Loading...

Follow Writers Helping Writers | Descriptive Writing Blog on Feedspot

Continue with Google
Continue with Facebook
or

Valid

Hi everyone! Today we have a past Resident Writing Coach visiting us: Sara Letourneau, editor and owner of Heart of the Story Editorial & Coaching Services. She’s sharing some terrific insight on flashbacks, so please read on!

Flashbacks can be tricky to write. On one hand, they can reveal a powerful emotional moment from the protagonist’s past or reveal important information about her, her circumstances, or other characters. But on the other hand, they can lack urgency, become confused with the present-day narrative, or seem more like backstory. So for your readers to believe the flashbacks matter just as much as what’s happening in the protagonist’s life right now, you’ll need to craft those scenes with intention, skill, and care.

Again, sounds challenging, right? Don’t worry, though. This is where the P.A.S.T. Method comes in.

What is the P.A.S.T. Method, you might be wondering? It’s a simple mnemonic tool to help you remember four techniques for crafting effective and powerful flashbacks. Here’s what each letter stands for:

P: Purpose A: Attention S: Switch T: Transition

Let’s go over each one in more detail.

P is for Purpose, or Ensure Each Flashback Has a Purpose

Every flashback should have a reason for being in the story. Whatever that reason may be, it should be clear to the reader immediately or (if the flashbacks tell a story or reveal clues for a revelation) sometime within the sequence of memories.

One way of ensuring each flashback has a purpose is to ask yourself, “What is the purpose of sharing this memory with the reader? How is it important to the story?” Your answers will likely include one or more of the following objectives for flashbacks:

  • It helps explain how the protagonist’s current dilemma developed.
  • It offers clues that, by the end of the story, will reveal a secret or shocking truth that the protagonist currently isn’t aware of.
  • It illuminates the protagonist’s relationships with other characters.
  • It shares critical details about the protagonist’s backstory, historical information, or a fictional setting’s worldbuilding.
  • It contributes to the story’s themes in some way.

Here are two examples of purposeful flashbacks from published novels:

  • Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys: At first, Lina’s flashbacks of the months leading up to her deportation with her brother and her mother from Lithuania to Russia seem like “slices of life.” But in reality, they offer hints that help Lina (and the reader) discover why she and her family were been deported and why her father was separated from them.
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: During the Reaping scene (when Katniss and Peeta are selected to participate in the Games), Katnissrecalls the rainy day when Peeta, a baker’s son, gave her two loaves of bread and how Katniss’s family had been on the verge of starvation up to that point. This introduces Peeta as a kind, generous young man despite his circumstances, and provides much-needed backstory about Katniss and her family as well as additional worldbuilding details.
A is for Attention, or Give Each Flashback the Attention (a.k.a. Length and Depth) It Deserves

Recently I read a book where select chapters for one POV character began with flashbacks about each of the character’s seven adoptive fathers. The purpose of these flashbacks was clear (to show each father’s influence on the character), but the flashbacks themselves were… well, not all that interesting.

Why? Because the flashbacks didn’t go into enough depth. Rather than offering details that showed the character’s relationship with each father, each memory summarized the relationship in a couple paragraphs and focused more on elaborate prose than specifics. In this way, the author glosses over each relationship, and readers aren’t able to witness or experience the character’s bond (or lack thereof) with each father. It even made me question whether those relationships mattered to the character – and why the flashbacks were there to begin with.

It’s true that we can’t recall all the bits and pieces of our own memories. But if an event from the past evokes strong emotions in us, we often remember it clearly for a long time. The same goes for our characters. When you include enough dialogue, sensory details, brief setting descriptions, and significant objects in a flashback, you accomplish two important feats:

  1. You show the reader why the protagonist cares about this moment from her past.
  2. You give the reader a reason to care about that flashback and feel more endeared to that character.

And nurturing that character-reader bond is one of the most crucial parts of story-writing, right?

S is for Switch, or Use Clues in the Text to Indicate the Switch from Present to Past… or Not

When writing flashbacks, it’s a good idea to use “visual” cues in the text to signal the change from past to present. This will make it clear to readers that what the protagonist is about to share isn’t part of the present-day narrative.

You can indicate this switch in two ways:

  1. Change the Verb Tense: If the main storyline is written in present tense (is, eats, asks), write the flashbacks in simple past tense (was, ate, asked). And if the main storyline is in past tense, use the past perfect (had been, had eaten, had asked) for the first few verbs in the flashback, then switch back to simple past until the last few verbs, when you switch again to past perfect to signal that the flashback is ending.
  2. Make the Flashback Its Own Scene: Sometimes it helps to set off a lengthy flashback as a separate scene from the present-day scene that “triggers” it (more on this shortly). You can usually achieve this with a simple line break. If you want to emphasize the change further, use an ornamental symbol in the middle of the line break and/or italicized text for the flashback.

What if, however, your intention is to blur the lines between memory and reality? In that case, you can play with these rules to your liking, maybe by alternating between past and present tense or crafting ambiguous transitions between flashbacks and the current-day storyline. Be careful, though. This approach can give a distorted, disjointed tone that might not be appropriate for the story. It needs to fit the character’s circumstances, the plot, and themes, like with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

In each novel, the protagonist experiences frequent flashbacks because of the grimness of their present – and when the distinction between those flashbacks and reality becomes less distinct, it heightens each character’s sense of nostalgia in surreal and terrifying ways that fit each story perfectly.

T is for Transition, or Craft Your Flashback Transitions Carefully

Just as how each flashback serves a purpose, the transition from the story’s “real-time” to that flashback should make sense. Something in the current scene should trigger the memory: another character’s words, the task at hand, an eerily similar setting or situation, or even a hand gesture. Between Shades of Gray features excellent examples of these skillful transitions, including this excerpt that shifts from Lina’s present situation to a memory of her cutting her father’s hair.

I thought about Papa. Did he know about the war? Did he know we all had lice? …. Did he know how much I missed him? I clutched the handkerchief in my pocket, thinking of Papa’s smiling face.

~

“Hold still!” I complained.

“I had an itch,” my father said, grinning. (Page 73)

See what Sepetys does here? She uses Lina’s longing for her father (whom she’s separated from in the main story) and her current health predicament as a launching pad for the flashback, which involves both her father and hair. Plus, the questions Lina asks herself about her father and his well-being create a natural path to her thinking of his smile and then to the haircut memory.

So when writing your own flashbacks, make sure the trigger for each one is in some way related to the character’s current circumstances. This will create a transition from the main story to the past that’s not only logical, but also smooth and seamless.

How do you use the four parts of the P.A.S.T. Method to write flashbacks? Do you find it challenging or easy to effectively incorporate flashbacks into the present-day narrative? What other tips would you add?

Bio: Sara Letourneau is the independent editor and writing coach behind Heart of the Story Editorial & Coaching Services. She offers a wide range of editing packages and one-on-one coaching to help writers tell compelling and well-crafted stories, finish (or get started on) their projects, and develop greater trust in their creativity. She is also a columnist at DIY MFA, an insatiable reader, and a poet whose work has been published in various literary journals. Visit the Heart of the Story website to learn more about working with Sara, or her writer website to read some of her work.

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads | Pinterest

The post Struggling with Writing Flashbacks? Try Using the P.A.S.T. Method  appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS®.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

In the first post of my four-part series, I introduced ANTS, my framework for helping storytellers make strategic choices that increase reader engagement. ANTS stands for the effects a storyteller should seek to cultivate in their story: attachment, novelty, tension, and satisfaction. Last time, I covered the basics of attachment. Now it’s time for a closer look at novelty.

Novelty comes in countless forms. It’s found in jokes that make us laugh, uncanny description that creeps us out, and deep characters that fascinate us. It holds up the monsters that scare us and the mysteries that fill us with awe. It’s so varied, I wouldn’t blame you for wondering how I could possibly classify all those elements as the same thing. But regardless of the form, novelty reveals itself by generating an early burst of interest that fades quickly with exposure. Jokes are never as funny after being retold a dozen times. Monsters aren’t as scary once we become familiar with them. Novelty is embodied by ideas that are new and unexpected.

In many ways, this makes it the opposite of attachment. Whereas attachment takes time to establish but can endure long after, novelty is instant but ephemeral. That also means novelty is the most viral of the ANTS effects. Look at any instant online sensation, and you’ll see novelty is the key ingredient. For a meme to go viral, it has to engage people after a brief glance, but once someone shares it, it doesn’t matter if they forget about it a few seconds later.

In writing circles, we don’t discuss novelty that often, but we do have a special slur for its opposite: cliché. A writing cliché is an idea that has been repeated so often it has a novelty deficit – not only offering no entertainment value, but also being actively tiresome. While most storytellers are taught to avoid clichés, we receive less instruction on cultivating novelty. So how do we do that?

Technically, any part of a story can be crafted to feel novel, whether it’s creative description, witty dialogue, or an unexpected plot twist. However, different genres have different conventions for producing novelty. I specialize in speculative fiction genres such as fantasy and science fiction, which create novelty primarily through worldbuilding. We love fairies, zombies, and Mars colonies precisely because they don’t exist. The real is familiar and, therefore, less novel.

Many other genres put more emphasis on unique and complex characters as a way to generate novelty. If you look at a cross section of fictional crime shows, you’ll see a pattern of giving detectives wildly different backgrounds and traits. This sleuth is a human lie detector, that one is a bone analyst, the next is the devil himself. In the currently running series iZombie, the main character is a zombie who solves crimes by eating the brains of murder victims. By doing this, she gains memories she can use to solve crimes and acquires personality traits from her last meal. So not only is the detective and her method of solving crimes fresh, but the premise also provides more variety from episode to episode.

Since it comes in so many forms, adding novelty is often as simple as making your story stand out from the pack. However, your fresh ideas must have more than a superficial presence in your story. Imagine that you were excited by the idea of a zombie detective, but once you started watching the show, you found that the main character was like any other person. While technically a zombie, she solves crimes the standard way and she’s never tempted to eat anyone’s brain. That would be disappointing. Instead, novelty must be brought to life with a wealth of relevant detail. Viewers of a zombie detective story will want to see how being a zombie changes everything from her personal relationships to her morning routine. This is where all those lessons on showing vs telling will come in handy.

Unfortunately, novelty only lasts for as long as you work at it. A fascinating premise may provide entertainment for the length of a short story, but it’s unlikely to last for a whole novel. To keep it going, you must continually introduce fresh elements. For instance, each book in the Harry Potter series describes new creatures, spells, and other unexpected aspects of the world. However, in many works, including the Harry Potter series, novelty also becomes less important as the story continues. As novelty fades, attachment and tension rise, keeping readers engaged.

While novelty is an essential means of entertaining readers, it can be equally helpful for writers to understand how novelty affects their work habits. Many writers get caught in a cycle of moving from one new idea to the next, never finishing anything. A common cause of this pattern is relying too much on novelty for motivation. Cool ideas may get us started on a new story, but sticking with it over months or years often requires an emotional connection to our work. While novelty is fun, it’s not usually meaningful.

In my next post in this series, I’ll cover the ANTS effect that cuts both ways: tension. See you in June!

Chris Winkle is the editor-in-chief of Mythcreants, an online magazine dedicated to fantasy and science fiction storytelling. You can read more of her articles on writing or listen to her talk about stories on The Mythcreant Podcast.
Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest | Tumblr

The post Goal-Oriented Storytelling: Novelty appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS®.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

Overview: Animal trainers teach animals in a variety of ways—to make them better pets, train them for entertainment purposes, or develop them into service or work animals. They may choose to work with dogs, horses, marine species, exotic animals, or any animals needing training (such as those being used in a movie). Marine trainers will likely work at a zoo or aquarium, horse trainers may work at farms, stables, or a personal residence, and dog trainers may work out of a vet’s office, doggy day care, animal shelter, or in the home. People pursuing this profession may be employed by an animal organization (such as the zoo or shelter) or be self-employed.

Necessary Training: Trainers working with marine animals are often required to have a degree in an animal related field, such as marine biology, veterinary studies, or animal studies. This kind of four-year-degree can also be helpful in other training fields, but a high school diploma is usually all that’s required, though further certifications and a certain amount of on-the-job experience will be necessary.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: A way with animals, basic first aid, empathy, gaining the trust of others, mentalism

Helpful Character Traits:

POSITIVE: Affectionate, alert, calm, centered, disciplined, empathetic, enthusiastic, gentle, kind, loyal, nurturing, observant, passionate, patient, persistent, persuasive, playful, resourceful, socially aware, trusting

Sources of Friction: Being injured by an animal, being hired to work with an animal that is difficult to train (due to low intelligence, stubbornness, a neurotic disposition, etc.), the heartbreak of dealing with neglected or abused animals, suspecting an owner of abuse, owners with unrealistic expectations for their animals, one’s work with an animal being undone due to inconsistency or poor practices on the owner’s part, working with an aggressive or dominant animal, realizing that an animal is untrainable and having to break the news to the owner, vouching for an animal and having it attack or injure someone, the untimely death of an animal, an injury or chronic illness that makes one’s job difficult, social difficulties that make it hard to communicate with clients

People They Might Interact With: Animal owners, veterinarians, shelter workers, other employees (if they work at a facility), other trainers

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Esteem and Recognition: This occupation doesn’t pay a whole lot, so the character’s esteem could take a hit if they’re unable to live out their preferred lifestyle, or if other people look down on them for their humble financial status.
  • Love and Belonging: Animal trainers are animal lovers. If they pair up with a love interest who hates animals, this could spell trouble for the relationship.
  • Safety and Security: There are many ways a trainer could be injured or infected on the job, so their safety and security could easily be impacted should things go south while working with an animal.
  • Physiological Needs: It’s rare that trainers are killed, but it does happen, so this is a possibility.

Common Work-Related Settings: Amusement park, backyard, barn, big city street, circus, county fair, farm, living room, pasture, pet store, race track (horses), ranch, small town street, vet clinic, waiting room, zoo

Twisting the Fictional Stereotype: Animal trainers are usually nurturing but disciplined types—gentle but firm. Consider throwing some unusual character traits into the mix to set yours apart: quirky, whimsical, disorganized, or antisocial.

Visit the other Occupations in our collection HERE.

The post Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Animal Trainer appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS®.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Layering: the deepest, richest, most compelling aspect of character 

We hear a lot of talk about “layering” as a storytelling device. The more layers a character has, the more complex and individual they are, allowing authors to sidestep cliché and create cast members that are interesting, unique, and compelling. So let’s talk about some effective ways that we can use layering with our characters.

Layering Character with Behavior

All layering is based in the character’s needs.

Louisa May Alcott created layers to Jo March. We all believe Jo is gutsy, tough, smart, creative, and adventurous. Heck, yes. She put the “Oh, boy!” in tomboy. So what gives Jo her layering?

Her tenderness.

Sometimes Jo is wreaking havoc with Laurie, sometimes sassing Marmee, and sometimes swashbuckling around taking off pirate heads in the most dastardly, unladylike way.

However, when Beth is dying, Jo drops everything—reading to her, caring for her, holding her hand and watching her slip away with tears in her eyes. 

This is the layering that makes Jo a three-dimensional character and allows her to step off the page into the lives of her readers. 

We really do vacillate between our tough outer shells and the things that move our hearts. We do both flout authority and spontaneously give of ourselves. We do both make stupid mistakes and accidentally create flashes of light in another’s darkness. These details—the ways in which we act out our values— are the stuff of fiction.

Layering Character with Confusion

Eugene Henderson is an extraordinarily ordinary person. He’s a hearty, good-natured American businessperson who goes on business trips. In fact, he goes on a business trip to Africa. 

When Saul Bellow sent him, in Henderson the Rain King, on a bizarre pilgrimage into the African foothills in search of an elusive tribe, he wanted Henderson blind to himself because he knew that confusion often leads to epiphany.

So he gave Henderson surface motivation to venture into that African wilderness. But he also gave him hidden motivation, a reason for going on this pilgrimage that an ordinary man like Henderson wouldn’t have: an unacknowledged longing to discover something more in life. 

Eventually, the confusion Henderson has about his own hidden side leads him not only to the obscure tribe, but to the tribe’s inexplicable ritual for calling rain, a ritual in which Henderson—precisely because of the qualities of innocent heartiness and good nature that make a him an ordinary businessperson—becomes inevitably entangled.

And the next thing Henderson knows, he’s gotten into an experience that would be strange as hell even for the most conscientiously bizarre. Henderson has accidentally become the tribe’s new Rain King.

Henderson’s transformation from ordinary businessperson to African Rain King is so implausible that it would be simply impossible if it weren’t for Bellows’ meticulous, matter-of-fact record of significant details, which allows the reader to experience the transformation with exactly the same level of oblivion and insight as Henderson. By the time Bellows is done with us, we are Henderson the Rain King, trapped in an inexplicable reality from which we have no escape. 

Layering Character with Two Classical Needs

Vincent Parry is a canonical protagonist, caught between his need to live and his need to love. And I can’t begin to tell you how much fiction—great literature, pulp—has been created through layering these two most classical needs: survival and love.

David Goodis sent Parry into his story in Dark Passage, as so many protagonists are sent, running for his life from very real danger on page one. Violence! Injustice! Death! Oh, no! 

We all believe enthusiastically in a character’s need to survive.

At the same time, almost the first person Parry meets is a babe. Flirtation! Sex! Passion! 

We also believe with all our hearts in a character’s need to love.

So Parry’s two conflicting needs are not unique to him at all. They’re common to every human animal. Back and forth, throughout the story, Goodis tosses Parry between these two most classical needs: survival, love—survival, love.

Every time Parry thinks he’s on top of survival, something crops up in his need for love: his best friend dies mysteriously shortly after Parry visits him, then a woman he once rejected surfaces.

And every time Parry thinks he’s on top of love, his life is threatened again: a Nosy Parker turns up, someone begins stalking Parry and the babe.

Until eventually Parry must choose between his safety and his passion for the babe—the only possible Climax for this story.

We recognize this, don’t we? Of course we do. Irene Némirovsky used exactly the same needs—survival, love—for her gorgeous story, Dolce, although otherwise the two stories couldn’t be more different. James M. Cain used them for The Postman Always Rings Twice. Emily Brontё twisted the daylights out of them for Wuthering Heights.

A protagonist trapped between their need for survival and their need for love is one of the few eternal plots that we have. When layered with all the myriad significant details of existence and humanity, they become an infinity of stories. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg, really. There are so many ways to add depth and dimension to our characters. What other layering options have you found effective?

Victoria has been a professional writer and editor for over thirty years. She is the author of the Art & Craft of Writing series and offers email subscribers a free copy of Art & Craft of Writing: Favorite Advice for Writers. Catch up with Victoria on twitter or visit her website for more information on her editing services.

Twitter | Website

The post Layering Character for Believable Fiction appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS®.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

As we write, we weave our characters, plot, dialogue, action, narrative, backstory, etc. together to create a full picture for our readers. However, during the revision process, we might have to rip through our carefully-constructed story.

We might need to reduce our word count to meet publishing specifications, or we might discover a subplot drags down our story’s pace. Or we might need to add new scenes, subplots, or characters to fix other story problems.

Regardless of the circumstances, we can’t simply delete or insert and move on. Instead, we have to repair the broken threads, weaving our story back into a smooth storytelling experience for readers. How can we stitch the pieces of our story back together after big changes?

Think of Story Elements as Threads

Our story elements are like threads that stretch forward and back through our story. That subplot we need to delete might be foreshadowed two scenes earlier. Conversations from that subplot might be referenced three chapters later.

In stories that follow what’s known as the “But and Therefore” rule to avoid episodic writing, every piece of the story is affected by what came before and likewise affects what comes after. Plot revelations and character epiphanies don’t happen in a vacuum.

So the hardest aspect of big revisions is recognizing the story threads of anything we touch so we can fix the frayed ends throughout the rest of the story. When we struggle to see the strings, a checklist might help. *smile*

Before Changing Anything…
  • Before removing a chunk, identify the still-relevant elements in the deleted section.
    Does it share important information with readers? Does it show a bonding moment between characters? Etc.
    Decide what elements are important to keep and brainstorm how to include them somewhere else, such as sharing important information in a different scene or giving characters a different way to bond.
  • Before adding a thread, know why it’s important to include.
    How will it fit into the big picture of the story? What does it accomplish that can’t be accomplished in other ways?
Repairing Frayed Threads: The Basics

Once we understand the nature of our changes, we can analyze how they affect the story as a whole:

  • How do the scenes before or after need to change to seamlessly follow the new cause-and-effect flow and/or to include the still-relevant elements?
  • Do we have old foreshadowing to remove and/or new foreshadowing to add?
  • Do we have references or callbacks to a defunct thread’s setups to delete or change?
  • Do our characters change due to a defunct thread in ways that need to be adjusted?

In the big picture, we need to smooth out the transitions between the old and the new, stitching them into a seamless story cloth.

Recognizing Frayed Threads: Advanced Steps

The hardest part of making big revisions is finding all the minor ways our changes affect our story:

  • Check for “in passing” references to a defunct thread in the following scenes.
  • Introducing a new character aspect, like a motivation or fear? Ensure hints and references before and after are consistent so the new inserts don’t feel out-of-character.
  • Did an earlier scene trigger the defunct thread? Is that scene or trigger still needed? Or should it be deleted so as not to imply future story events that no longer happen?
  • Did something in a defunct thread trigger later events or reactions? Should the later events or reactions be deleted as well? Or should they be triggered another way?
  • Are we now missing setup or motivations for later events or reactions? Can they be added elsewhere?
  • How does the defunct or new thread intersect with the main plot, subplots, themes, or arcs? Do those intersections need adjustment?
  • Did events in a defunct thread round out or help motivate the character in ways that need to be replaced in other scenes?
  • Did the changes introduce repetition we don’t want?
  • Did we introduce characters, settings, emotional issues, motivations, relationships, questions, goals, breakthroughs, ideas, etc. in a defunct thread that now need to be introduced elsewhere?
  • Are characters’ internal and emotional arcs still smooth? Or is part of their journey now missing or zigzaggy?

Once we’ve fixed all the necessary changes we can think of, we can then search for keywords of the defunct or new thread, subplot, or characters involved to look for other sections we might have missed. For example, if we’re removing a character’s motivation or false belief, we can search for the words we used with the previous descriptions.

Then we should always finish with a reread of our story. No matter how carefully we try to stitch pieces together, we’re likely to find a few loose strings. *smile*

Do you have any questions or insights about fixing torn story threads?

After muttering writing advice in tongues, Jami decided to put her talent for making up stuff to good use. Fueled by chocolate, she creates writing resources and writes award-winning paranormal romance stories where normal need not apply. Just ask her family—and zombie cat. Find out more about Jami here, hang out with her on social media, or visit her website and Goodreads profile.
Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

The post Story Threads: Fixing Rips in Our Story appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS®.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

Occupation: Nanny

Overview: Nannies are professionals caretakers whose primary job it to take care of a family’s children in their home. They provide a nurturing and safe environment for a child, help them grow and mature, and will educate and discipline as needed. Nannies usually also prepare meals for the children and do light housekeeping. They may take children to school, to appointments, and accompany them on extracurricular activities. (The duties and expectations will shift with the age of their charges, and the requirements of the parents.)

While the full scope of duties should be agreed to in a contract between the nanny and the parents, many nannies either do not have a contract or their duties evolve over time as parents pile on responsibilities without discussion, which can cause friction. Nannies may work full or part time, and be live-in or not. It is very common for nannies to become very attached to their charges and the family as a whole.

Necessary Training: Nannies can have different levels of education, and typically the more they have (associate degree in childcare, certifications, safety training, etc.) the more they are paid.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: A knack for languages, baking, basic first aid, blending in, charm, empathy, enhanced hearing, enhanced sense of smell, ESP (clairvoyance), exceptional memory, gaining the trust of others, gaming, hospitality, making people laugh, multitasking, photographic memory, reading people, swift-footedness

Helpful Character Traits:

POSITIVE: Adaptable, affectionate, alert, calm, centered, charming, confident, cooperative, creative, diplomatic, disciplined, discreet, easygoing, efficient, empathetic, enthusiastic, friendly, funny, generous, gentle, happy, honest, honorable, hospitable, imaginative, independent, industrious, kind, loyal, nurturing, obedient, observant, organized, passionate, patient, persuasive, playful, protective, responsible, sensible, tolerant

NEGATIVE: frivolous

Sources of Friction: Parents who micromanage or make unreasonable demands, parents who expect the nanny to accomplish tasks (such as toilet training) but then don’t continue the hard work of training or enforcing behavior when they have the kids, undoing all the hard work, parents who are poor communicators or don’t make time for discussing the children and what happened through the day, being paid an unfair wage for the work, having one’s duties change and more responsibilities added without a pay increase (or a discussion as to whether these new duties are okay with the nanny), feeling isolated after long days with no interaction with other adults, kids who struggle with following the rules, understanding expectations, or proper behavior because their parents do not enforce the same rules and expectations as they demand of the nanny, putting up with unhappy employment conditions because the nanny is attached to the kids (like a refusal to pay for additional hours, disrespect for one’s position, being late or changing plans without any regard for the Nanny’s schedule, adding in housework duties or expecting everything to be immaculate when these duties were not part of the original agreement, etc.), disagreements over discipline or parenting, watching parents neglect their children or place unreasonable demands on their maturity and development, a lack of benefits and health care, struggling with taxes (or establishing a credit rating if one is paid under the table), feeling drained because so much energy is being given at work

People They Might Interact With: parents, children family friends, delivery people, teachers, librarians, coaches, the parents of other children one’s charges play with, doctors, dentists

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: If one’s identity is to become a parent but this is impossible (due to economics, relationship status, generics, etc.), being a nanny would bring the character close to what the want most but also be a constant reminder of what they themselves can’t have
  • Esteem and Recognition: If the character works for a family that doesn’t respect the nanny’s time, schedule, or needs, this can really sabotage their sense of self-esteem and worth
  • Love and Belonging: Being a nanny can be isolating and draining, especially of one is a full-time live-in and this can reduce one’s ability to find a partner or diminish one’s energy to maintain a romantic relationship

Common Work-Related Settings: amusement park, attic, backyard, beach, birthday party, casual dining restaurant, child’s bedroom, circus, community center, elementary school classroom, fast food restaurant, garage, grocery store, ice cream parlor, kitchen, lake, library, living room, mansion, movie theater, nursery, outdoor pool, outdoor skating rink, parade, park, pet store, playground, preschool, principal’s office, rec center, school bus, shopping mall, skate park, teenager’s bedroom, tree house, zoo

Visit the other Occupations in our collection HERE.

The post Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Nanny appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS®.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

One of my favorite writing coaches is here with us to dish some helpful advice on Show and Tell. Please welcome Janice Hardy and read on…

Show, don’t tell, is drilled into every writer’s head, and most of us have been frustrated over it. In my early writing days, I spent months figuring out what it meant—and more importantly—how to find ‘told prose’ in my work.

Since then it’s been easier to show and not tell, and help other writers find their own tells. Today, let’s look at three common ways writers tell and how to edit those areas to show.

Tell #1: Explaining the motives of the characters

Wanting to know why characters act the way they do is a compelling reason for readers to keep reading, and explaining those motives robs them of the chance to figure it out themselves. It also steals the mystery from the scene and lessens the tension, because when readers know the answer, there’s little worry about.

Many of these motivational tells involve explaining backstory or history, telling readers why a particular character is acting in a certain way. They explain a law of the land, or a past trauma, or a character’s habit. “This character is doing this thing because of this reason.” These tells happen because it’s easier to explain than to slip details into the background that feel natural to the scene.

The most common motivational tell is minor, but it’s my favorite example:

She reached over to pick up the book.

Seems perfectly fine, right? Countless sentences just like this are written every day, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. However, it explains the motive for why the character reached over. She did it to pick up the book. But notice we don’t actually see her pick up the book. There’s no action shown aside from her reaching over.

For these little “to verb” tells, simply changing to to and fixes most of them.

She reached over and picked up the book.

Now it’s shown. This one-word edit will fix many tells, but for some you’ll need to rewrite a bit. For example:

Lila knew she had to watch John carefully because he’d stolen her project notes last month and taken all the credit for her idea.

To fix, think about how someone with that motive would act or think, and show that instead.

John walked into her office. “Got a minute?”

Lila frowned and hid her notes with a folder. Not this time, buster. “What do you want?”

Readers don’t yet know why Lila is hiding her notes, but it’s clear she has an issue with John, and will keep reading to see why.

Some red flag words to search for if you think you have some motivational tells in your writing: “to verb” phrases, because, and knew.

Tell #2: Explaining the emotions behind the actions

Being told someone “felt something” is different from seeing the outward signs of that emotion. These tells slip in because it’s often easier to say “She was heartbroken” than to dive deep into the emotions of the character. For example:

Shayla felt the pain of the betrayal deep in her chest. She sobbed in misery.

Do we see the misery? The heartbreak? No. We’re told she feels it and why she’s crying. But when we think about how someone who is heartbroken might act and think, we get:

It was over. Truly over. Shayla sank to the ground and sobbed.

You can choose to show as much or as little emotion as needed for the scene, but beware—trying to show too much risks writing a melodramatic breakdown. Such as:

It was over. Truly over. How could he just leave her like this? Shayla gasped, holding back the tears blurring her vision. Her chest tightened. This wasn’t happening to her, not to her. She sank to the floor, wrapped her shaking arms around her knees, and sobbed.

Plenty of emotion there, but perhaps a bit too over the top. Remember—a little goes a long way.

Some red flag words to search for if you think you have some emotional tells in your writing: “in emotion” or “with emotion” phrases, and felt.

Tell #3: Explaining the subtext in the behaviors

Subtext is a powerful tool that builds tension and piques reader curiosity because nothing is spelled out. Readers get to decide what the truth is by observing the characters, but when everything is explained, the scene loses that mystery. For example:

Bob wanted to ask Jane to run away with him, and if she said yes, they could leave before Sally got back. “It’s not that far to Aberdeen if you wanted to go. Couple days walk, maybe.”

Jane shrugged, not wanting to look too eager. “That road is crawling with zombies. We’d never make it.”

“Not the skybridge.”

Maybe, but just the two of them alone? How would they survive without his survival-savvy wife? “I don’t know if it’s worth the risk.”

There’s little left to wonder about here. Jane shows some interest, but only with the explanations. But take out the explanations…

Bob brushed the dead leaves off the hood of the car. If she agreed, they could leave before Sally returned. “It’s not that far to Aberdeen. Couple days walk, maybe.”

Jane smiled, just a little, then shrugged. “That road is crawling with zombies, though.”

“Not the skybridge. We could make it.”

She stared wistfully down the road, and he thought she might say what a great idea it was. “Bad place to get stuck if we’re wrong. Will Sally be back soon?”

“She said not to wait up.”

A lousy joke, but Jane giggled. His heart leapt, but she glanced away, face flushed. She scanned the treeline again. “It’s just too dangerous. We’re not the killing machines she is, remember?”

We can guess Jane has some affection for Bob, but it’s easy to see how Bob (and readers) could be unsure about her feelings. It’s also uncertain what she means by dangerous—the zombies, Sally, or being on their own.

No red flag words for subtext tells, but check the internalization and see if you’re giving away what the dialogue and actions and trying to convey. Would the scene be more interesting if less was said?

Show, don’t tell can make a writer want to scream, but once you realize what told prose looks like, it’s easy to rewrite it to show. And after you train yourself to spot it, you start avoid it naturally.

If you’d like more examples and a deeper discussion of show, don’t tell, I suggest my book Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It).

Have you struggled with show, don’t tell? How did you figure it out?

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series under the name, J.T. Hardy.

When she’s not writing fiction, she runs the popular writing site Fiction University, and has written multiple books on writing, including Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, and the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound

The post Three Ways Writers Tell, Not Show (And How You Can Fix Them) appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS®.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

At a Bouchercon some years ago, Lee Child was part of a panel on characters in thrillers. An audience member asked him a question about character change. “Every character has to have an arc, right?”

“Why?” Child said. “There doesn’t have to be character change. We don’t need no stinkin’ arcs.”

Everybody in the room cracked up. Child went on to explain that he loves Dom Perignon champagne, and he wants it to taste the same each time. And so, too, he wants his Jack Reacher books to offer the same pleasurable experience every time out. Reacher doesn’t change. Reacher does his thing. It’s how he does it that provides the pleasure.

Later on, Michael Connelly was interviewed in a packed room. He talked about his decision at the beginning of the series to have Harry Bosch age chronologically. In each book Bosch is about a year older. And he has varying degrees of inner development. Talk about your arcs! The series is still going strong and it’s a wonder to behold.

So there you have it, a tale of two writers and two approaches, both of which work. They provide different experiences and readers can choose which they like best—or go with both, for variety.

When I teach about character work, I do say that a lead character does not have to change in a fundamental way.  For example, in the film The Fugitive, Dr. Richard Kimble does not become a new man. He does not have to discover his “true self.” What he has to do is grow stronger as he meets extraordinary challenges.

Similarly, Marge Gunderson in Fargo does not change, but shows her inner strength by solving a horrific crime, far beyond what she’s had to deal with before.

So in this kind of thriller, the character is already who he or she needs to be, but gets tested and finds new strength to endure.

A nice wrinkle to this type of story is when the Lead’s strength inspires another character to change. That’s what happens in The Fugitive. Kimble’s relentless search for the killer of his wife turns Sam Gerard from a lawman who “doesn’t care” about the facts of a case, to caring very much indeed.

In Casablanca, you have both kinds of change. Not only does Rick Blaine change radically, from a man who wants to be left alone to one who joins the war effort, but so does the little French captain, Louis.  Rick’s act of self sacrifice at the end inspires Louis to leave Casablanca with Rick, and also fight the Nazis. It is, of course, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

One of the most important questions you can ask at the beginning of your novel is whether the main character will undergo fundamental change or not. If not, then the story is about the character growing stronger.

Keep in mind, of course, that in some novels the character resists fundamental change and ends up worse off at the end. Or has a negative arc, from good to bad, as in The Godfather. The various ending “shapes” I discuss in my book The Last Fifty Pages: The Art and Craft of Unforgettable Endings.

Because unforgettable is what we want our books to be. Knowing the variations on character arc is an essential part of the process.

Jim is the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure, and numerous thrillers, including, Romeo’s Rules, Try Dying and Don’t Leave Me. His popular books on fiction craft can be found here. His thrillers have been called “heart-whamming” (Publishers Weekly) and can be browsed here. Find out more about Jim on our Resident Writing Coach page, and connect with him online.

Twitter

The post Does Every Lead Character Need An Arc? appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS®.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

Occupation: Mail Carrier

Overview: Mail carriers transport mail (letters, circulars, small packages, bills, etc.) from a distribution center to homes and businesses. While most of them use vehicles, urban mail carriers often walk their routes.

Necessary Training: Mail carriers need a high school diploma or equivalent and must pass a written exam. They also must have a driver license, have a good driving record, and be able to pass a criminal background check.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: A knack for languages, exceptional memory, predicting the weather, swift-footedness

Helpful Character Traits:

POSITIVE: Alert, courteous, disciplined, discreet, efficient, focused, honest, independent, introverted, meticulous, organized, patient, professional, responsible

Sources of Friction: One’s truck breaking down, being threatened while delivering mail in a dangerous part of town, customers not receiving their mail (because it was stolen or was delivered to the wrong address), customers issuing complaints about one’s service, working in miserable weather, hand-delivering mail to someone one suspects of being unhinged, labor strikes, feeling pressured to join a union, being injured on the job (slipping on ice and falling, being bitten by a dog, etc.), suffering an injury that makes it difficult to do the job, working long hours (especially in the beginning of one’s career), mistakes at the distribution center that result in mail being delivered to the wrong address, increased business over the holidays and not enough employees to handle it, having to train a new employee who is incompetent or annoying, craving interactions with others but mostly working alone, dealing with negative customers, unfeeling or insensitivity supervisors, problems at the distribution center that make one late for one’s route, handling a suspicious package

People They Might Interact With: Other mail carriers, a manager or supervisor, other postal service employees, union representatives, customers, drivers and pedestrians along the route

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: There’s only so much possibility for advancement in this position; someone who is looking for upward mobility within their career may soon feel like they’re stuck and aren’t able to realize their full potential.
  • Esteem and Recognition: Many people view college degrees and the careers that come with them as being more important, valuable, or desirable than ones where a degree isn’t required. If a mail carrier has dealings with these people, he/she could quickly begin to feel badly about themselves or their job.
  • Love and Belonging: In the beginning, the hours are long; this can take a toll on personal relationships. And in many cases, a carrier is isolated, spending the majority of their day alone. This decreases the opportunities to meet and get to know people one might enter into relationship with.
  • Safety and Security: In certain situations, delivering the mail can be dangerous. This will depend on the neighborhood one works in, the kinds and heaviness of traffic one encounters, and the dangers inherent when one must exit their vehicle and knock on people’s doors.

Common Work-Related Settings: Alley, big city street, break room, country road, public restroom, small town street

Twisting the Fictional Stereotype:  Mail carriers tend to be background characters: quiet, introverted, and invisible. But characters in this occupation can be anything you want them to be. Just look at Newman, from Seinfeld. Give your mail carrier an unusual trait or two to bring them to life.

Visit the other Occupations in our collection HERE.

The post Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Mail Carrier appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS®.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Backstory is one of the trickier elements of writing. We have to take our readers back in time to let them know some of the past, but how do we do it without interrupting the flow of the story? Jerry Jenkins is here today to discuss one of the more organic methods for including character backstory without grinding the action to a halt.

What are we to do now that the flashback has fallen into disfavor with today’s readers? Apparently they no longer have the patience for a sudden stop in the story so we can show how our character got where she is today.

Used to be you could invent something to remind her of her childhood or her relationship with her father or the first time she fell in love. Then you’d have her daydream or zone out and remember everything about some poignant incident from years past.

Well, I agree that got to be a clichè—always followed by someone somehow jarring her back to the present.

Regardless, we’re writing for people who get most of their information from screens, so what do we do?

Tell Your Story in Order

Gone is the luxury of taking the character (and the reader) back and rendering the old incident the way it happened. Readers want to read chronologically, and they don’t like the story put on hold to accommodate a flashback.

But we can’t ignore the past without throwing character motivation out with the bathwater. Our characters are who they are and do what they do because of who they once were and what happened to them then.

So what’s the solution?

Good news! You can include your character’s backstory without interrupting the flow of your story.

Backstory is the new solution, and I have to admit it’s better. It doesn’t slow the story, doesn’t force us to artificially create for our heroes a block of time during which they relive some powerful past experience.

What is Backstory?

Don’t mistake it for an abbreviated form of flashback. In its simplest form, backstory is everything that’s happened to your character before your novel opens. In essence you’re writing backstory when you identify a middle-aged man as “General so-and-so,” or a young woman as “Dr. so-and-so.”

Such people weren’t born with those titles and the roles they imply, so immediately readers realize these characters have pasts—and they can even imagine what they were like.

Does your character have a scar? That implies backstory. A limp? It will emerge whether it was congenital or the result of an injury or disease, but regardless, that’s backstory.

How to Write Backstory Through Dialogue

Flashbacks are obvious. They scream, “We’re headed into the past!” But backstory sneaks up on you. Use it over a flashback to avoid breaking the flow of your story. I’ve found the best way to manage this is through dialogue.

Backstory example (at an amusement park):

“You’re not getting me on that ride, Madison,” Suzie said, “Don’t even—”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry. Still having those dreams?”

Suzie looked away. “Not so much anymore, but once in a while.”

“You’d think after all these years…”

“I’d still rather not talk about it, okay?”

“Sure, sorry.”

See all we’ve learned from that otherwise innocuous exchange? Something years ago still causes nightmares. Naturally, we’ll eventually have to pay off on that set-up, and that’s what keeps readers turning pages.

Whatever the trauma was, you can hint at it like this more and more throughout the story, revealing more each time. Eventually something or someone from her past will show up and force the issue—and the whole story will come out.

But you see the difference? It’ll be onstage now, be recounted and explained now. Sure, it happened years ago, but it emerges as part of the current story. That’s subtly using backstory without resorting to flashback.

One More…

One of the best uses of backstory I’ve seen is from the 2016 movie The Magnificent Seven.
Denzel Washington stars as Sam Chisolm, a bounty hunter and leader of the titular seven. Ethan Hawke plays Goodnight Robicheaux, a sharpshooter.

They’re strategizing to protect a town and avenge a woman who saw her husband shot to death. Robicheaux nods toward the woman and says to Chisolm, “She’d be about the same age as your sister, wouldn’t she?”

“Uh-huh.”

Robicheaux says, “Just want to make sure we’re fighting the battle in front of us instead of the battle behind us.”

That’s it. That’s the backstory. We don’t know what it means, but we know we’re going to find out. They’re not going to set up something like that and not tell us what happened. We’re going to find that our hero, Sam Chisolm, was once a victim.

Is he really out to protect somebody out of a sense of honor, or is he out for personal revenge? That’s the perfect example.

Tell me in the comments below how you’ll use backstory in your work in progress. And feel free to share a favorite example of backstory you’ve heard or read.

Jerry B. Jenkins is a 21-Time New York Times bestselling novelist (including The Left Behind series) and biographer (Hank Aaron, Walter Payton, Billy Graham, and many others) with sales of over 70 million copies. He shares his little-known writing secrets with aspiring authors at JerryJenkins.com through in-depth guides (like this one on how to publish a book).

The post Writing Backstory Through Dialogue appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS®.

Read Full Article

Read for later

Articles marked as Favorite are saved for later viewing.
close
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Separate tags by commas
To access this feature, please upgrade your account.
Start your free month
Free Preview