With friends like me, who needs enemies?

On May 18, 2016, Lady Laisa wrote, I cannot finish anything I start writing. I know lots of people have asked about this and many, many authors have made blog posts and books written from both sides of the plotter/pantser perspective, but my trouble is that I am neither. I am smack dab in the middle, and I cannot seem to get out.

See, in one way I’m a plotter. I can’t write if I don’t know very well where I’m going. (Kind of like my dad on a trip. If he doesn’t have a very, very good idea where he’s going, he won’t go–unlike my mum who doesn’t mind wandering around a bit.) I need to know my destination and how to get there, or I cannot start out.

On the other hand, I find plotting tedious. I will plot out my story until I hate it so much I would rather take a weed whacker to it than a pen. I may write for a while, but the loathing intensifies until I sometimes I literally hurl the manuscript at the wall. I then crumple it into an envelope and leave it to molder in my closet for years. Sometimes I’ll pull it out (not often) and take a peek, and then get excited about it and write on it for a little while, but then I get drained all over again, and try instead to work on a less taxing story.

This has been going on for roughly six and a half years, and it just gets worse over time. I have about three hundred loose stories, all at various stages of completion, (I even have a whole first draft! But it is so hideous it turns my stomach to even look at it) floating around in the abyss of my closet.

Does anyone have any tips for how to write a story without knowing the plot in advance or how to outline a story without becoming desperately bored?

First off, I think congratulations are in order for about 300 stories in one stage or another. That’s a lot of writing! An accomplishment.

Christie Valentine Powell answered Lady Laisa, and an exchange between the two followed, but I’m going to save that for the next post. For now, I want to address part of the question. I’ll start by relating an incident that happened in my writing workshop last week that troubled me.

In class I gave the kids a prompt that combined dialogue and ending and asked them to write for twenty minutes. One of my very few boys finished early, so I asked him to show me what he’d done. He said it wasn’t any good and didn’t want me to read it. I tried to persuade him otherwise but didn’t push it. He said he’d work on it at home, which he may or may not do.

I felt terrible for him. For one thing, how could I be helpful about something I wasn’t allowed to read?

But also, what kind of expectations did he have for himself? In twenty minutes I didn’t expect anyone to create deathless prose. I wouldn’t expect it of myself, and I’ve been writing for a long time.

And I had this thought: He is unlikely to keep writing. Why would he, if it’s the cause of such unhappiness and self-condemnation? Then, I confess, I had a follow-up, evil thought: That’s okay. There are enough writers already. He can just be a reader. We need more of them.

When everyone finished writing, I launched into the spiel I’ve delivered here: that asking whether our work is good or not is the least useful question we can pose. I asked them why, and they got it. If someone tells us we’re wrong, that our story is good, we’re pleased maybe, but we don’t know what made it good, and we may feel suspicious. We see problems, why doesn’t this person? On the other hand, if the judgment confirms our own condemnation, we just feel bad, but we don’t know how to make the piece better, and we’re probably not in a state to work on it then anyway–too painful!

Not long ago, I heard an interview on the radio while I was driving. A woman with a young voice was interviewing a physicist about multi-verses, which are part of a theory that there may be other universes in the deeps of space that are identical to ours and also many others that may vary only in small details. The physicist said that there could be a universe in which the same interview was going forward but with different questions and different answers. And the interviewer, to my astonishment, said something like: “In that other universe, the interviewer would be asking better questions than I have.”

I didn’t crash the car. Reggie didn’t bounce around in the hatch, but he did pop up from his snooze when I pounded the steering wheel and yelled at the interviewer, “Why did you say that? What was wrong with your questions? I didn’t notice anything, and I’m a good noticer.”

In a poetry workshop I took years ago, the teacher said anyone who prefaced reading her poem with a warning that it wasn’t very good would be fined five dollars. No one had to pay up, but a couple of people came close and had to reel their words back in when they started with self-criticism.

Some of you may not agree with this, and my exemplar in the workshop was a boy, but I think girls and women are more prone to the self-put-down than boys and men. Please weigh in with your thoughts.

I’m not suggesting that everything we write is gold. First drafts need improvement. My second and third drafts, too. And no book is perfect. I’ve been listening to a new audio version of FAIREST to see how I like it, and I heard a sentence that I’d like to revise. It’s been out for ten years!

So here is the first strategy to help us finish our stories: Be nice to them. Don’t call them lousy.

But how do we combat this habit of undermining ourselves when we’re just getting started as writers?

∙ We can become self-aware of our self-attack. We can notice when we do it to. We can ask friends and family to point it out. We can pay attention to it in other people, which will help us generally be more alert to it. You may be surprised at how often self put-downs crops up.

∙ The last post was about getting useful criticism. That will help. When we see where the problems are–that they aren’t global–we can set about making matters better. If we’re also critiquing the work of other writers, we see that we’re not the only ones who struggle.

∙ Books about writing may help. I love Writing on Both Sides of the Brain by Henriette Anne Klauser (at least middle-school level, I’d guess), which spends a lot of pages on the inner critic and how to get it out of the way. As beginning writer, this was my go-to book when I got discouraged. Bird by Bird by Anne LaMott is also great–high school and up.

The point is, it’s hard to finish anything when we’re constantly passing judgment. I’m going to call out on the blog when someone bad mouths her writing, maybe not every time, but beware! You risk being caught!

Here are three prompts:

∙ Let’s re-imagine “Rumpelstiltskin.” Instead of having to spin straw into gold, the miller’s daughter is commanded to, in a single day, create a masterpiece of a painting. Rumpelstiltskin comes along, but neither of them knows what the king considers great art. Does he like still lifes or landscapes or portraits, or is abstract art his thing? Write the story.

∙ Cinderella thinks her stepsisters are right when they criticize her. This may be a tragedy. Write the story.

∙ Your MC’s brother is trapped in a magic tower. Your MC’s stallion has magical powers, but he has ideas of his own, and rescuing the brother isn’t among them. Write the story and rescue the brother.

Have fun, and save what you write!

  1. I guess I needed this one. I just finished a rough draft and emailed it to myself (in case something happens to the computer). In the message I wrote this: “I won’t say ‘ta da’, because it’s not a thing of beauty, but still worth saving.”
    For me I have to give myself permission to write a bad rough draft. This one includes unedited clips from old stories, a few summaries and telling sentences where I was too lazy to write the scenes (A scream interrupted. Avie had lost her footing. Keita and Glen manage to save her.), and some really sloppy wording. I probably could be nicer about describing it, but I still have faith that it’s going to end up a lot better. This is just getting the bones down, something to build on next time.

  2. I think this advice could be applied to all parts of life, not just our writing. Bravo!

    (PS, I know I rarely comment these days, but I still read what you post! And buy your books.) 🙂

      • Epicadenzastar says:

        Hi Gail,
        I read your new book, “Writer to Writer” it was great! But I was wondering if you had anymore tips on romance novels. I am in the process of writing one, and it really isn’t going well. I really feel like quitting. Can you please help?


  3. I adore Rumpelstiltskin! I might try that prompt and make a few changes like instead the king asks to make a hmmmmm uh…… CAKE! And she can’t cook so Rumpelstiltskin make a cake thats huge with golden frosting and a marshmallow crown on top! But the millers daughter can’t hold it because its so big and it splats all over the king! and more but i can’t fit a whole book in a comment! Now who likes my version better?

  4. The Florid Sword says:

    I had a question, Mrs. Levine. I have been reading some of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, on your suggestion, and am loving them. I remember that in Writer to Writer you said that you like the word “susurrate”. Did you learn that one from Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men? Just wondering.
    Thanks for this post. I struggle with this greatly.

  5. Thank you for this post! I have the exact same problem. I have about fifty different stories on paper, on the computer, on my iPod, and only two of them are even finished, much less edited.
    Thank you for the Rumpelstiltskin prompt. I am using it today.

  6. Taking the Cinderella one!
    I think I have a Cinderella problem. The last complete thing I wrote was a Cinderella story, but last month I toured a historic ash factory and now I have to go write a new Cindy story so she can live in one.

  7. Song4myKing says:

    Encouragement for Lady Laisa: if your writing in your stories is as good as in your comments, then believe me – it’s good! I laughed out loud when I read your paragraphs of this post because your language is so vigorously picturesque. I read most of it aloud to my friend, who also loved it. She said she feels that way about her paintings at times. Sometimes, the thing stopping her from hurling her canvas at the wall is the reluctance to mess up the wall. Anyway, we like your writing and we relate to it.

    Sometimes, I have to consciously stop thinking about quality and just start writing. Sometimes I remind myself that it’s okay if I write only for myself, and then the quality doesn’t matter as long as I say what I want. But paradoxically, I think it has also helped to have someone else reading it or waiting to read it. My younger sister read my first, very rough draft as I wrote it. I don’t think I would let her today (why I let her then is another story), but I think there were times when she kept me going. Just simply knowing that she wanted to read more, that she was waiting for what came next.

    Your comment about boys and girls, Gail – I asked my friend/co-teacher/fellow writer what she thought (same friend mentioned above). She had an interesting theory that boys tend to do the self-put-down thing more internally than girls. Therefore, we see it in women and girls more often, but only because they express it more outwardly.

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      Your friend may be right, which may make it even harder for boys, because it’s more possible to work with something that’s out in the open.

    • Aww, thanks! Actually, I feel like I would write better if my writing voice were my everyday voice. I’m not as descriptive when I try to write. I’m not sure why. I can be surprisingly dull when I write my stories, and people are always telling me I have a way with words when I talk to them, but the instant I sit down with a pen and paper that all dies. But I’m trying several techniques and hopefully I can fix this problem.

      Tell your friend not to ruin her wall. It isn’t worth it. (I know a thing or two about ruining walls.) Neither is destroying the carpet. It may be satisfying for the first few moments but after a few moments the feeling of triumph passes and a slow creeping feeling of dread replaces it and you start to calculate prices for repairs and replacement. It’s unpleasant. Especially if you’re bad at math (like me) and don’t really have a job (also like me). Far better to finish a painting…or manuscript.

  8. Thank you for the post Mrs. Levine! It came right when I needed it. I’ve just decided to start two completely new stories, one’s a novel the other’s a novella, and plot out a third novel and see if working on several different things, all written in different styles and even different types of story at once will help keep me from hating my work so much within a short period of time. We’ll see how this goes. I am determined to stick this one out. Give me a finished draft or give me death!

    Anyways, my point was this, I’ve started anew, and I’ve been very careful with these curent stories and I still feel a bit burned out, but this post has been uplifting. I guess my big problem is my inner editor. I hate the imperfections in my stories and I get so hung up on the wrongs that I can’t keep on working towards getting it right. I’ll have to work on that. Thanks for your help!

  9. I do wonder if we girls have more of a love/hate relationship with ourselves…

    I’d also like to say, I have roughly 200 itty bits of stories, and I’ve saved them for salvage parts. I can go through and take pieces out to put in another book, or I can put things in. For instance, I took a plotline from a (terrible) story I wrote and put it into my current WIP. But then, I took part of that out and put in my novella ideas. It’s confusing, messy work, but it does make sure that I save EVERYTHING.

  10. I have a question. How do you show instead of tell in first person? I find it easy in third–in fact, sometimes I have to go back and add a telling sentence here or there. But whenever I try to write in first person and get into the character’s voice, they just seem to want to tell for pages and pages and never get into showing the story.

    • I agree that showing in first person is difficult. Here’s and example:
      Telling: I took the sword in hand.
      Showing: I slid my hand onto the grip of my blade, clenching my fist around it. I could feel my knuckles going white around the cold metal.
      I, personally, don’t think telling in first person should be done all the time, because it makes a character sound a bit unrealistic or look like his thinking is very dramatic. The reason it may seem difficult to show in first person is because it sounds the most plausible and realistic for a character in first person to just tell what they’re doing. In third person, it sounds more plausible to show because it’s like the narrator is describing what’s going on. In first person, the narrator is the one doing the action, and therefore doesn’t have to describe what’s being done– he just does it. Does that make sense? So that’s my version of *why* it’s harder to show in first person. I’ve found that spending an hour of my afternoon describing to myself what I’m doing (i.e. I carefully selected the orange marker from the glass jar to my left. I combed the strand of hair out of my face, using the mirroring surface of the jar to see my reflection.) has been a good exercise to do to get both the showing and the first person juices flowing. Hope this helps!

  11. I have a different problem when it comes to writing. I’ve been working on a story for a couple of months, but everything I’ve done with it is all in my head. Whenever I sit down to actually write, I find myself drawing my characters instead. I’ve sketched more than fifty pages of my characters, and I could put them all in chronoligical order, but I can’t seem to actually write much.
    It’s not that I’m especially good at drawing, or am trying to use it to tell the entire story, but it comes so naturally to me compared to writing.
    In all this time I’ve written only four or five scenes. Does it even make sense to try to write it all out at this point? The writing part is often tedious, but I want to tell the story. What should I be doing here?

    • I know several authors who started out as illustrators, but realized that the writing part appealed more to them. I suppose it would make sense that sometimes it happens in reverse.
      Usually I can write just fine, but I’ve had a story or two where it just doesn’t click. I tried a first person prequel to my current WIP, and I just couldn’t get into it. It was tedious, and never really worked out. Eventually I gave up. I don’t know what it was about that story that caused the problem, but maybe switching things around would work for you better. Is there something you can change? The POV, maybe? A major character shift? Could you add in a plot twist you were thinking of for something else?

      • Thanks, I think that if I change the overall plot a bit, I’ll find it easier to work with. It’s a retelling of a legend from a different point of view, so that gives me a base to work from as well as freedom in that respect.

    • Are you interested in webcomics? A lot of people make those, and they’re lots of fun. I can personally recommend “The Silver Eye” and “Anacrine Complex.” Look up their names and you should be able to find them. But those are just starting points. There are soooooooo many cool ones out there, drawn in soooooooo many different styles. If you prefer drawing and it comes more naturally to you, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You can tell wonderful stories through comics. Any kind of story at all.

      • Thank you! Thats a really good idea to consider. Whenever I write in third person, I find myself over describing the settings. Thanks for those suggestions.

    • Jenalyn Barton says:

      You could try doing a Webtoon! They’re basically online weekly cartoons (kind of like manga or manwha) that tell a story. Webtoons.com has a Discover section, where basically anyone can post their own webtoon, and if you get enough followers you could have your webtoon added to the featured webtoons on the site. It’s worth a shot if you do better at drawing your characters than writing the story out word for word. It might be just the thing for you!

    • If you’re up to it, you could try reading a thriller or watch a scary movie to get ideas. I’ve only watched one true horror movie in my life, and I was amazed how my emotions were reacting like crazy even though in my head I didn’t care for the plot.

      One thing is to make sure to pace it so that you have both constriction and release leading up to the moment. In some books, especially the last of a series, they try to keep the pressure on all the time, but after awhile it just gets old. “Okay, the world is in danger. The world is still in danger. The world’s in even more danger. I get it already.” If you break it up with some light moments, it makes it much more intense.

      You can also do a lot with description. The setting, and how you describe it, can have a big impact on mood. So do details, if you draw in and focus on just a few small things. Here’s examples from my climax:

      The jagged teeth of Whiterocks Pass pierced the overcast sky.

      The girls stood at the edge of a valley surrounded by sharp cliffs. Ruins of old buildings and deep, open pits spattered the entire valley floor, and every single space in between was taken up by statues.

      Her foot snagged on a rock, and to keep from stumbling she instinctively grabbed a hand offered in front of her.
      The hand was smooth and cold and definitely not alive. Keita looked up, and screamed.
      A statue of a young girl stood beside her. Her arm was held out, in supplication or perhaps to deflect a blow. Her face was wrinkled in an ugly silent scream. Keita scrambled backward and bumped into Sienna. The girl stood just outside the tunnel, still as if she’d been turned into a statue herself.

    • Heightening the tension is the perfect way to create suspense. Tension has to build up over time, though, so if you’re trying to make a supposed-to-be-scary scene actually scary, you’ll want to build up to that scary scene over the course of your novel. You can do this by foreshadowing the scary event at different points, causing the characters (and readers) to expect something that’s the opposite of rainbows and butterflies. When characters expect something to happen that wrenches their gut, but aren’t sure *when* or *where* this gut-wrenching thing is going to happen, the readers can become very scared for them. Also, if you’re not sure about the exact meaning of foreshadowing, look it up. It can be invaluable in stories, if used properly. Heightening the tension by using description, as Christie V Powell suggested, is a great idea. We use description for visualization, and it is up to you what your readers visualize in this scary scene. My last suggestion is to think back to times when you were scared. It’s not the most fun thing to do, but it’ll definitely help. It can even be when you were reading a book or watching a movie. There was that one Christmas when I watched an adaption of A Christmas Carol that made me stay up all night. I was much too young to appreciate it’s wonderful lesson; basically, all I could think of was how scary those ghosts were. Now it doesn’t scare me, of course, but boy do I remember that feeling. Take the feelings you get from remembering the times you were scared and ask yourself why you were scared. Was it because of the setting (the time of day, weather, and place)? Was it because you didn’t know what was going to happen next? Was it because you were afraid for the characters in the book? Once you identify what it was, ask yourself how you can make the same effect happen in your story. I personally find writing scary scenes a bit fun (Don’t get me wrong. I would NEVER write a horror.) because when I can scare myself with my own writing, I know it has to be good. 🙂

    • Well, tension is actually fairly simple. Tension doesn’t have to be “the fate of the world is in my hands” or anything dramatic like that. I’ve had my nerves frazzled just by losing my pen, and the other day I broke down in tears when I realized three of my favorite books got lost during moving. It doesn’t really take much to make turn a normal person into a frenzied bundle of nerves. This is a principle I keep in mind when I write tension myself.

      Your character doesn’t need to be worried about the fate of a nation for me to be worried. If they lost a precious object, say a treasured book, and are hunting for the book while they try to overthrow the evil overlord, ninty-nine percent of the time I’ll be more worried about the book than the fate of the nation because the book is a more personal problem to the character. If the problem matters the the character it will matter to me, even if it seems rather trivial compared to fate-of-nations. If you give the character even a small crisis and focus on the small crisis tension will rise.

  12. Hello everyone! I have a question. I’m wondering if my story’s ending is in danger of being a deus ex machina, and thought you all could help me identify whether it is or not. In my story, there is a supreme being who created the world in which my characters live, along with everything in it. He is basically like who God is, in a Christian’s view, to earth and to humans. He is a star, who are immortal beings who look after the mortals from the sky. He’s the north star to be exact. So he is not physically present in the story, although the MCs are told stories about him and what he has done. They’re told about how he created the world, how he conquered evil, and many other stories about what he has done for the mortals of their world. In short, he is mentioned a lot, and even though he isn’t present in the story, he is extremely important. Here’s my dilemma: during the Climax, my MCs are battling the Villain, and she is winning. When they are pretty beat up, the MCs look up to the sky and see the north star, and cry out to him for help. He comes, and gives the MCs the strength to defeat the villain. Would you guys categorize this as a deus ex machina? It is a supernatural being swooping in and essentially saving the MCs from their demise. I don’t want to make my ending a deus ex machina, so if you all have any remedies for it, if you *do* classify it as one, please let me know! Thanks, and sorry for all of the explaining. Since it’s a comment and not a story, I won’t categorize it as info dumping. 😉

    • I think it depends on how it’s handled. I see nothing wrong with having the star give them strength as long as they still do the actual conquering. If the star swooped in and banished the villain himself, you’d have a problem. I’m thinking of “Wild Magic” by Tamora Pierce, where at the crucial moment the MC’s pony transfers energy into her. Even though she couldn’t have won without that, she still had to use that strength to draw her bow and kill the villain. I did something similar in my book–the villain is attacking them by enhancing their fear and they need an outside source to throw it off, except that the story is vague about where the strength comes from until the sequel.

  13. I have a problem. I have this one novella that I am working on. I have the whole thing plotted out, and know whats going to happen, but whenever I began to work on the story I feel drained. I have already taken a long break from it, and want to start working on it again, but still whenever I start writing I feel unmotivated. I really like the story, and would like to finish it soon. What should I do?

    • I have a couple of suggestions.
      You could take a walk, and clear your head so you can focus and write. Or, you could, like Mrs.Levine said, take notes. You could write longhand if you usually type, or type if you usually write longhand. You could also find new ways to take the story, if it’s the plot that bothering you. Or you could put the book aside and work on another project, maybe come back to the novella in three months (three being a magical number).

      Well, that’s all I can think of. Hope that it helps you.

    • Is there any particular scene that you really look forward to writing? Some people say they go ahead and write the really intriguing scenes when they feel like it. Perhaps it could get you excited about it if you did. I prefer to write chronologically, holding the enticing scenes in front of me as a reward for getting through parts I’m less enthused about.

      I had a chapter that has always been difficult to write. It spans a whole summer. The events are pertinent to the mood and decisions of the characters at the end of the summer, but they can get tedious if every event is shown. It’s difficult to get enthused about because I have to figure out how’s the best way to write it. Two ways that have helped me get through that chapter, both in writing it and in rewriting it: First, simply sitting down and doing it – perhaps with a goal in mind, like this last rewrite, I wanted to finish it for certain people at a certain time. Second, reading books that accomplished well what I hoped to accomplish. A couple of books that handled that time issue well were The Changeling (Zilpha Keatley Snyder) and Carry on, Mr. Bowditch (Jean Lee Latham).

    • You’ve already got some great advice to go on here, but I just wanted to add this thought. Whenever I get stuck in the mud, I usually do one of two things. One is if I’m just not in the mood to try and spark my imagination again and I’m just “not feeling it” so to speak, I give it a rest. But I don’t let myself just stop writing completely. I normally read writing blogs like Mrs. Levine’s, or helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com, or livewritethrive.com, to continue building my writer’s vocabulary and dictionary, and learn more about story structure, and character creating, and basically just how to better my craft. I jot down points that I find important or interesting in a Microsoft Word document and keep on reading about writing. I do this because I don’t want the writing process to leave my head even if I’m not actually writing. I also research things, come up with interesting character names I may need later, etc. Eventually, I’ll get an awesome idea again or I’ll revisit my WIP and find that I’m not as stuck as I was before. The second thing I do is try to get myself motivated by making lists of outlandish ideas that would make the part I’m working on more interesting. It can be really fun to do, and it also really gets my imagination going. I may also illustrate some of my characters, outfits, animals, or I may even draw a map. Drawing, to me, can be very relaxing, and at the same time it sparks my creativity. If it’s the actual writing of monotonous words that’s making it not fun for you, try writing a paragraph with the most frivolous words you can find in a less exciting word’s place. You may find that you like some of the words and end up keeping them. One last thing. Try listening to music while you’re writing. I find that movie soundtracks are the best because they provide great music without the words. Sometimes if I’m writing and I listen to music with words I’ll focus on the words to the song instead of the words I’m writing. Mix it up as well. Just because you’re writing a high-tension battle scene doesn’t mean you can’t listen to something soft, flowy, and serene. In fact, that may make you look at the scene from a different angle, which is a plus.

  14. How do you know when you have too many characters? In my current WIP, I have a lot of characters, all of whom contribute pretty directly to the plot. I’m honestly not sure if I have too many, though, and I need to know so I can make changes if necessary. Thanks.

    • Have you ever counted the characters in Harry Potter (let’s just look at book 1)? The cast is huge. Most of them are minor characters: they have interesting quirks that tell them apart, but no character arc–those require lots of scene time, so it only works with a handful of major characters (some of Brandon Mull and Rick Riordan stories have trouble with this–especially between books in the series, I can’t always remember who is who). Most of HP’s characters aren’t super important to the plot, but they do help flesh out the world and make it much more realistic and believable. Some tips I’ve learned from looking at HP:
      –some characters are tied to place. If you met a Dudley at Hogwarts, you’d be pretty confused. However, seeing one at Harry’s home, you remember immediately who he is.
      –if referring to a minor character after a lot of time has passed, add a reminder of who that person is, like adding “the potions teacher” after his name.
      –add an unforgettable quirk: it could be physical (Hagrid’s size), or abilities/talents (Hermione remembering things from books), or emotional (Malfoy’s bullying made him stand out in Diagon Alley, so we remembered him on the train). Mention–or better yet, show–that quirk every once in awhile; don’t say it once and expect the readers to remember for the whole book.
      –if you’ve got important characters who are absent for part of the book, refer back to them occasionally (in the beginning of book 2, Harry imagines how his best friends would react even though they haven’t appeared yet).
      –don’t introduce the characters all at once. If they are meeting as a large group, meet some beforehand so the reader can meet them one or two at a time. In HP, they meet a lot of fellow students during the sorting ceremony, but we’ve already met or glimpsed some of them: Hermione has already introduced herself on the train. Neville has been glimpsed, and his toad-troubles help him stick in your mind. Malfoy already came up long before in Diagon Alley.
      –we don’t have to know names for everyone, not right away. Seamus is “the tall, sandy-haired boy” for the first few scenes. Neville is “the boy with the toad”. Other people never have a name: the trolley witch, for instance. You can drop names here and there, but be careful not to expect the reader to remember everything (several names come up in dialogue in chapter one, but we don’t meet them or know who they are until much later: Sirius Black, Madam Pomfrey, Dedulus Diggle…)

      Can anyone else think of some tips?

  15. Gail Carson Levine says:

    This is great advice! I’d just add I don’t think there’s any character upper limit, but if you can combine characters, you might do so. If they’re minor, maybe one can do the work of two or three.

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