Category: nano prep

Whether you’re working on a first draft of a novel, or rewriting your story for the tenth time, characters are what really hold a story together. If you’re having trouble getting to know your characters, writer B. Berry is here today with a method to try:

You may encounter this issue when you sit down to write a novel: Somehow, you’ve stumbled upon an amazing plot, the worldbuilding is coming together cohesively, and you cannot wait for That Certain Twist.

But, with dawning horror, you realize that oh no, novels need more than a plot and a setting. They need characters to go in it. You figure your main character will be… a person. That sounds about right. 

But what else? 

Characters are most commonly what readers will fall in love with. Whether your project is plot-driven or character-driven, they are a vital part, and not something to fudge lightly. 

There are many resources for character creation online, but I’ll share with you my favorite quick, dirty, and easy—yet somehow solid—method for creating characters entirely from scratch. 

For a solid base, think of character traits. Most can be tentatively sorted into “good” and “bad”. It’s the mix of these that will make your character rounded and believable. But you still want them to be likeable, no matter how flawed, right? 

The simplest beginning method is to take X amount of Good Traits, X minus 1 Bad Traits, put them in a blender, and pour out a basic character concept. (I know, how dare I add any sort of math to the writing process.) I call it the Minus 1 Rule, because it can be any amount of traits, any amount of characters, and apply to any type of character, be it protagonist, antagonist, side… or that one you meant to be a one-off but somehow became your not-so-secret favorite. 

“The simplest beginning method is to take X amount of Good Traits, X minus 1 Bad Traits, put them in a blender, and pour out a basic character concept.”

Example time! Let’s say I want to give my character three positive traits. I want them to be quick-witted, intelligent, and physically strong. So now we add two negative traits—they’re also a coward and unfriendly. 

Context will drastically change how these traits are viewed, of course; a coward in a military sci-fi is going to be different than a coward in a YA romance. An unfriendly person in a character introduction will come off differently than an unfriendly person at a funeral. So because of the context of your story, you don’t have to worry about making your character too simple or too much like another character, and you may be able to play up either their best traits or their worst traits. 

But speaking of other characters—it takes a cast (usually) to make a story, so chances are you’ll have to make quite a few, possibly in batches. So this step in the creation process would be The Absolute Perfect Time to figure out if you want any matching sets! 

The most obvious of these character sets would probably be the foil, so think of your protagonist and antagonist. Do you want them both to have a temper, but your hero ultimately holds theirs, so thus they remain Good and Pure? Or perhaps your story is a battle of wits with two incredibly intelligent characters. (This is also a good time to think of matching/opposing/related backstories for your cast.)

Other tics or traits can come out after you have a solid base to build upon. Maybe the traits you initially picked don’t stick around, or morph into something else. Don’t take this rule as anything to set in stone. 

Character creation is nothing scary, and you should never worry over-much about making your cast likeable—it is all about setting up a solid foundation for your cast to flourish upon. With the Minus 1 rule, it’s a quick and dirty way to tilt the “Readers Will Find This Dude Likeable” scale in your favor. Good luck, and good writing!

B. Berry is a novelist with a love of dark fantasy, LGBTQ rep, large casts, and larger wordcounts. She has published the first two in her psychological horror trilogy, THE ROOK and THE RAM, with the finale to come soon, and eagerly works on her next series beyond that. You can find her at @bberrywrites on twitter, or her website at www.bberrywrites.com.

Top photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash.

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Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. Scrivener, a NaNoWriMo 2019 sponsor, is an award-winning word processor and project management program. Today, writer Rebeca Schiller shares some advice about creating an outline for your novel using their software:

I’m in a quandary. The issue is: do I pants my way through November, or do I outline? 

Pantsing is fast, but you’ll discover lapses in story logic when you’re revising your manuscript. In my WIP, I’ve had to go back to the beginning several times and make changes because I realized a character’s action made no sense. Set-up, foreshadowing, and motivation had to be added in many early scenes. 

This year I’ve decided to outline a new story just in time for NaNoWriMo. The key is to include enough detail so I can write it in one fell swoop, and when it’s time to revise the manuscript I can focus on prettying up the language. 

To accomplish this goal, I’ll use Scrivener’s built-in outliner that, in theory, will help me spot my missing plot holes. Below are illustrated steps on how to create an outline using Scrivener: 

Step 1: If you like the flexibility of creating your own structure, choose the blank template for your project. I like one that’s based on Alexandra Sokoloff’s Screenwriting Tips for Authors, which I wrote about on the Literature and Latte blog.

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Step 2: After creating the structure, add documents in the first folder by clicking on the + icon found in the Binder’s footer. Next write a synopsis for each scene. The synopsis feature is found in the Inspector under the tab that looks like a notebook. Type in two or three sentences summarizing the scene in the synopsis pane. A small thing to notice: when you type in a synopsis, the blank document icon in the binder turns into an index card.

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Step 3. In the binder select each scene, and then go to View->Outline where the editor pane will change, displaying a number of columns including Title and Synopsis, word count, section, target, etc. Personally, the only column that interests me for now is Title and Synopsis.  New columns for POV label,  Setting, Goal, Motivation, Conflict (the character’s), Setting, and Characters in Scene will need to be created.

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Step 4. To create a POV using the label feature, go to the Inspector’s footer. Click on Label, a menu will open select Edit. A window will open providing the option to add a custom title, type in POV.  Next to one of the tinted dots, double click, and type in the character’s name.  Next to create custom columns in the Outliner,  click on the arrow located on the far right; a drop down menu will appear, uncheck the columns you won’t use. At the very bottom, click on Custom Columns.

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Step 5: A window will open. On the left select Custom Metadata. Clicking on the + icon on the right, type in a column heading. I’ve typed in Setting, Goal, Conflict, Motivation, Characters in Scene. Below that  make sure “Text” is selected in the Type field; select left alignment and check word wrap. Hit OK when you’re done.

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Step 6: Go back to where the columns are listed in the drop down menu, uncheck the ones you don’t want and check the ones you created. To fill in the fields, double click in the outliner and write your brief description.

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Lastly,  don’t let elementary school rules on how to outline get in the way of how you write your novel. For years, I followed what I learned in the third grade: I kept my main points brief, used  keywords, but after I read through the material, I had no idea of what I was trying to articulate. This is your roadmap be as detailed as you need to be. Remember, its purpose is to help you write your story.

Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. Today, Alex Holcomb shares how Campfire, a NaNoWriMo 2019 sponsor, can help you finish your novel when you’re having trouble finding the right words:

It’s 9:59 a.m. on a Saturday morning. You want to hit 2,000 words for the day, but you can’t seem to even reach 200. You write a noun, then a verb, and then… nothing.

Exhausted from the cycle, you try slamming your hands on your keyboard and seeing if anything magical happens. 

It doesn’t.

And that’s when it hits you: you’re fighting off writer’s block.

When you’re dealing with writer’s block, hard work is what gets you through it, but without strong planning, that hard work might not do anything. Let’s look at a few ways planning can get you through your first draft:

1. Stick to the Path

For most people, outdoor experiences consist of day hikes, hikes that only last a few hours and usually have a very obvious trail. More serious hikers might take on the challenge of backpacking or overnight hikes. 

A day hike usually doesn’t require a map, but when backpacking, a map is an essential part of packing. You can follow the trail, but if you ever get lost or can’t quite see the path, you’ll be in serious trouble without a map.

Similarly, you can, with varying levels of success, write a short story or poem with little planning, but a long-form piece like a novel needs a map. Without it, even the best writers will have difficulty getting back on the trail when they get lost.

Of course, most people have an idea of where they want their story to go. Without planning, you can get somewhere on your story, but figuring out where to go next during writer’s block can be impossible, especially when creativity is nowhere to be found.

 2. Know Thy Characters

Most writers know how important a character is to their story. In fact, most of the time, the characters are more important than the story.

Think of a sitcom like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Without Will’s comedic flair and Carlton’s nerdy outlook, the show would be about an angry mother who got so mad she sent her son to the other side of the country.

Without vibrant characters, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is a sad story about an impoverished man who fishes for a living. The Office would feel like going to work without the antics of Jim and Dwight.

You could go on and on about shows, movies, and books that rely less on plot and more on developing and maintaining good characters. Hemingway himself once said, “When writing a novel, a writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature.”

Without careful character planning, the actors are mindless robots roaming from one point to another. They stay flat as you focus on making sure you can get to the next plot development.

If you take time to get to know your own characters before writing, you’ll be able to get past writer’s block by asking, “What would my character do here?” In the same way you know how your best friend would react to a situation, you’ll know what to write when your character finds themselves in the right situation.

On the same note, defining your character arcs essentially tells you what they should do. For example, let’s say you want your character to learn to be selfless by the end of the book. If you’re at the beginning of the book, chances are you shouldn’t have your character give to a charity, but if you’re nearing the end, it should be a given that they would risk their life to save their friends.

3. Fear No Plotholes

Arguably one of the greatest plotholes of all time comes from J.R.R. Tolkien: The Great Eagles of Manwë from The Lord of the Rings series, giant eagles who are sapient and powerful, could have helped Frodo and Sam fly to Mount Doom and avoid the perilous journey of destroying the One Ring, but they don’t for unexplained reasons.

Of course, no one is arguing that J.R.R. Tolkien didn’t plan his story, but plotholes can cause serious issues in your writing. Even now, there’s enough debate about the Great Eagles of Manwë to fill up enough books to match all of the LOTR books.

Planning your story helps you see these plotholes before you even begin your first draft. The last thing you want to be doing 10,000 words into a book is to be figuring out a way to explain an inconsistency you could have avoided before you had ever typed a word.

About Campfire

Campfire is a writing software that helps you organize every part of your story from character development to the language your characters speak. Our specialty is helping you plan your story to become the best-seller you want it to be.

We’ve helped thousands of writers create their stories, and we recently raised over $37,000 to kickstart our next project: a web-based application with even more features than before.

Want to try Campfire Pro out completely free? Check out our free trial and get started with your next novel today. If you decide to purchase, don’t forget to use code NANOCAMPO at checkout for 25% off Campfire Pro.


Alex Holcomb is the social media manager at Campfire and a marketing professional based in Knoxville, TN. He enjoys reading more than writing, hiking with his fiancée, and definitely not writing bios. You can find his work scattered throughout the internet, on Twitter, and on his website acholcomb.com.

How to Explain NaNoWriMo to the Important People in Your Life 

Having the support of your friends, family, or other important people in your life can help you
accomplish your creative goals. But the truth is, sometimes they just don’t get it. They might not
understand why you want to prioritize your writing over other activities this month.
The best way to get people on your side is often by being open and communicative about your
motivations, although we realize it’s not always the easiest thing to do. 

That’s why we’ve made this infographic to show writer-adjacent people how they can best support
the NaNoWriMo writers in their lives.

Image text reads:

Caring for Your NaNoWriMo Writer: How to support friends and family during a month of creative abandon.

1. Cheer them on

Writing is hard! Words of support go a long way, and it’s always more fun to celebrate word-count milestones with a friend. Pizza party? Movie night?

2. Volunteer for chores

Whether it’s taking out the trash or vacuuming the family carpet store, every little bit helps. Fewer chores = more time to write.

3. Feed them

Healthy snacks for writing, something sweet to celebrate, or a well-timed coffee/tea/water—unlike wild animals, writers love being fed. 

4. Ask about their novel

Be interested in what happens next, or that one character who just won’t behave… but don’t push too hard if your writer doesn’t feel like sharing.

5. Read drafts with love

First drafts are precious, messy, delicate things that mostly need encouragement and praise. Editing (and constructive advice) can come later.

6. Be understanding

There’s a good chance your writer will spend many hours along in their room, only to emerge un-showered and dreamy-eyed. Be understanding!

7. Give them space to write

Try not to interrupt your writer while they’re working. Sometimes even a small distraction can disrupt their inspiration and focus.

8. Write together

NaNoWriMo is more fun with a buddy! Sign up at nanowrimo.org or, if you’re under 18, try the Young Writers Program website at ywp.nanowrimo.org.

Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. Today, writer Christin David shares how Dabble, a NaNoWriMo 2019 sponsor, helped her find her writing community:

Jump, and you will find out how to unfold your wings as you fall. 
—Ray Bradbury

After some writing adventures as a teenager twenty-something years ago, NaNoWriMo got me back into writing fiction in 2016. The key for me was to dedicate some time and energy every day to this one goal. The realization that I could write a coherent, interesting story (despite my day job as a scientific researcher and university teacher) gave me a huge boost in confidence. Reaching the goal of 50k words each November by writing two hours a day renewed the desire of my adolescence to bring stories from mind to paper. It has opened a floodgate.

Motivation is a feeble thing, though; it tends to slip away when looking at a blank page and wondering how on earth to fill it. My interest was sparked in a writing software that would allow me to plan and organize my ideas, but many softwares overwhelmed me with functionalities I didn’t need. Halfway through November 2017, I became a Dabbler. 

I found the perfect companion in Dabble to evolve my random writing habit into a regular activity without losing inertia and without anxieties creeping in. Its simplistic design and auto-focus is free from distractions; it keeps track of writing goals; accounts for days off; and even syncs with the NaNoWriMo word count. These days, I’m writing fiction whenever my brain itches and my fingers twitch. Dabble is always with me, on- and offline, on all my devices (and, thanks to automatic cloud backup and synching, I never miss a beat).

Dabble just celebrated its 2nd (!) birthday and I feel like a pioneer. I found Dabble to be more than a writing app. With Dabble, service is personal, as you can make suggestions and discuss any issues directly with its developer, founder and only full-time employee, Jacob Wright, on its dedicated forum or through the app itself. There, I felt right at home between people who debate every aspect of the craft and who enjoy having a direct influence on the product they use. For me, the support of such a community has been vital and gave me lots of insights into the tricks of habitual writers. Though I am not a professional, I feel among equals. We all love to write.

“Dabble’s ever growing community has been a major factor for me to keep going, to improve my writing habits and to, ultimately, self-publish my short stories.”

I didn’t think I wanted more. I knew, I had stories in me—and I was surprised at how many ideas rushed over me, once I allowed them to come. As an introvert, however, I rarely showed my finished stories to friends and family, publishing for a wider audience seemed unthinkable. Finding the courage to do something outrageously new is tricky. Dabble’s ever growing community has been a major factor for me to keep going, to improve my writing habits and to, ultimately, self-publish my short stories.

I’ve included the Camp NaNoWriMo events in April and July into my calendar, where I set less stressing personal writing goals for myself (e.g. editing my November draft in April, and collecting ideas and outlining a plot in July. Dabble as a community has given me the courage to follow this path and to not give up on my dreams. (I’m still terrified of the idea that it’s now all out there, though!)

A final note: As a scientist, I adhere to the scientific method. Each scientific publication is as dry, honest and precise as possible. I try to spread my wings in the evenings. And I love to fall into the unknown.


Dr. Christin David is a German scientist, teaching students about the laws of Nature by day, while writing fiction whenever time allows. Traveling frequently on the job, she draws inspiration from every corner of the world and inevitable, weird encounters. Her stories are full of mysteries, a healthy bit of laughter, and sometimes even science. Still trying to figure out a genre or niche, she has self-published a collection of short stories [in German ;)] written during NaNoWriMo 2017. Follow her on Twitter @CDavid_Fiction 

Top photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash.

Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. Today, The Great Courses Plus, a NaNoWriMo 2019 sponsor, is here with some tips to help guide you through the novel-writing process in November:

Just like the novel itself, the process of writing a novel always has a beginning, a middle, and a conclusion. And The Great Courses Plus is here to help with every stage of novel writing you take on.  

In the Beginning… 

We need ideas and inspiration. We have to invent our characters, plot out how we think the story will unfold, and entertain no less than 50,000 potential plot twists—because at the beginning, anything can happen. 

Once we have those ideas, getting them all together and organized into a readable story structure is as big of a challenge as putting together the right words to craft that ever-vital first sentence. 

James Scott Bell is an award-winning novelist and writing instructor and he thinks you have a bestseller in you. With our course How to Write Best-Selling Fiction, you get an intimate introduction into the fundamentals of how to write your bestseller, given from a best-selling author who has mastered the secrets to success.

We all have creativity in us, but sometimes we need help getting in touch with it. Mr. Bell gets you started by offering several fun, challenging, and mind-expanding exercises that help you flex and develop your creative muscle. 

Once you have a few (thousand) great ideas, Mr. Bell provides a writing method called “LOCK” that will help you structure your story in a way that develops into an engaging page-turner. He also breaks down techniques that other best-selling authors have implemented. With these methods and explanations, Mr. Bell provides inspiration and demonstrates what works, so that you will have a plethora of tools to improve your writing and your chances of success.  

How to Write Best-Selling Fiction is jam-packed with techniques to help you bring power to your plot, charisma to your characters, drama to your dialogue, and vitality to your voice.  

In the beginning, you can also consider other Great Courses as resources for inspiration and development: 

In the Middle….

We might wonder if this was such a good idea. 

The middle is where 50,000 words suddenly seems like a massively overwhelming and unobtainable concept. This is where nothing works. This is where we are convinced we’ll never get done. This is where our characters are already boring us. This is where we’re staying up all night trying to just make what we already wrote sound better instead of plowing on and moving forward. 

And this is where we step away for an hour. Or a night. Or a day. 

We promise. It’s a good thing. 

Mindful thinking tells us that changing your environment helps you take a different viewpoint. And Dr. Peter M. Vishton, a neuroscientist and professor of psychology, tells us that the best way to deal with the writer’s block, frustration, or the procrastination that affects us all is to attack it at its source. 

In our course Outsmart Yourself: Brain-Based Strategies to a Better You, you’ll get tips for monotasking to make you more efficient at whatever it is you are concentrating on. You’ll learn how practicing meditation regularly can help inspire you. You’ll discover the importance of a good night’s sleep. And he’ll provide you with a toolbox full of several practical, easy-to-implement strategies for finding more creative solutions, solving puzzles, and enhancing your mental prowess. 

So, go feed your mind with a brain snack, listen to a new song, or take a break and meditate for a bit. Your novel will be there when you come back; and with these tips, you’ll return with a renewed vigor and enthusiasm for your project. 

In the middle, you can also consider these Great Courses as resources for meditation, changing your mindset, and finding motivation: 

In Conclusion… 

We are so glad to be marching towards those two most important words in a writer’s vocabulary (“The End”) that we don’t have a thought to spare when it comes to the next two most important words in a writer’s vocabulary, which are: “Now what?” 

Jane Friedman, publishing industry expert and educator, provides you with sought-after secrets of the publishing process that will help you navigate this difficult progression, bypass pitfalls that many novice authors get hung up on, and improve your chances of being considered for publication. In our course How to Publish Your Book, she acts as your personal guide though the entire process from finalizing your manuscript, to writing the perfect pitch, to reviewing contracts and marketing your book. 

You’ll get the candid scoop on what you need to do in order to increase your chances of being considered. The knowledge you’ll gain by having an inside expert teaching you how to position your book for publication gives you a unique advantage and drastically increases your chances of getting noticed in this increasingly competitive industry.

In conclusion, you can also consider these Great Courses as resources for editing, negotiating, marketing, and celebrating: 

All these courses, and more, are available to you through The Great Courses Plus. You can also find genre-specific courses such as science fiction, mysteries and suspense, or literatures most fantastic works. 

Enjoy the process. We’re rooting for you.

Top photo modified from original by AbsolutVision on Unsplash.

Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. Today, Novlr, a 2019 NaNoWriMo sponsor, shares what they’ve learned from the millions of words that have been written on their site during NaNoWriMo. Try out Novlr for free!

We are not the experts on NaNoWriMo. We are not the experts on writing. We are certainly not the experts on writing during NaNoWriMo. However, we’ve learnt a lot from the thousands of Novlr users taking on the challenge over the years.

Over 335 million words have been written by Novlr users over the last few years, and those stats have helped us create a list of tips to help you win:

Tip #1: Build in some slack.

It’s not going to go perfectly. You will slip up. Hopefully, you’ll write 50,000 words in November, but to get there, there’ll be days you hit 1667 words, and days you don’t. Our stats show that very very few people manage 30 days in a row, let alone 30 days of over 1667 words.

Build in some break days. You don’t need to choose which days, but expect some days where you don’t hit the daily target. Factor that in to the daily target. Could you hit 1850 a day? If you can, that gives you three days to play with.

However, we also know how important momentum is. Our Streaks feature—which tracks how many days in a row you’ve been writing—is one of our most popular. We recommend seeing how far you can get at 1850 a day—it’ll make the rest of the month easier. And roll with it if you miss a day or two unexpectedly. 

Tip #2: Write, don’t delete.

Writing does not mean writing well. No one, even you, pours perfection onto the page for 50,000 hasty words. So don’t worry too much about the exact words, phraseology, or even the novel timeline, during the month—just smash the words out. 

The goal of NaNoWriMo is to WRITE 50,000 words in a month, so even if you don’t particularly like a sentence, don’t delete it. Leave it there. By the time you come back to edit it, you might have grown fond of it.

Novlr will keep you motivated with celebratory messages as your word count grows… Just. Keep. Writing.

Tip #3: Day 4 is hard.

From analyzing Novlr streaks, we know that Day 4 is hard. Lots of users drop their streak after day three—not just in November, but across the year. It seems getting on a roll has a 3-day limit for many. Knowing this is your weapon against it. Day 4 this year is a Monday—plan to make sure you make it very easy for yourself to achieve your target that day—set the time aside, maybe have two or three times in the day that you plan to write so that there is more chance of being able to do it. 

And not just day 4, but every day 4. Every few days you may find a lull. If you haven’t decided it’s time for a break (see tip #1) then make sure you make it easy for yourself to write. It might help to set a small target for that day: “Today I will write 400 words, either before work, or right after dinner, or right before bed.” Beat the day 4 lull before it beats you. 

Tip #4: Switch it up.

If the unchanging view from your dining room table is becoming too much; if your bum’s numb from the same office chair; or the noise of the kids every time you try to write is driving you up the wall… then it might be time for a change of scenery. 

It might sound simple but in the depths of NaNoWriMo it can be hard to be rational! If you’re sensing writer’s block, switch things up. Leave your desktop computer behind, grab the laptop and get yourself to a cafe, the library, a museum or gallery—or the local pub if that helps. Even consider what you eat and drink, what you wear, what you listen to and who you write with. Change things.

We can see that many of our most prolific writers log into their Novlr accounts from different devices. What we don’t know is if that’s at work, at your mum’s house, at the public library or on your spare laptop…but it seems that a change of scene works. 

Tip #5: Create a purpose list. 

This tip isn’t based on Novlr stats—this one is personal. 

Before you start, write out the reasons why you are doing this. Why did you sign up to NaNoWriMo? What made you decide to do it this way rather than the usually approach to writing a novel? Be that: “I need the outside push to make me do it”; “I won’t make time otherwise”; “I won’t have time later in the year, it has to be now”; “I want to achieve this thing I’ve been talking about doing for years”; “I want to make my family proud.” 

Everyone has a reason, or a myriad of reasons, for taking on this incredible challenge. Don’t lose sight of what that is. Write the reason, or reasons, down on a piece of paper and stick it in your wallet/on the fridge/anywhere. When you are struggling to keep motivating, read it and remind yourself what got you here in the first place. 

Learning from data

At Novlr, we’re determined to use the statistics and data about how people write to find ways of helping support writers better. Good examples of that are our Streaks feature and our positive messages of encouragement as you hit targets, which our users tell us help them write more (and we’ll be looking at the stats around this in the coming months to see what impact it has). 

If you are interested in seeing if Novlr can make you more productive, or as thousands of writers have already found, is the best place to write your novel, try our free two week trial. Exclusively for NaNoWriMo participants, we’re also offering 40% off for a year with our discount code in your sponsor offers

Top photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash.

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Diversity makes stories better, plain and simple. This year, we’ve partnered with the good folks at Writing With Color to get some advice on how to write stories populated with people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. In the third part of her “Do’s of Writing People of Color” sub-series, founder Colette Aburime goes over how to describe characters of color in your writing:

One key to strong representation is making the race of your characters undisputedly clear. So clue your readers in! Not only is it nice for People of Color to read descriptions of themselves as awesome everyday people, but there’s a consequence to being vague: Most readers will assume the characters are white. 

Society ensures we view white people as the default. That default human is probably also straight, cis, able-bodied, etc. until proven otherwise. This way of thinking won’t dissolve overnight.

When describing your characters

  1. Make their races clear early on once they’re introduced.
  2. Sprinkle in a few more reminders throughout the story.

Ways to show race:

  • Physical descriptions – You can describe hair, skin tone, and facial features to create a picture for readers. It isn’t foolproof, though. For example, dark brown skin and curly hair may point to a Person of Color, sure, but not an exact race or ethnicity. It’s wise to pair physical details with other means.
  • Culture – Cultural elements can seamlessly indicate race. They’re already part of your character’s identity, so it’s bound to come up! Think family names, clothing, holidays, traditions, language, food, heirlooms…
  • Social issues – What social issues directly affect the character? What about relatives in other countries? Even a national disaster could show background, like a hurricane affecting your character’s family in Mexico. 
  • Activities – The character could be involved or have met someone through a PoC-specific organization. Think student unions, activism, local businesses Facebook groups, professional meet-ups…
  • Cover art – If your book cover features your characters, I urge you to make sure they look the part. Even if you have little say in the final product, remind your publisher of their races and ask they take care to be accurate. Say no to white-washed book covers! 
  • Say it in story – Don’t be afraid to just state it. I highly recommend doing so at some point in the story. There’s many ways to work in a mention. Create a situation that makes sense to the story. See these examples:
    • “The woman turned to face me. She was Black, I think, with a short coily afro and a dimple in her smile that took my breath away.” 
    • “It felt awkward, being the only woman in the room, let alone an Indian woman.”  
    • “I was born of a Korean mother and a German father.”
  • Say it outside the pages – These days allow more interaction between authors and their readers. Use social media or a webpage to share character profiles, your celebrity dream cast, share commissioned art, and clarify questions. 

Use one or more of these methods. At the least, I recommend a combination of physical descriptions and outright stating race whenever the story allows.

Characters of Color in Fantasy

Alternative or fantasy settings may have different concepts of race. Perhaps there’s no word for human ethnicities or countries. Never fear—racial coding is here!  Racial coding means providing hints that your character is the equivalent of a human race. You can use physical, cultural and geographical parallels to help readers make a conclusion. 

Now, go forth and describe your characters. We wanna see them!

Related Articles on Writingwithcolor:

Describing Characters of Color:

Fantasy Coding Advice on Writing With Color:


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Colette Aburime is the founder of WritingWithColor, a writing advice blog focused on diversity. She studied creative and professional writing in college, and writes (or rather, dreams of writing) in her free time. Colette is a big fan of romance and fantasy and lives out her fairytale in a humble cottage in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. She spends happily ever after with her prince, plants, and a feisty cat. Check out WritingWithColor on Tumblr and Twitter.

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Diversity makes stories better, plain and simple. This year, we’ve partnered with the good folks at Writing With Color to get some advice on how to write stories populated with people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. In the second part of her “Do’s of Writing People of Color” sub-series, founder Colette Aburime discusses how reading diversity will help us write diversity:

Writers write. They should also read. And if you plan on writing Characters of Color, you should read works by People of Color. More specifically, stuff from authors in that ethnic group. Consider this an important part of your research.

How do People of Color tell their tales, express culture, and represent themselves in story? You may find that—ope! We humans are quite alike in many regards.

It’s those key differences you should learn to add a touch of authenticity.

Whether it’s:

  • Haircare needs & styles
  • How we describe ourselves
  • Microaggressions: the ones we face & how we cope
  • How we incorporate, celebrate and balance culture
  • Fitting in at work and school

When the mods and I give advice on WritingwithColor, we speak mainly from our experiences. Don’t stop at just one book or blog. There are many more voices to hear. Seek plenty of stories by those you hope to represent.

Primary Resources:

  • Fiction – particularly in your story’s genre
  • Non-fiction
  • Blogs and vlogs
  • Articles
  • POC Profiles on WritingwithColor blog (reader submission-based experiences)
  • Autobiographies, diaries and memoirs – particularly in your story’s time period
  • Social media / message boards (Twitter, Tumblr, and Reddit can be an open diary!)
  • Comment sections, reviews, and discussions from any number of these.

Remember your goal is to learn and to listen.

Tips:

  • Practice proper etiquette. When entering public or semi-private spaces, provide support without offering unasked-for sympathies or questions. “Thank you for sharing” is a good general way to show support. Or sometimes lurking is best. Regardless, make sure all commentary is welcome and appropriate.

For example: A Black girl venting about getting her hair pet by a coworker isn’t the time to ask “Well, why is it so wrong to do that?” Google is a good, dear friend!  

  • Keep an open mind. Some of these sources may share raw, intimate information. Truths that make you uncomfortable, told in ways that don’t sugarcoat or act nice about it. Time to forget yourself! A person’s personal experiences are seldom written to make others comfortable. Again, you’re here to listen and learn. And you will learn if you listen!
  • Support Authors of Color. When it comes to stories, support the author with a review. And if you liked it, recommend the book to others. You could also buy a copy or ask your library to carry it. 

It’s not all about oppression.

Something you’ll discover from reading our stories, particularly fiction; we want adventures! To fall in love, crack the cold case, and soar from the backs of dragons. Most of our lives are not 24/7 about The Struggle.

In any case, stories that let us play is part of escapism. Allow us these moments. When we’re ready for really tough stuff, we’ll seek the stories that deal specifically with those topics.

And don’t forget all the positive to neutral things. Food, holidays, traditions, music, get-togethers…

Overwhelmed?

Don’t get lost in the details. Not everything you learn will prove relevant to the story, but it could provide some background. In the same way giving your MC the favorite color yellow may never appear on the pages, it gives insight on who they are.

Organize to Success!

Chart your findings in a neat and easy to reference manner.

I’ve created this Character of Color Research Table (Google Doc) to give you a start. Make a copy and fill the chart with whatever information you see fit.

Now, pick up a great book by an Author of Color and get in some research!


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Colette Aburime is the founder of WritingWithColor, a writing advice blog focused on diversity. She studied creative and professional writing in college, and writes (or rather, dreams of writing) in her free time. Colette is a big fan of romance and fantasy and lives out her fairytale in a humble cottage in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. She spends happily ever after with her prince, plants, and a feisty cat. Check out WritingWithColor on Tumblr and Twitter.

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Diversity makes stories better, plain and simple. This year, we’ve partnered with the good folks at Writing With Color to get some advice on how to write stories populated with people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. In this post, Alexa White gives advice on finding the right voice for characters of color:

The #1 thing I tell people on Writing With Color when they provide a character for review is “this sounds like a white person.”

I don’t say it as a condemnation, but to provide a baseline for what people are working with. They are working from an environment where white narratives, white people, and white-majority countries are the only places deemed “worthy” of their history, culture, and physical location being explored.

As a result, most characters come across as white. Their thought patterns, mental framework, and values don’t feel like they reflect the realities of growing up as someone othered. There aren’t enough details, the priorities feel wrong, and the cultural touchstones are just not there.

Thankfully, the internet is very vast, and has provided people multiple ways to respectfully research everything you could need. Here are three basic steps (in no order) you can take to begin creating characters of color:

1: Listen in on social media

Key word: listen. The goal of this step is to familiarize yourself with communities that are speaking as if white people aren’t around. You can do this on any social media platform. 

How to find these communities can be tricky. A great place to start is going through Writing With Color’s tags meant to gain community commentary (NDN only), following activist accounts (black lives matter), and just generally searching “x activist” (googling Asian activism got me a Wikipedia article on Asian-American activism, with the name of multiple movements, activist organizations, and notable activists. Note: it’s very East Asian heavy, but you can tailor searches for specific groups by name).

The more you listen, the more you’ll start to see what conversations are a priority for these groups. And don’t stop at the big names! Smaller accounts are important to follow, to get the big picture.

2: Read #OwnVoices

The wonders of the internet have provided us with a whole hashtag that centralizes diverse authors as the authorities on their own stories. It’s a built-in reading list for so many groups, and it’s basically guaranteed that you’ll find a large collection of stories that match your demographic.

Reading stories by people of color will help combat the overflow of white-centered stories in mass media, which will in turn provide you with a different framework to work from. Details you hadn’t even thought of (like satin pillowcases for type 4 curly hair) will start to emerge, and you’ll get a window into how someone chose to present themselves (which is a big deal when closed religions start to come into effect, such as many Native religions).

Plus, you get to support authors of color along the way, and have a bunch of new stories to recommend!

3: Google every basic you can think of (and make sure the sources are reputable)

The literal only reason writing Europeans and white Americans is easier is because you’ve had their history spoon fed to you since kindergarten. You’re going to need to start from kindergarten level questions for your characters of color.

As alluded to multiple times in this post, the internet is full of content by people of color. You can find Japanese recipe blogs, Black makeup and hair YouTubers, Native fashion stores—the list is endless. So long as the source is someone from the group, chances are you’ll be getting something accurate.

By googling your questions, you can start to fill up the education cup without demanding any extra labor from people of color. We have already provided the labor for you. All you need to do is find it, and withhold the impulse to insert yourself into the narrative.

This isn’t about you. Learn to let it be about us, before you start writing. 

Good luck on your research quest!

~ Alexa White


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Alexa White, also known as Mod Lesya on Writing with Color, is a Mohawk two spirit person from Southern Ontario, who joined Writing with Color to help educate others. A lifelong lover of storytelling, she dedicates her focus to making characters feel like they come from whatever setting they’re supposed to exist in. If she is not found writing, she is playing with her cat, cooking, or drawing.