Thursday, February 16, 2017

Author interviews are a consistent staple of book blogging and writer blogs. But sometimes the questions posed are a little generic, not inviting deeper engagement, or not showcasing well what is most interesting about this author or the book s/he is trying to promote.

With that in mind, I've put together a list of some great interview questions I've been asked by book bloggers or created for guests here--with a bunch of additional new questions sure to get thoughtful and thought-provoking responses.


  1. Tell us a little about your story and the story world you've created.
  2. What are some comparison titles of books or movies similar to this book?
  3. What books, films, and TV shows most inform the aesthetic of this book?
  4. Tell us a little about how this story first came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma or something else?
  5. What special knowledge or research was required to write this book?
  6. What research methods have been most fruitful for you?
  7. How did you go about developing the setting(s) for this story?
  8. What's the strangest thing you had to do to create this story?
  9. Who are your main characters? Tell as a little about what makes them tick.
  10. If a film were made of your book, who would you cast in the leading roles?
  11. What is something about your hero/ine that only you know?
  12. Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
  13. Are any of your characters based on real people you know? 
  14. Which scene or chapter in the book is your favorite? Why?
  15. Which scene was most difficult to write? Why?
  16. Which scene, character or plotline changed the most from first draft to published book?
  17. What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
  18. Are there particular themes or motifs wrestle with or address in your story(ies)?
  19. How does your faith life/ethical outlook inform your writing?
  20. Were there scenes you ended up cutting you wish you could've kept? Describe them and the decision-making process.
  21. Who are your favorite authors and why?
  22. What book from your childhood has shaped you most as a writer?
  23. If you could choose a book character to be for a day, who would it be and why?
  24. What led you to start writing? 
  25. What life experiences have shaped your writing most?
  26. Were you a young writer, a late bloomer, or something in between? What advice would you give to others who took up writing at a similar life phase?
  27. What aspect of writing have you most improved in over time? What resources helped you most in this area?
  28. What is your writing process like? 
  29. What other projects are in the works?
  30. Have you ever rescuitated a project you'd shelved? What helped it work better the second time around?
  31. What special support people (critiqe partners, writing group, beta readers, editor, agent, author's assistant) do you rely on? How do they help you?
  32. How do you balance the demands of writing with other responsibilities? 
  33. What attracted you to the genre(s) you write in? 
  34. What are some must-read titles in your genre?
  35. What are some trends in your genre that excite you?
  36. What are some elements that are becoming cliche in your genre?
  37. What special challenges did you face making your story stand out from others in the genre?
  38. If you were to genre-hop, which genres would you most like to try writing?
  39. What aspects of your creative process do you enjoy most? Which are most challenging?
  40. Do you prefer writing in silence or to music?
  41. Does this story have a soundtrack? A playlist that inspired you while writing it?
  42. What technologies do you rely on most when writing?
  43. What writing resources have been most helpful to you?
  44. What warm ups do you use to get your writing flowing?
  45. Do you believe in the concept of a muse? What is yours like?
  46. What is the best investment you ever made in your writing?
  47. What's the worst writing/publishing advice anyone ever gave you?
  48. What do you know now that you wish you'd known at the beginning of your writing/publishing journey?
  49. What would you advise young writers trying to build a publishing history or an author platform?
  50. What marketing strategies have borne the most fruit for you? 

Any other questions to add?
Thursday, February 16, 2017 Laurel Garver
Author interviews are a consistent staple of book blogging and writer blogs. But sometimes the questions posed are a little generic, not inviting deeper engagement, or not showcasing well what is most interesting about this author or the book s/he is trying to promote.

With that in mind, I've put together a list of some great interview questions I've been asked by book bloggers or created for guests here--with a bunch of additional new questions sure to get thoughtful and thought-provoking responses.


  1. Tell us a little about your story and the story world you've created.
  2. What are some comparison titles of books or movies similar to this book?
  3. What books, films, and TV shows most inform the aesthetic of this book?
  4. Tell us a little about how this story first came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma or something else?
  5. What special knowledge or research was required to write this book?
  6. What research methods have been most fruitful for you?
  7. How did you go about developing the setting(s) for this story?
  8. What's the strangest thing you had to do to create this story?
  9. Who are your main characters? Tell as a little about what makes them tick.
  10. If a film were made of your book, who would you cast in the leading roles?
  11. What is something about your hero/ine that only you know?
  12. Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
  13. Are any of your characters based on real people you know? 
  14. Which scene or chapter in the book is your favorite? Why?
  15. Which scene was most difficult to write? Why?
  16. Which scene, character or plotline changed the most from first draft to published book?
  17. What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
  18. Are there particular themes or motifs wrestle with or address in your story(ies)?
  19. How does your faith life/ethical outlook inform your writing?
  20. Were there scenes you ended up cutting you wish you could've kept? Describe them and the decision-making process.
  21. Who are your favorite authors and why?
  22. What book from your childhood has shaped you most as a writer?
  23. If you could choose a book character to be for a day, who would it be and why?
  24. What led you to start writing? 
  25. What life experiences have shaped your writing most?
  26. Were you a young writer, a late bloomer, or something in between? What advice would you give to others who took up writing at a similar life phase?
  27. What aspect of writing have you most improved in over time? What resources helped you most in this area?
  28. What is your writing process like? 
  29. What other projects are in the works?
  30. Have you ever rescuitated a project you'd shelved? What helped it work better the second time around?
  31. What special support people (critiqe partners, writing group, beta readers, editor, agent, author's assistant) do you rely on? How do they help you?
  32. How do you balance the demands of writing with other responsibilities? 
  33. What attracted you to the genre(s) you write in? 
  34. What are some must-read titles in your genre?
  35. What are some trends in your genre that excite you?
  36. What are some elements that are becoming cliche in your genre?
  37. What special challenges did you face making your story stand out from others in the genre?
  38. If you were to genre-hop, which genres would you most like to try writing?
  39. What aspects of your creative process do you enjoy most? Which are most challenging?
  40. Do you prefer writing in silence or to music?
  41. Does this story have a soundtrack? A playlist that inspired you while writing it?
  42. What technologies do you rely on most when writing?
  43. What writing resources have been most helpful to you?
  44. What warm ups do you use to get your writing flowing?
  45. Do you believe in the concept of a muse? What is yours like?
  46. What is the best investment you ever made in your writing?
  47. What's the worst writing/publishing advice anyone ever gave you?
  48. What do you know now that you wish you'd known at the beginning of your writing/publishing journey?
  49. What would you advise young writers trying to build a publishing history or an author platform?
  50. What marketing strategies have borne the most fruit for you? 

Any other questions to add?

Thursday, February 09, 2017

by guest author Jenelle Leanne Schmidt

image by Earl35 for morguefile
Let’s face it, one of the best things about reading fantasy fiction is the big, epic battle sequences we get to participate in from the safety of our own homes and imaginations. Unfortunately, these can often also be one of the most difficult aspects of the story to write.

The first time I set out to write a fantasy novel, I was 19 years old. I sailed through the story and came at long last to the final, climactic battle, the crux of the plot I had been building to for over 300 pages. The stage was set, the stakes were high, and ... I had no idea how to go about actually putting this enormous and important ending into the story. It wasn’t something I had covered in any creative writing class I’d ever taken, nor would it ever be included in the curriculum of any writing class I participated in. A friend of mine told me, “Go re-read the chapter on the Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers! Tolkien does a fantastic job with this.” So I did. It seemed like helpful advice at the time. And it was a good starting point... unfortunately, the chapter Helm’s Deep is fairly short, and the descriptions of the battle only encompass a handful of paragraphs, interspersed with information on what Aragorn is doing or dialogue between various characters. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for with regards to a formula for writing a compelling and epic battle sequence.

I read battle scenes in other fantasy novels and sort of fumbled my way along. I would later do a lot of editing and rewriting on that particular portion of the book. Several novels later, I was still wrestling with this question: just how does one go about writing a compelling fight scene?

One day, many years later, I was writing a new story with a scene that involved a sword-battle on a ship. My first inclination was to go through it step-by-step. My main character slashed, took a few steps, parried a blow, ducked under his opponent’s swinging sword, which connected with the main mast and got stuck, giving my MC a chance to whirl out of the way and thrust his own sword at his opponent... I stopped. There was plenty of action, but I was bored writing it, how could I expect a reader to enjoy the experience?

I tried acting it out. My husband helped me with the sequence of events. I talked to friends who had taken fencing classes and were in martial arts. I did research. My grasp of the movements was sound, but translating it onto paper turned it into a choppy mess. It sounded like I was writing choreography for a play, not an intense or exciting battle scene. My husband then suggested a different course. Instead of writing a series of movements and recording all the ducks and blows and parries that an actor has to think through when making a movie like Pirates of the Caribbean, I should try to think through what the battle actually looks like to someone in the midst of it. It is chaos. It is loud. Any participant is rarely going to get the luxury of dueling a single opponent at a time. I scrapped the scene and re-wrote it, this time focusing on the feel of the battle, rather than the actual steps. I detailed the overwhelming clash of sounds and colors, the swirling confusion of trying to determine friend versus foe as the MC made his way through the fray while struggling to survive.

And this time, it worked. For me, the answer came not from telling my readers every step of the choreography, but rather from giving them a sense of what it was like to be there next to the character. In other words, writing a compelling fight sequence meant not writing much about the fighting itself! This might seem a bit counter-intuitive, but it goes back to the age-old “show, don’t tell!” rule. Though sometimes overused, because narrative is still an important aspect of most stories, this is one of those times where it is a good rule. This is one of those wondrous places where the reader’s vast imagination is the author’s best friend. A few tantalizing glimpses and a fantastic use of descriptive adjectives in which to immerse the reader’s senses will go a lot further in developing a gloriously epic battle scene in your reader’s mind than ten pages of “character A swung his sword, while character B raised up his dagger, catching the blade just before it passed through his defenses, then character A spun 360 degrees and....” wouldn’t you agree? I guess Tolkien had it right all along.

About the Author


Jenelle Leanne Schmidt grew up the oldest of four children. Every night before bedtime her father read to her and her siblings, and it was during these times that her love for adventure and fantasy were forged. While she adored the stories of the Lord of the Rings, the Chronicles of Prydain, the Wheel of Time, and the Chronicles of Narnia; it wasn't long before her imagination led her to the creation of a world and story all her own.

Connect with Jenelle: Blog / Facebook / Twitter

About the book


King’s Warrior
Book 1 of The Minstrel's Song

When Dark Warriors invade her country, it is up to Princess Kamarie to seek out the legendary king’s warrior and request his aid. The feisty princess has spent her life dreaming of adventure and is thrilled to be tasked with such a quest. There’s only one thing that can dampen the princess’s excitement: Oraeyn. The squire views his task of protecting the princess on her journey as an inglorious assignment and makes no attempt to hide his disappointment.

Despite a rocky start to their journey – in which Oraeyn throws the obnoxious princess in a river just to get her to call him by name – the travelers soon learn that they must depend upon one another if they are to locate the man they have been sent to find.

The adventure merely begins when they meet Brant: a warrior with a mysterious past. He joins their cause readily, his heart smoldering with a vendetta Kamarie cannot completely understand. But whether she trusts him or not, the hope of their world rests on the steel he wears at his side….

Available at Amazon

Which authors do you emulate when writing battles? How might Jenelle's impressionist technique improve your fight scenes? 
Thursday, February 09, 2017 Laurel Garver
by guest author Jenelle Leanne Schmidt

image by Earl35 for morguefile
Let’s face it, one of the best things about reading fantasy fiction is the big, epic battle sequences we get to participate in from the safety of our own homes and imaginations. Unfortunately, these can often also be one of the most difficult aspects of the story to write.

The first time I set out to write a fantasy novel, I was 19 years old. I sailed through the story and came at long last to the final, climactic battle, the crux of the plot I had been building to for over 300 pages. The stage was set, the stakes were high, and ... I had no idea how to go about actually putting this enormous and important ending into the story. It wasn’t something I had covered in any creative writing class I’d ever taken, nor would it ever be included in the curriculum of any writing class I participated in. A friend of mine told me, “Go re-read the chapter on the Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers! Tolkien does a fantastic job with this.” So I did. It seemed like helpful advice at the time. And it was a good starting point... unfortunately, the chapter Helm’s Deep is fairly short, and the descriptions of the battle only encompass a handful of paragraphs, interspersed with information on what Aragorn is doing or dialogue between various characters. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for with regards to a formula for writing a compelling and epic battle sequence.

I read battle scenes in other fantasy novels and sort of fumbled my way along. I would later do a lot of editing and rewriting on that particular portion of the book. Several novels later, I was still wrestling with this question: just how does one go about writing a compelling fight scene?

One day, many years later, I was writing a new story with a scene that involved a sword-battle on a ship. My first inclination was to go through it step-by-step. My main character slashed, took a few steps, parried a blow, ducked under his opponent’s swinging sword, which connected with the main mast and got stuck, giving my MC a chance to whirl out of the way and thrust his own sword at his opponent... I stopped. There was plenty of action, but I was bored writing it, how could I expect a reader to enjoy the experience?

I tried acting it out. My husband helped me with the sequence of events. I talked to friends who had taken fencing classes and were in martial arts. I did research. My grasp of the movements was sound, but translating it onto paper turned it into a choppy mess. It sounded like I was writing choreography for a play, not an intense or exciting battle scene. My husband then suggested a different course. Instead of writing a series of movements and recording all the ducks and blows and parries that an actor has to think through when making a movie like Pirates of the Caribbean, I should try to think through what the battle actually looks like to someone in the midst of it. It is chaos. It is loud. Any participant is rarely going to get the luxury of dueling a single opponent at a time. I scrapped the scene and re-wrote it, this time focusing on the feel of the battle, rather than the actual steps. I detailed the overwhelming clash of sounds and colors, the swirling confusion of trying to determine friend versus foe as the MC made his way through the fray while struggling to survive.

And this time, it worked. For me, the answer came not from telling my readers every step of the choreography, but rather from giving them a sense of what it was like to be there next to the character. In other words, writing a compelling fight sequence meant not writing much about the fighting itself! This might seem a bit counter-intuitive, but it goes back to the age-old “show, don’t tell!” rule. Though sometimes overused, because narrative is still an important aspect of most stories, this is one of those times where it is a good rule. This is one of those wondrous places where the reader’s vast imagination is the author’s best friend. A few tantalizing glimpses and a fantastic use of descriptive adjectives in which to immerse the reader’s senses will go a lot further in developing a gloriously epic battle scene in your reader’s mind than ten pages of “character A swung his sword, while character B raised up his dagger, catching the blade just before it passed through his defenses, then character A spun 360 degrees and....” wouldn’t you agree? I guess Tolkien had it right all along.

About the Author


Jenelle Leanne Schmidt grew up the oldest of four children. Every night before bedtime her father read to her and her siblings, and it was during these times that her love for adventure and fantasy were forged. While she adored the stories of the Lord of the Rings, the Chronicles of Prydain, the Wheel of Time, and the Chronicles of Narnia; it wasn't long before her imagination led her to the creation of a world and story all her own.

Connect with Jenelle: Blog / Facebook / Twitter

About the book


King’s Warrior
Book 1 of The Minstrel's Song

When Dark Warriors invade her country, it is up to Princess Kamarie to seek out the legendary king’s warrior and request his aid. The feisty princess has spent her life dreaming of adventure and is thrilled to be tasked with such a quest. There’s only one thing that can dampen the princess’s excitement: Oraeyn. The squire views his task of protecting the princess on her journey as an inglorious assignment and makes no attempt to hide his disappointment.

Despite a rocky start to their journey – in which Oraeyn throws the obnoxious princess in a river just to get her to call him by name – the travelers soon learn that they must depend upon one another if they are to locate the man they have been sent to find.

The adventure merely begins when they meet Brant: a warrior with a mysterious past. He joins their cause readily, his heart smoldering with a vendetta Kamarie cannot completely understand. But whether she trusts him or not, the hope of their world rests on the steel he wears at his side….

Available at Amazon

Which authors do you emulate when writing battles? How might Jenelle's impressionist technique improve your fight scenes? 

Thursday, February 02, 2017

End scenes with uncertainty more often than resolution
You've heard it over and over--readers, agents and editors love "page turners." So you work hard creating characters that readers will invest in and worry about, engage them in inner and outer conflicts, and lead them through obstacles and opposition. You have the groundwork laid. Now what?

Look at how you exit scenes and chapters. If your scene and chapter endings consistently come to a resolution, you aren't getting the maximum tension potential. First look for ways to introduce the unexpected (setbacks, positive or negative reversals), anticipation (goals, foreshadowing) or uncertainty at scene endings.

Then, consider using the film maker's friend, the jump cut. Interrupt the tense moment. Cut the scene in the middle, at a point where the outcome is unclear. In the next scene, come back post interruption, pick up again later in the time line, or summarize what happened. With chapter breaks, you simply begin the next chapter where you left off.

Splitting scenes over chapter breaks is by far the easiest technique. You'll need to add some scene grounding in the new chapter, but otherwise you likely won't need to do much more to build in suspense.

Keep in mind that any technique, if overdone, will feel gimmicky to the reader. Be sure that you don't split scenes at the end of every single chapter. For variety, use the suspenseful scene-end technique instead, for, say, at least 1/4 of your chapters.

How might better exits from scenes and chapters improve the page-turning tension in your work? What favorite books or authors demonstrate the technique best for you?

image credit: alexfrance for morguefile.com
Thursday, February 02, 2017 Laurel Garver
End scenes with uncertainty more often than resolution
You've heard it over and over--readers, agents and editors love "page turners." So you work hard creating characters that readers will invest in and worry about, engage them in inner and outer conflicts, and lead them through obstacles and opposition. You have the groundwork laid. Now what?

Look at how you exit scenes and chapters. If your scene and chapter endings consistently come to a resolution, you aren't getting the maximum tension potential. First look for ways to introduce the unexpected (setbacks, positive or negative reversals), anticipation (goals, foreshadowing) or uncertainty at scene endings.

Then, consider using the film maker's friend, the jump cut. Interrupt the tense moment. Cut the scene in the middle, at a point where the outcome is unclear. In the next scene, come back post interruption, pick up again later in the time line, or summarize what happened. With chapter breaks, you simply begin the next chapter where you left off.

Splitting scenes over chapter breaks is by far the easiest technique. You'll need to add some scene grounding in the new chapter, but otherwise you likely won't need to do much more to build in suspense.

Keep in mind that any technique, if overdone, will feel gimmicky to the reader. Be sure that you don't split scenes at the end of every single chapter. For variety, use the suspenseful scene-end technique instead, for, say, at least 1/4 of your chapters.

How might better exits from scenes and chapters improve the page-turning tension in your work? What favorite books or authors demonstrate the technique best for you?

image credit: alexfrance for morguefile.com

Friday, January 27, 2017

For the uninitiated, a beta reader is to an author what a beta tester is to an inventor or a manufacturer's research and development division--someone who takes your product for a trial run, then reports about its strengths and weaknesses. It's a necessary step after you've completed a novel, and then fixed as much as you can; other eyes can pinpoint remaining weaknesses and shore up your sagging confidence about the manuscript's strengths.

The reason many authors end up disappointed, misled, or even crushed by critiques they receive is they fail to give beta readers clear instructions about what they actually need to know. And without a clear sense of what you need to know, readers will often go to one of two extremes: cheerleading or nitpicking, that is, giving only positive or only negative feedback.

Well, writer friends, the truth is you need BOTH. If others tell you everything is perfect, you'll stop listening to your own intuition and ignore niggling issues you haven't yet figured out how to fix. If others tell you they see problems, problems, problems, you'll end up in a slash and burn mentality when revising and destroy the best parts of your story.

The solution is actually quite simple: Always give your beta readers clear guidance about what kinds of feedback you want. And conversely, if someone asks you beta read, don't be shy about asking them to provide some guidelines.

Clearly, what constitutes "constructive criticism" can depend very much on individual temperament, past history, and self concept. You alone know what sorts of feedback will energize or crush you. For example, I appreciate readers who find my typos and missing words, while others will unnecessarily beat themselves up for very simple, easy to fix errors. (You spend years editing people with PhDs, and you realize even frighteningly smart people at the world's top universities have typos and dangling modifiers. Nothing to freak out about; fix it and move along.)

With that caveat, I share below some sample beta reader guidelines that you're welcome to use, or adapt to your own particular feedback needs.

Sample beta reader guideline letter


Thank you for your willingness to read and offer comments on my manuscript. As you read, please respond to the following questions and mark any areas you think I should give more attention. Feel free to e-mail comments as you go if that’s easier. I’d like to receive everyone’s comments by [deadline].

Overall impressions

What parts of the story did you enjoy most? Feel free to mark scenes that you feel are especially strong.

Does the story feel balanced--giving adequate time to the right things? Are there parts you feel need more or less emphasis?

Can you tell who the intended audience is? Why or why not?

Are there any elements that I've completely overlooked you think I need to consider or incorporate?

Character

Are the characters engaging and adequately complex? Do you care about them and enjoy getting to know them deeply, even the antagonists?

Which characters do you most connect with and why?

Are characters’ voices distinct in the dialogue? If not, note where you hear problems.

Do the peripheral characters work in supporting the main story without being overly distracting? Do any feel underdeveloped or overdeveloped relative to their importance to the story? Which ones do you feel need more or less emphasis?

Does the main character adequately change through conflict, climax and resolution?

Plot 

Does the story move forward and keep you reading more? Note where your interest is especially engaged and where it lags.

Does the plot hang together and make sense? Do you see any "plot holes"--illogical or impossible events, as well as statements or events that contradict earlier events in the storyline?

Do the plot twists and complications work, or do they seem contrived or hokey?

Do characters appear to have sufficient motivation for what they do? If not, note where you “just don’t buy it.”

Are scenes paced well in terms of building and releasing tension? If not, note places where the story drags or races.

Theme

Can you identify the theme?

Does it come across in a non-preachy way? Note anything that strikes you as heavy-handed.

Mechanics

Note word choices that don’t quite seem right in terms of tone within a scene, or because a particular character just wouldn’t use that word.

Please note any spelling errors, homophone errors (using the wrong sound-alike word), grammar gaffes, punctuation funkiness, and missing words.

Note any continuity errors you see (e.g. wearing a coat in part of the scene and not having it later in the same scene).

----

If there are particular parts of your story that you feel less confident about-- perhaps that bend genre or are a bit experimental for you--make sure you ask specifically for feedback on those elements.

What questions would you add to your own list?
Friday, January 27, 2017 Laurel Garver
For the uninitiated, a beta reader is to an author what a beta tester is to an inventor or a manufacturer's research and development division--someone who takes your product for a trial run, then reports about its strengths and weaknesses. It's a necessary step after you've completed a novel, and then fixed as much as you can; other eyes can pinpoint remaining weaknesses and shore up your sagging confidence about the manuscript's strengths.

The reason many authors end up disappointed, misled, or even crushed by critiques they receive is they fail to give beta readers clear instructions about what they actually need to know. And without a clear sense of what you need to know, readers will often go to one of two extremes: cheerleading or nitpicking, that is, giving only positive or only negative feedback.

Well, writer friends, the truth is you need BOTH. If others tell you everything is perfect, you'll stop listening to your own intuition and ignore niggling issues you haven't yet figured out how to fix. If others tell you they see problems, problems, problems, you'll end up in a slash and burn mentality when revising and destroy the best parts of your story.

The solution is actually quite simple: Always give your beta readers clear guidance about what kinds of feedback you want. And conversely, if someone asks you beta read, don't be shy about asking them to provide some guidelines.

Clearly, what constitutes "constructive criticism" can depend very much on individual temperament, past history, and self concept. You alone know what sorts of feedback will energize or crush you. For example, I appreciate readers who find my typos and missing words, while others will unnecessarily beat themselves up for very simple, easy to fix errors. (You spend years editing people with PhDs, and you realize even frighteningly smart people at the world's top universities have typos and dangling modifiers. Nothing to freak out about; fix it and move along.)

With that caveat, I share below some sample beta reader guidelines that you're welcome to use, or adapt to your own particular feedback needs.

Sample beta reader guideline letter


Thank you for your willingness to read and offer comments on my manuscript. As you read, please respond to the following questions and mark any areas you think I should give more attention. Feel free to e-mail comments as you go if that’s easier. I’d like to receive everyone’s comments by [deadline].

Overall impressions

What parts of the story did you enjoy most? Feel free to mark scenes that you feel are especially strong.

Does the story feel balanced--giving adequate time to the right things? Are there parts you feel need more or less emphasis?

Can you tell who the intended audience is? Why or why not?

Are there any elements that I've completely overlooked you think I need to consider or incorporate?

Character

Are the characters engaging and adequately complex? Do you care about them and enjoy getting to know them deeply, even the antagonists?

Which characters do you most connect with and why?

Are characters’ voices distinct in the dialogue? If not, note where you hear problems.

Do the peripheral characters work in supporting the main story without being overly distracting? Do any feel underdeveloped or overdeveloped relative to their importance to the story? Which ones do you feel need more or less emphasis?

Does the main character adequately change through conflict, climax and resolution?

Plot 

Does the story move forward and keep you reading more? Note where your interest is especially engaged and where it lags.

Does the plot hang together and make sense? Do you see any "plot holes"--illogical or impossible events, as well as statements or events that contradict earlier events in the storyline?

Do the plot twists and complications work, or do they seem contrived or hokey?

Do characters appear to have sufficient motivation for what they do? If not, note where you “just don’t buy it.”

Are scenes paced well in terms of building and releasing tension? If not, note places where the story drags or races.

Theme

Can you identify the theme?

Does it come across in a non-preachy way? Note anything that strikes you as heavy-handed.

Mechanics

Note word choices that don’t quite seem right in terms of tone within a scene, or because a particular character just wouldn’t use that word.

Please note any spelling errors, homophone errors (using the wrong sound-alike word), grammar gaffes, punctuation funkiness, and missing words.

Note any continuity errors you see (e.g. wearing a coat in part of the scene and not having it later in the same scene).

----

If there are particular parts of your story that you feel less confident about-- perhaps that bend genre or are a bit experimental for you--make sure you ask specifically for feedback on those elements.

What questions would you add to your own list?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Image: https://morguefile.com/creative/EsquadrilhadaFumaa
I've enjoyed Sarah Dessen's YA contemporary novels for many years now, and her most recent, Saint Anything, did not disappoint.

Dessen carved out a niche for herself when YA was still a fairly new genre, prior to the early 2000s, when the Twilight phenomenon took the publishing world by storm. Despite the proliferation of paranormal romances that followed--and a number of other trends that have come along, from boarding school stories to dystopian--Dessen has stayed the course. Realistic fiction all the way.

Her books remain top sellers, and some have garnered awards from the ALA and the School Library Journal. There are a number of things Dessen does well--and frankly quite differently from many others in the genre--that are worth studying and perhaps even emulating.

Good kids have stories worth telling


Some critics consistently ding Dessen's books for focusing on a "passive" protagonist. Indeed, her heroines are not the kind to deliberately seek out trouble. They'd knock politely, not kick open your door with their biker boots and attack you with nunchuks. They resemble kids you're likely to actually meet in real life, rather than a comic book.

What makes her good-kid stories worth reading are the very real dilemmas they face because they're good kids--striving to succeed academically, navigate friendships and dating, be a good daughter and sister, hold a part time job, and somehow figure out where they're going in life. You know, the kinds of problems most every teen has, not just the ones who own nunchucks and biker boots.

I don't know that I'd go so far as to call her heroines role models--each has flaws, especially a tendency to be less than truthful with adults in their lives. But these girls have strong consciences--they strive to do the right thing, even when it hurts. How they navigate the good girl way when life keeps throwing them curveballs is where the drama happens, which brings me to point 2.

Inner arcs are where it's at


Dessen's books tend to be lighter on plot, or what you might call surface problems. In Saint Anything, the biggest problem occurred in the narrative past. Sydney's older brother morphed into party-boy in recent years, went on to drive drunk, and permanently disabled another kid. The story begins at his sentencing hearing. It explores the aftermath, especially how his sin affects the family dynamic. Their varied responses to the crisis put them at cross purposes, and also expose deep problems with how each character copes.

What Dessen especially does well is showing how strengths and weaknesses can often be two sides of the same coin. The always-agreeable character can be cowardly in the face of conflict; the super-organized person can become frenetically controlling when hardship hits.


Let the judgement commence


Developmental psychologists say that a key task of the teen years is "individuation"--that is, building a unique identity. Part of this process involves evaluating everything and determining whether it's something to embrace or reject.

In Dessen's books nearly everything is fodder for evaluation, including one's socioeconomic status. Most kids become aware of income disparity in their community if they have occasion to leave the bubble of their comfort zone. Dessen's heroines always rub up against this reality, whether going from rags to riches, as in Lock and Key, or being rejected by the "haves" and choosing to align themselves with the "have-nots," like in Just Listen.  Contact with other classes opens critical evaluation of everything the heroines have considered normal, and they each begin to consider which pieces of life as they knew it they want to hang onto or jettison.

Family matters


While most adventure stories for younger readers have the heroes striking out on their own and leaving family, Dessen's stories always involve family conflicts in the main plotline or as a subplot. Because the reality is, most people under 18 can't --and won't-- simply take off on their own.

Rather than chafe against reality or create nothing but dead or absentee parents, Dessen sees dramatic potential. Because a big piece of the individuation process I mentioned above involves beginning to see parents as people instead of functional roles. People with flaws, yes, but also people with histories and hurts and loves and aspirations and even wisdom. Peer relationships can certainly push teens away from family, but family continues to have a strong pull on their self-concept. That tug-of-war plays out differently for each teen, and it's a rather gripping process to watch.


The importance of extracurricular world


Teens spend most of their day in school--it's equivalent to a full-time job. So the last thing they want in pleasure reading is for it to feel like they're having to sit through classes all over again with a fictional person. And yet, kids also gravitate toward spaces where they can have quality time with peers. In Dessen's books, there are always non-school spaces where much of the story action takes place. In What Happened to Goodbye and Keeping the Moon, it's a restaurant where the heroine works part time; in Saint Anything and Just Listen, a lunchtime hangout spot. In The Truth About Forever, it's the local library.

Quirks make the character


Dessen especially makes her secondary characters memorable by giving them particular quirks--often funny likes or dislikes--that appear again and again, like a running gag in a comedy film. In Saint Anything, the heroine's BFF Layla is obsessed with finding the perfect French fry and has some peculiar rituals around eating them. The quirk becomes a way for others to connect with her, and even rebuild the friendship after a falling out.

In Along for the Ride, the heroine's father named her Auden, after the poet, and his new baby Thisbe, after a minor Shakespeare character. That he is often absorbed in his own fiction writing isn't surprising, considering this quirky penchant for obscure literary references.

Forsake not the symbol(ism)


Dessen doesn't shy away from the occasional literary fiction technique, like using symbolism to undergird her themes, often using everyday objects to carry an important meaning for the heroine. In Along for the Ride, Auden's desire to master riding a bike symbolizes not only a sense of rebuilding a stunted childhood, but also learning to balance herself and become self-propelling. In Lock and Key, the recurring motif of doors, keys, fences, houses are used to examine what makes a place home, and people around us family.

Bibliography


Here's a list of Dessen's titles to date, for further reading.

1996 – That Summer
1998 – Someone Like You
1999 – Keeping the Moon
1999 - Last Chance
2000 – Dreamland
2002 – This Lullaby
2004 – The Truth About Forever
2006 – Just Listen
2008 – Lock and Key
2009 – Along for the Ride
2010 - Infinity (novella)
2011 – What Happened to Goodbye
2013 – The Moon and More
2015 – Saint Anything

Have you read any of Dessen's books? Have a favorite? 
What author's works have been influential for you and how?
Thursday, January 12, 2017 Laurel Garver
Image: https://morguefile.com/creative/EsquadrilhadaFumaa
I've enjoyed Sarah Dessen's YA contemporary novels for many years now, and her most recent, Saint Anything, did not disappoint.

Dessen carved out a niche for herself when YA was still a fairly new genre, prior to the early 2000s, when the Twilight phenomenon took the publishing world by storm. Despite the proliferation of paranormal romances that followed--and a number of other trends that have come along, from boarding school stories to dystopian--Dessen has stayed the course. Realistic fiction all the way.

Her books remain top sellers, and some have garnered awards from the ALA and the School Library Journal. There are a number of things Dessen does well--and frankly quite differently from many others in the genre--that are worth studying and perhaps even emulating.

Good kids have stories worth telling


Some critics consistently ding Dessen's books for focusing on a "passive" protagonist. Indeed, her heroines are not the kind to deliberately seek out trouble. They'd knock politely, not kick open your door with their biker boots and attack you with nunchuks. They resemble kids you're likely to actually meet in real life, rather than a comic book.

What makes her good-kid stories worth reading are the very real dilemmas they face because they're good kids--striving to succeed academically, navigate friendships and dating, be a good daughter and sister, hold a part time job, and somehow figure out where they're going in life. You know, the kinds of problems most every teen has, not just the ones who own nunchucks and biker boots.

I don't know that I'd go so far as to call her heroines role models--each has flaws, especially a tendency to be less than truthful with adults in their lives. But these girls have strong consciences--they strive to do the right thing, even when it hurts. How they navigate the good girl way when life keeps throwing them curveballs is where the drama happens, which brings me to point 2.

Inner arcs are where it's at


Dessen's books tend to be lighter on plot, or what you might call surface problems. In Saint Anything, the biggest problem occurred in the narrative past. Sydney's older brother morphed into party-boy in recent years, went on to drive drunk, and permanently disabled another kid. The story begins at his sentencing hearing. It explores the aftermath, especially how his sin affects the family dynamic. Their varied responses to the crisis put them at cross purposes, and also expose deep problems with how each character copes.

What Dessen especially does well is showing how strengths and weaknesses can often be two sides of the same coin. The always-agreeable character can be cowardly in the face of conflict; the super-organized person can become frenetically controlling when hardship hits.


Let the judgement commence


Developmental psychologists say that a key task of the teen years is "individuation"--that is, building a unique identity. Part of this process involves evaluating everything and determining whether it's something to embrace or reject.

In Dessen's books nearly everything is fodder for evaluation, including one's socioeconomic status. Most kids become aware of income disparity in their community if they have occasion to leave the bubble of their comfort zone. Dessen's heroines always rub up against this reality, whether going from rags to riches, as in Lock and Key, or being rejected by the "haves" and choosing to align themselves with the "have-nots," like in Just Listen.  Contact with other classes opens critical evaluation of everything the heroines have considered normal, and they each begin to consider which pieces of life as they knew it they want to hang onto or jettison.

Family matters


While most adventure stories for younger readers have the heroes striking out on their own and leaving family, Dessen's stories always involve family conflicts in the main plotline or as a subplot. Because the reality is, most people under 18 can't --and won't-- simply take off on their own.

Rather than chafe against reality or create nothing but dead or absentee parents, Dessen sees dramatic potential. Because a big piece of the individuation process I mentioned above involves beginning to see parents as people instead of functional roles. People with flaws, yes, but also people with histories and hurts and loves and aspirations and even wisdom. Peer relationships can certainly push teens away from family, but family continues to have a strong pull on their self-concept. That tug-of-war plays out differently for each teen, and it's a rather gripping process to watch.


The importance of extracurricular world


Teens spend most of their day in school--it's equivalent to a full-time job. So the last thing they want in pleasure reading is for it to feel like they're having to sit through classes all over again with a fictional person. And yet, kids also gravitate toward spaces where they can have quality time with peers. In Dessen's books, there are always non-school spaces where much of the story action takes place. In What Happened to Goodbye and Keeping the Moon, it's a restaurant where the heroine works part time; in Saint Anything and Just Listen, a lunchtime hangout spot. In The Truth About Forever, it's the local library.

Quirks make the character


Dessen especially makes her secondary characters memorable by giving them particular quirks--often funny likes or dislikes--that appear again and again, like a running gag in a comedy film. In Saint Anything, the heroine's BFF Layla is obsessed with finding the perfect French fry and has some peculiar rituals around eating them. The quirk becomes a way for others to connect with her, and even rebuild the friendship after a falling out.

In Along for the Ride, the heroine's father named her Auden, after the poet, and his new baby Thisbe, after a minor Shakespeare character. That he is often absorbed in his own fiction writing isn't surprising, considering this quirky penchant for obscure literary references.

Forsake not the symbol(ism)


Dessen doesn't shy away from the occasional literary fiction technique, like using symbolism to undergird her themes, often using everyday objects to carry an important meaning for the heroine. In Along for the Ride, Auden's desire to master riding a bike symbolizes not only a sense of rebuilding a stunted childhood, but also learning to balance herself and become self-propelling. In Lock and Key, the recurring motif of doors, keys, fences, houses are used to examine what makes a place home, and people around us family.

Bibliography


Here's a list of Dessen's titles to date, for further reading.

1996 – That Summer
1998 – Someone Like You
1999 – Keeping the Moon
1999 - Last Chance
2000 – Dreamland
2002 – This Lullaby
2004 – The Truth About Forever
2006 – Just Listen
2008 – Lock and Key
2009 – Along for the Ride
2010 - Infinity (novella)
2011 – What Happened to Goodbye
2013 – The Moon and More
2015 – Saint Anything

Have you read any of Dessen's books? Have a favorite? 
What author's works have been influential for you and how?

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Today's guest Rachel Rossano has taken her love of history to a whole new level--creating an alt-history world that resembles Renaissance Europe, with some unique twists in how she brings faith elements to bear. She especially has wonderful tips on world building and peopling a fantasy world.

Let's give her a hearty Laurel's Leaves welcome!

Tell us a little about the culture/world in which your story is set. What sort of research was required to create it?

Image credit: https://morguefile.com/creative/Shenzi
The world of the Theodoric Saga is very loosely based on 1400s to 1500s Europe. Most of the nations are ruled by monarchs and ordered on various renditions of feudal societies. There are clear differences between the nations, as you can experience by reading some of my other books based in the same world, but they all are historically inspired.

The nation of Anavrea is mostly inspired by early-to-mid-1500s England. The rough edges of the upper crust of the court have been smoothed a bit. Knowledge and learning are beginning to be appreciated, but there are still those nobles far from court who are barbaric in their behavior and sensibilities.

I did little research specifically for this book. Only a few forays into exploring general midwifery practices of the period were necessary. My heroine takes a very practical, unsuperstitious approach, which was not common but is very in keeping with her personality and background. For the rest, I drew on my life-long research of history and the people who came before us.

How do you approach faith-oriented content in your work? 

The world of the series is very similar to ours. They have a Bible, though they don’t call it that. They believe in God and His Son, Jesus, but they refer to them by different names. Salvation comes by grace through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The most common word used to refer to Jesus is Kurios, which is a transliteration of the Greek word for Lord. I think of it as somewhere between the writing of the Bible and the founding of the church something changed the course of history enough to take this pretend part of the world on a very different path.

What special challenges did you face writing this book? What surprised you as you wrote?

I have a confession to make. I wrote the first draft of this novel a very long time ago, perhaps twelve years or so ago. My memories of my challenges are a bit faded with time, but I do recall being very frustrated with Jayne for most of the writing of the rough draft. She is a stubborn character which made convincing her to trust Liam so much harder.

What advice would you give other writers interested in creating a historical/fantasy setting for their stories?

Draw on history. Read history, research history, and delve into the mundane and profound of past events and people. Focus on the people, why they did what they did and how they interacted with each other and how they reacted to outside forces. Ask yourself questions. Even when creating a sci-fi setting, history gives us insight into how societies of people react and interact.

Although little of it might reach the actual pages of the novel or short story, make sure you, the author, know the governments involved, the economics, the weather, the seasons, the climate, the kind of food they eat, the monetary system, and the country’s history. Make sure they all make sense together.  They will come into play in subtle ways and it is better to have thought it all through before beginning than to accidentally make a bad choice that will come back to bite you later.

Put yourself in the world and consider how you would function in everyday life there. How would your character find food? How would they earn money? The more realistic the setting is to you, the more realistic it will be for your character and your reader.

In general, everyone has friends, acquaintances, and people they meet only to forget. Your character doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Part of establishing a setting is populating it with secondary, tertiary, and throw away characters.  Each of these characters have lives, motivations, and a story of their own. That doesn’t mean you need to tell them in the current book, but you need to give the reader the impression that they are glimpsing into other people’s lives beyond the main character.

About the Author

Rachel Rossano is a happily married mother of three children. She spends her days teaching, mothering, and keeping the chaos at bay. After the little ones are in bed, she immerses herself in the fantasy worlds of her books. Tales of romance, adventure, and virtue set in a medieval fantasy world are her preference, but she also writes speculative fantasy and a
bit of science fiction.


About the Book


She couldn’t hide forever.

A hard life taught Jayne to avoid men, powerful men most of
all. When a new nobleman arrives to take over the vargar, she takes her family and hides. But the new baron seeks her out and makes her an offer she can’t refuse: protection. However, once they were sheltered behind the dark stone walls of the vargar, who would protect her from the new master?

His reward isn’t what it seems.

King Ireic of Anavrea charges Liam, a former bodyguard, with the task of retaking and taming a corner of the northern wilds. Upon arrival at Ashwyn Vargar, Liam finds challenges beyond his military experience. The keys to the vargar are missing and so are the field hands who should be harvesting the fields. Once he finds the keeper of the keys, she raises more questions than answers.

Available from Amazon


Giveaway



Rachel is giving away one of her favorite CDs to listen to while she writes. If you’ve ever wondered what kind of music she likes to listen to, you can check out the CD on Amazon and then come back here and enter the giveaway. https://www.amazon.com/Piano-Guys/dp/B009EAO38C/
 


a Rafflecopter giveaway





Tour Schedule


January 2
Bookish Orchestrations-Tour Intro and Book Review
Bokerah-Guest Post

January 3
Queen of Random-Book Spotlight
Rachel Rossano's Words-Book Spotlight

January 4
Stephany Tullis-Book Spotlight
Ember's Reviews-Author Interview and Review

January 5
Frances Hoelsema-Book Spotlight
Laurel's Leaves-Author Interview

January 6
Shout outs-Guest Post
Rebekah Lyn Book-Character Spotlight

January 7
Bookish Orchestrations-Giveaway Winner

 If you were to write about a historic era and tweak it a bit, which would you choose? Any questions for Rachel?
Thursday, January 05, 2017 Laurel Garver
Today's guest Rachel Rossano has taken her love of history to a whole new level--creating an alt-history world that resembles Renaissance Europe, with some unique twists in how she brings faith elements to bear. She especially has wonderful tips on world building and peopling a fantasy world.

Let's give her a hearty Laurel's Leaves welcome!

Tell us a little about the culture/world in which your story is set. What sort of research was required to create it?

Image credit: https://morguefile.com/creative/Shenzi
The world of the Theodoric Saga is very loosely based on 1400s to 1500s Europe. Most of the nations are ruled by monarchs and ordered on various renditions of feudal societies. There are clear differences between the nations, as you can experience by reading some of my other books based in the same world, but they all are historically inspired.

The nation of Anavrea is mostly inspired by early-to-mid-1500s England. The rough edges of the upper crust of the court have been smoothed a bit. Knowledge and learning are beginning to be appreciated, but there are still those nobles far from court who are barbaric in their behavior and sensibilities.

I did little research specifically for this book. Only a few forays into exploring general midwifery practices of the period were necessary. My heroine takes a very practical, unsuperstitious approach, which was not common but is very in keeping with her personality and background. For the rest, I drew on my life-long research of history and the people who came before us.

How do you approach faith-oriented content in your work? 

The world of the series is very similar to ours. They have a Bible, though they don’t call it that. They believe in God and His Son, Jesus, but they refer to them by different names. Salvation comes by grace through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The most common word used to refer to Jesus is Kurios, which is a transliteration of the Greek word for Lord. I think of it as somewhere between the writing of the Bible and the founding of the church something changed the course of history enough to take this pretend part of the world on a very different path.

What special challenges did you face writing this book? What surprised you as you wrote?

I have a confession to make. I wrote the first draft of this novel a very long time ago, perhaps twelve years or so ago. My memories of my challenges are a bit faded with time, but I do recall being very frustrated with Jayne for most of the writing of the rough draft. She is a stubborn character which made convincing her to trust Liam so much harder.

What advice would you give other writers interested in creating a historical/fantasy setting for their stories?

Draw on history. Read history, research history, and delve into the mundane and profound of past events and people. Focus on the people, why they did what they did and how they interacted with each other and how they reacted to outside forces. Ask yourself questions. Even when creating a sci-fi setting, history gives us insight into how societies of people react and interact.

Although little of it might reach the actual pages of the novel or short story, make sure you, the author, know the governments involved, the economics, the weather, the seasons, the climate, the kind of food they eat, the monetary system, and the country’s history. Make sure they all make sense together.  They will come into play in subtle ways and it is better to have thought it all through before beginning than to accidentally make a bad choice that will come back to bite you later.

Put yourself in the world and consider how you would function in everyday life there. How would your character find food? How would they earn money? The more realistic the setting is to you, the more realistic it will be for your character and your reader.

In general, everyone has friends, acquaintances, and people they meet only to forget. Your character doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Part of establishing a setting is populating it with secondary, tertiary, and throw away characters.  Each of these characters have lives, motivations, and a story of their own. That doesn’t mean you need to tell them in the current book, but you need to give the reader the impression that they are glimpsing into other people’s lives beyond the main character.

About the Author

Rachel Rossano is a happily married mother of three children. She spends her days teaching, mothering, and keeping the chaos at bay. After the little ones are in bed, she immerses herself in the fantasy worlds of her books. Tales of romance, adventure, and virtue set in a medieval fantasy world are her preference, but she also writes speculative fantasy and a
bit of science fiction.


About the Book


She couldn’t hide forever.

A hard life taught Jayne to avoid men, powerful men most of
all. When a new nobleman arrives to take over the vargar, she takes her family and hides. But the new baron seeks her out and makes her an offer she can’t refuse: protection. However, once they were sheltered behind the dark stone walls of the vargar, who would protect her from the new master?

His reward isn’t what it seems.

King Ireic of Anavrea charges Liam, a former bodyguard, with the task of retaking and taming a corner of the northern wilds. Upon arrival at Ashwyn Vargar, Liam finds challenges beyond his military experience. The keys to the vargar are missing and so are the field hands who should be harvesting the fields. Once he finds the keeper of the keys, she raises more questions than answers.

Available from Amazon


Giveaway



Rachel is giving away one of her favorite CDs to listen to while she writes. If you’ve ever wondered what kind of music she likes to listen to, you can check out the CD on Amazon and then come back here and enter the giveaway. https://www.amazon.com/Piano-Guys/dp/B009EAO38C/
 


a Rafflecopter giveaway





Tour Schedule


January 2
Bookish Orchestrations-Tour Intro and Book Review
Bokerah-Guest Post

January 3
Queen of Random-Book Spotlight
Rachel Rossano's Words-Book Spotlight

January 4
Stephany Tullis-Book Spotlight
Ember's Reviews-Author Interview and Review

January 5
Frances Hoelsema-Book Spotlight
Laurel's Leaves-Author Interview

January 6
Shout outs-Guest Post
Rebekah Lyn Book-Character Spotlight

January 7
Bookish Orchestrations-Giveaway Winner

 If you were to write about a historic era and tweak it a bit, which would you choose? Any questions for Rachel?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

In my previous post in this series, "Fleshing out a thin story: thin characterization," I discussed the ways in which manuscripts drafted hastily, such as during NaNoWriMo, can have some areas of underwriting that need to be fleshed out in revision.

Today's post on underwritten conflict is related, because you first need to have developed characters before you can fully suss out the many potential forms of conflict in your story.  Conflict in fiction involves more than just the surface problem that drives the plot. It also involves interpersonal conflict between characters, not only the hero and antagonist, but also the hero and other often well-meaning allies who block him/her in some way. And further, to develop the hero's inner arc, your story must also involve internal conflict between some of the hero's own desires, be they aspriational, like a desire to love and be loved, or protective, such as a desire to never be made to look a fool. (Both are typically tied in some way to the hero's wound.)

I would argue that to have a compelling plot--that is, a surface problem that appropriately fits these characters, that challenges their particular moral and psychological issues--it's helpful to approach conflict from the inside out. That is, you first develop the hero's internal conflict, then from there it will be clearer what kinds of other conflicts s/he'd naturally get into. Who would push her buttons? How would he respond to the antagonist's goading or to sudden perilous circumstances? I cover this idea pretty extensively in that previous post on thin characterization, so I'll merely point you there once again.

Plot conflicts


Once you've got your hero's inner world established, consider how to bring to the fore the inner arc. What kinds of annoying people and circumstances will most challenge the hero's key weakness?

Another key question: how can I make things worse for my hero? Be wary, however, of just throwing random problems at your characters, or your story will become unintentionally comical. (Farce is the resulting genre when every possible thing that could ever go wrong does...and then gets worse and worse and worse, essentially to make the point that life is a big joke. Ha.)

So how can you make things worse in a way that enhances the story?
  • Block the hero's progress toward a goal with small inconveniences that would naturally happen in his/her environment: weather changes, injuries, illness. equipment failure, uncooperative underlings, punishing authority figures, family crises, work deadlines 
  • Add a "ticking clock"--some sort of deadline that adds urgency.
  • Undermine the hero by shaking his/her confidence or applying pressures that will make him/her behave badly--make a mistake, do something mean, defy his/her own inner rules.
  • Create a hardship that forces the hero to learn a new skill or build relationships that will be needed later.
  • Add complications to an existing problem, or raise the stakes of failing to solve it.

Interpersonal conflict


Many underwritten stories limit the interpersonal conflict to an antagonist character or two, while everyone else seems to get along pretty well. This is not only unrealistic, it's also a hugely missed opportunity to portray the rich depths of your characters and their relationships.

Because no matter how loving and dedicated people are to one another, they will come into conflict about little irritating habits, differences in taste or opinion, and personal goals. Two wholly good characters can easily squabble about the best method of doing good and when and for whom. How they squabble reveals a great deal about them.

In addition to allies who scuffle with the hero, consider adding in other characters who act as forces of antagonism in addition to, or even in place of a single arch-villain. I describe eight different kinds of "everyday antagonists" who can join your story, or perhaps be recruited from your existing ranks of characters.

Perhaps you have some interpersonal conflict, but it isn't quite well working yet. Many underwritten stories suffer from "jumping conflict" in which characters are calm or simpatico one moment, then inexplicably shouting at each other the next.

Granted, there are some people with extremely short fuses. They're perpetually angry and fly into a rage with little provocation. But those types are usually pretty easy to spot. They exhibit signs of being short fused in how they carry themselves and their tone of voice. If such a character exists in your fictional world, be sure to make those warning signs clear from the moment you introduce the character. Otherwise, his fits of rage will seem simply melodramatic, and he'll be a caricature rather than a character.

Most characters have longer fuses. They shift from calm to angry in gradual stages--slow burn. Negotiation or conflict avoidance should be more common than out-and-out fights. And when those fights do occur, they need to be appropriately paced. How?


  • Have the characters in conflict chip away at one another.
  • Have one try to back off or refuse to rise to the bait.
  • Repeatedly provoke a character with other, exterior conflicts so that she's ripe to burst with a little more pressure. 
  • Establish a trait such as worry or paranoia, so that his response to this trigger seems reasonable.

Most of all, try to think creatively about complex emotional responses. Straight-up anger is easy to write, and we can get lazy. In most conflicts, several emotions are at war. The mom who has to pick up her drunk teenager from a party can be as much worried and afraid as angry. The bullied nerd desires acceptance as much as revenge.

Explore those layers of emotion, and conflicts will become more interesting and more tense.

In every instance where characters get into conflict, stop and consider the mixed emotions that might reasonably be in play. Remember that not every character is prone to fist-fights or verbal sparring. Some people, when at cross-purposes with others, use soft, more positive tools to achieve their aims--they  might flatter, plead, or joke. This, too, is dramatic. Story-moving.

In The Scene Book, Sandra Scofield uses the term "negotiation" to describe how most characters experience conflict. She defines it as "an exchange of character desires and denials and relenting, until some sort of peace is carved out, or else the interaction falls apart."

Negotiation is a way of approaching conflict as power plays, in which each character tries to get what he or she wants.

I find this a helpful concept, because "conflict" is a pretty wholly negative term, whereas negotiations are often a mixed bag, and frankly, mixed bags offer more interest and diversity. Instead of one-note characters in one-note plots, negotiation helps you build character complexity and plots with organic twists and turns.

The power plays of negotiation depend first on the kind of relationship characters have--whether based on hierarchy, intimacy and equality, or a mix--and second, with the way each character tends to relate to and use power. Some will approach wresting power using negative tools like attacking, blame-shifting, lying or threatening. Others will use positive tools like begging, making promises, or truth-telling. (For an deeper look at the tools of negotation, see "The Secret to Complex, Compelling Conflict")

Interior conflict in underwritten stories often goes hand in hand with an overall thinness of the character's inner world and representations of interiority, so I will tackle this issue in a future post.

Which area is trickier for you to write, plot conflicts or interpersonal conflicts?


Thursday, December 15, 2016 Laurel Garver
In my previous post in this series, "Fleshing out a thin story: thin characterization," I discussed the ways in which manuscripts drafted hastily, such as during NaNoWriMo, can have some areas of underwriting that need to be fleshed out in revision.

Today's post on underwritten conflict is related, because you first need to have developed characters before you can fully suss out the many potential forms of conflict in your story.  Conflict in fiction involves more than just the surface problem that drives the plot. It also involves interpersonal conflict between characters, not only the hero and antagonist, but also the hero and other often well-meaning allies who block him/her in some way. And further, to develop the hero's inner arc, your story must also involve internal conflict between some of the hero's own desires, be they aspriational, like a desire to love and be loved, or protective, such as a desire to never be made to look a fool. (Both are typically tied in some way to the hero's wound.)

I would argue that to have a compelling plot--that is, a surface problem that appropriately fits these characters, that challenges their particular moral and psychological issues--it's helpful to approach conflict from the inside out. That is, you first develop the hero's internal conflict, then from there it will be clearer what kinds of other conflicts s/he'd naturally get into. Who would push her buttons? How would he respond to the antagonist's goading or to sudden perilous circumstances? I cover this idea pretty extensively in that previous post on thin characterization, so I'll merely point you there once again.

Plot conflicts


Once you've got your hero's inner world established, consider how to bring to the fore the inner arc. What kinds of annoying people and circumstances will most challenge the hero's key weakness?

Another key question: how can I make things worse for my hero? Be wary, however, of just throwing random problems at your characters, or your story will become unintentionally comical. (Farce is the resulting genre when every possible thing that could ever go wrong does...and then gets worse and worse and worse, essentially to make the point that life is a big joke. Ha.)

So how can you make things worse in a way that enhances the story?
  • Block the hero's progress toward a goal with small inconveniences that would naturally happen in his/her environment: weather changes, injuries, illness. equipment failure, uncooperative underlings, punishing authority figures, family crises, work deadlines 
  • Add a "ticking clock"--some sort of deadline that adds urgency.
  • Undermine the hero by shaking his/her confidence or applying pressures that will make him/her behave badly--make a mistake, do something mean, defy his/her own inner rules.
  • Create a hardship that forces the hero to learn a new skill or build relationships that will be needed later.
  • Add complications to an existing problem, or raise the stakes of failing to solve it.

Interpersonal conflict


Many underwritten stories limit the interpersonal conflict to an antagonist character or two, while everyone else seems to get along pretty well. This is not only unrealistic, it's also a hugely missed opportunity to portray the rich depths of your characters and their relationships.

Because no matter how loving and dedicated people are to one another, they will come into conflict about little irritating habits, differences in taste or opinion, and personal goals. Two wholly good characters can easily squabble about the best method of doing good and when and for whom. How they squabble reveals a great deal about them.

In addition to allies who scuffle with the hero, consider adding in other characters who act as forces of antagonism in addition to, or even in place of a single arch-villain. I describe eight different kinds of "everyday antagonists" who can join your story, or perhaps be recruited from your existing ranks of characters.

Perhaps you have some interpersonal conflict, but it isn't quite well working yet. Many underwritten stories suffer from "jumping conflict" in which characters are calm or simpatico one moment, then inexplicably shouting at each other the next.

Granted, there are some people with extremely short fuses. They're perpetually angry and fly into a rage with little provocation. But those types are usually pretty easy to spot. They exhibit signs of being short fused in how they carry themselves and their tone of voice. If such a character exists in your fictional world, be sure to make those warning signs clear from the moment you introduce the character. Otherwise, his fits of rage will seem simply melodramatic, and he'll be a caricature rather than a character.

Most characters have longer fuses. They shift from calm to angry in gradual stages--slow burn. Negotiation or conflict avoidance should be more common than out-and-out fights. And when those fights do occur, they need to be appropriately paced. How?


  • Have the characters in conflict chip away at one another.
  • Have one try to back off or refuse to rise to the bait.
  • Repeatedly provoke a character with other, exterior conflicts so that she's ripe to burst with a little more pressure. 
  • Establish a trait such as worry or paranoia, so that his response to this trigger seems reasonable.

Most of all, try to think creatively about complex emotional responses. Straight-up anger is easy to write, and we can get lazy. In most conflicts, several emotions are at war. The mom who has to pick up her drunk teenager from a party can be as much worried and afraid as angry. The bullied nerd desires acceptance as much as revenge.

Explore those layers of emotion, and conflicts will become more interesting and more tense.

In every instance where characters get into conflict, stop and consider the mixed emotions that might reasonably be in play. Remember that not every character is prone to fist-fights or verbal sparring. Some people, when at cross-purposes with others, use soft, more positive tools to achieve their aims--they  might flatter, plead, or joke. This, too, is dramatic. Story-moving.

In The Scene Book, Sandra Scofield uses the term "negotiation" to describe how most characters experience conflict. She defines it as "an exchange of character desires and denials and relenting, until some sort of peace is carved out, or else the interaction falls apart."

Negotiation is a way of approaching conflict as power plays, in which each character tries to get what he or she wants.

I find this a helpful concept, because "conflict" is a pretty wholly negative term, whereas negotiations are often a mixed bag, and frankly, mixed bags offer more interest and diversity. Instead of one-note characters in one-note plots, negotiation helps you build character complexity and plots with organic twists and turns.

The power plays of negotiation depend first on the kind of relationship characters have--whether based on hierarchy, intimacy and equality, or a mix--and second, with the way each character tends to relate to and use power. Some will approach wresting power using negative tools like attacking, blame-shifting, lying or threatening. Others will use positive tools like begging, making promises, or truth-telling. (For an deeper look at the tools of negotation, see "The Secret to Complex, Compelling Conflict")

Interior conflict in underwritten stories often goes hand in hand with an overall thinness of the character's inner world and representations of interiority, so I will tackle this issue in a future post.

Which area is trickier for you to write, plot conflicts or interpersonal conflicts?