Plotting Plot

On November 25, 2018, Superb♥Girl wrote, I have a problem–a big one.

This isn’t for any WIP in particular, but my writing in general. I have total confidence in the my world-building, and I quite love my characters–but for the life of me, plot is something I just can’t tackle.

Many of you chimed in.

Melissa Mead: I approach plot with great trepidation and trembling. Which is probably why I write sooo slowly.

I’ve been checking out the Snowflake Method recently. (Note: I haven’t actually BOUGHT anything. I just read the article:

Sara: I have plot troubles too. Sometimes it’s so hard to find the solution to things, or to even create a substantial problem in the first place. My advice is lots of trial and error, exploring everything you think of, and research, both on plotting in general and on whatever your subject is.

Kyryiann: I mainly start with the character and the world as well. As a pantser, I tend to come up with plot as I go, starting with just one main idea – like “hey, it would be cool to write a story about a spy!” – and building it up and branching out from there.

Writeforfun: It’s funny, I’m the other way around! I always start with plot! Although, you can’t really have a plot without a vague idea of the sort of characters that are in it, I suppose, so perhaps you could say that I start with characters as well as the plot. For me, I have to know what the story is about before I can really develop any of the characters or bother with the world it’s in. The exception to that would be the sequels I’ve written to one of my original books, which naturally came with a pre-made cast of characters; but even those I only wrote because I had a story in mind that they happened to fit into nicely.

Now that I think about it, I think my current book may be the first one I’ve intentionally started without a plot already formed in my head – after my computer crashed and I lost my previous stories, I needed a fresh start. There are certain personalities and themes that I’m drawn to in stories, so I tried to think of a character and plot that would include one – in this case, a misfit with self-confidence issues who must learn to accept himself – and figure out what sort of plot would explore that. I started thinking of things that would challenge and grow my character as an individual, as well as the grand-scheme conflict (in this case a looming war) to introduce some bigger dangers. I thought of how a few more characters could help further the story, even bring a bit of their own into it…and from these fragments I pieced together the idea for my tale. As the story came along, the characters kind of evolved into it. Once I had the story and characters, I came up with a world to put them in. I don’t know if that’s backwards – but it worked for me, at least!

Perhaps I begin with plot because I am a planner; I simply must have at least a general idea of where my plot is going. If I don’t, I’ll simply meander into nothing but pointless dialogue before giving up. Having a concept of where I’m going keeps me on track; the surprise for me, then, is seeing exactly how things unfold, how conversations go, unexpected subplots that pop up, and the occasional character that surprises me and breaks out of the plan I had set.

But, at least for me, it all starts with an original plot!

Christie V Powell: KM Weiland’s website has a lot of ads for her printed books, but all of the information is available for free on her blog. Her series on Story Structure starts here:
And her series on incorporating character arcs into plot starts here:

Last year, I started a story just pantsing, and it turned into a huge mess that’s taken me over a year, so far, to edit into something publishable. I did two for NaNo this year that are a lot smoother and will take a ton less editing, because I have the story structure in place. So having an organized system works a lot better for me.

I also liked the book “Story Genius” by Lisa Cron, which has a similar system for using character to create plot.

Song4myKing: Unfortunately, I don’t have nearly as much time to write as I would like, so I usually have mulled the story around and around in my head and gotten a good sense of what will and what won’t work before I even start to write. Some of my stories have sprung from an intriguing world-building idea. One story comes from one of the biggest threats my characters in that world face, just because of the nature of the people and their environment. Another one came out of my wondering how this environment came to be, thousands of years earlier. Both of these have a fairly obvious place to begin, and I know where I want it to end up.

But the two stories I’ve gotten most excited about developed a little less logically. The seed ideas for both of them were dreams. Basically, when I woke up, I had a scene in my head complete with action, characters, and emotion. And I wanted to figure out what in the world was going on, and it had to make sense in the wide-awake daylight. I think the emotion helped. For one thing, it made me care. For another, it gave me a direction to start searching. I thought of a number of different scenarios and discarded them, because they didn’t really pack the right emotional wallop. Either that, or they had the right emotion, but lacked in the common sense department. Then once I had a context that seemed to fit, that context was the plot. It was a conflict, and it had to have a beginning, and it had to go somewhere. And I had to follow it and figure out where I wanted it to end up.

I haven’t yet tried to stir up this process artificially, but I want to try it the next time I’m stuck, or wanting to start something new. Here’s how I might try it: take a snippet of overheard or imagined conversation or a little action with its reaction, add two or three faces from a WIP or from random strangers on Pinterest character boards, pick an emotion (a negative one), add a second emotion that could be connected but is not a synonym to the first one, mix well, mentally narrate the scene, then stare out a window on a rainy day and ask “Why?”

Remember, no idea is too crazy to play with! The freedom of mental narration is that no one else can possibly read it but yourself. No one else will know how many weird possibilities you entertained before you found what worked.

These are great!

I want to summarize them for everyone to use, but first, a quick word about plot. What’s at its dark heart? Conflict! Trouble! Misery for our MCs! That’s what we most need to keep in mind when we think about plot.

Kyryiann comes up with a main idea, like a story about a spy. Spy suggests danger. We ask where and upon whom our spy is spying. Why? What’s the mission? As we answer these questions, provisionally at the beginning, our world, our characters, and our plot emerge. We remember that we have to make trouble, often, if not constantly.

Writeforfun: Knowing what the story is about and what themes she’s drawn to, like self-acceptance. Here we start with a theme: self-acceptance. Which, naturally, suggests that at the outset our MC doesn’t accept herself. And what does that imply? Yes! Conflict! We think about which aspects of herself she doesn’t accept and whether or not she’s right. What can we bring in to force a climax? Are we writing an action-oriented story, or an interior one? Because the kind of conflict will be different. What other characters can we bring in to intensify her dissatisfaction? Who will hurt her? who will help her? Who will do both?

Like Writeforfun, I’m charmed by seeing where a bare-bones story takes me as I flesh it out. Surprises abound.

Christie V Powell has to have a story structure in place before she starts writing, which means that discovering the conflict and the way it works out start earlier, and the steps to resolution will be planned, probably in an outline. We can do that, too, so that we see our way clear to the end. Our characters struggle, but we’re secure!

Song4myKing mulls her ideas over and gets them somewhat set before she starts. I do that, too, but usually once my story is underway.

Some of her plots come from world-building, and Superb♥Girl enjoys world-building. In this case, we think about the opportunities for conflict in the world. For example, Winston Churchill said (two months after I was born–I just looked it up) that democracy is the worst system of government, except for all the others. Suppose we have our world ruled by a committee of the wise. What could go wrong? We probe and uncover what does–the conflict. We think about the characters we have in mind for the committee. How will they be part of the mess? What will their personalities lead them to do in response? What can we have them do to intensify the trouble? Who will suffer to make matters better?

Song4myKing was lucky enough to be graced twice by dreams that matured into stories. A useful aspect of the dreams was the emotion. We can use that. We start with a feeling, probably not happiness: foreboding, fear, out-of-control giddiness, or something else. Working backward, we wonder what caused it. Who was involved?

Many writers begin with a character who wants something he can’t have easily. Again, we’re looking for conflict. Superb♥Girl loves her characters. After we decide which ones are our MCs, we need to think about what would make them miserable. And next what will keep them miserable? And what might they do to become less miserable? How might they fail? How might they succeed, a little? Who in our cast will make them unhappier? What are the actions that will go with all of that?

I’m with Melissa Mead, in that plot is the hardest part for me, which is one reason that I often go to fairy tales for inspiration, because they already have a plot, and I can borrow it. I’m helped by the gaps in the original versions of these stories. My plot emerges as I figure out why Cinderella obeys her stepfamily, why the evil queen in “Snow White” is so influenced by her mirror, why the prince kisses Sleeping Beauty.

We all can go to these stories for plot, because they lend themselves to so many interpretations. Same with folk tales, tall tales, myths, Bible stories. And we can dip into history. Many of the big moments have been explored fictionally, but history is enormous and full of drama and lends itself to all kinds of interpretations, like the American Revolution or, really, any war, with vampires–all that delicious blood! We can bring in fantasy elements. The last czar of Russia can be a dragon. Henry VIII can be a wizard, who doesn’t understand what it’s like to be human.

Here are four prompts:

• Henry VIII is a wizard, and a tad self-centered. Kill off his last wife, Catherine Parr, in any way you like and give him a seventh, who can be your MC. Write what happens.

• Read or reread Jane Eyre–or read a plot summary. Branch off from the original with the tale of St. John Rivers, the suitor turned down by Jane.

• Go with the spy idea. Your MC is spying on the secret society, the NVLM. She has to infiltrate the group even though they can all read minds and she can’t. Write how she does it. Keep going and write the story.

• Callie can’t stand her own puppy-dog nature. She’s nice to people even if they’re unpleasant to her. If someone blames her for anything, she can barely stay inside her skin, she’s so upset. Someone comes into her life who is distinctly unkind, someone who, for whatever reason you decide, is going to be around for awhile–a new family member, a schoolmate, a teacher, a boss. Write her story.

Have fun, and save what you write!

  1. Reminds me of a writing article by Gary Provost about “just saying no”. This is my favorite paragraph:

    Your novel shouldn’t be about a character getting everything served to him on a silver platter. It should be about a character who scraps and struggles and argues and overcomes, a character who near kills himself trying to beat down all the No’s between him and his goal. Every time he slays a few No’s, another battalion of them comes over the next hill. The whole reason for telling a story is that somebody or something said No. So if things are going swell for your character, keep it to yourself. Nobody cares.

    There’s been a few times when writing that I have to stop a character from agreeing and say ‘no’ instead– just today, my main character was at a social event, and the woman she was talking to notices that she’s paying attention to her betrothed instead of to her. Originally I wrote that she chuckled and said something like, “You might as well go talk to him.” I decided to make her say no instead, and give an impatient huff and walk off, offended.

  2. Writing Ballerina says:

    My problem is similar, but it’s more along the lines of I have a great plot; great conflict; great evil scheme — but why on earth is the bad guy doing what he’s doing??? I have trouble coming up with motives. I find an evil plan, then try to shift around the pieces of my story to find a motive that makes sense, but I just end up expounding on the plan — making it more “elegant” (to refer to A Tale of Two Castles) — or making a new one, but I still don’t have a motive. For example, in my WIP, there’s this king that turns out to be evil and basically wants to kill off the whole kingdom — but why??? The best I can come up with is that he’s bored with royalty, but who’s that cold that they would kill thousands of people because they don’t like their job?? Help!

    • That’s a hard question Writing Ballerina! Maybe this evil king’s motive could be that no one wanted him to be king (or thought he had what it takes or something), and now he wants revenge. Or maybe he’s an imposter from an enemy kingdom which wants to annihilate the other kingdom. If I think of anything else I’ll let you know! 🙂

      • Writing Ballerina says:

        Oooh Oooh Oooh! I like that last suggestion!! That can TOTALLY work! Thanks so much, viola03!
        – so the evil king (EK) is from that enemy kingdom (called X for now) and wants to kill off most of EK’s kingdom so it weakens them, then call X in to wage war and conquer the kingdom because X wants more territory. Hahaha! Thanks so much!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        (By the way, I’d still like an answer to the “finding motives” question in general, because I get stuck at that frequently.)

        • For motives, I find you have to start with the character. It helps me to find something painful in a character’s past that they either work to improve for the benefit of others (hero) or improve for the worse for others (villain). Here are a few common motives for villains: revenge (my favorite) is a fun one because the cause can be revealed as a twist. Thirst for power can be done very well and make terrifying villains. Stigma or vendetta against a group or population (for example, an evil wizard who despises muggles) can make for a fascinating radical/political kind of villain. In real life, motives are complex, so it’s a good idea for a character to have multiple motives. For example, my WIP’s villain wants revenge on another character as well as power.

      • future_famous_author says:

        I agree with viola03, your antagonist (bad guy) should have been influenced by something horrible that happened to him, maybe because of an original antagonist. Then you may run into the problem of trying to figure out why the original does what they do, which could end up as a cycle, so maybe try avoiding the original antagonist. A lot of my antagonists are pushed by evil parents, then turn good, possibly because of love. Your question, Writing Ballerina, has actually made me think about the spy story I’m writing- why are the kids going to the school for bad guys? What teenager would do that? If anyone has any ideas, that would really help!

    • A lot of time motive stems from a character’s background. For example, if the bad guy is a former slave who was treated poorly by the royals, he probably wants to get rid of them out of a desire for revenge. If he was once one of the royals who was banished for refusing to conform to society’s expectations of him, perhaps he desires to change society to fit his lifestyle and wants to expose all the corruption that he knew went on behind the scenes. Perhaps he was bullied and treated poorly as a child and ends up taking out all of his pent-up aggression on his subjects. The possibilities are endless! If you figure out his background, his own personal story in which he thinks of himself as the protagonist, you may find out his hidden motive.

    • I’ve recently discovered the ennegram personality system, which is kind of like Meyer’s Briggs if you know that one. They give a primary want and motivation for each personality type, as well as what a ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ person looks like. I find it really useful for motivations, especially for villains. Here’s the long version:
      Here’s a quick break down:
      Type 1: Idealistic reformer. Basic Desire: To be good. Basic Fear: To be evil.
      This is actually my main villain’s type. They believe that the world is black and white and they are motivated to shape the world into the way it should be–in a villain’s case, through inappropriate means.
      Type 2: Caring Helper. Basic Desire: to be loved Basic Fear: to be unwanted.
      Type 3: Driven Achiever. Basic Desire: Success. Basic Fear: to be worthless.
      My love interest and one of my villains both have this type. They struggle to be authentic and can be manipulative. in order to appear successful.
      Type 4: Artistic Individualist. Basic Desire: To be themselves. Basic Fear: To be insignificant.
      Type 5: Intelligent intellectual. Basic Desire: To be competent. Basic Fear: To be helpless.
      Type 6: Dedicated Loyalist. Basic Desire: Security. Basic Fear: Being unsupported.
      Type 7: Fun Enthusiast. Basic Desire: To have basic needs fulfilled. Basic Fear: Deprivation and Pain.
      Type 8: Dominating Challenger. Basic Desire: Freedom. Basic Fear: Being controlled by others.
      Type 9: Easy-going Peacemaker. Basic Desire: Peace of mind. Basic Fear: Conflict and Loss.
      It’s really hard to write a type 9 villain because when ‘unhealthy’, they tend to disassociate from the world.

        • Ah, good point.
          I had half a thought of a type 9 villain using a computer program or something that would dehumanize their victims, so they were thinking of them just as statistics… come to think of it, that sounds more like a 5…

    • When I was struggling with this problem in my WIP, I decided to learn more about my villain. With me, a lot of brainstorming happens when I’m just thinking about the story. I had already decided that the villain was brothers with one of the main protagonists, a king, so I was trying to figure out why he was trying to destroy everything his brother loved.
      The king’s wife is an important character, and as I was thinking about the three of them, I figured that she would have come in contact with the villain. The woman had spent some time with the king and his brother because her father wanted to arrange an alliance with their two kingdoms. She would have spent time with each brother individually.
      That’s when it hit me: what if the villain had fallen in love with the woman, but she chose his brother instead?
      This put a whole new spin on the plot. I eventually decided that the villain thought that his brother had forced the woman to choose him instead of the villain.
      That’s basically a step by step process that I go through for most of my novels. I hope it helped!

  3. Mrs. Levine, I just finished reading Ella Enchanted! I loved it so much! (ATTENTION: SPOILER ALERT BEYOND THIS POINT) I really liked how it was Ella’s love for Char that broke the curse in the end. I never would have seen it coming, and it was a really satisfying ending!

    • Writing Ballerina says:

      Ella Enchanted is one of my favourites! I also recently got Ogre Enchanted and liked that, too. On Wednesday I watched the movie version of Ella (the book is better).

      • future_famous_author says:

        I have started reading Ella Enchanted. Actually started with listening to a Play Away, but I dropped it, and it broke, so I am waiting to get it at the library. Good thing I’m not like my brother, who might not survive the suspense! 🙂

  4. I have a problem. A big one.

    I have been writing stories for years now, but I’m stuck in a rut of what I nicknamed “Same Character Syndrome.” I’ve made countless characters, and at first they seem different— some are blonde, brunette, or red-headed, they all have different ethnicities, etc. The thing is, though, they are all teen girls who are slightly awkward nerds. They all have the same speech mannerisms, and they like to look pretty. They get anxious, and love rule following. I’ve tried to make other MCs, but they end up degenerating into the same ol’ mold that all my MCs are. I’ve been thinking, and I think it’s because they are all embodiments of me, the author. It’s terrifying for me to realize that I am the soul inside these people whom I have thought so different. It’s like I wrote up a cloning machine, and they all come out of it with different faces and backstories, but the same stuff inside.

    How do I fix this?

    Thanks for taking my the time to read this.

    • What if, just for a training exercise, you tried writing a character based on someone else you know well? I did that a lot in high school. I thought it was funny, looking back, that I had two characters in different stories that were based on the same person, but they were totally different characters. One was a peacemaker who tried to smooth things over for characters who didn’t get along, and the other was a major source of conflict for my main character. I’m not sure if that was the mystical character evolution that writers talk about, or just my changing relationship with the person!

      You could also try using different characteristics of yourself for different characters. Real people are contractions, much more so than characters. In one of my WIPs, I gave all three POV characters one of my flaws (though exaggerated, I hope). One of them lives in fantasy/dreams and doesn’t handle reality well. Another has goals that are more realistic, but she tries to make them come true without always considering the work and responsibility involved. The third struggles with guilt over something careless he did that had terrible consequences). He’s also slightly based on a historical main character, for his physical/outer descriptions.

    • Kit Kat Kitty says:

      I find it helpful to read books or watch shows that focus on one or more characters that are different from the characters you would normally write. (Especially if these different characters interact with each other) This has helped me so much with coming up with different characters. And it’s not just how they look, it’s how they act or feel or what they believe. And although this has already been said, writing characters of the opposite gender really helps if you’re trying to write characters different from you.

  5. FWIW, I’ve seen a lot of discussions about this sort of thing.

    Have you ever, just for fun, tried making up a character who’s the total opposite of you? Or a different gender?

    I suspect that it’ll help that you can identity ways that your characters are like you. Ex, if you catch a character automatically obeying a rule, you can come up with a compelling reason for them to break it.

    • A friend once told me that she felt the characters were stronger when men wrote about women and women wrote about men. She said it worked that way for herself, because she had to think harder when writing a man’s perspective. She couldn’t just rely on her own ordinary patterns of thinking, and assume her readers understood.

  6. Writing Ballerina says:

    I have another problem.
    So I’ll be planning out or writing my story, and because it’s good to be mean to your characters, I make a whole bunch of things go wrong, but now… How do they get out of it?? I’ve gotten them stuck and I know of no way to free them.

    For example, in one of my WIPs, an epidemic is looming. The characters are well prepared, and they have a vaccine/cure, but as soon as they actually need it, they discover someone has destroyed all of what they have and imprisoned the person they got it from! And the disease is about to sweep across the land and they are unprepared and vulnerable.
    Great! Conflict!
    Now what?

    Thanks in advance for all your help!

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      This is a good moment for a list of possible ways out, which can include looping back and writing in a difficult-to-achieve solution, which you would drop in and then direct your readers’ attention elsewhere.

    • future_famous_author says:

      I have run into the same kind of problem. Maybe if your story is magical you could bring in a dragon (I am reading A Tale Of Two Castles right now, thinking about IT) or some other form of mythical creature, to rescue them, or any other new character. I would suggest not making them already know a character who already exists, because your reader may be thrown off by the sudden new best friend or cousin, who was never mentioned before.
      For the story (what does WIP stand for?) you mentioned, about the epidemic, maybe they find a way to infect the guards who are on duty to watch “the person they got it (the cure) from,” or the guards leader! Then they get the cure and get out! Or maybe the- I’m gonna call that guy the doctor, invents something (just guessing he’s techie) to communicate with the other characters, and he sends them his coordinates and a map of the building (once again guessing- he’s in building, right?) so they can come get him! That might be too complicated, but it was all I could think of.
      Good story idea, by the way, Writing Ballerina!

        • future_famous_author says:

          Thank you so much, Mrs. Levine! Also thank you for creating this blog I want to be on it EVERY day! I only just found it yesterday, but it is one of my FAVORITE things to do, after reading and writing WIPs (see what I did there?). I never finish my stories, but I have enough ideas to fill an entire library! This blog is going to make me a much better writer, and I love the community. Authors helping authors, beginners and professional, all making each other better so that we may let our little birds of books fly off into the world. (I was feeling poetic.) Thank you a million more times, this blog is just SOOO amazing. It makes me happy just writing this!

  7. future_famous_author says:

    I have a problem. A pretty big one, too. I am writing a story about two spy schools, a good one and a bad one. There are two MCs in this story, one is a girl from the good side, the other a boy from the bad side. They end up meeting, and he becomes good because of love for her. My problem is him. He’s going to a school for BAD GUYS, so is obviously EVIL at least somewhat, so how do I write from his POV? Any suggestions?

    • You could make him think that what he is doing is good. A lot of people who make bad decisions have good intentions and think that what they are doing is right. The girl could show him that he is making the wrong decision to get the good thing and give him a better way to get to his goal.

      • future_famuous_author says:

        Well, the organization which runs the school is called SCP, which stands for Secret Creators of Pandemonium. Basically they’re trying to rule the world by first causing complete chaos, so I’m thinking maybe they think that their form of government and their laws are better than what the world has now, so they are trying to change everything! Thank you both so much!

    • Writing Ballerina says:

      If you page up a little, Christie V Powell posted about the different types of villains in response to one of my questions (Thanks, Christie!). That could help you decide how he is motivated to do certain things based on what type he is.

  8. Made of Stardust says:

    I’ve been watching this blog from afar from quite awhile and finally have the courage to ask a question. So I’m pretty good at writing fanfiction but would like to start writing original fiction a lot more. I have tons of good ideas but whenever I try to work on them, they just seem to collapse.
    Do you have any tips on world building and such? Since I write fanfiction, I’m not used to coming up with a world all by myself.

    • My advice would be to start small. If you come up with the fun, inconsequential things first, maybe you’ll come across something that interests you and can be easily used in your overall plot. Usually when I have a basic idea for a story, I think about silly things my characters might do (based on stuff I or a person I know have done in real life), and then I find a way to incorporate one of those into the main plot. Another good idea would be to use lists, and stack as many little details you can think of on top of each other until they turn into something you can use.

    • What do you like about the world’s you used for fanfiction? You can still use elements of your favorites. I also like to look at a time in history/culture as a guideline, just a place to start. So my main series is loosely based on the early United States, 1750ish. My book that just came out Monday started with Viking colonists 600 years earlier.

    • Maybe think it over for a little before you start writing. It helps me if I have it plotted out roughly before I start. If it collapses, take a break, think it over, find out what happened, and think of a way to fix it.
      For world building, I start with the name. Then I come up with the climate and how it’s ruled (for example, Sharabya is ruled by a protector of sorts). The rest of it usually falls in place for me, especially if the main character is involved in the world. Maybe ask yourself what grows there, who lives there, or if it’s different from Earth and how.

    • future_famous_author says:

      A good place to start is reading. Branch out, read from genres you son’t typically pick off the shelves! Or read specifically books the same genre as the story you want to write. Make a list (as Sara said) of small elements of these worlds. If your world is realistic, you’re just trying to create a new town or city, maybe even country, the best place to start is your hometown. A lot of my stories take place in the country, because that’s where I live, so that’s what I know best, and I can create a place like it from living here so long. And if you’re looking for a good name, look on a map, as Mrs. Levine suggests in Writing Magic. I hope this helps!

  9. future_famous_author says:

    I am about to go back to working on a story I last visited in early August of last year! It was up to about 26,000 words, and I hadn’t finished. I don’t like the way I was beginning to end it, so I’m going back to make it better (and possibly closer to the length of a typical novel, which is 60,000 words!). It’s called Una Aleta, which is Spanish for “one fin,” because the story is about a mermaid who has only one fin, and is living with a family, in their pool. 🙂

  10. future_famous_author says:

    I’m about to go back to a WIP I last visited in August, but never went back to because I did’t like the way I was ending it. I’m going to fix the ending, and hopefully make it longer. It is sitting at about 26,000 words right now. My personal best but not a novel, I enjoy books that are about two hundred pages, and it is only 88. Wish me luck!

  11. future_famous_author says:

    I have a question. It’s also kind of a problem. I’m writing a story right now, but it’s only at 20,000 words, and I want it closer to 60,000. How do I make my story longer, when it’s about to end? I want to write a novel, not a short story. Anyone have any suggestions?

    • Made of Stardust says:

      Well, I’m definitely not a professional, but I can try to help. What I tend to do if I want my story longer is to reread it and to flesh out the scenes a little more. Maybe try to add more detail to certain scenes, really get into describing what is happening and how the characters feel?

    • I have an article by Orson Scott Card on switching from short stories to long. Let me summarize. ..

      “Short stories are designed to deliver their impact in as few pages as possible. A tremendous amount is left out, and a good short story writer learns to include only the most essential information… But novels have more space, more time. When readers sit down with a book. .. they expect a fuller experience. ”

      Don’t :
      Just add more stuff.

      Do :
      Break the story into smaller scenes.
      Have numerous small climaxes along the way to the big one.
      Each climax should have a cliffhanger that moves you to the next.

  12. I’ve been thinking about a counseling term that might be helpful for both the “How to write a Bad Guy and How to write Different Characters question. It’s called “The Tyranny of the Shoulds.” It’s where a person feels deep down that the world SHOULD be a certain way, and if it isn’t, they can’t accept it and get angry, miserable, etc.

    So maybe one of ashes to asks girls doesn’t just LIKE to look pretty, they believe they SHOULD look pretty. Prettier than anybody else. All the time. And everyone should recognize it, and… well, when I started this post I wasn’t even thinking of the evil queen from Snow White, but if the shoe fits…

  13. future_famous_author says:

    Mrs. Levine, I have a blog with good book ideas for middle schoolers, and I’m guessing that most everyone here is a reader, so I thought they might like my blog, but I wanted to ask your permission before posting the link on your blog. I have not posted about any of your books yet, because I have only started them, I haven’t finished any, except Writer to Writer, but I will post about them ASAP. Thank you. 🙂

  14. I just received an email from someone I’ve never heard of about a training session for selling stories to Hollywood. I have no idea how this person got my email address, and I was wondering if any of you also received this weird email, or one like it?

  15. future_famous_author says:

    I have another question! Sorry about all my questions, I know I just keep asking them, but I’m at the climax of my WIP, called Beneath Us All, so I have a lot of questions. Without this blog, I might’ve given up- again. 🙂 My question is, after having tons of long chapters, which go around between about ten POV characters, is it okay to have a chapter that is only about one page, if that’s all that character needs to say?

  16. Made of Stardust says:

    I have a question. Does anyone have advice on creating and naming mythical creatures and such? My new story is more of a fantasy type and I want to create some creatures in the world but feel like dragons and elves and such are overused. I want to make original creatures but can’t think of names once I have an idea for one.
    I hope that makes since…😅

    • I start by thinking of a word that describes whatever I’m thinking up, then let roll around in my mouth. Add a syllable or two, take out half, change the spelling, add “ie” or “et” at the end. When I finish, I usually end up with something similar, but different at the same time. I think over it, usually for a few days. When I sit down to write, I have it down in my head.

    • Real animals can be pretty strange. I wrote a fantasy in high school that had all real animals, but with different descriptions and names based off of the scientific name or its name in its own country. I remember the camel-leopard (giraffe) and Chitwa (red panda). My current world only has griffins, except ones that could actually exist/fly, and bosents, which are basically fertile beefalo (a sterile bison/cow hybrid).

    • Writing Ballerina says:

      For most of my mythical names I use a website called
      It has 7 tons of different names, from dragons to elves to herbs, etc.
      I don’t know if it would be okay to use them if you’re getting published, unless you cite them or something, but a) I’m 13 and probably want to hold off publishing until I’m older and b) they have 7 tons of different unique names! So I suppose it’s up to you.

      I have a seedling of a story that’s on hold but I might visit it later and for most names I searched up some Greek and Latin prefixes and suffixes and built words from there. For example, the bad guy is a dragon and his name is Rhodocide (red death), and his “lair” is called Erythrophile (red fear). Similarly, the good guy’s name is Lumin (a creative spelling of a Greek/Latin word for light), and his place is called Rividia (golden life).

      Also feel free to use any of these names if you like them.

      The good thing about using suffixes and prefixes is you can use some really great symbolism and your readers will only know if they’re word nerds (hey, that rhymed!) like me.

      A rule of thumb if you need a place name, fantasy country names almost always end in “ia.”

  17. future_famous_author says:

    I totally understand! Every time you have an idea, it sounds weird, right? I’ve never actually used this method, but it might help to find a word search and circle random groups of letter and see if they can make a word, or a mythical creature name. Or you could find words in the dictionary that are hardly ever used and that mean something that makes sense with your mythical creature, and use those. I have no idea how people come up with random names off the top of their head! 🙂

  18. future_famous_author says:

    Okay, so I had this really weird thought while laying in bed the other night (they always happen there or the shower). Stories that are written in third person are actually really weird! Not being mean, I don’t mean the story is bad, but as your sitting her reading this, put your name in the blanks:

    _____ read what future_famous_author had written. She/he put their name in all the blanks, and realized how weird third person stories really were. _____ sat back in his/her chair and thought about it, then sat up. _____ began to type their response, thinking, “She’s so right!”

    Not saying you will think I’m right, I was just trying to make stuff up. Maybe try this while you’re in bed, putting your name in sentences like, “_____ rolled over and dozed off.” Doesn’t that sound SOOO weird?

    • Believe it or not, I actually used to narrate my life to myself in third person like that. Maybe not with my name so much as just “she.” I did it a lot, long before I had any notion of being a writer. I think it just spilled over from the type of books I liked to read.

      What really made me laugh was when I was in my upper teens and becoming serious about writing. One of my best friends from babyhood started verbally adding speaker tags to things she or I said! Turns out she told stories to herself like I did. 😀

  19. future_famous_author says:

    I know you’re probably asking yourselves how many questions I could possibly ask in one day, but this is the last one! Promise! My question is this:

    I’m writing a story with seven POV characters, some who only have one or two chapters, and I want my characters to have a voice, so that my reader can remember who is “talking” without looking back at the name of the chapter, just by reading. Right now my story if just kind of blah because every chapter sounds the same, so the characters don’t really have a voice.

    • Made of Stardust says:

      I feel like most of this comes down to your characters’ personalities. Try to have each of your characters’ personalities shine in each chapter. Say one character is really shy, try and have that chapter told in their personality. Try to include thoughts of being shy and not willing to speak up or answer questions and stuff. Sometimes it helps to just revist your character profiles (if you have any) and try to expand on each of their personalities.
      I hope this helps since I have pretty much no idea what I’m doing!

      • future_famous_author says:

        No, you’re doing fine! Never doubt yourself! That was really good advice, actually, because I haven’t made character profiles… 🙂

    • Made of Stardust says:

      Oops! One more thing I forgot! (kinda)
      It would help more if each of your characters have vastly different personalities (if they don’t it’s fine, but it would help). Like maybe one character’s shy, another’s really bold and extroverted, one’s reckless, another’s a leader and so on.
      I don’t know if that’ll help but I tried.

    • Do they all come from the same place, and have the same kind of background, education, etc? As a literal “voice” example, I come from an area that’s said to have “no accent.” In college one day, a roommate from NYC commented about my “hick accent.” A couple of weeks later, one of my farm cousins said “I love your accent. It’s so slangy and citified.”

      I agree with Made of Stardust. It comes down to personality.

      I think How To depends on relative word choice, sentence length, etc. It can help to exaggerate a bit, too.

      So, for a quick example, if some different characters were to respond to your question:

      “Oo! That’s a GREAT question! Voice is really important, you know. “Cause…what was I saying again?” (Exclamation points, caps, vague wording, abbreviations…)

      “Excellent question, young scholar. One’s voice is rooted in the very core of their identity, and the matter should be treated with utmost solemnity.”
      (Formal, bigger words, passive voice…)

      “Dunno ’bout MY voice, but Miss Fluff two lines up should put a stopper in it.” (Also abbreviates, but terser, a bit crude…and breaks the 4th wall. 🙂 )

      Thanks for posting this question! You’re making me think hard about how this works.

    • Writing Ballerina says:

      I’m going to assume you’re writing in first person POV, but this also works for third person.

      Mrs. Levine talks about character voice in WRITING MAGIC. (Also sorry if I quote WRITER TO WRITER and WRITING MAGIC too often; I just love them.) As an exercise, she says to pay attention to speech mannerisms in real life, and write down the ones that you notice.

      Another simple way to make speech mannerisms is to sprinkle a phrase liberally throughout that character’s speech. For example, Bill can start most sentences with “um… I think…” Another mannerism quite often used in the real world (myself included, unfortunately) is “like.” Everyone, especially teenagers (like myself) pepper their sentences with “like.” It’s annoying, in my opinion, but I can’t really complain because I do it too. And there’s another thing. Two people can have the same mannerism, and one is really annoyed at the other because of it, but is oblivious to or can’t fix it in theirself.

      There’s also tonal language: the ups and downs in our everyday speech. I’ve heard some people who end every sentence like a question, even if it is a perfectly rational statement. So they’ll be talking like this? And they share their opinion? And they say something funny? And every sentence is a question? If you were going to give one of your characters this mannerism, you would have to establish, maybe through another person’s POV, that they do this, because if you put question marks at the end of every sentence of that person to show the tonal language, the readers would get confused. Keep in mind that Jane, if she had this mannerism, probably wouldn’t notice that she did it, so you don’t have to question mark her sentences when writing from her POV. Other people might not notice either.

      There’s also the “thoughts” of the character; and I don’t mean the italicized physical thoughts, I mean the non-dialogue parts in each chapter. Each character is going to “narrate” their chapters differently. One person can be super observant and notice Jane’s questioning speech. Another can be really ticked off how Bill uses “like” all the time. Still another can be oblivious to their surroundings and daydream a lot. Etc, etc.

      I also agree with what the others are saying, that it depends on their personality. That example for Bill is great, but only if he’s slightly socially awkward or something of the like. The mannerism makes him seem insecure, so we wouldn’t want to use it if he’s a natural leader or something.

      There’s also body language, my favourite! I love it because not only can it enhance the speaker tags, it can be used as speaker tags! We each have our own individual body language, so it can really add depth to the characters.

      To summarize:
      1) notice real life speech mannerisms. Borrowing from real life can make your stories seem more real.
      2) sprinkle phrases or words throughout people’s speech. Examples: “like,” “um/uh/er,” etc.
      3) show tonal language (mostly by other people noticing, rather than punctuation. It’s hard to imply tonal language in words.)
      4) show personality through non-dialogue parts. Someone can have super sarcastic thoughts, and that probably spills over into their dialogue, so this can be a great tool.
      5) make sure the mannerisms line up with/help define their personality. Mannerisms that aren’t connected to the person’s personality can make the character feel disjointed or not real.
      6) body language!

      Also remember not to overuse one type of mannerism. The phrase-sprinkling is great for one or two characters, but give all seven a unique phrase, and your readers will get confused.

      Good for you for tackling switching POVs! That’s really tricky! I tried it once, but gave up after a while.
      Wow, that was a long post! Hope it helped!

      • future_famous_author says:

        All of what the three of you said will really help me, thank you so much! And Writing Ballerina, I actually can’t stop myself from writing in multiple POVs. Most of my stories just HAVE to! I’m not sure how good I am at actually giving them realistic and distinct personalities…:)…but this story just wouldn’t work without all seven. Kind of like how a group of friends isn’t the same without someone. I don’t read very many books with multiple POVs, though, so if anyone has good ideas for seventh graders of books with multiple POV characters, that would be really helpful! Do any of Mrs. Levine’s?

        • Writing Ballerina says:

          Mrs. Levine’s EVER switches POVs between Kezi and Olus, but that’s the only one of hers I’ve read that’s like that AND written in first person. She has lots that are written in 3rd person and she switches POVs, but that’s natural because she’s writing in 3rd person omniscient.

          One I really liked that was like that was Gordon Korman’s MASTERMIND series. It’s a trilogy, and they end in cliffhangers (ish) so you want to get all 3 before you start reading. My sister and I bought them, but your library should have them. There’s 4 or 5 (I forget) characters and it’s a really interesting action-packed story! It is by far one of my favourites, and my favourite written by him.

          Also, from that sentence “… if anyone has good ideas for 7th graders…” I’m taking to mean you’re in 7th grade? COOL! I’m not the only middle schooler who writes for fun 😛

        • Made of Stardust says:

          Have you ever read any of Rick Riordan’s books? A lot of his have multiple POVs, especially Heroes of Olympus though they tie into one of his earlier series.

      • Writing Ballerina, great point about including how other characters react to someone’s mannerisms. If they notice that saying “like” bugs someone, do they try to say it less often? More often?

        (My grandpa hated “Like,” “y’know,” and “stuff.” So one day I said to him (on purpose) “Hi, Grandpa! How’s, like, y’know, stuff?”
        Hoo boy… 😉 )

        • Writing Ballerina says:

          Thanks! If I forget myself and pepper a sentence with “likes” around a good family friend of ours, she’ll interrupt and say, “like, um, and y’know, like, like, like” to both annoy me and remind me.

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