Writing Tips

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Master Outlining and Tracking Tool for Novels V2.0

A few months ago I published a post that contained the first version of a novel outlining tool for Excel. This is the second version of that tool, including several fixes, improvements, and additions. I strongly suggest that you read the first post before jumping into this one to get a full understanding. In this post I am only discussing the new additions.

 

What’s New?

scene-type-outlining-toolThe new version includes a few bug-fixes, updates in the general look-and-feel and various text edits here and there. I also tried my best to improve the documentation and add comments on the headers wherever I felt an explanation is needed. So, wherever you see a little red triangle in the top-right corner of a cell, you can hover your mouse and a text-hint will pop up, like in the image on the left.

 

Changes in the Scene List

Not too much changed here, except for one thing: I’ve added an Act column. If you subscribe to the 3-Act structure, or a different similar Act-Based structure, this is helpful and it plays out into the Cards, which I explain below. Below is the new header.

scene list outlining tool

 

Plots Tab

It’s not unusual that a novel-length story includes multiple plot lines. They might be parallel, intertwined, connected, complementary, you have it. Either way, there will be a few most likely. This tab allows you to track the plot lines. At this point, I’m not entirely sure how this will play out in the overall picture, but as I was plotting my own novel, I found like I needed to know this. The Plot Status at the end of the novel should be “Closed” in most cases, but if your novel is a part of a series, there might be plot lines that are left be open or uncertain. The difference between open and uncertain is: “open” is the hero swearing to kill xyz on the last page of the novel, and “uncertain” is the alien egg that appears in the last scene.

plots-sub-plots-novel-outline

 

Timeline Tab

As soon as I started outlining my own novel with this tool, I immediately realized that the concept of Timeline was missing. As I was writing the manuscript I was making mistakes such as having people travel way too fast between places, not allowing enough time for things and so on. So, I realized that a way to track the time when things happen became critical. So, I came up with this worksheet called Timeline.

The header is loosely divided into PAST, PRESENT, and FUTURE. Feel free to copy/insert columns if you need more space. The Actual Date row header allows you to put actual dates and on the following rows it calculates the difference in days, months, and years relative to the START which is your novel’s “present date” setup in the Dashboard. The scene list is automatically copied from the previous tabs, so you don’t have to worry about that.

At the intersection of each scene row with the date column, you will make the cell black (background) and put an “x”. That’s important as you will see in a bit when we get to cards. As you start filling in the cells, you are actually defining the timeline of your novel.

novel timeline outlining tool

 

Cards Tab

Lots of people love the way that index cards look like when outlining. I thought this could be kinda cool to have here. So, I created a fully-automated Cards tab. It draws all it’s data from the Scenes list without any intervention. Here’s a snapshot:

novel outlining index cards

And here is a more detailed anatomy of an index card:

scene-index-card-novel-outlining

If you used the Acts column in the Scene list, as I explained above, the sheet will automatically color-code your card headers with different colors for Act 1, 2, and 3.

When you are done with your scenes, don’t forget to use the filter on column V and un-check the “No.” This will hide any blank cards. This sheet prints on landscape by default and you will get 20 cards per page. If you move rows around in your Scene List, the cards will update automatically.

 

Intensity Tab

Even though there’s an intensity chart in the Charts tab, I felt like a very visual intensity model would help when put parallel to the scenes. So, in this tab you have the scene list on the left and the graphical representation of the intensity (represented by a number from 0-100) on the right. As you read through your outline, make sure the intensity you plan matches the scene you plan. You should see some mountains and valleys as your novel’s intensity goes up and down as the story progresses. This is derived directly from your Scene List tab.

novel-scene-intensity-outlining-tool

 

Chapters Tab

Last but not least, the Chapters Tab. Just like everything with writing, there’s no set rule about chapter length or number of scenes per chapter. But, I personally find it’s a lot easier to read a book when there is some sort of structure or flow. I’m not saying that chapters should be equal, or close, or anything. I’m just saying, be aware of it. This tab gives you a quick view on how each chapter stacks against the others in terms of word-length and number of scenes.

chapter-length-novel-outlining

If you reached the end of this post, but haven’t read the original post, I strongly recommend you check the text describing the first version of the novel outlining tool before downloading.

 

Download Version 2.0

Here is the download link: Master Novel Outlining and Tracking Tool.

 

What’s Next?

Now that I’ve gone through a few cycles with this, tested it myself and gotten some feedback from various people, I think I am ready to start moving this idea into a full-fledged software application. If you have any ideas, thoughts, or would like to collaborate in any way, feel free to contact me.

And yes—people have asked—I will move my a$$ and create a full sample of the tool with an outline from a-z. I just didn’t have the time…

All the best and happy writing!

Iulian

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Master Outlining and Tracking Tool for Novels

UPDATE (Oct. 22): I have posted an updated version of this tool: Master Novel Outlining and Tracking Tool V2.0. You should read this post first before moving to the update.

Have you ever felt tired and unable to write a single word in your masterpiece novel? Have you ever felt stuck in your plot and unable to advance, unable to talk to your characters and understand them? If so, you are not alone. Thousands of writers around the world suffer from the same affliction. So, ask your doctor about Deprocrastinify and Ideastificator. Side effects might include…

Okay, I’ll stop the cuteness right there. We all know such magical solutions don’t truly exist. We all wish they would, but they don’t. So what’s a writer to do besides, well, write? I’m sure every writer has a set of tools they use whenever they’re stuck either with plot or characterization. In this article, I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. Instead, I am going to show you how I’ve used technology to simplify two related processes: the outlining and the tracking process.

If you are a pantser, you’re probably thinking this is not for you. But wait, there’s more! I believe that this outlining method will help you verify your structure after the fact and, most importantly, it will help you with another dreaded task: writing a synopsis. Bah! Just writing the word gives me shivers—the bad kind. But, truly, I think this tool will help you too, pantser! Just read a little bit more.

So, what exactly is this? It’s a tool I’ve created using Excel that allows you to take one idea and grow it step by step into a full-fledged outline and scene list. It goes even further than that to character sheets and even family trees.

As I said, it’s not a new idea, it’s just a different way to put it which I believe is easy to use and gets you where you need to go fast. My idea is loosely based on the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson. He took the concept of starting with a simple structure and growing it time and time again, like a fractal. He put that idea in a software called Snowflake. I still use it today and I highly recommend it. My method is a twist on that and works really well for people who like Excel, regardless if they are a beginner or an expert user.

At the end of this article you will be able to download a full blank template of my tool. Feel free to use it as you wish.

One last word: this tool, just like any other tool, is not a substitute for writing. Your novel won’t be made using tools, but with writing. So, don’t get stuck in analysis-paralysis and agonizing over your outline. Keep it short. The method I present here should allow you to outline a full novel in one weekend. One! I mean it.

So let’s dive into it.

The workbook is divided into worksheets that cascade one from each other from left to right, and each step brings you closer to the full scene list. Most settings transfer from one page to the next, so you only have to type them once. This blog post serves as the full usage manual for the worksheet, but the sheet itself has an Instructions page at the start which you can refer to.

If you want to follow along with the Excel file open, click here to download the Master Outlining and Tracking Tool for Novels (MOTT).

 

Setting Things Up

The first worksheet is “Dashboard.” Here we setup the basic things about our novel, such as name, word count, date, etc. This information is further used in the subsequent sheets. Two important values here: the estimated word count and the present date. What I mean by present date is the time when the action takes place in your novel. For instance, if your action happens in the 80’s, then Jan 1st, 1985 might be the day. This date is used to calculate character ages. If your novel jumps all over the place, put whatever you think is most relevant here.

 

Part One – Level 9

In part one, you start with one sentence that describes your novel. Think along the lines of:

“A farm boy on a far-away planet journeys with a Jedi master to rescue a rebel princess and fight against an evil empire.” – Star Wars

“A boy wizard begins training and must battle for his life with the Dark Lord who murdered his parents” – Harry Potter (Thanks to Randy Ingermanson for this one)

Come up with the one liner for your novel and type it in the first box.

Note the rudimentary word counter on the right. It’s designed to keep track of the word count in your sentences. Try to keep your outline sentences up to 25 words. Don’t go too wordy here.

If you want to learn more, read Rachel Gardner’s post ” Writing a One-Sentence Summary.”

Then, take that one idea and split it in 3 separate sentences. Think like this: beginning, middle, and end. Each sentence should encapsulate the story idea for those segments.

Now, take those 3 ideas and expand each of them into 3 more. Once again, think in terms of the same beginning, middle, and end, but this time take it one step further: the beginning of the beginning, the middle of the beginning, and the end of the beginning, and so on.

Now you have 9 lines of outline. Let’s take it one step even further. Now, expand each of those lines into 3 more! I know it sounds hard and complicated, but it’s not, once you give it a shot. It’s like unfolding your story, three steps at a time. The worksheet passes the clue right in front of your eyes, so all you have to do is read it again and then expand it into three steps:

At this point you have a 27-line outline. This is a good start.

 

Part Two – Review Level 9

On the next sheet, I reorganize the 27 lines you came up with in Part One. Read them again from top to bottom. Does it make sense? If you were to read this to somebody, would they get the gist of it? Try it out. Read the current outline to a friend and see what their feedback is. On the right column you will notice some hints for a possible 3-Act structure. This is definitely optional, but if your novel does follow the 3-act structure, this is a good guideline that hints if you are on the right track.

 

Part Three – Level 81

Can you guess what we’re doing in Part 3? I hope you got the pattern… We take each of the 27 steps from Part Two and we split each into three sub-steps. It sounds awfully long and complex, but I believe that the way that the spreadsheets presents it, makes it easy. The 27 steps you already have are on the left, and on the right you get the 3 “splits.” Go from top to bottom and just expand each of them into three. At this point and depth, you are actually describing scenes in your novel.

Here’s a glimpse:

 

Part Four – Scene List

So, after the three steps above, you wind up with a hefty list of 81 scenes. Before we move to analyzing your structure using some other tools, simply read your list again. Ask yourself if this is the story you want to write. With 81 sentences, you should be able to capture the basic idea and a minimal level of detail. If you craft this part well, you should have a decent, factual synopsis of your novel.

A few questions to ask yourself:

  • Is there a clear beginning where you set things up?
  • Is there a clear ending where you wrap all your plot and sub-plot points?
  • Does the overall structure reflect the original one-line idea or did your outlining take a whole new dimension? This is not wrong, but if it happened, go back and adjust your one-line or maybe even the 3-sub-steps of your one-line.

Make sure you don’t move forward until you are happy with how your one-line translates into your 81-scene list. You will thank yourself later when you have to summarize your novel into a short or long synopsis. Having done this work ahead of time will be invaluable.

A question you might be asking: what if you find that a certain step is too simple or too complex to break in 3 parts? If it’s too simple, you can leave blank rows. If it’s too complex, copy and insert new scenes where you need to. The links in the file will maintain, except for your manual scene which will stand independent.

Here’s how the Scene sheet looks like:

 

Scene Analysis

Once you’ve completed the 81-scene list, it’s time to start tweaking it.

There are a bunch of columns following each scene’s description that allow you to categorize and tag your scenes in preparation for further analysis. Let’s take them one by one:

Chapter – This is the chapter number that contains the scene. You will fumble and play with this a lot, but it’s helpful to start grouping your scenes by chapter. You most likely want to do this last after you get a good sense of how things are coming along.

POV – this is your point of view character for that scene. Obviously, in a first person story this will always be your protag. In a third person story though, you should strive to have one POV per scene. This makes it easy for readers to be in the “shoes” of the POV character. If you do head-hopping because you are writing an omniscient POV, this field is probably useless.

Setting and Character – These are minor fields that you may consider using to give you a quick idea about the scene. In the characters’ column type the name or initials of the people in that scene. In the Setting, just type the location where the scene takes place (“New York,” “kitchen”, etc.)

Major / Minor – Even though your novel can probably not exist without all the scenes (because you should never have useless or pointless scenes in your novel!), some of them will always be more important than others. You will probably find your major scenes at the beginning and at the end, as well as on the cusp between beginning and middle, and between the middle and the end. Either way, there’s no rule about it. You must use your unique knowledge of the story to identify the major scenes. Making this distinction now will come in handy when you start writing. That’s because if you write your major scenes first, it will be much easier to fill-in the gaps with minor scenes.

Purpose – Every scene in your novel must have a reason to be there. If it doesn’t, it does not belong in your novel. There are several reasons for a scene: Develop a Character, Advance the Plot, Describe Something. Figure out what is the reason for each scene.

Type – Active / Reactive – Every story has a sort of ra-ta-ta-tat-a rhythm that is not easy to describe, but easy to feel. It’s a series of active and reactive scenes that when stacked together create this rhythm. An Active scene is when something is happening to the POV and a reactive scene is when the POV does something in response. It’s like a tennis game and the reactive scenes are when the ball is in your court. If you have too many active scenes one after the other, the story will feel like a bunch of stuff is happening to your character and him/her doing nothing. If you have too many reactive scenes, it will feel like your character is doing a bunch of things for absolutely no reason. You need to strike a good balance of action/reason followed by reaction/reflection. This will give your story rhythm. Tag your scenes and see if you had accomplished that with your outline.

Actual Words / Actual Cumulative Words – As you write scenes, you will fill in the Actual Words for each scene. This is optional, but recommended. It will give you an overall idea if some scenes are too lengthy versus too short. Again, there are no rules. The only rules are those established by you and by your story. But I do find the guide provided by the actual word count useful.

Estimated Words / Estimated Cumulative Words – The sheet estimates the average word count based on the overall word count. This is simply a mathematical guideline, nothing to be too crazy about.

Actual Intensity – Each scene in your novel will have a certain level of emotional intensity. Most likely major scenes and scenes around the climax and disaster will have very high intensity, while minor scenes will have lower intensity. Your story should read like a roller-coaster and the size of the ups and downs will depend on you. But the last thing you want is a flat lazy-river. Nobody wants to read that. Your novel needs to bring us up on a peak (which can be physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual) and then drop us back to a calmer road. And again, and again.

This is what intensity is doing for your story. There are literally hundreds of graphs out there that show the intensity charts. Your story’s chart will be different as it depends on your story. But, here’s a peek at an example from the web:

This shows a “standard,” generally acceptable structure of a story. Using the intensity column, you can plot your own intensity. Look at the Charts sheet to see how yours looks like.

After you finished categorizing all your scenes, take a look at the whole outline and ask yourself these questions:

  • Is there a sense of rhythm?
  • Do enough reactive scenes balance the active scenes?
  • Does the intensity make sense?

As I said a few times before, there are no real rules when it comes to creating the structure of a novel. With experience, you will develop your own style and you will start dreaming this stuff up. But until then, I suggest looking into some standard structures that have been working for a very long time. I’m talking about the 3-Act structure and the general graph of intensity.

I won’t go too much into the details about why they are important (you can read yourself about the Three Act Structure and the Story Intensity Diagram), but this Excel tool uses those as a basis for analysis.

 

Tweaking

This brings us to tweaking. Read your outline one more time, but this time think in terms of intensity. You will probably find that your major scenes map to higher intensity moments, while your minor scenes to less intense ones. That’s obvious. Keep reading and tweak those intensities as you see fit.

As you make changes to your intensity, you will see that the graph on the Charts page will divide into two lines: the red line shows the story intensity for your own story, while the blue line shows the original, standard line. This will allow you to visualize how different your story is, intensity-wise, from a standard distribution.

 

Adding / Deleting Scenes

Now that you’ve completed this stage and you are certain that your one-line translates well into your scene list and the scenes are properly categorized and assigned an intensity, it’s time to see if anything is missing.

If you did things right, most likely you won’t have to delete anything, but you might have to add something. Let’s say that a certain concept that you split in 3 scenes, really needs four or five or more scenes. What do you do? Well, simply insert lines in the place where you want to add scenes and write manual scenes. The formulas that bring the cascade of outline elements will be preserved, but your manual scenes will stay fixed. Perhaps you can mark them with a different background color to make sure it’s obvious they’ve been inserted.

 

Word Counts

In the beginning, you set your story’s word count and the scene count was set to 81. By default, the sheet will divide your word count equally between the scenes. If you’ve added manual scenes in the step before, make sure to edit the number of scenes in the dash board so the system properly determines the average word count per scene.

 

Additional Tools

 

Character Template Sheet

When outlining, I find it critical to learn more about my characters and develop them. Sometimes, it’s best to describe your characters before you start outlining. Learning and discovering who they really are will give you new ideas for your plot.

To help with this, I’ve added two Character Worksheet templates—one for major characters and one for minor characters. Both include a list of basic things about your character, as well as list of questions and answers that will help you shape your character in multiple dimensions.

I suggest duplicating the major character template sheet and have one for each of the following characters:

  • Main Character (Protagonist)
  • Antagonist
  • Sidekicks
  • Other important characters

All minor characters, or at least most of them, should get a minor character sheet.

Each major character sheet also has a place for you to set the value of the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator. This value describes the overall personality traits of your character, based on a survey which you must fill-in as your character. So, answer all questions in the same way as your character would answer them and you will get their indicator. If you want to learn more about this technique, read my blog post on creating memorable characters.

 

Character Genealogy

For me it’s always important to know a lot about my characters before I throw them into action. Most of time, the reader will never get this information. But it’s important for me to know because it allows me to develop that character and understand how he/she would react in different situations. For this, I am using a simple tree-like genealogy chart. With it, I can take one character’s family history all the way to his/her great-grandparents.

I know it’s a kind of unilateral and simplistic view of life. In reality, people divorce and die and remarry and run away and kill each other. But here, with this genealogy tree, I am just trying to get a snapshot of my character’s family history at some point in time.

Feel free to delete this if you don’t use it, or duplicate it for more characters. I usually like to create one for my protagonist, antagonist, and sidekicks. It makes my characters feel more realistic and gives them history.

To use this, simply fill in the name of each person, their place and date of birth, their place and date of marriage, if any, and their place and date of death. On the right side, the sheet calculates each person’s age (as relative to the Present Date you set in the Dashboard), and the person’s age at death, if applicable. For characters who are dead already, the Age can be interpreted as: how old would this person be if he/she were still alive today.

A little Excel quirk: if you need to use years prior to Jan, 1 1900, the age calculator will not work.

 

Word Count Tracker

The last tool in this worksheet is a word count tracker. It allows you to set your writing goals and track your progress. It’s pretty self-explanatory-simply type the date of your writing session followed by the total word count after you stopped writing. The sheet will compute your session’s word count and the percentage of completion:

 

On Going Usage

Once you are done with this worksheet, you are ready to start writing!

As you do, remember to adjust:

  • Word count as you advance through your story
  • Scenes’ actual word count (which will drive the word count in your chapters)
  • Chapter assignments as you complete scenes and decide if they belong here or there

 

Final Thoughts

As I was hinting in my intro paragraph, this is just a helper tool. It will not work for everybody and, most importantly, it will not work for every type of story. If you have a lot of parallel sub-plots, this tool might not be the best for you (unless you create one sheet for each sub-plot).

So, try it out and see if it works. If it doesn’t, I hope something else does… If it does work, let me know; I’d like to hear about it.

 

Download

Without any further ado, please click here to download the Master Outlining and Tracking Tool for Novels (MOTT).

Feel free to use these at your own leisure, modify them, and share them in any way, shape, or form. However, I’d appreciate if you left my credit and links in the dashboard. Also, if you share it on your blog, please link back to this post. I’ll appreciate it.

Also, I truly welcome your feedback on this:

  • What do you like and/or hate about this method and tool?
  • How would you improve it? What would you add?
  • Any other thoughts?

Thank you!

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Creating Multi-Dimensional, Memorable Characters

Characters are at the heart of every story. The characters (who) together with the plot (what) and the setting (where) are the basic elements that must work together to create a compiling story. It is very rare that a story can exist without one of these elements. And even if the setting is fuzzy and if the plot is missing (like in a vignette), it is virtually impossible to have a story without characters.

It’s obviously not enough to just throw in some characters to have a good, memorable story. You need the right number of characters, and all of them need to be built from the ground up in such a way so they feel real and believable. The reader must perceive those characters as actual people because that’s the way readers connect with them. The reader must be able to put himself into the shoes of a character and get a sense of realism, of plausibility, but also feel entertained and emotionally connected.

You’ve probably heard this before: create 3-dimensional or multi-dimensional characters, be aware of and avoid flat or cardboard characters. What does that mean?

This advice spawns from the fact that nobody in our real world is a one-dimensional individual. Nobody is just bad or just good, or just stupid or just smart. People are generally bad about some things, and good about others, they are stupid about certain things, and smart about others. They have positive traits and negative traits, and all of them together make that person who he is.

Moreover, a person evolves and changes over time. A person is influenced by his environment, his family, teachers and friends. Someone who started as being a cynic might change later on when a stressing event occurs. Someone who was a loving person might turn into a misanthrope after they had lost their loved one to an accident; a god-fearing person might turn into god-hater after they had lost their child to a disease. Either way, people change – in good or in bad – and that makes them real too.

The combination of personal traits and the way that those traits change during one’s life are what define that person in multiple dimensions. It’s what makes that person unique. In the context of fiction, it’s what makes that character interesting and worth caring about.

So, to create powerful, memorable characters you must answer 3 fundamental questions:

1) Who is this character?
2) What does this character want?
3) How does this character change?

Let’s take a look at each one of these, one at a time:

who-is-character

Who Is This Character?

In this article, I am not worried about the way a character looks, i.e. his/her physical appearance, even though in some instances the way a character looks is integral to his/her personality. I am mostly talking about personality traits. Other things such as name and looks are just bonuses that, when used correctly, will propel your character further. Just imagine Darth Vader being exactly as he is, but instead of the ominous black suit, he’d be wearing a yellow overall and his name would be Skippy. I know, it’s an exaggeration, but I wanted to make a point. After you read all of the text below, an apply everything you have learned about personality, give your characters some physical features and a name that matches. Then, you’ll have a real winner!

Let’s go back to personality now. In order to define a full character we will turn to something called the Myers-Briggs test.

Now, don’t get scared: you won’t have to become a psychologist just to create powerful characters. I will give you an easy, child-proof way to reverse-engineer the Myers-Briggs test. I will only touch on the basic points here, but if you want to learn more, you should check the Myers & Briggs Foundation site for some in-depth information.

Basically, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a way to take the 16 dimensions defined in the theory of psychological types described by Carl Jung, and apply them to people. Each person will be defined by a combination of 4 factors, each factor having one dominant feature, and one minor:

a) Favorite World: do you prefer to focus on the outer world (Extraversion (E)) or the inner world (Introversion (I))?

b) Information: do you prefer to focus on the raw, basic information you have (Sensing (S)) or to interpret and add meaning to it (Intuition (N))?

c) Decisions: do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency (Thinking (T)) or first look at circumstances and their influence on people (Feeling (F))?

d) Structure: in dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided (Judging (J)) or to stay open to new information and options (Perceiving (P))?

What is great about this is that none of us is only one thing or another. We all have things we are extroverted about (like cursing out loud at a soccer game) and things we are introverted about (like asking a stranger a question). The test is conducted through a series of questions and depending on the answers you get allocated a letter of each.

So, for example: INFP = Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving

Obviously you have 4 x 4 dimensions which results in 16 possible combinations.

If you want to try it out and learn about your own personality, and thus learn a little bit more about this, here is a link to one of these tests: Human Metrics.

So, now let’s build the personality code for a character:

  • a) Favorite World:
    • a. (E)xtroverted: (Keyword: OUTER)
      • i. Acts first, thinks later (trigger-happy)
      • ii. Feels deprived when cut off from the outside world (hates isolation)
      • iii. Open and motivated by the outside world (feels great in crowds)
      • iv. Enjoys a wide variety people and the way people change
    • b. (I)ntroverted: (Keyword: INNER)

      • i. Thinks first, acts later (over-thinker)
      • ii. Needs private time to recharge (loner)
      • iii. Motivated internally (others find hard to read him or “break thru”)
      • iv. Prefers one-to-one communications (hates crowds)

Think about your character; which one of these is he/she leaning towards? If you like numbers use percentages (for example 70% extroverted, 30% introverted), otherwise just say (E) first, (I) second, to signify that this character is more extroverted than he/she is introverted.

Let’s keep going. Use the same method for the other 3 parameters:

  • b) Information:

    • a. (S)ensing: (Keywords: PRESENT, REALITY)

      • i. Mentally lives in the now (carpe diem)
      • ii. Uses common sense and easily creates practical solutions (practical)
      • iii. Good memory of details of past facts and events (facts!)
      • iv. Improvises well from past experience (street smart)
      • v. Likes clear and concrete information (hates guessing)
    • b. I(N)tuitive (Keywords: FUTURE, POSSIBILITIES)

      • i. Mentally lives in the future (opportunities)
      • ii. Uses imagination and creates/invents new possibilities (theoretical)
      • iii. Good memory of patterns, contexts, and connections (feelings!)
      • iv. Improvises well from theoretical understanding (book smart)
  • c) Decisions:

    • a. (T)hinking: (Keyword: DETACHED)

      • i. Searches for facts and logic in a decision situation
      • ii. Looks at work as a task-based process, independent of people
      • iii. Can provide an objective and critical analysis
      • iv. Accepts conflict as a normal part of life
    • b. (F)eeling: (Keyword: ATTACHED)

      • i. Uses feelings and impact on people in a decision situation
      • ii. Sensitive to people’s needs and reactions
      • iii. Seeks consensus and popular opinions
      • iv. Unsettled by conflict; dislikes disharmony
  • d) Structure:

    • a. (J)udging: (Keyword: HAS A PLAN)

      • i. Plans many details in advance before taking action
      • ii. Focuses on task-related actions, completes segments in order
      • iii. Works best when is able to stay ahead deadlines
      • iv. Uses goals, targets, dates to manage life and work
    • b. (P)erceiving (Keyword: AS IT COMES)

      • i. Plans on-the-go
      • ii. Likes to multitask and mix work with play
      • iii. Tolerant of time pressure, works best close to deadlines
      • iv. Avoids commitments which interfere with flexibility, freedom, and variety

Okay, so by now you should have two columns: one with the dominant characteristics, and one with the minor ones. For example:

Dominant: ENTJ (Extrovert, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging)

Minor: ISFP (Introvert, Sensing, Feeling, Perceiving)

What you should do next is read the description of those two types. Your character will be a LOT of the first (dominant), and a little of the second (minor), which is why you want to read both.

You can read these descriptions on the Myers-Briggs Site or on the PersonlityPage. I like the PersonalityPage in particular because they have a short description and a long, more detailed description for those who want to go deeper. In addition, they name each type with a matching label. In our example above:

ENTJ = The Executive – Assertive and outspoken – they are driven to lead. Excellent ability to understand difficult organizational problems and create solid solutions. Intelligent and well-informed, they usually excel at public speaking. They value knowledge and competence, and usually have little patience with inefficiency or disorganization.

ISFP = The Artist – Quiet, serious, sensitive and kind. Do not like conflict, and not likely to do things which may generate conflict. Loyal and faithful. Extremely well-developed senses, and aesthetic appreciation for beauty. Not interested in leading or controlling others. Flexible and open-minded. Likely to be original and creative. Enjoy the present moment.

Here is a quick chart that gives you an idea about each of the 16 types.

ISTJ
The Inspector
The Duty Fulfiller
ISFJ
The Protector
The Nurturer
INFJ
The Counselor
The Protector
INTJ
The Mastermind
The Scientist
ISTP
The Craftsman
The Mechanic
ISFP
The Composer
The Artist
INFP
The Healer
The Idealist
INTP
The Architect
The Thinker
ESTP
The Dynamo
The Doer
ESFP
The Performer
ENFP
The Champion
The Inspirer
ENTP
The Visionary
ESTJ
The Supervisor
The Guardian
ESFJ
The Provider
The Caregiver
ENFJ
The Teacher
The Giver
ENTJ
The Commander
The Executive

Just a little note here: Each of these types can be additionally decomposed to provide a deeper understanding. For example, a person who is an ENTP (The Visionary), can be described as follows:

Dominant Extraverted Intuition
Auxiliary Introverted Thinking
Tertiary Extraverted Feeling
Inferior Introverted Sensing

You probably don’t need to go that deep, but if you do, the PersonalityPage mentioned above can give you all of these breakdowns. Their detailed descriptions are really good. After you found your character’s personality, read the description and ask yourself: Does this sound like the character I had envisioned?

Now that you have your character described, the trick is to show the readers those traits through the character’s actions or dialogue. The reader probably doesn’t know the personality code, but we are all more or less versed in reading these types naturally. Read the description for The Executive above; take all those features and figure out how to show them in your prose. “They value knowledge and competence” – show the character praising this and show them display hatred of the opposite.

Make sure you choose at least one or two of the traits from the minor type and show that sporadically in your story. Maybe your executive is also loyal and faithful. He’s portrayed as this mean boss-type person, but at home he’s a loving husband and father. Give your characters 75% of their main type (which already is a combination of 4 different dimensions) and 25% of the minor type. You will wind up with an actual person, someone who is real, and someone with whom the readers can connect.

Obviously you will use actions, body language, and dialogue to load your character with the above traits. There’s something called “visual identification,” which is a method by which you observe a person and figure out his/her type from their body language, speech mannerism and so on. Since you know your type now, you need to figure those body language cues and manners of speech that would indicate that. You are in luck, because psychologists have been dealing with this for years. The 16 types info site has some descriptions related to visual identification. Use those cues to bring your character to life.

To do some of this on your own, use a simple Q&A method. If this person “plans-on-the-go” what does that mean? Brainstorm: he doesn’t have a calendar planner, he’s late, he improvises, etc. Take all the bullet points from above and figure out what does your character need to do, say, and how he/she should act in order to ooze that particular trait.

In addition to this, besides the personality traits, to make characters even more human you should give them flaws and redeeming features. Your protagonist is the hero, he saves everyone, but he also has his/her own demons. Your villain or antagonist is mean and bad, but he also has some characteristics that makes us like him/her. Everyone agrees Darth Vader is evil, but the fact that he can’t kill his own son and turns against his master at climax makes him real. Indiana Jones saves everyone everytime, and does so selflessly, putting his life on the line. But he’s afraid of snakes. Sherlock Holmes is a great detective, putting criminals behind bars, but he’s a drug addict and his ego makes him behave rather mean towards people he considers of lower intellect. See the pattern? Give a lot, take some away.

Readers also love unexpected acts of kindness especially during stressful times or from characters who don’t seem like they would be inclined to act that way. Dr. Kimble in The Fugitive movie risks blowing his cover, while on the run, only to help read a patient’s chart.

Just be aware of one thing: don’t tack good traits on a villain or flaws on a hero just for the sake of it. It will feel forced. Make sure that those traits flow naturally and actually integrate with the plot. We all hate Valdemort, but we do feel a bit of sympathy for the guy given the life he had. That’s much better than showing that he loves dogs.

All these things make the character more human. All these little facets give your characters depth and make them easier to understand and believe.

eve_apple

2) What does the character want?

Kurt Vonnegut once said: “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”

Stories need conflict and conflict arises when a character wants something and he is unable to get it. So, make sure that you make this clear from the beginning.

During a complete story, characters will want:

1) To solve the story’s main question (what is the one thing the character wants that is directly related to this plot?)

2) To fulfill their life-long desires – these are things that exist with or without this story; they are inherent to the character. The story could be about something, but your character might ALSO want to get a better life, or find a wife, or kill an enemy. There are things all of us want and we continue to want them throughout our life. The story might not be about those, but they do add to the character’s dimension, making them have a life outside of the
story, thus more realistic. Those things should be mentioned and hinted at in a subtle manner.

Once you establish what the characters want, make sure, absolutely sure, that it’s extremely hard for them to get it. Nothing bothers readers as much as a well-defined character that dashes through the story and succeeds at every step. That’s because in reality, life is not like that, and we all know it. And in the end, we actually despise people that have it easy in life. In reality, for most people, very few things can be obtained without a struggle. (Have you ever thought kindly about the kid who inherited a fortune and is now flashing it everywhere? Of course not, even if he saves a squirrel.)

Since I quoted Vonnegut, let me continue with his advice here: “Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”

Now we’re talking. You have defined a real, multi-dimensional character, you gave him/her something to desire, and then you’ve made it hellishly hard for them to get it. We’re on the right path!

ghost

3) How does the character change?

I think deep down inside nobody thinks that they change. I have to struggle to remember what my values and thoughts were in my twenties. I am sure they were vastly different, but because change happens in us so slowly and gradually over time, we fail to notice it.

Sometimes the ones around us notice it, especially those whom we haven’t seen for a long time. So, we are aware that people change, but we see it in others more than we see it in ourselves. That’s why we are also very much aware when a character changes in front of our eyes.

A story is a slice of life and to create memorable characters you want them to change throughout the story.

Now, don’t get me wrong, not ALL characters must change. Allow me a parenthesis to explain. There are 4 types of stories in general: Milieu (it’s a story about a place), Idea (it’s a story about information), Character (it’s a story about a character’s character), and Event (it’s a story about something that happened). Each story has a little bit of each of these types. For the purposes of this section, we are mostly referring to the Character-heavy stories. Those are the stories where we follow the character arc and we can clearly see a beginning character, a path of change, and an ending character.

The Indiana Jones movies are Event stories. The emphasis is not on the character’s character, which is why Indiana Jones is pretty much the same from beginning to end.

A Christmas Carol is a Character story, and here we see the evolution of Ebenezer Scrooge from a cold, miserly person to a selfless person who cares.

There are few ways that you can modify a character in your story:

  • Change – your character turns from a regular person into a hero (Frodo)
  • Growth – your character becomes a better person (Scrooge)
  • Demise – your character becomes a worse person (Michael Corleone)

When it comes to the character arc, this is also not a one way street. Throughout one’s life, a person might find himself on a growth path for twenty years, then something happens, and the rest of the life is a downward spiral. That in itself could be an interesting story to tell.

James Scott Bell wrote in his Plot and Structure that, “As opposed to the plotline, the character arc is a description of what happens to the inside of the character over the course of the story.” He goes on and provides us with a simple list to follow this arc:

  • “A beginning point, where we meet the character and get a sense of his interior layers
  • A doorway through which the character must pass, almost always reluctantly
  • Incidents that impact the layers
  • A deepening disturbance
  • A moment of change, sometimes via an “epiphany”
  • An aftermath”

When you work on your characters’ arc, try to follow this simple forward-looking list. Your arc should span the entire novel (or even more, an entire series) and should be clear enough so that readers can understand it.

Alignment

By playing with the character arc, in the context of the personality, you can create very memorable characters. One critical keyword I want to mention here is “alignment.” Make sure that the change is possible for the personality type. A very introverted, heads-in-the-clouds artist is unlikely to change so radically as to become the President of the United States (unless you are writing comedy, in which case all bets are off). So, make sure that your character evolution is aligned to the character’s personality so that it sounds plausible. That’s why you define the personality in the first step by walking your way backwards, learning more about your character as you develop him/her.

If you defined your character’s personality well enough, gave them something to desire, made it very hard for them to get it, and established a path by which they change, you probably have a very strong character, one that readers can relate to and who will stay in their minds long after they’ve finished your book.

In your novel, you should go through this exercise for your protagonist(s), antagonist(s) and, perhaps on a smaller scale, for your sidekicks. If you populate your story with these well-defined characters, you are already one step ahead towards a memorable novel. Of course, these great characters must do something exciting and interesting, but that’s a whole other story for another time.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Please give me your thoughts. I am curious what is your approach to character development?

Some additional reading materials:

Mayers-Briggs Personality

Character Arc

Characterization

All the best,

Iulian

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Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival Issue #11

Welcome to the Issue #10 of the Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival. For those of you not familiar with what a Blog Carnival is, here is a short description: a collection of links pointing to blog posts around a specific topic. As you may have guessed it, this blog carnival will be centered around the subject of fiction writing, with a special interest for fantasy and science fiction.

Previous issues: #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10

Enjoy!

 

Fantasy Fiction General Writing

fiction writing tipsShanah Haislip presents 5 Things Rocky Taught Me About Writing Knockout Main Characters posted at Positive Writer, saying, “The Rocky movies achieved lasting popularity as a result of the hugely effective group of main characters. Here are five tips about characterization I learned while watching.”


fiction writing tipsEM Castellan presents Writing a large cast of characters – with Black Sails posted at EM Castellan, saying, “Fantasy and Historical novels have something in common: they often have a large ensemble cast of at least a dozen main characters, with up to hundreds of secondary characters. Writing a large cast of characters presents some specific challenges: how can the writer make sure each character is distinct from the others and fully realized?”


fiction writing tipsAva Jae presents How to Write a Great Antagonist posted at Writability, saying, “So while working on my last couple manuscripts, I’ve been thinking a lot about antagonists. Specifically, on antagonists that I really actually love.”


fiction writing tipsLisa Alber presents The Art of Creating Memorable Villains Whatever Your Genre posted at Writer Unboxed, saying, “I write crime fiction, so I’m fascinated by villains in all their diversity. However, I notice that when we talk about ‘villains,’ we tend to think only in terms of genre fiction such as mystery, suspense, and thriller.”


Fantasy Fiction General Writing

fiction writing tipsStephanie Morrill presents Editing in Layers: Drawing out Emotion and Tension posted at Go Teen Writers, saying, “One of the reasons editing in layers is such a valuable practice is that it forces your brain to focus on a particular element of each scene. If you read your scene looking just for adverbs, for example, you’ll have a much easier time spotting them than if you’re looking for adverbs, sensory details, and the level of tension.”


fiction writing tipsCate Baum presents Ten things to do to win a writing contest posted at Self-Publishing Review, saying, “With so many entries to judge, what is it about your book that will win you a prize? Cate Baum, co-founder of the SPR Awards spills the beans on the best tips to get that award.”


Fantasy Fiction General Writing

fiction writing tipsJanice Hardy presents A Quick Tip for Adding Conflict and Tension to Your Scenes posted at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University, saying, “Agent Donald Maas once said, “You can never have too much conflict.” He’s not alone in this thinking, and “not enough conflict” is a common reason manuscripts get rejected. Even novels with strong plots and solid core conflicts can earn a, “sorry, not for me,” because the conflict comes in dribs and drabs and there’s no tension on every page or in every scene.”


fiction writing tipsMelissa Donovan presents Mysterious and Thrilling Fiction Writing Prompts posted at Writing Forward, saying, “Sometimes it’s hard to start a new writing project. Maybe you’re overwhelmed by too many ideas and can’t decide which one to tackle. Or maybe you’re searching for the right idea, something to spark your imagination and inspire your next story.”


fiction writing tipsEmily Wenstrom presents 3 Times You Should STOP Writing posted at The Write Practice, saying, “Write every day. Set a word count and don’t get up until you reach it. Butt in chair, hands on keyboard. Writers get a lot of advice about the importance of pushing ourselves to get the words on the page. It’s a principle I try to live by, and I know I’m not alone. But there are times when the best thing you can do for your writing is to… stop writing.”


fiction writing tipsJody Hedlund presents The Importance of Throwing Our Readers for a Loop posted at Jody Hedlund, saying, “I think I’m one of those people built with an internal ‘surprise radar.’ I can sense a surprise coming, spot the clues, and figure out what’s going on without my family realizing I’ve discovered the ‘big surprise.'”


Fiction Writing Tips Blog CarnivalThis concludes this edition of the Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival. I want to thank all the contributors and invite them to submit more in the future.

If you enjoyed these articles, please leave some comments on the authors’ blogs and on this blog.

Submit your blog article to the next edition of Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival, to be published on January 31, 2014 using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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organizer1.jpg

Organize Your Weekly Writing Schedule

The more I write, the more I appreciate the value of being well organized. In this post I will try to give you a summary of my own organization process and explain why I believe it is extremely helpful.

If you are like Danielle Steel and can sit and write for 20 hours without stopping, this article is probably not for you. But if you are like me: easily distracted, quick to procrastinate, yet eager to do a million things at the same time, you will probably benefit from this method of organizing your writing.

I have developed this after a few years of trial and error and it has worked for me. I feel like I am able to accomplish a lot more in a shorter time than when I used to leave everything happen haphazard.

Tasks, tasks, tasks

If I ask you right now what do you do for your writing in general, you will probably answer with a list that includes one or more of the following items:

  • Write new short fiction
  • Edit short fiction
  • Submit short fiction
  • Write new long fiction
  • Edit long fiction
  • Brainstorm for new ideas
  • Promote works
  • Network

This is just a sample list, there are a lot of other tasks that you probably do on a weekly basis. That’s a lot of stuff to do, and the problem is you have to do them all. Every now and then you will have a certain focus, such as working exclusively on a novel, but probably most of the time you will do a little bit of each, as shown above.

Take a paper or open a new document right now and write down every single independent task that you do for your writing. You might even include things such as: read a new story by a favorite writer, read a specific chapter in a book on writing, or attend a webinar about writing. Just be honest and make sure you make a complete list.

It’s long isn’t it? Now that you are looking at it, I want to ask you: do you feel like you accomplish all of those things? If the answer is no, then keep reading.

Now you must think about the average time you spend for each task, enough so that you feel you have been effective at it and didn’t get burnt out.

For instance, for me, I can write for an hour continuously, and then I have to take a break. Most of the time I don’t even have the luxury to write for more than one hour. So, step number one is to establish blocks of time allocated to each of the tasks above.

Before you move on, let me just briefly mention the Pomodoro method that has worked for me. It postulates that working in short bursts, separated by shorter breaks, promotes productivity. So, based on this method working continuously for 25 minutes, taking a 5 minute break, then work for another 25 minutes, taking another 5 minute break, you will be more productive than working for 60 minutes without stopping. You can read more about the Pomodoro Technique here. This might not work for you, but it has worked for me. There are several apps for various platforms that help you work with this method.

Okay, now with that out of the way, let’s look at an example:

Write new short fiction 1 hour
Edit short fiction 2 hours
Submit short fiction 1 hour
Write new long fiction 1.5 hour
Edit long fiction 2 hours
Brainstorm for new ideas 0.5 hour
Promote Works 1 hour
Network 1 hour

 

Now that you have this setup, convert your weekly word counts back into hours. (if you want to read more about quotas and how to make them, read my article on how to complete your NaNoWriMo novel in 30 days). For example, let’s say you write 1000 words in one hour and your weekly quota is 7000 words. This means that you need about 7 hours of writing during the week to get there. That’s either one hour a day, or two hours in a few days, or any combination of that.

Use Excel and create yourself a seven day plan that includes all of the above, sprinkled throughout the days. Here’s an example:

M T W T F S S Totals
Write new short fiction         1.00           1.00           1.00           2.00           5.00
Edit short fiction           1.00           1.00           1.00           3.00
Submit short fiction           1.00           1.00
Write new long fiction           1.00           1.00           2.00           4.00
Edit long fiction         1.00           1.00           1.00           3.00
Brainstorm for new ideas           1.00           1.00
Promote works           0.50           0.50           1.00
Network           0.50           1.00           1.50
Totals         2.00           2.50           3.00           2.50           2.00           3.50           4.00         19.50

In this example, you spend 2-3 hours per day and a little bit more on the weekend. In total you spend almost 20 hours a week between all these tasks. It sounds like a lot, but as you can see, not only the hours are spread through the week, they are also spread throughout the day. By doing things in small quantities, you get to accomplish a lot, without getting burnt-out.

The Sunday Plan

date_time_preferencesOn Sunday evening you should plan your week according to the schedule above. This is extremely important, especially if you have multiple novels and short stories in the works. When Monday comes and you look in your schedule and see that you must do one hour of writing or one hour of editing, the question then becomes: what will you write and/or what will you edit?

You do not want to leave that decision to the moment when you must start doing it for two reasons: first of all, deciding what to do takes time. Why waste 10 precious minutes going through your notes to decide what to write? Second of all, deciding what to do is like looking at a white paper. You are leaving it to the way you feel in that moment and that’s not good. Decide ahead of time and take the guess-work out of it.

That’s where the Sunday plan comes into play (btw, I call it Sunday but it can be any day of the week, as long as you plan for the entire week). Fill-in the blanks with actual things to do:

M T W T F S S
Write new short fiction  start “My cool story”  start “My other cool story”  Finish “My Cool Story”  Finish “My other cool story”
Edit short fiction  Edit “some old story”  Edit “My Cool Story”  Edit “some other old story”
Submit short fiction  Submit 4 finished stories
Write new long fiction  Write “Chapter 3”, Novel 1  Write “Chapter 4”, Novel 1  Write “Chapter 5”, Novel 1
Edit long fiction  Edit “Chapter 7” Novel 2  Edit “Chapter 8” Novel 2  Edit “Chapter 9”, Novel 2
Brainstorm for new ideas  Come up with 5 new short story ideas
Promote works           0.50           0.50
Network           0.50           1.00

See how your week is now becoming organized and how things are much more clear?

How to track it?

timerIn this day and age, nobody wants to keep things on paper or even in an Excel anymore. You need tools to help you organize your time. Lately, my favorite tool for this is Remember The Milk, but you can use any calendar type of tool. I like Remember the Milk for personal reasons, but any system that lets you calendar things and have them recur will work.

What you do is first enter your main schedule and make each task recur weekly. So, for example, setup your “Write new short fiction” task for the following Monday and then make it recur every Monday. Once you enter everything in your main schedule, you are half way there. Your basic organizer skeleton is now in place.

During your Sunday Planing you will make the tasks in that week more specific. So “write new short fiction” becomes “write My New Cool Story.”

At this point what you’ve accomplished is this: you’ve taken all the things that you know you must do in a week to advance your writing and you put them on a recurring schedule. By making the schedule recurring you are essentially setting it on auto-pilot. The only thing you must do is once a week make that week’s schedule more specific by tagging the actual things you are going to be working on.

The overall goal here is to limit the time in which you think what to do and when to do it. Your time should be spend doing it rather than thinking about doing it.

Note that in my example above I don’t talk about scheduling during the day. That’s because my days are usually hectic and I don’t know ahead of time when I will have time. All I do is make sure that by the end of the day I complete the tasks that are due on that day. In your case, if you know you always have 2 hours in the morning, and one in the evening, you can set your tasks with hours as well. That will make it even more specific. If you have trouble finding the hours in your day to accomplish your writing tasks, read my other post about finding time to write, or my other post about writing when busy.

Cheating

Most systems have flaws, and this one’s is the fact that you can postpone your tasks indefinitely. I advise you to do that only in real exceptions. For instance, you have a terrible migraine today and there is no way you can write anything. Is there ANY other task from your list that you can accomplish? If there is, complete that one early and postpone the other. If there isn’t then postpone your tasks, but make sure you catch up on your backlog later on.

When I postpone my tasks I sometimes let them double up just to remind me that I have to work hard and recover the time lost. So, if I have a “write new short story” task Monday and Tuesday and I fail to accomplish it on Monday, i’ll postpone it for Tuesday and now I have two of them. That just tells me that I should “write a new short story” but work a little longer than I would normally do, just because the day before I wasn’t able to.

Also, remember that you are the owner of these tasks and you should be free to change them in the spur of the moment. If you wake up Saturday morning with an awesome idea and spend 5 hours writing 6000 words – good for you. Let that be a replacement for your tasks. We are not worried here about the good moments, the moments when your muse is sitting on your shoulder and words just flow out of your fingers. When you have that, just run with it. This method takes care of the other times, when nothing seems to come through your head. In those moments, having an organized schedule will help you advance.

It’s like waking up at 7AM to go to work. You do it because you have to, otherwise you get fired and don’t make any money. Think about your scheduler as your boss. You must do what’s in there or bad things will happen. Punish yourself when you fail, and give yourself a little prize when you succeed. If you train your mind, it will overcome your body and your writing will become faster.

Will this cure the writer’s block? No it won’t. It will still crawl in every now and then, and you have to learn how to deal with it.

I wish you good luck, and I’d love to hear the ways in which you handle your organization? Leave a comment below.

<strong>Before you go, please help spread this article by tweeting it:</strong>[Tweet “Organize Your Weekly Writing Schedule”]

All the best,

Iulian Ionescu

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Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival Issue #10

Welcome to the Issue #10 of the Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival. For those of you not familiar with what a Blog Carnival is, here is a short description: a collection of links pointing to blog posts around a specific topic. As you may have guessed it, this blog carnival will be centered around the subject of fiction writing, with a special interest for fantasy and science fiction.

Previous issues: #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9

Enjoy!

 

Fantasy Fiction Writing Tips

fiction writing tipsChrys Fey presents More On Character Development posted at Write With Fey, saying, “Aspiring writers always want to know how to create characters. Really, you can’t know enough about character development.”


fiction writing tipsInk Wise presents 9 Words and Phrases to Delete From Your Writing posted at Wise Ink Blog, saying, “When authors use “filler” words—words that slow the pace, add unnecessary emphasis, add wordiness, etc.—it can be detrimental to the readers’ experience! Filler words can be the difference between a “I couldn’t put this book down!” review and a “This book was really slow . . . I had to stop reading because I couldn’t get into it” review. Filler words are often invisible to the author in revision. Authors might just see the great storyline or the great content and pay less attention to the words used to tell the story or the content. Here are some of the words and phrases you should cut to make your writing more effective.”


fiction writing tipsMary Jaksch presents How to Write Better: The Art of Dynamic Descriptions posted at Write To Done, saying, “Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, your ultimate goal is to enchant, enthrall, and transfix your readers, right?
But how to do it? The simple answer is: tell a story… (But there is a problem.)”


fiction writing tipsNathan Bransford presents Favorite Writing Tips posted at Nathan Bransford Author, saying, “Thanks so much to everyone who entered the #FaveWritingTip contest! We had several hundred excellent entries, and I collected some of the best responses below.”


fiction writing tipsEllen Brock presents Nailing Your Novel’s First Chapter posted at Writing Forward, saying, “First chapters are important. Really important. If you’re submitting to agents and editors, your first chapter is not only their first impression of your work, but it’s often their only impression. This is a lot of pressure. If you’re like most writers, this pressure makes you anxious, causing you to second guess yourself, your story, and your ability to write.”


Fantasy Fiction Writing Help

fiction writing tipsJoe Bunting presents 8 Formatting Tips and Shortcuts For Writers posted at The Write Practice, saying, “I consider myself primarily a creative writer, but to pay the bills, I take on many the odd job involving writing. Because of that, I’ve been doing a lot of editing lately, editing blog posts, articles, books, and more. With all this editing, I’ve found that I keep making many of same changes again and again. Yes, there are typos and grammatical corrections, but a surprising amount of the editing I do is just simple formatting.”


fiction writing tipsKatie McCoach presents Developmental Editing: What is it Exactly? posted at Katie MacCoach Editorial, saying, “I’ve been fortunate enough in that many of my clients are already aware of developmental editing and why it’s important for their work, however this is not always going to be the case. Many authors, even self-published ones, still underestimate the importance of a “story” edit. That’s right, developmental editing focuses on the story, characters, plot, structure, readability, credibility, intended audience, and most important of all – will readers enjoy it?”


fiction writing tipsKsenia Anske presents When Is It Time To Choose a Name for Your Novel? posted at Ksenia Anske Fantasy Writer, saying, “Choose the title right away. It will change itself if it needs to.”


Fantasy Fiction General Writing

fiction writing tipsRoz Morris presents How do I develop something special in my writing? posted at Nail Your Novel, saying, “What a lovely question. Let’s tackle it in stages. It can’t be rushed. First of all, don’t be in a hurry. Styles don’t develop overnight. They soak into you from your reading. Which leads me to…”


fiction writing tipsDarcy Pattison presents I Don’t Like Your Story posted at Fiction Notes, saying, “What do you do when your friends or your editors don’t like your story?”


fiction writing tipsElizabeth S. Craig presents Approaching Messy First Drafts posted at Elizabeth Spann Craig, saying, “The disastrous jumble reminded me (sadly) of my current first draft. I also wonder as I read it if I were on drugs when I wrote it. 🙂 I suppose what I was writing made perfect sense to me the day I penned it. I suppose. But now it resembles just as much of a mess as the lights. I knew from the beginning, though, that this particular first draft was one to be reckoned with.”


fiction writing tipsAndre Cruz presents 5 Things A Writer Should Kill For posted at The Word, saying “That’s right, I said ‘kill.’ Hey, don’t look at me that way, you were the one who had clicked on the title to get here. As for that snazzy title, I have no regrets. Especially since I am a writer by day and a serial killer by night.”


Fiction Writing Tips Blog CarnivalThis concludes this edition of the Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival. I want to thank all the contributors and invite them to submit more in the future.

If you enjoyed these articles, please leave some comments on the authors’ blogs and on this blog.

Submit your blog article to the next edition of Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival, to be published on February 28, 2014 using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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Creating a Fantasy World – Names (Part 3)

name-tag

Part 3 of the series Creating a Fantasy World

Names

The names you use in your story are sometimes those that people will long remember, even if the plot of your story becomes fuzzy in their head after years. Who will ever forget names like Harry Potter, Winterfell, Middle-earth, or Eragon? Or how about names used in classic literature, such as Oliver Twist or Huckleberry Finn?

A good name sticks with you and a good name gives a certain feel to a person or a place. If I tell you about two towns, one called Evildome and one called Faeglade, you will immediately make some assumptions. Maybe they are incorrect, but that’s not the point. The point is that the names should be loaded with some substance other than being a combination of letters that no one else had thought of before.

So, what can we name in a story?

  • Characters
  • Places (world, continents, cities, areas)
  • Fauna and Flora
  • Objects
  • Abstract concepts

When you think about the names in a new world, one thing has to be taken into account from the beginning: the names cannot be confusing. You must keep track of all that you name and be sure that names are not similar, not only in writing, but also in speech.

Names of places

When you are naming places that are in each other’s vicinity, follow these rules:

  • Limit the number of names starting with the same letter
  • Avoid almost completely having names starting with the same syllable or group of letters
  • Avoid too many names of a similar length
  • Avoid too many names that are very long
  • Limit the names containing dashes and apostrophes
  • Try to avoid having names that rhyme

There’s one exception to the last one and that is when the rhyming is done on purpose to signify a group of places that are related. Think: Westchester, Eastchester, Manchester, or Hiburgh, Loburgh and Middleburgh. You get the point. When it looks like the similarity between the names is done on purpose, and actually serves a purpose, it is okay. When it looks haphazard, it doesn’t sound good.

The next thing to keep in mind is the type of place you are talking about. Two major distinctions are sci/fi vs fantasy and within each you have sub-divisions. Take some examples:

Xycoon vs Kyrandia

You can argue either way, but the first name does sound more sci/fi whereas the second one sounds more fantasy.

To find names for sci/fi places you should probably turn to technology. Names of engineering things will convert well into sci/fi names. For fantasy, you will probably look into religious and spiritual items and objects and try to convert those into names. Also for fantasy, looking into history will provide good inspiration.

Naming Characters

what-is-your-nameWhen it comes to naming characters, the same rules apply, but the first rule should be taken more seriously: make sure that none of your main characters and even those less important, do not have names that start with the same letter, or are otherwise similar. This will confuse the reader, especially in a complex world. Here are some examples of bad combinations:

  • Rick and Dick
  • Sam and Sid
  • Toby and Cody

When selecting a name for your characters, try to make the names age appropriate. I know it sounds silly– after every person goes through all stages of life, so the name should apply to all ages. But, still, we associate certain names with old and others with young. So, it’s all about finding an age appropriate name for the character at the time of your story.

Which ones of these feel young and which ones feel old?

  • Dana / Esther
  • Jenny / Abigail
  • Raya / Ephronia

This is not something to go crazy about, but keep it as an ace in your sleeve, something you use to provide an additional flare to your character.

The next thing is trying to give names a meaning. Be careful though, don’t be too overt or it will wind up sounding silly. A scientist named Atom or a knight named Arrow will ring comical. Try to be a bit more subtle.

The other side of the coin is also valid: avoid names that are already too loaded with meaning and will detract from your story by forcing people to make assumptions. For example, don’t name your characters Ophelia, Brutus, or Saddam.

Using generally accepted bad/evil words as root for villan names, and good/positive words as root for heros is a good idea, but again, you must do it subtly. Think about Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. You almost don’t need to see the movies and you can still almost “feel” the character from the name.

Naming of Flora and Fauna

I cannot think of a lot of good reasons why you would name plants and animals differently, except when you invent brand new ones. There will be a chapter on Fauna and Flora, but when it comes to naming them: keep it simple, unless it is an important part of the story. If you start re-naming the entire animal reign, you will regret it later. Every time you name something, you have to explain it. Even if you explain it, readers won’t remember it right away. If there are too many of these, the story will start to be a difficult read.

If people are riding in your story, let them ride a horse, unless it’s very important for the story that the animals are not horses, or that your horses have eight legs. If you just want to add spice to your story by having some sort of magical steed called Gapherion, make sure it’s worth it and it’s somehow related to your plot. Otherwise, the readers will sense that you are trying to hard to make your world different. Remember: just naming things differently doesn’t make them different. A simple talking horse or a walking tree will be stronger than a talking klimpazoo or a walking dimpledary. That’s because now the reader can focus on the supranatural power of something that he/she is familiar with. Changing both the name and the feature might have less of an impact.

Naming of Objects and Abstract Items

This is where you should really let your imagination go wild. In fantasy and science/fiction stories the world is usually filled with unusual items and abstract concepts. Sometimes the objects are integral to the story, for example: Holcrux (Harry Potter), Lightsaber (Star Wars), etc.

Obviously, these names should be unique, unless you rely on concepts that have already been defined and work in your story as well. For example, nobody will mind terribly if you use “phasers” in your sci/fi story. But even if you use an existing name, make sure you give it a fresh, new feel. Maybe the shape is different? Maybe the result of using it is different? Just find a way to make it ‘yours’. However, do steer away from concepts that are too much related to something very specific. Some readers won’t like if you use the “lightsaber” because that is too much indicative of a Star Wars Universe. So: be fresh!

Finding Names

When it comes to character names, you’ve probably heard this one a hundred times before: use a baby names database. Keeping with that tradition, my favorite place to go is: http://www.babynames.com/

Besides the baby names database (or book), there are also a few websites out there that will help you generate names. Most of them have cool selection features, such as name length, name type and so on. Here are my favorites:

In addition to this, if you are using the popular Scrivener software to write your fiction, the program has a very cool name generator embedded in it. Another free software to generate character names is Bad Wolf’s Character Name Generator, available for free at this url: http://www.characternames.org/.

So, as you can see, there are a lot of places to give you inspiration. But that’s just it: inspiration. Don’t forget that these tools are available to everyone in the world. Chances are if you discover a cool name somebody else probably had already used it. The last thing you want is to publish the “Legends of Iskandar,” only to discover that a book was published two weeks before where the main character is also Iskandar.

Therefore, what you should do is use the websites here for inspiration, but then add your own twist to it. Change a letter, reverse two letters, add something. Make it yours!

When it comes to anything other than character and places names, the stage is wide open. A way to look for interesting names is to get your hands on a multilingual technical dictionary. If you are lucky you will find a comprehensive one, but normally you would find them specific for medicine, finance, etc. The way they work is they have the word in English followed by the translation in various other languages.

Scout the words in other languages and look for interesting sounding words. Don’t use them as is, of course, but use their root to create something that you need. Perhaps you can use the English to locate the proper concept, then look for the way the word is spelled in other languages and go from there.
Of course, not all object and concept words must be completely made up. You are also free to use regular words, but combine them in an interesting manner. Think of these: Wheel of Time, Spear of Destiny, Dragonstone.

How Do You Track It?

Just like we discussed in the language section about a dictionary, in the name section you will have a glossary. Create headings for each letter of the alphabet and put all the names under each letter. If you want you could make this glossary manually, in Excel or any similar table-software. But there’s an easy way to do it automatically:

Create a new Word Document and add a table with two columns. On each row type a name in the first column. In the second column give some description for that name. Select each name one by one and mark them as an index entry (In Word 2010 this command is under References -> Index -> Mark Entry, or Alt-Shift-X). At the end of your document, after a Page Break, insert the Index (In Word 2010 this command is under References -> Index -> Insert Index). Now Word will automatically create your alphabetized glossary for you.

By doing this you will be able to look at all the names under each letter and figure out if any of them are too close in look and sound.

This word document can become the name idea pad for your world. You can brainstorm new concepts, name them, and track them here. That’s why the description column is important too: it will let you memorialize what the concept or object means. Later on, when you want to use the object, you can look in this table.

The name glossary is also important to help you make sure you do not repeat names when you don’t have to. For example, if you create a character with a less unique name, like Frank, and use that character in a unique setting, you don’t want to use another Frank in a different story in a different setting. This becomes particularly valid if the first Frank is a very memorable character. If someone reads both stories it is not unexpected for them to assume that we are talking about the same Frank. Of course, the story itself might make that clear, but why add the additional reader confusion?

On a general note, make sure you are always equipped with a notepad or other note-taking mechanism. (As a writer, you should always have that anyway.) Then, every time you stumble upon an interesting name, or an interesting word that has the potential of being a name, write it down. Keep an ongoing name database and try to organize it a bit. Maybe keep separate sheets for long names, short names, male names, female names, fantasy names, sci/fi names and so on. When you have some downtime (do you ever???) spend some time on the name generating sites and grab a few for your database. It will be very useful later on when you are pressed for time. I make a point to generate three to five new names per week.

Also, remember that once you locate a cool name, you can always use that name as a root and extrapolate other names. Usually you do that by altering the beginning or the ending, like:

Harlin, Marlin, Karlin, Sarlin, Harlick, Marlick, and so on.

The more names you have the better you will juggle your creativity when you are looking to use them in your world.

This concludes the second chapter of this series. Hopefully once you are finished with your work you will be in the same spot where I am with my world. To see what I’ve done, click on the link below:

Creating a Fantasy World Demo – Part 3 – Pending

Creating a Fantasy World Demo – Part 2

Creating a Fantasy World Demo – Part 1

Last, but not least, please comment below and share your ideas on names in fiction.

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Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival Issue #9

Welcome to the Issue #9 of the Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival. For those of you not familiar with what a Blog Carnival is, here is a short description: a collection of links pointing to blog posts around a specific topic. As you may have guessed it, this blog carnival will be centered around the subject of fiction writing, with a special interest for fantasy and science fiction.

Previous issues: #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8

Enjoy!

 

Fantasy Fiction General Writing

fiction writing tipsChrys Fey presents How To Write A Short Story posted at Write With Fey, saying, “Writing a short story is just like writing a novel. You will need an idea that you can lay on a page to blaze into a story. When you get an idea you are halfway there.”


fiction writing tipsArt Holcomb presents Improving Your Fiction: The Relationship Chart posted at StoryFix, saying, “Relationships are at the heart of all great stories. They bond the reader to the work by giving them someone to root for (or against). They are the foundation of the subplots which broaden and deepen our novels and films. And they supply the emotional reactions that propel the plot forward.”


fiction writing tipsVictoria Grefer presents How much description is too much? Too little? posted at Crimson League, saying, “Authors: when plotting (whether by outlining or while writing) and when editing for content, have you found that one of the most difficult, most painful requirements is cutting out ideas, descriptions, and scenes that you personally love but just don’t contribute to the overall plot?”


fiction writing tipsMonica M. Clark presents How a Scene List Can Change Your Novel-Writing Life posted at The Write Practice, saying, “By the end of this post you will have a nagging urge to use an excel spreadsheet. Don’t make that face—I know you’re a writer and not a data analyst. Or if you are a data analyst—I get that you’re on this blog to get away from your day job. But guess what? At the suggestion of Randy Ingermason—the creator of the Snowflake Method—I listed all of the scenes in my novel in a nice little Google spreadsheet. It changed my novel-writing life, and doing the same will change yours too.”


Fantasy Fiction General Writing

fiction writing tipsKsenia Anske presents STARTING AND ENDING CHAPTERS, OR WHERE THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO CUT IT? posted at Ksenia Anske, saying, “Whereas I have sort of adopted the guideline on the opening of the novel being the summary of the whole novel, going as far as trying my opening sentence to be the summary of the whole novel, in chapters I sort of summarize the whole chapter in the first paragraph. I try to give enough of the space and time and who does what to sketch out what’s about to happen, like, setting a stage, then for the rest of the chapter I simply expand on it.”


fiction writing tipsBrian DeLeonard presents Using Villains to Shape Your Hero posted at Mythic Scribes, saying, “In a previous article some time ago, I wrote about developing a character named Breldin, and how I created his home setting, the town of Trindall Grove, based on the way I wanted to shape his personality over the life that he’s lived.”


fiction writing tipsJessica Schmeidler presents How to Achieve Coherence in Writing posted at The Write Shadow, saying, “Are you a sequential thinker? Many of us think we are, but when we take a closer look, it becomes apparent that we’re a bit more spatial than we’ve given ourselves credit for. While this may not seem like a very important bit of information to know about ourselves, it can actually come in quite handy when we’re writing.”


fiction writing tipsJohn Hansen presents Writing An Antagonist posted at Teens Can Write, Too!, saying, “There’s something about antagonists that, I think, inherently fascinates us as readers. We all get at least a little curious about what leads someone to become “evil,” why it is they do what they do, and so on.”


Fantasy Fiction General Writing

fiction writing tipsAnne R. Allen presents Are Your Family and Friends Sabotaging your Writing Dreams? posted at Anne R. Allen’s Blog, saying, “Writers participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) may discover that friends and family aren’t entirely enthused by your decision to disappear into your computer for a month. (I have a secret suspicion that Chris Baty invented NaNo in order to escape those painful family Thanksgiving dinners.)”


fiction writing tipsKimberley Grabas presents To Blog Or Not To Blog: Is It Really Necessary? posted at Your Writer Platform, saying, ““There are millions of blogs out there. What’s the point of adding another to the mix? What are the chances that my blog will stand out from the hordes of others competing for the limited attention of readers?” Sound familiar? Many writers feel this way, but is it a sound argument? Go ahead and change “blog” to “book” and re-read the above three sentences. Uh-oh. See what happened there? You’ve just argued yourself out of a career in writing. 😉 So, let’s assume that if you feel your book has a chance of standing out, despite all those that came before, then so does your blog. But the bigger question that I think writers are really asking is this: will the results I receive from a blog be worth the time I put into it?”


fiction writing tipsAva Jae presents How Important is Word Count posted at Writability, saying, “While I don’t think it’s something you need to stress over while first drafting—you can always refine during your revisions—after the first draft, you may want to take a good, hard look at your word count and make sure it’s within what’s expected for your genre and category. Particularly if you’re pursuing traditional publishing.”


fiction writing tipsHeather Webb presents When Writing Sucks and You Want to Quit posted at The Debutante Ball, saying, “You’re in a deep funk and can’t get out of it. Writing is HARD and it’s getting the best of you. Publishing is even HARDER and it makes you want to cry. The words aren’t flowing, life is a big ball of stress and distraction, and you just don’t know if you have it in you. What do you do?”


Fiction Writing Tips Blog CarnivalThis concludes this edition of the Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival. I want to thank all the contributors and invite them to submit more in the future.

If you enjoyed these articles, please leave some comments on the authors’ blogs and on this blog.

Submit your blog article to the next edition of Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival, to be published on January 31, 2014 using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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How To Write A Fast First Draft

type-fast

The more I write, the more I value the advice from professional writers: write first, edit later. Some say write drunk, edit sober, but I feel that might lead to other issues. But going back to the point of this article—why does it take so long to come up with the first draft? Speaking from experience I can identify two reasons:b

  • Being obsessive about the perfection of the manuscript
  • Abiding to a myth that writing perfectly from the start gets you through the end faster

The first issue is something I find most people are battling. It’s that compulsion that makes you delete two words just so that you replace the third one behind them with a better word and then resume writing (by retyping those two words as well). It’s that annoying squiggly line that tells you made a typo and you must go back to fix it.

Guess what? You don’t have to!

Most of the words and sentences you write will be edited later. Chances are some of those words you agonize over right now will be changed and some of those typos will be moot. So, why bother? A two step forward, one step back approach to writing is a killer for your imagination and your fingers. It’s like running a marathon, but every few yards you’d stop, sit and clean your sneakers until they are perfectly clean. It kills your rhythm and your momentum.

And when I say it makes your fingers tired, I am not joking. If for every line of text you delete one word and you retype two, you are typing two too many words per line. And your writing time is extremely precious, much too precious to be spent at this stage on fixing your writing.

Your first draft is not good

As for the second part: unless you are a genius (and I sure hope you are) your first draft will not be your best work. I know for a fact that is true for myself. No matter how much I think a first draft is good, after a month of breaking away from it, I inevitably red line that text to death. Why is that?

The answer is this: every manuscript contains a story and the writing represents the way that story is told. So, as a writer, you must figure out the story (with its characters, setting, and plot) and then figure out a way to deliver it that works for that particular story. So, your first goal here is to get the story down. In time, your style and your voice will develop and will define itself unique to you. So, the more you write the less you will have to figure out how to deliver the story; it will come more naturally and your first drafts will become better. But never overestimate your first draft. As soon as you do, you will become a “fix-as-you-go”-er, and that will kill your time and imagination.

If you are an outliner, you might say: But I already know my story. I have a detailed outline. To which I say, fine, but get to the end of it and see if your story still matches up to your outline 100%. From experience I can tell you that it won’t. And also, the fact that your story is already formed in your head is not the problem here. The problem is trying to put it on paper perfectly from the first run.

As a matter of fact, the outliners have a much bigger problem than people who write without an outline. You have the story in bullet points, and now you are looking at a scary blank page. It’s very tempting after you wrote one page to go back and “fix it,” or “make it better,” just to have a reason not to move on to page #2. That’s the death of your manuscript. You’ll be running a marathon through quicksand, holding bags of gravel in your hands.

Stop it! Keep writing. Fix later!

Okay, So What Do I Do?

So, what do you take from all of this? What is the big, elusive secret to writing a fast first draft? There’s really no secret. You know it, but you must accept it: Allow yourself to write badly. Turn off that spell checker. You don’t need it. With today’s tools you can spell check a huge manuscript in a matter of minutes. But that’s to be done later. First, forget that you can even use your backspace. Imagine you are writing on a typewriter. The hassle of going back and fixing something on a typewriter is so big, you’d never do it. Keep going forward and never backward.

Once you get into that state of mind, you need two more things: focusand time. Both are easier said than done, believe me!

Focus means that you should eliminate all your distractions, get yourself in a location that is prone to writing, and shut off the world. Close the door, turn off the TV, radio, or anything distracting (unless you are someone who can only write with music). Most of all, put your phones and IPads far away from you and don’t keep your email open. Close everything that doesn’t have to do with writing your manuscript.

Time is the second aspect and it’s a big one. We all know that time is scarce, besides being money. But time is not completely difficult to manage, with a little effort. In a previous article I describe how you can write by time and accomplish your daily quota, so probably you should read that if you are having trouble managing your writing time.

As an example, in my best weeks, I probably write about 15,000 words. This means that, theoretically, should I be able to keep that pace, I could finish a 90,000 words manuscript in just six weeks. That’s a month and a half to a complete novel! It’s possible!

The truth is, if you want to be a writer, you must put in the effort. Just like your biceps doesn’t grow just because you lift a 20 pound barbell every Wednesday morning, your writing skill will not improve if you do not put in the effort.

So, manage your time, keep focused, write your weekly quota every week, and always keep moving forward!

Re-frame Your Thinking

I know it’s a very hard thing to do, because this asks us to let go of things we’ve been taught all your life. At work, we write emails and memos and they have to be perfect. We agonize over a message for thirty minutes to make sure none of the words are misspelled or (my God!) the wrong words. It’s the reality of the world we live in.

But when it comes to your writing, here is a realization that could help you break through that paradigm: NOBODY gets to see your first draft but you!

Read that out loud a few times. Nobody gets to see it and nobody should, because it is not good. Even if it is good, it should be deemed not good until reviewed. So, all you have to do is relax and give yourself the permission to write badly.

Once you’ve pushed through that first draft, turn away from it. For two weeks, maybe more. Work on other things, other projects, but keep writing. Just don’t think about that draft. Weeks later, open it up and start editing your work. Heavy work lies ahead of you, my friend, but guess what: you at least have a complete manuscript!

Actual Typing

Of course, if we are talking about how to produce a manuscript fast, we must not forget the actual act of typing. Some people type faster and some people type slower. If you think your typing abilities are a hurdle, you should definitely seek out a crash course into fast typing. There are many out there, some of them inexpensive. There are also a lot of online resources that could help you. One of them is TypingWeb, but there are others. Use them, especially if they’re free.

I hope this little article will help someone out there write their first draft fast! Please share your opinions in the comments section about the ways you handle your first drafts.

Good Luck

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Creating a Fantasy World – Language(Part 2)

Part 2 of the series Create a Fantasy World

Communication

The language is an important part of world-building. The inhabitants of your world use language to communicate, exchange thoughts and ideas, archive and pass information from one another.

You must think about language in the beginning of your world-building, because the decisions you make about it, will influence a lot of your future work. Of course, this post is not a tutorial on how to create a language itself, given that the subject is extremely wide, but more as to guide you through the various options you have as you are creating your world.

Language

The very first decision to make when thinking about language is this: will you create a separate language for your world or not?

I know its tempting to say ‘Yes, I want a new language,’ but once you read forward and understand the challenges it presents, you might re-consider. If you are creating your world for a book, how important is the fact that the characters speak a new language, and even more importantly, how necessary is that you actually create that new language?

To understand why the answer is not easy, think about a book we all (should) know: Alice in Wonderland. Let me ask you this: what is the spoken language in Wonderland? You’ll probably say: English, but is it? Would the story be different if it wasn’t English? What if it was Wonderlaneze? The book would still be written in English, so the fact that there is a different language spoken would, in fact, be transparent.

Here’s another example: how many languages are spoken in the Lord of the Rings universe, by J.R.R. Tolkien? The answer is: about twenty. And Tolkien, a linguist himself, not only created all those languages, he developed them. He created phonology, grammar, vocabulary, common rules, scripts, derivations and exceptions and so on. Now, unless you are a LOTR fanatic, and you are just a person who read the books and/or saw the movie: did you know that? Probably not. All you need to know is that there are some languages, but other than that you don’t care, because that would distract from the story.

These are all things that come to mind when you think about introducing foreign, made-up languages in your worlds. Here are the four basic scenarios I can envision:

  • No mention of anything about language whatsoever
  • Mention the existence of a different language, but provide no details
  • Mention the different language, provide several words/phrases as needed
  • Create a full language, use it as needed

There are pros and cons to each of these, so let’s look at them in detail.

No New Language

This is obviously the most convenient choice because you do not need to tie yourself with the additional burden of creating a new language. You will simply write the book in your language and let the characters speak in your language (or whatever language your book was translated into), and nobody has to worry about anything.

Most books fall into this first category, by and large. As a reader, you kind of know there must be a different language in the story, especially if the story takes place in a made-up world. Even if your story is a futuristic sci/fi tale, based on our real Universe, the chance that an exact replica of a human language might show up somewhere else in the galaxy is close to zero. Just look at our own world: countries just miles away speak completely different languages.

So, as a reader, you know that must be the case, but you are not told about it and you probably don’t care.

New Language, Little Details

Probably fewer books fall into the second category. Here the author makes it a point to specify that there is a different language, but that language is not developed nor explained. It might be used as a means for plot, as in XYZ speaks one language and therefore ABC, the eavesdropper, doesn’t understand it. It’s a useful tool, if used correctly.

This one works well when you are dealing with different races in a world and you want to associate a language to each race. What works really well here is this hack: create also an universal language to go around the communications barriers. In a fantasy world, maybe this language is the “old language” or the “language of the Gods.” In a sci/fi world, maybe there is a device that is able to translate between languages on the spot.

In this way, you create the complexity of a realistic world by mentioning the languages, but you also offer a solution as to how people go around communicating.

It gets even simpler if your plot takes place in a small geographic space, where you are limited to one language.

So, in this category, you are not only letting the reader assume there are multiple languages, you spell it out, but that’s about it.

New Language, Some Usage

In the third category you have those authors that enjoy (and have the time) to dig deeper into language creation. This category is quite close to the previous one, but in here, you might actually have some characters say something in their language, or perhaps present something written, like a lost scroll or some carvings in a cave.

You can use this to your advantage as well, by waving it into the plot. Maybe there is a race whose language is unknown to your POV character. Instead of saying:

He stared at them, unable to understand what they were saying.

You can say:

“Hubba-bubba lumpa-drumpa,” the stranger said and Jin stared at him with wide eyes.

So, now you are introducing some unique words to your world and you let the reader experience first-hand not being able to understand them.

But be careful: fiction is about plot and about characters. It’s not about your ability to make up words. You can go around with a few things like the one above, but use them sparingly. Otherwise you will wind up with a book that is hard to read and an annoyed reader. As much as you want, no reader will learn your new language right away, no matter how cool it is. So, use it for effect, don’t let it take over. Once your book becomes a best sellers there will be some people who might develop the complete language for you, for free, for fun…

Complete New Language

Lastly, you have the master language creators. They spend the time to create a complete new language for their world. But, to no one’s surprise, the books in the last category feel a lot like the books in the third category, and by now it’s pretty clear why.

Tolkien worked on his languages for 63 years. He created about 20 different languages. That is a life-time commitment. I don’t say you shouldn’t do it, but be prepared for a very daunting task.

The decision you make about the languages in your fantasy world is going to influence the difficulty of writing, but, more importantly, the difficulty of reading. For beginning writers, I suggest choosing category 1 or 2. Once you get better at creating worlds, you should move to category 3. I would never recommend anyone to spend the time to create a full language, unless this really becomes your hobby.

Since this article is not designed to teach you how to create a new language, but rather to help you decide on your approach to using a new language in your fiction, I will provide you with some resources you can check, should you decide you want a new language:

Writing Systems

People are visual. We understand differences when we see things that look different. From this perspective, using a different writing system to signify a different language is a good way to make a fast and deep impact. Of course, we are talking about the visual representation of the alphabet. The way it usually works is a language has a certain phonology (the way it sounds) and then it has a certain visual representation (alphabet) and a set of rules that explain how to read the alphabet so that it sounds like the language. Unless you have a frame of reference, it is usually hard to understand how to read an alphabet. For example, for some this: /ˈθɜroʊ, ˈθʌroʊ/ makes no sense. It is in fact the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) representation of the word ‘thorough.’ So, the IPA standard is the frame of reference. If you learn that and apply it to any language you can figure out how to “say” the sounds in that language.

Defining new alphabets is not easy, but I have to admit, it is fun as hell. To exemplify, here are just a few alphabets from various constructed languages that you may have heard of:

Script images and text copyright by http://www.omniglot.com/.

orange-arrowCirth“Cirth [ˈkirθ] was invented by J.R.R. Tolkien for use in his novels. It is modelled on the Anglo-Saxon Runic alphabet, and is used to write the language of the Dwarves (Khuzdul) in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in inscriptions in wood and stone. It is also used as a alternative alphabet for English.

cirth

orange-arrowDothraki – “The Dothraki alphabet was invented by Carlos and Patrícia Carrion as a way to write the Dothraki language, a constructed language created by David J. Peterson for the television series, Game of Thrones, and based on the invented words and phrases used in George R. R. Martin’s series of books entitled A Song of Ice and Fire.

dothraki

orange-arrowKlingon – “Klingon is the language spoken by Klingons, alien characters in the Star Trek films and TV series. In the 1984 film, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, the director, Leonard Nimoy, and the writer-producer, Harve Bennett, wanted the Klingons to speak a real-sounding language rather than gibberish, so they commissioned the linguist Marc Okrand to create Klingon.

klingon

orange-arrowSarati – “Tolkien also created a number of different alphabets to write his languages – the Sarati alphabet only appears in a small number of inscriptions in the tales of Middle-earth.

sarati

Browse for more fictional alphabets at Omniglot.

Final Words About Language

I think the critical thing you should take from this article is this: don’t make an effort in creating a language just for the sake of having one, but if you do, make sure it is unique, interesting and doesn’t take the focus away from your story and from your characters. As I mentioned above, everyone expects your fantasy world to have a different language, just like they expect magic, and strange creatures, and things that are physically impossible in our world. But most of all, the readers expect a good story and amazing characters. Language, just like setting, will add to the general look-and-feel of the story, but it should never be the focus. That of course, unless your story is specifically about language. If your story is the story of an alien Jean François Champollion, uncovering the secrets of a future world’s language in hopes of saving the planet, then by all means, go crazy!

If you want to study more about fictional languages, Wikipedia has a pretty vast list of constructed languages, with background and description.

This concludes the second chapter of this series. Hopefully once you are finished with your work you will be in the same spot where I am with my world. To see what I’ve done, click on the link below:

Creating a Fantasy World Demo – Part 2

Creating a Fantasy World Demo – Part 1

Last, but not least, please comment below and share your ideas on language in fiction.

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