When establishing a story, don’t use similar names, sounds, or starting letters for your characters.
Example: Tom and Ted. Mary and Marion.
Don’t confuse your readers. Make it easy for your readers to tell your characters apart.
Can you describe your characters? If someone asked you today to shop for your character, buy them clothing, something for the house, and their favorite dinner, could you?
How well do you know your characters?
What would they never do, and what would they always do?
If you gave your character a million dollars how would they spend the money?
If you took away everything they had, what would be their reaction?
If you put your character in flip-flops in a formal setting, how would they react?
Fill out charts that describe your characters in-depth. How they look, where they were raised, their likes and dislikes. Describe them physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Know your characters goals, motivations, and conflicts. What drives them? What makes them act the way they do? What secrets lurk in their brains?
Pull up a chair and talk with them. Get to know them as if they were real.
I’ve gone shopping and caught myself looking at clothing thinking how cute one of my characters would look in an outfit. The more real your characters are to you, the more real they become to your reader.
Let your characters go out to play. Take them on a scene you hadn’t planned. Take your ultra-male character shopping in a dress boutique. Take your frilly female character to a sporting goods store. Take them out for fun and see what happens. Put them in a totally different place than you had intended. Your characters might surprise you.
Think back to your first resume. What did you include? Perhaps you had a part-time job in high school. Maybe it was flipping burgers, but it showed life experience (or at least the willingness to get out of bed). You continued to build your skills by attending college, participating in clubs, or picking up another job.
When you applied for your first professional position, you were able to develop a resume that highlighted extra-curricular activities, leadership positions, and work experience. You gathered repeated success in smaller positions to land the big opportunity—the job.
The same is true in publishing. Agents and editors not only look for authors who can write a page-turning novel with interesting characters and unique story arc but also professionals who can deliver a manuscript on time—and not just once, but multiple times. They’re interested in working with partners who can help make their business profitable.
How can you demonstrate that you’re an author who delivers? Not just pizzas but professionalism. Build your writing resume.
There are numerous opportunities to cut your teeth, develop your voice, and build credibility by starting small. Short stories, magazine articles, and contests are great avenues to increase your author resume. Then, when it’s time to pitch a novel, you not only have a great story idea, you also have a proven background.
So start today. Here are a few opportunities available now:
"Path to Forgiveness" Anthology - Faith by Grace Publishing*
· Fiction or non-fiction
· 2,000-10,000 words
· Theme: Stories about people who seek forgiveness
· Submission Deadline: May 1, 2015
· Website: www.faithbygracepublishing.com/
Havok, an imprint of Splickety Publishing Group
· Flash Fiction: 1,000 words or less
· Contest Issue ($10 entry fee)
· Submission Deadline: May 8, 2015
· Theme: Sci-Fi vs. Fantasy
· Website: www.splicketypubgroup.com
Splickety Love, an imprint of Splickety Publishing Group
· Flash Fiction: 1,000 words or less
· Submission Deadline: June 5, 2015
· Theme: Smitten Summer
· Website: www.splicketypubgroup.com
Windhover: A Journal of Christian Literature, The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor
· Open submissions for poetry, short fiction, non-fiction, and creative nonfiction
· Submission Deadline: August 1, 2015
· Website: http://undergrad.umhb.edu/english/windhover-journal
Every novelist reaches a plateau in which the perfect story idea isn't coming together. The plot germ is there, but the theme, setting, characters, and storyline seem to spin out of control.
By using the acronym, BRAINSTORMING, you can bring the whirling to a halt and anchor your writing onto a firm foundation.
Believe in yourself. You've been given the gift of writing, and you’re pretty good at it. You understand the craft, and you’re continuously educating yourself to add more tools and techniques.
Realistic writing is what sells. No matter the genre, your storyline must be credible with identifiable characters who react and respond according to the traits you've assigned them. Analyze your basic idea. How can you grow your characters by making their goals difficult, perhaps impossible to reach?
Inspire your readers to attempt and achieve great things. Fiction is truth. Jesus spoke in parables and through His stories, people gleaned meaning and purpose for their lives. Don’t preach your message. Let the reader see who your characters are by the way they tackle life’s challenges. Name your book and your characters. Why is this important? Because the title of a book gives the writer passion for the project. Who wants to wake up each morning to the thrill of working on novel X? In the same way, your characters deserve names that mean something significant in the novel. Show don’t tell. Propel your story into action by incorporating body language, explosive emotion, purposeful dialogue, and unique settings.
Technique is essential to every story. To make sure your plotting is tight, ask yourself the following four questions before writing each scene.
1. What is the point of view character’s problem or goal? 2. What does the point of view character learn that he/she didn't know before? 3. What backstory is revealed? (But not in the first fifty pages.) 4. How are the stakes raised for the point of view character? Organize your thoughts into a file that contains all of your notes: plotting, research, characterization, and where you obtained the information. Go a step further and write a lengthy synopsis. I recommend plotting every scene. This doesn't stifle your creativity! You are the writer, and you can add, delete, and change whatever is necessary.
Research is vital to every successful novel. If your novel takes place in your backyard, then research the weeds there. Do your best to visit the setting. Interview those who have the same careers or experiences as your characters. Use the services of a library, chamber of commerce, Internet exploration, and any other means of research to root your reader into the story.
Motivation is the key to every successful novel. You were motivated to begin a career as a writer. You were motivated to read this blog. Your characters are motivated by their wants and needs.
Discover your character’s drive to see what he/she will do to achieve those wants and needs.
This list is only the beginning to get your creativity flowing. Once you've completed the motivation aspect of your novel planning, the desire to write will soon take over. You’ll be ready to position your nimble fingers on the keyboard and speed off on another adventure!
Comment below and be entered in a random drawing for a personalized or e-copy of Double Cross.
Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an
adventure. She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to
create action-packed, suspense-filled novels.
titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy
Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational
Readers’Choice, and Carol award contests. Library
Journal presented her with a Best Books 2014: Genre Fiction award in the
Christian Fiction category for Firewall.
is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers; the 2015
president of the Romance Writers of America’s Faith, Hope,
& Love chapter; a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, and
International Thriller Writers. She speaks to various groups and teaches
writing workshops around the country. She and her husband live in sunny
is very active online and would love to connect with readers on any of the
social media platforms listed at www.diannmills.com.
It’s one of the hardest things a novelist does: ending the story. Or maybe it’s the easiest. I've worked with authors who write the ending first and then go back and fill in the rest. Is there a right way to end a novel? It’s not an exact science, of course, but if you've ever read a book and at the end, wanted to drop it in your paper shredder, then you know that the ending can make or break you as a novelist.
I've come across a string of stories lately with poor endings.
At a library sale last weekend, I picked up There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly for my kids. I hadn't read it before but I liked the art work. I was shocked when on the last page of the book, the final line was, “There was an old lady who swallowed a horse. She’s dead of course.” Really!? The old lady dies? For the sake of the rhyme. Poor decision and potentially scarring to little kids.
In both of these examples, the protagonist dies at the story’s conclusion. Is it a mistake to have your hero/heroine die at the end? Not necessarily. You must take a few things into consideration. One is the genre. In less commercial, more literary novels, the protagonist’s death seems to be more tolerable. But what about a story where the hero’s death is sacrificial and helps to save the lives of others? This happens frequently and audiences seem to be able to handle it. This was the case in the recent Disney movie Big Hero 6. It was sad to see Baymax die, but my kids didn't feel betrayed because they saw the role his death played for the other characters in the story. Plus, Disney could bring him back in the sequel . . .
I recently edited a novel where the author ended the book with the protagonist getting shot and dying. It wasn't a sacrificial death; he just died. “What if he didn't die?” I asked the author. “But what will he go off and do?” the author wanted to know. Once your protagonist accomplishes their goal, should they just go live happily ever after? Is that realistic? Should it be?
These are difficult questions and every story has its own, unique way it should end, but it isn’t always obvious. But here’s a universal guide to ending a story well: think about your reader. You should have their experience in mind as you write your novel and especially as you think about how it will end. If the ending isn't satisfying, they will be frustrated. They may blog about it or put a review online to vent their disappointment. They won’t tell their friends to read the book (word of mouth is so important) – they may even tell them NOT to read it.
Here are a few elements of a satisfying ending: Is the reader left feeling hopeful when they put the book down? Is there a promise of happiness for the protagonist (assuming they aren’t dead)? Was justice served? Did the bad guy get their comeuppance? Did good triumph? Did the problems get resolved?
In fiction, no resolution is rarely a good resolution. The danger is that plot threads can get too neatly tied up and a reader will roll his or her eyes at the end. You don’t have to spell everything out. Being subtle can help in not tying too neat of a bow. Everyone shouldn't get what they want. It can be annoying to read stories where everyone wins in the end. The art in closing plot threads is to balance being realistic with offering a satisfying conclusion.
A good ending isn't easy and can’t be rushed. Writing is highly creative and you, as the author, will have strong feelings about how the story should end, but before you complete that final scene, try to step outside of yourself and think about how a reader will feel when they turn the last page. Show your readers some love by considering their feelings.
And if you do, they just might reward you with their loyalty . . . and their recommendation.
Hanemann is a freelance fiction editor who lives in Franklin, TN with her
husband and four kids. Visit her website at: www.nataliehanemannediting.com