How to Create Instantly Likeable Characters

One of the best writing guides I’ve read and studied from lately is The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Mass. It has some incredible insights on not just how to craft the emotional landscape of your work of fiction, but also a handful of other insights on how to get in touch with your own emotional world to better inform the characters you create. After all, the characters we create in one shape or form are extensions of ourselves all of which who yearn to be understood and expressed with the respect they deserve.

Crafting characters, as you know, is one of my favourite aspects of writing because without people there are no stories. It is through the characters that we get to relate to in navigating the human experience, and that’s why it’s important to make them as true to life as possible, no matter what the setting is or whatever other lifeform they take that isn’t exactly human.

For many years I’ve had pre-conceptions of what makes relatable and likeable characters, and unfortunately a lot of those pre-conceptions were at a very shallow, if not obvious, layer of the human spirit. Make your characters flawed like real people. Take traits from people you know and blend them together. Oh and let’s not forget; give them goals, motivation, and conflict like every other human being has.

And while these are all important aspects of what create multi-dimensional characters, I am here to introduce something that I’ve missed over the years!


Virtue as the Cornerstone of Love

We live in a world where gritty anti-heroes are starting to take centre stage, villains are becoming more sympathizable, and we have overall entered into an era in which there’s a strange embracing of the darkness. And yes of course this all important to our evolution in not only our tastes in fiction, but also our human progression, but one thing that hasn’t had much spotlight on lately is virtue.

An act of kindness goes a long way.

They seem insignificant in the moment, but a bunch of tiny acts of kindness add up.

And in the end, it all makes for a better world to live in if we could all just give each other a helping in whatever way we can.

Whenever we see someone or hear about someone doing a good thing for someone else, it makes us feel good by extension. That’s because we’re social empathetic creatures. We end up feeling the good nature of the giver who gave a helping hand to someone who needed it and we feel the gratitude of the person in need. Throughout our lives we fluxuate between being people who are capable of giving to the less fortunate, and being in unfortunate situations ourselves in need of the generousity of others.

Whether it’s from a stranger or a close loved one, we can’t help but feel a sense of euphoria from an act of kindness we either give to or receive from others. This can range from simple things like dropping a few coins in the shaking can of a homeless person on the street to something more personal and expansive like lending an empathic ear to a friend who has a problem to deal with. Nothing feels better than a win-win situation where we don’t have to lose something of value, whether it was a long awaited desire or a piece of our conscience.

Whatever way you choose to create your characters, it’s imperative that you give them an act of virtue that makes your reader develop a natural admiration for them. Even if you choose to create an anti-hero character who is resistant to their responsibility of greatness, we want to see at least a glimpse of goodness in them because it’s the potential that we want to root for so it can come into fruition later on in the story.

Saving a Cat Moment

In Emotional Craft of Fiction, Donald writes about how a simple saving a cat moment can make a protagonist instantly likeable, especially if you include it early on in the story. This gets us to admire the goodness in thecharacter and in turn remind us of the goodness in ourselves–and to take it even further it allows us to see the potential in ourselves to become even better human beings.

So what does a Saving a Cat Moment look like?

It can literally be saving a cat that’s stuck in a tall tree.

Or it can be something more subtle or even more grand than that!

Here are some rapid fire examples from my own stories and other stories I’ve enjoyed over the years. None of them will be ultra specific as to boil down the core principles of the acts themselves.

How to Save a Cat in Several Ways

  • Stepping in when someone is being bullied
  • Mentoring an eager apprentice in a specific skill or vocational path
  • Comforting someone in grief
  • Equipping someone with an important life lesson
  • Providing someone with a sense of purpose
  • Volunteering at an old folks’ home or a homeless shelter
  • Helping the disabled get around town
  • Saving a suicide victim moments before they execute their plan
  • Saving a child from an abusive home situation
  • A parent bonding deeply with their child
  • A spouse bonding deeply with their partner
  • Admitting to fault and asking for forgiveness

The list can go on forever. There’re definitely an infinite amount of other examples I could have put and some that you are starting to think of right now, in which case feel free to share in the comments below!

The point is that whatever good deed your characters perform, they need to come from an earnest and authentic place, even if they have resistance toward it at the beginning. It might be a hard sell if the character performs the deed for admiration and ego gratification as opposed from the goodness of their heart. But you can even make it so that it can start off as an ego boost that eventually touches the character in a deep and moving way where it inspires them to seek even more virtue.

So there you have it, one of the best ways to make instantly likeable characters. It may be obvious to others, but this fell under my radar for a very long time having been so obsessed with the more technical aspect of writing over the years. Sometimes we all need to get back to the basics and remember what we all (hopefully) learned in kindergarten: be kind and share your toys with other kids.

Now I’d like to hear from you, the reader!

What are some other good deeds can we add to the list? What good deeds have you writte your characters to perform in your stories? What acts of kindness from fiction and reality have inspired you?

And as always, if you have any feedback on my writing tips feel free to comment down below. Did I miss something? Should I elaborate more or less? Even feel free to tell me if it was completely useless information, in which you are welcome to give me your two cents on how I can improve Your Write to Live!

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The Shadow Journal

If you remember a while back, oh let’s say four years ago, I wrote about the benefits of keeping a Progress Journal.

The purpose of a Progress Journal is to keep track of your ideas for either a work in progress or an array of ideas you may want to use at another time.

Today I want to introduce to you a spiritual successor to it called The Shadow Journal. (And for those of you who have been reading since 2014, I sincerely thank you for your readership!)


Giving Your Shadow Side a Megaphone

This month I’ve been obsessed with confronting and integrating my shadow side and during my journey through, I also want to provide helpful writing practices that integrate your shadow.

When I first conceived the idea of The Progress Journal, it literally was used for freely expressing my ideas, both good and bad, in order to separate the wheat from the chaffe. Eventually, though, writer’s block reared its ugly head much more prominently the more I discovered ways to combat it.

While I only alluded to it in my 2014 post, I want to elaborate more on a simple, but profound idea now in 2018:

Write your most deepest, darkest, disturbing fears.

About yourself, your stories, and the world around you.

We all have doubts that hold us back from progressing in life and our passions, possibly due to an excess of pessimism, and often times it’s due to not acknowledging they exist. Maybe you’re like me and choose to overshoot the optimism in an attempt to override the pessimism. It’s obvious how dibilitating pessimism can be, but so can optimism when not balanced with reason and logic.

So instead of looking at pessimism as an enemy, maybe you could try welcoming it as an inconvenient, yet helpful ally. It may have valid reasons to prevent you from writing what you want to write, or maybe it’s all a bunch of bullshit.

Whatever the case may be, you may never know unless you take the time to confront your Shadow Side, the source of your resistance. Write down every single negative thought that it fills your head with and let it out of your system.

Maybe your Shadow Side thinks your story sucks. Maybe your Shadow Side thinks you’re not capable of writing something as good as you intend. Or maybe your Shadow Side just thinks you’re an absolute waste of life who has no right to write.

Now while I am here to be the guy to tell you that it is Your Write to Live, I think you can never truly appreciate life unless you come to accept that death is its eventual end.

Writing Prompt #1: For 10-15 minutes, or for however long as you need to, let your Shadow Side say all the nasty things it says to your mind on a daily basis. Don’t let it hold back. Let it say the worst possible things and give it the space to voice its opinion.

Confronting Your Shadow Side

Now while it is incredibly discomforting to do this, believe it or not, this is what I have to do every time I sit down and write my novel. I let all of my fears and doubts out on the digital page so that it no longer lingers in my mind.

If you’re familiar with Carl Jung’s theory on repression, many writers are actually victims of their own repression. It’s the reason why so many don’t get published, let alone even let themselves begin on a project.

So once I’ve let my Shadow Side say what it needs to, I allow it to make me feel like absolute crap, but only one last time.

Because then I examine its opinions and compare it to the evidence as I reasonably can. While there’s no way to ever objectively determine what the truth is about the world and myself, the most educated hypothesis, tested through and through, is the best shot we’ve got at making sense of the chaos of existence.

I’m not going to lie, there have been a handful of times where I truly believed what my Shadow Side said and ended up staying in my rut. I’ve written stand alone Shadow Journals and chose not to work on my novel at all because I truly believed in giving up.

But more often than not, I come out victorious because I confront my Shadow Side head on. I listen to what it has to say and maybe it’s right, maybe I do have to do the tough thing and start a chapter all over again, or even kill a character and remove their role from the entire story. Hell, it’s actually thanks to my Shadow Side that I’m on the fourth draft of It Starts: at Home since it tells me that I can do way better than my most recent attempt at a draft.

Hell even right now my Shadow Side says I shouldn’t be hyperlinking to my second draft chapter sample because it’s so baseless and contains little to no significant plot elements.

But then my optimism is hard pressed to remind me that it at least encapsulates the chemistry between my lovely young protagonists. After all, I have it up on my site for a reason as a comparison for what I am capable of writing now. It’s a sign of my growth as a writer to humbly remember where I came from.

So be tough, but fair with yourself.

Writing Prompt #2: Take that same Shadow Journal entry and consider what your Shadow Side had to say about you and your work. What things are they right about and what are they absolutely wrong about? Take what they’re right about and improve, and prove them wrong on every other front. I promise you will come out feeling stronger and much more confident with yourself…


…Until Tomorrow, Of Course

Now here’s some good and bad news:

A one time Shadow Journal entry is not enough to keep your confidence up.

You may have to do it once in a while or every day.

Whatever the case may be for you, I’d suggest accepting and appreciating this push and pull between yourself and your muse. Whenever your Shadow Side gets in the way, let it. Maybe it’s just a child conceived by yourself and your muse that simply needs a gentle guiding hand to comfort and civilize it.

Feedback and critcisms are always welcome so feel free to tell me if this post, or any of my other posts have helped you out. 

Or maybe I suck ass and I need some “brave” keyboard warrior troll to remind me of that.

Either way, leave a comment below and I will see you guys next week!

Playing Tag With Your Shadows

It’s Recess Time and We Need More Players!

Earlier this week, For Meaningful Mondays, I wrote “a little bit” about how I’ve been learning to integrate my shadow.

Today, I will share how Playing Tag With Your Shadows can inform your writing.

More particularly, how you craft your characters so that they can become multi-dimentional beings that pop out of the page.

Whether you’re writing a protagonist or antagonist, it is important to give them a dark side that isn’t dark for the sake of being dark. You want to make their malevolence understandable and rooted in believable reasoning–no matter how horribly they will behave in your story.

Audiences these days are starting to catch on to how lazy and boring stock villains are. You know the kind, the ones that wake up in the morning and wonder if there’s a cute little puppy somewhere out there that they can kick for sake of being evil. There’s a time and place for such a generic villain, but the villain (or even protagonist) that I will help you create today could massacre that generic villain into oblivion.

So be prepared for a very unconventional type of writing exercise that isn’t your run of the mill plot graph or haiku practice. We’re going to dig deep into your discomfort, and use all those disgusting and disturbing feelings inside you for your benefit. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be grateful that you even have them in the first place!


Tag, You’re It!

The most common writing advice is “write what you know,” and so in regards to crafting a malevolent and sympathizable villain, or even a flawed hero, you need to guage how well you know yourself. Here’s how you do it:

Keep a journal, if you don’t already. It’s a useful tool in taming the chaotic mind.

In order to create genuine darkness in your characters, you need to first understand the darkness that dwells within you. What kinds of disgusting and disturbing thoughts enter your mind on a daily basis? What causes them? Are they of your own making or are they reactions to circumstance?  These are the kinds of thoughts that you usually keep to yourself and have, for better or for worse, not told anybody if not for a handful people (possibly even a professional clinician).

Whether you feel guilt, shame, or embarassment, write them down and explore them. Take the time to understand why you may think and feel this way at times. Most importantly, don’t hold back on saying what you really want to say. If you feel yourself thinking “that’s too harsh, I shouldn’t say that,” then actually say it. Give your shadow the space to express itself.

Maybe you’re grieving the loss of somebody you loved, or even hated, and have yet to process what your relationship to them has meant to you.

Maybe there’s somebody in your life that you love, but for some reason often get frustrated with because you either haven’t told them why or you don’t even know why yet.

Or maybe somebody wronged you in the past. A family member, a friend, or a lover has hurt you and you hold a grudge against them.

Writing Prompt #1: In your journal, write about a person or situation that often stirs up negative feelings in you. What kinds of irrational and dangerous things do you fantasize yourself doing in order to have your emotions be known? Don’t actually do them, but write them down no matter how horrible they may seem. The worse, the better.

“Tag. Now You Are the One Who is It”
“Understood…”

If you thought understanding your own dark and disturbing thoughts was hard enough, try this even more difficult exercise:

Put yourself in the shoes of someone who has hurt you, or someone who you simply cannot stand for hurting others. Or maybe they haven’t hurt anybody at all, and it’s just their entire mode of being itself that disturbs you (like US President Donald Trump).

These are real everyday people just like us. They have their own troubles and concerns, and in their minds, they too are the heroes of their own stories. Whether we agree with them or not is not important, but what is important is understanding where they’re coming from.

Everybody has their own reasons, no matter how rational or irrational, for doing what they do. Everybody is driven by their own goals and motivations, and often times those goals and motivations just so happen to be misaligned with the opinions and values of others. Everybody hurts; everybody gets hurt.

You know the saying, “bad guys are just sad days.”

Or better yet, to quote one of my favourite lines from Netflix’s Daredevil series, “you’re just one bad day away from becoming me.” It’s what The Punisher says to Daredevil when Daredevil argues for why he has never and never will murder criminals.

So maybe these people you can’t stand have been hurt themselves and are acting out their hurt in a way that’s inconvenient, if not downright disturbing to you. Maybe they get on your nerves because they lack basic self-awareness of how undesirable their behaviour is. Or better yet…they remind you of yourself.

Sometimes the criticism we have for others is criticism we need to apply to ourselves so can ultimately improve. After all, it’s so much easier to see fault in others and wish they would change rather than admitting to our own faults and actually doing the work.

Writing Prompt #2: Put yourself in the shoes of someone you dislike despise. Try and see if you can understand why they might have done what they did to you or others, or simply why they might be the way they are. Again, the worse they are, the better. And if you can ascribe understandable reasons on their part, whether they are close to the possible truth or not is not what’s important. The important thing is to see if ou you can empathize even with the worst of people so that you can create villains who people will understand.*

*Understanding where someone’s coming from is not condoning their actions. It’s simply the difficult, yet very important practice of admitting to our own human follies. That we are all flawed, make mistakes, and misunderstand things at times.


Game Over, Man!

I originally intended on a third writing prompt, but I think keeping it at a more local and personal level was the best way to go about this Workshop Wednesday. The third method of integrating your shadow in your writing is a lot more abstract and impersonal, and you can feel free to request it of me for a future article, but for now this is what I impart to you:

Dig deep into the darkest parts of yourself and understand it, and on the flipside, take the time to understand the people you usally perceive as disgusting and disturbing. Maybe you’re more alike than you think, and that’s not such a bad thing. Maybe they reflect parts of yourself that you repress and being aware of these parts can help you keep them under better control.

If you found this lesson helpful, please feel free to share it with others who you think can benefit from it and leave a comment below if you have any feedback or criticisms!

 

 

How to Make Small Talk (In Fiction) Interesting

Most writers could attest to associating small talk with pulling teeth (or any other painful experience). This is because we as writers are attuned to the sole fact that good stories are jam packed with meaningful and life changing conversations between characters. The kinds of conversations people rarely have in real life, but if were to summon the courage and honesty they require, their lives could also be drastically changed.

In turn, this is one of the biggest reasons why I think people gravitate toward fiction. The Very Heart and Soul of Fiction is the relationships between characters and readers love to live vicariously through them to experience what it’s like to speak from the bottom their hearts.

So it’s no wonder that small talk and in real life are painfully boring to sit through. Imagine the following passage to be from a novel and then tell me if you would keep on reading.

“Hey, how have you been?” Martin asked.

“I’ve been okay,” Sonya replied. “How about you?”

“I’ve been good.”

“That’s good. What did you do today?”

“I just worked and studied, how about you?”

“Me too.”

*snore*

Next!


Now normally I think such a conversation in real life and in fiction would be incredibly boring, but I’ve come to step down from my high horse of the Meaningful Conversations Only or Go Away mentality and have come to understand the importance of small talk. And yes it is actally important.

Why you ask?

It’s because small talk is how we gauge each other’s level of engagement with life and with others. When people talk to each other, what’s more important than what they talk about is how they talk to each other. Or put more succinctly, how they can make each other feel as they talk.

So my proposal is that if you have a work in progress that has a scene you fear might suffer from too much small talk, here are some ways you can beef it up to make it interesting:

1. Add Meaningful Action

“Hey, how have you been?” Martin asked offering his hand to shake.

2. Add Meaningful Re-Action

“I’ve been okay,” Sonya replied, resting her hand in Martin’s. “How about you?”

“I’ve been good, too.” Martin stroked the back of Sonya’s soft hand with his thumb.

3. Add Context and Tension

It has been a few days since they last spoke. Even though Martin and Sonya had only met a couple weeks ago, speaking every night and day for two weeks straight–only to suddenly and have weekend of non-existant correspondance felt like an eternity for them.

Martin and Sonya, at this moment, both felt the urge to note the individual voids they respectively felt over the weekend without each other. But Martin did not want to come across as too desperate for her affections, while Sonya held her tongue back because she had been taught by her parents to not be too inviting toward men.

And so an awkward, yet comforting silence passed as they held hands and stared into each other’s eyes.

4. Express Emotions Through Action

“That’s good.” Sonya wiggled her hand free from Martin’s grip and giggled. She pursed her lips and looked away. “What did you do today?”

Martin scratched the back of his head and looked around, pretending to be curious as to what caught Sonya’s eye. “I just worked and studied,” he said. He clenched his fists and bit his lip a bit, shoulders rising to his neck.

5. Add Suspsense

Sonya watched as Martin’s eyes darted around the room. His normally calm demeanour had transformed into a jittering mess of ticks and stutters today. A part of her worried what could possibly be wrong with him. Did she say something wrong the last time they spoke? Did something happen to him? Or is he actually a strange and unstable man and that she should find a way to get away from him immediately.

As she continued to stare at him as if he was having a stroke, Martin fought the urge to mention that he’s been thinking about her all day. No matter how much he had invested his time and energy on his job and on his studies, Sonya came to mind, and he wishes he could just tell her that mere fact.

Martin cleared his throat. “How about you?” He finally asked, trying to ignore how bland and boring it was to say that all he did was work and study.

“Me too,” Sonya said, grabbing his trembling hand.


Well I hope you enjoyed my cheesy attempt at writing a romantic scene between star crossed lovers (never have I ever claimed that romance was my forte)!

Let’s recap why this scene was so much better by adding these five ingredients.

Meaningful action adds to small talk to show that what is not being said is more important than what is being said. A meaningful reaction from the other character(s) will show the level of their awareness toward the current vibe and situation. Adding context and tension will make some of the discomfort more bearable to the reader because then their curiousity will be piqued about why small talk between these characters is so much more uncomfortable than everyday small talk.

Once all these things have been established, you have the opportunity to express each character’s emotions through the non-verbal cues they provide to each other and to your readers. This makes them more susceptible to holding their breath and wanting to know how it will all turn out if you also add suspense to see if the discomfort will dissipate or detonate.

So that is how you make small talk in fiction more interesting.

As for real life?

I have no damn clue.

Sprouting Symbols in Stories

Planting the Symbolic Seeds

We’re all pattern recognition machines. Whenever we experience repetition through objects, places, and actions, they implant an impression in our minds to create future expectations. And within getting those expectations met, the reward system in our brains releases dopamine, making us feel not only a sense of joy, but also a sense of comfort and familiarity.

This is why babies love when you play Peek-A-Boo with them. When you cover your face with your hands or hide behind the couch, they expect you to “pop up out of nowhere” and make a silly face that gets them giggling their cute little baby laughs.

In fiction, you want to do the same thing. You want to play a literary form of Peek-A-Boo through Symbolic Action. A reoccuring object, place, or action engages your audience’s sense of familiarity and by letting them feel safe from an expected routine, you are given the opportunity to also trigger the part of the human brain that thrives on novelty.

Or simply put; you want to mix the new with the old.

What this does is symbolize how an aspect of your story is progresses over time. This can range from how an important plot item is used throughout the story, the state of a physical location your characters frequent, or how characters relate to each other through repetitive actions.


Papa Can You Hear Me?

Today we’ll focus on reoccuring actions and how they symbolize ever changing relationships between characters. In particular, I will be using the father and daughter combo from my work in progress It Starts at Home; Antonio and Johanna Pascual.

The story starts off with Antonio blasting his heavy metal music as he drives Johanna to her first day of high school. He just wants to drop her off and go to work, unaware of how nervous she is, and thanks to the rockin’ tunes he’s so used to pumping on every car ride, he’s even more oblivious to how reluctant she is to start this new chapter in her life.

She wishes she could say something. That she’s not ready yet and wants to stay home for the day. Or worse, that she actually feels sick to her stomach and is unsure if she can physically manage herself in this new environment.

Johanna tries to speak up, but her tiny voice is buried beneath pounding drums and distorted guitars, and all that Antonio can offer her is yelling “you’ll be fine,” before returning to his mini headbanging session. She keeps trying to complain and his solution is to remind her to not be afraid and be sure to make new friends.

Needless to say, Johanna ends up feeling ignored and down right invisible.

What this symbolizes is the distance between father and daughter, even though Antonio drives Johanna around quite often. The fact that Antonio chooses to listen to the noisy music of his own teen days over the soft tiny voice of his teenage daughter comes to show their giant lack of communication between each other.

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Throughout the book, similar car rides occur where Johanna has a desire to communicate with her father, but the metal music continues to serve as a point of contention between them. He uses it to drown out the nagging voice of his wife and the whiny voice of his daughter, both of which have valid things to say to him, but tension rises the more he attempts to ignore them.

Furthermore, his wife Miranda is actually offended by his choice in music. Because she immigrated to Canada from a traditional Filipino family, and that she met Antonio at a youth church group, she feels that Antonio is listening to “the devil’s music” which clashes with their Christian values.

Over time though, Antonio gradually learns to put the volume down when the ladies in his family are speaking to him. Most of the time it’s much to his detriment, but it’s a hard pill of pride to swallow to actually start listening to his family. And even on the flip side, for his family to respect his preferences because Johanna and Miranda spend a huge chunk of the novel judging him for everything he likes.


Reaping What You Sow With Symbols

Along with my favourite aspect of fiction being character, I have recently fallen in love with recognizing symbols and how they can serve as tools to further describe the progress of a story. It greatly reflects how our lives change over time despite some of the routines we engage in from childhood up into our adult lives.

Think about how you celebrate your birthday compared to how you used to when you were a child. Sure, cake and candles are the staple of every birthday celebration, but as you depart from your childhood you outgrow the need for face painting, clowns, and bouncy castles. (Unless you still do face painting, clowns, and bouncy castles well into your 20’s, I won’t judge!)

To celebrate and symbolize your ongoing maturity you begin to add different elements to your birthday parties like alcohol, expensive vacations, or whatever else floats your boat.

Likewise in fiction, you want to use symbols to implant familiarity in your audience and take them on a ride toward growth by letting your symbols sprout.

Are there any symbols that you appreciate in your favourite stories?

Have you used symbols before? Upon reflection, were consciously or unconsciously planted?

With expanded knowledge on symbols, do you plan to employ them in your work? If so, how so? Let me know in the comments below!

(Stay tuned for more on symbols in the future…)

Tension and Intensity

As much as characters are the very heart and soul of fiction, none of them really matter unless they come across conflict. After all, without conflict there is no story, you would just be reading about people’s everyday lives. And why would you want to read that unless there were significant moments explored where these people took up the challenge of overcoming insurmountable challenges?

Whenever we experience a story, we put ourselves in a voluntary state of tension. It may sound a little masochistic at first, but when you really stop and think about it, you really are taking on the emotions of the characters. This of course allows us to empathize with them because we may have been in similar situations or have feared being in them, and getting to watch or read characters overcome obstacles inspires the hope that we can one day do the same.

Here is how you can inject meaningful conflict in you writing:

1. Opposing Opinions

Give your characters strong opinions about something, and then pit them against characters who are in the absolute opposite spectrum of the same thing. For instance, if you have a character who believes in animal rights and wants to stop the distribution of meat, their logical antagonist could be a butcher shop owner. One wants to end animal cruelty, while the other’s entire livelihood depends on this job they actually genuinely love.

2. Personal Philosophies

Now that you’ve got opinions established, it’s time to give these characters some motivations behind their opinions, along with names while we’re at it. Let’s call the animal rights activist Wendy, and the butcher shop owner Joe. Now it could be pretty easy to paint Joe as a horrible guy and make him the clear cut bad guy of this story, but I think if you gave him some redeeming and empathetic qualities, his conflict with Wendy could be more meaningful and insightful to your audience.

Perhaps Wendy wants to stop animal cruelty because she lived on a farm and she witnessed the slaughter of cows and chickens she grew fond of. Then on the other spectrum we got Joe who is just fascinated with the whole process of butchering animals, and serving them to happy customers in order to provide food for his children, and a roof over their heads.

In this story, Wendy’s goal would be to put Joe out of business possibly because her vegan restaurant is losing business due to Butcher Joe’s higher customer rate. And couple that of course with her moral stance on animal cruelty, you got yourself some grade A tension!

Point is: give characters believable and empathetic reasons for their beliefs so that you can understand them all, but make them so contrary to each other that it creates conflict due to those opposing opinions.

3. Secrets

Harboring dark secrets could also create tension in a story, especially if you reveal them after you’ve spent a good amount of time endearing the audience to your characters. There’s a weird feeling I personally get when I come to admire a character, only to find out about a secret of theirs that almost feel like a betrayal. Though it is a reminder that nobody is perfect and we’ve all got skeletons in the closet.

Secrets, and the threat of them being revealed, create tension the closer and close other characters come to discover them.

Maybe Wendy once ate her childhood pets and feels guilty for enjoying how they tasted, all despite the love she had for them when they were alive. If people found out about that, her activism in animal rights could be compromised and she’d be seen as a hypocrite!

Then maybe Joe, despite being a good family man and salesman to his customers, could secretly be an animal abuser. His endearing personality can make it forgivable to a degree that he cuts up animals for a living, but if it’s revealed that he takes a dark seated pleasure in murdering animals, rather than being stoic about it for the sake of the job, this could skew his public persona.

And maybe even in this case, the pleasure he gets is his way of coping with a traumatic event in his childhood where a dog attacked him. Who knows? I certainly don’t, I’m just making all this up as I go along!

4. Limited Choices

And lastly, to create some serious tension in a story, you could limit the choices available to characters. Situations where characters are forced to sacrifice their dignity or act against their own moral principles–sometimes for the sake of a greater good, other times with no clear benefit other than mere survival–these are the situations where we get to learn what truly matters to these characters.

We’ve all been in situations where we had to make tough choices and it wasn’t clear which one was the right one. Sometimes there is no right or wrong, rather there only exists the most sensible choice over the others where we lose the least of what we have. So then…

PLOT TWIST!

What if Joe and Wendy, amidst this public battle to reign supreme as the hot shot business of a sub-urban plaza, actually begin to fall in love with each other?

Yeah this just got weird, but bear with me here.

If there’s a turf war between a vegan restaurant and a butcher shop, there would obviously be customers who rally behind each respective business getting caught up in the crossfire.

Wendy ends up with the choices of either continuing the attempt to shut down Joe’s business, or give it up so that she can marry him and be the new mother to his kids because they’ve taken a liking to her.

Joe would then have to give up his life long passion and his stable income if he really wants to be with Wendy. Or he could just reject her, leave his kids without a mother figure, but at least keep his business going.

In Conclusion

Alright, so thank you for dealing with my craziness in this post. I hope you can forgive that and glean the value I’m trying to provide in exploring how you can amplify the conflict in your story, to not only make your story more entertaining, but also more meaningful and thought provoking.

If you have other tips of your own on how to amplify the conflict in fiction, feel free to leave a comment below!

Otherwise any other questions and feedback on this post are also welcome!

 

 

NaNoRouMo

Routines!

They are incredibly important for thriving during NaNoWriMo.

You gotta establish one.

Why? Because creating a routine for yourself can help you with consistently getting pen to paper on a daily basis. And more importantly, getting the 1667 daily word count down with a lot less resistance than you would without a routine.

Now, if you’re a writer who can easily buckle down and write those 1667+ words, then massive praises to you because I envy you. However, if you’re a procrastinator like me, or just someone who needs a little extra push to get motivated, then this post is for you.

So here’s a routine that worked for me and why engaging in these particular activities helped me stay focused when writing for NaNoWriMo last year. Mind you, I didn’t follow this to a tee, as it did waver from time to time, swapping one activity for the other when it didn’t work out.

1. Do something physical!

What normally worked for me was doing yoga in the morning. whether I woke up at 5am ready to take on the day with all the motivation in the world, or 12pm feeling a bit of resistance toward writing (because it got harder over time), yoga helped me keep my body from feeling restricted.

Since writing is normally an activity you do sitting down, you can risk cutting blood flow throughout your body and letting muscles tense up being in the same position for extended periods of time. It’s important to get a stretch and/or full work out to keep your body active because the mind and body affect each other. They are not mutually exclusive, and one cannot work without the other.

After getting all stretched out and sweaty, I would then take an ice cold shower to invogorate my senses.

This sounds scary to some people, but I assure you I didn’t start off cold right away, that would be too shocking. It’d be warm water for the hair and skin care part of showering, and then when that was done I would turn the knob down a bit until I felt a jolting chill go throughout my body.

If you have worked up a sweat from your work out, the cold shower wouldn’t be too hard to settle into. Actually it’s pretty refreshing and teaches you to slow down your breathing in order to endure.

This challenging of the self to withstand discomfort primes you to withstand the discomfort of writing. Not the physical part, but the mental part as I’m sure you will find yourself focusing on nothing but how freaking cold the water is.

2. Eat some gooooooood food!

I have phases where I prefer pancakes in the morning, scrambled eggs with home fries, or a simple bread with spread, along with the complimentary coffee.

After yoga, I would feel incredibly hungry and much able to really enjoy my meal, again getting my mind off writing and focusing on nurturing myself first.

Then the coffee of course is the staple drink of writers, whether you pound back pot upon pot, or need one little mug to get you going. It feels good to have something warm and tasty to sip on while I wrote.

Whatever it is for you; coffee, tea, or even a smoothie, get a drink or snack that you can sip and/or munch on while you write. This creates the association in your brain that that drink goes hand in hand with writing. Literally.

3. Write!

Write your ass off.

No further words needed.

4. Treat yoself!

As I said in my post last week, you gotta treat yourself!

Whether you pump out 5000 words or 500 by the end of your writing session, be sure to reward yourself with your favourite recreational activity.

For me it was gaming! I liked playing Brawlhalla, something that requires mostly muscle memory and reaction speed to play, as opposed to anything else that would be intellectually daunting.

For you it might be playing with your children if you have some, or binging your favourite show on Netflix. For others it could be hanging out with some friends and partying.

Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something easily available to you so that you can prime yourself to expect it at the end of a writing session.

5. Be kind to yourself.

And as always, this post is about self love at its core.

Writers put a lot of pressure on themselves to write compelling fiction and often doubt themselves if what they’re writing does not match the ambition they have in their head. We often feel imposter syndrome thinking “who am I to write this story?” Among another myriad of typical self doubting thoughts I will cover next week.

But for now I will leave you with this suggestion to form a routine.

You obviously don’t have to do yoga, eat what I eat, and play video games like me. And it doesn’t have to be in this order. You can even go far as to treat yourself first if you feel like you can honour that self indulgence with a productive writing session.

Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something you can manage on mostly everyday you possibly can, and brings you the equivelant joy and motivation your NaNoWriMo project deserves!