header('Cache-Control: max-age=259200'); Writing as Craft Archives – Kristen Koster
Jan 252013
Steaming Hedge - Version 1 before self-editing process

Raw image as downloaded from camera.

I’m trying to develop/discover my self-editing process and this week in my accountability group How I Write series was asked, “Do you have an editing process? If so, what?”

This is one of the things that I’m honestly struggling with as a writer. I do not currently have what I would term a self-editing “process” and have just sort of flown by the seat of my pants in this area. But this year, I decided I needed a process that I could follow and would cover the necessary bases instead of just getting lost in an endless circle of line edits as my internal editor argued with itself.

So, what did I do? I started researching it. I’ve read through Cathy Yardley‘s Rock Your Revisions, by Renni Browne and Dave King‘s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, and Noah Lukeman‘s The First Five Pages. However none of them really felt like a good fit with what I have in my mind as what an editing process should look like. Just call me Goldilocks… cause they’re either too vague, too fluffy, or too small and only cover a particular part of the self-editing process.

Now, that’s not saying I don’t recommend any of these books. I absolutely do! They are ALL great books, they’re just not what I’m looking for right now. They may have PART of what I’m looking for, and I haven’t discounted that either. I have one more to read through that I have high hopes for that Danie Ford recommended: Alan Watt‘s The 90-Day Rewrite: The Process of Revision. On the surface it sounds like it has the stuff I’m looking for.

So what is it I’m looking for that I haven’t found yet? Something that’s kinda like a checklist, but organized in a logical fashion. Something that details not just what I should be looking for, but how to address any problems I find. Something that holds my hand through the process and doesn’t just say, “G’won! The water’s fine! Just jump in!” Something that’s a comprehensive game plan to tackle these projects. Tall order, right?

I think I’m also looking to clarify in my mind what I should be doing at this point to get a manuscript to a state that is “good enough” to send out and hopefully one that better matches what’s in my head.

As I sat down to write this post, I immediately started thinking about what photo I was going to put with it that would be illustrative of the self-editing process. As I was looking though my digital collection, I realized I do a lot of preliminary editing “in the camera” as well as a bunch of post-processing, especially on my close-ups of flowers to get them to pop.

By “editing in the camera” I mean that I take several shots of the same subject. Often with identical settings, but sometimes I purposely try several different ones to get different effects. Then once I download the photos from the camera, I’ll sift through the multiples and pick the ones that appeal to me. Sometimes, it’s a no-brainer — blurry, badly composed, and/or poorly lit ones get tossed. But I’ve found some that had lots of potential, but it hadn’t been captured in a very flattering way.

Take the photo at the top of this post, for example. Lighting and composition were the first things that jumped out at me at problematic. In writing, this would probably translate to tone and structure. If that photo were a book, I’d say it had a lot of extra irrelevant scenes and odd tone choices that were detracting from the overall story I wanted to tell.

Steaming Hedge after self-editing process

Final image after cropping/resizing, desaturation & additional affects applied.

I’m not sure if I tackled the lighting or the composition first. I suspect I probably played with the lighting first, trying to minimize the glare from the morning sun and then added a few special affects to get the hedge to pop more visually. In that process, I’m sure I decided to play with the saturation levels and the black & white struck me as the best way to show off the contrast between the hedge and the steam rising from it. Then, a quick crop (re-framing the picture and cutting away parts of it) to fix the composition and further eliminate the big ol’ glaring sun from the top left corner.

I guess my next question is, how do I take the ideas of what I do instinctively (now?) for photography into something usable for writing.

YOUR TURN: Do you have an editing process? If so, what?

And if you’d like to check out the rest of my accountability group, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney * Susan Saxx

May 252012

This week for our How I Write series, my accountability group asked, “How do you develop your characters? Do you have a favourite kind/archetype?”

We covered part of the idea of character development before and my general method is in the post, Building Characters where I likened it to my daughter’s cosplay outfits. I skimmed the highlights, but that post has more info.

Michael Hauge‘s Establishing Connections – likeability, skill.expertise, sympathetic, funny, jeopardy
Strengths/Weaknesses —
At Least 5 Whys —
Biggest Fear & how you will make them face it
Jodi Henley‘s idea of a Core Event

Tics, expressions, rituals, habits
Friends, possessions & pets

That all still holds true. Now, moving on to the section where I listed What I didn’t use.

Character Sheets — You’ve seen the ones: star sign, height, weight, occupation, model of car driven, all full of useless trivia that probably won’t make a difference in how your character will react to the things you need them to. Oh, and I always read them with much amusement considering I write historical fiction. I don’t think I’d find them very useful even if I wrote contemporaries.

Stereotypes/Archetypes — Ok, I TRY not to use stereotypes and I was re-introduced to the notion of using archetypes again this summer, but I’m not sure that I’ll ever dig too deeply in that direction as something to build a foundation on. Some people may find them useful, but I also think the temptation to slide back into stereotype is too strong for me.

Character sheets filled with useless trivia are still a no go for me. Most of it just isn’t relevant for the historical setting and I don’t feel like making one. I have been using Scrivener, which has character templates that are more flexible and include general information.

Role in Story: Hero
Occupation: Card Sharp
Physical Description:
Personality: Jack is a bad boy, appearing unreliable and capricious at first impression.
Background: Jack is a card sharp with the longest running winning streak at the game of Whist at the Stratford Club in London. He wants to make a name for himself.
Internal Conflicts: Jack is motivated by resentment and rebellion which keeps him from finding love and keeping it. He’s a bachelor who refuses to marry and keeps being left by his mistresses.
External Conflicts: Jack is driven by the thrill of winning and beating the odds. He wants to win back his brother’s losing for the week and keep his reputation because Amanda’s protector has accused him of cheating and offers a stacked deck.
Notes: Jack is used to playing Whist with his brother as his partner. He’s also distracted by the heroine’s beauty. He may lose his reputation and the girl. Jack realizes he’s always help part of himself back. He puts that on the table with Amanda as well, hoping to win her love.

Photo of a kid catching a frisbee. He's putting everything he's got into it.And in looking back at my stories after taking Tami Cowden’s workshop on archetypes for writers, I realized I do use them as a very rough base for personality and building conflicts, but it hadn’t been a conscious part of my character development process.

I think if I had to name a favorite hero archetype, it’d be the bad boy — or maybe the nice guy who’s been pushed to live up to his bad boy reputation. My heroine’s have also been stronger than they appear or are assumed to be by others, but other than that, they seem to be all over the map in terms of which archetype you’d label them as.

Another thing I’ve realized through photography and pushing my comfort zone there, is character matters so much when photographing people. Capturing it and using it to tell a story was a big part of what I was missing when I took pictures of people. For some reason, this seems easier with people I don’t know. Maybe because I’m freer to make things up? Anyway… this kid with the frisbee has a ton of character, doesn’t he?

YOUR TURN:How do you go about building the foundation of your creative projects?

And if you’d like to read about how the rest of my accountability group answered, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

May 182012

A photo of three Regency ladies.

Tabitha Gifford (Center)

This week for our How I Write series, my accountability group asked, “Could you be best friends with any of the heroines you’ve written. Is she/Are they someone you would hang out with? Why or why not?”

I don’t know about BFFs, but my heroines are definitely the kind of people I’d hang out with. In my head they’re all strong women who know what they want and don’t suffer fools lightly. On my current pages, they’re not quite there and a couple times I’ve needed smacked upside and asked “What were you thinking?”, but hey, we’ve all got friends like that, right? We love them despite their occasional bone-headed decisions or statements.

They definitely share some of my interests: gardening, music, solving puzzles, playing games, reading, horses. One thing we all seem to have in common is a liking for handsome blokes wearing cravats. Completely understandable, I think.

I’ve also spent about 5 years with Marcia (Revealed) and Tabitha (BHT) in my head. They’re probably my favorite heroines so far, although I like Althea from The Flower Queen’s Daughter (FQD) and Amanda from Jack of Hearts (JoH), but they’re definitely not as fully formed personalities, but I definitely want to get to know them better. I think Henrietta will also be one of my favorites as she really appeals to the tomboy I was growing up. One thing I know, I’d definitely like you all to meet them one day!

A photo of a Regency Lady.

Marcia Drummond

I’d need a time machine to go hang out with them, but isn’t that exactly what books are? Time Machines, rocket ships, portals to other dimensions, flies on the wall where we can’t normally go? I think it’d infinitely cooler to go hang out with them in their time period than this one. I suspect I’d have a better chance of fitting into Regency times, despite missing many of the modern conveniences like computers, internet, air conditioning and indoor plumbing. I think the social whirl would get to me and I’d gladly sit with Marcia on the sidelines and just watch.

This question was very difficult for me to answer because I have tended to have very few close female friends in real life at any one time. I was always one that hung out with the guys in school and even afterwards, working in the computer games industry, I was definitely in the minority. Barrington and I would have been best buds and Bolster too, just because with one, you get the other in the bargain. Isn’t it odd, that I say that, yet STILL feel Barrington is the one character I know the least about his backstory and motivations?

Cub Scouts and writing changed that balance for me. Cub Scouts gained me several close mom friends who were going through the same things, even though I was just as happy hanging out with some of the dads at events too. Getting more involved with writing and the community around it expanded my virtual and local circles to include some amazing women who are super supportive and even though I haven’t met all of them in person yet, I’m proud to call them all ‘friend’.

YOUR TURN: How do you push through things you don’t like to do and can you turn your weaknesses into strengths?

And if you’d like to read about how the rest of my accountability group answered, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

May 112012
Parts of Writing: Dialogue: photo of two people conversing.

Dialogue: Talking Heads vs Meaningful Conversation

This week for our How I Write series, my accountability group asked, “Dialogue, narrative, exposition, or description? What are your favorite parts of writing and why? Your least favorite and why? What do you do to make your least favorite parts more attractive or easier?”

Deceptively Easy Parts of Writing

When I am able to completely turn off my internal editor, my writing defaults to dialogue. I end up with pages and pages of talking heads with the barest indication of what’s going on around them physically. The other trap I seem to fall into is INTERNAL monologues where the character will go on forever about what they think of a situation or mull over what to do next.

The dialogue runs are fun, because it’s like eavesdropping on a conversation and taking dictation. The trick is tipping the balance from talking heads to meaningful conversation between realistic characters. The introspective runs… they’re usually a good sign I need to stop, figure out where the story is going next and how to get the hero and heroine back on the page together. When I’m stuck, if I can get them in the same place and get them talking, things usually get moving again.

The Hardest Parts of Writing

I think the aspect I’m currently weakest on is using body language to convey emotion and character. Showing character is usually a little easier, but I find myself drifting back to my online roleplaying game days and relying on a small repertoire of actions: smiling, nodding, eyerolling, and various methods of fiddling with hair.

In the first draft, I do a bare minimum of actions. They’re more placeholders to remind me of the mood at the time. I have to go back and layer in emotion and variety. This is often done by adding in thoughts and reactions as well as other physical actions.

Description is another thing I find is either on or off for me. Usually, it’s something I have to go back and add in, unless it’s part of initially setting a scene. Oh, and I suck at describing clothing. I may have researched a fair amount on it, but I’m definitely not a fashionista for either the 21st or 19th century.

Strengthening the Weaknesses

So…how do I take the things I don’t like writing as much or don’t come as naturally and turn it into something that works? I’m apparently still working on that. For me, I need to make several passes and concentrate on one aspect at a time. My current pass is turning wooden, rote actions into something meaningful for the story that paint a better picture of the characters for the reader. Reading aloud helps find the stilted phrases and roleplaying the characters makes this more entertaining for me and often brings pleasant surprises with it.

I’d say the best thing to do is run with what you enjoy and comes easy to get down the story bones, but don’t be afraid to go back and add in more details even if it takes a few passes to flesh out that skeleton. Critical reading (to see how others pull it off) and practice also makes it easier. I don’t know if I’ve been successful at strengthening my weaknesses, but I know my writing process is going to be a work in progress for quite some time.

A Different Lens

I knew I used that phrase a lot in respect to my writing, but it had never really clicked before, why. I’ve been using the phrase long before I got my dSLR camera last year, but I get it now. I’ve mentioned before that photography has always been present in my life between my grandfather and my father. I frequently had a cheap little camera in my hands growing up and got a SLR camera as my high school graduation present. I loved to play with light, natural objects, and rarely took pictures of people or buildings.

With photography, my weaknesses are definitely still in architecture and people. I very rarely luck out and get something I love. But then again, deliberate practice on these two subjects is not something I have done very often. I think where I succeed with these is when I’m able to bring in elements of nature or at least let go completely and don’t think about it so much. But deliberate practice to explore what works and what doesn’t has been a huge part of this for me. Somehow, working with strangers is easier than people I know, maybe that’s a self-conscious thing. Although that’s my husband’s brother and sister in the photo at the top.

Sometimes, I just luck out.

YOUR TURN: How do you push through things you don’t like to do and can you turn your weaknesses into strengths?

And if you’d like to read about how the rest of my accountability group answered, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

Dec 022011

Last week, we talked about How We’d Spend A Day With One of Our Characters, but this week’s entry in our How I Write series, takes a closer look at our planning process. So, since we’re all writers, we’re focusing on plotting, which inevitably leads to the question: Plotter vs Pantser or some weird mix?

Plotting Via Spreadsheets

Hi. My name is Kristen and I’m a spreadsheet addict.

There. I said it. Now, I love me some colored index cards and other office supplies, too. They have their uses, but they also get scattered and lost. I’ve also been known to scribble mind-maps and notes on loose paper, but I do much better if when I’m satisfied with the basics, I transfer everything into Word or Excel. Sometimes both.

I also have a love of puzzles that captured my attention in my college economics courses and led me to double major in it alongside business administration. You probably think I LOVED my accounting classes too, but you’d be wrong. There’s a huge gap between intriguing puzzles and busy work. I see plots more as complex puzzles that I haven’t quite worked out the rules behind.

I’ve looked at many different plotting methods to build my outlines, Snowflake Method, 3-Act Structure, Save The Cat, The Blob, Hero’s Journey, Emotional Structure, Billy Mernit’s 7 Steps of Romantic Comedy. You name it, I’ve probably tried it. Even on the same manuscript.

You see, I also have another problem. I over think things. Yes, I can admit it, but that’s easier than avoiding doing so. I like to look at things from different angles. I want to make sure what I’m building will make sense when it’s complete. I like looking at things through different lenses and not just for photography. This is why I don’t think I could pants a story to save my life. It only takes me so far and I’ve lost sight of where I was going and end up circling in confusion and walk away from it.

With spreadsheets, you can keep all your thoughts and notes in one place. Using different worksheets in the same file or even different columns on the same one, you can apply different lenses (plotting methods) to the same plot outline. Is it effective? I don’t know. I think it works for me in the long run. I think of and see different things as I approach the problem from different angles. Does it help keep me on track and get the project finished? Probably not, but it does help me explore and think about the story and the characters so I know them before I sit down to work.

Linear vs Non-Linear Writing

If you’ve read any of my previous posts on writing or plotting, you know I strongly believe I need a road map to get from the beginning of a story through to “The End”. I may sound like an extreme plotter who plans everything down to the most miniscule detail, but I really do enjoy having my characters surprise me along the way.

I could never write out of order because of that though. Things change wildly enough sometimes without jumbling things out of order and requiring major surgery to stitch everything into place before it can be considered done.

One of the methods I found and liked, but which drives my DH insane when I mention it, is called a Phase Outline. It’s a very detailed outline, where you describe what needs to happen on each page in a line or two. “Why write the story twice,” he asks. It doesn’t feel that way to me. I try to leave it lose enough that the characters can move outside the confines of the box and become who they need to be, but it’s still structured enough that I’m comfortable in knowing where we’re all going, and that we’ll get there on the right page.

Escape From the Box

So, you probably now have an image of me as a control freak. You wouldn’t be wrong.

You might also picture me as indecisive, insecure and unable to commit to a single method and stick with it. I prefer to think of it as thorough, but you might have something there.

So, how do I know when I have a plot that I can work with? Gooooood question. Sometimes it takes working through it and see if the pieces fit together.

Wait?! Didn’t I just say that was the exact opposite of how I saw my self working? Probably, but I’ve found that when my characters surprise me by doing something that’s not planned, it’s better for the story. I know a lot of pantsers say they run everything through in their head several times before committing it to paper. I suspect many hardcore plotters do the same thing, they just commit all their iterations to paper along the way.

As far as knowing when something’s ready to go out into the world? It should resemble the working outline, but doens’t have to exactly. The highlights of the journey must be hit, and I often can’t see that for all the details along the way. Once I have a draft or two on a manuscript, it has to be sent to a couple of readers to see if I managed to get the story in my head onto the page.

I’ve only reached that point with one manuscript and only sent that to one agent because my confidence having done that isn’t as high as I’d like it to be. That’s definitely one of my goals for next year. Deconstructing the puzzle and putting it back together again. Each iteration gets better, but I fear I’ve left a string of characters still trapped in their boxes along the way.

I’m determined not to sit complacently with them though, I will find my way out of this self-made maze.

When I first conceived of this post, I had the idea of a mime trapped in a box, which was really a cell in an excel file. But this morning as I got thinking about taking my laptop with me on a field trip to the car dealership, I was thinking how similar it was to the portable writing desks people carried (lugged?) with them during the Regency Era. So, as a special treat, here’s a photo of one. I think I’ll keep my laptop with Word and Excel for everyday use, but one of these to go with my antique lady’s secretary would be nice too.

A Regency era mahogany and inlaid writing box, circa 1810.

A Regency Tunbridgeware mahogany and inlaid writing box by Dunnett's of London, circa 1810. The cover inset with a painted panel of Venus and Cupid, the border of chequered form, the compartmented interior with green paper lining and label inscribed 'Dunnetts Toy & Tunbridge Ware REPOSITORY No.3 Cheapside, London' 14 in. (36 cm.) wide

YOUR TURN: Are you a macro or micro manager? Do you plan everything down to the most minute details or do you get a vague idea in your head and take off running? Do unfinished projects haunt you? How do you know when your project is complete?

And if you’d like to read about deal with plotting and knowing when a manuscript is ready to go out, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney * Angeleque Ford *

Oct 282011

One of the Poetical Sketches of Scarborough: Twenty-one engravings on humorous subjects, coloured from original designs, made upon the spot by J. Green and etched by T Rowlandson. Published by R. Ackermann, 1818.

The Circulating Library in Scarborough around 1818

This week my accountability group is blogging about how we go about doing research for our books. Last week’s post on developing characters is also part of our How I Write series.

Market Research: I read voraciously in my chosen genre of Regency set Historical Romances. I read other genres too, but these are my favorites.

Setting Research: I’d love to be able to travel to England and visit all the places I read and write about. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen for a while. So, instead I use my honed skills of google-fu and live vicariously through other people’s first hand experiences and pictures. Besides music videos and stranger stuff, YouTube has a wide variety of obscure topics you can explore. For example, the restoration of Attingham Park can be found there. Another great resource is the Royal Society’s Archives which have been made permanently free.

Society & Culture Research: You can’t rely on other people’s fiction as a research source. You can however begin building your vocabulary and feel for the society from it. ALWAYS double or triple check anything you want to use with a reliable non-fiction source or you may find yourself embarrassed by a visit from some frustrated readers who know and care infinitely more than you do. That being said, there’s a wide selection of resources available on the web and through GoogleBooks available. I do have a few reference books on my shelf, but even then not all are created equal, be sure to read some reviews before you buy and rely on them.

Character Research: I LOVE to people watch. I’m more likely to be the one sitting back at a gathering watching other people instead of being anywhere near the center of attention. Human nature hasn’t changed that much in 200 years just the outer trappings and modern ideas about subjects like psychology might not be spouted by my historical characters, but it can be useful to explore their character. I think this is part of what is really meant by “write what you know” — not necessarily specific skills or places, though that can sure make life easier, but feelings, reactions, situations and the like. It brings a whole other level of authenticity to your writing.

One thing I do is try to keep all my internet research bookmarks in one handy place. If you’re interested in the Regency Era, my Regency Primer Series and my Regency Resource page probably has a lot of articles you’d find interesting and may even have read before. I keep a lot

YOUR TURN: Where do you do your research for whatever interests you? Do you head to the library and check out the books, fire up your browser and go surfing, or do you go directly to the source?

And if you’d like to read about how the rest of my group approaches their research, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney *
* Angeleque Ford * Kimberly Farris *

Oct 212011

This week my accountability group is blogging about how we flesh out/develop a fiction character for our stories. Last week’s post on our bookshelves and influential authors is also part of our How I Write series.

In order to answer the question about HOW, I think I need to share what character depth & complexity mean to me. I enjoy reading rich characters, ones who feel like real people, albeit a bit larger than life, but real. I think authors can make this happen through a variety of tools available to them. It bothers me when characters are flat or indistinguishable from one another, even and especially secondary characters. I read for the emotional journey and flat characters just don’t cut it for me as a reader, whatever the plot may be.

I was pondering how to pull this post together and find meaningful photos to use for it when I thought about my daughter’s interests in anime and cosplay (costume play or dressing up and getting into the character of your favorite roles). She’s been enthusiastically gathering materials to portray a number of different characters lately. Putting together a Halloween costume or working with big visual symbols of someone else’s character instead of coming up with your own is a bit easier, but you also employ the same essential steps. You start with the basics and then dress it up with all the bells and whistles until you’re happy with it.


Photo of my daughter when she first started putting together a cosplay outfit for this character.

The Basics: What Absolutely Defines Your Character

For me, the basics of any given character are those things that make them uniquely themselves. If you took any of those things away, they wouldn’t be the same person, right? At first, they may feel a bit two-dimensional and you’ll want to build on that, but you need a good base. I don’t tend to go in any particular order once I have the general idea of my character in mind. Go where your interest and whimsy take you.

GMC — I’ve never read Deb Dixon‘s Goals, Motivation, Conflict (GMC), but I’ve heard it recommended enough times that I probably should read it over at some point to get it from the source. But I do try to include some of the concepts when creating and then developing the characters for my stories. Characters have to have WANTS and NEEDS as well as CONFLICTS or at least some OBSTACLES to reach them. Otherwise, it’s not interesting or satisfying and I think these fall under the basics of what you need to write a story. Without them, well, it’s just gonna flop around on the page.

Establishing Connections Michael Hauge recommends using at least 2 of the 5 following ways to establishing rapport between your main character and your audience:

1) likeability — a nice person
2) skill/expertise — they are good at something
3) sympathetic — the victim of some undeserved misfortune
4) funny — not always an appropriate choice, depending on your genre
5) jeopardy — they are in danger of loss of anything of vital importance

These ways are meant to be used at the beginning of your story with your protagonist, but I think they can also be useful to pull readers closer to any character, especially your supporting secondary cast who will have a lot of time on stage.

Strengths/Weaknesses — Knowing your character’s strengths and weaknesses are ways to make sure you’re taking them on a story arc that changes. Not all characters have to, but it’s often more interesting to me if either the hero, the heroine or both of them learn something and grow as people during the course of the story. Knowing their strengths and weaknesses also makes it easier to test your characters and place effective obstacles in their path.

At Least 5 Whys — This tool is most helpful in figuring out motivations for goals and so many other things. Never stop at the first answer you think of. One way to avoid writing clichés is to brainstorm and dig down deeper, don’t settle for the first thing that comes to mind. Let your inner toddler have free reign with this one!

Biggest Fear & how you will make them face it — this one is a bit more tied to plot development, but I think it’s important when you’re fleshing out the character. This may be part and parcel of the next item, but knowing it before you get too far along can be helpful in figuring out ways you can torture your protagonist that will actually move the plot along in ways that should engage your reader in that emotional roller coaster.
Finally, Jodi Henley‘s idea of a Core Event is another concept that I’ve come to view as essential to character development. She explains this much better on her blog and in her workshops, but it is essentially what happened to make this person who they are when you begin their story. It is NOT the inciting incident. It’s most likely backstory that colors their perceptions of the world and the people around them. It is what drives how they make decisions and react under stress.


Another photo of my daughter after she'd put the finer touches on her cosplay outfit for this character.

Bells & Whistles: What touches add depth, complexity & believability?

This is where the fun comes in. Also the depth, the complexity and the versimilitude. Oh, yeah. I used that big word. The sum of all these little details are what make the characters even more unique and memorable. I’m sure we all have friends who have “THAT” laugh. You know the one. Or that aunt or uncle who has always used that same tired greeting that makes you cringe since you were old enough to remember?

Tics, expressions, rituals, habits — These can be nervous or verbal tics. Pick a few from each category and ONLY use them for one character. Give them each their own voice and personality.

Friends, possessions & pets — Who was it who said we are defined by what and whom we surround ourselves? Definitely have friends and acquaintances make observations about your other characters, especially your main characters. Are they showing their true selves to the world or does the reader get a special perspective on them?

Some of these things may seem small and frivolous in comparison to the items you use when building your character’s identity, but little things we can easily picture in our heads are sticky. Think about Sherlock Holmes’ deerstalker and his pipe. And no one would ever mistake Wolverine with his claws out for Cyclops. Ok, those are swinging back into the world of comics, anime and cosplay, but it’s an easy visual example.


Character Sheets — You’ve seen the ones: star sign, height, weight, occupation, model of car driven, all full of useless trivia that probably won’t make a difference in how your character will react to the things you need them to. Oh, and I always read them with much amusement considering I write historical fiction. I don’t think I’d find them very useful even if I wrote contemporaries.

Stereotypes/Archetypes — Ok, I TRY not to use stereotypes and I was re-introduced to the notion of using archetypes again this summer, but I’m not sure that I’ll ever dig too deeply in that direction as something to build a foundation on. Some people may find them useful, but I also think the temptation to slide back into stereotype is too strong for me.

And if you’d like to read about how the rest of my group develops their characters, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford *
* Emma G. Delaney * Kimberly Farris *

Jan 112010

Writing as Craft IconJust like we need a bit of structure in our lives in order to thrive and stretch our selves to reach our goals, our writing needs a bit of structure to it. This helps keep the story coherent and cohesive and helps it resonate with the reader. I’m sure there are experimental constructions out there where upon first glance it makes no sense at all and as a reader you can’t make heads or tales of it, until you learn the structure and suddenly everything clicks and makes sense.

Now, structure isn’t the same as plot, nor is it the same as a formula.

When people talk about stories, books, tv shows and movies as being formulaic, they don’t necessarily mean their structure is boring and worn out. Usually they mean their plot is tired and so well-worn, there are no surprises for us.

However, people have been telling each other stories for millenia. Some jaded folks claim there are no new stories or ideas. But we’ve seen numerous stories told where the structure is repeated time and time again. Why? Because it works with a wide variety of plots and people are comforted and satisfied by the familiar. Indeed many of the same basic plot lines have been retold with new characters throughout the ages.

The most familiar form is probably the three Act Structure as described by Aristotle in his Poetics. It can be found from ancient Greek plays to numerous books and movies of today.

Aristotlean Play Structure

Structure: Exposition->Rising Action->Climax->Falling Action->Denoument

  1. Exposition
  2. Rising Action
  3. Climax
  4. Falling Action
  5. Denouement/Resolution

This system will look very familiar if you graph it like Gustav Freytag did at the right when he analyzed ancient Greek and Shakespearean dramas.

Many people are interested in how novels and screenplays are organized and each have their own perception of how it works best and why. Some look at it from the angle of characterization and the emotional stories of those characters. Others have likened it to a journey that the character takes and the steps involved to propel the character on his journey and the adventures and trials experienced and his glorious return as a hero. here’s even a twist on this for the heroine’s journey. Yet there are others yet who are more plot-oriented with some delving into what motivates the characters to make the decisions that they do during the course of the plot.

Popular Takes on Structuring A Novel or Screenplay

  • Traditional Three Act or 5-Part Structure
  • Christopher Vogler’s Hero’s Journey
  • Peter Dunne’s Emotional Structure
  • Debra Dixon’s Goal/Motivation/Conflict
  • Michael Hauge’s Six Stages
  • Kara Lennox’s breakdown for a 400-page novel
  • Billy Mernit’s Seven Steps for Romantic Comedies

I’ll be looking closer at these in the coming months, but I don’t think most of them are really completely different structures so much as various lenses with which to analyze a story or alternate sets of questions to ask yourself as you go about building your story.

Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser will determine your level of comfort and need for outlines, but I’m sure you’ll still find yourself asking these same types of questions that will affect your structure at one point or another, either before your first draft or as you try to assemble a later draft into a coherent story.


Which type of structure comes naturally for you? Have you ever used some other type of structure? Diary, Framed Flashack, Family Saga, or something else?