What to Avoid & Characterization

When writing a story, it’s easy to get washed away in the flood of your imagination and just keep writing and writing until you’ve lost sight of where you were originally headed. Getting ahead of yourself is a thing that happens, and it happens unfortunately often. Slow down and organize your thoughts before beginning to write. Some good ways to sort out your ideas are:

  • Plot diagrams are very useful

  • Make a list of important plot points (in chronological order)

  • Take a scene/plot point you can’t get out of your head and write a quick stream of consciousness (this will help if you have an idea and want to build a story around it)

 

Okay, you have a scene in your head and it’s exciting and dramatic and wonderful and you just have to share it with everyone. But wait, you need to have a lead-up to this scene or it won’t be as exciting as it is in your head. Don’t panic. Just take that scene and go with it; write the scene and make it as amazing as you want, write as much as you want, get it all out. Good. Now that that’s out of your system, you can now focus on building a plot around this one scene. And who knows, maybe your ideas will change and you have to re-write the scene. That’s okay, it’s all part of the story writing and plot-building process.

 

Another thing that can either make or break your story is characterization. Having interesting, believable characters is essential to a good story. Many people will choose to build their characters around the plot, and this is okay. It is also okay to build plot around characters; it all just depends on how your ideas come to you.

 

Don’t make your characters flat, stereotypical cutouts. Give them life, maybe an interesting backstory, an issue that they have, make them interesting.

 

Give your characters human qualities; make them relatable. If your characters are too perfect, or too plain, people will find them boring. Give them quirks and personalities, things that make them likeable. Solid characters are the base for every good story. Just remember these tips and you will surely have a winning plot and piece of writing on your hands!

Endings

I’m not going to sugar-coat this. Endings are ,by far, the most frustrating parts of every story. For most beginner writers, their stories tend to end unrealistically.

Keep in mind that not all stories have to tie up many loose ends as you may want to set up for a second book. They just have to end in a satisfying, believable way that doesn’t end to quickly or drag on for too long.

When writers end their stories too quickly it’s usually because they feel that they have worked on a story for too long and just want to get it over and done with. In these cases, the endings tend to happen very suddenly which doesn’t sit well with a lot of readers. One of the “kiss of death” reactions to any story is if at the end the reader thinks “Oh…that was the end?”. The ending to a story needs build up to that climatic moment page by page and absolutely cannot be rushed. So when writing an ending, take your time. Just think and work things out. You’re almost at the end and you don’t need to race.

Another problem that faces writers while writing their endings is the “too long” ending. While endings shouldn’t be too quick, they shouldn’t drag on too long either. After you’ve written your climactic moment, don’t try to keep the story’s action climbing. At this point, wind down the action and bring the story to a close. For some writers, they find they want to keep writing because they’ve grown a fondness to their characters. They’ve come to know them better than anyone, were there every step of their journey, through highs and lows. Therefore saying goodbye is too difficult for them. They don’t want to end the story because they had so much fun with their characters. Although it’s difficult, a writer needs to know that when it’s time to wind down and let go of a story. Just remember it can’t last forever.

All I can really say is while you’re writing your ending, make sure you work at it. A good way to avoid either of these bad endings is to try to plan out your ending before you even start writing the beginning so that you can build up your characters and plot throughout duration of the story in order to bring your story to a structured, believable close. 

Pacing and Transitions

Pacing is the time you take in a story to present the reader with information. It is important that you know how to effectively manipulate the pacing of a story to create a believable plot. There are two types of pacing: slow and fast. There are several points in which to implement both types of pacing. Let’s start with slow pacing.

Slow pacing is very important in creating believability. You need to use it regularly throughout your story for the reader’s sake. Slow pacing is often used at points that the writer wants to create emphasis on a subject that will be common through the story. For example, in a fantasy novel I am writing, I have a character that was born with very dark magical abilities that are strengthened and become harder to control when he experiences negative emotions. I make this very clear shortly after I introduce his character, going into high detail about how he always has to stay happy and positive to avoid losing control and hurting the people he cares about. Then, throughout the course of the story, I have little bits where something happens to him emotionally and things happen. At one point, he and his travelling company are resting for the night and he becomes angry, the sheer anger radiating from him turning their campfire black.

Taking the time to slow your pacing to convey important information can save you a lot of trouble later and allows you to reflect on this moment during fast-paced scenes, ensuring that you don’t have to slow down the pacing for the sake of explaining yourself and maintaining believable pacing.

Slow pacing is also used after a dramatic scene to create an emotional impact. For example, let’s say you write about someone watching their friend get hit by a car. Have this happen suddenly. The two characters are outside together. Maybe they are walking home after attending a party. Have the character whose perspective you are writing from, witness the other character be involved in this hit and run incident. Create panic as the character tries to warn their friend of the approaching vehicle, describe how the warning came too late, squealing of tires, sickening thud, shattering of glass etc. At this point, slow time down. Tell of the character being frozen in shock only to be broken out of it when the driver of the vehicle drives off, leaving their friend barely alive, crumpled in the middle of the road. The character runs to their friend, calling for help. Keep milking this scene for all it’s worth, describe emotions, thoughts, little details. In this scene, the seconds should feel like hours to the uninjured character. In this case, the reader may be in shock at the events of the story and will need slow-pacing to get their bearings and truly understand what happened.

Fast pacing is a little less complicated. It’s used to create a sense of flowing, quick forward motion in the plot. Dialogue is a good way of achieving this illusion. It moves the reader through scenes of action in a seemingly faster way than pure narrative does.

This pacing is also used in full out action scenes such as fighting scenes. In these scenes, in order to speed up the pacing as it should be, don’t use long, flowery sentences or long paragraphs. Just use simple bits of information that are either jointed or not so much:

“The creature managed to land a blow on his shoulder. Cyril yelped in surprise and dropped his gun. The creature rose up on its hind legs, readying its claws to strike. Just as it brought its lethal attack down, Cyril dodged it, rolling to the side to retrieve his weapon”

As you can see, these scenes shouldn’t be too descriptive. This gives the idea that the character locked in battle is only aware of basic movements, making the thoughts of the character more believable. Also, consider using sentence fragments rather than full sentences. This quickens the pace even further.

Transitions are just as important. They are words or key sentences that bridge one idea to the next. Be careful when creating these. Too many transitions can be just as confusing as too few. In order to create believable transitions, don’t use them between every idea and sentence but try to create one between each paragraph. There’s not much else to say about transitions as they are quite similar and tie a lot into pacing. While writing, just keep an eye on how you go about transitioning from one idea to the next depending on your pacing.

Exposition

Exposition can be seen as a frightening word to most writers. For starters, Exposition is the basic breakdown of the plot of your story and also provides background information for your characters. This is very difficult to do correctly for beginners. It’s hard to not spend three pages writing exposition which most readers will get bored of reading eventually. The key is to create exposition within your story while still maintaining a sense of forward motion, without awkwardness and in a way that makes your story believable.

In the beginning, you need to set up your characters and setting quickly. Get in, get out, move on. Do not go into major detail and spend an entire paragraph describing a character’s appearance:

“Alicia was tall, slender, and had ivory-white skin. Her hair was a sweeping cascade of gold that fell about her shoulders and shone brightly when the light hit it just right. It framed her elegant, defined cheekbones and thin jaw line. The hairline made an attractive “m” shape that arched over her inquisitive eyebrows. She had eyes of piercing green with hints of gold and blue that were large and lined with long, well-groomed eyelashes. Her lips were rosy red and were always slightly parted…” and so on and so forth into infinity.

Unless you’re writing a pretentious teen romance novel, this should be avoided. Readers are easily bored by over-description of a character. It results in an unrealistic first impression of a character and it’s difficult to believe that a character thinks about another in that much detail. Therefore, at the beginning, be simple:

“Jason looked up from his book to see that his friend, Quin, had sat directly across the table from him. Quin was a mild-mannered, quiet boy with dark hair and tired, blue eyes. He was always quite bashful and hardly spoke but he and Jason got along very well and had been friends for many years”

There, a simple introductory scene of a character. Yes, it is quite vague but don’t worry, you’ll have time later on to drop hints of what the character looks like and go into more detail about what they wear or what they act like etc.  For now, simplicity is the key to believability.

Now, for your plot. There are several ways in which you can create plot exposition within a story. One way is through dialogue. This way is difficult only because you have to have the characters converse in a believable way in which it doesn’t seem like the conversation is only there for the sake of exposition. Never have characters talk about every little detail as if they are simply relaying information to the reader. This is unrealistic and very awkward. To avoid this, consider the following. You could have a character giving information to another character that has no knowledge of a crucial subject or have characters “interviewing” each other (ie. Dates, crime scene investigation, psychiatrist appointments etc.) This way, believable expository conversations are created.

It is also important to make your readers open to exposition. So, set up situations in which after reading, the reader wants things to be explained. For example you could have an opening scene describing the actions of a character and then suddenly drop this on the reader: “He stopped just before entering the school. He pulled the zipper on his sweater up a little further to hide the dark bruise on his neck.” This will make the reader want to know more and sets them up perfectly for exposition. Sometimes your writing is more believable when you create questions that can be answered later than to just spew out information at the reader.

Lastly, only provide exposition that is relevant to your story. That doesn’t mean that you can’t ever reference something from the past of a character that is unimportant. Sometimes that can be used to create a humorous little insert depending on the overall mood of your story. The point is that you should not do this regularly and save time for the major information that is truly important to your story. For example, you don’t need to go into major detail describing a character’s first trip to a zoo when they were five years old unless something happened there that is important to the plot (eg. The reason they wanted to study penguins from an early age). If it’s not important, leave it. Un-needed information can create problems in the pacing of your story (see post on Pacing and Transitions)

So, my tips in exposition: simple beginnings, try to seamlessly blend exposition into dialogue, create questions; and most importantly, only create major exposition when necessary to your plot. The idea of having to create believable exposition doesn’t have to be the death of you. It just requires a lot of planning and trial and error.