Writers get this question all the time.

Mainly it’s asked by non-writers; those folks who can’t imagine someone making things up and capturing things on the page.

But, if you are very good at writing, making things up comes in often. Doing it usually makes a story better than any truth you could have told word-for-word as it really did happen.

Very few of us have lives worth writing down. And those of us who are that interesting are usually writing Biography. Not Fiction.

If, so far, you are still a bit wobbly at your writing, you might be relying on the truth a bit too much.  Your stories might be soaked in truth as you saw it happen in your life.

Or in a truth as you need to believe it, about something you’ve experienced.

Try to get yourself out of that. Try taking any portion of your real life you’re tempted to write about, and stop yourself from telling that truth.

Take a risk and write about a new, twisted way truth. Make your original truth something new and interesting by looking at your reality and then putting it away.

Reality is really only good for one thing. To give you ideas.

Here’s a link to one of my stories>> The Giant Rubber Gorilla. Click on the ‘Look Inside’ to read this.

And here’s a post of mine – where I talk about what went into writing that short stories: Writing: The Giant Rubber Gorilla

 The Reality:

I was sitting in the backseat when two other folks got out of the car.

We did drive down the beach that day.

I did see both a bail-bonds place and later a giant rubber gorilla.

What Was Made Up:

All the things that gave the story its problems for each character.

All the conflicts between these three women.

How a can of soda got in the way of things.

All the events that gave the story an ending where something changes for the MC.

So use reality for the right reasons: To kick off things you want to make up. Imagine and move away from the full on truth.

Let your readers be the ones who can’t imagine someone making things up and capturing them on the page.

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What will your first completed novel be about?

For novices who are attempting literary, or mainstream fiction the question they are faced with, What can I write about?, is both a starting place and a dilemma.

If you aren’t quite ready, you’ll first probably fall back on creating a veiled version of your own life. There’s nothing wrong with this approach. Writers begin where they need to. Maybe someone said Write what you know, and you took that to mean by default, biography.

I’ve written about this in the post Writing What You Know vs. Using What You Know in Your Writing

So perhaps you’re looking a first draft, some 200 or so pages of your very own life, and thinking:

I have to edit this?

Some of these things I got completely wrong.

It’s awful- can I even use it to revise?

What am I going to do? Read the rest of this entry »

So many novices offer critiques to other novices about form and style. And often they both miss the fact that fiction isn’t, and shouldn’t be gone about as, essay writing.

They are two different animals.

I read a long time ago that what’s going on while characters say things is just as good writing as using a tag to tell the reader how something was said.

Here’s an example of what I mean. This excerpt below shows a school counselor taking to a girl who’s had a bit of a meltdown in welding class.

Read the rest of this entry »

Before we begin today’s post:

There are still a few opening left for this Post-NaNo offer for coaching and edit work.

So contact me for your January 2013 re-writing help.

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Now, about writing in a newer way to know your characters better.

Novices are encouraged to build Character Templates to get to know their characters better.These tools help novices get a grip on the facts about who they are writing about.

They help a lot, but they aren’t the end-all of knowing your character, because lot of times when you are working with a character template, you’re basically looking at the story-facts about them.

(thanks www.epiguide.com/ep101/writing/charchart.html

Nickname, if any
(if so, explain its origin – e.g. who created it?):
Does s/he like the nickname?
Birth date:
Place of birth:
Ethnic background:
Religion:
Degree of religious practice
(e.g. orthodox, casual, lapsed):
Current address:
Does s/he rent or own?
Brief description of home
(apartment, house, trailer, etc.):

While this type of knowledge about your character might help you know who they are. Can it help you see them in action? Does it help you to see them in scenes that tell a story?

Do you think that after beginning with templates there’s more to figure out?

Consider this new way of knowing your characters to take you deeper into their lives. I made this up a long time ago, it’s cool Because no 2 lists are ever the same.

It works like this:

Some of the best writing uses the character, with her actions and her reactions, her motivations, and her emotions to tell a tale.  Unless the story-facts on a Character template are an integral part of the story, where can these story-facts take us, your reader? How do they story-facts about character become the scenes you are building?

All those template answers can be used but as ‘story-facts’, but they’re not always what gets the story going.

So, once you finish with character templates, consider building yourself a Question template: questions about your character’s “what-ifs?”– the things that are going to get you from one scene to the next. The things that will brng something concrete to your story telling

Here’s some samples “What if?” questions to get your scenes going:
1. What if this character who never cries is suddenly faced with a situation where tears come, What will she do?
2. What if this character knows she’s been awful but can’t stop herself, how would she feel about not stopping, knowing she’s wrong?
3. What if this character loves somebody – how can she show it never using words?
4. What if this character has stood up for herself, but because of it all hell’s broken loose– How would she now react to this new dire situation?

You can create as many of these as you can figure out.
You can also build them for writing buddy and each of you share each others’ list so that you’re not writing from your own “what-ifs?”.

So, What actions or reactions would your characters have to these situations:

Someone refused to make any more eye-contact.

A female giggles high, the way some ladies’ do.

While walking on a city street, the new smell wafts up from an open car window.

A dog trots up and sniffs at a character’s leg.

A waiter drops a coffee pot or tray.

The smell of chili cheese fries invades a space.

The radio/TV suddenly dies, and the room is silent.

Where do you think this kind of character template will take your story?
Hope these helps someone, somewhere.

The End of A Story

December 8, 2012

I’m still posting to the 2012 NaNo forum boards,

And a participant asked this question about first drafts; not the after NaNo editing itself but, a deeper question about when can you tell a novel is done:

 “If you have written all the way through to the end of your story, how can you tell if you’ve really finished? Surely there could always be more character development or other scenes or other scenarios. How do you know when to stop adding and that your novel is complete? I’m really struggling!”

NaNo planning endI thought about that a bit and I thought about all the novels I’ve wanted to continuing writing because I was in love with the characters, when, really, I had finished what needed to be written.

So I thought about what made it ‘The End” and how it was clear to me that I was done writing. I broke down my process and thought about the craft elements that go into a finished work. And after I posted this response, I went over it and added a few things – Here it is for you guys:

You have to know what you want the story to be about. And that has to be a finite thing – the story isn’t about a character.
It’s about what the character will do in a set amount of time.
So you need to decide: What set amount of time are you writing about?
Because anything beyond that story’s set amount of time is just another story about your characters.

A set time for a story might be a summer. It might be a school year. It might be the time it takes a young girl to follow her dream across the world to be part of the famous motion picture industry, but it has to be a set amount of time.

So try to decide on that and then ask if you’ve set your story within those time/length parameters.

Characters have arcs
A boy is neglected and abused where he lives, he finds out he is special, he’s put into a new environment, he manages some deed, and finds a new sense of home.

That’s the end of that story about that boy. Even when there will be six more stories about this boy. That is the end of the arc of this single story. A novel is about a character’s story.

A series is about the continuing adventures of your character.

Scenes also have these arcs: the state of things for your character at the opening of the scene is different at the end of the scene. Or at least it should be.

Chapters are scenes strung together, and again there is an arc – the first scene through the last should show some shifts and changes for the character’s state of being –

  • A shift their way of thinking
  • A change to their circumstances
  • Some new appearance or presentation of their new opportunities

Think about these shifts in movement the writer has caused for the reader, the writer taking the reader someplace: going from the reader seeing him as a boy living under a staircase to the reader finding out he’s the ‘Boy who Lived’, whatever that may lead to.

Many chapters use all those scenes to string together all the Characters’ arcs in the entire book. Everyone has changes in some way due to the choices they made along the way.
One kid makes a new friend. One kid makes a life long enemy. Three kids become a team. A family must accept the changes one person makes to their ‘stable lives’. At the end, all these arcs have happened; they began and they ended.

You asked: Surely there could always be more character development or other scenes or other scenarios.
Yes, there always can be. However, the first story has an ending to it.
Something is achieved. Something is let go. Something is realized. And those things happen between the beginning and the end of the set amount of time.

So, any further character development or other scenes or other scenarios, are stories you write later.
Look for your arcs in what you have now. If you don’t find them, them go back and see where they can be added. This doesn’t mean tacking things onto the end of what you have now. It means fixing the interior of the story.
But– if they are there– then a single story for this character of yours has been told. And you are finished (for now).

Hope this helps you.
ej