Category: young writers program

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The setting or environment in which our stories take place can have a huge effect on how our readers view characters or scenes. Young Writers Program participant Asher M. is here with us today to share how to make the most out of this often overlooked aspect of storytelling:

Something I’ve seen many writers struggle with is unique plots. It seems like every story has already been written. As a writer, you may see a three-act novel with the same subsections every single book seems to follow. As a reader, do you see it the same way? I doubt it. 

For this explanation, we’ll be using a simple example plot:

Act 1: Ellie is a normal kid in middle school. One day, her principal (who’s secretly a wizard) tells her she has to go defeat the evil wizard Wright Erz Blok. After some deliberation, Ellie goes with her two closest friends on an adventure to fight Wright Erz Blok.

Act 2: The group set off on their trip with the help of a magical map. They gain tools from various mentors as they leave, and gain skills by defeating lesser villains as they get closer to Wright Erz Blok.

Act 3: The heroes almost fail, but manage to defeat Wright Erz Blok for good. They come back to school and receive a hero’s welcome.

So, how would your environment influence this story? I’ll break it down. Your environment has three main influences on your writing: character, pacing, and story.

1. Character

Character encompasses the personality, mannerisms, and speaking style of each character. In our example, we have four important characters: Ellie, her two friends, and Wright Erz Blok. Your social environment influences character the most. A social person might find themselves pulling qualities from their friends for their characters, while an introvert may pull more qualities from themselves. Someone with positive social influences may give Ellie’s friends more individual characteristics and story arcs, while someone with negative social influences might diminish them into being supportive characters.

Pay attention to how you interact with others. It shows up on the page.

2. Pacing

Pacing is the speed at which different plot points happen. In our example, we have our three acts, each with three components. Your physical environment influences pacing the most. If you’re in middle school or were in middle school recently, you know a lot about middle school. You’d be pretty good at stretching out Act 1 by adding details about daily middle school life. If you’re writing in a busy space, like a coffee shop, you might find yourself stretching out descriptions of people or environments as you observe the environment’s intricacies. Notice how your physical environment inspires your writing, and switch it up if things are feeling stagnant.

3. Story

Story is anything and everything happening outside of the plot’s skeleton. Your life experience influences the story the most. Writers draw from their own life experiences to develop their stories. Ellie’s relationship with any siblings she has would influence whether they’re part of her motivation to fight evil. Wright Erz Blok’s motivation for committing evil deeds shapes the audience’s idea of whether they’re empathetic. If Ellie and co. are journeying through a forest, the types of people they encounter will be very different than if they’re traveling across an ocean. Every single aspect of motivations, setting, and relationship change based on the author’s own experiences.

When writing, consciously make the choice to allow your environment to influence how you write. If you have the option to, change physical environments regularly and think from someone else’s point of view to give yourself a chance to write with fresh senses. And don’t be afraid to recycle plots. Your experience and your environment make every story unique.

Don’t hold back, my friend. You have endless stories inside you.


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Asher M. is an avid fan of classical authors, despite not writing anything in their style. He’s currently working on his first novel, focused on betrayal and growth, in a series about magic, politics, and adventure. When he’s not writing novels or op-eds, you can find him doodling in his many sketchbooks or painting on his bedroom walls. He hopes to double major in English and Psychology, with plans to become a neuroscientist who writes on the side.

Top photo by Luis Del Río Camacho on Unsplash.

Last month, we challenged our Young Writers to submit a 400 word excerpt from their NaNoWriMo novels. From over 500 fabulous entries, we chose two Grand Prize Winners and four Runners-Up. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did!

“Of Silver and Swans” by Dana B.

Maman crooked her finger, beckoning her daughter forward.

“Why so afraid, my little cygnet?” she asked, holding out her hands so that the pooled moonlight glistened alluringly. She tilted her head, an unspoken challenge. “Don’t you want to reap the moon’s blessing?”

Lynette darted a glance at the moon, seeking a sign. Any sign that would let her get out of this, just once. But the moon’s lips were sealed. Read the rest!

“Swimming Upstream” by Rivka J.

I lean against a willow tree, heart racing, breathing hard. The cool summer breeze gently calms me. The Queen’s Guard fills the park, each woman drawing her sword and swinging it around threateningly. I finger the secret dagger hidden beneath my stolen belt and hope I won’t have to use it. Boys aren’t allowed to have weapons. I’ve seen younger boys been killed by guards just for wearing a belt. Read the rest!

“The Dragon Queen” by Leila M.

“Queen Gold, I challenge you for the throne of the Gold kingdom!” my daughter Winter hisses.

Dang it.

When female dragons like me lay eggs, they lay more than one at a time. They hatch at different times, when they’re ready-30 minutes to 3 years after they do. I laid all four eggs at the same time, but Spring hatched first, nine months after she was laid. However, dragon eggs require special care. Winter’s egg was turned upside down in the nest, even though I watched over the eggs. The turned egg gave her evil. Read the rest!

"The Frig” by Kyler

The Food Variety Show was finally over. That night, all the food in the refrigerator chatted excitedly.

“I don’t care!” said Mushroom. He had received the lowest score in the show. “I don’t care about popularity!”

“Of course, you don’t care,” muttered Cheese, “If you cared, then you wouldn’t be playing in the mulch and dirt all day.” Read the rest!

Last month, we challenged our Young Writers to submit a 400 word excerpt from their NaNoWriMo novels. From over 500 fabulous entries, we chose two Grand Prize Winners and four Runners-Up. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did!

“Phantom Mare” by Miriam G. — Grand Prize Winner (13 and Under Age Group)

Had she gone deaf?

Desperate for sound, Sharon dashed from the room. Her feet pounded but she couldn’t hear them. The door of the kitchen banged but she couldn’t hear it. She smashed into the table but she couldn’t hear it.

The world was silent.

Gasping and terrified, she dashed into the front hall. Her fingers scrabbled at the lock, clumsy with fear. She managed to turn it and yanked open the door.

Fog, unnaturally thick and white, filled the doorway, pushing to come in. Sharon shrieked, unable to hear it, and slammed the door on the fog. She locked it and waited, trembling, before forcing herself to move back to the kitchen.

The kettle lay forgotten on the burner. The burner, which she had turned on—but was now cold.

She had closed the window. Even with her mind fractured by terror, she remembered closing it. But now it was open, the fog blown in, the curtains rustling in the breeze.

Sharon stumbled toward it, grabbed it, tried to shove it closed. But it wouldn’t budge.

The fog wrapped cold, misty fingers around her, and she sprang back, tripping over a chair. She fell to the ground without a noise. The chair landed on her hand, causing a jolt of pain, but she ignored it and scrambled up.

She backed away from the fog as it slithered through the window, curling about her. She looked for the stairs, to run up them and take shelter from the terrifying fog, but the mist was already swirling up the steps.

Instead she fled down the hall, to the back door. She grabbed the knob and shoved at it before her fractured mind remembered. That door was jammed, and always had been. She couldn’t flee there.

That left only one spot for her to take refuge in. The living room. Sharon took a deep, shuddering breath, then dodged through the fog and into the room. She slammed the door behind her and waiting in the silent dark.

Nothing moved.

No fog curled under the door. Was she safe? She looked slowly around the room, her gaze landing unexpectedly on the forest picture. The horse inside looked out with black eyes.

Wait…

There never had been a horse in the forest scene.

The horse turned its head to look at her, and peeled back its lips to reveal sharp white teeth.

Sharon screamed.


Special guest judge Kat Zhang had this to say about “Phantom Mare”: “I love how tense this scene is! The build-up to the reveal is heart-pounding, and there’s a great rhythm to the sentences.”


Miriam G. is an aspiring novelist who enjoys writing about dragons and horses. She would spend all day at the barn around horses and all evening writing. Eventually, she hopes to publish her books. She wants to become a good enough artist that she can illustrate her books. Admittedly, she’s fond of self-inflicted pain through an accelerated math course to catch up with her older brother. She lives with her two brothers, her parents, and the sweetest, most patient cat in the world.

Last month, we challenged our Young Writers to submit a 400 word excerpt from their NaNoWriMo novels. From over 500 fabulous entries, we chose two Grand Prize Winners and four Runners-Up. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did!

“About Tea” by Noelle H. — Grand Prize Winner (14-18 age group)

On Tea Henshaw’s second day, she hit Calvin in the jaw. I don’t know what he said to her to make her do it, but I saw her knuckles connect with his skin. I saw him take it like a dog: first shocked and timid, but then bouncing back at her with big eyes.

You wouldn’t hit a girl, we said. You wouldn’t. Not with all these adults around, with all these authoritative eyes watching. Oh, but look—they’re not. They never are. We’re beyond their jurisdiction here, outside, on the edge of schoolyard and town. (And of course Calvin would hit a girl, we reminded ourselves, drawing our jackets tighter around blue autumn arms.)

We said all this from behind the fence. Chain-link. Along the rough line between grass and gravel.

They fought in the road.

She was wearing overalls, like a contractor or something, and they were cuffed all the way down at the ankles even though it was still eighty degrees out. Her work boots were gone, but that fringe remained. (When did she do it? Was it freshman year, maybe, that she cut her bangs?) It was an enduring mark of childish impulse.

She was no rabbit; she was slow and strong. Later when she stood beside me, she made me a dandelion beside an oak tree. She wasn’t really that tall. She just seemed it, because she hit Calvin.

We wanted her to hit him again. We wanted her to pummel him, to knee him in the nuts. We wanted to see him vomit on the ground. We wanted to breathe him in when he crumbled. We wanted to stand in her shade.

When Calvin hit her back, she shrank six inches.

He jabbed her in the stomach and she keeled over. He stood over her with his auburn hair eating the sun— absorbing it, folding it into a halo like in Renaissance paintings.

We don’t know what he said to her. She made no answer at first, just gave a tiny cry that maybe no one heard but me. I recognized that sound. It made us the same.

Tea Henshaw was born, and learned to walk, and spoke her first words between the same two bright yellow lines. (No passing, the lines said. Everyone passed on that road.)

She said, “Nice to meet you,” and they shook hands.

The September light was red.


Special guest judge Kat Zhang had this to say about “About Tea”: “I’m a sucker for a bold, unique voice, and I kept thinking about this excerpt long after I read it. The words paint a lovely, vibrant scene.” 


Noelle H. is a high school junior who enjoys writing, painting, swimming, and playing the violin. She has always loved stories. She has written one full novel (which is eternally in the editing stage), and hopes to finish a new version of it sometime this year. She plans to go to college for Art and Design, and dreams of working in animation.

Time to hit the books! History is full of novel-worthy moments, but how do you write about these events while remaining mindful and respectful of the people who lived through them? Here to start off a new blog series on using real-world events as writing inspiration is Young Writers Program participant Madalyn R:

Inspiration is hard. I’m realizing this yet again as I sit down at my computer to write this blog post. While it can be tempting to travel down a rabbit hole of Pinterest’s top picks for writing inspiration (which will probably eventually lead to a collection of 50 Hottest Characters in Shakespeare), opening a history textbook may be your best bet. 

Bear with me, reader, I know it seems dull and dry, but when you push through the academic, sometimes snooze-worthy, language, you’ll discover a wealth of literary possibilities that may astonish you and inspire your next written work. Certain people or events, such as Leo Szilard or the Battle for Castle Itter, are overlooked and ignored, and writing a work of historically accurate fiction about them can be enlightening to the public. 

More commonly known events and characters, like the destruction of the Berlin Wall or the life of Queen Victoria, can be brought to life and reimagined with new narrators and perspectives. However, there are three crucial things to remember when writing historical fiction, and they all focus on a key concept: respect.

1. Respect the character.

The first, perhaps most crucial, is to remember to respect the historical figures and people that you write about. Research is a key aspect and will greatly aid the process of honoring characters. General textbooks and almanacs are wonderful for finding inspiration, but once you find a person to write about, go deeper with primary sources, personal writings, etc. These will allow you to sculpt a well-rounded and accurate character. When writing about a person who actually existed, it is important to not change their personality, appearance, religion, gender, sexuality, or race in order to make them more relevant or likable. This is a grave error that is not considerate of the individual, and it should be avoided. 

Other things, such as mentioning their hobbies, friends, and family, help to remind the reader of the humanity of the character, which is something that can on occasion be lost in historical fiction. Of course, there are many other aspects to properly writing historical characters, but these are a few pointers that will hopefully serve you well.

2. Respect the reader.

It is also important to remember to respect the reader. While everything in historical fiction can seem new and exciting with differing architecture, fashion, and customs, the reader can often become bored with excesses of prose that aren’t related to the plot, themes, or dialogue. I often find myself including pages of descriptions of halls, libraries, gardens, and other such things in my writing, but I have picked up a phrase from my mother, “don’t assume your reader is dumb.” While some descriptions can be beautiful and grounding, it is usually wise to assume that unless you’re writing about a very narrow or little-studied time period, that the reader is well informed on the basics of the culture of that time.

3. Respect the time period.

Finally, it is crucial to remember to respect the time period. It is important to remember that you are writing about a different time with different cultures, politics, and technology. Unless you’re writing sci-fi, fantasy, or satire, don’t write about a Confederate soldier uploading a meme to his Twitter account in the midst of battle. If your character climbs into a car, ensure that it is the right model and year and decide whether or not this character would have a chauffeur or even be able to afford a vehicle. 

When you’re naming characters (which is one of my favorite parts of writing), research the origins of the name, as some have shifted in popularity, use, and even the gender to which they’re typically given. 

And while it can be agonizing at times, remember to accurately portray the political climate of the time period. Racism and sexism, to name just a few, were and are grave and serious issues that aren’t enjoyable to talk about, but they were central to many time periods, so I’d encourage you to resolve to write about these beliefs in a way that is hopefully accurate, yet respectful to all parties. 

I wish you good luck and endless inspiration, fellow writer!


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Madalyn R. is a literature nerd who spends her days reading anything from Seuss to Joyce and writing poetry and flash fiction. She is working on completing her first novel, a gothic work set in the 1840s focused around the fragility of identity and memory. In her free time, you can find her attempting to play the ukulele and scribbling in journals. She hopes to pursue a career in academia as an English professor.

Top photo by Christian Fregnan on Unsplash.

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Brave the Page, our NaNoWriMo handbook for young writers, is available to order! Partly a how-to guide on the nitty-gritty of writing, partly a collection of inspiration to set (and meet) ambitious goals, this is our go-to resource for middle-grade writers. Check out this Brave the Page excerpt on revision from bestselling author Scott Westerfeld:

At the end of drafting a novel, I’m usually in need of a laugh, so I return to the very first pages I wrote. It’s like looking at photos of myself in middle school: How innocent I was back then! How badly dressed! But what I’ve gained since those early days isn’t so much wisdom (or a better haircut) but perspective. I can see now where things were headed. 

Alas, when looking at old pictures, you can’t go back and give yourself advice. But with first drafts you can! In that moment before revising begins, you’re no longer stuck in the hurly-burly of “What happens next?” and “What’s this character’s motivation?” You have perspective.

So here’s a suggestion: the first day of a revision is the perfect time to outline your novel again. Perhaps we should call it re-outlining, or simply stepping back. 

It’s tempting to start just rewriting Chapter One. But set that aside for a moment and make yourself a map, a big-picture view of how the pieces of your novel fit together. 

You probably have your old outline. Put that aside, and look at what you wound up actually writing. A complete draft has its own logic. (If it doesn’t, maybe you’re still drafting.) Clear away those youthful hopes and dreams and look back at where you went wrong. 

A lot of rewriting—like a lot of growing up—is simply admitting how clueless you were not so long ago. (Which is why some people never rewrite, and why some people never grow up.)

So start your revision by answering these questions: Which scenes work, and which are clunky? Which characters never took off, and which turned out to be unexpectedly compelling? Which goals that you started with aren’t worth pursuing anymore? And what startling new vistas opened up?

In other words, what do you know now that you didn’t know then? 

Realize how little you knew when you started, appreciate how much smarter you’ve become, and accept what innocence you’ve lost. Then make decisions accordingly, even if that means throwing away the obsessions of your younger self.

To throw one more analogy at you, a novel is like a cloud. When you’re in the thick of it, its shape is unknowable. But once you’ve passed through and gained a little distance, it’s much easier to see.

Make sure you take a picture before you dive back in.

Scott Westerfeld is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Uglies series, which has been translated into 35 languages; the Leviathan series; Afterworlds; Horizon; and many other books for young readers. He was born in Texas and alternates summers between Sydney, Australia, and New York City.

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Thinking about craft is always necessary, but we should also consider other aspects of how we write. In this post, Young Writers Program Participant Zoe Ward gives some advice on finding a place to write:

Ben Franklin liked to write in the bathtub. Maya Angelo paid for a hotel room by the month. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up, Agatha Christie needed a cold bath and lots of apples, and Truman Capote always laid down, calling himself “a completely horizontal author.”

Needless to say, the world is intrigued by where writers write.

What is the key to each place that makes ordinary people create extraordinary novels?

The short answer: complete focus. Agatha Christie and Ben Franklin liked the bathtub as it took a little extra effort to get out of it. Maya Angelo preferred the hotel room: without the human distractions. A good writing space needs to separate you from everyday life enough so you can focus, but not so much that you can’t get there easily.

Maybe your idea of a perfect writing space is a clean room with the blinds drawn and nothing but a sheet of paper on the desk. This works fine if you are Marie Kondo, but it’s a bad sign if you spend more time setting up your writing space than writing. Your creative space doesn’t have to be pristine. It can be noisy (some writers like to sit in traffic) and vibrant. Just make sure that all the sounds and sights around you are inspiring, not distracting.

E.B. White said: “I never listen to music while writing. I haven’t that kind of attentiveness, and I wouldn’t like it at all.” However, he says he wrote in “a bright cheerful room,” “at the core of everything that goes on.” He described it as “the carnival going on all around me.”

There’s no exact formula for a perfect writing space. It’s all about knowing yourself. What time of day are you most productive? What noise level do you need? I can’t write without some type of sound. I need quiet music, the vacuum downstairs, or rain sliding down the window. Heroine Betsy Ray from the Betsy-Tacy books needed a picture window. Figure out what makes your pen move.

Another thing that goes hand-in-hand with creating (or finding) a writing space is making it inviting. Someone once told me that wherever you write needs to simulate all of your senses. You can’t just appeal to sight and leave every other sense by the wayside. Little things like lighting a candle, grabbing a blanket, or eating apples like Agatha Christie will help make your creative area more defined. Soon, your brain will start to associate the pictures you have on the walls, a mint in your mouth, etc. with writing. Then, whenever all of these things happen in a certain environment, it’ll be easier to write.

You shouldn’t dread sitting down at your desk. Yes, some days writing is hard, but your workspace should make it easier. Many authors always leave their stories when they know what’s going to happen next. Nothing’s worse than sitting down, eager to write, and staring at a blank page for an hour. This simple trick makes you more excited to write (aka making your writing environment more productive) and gets your creative juices flowing.

In short, writing can be hard. But the space in which you write shouldn’t be. Finding somewhere inspiring and cultivating it to give you complete focus can transform your writing habits. Switch up your area and see its effects in your novel. Write on!


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Zoe Ward is a reader, writer, spring lover, and bunhead who believes in the power of writing. The writer of blog Pen2Paper, she seeks to help authors find their voices and help the world read a little more (which we can all agree makes it a better place). If she’s not scribbling poems on Post-its, you can find her eating cookie dough, dancing around her kitchen, or memorizing Anne of Green Gables.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Suzy Hazelwood on Flickr.

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Every November, during National Novel Writing Month, thirty professional designers volunteer to create book cover art inspired by novels being written by aspiring authors from around the globe. Why? To encourage new, diverse voices, and help build a more creative world.  

30 Covers, 30 Days is presented in partnership with designer and author Debbie Millman

Here’s day 25, and what a wild day it is!

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Cover design by Victor Davila, based on a novel by Young Writers Program participant Megan Perkins:

It is 3062. Earth’s land and sea are divided and at war. When Saylor’s family disappears, she, thinking that they were captured by the forces of the sea (pirate ships) sets out to find her family. She meets a boy who is from the sea and learns that he was on his way to the land to find his family that he had thought had been taken by the land.

They both realize that neither side had been taking people and that there is a bigger force behind the war. They have to convince everyone that they have to band together to defeat this force before humanity destroys itself. 

Cover Design by Victor Davila

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Victor Davila is an illustrator and designer from the Orlando, FL area, as well as an Assistant Professor at the University of Central Florida’s School of Visual Arts and Design teaching illustration and design. He has worked on everything from character designs and storyboards for animation, to editorial illustrations, interactive games, and childrens’ books.

Victor is also the founder of the central Florida illustrator collective Giant Illustrators, the President of AIGA Orlando, and on the organizing committee of Creative Mornings Orlando.

For more of Victor’s work, check out his website, and follow him on Instagram!

Join us on the forums for wacky fun and the sharing of opinions!


Cover Photo by Will Turner on Unsplash.

Brave the Page, our brand new NaNoWriMo handbook for young writers, is available to order! Partly a how-to guide on the nitty-gritty of writing, partly a collection of inspiration to set (and meet) ambitious goals, this is our go-to resource for middle-grade writers. Check out this Brave the Page excerpt on how to beat writer’s block:

Your story is in front of you, you’re ready to write, but your mind is blank. You call out to your imagination, “Help! I need you!” but there’s no response. You stare. And stare. And stare. But no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to get a single word down. You try going for a walk. You try talking to a friend. You try screaming into a pillow. But still, the words won’t come. 

If this scenario sounds familiar, you, dear Writer, have a case of Writer’s Block. 

The good news is this diagnosis isn’t fatal. Your story will survive! Just take one or more of these over-the-counter remedies to get your ideas flowing again: 

  • Grab your Writer’s Block and give it a great, big hug. Don’t try to fight or hide it because that will make it worse—instead, accept that you’re stuck. And then acknowledge that all writers (including the most famous ones) have also faced this challenge. Next, tell yourself that there’s a way to unclog your ideas. You might not have found it yet, but it’s out there. Learning to honor and accept these creative impediments will help you see them for what they are: a part of the beautiful and sometimes angst-ridden creative process. 
  • Write through your block. Write nonsense. Write what you had for breakfast. Write about how you hate not knowing what to write. Your words might not make sense. They might not relate to your story. They might feel like a waste of time. But, eventually, the very act of writing will shake your imagination out of its deep slumber and you’ll find that you’ve landed back in your story.   
  • Talk it out with another person. Call a friend or corner a family member and tell them you can’t think of what to write next. Give them a rundown of your plot or a brief summary of the last scene. Talking about your story with another person can help generate new ideas and enthusiasm.
  • Talk it out with your Inner Therapist. That’s right, next to your Inner Editor’s office is your Inner Therapist, a licensed practitioner who loves to listen and help solve complex problems. Here’s how it works: you ask questions, and then write down your Inner Therapist’s responses. Take a look at this example:

ME: Why can’t I think of anything to write? 

INNER THERAPIST: That’s a great question. I wonder if you could try to answer it yourself. Why can’t you think of anything to write? 

ME: Let’s see. My protagonist is stuck in jail, so there’s not a lot she can do. I feel like I backed my story into a wall. Or into a cell. Now nothing can happen. 

INNER THERAPIST: Interesting dilemma! I wonder why nothing can happen in jail? What does she think of the food? Do prisoners ever get food poisoning? Is your protagonist going to try to escape? Or does she meet any other prisoners? What if there’s a prisoner who looks just like her? Or like her mom? Or grandmother? 

ME: Those are good questions. I like the idea of her seeing someone who looks like her. Thanks! 

  • Meet with your mentor. Remember that mentor of yours, the one who’s available 24/7 and totally free of cost? That’s right, we’re talking about your favorite book. Take some time to flip through it. Re-read your favorite parts. Or read a random page or two. How does the author push the story forward? What are the subplots in the book? Are there any plot twists? Remember, you should never copy another person’s work, but you can definitely take ideas and make them your own. For example, let’s say the protagonist in your favorite book loves to spy on strangers, you could have your protagonist spy on a friend or family member. Or let’s say there’s a chapter in your favorite book that’s told entirely in verse (poetry), you could try writing a chapter of your story in verse.  

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Character creation? In Week 3?! Yes, indeed! Whether you realize that you need a character to fill in a gap in a gang of international thieves, or whether your main character is coming off a little flat, it’s never to late to think about what makes characters tick.

In this post, Young Writers Program Participant Katherine Liu gives some tips, tricks, and helpful resources to write more interesting characters: 

Interesting and dynamic characters in a story are essential to keeping your readers interested. If a character is flat, clichéd and clone-like, then it keeps your readers from flipping the page (or scrolling down online!) Here are some ways to help you with creating riveting characters:

Get to know your characters

I find personality tests like 16 Personalities/Myers Briggs extremely helpful. 

If you take the test in your character’s point of view, then you can learn a lot more about him/her by simply answering the questions. After the test, you can read about the strengths and weaknesses of that personality type, in addition to finding information about their friendship and romantic relationships. I also find the NaNoWriMo Character Questionnaire as something great that you can do in addition. 

Think about their greatest ambitions

Every character, whether they are major or minor, should have an aim in their life. For example, a henchman of the villain who makes an appearance during the climax shouldn’t just be working for the villain because he/she is simply evil. If the henchman is desperate to be paid money to feed his family, then his goal/aim would be “To support my family”.

If the henchman is being forced to work because the villain is threatening his family’s life, then his goal/aim would be “To save my family”. There can be many more reasons than the two possibilities that I have listed. “Want for absolute power” had been a commonly used goal in villains.

If it helps, you can think about what you want most in your life and incorporate it as your main character’s goal, e.g. An amazing adventure. It might not work for some plots but you can always choose to build the plot around the character or the other way around.

Avoid Character Clichés

Character clichés just makes me want to tear out my hair! They make your characters lack individuality. Here are some clichés that you can try to avoid:

  • No More Fiery Redheads: Not every redheaded character has to be feisty and outspoken to match their hair color, they can be shy and quiet too.
  • No More Broody Men: Haven’t we had enough of surly, handsome men who show a soft side to their lover? What about a man who is bright and optimistic, and shows their soft side to everyone?
  • No More Chosen Ones: The ~*prophecies*~ show that they will be the one to [insert plot thing here]… but that means they don’t have any real motivation. It’s much better if they want to do it themselves instead of having a prophecy telling them to.

This article by Now Novel can help you change your character cliché.

Good luck with creating your characters!


Apart from writing, Katherine enjoys sketching and painting with watercolors, especially if she’s drawing a scene/character from her own story. Often she can be found with her nose in a book, usually a romantic fantasy. Sometimes she attempts to write poems, though they turn up not so well.