Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Sharing the Spotlight: How Much Page Time Do Supporting Characters Need?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Just because they're a supporting character doesn't mean they have to do what the protagonist says.

Everyone knows the protagonist is the star of the show, but supporting characters can be just as critical to the story. They’re the ones influencing your protagonist and causing changes in the plot. Without them, your story can feel empty.

But how much time do supporting characters really need?

It depends on their function.

Supporting characters should feel credible in whatever role they’re in. The fewer scenes they get, the harder it can be to lay the groundwork for whatever their task is. 

If the task is simple, they can show up and vanish and readers won't mind or notice anything wonky. Like a waiter at a restaurant, for example. Little is required for that role to be believable in that situation. But if the character has more impact on the protagonist or the plot, you might need better reasons for them being there.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Throw Rocks at Your Characters (It’s Good for Them!)

By Angela Ackerman

Part of the How They Do It Series

JH: Sending a character into an emotional spiral is a great way to add conflict to scene or build more tension in a novel. Angela Ackerman joins us today to share tips on how to stress out our characters to create better stories.

Take it away, Angela...
If there’s one thing we all know, it’s that life is stressful. Each day, we’re bombarded with obstacles, challenges, and upsets. We navigate what we can, go to bed, and do it all again the next day.

Do we like stress? No. But adversity builds resiliency. Problem-solving under pressure means we push onward, try new things, and learn on the go. Our trials help us gain new skills, competency, and confidence. In short, we grow!

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

Do You Know Who Your Narrator Is?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

If you don't know who's telling your story, how do you know whose story you're trying to tell?

Before I dive in today...

A quick reminder that today is the last day to register for my online workshop, "How to Write Characters with Agency" on May 9. 

As for the SFF writers out there, the Fantasy & Sci-Fi Authors Summit runs May 13-17, with my session on The Power of POV in Shaping Narrative on May 13. 

Identifying your narrator seems like an easy job—they're the one telling the story, right? It's obvious with first person and third-person limited points of view, but once you get into third-person omniscient point of view, narrators can get a little murky.

An omniscient narrator stands outside the story, with access to multiple views, thoughts, and characters. They can be a faceless voice trying desperately not to be noticed, or a strong personality telling the story as they see it, with all the judgment and attitude of a strong character.

The more distant your narrator, the less connected they can feel to the story itself, and this holds true no matter which POV style you use. Are they the author? Are they a god-like being who sees and knows all? Do they change depending on which part of the story they're telling? 

Wednesday, May 01, 2024

Stuck on Your Plot? Change Your Story Question

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

A strong plot starts with a compelling question.

A lot of writers I speak with struggle with plotting. They can come up with great ideas and wonderful characters, but getting those characters from page one to the end causes plenty of sleepless nights. And from my many conversations with frustrated writers, I see a common thread.

They’re asking the wrong story questions.

You have an idea, you know your story’s conflict, and you write the plot to solve that conflict (which is what you’re supposed to do). The problem occurs when you get too focused on your plot in a, “this is what the protagonist needs to do to win,” type way, which can sometimes put literary blinders on you.

You’re so caught up on what the right path is, that you forget to let your protagonist make mistakes and struggle to find that right path.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Do You Feel It? Writing With Emotional Layers

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Just like your plot has layers, consider the emotional layers of your story. 

Emotions are like a complex soup, where every sip brings a new experience and you never know what’s bubbling just under the surface. They might be scalding or cold, sweet or spicy, weak or cloying.

Often, they’re multiple feelings at once.

You might be happy for a friend who just got a promotion, but envious because you were passed over for one. Or thrilled for a sister marrying the man of her dreams, but worried because this is marriage number five for him.

“It’s complicated” is a real thing, and characters struggle with those same emotional challenges.

When diving into a scene, think about the various emotions your characters are feeling, and how you can use those layers to deepen the scene and connect with the reader. Ask yourself:

Thursday, April 18, 2024

5 Common Problems With Beginnings

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

If your beginning isn't working, no one will get to the ending.

A novel’s beginning is under a lot of pressure. It has to introduce the protagonist and characters, setup the world and story, and get the plot moving, all while hooking our readers and making them want to turn the page. 

With all that setup and introduction, it’s no wonder a first draft often has the wrong opening scene, or takes too much time to get going.

The only thing tougher than writing a beginning is writing the ending. Except for writing the middle.

If a beginning isn’t working, it’s usually due to not grabbing the reader’s interest, either by lack of a compelling problem, nothing happening, or taking too long to get to the actual story.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Is Your Plot Going Somewhere Readers Will Follow?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Just because you have a plot, doesn’t mean you have a story.

The first novel I ever wrote was all about the plot. This happened, and then that happened, and I explained how these awesome (I thought) characters discovered this cool mystery about the history behind my fantasy world.

It was terrible.

The writing wasn’t half bad, and the idea itself was pretty cool (to me), but there was no story to speak of. My characters followed a predetermined path that explained how a situation came to pass. The surprises and twists came not from what my protagonist did, but only when I decided as the author to finally reveal a piece of information.

This was not a book anyone else wanted to read.

If you want readers to read your novel, give them a plot they want to follow.

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

3 Mistakes to Avoid When Creating Stakes in Your Story

stakes, make readers care, conflict, tension
By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Stakes are critical to any story, because without stakes, why should readers care about what's going on?

Storytelling problems often appear in one of three areas—lack of goals, conflicts, or stakes. There’s a reason these three things make up the holy trinity of good storytelling. They work best when balanced, holding up the story like a three-legged stool. Weaken any one leg, and the stool (and story) collapses.

Goals drive the plot, conflicts create the suspense, but the stakes make readers emotionally invest in the story. Stakes make them care about the characters and their dreams, and makes them worry they won’t overcome their problems and succeed. 

It doesn’t matter if what’s at stake is one small grade on a test or the fate of the world, the risks and consequences of the characters’ actions affect how much readers care.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Get What's in Your Head onto the Page

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

It’s the author’s job to bring a story to life for readers.

Sometimes we envision a story so clearly it plays out in our heads like a movie. We know exactly how the characters move around the setting, we hear all the inflections and nuances in their dialogue, and we even smell the flowers they’re carrying in the air.

Most times, all this detail makes it onto the page as we write and readers are drawn into the scene.

Other times, it doesn’t, and readers struggle for context and have no clue what’s going on—or worse—make misleading assumptions that actually hurt the story.

As the author, you know your story so well, it’s easy to forget your readers are seeing it for the first time.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

What “Burnt” Can Teach Us About Conflict and Stakes

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

The whole point of creating conflict and stakes is to use them.

My husband and I are big fans of both cooking shows and movies about restaurants, so we were excited to see Burnt. While it let us down as a movie, it did provide a great example on why conflict and stakes are vital to a story. 

Even better, it gave me a wonderful example of why a novel that is well written, has a solid idea, and all the right pieces, might keep getting rejected.

Because Burnt is technically well done. It has an amazing cast, great actors and acting, good production values, strong writing, solid bones in the story—what it lacks are the fundamental elements of good storytelling.