Tag Archives: fiction

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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New Novelist: Write A Selling Novel With One Simple Strategy

New Novelist: Write A Selling Novel With One Simple Strategy

“I’ve done everything I can think of — bought advertising, did a blog tour, gave away free copies… Why aren’t my novels selling?” My coaching student was in despair, and that’s understandable. If you do everything “right” it’s devastating when a novel doesn’t sell.

Today, every novelist faces huge competition. In 2011, a novelist who could string together 60,000 words could make a great income. Not so in 2017. Authors who quit their day jobs to write are going back to those jobs because their incomes have dropped.

“My beta readers love my novel — I’ve got five star reviews. But no sales…”

My student sent me copies of his novels. I opened the first one and spotted the warning signs of a fatal problem right on the first page. I speed-read through the novel — and yes, the novel was dead on arrival.

Which brings us to…

New novelist: your simple strategy to write a selling novel

Here’s the strategy. Your novel must have a point. All the screaming excitement of your novel can’t and won’t make up for it if there’s no point.

The point of a novel is often referred to as the “story question”, or “dramatic question.” Although the story question might not be stated overtly, it must exist for your novel to be satisfying to readers. In many genres, the genre itself offers insight to the story question:

  • In mysteries — will the sleuth find the killer?
  • In romances — will the boy get the girl?
  • In thrillers — will the hero save the world?

Oddly enough, when a novelist writes a novel which has no point, it’s often sadly plain right from the first page. I call these novel openings “much ado about nothing.”

My student’s novel started with his hero in bed, waking up. OK — a fine opening, as long as the room explodes, or there’s a dead body beside him. There wasn’t an explosion, or a dead body. Nothing, except a whole heap of excitement about… waking up in the morning.

Readers are smart. When they buy a novel, they want a story that’s a real story. In other words, they want novels which have a point. When a novelist generates false excitement about waking up in the morning, readers are turned off. No matter how gorgeous your book’s cover, nothing makes up for nothing happening in your novel.

3 vital tips you need to write a selling novel, starting today

Let’s look at some tips to help you to write a selling novel.

1. What’s your point? Who wants what? Why can’t he get it?

Your novel must have a story question, and your story question must be concrete — something you can kick. 🙂 It shouldn’t be: “love conquers all” or similar. That can be your theme, if you want one.

The easiest way to decide on a story question (even for pantsers) is: who wants what, and why can’t he get it? Think about your favorite novels. You can identify the story question easily. In Pride and Prejudice, for example, it’s who gets the “young man of large fortune from the north of England.”

You’ll usually find the story question in the blurb (book description) — here’s the story question from the blurb of the bestselling novel, The Night Manager:

At the start of it all, Jonathan Pine is merely the night manager at a luxury hotel. But when a single attempt to pass on information … backfires terribly, and people close to Pine begin to die, he commits himself to a battle against powerful forces he cannot begin to imagine.

2. Write in scenes, and include the important elements of a scene to maintain suspense

In Write Hot Scenes For Bestselling Fiction, we said:

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.

Want to write great fiction? Devote time to learning how to write scenes. Include these elements in your scenes to maintain suspense:

  • Setting;
  • Character development;
  • Sensory details — sight, sound, and more;
  • Plotting — movement on the story question.

3. STOP IT! Stop with the backstory junk already — readers don’t care about the past

In Writing Fiction Made Easier: Get Out Of Backstory Hell we discussed the pitfalls of backstory (that is, the history of your characters, before the story starts.) We said:

Important… Don’t worry about backstory in your first draft. Just write.

Remove ALL backstory when you’re editing.

You can add backstory into your novel/ novella/ short story, very carefully after your “slash and burn” editing fury. Restrain yourself. Only a sentence or two at a time. And only if you must add it for the story to make sense.

Backstory stops your story dead. Readers DO NOT CARE about what happened before the story starts. Occasionally backstory is necessary, because it makes character motivations clearer, and reveals something that readers must know. At those times, drop in your backstory in a sentence or two… please.

“Does it make sense? Is it important/ exciting/ fun to know?”

One of the definitions of “novel” is interestingly new or unusual.

This particular definition is a good guide to knowing what to write about in a novel. Keep it interesting, above all. For a new novelist, a big challenge is “writing” their novel. Bestselling novelist Elmore Leonard said:

My most important rule (for writers) is … if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

A very good rule. Be wary of anything you think is “good writing.” New novelists tend to fall in love with words, and that leads to horrors like writing about their characters waking up in the morning. There’s nothing interestingly new or unusual about that.

Keep your wits about you. When you’ve written a scene, or are about to write a scene, ask yourself if your idea for the scene makes sense. Logic counts.

Wondering about my coaching student? He’s fine. He’s happily rewriting, after we developed story questions for each of his novels. He tells me that he feels a lot more confident, and knows that his revised novels will sell.

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Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way

Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way

$5.99
Author:
Series: Selling Writer Strategies, Book 3
Genre: Writing
How To Write Novels And Short Stories Readers Love: You're about to discover the easiest, fastest, and most fun plotting method ever. You can use it for all your fiction, whether you're writing short stories, novellas or novels. Take control of your fiction now, and publish more, more easily. 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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Get daily writing news and tips on the blog’s Facebook page.

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

$4.99
Author:
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 →