Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Have You Established Your Main Character At The Start?

In the beginning of your story you have to grab your readers’ interest and sustain it till the end. Our hook is our character. Readers keep on reading to find out more about the character. To see what he’ll do in the story; how he’ll solve his problems. What his goals are and whether he’ll achieve them.
And because our character is the reason readers become hooked on our stories, establishing him at the start is a must in a short story. And it is essential to establish him at the start because we don’t have the capacity in our limited word length to introduce him at our leisure.

The bond between readers and character has to be developed almost immediately.

You might have a few characters though. How do you decide who your main character will be? A main character is one that drives the story.

Think of it this way… If we were to take him away, there will be no story because it’s his story we are telling. The story will unfold by what is happening or what has happened to him.

When you establish who your main character will be, the next thing to do is to find which of your characters is in the best position to tell the story. Will your main character tell his story or will you give that role to another character?

This is what we call Viewpoint and what we’ll see in more detail in proceeding chapters.

Your main character isn’t necessarily the one who is telling the story; he might not even appear in our story ‘physically’ but will be there through the thoughts of others. So the viewpoint character might be a secondary character.

Whoever is telling the story is the viewpoint character.

The viewpoint character gives the coloring of the story. Whatever this characters says, we will believe. It may or may not be true, according to the main character, but because he isn’t there ‘physically’ to voice his opinions, we will have to take the viewpoint character’s word for it.

In a novel you can play around with viewpoint. You can have several viewpoint characters. In a short story it works best with one.

So your main character, whether he’ll be telling his own story or someone else will be doing it for him, has to be established at the start of your story.

Having said that, let’s see the reasons why the main character may not be telling his own story...

• Perhaps our main character is one that readers won’t sympathize or empathize with.

• Or the main character will not view highly with our readers

• Or the viewpoint character knows all the facts and can tell the story better

• Etc.


Let me give you an example of a secondary character telling the story of a main character…

Let’s say your secondary character is a psychiatrist and the main character is the patient. Depending on what’s going to go on in the story, we’ll have to choose who’s in a better position to tell it. In this case, I will choose the psychiatrist.

I’ve done this because the patient is confused, being the one with the problems. The psychiatrist knows all the facts and his opinions will make things clearer to readers.

So, as the secondary character (the psychiatrist) unravels the story, we’ll become involved in the main character because it’s the main character’s story that is been told.

This may get a little confusing to the beginner writer. As they write they will have to keep in mind that the secondary character, although he’s telling the story, is NOT our main character.

The secondary character is there to do perform a task. He’s only the voice. It’s the main character we’ll become involved with.

A secondary character doesn’t play such an important role as a main character does. Therefore, information about secondary characters should be kept to a minimum. It’s not his story – it’s the main character’s story and the spotlight must, most times, be kept on the main character.

Take the above example for instance. It’s no relevance to the story how the psychiatrist started his career or where he received his diploma – what’s important, is what he has to say about the main character, his patient.


Introduce your main character straight away, as close to the beginning of the story that’s possible. Enable your readers to form a bond and that will keep them hooked.

Is your main character established at the start of your story?

© Nick Vernon

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Can Your Theme Be Proved In Your Story?

Your theme has to be something you can prove in your story - It doesn’t have to be a universal truth. This means that your theme doesn’t have to be something that happens in real life all the time (providing our logic can accept it, in order for us to believe it).

Whatever story you choose to write, be it a contemporary or a story which requires elements of fantasy such as in horror, science fiction etc… the events of that story have to appear logical.

What is not logical and consequently not believable is…

A character that has no knowledge of computers and overnight becomes a computer whiz

A car that goes over a cliff, bursts into flames and the character manages to escape unscratched


These are not believable because they can’t and don’t happen in real life and our logic doesn’t accept them.

Your theme will be believed when you prove it (providing of course you can.) Let’s see how you can do that.

We’ll start with a theme…

“Hard work leads to success.’

Our story is about a character whose goal is to reach a managerial position within the company that he works. For the reader to see how the character will reach his goal I will show him…

 Working hard
 Working long hours
 Using his initiative
 Being responsible

And all those qualities, in the end, will secure him the promotion he has been aiming for.

So my theme here will be proved that ‘Hard work leads to success’ because my character succeeds in the end.

From the examples I have given so far, you may have noticed that my stories end on a happy note. Yours don’t have to. The ending will depend on the story you are writing and how you, the writer, prefers to end it.

I could have done the reverse with this theme. I could have said,

“Hard work doesn’t lead to success.”

My story will be the same but in the end I will have the character missing out on the promotion. Both themes will be proved because I have proved them in my story.

Any theme can work in a story providing you can prove it.

Have you proved your theme?

© Nick Vernon

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

When You Hate Your Own Writing...

It's one of those bizarre phenomena - the way writers see-saw between a love/hate relationship with their own writing.

You're in the throes of a story or an article - you don't want to stop because you're feeling inspired. Each word and phrase seems to resonate with profound meaning. The drama and/or the thought process seems to be unfolding well - and you're on a high. Finally, it seems as though the hotline between your thoughts and the page are in sync - you're writing well and all is right with the world.

This feeling can last a few hours, even a few days...

... until you look back at what you've done.

Then the angst sets in.

The writing you thought was superb suddenly seems clunky and inadequate. The phrases you particularly liked now seem awkward and ill-formed. Worse, your intellect seems exposed: you feel as though your writing shows you to be the hack you never wanted to be: the metaphors lack depth and the imagery is weak. The writing doesn't work. It's just, well, awful...

"The horror, the horror!" to quote Joseph Conrad who, irritatingly enough, wrote in several different languages and still managed to look like a genius in all of them. Gah!

What's a writer to do?

First take comfort in the fact that all writers go through this.

There's not a one that at some point didn't think they were the worst writer in the world (even Joseph Conrad.) It's got nothing to do with talent or dedication or practice or experience. Every writer goes through periods of self doubt. It's part of the landscape.

Next, take stock.

What have you got?

At the very least you've got some words on paper. You can congratulate yourself that you've at least done something 90% of would be writers struggle with - actually doing it.

If you're working to a, usually self imposed, deadline, this is good. At least you don't have to go through the pain of starting. There's something down. The rest is surely just editing...

If only it were that easy.

Sometimes I wish I was more easily satisfied. It would be wonderful to write a few lines and think, Now that's cool. Perfect, I don't need to change a thing.

But that's not how it works.

I have a semi-finished novel I've been editing for months. I do a little every day if I can. It's around 85,000 words altogether and do you know what?

Every single time I sit down to work on it, I end up reworking the damned opening paragraph!

I can't understand why but every time I open up the file, I feel the need to edit the beginning. Is that perfectionism? It doesn't feel like it. Seems more like insecurity - or simply frustration that I can't find a bunch of words that work for me every time. I mean, how hard can it be?


We have to be patient.

We have to take our time.

As you know, I'm all for writing the first draft of a novel in around thirty days. Or around 30000 to 50000 words a month.

Stephenie Meyer says she wrote Twilight in just three months. Makes you want to throttle her, doesn't it?

If there's any justice it took at least a couple of years to edit.

Because editing is where the work is. My novel has around ninety chapters - and after beating myself up over the final manuscript for the last week, I've made a few decisions.

1. It's not really ready to send out. (I have actually sent it out twice and received two rejections. I can handle it - not.)

2. If I'm going to edit it again, I need to do it slowly, taking care over every singe word. Only then will I be happy - won't I?

3. At one short chapter a day of around 1000 to 2500 words, it will take me about three months to edit the whole novel (again). But that's okay. What's three months when the final, final, final version will last forever, right?

Fiction in particular I think is hard to get right. Easy to write, hard to get right. Fiction needs to look effortless - which ironically requires more effort on the part of the writer.

But in my own case, I'm sure it will be worth it.

I want this next novel to be perfect - to impress everyone who reads it. I want it to be a bestseller...

Is that asking too much?

Maybe. You can't expect everyone to like a story.

Okay, I can accept that.

It's just that I have to like it first!

Thank you for letting me vent.

I hope this little rant helps with your own writing demons.

At least now you'll know you're not alone...

Keep writing!

© Rob Parnell

Monday, 8 May 2017

Becoming a Better Writer

The urge to write fiction seems God given for some, a learned skill for others.

One thing is certain – it requires practice and a particular mindset. But, if you’re a beginner, where do you start?

The following 10 tips will help kick-start your writing habit, whether you’re a complete novice, or perhaps a pro who has lost their way!

1. Step Away From the Car, Sir.

Slightly detach yourself from your surroundings. Stop participating and begin observing. In social situations, watch people, see how they act and – more importantly - interact.

Don’t pass judgment. Take it all in – and draw on it later when you write.

2. Look Harder, Homer.

Stop and look around you. Consciously notice the buildings, what’s underfoot, overhead, and what’s right in front of you.

At home, look at something you take for granted. An iron, for instance. Find yours and study it.

3. Write Thinking Will Be Rewarded.

A simple technique. Your mother is making tea and you are chatting to her. Take a mental step back and describe the scene.

Similarly, when you’re outside, describe your environment as though you were writing it down.

4. What Reasons Do You Need?

Don’t wait for inspiration – just write!

Force yourself to write anything at all. A shopping list. An overheard conversation. Describe your bedroom.

It doesn’t matter how personal it is, or how trivial, just get it down!

5. Wakey Wakey!

Set your alarm clock for an hour earlier than normal.

When the alarm goes off, get up. Don’t dress, bathe or eat. Don’t even make coffee. Just stagger to your writing space and write the first thing that comes into your head for five minutes.

6. Oh God – Not That!

Think of the most awful and embarrassing thing you’ve ever done - the more cringe-worthy the better. Now write about it. All of it, in all its gory, horrible detail.

Then hide it away for a year or so before you read it again!

7. Like Your Style, Baby.

Don’t limit yourself. Write poems, songs, dialogue, fact, fiction, even practice writing advertising copy or horoscopes.

Your expertise improves in all areas – an improvement in one area can reap benefits in another.

8. The Sincerest Flattery

Take out a classic book from your bookcase. Copy out a paragraph. Think about the words as you write them. Don’t get intimidated!

9. Wanna See My Invention?

When you’re not writing, string together stories in your mind. Think of plots, characters, settings, dénouements.

Ask yourself what you should do next to improve your writing.

Develop this technique into a habit.

10. It’s A Goal!

When you start writing regularly, set yourself small goals. Anything from 200 words a day, or just a commitment to writing in your diary.

Later extend to finishing a short story, or an article or a poem. Perhaps one in a week.

The trick is to set goals you can achieve easily.

That way you’ll get the writing habit - and you won’t forget to enjoy it!

© Rob Parnell