Critique Process: the Road to Publishing

If I’m being completely honest, I’m the worst kind of writer there is.  I write and write and write.  Then when I finally get to the end of the first draft, I just stop.  My draft sits in a folder on my computer and accumulates a thick layer of cyber dust so to speak.  When I think about getting the critique process started and editing my work, my fingers freeze on the keyboard.  Unable to move and usually leads me to exit out of Scrivener where my writing stays buried for at least another year before I open it again.  So why is it so hard for me to take the next step from the first draft to the second draft?  Recently, I slogged my way through some very pitiful edits and posted my pseudo-second draft to the critique website, Scribophile.  Here’s what I found out in the first foray into the next step in publishing my writing.

I have a better idea of where to start editing!

Firstly, I had no idea where to start the editing process.  I mean, I thought I did.  Reading through my novel in progress helped initially.  I picked out the glaringly large problems in the writing to attend to.  Plot holes and threads that direly needed attending to were easy enough to catch on my initial read through.  However, what I didn’t really know was where I should start.  When you have 100,000 words plus that need to be reworked, it’s overwhelming, to say the least.  The critique process really helped in that regard.  By having a handful of other people look through my writing, it gave me a better handle on what I needed to focus on.  It showed me what readers were tripping on while reading my work.  With the focused critique I received from my readers on Scribophile, I feel like I have a better understanding of where my first edits need to be.

The critique process actually motivates me more!

Photo by Berkay Gumustekin on Unsplash

I think almost any writer enjoys a pat on the back.  That “good boy” and “atta girl” from another person feels fantastic.  If I’m honest with myself, that’s what I love the most about writing fanfiction.  I’m like a dog.  Tell me I’m a good writer and watch me wag my fluffy little tail.  Compliments, unfortunately, don’t help a writer become a better writer.  In fact, the more compliments I get, the less likely I’m going to be to seriously edit my work.  I know that my work isn’t perfect in its word vomit first draft stage.  I’m not that naive or arrogant.  What it really is there doesn’t feel like a real push to improve my writing.  This then leads to my utter embarrassment a few months down the road when I look at my work again.  A critique, though, feels more like an invested reader telling me that while my writing is good, it could be better with some more time and energy.  This is the gentle reminder that I need to keep going past that first draft stage.

Not all critiques are considered equal.

Obviously, I didn’t expect all who read my writing to instantly love it.  That’s not the point of the critique process.  See the above point.  What I did somewhat expect was that the critique I did get would be in depth, somewhat lengthy, and insightful.  However, what I consider in depth, lengthy, and insightful doesn’t always match up with the readers who chose to critique my work.  Now, I don’t want to sound ungrateful for the feedback I received.  That’s very far from the truth.  All the readers who took time to look through my writing were fantastic and brought up some really good points that I definitely intend on improving upon.   Some of the critiques I received, though, were rather short and focused on things that I specifically asked not to be commented on as it wasn’t what I was primarily worried about.  With that being said, I found that it’s important to think about the feedback you do get.

The people who leave it are trying to be helpful and genuinely want to help you improve your work.

Not all feedback needs to implemented in your draft!

With the above point being said, I found it important to remind myself that not every little fix that my critiquers gave me needed to be added to my draft.  Again, most of the critique I received was given in good faith and intended to help me. However, not all of it fits with the vision I have for the story as a whole.  There are lines of dialogue, specific points of views, and other details that I wrote for a specific reason.   I’m very attached to them.  This isn’t to say, though, that the concerns the critiquers brought up were invalid.  It simply made me realize that I needed to tweak some things to solve problems that my beloved bits and pieces caused.  If I implemented every feedback that I received during the critique process, I would probably end up with something I wasn’t entirely happy with.  I think I’d spend a lot of time wishing I’d kept that one line of dialogue or something of the like.

Final Thoughts

I have a better idea of where to start editing my work.  Without the critique I received from my readers on Scribophile, I’d probably still be completely lost and stuck at the starting line.  I have more confidence and a sense of direction.  I’m excited to start editing and see what other critiquers have to say about future drafts.  Who knows.  Maybe I’ll be ready to publish in some capacity by the end of the year!

How about everyone else?  Where are you on your writer’s journey?  I’d love to hear about it!  Drop me a line here in the comments or connect with me on my Tumblr.  You can also find me here on Scribophile.  Be aware though.  You will need to make an account in order to read, critique, or follow writers.

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Writing Resource Websites: Happy Birthday from Me to You

It’s January 13th!  Today I turn 27!  Do I feel any more like an adult?  No… not really.  Do I feel old?  Oh boy!  Do I ever!  That’s a discussion for another day though.  In honor of my birthday, I’d like to share some of my favorite writing resource websites.  Sort of like my happy birthday gift from me to you.

Writing Resource Websites

Communities

  • NaNoWriMo: I really enjoy NaNo.  It’s a marathon writing sprint through the month of November and has a fantastic community.  That community is most active during November.  However, a few stalwart people stick around through the entire year.  I like poking around whenever I need some advice and motivation to keep writing.  I did a post in the past about NaNo.  Check it out for more information!
  • Write Tribe: This is a nice facebook group to chat with other writers and make some writer friends.  If you have a question there are over a thousand writers to pick the brain of.  The admin also posts motivational quotes, writing prompts, and discussion starters for the community as a whole.
  • Scribophile: I’ve not had a chance to really try this community out but it’s been on my radar for a few years.  It’s been a NaNoWriMo sponsor for at least two years now and I hold a high amount of trust in NaNo sponsors.  Scribophile offers critiques from the writers in the community and allows writers to post their own works for critique.  There forums, groups, and contests as well.  The site offers a free service and paid service but the free service looks as though it’s not too terribly limited.  I personally can’t wait to check it out further.

Writing Advice

  • Thewritelife.com: I absolutely love, love, love this website.  It hosts articles detailing a whole array of writing topics.  Freelancing, marketing, and publishing are just a handful of things that you’ll find resources on.  They’re all written by experienced writers, authors, and bloggers who’ve been writing for awhile.  If you’ve never been, please be sure to check it out.  It’s at the top of my list to peruse whenever I have a question.
  • Well-storied.com: I’ve been following this blogger for a few years now.  I’ve always enjoyed her posts everything writer-ly related.  There are topics that range from writing craft to publishing to Scrivener tutorials. Definitely worth the quick check out.  If you really enjoy the writing resources on this website then you might also want to check out the facebook community set up for well-storied.com as well.
  • Bryndonovan.com: If you’re a fan of writing masterlists, this is a fantastic resource for you!  In fact, this happens to be one of my favorite writing resource websites.  There are some fantastic posts about writing certain kinds of characters, plot twists, conflicts, and “description thesauruses.”  Ever struggled with how to describe facial expressions or needed a gesture to round out your scene.  I totally have!  I usually pop over into these masterlists whenever I need some suggestions.

Writing Prompts

  • Thefakeredhead.com: I keep a Pinterest board with nothing but writing prompts on it.  Most of the prompts on that board come from this website.  They range from really silly to very serious.  I also love how versatile they are since I can see them being used in so many different contexts.  Also, these prompts are some of the most creative I’ve ever seen.
  • Promptuarium: This particular website has probably one of the biggest archives of writing prompts I’ve ever seen.  Need a paranormal prompt?  This site has you covered!  What about a fluffy romantic prompt?  Yep!  It’s got them too.  The site also features dialogue prompts and character banks if you need some inspiration in that department.
  • Writeroftheprompts: This is a fairly active Tumblr blog full of prompts, advice, quotes, and character banks.  I have so many prompts saved from this blog it’s not even funny.  Some of my favorite prompts that are featured on this blog are called “Kill the Cliche.”  It takes the usual tropes, stereotypes, and plot devices found in many stories and gives writers a specific challenge to turn them on their heads.  I’d personally love to read some stories written from these prompts!

Tumblr Blogs

  • Writing with Color: I follow a lot of Tumblr blogs about writing.  So, so many… However, when I think about my favorite writing resource websites, Writing with Color jumps to my mind pretty quickly.  Especially when I need help with writing about cultures, ethnicities, and races.  It is run by several mods who have very different backgrounds that offer answers to questions, tips on writing diversity in stories, and how to avoid harmful stereotypes.  I spent a lot of time there when working on character building for one of my stories.  Hands down one of the most useful resources on the internet!
  • Brynwrites: Honestly, I love this blog.  I love its moderator.  They go beyond and above when trying to help.  They post advice on a wide variety of writing topics and invite questions from other writers.  Not only are they super eager to give advice but they are incredibly friendly as well.  There must be hundreds of posts worth of writing advice on their blog.  Hundreds of posts that are incredibly well organized.  I’m still in awe over that.  They are fairly active in the Writeblr community and are widely respected for their knowledge and advice.  This is a blog that warrants a follow.
  • Just a Writing Aid: This definitely not just another writing aid!  The moderator of this blog answers questions for just about anything writing related.  Between Brynwrites and Just a Writing Aid, I think most of the posts I reblog come from these two blogs.  Just a Writing Aid compiles their posts in masterlists for easy navigation and reading.  They answer questions daily and are frequent posters in the writing advice tag and Writeblr community.

Final Words

Here you go!  Twelve writing resource websites!  Again, happy birthday from me to you.  One day I’ll have to make another post specifically about Tumblr blogs I think.  Narrowing them down to only a handful was incredibly difficult for me.  Actually, there are many more resources that I didn’t get to but are phenomenal as well.  I might have to do another similar post sometime in the future but that’s thought for another day.

If you happen to have any writing resource websites that I didn’t mention but think I should check out, please leave a comment below or send it to me via social media!  I’d love to check it out and see what else is out there.

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Character Building: Dungeons and Dragons Edition

About five months ago, I took the next logical progression into my nerdiness. I began playing Dungeons and Dragons.  Honestly, with as much as I enjoy all things nerdy it’s really a surprise that it took me nearly 27 years to get to this point in my life.  Thank you, Matthew Mercer and Critical Role.  I digress.  Since picking up the hobby, I’ve done a lot of thinking about storytelling and plotting from the lense of dice rolling and random encounters.  The place that I’ve been the most intrigued with is character building.  Since D&D is a role-playing game you have to know the character you play inside and out much like when you write a novel.  The main difference being that it is on a smaller scale.  In D&D, you only really need to have a firm grasp on the character you play.  So how do you do this and how can it help your writing?

Character Building with the Player’s Handbook

The first dungeon master (DM) that I played with told me I didn’t need the Player’s Handbook (PHB) to get started. I ran out about a day after my first session and bought the basic handbook because I seem to do everything “all in or not at all.”  However, the nice thing about D&D is that it’s been around enough time that there are a ton of resources online.  I’ll include a list of my favorite websites that I’ve used in the past at the end of my post.

If you’re using the PHB, there are four main steps to creating a character.  Choosing your race, choosing your class, determining your ability scores, and picking a background.  The PHB walks a newbie player through the steps and even gives helpful suggestions on how to build a character.  Pretty nice if you’re a writer on a time crunch.

Step 1: Choosing a Race

Since D&D is usually a high fantasy game, many of its races are what you’d expect to see in a high fantasy novel.  Dwarves, humans, elves, and halflings (also known as hobbits for the Tolkien fans out there) are a given.  There are a few others in the PHB and quite a few homebrewed, or player created, races too.  Each race has their own unique traits and abilities that come into play during character building.  For example, dwarves are hearty individuals and have lived underground for centuries.  This gives them buffs to their constitution ability score as well allowed them the ability to see in the dark.  We’ll get to ability scores in a moment, so put those on the back burner for now.

If you already have a good idea of what kind of setting your story will take place in, picking a character’s race might be fairly straightforward.  If you’re writing a historical murder mystery in 1920s New York then you’ll probably only have humans in your story.  The other races are there if you need them though.

Step 2: Choosing a class

This is probably my favorite step.  In D&D, your class determines all the cool things you can do.  Rogues are super sneaky and can deal extra damage if their allies are distracting their opponents.  Druids can turn into animals that essentially give them extra hit points.  Barbarians hit hard and can take down several opponents quickly.  One of my favorite things to do as of late is to take characters I’ve already created and fit them into a class.  It doesn’t always work perfectly but that’s okay.  Your 1920s private investigator might be a rough and tumble fighter who can take punch after punch without even blinking.  Your dazzling leading lady could be a bard known for her ability to make people listen to even the most farfetched ideas simply because of the way she smiles.

Get your hands on some class descriptions and read through the perks.  See what traits work best for your characters.  Each class also comes with a handy “quick build” guide that suggests how to place your ability score stats and what background to choose.  You don’t have to follow it word for word but it can definitely speed things up when working on character building.

Step 3: Ability score modifiers

The basis of all D&D characters are the core six stats.  Strength, dexterity, constitution, wisdom, intelligence, and charisma.  Since D&D is a game that has combat and roleplaying elements, each stat has a corresponding modifier that will be added (or in some cases subtracted) to things you can do.  These modifiers also determine how likely you are to be successful in whatever you’re attempting.  A smooth-talking pirate who hopes to get out of jail by persuading the guard that he’s innocent would use his charisma modifier to make that happen.  If that pirate’s charisma modifier is too low, well then they might need to think of another way out of the predicament.

Usually, ability scores and modifiers are determined by rolling a 20 sided die.  Since you’re mostly using the PHB as a character building tool, and not to play,  you might choose to skip on rolling the die.  Instead, you could make it up based preexisting ideas you might have for your character.  However, if you’re starting at square one then rolling a die could be kind of fun.  You always have the ability to tweak it if needed.

Should you chose to roll for ability scores, the PHB also gives some pretty helpful direction on how to use those scores to describe your character.

Take your character’s ability scores and race into account as you flesh out his or her personality.  A very strong character with low intelligence might think and behave very differently than a very smart character with low strength… high strength usually corresponds with a burly or atheletic body while a low strength might be scrawny or plump.

(PHB 14)

Again, pretty nice if you need some guidance on how to describe your characters.

Step 4: Backgrounds

This is the part of character building where things get interesting.  Remember how I said each class gives suggestions on backgrounds to choose?  Some of them make sense.  The fighter class recommends a soldier background since that allows you to optimize your character’s skills towards that class.  What if you have a “chosen one” trope though and your character is a fighter class but has the folk hero background that has a focus on a having a humble origin but meant for greater things?  Kind of sounds like the stereotypical farm boy pulls the magic sword of awesome out of the river set up to me!

Play around with the backgrounds and classes and see what you can come up with.  Each background also has some nifty personality traits, ideals, and flaws to help flesh your characters out.  However, you can, of course, use them as a jumping off point to come up with your own.  Personally, I’m not a big fan of the Outlander background traits but they serve as some cool inspirations.  Depending on your needs you can mix and match parts of some backgrounds to suit your needs.  When I built my first D&D character, I was surprised just how quickly my backstory came together just by using the ideas in the background.

Putting it all together

This is definitely a more time-consuming process than the ones I described in my Quick Character Creation Methods post.  Using the PHB is more of a labor of love that’s going to take some time.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend building all your characters this way.  Maybe just focus on two or three of the most important characters and go from there.

Note!
I also want to take a moment and point out that I would NOT mix and match backgrounds or tweak ability scores if you are designing a character that you plan on playing.  You can quickly throw the power balance out of whack by doing that.  Also, always discuss homebrew ideas with your DM before implementing them with a character you plan to use in a game.  It’s just good etiquette.

 

Sit down with a piece of paper, or even a D&D character sheet, and start making notes.  Take into consideration your setting and plot.  Exactly who do you need these characters to be?  How will certain races, classes, ability scores, and backgrounds allow them to fill those needs?  Free write and adjust when things don’t quite fit together.  Character building is supposed to be fun.  When you’re finished you should have a fairly well fleshed out character that is ready for whatever adventure you put them through.

Dungeons and Dragons Resources for Character Building

If you’re like me and not made of money, there are plenty of free resources available for use.  Here’s a list of my favorite websites!

  • Wizards of the Coast Abridged Players Handbook: The official rules from Wizards of the Coast.  It contains the basic races and classes for players (or writers).  Fairly straightforward and easy to comprehend.
  • Roll20 5th Edition Compendium:  A pretty nice basic overview of classes, races, backgrounds, and spells.  However, I’ve discovered that some of the details are missing such as certain class abilities.
  • D&D Homebrew Wiki: A community-edited and driven wikia with content that’s been created and customized for people who want something a bit different than what’s been developed by Wizards of the Coast.
  • Dungeon Masters Guild: A resource where players and DMs upload adventures, character creation guides, and companion guides for download.  Be sure to click on the “free” and “pay what you want” section to check out some interesting resources.

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NaNoWriMo: Alternative Goals for the month of November

So two weeks of NaNoWriMo have passed.  You’ve tried it and done your best; however, hitting 1667 words is way more than you can chew.  That’s totally fine.  In my last post about NaNoWriMo, I did mention that the challenge was more marathon than sprint.  Many people who sign up every year discover that it’s more than they can do.  There’s no shame in that.  Maybe November is busier than you anticipated.  Maybe things have suddenly popped up that you couldn’t control.  I’ve been there too.  More times than I can count.  What you might need instead are some alternative goals.

 

So what are some things you can do besides write the daunting 50,000 words?  Short answer: anything you want that will make you feel like you’ve been productive during the mad rush of November.  If you’d like a few suggestions, keep reading for some of my own personal favorites!

Set a Different Goal

The official daily word count might be 1,667 but there’s nothing wrong with setting a few alternative goals that feel more manageable.  If you usually write 750 words a day and want to push yourself then up it to 1,000 words.  By the end of November, you’ll write 7,500 words more than you usually do!  Maybe you struggle to write every day.  Make your goal to sit down and write for twenty minutes each and every day.  It will help you build a daily writing habit for future endeavors.

Plot, Worldbuild, and Flesh Out Characters

Sometimes you get a cool idea for a story three days before NaNo begins but you have no time to develop that idea before jumping in.  A lot of writers will tell you that this is a recipe for eventual writer’s block.  If it hits you at some point during November, consider taking time to work on some plotting.  Work on an outline instead of writing.  Figure out what your setting looks like.  Where the key places are in your story.  Get to know your characters.  It will take care of your writer’s block and help you to finish that story after NaNo.

Read a Book

Many great writers are also great readers and though it might seem a bit counterproductive to read when you’re supposed writing that’s not actually the case.  Study the way good authors write.  What makes these authors and their books good?  Try modeling that writing.  Study the way bad books are written.  Pick them apart and figure out what their biggest flaws are.  Try your hand at rewriting bad fiction.  You can also read books to generate new ideas and unstick plots.  Discover new themes, plots, and characters you like and want to attempt writing.

Edit and Rewrite

Maybe you hit the wall with your current project and NaNo doesn’t feel like the right time to try and chip through that wall.  If you’re like me you probably have a couple projects laying around on your computer that need some work.  Taking some of your time to go through and edit might be a welcome change.  Instead of starting from absolutely nothing, work on something that’s ready to be polished up.  Editing and rewriting are a great NaNoWriMo alternative goals to help keep you productive through the month.

Work on Multiple Projects

This alternative depends on your feelings towards working on multiple projects.  Some writers can’t or won’t do it for a myriad of reasons.  If you’re like me though and you know it doesn’t bother you, take advantage of your inspiration for two or three different projects.  Hitting that 50,000 word goal will always be easier if you have the ideas.  Why slog through writer’s block when you can swap between projects when you have an idea.  This happens to be my favorite alternative goals, and how I’ve gotten through at least two NaNos.  Seriously, ask me about Scientist.

I love NaNoWriMo.  The idea and spirit behind it fosters a great deal of creativity that might not exist otherwise.  However, like I said, it might not be for every writer and that’s one hundred percent okay.  As you feel proud of what you’ve done during the month of November then no one can make you feel less than.   Having a backup plan can help you achieve that feeling.  If you’re thinking that writing 50,000 words isn’t going to feasible for you then try something a bit different.

Do you have suggestions for other NaNoWriMo alternative goals?

Tell me about it in the comments or connect with me on social media.  Let me know what you’re doing to feel creative and productive in the month of November!

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NaNoWriMo: Insanity or Not

It’s October.  Do you know what that means?  If you’re me, then it’s two things actually.  Number one: Halloween.  Arguably the best holiday in the calendar year.  Number two: NaNoWriMo.  If you’ve circled around the writing/novelling scene for awhile, you’ve probably heard of NaNoWriMo (here forth known lovingly as Nano).  It’s a marathon sprint to 50,000 words in just 30 days.

NaNoWriMo logo
Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

A daunting task for anyone who is bold enough to undertake it.  The rewards range from personal satisfaction to relatively nice gifts from Nano’s sponsors.  It’s not without its drawbacks though.  The ‘quantity over quality’ philosophy that Nano fosters often presents more than a few bumps in the road and it’s easy to underestimate the amount of time and effort involved to complete the challenge.

Is the neck-breaking, sanity-testing challenge worth it?  Let’s break it down!

NaNoWriMo Go:

The community

Easily one of the biggest things going for Nano is the community that has built up over time.  The forums see a never-ending stream of activity during the month of November.  It is very hard to feel alone or unsupported if you are active in the threads.  People go out of their way to offer encouragement, motivate, and give feedback to other writers.  On the whole, it’s a very positive place to meet and talk to new people.  I definitely feel connected to others during Nano.  It’s rather cool to be a part of such a large community especially considering the fact that I don’t have huge writing community in general.

The sponsor offers

NaNoWriMo
Many of these offers aren’t just for winners, but participants in general.

Sponsor offers for Nano have varied over the years depending on the sponsors.  Several years ago Createspace and Lulu gave authors a free proof copy of their novel for completing the goal.  That seems to have disappeared in the last few years but that’s okay.  Scrivener is still a primary sponsor and gifts winning writers with a 50% off coupon for their software.  A great way to pick it up if you don’t want to spend the full $45 for it.  Ulysses, Storyist, and Evernote are also offering discounts.  Scribophile, a website that specializes in critique partners and feedback, is offering a discount to both winners and participants alike.  AutoCrit, a DIY online editing service, is giving all participants a discount on a membership.  This is by no means a comprehensive list of sponsor and their offers.  However, there seems to be something for everyone.

The feeling of accomplishment

Maybe the sponsor rewards aren’t to your liking.  However, there’s a deeper reward in completing Nano and that’s knowing that you’ve written 50,000 words in a month.  I love that warm, fuzzy feeling I get after I type that final word.  It’s equal parts exhilarating and a relief.  The challenge itself is a huge undertaking with an even bigger payoff.   Whether you just started writing or have been writing for over ten years, that’s not a number to turn your nose up at.  Writing 50,000 words is by no means a full novel in most respects but it’s a pretty solid rock to continue building from.

NaNoWriMo No-Go:

Unavoidable trash

trash
Sorry, it’s going to be mostly junk. Possibly savable junk but junk nonetheless.

A large part of what you write is going to be complete and utter junk.  Like more than 80% of it.  No one ever writes a perfect novel in the first draft and they write even less perfectly when the focus of Nano is ‘quantity over quality.’  In the past when I’ve written for Nano, I’ve left some pretty horrid writing stand simply because I needed to make my word count for the day.  In fact, if I recall correctly I once slipped one of my college papers into my writing just to ensure that I didn’t fall behind.  At the end of the month, you will have a lot of revisions and edits to do before you have some semblance of readability.  A lot of seasoned writers hate the ‘quantity over quality’ mantra and urge new writers to take it slow and write a more cohesive first draft.

The burnout

50,000 words is a marathon.  A test of endurance.  You will get tired.  It’s the nature of the beast.  Usually, by the time I hit the beginning of week three, ideas are a little harder to come by and motivation has dried up.  Writing at a breakneck speed for an extended period of time drains a writer regardless of experience or story.  In the past, I’ve not been able to even look at my novel.  I’m just that burnt out from it.  Not exactly a good feeling to have as a writer.

The commitment

Nano happens in November which is the start of a notoriously busy time of the year in many places in the world.  Several holidays are happening (such as Thanksgiving or my mom’s birthday) or getting ready to happen (like Christmas and Hanukkah).  Many students, both of the college and high school variety, are prepping for exams or finishing projects.  A lot of people are getting ready to travel for some reason or another.  Trying to find time to write during this chaotic time is difficult.  Sometimes too difficult.  You might need to push writing to the back burner in order to accomplish real world priorities.

Sum it all up

Honestly, this isn’t even the beginning of a comprehensive list of pros and cons.  Do a quick Google search for other authors’ opinions and read through some of their blogs about Nano.  On the whole, most writers seem to be pretty on board with it.  I know I am.  It definitely seems more than a bit crazy but worth it.  Again, 50,000 words does not a novel make but it’s a great place to start!

NaNoWriMo starts November 1!  Check it out!

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Quick Character Creation Methods

Character creation can be tricky sometimes.  Maybe not so much for your main characters but I definitely find it hard sometimes to create multi-dimensional side characters.  You know, the characters like your protagonist’s best friend or your big villain’s head lackey.  I usually find it very easy to flesh out the big players in my novels but come up short when it comes to those who might get a couple of pages “screen time” throughout the entire story.  Fleshing out your characters will make them unique and easily recognizable to readers.

*Disclaimer*

One small side note before I continue!  A lot of writers say that you should know each and every character intimately regardless of how prolific they are.  Now, personally, I say this is a matter of choice over how much detail you want to go into.  I don’t usually know the Tragic Backstory(tm) of Walk-on Mary who tells Tadashi and Hiro that Professor Callaghan is still inside the burning building when I write.  Nor do I care to as it creates more work in the long run that readers will never see.  If you are one of those writer’s then more power to you.  However, that’s a topic for a completely separate blog post!

What’s this woman’s backstory? We may never know…

And now back to your regularly scheduled blog post!

I’ve rounded up four different methods that make the character creation process a bit quicker.  Whether it’s a main character you’re struggling with or if you need a bit of assistance with building some interesting side characters to populate your novel, archetypes, MBTI, Astrology, and Tarot cards all offer unique and different ways to help you build characters utilizing preexisting traits, quirks, and characteristics.  None of these options force you to start from absolute scratch.  Though if you felt the need to mix and match different characteristics to build a unique character to fit into your story.

character creation

Archetypes

Out of all four of these tools, archetypes are probably the most well known.  We see them all the time in movies, television, books, and other media.  Archetypes are stock characters that most people are familiar with.  I’ll name a few:

  • The Alpha Girl (or Guy)/Cheerleader: Heather Chandler (Heathers), Cordelia (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Draco Malfoy (Harry Potter)
  • The Wise Mentor: Obi-Wan Kenobi (Star Wars), Gandalf (Lord of the Rings), Doc Hudson (Disney Pixar’s Cars)
  • The Smart Guy (or Girl): Sailor Mercury (Sailor Moon), Hermione Granger (Harry Potter), Simon (Firefly)

 

Look! It’s the wicked witch archetype in disguise with her mortal enemy the innocent maiden archetype!

Archetypes tend to be the go to resource for writers who need a quick, simple character.  There are literally hundreds of them because they’ve been around since Plato.  Each archetype comes with it’s own defined characteristics that can be found among other characters across various stories.  They have also been expanded upon by author after author.  Carl Jung, a psychologist from the late 1800s to the mid 1900s, helped to further define what each archetype entailed.  This blog post from NowNovel.com discusses some of these archetypes more in depth.  It also includes some helpful hints on goals and fears for character motivation.  You can also mix and match certain traits and characteristics of these archetypes to create new ones.  The evil mad scientist archetype is simply a remix of the genius smart guy and the dark lord archetypes.

For some ideas on how to remix archetypes for your own character creation process, check out this chart!

MBTI

MBTI, or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator if you like long words, is one of the most comprehensive personality tests out in the wide world of the internet today.  You’ve probably seen MBTI charts on pinterest or tumblr categorizing your favorite book/movie/television characters into one of these personality types.  It’s the hot thing to do at the moment right up there with sorting your favorite characters into Hogwart’s houses.

In total, there are sixteen different personality types that measure a person’s dominate character traits.  Each one is a combination of four different dichotomies, or splits, in an individual’s personality.  Kind of like facets.  They are marked with a corresponding letter that creates an unique personality type.  Well-Storied has a pretty in depth article about MBTI and how to use it with regards to your characters.  If you just need something quick and easy though take a look at this chart.  It’s more in depth than I could ever be.  All of the sixteen of the personality types are described and detailed in it.

Image from Wikipedia courtesy of Jake Beech.  Turned into a link because I got eyestrain just thinking about trying to read it here.

I’m not sure how well mixing and matching personality types would work with MBTI.  I think it would simply end up changing the entire personality type but you could always try it and see what happens.  However, you’re more than welcome to try it out.  Tomi Adeyemi suggests taking the characters that you already have and then applying MBTI personalities to them for more inspiration.  This works really well if you just need to further flesh out your characters.  If you’re starting from scratch though, consider just picking a personality type that fits your needs best based on the given descriptions for your character creation.

Astrology and Zodiac

Astrology and the zodiac is another good place to look for inspiration when it comes to character creation.  In fact, it happens to be my most favorite.  These have been around for a very long time.  At it’s simplest form it’s the study of how celestial bodies move through the sky and effect events on Earth.  It’s all very subjective and I’ve never been one to believe in the tell of horoscopes to predict my future.  However, I find something incredibly interesting behind the wide variety of signs and symbols.

 

Sun sign zodiac, used in those cheesy horoscopes that tell you Mr./Mrs. Right will walk into you at the coffee shop.  Probably going to spill hot coffee on you.

Sun sign astrology is the zodiac that most Westerner recognize.  Aries, Capricorn, Virgo, and the rest of the twelve signs are usually what we focus on since they are the most familiar.  Bryn Donovan has written a series of posts that focuses on writing each of the twelve zodiac signs.  She covers both the good and the negative traits that are associated with each sign.  Useful when you need to come up with a handful of flaws for your characters to make them more well rounded.  Because astrology and the zodiac has been around so long, it’s super easy to find other inspirations.  Like with archetypes, traits from each sign can be mixed and  matched so that no two characters are exactly alike.

If the sun sign astrology doesn’t feel right for you or your looking for something different, try one of the many other zodiacs or astrology systems.  Just about every culture has one.  While many of them are similar, there are enough differences to separate them.  Try the Chinese zodiac or Celtic astrology for something a little off the beaten path.

Tarot

My last tool for quick character creation is a bit off the beaten path.  Tarot uses cards to usually predict the future or to gain insight on events that are happening.  Each card carries a specific set of meanings and is usually up to the person reading the cards to interpret.  It’s very subjective and because of this some people are skeptical on whether or not a set of cards can tell you what the future holds.  Regardless of whether or not you believe in telling the future with a few cards, tarot still lends itself to be an unique approach to character creation.

One of the really cool things is that though there are specific meanings for the cards, there are still several ways of interpreting those meanings.  It might make it super confusing for predicting the future but it makes it interesting for writing.  I love how open ended it is and the creativity it allows.  Several spreads exist for using tarot as a writing aide but it can be as simple as choosing three cards from the deck at random for a character’s positive traits, negative traits, and motivation or really any aspect you’re looking for.

Maybe not the easiest first spread to use but it’s definitely thorough.

Writing After Dark has a specific, more in depth, spread of cards specifically for creating characters.  There’s also some directions and an example on how to interpret your cards.  She uses a spread that I’ve seen floating around on pinterest.  I’ve got it on my list of spreads to try when I need some inspiration for some characters of my own.  There’s also another example spread at Writing One Word At a Time.  She also has some resources if you aren’t familiar with tarot cards and their meaning.

 

There you have it!  Four tools for quick character creation.  The next time you need some inspiration try one of these out and let me know what you think.  Which one do you think will fit your needs best?  Let me know in the comments below.  Or better yet, send me a link to your characters’ profile so I can check out your handy work!

Want more?
  • Looking for your next story starter or perhaps something to bust up writer’s block?  Dig through my writing prompts!
  • Looking for something interesting and free to read?  Check out Enchantress on either Tapas or Wattpad!

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Boring (Adventures in Writing…)

This scene is boring.  How can I spice it up?  Add small children that will be caught up in a monster fight to come.

Yep… that will work…

I think I have a problem.

To clarify: no children will be killed, maimed, or harmed in the making of this scene.

Continue reading “Boring (Adventures in Writing…)”

Book Review: The Secret Diaries of Lizzie Bennet

A few years ago, I had the extreme pleasure of stumbling across a webseries called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a modern day retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  I’m a huge sucker for retellings and I love how well written this one is.  Our heroine, Lizzie Bennet, becomes a communications grad student who starts a vlog as a project for school which then balloons into a year long affair.  Through it she chronicles her older sister’s love life, her struggles in school, and her exasperation (and eventual romance) with the standoffish Darcy.  Armed with a closet full of pilfered clothing for “costume theater” and her best friend Charlotte Lu’s editing skills, Lizzie tells the story of her life in an engaging and funny way.  

With the five year anniversary relaunch of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries coming up on June 5th, now feels like a very good time to review the media tie in book.  Written by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick, it’s oh so cleverly titled The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet.  Don’t let that prejudice steer you away though.  Yes, I made a joke.  Hush.  Now before anyone points out the normally unbearable nature of media tie in books, let me say something first.  This book rocks.  There’s no two ways about it.

secret diary of lizzie bennet

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet
By Bernie Su and Kate Rorick

Continue reading “Book Review: The Secret Diaries of Lizzie Bennet”

Inspired or why it sucks to be a fanfiction writer sometimes…

So, you start a new show.  It’s amazing.  You love it.  The characters are cool and the story line is fun.  You grab your computer.  You look at fan art and check out the coolest fan theories.  Then, because you’re a writer, you get inspired.  So you open up your preferred writing program and spit out approximately 3000 words worth of fanfiction for one particular theory/headcanon that you love.  It’s fantastic.  You love it.  It’s not perfect but you adore the story that you’ve created.  You start to dream big about how it could be your next multi-chaptered fic if people seem interested enough.

Then, the worst hits…

The new episodes/season/reveals come out.  That fantastic story line you came up with… is so horrifically off canon that it isn’t even on the freaking boat anymore.  Which is depressing because you lovingly crafted it from your head canons/theories and the preexisting knowledge of characters and story arc.  Now, you’re left with one of two options.

Number 1

Take and submit this beautiful but horribly off canon piece as a one shot and let it exist as a phantom of what could’ve been.

Number 2

Scrap it all.  Take it and pour gasoline upon it’s pages and light the match.  Watch it go up in flames like all the rest of your dreams.

You carefully debate on which to do.  You agonize.  And as you agonize… you fall even more in love with the story plot.  It’s got huge potential for action, adventure, and heart.  You imagine what could’ve been.  How you could’ve turned some wild plot bunny into a majestic steed.  Yes you’re in love with this story.  Maybe, you think… it could be possible to wait and adapt it so that it isn’t so off canon.  Yes, that’s possible.

However, you’re inspired now!  Your fingers itch to be on the keyboard.  Prose is tumbling around your brain like a waterfall.  Witty dialogue is on the tip of your brain, making you snort in public much to your own embarrassment.  Then the whisper comes…

Why does it have to be fanfiction…

Your story can easily become original fiction.  Your hands shake.  In your brain you’ve already contemplated original characters.  Ones that would fit the story.  Characters that could lead the story.  Ones that you know will create a different feel than the source material.

You think, “YES!” This is what I will do.  I will write this fanfiction as an original story.

You put your fingers to your keyboard to write, to dive in.  Then you hear it coming from your WIP folder.  It starts off as a murmuring that grows into a whisper.  It swells so that the voices become nondescript.  Except for one that rises above the chaos…

“Um… EXCUSE YOU!!!”

What do you guys say?

Would you turn a fanfiction idea into an original story or would you let it rest in the realm of Alternate Universe?  There is an audience for both.  Let me know in the comments below or by answering this cool poll!

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

Book Review: Princess Rose and the Crystal Castle

Well!  I said that I wanted to do some book reviews so I decided to kick it off with a book called, Princess Rose and the Crystal Castle.  Stop!  Don’t click away just yet.  It sounds a bit juvenile but I thought it was a fairly cute story.  It wasn’t without it’s flaws for sure but let me give you my run down.

crystal castle

The Story

Princess Rose and the Crystal Castle by Pepper Thorn
Published by Typing Cat Press, 2011

This fairy tale centers on a young princess named Rose who has been cursed.  Everyone who meets her instantly falls in love with her.  There is not a soul in the world who is immune.  Though her curse bothers Rose, it’s effects don’t really start to weigh on her until her sixteenth birthday.  The minutes she is old enough Princes literally trip over themselves asking for her hand in marriage.  

However, because she can never really be sure if their love is true and not curse invoked, Rose rejects all her suitors.  One by one all her princes leave heartbroken.  Except for one.  The handsome and mysterious Prince Raven whisks her away in the night through a magic mirror to his icy kingdom.  From there Rose learns that his people and kingdom are cursed too and he needs marriage to a princess in order to lift it.  Not everything is as it seems though and it becomes abundantly clear that Raven isn’t telling her everything.  With her only ally being a mute pageboy named Mouse, she must find a way to escape Raven’s beautiful but dangerous kingdom.

The Good

I enjoyed several things about Princess Rose and the Crystal Castle.  The first being the world it’s set in.  Author Pepper Thorn has done a magnificent job in creating several different kingdoms and cultures.  During the princes’ entrance you get a fun sense of the places they come from.  One comes in a la Howl’s Moving Castle complete with a house on chicken legs.  I found the plot itself intriguing. It includes a mad king, missing mothers, tragic deaths, and an overabundance of magic mirrors.  It had a vibe that reminded me very much of the Hades and Persephone myth.

Surprisingly, breaking Rose’s curse is never the focus of the story though it does directly cause many of her problems.  Though in a pivotal moment, her curse ends up helping her instead.  Nice little twist if you ask me.  There’s an underlying foreboding feeling that permeates the book as it becomes more and more clear that Raven isn’t being entirely truthful.  It builds and builds until you know that something is definitely dangerously wrong.

The Not-so Good

Unfortunately, with the good there comes the bad.  The plot and set up is standard fare when it comes to fairy tales for sure and, admittedly, a bit cliched.  However, it wouldn’t be a fairy tale without a few cliches so I’m willing to forgive them.  What I really can’t forgive is the fact that the story ends without any real sense of finality.  Several major story threads aren’t tied up at all which left me a little irritated.  The book’s description on Amazon lists it as “book one.”  However, a search for any subsequent books proved to be unsuccessful and with this book first being published in 2011 I don’t hold much hope for a continuation.  

The second thing that bothered me about Princess Rose and the Crystal Castle was the length.  It clocks in at an incredibly short 28,000 words (132 pages).  I finished it within hours.  Normally I don’t find this a problem.  This time, however, I felt as though it left a lot underdeveloped.  Rose is a bit bland as a character and feels like more of a bag of stock character traits.  I didn’t really get a lot of insight into her character other than a handful of moments when she felt betrayed by Raven for various things.  The story itself also feels a bit rushed in places, especially towards the end.  The final confrontation with the antagonist goes by so quickly that it seems as though it’s a mere formality.

Summing it All Up

All and all, I thought Princess Rose and the Crystal Castle was a whimsical quick read.  The overall tone gives a foreboding and ominous feeling that really kept me on the edge of my seat.  However, it could’ve wrapped itself up a little nicer.  I give it 3 out of 5 stars.  It’s fairly inexpensive at $2.99 USD.  However, if you have Kindle Unlimited you can read it for free. The author also has the first chapter posted on Wattpad as a free sample if you want to check it out there.

Do you have an idea for a book review?  Do you want me to review your book?  Did you like this book review?  Post it in the comments below!  I’m always looking for my next read!  And if you liked this post please consider subscribing or joining my email list!