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novel writing tips

5 Best Pieces of Advice for Aspiring Writers

I get emails and messages from aspiring writers all the time asking me for the one thing they should know, or the one thing they should do, in order to be a successful writer. Well, there’s never just “one thing,” but I’ve taken all my very best writing advice and distilled it down into five things that will help any aspiring writer along on their way to success.

Stop Trying to Control Everything

This is a big one. Writers are anxious people and we like control. It makes us feel safe and like we can anticipate the problems lying in wait for us and come up with solutions for them before they’ve even come to pass. But no matter how much we plan things out in our head, we can’t predict the future, and we definitely can’t predict the exact details of how our creative work will turn out once it’s out of our heads and down on the page.

The best thing you can do for yourself is let go. Don’t be so attached to your outline, the order in which you write your story, how you think your characters should act, and whether or not you’re hitting every point of the Hero’s Journey. Those things are fun to play around with and they can be helpful, but don’t try to use them as control mechanisms to the point where you strangle your story. Continue Reading

Yay! I Finished My Book! So Why Do I Feel So Depressed?

Yesterday I typed those two little words every writer dreams of when we’re in the middle of a WIP…The End. I finally finished the novel I’ve been feverishly working on for the past seven months. For me, seven months is a record-breaking length of time to write a novel, but with this one, I just couldn’t help it. It was one of those novels that forced me to drop everything and write it, whether I wanted to or not.

You would think I would feel happy. You would think I would be out celebrating. But, I feel the exact opposite. Now that the book is out of me (the sloppy first draft anyway) and I know the entire story of my characters, I kind of feel like my heart has been ripped out of my chest. Continue Reading

Why Writing Your Way Through the Middle of a Book Is So. Damn. Hard.

Every time I embark on writing a new novel, it’s like total amnesia sets in about the last time I wrote a novel. The beginning is incredibly fun. The characters are fresh and new and interesting. They’re the irresistibly charismatic people I’ve just met at a party who I want to talk to all night. The story itself is intriguing. I can’t wait to find out what’s really going on and how it all turns out. Eagerly, I set to work and I just know it, this is going to be the best book I’ve ever written.

And then…I hit the middle. Continue Reading

Does Your Hero Have a Hidden Dark Side?

SAMSUNGWe all know what “compelling hero” means. It can be the difference between a so-so manuscript and a potential bestseller. It seems like a deliciously layered character can almost hypnotize readers into devouring a whole series of books, and significantly increase chances of a long-dreamed-of movie deal for the author. Let’s consider Harry Potter. In the first installment, Harry was an average bookish, lonely, and misunderstood kid. But by the end of the series he had blossomed into a powerful young wizard, willing to take risks and wrestle with fate. The depth he gained came not only from the experiences we watched him go through, but more essentially from the ambivalent psychological texture of his changing motives.

To be plain, sometimes the good things people do come from a dark place.

Boring heroes never teeter on the edge. We never wonder what they’re going to do next, because we already know. Of course they’ll do the right thing. When this element of wonder is low, so is our urge to turn the next page. We followed Harry Potter’s adventures so doggedly because we all knew that he always had it in him to go dark side.

And we wanted to see if he actually would.

You also can craft your hero in such a way that the narrative of their journey inspires rabid devotion from their fans. To take personal story to the level of compelling mythology, dig deep into the dark muck of your character’s psyche.

If it came down to a deal with the devil, what would the devil offer your hero in exchange for their soul? Remember, the devil can see into your hero’s darkest secret heart—what’s the desire hiding in there that can’t be passed up? The devil rarely conjures up anything so easily won these days as money or fame. Think about people your hero has lost, deeds that can’t be undone. Regrets that haunt them in the middle of the night. Every character has their price, it’s just a matter of finding out how high.

So Jaded
No one remains unscathed by life, so what does your hero have to be cynical about? Were they part of a political movement that didn’t work out? Or did someone break their heart and turn them off love for good? Even if they’re the most optimistic character in the world, they still have at least one tiny area that’s been poisoned by an awful past experience. Dig up that little poison spot and expose it to the light. How does it affect your hero’s present-day actions?

Achilles Heel
This isn’t just any old weakness your hero might struggle against, it’s the weakness. The flaw that could bring them down entirely. It might be uncovered when using deal-with-the-devil temptation, or when turning over the stones of cynical bitterness, but be prepared for heavy duty excavation with this one. You’ll probably go back through childhood memories, and maybe even all the way back through a character’s ancestry to find the weakest link. The intense archaeological dig will be well worth it though. Once you find the Achilles Heel of your hero, you pretty much hold the key to everything.

Using any of these methods is going to make your hero uncomfortable, no doubt about it. It might even make you a little uncomfortable, since our heroes are usually reflections of ourselves. But you can use intuitive character development and your own natural artistic empathy to pull that kind of charged emotion out of the depths. And when you bring it to the surface your story will start rippling with beautiful interesting texture. Every ripple sends another chain-of-reaction outward, building those interconnected circles and layers of narrative.

To find the layers of your story, dig down into your hero. Dig as deep as you can go.

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