutes a day. Because I do get the honor of meeting them, I expand my horizons. I’m encouraged by what they tell me. I’m interested in their projects and check them out. And I alway come away with new friends.

You need to practice your pitch.

Even if you never sit down with an agent or publisher, you will meet other writers who want to know what you write. You’ll need to be able to tell them in just thirty seconds. This takes practice. At a conference, you’ll have plenty of it.

The FIRST EVER Conference for 10 Minute Novelists will be held August 9-11, 2018 in Cincinnati, OH. We’re featuring Donald Maass, James Scott Bell and Janice Hardy! Come and learn with us!

You need to learn at the feet of experts.

Any conference worth the price of admission will have speakers there who know more about the various aspects of writing than you do. Hopefully, you’ll get the chance to ask questions of these experts. You can find out how they came to their conclusions and what advice they may have for you. Take advantage of any down time that you get to pick their brains and learn.

You need to get away from your life for a while.

At the last conference I attended, I got to spend fourteen glorious hours alone in a hotel room. I really loved it. For the first time in history, I ordered a pizza and ate it alone. I watched a Hitchcock movie and I wrote 3000 words without anyone interrupting me. It was heaven. I felt so refreshed the next day when I had to fly home.

You need to get some perspective.

If you are discouraged about your writing for whatever reason, a conference may have the people you need to encourage you. Many times we need to know that we aren’t alone in our professional struggles. Sometimes we need the brutal truth. Sometimes we need to look at our careers, not our current project. I think that getting out of one’s own setting can make a big difference in how we see ourselves.

You need to have one on one time with an agent.

Agents often don’t sign authors unless they have met them first. This is, in reality, a business relationship and many agents want writers that they can click with. Even if you aren’t quite ready for an agent, it wouldn’t hurt to get to know them, practice your pitch and get some questions answered.

You need to get advice.

Conferences are great places to get advice. Sometimes this advice comes from the speakers and workshops. Sometimes it comes from who you sat next to at lunch. None of us are so together that we can’t use a little insight. You can also eavesdrop if you want. Your neighbor may have asked the question you’ve always wanted to ask.

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You need freebies.

Depending on the size of the conference, sponsors will hand out swag. At the last conference I attended, there were t-shirts, coupons to local businesses, and other things that were given to the coordinators just for the attendees.

You need to find out more about your genre.

Conferences are great places to buddy up with people who know your genre inside and out. You may gain fresh insight and advice for your genre in a way that you could never have online. Some genres have their own conferences — like ACFW or RWA. Check out this list of conferences and see if your genre has an event you can go to.

You need to be a bit more humble.

Besides wading through the endless bins of used books at my local library’s annual sale, nothing makes me more humble than meeting a bunch of writers. Many of them have been writing longer than I have. Many have bigger platforms than I do. When I’m at a conference, especially a big one. I’m a pretty little fish. This is good for me. The day that I’m too big to go, or too important to engage, or too accomplished not to attend will be a sad, sad day.

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You need to get feedback.

Many conferences have contests or critique opportunities. These are good for you! You can learn where your weaknesses lie. Also, you can gain wisdom from the more mature and experienced. And you can even win something grand if you’re good enough.

You need to feel that you are not alone.

Writers, as tempting as it is to wrap yourself up in a solitary, lonely world with just your characters and your computer as your companions, please don’t neglect the importance of community. Reach out to other writers. Do this with online groups, local groups or conferences.

Conferences have the potential of making you a savvier, stronger writer. As you plan your 2017, make a commitment to get better and invest in yourself.


If you liked this post, you’ll like:

Free & Not-So-Free Writers’ Conferences For The Poor And Anthropophobic and

Top 10 Pro Tips For Attending A Writing Conference


 

a href=”http://www.10minutenovelists.com/img_7013/”>Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Twelve Questions To Ask Yourself After That First Draft Is Done

You’ve finished your first draft!

You are so, so, so proud. This is an accomplishment worth celebrating!

And in the midst of your hard work, you’ve fought all kinds of self-doubt and torment. The quoted author was right, you really did just open a vein and bleed. 

But you’re not done. Please, for the love of all that is super easy publishing, please don’t think you’re done. If your goal is to be a serious writer, to be a viable literary force in your genre, to be a legitimate player in the world of books, please don’t stop with your first draft. You’ll need to improve on it.

Here are twelve questions to ask yourself as you go back and improve.

12 Questions To Ask After That First Draft is Done by Katharine Grubb

 

Have you captured the readers’ attention from the first page?

You know that you do if your main character takes action. The scene needs to be active and visual so that your reader can see well what is happening. If you have an inciting incident, then you’ve created a trigger that will get the story flowing. If you introduce an idea to your main character, one that could be interesting and adventurous, then you’re getting him ready for launch into the next couple of chapters.

Have you created a picture within the first two pages that the reader can visualize?

You can do this with specific description abut not too much. Also, you can do this by adding in sensory details, but not too much. You should also give plenty of clues to the time and place of the story so that the reader can be intrigued.

Is your inciting incident obvious and require the main character to react?

This is an event that begins the story. Everything that happens could be a result of that event. This incident may reveal the character and desires of the main character to the reader. You may not have done this with the first draft. No worries! Now’s the time to fix it!

What mysteries did you introduce in the first act that have been revealed in the third?

This could be something obvious, like ‘who killed Kevin?’ or it could be something more subtle. This will depend on your genre. Your main character may want answers and spend the whole book getting them. But this unanswered moment can potentially capture the reader and draw them in enough so that they want to know the answer the question and they keep reading. And now that you’ve completed a draft, you know where you’re going. You can go back to the beginning and scatter hints in the first act that will lead up to the third.

The FIRST EVER Conference for 10 Minute Novelists will be held August 9-11, 2018 in Cincinnati, OH. We’re featuring Donald Maass, James Scott Bell and Janice Hardy! Come and learn with us!

Does your protagonist go through a literal or figurative gateway about one-third of the way in?

This can be the set off to a grand adventure. It can also be taking a chance on a new romance. It could also be literal– your character flies to Bermuda. Everything that happens before this point is an introduction. Everything after is really what the story is about. Not sure if your draft has three acts? You can brush up on story structure here. 

Does your protagonist go on a literal or figurative journey after that point?

In this type of plot, a character needs to be curious too. He/ she needs to discover the world around them, get lost, misunderstand some sign posts and correct himself. This journey is the gist of the second act. Don’t hesitate to give him a lot of conflicts, dangers and moments in which he has to make decisions. All of this is what makes up the meat of the story!

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Do you have a character that exposes your main character’s secrets?

We are not angels. Our characters should be either. You could either give this job to the antagonist, which of course would make the reader love/hate him all the more. Or you could give the job of secret-revealer to a trusted friend who doesn’t realize what they are doing. Either way, allow exposure to be a problem for our main character. This will amp up the conflict and that’s what good storytelling is all about.

Does your main character have enough hindrances to their goal?

Besides the secrets exposed, you should also throw in a lot of obstacles in their way. Make some of it physical, like the car won’t start, they ran out of Omega 3 crystals for the transponder, or Hurricane Katrina is barreling into New Orleans any day now. But you could also make it from their own inner lives: they have a PTSD episode, the ex shows up with an engagement ring, or they get the call from a casting agent at the totally wrong time. All of these things add more layers of conflict!

Is your main character blind to major character flaws that are holding them back?

What if your main character has intimacy issues and pushes others away? What if they can only talk about themselves? What if they hate their appearance? This also can create some good conflict especially if the people they are pushing away are the very people they need to meet their goals.

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Does your main character make mistakes that cause the reader to want to read more?

You want to bring your reader to that happy balance of them cheering for your main character and then also wishing they get it right next time. This is tough to do, and in my humble opinion, likable protagonists are overrated. What ISN’T overrated is the need for a reader to want to follow a character’s choices without getting exasperated by them. If you want to get me started, ask me about my love/hate relationship with Rory Gilmore!

Does your main character show something positive in their personality within the first two or three pages?

Blake Snyder calls this the Save the Cat moment. In the first few pages, your reader needs to see your main character do something really good — like saving a cat. This moment should be altruistic, humble, kind, and compassionate. Your readers need this so that they know that your main character is not just the good guy (he isn’t, necessarily) but that he’s worth following on an adventure. This goodness should be enough to get your reader motivated.

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
Toni Morrison

Have you revealed to your reader what your main character fears most of all?

Personally, I think that real honest to goodness fear isn’t tapped into enough with main characters (but that could just be me, the PTSD survivor talking.) I think that well-drawn main characters have a foundational fear — if this should happen, then they believe that their whole world will fall apart. A good author should figure this out, have it revealed subtly in the first couple of chapters and then put their poor main character through the wringer as they face that fear over and over again in the story.

Now, these are just a handful of the questions that you should ask.

And ideally, the questions should prompt you to make a few notes in your first draft and fill in holes, move things around add in stuff and take stuff away.

Don’t freak out.

You’re supposed to have more than one draft. Some writers have dozens. Do what you need to do to make your story sing, even if it means getting to eight or ten drafts.

It’s well worth the time and effort to make your story great.


If you like this post, you may also like:

10 Writing Prompts To Help You Unstick Your First Draft and Five Signs To Keep Writers From Going Wrong


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Shipping: 14 Ways To Develop Romance In Your Story

Man, do I love a good, believable romance.

I like the slow kind, where looks are exchanged, where she ignores him, where he adores her, where their journey leads to something beautiful and long-lasting. I like the kinds of romance where the undercover action is a result of commitment, not the possibility of it.

Good romance stories, in my opinion, have the reader fully engaged in the feelings of the couple long before they figure it out themselves. I didn’t know there was a term for this.

Oh, this is why I write fiction!

I can get emotionally involved in the romance of characters without actually getting emotionally involved! And that’s what we want as writers, we want our readers to push our awkward heroine into the arms of the tall, dark stranger who happens to have a soft spot for kittens.

Shipping: 14 Ways To Develop Romance In Your Story

Let’s just put a caveat out there: I’m assuming that this romance that you’re writing is the journey of two people who fall in love and decide they can’t live without the other. If you’re writing the kind of book that, ahem, is only interested in the physical rewards of a relationship, without the nuance, the subtext, and the mature emotional growth, then you don’t need any help. You just need a Barry White soundtrack.

If you’re interested in something more story-like, more journeyed, and more character-driven romance, keep reading!

But how do we do this? How do we “ship” our characters? Can we toy with the feelings of our readers enough that they are rooting for the couple long before the couple is rooting for themselves? How do we pace this romance in such a way that our readers want to see what happens next?

The following suggestions are only that, suggestions. Perhaps you can use a couple to more couple your couple.

Put them together. If they are going to fall in love, then they need to be in each other’s company, in a variety of settings. Maybe the settings could be more formal, intentional dates. But maybe, they wouldn’t have to be. Maybe they work together, or maybe they are neighbors. I think the best stories of true love have a lot of conversation. Now, your reader may not need to read every bit of it, but you can’t build a foundation of a relationship if they never spend time together. As sweet as Sleepless In Seattle was, it kind of drove me crazy that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan weren’t in the same room together until the very, very end.

Go slowly. No matter how you feel about “love at first sight,” it can feel forced in writing. It may be better for one character to have some sort of emotional response to the other — and it doesn’t have to be a positive one. He accidentally trips her and she calls him a jerk. She gets his coffee order wrong and he snaps at her, not because he’s a big meanie, but because he just lost his job. This emotional response, positive or negative, is the spark. Something needs to be ignited at that point.

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Show that they like being together. Now, there is probably going to be that tease factor — where she picks on him and he picks on her. They do kind of need to annoy one another. But deep, deep down, they like having the other person around. And it may be that they don’t know why. I’m not convinced that you need to figure it all out completely either — it could be that he’s that stable male figure she’s been longing for. It could be that she’s got a quality or skill that reminds him of his mother.

Make them need each other for practical things. Now we all need each other. We need our cars repaired, we need our taxes done, we need our trash picked up. Perhaps your characters could have occupations that provide legitimate, non-erotic services that would benefit the other. I say this, but I have seen way, way too many stories about a young, probably awkward and klutzy woman who just bought the inn/B&B/old house/coffee shop and is dependent on the boyishly good-looking contractor/handyman/plumber who is charmingly annoying. If you want your romance to stand out, be creative with your occupational choices for your characters. Need ideas? Try looking here. 

Demonstrate how confused they are. Our hero and our heroine need to be in conflict between their reason and their heart. Your reader needs to see this. She says she doesn’t like him or care about him, but that’s not what her actions show. He says that she is nothing special, but he lights up when she comes in a room. Friends may ask them about their googly eyes, and this is when they deny everything. You could have them lose sleep, have trouble eating, or find themselves distracted.

Give them a chorus to argue with. You hero and your heroine need to spout off about each other to someone. They need coworkers, BFFs, a sympathetic sister, a nosy aunt, someone, that they can talk about their love interest with. Of course, the friends see this relationship blooming more clearly than our hero and heroine do. These friends will have the job to give warnings, remind them of other decisions, tease them, manipulate the circumstances, and perhaps create conflict. The more complicated you make the supporting characters, the more drama you can create, and this is a good thing. Make sure these character and their motivations are well understood by your reader.

Create a pursuit. It could also be that one of them has more interest than the other. There should be decisive action by one to get the attention of the other. If you are going to tease the reader, you need to take your time with this. One of your main objectives is convincing your reader that they will get together, and the matter of when will keep them turning pages. In the pursuit, the pursuer needs to make some big mistakes. The pursuee should be offended, insulted or ignorant. Don’t make this easy. Put as many obstacles as you can in the path of the pursuer. But, don’t go so far as to discourage your readers or make your pursuer look like a weirdo. (Unless that’s your intention, which means you may be writing an entirely different genre altogether.)

Give them a clarifying moment when all could be lost. Your hero finds out that he’s being transferred to Poughkeepsie. Your heroine calls her local convent to ask if there’s an opening. The Ex shows up and wants to reconcile. You need to create a moment, I think late in the second act, in which it really looks like a permanent move is going to made by either one. What will happen next is critical.

Your hero and heroine realize that there are legitimate feelings here. Someone will have to make a dramatic move — either confess your feelings for this love interest of yours or lose them forever. Oh, this should be awkward, cringe-worthy and blubbering, but it must be done. This is the moment if you’ve been building this up all along, that your readers have been waiting for. Possibly, this is the moment that all of the friends have been hoping for. This is the moment in which they acknowledge to each other that they love each other.  And then? A permanent decision has to be made — you get to decide what that is.

Keep their actions and their analysis consistent. If you want him to be introverted, kind of geeky and OCD-ish, he may be much better at following directions than improvising. If you want her to be an extrovert, lively and free-spirited woman, then don’t make her too analytical about his intentions. The best way to create believable reactions in romance is to have thoroughly drawn characters. You need to really know them so that they are convincing.

“We are all fools in love”
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Make him want to “rescue” her. Please don’t think that I’m trying to stir the pot in 21st-century culture. But I believe that deep, deep down, a man in love wants to “rescue” the woman he admires. Back in the day, that rescue could have been from a dragon, starvation, the plague, or various Barbarians. But your tough-as-nails, feminist heroine is not perfect. Or at least she shouldn’t be. She needs to have weaknesses and make mistakes.

This is where your hero comes in. He needs to do something, big or small, that helps her out. We all need help from each other and this couple will need each other too. I think the best way to ship this is to create two or three of exchanges in which he “saves the day” for her. Make the first one an accident, but then make the next more deliberate. This will get her attention. She’ll be grateful. And if you really are going to put them together, then have her express her gratitude to him. Your readers will eat that with a spoon!

Make her want to get his opinion. A woman’s heart goes to the one she respects. He has a point-of-view on a particular issue — it could be something simple, like how to plant daisies. It could be something complex, like the US’s relationship with Sweden, but regardless, he has to have opinions that she respects. And she’ll seek it out. His viewpoint will be elevated above all other viewpoints in her mind. She may not do this deliberately, but she’ll do it just the same. Again, I’m not trying to appear to be overly Puritan, but he will need encouragement to pursue her. The best way for her to encourage him is to express respect or admiration. Make her see him as a hero. Your readers will too!

“The best love is the kind that awakens the soul and makes us reach for more, that plants a fire in our hearts and brings peace to our minds. And that’s what you’ve given me. That’s what I’d hoped to give you forever”
Nicholas Sparks

Make them both want to improve for the other one. She attempts competency, intelligence, or sophistication to get his attention. She may not even realize she’s doing this. All of a sudden his opinion of her matters and she can’t explain it. He has standards in something that she thinks is beyond her. She may sense this most acutely when some other girl is better than she is at something. Our heroine may find herself reacting to this emotionally. This reaction, of course, is noticed by her friends and the reader. This is so shippy, you’re going to have to call the harbormaster.

Make him willing to be uncomfortable for her sake. This is where the seeds of true love germinate: when we are willing to put down our own desires for the benefit of someone else. He may not even realize he’s doing it. Or he may deliberately choose to be uncomfortable for her sake. If you want to plot a developing relationship, brainstorm for ways that he would sacrifice for her. Start small, in subtle ways that he doesn’t know about. Then move to the bigger things. This list could be a great outline for you. Even if you aren’t writing from his point of view, having him do this, and then have others notice, especially your reader, will ship this like crazy.

Consider making them both cowards. They both have to be afraid of dealing with the issue. Even if they are brave in every other area of their lives, they need to be fearful of rejection. I think that a reader who recognizes this cowardice will identify with it. I also think that your reader could cheer on a character who kind of freaks out about the possibility of romance. Now, this will only work if it’s consistent with your character’s personality. I’m going to bet though, that of all the couples you know, one of the pair is the neurotic one. I saw my husband’s when I looked in the mirror this morning.

Admittedly, all romance stories are unique.Or at least the good ones are.

I believe that the uniqueness can come in the setting or the quirks of the characters. But the story of romance itself is an old one. It’s a literal or figurative dance between two people who balance each other out and eventually get on each other’s nerves.

If you’re a romance writer, maybe this little list will help you and those crazy kids you have falling in love.

There’s no ship like a relationship!


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

 

What to be a Better Writer? Think Like A Sculptor!

When I was a new writer, I had a lot of misconceptions of how writers wrote.

I had a mental image of a writer sitting in front of a typewriter with a stack of blank paper next to them.  Wasn’t that was how all writers worked. I thought that the first sentence I read in a book was the first sentence that the writer wrote. And I thought that the first thought was the best one. I thought that writers had to have everything in their story figured out long before they sat down to write it. Foolishly, I thought writers who were good enough to be published never had to rewrite, revise, edit, proofread or question themselves.

As I learned more about writing, I saw how wrong I was.

I learned that process of writing was hard, that it required heartbreaking and soul-crushing determination at times. And I learned that the search for the right thought, the right word or the right image was a common one. Also, I learned that great writers were willing to work and suffer for the sake of excellence and that craftsmanship was a process.

Most importantly, I learned that the final story represented only a small fraction of the work that was done by the author.

Now that I’m a little more experienced, I understand that page 1 of a novel is hardly the beginning of a writer’s journey. The mental image of a puzzled writer sitting at a typewriter isn’t an accurate one to me.

Writing A Novel Is More Like Sculpting A Fine Piece of Marble

What to be a Better Writer? Think like a sculptor!

Like a sculptor, writers start with a big hunk of nothing and end up with something beautiful.

 Good sculptors don’t start whacking and hope for the best. Marble is expensive; a good sculptor would plan the moves of his hammer and chisel carefully. A good sculptor has a plan; he may spend hours consulting experts on proper form, on proportion, on style.  A good sculptor would practice by making sketch after sketch, filling notebooks with different perspectives of ideas. Before a sculptor ever lifts his hammer for that first big wallop, he’d know what he was doing and why.

An experienced sculptor takes big moves in the beginning of his creation. He pounds big chunks away at first until he gets a very rough shape of the idea in his head. Then, his moves become finer and more delicate. Smaller tools are used to make rough shaped recognizable. Soon the sculptor is able to use tools like files and knives to create the detail. Each curve, each muscle, each surface is carefully and slowly handled. Over time, the sides of the sculpture are shaped. It may be a while before the viewer can understand the vision of the artist.

But the sculptor is not yet done. The finest details must be attended too — textures, eyes, fingernails. No detail must be ignored. The sculpture is not finished until every square centimeter of that creation is buffed by the creator.

What Can We Learn From The Sculptor?
  • A sculptor learns from the experts. As writers we need to take the time to learn our craft from experts around us. Our art deserves attention to plot, structure, character, description, dialogue and point of view.
  • A sculptor sketches his ideas in advance. Lucky us, our media, ink and paper, is so cheap enough that we don’t have to worry about our mistakes. But that shouldn’t stop us from practicing.  We should write regularly and grow in skill and confidence so that when we do sit down to draft the novel, we are at our best.
  • A sculptor understands that work that is rushed will show. Good writers are patient writers. They take the time to craft their work well and don’t rush in to publishing just because it’s easy. Our art and our readers deserve to have quality work from us.
  • A sculptor moves around his sculpture, focusing on facet at a time. His work is circular or spiral, not linear. He is free to travel from section to section, improving it as he is inspired.
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Now, when I start my novels, I want to think like a sculptor.

I want to review my notes and instruction from coaches. And I want to spend time with the outline, the character development, the plot, long before I ever draft a word. I  want to “swing that hammer” with confidence and that only comes with learning. Probably, I’m not going sit down with my art and think linearly. Instead, I’ll move from big idea, say the plot and move into the smaller details, like line-editing.

I had plenty more misconceptions as a writer, but envisioning correctly who I am in the process of the art has been encouraging and helpful.

Writing is art. And the more I work in the process, the more artistic I become.
What do you think? Is the sculptor a good metaphor for the writing process?

Did you like this post? You may also like

16 Simple Things To Do To Be More Creative or

Top 10 Ways To Make Your Words More Beautiful


 

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Top 10 Ways To Improve Your Writing

You want to improve your writing? It’s oh, so easy and oh, so hard.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that if you are reading this blog then you are a writer. Even if you don’t think you can call yourself that, you probably have aspirations for literary greatness, fame, or fortune.

The right kind of greatness, fame, and fortune only comes from those writers who spend their time improving their craft.

By becoming the best writer you can be, then you're more likely to attract readers, agents, and…

How do you get better? Glad you asked!

Top 10 Ways To Improve Your Writing

Top 10 Ways To Improve Your Writing

1. Read, read, read.

Read in your genre every chance you get. Try reading the Classics. Read your writing buddies’ stuff. Or read those literary giants that you hated in high school. Don’t just read, breath in language deeply and frequently so that beautiful words are a part of you like oxygen. Need ideas on what to read? This Pinterest board is all about books! 

2. Write. That means write a lot.

Write every day.Make it a ten-minute exercise or 1000 words but have a daily goal and meet it. Rewrite best first lines. Create new characters. Retell an old story. Just write. Need a prompt? This Pinterest Board can help! 

3. Observe.

Sit at your favorite coffee shop and write about every detail you see around you. Or you look at a person and describe them or try to tell their story. Describe the objects around your home. Keen observation skills will make you a great writer. Guess where you can find tips on great observation? 

4. Get a Mentor.

In Online Writing Groups, such as Facebook’s 10 Minute Novelists, you can meet people who are little further ahead of you in your writing journey. Ask them questions. Get them to read your stuff. Receive their feedback graciously.

5. Join A Group.

By hanging around writers who have the same goals as you, you will learn a lot about craftsmanship, character development, plot and setting. Also? Hanging out with other writers is just fun. They rejoice with you when you succeed and buy you drinks when you don’t.

6. Take a Class.

Check out your local library, community college or adult education center for writing classes. Some are even online! By working with an instructor, you will be able to get important feedback and grasp concepts you might not through just educating yourself.  This link has a list of free and not-so-free writing courses!

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7. Read books about writing.

Many famous authors have written books on writing. Check out Robert McKee’s STORY, Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird, or Stephen King’s On Writing. All of them are my favorites and have helped me improve too.

8. Watch videos.

YouTube has several video classes on creative writing. And K.M. Weiland’s is probably the best. These are an affordable and convenient way for you to improve your story telling skills.

“Make the most of yourself….for that is all there is of you.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

9. Be humble and teachable.

No matter how much you’ve written or how many books you’ve sold, there’s always room to improve. And even if you were Pulitzer worthy, you’d still need to know about publishing, marketing, and social media. Be open to learning all you can. Arrogance doesn’t go far in this field.

 10. Expect excellence from yourself.

Creative writing is an art. Show respect for what it is,  respect to other writers and respect the readers by doing your best to be excellent in all you do. That means learn the rules of grammar & spelling and taking the creation of stories seriously.

You can become better. Your dreams deserve it.


If you liked this post, you may also like:

A Writer’s Guide To Ruthlessly Killing Your Darlings or

Beginning Badly: Eight Awful Ways To Start A Novel


 

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Free & Not-So-Free Writers’ Conferences For The Poor And Anthropophobic

 

It’s Conference Season!

Another spring has arrived and you will not be going to a writer’s conference. I’m so sorry. I’m not either.

I’ve been trying to get to the ACFW conference in September every fall for the last ten years and I’m not any closer now than I was ten years ago.  I did, however, get to go to the Mountain Valley Writers’ Conference in Lake Guntersville, Alabama a few weeks ago. And I have the bug to go, and speak, at another one. But it may not be for a while. I loved speaking to a group of writers. But then I had to talk to them and that was scary!

Because I can’t go to writers conferences, I can do one of two things. One…

The other option, and the one that is a lot more entertaining, IMHO, is to create my own conference!

You can do this too!

Free and Not So Free Writers Conferences for the Poor and Anthropophobic

If you do your own conferencing in the privacy of your own home, it’s free and there’s the added bonus of not actually having to talk to people.

For us financially strapped anthropophobes out there, this is a win-win.

I’ve created a list of some of the hundreds (if not thousands) of free resources for writers online.

This is NOT exhaustive. But it will certainly get you started if you can’t afford to go out to learn how to be a great writer. There are blogs, websites, videos, virtual conferences, podcasts and groups you can participate in. And DON’T forget your local library (although you should put clothes on to go there, and you may have to actually speak to someone!)

Need To Feel Like You Are Actually At A Conference?

Colgate Writer’s Conference on YouTube, Or The Thriller Online Writing Conference or the Science Fiction and Fantasy Conference.

Need To Listen To Celebrity Authors Talk About Writing?

 Anne Rice on YouTube, Susan Conley at TedTalks, Rick Riordan,  Need more? How about the 15 Best Youtube Channels for Writers?

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General Fiction Writing Tips and Strategies?

Start here: Inside Creative Writing, episode one from Florida State University, then, you can YouTube search: fiction writing. Or try Gotham Writers Workshop!  You will find DOZENS of videos to watch. Watch them all!

Need Ideas For Marketing?

 Eighty-nine book marketing ideas that will change your life. And Five Easy Ways To Publicize and Promote Your Book or, if you’re a member of the 10 Minute Novelists Facebook Group, you can read the feed of the chat we had a few weeks ago “Messy Mash-Up Marketing Marathon: My Notes From The MacGregor Literary Seminar”.  What? You’re NOT A MEMBER OF OUR FACEBOOK GROUP?  You can click here and join!

Getting restless? Wanna actually do some writing?

 Here’s a link to 10 Universities that offer free writing courses! FREE EDUCATION!  All you poor impoverished xenophobes out there don’t even have to get dressed!

Other things you can do!

Listen to podcasts. Here’s a link to the best podcasts on writing. 

Sign up for writers groups. Here are online writers groups that can help you!

Read everything about writing you can get your hands on at your library. Here’s a list of the best books on writing! 

Find a coach or mentor. This article tells you how to do that! 

Read agents’ blogs. Read editors’ blogs. Ask authors if you can interview them.

Don’t forget to write!

And Follow Our Pinterest Boards!

10 Minute Novelists have over fifty writing related boards on Pinterest that link you to hundreds of resources on craft, marketing, social media, writing prompts, structure, character, everything!

And if you are willing to attend a live one, make it this one. We’d love to have you!

Yes, I have to stand next to the financially strapped and anthropophobic writers this year, but that’s not an excuse for not learning all I can about how to write well. If I can do it, you can too! 

13 More Mistakes You Could Make When Creating Narrative Voice

 

Who is telling your story anyway? What is the point of view?

You’ve had a story in your mind for weeks.

Maybe you’ve twisted it, pounded it and cut it to pieces. You’ve already made many decisions on how it is to be told. But, have you put thought into the narrative voice?

The narrative voice is the voice of the point of view character that tells the story. With a well-drawn point of view character, a story can be rich and interesting. You want to take the time to get this right.

But be careful, many novelists make big mistakes in creating that narrative voice.

Last week, I blogged about 12 big mistakes that you can make in creating a narrative voice. This week? I have thirteen more potential mistakes. Never fear, there are plenty of ways avoid them.

13 More Mistakes You Could Make When Creating Narrative Voice

You may make your character sound too much like you. Many new writers create these characters that are really ideal images of themselves. They have few flaws and are a little too perfect. The words these characters say sound suspiciously similar to those that the author would say. Ask a reader who knows you well to evaluate if you’re putting way too much of you in your narrative voice.

You may get the gender wrong. In broad, sweeping, general strokes, men react differently to situations than women. Of course, there are exceptions — so if you are writing in the opposite gender, make sure your voice is authentic. As much as I liked A Fault In Our Stars,  I thought John Green could have made his teenage girl worry a little more about her appearance. Teen girls do that.

You may make them all strength and no weakness. Authentic, three-dimensional characters are those that feel real. Don’t be afraid to have your character make mistakes, offend another character or fail. Potentially, a balance of strengths and weaknesses will endear your character to your reader. They’ll identify with them more strongly and want to see them through to the end.

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You may get the tone wrong for the genre. Are you new to the genre you’re writing? Make sure you’ve read a few books in it. Specific genres have tones that readers expect. You don’t want your hero in your thriller to be too flippant or sensitive. You don’t want your romantic comedy to be bleak and morbid. Study the genre and shape your narrator accordingly.

You may sound too much like your favorite author. While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, in your own work, your own voice is critical. You develop a voice, both your own and your narrator’s, through practice. Write as much as you can and read as much as you can from a variety of authors to find words that are uniquely yours.

Your prose may be a touch too purple. Even if your character is a boa-wearing, poodle-holding, cigarette holder-clutching, frosted blonde, middle-aged, has-been diva, don’t overdo the descriptions, observations , and meanderings. Your first goal should be clarity. Simple writing, light on the adjectives and adverbs, will make your narrative voice stronger.

When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”
Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

You may sound dated. Fiction has trends just like everything else. The common narrative voice of most chick lit in the ’90s has a distinct sound that you may not want to replicate in your chick lit book. Read and study the current books in your genre so that you can know what is expected. If you read only older fiction, your voice could be unappealing.

Your sentences may not be varying enough. Shorter sentences are quick and denote action. Longer sentences take their time and are good for description and observation. Make sure in your prose that your narrator has a variety of sentence lengths to add interest.

You may have forgotten the sensory experiences of your character. What your character sees, tastes, touches, hears and smells is all important to the narration. By adding these experiences, you are reinforcing your setting and creating a potential for conflict. Sensory description can make your story come alive. Don’t neglect it.

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You may be too shocking. Writing fiction is art and art can be anything, but if you purposefully intent to shock and offend with graphic profanity, violence, or anything else that may make readers uncomfortable, especially in the beginning, you may find you will lose interest early. It’s better to use the narrative voice to ease them into the story and save more shocking narration for the moments that you need it.

You may be too sexy. This problem could fall into the too shocking argument. In writing romance, I’d suggest that more provocative talk escalate organically. Admittedly, I’m not a reader nor a writer of steamy romance, so I may have this all wrong. But in my humble opinion, your narrative voice needs an arc. By seducing your reader too soon, you’ll have nothing to woo them with in later acts.

“I will go to my grave in a state of abject endless fascination that we all have the capacity to become emotionally involved with a personality that doesn’t exist.”
Berkeley Breathed

You may not react enough during the inciting incident. Structurally speaking, something big needs to happen in the first few pages to get the story moving. Your narrator interprets this event and must make decisions regarding it. Make sure that their reaction handles the situation plausibly so that the reader wants to follow them on their adventure.

You may not be interesting enough and the reader doesn’t care. This is a hard one to fix. The narrative voice must come from a well-developed character. The more you work on your characters depth, the more it will show in your narration. Take the time to make your characters rich and three-dimensional.

The best narrative voices come from well-drawn characters.

The more time you spend in every aspect of your character’s life, the potentially richer your narrative voice could be. Who knows? Maybe you’ll wind up with a Jane Eyre or a David Copperfield?


If you liked this post, consider reading these about character development:

7 Defense Mechanisms You Could Give To Your Character or, 5 Super Powers & 5 Sources of Kryptonite for Abused Characters


 

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

The 9 Things Your Main Character Needs From You

Character development is one of my favorite things to do when I’m cooking up a new story.

With the development of character, it’s like I’m meeting a new friend who trusts me enough to send me on an adventure. I need my character badly for, without him or her, I don’t have a voice for my story. But my character needs me too. I have the necessities to make them come alive.

These are the nine things my main character needs from me.

A name.

This is obvious, and you can spend a lot of time looking at name meanings and overthink it to the point of ridicule, or you can call your main character Binky and be done with it. If you’re going to give a character a name, make sure that it has a distinct look and sound from the other character names (this is where I make the obligatory grumble to J.R.R. Tolkien for his choices with Sauron/Sauramon.) You also want to make sure that your name is appropriate to the setting. Make sure that it doesn’t have such a freaky spelling that your readers stumble over it. You want to make sure that there aren’t any cultural connotations with it, for example, the name Hillary. 

A general physical appearance, but not a laundry list.

Maybe I’m just lazy and impatient, but I usually skim over an author’s detailed account of their main character. I don’t care about how wide apart their eyes are, their aquiline nose, the ruddiness of their cheeks or that their hair is the red like copper, but not red like the sauce on my taco. I’m of the belief (and it’s because I’m so guilty of this) that the reader creates a mental image of the character in his own way regardless of what the author says. So unless your main character is a hobbit, and it better not be, keep your detailed description to yourself.

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”
Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

An archetype.

Before you get all huffy about how archetypes are really just three steps away from a cliche’, let me explain: an archetype is a predictable and recognizable role that your character will play in the story. Example are the mentor, the waif, the professor, the crusader, the swashbuckler, the free spirit, the nurturer. And if you use these archetypes as a foundation for the purpose of your characters, then you’ll better understand what they do in the story and how they relate to the plot as well as the other characters. They will only slip into cliche’ if you choose not to fill them with an interesting backstory, quirks, secrets, fears and mutually exclusive desires.

A family — even if they are all dead.

Even if you rarely mention them. Your character has to have come from somewhere. You will need to understand their family history well, especially if they have tragedy and dysfunction. And really, what’s the point of having a story at all if you can’t give them tragedy and dysfunction? Take the time to sketch out your characters parents, siblings and any other important family members. They have certainly shaped him or her. You need to understand that well. Consider how parents’ afflictions affect their children. Don’t forget birth order. Throw in some poverty for fun.

A skill set.

Everybody can do something. In fact, if your character is really good at one thing, they will be respected by your reader, at least in this area. The only exception to this rule could be children who haven’t grown into them. Before you figure it all out for your character, think about what life skills they rock at. Think about professional skills. What about languages they speak? Their animal whispering, their ability to make the perfect omelet? Think about oddities, like they can pop their shoulder out of its socket. Or maybe they can read minds. Your author’s skill set will distinguish him, so choose well.

“Never annoy an inspirational author or you will become the poison in her pen and the villain in every one of her books.”
Shannon L. Alder

A quirk.

A quirk is something particularly unusual and not necessarily a skill. It could be a dairy allergy or an obsession with border collies. A quirk could be an eccentricity or a lack of eyebrows. By adding a quirk to your characters, you make them more three-dimensional but choose carefully. You don’t want the quirkiness of the quirk to overpower everything else in the story. The quirk, as fun as it is, isn’t enough to make a full character. Choose one that plays nicely with the other characteristics of your character and may even add to the plot.

A lie.

This lie is not something necessarily that they KNOW is a lie. It’s something that they believe that turns out to be false. In the best books it’s the discovery of this lie, about halfway in, that changes the trajectory of the story for our hero. I think the best lies are those that have set the character out on the original quest. He’s seeking his objectives under a solid assumption, then the floor falls out from under him and he discovers he was deceived all along. Oh, if you do this well, your readers will EAT THIS UP!


Writers, you don’t want to miss this! 

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A fear.

Now bear with me on this. You don’t want something benign, like a fear of butterflies, you want something that’s really identifiable, like a fear of abandonment, a fear of humiliation, a fear of losing control, a fear of rejection. It’s this fear that’s going to cause your main character to make some serious mistakes, like alienating people or forgetting their big purpose. Everybody has these kinds of fears, even if they don’t realize it. A character’s deepest fear can be the motivation that’s driving them to make the choices that they do. As you’re working on your plot, consider what would happen if their deepest fear was actually realized!

A way to process information.

This is really important. Is your character someone who takes everything literally and for face value? Or is your character someone who can read between the lines, who picks up nuance? Does your character have empathy for others who may or may not get this information? Or does your character hoard information for himself and refuse to share? Is your main character scatterbrained? Impulsive? Indecisive? Inflexible? It’s this type of distinction that can really make your character become real to your readers. Take your time on this one — and consider making your character as different from you as possible!

If you give your character all of these nine things, and you sculpt this out with care and thoughtfulness, you’ll have created someone interesting and worth reading about.


Need help with characters? You may also like,

Five Character Types That Make Great Antagonistic Forces or

7 Defense Mechanisms You Could Give To Your Character


 

 

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

12 Mistakes You Could Make When Creating Narrative Voice

 

Narrative voice is the voice of the narrator in a story.

Every novel, especially those written in the first person, tells the story from a specific point of view.  If you’ve chosen a point of view for your story that is specific, you may find that it is complicated and difficult to keep the story only to their viewpoint. If done well, your narrative voice draws the reader into the story. The details of the thoughts and dialogue work together to make the narrator a sympathetic or likable character.

But if the narrative voice is put together thoughtlessly, your reader may bore quickly, dismiss the narrator and possibly discard your book.

Here are 12 Mistakes You Could Be Making When Creating Narrative Voice

12 Mistakes You Could Be Making When Creating Narrative Voice

You may get the age wrong. If you are writing from the point of view of a teenager or a child, you may be tempted to make them sound too much like an adult. Even if you know precocious children, make an effort to listen to kids that age to fit their words to their age.

You may get the dialect wrong. Within certain parts of the country, certain idiosyncrasies come out in speech. You can play around with this, generally, without too much trouble. But if you’re going to lay your “y’all” on thick, or throw in a few “fogettaboutits,” you may want to consult someone who grew up in that area.

You may be too committed to standard English rules. Dialogue is messy. People rarely speak in grammatically correct ways. If you keep your dialogue to precise, well-written sentences, your characters will be stiff and dull. If there’s anywhere to get away with breaking the rules of grammar, it’s in dialogue. Have fun with it.

“I am not an angel,’ I asserted; ‘and I will not be one till I die: I will be myself. Mr. Rochester, you must neither expect nor exact anything celestial of me – for you will not get it, any more than I shall get it of you: which I do not at all anticipate.”
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

You may have too much interior dialogue. Interior dialogue is a lot like backstory. Authors think they need it and readers skip over it. Mark up every place that you have interior dialogue and cut as much out of it as you can. Limit it to questions only. Or omit altogether and see if it’s missed at all.

You may make all your characters sound the same. Your characters should sound distinctive. Ideally, you can remove all of the dialogue tags from the draft and tell who says what. Even if it’s not that obvious, you can add individuality by adding catch phrases, stuttering, repetition, whining, commands, excuses, or one-liners.

A specific narrative voice can enhance the meaning and telling of the story.

You may have the time wrong. I am not a historical fiction writer for one reason: I don’t like research. But if you choose to write in a specific time period, you must be sure that your character speaks like they would then. Teen girls from the 1920s didn’t say, “Awesome!” If you take the trouble to find out what they did say, your dialogue will be interesting and authentic.

“Which of us has not felt that the character we are reading in the printed page is more real than the person standing beside us?”
Cornelia Funke

You may put in your own cultural preferences. Because I am a middle-aged white woman, living in New England in the 21st century, I run the risk of making all my characters sound like middle-aged white women living in New England in the 21st century. To make my dialogue sound authentic, I need to consider the culture, education, and status of my characters. These are certainly revealed in dialogue, so they should be correct.

You may make feisty unlikeable. One of the problems with reading dialogue is that we can’t accurately communicate tone or inflection. What may sound feisty and flirty to you could come across as crabby and unlikeable. This can put a distance between you and your reader. Ask your beta readers if they interpret your dialogue in any way other than what you intended. And then fix it!

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You may tell the reader too much too soon. Heaven help the writer who fills their dialogue with too much exposition! While you do want to be clear, and you do want your reader to know what’s going on, it’s hard to write exposition. I suggest you make your reader work for the important information. Assume your reader can fill in the blanks. If you scale way back, you can always add. Your beta readers can help you if you have gaps that need to be filled.

“There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil, a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome.”
“And your defect is a propensity to hate everybody.”
“And yours,” he replied with a smile, “is willfully to misunderstand them.”
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

You may have too much pondering. This is similar to interior monologuing, but pondering raises the bar on navel-gazing. A character who does too much of this can be boring, monotonous, and come across as a whiner. Your narrator’s deep ponderings should only be expressed if this is really critical to the plot. It’s far better to have not enough of this than too much.

You may take your reader down too many rabbit trails. While it is likely that your character is deficient in attention, too much stream of consciousness can be a turn-off. The world already has a Virginia Woolf. Consider whacking some of those tangential thoughts down into the briefest of distractions. Your reader will appreciate it.

You may reveal emotions that should be saved for later. Hopefully, you plan in the great scheme of your story to have your character grow and change. Their emotional state should grow too, this means that in their narration, they should intensify at a reasonable, steady rate. The last big climactic moment, about 2/3 in, is where the pinnacle of your character’s emotions are expressed. Too soon before that and you’ll have nowhere to go.

To have a strong narrative voice, you must practice. Write, write and rewrite.

The result of your hard work could be a Scout Finch or a Nick Carroway — two prominent voices in literature who uniqueness told unforgettable stories.


If you liked this post on narrative voice, you may also like:

Top 10 Things To Give Your Characters That Will Make Them More Vivid or, 7 Defense Mechanisms You Could Give To Your Character


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Five Character Types That Make Great Antagonistic Forces

The protagonist pushes forward, but the antagonistic force pushes back.

An antagonistic force is a person in your story who is opposing your protagonist, either in small, accidental ways or in big obvious ones.

Because of the contrast and the potential for great conflict, you want to develop your antagonist as richly as you do your main character. These four destructive character types could make your antagonist richer and even more realistic.

Five Character Types That Make Great Antagonistic Forces

 

 

Little Miss Victim: Their life is so, so hard.

This person has mastered the art of getting others to do their work for them. They may not even realize that they are their own worst enemy. In fiction, this could be a puppy-eyed waif who has a constant look of want. This person could also be an arthritic ailing aunt who will remind you constantly of her troubles and how she really can’t do anything without help.

What makes them a good antagonistic force?

These types are resistant to change, especially if the change requires something radical on their end. They also refuse to take responsibility for their own state, so this can be a point of annoyance and resistance to the protagonist. They often can’t be trusted because their own interpretation of reality is so skewed. They may be passive to a fault, lazy beyond imagination, and manipulative. They really don’t want to do anything at all to help themselves so they have an armory of tactics that they use to get others to do their work for them. They may also be incredibly charming or attractive and they know it.

These type make life miserable for your main character, and that's exactly the point.

The Secret Sabotager:  Life isn’t fair, so it’s time to even the score!

This person is full of secret resentments and bitterness. They also see themselves as victims, but instead of being passive about it, these little devils deliberately manipulate circumstances to get others to fail.

What makes them a good antagonistic force? Their deviousness!

They could feign innocence when they get the coffee order wrong. They could “accidentally” misplace something important. They often come up with the cleverest lies and they do it so well that they’re actually believed. They also fight back against any kind of accountability. They despise authority figures. And they may talk a great game about how dependable they are, but they pretty much only do what they feel like will be the most advantageous to them.

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The Self-Important Martyr: No one else can do it like they can!

 This person is definitely a hard worker, but they know it. They push the expectations of themselves and of others too far, so they often slip into micromanaging details. They have control issues, big time. And they can’t allow anyone to have credit in what happens in the office, or at the church event, or at the family Thanksgiving table.

What makes them a good antagonistic force?

They complain about everyone’s lack of contribution. Want a good conflict? Put a self-important martyr and a little miss victim in the same room. The martyr will go on and on about how they are the only one to work while the helpless waif just sits there. Even if our martyr has offers from others, he/she may have such ridiculously high standards that they lose the help they want. “It’s just easier to do it myself,” they often wail. Yet they may also say, “if it weren’t for me this whole place would fall apart.” When you set up your protagonist’s goals, the martyr will be the one who micromanages them and wants to take them over.

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The Storyteller: “Guess what happened to me last night?”

This person is all about the entertainment. They long to be the center of attention at all times. They will interrupt to say what’s on their mind. They may not have a filter — so they could be inappropriate and loud. They have little regard for tasks or others’ time commitments, so they make people late with their stories. They may even have an exaggerated perspective on what a good story is.

What makes them a good antagonistic force?

Even though they don’t realize it, they can slow the protagonist down with their constant anecdotes and attention-seeking. If your protagonist is on a deadline, or the stakes are high, your storyteller could block them from getting things done. If they are corrected, the storyteller may get defensive.

Storytellers also like drama — so if they can gossip, divide allegiances, reveal secrets, start rumors or make insinuating suggestions all the better. They could be maliciously aware of what they are doing or, they may be completely innocent.

The Psychopathic Bully: This could be the most obvious and the most fun antagonistic type to write.

But the danger in writing them is that you can slip into cliche'and we really don’t need another Mean Girl, do we? This character is above the rules — whatever rules you’ve placed in your setting. And could even mean rules of morality. Yikes. We’re talking psychopath here and done well, they are the most fun to read about.

What makes them a good antagonistic force?

A true psychopath has no empathy for anyone. That means that there is little or no mental acknowledgment of suffering, pain, inconvenience or offense. A psychopath doesn’t care who he hurts or how. He/she is not the least bit intimidated by repercussions, in this life or the life to come. And if they show restraint, say, they choose not to do something violent or destructive, then it’s because they are just biding their time. The psychopath could easily be all of the above antagonistic types simultaneously. They agenda that they have, they will fully believe, is completely justified and they will stop at nothing to get what they want.

I’ve met every one of these character types in real life and I bet you have too.

Consider using them, without slipping too much into exaggeration, for your next antagonist.

They’ll make life miserable for your main character, and that’s exactly the point.


If you liked this post about antagonists, you may also like: 

Eighteen Ways To Write An Emotionally Abusive Villain

Or, 

Top 10 Questions To Ask About Authority Figures That Could Beef Up Your Conflict


 


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

Five Signs To Keep Writers From Going Wrong

By TLC Nielsen

Are you a Writer Gone Wrong?

10 minute novelists are an upbeat, happy group of writers striving to be all they can word-ly be.

But unbeknownst to many is another, small group of writers who hoard their words, shudder from social interaction with other (competing) authors, and cannot restrain themselves from talking/chatting/emailing about their books, blogs and other writings far more than necessary. This group of writers took dangerous forks on the writerly road, ending up down a path they never intended to take.

Here are 5 road signs to keep you, and me, from joining Writers Gone Wrong!

5 Road Signs To Keep Writers From Going Wrong by TLC Nielsen

Road Sign #1 Writing Conferences- To go or Not to go

Beware the path that leads you away from attending writing conferences. I’m thankful my writing path started 6 years ago when a persistent writing friend invited me to a local, annual writing conference. Yes, it was expensive, but so is any 4-day conference with room and board attached. It took two years of writing for a scholarship before I won a full-ride award. By attending this conference, I moved from being an amateur writer to becoming a serious wordsmith. I proved to myself, my family and other writers that I was “in it to win it.” I have gone to a yearly writing conference ever since and I wouldn’t have finished my novel without the support I found there. Attending a conference also gave me a deadline, making me work harder and smarter to have my one-sheet, short biography, and manuscripts ready to go.

Road Sign #2 Word Hoarding versus Sharing

Finding an amazing critique group requires some hunting and some sacrifice of time but the alternative is scary. Left to themselves, writers gone wrong will think everything they’ve written is amazing or, more like me, that it all stinks and should be destroyed before anyone can smell, I mean read it. Writers need to be actively involved with a peer group of fellow wordsmiths they can trust to help them edit and improve. The first draft isn’t called the “vomit” draft1 for no reason.

It took me three years of attending that local writing conference before I found a handful of writers who lived close enough to me to start a critique group. I trust these writers because of their keen insight and the amazing works they share with the group. I had been involved with a library writers’ group previously, which left me scarred and scared; there were a few alpha writers who positioned themselves to be in control. That was my first experience with writers gone wrong and it took me ten years before I would try again. So, as a self-confessed word hoarder, I implore all writers to become word sharers, even if it means starting your own critique group and having to be its president for a few years. The benefits far outweigh the sacrifice.

“Writers need to be actively involved with a peer group of fellow wordsmiths they can trust to help them edit and improve.” — TLC Nielsen

It’s truly an honor and privilege for me to be involved with the serious writers in the On the Border chapter. When this group first started, we looked at a variety of organizations before choosing to join Word Weavers, International. These organizations are a great way to get support and find writing groups in your area. I joined the 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook about the same time my critique group started and my fellow writers, both online and in-person, are responsible for my success as a word sharer on this word-strewn journey…together.

I joined the 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook about the same time my critique group started and my fellow writers, both online and in-person, are responsible for my success as a word sharer on this word-strewn journey…together.

Road Sign #3 Lone Ranger or Accountability Partner – that is the question

Writers who’ve gone wrong may sometimes attend a writing conference and occasionally pop into a critique group. They may be too much of the lone ranger type to seek out a mentor or accountability partner. When I attended my first conference five years ago, the presenters hammered out the trifecta of writer success: conferences, critique groups and one-on-one relationships. Eugene H. Peterson in a 2017 publication summed it up well: “I am not myself by myself.”2 He may have been referring to the church, but I think his statement stands for writers – I am not my writerly self by myself. If no one reads my words, I am simply a journal writer, not an author. To be an authentic author takes accountability, sometimes the uncomfortable kind.

Road Sign #4 Using Your Writerly Powers for Good or…

Do you give or take in your writing? Literary agent Leslie Stobbe said if you want to be a writer, then write! 3 Find an organization to use your skills to help, for the need of volunteer writers is vast. There are numerous ways to use your word powers for good. Here are two basic mainstays: always a) quote your sources and b) ask for permission to use other folks’ words whenever possible.

However, there can be a dark side to having writerly powers, when it’s too easy for authors to stray into taking more than they give.  Oh, they may pretend to offer something for free but there’s a catch – you owe them. A true gift comes with no strings attached. It takes dedicated effort to use words to help others, whether offering to write guest blogs for writer friends, volunteering free writing services to a worthy organization, or sending thoughtful letters to others – just give back full-heartedly. And remember the advice from Leslie, if you’re a writer – then write.

“Being a participating member of 10 Minute Novelists is a great start!”

— TLC Nielsen

Road Sign #5 Decimal Point Growth or Decline

In chatting with my mother, a published botanist, she encouraged me to mention becoming Decimal Point writers, “people who are incrementally increasing their skills.”4 She clarified that even though 1.4 writers are still considered at “1” a small increase to 1.6 catapults them towards “2.”

Writers who have gone wrong, however, tend to think in extremes – I’m a “10+” or I’m a “0”. I’m learning to celebrate the small incremental steps of my writing journey in order to dodge the doubt that plagues me. My small successes include reading books for pleasure while on the stationary bike, writing a monthly blog and bringing something, anything, to the critique group to which I belong. I’m also entrusting my novel to beta readers, a step of trust in my word-ly journey. 

While my book has not been published yet, I hold on to the 10 minutes a day commitment that gets me ever closer to my goal. 

The choices writers make EACH DAY will either expand or contract their growth: in conference attendance, word sharing commitment, community mindfulness and accountability and, most importantly, in giving back.


1 Bob Hostetler, WTP 2016 conference, Wheaton, Illinois. “Vomit draft” quote, source unknown.

2 Eugene H. Peterson, CT Pastors: “The State of Church Ministry in America”, 2017 (p. 30)

3 Leslie Stobbe, WTP 2012 conference, Wheaton, Illinois

4 Botanist Linda W. Curtis, self-published author of three books on plants:

Aquatic Plants of Northeastern Illinois, Bog-Fen Carex of the Upper Midwest and Woodland Carex of the Upper Midwest.  Permission granted


TLC Nielsen fights her writer-gone-wrong tendencies by being the current VP of the Word Weavers On the Border writing chapter, mentoring new attendees at a local writing conference, and belonging to the 10 MN group. She’s editing her first novel, By Land or Sea, and will be attending only one conference this year, at her spouse’s request. She uses her writerly powers for the better by occasionally judging book contests. Her decimal point increases include playing trombone on Rich Rubietta’s CD Resting Places, contributing a story on p. 68 of I Believe in Healing by Cecil Murphey and Twila Belk, belonging to the 365 Writing Club here at 10 MN as well as interviewing ordinary folks with extraordinary stories at this monthly blog: https://lookandbe.blogspot.com.  You can find her occasionally on Twitter as Read2Mii2.