Category Archives: creative writing

Who are the Characters in a Story

Every story has characters. They may not be human, but they should have human traits. Also, there has to be at least two characters in the story. Stories with one character are not stories, but monologues. You can have one person talking in a story, but they should talk about other characters.

Characters do not have to be people. They can be things, animals, vegetables – as long as they act with human traits and can express thoughts and feelings in a way that people can have empathy with. They also need to be put somewhere, in some type of environment, that affects how they feel and helps define them as characters.

After settling on who the characters are and where they exist, there has to be some type of challenge to them. This could be a conflict with other characters, the need to achieve one or more goals, or a combination of these.

From here, a story improves when the writer adds depth by layering and expansion of the characters, where they exist, and their challenge. The best way to do this is through relationships either between the characters, their environment, their quest, or a combination of these.

Another way to provide depth and layering is for the characters to have something in common that drives them apart, have them as opposites that makes them the same, or they transform the other from good to bad or vice versus.

While two characters are the minimum in a story, there can be too many characters. The number depends on the length of the story (less in a short story, more in a novel). I learned from readers over the years that, when a story has too many characters, the reader struggles to figure out who is who (certainly me).

No story is a story without characters.

Learning is Forever

Writing is putting letters into words, extending the words into sentences, and ending it all in a series of paragraphs. Hopefully, so it all makes sense. Like I try to do with this blog each week. Writing is certainly not an easy thing to do.

A lot of things are not easy for me to do, but with writing I take the time to learn how to do it better. The more I learn, the easier it seems to get (or it appears to me that way). I think it is the same with any skill.

To learn how to write better, a person needs to make the decision they want to write better. This goes back to a previous blog post about motivation. A person, on their own, should want their writing to be understood by as many readers as possible.

This means a writer should continually learn the craft of writing. Just like construction workers adapting to new regulations and tools, a writer must keep up with the latest trends and technology. This is what makes writers successful. This is what stops writers from being understood.

As an example, some still put two spaces after a period, do not accept the Oxford comma, and use gender speech incorrectly. They do not accept that long paragraphs are out, white space on a page is in, and everything must be mobile ready. While they may have learned writing rules using a computer, that may have been twenty years ago.

Keeping up with the latest writing trends and technology makes writing even harder. Yet, like any craft, if a person has motivated themselves to be better, it would be easy to keep up.

I have a few words to avoid

Every writer, I think, has the habit of using two or three words way too many times. For me, it is “but,” “really,” and “just.” I have been fortunate to realize this and either avoid them or take them out when I don’t avoid them. But, they really are just unnecessary.

Just like starting a sentence using “and” or “then” either separately or together. It is rare these words are ever needed like this. If a writer thinks they are needed to introduce the sentence, they should rewrite the sentence.

I could explain this more, but I try to avoid the word “because,” because things should be explained without saying, “Here’s the explanation.”

I try to not start too many sentences with “The.” Many sentences do not need to be addressed that formally. The introduction of people, events, or other incidents should already be there waiting to take action.

Finally, each paragraph should not begin with the same word. At least, not more than twice in a row. Paragraphs should be unlike their past and future selves.

This is all about different word choices. Use a diverse culture of words to be inconsistent. That is the story of creative writing. Writers write a story with a plot in mind and it is the use of word variety that makes it readable.

P.S. I ended my book without the performance. I wrote the chapter and it looked like it was screaming to get it out of there. It fit in perfectly as the introduction into the second book that I was trying to avoid writing.

Performing an Ending

John T. Frederick wrote, in his 1924 book A Handbook of Short Story Writing, that “for the most intimate and final revelation of a character to be realized, it is best to put the character in action rather than conversation or introspection.”

I’m glad I found this passage since I am struggling to conclude what I finished writing. This is my dilemma with concluding my book. There is only dialogue. I need a performance.

Yes, performance and action do not necessarily mean the same in a lot of ways. I’m looking for something between action and dialogue and performance seemed to fit for me. Although, I don’t know what I mean by it.

The standard theory has one character changing from beginning to end. I made that happen. Now, how do I make him happy about it and ride into the sunset without looking back for a sequel?

I read a lot of different genres and some authors are good beginners, some good at the middle, and some end the novel well. The key is to be good for two out of three. It can be a struggle to accomplish this. Also, which is lower in priority? Beginning, middle, or end? I’m trying for at least one out of three.

So, I’ll put in a performance. I’ve decided this will be action and dialogue together that includes a second character. Like a dance. Maybe a tango.

P.S. Yes, I’ve used the same image before. I like it.

Starting a Young Writer’s Group

I got peered pressured into being president of my writing club. We have about 60 members, run a contest in the spring, hold monthly luncheon meetings with guest speakers, and sometimes a one day writing course. I’m fortunate to have board members who are great at helping me with the presidency and making my job easy. So, I decided to try starting a young writer’s group.

This is probably not a smart move on my part. First, I don’t know how to start a young writer’s group. Second, it will consume more of my time and could interfere with my afternoon (or morning) napping. Third, I need volunteers.

Some of the research I’ve done recommended not starting a writing group. Instead, I should help one that is already established. Except there are no young writers’ groups anywhere in eastern NC. There’re barely any writing groups at all.

I’ll start slow and just keep working at it. First, I need to pick the age group such as middle school, high schoolers, or community college students. Then, there’s the purpose for the group.

I think it will be to encourage writing, provide critiques, help members get published, and promote progress and accomplishments. I also hope to attract authors as mentors.

We’ll need a name and a place to meet regularly where we can have speakers. Of course, there is the issue of money.

Getting people to join, volunteers to help, and support from the community will take motivation. I don’t know what’s motivating me. Maybe when I do get a group going, I’ll figure that out, too.

A Series or a Serial

I’m rewriting the ending of my book – again. I’m debating whether to end this book with a cliff hanger or not.

A cliff hanger means it has no ending and sets the stage for the next book, making them into serials. I will have to write follow-on books until I create an ending. No cliff hanger and I have an ending. If I write proceeding books, they become a series.

Sometimes, an author will break up a long book into smaller ones to make a serial and sell the books as a box set. It’s still one long book, it just gives the appearance of more manageable reading.

Other times, a writer cannot stop writing. One book leads to another and another as a serial. The never ending story. In both cases, a reader has to read all of the books in the correct order to understand the story and reach an ending, if there ever is one.

A series are stand-along books hosting the same characters within the same genre. Theoretically, these books can be read out of sequence, although I have rarely found this to be true. They build off each one, the characters change in some way, the environment they are in is altered somehow, or maybe minor characters become more prominent. Series are almost like a serial, just with an ending.

I don’t like serials, although some of the best books I’ve read were serials. Such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Another good series were the first three Star Wars movies (the best of all Star Wars).

I want to see an ending, which should make the decision for my book ending easy. Yet, the cliff hanger ending I came up with is much better than the ending I have.

Maybe I just don’t want to be committed to writing the next book. Although I’ve already started it.

Writing Slow

I read about authors who write a 60-70K word book in a month or two. Some can turn out 10K words a day. While I certainly believe writers can achieve this, I think (from reading their novels) they do so by building simple characters, less scene details, lots of repetitive action, and uncomplicated plots.

There is a market and niche for this easy style of fiction. But, I find more enjoyment in a novel of some complication in plot and character. I want to have a connection to the time and place where the novel is placed.

In Anne R. Allen blog post “Are Slow Writers Doomed to Fail in the Digital Age?”, she is a slow writer in an industry demanding fast writers. Volume equals more money. She writes, “In fact, I believe working slowly and mindfully is the best way to build a career.”

Fast writing does not mean fast success. Some authors think so by publishing a multitude of novels over a short period of time. They believe the more books published, the more readers they’ll attract and the more money they’ll make. A few achieve this, but only because they have a team of ghost writers helping them.

So, are slow writers doomed since they produce a book a year instead of three or more in a year? On the other hand, an author can take years to write a book of gibberish or two months to do the same. Forget these possibilities of failure.

They can happen or not. Instead, focus on how much time put toward writing rather than the number of words produced in a day. You might feel better.

I’m a fan of slow writing because I’m biased. I write slow. I have tried writing the fast stuff and it can work, but I’m not satisfied with it. I think there is a more viable market and niche for stories with a few plot layers, slightly flawed characters, and places that seem real.

This takes time to write.

Chapters and Chapters

Nowadays, many novels are written with short chapters of no more than four or five pages. I guess this is supposed to go along with the limited attention span of today’s readers. However, short chapters create a lot of chapters.

How long should a chapter be? More importantly, how many chapters are too many and what chapter number should the novel end with?

To the first question, I think that chapters are like sentences and paragraphs. Important tools a writer can use to keep the pace of the story and the suspense. I don’t agree with many publishers who think short chapters should be in thrillers to quicken the tempo and longer chapters used in novels such as romance and the literary to slow the pace. I think it really comes down to what is right for the story and a writer should not hold to any nonsense guideline.

Another excuse given for short chapters is that readers need a break from reading. Readers can find a break from reading even with long chapters. At some point, the story has a transition from one event to another, a change of scenery, or the departure/entry of a character. This is where I can stop reading and take my nap.

To the second question, do readers really pay attention to the chapter numbers? They will if they are superstitious, have a need to read only to a certain chapter number, or believe in the ending of odd or even numbers. But, this is another issue.

I just ask the reader not to blame the writer, who probably ended on a chapter number only because that’s where the ending came.

Characters and Plots

I recently read in various writing articles and blogs that literary fiction is character driven and genre fiction is plot driven. This is nonsense. All stories are character and plot driven. At least the good ones.

What makes a story good is the balance between character and plot. Too much of either becomes mundane and not a real story.

As an example, if it is all about a character – that’s a monologue which is usually good only in standup comedy. Other characters are introduced, but just to support the monologue. Usually, the main character (protagonist) explains how they were a victim of some physical or mental abuse or misdeed and the mental stress it caused.

If the story is all about plot, there is no plot. Just a series of action scenes or events that take place (whether the characters are involved or not). The focus is on loud noises, violence, or someone/something running from/to some place.

Both types of stories become a series of repetitive scenes. This is fine for readers who just want to read something without an investment in too much thinking. Some readers enjoy the emotional ride they get and can forget about soon after.

I would rather look for a story balanced between characters and plot.

Plot is the main part of a story. Yet, plot comes from characters doing things. When there is a balance between character and plot, both share in driving the story along. Doing this type of writing may take an author more time to write. So, these stories are hard to find.

It is unfair to categorize all literary fiction as character driven and genre fiction as plot driven. Some good stories are found in both types when there is a balance between plot and character.

(In the picture, who is the character and who is the plot?)

Can creative writing be taught?

Some people in the writing industry say no. They believe you are born with the ability to write creatively. If a person does not have this birthright, they shouldn’t try writing that novel. I think this is ridiculous, highly snobbish, and arrogant.

Creative writing can be taught and at any age. If a person has the motivation and desire, they can learn to write creatively and maybe even get published. Learning to write creatively requires two steps.

First is to learn how to think creatively. Such as imagining a traffic stop on the way to work and an elephant walks over to ask for a ride. Creative thinking is about imagining something different within something routine. It could also be about thinking a “what if” situation such as what if extraterrestrials took over the military. Sometimes creativity can come by paying attention to people in a store and thinking about what kind of life they could be living.

At this point, some people are saying “easier said than done”, but they are listening to the “no” people in the writing industry. A person can learn to think creatively through practice and guidance. Most writing teachers and books do not explain this process or consider the impact of skipping this step.

A person can learn the first step while starting on the second, which is learning to write what is created so it can be shared with others.

In the beginning, it is probably best to write it all out. It may not make much sense, but practice at writing and learning the writing rules will eventually make the creativity readable. At least the writing teachers and books can help with this step.

I think not teaching how to be creative is why so many writers-to-be struggle with their writing. Teachers and authors assume the person already knows how to be creative.

So, self-teach yourself. Maybe keep a journal/diary. Tell your dog or cat or cow what you’re thinking. How about right now getting a pen and paper?