The Hero’s Jourey Plot Structure Breakdown

The Hero's Journey Plot Structure Breakdown

The Hero’s Journey Plot was first described by Joseph Campbell. It’s a character-centric plot structure that’s popularly used when the main protagonist of a story is intended to become a true hero. 

Today, we’re to take an in-depth look at each of the twelve stages in the Hero’s Journey Plot structure. Here’s a rundown of what you need to know if you’re using this structure in your story:

The Hero's Journey Plot Structure

1) The Ordinary World 

First, establish the ordinary world of your hero. We need to see what their normal life looks like for them before they go off on their adventure. This is an important element to this plot structure because it’s what allows your readers to relate to your character.

The average person isn’t likely to find themselves in a position to be a hero like your character is in your book. Letting your reader meet and get to know your character in their normal and natural environment will allow your readers to find elements in common with your main character before they go off on their journey to become a hero, which is an experience your reader may not be able to relate to as deeply.

2) The Call to Adventure

Next, your hero gets called to actually be a hero. This will act as the inciting incident for your story. They will be told they have to leave their home and do something very dangerous for the greater good. The call can come in many different ways. There could be a dangerous and immediate threat. There could be a death or some kind of natural disaster. The call could come in the form of a literal person or message. Or it could take a handful of other forms. You can get creative here and come up with a call/inciting incident that makes sense for your world and your character. 

3) Refusal to the Call

Next, your hero will typically put up some kind of resistance to the call. They may say they don’t want this responsibility and reject the mission they’ve been tasked with. Or they may argue they have too many of their own responsibilities in their own world. Or perhaps they don’t feel capable. This is also where readers can learn the risks that come with this journey, which will likely be a contributing factor to the character’s refusal.

This is a good point in the Hero’s Journey to allow your character to doubt their own abilities. By doing so, you’ll allow your reader to connect and sympathize with your character. You’ll also give your character a base point for growth. Throughout the course of their journey, they will likely find they do have what it takes, which will serve as a source of inspiration to the reader. 

4) Meeting the Mentor

The hero will meet the person who will become their mentor and guide them on this Hero’s Journey. This person often gives the hero the push they need to get things off the ground. The mentor will help the hero to believe in themselves and better understand why they are the best or only person for this job. 

If there is some kind of magical ability involved or training required, the mentor will have knowledge and wisdom in this area, which will allow them to guide the hero. This will add to the hero’s confidence and put them in a position where they feel they have a possibility of succeeding. 

5) Crossing the Threshold

The hero will accept their task, cross the threshold and leave the known world to begin their hero’s journey. In order for this to happen, the hero must overcome an obstacle which pushes the hero to fully commit to the journey ahead. It is essentially a “no turning back” moment.  This may include facing one/some of their fears and insecurities, receiving some kind of direction or map, or a final push from the mentor or a loved one staying behind.

6) Tests, Allies, and Enemies

Now that the hero has entered the unknown world, they will endure a series of tests and obstacles on their hero’s journey. These tests will push the character mentally and physically, forcing them to grow and change. They will also have to learn who they can and cannot trust. They may find a sidekick or two, or a whole team of supporting characters. They will also make some enemies who are out to do them and their new friends harm.

Additionally, because this is an unknown world, the hero will need to learn the lay of the land. They will need to learn the rules of this world, along with any important geographic or magical information. This step is important because in educating your hero of this new world, you will also be educating your reader. 

7) Approach the Inmost Cave

The hero prepares for the main ordeal they know is coming. This can be a bit of a relief in the tension that has been building up until this moment. At this point, your hero should have had to overcome a handful of challenges and will have proven themselves to natives of this world (whether they be friends or enemies).

This is a chance for your hero and his supporting friends to take a moment and collect themselves. Perhaps they’re coming off a trying series of events that they need to grieve and/or process. Or perhaps they need a moment of light-hearted fun before moving forward. This is also a time for your characters to discuss plans for confronting the Ordeal, which is just ahead of them.

8) Ordeal

The hero is confronted with an extreme ordeal that will call on all of the skills they have learned on this hero’s journey so far, in order to survive. This can be a physical battle with an enemy or it can be a test of mental dexterity. Regardless, the ordeal should force the hero to confront their worst fear. 

Additionally, the hero must face death in some form. This death can be literal or metaphorical.  It can apply directly to the hero or a member of their team. It can mean your hero or another character has a brush with death but is able to be saved or resuscitated, or it could mean another important character dies for the cause. This can also be applied to the “death” of something important in your character’s life, like a belief or relationship. 

9) Reward

After surviving the ordeal, the hero receives some kind of reward for their efforts. This can come in many forms such as an item, information, or a person.

This celebration/break in actions gives both the hero and the reader a chance to breathe before continuing on. The story is building to the climax now, so there won’t be another moment for your characters or readers to relax until you reach the end.

10) The Road Home

The hero recommits to seeing out their journey and forages onward back to the ordinary world. However, the experiences the hero has had on their hero’s journey will make it hard to return. The hero will need another push to enter the known world again, similar to the push they needed to enter the unknown world. This may come from the mentor, another ally or maybe even a threat that is hanging over the known world that adds urgency to your character’s return.

11) The Resurrection

The hero has one final ordeal that typically includes a brush with death and heroic efforts of another to keep the hero alive. This is the final life and death moment and the climax of your story. This time, it should be your hero who nearly (or completely) ends up dead. However, thanks to another character or force, they are able to overcome this final obstacle. The hero then defeats the biggest threat to his/the world’s existence. Others may help with this, but in the end, it has to be the hero who saves the day. This event should allow your character to return home transformed.

12) Return with Elixir

The hero returns to the ordinary world with something to share with the world they left behind. This could be something physical, such as an enchanted object or a cure for a disease, or it could be intangible, such as knowledge. This wraps up the story, either by restoring a balance or tying up loose ends. Your hero is forever changed by the events of your story, and  both your hero and your reader should have a fair amount of satisfaction with the end result.

I hope this gives you a good understanding of the Hero’s Journey plot structure!

Now it’s your turn: Have you used the Hero’s Journey plot structure before? If you have, what did you like and dislike? If you haven’t, do you think it can help your story? Tell me about it in the comments!

Pin it up!

Hero's Journey

Setting and World Building | Elements of a Novel – Part 3

Elements of a Novel: Setting and world buildingWelcome to Part Three of the Elements of a Novel Series! Today we’re focusing on setting and world building! (ICYMI, here are the links to Part One: Creating Characters and Part Two: Choosing a Plot Structure.)

This is the last element we’re going to talk about before we start moving through the general structure of a novel. This post is going to look at the role setting and world play in your story, the difference between them, and the specifics of what you might want to consider developing within each.

Let’s get started!

How does Setting and World Building inform your story?

The setting and world play a role in creating the feel and backdrop for your story. For example, books that are set in big cities often feel very different than books that are set in small towns. And books that are set in mystical fantasy lands feel very different than books set in this real and modern world.

World and setting also play a role in what events can and can’t happen in your story. For example, if you set your story in modern Florida, it wouldn’t make sense for a series of snowstorms to occur in your story because snow in that region is pretty rare. However, if you set your book in the Northeast, that would be more believable. Similarly, you couldn’t write a story set in modern times in the modern world with trolls and elves as co-workers for your character because we don’t have trolls and elves in this world. However, with some world building, you can create a new reality for your story to exist in.

Setting

What is setting?

Setting is where your story takes place. You can set your story in a real place that already exists or you can use world building to create a setting. (More on that later.) Setting includes both the time and physical spaces your story takes place in.

What do you need to develop in setting?

Even if you’re not using world building to create a setting from scratch, you’ll likely need to consider and develop several aspects of your setting. The specifics of what you need to develop will be unique to your story, but here are the key elements that will likely be true for everyone.

When your story takes place

When your story takes place is important for both historical and practical purposes. Historically, you need to know what current events are happening at the time of your story. This will help you to create a real and vivid world. If you’re setting your book in the U.S. in the late 1800s, that’s the gilded age. What does that mean for your characters? Practically, the “when” of your story will also dictate the level of technological and social development in your story. This will inform what can and can’t happen to your characters. If you’re setting it in the 1970s, consider the available technology. It would make sense for your characters to get their news from the TV, but if your book were set in the 1930s, the radio would be more common.

Your main character’s home base

Where is your main character’s home base? This includes both the city or town they live in and the building they spend most of their time in. This home base may or may not be your character’s “home.” For example, in the early seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the home base for the core group of characters was the school’s library. It was the only place in town that had the information the characters needed to access on a regular basis and was safe for the characters to meet discuss the latest supernatural threat. Your characters will likely need their own regular, safe meet up spot. It can be your main character’s actual home, but it doesn’t have to be.

 The places your characters frequent

Home base may be your most used location, but it’s unlikely that your characters will stay cooped up in one place for the entire length of your story. So in addition to your character’s home base, there will be a handful of places your characters will frequent that you will need to create. This can include where they work, go to school, eat, have fun, and visit with friend and family. A good example is Gilmore Girls. In this case, I would say that the Gilmore home is home base, but Lorelai and Rory also regularly spend time at Luke’s Diner, The Inn where Lorelai works, Chilton where Rory goes to school, and Lorelai’s parents’ house, to name a few. Developing key locations will go along way in creating a real and believable setting for your story. You can use some light world building to create these locations like the creators of Gilmore Girls or can use places that exist in real life.

Towns, cities, and countries your characters live in and visit

You also need to develop or research any town/city/country your characters live in and visit. Even if your character isn’t there for that long, you need to be able to give a decent description and feel of the location. It’s also important to give your readers a sense of where they are in the world, so be sure to at least mention where the town/city and country your story is taking place in. It always helps to visit a location if you’re going to write about it, but if you can’t, try using Google Maps. Here’s a post on how I use Google Maps to help with my setting!

Note

If you’re setting your story in a historical time period or a setting you’re unfamiliar with, be sure to do your research! You may not get everything right, but do your best anyway. Glaring inaccuracies can become distractions and take your reader out of the story.

World Building

What is World Building?

World building is when you create the locations and city/towns/countries/worlds your story is set it. Every story will likely need some level of world building, but the extent will depend on where and when your story is set.

What do you need to develop in World Building?

How much you need to develop will depend on how close you want your story to stick to reality. If you’re setting your book in this modern world, you may only need some light world building. If you’re writing a high-fantasy, Lord of the Rings style, you’ll need heavier world building. Below, we’re going to look at the different levels of world building and the rough areas to consider in each level. For a detailed list of elements to develop for fictional and fantasy worlds, check out this post!

Light World Building

Light World Building is for when you’re setting a story in this world, but you don’t want to rely on real places and location. So instead, you create your own. Going back to the Gilmore Girls example, that show is a good instance light world building. The town of Stars Hollow doesn’t really exist, but small towns like it do. Luke’s Diner doesn’t really exist, but diners like it do. Most books, shows, and movies use light world building to create the setting and environment for their characters.

Relying on real places can become tedious. They constantly evolve and you may find that some aspect of the real world location just doesn’t fit your story as you need it to. Using light world building to create locations very similar to the ones we have in the real world give you flexibility as a writer, while still grounding your story in a world your reader is used to. I used light world building for my books. If you want more on this, I did a post on how to create a fictional world within our own.

Medium World Building

I consider medium world building to be any story that uses magical, mystical, science fiction, or similar elements in this world. Stories like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, Timeless, Superman, etc, all have outlandish fictional elements that had to be created and built to fit into this world. The setting and/or natural laws of these stories are slightly different than our reality, but they’re still set in this world. In this case, it’s important to develop and explain what makes your character’s world different from ours. If there are supernatural or magical elements, those need to be developed in a way that makes sense with the world we live in. These elements and other magical aspects will also need their own history and origin stories. And because you’re still setting the story in this world, it’s important that the elements you’re creating believably work with the laws and circumstances of our world.

Heavy World Building

Heavy World Building is where you have to create a completely different world for your story. This includes whole countries with maps, races, magical elements, etc. This kind of world building is most common in fantasies like Lord of the Rings, Throne of Glass, and Game of Thrones. These stories are not set in this world that we live in and had to be created completely from scratch. There is also a more science fiction aspect to heavy world building that can include any story set in other planets or in outer space, like Firefly. In these cases, the worlds, planets, and systems need to be completely created. They are often removed enough from our world that maps need to be drawn and they’re different enough from the world we live in to need significant development.

Note:

These distinctions are just guidelines, you might fall somewhere in between. For example, I would consider Harry Potter and The Mortal Instruments series to fall between medium and heavy world building. They both have a fictional magic world, but it’s a subset of this world. So a whole new world with maps didn’t need to be created like in a Lord of the Rings style fantasy, but the interworkings and locations of the magical worlds did need to be created from scratch.

I hope this helps you with your setting and world building!

Now it’s your turn: What do you think about when you’re first creating your setting? What about world building? Tell me about it in the comments!

Pin it up!

How to Write Your Book This Year: 10 Writing Tips

How to Write Your Book This YearSo many people talk about writing a book but never actually sit down and do it. If this sounds like you, make this the year that changes. Make this year you finally write your book! (Or if you’re already working on it, make this the year you finish!)

This post is going live in December, so it’s intended to be setting you up to write your book in the upcoming year, but you can use these tips to write your book in ANY twelve-month window. Don’t let the calendar hold you back!

Here are ten tips to help you write your book within twelve months:

Sit with your idea and get excited

It might be tempting to dive right in a get writing, but that could backfire on you. You run the risk of going too hard, too fast, and burning out before you hit ten thousand words. Instead, take a moment to make a plan and savor your idea. Let your characters cook in your head for a month or so while you get your act together. Jot down some notes and ideas to keep your excitement up, but try not to start writing until you have some kind of plan worked out.

Set a reasonable goal for one year from now

Now that you’re excited about your idea, set a REASONABLE goal for what you hope to have accomplished one year from now. Reasonable is key! As nice as it would be to have a book that submission ready after a year, if you’ve never written a book before, that’s a massive goal. If you set your goal too high, you might get discouraged and give up. So if this is your very first book, a good goal might be to have a complete first draft at the end of a year. If you’re in the middle of a draft, you might want to have a complete draft and a revision plan. Or maybe even to finish a revision (depending on where you are in the process). I can’t tell you what a good goal for you is, but I will say that it’s important to set a goal that’s achievable, while still being a challenge. If you need some help figuring out the right goal for you, check out these posts:  How to Set Manageable Writing Goals, The Importance of Setting Manageable Writing Goals.

Consider a light brainstorm/outline

Brainstorming isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve never written a book before, I would suggest giving it a shot. I’ve always found that I am a more efficient writer when I know where I’m going. I’ve also found that it’s a lot easier for me to walk away from my work or skip writing days if I don’t know what comes next. You don’t need to come up with a deep or extensive brainstorm, but consider giving yourself some plot points and an ending to shoot for. If you need help getting started, check out this post for brainstorming beginners. And for more on brainstorming, check out the brainstorming tag.

Come up with a reasonable, sustainable schedule

Now that you have a reasonable goal and a decent grasp on your story, it’s time to come up with a schedule you’ll be able to sustain throughout the year. If you’re going to write and finish your book, showing up on a regular basis is essential. Like goal setting, sustainable is the priority here. Take a look at your current schedule. Consider activities that you can shorten or cut out to make time for writing. You don’t have to write every day, but I would suggest at least a few days a week. For example, if you can find one hour, three days a week, that’s awesome! Then, if you shoot for 500 words every hour, that’s 1,500 words a week. Which means at the end of a year, you’ll have 78,000 words written. That’s a book!! As the year goes on, you may find that you’re able to find more time or that you write faster once you get in the groove, but at this point, your priority is creating a schedule you know you can maintain. For more help on creating a sustainable writing schedule, check out this post!

COMMIT

Now that you have your schedule, you need to commit to it! This book will not get written if you slack off. Sure, life happens from time to time and you may have to concede your writing time. Some days just won’t go your way. But if you start caving every time something more enticing or seemingly more pressing than writing comes up, you will not write your book this year. If you want to meet your writing goals, it’s on you to prioritize them. For tips on how to commit to your writing, check out this post.

Give yourself permission to be imperfect

Perfectionism will kill your writing. Writing is a process for a reason. It takes time and several drafts to get it right. But one of the best parts about writing is that you can always fix it later. It’s okay if chapter three is terrible in your first draft as long as it gets you to chapter four. Don’t let the quest for perfection hold you back. If your goal is to finish a first draft, it’s okay if it’s a terrible draft! It just has to be finished. If your goal is to get a revision done, it’s okay if there are still things that need to be fixed as long as your book is better than it was before. For more on embracing imperfection,  check out this post!

If writing gets hard, change things up

Your writing will challenge you. That’s good. It’s supposed to challenge you. When you find yourself facing a particularly challenging scene, it’s important to keep writing. Maybe you’ll write slower than you have been, but as long as you can put words on the page, keep going! However, if writing every feels painfully hard, consider that your writerly instincts may be trying to tell you something. Perhaps the direction you’re taking your story in just isn’t right. Or maybe your approach is all wrong. Unfortunately, only you will be able to work out what the root of the problem is, but if it feels like you’re suffering, then I would advise against pushing on. Instead, take a time out and work out what your roadblock is. For more on why writing doesn’t have to be hard, check out this post!

Find some go-to places for inspiration and motivation

Inspiration and motivation will ebb and flow. It’s nice when you feel it, but you can’t always rely on it to meet your daily and weekly goals. Instead, find a few go-to locations or websites for when you feel like you need an inspirational pick-me-up. Maybe you have a story inspiration board on Pinterest. Or maybe you find motivation by bribing yourself with a reward after you meet your goal on a particularly challenging week. You know yourself best, so consider what will give you enough motivation and inspiration to power through. Be ready to call on those tools when you need them.

Get an encouraging friend or writing buddy

It’s easier to stay on top of your goals if you have a friend who will encourage you and hold you accountable. A writing buddy is really ideal. This way you can both check-in and support each other, but it’s okay if you’re the only writer you know. All you really need is one friend who appreciates stories, creativity, and commitment to cheer you on. Make it a point to check in with them on a regular basis and ask for support when you need it. If you don’t think you have anyone in real life, consider making an online friend. I’m not on facebook, but I hear there are writing facebook groups you can join. You can also feel free to connect with each other here in the comments section, or on another form of social media.

Let showing up an finishing be the success

Lastly, reconsider how you measure success. It’s easy to think of a published book or a massive bestseller as success, but there are a lot of other wins along the way that need to be appreciated and celebrated. The first big win that needs to be given its due is simply showing up on a regular basis and producing. It doesn’t matter if your book is good while it’s in the early stages. Finishing a draft and meeting your goals is a success. Let those wins count! For more on why your writing doesn’t have to be “good,” check out this post!

I hope this helps you write your book this year!

Now it’s your turn: What’s your plan to make sure you write your book this year? Tell me about it in the comments!

Pin it up!

Choosing a Plot Structure | Elements of a Novel – Part 2

Elements of a novel: Plot structureWelcome to Part Two of the Elements of a Novel Series! Today we’re going talk about plot structure and how to choose the best one for your novel. (ICYMI, here’s the link to Part One: Creating Characters.)

Before you start writing your novel, it’s a good idea to have some idea of the story you want to write and the path you want to take your characters on. Plot structures are like road maps. They give you landmarks and to hit and act as a guide to help you write an interesting and engaging story that will (ideally) be satisfying to both you and your readers.

There are basic elements that are found in all major plot structures, but there are a few variations that may be better options depending on the type of book you’re writing.

Let’s dive in and take a closer look at the three most popular plot structures!

Freytag’s Pyramid

undefined

Overview

Freytag’s Pyramid is the most common dramatic plot structure. Here are the basic elements of this plot structure:

Exposition- Readers meet the characters, get introduced to the world, and learn any background information they need in order to understand the story.

Rising Action- The story builds to the climax with a series of events that lead your characters (and your readers) closer and closer to the climactic moment.

Climax- This is the pivotal moment in your story. The conflict you’ve been building in the rising action comes to a head. It’s the moment that will determine the fate of your main characters and shape their future.

Falling Action- The outcome of the climax is decided and your characters deal with the immediate aftermath.

Denoument- Wrap up your story, tie up any loose ends, and end.

Advantages

This is a timeless, evenly paced plot structure that can apply to almost story.

Disadvantages

It’s a little too straightforward and without more concrete checkpoints, it can lead to a story that’s a little too drawn out. This is because it visually places equal emphasis on the rising action as it does the falling action.

Recommended for:

Anyone who doesn’t know what plot structure to choose, or anyone who wants a straightforward classic.

Three-Act Structure

Basic Three-Act Structure

My Favorite Three-Act Structure

Overview

This structure follows the same basic format as Freytag’s Pyramid but has a few more checkpoints and guidelines. Here’s what this plot structure is made up of:

Act I (Beginning)

Opening/Exposition- Like the exposition in Freytag, here we meet the characters and are introduced to the world. It establishes what “normal” looks like for your main characters. This is intended to be done as quickly as possible.

Plot Point 1- This is your inciting incident. Something happens that shakes your character’s world and essentially kickstarts your story.

Act II (Middle)

3-4 points of crisis- This is similar to the rising actions in Freytag, but as you can see, it’s a little more specific. These points of crisis are intended to increase tension as the story progresses. They aren’t just “actions” they’re actual moments of crisis for your characters.

Plot Point 2- The second act ends with a dark moment for your character leading into the climax. Here, the tension is almost at its peak and everything is on the line for your characters.

Act III (End)

Climax- This is the epic fight or showdown you’ve been building towards. It should be the highest moment of tension for your characters and story.

Denoument- The biggest difference between Freytag and three-act is the very swift resolution. There is very little falling action. The idea is to wrap up your story as quickly after the climax as you can and get out. This should leave your reader satisfied with the outcome, but wanting more.

Advantages

This plot structure focuses more on raising the tension and creating an engaging story. It happens to be my favorite plot structure for this reason. (For more on how I use this structure, check out this post!) The focus on raising the tension with each crisis point helps to create a more tense and engaging story than simply focusing on moving your story closer to the climax. Visually, it also lessens importance on the opening and denoument, which puts the emphasis on writing a tight story.

Disadvantages

It doesn’t leave much room for side stories or character backstories. This can be a good thing if your goal is to write a tight novel. But if you’re looking to write something a little more thoughtful or slower paced, this may not be ideal for you.

Recommended for:

Plot driven stories that are intended to be tight, faster paced, tension driven, or page-turners.

Hero’s Journey

Overview

This plot structure is designed for more heroic stories and typically lends itself well to fantasies. One of the best examples is Lord of the Rings. The exact order of events can vary slightly, but this is the general plot structure:

1) The Ordinary World – First we establish the ordinary world of your hero. We see what their normal life looks like for them before they go off on their adventure.

2) The Call to Adventure – Next, your hero gets called to actually be a hero. They will be told they have to leave their home and do something very dangerous for the greater good.

3) Refusal to the Call- The hero will say they don’t want this responsibility and reject the mission they’ve been tasked with.

4) Meeting the Mentor- The hero will meet the person who will become their mentor and guide them on this journey. This person often gives the hero the push they need to go on this journey.

5) Crossing the Threshold – The hero will accept their task, cross the threshold and leave home to begin their heroic journey.

6) Tests, Allies, and Enemies – The hero will endure a series of tests and obstacles on their journey. These tests will push the character mentally and physically, forcing them to grow and change. They will also meet people who will help them and make enemies.

7) Approach the Inmost Cave – The hero prepares for the main ordeal they know is coming.

8) Ordeal – The hero is confronted with an extreme ordeal that will call on all of the skills they have learned on this journey so far in order to survive. This can be a physical battle with an enemy or it could be a situation where the hero is forced to face their deepest fear. Additionally, the hero must face some kind of death. This death can be literal or metaphorical.  It can apply directly to the hero or a member of their team.

9) Reward – The hero receives some kind of reward for their efforts in the ordeal. This can come in many forms such as an item, information, or saving a person.

10) The Road Home – The hero recommits to seeing out their journey and forages onward back to the ordinary world. However, the experiences the hero has had on their journey will make it hard to return.

11) The Resurrection The hero has one final ordeal that typically includes a brush with death and heroic efforts of another to keep the hero alive.

12) Return with Elixir- The hero returns to the ordinary world with something to share with the world they left behind. This could be something physical, such as an enchanted object or a cure for a disease, or it could be intangible, such as knowledge. This wraps up the story, however your hero is forever changed.

Advantages

This structure gives you some very clear and concrete plot points to write an engaging story that is both focused on plot and character development. It is a plot structure that is tried and true. If you’ve got a character who is intended to be the hero of the story, this is a plot structure that isn’t likely to lead you wrong.

Disadvantages

It might be a little too concrete. It puts your character on a very specific path, that may not work for your story, even if it’s intended to be a hero driven story. (For example, if you didn’t envision your character leaving the “ordinary world” then this plot may not be for you.)

Recommended for:

Fantasy and adventure novels with a hero-centric story.

I hope this helps you choose the best plot structure for your novel!

Now it’s your turn: What plot structure is your favorite and why? Tell me about it in the comments!

Pin it up!

How to Create a Fictional or Fantasy World: 21 Writing Tips

How to Create a Fictional or Fantasy WorldSometimes our stories don’t fit in the world we currently live in. When that happens, we need to create worlds of our own. But world building can be pretty involved! If you’re creating your own fictional or fantasy world, it’s important to consider it from all angles and create a world that feels as real as the world we live our lives in.

If you don’t know where to start or what to consider when you’re building your fictional or fantasy world, this is the post for you! For each of these aspects, I would suggest basing your elements in details that are similar to our world. This will make your world more accessible for your readers. But, of course, that’s entirely up to you! 🙂

Here are twenty-one areas to develop to bring your world to life:

1) Location

Is your world a world within our own like Harry Potter? Or does is it completely independent, like Lord of the Rings? If it’s located in our world, where exactly is it? Do the two worlds meet or impact each other at all?

It’s also possible that your world will somehow be a modification of our world with systems and organizations created just for your characters. For example, when I wrote my spy series, I had to create a spy agency and base of operations for my characters to live and work at. I set the series in Wilmington, DE, so that much is a part of our world, but I had to develop the base, protocols, and way of life. Even though I didn’t create a whole world, I did create the environment my characters live and work in, so I consider this to be light world building.

2) Geography

What does the terrain look like? Where is everything located? If you’re creating a whole other world, you have to consider the countries that make up that world, where they’re located in proximity to one another and any mountains/oceans/etc that might exist. These elements may not play a direct role in your book, but they’ll likely inform the background dynamics in your story.

Also, consider how each important city and town is laid out. This will help you, your characters, and your readers navigate your fictional world.

3) Animals/creatures

What type of animals and creatures are in your fictional or fantasy world and how are they used? Are horses the main form of transportation? If the creatures are magical or mystical, be sure to develop their powers and their limitations.

4) Magic

How to develop a magic system really needs its own post (which I’ll definitely make happen in the future). For now, it’s important to know that if you’re going to have magic in your book, consider how that magic works, where the power comes from, who can use magic, and what the consequences and limitations are. If you have different magic systems, you’ll need to develop them all fully.

5) Class division

Nearly every world has some type of class division. The haves and the have nots. What does the day-to-day life in each of your classes look like? Also consider how the classes interact with each other and any underlying tensions that may occur as a result of the division.

6) Leadership

Who is in charge of your fictional or fantasy world? How did they come to power? What do the people think about this person as a leader? It’s natural for any civilization to put someone in charge. Even if the leadership doesn’t play a big role in the story, it’s still important for you and your character to understand who makes the rules in this world. This person will have played an active role in shaping your world even if they don’t play a super active role in your story.

7) Political Dynamics

This point is two-fold. First, what are the political dynamics within your character’s immediate world? People never agree on the best way to run their own town/city/country. What are the different political opinions and points of view? Second, what are the political dynamics in the world as a whole? How does your character’s town/city/country interact with the world around it? Do the neighboring towns/cities/countries get along, or is there a conflict brewing?

8) Governments

What type of government does your character’s world operate under? And what type of government does the surrounding area operate under? It’s probably best not to confuse your reader with a radically new form of government, but feel free to modify existing government structures to meet the needs of your world and society. Here’s an article from Scholastic on the forms of government if you need some help getting started.

9) People

What types of people live in your fictional or fantasy world? Are their different races? Are their magical races? Or are there some kind of genetic differences from our world? Note any basic similarities and differences with the people in your world compared to the people in ours. This will both help you highlight important aspects of your people, and help give your readers an understanding of what makes the people in your world unique.

10) Culture(s)

What is the culture like in your fictional or fantasy world? What does the day-to-day life look like? Are there different cultures based on city and/or region? How does the culture vary by class? Is the culture bright and bold? Or more quiet and subdued? Considering questions like this will help inform a handful of other aspects of your world as well!

11) Monetary System

How do people of your world pay for things? If you look at this world, nearly every country has its own monetary system. That means yours needs one too! Figure out what counts as “expensive,” what’s “cheap,” and how are hard do your people have to work to earn the money you create.

12) Food

What type of food do your people eat in your fictional or fantasy world? Are the big on spices? Or do they eat a lot of raw food? What would be served at a fancy dinner party and what would be considered “comfort food?” Think back to some decisions you made about your world’s culture. If it’s a bright and bold culture, spices or bold flavors might make the most sense. If it’s a calmer, more subdued culture, consider calmer and blander flavors.

13) Religion/Beliefs

What do your people believe? Is there a God or God equivalent? Are there multiple gods? Are there multiple conflicting beliefs? What other non-religious beliefs are held in your world? Do they believe in only working two days a week? Or that men can’t be trusted to be run a business? These beliefs will likely play into both your character’s motivation and any conflict that might come up.

14) Medicine and Illnesses

What types of illnesses do the people of your fictional or fantasy world encounter and how do they treat them? Do they rely on plant-based medicine? Or have they engineered some miracle cure for every ache and pain? Is there a devastating illness running ramped through your world? If there is, how contagious is it, how is it transferred, is anyone immune, and what’s being done to stop it?

15) Prejudices

What are people prejudice about in your fictional or fantasy world? Typically prejudices are deeply rooted in history and experience, so if there is some kind of prejudice, what happened in the past to create it? Is there a path to eliminating those prejudices? What role will this prejudice play in your story?

16) Threats

Is there a threat to your world’s way of life? Is there an outside country or person looking to upend the world your character lives in? Or is there some kind of risk for a natural disaster or disease that could severely damage the people in your world?

17) History

What is the history of your world? Was there a big war at any point in time? Was there a pivotal leader who was killed at some point? What events do the people in your world consider to be major aspects of their history? Do they celebrate any holidays based on a historical event? How long has your character’s town/city/country been in existence? At the very least, be able to point to 10 major historical events that shaped your town/city/country to make it what it is at the start of your story.

18) Natural Resources

What natural resources do the people of your world have access to? Where do they get their water from? What types of plants do they have? If they use these plants as medicine, what are the healing capabilities? Is there any natural resource that might be used for heat, or some other essential purpose? Are there any natural resources that are particularly valuable the way a diamond or other gemstone is in this world? How do you characters access these resources? If your natural resources are valuable enough, you may want to consider giving them a role in your story.

19) Centralized Gathering Places

Most civilizations have areas where people can gather. This may be a marketplace, a town square, a school, or a religious institution. Where might this gathering place be located geographically? What would be the main draw of the area? How busy is this place, typically? Are there different areas for different types of people? This type of location might be helpful to your story because it can give your characters a place to go for supplies and information.

20) Prominent Figures

Who are the prominent figures of your world? This may include leaders, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. It can be anyone who’s made an impact on your world’s growth and development. Consider both who might be a prominent figure today, and who has been a prominent figure in the past. For prominent figures of the past, are there any tributes or memorials to these people? Also keep in mind, “prominent” doesn’t have to mean they did good things for your world. Perhaps there are people who are known for the damage they’ve done.

21) Technology

What type of technology does your world have? How is your technology powered (if it’s powered at all)? How expensive is this tech? Who has access to it? How high tech your world is will not only impact what your characters can do, but also how much they can get away with. If your world is more low tech, your characters may not be able to talk to each other at the push of a button, but they also won’t have to worry about a security camera watching their every move. Keep these trade-offs in mind as you develop this element.

I hope this helps you create a fictional or fantasy world of your own!

Now it’s your turn: What did I miss? Tell me what you think about when you create a fictional or fantasy world in the comments!

Pin it up!

Creating Characters | Elements of a Novel – Part 1

Creating CharactersI’m kicking off a new series all about the elements of a novel. In this series, I’m going to break down the elements you might want to consider while you work on your book. First up, we’re going to take a look at what goes into creating characters!

We’re talking about characters first because, if you ask me, they are the backbone of even the most plot-driven novels. Interesting and compelling characters are what makes readers want to invest in your story. If they care what happens to your characters, they will want to keep reading! So today, we’re going to talk about what goes into creating characters that grab your readers’ attention. First, we’ll look at what types of characters you might want to consider in your novel, then we’ll talk about ways to develop them into full and complete characters.

Types of characters to consider

When you flesh out a novel, you want to make sure you’re creating a believable world. And believable worlds are full of people! Here are some characters you might want to think about when you’re creating characters for your novel.

Hero/Lead

Of course, every book has a main character. This is the character who will carry your story. Ideally, they should be both flawed, but relatable. This balance is often effective because it gives readers someone to root for, while also allowing them to empathize with the main character. Often times, readers like to feel transported into a book, as if they themselves could be the hero. If your main character is too perfect, your reader won’t be able to relate and engage as fully as you might want them to.

Sidekick

If your main character has found themselves in a difficult situation, it might be a good idea to give them a friend who can root them on and help them achieve their goals. It also might be a good idea to have them balance out your hero in some way. So if your hero is super serious, it might be nice to have a sidekick who can keep things light. This can create a fun dynamic between the two characters while keeping your story balanced in the process. You might also want to consider how your sidekick can serve the overall story. Funny and supportive sidekicks are great, but funny, supportive and useful sidekicks are better. For more on how to create a functional sidekick, check out this post!

Mentor

If your main character has found themselves in an unfamiliar situation, it might be hard to justify how they can find their way on their own. That’s when the mentor comes in. A mentor can point your character in the right direction and provide the necessary wisdom and advice to keep your character and your book from stalling. Anyone with knowledge and direction can fill the mentor role, whether it be a teacher, a designated guide, or even a parent or other family member.

Love Interest

Romance subplots are always fun! (Or, if you’re writing a romance novel, this would, of course, be your main plot.) Relationships can push your character to learn, grow, and be honest with themselves, which is great for both character and story development. It can also provide your character with encouragement, support, and conflict in equal measure. However, like the sidekick, it’s best if the love interest is more than just a love interest. I’d suggest doing what you can to give them a way to contribute to the story.  Not only does it make the character more interesting, but it also gives them more of a reason to be around your main character, which gives you more of an opportunity to develop that relationship.

Villain/Antagonist

Your story will have more conflict if there is someone antagonizing your main character. This antagonist may be a villain, but they don’t have to be. They can simply be someone who is out to beat or compete with your main character. The example I like to give is that Voldemort from Harry Potter is a villain because he is intending harm. On the other hand, Aaron Burr from Hamilton is an antagonist because he’s not necessarily out to hurt Alexander Hamilton. He and Alexander are simply often after the same things and in competition with one another. Villains and antagonists are great because they create a natural conflict in your book, which pushes the story forward. If you are interested in a villain for your story, check out this post on creating strong villains!

Supporting Characters

Supporting characters help add depth to your world. You may only have a handful of characters involved in the ins and outs of your plot, but if you want your world to feel full and alive, you may want to think about having your characters interact with people outside of the core group. These characters may be seen on a regular basis, and from time to time, they may play a role in moving the story forward, but their main function is to support your main characters and add depth to your world.

Background Characters

Background characters play the smallest role in books. I consider them to be characters that are either only mentioned, but never seen, or only appear once or twice in the book.  Even we don’t see these characters, who they are and how they behaved is likely to be important to one of your main characters. For example, if your hero ran away from home, and never speaks to their family, and the family is never involved in the story, their family members would be background characters. We may never see these family members in your novel, but they may be talked about. Creating characters like these are important. You should be sure to put time into figuring out who these people are because they drastically impacted your main character, even if they never make a direct appearance.

Ways to develop characters

How you choose to go about developing and creating characters is completely up to you, but here are three methods to consider. They all involve questions, to varying degrees, and can be a great way to get your story off the ground. You can use them all together, or pick and choose your favorites.

Character questionnaires

Character questionnaires are probably the most common. You can find plenty floating around online with questions to consider for both your characters physical appearance and their personality and background. The pro to these types of questionnaires is that there are plenty of questions to consider that you might not otherwise have thought of. The con to this approach is that some of the questions can feel a little cookie-cutter and they don’t always force you to think about your character’s story arc.

If you want to give a character questionnaire a shot, here’s one from the Novel Factory.

Three big questions

This is my personal favorite approach. I consider these three questions for each of my main characters before I do anything:

What happened to my character before the book starts?

Who is my character at the start of the book?

Who do I want my character to be by the end?

These questions help me consider the nuances of what shaped my character prior to the start of the book and what will shape them going forward. I did a whole post on the specifics of how I use these questions to create strong characters, so if you want to learn more, be sure to check it out!

Core characteristic questions

This is the last set of questions to consider. I got these from grad school and I found them to be pretty thought-provoking. For every core character, consider:

What makes your character laugh?

What makes your character feel afraid?

What makes your character feel angry?

What makes your character feel ashamed?

What makes your character feel vulnerable?

Then for each one, figure out the “why” behind your answers. There has to be a story or underlying characteristic fueling each of these emotions. Understanding why your character feels this way will give you some insight into your character’s psyche, which will help you in creating strong characters.

I hope this helps you with creating characters for your novel!

Stay tuned for the next part of this series, which will be coming your way in a few weeks!

Now it’s your turn: What do you consider when you start creating characters for your stories? Tell me about it in the comments!

Pin it up!

My Writing Process-Part 5: Editing and Polishing

My Process Editing and PolishingWe’ve reached the final post of my writing process series: editing and polishing. ICYMI: in this series, I break down my writing process and share what I’ve found works best for me in the hopes that some of my process might help you too! (Missed the first four parts? Find them here: Part 1 – Brainstorming, Part 2 – Outlining, Part 3 – Drafting, Part 4 – Revision.)

If I’ve reached the editing and polishing stage in the process, I’m feeling pretty good about the book. I feel like the story is working, there aren’t any more glaring problems or inconsistencies to tend to, and my book is almost ready for an agent or editor. But before I turn it over to anyone, I want to make sure the project is as shiny and polished as I can get it on my own. Here’s how I approach this final stage.

Critical read

Most of this part of the process happens during one or two critical reads of the book. Mistakes jump out more to me when the book is printed out, so I print a copy of my draft, put it in a binder and go over it with a green pen. In the previous reads, I typically make notes in the margins or circle/point out problems to consider later. This is the only stage where I write the changes right into the book. This is largely because in the previous drafts, those changes require more thought and planning. But at this point, the corrections are a lot more obvious and it’s easy enough just to note them without having to pause my read.

Typically, I’ll read through the draft looking for a handful of elements that I’ll talk about in the next few points. I make note of the changes, then go through my document and input those changes into the computer. This also gives me the chance to double check the corrections as I enter them.

Check all previous changes

One of the biggest things I pay attention to this round is that all of the previous changes I made in the story. I want to be sure they fit into the story seamlessly and don’t require any additional attention. If it turns out I missed something big, then I’ll make note of it and revise like I do in the previous stages. If it’s a more minor change (like adding or revising a sentence to a paragraph), I’ll likely write the change in the margin just like the other changes at this point in the process.

Check on the clarity of sentences/ideas

Up until now, I haven’t paid too much attention to my writing on a sentence level. My priority has been the story. After all, it doesn’t make much sense to worry about the quality of my sentences when there’s a good chance I’m going to have to rewrite most of them. But now that the story is set, I want to make sure all of my sentences are as clear and concise as they can be. I’m also checking to make sure the ideas I’m trying to express are coming through. I consider the editing phase to be when I start looking at things on a sentence and language level.

Vary language

This is a big one for me towards the end of the process. Similar to my sentences, I’m not all that concerned about my language choices until I reach this stage. I will often lean on the simplest or most common words to get my point across just to get the story down as quickly as possible. But at this point, I want to make sure I’m using a wide variety of words and actions.

If I start to notice words, phrases, or actions that I’m using way too much through the whole book, I make note of them on a separate sheet of paper and do a search for them on the computer after I finish my read through. Then I can see exactly how many times I’m using the word/phrase/action and how close together the repetition is occurring. If I’m using the word/phase/action as frequently as I suspected, I’ll brainstorm a list of alternatives then go back through the document and vary the repetitions as need.

Check grammar and typos

I do my best to catch as many grammar errors and typos as I can before I turn my book into anyone. It’s also worth noting that some grammar errors and typos are expected by agents and editors. They know writers are human and probably won’t catch everything. But It doesn’t look good if a manuscript is riddled with careless errors that are hard to maneuver around. I read the book once or twice and do my best to catch as much as I can, but I try not to obsess. You should absolutely do your best to be as thorough as possible when you’re editing, but  I don’t think it’s good to hold a book back just because I might have missed something. It keep you from reaching your goals, but errors like this can always be corrected down the line.

Pay extra attention to my most common errors

While I’m editing for grammar and typos, I try to keep an extra special eye out for my personal most common errors. For example, I’m known to either repeat or skip words, or sometimes use the wrong homophone. Since I know these are areas of concern for me, I try to slow down and really look at what I’ve written. A lot of times these mistakes are hard for me to pick up on because my brain seems to know what I meant, and I don’t always register what’s on the page. I’ve found giving myself plenty of time and reading slowly can be beneficial with this. It helps me pay more attention to what I actually wrote, instead of what I meant to write.

One last read from critique partners and myself

Before I really declare a book “done” I have my critique group, who has read every draft, sign off on the final version. I also have a couple of readers who are particularly good at catching grammar, typos, and my most common errors read it over. This is helpful because not only do I get to pass off a more polished draft, but I get a final fresh perspective, which is so valuable at this stage. If these readers have any other bigger notes, I do my best to incorporate them, then (depending on how much I changed) give it one final read.

Send it out

Once I feel like I have the book in the best possible shape I can get it in, I send it out. Before I had an agent, this is when I started querying. Now it goes right to my agent. For more on how to tell when your book is done, check out this post!

I hope this helps you with your own editing and polishing!

This is also the end of My Writing Process Series. I hope I shared something that helps you build your own process!

Now it’s your turn: How do you edit and polish your novels? Do you have any editing tricks to share? Tell me about it in the comments!

Pin it up!

How to Commit to Writing Your Novel

How to Commit to your novelTruly committing to your writing can be an exciting yet intimidating thing to do. But if you ever hope to reach your writing goals, commitment is important! So with that in mind, today we’re going to talk about why you need to commit to your writing and how to make it happen!

Why you need to commit to your writing

An inconsistent schedule will hurt you down the line

I try to avoid generalizing, so I’m not going to say it’s impossible to write a book if you only work on it a few days a year, or whenever inspiration strike, or whenever you have time. After all, there may be someone out there who can spit out 10k-15k words a day in a few ridiculously productive bursts. But what I will say is that, even in that best-case scenario, you’re only really setting yourself up to write one book. Because this type of inconsistent work cycle only works if you’re not on a deadline and one is expecting material from you. If you only want to write one book in your life, then this may work for you. But if you want a writing career, consistency is important. And to create consistency, you need to commit to it.

You won’t prioritize your writing dreams and goals if you don’t commit to them

If you aren’t committed to your writing, then you’re not committed to the future you want for yourself. Without a commitment and a semi-serious schedule/plan, you’re saying your goals and dreams aren’t that important. Or at the very least, you’re saying that other things are more important. And sure, sometimes they are. Family is important. A job/money to live on is important. But sometimes, the other commitments sucking up your time aren’t really more important. For example, maybe you don’t really need to watch two hours of TV every night. Or, maybe you don’t really need to spend all of your half-hour lunch break with your co-workers. I can’t tell you what is or what should be important in your life, but I will say it’s really hard to make any goal come true if you don’t decide it’s important enough to be a priority. Writing is no exception.

Your book likely won’t get finished if you don’t commit to it

Like I said, I try not to generalize, so I don’t want to say there’s no chance of finishing a book without fully committing to it, but it’s highly unlikely that you will. Books take a lot of time and a lot of work. What starts out as a really exciting idea can become can start to fizzle out when you find yourself in the middle of your first draft with no clue what comes next. At a time like that, it can be easy to walk away. It gets exceptionally easier when a friend calls and wants to get dinner during your writing time. But if you give up on your book or pass on writing time for friend time, it will be almost impossible to finish your novel. And this is really why it’s so important to commit to your writing.

How to commit to your writing

Don’t let “commitment” scare you

I think commitment has become an intimidating word to some of us. It can make us feel locked in and trapped. It can make writing feel like a chore, or like it’s one more thing on an already too long to do list. Instead, think of your writing commitment as something exciting. You GET to write on a regular basis. You GET to escape for just a little while and work towards the goals. And you GET to spend time with your book, your characters, and yourself. It’s a good thing and an exciting thing! If you can remind yourself of that, it will likely make your commitment a lot more manageable.

Start small

Just because it’s a commitment, doesn’t mean it has to be a big one–especially if you’re just getting in the swing of things. It’s okay if your commitment is 15-30 minutes, 3-5 days a week. Or if it’s any leftover time on your lunch break or an hour every Saturday. The key is to be consistent. Ideally, you’ll write more regularly than once a week, but if that’s where you need to start, then that’s where you start. Get used to honoring a small commitment and when you’re ready, make it a more regular one.

If it helps, think small

Another potentially intimidating part of committing to writing a book is the idea of actually Writing a Book. A book is a big undertaking! They’re hundreds of pages long and there are a lot of moving parts. It needs to be drafted and revised and polished. It’s important to keep sight of the big picture, but it’s even more important to keep yourself from getting overwhelmed with what it really means to Write a Book. So instead, get used to your commitment by thinking small. Every day that you sit down to write, only think about the task you have to complete that day. If you make some kind of progress, no matter how small, you’ve honored your commitment. Let that fuel you to come back again.

Reward yourself for showing up

Plan some kind of reward for yourself for simply showing up to your writing. Down the line, you can reward yourself more for reaching your goals, but in the beginning, celebrate the fact that you’re building a consistent schedule. The size of your reward and the frequency are completely up to you, but don’t let yourself off the hook! Only treat yourself if you actually meet the guidelines you set out for yourself. So, if you decide you’ll reward yourself for showing up as planned for a full five day work week, you can’t decide only showing up four days is “close enough.” Don’t cheat yourself.

Focus on building a writing habit, not finishing a book

Similarly, make sure your goals are clear when you get started. Personally, I think it’s more healthy and sustainable to consider committing to building a writing habit, not just finishing your book. If you take the time to commit and build a sustainable habit, your book WILL get done. It may take a while, but it’ll happen. If you measure your success by how close you are to being done, it can be easy to get frustrated by the time investment and setbacks. It might make you less inclined to continue your commitment. But if success is showing up and moving forward, you’ll feel the success and benefits of your commitment daily. And before long, you’ll have your completed book (and maybe, you’ll even be on your way to more).

I hope this helps you commit to your writing!

Now it’s your turn: Have you struggled to commit to your writing? If you have, what are some roadblocks? If you haven’t, what helped you commit? Tell me about it in the comments!

Pin it up!

How to Make Your Character’s Life Difficult: 10 Writing Tips

Making Your character's life difficultLet’s face it, stories are better when a character’s life is difficult. It gives your characters something to overcome and your audience something to root for. And not only does it make for a more interesting story, but if your characters have it too easy, they may also be harder for your audience to related to. Characters with an uncomplicated life may also read a little flat, which generally isn’t going to encourage readers to keep turning pages.

So today, we’re going to take a closer look at why it’s important to make your character’s life difficult and consider ten possible challenges to throw their way!

Why it’s important to make your character’s life difficult

It makes them more vulnerable (which makes them more human)

When a character is forced to struggle with a complication, it often backs them into a corner. This can make them more vulnerable than they might generally like to be. Any time you can make your character vulnerable is going to make them more human and relatable to your readers. It’s also going to make your readers root for your character and want to read on.

It forces them to grow

A lot of times, the reason a person feels vulnerable is because they’re faced with a fact or idea that makes them uncomfortable. This discomfort might be fear, shame, anxiety, guilt, grief, or any other challenging emotion. Forcing your character to struggle with the emotion of discomfort is going to make your character grow. If seeing your character vulnerable made your readers want to continue reading, seeing the growth that follows is going to leave them satisfied.

It makes for a more interesting and believable story

It simply is not as interesting or engaging to watch a character live a happy unencumbered life day in and day out. Even if they don’t have a ton of hardships or a tragic past, everyone has faced some kind of challenges in their life. It wouldn’t be realistic for a character to never (or hardly ever) struggle. If you want to write a story that’s both interesting and believable, I’d strongly recommend making your character’s life difficult as you can.

Some struggles to consider

Here are some ideas you can borrow or twist to make your character’s life more difficult. Ideally, these events should impact both your character and your plot in some fashion.

1) Reveal a family secret that has a massive impact on your character

Families keep secrets! And there are two ways this type of revelation can work for your character. The first is that the secret itself can be shocking or damaging to your character. Second, if your character has a good relationship with their family, it could be shocking or damaging that the secret was kept from them at all.

2) Have something important stolen from your character

We all have things that are important to us, but very rarely is an object important because of it’s monetary value alone. It’s typically the emotional connection we have to something that makes it important. If a character has something with an emotional value taken from them, it’ll likely push them to both be more emotional and vulnerable themselves, and to open up about the object’s importance to other characters.

3) Have your character lose their job/get kicked (or fail) out of school

This is another one that can push your character in at least two ways. First, there’s concern for the character’s future that will make them more vulnerable than usual. Then there’s having to own up to the thing that got them fired or kicked out in the first place.

4) Death of an important figure (use this sparingly and strategically)

Death comes with a lot of raw emotion and it’s something every single person reading will either be able to relate to immediately, or know that they will relate to someday. It’ll force your character to do and say things they normally wouldn’t, and the emotions of the death will stay with your character long after the initial grieving period passes. But use this strategically. It’s gotten pretty common to kill characters off for shock effect, which doesn’t do as much for your story.

5) Family fights

Anyone who has experience with a family will tell you that family drama is real and relatable. This is true for even in the best, most supportive, families. Your character can be the person in the middle of the disagreement, or they can be caught in between the feuding parties. Either way, it’s a sure fire way to add some tension to your character’s life or a specific event. Families tend to know you better than anyone, and they often know exactly what to do or say to get a rise out of you. This is something that can push your character into a more emotional state.

6) A natural disaster strikes and wreaks havoc

Problems that are outside of human control are great for when things in your character’s life are too easy and it wouldn’t make sense for an interpersonal conflict. It can also be great for when things are terrible but you want to make your character’s life even more difficult. Tensions always run high when danger strikes, which can easily push your characters emotionally.  And the bonus of something like this is that weather can just happen, so you can call on it as you need to (with a few seasonal exceptions) without having to overjustify why it’s happening.

7) An ex or enemy gets hired at their work (or shows up at their school)

Your story is practically guaranteed to get more interesting anytime your main character is faced with someone they don’t get along with. This is especially true when it’s in a work or school environment. These are places that we need to go to every day for one reason or another.  This makes it very difficult to escape the person who is sure to churn up some emotional turmoil.

8) Their parents get divorced

Families breaking apart is another situation that is sure to push your character. Depending on the way it happens and how many signs your character had leading up to the event, it may be emotionally scarring. This may force your character into a more vulnerable state that they can later grow from. This can be true whether your character is a teenager or an adult.

9) An enemy they thought was dead is alive

Similar to death of a close family member, this is another one that should be used very sparingly. However, it can be a very effective tool. If your character was under the impression that they were safe from an old enemy, it can be very jarring and trying for them to learn they’re not nearly as safe as they thought they were. If it’s done right, it can push your character in the right way without losing your readers.

10) Betrayal of a close friend/coworker/family member

Anytime trust is betrayed, it can be gutting. It can be enough to throw your character through a loop, question their own judgment, and fear that any secret they confided may be exposed. That alone is enough to push your character into a more vulnerable state. You can push them even farther if secrets actually do get out.

I hope this helps you make your character’s life difficult!

Now it’s your turn: How do you make your characters’ lives difficult? Do you have any go-tos? Tell me about it in the comments!

Pin it up!

My Writing Process – Part 4: Revision

My Writing Process: Part 4 - RevisionWelcome to Part 4 of My Writing Process series! In this series, I break down my writing process and share what I’ve found works best for me in the hopes that some of my process might help you too! (Missed the first three parts? Find them here: Part 1 – Brainstorming, Part 2 – Outlining, Part 3 – Drafting.) Today, we’re talking about Revision!

Yes, we’re at the revision stage! What that means to me is that I have the skeleton of the story figured out. I know who the characters are, I understand the world they live in, and I know what the beginning, middle, and end of the book will be. However, often times it takes writing the book for me to really understand those elements, which means they may not be fully realized in the drafts I have. That’s where revision comes in.

Read for character, plot, and world

Before I do anything, I sit down and read what I wrote. In the drafting post I mentioned that sometimes I won’t bother reading old drafts if I know I’m going to change a lot. By the time I get to revision, I’m definitely reading the book. I go through it with a green pen and a notebook. For earlier revisions, I’m mostly focused on the big picture issues in the characters, plot, and world. I’m looking for inconsistencies and out of character behavior, plot holes or incomplete plots, and elements of the world that are unclear or just don’t make sense. For even more details on what I’m looking for, check out the post: How to Identify Your Novel’s Problems (and keep in mind at this stage, I’m only really focused on the early stage revision problems).

I don’t do too much writing in the book itself at this point. I may box out or make notes about a big section, but typically the issues are bigger than any one page, scene, or chapter. Instead, I make notes on paper about the problems I come across and the chapters or page numbers I find these problems. Here’s an example from when I was working on Enemy Exposure:

Click to enlarge

Freewrite/Brainstorm solutions

Once I know what my book’s major problems are, I brainstorm solutions by freewriting. This is similar to how I brainstormed at the start of the book. Up until this point of my process, I’ve moved more or less chronologically through the book as I worked. (As in, I focused on chapter one, then chapter two, then chapter three, etc). Now I start jumping around focusing on each individual problem. When I brainstorm a solution, I freewrite that solution out in its entirety, even if it means skipping whole chapters/sections that have other issues. I’ll freewrite until I feel like I have a good working solution, then I move on to the next problem. I’ll repeat this until I feel like I know how to solve each of my book’s issues. Here’s another example from my Enemy Exposure revisions:

Click to Enlarge

Make a revision plan/outline for each problem

Once I know how I want to solve my problems, it’s time to figure out how to practically apply my solutions. I take my freewrites and I go through my book and figure out which chapters and scenes need to be changed to incorporate my solution. Like in the last step, I tackled this problem by problem (as opposed to planning changes chapter by chapter). This keeps me focused on working in the necessary changes without getting caught up in the other moving parts of the book. I make a plan/outline for each of my problems, which looks like this:

Click to Enlarge

For more on how to make a revision plan, check out this post!

Make a revision schedule

Since I made my plan, I know exactly how much work I have to do. To keep myself on track, I make a revision schedule so I know what my goals and objectives are each day. I typically work from the biggest problem to the smallest.

Part of this is for practical reasons. It makes more sense to me to make the big changes first since they typically run through more of the book and are more likely to interfere with a smaller problem. I’d hate to take the time changing a small problem, only to realize a bigger problem’s solution interferes with my new change and I have to change the smaller problem again. The other part of this is about momentum. I typically have more momentum and enthusiasm at the start of a revision, so it’s psychologically better for me to use that energy up front, then work through the smaller problems, which are usually much quicker to work in. Comparatively, if I take out my smaller problems first, the big problems feel even more intimidating if I’m losing steam at the end of a revision.

Revise by problem

Just like everything else so far in this stage, I revise by problem. Not only does this keep me focused on fixing the one specific problem at a time, but it also makes my book new again when I go to read it. When I read my book after a drafting phase, I typically have an idea of how the book will read since I drafted sequentially. But when I read a revision, I have no idea how my changes will work in the book as a whole. Revising out of order gives the whole project a fresh perspective that I desperately need when I’m three drafts in.

Get feedback

At this point, I know my book pretty well. Even though revision makes my book new to some extent, I still need to hear from people who have no idea what happens. So I seek out some trusted early readers for some feedback. I did an entire series on feedback, and you can find the first post here!

Repeat once or twice

I repeat this process until I feel like I have a book that’s really working well. Typically I put a book through at least two or three revisions, but sometimes it’s more than that if the book needs it.

I hope this gives you a good idea of how I revise and I hope you find something here you might like to try!

You can find the last part of the series, Part Five: Editing and Polishing, here!

Now it’s your turn: What’s your approach to revision? Tell me about it in the comments!

Pin it up!