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Why Layering Your Novel Is the Method for Success

Last year I spent some months talking about layering scenes. As time goes on, I see how few writers—especially aspiring novelists—have any clue how to organize their scenes. They brainstorm their scene ideas once they’ve settled on a premise of sorts, and then they just start writing from scene one.

The result is usually disastrous.

While we read books from page 1 to the end, that is not the best way to lay out a novel. In fact, it’s probably the worst way.

Novels need to be built like houses. You don’t build a house by framing up a door, sticking the door in the doorway, then entering into . . . nothing. You don’t build in a linear direction, from front to back. And even though you do build vertically, from the ground up, there’s the issue of framework.

You have to build off your concrete slab or perimeter foundation first with a framework. If you’re building a house, that framework will consist of wood studs and posts hammered together according to your blueprint. Walls are built with studs at specific spacing, and the spaces for doors and windows are framed in with headers and supporting studs on the sides and where the sills will go. Continue Reading…

Brilliant or Boring? How Do Your Characters Measure Up?

When critiquing manuscripts, I often wonder how much time writers spend thinking about the personality types of their characters. Because so many characters are either stereotyped, shallow, or boring.

I’ve written a lot about characters and explained that ordinary people are boring. While we want to populate our stories with believable characters, we should avoid ordinary and boring—at least with our protagonist. You might have a minor character who is irritatingly boring to your protagonist, and that character might have a great role in the story.

But you don’t want to bore your readers with flat, uninteresting characters. I hope you can see the difference.

What’s “Larger Than Life”?

You may have heard that fiction writers should create characters who are “larger than life.” That’s a bit puzzling because in life there are all types. How is one “larger” than another? And you don’t want to go to the extremes of hyperbole or exaggeration with all your characters. If you do so, your novel will be a parody of life, not a slice of life (though, if you are aiming for parody and great humor, that’s fine). Continue Reading…

Why Your Protagonist  Should Have a Past “Wound”

Last week I introduce the idea that writers need to know some important things about their protagonist before starting to write their scenes. Some writers hardly develop their characters at all, and it shows. Their scenes are populated with stereotypes that have no depth or uniqueness.

Conversely, spending hours or weeks penning long descriptions of characters’ physical attributes, food preferences, or general likes and dislikes won’t ensure memorable characters will result.

The first thing—which we looked at in last week’s post—that’s essential to consider about your protagonist is his motivation. And this attribute, like all the others we’re going to look at in this series of posts, points to your premise. And that premise centers on the protagonist’s goal.

So, if everything you consider about your characters orbits around the premise and the goal, you’ll be on your way to crafting great characters. Continue Reading…