My “writing blog” has turned into more of a “reading blog.” It’s my intention to strike a pleasant balance between the two. The purpose of my blog from the beginning has been to give you a way to follow my journey as a writer. A writer needs to read books by other people, and I hope you enjoy learning about the books I read.
I’ve made a conscious effort this month to spend more time writing and less time reading. As I mentioned in last week’s blog post, I’m working my way through C.S. Lakin’s The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction Workbook: Your Blueprint for Building a Solid Story. It has been a tremendous help to me in evaluating various aspects of my 85,000-word novel manuscript. I’m not getting paid to sing the praises of this workbook. When I find a book or workbook about the craft of writing fiction that is helpful to me, I’m happy to share that information with my blog readers.
The things I concentrated on since last week’s blog post are theme, plot, and subplot. Hence, the title of today’s post. I have been sporadic in posting my #FixYourNovel blog series. I had planned for the sixth one to be about point-of-view. I don’t feel comfortable writing authoritatively in any way, shape, or form about that subject yet.
The dreaded question: What’s your book about?
The most dreaded question authors receive is “What’s your book about?” You’ve spent months or years creating a complex story of 85,000 to 120,000 words, and you’re expected to state off the top of your head a one sentence answer to that question. Yikes! I’m still working on my answer to that question, but Ms. Lakin’s workbook questions have helped me sharpen a concise description of my book.
The section of the workbook that addresses theme helped me determine that my book’s main theme is forgiveness. To do that, I had to figure out what the book is about.
My initial answer to that question tends to be something like this: It’s about a pregnant widow accused of her husband’s murder setting out to prove her innocence. But that’s not what the book is “about.” That’s the main plot, and the plot is a vehicle to convey theme.
Theme gets at the heart of what the main characters wants. My protagonist wants a happy family life. That’s a fairly universal desire. In order to achieve that, she will have to ask someone for forgiveness and she will have to forgive many others for their wrongs committed against her. It’s a southern historical novel set in the Carolina backcountry in 1769-1770.
The workbook has helped me brainstorm some parts of the plot that were lackluster, and I’ve worked to strengthen those weak links. When I get some key edits completed, I’ll adjust my scenic plot or step outline to reflect those changes. The next step then will be to get that outline critiqued by a writing professional.
That’s where things stand now with my manuscript with the working title of either The Doubloon or The Spanish Coin.
Since my last blog post
I’ve walked more, as I continue to get my fractured leg back to normal. I’ve done some “spring cleaning” that I wasn’t physically able to do in the spring. Better late than never. I’ve done some reading. I’ve spent many hours working on my manuscript, and that includes a considerable amount of time spent thinking.
Like you, I continue to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic on a daily basis. Here in North Carolina, our “Safer at Home” Phase 2 Order was extended five more weeks. This is the second time Phase 2 has been extended. In the absence of a national plan, each US state and territory is making its own rules. No wonder the virus is not under control in the US.
The M5.1 earthquake 100 miles from me on August 9 has me wondering if I need to add earthquake coverage to my homeowner’s insurance. It’s not something North Carolinians have had to seriously consider until now.
After giving Friends and Fiction on Facebook a plug last Monday, the program on Wednesday night was subpar. It was the first time the guest author used profanity or made vulgar hand gestures. I was embarrassed that I had recommended the program. Here’s hoping the one this Wednesday at 7pm EDT will be better.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. As usual, I have several books vying for my attention.
If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have productive creative time.
Be safe. Be well. Wear a mask. It’s not a sacrifice in the big scheme of things.
If you are bored stiff by the subject, just scroll down to the end of today’s post to find out what I’m currently reading.
As I did in Part 1, today I’ll share what two or three writers, writing coaches, or editors have to say about characterization. I hope readers and writers will find something of interest in my two characterization blog posts.
I’ve read a lot about how to develop memorable characters when writing fiction. As I read what other writers, or book coaches and editors have to say about characterization, I try to determine what the best advice is so I can put it into practice as I work on my historical novel.
Book coach Andrea Lundgren’s take on happiness in novels
Ms. Lundgren suggests something that goes against the grain of accepted fiction writing advice. She stated the following in that guest post:
“Do we dare take time out, for them and us, to just enjoy life as it flows by, without making the scene “keep things moving forward”?
Ms. Lundgren continued:
“And does happiness only occur in little moments, in the troughs between peaks of activity when no one is doing or demanding or announcing anything? Maybe we need to start plotting for filler scenes, where nothing happens but that exchange of dialogue and silence that is a normal, happy moment of life.”
That resonated with me. Writing experts put a lot of pressure on authors to evaluate every scene and, if it doesn’t move the story forward, delete it. In connection with Ms. Lundgren’s post, it seems to me that having an occasional scene in which your character is just relaxing with a friend or enjoying an event might help that character seem more human and more likeable. And in that way, does that scene not in some small way move the story forward?
Editor and author David Griffin Brown’s take on character
Mr. Brown opens his article with this: “Fiction editors encounter manuscripts at all stages of development. A typical issue we see in early drafts is where one narrative element is given more attention than another.
“For example, with works of historical fiction, it’s common for writers to showcase their research at the expense of plot and character. On the other hand, with a character piece, the plot often drags in the second act. And in high-paced, sharply plotted thrillers, characterization can lag behind plot development.
“That being said, most manuscripts will benefit from close attention to character conflict, motivation, and relationships. But first and foremost, it’s important to let your characters act, react, and interact.”
Mr. Brown goes on to talk about emotions, conflict, and personal relationships between characters. He talks about the king of all fiction-writing rules: Show, don’t tell.
Chris Andrews’ take on character and structure
In his book, Character and Structure: An Unholy Alliance, Australian fantasy quthor Chris Andrews writes about the importance of (or possibly, necessity of) getting your reader emotionally invested in your story or novel. He writes that you must make the reader care.
Mr. Andrews’ book says, “Applying character to structure is an unholy alliance as far as many writers are concerned. Doing it well is the foundation of creating a long and successful career.” He says if a writer gives in to his or her preference – character vs. structure – one will dominate and the other will suffer. A character must have a logical structure to work within.
Mr. Andrews writes, “You have to be able to develop, write and evaluate a story from both sides of your brain: logic and emotion…. Combining story (what happens to your characters) and structure (how it happens) means finding the answers emotionally engage your audience.”
I like the following short paragraph in Mr. Andrews’ book:
“Characters are about people, not events. Structure is how you tailor events so your audience can engage with your characters.”
Mr. Andrews’ book is one of the best books I’ve read about the craft of writing. He takes you step-by-step through the structure of a novel and how your protagonist should grow and change within that structure in order for your novel to engage your readers and be memorable for them.
In #FixYourNovel #4: Characterization, Part I, I referenced Janice Hardy. Her blog post on February 26, 2020 was titled, “Oh, Woe Is Me: Strengthening Character Goals.” Here the link to it, so you can read the entire blog post: http://blog.janicehardy.com/2010/05/oh-woe-is-me.html.
It’s about how a writer can make a novel’s protagonist’s life as difficult as possible. She gives lots of suggestions.
That was my inner response when I first encountered the term. In Part 1 of #FixYourNovel #4, I referred to character arc but didn’t address it.
A character arc is how a character changes over the course of a story or novel, but there’s so much more to it than that! People have written entire books on the topic of character arc. I read one in October: Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development, by K.M. Weiland.
I highly recommend her book to others who, like me, are trying to master the art of writing fiction. The book addresses plot points, when your character arcs, minor character arcs, impact characters, and how to write a character arc in a series.
Throughout the writing process I’ve tried to keep in mind to make my characters distinguishable, but it’s time to revisit the question, “Are my characters distinguishable?”
By writing a biographical sketch for each character as I developed the basic bones of the plot for my novel in progress, tentatively titled The Spanish Coin or The Doubloon, I had a computer file containing details about each character. This was the place I made note of all distinguishable characteristics – everything from appearance, clothing, mannerisms, smell, occupation, world view, beliefs, background, family, and manner of speaking.
My hunch is that it is easier to write character biographical sketches before and as you write your novel, but it can be done after the fact. However you choose to do it, it’s a good idea to work through this step before hitting the “publish” button or submitting your manuscript to an editor, literary agent, or publisher.
I read that J.K. Rawlings spent five years writing the biographies of each of her characters before she started writing her Harry Potter series. Wow!
As you evaluate your novel’s manuscript, re-read each of your characters’ biographical sketches, every reference to them in your book, and all their dialogue. It’s time to beef-up those character traits and to check for consistency.
Have you made your characters’ motives clear so their actions are logical?
Did you reveal backstory a little at a time and sufficiently without doing an information dump?
You don’t have a character telling another character something they already know, do you?
Does your character have an arc and is it in the right place?
At this point, you might be saying, “It’s not enough for writers to invent characters? They must make each one distinguishable in appearance, actions, and speech; make them likable but not perfect; and make them memorable and compelling. Is that all?
No. A writer must also balance character, and plot, and setting. Characters must interact with one another. Characters must be believable. Characters must react to the circumstances in which they find themselves. They must have emotions. They must be motivated. Relationships and conflict are necessary; otherwise, there’s no story.
You see, there’s more to writing a novel than typing.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Winter Garden, by Kristin Hannah.
If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have satisfying creative time.
Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. If you like my blog, please tell you real friends and your social media friends about it.
Links to my #FixYourNovel blog posts #1, #2, #3, and #4 Part 1:
Are the characters distinguishable, what are their motives, and are their arcs in the right places?
I’ve been trying to get up the nerve to publish today’s blog post for months. Who am I to have the audacity to attack such a topic? I haven’t even published my first novel.
Perhaps I should have left #FixYourNovel #4: Characterization on the back burner until I had more writing experience. However, to be perfectly honest with you, I got tired kicking the can down the road. I got tired revamping my blog’s editorial calendar and shifting this topic further into the future.
I hope readers and writers will find something of interest in today’s post.
In my journey as a fiction writer, I’ve read about all aspects of the craft of writing. New articles and how-to books are published every day. It’s impossible to keep up.
Today’s blog post is a combination of the things I’ve read about characterization by people who know more about that skill than I do. It’s my job as an aspiring fiction author to wade through all the advice, discern what’s worth keeping, and try to put those gems into practice.
Author Kristin Lamb’s take on characters
I read a September 23, 2019 article by author Kristin Lamb several weeks ago and immediately added it to my resources list for today’s blog post. I love the title of Ms. Lamb’s article: “Characters: Audiences Read Stories, but Great Stories Read the Audience.” It pulled me right in. Her article can be found at https://authorkristenlamb.com/2019/09/characters-story-audience/.
Of course, I had to keep reading to find out what she meant. In a nutshell, Ms. Lamb said that every reader reads a book through their unique perspective. The character in a novel has “baggage,” but so does the reader. The reader brings her “baggage” with her but so does the reader. The reader brings her “baggage” with her into the story and that completes how an individual reader sees a character.
If there are three main characters in a novel and three people read it, it’s possible that each reader will identify with a different character due to the readers’ backgrounds and life experiences.
Also, I think “Great Stories Read the Audience” is an excellent way of saying a writer must know her target audience. I could try to write a novel that would appeal to everyone, but the finished product would probably appeal to no one.
One method is to do what Ms. Harnby suggests: let the viewpoint character describe another character, but don’t let it sound like a description in a police report. The reader doesn’t need to know every detail of how a character looks. Tell what is different about a character. Give each character a distinguishing physical or personality trait.
Author, editor, and writing coach Lori Freeland’s take on characters
Something Lori Freeland says in her June 3, 2019 blog post, https://writersinthestormblog.com/2019/06/down-with-the-rules/, also addresses a method a writer can use when describing their characters. It’s a twist on bending or breaking the writing “rule” that says a character shouldn’t describe herself or himself.
Ms. Freeland writes, “Main characters can describe themselves if they do it right…. Go ahead. Put your character in front of a mirror. But make it a funhouse mirror that emphasizes her faults and grows them larger than life.”
In this blog post, Ms. Freeland also comments about motivation. A writer needs to tell the reader what motivates a character. This clarifies the story.
To quote Ms. Freeland, “The internal journey of your character is as crucial as the external journey.”
Australian Fantasy Author Douglas W.T. Smith’s take on characters
Mr. Smith goes on to talk about how a writer can make characters distinguishable by giving each one a unique speech pattern or word choice. From there he reminds the aspiring writer that all dialogue in a novel should be necessary and should move the story forward; otherwise, it is unnecessary.
Some things are better told through narrative. Mr. Smith writes, “Use dialogue when it’s needed – when it will show relationships or reveal character or plot the way no other tool will.”
Ms. Hardy prefaces her list of five ways to create likable characters by cautioning writers not make the characters perfect. She says, “There’s a fine–and often moving–line between likable and perfect, which can make it difficult to create a well-balanced likable character.”
Ms. Hardy’s blog post goes into detail about how to make a character likable and how to make each character distinguishable, so please click on the link above and read her entire post if you want to learn more.
Until my next blog post
At my own risk, I’m announcing that my blog post next Monday will be a continuation of today’s. If the topic doesn’t interest you, please check in again in two weeks when I’ll write about some of the books I’ve read in February.
I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to The Long Petal of the Sea, by Isabel Allende while I’m partially-incapacitated with my fractured leg.
If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have quality creative time.
Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and time, so I appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog today. I hope you’ll visit it every week to see what I’m up to.
Let’s continue the conversation
Do you prefer to read plot-driven novels or character-driven novels? If you’re a writer, which do you prefer to write?
beginning in June of 2010, this blog has generally been about my journey as a
writer. It hasn’t been a smooth ride so far, and some days the destination
doesn’t appear any closer than when I began.
me of an experience my sister and I had on a trip to the western part of the
United States a few years ago. We saw our first butte. It didn’t look more than
a mile or two away, so we turned off onto a dirt road that looked like it would
take us to the butte. We don’t have buttes in North Carolina, so we wanted to
see one up close.
driving on this straight, flat road for a half hour or so, the butte didn’t
look any closer than it had when we turned off the main highway. We gave up on
reaching the butte and turned around.
As for the
manuscript for my Doubloon novel, I
haven’t given up and I haven’t turned around. I don’t think I could, even if I
wanted to. I’m still learning about the work that has to be done after the
rough draft is finished.
In my mind I
thought I could evaluate every scene in my novel manuscript of more than 90,000
words by mid-July and be ready to send a detailed scene outline to a
professional editor for a critique. In the meantime, I discovered a scene
outline template on C.S. Lakin’s website.
I wrote an
outline before writing the rough draft of the The Doubloon. After finishing the rough draft, I modified my
outline into a scene outline for reference purposes. Then, I found Ms. Lakin’s template.
It includes details and questions I hadn’t thought about being part of a scene
outline based on Ms. Lakin’s template has been a beneficial process because it
makes me state how each scene drives the plot forward, what background details
are revealed, and how the point-of-view character grows or changes. It might
even tell me that one or more scenes aren’t necessary.
My favorite takeaway from Mr. Smith’s
blog post was “Each scene should stand alone, make it dazzling enough to inform
your reader of the necessary plot information, exciting enough to create
interest and interesting enough to cause the reader to keep going.”
continue to work on my scene outline. As a hope-to-be debut novelist with my The Doubloon manuscript, I think it’s a
good idea for me to hire a professional editor to evaluate my scene outline. I’ll
let you know when that happens.
In case you missed #FixYourNovel
#1: Read it Aloud
Today let’s grapple with “fixing” the rough draft of
your novel by reading the entire novel aloud to yourself to make sure it flows
naturally, makes sense, has the right amount of backstory, doesn’t have
information dumps, and doesn’t have plot holes.
I know, many of you bailed out on that last sentence.
If you’re still with me, though, I thank you. If you aren’t interested in
today’s topic, just scroll down to see what I’ve been doing, what I’m reading,
and what my blog has in store for you next week.
of reading aloud to yourself
Among other things, the purposes of reading the rough
draft aloud to yourself are to:
if the story flows naturally;
Make sure there’s the right amount of backstory;
if the pacing is good;
Make sure the story makes sense;
Make sure events are in proper order;
Make sure there are no information dumps;
Catch obvious typographical errors; and
Look for plot holes.
things I found on my read-through
I’m writing what I hope will be my first historical novel. The working title is The Doubloon. I recently typed “The End” at the end of the rough draft, let it rest a couple of weeks, and then read through it out loud last week. “Out Loud” is very important.
One thing that came to light in my read-through was that some of the scenes weren’t in the best order.
Once the location of a scene is changed – especially
if you move it to a point later in your book – you must carefully review the
scenes between its original location and its new location to make sure there
are no references to what happens or is said in that moved scene in the
For example, if you reveal a clue in the scene you
moved from the end of the first chapter to the beginning of the third chapter,
you must make sure you don’t refer to anything in that scene in the second
There were places where sentences weren’t in the best
order. You might not catch those instances if you don’t read your rough draft out
There were instances where a word didn’t do the
sentence justice. Sometimes a sentence needed a stronger verb or more accurate
adjective. If you can’t think of a better substitute immediately, just
highlight it in red and keep going.
I discovered cases where I had not told the reader
something they needed to know in order for a scene to make sense. As the
author, I knew the background, but I had failed to give the reader enough
A number of scenes take place in the meeting house. In
my head, I knew exactly what the log meeting house looked like inside, but I
had not described it well. That task was added to that running list I mentioned
I was surprised to find some typos, which means I’m
too confident in my typing skills. There were several cases where I’d typed the
wrong word, for instance, “where” when I meant “when” and “of” when I meant
“in.” (What was that about?) The spell-check function on your computer won’t
catch these errors.
to deal with problems you find
In some of these cases, I edited the rough draft. In
some cases, I highlighted the word, phrase, or sentence so I can go back later
and take time to make corrections or changes. I started a running list of
things I need to research or be sure to check on later. I only made changes
that could easily be done without taking much time. I didn’t want to get
distracted from the read-through to the point I got bogged down in editing.
surprise in the read-through
It was a pleasant surprise to find some humor in the
manuscript. I wrote all 85,000 words, so how could I forget? Maybe you can keep
up with such things, but I obviously did not. I was really pleased with some of
the humor and the liveliness of some of the dialogue.
Based on my meager experience, I would say this
read-through of your novel’s rough draft should be fun. It certainly was for
me. I enjoyed getting reacquainted with some of the characters’ personalities
and events in the book.
In addition to the humor in this novel that deals with
several serious issues, I hope my readers will try throughout the novel to
figure out “who dunnit.”
of the most important things I learned
One of the most important things I learned through
this rough draft rewrite and read-through is how to get words on the page and
move on. For years I was guilty of trying to write perfectly the first time. If
I had something I needed to research or go back to look for in my research
notes, I would stop right then and chase after the answer.
I’ve finally learned to throw in a red question mark
or type my question in read red, and keep writing. This was a hard
lesson for me to learn. I hope you have learned that or will learn it faster
than I did. It makes a huge difference in how quickly your writing can move
Look for the second installment in my #FixYourNovel blog series in mid-July: Scene Outline Critique will probably be the topic.
my last blog post
We had house guests and also tried to get as much
yardwork done as possible before the heatwave started on Saturday with 95
my next blog post
hope you’re reading a good book. I’m reading The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington, by
Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch. Next Monday’s blog post will be about the books
I’ve read in May.
If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time and your
projects are moving right along.
Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes
doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.
I meant it was time to take all the steps it takes to
get a novel published. There are many additional steps. I am, no doubt, blissfully
unaware of some of them. Today I’ve listed many of the individual things that
need to be done when polishing a novel manuscript. I’m sharing it here in case
it will help someone else who is just starting out.
to polish a novel manuscript
Most of the items I list below apply no matter what genre your novel is, but several of them are specific to writing historical fiction. Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash
I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I have more
questions than answers, but I’m learning every step of the way.
I’ve done since last Monday’s blog post include the following:
Moved the inciting event from page 45 to page 28 and made necessary scene adjustments due to that change in timing;
Changed several character’s surnames so they won’t be mistaken for persons who lived in The Waxhaws, the Rocky River Settlement, and Salisbury in the 1760s;
What’s left to do? Plenty! I need to:
Read entire manuscript aloud to make sure it flows naturally, makes sense, has the right amount of backstory, doesn’t have information dumps, and doesn’t have plot holes;
Characterization: Are the characters distinguishable, what are their motives, and are their arcs in the right places?
Check Point-of-View in every scene;
Tweak Scene Plot Outline;
Consider hiring a Scene Outline Critiquer;
Take professional editor’s recommendation into consideration and make those changes;
Authentic Details: Add details where needed to make sure the reader will feel like they are in The Waxhaws, the Rocky River Settlement, and Salisbury in 1769-1770;
Backstory: Have I included just enough, too little, or too much?
Dialogue: Have I used words not in usage in 1769?
Narrative and Dialogue: Have I used any words too often?
Fine tune every sentence, paragraph, scene, and chapter, checking for things like cause and effect, strong verbs; use of passive voice; character act first, then speak; and the overuse of adverbs;
Check all punctuation — the most difficult task for me; and
Read through the novel aloud again. Have I told a good story?
I do everything I can
After I do everything I can do to make the manuscript the best it can be, there is still hard work to be done. I’ll list some of those in a blog post seven or eight months from now. I’ll know more from experience by then.
I need to continue to build my writer’s platform.
That’s one thing this blog is doing for me. Along the way, I hope my blog
readers will discern the kind of writer I am.
road to publication
daunting road that lies ahead and there will probably be some potholes and
detours along the way.I’ve
worked on this historical novel manuscript for something like 15 years. I’ve
lost track of time and can’t say with certainty when I started working on it.
Until recently, I referred to it as The Spanish Coin. In an effort to give
it a two-word title, I changed the working title to The Doubloon. If I’m fortunate to get it published by a publisher,
as opposed to myself, I will lose control of the title. I’m trying not to get
too attached to either working title.
In the coming months I plan to address these steps
writers should take as they work their way through the novel writing and
traditional novel publishing process. From time-to-time, I will blog about the
steps I listed above in blog posts titled “FixYourNovel #_,” and that’s “#” in
the pre-Twitter numeric.
Look for the first installment in my “#FixYourNovel” blog
series next Monday: Read entire novel
Do I have the audacity to write about how a writer goes
about “fixing” his or her novel? Only time will tell.
can help someone out there who is also writing a debut novel, and some of the
process might be of interest to those of you who like to read fiction. If my
blog readers start dropping like flies, I’ll know you’re not interested.
my next blog post
I’ll read my manuscript out loud and see what it
sounds like from start to finish.
continue the conversation
When you read a blog written in first person point-of-view, do you feel like you’re being talked “at” or not? Do you feel more included when you read a blog written in second person? Does it depend on the topic? Have you ever thought about it?