How to Write Strong Female Characters | 15 Writing Tips

how to write strong female characters

Every book I’ve written has had a strong female lead, so it seems like high time I write a post about it! These are things I personally like to see in a female lead, so this is the list I pull from when I write. In my experience, these tips create characters that people really connect with.

So, here are fifteen tips for writing strong female characters! They’ll help you avoid stereotypes and cliches and create real people for your stories. It may not make sense for every character to have all of these traits, but it might help your character to work in as many of these as you can.

1) Write a strong person

Honestly, this is the most important point. If you only apply one tip, apply this one. The key to writing a quality strong female lead character is to create a quality human being, then layer her female identity on top of that. If you focus on creating a whole and well-rounded character who happens to be female, you’re going to be in good shape.

2) Make her smart

Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, so it may not make sense for your character to be smart in every aspect of her life or in a traditional academic sense. But it’s usually a good idea to give her one area that she really excels in. It’s very common to insult someone by calling them stupid, but I’ve met very few people who truly had nothing going on upstairs. Give your character an area where she gets to be the smart person in the room.

3) Make her mentally strong

As in, give her the ability to bounce back when life knocks them down. She may not bounce back right away, but most women I know are very hard to defeat. They don’t stay down for very long because most can’t afford to. This doesn’t mean your character shouldn’t have mental struggles, just do what you can to help them overcome or manage them.

4) Make her physically strong

Let her be the protector of the story. Let her be the one no one wants to fight. Again, this is an area that may not make sense for every female character. There are plenty of ways to be strong without physically kicking ass, but if it makes sense for your character, you should absolutely go there! Physical strength is always a plus.

5) Make her vulnerable

Alternatively, it’s okay for your character to be physically and/or mentally strong, but still express vulnerability from time to time. In the early days of the “strong female character” I think it became popular to create female characters that were unaffected by some events that happened to them and the things they did. But vulnerability is human, and there are few things stronger than expressing it.

6) Give her strong opinions

It’s always awesome when you have a woman who knows what she wants, what she thinks, and who isn’t afraid to say so. Throughout history, women have been told to keep their thoughts and opinions to themselves, so the more we can all work to counteract that, the better. Creating characters who are vocal about their opinions helps us all.

7) Give her strong beliefs

Similarly, establishing a female character who has her own belief and value system, and who isn’t afraid to share and defend it can give your readers a character to aspire to.

8) Give her struggles

Some people might think that “strong” means someone who handles everything easily, but that’s not true! Your character can (and should) have struggles. What will make her strong is overcoming those struggles and never giving up.

9) Give her support

Being “strong” also doesn’t mean having to handle everything on your own. Giving your character a support system will make her even stronger. It will give her people to open up to, and people who can push her and challenge her, which can only make her stronger.

10) Let her help and be helped

I once heard a writer say that he never has his female characters get rescued. They either save themselves, or if there’s no way around the rescue, they throw a punch on the way out. And while I can absolutely appreciate the sentiment behind this idea, I disagree with it in practice. I think everyone needs help sometimes. To me, the key is the help go both ways.

I say, it’s okay, and even good, for your strong female character to be rescued–even by a guy! Just be sure to give her the opportunity to rescue him down the line. This way, you avoid the helpless woman caricature, while creating a balance and an equilibrium. I think there’s strength in accepting help just as much as there is in giving it, and it’s important that your character be able to do both. (But everyone once in a while, let your strong ladies save themselves because that’s pretty badass too!)

11) Give her power (or make her take it)

Give your character a position of power, or put her in a position to take that power. Few things will make your character stronger than being in charge. This can mean your character is officially the head or point person of an organization, or it can mean she’s the person people look to by default.

It’s especially fierce if your character steps up and takes control. Maybe she’s the best person to be in charge but is being ignored. Or maybe no one is stepping up, so your character gets the job done. Making your character a leader is a sure sign of strength. If it doesn’t make sense for your character to be a permanent leader, it’s enough to give her a situation or two for her to take control of.

12) Make her decisive

Not every decision is an easy one, but the more your character can definitively make a decision, the stronger she will become. She may not make the right call all the time, but decisiveness is a sign of confidence. If your character lives her life from a place of confidence, she’ll be living her life from a place of strength.

Side note, confidence is not the same thing as arrogance, which can be more of a weakness.

13) Make her firm

Strong people respect themselves. They can’t be talked into doing anything they don’t want to. This is true when it comes to deciding what’s best for themselves and when it comes to deciding what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s fine to be open-minded, but don’t let your strong female be someone who can be talked into or out of anything. If that’s the case, then they aren’t thinking for themselves, which makes them a little weak.

14) Give her a history to overcome

Character histories are one of my favorite things to explore. Giving your character a tough history gives her an opportunity to highlight her strength. Weak characters let the things that happen to them bring the down. Strong characters find a why to succeed and overcome despite their history.

15) Make her care about more than a relationship

Lastly, give your character more to care about than her love life. I’m not saying she shouldn’t care at all–relationships are a part of life. But the ins and outs of their jobs, communities, families, passions, hobbies, the fate of the world, etc, should take up just as much as her time and attention, if not more. Strong, realistic characters are multidimensional and have more going on than a single romantic relationship.

I hope this helps you create some strong female characters!

Now it’s your turn: Who are some of your favorite female leads? What are your favorite qualities in a female lead? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Satisfy Your Reader: 6 Writing Tips

How to Satisfy Your readers

If you want readers to truly love your story, it’s important to ensure they are satisfied. This isn’t the same as making them happy, and it’s doesn’t necessarily mean giving them what they want. To satisfy your reader, you need to tell a complete story that makes logical sense, and gives your readers what you’ve promised them.

Let’s take a look at what it means to satisfy your readers and how to go about it!

Happy vs satisfied

Readers are often happy when they get what the want in a story. This can be an event, a character development, a relationship, or an outcome. Equally, they are unhappy if one of their favorite characters dies, a couple they wanted together gets torn apart, or if there is an outcome they didn’t like.

However, it’s possible for a reader to be unhappy with events that unfold but still love a story because it leaves them satisfied. It’s possible to give readers what they want and have them not like a story because it’s too neat and tidy, which made it unrealistic and unsatisfying.

Satisfaction happens when events occur in a way that makes sense and could believably occur in real life. If your reader is satisfied, they are far more likely to enjoy what they are reading, regardless of how happy they are about what’s taking place.

For example, let’s look at Harry Potter for a moment. (I use Harry Potter a lot for examples on this blog because it’s such a widely read book. But if you haven’t read it and are planning to, skip the rest of this paragraph because I’m about to give a serious spoiler.) When the last book came out, most people seemed to love the book itself, but they took issue with the epilogue. This was largely because it seemed unrealistic that all of the characters would end up happily coupled with their first real significant other, which made it a touch unsatisfying. Many people were rooting for those characters throughout the story and wanted them to end up happy. But seeing everyone end up happy didn’t ring true to many.

How to satisfy your reader

Build storylines that pays off

If you’re going to spend time building a storyline, it’s important that readers get to see it pay off. There is nothing more frustrating as a reader than investing in a storyline only to have it take an unrealistic turn. For example, if you’re building a romantic relationship between two of your characters, it’s okay to draw it out and have a handful on minor setbacks. That much can easily happen in real life. However, it’s incredibly unsatisfying if you never let your characters get together, or if they get together and separate quickly.

If you’re asking your readers to invest in a storyline, give them the payoff. If you don’t, you’re breaking a promise to your readers. A well-executed story is one that satisfies readers and creates new realistic problems. Going back to the example in the last paragraph, if you’re building a romantic relationship between characters, let them get together instead of breaking them up immediately to “keep things interesting.” Couples still have conflicts, issues, and sweet moments after they’re in a relationship. Write the relationship you’ve asked people to invest in. It will satisfy your readers and may prove to be a fun writing challenge.

Focus on the characters not the reader

This may be a post about satisfying readers, but ironically, one of the best ways to satisfy them is not to focus on them while you’re writing. Consider them, sure, and you can absolutely prioritize them while you’re editing and revising. But they shouldn’t be your focus when you’re writing.

It can be easy to get caught up in the idea of surprising the reader or keeping them invested by denying them what they want. But if you play that game for too long, the reader may start to feel like they’ve been played or lead on and walk away. Additionally, if you’re focusing on the reader, it means your not focusing on the story and on what would make the most believable, logical, sense.

Paying attention to the reader can serve as a distraction when you’re writing. Instead, pay attention to your characters. If you hone in on what makes the most sense for them, it will likely result in reader satisfaction because it will read realistically. Don’t go for the shock factor. Go for the believability factor.

Focus on the characters, not yourself

Similarly, it can be easy to get caught up in your own fantasy of what you want for your characters just because you want it–even if it doesn’t make sense based on the rest of the story. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cut scenes I’d written just because I wanted the events in them to happen.

But if the scene is rushing a storyline or doesn’t fit in the story at all, it’ll lead to an unsatisfying and frustrating reader experience.

However, it’s okay to draft scenes like this! If you’re anything like me, part of the reason I write is that I can make anything I want to happen on the page. That’s part of the joy of writing. But in the end, you have to step up and put your characters first, which may mean cutting scenes that you really enjoyed writing.

Focus on realistic, consistant character behaviors

The last two points talked about focusing on your characters. This one talks about what exactly you should be paying attention to when you do. It really comes down to believability and character consistency. If you have your character acting in a way that readers would find unbelievable or in a way that they have never acted before, you’re setting yourself up for a string of unsatisfying events.

For example, if your characters are preparing for a major battle, it would not be believable for the typically thorough chief planner to overlook an obvious possible error just so the story can have a complication. This wouldn’t be consistent with the character’s established thoroughness, which would lead to an unsatisfied reader.

Don’t rely on cliches

Lastly, don’t rely on cliches. Sure, in some cases, you might be able to make the argument that it’s a cliche for a reason, but for the most part, cliches are so overdone that they’ve become predictable. That predictability can read as inauthentic, which can leave your reader unsatisfied.

Additionally, if you rely too much on a cliche, you may end up stuffing your characters into boxes and roles they don’t belong in, in order to get your character to fill a cliched role. This would again mean that you end up having your characters behave in an unrealistic, inconsistent way in order to do so.

However, if you think you have a great idea on how to twist a cliche and make it something new, you should absolutely go for it! This can be a great way to refresh an overused concept. If you execute it well, readers will likely be satisfied by your ability to give them a new take on a familiar idea. And because you’re taking a new approach, it’s unlikely that you’ll box your characters into unsatisfying roles.

I hope this helps you create stories that satisfy your readers!

Now it’s your turn: What stories have left you the most satisfied? What do you think about when you try to satisfy your readers? Tell me about it in the comments!

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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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15 Writing Tips to Create Awesome Characters

Create Awesome CharactersIf you’re like most writers, it’s a priority to create awesome characters for your novels. Creating awesome characters means your readers will connect with the people you’re writing about, which ultimately means they will connect with your story.

With that in mind, here are fifteen tips to think about on your quest to create awesome characters!

1) Know the defining moments of their past

We all have moments that help to shape us. These moments include triumphs, failures, gains, and losses. Be sure to give your characters these types of moments. Did they lose someone close to them at a young age? How does that impact them? Did they experience some kind of victory early in their career? Has that moment motivated them to chase that feeling of success? Creating defining moments like this will help your reader to relate and connect to your characters because they too will have experienced similar moments in their own lives.

2) Develop their key and defining relationships

Our relationships also play a massive role in making us who we are. Knowing your characters’ parents, siblings, best friends, etc, and the relationship your character had with each of those people will inform who your character has become. If any key relationships are missing from your character’s life, that can be just as important and play just as much of a role in their development. This element also adds another layer for your readers to connect with. If you’d like some help with this, check out this post on creating key relationships!

3) Give them values

People have beliefs! Your characters should too. It’s important to know what your characters stand for and believe in because it will dictate the decisions they make throughout the story. It will also help you create some kind of consistency. For example, if you decide your main character strongly values honesty, they are likely to be honest (maybe painfully so) about what they think and feel. It also means that being lied to would be seen a deep betrayal and could result in a broken relationship. Whereas if you have a character who values kindness above all else, they may be more likely to tell a white lie to protect someone from an ugly truth.

4) Give then quirks

Some people are more quirky than others, but I think it’s fair to say that everyone has a few oddities in them. Giving your character a quirk is likely to both endear your character to your reader and make them more relatable. When you develop this aspect of your character, consider both behavioral and preference quirks. For example, maybe your character has a habit of drumming their fingers when they’re anxious. Or maybe they hate the texture of frozen yogurt. Even if the reader doesn’t have the same quirk, it’s likely that they’ll connect to their own oddity and appreciate your character’s uniqueness.

5) Give them motivation and direction

What gets your character out of bed in the morning? What do they want (both physically and in life)? Even if your character is a little lost, there has to be something that keeps them moving forward. We’re all working for something, even if there are points in our life when all we really want to figure out what we want and what we’re good at. That desire to find our way is still motivation for life. This will give your character a direction, which will inform your story and give your readers something to root for.

6) Give them vices and flaws

No body’s perfect. We all have ways of coping with stressful situations (like eating way too much mac and cheese). And we all have less than ideal qualities (like being stubborn). It can be hard for your readers to connect with a character who is too perfect because that’s simply unrealistic. No matter how heroic your hero is, they should still have flaws and vices to keep them realistic and accessible.

7) Add some of you

One of the easiest ways to bring your characters to life is to pull on your real life. Make it a point to give every character a little bit of yourself. If you love cheesy fries, give a character that love. If you hate riding a bike, give that to a character too. Adding a little bit of yourself into every character you create will help ground your characters. Not only that, it will help you connect better with your characters. In turn, this will make the characters more real and human to you, which will hopefully come through in your writing.

8) Give them obstacles to overcome

We all struggle from time to time. We all have to overcome our own obstacles. It’s hard to connect with a character who just sails through life. It also doesn’t give your readers much to root for or invest in. When your characters have an obstacle to navigate, it pulls your reader in and gives them a reason to care about your character.

9) Give them a personality test

One of the quickest ways to flesh out your character is to give them a personality test. This will likely bring up aspects of people that you hadn’t even thought to consider, which will add another layer of believability to your character. My favorite personality test is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (here’s a whole post I did on using it for character creation), but you can use the Enneagram or any personality test you prefer.

10) Give them pain

Characters are more interesting when they suffer or when they have suffered in the past. This gives your readers something to empathize with. It also gives your characters something to grow from. Personally, when I find out a character is suffering or has suffered, I get so excited. It’s not because I enjoy their pain–it’s because I can’t wait to watch them fight to overcome the cause of their pain and come out on the other side stronger than they were when the got knocked down. Give your characters pain to make them stronger and more interesting.

11) Give them a human backstory

If you want your characters to be relatable, it’s important that your characters have a backstory that feels real and human. Even if you’re writing about aliens or superheroes, there should be elements of their backstory we can all relate to. Maybe they have (or have lost) parents. Maybe they struggled with others in school. Even if there are elements of their lives that are very different from ours, there should also be elements we can all connect with. This is especially true for your villains and bad guys. Having a human backstory won’t excuse your villain’s behavior, but it will help your readers understand how your character became who they are.

12) Give them lessons to learn and grow from

Lessons are part of growing up. Like we’ve already discussed, pain can force your character to grow, but that doesn’t have to be the only way they are shaped. Your character can experience gentler lessons just like people do in real life. Maybe they witness someone else’s pain and decide to help. Maybe they’re careless and accidentally send a mildly embarrassing email. Or maybe they’re struggling and receive good advice from a mentor. Giving your character opportunities to learn and grow will help them on their journey, which makes them more engaging for your reader.

13) Give them likes and dislikes

We all have things we like and dislike. These things might not be the main feature in your book, but they play into who your character is, what they work for, and what they try to avoid. Even if your readers don’t share the same likes or dislikes as your character, they’re more likely to connect with your character because your reader knows how it feels to like or dislike something. It also helps your reader learn about a character as they would a real person, which makes your character feel a little more like a real person.

14) Give them a hidden talent or passion

Nearly everyone has something they’re surprisingly good at or passionate about that doesn’t appear on the surface. Similar to likes and dislikes, giving your character these hidden aspects of their character gives your reader the opportunity to feel like they are getting to know your character better. It also gives you another layer to the character for you to explore as the writer.

15) Give them conflict

No one gets along with everyone and everything. Not only is it more realistic for your character to have conflict in their life, but it’s also more interesting. If your character doesn’t get along with a particular family member or co-worker, it may make your reader feel more protective of your character when they’re in that person’s presence or it may make them cheer for your character when they finally stand up for themselves. The universal nature of conflict gives your readers another chance to easily connect and empathize with your characters, which, once again, makes them more invested in your story.

I hope this helps you create awesome characters!

Now it’s your turn: What do you consider when you work to create awesome characters? What do you like to see in the characters you read? Tell me about it in the comments!

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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.


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.


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!


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.


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!

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Writing Tips: The Importance of Strong Character Arcs

The Importance of Strong Character ArcsCharacter arcs are an important part of even the most plot-driven novels. If you’ve ever had a hard time getting into or connecting with a book, it’s possible that the character arcs are part of the problem. Character arcs give your characters direction and growth. They give your reader something to root for while making your story significantly stronger than it would otherwise be.

Today we’re going to take a look at what character arcs have to offer your story and how to write a strong one.

Why character arcs are important

They make your book more interesting

As a writer of commercial fiction, I have nothing against plot. The plot is typically what moves my story forward. But as great as plot is, plot and character together is better. Adding an intentional layer of character growth and development into your novel will help deepen your plot lines and make your stories significantly more compelling. It’s simply more interesting to see a character that is affected and changed as a result of what they face in the plot. When characters are the same at the end of a book as they are in the beginning, it makes for a significantly less interesting novel.

They make your reader more invested

Readers may be intrigued by your plot, but plot alone isn’t going to make them feel like they need to keep turning pages. For readers to feel like they need to read more, they need to feel connected and invested in your characters. It’s the human element that they bond with. So if you want the threat of death (or whatever) to really matter to your readers, they need to care about the character that’s in danger. It’s a lot easier for your readers to connect with your character if they want to root for them.

If readers see your characters struggling, growing, and overcoming the obstacles of your plot, they’re going to be more invested in your story. Everyone struggles at some point in their lives, and people often grow because of those struggles. Planning an arc for your character will make your character more relatable and give you an audience that’s more invested in every aspect of your story.

They make your book more realistic

Like I just mentioned, people do struggle, they do learn, and they do grow. Because of that, having a character that goes does the same will make your book much more realistic. This also speaks to the reader’s ability to connect with your character.  It can be harder for your readers to relate to a character that just takes everything in stride, doesn’t struggle, or doesn’t grow as a result of what they’re being confronted with in the plot. That can make your story come off a touch unrealistic, which will mean you could lose some credibility with your audience.

How to write a strong character arc

Focus on one core area of development

If you try to grow your character in leaps in and bounds, it may become overwhelming for your reader. To avoid this, I would suggest figuring out one core aspect of your character you’d like to develop. Sure, there might be other areas that will be affected by this one big lesson, and you should absolutely include those, but your focus should be limited to one area of growth. For example, maybe you want your character to be more independent. Maybe they need to get used to counting on others. Or maybe they need to learn to be more trusting. Whatever you want your character to learn, I would suggest being sure you can explain this growth goal in a single sentence. This will likely make it easier for you to stay focused on your character’s development without overwhelming the story or the reader.

Purposefully plot growth points like you would plot points

Once you know what lesson you want your character to learn, come up with growth points just like you might do with plot points. When you work with plot, it’s typically best to spend the whole book building the climax. Ideally, you want to do the same thing for your character arc. So look at where your character is at the start of the book, and where you want your character to be at the end of the book. Then consider the steps your character will need to take to go from the starting point to the end point.

For example, let’s say you have a very dependent character, and you want them to be more independent by the end. You might plan to force your character to face four problems throughout the book. For the first, at about a quarter of the way through the book, they’ll have some help, but not quite as much as they’re used to. For the second, they’ll have someone to talk them through the problem, but they have to act on their own. Then for the third, they have someone talk them through the beginning of a situation, but they’re on their own for the second half. By the end of the book, they’ll have to solve a problem completely on their own.

Tie growth points to your plot points

To get the most out of both your plot and your characters, tie your growth points to your plot points. This will ensure that your plot is directly helping to grow your character and add more depth to each of your plot points. If you’ve been following this blog, you know this is something I swear by! Here are two posts where I cover this approach more in-depth: How to Make Plot and Character Work Together, How I Outline My Novels

I hope this helps you create awesome character arcs!

Now it’s your turn: Why do you think character arcs are important? What would you say makes a strong arc? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Writing Tips: 20 Places to Find Awesome Character Names

20 Places to find awesome character namesYou will likely need hundreds, if not thousands, of character names in your writing career. This includes everything from main characters, to secondary characters, to a character’s third cousin who’s mentioned only once. They all need names! Sometimes finding the right name can be both challenging and time-consuming. It’s made even harder if you don’t know where to look for help and inspiration.

The reality is, names are around us all day, every day. It’s just a matter of knowing where to look and paying attention when they present themselves to us.

Here are twenty places to look for character names:

1) Actors/Directors/Producers/Scriptwriters/etc

Movies, TV shows and theater take a lot of people to bring them together. This includes talent in front of and behind the scenes. A lot of people means a lot of names! Browse IMDb pages and theater programs until you find some names you like.

2) Sports rosters

(I abuse this.) There are thousands of professional sports teams in the world and even more amateur and collegiate teams. These teams typically have websites that list every member of their team. These lists are just waiting for you to browse and they’re full of awesome character names. Not only that, it gives you something else to pay attention to when a game is on, whether you’re a sports fan or not.

3) Musicians

This includes not only your favorite performers, but also their bands, engineers, and producers. Like with movies, the music industry is much more varied than just the headliners. The closer you look, the more names you’ll find.

4) Other stories

Not only is this a great way to find a name, it’s also a good way to honor your favorite writers and stories. You might not want to use a name that’s so unique it’s automatically associated with another story (like, say, Voldemort), but a more general or universal name (like Ron), you can probably get away with.

5) Every day conversations

One perk of being a writer is that eavesdropping is kind of part of the job. Keep your ears open for any unique names that may come up in conversations around you. Maybe even keep a list in a notebook or on your phone.

6) Cemeteries

Yes, this one’s a little morbid, but it’s also effective. Cemeteries a full of names proudly displayed for you to find. So if you’re up for it, maybe go take a walk in a cemetery one day and see what fun names jump out at you.

7) Doctors’ offices

If you’ve ever been suck in a doctor’s office waiting room, you’ve likely heard plenty of names being called out. Take advantage of your wait and keep your ears open for some awesome character names.

8) Family and Friends

I don’t like to name any major characters after friends or family because I don’t want anyone to think a character is supposed to really be them. But I’ve found this to be great for characters who only show up once or twice, or who are mentioned but never appear. It gives me a quick name for a minimal character, and it gives my friends and family members a small shout out.

9) Bookstores and libraries

We’ve talked about acting, sports, and music, so of course, we’re going to talk about books too! Bookshelves are full of author names. Browse some shelves for names that jump out at you or pay tribute to some of your favorite writers.

10) Name tags

It’s likely that you come in contact with someone with a nametag daily. Any time you’re in a store, at a restaurant, or in an office setting, you’ll probably find a name tag. If this person is in some kind of customer service position, they’ll likely be wearing theirs. If they’re more business/professional, look on their door or on their desk. Also, if you ever go to a conference or convention of any kind, you’ll find name tags everywhere!

11) Sign-in Sheets

If you ever find yourself faced with a sign-in sheet, do a quick scan before you add your name. See if an interesting name jumps out at you.

12) Roll call

You’ll typically find this in an academic setting, but it can apply anywhere someone might do a roll call. If this happens to you, pay attention to all of the names–not just you’re own! You never know what cool and interesting names may be called out. Even if you think you know everyone in your class/group, people sometimes have different formal names than the names they go by, so don’t take anything for granted.

13) Social Media

We spend so much time on social media these days, we might as well use it to our advantage. This is another place that’s basically one giant list of names. If you think you’ve already covered your own feed, go browse someone else’s followers and see what names catch your attention.

14) Business Cards

Professionals hand out their names every day. Use this to your benefit. Accept every business card you’re offered for the name alone. If you ever have a reason to be at a job fair, collect as many cards as you can. If you don’t want to hold on to the cards, transfer the names to a list so you have potential character names all on one place.

15) Yearbooks

Yearbooks are full of names organized by grade, sport, activity, and event. Odds are when you got your yearbook, you only really cared about yourself, your friends and your activities. Now’s the time to put the rest of the book to use! Browse through your old yearbooks and see what cool names you overlooked in the past.

16) College websites

Specifically the faculty pages. Most colleges list their faculty members so prospective students know who they’ll be learning from. This is another corner of the internet with nothing but lists of names for your consideration.

17) News stories (TV and Print)

This one doesn’t need much explanation. News stories are full of names. This applies to names you may hear on TV or read in print and online.

18) Obituaries

Another morbid one, but again, effective! Obituaries literally lead with names. Not only that, they also typically list the survivors of the deceased, so you’ll likely find at least 5-10 names per entry.

19) Food and product packaging

A lot of companies honor their founders on their packaging. You may not only find a really cool name, but a really cool story to go with it. This could help enhance your character or your book in some way.

20) Your Inbox

If your email inbox looks anything like mine, then not every message is from someone you know–especially if you check the spam folder. Instead of dismissing those message completely, consider the names in the “from” column. The perfect character name might have come to you!

I hope this helps you find some awesome character names!

Now it’s your turn: Where’s your favorite place to get your character names from? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Write Backstory: When & How Much to Reveal

Writing Backstory

Backstory is important because it tells you, the writer, what your characters have been through before you start your story. It also helps to inform how your characters will handle and react to problems when they pop up in your book. In order to write your novel, you need to know everything there is to know about each of your characters. You need to know about their secrets, their experiences, and every major defining moment they’ve had in their lives. You also need to know just as much about the world you’ve created.

Most of these details are fascinating from a character and world building standpoint. They also play a large role in how you as a writer will approach your work. However, most of those details don’t play a direct role in the story. Which means if you share too much backstory with your reader, they’ll likely end up bogged down, overloaded, and lost.

It can be hard to strike a balance between moving your story forward and filling your readers in on what’s happened in the past. Because of that, we need to be selective in what we share and when we share it. To help with that, here are the six guidelines I use when including backstory in my books.

At the start of the book, only reveal the essentials

For me, the beginning is the trickiest part of any book with regard to backstory. You often need a decent amount of backstory to get readers into your novel. They need to know who your character is, what they’re life’s like when we meet them, and what world we’re entering. It may be tempting to get all of this info to your readers as fast as possible, but don’t do it! That’s info dumping and it’s generally something you want to avoid. If you throw too much information at your readers too fast, you’ll create a lot of confusion for them. It also tends to make your book uninteresting because you’re doing an awful lot of telling, which makes it hard for your readers to experience your novel. And if they’re either confused or disinterested, they’re likely to close your book and never return.

Instead, take a minute to consider the absolute essentials a person would need to know to get your story going and understand what’s happening in the opening scene. When in doubt, included even less backstory than you think you may need. Then ask an early reader for feedback. If they’re confused because they don’t have enough info, you can add more backstory to address their specific concerns. In my experience, it can be hard for a reader to tell you what information they don’t need if you’ve given them too much. All they know is that it’s too much and they’re overwhelmed. But if readers are confused because they’re lacking information, they can typically ask more specific guiding questions. This way you can be sure that what you’re including is what’s needed and no more.

Going forward, only reveal info if/when it plays a role

Now that you’ve got your story off the ground, there’s probably plenty more you need or want to convey to the reader. But you still need to be careful not to overwhelm them and not to lead them too far away from your main plot. To help with that, I suggest using the same principle we talked about in the first point; only give your reader what they absolutely need to know when they absolutely need to know it.

For example, let’s say your book has a king in it. And the king has a complicated history with your bad guy. You should avoid telling your reader about this complicated history until their history is relevant to the story. If you think it’s best, you can tell your readers early on that a history between the two exists, but you don’t need to share the specifics until your reader needs it. Or if you want it to be a plot twist, you can keep everything from your reader until the big reveal.

Keep it brief

Generally speaking, the less intrusive you are with backstory, the better it will be for your reader. So when you have to give some info, do your best to weave it into the scene or conversation as briefly and simply as you can.

The one time I don’t follow this rule: if/when my characters are talking about their histories to each other. Typically, this acts as a way to both convey the necessary information and as a way for my characters to bond. Others may disagree with me, but this is the one time I’ll personally allow a mini-info dump. This is largely because as a reader, I enjoy reading scenes like this. I like seeing characters either purposefully opening up to each other or being put in situations where they have to confess their pasts in a way that makes them really uncomfortable. In fact, I live for it! So, since it’s the kind of thing I like to read, it’s absolutely the kind of thing I’m going to write–whether I “should” do it this way or not.

Though, just a quick note if you’re going to take this approach. It’s still important to keep the conversation and backstory as relevant to the story as possible. In other words, there needs to be a reason Character A is sharing info with Character B, not just because you want them to share.

If you can’t keep it brief, consider a dream or flashback

Sometimes, there’s too much info to share to keep it brief. In these cases, the best trick to avoid a direct info dump is to actually write the scene as it happened for your characters. You can do this with either a dream or a flashback. I’ve used both of these techniques in my books! They work particularly well if your character is traumatized or haunted by something from their past. It’s also helpful if you’re trying to convey the dynamics of an already established relationship. It’s one thing for your character to say “I have a bad relationship with my cousin.” But it’s another thing entirely to show it.

But again, keep your flashbacks and dreams as short and as focused as possible. Your goal is to enhance your story, not take your readers away from it.

And keep in mind…

None of these tips apply to the first draft. That’s one thing I can’t stress enough on this blog. The first draft should be a hot mess of whatever you need to write to get your story written. If this means you need to spend an entire first chapter writing nothing but info dumping backstory, then do it! That’s part of getting to know your story and your characters. You can go back and fix the info dump in revision.

I hope this helps you work your backstory into your novel!

Now it’s your turn: How much backstory do you usually reveal? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Create A Functional Sidekick: Novel Writing Tips

Creating a Functional SidekickIt’s always good for our main character to have friends. They often provide support and humor in trying situations. Plus, going on an adventure or even just navigating a “normal” life can be long and lonely if we leave our characters without anyone. But it’s really not enough for the sidekick to simply be a sidekick. To craft an effective novel, these sidekicks should serve a purpose in the overall story. 

With that in mind, today we’re going to look at why it’s important to have a functional side kick and six possible functions your sidekick can have!

Why having a functional sidekick is important

A character who doesn’t serve your story is dead weight. It doesn’t matter how funny or supportive a character is. If they don’t offer anything else, then they are holding your book back. Last week, I talked about how every scene needs to earn its place in your novel. Characters have the same principal. It’s not enough for a sidekick to simply serve your character. They need to serve your story.

If your sidekick doesn’t serve your story, they run the risk of falling into one of these categories:

They become a distraction

You’ll likely write your sidekick into a whole host of scenes; after all, sidekicks are supposed to be one of your primary characters. But if your sidekick has no real purpose, that means they’ll be in all of these scenes with nothing to do. If this continues throughout your book, your reader may even start to wonder why this character even exists. This takes the reader out of your story and turns your character into a distraction.

They become annoying

When a character is consistently in scenes with no purpose, they become the character who is always in the other characters’ way. When people are running around trying to save the world, no one has time for the funny guy who has nothing more to offer than a joke. This character may be enjoyable at first, but they’ll quickly become annoying if that’s all they have to contribute. (With that said, it’s okay if your sidekick is funny, sarcastic, and laughs in the face of death, just make sure they have something to offer in addition to this.)

They become forgotten 

This will especially be a problem if you’ve got a killer plot. If you’ve written a tight story that keeps readers engaged and turning pages, they’re likely to retain the information that’s connected and helpful to the story. If your sidekick doesn’t contribute, they could very well be forgotten about until they say something, which isn’t what you want from a primary character.

Six ways a side character can serve your story

Here are a few possible functions for your sidekick! Keep in mind, your sidekick should ideally serve a purpose no other character is currently serving.

1) They can be the brains

If your main character isn’t all that book smart, it might be a good idea to have someone around who is. These sidekicks can always be trusted to provide vital information at exactly the right moment. And if there’s a piece of information your story needs but this sidekick wouldn’t know, it’s usually not too much of a stretch to suggest that they would know where to look to find the info. For example, Hermione from Harry Potter plays a vital role throughout the series in distributing information to Harry as needed. And later in the series, when someone needs to have some kind of medical skills, it was perfectly believable that she would be able to take on this role because of how much she reads and retains.

Your character’s brains can also be specific to your story. Maybe you need a tech genius like Felicity from Arrow, or maybe you have more use for a scientist. The brains sidekick doesn’t have to be all-knowing; the can simply be very intelligent in a field that your main character needs a strong understanding of.

2) They can be the protector

If your main character is in danger, you may have use for a protector of some kind. One way you see this type of sidekick is in the more traditional role of a physical protector (aka the muscle). This character may be some kind of soldier or skilled fighter brought in to keep your main character safe or to help them face the obstacles expected to come their way. One example of this type of protector is Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. He’s a skilled swordsman committed to protecting Frodo as he takes the Ring to Mordor.

Or your protector may be more of a stalwart guardian who is skilled at keeping your main character safe in a slightly less physical way. Keeping in the world of Lord of the Rings, a good example of this kind of protector is Sam. Being a hobbit, Sam is not that big, so he’s not the kind of protector you expect to win in a fight, but he’s smart, observant, and more than willing to do whatever it takes to keep Frodo safe (and he’ll fight if he has to).

3) They can be the money

You may find your characters will be in situations where they will need an excess of funds. Maybe they’re running some underground operation, or maybe they just require for a lot of expensive items. Whatever the reason, if your characters need money on a semi-regular basis, it might make the most sense for a sidekick to step into this role.

One example is Connor Mason from Timeless. On this show, the main characters have to travel back in time to save history at a moment’s notice. Connor Mason, the millionaire inventor of the time machine, is able to provide a large supply of period clothing and a handful of other expensive but essential tools to help the main characters succeed.

4) They can be the power

In this case, there are two types of power. First, if you’re writing a fantasy or supernatural story, you might need a character who can pack a magical punch. This character may be the only character in your group with magical power, or they might just be the most powerful. A good example is Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer who becomes a powerful witch to help fight the supernatural.

Other times, you may need a character in a powerful position. If you think your characters are going to be in situations where they may regularly need some strings pulled, then you might want to think about adding a powerful sidekick. One example is NSA agent Denise Christopher from Timeless, who uses her powerful position to cover for the main characters when situations go awry and get them any information and support they may need.

5) They can have influence

Sometimes, you may not want a sidekick who has real power. That might make things too easy for your characters. However, it might be helpful to have a sidekick who has an influence on a certain group, person, or situation. This will help your characters get closer to what they want or need without having everything handed to them. One example is Cam from Bones. She’s the head of the science lab that the main characters work out of, so that comes with a fair amount of influence, but she doesn’t oversee anything outside of this one lab, so her power is limited.

6) They can be the voice of reason

Sometimes, you need a character who is insightful to move your story forward. This sidekick is probably one of the more subtle types, but it totally counts. If you have an impulsive main character, it helps if there’s a sidekick who can see the big picture, slow your main character down and push them in the right direction. One good example is Felix from Orphan Black. This show is about clones with varying temperaments who are constantly under attack. Felix is a bit of a clone whisperer. He can assess the situation, see what needs to happen, and chose the right tactic to get the clone in front of him to what she needs to do.

I hope this helps you make some killer (and helpful!) sidekicks!

Now it’s your turn: How do you make your sidekicks functional? What functions did I miss? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Write a Tight Novel & Make Every Scene Count

Writing a Tight Novel: How to Make every scene countIf you want to write a page-turning novel, then you want to make sure your book is as tight as it can possibly be. The tighter a book is written, the more engaging it is, and the more of a page-turner it becomes. If you want to write a tight novel, one key is to make every scene count.

This doesn’t mean you should spend your first draft agonizing over every scene. When you’re writing your first draft, you’re just getting to know your story and sometimes you need to write extra unnecessary scenes to get more familiar with your characters and world. But when it comes time to revise, you may have to make some tough calls. Because when you write a tight novel, every scene needs to earn its place.

To help you write a tight novel, here are four questions to ask when you evaluate each scene and some tips for fixing a scene that isn’t serving your story.

Does the scene advance the plot?

The plot is what keeps your readers engaged in your story. It’s what keeps your readers guessing and desperate to know what happens next. This is a key element to consider if you want to write a tight novel. If you want each of your scenes to really count, they all have to serve your plot.

This doesn’t mean every scene has to be big and flashy and advance your story by leaps and bounds. Sure, sometimes your character may have some kind of showdown with their enemy. But other times, they can simply learn something they’ll need to act on later. This lesson can be a big revelation or a small breadcrumb that leads us to the next scene. As long as it leads us somewhere, it will have earned its place.

Also, it’s okay if some scenes don’t advance your plot–as long as they serve another purpose that we’ll talk more about in a moment!

How to fix a scene that doesn’t advance the plot

If you have a scene that doesn’t advance the plot, here are three possible fixes to consider:

1) Is there something your character could be doing or learning? If they’re killing time waiting for something to happen, could they be reading a book or doing some kind of research? Could another character briefly appear to give them something to work with? Again, it can be small, but there has to be something that pushes your story forward.

2) Look at what you already have in the scene. Can anything connect to your larger plot? This turned out to be a lifesaver for me when I was working on my first book. It’s a spy novel and in it, I send my characters on a series of missions. For whatever reasons, I’d decided that the missions didn’t need to be connected. One of the first notes my editor gave me (before she even bought the book) was that all of the missions should be related. Instead of rewriting each of the missions, I looked at what I had. The first mission had my characters retrieving a flash drive. At the time, the flash drive didn’t mean anything–it was just something for my character to retrieve. Once I got that note, I decided that flash drive would have encoded files that ended up dictating their future missions as each file was cracked.

In my experience, your subconscious has a better understanding of your story than you often realize. Take inventory of the tools didn’t even realize you gave yourself and use them to your advantage.

3) Cut the scene. If it’s not serving your story, it hasn’t earned its place and it needs to go. (With one exception we’re about to get to.) Also, don’t be afraid to trim any excess material in a scene you’re keeping. If you find that your ten-page scene advances the plot in the first five pages, consider wrapping things up early.

Does the scene advance character development?

Character development is important even in a more commercial, plot-driven novel. It’s your characters that are going to connect with your reader and keep them invested. Because of that, you may sometimes have scenes that don’t do much to advance the plot but are pivotal in developing your character.

Ultimately you need your characters to grow so they can handle the twists and turns of the plot, and so your readers have something to relate to and root for. So if you have some scenes that are strictly for character development, you should be okay to keep them in. Just like with plot, the character development counts whether it’s a pivotal moment or a small step forward. (Or even a step backward, if you do it right, because they can lead to growth too).

How to fix a scene that doesn’t advance your character development

1) Make sure you’re clear on how your character is growing. To make it easy, I suggest focusing on one major developmental goal for your character to achieve in your novel. I also suggest mapping their development out so you’re clear on the progression. (This post explains a little bit about this concept.) Then make sure your scene somehow contributes to this progression, even if its just a small step forward.

2) Check in with how your character thinks or feels about a situation. This will give you an opportunity to add to their growth. You don’t have to get carried away or distract from your plot. A sentence or two will often get the job done.

3) Don’t fix it. Sure, an ideal scene will advance both the plot and the character in some way, but that isn’t always practical. Just like in the point above, some scenes just won’t lend themselves to character development. And ultimately, an engaging plot will control the pace of your novel over your character development, so if you have to let a few extra scenes slide on the character front for the sake of the plot, I say do it. Use your best judgment, and move on if it feels right. However, if the scene doesn’t advance either character or plot, it’s likely that you’ve found a scene to cut or significantly revise.

Does the scene repeat a function another scene serves?

Is your scene serving an original purpose? Or does the scene repeat the purpose of another scene? Now we’re getting a little more complex. This problem can be tricky to find sometimes. A scene can have a “good character moment” or a “good plot moment” and make you think it’s earned its place, but if it doesn’t actually advance the character or plot, it’s a scene that deserves a second look.

A personal example I have comes from an early draft of Crossing the Line. I had two characters that I wanted to get to know each other better. So I kept putting them in some semi-intense interpersonal situations. Those scenes had some great moments between my characters. I thought they all belonged in the book. But it was pointed out to me, that I hadn’t written three great character scenes; I wrote one great character scene three times. Two of those scenes hadn’t earned their place because they hadn’t moved anything forward.

How to fix a scene with a repeated purpose

1) Cut all repeated scenes but one. It’s likely that the first one is the one to keep, but it doesn’t have to be. If there’s another scene you like more, you can always move it to the place held by the first scene if that’s where you want the first interaction to be. (This is the approach I used to solve the problem I mentioned above, and it absolutely helped me write a tight novel.)

2) Combine your scenes into one. If you can pick the best parts of each of your repeated scene and smooth them all together into one, this may be the best compromise. You’ll get the parts you love and solve your problem. But keep in mind, you probably will still have to make some tough choices, so if it’s too hard to choose between all your favorite moments, this might not be the best approach.

3) Revise all but one scene. When you revise, your goal should be to be sure that there’s some actual plot/character progression in each scene.

Is your scene boring?

If a scene is boring to write and boring to you to read, it’s absolutely going to be boring to your reader. But sometimes, you may feel like you need that scene because it does, in fact, advance the plot or character development. In this case, the guidelines above do not apply! A boring scene will not help you write a tight novel. If the scene is boring to you, it absolutely has not earned its place in your novel, no matter how far it takes your story.

How to fix a boring scene

1) If you’re holding onto the scene because of the information it provides, take a hard look at your manuscript and see if you would be able to slip that info into another scene. Then cut the boring one. This, I think, is the best option for a situation like this if you can pull it off.

2) But if you don’t like option 1, then you’ve got to find a way to make that scene more interesting! Maybe add some characters or some kind of tension that can contribute to a subplot. Maybe consider combining it with the more interesting scene that comes before or after. But if it’s a truly boring scene, in my experience trying to save it can often be more trouble than it’s worth, so if you’re really struggling, you might want to jump back to option 1.

Are you including a scene purely because you like the writing/it’s fun?

We all have scenes like this. Scenes that were fun to write and maybe highlight the best of your character dynamics but do absolutely nothing to advance anything in your novel. It’s easy to think they serve your story because they bring you joy, but sadly, that is often not a good enough reason to leave them as is.

How to fix a purely fun scene

These scenes are probably the easiest (but most painful) to fix because typically the best fix is to cut them. Taking a timeout for a fun scene tends to be a momentum killer you don’t need if you’re trying to write a tight novel. But you don’t have to get rid of them entirely! Tuck them away for later–they make great deleted scenes for your readers!

I hope this helps you write a tight novel!

Now it’s your turn: How do you evaluate your scenes? How hard is it to cut a scene you like but doesn’t serve a purpose? What helps you finally pull the plug? Do you have any tip that helps you write a tight novel? Tell me about it in the comments!

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