Toe the Line, You Pesky Characters!

A reminder of the conference I mentioned in my last post: The Gathering at Keystone College:

On April 17, 2019, Grace L wrote, I was just wondering if anyone has any tips on keeping characters consistent? My main character tends to be kind of contradictory in her actions.

A few of you chimed in.

Writing Ballerina: I have this problem, too!

I plan out my characters beforehand, so that helps a little bit, and then I write my story. As I’m writing, if I find my characters are contradicting themselves, I make a note of it at the bottom of the document in a section titled “Things to fix in next draft.” That section is filled with inconsistencies that I’ll fix after the general story is down. In my current WIP, I originally made her afraid of heights, but I’m thinking now that it won’t work with the story so I might take it out.

I also find it helpful to have people who will give you CONSTRUCTIVE criticism read your story as you’re writing it to see if there are any inconsistencies, which you can make note of when they point them out.

I would also appreciate any other tips anyone else might have! I don’t want my stories to be inconsistent, either!

Christie V Powell: I second having beta readers. They’re especially helpful for pointing out things like this.

Melissa Mead: In what ways? People can act in ways that seem inconsistent sometimes, for interesting reasons. Or is it more that you haven’t figured out who they are yet?

I agree about CONSTRUCTIVE readers!

About seven years ago, my husband lost a lot of weight, mostly by exercising portion control. I loved the new slimness for health reasons and for how great he looked–and still looks, since he’s kept the weight off. But, once in a while, I wondered (out loud) if he’d been replaced by a Martian. If he were a character, he’d be acting inconsistently.

Here’s a difference between fiction and real life: David couldn’t tell me exactly what triggered the change and made him able to do something that had eluded him for many years, so he doesn’t know, and I don’t, either.

That’s unacceptable in fiction. We’ve talked about character change a few times on the blog, mostly about whether an MC has to change in the course of a story, and opinion has been divided, but not divided about making the change, if it happens, understandable.

This goes for secondary characters, too. As soon as we define them through their actions, if they deviate, we have to explain why, through dialogue or narration or future action. So long as we’ve explained and the explanation leads to better understanding–and possibly more complexity–of the character, it’s great.

The most charming example of this that I can think of comes from the Wizard of Oz movie. The viewer who’s paying attention notices that, as the story plays out, the lion, who believes he’s cowardly, is always the bravest, the tin man, who thinks he has no heart, keeps rusting himself with his tears, and the straw man, who wants a brain, comes up with the best ideas. I don’t think the audience understands why their actions contradict their beliefs about themselves until the wizard gives the lion a medal, the tin man a ticking alarm clock, and, my all-time favorite, the straw man a diploma, with a line that goes something like, “Plenty of people are no smarter than you, but what they have and you lack, is a diploma.” Then he gives the straw man a rolled-up document tied with a ribbon. The viewer realizes that these characters weren’t inconsistent; they’d been showing their true natures all along.

The surest sign for me of inconsistency is when I make a character do things for plot reasons alone. We can train ourselves to be aware of this, as in, Stuart, the character who always thinks of himself first, runs into a burning building to save a child he doesn’t even know. He’s done it because our plot needs that child to be alive, and Stuart is the only one handy.

Not good enough. We have to go back in and change things. Maybe the child can not be in the burning building in the first place. Or we can alter Stuart from the beginning. Or maybe we can have him trip over the child while he’s saving himself, and the reader will agree that he has just enough compassion to pick her up, as long as she doesn’t slow him down, and he’ll be happy to appear to be a hero later.

If we’re going to make our readers understand inconsistencies, we have to understand them ourselves. Why would Stuart face a fire and possible death, if we don’t want to change him or put him in the building when the fire starts?

Well, he isn’t just one thing. Suppose he wants people to admire him, which would fit, and suppose there are journalists present or someone whose good opinion he wants. Then he might run in, intending to stay just inside the door, count to thirty, and run right out, but the door collapses behind him. He saves the child because someone shoves her into his arms and he doesn’t even notice in the course of saving himself.

Yes, people are inconsistent. We change our minds about lots of things. We behave differently with different people. We have moods. Sometimes we’re our best selves and sometimes our worst. For our main characters, we can explain the inconsistencies through thought, dialogue, and action. For our secondary characters, through dialogue and action–and the MC’s thoughts about this character.

However, there are fundamentals that don’t change much. I figure Mother Theresa on her worst day wouldn’t steal from a poor person and probably not from anyone else. Genghis Khan wouldn’t be a pacifist for even a minute.

Before I got published, I took a writing class from the late children’s book editor Deborah Brodie, who asked if the writer had to know everything about a character before he started writing. I thought yes, but she didn’t, and I no longer do, either. I get to know my characters as I write them. They act in the first situation I set up, and their personalities begin to form and narrow their choices. In the next scene, they act again, and the narrowing continues. If they and my plot diverge, I have to change one or the other–

–which is why, based on as much of my plot as I know when I start, I imagine characters who will go naturally in the desired direction. If that’s working, we don’t have to do a lot of course correction. In my forthcoming historical novel, for instance, I needed to give Loma, my MC, agency in a time when girls and women had next to none, but I didn’t want her to be a modern feisty heroine plunked down in the fifteenth century. I wanted her to be, as much as I could imagine, typical of her age: focused on family and domestic arts. So I turned to a secondary character, her grandfather. I decided he would become attached to her and take her with him on his travels across Spain, making her a witness to the great events and also putting her in situations where she would have to act. But first I had to define him as someone who would take a granddaughter–without making him modern, either. I think I managed, though I won’t say how, and neither of them had to do anything uncharacteristic to advance the plot.

So we can create secondary characters as well as MCs who will keep our characters consistent and our plots on track.

Here are three prompts:

∙ Up until now, your MC has been unfailingly kind to her best friend, who is shy and not well liked by others. But after the friend has failed some sort of test and is feeling awful, your MC belittles him and calls him hopeless. A moment later, she tears a rose bush out of the ground by its roots. Without making her really be the villain or be under a spell, write a scene, or more than one, that presents the before and after and explains the change.

∙ Before the prince comes along, Cinderella finally snaps and tells off her stepsisters and her stepmother. Write an earlier scene that firmly establishes her subjugation to the family tyranny, and then write the blow-up scene, making her transformation understandable.

∙ Before the prince comes along, Cinderella not only does what she’s told, she does it perfectly. When she scrubs the floor, she’s willing to spend an hour on the tiniest stain. When she does the laundry, she folds even her step-mom’s unmentionables in such a way that they open up without a wrinkle. But now, in the scene you’re going to write, she loses her work ethic. She gives the marble floor, which shows every speck of dirt, a quick once-over and just dumps the unmentionables in the chest where they go. In a scene, explain the change.

Have fun, and save what you write!

  1. “The surest sign for me of inconsistency is when I make a character do things for plot reasons alone.”

    I call this (or anything that’s in the story just because I want it to be there) “Leaving (the author’s) fingerprints on the story.”

  2. I was wondering if I could get away with deliberately making the reader dislike my MC. I’m doing a retelling of “St. George and the Dragon”, and the dragon is the sympathetic character, but George is narrating. He’s going to be a major villain later, so I can’t have him repent of his evil ways. What do you think of the idea?

    • Kit Kat Kitty says:

      I think it could work. It reminds me of a short story I read, where it’s very clear that the POV character is crazy, but he insists he’s not. The people who read the short story are intrigued because they want to know what exactly this crazy guy did, and why he keeps insisting it wasn’t wrong. (And trust me, what he did was very wrong.)
      Even if the MC in your story is unlikeable, we care enough about the story/sympathetic dragon to continue reading. I hope this helps!

      • Essentially, my MC is obsessive about exactly one topic and doesn’t care about anything else. He will do the bare minimum, often badly, so he can work with his obsession.He is too proud to admit when he makes a mistake, so he tries to blame it on others. You see why I’m a bit worried about readers tolerating him?

        • Kit Kat Kitty says:

          I think if you focus on the many reasons your readers should continue, they’ll be able to put up with your MC. And, if you’re going to turn him into a villain, focus on that. Make his thoughts and actions become crueler as time goes on. Make them wonder if he really will become a full-blown villain. If you wanted to, you could throw some (false) hints at a redemption arc. Rely on the inherent strengths of the story and characters. Make the readers so attached to the dragon, that they HAVE to keep going because they NEED to know what happens to him or her.
          I hope this helps! 🙂

          • You have explained exactly what I’m trying to do. I suppose I’m just nervous about doing something so abnormal?

        • Kit Kat Kitty says:

          I don’t think you need to worry about what you’re doing is abnormal. As long as your reader understands what’s going on and why everything should be okay. Do your best. I have complete faith in you!

  3. Writing Ballerina says:

    I left a question in the last post but the new post came like a day or two after so not many people got to weigh in. I’m going to repost it here if anyone else has any answers.

    With the battle scene I’m writing (mentioned above), I want to play it out in such a way that the MC has a vital role in conquering the evil king. Unfortunately, the MC is a girl, and the fantasy world is based off of medieval England, where they didn’t conscript girls into the army. Nothing was stopping me from conscripting her and other women, but I didn’t want to — I felt it was cliche.
    How do I have it so the girl MC can have this vital role?

    Erica replied:
    She would probably need to be a spy or a diplomat of some sort. If she were sent to the court of the evil king, for whatever reason, you could have her do whatever, pretty much.

    Thank you Erica! If anyone else had any suggestions, then your suggestions are much appreciated!

    • How about a LIST!
      -She could do the normal thing and pretend to be a boy
      -She could be part of an elite spy force of women
      -She could be a part of a group of women that want to help the war so spy and send the good guys anonymous information
      -She could be the daughter of an important general that thinks she can do it
      Hope this helps!

        • Poisoning is pretty common, and you could make her be the one who carries the poison to whoever is going to give it to him, or the one who prepares it, so she’s not in as much danger. For imprisonment, if he’s an evil king, she could make him say something that would make his nobles revolt, or (although this one is a bit cliche) give the king a son that she talks onto their side, or something like that.

    • She can play political games. Her family is well connected and she manipulates the people of the court into supporting who she wants.
      Have you read Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian? There’s a female character from a race that was conquered by another. She’s kept as a prisoner, punished for her people’s victories and abused in many ways, but she fights back through political intrigue.

      • Actually, I didn’t like that main character either (going with the other question), but I still finished the book. I felt like the decisions she made were making her no better than the tyrants she was fighting against. They were completely in line with her character and her circumstances, but personally I couldn’t relate.

    • future_famous_author says:

      Just saying…Mulan lived in a place where woman couldn’t be part of the army…but she was anyways…and that makes even more drama…just saying…

    • True, she could do the thing of pretending to be a boy, but be aware that a lot of people do that.

      Spying could be a viable option, or she could be a scout who lets your armies know what’s ahead, behind, and around them at all times. She could take part in the council that determines your army’s movements, weighing in on the big decisions. Or if she’s not that high up in the social world, she could provide provisions and other necessary supplies while getting to know a few of the troops for a personal stake in the conflict.

  4. future_famous_author says:

    I’m stuck in the middle of one of my WIP.

    How do you get through middles?

    I had the beginning planned, and it’s already written, and I had the climax planned, and I have some of the ending planned, but how on earth am I supposed to write the middle?

    Please help!

    • Writing Ballerina says:

      Ah, the middle. It’s the worst part, until you know the purpose of it. Then it can be really fun to cook up new ideas.

      All the middle is is escalating tension.

      Remember that short story chart that looked sorta like a mountain? And there was this long section called “rising action” that no one knew what to do with? That’s your middle. And as annoying as the chart is, it’s not wrong.

      I’m reading a fantastic book I picked up from the library, called Story Trumps Structure by Steven James, and he has some tips about how to escalate tension.
      Some quotes from the book:
      “[Tension] is not about something ELSE going wrong; it’s about something WORSE going wrong…. We intensify the struggles rather than just compounding them.”
      “The plot must always thicken. It must never thin.”

      Remember when I said the short story chart isn’t wrong? Well, it sorta is. Steven James talks about the common misconception that stories need rising action. In his own words, “Action does not equal tension. In fact, it might be counterproductive to developing it. Simply making more things happen doesn’t ensure that readers will be interested, but tightening the tension from unmet desire does. You don’t need rising action; you need escalating tension, and that can often come from making FEWER things happen rather than MORE.”
      I love this book.

      Anyway, he also cautions against too much repetition: “Repetition undermines escalation. Every murder you include decreases the impact that each subsequent murder will have on readers. Every explosion, shootout, argument… means less and less to readers because repetition short-circuits that crucial escalation that moves stories forward.

      I definitely suggest this book for writing tips if you can find it at your library or something.
      Hope this helped!

      • Along this line, my story is basically just wandering through the characters’ lives. There are plot points, but they’re not really connected to each other. Currently, I have Crisis A, which gets the plot started, in chapters 3-5, Twist A, which sets up the rest of the points, in chapter 8, Twist B, the turning point of one of my MC’s, in chapter 17, Crisis B, which sets up the second half of the story, in chapters 18-20, and Twist C, which sets up the conclusion, in chapter 26. (There are 32 chapters, by the way.) My problem is that there’s nothing between them except time passing and character development. Any advice?

        • Writing Ballerina says:

          I would write the major plot points first and go back and flesh them out later. For example, in my WIP, a lot of the first part of the book is the MC travelling somewhere. Right now it is sorta “I travelled three days before I reached ___.” I plan to flesh the travelling time out after I’ve finished the first draft.

          • That would work, except that I’ve gotten to the point where I need to flesh them out. Basically, I have the big, important stuff written, but I don’t have anything building up and down from them. It’s boring life, boring life, EXCITING PART, boring life, boring life, EXCITING PART, etc. They don’t lurch from disaster to disaster, but there’s really nothing to hold the tension between the major plot points.

          • Writing Ballerina says:

            Hmm… Now that I think about it, I don’t actually know; sorry. If anyone else has the answer to that question, that would be veryyyy much appreciated.

      • future_famous_author says:

        You definitely helped, though I still find that I am stuck. I’ll find a way though! And if I don’t, then maybe that book just wasn’t meant to be! *shrug*

        • Writing Ballerina says:

          Don’t give up! For my WIP I was stuck for like a month. If you need, work on another WIP for a bit. Your subconscious will be working on the problem in the background, and when you come back you might be surprised by what you come up with.

          You can also put a phrase in as a temporary middle, like I mentioned above, and work on it later. There’s no rule that says a book has to be written sequentially.

          • future_famous_author says:

            That’s actually a really smart idea…I might try it. And I’ve actually already started another WIP…actually two. They’re complete opposites of the first one I’m struggling with, but I find that they are much more fun. Maybe because I’m only at the beginning. 😂

    • Keep having the villain and his goons display their power. If you know something about plot structure, the 1st and 2nd pinch points, which are placed nearish the middle of the story, are where the villain displays his power and reminds us why we’re hurtling toward the climax. The other thing you can do to keep up your, and the audience’s, interest in the middle of the story is to add tension! Could someone be ill or injured? Are they being chased by the authorities? Perhaps some of the characters aren’t getting along or are doubting their own motives. Those two methods are what works for me.

  5. Write for Him says:

    I love the idea of getting to know your character as the story progresses. The only way to truly fall in love with the person and personality you create is to be interested and discover the different ways they would react to things. I’m a writer who would put my MC in my shoes, my life, and see how they would react to difficulties a real life could present, but I also love to make up a scenario and imagine up a reaction. Not to give advice through a comment, but to writers everywhere, never be afraid to write the things only you can imagine, whether it’s only a slight change to the plot or something much more major, it’s still an amazing difference to your unique story only you could make.

  6. On another note, does anyone else have problems changing the “magnification” of a story, so to speak? I tend to either try to show everything or tell everything, but I have trouble switching between the two. Any advice?

    • Writing Ballerina says:

      What I would do is write the first draft, then go back and find the areas where you are only telling and change a couple or layer it with the showing. Then repeat but vice versa.

      I usually don’t (or try not to) worry about anything until the end of the first draft. This helps me not get too overwhelmed. If you’re afraid you’ll forget about what you need to fix then make a list at the bottom (or top) of your manuscript titled “Things to Fix in Next Draft.” Pretty self-explanatory. My list is a full page long. I heard a fantastic quote once about creative writing: “The purpose of the second draft is to make it seem like you knew what you were doing all along.” (Neil Gaiman)

      • Honestly, my problem is that I get stuck in showing mode and can describe in great detail things that no one cares about. My other WIP, with Daniel and Chris, suffered from this. I spent seven or eight pages explaining his situation, and the next thirteen describing his evening. Essentially, my question is how do I transition between points in time without it seeming rushed and without the story getting stuck?

        • future_famous_author says:

          I have gotten stuck in the plot many times…though unfortunately, I do not know what to do. I tend to act out my WIPs while in bed, I just pretend to be the MC (because she’s almost always a girl) and talk out loud to invisible people, who respond in my head. It helps me figure out what should happen, and I end up writing things I never would have thought of while sitting at the computer.

          Also, I tend to leave out the boring stuff, which sometimes matters. My story jumps from important thing to important thing, and ends up all choppy. So, I guess that would be rushed. To transition through points without getting rushed, give yourself time, don’t get too excited about what’s to come, but what is now, at least in your story.

          If by the story getting stuck you mean it gets to a point where you’re not sure how to move forward, maybe try a list? Or rewrite some of the story, but keep the original part just in case. I tend to think that because I’ve written, it’s stuck, but that is definitely not the case. I have gotten to places in my WIPs where I just don’t feel like going on.

          Hope this helps!

          • future_famous_author says:

            I got cut off from what I was saying by my mom. Anyways…

            I get to places in my WIPs where I just don’t feel like going on. It’s usually a part that will be hard to write, or a part that I think will just be plain boring to write. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not that the reader will find these parts boring, I’m not sure what my problem is. Like in one WIP, the three MCs have been kidnapped, and they’re sitting in a cage the next day, (two of the three have superpowers) and I need the Dad (supervillian) to take away the MC’s powers using his machine, but I’m just stuck.

            I’m not really sure if that’s what you mean by stuck…

            Maybe you mean that you really just don’t know where to go from there. Well, I’ve got an idea. Reread some of what has already happened. In a WIP me and my friend are writing together (using Google Docs so we can both write on the same document), the MC has powers. She has also has a younger sister, who does not. Her parents disappeared when she was young. Early in the story, I wrote that she had had the powers “since before her parents left.”I never said she was born with them. So, we realized that the little sister could grow into her powers (is that the right way to phrase that). Julia, the little sister, has powers, or at least, she will, but me and my friend had no clue until we started revising. I foreshadowed without knowing it!

            I really hope this helped because otherwise you just wasted your time reading a super long comment I wrote. 😬

        • I use chapters to help with pacing like this. I have a rough idea of what each chapter looks like: a page or two responding to the climax of the previous chapter, then I get to have fun with character or world-building for a page or two, and then into the climax of the chapter. The hard part is then looking at those three separate parts and finding something that connects all three, and then focus on that.

          For example, in the last chapter I edited, I started with a page describing the main character’s excitement at being healed, because the previous one was about her recovery. Then a page flirting/discussing politics. Then we get into the meat of this chapter: they see an enemy in the distance and the MC is sent to spy on them, even though she was badly hurt the last time she tried this. She sees that enemy has prisoners that she has to free. She meets up with one friend who insists that they don’t have time to find their other companion, and the MC agrees and the two head into the camp. So the first part established some stakes: the MC doesn’t want to get hurt again. The second establishes the relationship between the three characters, so we understand what’s driving each of them when we get to the final decision.

          • I tend to write first and add chapters later, when I know how the story goes. In the particular place I’m stuck, I and my readers wish the MC (Daniel) would fall asleep already, but I don’t want it to seem abrupt. I just had the idea of having someone come in and give him something to make him fall asleep. The wonders of brainstorming! (See the comments on “Who Me? Not I!” for details on Daniel’s story)

      • I agree, you would be able to see the telling vs showing in a much better proportional perspective during editing. It can be hard to see these things while drafting.

  7. It helped some. Honestly, I just get tired of writing the story when nothing much is happening, but when I pick it back up, I feel compelled to keep writing about nothing. Neither I nor my readers particularly care about the plot of the (completely made-up) movie my character is watching, and yet I describe it. Time in my stories tends to pass slowly when nothing is happening, and way too fast when things are.

    • future_famous_author says:

      If you feel compelled to write about the movie your character is watching, I say you should! Just write about it, maybe it will help you. Maybe it will turn into foreshadowing! And maybe you’ll delete all of it later on, but at least you got your thoughts out! I think (I have read a lot of books on writing fiction) that in Writing Magic, Mrs. Levine says that if you can’t think of what to write, just write about what you are thinking. I have done this, and it works. So, if you feel as though the movie is important (or maybe you don’t but just write it) put it down on paper (or the computer screen). You never know what it will do for you later.

  8. Hello! I have a question regarding the McGuffin in my WIP. It’s a magical spear made out of diamond, and it’s the key to curing the MC Valerian of the curse that is turning him evil. Before the characters find the spear, they’ve despaired of curing him as finding the spear is extremely difficult. Plus, Valerian is making things difficult and gets away from the group altogether. My problem is, I don’t want the characters to find the spear and immediately go from despairing to “everything is going to be alright, yay!” How do I keep the drama of, “will Valerian and everyone else with the same curse be cured?” while the characters have the thing that will cure them? Is this even possible? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    • Writing Ballerina says:

      A couple suggestions:
      – Maybe the spear is ancient, and they’re not sure it will even work after all these years
      – How does the spear work? Do they have to say a spell? Do they know the spell? Do they know how to work it? Does someone special have to wield the spear?
      – You mentioned Valerian (I like the name BTW) ran away from the group. Maybe they have to find him before the curse takes full effect. A great way to add tension is a time limit.
      – Maybe in addition to the staff you need a magic elixir as well, made magic by using the spear to stir it.

      Sounds like a great story!

    • You say there are other people with the curse, so what if there are other people trying to find it too? You could have them worrying it’s a fake, or have someone important who helped lead them to it get cursed too, or have whoever cast the spell in the first place swoop in and try to stop them from getting back with it. One question. Is “McGuffin” the name of the spear, or is it some literary/TV term I’m not familiar with?

      • Writing Ballerina says:

        Google spells it “MacGuffin” and defines it as so:
        an object or device in a movie or a book that serves merely as a trigger for the plot.

    • It seems like your characters can have a few minutes to rejoice and feel triumphant before they realize that there are still ordeals ahead. I quoted from a couple of my favorite sources, if it helps:

      Christopher Booker (who wrote 7 Basic Plots) says: “At last the heroes of our Quest stories come to the edge of the great goal towards which, through so many perils and ordeals, they have been journeying so long. Odysseus at last reaches his home. Aeneas reaches Italy where he is to make his new home. Jason arrives in Colchis, home of the Golden Fleece. After forty years in the wilderness, the Jews at last cross the Jordan River and arrive in the promised land. The rabbits reach Watership Down, which they decide is the perfect place to settle and make their new home. We now discover one of the most surprising things about the Quest plot: the journey in a Quest makes up only half the story… The second part, which begins when the hero is actually within sight of his goal, sees him having to face a final great ordeal, or series of ordeals. It is this final struggle which is necessary for the hero to lay hold of his prize… The hero has to undergo a last series of tests, often three in number, to prove that he is truly worthy of the prize. This culminates in a last great battle or ordeal which may be the most threatening of all.”

      KM Weiland’s story structure would phrase it this way: that the main characters have discovered their Truth, represented by your spear, but they haven’t yet let go of their Lie, whatever flawed thinking they have that caused their problem. In the second half, the Truth and Lie are now at war against each other. They may have a “false victory” where everything seems to go well, only for it to crash down into the story’s darkest moment, which leads into the climax.

  9. Writing Ballerina says:

    Does anyone have any tips on how to decide which POV your story should be written in? I have a WIP that I’m not sure should be 3rd omniscient or 3rd limited. How do you all decide?

    • 3rd omniscient is rather unusual, and probably rather hard to do as well. (I’ve never tried, but it just SEEMS hard.) What I would do is write it as 3rd limited, putting in other viewpoints as necessary, and see how it goes. You could also try writing each character’s story separately and combining them later, but that would be a lot more work.

      • Ms. Levine does 3rd omniscient in Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep. It’s not impossible to do it right, just slightly more difficult than 3rd limited.

  10. Thanks to Katie W and Writing Ballerina for the tips!
    I got my MC’s name from the Valerian and Laureline sci-fi comics. It’s also the name of an herb that’s used in tea. It’s not a terribly well-known name, which is good for us authors as some names such as Ramona and Hermione are TOO well known. ; )
    A McGuffin is the place/person/thing everyone’s looking for and it set’s the story’s plot in motion but since it’s out of the way, it itself doesn’t do anything to directly affect the story. An example would be Atlantis or the death star plans from Star Wars/

    • What if it DID directly affect the story? What if the spear sort of has a mind of its own, and they have to convince it (or its creator who was summoned by an alarm set off when they took it from its hiding place?) to help them? It seems like a spear of diamond would be pretty tempting in its own right, because diamond is so valuable. What if there are delayed alarms and traps activated by the spear’s removal to keep bad people from stealing it? Does it have guardians they have to convince? Maybe, if you make it DO something (more like the magic mirror in Snow White than the Death Star plans) you can keep your heroes worried.

  11. Writing Cat Lover says:

    I have a problem too:
    My story is waaayyy too slow as in I focus too much on the details and no matter how hard I try I can’t seem to get the plot going. Well, with the last paragraph I actualy tried to spead things up a bit but now it looks waaayyy to choppy and fast paced so that you can’t really catch whats happening.

    • Put in as many details as you need to. Let yourself stall. Edit out the parts you don’t need later, but SAVE THEM! I had this problem with one of my short stories that originally clocked in at 17 pages. (I wanted 10) The editing process was BRUTAL, especially the last three pages, where I was desperately finding shorter synonyms for things and rewriting sentences so there weren’t two or three words abandoned on a line. Unfortunately, this was what taught me why you save everything you write. There were some really useful bits of world-building I lost in that edit, which I can only remember the basics of. So, I would say (as unhelpful as it might be) keep going with the details, put in the plot whenever it feels like the right time, and trust in revision and objectivity. Who knows, your story might need that slow beginning.

      • Take a look at the previous comments on transitioning in stories. Your problem sounds like a different form of my problem, so hopefully something there will help.

      • future_famous_author says:

        If you want to save EVERYTHING you write in a story, even if you delete it, I would suggest using Google Docs. By clicking on a button you can see every edit you’ve made, and on what day. You can also name the different “versions,” so you could “draft one” and “draft two” and so on. For one story, i started over three times because I couldn’t figure out how to begin, and so I called those versions, “first attempt,” “second attempt,” and “third attempt.” It’s very helpful.

  12. future_famous_author says:

    OH MY GOODNESS!!! I just realized (and just a warning, I did not think through this for long) that ALMOST (maybe every, maybe not even almost, who knows) every story revolves around the main character(s) trying to find where she belongs. Whether that’s actually a place, or with certain people, or she feels as though she’s rejected, or she’s not loved. I thought about my WIPs, and they all do, and so does Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and now I’m trying to think about Ella Enchanted. Does Ella try to find where she belongs? Is my theory correct?

    • Writing Ballerina says:

      Belonging is a popular theme that is quite frequent; you’re right. Definitely not all; and maybe not almost all (I didn’t think through this for long either) but definitely a large portion.

      • future_famous_author says:

        Yah maybe I’m completely wrong; I had the thought and then wrote the comment right away. I’m gonna go through all the books on my shelf and think about whether they are or not, I’m very curious about this. My stories are all about belonging; one about belonging to a family; one about the world accepting her for who she is; and one about, well, her world accepting her and her brother. So, maybe, maybe not.

      • Gail Carson Levine says:

        I don’r think ELLA is trying to find where she belongs, but I’m just the author, and I may be wrong. Maybe it can be cast that way. Can it?

    • For those of you willing to trudge through early 1900’s psychobabble (although Wikipedia does a good job of translating it into actual English) there’s a story structire called the monomyth (created by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero’s Journey). It has 17 steps, and most of them (not usually the ones in the middle, you’ll see why if you read the article) can be found in almost every story with a single plotline (Star Wars, Inheritance Cycle, but NOT LOTR, because that has at least three major plotlines, and no clearly defined MC) Anyway, in the monomyth, the MC is confronted with a journey, refuses it, is made to change their mind, faces trials, gets what they want, fights to return to their normal world, and uses what they learned in their travels to help others (This is the usual ending point) After that, they feel out of place in their old world, then discovers how to “live in the moment.” Anyway,for those of you who are still curious, here’s the link.

  13. future_famous_author says:

    I have a question; but it’s not a problem.

    I just wanted to know if anyone has ever written (or tried to write) a novel in verse, which is a novel, but the story is told in poems. It’s actually really fun, and I’ve written one (it wasn’t quite novel length, but still a whole story) from a dog’s POV.

    • I wrote a prologue (to a novel I haven’t written yet, but whatever) where two groups write four poems apiece insulting each other. The accusations range from “you’re useless” in the first one to “you guys are murderers” in the eighth. (They are, BTW, but that’s a long story.) It was actually kind of fun. I’m also planning to put a song in a different story, and I’ve made the evil queen from Snow White a terrible poet. (The magic mirror only responds to poetic commands, so this’ll be fun.) And I’ve written some poems about my characters. So, no, I haven’t written a novel in verse, but I’ve put poems in my stories.

    • Writing Ballerina says:

      If it’s completely in verse, with consistent meter and rhyming patterns, technically those are called “epics” and basically are really long ballads. Maybe the most famous one is called ODYSSEY by Homer and is 24 books long!

      I could go on and on about poems and poem rules because I’m a word nerd (hey, that rhymes!) and find that sort of thing interesting but I’m sure everyone here knows already or would be bored. 🙂

      Anyway, that does sound fun. Once I tried to write a mystery story where the kidnapper gives the MC cryptic notes in rhyme. It didn’t last long, but was fun while it did.

  14. Writing Ballerina says:

    Do you guys ever lose interest in a book when things just go TOO wrong? Like the characters’ suffering is just so excessive that it’s not fun to read anymore?

    I need some input on whether or not the following scenario is too excessively bad:

    One of my WIPs has (human-sized) fairies in it. At one point, the MC gets her wings hurt severely; almost chopped completely off. I feel like the doctor should amputate them because that seems the realistic thing to do in this scenario, but I’m wondering if that would be too awful and would cause the reader to be mad at me, the author. I hate it when bad things happen excessively in movies/books and don’t want to put it in mine. Do you feel that would be too awful? If you were reading this book, would you lose interest?

    This entire problem would also be solved if we could think of a reason to somehow bring back the wings at the end maybe so if any suggestions come to mind…

      • Gail Carson Levine says:

        Yes! That is mine–FAIRY DUST AND THE QUEST FOR THE EGG. Thank you, Christie V Powell! The circumstances are similar to what Writing Ballerina describes and I had much the same worries–that it would be over-the-top sad, even intolerable, but I think it works and might be worth taking a look.

    • I didn’t like Harry Potter 5 because everything that Harry (and I) liked was taken away… but in general I think the tone that you take will mean more than the trial itself. What do her wings mean to her? Can she find strength to function without them? How does this affect her character? Perhaps she was a bit snobby to ground-walkers before and now she has an eye-opening experience. Or did the wings symbolize a connection to her people? What will the effect be culturally with the other fairies? I think you can do it, as long as there’s a major impact on her character. How does she react when she loses something that she thought defines her?
      In my WIP, I plan to end with a major character losing her abilities. It’s at the very end, so we don’t get to see the impact, but we see the choice and why the character did it, as well as the silver lining: she gave up this part of herself but she gains a new start, safety for her sister, and she’s able to travel to places she couldn’t explore before.

  15. Writing Cat Lover says:

    Maybe, (just a suggestion) you could have the wings get amputated but still create some sort of way she could get the wings back so that the reader doesn’t get mad. Again, it’s only a suggestion.

      • future_famous_author says:

        If you’ve ever seen the Barbie Thumbelina movie, the Twillerbees don’t have wings and so they use flower petals with straps to be able to fly. I know this wouldn’t work because she’s the size of a human, but maybe she could make wings? Also if you’ve ever seen any of the How to Train Your Dragon movies, Hiccup makes Toothless a new part of his tail because he lost the real one. Something like that maybe? But maybe she has to go on a quest to find the person who can make the wings/has the wings, or she has to find the things to make the wings.

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