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Story Weaving on Steroids: Real People Create Real Characters

22 Oct

This is part of a series of post that gives you tips, tricks, and dirty little secrets that will help pump up your plot, and make your story an irresistible read! Today’s trick:

Using real people to make real characters.

A question authors are often asked is “are your characters based on people you know?” most of the time the author will answer no, but let’s be honest the answer is probably yes, because if there is one thing authors are good at it’s cheating at writing.

Basing characters off real people is cheating, and it’s also genius!

Using a real person as a base for a character much like you would use white as a base for paint leads to amazing things. How so? After all, real people generally don’t have lives that are spicy enough for fiction.

Well, take a person I know. Let’s call him “John”

John’s older now, but his whole life while living in the mid-west he struggled with a drinking addiction. He’s been divorced once, and had two kids with the woman, but he has now remarried and his kids grew up with his new wife and their mother. After his remarriage he found help with his addiction and now lives happily.

Okay, that’s all well and fine, but there is no plot to John’s life. You can’t just write THAT story. But you CAN write one with someone like him. Now comes the imaginative part.

Change John’s life. Make it more tragic, more weird, or more adventurous.

For instance lets pull John out of the mid-west and stick him in England. He’s a young 23-year-old drunken Englishman in (instead of the late 1980’s) (the early 1900’s )lets say 1910. His wife didn’t leave him because of his drinking, he killed her in a fit of rage during one of his many drunken bouts. Now he can’t stand the sight of blonde women. He placed his young daughter (instead of daughters) into an orphanage to cover up the murder. He dumped his wife’s body in the river and now slogs about the bar near the river’s bridge often looking out at the water pondering suicide, until…. he meets an extraordinary woman who….

Who what?

From there you take the story where ever it may please to go.

But, just from that paragraph you have an excellent idea about who your MC is. Granted, we embellished John’s life almost to the point of  being in-recognizable, but John is still real and still very much there, and that is what makes the character seem real!

I am totally in favor of stealing people’s lives for novels. Are you?


Story Weaving on Steroids: Painful Pasts

15 Jun

This is part of a series of post that gives you tips, tricks, and dirty little secrets that will help pump up your plot, and make your story an irresistible read! Today’s trick:

Painful Pasts

Making characters interesting is your job as a writer. One way to make a character more interesting is to give them some scars. Giving a character a painful past does a couple of things it hooks the reader with empathy, gives you a better basis for their character, and can also add suspense and tension to your plot.

Characters with painful pasts, whether it be coming from a broken home or something more dramatic like being scared by the poisonous sword of an alien warrior bring automatic empathy with them. When readers discover the situation that has scarred your character it creates instant empathy (which is a key part in hooking a reader into your story). Readers may not have been in the exact situation as your character, but they understand the emotions that go with it. Everyone can relate to fear, anxiousness, and sadness.

Giving a character a terrible memory of their pasts also sets up a basis to build that character from. People who come from bad families or have gone through traumatic experiences are often deeply effected by them. A traumatic experience will shape your characters personality. For some it will make them introverted, others will become bitter,  and still others will go through their life trying to be positive despite their past. Seeing the path your character takes after their traumatic experience will tell you a lot about their personality and make them easier to write about.

Most importantly, a difficult past or experience can provide tension and conflict for you plot. Bringing out a characters past slowly, or shrouding it in mystery will give your readers something to keep reading for. This is an especially good tactic for characters whose perspective you are not writing for. Trying to discover someones past can be a very good subplot.  A persons past can also be reviled suddenly and used as a major plot point (or turning point) in a story.

If you haven’t figured it out yet I am a HUGE Avatar fan!

Granted, a painful past is useful to add interest to your story, but they shouldn’t be used ALL the time. Not every character you write needs to come from an abusive home, or have burn marks all over their faces. A couple good examples of painful pasts that I can think of are Zuko from the show Avatar: The Last airbender. Zuko was forced at the age of 13 to dual his father in an ‘Agni Kai’ (one on one) fire bending battle because he spoke up in a war meeting and insulted a general, thus insulting his father. From then on he was left with a scar on his face, and huge dishonor on his name. This shapes Zuko into a conflicted character, part loving, part loathing his father. This will lead him to make the biggest and most difficult decision of his life: should he side with his father or with the Avatar?

Another good example can been seen in Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver. Sam, a werewolf, had his wrists slit by his parents in a bath tub while they held him down because when they found out what he was (at the age of 12)they believed they could ‘bleed the wolf out of him’. Ever since Sam can’t even look at a bath tub. This also shapes him into a shy, introverted person. And of course keeps him very far away from bath tubs!

Like I said there are plenty of good books without characters with Painful Pasts, Lauren Oliver’s novel ‘Before I Fall’ is a really good novel about a privileged girl named Samantha King. She’s never had anything bad at all happen to her. Oliver uses the plot to keep tension and if Sam had had a bad past it simply would have cluttered the plot and taken away from the impactfulness of Samantha having to repeat the same day over and over again. It also would have made the plot null and void because she probably wouldn’t have been so stuck up or unkind to others had she struggled as a child. This would have completely changed the novel!

All and all a painful pasts is a very useful trick, but should be used sparingly and in the right places!

Check out other Story Weaving on Steroids posts


Novel Anatomy: Bones

11 Mar

Plotting. Cringe, go ahead, do it and get it over with. I shudder even thinking the word, but it’s a necessary part in building a novel. Up until about … say a year ago I considered myself a pantser (you know no plot, just write). Huh! I was an idiot. I spent so much time wondering why my novel’s were epic fails that I couldn’t see the fact that they had terrible structure. Sure, I could write line to line in a way that sounded pretty good, but having it all come together? Nope, wasn’t working.

So, for those of you who saw the pieces of my novel I’d posted on here last year and made lovely comments about how un-first drafty they were. You are wonderful, but had you seen the big picture you’d sing a different song. Anyway, lately I’ve been working on a new novel, and I started doing a structural outline. It involves what I call “layering”. You start with the bones, then the muscle, and finally the nerves and skin. So we are metaphorically doing novel anatomy.

I’m now going to share with you part one in Novel Anatomy: The bones.

If you all recall I had a post up the first month or so I had this site called “The Golden Ring of Moments” it was an incoherent thing that listed the 7 key moments readers have to have in a novel. If you’d like to interpret that you can see it HERE.

The Bones of novel anatomy is loosely based on that. I really like plotting this way and find it easy and really direct, because you’re giving yourself a specific set of questions that have specific answer. I set this up in a word document (or in OneNote if you have it, OneNote is awesome by the way).

Here it is:

1. You have to ESTABLISH THE WORLD (if your writing contemporary you don’t really need to worry about this, but in fantasy/dystopian/etc. this is key!) You have to do this with in your first chapter or two (depending on their length) so your reader feels like they understand there surroundings.In this bullet, list things you’ll do to establish your world, specific details, situations, time, place, etc.

2. At the same time as bullet one you also have to do bullet two, which is ESTABLISHING YOUR MC’s RELATIONSHIPS with close family, and or important characters. While you are world building we should be seeing how and who your MC relates to. (if anyone) so in this bullet, list key relationships and how your MC feels about them.

3. Finally, with in the first couple of chapters, and this goes along with one and two, you need to establish WHAT YOUR MC WANTS MOST and why they want it, and most importantly (to the plot) why they can’t have it. So for this bullet just list those. What do they want? Why? And why don’t they have it?

These first three bullets can really go together, but I separate them. Otherwise bullet one get’s really lengthy.

4. After the set up you need to establish your TURNING POINT. I’m sure you all have heard this term before, but it’s basically the point in the novel that springs the character into action. Forces them to change, or go somewhere, or do something. Basically just fill in the blank for this bullet: And then everything changed because________________

5. Then, logically of course you have the characters REACTION. How do they respond to the turning point? What do they do?

6. Everything has changed, our character has reacted and is now hurdling head first into solving the issue (whatever it is), so it’s time for a PINCH POINT. This is a moment in the story that ‘ups the stakes’ something needs to happen to make the character realizes how serious the conflict is. Something needs to scare, shock, or hurt them so that they kick it into full gear. Things need to get more dangerous. So answer this question: What happens that makes the conflict more difficult to solve or more scary to face?

7. Now things are dangerous, your character feels like they are deep in the woods of the conflict and then…. A BIG SECRET IS REVEALED. Now, that  the character realizes how bad things are they need to discover something. SOMETHING BIG. Something that will totally turn the novel on its head. In this bullet tell us what changes the conflict for the character, what do they realize/discover/ or are told that makes them think differently about the conflict.

8. Armed with this valuable piece of new information your character once again attempts to solve the conflict and then… ALL SEEMS LOST. The antagonist in one last-ditch effort seems to vanquish your MC. They were so close and then it is swiped away from them. What does this moment look like in you novel? Why does everything seem lost? When does it happen?

9. Finally, we get to the SOLUTION/RESOLUTION. Basically this is how your novel ends. How does you MC get out of bullet 8? How do they solve the conflict? What relationships do they mend? Which do they destroy?You’re briefly wrapping up your novel in point 9.

Yikes! That was a long post… sorry about that! Anyway what do you guys think of outlining this way? Like it? hate it? How do you all outline?

Top 11 Posts of 2011

16 Dec

Hey you all it’s time for another installment of the NI Awards. Today I’m posting the top viewed posts on Novel Ideas for the past year. I hope you all check them out!

11. Fresh & Crisp Metaphors!

10. How Creative People Think- Getting Ideas

9.  The Problem with Pixies

8. Kissing Death

7. I’d Like to Think Writing Has a Color

6. Mesh ’em – Science, History, and Writing

5. Writing The Steam

4. The Golden Ring of Moments

3. Musing on Strawberry Ice cream

2. You are Alligator Kibble!

And finally, The number one post of 2011 is…. *drum roll*:

1. Traumatic or Dramatic? Life after a Death Scene


NaNo: Reflecting on Collaborating

21 Nov

Yesterday, Carolyn and I had a brainstorm session. For those of you don’t know Carolyn is my fabulous critique partner/friend/co-author of my NaNo novel this year. Any-who, we decided this past week that our NaNo novel (That which we are referring to as ABLAZE) needed some serious back story/plotting help and so we drove over to our local library. Which by the way has awesome coffee seating area on the second floor. With extremely comfy very, java/hipster-esque chairs.

Carolyn & I looking a bit too smiley

And can I just say that writing a novel with one of your best friends is possibly one of the FUNNEST EXPERIENCES I’VE EVER HAD! Seriously, Carolyn and I are very much on the same page. Plotting with another person (one with awesome tastes in books) is a lot like discussing an insanely awesome already written book.

I swear to you there were ideas flying left and right. As soon as I had something to say, she had another thing to add-on or, another way of looking at it that was just as amazing (if not more so). And… yeah I’d like to think it went both ways. Haha!

I was really nervous about doing a collaboration novel, just because I was scared that I would lose control. Or that the novel would turn into something I didn’t like, or I didn’t feel like it was something I would pick myself. And some of the stuff isn’t. It isn’t stuff I would have thought of. But it’s good. It’s damn good! *pardon my french* But, the thing is, is that this novel is my project, it is both of us. Honestly, I think a lot of what has made this work out so far is that Carolyn and I have known each other all our lives, (so we are kind of in sync) and also that we have very similar tastes in books, and music.  I guess you could say that blending our two styles, and ideas was a lot easier because of that.

I really think that collaborating (thus far) has been a really positive experience for me as a writer. I have always liked bouncing my ideas off others, and being able to have constant streams of ideas going in and out, has really allowed me to focus on the structure of my writing, and less on the details.

It seems a lot easier for me to talk through my ideas first, and yesterday at the library we were just ON FIRE. (haha you know what I’m talking about Carolyn 🙂) I’m feeling really good about our novel, even if we are a little behind on word count, I definitely think we’ll finish up this draft and cont’ to work on it in the future.

I just wanted to let you all know what was going on. How is NaNo, or just November treating you all?

Collage Brainstorm Your Novel!

13 Nov

Hey all, today I thought i’d do a post on a plotting/brainstorming system i’ve been messing around with.

I call it Collage Plotting.

People learn and perceive things in a lot of different ways, and that leads to different ways of processing information and, thus to different ways of plotting/brainstorming. No two brains work in exactly the same way, and so i’d thought i’d share a method of plotting/brainstorming that is a bit different from the norm.

I started using the collage for my novel CARVE. I was finding it very difficult to write out what was happening. With CARVE, I had a ‘feeling’ for the novel. A kind of atmosphere that I couldn’t project properly into an outline, and so I took the age-old saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words, and began (unknowingly) creating a cool method for plotting.

And here is the result of CARVE’s growing Collage outline:

So, as you can see it is pretty self-explanatory, you COLLAGE YOUR BOOK. For me it’s taken out a lot of the pressure of planning, it allows me to free form my ideas and just slap ’em on there! It’s more or less the inspiration page for your book!

I’ve found that this is really good to do if you’re stuck planning, or if your stuck in the middle rut of writing. It helps you remember why you wanted to write the book, and does a really good job of inspiring you!

I use OneNote from Microsoft 2010 to create my collage from photos I see online, or from quotes I hear that I think go well with the book. But, if you don’t have OneNote I would recommend going to This site is basically a collageing site that allows you to snag photos from other people’s collage’s or just anywhere on the net (giving the rights of those photo’s to their respective owners of course!).

It’s been a great resource for inspiring me, and always has something  new to see whenever you log in.

So, check out and if your feeling very generous, add me as someone you follow (nkeda14) and I will add you. The inspiration will just keep growing!

I hope you all try this out!

What do you all think? Yeah or nay?

Grin and Bear It

7 Oct

Sometimes you just have to smile, and move on. Even when you look at what you’re doing and realize nothing is working, and you’ve got it in your head that it will NEVER work, and that your doomed to be a terrible writer for the rest of your life.

When you realize something isn’t working, when your stuck, sometimes you just have to grin and bear it. Writing is a lot of that. Just smiling, and convincing yourself that it will be okay, and that it’s not a complete loss when you delete a 5o,ooo word section, or when you trash a draft and start over.

he seems to be handling it well...

Projects often have minds of their own. They conceal and reveal themselves when they please, they run away, they come back. They show up scraggly and ugly one day, and well-groomed the next; they are a lot like cats. And cats come when they want to not when they’re told. So, most of the time, you can’t summon the answer to whatever is stopping you from writing. You just have to let it go. Grin, bear it, and MOVE ON. Move on to the next project. Don’t get to the point at which the book has completely drained you of everything you have. Don’t frustrate yourself. Throw that problem behind you back, grin, bear it, and start another.

This, in fact is the track I’m on right now. STF is on hold(for about the 100th time this year). I’ve gone back into the draft and found about a billion plot holes. This is what Nano does. I’ve been stressing myself out trying to plot, and am realizing I’m just going to have to move on for now. Grin and bear it. So, I’ll be moving on to my recently blossoming idea (I’m calling it “the Mirror Project” right now) and probably doing some work on CARVE… if you remember far enough back to when I began THAT chaotic mess you’ve been here a while.

I’ve worked out a lot of kinks in CARVE lately and am hoping to really start that off on the right foot, and do a little work on it and The Mirror Project this month, before Nano craziness starts!

Sorry I haven’t been around lately how is everyone else doing? I promise I’ve been reading your posts, I’ve just been really busy!

PS: Will have some FF soon (hopefully)