The best-laid plans of mice and writers

Just want to mention before I start how much better and better the help keeps getting that writers have been offering one another here. Such a pleasure for me to read. Kudos to you all!

This is a continuation of the last post. Here’s a rerun of the question: 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 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?

What followed was an exchange with Christie Valentine Powell, which I didn’t post last time. Here it is now:

Christie Valentine Powell: Does it need to be a specific outline? Many “plotters” I’ve talked to have a rough idea, maybe up to a page, of where things are going, but not a precise blow-by-blow description. I’ll have the story broken down into big sections, but without a ton of detail. That way I know where I’m going but I’ve still got room to play (like giving yourself extra time on the vacation for exploring new places).

Another thought: I’ve heard of the Snowflake method, a type of plotting that works for some people. You might give it a try.

Lady Laisa: I don’t know if I’ve tried your way yet. I have tried a very vague outline, just two or three paragraphs to explain the basic “shell” of the story, if you will, but that wasn’t enough detail. I didn’t know what my character’s short term goals were when I did that, and goals are, I’ve found to my dismay, a VERY big part of a character. I just have a really, REALLY hard time figuring goals out (if anyone has anything to say about character goals I would like very much to hear it).

So when you say that you have your story broken down into sections what do you mean? Like “Part One: The Journey;” “Part Two: The Betrayal;” “Part Three: The Final Solution” sort of thing? I’ve never really tried that, but I could see how it might work.

I do like having elbow room to give some room to spontaneity. Tolkien himself had no idea that Strider, when he wrote him into the scene at the Prancing Pony, would end up being such a pivotal character.

But if I have too much elbow room the plotless expanse stretches before me like an open prairie, and I feel like a rabbit trying to reach his warren and knowing full well that at any moment a hawk might swoop from the sky to devour him.

Christie Valentine Powell: I have somewhere between five and ten sections. The book I just finished (er… mostly) is a quest, so it included different geographical regions. The next one I’ve outlined are more story-related (something like this: Exciting Opening, World Building, Character Building, Betrayal, MC character growth, Exciting Climax, Resolution). I’ll have a few bullet points under each of things I think I should cover. When I’m writing and getting closer, sometimes I’ll stop and plot out the next section more clearly–either on paper or in my head: “Okay, this is the Hanan region section. I’m going to start with the characters sneaking into the city, then they’ll meet some humans who tell them how to find the heir. How can I do that in an interesting way?”

With goals, I think it might depend on your story type. For my quest story, it was pretty easy. For most of the book, the driving goal is trying to find the true heir (although the very beginning and very end have different ones). For my first book it was harder and changed more, and I feel like it’s not quite as good because of it. I imagine a more realistic or character-driven story would be less cut-and-dry–which honestly is one reason I haven’t been able to write that kind of story.

Trying to outline is tedious for me, too. In fact, I just googled the snowflake method that Christie Valentine Powell mentioned, and I got so bored reading about it that I fled the site before finishing. However, the method may work for you, so check it out. When I outline, I always long to start writing scenes. I have a short outline for the novel I’m working on now, but I rarely look at it and rarely change it based on what’s happened in the writing.

I do often use fairy tales as the taking-off point of my plot, and they help me find my direction. Usually, it’s the flaws in the tale that shape my story. In the original “Cinderella,” for example, the eponymous heroine is passive; evil is done to her, and good is done to her. She doesn’t do much except what she’s told. So, I wonder, who is she? Why is she so obedient? Why doesn’t she strangle her step family, or at least ignore them? I get to work to figure out why. The answers shape my plot.

That’s one strategy: use a known and problematic story. Yours can be a fairy tale, too. Or a myth. Or a story in the news that seems incomplete. How was that bank chosen as the robbery target? Why that museum? Or, how did the art forger get her start? (If we’re going to do this, we probably want to invent our answers–although research can help us frame more questions.) Moments in history that seem inexplicable can generate ideas. We’re likely to find character goals when we start interrogating our story.

I agree with Christie Valentine Powell that the quest is a great plot shape for seeing one’s way through. I love when I can frame my story as a quest. But the quest sometimes needs to be set up. Ella’s quest doesn’t start until after her mother dies, because she’s protected until then. In The Two Princesses of Bamarre, Addie’s doesn’t start until Meryl gets sick. In The Wish, Wilma’s doesn’t start until she finds out her wish won’t last forever. However, Aza’s in Fairest is with her in the beginning, but changes later on.

Before the quest in Two Princesses gets going, Addie has different objectives, which vary from scene to scene. Then the objectives narrow when Addie tries to save her sister, but still, some scenes call forth another response. In Fairest, Aza wants to be pretty or at least not ugly. That’s her character’s goal. If she achieves that or conclusively fails to, her character arc will be resolved, or so we think. But the story has other ideas, and the solution is different.

I’m suspicious of the idea that we have to think up our characters’ goals ahead of time, before we start a book or write a scene–at least for us pantsers or partial pantsers. A few years ago, I used a car service to go to a kids’ book event. It was late at night, and the driver hit a deer, which caused a pretty big jolt. If I had been plotting the scene in advance, I would have given myself, the caring person I believe myself to be, the first objective of making sure I was okay, then the driver, the car, the deer–the important stuff. Actually, my first goal turned out to be making sure my laptop was intact (granted, it was obvious to me that I was still alive). The driver (uninjured) was impressed with how cool and unworried I was. Sure–my laptop hadn’t been damaged. Not really cool. My priorities were haywire.

The funny part is that I used the car service because I hate long distance driving, especially at night, and I realized that if I had driven I would have been miserable but I (probably) wouldn’t have totaled a car, injured or killed a deer, endangered any human or laptop–because I would have made the trip during the day, when most deer are snoozing.

When I planned out the trip, the real-life equivalent of outlining, I didn’t expect deer accidents. I didn’t pack human or vet first-aid supplies.

Let’s imagine a chase scene. Our MC is pursuing the major villain through a forest, desperate to catch him. He’s armed and more familiar with this place than she is, but she’s more fleet. She’s focused on what’s about to transpire. We, the pantser writer, are thinking along the same lines, but something pops into our head and we act on it. Birdsong penetrates our MC’s concentration–not any birdsong, the distinctive call of the elusive purple nightingale, which hasn’t been heard since her grandmother’s time. Without thinking, her feet slow.

(Either the reader already knows that in peacetime our MC is an avid bird watcher, or we jump back fifty pages to slip that info in.)

In that foot-dragging moment, her body has one objective and her brain another. We can go a lot of ways from here. She can goad herself even more and take after the villain again. She can stop to enjoy the bird, justifying the delay according to her character. The villain can hear it, too, and also be entranced. Or he can realize she’s stopped and use her slowness to his advantage. Or any other possibility we may come up with.

If I were a committed, happy outliner, I probably would have built this surprise into my outline. I would made the delightful bird discovery earlier in the process and would have had fun figuring out the repercussions.

In my opinion, pantser or outliner, the complexity of the bird improves the story, even if it complicates the goals. And we are likely to learn something about our characters from the surprise. Maybe our MC realizes how important wildlife is to her and how it needs to be part of her plan to save the kingdom. Or maybe she discovers something about her villain that will help her–or vice versa!

Regarding me and my laptop and the late-night accident, I was forced to see how intrinsic writing is to me. My work was backed up. If my laptop had been destroyed I would have lost no more than a few new pages and, possibly, some money, but I reacted as if much more had been at stake.

I hope this is good news for those of us who worry about advance planning. Whether we’re pantsers or outliners, we can’t expect total control of our stories or ourselves. We can go with the flow. I don’t know what my characters are going to do or want until I get into the moment. Something may crop up that I haven’t seen coming, and that’s what keeps the writing un-tedious.

My mantra these days seems to be Relax. Don’t sweat. No worries., which, if repeated at fifteen-minute intervals all the way through a story, may be the key to finishing. Near the beginning of the writing, when we’re either outlining or writing notes and lists (my method), or writing the first few scenes and getting to know our major characters, we can speculate about what might be a satisfying (not necessarily happy) resolution. The answer can be vague: come into herself as a leader; be loved; be safe; find the treasure; rescue somebody. We don’t have to know how the resolution can be achieved. Then we can let our subconscious work for us. While we’re writing scenes, it will keep an eye on the goal, and–I really believe this–create a path to get us there.

I don’t mean this is easy. With my Stolen Magic I had to swim upstream and downstream and start again three times for over four years. But I did get there, and I guess I did my flailing about in the spirit of exploration.

Here are three prompts:

∙ Lady Laisa asked Christie Valentine Powell about sections in rough outlining, so let’s use the first two of hers and two more of mine: “Part One: The Journey;” “Part Two: The Betrayal;” “Part Three: The Accommodation;” and “Part Four: The Terminus.” Use these suggestive headings as a bare-bones outline for your story.

∙ Write the above chase scene with the birdsong.

∙ Cinderella’s fairy godmother from the original tale arrives to help Cinderella go to the ball. Just as she’s about to wave her wand, have someone else come in. You decide who and write the scene.

Have fun, and save what you write!

  1. Right now I’m working on turning an old draft of my book into a prequel. The pacing and theme of it weren’t very good so now I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’ve got individual scenes, chapters, and even sections, but it’s still taking a lot of brainstorming to figure out how to make them a cohesive whole. I’m impressed with people who can write a cohesive novel without outlining first–although I know both take lots of revision.

  2. well i’ll do the cinderella one where just when the fairy waves her wand the stepmother comes and accidently hits her with the magic so the stepmother go’s to the ball and cinderella has to wear her rags to the ball and try to stop her! what do you think everyone?

  3. Jenalyn Barton says:

    I used to be a pure pantser–I would have a rough idea of the storyline in my head, but I rarely wrote it down before sitting down to write the story. Last year, for NaNoWriMo, I decided to try some pre-writing. I didn’t do an outline, but I did do some world building, some research on the real-world locations, character profiles, and things like that. I discovered that having these things in place beforehand helped me create a better story, as well as helping me know where to take my story and giving me a better sense of direction. If you hate outlining (like me), but have difficulty with pure pantsing, I suggest doing some research on your setting and characters in lieu of a structured outline.

  4. Great post! I’m glad no (humans, at least) were hurt when you hit that deer!

    What I like to do, as far as outlining goes, is write enough to figure out who my characters are, and then stop and plot a bit. I like to have an idea of my ending- it’s usually something like `then they defeat the villain and live happily ever after!’ so not really detailed, but it gives me something to work toward. I like to plot a few chapters ahead of where I am, too, but I know distant stuff is likely to change by the time I get there. Sometimes I’ll plot several ways the story can go, and pick the one that works best when I get close to that part. It’s a slow way to write because I have to stop for thinking time now and then, but I’ve been able to write several books that way. (None actually publishable, sadly, but I like to think the practice has been valuable.)

  5. Epicadenzastar says:

    A long time ago, I wrote some book called the Five Jewels or something, it was so short! I haven’t had time to continue it, but now that I’ve quit my last book, I can lengthen this book. Then I was unsure… This book was pretty boring. But after reading this post, I don’t have a doubt on re-writing this book!

    Thnx 🙂

  6. I am a pure-blooded, spur-of-the-moment pantser. I have never planned; no outlining or world-building for me! In fact, those things, when I tried them, made the writing less enjoyable, and my critiquers disliked it. Sadly, though, I’m constantly being told that my books would be better if I did plan, and organize, and outline- but my brain doesn’t work that way. Sometimes I wonder if I’m worthy to be called an author, because of my approach. It feels to me like most of my writer friends outline or plan evvverrryttthinnng, and I… well, I try to… but really, my fantasy worlds, the just seem more fun if I create them as I create the characters.

    Also, I have been in a vehicle when a deer has jumped into it before….*shudders*

  7. Hi everyone! I was wondering: Does anyone find that listening to music helps you write better?
    For me, it helps keep me focused, blocks out distractions, and gets me in the mood of the scene I’m writing.

    • Yup. I especially like movie and video game soundtracks, but I also like Enya. Her voice is good for the calmer scenes, though I’ve found that songs sung in English distract me. I can personally recommend Tingstad & Rumbel for quieter scenes, Hanneke Cassel for fun scenes and Audiomachine for more intense scenes. I’ve even written some of my stories around certain pieces of music, which I think is a lot of fun.

    • I don’t always listen to music while I’m writing, but when I do I like to listen to soundtracks. Like Lady Laisa said, I don’t like listening to music with words in English while I’m writing because it never fails to distract me. I normally listen to things like Broadway, Disney, The Hobbit, & Lord of the Rings music. A tip that I find interesting is to listen to a soundtrack that doesn’t necessarily fit the tone of a scene. Like you could listen to softer songs when writing a battle scene. Doing this can offer a different perspective on a scene, and it may help you write the scene in a much more complex, interesting way.

    • I have a friend who makes up sound tracks that apply to each of her MC’s me on the other hand I need quiet to write …

  8. Not always for short things, but my novels tend to end up with “soundtracks” that fit the tone, mood, and/or theme of what I’m working on. Usually familiar stuff or instrumental, because if it’s new I’ll listen to the lyrics instead of writing.

    They tend to have a lot of Broadway showtunes, Disney soundtracks and Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

  9. Jumping in a bit late here, but we were away on vacation…I understand your frustration Lady Laisa. I consider myself a panster too, but I inadvertently became a plotter. I wrote what I thought was a long picture book (okay a really long PB), but my critique partner said “NO” this is a MG novel or at least a chapter book. But to get from PB to novel length I had to add scenes (lots of them), stretch out scenes, and add characters. In the process I went from 2,500 words to 30,400 words. So in a way, my PB was my outline for the final novel.

    • Oh cool! I’ve been there soooooo many times. I cannot count the number of times I started a “short story” that became four-hundred-plus page epics. *facepalm*

  10. MisplacedPoetry says:

    Does anyone else use sound generators? Like a rainmaker or a white noise maker?

    I used to just fling myself straight into the story with little idea of what I was even trying to do. It didn’t work out too good for me. (Mainly because I was starting in the wrong place in the story) But for this NanoWriMo, I’ve started writing just some minor points down, very sloppy notes. I hope helps to get my somewhere.

    Speaking of my Nano novel. It’s steampunk themed. Something I’ve never done before. Does anyone have any tips on writing steampunk? Or just a setting that they’ve never done before?

    • My steampunk experience is pretty small (I’ve only read one, Rebel’s Honor by Gwen White, and it felt like a dystopia but with steam power to me). One tip for settings: I find that showing the familiar within the unfamiliar make them more powerful as well as more fantastic. My fantasy world is mostly based on wilderness areas I’ve been to. Hogwarts has some pretty cool magic, but it’s also a boarding school filled with teenagers. The Sci-fi book Dune takes place on a desert world: I’ve never been somewhere that dry but I have been to sand dunes before. Same thing with cultures: I’ve never lived in a culture where all the people can turn into animals, but I have lived in a few different places with different cultural norms and social rules.

    • StorytellerLizzie says:

      The way I’ve had Steampunk described to me, it’s “Victorian Science Fiction”. So Victorian era clothing, steam powered everything, and zeppelin types of aircraft instead of airplanes. Otherwise anything goes; I’ve seen (from skimming the book jackets of a couple books) everything from werewolves and vampires to detective stories and such.

  11. Hi everyone, I have a REALLY weird question…how should I write a character with snaky locks? I would like to write part of my story from the POV of a gorgon, and I’m not sure how to handle the snakes. Should I give them personality? Should they be perpetually moving? Would they have to be fed? Would she be able to braid them? Help! Anybody with any suggestions with how to deal with the snakes, ANY AT ALL, feel free to throw them at me. Ask any questions you think should be brought up, go ahead and ask. Please brainstorm a little and let me know what you come up with. Thanks!

    • Gorgons? What fun!
      I imagine that if they’re attached to her, they could get nutrients from her body, but I bet they’d take snacks. I like them snapping at flies. Pet snakes are usually pretty lazy creatures, sunning themselves on rocks all day, so I bet they’d spend a good amount of the time just curled up on top of her head.
      Would you rather have a few big snakes or a lot of little snakes? How long? If she only had a few snakes she could wear them in Princess Leia buns. If she’s dealing with a lot of little long ones, it would look something like cornrows-two or three snakes twined together, hanging down her neck with scalp showing through. But if the snakes have a will of their own they’ll undo themselves all the time to stretch and slither and wrestle with each other.
      She could probably get the snakes to hold stuff for her, either in their mouths or with their bodies, the way you can tuck a pencil into a bun. Snakes shed, so she’d have to dela with loose snake skin instead of dandruff.

    • Ooh, I’m loving these ideas! It makes me want to write about a gorgon! To add some humor, you could have her talk to her friends about getting wanting to get her hair cut, but then her hair/snakes start freaking out. I got this idea from Disney Pixar’s Monsters Inc., which stars a sort-of gorgon as one of the main character’s love interest. What if the snakes knew exactly what she was thinking all the time because they are attached to her head? What if they comment on her ideas, because they also have their owns brains and opinions? I can already see some forming arguments between the snakes and between your character and the snakes. I think it could get really interesting if you make the snakes intelligent with their own ideas and opinions. They could offer her advice, hinder her from doing something she wants to do, or even get her to do something for their benefit. The options are limitless. Since the snakes are her hair, would they grow like normal hair does? Do they have to be washed? I think that it would be really cool if she could tell them a hairstyle and they could do it for her (as long as it’s a hairstyle snakes are capable of making, that is). One more idea– are the snakes protective of her? Will they try to harm anyone who threatens her? When she gets angry, do they get angry too, or do they each have their own temperament? Hope this helps, and I definitely recommend watching movies (like Monsters Inc.) that feature characters with gorgon-like attributes. Seeing certain types of characters in motion picture always helps me to get a grip on how I could and/or should make them act.

  12. What if she didn’t have to feed them- but she had to eat more herself to compensate? Or maybe they could be trying to snap up bugs and irritating her. It’d be so weird to feel your hair wiggling around. Would she even be able to see them without a mirror? Would they sometimes slither down around her shoulder to comfort her (the way my cat rubs against my chin when I’m sad?) If they do talk, would it be out loud, or just in her head like Doc Oc’s arms in the second Toby McGuire Spiderman movie? Maybe they’re helpful- but what if they have different goals than her? Like, maybe she has a crush, but the snakes in her hair are trying to scare the guy off because they’re over protective? Have you ever read `Goose Chase’ by Patrice Kendl? The main character isn’t a gorgon, but her magic hair does have a lot of personality -and sometimes it’s downright in conflict with her! It might be a good read, just to see how someone else handles hair problems. 🙂 Hope my thoughts helped -if only to get the gears working.

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      I love this! It’s a great example of what I love about working with myths and fairy tales with fantastical creatures–coming up with possibilities, turning them over in my mind. I’m going to use the discussion in a speech I’m planning. Thanks for the help!

    • Another book with creative hair is ‘Lhind the Thief,’ by Sherwood Smith. Lhind had to keep all her hair covered when she wanted to look like a normal human.

      If you have just a few large snakes, you could give a couple of them individual personalities. I personally would go for more of a “group personality,” where all the snakes act together with one attitude, but either way would have its advantages and possibilities. And if it was me, I’d choose the smaller snakes, probably because they’d have a prettier effect! Then again, the bigger snakes would be stronger, giving some interesting plot possibilities (would they be strong enough together to hold her, if she fell from a tree or a high beam?).

      Another consideration that you might or might not need to face – what happens in battle if someone goes after her hair (or after her head, and misses)? Would an injured snake die?

      • Wow, thanks everybody! These are really awesome ideas! I love the whole “snakeskin instead of dandruff” thing. Oh my word. That’ll be lot’s of fun. “Um, miss, a piece of snakeskin just fell out of your veil!” This gives me lot to work with. I like the idea of the snakes having personality, and being able to snap at bugs and such. I think I would definitely find that annoying. I’m kinda stumped as to how she would manage to blend in though(she lives in the city, and gorgons are not particularly welcome, for obvious reasons). She keeps her head covered with a veil so she doesn’t accidentally turn random people into stone, but I’m wondering how the snakes would handle that. I can’t imagine they would like it too much. Anybody have any ideas for that particular problem?

        • It actually wouldn’t be too bad. I’ve known snake handlers who carry their animals in pillowcases. They don’t seem to mind–they like small, dark spaces. Being so close to her head, which is where you lose most of your heat, she would have to be super careful in hot weather to keep them from overheating. I hope your city is in the north. They would not be happy here in Arizona unless they were nocturnal!

  13. How do you rewrite without losing sight of the original story?
    I’m rewriting a book I wrote three years ago. Not just revising, but rewriting, working in an entirely new folder and only going back to the original manuscript occasionally when I want to borrow a paragraph. I’m worried that as I write new scenes, I’ll forget important scenes in the original that developed characters or worldbuilding and those things will fall flat in the new version.
    Gail, you’ve mentioned you went through some pretty heavy duty revisions with Fairest. How did you manage?

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      FAIREST was a revision not a rewrite, although it was a big one. But–this may not be comforting–in both TWO PRINCESSES and STOLEN MAGIC, I did lose my original story. Actually, with STOLEN MAGIC I lost two entire plots. The final versions were the books I could write, as opposed to the ones I was trying to write. Oddly enough, one of the bits in the original TWO PRINCESSES found its way into the published STOLEN MAGIC (the flower that laughs). I regret only one lost scene in an earlier STOLEN MAGIC, and, since I do save everything, maybe someday I’ll be able to use it.

    • I’m doing the same thing right now, working on a rewrite. I’ve already cannibalized a few scenes for different stories that I have to be careful about, and this is a prequel so I have to be careful not to contradict the later books. In my case I’ve learned a whole lot since writing the original–the plot and characters are already flat, it’s my job now to make it work.

  14. I’ve cannibalized 2 stories that weren’t working and put the bits together to make a whole new story.

    I tend to believe that if something (a character, plot bit, or whatever) is really “alive,” it’ll stick with you one way or another.

  15. I’m a little late, but I enjoyed hearing about what other people listened to when writing!
    For me, I listen mostly to Broadway, Disney, or any other soundtracks.
    I also loved the discussion about gorgon “hair”…I might use those ideas in another book!

  16. StorytellerLizzie says:

    So… I have a sort of specific character development question. This character is one of a team of five MC’s, and he’s had it rough in the brief backstory I’m still piecing together for him. Short as-of-now version is he had been “in the care” of my main antagonist (I’m still figuring out exactly how this happened) for a while before the team takes him in. He knew she, my villain, was bad, but he wasn’t in a position to do much to stop her (he was a child for part of her rise to some power). Anyway he was in her care for long enough that his self-worth is basically non-existent and he can’t see why the forces that be would put him on the team. My main MC, who also is an intended love interest, is trying to help him; but I’m not sure how she will go about doing that. As he is now in development, he would not be opposed to getting “better” (I’m pretty sure that is the least correct word to use, but I’m not sure what the correct one is) but I’m not sure how to go about it. Any and all advice is appreciated.

    • Interesting question. I highly suggest reading “The Great & Terrible Quest” by Margaret Lovett, which sounds like it has a similar situation to the situation your character was in when he was younger and in the care of the Villain. As for your MC/future-love-interest boosting his confidence and self-worth, that would depend on her personality somewhat. Is she extremely caring and sees the good and potential in everyone? If so, then encouragement and plenty of hugs sounds like something she may do. Is there something special she sees in him that she doesn’t see in anyone else? Maybe you could have her tell him about what she sees in him. Perhaps she’s more on the tough side, and is not easily impressed, but when it comes to him, something makes her soften up a bit. If so, maybe he could make her laugh in a scene, or maybe he realizes she just gave him a complement, which is something she normally doesn’t do for the others. For me personally, making someone laugh makes me feel good about myself, and makes me want to laugh too. Think about what makes him feel good about himself. Have the other characters boost him up in that way. One more thing. What if, because of his low self-esteem and his not so happy upbringing, he happens to be really selfless? He could be so not focused on himself that he could become a great hero. This could be an attribute that the others on his team have less of, which makes him very valuable. Remember that the heroes we love the most become selfless to some extent, in some way, by the end of the story (whether they give their time for a cause, their most prized possession to save someone’s life, or their own life).

      • StorytellerLizzie says:

        @ Emma Sounds like a good maybe baseline, I’ll have to look into that book. My MC/love interest is sort of a 60/20 mix of tough(20) and caring(60); she sort of adopts the tough girl bit after being ripped from her normal life and thrown into a fantasy setting her father kept from her, after which her father is killed soon after, she then has to prove herself to all the magical beings in this world who doubt her abilities as she is a half elf. She also deals with being unsure if her mother is alive or not as an event early on separated her and her father from her mother. ANYWAY, she is thrown into a role she didn’t ask for and then has to take it anyway. SO, back to topics from my long question post. Another challenge with my guy MC is that practically the whole world I’ve created knows he was with the villain, so they unfortunately don’t/aren’t as ready to trust him. The only reason my girl trusts him is because (in that event that broke up her family) he saved her from an attack from the villain (in a previous not-quite-a-draft he did this a couple more times and got the rest of the team to trust him at least). So I guess he’s sort of on this odd line of wanting to selfless, but also not wanting to get in the way of (in some bigger battle scenes that I have somewhat planned) other good guys who could potentially (especially in his mind) confuse him for the enemy. All that on top of trying to deal with his inner demons.
        Perhaps my muse just wants to watch me squirm over my potentially too complicated characters.

  17. I was wondering if anyone had any tips for writing emotional scenes. Ways you can really make the reader FEEL what is going on, and make them emotionally investeded in the story.
    When ever I feel like a particular scene needs to be more dramatic and powerful I over write it and make is cheesy. Any tips?

    • Think of a time when you felt the same emotion. Write about your own feelings. I never used to be able to write about death until one night I had an EXTREMELY vivid dream in which my father died. It was horrible and it was so real that when I woke up I wasn’t sure if what I had experienced was a dream or not. Now when I write death scenes, I remember what it was like believing my father was dead.
      While dreams are useful, real life is useful too. I have one story that I write especially when I’m angry, because the MC is an angry, bitter person, and writing her when I’m angry really makes her come alive. Sometimes I simply don’t have time to wait until I’m angry though, so instead I remember past injustices, and try to be as riled up as I can.
      I find I get caustically sarcastic and extremely cynical after writing in Pen’s mindset, and I spend the rest of the day in a red fog of annoyance and disgust. Whoops. 😛
      Something I do to help me get into a particular mood is listen to atmospheric music. Creating playlists to boost an emotion has been really helpful. Hope I helped.

    • Lady Laisa’s suggestions are terrific! I do the exact same things- remember the times when I felt that way, and channel those emotions into the story, as well as listen to music. Also, considering the fact that all characters are different, all characters will end up acting differently in different emotional situations. By taking a close look at a character’s personality, you can figure out how he or she will act in an emotional situation. One of my characters in my WIP, let’s call her A, tends to not express her emotions very much, unless she’s talking to someone she absolutely, 100% trusts. This is because she hates drama and thinks emotions are unnecessary and messy. She normally always bases her decisions on logic, and likes to push her emotions to the back seat of the car in important situations. Thus, after she witnessed her mentor and great friend die, she kept her emotions inside. She cries in a scene when no one is around, and only talks about it to two people. Take a look at your character’s personality in order to write a very real, not forced, emotional scene. If you’re not sure how your character would react, try taking the personality test at as your character in question. This test will assign a personality to your character and will give you several lists describing different aspects of your character’s personality, which can help you find out how your character would act and react.
      Also, if you feel like an emotional scene is too cliche or cheesy, try changing something like the setting, or the way the characters describe their emotions. Let’s pretend your MC’s mom just died. The funeral has just gotten over, everyone is clad in black and are slowly leaving the graveyard through the drizzle. Your MC is standing alone in front of her mom’s grave when her best, childhood friend walks up and lays a hand on her shoulder. What could you do to make this scene less cliche? What if, instead of an ordinary day, it’s Christmas day, in southern Texas? Be gone drizzle, hello dry air. What if the gravestone has something written on it that doesn’t make sense to anyone, but was requested by her dying mother to be engraved on her tombstone? Maybe the friend asks the MC what it means. Maybe they take their minds off the sadness by trying to figure out the odd saying. The emotional scene is no longer cheesy, because it’s different. It’s still emotional. Her mom is still dead, she still has a tear on her cheek, and she’s trying to take her mind off of the sad event. But now, it’s less cliche which means it’s less cheesy. And it’s also more interesting.

    • I find that the more powerful you want your scene to be, the less you need to say. Understatement and zeroing in on details are what I find the most powerful.
      Here’s a scene from my second book (ebook is out now; hard copy should be here in a couple weeks!!)

      Brian gestured to the unmarred sand ahead. “This is the dangerous Boar Island?”
      “Anything’ s better than this boat,” Sienna groaned.
      The fisherwoman was quiet—or was she tired from all that rowing? The hull of the boat scraped against the sand, and Brian leapt out to pull it further. Sienna half-climbed, half-rolled out of it and collapsed on the sand. Keita andAvie hurried to help her. In that instant, the boat gave a great jerk. Brian leapt back as it shot back into the water. They all stared as the fisherwoman pulled the oars as hard as she could. “Wait!”Brian called. “How do we contact you to get back?”
      “You don’ t.”
      “But we’ ll pay you!” Avie reached for her pocket and then gasped. Her hand emerged, empty.
      No one said a thing. They stood on that beautiful white sand, watching the rowboat disappear into the great empty sea.

  18. Have you tried watching movies? If an actor causes me to have the warm fuzzies, or makes me afraid, or sad, then I describe the actor’s face, movements, or anything else that made me feel.
    For example, at the end of my Jack and Elsa fanfiction story, Elsa is apparently dead, and I was having trouble writing Jack’s emotional pain.
    Then, I watched the Harry Potter movies. In the end, I combined a description of Harry’s sadness after bringing Cedric’s body back to Hogwarts (so sad!) and Snape’s sorrow when he finds Lily’s body after she’s been killed (really REALLY sad!!) and I used those descriptions to describe Jack’s sadness.
    My Dad read the book and he told me: “I could really feel his pain. You’re pretty good at describing human anguish.” Score!
    Although I used sorrow as an example, it can work for any emotion.
    As far as making it cheesy, I would avoid cliche sentences. Romance is especially prone to cheesy over-used sentences, but cliches can also ruin a sad scene or a frightening one.
    If watching movies doesn’t work, try reading books by different authors who are good at describing emotion for ideas.
    I hope this helped!

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