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Fashioning Characters Based on Plot and Premise

When I think about the many novels I’ve written, I realize I don’t always start with a plot idea. Sometimes a topic or theme intrigues me, or I’ll have an image of a character in the throes of a moral dilemma.

I remember reading about how C. S. Lewis came up with his Narnia series. He had a picture in his mind of a faun carrying a parcel and an umbrella through a snowy wood. From there, the The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe sprang into existence.

The novel I’m currently writing, a supernatural thriller called Lightning Man, also was sparked by a picture in my head. I saw a man at the top of a mountain, his arms outstretched in a kind of messianic surrender to the heavens, willing lightning to strike him for the tenth time, intending to stop a terrorist by sacrificing his life as he grips the bad guy. From there I had to ask a lot of questions to find my story, and I encourage you to do the same with the ideas that excite you.

I wove a complex plot around that character and climactic moment I saw in my head (it’s taken me a couple of years, but it’s all in place now). But it all started with a picture of a nebulous character.

For my novel Someone to Blame, I started with a word or concept: blame. I wanted to explore the ways people blame themselves and others and the damage and hurt blame causes. From that germ of an idea, a plot developed—a story about a family who’ve suffered the loss of two sons and moved to a new town hoping to start over, only to get drawn into a heavy drama that mires the town in blame and subsequent danger.

In my conversations with numerous best-selling authors, I’ve learned that their story ideas are sparked in a myriad of ways.

Though ideas for stories begin in different ways, all roads lead to one key question: Who is this story about and what is that character’s journey? Continue Reading…

How to Breathe Life into Your Characters

Today’s guest post is by author Morgan St. James.

Many novice writers find it  tempting to simply string together a word laundry list to describe a character’s physical attributes or their behavior in routine or off-the-chart situations. Some go a little beyond dry description and use inner thoughts to pump up the situation.

That can represent a pitfall if not used with discretion. I recently read a book that would have really been good but for the excessive use of inner dialogue—an average of at least three or four per chapter. It is better to create characters with feelings, emotions and a physical presence.

One of the most important qualities a fictional character can possess is to seem real to the reader.

Creating characters doesn’t have to be daunting. It is important to remember that the reader sees events through the eyes of the players in the story. Unless it is critical to a specific character, avoid populating your story with characters who are devoid of emotion. Characters that seem like a bunch of paper dolls reading from a script.

On the other hand, it’s easy to get carried away with creating overblown figures. Strive to strike a balance. Continue Reading…

Considerations for the First Page of Your Novel

I hope you know why it’s so important to craft a terrific first page. Surely if your first page is awful, it’s likely your reader won’t read further. And that’s a bad thing.

When we realize that literary agents often won’t read beyond the first paragraph if it doesn’t spark interest, it puts a lot of pressure on us writers to come up with a stellar first page.

But it doesn’t and can’t stop there. A great first page is not going to make up for the next three hundred blah pages.

While there is a ton to learn about scene and novel structure (and my blog contains something like a million words of instruction on those topics, so dig in!), there are some key lessons to learn about fiction writing from focusing on the first page.

Why? Because the elements on a first page should (and usually do) reflect the quality of writing in the rest of a novel. In other words, you can’t just work hard to make that first page sing and then ignore the rest of your manuscript.  Continue Reading…

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