Category Archives: Writing & Publishing

Hide Your Villain in Plain Sight

Hide your villain in plain sight to get maximum leverage out of him. Your reader will thank you when he closes that book feeling sated and satisfied that he didn’t see that coming – no, sirree, not at all. Not one bit.

And let’s face it – villains are crooked, corrupt, deceitful and cunning. Of course they’re going to hide themselves where you lease expect it. It only makes sense. Why would he run around with a sign above his head screaming that he’s the villain? It would make his victims run full speed away from him.

But how to hide the big bad wolf in your story so you can reveal him in a delicious or creepy twist? Here’s how – think of some of the worst criminals in the world and use what they did.

1. Handsome and Likeable

Think Ted Bundy and Paul Bernardo. Both good-looking fellows who women fell for, not realizing what lurked behind those attractive faces. Yes, there might be villains who look like evil monsters but they tend to be in Disney films like Cruella de Vil and others of her ilk. Most modern day villains could be the guy or girl next door.

2. The Hero’s Friend

Best place to hide the baddie is in plain sight. Let him be best buds with your protagonist, there at every party, there at every event – helping the hero out. But make sure that this comes across as sincere in order for the reader to believe that the person is a mentor or true friend. The trick is to lay clues that when the reader flips back they will notice them.

3. Harmless and Incompetent

Fool your reader by giving them the impression that the villain in an incompetent fool or harmless – perhaps someone who is physically unable to do horrible deeds. And maybe he or she physically can’t. Perhaps the villain is the mastermind and has minions to do their dirty deeds. Think Voldermort here – never one for dirtying his own creepy long fingers, but very adept at getting minions like Quirrell and others to do his dastardly deeds.

4. Make the Villain Likable

It might be tough to pull this off, but not everyone is one shade of black or white. Even villains have hearts. The hearts might be on the black side, but no one has no redeeming qualities. Perhaps he has a cutting wit or likes dogs. Show his warm and cuddly side until the end. It will make his bad reveal so much more powerful. Your readers might hate you for what you do to them but they won’t forget it … and will come back for more.

Who is your favorite villain?

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Blank Page Syndrome

Credit: The Draw Shop

Blank Page Syndrome – it really is a syndrome – and a scary one at that. If you are a writer, I can guarantee that you have been struck with it at one time or another.

You can suffer through it until you get a breakthrough or you can take some medicine to cure it.

Causes of Blank Page Syndrome

No. 1 – No fun, no passion – You’ve lost that spark that got you excited in your story. The writing has become humdrum, the characters dull, and you’ve edited it so much that you can’t stand the story any longer

No. 2 – Perfectionism – it’s probably what’s caused No. 1 (No fun, no passion). Forget about editing every little detail. What I like to do is make my comments in the comment boxes and let them stew for a while. By all means, re-work areas that you’ve decided to change – but remember that a first draft is your chance to get your thoughts and ideas down. Don’t sweat every little detail

No. 3 – Burned Out – You’ve gone at with such gusto, that you’ve burned yourself out. Writing a novel takes time and effort.

Remedy for Blank Page Syndrome

No. 1 – Pilfer – Steal a great line from a novel you’ve read and write it down to start your thought processes off. Trust me when I say you will not be plagiarizing simply because that line will not stay the way you’ve written it down – not for long, anyway. As your creative writing juices start to run, you’ll realize why that line worked for its own author and how it needs to change for you. So go for it – write it down and let the magic begin

No. 2 – Pretend – Act out your story in your mind. Become the heroine and play-act her problems in order to solve them. Role playing is not just for video games and nerds. Try it – you’ll like it and before you know it – Blank Page Syndrome will be vanquished

No. 3 – Write – Anything you like. Try a poem or a song or even a limerick, but base it on the story you are writing. Sometimes a change of writing can help kick-start that blankness in your head.

No. 4 – Brainstorm – this is my favorite remedy. If you belong to a great critiquing group, they can be a help like no other. They probably know your story as well as you and can give you stupendous ideas of where the plot should go. Use them as a fail-safe remedy.

What’s your remedy for Blank Page Syndrome?

New Year Writing Resolution

New Year’s Resolutions, list of items

Your New Year writing resolution is still pretty fresh in your mind, I’m sure. You’re probably writing away madly and sure that you will be able to keep up the frenetic pace for the rest of the year.

I hope so, but chances are – the writing peaks and wanes.

Achieving Your Writing Resolution

Be consistent and and dedicated. It’s a surefire way to achieve success. While I do believe that the muse does descend upon all creative types, it is necessary to build on what the muse imparts. That means – fleshing out your story idea, adding meat to the bones of your characters’ personalities and carving out conflict after conflict to hinder your protagonist.

Making Writing Your Priority

Of course you have other things to do in life, but ensure that you set aside an hour or two to consistently work on your story. It’s really not that much time. Think of how much time you fritter away watching television or window shopping. Don’t think of it as strict ‘writing’ time – it can mean editing the work or just planning how to progress.

Consistency

Consistency is boring for many, but it’s also the key to maintaining your writing resolution. If you know you are going to spend time writing from 2 – 4 in the afternoon, you will work the rest of your schedule around it. It’s a date with yourself, similar to what you do to go to the gym. It will also help the panic that arises when you know you have one night left to submit your piece for critiquing to your writing group – and you have nothing to submit.

Treat Your Resolution as a Challenge

Many of us like a challenge – even if it’s with our own selves. Challenge yourself to maintain your writing discipline for the next month. And when you achieve that, renew the challenge for the next month and so on. You’ll be so pleased with your progress, it will keep you going.

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Forcing Your Hero to Act

Forcing your hero to act might sometimes be tough. He may be like one of those inflatable tube men that flop around in the wind – just unable to make a stand. How do you get him to knuckle down, grow a backbone and do something for god’s sake.

First off, don’t despair. We can give that tube man some guts and a skeleton, and force him to be a real man.

Here’s how:

A Relentless Opponent

Make sure your villain is a take-charge type, with plenty of intestinal fortitude – the type that never gives up, is a manipulating bastard, and will hound the hero till he has no choice but to force the issue and take a stand. What can the villain do to do this? Plenty. Threatening the life of someone the hero loves should work unless the hero is completely lily-livered (and in that case, he should not be the her), or the bad guy could spread false rumors, tell lies or poison the hero’s pet puppy.

Bar the Doors – No One is Getting Out

Imprison your protagonist and antagonist in a room – okay, it doesn’t have to be a prison. Use your imagination and figure out how you can get them together. Maybe they’re stuck on a ship, or stranded in an elevator that’s stopped between floors or seatmates on a plane. Whatever. Only, you know as the writer, you’re not letting them leave until there is a confrontation, and your hero is forced to act in some way.

Use a Stop Watch

Literally. Forcing your hero into a time crunch will compel him to act. Just like we are forced to write to a deadline or that horrible lady sends unpleasant emails, coercing your hero or heroine into a deadline will push them to confront their fears and act. Perhaps the iceberg on which they are standing is melting and she has to tell him she loves him before they perish, or he is leaving on a jet-plane, don’t know when he’ll be back again (I know I’m dating myself with this song) and so the time for decision is on her.

 

Using Anger in Your Story

Using anger in your story can do a lot of terrific things for your character … and you know that at some point in your novel, your protagonist is going to get angry.

And that’s good.

Here’s why:

Anger can show a side to your character that no one ever knew he had. It can be righteous anger, or petty anger, or even violence. Maybe he even destroys something precious – great for conflict!

You can use the outburst to set your character off in a new direction. Maybe the eruption is so bad, it makes him regret his behavior and he transforms. Or he can dive down into abusing drugs. Anger can make a person unpredictable.

Anger can also be used as a manipulation tool – a sort of emotional blackmail. Some of us cannot bear ‘the cold shoulder’ and will do anything to avoid it, even confess or apologize for something we’ve never done it. Think of how you can use a situation like that.

But anger is a strong emotion that needs to be portrayed correctly. It is always a reaction to something else, to some problem that has arisen. No one gets angry for no reason

1. What is the motivation behind your character’s anger?

Consider whether she is confused, frustrated, hurt, jealous, embarrassed, powerless, rejected, worried – what else can you think of? All these emotions are motivations for anger and should be integrated in the story.

2. Body language is another great way to show how angry your character is.

Think of how people react when they are super angry. Some rant and rave, and get hysterical. Others close down completely – perhaps all you notice are flared nostrils or a thin line of lip. Make a mental (or physical) note when you see someone get rip-roaring mad, then use those observations next time your character is super angry.

3. Passive or aggressive anger?

We all behave in different ways. Some of us lash out when we get angry. We have to spill – yell and scream and get it all out of our systems. Others are like volcanoes. They let the magma build and build, until it bursts. Then get out of their way. If your character is the latter type, show him turning the other cheek, and withdrawing when he’s angry with someone until she explodes and wow! what a fantastic scene it will be.

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Diagnosing a Problem Story

Diagnosing a problem story can be … well, a problem.

How to Know if you have a Problem Story

If someone asks you this mucho important question, and you are unable to answer it without a lot of “ums,” “ahs,” and a bucketload of background information – then, you have a problem story. It’s time to take a timeout, and figure out what the story is all about. You need to tease the threads apart and decide:

1. Who is your main character? It should always be the most interesting character in the novel; the one with the major problem; and the one who has the most to lose

2. Does your protagonist have a major problem? If she doesn’t, your story will go nowhere. That, my little chickadees, is what your novel is supposed to be about. It’s supposed to be about the heroine facing a major obstacle, jumping over a buttload of hurdles, and racing to the finish line ahead of the opposition that is doing everything to block her from getting to the end, achieving her goals, and getting to live happily ever after.

3. What is the plot? A plot is the individual events that takes the hero from his inciting incident (which kickstarts the hero’s journey) to the climax (where he achieves his objective and gets what he deserves) and finally to the denouement or satisfactory ending.

4. Conflict is at the center of every good novel. Without it to drive the plot, your story will meander, your characters will be flat, and your story lacklustre. That’s why an inciting incident is so important at the start of your novel. It provides the hero with conflict immediately, and spurs him on, keeps him focused, and motivates him to continue to the end so he can win his prize.

5. If your story has so many sub-plots, twists and turns, that you cannot identify the main thread, then once again, you have a problem.  All sub-plots need to link to the main in some way. If they don’t, ditch them.

Solution

The best way to fix your problem is to let your ego take a hike. Join a critiquing group, or a writing class with an instructor or coach you trust, and be prepared to write, write, and write some more.

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Why do you Write?

Credit: katemcolby.com

Why do you write? I’ts a question I’ve posed to myself, and one I plan on asking my gang of writers (those of you reading this – get your answers ready).

Way back in 1946, George Orwell wrote an essay on this very subject – called appropriately enough Why I Write. In it, he stated the following four reasons:

Sheer Egoism

The desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen — in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all — and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.

Aesthetic Enthusiasm

Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.

Historical Impulse

The desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.

Political Purpose

Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

George Orwell’s words still ring true to me. Do you agree?

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Tempt Failure

Credit: challies.com

If you want to succeed, tempt failure. It sounds like an oxymoron, but it isn’t. What it really means is that chucking it all, and trying something different may end up being your key ingredient to success.

How to Tempt Failure

Tempt failure by doing what you are terrified of doing. Take a risk. It may not pay off … but it just might.

It reminds me so much of all the people who stay in safe jobs, and absolutely hate what they do. I started my adult life as a secretary – not because that’s what I wanted to do. I actually wanted to go to University, but since there wasn’t enough money for that, my parents signed me up for secretarial school. I loved the people – I hated the job. But when we immigrated to Canada it got me a job that helped pay the bills. During those office years, I met so many people who complained endlessly about how they hated their jobs, but never took any steps to do something about it.

I did. I chucked it all up one day thanks to a very good school friend of mine who made me cry. She told me  – “what are you doing in such a dead-end job? You had so much potential. Go and find yourself.” When I got back home to Montreal, I marched in to my boss’ office and quit. I said I was going back to school to get a degree in journalism. The problem was I hadn’t actually applied! Thank god, I got in!

Years later, I decided to start my new life as a creative writing coach. I was terrified. What would happen if no one signed up? I’m in my fourth year now, and I can truthfully say I have a great gang of writers, and love what I do.

Tempt failure? You betcha.

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Point of View

Credit: theodysseyonline.com

The correct point of view (pov) can make or break your novel. The reader wants to be drawn in and feel like they’re part of the story, and this happens through point of view.

New writers often believe that the omniscient point of view is the one they should write in. That way, the reader can know everything that is happening in the story. Makes sense, doesn’t it? At first glance, it does. Omniscient point of view does have its place, and works very well for certain types of story, but it takes a seasoned writer to do a masterful job of this pov.

Party Stories

When you’re at a party, or meeting a friend, and you tell a story – think about what you do and say. Chances are you’re going to be using first person (I) and, if you’re like me, gesturing a lot and getting extremely animated. Using first person, allows you to bring in this personal aspect into the storytelling. It does force you to tell the story only from that person’s viewpoint, but there are ways around that too.

Chances also are that the person who’s telling the story is also the most important person in the story – otherwise, why is he telling the story? He’s the only one who knows the story intimately and that’s the beauty of this pov – that intimacy will shine through. We are in that person’s world, feeling what he feels, doing what he does, and being crushed when he is. It’s probably the easiest pov to write as well, since we can immerse ourselves into the character’s emotions and thoughts.

Third person point of view works too. Although it does not have the immediacy of first person, it is the pov that works for most novels. It also allows you to use other characters’ voices in the story. Definitely not as limiting as first person, but it’s a good idea to limit your pov’s to two or three people or you’ll end up getting as confused as your reader will be.

What pov do you like to write in?

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Breaking Down a Scene

Your story is made up of multiple scenes. It’s what moves your plot along and takes your character to his/her goal.

Every scene can be broken down into five parts:

1) Point of View Character

If you are writing from a first-person POV – then you have no problem figuring out who your POV character for the scene is. If not, think of which person has the most at stake, emotionally – and bingo, that’s the person whose POV you should write the scene in.

2) Goal

What is the goal that the POV character is pursuing in this scene? It can’t be something vague like ‘oh, he’s going to rescue the girl’. He needs to be more concrete like ‘he’s going to choke her whereabouts out of the villain, after which he will pound them to a pulp’, then go rescue the damsel in distress.

Your goal must be clear, possible and important to the character

3) Conflict

Every scene must have conflict. That doesn’t mean there has to be a fight between characters. All it means is that the other person must have specific goals as well, and they should be at odds with the pov character. We don’t need to know what the other person’s goals are at that time. They just need to be pursuing another agenda.

One of the characters in the scene will achieve his/her objective or goal, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be the protagonist’s.

4) Setback/Disaster

As I said above, one of the conflict characters will achieve their goal (hopefully not the protoganist because then your story is limited). The protagonist can have some questions answered, some small goal achieved, but always foiled in some way until the end.

5) Scene End

End your scene on a bit of a cliff hanger. Hopefully, not only has your heroine not achieved her goal, but has made her life worse – and your story more interesting.

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