Writer’s Resource

Want to write a story, but never have enough to say? Take a look at this article.

I’ve noticed that I may have been somewhat…let’s say neglectful…of my blog as of late. What with all the college, book promoting, and a writing I’ve been doing lately I can’t say that I’m surprised it happened. Perhaps you’ll take this post-thanksgiving-post (hehe) as a small sort of apology.

CHARACTER ARCS – THE MEAT OF THE STORY

The number one thing that keeps people reading a book, and keeps the book interesting, is the characters. Their tragedies, their successes, their goals and hopes. As readers, we like to see characters change over the course of a novel. Perhaps in one novel it will be a hero learning to accept his responsibility, or in another it will be a young girl learning to overcome social stigma, but either way we yearn to see them become something they weren’t before. That, my friends, is the meat of a novel.

I am not in the mood for your irony, picture.

I am not in the mood for your irony, picture.

While I talk about character arcs and their place within a novel, I’m going to use Lord of the Rings as an example. Because Lord of the Rings is awesome. It seems to me that a lot of people think that Lord of the Rings is about a group of people trying to go to Mordor and destroy a ring. This is not the case. It is about a scared hobbit trying to find the courage to go to Mordor and destroy a ring.

That is a far more interesting plot than if Tolkien had kept strictly to the Mordor-ring-toss, because without an emotional character arc that the reader can relate to, it is hard to get invested in all the stabbing and death that the book talks about. It begins to seem like a string of unimportant names, instead of a full fledged fantasy world with characters that live and breathe.

“Now Alex,” you say. “I clicked on this post because it said that you were going to tell me how to find more to say when I’m writing.” Right you are, I did promise you that. When you’re writing, or when you’re reading, it may seem that a character-arc has run its course or that it has been going on for too long.

There's only so much Sad Frodo we can take, after all.

There’s only so much Sad Frodo we can take, after all.

What do you do then? End the story? Stop at the few pages that are blinking on the Microsoft Word document in front of you? Fear not. Lord of the Rings has shown you your answer, because if you were meant to stop writing after the first few pages, Lord of the Rings would not be ten-billion pages long.

The answer is more character arcs. In some cases, as many as you can fit in the book. If you look closely, Tolkien has a character arc for every single character in the Fellowship that goes to destroy the ring.

SPOILERS (for the 1% of the population who doesn’t know what happens in Lord of the Rings.)

Aragorn : at first the weary ranger, but he must learn to accept his royal blood and become king.

Boromir : at first the soldier who would use the ring as a weapon, but he eventually gives his life trying to destroy it.

Legolos and Gimli : An elf and a dwarf who hate each other at the beginning of the books, grow to be close friends by the series’ end.

Gandalf : A wandering wizard, whose near-death experience on the journey changes him into the great leader he was meant to be.

That’s crazy! I’ve left out all the hobbits of the Fellowship, simply for the sake of brevity. So if you’re looking for more to write about, and you’ve exhausted your main character of their story, think about creating more elaborate emotional journeys for each member of your cast to go through. By giving them interesting character arcs – you extend your story, and stop them from being 2D.

M - "I'm insulted." A - "Shut up, Mario."

M – “I’m insulted.”
A – “Shut up, 8-bit Mario.”

Villains are Overrated

You know the structure of the average book plot. Hero discovers Villain, a journey ensues – preparing the Hero for the climactic confrontation, and the Hero and the Villain meet.

It happens in every genre. It doesn’t matter what role the hero is currently taking on. An FBI Agent has his final confrontation with the Serial Killer, a Viking completes his hero’s journey against the realm’s Oppressive King, and a Space Marine never backs down from his duty to destroy Alien Bugs. I suppose they could be mix-and-matched if you read some out-there books.

"Stand together my viking brothers! The alien hivemind will soon be upon us!"

“Stand together my viking brothers! The alien bug monsters will soon be upon us!”

The Hero has some highs and some low, things may take a turn for the worst, but we all know that the Hero eventually overtakes the Villain.

So why do people stick to that format? Let’s change it up.

Writing can be so much more exciting when the Villain doesn’t exist – and I don’t mean that the Villain is sympathetic. Let me explain myself. In many books, the Villain is made to be “sympathetic” by giving them a tragic backstory or trying to explain their irrational hatred against the Hero. Doing so, however, doesn’t change the Hero’s Journey at all, the Villain is still the Villain. Instead, why not try writing so that every character’s actions seems completely rational from their point of view. No character is innately ‘good’ and no character is innately ‘bad’, the reader is finally allowed to decide who they want to root for – and with no defined Hero to fight an obvious Villain – they don’t know exactly how it will end.

Skullface, Lord of the Dead : "I probably don't get to be in the story anymore, do I?"

Skullface, Lord of the Dead : “I probably don’t get to be in the story anymore, do I?”

No Skullface, nor do any other villains who want to “rule the world”, “destroy good”, or “achieve infinite power”. They go to mental asylums because their psychological disorders were recognized early on and they were never allowed anywhere near politics.

So try something new, introduce a cast of characters where the moral high-ground is unclear. I promise, it’s a lot of fun to read.

 

Abandon All Hope…Or Most of it Anyway.

Are you a traumatic writer? Does your writing seem, at times, as though it is an experiment as to how much terrible sad content an author can compress into a single book?

Don’t worry, there is a way to get more people to read your book – instead of putting it down when they feel as though they are being emotionally dragged-through-the-mud. The answer is occasional dark comedy.

The Art of Dark Comedy

There are two aspects to dark comedy. It does not break the dark atmosphere of the story, because the jokes are perverse – and the jokes are perverse because they are funny. We’ll start with the first part of that statement and then move on to the second.

1. If the topic of the joke is morbid, it doesn’t ruin the dark nature of the story. In fact, by being so morbid, it makes the events of the story seem more commonplace and therefore casts the world as a darker place than it would be without it.

2. The jokes are funny, because the punchline is not something we would laugh at in real life. Without the tension and the story set-up, the joke would be in poor taste.

Example?

A famous boxer is shot twice in the skull. The local detective walks up and lowers his sunglasses.

"Talk about giving somebody the old one-two."

“Looks like somebody got the old one-two.”

It makes you laugh because its not something that should be laughed about, but it also doesn’t break the atmosphere because its not something that should be laughed about. Two birds with one stone! – he lowered his glasses to look at the pair of victims. Cause of death? Laced marijuana.

Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

Dark comedy can do a lot to help a grungy story, breaking up the monotony of continual dark storytelling. Don’t be afraid to use it, after all, it doesn’t ruin the atmosphere – it only makes it seem a little grittier.

Would a Real Person Say That?

It has been awhile since a spoke about dialogue, so I thought I’d take some time and do it today.

In the past, I’ve gone over different approaches an author can take to craft the character’s speech in their novels. This does not guarantee that the dialogue will be good dialogue. The two things that should be done both revolve around making sure that the dialogue sounds like something a real person would say.

First, is the character saying something simply to give backstory to the reader? Yes? Then cut that out.

 

Try to avoid this seemingly obvious method for delivering story details – unless it is done in a situation where the characters would actually be talking about the backstory. I assure you that most people don’t forget about deaths-in-the-family, and they certainly don’t want to talk about it out of the blue.

Christ, random-minor-character-named-Jon, have some tact.

Please don’t let your characters over-share.

 

Many characters in books seem willing to talk about anything. Their insecurity in their future? Check. Their nearly stalkerish  romantic interest? Check. Evil inside of them? Check. Overwhelming fear? Let’s talk!

I challenge you to make an acquaintance of two or three days and ask them one of those questions. If they don’t raise their eyebrow and make a hasty retreat, feel free to write me and I’ll edit the post.

 

So there you go, two methods to quality-check your dialogue. Though the examples may be a bit outlandish, I assure you that an innumerable number of writers (like me) are guilty of these writing sins. Don’t be one of them!

How Do I Avoid Writer’s Fatigue?

You know the feeling – Eyes are raw and watery, maybe you find yourself blinking a little too heavily. Instead of writing, you’re actually typing random garbled strings of letters into the Word Document. You’re fatigued.

Writers get tired. Its a fact of life. After all, they’re not super-human and (if we’re sure of anything) writers get far less sleep than the average person. I was recently told by an author friend that, to stay alert, they drink five cups of coffee a day.

FIVE.

FIVE.

That’s just downright unhealthy.

Not to worry, though! There are other ways of tackling the fatigue that writer’s feel. Much of the time, for me, the fatigue is not born out of too much time awake, but instead out of too much time in front of the screen. By finding new ways and places to get my ideas recorded, I can avoid the headache and fatigue altogether. Give the following methods a shot – it may just work for you.

  • Use a Notebook

And no, I don’t mean a Macbook or a Chromebook. How about a good old fashion spiral? I know a lot of authors who hate writing by hand – only at the keyboard of their familiar laptop can they be at home and comfortable. But you know the great thing about spiral notebooks? They’re not backlit. Notebooks don’t strain your eyes and they give you a break from the ‘glow’ of the modern writing world.

  • Write in the Outdoors

Getting out of the apartment and absorbing the afternoon sun is a liberating experience. It’ll make you happier, more energetic, and ease some of the strain your eyes have had from the constant low-light of the indoors. I’m fairly sure there is even scientific support for this, like sun rays increase the production of serotonin and stuff.

Which brings me to this blog’s similarity to Fox News.

We both don't like to be fact checked.

In that we both don’t like to be fact checked.

  • Take a Shower

Showering can provide a lot of help to the weary writer. The flood of water can invigorate the eyes and stop the raw dry sensation. Its like using eyedrops, without the lingering feeling : if you’re using eyedrops to continue looking at a screen – you should probably find something new to do.

I hope some of those help you! Don’t hesitate to leave a reply at the bottom of the page. I’d love to hear from you.

Careful Not to Fall into this Writing Pitfall

Today I’m going to talk about one of the best known beginner’s writing errors – but don’t worry – since the error has been covered to death, I will actually be speaking about the not-as-well-known pitfall that an author can succumb to while trying to fix said error.

First off, I’ll need to quickly describe the most famous error among the writing community.

  1. An author should strive to avoid starting sentences in the same manner repeatedly – i.e. “He did this. He did that.” There are a few cases where doing so is acceptable, moments where the author is using the monotonous phrases to establish a monotonous tone, but these should really be few and far between.

This is the error you’ve all heard of. The real trouble is not causing more problems in trying to avoid this one.

Its like hiring this child to fix your parking brakes. You better hope he really knew what he was doing before you take it over 50.

Its like hiring this child to fix your parking brakes. You better hope he really knew what he was doing before you take it over 50.

The problem in question has a lot of the same theoretical issues as using “He” or “She” at the beginning of every sentence, but it is a lot easier to miss. Sometimes writers can get into a pattern of sentence structures. In my writing, it’d look like this.

James pulled the trigger on his weapon. In the moment between the bullet erupting from the pistol and Frank Depen crumpling to the floor, James knew that what he had done was wrong. A solid weight dropped in his stomach, mimicking the Frank Depen’s body. James walked over to the bloodied man. There was little to be done and even less that James wanted to do, this was still the man that had killed his wife. A little sound began to grow from outside, the blare of police sirens.

This may seem like it has a variety of sentence structures, but I will attempt to show what is the real problem with the selection. I’m still using repetition, but the repetition is done through repeating a small collection of sentence structures on a loop. I’ve represented each unique sentence structure in the previous scene as a letter below.

A – B – C – A – B – C.

I still used only three different sentence structures, and what’s worse is that I used them in the exact same order – as though I was on a loop. Using this method to avoid repeating the basic “He did – She did” is not any better than the error you are trying to fix. It is the repetition of the sentences that bores the reader, even if that repetition is spread out over an entire paragraph. If you feel as though you have written something monotonous, and can’t pinpoint why, try skimming to see if this has happened to you.

Please. Like THE GREAT WRITERS of the world would have such problems, Alex.

Please. Like THE GREAT WRITERS of the world would have such problems, Alex.

And that’s fine too. But if you have any thoughts on this – or just want to say that this has happened to you, don’t hesitate to post a reply below!

It’s Not Your Fault You Can’t Write. Get Some Sleep.

I was having a conversation about weary writing with a fellow author the other day. Weary writing – the process of writing while tired. We have different styles, this writer and I, when it comes to the way we write our books. She likes to let the book develop itself, an organic project that has only the loosest of guidelines. I, on the other hand, structure my book chapter by chapter before I get past Part 1. While we both agreed that writing weary causes us to feel low about our writing skill, we had different ways to identify when exactly we were too tired to write.

I know that we aren’t the only writers out there who don’t always know when to call it a night, so I figured I’d put this writer’s resource up on my writer’s resource blog.

Oh come on, surprised dog. It wasn't that surprising.

Oh come on, surprised dog. It wasn’t that surprising.

For those of you who write like a river, an ever flowing organic story that has a mind of its own, read Method A. For those of you who write like architecture, a fully blueprinted project every step of the way, read Method 1 (What? I’m not about to call it Method B and say that either of your methods is better than the other – think of the hate mail!).

I’ve got individual advice for the both of you.

Method A

The way my author friend puts it, is this : She knows that she is tired when her character begin to misbehave. Since she relies on her protagonists to build the story around themselves, it becomes clear that she has lost influence in her writing when they start doing things that are completely out-of-character or surprising. If you find your main character spontaneously walking out of rooms or stabbing the backup cast – probably just head for the pillow.

Method B

For those of you who like to plan, you’re like me – and I have the perfect advice. You will all notice this happen if you write too deep into the night – a tendency for your writing to become more and more brief. Soon it will grow to a point where each line is simply an action. Let me give you an example.

Dan looked up toward the hallway and saw a shaded figure.

The figure rushed toward him.

This doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer with no flavor, it just means you’re tired. You’ve planned the whole book, and in your weariness your mind has decided it wants to get on with it. Its hurtling as quickly as possible through the blueprint you’ve laid out. Grab a nap, then try again in the morning.

I hope this can help some writers, especially the ones surfing the internet at 3 AM – in doubt of their writing ability.

Good luck all of you, and sleep well.

“Cliffhangering Yourself” – A Tip on How to Avoid Writer’s Block

Yes, I realize that cliffhangering yourself sounds like a very terrible morbid activity. Yes, I still refuse to change my made up name for it.

Sometimes a writer faces the most problematic issue they can face – that is – writer’s block. They scroll to the end of the Microsoft Word document, past pages and pages of text, reach the blinking cursor, and they find that they don’t have a single thing to say. This phenomenon is the writer’s kryptonite.

Superman : "Look, I know writer's block is bad. I'm just saying your metaphor is a little tasteless."

Superman : “Look, I know writer’s block is bad. I’m just saying your metaphor is a little tasteless.”

There are many suggestions on how to beat writer’s block after you find yourself in its hold. You could even check out the free ebook that I published on such a topic. This post won’t even be broaching that.

This post will show you one of the methods I use to avoid ever even suffering from writer’s block in the first place. Its a writer’s block vaccine.

Whenever you’re writing for long periods of time, its tempting to stop at a point where you feel that plot devices are neatly wrapped up. You want to stop writing when the hero is finally safe for the night, or when the mystery character has revealed himself and ended the tension. Cliffhangering yourself is just the opposite of this. Stop writing when the tension is at its height.

Please. Like if you keep calling it that it'll catch on.

Please. Like if you keep calling it that it’ll catch on.

Readers like cliffhangers because they are exciting. They make you feel as though the next big event in the book is just a page turn away. Best of all, though, is the fact that cliffhangers can keep you reading. As an author, you can make yourself similarly excited about the prospect of writing your book. By stopping right before the climactic events of your novel – the climactic hero’s battle, or the moment that the romance interest declares his love – you can keep yourself excited to get back to it and continue writing your book. When you return to the Word document, you won’t think “God I have to drudge through a low-excitement scene that I haven’t thought through yet.” Instead you’ll think, “Yes! Time to crank out my favorite exciting scene!”

It may be bothersome to stop writing at the high points of your book, but trust me, you’ll thank yourself every time you reopen the Document. Its a fool proof tactic that hasn’t let me down yet.

Used this tactic before? Have any thoughts on it? Why don’t you leave a reply below?

Literary Villains Are Coming For the Ones You Love!

I am of course talking about the strange fixation that villains have on murdering the loved ones, trusted cohorts, and mentors of the story’s hero – instead of just killing the hero.

Well except for Goldfinger.

"No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!"

“No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”

He was a bit ‘on the nose’ about it.

Nonetheless, it does seem to be the prevailing trend to have villains kill off side characters. Today we are going to talk first about why that happens, and then we are going to talk about some ways that the same literary goals can be accomplished – while not following into the same old ‘kill the best friend’ rut.

So why do the villains attack the backup cast?

Many authors find that the hero of the book is too hard to hurt, especially if they want to maintain the integrity of the story line. They need to hurt him or her in a way that the hero can come back from (so that the hero can actually reach the end of the book) – hurting the hero emotionally seems like the best choice. Besides, loss is something that everyone understands right? We know what it feels like to lose someone you love or be kept from something that we want desperately. Its a universal emotion.

What it really is, however, is a cop out.

"Well screw you too, blog author."

“Well screw you too, blog author.”

Please, villains, I’m not bashing your style. I’m only suggesting some variety. I’ve put together three great plot drivers, below – perfect for that push or emotional development that your main character may need.

  • The main character is actually injured in some manner.

Physical wounds are so incredibly novel in books and movies, that the reader will stop for a moment and say – “Wow, this book is so realistic. I’m impressed.” Have the main character overcome his wound through several weeks of anger and self-doubt. I  promise, it will be interesting to read.

  • Someone can die, but maybe its someone that the hero doesn’t care about.

Explore, then, the moral implications of that. What if the hero begins to worry about how he’s changed, if can’t even feel regret over a lost life. Maybe he begins to worry that he won’t seem like the hero in all of it, when he returns back to his family.

  • Don’t demoralize the hero, demoralize the friend.

Killing the hero’s cohort usually shakes their confidence, but instead imagine what would happen if the reliable cohort’s faith wavers. The hero could be destroyed. They would doubt their adventure, or become enraged into action, whichever was required of them in the story.

So there you go, a few alternatives to cliche. I hope they offer you some new tools when you’re writing – and that you come back here to find more! As it turns out, it seems that my vote counter on last week’s Blood Red Sun post has been broken this entire time. I only managed to fix it yesterday. If you want your vote counted in the series, don’t hesitated to click the link and make yourself heard!

That’s it for now! I’ll see you all on Friday.

Ink and Inspiration is Alive!

As I’m sure many of you can see, the blog has undergone a major overhaul.

Don’t worry, I didn’t just get bored of how it looks – I’ve got some real reasons for this.

The blog has taken on a new name and focus, Ink and Inspiration, to represent its goal and use up to this point. Its a writer’s resource, where writers can come explore their craft – and readers can come explore the writing process.

If you want to know more about Ink and Inspirations new schedule, head over to the ‘What is Ink and Inspiration?‘ tab.

I want YOU... To shut up and continue the blog post.

I want YOU…
To shut up and continue the blog post.

Alright – Fine. As it stands, Monday is now taken over by the Musing on Mondays post. Here is your prompt for the day, let me know if it lends you any literary inspiration before the work day is up!

“A man is on a walk in the neighborhood of his green grass condominium. He spends some time walking along the black pavement roads, past a couple with a dog, and happens to glance down a dip in the terrain. At the bottom? A pond.

Its the figure beside the pond, however, the draws his attention. They are darkened, and he can’t quite make them out, but he can tell they are staring intently at the water. Their mood and intention is unknown. After a moment, the walking man continues on – soon the figure would be a passing memory.”

Don’t forget to leave a reply if it strikes your fancy.