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

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

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

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

1) Location

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

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

2) Geography

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

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

3) Animals/creatures

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

4) Magic

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

5) Class division

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

6) Leadership

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

7) Political Dynamics

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

8) Governments

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

9) People

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

10) Culture(s)

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

11) Monetary System

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

12) Food

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

13) Religion/Beliefs

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

14) Medicine and Illnesses

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

15) Prejudices

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

16) Threats

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

17) History

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

18) Natural Resources

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

19) Centralized Gathering Places

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

20) Prominent Figures

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

21) Technology

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

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

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

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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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How to Evaluate Writing Advice: 7 Writing Tips

How to Evaluate Writing AdviceThere is a ton of writing advice out there! From books to one sentence nuggets to blogs just like this one, it seems like everyone has thoughts and opinions on how to write. And while there is plenty of great advice, there’s also a fair amount that’s not that great. So how do you tell the good from the bad? That’s what we’re going to take a look at today! (Shout out to commenter Johanna for inspiring this post!)

Understand why there’s SO MUCH advice

It’s important to know that the biggest reason why there is so much advice out there is because there are so many different ways to approach writing. There’s also a lot about writing that’s subjective.¬†I’m sure you’ve found yourself in a situation where everyone is raving about a new book or TV show and you just don’t like it. Or maybe you’ve been the person really excited about a book or TV show only to come across someone who can’t stand it.

Everyone had different tastes and different minds. Which means when it comes to writing, we’re all going to have different things we want to see in¬†books and different things we never want to see again. So before you do anything, recognize¬†that you’re likely going to find conflicting advice and you shouldn’t follow every piece of advice you read. Everyone has different priorities, and sometimes those priorities won’t align with your own.

Only look for the advice you need

Now, because there’s so much advice out there, it can be easy to be overwhelmed by what you’re taking in. This is especially true if you’re just browsing Pinterest for general writing advice. Evaluating writing advice is important, but it’s hard to do if you’re overwhelmed that sheer amount you’re faced with.

So instead of just searching for “writing tips” search for advice on the specific problem you’re having. If you want tips on writing your first book or drafting, look for that. If you want tips on character creation, or plot development look for that. Whatever your problem is, only look for info on that one specific¬†problem. This will narrow your¬†search results, which should help you avoid overwhelm. If you come across an unrelated article that looks like it might be helpful for later, by all mean, save it. But don’t give it too much of your brain power until you’re ready to process and apply the information.

Try as much as possible (but ditch or modify as needed)

Once you’ve done your search for your specific problem, you are probably still faced with plenty of different techniques and approaches. Try as many as possible. You may be surprised by what works for you and what doesn’t. Don’t be afraid to ditch a method that isn’t proving useful, or to modify one that got you started, but isn’t quite right. Because there are so many approaches to writing, the only way you’re going to figure out the best approach for you is to get in there and try a bunch out. If a piece of advice works for you, add it to your toolbox. If it doesn’t, make note of that and move on. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer if something doesn’t work for you. It means you need a different approach.

For example, one piece of common advice I tried but I don’t follow is to write every day. I tried it. It didn’t help me, it drained me. Committing to writing 5-6 days a week helps me write regularly (which I believe is the point of the advice) without feeling fried all the time, so that’s an approach I added to my toolbox.

Consider if the advice will help your process or writing life

This applies mostly for drafting and process advice. Not every piece of advice you read will fit your life and your process. When you’re evaluating a piece of writing advice, consider if it will fit with you and your work style first and foremost. Just because a piece of advice worked well for a very successful writer doesn’t mean it will serve you well.

For example, if a person is struggling with ironing out their story, my first advice will always be to try brainstorming and outlining. Pre-writing like this really helps me, and it’s what I would do in that writer’s situation. If you’re someone who either likes outlining or has been curious about outlining, you might want to give my approach a shot. If your someone who has tried outlines, but never found them helpful, then you shouldn’t take this advice because it doesn’t fit your writing life. Instead, look for someone whose approach jives with your personal style at this stage of the process.

Consider if the advice will help you tell your story

This applies mostly for craft and structure advice. Every story is unique. And sure, there are some conventional approaches and structures that will help you tell an effective story, but every piece of craft and structure advice will not be true for every book. If you read a piece of advice that you think will strengthen your story, take it. If you come across advice that you honestly believe will hold your story back, don’t feel like you have to listen to it.

For example, let’s say you’re writing a fantasy and you come across advice that says the Hero’s Journey plot structure is the best structure for fantasy novels. You might look into the structure, realize all of your favorite fantasy books follow this structure and decide that it would really help your story. Or you might look at it and decide that so much of what you envision happens in the “ordinary world” so the plot structure doesn’t completely make sense for your story.

However, with that said, try to be open enough to consider honestly if the advice will help you–even if it means a lot of work or completely changing the direction of the book.

Understand where the giver is coming from

I truly believe in most cases writers give advice that has worked for them in the hopes that it might help another writer who is struggling with something similar. That’s largely why I blog. I learned so much from hearing other writers’ thoughts and techniques that I wanted to share mine too in case someone else might benefit. That doesn’t mean the thoughts or approaches shared by myself or anyone else is the “right” way to write. There’s plenty of advice I read that I don’t agree with or doesn’t serve me. That doesn’t mean those tips won’t serve someone else.

Most advice comes from writers, editors, or others with a strong understanding of what works for readers and what has worked for writers in the past. Every piece of advice cannot work for every writer or every story. Know that most advice is out there because it will work for¬†some¬†writers and¬†some stories, and it’s up to you to decide if it will work for you.

Know that there’s now “right” or “sure fire” way to write

There are no guarantees in writing. Even if you find a process that works for you, it’s unlikely that it will work all the time. That’s just how writing is. No one has the secret to writing the perfect book time and time again. If you want to be traditionally published or tell a coherent story readers can follow, then there are absolutely some conventions you should consider adhering to, but at the end of the day, it’s all your call. If you don’t feel a piece of advice works for your process, your life, or your story, you are under no obligation to take it. No matter how wildly successful the person offering the advice is. It has to work for you and your story first and foremost.

Personally, I do my best to be open and to consider everything, but it all comes back to what will make me a more effective writer and storyteller. I follow the advice I believe will help me meet those goals.

As always, I hope this helps!

Now it’s your turn: How do you evaluate writing advice? Did I miss anything? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Track Time in Your Novel: 6 Writing Tips

Time will happen in your novel. Your characters will go to sleep and wake up. They will make plans for the future. The pressure of a ticking clock may add some tension. But time, and consistency¬†of time, can be a detail that’s easy to overlook when you’re writing. This means you have to make it a point to track time in your novels.

It’s important for writers to know when every chapter of their books is happening. So today we’re going to take a look at why it’s important to track time in your novel and some tips to help you do it!

The importance of tracking time in your novel

It’s an important detail

Time may be a relatively¬†small detail in each scene, but it’s an important one. Knowing when we are in the story in relation to the rest of the book will help ground your readers. It’s also how you control the pace of your book and the distribution of information. And if you don’t take time seriously, you may accidentally render events in your book unbelievable or impossible.

It’s how you know when events should be happening

If your characters say they have a meeting with someone “in a week,” you have to be sure that a week has passed before your characters take that meeting. You’ll also have to make sure that you don’t let two weeks pass in your book before you make the meeting happen.

Time inconsistencies will distract your reader

Time management in novels is one of those things that if you’ve done it well, it’s likely no one will notice. But if you get it wrong, it will jump out to your readers and take them out of the story. For example, let’s say you start a chapter and you tell us that it’s night. If the chapter is all one scene and it ends with your characters going to get breakfast, it will give your readers pause. They’ll be more concerned about why your characters are eating breakfast instead of dinner than they will be about what is going on in your story.

You don’t want to give your reader any reason to come out of the story. Tracking time will help them move smoothly from one page to the next.

It impacts the tension and pace in your book

Very few things kick up the tension of a novel like a ticking clock or an impending event. But in order for that to be effective, you have to both understand and convey to your reader how much time is passing.

Tips on how to track time in your novel

Wait until you finish your book to get specific

You should probably have a general idea of time as you write–that way you know when holidays fall and when events need to happen–but I wouldn’t suggest sweating the details until your book is reaching its final stages. If you’re still revising your book, then there’s still a chance you may shift scenes and chapters around, which will impact the timing of them. Don’t waste time figuring out exactly when each scene of your book is taking place until you know the order of events in your book is pretty set in stone.

Read and highlight/underline every reference of time

Once you’re sure your book is set, you can track time for real. Read through it and highlight any and all time references. It doesn’t matter if it’s minutes, hours, days, or years. If anything jumps out at you as not making sense, make note of it. Small changes you can probably go ahead a fix (like, if your character says, “in a few minutes” but it should be in a few hours). But consider waiting to make bigger changes until your finished, in case you find a bigger inconsistency.

Go through your book with a calendar

If you’re not dating your book, it doesn’t matter the year of the calendar you’re using. Pick a starting point for your book on the calendar. If the exact day is vague at the beginning of your book, go to the first most specific point and mark that on your calendar. Unless you’re working with a specific year, the exact dates don’t matter. The point is to give you a concrete idea of when the weekends fall, and when the days, months, and seasons should change. Move through your book and mark each chapter on your calendar on the day it takes place. If a chapter takes multiple days, mark that too! Plot out where your events¬†should¬†fall. Then make note of any¬†inconsistencies in your book to revise.

Don’t forget time zones!

If you have characters that are flying to different parts of the world, be sure to consider travel time and time zone changes. If your characters are flying east or west, they will likely lose or gain time depending on where they’re going. But also keep in mind, that this is fiction. So, if you need your characters to have a smooth time at the airport, or take a difficult-to-get direct flight so they can get somewhere on time, you can get away with it. Sometimes, it’s okay to lean on possibility even if it isn’t a likelihood.


Revise your book based on your calendar and inconsistency notes.

Double check on your next read through

Read through your book again (or at least, flip through and note when each chapter is taking place) to be sure everything lines up with your calendar notes and still makes sense. You also might want to ask an early reader to keep an eye out for any timing that’s out of place.

I hope this helps you track time in your novel!

Now it’s your turn: What times and tricks do you have to track time in your novel? 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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How to Write a Good Plot Twist: 5 Writing Tips

Writing a Good Plot Twist

This post was inspired by a conversation I had with a friend about a plot twist in a TV show we both watch. This twist felt a little unnecessary and, honestly, kind of lazy. I won’t get into the show because I have a policy against trash-talking art on the internet, but it got me thinking about what makes a good plot twist.¬†I have a fair amount of experience with plot twists, and while I’m in no position to judge myself, I’ve been told this is something I’m good at. So I sat down and tried to figure out what it is about my approach to plot twists that seems to be effective.

After some consideration, these are my top five tips for writing a killer plot twist:

Focus on your story and character, not your reader

I believe the primary goal of any plot twist should be to move your story and/or your character forward. This means I don’t think you should write a plot twist just to make things interesting or to keep readers on their toes. If you do it right, those things should be side effects of a plot twist, but they shouldn’t be the actual goal. Focus on rocking your character’s world–not your reader’s. If your character is believably rocked, your reader will be too.

In most cases, my plot twists feel incredibly obvious to me, because ultimately, they’re just a part of my character’s story. My goal¬†is to push my characters to grow. This often happens when she learns a vital piece of information that forces her to confront a truth she either never knew or was avoiding. When my character is faced with this information, so are my readers. The key to making the twist effective is to choose a moment to reveal the info that will propel both my story and character forward, and delaying that reveal until that info is absolutely essential.

Don’t render previous storylines irrelevant

This type of problem is only a risk if you ignore the first point in this post and think about your reader instead of your character. But I’ve seen this issue enough that it seems worth mentioning.

When you throw your characters a curveball, it’s important that your twist builds on the plotlines you’ve already established, without undercutting them. If you ask your readers to invest in a storyline, don’t create a twist that would render the investment useless. (While you shouldn’t write a twist¬†for your readers, you do want to consider them in the end.)

For example, let’s say you have a character who was raised to believe he would take over his family’s business, only before he can, the family loses the company. Maybe your character was heartbroken by this. He loved that company and he saw it as his future. Now he has no purpose in life. So, you spend the first two-thirds of the book helping your character overcome this heartbreak, find other things he’s good at, and learn to be open to the possibility of another career. Then (plot twist!) a lawyer recovers the company and your character gets to run it after all. He goes back to the company as originally planned.

The second this twist happens, it renders the character growth irrelevant. If we don’t get to see the pay off of him succeeding at his new life, you’re invalidating the entire storyline you took the time to build. That doesn’t serve your character or your story.

Create a new conflict

A good plot twist should send your characters in a new direction. Maybe it’s a different approach to an original goal. Maybe the problem is bigger than your characters thought. Or maybe it’s something completely different. Whatever the case may be, the twist should add a layer of tension struggle to your story in some way. Emotional struggle totally counts, especially if your character’s state of mind will impact the overall story arc.

Additionally, try to avoid creating an easy or cliched conflict. For example, I wouldn’t recommend using your plot twist to create a love triangle just so you can say it creates a conflict. Love triangles have been done A LOT. Unless you have a new take on this cliche, consider using your twist to create a different conflict within your main couple. That doesn’t happen nearly enough and if done right, it can be both interesting and refreshing. Apply this type of thinking to any overdone storyline.

Make sure your characters react appropriately

Don’t let yourself get so caught up in your plot twist that you a) lose sight of your character’s personalities and have them act out of character, or b) let some of your characters off the hook for the sake of preserving or setting up the twist.

For example, if you’ve got a character who’s good in a crisis, and your plot twist is a crisis, make sure that character steps up! Always check in with your characters and be sure they’re behaving in ways that make sense. This is true for every aspect of your book, but especially true when plot twists are involved.

Additionally, let’s say you’ve got a character who is known to ask questions. And your impulse is for this character to ask questions that would potentially expose a plot twist way too soon. If you silence that character, you’re doing the story and the character a disservice. Should you find yourself in this situation, reconsider if this character really needs to be involved in the twist. If there’s no way around it, you might want to think about modifying your plot twist or going in a different direction entirely.

It doesn’t always have to be massive or explosive

Keep in mind that every plot twist doesn’t have to be huge to have an impact. A small, well-placed personal revelation can push your character and send a ripple through your story. Don’t feel like you always have to go for an explosion. Sometimes, a spark gets the job done just fine.

I hope this helps you write an awesome plot twist!

Now it’s your turn: What do you like to see in a plot twist? 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‚Äôs 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!

Pin it up!