- Inner Monologue: Dive into what the character is thinking and give the reader direct thoughts. This is also an excellent way to slow or freeze the narrative for dramatic effect if it is a particularly important or poignant moment.
- Dialogue: Convey the emotions through what that character says. Could your character be confused? Were they blindsided? Have them stammer and ask questions. Is your character angry? Have them speak tersely or shout.
- Action: Little ticks and behaviors can convey emotions. A clench of the fists, a gasp of breath, a twirl of the hair, a glance at the floor. I would say that actions are best used in combination with dialogue or thoughts in order to give the reader a full picture of what the character is feeling.
I have strong tastes when it comes to what types of books I enjoy reading. Note the word “enjoy.” Reading is my form of escape, and as much as I can, I try to keep reading as something that I do for pleasure. Due to my personal tastes, one of the biggest categories/genres of books I don’t enjoy is the problem novel. Characters dealing with emotional issues and internal conflict aren’t fun for me to read. They stress me out. Reading about people with serious, real life problems is not how I choose to spend my evening curled up on the couch. Have I still read some of these books? Yes. I’ve read works by Ellen Hopkins (Impulse) and Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak and Wintergirls). Can these books be important? Yes. Do I know students who have loved these kinds of books? Yes. But novels dealing with emotional issues and internal conflict are not my cup of tea.
What I do enjoy: conflict, action, suspense, plots with twists and turns. Give me a quest. Give me a battle between good and evil. Give me dire stakes to save the one you love. That’s my kind of story. And therefore, that’s what I tend to write. I’m a conflict and plot driven writer. I plan out my books by the obstacles and challenges I intend for my characters to face. And I love writing this way. It’s great.
However, the wisdom of one of my professors pointed out that a novel can’t be just action. A novel has an action plot and an emotional plot. Typically, in my first draft, I have the action plot down. It’s my emotional plot that needs some help.
At first, this whole realization of an emotional plot kind of blew my mind. I didn’t really know what to do about it. It makes sense when you look at my reading preferences. Was I a total failure at this emotional stuff? But then I looked at the first drafts of my stories, and I realized that I’d left myself clues as to the emotional plot. Like breadcrumbs I didn’t know I’d trailed behind me as I was munching my way through the forest.
My first step to remedying my weak emotional plot, was to gather the clues I left myself and piece together the emotional journey my character goes on over the course of the story.
I find it helpful to identify both the action plot and the emotional journey. Sometimes it’s helpful to see how they fit together. And if you’re someone who is good at the emotional stuff, then it might help you to outline your action plot.
For example, here is the action plot and emotional plot of my novella “Rebel Angel”:
The action plot is composed of events or challenges in the physical world, whereas the emotional plot should be showing how the character grows and changes over the course of the story.
Identify the action plot and emotional plot of your novel. I find the chart helpful, but you may use any format that works for you.
Return next week for more about emotional plots and more writing exercises!
Links to Previous ‘Behind the Story’ Posts:
Pacing and Description Part 1
Pacing and Description Part 2
Pacing and Description Part 3
Choosing Character Names
My goals are a mix of “personal bookish accomplishments” as well as how many books I want to read and where I want to purchase my books.
1. Finish novel and begin querying in Fall 2013.
I’m writing a steampunk novel for my Masters thesis. It’s a retelling of a classic piece of literature, and I’m having a total blast writing it. I’m setting aside the entire months of June and July for revisions (summer vacation from teaching), and August is my deadline for completion! Wish me luck!
2. Graduate with my Masters in Children’s Literature.
Once I have my Masters in hand, my goal is to find a job in Children’s Publishing. I would love to work with middle grade or YA in an editorial or marketing role. I’m currently exploring different avenues and entry level positions.
3. Post at least one book review a week.
My schedule for January has me posting two to three book reviews a week because I’m trying to catch up from my hiatus. Reviews are slated in my posting schedule for Mondays, occasional Wednesdays, and Saturdays. I’d love to keep up a two a week schedule, but as it’s tough for me to READ two books a week (with teaching middle school and writing my thesis), I didn’t think that was a realistic goal for me to maintain.
4. Read 12 debut novels.
Last year was my first year attempting the Debut Author Challenge. I purchased 12 debut novels… but didn’t get around to reading 12 debut novels. This year I’m setting a goal to post a “Debut Review” on the last day of every month. This is a way of setting a deadline for myself, and I work well with deadlines (even the self-imposed kind).
5. Read 3 Newbery books and 3 Printz books.
I took a graduate course in Newbery books as well as heard a guest speaker who served on the Newbery committee. It gave me a real understanding and sense of honor for these awards. I’m always excited to hear what books are awarded medals each year, and I want to continue reading Newbery and Printz award winners each year (not just when I’m taking a class!) I also enjoy trying to figure out why this book was chosen/selected versus other books, and identifying the winner’s merits. I’m a total nerd!
6. Read 7 steampunk novels.
I am likely going to be doing an independent study in the Spring on steampunk, and therefore know I will be reading a bunch of it. I also want to read what is out there in terms of YA steampunk so as to place my own novel in context. Is it similar to what’s already been published? What does it have to offer that’s new? I have some theories, but I really need to read more in order to prove my assumptions correct. Some books on my list: The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron, The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress, Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve, and The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann.
7. Read 3-5 contemporary novels.
This is a genre that I’m slowly growing to enjoy. This year I read Anna and the French Kiss, Lola and the Boy Next Door, The Fault in Our Stars, and The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight (review forthcoming). All of which I enjoyed, despite not being an avid contemporary reader. This year I will undoubtedly be reading Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, The Truth about Forever by Sarah Dessen, and Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry. I’ll be watching for a few more contemporary reads to add as well.
8. Read 3-5 historical fiction novels.
This is a genre that I used to love. I totally grew up on the American Girl series. (Felicity was my favorite.) I’d love to renew my love of historical fiction because lately I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy and science fiction. I’ve heard great things about Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly and Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. But I’ll gladly take recommendations of great historical fiction.
9. Do majority of eBook purchasing from indie booksellers through Kobo.
I’m a little upset by what I’ve read about Amazon’s business practices and their interactions with publishers, authors, and booksellers. Despite loving my Kindle Touch, I want to shift my book purchasing to support independent booksellers. I got an iPad for Christmas and downloaded the Kobo app. Through Kobo, I can purchase eBooks from my favorite indie stores, like Browseabout Books in Rehoboth, Delaware or Politics and Prose in Washington D.C. I want to purchase eBooks from the stores that offer me great book events, opportunities to meet my favorite authors, and a great shopping experience.
10. Start novel #2.
I’m not even done with book one, and I’m already thinking ahead to book two! That’s partially because book two was started before I even began book one. But then there was the “Dystopian Boom” and I realized I had to figure out a way to make my dystopian trilogy different from all the others being offered. I had a unique premise, but I needed a different ending. Most dystopians end with either the protagonist running away from the dystopian society or rebelling against the dystopian society. I wanted an ending that would be neither of those. And I found one! A fantastic twist! I can’t wait to return to this project when I finish my steampunk novel.
Whew! Does anyone else feel like they need to print out all their goals and resolutions and post them on the walls to keep them in sight? I have a lot I want to get done this year!
What are your Bookish Goals?
Pressing her cheek to the warm, gritty pavement, she was able to make out three sets of yellow boots across the square. An emergency crew. She peeled the door open farther and watched the men–all wearing gas masks–as they doused the interior of the booth with liquid from a yellow can. Even across the square, Cinder wrinkled her nose at the stench.
Cinder, page 17
But she was still five hundred feet up when the first sheets of rain arrived. The cold drops fell diagonally, hitting her dangling feet even under the cover of the airbeast. Its tentacles coiled tighter, and she wondered how long the medusa would take this pounding before it spilled its hydrogen, hurling itself to the ground.
Leviathan, Page 57
Goal 75 Books
Did Not Complete
2012 Debut Author Challenge
Goal 12 Books
Did Not Complete
Instead of recapping my failures (depressing) and making excuses (lame), I’m going to reflect on the things I did accomplish this year:
1) I wrote more blog posts in 2012 than I did in 2011 (despite taking a 3 month hiatus), and made lots of new friends along the way 🙂
2) I took 12 credits in graduate courses and now have 36 out of 48 credits towards my Masters degree. I have just one class and my thesis to go!
3) I wrote tens of thousands of words for my novel as well as researching topics that were completely unfamiliar to me like the history of metalworking and properties of metal. I will undoubtedly finish my first draft this winter and that makes me happy!
Goals for 2013
Goodreads Challenge: I’m going to set my goal lower than 2012 but higher than 2011. Hopefully, that middle ground will be the right number. My goal will be 60 books.
Debut Author Challenge: I really want to do a better job on this challenge. It turns out that I purchased a bunch of debut novels, but it was the reading them that got me in trouble. I’m going to have to schedule one book per month and set deadlines for myself. I work well that way, with a little more structure. So I’m going to set a goal of one book a month or 12 books total.
Reading Goals: I want to diversify my reading selections. I tend to read more fantasy and sci-fi, but would like to also read more historical fiction (which I enjoy), mysteries (which I loved as a kid), and contemporary (which is growing on me). I also want to pay more attention to publishers and diversify my reading in that way. I also will be reading as many steampunk books as possible, so if you see a good steampunk book, send it my way!
Writing Goals: I will be finishing my first draft of my steampunk novel this winter, which will be my thesis for my Masters. I will be revising over the Spring and Summer, and be done by August 2013. Hopefully, I can start the query process Fall of 2013. My next writing project (since this novel is a steampunk standalone) will likely be the dystopian trilogy that I put on hold. I had a major revelation while studying dystopians over the summer, and figured out how to break away from the typical dystopian format. I have a major twist that I’m really excited to explore, which should distract me from the nerves of querying.
Blogging Goals: I want to maintain an every-other-day posting schedule, with two-thirds of my posts being book posts and one-third being writing posts. I’d love to look into co-hosting an event or doing some giveaways, but that really depends on big changes in my real life and how they’ll impact me (jobs, moving, money, etc.)
2013 could have a lot of changes in store for me, especially as I’m completing my Masters and pursuing job/career changes. I hope these big changes won’t get in the way of my goals, but regardless, I’m optimistic that 2013 is going to be a fun year 🙂
“The rule of three is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. The reader or audience of this form of text is also more likely to consume information if it is written in groups of threes. Similarly, adjectives are often grouped in threes to emphasize an idea. The Latin phrase, “omne trium perfectum” (everything that comes in threes is perfect, or, every set of three is complete) conveys the same idea as the rule of three.”
The first thing my aunt did upon returning from the funeral was take away my bedroom and force me into the small attic room above the boiler room. The space could barely fit a bed, and there were crevices between the floorboards wide enough to stick your finger through. The highlight of the room was a single grimy window.
“Oy! Girlie! You new?” Pushing one of the screeching metal carts was a girl smaller than me. Her brown hair was unbelievably short, cropped to her chin, but she wore a long gray skirt, so I knew she was a girl.
“Has anyone seen a toad? Neville’s lost one,” she said. She had a bossy sort of voice, lots of bushy brown hair, and rather large front teeth.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, page 105
The girl was gorgeous, the kind of girl Clary would have liked to draw–tall and ribbon-slim, with a long spill of black hair. Even at this distance Clary could see the red pendant around her throat. It pulsed under the lights of the dance floor like a separate, disembodied heart.
City of Bones, page 6
Her name was Shay. She had long dark hair in pigtails, and her eyes were too wide apart. Her lips were full enough, but she was even skinnier than a new pretty. She’d come over to New Pretty Town on her own expedition, and had been hiding here by the river for an hour.
Uglies, page 27
“Stopping your story to splash setting onto the page can be hazardous in teen fiction. Splashes can stop young readers cold. Sometimes, yes, you may need to pause your plot work for some setting details — a little descriptive moment — either because it fits the overall style of your narrative voice or because, simply, it’s time for a breather. But in general, splashing means stopping, and stopping is rarely what writers want. Instead, sprinkle.
Work in the setting here and there, as if flicking wet fingers at your pages instead of pouring water on them straight from the spout. Even teens who aren’t intimidated by a few lines of description are likely to skip over big splashes in search of the story thread. Providing details about time and place as you go keeps setting accessible and interesting to teen readers.”
Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies, page 146
This is something that I really did not want to have to do, but I have come to the realization that it is something I need to do. I’m putting my blog on hiatus.
I sincerely love blogging. I love sharing what I thought of books. I love the blogging community. I love discussing books with other bloggers. I love hearing about new books coming out.
But there is one thing that’s more important to me right now, and that is writing my novel. And because I love blogging so much, it is too easy for me to get caught up in writing blog posts and posting comments instead of the other kind of writing I should be doing.
Besides being a full time teacher, I’m taking a writing course this fall that is going to involve presentations, critiques, writing exercises, and regular submissions. Just looking at the syllabus made me question whether I’d have much free time this fall.
And then I sat down and did some goal setting. I have set a goal for myself to have a revised and finished novel ready to query by this time next year. In order to do that, I need to have a finished first draft by January 1st. Which is entirely doable if I stick to a writing goal of 3,000 words a week. I’ve consistently met this goal in the past, and know that it is something I can accomplish. But not if I have distractions.
And because I love blogging so much, it is a distraction.
I want to maintain the friendships I’ve started with fellow bloggers, so I’m going to set aside two hours a week to comment on my favorite blogs. (I’m so dreadfully behind right now, but thanks to Labor Day, you may hear from me tomorrow morning.) Know that I’m still reading your blogs, often from my iPhone as I sit in a dreadfully boring school meeting, and you’re making me smile. But I may be a more silent, mysterious follower.
Much love, and hopefully you’ll hear from a very happy me on January 1st who is holding a complete 1st draft of a novel in her hands.
(I’ll still be on goodreads because I HAVE TO keep track of what I’m reading. I won’t be posting extensive reviews, but if you want to see what I think of books I’m reading, here’s my goodreads profile.)
This week’s topic:
Being Evil to Your Characters
Why would you want to be evil to your own creations?
- To provide challenges and conflict
- To create compelling characters who grow over the course of the story through the challenges they face
- For suspense and pacing
- As a plotting tool
This is one of those pieces of advice or writing tips that I don’t remember where I heard it. But it really resonated with me, and is one of the first things I do when plotting a section of a novel. I think it is a really, really valuable technique if you struggle with pacing, plotting, or giving characters agency.
Quotes About Being Tough on Your Characters
Editor, Cheryl Klein, Arthur A. Levine Books
Ten Ways to Create Compelling Characters
#6 Put the character in pain, danger, or jeopardy (anticipated pain)
Author, Kurt Vonnegut
8 Basics of Creative Writing
#6: Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
Author, Maggie Stiefvater
Blog Post: Bringing Out Your Inner Sadist
“I have decided that in order to be a good writer, you have to be a sadist.”
“And that’s when I decided that I must have an inner sadist in there somewhere. Because although I love my characters dearly, I have to say, I also love to hurt them. I love to take away the stuff they need and the people they love and shove them outside their comfort zone without so much as a windbreaker. I like to make them uncomfortable, humiliate them, gun down their loved ones in cold blood, and give them pasts that will haunt them forever.”
“I think part of it is because of that saying: ‘Women are like tea bags. You never know how strong they are until they’re in hot water.’ Characters are like women which are like tea bags. You can learn a bit about them when things are going well, but it’s not until the proverbial poo hits the proverbial fan and plagues are raining down that you really see what sort of a person they are.”
“So I guess I figure that if a little pain and suffering will show me more about them, a lot of pain and suffering will do it even better. Basically, as soon as a character lets on what their worst fear is, it’s a pretty surefire sign that I am going to make them come face to face with it at some point in the novel. “
“I don’t think readers like it when you are nice to the characters. They think they want characters to be happy, but they don’t really. At least not until the characters have first been really miserable. I think a good writer finds their characters’ monsters and then resurrects them at the worst possible moment, and that we readers, like Jerry Springer audience members, love the angst and drama of it.”
Author, Janet Fitch
10 Rules for Writers
#10 Torture your protagonist. The writer is both a sadist and a masochist. We create people we love, and then we torture them. The more we love them, and the more cleverly we torture them along the lines of their greatest vulnerability and fear, the better the story. Sometimes we try to protect them from getting booboos that are too big. Don’t. This is your protagonist, not your kid.
The 22 rules of storytelling, according to Pixar:
#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
Ari Susu-Mago at blog “A Fuzzy Mango With Wings”
Blog Post: The Sadism of Fiction
(or, What Game of Thrones Can Teach Us About Writing)
“He makes likable, interesting, flawed, human characters. And then he makes their lives suck.”
“Moreover, note that not only does he make problems for them right at the beginning of the story, but he makes things get worse all the time. Rarely, if ever, do things get better. Plans go awry. People turn traitor. People get angry and say things they shouldn’t. People get killed. In general, more problems crop up. The result? A 800+ page book that flies by.”
Examples of Author Sadism:
Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone by JK Rowling
How bad did JK Rowling make Harry’s aunt and uncle?
Rowling made them about as terrible as aunts/uncles can get.
How did the Dursleys keep Harry from his Hogwarts’ letter?
Rowling didn’t just hold Harry back from reading the letter, she took it to extreme levels by the Dursleys trying to hide on a rock in the middle of the sea. By throwing so many obstacles in Harry’s path to reading the letter, it made us more invested in the story and increases suspense and tension.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Everytime Ender became comfortable, Card threw him into a new challenge or worse situation.
Ender makes friends in his launch group and starts to be successful at the Battle School.
But then he is moved to Salamander Army where he is the smallest and most inexperienced, and Bonzo won’t even let him practice.
They make the audience care…
Then very briefly give them a glimpse of what they want…
Then they ruin or take it away…
(Examples: Anna/Bates or Matthew/Mary)
The Way I Incorporate this Technique in My Own Writing
Usually at the start of a work (or at the start of a new setting) I brainstorm a list of things that could go wrong either in the story or in that particular setting.
The list forces me to think of things that could go wrong and sets my brain thinking in that direction. And I have a resource to refer to later if I need to.
When I sit down to start writing, I try to begin a chapter by resolving a previous problem or setting the stage for a new problem.
I try to always end a chapter in the midst of a low point for the protagonist. It can be a physical low point or an emotional low point.
Brainstorm a list:
- Of things that could get in your protagonist’s way of their goal.
- Of terrible things that could happen to your protagonist.
- Of characters your protagonist needs in their life, and how they could disappear.
Don’t worry about how your character will get out of it, or how they’ll overcome it.
Don’t worry about how it will fit into your plot.
Don’t worry about how extreme it might be.
Links Quoted in this Post:
Maggie Stiefvater, Blog Post: Bringing Out Your Inner Sadist
Maggie Stiefvater, Collection of Posts on Writing
Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Basics of Creative Writing
Janet Fitch’s 10 Rules for Writers
The 22 Rules of Storytelling According to Pixar
Blog Post: The Sadism of Fiction
(or, What Game of Thrones Can Teach Us About Writing)
Ava Jae, of “Writablity: Tips, Tricks and Thoughts from One Writer to Cyberspace”
Each year at my graduate program, a conference is held to honor the work of the graduate students. Students may submit work in each of the following categories: critical papers, creative stories, and original artwork to win one of three awards presented at the conference.
This was the first time I’ve ever entered any sort of writing contest. The past two years I’ve simply attended this conference as an observer, and I did not enter anything in any of the categories.
There were 24 creative submissions this year, all from Hollins University MFA graduate students in Children’s Literature.
Last week, I learned my entry was one of the creative submissions selected to be read at the conference, and that my piece would be one of five pieces to go on to be judged by outside judges for the final honor of Best Creative Submission. The judges for this year’s FBC conference were: Ashley Wolff (children’s book author and illustrator), Bruce Coville (children’s and YA author), and Michele Ebersole (Professor of Children’s Literature at University of Hawaii).
And… as you may have guessed by the title of this post… I won!
I entered the first 12 pages (first 3,000 words) of a short story I wrote in my Fantasy Genre Study course last summer. The current title is “Rebel Angel” and the story is about a rebellious guardian angel who is sent to Earth on her first mission where she must save a boy from being recruited by a gang.
Below are pictures of me reading my selection at the conference. I was nervous to speak in front of a crowd of adults as opposed to 11-14 year olds. But after a lot of practice, all went smoothly. A few funny parts in my story even got some laughs from the audience! 🙂