5 Key Questions To Ask About Character Motivations

Character-motivations

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Creating compelling characters is perhaps the most important aspect of fiction writing. So what about your characters’ motivations?

The decisions and actions of characters drive the plot of every story. And each of your story’s players – whether hero, villain, or supporting character – should have reasons for making those choices, and for carrying out those actions.

Clear, strong, and realistic motivations are essential for every round character in every story. But why exactly are these motivations so important?

Put simply, if you don’t establish your characters’ motivations, you run the risk of writing characters who fall flat. Characters who readers just can’t understand or connect with; characters who exist only to further the story; characters who are inconsistent, or who perpetuate lazy tropes and stereotypes.

Obviously, none of these types of characters are ones you want in your story! So it’s absolutely vital that you fully understand your characters’ motivations – and that your readers do, too.

Here are five key questions to ask yourself when establishing your characters’ motivations.

1. Are your characters’ motivations internal or external?

There are two key types of motivations your characters might experience: internal and external. (Bear in mind that they may experience both at the same time – more on that below.)

Internal motivations are those that come from within the character. The character is motivated to act by a choice they have made within themselves – a personal goal, perhaps, or a desire to achieve some outcome or reward.

External motivations are outside factors that motivate the character to act. Other characters, or situations outside the character’s control, may influence or even force them to make certain decisions and actions.

Often, a combination of both these types of motivations makes for interesting storytelling – especially if the two happen to be conflicting.

Example

Let’s consider an example from an old favourite, the Harry Potter series. The character of Albus Dumbledore is a great exhibitor of both internal and external motivations, and a great example of how such motivations can also be conflicting.

The majority of Dumbledore’s decisions and actions are motivated by a desire to see the series’ antagonist, Voldemort, defeated. These are primarily external motivations, and they lead Dumbledore to formulate a plan using Harry Potter himself to defeat Voldemort – even though this means that Harry’s life will eventually be sacrificed.

However, Dumbledore also experiences a conflicting internal motivation: the desire to protect Harry, to see him lead a safe and happy life. This motivation leads Dumbledore to keep the details of the plan from Harry, and to delay the plan’s consequences until the last possible moment. As Dumbledore himself puts it…

I cared more for your happiness than your knowing the truth, more for your peace of mind than my plan, more for your life than the lives that might be lost if the plan failed.”

Now, not all of your characters’ motivations need to be this complex or conflicted. But it’s important to consider whether their motivations are internal, external, or both, and how these differing sets of motivations will affect your characters’ actions and the outcomes of the story.

2. Are your characters’ motivations realistic and believable?

How many times have you come across a villainous character who’s evil simply for the sake of being evil? Or a hero whose every action is completely altruistic and selfless?

These kinds of characters tend to fall rather flat – all because their motivations are unrealistic.

Very few real people do terrible things simply for the sake of it, and even fewer act selflessly 100% of the time. If you want your characters to read like living, breathing people, their motivations are going to have to be much more believable.

Unrealistic motivations tend to come into play most often with antagonistic characters. Sure, antagonists are required to create conflict in stories, but there need to be reasons for their antagonistic actions.

If you can’t explain why your antagonist wants what they want – if you can’t give them interesting and believable motivations – they’ll simply become a plot device rather than a fully fleshed-out character.

We think author Michelle Hodkin sums it up best:

The villain is the hero of her own story. Everyone has reasons for what they do.”

It’s a similar situation with protagonists. Everyone loves to read about a hero – but no one really connects with a protagonist who has no flaws in their personality or their motivations.

Remember that your characters should not be black-and-white – no real person is. Humans are complex creatures. Good people can be motivated by ‘bad’ or selfish reasoning, and bad people are often motivated by what they believe to be good or right.

3. What do your characters’ motivations reveal about them?

Your characters’ reasons for doing what they do can say a lot about who they are. Exploring their various motivations is a great method of character development.

Your characters’ motivations can provide important insight into:

  • Their values, morals and beliefs.
  • Their hopes, dreams and fears.
  • Their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Events in their past that have influenced who they are today.

When you’re determining what drives each of your characters, consider what those motivations might reveal about them, and how this might help you to paint a more detailed, nuanced character portrait.

A note of caution, though: when revealing character through motivations, actions and reactions, it’s better to be subtle rather than blatant.

There’s no need to directly unpack and explain your characters’ every decision or action. Sometimes, it pays to let readers work out characters’ motivations for themselves, with only a little subtle guidance from you.

As the folks over at Now Novel point out…

It feels stagy when characters announce their motivations explicitly. Showing what drives them as a building arrangement of memories, fears, beliefs and ongoing experiences will make it easier for readers to draw their own conclusions about characters’ behaviour and what it means.”

4. How do your characters’ motivations change throughout the story?

People change. Whether through the natural process of growing older, through certain events and circumstances, or a combination of all of the above, no one remains the exact same person throughout their entire life.

Demonstrating this change through evolving and transforming motivations can help you create truly realistic, complex, and convincing characters.

Let’s go back to our example of Professor Dumbledore. A complex character with a compelling backstory, Dumbledore’s motivations change throughout the course of his life and the course of the Harry Potter story.

When we learn about a younger Dumbledore’s affiliation with the dark wizard, Grindelwald, we get an insight into his key motivation as a young man: power. This motivation led him to make plans with Grindelwald to place wizards in a place of supremacy above non-magic folk, supposedly ‘for the greater good’.

However, by the time we meet Dumbledore in the present, his motivations have changed entirely.

He now leads the fight against Lord Voldemort, who is following in Grindelwald’s footsteps and seeking domination over wizards and Muggles alike. There are numerous motivations leading Dumbledore to these actions: primarily, atonement for his past mistakes, and a desire for peace and harmony in the wizarding world (and the Muggle one).

This is a great example of how a character’s motivations can change drastically throughout a story, and how you can use these motivations to develop more interesting and realistic characters.

5. Are your characters’ motivations really theirs – or are they yours?

When examining your characters’ actions and decisions, it can be all too easy to justify them using your own authorial motivations, rather than the actual motivations of the characters. It’s important to distinguish between the two.

To do this, you must be honest with yourself. Question whether you’re steering the story in a particular direction because that’s where the characters are naturally taking you – or simply because that’s where you want the story to go.

We’re not saying there’s anything wrong with having a plan and a direction for your story. We’re simply encouraging you to recognise when you may be forcing your characters’ motivations to suit you.

One way to avoid doing this is to make sure you know your characters inside out. If you know everything about them, you’re better able to understand how they would naturally act and react in certain situations. This will help you determine whether the path you’ve set them on is a believable one.

If you’re having trouble becoming an expert on your characters, there are a few things you can do to get to know them better. Try writing out some background in the form of a short story or a biography/life history. Complete a questionnaire from their perspective, or just answer some key questions about their past. See my previous post on writing round characters for more ideas if you need them.

The better you know your characters, the better you’re able to ensure you’re presenting their motivations, actions and decisions in a convincing and compelling way.

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When it comes down to it, your characters’ motivations are the central driving force behind your story. That’s why it’s so important to get them right!

Via: https://writersedit.com/fiction-writing/5-key-questions-to-ask-about-character-motivations/

Guide To World-Building: How To Write Fantasy, Sci-Fi And Real-Life Worlds

SciFi-Worlds

World-building is so much more than just a framing device. It’s the very essence of any good fantasy or science fiction story, and the basis of a sense of place in other genres. Good world-building lends an immersive richness to your writing, while also giving readers the information they need to understand characters and plot lines.

So, how exactly should writers go about building worlds in their fiction? To find out, we’ll break down the concept of world-building into three main categories:

  • Imaginary worlds – the construction of entirely fictional universes, found primarily in fantasy genres.
  • Alternate reality – re-imaginings of the details of our existing world; popular with writers of science fiction.
  • Actual locations – the invocation of a real place in the world, utilised in novels with no elements of the fantastic.

Let’s begin by entering the wondrous realm of fantasy fiction.

IMAGINARY WORLDS

Creating an imaginary world is one of the most complex types of world-building. It’s most often utilised in fantasy and science fiction, where a writer conjures up from scratch every detail of a world: geography, history, language, lore, characters, social customs, politics, religion…

Understandably, the thought of creating all these elements to form an entire fictional world can be very daunting – and deciding where to start can seem almost impossible! For inspiration, we recommend turning to some of the great world-builders of our time to see how they’ve built up whole universes from nothing.

Deciding on a starting point

J. R. R. Tolkien, author of Lord of the RingsThe Hobbit and countless other classic works, began the development of Middle-earth in an unusual way: by first creating an entire fictional language to be spoken by his characters. A professional philologist and talented linguist, Tolkien developed the Elvish language of Quenya, using it as a base for expanding his imaginary world into the vast, detailed, lore-rich Middle-earth we know today.

Of course, not all writers will be capable of (or interested in) creating a functional, fictional language – but budding world-builders can still follow Tolkien’s lead in order to get started. By pinpointing one aspect of your imaginary world that you’re most interested in or most apt at developing, you’ve got yourself a great starting point. Work hard on this element first, and then concentrate on building up and fleshing out from there. You’ll find that the pieces of your world fall much more easily into place once you have a solid foundation from which to expand.

Asking questions about your world

After you’ve got the ball rolling by establishing a starting point, you’ll need to begin working out the details that make up a convincing, consistent imaginary world. A great way to start doing this is to ask (and answer) a set of questions pertaining to the different aspects of your world.

Approach this exercise as if you were describing your home country to someone who knows nothing about it – or, on a larger scale, as if you were introducing Earth to someone from an alien race. How would you explain:

  • What it looks and feels like – its landscapes, its climate?
  • Its people – their appearance, customs, ethics and values?
  • The dominant forces that shape change and development?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the potential details you need to cover, it’s advisable to start by creating a list of fundamental questions you need to answer about your world. Many online resources, such as this list from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America website, contain suggested questions about everything from social organisation and government to the rules of magic and technology. (The latter of these is particularly important to keep in mind. Even though your world may be an entirely imaginary one filled with magic or made-up technology, it must still be governed consistently and carefully by the internal logic and laws you set up for it. Its fantastical nature cannot be used as an excuse for lapses in continuity.)

After devising your list, you may feel even more overwhelmed now you have such an expansive range of questions to answer! If this is the case, take a step back and make sure that all the questions you’ve listed really need to be covered. It’s likely that some questions may not apply to or directly affect your characters and narrative, so decide which aspects are most crucial to the stories you want to tell within your world, and focus on answering the most relevant questions.

While you’re answering these world-building questions largely for the benefit of your readers, it’s imperative to keep in mind the age-old advice about showing, not telling. You don’t want readers to feel like they’re simply being spoon-fed a bunch of facts, details and history. The most successful storytelling comes from a subtle, nuanced approach to building your world through narrative detail, description and development.

Drawing inspiration from real life

Even though imagining an entirely new world is one of the most creative processes a writer can undertake, it’s almost impossible to create something entirely from nothing. Naturally – even if only subconsciously – you will adapt and incorporate some real-world elements into your imaginary setting and story, using them as a base of inspiration.

A well-known fantasy epic with strong undertones of historical influence is George R. R. Martin’s series, A Song of Ice and Fire. Martin openly acknowledges the fact that many elements of ASOIAF are inspired by real historical events and locations: the Wars of the Roses, the Glencoe Massacre and Hadrian’s Wall, to name just a few.

If you feel your world is lacking in depth or credibility, perhaps take a leaf from Mr. Martin’s (extremely long) book and delve into some real-world history for inspiration. You may be able to flesh out your world by moulding, adapting or drawing parallels with real-life locations, landmarks, pivotal events, or even historical personalities.

Where reality and fantasy collide

An interesting way to provide contrast or conflict within your story is by developing your fictional world alongside, or within, an established location – for example, right here on Earth. Perhaps the most famous example of this reality/fantasy cross-over is J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which involves an entirely made-up world of magic that’s hidden away on modern-day Earth. Harry himself, as the main character from whose point of view the story is presented, is as much a stranger to this world as readers are in the beginning. We’re introduced firsthand to every person, place, detail and experience right alongside Harry; as he journeys into this magical new world and has his questions answered, so, too, do we as readers.

As well as adding depth and relatability to your story, such a setting also poses questions about the concept of an alternate reality. Let’s now look at this concept in more detail.

ALTERNATE REALITY

Similar to the creation of an imaginary world, but slightly less demanding due to the existing base you have to work with, the construction of an alternate reality is a type of world-building often found in dystopian, speculative and science fiction. By creating an alternate reality, you are developing an alternative version of our own Earth, imagining how things could be different and posing questions about what these differences would mean for humanity. Authors often use this style of writing to express their thoughts about the flaws of humanity and today’s world, exploring the consequences these flaws may have to potential to produce.

What if?

As a writer imagining an alternate reality, the most important question you can ask is ‘What if?’ This is the base-level query on which your story’s entire premise should be founded, and upon which you will build the individual elements of your world. For example:

  • What if a particular, important historical event had never happened?
  • What if our planet and its inhabitants had evolved differently?
  • What if a fundamental aspect of life as we know it was to change suddenly?
  • What if we invented new technology that could accomplish wonderful/terrible things?
  • What if we could visit or communicate with other life forms (or vice versa)?

These are the type of questions you should be asking as you develop the differences between your world and the real world. They are the essence of the changes, challenges and consequences you should examine through your alternate setting, its characters and their narrative.

Belief and disbelief

A key difference between creating an alternate reality and creating an imaginary world is the suspension of disbelief you can expect from your readers. The imaginary worlds of fantasy and science fiction we examined above – Westeros and Essos, the kingdoms of Middle-earth – imagine an entirely new world, quite unrelated to our own. Due to this complete removal from reality, readers automatically enter with a higher level of tolerance for things that may otherwise have jarred the story’s logic or lifted them out of the moment. Readers would never think to question, for example, the fact that a single magic ring has the power to rule the world; they’re also less likely to query the fact that a teenage girl is slowly conquering a kingdom when there are dragons involved in the equation!

In alternate reality fiction, however, you may have to work a little harder to draw readers deep into your world – and keep them there. The slightly familiar settings, warped realities and semi-relatable human scenarios presented in this type of storytelling will heighten readers’ senses of what’s believable and what’s not. Therefore, you’ll need to convince them that everything happening in your story is a realistic possibility for the Earth on which it is based. Let’s look at some of the best ways to achieve this.

Past, present or future?

One of the best ways to begin establishing your alternate reality is by clarifying the time period in which you want it to be set. When will your story take place in relation to the real world? Is it:

Each of these approaches has its own advantages and benefits, and each lends itself well to different purposes. You’ll need to decide which of these settings best serves the particular story you want to tell.

If you choose to rewrite the past, you are employing the gift of hindsight to imagine what could have been; think of it as alternate reality historical fiction, if you will. A well-known example is sci-fi author Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, which explores our world ‘as it might have been’ if the outcome of World War II had been different. Likewise, the majority of volumes in Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series take place in an alternative 1985, where England and Russia have been fighting the Crimean War for over a century. Not restricted to reimaginings of definitive wartime conflicts, however, this method of storytelling is also a popular vehicle for stories about time travel; H. G. Wells’ pivotal novel The Time Machine and more recent books such as Stephen King’s 11/22/63 are great examples of time-travel tropes used effectively to explore alternate realities.

Stories set in the present, on the other hand, have an element of immediacy and can be more easily related to by the reader. This type of story can often be considered similar to those that rewrite the past, as it often imagines drastically altered historical events preceding its own setting. However, the main difference is that present-day stories focus solely on portraying of an alternate version of today’s world, rather than rewriting the history that has come before. As we mentioned above, the Harry Potter series, while primarily a fantasy, might also be considered an alternate reality; it takes place on Earth, in the modern-day U.K., but is largely set within a magical world that lies hidden within our own. Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia employ similar settings of an unknown world-within-a-world.

Finally, imagining the future can serve as a warning or projection of what might be to come if the present-day world does not change its ways. George Orwell’s seminal work, 1984, is a classic example of this; published in 1949, it leaps almost 40 years into the future to make bold extrapolations about the potential dangers of politics and technology. Similarly, Suzanne Collins’ wildly popular Hunger Games trilogy, as well as Aldous Huxley’s esteemed 1931 novel Brave New World, both pose questions about the demoralisation of the human race, depicting the type of scenario that could be in store for our future.

Know your building blocks

In order to portray a compelling alternate version of the world, you must first be well-versed in the facts of the real version. Whether you’re setting your alternate reality in a real-world location or reimagining a history event, learn all you can about its real counterpart and incorporate your knowledge into your new interpretation.

As mentioned above, Orwell’s 1984 is perhaps the most well-known example of a novel exploring an alternate reality. On the surface, it’s a story about an alien-sounding, utilitarian nation that’s as far removed as possible from the Earth we knew in 1984. However, when we look a little deeper (as most of us were forced to do as high school English students), the meaningful real-world allegories Orwell is drawing – Soviet Union politics, life in wartime Britain – become all too clear. It’s obvious he really knew his stuff before bringing to life his alternate futuristic vision.

The end of the world as we know it

Dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction has seen a meteoric rise in recent years, especially in the young adult sub-genre. The Hunger Games trilogy, perhaps the most popular of the bunch, has spawned a plethora of YA novels set in reimagined versions of Earth, and it’s easy to see why. Imagining a global-scale apocalyptic event gives you the freedom to predict how humanity might rebuild itself after such a disaster – a meaty subject to tackle.

A key decision to be made when writing in this genre is how you will treat the apocalyptic event itself. The most common choice is to set the narrative after the event and describe its consequences (hence ‘post-apocalyptic fiction’ becoming a well-known genre in itself).

Series such as the Hunger Games and Maze Runner trilogies, as well as standalone novels like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Richard Matheson’s much-adapted I Am Legend, choose the post-apocalyptic path. I Am Legend and the Maze Runner books allude to a deadly global pandemic, while The Hunger Games and The Road both choose not to disclose the manner of the cataclysm that preceded their events. Ultimately, you’ll need to decide if clarifying the apocalyptic event is necessary by considering the ways it could benefit or detract from your story.

Despite the prevalence of the post-apocalyptic approach, remember that you also have the option to portray the actual details of the global catastrophe as it happens, as well as the series of events leading up to it. If you choose this method of storytelling, you may wish to consult some novels that handle it particularly well, including Lucifer’s Hammer by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven, The Stand by Stephen King and Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.

Now, if you’re not a writer of fantasy or science fiction, by this stage you’re probably wondering whether there’s any point in learning about world-building. Well, we’re here to assure you that there is – so read on!

ACTUAL LOCATIONS

In genres other than science fiction and fantasy, the practice of world-building is more commonly known as creating a sense of place. Place has an important role in every story, and is often used to great effect in literary fiction. In novels with an especially strong sense of place, the setting virtually becomes a character in itself; it embodies, reflects, supports and enhances the narrative at every turn. So how can you build and develop a deep, engrossing and original portrait of an existing location?

Pack your bags

The first piece of advice for anyone wishing to infuse their work with a sense of place is also the most obvious: go to that place! Whenever possible, spending a good amount of time ‘on location’ wherever you’re setting your story is the best thing you can do as a writer. Bonus points if you’re writing about the place in which you’ve grown up or spent the majority of your life; if you know the place inside-out, it’s going to be much easier to paint a convincing and engaging picture for your readers.

The Brontë sisters are a fantastic example of writers drawing on personal influences and surroundings to create a strong sense of place. Emily’s only novel, Wuthering Heights,interweaves a bleak landscape of English moors so powerfully into her narrative that it practically becomes a definitive character in itself. Charlotte’s best-known work, Jane Eyre, creates a compelling portrait of life at a 19th century English boarding school; along with Anne’s first novel, Agnes Grey, Jane Eyre also explores life as a governess in a noble family (and as a woman in Victorian England). However, the Brontës are by no means the be-all-and-end-all of creating a sense of place – pick up any good novel set in a specific location and you’re sure to pick up some tips.

Do your research

Sometimes – for example, in the case of a novel set 50 years in the past – it’s not possible to have an authentic experience of the place you’re writing about. In this case, you will really need to do your research – and we don’t just mean a bit of Googling, because unfortunately, that won’t quite cut it! You’ll need to delve deeply into the history of the place in any way you can: by watching documentaries, visiting museums, reading books and other literature from the time period – seek out anything you can get your hands on and start absorbing it all. If you can, we also strongly recommend speaking to people who were in that place at the right time; there’s no better source than someone who can tell you all about it from firsthand experience.

Historical fiction books are a good resource for those wishing to write immersive, authentic fiction set in past time periods and real locations. An expansive genre, historical fiction contains a wealth of titles from which to gain inspiration and examples, but a good starting place might be exploring the work of:

  • Charles Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities conjures up particularly vivid images of London and Paris during the French Revolution;
  • Chinua Achebe – a Nigerian author whose African trilogy, especially Things Fall Apart, paints a striking portrait of post-colonial Africa;
  • Philippa Gregory – author of The Other Boleyn Girl, who specialises in British historical fiction that mostly examines the stories of the aristocracy.

Other great titles to investigate include Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, which takes place in wartime Germany, and Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, set in twentieth-century Japan.

Speak with your senses

Building and developing a sense of place is a great excuse to flex your descriptive muscles. But don’t just rely on describing what you see – talk about the sounds, the smells, the feel of your chosen place; the atmosphere and the things that contribute to it; and, perhaps most importantly, the effect the place has on your characters. (On that note, it pays to remember not to get too bogged down in description at the expense of plot and character development. Keep in mind that your invocation of place is ultimately to serve the characters and story within it.)

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After all that, you’re probably feeling a little overwhelmed by the amount of effort it takes to build a whole world with words – whether that world is fictional, real or somewhere in between. Our suggestion? Take a well-earned break, make a cup of tea, and set aside your world for now. Tomorrow it will still be there waiting for you, and armed with your new knowledge, you’ll be ready to build it from the ground up.

Via https://writersedit.com/fiction-writing/the-ultimate-guide-to-world-building-how-to-write-fantasy-sci-fi-and-real-life-worlds/

The Sound Of A Memoir | Article

Lyrics-in-novel-article

An interesting and useful article about using song lyrics in your novel. Makes for a very informative read. Enjoy!


Music is great for writing. Pop those headphones in, start up your two-hour Epic Music track or your carefully curated, book-specific playlist, get in your headspace and go go go.

Music is not great for reading. When I edit a manuscript with song lyrics used as epigraphs, or quoted from one character to another, or someone singing along, I have standard cut-and-paste language:

Consider whether these lines are necessary: using song lyrics falls under a specific copyright area that is not subject to fair use, and obtaining permission is tedious and can be difficult and expensive.

The short answer to “What about using some song lyrics in my memoir?” is “You can’t.” To elaborate, songs written after 1923-ish (depending on when you read this blog post) are almost certainly under copyright. The singer or band associated with the song may or may not be the writer(s). Once you google to find the writing credits, you’ll need to track down the publisher through ASCAP or BMI. The publisher does not want to talk to you until you have a publication contract, or specific, written publication plans including where you’ll be selling the book, the cover price, and how many copies you’re printing. Then the publisher bills you.

It can get expensive, Blake Morrison tells the Guardian:

I still have the invoices. For one line of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”: £500. For one line of Oasis’s “Wonderwall”: £535. For one line of “When I’m Sixty-four”: £735. For two lines of “I Shot the Sheriff” (words and music by Bob Marley, though in my head it was the Eric Clapton version): £1,000. Plus several more, of which only George Michael’s “Fastlove” came in under £200. Plus VAT. Total cost: £4,401.75.

But what about “fair use”?

Fair use is the legal principle allowing us to quote lines or paragraphs from books under copyright. Quotations are fair use if the number of words used is a very small proportion of the total words in the original work; if the quote is properly attributed; and if it’s essential to the point you’re making in your own work. Song lyrics have not yet been held to a “fair use” standard. Arguably, even a line of a song is a fairly large proportion compared to say, 200 words from a 90,000-word novel. But poetry can be fairly used and often is. What makes songs different?

Publishers with deep pockets, excellent legal teams, and a strong precedent of defending their copyrights.

Beyond legal battles, it’s worth it to consider what impact the quoted lyrics will really have in your book. Does your reader associate “Janie’s Got A Gun” with that beautiful night you sat in a convertible, watching the ocean roll in below the hills? Or does she remember her school’s anti-violence initiative that used the literal message of the song? Will readers from another generation even know the song you’re quoting? Will they think of it as “Mom’s music” instead of “pulse-pounding jam”? Writers can’t control how readers react, so we might as well use words we can craft ourselves.

In the Brevity Podcast Episode 8, Geeta Kothari and I discussed using quotes within essays and stories. In her experience as an editor for Kenyon Review, lyrics often pull the reader out of the story on the page and into their own associations with the song. JoBeth McDaniel, from the Rush editorial board, mentions in the same episode that even quoting other non-song writing raises legal issues that editors just don’t want to deal with.

Sure, it’s a great feeling when a single lyric conjures up a world of emotion in our heart. But it’s both uncertain and a bit lazy to expect that line to do the same for every reader. Instead, ask yourself what emotional purpose that song serves, and put that feeling in the setting, in the narrative, in the dialogue. Or obliquely quote in a way that makes knowledge of the original song unnecessary:

He banged his head to Sweet Child O’ Mine and I wished hard I could like Guns N Roses. (Titles are OK!)

On the radio, Springsteen was on fire, singing his creepy lyrics about Daddy not being home.

We rolled down the windows and cranked up the stereo–GooGooDolls, The Cure, KLM, all the music everyone was listening to, the bass throbbing in my chest and making me feel like I was part of everyone.

You’ve got something important to say. Don’t lean on a song to say it for you. Use your words. Use your images. Use your experiences. Trust in your power to create your own music in the reader’s head.

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Via: https://brevity.wordpress.com/2018/04/24/the-sound-of-a-memoir/

How Important Is The First Draft To Your Novel

The First Draft - Sandra Scofield

We’re an odd lot, novelists. Obsessive. Why else does someone launch a project that consumes so much time and holds out such a wavering promise of reward? I wrote my first three novels in deep night—the only time I had—and I used to put things away (in a dish bucket, set against the kitchen wall) in a tired heave of sadness, as if I might never pick them up again, as if my fledgling world might never be real. And of course it never was, because that’s a large part of the siren call of the novel: Come hither and create your own world. Put what you know and believe and want into story. Defy the randomness of real life; make meaning. This is a long-haul project and it is so much a part of who you are, you can’t imagine not doing it, not even if it takes years.

Maybe you, like me, write in your hidey-hole and people who know you have no idea how much you’ve taken on. Maybe you’ve found a workshop or a graduate program to help you in your endeavor. Either way, you must know by now that you have a world of figuring out to do.

Just know this: You are uniquely you, and the novel you write is one nobody else can.

I’ve written seven novels. That doesn’t count the first one; I spent years, only to discover when it was done that I was sick of it. (I had learned a lot, though.) It doesn’t count the one I lost. (I thought I stored it in the linen closet, but it wasn’t there when I searched for it.) It doesn’t count drafts, that’s for sure. It doesn’t count false starts (a box of them), or the ones I’ve been writing in my head for a decade while I tell myself I’m done with novels.

I’ve read shelves and shelves of novels. Hundreds of reviews. (I’ve written them, too.) Stacks of criticism. Biographies and memoirs of writers. But what matters to the present subject is this: I have immersed myself in the struggles of at least 200 aspiring novelists, many in one-week workshops in summer writing festivals over 20-plus years, and others in semester-long or year-long mentorships. I immerse myself in outlines and drafts. These writers have put themselves out there in a scary, exciting way. It has been my privilege to help them find new insights and fresh resolve. There is among aspiring writers an incredible range of interests, backgrounds, sense of story, and confidence, but there are many things they have in common. They are readers. They are intrigued by human nature. They are dogged.

One day it dawned on me that every summer, every semester, I have reinvented the wheel. Now, going through my teaching materials, I see that, however I may have recast notes, talks, exercises, and guidelines, there are consistent themes. I want to share what I have learned in my writing and teaching life, with special gratitude for the generosity of so many writers over so many years.

You can find many books to help you produce the first draft of a novel, especially if you subscribe to a popular theory of story much loved by screenwriters. Their strategy of structuring with acts, journeys, plot points, and arcs seems to be ratified by the success of many commercial movies, but is less helpful in developing deep story. If you want to review the basics of screenplay structure, you should read Syd Field, who popularized the model 30 years ago.

My advice is short and simple.

You should feel driven by a story you want to tell, even if you don’t know every nuance of it.

You must be able to live with the ambiguity of the enterprise.

You must have a commitment to a schedule of writing.

 

No one can teach you how to write a perfect first draft.

If you can say, Yes, I’m up to that, and you are just beginning, you may do best by ignoring instruction, at least until your dream is on the page. Free from rules, you may discover you have something in you nobody else has thought of. What rules did Markus Zusak ignore, writing The Book Thief, with Death as the narrator? Or Kate Atkinson, with the dazzle of her innovative Life After Life, in which her characters live more than one life? Amor Towles painted 30 years of Russian history in the confines of a single setting, a hotel, in A Gentleman in Moscow.

However much you think you know your story, however much you love it, allow yourself the freedom of discovery. Think of yourself as solving a mystery. What if? Why? Be wary of judging your work too soon. Sticking with a novel means going forward, not round and round. I say that even though I myself am a slow, deliberate writer at the sentence level. I don’t pour out pages; I feel as if every line tells me something about what the next line has to be. But I also don’t worry over the pages I’ve already written until I have a substantial draft. I learned early on that I could end up trying to perfect passages that don’t belong in the novel at all. Or I could lose my urgency to discover what next. I learned to jump ahead when I felt stymied. I started two of my novels in the middle.

Keep in mind that a first draft may be a kind of fishing expedition, a mess of a manuscript. You may not be ready to leap to revising. “First draft” should be thought of as a canopy off writing, holding however many drafts it takes to get you to the place where you feel you have grasped the story and put it on the page. You have to know how it ends. You have to know what it means.

The “first draft” of my first published novel was 1,084 pages long. It took about 14 months to write. (Remember, those were typewriter days.) I wrote ferociously and joyously. Then I had to figure out how to define reasonable parameters for the novel, and when I cut it, I discovered a huge imbalance between what I had said the most about and what I’d skimmed over. I made a painstaking outline by hand, on lined paper. There were no word processors. I had to start over with fresh paper in a typewriter. That was what it meant to revise. (I kept the boxes that held that draft in the disused cabinets over the refrigerator for many years, until they were archived. And I looked at them from time to time, a reminder of what I did, what I can do.)

When I wrote what I thought was the finished manuscript of More Than Allies, my perspicacious agent told me she liked a minor character in the story the best of all—and that character became one of the two main characters in a total rewrite. I learned to stay fluid, patient, open, and determined. Every stage has its hurdles—and its rewards.

 

Have fun finding your way.

You might want to toss a chapter and start over. Fine. You might want to try out a different point of view. You could discover your heavy drama is a comedy after all. You might realize you need a lot more background (setting, history) built into the story (a common concern); or you might realize that your research is clogging the manuscript’s arteries. Insight comes when you are immersed in the story, and you then have to decide whether to go back or keep going. I’m inclined to say keep going but make lots of notes about your prospective changes. You have to tell yourself that the most important thing is to get enough story down that you have something to work with; you will know more with every page you write; you can change things in the next draft.

Once you have that first full draft, you are on a different plane of writing. You’ve done a lot of stumbling and fretting, but you’ve figured out a story and you have this product, written out from beginning to end. Congratulations. Now you are ready for the next step. Unless you can do it in one go. There are writers who don’t revise full drafts, but I think that for them revising is a stream of higher consciousness.

It is instructive and fascinating to read about Gustave Flaubert’s writing; he was a man in agony, start to finish. He wrote letters to his friends saying that he hated what he was writing, that he had spent days on a paragraph, and so on. It seems clear to me that he had a very strong sense of his story from the beginning (I’m thinking of Madame Bovary), but achieving what he had in mind was incredibly demanding because his standards were so high. He spent five years writing the novel, his first. He wrote expansively, then cut, as he progressed.

When he got to the end of his “first draft,” which was the complete novel, he had performed surgery, acrobatics, diplomacy, psychology, and artistry on every page. And he had written the first modern novel.

John Steinbeck wrote a journal about how he wrote The Grapes of Wrath. It’s called Working Days and you can see why: He wrote five days a week, all day, from June to October 1938, about 2,000 words a day. He griped and grumbled, full of self-doubt and self-pity, but he had his head down and his pencil on the paper (his wife was his typist). I think he, like Flaubert, could do a one-draft wonder because every sentence was produced from deep thought. He was driven by an urgency about his subject, and he had done a lot of research. He didn’t start writing from scratch by any means.

Bernard Malamud, on the other hand, said when asked how many drafts he typically wrote, “Many more than I call three.”

 

Fast is fast, but is it good?

So many will say, Just get it down—work intuitively and quickly. I can’t write fast, so I can’t evaluate this approach. Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life), famous for encouraging unselfconscious, uncritical first drafts, has made it clear that she also does a lot of restructuring and revising later on. You have to find your own way. If you have had the story in your mind for a long time, your first draft might feel like you are pouring it onto the page. If the story feels like a mystery you want to solve, it will probably go more slowly. The writer Ann Patchett (Bel Canto), whose novels are marvelously varied, has said that she likes to think things through pretty thoroughly before she starts writing, whereas her friend, the novelist Elizabeth McCracken (TheGiant’s House: A Romance), doesn’t think a thing of changing names, histories, and plotlines as she writes. Think of the first draft as close to the chest: It’s yours alone.

What I do know is that, whether you crawl through your draft or you write it out as fast as you can type, you have to have the story on the page, start to finish, before you can evaluate it. It’s important to stay open to surprises and unbothered by dead ends. This isn’t the time to make contracts with yourself, like so many pages a day or the first draft by Christmas. Dedicated time is the one thing you do have to promise yourself. A lot will change in the writing. Later, you will come back to the same questions, the same advice, the same exercises, and find you have gone somewhere altogether different from where you were headed. That’s just fine. That’s writing. The real book might appear in the margins of your draft. You can’t revise what you haven’t written down.

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From The Last Draft, by Sandra Scofield, courtesy Penguin Press. Copyright 2017, Sandra Scofield.  Via: http://lithub.com/how-important-is-the-first-draft-to-your-novel/

10 Creative Ways to Keep Moving Forward During Nanowrimo

We’ve all had that dream: it’s an important day and you show up totally unprepared and, probably, naked. For writers who take the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge, this most commonly occurs on Day One: you’ve brewed your warm, comforting beverage of choice, assembled your meticulously curated writing playlist, filled the bathroom with catnip and locked the cats inside, and carefully arranged all the implements and tchotchkes on your desk into a pleasing geometric pattern. Then you sit and stare at a blinking cursor and have no idea what to write.

Whether it strikes at the very beginning of a novel or right at a crucial middle part, writer’s block is frustrating and potentially devastating. The most essential tool any author can have is a list of surefire ways of breaking out of its cold, clammy clutches. Here are ten creative ways to smash out of a creative funk.

Read Great Books
Your first step, always, should be to read a few of your favourite books. Since NaNoWriMo goes pretty fast, don’t try to read a whole novel, just skip to your favourite parts. Spending a few minutes with a beloved story usually gets the juices flowing. Alternatively, read a hot new title everyone’s talking about to stoke those fire of jealousy, one of the best motivators known to man.

Get Some Pro Advice
Another approach is to sit down with some of the best writers in history and ask their advice, which you can do by picking up a book like Stephen King’s On Writing or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Or, depending on your taste in literature, a wilder example:Charles Bukowski’s On Writing, or Ray Bradbury’s Zen In the Art of Writing. You get the idea.

Write About Yourself
A great trick is to start writing about a frustrated writer. Writers as characters can be lazy, yes, but even if it’s a false start that has to be scrapped, writing about your own situation might offer a glimpse of an escape route. And writing about yourself is (usually) easy.

Just Start
Another trick is to simply begin writing without any concern over what the story is, who your characters are, or how in the world you’re going to finish those 50,000 words in thirty days. Just start describing something, or sketching a scene, anything. Just using your fingers and brain to put words on the screen can act like a starter motor, cranking your engine into gear.

Change Your Method
All writers develop a mechanical way of writing: the software used, the specific pen or pencil, the location of their work space. If you’re blocked, try changing things up. Switch to longhand if you work on a computer, or go sit in the garden with a laptop instead of rigidly upright at a desk. A change of mechanics can shock your brain into exploring a new way of working and thinking.

Stop Counting
Sometimes what blocks a writer is the pressure of getting 2,000 words in every day for a month. Try not paying attention to word counts for a week, instead just concentrating on telling a story, and often the pressure relief will un-crimp your creativity. And don’t forget, some incredible novels are less than 50,000 words, The Great Gatsby and Slaughterhouse-Five for example.

Change What You’re Writing
Sometimes writer’s block isn’t some mystery brain injury; sometimes it’s your subconscious trying to tell you you’re headed down the wrong path. Back up to the last major plot decision you made and see if there’s a more interesting choice you missed. Or, while it might break your heart, ask yourself if you should be writing something else entirely.

Read Some History
No novel, no matter how creative, can beat actual events for sheer twists and turns and thrilling drama. If the story won’t come, seed your brain with some of the most interesting (and true) stories ever told. Bonus: reading history trains you in how things actually happen, ramping up your verisimilitude skills.

Change – or Make – the Routine
Some writers like to work randomly, plopping down when the mood strikes and scribbling out a few hundred words here, a few hundred words there. Some go weeks without writing a word, and then hole up in their office for a month straight. As romantic as that sounds, you may work better with a rigid schedule. Try swapping your approach: go random if you normally have a schedule, and treat it like a job if you’re normally a random.

Feed Your Senses
Taking breaks is one of the most powerful tools a writer can use. Sometimes that panic over lost time is what’s blocking you in the first place. Take an hour and listen to some great music, or eat something delicious, or go for a walk in a beautiful spot. Feeding the senses stimulates creativity – think of Proust and the Madeleine!

Good luck, and keep writing – you are almost there!

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Via: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/ten-creative-ways-to-bust-out-of-your-writers-block-for-nanowrimo/

Three Things to Know Before Starting Your Novel

Tips-for-writing-a-novel

Before you jump in the deep end and start writing a novel, there are a few things you should know.

1. The Premise

This one seems obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many authors launch straight into writing before knowing the basics. The premise of your story, is the core of it – the skeleton that runs throughout the whole thing. When someone asks you what your book is about, the premise is what you’ll give them. More often than not, if you begin writing without a premise, chances are that your story will have trouble going anywhere.

For example, this author began writing a novel, knowing the character and his physical journey, but unsure as to what the basic concept of her book was. In 9 months, she struggled to write a measly 13,200 words. By contrast, she then began writing a new novel which had originally been a short story. Knowing the premise this time, in 4 months she wrote 60,000 words and finished the first draft.

“With my first book, I had known the main character inside out, known his travels… But I found it increasingly difficult to write. The scenes were random and didn’t build to anything. I couldn’t have told you what the climax of the novel was. If you compare the progress of my second novel to the first, which remains unfinished, it’s pretty incredible. I’m not saying you should know everything about your story before you start, because it does develop and change drastically as you work. But knowing the premise the second time around changed the way I write for the better.” – Novelist/Creative Writer, Darlinghurst

2. Research Basics

Again, this sounds like an obvious one. Some writers find it easier to set their fiction in a real place, have a character with a similar occupation or family situation… things they’re familiar with. If this is you, that’s great. What I will say is: be careful you don’t omit details accidentally. When you know a setting, a job or a person very well, it’s easy to forget that your reader doesn’t.

To those who are creating from scratch, that’s great too. Is your main character a doctor? An air-hostess? Is your novel set in South Africa? Italy? Russia? Whatever your main character does and wherever they are, know the facts, at least the basics. What does their job entail? Long hours? Mundane tasks? Risk? Who do they work with? How long have they been in their position? Are they happy there? Do they earn a lot? These things won’t necessarily make it onto the actual page, but these factors affect a person’s nature, how they behave, how they live… The same goes for the setting you place them in… Do they have electricity? Do they live above a nightclub? Is their living space small or spacious?

“What I found incredibly useful, was mapping out the settings that my characters spent a lot of time in. Whether it was a room, a house or a village, it was a relief to keep coming back to a reference point and know where things were. I also kept ‘Research Profiles’ for want of a better term, so I could constantly layer my work with authentic touches, whether it was for the environment, political climate or a character.”

3. Character

Try and learn everything you can about your characters before you start writing. Naturally, once you get your story going, you’ll learn more and more about them, however it’s always super helpful to know the basics of who they are, what they do, etc., beforehand. Jot down a profile about each of your main characters including details about their: name, physical appearance, age, which characters they get along with and their relationship, where they live, do they have children? A partner? Do they have any particular mannerisms or quirks? Decide where you want to draw the line with how much you need to know before you start, and how much you learn along the way.

“One of the things I wish I had of known before I started my book was a few extra details about the background of my characters, things that make them distinctive from the rest of my cast. I’m now on my second draft and I’m having to redo character profiles and slot these details in second time around – it would have been a lot less hassle to have done it from the beginning.”

There are plenty of character profile templates available online for free that can be a great help. Click here to see one such example of a useful profile. Although it’s quite long and detailed, it does prompt you to think outside the box.

In conclusion, starting a novel is a huge undertaking and a massive achievement in itself, but sometimes, it helps to have something small, pointing you in the right direction. I hope this little checklist has done that.

Happy writing!

Via: http://writersedit.com/resources-for-writers/three-things-to-know-do-before-starting-your-novel/

How To Outline Your Novel | Useful Resources

writing10

This week, as an extended Bank Holiday Bonus, we have been looking at how to outline your novel. To close off the week I have prepared a list of the links provided over the week, which will serve as a very nice further reading and useful resources list. I hope you find it useful:

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Plotting: Constructing Your Story

http://www.scribendi.com/advice/theplotskeleton.en.html

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2011/09/14/25-ways-to-plot-plan-and-prep-your-story/

http://contemporarylit.about.com/od/literaryterms/g/Narrative-Arc-What-Is-Narrative-Arc-In-Literature.htm

Characters

http://www.narniaweb.com/resources-links/character-ages/

http://www.veronicasicoe.com/blog/2013/04/the-3-types-of-character-arc-change-growth-and-fall/

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/11-secrets-to-writing-effective-character-description

Setting

https://writersblog.co/2017/04/19/literary-devices-setting/

http://www.scribophile.com/blog/importance-of-setting-in-a-novel/

http://www.wordstrumpet.com/2012/03/tips-on-writing-prepping-for-the-novel-part-five-setting.html

Theme

http://www.livewritethrive.com/2013/10/09/getting-to-your-core-idea/

https://writersblog.co/2017/04/18/literary-devices-how-to-master-theme/

http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/05/how-to-write-one-sentence-pitch.html

http://www.writersedit.com/literary-devices-motif/

Structure

http://classroom.synonym.com/literary-term-nonlinear-narrative-1816.html

http://education.seattlepi.com/circular-narrative-style-5885.html

https://nailyournovel.wordpress.com/2011/09/25/plot-is-linear-story-doesn%e2%80%99t-have-to-be/

http://theeditorsblog.net/2013/04/07/marking-time-with-the-viewpoint-character/

http://www.musik-therapie.at/PederHill/Structure&Plot.htm

http://blog.janicehardy.com/2013/02/three-ways-to-add-tension-during.html

http://www.thewritersjourney.com/hero’s_journey.htm

http://www.dailywritingtips.com/how-to-structure-a-story-the-eight-point-arc/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/how to make 3 act structure work for you

http://blog.janicehardy.com/2013/10/how-to-plot-with-three-act-structure.html

Act I: The Beginning

http://thescriptlab.com/screenwriting/structure/three-acts/55-act-one-the-beginning

http://rebeccaberto.com/2012/01/15/the-best-advice-ive-learned-on-story-structure-part-2-plot-point-1/

http://digitalwritersfestival.com/2015/event/first-chapter/

http://www.writersedit.com/literary-devices-mood/

http://www.ptmichelle.com/2011/10/21/writing-tips-mini-story-arcs-within-your-storys-arc/

Act II: Midpoint

http://timetowrite.blogs.com/weblog/2015/06/the-three-cs-of-plot-and-how-they-help-you-write-the-middle-of-your-story.html

https://www.profwritingacademy.com/writers-focus-on-the-midpoint-to-nail-your-story/

http://lydiasharp.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/writing-toward-your-midpoint.html

http://livewritebreathe.com/the-black-moment/

http://rebeccaberto.com/2012/01/27/the-best-advice-ive-learned-on-story-structure-part-3-midpoint-second-third-plot-points/

Act III: Climax and Resolution

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/4-ways-to-improve-plotclimax-in-your-writing

http://www.natashalester.com.au/2013/05/15/the-new-love-of-my-life-why-planning-a-book-with-scrivener-makes-writing-easy/

Other Writing Resources

Writing Prompts

http://www.writersedit.com/category/resources-for-writers/writing-prompts-resources-for-writers/

Writing Software

https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

http://www.scribblecode.com/

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I hope you have found this series of posts useful. Best of luck with your writing! 

You can find the previous parts here: 

Via: http://writersedit.com/how-to-outline-your-novel-11-easy-steps/