July 22, 2020

By Ellen Buikema

Animal characters are created in all genres, either in cartoon-like or realistic forms. They may be walking, talking substitutes for human characters, or reality-based beings that may or may not be augmented with special abilities. No matter how you incorporate an animal into your story, they should be a memorable character.

Choose Your Animal

Some animals will better fit a particular function in a story. In a reality-based fight scene, a snake probably wouldn’t do as well as a dog or a cat.

Say you are writing fantasy and want a reality-based animal to act as a spy. A bird might work well in this instance, perhaps a raven, as was done in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Ravens are intelligent, playful, and have a sense of humor, having been known to perch on snowy rooftops waiting for people to pass by, and then pushing snow on top of them.

When writing historical fiction, consider researching which animals were popular pets of the era so the animals will be a good fit for the story. Jean Auel conducted an immense amount of research for her brilliant prehistoric fictional Earth’s Children series. She incorporated the domestication of wolves in her work.  The main protagonist, Ayla, studies animals in order to hunt for food and learn their habits. Those wolf studies enable her to understand pack behavior and the similarities to the human pack or extended family unit—leading to the domestication of a wolf pup.

One of my favorite animal characters is the dog in Dean R. Koontz’s suspense novel, Watchers. Einstein is a golden retriever, altered at the genetic level by scientists working with the military. This dog has a high intelligence level, psychic ability, and sense of humor along with the characteristics typical of a golden retriever. Einstein functions as a secondary protagonist, a protector, and in a way serves as a comment on human behavior.

Animal stories for children

Children may be more likely to recognize their own traits, the good and the not so good, seen humorously in an animal than written as a child. Frankie Fish, from my Adventures of Charlie Chameleon series is naughty but well meaning. Many children relate to Frankie.

Stories for children often have pets as characters that help their humans learn important life lessons. Sometimes they are a bit like guardian angels with paws. Often the child is the hero but the pet is a crucial character in the story. Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie uses a pup that enables the main protagonist, young India Opal Buloni, to learn how to trust.

One of the oldest forms of children’s literature is the Fable. In these stories, the animal is affiliated with a particular human trait and there is a lesson to be learned. One of my favorites is Aesop’s The Ant and the Dove. The lesson learned is that a kindness is never wasted.

Creating your animal character

Audience

  • Is the story for adults or children? Animal characters for teen and adult stories will need more subtlety than animals in stories for children.

Prominence and type

  • What is the animal character’s role? The animal characters may be secondary sidekicks (comic relief), protagonists, or antagonists.

Perspective

  • Who is the story’s voice? The story may be written from the perspective of the human or the animal.
  • Consider physical size. If the character is tiny it will see the world in a much different way than a large one. For example Mouse vs. giraffe; Toddler vs. teen; Toddler vs. Great Dane.

Personality

  • The best animal characters feel authentic to the animal type and relatable to the reader. This is true for either cartoon or realistic characters. A cat character may be playful but a little too much affection, like one pet too many, will still get you smacked in most realities. 
  • Whichever animal you choose, writing a list of personality traits and quirks will help as you introduce the character to your readers and develop the story.

Special characteristics

  • What makes your character different? The animal character may have a similar emotional or physical trait as the protagonist.
  • For SciFi and fantasy stories the animal character might read minds or defy the laws of physics.
  • Writing a list of special abilities and traits in advance will be useful, especially if there are several characters of varying abilities.

Name

  • Your creatures have certain looks and personalities. Names may follow suit. Bandit for one with a mask coloring in the fur, Jester for another with a multi-colored face, Spot, Blackie, Chairman Meow, Dude, the possibilities are many.
  • For humor, try a huge dog named Tiny, a tuxedo cat named Scruffy.
  • Alliteration works well for animal characters in children’s stories. Black Beauty, Frankie Fish, Tamika Turtle, Mickey Mouse, Peppa Pig.

Backstory

  • The background information of the character does not need to be in the story itself, but is handy to know in order to understand what motivates the character. Fictional characters need to feel real. Knowing the backstory helps define that reality.

Goal

  • Goals, the driving forces, mold the character’s personality. It may give love to a child, or encouragement to an adult. Whatever the case, subtlety weaving goals into the story adds richness and depth.

Obviously, like a human character, there are many details to consider when writing an animal character. Doing it well will make your story memorable.

Do you have animal characters in your stories? Of all the stories you’ve read, do any of the animal characters still bring a smile to your face or terror to your heart? We want to hear all about it down in the comments section!

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About Ellen

Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents and a series of chapter books for children with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Work In Progress, The Hobo Code, is YA historical fiction.

Find her at http://ellenbuikema.com or on Amazon.

July 20, 2020

by Angela Ackerman

Writers are no stranger to pressure. In fact, the entire process of story creation is laden with it: pressure to craft characters that readers will relate to and fall in love with, pressure to pen a story that is fresh and new, pressure to market the story well so it sells and we can keep doing what we love. No problem, right?

*passes out paper bags*

Got your breath back? Good.

Sure, we all wish this career was a bit easier, but the truth is that pressure puts our feet to the fire and that’s when we do our best work.

The more we know, the better our writing becomes, so today I’d like to help with a specific point in the story that is really do-or-die: the opening.

The start of a story is a massive juggling act. We need to… 

  • Introduce main characters in a compelling way
  • Show the protagonist’s ordinary life & hint what’s wrong with it
  • Make sure genre elements are present so readers know exactly what type of story they are in for
  • Pace it tight. In other words, make every word count (and don’t infodump!)
  • Intrigue the reader so they feel compelled to read on and get answers to their questions
  • Etc. Etc.

Clearly overall goal is to hook the reader, keeping them focused on our book. We can accomplish this by making sure the reader “clicks” with the protagonist and wants to follow them deeper into the story world. The challenge is we only have a limited amount of words to achieve this, and as you can see from the above, there’s a lot of ground to cover. So, a powerful opening means writing smart, thinking economically, and bringing our show-don’t-tell A-game, especially when it comes to characterization.

So how can we fast-track this critical “get-to-know-the-character” phase? Well, let’s look at what we do in the real world when we first meet someone.

Let’s pretend you’re at a neighborhood block party. A new neighbor just moved in next door and so you strike up a conversation to find out more about them. What’s one of the first things you’re going to ask?

“So, what do you do?”

This question almost ALWAYS comes up, doesn’t it? The reason is that in this context, jobs characterize. Like it or not, we tend to size people up and put them in boxes. And a person’s chosen field of work can reveal a lot about who they are.

Let’s say your neighbor says he’s a paramedic. I’m betting you immediately feel safer, right? You know if there is ever an emergency with one of the kids, or an accident of some kind, he’s there. He’s trained, and when seconds count, he’ll know what to do.

As with as your new paramedic neighbor, a character’s job can help your readers make certain associations, providing a baseline of things that are probably true. Here are a few things your reader may infer about a character simply by knowing his occupation.

Personality Traits

Certain traits will make it easier for a person to succeed at a given job. And usually people want to be successful; that’s one reason we gravitate toward careers that play to our personality. So when a reader sees a character working in a specific field, they’re going to draw some conclusions. This gives authors a leg up when it comes to characterization, enabling them to show personality simply by revealing that cast member’s job.

To test this theory, what positive qualities come to mind when you think of a kindergarten teacher? Traits like compassion, gentleness, and patience probably top the list. It looks different, though, for an ER physician, who might be pegged as intelligent, decisive, and calm under pressure. There are exceptions, but certain traits do help make someone a good teacher or doctor or farmer.

Talents and Skills

Every career requires a skill set that goes beyond personality. Talents and abilities are special aptitudes and areas of exceptionality that can make a person good at her job. A chef is going to be skilled at cooking or baking. A bouncer is likely adept at self-defense. When readers are introduced to a professional poker player, they can surmise that the character will know how to read people.

Unless an unmet need or other motivation is steering them, characters will pursue jobs they’re good at and enjoy (just as we do in the real world). Because readers make associations about what it takes to succeed in various occupations, your character’s choice in this area will naturally showcase his aptitudes, no infodumps needed.

Hobbies and Passions

Many careers are born from a favorite pastime. This may be the case for a museum docent who knows every possible thing about ancient South American civilizations and wants to share his knowledge with others. A geologist may pursue that career because he’s spending his free time studying geology anyway, so why not get paid for doing what he loves? This is the reason many people choose a creative or artistic field of work. In cases like these, a career can loudly proclaim the character’s interests and preferred diversions, offering insight into what sets them apart from others.

Physical Details

Some jobs can give readers a hint about the character’s appearance. Models tend to be attractive by society’s established standards. Laboratory technicians wear lab coats. Professional athletes are physically fit. Whether it’s the uniform or expectations that go with the job, an occupation can provide many unspoken clues about how a character looks and behaves at work.

Preferences

Sometimes a character will work in a field because he’s forced to or it’s the only thing available. But when he’s free to choose, a job will usually indicate certain preferences. An outdoor guide will be a nature enthusiast who would rather work outside than in a cubicle. A personal shopper should enjoy shopping. A nanny hopefully likes working with kids. While characters in each career will have their own personal passions, their employment choice will often reveal something about their basic preferences.     

Ideals and Beliefs

Another reason a character may choose a profession is that it aligns with his deepest beliefs. A clergy member may follow this path because, to him, helping people find God is the highest possible calling. A career in the military is often preceded by a strong sense of patriotism and respect for one’s country. Careers like these can immediately say something to readers about the character’s ideals and values.

Economic Status

As indelicate as the subject may be, many jobs are associated with economic status. A character who is a successful lawyer, doctor, or business tycoon is going to read rich while someone in an entry-level or blue-collar position (cashiers, car drivers, babysitters, or bouncers) may be perceived by readers as being less privileged.

Final Thoughts

Even without any fine-tuning or individualizing—which is always a good idea, to avoid clichés or stereotypes—an occupation can suggest many things about a character. And if the scenario is one where the character hates what they do, readers still learn something valuable: the job might reveal a lack (of education or opportunities), showcase their priorities (to provide for their family, to fulfill an obligation, etc.), or indicate a limitation (a physical or mental condition).

Need help choosing the right job fit for your character? Here’s a list of all the professions you’ll find information about in The Occupation Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Jobs, Vocations, and Careers. What jobs do your characters have?

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About Angela

Angela Ackerman is a writing coach, international speaker, and co-author of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus and its many sequels. Her books are available in eight languages, are sourced by US universities, recommended by agents and editors, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, and psychologists around the world. To date, this book collection has sold over half a million copies.

Angela is also the co-founder of the popular site Writers Helping Writers, as well as One Stop for Writers, a portal to game-changing tools and resources that enable writers to craft powerful fiction. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

July 17, 2020

by Jenny Hansen

You know those perfect writing days, where you float to the page with your creativity on overdrive, and the words just flow? Yeah, me either. I wish I did, but I schlep to the desk and throw myself into the writing seat like everyone else.

What DOES kick that creative keister to The Chair? How DO you channel your inner creative badass?

My Go-To Badassery Tools

Caffeine helps.  At the very least it buffs things up with a serious adrenaline turbo-charge for my creative self.

Learning is amazeballs. Blogs like WITS, where you can learn and chat with others, help. Learning a language, or just reading about a topic you've always wanted to know.

Exercising clears the brain. Walking, dancing, working out. They all clear out the cobwebs and help me focus.

After you do one or more of these things, you go to your writing space and...

  • You stare at your page/scene/chapter.
  • You write a little or a lot.
  • You erase a little or a lot.
  • You browse social media.
  • You clean the house.

[I totally made that up about cleaning the house.]

What it really takes.

Creative Badasses thrive on routine. And deadlines. If you've trained yourself, usually through routine, and have the discipline (or a deadline), you will get after that creative endeavor you dream of.

You've already done the hard part -- the most important part -- you've gotten your butt into that chair in front of your computer. Perhaps you aren't feeling the joy that day, but you're in the game. You're doing the work, and that's important.

Meet a Creative Badass

My friend, Walter Trout, is a very successful musician. He loves music and performing, and he adores interacting with his fans so he's had to really work for it during this pandemic. He awes me with his power to sit down and do the work.

This man has put out an album every year for 20+ years. Every. Single. Year. Even during the time a few years ago when he was hospitalized with end-stage liver disease, waiting for a transplant

So, frame that in your head. This guy almost died. He had to fight like a Trojan to get an album done before he was too weak to hold a guitar. Then, after a successful liver transplant (thank God), he had to do PT for almost a year to be strong enough to play his guitar and perform again. He's one of the best guitar players in the world, and he had to relearn to play the guitar.

He still put out the albums. This year's album, titled Ordinary Madness, is about to release.

His post-hospitalization album, Battle Scars, reflected the dark experience he'd just survived. Like all of us, he brought his journey to the page or, in his case, the musical score.

Read: An article summarizing Walter's amazing story.

One day, several years back, I asked him about his creative process. (He's a true Creative Badass, and enquiring minds wanted to know.)

Me: You’ve made an album a year for twenty years now. What is the creative process that allows you to do that?

Walter smiled at me, a benevolent cozy smile that made me feel better about bringing work to our Saturday night of fun. And then he said, “I don’t really know.”

Me: “WHAT? That’s it? Come on! I thought this music business was different than being a writer. That’s exactly what all my writer pals would say.”

He looked at his wife, Marie, who is a major force in his success, and said, “Well she books the studio each year and tells me about three weeks beforehand that I need to write fifteen songs.”

She and I exchanged an eye-roll and I said, “There’s got to be more to it than that.”

Walter: "Jen, every year when it’s time to record a new album, I feel like I’ve done it already and those are all the songs I have to write."

He paused a moment and added, "Then I’ll hear my mother’s voice in my head, like she’s right there talking to me: 'Walter, you said you wanted to be a musician; it was what you trained for and practiced at. It was the only thing you EVER wanted. So, get off your a$$ and write some music, and quit crying about it.'"

And he does, every single year.

Final Thoughts

Don't you want to put the writer's version of that Memo from Mom above YOUR computer screen for those really crappy days?

You want to be a writer.
It’s all you’ve EVER wanted to be.

It’s what you spend all this time on,
training and practicing your craft.

Get off your a$$ and write your page
and QUIT CRYING ABOUT IT.

I'm gonna paste it up somewhere prominent. Who's with me??

What helps you bolster your creativity and channel your inner Creative Badass? Do you ever feel like you just can’t write another word? What has helped you bust through this fear and get to the other side? Tell us all about it down in the comments!

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About Jenny

By day, Jenny provides corporate communications and LinkedIn advice for professional services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Facebook at JennyHansenAuthor or at Writers In The Storm.

Top Image by alan9187 from Pixabay.

July 15, 2020

By Barbara Linn Probst

The characters are fresh, the scenes are full of tension, and the story has come to a satisfying resolution. One step remains before you declare: Done. It’s that final check. You click on the little magnifying glass in the top right-hand corner of the page and search for over-used words.

Your mission: to find and eliminate.

You’re on the hunt for those unnecessary qualifiers (started to, seemed to, began to), attempts to create urgency (all of a sudden, just then), clichés, and personal pets.

“Personal pets” vary and thus can’t be found on a website. (That’s what makes them personal.) For me, they’re all those shrugs and nods and sighs—the lifting of shoulders and eyebrows, tightening of lips, dipping of chins, narrowing and widening of eyes—and any phrase that includes the word breath or pulse.

Your list may be different, but you have one. We all do.

“Search and destroy” will make your writing cleaner and more professional. However, that may not always be the right strategy.

When “Often-Used” Might Be Okay

There are times when an often-used word might not be an over-used word— its frequency signaling, instead, a recurring motif with hidden possibilities.

For example: When I was putting my novel Queen of the Owls through the search-and-destroy process, I discovered that I’d used the word hair much more often than I’d thought. Instead of assuming that this was something to be fixed (meaning: get rid of it). I took another look at when and where the word appeared.

To my surprise, it was rarely just a description of someone’s appearance. Rather, hair always signified something, revealed something about a character. Hair pulled back or allowed to tumble freely. A lopsided haircut or a perfect French twist. Brand-new glittering highlights, indicating a change (and a risk) for my bookworm protagonist.

I realized that hair played an evocative, symbolic role in my protagonist’s journey.

Instead of eliminating or reducing references to hair, I decided to make them more intentional. Precisely because it was a highly-used word, hair could serve as a shorthand for important story elements of constriction and freedom that had more power through a proxy like hair than they would have had if they were explicitly named. The references to hair allowed the reader to feel what I was trying to convey.  A classic show, don’t tell.

Search-and-Destroy vs Search-and-Employ

I wondered which of my other pets might offer a similar possibility. Could there be an untapped role for nod, shrug, gaze, stare, lift? Was there a way to view them as allies rather than weeds?

It struck me that shrug and nod—prime candidates for many search-and-destroy missions—are gestures that tend to occur during conversation, nonverbal indicators of a character’s response. They mean something.

Jane nodded. Again. “Why are you always agreeing with me?” Ellen snapped. “Instead of saying how you actually feel.” 

Jane’s nod and Ellen’s response show us their relationship. The next time Jane nods, we’ll feel the frustration that Ellen feels and be ready for something new to happen.

Dan shrugged. “No,” Carolyn said. “Don’t brush me off like that. Not this time.”

Dan’s shrug shows his indifference, revealing the power dynamic in the relationship. Carolyn’s response shows that she’s about to challenge that.

The scene requires Dan’s shrug; eliminating it would change or weaken the impact. But perhaps Dan can examine the edge of his cuff or mutter “whatever.” Or Carolyn can react to his shrug, even though it’s not on the page. “Stop doing that thing with your shoulder.” The gesture can— and should—remain, even if it’s not named. Destroy would be the wrong response. Embody, maybe. Or indicate.

So far so good, but what about those classic “search and destroy” words like totally, just, only, really, suddenly, started to, seemed to—words that are serve no real purpose?

Clearly, not every often-used word or phrase is a hidden gem. Some really do need to be used sparingly or eliminated altogether. A ban on suddenly, all at once, just then, seemed to, started to, and began to seldom has a down-side. The phrases nearly always make writing weaker rather than stronger. A good “test” is to take the words out and see if the sentence still works.

In other cases, the problem is simply excessive use. Unlike the dead-weight of started to, these are perfectly good words (like shrug) whose “problem” is that they’re used too often, thus diluting their effect.

If that’s the case, the solution is to find equivalents or near-equivalents; this creates not only variety, but nuance and precision. The test is to try synonyms or related words and see how they affect the meaning of the passage.

Some words and phrases can go either way—best eliminated or best enhanced— depending on the context. 

Context Matters

Okay. So how can you decide?

One guideline is the presence of a specific referent. My personal demons— raised eyebrows, tightened lips, tilted heads—have proven useful when assigned specific roles, rather than used indiscriminately.

If a tilted head is the signature trait of one particular character, or occurs only when a specific emotion is being conveyed (such as skepticism or doubt), then it becomes intentional rather than generic. The author is in control of the phrase, instead of the other way around.

Another guideline is the phrase’s capacity for evocative economy. Tightened lips can be a concise way to remind the reader of things she already knows about the character or the relationship among the characters. By using a phrase the reader is familiar with an entire history is quickly evoked, without interrupting the story movement. The fact that the phrase has been used several times before is an asset, not a liability. 

Let’s make this post actionable!

Identify some high-frequency words and phrases in your manuscript and ask yourself if you need to destroy or employ:

  • Which are dead weight and ought to go?
  • Which would deliver more punch and precision if variations were used?
  • Which have untapped evocative potential precisely because they recur?

We can't wait to read your answers in the comments!

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About Barbara

Barbara Linn Probst is a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, living on a historic dirt road in New York’s Hudson Valley. Her debut novel, Queen of the Owls (April 2020), is the powerful story of a woman’s search for wholeness, framed around the art and life of iconic American painter Georgia O’Keeffe.

Endorsed by best-selling authors such as Christina Baker Kline and Caroline Leavitt, Queen of the Owls was selected as one of the 20 most anticipated books of 2020 by Working Mother, one of the best Spring fiction books by Parade Magazine, and a debut novel “too good to ignore” by Bustle. It was also featured in lists compiled by Pop Sugar and Entertainment Weekly, among others. It won the bronze medal for popular fiction from the Independent Publishers Association, placed first runner-up in general fiction for the Eric Hoffer Award, and was short-listed for both the First Horizon and the $2500 Grand Prize. Barbara’s book-related article, “Naked: Being Seen is Terrifying but Liberating,” appeared in Ms. Magazine on May 27.

Barbara is also the author of the groundbreaking book on nurturing out-of-the-box children, When The Labels Don't Fit. She has a PhD in clinical social work, blogs for several award-winning sites for writers, and is a serious amateur pianist. Her second book releases in April 2021. To learn more about Barbara and her work,  please see http://www.barbaralinnprobst.com/

July 13, 2020

By Kris Maze

Writing an irresistible novel that readers can’t put down is the goal of most writers. Using plot-strengthening techniques gleaned from Young Adult writing can improve any novel, no matter the genre or the age of readership. A story featuring a teen protagonist has a fertile bed of emotions to cultivate with built-in rites of passage moments that all readers can relate to or anticipate.

The following seven elements can heighten the drama and tension in any story, helping you write a book your readers won’t want to stop reading.

1. Utilize a subplot about Belonging.

Be it finding peace in a dysfunctional family, bonding with a band of misfits, or navigating the expectations of first love, YA books all have a coming-of-age component that stems from a need for acceptance.

Abraham Maslow formed a psychological theory describing man’s needs to survive and then thrive in a hierarchical system.  The inverted triangle begins with the basic physical needs of food, water, and shelter (physiological). 

The character arc you create should take care of these needs before the protagonist moves up to the higher levels of security and safety, followed by belonging and intimate relationships. 

For Young Adult fiction, you can usually stop at the level of belonging, but there should be the promise of improved self-esteem and self-actualization.  These deep-seated needs will feed a reader's satisfaction with the character’s growth.

2. Put the protagonist's worst moments under a microscope.

Teens are hyper self-focused and naturally worry about more than they need to. Bring your reader into those moments. Let your character wallow in self- pity. Let the sting of loss sink in with the reader; it resonates more when your character finds success later on.

Best friends move away. Students graduate and life will never be the same.  Accidents happen and cannot be undone. A scholarship can’t be regained. Death of a loved one will hurt forever. These are moments that set the stage for better times yet to come. 

Possible resolutions to these issues:

  • Best friends move away. But they can join the ecology club and meet a new kid in town.
  • Students graduate and life will never be the same. They can exhibit new independence as they get their first job.
  • Accidents happen and cannot be undone. They can see their loss as a new opportunity to focus on what they really want in life.
  • A scholarship can’t be regained. They can develop a new product that sells like social media hotcakes and pay their way instead. 
  • Death of a loved one will hurt forever. They can learn the rich emotions surrounding the bittersweet memories of a loved one in honoring a special celebration.

3. Play up their flaws and make your character squirm. 

Zeroing in on your characters' insecurities or lack of resources makes them squirm on the page. If your reader is rooting for that character, every time you stick in the knife they will squirm right along with that character.

In the 2008 science fiction Knife of Never Letting Go, Todd Hewitt only has fuzzy memories of his mother after a Noise germ infected his town. The disease makes all men’s thoughts audible and caused women to disappear. When Todd's thirteenth birthday is days away, he realizes the town holds a dark secret that may cost him his life. He flees and meets a silent girl, one with an education who uses highly-advanced technology (not found in his primitive town) to heal.

Todd wrestles with his inadequacies as he tries to defend himself and control his audible thoughts. This becomes increasingly difficult as he figures out that the girl hears and understands him!  They must work together to survive and the plot escalates on many levels.

4. Make the stakes high and their relationships fragile. 

Katniss in The Hunger Games begins in her normal world hunting with Gale Hawthorn. By doing this, she establishes herself as a rule-breaker of the tyrannical Capital, but only within her small daily scope.  When her loyalty is tested, and she takes her sister Prim's place as Tribute, she has broken her whole world... including her future with Gale. 

Katniss is hardened by her past, having lost her father to the mining system and her mother to grief, but further resists taking on the role of revolutionary. She ultimately comes to terms with a compromised role with a new relationship with Peeta as the story spins wildly toward her goal of taking down the corrupt system and focusing less on her own perceived happiness.

5. Use your Character’s newfound skillset.

When you build your character, take stock of their personality, people skills, hidden talents, negotiation savvy, or ability to coordinate their friend pack to win as a team.  These are ways your protagonist should address the problem or conflict of the story. No outside help! Stay inside their personal world. I repeat, no outside ADULTS should solve the problem for them - this is a YA plot killer.

Would Dorthy of Wizard of Oz have had the same dynamic if she had Auntie Em to consult along the way?

6. Emphasize the protagonist's inner journey. Let them win!

 In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the protagonist Charlie begins high school as the sensitive, reclusive younger brother of his popular siblings.  A group of senior misfits invites him into their bizarre social circle, and as Charlie steps out of his comfort zone he shares formative insights with each senior, developing genuine friendships.  

But Charlie makes mistakes, (spoiler alert!) jeopardizing his acceptance from the seniors. At a party, he is dared to kiss the prettiest girl which is, alas, not his girlfriend! He learns the nuance of tact along with ways a relationship can become permanently altered.

Charlie’s journey is complex in this modern classic, as he uses his new-found ability to understand others and lives up to his potential; he overcomes a dark past and becomes a true friend in the process.

7. The ending should not be tidy.

Teens know that there are things to look forward to, and things to solve in real life. Realism includes messy endings. Make sure the main conflict is ironclad, then let some pieces float into the chaos that we expect.

Some ideas:

  • Does your character lack courage?  Make sure they demonstrate bravery.
  • Do they have stage fear as their main conflict? Have their performance shine.
  • Do they have an impossible escape room puzzle? Let them be the sleuth to creatively resolve the problem.
  • Do they consider themselves too weak?  Let them run the marathon and win.

Other things may not resolve, but the main conflict MUST wrap up tightly.

Characters know life is unpredictable, it makes the story authentic. Teens will walk away from anything too contrived.

Pick a main thread and wrap that one up on all levels. Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy?  Make your character scale the tiers. Let them land somewhere in the top half and avoid making it too perfect. Trust the reader to fill in some of these ideas, and leave them with questions to contemplate. Giving them loose threads also helps you the writer with creating sequels!

How can you use these ideas to tighten a story?  What other resources or examples have most helped your craft? Share your insights below. I look forward to your comments!

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About Kris

Kris Maze writes empowering, twisty stories and also teaches Spanish. Her first Science Fiction novella, IMPACT, published through Aurelia Leo, arrives in print and audio book in the summer of 2020. She’s fascinated with strong female characters who tackle exceptional problems like her protagonist Nala, a teen journalist who reluctantly works with a crazed scientist, Edison, to survive an incoming asteroid implosion.

Kris Maze has worked in education for 25 years and writes for various publications including Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish and award-winning blog Writers in the Storm where she is also a host. You can find her brief horror stories and keep up with her author events at her website.

Book Cover IMPACT by K Maze

A recovering grammarian and hopeless wanderer, Kris enjoys reading, playing violin and piano, and spending time outdoors with her family. She also ponders the wisdom of Bob Ross.

See more information on Kris's book, IMPACT, Here!


2014-2020

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