“What is either a picture or a novel that is not character?”
— Henry James
My story is essentially about a world at war. It begins very small with everybody apart from Daenerys in the castle of Winterfell. It’s a very tight focus, and then as the characters split apart, each character encounters more people and additional POVs come into focus.
It’s like if you were trying to do World War 2 as a novel: do you just take one average GI? Well that would only cover the European theatre, not the Pacific. Do you make Hitler a point-of-view character to show the other side? What about the Japanese or Italy? Roosevelt, Mussolini, Eisenhower — all these characters have a unique viewpoint that presents something huge in Word War 2.
So you either need an omnificent viewpoint structure where you’re telling it from the point of view of God, which is a pretty outdated literary technique, or you have a mosaic of people who are seeing one small part of the story and through that you get the entire picture. That’s the path I chose to take.
Although my story is fantasy, it is strongly grounded in actual Medieval history. The War of the Roses was one of the major influences, which had the Yorks and the Lancasters instead of the Starks and the Lannisters. But I like to mix and match and move things around. As the famous saying goes; stealing from one source is plagiarism but stealing from lots of sources is research!”
For more tips from Chris Jager on writing, click here.
Readers like to worry about characters in crisis. They want to tremble about what’s around the next corner (whether it’s emotional or physical). If a reader knows what’s coming, and then it does in fact come, the worry factor is blown. Your novel no longer conveys a fictive dream but a dull ride down familiar streets.
The fix is simple: Put something unexpected in every scene. Doing this one thing keeps the reader on edge.
So how do you come up with the unexpected? Try making lists. Pause and ask yourself what might happen next, and list the possibilities, centering on three primary areas: description, action and dialogue. For each one, don’t choose the first thing that comes to mind (which usually amounts to cliches). Force yourself to list at least five alternatives.
Description: Dump generic details for ones unique to the character’s perceptions. How might he see a room where someone died? What’s one surprising thing about the wallpaper? The bed? The closet?
Action: Close your eyes and watch your scene unfold. Let the characters improvise. What are some outlandish things that could result? If something looks interesting, find a way to justify it.
Dialogue: Don’t always use “on-the-nose” exchanges. How might characters say things that put other characters (and thus, readers) off balance? Consider Clarice Starling’s first conversation with Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. Clarice begins:
“I think you’ve been destructive. For me it’s the same thing.”
“Evil’s just destructive? Then storms are evil, if it’s just that simple. And we have fire, and then there’s hail. Underwriters lump it all under ‘Acts of God.’”
“I collect church collapses, recreationally. Did you see the recent one in Sicily?”
You can make these lists in your planning stages, just before writing a scene, and/or when you revise. Either way, the unexpected elements that result will perceptibly elevate the quality of your story.”
For more tips on writing from , click here.
“World-building should be quick and merciless.
In a novel, you can spend ten pages explaining how the 29th Galactic Congress established a Peacekeeping Force to regulate the use of interstitial jumpgates, and this Peacekeeping Force evolved over the course of a century to include A.I.s in its command structure, etc. etc.
In a short story, you really need to hang your scenery as fast as possible. My friend and mentor d.g.k. goldberg always cited the Heinlein line: “The door dilated,” which tells you a lot about the surroundings in three words. Little oblique references to stuff your characters take for granted can go a long way.
Make us believe there’s a world beyond your characters’ surroundings.
Even though you can’t spend tons of time on world-building, you have to include enough little touches to make us believe there’s stuff we’re not seeing. It’s like the difference between the fake house-fronts in a cowboy movie and actual houses. We should glimpse little bits of your universe, that don’t necessarily relate to your characters’ obsessions.”
For more writing tips from Charlie Jane Anders, click here.
We hear this writing mantra over and over: Add tension to every page, increase the conflict, and get our main characters (MCs) into trouble. In humble obedience to the rules of fiction, we try to heap mountains of problems upon our MCs.
We do this externally in the form of villains, trauma, or drama. And we do it internally in the form of emotional struggles, character weaknesses, or relationship problems. A story wouldn’t be a page-turner without the conflict to move it forward.
However, at the beginning when we’re trying to establish the problems and the need for character growth, we may tip the scales too far. Yes, our MCs need flaws, things they have to work through as the story progresses (aka character arc). But in the process of making our MCs imperfect, we can’t turn them into bitter, whiny, selfish, angry, mean, cold-hearted jerks.
I’ve learned that in making my MCs have real, everyday, human problems, I have to be careful not to shape them into the kind of people no one wants to hang around for 300 plus pages.”
For more writing tips from Jody Hedlund, click here.
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