Complete a character questionnaire for each of your main characters or even secondary characters that play a vital role in your story. This way you will know your character(s) well before you start writing about them.Fill in as much information about them as possible. Don’t only answer what you will need in your story. The objective here is to get to know your character till he becomes a ‘live’ person in your mind.
So let’s begin…
1. In a few sentences write down a summary of the plot
2. Character’s personal details
a) First name
3. In a few sentences write down the character’s back story (a bit about his background)
4. The role of the character in your story
a) What are character’s goals?
b) What are character’s motivations?
c) What is the character’s conflict?
d) How will the conflict stop the character from reaching his goal?
e) What is he going to do to overcome the conflict?
f) What problems will crop up during the story?
g) How will those problems get worse?
h) What will the character do to overcome those problems?
i) How will he resolve the conflict?
j) How will your character’s background influence how he behaves in your story?
k) What is the relationship with other characters, if any, in your story?
5. Physical Descriptions
b) Eye colour
c) Hair colour
e) Hair length
g) Shape of face
h) Body type
6. How does his expression change when…
a. He’s with a loved one
b. He’s with someone he dislikes
c. He’s with his boss
d. He’s with a colleague
a) Type? (shy, outgoing, insecure, dominant etc)
b) Distinguishable traits?
c) Mental scars? (Complexes etc)
e) Sense of humour?
i) Overall personality?
j) How does his personality change when he’s experiencing different emotions?
k) How does he act when he feels confident?
l) How does he act when he feels inadequate?
m) What gestures does he use when he talks and thinks?
n) How does he walk? With confidence? Does he slouch or stride?
o) What mannerisms does he have? (Does he fold his arms? Does he flick his hair?)
p) How does he speak? (Clearly, mumble, confidently, drawl etc.)
q) His voice? (Rich, loud, soft, etc)
r) His vocabulary? (Casual, formal, illiterate etc)
s) What does he think when he’s alone?
t) Does he have any secrets he hasn’t disclosed to anyone?
u) His prejudices?
v) Dominant motives?
w) Values most?
x) Desires most?
y) How does he treat those around him? (children, superiors, etc)
z) Any vices or virtues?
8. Likes and dislikes
a) Favourite colour, food, etc
b) Favourite music?
c) Taste in clothing?
d) Does character like something in particular?
e) Does character dislike something in particular?
a) Where does the character live (country, city)?
b) Does character live in a house, apartment etc
c) Does character like where he lives?
d) Does where he lives reflect what kind of person he is?
e) Does he have a favourite room? (Or a piece of furniture or other object etc)
f) Does he have a car? What type? Does the car reflect the person he is?
g) Any hobbies? Personal habits (neat, sloppy etc)
a) Parents names
b) Parents occupations
c) Describe relationship with parents
d) Any siblings?
e) Describe relationship with siblings
f) What kind of childhood did the character have?
g) What kind of adolescence did the character have?
h) What kind of schooling did character undergo? (Private or public? Has this shaped who he is?)
i) What was the highest-level achieved in school?
j) Citizenship/Ethnic Origin?
k) In which country does he currently live?
l) If the country he lives in is not where he was born, why does he live there?
11. Character’s current position
a) Any friends?
b) Any enemies?
d) Has character been married before?
e) Has the character been engaged before?
f) Any children?
g) Most meaningful experience?
h) Any disappointments?
i) What is the character’s goal in life?
j) Attitude towards the opposite sex?
k) Attitude towards life?
a) What kind of job does character currently have?
b) What kind of jobs has the character had previously?
c) Is character content in current employment?
d) If not, what would be their dream job?
13. What do you feel for this character?
Whatever you feel for this character, your emotions must be strong. If they are not, either build on this further or begin building another character altogether.
© Nick Vernon
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According to the latest figures, the sale of digital books is increasing by around 300% a year - while the sales of real books - hardbacks and paperbacks - is dropping by around 15% a year.You'll notice that I didn't call them e-books - mainly because I know many writers have a knee jerk reaction to the word and just close down - and say, that's not for me and dismiss the whole idea of being published in anything other than paper form.
Fact is, the publishers you aspire to impress are beginning to feel the pinch because they too have had the same 'jerk' reaction to digital content.
Unless a movie star buys the rights to a book, like what happened with The Martian!
But generally, trad pubs really don't know what to do about the e-book...
Trouble is, the new players in publishing like Amazon and Apple - and the thousands of digital publishers already on line - know exactly what to do about it!
Do you remember about ten years ago people were saying that hand-held book readers would never catch on?
That the paper book was some sacred object that could never be replaced?
Well, that's still true.
But now iPads, Kindles and Tablets are here - and guess what? they're just new names for hand-held book readers.
I suspect the same will happen with e-books.
They will change their credibility factor by simply changing their name...
No idea what to at this stage.
Something more sexy sounding than e-books, to be sure.
One of the more interesting findings that a recent survey uncovered is that the average person already has around three times more digital books on their computer hard drives than they have real books on their bookshelves at home.
And who said e-books would never catch on?
Are you missing something here?
Here's an example of a writer who's not missing the boat on this one:
J A Konrath, a crime and horror writer tired of being rejected by NY publishers, even though he's been very successful offline, released his entire back catalog of books and short stories through Kindle - available only as digital downloads.
Last year he made nearly $48,000 in royalties on just those books - yes, forty eight thousand $US, even though his e-books sold for less than, on average, $2 each.
Konrath is the first to say he doesn't know if he's unique in this regard, only that he has no faith in traditional publishers to make the correct commercial decisions for his work anymore.
The big problem I am seeing everywhere is that authors - good authors, great writers - are being serially rejected by publishers.
Trouble is, they're taking this rejection to heart and thinking it's somehow their fault - when clearly it's not.
It's the fault of a traditional publishing industry that is losing its grip on how to sell books to readers.
Just look at the fiasco over American Dirt.
The entire publishing industry fighting over a book so badly put together it's embarrassing.
It's clear the industry doesn't read anymore.
They just try and screw each other over what sounds sexy.
And spend ridiculous amounts of money over books they often have to take down and pulp.
But they make sure the only person to lose out is the author.
It's all in the contract.
Why would you want a contract anyway?
Digital publishing is fast and cheap.
The big publishing houses take, on average, two years to get a book from submission to publication - mainly because their internal structures are massively inefficient and cumbersome to the point of silliness.
Plus, they lack confidence in the market for books... they must do.
They're currently reject 99.9999% of all new manuscripts arriving on their desks because they already have all the books they can handle and can't sell - plus leviathan lists of hopefuls lined up for years to come (that they probably can't sell either).
Now, publishing works on the principle that one bestselling book pays for another one hundred not so successful books on a publisher's list.
It's always been that way.
It's a business model.
But how can you know what the bestsellers are going to be?
Well, you can't - which is why releasing new books - and often - is so necessary to compete.
And releasing new books often is exactly what digital publishing is all about.
The money side is different for digital.
Gone are the big advances - unless you get a movie option.
But also gone is the long wait to get royalties.
Digital books might not make you as much money - but you get it sooner - which means you can 'keep writing' while the other would be authors have to work their day jobs in the faint hope of a real book contract.
The times are changing.
It's not a case of thinking that e-books won't catch on...
They already have!
Inventions like the iPad have made digital downloading and reading of books commonplace.
And only those trade publishers with blinkers on don't see that their days are numbered - unless they all want to become boutique niche suppliers to an ever dwindling marketplace.
I remember back in the 1980s someone sais something to me.
(Herman, his name was - I loved him dearly until he attacked me with an ax - long story),
"Rob," he said, "the future is digital."
I had no idea what he was talking about at the time.
But this was just before CDs took over from vinyl records.
And to think, most musicians in those days thought that CDs and barcodes marked the end of civilization - in much the same way that many modern writers still refuse to embrace digital books - the future in other words.
Have I convinced you yet?
Do you still have your head buried in the sand over this?
I hope not.
My darling wife and I are living proof you can get rich and successful as writers using a combination of book distribution networks - online digital and offline with real paper books - and not relying exclusively on any old-world publishers to help you.
Because, to be honest now, I really don't think most trade publishers know what they're doing anymore.
They're shrinking and floundering on a seashore they can't come to terms with - because they missed the boat while they were wondering what to do about the Internet...
Having said all the above, we're very excited this week because we've just acquired nationwide distribution for our own 'real' books in Australia and NZ, through our own new publishing company,
Well, you know what they say. If you can't join them, beat them!
© Rob Parnell (2011)
Three years ago, I asked writers in a discussion list the things they do to unblock themselves. Here are some of the responses I received:
1. Forget what I'm working on at the moment, put on some Springsteen and curl up with something written by Hemingway. (Yeah, I know, it's a strange combination.) (Steve B.)
2. Stand up, get a mug of hot chocolate and watch a rerun of "The Simpsons." (Amit K.)
3. I do housework which eventually throws my imagination back in gear because I hate housework. (Rita H.)
4. Go for a walk. I think about the piece I am working on and play with scenes and even dialogue in my mind until I come up with something that feels right. The exercise and the fresh air usually start the creative juices flowing again. (Char A.)
5. If it's something I've promised to do by a deadline, I sit at the 'puter and write stream-of consciousness stuff until the real piece starts coming. This means: I sit here and record everything that is happening at the moment, like the cat walks in, the dog wants to go out, a description of the clock or the calendar, a car going down the road. I forgot to take my vitamins and, oh, I better get some mayo for the salad. Just words, any words at all. (Trudy S.)
6. I work in my flower or vegetable gardens. Getting really close to the earth and nature helps to unclog my thinking process. (Mary L.)
7. I take a bath while listening to music. This clears my head of what I am writing. Music is a great way for me to get in touch with my inspirational side. (Jamie R.)
8. The first thing I do is put on a chick flick. I love to see girls having fun and getting the guys; plus it
reminds me of the wild times I have had with my best friend. That always triggers my imagination. (Maggie G.)
9. I imagine a real person that I know, someone who is like the people in my target audience. How would I explain what I want to explain to her? My kids will tell you I feel no shame in talking to myself. I just talk out loud until I feel convincing, and then I scramble for a piece of paper to capture my "brilliance" on. My first attempt at brilliance is usually about as shiny as a lump of coal--but it always has diamond potential. (Becki A.)
10. Read something totally different from what I'm working on -- even if it's the newspaper. Getting my mind on something different helps dissolve that "block." (Lynn P.)
11. I look something up in one of the encyclopaedias and try and write something similar of my own based on the facts. (Clare L.)
12. As a newspaper reporter, I learned that writer's block wasn't permitted on that job. No way I could tell my editor I couldn't think of what to write...if I wanted to meet my deadlines and keep my job. So I guess I can say nowadays (I'm a freelancer, no longer a reporter) that I don't have writer's block. However, I'm always working on many writing projects...trying to keep many balls in the air...and often go from one to the other. If I had to work solely on one project from beginning to end with no breaks, perhaps I'd find it more difficult. So...to avoid writer's block, I'd say have many projects going, so that if you get stuck on one, you have another to go to. And take a walk when you really need a break to "dust the cobwebs from your mind." (Mary Emma Allen)
© 2003-2004 Shery Ma Belle Arrieta
Shery is the creator of WriteSparks! - a software that generates over 1,000,000 Story Sparkers for Writers.
Ah, the age-old writer's debate--to outline or not to outline?
Outlines have proven quite effective for a lot of writers, and many of the famous stories we know and love--such as Star Wars--were outlined before they were fleshed out into a living, breathing story. (Well, metaphorically living and breathing, anyway.)
But many of the stories that touched us most--like real-life experiences--simply happened, no outlining was needed. Some stories just come to you, while others need some refining before they're ready to be written. The question is, which one works best for you?
I have always been a 'seat-of-the-pants' writer--that is, I've just sat down and written most of what I want to write, without any outlining or prior planning.
However, on several occasions I have actually written detailed outlines and come up with very rewarding and satisfying pieces of writing for my efforts.
Some people swear that they can't write a single sentence until they know what the end is going to be. Other people--like me--are the opposite. They can't write the ending until they've written the beginning. They have no idea how the story will end when they type in that first sentence. Some people even write an outline for each scene, number them, put them in order and then write them in that order, without considering which to write first--ending, middle, or climax.
For me, outlining in too much detail takes all of the spontaneity out of writing. It makes me feel like I've already written the whole story before when I sit down at the keyboard to start typing. I know from experience that if I outline scene by scene, going through every hand motion and every eye motion and every tilt of the head that my characters are making--it won't be as new and exciting when I'm doing the actual writing. And I will get bored.
Not being one to outline by trade, I sort of made up my own outlining style, and it is actually more of a summary than an outline.
For example, I have a 36-page 'outline' for a novel I want to write. Every time I sat down to write on it--excited about finishing this story and getting it published--I would read the first few lines of the outline, try to start where I left off last time, and fail miserably.
The outline was just too detailed--I felt that it took away all of the freedom I have as a writer. So I thought it over, and decided that an outline was just a tool, and we all use tools differently. Now, if I have an outline at all, I consider it a "rough draft" of the story, and so I can change things around if I decide it's better that way.
But you're asking, "Do you mean that the answer to 'to outline or not to outline' is not to?"
Not at all!
Outlining works for some people and it doesn't for others. I believe that everyone should write in whatever style works best for them. If you find yourself at a dead-end in your creativity (sometimes known better as 'writer's block') you might want to examine what an outline means to you.
If you usually outline and now find yourself at a dead end, try spontaneously writing something--without an outline. Anything will do. Write random scenes and keep them all in a folder or journal to read later--who knows, one might even inspire a new story for you.
For those who usually write spontaneously and are at a dead end, perhaps you should experiment with outlining. I used to swear I would never outline. But when I gave in and tried it, I did get some good results. If the outline seems too rigid, you might try what works for me--which is to put less detail into the outline.
I have a very detailed writing style, so it's natural for me to want to note every little thing in the outline. But that was a mistake. I've learned to write the outline with just enough detail so that I will know what will happen, when and how, and then move on to the actual story-writing.
So the answer to 'to outline or not to outline?', at least as far as I'm concerned, is 'to outline--loosely, and only if it works well for you.?
In closing, here are some tips for writing a more flexible outline:
1) Keep it simple. You don't need to write the outline with perfect grammar and punctuation, or from your point of view character's perspective. Remember, this is just a generalized guide.
2) Try not to get too detailed about what happens in any one particular scene. Just figure out where they are in the beginning ('They're slogging along the roadside in the rain.') and where they are at the end ('They finally decide to stop and rest, so they make a tent out of the umbrella and blankets and go to sleep') and fill in the blanks when you actually write the scene.
3) Write it in present tense. That seems to make it easier to feel more in the immediate "now" of the story, and seems more natural to me. Even though I always write in past tense in my stories (present tense actually annoys me in stories, but that's just my preference I guess) I always write my outlines in present tense.
The outline seems more immediate and real when written in present tense, and helps me stick with it and develop the outline all the way to the end of the story. I suppose you could write your outlines in whatever tense you like, but this is just another way to distinguish the real writing of the story from the outline-writing.
4) Enjoy yourself. A writer's mood translates through in their word choice, so if you're writing humor but are actually feeling angry, the funny story may seem a little forced.
While not always true--I frequently write angst and sad stories even though I'm generally happy--the truth is that if you don't enjoy writing your stories, what was the point? And if your answer was 'money', perhaps you should try a different profession and just pursue fiction writing as a hobby.
© Mallory York
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MR James, the famous short story writer, used to be a teacher. During the long evenings before the invention of television, he would entertain his students with the ghost stories he planned to write. That is, until he realised one day that telling his stories was getting in the way of his writing them. He noticed that the act of relating story ideas somehow dissipated the desire, even the need, to write them down. He promptly stopped vocalising his ideas so that the impetus to write remained strong and fresh.This is a curious phenomenon, but one that is completely understandable. Sometimes when an idea for a story is at its most compelling – that is, when you’ve just thought of it – the best thing to do is to start writing immediately and get the inspiration down, along with the rough idea. Sometimes the energy associated with the new idea is just as important as the idea itself, especially in terms of the motivation the inspiration can engender.
The same can be said for the temptation to overdevelop an outline for a story. I’ve seen many writers spend hours, days and weeks on their outline notes – using mainly exposition to flesh out their ideas, and usually all told in a largely passive tone of voice. The process may be cathartic and satisfying to a degree but I think it may – in the long term – harm the writing process.
When telling stories you should be in ‘active’ mode. That is, relating them with vigour, being in the moment and fully involved with characters, their actions and dialogue in real time. This is where your writing will be strong and lively. The time spent writing this way may be more taxing but it is the way you should be writing – rather than passively relating ‘notes to self.’
After all, your notes are not meant to be read by other people – which is perhaps why you may feel more comfortable writing them. You’ve removed some of the pressure!
But don’t make the mistake of thinking that writing detailed outlines is real writing. It’s not. It’s more akin to research, planning and other pre-writing activities. The sooner you get it over with, the better. You need to use your best energy on the real writing. A day spent on explaining complicated histories and back-stories to yourself is all valuable time you could have spent on work designed to please a reader. That is, work that will be read!
Because most of the story will change anyway – that’s the reality. Once you start telling a story for real, the characters often have a way of changing your outline – and most times for the better. When students come to me and say, well, I just need to work through these character motivations and plot holes in my notes before I start the story, I try to advise against doing that.
Why? Because most of these problems with character motivation and plot holes come through the writer thinking too much. And as I’ve said many times, thinking is not writing. Thinking is a logic based left brain activity – while writing stories is a right brain activity – at odds with the creative process. Do yourself a favour. Stop thinking about your stories. Just write them down – with the urgency and freshness they require.
If, after the first draft, you still have motivation issues and logic flaws, don’t stop to think and re-outline. No, start writing the prose again. You need to trust that your subconscious has the answers and will produce them during the creative writing process. Relying on your logical brain to sort through story problems is a long hard road – and one that will tie you up in intellectual knots. And the more you do it, the more you may begin to rely on it as a process, but the more harmful to your writing that process will become.
If you’re not writing actual story, you’re pretty much wasting time – putting off the inevitable. You need to commit to the story, for better or worse, rather than vacillate during some endless planning phase.
I’ve seen too many writers get stuck for years in the planning phase for it to be healthy. It may be a security blanket I suppose. The longer a writer spends not actually writing, the longer they can put off being judged for their work. It’s like the architect whose finest building never makes the drawing board. His vision may be strong, the inspiration for it sound, but he lacks the confidence to commit the idea to paper. Because then it will be real – and real problems may creep in, which the architect is trying to avoid.
So it is with writers. Many great ideas stay wonderful while they’re trapped in nebulous form. But the writer must at some point commit for the idea to take on solidity and mass.
Don’t get sidetracked into making long outlines – sketching in other words – when you should be using your valuable time telling your stories in the form they will need to be read.
© Rob Parnell
5 minutes. That's all you need to begin writing. You don't have to set aside a morning, a day or even a weekend to write.
If you do, it will only put pressure on you; writing then becomes a chore, an appointment in your already busy schedule.
And like your other appointments, you'll be tempted to move your writing schedule some other time.
So rather than put yourself in a position where you "have" to write because "it's in my schedule," start by finding 5 minutes in your day and then use those minutes to write.
How long does it take for your e-mails to finish downloading? There's your 5-minute writing time.
Your casserole takes how many minutes to simmer? There's your 5-minute writing time.
How long do you have to wait for the bus (or train) at the terminal? There's your 5-minute writing time.
Stuck in a long check-out line at the supermarket? There's your 5-minute writing time.
How long before it's your turn to do your morning ritual in the bathroom/toilet? There's your 5-minute writing time.
I'm certain you can think of other situations in your life where you can snatch those 5 minutes.
In 5 minutes, write how you're feeling at that moment; describe where you are; do a one-paragraph character sketch of the tired-looking cashier; make a list of things you want to do or don't want to do at the present,
Snatch those 5 minutes of writing time every day. That's not a lot to ask for when there are 1,440 minutes in a day.
Start as a 5-minute writer. Give yourself time to be comfortable and used to this new habit. Allow those 5 minutes of writing time to blend in with your every day life. Soon you'll be writing beyond your 5-minute writing time, and you won't even notice your 5 minutes are up!
© 2003 Shery Ma Belle Arrieta
Shery is the creator of WriteSparks! - a software that generates over 1,000,000 Story Sparkers for Writers.
Download WriteSparks! Lite - http://writesparks.com