Justine: Fiction Fundamentals Part 1: Goals

Welcome to the first of at least a 10-part series on Fiction Fundamentals (referred to a week ago as Back to Basics, but Elizabeth has already trademarked that!). Over the next several weeks, I and a few guests will be discussing things new writers should consider when writing a novel. While having a great idea is certainly top on the list, there are many other topics writers should work on nailing down to make their novel strong….and salable.

goals arrowThis week’s topic: Goals (not yours…your character’s)

If you’ve attended any writing workshops at all, it’s likely you’ve heard many people talk about your character’s goals. They need to be good. They need to be strong. But how do you know if they are?

Your character’s goal is the very essence of their part of the story. It is why they’re part of it. Each of your major characters (protag, antag, love interest — which may sometimes be one in the same) should have a goal. There are two types of goals to create for your characters: Continue reading

Justine: Cultivating Lifelong Readers

boys readingOne of the fears I’ve had throughout my life (aside from heights) is that my children, whenever I got around to having them, would not be readers. I’ve always been one. If you’ve read my bio on the About page, you’d see that the best punishment I could have received as a child was to be grounded to my room, because it meant uninterrupted reading time.

My parents should have been suspicious when I never complained.

So now I have two children, both boys, ages 7½ and 6½. Was my fear unfounded?

Yes. At least for my older son. Of that I’m sure. But I’ll get back to him in a sec.

While reading about kids reading, I stumbled upon an article in the Washington Post by Valerie Strauss about a teacher named Donalyn Miller, “The Book Whisperer.” She’s helped teach how to make kids lifelong readers, and in her latest book co-authored with veteran teacher Susan Kelley, “Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits,” she discusses five traits that lifelong readers have…traits you can cultivate in your young children. What I found so interesting about this is my older son is exhibiting ALL five traits — at age 7½! Woot!

So what are they? Continue reading

Michaeline: Popular

Close your eyes and just go!

Popularity is a tight rope. Don’t look down!

For some reason this week I’ve been thinking about the difference between good and popular. Lois McMaster Bujold fans will see a parallel between honor and reputation here, and if you need a little boost for your own good/popular contemplations, I highly recommend the cast recording of Wicked – the whole musical plays with the concepts of good and evil, popular and unpopular, and the public and private perceptions.

But anyway, since I haven’t gotten much beyond, “Well, both would be good,” I’m going to turn my attention to something else that caught my eye.

The more popular something gets, the more hate something gets. Continue reading

Nancy: Secondary Characters Are People, Too

Humans are (for the most part) social creatures. We live, work, and interact among other people every day. To be believable, primary characters in our novels should live in worlds with other people, as well. Hence our need to build worlds for them that include secondary characters.

But filling out our stories with secondary characters isn’t as simple as randomly dropping in the wacky best friend or meddling mother or curmudgeonly boss. Secondary characters aren’t window dressing to make the primary characters’ lives look well-rounded.

Secondary Characters - Why Am I Here

Like every other aspect of a book, they should serve the story. We should be able to answer the question, why is this character here? In addition to looking pretty, or ugly, or menacing, each secondary character should do something: enhance the plot, underscore the theme, complicate the protagonist’s life, all of the above – something that wouldn’t happen if that character were taken out of the story. So what happens if you’ve created a convenient friend or foe or foil for your protagonist, but other than convenience, that character accomplishes nothing in your story? Continue reading