Categories
plot voice

Starting stories without a bang

Stories should start in the middle of the action, right? You’ve probably heard that advice over and over again, in a number of different forms. Start strong, don’t let your characters dawdle around, give your readers something active to start with, and so on.

So is this always the best approach? Should you ever start your stories slowly, building up to the action later on? Or is it always correct to start trapped in the middle of a gunfight?

Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash

Just like writing, there are no hard rules here, despite what you might have heard. And writing, like life, is full of trade-offs.

Some stories will benefit tremendously from an introduction that’s fast-paced and full of action. Others need a gentle hand, one that guides the characters away from action, but not out of tension.

Categories
character plot

Do stories need villains?

Can you think of a great hero who is made greater because of a villain who counters them perfectly?

Batman is at his most iconic when he’s facing the Joker. When Loki gets out of line, it’s Thor who has to be at the top of his game. And Harry Potter might have lived a relatively normal life without Voldemort causing trouble.

Sherlock Holmes has Moriarty. Ripley has an infestation of aliens. Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader. Ariel versus Ursula.

Photo by Chris Sabor on Unsplash

However you choose to define a hero, you can often find an antagonist who has the exact set of qualities needed to make the hero who they are.

So does every story need a villain?

Categories
first draft productivity

Why you shouldn’t worry about first draft formatting

If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.

Margaret Atwood

Starting a new writing project is exciting. Perhaps the idea has been stewing in your brain for weeks or months, or maybe it erupted from your head like Athena.

New writing projects come with lots of unanswered questions. Who should the main character be? What are the world’s rules? Should you write in first person, third person, or should you take a more experimental approach?

What about more subtle concerns, like the font size or the formatting? Should you write this project in a format designed for your agent, whether you have one or not? Is it better to plan for a self-published story and to save time now by setting up your document as close to the final formatted version as possible?

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Most writers should consider the first draft as a place to think more about the story and less about the presentation. Develop your character, your setting, your plot, and give yourself all sorts of room to explore your new world. Forget about page margins and font sizes for now.

Categories
confidence voice

“Don’t worry about repeating ‘they said,'” they said.

Nobody wants to sound like a broken record. In addition, nobody wants to sound like a broken record.

Wait. What?

Okay, two quick questions:

  • Do you own a thesaurus?
  • Have you ever replaced a common word you’ve repeated in your writing with a fancier, lesser-known one?

Here are my answers. Yes, and yes, of course! In fact, the first draft of the second list item above almost started with “Have you ever scrutinized a common word…” Ugh!

As we develop our writing voice, many of us go through a phase where we try to replace quotidian (common) words for ones that are more sophisticated (less common). We want our work to have precision, don’t we? So why would somebody complain when they could caterwaul? Is a situation propitious, or is it simply good?

I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.

Stephen King, On Writing

Sometimes, a ten-dollar word can spice up your writing. These words are perfectly cromulent, after all. However, you’re making a trade-off. You can drag a reader out of the moment if they have to stop to look up a word, or if the word sticks out like something you’ve–oh, I don’t know–just looked up in a thesaurus.

Take dialogue, for example. In a heated conversation, characters are going to speak with emotion. They’re going to growl, they’ll yell, they might huff and puff, and they might mutter under their breath. Does that mean that they graduate out of simply saying what they’re saying?

In other words, should you bring out the thesaurus and eliminate “he said,” “she said,” “they said,” and the like?

Categories
character editing

Dealing with a boring main character

When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.

Ernest Hemingway

The clouds overhead begin to part as the alien vessel’s hull emerges. Weeks of radio transmissions warned us that this day would come. The scientific community has been rallying behind an elite team of brilliant minds seeking salvation while nations around the world put their disagreements aside in the hope of saving the world. Armies are desperately attempting to finding ways to work together as charismatic leaders try to spread hope among their troubled populations.

Who would you choose for your protagonist here? A genius who’s struggled to find academic success but just might have the one key to saving humanity? What about the prime minister of a global superpower? Do you go with a soldier who has to choose between leading the charge against the invading forces or staying behind with her family?

Or did you accidentally start with Jimmy, the complacent guy who seemed interesting but now just wants to watch the whole thing on TV?

What do you do when your story is compelling but your main character feels like a boring spectator?