The Road to Midnight House: An Author’s Journey – Part Two

Last week, I talked about the beginning stages of developing Midnight House into the second book in The Field series. This week, I wanted to talk a little more about pre-writing, how I write, and a little about my drafting process.

What’s It All About?

Every book, every film, every TV series, documentary, and play are about something. Whether the issues presented are profound or topical, these themes are a way to help the writer structure a sense of meaning into the story. All writers want to tell a story about characters going through things they want to discuss with the reader/viewer. These themes can be expressed directly or indirectly, but they are an essential part of crafting a narrative.

For Midnight House, I knew I wanted to continue with Daniel’s story from the first book, so I researched the lasting effects of childhood trauma and its impact on the victim and their families. Needless to say, this was rather grim research, but I found the elements I was looking for to use in the story.

With Kyle, I wanted to explore high school sports but more specifically, sports hazing. This also sent me down a dark road that helped inform Kyle’s arc throughout the story.

This research helped me to nail down these thematic elements to ensure a truth to them while also allowing me to take creative license in how the characters dealt with these specific issues.

While there are many other themes explored in Midnight House, these two overarching story elements help the main characters change and evolve throughout the story.

Be Prepared

When you apply for a job, there are many steps people do to get ready. Most people don’t just jump online and start applying; there is work to be done before the hunt begins:

  • Research into available jobs one qualifies for.
  • Writing a cover letter.
  • Crafting a resume.
  • Committing people to be personal references or write letters of recommendations.

These steps can take time, and while you may be itching to apply for jobs, taking the time to get the prep work out the way will help you in the long run.

Writing a novel is a lot like this. You want to be prepared. You want to know where the story is going, have a sense of where the characters’ arcs are headed, and know what the story is about. Jumping in headfirst into writing a novel can be an exercise in futility; you probably will run out of steam pretty fast once you realize that you don’t have a plan.

This doesn’t mean you need to plan out every chapter, but you need to sit down and figure out the basics: beginning, middle, end; big story moments; relationships between characters; know your protagonist and antagonist and why they are in opposition. Now you have a basic roadmap to work from. You can change things and alter the route as you go, but giving your story a direction gives yourself a key to completion.

With Midnight House, I sat down with a legal pad and started to map out all these items listed above. It took time, but I needed to get the ideas on paper, figure out sequencing, figure out what story elements should go where, and work on how Daniel’s and Kyle’s stories would intersect throughout the novel.

Organizing Chaos

Last week, I talked about how I have story notes and ideas on my phone, on a legal pad, and on my laptop. Once I had a clearer picture of how the story would unfold, I took the notes from my legal pad and phone and added them to the Word doc on my computer. At this point, the goal was to get them on the computer to be saved; I wasn’t worried about the order they were being added in.

Not yet.

That was the next step. I started a new Word doc and started the painstaking process of going through the notes and putting them into a rough sequence in the new document. Midnight House happens over several days, so I was able to decide what events would happen on what days to help make a more organized – if still rough – outline.  

Now I could see the story taking shape. I could see what ideas worked and which ones didn’t in service of the story and characters. 

Organizing your notes like this will help you see your story in its rudimentary stages and show you how much more work is to be done to flesh out the story. Read through these organized notes and if an idea comes as you read, add it where you feel it belongs in the story.

Let Your Story Loose in Your Brain

When I’m working on a story, I let it invade my brain 24/7. If I’m on a walk or a run, I’m working out the story. If I’m reading or relaxing, I’m working on the story. If I’m asleep, my brain works on the story. You may not be sitting with a pad and pen or in front of a computer, but these moments of creative thinking allowing your conscious and subconscious mind to work on the story are part of the process.  

Make sure when something pops up that gets you excited to write it down and add it to the rough outline when you can.

I used this technique throughout the writing process for Midnight House. I would often find myself stuck on a story element, or maybe even a scene between two characters, and I would allow my brain to process through as many possible outcomes as possible. When the right decisions kicked in, and the ideas started to flow, I knew I had the missing piece to help me move the chapter and story forward.

This is all part of the process and a needed part at that.

My Writing Process

I’ll let you in on a little secret: as a writer, I lack discipline. I don’t write every day. I don’t set hard and fast goals for myself. I often will choose to watch a movie or a TV show instead of writing. I sometimes get anxious and overwhelmed at the thought of writing something as big as a novel.

And, yet, I’ve written two. So, how did that happen?

When it comes to writing, I take a filmmaking approach. Films are shot out of sequence and reassembled in the editing bay once the shooting has wrapped. I write the stuff I want to write when I want to write it. If I feel inspired to write the final chapters of the story, I’ll work on those. If I want to take time to focus on chapters about one character, I write those. Maybe there’s an emotional scene that I know will be a challenge to write, so I only work on that for that day.  

Each element is saved in its own file on the computer, labeled, and dated, so I know what it is. And slowly but surely, the files, pages, and story begin to grow and emerge into a cohesive narrative.

All of these chapters will be rewritten later on, some will be cut entirely, and others will get moved around. But they do get written.

If you already have a writing process that works for you, keep it. Every author has a unique way, place, and time when they write. The key is to get the work done. Even if it takes longer than outsiders think it should. I believe that crafting a quality story that you’re proud of is far more important than rushing the process.

Find what works for you and try it for a while. If you want to be more productive, make the necessary changes. For example, for my next book, I will plan a more rigid writing schedule so I can get a draft done faster.  

Baby Steps

As I said above, I don’t always set hard and fast goals for my writing time, and there’s a reason I don’t: I tend to psych myself out. I will be at work and decide to write 10,000 words over the weekend. Then, I get home, and Saturday morning arrives, and I’ve overwhelmed myself with a goal that I’m not sure I can meet.

Don’t do this to yourself. Make a small choice: “I’m going to work on the chapter at the junkyard Saturday.” Done. Now that’s all you have to work on. If you decide to keep writing or realize there’s a chapter related to this later on that you want to write, keep going.  

If you know your story, your characters, and your themes, and a rough outline (thanks to your notes), you have the necessary information you need to start writing your story.

Take your time, and you’ll get there.

Remember, No One Likes Their First Draft

There’s a reason why it’s called a First Draft. It’s usually filled with chapters that go on too long. Characters that ooze BORING on the page. Dialogue that doesn’t flow or sound real. Plot points that just don’t work or go nowhere.

And we all have to accept this, deal with this, and make it better.

Every published book you have on your bookshelf or have seen in a bookstore or on Amazon began with a crappy first draft. It’s inevitable. But, here’s the neat part about that first draft: It exists.

That’s right. You can’t fix and edit and improve upon nothing, and that lackluster first draft is now an opportunity for you to elevate and bring to light a better story than the one drafted before you.

Next week, I’ll dive into what I do to make my initial draft better, how I get it ready to send to my editor and feedback partner, and how I deal with notes, and deciding when the book is done.

See you next week!

GET YOUR COPY OF MIDNIGHT HOUSE ON BOOKBABY AND USE THE PROMO CODE HOUSE20 TO SAVE 20% OFF THE PAPERBACK AT CHECKOUT.  CLICK HERE TO ORDER

The Road to Midnight House: An Author’s Journey – Part One

I learned a lot about the writing process while writing my first novel, The Field, but learned even more from writing Midnight House.  Over the next several weeks, I want to share my writing process, the publishing process, and the marketing process to help you succeed in publishing your book as an indie author.

The Idea

While working on The Field, I initially had no intention of turning it into a series.  After all, if I was going to publish the book myself, maybe one book was enough—something to check off my list of things I’ve always wanted to do.

And then, I let a few people read it.

It wasn’t the published version, but those who read it liked it and offered their notes.  When I met Kathleen, who became my editor, she read it and encouraged me to turn it into a series.  

So, I started to think about how I could do that, and a few years before The Field was a published novel, I began to work out possible story ideas for a second novel.

I knew that I wanted the characters to be older, but I was unsure of the second book’s storyline.  But I wrote down several ideas.  Like all brainstorming/pre-writing sessions, some of it was worth keeping, but most were ridiculous and would eventually be left in the dust.

The big question I had for myself was if I should continue the story from the first book or do a standalone with the characters doing something unrelated to the first story.

I wanted to do something with Kyle that was sports-related, which ended up happening, but Daniel at the early phases had no real place or direction in the story.  He was a school newspaper reporter.  He was in ASB.  He was this, that, and the other thing, but he didn’t feel grounded in the story.  

Early Development

That’s when I decided to dig deeper into the minds of my two main characters.  Who were they before the events of The Field?  How did those events change them not just externally but internally?  

Doing a deep dive into who your characters are, what makes them tick, and how traumatic events can impact them going forward can help you shape more dimensional and grounded characters.  So, as I sketched out Daniel and Kyle after the first book, I discovered things that would give Daniel and Kyle stronger story arcs in the second book and give the other characters material to work off of.  

I had to decide how old they would be in the second book, which would inform what they were able to do and not do in terms of their ages, and I also started to brainstorm ideas for new characters they would encounter in their new story.  I also had to decide who from the first novel would carry-over to book two and what they would be up to at that point.

Now that I started to flesh out character arcs, I developed story ideas that would be interesting and provide the needed elements of action-adventure that are key elements of the series.  This is where things get fun for any writer since, at this stage, anything and everything is a possibility.  I chose Redding locations where I felt different action pieces could take place and worked through various scenarios.  Some over-the-top, some less so.

All the while, I’m thinking of how the main characters, other characters, the overall story, and these action moments will all come together in a clear and compelling narrative. 

But I was nowhere near that stage yet.

Notes, Notes, and More Notes

Part of the early brainstorming and development process is writing down your ideas.  All ideas.  I have my Notes app on my phone filled with snippets of dialogue or scenes that I thought of while I was at work.  A legal pad by my bed in case an idea strikes me at 3AM.  And a file on my laptop for ideas so I can type furiously as the ideas flow.  

I’m a writer that has a hard time just sitting and waiting for ideas to come.  I usually am doing something when they hit me, so having a way to jot down ideas on the go is much better than saying to yourself, “This is a great idea. Can’t wait to get home and write it down!” (SPOILER ALERT: The idea will probably be gone by then.)

Dozens of Note app files.  Lots of legal pad pages.  More than one Word document (I started breaking ideas into separate files by character).  Somewhere in all these places was a complete story.  Now I had to start taking these ideas, these fragments, these notes, and crafting them into a narrative.

Next week, I’ll take you through the outline process and the first draft’s early stages.  See you then!

GET YOUR COPY OF MIDNIGHT HOUSE ON BOOKBABY AND USE THE PROMO CODE HOUSE20 TO SAVE 20% OFF THE PAPERBACK AT CHECKOUT.  CLICK HERE TO ORDER

How Not to Play the Guitar – A Writing Analogy

Happy 2021! I’m sure by now you’ve thought about some goals you’d like to achieve in the new year. Whether those goals are big or small, it’s always good to have something new and exciting to look forward to as the calendar turns back to January.  

For many people, this may involve taking up and new hobby or learning a new skill, which can lead many down a fascinating rabbit hole of reading and research that may not be as productive as they may think.  

Let’s start with an example of this: You want to learn how to play the guitar in 2021.

A great goal. You’ve thought about playing the guitar for a while. You’ve seen people you know, and also famous people do it so effortlessly that you want to enjoy making music as much as they do. You go online and decide to buy several books about playing the guitar.

You wait for the books to arrive, eagerly awaiting the guitar-playing wisdom each book will reveal. Upon their arrival, you read three, and all three present different methods about how to play the guitar.

Now, this whole time, despite having the guitar, you haven’t picked it up once. Sure, you’ve looked at it, thought about playing it, but every time you read a book about playing the guitar and feel confident about playing, you still feel you need to find the “best” way to play.

And so, you read about playing the guitar. And the guitar sits there, alone, un-played.

Now, you’ve finished the books. You’ve highlighted paragraphs, bookmarked pages, told people about the books and how exciting guitar playing is…and suddenly you feel an unforeseen pressure. Not to pick up the guitar. It’s the pressure that with all the tips, tricks, tools, and methods you’ve just learned, your brain is suddenly overwhelmed. 

Now that thing you wanted to do, that wonderful music you wanted to create, your passion for actually learning is stamped out because you spent so long reading and not doing, and you psyched yourself out of it.

This can happen to aspiring writers, too. In fact, anything creative can have the excitement and adventure of discovery killed off by reading about it instead of doing it.  

I’m guilty of this, too.

I’ve written many screenplays and have dozens of screenwriting books. Each one has a different methodology of how a screenplay’s structure is composed. While the outcome is the same – a 110-page screenplay – the rules set forth by each author differ. Read a few of these books in succession, and you’ll be confused and terrified to break the “rules” you’ve read about screenwriting.

Put the books down.  

Do you have a story you want to write? Do you know the basics? Beginning? Middle? End? Do you have characters and a setting to go with those three pieces? A central conflict? If you do, great. Sit down and write it out. No books. No rules. No worksheets.  

Just story.

Now, as you expand and craft the story, if you need guidance about how to craft good dialogue or how to show and not tell, these are when those books can come in handy. They should be seen as reference guides to help your writing, not tutorials on how to write.

We are all storytellers. We know the basics. We’ve seen movies, TV shows, plays, short films, documentaries, and read novels. As a writer, your job is to take what you already know about how stories work and make it your own. 

Much like the guitar analogy, writers must do the work to get the experience. We all start as amateurs or beginners, but you will get better with time, patience, and actual hands-on practice. While reading about it or listening to interviews is fine, don’t let that take away from doing the work yourself. Those books and interviews will always be around.

Whether it’s writing, playing the guitar, sculpting, or running a marathon, take the time to invest your time in learning by doing. Future you will be grateful.

See you next week!

Wings Wednesday: Television Academy Foundation Interview with Wings Co-Creator, David Lee

Whether writing a novel or a TV series, the creative process can involve a multitude of ideas and concepts that evolve over time. What we see on the page or on the screen often differs a lot from what the creator initially had in mind when they set out to create their story.  

Below is a clip from a Television Academy Foundation interview with writer David Lee who co-created Wings and Frasier with David Angell and Peter Casey. Listen to how the concept of Wings and its characters evolved from an idea, to initial script, to the final pilot.

Do you have story ideas that you feel need to evolve and change to make your writing stronger and more compelling? Don’t be afraid to take risks and make the necessary changes to get your story to work!

Staying Creative and Focused When Everything Seems Crazy

It’s been over eight months since the Coronavirus pandemic shut down businesses and schools, locked down communities, and created a culture of wearing masks, caused us to use hand sanitizer everywhere, and made us wary of being close to anyone we don’t know. Add to that protests for social change, a crazy political climate, and financial uncertainty for millions, and the very thought of sitting down to write and be creative can be off-putting to some.

While I understand that the world has its ebbs and flows of chaotic news and events, as writers, artists, musicians, and other creatives, we have an obligation to ourselves and our own mental health to continue to indulge in the creative process. Through our art, we can help ourselves and others make sense of the world, understand our emotions and feelings, and get our thoughts out in a tangible form. 

It can also allow you the opportunity to escape the negativity of the world for an hour or two, to embrace an activity that provides a sense of normalcy in a world that keeps throwing pessimism at you 24/7.  Like you, I get overwhelmed with the news, the images, the statistics, and the political noise, which is why I’m happy to share some of what I do to keep the world out and keep my sanity and creativity in play.

Unplug

This has become a ritual for me on Saturdays. I turn off my phone, put it out of view, and either read, write, or do something that doesn’t involve continually scrolling my newsfeed or social media. It seems like a crazy idea at first since we all seem to be glued to our devices, but it can be mentally refreshing to distance yourself from your phone and not have the constant beeps, buzzes, and chimes of alerts attacking your brain every few seconds.

Even if you can only sit down and write, read a book, or even binge-watch a couple of episodes of something uninterrupted for an hour (not the news) or two, you will find that a lot of the noise in your mind will dissipate. You quite possibly will feel a bit calmer thanks to your phone being off and away.

Remember, even if you turn off your phone for a few hours to write or do something else, it’s not like the chaos will go anywhere.

If you have a family and they all have phones, plan a few hours each weekend to do things without phones and other devices. Connecting with people and not screens is a challenge these days for sure, but it’s a welcome respite from the constant barrage of news, politics, and pandemics.

Create a Creative Space

Maybe you’re not ready to sit down and write or create at the moment. That’s fine. Unplugging can benefit you no matter what you do with the time away from your phone.  However, if you are looking for an escape to a creative place, I recommend creating a space for you to work and be creative in your home or apartment.

It doesn’t have to be big, just a place where you can go and sit with a laptop, a pad and paper – or, if you’re really old school, a typewriter – and write for an hour or two. This should be a space void of your phone, social media, and the internet (yes, you can turn it off on your laptop or desktop), especially the news. 

In this space, you are the boss. You make the rules. And you are there for one job: to create. 

So, I have a studio apartment, but I have a space where I keep my laptop and a VARIDESK to stand if I feel like it. I have a comfy chair, as well. I have a legal pad and pen to jot down questions to look up later online, and a bottle of water. That’s it. Everything in the space is geared toward writing and creating with as few distractions as possible.

Now, once you’ve created your space, choose a time that best suits your schedule. If you have young kids, this might be in the evening once they’ve gone to bed, but the key is to enter the creative space and make the time to create. I write best at night, so I usually work for a couple of hours in the evening as often as possible.

Use Music/White Noise to Stay Focused

I just started doing this this past year and have found that it really helps me stay focused when I’m reading or writing. There are many, many ambient noise choices available on YouTube, but devices like Alexa also provide a library of ambient noises as well (and yes, if you want to use the ambient noises found on YouTube, you can leave the Wi-Fi on on your computer, but do your best not to go down the dreaded YouTube rabbit hole and become distracted). 

Personally, I prefer listening to a thunderstorm or snowstorm, but there are hundreds of these ambient noise videos to choose from that you can have on in the background as you write. Most of these videos range from one hour in length to ten hours, and the ones I have used don’t have ads that blare to life in the middle of the video. I highly recommend headphones or earbuds to help immerse yourself and block out any external noises.

Here are two that I use most when writing and reading:

Music is also a great choice, but make sure what you choose isn’t distracting. It should be music that helps you focus on your creativity and not pull you out of it.  Music can also be a great way to set the tone or mood for what you will be writing. 

Consider Your Time Writing as an Escape for Your Own Mental Health

Being creative is not a selfish act. It is a way to refresh yourself and your mind. We use films, TV, and books to escape reality, so being creative should be seen as another form of healthy escapism. 

As a writer and artist, you form new worlds, new characters, new stories, and new relationships. You can’t control the world around you, but you can – even for an hour – be the creator of your own worlds and give the real world a timeout.

Stay Positive. Enjoy the Time Creating

Even though 2020 hasn’t been a great year for most of us, we have to remember to stay positive. It is the arts that have sustained societies for generations through song, dance, painting, sculpting, the written word, theater, film, and TV. Humans who love to create and have a passion for creating must take the time to create. 

You must give yourself permission to enjoy the time when you are writing and creating. It’s a welcome respite from the chaos that has enveloped us this year. You can’t let doom and gloom consume you. It’s no way to live, it’s not a healthy way to think, and it can be detrimental to the creative process. 

There’s an exercise I once read about for people who overthink when they are trying to sleep. They are to keep and pad and pen by their bed, then write down what is keeping them up, and that is supposed to help them sleep better, knowing they can now save that worry for the next day.  In the spirit of that exercise, if you feel the world creeping into your creative space, keep a pad and pen handy and jot that item down. Then if you want to think about it later, it’s written down for you to think about once you’re down writing or creating.

Finally, If You Still Have Anxiety or Anger About What’s Going on In the World…

Write about it.  Get your thoughts, your emotions, your solutions down on paper or on your computer screen. Venting about the world is okay. It’s a healthy way to process what you are feeling, and you should take the time (maybe the first ten minutes of your creative time, if needed) to get these thoughts out. 

You could also practice journaling as a way to express these thoughts and ideas. 

I’m human, just like you. I see things on the news or read about events in the U.S. or around that world that upset me, anger me, and sadden me. But as I said before, you can’t allow those negative emotions to consume you, especially if you need to write and create. If you can channel those feelings into what you’re writing, do it. Just don’t let the world creep in and prevent you from being creative. 

I hope you found these tips insightful and helpful. If you have other tips about how you have stayed positive and focused on creativity during 2020, please leave a comment.

As a Writer, Has This Ever Happened to You?

At work this evening, a coworker of mine asked me what I was doing this weekend.  I told them I was working on my second novel, to which they replied, “You’re still working on that?  What’s taking so long?”  I started to laugh, telling them that writing is a process that takes time.  As I was talking, a classic scene from Family Guy flashed into my mind, which I promptly found on YouTube and showed to them:

No matter where you are in the writing process, people often will be amazed that you’re still working on something.  But the important thing is that YOU ARE STILL WORKING ON IT.  In progress is better than no progress, and what matters most is that you know that work is being done and that you will finished with it when you know it’s ready.

So, that novel you’ve been working on?  Keep writing, and never stop creating!

Are You Holding Back in Your Writing Because of Social Media?

In a world where people seem to be offended by anything and everything, it can be a daunting task for a creative person to navigate the choppy waters of what will and won’t evoke controversy hour-by-hour.  No matter the topic, it seems like someone can find a way to twist it into their own meaning pretzel with plenty of negative connotations.  And when the world seems to be backfilling with these types of oftentimes innocuous offenses, many creative types may be afraid to truly express themselves.

The solution: Don’t allow hashtags and comments on social media to dictate what you want to express in your story.  If you have an idea for something a character does or says, then you start to think about how Twitter or Facebook of Reddit will react, the trolls have won even before you’ve expressed yourself.

You can’t let that happen.

You have a story to tell.  And you cannot let anonymous people online dictate what you want to say in your story.  You just can’t allow that type of false pressure to squelch your creativity.  Even before the internet there were people who hated and were offended by things they read or saw.  Just because those people have a larger more vocal platform now doesn’t mean you should allow them to get into your head and beat down your ideas.

Maybe your story has controversial elements or themes.  Maybe you explore domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, or other hot button topics.  Maybe you have a character who is a racist or sexist; who uses language that you wouldn’t use but they do.  As a creative person, you need to do what’s best for your project.  If it evokes anger, offense, or hashtags against you and your work, so be it. 

Hey, you can’t please everyone.

And that’s the main thing you have to remember.  More people when they dislike something are likely to comment on it than those who like or enjoy something.  And what is odd is that usually when reviews or comments are negative, people tend to want to find out the truth for themselves instead of just going off of what some person has posted online.

And example: Joker.  Here’s a recent film that was maligned in the press, by many critics, by people online, and other groups for weeks prior to its release.  The star and director were hounded with questions about the film’s violent content, the red carpet premiere did not allow the press to ask questions, and the fear of the film spawning violence led to the U.S. military issuing a warning, and some theaters adding extra security.

All pretty negative things against the movie, and yet it was the highest grossing film for an October release and is set to break other R-rated film box office records.  There’s also Oscar buzz around Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Joker. 

The filmmakers didn’t hold back.  They didn’t listen to the critics and edit the film down to a safe PG-13.  They stuck to their vision of the film and released it as is.  And the results were effective and the negative outcry probably had a positive outcome for the film overall.

Joker is the perfect example of how as creative individuals we need to do what’s best for our story.  We need to tell the story we want to tell.  Tell the story you want to tell without the fear of social media backlash churning in the back of your mind. 

Tell your story.  Not theirs.

Do you find yourself editing and toning elements of your story down due to fear of what may be said about you or your story on social media?  Leave a comment and let me know.

Using Empathy & Sympathy in Your Writing

What’s the difference between Empathy and Sympathy?  When it comes to writing, should we use one over the other?  Should we use both?  Do they even matter? 

The short answer is yes.  They do matter.  And both can help your reader connect with the problems and conflicts faced by your main character over the course of the story.  So, let’s define each word.

Empathy – the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.

Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/empathy

Empathy allows the reader to jump into your main characters shoes and experience what they are experiencing even if they never have.  It helps create an emotional bond between the reader and character.  A way to connect them on a deeper level that in turn keeps the reader caring about the main character and their situation.

Sympathy – an affinity, association, or relationship between persons or things wherein whatever affects one similarly affects the other.

Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sympathy

Sympathy allows the reader to feel bad for the plight or situation of a character even if they can’t directly identify with the experience.  This is much more surface level emotion, while empathy digs deeper into the feelings and emotions of the reader.

If you want your reader to have a full immersive experience in your story, ensuring that they can either empathize or sympathize with your main character is key.  Whether the reader has gone through a similar situation as your main character or not, making them invest their emotions and feelings into the struggles and conflicts your main character is going through will keep the reader engaged and invested.

It all comes down to the concept of caring.  Does the reader care about the characters?  Do they have a level of compassion for them?  Do they hope they succeed and want to be there with them when they achieve their goals?

If you as the author don’t care about your characters, the reader won’t either.  Take the time to give your characters emotional weight and put them in situations that will create a sense of empathy or sympathy for them with the reader.  Readers need someone to root for and identify with in a story, and adding these levels of emotional connectivity can ensure that your readers and characters will connect over the course of the story.

Do you utilize Empathy and Sympathy in your writing?  Is one more important to you than the other?  Is it important for the reader to empathize or sympathize with your main character?  Leave a comment and let me know.

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping Your Characters Off-Balance

Should your main characters ever feel comfortable?  Should they ever feel like everything is okay and their life is going just fine?  Of course, the answer to these questions – especially when dealing with fictional characters – is an emphatic NO.  Over the course of the story, it is your job as a writer to keep them as off-balance as possible.

In the real world, we often have a strong desire for balance and calm in our daily lives.  Too much stress or anxiety can take its toll on the human mind, body, and spirit, so we often escape to places where we can refresh and recharge.  With fictional characters, this sense of calm should be a constant struggle to obtain.  It not only can make them more in-depth as characters, it can also make for a better story.

The old adage is that Conflict = Drama.  And drama is what drives the story forward.  Like most writers, I tend to want to protect my main characters from harm.  But in doing so you do a great disservice to your characters and your readers.  Putting your characters in harm’s way, giving them impossible situations to get out of, and relentlessly giving them obstacles to overcome makes for a better story and can help strengthen and add dimension to your characters.

This is where the concept of the Character Arc comes into play.  Your characters should evolve and change over the course of the story, and keeping them off-balance and having to find ways to try and resolve their problems helps them grow as characters.  Don’t forget that your main character should go through some sort of change or metamorphosis over the course of the story.

Granted, you want to give the reader a sense of what is a normal day for your characters before the inciting incident turns their world upside down.  That’s fine.  It’s what Joseph Campbell refers to as The Ordinary World.  But once that Ordinary World is thrown off, it’s time to take your characters on a very bumpy ride. 

Your main character’s primary goal – aside from the goals your set forth for them once the story gets underway – is to return to their normal as fast as possible.  Don’t let them get there.  And even once the goal of the story has been achieved and their world seems to be back to normal, the journey they have taken over the course of the story has forever changed them ion some significant way.

They can never return to the Old Normal they had before the story began.  And that’s a good thing.  They have grown as a character.  They have overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  And they have come out the other side a stronger, more realized person because of their journey.

It is often during times of great stress or trauma that real people show their true colors.  It is your job as a writer to create these types of situations for your characters to keep them off-balance.  It doesn’t have to be a life-threatening event, but it should be something that will forever change them for the better…or worse.

What do you think?  Leave a comment and let me know.

Also check out my article: “Don’t Be Afraid to Rough-Up Your Protagonist.”

When Writing a Novel, Don’t Rush Your Story

We live in a society where the majority of people want things fast, and they want them now.  From food to other products, people demand immediacy, and any time period above that can often result in one-star Yelp! reviews or complaints on social media. 

Even with entertainment or news we’ve become accustomed to soundbites, YouTube clips, and quick hits on the News app on our phones, giving us the gist with no real depth or further information.  And the majority of society is just fine with this.

So, what happens when you are planning out a novel or screenplay with that mindset of how the world is with its lack of attention and need to get things fast?  It can make a writer think they have to deliver story, character, and more at a breakneck pace, which is contradictory to what the point of a novel is.

SLOW IT DOWN!

Your story can be fast-paced, but if you start to rush through chapters just to get to what you think is the “fun stuff” it can cheat your reader – and yourself, the writer – out of delving deeper into the world you are creating.  Take your time and deliver chapters that have meaning to the story, develop character, and bolster the themes you want to communicate.  Don’t be afraid to slow it down a bit.

As a writer, I often find myself doing this, especially if I know that something really fun, action-packed, or exciting is coming up soon.  You get the feeling to just gloss over things in order to get to the fun stuff.  But if you cheat the story, you cheat the reader, and that’s the last thing you want to do. 

The big sequences should be earned, and the reader needs to feel that they have taken a journey with the characters where both get the big sequences when they are deserved in the story.  Not because the author got impatient and wanted to jump ahead.

That being said, if you are a writer – like myself – who likes to write those sequences when they pop in your head, don’t be afraid to just write them.  You can always write the connective tissue that comes before and joins the fun stuff to the rest of the story.  This can also help you as you write the chapters prior to the scene create momentum that drives the story and the reader toward the big event.

It’s also key when you’re writing to give your reader as much information about what’s going on as possible.  Utilize the five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell.  And also the sixth: thought.  As the author you can describe all of these things and use them to teleport your reader into the world you have created for them.  Put the reader there with your characters, in their heads, and make them feel like they are part of the story.

Novels are meant to be long.  They are meant to take their time to tell stories that have a lot of moving parts, the delve into the psyches and inner-workings of the characters, and give the reader an immersive experience.  While we do live in a world where it seems like less is more and faster is better, don’t forget that novel readers don’t want to take a trip in a car going 150mph, they want to take the train with it slower pace and multiple stops. 

Take your reader on a journey they don’t mind being on for a while.  They’ll be happier when they get to the final destination, and as the writer you will be satisfied that you wrote them a quality that took its time a really delivered.

What do you think?  Does taking your time and developing story, character, and description still matter?  Or have readers become impatient with novels that take their time?  Leave a comment and let me know.