Archive for the ‘writing tips’ Category

Split Personality #2When characters do the unlikely, impossible, or uncomfortable, they’re called Contorting Characters.

Characters often contort when you create compound sentences.  Sometimes the contortions aren’t horrible, and the reader will probably understand what the writer intended.

For instance, Jim walked across the room and looked out the door. By using and, it’s implied that Jim was looking out the door at the same time he crossed the room, which is certainly possible, but perhaps not what the author intended.  At best, it’s unclear, since the author could have meant that Jim crossed the room TO look out the door, or crossed the room and THEN looked out the door.

AND implies things occur at the same time.

TO and THEN imply a chronological order to events.

In our example about Jim, it probably isn’t a big deal if the reader misconstrues our meaning.  After all, whether Jim looks out the door as he’s walking, after he’s walking, or is walking across the room with the purpose of looking out the door may not make that much difference.

Sometimes, however, authors can have their characters doing the impossible.

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When writing a story, you want a character that the reader is willing to follow for the length of the story.  That means making the character sympathetic in some way.  The character doesn’t have to be likable, but the reader has to identify and sympathize with them.  Here are a few ideas on creating sympathetic characters.

  • Give the main character something or someone to love.  It might be an elderly grandmother or her lost dog, but everyone loves someone or something.  Reveal it to the reader.
  • Use humor.  Main characters don’t have to be hilariously funny, but the ability to laugh at themselves makes them more likeable.
  • People usually root for the underdog, so stack the odds against the main character.

There are lots more ideas in the members’ section of the YAAGroup.org.

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Orange Man Talking BubbleSPEAKING OF DIALOGUE…

I have a friend who speaks easily and with lots of expression.  It’s as if the thoughts swirling in her head are pushing the words out of her mouth. She can do this for a long time! Her husband however, doesn’t say much.  When he does, I lean in to listen. He speaks so quietly and so carefully that sometimes I want to finish his sentences.

When writing fiction, it’s important to make your characters sound different from each other.  But how?

One way I do this is to give characters certain expressions that they repeat fairly often. In my novel, BLUE, Bessie Bledsoe responds to bad things by saying, “Have mercy.”  That suits her personality because she’s the sort of neighbor who comes in with hugs and an apple pie to cheer up my other characters when they need it.

In THE WEDNESDAY WARS by Gary Schmidt, 7th grader, Holling Hoodhood often starts his sentences with, “Let me tell you”. This opening phrase is perfect for Holling because his life is full of drama and he is going to tell about it. (My advice? Get The Wednesday Wars and read it!)

Humor, sarcasm, and moodiness are also tools for creating unique speech.  And of course, some characters will be educated while others might use lots of poor grammar or maybe just one incorrect speech pattern that sets them apart. Making use of speech that reflects a region or ethnic group, is also highly effective! (But it’s tricky – proceed carefully.)

If you need help making characters sound individual, try listening to your family or a group of friends while eating pizza or watching TV. You might even want to take a few notes. Just don’t tell your brother he’s about to show up in your first novel.

Joyce Moyer Hostetter

Author, Historical Fiction

COMFORT (Blue sequel)






TALKING STORY (E-Newsletter)

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Every story needs a strong main character.

How do you create a good protagonist?

  1. The protagonist is usually the character who has the most to gain—or lose—in the story.
  2. A protagonist doesn’t have to start out being a good guy, but more often than not he becomes heroic by the end, because we like to root for the good guy.
  3. The protagonist should be someone you—and your readers—can like and/or admire.

Find out more about creating strong and sympathetic characters in the members’ section of the YAAGroup.org.  Visit:  www.yaagroup.org

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showdonttellSomeone recently asked about “Show, Don’t Tell.”

Once you get the difference, it’s easy.

Let’s say you’re writing a story where it rains. If you’re telling, you’d say “It is raining.”

If you’re showing, you’d describe the sound of the raindrops pattering on the roof, the way the lightning lights up the room or the rainbow as the sun comes out, the smell of the wet leaves or the way the dampness makes your hair frizz.

Showing is description, but it can be emotion too.  An example of telling would be “I’m scared of the lightning.”

Showing would be “The flash of lightning lit the room.  A shiver ran up my spine and my heart stopped for a moment while I counted the seconds until the thunder roared.  Three seconds.  Too close.  My heart pounded and I dove under the covers.”

There’s lots more information on this topic in the Member’s Section of the YAAGroup.

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Two 3d the person, talking on walkDialogue tags are the portions of dialogue outside the quotation marks.  They explain who said the dialogue or what they character is doing or thinking.

Taglines are the “he said, she said” type of dialogue tags.  You don’t always have to use “said” for a tagline, but it tends to disappear when the reader reads it.

Some verbs are fine taglines, but others are actually movements.  For instance, a character can say, mutter, ask, or yell words.  But you can’t laugh, sigh, growl, or giggle words.

The next time you write dialogue, watch your taglines. Make sure you don’t have a character laughing or growling their words.  Instead of using “That’s silly,” she laughed, try “That’s silly,” she said, laughing.

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Office or school supplysRue, the word, means to bitterly regret.

RUE, the acronym, means “resist the urge to explain.”

Writers often over-explain, especially in the first draft.  We often show the reader something, then we tell them.  We want to be sure they understand what we’re trying to say.

But we should trust our reader and RUE.  A good rule of thumb is to say it once and say it well.

Over-explanation sentences often occur at the end of a paragraph or in a separate paragraph, and they often contain plenty of pronouns or vague nouns, such as ‘she,’ ‘he,’ ‘they,’ ‘them,’ ‘it,’ ‘that,’ ‘those,’ and ‘these.’  These words can act as a flag that you’re repeating yourself.

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