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Posted in Writing

Why Character is So Important in Your Storytelling

0218

In her 2012 craft book Writing Irresistible Kidlit, author Mary Kole says,

Most of the main characters I read lie flat on the page. Other problematic personalities are way too passive, or unpleasant and whiny to a degree that’s immediately unsympathetic. The best characters are those that readers either fanatically love or love to hate. They inspire passion, and that starts with your passion for your protagonist. In order for the reader to care, you have to care first, and that emotion, that empathy, that understanding is what will give life to your fictional people.

The truth is you’ll never be able to create a great story if you don’t start with a great protagonist.

I’ve written twenty novels in ten years, and when I look back on the ones that worked out the best, it was by far the ones with most engaging, dynamic, three-dimensional main characters, particularly the protagonist.

There’s a lot to think about when you start a new fiction writing project, but whether you’re about to embark on a ten-page short story or a 500-page novel, you need to remember that character is something you should spend a lot of time thinking about and planning for before you write a single word.

I would argue character is in many ways more important than the story itself. Because no matter how unique and compelling the story is, your reader simply won’t care if they’re not on board with your protagonist. As Mary Kole says, it’s important your reader fanatically love (or, sure, love to hate) your main characters. There must be passion, emotion, strong interest there. There simply can’t be apathy.

If your writing is fantastic and your storyline is gripping, then great! You’re halfway there. You’re well on your way to crafting something worth reading.

But you can’t forget about character. You can’t half-ass your protagonist. You can’t just have a vague idea of who he or she is and then start writing, hoping the character will come to life along the way.

Before you start writing, take a few days and write down everything you can about your protagonist.

I don’t outline my novels very often — as long as I know the beginning and ending, I usually have enough to get started — but I do always write detailed bios about my three or four main characters.

I start with the protagonist. Always, always, always the protagonist gets the longest, most detailed character bio. Often this is about two pages long, and I’ll write plenty about physical description, friends, family, as much history to the character I can think of, what he or she desperately wants at the beginning of the story, what is keeping him or her from getting what he or she wants, and how I see the character changing from the beginning to the end.

That’s just a start. Sometimes I’ll go even further by writing a sample scene with the character or a fake interview the character conducts to learn more. I’ll do everything I can in the days leading up to the writing of the novel so that I have that protagonist in my head and in my heart. I want to be able to close my eyes and picture the person. I want to start hearing the way they talk. I want to completely understand what it is they want. Why this person? Why this gender? Why this age? Why this place? Why third person or first person? Why, why, why?

I need to have reasons for all these before I start, because if I don’t, I might be on the path to writing a bland protagonist without much personality and without enough motivations or goals. When you find yourself in chapter five realizing your protagonist isn’t really going after anything important, you’re in trouble. Your character needs to want something, always!

Remember to avoid making your main characters a cliche. You want your characters to be original.

We’re all practically drowning in content at the moment, and there are definite positives and negatives to that. The positive is that we get to seek out constant inspiration for our own storytelling, witnessing characters on the screen and on the page we might never thought about depicting ourselves.

The negative, though, is that we might see a certain kind of person on the screen or on the page often, and then ultimately put that same character in our own stories.

You don’t want to do this. You don’t want to rip off what someone else has done before, and you don’t want to write a character that’s a cliche.

Kole mentions a few of the classic cliches in her craft book…

The brainless jock

The heartless popular girl

The insecure but brilliant loner

The angry goth

The weepy emo kid

The mathlete nerd

The burnout stoner

Geeks who love to read and write

And so on and so forth. She mentions about ten more, but you get the idea. The cliche character, especially in the middle grade or young adult novel, is often so completely obvious to the reader from page one. You don’t want your readers to roll their eyes when they stumble upon a character they’ve read a hundred times before.

You want to instead start your short story or novel with a character we have not seen often before. Write someone with their own original voice, their own original viewpoint. Write someone who deserves their own story but rarely gets to tell it.

Don’t just go with a classic cliche, even when it comes to your supporting characters. Give us something new and different, and your readers will thank you for it.

So, again, take character more seriously in your fiction writing than pretty much anything else.

Okay, sure, probably the most important thing is that your writing is stellar and engaging and propulsive. You can create the most unique and fascinating protagonist of any story in the history of the world, but if your writing is flat and awkward and full of inconsistencies and typos and bad grammar, your reader won’t want to learn more about that amazing protagonist. Because they won’t continue reading.

The writing itself needs to be strong, and yes, there should be something about the story that draws in the reader and keeps them compelled to continue. Your protagonist can be a winner in every sense, but if nothing is at stake in the actual story, the reader might eventually abandon your narrative for another, no matter how well developed your character is.

Having said all that, though, character will always be one of the most important elements of your storytelling. If you’re able to get your readers involved with your protagonist early on, you can do almost anything in your story, and the reader will follow you anywhere. Better yet? The writing part itself will become more fun for you, too.

So no excuses. Take your time. Come up with engaging, memorable, original main characters… and your chances for success in your writing life will continue to grow!

Want to take your writing to the next level?

Click here to find out about my Editorial Services.

Posted in Writing

3 Quotes by Robert Jordan to Make You a Better Writer

0216

Robert Jordan (1948–2007) was the highly acclaimed author of the bestselling fantasy series, The Wheel of Time.

Here are three tremendous quotes from Mr. Jordan to inspire your writing!

1. You have to have talent to some extent — I certainly hope I have talent — but you have to have luck as well. Once you get that first shot, that will get you noticed for the rest of your books and that will give the rest of your books a better chance.

We all like to think that as long as we work hard at our writing and have at least some talent (if not a whole lot of talent), we’ll eventually find success in our craft. That’s true, for the most part. I’m living proof that you can work really, really hard at writing and definitely get to some places after ten years you never thought were possible.

In ten years I’ve written twenty novels, dozens of short stories, five feature-length screenplays, and more than 1,000 articles and essays. I’ve received an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in English. I’ve worked with a literary agent. I’ve made actual money from my writing endeavors. If you stick with writing long enough and keep doing everything you can to get better, you’ll find success at some point.

But Mr. Jordan was absolutely right in that you simply do need to have a little bit of luck, too. Luck is where I’ve fallen short. Luck is something that hasn’t been on my side much the past few years no matter how hard I work on my writing every day. Luck is something that either falls in your lap or it doesn’t. And if you’re ever in a position where luck finds you in your writing life, grab onto it and never let it go!

2. Fantasy is an area where it is possible to talk about right and wrong, good and evil, with a straight face. In mainstream fiction and even in a good deal of mystery, these things are presented as simply two sides of the same coin. Never really more than a matter of where you happen to be standing.

I’ve always loved the genres of fiction and science fiction and even some horror to an extent because you can do things you can’t get away with as much in other forms of writing, certainly more realistic kinds of literary writing. Robert Jordan chose fantasy as his realm to explore the human condition, and what incredible commentary he allowed himself to give to it.

He was right in that fantasy is an area where you can talk about right and wrong, good and evil, with a straight face. Without having to choose a side. Without having to necessarily root for one side or the other. You’re allowed to get more complex in your thinking and how you present multi-dimensional characters to the reader.

And instead of keeping things short and sweet, in the fantasy world you get to go really, really long with your storytelling, too, which allows an intensely immersive experience for the reader that often can’t be achieved in other genres that have stricter word count guidelines. I’ve never attempted a novel in either fantasy or science fiction yet, but I’m certainly intrigued in the next few years to attempt one if an awesome idea strikes me.

3. Surprising what you can dig out of books if you read long enough, isn’t it?

People ask me all the time what’s something that can help their fiction writing. I tell them they should write every day, even if just for ten minutes. I tell them they should write the kind of material they’re super passionate about, because it will keep the writing fun and will get them to want to come back. As soon as writing starts to feel like work, your productivity level is as good as dead. You want there to be a sense of play every time.

But the other thing I tell writers? To read as much as, if not more so, than you write. Reading books of all genres is the one easy and certainly pleasurable way we have to learn how to write well. I find it so much fun to pick up a book I know little about by an author I’ve never heard of… and just dig in. I’m often surprised by something, whether it has to do with character or genre or the style of the writing itself. There’s no limit to what you can learn about writing as long as you keep reading.

Because when you approach reading both as a reader and a writer, Jordan was right: it’s surprising what you can dig out of books if you read long enough. You can find inspiration for your own work at the same time you’re enjoying the hell out of a great story. You can improve your skills at the same time you’re being delighted by an incredible twist in a story.

So keep reading, won’t you? And keep writing, too. To become a better writer, it’s absolutely essential you do a little bit of both every single day.

Want to take your writing to the next level?

Click here to find out about my Editorial Services.

Posted in Writing

5 Quotes by Brian Jacques to Make You a Better Writer

0209

Brian Jacques (1939–2011) was the author of the Redwall novel series and the Castaways of the Flying Dutchman series.

Here are five of his fantastic quotes about writing!

1. Sometimes I get ideas from dreams. Often my stories are based on adventures that I, or my friends, have actually lived.

I do think there’s this assumption about writers that so much of what we dream up on the page come from our actual dreams. That to think of something fantastical or otherworldly we have to dream it first long before we could ever imagine it.

Nothing could be further than the truth. Although, yes, in my many years of writing on occasion I’ve had a super vivid dream I eventually translated to the page in some form or another, most of what I write either comes from my own life experience (or from the experience of a friend or family member), or I come up with it completely from scratch.

You don’t want to only rely on powerful dreams to get inspiration for new story ideas. Sometimes the best thing you can do is take a long walk and clear your head. Sometimes silence is the best tool you can possibly use.

2. I wrote about a bird that cleaned a crocodile’s teeth. The story was so good that my teacher could not believe that a ten-year-old could write that well. I was even punished because my teacher thought I’d lied about writing it! I had always loved to write, but it was then that I realized that I had a talent for it.

I actually had a similar experience to Jacques when I was in the fifth grade. I read one of my new stories I’d written to the class, and my teacher pulled me aside and asked if someone else had written the story! She was so impressed with it she gave me an extra credit assignment to write more stories, many of which I put into a book a few weeks before the end of the school year.

It’s hard to designate your own talent. You can believe you have it, but it’s not until your writing has an effect on others that your talent finally shines through in a way that’s clear to everybody. We’ve all had a close family member say your writing is good, but when your teacher literally pulls you aside to say it’s not possible you actually wrote that, then the lightbulb turns on that says hey, maybe this is something I should stick with.

Of course lots and lots of practice and years of honing your craft will help build upon your talent. And find the people who believe in your talent and give you those moments of inspiration and wisdom along the way.

3. I wanted to write something visual that I could read to the children. This was when I created the idea of Redwall Abbey in my imagination. As I wrote, the idea grew, and the manuscript along with it.

Each of us needs to find a specific niche in our writing life. Yes, in a perfect world we could all write whatever we wanted whenever we wanted. The same way that many film directors can bounce around different genres all their lives (Ang Lee and Danny Boyle come to mind), it would be nice to not be pigeonholed into one specific thing as a writer.

But the truth is if you find success in a niche, it’s often in your best interest to stick with that and then attempt new things in that niche, the way Stephen King has done throughout the years. Write suspense, sure, but try different kinds of suspense stories and occasionally subvert your readers’ expectations.

Jacques could have tried writing horror novels or romance books or legal thrillers or whatever, but a big reason why he became so successful was that early on he recognized the kind of stories he wanted to write — not just stories for children but immersive and unique and visual fantasy stories set in a beautifully realized world. His ability to find his niche early on and give his life over to it played a big role in his incredible novel writing success.

4. I am a people watcher and I have a very good memory.

I’ve talked before about how important it is as a writer to observe the world around you. To not just stay in a bubble, to not exist entirely in a dark room writing on the page, but to go out into the world and take note of everything you see around you.

Some of us have better memories than others. Some gifted people are able to sit and listen to a dialogue exchange between two people nearby and then go home and write down most every word they heard. I’m not able to do that. Maybe a line or two will stick out to me, but otherwise that dialogue exchange will be a distant memory by the time I’m back at my writing desk.

But you know what? It’s okay. You don’t need to have a perfect memory. Notice people and places and things that strike you, and think about how they make you feel. What emotions do they strike in you? What potential stories could be created from those feelings, and from those images you see? Use what’s around you, always.

5. I still pinch myself when I wake up of a morning. Who ever thought I’d be a children’s author — let alone a best-selling children’s author?

This quote fills me with such joy. It’s not the kind of quote you come across often from authors, and it always makes me happy to see an author say out loud what an amazing job they have. Jacques clearly loved what he did, writing dozens of wonderful fantasy books for children, and that kind of infectious glee should extend to each and every one of you, no matter what kind of writing you do.

Some of us get to wake up every day and work on our writing, which is always a splendid way to spend part of your day, but not all of us, unfortunately, get to be a best-selling author. Many of us have been at this for years, with little results. Some of us have written novel after novel for a decade, and gotten basically nowhere.

It all comes down to having that firm belief you can make it someday. If you love what you do, and you believe there’s an audience for your work, you’ll get to the place you want to be, even if it’s still far in the future. Whether that’s through traditional publishing or self-publishing. Whether that’s through fiction or non-fiction and everything in between.

Keep believing in yourself as much as you can… and maybe one of these days you’ll get to pinch yourself every morning, too.

Want to improve your skills as a writer and earn some income in the process?

Check out my new book How to Find Success on Medium.com: 100 Tips & Strategies to Make a Profit with Your Writing, now available in both ebook and paperback format on Amazon!

Posted in Grammar, Writing

Here’s One Easy Way to Improve Your Writing When You’re Editing

0213

When you’re editing your own writing, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, there’s a lot to look for.

Editing your own work can be tricky sometimes. When you’re so deep into the world of your story, sometimes it’s hard to look at the words and sentences themselves.

But ultimately it’s a part of writing you should learn to do well sooner rather than later. Especially if you don’t want to find yourself having to pay other editors thousands of dollars to get your work into proper, professional shape.

You want to make sure the pacing is solid and that your sentences flow. You want to make sure your grammar is up to par and that there aren’t any embarrassing typos anywhere.

One pass you take at your work during the editing process should be to look for all of these things. Go sentence by sentence and fix as many errors and awkward sentences or phrases as you can.

But I do believe there’s another pass you should take during the editing process that’s super easy and not very time-consuming that will make your writing shine its brightest in the long run.

You want to remove as many “ing” verbs from your writing as possible.

I didn’t learn this until recently, but it’s absolutely true. Your writing becomes so much stronger when you eliminate most or even all of the “ing” verbs from your manuscript.

Your writing becomes cleaner. It becomes more engaging. Sentences read better. It’s something you should start thinking about, for sure.

Let’s look at three examples and discuss why each sentence is better without the “ing” verb or verbs…

Larry is standing in the middle of the swamp.

Imagine this is the beginning of a short story. You’re intrigued why he’s in a swamp and also how he could be standing in the center of it. It’s not a bad idea to start a work of fiction here.

But look at how the sentence improves just by doing this…

Larry stands in the middle of the swamp.

See how much cleaner that is? You get the same idea across. You maintain the present tense. And you also eliminate a word in the process.

Now let’s look at an example with dialogue…

“Go make me dinner,” he said, pointing to the oven.

This example might read fine on first glance. Some of your readers might even be okay with it.

But I still think it can be improved by eliminating the “ing” verb.

He pointed to the oven and said, “Go make me dinner.”

Or…

“Go make me dinner,” he said and pointed to the oven.

If you really, really, really want him to say the line while he’s pointing at the oven, I would do this…

“Go make me dinner,” he said as he pointed to the oven.

Sometimes you might think there’s no other way for the sentence to work without the “ing” verb, but in almost every case you can find a better way to write the sentence, I’m telling you.

Finally let’s look at a more complicated example…

Pulling my chair forward and rolling my eyes, I ask my mother why she’s leaving town for so long.

Super awkward, right?

In this example we’re going beyond having “ing” verbs. Now we have verb modifiers that tell us something the character is doing before we get to the heart of what the character is really doing.

Now, one positive of that above example is that, yes, you can ask your mother that question while pulling your chair forward and rolling your eyes. You can do all three of those things at the same time, so in that regard, the sentence makes logical sense.

Unlike say, “Pulling my chair forward and turning on the television, I start cooking dinner.” See how that doesn’t makes no sense? You can’t do all three of those things at the same time (unless you have three hands, I suppose!).

Still, that above bolded example isn’t great. And it screams of amateur writing.

Look at how the example above improves by doing this…

I pull my chair forward, roll my eyes, then ask my mother why she needs to leave town for so long.

Now I would still change a few things about this example. “Roll my eyes” is a cliche, so I would cut that. And I would probably make that second part of the sentence a line of dialogue.

But again, see how much better that second example is? It’s easier to read. It flows well. Your reader will be thankful for a change like this one!

So take a little time to look for “ing” verbs before you send your work into the world.

Okay, okay, you don’t have to change every single one. You can leave the occasional “ing” verb in a sentence if you truly believe it sounds best that way.

I just looked through my latest novel manuscript, and I have a few “ing” verbs scattered here and there. But instead of having five or ten on any given page, I have one every twenty to thirty pages. Each use of an “ing” verb is so far apart from the previous one and the next one the reader will barely notice them.

What your reader will notice, however, is the constant use of “ing” verbs in each paragraph of your writing, especially when you use them as those awkward modifiers like in the third example above. You can get away with the occasional “is standing” but using them as modifiers at the beginning of a sentence will bring the level of your writing way, way down.

You want to improve your writing with each new project. And one easy way to do that is to at some point during the editing process eliminate most, if not all, of your “ing” verbs. You’ll be glad you did!

Want to improve your skills as a writer and earn some income in the process?

Check out my new book How to Find Success on Medium.com: 100 Tips & Strategies to Make a Profit with Your Writing, now available in both ebook and paperback format on Amazon!

Posted in Writing

6 Quotes by Shirley Jackson to Make You a Better Writer

0206

Shirley Jackson (1916–1965) was the author of such legendary classics as the novels The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as the iconic short story, “The Lottery.”

Here are six fantastic quotes from Ms. Jackson to inspire your writing!

1. I cannot find any patience for those people who believe that you start writing when you sit down at your desk and pick up your pen and finish writing when you put down your pen again; a writer is always writing, seeing everything through a thin mist of words, fitting swift little descriptions to everything he sees, always noticing.

Writing is something that truly happens at all times of the day. Shirley Jackson was right in that writing doesn’t begin and end at the writing desk. Yes, that’s where you put the words on the page. That’s by far the most important part. If you don’t do that part, nobody will ever know or read or hear your stories.

But writing goes far beyond the work you do on the page. You’re in a sense writing all throughout your day and night as long as you’re paying attention to the things happening around you. As long as you’re reading books and watching films and consuming stories. Listen to how people talk. Notice anything in your world out of the ordinary. Look at colors. Take note of the way children behave. Pay attention to everything and use it in your stories.

2. What I am trying to say is that with the small addition of the one element of fantasy, or unreality, or imagination, all the things that happen are fun to write about.

What I find so inspiring about fiction writing is that you can often take something that happened in your own life, something that might even be super dull, and then twist it into a super compelling story with just one small addition of fantasy or unreality or imagination, as Jackson talks about. That boring walk with your dogs can become a story of action and suspense with a single addition of a hole opening in the ground or an old woman with a shotgun standing at the edge of a cliff.

It can be anything you want! Stephen King often talks about the “what-if” factor when it comes to his stories and novels. Something will happen to him, and he’ll ask “what-if.” If you’re looking for ideas, always pay attention to the “what-if” factor as you go about your daily life. Sometimes an awesome idea is right there in front of you… you just need to add a single element of the imagination to turn it into something great.

3. The very nicest thing about being a writer is that you can afford to indulge yourself endlessly with oddness, and nobody can really do anything about it, as long as you keep writing and kind of using it up, as it were.

Ray Bradbury said something like, “keep on writing so reality can’t destroy you,” and I think about that quote all the time. It’s not the main reason I write so often, but it certainly plays a major factor in my life. Writing allows me the time and space and isolation I need to indulge endlessly with my oddness, to put all those crazy and weird thoughts in my head down on paper.

Writing is something you do alone with nobody looking over your shoulder. There’s nobody telling you what to write, or how to write that next chapter or story. You get to do what you want at the end of the day. That’s why it’s so important you write what makes you happy, what compels you, what you feel passionate and ecstatic about. Write what you love, and the writing will never feel like work ever.

4. Always, always, make the duller parts of your story work for you; the necessary passage of time, the necessary movement must not stop the story dead, but must move it forward.

Fiction writing is tricky especially when it comes to novel writing because there are often long passages of time that need to be covered… and you don’t want to cover them in ways that are dull and bland for your reader. No matter what genre you’re writing in, you don’t want dull scenes or chapters or even paragraphs that drag the story down, that give the reader an excuse to put your book away and possibly move onto someone else’s story.

Something to think about as you revise your fiction is how each part of the story moves it forward. Is that page or two you wrote that covers a necessary passage of time doing anything in particular for the story? If not, cut those two pages down to two sentences and then get on with it. Movies just cut from one scene to the next. You can do the same thing in your fiction writing! You don’t have to cover every single beat of your character’s summer. Feel free to move around more freely. Move the story forward always.

5. You will actually find that if you keep your story tight, with no swerving from the proper path, it will curl up quite naturally at the end, provided you stop when you have finished what you have to say.

Endings are tough. Endings can be frustrating. Sometimes you start your latest story thinking it’s going to end in a certain way, but then your story takes enough unexpected tangents to lead you to an ending you never could have expected. Sometimes it’s great when that happens. Sometimes it’s nice to be surprised. Other times you lose your way and find yourself with an ending that makes no sense, and it’s back to the drawing board to figure out what went wrong.

But Jackson is right in that as long as you keep your story tight, staying true to your original intentions and not straying from them, often the piece will curl up naturally at the end. I always start a new piece of fiction with a clear idea of how it starts and how it ends. The middle I’m always a little hazy on, but as long as you don’t swerve from the proper path too much, you’ll find the ending that makes sense. And by all means, stop when the story’s over. Don’t overstay your welcome.

6. So long as you write it away regularly nothing can really hurt you.

Oh, man, does this quote hit me hard. Because it’s so true. Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, whether you’re writing something for a mass audience or just for yourself, writing things away truly do make it so nothing can really hurt you. All those things you’re afraid of? All those things that happened in your past you wish you could do over again or take back?

You can write it all away. You can write the thing that happened to you and make it better. You can take those fears that paralyze you in real life and work your way through them on the page. Again, in fiction or non-fiction, it doesn’t matter. Writing is therapeutic for so many of us, and every time I’m having a bad day even just ten minutes of good writing can turn it all the way around.

So keep writing, won’t you? I know I will.

Want to take your writing to the next level?

Click here to find out about my Editorial Services.

Posted in Writing

How to Choose the Best POV in Your Fiction Writing

0205

There’s so much you have to think about before you begin a new fiction writing project.

You have to think about your characters, your setting, your tone, the market you’re writing for. You have to think about how you’re going to keep the work compelling and entertaining for your reader at all times.

You have to make a choice between present tense and past tense, which I talked about recently. You know what you also have to figure out? What Point-of-View to use.

Are you going to tell this story in first person (using I)? Or is third person going to suit the work better (using him or her)?

What about multiple points-of-view? Can we see the story from two or more characters? Why or why not?

These are all questions you need to ask yourself before you write a single word of the manuscript because making the wrong choice in this department is often a fatal mistake you can never recover from.

So what are the advantages and advantages of each? Let’s take a look…

1. First Person

Advantages

  • You end up spending so much time with your lead character that your readers develop tremendous empathy for them. First person helps build intimacy between your character and reader, too (often a reason why so many middle grade and young adult novels are written in first person).
  • You are never wrong in the first person. Since you’re seeing the events through one person’s eyes, what you’re seeing is the experience of that person and so there’s no wrong way to think or feel.
  • The choice for a first person point of view tells the reader whose story it is. The reader understands who to root for on page one.

Disadvantages

  • The big one — since the reader is seeing the story through only one pair of eyes, the reader can’t see different perspectives and be in different places than the protagonist.
  • It’s harder to develop the other characters of the story since you can only learn of them and see them through your protagonist.
  • The voice needs to match the main character’s personality. If, for example, you’re writing in the first person of a fifteen-year-old, you can’t write long passages of literary description because the fifteen-year-old probably wouldn’t think that way.

2. Third Person

Advantages:

  • It’s the most familiar of the point-of-view choices. When you’re in doubt, usually third person is the way to go.
  • You have more freedom as a writer (this is something my MFA advisor taught me about third person). The narrator (you, the author) and the protagonist are two different people. You can comment on your protagonist if you want rather than just see everything from the protagonist’s point of view.
  • Third Person is less claustrophobic in a sense because you’re not stuck in one person’s head the whole time. You can hop around to different places and be more free to experiment as a writer.

Disadvantages:

  • One problem with third person is that the characters are always at arm’s length. You might struggle helping your reader build empathy for the characters because of this. And if you focus on a lot of characters, your reader won’t know who to focus on.
  • It’s more difficult to have an unreliable narrator in third-person, since the writer would have to lie, not the actual character.
  • You also have to deal with clumsy pronouns. When writing a long scene with a ton of characters, it’s hard to keep track of every “he” and “she.”

3. Multiple POV

Advantages:

  • Of course the most obvious advantage is that using multiple POVs allows you to show the world and your story and all the other characters from more than one set of eyes.
  • Multiple POVs can create a wonderful level of richness and complexity to your writing and to the world of your story.
  • You constantly keep the readers on their toes and maintain something fresh and interesting in the narrative.
  • Going back and forth between characters can build suspense, too.

Disadvantages:

  • The main one? It’s not easy. In fact it’s really, really hard. Each POV character’s voice needs to be easily recognizable.
  • Your manuscript needs to have logical rules about when the POV shifts between characters occur (typically each chapter with a character heading) or the reader will be totally disoriented.
  • It is super difficult to establish deep emotional connections in multiple POV. If your reader only cares about some of your POV characters and not all of them, they might not fully engage with the story.

So which one do you choose?

You should go with the one that best serves the story you’re writing. Think about what you’re setting out to do. What you want to accomplish with your characters, your pacing, your theme, your voice. Which point-of-view would get all of that across the best?

I often tell writers who have no idea to go with third person, it’s the safe choice, and it’s one you can do the most creative work in.

First person is a solid choice for middle grade and young adult, but keep in mind the voice has to come through in a way that’s engaging and memorable.

Multiple POV is a choice you should only make if you’re ready for a challenge. You have to implement every strength you have as a writer, and you need a really strong reason for doing it.

Sometimes the choice is instinctual. Sometimes you just know. Other times you might have to write a chapter or two to see. Write a few scenes and then decide if you need to make a POV change.

Whatever point-of-view you end up choosing for your latest work, I wish you all the best!

Want to improve your skills as a writer and earn some income in the process?

Check out my new ebook How to Find Success on Medium.com: 100 Tips & Strategies to Make a Profit with Your Writing, now available on Amazon!

 

Posted in Writing

5 Quotes by Kazuo Ishiguro to Make You a Better Writer

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Kazuo Ishiguro (born in 1954) is the highly acclaimed author of the novels Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day.

Here are five wonderful quotes to ignite some inspiration for your writing today!

1. Don’t take on a creative project lightly.

This is such a great thing to remember about your creative projects, and it’s especially true of novels. When you embark on a novel project, it’s going to be a part of your life day in and day out for months, possibly years. The ones you’re truly passionate about you stick with through five drafts, ten drafts, but the ones you don’t care about as much that you jumped into prematurely? You might only complete two or three drafts before you move onto something else.

One of the worst things you can do as a writer is start a bunch of different projects and never finish them. That goes for finishing the first draft, and that goes for abandoning the project before you reached its true final draft. Don’t just start a project because it sounds fun. Start a project you’ve been thinking about for a long time, that you have a plan for, that you intend to stick with until you reach its logical endpoint.

2. ‘Write about what you know’ is the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard. It encourages people to write a dull autobiography. It’s the reverse of firing the imagination and potential of writers.

I completely agree with Ishiguro about this one. Although it can sometimes help your writing when you bring in elements from your own life, it’s not in your best interest to always write what you know. That gets boring after awhile. That will put your readers to sleep. Sure, you might be able to write one glorious novel that’s all what you know, but then what are you going to do for your second novel and your third?

The truth is you’ll never grow as a writer if you don’t think outside the box eventually and go somewhere new. You can’t just keep writing the same thing you’re familiar with and know a lot about over and over. You’ll get words down on the page, sure, but you won’t improve your skills. Fire the imagination and see where it takes you. Fail often if you must, it’s okay. Just don’t keep writing only the things you know.

3. I used to think in terms of characters, how to develop their eccentricities and quirks. Then I realized that it’s better to focus on their relationships instead, and then the characters develop naturally.

I’ve never heard this take on developing characters before and I kind of love it. Because he’s absolutely right — the relationships that develop between characters in your stories will bring across those eccentricities and quirks of the characters. You can spend all the time you want figuring out who your main character is and what they want and what’s going to keep them from what they want, but their voice on the page will best come through when you explore all the relationships that character engages in.

I actually find one of the greatest thrills of novel writing to be writing scenes between characters that don’t interact often in the story. Where you have Character A interacting with some characters over here and Character B interacting with other characters over there, and then eventually, often late in the novel, Character A and Character B meet for the first time and have an interaction. You get to explore a new relationship between characters you’ve been discovering and developing all throughout the manuscript, which is always exciting, both for you and for the reader.

Pay attention to the relationships first and foremost in your fiction writing. Your readers will engage with your characters often based on the relationships they partake in.

4. Emotions are very important to me in a novel.

Emotions are important to me, too, when it comes to novel writing, but they can be so tricky at times, am I right? Give your major characters too many emotions, and their reactions might ring false or sentimental. Don’t make your characters emotional enough and they might read as stiff or one-dimensional. You have to find the right balance as a writer, and you have to remember that any novel or short story you write that leaves your readers feeling nothing will often get you nowhere.

There needs to be emotion on the page often, and you need to also have your readers emotionally connected to the characters and the story. Sure, some stories are merely entertaining page-turners, but even the best of those kinds of stories have some heart and emotion, particularly by the end. It’s not enough to just entertain if you want to be successful as a writer. You need to take emotions seriously. You want to do everything you can to make your story come alive, and emotions will play a big role in that.

5. I’m against any kind of imagination police, whether they’re from marketing reasons or class snobbery.

As a writer you should be able to take your imagination to the limit. No matter what genre you write in, you should be ready and willing to never go the obvious route and to instead find stories and characters we haven’t seen a thousand times before. You want to be original and creative and groundbreaking as often as possible, and the way to do that is to stretch your imagination.

The problem with going to new and daring places is you will often find yourself pushing against the occasional imagination police. Your beta readers will question the imaginative choices you made. Your creative writing professor will say your story needs focus. Your literary agent will say, if you do this at the beginning or if you do this with your main character, the story won’t ever sell. You’re going to have a wall of imagination police at some point, I’m sad to say.

But here’s the deal — never compromise your vision. If people give you feedback for how to change your story for the better that you agree with, then fine. But don’t take a story or novel that could be something extraordinary and compromise it because a few select individuals feel you’re doing something too crazy or bold. Go with the bold. Lean into originality.

Keep pushing your limits as a writer, and there’s no telling how much you’ll be able to achieve.

Want to improve your skills as a writer and earn some income in the process?

Check out my new ebook How to Find Success on Medium.com: 100 Tips & Strategies to Make a Profit with Your Writing, now available on Amazon!