How to Find Character Motivation: 7 Writing Tips

How to find Character motivation

Character motivation is the driving force behind a story. If your character doesn’t have a reason to take a step forward, your entire story comes to a grinding halt. But it’s important to develop motivation that is both believable and realistic to the character.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at the four main areas to consider when developing your character’s motivation and why it’s so important to both your character and the story.

How to discover character motivation

What does your character want?

The first thing you have to figure out is what exactly your character wants. This can be either very easy or very challenging depending on how well you know your character and the trajectory of your story.

Everyone wants something in life. Depending on the nature of your story, what your main character wants can vary greatly. If you’re writing a mystery, your main character is likely going to want to solve the mystery. If you’re writing a fantasy, your main character will likely want to stop a threat of some kind. Your character can want anything as long as it makes sense for the character and the story.

Why do they want it?

This is the heart of character motivation. The ‘why’ is what will push your character to keep moving forward at all costs. The ‘why’ needs to be strong enough to keep your character after their goal throughout the book. If there is not a deep reason behind the desire, readers will not buy into your story and won’t be willing to follow your character to the end.

There are two main areas to look to find your ‘why’: Internally and externally. If you look internally, you’re considering your character’s basic personality and makeup. For example, a stubborn character might be determined to reach their goal simply because this personality trait will not allow them to give up easily. If this is a consistent character trait, it may be enough to push your character.

If you look externally, you may want to consider what event or person may have had an influence on your character. For instance, if a family member was kidnapped, this external factor would dictate your character’s desire. You also might want to look at your character’s past. Did something major happen to them or someone they care about that might shed some light on what they’re after and why?

You’ll likely need a combination of internal and external factors to explain your ‘why’ but one should be the most dominate.

Why can’t they have it?

Once you know what your character wants and why, it’s time to consider what is standing in their way. This could be a person, or it could be a situation or set of circumstances holding them back.

If you’re dealing with a person, consider why this person is in the way. Are they intentionally trying to hinder your character, or is this person simply after the same thing as your character (like a job)? If they’re trying to hinder your character, why? (And if they are actively trying to hurt your character, that likely means you have a villain. If you want some tips on creating awesome villains, check out this post!)

If you’re dealing with a situation or set of circumstances, consider how your character came to be in this situation and how much of a struggle it would be to overcome. For example, if your character is on the verge of losing their house and wants to save it, you’d first want to think about what happened to their finances that put them in this situation, what the time constraints are, and how much money they’d have to raise to keep their house. Understanding what they have to overcome is important because you need to be sure to give your character enough motivation to overcome whatever you’re throwing at them.

What will they risk to get it?

This is where we start to look at the stakes of your story. What is your character willing to risk and/or lose to get what they want? If your character wants to save their friend’s job, are they willing to risk their own to speak out? If they want to save their world from an evil sorcerer, are they willing to risk the life to do so?

Figuring out how much your character is willing to risk serves two purposes. First, it adds an element of stress, tension, and conflict to your story, which is sure to make your book more interesting and your readers more invested. Second, it shows your readers just how much their desire means to your character. This aids in deepening your character’s motivation and emphasizing the importances of that desire to your readers.

Why character motivation is important

It pushes character growth

The first reason character motivation is so important to your story is that it pushes your character to grow. In order to get the things we want, we often have to step out of our comfort zones. This should be true for your character as well. They may have to speak out when they’re afraid, fight when they’re not sure they’ll win, use a skill they’re not sure they have full command of, or confront a person or situation they’ve been avoiding.

Walking away from any of these situations is an easy thing to do. In most cases, it’s preferable. The only reason we don’t walk away in real life is because our desire and motivation is stronger than any fear and discomfort we may face. And because of that, we do the things that scare us and often grow as a result. Your characters will have the same experiences. This will make your character relatable, which builds a connection with your reader.

It gives the plot direction

Additionally, the character’s desires and motivations are what gives your plot a direction. Without character motivation, there is no step forward for your character to take. It won’t matter that the evil sorcerer wants to destroy the world if your character doesn’t feel motivated to stop them. Without your character’s motivation and drive, there is no story.

However, it’s important that your character’s motivation be believable. Otherwise, you may have a hard time getting readers to buy into your book. If you have a character who is driven by a stubborn desire to succeed, they need to be stubborn in other areas of their life too, not just with regard to the plot-driving motivation. Human behavior and character consistantcy are at the heart of believable character motivation, which in turn, is the backbone of an engaging and belivable story.

What about more minor characters?

Most of what we talked about so far applies primarily to the protagonist. After all, they’re the ones who are driving the story, so it makes sense that they’re motivation would be the priority to uncover. But it’s important not to forget the more minor characters.

Everyone in your book should want something. Sometimes those wants will line up with what your character wants, but sometimes they might not. Take the time to figure out the main motivation for each of your main characters and important supporting characters. This will lead to more dynamic and realistic situations and conflicts, which can only strengthen your story.

I hope this helps you find your character’s motivation!

Now it’s your turn: What do you think about when you look at your character’s motivation? Is there something I missed? Tell me about it in the comments!

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The Beginning | Elements of a Novel – Part 4

Elements of a Novel: The Beginning

Welcome to Part Four of the Elements of a Novel Series! It’s time to finally dig into the novel itself and explore the beginning! (ICYMI, here are the links to Part One: Creating Characters, Part Two: Choosing a Plot Structure, and Part Three: Setting and World Building.)

The main goal for the beginning of a novel is to introduce your readers to your world, character, and story. Ideally, you want to do this in a fun and interesting way. Let’s take a look at the specifics of what you should aim to introduce and how to keep your audience engaged while you do it!

Introduce the main character

The first priority at the beginning of your story is to introduce your main character. If you want your readers to connect with your story, they need to be anchored and connected to your protagonist as soon as possible.

However, it’s a bit of a balancing act. If you give your readers too much information about your character too fast, you could overwhelm them. Instead, try to stick to the very basics of what your readers need to know about your character to be willing to follow them through the story. Establishing their voice, attitude, and general personality is far more important than establishing their appearance.

If you feel like you’re struggling to create a connection for your readers, consider putting your character in some kind of heightened emotional state. If they’re worried, or stressed, or afraid of something, your reader will likely be able to latch on and relate to those emotions. This is by no means the only way to start a story, but if you’re having a hard time, it might help!

Introduce related characters

Depending on the events you decide to include in your opening scene, you may need to introduce other characters along with your main character. If you’re going to have a handful of characters in your opening scene, it might be ideal to limit additional characters to supporting characters. This will allow you to keep the focus on your protagonist, while allowing them to have company in the scene.

Alternatively, if you want to include two main characters in the opening scene, you might want to think about limiting the scene to just the two of them. This will help readers get to know the characters and emphasize their importance without pulling focus to less important characters.

But keep in mind, these are not hard and fast rules. They’re guidelines that I have found make for a successful character introduction. You should absolutely be open to modifying as it makes sense for the beginning of your story.

Introduce the setting and/or world

In addition to your character, readers need to know where exactly this story is taking place. Similar to when you introduce your character, you don’t want to give your readers too much too fast. This is especially a concern if you’re setting your story in a completely different world.

There are a handful of ways you can introduce your setting/world successfully, but here are my two biggest tips:

Limit the information you share

Like with your character introduction, consider limiting the information you share about your setting to only what your readers NEED to know to get into your story. This is particularly relevant if you need to introduce a whole new world to your audience. New characters and a completely new world can be a lot for the reader to take in. Limiting information can help your reader ease into your world, while quickly engaging with your story.

For example, if you’re writing a fantasy, you may have magic in your book. It might be important to introduce that magic up front, so by all means, include it in your opening scene. However, the details behind how the magic works and who gets to use it can be discussed later.

Start up close, then widen the lens

This technique is another great way to ease your readers into your setting, regardless of if your story is set on this world or another. When you first introduce your character, only introduce their immediate surroundings at first. So, if your character is at work, just tell us about their work setting. If they’re at home, tell us about their home.

Then as the scene or chapter moves on, widen the lens and tell us where their work or home is located. If there’s something unique about the location you want to mention, go for it! Otherwise, consider leaving the inner-workings of the setting and world until your readers need the information.

Introduce “normal”

Now that you’ve introduced who your main character is, and where the story is set, it’s time to focus on “normal.” What’s normal for your character is going to be relative. For example, if your main character is an assassin, their normal is likely going to be killing someone. This may not be what most, if not all, of your readers consider to be “normal,” but it’s what’s normal to your character.

Why “normal” needs to come first

One piece of writing advice that I come across a lot with regard to beginnings is to start your story “in the middle of the action.” However, that doesn’t mean you should catapult into your story’s inciting incident right out of the gate. While this approach will definitely get you into the story quickly, it’s also likely to confuse your reader. Taking the time to introduce your character, world, and your character’s normal will allow your reader to orient themselves. It also allows readers to see the life your character is used to, and who they are at the start of the book. This will provide a solid basis of how the inciting incident (which we’ll cover in the next post) disrupts their normal, and how the events to come will push your character to grow and change.

How to keep it interesting

Just because the focus of the beginning of the book is an introduction doesn’t mean it should be boring. One of the best ways to establish “normal” and introduce the important information is to put your character in an uncomfortable or tense situation. If you have a character who has a different sense of normal, like our assassin from earlier, your job might be easier than others. Opening with the character completing a hit would be both tense and attention-getting.

If you don’t have a character with an unusual lifestyle, you can still lean on tension and discomfort to create your opening. One book that does this well is The Hunger Games. This book may be dystopian, but the characters themselves are average people. The book opens on the day of the “reaping,” which is when people are chosen to participate in the hunger games. The reaping may not be a daily event, but it’s a normal annual event for the people in this book. It’s also an event that leads to a heightened emotional state for the characters.

You can use any kind of emotionally hightened “normal” situation to pull your readers in.

I hope this helps you with the beginning of your novel!

Now it’s your turn: What are some of your favorite ways to introduce readers to your story at the beginning? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Write a First Draft: 15 Writing Tips

How to Write a First Draft

Every stage of the writing process is challenging for different reasons. But in a lot of ways, first drafts are the most challenging.  This is when your story goes from an idea in your head, to becoming an actual book. It’s the first major hurdle to clear if you have a goal of publication. Because of that, it can be the hardest. 

To help you clear this first hurdle, I put together fifteen tips to help you write your first draft:

1) Tune out doubters 

There will always be people who say you “can’t.”  There will always be people who point out how hard your task is or how unlikely the chances of success are. This is especially true if you’re writing your first first draft. Learn to tune the doubters out from the very start. These people are not you. They don’t know what writing and your story means to you. They don’t know what you’re capable of.

However, if it’s difficult for you to tune these people out, then consider keeping your circle very small and only telling people you can trust to be supportive.

2) Don’t try to be “good”

First drafts are by nature, a hot mess. Ideas that seemed good in your head may not work on paper. Additionally, it can be hard to think about the story and write the story in polished, easily understood language all at the same time. Because of this, being a “good” writer should be the least of your concerns when you’re at this stage. The only think you need to worry about is making it to the end with a completed draft. It doesn’t matter if your language is repetitive, choppy, or unclear. Just get to The End.

For more on why your writing doesn’t have to be “good,” check out this post!

3) Do You

It’s not a bad thing to read about how other writers approach first drafts, but ultimately, you have to do what works for you. If you’re someone who does well with a plan, then take the time to brainstorm and/or outline before you start. If you’re someone who does better figuring it out as you go, just dive right in and get working.

Try techniques that appeal to you, but don’t feel like there’s any “right” way to approach a first draft. The right way is the way that gets you a finished novel as quickly and painlessly as possible. Do whatever works for you to make that happen. 

4) Try different techniques if it gets “hard”

If you find yourself truly struggling, it’s very possible that you’re following a technique that just isn’t working for you. I’m a firm believer in the idea that writing can be challenging, but it shouldn’t be “hard.” If showing up to your book to write becomes something you’re dreading, consider trying a different approach. If you’re a planner, try abandoning your plan and either making a new one, or diving into your story without any idea what’s coming next. If you’re someone who always gave yourself plenty of time to write, consider writing on the clock to keep yourself moving. 

I’ve got a whole post that talks about why writing doesn’t have to be hard, so if you want more on this topic, be sure to check it out!

5) Set manageable goals

Set goals that you know you can meet on a regular basis. When you first decide you want to write a book and tackle a first draft, it can be easy to get swept up in your story and in the idea of writing your book. You may look at the calendar and decide if you can write a chapter a day, every day, you’ll have a completed book in about a month. And while that math may work out, reaching that goal on a day-to-day basis may quickly become unsustainable.

If you set a goal you can’t keep up with, you’ll likely find yourself falling behind. And once that happens, you may start to get discouraged and think you can’t do this. But you can! You just have to make sure you create goals that fit into your life–even if your book takes a little longer to complete than you’d like. 

For more on setting manageable writing goals, check out this post

6) Set quantitative goals

Additionally, when it comes time to set goals, focus on setting quantitative goals, not qualitative ones for a first draft. Like we talked about earlier, the main goal of a first draft is simply to finish. Don’t let yourself get caught up in getting a specific scene right or nailing a chapter. Worrying about quality at this stage holds you back. Instead, set a goal you can measure numerically. I’m a fan of word count goals, but if you’d rather do page count or something else, that’s fine too! When you hit your numeric goal, let that be your win for the day, even if what you wrote is terrible. 

7) Commit to your goals and plans 

Now that you have your plans and goals, it’s important to commit to them! If you don’t commit, your book will never be more than an idea in your head. It will always be something you wished you could write. Committing is what will make your goals a reality. For more on how to commit to your writing, check out this post

8) Write when you don’t feel like it

If you’ve committed to your plans, that means showing up when you don’t feel like it. That means turning down fun things so you can get your writing in. It means putting the time in even when you know your story isn’t working and you’re probably going to have to rewrite and revise. Your goal is to get to the end. If you planned to write, show up and do something that gets you closer to that goal, even if you don’t feel like it.

9) But take time off when you need it

I know, I know. I just said to make sure you don’t slack off. But if you genuinely need a break, it’s okay to take one. Burn out is no joke and if you feel like you’re well and truly fried, you’re better off taking a day or two away, even if you planned to be writing. This is the difference between taking a genuine sick day and playing hooky. It’s important to take care of yourself. You will not reach the end if you’re brain is too fried to put a sentence together.

For more on this, check out these tips on taking care of your writing brain, and things you can do when you’re too drained to write.

10) Get a support system, but be selective

It’s a good idea to have people who can encourage and support you throughout this process. They can be other writers, but they don’t have to be. You really want people who love stories, creating, and believe you can do this. However, be selective about who you trust. There’s a reason the first point in this post is about ignoring doubters. Be sure you’re entrusting your dreams and goals with people who will build you up. You don’t have time for negativity.

For more on how to find these people, check out the post on finding the right early readers for you book. You can apply a similar principle here.

11) Leave placeholders for revision

As you draft, you may come across details that you didn’t think to develop or whole scenes that you know need to happen, but just can’t figure out how to execute. Don’t let those things hold you up. The goal of a first draft is to have a complete book–as in, you want to have a beginning, middle, and end. There’s nothing that says every scene and element needs to be in place. If you’re really struggling with a transition scene, it’s okay to write [ADD TRANSITION SCENE HERE!!!] and move on. 

Similarly, don’t let the fact that you forgot to come up with a character’s last name or some other small detail slow you down. You can just write LASTNAME for now and drop the details in later.

12) Don’t rewrite as you draft

You may write some scenes that you know are terrible as you’re writing them. Or you may figure out a key plot point halfway through the book that will mean a handful of scenes you already wrote don’t work anymore. I would advise against going back and rewriting before you finish the draft. There will always be things that needs to be fixed in a first draft. If you stop moving forward to fix every problem that reveals itself, it will take you forever to finish (if you ever finish at all). Instead, keep a notebook or a blank word document open on your computer and make note of the changes you want to make. This way, you’ll be sure you won’t forget the change, but you won’t stop your progress.

13) Celebrate small victories

Writing a book is a long process and, like we’ve covered, first drafts are typically a hot mess. That means you need to find your wins wherever you can. Celebrate every day you show up and meet your goals. Celebrate every week. And celebrate every milestone–making it to 10,000 words is a big deal. Making it to 100 pages is a big deal. Do something to appreciate and reward yourself. Then get back to work and start aiming for the next goal and milestone. This will help keep you going.

14) Remember why you started

If you find yourself struggling to stay motivated, remember why you started this. Remember the excitement you felt that brought you down this path. Remember how it feels when your story is really fun to write. If you felt those things once, you will feel them again. But that will only happen if you keep writing.

Which brings us to the last point:

15) Don’t. Give. Up!

If a completed and/or published book is something you really want, don’t let yourself get discouraged by the time it takes, the quality of your first draft, or the people who say you can’t do this. I promise you, every published author has been in the same place. They persevered. You can too.

I hope these tips help you get your first draft down!

Now it’s your turn: What do you struggle with when you write your first drafts? What helps you power through? Tell me about it in the comments!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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

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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!

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