Happy to be writing again, I thought it’d be a fun thing to share some of my thoughts and methods (some new to me, some I already knew). Here are 3 of those thoughts and suggestions.
Suggestions on broadening the setting of your:
1. Landscapes matter.
Don’t be afraid to add some paragraphs here and there to describe how the environment changes as your characters move through the space. This helps paint the picture in your readers minds, but also makes the setting feel more real and grounded (even in a fantasy setting!)
2. Use and reuse extra characters
You likely have a cast of characters that the story is being told about. Heroes, villains, side characters, and more. Maybe keep some interesting extras to throw around to keep the world changing but still feel familiar. Maybe you had a rude grumpy person who knocked your hero off their feet. It can be a fun nod to bring them back in an unexpected way, or even in the same way but after so much in the heroes journey has changed them they still have normal rude people in their lives…
3. Don’t be afraid to make new characters that are for the setting more than the plot
I’m a big proponent of making everything in a story relevant to the plot. Yet you know, the setting, the place the story takes place in, is relevant to the plot so if it helps breathe life into the world, go for it. I’m hoping to be better at this one for sure, so look for it in the next series 😉
That’s all for now, as always, may God bless you and keep you.
Week four of our series is here! This will be the last one, and next week we will be tying up archetypes in general.
The Mentor is probably the single most common archetype in my opinion. No matter where your protagonist falls on the moral scale, they almost always need a little help learning the ropes before they achieve their goals.
You’ve heard the saying “When the student is ready the master appears” or something to that effect. While you can trace the wisdom/proverb to an origin point, proverbs are by nature true long before anyone utters them. So that is where our mentor archetype comes in.
In my first novel “The Crystal Seal” you can also find this displayed in Mistar appearing very early in Cyan’s journey. This is very common in Fantasy, and several other genres as well. But why is it so common? And why (in the Crystal seal) was Mistar at that inn at the precise moment Cyan was there?
The commonality of the mentor is a bit paradoxical if I’m being honest. A story needs flow, and characters need growth. A teacher, or mentor, is the easiest explanation we can accept. Why do they grow in knowledge, strength, status, etc? Because, they had instructions from someone else who knew how.
This is something we all have experienced ourselves. None of us have lived by ourselves, on an island with no contact to anyone, for our entire lives (I know because the wifi there is terrible). We had people teach us a fair bit of what we know and can do. And not all mentors are kind and well meaning. Even bullies, and villains can be mentors too. Oh sure we picked up some things on our own along the way, but a story without any mentor at all tends to enter the dangerous waters of bad story telling.
I’m not saying you HAVE to have a mentor figure take up valuable time that could be spent on awesome X or exciting Y, but you do need to have some sort of consistent and understandable method of gaining new knowledge or character growth. A mentor has already gained said knowledge and growth, and is able to lead the student towards the goal. This is why mentors make poor protagonists (normally, but of course there are exceptions) because there is little room for them to grow.
Now back to Mistar. Why was he in that inn anyway? How long was he staying there? Well the story gives us clues, such as how familiar people seem to be with him, and his tab on the inn is also somewhat covered, so you can guess longer than a night, less than a month? Foreign currency is hard to judge the value of, especially when it’s fictional. Anyway, the story also asserts he wanders, and Mistar himself states he does teach, albeit not often.
In most cases the reason a teacher is standing at the ready doesn’t matter too much. Even so, there should be a reason right? In “The Candescent Vessel” (book two of the trilogy), we get more clues and reason for Mistar being there. Why not tell the reader up front though? Well, if I’m honest, my favorite teacher’s are the ones you don’t fully understand. They don’t need extensive backstory to be effective, just enough to hint at previous growth to show they aren’t completely crazy. But being a little crazy allows the reader some wiggle room in imagining said backstory, which is always fun.
This time I used some examples out of my own books, hopefully that helps explain what a mentor’s role in the story is. They aren’t the protagonist (normally), they are a powerful tool to facilitate growth both in knowledge and understanding for the student and the reader.
So why is it that a teacher appears when the student is ready? Quite simply, it’s because the student is finally open and ready to be taught. There is almost always someone ready to teach, if only the student is open to the lesson. And in my in the case of Mistar with my trilogy? Well, you’ll just have to read and see for yourself.
So week three of the archetype series is here! We’ve covered heroes and villains now. What about the people in between those two? That is where the antihero emerges from the shadows…
So what are these dark characters? Is there any limits they will place on achieving their goals? Why are they some of the most popular characters in modern fiction? Where do we find examples in the real world? And why would you use one of these in your story?
So the anti-hero is a kind of interesting term. If you took the name literally you would think “That’s just another name for a villain”. The anti-hero is not a straight up villain though. In fact most hold many of the same traits as heroes. An anti-hero is normally motivated by a desire to help others (often a single person, or small group of people). It is common that they fight against villains or corrupted individuals. They even normally feel as though they are doing the right thing.
What makes them more like villains, and makes them contrast heroes are their methods. For instance, a hero normally allows a justice system have the criminal. An anti-hero “removes” them, or carries out the full judgement themselves. They tend to see the world as all shades of gray, and are incapable of seeing black or white. Their morals are normally lacking, or have been eroded away. As such they will often go farther than any hero would to achieve their goals. They do tend to have some morals and lines they don’t cross, but these are far fewer than nearly any hero.
You will find that Anti-heroes tend to be dark and gritty. They are written this way to make themselves contrast to your “typical hero”. If they aren’t written as a jagged person, they tend to come off as a crazy or psychotic character (even if unintentionally). These characters tend to mirror our more violent tendency and desires as humans. You know you have wanted to smack that smug smile off that hippocrates face, or break the nose of that bully, or even get payback on that missdeed against you. This is why we find anti-heroes so interesting. They explore the “what ifs” of our darker fantasies.
Will you find these people in the “wild”. Yes, but I hope you don’t especially not as something in their way. They do tend to be criminals, but are ussally the kind that don’t get caught. Occupationaly they are often bounty hunters, mercenaries, and real life vigilantes. The part of society that is on the darker side, that we rather pretend doesn’t exist. I mean we know “bad people” are out there; but the anti-hero is normally a “good person” doing “bad things”, and we don’t like to admit that happens so often.
Back to the world of writing. These characters are good to draw contrast for your heroes. They can be “fallen” heroes, who have had their morals eroded away over the years. They can also be “reformed” villains who have found a new purpose in serving others, but tend to still not have a good moral compass. You could also use them to tell darker stories that might be harder for you to put a typical hero into. Or to tackle the more grim topics of society like corruption. While they do believe they are justified in their actions, the action itself doesn’t have to be a “good” one. They aren’t role models, but they do show that: imperfections don’t a villain make you.
Thanks for reading. You might have noticed I didn’t rant about lazy writers, or modern fiction in this one. That’s because even though these are some of the most popular types of characters out there; they haven’t gotten the abuse that heroes and villains have gotten lately. While it is very possible to write these characters in a lazy fashion; those don’t tend to fly well in the traditional published scene. Even though poorly written heroes and villains have both been squeezing through.
So here we are again. Back at the old writing of helpful insights…
So what do I write now? I had an idea eariler but it was for a different topic or story. Should I go develop that? I am getting no where here on this project…
If those starting sentences sounded familiar you might have some experience with “writer’s block”. That old foe that plagues even the most successful of authors. Can we slay him? Maybe not, but we can seal him away again.
So first things first, what is writers block?
Well as the name implies it is a mental block that seems to have wedged itself between your mind, creativity, and your physical action of writing. This subconscious mental state can be as frustrating as it is perverse. The mental block can even affect and effect other parts of your day to day life.
In short, you desire to push your creativity and capabilities in one direction, and you receive unexpected resistance.
So what do you do to get rid of it?
Thank you for asking!
Well to get rid of it, stop pushing against it…
Not super helpful huh?
Okay, let me help by explaining more.
Your mind, my mind, and The mind, all tend to wonder.
Your mind is drifting from thinking about your project, to the conversation earlier with that one person, to the sale at the store, to how you needed more sleep, the conversation you overheard, that person that annoys you, why is there so much of that color of paint these days, how you need more sleep, what your going to eat next meal…
You see my point? You can’t focus on all that at once, so the mind is fluid and drifts around.
Step one. Take a deep breath. Let’s begin.
So first try to identify why you can’t focus. This is almost always internal (no matter how much that person clicking the pen 10 feet from you grates on your nerves). What is worrying you? Little tasks that need done? Make a short plan to deal with it, and stick to that plan.
Feel better? No? Yeah me either, so lets continue.
Next if you’re fixated on another idea, write a quick overview of it. Maybe it really is your next great idea that will change your life… Probably not, but an overview should spark the idea back up if it really is a good idea to start with.
After that doesn’t work, change your environment. A short walk, and think about the things you see or encounter (not about the project, or deadline). 10 min later, go back to the project. But instead, reread some of it, or the reread the assignment, or both.
Next, remember that thing that inspired this story? Try to. Was it a conversation, situation, or something else? If the details are fuzzy, try and reexperince it (as best you can).
Now write something. Build something in the story. Set a scene, describe a landmark, or introduce a character. Like Chris, the unhelpful troll who doesn’t understand your problems. What’s he look like? What does he sound like?
HEY! What are you doing? Is that writing you’re doing? How’d that happen?
No more writers block if you follow steps like those. All of them, and don’t skip, it’s a process. It really does work, hasn’t failed me yet.
Was this helpful? Yes or No, and let me know if you have your own process down in the comments.
Until next time. May God bless you and keep you.
Welcome to the final installment in my Basics of writing mini series. This will be the one that strings all the others together. In other words, how to string a series of ideas together to make a story.
So you have a good idea for a book. It will have action, romance, a thrilling conflict, interesting twists, and possibly the best single climax that a book has ever had. You sit down and you know the basics we’ve covered already, Character building, world building, setting and supporting details (if you missed any of those, they are here on the blog 🙂 ). But when you sit down to start that first chapter, you freeze. You have great ideas, but no idea how to get started.
First, take a deep breath. All writers and authors have been there, so No it’s not just you. Second, in a separate document, write down all your ideas for the story, as specific and as detailed as you wish. Third, well this is where the path widens up.
There is, by far, more than one way to write a story. So lets go over a few popular ones:
Some start by making (what I call) story pages. These explain locations, characters, and conflicts that will or could take place inside your book. Once you have all these places, people, and things figured out then; you figure out where you want to start and end the story. And finally of course start typing, or writing on paper if you prefer. You can have their journey completely mapped out, add details of each location as they arrive. Your character’s struggles that will shape their growth are predetermined mostly by your plan. And you finish the way, place, and time you planed in the beginning (or a revised way, if you find things flowed a bit different when you got to actually writing the story).
Another way is to simply jump in. Build the world as you go, and develop your characters accordingly. This style typically starts at the beginning, and might only have a vague idea of where they are going; if any at all. You start Chapter 1, introduce your world or a main character, then start minor conflict; just to show where your character is right now in terms of characteristics. Send them on some type of journey in the next several chapters (doesn’t really matter what kind, emotional, physical, philosophical, a mix of them, they are all taking the character somewhere). Give them another test, to show their growth, possibility introduce the villain (if you haven’t already). Set another journey with a “battle” in the last two chapters.
Yet another way, write the final chapter first. Then go back and start at the beginning. The last chapter could have references to events that take place elsewhere in the story; be sure to pin these somewhere to remember so your flow works. You have a definite idea of where you are going, and a vague idea of how you get there. Determine how far back you wish to go, then start there and lead your character to the ending you already wrote. The growth is shown by how different you made the character in the beginning from the one at the end. The world, can be developed over time, but be sure the final setting makes sense in it.
As you can see there are many ways to write a story. These are just three common ones off the top of my head. You can of course implement any mixture of these, and completely different methods as well (I don’t know them all of course haha).
So what do I do, to write a story?
Well, my first novel that I ever completed I used my third example. Almost exclusively actually, the only additional element I eventually employed (after having 4 or so chapters written) was I wrote short paragraphs of what should/could take place in each chapter leading to my pre-written end (in order to make sure I remembered everything). The next two books in the trilogy were “started” after I had written about three fourths of the first novel. They were more “story paged” in that I wrote an overview of each book that hit all the highlights, broke out the chapters with a paragraph each, and knew what characters were being introduced and when.
By the time I started writing my second book, details had changed in what I presumed the first one would have contained (details can change in the moment). So much of my original overview wasn’t completely accurate. That was fine, I just gleaned what I could from it and wrote a new chapter breakout and started writing from there. The same happened for the third book as well. Was my extra effort to plan much of the story wasted? Absolutely not! This back and fourth created an internal feedback loop, which is something that collaboration with another author could also gain you. I was basically re-evaluating work my previous self had written with “new eyes”.
This kind of feedback is useful and many people will advise you (no matter your writing style) to find a mentor to help you develop your stories. While I do have great non-author support and feedback (my wife and my mom), the feedback I get from revisiting things I wrote a year or two a go is also valuable. Just recently I was doing this very thing with the book I have been writing, and I realized my tone and flow were all a mess. Which last week I announced was being delayed due to that. The story will still happen, but now I need to rewrite it and that is never fun. Even though that kind of exercise isn’t fun, it is helpful because your finished works will be all the better for it.
So in closing, adopt a method of writing (or combination, doesn’t have to be one I listed), seek feedback (either from people you know will give you honest feedback, or another author), and don’t be afraid to rewrite parts that don’t fit or flow right (your story deserves the best flow you can achieve. Just don’t get carried away rewriting the first chapter a dozen times without continuing the rest of the story).
That’s it for this series, I hope you all find it helpful in some way. Until next time, may God bless you and keep you.
Last week we started this series of the Basics of Writing with world building here is a link in case you missed it: https://christopherjhillger.com/2019/07/09/basics-of-writing-world-building/
This week we are diving into some of the basics of Character building. I feel like this topic doesn’t need me to explain why it is important, I mean what kind of story is it if you have poorly built characters? That isn’t to say that books haven’t been written with bad characters, but such stories tend to be forgotten. After all, your characters are (typically) who tells your story to begin with.
So, how do we build a character anyway? Well, it helps if we start with an archetype. You have many to choose from, the “everyman” to “paragon” to “mary sue” just kidding don’t use that last one. Now, please understand me here, Do Not stick to an archetype solely, or force a character to only fit in one category. Sticking too strictly to an archetype tends to make your characters boring, and stagnant. You do need to utilize them however, because if you say have a character that switches what category they fall in rapidly without good reason you will only confuse your reader. I mean, we didn’t see Frodo (everyman) turn into Gandalf (paragon/sage) in the end of the Fellowship of the ring.
So lets build a character from scratch right now.
Ok, so we are going with “everyman” in this example. It is can be a common archetype for the main character of a book. They are easy for the reader to relate to, and tend to struggle with similar things that most people struggle with. They don’t normally possess any extra ordinary skills either.
What kind of physical traits should he/she have? Well, we should probably make sure they are close to “average” maybe a little taller/shorter, a little more/less strong than their peers, and have a certain yearning to become something more than what they are now.
So lets make this a female character, who is a little taller than average, and while lacking extra strength physically she knows how to use her height to win a fight if she needs to. She has brown hair that sits just above her shoulders in length, and has a natural wave to it. She has fierce green eyes, and a thin face with a few freckles on her cheeks.
There we go. We have the appearance of a character, but that is only the beginning. Now you need to have a couple story decisions before you can do much more. For instance, is this your main protagonist? Lets say she is, what kind of character traits should she have? Well kind and loyal are both normal protagonist traits, but we don’t want to fit the mold too closely so how about we go the route of loner and suspicious of others?
We have a couple of character traits now, that’s a good start. But it doesn’t mean much without context now does it? Which is what the first part character building truly is at its core: Giving the reader background information about characters in a story over the course of many chapters. You can start your first chapter and revel your character’s appearance, and even dominant traits within the first few pages. Explaining as the story goes on what struggles they face going forward, and have already faced help the reader to understand what this character is all about.
So say about five chapters in you find out that due to the betrayal by a close family friend, she lost her younger brother to a group of bandits and doesn’t know if he is even alive. That would explain why she tends to be suspicious of others and why she tends to be a bit of a loner.
The next part of Character Building is growing your characters over the course of the story. Our green eyed protagonist is forced to work with another girl and that girl’s brother in order to proceed the plot. This makes the character uncomfortable, and forces them to adapt to new situations they have previously avoided. Being placed in uncontrollable circumstances is another trait of the “everyman” and one that is fairly universally kept.
Now you have a growing opportunity for the protagonist. They could work with others better as a result of this situation, voice their distrust which could lead to emotional growth, or even out right fail and see it as justification of their previous feelings causing them to grow more callous towards others. Growth is necessary regardless of what traits your character ends up growing into. It makes the reader gain more emotional connection to the characters, look at Harry Potter. He started something of an “everyman” and towards the end took on the mantle of “the hero”. That growth took place over several books, and countless situations. In the end he even changed archetypes (which is also okay, when there is enough supporting information for it).
You as a writer weave the story, and build the world, and the characters within it. By using effective world building, and character building you can write memorable stories for people to enjoy for generations. These are your two greatest tools as a writer. You must learn how to use them effectively if you wish to create great stories, and further yourself in the art. Of course you can also just use the information to make better creative narratives for a school assignment as well, so to each their own haha.
That is all for this week, I hope this explanation made sense to all of you.
Until next time, may God bless you and keep you.