jessicasteiner: (Fangirl Moment)
Today I'm going to talk about romance! Because it's a huge part of writing, so it deserves to have a post, I figure.

Now, I'm going to make one caveat, and that is that today's tip comes from the perspective of someone who really doesn't like romance novels. I love romance in other kinds of novels, but I have just never been interested in the genre itself. As such, my perspective here may not apply to that genre. But I'm pretty confident that they work for other genres that happen to contain romance.

I'm sure there are lots of other things I could say, but I can't think of anything at the moment, so here is what I want to talk about:

Never make a character whose only purpose is to be the romantic partner of another character

Every character you create should be a person. There's nothing more boring than realizing that a character was created only to be the partner of your main character, and that they really have no other role within the book than that. They should have desires outside of getting together with your other well-rounded character.

They should do more within the book than simply be the potential and then actual love interest of another character.

It's boring, and it sucks. I shouldn't have to tell you not to do it, but it happens all the time. So don't do it.
jessicasteiner: (Save the World)
Everyone knows that a story needs to have conflict. In fact, every single scene in your story should have conflict. Conflict is the main point of a story, and if there's no conflict in a story, then there's no story.

But knowing that, if you're like me, then you have a hard time sometimes figuring what constitutes conflict.

Conflict isn't just about having a fight on every page. If your book is filled with scene after scene of people arguing with each other, it'll get boring. Conflict is about your character overcoming an obstacle in their path.

Conflict is when a rainstorm stands between a lover and their date, and they don't have an umbrella.

Conflict is when a character desperately needs money to achieve their goal, but doesn't know where to get any.

Conflict is when a character is tempted to do something they know is wrong, but it'll help them to accomplish something great.

Conflict can be internal or external. It can be with other characters, or with natural forces, or with their own conscience.

A good shoot-em-up battle is fun, too.

Listen to my interview on Adventures in Sci Fi Publishing! I talk mostly about Mortis Unbound, and Star Trek.
jessicasteiner: (I Write Therefore I Am)
I talked about this a little yesterday, but let's talk about it a bit more. Not only is it important for your story to be interesting and not predictable. It's also important that the stakes be as high as you can make them.

Don't just make the character's life in danger if you can threaten his entire family. Don't just threaten his family if you can threaten his whole world. Don't just threaten the world if you can threaten the universe.

The higher the stakes, the more you can ratchet up the tension, and the bigger the payoff when the hero saves the day.

That being said, stakes should be appropriate to your genre and the scope of your story. If your story is set entirely in a single small town, even if it is a science fiction story rather than a romance or drama, it'd be strange if the whole universe were threatened. If the story is about a serial killer threatening the town, the whole world is probably not going to be at stake in the end game. But the main character's family and/or loved ones should almost certainly come into play.

Whether the scope of your story encompasses a galaxy-spanning Empire or a single high school chess club, don't make the stakes small and easy to overcome. You want to push your characters to the limit of what they can endure, and then it'll be far more satisfying when they overcome it.
jessicasteiner: (I Write Therefore I Am)
Friday is a bad day for blogging for me, but Sundays are a good day. Somehow this balances out.

Anyway, today's tip is about the two most important questions you should ask yourself when developing a plot for a novel. Though there are probably many more that are also key, these are biggies in my opinion.

1. Does this make sense?

Sometimes when you're writing, especially if you've followed my advice and have a great outline using the organic method, you will get to a certain point in the book where the character is going to take some important action that is absolutely necessary for them to get to the outcome you need.

And there's a little voice in the back of your mind that says "But..."

Because the action, for whatever reason - maybe because of the personality of the character, maybe because of something you've established earlier in the book, maybe because there's an obviously better course of action available - doesn't make any sense.

It sucks. But you have to ask that question, and you have to answer it honestly. If the action taken doesn't make sense, then you've lost the reader, and the whole rest of the book is ruined. It's key to find a way to either make it make sense, or to find another course of action that will still get you where you want to go. Or redevelop the ending in line with the new course of action.

2. Is this the most creative and mean I can get?

No one wants to read a book that's predictable, or where the stakes aren't high. If you fear for the character's life and don't know what's going to happen next, you'll be on the edge of your seat. If the most important decision a character has to make over the course of the book is whether to have white or brown bread on their sandwich, no one will care.

Generally as I'm plotting, I look at my first impulse and throw it away. The butler did it, yes! It's logical because I've already worked out all the great reasons why he would and he had the opportunity. No wait, maybe it's not the butler, but instead everyone will think it is, and instead it's the maid, who seems to have a solid alibi, and besides she's been the love interest of the main character for three books. It'll be devastating when he realizes.

The latter is a far more interesting outcome. Not only is the situation one that'll surprise and shock the reader, but it creates real consequences to the main character. You always want to be throwing away the most obvious and logical next steps and digging deeper, trying to find something that'll create more conflict, more emotional impact, and not be the first thing everyone thinks of. Remember, if it's the first thing you think of, then it's probably the first thing everyone else will think of, too. You don't want that.
jessicasteiner: (Solitaire)
This is something I picked up in a book about writing techniques which I think was written by Orson Scott Card. It took me a while to get the hang of it, but I'm going to give it a shot to explain it to you all.

A scene is a bit in the story where something happens. Usually the defining aspect of a scene is that something changes. The character may learn something new, or lose something, or gain something. Scenes are extremely important because they are the points of change that move the plot forward.

When you've just had a big 'omg' moment in a scene, it's useful to then move on to a sequence. This is a decompression point for the character. They are absorbing the big change that just happened, and figuring out what to do next. Sequences are also extremely important because they provide an opportunity for the reader to also take a breath and absorb the import of what just happened, and to whet their appetite. The character decides that they're going to take X course of action because of Y revelation, and the reader wants to know how that'll turn out. Also, a sequence gives the reader a chance to understand why the next scene is taking place - because they saw how it was decided, how the character moved from this big shock to taking action, which will then lead to another big incident.

A story is basically just a long string of scenes and sequences all in a line.

I think the part that really tripped me up at first was that I thought a sequence had to have the same weight as a scene. So if a scene takes a chapter to complete, then a sequence would be the next chapter, but that's not necessarily the case. You might have a scene with a very short sequence which basically just transitions into the next scene. Some sequences may be huge defining character moments that do bear a lot of weight, but not all need to go on for pages and pages.

But they are something that people often miss, or don't recognize. They do them without realizing they're doing them. When you're doing something by instinct, you may not be able to work out what you're doing wrong when things go awry.

Take a look at the next book you read and try to see if you can identify the scenes and sequences. It might help.
jessicasteiner: (I Write Therefore I Am)
Today's tip is about Point of View.

There are lots of different POVs. The main ones that people use are First Person, Third Person Limited, and Omniscient.

A lot of urban fantasy uses first person POV. Harry Potter is written in third person omniscient. The majority of fiction is written in third person limited. If you don't what understand the different types are, go here, because I'm not going to explain it further in this particular article.

Third person limited is by far the easiest to write. The reason why is that you have the most freedom. You can write one scene from the point of view of the best character to tell it, and the next scene can be from another character's point of view entirely, while the other character isn't present at all.

Omniscient, on the other hand, is far more difficult. You have to be careful not to confuse the reader when you shift from head to head. Because readers are used to limited, you have to be very smooth when you're shifting within the same scene. It took me three reads to realize that J.K. Rowling wasn't staying in one particular character's head throughout a scene, though I thought at first she was writing in third person limited.

First person is pretty easy to write, but has its own limitations. You can't really have multiple characters in a single book all refer to themselves as "I", so if you're going to write first person, you have to set up the book basically so everything important happens in the presence of the main character.

If you write Homestuck fanfiction or are Andrew Hussie, then you can use Second Person. Otherwise, don't do this.

And the tip?

Don't Forget Whose Head You're In.

Whether you're writing in third person limited or in first person, you want to keep in mind the character's unique voice. Remember D for Dialogue? The character's inner world influences the way they see the world, just as it influences their word choice and sentence structure.

You should be mindful of your character's biases, their world view, what they think of as important and what they don't. All of this should come through in adjective choices as you describe the world around them, because the reader is seeing it through their eyes.
jessicasteiner: (Solitaire)
I wouldn't try to say that I'm an expert on heightening tension. I know I still have a lot to learn about this topic, but my readers have told me that when they reached a certain point in Mortis Unbound, they couldn't put it down. I hope that means I know something about this.

There's a tonne that could be said about tension.

Obviously you want to start at a certain level and tighten the screws as you go, never quite letting go of that anticipation of what might be coming around the next corner. This will draw your reader on through the story without letting them put it down and forget about it.

On the other hand, you want to give your reader a slight break from time to time. You don't want the tension to remain at maximum the whole time. If you try to do that, it'll lose its effectiveness.

But practically, how do you do this? There are lots of ways, but here's one specific tip.

End the scene at the point of change

This is often known as a cliffhanger, but it doesn't have to be a cliffhanger. The character doesn't have to be literally hanging from their nails, though certainly that's one way of doing it. It doesn't have to be opening a door and not telling the reader what's on the other side. You could reveal what it is - and then move on before the character has a chance to decide what to do about it.

The anticipation of wanting to know what comes next is what will keep your reader turning the pages. Maybe it's finding out whether Johnny will keep the bag of money he just found in his locker, or turn it in to the proper authorities. Or maybe Martha just found a strange green vial of liquid and was dared to drink it by her best friend. Or maybe she just drank it, and...what comes next?

If you wrap up each scene with a nice neat bow, if each chapter ends with a clear decision and then the character heads off to sleep with a clear mind and a clear conscience, each time that happens the reader has the opportunity to put it down and go to sleep. And maybe they won't pick it up again.

Don't give them that chance.
jessicasteiner: (Save the World)
Writer's block is something that I've written about before, but no list of writing tips is complete without addressing it.

Personally, I wouldn't go so far as to say that writer's block doesn't exist. But I do think that it is not a mystical, uncontrollable force. It can be overcome. It can be beaten.

There are two main reasons why writer's block happens, at least in my experience.

1. When something has gone awry in the story.

2. Negative self-talk - aka, the Inner Editor has struck.

If the problem is the first, then it's caused by your subconscious. You know that something is going off, that perhaps there's a big plot hole that you've created, or you know on some level that you're painting yourself into the corner.

I've been affected by this many times. Sometimes it takes me a day to get through the problem, sometimes longer. The main way to avoid it is to recognize it when it's happening, and then to go back through the most recent developments in a draft, to see where things are going wrong. I usually have to back up a few steps and move things in a different direction.

On the other hand, if the Inner Editor has convinced you that writing is far too difficult to move on with and it's best to just catch up on Game of Thrones, then it's you're stuck in a far more difficult situation. It's not writer's block - it's negative self-talk. The only way to beat it is with positive reinforcement.

Write a little, even if it's hard. Tell yourself that writing is fun, that it doesn't matter even if the writing is bad - that you can always fix it later. Tell yourself whatever it takes, but write something. Even if it seems terrible, it's better than nothing.

The best way to beat writer's block, is to write.
jessicasteiner: (I Write Therefore I Am)
Today's writing tip is about being consistent in what you do.

One of the biggest things I see in people who are struggling with their writing is that they don't work on it consistently. They might write a bit when they feel that inspiration hit, but then three weeks go by and they still 'mean' to get back to it any time.

Say you wrote 2000 words on that big day when inspiration struck, but that was the only day in a month that you wrote. You'd have 2000 words for the month. But say you only wrote 100 words a day, but wrote them every day. By the end of a month, you'd have 3000 words. By the end of a year, you'd have 36,500 words. Not NaNoWriMo, but better than a lot of people manage.

And most days, you'd write more than 100 words.

So try to write something every day, and to do it consistently. You'll be amazed by how much you'll accomplish.


jessicasteiner: (Default)
Jessica Steiner

February 2016

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