Jan 15

Create a Believable Protagonist with Realistic Characteristics

Create believable charactersIt’s noted that you should let the reader see your protagonist’s characteristics within the first few pages. This enables the reader to quickly identify with him. This connection will determine whether the reader turns the next page.

Unless you’re writing fantasy or science fiction, your protagonist will have ordinary strengths (possibly extraordinary, but within the realm of reality); he will also have weaknesses. These qualities need to be conveyed early on.

Here are 12 characteristics that may pertain to a protagonist or main character (MC):

1. Intelligent: Is your MC smart? If so how smart: is he a genius, did he finish college, does he gets all As in school?

2. Handy or Crafty: Maybe your MC isn’t great at academics, but is he handy, musically inclined, or crafty?

2. Arrogant: Does your character think he’s better or smarter than others?  Does he let others know it? If so, how?

3. Trustworthy: Is your MC the kind of individual that others feel they can trust?

4. Determined: Does your MC know what he wants and strives to obtain his goal?

5. Greedy: Is your MC the kind of person who wants everything he doesn’t have? Is he the type of person who wants much more than he actually needs? Does he make it obvious?

6. Dependable: Is your MC the kind of individual that others know they can count on?

7. Brave: Does your MC do what he has to even if he’s frightened? Is he known for his bravery?

8. Cowardly: Is your MC afraid of his own shadow? Does he try to avoid any kind of confrontation or adventure?

9. Caring: Does your MC demonstrate kind and caring qualities? Does his family and friends think of him as a caring individual?

10. Selfish: Does your MC think of only himself? Is he known for this unsavory quality?

11. Strong: Does your MC have great physical strength? Is he strong emotionally?

12. Weak: Is your MC weak either physically or emotionally or both?

These are just some of the characteristics you can give to your protagonist. There are many others though, such as: shrewd, cheap, a liar, a thief, a go getter, beautiful, awkward, loyal, kind, lazy, introvert, extrovert, and cruel.

It’s up to you as the creator to give your protagonist a set of characteristics that will allow him to connect to the reader – whether the reader loves him or hates him there must be a connection. This connection is what will cause the reader to keep turning the pages.

Be cautious though, if you are giving your protagonist unsavory qualities at the beginning, be sure to include at least one redeeming quality otherwise your audience may not find that connection and decide not to read on.

And, remember, you can always have the protagonist change characteristics through the momentum of the story. He can start out as a coward and through various occurrences within the story he can evolve into a hero, or whatever you choose. That’s the amazing thing about being a writer – you create something from nothing. You give your character breathe and dimension.

MORE WRITING FOR CHILDREN

Working with a Children’s Ghostwriter – The Process
Book Marketing – The Foundation
How to Write a Story

Let's talk about your children's writing project

Let me take a look at it. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and editor. I can turn you story into a publishable and saleable book.

Shoot me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com (please put Children’s Writing Help in the Subject line). Or, you can give me a call at 834—347—6700.

Mar 20

8 Top Fiction Writing Mistakes to Avoid

Writing mistakes to avoidThere’s a great article in The Writer, April 2012 issue (1). If you’re able to get your hands on a copy or find it online, it’s worth the read.

Delving into this article, I did some additional research and came up with eight elements that are probably the most common fiction writing mistakes.

1. You start your story too soon.

The very first on the list of writing mistakes to avoid is beginning your story too soon.

To give you a rough idea of what this means, suppose you start the story with the protagonist waking up. She brushes her teeth then gets dressed. After that she makes herself breakfast (coffee and a bowl of oatmeal with raisins and almonds). Suppose again that this beginning scene takes a paragraph or two. Then she get a phone call. The coffee mug drops out of her hands. Her knees go weak.

Are bells and whistles going off here?

Do you think an acquisitions editor will bother reading to the good part where the protagonist gets that phone call that shakes her world?

Nope!

Start the story at the phone call. Start your story where the action begins.

This goes for self-publishers as well. You may not have to get past the publishers’ gatekeepers, but you do want to be recognized as a good writer. You don’t want the reader to say, “What the heck do I care about her morning routine.”

For more on the gatekeeper, check out:
How Do You Make a Good Story Worthy of Getting Past the Gatekeeper?

2. The plot can’t be found. Where’s the plot? There’s got to be a plot.

Every story needs a plot. It’s the reason why the story is being told.

Literary Devices says, plot “describes the events that make up a story or the main part of a story. These events relate to each other in a pattern or a sequence.” (2)

Think of the plot as the foundation of a pyramid. It’s the base of the story. It’s the basis for the other elements, such as the characters and settings to be.

There are five basic elements to a plot:

– At the bottom left point of the pyramid is the introduction, which is called the exposition. You can think of it as a landing.

– Going up the left side of the pyramid will be rising action and enhanced conflict.

– At the peak of the pyramid is the climax.

– Going down the right side is a decline or falling in the action.

– At the bottom right side is the resolution. At this point, the story, all the conflicts and loose ends, are all tied up. (Hopefully, the protagonist is triumphant!)

Keep in mind the resolution evolves from the falling action and could take a while. Or, it can be sudden, like when Thelma and Louise drove off the cliff.

3. The protagonist’s conflict isn’t strong enough.

Let’s go back to Thelma and Louise. Once Louise shot the man who attempted to rape Thelma, they chose to run rather than call the police and face the consequences. After that the stakes and rising action kept on coming. Events kept piling up to the point of ‘do or die.’ At least in their eyes.

Suppose they had called the police. They’d be arrested and go to trial. The story would be about them fighting a murder conviction.

If the second scenario was used, the story wouldn’t have been nearly as exciting and ‘heart tugging.’ The reader wouldn’t have had the same emotional connection with the main characters.

Bottom line, make your protagonist squirm. Put the pressure on. Don’t play it safe.

4. The point-of-view (POV) isn’t clear.

Whose point of view is the story being told from? Is it omniscient? Is it third-person?

The POV helps the reader make a connection to the protagonist. Your story needs one POV. Choose the one you’re comfortable with and the one you think will resonate best with your readers and keep it focused.

If you mix up your POV, your reader will most likely become confused.

There are four basic points-of-view in writing: (1) first person, (2) second person, (3) third person, (4) omniscient.

To clarify these POVs, here are examples:

First person: I should go for a walk. (The protagonist is telling the story himself.)
Second person: You should go for a walk. (The narrator includes the reader in the story.)
Third person:  Joe should go for a walk. (The narrator tells the story.)
Omniscient: Joe decided to go to the gym. Mary also decided to go to the gym. They ran into each other at the gym. (This may be a bit crude, but you get the idea, the reader is privy to everyone’s thoughts and actions.)

According to an excerpt from “Elements of Fiction: Characters and Point of View” by Orson Scott Card, with omniscient “you can show the reader every character’s thoughts, dreams, memories, and desires; you can let the reader see any moment of the past or future.”

In regard to which POV to choose, Robert J. Sawyer puts it best, “The rule is simple: pick one character, and follow the entire scene through his or her eyes only.” (3)

Remember, clarity rules in all writing, so choose the one that will allow the reader to easily know who’s telling the story.

5. Not all scenes are active.

What keeps a reader reading?

Action. Whether it’s physical (the protagonist is running from a barrage of bullets), mental (he’s figuring out a mathematical problem that will bring him closer to resolution), or emotional (the journey or obstacle is causing emotional upheaval), every scene needs to let the reader think the protagonist is trying to answer the current question or overcome the current problem.

6. You’re not taking the time needed to do it right.

While you may want to get your story finished. You need to take your time. When writing my middle-grade fantasy, Walking Through Walls, I took two years. And, I’m antsy – if it could be done yesterday that’d be great. But, some things take time.

First, if you’re an outliner, you need to create your outline.

Next up is your first draft, but this is just the beginning.

You need to read that draft for clarity, tightening (including dialogue), enhancing plot and characters. This will lead to another draft and probably another.

7. You still have loose ends.

This one has to do with subplots or even things you might have mentioned within your 80-100,000 word novel. All loose ends must be tied up.

I’ll use “Walking Through Walls” as example of this. When the protagonist, Wang, reached what he was looking for, a mystical temple, a black bird was circling above his head. The bird was again mentioned in two other scenes.

Why was the same bird in at least three scenes? Even if the bird had been specifically mentioned once, there should be a reason.

In another scene, the Master Eternal, who Wang was learning from, told him, “Today you begin a new life. Take an axe with a purple tip.”

Why did he have to take one with a purple tip? If it wasn’t significant why was it mentioned?

If it’s mentioned in the story, it must be relevant to the story, and any questions or loose ends pertaining to it must be answered / resolved.

8. There’s no take-away value. The theme can’t be found.

After you’re finished with the initial revisions and edits, you need to determine if your theme is clear. If you didn’t have one when you started, see what take-away there is in the story.

If you’re not familiar with ‘theme,’ it’s what gives your story meaning. It’s what the reader can relate to in his own life. According to an article at Writer’s Digest, “Theme is the relevance of your story to life.” (4)

For more on theme, you can check out:
Theme and Your Story

References:

(1) The Writer, April 2012, “9 Writing Mistakes.”
(2) http://literarydevices.net/plot/
(3) http://www.sfwriter.com/ow07.htm
(4) http://www.writersdigest.com/tip-of-the-day/exploring-theme-a-key-component-to-successful-writing

MORE ON WRITING FOR CHILDREN

Submitting Manuscript Queries – Be Specific and Professional
5 Must-Know Tips on Writing a Powerful Thriller (and most other fiction stories)
Characters or Story – Which Comes First?

Need Help With Your StoryLet me take a look at it. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and editor. I can turn you story into a publishable and saleable book.

Shoot me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com (please put Children’s Writing Help in the Subject line). Or, you can give me a call at 834—347—6700.

Feb 21

Writing Fiction and Writing Nonfiction – Similarities and Differences

Writing tips and strategiesWriting fiction and writing nonfiction have some distinct similarities and differences.

But, before we get into that, let’s find out the definitions of fiction and nonfiction:

Fiction: According to Merriam-Webster.com, fiction is “something invented by the imagination or feigned, specifically an invented story; the action of feigning or of creating with the imagination.”

Nonfiction: Merriam-Webster’s definition of nonfiction is “literature or cinema that is not fictional.” According to Allwords.com, nonfiction is “written works intended to give facts, or true accounts of real things and events.”

Now on to the similarities and differences.

Writing Fiction and Writing Nonfiction Similarities:

1. You need to start with an idea.
2. You can write about almost anything.
3. You need ‘good’ writing skills (at least you should have good writing skills).
4. You need to have a beginning, middle, and end to the story.
5. You need to have an engaging, entertaining, informative, or interesting story.
6. You can work from an outline or you can seat-of-the-pants it.
7. You may need to do research.
8. You need to revise, proof, and edit your work.

Writing Fiction and Writing Nonfiction: Two Significant Differences

1. If you are writing nonfiction, you must stick to truths and facts, a nickel is a nickel, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, two plus two equals four, and 10 times 10 equals 100. While there may be some grey areas, such as perspective, circumstances, or circumstantial evidence leading up to a fact based story, the fact is always the fact.

As an example: According to “The World’s Easiest Astronomy Book” (Year Published) by Hiroshi Nakagawa, “The speed of light is 300,000 km (186,000 miles) per second, meaning that light could circle the Earth seven and a half times in a single second. Even at this incredible speed it still takes light from the Sun eight minutes to reach the Earth. That means that when we see the Sun, what we actually see is the Sun from 8 minutes ago” (p. 13).

These are facts. If you’re writing a nonfiction story about astronomy, these facts can’t change. Your story is limited to truths and facts. This is not to say the story can’t be amazingly interesting and engaging. The children’s middle-grade nonfiction book “The World’s Easiest Astronomy Book” can certainly spark a child’s imagination and interest in astronomy.

On the other hand, if you’re writing fiction, your imagination is your only limit. You don’t have to stay within the confines of what is known, what is truth. This offers a certain freedom.

If you want the sun to be ‘blood red,’ then it’s blood red. If you want to be able to travel to the moon in the blink of the eye, then it’s so. If you say a character can ‘walk through walls’ or is invisible, then he can and is. You can create new worlds, new beings . . . again, your imagination is your only limit.

2. In writing nonfiction you will most likely need to provide reference sources and add quotes to your story. This is to establish the reliability and credibility of your story.

In this case, you will need to reference the source of the quote.

If you notice above, in regard to the facts about the speed of light, I included the name of the book and the author along with the page number. These references substantiate the facts within your article. This makes your nonfiction story credible.

This is not the case with writing fiction. With fiction, you will NOT need information references for credibility. Although, it’s important to realize that your fiction story will become its own truth and you will need to stay within the confines of the particular story you create.

The reason for this: every story needs structure and intent; it needs to move forward to a satisfying ending. If you move off in too many directions, you’ll lose your intent and most probably your reader. To ensure the structure and your intent remains intact, you’ll need to stay within the confines of the story you create.

While the similarities between writing fiction and writing nonfiction seem to outweigh the differences, the differences are significant enough for most writers to prefer one genre over the other.

Reference Note:
In the quote used above, the publisher of the book usually has a copyright date that would be included in the reference. This book does not have one.

MORE ON WRITING FOR CHILDREN

Writing for Children – Character Believability and Conflict
What Makes a Good Story? Plot Driven vs. Character Driven
Editing a Children’s Book – 10 Tips Checklist for Authors

Need Help With Your StoryLet me take a look at it. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and editor. I can turn you story into a publishable and saleable book.

Shoot me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com (please put ‘Children’s Writing Help’ in the Subject line)

This article was originally published by Karen Cioffi at:
http://www.writersonthemove.com/2011/12/writing-fiction-and-writing-nonfiction.html

Oct 19

Plot and Your Story – Four Formats

Plot - Four FormatsPlot. As writers we’ve all heard of this literary term. But, what does it mean?

Well, plot is what gives the story a reason to be. It’s the ‘why’ as to the reason the story exists. Plot is what the story is about. And, if the plot is good, it will entertain and engage the reader. It can even change the reader’s life.

In children’s writing, these stories are usually based on external conflict and action. Think of Superman fighting his nemesis Lex Luther. Or, Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty. And, the conflict doesn’t have to come in the form a person. It can be battling a flood or a volcanic eruption, climbing Mount Everest, or training a crazy, peeing-all-over-the-place dog.

In his book, “Aspects of a Novel,” F.M. Forster said, “A plot demands intelligence and memory also.”

Examples of plot driven stories include:

Madame Bovary – though the plot, Emma is driven toward a tragic end.
Lolita – the plot holds the reader fascinated as Humbert delves helplessly into depravity.
Great Expectations – through the plot, the reader watches Pip live his life in pursuit of having Estella love him.

These stories hold the reader captive. They drive the reader to turn the pages, to find out what will happen to the characters.

According to Children’s Literature.com, there are four types of plot structure:

1. Dramatic or Progress – think of this format as a pyramid.

a. The protagonist starts out okay or is in the beginning of a dilemma – it may be physical or emotional. This is the setup.
b. The obstacles or conflict rise. As each obstacle is met and overcome, another one arises of increasing severity. This goes on to the climax – the top of the pyramid.
c. The climax is the final conflict and has the protagonist giving his all to achieve his goal. It’s win or lose time.
d. Then comes the closing or wrap up of the story. The story descends the other side of the pyramid to a satisfying conclusion.

This is your typical young children’s story structure.

Keep in mind that the scenarios don’t have to be heart stopping action or doom. They can be as simple as a moral dilemma, of doing right or wrong.

2. Episodic – think of this format as a long obstacle course of usually lower impact ups and downs in chronological order. Usually each chapter or section depicts related incidents and has its own conflict climax. The story is connected through the characters and/or the theme.

According to Story Mastery, episodic formats “work best when the writer wishes to explore the personalities of the characters, the nature of their existence, and the flavor of an era.”

3. Parallel – with this format, there are two or more plots. They can be linked by the characters and/or a common theme.

In a recent upper middle-grade book I ghosted, there were three plots connected through characters and the overall plot.

This format can be used for upper middle-grade and young adult stories.

4. Flashbacks – this format provides the reader with flashbacks throughout the story. It allows the writer to begin with an action scene and fill in the ‘why, what, and how’ in flashbacks.

While plot-driven stories are engaging, it’s the stories that combine a good plot with believable characters that the readers can connect to and ‘feel for’ that become memorable. It’s these stories that have the potential to be great.

References:

(1) http://www2.nkfust.edu.tw/~emchen/CLit/study_elements.htm
(2) http://www.storymastery.com/story/screenplay-structure-five-key-turning-points-successful-scripts/

MORE ON WRITING FOR CHILDREN

Become an Author – 5 Basic Rules
Being a Writer – Learn the Craft of Writing
Critiques are Essential for Writers

Need Help With Your StoryLet me take a look at it. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and editor. I can turn you story into a publishable and saleable book.

Shoot me an email at: kcioffiventrice @ gmail.com (please put Children’s Writing Help in the Subject line)

Jun 21

5 Must-Use Tips on Writing a Powerful Thriller (and most other fiction stories)

Tips on Writing.In Brian Klems’ Writer’s Digest Column on Writing, I read a great article titled, “The 5 C’s of Writing a Great Thriller Novel.”

While I’m not a thriller writer, the information in this article is applicable to just about all fiction writing.

There are fundamentals elements needed in all fiction to make it reader engaging and friendly. In other words, to make it ‘page turning good.’

The five C’s of writing a great thriller the article mentioned are:

1. Make Your Characters Three- Dimensional

The characters in your story need to be carefully chosen and they need to be three-dimensional. Your hero can’t be ALL good and your antagonist can’t be ALL bad.

Klem’s explains to create “complex characterization” and to “brainstorm a list of at least 10 inner demons your hero has to fight.”

2. The Name of the ‘Fiction Writing’ Game is Conflict

Every story needs conflict. Klems calls it ‘confrontation.’ The hero needs to overcome obstacles to finally reach his goals.

Having the antagonist battling his own demons or righting some wrong that makes his act unethical or even murderous is additional conflict you can season your story with.

You need to create ups and downs and interesting multi-faceted characters.

3. Twists and Turns

‘Careening,’ as Klems puts it, is about creating twists and turns that keep the story from being predictable.

This element of the story keeps the reader on her toes. Klems says, “Part of the fun for readers is thinking a story is going one way, and getting taken completely by surprise.”

4. Make Your Reader Feel

This story element is essential for all fiction, but especially in a thrill. You want your reader to feel what the character is feeling and you want it to read authentic, believable.

You need the reader to be scared or hold their breath with anticipation.

To do this, Klems suggests “recalling an emotional moment in your life, and recreate each of the senses in your memory (sight, smell, touch, sound, etc.) until you begin to feel the emotion again.” He calls this story element, ‘coronary.’

Once you start remembering, you will begin to feel what you did at the time. Then write it down. Write what you felt.

5. The Take-Away (intended or not)

Most writers want their stories to have some take-away value. It could be some kind of moral enlightenment, food for thought, or other tidbit.

The same holds true for thriller writers.

Klems explains that “you ought to spend some time asking yourself what your thriller is really about. Does it offer hope for justice? Does it end with justice denied?”

Another very interesting point Klems brings out is that some writers, especially “aspiring thriller writers,” don’t see the value in thinking about a take-away value for the story. “There’s nothing wrong with this approach, as long as you realize that you will be saying something. Why not be intentional about it?”

This is such a great point. Don’t assume the reader will be content with ending their reading with the thrill and action. Inevitably, they will take something else from the story, possibly something you didn’t intend. At least lead them in the right direction.

There you have it, five tips on writing a great thriller and on writing other fiction that will have the reader turning the pages and coming back for more.

Reference:
http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/the-5-cs-of-writing-a-great-thriller-novel

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MORE ON WRITING FOR CHILDREN

Writing a Fiction Story – Walking Through Walls Backstory
Learning to Write for Children – It’s More Than Just ABC
Imagery and Your Story

NEED HELP WITH YOUR CHILDREN’S MANUSCRIPT / STORY?

Let me take a look at it. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and editor. I can turn you story into a publishable and saleable book.

Shoot me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com (please put Children’s Writing Help in the Subject line)

Feb 22

Creating and Beefing Up the Conflict in Your Story

Fiction witing and conflictYour story has a great beginning—a great hook that will capture the reader instantly. You have an interesting, funny, or mischievous protagonist who will keep the reader engaged. But will it be enough to keep the reader turning the pages to end? Is there something missing?

Children’s stories aren’t what they use to be. Granted many stories of years ago did have conflict, but they would not cut it in today’s children’s market.

In today’s children’s writing world, writing must be tight and focused. And, you need conflict. The conflict is like a detour or obstacle in the road from point A to point B. The protagonist must figure out a way over, around, or under it.

Examples You Can Use to Create and Beef up the Conflict:

Tommy wants more than anything to play baseball, but he’s not very good. The other boys never willingly choose him for their team. How will Tommy overcome this problem?

What if Tommy gets the best bat and glove on the market—will this make him a better ball player?

Kristen’s friends all have new bikes, but she has her older sister’s hand-me-down. Kristen needs to figure out a way to get a new bike.

What if Kristen finally gets a new bike and leaves it unattended at the park. It gets stolen. She’s afraid to tell her parents, so keeps this little bit of information to herself. But, how long can she keep this up.

What if Billy has a run in with the school bully and ever since he’s harassed every day. How can Billy get out of this mess?

So, the way to create and build conflict is to use “how” and “what if” to generate conflict and get your story off the ground and flying.

In the article “What to Aim For When Writing,” Margot Finke advises, “A slow buildup of tension gives good pace. Dropping hints and clues builds tension, which in turn moves your story along. Short, punchy sentences give better pace than longwinded lines.”

For chapter books, middle grade, and young adult, Finke advises to keep the reader engaged by ending each paragraph with a kind of cliff-hanger. This doesn’t mean you need a life and death scenario, just something that entices the reader to move onto the next chapter to find out what happens. In addition, to increase your story’s pace in certain sections, use shorter chapters. Chapters with 5-7 pages creates the sense of a quicker pace.

More Fiction Writing Reading:

Theme and Your Story
Imagery and Your Story
Writing with Clarity

Children's ghostwriter

Let me take a look at it. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and editor. I can turn your story into a publishable book you’ll be proud to be author of.

Shoot me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com (please put Children’s Writing Help in the Subject line). Or, you can give me a call at 347—-834—-6700.

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