Tag Archives: writing advice

Deborah Ratliff: We Just Click, Dude!

How a deep connection between characters engages your reader.

 
“What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.”    ― Aristotle

A writer recently posted a question in a group discussion. What causes a reader to return to subsequent novels by an author? He wondered if the author and their writing style was the reason.

I have heard this question many times, and I think that while an author’s style is important to a reader, what brings a reader back repeatedly is how the author crafts characters.

Once at a meeting of a writing group, we were discussing the merits of writing a novel series and what would cause readers to continue to follow the books. A local playwright listened to this discussion before pounding the table. He declared that there was only one reason a reader came back: the characters. Provide a character that a reader can identify with, care about, connect to, and they will respond and read everything you write about that character.

This is true for me personally. The first author and character I became enamored with were John D. McDonald and the infamous Travis McGee. Everything about his books drew me in. The main setting, the coast of South Florida, remains a favorite to this day. Every detail, the ancient Rolls Royce McGee converted into a pick-up truck, the houseboat he won in a poker game, the marina where the boat docked, all characters within the novels. But that alone did not bring me back.

Travis McGee was larger than life. A man of honor with a strong moral center who, while he would bend the rules to accomplish his goals, never lost sight of the truth and what was right. He was reliable, counted on to help people when they had exhausted all other possibilities to undo a wrong. I think we all want that level of stability and strength in our lives.

McDonald didn’t stop with his main character. He created a world of characters that existed from novel to novel. McGee’s best friend, the economist Meyer, was unique, along with a cast of colorful and eccentric characters. From Chookie, who danced at a local club, to The Alabama Tiger, who held a constant floating party on his boat, these characters became old friends. The last Travis McGee novel may have been the saddest book I have ever read. My friends were gone. There would be no new adventures.

However, that instant connection I had with McGee and company will never leave. I read those books over often and feel nostalgia and peace simultaneously. Once you have felt that connection whether in real life or in your imaginary life that feeling will never leave.

The question then becomes this. How do writers craft characters that readers can connect with at the desired level? Let us examine what makes a character memorable.

 

Who is this person?

You must establish your main character as likable and relatable. They do not have to be perfect but do need to have characteristics the reader can identify with, or there will be no connection.

An important consideration is not to stereotype your character. Perfection is not the goal here, realism is. The reader wants to see someone who is strong and heroic but with flaws that they have themselves. Then they can project themselves into the action. Remember, Indiana Jones was afraid of snakes.

Construct your character through show and tell, don’t provide a litany of characteristics. If your character is short (which I identify with) frame the description as “she stretched to reach the top shelf” not she was five-one. The reader will have experienced the reaching or watched someone who did and identify without an exact reference to the character’s height and create an image in their imagination.

Above all, reveal your character’s flaws. Are they afraid of new love because of hurt in the past? Are they devastated or angry because of a tragedy? Did they lose everything and have to start over? Show the fears they feel, the pain and anger. You should also give them a reason for hope—a faith that they will survive and reach their goal. Give them humor and confidence, even if you shake it from time to time. Let them laugh, cry, rant, and fight for what they want. Your reader should be cheering for your character to succeed with every word.

 

What are they seeking?

Establish your MC’s goal as soon as possible. What do they want? Once you have established the task before them, throw obstacles in their way. Create the need for the reader to become engaged in their quest. We have all wanted something we seemingly can’t have, and as problem after problem piles on, we think we will never reach our goal. Let the reader feel that frustration, fear, anger as they fight through the issues keeping them from their goals.

 

Who are their companions?

As with the Travis McGee series, secondary characters are significant to how your reader identifies with your main character and invests in the story. They need to be memorable as well.

I wrote a story where I introduced a character, a bartender in the New Orleans French Quarter, who was meant to be a vehicle for my protagonist to run into her former lover. Within two paragraphs, I had fallen for the bartender, and he morphed into a cousin and best friend of the former lover and became an integral part of the plot. The story became more vibrant with more depth because I added a character who had a vested interest in the outcome.

Create the friend, the mentor, the grandmother, the housekeeper, whatever character you need to help you present your MC’s human side. Someone who recognizes their flaws and is not afraid to tell them. Someone they can confess their thoughts to, someone they trust. With each interaction between these characters, the reader will become more attached to the main character.

 

What does this effort give you, the author?

Going back to our original question, why do readers return to a writer, they come back because they like the characters.

They “just click” with them. Standalone stories with great characters will bring readers back to an author. A series of novels with the same character succeeds because, while writing style may have allowed them to enjoy the first novel, readers will want to read the second and third and so on because you gave them a character who reflects their desires and one they can identify with time and again.

Never forget how it felt to instantly connect to someone important in your life. A good author will give that incredible emotion to their readers. Those readers will be back for more.

 

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Deborah Ratliff is Southerner with saltwater in her veins and love of writing. A career in science and human resources provided the opportunity to write policies/procedures and training manuals, articles, and newsletters but her lifelong love of mystery novels beckoned. Deborah began writing mysteries and her first novel, Crescent City Lies will be published shortly with a second novel, One of Those Days to follow. Deborah regularly contributes articles on writing to the blog, Writers Unite! and serves as an administrator on the Facebook writing site, Writers Unite! which has 43,000 + members from around the globe.

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Resources:

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/18077-what-is-a-friend-a-single-soul-dwelling-in-two

https://www.goodreads.com/series/52264-travis-mcgee

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082971/

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Susan Staneslow Olesen: The Idea Factory

“I want to write, but where do you get your ideas?”

It’s hard for me to answer such a question because I’ve never had to think about it; ideas were just there. Writing is in my blood—my grandfather published a few books, my grandmother wrote poetry, my great-great-grandfather collected folktales, and my dad has articles published in magazines. I’ve been writing seriously since I was ten years old. I didn’t pursue writing as a career because it was something I already did well; there were other things I wanted to learn. Give me a class with a term paper and I knew I’d get a good grade.

Now, that’s not to say I never get writer’s block, or sometimes have no idea what to write. I belonged to a writer’s group for ten years, with monthly topics. Often I whipped off a piece that night or the next day, and goofed off the rest of the month. Sometimes I wrote three. Sometimes I started out with the topic in mind, but it took such a tangent you never saw it coming. Presented with the topic of “Hands,” I wrote about a magician’s assistant. For a theme of “Water,” I wrote a Greek-style myth inspired by a line of Pete Townshend’s song Hiding Out—“a waterfall of women weeping”—what an image! And yes, most certainly, I get overwhelmed when starting a new novel—even now, when I’ve written ten of them.

So, where does a writer get ideas?

The answer is: look around you. There isn’t a thing under the sun that isn’t an inspiration. Ants in the grass. A cat hugging himself in his sleep. A moth beating against a window. The fading sunlight creeping across a carpet. Every one of those has a story behind it. When? Where? Why? I needed a name for a lawyer, so I looked around me. Larry Lamp didn’t cut it. Marcus Driskin was named for a bottle of—you got it—dry skin lotion.

My first novel series, Best Intentions, arose from a short story I read in the back of a women’s magazine when I was about nine years old. It involved parents who abandon their five children at the side of the road, and how the oldest child—eight or nine herself—tries to make a home for her siblings in the woods. Using that theme of children abandoned, I invented a story of a large family whose mother dies unexpectedly, and when the father is sent to prison, they are legally abandoned into the custody of the eldest child (an overwhelmed 22-year-old in my story). That one small concept—children alone—turned into a five-volume sociological study of abandonment, depression, abuse, and the power of love and forgiveness. I joke it’s my Ph.D. in psychology. The two stories have as much in common as apples and oranges, but they came from the same concept.

In my second novel series, there is a simple line in Conflicts of Interest that says, “My second wife died of a medical condition.” It was only on editing that I wondered, what if the condition was suicide? Why? My head then exploded with possibilities, and a 40-page outline evolved almost overnight.

The best thing for a writer, the very best thing you can do to advance your writing career, is get outside and OBSERVE. Take notes if you have to, but your goal is to leave your abode and go feel the entire world with every one of your senses. Walk through your town, whether it’s New York City or a small village in the Punjab. See it with a child’s eyes, a child’s sense of wonder. What does it smell like, not just here, but there, too? Breathe in: smell the dirt, the pavement, the trees, the garbage rotting by the roadside, the skunk in the distance, fresh paint. How does the sun feel on your skin? Is the air humid, damp, sticky, dry, cold, hot, is the wind blowing? Is the sun hot but the air cold? Hot like a lamp, or hot like cayenne at a Mexican fiesta? How does the air change after it rains? What does the pavement smell like after rain, awash in the metallic smell of writhing earthworms? Listen as you walk. What music do you hear leaking from cars or windows? What is it saying? Is there a busker on the steps of city hall, blowing a trumpet or sawing a violin?

Everything tells a story.

James Baldwin called it Experience. A writer needs to experience everything they can, and then write what they know. That’s true, but you can’t always experience something—not everyone will be an astronaut; no one knows what it feels like to travel to Mars; a woman (random, average) cannot know what it’s like to be a man, and a man won’t ever experience childbirth. We don’t know if an elephant feels sadness; we can’t all climb Everest; we don’t all have a twin; we may never undergo divorce or have a child kidnapped or find an evil clown in the sewer drain—but we can observe, ask people, read biographies and science books, and we can use those observations to project a sense of experience, remembering a time when we felt profound fear, and write what we know. Read. Read everything you can get your eyes on, even shampoo bottles. What comes into your head?

A short video on Japanese cooking I saw inspired a short story of a child getting expelled from school for using a similar method to cheat students out of money. Completely unrelated, but inspired by nonetheless. Knowing old glass has a tendency to slide downward over the millennia led to the scene in Best of Everything where newcomer Sarah gets off on the wrong foot, informing Grandmama that her expensive and rare artwork is being mistreated and starting to slide off the canvas. When the cat died of liver cancer, I turned the feeling of loss into a poem about two children playing in a real forest. You can read it here. A horrific nightmare I had in college became a character’s nightmare in a story.

Susan S Oleson kitty

You’ve lived on this planet for decades. What have you experienced? What facts do you know? Think of a fact, any fact, and use it to formulate a story. Monarch butterflies migrate. Chewbacca walks through the Death Star naked, and no one thinks twice. It takes, on average, twelve minutes for pasta to cook. Murders can happen in less time. (Okay, so now I have a picture in my head of a naked Wookie boiling water for pasta, but s/he is murdered, and a butterfly flies past the window. See how ideas multiply?)

Experience. Observe. Examine everything, as if you just landed from another planet and were trying to figure everything out. Everything you can see, smell, touch, taste, hear—grab it with both hands, let it sift through your fingers. How would you describe it?  Observe everything. Observance = experience. If you’re writing about Greece and you’ve never been there, take a trip if you can. If not, find a Greek festival. Watch the people. Listen to the language. Note the colors of the costumes and the dances and the rhythm of the music. Taste the food, or at least just look at it, noting the way a grape leaf looks rolled and stuffed and cooked, or the shine on a triangle of baklava, the way the walnuts spill between the layers of dough. Taste the sweetness of Ravani. At worst, find a travel DVD at your local library and take in what you can. Observe, observe, observe. It doesn’t have to cost anything. Take notes if you have to. Many foreign cities have webcams; view the landscape in realtime. See the buildings, note the colors. What does it make you think of?

As a writer, your job is to convey your story, to transmit the movie from your head to that of the reader. A successful story pulls the reader inside, connects with them not just visually with a painted scene, but emotionally, retrieving the smell of Grandma’s peach pie, the gold flaky crust with the tips of the edges just starting to burn, the way she twisted the peaches in the pan just so to make it look like a swirl when set on the table, with a dollop of whipped cream perched in the center, rivaling the onion domes of Moscow. To build up that illusion, to pull those memories from people’s heads that make your writing alive for them, you have to pull their emotions, and you reach those emotions by pulling out those details that trigger their memories, and those details come with observational experience. A good story takes place more in the reader’s head than on the printed page. Hair the color of rusted chains, bouncing in a confident rhythm as she trekked up the walkway, paints a dynamic picture that sticks in readers’ heads, lights their imagination, and connects in a personal way. Roan may not be a word everyone understands, but most people have seen rusted swings in a schoolyard, brownish-red. Shared experience. In The Shining, Stephen King mentions the way someone blows their nose, peaks into the hanky, then puts it away. You’ve seen people do this. A little detail, incidental to the story, but it makes the character pop from the page. You know people just like that. You’ve seen passing motorists pick their nose while driving. Perhaps you have a friend with an eye that has a tic; it twitches when they speak. Slide that fact into a character; instant association. Use that fact as the basis of a story. Perhaps the tic is a fatal flaw, giving away a secret.

Observe. Observe. Observe. The distant clang of church bells, tolling the hour. The rush of wind through pine trees. The headline of a newspaper; a magazine article on solar-powered cars. Listen to the conversation behind you in the restaurant. Teri’s husband blew another paycheck gambling, and Hope’s offered to front her $40 for groceries. Every one of these situations is a story. Writing dragons? Visit a pet store and watch lizards.

Go. Write. Write with passion. Use all that knowledge you spent a day, a week, a lifetime accumulating, and put it into your writing. Write with authority, knowing that your words are truth. Everything you see or hear is a potential character, a potential story, a potential detail to help bring your story alive. If one idea isn’t enough, list several: a blue car, falling acorns, the wedding ring, Billy the Exterminator, the sound of geese honking. The more ideas you list, the more your story writes itself. First day of school, shadows on the wall, grandpa’s missing teeth, misty rain, fireman. All that knowledge is in your head—or at least in your notes. The more you practice, the easier it gets.

Don’t overthink it, just let your story go where it wants. You’ll be surprised where you wind up.

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Susan S Oleson   

Susan Staneslow Olesen is an exhausted novelist and blogger for the Cheshire Public Library, where she also runs a writer’s group. A graduate of Wells College and The Chase Collegiate School, she has been a fruit picker, dial press operator, special education teacher, crisis intervention specialist, Disc Media Wizard, fostered 50 kittens, and is a 30-year foster parent to six children plus three of her own. She runs in circles and tears her hair out with her husband in Connecticut.

 

Writers Unite! Tips on Writing!

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Deborah Ratliff: Rules. Rules. There Are Too Many Rules!

Have you seen them? The myriad of articles posted on the Internet explaining all the things you must do to write the perfect story. Perhaps, you have seen the equally extensive list of articles telling you what you should not do. The problem? Not every article agrees on what is the correct or incorrect way to write.

What is a writer to do? How do we decide?

After years of writing business-related manuals concerning policy and training, newsletters, and research papers, I decided to return to writing fiction. My story construction skills were rusty, as was my grammar. In the corporate world, I was fortunate to have an assistant who proofed my writing. I was not so lucky in the private world. I knew I needed to hone my craft, and what better tool to use than the internet. I fired up Google and began to search for everything I could find on writing, and well, it was overwhelming. No matter the topic — how to write an opening line, how to create memorable characters, when to use effect and affect — the results of my search returned more articles than I expected. Faced with so much information, I wondered how I would manage to wade through and find what I needed to write “the great American novel.”

I am not alone. A member of Writers Unite! posted the following after receiving conflicting advice on how to write:

“Help! I’m a new author and have been networking with writers and editors. I’ve become so confused by all the different pieces of advice, I’m struggling to write a simple sentence. In the recent past, I’ve been told so many rules that I can barely keep them straight.”

The member went on to list examples of the rules as they have been explained to her.

  • Do not use descriptions
  • Show versus tell
  • Never make any cultural references
  • Do not give backstory on characters
  • Vary sentence length
  • Do not use adverbs.

Let us examine these rules.

 

Do not use descriptions.

Descriptions are the soul of writing. Not limited to location or characters, descriptive writing should include the five senses. Written images of a room may not be as crucial as whether it was hot or cold, what aromas did the character smell, did light spill into the room, or was it dark and eerie. A writer can easily bore their reader by droning on about the wallpaper or the carpet fiber or the tea cozy, but there are times when it is imperative to set a mood. How a person lives or the environment around them can be very telling as to who the character is and provides a great deal of depth.

The key here is to not overdo. Pay attention to what your story needs and nothing else. If you do write descriptively, pare down those words to include only what you need.

Avoid a litany of characteristics. “She was young, her hair long and blond, athletic build…” Instead, weave those characteristics into the story, “Preparing for her run, she pulled her blond hair into a ponytail…” and be certain that her “run” was essential to the plot.

 

Show versus tell.

The bane of every writer’s existence is this rule. Writing “experts” pound this rule into us at every opportunity. The fact is, it is a great rule and one that I fully believe in following. Anton Chekhov’s famous quote is the quintessential example: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

This rule harkens back to being descriptive. Allow your reader to feel, taste, hear, smell, and see, so they become fully immersed in the world you have created for them.

Should you always show versus tell? Yes, however, there are times when it is acceptable to move your story along and tell the action, instead of showing it. Remember to keep those moments very rare. “Jack, his face reddened, hands clenched, spun and left the room, slamming the door behind him.” You have set up that Jack is angry, describing the sound of the door slamming is not necessary.

 

Never make any cultural references.

Ask someone writing historical fiction not to make a cultural reference, and they will laugh at you. This is a specific rule. If you are setting your story within an exact timeframe, then cultural references of the era are vitally important to the credibility of your work.

The obvious reason for this rule is a cultural reference will date your work. Again, you need to keep the context of your story in mind. There may be times when a cultural reference is integral to the plot. I think the mention of social media, cell phones, or Instagram, among other references is acceptable providing they remain general.

 

Do not give backstory on characters.

Really? Exactly how do we bring depth to our stories if we do not provide pertinent backstory? Once again, this rule harkens back to the use of descriptive prose and show vs. tell. Do not write copious paragraphs about your character’s backstory but show by intertwining the information within the events and dialogue.

 

Vary sentence length.

Again, I agree with this rule in general. You need to vary the length of sentences and paragraphs to keep your reader from being bored and to maintain the pace of the story.  Sentences that are too long can cause your reader to lose interest. Short sentences can make your work seem rushed and choppy.

However—and there is always a however—when writing a scene with high tension, short sentences convey that sensation to your reader. Short, powerful sentences describing fight scenes mimic the action. Longer sentences express your character’s thoughts and reflections and help slow the pace of the story when necessary. While this rule is one I believe writers should adhere to, it is also one to suspend when the story calls for it.

 

Do not use adverbs.

Short of a lesson on the use of adverbs, which could be extensive, let’s agree that too many adverbs are not a good thing. According to my go-to grammar guru, Grammar Girl, verb modifiers are often “redundant or awkwardly placed.” She quotes master writer Stephen King who complains about them in his book On Writing, saying, “’I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops,’ but he doesn’t shout it loudly. He likens adverbs to dandelions. When one unwanted weed sprouts up, more follow.”

Grammar Girl suggests that you use adverbs in dialogue if appropriate to how the character speaks. Otherwise, she proposes to “use them wisely and only occasionally.”

 

I return to the original question. What is a writer to do?

As I worked my way through the copious amounts of advice I came across, I began to focus on the advice of only a few “experts ” and to rely on grammar references like The Chicago Manual of Style and Grammar Girl for practical advice. Listening to too many voices will create chaos and fail to provide direction.

The reality is that these rules are guidelines. They can be bent or broken depending on the creative needs of the author. As you write, keep the “rules” in mind, they are designed to keep your work coherent and consistent but do not be afraid to go against the experts. Only you know what your story needs.

About the author:

Deborah Ratliff is Southerner with saltwater in her veins and love of writing. A career in science and human resources provided the opportunity to write policies/procedures and training manuals, articles, and newsletters but her lifelong love of mystery novels beckoned. Deborah began writing mysteries and her first novel, Crescent City Lies will be published shortly with a second novel, One of Those Days to follow. A few of her short stories appear in the Writers Unite! anthology Realm of Magic, published on August 1, 2018.

Deborah regularly contributes articles on writing to the blog, Writers Unite! and serves as an administrator on the Facebook writing group, Writers Unite! which has 42,000 + members from around the globe.

Sources:

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/16383-don-t-tell-me-the-moon-is-shining-show-me-the

https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/how-to-eliminate-adverbs

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/home.html

Challenge Your Characters

Some writers love having horrible and hazardous things happen to their characters, while others prefer to keep their characters safe and happy. It can be difficult to cause our characters to hurt or suffer, because we care about them. Our characters become part of us.

However, just as we grow through our own challenges, so do your characters. Without difficulties through which to learn and grow, characters tend to be one-dimensional and fall flat.

One of the best things you can do in your stories is to confront the individuals with various hardships. Present them with adversity which brings out their frustrations, hurts, fears, and insecurities. Because those hard times are what show the growth and strength in your characters and help them evolve. So hit them with whatever helps develop them – don’t be too easy on them.

Challenging the people you write about helps your story in three important ways.

 

  1. It brings out your character’s inner qualities

Your character grows, evolves, and becomes more relatable to the reader through challenges. Facing fears, struggles, or danger helps show what they are made of. It gives them more depth and they become more real and tangible. It helps the reader understand them better, as they see the character’s courage and inner strength. Characters that face adversity are much more interesting than shallow, superficial characters who are never challenged.

This is true for children’s books as well. I have published ten children’s books, all animal stories – and even in those, the main characters face struggles. No matter what your target audience, it is important for your character to face and grow through challenges, even if it’s facing bullies, searching for a lost dog, or helping someone in danger.

 

  1. It keeps the story interesting

Characters who are challenged keep the story engaging for the reader. A story about only happy experiences would be a boring book. It would not be compelling to read about John walking down the street in the sunshine. However, it is a lot more gripping to read about John walking down the street holding divorce papers, while a car is hurtling at him at full speed as John’s knee gives out and he slips in a puddle. Not only do obstacles keep your characters intriguing, but they keep your entire story engaging as well.

It’s also a good idea to let the challenges build in intensity throughout the book. Let the predicaments be smaller at first, and then, through the progression of the story, the difficulties increase until he faces his biggest fear or dilemma. That is what is gripping about books – the build-up of intensity, fear, danger, and adversity. Will they overcome it? Will they succeed? How will they get out of this terrifying scenario? Those are often the most memorable books.

 

  1. It inspires your readers

Seeing how a character faces and overcomes adversity can be inspirational for a reader. We all face challenges in life, and seeing how a character deals with fear, danger, insecurities, setbacks, illness, or whatever it is, can inspire us to deal with similar challenges in our own lives. If your character found the strength to face that disaster, then so can I. It teaches us and helps us find the inner strength to face whatever comes our way.

So don’t be afraid to challenge your characters – you create better and more memorable characters, a more fascinating and gripping story, and you can inspire your readers to face the difficulties in their own lives. Don’t hold back – a challenged character is a captivating character that will make your story more powerful and memorable.

And as you create your stories, remember to embrace the challenges in your own writing as well – they help you become a better writer.

Copyright © 2018 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.

Image found on Google. Credit to unknown artist.


LYNN MICLEA grew up in New York and moved to California while in her twenties. A certified hypnotherapist and Reiki master practitioner with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, she spent many years working in the medical field and in various offices in an administrative capacity.

After retiring, Lynn discovered and developed a passion for writing, and she is now a successful author with many books published and more on the way. Her two memoirs, one of her family’s experience with ALS, and one of her own journey through open-heart surgery, have received numerous five-star reviews.

She also has published ten sweet, exciting, and fun children’s books, which are uplifting, loving, feel-good animal stories, filled with warm humor, and which are about kindness, compassion, helping others, seeing the best in others, and believing in yourself.

She hopes that through her writing, she can help empower others and add more joy and love to the world. She asks everyone to be kind to each other as we all share this journey through life together.

Lynn currently lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband and two dogs.

Learn more about Lynn at her amazon author page here.

And please visit her website at www.lynnmiclea.com for more information on her books.

 

 

Consistency is Key (The Self-Editing Guide Part 10)

Consistency is Key. We’ve all heard this bit of sage advice at least once in our lives—probably more—but you might be wondering how it pertains to writing, or even self-editing, for that matter. Fortunately, these wise words can be applied to many aspects of life, including the art of creating worlds.

You want your readers to trust you. You want them to believe your words and accept your world while they are immersed in it. Otherwise, they may not experience it the way you hope they will. There has to be a touch of reality in your creation, regardless of the genre (even fantasy and science-fiction worlds will probably have some sort of explanation for why things work the way they do). One way to instill that believability, is by keeping your story consistent. Even the most cunning and intriguing lies start to unravel when the teller doesn’t keep to his original story. When people find holes in your story, they start to feel disconnected and duped.

Here are a few things to consider and look for when reading over your novel for consistency:

DESCRIPTION: When describing your world or its inhabitants, it’s important to keep notes so you can remember the details when referring to them again later. Your readers get a visual when reading about your character stumbling through a giant academy that was once an ancient castle, and if later you describe the structure, its materials, or even its history differently, you run the risk of putting your reader off and giving the impression that you threw the story together with little consideration for the mechanics of it all.

The same can be said for describing your character as having red hair and a button nose in one scene, and then later mentioning her raven black locks with a long, pointy nose in another without having any significant or bizarre events that would explain such a transformation. And as Deb, our fellow Writers Unite! admin, has said once or twice, no description is still a description. If you don’t describe your main character in the first scene or two, your reader will fill in the blanks in their heads. So it might do more harm than good to suddenly take the time in the middle of the story to describe him or her because the reader might disconnect from the character. They’d imagined him or her one way for hours, but now you’re telling them the character looks another way. Be consistent. Make descriptions early on and stick to them. That way, your reader can get lost in the world you’ve built for them.

CHARACTER PERSONALITY: Your characters’ personalities are part of what drives the story forward and creates tension for your readers. The characters should come alive in the readers’ minds and feel like a real person. One way to destroy any chance of that happening is to be inconsistent with their personalities. If one moment Jane Doe reacts peacefully and calm to a rather serious situation, and then in another she panics and has to be counseled, the readers are going to wonder why her personality has changed so much with no significant events to explain the transition. You can’t let plot decide how your characters react to something. You can’t decide that the female protagonist needs to be swooned by the male protagonist so she should act weak and needy when he’s around or available to swoop in and save her, but then have her be a total badass when he’s not—all because you want her to end up falling for him in the end. Life doesn’t work that way, and neither should your stories. Decide early on how your characters will handle tragedy, and stick to that. Whatever you throw their way, consider their reaction, depending on their level of tolerance, their limits on stress, their overall development, and then have them respond accordingly.

PLOT: The number one thing many readers will notice is a hole in your story. Plot holes are sometimes difficult to catch, and often times, I read books where the author left one or two and I’m forced to ignore it and continue reading if I want to enjoy the book. But I also know as a writer that they’ve probably combed through that book three or four times fixing the plot holes they did find, and this finished product is what we are left with after most were taken out.

Sadly, many readers aren’t so forgiving when they find a plot hole. Some even look for them for pure entertainment—and with good reason. Have you ever looked up your favorite television series online to see what others were saying about the latest episode and stumbled across a fresh list of plot holes just published on a fan site? And as you read through, did it change your opinion of the episode? Things you hadn’t even noticed were inconsistent, now stood out like neon signs. One rule the writers had set in stone in season one was now being trampled on in season three. That is how a reader feels when they become immersed in your world, and then your story starts to unravel and contradict itself. This is a result of poor planning on the writer’s part, and it can be avoided.

Even if you prefer to write without outlining your story first, which is perfectly acceptable, you need to at least write a short synopsis of how a few things work in your world. It can be a short story, it can be a paragraph of pure telling, it can be anything you want. But you need to organize the thoughts spinning around in your head before you can get it all out on paper. It takes most of us days, weeks, and even months to get it all written, and by then it isn’t so fresh in your mind. Some vital things may get lost by the time you get to that point if you don’t have something to refer to. And when you’re done writing your story, you need to comb through it with an editor’s eye, searching for any inconsistencies.

Event Dates, Times, Etc.: This may seem insignificant, but it is one of the little things that stand out the most when a reader is experiencing your world for the first time. Take your story seriously. Create a world with consistent time, and make sure the hours pass at a realistic rate. If you’re writing a science-fiction or fantasy novel and time passes differently in your world, let your reader know. But make sure you stick to that new law of nature and make it believable. If you have a huge event coming up in three days’ time, don’t write only one days’ worth of plot and then have day three pop up out of nowhere. You have to follow your own rules before you can expect your reader to accept them.

One of the most important aspects of successful storytelling is consistency. The best way to make sure your story is just that, is to write a solid background—whether in paragraph or list form, whether you draw your characters or find pictures to describe on Google, find a point of reference and return to it when needed. Follow this advice, and I can guarantee your story will be much more enjoyable.


Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strong-willed—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

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Balancing Life and Writing (Guest Article by Clara C. Johnson)

Balancing the time to write, attending five classes a week, homework, studying for exams, working a full-time job, and spending time with loved ones seems to be for the talented juggler, but I am here to tell you that anyone can do it if you can learn to manage your time well. Unfortunately, many (including myself) heard the famous writing advice that in order to finish your work in progress (WIP) and to become a better writer, you have to write literally every single day. Fact of the matter is, we all have responsibilities outside our writing such as jobs, family, and school that must take priority. In addition, suffering from health complications can also affect your ability to achieve this goal. Frankly, it can be quite impossible for anyone to write every day!

First, I must offer an adjustment to the advice. I think if you plan to become a writer, you should THINK about your WIP every day. This is a much simpler way to help you stay focused on your goals. A simple drive to the grocery store or sitting in the doctor’s office can be a wonderful time where you can think on what you want to do with your WIP. Whether you consider the plot, characters, or a scene you want to add/change doesn’t matter. The overall goal is to get your brain fired up!

As a college student, much of my thinking throughout the day is on all the school work I want to get done by a certain time or studying for an exam I have to take soon. A great tool I learned in my Creative Writing class was to keep a small notebook with me at all times. This notebook is something you should take with you everywhere. Write down your thoughts or describe something you see that interests you. What you write down doesn’t have to necessarily relate to what you are working on right now. An example could be this: you are driving to work, and you notice an old house that burnt down. It may be something you have seen a hundred times before, but you are filled with questions as to what happened to the house that caused the fire. You start to think; what if it was a faulty appliance? Some kids who thought it would be fun to play with fire? You could write this observation down in your notebook for later consideration. An entire story could be written based on this burnt down house.

While this may have nothing to do with your current WIP, you have given yourself a writing prompt. Writing prompts can be a great way to help get your creative gears rolling. You never know, maybe that burned down house could be a vital resource for a story you will work on in the future or your current one. Now, I know not everyone can carry a hefty notebook with them everywhere they go. For you, this “notebook” could be an app on your phone or tablet. There are many different apps you can use for storing your notes. Notecards can work too! Test which method works best for you. As long as you are comfortable with your format, it will benefit you.

My notebooks vary now. I have everything from full-sized notebooks, a small journal, and now a binder to separate my WIP. I spend most of my “plotting” time for my stories in between classes if I get all my homework done early. Sometimes, all I am able to write down is the description of my character’s appearance or personality. The goal is to be able to jot down your ideas onto something for later consideration. Regardless of the format you use, this is the best way I’ve discovered to keep my writing going.

Even then, I have days to a week where I can’t get the time to do it. It’s frustrating and annoying, but I want to say that it’s okay to take small breaks. Things come up, and you may have a couple rough days. Life happens to all of us, and there is little we can do about it. I believe as long as you eventually find the time, you will do it if you truly are passionate about it. Writing is not for the faint of heart and it can seem impossible to do it as regularly as you want. My best advice is to organize your schedule. Set aside time to write and take advantage of the down time you have in between classes, work, or whatever else you need to get done that day. If all you get done is just jotting down an idea for your WIP, that’s okay! As long as you keep up with it and forgive yourself when you can’t do your writing, I’m positive that you will be able to reach your goals! Focus on what you need to do and what works best for you. Each and everyone one of us are different. No two writers are the same.


Clara C. Johnson is a small-town girl who dreamed of magic, swords, and dragons. For the past decade, she has written poetry, short stories, and a novel. She is currently studying English at Penn State University in between drinking too much coffee and writing her next project.