Can you force yourself to read a bad or uninteresting book? Not really. But what if you’re compelled to read it? Maybe it’s a book that a friend wrote, or one that was recommended for you by a friend. I’ve heard of a lot of people that told me their friend urged them to read a certain book… and then they didn’t like it. Naturally, they want to give their friend a better review than just “Yeah, I liked it! It was really interesting.” Which can sound just the opposite of its intention.
Dull books, boring textbooks, or long history books can be read and remembered with somewhat of the same format. I use a simple process:
Start by reading the Contents, and the chapters listed. It will give you an idea of where the book is going, and may even help you to remember what to watch for. This is especially useful for textbooks or history books, because the Contents can actually summarize a timeline that you can glance over from time to time. It will help you remember the general narration of the book.
When you get to each chapter, look at the title of the chapter, and remember, “This is what the chapter’s about, and by the end of this chapter, I should be able to look at the chapter name and recount what it’s about.” Skim-read the chapter quickly, then go back and read in greater detail. Knowing already what happens can actually help you read, because now you’re reading “how” the end result happened. This can work with studying for school or recreational reading, and I have used it for both. Also, don’t do something mentally consuming right after you finish reading, let the information soak into your mind, and you will remember it better.
If you are really desperate, need to read the book, and can’t focus, get out a pencil and paper and make your own timeline. Just a line and some scribbles that you will be able to read again. Highlight the beginning, middle, and end. Fill the gaps in-between as best as you can, and then try to memorize it. It will help you remember the book, whether it’s for a test, or for right before you see the person who recommended the book to you.
Now, a good book might be easy to read for you, but it might also be easy to forget. When you pick up a good book, make sure there aren’t many distractions around, like the TV, your phone constantly going off, or someone trying to talk to you. It’s different if you’re babysitting or keeping an eye on food in the oven. In other words, give your book as much focused attention as you can.
Obviously, it’s hard to read large portions of the book in one setting. So after you finish reading the chapter, section, etc., don’t go running to do something else that will occupy your entire brain. When you put your book down, try to do something mundane, like taking a walk, or cleaning the house while thinking about what you just read. It will help your book “digest” in your mind, rather than pushing it out with something else mind-consuming.
It helps you enjoy the book even more when you have someone to talk to about it. Find someone who shares a passion for book reading, or is a big fan of the particular book that you are reading. I absolutely love The Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit, Beren and Luthien, or anything by Tolkien. When I find someone who shares the same passion and interest for those books, it makes my day! I will discuss Middle-earth till the sun goes down. It stimulates my interest in the books, and I love hearing what other Tolkien-readers have to say about them.
In summary, read a good book carefully. After all, the words are written to be read, and also remembered. If you must read a dull book, then make it worth the time you spent reading it.
It’s the bane of every writer, and it has taken the lives of countless books throughout history. Writer’s Block. That dreaded foe we, as writers, must face in our daily storytelling pursuits.
However, we must not face this beast alone. I’ve compiled a list of my best strategies for when writer’s block threatens to crush my motivation, and I hope they will be some help for you, as well.
Get Rid of Distractions
This, by far, is the biggest influence for me to beat writer’s block. I’ve found that when I am in my deepest funks, I tend to scroll through Facebook or turn on the newest show on Netflix that I’ve been watching (Longmire, for those who are curious). Usually giving myself the excuse that I don’t feel in the mood for writing, I fill my writing time with anything but.
This, in the long run, only hurts my writing habits, and it will hurt yours as well. What you need to do is turn off the TV, close Facebook, and maybe keep your phone in a different room and on silent. Do anything you can so that your sole focus can be on writing.
Something that I’ve found that really helps me is a program called “Write or Die.” My favorite version of this has been the kamikaze version, where I set a timer for fifteen minutes. If in those fifteen minutes I stop writing for longer than a few seconds, the program will begin to delete the vowels in my words one at a time until I begin writing again. It’s good for me to get words on a page that I can then go back and edit later.
Take a Break
Now, maybe you have tried eliminating all distractions as much as you possibly can and still cannot get those words on the page. Maybe there is a plot hole you just can’t get around, or a character is being difficult. You’ve sat at your computer or stared at your notebook for hours and simply don’t know what to do.
Take a break.
This allows you to relax your mind and come back to your work with a clear head. The length of your break depends on you, but I recommend at least a day or two.
Go For a Walk
This is one of my favorites. There is a forest trail in the city I live in that is perfect for inspirational walks. It’s quite, shaded, and a light breeze always seems to gently blow through the trees. I’ve been able to work out many plot holes and scene difficulties while walking under the trees, letting my creativity run as it pleases.
However, walking through a park or taking a nighttime stroll are also incredibly relaxing and mind-freeing. If you’ve never just taken a walk alone to clear your mind and try to beat writer’s block, I highly recommend it. When you do, though, be sure to either leave your phone at home or keep it in your bag on silent. You don’t want any distractions.
Read a Book
What? Are you telling me that writers must read every now and then? But that’s crazy!
Actually, it’s not! How does one get better at writing? Well, writing of course, but also through reading works of other authors! There is something about getting lost in another’s story that can give you inspiration for yours.
Not only this, but it allows your mind to drift off to another world outside of your own book’s, letting it get its much-deserved break.
Listen to Music
This is one of my top three go-to’s to beat writer’s block. So much so that I have full playlists for all of my novels, ranging from instrumental music to vocal soundtracks. All of the songs characterize a particular novel in some way, whether it’d the instruments used, the beat of the music, or the words.
When I put on a playlist, say for my pirate series that I am currently working on, for example, the sound of the swashbuckling tunes throws me head-first into my novel. Songs such as “This Ship is Going Down” by Tommee Profitt reel me into my scenes that I have planned or am in the middle of writing.
There’s nothing like it, to me. When I listen to my novel playlists, I can see the scenes playing out in my mind. Sometimes a song will inspire a new scene, or put a twist on one that I thought I already had planned.
Either way, one thing is the same. The music makes me want to just write.
Play a Game
This one kind of goes along the same lines as reading. Playing a game, whether it’s a board game, video game, or roleplaying game like Dungeons and Dragons, allows you to immerse yourself in a different world. You are able to take a break from your work and be invested in someone else’s.
This can help to give you inspiration for your own work in progress, or it simply allows your mind to relax and enjoy some fun for a little while before going back and tackling whatever’s got you in writer’s block.
Besides this list, there are numerous other things that you can do to fight off writer’s block. I’m curious what some of your techniques are! Leave them in the comments below to help me and other writers defeat the monster that is writer’s block.
As writers, we write. We create worlds and the characters that live in them. We weave together storylines into thrilling adventures that keep readers hooked.
To do this effectively, we must build a compelling plot! However, over the years I have learned that there are two very distinct ends of the plotting spectrum. I have been on both ends and everywhere in between.
When I first began writing, I just wrote. I didn’t care about plot structures and the Hero’s Journey. I didn’t worry about making a plan. I had a loose idea in my head and I just went with it. I distinctly remember the moment that I realized that this just didn’t work for me. I was twenty-thousand words into the final book in my five-book series. I remember just sitting at my computer, mid-sentence, realizing that my entire series just didn’t work. There were plot holes so large you could drive a semi through them. Some characters got forgotten and left behind, and there were more loose ends than I could count.
It was after this that I went from being a “pantser” to a “plotter.” Since then, I’ve found that my writing is more composed and, honestly, more interesting. I do know that pantsing works for a lot of writers, and I’m not saying that it can’t work. For me, however, I need to plot, and I am going to explain what my plotting method is, and hopefully give some plotting inspiration for other writers, too!
The first thing that I do in my plotting process is take basic notes on my novel idea. This can be anything from character ideas to plot points.
I then sort the notes into a few different documents, depending on whether they are about characters, setting, plot, or anything else I may need.
For simplicity’s sake, I will discuss my character and setting processes in a later post.
Organizing Plot Points
I then organize my plot points in order, leaving spaces where I know more ideas need to go. I’ll let the document sit for a day or so, and then go back, filling in blanks and gaps. I usually don’t fill in every spot that seems to need more, but I get a loose plot formed.
Creating the Puzzle
There are many plot structures out there that you can find, but the favorite that I’ve found is the 3 Act, 27 Chapter plot structure, which I recommend checking out!
When I reach this point, I make sure that I have a large stack of index cards, some brightly colored pens, and a lot of space on my living room floor. I write each plot element on an index card and spread them out in order on the floor. Using the plot points that I have for my story, I’ll start adding them to the index cards, slowly fitting my story to the structure.
I never fail to find that part of my novel changes as I’m doing this. I either find that something doesn’t fit within the structure or that something is needed. It always makes the plot stronger, though, as I try to figure out how to fit all of the pieces together.
At this point of my plotting method, I will take my many, many index cards and start typing them up on my computer. I’ll use each card to write a basic summary of a chapter, making sure it’s relevant to my storyline or character development. I always find one card that doesn’t fit, or find some cards that are so important that they get split into two or three chapters.
Just because it is the 27-chapter outline does not mean that there will be 27 chapters. It’s a basic guideline, which is what all plot structures are. They’re just there to help guide you to writing that perfect story that’s been stuck in your head.
Revise, Revise, Revise
Yes, I revise my outlines. Multiple times.
This is an incredibly important step, because you don’t want to take off writing something, and then in the middle of the story realize that there is a glaring plot hole that you could have realized at this stage of the process. My current book is at its fourth outline revision, simply because I catch things that I didn’t notice before.
It’s Really Up to You
This is my method of plotting. It’s what works for me. There are some that don’t use an outline at all, and others that might use more complicated methods than mine. That’s the awesome thing about developing and writing a story: there’s not one single way to do it. Everyone has their own unique ways of letting their creativity flow.
I’m curious as to what you do for your plotting, or if you plot at all! Leave a comment below on how you go about writing your books or poems!
Novel. Novella. Short Story. Flash Fiction. No doubt you have heard these terms before. You might have an understanding that a novel is a long book, such as Harry Potter or Twilight. The novella and short story are shorter, but by how much? What exactly do all of these terms about books mean? As readers and writers, it may help you to have an understanding of these different types of fiction.
First off, we have a novel. According to the Author Learning Center, a typical novel is anything that has over 50,000 words. To put this into perspective, 50,000 words is around 200 pages, give or take. Now, keep in mind that 50,000 words for a novel is the minimum. Most published novels go above this number.
Next comes a novella. These are shorter than novels, typically anywhere from 20,000 to 49,999 words. Many novellas are published as ebooks, as they are harder to get published. Some genres that novellas typically fall into are romance, sci-fi, and fantasy.
Novelettes are even shorter pieces, coming in at around 7,500 to 19,999 words. Novelettes are also incredibly hard to pitch, so many of these are also published as ebooks.
Short Stories, a term you are probably familiar with, is a much more condensed form of writing. These are the smallest out of our types of fiction, and are usually between 1,000 to 7,499 words. Because they are so short, these usually involve fewer characters surrounding one situation. Typically, authors will publish their short stories in magazines.
Anything shorter than 1,000 words is considered to be flash fiction. This includes forms such as sudden fiction, postcard fiction, microfiction, and drabble, mini-saga, and six-word stories.
Knowing these forms can help you to choose stories you’d like to read or write. If you are a reader and prefer long, sprawling stories, novels are for you. However, if you like shorter, more concise stories that are a quicker read, you might want to look into novelettes or short stories. As a writer, you may find that you like writing the types of stories that need a whole novel or two to tell completely. You might also find that you like writing much shorter stories, perhaps even only taking six words to do so!
I encourage you to take the time to look into different types of fiction and try something new! You might be surprised to find that you like something that you didn’t think you would.
What kind of writing or reading do you prefer? Are there any of these forms that you’ve been wanting to try or are going to try?
Short Fiction Forms: Novella, Novelette, Short Story, and Flash Fiction Defined. (n.d.). Retrieved May 20, 2020, from https://www.authorlearningcenter.com/writing/fiction/w/identifying-your-genre/7125/short-fiction-forms-novella-novelette-short-story-and-flash-fiction-defined
If you spend much time at all on this blog, you will soon come to find that characters are my very favorite thing about…well…anything! Whether I’m reading, playing Dungeons and Dragons, or trying a new video game, the characters are what I love the most. All of the different personalities and development you see intrigues me, so it’s no surprise that the characters that I create and write about are incredibly important to me.
Because of this, I’ve thought of my top five pieces of advice for creating realistic characters that I hope can help you with your own writing.
First, Characters Must be Unique.
If you look around the next time you’re anywhere in public, you can see all of the different people that there are. No two people look alike, talk alike, act alike, etc. Likewise, your characters must be different from each other. Nobody wants to read about a teenage hero who meets another teenage hero who go on a quest to save the land, along the way meeting an older man who acts the same way as the teenage heroes…you get my drift.
The easiest way to make some differences in characters is by altering appearances. This might come as a no-brainer, but think more than just hair and eye color. Does your character have muscle, or are they scrawny? What about glasses? Are there any scars, birthmarks, or tattoos that could differentiate them from another character? Some of these can even give you good story inspiration when thinking about how or why some of these markings happened.
Next, give their personalities some uniqueness! Is your old miner a gruff man with a temper? What about your gentle, kind shopkeeper who happens to love cats? Not only this, but give them quirks. Perhaps this gruff miner secretly loves drawing in his spare time and has notebooks full of sketches. Or maybe this shopkeeper gambles on the side.
Lastly, don’t forget about body language! This can be incredibly subtle, but it will make a huge difference. For example, one of my characters never stands with his back to a doorway, as he never gives enemies an opportunity to sneak up on him. Another one of my character’s ears turn pink when he’s angry or embarrassed. Perhaps characters walk a certain way or tilt their heads to the side when they’re thinking about something. It’s little actions like this that will better help to make your characters unique.
Second,Heroes Must be Flawed, and Villains Must Have Good Qualities.
Nobody in life is perfect. Ever. People can think that they are, but in reality, everyone is flawed. Make your characters have flaws, as well. If you create these perfect heroes that never do anything wrong, always acting for the betterment of everyone around them, readers won’t be able to relate to them. They’ll be these larger than life characters, myth-like.
Think about Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. He’s the perfect hero for the galaxy, yet he acts very quickly and brashly at times. Aang from Avatar the Last Airbender is the Avatar, he’s the one who is supposed to help stop the Fire Nation. However, despite this huge responsibility, he can act incredibly childish at times. Batman, this huge superhero, is flawed by his intense paranoia. All of these heroes are still heroes, and we love them despite (and possibly because of) their flaws, but their flaws help us to better relate to them and understand them.
Likewise, don’t have your villains be only evil. Yes, villains are bad and should be portrayed as such. However, they must have some qualities about them that readers can relate to and maybe sympathize with, as well. Some of the scariest villains I’ve ever read about were the villains that I genuinely liked and could understand why they were doing what they were doing. For example, take a villain set on bringing the destruction of a kingdom. Perhaps his reason is that the kingdom had been raiding and pillaging the villain’s for years, and the villain merely wanted it to end. However, what sets this villain apart from a hero is the way he goes about bringing this revenge. Instead of just taking down the monarchs, he decides to destroy the entire kingdom, purging it of all of the potential threats to his homeland. Always remember that most villains see themselves as heroes.
Third, Characters Must be Properly Motivated.
The plot of your story is built by the characters. Events happen that effect the characters, and the driving force of plot is the way your characters respond to this. Their responses are determined by their motivations.
Every character in your book, from your main hero to the side character that’s only in one chapter, are motivated by something. Some are motivated by their desire to save their family, others maybe by the prospect of money. These motivations will effect their actions throughout the entire book. If a character strays from their motivations, it will make them seem less believable.
For example, a character motivated by greed might only stick around long enough while the reward is worth the risk, whereas a character who is out to save their family or friends might take more risks. Perhaps a character is only out to make a bigger name for himself. He’ll do anything that gets him more publicity and admiration. Because of this, it might be harder for him to do anything that could hurt his reputation.
Motivations are something to keep in mind when writing your book. They can help you get out of a block, when you don’t know how to continue. Just think about how your character can next get close to achieving his desire.
Fourth, Characters need to Develop.
People learn from their actions. Nobody who burns their hand on a hot stove is going to do it again. Similarly, your characters must develop and learn as the story progresses. Characters who try to storm a castle and find themselves unprepared will prepare better next time or try the stealthy way in.
This development has to make sense. Characters who have their trust betrayed over and over again aren’t going to keep blindly trusting everyone they meet. They’ll learn that maybe trust is hard to come by in their circumstance. Characters may learn that they need to think through decisions before acting or learn to keep their tempers in check. But this has to be in line with the events of your plot that are helping to shape them.
Last, It Can be Helpful to Base Characters on Real People.
Now, I’m not saying to put a character that looks, acts, talks, and thinks exactly like your best friend in the book, but it can be helpful to put aspects of real people into your characters. Think about how your best friend talks, and use this to inspire dialogue. Did you ever notice that weird nose-scrunch your sister does when she’s focusing? Perhaps a character has that quirk.
People watching is amazing for this. If you have never done it, you should try it. Go to a public place and just look at people. Walk through Walmart and notice how people interact with others. Notice how some people carry themselves. Are they confident or do they hunch over and try to blend in to the sea of people around them? Just watch and take mental (or physical, if you are so brave) notes. Use these to inspire future characters.
I also find that my favorite characters of mine have little bits of myself in them. One of my characters is how I feel on a daily basis. He’s shy and insecure about his abilities, yet he learns to grow and become confident in himself. Another is based on the kind of person I wish I could be, strong and fiercely independent. Yet she also has the flaws that come with that, and those are flaws that I hope that I, personally, never develop. My sense of humor has gone into many of my characters, and one character has my paralyzing fear of spiders.
Just remember that when you are planning a character and looking for inspiration, sometimes you are the perfect inspiration that you need.
I hope that some of my tips have given you some new ideas about character creation. I would love to hear from you on your characters! What are some of your “character tips” that others could learn from? What is your favorite character that you’ve ever created? Are there any characters you are stuck with and just don’t know how to develop them? Respond in the comments!
The coffee shop might seem like the perfect place to work on your novel, short story, or poetry, but it does not always lend inspiration for description. Often, consciously or unconsciously, we write regurgitated description in our books that we have already read elsewhere. That causes the same sentence to reappear in many different books. Another common author-fumble is that we try to describe something we have never actually seen. That can lead to cliché descriptions. For example, if you are describing a fire, the first thing that might come to mind to write is, “the fire crackled in the hearth.” Doesn’t the fire crackle in every novel? The word “crackle” is commonly used to describe a fire. Try choosing uncommon words, and do your best to vividly describe the fire, like you are actually observing one. Is it a hot fire that has been blazing for hours? Or is it a small, sputtering fire that was just started? “The short flames hissed and popped, and steam rose from the damp log.” That sentence is far more interesting and image-evoking. Unless all you want to say is “the fire crackled in the hearth.”
If you’ve never experienced a campfire, or a fire in a fireplace, you might end up with a cliché description of it in your written works. Rather than googling another way to describe a fire, experience it for yourself! Nothing will inspire you more, or give you more ideas, than a raw, firsthand experience. Try it with something you’re trying to describe for your written works, whether it’s an event, food, weather, or an animal. Use caution, be safe, and never try anything dangerous or illegal.
Here are some ideas; I have actually tried some of them!
• In a particular instance, I wanted to paint a picture in the reader’s mind of a deep, thick pine forest. So I went to a friend’s property, which used to be a Christmas tree farm, that had thousands of pines. Pine forests are slightly different than a forest of oaks, maples, or box elder trees, and I discovered that in my experience. It is dense, with thick layers of pine needles carpeting the ground, and very, very quiet. Certain kinds of birds favor pine trees, so you may hear specific bird songs echoing among the cedars, white pines, firs, or blue spruces. Knowing those things specifically about a pine forest opens up a variety of ways to write about what it’s like in the pinewoods.
• If you’re describing a person that is enduring something physically taxing, go for a run! Feel your muscles burning and cramping, and how you’re out of breath. Are you sweating just on your forehead, or also on your arms, back, or even stomach?
•Animals are often easy to describe: brown, furry, etc., but what is often not written about in books is the unpredictableness of an animal’s movements. Deer rarely walk a full 100 yards without stopping. They take a few steps, glance around, then trot for another 20 feet, then stop. Deer are very wary of their surroundings. Find a place to observe wild deer in their natural habitat, and write down what you see. Write anything, whether it’s just individual words, or a whole sentence. Keep in mind, animals are elusive and hard to find sometimes, so don’t get discouraged on the first try!
• Something I’ve seen in many books are descriptions of marketplaces or the downtown hubbub of a city. It’s hard not to become cliché in the process of writing about it, so try different angles, perspectives, or subjects, just like a photographer would. A photographer won’t just always stand in the doorway of a store and take a photo of the street. Instead, they might get down on the sidewalk and snap a picture of a pigeon eating pretzel crumbs, with crowds of people milling about in the background.
• Weather is famous for falling into a cliché pose. Not all raindrops are going to “fall” from the sky. Rain might come hurtling down in sheets, or it might be a light mist. Are they cold, sharp, stinging pellets of icy rain? Or is it a warm rain? There are many, many ways to say, “it rained.” And the sun does not always come out after it rains. Go outside for a walk the next time it rains, and don’t be afraid to get wet! Turn your face up so you know what it feels like. Or, if riding a winter-themed work, go out during a snowstorm! Notice if the snowflakes make noise when they fall on the ground.
A challenge for describing weather! When putting together your sentences in your work, don’t name what you are describing. Don’t write the word, “rain”. In other words, describe it, but don’t say it. Write about how the clouds are growing dark, then how droplets of water fall from the sky and hit the pavement, and then comes the downpour. Your reader will know what you are describing, without you ever saying the word, “rain”.
• If you’re describing an event, like a horse race, focus on the feeling. Are the crowds excited, murmuring amongst themselves? Maybe it’s a lazy, hot day, and the crowds are quieter, sitting in the shade and fanning themselves. What does the main character feel at the race? Is he nervous, because he just bet a large sum on a horse? Or is he just relaxing because his uncle is working at the ticket booth?
Whatever you choose to do, always remember that you don’t have to go far to experience something for your project. If you are writing about a northern atmosphere, like Alaska, you may not have the resources to travel there. So get as close as you can, without the travel. Look up photos, watch videos of the tundra, or documentaries. It’s not ideal, but it’s what you have to do sometimes. You want the reader to “feel” the cold, and “hear” the wind. It will improve your book, poetry, or whatever kind of writing you want to do!