Before the post–drum roll! A Ceiling Made of Eggshells, about the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, is out! Hope you read it and enjoy it! If you haven’t already, I did a virtual launch on Facebook on May 14th following my usual daily reading. In it, I talk about the book and my research and take questions. You can see and hear it here: https://www.facebook.com/GailCarsonLevine/videos/3570405463045222/ If you’d like a bookplate-signed book, you can buy one at Byrd’s Books: https://byrdsbooks.indielite.org/.

Onto the post. On December 9, 2019, Superb♥Girl wrote, I feel like my two main characters are too similar, and I want them to be foils to each other. Y’all have any advice for creating opposites?

Several of you responded:

Erica: In some ways, similarities in personality can create more interesting situations than different personalities. That being said, change the less prominent character more than the more prominent character, and change only one thing at a time. That way, you can assess each change individually.

Melissa Mead: Show a point where they were both in a difficult situation, and made very different choices.

Blue Rive: I don’t know about creating foils–I’d like to learn how to do that better as well–but for making characters different, consider giving them defining quirks. For example, I have one character who’s very rational and thinks through everything she does logically, and then her friend wants to be a storyteller and thinks about things emotionally, plus has a very lyrical way of speaking and thinking.

For foils–I lied: I do have advice–make their personalities very different (though they don’t have to be opposite) but their actions (Catra and Glimmer from She-Ra) or backstories (Mura and Rat from The Nameless City) very similar.

These are great!

I’d never thought of Erica’s suggestion, to change the less prominent character more significantly than the most important one, and I like it, because it should make the revision easier and may lead to fewer plot adjustments.

The discussion about personality and action makes me think of my parents, who died over thirty years ago. I’m pretty sure I’ve told this anecdote here a long time ago. They were a love match. They squabbled sometimes, but my sister and I always knew that they loved each other–theirs was a romance that kept going.

Personality-wise, they were very different. My father showed three emotional states: joy, anger, and quiet (when something troubled him). Joy predominated, luckily for my sister and me. He didn’t reveal his inner life to anyone but my mother. She, on the other hand, presented emotional complexity–worried about everything, sometimes went into rages, had a bitter sense of humor, was afraid to show that she was happy (though we knew she was, fundamentally). Of course I loved them both, but she, prickly as she was, was easier to get close to.

When I was grown up and married, my husband David wanted to change jobs. After an interview, he brought home copies of the personality test he’d been given, which was pages and pages long. It may have been Myers-Briggs, which has come up several times here. I took the test at home. I don’t remember the results, but I came out quite differently from David. The next time we saw my parents, I gave each of them the test.

My mother completed it in the room where we all were, and she was finished in five or ten minutes. My father needed silence and shut the door behind him on an empty bedroom. He didn’t emerge for forty-five minutes.

When we scored it, they had each answered every single question identically!

First off, there are two strategies locked up in my anecdote for creating characters who differ from each other. One has been discussed a lot on the blog, that we can use Myers-Briggs or other personality tests to invent our characters. The other is, we can look around at real people we know or knew and use bits of them in our characters. Living (or dead) people offer traits we may not imagine out of our heads. We can write a short description of, say, seven actual people. Then we can stare at what we have and consider how we can use the descriptions in our stories.

Also, this anecdote makes me think about Melissa Mead’s comment. Real people and fictional ones are defined by their actions. Many factors shape personality, but two are certainly what happens to us and what we do about it.

My mother was an adolescent during the Depression. She never talked about that time, but I know the family was very poor, and there may have been times they didn’t have enough to eat, which I don’t doubt fueled her worrying. She was insanely (and sometimes embarrassingly) frugal. In a restaurant, for instance, after everyone had eaten the bread the server brought, she’d ask for more and stuff the second helping into her purse!

My father had a terrible childhood growing up in an orphanage. His joy may have been fueled by the certainty that everything in his future had to be better than that. He was a risk-taker and started his own business.

But it isn’t always so straightforward. My mother’s ethics when it came to property were slippery. If, when she was clothes shopping, for example, she liked a dress that had belt loops but no belt, she’d be outraged and would help herself to a matching belt. (She was never caught, and I would have pitied any store detective who nabbed her!)

My father professed to be horrified by this tendency in her, but I once saw him behave just as dodgily. He took me to a farm stand to buy corn, and, on the way, told me that the farmer always gave customers an extra ear when they bought a dozen. This time the farmer didn’t. When we got home, to my astonishment and dismay, he produced a thirteenth ear, which he’d pilfered.

I hasten to add that their children didn’t inherit our parents’ propensity to steal!

So two stressed childhoods, which were differently stressed, produced both similar and dissimilar actions. Same with our characters. While we distinguish them, we can also create likenesses, which will surprise readers. When something happens, we can decide on their responses, which will be predictable and not predictable.

Voice, like action, is a tool for character development. If these characters alternate POV, we can distinguish their voices. One can narrate in long, multi-clause sentences, that display an impressive vocabulary. The other voice can be direct, simple–short sentences and short words. One can often ask questions. The other can use exclamations. The narrations can reveal their inner lives. Going back to my parents, one inner life can be anxious, the other brimming with optimism. My WIP has two POV characters, one for the first half of the book, the other for the second. The first half is in the past tense, the second in present. I’m hoping that simply changing tense will go a long way toward differentiating them.

If we’re not writing in first person, or if only one MC narrates, we can use dialogue in the same way as I described in the last paragraph.

We can set up an argument between the two characters that will highlight their differences. In an argument, more than words and volume set people and characters apart. Again, it’s worth thinking about real people here. Some retreat into silence. Some play down a problem, others exaggerate it. There are physical differences, too. A friend’s eyebrows slant up alarmingly when she’s angry. A cousin tends to drum on something withe his fingertips. We can make a list!

Here are three prompts:

• We return to “The Three Little Pigs.” This time, have the them argue about house construction. Write their dialogue. Show their different personalities in the way they fight. If you can, without ever saying outright which pig builds which house, make the reader know.

• Describe five people you know, a paragraph or so for each. Then pick one of the Biblical plagues on Egypt, like frogs or boils. Write another paragraph about how they’d respond. If you like, use what you come up with in a story.

• Try a Freaky Friday idea. There’s a big power differential between your two MCs, like school principal versus a new student, or starship commander versus a cadet, or duchess versus a stable hand. Or any other asymmetric relationship you pick. Have them change places for a day, a week–whatever you like. Write a story about how they respond to their new situation.

Have fun, and save what you write!

  1. Great post! And sometimes something like the Depression has a noticeable effect on the NEXT generation, too. Ex, my maternal grandpa, who was a young adult during the Depression, became “the tightest tighwad who ever lived” (I say this with great affection, BTW) despite having a very good job, and my mom’s picked up an attitude of “Never take money for granted, because it can vanish overnight.”

    OTOH, my paternal grandparents were farmers, and as my dad puts it, “We always had what we needed, but not much else.” He swore to do something more secure than farming, and did, so he actually worries LESS about money than my mom does, because he has confidence in his ability to earn it.

    And to take it one more generation and emphasize the “same background, different people, different actions” thing, my sisters and I had a secure upbringing, but I have a physical disability, so I see a lot of friends just scraping by on SSI, having to live in group homes, etc. Guess which one of us is obsessed with earning an independent living and saving almost as strictly as my maternal grandpa? (and yes, I am a “Saturday’s Child” (“works hard for a living.” 🙂 )

    • My grandma talked about how her family always had plenty to eat, because they lived on a farm during the great depression. She also talked about how she and her sisters would sneak into the attic, where they stored apples, and throw the bruised ones at neighbors through the window. They’d duck down and the neighbors never knew where they came from.

  2. I’m having a hard time coming up with the title of my WIP, whose premise runs about like this.
    George Whitfield, the most popular program editor at the Louisville government computer hub, seems to be living the perfect life. His father, a former mayor of Lexington, has trained him from birth to be a politician, and he is in the perfect position to run for office. There is only one problem. He hates politics and dreams of stepping out of his father’s shadow. After years of unhappiness, he finally decides to return to college and become a journalist. But two weeks before his first class, giant alien rats fall from the sky, triggering an apocalypse no one could have imagined possible.
    In the desperate scramble to survive and rebuild society, George is forced to lean more and more heavily on the very training he had been hoping to renounce. His attempts to balance his father’s dreams and his own will throw him into the center of a fierce controversy. Talking cats that can become invisible, called scouts, have been created to help fight the rats, but opponents attack every aspect of their existence. Their creator asks George to help defend them, but he stalls, unsure of his opinion of the scouts, until a second disaster forces him to question everything he believes in. As debates rage and factions form, the fate of the new society hangs in the balance. And it is up to George to determine which way it falls.

    Some of the chapter titles are “Acts of Sacrifice”, “Falling Stars”, and “Where All the Honor Lies”, and I’d like the story’s title to coordinate with them, but I’m having a hard time coming up with something that describes the story, sounds nice, and doesn’t give away everything that happens. Any ideas?

    • You’re not the only one! I keep coming up with titles I like, but after awhile I get less sure. I’ve gone through a couple variations on “Rescue Mission Impossible”, “Leader”, “Genius”, and now I’m on “Huntress” and not at all sure it’s a good title. It’s the first in a planned series, and I really want to make the series titles ‘go together’, which makes it extra hard!

      For your story…maybe one of these ideas will help? Whitfield’s Legacy. Apocalypse of Rats. Scout’s Fate. Balance. Invisicats (just for fun).
      Not 100% sure what genre this would go in (futuristic, probably. Sci-fi?), because I know next to nothing about it. With any luck, though, my suggestions will help!

    • “Rats, Cats, and the Dark Horse’s Choice?”

      (“A dark horse is a previously less known person or thing that emerges to prominence in a situation, especially in a competition involving multiple rivals, or a contestant that on paper should be unlikely to succeed but yet still might.”)

      • future_famous_author says:

        Wow, that stuff about the dark horse was very interesting! I might use that somewhere in my writing…

        As for title ideas for Katie W., I’m really liking both Melissa Mead’s idea and Alyce’s idea of “Whitfield’s Legacy.” You could also do “Falling Fates,” because his dreams are being pushed around and other ideas for his future are being shoved against him, and it goes with stuff falling from the sky. Or maybe “Protecting More than the Planet,” or you could shorten it to “Protecting More,” because he is not only trying to protect his planet but also his dreams and ambitions.

  3. I got to 10,000 words on my WIP today! I’ve been mostly ignoring it for a while, so this is a welcome milestone.

  4. I can’t wait to read this book! I recently read writer to writer: from think to ink, it has really helped me a lot as to understanding what it takes to get a book published. I do have a question though. I’m the novel that I am writing I have 5 main characters. I have had trouble making sure I remember the characteristics of each person. What is your advice?

    • Have you considered making a spreadsheet? You can try excel or google sheets or some other program. It’s really handy to look again when you’re trying to remember what color eyes they have, or some other obscure bit of information that didn’t seem as important at the time. Here are the columns on my list for my WIP:
      first name last name gender age (start) parents, birthorder notes abilities eyes hair height build clothing other appearance character personality types

      My other WIP included birthdays, because the story took place over two years and the characters were YA, so they cared more than my adult characters do. I also have a timeline so that I can compare things like ages and dates more easily… okay, and a lot of other stuff. I’m a little too fond of excel sheets.

        • Writeforfun says:

          I’m not quite as organized as excel spreadsheets (Christ V Powell you are #goals) but I do always like to do a similar thing and make a document with all those points so I can remember them too! The thing I’ve found most helpful to also include in those documents is, in addition to the basics like appearance and age, making note of their nervous tics and speech mannerisms, the little things like that that make them distinctive from the other MC’s (I like to see if I can make them distinctive enough that I could mind-swap them and the reader would be able to guess who was in which body without being told outright!). I feel like those little things are sometimes the most important for keeping track of large casts, but they’re also the hardest for me to remember when I’m writing, so the document helps a lot.

          In my current WIP’s, I only have three MC’s, but in my last three novels I had six, seven, and eight – so I understand the struggle! Never forget, if it’s too hard to keep track of them all, no one is saying you can’t move some of them to minor characters, or even delete them. That said, I’m definitely not going to say it can’t be done, either – I do love a good ensemble cast!

    • future_famous_author says:

      I’m not sure what advice to give for this, because usually, I don’t plan my characters (though I am starting to, and realizing how helpful outlining and worldbuilding are!) and when I did it wasn’t usually much, just a couple adjectives and things they liked, so I never had any trouble remembering it. I like the spreadsheet ideas, but also maybe printing that out, or writing it on paper, so that you can have it next to you when you write. For character building for the novel that I’m about to write, I just have a document and I’m going to answer questions for each and always keep it open when I’m writing.

    • I’d recommend both the spreadsheet or some kind of character bio, and just spending time with your characters. I like to drop mine into whatever book or movie I’ve been reading/watching and let them react (…yeah, like fanfiction). It really helps with figuring out what they’ll do in my WIP. Sometimes I even give them an actual goal–maybe counter to the canon characters’ goals! I usually don’t write it out, but of course do if that works better for you.
      Good luck!

  5. Fiona Wherity says:

    I’m trying to write a story, but I have no ideas for it. I have been trying for weeks, but there are no ideas coming to me. Does anyone have any tips for coming up with ideas?

    • You could combine things that don’t usually go together and see what happens. A panda meets a polar bear. Why are they together and what happens next? A werewolf is riding a Ferris Wheel. Why, and what happens next? Explaining unlikely situations is a good way to get your brain in story-writing mode. Reading what other people wrote can also get your brain unstuck.

    • I don’t know how helpful my advice will be but this is what I do…
      First I think back on my favorite books. I kind of ask myself what about them makes them so special to me. Say that I chose three books and each had a certain magical ability that I loved them i would write that down as a element in my book. I’d continue to do that until I had 6 or 7 important elements for my story.
      Second of I couldn’t think of any characters I would write down what I liked most about my closest family and friends. I’d write these traits down in a list and once I was done I would go through that list and pick and choose from them until I had developed characters.
      Third is think of events throughout my life (good and bad) and choose from those for a story plot.
      I don’t know how useful you’ll find this but I hope it helps you some.

      • Fiona Wherity says:

        Thanks you guys, this helps a bit. I’m not much of a planned writer, I usually just write down ideas I have and if I have more I’ll follow them, but thanks. This might help.

    • NerdyNiña says:

      There’s a really fun book called Improv For Writers, by Jorjeana Marie. It has a bunch of exercises to help loosen up creatively and have fun. I highly recommend it.
      If you’ve already started and you don’t know what should happen next, just ask yourself, What if… and go crazy.

  6. When is a good time to start writing a sequel? I just finished editing my latest novel, and I’m planning on diving into the query trenches very soon, with the goal of finding an agent and then a traditional publisher. The story is meant to be the first book in a duology, and the way the ending is written reflects that. (I know that the chances of getting a two-book deal, let alone a book deal at all, is far from guaranteed, but at this point all I can do is focus on the things in my control.) I know that if I get published, I’m going to have to write a sequel eventually. I’ve tried to start outlining book 2, but I just…can’t.

    I don’t know if I’m suffering burnout from finishing this book (after almost three years of drafting, editing, rewriting, and more editing) or if everything going on in real life has just sapped my motivation to write. I have a general idea of the premise for the sequel but every time I try to work on an actual detailed outline, I can’t come up with anything. I love my story and the characters, and I know I want the story to continue, I just can’t seem to write it right now. Honestly when I think about the sequel, it feels almost like a scary end-of-the-term project I want to keep putting off, not something that I want to do and love doing, as writing should be. Maybe I’m putting the cart before the horse here, but get this sorted out now and end up with two shelved manuscripts that I love and am proud of, rather than forge ahead with querying and potentially letting people down with a half-finished book series that’s out in the world.

    For those of you who have written and/or published multiple books, have you ever experienced this before?

    • Gah, I can’t proofread apparently! In the last sentence of paragraph 2, it’s supposed to say Maybe I’m putting the cart before the horse here, but [I would rather] get this sorted out now and end up with two shelved manuscripts that I love and am proud of, rather than forge ahead with querying and potentially letting people down with a half-finished book series that’s out in the world.

      • Gail Carson Levine says:

        Can you turn the first book into a stand-alone novel without making a sequel impossible? That will take the pressure off. It’s taken me years to go back into the worlds of some of my books. Sometimes stories have to germinate.

        • The way the first book is written, the story arc is generally complete but there’s a major cliffhanger that leads into book 2 (a major character is dead, the main character vows to resurrect him, and there are also hints that the events of book 1 are about to have some major world-shattering repercussions), and changing that would fundamentally change the story in a way that I don’t particularly want to. I think my biggest problem is being unsure of how I can write a satisfying payoff for everything I’ve set up/foreshadowed in book 1 while simultaneously introducing new, unique elements for book 2. Also, book 1’s central conflict was relatively small in scope, but book 2 is going to expand that majorly, and feels more complicated to write.

          My second issue is worrying about whether I can do all of that while writing on a deadline, which is going to be required if I somehow manage to get a book deal.

    • If you can’t write it, don’t try. I’ve barely gotten started on the second draft of my first novel (with no plans of turning it into a series), so I’m not an expert, but it seems to me that if you feel uncomfortable with writing it, you probably shouldn’t. As for a solution, maybe you could try to figure out why you don’t want to write it. Is there something that you know needs to happen that you really aren’t looking forward to? Are you worried that it won’t be as good as the first one? Or are you putting off writing it because you have no idea what happens next? Often, if you can figure out why and where you’re stuck, it can help you figure out a way to get unstuck.

      • My problem is I’m not worried about writing it. I really want to write it! I just can’t get over the block of where should the sequel pick up, should I add a character or two, should I start the second book in a completely different place then where the last one ended.

    • I’m in a similar boat. I just finished a fairly polished draft of the first book in a trilogy. I have a rough draft of book 2 to work with, but switching gears from polishing something I’m proud of to shaping a mess is tricky.

      One thing that helps me with working on series is to find something new to bring in, instead of maintaining whatever status quo you had from book 1. I have a 6 book series that’s almost done, and I didn’t have too much trouble maintaining momentum through all six because they each had different settings (different kingdoms on the same continent), different plots, and different villains (though there is one overarching antagonist).The cast of main characters stayed roughly the same, but with each book, I changed which ones had the spotlight and which ones were extras. I kept a file of ideas for later books while working on my current one. It worked pretty well.

  7. Gabriella Shell says:

    Ok I have a completely random question that doesn’t have anything to do with this topic but it was the most recent post

    My best friend and I have been working on a novel for around a year. The book is almost complete and she suggested we started looking into getting it published. As teenagers we would need our parents help and permission. I was hesitant but the more I thought about it the better the idea seemed. I have always wanted to be a published author, I just thought that I would be over when it happened. Anyways she talked to her parents and they said that they wanted to help us get out book out there. The only problem is I haven’t talked to my parents about it.

    My parents don’t know that I want to be an author. In fact they thinks it’s kind of silly. They plan on me being a teacher (and I agreed to it because I do want to it. Just not as much as being and author).

    My question is Gail, how should I approach my parents and tell them about my book? And how should I explain that my friends parents are willing to help us get it published?

    • future_famous_author says:

      I think that you need to approach them with your heart. Explain to them that this is what you want to do, and that (if you still agree) you still will be a teacher, but you also want to write books. Tell them that this is your dream, your ambition, show them what you have written, and let them understand that you won’t back down because this is what you love. Writing isn’t just your dream but your hope and desire and your love and your hobby and let them know! And if they are still on the edge, then tell them that your friend’s parents have already agreed, and see what they say then. And if they say no, then you still have your future. If they say no, don’t back down. Don’t ever back down from what you love. Stand up for it. Keep showing them your writing. Keep asking them about publishing. And when you move out, you can publish a book, and show them that dreams and ambitions can become realities and lifestyles.

      I hope, for you, that they say yes! 🙂

      • Gail Carson Levine says:

        I think your parents may want to be reassured that you do NOT plan to starve to death. Most fiction writers have a day job, which for you may be teaching, because earning a living as a writer is hard and often not possible, no matter how wonderful a person’s writing is. I got lucky because of ELLA ENCHANTED (and the movie). I don’t know if any of my other books would have broken out. But you can tell your parents that, while understanding the grim statistics, you’d like to experience the publishing process as something to learn from, a project you (and they) can be proud of.

        • Gabriella Shell says:

          Thanks a lot. I plan on talking to them once I have completed the book ( which will be soon ). I hope that I’m just overreacting a little bit and that even though they might not be thrilled, they’ll still be willing to help me do this. I’ve also told my friend that if they absolutely won’t let me that once I’m 18 I can get it published without their permission. That’s not the way I wanted to do it but if push comes to shove it’s how I’ll need to work.

  8. Jillian Buxton says:

    I attempted to buy a signed copy of Ceiling Made of Eggshells, but there is nothing mentioned of signed copies on Byrd’s website. Am I missing something? Are they already out of the signed copies? 🙁

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      I suggest you call Byrd’s Books. If they’ve run out, I can just sign more bookplates. It was on the website for a while, but I don’t see it now. The store takes calls from Tuesday through Saturday, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, Eastern Daylight Time.

      • Jillian Buxton says:

        Thanks Gail! I did end up calling them and they were so kind! She made it sound like I got my order in on time so fingers crossed 🙂

  9. Writeforfun says:

    How do you all keep your notes organized? Does anyone on here have a particular system or use any special type of program?

    My notes tend to include everything from research (on history, combat techniques, geography, etc), to character profiles, plot outlines, world building, etc, plus tons and tons of scenes that I’ve written for later books. Currently a lot of my research notes are handwritten on scraps of paper scattered around my desk, while the scenes and some random facts are lumped haphazardly in with my other notes documents.

    This is becoming a really big problem, so I want to reorganize – but I’m not sure what would work best? I can never seem to find the notes or scenes I need when I need them!

    • If you prefer handwritten notes rather then online ones I would suggest getting a big folder to store them all in

    • I’ve found that organizing by topic is a good way to start for both paper and computer documents. Then, if there’s still a whole bunch of stuff, you can organize it by sub-topics, chronologically, or alphabetically, depending on your preferences. For example, in my writing, I have a fantasy folder for my short stories and a science fiction folder for my novel.
      The novel folder has research notes, a list of titles, chapter and book summaries, lists of characters, the novel, and a couple of world-building scenes. It also has two subfolders, one for each of the MC’s, where I store character information and the chapters from their POV.
      The short story folder has a list of names, a list of titles, some research notes, many of the short stories, some random scenes, and a world-building document organized by story. It also has four subfolders, one for clothing ideas and one for each of my three main MC’s, which have information similar to the main folder, but focused on a specific character and their situation.
      Hopefully, this will be somewhat helpful. It took me a while to set it up, since I had to go through every document and figure out where it went, but it works pretty well now, and I have to do a lot less searching for things.

    • For digital notes, I personally use and love the app/website Trello. (I’ve used them for almost 3 years and it’s my must-have writing tool aside from Google Docs, so I’ll gush about it a lot. I swear this isn’t sponsored!) Trello is basically a digital pinboard organized into lists with cards that you can drag around. You can also add descriptions, comments, and attachments (like images) to those cards. It’s hard to describe, but it’ll be clearer once you actually see the interface. The way I use it, I have a board for a book I’m working on, multiple lists for each aspect of the story. My default is Characters, Setting, Plot, Quotes (sometimes I come up with random lines of dialogue or description, and they all go here), Research, and Misc. On each of the lists, I’ll then have separate cards with one specific element. For example, a card on my Characters list could be “Snow White”, and that card would be filled with info about that character. A card on my Plot list could be “Snow White eats the poisoned apple”. I might add some more details about that scene, or not. If I decide to move things around, I can easily drag and drop cards around the lists. If I want to add more details or notes, I’ll add comments to the cards as they come to me.

      Trello is both an online interface and an app for most mobile devices that automatically syncs with the cloud, so you can access your notes anywhere. I love to whip out my phone and add a quick card or comment whenever inspiration strikes. It also has some interesting add-ons and collaborative functions (which would be SUPER useful is you co-write a book, but that hasn’t come up for me personally yet) that you can explore on their blog. Best of all, it’s absolutely free for the basic version, which contains all of the features you need.

      I love this app so much and I’m planning to write a long post about how I use Trello on my blog eventually, but I keep putting it off 😉

      TLDR; trello.com is a free, organized, and highly accessible writing tool that I can’t imagine living without.

  10. Kit Kat Kitty says:

    While I was reading this post, something my Therapist explained to me came to mind.
    She explained that people’s reactions to different situations are fueled by their core beliefs. Our thoughts, feelings, and the actions we take come from our core beliefs, and she explained core beliefs often come in the form of “I am” statements.
    For example, if a character believes “I am worthless” they might react in a negative way to certain situations. For example, if someone says they’re annoying, they might take that to heart. Even if countless other people say they aren’t, the character’s core belief may lead them to think they’re annoying, and trying to change how they behave.
    The concept is kind of complicated, (though I hope I’ve made it simple enough) and I’m sure I missed some things, but every character is going to behave and react differently because of their core beliefs, which are pretty hard to change.

    • future_famous_author says:

      But I’m assuming that by the end of the book/movie/story/play/series, the MCs core beliefs, and maybe some side characters’, core beliefs should have changed, through character development.

      • Kit Kat Kitty says:

        I’m actually currently working on challenging/changing my core beliefs in therapy. It can be done, but it’s not easy, and it takes time. I do think stories, (or at least character arcs) are about the character’s core beliefs being challenged/changed/created.

        • future_famous_author says:

          And usually, in a story, the challenge/change/creation of core beliefs has something to do with the theme or climax.

          • Kit Kat Kitty says:

            Yup! And another thought came to me, the same process works for villains. With heroes, it’s usually a change from a negative core belief to a positive core belief, but I think for villains, it’s the opposite. I know that may seem kind of obvious, but I think keeping it in mind will help me create villains and keep them consistent in the future, and it may help other people too.

  11. In my WIP, I have a fairly good idea of what the big-picture conflict will be, but want to give my MC an internal conflict of some kind. Problem is, I don’t know what. For various reasons, he was on the run with only his mother until he was fourteen. Then, he was accepted into what was basically a military academy. Now, he’s twenty, being commanded by his best friend, and trying to get the courage to ask a girl he likes on a date. I can see several different ways that this can go, but I haven’t picked one yet. Any suggestions?

    • I would suggest thinking of ways that your big-picture conflict could affect your MC in a more internal-conflict-y way. Basically, even if he has internal issues from when he was on the run with his mother or from anything going on his life now, he wouldn’t necessarily be thinking about those issues all the time. Maybe his life is too hectic or he doesn’t know how to solve the issues, so he just doesn’t think about them. But then your big-picture conflict could set things into motion so that he has to think about the issues, and then that’s another obstacle for him to work around. And as for what the issues are, exactly, I think you could just go with the issues that make the most sense for him to have, given how his life has been. Hope this helps!

    • future_famous_author says:

      It sounds like your main conflict will most likely be internal, and it could be him thinking he isn’t enough, maybe for some reason in the past, and that is what brings up the of asking out the girl he likes.

      • (Brainstorming/dithering alert!) What I have so far is about how my MC got hurt, which is going to cause a war, which will leave them trapped in a potentially deadly situation,with the girl he likes might or might not get left behind along the way. The MC’s best friend is the one making all of the decisions, so there’s the opportunity for conflict there. If she gets left behind, that adds more conflict. The problem is, I don’t know how long I want this to be, and I don’t want to bite off more than I want to chew. Her getting left behind works better for a long novel or a series, but at the same time, I can do without it for a novella or short novel. I’ve almost gotten to the point where I need to decide. What do you think?

  12. Writeforfun says:

    I’m sorry, this is a really long question, but I don’t feel like editing it down so I’m just going to go ahead and post it. 😉 In short, any suggestions for writing lovable introverts?

    I am struggling with one of my main characters in my story, the only one who is an introvert. I love writing him because he’s basically me when I was his age, so it comes so easily! He is petrified of attention, introspects constantly and has a little too much imagination, has profound thoughts but has a hard time putting them into words, reads constantly, is a very good listener, is extremely self-conscious, is extremely empathetic, and has a dry sense of humor. My other two are extroverts – on is moody and overly dramatic with a witty comeback for everything, and the other is an impetuous cheerleader who always acts before thinking, resulting in a lot of either funny or awkward situations. 

    So far, I’ve let two people read some of the story, and their consensus is that they don’t like my introvert. When asked why, one said it’s because he makes them sad. I don’t know if this is just because he is being compared to these two extroverts and the extroverts are outshining him by nature, or if his personality just isn’t a fun one to read. I suppose I could change him to be more like the other two, but I can’t figure out a way to do it that doesn’t feel forced, and I also want them to remain distinctive. I think the biggest difference between him and the other two is how much less funny he is than them. There’s a lot of dark stuff going on in this story, so I’ve been using a lot of humor to keep things light, and most of the humor comes from them. 

    I’m trying to think of other books that have done introverts well, but off the top of my head I can only seem to think of extroverts. Or at least really well-adjusted introverts. This little guy has been isolated most of his life, so I really don’t want to make him seem falsely well-adjusted just to make him more fun. Perhaps I could make use of his awkwardness to make him funnier, but I’m not sure whether that would be a good funny or a bad funny, and he is always really embarrassed about it afterward, which I’m afraid kind of kills the mood.

    I’m sorry, I’m rambling! My question is, any suggestions for writing lovable super-introverts? Any thoughts on what I’m doing wrong?

    • Well, I personally think that normally extroverts are easier to connect with because we know them better because they put themselves out there. One thing you can do is dip into the thoughts of the character. Put them into situations that force them out of their shell, make it uncomfortable for them to go outside their comfort zone, but make sure the experience shows their personality. Just help him along, let the readers get to know him. (I’m sorry I don’t really know what to put, it’s easier when I’ve read the story). I hope that helps (sorry if it doesn’t).

    • Could you have him confide in one of the extroverts, and then have one of them act on what he told them? Ex. If there were someone he liked, he told one of the other two, and they set him up with her, then his response could reveal some of his personality. As for literary introverts, try Turtle in the Wings of Fire series (MG and up). He’s an important character in book 8 and narrates book 9, but the story arc starts in book 6. (I have to reccomend some of my favorite series occasionally, after all.)

    • NerdyNiña says:

      Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly has a super shy, introverted narrator. He has trouble speaking up in his family of extroverts. He wants to, and you, the reader, want him to. It would be a good guide, I think.

      • Writeforfun says:

        Thanks! I will definitely look into both of those books!

        I’ve been trying to do some research on what might make introverts lovable, but I’ve mostly only found information on what introverts can do to “fix” themselves and become extroverts (suddenly my introverted self is feeling extremely inadequate and realizing that most of the world sees this as a problem, not a lovable character trait!). I think I’m going to stop researching along those lines for my own sake! Guess I’ll just keep experimenting. I do dip into his thoughts a lot in all of his POV chapters (it may be why he’s my favorite to write – possibly also why he’s my problem child – because I give myself free reign for introspection in his chapters!), but I’m thinking maybe he’s just too serious compared to the other two. I think I’ll see if I can play with these suggestions mentioned, and try to find some way to make him funnier or at least a little less serious.

        Thank you so much Gail, I will definitely be looking forward to that post!

        • Uh, that’s annoying! We don’t need fixed!
          I’m still doing some research. One website pointed out that often, we don’t realize that a character doesn’t speak a lot or is introverted because we’re in their POV and see their thoughts (Harry Potter was the example they used).
          Another article suggested Jane Eyre, Mr. Darcy, Katniss Everdeen, and Jonathan from Stranger Things (haven’t seen that one). Matilda and Bilbo Baggins also come up a lot.

          I like writing introverted characters because it’s easier to have them think something instead of say it, when saying something aloud would cause problems. It also reminds me to use internal dialogue. I’m looking up some examples from my WIPs:

          She thought about adding that the nearby royals had the resources to defeat a new Stygian, but decided she didn’t dare reveal how close they were to the Summit.

          Keita was tempted to see if Indie would talk to her, but she decided against asking. Would (love interest) be more or less annoyed if Indie obeyed her?

          Keita thought about asking what (villain) called her, and decided she didn’t want to know.

          Did he have any siblings? Besides her, of course, if they did share a father. She decided not to ask, not when he kept glaring at her. What was he mad about?

          Leo leaned against the wall of the tavern. His eyes went vacant and his lips twitched. Walker smirked but decided not to point out that he looked half-drunk himself.

          I did a find word for “decided”, and somehow a whole bunch of introverted internal dialogue came up. Make of that what you will 🙂

  13. I am writing a story, one of the characters needs a backstory and I don’t really know how to do that without making it sound really random and misplaced in the story. Another problem is I haven’t written much, so I was also wondering if I should connect the characters more before I do a backstory. Or should I hint at stuff with flashbacks? If you want the story here is a link to it. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1LdvaN2Hb2K5SPVVdAMiaCbSFzcE_JuS26kIcFdKycmc/edit?usp=sharing

    • One of the things that helps me is asking questions, especially Why questions. “Why is Character afraid of cupcakes? Why do they want to go on a quest for a pink catnip plant? Why are they missing a toe?”

      Asking questions about things that are in the story now can lead to ideas about how they got that way.

      I’m not sure what you mean by “connect the characters more before I do a backstory.” Do you mean that maybe you should put more characters “onstage” before you work out their backstories, or that you should have a scene of characters getting together, then one of backstory, or something else?

      Backstory generally works best when worked into scenes that do other things too. Ex, on the first page of the first book of The Hunger Games, it mentions Katniss, Prim, and their mom, but no dad. There’s implied backstory right there. We see a bit of the girls’ past via their cat. We learn what happen to their dad. But all the time, the story is still moving forward, and the scene is doing other things too-showing character and setting, hinting at trouble…(I wish my scenes worked this hard!)

    • I don’t know how much this will help but here is what happened in the novel in writing…
      In my book the main characters are kind of mysterious in the first few chapters with only hints of their past thrown in. In a later chapter I had the main character be pulled inside of her own mind and made to relive their past. That way I could make the back story part of the action while still giving the readers what they needed to know about her. The character deals with a lot of grief and pain and I made it part of the story that she had to accept the fact that what had happened wasn’t her fault. When she was sucked inside her mind I went into detail about her past but made it seem like she was just watching it again.
      I hope this was helpful at least a little bit.

    • I remembered a quote that does a great job of this sort of thing. Have you read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis? I was thinking of this bit:

      “”Have you forgotten the Deep Magic?” asked the Witch.

      “Let us say I have forgotten it,” answered Aslan gravely. “Tell us of this Deep Magic.”

      Of course Aslan hasn’t forgotten. But we’ve seen that something has upset the Great Lion deeply, so we’re primed to want to know what it is. And when Aslan makes the Witch explain the Deep Magic to the other characters in the scene we get the explanation too, without having to slow anything down or distract from the tension. And since Aslan wants the listeners to hear the explanation, while the Witch is angry at having to give it, we want to hear it too.

  14. RedTrumpetWriter says:

    I just got and read “A Ceiling Made of Eggshells” in ebook form and it was amazing, as all your work is. I just wanted to let you know that you’ve really inspired me and I’m about to self-publish my first book because I’ve been so encouraged by people like you. I also really love this blog, it’s so casual and fun and really helpful too. Also, I would like to know if you have any advice about rewriting fairy tales, like how do you take inspiration while also making the story your own? What is your process, if you’re willing to share it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

    • I think your question is “How can I be faithful to the fairy tale while still writing my own story?”, so I’ll try to answer that. This is one of the hardest parts of writing a fairy tale, and something I’ve struggled with a lot. That being said, I think there are ways. 1: Figure out what the fairy tale has to have in order for it to be that fairy tale. (E.g., Snow White has to have a black-haired, pale-skinned heroine, a magic mirror, seven rescuers, a poisoned apple, and a glass coffin) 2: Decide how obvious you want the fairy tale to be. In Ella Enchanted, for example, it’s fairly obvious, but in Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George (middle school and up), you have to be looking for it to find anything. 3: Figure out how to include the story elements in your story, keeping in mind how obvious they need to be. This is the hard part, and I would offer advice if I had it, but it really depends on your answers to the first two questions and the specific nature of the story. This is getting long, so I’ll talk about my process in a second comment.

    • My process for writing a fairy tale retelling is, honestly, to find an interesting prompt and run with it. For example, in Writing Magic, one of the prompts is to explain why Rumpelstiltskin wants the baby, but gives the queen a chance to beat him. My thought process ran something like this: Why would he give her a chance to take it back? Maybe he never really wanted the baby. But then why is he trying to take it? Because someone’s forcing him to. Who? Another prompt from Writing Magic is to come up with the name of an underweight dragon with a weak flame, so I said that the dragon is the one forcing Rumpelstiltskin to take the baby. Why does the dragon want it? Even if it wanted a human, it would make more sense for it to take someone a little older. But this is a royal baby. It’s special, hard to get to. Maybe the dragon wants the baby to redeem itself to the other dragons. But why would the other dragons care? Sure, it’s a royal baby, but it’s still a little squalling human that will need constant attention, and it’s too small even for a good snack. Maybe someone else wants the baby, too. Maybe it’s the queen’s nobles. Maybe they hate her and are trying to get her child killed so they can force her out and convince the king to remarry. And once I have that idea, (the nobles hired the dragons to capture the baby, the underweight dragon decides to try by threatening Rumpelstiltskin’s family if he doesn’t steal the baby, having the queen guess his name will let Rumpelstiltskin out of the deal he made with the dragon) I wrote the scene where the dragon decides to steal the baby and went from there. I tend to have the first scene, a hazy idea for the climax, and a vaguer notion of the ending when I start writing, but the kind of brainstorming I’ve described can always be expanded on, asking more questions and more detailed ones until you have however much of a plot you like. Hope this helps!

      • Fun! I’ve thought of taking a whole bunch of the prompts from that book and seeing if you could make a whole story over it.
        I had to pause my family’s study of Writing Magic when online schooling began and we had to figure all that out. I’m definitely planning on getting back into it (especially now that you’re reading it out loud!) now that it’s summer.

        • Gail Carson Levine says:

          Red Trumpet Writer–I’m so glad you enjoyed A CEILING MADE OF EGGSHELLS! I’ve written posts about writing fairy tales, which you can find in categories under fairy tales.

          Christie V Powell–I’m so glad you’re using WRITING MAGIC with your family!

  15. RedTrumpetWriter says:

    Thanks everyone, I really appreciate all the advice! I’ll have to look for the old blog posts about this.

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