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Five Things Every Antagonist Needs

Posted by on Aug 31, 2015 in Featured Articles | 1 comment

Five Things Every Antagonist Needs

What makes up a good antagonist? There are a variety of aspects that make a antagonist great. Incorporating certain key factors you’ll read about below can help develop your “bad guy” into a believable and workable villain. Just as in my article “Five Things Every Protagonist Needs,” I’ll explain what you can do to motivate and make your villain credible. Some other good articles to reference are “25 Things You Should Know About Antagonists” by Chuck Wendig and “6 Ways To Better Bad Guys” by Laura Disilverio. Both have comprehensive lists that are helpful for any writer. Here is my take, so let’s begin! 1. Every Villain Is Human Both Wendig and Disilverio both start off their articles with this very important factor: Bad guys are people too. I couldn’t agree more. If you thought a villain never had hurt feelings, you’re sadly mistaken. Most antagonists are bad because of something so catastrophic happened to them that it led them to become the villain they are. They have feelings, cares, wants, desires, and dreams just like a protagonist. The difference is how they perceive and handle things that sets them apart from their better counterparts. It’s their choices that led them down their destined character path. Whether it’s a jealous cheerleader, an evil stepmonster, a sinister warlord or a possessed demon, the humanity of the antagonist should always be present in some form to allow the reader to identity with their struggle. 2. No Wimps Allowed How fun is it to read about a super awesome protag who can scale mountains, rescue damsels, and cook a 10-course meal without an antagonist that can rival his greatness? Not too much fun, I tell you. I want a rival that can hold a candle to any good guy for the duration of the story I’m reading. If the villain is wimpy, there is essentially no struggle since the protag can overcome anything the antag throws at them. Make sure while writing your bad guy that they are a clear competitor to your good guy. 3. A Sense Of Boundaries Writing a villain can be really fun. But don’t let your antag go to overboard. I’m talking about reining in their badness when the situation applies. Okay, true, some bad guys can be over the top devilish. They are bad guys, after all. The finesse is knowing how bad they can truly be to make it work in your story. For instance a mustache twirling, muhahahahaha-laughing, black hat wearing killer isn’t going to carry the proper tone in a modern-day suspense than it would in, say, a campy crime drama. It just doesn’t fit. Make sure your bad guy fits the tone of your story. 4. Knowing When To Shut Up I know you’ve all read one of these books where the villain spills the beans in a massive verbal dump around the arc of the story and explains everything they did and why they did it to the reader. Sigh. So boring. It reminds me of Scooby-Doo when the bad guy either explains why they kidnapped Old Man Clemens or lets one of the gang do it for them. It’s the “I would’ve gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids” speech that writers seem to like to insert into their work. I like the method of using bread crumbs to lead the reader to the reasons villains act the way they do. Meaning, bits and pieces of the story come together as the arc draws to a crest. Don’t tell the reader, let them figure it out. 5. Give Them A Break Even bad guys need a little redemption. It can be big or small, but the reader needs to feel for the villain, no matter how bad they are. Call it a moment of clarity for the antag that the reader gets to witness. It’s important because it lets the reader know that the villain can fall—not just by the protagonist’s doing, but by their own faults—and they can see it for themselves. And hand in hand...

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Let’s Talk Conjunctions

Posted by on Aug 24, 2015 in Featured Articles | 0 comments

Let’s Talk Conjunctions

What is a conjunction? Oh sure, you’ve heard the word over and over most of your life, but what exactly is a conjunction? If you’re of a certain age, you’ve probably watched “Schoolhouse Rock” and learned that a conjunction is a word that hooks up “words and phrases and clauses.” But in order to understand conjunctions, we need to understand what words, phrases, and clauses they combine and why. Words: Okay, we all know what a word is. Phrases: A phrase is a series or words that combine to form a fragment but lack a specific predicate, such as along the way or the big house. There are many different kinds of phrases: Participial phrases – following his lead Adverbial phrases – happily ever after Prepositional phrases – under the boardwalk Infinitive phrases – to watch the movie Appositive phrases – my favorite sister Noun phrases – the rainy day Clauses: A clause is a series of words containing a subject and a verb, such as she loves flowers. There are two main types of clauses—independent and dependent: Independent clauses – Also known as a main clause, this type of clause contains a subject and a verb that form one complete thought. The milk carton is empty! Dependent clauses – These clauses also contain a subject and a verb, but they do not form one complete thought. Here are a few types: Subordinate clauses – These clauses are called subordinate because they have a subject and a verb but contains a subordinating conjunction, which makes the clause incomplete. As I watched the leaves change colors Relative clauses – Similar to subordinate clause, the relative clause contains a subject and a verb but also begins with a relative pronoun or a relative adverb. Which was the reason he fell in the first place When the dog barks Noun clauses – A noun clause is a series of words that contains a subject and a verb and can function on its own as a noun. Dawn is my least favorite time of the day. Replace the noun dawn with a noun phrase, such as the moment my alarm goes off and you have a noun phrase. When writing, we use three types of conjunctions to combine our words, phrases, and clauses: Coordinating Subordinating Correlative Coordinating: Fondly known as FANBOYS, the coordinating conjunctions are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. We use these conjunctions to connect words, phrases, or independent clauses. High or low The red one and the green one I have to leave, but I’ll miss you. Subordinating: The subordinating conjunction is used to connect dependent clauses with independent clauses. Some examples of subordinating conjunctions are as, whenever, until, since, because, after, unless, and before. I realized it was finally fall as I watched the leaves change color. Before you leave, you should stop and visit the market. When the dog barks, I know it’s time for her walk. Correlative: Correlative conjunctions come in pairs to show a connection or contrast between two things. Pairs like both/and, either/or, and neither/nor are correlative conjunctions and are used in the same manner as coordinating conjunctions. Neither you nor I enjoyed the movie. Both Sam and Fred took the train. Either pizza or popcorn was her favorite food. All of this is based on simple sentence structure, but the concepts all hold true even as you add complex verb phrases or multiple independent clauses to build more complex sentences. What’s your favorite subordinating conjunction? Leave a comment and tell me all about it! Happy...

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Five Things You Can Do To Improve Your Writing

Posted by on Aug 17, 2015 in Featured Articles | 0 comments

Five Things You Can Do To Improve Your Writing

Writing a book is hard work. I’m sure there aren’t many who will disagree with that statement. Having your book edited is tough too. In fact, it can border on painful because your editor isn’t going to love every scene or character you worked so hard to create. There are a few things that can help you improve your writing. I mean, really, wouldn’t you rather fix it yourself than have someone else call attention to it? I’ve put together a list of five things you can do to improve your writing. This Ain’t Your Grandma’s Dialogue, or Maybe It Is… It should be simple to write a conversation between two characters, but it’s not. Dialogue is tricky. One of the best ways to learn how to write believable dialogue is to pay attention to real conversations. Listen to your own conversations and eavesdrop on the conversations of strangers. Take notes—covertly, of course—and pay attention to slang and poor grammar. When people talk they interrupt each other, switch topics often to follow tangents, don’t constantly refer to each other’s names, and don’t over-explain anything. If you characters are in high school then listen to how teenagers talk to each other. It’s difficult for a middle-aged author to write a YA novel and sound legit. Add too much slang and you’ll look like a poser. Add too little and your characters will sound like their parents. Writing historical novels has its own set of problems: mismatched dialogue and narrative, forward thinking characters, flowery dialogue, too much slang, etc. Part of the author’s job is to make the story easy to follow. The writing should never call attention to itself. And since you can’t eavesdrop on a conversation from the 1700s, I recommend finding well-written books set during the same period you want to write about and pay attention what the author did and didn’t do with the dialogue. Cut Out Wordiness—It Grows Like a Cancer Ah, wordiness. As long as this little gem is still around, I’ll have a job. Wordiness bogs down the narrative, dialogue, descriptions, pacing, etc. Basically, every aspect of a story can be infected by it, and it’s one of the hardest things to self-edit. I know when I started writing, a little voice in the back of my head—self-doubt—kept nagging me to describe everything or over-explain so that the reader knew exactly what was happening. Avoid making your readers spectators with the phrases he watched, she saw, they stared, he reached out, etc. This only leads to telling instead of showing. Yes, I know! You’re sick of hearing show, don’t tell, but an author who leads his reader around by the nose and tells them what’s going on will lose readers because readers don’t want See Jane run writing as the author tells what’s happening. They want to experience it and watch as the story unfolds.  Write In Active Not Passive Verb Tense Active voice puts the action on the person who is acting. What does that mean exactly? Take this example below: The shoe was thrown at Frank by Sally. If Sally threw the shoe, then Sally should be the subject of the sentence. This sentence isn’t wrong, but it’s cumbersome and wordy because it has shifted the focus on the shoe instead of the person who performed the action. The active version of this sentence is: Sally threw the shoe at Frank. Notice how much easier that was to read than the first sentence? It has fewer words and the message is clear. Now, imagine reading a book full of sentences written like the first example. It will have a higher word could, that’s for sure, but the reader will not enjoy reading it for long because passive voice shifts the reader’s attention away from the person who is acting and bogs down the story with unnecessary words. If you read a sentence and need to ask by whom or by what, it is passive voice. Throw Out The Fluff If it’s not an important part of the plot, it should be dropped from the...

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Five Things Every Protagonist Needs

Posted by on Aug 10, 2015 in Featured Articles | 4 comments

Five Things Every Protagonist Needs

You’re writing a book, and you have a main character you love. You take this character on a journey, and you think your plot is solid. All the hard work shows as you reread your story and give yourself a pat on the back. When you send your manuscript to beta readers or a critique group, you get feedback you weren’t expecting: Your protagonist is weak. The horror! How could this possibly be? It could be reasonable that you are missing some key points when developing a strong main character. I’m here to break down five things every protagonist needs to help keep your main character on point. 1. Comfort Is your character comfortable? In other words, are you writing a character the reader will be comfortable getting to know? Is your character likable or interesting? A dull main character is not going to engage your reader if you don’t make him or her favorable enough to carry the book. Make sure that your MC has qualities that will let the reader cheer for them when faced with difficult situations or empathize with them when they don’t achieve their goals. Your MC needs to be your reader’s “friend.” 2. Clear Goals The protag isn’t worth a lick if they don’t have a clear goal. Make sure to set the stage for a dream or goal the main character wants to fulfill. Whether it be small or big, they have to have some kind of motivation to move the plot of the book forward. Or else they are left spinning their wheels. 3. Reality You must create a character that is real. This goes hand and hand with comfort. Show your character’s weaknesses, their downfalls, personality flaws, and little things that set them apart from the rest. Nobody is perfect, or you’ll have a Mary Sue or Marty Stu on your hands. If you have an MC who looks like an Adonis but has a chipped front tooth, that’s realistic. Give your character a workable personality so your readers view him as a hero and a real person at the same time. Mr. or Mrs. Perfect can get old very fast. 4. Conflict is Key If everything is hunky-dory in your story, what’s the point of reading it? You need conflict to keep the reader interested and willing to see how your protagonist will overcome it. Everyone wants to root for their hero, so give them a reason to. Conflict can happen because of the choices your characters make or something they can’t prevent from happening. I like to label them as motivated conflict and unmotivated conflict. Motivated conflict is based on a character’s personal weakness that could be preventable. For instance, your protagonist is an arrogant star quarterback who expects to win the big game, but conflict happens when said character misses a key play, letting down his whole team and losing his scholarship in the process.  Unmotivated conflict is when your main character is happy; just landed the perfect job, has the perfect house, the perfect significant other. Everything is great for them. Until they find out they lost their job, their spouse leaves them, and the bank threatens to foreclose on their house. This is something the character has no control over happening. 5. Growth This is the most vital aspect a protagonist needs in any book. If your main character doesn’t exhibit some kind of growth—whether it’s learning from their weaknesses or overcoming their earlier conflict—the reader will be left unsatisfied. It’s like eating a large, delicious meal but being left starving afterward. Show your characters overcoming their obstacles and emotionally growing as they do. I hope this helps. Please share with us what you think of this article....

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Hey, Wait—Is That Right? When Style And Grammar Clash

Posted by on Aug 3, 2015 in Featured Articles | 0 comments

Hey, Wait—Is That Right? When Style And Grammar Clash

I’ve seen it. You’ve seen it. We’ve all seen it. That glaring grammatical error in that über popular novel we couldn’t wait to get our hands on. And we’ve thought to ourselves, “Man, why didn’t the editor catch that?!?! That should have been—” And that’s where I’m going to stop the train. First and foremost, everyone knows there are a lot of rules when it comes to grammar and punctuation—come on, I’m a copy editor at heart and rules are my thing. But… sometimes style and grammar clash, and you gotta break the rules. And every seemingly incorrect bit of grammar or punctuation isn’t necessarily an error on the author’s or the editor’s part. Editing is part rules, part subjective opinion. Speaking subjectively, sometimes an author’s style can and should override technically correct grammar and punctuation. Yes, I said should. Stylistic choice isn’t an error. Every author has an inherent style that should be preserved while staying as close as possible to properly punctuated and grammatically correct during editing. Does that mean remove all the commas? Nope. What it means is keeping style while maintaining readability. So what kinds of stylistic choices are often mistaken for errors? I imagine the list is pretty long, but here are a few things we see as editors at Write Divas: Fragments: When used sparingly, sentence fragments draw attention to small bits of information you want to emphasize to your reader. When used on a larger scale, fragments lead to stilted, disjointed narrative—and depending on the point of view of your narrator, this can be exactly the narrative voice you’re looking for. Imagine your narrator is certifiably insane… or a toddler. The narrative from that character’s point of view could be extremely disjointed and filled with fragments. Run-on sentences: As you can imagine, run-on sentences serve the opposite purpose of fragments. When used once or twice, they can indicate anything from panic to a lack of attention on the narrator’s part. But when used often, these long, drawn-out sentences slow the pace of a novel, causing the reader to slow down, reread, or even miss details. Comma minimalism: To some, minimalism is a stylistic choice, the serial comma isn’t necessary, and neither is the comma before too. I’ve even seen the minimalistic choice of removing the comma after an introductory phrase, as well. Technically, punctuation purists may disagree, if this is an author’s style, it doesn’t lead to confusion and is consistent throughout the novel, it’s not an error. Spelling: Intentional misspellings, phonetic spellings, and slang are just a few examples of how authors use variations in spelling to assert their style and get their point across to the reader. If you were to read about a character who spoke slowly, emphasizing each word via phonetic spelling, what would that tell you about that character? Is she being helpful in emphasizing her words or rudely over exaggerating in a condescending fashion? Slang is also an intentional misspelling of many words; however, it makes speech more casual and realistic. How silly would dialogue between two teenage girls be if every word written were completely proper and not one gonna or wanna was thrown in? Comma splices: Comma splices are a stylistic choice we see more and more often, especially in dialogue. Let’s face it, we speak in comma splices. So it’s understandable that we’d write dialogue this way. Where a semicolon would be grammatically proper, it sometimes seems almost too formal for the situation. So the comma splice can be useful, too. Improper verb form or tense: Seen often in dialogue or first-person point of view, using an improper verb form or tense can convey speech patterns to the reader. Dropped words or letters: This is also something seen in dialogue and first person point of view. For example, the dropping of the G in ing words or the contraction of I’m gonna to I’ma are just two examples of style that indicate vernacular to the reader. Made-up words: Writers are artists and creators, so why is anyone surprised when made-up words find their way into a...

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Are Your Characters Mind Readers?

Posted by on Jul 22, 2015 in Featured Articles | 0 comments

Are Your Characters Mind Readers?

Do you have a gifted character that knows what everyone around her thinks or feels? Is she making the other characters in your book uncomfortable with her uncanny insights? If so, you just might have a mind reader on your hands, and I’m not talking about the sparkly vampire variety, either. I mean, think about it… How creepy would it be to be around a mind reader? It’s an invasion of my privacy, really. It would be like inviting your friends to come into the bathroom while you… er… use the facilities. Personally, I’d probably avoid any mind reader at all costs. Either that or totally mess with them just for kicks. But I digress. We’re not here to talk about my insecurities or twisted amusements. We’re here to talk about characters who are mind readers. Mind reading characters can happen in any point of view one chooses to write in, but it’s most common when the perspective is limited to one character at a time and not omniscient. As an author it can be hard to separate yourself from your POV character. That’s because you know the inner workings of all your characters. Sometimes it’s easier to tell what’s happening by giving your POV character too much insight into everyone else. Unfortunately this results in several things. What happens when your characters are mind readers. Mind reading Jumps in logic Mary Sue / Marty Stu characters Lots of tell and little showing How to avoid characters that are mind readers. Avoid the use of mind reading words: could tell, knew, seemed to, appeared to, etc. Remember to show instead of tell every time you feel the itch to give insight that shouldn’t be there. Ask yourself how your character came about that insight. If it can’t be explained logically, you just might be mind reading. Avoid determining what someone is thinking and feeling because of the look on their face or other cues like body language and tone of voice. The best course of action is to show what the other characters are doing or saying and not doing or saying from the POV characters perspective and leave it at that. Resist the urge to define it and allow your readers to come to their own conclusions. Writing Exercise Change things up a bit with a writing exercise to familiarize yourself with those triggers that cause your to lapse into mind reading when you write. Practice writing a character who “reads minds” without any supernatural abilities. This character always jumps to the wrong conclusions because they assume they know what everyone is thinking or feeling, when in fact that are merely projecting their own wishful thinking on everyone else. Use the mind reading as a character flaw and then show the awkward situations your character ends up in because they assumed they knew everything. What tricks do you use to avoid mind readers in your stories? Have you ever purposefully written a “mind reader” who actually doesn’t read minds in a story? Share, please! Now… go write...

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