Friday, April 27, 2012


Endings are vitally important to novels. This seems rather obvious, but it always baffles me how so many people spend hours and hours tweaking their beginnings, when they have no idea how their ending will play out.

When you start writing, you have to have an ending in mind. Always. Even if you know nothing else, know the ending. You can't just sit down and try to write a book without knowing where you are going. It doesn't work. You'll end up floundering in the middle and you won't get anywhere.

You don't have to know every little detail about the end. For example, if you're writing about Bob the explorer, a man who is searching for a lost Mayan statue that could stop the 2012 apocalypse from occurring. You know that in the end, he’ll find this statue, and he’ll find it with the use of his trusty flashlight in an ancient temple in Peru, 20 minutes before the so-called apocalypse begins. You don’t necessarily need to know that he’ll be with his sidekick Winston, or that there is an army of zombies chasing him. You just need to know the basics: what happens, where/when it happens, and the general how it happens. Just know the foundations of your ending, and it will go a long way in moving your story along.

Your ending should, in most cases, tie up loose ends. It's okay to leave a few threads hanging, but not too many. It’s fine to leave the reader wondering about one or two things (though some readers are more okay with this than others), but don’t overdo it. It’s also fine to tie up every loose end, as long as you don’t have too much falling action. (More on this in a later post. Falling action and I do not get along well.)

There should be a sense of closure to your ending. I once read somewhere that a good ending is utterly unexpected, yet still feels inevitable to the reader. I think this is an excellent way to put it. Make your ending unpredictable, but at the same time, make it feel like there’s no other way it could have ended.

Also, before you even start writing, you should probably know what kind of ending you want. The endings of most books can be sorted into three categories. These categories are:

Happily-ever-after ending: Fairly self-explanatory. The good guys win. The protagonists get what they want. People are, well, happy. The bad guy, if there is one, gets executed or thrown into Mordor or forced to listen to the Bill Nye theme nonstop. It's predictable, which isn't always a bad thing. Examples: most Disney movies, Harry Potter, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Non-ending: In a non-ending, the immediate conflict isn't really resolved. There's not much closure, because the story just kind of...ends. Now, this isn't always a bad thing (I'm the .001% of people who likes the ending of The Giver). This can also be known as the "make the fandom want to sue you" ending. Examples: The Giver, many series books, the seventh Harry Potter movie, part 1

Open-ended ending: The immediate conflict is probably resolved, but after that, much is left up to the reader to decide. Do the main characters grow up and get married? Does the plague come back and everyone dies? Does the MC become an insurance salesman? We don't know. Some people hate these, but I like them. They give the reader a chance to make up their own mind about the story. Examples: The Scorpio Races, the Chaos Walking Trilogy, I Am the Messenger

Bittersweet ending: My favorite kind. The immediate conflict is resolved. There's some amount of happy-ever-after, but there's also some amount of sadness. Maybe the main characters might have to part forever, or a friend has died, or nothing will ever be the same again. I love these kinds of endings. There's a definite sense of closure, but there's also a definite sense that these characters went through a lot, so the story left a lasting impression on them. Examples: Lord of the Rings, The Book Thief, Inheritance, pretty much every Warriors book

(There's also the "loop ending", but that probably only applies to Pendragon.)

Each of these types of endings are options for your book. Keep in mind, though, that some endings might not be as appropriate for some types of books. As in, should your dark, gritty horror story have a happily-ever-after sort of ending? Maybe not. Non-endings, or even open-ended endings, to some extent, tend to leave readers feeling like they were cheated, so you also might want to take that into account.

Also, here is a list of books with fabulous endings. I highly recommend reading, um, all of them.

What kind of ending does your book have? What kind do you prefer to read? Feel free to chime in with other comments about endings in general.

Originally posted in the lands of unicorns and glitter, aka The Epic, the Awesome, and the Random.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Do You Really Need That "Big Secret"?

This post was originally posted on Birds of a Writer.

So today we are going to talk about "that big secret" or "a bunch of little secrets". What I'm talking about is that major secret that the plot and story hangs on or a big reveal nobody saw coming. Many authors feel as if they need a big turning point in their story, one that often comes in the form of finding out that someone betrayed a character or something.

But do you really need a big secret to make your story good?

Not necessarily. Although you'll find a lot of books that have this, you don't always need them. Sometimes, a story can be good with a bunch of little secrets or multiple big secrets for more power. But sometimes, those big secrets can make or break a story. When you have a big turning point, you risk the chance of it either being too big or not big enough.

In Night Lies, I have a giant turning point that I don't think that my readers will see coming. Oh I'm sure some will realize it before I reveal it, but most probably won't. InThe Cursing I have a bunch of little turning points. Most end up being big to Tatiana, but some of them aren't huge. In The Prophecy, I have several big turning points, although I sprinkle them up among the story and the other books in the series rather then all in the first book.

Reasons for Big Points 
  • Starting a book
  • Changing a Character's mind
  • Cliff hangers
  • To keep the story interesting
  • To introduce a new idea or a new subplot
  • To torture your characters more
  • To lengthen the story 
  • Ending a book
If you have a big turning point...
What exactly your big reveal, your turning point, or whatever you want to call it is depends on your story. Not every type of secret is right for your story (long lost friend, everything's a lie, so and so isn't really dead, etc) and you shouldn't put a big reveal in if it actually doesn't have anything else to do with your story other than you want one because it'd be cool and dramatic.

And your big reveal also depends on what your characters can do. Are they up to handling something big? If you have a dangerous secret will they be able to resolve the issue or what will they do if they find this big secret out. Some secrets can be too big or too little for certain characters. If your character finds out that he's the only person who can save the world, does he have the abilities and resources to do so? If your character is one of the only people to survive a hurricane, will they be able to make it to safety in time or save people other than themselves?  

There's also the case of when to reveal the big turning point. Some authors wait until the story starts getting boring to reveal a big secret to make the story more interesting, reveal at the beginning for a motive, or wait until the end for a final punch in the gut.

And its the big reveal that not only matters, but the timing is also very important. Reveal too early and you may find yourself with not enough power to get through the rest of the book. Reveal too late and you may not have enough time to resolve the issue.

To make things even more exciting you could add more than one giant turning point for an extra whammy. But be careful, you might find yourself in deeper trouble than you thought. Also remember that if you have a big turning point, your character should be able to fix it (or fail. That could be exciting too.).

If you don't have a big turning point...
That's okay. Remember that its okay to have a bunch of smaller ones. Smaller turning points can be just as dramatic as big ones because you give your characters more than one problem to deal with and they may have a more dramatic effect than one giant one.

But if you choose along that path, keep in mind that too many small but big points may overwhelm the story or the characters. And the more problems you have, the more loose ends you'll have to keep track of. It'd be bad to introduce five or six problems and then more than halfway through realize that your characters never fixed three of those problems. And now you have to fix those plot holes.

Other tips
And even if you want a bunch of small points or a big one, you can always put that point or other points into another book. Not every idea you have has to go into this one story. And spreading things out can make keep the story fresh, alive, and exciting.

And you don't even have to have a bunch of small ones or a big one. Some stories are fine without the extra baggage and with the one main conflict. Your characters may have enough on their plate without dealing with more.  

If you have a big secret or several, it's a good idea to drop hints before hand rather than suddenly drop it out of nowhere. If you do drop it out of nowhere, your readers may accuse you of not being able to continue with the main plot or something equally horrible.

Plus, the best big secrets are the ones that are out in the open but hidden cleverly enough you never really guessed it till it was revealed (Note: this plan may result in side affects in readers such as outbursts of "I should have seen that coming! Or How in the world did I not realize that?" Other symptons of surprise may result in anger, throwing the book across the room, or calling a friend and revealing the big secret.)

Of course, you could always just reveal something out of nowhere, but I find it more fun to toy with readers and characters with hints of the truth rather than a big sudden reveal. Plus, its more fun to watch readers try to figure something out on their own and desperately read the book to find out if they're right or not or whatever.

Four types of big secrets
  • Only the author knows (both reader and character are clueless)- Where everyone but you is left in the dark. Sometimes this is effective for bigger surprises rather than little ones. 
  • Only the author and readers know (character is clueless)- Ah, those times when your readers are either told something important or realize something before the characters do. 
  • Other characters know (except for certain characters and readers)-Times when your main character is clueless of something everyone else seems to realize (That reminds me of an article I read where firefighters were called to a burning apartment. After putting out the fire, the found the owner of the house still sleeping on his bed. Apparently he hadn't woken once during the whole thing and never felt the heat.)
  • Only the author and the characters know (readers are clueless)- This one I don't think I see a lot of, but I'm sure it can happen. When your characters are all aware of something not made known to the readers. 
  • A Million Suns
  • A Long Long Sleep
  • Wired
  • A ton of other books. 
Genres I think that have the most surprises:
  • Science fiction
  • Dystopian
  • Mystery (duh!)
  • Fantasy
  • Thrillers
  • Other genres of course but those are my top five. 
So, do you have any big turning points in your story? What's your favorite one?


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Creating Unforgettable Characters

Before you read on, check this out: What? Were you raised by wolves? I just thought I would share.

With great characters, one can make an addictive book even if the plot is a little thin. This is what real life is like, isn't it? Life doesn't have a plot or intricate storylines, but you'll find wonderful people (maybe not in all cases, but certainly memorable).

Every character should act like a real person who has been shaped and influenced by life. Everyone has been shaped by a past. They should have an automatic reaction to their surroundings. If say, a character was betrayed by a friend, they might have trust issues later on in their life. If they were attacked by dogs as a child, they might end up having a fear of dogs and will be uneasy around them even after counselling and therapy.

Why are you writing a story? What makes you to spend hours upon hours sitting there, trying to put your story into words? We all have something we want to achieve in life, right? We make our decisions to help us get there. We may waver at certain times or even stop chasing it altogether and find something else. Characters should be the same. What motivates a character and guides their decisions?

Adding to this, characters have basic and secondary motivations just like us. Everything that we (and your characters) do, there's something that influences every aspect of our lives, like a fear, desire or need. This includes times when we think we're not using our heads and acting based on instinct. This is called basic motivation.
Secondary motivations represent needs and desires that can be satisfied. If a writer writes books to earn money, they might stop once they're satisfied with the amount of money. This is secondary motivation. If a writer writes books because of their passion, then they would keep on writing even if they have enough money to live comfortably for the rest of their life. This would be the basic motivation that would keep them going.

Characters need to be consistent. If a character has a fear of any type of transportation and gets sick on them, they're not going to willingly ride a train. They can't get over a fear easily when they have to fight while the train is moving. They're going to be sick and be pummeled by their enemy unless someone comes to their rescue or the train stops.   

Not every character will reveal his/her motivations to the reader. Focus on motivations supporting the plot, the ones you want to matter to the reader. Don't go around creating backstories for characters who appear in one scene and putting it in your work. If it helps you make them more realistic, then go ahead and keep it stored away somewhere safe. Think about it like this; readers don't want to read about the person walking by for pages while your main character is crying on a bench.

Every character has their own point of view. We all perceive things differently based on our thoughts, experiences, attitude, memories and emotions. Characters have their own unique views, just like we do. It's very important to know your character's history and background to know their attitude and their perception.  

Every character has more than one problem. Their only problem shouldn't just be the main conflict of the story. They have everyday problems to worry about, just like you and me. Granted, they might be different problems like keeping dwarves from diggy-digging holes under their houses or stopping android prototypes from wreaking havoc in their lab. Just don't give them too many problems or they'll end up stealing the story away from the main conflict.

Characters need to have realistic-sounding voices. Not everyone speaks in proper English while talking to people. Some have accents. If they're immigrants, those who are in their teens and older tend to have slightly accented English (or another language), but children usually learn to speak like they were born in the country and might forget their first language. Some (or most) teenagers use slang and invent new terms. Just go to Urban Dictionary to see some.
No writing dialogue like you're writing a research paper and using fancy-schmancy terminology unless the character has a good reason to, like if they're a researcher trying to explain what they do. 

Another thing to remember is that characters need to grow and develop over the course of the story. It's rather boring if one character who rushes into things without thinking stays the same way by the end. There should be something that makes them think twice about doing that. Maybe someone important to them got hurt as a consequence in the middle of the story. Things like this are what make stories interesting.

One trick I discovered to creating realistic characters is to put them into various situations and watch how they get themselves out of it. Don't just order them what to do, say or think. Let them figure it out. Poke them with sticks and see how they react. Will they cry, yell at you to stop or break the stick (and your arm) in half?
This might end up driving you crazy if your characters develop to the point where they are fully conscious and start judging your life from your'm not saying this from personal experience, what are you talking about? (= _ = ;)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Love Triangles

This post is (kind of) a follow-up on Kaye's post on how not to write romance.  One thing I keep seeing over and over again in young adult fiction is the love triangle. The dreaded, the abominable, the triangle.

A love triangle happens when one girl is in love with two guys at once, and can't decide between them (it could happen the opposite way, too, with one guy and two girls, but it's much less common). Both guys are in love with the girl, leaving the girl with a predicament. The girl also loves both the guys. Which should she choose? Oh the horror.

Okay, technically, it wouldn't be a love triangle unless both the guys were in love with each other, too. But I won't go there.

There's my amazing Paint skill coming through, right there.
There's a problem with this, though...have you ever seen a love triangle in real life? No. At least, I haven't. Let's face it: love triangles just don't happen that much in real life. So why should every YA book have one?

This brings me to my next point. Nearly every single YA book these days has a love triangle of some sort. Why? Readers want plot. We don't want to sit there and read about some girl whining because she can't decide who to love. If she loves two guys at once, it can't even be true love, anyways. It's just some extra friendliness and a little lust.

Love triangles are also highly predictable. Have you ever seen the girl end up with the nice, normal guy? No. She always ends up with the supernatural guy. If you're going to write a paranormal romance, someone should shake it up and write a story where the girl doesn't go for the supernatural guy.

I'll be honest. I have formed a deep hatred for love triangles. And for good reason: the vast majority of them are anything but well-executed. But, to be fair, I have read some books that pulled off a fantastic love triangle.

Like Eona: The Last Dragoneye, for example. That's the most convoluted love triangle you'll ever see, my friends. Or The Hunger Games Trilogy.  Also, Kenneth Oppel's This Dark Endeavor has a noteworthy love triangle, because it actually contributes to the plot.   *gasp*

Or the Seven Realms series. That one is amazing, could argue that it's actually a love pentagon. Yeah. (I tried to make a diagram showing this, but failed epically.) Han is (or was) in love with Raisa, who loves him back. Raisa also loved Amon, and Amon did love her back, until he got engaged to someone else. Then there's Reid, who seems to have a thing for Raisa. Love pentagon.

So, amigos...I beg of you...don't write a love triangle, unless you've got a really interesting twist to it, or you can do it like Alison Goodman. And please don't write a love triangle for the sake of a love triangle. That's the last thing the world needs.

This post was originally spotted in the castle at Cair Paravel, aka The Epic, the Awesome, and the Random.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Some Useful Character Sheets.

There are plenty of ways to create your characters but as I'm sure we all know, a good character is a well developed one. If anything the author or yourself should know a lot about the protagonist of the story. We should know them inside out and sometimes learning even the little things about them is good. Some of it may not all go into the story, but the more you know about your character, the more real he/she/it will seem.

Character sheets, I've found, are very helpful for developing characters. One book I read recommend you fill one out after you've completed the story, but I find that filling them out as you write is very helpful. Not only is it good for learning more about them, but it's good for keeping facts straight. How many siblings does your character have? What's his eye color? His fears, his wants, his goals, etc.

I've found many examples of character sheets over the years since I've started writing, but one of the most useful I've found is one from (sure it's game site but you can talk to people on it and stuff). I've listed it for you below to use and I've also posted the link to the page where it's found.

Full name of Character:
Reason, meaning or purpose behind the name:
Reason for nickname:
Social class:
Physical Appearance:
How old they appear:
Eye Color:
Glasses or contacts?
Hair color length and style:
Weight and height:
Type of body (build):
Skin tone and type (i.e., harry, slimy, scaly, oily, fair, burns easily):
Shape of face:
Distinguishing marks (dimples, moles, scars, birthmarks, etc.):
Predominant feature:
Is s/he healthy?
If not, why not? Or why are they healthy?
Do they look healthy? Why/why not?

Char’s favorite color:
Least favorite, why?
Least favorite music, why?
Expletives (curse):
Mode of transport:
How do they spend a rainy day?

Are they a daredevil or cautious?
Do they act the same alone as when with someone?
How much:
Greatest Strength:
Greatest Weakness:
Soft spot:
Is their soft spot obvious, why/why not:
If not, how do they hide it:
Biggest Vulnerability:

Type of childhood:
First Memory:
Most important child hood event that still effects him/her:

Relationship with her:
Relationship with him:
Siblings, How many, relationship with each:
Children of siblings:
Other extended family:
Close? Why or why not:

Most at ease when:
Most ill at ease when:
How they feel about themselves:
Past failure they would be embarrassed to admit:
If granted one wish what would it be, why?

Optimist or pessimist? Why?
Introvert or extrovert? Why?
Drives and motives:
Extremely skilled at:
Extremely unskilled at:
Good characteristics:
Character flaws:
Biggest regret:
Minor regrets:
Biggest accomplishment:
Minor accomplishments:
Darkest secret:
Does anyone know?
How did they find out:

One word they would use to describe themselves:
One paragraph of how they would describe themselves:
What do they consider their best physical characteristic and why:
The worst one? Why?
Are they realistic assessments?
If not, why not?
How they think others preserve them:
What four things would they most like to change about themselves:
If they were changed would they be the same person, why/why not:
Would changing of number 1 make them more happy? Why/why not:

Interaction with other people:
How do they relate to others:
How are they perceived by strangers:
The Hero/Heroin:
How do they view the Hero/Heroine:
First impression of the char:
What happens to change this perception:
What do people like most about this char:
What do they dislike most about them:

Long term:
How do they plan to accomplish them:
How will others be effected by this:

How do they react in a crisis:
How do they face problems:
Kind of problems they usually run into:
How they react to new problems:
How they react to change:

Favorite clothing, why:
Least favorite, why:
Other accessories:
Where do they live:
Where do they want to live:
Spending habits, why:
What do they do too much of, why:
Most prized possession, why:
People they secretly admire, why:
Person they are most influenced by, why:
Most important person in their life before story starts, why:
How do they spend the week just before the story starts:

Gaia Online- Character Sheet
Edit: Another really helpful one I've found is The Survey.

I recently fell in love again with using character sheets. I just got done filling these two out for my three protagonists in Night Lies and I discovered a ton about them! It was so amazing. 
So, have you ever used character sheets? Do you find them useful? What the best one that you've ever used?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Writing Romance: How NOT to Do It

Perhaps I'm not the best person to be writing this guide with my indiscriminate hate for people my age and having zero personal experience with relationships of this type. But I do know real relationships. You learn a lot of things if you just sit quietly in high school and discreetly study people around you. (It's for research, don't you look at me like that.)
For me, a writer who twists the concept of romance so much that it's barely recognizable anymore, I have to know the basics of true romance. Can't screw it up if you don't know what the heck it is you're screwing up, am I right?

Let's first look at what defines a romance novel. A central love story and an emotionally-satisfying ending.
A love story needs to have conflict for the two people to fall in love. If your idea of conflict is "I don't have a boyfriend and no one likes me!", I suggest you start running before I find something sharp and pointy.
The characters need to grow. Not physically as in inches and centimetres, but mentally. Otherwise, the reader will put your story down.
Finally, there's the resolution. The problems need to be solved for the reader to buy the happily ever after.

Let's get on with the don'ts of romance writing.

Love doesn't happen instantly. That's infatuation. The online dictionary defines it as puppy love or temporary love of an adolescent. You don't really love someone you just met a few seconds ago. You haven't gotten to know them yet, so how can you? Maybe you've fallen in love with their appearance
Romeo and Juliet is a good example of this. Romeo fell in love with Juliet in seconds. Look where that got them. (If Romeo and Juliet was meant to be a satire, Shakespeare is a genius.)

You can't truly love someone without knowing them first. I think this requires no further explanation.

You won't die if that person leaves you. It's not like you suddenly share vital organs at that first glance and need them by your side at all times. You still have your organs, they still have theirs.

Hearts can't literally be broken into millions of pieces like glass. They're squishy and fun to poke. Don't even use this in real life after a break up.

Don't fangirl over the love interest. Please don't waste our time, only you have the perfect mental image. Whenever someone tries to describe a book character to me, this pops up in my head and I just stick on whatever characteristics you give me, such as this colour eyes and this colour hair.
Actually, if you've read any show vs. tell guides, they should've told you not to use these as the only descriptions. You're supposed to link appearance to personality or actions, something like that. I don't remember the exact tip.
Don't stick words like sexy/handsome/insert other adjective here if your only reason is JUST BECAUSE HE IS. Get. Out. Now. I'll forgive you if the MC realizes that the love interest is nothing but a pretty face and moves on to a guy with actual character.

Mary-Sues and Gary-Stus are a no-no in every genre. Again, no further explanation is needed.

I hope this entertained you as well as showed you what not to do if you're writing a romance novel.