Category Archives: Write a novel

Fiction Writing Tips For Beginners: Create A Character

Fiction Writing Tips For Beginners: Create A Character

Thinking of developing a fiction writing career? It’s almost a decade since Amazon released the Kindle and changed publishing forever. Today, hundreds of thousands of authors are self-publishing millions of books; fiction writing is hugely popular.

I just checked Amazon. In the past 30 days, 114, 000 ebooks were published on the Kindle Store. Of those ebooks, 12,500 were romance fiction (romance is the most popular genre), and 5,500 were mysteries.

Intimidating, right?

Short answer: no.

Consider this: if books weren’t selling, only die-hard, starving authors would be publishing. The competition should excite you, because it means that readers are buying our books.

Let look at some tips on character creation, because the easiest way to start a novel, or a short story, is to start with a single character.

Fiction writing starts with a main character

In the article, Fiction Writing Tips for Beginners: Super-Easy Outlines, we suggested that you start your fiction outline with an image:

Here’s another reason to start with an image: an image has built-in emotion – if you choose the right image. Fiction is all about emotion. No emotion? You’ve got nothing. Your idea, no matter how wonderful, will fizzle out. Or you’ll have a bunch of weird emotions tumbling around, which you can’t get a handle on… and the novel or short story fizzles out.

Some authors find that it’s useful to find an image for their main character, too. You can start with an image which appeals to you, or you can start typing.

I prefer the typing route — I look for images later. Usually the images I find most evocative are images for a setting.

An easy way to create a character

Here’s an easy character creation template:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Occupation
  • Attribute
  • Primary external problem

Let’s look at an example: Jenny Caraway, 25, teacher, nervous, bullied by another teacher.

Here’s another one: Jim Rossi, 30, civil engineer, hot-tempered, fired from job.

I didn’t spend any time thinking about those characters. I just started typing. You can do this too. Use the template, and create a few characters. Keep going until one strikes a spark.

Jenny appeals to me, so I might do a little more work with her.

Show your character’s everyday life: the Primary External Problem disrupts it

Since Jenny’s main external problem is that she’s being bullied by another teacher, your job is to show Jenny at school. Your character’s journey starts in her everyday life. You must build sympathy and liking for your main character — readers need to get to know her, before they can care what happens to her.

At this stage, I like to create the character who’s the antagonist — the main character’s opposition. The antagonist is in many ways, even more important than your main character. You need a strong antagonist, otherwise your novel or short story will be much ado about nothing.

An antagonist… OK, Lola Fairfield, 45, new school principal. Her primary attribute is ruthlessness. Her primary external problem is Jenny — she hates Jenny because Jenny had an affair with her former husband. Lola intends making Jenny’s life a misery.

Poor Jenny. Her main attribute is nervousness; her antagonist is ruthless.

Fiction is all conflict, all the time: choose a genre

You may be thinking that Jenny is seriously overmatched by Lola, but this is a good thing. Fiction is all conflict, all the time. Your aim always needs to be to make your main character suffer. 🙂

Think about your favorite novels. My favorite novel is Gone With The Wind, where poor Scarlett O’Hara contends with the Civil War.

When you’re beginning your fiction writing career, fight the temptation to make life easy for your characters. Ramp up the conflict (without becoming melodramatic), and readers will love it.

Now’s the time to choose a genre.

Jenny’s story could be:

  • A romance: Jenny finds the love of her life, Lola’s mission is to destroy her romance, to make Jenny suffer;
  • Fantasy: the school is a school for wizards — shades of Harry Potter. Lola is a literal dragon;
  • A mystery: another teacher is found murdered at the school. Lola ensures that Jenny is the prime suspect;
  • A Western… Etc.

Once you have a couple of characters, and a conflict, you can choose any genre which appeals.

Outline, or start writing? Focus on the EMOTION

Will you start writing immediately?

That depends on you. Once I have a main character, a BIG problem for the character, and an antagonist, I start writing. I’m a pantser, pretty much. That said, I rely on my intuition. Should some good ideas magically arrive, I might outline the major plot points (beats) of the novel.

It doesn’t matter what you do, whether you outline or not, as long as you remember to focus on the emotion. Readers read fiction to escape, to experience an alternate reality. Your genre will tell you the primary emotions for which you’re aiming.

New authors often ask me about character questionnaires, and long bios. I’ve never found them useful. I don’t care about my character’s favorite movie, or favorite color. Characters are what they do, so it’s best to show them in action. Just remember each character’s primary attribute. Your main characters will change and develop as you write your story.

Give this easy character creation method a try — it’s a lot of fun. 🙂

Map It: For Writing Success — Fiction And Nonfiction Outlines Made Easy

Map It: For Writing Success — Fiction And Nonfiction Outlines Made Easy

eBook: $5.99
I developed the tactics and strategies in this book to help myself. My students have found them essential to producing both fiction and nonfiction almost effortlessly. More info →
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Bestselling Fiction: 5 Tips To Turn A Wonderful Mess Into A Novel

Bestselling Fiction: 5 Tips To Turn A Wonderful Mess Into A Novel

You’ve completed your novel. It’s so horrible that you’re ashamed. What on earth gave you the idea that you could write a novel, much less write bestselling fiction? Calm down. If you’ve got a mess, that’s AMAZING. It’s exactly what you’re supposed to have at the first draft stage.

Seriously. Never, ever worry about your first draft. You’ve got a NOVEL — even in potential, and that’s a huge achievement. Celebrate that.

(Please be aware that your novel may still be at the first draft stage, even if you’ve written several drafts… Many new authors fiddle with sentence structure and word choice, and imagine that they’re writing a draft. You’re not. You’re copyediting.)

All bestselling fiction goes through a chaotic stage

Let’s look at what a “draft” is. Creating a second draft/ rewriting isn’t recreating your novel from the beginning. (That said, it can be, if you feel that you’ve missed the mark completely and want a do-over.) If anything, rewriting is more akin to putting together a jigsaw puzzle, while creating some new pieces to fit.

Let’s look at some tips to help.

1. What are you writing? What’s the genre and story question?

Before you do anything else, reread what you’ve written.

Makes notes on the emotional highpoints — what makes you feel? Fiction is all about emotion, so you need to know what works, and what doesn’t, at this stage.

Then decide on your genre, if you haven’t done it already. Also, check to see whether you have a story question — this is the one essential which turns a mess into a potential bestselling novel.

2. Rewrite your major scenes: these are the BIG scenes in your novel

If you’re not sure about scenes, this article will help, Write Hot Scenes For Bestselling Fiction: 5 Magical Tips:

Scenes are the building blocks of your fiction

In the 21st century, every reader understands drama.

TV and movie stories are delivered in scenes. If you want lots of readers, you need to learn to deliver your stories in scenes too.

Readers are impatient. They just want the story. Deliver. Show, rather than tell. “Showing” means writing in scenes.

You’ll have two or three major scenes. Rewrite these, without focusing on what you’ve written. You know your story, your aim now is to deliver emotion in all your scenes, but most especially in the big scenes of your novel.

3. Check for holes in your plot: create new scenes

All plots have holes. You can ask someone else to find them for you, but try to do it yourself. Read through your novel again, and check the characters’ behavior and thoughts. Do they make sense, logically? If any character’s behavior doesn’t make sense, that’s fine — you’ll need to foreshadow the weird behavior.

While you’re checking, write new scenes where you need them.

4. Characters: introducing a character, and showing character changes

Next, focus on your characters. Check how you introduce your main characters. Your main characters will change in your novel, as they grow from their experiences. Make sure you’re showing the changes.

5. Check (or create) your timeline

Timelines can be tricky. You can have someone’s mother marrying at five years old, and a character in London when he’s supposed to be on a ship somewhere in the Pacific.

And your draft is done… now comes editing. 🙂

Want to write a bestseller? Check out: How To Write In Scenes… The Magical Secret To Writing Well And Selling More

Fiction: How To Write In Scenes
Fiction: How To Write In Scenes

Want to write wonderful stories readers love… fiction which SELLS? Our new program guides you in developing an amazing (and fun) fiction writing career: you’ll write better novels faster. You’ll also win fans who love your novels and are eager to buy them.

Read more.

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Need help with your writing? Visit our online store, or check out our ebooks for writers.

Short Fiction Secrets: How To Write And Sell Short Stories

Short Fiction Secrets: How To Write And Sell Short Stories

Want to write short stories? If you answered yes, that's excellent… Here's why. Today, you can make money writing short fiction. More info →
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Write A Novel Readers Love: 5 Tips

Write A Novel Readers Love: 5 Tips

Want to write a novel readers love? If you do, you’ll need to become comfortable with conflict. This can be a real challenge, because most of us hate conflict in our lives. But unfortunately if you try to avoid conflict in your fiction you’ll get reviews which call your novel “boring” or “thin”: you haven’t given your readers want they want. (By the way — short stories need conflict and emotion too.)

Essentially, readers read to escape to another world, or to learn something.

Write a novel readers love, and can experience

Readers read to experience. If you can’t touch their emotions, they’ll stop reading.

It’s always useful to read readers’ reviews on Amazon. Bestselling authors aren’t immune from bad reviews, and you can find a lot of these types of comments when authors haven’t delivered a novel that readers want:

  • “Waste of money. Nothing much happened…”
  • “The story ended at 50% and then dragged on… ”
  • “Boring, no tension, too thin…”
  • Etc.

Let’s look at five tips which will help you to write a novel which readers love.

1. Kick your main character at least once every 1000 to 1500 words

When I’m writing a novel or short stories, my scenes usually average  around 1500 words. When you write a scene, it’s much like writing a novel. The scene has a set up, rising action, a climax, and then it’s over. In other words, every scene gives you a fresh opportunity to make life more difficult for your characters. Take that opportunity.

2. “What’s the worst thing that could happen now?”

The easiest way to include a lot of conflict in your novel is to have each and every character have a conflict with every other character.

Although this sounds difficult, it’s not. Think about the people you love. Your partner, or your child. Do you have conflicts with them? Of course you do. They’re minor conflicts:  they do things you don’t agree with and they know you so well that they push your buttons effortlessly.

That said, you want your story to be one in which something happens. Therefore, in addition to the major obstacles to your main character getting what he or she wants, and minor conflicts, you need constant additional obstacles.

It’s all trouble and strife, all the time. 🙂

Think about the conflicts that your characters have with each other, and aim to have something bad happen in each and every scene.

3. Take away what your character values most

What does your character value? Perhaps you’re writing a New Adult novel. Your main character is a young woman who’s just left college. She’s managed to get the job of her dreams — that’s what she values most. So take that away.

Or perhaps she doesn’t realize what she values most. She takes an overseas job, and realizes what she values most is the man she left behind.

Always torture your characters. Your readers want an involving story. You can give it to them.

4. Ensure that conflict happens because of who your characters are

When new authors first hear about “creating conflict”, they tend to have a lot of conflict happening, but that conflict isn’t directly related to the characters.

For example, perhaps the main character gets involved in a minor fender bender. Or the character does something embarrassing. We all have stuff going wrong all the time, and these minor contretemps are useless in fiction. Readers read for escape — they don’t want to read about minor nuisances because they experience them themselves, daily.

Vital: every conflict which happens in your novel must relate directly to the story question, and must happen because of who your main characters are.

5. Resist your own resistance to conflict

There’s an old saying which goes something like this: if the novel’s characters are having fun, the reader isn’t.

Never make things easy on your characters. Ensure that each and every scene contains conflict. Scenes are “showing”, rather than “telling” (narration), so before you start writing a scene, ask yourself: “what’s the conflict? Who wants what? Who opposes that? How?”

When you write a novel, make your characters FIGHT for what they want

In summary, when you write a novel, make your characters fight for what they want.

Your characters are proactive: they know what they want, and they make plans to get what they want. When they fail, they try again, and again.

Go ahead and kick your characters. Your readers will love it. 🙂

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Need help with your writing? Visit our online store, or check our our ebooks for writers.

Master Fiction Writing: Craft A Novel in 31 Days

Master Fiction Writing: Craft A Novel in 31 Days

Series: Selling Writer Strategies, Book 4
Genre: Writing
Tag: writing fiction
You want to write a novel. Perhaps you can't get started. Or maybe you got started, and then you stopped.You need a plan, broken down into easy steps. This program began as a 30-day challenge which I organized for readers in 2010. Hundreds of writers joined the challenge and completed it. They wrote novels. More info →