I was fortunate to be a Beta Reader and I liked it so much that I purchased it on Amazon to read again and keep in my library. View original on https://mctuggle.com/2018/03/30/blog-tour-gallows-hill-the-investigative-paranormal-society-book-2/#like-3746
I have the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Charles French, a distinguished educator and author. His new book, Gallows Hill, is a thriller and the second in his exciting series. The first book, Maledicus, is a riveting page-turner deep into history and speculative fiction, that follows paranormal investigating by three main characters. Frankly, that barely scratches the surface of mystery and darkness. Without further ado, let’s meet the author:
I know you are partial to classical literature, particularly Shakespeare. And, you teach English Literature courses at Muhlenberg College. How has that influenced you and your writing?
I have loved Shakespeare most of my life. I was first entranced by his work as a high school student, when I saw a traveling professional production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was amazed not only by the language but also by the physicality of the play and the images of…
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Sue Vincent writes to the heart of fairy tales that adults today love to read and I am one of them. Like Tolkien said, ““Fantasy does not obscure, but illuminates the inner nature of reality.” https://scvincent.com/2018/03/15/childhood-fantasy-2
He’s right… by the time you reach an age with double figures, fairy stories are for babies… and you are no longer a babe. In just the same way that we cease admitting to the guilty affection for the music our parents liked as we grew, so do the books of early childhood get left upon the shelf… at least when anyone is looking.
We ‘progress’ to more complicated reading. Quite often the books we read as teenagers say more about how we would like to be percieved by the world, or reflect the adventures or romance that we long for at that age. Most of those stories, too, are as wildly fantastical as the fairy tales… but being set in ‘reality’, they are more acceptable to our fledgling egos.
Those who loved fairy tales may be lucky, making the early discovery of fantasy and science fiction… which may simply…
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People who love to read but have never written books are cognizant of the pacing. Pacing sets the tempo of your story. Is it a fast read, or did it seem to drag on for days? Hopefully you’ve found a balance between the two, and they perform like a fine tuned orchestra.
I have read many good books, and yes, skimmed paragraphs, because I was tired of reading about the duchess’s frilly dress or inner hull of a slave ship. I’m glad the authors did their homework and provided historical information, but sometimes it can be a bit much and totally bog down your story. I have read other books that were nonstop action that left me wanting; they were missing the details that made the story real and the characters endearing.
So how do you control the pacing of your story? Be cognizant of the tempo and your audience. You have to strike a balance between the…
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An excerpt from: Paul Goat Allen | March 12, 2018, Writer’s Digest. Paul Goat Allen has worked as a genre fiction book critic and written thousands of reviews for companies like BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, the Chicago Tribune and Kirkus Reviews.
Novelists live and die by reviews yet uncovering what garners a gushing ovation or blistering takedown is often a mystery. A professional critic lays out what it takes to earn five-star book reviews. For two decades I’d been working as a freelance genre fiction book critic for outlets such as BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and the Chicago Tribune. After sharing my credentials with the group, some of the writers began telling stories about mediocre or bad reviews they’d received at different points in their careers from one or more of the companies I’d listed.
As a reviewer, not much has changed since then. I enjoy all genres and have reviewed thousands of titles in hundreds of sub-genres ranging from apocalyptic fiction to zombie erotica. (Yes, there’s such thing as zombie erotica.) In the end, genre categorization matters little to me—it’s all about the story. With that in mind, I decided to formalize a universal framework through which I process and analyze my various reading experiences. While there are undoubtedly specific narrative elements I look for in-particular-genres (pacing and tension level in thrillers, for example), there’s a pyramid of qualities—a Hierarchy of Needs, if you will—that I seek in every story. While highly simplified, it’s this structure that dictates whether I give a book a positive or negative review.
These five criteria will not only provide a glimpse into how a veteran book reviewer dissects and evaluates a novel but, hopefully, make you look at your writing in a different light. See for yourself: Does your work-in-progress have what it takes to earn a positive review?
The Book Reviewer’s Hierarchy of Needs: How to Earn Five-Star Book Reviews
A book’s degree of readability is the base layer of my reviewer’s pyramid, and the foundation for any good story. The quality of a novel—narrative clarity, narrative fluidity, having a coherent storyline—is directly related to the number of times I put that book down. Some are so bad, so poorly written, that I struggle to get through a single paragraph without wanting to walk away. Others have such a fl uid plot that I find it virtually impossible to stop reading—Tad Williams’ The Witchwood Crown and Jim Butcher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass being two such examples of utterly readable, page-turning novels.
I’ve read a lot of “unputdownable” books over the last few decades, and the vast majority of these all have something in common beyond a clear and fluid narrative: The stories have noticeably strong chapter beginnings and endings. It’s a small thing, but a great way to compel readers to keep reading. How can you put a book down when every chapter begins and ends with a cliffhanger sequence, bombshell plot twist or powerful statement? When I consistently find these elements in a novel, I know the author fully understands the significance of readability.
Conversely, novels that aren’t as readable—that are poorly written with awkward sentence structure, a confusing storyline, weak chapter beginnings and endings—are almost asking to be tossed aside. This may sound obvious, but if you can’t compel a reader to read your story, then you need to focus more on your craft before penning another book.
I define immersion as the ability for me, the reader, to not only lose myself in a novel (I call these “stay-up-all-night-till-your-eyes-bleed” reads) but to experience the story intimately, living vicariously through the characters. This trick is accomplished through a continued focus on setting, rich description and atmospherics. I don’t want to experience the story as a detached viewer looking down at what’s happening—I want to feel like I’m in the story.
The litmus test for this is easy. If I become so engaged with a book that I lose track of time—if I glance at the clock and hours have passed by—you’ve succeeded in drawing me fully into your read. Writers who are absolute immersion masters (think Cherie Priest, Justin Cronin, Charlaine Harris) are so good at captivating description that weeks, months and oftentimes years after reading their novels I can still vividly recall specific scenes.
This layer is where many writers stumble, and here’s why: While they may excel at world-building and meticulous description at the beginning of a novel, once the action and adventure ramps up, they not only lose focus but completely ignore description altogether. I’ve seen this happen countless times in every genre: rich description for the first 100 pages or so, then almost nothing in the final 200. It’s called literary escapism for a reason. If I can’t lose myself in a read—from beginning to end—then I haven’t fully escaped. Writing the Intimate Character: Create Unique, Compelling Characters Through Mastery of Point of View
- Character Depth and/or Plot Intricacy
Three-dimensional, interesting and identifiable characters bring emotional connectivity and intensity to the read. If your readers aren’t emotionally invested in your characters, then the narrative impact of your story is inevitably going to be negatively impacted. Emotions wield power. If you can bring your readers to tears, make them laugh out loud or scare them to the point of checking under the bed, then you’ve succeeded on some level.
Creating authentic characters to whom readers can relate is a solid achievement—but an obvious word of warning: Stay clear of clichés and stereotypes. Overused conventions—like the Chosen One in fantasy who is consistently a white male, or the emotionally damaged billionaire entrepreneur in erotic fiction who needs to sexually dominate his love interest—even if brilliantly rendered, will underwhelm and disappoint more than a few readers (and reviewers).
Now, the reason I include an “and/or” between character development and plot intricacy is because, in some rare cases (particularly in mainstream thrillers), a novel with an impressively knotty storyline can still succeed with relatively cardboard characters.
Which is why plot intricacy is key: Why read a novel where you can accurately predict what’s going to happen after a few chapters? (I do that quite often. After reading the first chapter or two, I’ll jot down a prediction in my notes. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve guessed the ending correctly.) I just finished reviewing a brilliant historical mystery for Publishers Weekly that was filled with so many plot twists I was left guessing until the last few pages. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a fantasy or a thriller or a romance—the plot has to be intricate enough to keep your reader simultaneously engaged and a bit off balance.
- Originality and Innovation
This one ties in with embracing originality, be it atypical characters or unconventional story structure. So many books out there today are built upon unoriginal, rehashed, derivative storylines. I read a lot. And I get bored easily, especially when reading the same basic story arc again and again. My advice? Don’t play it safe. Write a story that you’ve never read before. In a 2016 Goodreads interview I conducted with fantasy novelist Michael J. Sullivan, author of Age of Myth, he said,
“It doesn’t matter if it’s been done before. It just matters if it’s being done well now.”
I love that quote. Just because something has been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be re-envisioned or reimagined but be innovative—put a new twist on an old mythos, turn a stereotype on its head. Have the courage to be creative!
- Thematic Profundity
In the introduction to the 2006 reissue of Walter M. Miller Jr.’s 1960 Hugo Award–winning classic, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Mary Doria Russell writes, “You’ll be different when you finish it.” That’s my hope for every novel I pick up—that within the story there will be a kind of spiritual and/or existential wisdom, a kind of revelation or insight that will change the way I look at myself and the world around me.
A novel that holds this kind of thematic power—as well as the other elements in the Hierarchy of Needs—will get a starred review from me every time. Stories, no matter the genre, have the power to change lives. Novels like Andreas Eschbach’s The Carpet Makers, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We have irrevocably changed who I am. After all, that’s the ultimate goal, right? To write a commercially successful and critically acclaimed novel that is both entertaining and enlightening.
Evaluating a novel is a cumulative process. Those with masterful character development but zero immersion will still receive a poor review, for example, while a thematically profound read with excruciatingly bad readability will receive a terrible review.
May this Hierarchy of Needs not only make you more aware of how your writing is experienced by readers—and jaded book reviewers like myself—but also offer up a few invaluable insights that can be used to improve your craft. Who knows, maybe my next starred review will be yours.
reblogged from Writing Forward, by Melissa Donovan on March 6, 2018,
https://www.writingforward.com/ (An excerpt from Melissa Donovan’s book, 10 Core Practices for Better Writing.)
This excerpt is from “Chapter Nine: Creativity,” which offers insights and tips to help you stay inspired and creative as a writer. The excerpt I’ve chosen presents ten myths about creativity. These are notions about creativity that people assume, even though many of them are counterproductive to creativity.
“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” – Maya Angelou
There’s an old myth floating around, which suggests that creativity is inherent. You’re either born with it or you’re born without it. But creativity can be learned and developed over time. Some people may have a more natural inclination toward creative thinking, but anyone can foster and nurture creativity.
Artists throughout the ages have gone to great lengths and sunk to fathomless lows in pursuit of inspiration. The ancient Greeks personified inspiration in the muses. When they needed inspiration, they invoked these supernatural entities, calling on them for artistic help. Artists have set out on journeys, pursued spiritual and religious activities, and engaged in painful or unhealthy experiences in order to feed their imaginations.
Indeed, there are famous examples of authors drinking themselves to death or committing suicide, and of course, there is the well-known tale of Vincent Van Gogh cutting off part of his own ear. And finally, there’s the ever-present stereotype of the starving artist.
Despite these tales of suffering and tragedy among authors and artists, the most successful creative people tend toward more practical measures, choosing lifestyles and habits that are healthy and conducive to creativity. Unfortunately, these destructive myths about creativity persist.
Ten Myths about Creativity
1. Drugs and alcohol: One of the worst myths about artistry is that drugs and alcohol promote creativity. That’s a lie. What drugs and alcohol do is promote dependence. It is ineffective and inefficient to rely on these substances in order to make art. It’s also unhealthy, and in fact, it can be deadly.
2.Misery: Another common myth is that pain, sorrow, and anger are the best conduits for creativity. Sure, when we are unhappy, writing can provide a healthy, therapeutic outlet. But this has nothing to do with creativity and everything to do with the need to express oneself. While misery may indeed inspire us, we can be just as inspired by happy or emotionally neutral experiences. Relying on a depressive state of mind for inspiration is just as dangerous as relying on drugs and alcohol. And like drugs and alcohol, such thinking is unhealthy and can be deadly.
3.Suffering: This myth is based on the idea that artistry is won through suffering. Some people actually believe that artists should suffer, and suffer hard, before they get to succeed. What you have to do to succeed is work hard. You shouldn’t have to suffer.
4.Divinity: There are less dangerous myths about creativity and inspiration. Some people believe that creativity makes a divine appearance only when they are supposed to create, and the rest of the time, they shouldn’t bother. We all have moments of great inspiration. They come and go and are rare for most of us. The most successful writers don’t wait for inspiration, they work for it. Regardless of our religious or spiritual beliefs, we can learn to control our own creativity just as we control other aspects of our lives. It’s called free will.
4.Talent: Lots of people believe that creativity is inherently tied to talent. Talent just means you have a knack for something. Lots of creative people may not be especially talented, and there are plenty of talented individuals with no interest in pursuing the arts.
5.Two kinds of people: Some people are artistic; everyone else is not. That’s definitely not true. Everyone is creative, and the more we nurture and foster creativity, the more creative we become. Creativity is closely associated with the arts, but artists aren’t the only people who are creative.
6.Life of poverty: Many people believe that it’s practically impossible to succeed or make a living as any kind of artist. They mistakenly believe that an artist’s life is one of poverty and struggle. All kinds of people experience poverty—not just artists—and artists who do experience poverty don’t do so just because they are artists, as is proven by the many artists who never struggled with poverty.
7.Fame and fortune: Conversely, some people believe that artists will enjoy great fame and fortune. While it’s possible that you could write a wildly best-selling novel and become rich and famous, it’s not likely, although the odds are better for you than for someone working in a cubicle-eight-hours a day who doesn’t make any art at all. At least you have a shot at fame and fortune.
8.Creative people are weird: everybody’s weird.
9.Creative people are creative all the time or whenever they want to create: Once you’ve shown yourself to be creative, some people will think you’re capable of doing anything that requires creativity or that you’re a constant fountain of ideas. While many creative people have more ideas than they know what to do with, some have to work hard at finding inspiration.
10.The truth is that creativity is different for everyone and possible for anyone. You just have to want it, and you might have to work for it.
What Is Line Editing and What Should Line Editors Do? by Jami Gold https://jamigold.com/2018/03/what-is-line-editing-and-what-should-line-editors-do/
Last month, when I put together the Master Lists of writing craft skills to provide insights for self-editing and/or finding editors, I created a list for each phase of editing:
- content/developmental editing (fix story and character-level issues)
- line editing (fix scene and paragraph-level issues)
- copy editing (fix sentence, word, and grammar-level issues)
As I mentioned in the Line Editing post, in my experience, line editing is the hardest type of editing to nail down. We can say that line editing is about how we write scenes and paragraphs, but what does that mean?
Let’s take a closer look at what line editing encompasses…
Why Is Line Editing Hard to Define?
While developmental editing is about the story and characters and copy editing is about grammar rules and sentence-level issues, line editing skills are all about our writing—as a whole:
- our voice
- our style
- our techniques
- our choices
Despite how line editing skills overlap those of developmental editing and copy editing, the skills also go far beyond looking at character arcs or knowing grammar and into becoming deeply in tune with an author’s voice. Talented line editing can make our writing sing, and the step shouldn’t be skipped.
Do We Need a Professional Line Editor?
Unfortunately, many writers have probably never been exposed to good line editing to recognize it (or its lack). It’s rare for a beta reader or critique partner—or even an English teacher—to have the necessary skills to be a good line editor. Due to the difficulty in finding non-professionals with the necessary line editing skills, my “default” recommendation as far as editing is:
For most writers, if we can afford to pay only one professional editor, we should get a professional line edit.
However, many editors who call themselves line editors actually perform more of a copyedit. It’s essential to get a sample edit from a potential editor to see what kind of changes they’re suggesting—and whether or not their changes are good for our voice, etc.
What should a professional line edit include? Check this list of examples…CLICK TO TWEET But that brings up the issue: If it’s so hard to define or recognize good line editing, how can we find a good line editor?
The first step is to learn more about what line editors do (or should do). The better we understand this stage of editing, the more we’re able to self-edit for these issues or judge whether a sample edit from someone calling themselves a line editor reveals if they’re actually looking at the right things.
Once we know whether a potential editor measures up, skill-wise, we can then focus on whether they’re a good match for our voice. I hesitate to ever recommend specific editors because we all have different strengths and weaknesses, but our individual needs are never more important than finding a line editor who’s a good match for our voice.
No matter how skilled the line editor, we should stay far away from any who don’t “get” our voice. *smile*
What Should Line Editors Do? The Basics…
Line editing focuses on clarity and strength in our writing, such as:
- Are any sentences clunky or confusing?
- Do any motivations need to be made clearer?
- Are any phrases too cliché?
- Do any sentences or paragraphs need to be tightened?
- Are any sentences or paragraphs too repetitive?
- Would different words make a stronger emotional impact?
- Would showing or telling make a point more effective?
- Would rearranging any sentences or paragraphs help the storytelling flow or have emotional focus?
In my post a few years ago about how we can evaluate potential editors, I gave a few examples of line-editing comments:
- “I feel like her words should directly follow this. See what you think of the new arrangement.”
- “This wording is a little awkward, and I would add a sentence or two showing her decision.”
- “You can cut this. We know it already.”
- “This almost goes without saying. Could you use a more descriptive adverb, or better yet, phrase?”
Note how these comments get into reading flow, clarity, tightening, and stronger writing. These are what we’re looking for with line edits. (Also note how these comments get into the nitty-gritty of how we word things. That’s why we need our line editor to be in tune with our voice.)
What Should Line Editors Do? More Examples…
I love how line editing makes my voice and writing stronger, so I want to give more insights into what a good line edit can do for us. I hope these examples give us more ideas about the types of self-editing we can do as well as what we should look for when evaluating potential line editors.
In my Line Editing Master List post, I organized line-editing skills into several categories. Using many of those same categories, here are some of the comments I received from my line editor on my latest release, Stone-Cold Heart:
Scene structure is usually a developmental editing step, but this is one of those areas that can overlap with line editing—especially when it comes to narrow story issues, repetition of ideas, and story/emotional flow.
- “What’s the deal with this? Where did it come from?”
- “That’s DEFINITELY something I’d expect her to ask about.”
- “Would this not cause problems in the world?”
- “I think it’s fine to have this new POV scene this way. It’s not like there’s any other way to reveal this info. The only other thing you could do to make it slightly less jarring would be to put a prologue in her POV.”
- “I would cut this and move it down to AFTER her explanation so you don’t cut the tension of us waiting to see what happens, with all the backstory.”
- “I pictured them still on the couch and assumed she was either talking to them from the kitchen or had come back into the living room, so I’m confused about when they decided to join her.”
- “Insert scene break.”
Structure Paragraphs and Sentences
Paragraph and sentence structure is the “meat” of line editing, ensuring ideas are expressed with strength and clarity.
- “Three prepositional phrases in a row is the absolute max. I prefer no more than two because it gets overwhelming, but I’ll let you decide if there’s an easy way to rework this.”
- “Feels redundant. I don’t think you need both of these.”
- “Cut. This goes without saying, as we see this already.”
- “I don’t see any need for the paragraph break.”
- “Closer implies comparison, but what are you comparing here?”
- “Wrenched what?”
- “Unclear who’s speaking here.”
- “This sentence has too much going on. Can you split it into two?”
- “Maybe change to “it doesn’t matter” or something similar. “No” is a confusing answer here.”
- “This is a little hard to picture.”
- “This is a little clunky. Reword if you can.”
- “Even going back to review the last page, it’s not immediately clear what excuse you’re referring to.”
- “Odd word choice. I feel like this word implies the opposite.”
Tightening sentences is also a major aspect of line editing, as in these screenshots:
(Newsletter readers need to click through to the post to see the images. Click on the images to see full size.)
As I mentioned above, voice is the trickiest aspect of line editing. A line editor who’s not a good match for us will try to “fix” our voice choices into something dull, but a good match will help us make our voice stronger and sharper.
- “You know me and repetition, but using the different form of the word in the first sentence throws it off. Do you think changing it to match the other two makes it too much? What if you combine the last two sentences?”
- “I think you may be over-using this word. The idea is well established at this point, and I don’t think the particular word needs to be repeated quite so many times.”
- “I feel like a pause before this is necessary to emphasize it. Comma, em dash, ellipsis, your choice.”
- “Try adding this understatement to make it funnier.”
- “Sounds too formal.”
- “I would maybe draw out these words with ellipses.”
- “Some writers would use hyphens to make this into one idea. I was just reading something in an editor forum that said that’s considered lazy writing. Meh. Who knows?
But the italics are a little odd as well. You could rephrase.”
- “Technically these are comma splices. Which I’m sure you know. I would probably use periods here, but I can see wanting to tie it all together, so I’ll look the other way if that’s what you choose. 😉 “
Note: That last bullet is a great example of how a good editor match will “get” what we’re trying to do with our voice. *smile*
Evoke Intended Reader Reactions
Another aspect of feedback is for an editor to let us know whether our words are having the intended effect. Good editors will mention when something feels “off.”
- “I’m assuming the gun isn’t loaded, but I can’t be sure, so maybe make that a little more clear here.”
- “This actually minimizes the explosion in my head. I think of a bang as something sharp, caused by a gunshot, two things being struck together, etc. But an explosion is more of a boom. Or you could just describe its effect or compare it to something.”
- “This sounds far more emotional. I would probably cut this part unless you mean to imply that he’s actually falling for her.”
- “This seems out of left field. At least off topic.”
- “I would switch these. This just sounds awkward, so it kills the moment you’re trying to create here.”
- “The ellipsis makes me think that he’s drawing a blank for what to call her. But this word alone is a perfect end to that sentence.”
- “Both of their statements here feel a little contrived.”
- “I think this line could be stronger.”
A good line editor will help us develop our characters through word choice and keep our character’s presentation consistent.
- “I want an adjective here to tell me what kind she likes.”
- “This makes me immediately distrustful of him. Is that your intent?”
- “Italicized because these words are always extra meaningful for him.”
- “Seems like a really modern turn of phrase for his voice.”
- “Would he know what this is?”
- “I feel surprised that he would use this word. It seems a little feminine or something.”
Use Showing vs. Telling and POV Appropriately
Line editing can also highlight out-of-POV (point of view) phrases or let us know when we need more showing or telling.
- “These highlighted phrases feel like she’s too self-aware. If she recognizes the signs, why can’t she exert some sort of control over it?”
- “Are his arms still around her?”
- “This feels very info-dumpy for her to say aloud. Doesn’t sound natural.”
- “Not sure if she’d know her expression is pathetic.”
- “This seems too self aware. Almost outside her POV. Maybe an analogy like…”
- “This feels kind of “as you know, Bob-ish.””
- “Can you unpack this a little? What does that look like?”
- “Above, she merely “stepped back” from his arms, so I assumed he was still right there within touching distance.”
- “This is a little tell-y.”
- “More description please. A warehouse, a mansion, a brownstone, an estate?”
Miscellaneous Line Editing Elements
In addition, line editing can touch on goals, stakes, conflict, motivation, pacing, tension, etc.
- “This feels like overkill. We get this point, but it feels like a jump. Almost weird that she’s even thinking about this.”
- “Why does she assume this?”
- “I realize the importance of this moment. You need their bond to be threatened, but this doesn’t feel like it fits. It comes out of left field.
Could you tweak the direction a little and have her lash out? That’s still a lack of trust, without seeming like the thought suddenly made her change her mind.”
Want More Line Editing Information?
Here are a few other posts where we’ve talked about line-editing issues:
- How to Strengthen Our Characters with Strong Writing
(eliminating “weasel” words, unclear meanings, wordiness, etc.)
- Editing Tips: Top 3 Writing Craft Issues — Guest: Naomi Hughes
(problems with metaphors, repetitive sentence structure, and filter words)
- Using Grammar to Strengthen Our Voice — Guest: Julie Glover
(how paragraph, sentence and word choices affect our voice)
Hopefully this information helps show how line editing can take our writing and make it stronger. With a good line editor (or amazing self-editing skills), our stories will grab readers’ attention and emotions, compelling them to read just. One. More. Page. *smile*
How familiar are you with line editing? Have you had a good line editor before? What made them good (or bad)? Does this help clarify what a good line editor should analyze or how to evaluate a line editor’s skills? Do you have any questions about line editing?
by Melissa Donovan on March 15, 2018 ·
I was recently reading a novel, and a few chapters in, I realized I had mixed up two of the main characters. In fact, I had been reading them as if they were a single character. I’m a pretty sharp reader, and this has never happened before, so I tried to determine why I’d made the mistake. Was I tired? Hungry? Not paying attention?
I went back and reviewed the text and noticed that these two characters were indistinct. They were so alike that without carefully noting which one was acting in any given scene, it was impossible to differentiate them from each other. They were essentially the same character. Even their names sounded alike.
This got me to thinking about the importance of building a cast of characters who are unique and distinct from each other instead of a cast of stock characters who are mere clones of one another.
We sometimes talk about stock characters in literature. You know them: the mad scientist, the poor little rich kid, the hard-boiled detective. These characters have a place in storytelling. When readers meet a sassy, gum-popping waitress in a story, they immediately know who she is. They’ve seen that character in other books and movies. Maybe they’ve even encountered waitresses like her in real life. These characters are familiar, but they’re also generic.
When we use a stock character as a protagonist or any other primary character, we have to give the character unique qualities so the character doesn’t come off as generic or boring. It’s fine to have a sassy, gum-popping waitress make a single appearance in a story, but if she’s a lead character, she’s going to need deeper, more complex development so the readers no longer feel as if they already know her. She has to become fresh and interesting.
Stieg Larsson did this brilliantly in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the sequels that made up the Millennium trilogy. At first the protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, seems like a surly punk, the kind of character we’ve seen a million times before. As the story progresses and Lisbeth moves to center stage, we learn there’s more to her than meets the eye. She’s antisocial, and she’s a computer genius. She’s bold, brave, and tough. She’s not just some surly punk. She is a moral person with unique challenges — one of the most intriguing characters in contemporary fiction.
Stock characters are often taken from source material, sometimes as an homage and other times as a blatant rip-off. Such characters are problematic when they feature prominently in a story and have no traits that differentiate them from the character upon which they are based. Do you want to read a story about a boy wizard named Hal Porter who wears glasses and has a scar on his forehead? Probably not, unless it’s a parody of Harry Potter, whom we all know and love.
You can certainly write a story about a young wizard who is based on Harry Potter, but you have to differentiate your character from Harry. Make the character a girl, give her a hearing aid instead of glasses, and come up with a memorable name that doesn’t immediately bring Harry Potter to mind. And give your character her own personality and challenges.
As the book I was recently reading demonstrates, we also have to watch out for cloning characters within our own stories. For most writers, this is a bigger problem than cloning characters out of other authors’ stories.
Think about it: you are the creator of all the characters in your story. You might have based them on people or characters you know and love (or loathe). You might have conjured them from your imagination. But they are all coming from you: your thoughts, your experiences, and your voice.
While I’ve never mixed up two characters in a book I was reading before, I have noticed that characters who act, think, and speak similarly are common. And while a cast of characters who are similar to each other in every way imaginable doesn’t necessarily make a story bad, a cast of characters who are noticeably distinct from each other is much better.
Nature vs. Nurture: How to Avoid Cloned Characters
Cloning is the practice of making a copy of something, an exact replica. You can clone a human being (or a character), but once the clone comes into existence, it will immediately start changing and becoming different from the original. Its personal experiences will be unique. By nature, the original and the clone are exactly the same, but nurture (or life experience) will cause the clone to deviate from the original.
Here are some tips to make sure your characters are unique and not clones of each other or any character or person they are based on:Give your characters distinct and memorable names. Avoid giving characters name that sound alike. Don’t use names that start with the same letter and are the same length, and don’t use names that rhyme.
1.Give your characters distinct and memorable names. Avoid giving characters name that sound alike. Don’t use names that start with the same letter and are the same length, and don’t use names that rhyme.
2.Unless you’re writing a family saga, make sure your characters don’t all look alike. Try developing a diverse cast of characters.
3.Characters’ speech patterns will depend on where they’re from, but individuals also have their own quirky expressions and sayings. Use dialogue to differentiate the characters from each other. Maybe one character swears a lot while another calls everyone by nicknames.
4.Create character sketches complete with backstories. If you know your characters intimately, you’ll be less likely to portray them as a bunch of clones.
5.To help you visualize your characters, look for photos of actors, models, and other public figures that you can use to help your imagination fill in the blanks.
6.Once you’ve created your cast, ask whether any of them are stock characters. If any of your primary characters feel like stock characters, make them more unique.
Are You Using Stock Characters? Are Your Characters a Bunch of Clones?
The main problem with the book I mentioned at the beginning of this post was that there were two characters who were essentially functioning as a single entity, at least for the first four or five chapters, which is as far as I got in the book. Together, they shared the same purpose or function within the story. The best fix for that problem would have been to combine the two characters into a single character, something I have had to do in one of my fiction projects that had a few too many names and faces.
I can’t help but wonder if the author ever bothered to run the manuscript by beta readers, and since the book was traditionally published, I wondered how the cloned characters made it past the editor.
How much attention do you pay to your characters when you’re writing a story? What strategies do you use to get to know your characters and make sure they are all unique? Have you ever noticed stock characters or cloned characters in a story you’ve read? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing!
This is wonderful! And, every writer and author should read this post-haste! You will love it! thank Seumas Gallacher!
…to every man, woman, and child who ever picked up a pen or pencil, tapped at a typewriter, clicked at a keyboard, in an effort to WRITESUM’THING out of their own imagination, I salute yeez… each and every one of yeez… heroes and heroines all… lately, I saw a Facebook exchange about what constitutes a ‘good’ writer, a ‘successful’writer, a writer ‘of note’, which discussion also included some gratuitously offensive commentary on certain scribblers whose material didn’t ‘meet the expectations’ of some readers… I call those sniper ‘critics’ cringeworthy carpers, pedantic peddlers, humbugging hussies… I wonder how many of those, so quick to relegate so readily to the dustbin the literary effort of others, have ever written a book themselves?… I recall the time this ol’ Scots Jurassic completed my first novel… my maiden sortie into the universe of the wordsmith, THE VIOLIN MAN’S LEGACY… it was…
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This simple, yet complex poem, played on my heart-strings, because it is so true.
When to the garden of untroubled thought
I came of late, and saw the open door,
And wished again to enter, and explore
The sweet, wild ways with stainless bloom inwrought,
And bowers of innocence with beauty fraught,
It seemed some purer voice must speak before
I dared to tread that garden loved of yore,
That Eden lost unknown and found unsought.
Then just within the gate I saw a child,-
A stranger-child, yet to my heart most dear;
He held his hands to me, and softly smiled
With eyes that knew no shade of sin or fear:
“Come in,” he said,“and play awhile with me;
I am the little child…
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