Aaa! Ha!

First, I’ll hearken back to my recent post about poetry. In my final (sob) class of poetry school, we’ve been assigned a textbook that I think may interest people on the blog who’ve caught the poetry bug. It’s Introduction to Poetry by X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia–high school and above–very comprehensive. There are a few poem prompts but not many. The value is in the discussion of all the topics in poetry and the selection of poems, from classic to modern. Also phenomenally expensive, so I’d suggest asking your library to get it for you or buying it used. Try to find the latest edition, which contains the most up-to-date poems.

On January 27, 2016, Bookworm wrote, I need help with some things in my novel. I have it pretty much figured out, but the scenes seem to zoom by. I don’t think my MC is really getting enough challenge in some of the scenes.

I also need some help with a side MC. He’s the main comedian, and I don’t have many jokes and puns for him. I could really use some help to get some good puns and jokes. Can you help me?

First question first. Writer of Magic weighed in with, What I would do to make it more challenging is to go through each sentence and see if you need more detail. Example: Her jeans ripped. Or: The seam on her jeans ripped. Blood seeped out. Sorry for the gore.

I’m all for detail, which does more than add length. Detail puts the reader in the scene. There’s nothing like it to increase tension. What do the jeans rip on? How deep is the cut? How painful? Who sees the event? Is anyone there to help? What else is going on? Does our MC–let’s call her Rose–have time to see how badly injured she is? Is she in danger of passing out from loss of blood? If a lot is happening, we can slow down to a kind of play-by-play.

A scene won’t zoom if we present our details through Rose’s head and heart. What is she thinking? Is she worrying about something even more pressing than bleeding? Is she phobic about blood? What’s her state of mind when the injury happens? Is she angry? At whom? Frightened? Sad? Even happy? Maybe cutting her leg solves some other problem for her. Now she thinks she won’t have to spend a week with her despised cousin. She wonders if she can make the injury worse.

Detail also contributes to humor. Rose’s jeans rip, revealing the laughing frogs on the long underwear her mother makes her wear. A dot of blood seeps through the flannel and reddens a frog’s nose. Can she conceal the whole disaster? What can she wrap around herself? A tablecloth! Can she pull it out without disturbing all the dishes, the way they do in movies?

And how might we challenge our Rose more?

We’re always finding a balance between barriers and abilities, locks and keys. Leaving behind the bleeding situation, let’s say Rose is loyal to Queen Lorraine, but a lot of people are dissatisfied with her rule. Attracted by the noise, Rose joins a crowd surrounding a street speaker who’s inciting the mob to storm City Hall, where the queen’s representatives hold sway. The mayor happens to be away, leaving Rose’s mother, the chief constable, in charge with only three guards to help her. Rose decides she has to persuade the crowd not to attack.

Suppose we want Rose to fail ultimately. The Hall will be attacked, which will propel our plot into its next phase. But we don’t want her to fail quickly. We want to make the most of our dramatic situation.

We might consider what Rose has going for her and what her obstacles are, but let’s start with the obstacles. The anger of the rabble rouser is infectious. He’s a good speaker with valid arguments on his side. The queen’s subjects are tired of a war that’s continued for a decade–although she’s been on the throne for only six months. Many able-bodied people have been forced to become soldiers. A promised school in the town hasn’t been built.

Rose thinks the queen should be given more time. If the throne is overthrown, who will step in? Chaos will follow, and the enemy is sure to take advantage. Rose has made this argument to a few friends, whom she’s persuaded to agree with her. Plus, she knows a lot of the people in the crowd, and she’s well-liked.

Going back to obstacles, she’s soft-spoken. No one will hear her if she speaks up. So we start the scene. Rose clears her throat. “Excuse me.” No one hears. What is she feeling? Thinking? Who’s standing next to her? What’s the weather?

We use these details to create a scene with ups and downs and plenty of challenges for Rose. When one effort fails, she tries something else, seems to make progress until some other upset comes along. We end with her the loser, but she isn’t entirely defeated.

Moving along. When it came to jokes, Writer of Magic asked, What era is this? Then I could probably make up some jokes.

Bookworm answered, The era is modern times, but the action takes place in different dimensions. For example, there’s the real world, then there’s Destiny Forest, and another dimension is Musical Hills. There’s not more than one of the MC though, like a doppelganger.

Humor helped poured in.

From Mary:
What type of bagel can fly?
A plain bagel!!!

What’s brown and sticky?
A stick!

Two man walk into a bar. One turns to the other and says “Ouch.”

“A train just passed by here!”
“How can you tell?”
“It left it’s tracks!”

“Did you get a haircut?”
“No, I got all of them cut.”

If you need more try searching Google.

As for puns I find that they work best in the situation. If the character drinks chicken soup they can say it tastes “fowl.” Fish is always really heavy because it has so many scales. Cheese has many “ Gouda” puns attached, and can be “grate” to use. Horses also have many puns attached. (Behooved is a good word, and people can mention neighbors, both of which can be used in many “tales.”) A mention of eyes can lead to many puns, such as “eye see,” mention of pupil(s) (for teachers or students), and complaints that people will always “lash” out. Cars are “wheely” good, and if you’re getting “tired” of my examples Google can help with some more specific examples. I hope this gives you a few ideas!

These are great! I’d just add that a list of homonyms (words that are spelled and sound the same but have different meanings, like bear) and homophones (words that may be spelled differently but sound the same, like plain and plane in Mary’s pun or bear and bare), which you can google, can be helpful for thinking up puns. Heteronyms (words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently, like bass, the fish, and bass, the low musical pitch) probably won’t be as useful, because our puns will probably crop up in dialogue, but there may be times when we can use them, too. Of course, some puns are pure inspiration, which can arise only from sub-basement Y of our brains, like the joke about the chicken, the frog, and the librarian, which is best said out loud. If you don’t know it, here’s a link: For best effect, sound like a chicken for her lines and like a frog for his (hers? its?).

Here are prompts:

∙ I find it helpful to think of categories when I fool around with puns. So, looking at your googled lists, come up with three puns in each of these categories: food, occupations, and animals.

∙ Remember a time when you were injured: sports injury, clumsy injury (as most of mine have been), kitchen injury–whatever. Not life threatening, because we want to take something with medium intensity and deepen it. Write it and milk it for every smidgen of detail you can dredge up: the moment before the event, how it happened, how it felt and looked, who was there, who said what, what you said and thought, what made it better, what made it worse, plus whatever I’m leaving out. Now move into fiction. Make yourself a character, and make the other people who were there characters, too. If it fits, turn one of them into a villain. By using detail, make this a scene that doesn’t zoom by and that maintains tension.

∙ Injure your MC in your WIP and use some of the moments from your life and your fictionalized version of your life. Write the scene.

∙ Write the scene in which Rose tries to calm the crowd.

Have fun, and save what you write!

  1. Thank you so much for the post! I really needed it. Now my main comedian will be able to do his job. Thanks again!

  2. Can someone help me with some diplomatic scenes? I have no idea how to write them. My MC needs to gather some allies, and I can’t avoid the diplomatic scenes! Please help!

    • The Florid Sword says:

      Is your MC the one who has to do the talking? I usually write my scenes of this type by making my MC zone and then wake up at the end, like, “Oh, it’s already over?” She’s the princess, and her parents are frustrated monarch trying to get a pacifist nation to join them in the fight against the villain. If they are the leaders, I would say making everyone be either overly formal, or argue a lot. That’s what I normally do, but if that’s wrong for the voice you’re using, just make them as brief and formal as possible. Hope this helps!

      • Thanks! That’s really helpful! I have another question. My villain is really smart, and so is my MC, but how do I make my villain strategy convincing and hard to thwart? And it has to seem like my MC has no way going around it! I think I should do a hard choice (maybe), but the whole family-and-friends-or-the-world thing is just too cliche. Besides, my MC would easily save both. Help!

        • I’m not sure what you’re looking for specifically so here’s some general advice about overcoming villains:

          “The Seven Basic Plots” by Christopher Booker (a really great resource about how stories work, but very very long) gives an outline for Overcoming the Monster stories (any story where defeating the villain is the main goal). His outline goes like this: The Call, where the hero realizes he has to defeat the villain; the Dream Stage, where everything seems to be going well; the Frustration Stage, where things start going wrong; the Nightmare stage, where everything does go wrong and it seems like nothing will work; and the Miraculous Escape/Death of the Monster.

          I used this for a chapter that was giving me trouble in my WIP. The only thing I knew about the chapter was that my MC had to get some information out of a boy she dislikes, so I pulled out this outline. First she realizes she has to talk to this guy (Call). Finding him turns out easier than expected (Dream Stage). But he doesn’t want to help her and won’t answer (Frustration Stage). Furthermore, he calls a gang to attack them (Nightmare Stage). She has to talk her way out of that mess before she can reach him and convince him to give her the information (Miraculous Escape).

          Booker also explains that the Monster is always ‘blind’ because it is egocentric and cannot see the truth of things. Voldemort is an excellent example–he overlooked love, and house elves and children’s stories, and so was defeated. So I’d think your villain would have some vital thing he overlooked that would allow him to be defeated, not because the MC is smarter or more powerful but because they are able to “see whole”. In my first book, the villain was thwarted because he overlooked the unity of the main characters. In the one I’m working on now, the villain knew that the MC hates violence and overlooked that revealing his plans to her gave her the motivation to fight back.

          I hope something in there is useful.

          • Chrissa Pedersen says:

            Catching up on what’s been going on here and read Christie’s post, THANK YOU! What a great summary and absolutely what I needed right now 🙂

    • Jenalyn Barton says:

      I suggest reading “Princess Academy” by Shannon Hale, since Miri actually learns the rules of diplomacy. My other suggestion is to keep it, as Queen Clarice says in the Princess Diaries movies, “polite, but vague.” Hope that helps, even if just a little bit!

  3. Martina Preston says:

    Okay, so my main MC is about 12 years old, and she is in a position where both her baby sister (2 years) and her mom are missing. Her mom left a note to take Pepper (that’s the sister) and flee into the forest. Pepper is not in the house or anywhere she normally is, and the note tells Esper that her mom has been captured by the government for reasons that Esper doesn’t know yet but will know very soon.

    That was confusing. Anyway, my question is: who should she look for first? Esper is kind of whiny (this trait is lessened as the story goes on) and very practical and observant. Does she go after her sister, or her mom, or both? Thank you!

    • I think it will depend on her relationship with them both, because this kind of choice is a huge step toward revealing her character. Was she happy to have a sister or did she feel jealous? If she felt jealous, she might feel guilty. If she had anticipated a sister for a long time, she’ll be especially hurt. And how is her relationship with her mom? Does she want to grow up to be just like her, or is she embarrassed to introduce her to friends?
      Just some questions to chew on.

    • From a purely practical perspective, her sister might be easier to find, but her mom will be more useful when she does find her. (Because an adult is going to be easier to handle than a two-year-old, who would most likely only inconvenience Esper.) Also from a purely practical perspective, she should probably go after whichever is in more immediate danger. Does she trust the government enough to believe that they won’t just execute her outright? If so, then go after the sister, who’s a lot more defenseless. But if they’re going to kill the mom immediately, or if she knows that the sister is somewhat safe, then go after the sister.

      But then of course, emotion will also come into play with normal people, which one is she closer to, etc.

    • Song4myKing says:

      I agree. Her Mom is an adult, and may be able to hold her own. Two-year-olds are about the worst age for getting into trouble fast – they can run just fine, but they have no sense of danger, and no means of protecting themselves, (neither the logic, nor the physical ability). It sounds like Esper doesn’t know a lot more than we do about what kind of danger her mom may or may not be in. Whereas, Pepper, simply because of her age, is almost automatically in danger. And there’s the note from Mom telling her to take Pepper and flee. Mom clearly thinks Esper and Pepper are in danger themselves.

  4. I need some help. It is hard for me to understand my MC and what they would do. In the beginning of my story’s I never really know much about them, and kind of throw them around trying to figure out who the heck this person is. I want to get to know my characters better, but I hate writing long lists of their characteristics. And sometimes I am lost to what my MC would do. What would they say? Sometimes I will write something about them, but when I read back over it the words seem wrong. They don’t fit with the person. How do I figure out more of these people who pop into my head?

    • Another suggestion: write a scene or miniature story that won’t actually appear in your story, just to try things out. What would your character do at a huge family reunion? How would she react if a child threw a snowball at her head? Imagine her being arrested: why is she in trouble and what will she do about it? If he/she were stuck with you in an elevator, what would you talk about (I had way too much fun doing something like this here:

    • Song4myKing says:

      If you don’t like lists of characteristics, maybe you don’t like figuring out background either! I was having some of the same trouble with an MC. I finally realized I barely had any idea what kind of a culture she came from. She is stranded far from home in a totally unknown place, so I hadn’t bothered much with her home. But I didn’t know what her reactions would be to the things she sees or how quickly she would figure things out. To me, knowing where she comes from helps me see her in 3D. Even for characters coming from a community much like my own, I want to know a little bit about family – it tells what she’s been dealing with all her growing up years. Things like this shape her and the way she sees life. For example, we middle kids tend to grow up fighting to be heard and learning human nature (if I pit her against him, I may be able to get away until he forgets he’s mad at me).

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      You may find these two past posts helpful: 7/23/14 and 6/27/12, in addition to the great suggestions made right here.

  5. Bookworm, I’m sorry to say that I do not have much experience writing diplomatic scenes. However, if I were writing a diplomatic scene where the MC needs to gather some allies, I would make sure he/she knows several people. If your MC has a cousin who is popular, or a grandmother who likes to share the latest news with her friends, then your MC could start by trying to persuade or recruit them. If your MC doesn’t have any family, then maybe a supporting character does. I don’t know the situation your MC is in, so this idea may not work. If your MC is gathering allies but needs to do it more secretly because the evil dictator has guards constantly patrolling the city, then this may not work. So it depends on the situation, really. Also, for your MC to gather allies, he/she needs to know how to be persuasive (somewhat) and well liked by those he/she is trying to recruit. If our MC is sort of shy and stumbles over his/her words when trying to convince someone of something, perhaps a supporting character can step up and help them.

    Mary E. Norton, I have found that as the story progresses, I find out who my characters are and what their strengths and weaknesses are. In other words, the more I “spend time” with my characters, the more I figure out who they are and who I want and need them to be. To make your characters different from one another, you could give them fun little quirks that other people you know have. Like, if your favorite uncle slaps his knee every time he hears something funny and if his laugh is very breathy, give that characteristic to one of your characters. With dialogue, if you want to show your readers that your MC’s best friend is particularly shy or anxious, have her say “um” a lot, and play with her bracelet as she talks. If another of your characters always seems to be cross at everything, have him cross his arms while he speaks, scowl at the person he’s speaking to, and talk in short, punchy sentences. Ultimately, make them who you want them to be. A character normally speaks according to his or her personality, so give them the personality you want them to have, and it will develop all through the story. By the end of your story, a character may be very different from what you originally thought he was going to be, and so you can change his dialogue when you revise.
    I hope that helps, y’all!

  6. Bookworm, you were asking about comic relief characters, and mentioned not having enough jokes and puns. Jokes and puns can be great, but make sure that’s not the whole character, or your reader might get tired of them! All my favorite comical characters have a deep side, too.

    One of my favorites is Fflewder Fflan from the Prydain Chronicles. He’s always bragging, and everyone knows when he doesn’t tell the truth because his magic harp breaks a string every time he stretches the truth. But he is also brave and loyal and cares deeply about his main characters. (And sometimes the broken strings are absolutely heartwarming, like when he pretends not to care about something, but the sound of a string breaking lets you know that he really does.)

    Another of my favorite comical characters is Gonff the Mousethief in Mossflower. He sings silly songs, and he makes jokes even when he’s locked in the dungeon. But again, he’s brave and loyal and caring, and he has a really sad backstory; his parents were killed trying to free Mossflower country from the evil wildcats that took over, and he steals from the opressors to help keep his adopted family alive.

    Ella from Ella Enchanted isn’t a comic relief, but she is funny. But often when she tells jokes it is to cheer up the prince, who is too serious when she’s not around. (One of my favorite lines: “the fear of heights is a terrible affliction… especially as I’ve grown taller.”)

    Maybe the best way to make the comical character funny is to find out what about them is amusing, and whether they are deliberately funny, or if it just happens (like someone who accidentally mixes metaphors because they’re trying to sound smart). Do they have serious moments too? Why does your main character like them and want them around? Do they joke to make her (or him) feel better? Do they know when NOT to joke?

    Sorry if this is too much advice. I LOVE comical sidekicks. I was spoiled by Lloyd Alexander as a child, and now I want all comic sidekicks everywhere to have hidden depths and be wonderful. I get so upset when an author seems not to actually care about their comic sidekicks and makes them the butt of too much physical humor -I feel like I’m watching someone being bullied. It makes me want to start a Protect the Comic Sidekicks movement. (aaand I’ll just get off my soapbox now…)

    • The Florid Sword says:

      Bookworm: I love the Last Dragonslayer books by Jasper Fforde. They have gotten a lot more serious as the series progresses, but the first book especially has a lot of humor. In that one, Jennifer, the MC, has a Quarkbeast, a creature that is a cross between a Labrador, an open knife drawer, a kitchen blender, and a velociraptor. Her apprentice is named Gordon van Gordon ap Gordon-Gordon son of Gordon. She is a Dragonslayer who has to kill a dragon with a sword while driving an armored Rolls-Royce and trying to evade the media. Perhaps a bit over the top, but if you’re looking for smart humor, maybe you could try those books.

  7. I need a little help. I have the named my MC Sileas (pronounced SHE-lis) and another fairly main character is named Solas (pronounced SOUL-us). The thing is, both begin and end end with an ‘s’ have an ‘a’ in it and an ‘l’. Would this be distracting and confusing? Help!

    • They do seem awfully similar to me. Pronunciation isn’t quite as important as how they look, and those two are going to be hard to tell apart when reading fast. I would change one. If it was a minor character, and you noted the similarity on purpose, maybe you could go for it (for instance, in the first Percy Jackson book, they meet Chiron and Charon, but they notice the similarity and comment on it–and even get a pronunciation guide sneaked into the narrative).

    • I agree with Christie V Powel. Also, considering these names are a little out of the ordinary, you could spell them differently, so when others are reading them on paper, they won’t get them confused. You could spell Sileas ‘Cileas’, and that already makes a difference. I have nothing else to add except those are awesome name choices, and Christie V Powel pretty much covered everything else.

      • Thanks guys. I was thinking about changing Solas’ name to Aesk, so I think I might do that after all. It doesn’t fit him as well, but under no circumstances am I changing my Sileas’ name! (I’ve gotten really attached to it, and now almost seems like part of her personality.)

  8. The Florid Sword says:

    I have a question. I’m writing a fantasy-adventure novel which, understandably, has a large cast of characters. The problem is that they’re all so similar! I want to give them things that will make them different, diversities, but I don’t know how to start without making them all weird, quirky 2-D characters. Help!

    • Martina Preston says:

      Are your characters all human, or are some of them, for example, dwarves or elves or fairies? If so, you can make a characteristic unique to only, say, dwarves. For example: dwarves live underground and have a tendency to turn words upside-down when speaking them. Something like that. Then you can assign a different characteristic to each species and use that to describe them.
      If your characters are all, or mostly all, human, you can use the way they look as diversity in character as well. For example, if a side character has long, blonde hair, you can picture her tossing her hair snobbishly over her shoulder. Bam– there’s her personality. Curly brown hair– your character can be shy at first but a real comedian at heart. (Sorry if these are just stereotypes… )
      Just try not to overwhelm your reader with descriptions and defining details on every single one of your characters. I hope this helped!

    • In my fantasy, one thing I did was to divide them into clans, and each clan had certain characteristics, or at least certain stereotypes that usually hold true. For instance, Coles are usually extroverted and athletic and spunky, while Nomes are stolid and serious. They also had physical differences–Lectrans are usually pale, thin, and blonde/blue eyed while Sprites are wiry and dark. Then I could take different characters within each clan and decide how much I wanted them to follow the stereotype.

      Another thing I did was to explore family trees a lot. I’m working with the royal families for each clan so I wrote down their families and a few generations back. Just plotting that out gave me a lot of ideas about their backstories and thus their personalities–one character idolizes his grandmother, a famous queen, while one wants to be just like her older sister who ran away. One was bullied by his older brothers as a child, another sister is intensely jealous of her little sister who appears to be perfect on the outside and does whatever she wants when no one else is looking.

      For really minor characters, a distinguishing physical trait might help: a beard, a missing arm, unusually short, wearing a worn green shawl. You can also go for accents and ways of speaking (one guy calls “Hallo there!” and another says “Permit me to introduce myself.”). You can see them in action (the strange woman grabbed her toddler before he could toddle into the ditch… the blacksmith set down his huge hammer to talk to them).

      Hopefully something in there will help.

    • I could go on and on about this question… characterizing + fantasy = a happy Emma. First of all, Martina Preston’s advice about differentiating your characters based on their species is great. That is one way I have differentiated my characters from one another. Also, where they come from can impact their personalities. If one of your characters comes from a hard working family who owns a farm, and has never been to a big city before, he is bound to be different from the girl who lives on the coast, and whose father is a wealthy sea merchant. Also, how they act toward others that are from a different country/city/region can show more of their personality than you think. In Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy series, her main character lives in a village on a mountain. Her main character, Miri, along with her whole village, are very proud of where they live, and very loyal to their home on their mountain. Most of them have never been to the land below their mountain, but they know plenty about it. It is where the big cities are, and where the king lives, and where the traders bring their supplies from. Miri and her friends joke about the snobbish attitude of the people who live below the mountain, and about the way they dress. They affectionately call them lowlanders. This tells about Miri’s personality: she is proud of her home, loyal to her village, close to her friends, and curious about the land below. All of this can also help you create a good backstory for your characters, and backstory itself is also a good way to build multi-dimensional characters. If one character witnessed the evil goblins burn his village and chase his family out when he was nine years old, he may have revenge issues, may be very protective of his family now that he is old enough to protect them, and may not be very talkative because of the horrifying memories he has. I hope all of this helps somewhat! It is now time for me step off the soapbox. I think I have possibly rambled for way too long…

  9. Does anyone have any tips for writing about large families? I have a lot of siblings so I understand the dynamics of big families. I have been experimenting with writing about families with over four children. It is difficult to have so many characters and not make one of them the kid who is forgotten. Has anyone else written about a large family?

    • We were talking about this a bit on the previous blog post . You might want to skim it. I brought up this quote from Orson Scott Card who was writing a family with six kids:

      ” Every member of the family had to be memorable and clearly differentiated. Each one had to stick in the reader’s mind. All those children shared the painful experience of an abusive father, but each one experienced it differently. Their responses would therefore be different, I realized, and when [my main character] meets them, he would first notice their eccentricities. The youngest boy is methodically violent and uncontrollable. The youngest girl watches even the most outrageous goings on without a sign of interest. And so on–each child with an eccentric pattern of behavior. The eccentricities help the audience to differentiate among the children right from the beginning. Gradually, though, as each child’s individual past and motives are revealed, their eccentricities begin to fade. By then, I have given them new experiences that will make them more memorable, and each child is found to have particular strengths that are vital to the famil’s survival and success, giving each child a heroic role to play. By the end of the novel, if my skill was enough to do all these things well, the audience should believe in and care about each of these children as an individual.”

    • You could have one forgotten on purpose and then have that one complain about it (“You always leave me out! It’s no fair being in the middle!).

      I have a couple big families in my WIP. The main characters are trying to find the heir to the kingdom, when seven princes/princesses are scattered all over the country. That meant I could introduce them one at a time and compare them one on one. They all react to the main character in different ways. One betrays them, one tricks them into cleaning her house, one invites them to see her treehouse, one tells just a touch of her backstory that the MC admires.

      The other big family that comes up is also spread out–we meet only two brothers at first, and the other three later. With them I ended up giving them all the same characteristics but in different amounts. They all have an ego, but it’s very prominent in the oldest two brothers and very subtle in the third. They all act more formal when uncomfortable, but the second youngest does this the most, acting very stiff unless you know him really well.

    • I have four MCs in the novel I am currently working on, and they are all sisters (quadruplets, in fact). You’re not alone in leaving out a character accidentally in a scene, Rosie. I have done that several times, especially in the early stages of my novel. If you look at the comments on Mrs. Levine’s last blog post, you will find that I asked a similar question about having four MCs. Those who answered were very helpful, so you should check out their advice.
      Something that I have learned so far about having more than one or two MCs, is to have them interact separately with their supporting characters. That way you can show the readers who they are as a character apart from their siblings. Also, if you’re having trouble “forgetting” a character, perhaps you could present a problem to that character. It could be major or minor, depending on the rest of your story. It could be as simple as misplacing her mother’s special bracelet that has been passed through the family for generations. If you present a problem like this, the readers won’t be as likely to forget about the character, because they’ll be wondering about the problem that the character hasn’t solved yet. You could also make the “forgotten character” (that sounds kinda like a title for a mystery novel. haha) have a characteristic that the other siblings do not posses. If the other siblings happen to be tall like their dad, make this character short for their family. I hope that helps! If you have any bit of knowledge you have learned from writing about large families, please share!

    • Song4myKing says:

      Just a little advice about the beginning – I felt like I had to introduce five siblings and their aunt fairly promptly, because of how the story worked. I first introduced them all in the first couple sentences – I thought the intro was good and punchy and included all the necessary information. It probably did, but the problem was that it was too much at once for a reader to absorb. Several people told me it was confusing. So I spread it out a little, created a little more of the scene where they all gather, and we see them one or two at a time. But my dad told me it seemed like there was one more, and then another one, and another, and another, and he thought it would help if he knew early on how many there were. That way he’d have a framework to put each of these new characters in. So I worked that in, and I’m told it’s a better beginning now.

      After that, the siblings aren’t all together again for a while, so I had time to develop their characters one or two at a time. I also (without thinking about it) tended to give the POV in several scenes to one of the quietest siblings. That’s her voice, whereas some of the others are vocal enough their ideas and thoughts come through anyway.

      One other idea – the forgotten character could become vital to the plot in some way. Perhaps no one takes notice of her so she slips around and brings in some type of help unexpectedly. Or maybe she feels forgotten so she elopes and creates a scandal (doesn’t something like this happen in Pride and Predjudice? It’s been too long since I read it!) .

  10. writingcyclist says:

    okay so im writing a story for school about a girl who wants to be a professional cyclist and then gets the chance when she is invited to the womens junior tour dubai her plain lands in Abhu Dabi and she rides to dubai
    any title suggestions???
    im so nervous this teacher never likes what i write and..I love to write

    • Pedaling to Success, perhaps?

      One thing I’d suggest–make sure it’s not too easy. She gets the chance, but make things hard for her. She gets the chance, but she has to miss her family’s big camping trip. She gets the invite, but she’s the youngest cyclist there and everyone teases her. Her plane arrives, but she lost her luggage. Those are just ideas, you can come up with whatever you want as long as it’s not too hard for her.

      In my opinion, the teacher’s job is to help you write better. I hope they are giving you advice for how to change it and not just saying “I don’t like it”, because that sounds like an awful teacher.

  11. writingcyclist says:

    well yes she is terrified of planes and she arrives in abu dabai( 95 miles from dubai were she needs to be) and she rides there and cuts her leg on the chain ring along the way it is hard for her its all abut her getting to the race and she is too tired that she loses but is proud of herself I feel like pedaling to success is not the right name

  12. writingcyclist says:

    My teacher is young so she always tries to act like she knows way more then me. When i won a poetry contest she was like smirking with her nose raised slightly as she said “it’s so you ..” i just feel like she is not honest.

  13. The story I am currently working on is what could be considered a quest. There are a lot of different situations my MC is tossed into and people she meets before the final resolution how can I make the storys ‘flow’ more smooth as I play out the scenes. For example the MC arrives is one town one day but goes to another town the next. How much time should I convey when she is traveling.
    Also, how can I keep the audience from getting bored when there is not a lot of action such a diplomatic scenes?

    • I have both a map and a calendar that I can pull up while I’m writing. That gives me a better idea of how long it will take them to go places and make sure that time is passing in a logical way.

      For the quest, I think it’s important to make sure there is progression toward the goal. She can have to get from point A to point B, so we see her moving across the map, or she could be collecting something physical, or she could be finding ‘clues’ toward the ultimate goal. My WIP is a bit of a quest–the MC has to collect a letter from each member of this family, so every time she meets one person and collects a letter, she is progressing toward the end goal.

      For getting bored, I think the key is to always have conflict. It doesn’t have to be “the villains are about to catch me”, but there’s always something at stake. The MC wants/needs something but can’t get it, at least not right away. Life (or her best friend, or nature) tells her no. Personal conflict is often also engaging: she wants to help her sister but she hates the city where her sister lives. Or like Martina Preston asked about: who does she save first, mother or sister, when she loves them both?

  14. Give her difficulty. Make a diplomat stubborn, or unwilling to help. Have a fight (like an argument perhaps) begin. Hope this helped! Good luck!

  15. writingcyclist says:

    Okay i need a story title desperately for school!!! the plot: brookes is invited to be in the tour Dubai and hopes to win she overcomes her fear of planes and then lands in abhu dabi and has to ride 94 miles to get to dubai she loses the race because she is too tired

    • Song4myKing says:

      a few ideas – maybe something will start your mind on a new track that will help you find the right title.
      To Win
      At the End of the Road
      A Race to Win
      My Wheels
      For Victory
      Around the World on Two Wheels
      A few other avenues to consider – Why is this race so important for her? Is she fighting for publicity for anything, or is she needing the personal feeling of accomplishment? What’s driving her, and could that give clues for the title? Is there any phrase that’s significant in the book, maybe a motif – something that shows up from time to time and has gained meaning? Maybe a play on words with her name? Does her bike have a name (some of my friends name their cars, knights used to name their swords, and I name my flash drives!)?

  16. writingcyclist says:

    I am also having trouble writing the ending in a way that wont be too cliche , she doesn’t win the race and i want the ending to be something like I dont need a medal to be a winner I know i’ve already won.

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      Might the surprise–the not-cliche–be the discovery that makes her feel a winner in spite of losing?

  17. Writingcyclist: here’s my advice. If it sounds cliche, you don’t need to take it.
    Your post reminded me of something that I went through: I was auditioning for a spot in the All Region choir in my state. I had gotten second chair the year before, and I wanted AT LEAST second place again, if not first.
    If I got third chair, it was the end of the world.
    Well, I worked really hard on my audition pieces, went into the judges room, sang…then came out. My voice was a little scratchy. And I had made a tiny rhythm mistake. I knew first chair was out the window. But, I was optimistic. I figured I’d get second place.
    I didn’t find out the results until me and my Dad were in the car. He turned, looked at me, and said:
    “You got fourteenth chair.”
    I was stunned. I came home, miserable, and my confidence utterly shaken. What had I done to get fourteenth chair? I worked so hard!
    I was convinced that, somehow, I wasn’t as great a singer as people kept telling me. After all, wouldn’t I have gotten first chair if I was really good?
    Then my parents reminded me: “You ARE a great singer. You’ve improved so much over the past year.
    But things happen. Everyone makes mistakes. But you did the best you could. And you still got in.”
    Anyway, here’s my idea for your ending.
    Your MC is heading toward the finish line. She’s worked so hard throughout the story for this moment. She thinks: “I’m doing it! I’m gonna win!” ….
    Something happens. She slows down because the sun has blinded her, or she’s gotten tired.
    A bike passes her. Then another.
    By the time she’s crossed the finish line, she’s anything BUT first place.
    Your MC could come home, exhausted, and doubting herself. She can think: “If I was really a great cyclist, why didn’t I get first place?”
    Someone can remind her. A family member, her best friend, even her love interest (!) can say to her: “You may not have gotten a medal. But you still worked super hard! You accomplished something many girls your age couldn’t have done! You’ve gotten stronger. And this was only one race. There are plenty of others that can be won. By you!” Your MC can be encouraged the way I was.
    That’s all I can do for you. Hope I helped!

  18. Hi, everyone! Me again. Turns out, I need help too!
    I’ve gotten to a point in my fanfic story where I’m super worried about it.
    Sometimes I think: “Wow! This story is great! It’s really exciting, romantic, and even emotional (in a good way!) I’m going to finish it, and it’s going to be great!”
    Other times (Like now) I think: “Ugh! This story is garbage! It’s boring, the romance is unrealistic, and the messages are forced. I’m never going to finish it.”
    I really need someone to look at it. Mom’s my best critic. But she can’t read the book until I get it printed out onto paper. There’s still a few technical kinks (Like incomplete sentences) that I need to straighten out.
    I promised myself that I would smooth out those kinks, and then I would print it out, and not touch it again. But I keep wanting to go back, and fix something that I believe is wrong! And those other little kinks never get fixed!
    I need to finish the book! How can I do that when I’m too scared to even look at it?

    • I work best under deadlines. I have to assign myself a timeframe to get a certain thing done. Another thing I do is set specific goals. I’ll say things like: for this draft, my only goal is to get all of the scenes in the right order, and not worry if it’s not presentable–I’ll save that for the next draft. Lots of drafts is a good thing–the more you go over it (up to a point) the better it gets.

    • Martina Preston says:

      I have been in the same position as you are now, Poppie! It’s hard. If you haven’t looked at your story in a while, then grab it and read through it (calmly) without marking ANYTHING. Pretend like you are the reader, not the writer. If you are finding something new to fix every day, then stop and hide your story in a dark closet for a little while (like a week or two, but maybe not literally in a dark closet) until you aren’t thinking about it all the time. Then go back and read through it without fixing anything. Then try to figure out what is natural, should be there, etc. that you need to fix. My problem when doing this was that I would get really frustrated with my work. If you get frustrated, put your story away again. Hope this helped!

  19. I thank anyone who’s helped me so far with my problem! It feels better to know that there are others who share my difficulties. That’s one of the many good things about this blog.
    And thank you Mrs. Levine for starting the blog!

  20. Hopefulwriter says:

    Dear Mrs. Levine,
    I want to be able to write better fiction. In school, my persuasive essays are good and my narratives are fabulous, but when it comes to writing fiction, I just am not talented enough. First, I think I’m writing well, but when I finish and go back to read it, my essay always sounds terrible. I read both your Writing Magic and Writer to Writer: Think to Ink books, and they helped a lot, but I’m still one step from becoming a successful writer. This year’s Virginia Frank Writing contest is coming up, and I don’t want to fail as badly as last time. Can you help?


    P.S. I love Ella Enchanted! It’s such a great book! My favorite character is Char.

    P.P.S. When you started writing, did you have the same issues as I did?

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      I don’t know if I can help. Sounds like you may be a tad hard on yourself. If you’re one step away from being a successful writer, then you’re pretty close and should keep going. Winning a contest is nice, but continuing to write and improve is more important. I didn’t really start writing until I was thirty-nine, and I still had a lot to learn.

      • Hopefulwriter says:

        Thanks Mrs. Levine!
        I’ll try working on that. You’re one of the first famous people who have ever taken my questions seriously! Do you have any other books on writing?

        • Gail Carson Levine says:

          I don’t, but there are other excellent books. I’ve heard good reports of the books on writing by Ralph Fletcher.

  21. The Florid Sword says:

    What is the difference between a novella and a short story? I’m writing a story based on an all-nighter I went to and I’m just wondering how long it has to be to be counted as a novella. Thanks!

  22. I have a question about prologues. I’ve heard from several different resources that prologues are either unnecessary, or the information contained in prologues can and should be converted into a first chapter. I have a prologue in a novel I’m working on (yes, the same one with the 4 sisters incase you’re wondering), and I think the information it contains is necessary, and wouldn’t sound good as a first chapter. My prologue sort of sets the scene for the book. It tells the reader where the story starts, when it starts, and gives the circumstances that the MCs are in. It doesn’t have any dialogue, and it has pretty much zero action. My worry is this: because it doesn’t have any dialogue or action, I’m afraid it’s a little boring. All it is is information and setting, and just briefly introducing the MCs. I think it needs to be kept, though, because I want the first chapter to launch into the story, which is the way I’ve written it. I’ve heard that, sadly, a lot of people don’t even read prologues, though, so that is another reason why I’m considering changing it into a first chapter or dropping most of it. What do you guys think? Should I change it into the first chapter so more people will be likely to read it? Should I keep it as a prologue but infuse it with some action, or make it more exciting by changing the POV (it is currently in 3rd person, like the rest of the book)? Any and every suggestions I will take into account, because I know how important the beginning of a book is.

  23. Song4myKing says:

    I personally like prologues. I mean, if it’s a good book, I’ll be happy that it’s got that much more to it. Just so long as they’re well done – I’ve started (and gave up on) prologues that were long and so full of information, I felt like I was reading a textbook about a place I didn’t know if I cared about yet. So my suggestions – one, keep it short (one page?) if it’s pretty much just information, but still make it sound dramatic and full of promise. Two, turn it into an at least somewhat active scene. Three, follow Melissa’s advice! Perhaps most people really don’t read anything called a prologue.

    Basically, whatever people are supposed to read first should catch their attention and hold it, whatever that means for your case.

  24. As a kid I used to skip prologues. I don’t run into as many anymore but I still rarely find ones that are done well. Some of the Harry Potter books have a sort of prologue, but they aren’t labelled as such, they just have an opening chapter from a completely different POV. I agree with Melissa Mead. Go ahead and start with your action, work in the background information gradually, in little snippets as it is important to the story, and skip the prologue. You might consider doing some research–pick up a sequel and see how they summarized the information from the first book(s). It might give you ideas of ways to include background information (and ways not to do it). I am struggling with this for my second book right now–I’ve been erring on the side of not explaining enough, I think, so it’s confusing. Ah well, time for another draft!

  25. Thank you all so much! I might just pick up a few sequels like you suggested, Christie, and thanks for reminding me about the Harry Potter books. I think I’ll take a look at those again as well. That’s funny that you’re erring on the not explaining enough side, because I tend to over explain things. That’s why I think my prologue is a teensy bit boring [and a tad long winded :)]. Wish I could help you there, but I’m figuring out this whole prologue thing myself. Thanks for that question Melissa, and thanks for giving me that one page idea Song4myKing. There are so many interesting ways to do prologues. Time to get to work!

  26. I have read several books with well done prologues but something I have noticed is that you aren’t lost in the story if you skip it. If there is any information that is vital to the plot it is brought up befor hand in the action or by some one referencing it in their dialoug. I’m all for prologues, but I think it’s always necessary to convey some of the info within the story it’s self.

  27. Writing cyclist says:

    Thank you mrs.Levine, POppie, and everyone else who has given me advice !! It really helped u reminded me of when I was auditioning for an acting role and didnt get it ,I was so upset at myself and my voice teacher told me that I would get a pert when I tried again. So I’m going to try having my MC Brooks meet another girl who is going to be a medical “intern” at the tour Dubai and she will be that encouraging person thank u!

  28. So I’m starting to work on a retelling of Diamonds and Toads. I’ve known the story since I was a little kid, but it’s not one a lot of people are familiar with. I could only find three novel length retellings of it (one of them Gail’s own Fairy’s Mistake). Gail, you’ve retold popular fairytales like Cinderella and Snow White, but also lesser known ones like Puddocky. Is your approach to books based on well-known stories different than what you do when adapting lesser known ones?

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      My approach is the same, which I’ve gone into here. What I like about working from the well-known stories, though, is the consciousness that readers will know the originals and realize how I’ve tinkered with them. That’s why I asked my publisher to include the name of the original fairy tale, like “Puddocky,” on the copyright page, in hopes that curious readers would read and compare. I love “Diamonds and Toads.” Good luck with it!

  29. Natalie M the dragon writer says:

    I am currently writing my first book at 11 and reading your book “writer to writer, from think to ink” and I just don’t know what makes a story hook a reader into it. here is what I have so far:

    Arlien muttered angrily as she bent her leg back and her arms forward, producing a ballerina like pose. “Now concentrate on the egg.” Her grandma Lena said touching her forehead. She was a slim woman with only the slightest wrinkles, due to magicks. She had an agile face; her gray hair in a tight bun, green eyes all knowing, and her lips tight with determination. Arlien was a lot like her, face shape, eye color, and bun. Even though her hair was blonde and limp.
    But grandma Lena had something she did not, Magickal skill. Arlien was horrible at even the simplest of spells. But when her parents died trying to save her, her grandma took it upon herself to teach Arlien. Arlien’s family, the Marisponas, owned a dragon stable and racing arena, and today, she was going to hatch her very first egg. She squeezed her eyes shut, and pictured a crack in the egg, allowing the dragon inside to escape. Arlien opened her eyes, and gasped, it worked! She dropped t he pose and rushed up to the egg. An amber eye peaked out “rack!!!!” the baby dragon cried. Grandma Lena beamed. “Good, Good. Now get some rest. You have work tomorrow.”
    Of course being a normal 16 year old she didn’t go to bed immediately. She scooped up the slimy green baby dragon, trying not to think about the goo dripping down her shirt. Arlien walked across the dusty path down to the old run down shack. Grandma Lena insisted that 16 year olds should make a living of their own and work hard. Henceforth she had to build her own house. Next to her grandmas Elaborate 2 story luxury house. But at least she did not get babied all the time, which is totally not what happened when she asked to live with Grandma Lena, *cough, cough*
    Her shack was one room with reed flooring and red planked walls, with a small rickety bed in one corner and shelves filled to the brim with all manner of things on the other side she had a small kitchen with her small sink which she managed to cast a spell to make water come through the wooden faucet.
    Arlien lit a crushed flower candle and placed the baby in the bowl of the sink. “RrrraaackkkKKK!!!!!” the dragon chirped. “Awwwwww!!!!” Arlien gushed “But you are WAY to dirty.” She said sternly. She grabbed a cake of soap and started scrubbing. The dragon closed his eyes as Arlien started on his head. “I think I’m going to name you…..Theo.”

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