In his video “Make Your Characters Come Alive,” author James Scott Bell discusses the wisdom of mixing “plot” and “character.”
Plot without character bonding = action without engagement
Character without plot = overstaying a welcome
Bells also advises that plot needs to be about death. Physical death, professional death or psychological death. This applies even to comedy. Death is what raises the stakes. It can be death of a career, a job, a reputation, or the death of a way of being.
True character, he says, is revealed only in crisis—where death is on the line.
For more on Bell’s thoughts about creating characters that come alive watch his 8-minute video here:
As writers, our job is to frustrate our characters. This job can be hard on us because we usually like our protagonist, maybe even feel she is a part of us. But when we write, we are forced to act more like her antagonist than best friend. That’s because, in order to keep our reader turning pages, we need to create conflict for our characters.
Even in fiction that doesn’t feature car crashes, bombs, or airplanes falling from the sky, we need to have some amount of conflict or tension. We need to create frustrated characters. So how do we keep the stakes high even in a cozy romance or literary novel? Read more
Writing a good scene is all about paying attention to the details. Sometimes, I like to think of my scenes as mini-stories and, in order to help me remember everything that needs to go into the scene, I scan through some of our earlier posts on scene writing.
Below are three posts full of tips for making your scenes stand out.
I was reminded the other day that writing short pieces is great practice for writing longer pieces. I had just finished my creative nonfiction submission for the Surrey International Writers’ Conference Writing Contest and was editing it one last time when I realized I hadn’t grounded my reader in the location of the initial scene. Yes, I placed it in a mobile home but where was that home in the world? I could have left it as is and it would have still been fine, but I decided that showing where the home was located would better serve the piece as a whole.
But how to include those details in a manner that served the story while keeping the piece under the 1,500-word limit of the contest? Read more
Using images in a scene can be a good way to center an event or ground the reader in the here and now of the story. Writing images is all about going beyond the cliché and using sensory details.
One of my favorite ways to create an image is to take a simple sentence or idea and expand on it, calling in our different senses.
In my work-in-progress I want to convey at the beginning of a flashback scene that it was a hot August day. I could just state, “It was a hot August day.” This is simple and direct but, because I want to expand on the mood of the scene, I rewrote this simple sentence and fleshed it out—using some sense impressions and an image.
Years ago, when I first started writing prose, I remember a literary agent said he and his wife never watched TV unless they were at the gym or a local bar because they don’t even own a TV. They focus all of their attention on reading.
Looking for role models for my literary life, I thought, “Aha…I won’t watch TV either.” It made sense. Less time in front of the tube equals more time writing or reading. My husband and I didn’t watch much TV anyway, but we did have our favorite shows we’d record and watch later.
At some point in my literary life—after graduating from my MFA program—I realized that being a writer wasn’t just about the ability to write well. Just at important, if not more so, is the ability to tell a good story. Read more
“Life is a journey, not a destination.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.
This week it’s raining cats at our house. Besides having a stray cat adopt us and become our “outdoor” boy, I also had to take one of our indoor boys, Simba, a 20-lb Maine Coon, to the vet.
Considering he hasn’t been out of the house in years (Simba, not the vet), it went pretty well. I did say “considering,” right?
I nonchalantly put the cat carrier on the bed next to Simba and then, like the Flash, snatched him up and shoved him in said crate before he could put up a fight. He hissed going in and then instantly learned how to meow. (Really, he doesn’t meow–he whines when he wants something). Read more