The other day my mother and I went to see Maleficent. In spite of not knowing much about the film going in, she and I both thoroughly enjoyed it. From the cinematography to the makeup to the characters themselves, everything was wonderful.
What captured my attention most of all was Maleficent.
Because she was portrayed as a sympathetic character rather than a one-dimensional villain.
I’ll refrain from spoiling as much as I can. All you need to know is that in this version of the classic tale, we get much more of Maleficent’s backstory. We see her as a young faerie and learn about the events that have hardened her heart. It is easier for us to understand her (otherwise questionable) actions because we know her past experiences and have a better sense of her wants and motivations.
Most importantly, Maleficent is dynamic. At the end of the film, she is a different woman than she is toward the beginning. Once again, I don’t want to spoil, so that’s all I’m going to say about that.
Maleficent was delightful, refreshing, and entertaining. While watching the film, I also learned a great deal about writing likable and three-dimensional villains. Whenever you want to add depth to your baddies, make sure they have a backstory, clear motive for what they do, and some kind of arc.
If the villain hasn’t been changed by the events of the story, then what is the point for the story at all?
Have you seen the movie? What did you think? What do you think is the key to creating quality villains?
Every writer understands the importance of creating believable characters. Story revolves around people–therefore, characters are arguably more important than plot. Whether you’re writing a novel, short story, memoir, or personal essay, it’s vital that you make your actors as three-dimensional as possible. Consider the following four “A”s of characterization:
1. Actions. What risks has the character taken in the past? How has he or she treated family and friends? What about enemies? What hobbies does he or she enjoy? What has your character done? What is he or she doing in the story?
2. Attitudes. How does the character feel about gay marriage, abortion, religion, and other hot-button issues? What are your characters’ views on the world?
3. Artifacts. What are your characters’ prized possessions? What shelter do they have? What cars do they drive? What’s the first thing they’d save in the event of a fire?
4. Accounts. What are some noteworthy anecdotes about these characters? What do other people have to say about them? What rumors have been circulated?
This is a rough list of just a few questions you can use to generate information for your four A’s. If you want better characters, give this system a try. And good luck.
What do you think of this system? How do you like to flesh out your characters?
Click to tweet: Want fully-formed characters? @thecollegenov has some tips. http://wp.me/p2FPLe-EH
I love Pinterest for visual inspiration, but I saw something on there the other day that made me angry. I was searching through the “writing” tag, and saw a graphic with alternative to “said.” This list included words like “screamed,” “called,” “shouted,” “whispered,” and several others.
At the top of the graphic were the words, “SAID IS DEAD.”
And I got frustrated.
I don’t know what other people have told you, but to me, there is nothing more distracting when I’m reading a piece than seeing a dialogue tag other than “said.” It calls too much attention to itself. As a writer, you want your dialogue to stand out more than your attributive tags. You want the reader to skip right over them.
That’s why “said” is perfect.
It waits in the wings, sneaks onstage wearing all black, and does some heavy lifting without intruding. It’s the stage hand of the written word. Why in the world would you want to kill that?
As Stephen King writes, “All I ask is that you do as well as you can, and remember that, while to write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is divine.”
Don’t even get me started on adverbs.
How do you feel about using tags other than said?
Click to tweet: Why @thecollegenov thinks said isn’t dead. http://wp.me/p2FPLe-Er
I’ve read and reviewed plenty of books in my time. Some of these books have been written by individuals that I have not known personally (the vast majority. in fact). However, some of these books have been written by friends or colleagues with whom I am well-acquainted. When reviewing these books, I have to be careful to stay objective. I usually pretend that the book I’m reviewing was written by someone else entirely, someone that I don’t know, in order to give the review the emotional distance it deserves.
And if the book is bad (oh, God forbid it), then I lie. When my friend or neighbor or loved one asks me what I thought about the book, I spit half-truths through gritted teeth. This approach takes a great deal of energy and usually results in me feeling exhausted and unfulfilled by the conversation.
When it comes to Oleanders in Alaska by Matt Thompson, though, I’m happy to say that I do not have to lie. This book is fantastic. Let’s talk about it.
Here’s the book description from Amazon.com: “Not all lives seem connected, but when a storm hits in St. Laurent’s, Alaska, the lives of many are thrown together. They find that their lives weren’t really so far apart to begin with, but quite the opposite.”
Throughout the novel, the people of St. Laurent’s, Alaska interact and develop relationships with one another. Thompson handles their backstories with a masterful touch, revealing details only when they are relevant to the present action. Although the novel is short, it contains a great deal of emotional and psychological depth and character growth. The prose in and of itself is an absolute delight.
Thompson’s latest novel is a treat. Oleanders in Alaska presents the struggles, triumphs, and journeys of the citizens of a small Alaskan town. It is a pleasure to read and even more so to review. If you love literary fiction, you should consider this novel your next must-read.
Want me to review your book? Email me or leave a comment!
Author’s Note: This is an excerpt from the short story I read for my senior capstone presentation. If you’re interested in reading more of my work, feel free to contact me.
The therapist’s office was a stuffy, wood-paneled room with beige carpet, tall windows, and mahogany furniture. There were golden curtains on the windows. The room was furnished with four chairs, a desk, a bookcase, and a potted plant. The room reminded Sheila of her gynecologist’s office, though she wasn’t sure why.
“I’ve heard of you two,” said the therapist, a blonde woman who could’ve been a model were it not for her height. “Then again, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t. I’m surprised you’re just now seeking therapy for what you both went through.”
Sheila twisted the white gold band on her left ring finger. Although Dirk had taken his ring off, she wanted to keep hers on. She felt naked without it. She’d grown accustomed to its weight. “This isn’t about the island. It’s about an affair.”
Dirk scratched his red stubble. “It’s about our whole marriage.”
“I see,” said the therapist. She scribbled something on her yellow legal pad and tapped her pen against her nose. She could be pretty, Sheila thought, if only she did something about her weight and her nose.
“A week ago I found him having sex with someone else.” Sheila pulled her hair into a ponytail. She had to keep her hands busy so she wouldn’t bite her cuticles. She’d made them bleed that morning. Her fingertips were covered with polka-dot Band-Aids. “We’ve only been back for two months. How could this have happened so quickly?”
“Did you ask him about it?” the therapist asked.
Sheila felt like smacking her. “Of course I asked him about it. He’s my husband, isn’t he? Why wouldn’t I have asked him?”
“Hey,” said Dirk, bumping Sheila’s knee with his, “do you need to get some air?”
Sheila realized that her nails were digging into her thighs. She stood and smoothed her skirt. “I’d like a drink of water.”
While she watched the therapist pour her a glass from the pitcher, Sheila thought about water. She remembered how much they’d come to value water on the island. She remembered the first few days, lying spread-eagle on the sand with the sun beating down, begging for Dirk to kill her, please, so she wouldn’t die of thirst. She remembered him asking her when. He’d wanted her to be certain when she wanted to go.
In the present, the therapist handed Sheila the glass of water. Sheila sat back down. She chugged the water without stopping and drained the entire glass. Dirk took the empty cup from her and set it on the table in front of them. Sheila wondered if he remembered the water. She wondered if he remembered how it felt to be so thirsty, so bone-dry-as-the-desert inside of his cells.
“Sheila,” said the therapist, “when did you notice that something was amiss?”
Amiss, she said, like their marriage was a painting hanging crooked on the wall. Sheila stared at the glass on the table. She’d always known that she and Dirk were destined for divorce. As high school sweethearts, their chances of growing old together were slim. Both of them had known that going into the marriage. Still, they’d decided to make it work. If Sheila closed her eyes, she could still feel the way her wedding dress hugged her. She remembered the first affair. She remembered the second. Back in the present, her stomach lurched.
“We were doing all right until I cheated,” said Dirk. There was no need for him to elaborate. The therapist had their file. She knew about the affairs. What she didn’t know, thought Sheila, was how their time on the island had almost repaired them. She didn’t know that the day they’d found water had been the first time they’d made love in months. She had no idea that Sheila was pregnant again. She didn’t know that, and she most likely never would.
“Sheila,” said Dirk, “are you sure you’re all right?”
That concludes the excerpt. What did you think?
Music and creativity are inexplicably linked. Both stimulate the brain, trigger emotions, and inspire people all over the world. A writing tip I discovered lately is to listen to music while you write. Compiling a writing playlist can help you get more writing done by putting you in the mood to put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper. William Shakespeare wrote, “If music be the food of love, play on.” Good ol’ Willy Shakes. He knew what was up.
My favorite resource for creating playlists is Grooveshark. It’s easy to use and has an attractive interface and a massive collection of songs and artists. They have every song that I’ve ever looked up. For the sake of this post, I’ll show you what the playlist for my latest novel looks like.
In this playlist, each one of the songs relates to the tone, characters, setting, or theme of the novel in some way. I have this music on in the background when I’m working on my novel. It helps me get into the writing zone, so to speak, so that I can make some serious progress.
What do you think? What kind of music do you listen to when you write?
Today’s post comes from Daniel Scocco at Daily Writing Tips. You can find the article in context here. I highly recommend that everyone have a look at this awesome resource.
A couple of weeks ago we asked our readers to share their writing tips. The response was far beyond the initial expectations, and the quality of the tips included was amazing. Thanks for everyone who contributed.
Now, without further delay, the 34 writing tips that will make you a better writer!
Pay attention to punctuation, especially to the correct use of commas and periods. These two punctuation marks regulate the flow of your thoughts, and they can make your text confusing even if the words are clear.
Participate in NaNoWriMo, which challenges you to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. I noticed that my writing has definitely improved over the course of the book — and it’s not even finished yet.
3. Bill Harper
Try not to edit while you’re creating your first draft. Creating and editing are two separate processes using different sides of the brain, and if you try doing both at once you’ll lose. Make a deal with your internal editor that it will get the chance to rip your piece to shreds; it will just need to wait some time.
A really nice trick is to switch off your monitor when you’re typing. You can’t edit what you can’t see.
In a sentence: write daily for 30 minutes minimum! It’s easy to notice the difference in a short time. Suddenly, ideas come to you and you think of other things to write. You experiment with styles and voices and words and the language becomes more familiar…
5. Ane Mulligan
Learn the rules of good writing… then learn when and how to break them.
6. Pete Bollini
I sometimes write out 8 to 10 pages from the book of my favorite writer… in longhand. This helps me to get started and swing into the style I wish to write in.
7. Nilima Bhadbhade
Be a good reader first.
8. Douglas Davis
While spell-checking programs serve as a good tool, they should not be relied
upon to detect all mistakes. Regardless of the length of the article, always read and review what you have written.
Learn to take criticism and seek it out at every opportunity. Don’t get upset even if you think the criticism is harsh, don’t be offended even if you think it’s wrong, and always thank those who take the time to offer it.
10. John England
Right click on a word to use the thesaurus. Do it again on the new word and make the best use of your vocabulary.
11. Lillie Ammann
After editing the work on screen or in print, I like to read the text aloud. Awkward sentences and errors that slipped through earlier edits show up readily when reading out loud.
12. H Devaraja Rao
Avoid wordiness. Professor Strunk put it well: “a sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”
Write as if you’re on deadline and have 500 words to make your point. Then do it again. And again.
Sometimes I type in a large font to have the words and sentences bold before me.
Sometimes, in the middle of a document I will start a new topic on a fresh sheet to have that clean feeling. Then, I’ll cut and insert it into the larger document.
I wait until my paper is done before I examine my word usage and vocabulary choices. (And reading this column it has reminded me that no two words are ever exactly alike.) So at the end, I take time to examine my choice of words. I have a lot of fun selecting the exact words to pinpoint my thoughts or points.
15. Amit Goyal
To be a good writer is to start writing everyday. As Mark Twain said, “the secret of getting ahead is getting started.”
Try using new words. i.e avoid repeating words. this way we learn the usage of different words.
Do edit your previous articles.
Start with small paragraphs like writing an article for a Newspaper, and proceed from there.
16. John Dodds
Remove as many adjectives as possible. Read Jack Finney’s tale, Cousin Len’s Wonderful Adjective Cellar for a fantastical tale about how a hack becomes a successful author with the help of a magical salt cellar that removes adjectives from his work.
17. John Ireland
I set my writing aside and edit a day or two later with the aim of making it terse. It has trained me to be more conscious of brevity when writing for immediate distribution.
Try to write in simple way. Express your views with most appropriate words.
Read great writers for inspiration. If you read them enough, their excellent writing style will rub off onto your dazzling blog.
YOU ARE what you read (and write!).
I watch my action tense and wordiness in sentences when I am writing my technical diddley.
For example, in a sentence where you say …”you will have to…” I replace it with “…you must…”, or “Click on the Go button to…” can be replaced with “Click Go to…”.
Think of words such as “enables”, instead of “allows you to” or “helps you to”.
If one word will work where three are, replace it! I always find these, where I slip into conversational as I am writing quickly, then go back and purge, purge, purge.
21. Akhil Tandulwadikar
Don’t shy away from adopting the good habits that other writers use.
Do not worry about the length of the article as long as it conveys the point. Of course, the fewer words you use, the better.
Start the article with a short sentence, not more than 8 words.
22. Julie Martinenza
Instead of adding tags (he said/she said) to every bit of dialogue, learn to identify the speaker by showing him/her in action. Example: “Pass that sweet-smelling turkey this way.” With knife in one hand and fork in the other, Sam looked eager to pounce.
23. Aaron Stroud
Write often and to completion by following a realistic writing schedule.
24. Joanna Young
One that works for me every time is to focus on the positive intention behind my writing. What is it that I want to communicate, express, convey? By focusing on that, by getting into the state that I’m trying to express, I find that I stop worrying about the words – just let them tumble out of their own accord.
It’s a great strategy for beating writer’s block, or overcoming anxiety about a particular piece of writing, whether that’s composing a formal business letter, writing a piece from the heart, or guest blogging somewhere ‘big’…
25. Shelley Rodrigo
Use others writer’s sentences and paragraphs as models and then emulate the syntactic structure with your own content. I’ve learned more about grammar and punctuation that way.
Avoid long sentences.
27. Mike Feeney
Learn the difference between me, myself and I. For example: “Contact Bob or myself if you have any questions.” I hear this very often!
28. Richard Scott
When doing a long project, a novel, for instance, shut off your internal editor and just write.
Think of your first draft as a complex outline waiting to be expanded upon, and let the words flow.
Careful with unnecessary expressions. “At this point in time” came along during the Nixon congressional hearings. Too bad it didn’t go out with him. What about “on a daily basis?”
30. E. I. Sanchez
For large documents, I use Word’s Speech feature to have the computer read the article back. This allows me to catch errors I have missed – especially missing words or words that ’sort of sound the same’ but are spelled differently (e.g. Front me instead of ‘From me’).
Either read the book “Writing Tools 50 Strategies for Every Writer”, by Roy Peter Clark, or read the Fifty Writing Tools: Quick List on his blog. Then join a writing group, or hire a writing coach.
Write the first draft spontaneously. Switch off your internal editor until it is time to review your first draft.
If you’re writing fiction, it’s a great idea to have a plot. It will coordinate your thoughts and add consistency to the text.
Edit your older articles and pieces. You will notice that great part of it will be crap, and it will allow you to refine your style and avoid mistakes that you used to make.
After reading this article, I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of many of these tips. I plan to implement Bill Harper, Jacinta, Pete Bollini, Lillie Ammann, and Caroline’s suggestions.
What do you think about these tips?
I found this post a few days ago that really resonated with me. For the past month or so, I haven’t been writing every day — shocking, I know. But I am human. If you, like me, have been neglecting your daily writing routine, here are some tips that will help you start writing again.
More than two weeks ago, I finished up a one-act play–I did the final edit, hit the deadline, then heartily congratulated myself.
In the days leading up to the deadline, I was writing 3+ hours each day in order to get the thing done (yes, I procrastinated a bit). Once the piece was complete, a short reprieve from writing seemed to be in order. My current internship started the following day, and now that few days has grown into nearly 3 weeks. Not cool.
For me, writing is a lot like exercise. When I’m writing most days of the week, and making progress toward my goals, I feel great. When I skip days–or weeks–I grow grumpy and lethargic. Everything is terrible and I don’t know why. By the time I figure out that my lack of exercise is causing my terrible mood, I’ve usually reached the point where I’ve lost all motivation to write ever again. It is only through a combination of guilt and restlessness that I finally put on my sneakers and go for a run.
The first days getting back into a routine are rough but necessary. Here are some things I do to create momentum in my writing life.
- Forgive yourself. Writerly guilt got you sitting at the desk; now forget about it so that you can immerse yourself in your story’s world. Otherwise, your session will be plagued by the conviction that your writing is shit and so are you.
- Set a concrete, measurable goal. ”Write.” is not concrete enough to put on your to-do list. Give yourself a word or page count goal (“I won’t get up from this chair until I’ve written 1,000 words.”), or tell yourself that you’ll write for the next hour.
- Schedule it. If you decided on a time goal, fit that block of time into your calendar, and write it down. Don’t schedule anything else during that time.
- Write somewhere else. Writing somewhere you usually don’t can be an easy fix when a blank page seems daunting. This could mean finding a park bench or coffee shop on the opposite side of the city, or it could be as simple as moving to the couch if you usually sit at a desk.
- Write sometime else. If you usually write before bed, try waking up early. Make yourself a cup of coffee and write as the sun rises. If you’re a morning writer, sleep in one morning, and stay up writing late that night.
- Re-read. Look through your previous writing beforehand to get yourself excited about what you’ve done in the past, and to get back in touch with your characters and setting, if it’s a longer piece.
- Start Slow. Ease into it by using your first writing sesh to brainstorm or outline.
- Start Small. Begin working on something bite-sized first, if you’ve been away a super long time–a character sketch, vignette, flash fiction. Try a six-word story if you’re really struggling.
- Minimize distractions. Turn off the internet. Don’t sit in the library with your friends and don’t sit in a busy coffee shop, unless those are environments that you’ve thrived in previously. Isolate yourself in a room without windows, if you must!
- Tunes. Listen to music that fits the tone of your piece–this can help you get into the proper mindset, and the words may flow more easily.
- Don’t censor. You’re returning to writing, so your prose will not be very polished. That’s what second (and third! and fourth!) drafts are for. Focus on the quantity of words rather than the quality, or challenge yourself to write for fifteen minutes straight without taking a break (perhaps use a web app like Write Or Die).
- Start writing now. No really, like rightnow. Write the next sentence of the story you’ve been away from, or write the first sentence of a new one. Then write another sentence. And another.
As you can see, getting back into the habit of writing is mostly just about getting to work. There aren’t really any tricks — just sit down and start writing.
What do you think? What do you do for your writing routine?
Whether you’re a fan or a critic of Fifty Shades of Grey, there is no denying that the novel has a universal appeal. Fifty Shades of Grey was originally written as a work of Twilight fanfiction paying homage to the work of author Stephanie Meyer. E. L. James took her fanfiction, altered some names and book-specific details, and made a massive profit from her work. You may not be interested in reading or writing anything related to Twilight, but there are many other kinds of fanfiction out there. If you want to know why you should look into reading or writing fanfiction, let this blog post be your guide.
One of the greatest benefits of fanfiction is that it explores a wider range of issues than mainstream fiction. Fanfiction is noncommercial, so authors can write about whatever they want without fear that the subject matter will affect their book sales. The anonymity of fanfiction is another factor that allows authors to address whatever issues they want without worrying about being too controversial.
Another wonderful thing about fanfiction is that it is free. This case is one in which you get much more than what you pay for, however. No pay means that fanfiction writers aren’t in it for the money. They’re passionate about the craft. You could say that fanfiction is extremely cost-effective.
Fanfiction is also interactive. Thanks to the magic of the internet, readers can submit reviews and ratings for stories they enjoy. Writers receive the feedback and use it to improve their work. These reviews also serve as motivation to keep writing. You’re more likely to finish a project if you know that people are interested.
If you want to write fanfiction, it’s easy to get into. There are pre-established stories, characters, and settings – all you need to do is come up with a scenario. Fanfiction comes with preset fan bases. Everything is online – check out Fanfiction or Archive of Our Own to get started. Read a few stories first to get an idea for the format.
Fanfiction is a great way for beginners to practice the craft of writing. You can post stories, get feedback, and gain a better understanding of your prowess as a writer. Readers and writers alike can benefit in many different ways from the world of fanfiction. So what are you waiting for? Get out there!
What do you think? How do you feel about fanfiction?
Today I stumbled across this interesting article by Maya Rodale with The Huffington Post. Written in honor of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), this articles gives some tips and tricks for cranking out a novel in close to thirty days. This method is the one I’ve been using for my novels, so I thought I’d share. Here’s what it says:
November is National Novel Writing Month and in honor of that, I thought I’d share my system (developed over the course of writing 10-plus books) for quickly producing a good novel without a ton of angst and anguish.
If cutting yourself off from the world (and Internet) at a five-star hotel with excellent room service is not an option, try the following:
Know your characters. A novel won’t work without fully developed, compelling characters. Take the time to know the hero and heroines story before you start plotting or writing. You may never explicitly use this information in the text, but it will enhance your story.
An outline is totally worth your time. I know, you want to start immediately and see where the muse leads you. Well, the muse is a trickster and may lead you down a dead end path. Or perhaps she’s using Apple Maps. With an outline, you know where you’re heading and have an idea of the route you’re going to take, which makes for a smoother journey. You can always take side trips.
Draft #1: Focus on dialogue.
Estimate word count: 40,000
The first draft of my novels is entirely dialogue. This is the most direct way to make sure your characters are telling the story and moving it forward. Unless it’s a multicharacter scene, I won’t even include tags like “he said” or “she said.” If you can’t tell when your hero or heroine is talking without identifying it, then it’s a sign you need to go back and work on their character and voice.
Draft #2: Crank out everything else.
Estimated word count: 65,000
This is another FAST draft full of description and everything else. It’s full of really awkward sentences and misplaced punctuation marks. I add lots of “TKs” (wherever something is “to come”) when I’m not sure of a word but just want to keep going.
>Print, read, make notes. Print out a copy and read it with a pen in hand. You’re not just looking for typos or ways to tighten your sentences, but also trying to figure out how the story hangs together before you write so many words that it’s a nightmare to relocate scenes. Likewise, it’s far easier on the soul to cut fluffy, useless scenes when you haven’t invested much time in them.
Draft 3: Craft.
Word count: 80,000
This is where it starts to get good. You’ve cut the rubbish scenes, sketched out some new ones. I go over each scene, line by line, really crafting my sentences by cutting useless words and selecting the very best ones to use. This is slow going, but it’s where the magic happens.
Draft 4: Give it to someone to read and do something else.
Find someone willing to read your manuscript with fresh eyes while you allow your eyes to rest by working on something else entirely. I like to get a few people to read it, if I can. And then I do not revise until I’ve gotten everyone’s feedback. If three out of three people say your first chapter is weak, it is. If one person says your heroine is vapid, one person loves her, and another commented on something else…well, that’s a muddle to sort though and it’s up to you.
Send it off into the world. After spending years in the writing world, I suspect that this is the step where most authors fail. This is what separates the published from the unpublished. I think there are many excellent books tucked under beds…but you’re not competing with those. You’re competing with the ones composed by brave authors.
So that, more or less, is the process for writing a novel in a short amount of time with limited stress and anxiety. All it comes down to is prewriting, outlining, and blood, sweat, and tears poured onto your paper or over your keyboard.
What do you think? How do you write a novel?