My own business bores me to death. I prefer other people's. Oscar Wilde

When Characters Don't Behave

Liz here:

You've spent hours creating the perfect hero and heroine for your latest novel. You have elaborate character charts detailing everything from their eye color to their darkest secret to their favorite food. Inside and outside - you know all there is to know about them.

Then, bam, it happens. Your carefully crafted characters go and do something you didn't see coming. It seems out of left field for them. Why did they do that? Their off-script actions change the entire course of the story. What do you do?

As a pantser, this is the exciting part of writing to me. Still, it can mess up the direction you thought the story was headed. Why did he say that? Why did she go there?

This is the point at which you have to examine this character. Ask the following questions:
1. Is this too unbelievably out of character? If it's beyond the realm of what the character would ever do, if it pops the readers out of the fictional dream, scratching their heads in bewilderment, then it's best to not go in that direction. But don't shy away from a surprising twist. Sometimes, a character will do something you don't expect but that you can understand. That makes for good reading.

2. Does it change the story for the better? If you can see the story being taken in a different, better direction, then it's a change you'll want to be sure to make. If it only changes the story for change's sake, then it's probably not worth it.

3. If you don't want to make the change, why not? Look at the reason why you're hesitating. I've fought making the change to the character and plot line because it would require a huge rewrite. After a while, I gave into my instincts and made the change. Guess what? Way better story. But are you hesitating because you aren't sure it will work in the long run? Write a few pages and re-examine after that. You'll have more clarity at that point.

4. What would a reader/critique partner/editor say about this? Asking this question can be a great gauge as to whether or not to make a change. Sometimes you have to actually ask the person. As I write, I often hear my readers, critique partner, and editor screaming in my head. I've learned not to ignore them. It saves them a lot trouble later LOL!

In the end, follow your instincts. You're the author. You hold the characters in the palm of your hand. Yes, they tend to go rogue on us. It's up to us to corral them if that's what is best for the story.

Setting the Stage

Jennifer here:

Where to begin?
The beginning of your novel could take you longer to write than the whole rest of your book. That’s because there is a lot that needs to happen in the beginning of your book to hook your readers and keep them turning those pages.

The biggest problem I see with stories is that they don’t start in the right place. A great question to ask yourself is: What is the day everything changed for my hero? In a romance it’s often the day the hero and heroine meet. In a suspense it can be when the hero walks into the wrong place at the wrong time. It has to be a big enough change that the path the hero was on has taken a turn. Life as she knows it will no longer be the same.

Too many times we have way too much backstory. We do need to see the hero in her ordinary world so we can see how the change rocks her world. But don’t spend too much time there. Get us into the action right away.

First Lines
Once you know where to start the story, you have to start the story. First lines set the tone and create an expectation for your reader as to what’s going to come next. These can take longer to craft than many of your chapters. There’s more art than science to it.

Look at some of your favorite books and just read the first line. There is something unusual, ominous, funny, or any other adjective that makes you want to keep reading. As writers, our tendency is to set the stage for what’s going on. That’s not as interesting. Be interesting first, then back into setting the stage as you need to.

Meet our hero
So we know where the story needs to start. We have a fabulous set of first lines to draw our reader in. Now we need to introduce our hero to our reader. We don’t have very many words to get our reader emotionally involved in the life of our hero.

We’ve already mentioned seeing her briefly in her everyday world. But don’t waste this opportunity to show us what her deep longing is. This is ultimately what readers are going to be hoping she gets at the end of the story, and the ups and downs of the story will be measured by how close or far she is to getting the longing of her heart.

We also need to actually like her. We need something that makes her sympathetic or heroic. If readers don’t like your hero, they won’t care what happens to her. Does she read to her blind grandmother? Does she rescue puppies? Does she risk something (reputation, possessions, self) for someone else? Use these things in her ordinary world so that we like her, we’re rooting for her, and we’re as shocked as she is when her world changes.

Get your novel off to the right start and the rest will flow much more easily.

Tightening: it's just a muscle

Tighten Your Writing Muscles

Have you heard this phrase? "Write Tight and your manuscript will shine."

Have you wondered what they are referring too?

Writing tight is a workout for your prose. When you work that muscle your stories will sparkle.



                                                                                         Copyright: sjenner13 / 123RF Stock Photo

That's great but how does one workout
that muscle?                                                                                                        

First, pull out a page of your work in progress. Is it clear what is happening, or do you find that your writing is wandering all over the page?

If yes, then start removing words that don't need to be there- just, actually and really should be the first to go.

Search out the ly, ing, and ess words, those add pounds to your sentences. Be ruthless!

Take a look at your dialogue tags.
"Do you have something like this?" She inquired incredulously.
If you do, you're going to need to buy a bigger notebook for your manuscript. Instead, try this: "Do you have something like this?" She held up a tattered notebook.

Rip out words that are redundant. You've seen them  and laughed, admit it. Free Complimentary Breakfast says the same thing twice.

Search out places where you are describing actions instead of showing. Margie Lawson calls this walking the dog. You don't have to tell the reader that Max, the dog needs to go outside, but first you have to find the leash, then clip it to his collar, after you make him sit.

All you need is this: Jake took Max outside to do his business.

If you're writing nonfiction watch out for phrases like- -this reminds me or let me tell you about. Those are the equivalent of adding 24 donuts to your word diet every day.

Writing tight takes practice, workout with your WIP (work in progress) and soon you'll have that write tight muscle memory working for you.