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3 Fiction Writing Tips For Beginners: Build Your Characters

3 Fiction Writing Tips For Beginners: Build Your Characters

In fiction writing, there’s an old argument among authors. Some authors believe that the plot is everything; while others believe that the plot is immaterial — fiction begins and ends with fictional characters.

If you’re unhappy with your fiction — your characters haven’t “come alive” — chances are that you’ve been pushing them around. You’re too focused on your plot.

Let’s look at some fiction writing tips which will help you to build great characters, and a wonderful plot.

Characters in fiction writing: two essentials for each character

New authors imagine that to create a character, you need to know everything about him: his shoe size, for example. Or whether or not he likes anchovies on his pizza.

To create a character who has the potential to be wonderful, you only need to know two things:

  • What he wants. What’s his heart’s desire — what will he sacrifice for?
  • What internal obstacle stops him getting what he wants?

Now let’s look at three tips to help you to build great characters who will grow your plot for you.

1. To create a character, start with an attribute to create an internal obstacle

In Craft Fictional Characters For NaNoWriMo: 3 Tips, we said:

I know some authors like to create page upon page of character bios, and that’s fine — although it’s never worked for me. I like to start with the basics, a fictional character’s name, his age, his profession, and his primary attribute.

Let’s say that we’re writing a cozy mystery, and we want to create a quirky sleuth. Without bending our brain, we decide on:

* Name: Mara Mason, age 26

* Profession: widow, who works from home, as a virtual assistant;

* Primary attribute: intense curiosity.

You can create a character within moments, as you can see. Mara’s primary attribute is curiosity, an essential for a sleuth. It’s also a double-edged sword, and this attribute helps you to create external obstacles for Mara.

Recall however that we also need Mara’s heart’s desire, and an internal obstacle which stops her getting what she wants.

Let’s say that Mara’s heart’s desire is a family of her own. Her parents died when she was young, and she lived in a long succession of foster homes. She wants what she never had. What’s the internal obstacle? It’s a lack of trust. Mara can’t trust anyone enough to reveal herself and build close relationships.

Vital: your character will usually be totally unaware that he has an internal obstacle which stops him getting what he wants. He may also be unaware of what he mostly deeply desires.

Although Mara may be unaware that she has problems with trust, and unaware that she longs for a family, you as the author are completely aware. You use this knowledge to build your plot.

Similarly with other major characters in your novel. You need to know what they most want, and what stops them getting that.

2. Once you know the internal obstacle, build your character’s backstory to explain it

Our backstory explanation of Mara’s trust issues is: orphan, foster homes.

However, if you want to write a novel which is a page-turner, keep 95% of the backstory out of your novel.

As we said in: Fiction Tips: Kill Your Backstory,

Your explanations are backstory. You need to know the backstory, but your reader doesn’t. You may have heard that you should start slotting backstory into your novel after the setup, somewhere after the first few chapters. This can work, but honestly? It still bogs down the story. You want readers to keep reading, so only tell them what they need to know, when they need to know it.

Backstory is a killer, especially for new novelists. I’m currently reading The Night Manager, by John Le Carré. He’s amazing. I love the way he handles backstory, but he’s an expert. Until you have Le Carré’s skill, avoid dumping backstory into your novel.

Instead, hint at the backstory. For example, perhaps Mara has a garden rock on her desk. She took the rock from the garden of the one foster home in which she was completely happy.

You can keep readers wondering: why is that simple rock so important to Mara? Keep them wondering, until you reveal its importance to Mara.

When you limit your revelations of backstory like this, you’ll write a more exciting novel, because you’re involving readers.

3. Develop your plot: your plot is the resolution of your main characters’ internal and external obstacles, in SCENES

You need to know the heart’s desire of all your main characters, as well as their internal obstacles. You SHOW the desires, and the external and internal obstacles in scenes.

We covered how to set a scene in Write Hot Scenes For Bestselling Fiction: 5 Magical Tips:

Character goals lead to: action, conflict, suspense… DRAMA

It’s often easier to study scenes while watching a movie. There’s less chance you’ll get lost in the words. So watch a movie, with a pen and paper. Pause the action when a scene ends, and replay the scene. Analyze it.

When you focus on your characters’ internal and external obstacles, you’ll automatically build a good plot, scene by scene, because you’re focused on your characters.

In fiction writing, you build characters: remember the desire, and the internal obstacle

If you remember these things, you’ll write good fiction. Not only will your readers enjoy it, you’ll enjoy writing it too. Have fun with it. 🙂

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Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way

Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way

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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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How To Make Writing Easier: Free Writing Classes

How To Make Writing Easier: Free Writing Classes

Want to make writing easier? Even if you love writing, writing can be a challenge. On bad days, the temptation is to write “tomorrow”. Before you know it, a week’s passed, and you haven’t written a word.

We’re offering free writing classes to make writing easier.

By “writing” we mean anything and everything: fiction, nonfiction, social media content, advertising… For example, I know many writers suffer when they try to write marketing content to promote their books. As you’ll discover, with the right processes, it truly is easy.

In Write More: Free Writing Classes Coming Next Week we said:

Free writing classes, with free reference material, to make writing easier

We’ll work with the writing programs which we’re no longer selling. You’ll download them completely for free, and each week, in the ezine, and here, we’ll create some exercises to help you to get to grips with the material.

In essence: free writing classes, so you can build your skills, make more income, and be a much happier writer.

Consider this. If you learn and USE just one new strategy a week, for  three months, that would make 12 new strategies. Do you think that those 12 would increase your opportunities? I know that they would.

Our first strategy is discovering yourself — how to put yourself into your writing, and write more, more easily. We’ll do that using Authentic Writing: Develop Your Writer’s Voice, And Sell as our reference text.

Your writing will improve too

You don’t need to slave over your writing to write well — discover that you can increase your writing speed, and the quality of your writing too.

You’ll need to subscribe

The free writing classes are for members of our writing groups. You can join here if you’re not already subscribed.

It doesn’t matter what you’re writing; you’ll learn processes and strategies which make writing much easier.

Join us — your receive your first lesson next Tuesday.

Wondering how much time to budget for the classes?

Your free writing class is simple, practical, and powerful. If you have 20 minutes a day over three days, you’re golden.

Eager to get started? Join here.

Your First Novel: Why You Don’t Need an Editor Yet

Your First Novel: Why You Don’t Need an Editor YetYou’ve just completed your first novel. Everyone’s telling you that you need an editor. They’re wrong.

Here’s why. After writing your first novel, you’ve learned a lot. Getting to the finish line was a huge accomplishment, so kudos for that. However, at this stage, you’re much too close to your novel to see it clearly. You’re too attached to it — it’s your baby, after all. Since that’s the case, it’s unlikely that an edit will help you. Much more likely, it will hopelessly confuse you.

So, if you’re not getting an edit, what should you do?

Write your second novel

You need to write your second novel. Take a short break, by all means. But don’t make it a long break — start your second novel as soon as you can.

Here are the benefits of writing your second novel, immediately after you’ve finished your first:

  • Working on your next novel clears your mind. Once you’ve completed it, you’ll be amazed at what you’ve learned. You’ll reread your first novel, and you’ll immediately see how you can make it better.
  • You can use what you learned in writing your first novel, in your second. Your second novel will be better than your first.
  • If you’re working on something else, you won’t be heart-broken by anything your beta readers tell you.

I know, I know… you’re hoping for fame and fortune from your first novel, aren’t you?

Will your first novel make you famous?

Anything’s possible. It could. However, if you decide that you’re not working on anything else because your first novel is sure to be a bestseller, you’re in for quite a reality check.

Don’t sit around waiting. For one thing, you’ll be waiting a long time, and for another, you’re wasting valuable writing time. Even if your first novel is a HUGE success, you need something else for people to buy, so get on with it, and write Novel Number Two — start writing now.

I conducted a mini-poll among my traditionally-published friends. I asked them how many novels they’d written before they got one published. The results? These six novelists wrote between six and seventeen novels before one was published.

I asked my traditionally published friends, because today anyone can publish anything and can call it a novel. That’s huge freedom, and I’m all for it. However, now matter how you publish, you need to learn your craft. And there’s a lot to learn.

When should you edit your first novel?

After you’ve written your second. You’ll be able to see your novel more clearly. Edit it yourself. Once it’s as good as you can make it… you think it’s perfect… Hire an editor. At that stage (you’ll be writing your third novel at this point) you’ll be able to make the best use of any advice you get from an editor.

Your editor’s advice: remember it’s YOUR book, your name’s on the cover

When I got the revision notes from my editor on my first novel many years ago, I argued. I spent a lot of time defending my characters, my plot, and my word choices. From memory, I received around eight pages of notes on a 70K novel. My whining and arguments exceeded those pages.

That was long before email, so I didn’t send the letter, thank heavens.

I argued. I sulked. Then I slept on it. It took around a week, but I eventually realized that my editor was right in 80% of what she said. The other 20% I argued for, and won a couple of the arguments.

I’m telling you this story, because I finally realized that my editor made my story better. She also taught me a lot about structure and editing.

An editor makes your story better. However, you need to be able to put aside your emotions. You also need to be able to see your story clearly. If you’re working on a current project when you get an editor’s notes on your novel, it’s much easier to do that.

Keep writing. 🙂

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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 →