In the Pages of a Dream Journal


Where do you go when you fall asleep? Have you ever wanted to know more about your dream land?

We writers encounter plot bunnies in bizarre things while awake. We find something that catches our interest and store it away for later, usually forgetting it–there’s no way for us to write all of our ideas.

Most of the time we overlook adventures we have while sleeping. Anyone who remembers their dreams will be baffled by the odd things that happen. Are your actions things you secretly hope for, or mere dust as your mind clean itself?

photo-1489703197108-878f05f4b31bWhatever the case, dreams deserve attention: they’re unpredictable. Dreams are special adventures that reveal colors we never encounter while awake.

Most of the time I remember dreams, but only recently have I taken up the challenge of recording them. My dream journal is unique because they’re stories I came up with–me but not me, uncharted territory of my brain.

It can be hard to hold details of a dream while I scramble for my journal, so I don’t record them chronologically. This journal isn’t organized like a novel; events and details are tangled. What matters is having as much as possible on the page for reflection.

This will become a collection of journeys that will one day puzzle me. I wrote this–yet I didn’t–it’s me but is not me. These are people I know doing things they probably wouldn’t in real life.

Maybe some of these entries will become proper tales.

I’ve only been keeping this journal for a few days, but it’s already worth the effort. Should you decide to take up the challenge, keep your journal somewhere you can reach it upon waking.

Be patient if events slip through your fingers, because there are no rules in dream land. The point isn’t to write an award-winning story, but to know yourself and have fun.

It is therapeutic to keep a journal, digging into the corners of your own inner wonderland. Have you kept a dream journal? What has it taught you about yourself?

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4 Reasons Why You Should Write Steampunk


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Before I get into my reasons for why you should try writing a story set in a steampunk world, I should probably explain what steampunk is. Honestly, there is no set definition for steampunk, but it tends to be a story set in a world reminiscent of the past but with anachronistically advanced technology, attitudes, fashion, or all of the above. Think of the movie Wild Wild West or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Many of these stories are set in an alternate version of the late-eighteen hundreds, but some are in a neo-Victorian future or something completely different that still hints at steampunk’s Victorian origins. The genre is open and growing and waiting for more authors to explore it.

Still unsure? Well, here are a few why you should write a steampunk story:

  1. Half of your world-building is already done. Even if your world is mostly from your imagination with monsters, mechanical spaceships, or robot servants in Downton Abbey, you still have the scaffolding of real history. With a little research, you can establish chunks of your world-building, such as manners and customs, social hierarchies, fashion, architecture. It doesn’t matter if you set your story in England or India, historians during the Victorian era wrote volumes and took photographs! You have tons of inspiration right at your fingertips.
  2. You can rewrite history. Since steampunk is an alternate history, you can change a historical event and completely rewrite history from that point on. Have you ever wondered what would have happened if women got the vote while Jane Austen was alive? Or what if Napoleon had succeeded in conquering and uniting Europe? Steampunk is a genre that is all about manipulating history and exploring the what-ifs. Have fun with it. See what can happen with just a little change.
  3. You can utilize historical figures. Are there any historical figures that you find absolutely bad-ass, twisted, or just plain interesting? If you set your steampunk story during the same time period as your favorite historical figure, they can make a cameo or they can be one of your stars. Think of Hamilton. History with a twist. What if Tesla had even more advanced technology or what if he and Edison got into an escalating battle that threatened the world? You could even go as far back as Cleopatra’s time. Could she have defeated Caesar if she discovered some cutting edge technology in the Library of Alexandria? Do your research, explore your imagination.
  4. You can create wild, new devices or machines. Let your imagination run wild. If you have an interest in science or engineering, steampunk is the perfect place to crack your knuckles and get writing about whatever strange device has been bopping around your brain. Your new tech can destroy planets, cure diseases, or just chug, pop, and belch steam. Steampunk often relies on the mixing of old and new technology to change history, so think about what Cleopatra could do with a laser or if the Vikings could have conquered the world with flying ships powered by steam.

Steampunk is one of the most open genres in literature, and with boundless possibilities, it’s yours to explore and make your own. Write a short story, write a novel, draw a futuristic cityscape, or even a play. Give it a try.


karaKara Jorgensen is an author of fiction and professional student from New Jersey who will probably die slumped over a Victorian novel. An anachronistic oddball from birth, she has always had an obsession with the Victorian era, especially the 1890s. Midway through a dissection in a college anatomy class, Kara realized her true passion was writing and decided to marry her love of literature and science through science fiction or, more specifically, steampunk. She has an MFA in Creative and Professional Writing and hopes to one day live off her writing. You can find her first book here.

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5 Acceptable Ways to Procrastinate Editing


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Experienced writers know their work isn’t through after the first draft. The opposite is true: Your first draft is the beginning of a long, tedious cycle. Quality work comes from months of writing, editing, and rewriting.

Most of a writer’s stress emerges in the editing phase. If done without pause, editing can make you sick. I’ve spent hours staring at sentences, trying make them perfect. Sometimes this is a sign you’re done editing—Briana Morgan discusses this in her article, When to Stop Editing. In my case, I rarely feel my work is good enough. When I reach the obsessive phase, I know I have to stop.

Not only are breaks healthy for authors, they improve writing quality. Stepping away from the manuscript lets us spot errors more clearly.

If you’re worried about losing your storytelling spark during this break, never fear. Writers find inspiration in everything we do; here are five guilt-free ways to pass time spent away from your manuscript.

 

GO OUTSIDE.

Many writers forget to go breathe fresh air (I’m one of them.)

A manuscript is so demanding! It eats our time, and we lose track of days…months…seasons…

Go outside to read in the backyard, or photograph flowers as they bloom. Take a walk and pay attention to people on the streets. If you meet someone walking a cute dog, ask if you can pet the dog—fluffy animals always make things better!

Gather life experiences to write in your next story.

 

READ A LOT.

For a writer, reading is crucial. Each time we read a published work, we open the door for improvement in the craft. If you’re mentally worn out from edits, reading is perhaps the most beneficial way to keep busy.

We learn to write well by exposing ourselves to good writing. Reading shows us:

  • Character traits, and how to write realistic protagonists.
  • Punctuation and grammar. You may have gotten good grades at school, but it never hurts to brush up on this by seeing it used first-hand.
  • Description. Let an experienced author sweep you away with words; learn their secrets to improve your prose.
  • Story structure. Pay attention to a book’s story arc, and try to identify the midpoint and climax. Writers need to know this.

She’s Novel offers insight on this in her article, How to Read Critically and Become a Better Author.

 

UPDATE YOUR BLOG.

As someone devoted to writing and blogging, I struggle to manage both projects once in the heavy editing mindset.

  • It affects my blog. When I get caught up editing, I forget to plan posts ahead of time, resulting in weeks of no updates.
  • It affects my writing. In the back of my mind, I know pageviews are probably going down; I know I’m ignoring my blogging schedule, which creates a whirlwind of guilt and conflict.

This is your chance to make up for the time you spent neglecting your blog.

 

CLEAN YOUR WORKSPACE.

Of the five options, this doesn’t sound like the most exciting way to kill time. Trust me, it’s necessary.

During the weeks spent immersed in edits, I bet you didn’t empty your wastepaper basket. A pile of books has accumulated on your desk, your carpet may need vacuuming, and shoes have ended up all over the place.

It’s ridiculous how fast a workspace can get messy. You might ask yourself, “How did that coffee cup end up here?” Or, “Where did that layer of dust come from?”

Tidying up will make you feel better about returning to edits.

 

TAKE LOTS OF NAPS.

Catch up on rest you’ve neglected while working.

Many people don’t realize the effort edits require; it can be physically draining. Don’t feel ashamed to sleep for a while. Just because you’re not actively working on something, doesn’t mean you’re not making progress.

Your body and mind need recharging in order to do a good job.

 

It’s tempting to open that manuscript and make one more, tiny change. Trust me, you’ll make more progress after letting it go for a while.

Two weeks may seem like a long time to not get editing done, but don’t worry. You will finish, and the resting period will help you produce quality work. Remember, time flies—before you know it, you’ll be at the computer editing that manuscript…again.

You may even find yourself wishing for another break. How’s that for irony?

3 Ways to Heal Through Storytelling


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The storytelling process is often described as healing; it lets us explore situations on a deeper level. There’s nothing like uncovering heartbreak, letting wounds heal in fresh air; however, it takes courage to bare your soul in a way that’s often public and raw.

Even truths told in allegory can be difficult for the person saying them. Readers see an eloquent passage, but the storyteller knows what it means. Many are afraid to express themselves through writing, because it’s often too powerful.

Sometimes it isn’t done on purpose. After publishing Dissonance, I looked at scenes I’d written and marveled at how personal they felt. I’m not dealing with the same situation as Allie, but truth slipped through the cracks about my greatest struggle at the time I was writing it.

I would elaborate on this, but it would spoil Dissonance and I want you to read it! To keep it short, storytelling heals—it’s not just a cliché. If true, the words come from your soul; you never know what’ll come to the surface of your manuscript.

You might be nervous about writing for this reason alone, and it’s understandable. Here are three tips for people who want to use storytelling to heal. I hope you try, because the struggle is worth it.

 

KEEP A FICTION JOURNAL.

If you’re struggling with the past, someone might already have told you to write in a journal—so I’m going to take it a step further. Keep a journal where you write fiction. There is truth in fiction, though many scoff at it for being fake.

The fact is, you might find more truth in fiction than traditional diary entries. Fiction allows us to push boundaries, expressing truths the way our hearts see them. With fiction, we have no limitations at all.

 

BE PATIENT WITH YOURSELF.

Don’t force a story if you aren’t feeling it—that just adds to the stress. Unless you’re on a deadline, there’s no hurry to get the chapter polished. This story is meant to help you heal, and no one may ever read it but yourself. You’re doing it for you.

Besides, writing is rarely good when forced. Set small goals, and don’t beat yourself up if you can’t reach them. What matters is that you make the effort, because over time you’ll craft a story, and the effort will pay off!

 

AVOID SETTING LIMITATIONS.

In a first draft, you’re allowed to break the rules. Play with genres to find one that lets you express yourself best. It’s also fine to have fun and combine several. The point is to get your message on paper so you can see the big picture.

What we want is to understand ourselves; no one is the same, so our work can take any shape or size. Since you don’t have to publish this piece, allow it to be different—even if only you understand it!

 

The most powerful stories are based on real emotion. A lot of people think telling the truth means crossing a line that shouldn’t be touched; in reality, there might be readers experiencing struggles similar to yours. Over time, you might write the story they relate to best, helping them cope in a personal way.

Remember, though: This writing should exist to help you, the storyteller. Don’t rush it for the sake of fame. Your masterpiece will come when it’s ready; it’ll be worth the grueling, often painful process of putting words on paper.

Let’s fill the world with writings of truth; nothing is more original than the story you’re living now.

Why Write Realistic Heroes?


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Your hero has been chosen to carry out a risky, important task. Lives depend on their ability to get the job done. They will face countless obstacles enduring sleepless nights in the cold at the mercy of nature. There is a chance they will die carrying out this quest.

How do they react to all this?

Heroes shouldn’t embark on these quests feeling no apprehension for what’s at stake. It depends on the character’s personality, of course—a hero who’s been raised expecting this sort of thing will experience less fear than a peasant offered as a sacrifice to the dragon. Some characters can and should be fearless in the face of this challenge.

Sometimes, though, writers get so anxious to finish the book that we’re tempted to skip a crucial step in making our protagonist react realistically. This is a horrible mistake: heroes need to be relatable, and if they’re not, there should at least be good reasons for why they’re so fearless.

REACTING TO THE HERO’S JOURNEY

Many books feature a Chosen One, and he often knows from childhood the ordeal he’ll be put through as a hero.

A character who’s lived with this knowledge will probably make all his choices before that ordeal keeping in mind he may die early—he’ll avoid attachments or long-term commitment, he’ll train for this event all his life. He may come off as cold or unfeeling.

Not all characters will be like this. Like in all cases, it depends on their upbringing—on what kind of parents they had, if they were revered or mocked at school for being ‘condemned’ to this quest. The point is, a character who knows what he’s going to face will live acting like it.

Even if he dreads it and is in denial, that denial is sign that he knows he’s been chosen. There’s no escaping the emotional effects of an assignment with this magnitude.

Now look at the unfortunate peasant plucked off the streets and chosen to fight the dragon. If he manages to slay the beast, he may be promised riches and the princess’s hand—luxuries he never dreamed could be his.

But he hasn’t lived anticipating something like this. He’s going to be scared. He’s going to fight it, at least for a while. He’s going to question at some point whether the mission is worth it.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

What I’m getting at is this: The way a person is raised determines how they react to giant plot twists. The knight raised from childhood is more likely to be cocky and fearless than the peasant who’s been mocked all his life.

Too often, books do not notice the difference. Perhaps the peasant has had passing thoughts of a glorious quest to improve his life, but he hasn’t been living it; he probably hasn’t taken those thoughts seriously. They’ve always just been daydreams.

When facing this possibly fatal quest, he’s likelier to get cold feet than the knight raised from childhood.

Realistic humans don’t switch to hero mode in one night. Storytellers, make sure you explain why the peasant accepts this challenge so quickly, or why the hero doubts his mission.

Characters need to feel human.

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?

Heroes who don’t hesitate at logical moments can be annoying. There needs to be a reason for them to change directions. If our characters behave in ways that contradict their personalities, it may seem that we don’t truly know them.

Or worse yet, readers get the impression we think they’re too stupid to notice.

Stories are about people. If readers can’t sympathize with the people—or at least understand them—the story will fall flat. Few people in real life would jump with excitement if told they’d be sacrificed to a dragon.

Peasants do not become brave knights in the span of five pages. Few books would be able to pull it off; we don’t want to risk writing a story that won’t touch the heart!

REALISTIC HEROES

Of course, we shouldn’t cling to stereotypes! What I’m saying is to aim for realistic protagonists, people with reactions so strong and human that it hits readers right in the heart. We want readers to think, This is how I would react. I’m living through them.

If the peasant goes on this journey despite his fear, slays the dragon, and improves his situation, readers will know even they can get past any obstacle to reach a better place. If the brave knight does it, readers learn the value of bravery, of preparing oneself for the worst but believing they can win.

These five-page heroes need to stop. Stories are about people, and if they can’t resonate in a reader’s heart, they lack in the most important magic of all. We cannot settle for two-dimensional characters who will only mock human emotions.

Humanity—even when fearful, unstable, or wrong—is still precious. Make sure your characters behave according to human emotions, because your readers are human; there is no better way to write a story they won’t forget!

Are you a storyteller? Let us know how you ensure your characters act realistically!

3 Things Writers can Learn about Storytelling from Children


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HOW MUCH EFFORT DOES IT TAKE YOU TO TELL A STORY?

I don’t mean with regards to practice and skill—it’s important to produce quality writing when your storytelling medium is the written word. Readers can usually tell when we haven’t paid attention to quality, and few things are more irritating than starting to read a book and discovering it has sloppy writing.

What I mean is, could you tell a gripping story to someone in the elevator? If a person was blind and couldn’t read, would you still be a storyteller? How dependent are you on letters and perfect phrases to transport your audience somewhere else?

I hope to one day be able to tell stories in everyday speech with the ease and enthusiasm of a child—here’s why.

THE HEART OF STORY

Though books consist of words on pages, they’re so much more than that. A good book hinges more on truth than the words recounting it. I’m not downplaying the importance of talent, but there’s a difference between quality writing and complicated writing.

Take a moment to put the notebook away and think: What’s the heart of a story?

Consider a child with limited vocabulary who won’t stop talking. I’m sure you’ve met one who told a story so vivid the narrative blew you away. How could a six-year-old’s words impact you when they probably don’t make sense all the time?

The difference is a fearless passion we lose growing up. Children don’t worry about the order of their words; something has happened to excite them. They want to share the excitement—it’s so great that it can’t wait, and everyone needs to hear it!

This is the passion storytellers should aim for. We want our audience to experience tales and love characters as we do.

3 SECRETS

What qualities make a written story powerful, like one a child may tell?

Children don’t filter their stories. They don’t rearrange words to make them sound better, nor do they worry about offending. Because of this, it can be difficult to follow their stories, but the beauty is that they don’t care—they keep going.

How thoroughly do you ‘clean’ your words to keep others happy? When that clean-up is finished, is it the same story you started with? Be careful with overediting, for it can change everything.

Children don’t compare. They aren’t trying to sound better than anyone; they just want to be heard if something has caught their interest. They speak what’s in their heart and care little about how much better that other person tells it.

How much do you compare yourself to other writers, envying their talent or audience? Try telling your story simply to be heard; if you’re passionate, improvement will come naturally.

Children are unapologetic. A child tells his story the way he sees it, unfiltered and raw. It’s worth asking yourself if the worldview that matters most is that of a child; there may not be a clearer mirror in which to see yourself.

Have you changed your point of view to keep from hurting someone’s feelings? A story that walks on eggshells with readers risks becoming weak. Instead of worrying about the reader’s opinion, tell things as they are to you; that honesty might accidentally make you a bestseller.

HAVING COURAGE TO DREAM

Children allow room for imagination. They haven’t wandered into the trap of real life; they can see the world outside the box. Hearing a tale from them is a real gift, a flashback to that innocent world we’ve long outgrown. They remind us there is magic, and growing up is optional.

Are you afraid to daydream and apply that magic to real life? This is a tumultuous world where people crave escape; be the one to write a story that’ll help them return to their childhood dreams.

One sentence told with the passion of a child could touch a listener forever, because children are so real and human! It’s never too late to see the world in all its magic once more; you just have to be brave enough to see with the eyes of a child.

Writing Tip: Character Complexity


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No choice is ever simple.

Decisions are complex, though they might seem impulsive at the time. We’re influenced by the world around us; the hows and whys of our behavior are shaped by things that seem pointless.

Characters are people; they behave realistically when written with care. Details revealed to readers should have solid backstories; most writers spin their characters hoping to make them believable.

Done this way, projects take longer to finish—but backstory’s worth the wait. It takes time to work out what drives our hero; no choice is random, habits don’t surface out of the blue.

Powerful stories follow realistic characters.

Take history as an example: Choices that shaped the world were influenced by places, flaws, disasters we don’t learn of at first. Each of these details led to the choice, even those not revealed by tour guides.

Like tour guides, we don’t have time to tell the whole story; however, knowing it gives us stability in the writing process. Readers notice when we don’t know a character well enough.

How should we work out our backstory? Since characters are people, we approach them accordingly. Many writers fill in personality sheets or take the Myers-Briggs test for their characters.

All these techniques help us get to know our characters.

A good protagonist should have hopes, fears, and motives. In real life, people are far more than outward appearance; similarly, characters should be more than words on a page. They need depth.

It means we have to fill in blanks, taking up a necessary challenge. Too much is at stake if we put it off; it could make our story shallow, incapable of stirring emotions.

Do you know why your villain causes trouble? Did your hero hesitate before going on the adventure—if not, why? What qualities help your couple get along, what could set them off fighting?

If you can’t answer these questions, take a closer look.

It’s important to know your villain’s motives and what makes your hero fearless before the unknown. In a realistic love story, there should be a balance of things in common and topics to cause friction.

If you don’t know what these things are, sit and have a chat with the characters. Do not skip this process.

When the blanks are not filled, readers notice. We like our heroes to be relatable, or they become annoying fast.

Don’t risk making your novel shallow!

If your characters need fleshing out, there are plenty of articles on the Internet to help. My favorite is Rachel Giesel’s How to Write a Character-Driven Plot in 5 Steps. The tips elaborate on why this is so important.

She’s Novel wrote about using the Myers-Briggs test on characters! My Favorite Method for Building Characters’ Personalities is a must-read.

Finally, author Briana Morgan wrote a guest post for Musehollow, Creating Compelling Characters. Check out this article on her own blog, 11 Steps to Crafting Characters.

Your hero could be vibrant enough to rise above ink and paper.

It takes research and patience, but strong characters make a great story. If you’ve found your own way to overcome this challenge, please comment and share it with us!

Finding My Audience


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Find your audience.

As a new author, I hear that advice all the time. The instructions given bother me. I don’t like the idea of my audience being prey to track via statistics, I don’t want to lose sight of my readers as people.

Even before I published Dissonance, I never wanted my readers to be numbers…I wanted to befriend them.

Though I’ve yet to unearth the secret of finding a huge audience, I feel better when I ignore the advice given. It’s more rewarding to establish relationships than posting ads with prices, insisting the book be read.

That tactic is necessary sometimes, but… I’ve wanted to be a storyteller all my life, and there was a vision I always had. I want to be friends with my readers. I even want to be friends with people who don’t adore my book!

The storyteller-audience relationship is not a buy-sell relationship. What called me to writing was feeling someone could trust me enough to hear my tale. I don’t want to flash numbers at people; I want to breathe words that’ll help them visit another world.

I haven’t been published long, but I’ve learned it’s far better to be a voice people trust than a voice trying to sell a story.

I’ve found some things do help. They all involve time and interaction.

First, find stories similar to yours. Read books you like to read, and you’ll meet people who like them too. It’s important to have things in common! Stay up-to-date in genres like yours, discuss these books with like-minded people. You’re more likely to interest people in your book if they feel you have similar tastes.

Second, it’s important to let readers know feedback helps. My audience is small and I love being able to tell them “in person” that, even if there were things they didn’t like about the book, I appreciate their taking the time to read. No honest writer can deny that praise lifts the spirit. It takes so much effort to write 200 pages; kind words help wash away hours of self-doubt.

Third, be someone else’s audience. Focusing on your own work for too long will isolate you. Build communities with other authors and encourage them, connect with people who share your goals. It’s hard to be a writer, and a blessing when others help you to your feet.

Storytelling as I see it is like a campfire with readers gathered to listen. It’s not a solitary activity, but a community of dreamers. This community takes effort to build, and you won’t make progress that way by leaving a link on Facebook hoping people will buy.

Readers want to know you. As a reader myself, I speak from experience.

My audience is small and I adore it. If it grows, I hope to continue finding ways to let readers know they matter. I am where I am because of these people who’ve taken the time to read my 200 pages.

Be a person, not a billboard. That’s how you build a loyal audience; that’s how you create relationships. It makes me feel more like a storyteller, the person I’ve wanted to be all my life.

Guest Post: Creating Compelling Characters


My dear friend Briana Morgan has guest posted on my blog before, and it is an honor to feature her again with a fantastic post on creating compelling characters. If you would like to read her other guest post, click here!

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Thank you, Mariella, for letting me guest post on your blog! Today, I’m thrilled to talk about character creation and my personal process for creating realistic, memorable people to populate your fiction.

If any of you follow my blog, you may have seen some of my posts on character creation, including How to Get to Know Your Characters, How to Develop Stronger Characters, and 11 Steps to Crafting Characters. Although I still use the techniques discussed in these posts, I learn a lot more about character creation with each novel I write. I can’t believe how much I’ve learned even since writing Blood and Water—which I only released two months ago!

If you, like me, are constantly looking for tips to improve your characters, you’re in luck—I’ve put together a list of points worth considering the next time you’re trying to come up with compelling characters. Give them a try and maybe you’ll find one that works well for you.

  • Write about your character in mundane, everyday scenarios. Though your story may not involve your character taking a trip to the grocery store, it might be useful to imagine them in such a commonplace setting.
  • Take some personality inventories as your character. If you don’t think these tests are accurate, feel free to ignore this step. But while writing Blood and Water, I determined everyone’s Myers-Briggs type, and I thought it was pretty accurate. It also helped me discover how they might respond to certain situations that take place in the novel.
  • Pull from reality. When you can’t seem to come up with any exciting quirks, take bits and pieces from people you know. For example, combine your uncle’s affinity for playing the Theremin with your grandpa’s passion for coin collecting. Nothing is off limits!
  • Use yourself. If you feel weird writing characters based on other people, you can always use yourself. Without conscious effort, a lot of my characters end up sharing some of my traits, anyway. Just be careful not to make them too much like you!
  • Try journaling. In one of my most popular posts on character creation, I mentioned that journaling helps me get inside my characters’ heads. If you don’t know how your character would react at a critical part of the story, try asking them! Talk to them directly. You never know what all they might have to say.

These techniques aren’t everything when it comes to creating compelling characters, but they should help you get started. No matter what method you decide to try, remember one thing—people love reading about other people, warts and all. To make your characters more realistic, make sure they act like real people. They should have hopes, dreams, fears, goals, flaws, and deep, dark secrets. As long as you keep those dimensions in mind, you should have no problem creating compelling characters for your stories!

What techniques do you use to create compelling characters?


 

11811491_10152854599546841_8052592134780564109_n (1)Briana Morgan is YA and NA writer, editor, and blogger who loves dark, suspenseful reads, angst-ridden relationships, and complicated characters. Her interest in Jay Gatsby scares her friends and family. You can find her in way too many places online, eating too much popcorn, reading in the corner, or crying about long-dead literary heroes. Visit her website at www.brianamaemorgan.com.

Her debut novel Blood and Water is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Guest Post: Should You Write to the Trends?


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Visit today’s fantastic guest at her blog, StoryPort!

If you ask writers, “Should you write to the trends?” you’ll receive vastly different responses, each delivered with passionate conviction. With such a variety of opinions, which should you listen to? What’s right for your novel?

There are a lot of pros and cons to writing to the trends. Both sides have their merits. I will do my best to represent both perspectives before sharing my own.

Let’s clear things up…

First of all, what is a trend? In the world of publishing, a trend can take many forms. It can be a recurring theme or genre (e.g. zombies, alien invasions, paranormal romance), a common plot element (love triangles, rebellion against oppressive societies), or more broadly and less distinctly, a culturally-shared attitude or mindset (such as the recent swing toward seeing “smart” as “cool”, when the exact opposite was true a decade or two ago).

Writing to the trends can take any or all of these forms. You may write a novel in a popular genre, and/or use recurring plot elements, and/or cater your story to the current attitudes of society.

The pros

On the surface, the appeal for writing to the trends is obvious: (1) It increases your chances of getting published. (2) It increases your chances of becoming a bestseller.

Let’s look at each of those points in a little more detail.

Publishers are highly aware of trends. When a subject is hot, they’ll be on high alert for relevant manuscripts. They want to publish what sells. That should be obvious; publishing is a business, after all. And a shrewd writer will keep this in mind:

You can only become a published (much less bestselling) author if you write what people want to read.

Just think about that for a minute.

If your book comes out in the midst of a trend, it’ll be more readily received. For example, fairytale retellings seem to be popular right now (e.g. The Lunar Chronicles, The Wrath and the Dawn). If a new fairytale retelling were published today, fans of The Lunar Chronicles or The Wrath and the Dawn would be eager to read it, because they already have an appetite for that kind of fiction. They’re in the mood. Most likely, they’ll be hungry for more… for now.

The cons

If I were to leave this post as it is, it would sound like a glittering, concrete argument for writing to the trends.

Throw the confetti! Throw the popcorn! Let’s go get published and grow RICH!

Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple.

First of all, predicting what publishers are looking for is not always as easy as it sounds. If you judge the trends based on what’s currently in the bookstores, you may already be too late. The process from acceptance of your manuscript to placement in the bookstores is not instantaneous – much less the process from ideation to first draft to seventh draft to agent querying to publisher submissions to (hopeful) acceptance of your manuscript!

In other words, if you identify a trend while it’s hot, write a book to fit it, polish it until your fingers bleed, then submit the manuscript to publishers… the trend may already be over, from the publishers’ perspective. And then you will have wasted potentially years of your life and no small share of blood, sweat, and tears.

To catch a trend, you have to catch it quick. You have to identify it at the beginning of its cycle, or have the keenness of mind to predict a trend before it fully forms. (That, or you have to be a really, really fast writer!)

Now, let’s get into the real problems with trendy literature.

What’s popular comes and goes. Maybe people like stories about four-footed cannibals right now, (they don’t; I made that up, if it wasn’t obvious), but in a few years, four-footed cannibal stories will become cliché and quickly forgotten as one of “those” books. The trend will only be hot for so long before it goes out of style and loses its appeal.

The YA dystopian genre is currently in this stage. Sparked by The Hunger Games series, (and yes that was a pun, thank you for clapping), the recent explosion of society-fighting teenagers (typically female, 16-17 years old, with one or two male love interests) was kept alive for as long as The Hunger Games movies were being released in theatres. But, the trend has been slowly, gradually dying. And now that Mockingjay Part 2 has hit the theatres, finally wrapping up the series, let me just give you a free tip:

Dystopians are dead.

The trend is over. It’s as cold as President Snow’s heart. Please, don’t write any more dystopians. Unless your story is completely and thoroughly separate from the now-spent genre (in other words, no 16-year-old female heroines, no – ahem – love triangles), then you will probably be wasting your time.

It’s not like I can stop you from sticking out your tongue at me and writing a dystopian anyway. But you can’t say I didn’t warn you.

This brings me to my next point. Trends – especially genre trends and recurring plot-elements – can become confining, even formulaic. The result may be a manuscript that feels cliché, hackneyed, and negatively familiar, not to mention the limits it places on your creativity and imagination.

“But, Brianna,” you may be arguing, “what about what you said earlier? ‘You can only become a published (much less bestselling) author if you write what people want to read. I don’t want to write something nobody likes! I want to write a story that masses of people will deeply connect with and enjoy. How do I do that, if you’re telling me to ignore the trends?”

What if I told you there’s a third option? What if I told you it doesn’t have to be black and white, yes or no, do follow trends or don’t?

And here’s where we launch into my perspective on the matter.

The third option

I said earlier you need to write “what people want to read.” But how do you know what people want to read?

Trends usually begin with a starter series: something that becomes wildly popular, something that works, something that publishers scramble to replicate. (E.g., The Twilight Saga for paranormal romance, or The Hunger Games for dystopians.)

But how do you predict that first spark? How do you predict which book will start a new trend?

The answer: You don’t.

There’s no way of knowing when a new book will become popular. There are countless stories of obscure authors who simply wrote the story on their heart, not expecting anyone to read them, but to their surprise the novel deeply resonated with audiences and became a huge success. (Lisa Genova with Still Alice and Andy Weir with The Martian are just two examples of this. Google it – you’ll be amazed at the authors’ stories you’ll find!)

Why does this happen? For two reasons: (1) Stories that are written out of a place of passion will always be better, because the authors are motivated to work hard and pour their heart into their work. (2) Stories that are written outside of the constraints of trends and publishers’ wants will often be more original, fresh, and genuine.

I think you can see where I’m going with this. “Write what you want. Follow your passion. Etc., etc.” And yes, that is the ultimate point of this blog post.

But what if your passion is currently a trend? What if you thoroughly love zombie survival stories, and that’s all publishers are raving about?

Well then, go write a zombie survival story, for goodness’ sake!

My point is, write what you love. If what you love is trending, then your passion will undoubtedly shine through your work, and you may write something that rises above your genre – something that won’t be forgotten once the trend has frozen over. If what you love isn’t trending, write it anyway. Who knows… you might start a new trend. Or you might not. Either way, you will have been honest to yourself, to your story, and to your readers. And isn’t that what matters most?

All that being said, it doesn’t hurt to be aware of the current tastes, trends, and attitudes of society. Don’t feel obligated to pander to them, but you may find that with slight adjustments, you can make your story more relevant, and thus more sellable. Only do this, of course, if it makes sense for you and your novel. It may not be necessary at all.

At the end of the day… it’s your novel, and nobody else’s. No matter what you write – whether it follows a widespread trend, fits an established niche, or starts something totally new – you have a far better chance of writing something great if it’s something you enjoy.

For further reading:

“Understanding cultural trends can help you write a bestseller” by Robert Wood: https://www.standoutbooks.com/cultural-trends-writing-bestseller/

“Fool’s Gold: Why You Should Ignore Trends and Write What You Want” by Dario Ciriello: http://blog.janicehardy.com/2015/08/fools-gold-why-you-should-ignore-trends.html