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Character Arcs: What They Are And How To Create Them – With Template

by Dr Sharon Zink Character arcs are some of the most important tools in terms of writing compelling fiction, even if they’re played out on a smaller scale in a short story, but certainly when writing a novel.  They play a central role in not only establishing your lead’s motivations and thus narrative aims in a book and thus form the spine of the plot arc, but they are what makes the reader believe in and root for the lead which contributes hugely to how much they’ll invest in your story. In this piece, we’ll discover the different ways to develop a strong character arc, together with some examples and a template to help you create your own powerful character arc based on a lead who feels ‘real’ to the reader and who keeps them turning pages. What Is A Character Arc? Basically, in the course of a novel, or even a short story, a character needs to be pursuing a certain goal. What they want and why needs to be obvious to your audience so they can root for the lead to get their aim in the novel.  This goal is usually something noble, like finding love in women’s commercial fiction, solving a murder in a crime novel or even saving the world in action or adventure writing, although in literary fiction, the ultimate direction of the character arc might be something more subtle like seeking redemption or freedom.   However, whatever genre you’re writing in, your character arc is based upon this purpose or quest the protagonist is set on and is doggedly pursuing through the piece and your story arc will not have the poignancy or sense of purpose it needs without this being crystal clear to your audience and thus forming the backbone of your plot.  How Do You Write A Character Arc? One thing readers are looking for in a satisfying character arc is that the lead will have changed by the end of the book due to all they’ve experienced whilst fighting to get their narrative goal. Therefore, it’s key that your protagonist has grown by the end of your story arc and is not the same person as they were at the start.  First Act -- How Your Character Starts In some ways, this is the prologue work. Who is your character, on a fundamental level? Name, age, race, class, occupation -- the basics, yes, but also things like what kind of food they like, what their aspirations in life might be, if they\'re left or right-handed. (You don\'t necessarily have to know everything about them like their mother\'s maiden name or their third-grade crush or the places they want to visit before they die... but maybe those things are useful, so if you think of them, why not jot them down?) The arc begins (as does the plot of your novel or story) when the character\'s normal life is turned upside down by a trigger event or inciting incident – say, a murder in a crime novel which sets the detective on the hunt for the killer. As they do this, like any lead in any genre, they need to be proactive in going after their narrative goal, entering each scene with the intention to get their story arc aim or move nearer to it, only usually to fail or to make some progress, only to face an even bigger obstacle.  Second Act -- How Your Character Develops You\'re not the same person you were yesterday, and you\'re certainly not the same person you were last week, or last month, or last year, and so on -- and neither are your characters. As things happen to them (or because of them), their world changes and how they respond to those changes is key to developing their arc. Maybe the milquetoast office drone thrust into a plot of murderous high-stakes intrigue has discovered that she\'s actually really good in a knife fight. Maybe the fast-and-easy pirate has developed feelings for his first mate, despite saying that he\'d never settle down. Whatever the case may be, these developments and discoveries aren\'t happening in a vacuum: the character is going to have some feelings about what they\'re going through! So it isn\'t just that office drone turns out to be good with knives, but also that she\'s morally conflicted about how exciting she finds it. Authors often forget that there needs to be this emotional reaction after action to make their characters feel human to the reader, but then the planning part too, so the story arc has a causal connection and we see why one thing happens after another, this set-up ensuring the protagonist seems energetic and plucky and which keeps the story arc full of drama and an obvious forward-moving purpose.   Third Act -- How Your Character Ends Up As your plot builds to a climax or conclusion, the changes your character has undergone will be brought to the fore. How do they react to this new situation, with everything that\'s happened to them? Do they accept it? Do they fight against it? How will they attain their goal -- and how might their goals have changed, as they have changed? Bilbo Baggins is not the same hobbit when he comes home to The Shire as he was when he left. Some of that is obvious, but some of it lives in the background: he\'s traveled, he\'s seen horrible things and wondrous ones too, and now as the book comes to a close, he returns to a life that doesn\'t look familiar any longer. Your character doesn\'t have to go through such immense changes, but chances are they will whether you planned for them to or not. As your story comes to a close, your characters will have been pushed to their limits in one way or another and become someone new. It doesn\'t have to be satisfying, necessarily, but it should be real. It\'s unlikely that the knife-wielding office drone is going to be quite such a shrinking violet after everything that\'s happened to her -- and even if the pirate doesn\'t stay with his first mate, his heart might not be so freewheeling now. Conflicts – Internal And External An antagonist for your protagonist -- an opposing figure or force against your main character -- is a great way to help build out a character arc because it gives your character something to fight or push against, adding tension and strengthening the lead as the story arc progresses.  However, there can be other causes of external conflict than the villain figure, such as a confidant(e), which may be a best friend or family member, who acts as a sounding board for the protagonist and offers support, but who can also accidentally cause trouble for the lead due to well-intentioned meddling. This is something we sometimes see in chick lit, where the boozy best mate might tell the lead’s love interest they’re seeing someone else to create jealousy and supposedly add to the dreamy guy’s interest, but it just leads to a misunderstanding between the would-be couple and scares him off.   Indeed, terrible weather, a rough environment or even disasters can also be ways of preventing the lead from going after their goal, but they can also show their mettle too as often they will carry on anyway.  In terms of external conflicts, things get much more interesting when we put our leads in situations which are utterly hellish based on their past traumas or personal phobias or fears and make them face them! Say, in the simplest terms, someone hates spiders (like me!) and then our protagonist has to crawl through a web of poisonous arachnids to save the kidnapped girl which has been the goal of his or her story arc – not only will the reader be sat on the edge of their seat, wondering if the lead will finally overcome their terror for the sake of their bigger plot aim, but we’ll also be privy to the inner world of the lead and the immense inner pressure NOT to do this scary thing and this is called internal conflict.   It can feel mean to us writers, as we’re often so attached to our characters, but the best thing you can do to create a compelling character and story arc is to put your protagonist in the midst of an external situation that makes them quiver (public speaking is more scary to more people than death, believe it or not!) and ensure that you’re also showing the internal monologue of your lead as they fight against their fears.   You can even make them self-sabotage en route to their goals as humans are often wont to do. For example, a detective character could be out to make a big break in a case and then he’ll go out on an alcoholic bender which makes him lose the trail of the villain.   What If You’re Writing A Series? Generally, I tell author clients that if they’re new writers and want to write a series that they should keep this quiet in their submission package and make their first book as self-contained in terms of its character and story arc as possible so agents and editors can sell it as a standalone novel. This is because taking on a rookie is always a risk and the burden of having to sell multiple books may put some publishing personnel off.   In this case then, the character arc needs to be pretty complete by the end, with the story goal attained or near enough so, although you may want to allow a little wiggle room for a future sequel by not providing complete closure.   However, this is good advice across the board as a too sugary ending can seem unrealistic, but this also depends on the genre you’re writing in as certainly chick lit allows for more happy ever afters.  Obviously though, if you are intending to self-publish, you have carte blanche and often writing a series is a good idea as a way to develop a following, so your character and story arcs can be left more loose at the end, but with important questions left to be answered, despite the lead’s obvious growth, in order to intrigue a reader enough to buy the next book.  What Is A Flat Character Arc? Flat character arcs are exactly as they sound – they stay on a flat line, with the character neither growing in strength and awareness or falling from grace, as in Shakespearean tragedies. They mostly appear in genre fiction, like action writing – James Bond doesn’t change much for all his enemies and situational struggles, for instance – but, more and more, even genre writing is moving towards the emotionally shifting character arc of the protagonist playing a key role in the plot and the book’s overall interest.   If you think of most crime leads now, there’s often a wounded detective figure at the centre (something noted by James Frey in his books on thriller and mystery writing) who finds personal healing by solving the crime and Scandi Noir has brought the victims of the killed characters’ families to the fore so that these figures finding peace and moving on is a key part of the murder plot.   Hence whilst you can pull off a flat character arc by writing in a genre where you don’t have to reinvent the wheel or add much nuance to your main figure, it often helps if there’s a sense of inner doubt about their ability to pull off the huge goal before them which adds something of Joseph Campbells’ ‘Hero’s Journey’ (which deeply influenced Star Wars) into play in which the hero hesitates in their confidence to pull off the story arc aim and this adds some important tension – even if, say, Frodo, is good at the start and good at the end of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and so, arguably, for all his struggles, a flat arc character.  How Do You Work Character Arcs Into Your Story Structure? One thing my first writing teacher, Leone Ross, taught me was to really get to learn about my main characters before I started planning my plot, let alone writing my book. She showed us how to create a template for discovering our protagonists in depth. Hence I create a list now that includes the character’s name, age, strengths and weaknesses, their goals etc. Editor’s note: we’ve compiled Sharon’s full list on this Character Arc Worksheet, free for you to download, keep and re-use as often as you need to! A Basic Example Of A Character Arc: Cinderella  Her nasty stepfamily (the opposition figures) are treating her like dirt when a handsome prince comes looking for his ideal dame (the trigger or inciting incident).  The mean girl stepsisters try to force Cinderella aside, but she’s determined to catch her man (the lead sets her story goal and her character arc flows from here).  She may be getting grubby scrubbing floors, but she schemes her way to the ball (character takes dogged action to get her goal and grows in defiance and strength).  She gets to the ball and catches the eye of the prince, only to have to return before her carriage turns into a pumpkin at 12 (darn external obstacle!).   However, she leaves her glass slipper behind and the prince is now so infatuated with Cinders that he scours town looking for its wearer – and, bam, as much as the mean stepsisters may try to force their feet in, only Cinderella’s dainty foot is a match (she gets her story goal and her character has grown from subservience to power and from loneliness and contempt to love).  Does Every Character Need An Arc? Minor players who don’t play a fundamental role like the lead, love interest, confidant(e) or opposition figure certainly don’t need a character arc as their role in your story arc is tangential.  These other key players though should have clear goals too which they pursue and which develop their character over the course of the story arc. The love interest’s aim should always be to win the lead’s love, the opposition figure fights to stop the lead getting their story goal and a confidant(e) is there to support the lead and let them talk about their main plot issues and inner turmoils, but they can also accidentally get in the way of the protagonist’s aims by causing mistaken mix ups and so on.  Hence we need to see the love interest growing as s/he strives to become the person the lead can adore and the opposition figure may grow in strength through conflict, but also face their own fears and weaknesses in this process so perhaps become changed by the end of the plot. A confidant(e) might well also develop in the process of supporting the lead through their journey, realising their own needs.   Conclusion A character’s arc or development involves their proactive pursuit of their story goal which is established when their life is changed by the inciting incident at the start. This helps create a lead readers will identify with and cheer for, but also makes a compelling plot.   The way your lead deals with external challenges, such as conflict with your opposition figure, extreme weather or terrain or natural disasters, as well as facing their inner demons, will all change them as the course of the novel goes on, usually bringing to the fore strengths they never knew they had, as well as some flaws and even possible tendencies to self-sabotage which all add realism to protagonists and make them three-dimensional.  Although some genres have flat character arcs without much, if any, development in the lead, generally it’s a good idea to show the evolution of your protagonist over the course of the book towards a positive end, such as healing grief, as well as getting their external goal, such as catching a killer.   Indeed, in most plots, there’s the main one – say, solving a murder – and a subplot perhaps involving romance, so it could be that both story arcs bring out different parts of the protagonist they didn’t know existed at the start.  However, it’s also important to remember to give character arcs and a sense of personal change to your other main players too, such as the opposition figure, love interest and confidant(e). The latter two don’t always need to be included in a story arc, but I’d argue that a lead without a villain has less chance of becoming all they can be as the enemy figure forces the protagonist to grow in strength and resourcefulness and confront their inner fears and traumas. Plus, without a concrete opposition figure, there’s less conflict, which is the lifeblood of fiction, and you risk your story arc losing drama and impact.  Get to know your lead and other key players well then, preferably by filling in a character questionnaire like the one above before you start work on your book or even short story. Keep asking yourself why, say, a character buys underwear from a certain place and on and on as this will reveal more and more of their values and beliefs and, even if you never directly use this material in your novel, it will give you a confidence as you write these characters.   After this, imagine the world through their eyes – not yours – considering the language or diction they would use as fits their education, interests and background, as this is key to establishing a convincing narrative voice and viewpoint, as well as creating distinctive dialogue – all on top of making a great character arc.  It’s worth every moment that you put into knowing your main characters and especially your lead, so you can convincingly show how they act to get their plot goal and react to the obstacles the villain and other external and internal elements which stand in the way of them getting their story arc aim.   It may be painful to see your treasured protagonist suffer as you make them face their worst fears, but it’s what will guarantee your book is gripping and up its chances of publication or be successful when you self-publish.  And, mostly, by the end, you get to give the lead their dream or a form of closure which life often doesn’t offer, so it’s not all bad news, but just being cruel to be kind to make them figures your reader never forgets.  About Sharon Dr Sharon Zink is a former English Literature academic and the author of Welcome to Sharonville (Unthank Books, 2014), which was longlisted for The Guardian First Book Award.   She is also a feminist writing coach, long-term Jericho Writers editor and founder of The Feminist Writing School which has a mission to get more womxn’s books written, published and out there changing the world, hosting online courses and in-person workshops and retreats.   She lives in the UK by the sea with her cat, Muse, and a large book collection. You can receive her weekly Love Letters from the Literary Revolution with a bundle of articles on writing as a thank you for joining her community, follow her on Instagram where she is drsharonzink or join her supportive feminist writing group on Facebook as she loves getting to know her fellow authors.  
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Protagonists And Antagonists

by Dr Sharon Zink Having a strong protagonist and antagonist is key to making a novel compelling, no matter what genre you are writing in. In this piece, we’ll look at what protagonists and antagonists are and the different types of characters which can play these roles, as well as exploring the key elements which can bring them alive and give your manuscript the kick which will grab agents’ and editors’ attention from the opening page. What Is The Difference Between Protagonists And Antagonists? Sometimes also referred to as the lead or main character or a hero or heroine, an enthralling protagonist gives your work a powerful story arc as this is based on their narrative goals. However, the antagonist – which is also talked about as an opposition character or villain – creates much-needed conflict by getting in the way of the protagonist as they pursue their plot aims, usually wanting the exact opposite of the lead and doing all they can to stop them attaining their desires. Hence, whilst other factors like the protagonist’s own inner fears and turmoils, plus external factors like the environment, institutional bureaucracy and even the weather can all get in a lead’s way, the best means of really generating conflict, which is, arguably, the lifeblood of fiction, is to create a flesh and blood protagonist who matches the antagonist in strength, so there’s an exciting and equal fight played out in the pages of your book.   This gives the lead a great foil to fight against as they travel through their story arc, which, in turn, injects energy into the plot and keeps readers rooting for the main figure, whilst also allowing the protagonist to grow in a way which is vital to their character development as they face the obstacles the protagonist presents.  What Is A Protagonist? A protagonist is the central character of a novel – the one whose journey we follow as readers.   Usually, they have the lion’s share of the viewpoint in the book and their narrative aims – which might represent one goal for the main story arc and another for the subplot – dominate the novel, being the focus of the reader’s attention and what they keep turning pages to discover.   The standard plot begins with the protagonist’s world being turned upside down by an inciting incident or trigger event which sets them off on a quest to find a new ‘normal’ by the end of the novel, this journey representing the backbone of the story arc.  Hence what the protagonist wants and why – their character arc – is key to creating an intriguing plot which readers will invest in.   Types Of Protagonists Every book needs a protagonist or lead character, even if other figures are given viewpoints in the plot too, but the nature of this main player can differ according to the particular genre you are writing in. For example, in police procedural fiction, a cop usually takes centre stage, but crime novels also often feature ordinary citizens who have personal motivations to solve a murder, such as in Rosamund Lupton’s bestseller, ‘Sister,’ in which the protagonist is out to find the family member given in the title.   In chick lit or women’s commercial fiction though, the protagonist is usually a woman out to get a guy or rescue a romantic relationship and, in fantasy writing, the lead is often sent on a quest, such as Frodo in ‘Lord of the Rings’ who sets out to take the ring to Mordor and save his world from dark forces.  Indeed, action and adventure fiction often has a similarly heroic lead who combats an evil villain to stop him/her destroying civilisation (just think of James Bond).  In young adult writing, there’s often a teen who is either simply navigating the struggles of coming of age or who can also adopt the roles of an action or fantasy protagonist by engaging in a quest to free their imagined realm.  In terms of literary fiction though, the protagonist’s identity is more diverse and their goals often more subtle, but they will always be there, often involving themes such as the lead finding redemption or healing, with romance still frequently being the core of the subplot.   Whatever you write then, a strong protagonist who has clear narrative aims is crucial to creating a powerful character and story arc and so this is something to really ponder and plan before beginning work, preferably, unless you’re the kind of writer who needs to hit the keys to discover one’s plot and characters. Can The Protagonist Be A Villain? This question often pops up as we’re largely taught that our protagonist should be sympathetic and likeable so we can root for them to get their goals and there is some truth to the power of a lead having a noble aim in a novel. However, the key thing is that we understanda protagonist’s motives, even if they’re badly behaved or even overtly negative or evil, as once we comprehend whya figure is acting a certain way, we can usually find ourselves drawn into their story. Hence Satan is, arguably, the most intriguing figure in Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ and we’re often drawn to serial killer and Mafia stories in true crime and fiction, this perhaps revealing the shadow side of human nature. So, yes, you can create what is often called an anti-hero or heroine, so long as you’re able to convey the reasoning behind their immoral actions in a way your readers can easily follow. This can be a delicate and complex act of characterisation though, so only engage in this if you’ve got the will to really delve into the darkness of the psyche and the reasons why bad people do what they do. How To Write A Protagonist If your protagonist is so important then, no matter what kind of book you’re writing, it’s essential to ensure that you create a powerful lead with a compelling need to meet certain narrative aims by the end of the book. You need to know what they want and why and to show them doggedly going after this throughout the story arc, entering each scene attempting to get their goal, whether the main one or that of the subplot (these are interwoven throughout with the main plot getting the most narrative space), but failing or progressing, only to find themselves facing an even bigger obstacle. Their story arc could involve solving a crime, saving the world in a thriller with the clock ticking or getting a guy’s love in chick lit. Often the protagonist’s story arc in literary fiction will be somewhat less obvious, but it is commonly concerned with getting freedom from something (like oppression, war, a bad marriage and so on) or freedom to do a certain thing (travel, seek spiritual peace, justice and so forth).   If you’ve got an anti-hero or heroine in play, the story arc may involve them in murder, world domination or other evil schemes, but it will be something which to them – and thus to the reader – makes sense.   The same is true when writing magical realist or fantasy protagonists who may have special powers – so long as you can make the reader believe in the lead’s clairvoyant skills or their blue head with a hundred eyes, then all is well!  Getting into a protagonist’s inner monologue or thoughts and the physical sense of being in their particular body and really using the senses and how they perceive the world via the lens of their own specific background, education, beliefs, relationships and so on and also giving them flaws and inner conflicts, like Hamlet’s notorious indecision, is really how you can creating rich and three-dimensional leads which readers both find ‘real’ and won’t forget, much as Shakespeare’s protagonists remain vivid to us now, hundreds of years after the Renaissance.  Generally, though, it’s important to get the reader on the protagonist’s side, giving them a clear grasp of the character’s reason for wanting a certain goal for the main and subplots of the story arc from the start and showing them developing as characters as they face obstacles and conflicts as they fight for their aims in each scene, usually regularly confronting the antagonist who is the main thing standing between them and what they want most in the novel. It’s this all-important baddie figure which I will explore next.   What Is An Antagonist? As I mentioned above, an antagonist is the main figure who stands in the way of your protagonist’s story arc goals – the villain or opposition character who adds the most conflict to a narrative by doing their utmost to stop the lead getting their narrative aims, with their own character arc often focussing on obtaining the exact opposite of what the lead wants.   Types Of Antagonists In a mystery, a cop lead will want to solve a murder, but the antagonist then may be the killer who’s out to flout being captured or stopped in his bloody rampage, no matter what. In a women’s commercial or chick flick novel, the protagonist may be in love with and out to catch a certain guy, but she might find herself face-to-face with an antagonist in the form of a love rival, such as his poisonous ex, or being distracted, at least temporarily, from winning the heart of the real romantic interest by a guy who is bad news. In literary fiction, where the protagonist’s character and story arcs may be more understated, the antagonist will have to be shaped more specifically to the lead’s particular narrative aims. Hence if they want freedom from a painful marriage, the main figure’s spouse could stand in their way, suffocating their bid for personal liberty and a new life. Indeed, as much as larger obstacles, such as war, can cause huge issues for a protagonists, very much getting in the way of their goals – such as, for instance, a refugee’s attempt to escape dangerous lands with their child – it’s almost always crucial to actually embody these issues in a specific antagonist figure. Hence a refugee could be confronted by a cruel or unyieldingly bureaucratic guard at a detainment camp which thus symbolises the broader struggle the lead is facing. This allows the protagonist to face a tangible threat in the form of an antagonist figure, rather than the mere abstractions of a situation and this offers way more opportunities in the story arc then for juicy conflicts for, as much as a refugee having to trek across a hostile landscape is impactful, one-on-one fights between a lead and the opposition figure (who in this scenario could be separating the lead from their children and imprisoning them) are definitely more memorable, especially if ‘shown’ in ‘live action’, like dialogue between the two enemies. In this way then, a strong antagonist is crucial to create a powerful story arc and to make the protagonist’s journey all the more of an interesting and wild ride and, therefore, it’s key that you create a figure who’s equally matched to your lead and has as much determination to stop them getting their story goals as the lead has in terms of achieving them. Don’t start a novel then without knowing your antagonist as well as your protagonist, even though the lead will take up most of the reader’s attention, as the opposition figure is key in adding essential dramatic tension to the story arc as everyone loves bad news (just watch a soap opera to see the truth of this!). The antagonist also brings both the main character’s grit and inner issues to the fore, thus making them more three-dimensional and providing the reader with the expected sense of the protagonist’s personal growth over the course of their character arc. Hence an antagonist injects conflict into a story arc, but facing off against the opposition figure often makes the protagonist grow positively during the course of the novel by forcing them to confront their worst fears or work on their less pleasant personality traits. In this way, the baddie has the ‘side-effect’ of bringing out the best in your lead and thus performs a vitally important function. How To Write An Antagonist If it’s often, arguably, a good idea to make your lead likeable, so that readers cheer for them to get their story arc aims, with the antagonist, you can really have fun creating chaos and a figure everyone loves to hate. Look carefully at your protagonist’s story arc goals – for example, maybe they’re a woman detective looking to solve a murder in the main plot and to find love with a fellow cop in the romantic subplot – and then create a figure who’s going to make their life hell by blocking the lead’s plot aims as best they can. Basically, the development of the antagonist is the primary means by which the writer puts their protagonist up a tree and then cuts it down, as the saying goes! Hence, the antagonist in the above hypothetical cop’s story could be the murderer who’s going to fight being caught tooth and nail, but they may perhaps threaten her beloved’s life as well or even make matters personal by sending unsavoury materials from the past to her love interest in order to taunt the detective and ruin her life, as well as killing others. You can see then that the protagonist and antagonist are really mirror images of each other, wanting exactly opposite aims and being just as dogged about getting them. The antagonist’s motives for acting the way they do needs to be understandable here, though in a standard fight against a protagonist, as much as if you’re making a villain central. The reader needs to understand, even if the antagonist’s logic is warped. Hence we may see a tragic childhood which has shaped the killer’s psychopathy in a crime novel or a jealous ex’s refusal to give up on her past love which gets in the way of a couple getting together in women’s commercial fiction. In literary fiction, a toxic family member may refuse to let the lead grow up and be their own person, but only because they are insecure about being abandoned. Whatever their rationale is, it’s key to balance the book so that the protagonist’s aims in the story arc are mostly blocked by the antagonist in the plot ‘til towards the end, making the story arc, an uphill battle, and for reasons which make sense to the opposition figure and are as clear to the reader as the lead’s narrative goals. We may not agree with the antagonist’s perceptions or incentives, but we must understand what they are and what they want and why as much as with the main character. Again, the importance of face-to-face confrontations in dialogue or even physical fights, depending on the genre, cannot be overstated in terms of creating the requisite drama to really give a story arc adequate oomph. It’s possible to have an antagonist operating secretly against the lead, with the plot building up to a betrayal at the end, with the reader being privy to this hidden villain’s ill doings when the protagonist is not – a literary trope which is called dramatic irony. This can work as the reader is then on the edge of their seat as they wait for the horrible truth to hit home – just as Shakespeare shows Iago’s manipulation of Othello leads to the latter killing his wife, Desdemona, in jealous rage, although she is innocent of committing adultery, as the audience watches helplessly on, but also with a grim fascination. However, this sort of plot, without direct confrontations between the antagonist and protagonist until the very end, when the deceit and horror is revealed, is hard to pull off, so I’d encourage you to consider bringing your lead and opposition characters into each other’s immediate orbits, with verbal conflict and machinations by the antagonist which ensure the lead has to fight ever harder for their story arc goals, until we reach a crisis point in the plot where we think it’s impossible for the main character to get their narrative aims … except usually they then prevail and get their narrative aims at the end as negative conclusions are also tricky, so most shy away from them, especially as fiction offers the chance to offer positive resolutions, closure and justice which we so crave as humans, but so often, arguably, find missing in real life. Thus, the antagonist is central to making a compelling book, so I’d recommend getting to know them as well as the protagonist – who can take up all your attention if you’re not careful – as without a strong baddie, a story arc can lose its sense of drama and your lead can be seen to too seamlessly flow towards their goals, with the other characters they meet all being too pleasant, something which may wind up losing the readers’ interest as we want to see the lead facing major challenges and preferably having a particular villain to focus our wrath on as the person who’s doing all they can to mess with our treasured protagonist’s story aims. However, I’d also be wary of going over-the-top when creating an antagonist as we have to be careful not to lean on stereotypes of the moustache-twirling villain and, instead, come up with more original figures. You don’t have to recreate the wheel with genre fiction, but it’s always good to bring some freshness to writing as agents, editors and the general reader love to see angles they’ve never seen before, such as unusual and unexpected murderers or love rivals. We absolutely need then to create a protagonist who readers can get behind and to make it crystal clear what they want and why, so the reader can root for them to succeed throughout and be thrilled by their wins and sigh about their failures. However, an antagonist is a key part of developing the relationship our audience has with the main character by giving them a figure who they can see confronting and obstructing their beloved lead, being someone they can dread and loathe, but also are intrigued by and maybe they may even have some small sympathy for in all their damaged humanity. It’s crucial then to know your antagonist as well as the lead, giving them good sides as well as flaws to make them more rounded and comprehensible, even if this takes some deep thought about the past or present circumstances which make them act the way they do. Indeed, if you’re struggling to come up with an antagonist to stand in the way of your protagonist, think who is most likely to have the most power to obstruct your lead’s story goals and who represents their deepest fears – and can make them come true. In this way, sometimes creating an antagonist to fight our lead can feel rather mean to us writers, but just remember this is how you bring plots to life and, ultimately, develop your protagonist and allow them to shine. By making a powerful villain, you’re really being cruel to be kind as antagonists bring out the best in both your narrative and lead and get your manuscript one more step towards being published. About Sharon Dr Sharon Zink is a former English Literature academic and the author of ‘Welcome to Sharonville’ (Unthank Books, 2014), which was long-listed for The Guardian First Book Award.  Sharon is also a feminist writing coach, long-term Jericho Writers editor and founder of The Feminist Writing School which has a mission to get more womxn’s books written, published and out there changing the world, hosting online courses and in-person workshops and retreats.   She lives in the UK by the sea with her cat, Muse, and a large book collection. You can receive her weekly Love Letters from the Literary Revolution with a bundle of articles on writing as a thank you for joining her community, follow her on Instagram where she is drsharonzink or join her supportive feminist writing group on Facebook as she loves getting to know her fellow authors.
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Punctuation for Writers

Tips & advice for writers of fiction and creative non-fiction Punctuation matters. Punctuation tells the reader how to read the words you have on the page: where to put the pauses, how to make sense of your sentences. It’s not too much to say that bad punctuation will kill a book. It’ll get rejected by agents and readers alike. Trying to sell a badly punctuated manuscript is like going on a date wearing last week’s jogging pants. The underlying problem is the same in both cases. The badly punctuated manuscript and the dirty jogging bottoms both say, “I don’t care.” I don’t care about you, my hot date. I don’t care about you, my precious reader. Any sane date will just make their excuses and leave. A reader will do the same – and quite right too. So here goes with a quick guide to the major punctuation marks. In each case, we’ll talk about: The basic ruleThe most common punctuation errors that writers makeMore advanced ways to use the tool Most of you reading this will know the basic rules. Even so, it’s likely that you’ll be committing at least some of the errors some of the time. (A few of them are very common indeed.) And pretty much everyone will get at least something from thinking about how to use punctuation marks in a more sophisticated, writerly way. Oh, and the images that are scattered through this blog post? Those free-flowing floral designs are what beautifully punctuated text looks like. Fluid, but ordered. Mobile, yet tidy. That’s what we’re after. The Period, Or Full Stop (.) OK, you know when to use this little beast. You use it at the end of sentences, so long as those sentences aren’t questions or exclamations (in which case you’d use the “?” or “!” instead.) Easy, right? The Most Common Error One of the most prevalent errors in manuscripts written by first time writers is the so-called run-on sentence. It looks something like this: She was a breath of fresh air in our little town, she came into school on her first day with a bunch of garden flowers for the teacher and home-made candy for us, her schoolmates, it should have looked cheesy, but we fell in love with her on the spot. The error here is simple. The writer is using commas (“,”) where they should be using periods. The result is like someone just gabbling in your face, yadda-yadda-yadda, without giving you a chance to draw breath or reflect. The solution is simple. You chop the sentence up with periods, to produce this: She was a breath of fresh air in our little town. She came into school on her first day with a bunch of garden flowers for the teacher and home-made candy for us, her schoolmates. It should have looked cheesy, but we fell in love with her on the spot. Phew! That’s a mile better already. Notice that there’s still a comma dividing two of the sentences (“It should have looked cheesy” and “we fell in love with her.”) The grammar-reason why that comma is OK is that you have “but” – a conjunction, a connector word – joining the two sentences. In a way, though, I’d prefer you to forget about the grammar and just listen to the rhythms. Say the first snippet out loud, then the second one. If it feels right, it is right. That’s pretty much all the grammar you are ever going to need. More Advanced Ways To Use The Tool Back at school, you were probably told to avoid sentence fragments – the name given to sentences that lack a main verb. (Like this one, for example.) That’s rather old-fashioned advice in some ways, and it’s certainly unhelpful advice to offer when it comes to writing fiction or creative non-fiction. Take my own work. My narrator is jerky, tough, awkward, abrupt. Her voice is all those things too, and the consequence is that her prose makes a lot of use of sentence fragments. For instance: There’s a woman at the wheel. Forties, maybe. Blonde. Shoulder-length hair held back in a grip. Blue woollen coat worn over a dark jumper.I kick the door. Hard. I’m wearing boots and kick hard enough to dent the panel. Pretty clearly here, the periods are dividing my language up into units of meaning, not into sentences. The words Blonde and Hard are just words, after all. They’re not even attempting to be complete sentences. Equally clearly, my narrator’s language forces that kind of punctuation on the manuscript. If you wanted to follow the “period = end of sentence” rule, you’d have to rewrite the text so it looked something like this: There’s a woman at the wheel. She is in her forties, maybe. Her blonde, shoulder-length hair is held back in a grip. She wears a blue woollen coat worn over a dark jumper. [and so on] That’s not just differently punctuated. It has a different tone, a different mood. It’s perfectly fine writing … but it’s not what I wanted. The “correct” punctuation ends up destroying the voice I worked hard to create. As a rough, rough guide, literary fiction will tend to have relatively few sentence fragments, while crime thrillers and the like will have many more. But fiction is much more supple than that general rule suggests. So yes, my character is tough. Yes, she uses lots of sentences fragments in approved noir style. But she also reflects on philosophy, quotes poetry, introspects extensive, and so on. In the end, you build from the character to the voice to the punctuation. It makes no sense to try building the other way. The Exclamation Mark (!) An exclamation mark (or point) marks an exclamation, denotes shouting, or otherwise gives emphasis to a sentence. It’s like a shouty form of a period. But watch out! You think you know how to use the exclamation mark, but … The Most Common Error The most common error is to use the exclamation mark! It’s fine in emails. It’s OK-ish in blog posts. But in novels? Avoid it. As Scott Fitzgerald remarked, “An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes.” It’s like you’re trying to make your punctuation compensate for a failure of your actual writing. If you want a rough rule of thumb, you can use one or maximum two exclamation marks per 100,000 words of prose. If you have zero, that’s just fine. And never, ever have a double or treble exclamation mark in your text. What’s fine on Twitter, looks just awful on the printed page. More Advanced Ways To (Not) Use The Tool So if I (like most pro authors) hate the exclamation mark, what do you do instead? After all, there may be occasions where you feel your work actually needs the emphasis. But consider these alternatives: #1 “Go get it.”#2 “Go get it!”#3 “Go get it,” he ordered her, sharply. Those options are ranked in approximate order of shoutiness. The first option doesn’t feel especially emphatic. The addition of the exclamation mark adds a little force. The third option adds even more, via a highly coloured verb and adverb combo. But neither of the last two options is great. And the issue here is simply this: the actual bit of underlying dialogue is fairly colourless, and that’s not going to alter, no matter how many toppings you put on. In other words, if you started out with option #1 and found yourself thinking, “Hmm, this feels a little bland, so let’s get out the heavy-duty punctuation,” that should be a signal that you need to rewrite things. So a better option than either #1, #2 or #3 above would be: #4 “Go get it. Get it now. Give it to me. Never take it again.” You’re not using anything more than a common old period there, and you’re not resorting to ordering sharply, yelling loudly, yodelling wildly or exclaiming defiantly. But because your dialogue is now unmistakeably emphatic, it’s fine on its own. If the burger tastes great, you don’t need the relish. The Ellipsis (…) An ellipsis is a bit of a slippery brute. What it does is mark the fact that some words are missing. So, in dialogue, for example, people will often trail off, rather than actually complete a sentence. That much is easy – but how do you actually write it? Three dots is pretty much universal, but do you have spaces between them? Do you have a space before and after the ellipsis? And if you have the ellipsis at the start of a sentence, do you have a period (to denote the end of the previous sentence), then a space, then the ellipsis? That option sounds technically correct, but also rather fussy. The good news for you is that none of this really matters. Different style authorities advise different things, with some variation between British and American usage. And in the end, who really cares? Your editor won’t. Your agent won’t. Your reader won’t. It’s just not a big deal. I’d suggest, in general, that you use three dots without spacing in between, but with a space before and after. Like so: “Oh, Jen, if you really think that, then we should … I mean, maybe this was never meant to be.” The Most Common Error As with exclamation marks, the primary error is to overuse these little beasts. What works fine in an email, quickly looks annoying on the printed page. But whereas I’d advise you to hunt the exclamation mark almost to extinction, you can let the ellipsis breathe, just a little. One ellipsis per chapter is probably too many, but you’d have to be quite a fussy ready to object to half a dozen, or even a dozen, over the course of a full length novel. More Advanced Ways To Use The Tool As with the exclamation mark, the best way to use the ellipsis is to let it nudge you into querying your own writing. If you feel yourself wanting to use the ellipsis, just check that it’s not your writing that needs to alter. In nine out of ten cases, adjusting your text will be a better option than using the ellipsis. The Semi-Colon ( ; ) The semi-colon is a divider, the way commas and periods are dividers. The comma is the lightest of these in weight: it inserts the shortest of pauses. The period inserts the maximum pause. The semi-colon lives somewhere in between. Here’s an example of all three in action: It never normally rained, but the weather that day was awful.(comma = minimal pause)It never normally rained; my mother didn’t even own an umbrella(semi-colon = mid-weight pause)It never normally rained. That day, though, there was a deluge.(period = strongest pause) And look: you can live without the semi-colon completely. Personally, I quite like semi-colons, but my narrator, Fiona Griffiths, never uses them, so in about 750,000 words of published Fiona Griffiths’ novels, there’s only one semi-colon – and that enters the text via a direct quote from Wikipedia. Short message: if the semi-colon scares you, it’s fine to leave it well alone. The Most Common Error There are no common errors with semi-colons, except maybe overuse by people thinking they’re fancy. More Advanced Ways To Use The Tool Thinking of semi-colons as a middle-weight pause is technically correct, but it misses something, nevertheless. A better way to conceive of the mark is this: You need a semi-colon when you have two sentences, and the second one corrects or modifies the meaning of the first. So take those examples above. We used a semi-colon in this context: It never normally rained; my mother didn’t even own an umbrella. The first sentence is, in effect, adjusted by the second. The semi-colon tells us to read the second sentence as a kind of comment on the first one: “look, here’s just how much it never rained.” Or, if you want a slightly more grown-up example, here’s William Faulkner in The Sound and the Fury: Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life. But you can get too hung up on these things. Arguably, sentences that speak about each other shouldn’t need any punctuation to get their point across. The text itself should handle the communication just fine. So there’ll be plenty of writers (including my narrator) who’d agree with Kurt Vonnegut’s lesson in creative writing: First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college. And who cares if you’ve been to college, right? Parenthesis Brackets () | Dashes – – | Commas ,, There are three types of parenthesis you can use. They are: Commas: The comma, always a useful creature, can be used to separate one clause from the rest.Dashes: The dash – a more forceful beast – can be used in much the same way.Brackets: The bracket (perfectly fine in non-fiction) is relatively rare in fiction. But these three are not equivalent, and not equally common. I just opened up my Word document that contains the entire Fiona Griffiths series, and checked to see how many of each punctuation mark I used. In about 650,000 words of text, I used: 39,000 commas, of which, admittedly, many thousand wouldn’t be parenthetical.5,000 dashes, though most of these were actually hyphens, as in “short-tempered”. So I’m going to guess maybe only 1,000 actual dashes.100 brackets, of which many were things like “in Paragraph 22(c)”, where the use of the bracket isn’t really a parenthesis in the normal way. The Most Common Error There are two common errors when it comes to parenthesis. The first error is not to use anything to mark off a clause from the rest of a sentence resulting in (often, but not always) a sentence that is just plain hard to read. For example: The comma always a useful creature can be used to separate one clause from the rest. Tucking commas in around the useful-creature clause makes the meaning pop right out. The second error is kind of the opposite. It’s as though writers get worried that commas aren’t emphatic enough, so they start clamping their text inside brackets, like this: She couldn’t get enough of him (understandable, given her past), so she tried to find reasons why he couldn’t leave. And that feels heavy-handed. A simple rewrite releases the sentence and lets it breathe: Understandably, given her tangled past, she couldn’t get enough of him and she tried to find reasons why he couldn’t leave. There’s more flow there. Less sense of an author forcing information at you. The no-brackets alternative seems much more natural to fiction. The with-brackets version better suited to the information-delivery task of non-fiction. More Advanced Ways To Use Parenthesis The real trick with parenthesis – and with commas particularly – is to learn to feel the weight of a sentence. In most cases, commas will cover your parenthetical needs. If you need to rewrite something to make it work, then rewrite it. If you need the greater weight of dashes, then go for it, but recognise that you are, in a small way, pulling on the handbrake mid-sentence. If that’s what you want, fine. In many cases, there’ll be better options. Oh, and though I personally never read my text out loud, lots of authors swear by it – and any hiccups or awkwardness as you read is a huge clue that your punctuation or your text (or both) are at fault. Hyphens And Dashes The hyphen, the en dash, and the em dash We can’t quite leave a post about punctuation without talking about the various dashes available to you. Specifics in one second, but first, a public annoucement: The specifics don’t really matter. Yes, a lot of writers (especially those college-educated brutes that got Vonnegut all riled up) care a lot about their en dashes and their em dashes. But if you’ve never spent a moment caring about them in the past, you don’t have to worry that you’ve been doing something very wrong. You haven’t. Any “errors” on this scale will bother almost nobody – neither readers, nor agents. So, here’s what hyphens and dashes are and how to use them. The Hyphen The hyphen is on your keyboard as a minus sign. You use it to connect words, as for example: The hot-headed wood-cutter tip-toed past the one-eyed she-wolf. Apart from a slight anxiety about whether a hyphen is needed in a particular context (is it woodcutter or wood-cutter?), it’s hard to get these little fellows wrong. Oh, and although everyone will have a house-style defining when to use hyphens, everyone’s style guide will be a bit different, so there’s often not a clear right and wrong here anyway. The En Dash The en dash is so called because it is a dash approximately the same width as the letter N. And it doesn’t live on your keyboard anywhere: you have to give it life and breath all by yourself. You do this by hitting Ctrl and the minus sign at the same time, to give yourself something that looks like this: Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) As that example suggests, it’s used mostly for dates, or for things that feel much the same, for example: Washington–New York (in the context of a flight timetable, for example.) The Em Dash The em dash is so called because … well, you’re going to have to guess which letter-width it’s named after. You create this little critter in Word by hitting Ctrl-Alt-minus. And the em dash performs the following functions: It marks an interruption in dialogue.“The buried treasure,” he said, as he lay dying, “the treasure can be found just to the right of the old—”It marks a parenthesis in the middle of a sentence.The em dash—more forceful than commas—marks out a parenthesis in the middle of a sentence.But it can also mark out a parenthesis at the end of a sentence.He was allergic to fruit, sunshine, exercise and soap—or so he always insisted.(The “so he always insisted” part is the parenthesis here. If you were using brackets, that whole end chunk would be enclosed in brackets.)It can be used as a slightly informal colon.The result of that informal colon—often a little hint of comedy, or something of a “ta-daa” quality.It marks deleted or redacted words.The accuser, Ms — —, struck a defiant tone in court. Best practice is generally to use the em dash without a space before or after, but that’s one of those things that doesn’t actually matter. Newspapers tend to use spaces and British usage is much more tolerant of spacing and lots of people just don’t know the rules anyway. That’s it from me. Beautiful punctuation is often a sign of careful writing and a beautifully readable book. If you’re new to the site, don’t forget to check out the Garden of Delights that is a Jericho Writers membership. If you’re serious about writing, we’d love to have you join us. More here. About The Author Harry Bingham has been a professional author for twenty years and more. He’s been published by each of the three largest publishers in the world. He’s hit bestseller lists, had a ton of critical acclaim, and has been published in the US, the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, China, Japan . . . and lots of other places too. His work has been adapted for the screen and he’s enjoyed (almost) every minute of his career. (More about Harry, more about his books). As head of Jericho Writers (and previously the Writers’ Workshop), Harry has helped hundreds of people find agents and get published. He’d love it if you were next. More about us.
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How To Revise A First Draft

A checklist for your novel or manuscript rewriting process In this blog post, pro novelist and writing tutor, Emma Darwin (full bio below) gives you her advice on how to revise a first draft of your writing. So you’ve written your first draft novel (or other manuscript). That’s great. Congratulations. It’s a big moment. But now you need to make sure that your novel draft works on other readers as you want it to. Maybe you’ve just about managed to tame your novel, but now you’re facing A Big Revision or Rewriting of your first draft – so where on earth do you start? Before you edit, revise or rewrite anything, here are some pointers. Step 1: Read Through Your Book First, I suggest, you need to do your own appraisal, trying to read your first draft novel straight through, and as much like a reader as you can. I call this “problem-finding”, and by far the best way to do this it on paper, with a pen in your hand. Using track-changes and comment balloons on screen is a poor second, but possible; either way, you’re trying to record your reactions, as a reader, to the story, not start problem-solving: that comes later. Also note any wider thoughts that this reading throws up, but don’t then just dive into the most urgent or least frightening job. Because so many decisions and changes will affect all sorts of other things, it’s terribly easy to lose track, get diverted, lapse into fiddling and tinkering, and generally get into a worse muddle than you started in. Step Two: Organise Your Thoughts So, first bring all the different feedback you’ve had together, make an enormous pot of coffee or your working-drink of choice, and start sorting it out into rough categories. Problems that run all through the story: the order you’re telling the story in doesn’t work; a character is cardboard, or vanishes, a lost-letter plot’s in a muddle; the narrative voice is dull.Problems with particular sections: a saggy middle; that scene where the dialogue is flat as a pancake; the too-confusing opening; the crucial but oh-so-difficult sex, or battle, scene.Problems of continuity and consistency, such as paragraphing, how dialogue is punctuated, or how you represent dialect.What I call “bits”: individual corrections and tweaks, from typos, to one-off clunky paragraphs, to missing research. Once you have the overall picture, you can sort it out into a to-do list, and decide on the order to tackle your rewrite. The temptation here is to plunge straight into the revision process . . . but you need to resist that. Before you start to edit, revise and rewrite like crazy, you have a little more organising to do. Step 3: Work From Big To Small One possibility is to look at p.1, do everything it needs, then move on p.2, but that’s probably not the best way to tackle it. As with totally renovating a house (only this one you don’t have to live in at the same time), it’s not wise to do the whole of one room, from damp-course to top-coat, before you start the next. You neeed to make sure the structure is solid and the roof waterproof, only then get the electrician in to move lights and install heating, and only when all that’s done, do you paint the walls and lay carpets. Whichever order you do things in, any major change probably has ramifications elsewhere. Get into the habit of not galloping off to follow up now, but make a note on your To Do list to tackle it at a logical point. And although every writer is different, this I suggest, would be a good order in which to tackle things: Big structural changes. Don’t worry about the close-detail of stitching the sections into their new places, just do the rough carpentry.Any all-through-the-story things which need shrinking, changing or enhancing.Individual work on scenes and sections, now that they’re all in the (probably) right place.Consistency and continuity things which are most easily done when you put on the right glasses and deal with that issue all together: a character’s taste in clothes, say, or the punctuation and paragraphing of dialogue.Just work through from the beginning of your manuscript, and any other mark-up by your readers. Step Four: Work In Layers As much as you possibly can, tackle any particular problem working forwards in the story, so that you stay in touch with how the reader reads. It’s super-important for plots which depend on who-knows-what, about what, when. But it also matters for things like characterisation and setting, because the reader is encountering this person or place in stages, through time: make sure you’re in control of how that knowledge develops. If it helps you, work through the novel focusing on just one layer: Aunt Anita’s character arc, let’s say, or the way you build a picture of 1940s Manhattan. Ignore anything else (good or bad) if it doesn’t pertain to those exact issues. I know it feels inefficient to “go through the book” so many times, but believe me, you save far more trouble than you spend, because you don’t get in a muddle, duplicate work or cause muddles elsewhere without realising. Step 5: Re-read The Entire Text If you follow the advice above, you’ll have far less work to do once you get to the last stage: Do another straight read-through-like-a-reader, in print or on screen. Use this to pick up any darning-in of the big structural changes that’s still needed, and anything else you might have missed. This also is a very good moment to read it aloud, pen in hand, if you haven’t already: it’s brilliant for picking up typos, and more generally getting outside the novel to read it as if you didn’t write it. Just have a big jug of water to hand. Step 6: Stay Positive If all this sounds as if it’s more work than writing the first draft was – you’d be right. All authors know that writing is rewriting. Revising the first draft of a novel isn’t easy. True, some rewrite each page or even line, until it’s perfect, then move on, while others hurl a whole first draft down on the page, spelling-mistakes and all, and only then go back and start to hammer it into shape. Still, most would say that they spend perhaps three or four times as long on that rewriting of a page or novel as they did on putting the first version of those words on paper. Guest Post By: Emma Darwin Emma Darwin’s debut novel was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers’ Best First Book and the Romantic Novelists’ Association Novel of the Year awards, and she is the author of Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction. Her blog is used for writing courses around the world. For more on these and a host of other writerly topics, click through to resources via my blog.
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Diversity in genre fiction

Guest author and blogger Rhoda Baxter studied molecular biology at Oxford, which is why her pen name takes after her favourite bacterium. She writes contemporary romantic comedies in whatever spare time she has. Here are her thoughts on diversity in fiction. When Is A Book ‘Not Asian Enough’? There’s been a lot of recent discussion about diversity in publishing. A lot of people lament the fact that there aren’t enough diverse characters in fiction. There is diversity in the people who live in the UK and diversity in the subsection of those people who write books, so why the mismatch? As part of this discussion someone brought up the fact that books with BAME protagonists are judged by a different set of criteria – one of which is is this book Asian enough/black enough? This question winds me up. What is the benchmark for a book being Asian enough? Who sets it? How often is it reviewed? What is the point of it? I write romance, arguably the biggest selling genre in fiction. I’m British/Sri Lankan. Asian is part of who I am. It’s not something I consciously work at. If you asked me to list the things that define me, my Sri Lankan background would not make it into the top five. As a kid, I lived in a regular house, went to a regular school, read the same books, watched the same TV shows and listened to the chart show every week, just like the rest of my classmates. Of course, there was the odd Goodness Gracious Me moment, but mostly, my life wasn’t vastly different to my friends’. It wasn’t as though as soon as I shut the front door I was transported into another world of sari’s and spices. Yet, if you read mainstream fiction featuring Asian characters you’d think that was the case. No wonder everyone was so astounded that Nadiya Hussein chose to flavour her cheesecakes with fizzy pop (or that she even baked in the first place!). My first book featured middle class Sri Lankan characters. I wrote about people who were, basically, a bit like the Asian people I know. I submitted to agents and small publishers, I had a few notes back, a few requests for the full manuscript. ‘Asian Lit’ was popular at the time; White Teeth and Brick Lane were still riding high. The most useful feedback I got back was “I like it, but I don’t know where I’d place it”. It wasn’t Asian enough for literary fiction and not white enough for genre fiction. Being the pragmatic sort, I wrote the next book with white main characters. Given that I write about middle-class people, the things that worry white characters would be pretty much the same as the things that bother Asian characters – job security, sexism, bullying, the quest for love. Besides, people are people, regardless of what shade they are, and white characters have the same range of feelings as brown ones. I placed this book with a small publisher relatively easily. If you want fiction to represent the experiences of a wide range of people, you need accept those experiences as they are presented – even if they don’t fit into your preconceived notions. Rich people face different challenges to poor ones. First generation immigrants face different challenges to their children. No two Asian homes are the same, because no two families could be the same. So perhaps we should stop trying to pretend that they are. How can fiction show the reading public any variety in the Asian experience of life if the publishing industry insists that very variety does not exist (or, more accurately, that the reading public won’t buy it). ‘Diversity’ isn’t about showing Asian characters doing things in an Asian way, or gay characters doing things in a gay way or disabled characters doing things in a disability adapted way. That’s just pandering to stereotype. Diversity is achieved by showing characters of different backgrounds doing things in their own way and telling their unique stories. If it makes minority characters look less different than the majority expect them to be, that might even be a good thing. In case you hadn’t guessed, I write under a pen name since my real name is difficult to spell, and it helps to keep my writing career distinct from my day job – but I have always submitted my work to publishers and agents under my real name. I think (although I have no data to back this up) that the ‘is it Asian enough’ question arises not from racism as such, but from a skewed assumption of what readers can stomach. As a point of principle, I always have at least one Sri Lankan secondary character in each book. In my latest book (Please Release Me) the heroine is mixed race. I’m sneaking minority characters into mainstream genre fiction one book at a time. Interestingly, readers don’t seem bothered at all.
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How to write according to Myers-Briggs personality type

Guest author and blogger Lauren Sapala is a writing coach, the author of The INFJ Writer, and writes about writing, creativity, and personality theory on her blog. She currently lives in San Francisco. It’s often empowering to understand what helps you as a writer, but types only take us so far. First and foremost, you’re you. What builds your own creativity and what holds you back? If you’re struggling to make headway on a writing project, think how you best work, how maybe a “weakness” could be a strength, and what’ll most help you finish – will it be a deadline? Or a designated day of the week to write? For more on the MBTI system, the Myers & Briggs Foundation website is a great place to start. However, I’d urge every writer to experiment with many different methods of writing to find what works best for them. There can be great variation, even among the same type. Every artist is an individual. All artists should give themselves the permission to do whatever works best for them. Are You An Intuitive Writer? I struggled for years as a writer. I wanted desperately to write a novel, but I couldn’t even write the first page. Then, when I finally worked up the courage to take a creative writing course in college, I failed miserably. I stopped writing altogether for seven years. Oddly enough, it wasn’t until I discovered my Myers-Briggs personality type that I began to shine as a writer. Finding out that I was an intuitive personality was just the information I needed to finally move forward. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a system of 16 personality types that divides people along a spectrum of traits that determine how an individual interprets and reacts to the world. The MBTI system focuses on such tendencies as introversion versus extroversion, and intuition versus sensing (i.e. relying primarily on concrete information gleaned from one’s five physical senses). The complexity of the MBTI system is too vast to be addressed fully in this article, so if you don’t already know your type or you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating area of psychology, I recommend you make use of the wealth of helpful resources that can be found online. If you do already know your type, and you want to know a bit more about how this affects your strengths and weaknesses as a writer, look at my selection of “writers by type” below, to discover how you can start using your type as a creative advantage. These below are intuitive personalities on the MBTI system – ones I seem to work oftenest with, encouraging their ideas and intuitive talent. Tips For INFJ Writers I’m an INFJ writer myself, and so I’m intimately acquainted with many of the most common obstacles INFJ writers face. The number one challenge I see INFJ writers struggle with is perfectionism. INFJs have a rich, all-consuming inner life, and they excel brilliantly at seeing the big picture and imagining the ideal version of how something could take shape in the future. Because INFJs are such amazing abstract thinkers, it’s easy for us to bring together different elements in our mind to form a perfect whole. It’s when we try to make this “perfect whole” a physical reality that we’re confronted with the real world and all the messiness, pitfalls, snags, and less-than-perfect elements it contains. INFJ writers who are unconscious of their own perfectionistic tendencies will get stuck at this stage, always dreaming and never making any of their dreams a reality. It’s only when INFJ writers realize that the real world is never perfect, and anything they create will necessarily be bound to this real-world truth, that they can begin to accept their writing for what it is, flaws and all. Tips For INFP Writers INFP writers suffer the most from too many ideas, and a feeling of being overwhelmed by all the choices and different creative paths they could take. I’ve written on my site on the non-linear way I’ve often seen INFP writers work. This can be a strength, though – a means to connect patterns between scenes, images, characters, and ideas. It’s also not uncommon to see an INFP writer working on several writing projects at once, but the problem is not that INFPs work on too many things at the same time. Instead, the problem is that they tend to judge themselves harshly and resist their natural tendency at every turn. INFPs need a lot of variety. They also need a sense of flexibility and the freedom to be spontaneous and fluid in their artistic pursuits. Out of all the types, INFPs are most likely to work in circles. This means that the INFP writer usually works on one story, then moves onto painting for a few days, then moves onto writing a poem, and finally circles back to the story. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach and, in fact, it can work quite well for INFPs who have accepted their nature and embrace this circular way of working. INFP writers run into trouble though, when they compare their creative processes to others and try to force themselves to work in a linear manner. Tips For ENJF Writers Out of the four intuitive feeling types (INFJ, INFP, ENFJ and ENFP) the ENFJ is the type that is most likely to fall prey to an extremely harsh inner critic. ENFJs are almost preternaturally aware of the relationship dynamics surrounding them, and that includes a thorough assessment of how others view them and how they measure up in the larger order of any community of which they happen to be a part. This leads many of them to easily play the comparison game, and many times feel like they’re coming out on the losing end. ENFJs also have a strong need for connection and community. If they feel isolated in their writing pursuits, or like no one understands them or “gets” what they’re attempting to do with their writing, they can quickly shut down and then begin isolating themselves even further. ENFJs must feel emotionally supported by a group of peers they love and respect. This is when they will do their best work. Tips For ENFP Writers ENFPs are similar to INFPs in that they suffer from the feeling of being overwhelmed by too many ideas, but with ENFPs this includes an outer world component that can contribute to even more overwhelm. Simply put, ENFPs are unabashed extroverts. They love people and they love getting out and having adventures with people. A healthy ENFP might work two jobs, have a family, and still take up demanding hobbies such as snowboarding or Spanish classes in their spare time. This kind of schedule usually leaves little time for writing. The number one problem most ENFPs struggle with is finishing things. They begin novels, plays, and short stories full of enthusiasm for the project, but then a sparkly, too-interesting-to-resist person or cause comes along and immediately distracts them. The best method for ENFPs is to devote one day a week to a certain piece of work (maybe the novel they’ve always dreamed of writing) and keep firm boundaries in place around that day so that the project gets a guaranteed slice of their creative energy on a regular basis. Never feel boxed in, though. Find your best writing habits. Always do what works for you. Learn about Lauren’s journey and read more at her site. Learn more about all different MBTI types and writing styles – and check out more free writing advice on us.
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6 tips for writing really bad villains

By C M Taylor Ever wondered what goes in to writing a nasty villain? Guest author C M Taylor has put together 6 top tips for writing really bad villains, plus everything else you need to build a well-rounded bad guy. Featured In This Article Thematically develop your villain– a crucial stepCreate a compelling backstory– the richer the betterBuild emotional logic– and learn why this mattersShow physical and mental scarsAdd in super human giftsMake your villain unbeatableWriting well-rounded bad guys and villainsDoes every story need a villain?How to create a likeable villainWhat if your protagonist is a villain?11 examples of evil villains and bad guys The term ‘villain’ defines a character who personifies the forces which thwart the progress of the main character. Now, while it is feasible that the villain is the main character – and we will come on to that less usual and more nuanced situation later on – in the vast majority of cases, the villain is villainous in relation to opposing the needs and desires of the main character. This structural role of antagonising the main character is the reason the villain is often described as the antagonist. They are a character who stands in negative relation to the spiritual, emotional, moral or financial progress of the main character, a character who is often described as the protagonist. Thematically Develop Your Villain A writer can usefully begin their creation of a villain via an understanding of theme. Are you writing about loyalty, for example? In which case, your protagonist has issues with loyalty which they must overcome, via the obstacles of the plot, to achieve a healthy, positive attitude to loyalty. Hence the role of the villain is to embody and prosecute a version of loyalty which is negative but tempting, which is corrupt but seductive, which might derail the heroic character’s attempt to achieve a healthy version of the theme. It is the villain’s job to oppose the progress of the hero, and so, knowing the specific thematic nature of the progress which the hero must make, that necessarily takes you some way to defining the nature of your villain. Your villain must be suitable and specifically adept at preventing the thematic success of your hero, hence must embody a negative version of that theme. Create A Compelling Backstory So, once you have understood your theme and decided which negative version of the theme is embodied by your villain, you next ask yourself why they are like this. For an example, let’s stick with the theme of loyalty. Your villain might espouse a version of loyalty which states you must have only loyalty to yourself, or loyalty to chaos, or loyalty to crime, or loyalty to the dead. Any unhealthy version of the theme will do. Let’s pick they have loyalty to chaos and want to bring disorder and anarchy to the whole world. Why are they like this? Their parents were unbelievably controlling and up-tight and rational and crushed the villain with their excessive punctiliousness maybe. Or the villain and their brother were in some youth cadet force which was all about order and discipline and the brother died in an accident born of excessive following of the rules. You see, one you have your thematic relation, you move to explain it via the backstory. Build Emotional Logic Our thematically-driven excavation and development of the villain’s backstory allows us to take an emotionally logical approach and explain why the villain is like they are. Continuing with our theme of loyalty, our rule-following cadet was eager and good to start with, tragic events having turned them on to a negative chaotic version of loyalty. Or our young child started off good but was hounded by neurotically rule-bound parents to crave the release of chaos. If you show the reader that it is emotionally logical for the villain to have passed from a state of health to their current corrupted self as a consequence of events, you humanise the villain. You make the reader think that they themselves might plausibly have reacted the same way in the same circumstances. You give the villain an emotional plausibility and a gravitas. And a decent villain needs gravitas, needs the emotional plausibility and heft to pull the villain into their version of the theme, into their version of reality. A good villain is like a moral centrifuge. What they pull towards them and put in peril is the hero’s self, their morality, the hero’s version of the theme. Showing it was entirely reasonable for the villain to arrive at the moral place they are in shows that the hero might arrive their too, and so puts a huge amount of jeopardy in play for the hero. Show Physical And Mental Scars The clichéd villain is often physically disfigured, right? There being a suggestion of a relationship between moral and physical disfigurement. I would however caution against this simple equation, quite apart from it perpetuating discrimination against people who are unfortunate enough to be physically disfigured, it has been done to death. Why not mix it up? The hero is trying to overcome prejudice against their physical disfigurement while the gorgeous villain is prone to the ravages of narcissism. Add In Super Human Gifts Your protagonist has to be special. In some genres like fantasy or science fiction they can be ‘the one’ level of special. In genres such as crime or thriller they can ‘exceptional human being’ levels of special. In genres such as romance or realism, they can ‘normal person pushed to the edge behaves heroically’ levels of special. And if your protagonist is special well, given that it is the job of the villain to oppose the protagonist, then in order to seem anything like able to compete with the hero, the villain needs to be special too. Make Your Villain Unbeatable Every villain needs to seem unbeatable to start with. The obstacles they place in the way of the protagonist must seem insurmountable. If the hero can beat the villain at the beginning, then there are no struggles needed. It is the insurmountable villain that causes the hero to develop and grow. It may be that your story is a tragic and the hero fails to beat the villain in the end. However it ends, in the beginning there must be no way that the hero – in their current state – can compete. Writing Well-rounded Bad Guys And Villains Why do villains matter to fiction?  Answering this involves taking this question right back to ask ourselves: what is a story? The crux of a story is concerned with how the main character changes, or fails to change, over time, in contact with internal, external and relationship pressures. A story is a map of this change over time, or this failure to change over time. The change is both an internal, emotional journey and an external, physical journey. Now if the journey comes easily, then there will be no drama, because drama requires struggle. The journey which the protagonist goes on needs to be ripe with struggle – with obstacles, tests, high stakes. The most common and identifiable way to manifest struggle is to have it between people. Between the antagonist (or villain) and the protagonist (or heroic character). It is the antagonist who provides the obstacles standing in the way of the protagonist’s need to consummate their change. It is the test of wills between the antagonist and the protagonist that generates the struggle. On a very simple level, in terms of the mechanics of plot, it is the villain who sets the test and the heroic character who sits the test. It is the villain whose actions provoke the need for the hero to act. Batman without The Joker would have no need to act. The villain is a dark twin to the hero. The villain embodies the shadow qualities of the hero. The villain is what the hero might have been, what the hero might be, should they make the wrong choices, which is what gives rise to the clichéd piece of film dialogue, ‘We are not so different you and I, Mr Bond.’ If the heroic character struggles to embody the positive possibilities in a work of fiction, the villain convincingly embodies the negative aspects. The villain personifies the specific forces of antagonism which aim to prevent the protagonist from completing their internal and external journey. Does Every Story Need A Villain? The short answer to this question is no – in terms of the villain being a physical personification of antagonism, not every story has or needs this. A story needs antagonism, yes, and most usually this antagonism takes the form of a human being standing in opposition to the progress of the heroic character, but it is not necessary to do this. Antagonism can be generated in other variations than the single, embodied villain. The antagonism might be within the heroic character themselves. It might be a mistaken belief about life which leads them astray or into repeated unhealthy actions; or it might be an addiction. Note that choosing to centre the antagonistic force internal to the main character influences what type of story you are telling. It would be hard to make this choice and write an action story, for example. The choice to situate the main antagonistic force internally, as an aspect of the heroic character, is more associated with character-led stories – literary or dramatic works, or sometimes the psychological thriller. Whereas the more traditional human villain personification of antagonistic force is more usual within crime or fantasy or action stories. There are other forms of antagonism too. It might be centred around a group of people. It might be the family that a young person needs to escape to ‘become’ whole. Or it might be the pain still felt when a parent abandoned a child. Or it might be a best friend who continually leads the main character into activities which are against their best interests. Basically, antagonistic forces can be anything as long as they are the main obstacle in the way of the protagonist achieving what they most need. Traditionally this force has been embodied via the personification of a villain, but the villainous function can be performed within a story by other forces. How To Create A Likeable Villain As I write above, the villain stands or falls on the plausibility of their world view – the villain is the hero in their own eyes. If you can show why the villain has ventured from the path of moral health to become the creature they are today then you have created the route by which the reader can empathise with the villain. And if they can empathise then – in the current parlance – they can possess relatability. All the best characters are layered, multidimensional and above all, unique. So, if your bad guy can have some redeeming qualities, or a journey that the reader can connect with, then that could definitely make for an interesting read. What If Your Protagonist Is A Villain? Your protagonist can be both hero and villain – look at Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Or your protagonist can be a criminal – look at The Godfather, at Breaking Bad, at The Sopranos, at Crime and Punishment. Or your protagonist can be an anti-hero – look at Mr Robot.  They can be any of those things. As long as they are subject to thematically congruent antagonistic forces, the rules are the same. As long as we know why they are like they are – In The Godfather, Michael Corleone gets pulled back into the family business of murder and extortion through love of his threatened father. Walter White sells meth – initially at least – to protect his ill family in Breaking Bad. Elliot from Mr Robot illegally hacks computers to out greater criminals. This is a common strategy – outflanking your villains with even greater villains to make your villain comparatively empathetic. Look at Dexter. Yes, he is a serial killer, but he only kills people who are themselves worse than him. He performs bad acts for a comprehensible and relatable reason. 11 Examples Of Evil Villains And Bad Guys Tricking Othello into murdering his own wife makes Iago a pretty good start to our collection.Another trickster, in Treasure Island, Long John Silver tricks Jim Hawkins, disguising his own role as leader of the mutiny.Why do we care for and want the sociopathic murder Tom Ripley to escape throughout Patricia Highsmith’s Mr Ripley novels? Because he feels love and we feel his vulnerability and inadequacy.And why do we admire Hannibal Lecter in Thomas Harris’ novels? Because he is brilliant and stylish and logical.Only somebody as prodigiously gifted as Moriarty could aspire to being a villain worthy of Sherlock Holmes special powers.Anne Wilkes in Stephen King’s Misery turns out to the fan no writer wants.Xan may seem like the villain in P D James’ The Children of Men but isn’t the broader antagonistic force that of infertility itself.No mistaking that it’s a shark who is the villain of Peter Benchley’s novel, Jaws.Isn’t narcissism the antagonistic force in play in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey?Are dinosaurs the antagonistic force of Jurassic Park? Rather I would say it was the human vanity and over-reaching that lead to the recreation of dinosaurs in the first place. Same with Dr Frankenstein – it’s the Dr not the monster who sets the test.Isn’t the entire Republic of Gilead the antagonist force in The Handmaid’s Tale? Have Your Say So, there we have it, a foolproof method to build your very own villainous bad guy. Have we missed anything? Anything else you’d like to add? Head on over to the Jericho Townhouse and let us know what you think. About The Articles Author C M Taylor has been nominated for the British Science Fiction book of the year and published a number of novels, including Staying On, (Duckworth 2018), Premiership Psycho (Corsair 2011) and the Amazon best-selling Group of Death (Corsair 2012). Craig has also co-written a thriller movie script, Writers Retreat, which was filmed in 2014 and premiered at the Sitges International Film Festival, and he continues to be commissioned to write scripts for TV and film. C M Taylor is also a sought-after editor, working with a well-known publisher as well as working with Jericho Writers as a book editor.
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Points of View in Fiction Writing (with Plenty of Examples)

What is first person? What’s third person? What’s all this about limited vs omniscient…? How you narrate a story – or what points of view you choose when writing fiction – can make all the difference to its appeal. What’s more, the choices you make now will affect every page (indeed, pretty much every sentence) of your novel. So you’d better get things right, huh? No worries. This post will tell you everything you need to know. We’ll start with some definitions and some examples, then assess the pros and cons of each possibility. Oh, and buckle up. This stuff can sound quite technical and scary, but (a) it’s simpler than it sounds, and (b) the choice you want to make instinctively is probably the right one. It’s really possible to overthink these things! First up: some definitions. All You Need To Know About Points Of View Point of view (POV) is the narrator’s position in relation to the story: First person – the narrator and protagonist are the sameSecond person – very rare and hard to pull offThird person – an ‘off-page’ narrator relates a story about your charactersMixed – combines first-and third-person passages Point Of View: Definitions The Point of View (or “POV”) is the narrator’s position in relation to the story. There are a few basic possibilities here, one of which is exceptionally rare. They are: First person narrationIn this instance the narrator speaks in the first person, (“I did this, I said that, I thought the other.”) The narrator and the novel’s protagonist are essentially one and the same.Second person narrationHere the narrator speaks in the third person (“You did this”, and so on.) It’s exceptionally rare as a technique and is definitely not advisable for beginners.Third person narrationIn this instance, the narrator speaks in the third person, (“She did this, he did that, they did the other.”) The narrator is basically an invisible storyteller, telling the reader what happens to the novel’s protagonists. Third person narration comes in two basic flavours: limited third person and the extremely grand-sounding omniscient third person. We’ll get more into the detail of those two in a moment, but the basic difference is that a limited 3rd person narrator stays very close to the character whose viewpoint is being used. An omniscient one is more inclined to wander free from the character and give a broader view of things. (Not sure you’ve got the distinction? No worries. We’ll get to more details in a moment.)Mixed narrationIf a novel combines passages told from the first person point of view with passages told from the third person point of view, it has mixed narration – or mixed first and third person point of view, if you really want to spell it out. Point Of View: Examples Examples of first person narration are legion. For example: The Sherlock Holmes stories (narrated by Dr Watson, in the first person)Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe stories (narrated by Philip Marlowe, of course)Bridget Jones’s Diary, narrated by … well, you’ve already guessed, right?Moby Dick, narrated by … well, put it this way, the famous first line is “Call me Ishmael.”Hunger Games, narrated by Katniss EverdeenTwilight, narrated by Bella SwanThe Kay Scarpetta novels of Patricia CornwellSome of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books (but not all) Here’s an example of first person point of view in practice: “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation.”—Moby Dick, by Herman Melville Examples of second person narration are extremely rare. Famous recent examples include: Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City opens with the line, “You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time in the morning” and then it continues from there, with the protagonist always described as “you”.Italo Calvino did much the same thing in If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller.There are a few other examples too, but you’ve got to me a really smart and skilled writer to do this. In short, for 99.99% of writers out there, just fuhgeddabahtit. This technique isn’t one for you. Examples of third person narration are also commonplace. For example: Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, which is about Lisbeth Salander, but not narrated by herThe Da Vinci Code, about Robert Langton, but not narrated by himJane Austen’s Pride & PrejudiceJohn Grisham’s The FirmStephen King’s MiserySome of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, but not all And here’s an example of third person narration in practice: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.“My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”—Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen Got that? OK. We’ll skip on to the limited / omniscient distinction, then start figuring out how to apply point of view to your novel. Third Person Pov: Limited Vs Omniscient OK, the thing that probably most confuses newer writers is the distinction between third person limited and third person omniscient. Quite honestly, though, this isn’t something to trouble with too much. If you want to write in third person, just do what’s right for your characters and your story, and you should do just fine. If you want to know more, however, what you need to know is this: Third Person Limited: Definition & Example When you use a limited form of third person narration, you stay very close to your character. So the narrator isn’t telling the reader anything that the character in question wouldn’t themselves know / see / hear / sense. Here’s a beautiful example from Anne Tyler (in Breathing Lessons): “They planned to wake up at seven, but Maggie [the point of view character in this passage] must have set the alarm wrong and so they overslept. They had to dress in a hurry and rush through breakfast, making do with faucet coffee and cold cereal. Then Ira headed off for the store on foot to leave a note for his customers, and Maggie walked to the body shop. She was wearing her best dress – blue-and-white sprigged with cape sleeves – and crisp black pumps, on account of the funeral. The pumps were only medium-heeled, but slowed her down some anyway.” You’ll notice that nothing at all in that passage is something that Maggie doesn’t know about. So even when the passage talks about Ira heading off to the store, that’s done from Maggie’s perspective. We know that he goes and what his purpose is there, but we know nothing at all about his walk itself – whereas we know exactly what Maggie’s wearing, and why, and why her shoes slowed her down. This is third person limited (because it’s so closely limited to Maggie’s perspective) and as you can see it delivers a kind of intimacy – even a homeliness. Third Person Omniscient: Definition And Example The omniscient version of third person is, as you’d expect, able to tell the reader things that aren’t directly knowable by any of the characters in the tale. The most famous example of this narrative voice in literature is surely this passage from Charles Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope,it was the winter of despair, …” As you can see, this isn’t told from any character’s viewpoint. It’s almost as though a lordly, all-seeing Charles Dickens is hovering over London (or England? or the world?) and giving his kingly overview of the situation. This type of writing has become rather less common in fiction, so you’ll tend to stick with broadly limited narration, interspersed (perhaps) by something a little more omniscient in flavour. Point Of View: Which One Should You Write In? First Person Point Of View First-person narration shares action as seen through the eyes of your narrator. A narrator can therefore only narrate scenes in which he or she is present. Coming-of-age novels – Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower – work exceptionally well in first-person narration. A lot of YA books are written in first person, because their intimate, emotional narration chimes with their teenaged readership. Romances (with their emotional focus) are also often first person. So are ghost stories with a sense of claustrophobia like Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black. In particular, however, it’s worth thinking about Jonathan Franzen’s dictum that, “Write in third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly.” In other words: (A) do you feel you have to write in that first person voice, and (B) does that first person voice really sound and feel distinctive, personal and indvidual. I’ve mostly written third person, but my recent detective novels are first person – essentially for the reasons Franzen hints at. Here’s an example from my book, The Deepest Grave. (I’ve made some short edits for length, but mostly this is as it appears in the finished book.) The narrator is Fiona Griffiths, my detective protagonist. I’m a little earlier than I said, but it’s not long before I hear the sound of approaching feet.Katie appears. Sees me up here on my bank. I raise a hand and smile welcome.She approaches.Impressively torn black jeans. Black cowboy boots, well-used. Dark vest-top worn under an almost military kahki shirt. A chunky necklace. One of those broad-brimmed Aussie-style hats with a leather band. […]The look has attitude and personality and toughness, without quite dipping into angry hippy counterculture.Also: she walks with a ski-stick, a mobility aid not a fashion statement.She comes up the bank towards me. Sits beside me.I say, ‘You hurt your ankle?’ You’ll notice that it’s not just that the observations are made by Fiona. (eg: “not long before I hear the sound of approaching feet”). It’s also that the character of those observations is shaped 100% by Fiona herself. So yes, the list of clothes that Katie is wearing is a fairly neutral list (though the very short sentences and lack of any verbs – that’s all Fiona). But that summary comment about the overall effect (“the look has attitude  . . .without quite dipping into angry hippy counterculture”) is what Fiona thinks about Katie’s look. I can’t comment myself, because this is Fiona’s narration. She’s in charge. For the same reason, if there were, let’s say, a lion in the undergrowth about to spring out on Fiona, the book couldn’t say anything about the lion, until Fiona herself had seen / heard / smelled / witnessed it in some way. Does that sound claustrophobic? Needlessly restrictive? Well, maybe. But I’m now halfway into writing novel #7 in that series, and when that book’s complete I’ll be close to 1,000,000 words published in the series. And every single one of those words, without exception, comes from Fiona’s voice. There is no other perspective anywhere in the series. In other words, the restriction of first person is real, but you can still write at length, and successfully in that style. First Person Point Of View, Pros And Cons .This is quite easy, really! The pro is the opposite of the con and vice versa. Pro: First person narration gives you intense, personal familiarity with the narrator. The reader can’t – short of putting the book down – separate from the narrator’s voice, their thoughts, their commentary, their feelings etc. Con: You lose flexibility. If there’s a lion in the undergrowth, you can’t say so, until your narrator has seen the damn thing. If a key thing happens in your plot without your narrator in the room, then tough. he or she can only talk about it when they encounter the consequences down the road. My comment:I’ve written books both ways. There’s no right or wrong here. I love both. One good tip is to use first person narration mostly when you have a distinctive narrator with a strong voice. Most thrillers are written third person (so they can flip between different points of view (eg: investigator / victim / perpetrator), but there’s no absolute rule. I write mine first person. Likewise, a lot of romance stories are written first person . . . but you can go either way there too. Third Person Point Of View Third person narration uses “he” or “she”, where a first person narrator would say, “I”. Here’s an example taken from (and this is a blast from the past for me!) my first novel, The Money Makers: They spoke of other things until it was late. They damped down the fire, cleared away the dishes, and walked upstairs. Fiona went right on into the one usable bedroom. Matthew stopped at the door, where his bag lay.‘Fiona,’ he said. ‘You remember you said you would never ever lie for me again?’‘Yes.’‘Any chance of your lying for me right now?’ He looked at the inviting double bed, heaped high with clean linen and feather quilts.She smiled. Once again, ambiguity flickered in frightened eyes, but her answer was clear. She walked right up to Matthew and stopped a few inches from him. Her long dark hair fell around her shoulders, and her face was only inches from his. This scene (and the whole chapter) is written from Matthew’s perspective. So, yes, much of the factual data here (“they spoke of other things until it was late”) was available to both Fiona and Matthew in this scene. At the same time, when they step up close and get intimate, it’s Matthew we’re with, not Fiona. (How do we know this? Because when we get to “ambiguity flickered in frightened eyes”, it’s Matthew that sees this, not Fiona. If that little bit had been written from Fiona’s perspective, it would have had to say, “she felt ambivalent and frightened”, or something like that. Limited Vs Omniscient My advice to newer writers is mostly to forget about this distinction. As a rule, you should stick close to your character – and that means adopting a generally limited point of view. How come? Well, quite simply, readers want to experience story through the eyes and ears of its characters, and that means time away from the limited perspective is time spent away from that precious character-experience. That said, if now and again, you want to dive into something a little more godlike (or omniscient), you absolutely can. Just: Make sure that your godlike voice offers something grand, the way Charles Dickens’s does in Tale of Two Cities. (The opening passage of White Teeth by Zadie Smith offers a rather more contemporary example.)Use that omniscient voice only in small doses. You want to zoom, pretty damn fast, from the omniscient view to the up-close-and-personal one. The golden rule to remember here is that readers want character – and they only get that experience from the limited perspective. Third Person Point Of View: Pros And Cons The main limitation we found with the first person narrative approach was its restrictiveness. My and my Fiona Griffiths books, with every one of those 1,000,000 words locked into one voice, one point of view. So most writers adopting the third person approach will use multiple perspectives. George Eliot’s Middlemarch is one famous example. The same goes for much of nineteenth century fiction, especially of the more epic variety: Dickens, War and Peace, Vanity Fair, Henry James, you name it. What you get from those many perspectives is the ability to see into many hearts, many minds, many souls. That multi-viewpoint narration gives your novel: Richness – all those multiple perspectivesFlexibility – you can set your movie camera up wherever the action is happening. You avoid the restrictions of narrow first person narration.Potentially something epic in scale – because all those characters and voices lend a depth and scale to your story. Also notice this: There are types of suspense you just can’t deliver in a first person novel. So Hitchcock famously distinguished between surprise and suspense. If two people are sitting in a cafe, when a bomb detonates – that’s a surprise. But let’s restructure that same episode with multiple viewpoints, and you get something completely different. So we might see (Point of View #1) a terrorist planting a bomb in the cafe, then switch perspectives to (Point of View #2) the innocent couple drinking coffee right by the ticking bomb. In that case, the simple scene of two people drinking coffee becomes laden with suspense. The reader knows the bomb is there. The couple don’t. What’s going to happen . . .? That’s a type of suspense that we first-personeers (or single perspective third personeers) just can’t deliver. Consequently, third person / multiple viewpoint novels are particularly common with: thrillers and suspense novelsanything epic in scale. We’ve mentioned some nineteenth century fiction already, but George RR Martin and his Game of Thrones series is a perfect example of modern and big. Ditto any door-stopper by Tom Clancy. Third Person Point Of View: Summary Most third person novels are written with multiple perspectives, even if (as in Harry Potter) the point of view stays mostly with a single central character. Advantages and disadvantages? Well, essentially you get the opposite of the first person pros and cons. So third person / multi-viewpoint narration: Is flexible. You can pop the camera anywhere you want. You can deliver suspense as well as surprise.Enlarges your book. It can move you from a narrow-focus/small book to a wide-focus/epic one.Loses intimacy. In particular, if your camera gets too promiscuous – if you just use too many viewpoints – you risk breaking the reader’s bond with your central character(s). If that happens, your book dies! Third Person Narration: The Golden Rules We said above that the main risk of multiple viewpoints is that you break the reader’s bond with your main character and as a result you end up losing the reader completely. Bad outcome, right? A book killer. Multiple Points Of View: Three Golden Rules Fiction is about inner worlds and inner journeys, and you need to respect that. So here are the rules: GOLDEN RULE #1Limit your number of primary characters I’d suggest that, for almost any new novelist, you should not go above three. My first book was a story about three sons, although the sister too had a significant secondary viewpoint. I’d say that count of three-and-a-half viewpoints represents the upper limit for any first novel by all but the most gifted novelists. You can go higher than that. I think of books that run to dozens of viewpoints. But as a place to start? Nope, that kind of thing is too dangerous for 99.9% of you. (And the 0.1% are talented enough, that I don’t really know why they’re reading this!) Your next rule follows from the first: GOLDEN RULE #2Never go more than 3-4 pagesbefore returning to your primary characters. We’ve all watched movies where the leading couple is so incredibly strong that the movie starts to die as soon as one of them is off-screen. Or take that great first series of Homeland, where Carrie (Claire Danes) and Nicholas Brody (Damian Green) had a mesmeric quality together. You could have scenes with both of them in (great!). Or scenes with just one of them in (very good!). But scenes with neither? They flagged very quickly. And sure: you need some filler scenes just to make sense of the story. But if you stay away from your main characters for too long, the book dies. And just because I said “3-4 pages” in the rule above doesn’t mean that you have that much space every time you take a break. You don’t. You need to keep those non-protagonist scenes as short and tight as possible. Three pages is better than four. Two pages is better than three. And our next rule follows from the first two – and from absolutely everything we know about why stories work as they do. GOLDEN RULE #3Every main character (every protagonist)needs their own fully developed story arc. If you use any Point of view repeatedly, the character needs a fully developed inner life, a fully developed arc, a full set of challenges, encounters and personal change – and relevance, too. Is this person relevant to your collective story material? So take my first book, The Money Makers, with its three (and a bit) protagonists. Every single one of those three needed: A motivationA challengeA set of external obstacles (ie: things in the world)A set of internal obstacles (ie: things in their character that blocked them from accomplishing their goals)A crisis, linked to all the things in the list so farA resolution In effect, to write a three-handed story, you have to write three stories, each perfectly structured in their own right. Phew! That sounds like a scary undertaking, and yes, I guess it is. But because a book can be only so long, if you write from three points of view, each one of the stories you are telling can afford to be quite simple – the kind of thing that would seem a bit flat if told on its own. (If you’re a bit worried about fitting it all in then you’ll probably find this blog on chapter lengths and this one on wordcount really useful.) As it happens, I love third person / multiple viewpoint narration almost as much as I love first person. There isn’t a right or a wrong in the choice; it’s only a question of how you want to write and how your story wants to be written. About the author: Harry Bingham has been a professional author for twenty years and more. He’s been published by each of the three largest publishers in the world. He’s hit bestseller lists, had a ton of critical acclaim, and has been published in the US, the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, China, Japan . . . and lots of other places too. His work has been adapted for the screen and he’s enjoyed (almost) every minute of his career. As head of Jericho Writers (and previously the Writers’ Workshop), Harry has helped hundreds of people find agents and get published. He’d love it if you were next. (More about us.) 
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Character and characterisation in novels: techniques, examples and exercises

How to write great characters in your novel.How to make them lifelike.How to make them dazzle. What makes a reader glued to a book? What makes that person come back to it again and again? As a rough guide, people turn the pages because of plot, but they remember a book because of character. Don’t believe us? Then answer this. Can you recall, in detail, the plots of: To Kill a Mockingbird?The Hound of the Baskervilles?The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? We’re going to bet not. But do you remember Scout and Atticus? Holmes and Watson? And the badass Lisbeth Salander? Of course you do. And that’s the aim of this post: helping you achieve the same level of vibrating life that these characters achieved. In effect, we’re going to tell you how to develop a character that can be used for both the protagonist (hero) and the antagonist (bad guy). How to write the kind of characters that will elevate your novel to a whole different plane. And it’s not magic. It’s just the logical application of tried-and-trusted writing techniques. But let’s start by figuring out what character development is, and how it works for you. Don’t want to wait for the blah?Just download our 200+ question Character Bio Template. It’s freeGet the Ultimate Character Profile Template What Is Character Development? Understand What Character Development Is Character development is two things: Character development is the the process by which an author develops a detailed character profile. This activity is usually done in conjunction with plot development and takes place as part of the planning process, before the writer actually starts to write.Character development also refers to the way a character changes through the course of the novel, generally in response to the experiences and events gathered through the course of the story itself. This is known as the Character Arc. (Need more? Get plot structure advice here.) Those twin definitions are immediately helpful. Yes: you have to develop a character profile before starting to write, but you also have to knit your character so closely to the story you’re going to tell that the two things seemed joined at the hip. Ideally, the reader won’t be able to imagine any other character occupying your story – just like you couldn’t imagine Girl with a Dragon Tattoo without the inflammatory, exciting presence of Lisbeth Salander. So: the first question is, how do we choose the right character for the story we’re about to tell? That’s up next. Plan Your Character Arcs The two basic character types in fiction – and how to choose the one who’s right for your novel. There are two basic types of main character (or protagonist) in fiction: The first type is an ordinary character plunged into the extraordinary. And, by this process, they become a little more extraordinary themselves.The second character type start out extraordinary – they could make things happen in an empty room. You need to be careful about identifying which character is which. You might think that Harry Potter can’t be ordinary, because he’s a wizard. But think about it. He seemed like quite an ordinary boy. And when he gets to wizard school he seems quite ordinary there too (daunted by the school, a bit scared of Hermione, and so on.) He’s an ordinary wizard who finds his inner extraordinary self over the course of seven books. Lisbeth Salander, however, never strikes the reader as ordinary. She’s a rule-breaking, computer genius with anti-social traits and a scary capacity for violence. You just know she’s going to cause waves, no matter where she goes. Here’s a quick way to figure out what kind of character yours is: Ordinary Characters Will typically refuse adventure, or accept it only reluctantlyWill typically have something of the boy next door / girl next door quality to them. That doesn’t mean they have to be boring (we’re all different after all), but it does mean that they can act as a kind of placeholder for the reader. “That person could be me. That adventure could have been mine.“Will typically find something heroic or extraordinary in themselves as a result of the adventure. Something that was buried becomes visible.The adventure has to echo or vibrate with whatever is distinctive about the character. So at the very start of the Harry Potter series, Harry seems like an ordinary boy, except that he’s an orphan. No wonder then that the entire series revolves around Harry completing the battles of his lost parents. Extraordinary Characters Will often leap into adventure. May even create it.Will typically seem nothing whatsoever like the nice kid next doorWill have something astonishing in them all the time. Something that probably makes them look awkwardly ill-at-ease in the ordinary world.But, as with ordinary characters, the adventure will resonate with who they are. Sherlock Holmes is a detective – so let him solve crimes! Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is a CIA guy, so drop him into a thriller, not a schmalzy love story! What A Character Arc Looks Like You can already see how these three things need to intertwine: Your character’s profile at the start of the bookThe story your character plunges intoThe way your character develops through the course of that story So for one hyper-simple example, you might have: Harry Potter starts out as an ordinary boy, albeit one with natural wizarding abilityHe is plunged into a life or death battle against VoldemortHe discovers previously unseen reserves of courage and resourcefulness – he finds his inner extraordinary. Here’s another example of the same thing, this time from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: Lizzy Bennet is an ordinary young woman, but somewhat prone to impulsive and immature judgementsShe is plunged into a tumultuous love story, and …Discovers new wisdom and maturity. These things are beautifully simple when you see them – but needless to say, designing something beautifully simple ain’t so easy. (Just ask Steve Jobs!) Build Your Character Development Arc Your first task? Simple. Just do the same thing as we’ve just done for Harry Potter and Lizzy Bennet. Take a sheet of paper and write out – in a few words only – the following: Your character’s broad start positionThe nature of the storyThe way your character develops as a result of the story you are telling. Do that exercise. Make sure you’re happy with it. And when you are – congratulations. You’ve just taken your first big step in developing your character. Try Our Ultimate Character Profile Template Also called a “Character Bio Template” Figuring out who you want to lead your story is the first essential of success. But the next part – the fun one – is every bit as important. And the rule here is simple: You have to know your main character better than you know your best friend. That’s it. The simple fact is that strong characterisation is based on knowledge. The only way to write a really convincing, lifelike, vibrant protagonist is to know them inside out. If you have this knowledge, you will find yourself using it. If you don’t have it, you can’t. So the problem of writing character comes down to this: you have to know protagonist. And we’ve got a brilliant technique to help with just that. If you haven’t yet started your book, then work on the character creator exercise below before you start. Or cheat! It’s fasterWhy not download our 200+ question Character Bio Template? It’s freeGet the Ultimate Character Profile Template If you have started, but think that maybe you started prematurely, then back up. Do the exercise and then read back through your work, looking for places where your characters seem a little blank. So. Let’s start. Use A Character Profile / Bio To Develop Stunning Characters Begin with a blank sheet (or screen). And begin to write down everything you know about your central character. Don’t be too concerned to edit yourself at this stage. Just let rip: this will be your character profile. It helps to group your comments a bit under certain themes, but if that inhibits your flow then just write. Group your notes up later. You should cover all kinds of topics, including: Backstory Where did your protagonist come from?What was their childhood like? Happy or sad?What were relations like with their parents? Or brothers or sisters?If their father was (say) extravagant, what impact did this have? If their mother was (say) easily tearful, how did this affect them?And what about now, where relations with others are concerned?Were there key incidents in childhood that shaped this person in a way relevant to your book’s story?What about more recent backstory? Their move to Arkansas, joining the army, their first girl/boyfriend? Sketch those things out too. Write how your protagonist’s backstory has shaped their drives, their character arc, and will shape your plot. It helps if examples are concrete, showing your protagonist via actions and choices in specific situations. (And yes: showing matters. If you need a show vs tell refresher, we’ve got it for you.) Looks And Physical Attributes Get to know how your character looks, how they inhabit their body and how they interact with the world: Is your character tall or short? What hair colour, face & body shape, what eye colour?Are they physically graceful? Or clumsy? Or what?What animal do they most remind you of?If you had to choose one image to represent this person, what would it be? [Hint: the best answers to that question often float between the physical and something a bit more spiritual. There’s often something mobile in the image, not just static. examples: “She was like a deer grazing in snow.” or “He was like an iron sword of the old type. Unbending. Strong. Prone to a sudden, flashing anger.”]How does your character sleep?How do they fiddle?Are they impatient?How do they eat? What foods do they love and hate?What do they look like from a distance? Or close up, when seen by a stranger?What is their voice like? Or their laugh? Think of an actor or actress who could play your character. If you need a visual image to work from, then look through magazines until you’ve got something you can use. Pin it up close to where you work, and work from that. Or create an inspiration board, either a real one or using a site like Pinterest, to pin images of your characters, of story aesthetic, etc Your Character’s Personality Is your character sunny and carefree, like Lizzy Bennet in Pride and Prejudice?Or hardened, unforgiving, like Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?What impression would they make on a casual observer?Are they screwed up in any way?Are they conflict-avoiders or conflict-seekers?Are they sensitive or selfish lovers?How emotionally involved would they get?How does all of this feed into their character arc (ie: the way they develop through the story)?If you answered a Myers-Briggs personality test in character, what would your character’s results be? Relationships Why has your character chosen this partner?Is he or she like the partners your character normally goes for?Do they go in for cutesy baby-talk? Or hard-edged flippancy? Or reflectiveness?What are their pet names for each other?Do they encourage maturity in the other or bring out the less mature side?What are their disagreements about? Do they row, and if so, how? How do they mend rows?What does one love most about the other? What do they most dislike?What is your predicted future for the relationship beyond the end of the novel? Goals, Fears, Ambitions Be sure, most essentially, you know your characters’ deeper goals and motivations. What’s their deepest wish?What are they most afraid of?What would failure mean for them? What voices would they have in their head commenting on that failure? (eg: a critical parent, or a disappointed friend.)What’s the goal, the thing they most desire?Does it change? And why?What’s their motivation for wanting it. What does it say about their nature? The Ultimate Character Profile Template The very best way to get to know your characters is to do this: Write a list of 200+ questions about your characterThen answer them Do that, and before too long, you’ll know your character with utter intimacy. You’ll move beyond some mechanical character development exercise into deep, fluent, easy knowledge. Do note that you have to write the questions before you start answering them, otherwise you end up just asking questions that you already know answers to. Oh, and it’s incredibly hard to come up with a really long list of questions that really probe everything about your character – so we’ve done it for you. We’ve created the Ultimate Character Builder, and it’s yours for free. Get the Ultimate Character Bio Template. Give yourself an hour or two on that exercise and, quite honestly, your character development journey is mostly complete. Nice to know, right? Build Empathy With Your Characters Why your character’s motivation matters so much You know that thing that literary agents do? “While we liked your book a lot, we didn’t quite love it. We didn’t quite feel empathy with your main character, but wish you the best of luck in finding representation elsewhere.” Makes you want to scream, doesn’t it? And the issue is NOT that your character isn’t nice enough. It’s not that she needs to do more home-baking, or go to more church meetings, or smile more sweetly. The equation is simply this: Empathy = Character’s motivations + reader understanding. That’s it. The whole deal. If a character really wants something, and the reader really gets why that thing matters so much to that character, then the reader is committed. They’ll feel intensely involved. They will, if they’re a literary agent, want to represent your novel. In terms of your character development challenge, that means you need to: Understand your character’s motivations deeplyMake sure your character really cares (because if they don’t, the reader won’t.)Make sure your character’s motivations come through in your writing. And that’s it. Simple, right? Dialogue: Characters In Relationship While we’re on the topic of building empathy, it’s also worth remembering that your character doesn’t exist in isolation – they’re at the centre of a particular web of relationships that will be tugging at them with complex and often contradictory forces. That’s quite likely tough for the character – but great for the reader. And dialogue is where you’ll feel those emotional pulls and pushes most forcefully and in their most alive possible way. Making sure that your dialogue is sinuous and mobile will give a real kick to your character – and add whole new layers to the process of acquiring and retaining the reader’s empathy. More dialogue help right here. That’s It: Character Development – Done! If you’ve done the work on developing your character arc, and you’ve explored your character in detail via our Ultimate Character Development Sheet, then you know what? You’ve completed your character development work. Yay! Truthfully, you’ll be ahead of at least 95% of the other writers out there. Well done you. If your plot is roughly in shape, then you’re good to start writing, and your first draft (though it won’t be perfect) should be a pretty damn good platform for your final, finished book. That said, once you have written (say) 10,000 words of your first draft – STOP. Just stop writing and review what you’ve written so far. Does your character feel like a fully rounded human? Or a cliche? Do you make plenty of reference (where appropriate) to your character’s thoughts, memories, feelings and physical sensations? Does the character feel fresh or stale? Individual, or just a standard character type? If your answers are yes, this character feels fresh and individual, then your work has paid off. You’ve created a great character – and your novel is well on its way to being a damn good one. About the author Harry Bingham has been a professional author for twenty years and more. He’s been published by each of the three largest publishers in the world. He’s hit bestseller lists, had a ton of critical acclaim, and has been published in the US, the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, China, Japan . . . and lots of other places too. His work has been adapted for the screen and he’s enjoyed (almost) every minute of his career. (More about Harry, more about his books). As head of Jericho Writers (and previously the Writers’ Workshop), Harry has helped hundreds of people find agents and get published. He’d love it if you were next. (More about us.)
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Clarity in Writing

by guest author, Hayley Milliman In this article, guest author Hayley Milliman takes us through four ways to improve the clarity of your writing. Clarity is key in getting our point across as writers. When our writing is clear, our meaning is clear. When our writing is unclear, our meaning is muddled. And when our meaning is muddled, our readers can’t properly engage with our work. Fortunately, you can improve the clarity of your writing by brushing up on a few key fundamentals.  How To Improve The Clarity Of Your Writing Clarity starts at the sentence level. Think about your sentences as mini movies that your readers play in their heads. They need to know the actors and the actions of these mini movies to correctly picture what’s going on. If your writing is unclear at the sentence level, your readers won’t understand what’s happening in your work. Worse yet, they may disengage from your writing because they can’t understand it. We start by thinking about clarity at the sentence level because if your sentences aren’t clear, your paragraphs won’t be clear. If your paragraphs aren’t clear, the rest of your work won’t be clear.  Unsure about how to ensure your sentences are clear and easy to read? Not to worry. Let’s take a look at four easy ways to improve sentence level clarity. 1. Reduce Sticky Sentences There are two types of words in sentences: working words, which convey meaning to the reader and are essential to the purpose of the sentence, and glue words, which are the extra words that hold sentences together.  Glue words aren’t essential to the meaning of your sentence. They’re not the actors or the actions. If you remove or rewrite your sentence to eliminate these glue words, the sentence will have the same meaning. It may even be more clear for your readers to understand.  Sticky sentences are sentences that contain too many glue words. They should be rewritten to improve clarity for your readers. While glue words are important to make your sentence coherent, when you have too many in a sentence, it becomes hard to read. By removing unnecessary glue words, your sentence becomes clearer. Consider the following:  It doesn’t matter what kind of coffee I buy, where it’s from, or if it’s organic or not—I need to have cream because I really don’t like how the bitterness makes me feel.I add cream to my coffee because the bitter taste makes me feel unwell. Each sentence has the same main idea: that the narrator can’t drink coffee because it makes him or her feel sick. However, the second sentence is clearer and easier to read than the first because it has fewer glue words. The meaning isn’t obscured by extra words. You should aim for an average of less than 40% glue words in your sentences. That doesn’t mean that all of your sentences have less than 40% glue words. Some may have 50%, some may have 30%. As long as your document averages at 40% glue words, your work will be clear. You can read up on how to write a great opening sentence for your novel, here. 2. Avoid Clichés Clichés are phrases like actions speak louder than words, love is blind, and the grass is always greener on the other side. Many writers use clichés when they’re trying to sound relatable or to make their writing more accessible. Unfortunately, clichés often do the opposite: alienate readers that aren’t familiar with the phrase or do not understand it. Even though these expressions are older than dirt (see what I did there?), when isolated, their meaning isn’t clear. This reduces the chance that your audience will engage with your work, especially if your audience is made up of non-native speakers.  When editing, aim to remove phrases that aren’t universal or don’t translate well into a different language. That way, your work is accessible to everyone. 3. Make Your Subjects and Verbs Shine with Active Voice When your sentence is in the active voice, your subjects and verbs are clear. When it’s in passive voice, your subject is unclear. Here’s an example of passive voice: The sample was selected. Who is selecting the sample? We’re not sure, because the sentence doesn’t say so. Passive voice leaves your sentence open for interpretation by the reader, especially when it’s uncertain who or what is performing the action in the sentence. Consider the same sentence in active voice: Researchers selected the sample. Now, the subject is clear. Readers won’t need to think very hard to understand this sentence. There are a few types of writing where passive voice has its place, but typically, active voice is better. While passive voice isn’t technically wrong, it can make your writing harder to understand, which, in turn, makes it less engaging.  4. Use Precise Words Adverbs are words that add colour or style to your adjectives and verbs. Like passive voice, adverbs aren’t grammatically incorrect, but they can reduce clarity because they prop up boring, imprecise verbs. For instance:  Scarlett ran really fast.Scarlett sprinted. In the first example, the word “really” is an adverb that modifies “fast,” which is itself an adverb that modifies the verb “ran.” The word choice in the second sentence, “sprinted,” is more precise. Replacing adverb + verb constructions with a precise strong verb will paint a clear picture for your reader. Common adverbs that are guilty of propping up weak word choices include: reallyjustveryactuallyin order todefinitelyabsolutely If you see these words in your writing, you can likely improve your clarity by cutting them and choosing a more specific verb or adjective in your sentence. Do You Want Help From Prowritingaid? Wondering how you can easily improve the clarity of your writing? An editing tool can help. ProWritingAid’s 20 reports identify clarity issues in your writing and make suggestions for fixing them. Here’s just a taste of what ProWritingAid can do: The Writing Style Report at ProWritingAid can help you find and fix instances of passive voice in your writing. The Writing Style Report at ProWritingAid can help you identify unwanted adverbs and use precise verbs in their place. The Clichés and Redundancies Report at ProWritingAid highlights these phrases so you can brainstorm new and better ways to say the same thing. The Sticky Sentences Report at ProWritingAid highlights sticky sentences and identifies the glue words so you know what to change or remove to improve your sentences. Clarity In Writing: Final Thoughts You can have the best idea in the world, but if your writing isn’t clear, readers won’t know it.  To make your writing clearer, you have to start with your sentences: the fundamental building blocks of your writing. By eliminating adverbs, making passive verbs active, forgoing clichés, and removing extra words in your sentences, you’ll ensure your writing effectively communicates your ideas. About the author Hayley Milliman is thrilled to be ProWritingAid’s Content Lead, as it gives her an excuse to think deeply about words every single day. Prior to joining ProWritingAid, Hayley spent a number of years as an elementary school teacher, which was a crash course in learning how to entertain an indifferent audience. These days, she puts her storytelling skills to use writing blog articles and working on her first novel.
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How to write supporting characters in fiction

Guest author and blogger William Ryan is author of the Captain Korolev Novels, shortlisted for numerous awards, including the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year, The Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award, the Ellis Peters and John Creasey Daggers and the Irish Crime Novel of the Year (twice). He teaches on the Crime Writing Masters at City University in London and shared with us this excerpt, expanded and adapted, from the book he co-wrote with M.R. Hall, Writing Crime Fiction, on writing great supporting characters. Whatever your genre, enjoy these words of wisdom. Who is a Supporting Character? When you’re writing a mystery novel, or any novel for that matter, you need a protagonist who works for the novel. That means, in my view anyway, that they have to be intriguing enough that the reader wants to spend time in their company, that they are the character whose eyes this story must be told through and that they are the character who makes all the key decisions that take the story from the beginning to the end. Let’s presume you have just such a character, filled with multiple layers and tempting internal contradictions. Now you need to populate the rest of the novel. So you need some subsidiary characters. Subsidiary characters don’t have the same functions as the detective in a mystery novel – they don’t drive the story in the way that the central character does, although they may be key to how it progresses. In general, they exist for one of the following four purposes: To be the victim of a crime, either directly or indirectly.To prevent or obstruct the detective from solving a crime.To assist the detective in solving a crime.To tell us something about the detective or the setting. For example, a child may set out to mislead a detective by lying to them but actually end up assisting their investigation by inadvertently revealing a key piece of information. This unintentional assistance might result in the child’s murder, making them a victim, and the discovery of their body may reveal a more sensitive side to the detective’s personality that hasn’t been apparent until then. That character is earning their place on the page. There are always exceptions, of course, but if a secondary character doesn’t fulfil at least one of the four roles outlined above, you probably need to reconsider their inclusion. You may still have a valid reason for keeping them, but it’s probably a good idea to work out what it is. If the reason you come up with isn’t related to pushing the story forward then you may well want to kill them off. It’s seldom the case that a character gets a free ride in a good crime novel – they have to work for you, and for the central character, or they have to go. Aside from asking what their role in the novel is, it’s always a good initial question to ask of each of your secondary characters: ‘who do you appear to be, and who are you underneath?’ By hiding something about a character at the outset, you will, almost effortlessly, make them interesting and potentially surprising. Also, because you know that you’ll have to reveal the truth about them later on, you’ll begin to foreshadow that truth and, because you’re going to be straight with your reader, except when you’re misleading them, you’ll be circumspect about confirming the appearance the character maintains at the outset – and the reader will pick up on that. You will also need to understand why each of your subsidiary characters behaves the way they do in the novel. Even an insane serial killer will generally have a reason for their murder spree – no matter how bizarre it might be – and discovering the reason why a murder has been committed is often to discover the killer. Not every character in the novel is a murderer but that doesn’t mean their motivation shouldn’t be explored. If the detective’s spouse leaves them half way through the book then your readers will want to know why. Likewise the senior officer to whom a police detective reports may well have valid reasons for interfering in their investigation and trying to rein them in, and it will help if you, and the reader, understand their concerns. Often the motivation for the subsidiary character’s behaviour will have something to do with the central character. Conflict is, after all, going to help drive your plot forward. In Ian Rankin’s The Black Book, Rebus is in conflict, of one sort or another, with every one of the major subsidiary characters, and most of the minor ones as well. The more conflicts you can establish, the more challenges and obstacles your detective is likely to have to overcome. Sometimes the conflicts may be subtle – your detective may be attracted to another character that may, at least initially, not feel the same way about them. This relationship may be only a sub-plot in the novel, but it might tell the reader something of the detective’s character and, hopefully, make the reader warm to him or her. All of the central character’s conflicts with other characters will have a trajectory over the course of the novel and will, generally, be resolved by its end even if, with a series, only in an uneasy truce until the confrontation resumes in the next book. As with the central character, you are going to have to name your subsidiary characters, decide what they look like, where they’ve come from and fill in the details of their personality. With the more minor characters, you may not have to do this – a taxi driver who follows a suspect at the detective’s request isn’t going to have enough time allocated to them in the novel to allow for much more than the briefest of sketches. However, that said, the more time you spend thinking about a character, even if they only make the briefest of appearances, the more vivid they’ll be on the page. It’s a bit like the research you’re going to do for your novel – much of your work won’t make it onto the page. Instead it forms a hidden structure that gives the novel its authenticity. The reader believes in the world you’ve recreated for them, because you’ve done the research and speak with authority on everything you describe. It’s the same with characters – because you know all of this information about them, they acquire a depth on the page. Although there are no absolute rules about the number of secondary characters in a crime mystery, remember that the reader will struggle to get to know more than a dozen with any degree of intimacy (you can discount minor characters who appear for less than a page in coming to this number). Obviously each novel is different and some, by their very nature, will be more heavily populated than others but it’s generally a good idea to be wary of extended casts, especially when their role in the story might be easily combined into another character’s. This brief overview of how to write subsidiary characters has been set in the context of crime fiction, specifically the mystery novel, but it equally applies to most other genres and most literary fiction. If you think of the solution of the crime as being the objective of the detective, then the points discussed above relate to any novel where the protagonist has to overcome challenges, whether external or internal, and conflicts to achieve their objective. For example, romantic fiction tends to work exactly the same way – the lover’s objective, which they may not necessarily be aware of, is to find love in the arms of another character. Most of the other characters are going to either be rivals for the affection of one of the two characters, or exist to provide conflict, assistance or obstruction in relation to the final goal, or be in the novel to give insights into the character of the lover or the loved one. You can certainly include other characters, perhaps for humour or even tragedy, but making sure the characters justify their place in the novel, behave logically, have hidden depths and interact properly with the central character is going to make your novel stronger and, ultimately, better.
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The unreliable narrator: All you need to know

In this article, bestselling author, Holly Seddon, breaks down all you need to know about the unreliable narrator. Contains spoilers! In this guide, we’re going to figure out who the unreliable narrator is and how using one will impact your story. We’ll discuss the different types of unreliable narrators at your disposal, and how to choose which one is right for you. We’ll also dissect some real-life examples – what type of unreliable narrator was used and how did they impact the storyline? Above all: this is intended as a practical guide for writers wanting to explore one of the richest and most enjoyable writing approaches of them all. But first, the basics. A definition. What Is An Unreliable Narrator? A Definition. An unreliable narrator can be defined as any narrator who misleads readers, either deliberately or unwittingly. Many are unreliable through circumstances, character flaws or psychological difficulties. In some cases, a narrator withholds key information from readers, or they may deliberately lie or misdirect.  The term ‘unreliable narrator’ is fairly new – it was first used by literary critic Wayne C Booth in 1961 – but examples of this literary device date back hundreds of years. Medieval poet and chronicler Geoffrey Chaucer used various unreliable narrators in The Canterbury Tales, for example the bragging and exaggerating Wife of Bath.  Some Shakespearean characters could also be described as unreliable. Could we trust Hamlet, in his grief and paranoia, to tell us the whole truth and nothing but the truth?  In modern writing, unreliable narrators feature frequently in crime and thriller books, but the technique can be used to withhold information and surprise readers of any genre, as the many thousands of readers who enjoyed romantic suspense The Man Who Didn’t Call by Rosie Walsh can testify.  An unreliable narrator usually tells the story in first person, but there are notable exceptions to this such as Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None which uses limited third person. The world’s bestselling mystery novel uses an unknown narrator who shows us the numerous points of view of the potential killers (and victims) trapped on an island.  Is An Unreliable Narrator Right For Your Story? What Is The Effect Of An Unreliable Narrator?  If an unreliable narrator is written well, the reader will experience the delight of a shocking twist or a dawning realisation that they have been misled.  When readers have been told a story from a specific point of view, we cannot help but side with the storyteller, even when they are doing dubious things or making bad decisions. This can make for complex and conflicted feelings when readers realise they have been double-crossed by someone they trusted.  If readers feel that they have been outright lied to with no possible way to sniff out the truth though, the effect can be negative. For this reason, it’s essential to balance the mistruths with some careful foreshadowing and stitching in of ‘clues’ so that when readers look back and think about the story after the reveal, they feel satisfied and impressed rather than frustrated.  What Is A Reliable And Unreliable Narrator?  A reliable narrator is the antithesis of an unreliable narrator. The reliable narrator tells readers all the pertinent information they need to know, albeit from their own point of view, and they do so as accurately as possible and in good faith.  An unreliable narrator also tells a story from their own point of view but the information they share is designed to mislead readers or obscure the truth.    In locked room mysteries, where any one in a group of people could be responsible for a crime or misdemeanour, authors can tell the story from all their points of view so a reader has to try to work out which of the narrators is unreliable and which is reliable. Sometimes, of course, there can be more than one unreliable fly in the ointment. Agatha Christie was a master of such a technique.  Why Is The Unreliable Narrator Right For Your Story?  An unreliable narrator can perform ‘sleight of hand’ by hiding clues and prompting readers to look in the wrong direction. For example, they may build up a picture of another character’s behaviour that makes you believe they are guilty of something. This is especially useful in crime and thriller writing but it can work well in any story that requires suspense and surprise.  An unreliable narrator, when he or she is one of several points of view telling the story or alone, can – to put it bluntly – mess with a reader’s mind. They can make a reader mistrust other narrators or characters or second guess their own understanding of events.  As with any literary device, it is important to think about how your use of the technique will improve your story. Would using an unreliable narrator allow you to fit an intricate plot together more effectively? Would it help to showcase a complex character? Would it drive the story along in a way that a truthful narrator telling the story would not achieve? Will it add that ‘cherry on the cake’ that is currently missing from your work in progress?  Unreliable narrators can be incredibly fun to write, but it’s important that you knowwhy you’re writing them.  Types Of Unreliable Narrators There is an argument that any first–person narrator who does not have an omniscient view of all events, is unreliable. They can only share their personal experiences and those that they have been told, they have filtered everything through their own experiences and beliefs, and even if they are not ‘baddies’ they will have their own motivations and desires which can’t help but effect their reading of events. All of which is true.  Where I believe a narrator becomes unreliable, is where their take on the situation and the way they tell their story to readers, creates in the reader’s mind a significant gap between what they’re led to believe happened, and the truth.  The Deliberately Unreliable Narrator  Those who lie, obscure and otherwise deliberately mislead. A deliberately unreliable narrator is often – but not always – a ‘baddie’. But even if someone has been deceitful for wicked reasons, their actions should still be believable. No-one is just plain evil for no reason, so make sure that even the most cruel and manipulative liars have a motive for their behaviour – even if it’s a screwed–up motive!  Gone Girlby Gillian Flynn contains one of the most famous unreliable narrators of the last decade: Amy Dunne. We first get to know Amy through her diary entries which lead up to her kidnap. At the midpoint twist, we find out that Amy is not only alive but has been meticulously writing a retrospective diary to frame her husband for her murder. The plot is complex, with multiple twists and reveals, but the basic idea of a narrator creating his or her own cover story through a diary is actually a very neat and rather simple one.  The other main character, Amy’s husband Nick, is also a deliberately unreliable narrator which makes for a very twisty book. In his case, Nick tries to paint the best picture of himself by keeping his infidelity from the reader, which is a very tame form of manipulation compared with his wife’s character.  You can find out more on how to create your own bad guy, here. The Impaired Narrator  Alcohol is an oft-used tool for enabling narrators to have holes in their story and misremembrances. Alcoholic Rachel from Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins is a prime example of this. Rachel is woven deeply into the other characters’ lives, but has memory blanks over key events. In some ways, she is openly unreliable – she doesn’t hide her drinking or her struggle to remember events from the reader – and the reader is invited to join her as she tries to uncover the crucial moments that she has forgotten.  Drug use in a narrator would also fit this role, but drinking alcohol is a more universally understood experience so it’s arguably easier for readers to both empathise and imagine themselves in the narrator’s role.  The Psychologically Unreliable Narrator  What is sometimes, rather unkindly, called the ‘madman narrator’. Patrick Bateman from Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho is one such ‘mad man’ who tells a shocking tale of murder and mayhem… until it’s revealed that one of his supposed victims is still alive.   In modern books, psychological unreliability often takes the form of a narrator whose psychological issues or traumas have jumbled up their memories or made it hard for them to understand the circumstances and events in which they have found themselves.  If you would like to use a psychologically unreliable narrator, it’s essential to give them nuance and characteristics outside of their ‘issues’ or readers may balk at the use of trauma or illness to simply drive plot or mislead. Every character deserves to be well-rounded.  The Unaware Narrator  Those who are passing on information that they have been told by another unreliable character. Sometimes this is due to blindly trusting those around them, sometimes it can be due to memory or other issues which make them rely on someone else’s events.  The main character in the brilliant Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson has a rare condition that makes her forget everything that has happened that day, waking up each morning with no recollection of who she is or where she is. She only knows what those around her tell her, and what information she finds that she has left for herself on previous days.  The Naïve Narrator  The naïve narrator is a little like the unaware narrator but does not have the maturity of thought to understand the events they are describing. Child characters can be used to simplify an adult situation or express a naïve take on events. For example, Pi, the eponymous character in The Life of Pi by Yann Martel, who tells a tale of survival that is both entirely unbelievable and extremely moving.  Teenager Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is unreliable through his youthful inexperience, which lead him to misunderstand the situations in which he finds himself. Although he is naïve, he is also an angry and rebellious teenager and it is through this lens that Caulfield views the world and interprets it.  The wonderful Notes on a Scandalby Zoe Heller contains an adult character – Barbara – whose own moral code, inexperience and loneliness make for a naïve and skewed reading of events. As readers, we begin to understand what is really happening even when she doesn’t, which is both thrilling and devastating to watch.  Tricks To Creating Unreliable Narrators As with writing twists, my approach to unreliable narrators is to write them as if they’re entirely honest, as if I – the writer – completely believe the story they are telling. I try to forget that some of what they’re saying is untrue and write it as if it’s gospel. Writing my second book, Don’t Close Your Eyes, which includes an unreliable narrator, I wrote the story as if all characters were telling the truth. Then, when I had completed the first draft, I went through carefully and changed some of those details to lies.  An unreliable narrator has maximum impact if the reader has truly bought into their story and believed them, right up until the moment where it is revealed that they are untrustworthy. To help foster your readers’ trust, keep as many details accurate as possible. If the narrator is a frequent, outright liar from the start of the novel, readers will not put any stock in their story. Whereas if we see them telling the truth, possibly even going out of their way to be honest to a fault, it will be all the more shocking when we realise that we’ve been well and truly had.  So, there we have it, the unreliable narrator. What did you think? Have we missed anything? Anything else you’d like to add? Head on over to the Jericho Townhouse and let us know your thoughts.  About The Author:  Holly Seddon became a national and international bestseller with her debut thriller, Try Not to Breathe, in 2016 and followed it in 2017 with Don’t Close Your Eyes and in 2018 with Love Will Tear Us Apart. The Wanted is due for publication in January 2021.  You can find out more about Holly here and follow her on twitter here. Or why not head on over to Jericho Townhouse and chat with Holly there too.  
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Character motivation: All you need to know

Guest author, Philip Womack, tells us all we need to know about character motivation. Character motivation and plot are very tightly linked. They are the Little and Large of writing fiction. A strong character will have a clear motivation, which will generate the plot. In J R R Tolkien’s fantasy novel Lord of the Rings, the hobbit Frodo needs to destroy the Ring of Power to save Middle Earth. In Daphne du Maurier’s psychological thriller Don’t Look Now, a husband needs to protect his family from what he considers are sinister forces. Ideally speaking, the character’s development will be linked very closely to the points in the plot: each stage will have an effect on the character; but the motivation will always push the character towards achieving a goal.    Motivation is the force which pulls the reader through the story, as it creates a sense of empathy with the character. If a character’s motives are unclear or repellent, then it can cause the reader confusion or unease. And we don’t want that. Writing fiction is in part about trying to make sense of the world around us, which means trying to understand ourselves. Is A Character’s Motivation The Same As A Goal? A character’s goal is ultimately the end result of the motivation. Think of a footballer: his goal is to win a match; his motivation is more complex, linked to ambition and to the pride in his team and to his financial success. Frodo’s final goal is the destruction of the ring; his motivation is to save Middle Earth. In Don’t Look Now, the goals change: initially, the protagonist, John, wants to protect his wife from what the narrator believes are sinister forces, which means that his specific goal is to remove her from their influence. Then it’s to find his wife; then it’s to reach home. But his motivation is always to make sure that his family are safe. How Does A Character’s Motivation Affect A Story’s Plot? A character’s motivation will be the major plot driver. In Homer’s Iliad, the motivation of Achilles is his anger at being dishonoured by King Agamemnon. This means that he withdraws from fighting the Trojans, which means that the Greek forces are routed. When his best friend, Patroclus, is killed, Achilles is then motivated to take revenge on the Trojans, and thus fights and kills Hector.  Motivation is important. Without it characters are limp and lifeless. Too often I see characters are wetter than the wettest blanket. They are flat, and events happen to them, and they let things carry them along without questioning or thinking. A character must have life, and motivation is partly what brings it. It’s the electricity pouring into the assembled body parts of your creation. You are Victor Frankenstein: your character needs to be galvanised into life! Should Readers Relate? This is an eternal question: and the answer is, not necessarily. The general consensus is that a character must create empathy: that doesn’t necessarily mean sympathy. Our protagonists do not have to be saints: too much of that, and your reader will fling the book aside in disbelief. But on the other hand, if they are too cruel or unhinged, then the reader can be disgusted.  An excellent example of an artful, successful and complex character is Humbert Humbert, the hero of Nabokov’s Lolita: he’s a murderous child molestor. His voice is exceptionally compelling: but we do not need to like him. The key is to create characters that aren’t cliches. So we are instead fascinated by his language and his style, seduced by him as much as we are revolted by his desires.  (If you want to know more about writing villains, then read this.) How Do You Determine A Character’s Motivation? A character’s determination is determined by what he or she wants. When you’re writing, you will develop your own process, but it’s a good idea to begin with your setting. A setting will produce a character: a general on a spaceship hurtling towards unknown planets will want very different things from a housewife on a farm in Wyoming.  It’s a good idea to test your characters. Put them into normal situations and see what they do; then introduce an element of surprise. How does your character react? That will help you to understand what motivates them. Need and necessity are two very powerful things that produce the friction and the energy for a good story. Powerful motivations include a desire to survive; to save or to protect, or to change things for the good.  You then need to decide what your character’s goal is in relation to the plot. This is very much determined by genre: the rational motivation of a detective is to find the murderer, so his goals will be step by step movements to uncover evidence against him; the motivation of Humbert Humbert is to avoid detection and to seduce Lolita, so his goals change as he travels across America. The former is a rational motivation; the latter is more conflicting and complicated.  How Do You Write A Powerful Character? There are many techniques to develop a powerful character, and as you continue to write, you will find that you will hone your own. Different things work for different people. Some writers like to create little biographies or dossiers for each character, detailing every aspect of their life from cheese preference to first sexual encounter to number of moles on their cheek. Others prefer to go with the flow and allow the story to shape the characters.  Whichever way you choose, a character must have fully formed motivation. Ged, in Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, is motivated to find a dark shadow that he himself has released; as it’s also a part of himself, the novel becomes an exploration of psychology and a movement towards a mending of a fractured psyche.  In a T C Boyle short story, The Lie, two middle class American teenagers fall in love; the girl becomes pregnant. The lovers don’t want the baby to disrupt their young lives; and so, they fall into a pattern of deception that has a tragic, terrifying consequence. Their motivation is to get through college and become successful adults; but their goal is to do so by hiding a pregnancy. And thus the complexities of character are born: we empathise with them, but we are horrified by their actions.  When all else fails, put your character in a pub, and see what he or she does. Do they go to the bar and ask for a drink? Or do they sit by the side, nervously scanning the room for a friend? You can then draw out the more general motivation. And maybe treat yourself to a glass of wine as well. Your motivation: relaxation; your goal: finish the wine. So, there we have it, a full breakdown of character motivations. Have we missed anything? Anything else you’d like to add? Head on over to the Jericho Townhouse and let us know what you think.  About The Author Philip Womack is a published author and JWEditor. If you’d like some detailed feedback on your manuscript from Philip, then check out our editorial servicespage. Philip’s critically acclaimed children’s novels include: The Double Axe (2016), The King’s Revenge (2016), The King’s Shadow (2015), The Broken King (2014), The Liberators (2010), and The Other Book (2008). His latest novel, The Arrow of Apollo will be published by Unbound in 2020. Philip is also contributing editor with the Literary Review and writes for a range of publications, including The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Spectator, and The Times Literary Supplement. He teaches at the Royal Holloway University and City University. You can find more on Philip here and here, and you can follow him on twitter, here. More On Characters Link to: Character and characterisation in novels: techniques, examples and exercises Developing Character How to make them lifelike
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Using internal and external conflict in genre writing

Guest author and blogger Gary Gibson is the author of science-fiction novels for Pan Macmillan. Gary has worked as a graphic designer and magazine editor, and began writing at the age of fourteen. What is it that makes a truly exceptional genre novel? What can an author of a horror, science-fiction, fantasy or any kind of genre novel bring to their work that elevates it in some way, so that when reviewers write it up they describe it as ‘transcending its genre’? That’s a phrase that used to annoy the hell out of me until I realised the essential distinction between ‘literary’ and ‘commercial’ fiction. All fiction deals in conflict of one kind or another. It can be a moral conflict, perhaps the threat of war or the consequences of unreasoning prejudice. It might equally be the need to survive an invasion, or a plague, or the unintended consequences of an earth-shattering new technology. My concern in this article has to do with the source of that conflict. Broadly speaking, the distinction between literary and commercial fiction is this: literary fiction deals in internalised conflict. That could be fear, jealousy, greed, desire for power or revenge, thwarted love and so on. It’s these internal conflicts, after all, that are the cause of so many of the great tragedies that characterise humanity. Wars of religion, of power, of survival. In Greek myth, the entire Trojan War took place because Paris fell in love with Helen of Troy and stole her away from her husband. A ten-year-long conflict is thereby triggered entirely by one person’s desire for another, regardless of the consequences. Commercial fiction, on the other hand – and remember, we’re speaking broadly here – deals in externalised conflicts. It creates dramatic stories out of direct conflict with something ‘other’, other races, other religions, other cultures, classes or political orders, and so on. Fantasy at its most basic, generic level deals with the threat of a ‘dark power’ of some kind – with magic turned to evil purposes. A good deal of science fiction deals with the consequences, intended or otherwise, of sudden technological change or scientific discovery. Those consequences are external – created in a lab, or built in a workshop, rather than formed in a human mind. Once I realised this distinction between internalised and externalised conflict, the defining quality of the very best sci-fi and fantasy became clear to me. It synthesises both approaches – and most often it does so by externalising what is otherwise an internal conflict. Some of the best examples are in film as much as in literature. In Star Wars, our internal conflict between what we know is right, and our own, darker capacity for evil, is externalised in ‘the Force’. The Force can be channelled for good, but it has a seductive side – one that can ultimately lead one to commit terrible acts of genocide or injustice, should one fall prey to darker emotions. The Force, then, is our own internal dialogue between what is morally right and wrong, objectified as a physical part of the universe into which we tap. So why does this work? Because where that internal dialogue between good and bad is in the real world entirely subjective, Lucas, in his screenplay, makes it into a distinct, objective thing that can be tapped into and that can influence us. Externalising what is otherwise an entirely internal dialogue allows the reader – or in this case, the viewer – to see that internal conflict in an entirely different light. Similarly, The Lord of the Rings revolves around a journey to carry a ring of enormous power back to the mountain where it was forged, in order to destroy it. The ring is our desire for power, objectified and made external, rather than internal. It’s this externalised internal conflict that in part makes this such a strong and overwhelmingly popular story. It’s very often the case that budding fantasy writers will make the mistake of entirely externalising the conflict in their novels; the source of evil in this case is always a Rising Dark Power of some kind. The hero is always pure and true. And it’s boring. The best way to write such fiction is instead to introduce internalised conflict, to balance the external. Frodo in The Lord of the Rings struggles with his own internal desires, and the seductive power of the ring – all he must do is slip it onto his finger, to achieve power he can only dream of – and he struggles with this internal conflict (made flesh by the ring) all the way to Mount Doom. Gollum is a stand-in for the terrible price that the ring can exact on those too weak for its seductive power, and he also represents what can happen to us if we allow the worst parts of ourselves to override our conscience. This internal conflict on Frodo’s part, then, balances the external conflict with Mordor’s armies, on the march to retrieve that very ring. It also elevates the story above one of simple good and evil by reminding us these conflicts exist within us, as well as outside us. In Frank Herbert’s Dune, we at first appear to have a simple tale of a messianic figure, born to lead the Fremen to victory against an imperial occupying force. But Herbert quickly elevates the story by focusing the narrative around Paul of Atreides’ struggle with the path his life appears to be predestined to follow. By imbibing the spice of the worm, he can see the future, and his role in it; but as in the best Greek tragedies, it’s a path he rejects utterly, even while his attempts to resist fate cause the very events he foresees to take place with grim inevitability. The external conflict – between the dastardly Harkonnens and the Fremen led by Paul – is balanced by Paul’s own, equally gripping internal conflict. In Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, a policeman is working undercover, living with people whose lives revolve around a drug called Substance D. He’s so deep cover, even his bosses don’t actually know his identity; he wears a futuristic ‘scramble suit’ when he meets with his superiors, so they cannot find out who he is, thereby assuring him absolute anonymity as he searches for the source of the drug. One day, he is given a new assignment; to investigate one of the people living in the same house as him. He has, in fact, been asked to investigate himself. This creates a wonderful internal conflict that balances the external – the search for the source of the drug. Increasingly schizophrenic from his own use of Substance D, Dick’s character finds himself struggling with his own identity, as to whether he is a policeman, or the addict he is investigating. If your book isn’t coming together – if your characters feel lifeless, or lack motivation, or feel wooden and two-dimensional – provide them with an internal conflict to balance the external. It’s that conflict that, when handled properly, keeps readers glued to the pages. To sum up: the best sci-fi and fantasy fiction takes internal conflicts, and re-represents them as external conflicts in a way that creates a kind of ‘useful distance’, allowing readers a degree of objectivity on their own fears and desires they might not otherwise have. But even then, that conflict must be mirrored through your protagonists’ own thoughts and actions, and their own internalised moral dialogue. More On Plotting Link to: How to Plot a Novel (Using our Easy Plot Template Technique) Plotting How to plot with ease
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Creating Sympathetic Characters

Guest author and blogger William Kowalski shares his insights into creating sympathetic characters that resonate on the page. Language is a living, organic thing, and words have a habit of shifting meaning over time. This is precisely what has happened with the word sympathy. Like ouzo and democracy, sympathy comes to us from the Greeks. It’s derived from pathos, meaning “feeling”, and together with its prefix, which in English becomes “sym”, it once meant to feel along with someone, or to join a community of feeling. We have not completely lost this sense of it, but our understanding of sympathy has narrowed until it’s come to mean feeling sorry for someone, or commiserating with them. As we writers develop our characters, we would do well to spend some time pondering the original, deeper meaning of the word. Why are sympathetic characters so important? Because unless your readers have some kind of emotional investment in their outcome, they won’t care what happens to them. They will become antipathetic. As a writing mentor, I must often explain that a sympathetic character isn’t just one we feel sorry for. It’s someone in whose struggle readers have become wrapped up, the more completely the better. We feel the same range of emotion he feels. We have joined her community of feeling. We do this because we believe this character is a real, flesh-and-blood person, if the author has done his job properly. What happens to her happens to us. It’s a skilled illusion, so how do we pull it off? The answer lies in the all-important practice of strong character development. In Poetics, Aristotle tells us that characters must be “good” (she must possess some redeeming quality); “appropriate” (her qualities must make sense, based on her identity); “believable” (we have to believe that such a person could exist); and “consistent” (her character, while mutable, should also follow a pattern throughout the course of a story). I go into more detail on Aristotle’s contributions to our storytelling culture in an article available for free on my website, called “Writing Secrets of the Ancient Greeks.” But these are not the only considerations. If a character is to be sympathetic, he must be in pursuit of something. In his rules for writing, Kurt Vonnegut said, “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” In fact, the simpler your character’s goal, at least at the outset of the story, the better. As we watch him go off in pursuit of that thing, we will naturally sympathize with his struggle. All these rules can confound us if we try to follow them to the letter as we write. The best practice for me has been to revisit them periodically, in order to remember the basics. In this way, they become implanted, and eventually become second nature. Remember that we don’t have to like everything about a character. A flawed and imperfect nature makes him even more sympathetic, because we’re not perfect, either. We have a much easier time relating to a character who screws up from time to time than to someone who always gets it right on the first try. You can find out more on creating characters here and here. More On Character Development Link to: Character and characterisation in novels: techniques, examples and exercises Developing Character How to make them lifelike
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Tips for writing crime fiction and thrillers

Short and sweet, here are my (Harry Bingham’s) top ten tips for writing crime fiction and thrillers that will please the reader and make publishers reach for their chequebooks. 1. Know the market. Read very widely. As many authors as possible, not as many books. If you’ve read one book by Patricia Cornwell or Linwood Barclay, then move on. You know their prose, their style. Find what else is out there. That means also reading the classics, knowing genre history, and reading plenty of fiction in translation, too. It also means reading relevant non-fiction. If you’re writing political espionage thrillers, for example, you need to know the political, military and security background. If you don’t, your readers will, and you’ll be caught out. 2. Understand where the leading edge lies. The biggest names (think Coben, Rankin, Reichs) are not the most current. They built their reputations years back. Try to locate the sexiest (i.e. bestselling, most praised, most innovative, prize-winning) debut novels. That’s what editors are buying today. That’s the market you’re competing in. 3. Don’t just trot out old clichés. You’ve got a serial killer, have you? A terrorist bomb plot? Be tough with yourself. These tropes are tired. They can work if you handle them in a new or dazzling way, but the old ways are no longer enough. 4. Be complex. Your plot needs intricacy and a surprising number of well-planned, well-executed twists. Modern crime authors have become great at developing complex but plausible plots, and because modern thriller writers have become so adept at delivering endless chains of impossible-to-see-it-coming twists, you can’t afford to be less than devilishly clever yourself. With rare exceptions, simple no longer sells. 5. Stay with the darkness. Your book must be dark and tough. That’s your entry ticket to the genre. What you do there can be very varied, but cute, cosy crime is a very limited market now. 6. Don’t forget jeopardy. Crime novels now are also thrillers. It’s not fine for the detective to solve the mystery and explain it all to a hushed and respectful audience. On the contrary, he or she must live in fear of his or her life. It’s got to be thrilling, as well as intellectually satisfying. 7. Concentrate on character. Crime and thriller plots are easily forgettable, and often feel very samey anyway. Characters like Elvis Cole, Hannibal Lecter, on the other hand, never leave us. If you find a strong character, and do everything else reasonably competently, then you quite likely have fiction that’ll sell. 8. Write well. Bad writing will almost certainly kill your chances. You don’t have to be flowery. You do have to be competent. 9. Be economical. Thrillers need to be taut. Check your book for needless chapters, your chapters for needless paragraphs, your paragraphs for needless sentences, and your sentences for needless words. Then do it all over again. Twice. 10. Be perfectionist. Very good isn’t good enough. Dazzling is the target. Being tough with yourself is the essential first ingredient. Getting someone else to be tough with you is quite possibly the second. I said ten tips, didn’t I?Here’s an eleventh: 11. Don’t give up. Be persistent. You learn by doing, and the more you write, the better you’ll be. Think about building your skills, engaging with the industry, or getting editorial advice. All those things will enhance your writing, too.As ever, best of luck!
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The Omniscient Narrator: All You Need to Know

In this article, guest author, Philip Womack, discusses the omniscient narrator. When you sit down to write, with that all-important, all-consuming story bursting to get out of your mind and onto the page, you’re facing a multitude of decisions to do with technique and style. One of the very first things you’ll need to consider, and one of the most important, is which narrative voice to use. Do you want to be intimate, and employ the first person? J D Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is a fine example of this at its most gripping and involving, as is Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now. Or do you want to adopt something that’s more universal?  Most contemporary novelists write in the third person limited, which means that the narrative is limited to what the protagonist knows, and everything is filtered through the protagonist’s viewpoint. Point of view is important and allows the writer to play with perspective.  With the rise of post-modernism and other theories that questioned accepted fictional structures, the omniscient narrator fell out of fashion. Novelists began to play games with perception, and the unreliable narrator came to the fore. This can be delivered in the first person or the third person. Ian McEwan’s third person Atonementpresents itself as a straightforward novel, but actually has a sting in the tail, which causes the reader to question all that has gone before; you can contrast this with Kazuo Ishiguro’s first person The Remains of the Day, where the narrator isn’t quite telling us the truth.  The omniscient narrator has been used for centuries. Homer’s Iliad, which stands at the very beginning of Western literature, is a fine example of a narrator who knows everything: the gods, the heroes, even the details of individual battles.  When you sit down to tell your story, you may find your writing naturally falls into it. It’s what we’ve been brought up on: Once upon a time, there was a little princess… Of course, the narrator / narrative voice isn’t actually omniscient (he/she isn’t God). The effect of it suggests there is a separate entity from the other characters in the book, able to see all of them and even know what’s happening in their hearts and minds. It’s a powerful tool, and if used properly, it can lend an authoritative sheen to your work. Omniscient Narrator: A Definition The omniscient narrator is (usually) in the third person singular:  “When Sebastian walked through the heavy committee room door, a group of people were already there, seated and rustling papers. The light was dim, electricity guttering, their faces obscure. The commander was tapping his fingers on the table-top. Outside, buses clattered down the road, bursting with commuters on their way to work, checking their newspapers, feeling for loose change in their pockets, staring at pigeons, little knowing that what was happening in this tiny room off Whitehall would affect each and every one of them today…”  The narrative switches from Sebastian to the people on the buses; but the voice, being omniscient, is able to convince the reader it knows what’s going on. It also allows the narrator to paint a wider picture and create suspense.  The omniscient narrative voice is totally in charge of the story: like a director, pointing you towards images and people as it sees fit, acting in the same way as a camera. The omniscient narrator feeds us information about characters and plot in a structured, orderly way to maximise atmosphere, tension and suspense.  What Is The Omniscient Point Of View And How To Use It To Your Advantage? The advantage of an omniscient point of view is that you can write about any aspect of the story you like. Ursula Le Guin, in A Wizard of Earthsea, uses it to great effect: she begins with a description of the island of Gont, rising up above the waves, and then focuses in on the island itself, and a boy, Ged, who is to be the hero of the story. The world that she creates has the texture of myth and truth, in part because of this narrative choice. The narrative voice sounds confident and traditional: it urges the reader to listen.  There are problems with the third person omniscient. When you have too many characters in a room together, a writer can start “head-hopping”: that is, switching from one character to another.  “John was angry, and said so. Sarah was sad because she wanted to go out. Henry, on the other hand, was pleased.”  Too much of this can be fragmented and unconvincing. It can be done well: D H Lawrence is always doing it, for example; and there are many passages in Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast which gain their power from head-hopping; but most debut authors are advised to avoid it as much as possible. 
 You can still use third person omniscient and gain better effects: “John was angry, and said so. Sarah, turning away, continued to apply her lipstick in defiance. Henry threw his car keys onto the table, and sat down.”  The main advantage of a third person omniscient narrator is scope. The disadvantage is that you’ve got to make sure that you know everything about the story – you have to be able to understand it and its world inside out, otherwise it can come across as unconvincing.  What Is An Example Of An Omniscient Narrator? Charles Dickens’ 19th century novel, A Tale of Two Cities, is a classic example of the technique. It famously begins:  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair …”  These kind of general, sweeping statements are probably best avoided in your novel (unless you really know your onions). 19th century novelists also have a tendency to step in to comment on the action: George Eliot, in Middlemarch, moves seamlessly between commenting on action and going into people’s thoughts and feelings.  The following, from Celeste Ng, in her debut Everything I Never Told You (2014), deploys the omniscient narrator in a more modern fashion:  “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast. As always, next to her cereal bowl, her mother has placed a sharpened pencil and Lydia’s physics homework, six problems flagged with small ticks. Driving to work, Lydia’s father nudges the dial toward WXKP, Northwest Ohio’s Best News Source, vexed by the crackles of static. On the stairs, Lydia’s brother yawns, still twined in the tail end of his dream. And in her chair in the corner of the kitchen, Lydia’s sister hunches moon-eyed over her cornflakes, sucking them to pieces one by one, waiting for Lydia to appear. It’s she who says, at last, “Lydia’s taking a long time today.”  Right from the start, the narrative voice tells you things that the characters are unaware of. The effect of this is to heighten suspense. She switches from character to character, painting a picture of a family going about its business: the father in the car, the brother on the stairs, the sister eating cornflakes. It’s a haunting effect, and it’s something that a third person limited narration couldn’t achieve.  The omniscient narrator, then, can offer up plenty of exciting avenues for your writing. But you have to plan especially carefully. Avoid the portentous and the heavy, and aim for clarity, and watch your writing take off.  So, there it is. Everything we needed to know about the omniscient narrator. Have we missed anything? Anything else you’d like to add? Head on over to the Jericho Townhouse and let us know what you think.  About The Author Philip Womack is a published author and JW Editor. If you’d like some detailed feedback on your manuscript from Philip, then check out our editorial services page.    Philip’s critically acclaimed children’s novels include: The Double Axe (2016), The King’s Revenge(2016), The King’s Shadow (2015), The Broken King(2014), The Liberators(2010), and The Other Book(2008). His latest novel, The Arrow of Apollo will be published by Unbound in 2020. Philip is also contributing editor with the Literary Review and writes for a range of publications, including The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Spectator,and The Times Literary Supplement. He teaches at the Royal Holloway University and City University.   You can find more on Philip here and here, and you can follow him on twitter, here.   
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How to write characters (not clichés)

Characters are what bring life and energy to your plot. You may have rich, compelling material for a dramatic story, but if we’re not interested in spending time with your protagonist, if we aren\'t invested in their journey and growth, then even the most exciting plot in the world will be in danger of ringing hollow. It’s critical to a story’s success that your characters be captivating enough to linger long after the last page. It\'s also critical that the action of the story be \'character-driven\' -- and for that to happen, your characters must have depth and autonomy.  Before you dismiss character profiling as a waste of time, or if you\'re thinking that you can wait til later because you want to get on with plotting, try reading this article first. Then, before you get going on the writing, create character profiles for your protagonist, antagonist, their sidekicks and best friends, and any other significant characters you sense need it. You\'ll be glad you did. Understanding Your Characters In Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters, Michael Tierno has written: The function of the poet [i.e. the writer] is not to say what has happened, but to say the kind of thing that would happen, i.e. what is possible in accordance with probability or necessity. Basically, you aren\'t here to dictate events -- you\'re here to write down things \'as they happen.\' Maybe that feels a little strange to say, considering that you\'re the one with the pen making these things up... but the trick is to create characters whose motivations and actions all make sense. They have to act logically within the story they\'re in, otherwise the whole thing will fall apart. Famous authors have spoken of characters taking on a life of their own, wanting to do something their plotlines hadn’t accommodated, because they have taken on life in their imagination (we assume for the better, because it’s typically characters we fall in love with, not events). How do you start to understand characters as human, though, not as chess pieces? You’ll need to know them as well as possible. You’ll need to be able to answer as many questions about your character as you can, when you begin to build a character profile. We’ve a few reasons why any conscientious writer shouldn’t skimp on this. Archetypes vs. Stereotypes How do you build characters that are human, avoiding caricature or stereotype? It\'s perfectly fine to root your characters in a classic model -- the Reluctant Hero, the Clown, the Lover -- because we instinctively understand these stories. There\'s a reason that the Major Arcana of the Tarot deck are models of archetypes: we can see ourselves and our journeys in them quite easily! The danger comes from relying too much on cliché, or an idea of how certain people should act or be. Thriller author Christopher Rice has shared the female stock characters of police procedurals he’s desperate to avoid, like the nagging wife, the ‘ice-queen bureaucrat’ or the ‘babe-assassin’ (‘on the surface she seems like an attempt at gender equality … [but] if we never get a real explanation for who she is, how she got that way, she just ends up being a cardboard character’). Fantasy writer Samantha Shannon (who created a criminal heroine with depth, in Paige Mahoney of The Bone Season) has also argued the case for complexity: Complicated women are still treated like they’re a curiosity. … We don’t keep marvelling at “strong male characters”. Male characters can fall into a version of this trap, too, if they\'re rendered as handsome romantic caricatures or burly, brusque brawlers rather than real people. So how can you avoid these things and write your characters with sensitivity and feeling? Firstly, by drawing out of your own well of human emotions and experiences. Russian director Constantin Stanislavski developed training methods still used by actors today. In his book Building a Character, he offers guidance to actors (applicable to writers) who seek to ‘build’ characters out of stereotypical ideas or images, rather than from their own bank of emotional experiences. Stanislavski shares examples of cliché in Building a Character: A professional soldier … holds himself stiffly, marches around … speaks in a loud, barking tone out of habit. … A peasant spits … wipes his mouth of the tail of his sheepskin coat. An aristocrat always carries a top hat … his speech is affected. … These are … clichés. They are taken from life. … But they do not contain the essence of [a] character. Writer Scarlett Thomas, examining Stanislavski’s writing, builds on his musings in Monkeys with Typewriters: We could equally say that the chav wears a hoody and trainers and carries a can of lager … the geek has pale skin and acne and glasses. … Stanislavski’s work represents a profound rejection of cliché, stereotype and commonplace assumptions. … Stanislavski also teaches us to look for the motivation behind the action. … Begin with the character’s desire and build up from there, otherwise characterisation will be patronising. Following this, Scarlett Thomas encourages writers to uncover what Stanislavski calls a ‘super-objective’ in characters: Examples of super-objectives are ‘I wish to be comfortable’, ‘I wish to be perfect’, ‘I wish to be in control’, ‘I wish to be loved’, ‘I wish to be a success’. … With one wish, what would your character want? During her novel The End of Mr Y, for instance, Scarlett Thomas has protagonist Ariel Manto admit her ‘wish’ to another character: she wants to know everything. This filters down into Ariel’s less significant actions, too (rendering everything significant, after all). ‘I wish to know everything’ as a super-objective accounts for Ariel buying a rare, cursed book with all the money she has left to live on (not caring that she now won’t be able to eat). Your own character needn’t be conscious of a ‘super-objective’, an overarching character motivation – and it’s better if they’re not, perhaps. We as human beings typically aren’t aware, either. We may be aware of various major goals and needs, compelling us to act. As a writer, though, you’ll need to be conscious yourself. Why does your character want something? Maybe they want money, but is this because they want to be wildly successful, to show off? Or is this because they’re poor and just want to be comfortable? Your character’s specific longings and actions should feed back into one vague but dominant, all-encompassing wish. Know the nature of that wish, and why it’s there. It’s your character’s emotional heart and heartbeat. Consider your character’s background, too, their day-to-day life now and in times past. How does this feed into desire, into their nature? In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, for instance, the Mirror of Erised illustrates Stanislavski’s principles when Albus Dumbledore points out to Harry that harried, teased Ron Weasley sees himself distinguished, without his brothers and family, the best of them all. Isolated Harry, who’s lived in a cupboard for ten years, sees himself in the mirror with a loving, but lost, family. Such longings aren’t viewed in the mirror by accident. Start with your character’s desire and let this help you map out their inner nature. You’ll then be on the path to creating characters with depth, who are fully human. Avoid Common Clichés You’ll probably have encountered ‘stock’ characters or cliché characters before. The glasses-wearing nerd, the mustache-twirling villain, the damsel-in-distress who can\'t do a damn thing for herself... no human being you\'ve ever met fits so neatly into such simplistic boxes! Adding in ‘rogue’ elements to subvert clichés like this is one way of initially working against your own subconscious biases in writing characters. Fiona Griffiths, in Harry Bingham’s thriller Talking to the Dead, is a gifted, morose protagonist recovering from Cotard’s Syndrome, but this isn’t incidental. She puts herself in hazardous situations in her empathy and determination to uncover victims’ stories. In Robert Galbraith’s crime series, opening with The Cuckoo’s Calling, protagonist Cormoran Strike is an army veteran turned private detective. Strike never ‘marches’, never speaks ‘in a loud, barking tone’, as per Stanislavski’s cliché. Strike is reserved, brusque but often uncertain, and has a prosthetic limb after losing part of his leg in Afghanistan (occasionally affecting his mobility). Strike’s prosthetic limb isn’t just incidental, either. It is indicative of his past trauma, his identification with sufferers of violence, and motive for the work he does. It’s not illogical to guess past trauma feeds into Strike’s emotional reticence with on- and off-partner Charlotte (who soon marries someone else), later with deuteragonist and new romantic interest Robin, at first. All of these are examples of ways to add subversive, original elements to your characters -- without them being incidental or irrelevant to the story you\'re trying to tell, or without hijacking them and turning the story on its head in a way that feels random. Circles And Starts Should characterisation really come first in novel-plotting? Or is it the plotting itself? It\'s a little bit like asking about the chicken or the egg (although of course we all know the answer to that one...) -- because inspiration can come from anywhere! Start where your imagination wants to start, but know this: characters must ultimately drive a plot, propel it forward. If your characters don’t act in ways that are plausible (as Aristotle indicated all those years ago), your plot is in terrible danger of falling apart -- and once your reader questions a character in this sense, your narrative spell is broken. Things also become less interesting when characters aren’t decidedly at the heart of storytelling. Let’s take romance as a genre or a device in fiction (i.e. as plot or subplot) to explore that idea. Writers continue to visit and revisit romance in stories, because it resonates with us all, often transcending genre. It is the characters, though, that elevate romance as formula out of the mechanical, making a story human. Taking two classics with potential – a spirited heroine challenges her moralising hero, a selfless heroine solaces her heartbroken hero – most readers care if a certain Miss Bennet marries in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, fewer (generally) care if a certain Miss Price marries in Jane Austen’s previous novel, Mansfield Park. In Pride and Prejudice, a relationship develops in action and conversation, with resulting character growth in the span of the action. Lizzy and Darcy retain strength of character, yet soften and mature as they listen, learn from and fall in love with the other. In Mansfield Park, nothing much prompts heroine or hero to grow. We’re told, not shown, how love turns from fraternal to romantic in just a couple of passages at the novel’s end. As a result, it’s a bit harder to connect with this story. As fictional characters, the point is that Jane Austen’s characters were never just in want of a spouse but they underwent an emotional journey, and this is what makes readers connect and care. As such, a story doesn’t necessarily need to be ‘correct’, nor do protagonists need to do ‘good’ things for us to love reading about them. Your story just needs to resonate with readers – and that begins with your characters being human, or at least operating in a way that your human readers will recognize. They might be six-tentacled aliens on a planet orbiting Betelgeuse, or anti-heroes like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho -- but even the most inhuman or unlikeable characters can all astound us and move us, because we see some glimmer of our own humanity in each of them. What’s key to your storytelling is, and always will be, emotional connection. Where To Start It makes narrative and dramatic sense to create fully rounded human characters who will face story challenges, who will make active choices, and who will reflect and change as readers spend time with them. Ponder this as you start planning. If you’re wondering where to start with characters, make a list of questions for them to build a personality profile. Ideas might be: Where was your character’s childhood spent?What was your character’s favourite place as a child? Where did they feel most joy?What made your character feel safe?What subjects did your character love at school?What books did they love to read? What were their hobbies?What was their worst accident as a child? What lesson did they take from it?What would their Myers-Briggs personality be?What’s their reason to live, their all-encompassing drive? Let some of these ideas get you started. Just be sure you’ll know their innermost depths, the life-wish that drives them, too – since these will propel your plot, too. Enjoy your character-building and happy writing!
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How to write according to Myers-Briggs personality type

Guest author and blogger Lauren Sapala is a writing coach, the author of The INFJ Writer, and writes about writing, creativity, and personality theory on her blog. She currently lives in San Francisco. It’s often empowering to understand what helps you as a writer, but types only take us so far. First and foremost, you’re you. What builds your own creativity and what holds you back? If you’re struggling to make headway on a writing project, think how you best work, how maybe a “weakness” could be a strength, and what’ll most help you finish – will it be a deadline? Or a designated day of the week to write? For more on the MBTI system, the Myers & Briggs Foundation website is a great place to start. However, I’d urge every writer to experiment with many different methods of writing to find what works best for them. There can be great variation, even among the same type. Every artist is an individual. All artists should give themselves the permission to do whatever works best for them. Are You An Intuitive Writer? I struggled for years as a writer. I wanted desperately to write a novel, but I couldn’t even write the first page. Then, when I finally worked up the courage to take a creative writing course in college, I failed miserably. I stopped writing altogether for seven years. Oddly enough, it wasn’t until I discovered my Myers-Briggs personality type that I began to shine as a writer. Finding out that I was an intuitive personality was just the information I needed to finally move forward. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a system of 16 personality types that divides people along a spectrum of traits that determine how an individual interprets and reacts to the world. The MBTI system focuses on such tendencies as introversion versus extroversion, and intuition versus sensing (i.e. relying primarily on concrete information gleaned from one’s five physical senses). The complexity of the MBTI system is too vast to be addressed fully in this article, so if you don’t already know your type or you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating area of psychology, I recommend you make use of the wealth of helpful resources that can be found online. If you do already know your type, and you want to know a bit more about how this affects your strengths and weaknesses as a writer, look at my selection of “writers by type” below, to discover how you can start using your type as a creative advantage. These below are intuitive personalities on the MBTI system – ones I seem to work oftenest with, encouraging their ideas and intuitive talent. Tips For INFJ Writers I’m an INFJ writer myself, and so I’m intimately acquainted with many of the most common obstacles INFJ writers face. The number one challenge I see INFJ writers struggle with is perfectionism. INFJs have a rich, all-consuming inner life, and they excel brilliantly at seeing the big picture and imagining the ideal version of how something could take shape in the future. Because INFJs are such amazing abstract thinkers, it’s easy for us to bring together different elements in our mind to form a perfect whole. It’s when we try to make this “perfect whole” a physical reality that we’re confronted with the real world and all the messiness, pitfalls, snags, and less-than-perfect elements it contains. INFJ writers who are unconscious of their own perfectionistic tendencies will get stuck at this stage, always dreaming and never making any of their dreams a reality. It’s only when INFJ writers realize that the real world is never perfect, and anything they create will necessarily be bound to this real-world truth, that they can begin to accept their writing for what it is, flaws and all. Tips For INFP Writers INFP writers suffer the most from too many ideas, and a feeling of being overwhelmed by all the choices and different creative paths they could take. I’ve written on my site on the non-linear way I’ve often seen INFP writers work. This can be a strength, though – a means to connect patterns between scenes, images, characters, and ideas. It’s also not uncommon to see an INFP writer working on several writing projects at once, but the problem is not that INFPs work on too many things at the same time. Instead, the problem is that they tend to judge themselves harshly and resist their natural tendency at every turn. INFPs need a lot of variety. They also need a sense of flexibility and the freedom to be spontaneous and fluid in their artistic pursuits. Out of all the types, INFPs are most likely to work in circles. This means that the INFP writer usually works on one story, then moves onto painting for a few days, then moves onto writing a poem, and finally circles back to the story. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach and, in fact, it can work quite well for INFPs who have accepted their nature and embrace this circular way of working. INFP writers run into trouble though, when they compare their creative processes to others and try to force themselves to work in a linear manner. Tips For ENJF Writers Out of the four intuitive feeling types (INFJ, INFP, ENFJ and ENFP) the ENFJ is the type that is most likely to fall prey to an extremely harsh inner critic. ENFJs are almost preternaturally aware of the relationship dynamics surrounding them, and that includes a thorough assessment of how others view them and how they measure up in the larger order of any community of which they happen to be a part. This leads many of them to easily play the comparison game, and many times feel like they’re coming out on the losing end. ENFJs also have a strong need for connection and community. If they feel isolated in their writing pursuits, or like no one understands them or “gets” what they’re attempting to do with their writing, they can quickly shut down and then begin isolating themselves even further. ENFJs must feel emotionally supported by a group of peers they love and respect. This is when they will do their best work. Tips For ENFP Writers ENFPs are similar to INFPs in that they suffer from the feeling of being overwhelmed by too many ideas, but with ENFPs this includes an outer world component that can contribute to even more overwhelm. Simply put, ENFPs are unabashed extroverts. They love people and they love getting out and having adventures with people. A healthy ENFP might work two jobs, have a family, and still take up demanding hobbies such as snowboarding or Spanish classes in their spare time. This kind of schedule usually leaves little time for writing. The number one problem most ENFPs struggle with is finishing things. They begin novels, plays, and short stories full of enthusiasm for the project, but then a sparkly, too-interesting-to-resist person or cause comes along and immediately distracts them. The best method for ENFPs is to devote one day a week to a certain piece of work (maybe the novel they’ve always dreamed of writing) and keep firm boundaries in place around that day so that the project gets a guaranteed slice of their creative energy on a regular basis. Never feel boxed in, though. Find your best writing habits. Always do what works for you. Learn about Lauren’s journey and read more at her site. Learn more about all different MBTI types and writing styles – and check out more free writing advice on us.
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What Makes a Great Villain – Build Your Own Bad Guy

Ever wondered what makes a great villain? Well, guest author C M Taylor has given you all you need to build your own bad guy in this blog post. By C M Taylor In this blog, C M Taylor takes inspiration from some of the great fictional villains of all time to help you create your own dazzling and multi-dimensional bad guy.  What Is A Villain? The term ‘villain’ defines a character who personifies the forces which thwart the progress of the main character. Now, while it is feasible that the villain is the main character – and we will come on to that less usual and more nuanced situation later on – in the vast majority of cases, the villain is villainous in relation to opposing the needs and desires of the main character. This structural role of antagonising the main character is the reason the villain is often described as the antagonist. They are a character who stands in negative relation to the spiritual, emotional, moral or financial progress of the main character, a character who is often described as the protagonist. How To Write A Memorable Villain: Let your theme influence their traitsUse their backstory to show why they’re like thisHumanise your villain. Show why they became corruptedMemorable injuries are clichés. AvoidTo compete with the protagonist, your villain also needs to be specialYour villain should feel unbeatable, at least for a while Why Do Villains Matter To Fiction? Answering this involves taking this question right back to ask ourselves: what is a story? The crux of a story is concerned with how the main character changes, or fails to change, over time, in contact with internal, external and relationship pressures. A story is a map of this change over time, or this failure to change over time. The change is both an internal, emotional journey and an external, physical journey. Now if the journey comes easily, then there will be no drama, because drama requires struggle. The journey which the protagonist goes on needs to be ripe with struggle – with obstacles, tests, high stakes. The most common and identifiable way to manifest struggle is to have it between people. Between the antagonist (or villain) and the protagonist (or heroic character). It is the antagonist who provides the obstacles standing in the way of the protagonist’s need to consummate their change. It is the test of wills between the antagonist and the protagonist that generates the struggle. On a very simple level, in terms of the mechanics of plot, it is the villain who sets the test and the heroic character who sits the test. It is the villain whose actions provoke the need for the hero to act. Batman without The Joker would have no need to act. The villain is a dark twin to the hero. The villain embodies the shadow qualities of the hero. The villain is what the hero might have been, what the hero might be, should they make the wrong choices, which is what gives rise to the clichéd piece of film dialogue, ‘We are not so different you and I, Mr Bond.’ If the heroic character struggles to embody the positive possibilities in a work of fiction, the villain convincingly embodies the negative aspects. The villain personifies the specific forces of antagonism which aim to prevent the protagonist from completing their internal and external journey. Does Every Story Need A Villain? The short answer to this question is no – in terms of the villain being a physical personification of antagonism, not every story has or needs this. A story needs antagonism, yes, and most usually this antagonism takes the form of a human being standing in opposition to the progress of the heroic character, but it is not necessary to do this. Antagonism can be generated in other variations than the single, embodied villain. The antagonism might be within the heroic character themselves. It might be a mistaken belief about life which leads them astray or into repeated unhealthy actions; or it might be an addiction. Note that choosing to centre the antagonistic force internal to the main character influences what type of story you are telling. It would be hard to make this choice and write an action story, for example. The choice to situate the main antagonistic force internally, as an aspect of the heroic character, is more associated with character-led stories – literary or dramatic works, or sometimes the psychological thriller. Whereas the more traditional human villain personification of antagonistic force is more usual within crime or fantasy or action stories. There are other forms of antagonism too. It might be centred around a group of people. It might be the family that a young person needs to escape to ‘become’ whole. Or it might be the pain still felt when a parent abandoned a child. Or it might be a best friend who continually leads the main character into activities which are against their best interests. Basically, antagonistic forces can be anything as long as they are the main obstacle in the way of the protagonist achieving what they most need. Traditionally this force has been embodied via the personification of a villain, but the villainous function can be performed within a story by other forces. How To Create A Memorable Villain: A Checklist Thematically A writer can usefully begin their creation of a villain via an understanding of theme. Are you writing about loyalty, for example? In which case, your protagonist has issues with loyalty which they must overcome, via the obstacles of the plot, to achieve a healthy, positive attitude to loyalty. Hence the role of the villain is to embody and prosecute a version of loyalty which is negative but tempting, which is corrupt but seductive, which might derail the heroic character’s attempt to achieve a healthy version of the theme. It is the villain’s job to oppose the progress of the hero, and so, knowing the specific thematic nature of the progress which the hero must make, that necessarily takes you some way to defining the nature of your villain. Your villain must be suitable and specifically adept at preventing the thematic success of your hero, hence must embody a negative version of that theme. Via Backstory So, once you have understood your theme and decided which negative version of the theme is embodied by your villain, you next ask yourself why they are like this. For an example, let’s stick with the theme of loyalty. Your villain might espouse a version of loyalty which states you must have only loyalty to yourself, or loyalty to chaos, or loyalty to crime, or loyalty to the dead. Any unhealthy version of the theme will do. Let’s pick they have loyalty to chaos and want to bring disorder and anarchy to the whole world. Why are they like this? Their parents were unbelievably controlling and up-tight and rational and crushed the villain with their excessive punctiliousness maybe. Or the villain and their brother were in some youth cadet force which was all about order and discipline and the brother died in an accident born of excessive following of the rules. You see, once you have your thematic relation, you move to explain it via the backstory. (Want to explore this more? Then check out this article on character motivation.) Good-turned-bad Our thematically-driven excavation and development of the villain’s backstory allows us to take an emotionally logical approach and explain why the villain is like they are. Continuing with our theme of loyalty, our rule-following cadet was eager and good to start with, tragic events having turned them on to a negative chaotic version of loyalty. Or our young child started off good but was hounded by neurotically rule-bound parents to crave the release of chaos. If you show the reader that it is emotionally logical for the villain to have passed from a state of health to their current corrupted self as a consequence of events, you humanise the villain. You make the reader think that they themselves might plausibly have reacted the same way in the same circumstances. You give the villain an emotional plausibility and a gravitas. And a decent villain needs gravitas, needs the emotional plausibility and heft to pull the villain into their version of the theme, into their version of reality. A good villain is like a moral centrifuge. What they pull towards them and put in peril is the hero’s self, their morality, the hero’s version of the theme. Showing it was entirely reasonable for the villain to arrive at the moral place they are in shows that the hero might arrive their too, and so puts a huge amount of jeopardy in play for the hero. Memorable Injury The clichéd villain is often physically disfigured, right? There being a suggestion of a relationship between moral and physical disfigurement. I would however caution against this simple equation, quite apart from it perpetuating discrimination against people who are unfortunate enough to be physically disfigured, it has been done to death. Why not mix it up? The hero is trying to overcome prejudice against their physical disfigurement while the gorgeous villain is prone to the ravages of narcissism. Alarming Gifts Your protagonist has to be special. In some genres like fantasy or science fiction they can be ‘the one’ level of special. In genres such as crime or thriller they can ‘exceptional human being’ levels of special. In genres such as romance or realism, they can ‘normal person pushed to the edge behaves heroically’ levels of special. And if your protagonist is special well, given that it is the job of the villain to oppose the protagonist, then in order to seem anything like able to compete with the hero, the villain needs to be special too. The Unbeatable Villain Every villain needs to seem unbeatable to start with. The obstacles they place in the way of the protagonist must seem insurmountable. If the hero can beat the villain at the beginning, then there are no struggles needed. It is the insurmountable villain that causes the hero to develop and grow. It may be that your story is a tragic and the hero fails to beat the villain in the end. However it ends, in the beginning there must be no way that the hero – in their current state – can compete. How To Create A Likeable Villain As I write above, the villain stands or falls on the plausibility of their world view – the villain is the hero in their own eyes. If you can show why the villain has ventured from the path of moral health to become the creature they are today then you have created the route by which the reader can empathise with the villain. And if they can empathise then – in the current parlance – they can possess relatability. All the best characters are layered, multidimensional and above all, unique. So, if your bad guy can have some redeeming qualities, or a journey that the reader can connect with, then that could definitely make for an interesting read. What If Your Protagonist Is A Villain? Your protagonist can be both hero and villain – look at Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Or your protagonist can be a criminal – look at The Godfather, at Breaking Bad, at The Sopranos, at Crime and Punishment. Or your protagonist can be an anti-hero – look at Mr Robot.  They can be any of those things. As long as they are subject to thematically congruent antagonistic forces, the rules are the same. As long as we know why they are like they are – In The Godfather, Michael Corleone gets pulled back into the family business of murder and extortion through love of his threatened father. Walter White sells meth – initially at least – to protect his ill family in Breaking Bad. Elliot from Mr Robot illegally hacks computers to out greater criminals. This is a common strategy – outflanking your villains with even greater villains to make your villain comparatively empathetic. Look at Dexter. Yes, he is a serial killer, but he only kills people who are themselves worse than him. He performs bad acts for a comprehensible and relatable reason. Inspirational Bad Guys: 12 Great Examples Tricking Othello into murdering his own wife makes Iago a pretty good start to our collection. Another trickster, in Treasure Island, Long John Silver tricks Jim Hawkins, disguising his own role as leader of the mutiny. Why do we care for and want the sociopathic murder Tom Ripley to escape throughout Patricia Highsmith’s Mr Ripley novels? Because he feels love and we feel his vulnerability and inadequacy. And why do we admire Hannibal Lecter in Thomas Harris’ novels? Because he is brilliant and stylish and logical. Only somebody as prodigiously gifted as Moriarty could aspire to being a villain worthy of Sherlock Holmes special powers. Anne Wilkes in Stephen King’s Misery turns out to the fan no writer wants. Xan may seem like the villain in P D James’ The Children of Men but isn’t the broader antagonistic force that of infertility itself. No mistaking that it’s a shark who is the villain of Peter Benchley’s novel, Jaws. Isn’t narcissism the antagonistic force in play in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey? Are dinosaurs the antagonistic force of Jurassic Park? Rather I would say it was the human vanity and over-reaching that lead to the recreation of dinosaurs in the first place. Same with Dr Frankenstein – it’s the Dr not the monster who sets the test. Isn’t the entire Republic of Gilead the antagonist force in The Handmaid’s Tale? So, there we have it, a foolproof method to build your very own bad guy. Have we missed anything? Anything else you’d like to add? Head on over to the Jericho Townhouse and let us know what you think.  About the author C M Taylor has been nominated for the British Science Fiction book of the year and published a number of novels, including Staying On, (Duckworth 2018), Premiership Psycho (Corsair 2011) and the Amazon best-selling Group of Death (Corsair 2012). Craig has also co-written a thriller movie script, Writers Retreat, which was filmed in 2014 and premiered at the Sitges International Film Festival, and he continues to be commissioned to write scripts for TV and film. C M Taylor is also a sought-after editor, working with a well-known publisher as well as working with Jericho Writers as a book editor.
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Character Development – And The Ultimate Character Bio

In this article you will learn: How to write great characters in your novelHow to make them lifelikeHow to make them dazzle Why Are Characters So Important? What makes a reader glued to a book? What makes that person come back to it again and again? As a rough guide, people turn the pages because of plot, but they remember a book because of character. Don’t believe us? Then answer this. Can you recall, in detail, the plots of: To Kill a Mockingbird?The Hound of the Baskervilles?The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? We’re going to bet not. But do you remember Scout and Atticus? Holmes and Watson? And the badass Lisbeth Salander? Of course you do. And that’s the aim of this post: helping you achieve the same level of vibrating life that these characters achieved. In effect, we’re going to tell you how to develop a character that can be used for both the protagonist (hero) and the antagonist (bad guy). How to write the kind of characters that will elevate your novel to a whole different plane. And it’s not magic. It’s just the logical application of tried-and-trusted writing techniques. But let’s start by figuring out what character development is, and how it works for you. What Is Character Development? Character development is two things: Character development is the the process by which an author develops a detailed character profile. This activity is usually done in conjunction with plot development and takes place as part of the planning process, before the writer actually starts to write.Character development also refers to the way a character changes through the course of the novel, generally in response to the experiences and events gathered through the course of the story itself. This is known as the Character Arc. (Need more? Get plot structure advice here.) Those twin definitions are immediately helpful. Yes: you have to develop a character profile before starting to write, but you also have to knit your character so closely to the story you’re going to tell that the two things seemed joined at the hip. Ideally, the reader won’t be able to imagine any other character occupying your story – just like you couldn’t imagine Girl with a Dragon Tattoo without the inflammatory, exciting presence of Lisbeth Salander. So: the first question is, how do we choose the right character for the story we’re about to tell? That’s up next. Plan Your Character Arcs The two basic character types in fiction – and how to choose the one who’s right for your novel. There are two basic types of main character (or protagonist) in fiction: The first type is an ordinary character plunged into the extraordinary. And, by this process, they become a little more extraordinary themselves.The second character type start out extraordinary – they could make things happen in an empty room. You need to be careful about identifying which character is which. You might think that Harry Potter can’t be ordinary, because he’s a wizard. But think about it. He seemed like quite an ordinary boy. And when he gets to wizard school he seems quite ordinary there too (daunted by the school, a bit scared of Hermione, and so on.) He’s an ordinary wizard who finds his inner extraordinary self over the course of seven books. Lisbeth Salander, however, never strikes the reader as ordinary. She’s a rule-breaking, computer genius with anti-social traits and a scary capacity for violence. You just know she’s going to cause waves, no matter where she goes. Here’s a quick way to figure out what kind of character yours is: Ordinary Characters Will typically refuse adventure, or accept it only reluctantlyWill typically have something of the boy next door / girl next door quality to them. That doesn’t mean they have to be boring (we’re all different after all), but it does mean that they can act as a kind of placeholder for the reader. “That person could be me. That adventure could have been mine.“Will typically find something heroic or extraordinary in themselves as a result of the adventure. Something that was buried becomes visible.The adventure has to echo or vibrate with whatever is distinctive about the character. So at the very start of the Harry Potter series, Harry seems like an ordinary boy, except that he’s an orphan. No wonder then that the entire series revolves around Harry completing the battles of his lost parents. Extraordinary Characters Will often leap into adventure. May even create it.Will typically seem nothing whatsoever like the nice kid next doorWill have something astonishing in them all the time. Something that probably makes them look awkwardly ill-at-ease in the ordinary world.But, as with ordinary characters, the adventure will resonate with who they are. Sherlock Holmes is a detective – so let him solve crimes! Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is a CIA guy, so drop him into a thriller, not a schmalzy love story! What A Character Arc Looks Like You can already see how these three things need to intertwine: Your character’s profile at the start of the bookThe story your character plunges intoThe way your character develops through the course of that story So for one hyper-simple example, you might have: Harry Potter starts out as an ordinary boy, albeit one with natural wizarding abilityHe is plunged into a life or death battle against VoldemortHe discovers previously unseen reserves of courage and resourcefulness – he finds his inner extraordinary. Here’s another example of the same thing, this time from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: Lizzy Bennet is an ordinary young woman, but somewhat prone to impulsive and immature judgementsShe is plunged into a tumultuous love story, and …Discovers new wisdom and maturity. These things are beautifully simple when you see them – but needless to say, designing something beautifully simple ain’t so easy. (Just ask Steve Jobs!) Build Your Character Development Arc Your first task? Simple. Just do the same thing as we’ve just done for Harry Potter and Lizzy Bennet. Take a sheet of paper and write out – in a few words only – the following: Your character’s broad start positionThe nature of the storyThe way your character develops as a result of the story you are telling. Do that exercise. Make sure you’re happy with it. And when you are – congratulations. You’ve just taken your first big step in developing your character. Try Our Ultimate Character Profile Template Also called a “Character Bio Template” Figuring out who you want to lead your story is the first essential of success. But the next part – the fun one – is every bit as important. And the rule here is simple: You have to know your main character better than you know your best friend. That’s it. The simple fact is that strong characterisation is based on knowledge. The only way to write a really convincing, lifelike, vibrant protagonist is to know them inside out. If you have this knowledge, you will find yourself using it. If you don’t have it, you can’t. So the problem of writing character comes down to this: you have to know protagonist. And we’ve got a brilliant technique to help with just that. If you haven’t yet started your book, then work on the character creator exercise below before you start. If you have started, but think that maybe you started prematurely, then back up. Do the exercise and then read back through your work, looking for places where your characters seem a little blank. So. Let’s start. Use A Character Profile / Bio To Develop Stunning Characters Begin with a blank sheet (or screen). And begin to write down everything you know about your central character. Don’t be too concerned to edit yourself at this stage. Just let rip: this will be your character profile. It helps to group your comments a bit under certain themes, but if that inhibits your flow then just write. Group your notes up later. You should cover all kinds of topics, including: Backstory Where did your protagonist come from?What was their childhood like? Happy or sad?What were relations like with their parents? Or brothers or sisters?If their father was (say) extravagant, what impact did this have? If their mother was (say) easily tearful, how did this affect them?And what about now, where relations with others are concerned?Were there key incidents in childhood that shaped this person in a way relevant to your book’s story?What about more recent backstory? Their move to Arkansas, joining the army, their first girl/boyfriend? Sketch those things out too. Write how your protagonist’s backstory has shaped their drives, their character arc, and will shape your plot. It helps if examples are concrete, showing your protagonist via actions and choices in specific situations. (And yes: showing matters. If you need a show vs tell refresher, we’ve got it for you.) Looks And Physical Attributes Get to know how your character looks, how they inhabit their body and how they interact with the world: Is your character tall or short? What hair colour, face & body shape, what eye colour?Are they physically graceful? Or clumsy? Or what?What animal do they most remind you of?If you had to choose one image to represent this person, what would it be? [Hint: the best answers to that question often float between the physical and something a bit more spiritual. There’s often something mobile in the image, not just static. examples: “She was like a deer grazing in snow.” or “He was like an iron sword of the old type. Unbending. Strong. Prone to a sudden, flashing anger.”]How does your character sleep?How do they fiddle?Are they impatient?How do they eat? What foods do they love and hate?What do they look like from a distance? Or close up, when seen by a stranger?What is their voice like? Or their laugh? Think of an actor or actress who could play your character. If you need a visual image to work from, then look through magazines until you’ve got something you can use. Pin it up close to where you work, and work from that. Or create an inspiration board, either a real one or using a site like Pinterest, to pin images of your characters, of story aesthetic, etc Your Character’s Personality Is your character sunny and carefree, like Lizzy Bennet in Pride and Prejudice?Or hardened, unforgiving, like Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?What impression would they make on a casual observer?Are they screwed up in any way?Are they conflict-avoiders or conflict-seekers?Are they sensitive or selfish lovers?How emotionally involved would they get?How does all of this feed into their character arc (ie: the way they develop through the story)?If you answered a Myers-Briggs personality test in character, what would your character’s results be? Relationships Why has your character chosen this partner?Is he or she like the partners your character normally goes for?Do they go in for cutesy baby-talk? Or hard-edged flippancy? Or reflectiveness?What are their pet names for each other?Do they encourage maturity in the other or bring out the less mature side?What are their disagreements about? Do they row, and if so, how? How do they mend rows?What does one love most about the other? What do they most dislike?What is your predicted future for the relationship beyond the end of the novel? Goals, Fears, Ambitions Be sure, most essentially, you know your characters’ deeper goals and motivations. What’s their deepest wish?What are they most afraid of?What would failure mean for them? What voices would they have in their head commenting on that failure? (eg: a critical parent, or a disappointed friend.)What’s the goal, the thing they most desire?Does it change? And why?What’s their motivation for wanting it. What does it say about their nature? The Ultimate Character Profile Template The very best way to get to know your characters is to do this: Write a list of 200+ questions about your characterThen answer them Do that, and before too long, you’ll know your character with utter intimacy. You’ll move beyond some mechanical character development exercise into deep, fluent, easy knowledge. Do note that you have to write the questions before you start answering them, otherwise you end up just asking questions that you already know answers to. Oh, and it’s incredibly hard to come up with a really long list of questions that really probe everything about your character – so we’ve done it for you. We’ve created the Ultimate Character Builder, and it’s yours for free. Give yourself an hour or two on that exercise and, quite honestly, your character development journey is mostly complete. Nice to know, right? Build Empathy With Your Characters Why your character’s motivation matters so much You know that thing that literary agents do? “While we liked your book a lot, we didn’t quite love it. We didn’t quite feel empathy with your main character, but wish you the best of luck in finding representation elsewhere.” Makes you want to scream, doesn’t it? And the issue is NOT that your character isn’t nice enough. It’s not that she needs to do more home-baking, or go to more church meetings, or smile more sweetly. The equation is simply this: Empathy = Character’s motivations + reader understanding. That’s it. The whole deal. If a character really wants something, and the reader really gets why that thing matters so much to that character, then the reader is committed. They’ll feel intensely involved. They will, if they’re a literary agent, want to represent your novel. In terms of your character development challenge, that means you need to: Understand your character’s motivations deeplyMake sure your character really cares (because if they don’t, the reader won’t.)Make sure your character’s motivations come through in your writing. And that’s it. Simple, right? Dialogue: Characters In Relationship While we’re on the topic of building empathy, it’s also worth remembering that your character doesn’t exist in isolation – they’re at the centre of a particular web of relationships that will be tugging at them with complex and often contradictory forces. That’s quite likely tough for the character – but great for the reader. And dialogue is where you’ll feel those emotional pulls and pushes most forcefully and in their most alive possible way. Making sure that your dialogue is sinuous and mobile will give a real kick to your character – and add whole new layers to the process of acquiring and retaining the reader’s empathy. More dialogue help right here. That’s It: Character Development – Done! If you’ve done the work on developing your character arc, and you’ve explored your character in detail via our Ultimate Character Development Sheet, then you know what? You’ve completed your character development work. Yay! Truthfully, you’ll be ahead of at least 95% of the other writers out there. Well done you. If your plot is roughly in shape, then you’re good to start writing, and your first draft (though it won’t be perfect) should be a pretty damn good platform for your final, finished book. That said, once you have written (say) 10,000 words of your first draft – STOP. Just stop writing and review what you’ve written so far. Does your character feel like a fully rounded human? Or a cliche? Do you make plenty of reference (where appropriate) to your character’s thoughts, memories, feelings and physical sensations? Does the character feel fresh or stale? Individual, or just a standard character type? If your answers are yes, this character feels fresh and individual, then your work has paid off. You’ve created a great character – and your novel is well on its way to being a damn good one. About the Author Harry Bingham has been a professional author for twenty years and more. He’s been published by each of the three largest publishers in the world. He’s hit bestseller lists, had a ton of critical acclaim, and has been published in the US, the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, China, Japan . . . and lots of other places too. His work has been adapted for the screen and he’s enjoyed (almost) every minute of his career. (More about Harry, more about his books). As head of Jericho Writers (and previously the Writers’ Workshop), Harry has helped hundreds of people find agents and get published. He’d love it if you were next. (More about us.) More About Character Development Writing Your Draft Sympathetic Characters
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How To Write Dialogue In Fiction

Writing dialogue in the novel: tricks, tools and examples. Speech gives life to stories. It breaks up long pages of action and description. Getting speech right is an art but, fortunately, there are a few easy rules to follow. Those rules will make writing dialogue easy – turning it from something static, heavy and unlifelike into something that shines off the page. Better still, dialogue should be fun to write, so don’t worry if we talk about ‘rules’. We’re not here to kill the fun. We’re here to increase it. “Ready?” she asked. “You bet. Let’s dive right in.” How To Write Dialogue: Keep it tight and avoid any unnecessary wordsMove the action of the scene forwardKeep it oblique, where characters never quite answer each other directlyReveal character dynamics and emotionsKeep speeches shortEnsure characters use their own voiceAdd intrigueNo small talkAnd remember, interruptions are good Dialogue Rule 1: Keep It Tight One of the biggest rules in dialogue is: no spare parts. No unnecessary words. Nothing to excess. That’s true in all writing, of course, but it has a particular acuteness (I don’t know why) when it comes to dialogue. If you include an unnecessary sentence or two in a passage of description – well, it’s best to avoid that, of course, but, aside from registering a minor and temporary slowing, most readers won’t notice or care. Do the same in a block of dialogue, and your characters will seem to be speechifying rather than speaking. It’ll feel to a modern reader like you want to turn the clock back to Victorian England. So don’t do it! Keep it spare. Allow gaps in the communication and let the readers fill in the blanks. It’s like you’re not even giving the readers 100% of what they want. You’re giving them 80% and letting them figure out the rest. Take this, for instance, from Ian Rankin’s fourteenth Rebus crime novel, A Question of Blood. The detective, John Rebus, is phoned up at night by his colleague: … “Your friend, the one you were visiting that night you bumped into me …” She was on her mobile, sounded like she was outdoors. “Andy?” he said. ‘Andy Callis?” “Can you describe him?” Rebus froze. “What’s happened?” “Look, it might not be him …” “Where are you?” “Describe him for me … that way you’re not headed all the way out here for nothing.” That’s great isn’t it? Immediate. Vivid. Edgy. Communicative. But look at what isn’t said. Here’s the same passage again, but with my comments in square brackets alongside the text: … “Your friend, the one you were visiting that night you bumped into me …” She was on her mobile, sounded like she was outdoors. [Your friend: she doesn’t even give a name or give anything but the baresr little hint of who she’s speaking about. And ‘on her mobile, sounded like she was outdoors’. That’s two sentences rammed together with a comma. It’s so clipped you’ve even lost the period and the second ‘she’.] “Andy?” he said. ‘Andy Callis?” [Notice that this is exactly the way we speak. He could just have said “Andy Callis”, but in fact we often take two bites at getting the full name, like this. That broken, repetitive quality mimics exactly the way we speak . . . or at least the way we think we speak!] “Can you describe him?” [Uh-oh. The way she jumps straight from getting the name to this request indicates that something bad has happened. A lesser writer would have this character say, ‘Look, something bad has happened and I’m worried. So can you describe him?’ This clipped, ultra-brief way of writing the dialogue achieves the same effect, but (a) shows the speaker’s urgency and anxiety – she’s just rushing straight to the thing on her mind, (b) uses the gap to indicate the same thing as would have been (less well) achieved by a wordier, more direct approach, and (c) by forcing the reader to fill in that gap, you’re actually making the reader engage with intensity. This is the reader as co-writer – and that means super-engaged.] Rebus froze. “What’s happened?” [Again: you can’t convey the same thing with fewer words. Again, the shimmering anxiety about what has still not been said has extra force precisely because of the clipped style.] “Look, it might not be him …” [A brilliantly oblique way of indicating, “But I’m frigging terrified that it is.” Oblique is good. Clipped is good.] “Where are you?” [A non-sequitur, but totally consistent with the way people think and talk.] “Describe him for me … that way you’re not headed all the way out here for nothing.” Just as he hasn’t responded to what she had just said, now it’s her turn to ignore him. Again, it’s the absences that make this bit of dialogue live. Just imagine how flaccid this same bit would be if she had said, “Let’s not get into where I am right now. Look, it’s important that you describe him for me . . .”] In short: Gaps are good. They make the reader work, and a ton of emotion and inference swirls in the gaps. Want to achieve the same effect? Copy Rankin. Keep it tight. And read this. Dialogue Rule 2: Watch Those Beats Oftener than not, great story moments hinge on character exchanges, that have dialogue at their heart.  Even very short dialogue can help drive a plot, showing more about your characters and what’s happening than longer descriptions can. (How come? It’s the thing we just talked about: how very spare dialogue makes the reader work hard to figure out what’s going on, and there’s an intensity of energy released as a result.) But right now, I want to focus on the way that dialogue needs to create its own emotional beats. So that the action of the scene and the dialogue being spoken becomes the one same thing. Here’s how screenwriting guru Robert McKee puts it: Dialogue is not [real-life] conversation. … Dialogue [in writing] … must have direction. Each exchange of dialogue must turn the beats of the scene … yet it must sound like talk. This excerpt from Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs is a beautiful example of exactly that. It’s  short as heck, but just see what happens. As before, I’ll give you the dialogue itself, then the same thing again with my notes on it: “The significance of the chrysalis is change. Worm into butterfly, or moth. Billy thinks he wants to change. … You’re very close, Clarice, to the way you’re going to catch him, do you realize that?” “No, Dr Lecter.” “Good. Then you won’t mind telling me what happened to you after your father’s death.” Starling looked at the scarred top of the school desk. “I don’t imagine the answer’s in your papers, Clarice.” Here Hannibal holds power, despite being behind bars. He establishes control, and Clarice can’t push back, even as he pushes her. We see her hesitancy, Hannibal’s power. (And in such few words! Can you even imagine trying to do as much as this without the power of dialogue to aid you? I seriously doubt if you could.) But again, here’s what’s happening in detail “The significance of the chrysalis is change. Worm into butterfly, or moth. Billy thinks he wants to change. … You’re very close, Clarice, to the way you’re going to catch him, do you realize that?” [Beat 1: What a great line of dialogue! Invoking the chrysalis and moth here is magical language. it’s like Hannibal is the magician, the Prospero figure. Look too at the switch of tack in the middle of this snippet. First he’s talking about Billy wanting to change – then about Clarice’s ability to find him. Even that change of tack emphasises his power: he’s the one calling the shots here; she’s always running to keep up.] “No, Dr Lecter.” [Beat 2: Clarice sounds controlled, formal. That’s not so interesting yet . . . but it helps define her starting point in this conversation, so we can see the gap between this and where she ends up.] “Good. Then you won’t mind telling me what happened to you after your father’s death.” [Beat 3: Another whole jump in the dialogue. We weren’t expecting this, and we’re already feeling the electricity in the question. How will Clarice react? Will she stay formal and controlled?] Starling looked at the scarred top of the school desk. [Beat 4: Nope! She’s still controlled, just about, but we can see this question has daunted her. She can’t even answer it! Can’t even look at the person she’s talking to. Notice as well that we’re outside quotation marks here – she’s not talking, she’s just looking at something. Writing great dialogue is about those sections of silence too – the bits that happen beyond the quotation marks.] “I don’t imagine the answer’s in your papers, Clarice.” [Beat 5: And Lecter immediately calls attention to her reaction, thereby emphasising that he’s observed at and knows what it means.] Overall, you can see that not one single element of this dialogue leaves the emotional balance unaltered. Every line of dialogue alters the emotional landscape in some way. That’s why it feels so intense & engaging. Want to achieve the same effect? Just check your own dialogue, line by line. Do you feel that emotional movement there all the time? If not, just delete anything unnecessary until you feel the intensity and emotional movement increase. Dialogue Rule 3: Keep It Oblique One more point, which sits kind of parallel to the bits we’ve talked about already. It’s this. If you want to create some terrible dialogue, you’d probably come up with something like this: “Hey Judy.” “Hey, Brett.” “You OK?” “Yeah, not bad. What do you say? Maybe play some tennis later?” “Tennis? I’m not sure about that. I think it’s going to rain.” Tell me honestly: were you not just about ready to scream there? If that dialogue had continued like that for much longer, you probably would have done. And the reason is simple. It was direct, not oblique. So direct dialogue is where person X says something or asks a question, and person Y answers in the most logical, direct way. We hate that! As readers, we hate it. Oblique dialogue is where people never quite answer each other in a straight way. Where a question doesn’t get a straightforward response. Where random connections are made. Where we never quite know where things are going. As readers, we love that. It’s dialogue to die for. And if you want to see oblique dialogue in action, here’s a snippet from Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network. (We don’t usually reference films so much on this blog, but there’s an obvious exception when it comes to talking about dialogue.) So here goes. This is the young Mark Zuckerberg talking with a lawyer: Lawyer: “Let me re-phrase this. You sent my clients sixteen emails. In the first fifteen, you didn’t raise any concerns.”MZ: ‘Was that a question?’L: “In the sixteenth email you raised concerns about the site’s functionality. Were you leading them on for 6 weeks?”MZ: ‘No.’L: “Then why didn’t you raise any of these concerns before?”MZ: ‘It’s raining.’L: “I’m sorry?”MZ: ‘It just started raining.’L: “Mr. Zuckerberg do I have your full attention?”MZ: ‘No.’L: “Do you think I deserve it?”MZ: ‘What?’L: “Do you think I deserve your full attention?” I won’t discuss that in any detail, because the technique really leaps out at you. It’s particularly visible here, because the lawyer wants and expects to have a direct conversation. (I ask a question about X, you give me a reply that deals with X. I ask a question about Y, and …) Zuckerberg here is playing a totally different game, and it keeps throwing the lawyer off track – and entertaining the viewer/reader too. Want to achieve the same effect? Just keep your dialogue not quite joined up. People should drop in random things, go off at tangents, talk in non-sequiturs, respond to an emotional implication not the thing that’s directly on the page – or anything. Just keep it broken. Keep it exciting! Dialogue Rule 4: Reveal Character Dynamics And Emotion Let’s take a look here at Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower as another example. Protagonist Charlie, a high school freshman, learns his long-time crush, Sam, may like him back, after all. Here’s how that dialogue goes: “Okay, Charlie … I’ll make this easy. When that whole thing with Craig was over, what did you think?” … “Well, I thought a lot of things. But mostly, I thought your being sad was much more important to me than Craig not being your boyfriend anymore. And if it meant that I would never get to think of you that way, as long as you were happy, it was okay.” … … “I can’t feel that. It’s sweet and everything, but it’s like you’re not even there sometimes. It’s great that you can listen and be a shoulder to someone, but what about when someone doesn’t need a shoulder? What if they need the arms or something like that? You can’t just sit there and put everybody’s lives ahead of yours and think that counts as love. You just can’t. You have to do things.” “Like what?” … “I don’t know. Like take their hands when the slow song comes up for a change. Or be the one who asks someone for a date.” The words sound human. Sam and Charlie are tentative, exploratory – and whilst words do the job of ‘turning’ a scene, both receiving new information, driving action on – we also see their dynamic. And so we connect to them. We see Charlie’s reactive nature, checking with Sam what she wants him to do. Sam throws out ideas, but it’s clear she wants him to be doing this thinking, not her, subverting Charlie’s idea of passive selflessness as love. The dialogue shows us the characters, as clearly as anything else in the whole book. Shows us their differences, their tentativeness, their longing. Want to achieve the same effect? Understand your characters as fully as you can. The more you can do this, the more naturally you’ll write dialogue that’s right for them. You can get tips on knowing your characters here. Dialogue Rule 5: Keep Your Dialogue Tags Simple A lot of writers try to add colour to their writing by showering it with a lot of vigorous dialogue tags. Like this: “Not so,” she spat. “I say that it is,” he roared. “I know a common blackbird when I see it,” she defended. “Oh. You’re a professional ornithologist now?” he attacked, sarcastically. That’s pretty feeble dialogue, no matter what. But the biggest part of the problem is simply that the dialogue tags (spat, roared, and so on) are so highly coloured, they take away interest from the dialogue itself – and it’s the words spoken by the characters that ought to capture the reader’s interest. Almost always, therefore, you should confine yourself to the blandest of words: He said She answered He replied And so on. Truth is, in a two-handed dialogue where it’s obvious who’s speaking, you don’t even need the word said. The simple rule: use dialogue tags as invisibly as you can. I’ve written about a million words of my Fiona Griffiths series, and I doubt if I’ve used words other than say / reply and other very simple tags more than a dozen or so times in the entire series. Keep it simple! Dialogue Rule 6: Get The Punctuation Right Do make sure you punctuate correctly. It’s so simple and looks so bad if you get it wrong. Here’s what you have to know: Each new line of dialogue (ie: each new speaker) needs a new paragraph – even if the dialogue is very short.Action sentences within dialogue get their own paragraphs too.The only exception to this rule is if the sentence interrupts an otherwise continuous piece of dialogue. for example: “Yes,” she said. She brushed away a fly that had landed on her cheek. “I do think hippos are the best animals.”When you are ending a line of dialogue with he said / she said, the sentence beforehand ends with a comma not a full stop (or period), as in this for example: “Yes,” she said.If the line of dialogue ends with a question mark or exclamation mark, you still don’t have a capital letter for he said / she said.  For example: “You like hippos?” he said.If the he said / she said lives in the middle of one continuous sentence of dialogue, you need to deploy those commas like a comma=deploying ninja. Like this for example: “If you like hippos,” he said, “then you are deserve to be sat on by one.”And use quotation marks, dummy. You know to do that, without me telling you, right? That’s not quite a complete set of rules, but honestly? You don’t need one. If you live by these simple rules, your dialogue will be punctuated fine. A Few Last Dialogue Rules If you struggle with writing dialogue, read plays or screenplays for inspiration. Read Tennessee Williams or Henrik Ibsen. Anything by Elmore Leonard is great. Ditto Raymond Chandler or Donna Tartt. Some last tips: Keep speeches short. If a speech runs for more than three sentences or so, it (usually) risks being too long.Ensure characters speak in their own voice. And make sure your characters don’t sound the same as each other.Add intrigue. Add slang and banter. Lace character chats with foreshadowing. You needn’t be writing a thriller to do this.Get in late and out early. Don’t bother with small talk. Decide the point of each interaction, begin with it as late as possible, ending as soon as your point is made.Interruption is good. So are characters pursuing their own thought processes and not quite engaging with the other. And if you found his helpful, you might want to think about taking our complete 17 hour How To Write course. That course is quite expensive if you want to purchase it outright, but you can get unlimited access by taking out a simple cancel-any-time membership to Jericho Writers. Learn more or Sign up. We’d love it if you joined us! About the Author Harry Bingham has been a professional author for twenty years and more. He’s been published by each of the three largest publishers in the world. He’s hit bestseller lists, had a ton of critical acclaim, and has been published in the US, the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, China, Japan . . . and lots of other places too. His work has been adapted for the screen and he’s enjoyed (almost) every minute of his career. (More about Harry, more about his books). As head of Jericho Writers (and previously the Writers’ Workshop), Harry has helped hundreds of people find agents and get published. He’d love it if you were next. (More about us.)
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