Today a question was asked in one of my writing groups and as it’s not the first time I’ve seen a question of this nature when thumbing through the posts, I decided it merited an article of its own.
An author had used the word ‘lame’ in the context of a character replying to a proposed idea as such.
Character 1: “I’m going to skip the party and just chill in the library.”
Character 2: “Lame.”
The author in question had then sent their work on to beta readers, one of whom came back and informed the author that by using that word they were in fact being ableist.
[Ableism: discrimination in favour of able-bodied people.]
The author was addressing the writers group to get further feedback to ascertain how other writers viewed the issue so that she could make the decision on whether to remove the word from her work as the beta suggested.
Many of the group agreed that within the context of her work, the use of ‘Lame’ was perfectly acceptable and that for it to actually qualify as ableist, in any real sense, there would have to be the proper intent behind the use which was clearly absent in this case.
One member was brave enough to challenge the overall opinion, however, citing that people shouldn’t use the word because it could cause offense and went on to describe an occasion where a friend of hers had used the word ‘crippled’ in her presence even though she herself was wheelchair bound for much of the time.
She cited that language evolves alongside empathy and that we have a duty to bear that in mind when writing, and that she herself would never use the word ‘lame’ in her work for this very reason. Several of the points that she made were completely valid and in one sense I applaud her bravery for coming forward and defending her beliefs.
The word ‘lame’ is most often used in today’s society to describe something that wouldn’t be good or enjoyable. When you take into account that it used to be the most widely used description for anyone with mobility issues that does sound pretty bad doesn’t it?
I must admit that in my real life I usually choose to err on the side of empathy and common sense wherever possible. That being said, in my opinion it is also important as writers to understand that the worlds which we write and our real selves/lives often lie miles apart in many ways.
One of the hardest things for any writer to accomplish is the formation of three dimensional believable characters. Without these, stories are little more than a block of uninteresting text on a page.
If we all only wrote characters with our own moral values then stories as a whole would become very dull indeed. Basically, we would spend our days either writing stereotypical superhero’s or every story would end up containing miniature versions of our most pedestal-living selves.
Let’s face it, were that the case, no one would want to read a single word we penned down at the end of the day, no matter how much blood, sweat and tears we poured into the endeavor.
The key to a great story is to have a wonderful array of colorful characters who cover the whole spectrum from truest good to darkest evil. That being said our characters also need to be as realistic and true to their natures as possible, including when it comes to swearing, crossing the moral and ethical line etc.
Should you use ‘lame’ when referring to another human being in your day to day life, down at the local supermarket maybe? Or in the schoolyard?
Certainly not in my personal opinion. To do so could be hurtful and rude in the extreme.
In that case, should you worry about putting the word, in the not enjoyable/not good context, because your character happens to be a teen and that, like it or not, is the language frequently used by real life teens?
Not even remotely! Be true to your characters, warts and all, as realism above all is one of the building blocks of a fantastic story!!
Happy writing all 🙂
Storm Constantine was one of the first authors who inspired me to throw myself into writing fantasy. She also happened to be local to the area where I grew up which was part of fascination because she was just a local girl like me and if she could do it, well then why the heck couldn’t I!! 🙂
Many years ago I worked for a wonderful friend of hers in the ICT training centre at Staffordshire County Council.
Far more than just a boss, Karen made it her mission to encourage me to get my E.C.D.L qualifications and provided huge encouragement when it came to my fledgeling dreams of becoming a serious writer, including putting me in contact with her writer friend, Storm.
Shortly before resigning from my post at Creative Writers Facebook Group, I suggested to the group’s founder that an interview with Storm could give the group’s members some amazing tips on how to become successful in the craft.
The resulting interview, kindly provided by Storm, covers exactly what I consider to be the most important aspects of becoming a fantastic writer, so be sure to go and check it out at the link below.
If, incidentally you are looking for a fantastic writers group which focuses only on helping its members become better writers and in how to get published then check out my friend Greg’s group Writers Lounge
Writers Lounge also works in affiliation with my other friend Kristen’s professional but affordable editing business Your Editing Lounge, meaning that the group is a one-stop-shop for writers looking to progress from the early stages of planning a story through to getting it publication-ready. I look forward to seeing you all there!! :}
In the meantime here is Storm’s take on exactly what you need in order to turn your dreams of writing into reality…
[The following is an excerpt from the first chapter of my upcoming urban fantasy novel, (still awaiting its proper title) which I hope to have completed by the end of this year, all things going to plan 🙂 I hope you enjoy it!!]
It was the sunlight that woke me, or at least what passed for sunlight in Undercity.
In reality, what had woken me was more like the sallow amber glow from the cast iron gas street light that hung from its rusty chain just outside of my bedroom skylight.
Being in the constant shadow of Altéga, or ‘The Immortal City of Altéga,’ at least to those of the ‘Gifted’ classes whose families hadn’t spent the last eight or so fairly uncomfortable generations, scraping out a meagre existence beneath the vast shadow cast by its floating, oh so majestic, several thousand-ton bulk.
Yes, with all of that rock floating fifteen or so meters above your head natural sunlight was in pitifully short supply.
The little that did manage to shine beneath the rim of the floating city above only did so for a few short hours a day when the sun was in the right position in the sky. Even then, its rays only covered a small strip of land at the very perimeter of Undercity.
This fortunate area was, by necessity, comprised solely of poor quality fruit and vegetable allotments which yearly tried, and inevitably failed, to provide food for the SUB families who tended them, and the inner-city residents who lived their whole lives solely by gas and candlelight.
SUBs, or sub magical beings, were a section of the supernatural community who, although innately magical by birth, had minimal to zero actual usable powers. Trust me this was definitely not a title of our own choosing but rather one used, to great effect, to create a crystal-clear divide between us and the magically ‘gifted’ world floating above our heads.
The title also came with its own neat little set of rules and restrictions, including the one dictating that no SUB was to be allowed to build or farm outside of the shadow cast by Altéga. Unfair…totally! But then we wouldn’t want the gifted on high in their gilded towers to suffer the supreme insult of an interrupted view of the countryside surrounding the city…especially not by lowly creatures such as ourselves.
Okay so bitter ranting aside, the SUB community itself was one of warmth, friendship and love which in my opinion beats gilded cages and loveless political alliances hands down.
For the young ones like myself, who had spent their entire lives in the Undercity, we didn’t really know any different.
Passes to Altéga were incredibly rare so most of us (black market traders aside) had only visited the Immortal City once, on the morning of our fifth birthday, in order to be officially registered on the Census of Supernatural Beings.
Stretching with a loud jaw-cracking yawn I threw back the covers and sat up. Swinging my legs off of the bed, I winced a little as my bare toes came into contact with the cold floor.
Stuffing my feet into my well-worn wool slippers I shuffled out of the door and down the narrow flight of stairs to the small family bathroom that I shared with my parents and eight raucous siblings.
As the eldest child, I at least got the luxury of a loft room all to myself up in the eaves of the house, which when you have eight younger siblings was a solid must-have.
Sadly, the house in which we lived only had room for one bathroom. A fact that meant that I wasn’t altogether surprised when I tried the door handle and found it firmly locked.
‘Are you going to be long?’ I called, pulling my heavy dressing gown tighter to ward off the early morning chill that was still in the air.
Nothing. Raising my hand, I knocked the door but my only response was the low sound of badly muffled giggling coming from inside.
‘Farlan, Brodie…I know you are in there, open the door. I have to get ready for work or I’ll be late to open the shop.’ Putting my ear to the door I heard what sounded very much like a scuffle, followed by a pained squeak before Farlan’s high-pitched voice piped up from the other side of the door confirming my previous suspicions.
‘Ah will ainlie open th’ door if ye promise ye willnae be aff tellin Mom aboot Brodie’s hair.’ I rolled my eyes skyward and sighed deeply.
Eight-year-old Farlan fancied himself a budding scientist and was continually getting himself into trouble with his fantastic concoctions and wild experiments. Brody, his twin brother, and partner in crime had the unfortunate habit of being the test subject of said experiments with a range of rather colourful outcomes.
‘OK fine, just let me in and I’ll see if there is anything to be done before Mom gets back from Mrs Delfries.’
There was another whispered exchange and then the old brass key finally turned and the door opened up a crack.
One bright green eye appeared in the opening scanning to make sure the coast was clear before the door was whipped open and I was yanked through it into the room beyond.
The door closed and with a snick the lock was firmly back in place, leaving the three of us standing in total darkness.
‘Farlan, it might be easier for me to help Brodie if I could actually see him.’ I said as patiently as I was able to manage at 6 am whilst standing in the freezing cold in my nightwear.
I stubbed my toe on the heavy oak dresser cursing under my breath as I attempted to find the light cord.
‘Ye hae tae actually say ‘I promise’ foremaist or it daesn’t coont!’ his tone was desperate now and I felt a flicker of worry spark to life. It must be really serious this time as normally the twins just accepted their punishments with a cheeky smile and went right back to terrorising the family two minutes later.
‘Brodie, are you hurt?’ I asked the darkened room not knowing exactly where to direct my question in the pitch black.
‘Na a’m a’richt Penny. Bit Mom is aff tae hae a fit whin she sees me if ye cannae help.’ His words were muffled but he sounded alright and my worry faded again. With another resigned sigh, I turned to where I thought Farlan had been standing.
‘Fine. I promise that I won’t tell Mom. Now, can you turn the blessed light on so I can actually see what mess you have made of your brother this time.’ From his silence, I could tell he was carefully weighing the truth of my words but then a moment later the light popped on, blinding us all for a second or two before revealing a small form draped head to foot in a large fluffy white bath towel.
‘Brodie. I’m assuming that your nefarious brother hasn’t turned you into a bath towel so let’s have that off of you and take a look at the damage.’ Farlan smothered a giggle from just behind my shoulder and I heard Brodie give a long-resigned sigh. He raised the towel a couple of inches, exposing a small pair of brown, fur-covered feet.
‘Brodie whilst the expectation is thrilling I really do have to get ready for work now so let’s speed things up a bit shall we.’
‘Dae ye promise nae tae laugh Penny?’ Brodie whined plaintively.
‘I promise I’ll skelp your behind for you if you make me any later for work!’ my voice was stern but I had to fight a small smile all the same.
The towel finally began to lift again exposing brown furry legs to match the feet and as the towel rose higher, I was instantly glad that I hadn’t actually promised not to laugh.
From the knobbly knees up my embarrassed looking little brother was bright blue!
At this point, I should probably explain that my family and I are a little different from most other families, even in the Undercity.
When I was very small Muira and Tavish McBryde found me on their front porch with only a wicker basket and a worn blue blanket.
There was no indication at all of who had left me there, why or where I had come from not even a note with my name on it.
Fortunately for me, being the kind-hearted people that they are, the McBryde’s without a moment’s hesitation took me into their home and decided to raise me as one of their own.
That day 28 years ago I got a new name ‘Hapenny,’ or Penny for short, named for the most treasured of their possessions and became their first child (this was several years before the first of my younger siblings arrived on the scene)
Muira and Tavish or Mom and Dad as I had always called them were broonies, an innately magical people whose clans mostly hail from Scotland or Ireland.
Broonies are small in stature with soft brown fur covering most of their bodies, large noses, pointed ears and an almost magical affinity for housework and metalsmithing. They are also an incredibly long-lived race with individuals often spanning several human generations or more in a single lifetime.
Dad always told us in bedtime stories and around the cooking fire that his family line were descended from Broonie Kings and that his family had, at one point in time, sat at the feet of the Goddess Brigid of the Celtic peoples as her loyal servants and trusted advisors.
How much of this tale was true I could never be sure though, as broonies are also incredibly fond of a good yarn when the moment calls for it.
It is safe to say though that my adoptive family has deep roots that stretch very far back into history and that this is something they are inordinately proud of and happy to talk about at length.
‘Descended from Broonie kings huh.’ I muttered to myself as I took in the bedraggled looking fluffy blue creature in front of me.
My comment immediately sent Farlan off into peals of raucous laughter and he merrily rolled around the floor for a moment or two, before his brother snarled and dived on top of him and yet another scuffle ensued. Wading into the middle I tried my best to separate them
‘Argh! Brodie did you just bite me?! Right, that’s enough from the both of you!’ I grabbed a still giggling Farlan from the midst of the wild tangle of flailing furry limbs, unlocked the bathroom door, and pushed him out into the corridor shutting and locking it again before he could push his way back inside for round two.
I turned to Brodie with a scowl on my face but at the sight of his watering eyes, I felt my expression soften. Walking over I patted him on his furry blue head.
‘It’s alright Brodie…really. I’m sure a little salt, lemon and water and a couple of baths will have you back to your normal handsome self in no time at all.’ He smiled at that, brushing a hand over his face and bounced to his feet.
‘Weel let’s git aboot it then. Farlan ‘n’ ay are gauen huntin fer gudgeon ower at th’ Marl Hole wi’ th’ Fitzwilliam twins. An ah dinnae want tae be late!’
Even though I spent every day with them, the sheer changeability of broonies never failed to amaze me.
Like many of the innately magical, their emotions could turn on the head of a pin, one second elated the next furious.
It definitely made for entertaining family gatherings that was for sure!
I see posts in creative writing groups all the time, where people are asking for advice on how to create a realistic character. Even naming characters seems to be something that causes many writers a lot of trouble. I’m obviously one of the fortunate ones. For me, character creation has always been one of the simplest and most diverting parts of the whole writing experience.
Characters come to me in a number of ways. Some pop into being at the discovery of a name that I like, others from a picture on the internet, a face on tv, or even courtesy of an interesting looking stranger in the queue at the local supermarket.
The character I am going to discuss today came into being as part of one of my main character’s back story, in the urban fantasy trilogy that I am currently working on. I am going to attempt to put the random workings of my mind into words so that you can see exactly how I fleshed this particular man out.
Nico, the male lead in my trilogy, is a vampire, and part of his backstory is that he grew up as an orphan on the streets of Renaissance Rome. To give Nico a proper backstory I needed to not only cover his post-transition vampire life but also his human roots, as both played a key part in making him the person that he is today.
In my mind, for an orphan to have a chance at surviving in this era, he would either need to become a beggar, and rely on the limited charity of others, a thief and steal in order to feed himself or be taken on as cheap child labour by either a tradesman or local family to work for his meals and shelter. In Nico’s case, I decided that I wanted him to be taken on by a tradesman as the other two options have been covered rather a lot in vampire fiction, and I wanted to try something a little different.
So at this point, I needed to create a tradesman to fill the role. I already know that Nico succumbs to influenza and scarlet fever when he is 9 years old (In my books vampires are a little different in that their immortality only sets in once they reach their physical peak, which in Nico’s case is at 32 years old)
I also know that the reason that Nico contracts these fatal illnesses is due to his terrible living conditions, ergo the tradesman isn’t looking after him very well. I am picturing sleeping in a damp, cold and musty out building with barely enough food to keep him alive and little to no nutrients in his diet to help ward off illness. Clearly, the tradesman is not a nice person, to treat any child in this manner.
Okay so now we need a suitable trade. The picture that is building in my mind is of a cruel, oafish man. A hedonistic personality, every penny he earns goes towards his own indulgence and he won’t spare any to look to the comfort of his ward.
“There are plenty of motherless urchins to take the boy’s place if he can’t hack the work after all.” He mumbled through a mouthful of food, finishing his rare bit of profound insight off with a loud, toe-curling belch, and absently rubbing a thick meaty hand over his grotesquely swollen paunch.
At this point, we need a first name, so I spend a few minutes looking up the meanings behind Italian boys names until I find one that fits (obviously any name will do, but I like having an appropriate meaning thrown in there for my own personal enjoyment where possible) The name that I eventually settle on is ‘Orfeo’ which means deprived or darkness.
Orfeo’s surname is a different matter because in his case he is a tradesman and tradesman way back when often went by the name of their particular trade. Another few minutes on google secures me a list of renaissance era trades and I can get to work picking out his work. I round it down to four possible jobs; scrap seller, soap Maker, grave digger or casket maker. Grave digger has been done quite a few times before and it’s a little obvious for my taste. Casket maker, while it would be morbidly appropriate for this man to profit off others misery, it implies some level of skill which I’m not sure an oaf like Orfeo would possess.
This leaves us with scrap seller or soap maker. Scrap seller would work just fine but soap is just becoming popular in Italy at this point in time so it’s very current and it’s a wonderfully unpleasant job full of all the horrid smells of rendering fat and deadly eye watering lye fumes, as well as awful burns if you aren’t careful enough with what you are doing. Definitely not the place for a small child. The Italian name for a soap seller at this point in time was ‘Saponaio’ so now we have an appropriate surname for our villain.
At this point, all that is left to do is to take all that we have learned so far and fill in the rest of the blanks…
Hair – probably thinning and greasy from being around the soap fumes all the time. Add to this that he is the kind of man who wouldn’t use soap himself as he knows what goes into it and is too ignorant to realise the benefits. He would instead take delight in selling his concoctions to the well-to-do’s picturing their faces if they ever saw what disgusting things he put into each batch.
Eyes – He is Mediterranean in appearance so I’m going to go with brown coloured eyes. In his case quite none descript (just like the rest of him) probably a little glazed and unfocused as a result of his hedonistic lifestyle and love of wine.
Build – Again his hedonistic lifestyle comes into play here giving him a rather overweight and meaty appearance. This fits well with his oafish and lazy attitude but also makes him someone that my male lead would fear as a small child. A thump from one of his meaty fists would cause considerable pain and damage. Orfeo may even use his considerable bulk to pin the child against the wall, crushing him until he struggled to breathe before giving him a smack to the back of the head and sending him back to work.
Height – The average height for a renaissance male was around 5ft 5 inches (1.65m) but I see him as a little below average (the antithesis of an attractive male specimen at the time) maybe coming in around the 5ft (1.52m) mark. Still large enough to terrify a small child, but small enough to be unable to carry on his hard-man persona in the company of other adults. In adult circles he would most likely simper and whine to wheedle what he wants, ingratiating himself shamelessly while gritting his teeth the entire time and hating all those who he believes feels superior to him (so basically everyone)
Clothing – Badly kept but in an approximation of the latest fashion. This man clearly has no sense of personal hygiene or pride in his appearance but at the same time, he wants to fit into the society of his social betters to get access to their luxury and money in order to fund his own hedonistic pursuits. His clothes would also carry the pervasive and unpleasant scent of rendered fat so his peers would likely not want to stand too close to him, a fact that he would also be totally aware of which would add to his hatred of them all.
Health – Not good would be an understatement, but as unappealing as his poor hygiene, inevitable STD symptoms and gout might make him he is lucky and manages to avoid most of the more serious maladies of the era, aside from the visible scars from where he survived smallpox as a child.
As you can see, with each new descriptive detail comes a new facet to your character’s personality, and there are lots more details that can be uncovered but if I went through them all in this post we’d be here all day!!
The real key is to try and put yourself into the mindset of your character and work out how each factor would make him or her feel/act. Before long you will have a fully fleshed out and very believable character to add to your work. If you need additional prompts then search out one of the countless character questionnaires online and try to work your way through answering it from the point of view of your developing character.
Character development should be fun and rewarding. The really good ones can even give you further ideas for your story as they grow. The entirety of this character development brainstorm took me well under an hour, and I had the added complication of fitting him into my male leads backstory on top. Imagine what you could achieve in the course of just one day!!
Happy writing all :}
As you have possibly noticed, the site has been rather uneventful for the past couple of weeks. While writers block and life are always presenting their own potential setbacks, my current issue is more to do with my rural lifestyle choice and its resulting crummy internet, than it is any mental blockages on my part.
I moved to Italy back in May 2014 and boy what an adventure it has been! It had been a good ten months or so between coming over to sign the final paperwork, and packing up all my worldly belongings, and animals too, and starting out on the three day drive through Europe, towing my ancient battered caravan.
When we arrived the neat garden and yard had turned into a veritable jungle of foliage and wildlife, perfect for an animal nut like me but not so good when it came to moving everything in to the property. Add to that the water to the property bad been turned off and we ended up having to utilize the well in the top field in order to ensure that the animals were looked after, and to give us some very rudimentary washing facilities!
To make matters worse, we arrived at around 2am in the pitch black…well sort of! I managed to, rather cleverly, get myself seperated from the rest of the family, who were accompanying me in my little old fiesta, to help with the moving in part. I am not known for my fantastic sense of direction!
Long story short, I found myself half-way up a road that was really only suitable for goats, on an incline far too steep for my 1.6 Astra to manage to pull the caravan up. Add to that scenario that the caravan was not only too heavy for the handbrake to hold in place, while I went off to find help, there was definitely an impressive drop off just behind me, and all my animals were sitting blissfully unaware in said caravan, and you will start to build a clear enough picture of exactly how stressed out I was at this point!!
Miracle of miracles, after around twenty minutes of hair pulling, frantic phone calls to my mom and brother, and with tears welling in my tired eyes, a face suddenly popped up at the passenger side window. It took me a while to realise that this must have confused the owner of the face some, considering that the passenger side of a British car is the drivers side of an Italian one!
‘buona sera’ said the man, who looked to be a little older than my dad, ‘tutto bene?’
My Italian is still rather sub standard even now, but that much I understood, and without further ado, I proceeded to burst in to tears, much to his shock and my own mortification…It had after all been a very long three days!!
‘no, no…tranqilla’ he said coming round to the drivers side and patting my shoulder reassuringly. He then went on to explain, that his farm was just a couple of kilometers down the road, and that his son would be here soon with his tractor to come and save me. My relief was profound to say the least!!
I was in the middle of nowhere, in a country that I still didn’t know very well and somehow I had managed to snag myself a passing angel.
Another twenty minutes passed and my panicked family finally managed to find me, I asked them to unload the animals first off, to make sure they were safely in the other car, and shortly after they had done so the mans son turned up in his tractor, and the two got to work hitching up the car to it.
2 hours, a cup of coffee and two rather nice glasses of homemade white wine later, we had met the angels entire family.
Italians are some of the best hosts you will ever have the pleasure to meet. It didn’t matter that it was 3am by the time we arrived at their house, and our insistance that we didnt want to cause any more of a fuss fell on determinedly deaf ears. Within minutes of arriving, we had been escourted up to their living room, with its cosy crackling fire, and all but ordered to sit down and relax, as they laid out coffee, cake, olives, salted beans and a caraffe of homemade white wine.
It didn’t phase them that our Italian was rudimentary at best, and we gestured and sketched our way through two hours of really pleasant conversation. Being British we, of course, tried to politely excuse ourselves a few times, in an effort to let them get back off to their beds but they were having none of it!
When we finally did get up to leave, we were led first on an impromptu tour of the farm and animals, before being taken down to their cool cantina. We thought they were just proudly showing us the fruits of all their hard work, but before we could even take it all in, we found ourselves loaded up to the elbows with fresh fruit and veg. It was to help get us settled in at the new property, they told us with beaming smiles, and the grandmother then procceded to present us with a bottle of their lovely wine as a housewarming gift.
It was like a strange but wonderful dream! we went from living in the U.K where you were lucky if your neighbours even noticed if water was pouring out of the front door of your house (but thats a whole different story!!) to some sort of utopian society, where people who you had never even met before behaved better, and showed more caring and genuine concern about your wellbeing, than many of those whom you’d known for years! 🤗
With the sun coming up over the horizon and bemused smiles on our faces, we drove off towards the house (the right way this time!) Needless to say my angel (and neighbour as it turned out) Vincenzo, and his wonderful family were presented with the most lovely flowers we could possibly lay our hands on, the moment we could got to the closest florists.
In the years that have passed since that night, my love and respect for the people of this wild, untamed land has only grown in measure. Yes the internet sometimes goes for weeks at a time with little to no signal, which is still definitely frustrating, but would I swap this life for the one I had in the UK surrounded by state of the art technology and consumer driven industry??
Not in a million years!! 😊
Are you a plotter? or are you a pantser?
As writers, we all inevitably fit into either of the above categories, maybe even into both as we move from one project to the next.
A plotter is someone who researches and plots out the entire project from beginning to end. Plotters ensure that, at the very least, they have a simple overview for every chapter, character profiles for any main characters that they plan to introduce and a clear idea of exactly what the piece of writing will be trying to say to the reader, long before they ever put pen to paper and start actually writing the piece.
A pantser, on the other hand, is someone who ‘flies by the seat of their pants’ as far as their writing is concerned. They don’t have a plan, or even a complete plot idea, at the point that they begin to write their story. They rely solely on the organic flow of their ideas, moment to moment, in order to create the necessary magic on the page.
From what I have seen, there is a pretty even split between the two schools of thought amongst the writing community at large. Both sides have their own list of pro’s and con’s and you can get some pretty interesting and heated debate going when you open the floor to the two warring sides.
In my writing lifetime, I have been both a plotter and a pantser. I did a degree in journalism and spent many years just writing organically with only the facts of the story and a word count to keep me in check. It seemed to work pretty well, and I found that I could work pretty quickly, without all of the tiresome plotting and planning getting in the way. This is a great plus when you have lots of hard deadlines to meet, so I figured, rather smugly, that I had picked the best side.
Then a couple of years later, I found myself moving on into full-length novel writing, and boy did it take me a while to work out how terribly wrong I was! Now I am not saying that there aren’t countless highly successful ‘pantser’ authors out there, but I can assure you right now, that I am definitely not one of them!
Two years, two unfinished manuscripts and hundreds of thousands of words later, I finally realised my mistake. For me, writing organically without plot or plan was the worst possible move. With each new chapter came new disjointed ideas, new writing styles and countless soul-destroying hours of obsessive re-writing in order to try and jam it all together into something that actually fit. Needless to say, by this point in the proceedings, this was a totally impossible feat. With each unsuccessful pass, I found myself steadily sinking in a lethal pool of writer’s block fueled mental quicksand.
After all of the heartache and work, all I had left to show for my efforts was a hacked to pieces 70,000-word mess. The most tragic part for me was that my beloved characters who started out so full of promise had become nothing more than two-dimensional hollow shadows of the fierce, independent personalities that should have made them great.
After a long break to lick my wounds, I finally stumbled across a fantastic idea for a female lead. Determined not to let bright and vivacious Penny suffer the same fate as her predecessor Mara, I decided to try a far different approach and jumped, lock stock and barrel, into the ‘plotter’ camp.
I now have a well-researched concept, plot overview and well-outlined chapters to work on, and most importantly of all, I have a great story which flows. My characters, even the side ones, are the kind of people that you would love to share a beer or a cup of coffee with and the crippling writer’s block is firmly a thing of the past.
The fantastic thing about having each chapter outlined in advance is, that no matter when or where you pick up your pen or turn on the computer, you already know exactly what it is that you need to write and what direction your words need to take in order to get your characters to the next stage in your plot.
Creating that outline also keeps your writing style more focused, as the outline for each chapter was created by the same writer, in the same mood and at the same period of time in their life. Something that won’t then change, even if actually completing the novel takes you another year or two. It turns out that this is crucial when it comes to writing anything approaching novel length work.
The moral of the story is that it is very important that you know who you really are as a writer from the outset. If it doesn’t seem to be working for you then explore new ways of working, don’t just try to smash it together in the hopes that it will one day fit. There is a style and a method out there that is ideal for each and every one of us, and once we find that magic formula, there will be no stopping any of us from becoming the fantastic writers that we all have the inner potential to be!
It is often a common problem, for writers the world over, to keep their creativity levels consistent from one day to the next. There are many things a writer can do to try and boost their level though. I find that researching images of characters, places and things that would fit into my story helps a great deal.
Another thing that you could try if you are really stuck is writing from word prompts. My flash fiction piece ‘Grace Departs’ was written from a three word writing prompt. I was provided with the words ‘grace’ ‘train’ and ‘whistle.’ You can get randomly generated word prompts from various sites online, or even by just by picking up a random book, choosing a number, and then use whatever word is on the correlating page and word number within the text there.
You could also join a writers group online. I am a member of a couple of writers groups through Facebook, and as well as being super useful for things like word prompts and generating new ideas, it can be really good to get the opinion of other people who are in the same positions as you.
Here is my 3 word prompt of the day just to get you started…
Enjoy!! Feel free to share the results in the comment feed if you feel inspired! :}