Last night I found myself writing a pivotal scene in one of my stories. It was a scene that came to me on my drive home from work where one character showed so much vulnerability that even I was moved after re-reading it. I mean tears didn’t literally fall, but my heart did literally ache for them. Now you may be wondering what this has to do with writing without having an outline in mind.
It has a lot to do with it actually, since this scene was not a part of my original vision for this story. Originally the character mentioned above did not exist and had no place in my story’s arc. And even when they were conceived their part was to be minor. Nevertheless, somehow in time it became a major building block for not only the overall story, but for the main character as well. Changing the entire course of the book itself.
Which is why I love writing without a rigid outline. Yes, let me clarify that. I love writing without a RIGID outline. I mean some direction with a general plot is good and I always use those. But I find that having a set structure for my stories to be limiting. I hate laying things out such as saying this happens in this chapter and this happens in the next chapter, because it doesn’t allow the movement in storytelling that I love. The ability to change things up as go along because the plot calls for it or a character’s personality calls for it. I love that freedom and wouldn’t give it up for anything.
It’s why none of my stories are ever finished in their entirety even when I start my edits. I just write scenes and sew them together in the editing process. Sometimes adding entire chapters to merge two plot points together in order to bring my vision to life on the pages of my screen.
However I know some people do love writing with outlines because they like having that great sense of direction. So I would like to know how all my writer friends and followers feel about this. When you write, do you prefer to use a rigid outline, no outline, or a general outline and why?
Characterization is a very important part of writing in my opinion. In fact, next to the plot itself, it is the bread and butter of the story. Unbelievable, flat, or static characters can kill a story even if the plot is stellar. So it’s something I find I have to watch out for when I write. How do I do this?
I keep tabs of my characters in Ywriter. Yes that writing program that I raved about before. I keep track of not only their appearance, but their personality. But before I even get to that stage, I figure out who each character is by giving them key personality traits such as being greedy, optimistic, antisocial, lustful, etc.
Then I take these attributes and play them against the overall plot of my story. For instance, I’m writing a story now (my upcoming novella actually) and the main character is a jaded introvert. So of course she reacts differently to going to an opulent feast being held in the castle than her best friend who is socially ambitious. And it lays out the groundwork for how she will develop as the story continues.
Which brings me to what I consider to be the most important part of characterization. Continuity. If a character is one way, then you can’t just change their personality in the blink of the eye. A coward isn’t going to magically jump in front of the biggest bad guy in the whole book for a sudden showdown. Even if he does have a magic baseball bat that is almost guaranteed to defeat anyone who crosses his path.
Yes, he may overcome his cowardice over time in the book, but not instantly. Which is where continuity comes into play. The key personality elements that you introduce your character to your audience with, needs to stay the same. I’m not saying you can’t change them or use them as obstacles or whatever in your story. But things need to be believable and stay that way throughout the whole book.
What are your thoughts on what makes for great characterization in a book? Also what are some of your pet peeves that you consider to be bad characterization?
As many of you know I suffer from an overactive imagination. Ideas run rampant thorough my brain so much that I usually find myself working on a minimum of two stories at one time. And now is no different as I finish up the Luxora novella that will be following Her Knowing in the upcoming months.
However, this new story that I have in mind has nothing to do with the Luxora trilogy, which somewhat scares me. The storyline is based on a timeless fairytale, which is all I will say and could possibly lead me down a rabbit hole which would take me away from writing more of my main series. And so I find myself in a conundrum, weighing the possibility of starting fresh with something new or putting it on the back burner until my first baby is complete. Decisions, decisions.
I’ve sat here for the last two hours staring at my computer screen. I haven’t written a word, haven’t thought of a cool concept, or even outlined a plot. No I’ve just been sitting here, editing.
Checking every line for errors and making sure every word and punctuation mark are just so. As much as I had lamented that punctuation was the bane of my existence, I think editing is coming in at a close second. Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s necessary. I know that editing can be the difference between a good and great book, and that without it the world would be full of writers’ half baked tales that they just can’t seem to escape from in their mind’s eye. I get all of that, but I still hate it.
I’d honestly compare it to a mental dungeon of sorts. You finish your book and then you come from the highs of wielding your pen (or fingers that are tapping furiously at a keyboard) to create a magnificent world. And you push yourself down into the dark, rank depths of editing. The process itself is frustrating. Hacking off words from your beloved work and realizing that you started a new chapter and left out any hint of a transition from the previous one.
After you finish hacking that bit off, you realize that you somehow completely missed an entire section of dialogue that has no quotation marks. So you go back and fix that while still nit picking at every flaw you continue to come across. Then, while doing all of that, it dawns on you that your brilliant masterpiece is really nothing more than a sloppy sketch of an idea.
I hate it. Every single step of it, until I get to the end. Then I see the light at the tunnel and my story emerges from the depths of the self inflicted dungeon as a beautiful creature that I am proud of. No longer is it just blobs of clay pieced together, but it has form, color, and one hell of a presence. It is at that moment that I breathe a sigh of relief and tell myself that maybe this whole editing business wasn’t too bad after all. At least until I reach another round of edits in the future.
I just purchased the book Show Don’t Tell: A Writer’s Guide by William Noble, and wanted to write about something he mentions in the third chapter of his book, tension. Tension is necessary to get a story going and to keep it going. Without it, we are left with pages and pages of descriptions and general chit chat. Now, let’s imagine you are at the movies and the movie goes on and on with wonderful vistas of faraway lands with the main character just wondering through all these places. Not much is really going on outside of the pretty view and the character’s various anecdotes on some general observations about where they are. Now my question to you is, would you stay and watch the entire movie or walk out?
Most people would walk out, and it is the same thing with writing. Without conflict in writing most people will just give up and slam your book shut, never to open it again. This is why some books with “bad writing” as some people term it, still manage to sell well. They have action, they have a plot that doesn’t leave you wondering what you will make for dinner, and they keep that action going until you reach the last page of the book.
Now conflict doesn’t always have to be boiling, in your face, going 100 mph, tension. It can be subtle at first, and built upon as the story progresses. Or it can be like a series of crazy, action sequences from summer, blockbuster films. That is all up to the author, but it does need to exist. I know when I write, I have a tendency to get into a lull where the conflict eases in lieu of side thoughts of my characters. But characterization is my personal forte, so its easy to forget about the overall story sometimes for myself. However, this is no excuse to put out a final work with no tension present throughout the entire work. And if you are like me, you can always make tension that only exists in the mind of one character. Perhaps have them struggling between two decisions in their mind unbeknownst to everyone else. Everyone loves a secret, especially when a decision based on that secret could alter the entire ending of the book. Use your strengths to your advantage!
With that said, I would like everyone else’s views on tension in a novel. Do you like back to back action in your stories or a slow build up of it over the length of the entire book? Let me know below.