How many words a day should I write?

Filed in general tips

I’ve heard 1,000 a day, and NaNoWriMo wants 1,667 or so a day (to be fair, if you’re following NaNoWriMo’s standard, you are trying to write a 50,000 word novel in a month), but I say as many as you can reasonably manage. I personally only used to manage about 600 words a day, because of my extremely freeform style and all the plot details being jumbled in my head. Some mental housekeeping has boosted that to about 1,400 a day these days.

Of course, if I had to give a number, I would say 500 a day is a good goal, as it keeps things moving at a slick pace without being too much of a strain to come up with new ideas. Also, if you’re writing a 60,000 word novel you’ll get it done in four months.

Effective character development when writing fiction

Filed in CharactersTags:

Now, not every character needs character development. After all there is a reason for static characters (I like think it’s to keep authors from going bonkers :P ) , but if you want your character to develop and change as a person, then it’s important to make sure that they grow, or shrink, but not mutate into something else (except, maybe, literally), so make sure that their development follows logically. The terms I’m using, positive and negative character development, I made up on the spot. I have no idea what terms are actually used.

Positive character development

When people think of character development, they think of this kind. This is where a character improves him or herself in some way. It’s also the most commonly used, because most people don’t wants to see characters becoming messed up wrecks. Starting off as messed up wrecks is another story (See House).

The best way to create positive character development is to give the character a compelling reason to change for the better, like Scrooge being greeted by the three ghosts of Christmas in A Christmas Tale. He saw what he would become if he continued down the path he was going, and that made him change course and become a better person. That’s positive character development in a nutshell.

To put it laconically: a character has to see, and be made to care about, the destructive consequences of his or her actions or the benefits of a different course of action to be made to change for the better.

Negative character development

Character development doesn’t necessarily need to turn the character into a better person. Sometimes it’ll have the opposite effect  Usually this involves some sort of trauma, but sometimes it’s just being beaten down again and again with no hope of change, or finding that being the nice guy simply makes things worse. For example, someone who’s consistently wronged may become a misanthropic asshole as time goes on, instead of, say, trying to find a way to ensure that others aren’t wronged. Another example would be a character that is forced to kill to survive may become so used to killing that they feel nothing, not even guilt, as they end someone’s life.

This type of character development is mainly used to create tension or drama, and when used well, it works. When used badly, it feels like an ass-pull the writer pulled out in a cheap attempt to make things more dramatic, so make sure that it makes sense and isn’t clunkily implemented

Another laconic description: If, for some reason, a character is subject to strong negative experience, or constantly subject to hard knocks, they may become more emotionally withdrawn, more depressed, or more angry.

Using character development

Ultimately, character development should be used to deepen the character and drive the plot forward, as long as it’s done logically, not make them cooler or some such, and you should NEVER make a major change in the way a character acts out of the blue just to drive your plot forward. You’ll just piss off your readers.

How long should my story be?

Filed in general tips

As long as it takes to get through your planned plot. My story, now stuck perpetual rewrite (I’m not sure I want to keep going, for a variety of reasons) is currently sitting at 35,000, but before I started rewriting it, it was 50,000, and, if I ever reach the end, it should be right back up there.

Word count honestly doesn’t matter much, because it’s more important to have a good story, regardless of whether it takes 1,000 words to complete or 100,000 words to complete. Hell, a “good” (good being extremely subjective) story can be as short as six words, as Ernest Hemingway (maybe) famously proved with this story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Creating your character’s backstory

Filed in CharactersTags:

Backstory can be shown in story, implied, slowly revealed, or not mentioned at all, but when the author does have it, it’s used to deepen a character and explain why they act the way they do now. However, it has to make sense within their characterization, lest your audience be left scratching their heads.

For example, a character who was beaten and left for dead while people walked by and do nothing isn’t going to be a very idealistic person unless someone or something turns them away from their (justified) cynicism. On the other hand, a character who’s lived a happy life where everyone got along probably isn’t going to be all that cynical, though they may be shocked when disagreement ends in violence.

Creating your character’s backstory

A good method for creating a character’s backstory, I’ve found, is to create the character first, and work backwards through their life, trying to figure out what made them the way they are.

Writing Adam, who is very stoic, despite having strong emotions, I discovered that a good way to explain his unwillingness to actually show feeling was to have some long period where showing emotion would be harmful, so I gave him something he hate hated getting, in this case pity, piled it on him for about a year,and made him react very badly to it. This, in his slightly twisted mind would make him associate showing emotions with making things worse for himself. Of course, I needed a reason for him to constantly be shown pity, so I killed his parents in a fantastic fireball, and had a recently discovered sibling slowly dying of cancer.

Honestly, if my characters knew I was purposefully making their lives hard, they would find some way to put two in my chest.

An alternative method would be to create the backstory first, then work your way forward, creating their characterization based on that. This is a far better method in revenge plots and such.

Ultimately, All I can say is find what works best for creating your character’s backstory, and run with it,

Rape as backstory

Also, though it is tempting to use rape as a backstory, my advice is don’t, unless you know and understand the psychological effects of rape (which I will be the first to admit that I don’t, though I have a story idea that relies on a lot of rape as backstory. It isn’t a happy story), so that you don’t embarrass yourself or worse, belittle rape victims. It is a traumatic experience, and one that should be treated with the greatest of care when you’re writing it in fiction.

General Writing tips

Filed in general tips

As I said, if it took too long to get through characterization, I would write two series at once, so that’s what I’m doing. More pressure on me, but this should mean I get through everything before November.

In this series, I intend to help you with the writing process in general, as well as answer frequently asked questions. If you have a question, feel free to leave a comment. I may answer it there, or I may add it to another post in this series, depends on how complex the question is to answer.

These posts will generally be a lot shorter, until I start getting into ways to be published, though even those will be shorter than my posts on other topics, which, oddly, seem to be getting longer. Maybe I’m just digging into the process more than I was.

And, as to the theme change, well, buddypress and my chosen theme, Oenology, don’t get along all that well. The former caused the latter to completely screw up. Oenology in black will be back up with its formatting within 24 hours, however. Don’t worry.

Your character’s strengths and flaws

Filed in CharactersTags: ,

Obviously any good character is going to have a good balance of things they’re good at (their strengths) and things they’re not so good at (their flaws). Here I help you strike that balance.

Creating your character’s strengths and flaws

I hope it goes without saying that a character that has no flaws and can do anything is going to make for a very boring story, unless you can make the character absurdly entertaining in the process. That’s something that only a few people will be able to pull off, honestly, so unless you’re extremely confident in your abilities, have your character lacking in areas that are critical to the plot (whether the deficiencies are moral, psychological, or skill based), to help drive conflict and keep the story interesting. For example, say your hero meets with a royal, who expects respect at all times, and the character himself is a sarcastic, irreverent type of person. His nature could make the meeting go very badly, resulting in the royal not committing the troops that the hero needs to defeat the armies of darkness.

Having them lack in other areas can make for some amusing scenarios or deepen their characterization. An example of deepening characterization: A brutally honest character who’s terrible at feeling empathy for others but is otherwise a good person can create a lot of friction with other characters. This can create a lot of interesting opportunities for future characterization, like one character’s comrades thinking she’s out for herself with her constant abrasiveness showing her true colors by risking her own life to save theirs, and chiding them the entire time.

Though giving your character too many flaws presents its own set of problems, because, after all, who’s going to care about a character whose seemingly sole raison d’être is to be captured again and again and again, without serving any useful role, or one so specialized that it only comes up once or twice? Or a character who’s so much of a jerk or so evil that everyone around them hates them (unless, of course, you’ve created the dreaded Mary Sue, who does everything so perfectly that everyone can’t help fawn over them, regardless of how “perfect” their actions are)? Try to strike a balance between strengths and flaws, if only to avoid drawing the ire of your audience.

Tomorrow, I help you create your character’s backstory. Admittedly, that is one of my favorite parts of creating characters, so I should be able to give you a lot to work with. Also, tomorrow, I start posting twice a day, as this is taking longer than expected.

Introversion, Extraversion, and characterization

Filed in Characters, personalityTags: ,

Portraying introversion and extraversion properly in your writing isn’t critical, but it does help you create more realistic characters, which is excellent if that’s what you’re after.

Introversion

Courtesy TV Tropes

An introvert being rudely intruded upon

Have you ever met someone who liked to be alone, didn’t seem too thrilled with the idea of small talk, and/or seemed enamored with nerdy pursuits? Or maybe you are that person? I know I am. Well, chances are that they’re an introvert. They make up about 25-40% of the population, and are amongst the most misunderstood groups in society, but I’m not going to get into that, simply because misunderstood groups are not the focus of this blog.

Once you understand what makes an introvert tick, they’re easy to write. In general, they think that conversation should be used to transmit information, not as some social nicety done simply for the sake of social expectation, which is part of the reason why they can be so harsh in their criticisms of others, and the entire reason they hate small talk. Of course, more extraverted people often don’t understand this, which leads to the perception that introverts are smug.

Also, in general, they tend to have fewer but closer friends, because they don’t believe that you should be called a friend unless you demonstrate to them that you are an interesting person. It may sound stuck up, but it’s really not. Also, once you manage to pull off the difficult task of gaining their trust, they will generall be the most reliable people you will ever meet.

They do have some potential to become a liability in any job that requires close coordination to complete, though their introspective focus may give them boost they need to finish the job. You decide how you want to go about that. Also, annoyingly, they tend to be portrayed as freaks in some fiction. Please try to avoid that. For my sake, if nothing else.

Extraversion

courtesy TV Tropes

An extravert in her natural environment

Extraverts are just the opposite of introverts. These are the friendly, outgoing, gregarious people who you see most often, simply because they put themselves out there more than introverts. They generally enjoy being around people, making new friends and having fun. Their weakness, however, is that they need more stimulation to keep entertained than their introverted counterparts, meaning they handle isolation and boredom more poorly than them.

As they enjoy interacting with people, and may love small talk, they may drive their introverted counterparts up a wall (especially if they’re an extreme extravert and their conversation partner is an extreme introvert), but any activity that requires a large amount of interaction with others is sure to make the extravert right at home, which is probably why so many politicians and reality show stars are extreme extraverts.

As you can see, there’s a lot of potential for good storytelling just from using these aspects of personality. As long as you’re careful to avoid stereotyping, then you should be able to create some really interesting character relationships, just by using these aspects, though you should probably consider others, such as interests and overall attitude.

And thus we end the personality section of the characterization series. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about effectively implementing strengths and flaws for your character. If you’re interested in learning about your own personality, two websites I can recommend are MyPersonality.info and Type Logic. This is for the Myers Briggs Typolgy Indicator, by the way, and, for the record, I am an INTP.

Your character’s relationships, and how social they are

Filed in Characters, personalityTags: , ,

Two very important parts of creating a character are giving them a strong motivation, and figuring out just how they interact with the people around them. This is where I intend to help you with the latter, via two sections: Relationships and sociability.

Relationships

Relationships are interesting, as they can be extremely fluid or rock solid. However, they are also extremely easy to screw up, and thus should be treated with care. Generally you want your characters’ attitudes to drive their relationships in the direction you want, and you want any changes to progress naturally. For example, a man and a woman just meet randomly. The man is a big guy with a love of football and is generally a nice guy. The woman is a bit meek, doesn’t really care for sports, and is a bit scared of him with his size and all. I don’t think these two are going to be falling in love and jumping into bed right away, without an incredibly good explanation, involving mind control, but if a relationship is developed over a period of time it’s possible that they will be doing the horizontal tango at some point. On the other hand, if a woman catches her husband cheating on her with another woman, assuming this isn’t an open relationship, there is every reason to assume she’s going to be rightly pissed, and good reason to assume that she won’t have any respect for him anymore, starting right after she catches him cheating.

Sociability

Another important factor is how sociable, or, to use a psychological term, extraverted they are (for the record, I’m using the spelling of extroverted that google recognizes, though wordpress seems to primarily recognize extroverted. Huh). A character with low extraversion is going to be an introvert, a character with high extraversion is going to be an extravert, and a character with middling extraversion is going to be an ambivert. These concepts are so fascinating to me that I could write for days about it, which is why I’m going to go into some detail describing both concepts in my next post.

Your character’s attitude and motivation

Filed in Characters, personalityTags: , ,

I wonder what drives Inigo Montoya

Your character’s attitude and motivation basically define them, so it’s important that you take some time to think about these things in regards to your characters and find the best fit.

Attitude

Let’s start with your character’s attitude. Is your hero a knight in shining armor who thinks people are inherently good, or is he a cynical bastard who thinks it’s in humanity’s nature to destroy itself? Is your villain an unrepentent monster who cares not for the lives of others and is happy to murder them on a whim, or is he a man who believes he’s doing the right thing, even if a few skulls have to be cracked along the way?

A character’s attitude is probably the most important part of who they are, and how they respond to any given situation. Giving your character a compelling attitude will give your audience good reason to like or hate him or her (or both). Just make sure they’re getting the signals you want them to, or you may find the character meant to be a great hero being despised by the audience, or a horrible villain being adored by them, though the latter may happen anyway just by the nature of humanity. For example, some of Metroid’s fanbase love Ridley, despite being a monster of the highest order. (sad fact: despite the fact that Ridley killed Samus’ parents, someone thought it would make sense to write a romantic fanfiction with them pairing up. Wut?)

Motivation

Another important question to ask about your character is his/her motivation, or what drives him/her forward. Is it revenge? Love? The idea of a brighter future? Power? A desire to keep others from being wronged as they were? The fact that Mr. McDoom has taken over, and must be overthrown? Obviously there has to be something driving them or else they wouldn’t be trying to do what it is they’re trying to do.

Motivation, however, is generally one of the easier parts of character creation, as it generally drives whatever plot you have going, though if you think you’re up to it, you can create an alternate motivation, where the main driving force of the story is secondary to your plot, like having your character desire to murder the evil dictator simply because he killed her family, and the fact that she’s saving millions from oppression is just a nice side benefit.

Your character’s personality

Filed in Characters, personalityTags: ,

Consider what's going on inside your character's brain

How a character looks can be important (To me, it usually isn’t, however, unless there’s some defining characteristic used to identify them, or I’m reading a romance, though why would I, in particular, be reading a romance, I don’t know), but how they think and act (along with how their acts are presented) can make or break them in the eyes of your reader. After all, when was the last time you heard that Wesley Crusher, of Star Trek The Next Generation, was as entertaining character to watch (though his personality was only a small part of his overall problems. The big one was that he kept being shoved into the spotlight to the detriment of all the other, more established characters) or that Winston Smith of Nineteen Eighty Four was a boring character to read about?

That’s why making a good character that audiences can associate with starts by giving him or her a good solid personality, with a fitting attitude and motivation, well-defined relationships and a general idea of sociability, along with well understood, yet implicitly defined strengths and flaws These are people, after all, and people are not one-dimensional automatons.

This is a complex enough concept that I want to divide this into multiple posts with each one focused on one part of a character’s personality (attitude, motivation, relationships, sociability, mental illness, introversion and extraversion come to mind right away, though I’ll probably skip over mental illness for October, at least, as I’m coming off the death of a family member from Alzheimer’s and that strikes a bit too close to home right now) simply so I can get all the important nuances without crushing you under a wall of text. Personality is an extremely complex topic after all, which is why I think this will be the longest series I will ever have on this site.

Tomorrow, I think we’ll start with the attitudes and motivations of characters. They’re similar enough that they can go together.

Series and sub-series
Click to view / hide

Advertising