i’m thinking tonight about masterpieces. michelangelo looked at the sixtine chapel and saw; nothing to preserve. virgil wanted his aenid burned and forgotten; only to be saved at the behest of an emperor who thought it flattery. kafka instructed his friend to burn everything he’d ever written - too personal was it, too unfinished.
they were ignored.
instead, their work was taken and held and published and thrown to be gawked at. instead, an emperor, a pope, a friend, took from within the cavities of them their choices; their art.
tumblr rolls out post+. twitter rolls out tip jars. youtube takes half of what creators earn. on social media, there is a ko-fi or a patreon and a polished face in every bio. i show my poems to my mother and she asks if I will publish them before she says anything else. emily dickinson instructed her sister to burn her poetry.
her sister did not listen.
we are a community, says tumblr, we should give back to creators. my last poem had 50 notes. six of those were reblogs that weren’t mine. i lie in bed at 2am and stare at my bright phone screen and the way netflix’s library grows thinner and thinner. the first ad on tumblr that i can reblog is for amazon. amazon takes more than half of what authors earn.
kafka’s friend took barely finished work and hammered it into structure. he is the only reason we know of him.
my father wrote a book and a play when I was barely big enough to reach his knees. when i try to talk to him about writing, he shrugs.
no one wanted to publish it, he says. so i don’t write anymore.
i am filled with poems I have never published, books I haven’t written. There are little snippets of them scattered throughout my life. I link to my ko-fi on my tumblr.
asked capitalism of the artist: what is art, if not for consumption? who does art benefit, if it is not consumed? why create at all if you do not market it? who are you, frothing at the mouth about someone publishing someone else’s poems? who are you to hate your magnum opus? what is art, if not in relation to its reception? if no one sees it, how is it art?
said the artist, baring their teeth: it’s mine.
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Me: Opens document with unfinished writing
Me: Yep, it still exists *closes document*
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Tips for Writing a Difficult Scene
Every writer inevitably gets to that scene that just doesn't want to work. It doesn't flow, no matter how hard you try. Well, here are some things to try to get out of that rut:
1. Change the weather
I know this doesn't sound like it'll make much of a difference, but trust me when I say it does.
Every single time I've tried this, it worked and the scene flowed magically.
2. Change the POV
If your book has multiple POV characters, it might be a good idea to switch the scene to another character's perspective.
9/10 times, this will make the scene flow better.
3. Start the scene earlier/later
Oftentimes, a scene just doesn't work because you're not starting in the right place.
Perhaps you're starting too late and giving too little context. Perhaps some description or character introspection is needed before you dive in.
Alternatively, you may be taking too long to get to the actual point of the scene. Would it help to dive straight into the action without much ado?
4. Write only the dialogue
If your scene involves dialogue, it can help immensely to write only the spoken words the first time round.
It's even better if you highlight different characters' speech in different colors.
Then, later on, you can go back and fill in the dialogue tags, description etc.
5. Fuck it and use a placeholder
If nothing works, it's time to move on.
Rather than perpetually getting stuck on that one scene, use a placeholder. Something like: [they escape somehow] or [big emotional talk].
And then continue with the draft.
This'll help you keep momentum and, maybe, make the scene easier to write later on once you have a better grasp on the plot and characters.
Trust me, I do this all the time.
It can take some practice to get past your Type A brain screaming at you, but it's worth it.
So, those are some things to try when a scene is being difficult. I hope that these tips help :)
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reasons to not quit writing:
your writing is a skill, not an inborn talent (unless, yeah, maybe it is). not everyone can do what you do and love
everyone says they want to write a book. everyone has what it takes to write a book. not everyone does it anyway. you be the small percentage of success you read about
your writing will always seem brickshit horrible because you wrote and read it a million times
you love this writing thingy. quitting it will be like cutting off your fingers one by one.
someone out there will want to read what you wrote.
someone out there wants to know what is on your mind.
someone out there appreciates your art. they will share it with their friends. they will share it with their loved ones. they will share it with their future self because maybe what you wrote saved them.
if you give up now, you know you will just come back to it again, whether it’s years from now, months, or next week. you love writing, that’s why you planted the seed of thought that you are going to write this book, and whether you come back to it or not, your unwritten stories will come back to you.
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Writing great friendships
Some of the best chemistry/relationships in fiction exist between characters who are/become friends. Here are some tips for making friendships come alive on the page:
One of the most interesting aspects of fictional friendships is the way the characters interact with each other whilst important plot points are occurring.
If your characters have easy banter, teasing one another without missing a beat and managing to bounce off each other even in the toughest circumstances, it will be clear to the reader that these two are/should be good friends.
Friends know each other well. They know the other’s character so well that they can easily find something to tease each other over. However, this also means knowing which topics are off-limits.
If you want to write a good, healthy friendship, your characters shouldn’t use humour/sarcasm as a way to hurt the other. It should be good-natured and understood as such from both sides.
Different friendships will have different types of chemistry. Some friends may tease each other with facial expressions. Others may already anticipate a snarky remark and counter it before it’s been spoken. Others will have physical ways of goofing around.
Some friends might not tease each other at all. Banter isn’t necessary; it’s just a good way to make your characters come alive and make their friendship one that is loved by readers.
What’s important is chemistry - the way they automatically react to each other.
Think Sam and Dean in Supernatural or Juliette and Kenji in the Shatter Me series.
2. Mutual support
Unless you purposefully want to write an unhealthy/toxic friendship, your characters should both be supportive of the other.
This means that, even if one is the MC and the other the side-kick, both should be cognisant of the other’s feelings and problems, and should be considerate in this regard.
Few things will make your MC as likable as remembering to check in and be there for their best friend even when they are in the thick of a crisis.
You need to show your characters being vulnerable in front of each other and being supportive in ways that are tailored to the needs of each friend.
So, if one of the characters really responds to physical comfort, the other should know to give hugs/rub their back when they’re not feeling well. Similarly, if one of them doesn’t like being touched and responds to material comfort, have the other bring them ice cream and join them for a movie marathon. Whatever works for your characters.
What gets me every time is when a character is falling apart and won’t listen to/be consoled by anyone but their best friend (but this is just personal preference).
3. Knowing the other’s past/family life
This really only applies to characters who have been friends for quite a while.
Good friends know each other’s backstory - the highs and lows and mundane details. They know they layout of their family home and they probably know their family members well.
Friends will often talk about these things, only having to mention a few words for the other to know what they’re talking about i.e. “The ‘09 Thanksgiving disaster” or “You know how Uncle Fred is”
This will instantly make it clear that your characters are close and have come a long way together.
Perhaps there are issues at home/trauma from the past that the other character will immediately understand. So, if one character appears with a black eye, their friend might know that the father was probably drunk the night before and got violent. Or if the character has a nightmare, the friend might know that it was about childhood abuse etc.
This can also apply to good things i.e. if one of the characters gets a nice note in their lunchbox, the other might know that their grandma is in town.
Whatever works for your story should be used to indicate the level of unspoken understanding the friends have.
4. Being protective
Few things will make your readers love a friendship more than the friends being fiercely protective of each other (in a healthy, non-territorial way).
Has someone hurt one of the characters? The other should be furious and want to exact revenge. Does someone say something demeaning to one of the friends? The other should defend them immediately and vehemently.
This can also take on a humorous twist if one of the characters starts dating someone. The friend can make extra sure that said date is sincere and promise to exact vengeance if their friend is hurt.
This can also be a great plot device, since it could explain why the MC’s best friend joins the quest/goes along on the journey. Perhaps this is the main plot point: a character seeking to protect/avenge their friend.
If you want to go in a toxic direction, this can be taken too far i.e. a friend who never lets the other spend time with anyone else/stalks the other/is patronising etc.
5. Common interest(s)
Even if the two characters are vastly different, there should be something that keeps them together besides loyalty.
This is especially important for characters who become friends throughout the course of the novel.
This doesn’t have to mean that both of them go hiking every weekend or want to become pilots one day. It could be something small, like a love of cheesy movies or a shared taste in music. Maybe they both enjoy silence/don’t like other people. Maybe they are both social justice warriors, but for different causes.
This could also be common characteristics instead of interests. Perhaps both are very ambitious/funny/social.
There should just be some factor that ignited the friendship and brings the two of them together.
This doesn’t necessarily have to be a big part of your story, but you should at least have it mentioned to make the friendship appear more authentic.
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hey do you have any tips on plot development? how to do come up with relevant but dramatic things to keep the plot going? i also don’t want to make it too intense?
I actually have quite a lot of resources that I’ve created over the years surrounding plot development. I’ve linked as many as I could find for you:
Resources For Plot Development
Useful Writing Resources
Useful Writing Resources II
31 Days of Plot Development
Novel Planning 101
How To Write A Good Plot Twist
How To Foreshadow
What To Cut Out Of Your Story
Things A Reader Needs From A Story
A Guide To Tension & Suspense In Your Writing
How To Turn A Good Idea Into A Good Story
Planning A Scene In A Story
21 Plot Shapes and the Pros and Cons Of Each
How To Outline Effectively
Tips On Writing Intense Scenes
Writing The First Chapter
Tips On Starting A Scene
Finding & Fixing Plot Holes
Masterlist | WIP Blog
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Cheat Sheet for Writing Emotion
A burning feeling in the chest
Unjustified or justified accusations towards other characters
Snapping at people
Lack of motivation
Inability to sleep
Thinking about someone
Not forcing a friend/lover into something
Making eye contact with loved one
Nervous behaviors (fiddling hands, biting lip)
Losing track of time while with loved one
Disagreement with someone
Shaking head frantically
Putting hand on one’s chest
Rationalization or justifying something
Dismissing someone or something
Avoiding eye contact
Changing the conversation
Rubbing back of neck
A weak voice
Concentrating on something else
Bouncing on toes
Warmth in chest
A sense of contentment
Desire to help
Face going pale
Mind racing for a solution
Fawning (doing what people tell you to do)
Side note: flight, fight, freeze, and fawn are all reactions to adrenaline. Aka the fight or flight response
Thinking of survival
A panicked feeling
Feeling horrible about oneself
Trying to redeem themselves
Asking for forgiveness
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Killing off characters: the shoulds and shouldn’ts
1. Why you should
The death is a major plot point
It reveals some shocking plot twist
It supports your themes/what you’re trying to say with your book
Your novel explores the afterlife
You are George R.R Martin and the selling point of your work is that everybody dies
It suits the genre/mood of your novel
2. Why you shouldn’t
The character isn’t serving any purpose (this isn’t the Sims)
You want your readers to be shocked for the sake of being shocked
You want to be edgy
You think your MG story needs more gore
You want to romanticise grieving/loss
3. How you should
This really depends on your genre and target audience
If you’re writing something that isn’t intended to be graphic/traumatic, you can stick to the impact the death has on the other characters. If your novel explores illness, focus on that rather than on the disturbing death scene itself. Perhaps you’re writing a drama/tragic romance - you might want to ease up on the gore here. For these genres, I would suggest focusing on the emotional aspect of the death - the sobbing, the last words, the bright white lights (whatever floats your boat). Think of Mufasa in The Lion King - the actions are suspenseful, but we don’t see him being trampled with his guts spilling everywhere. But it’s still one of the most impactful deaths in fictional history.
If you’re writing in a more mature and gritty genre (like thriller, dark fantasy or crime), you can go all out. If there’s blood and guts, you readers probably want to see it in vivid detail to get their violence fix for the day.
Whichever genre your novel falls into, you should also go with what feels comfortable to you. Even if you’re writing adult dark fantasy, you don’t have to write graphic violence to make a character death impactful.
4. How you shouldn’t
Please don’t let your character have a three-pages-long monologue after they’ve been stabbed in the throat. It’s not realistic and it’s often very boring. Yes, a few well-written last words can have a great impact. Just make sure that your character would realistically be able to speak at that point and that it doesn’t become a cheese fest.
Unless you’re aiming for very dark/nihilistic humour, afford your characters some dignity in the way they kick the bucket. (e.g. don’t use the phrase “kick the bucket”). Having someone slip on a banana peel and then choke on a pretzel is a little ridiculous and will make the entire story seem silly. Once again, this really depends on what you’re going for. If your genre is serious and your character is important and beloved, try for emotion rather than whimsy.
Don’t let your characters die only to be resurrected again and again and again. Look, I love Supernatural (long may they reign), but even I have to admit that the Winchester brothers’ luck with death has become a bit ridiculous. Doing this takes away from the impact of the death - it removes the fear and suspense, and will leave your readers emotionally stunted.
5. Who you shouldn’t
Your only female character in a bid to make the male hero feel something and become a better person
Your only LGBTQIA+ character, who is just too pure to live in this terrible world
Your only character of colour, who dies to save the white hero
Your only disabled character, who can now finally find release from life with disability
The one character who has never experienced a sliver of joy and bears the brunt of the tragedy, right when happiness is finally within their reach
The main character in the middle of the story - unless you have a REALLY good plan for what happens next
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Writers be like: And then I actually had to write it, ya know? And it was so hard. I thought the scene would never work out.
And other writers be like: But it turned out good, right? I hope so. Writing can be so hard sometimes.
And then some more writers pitch in with: Wait, you actually write?
And normal people are sitting there like: If writing is so hard, why do you do it?
And writers be like: That’s not how it works. We don’t call the writing. The writing calls us. Sometimes it’s hell, but the writing demon summoned us to be the writers, and we cannot refuse the call.
But the writers are also like : I refuse the call every other day.
And folks, that’s just what writing is
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Invaluable writing tips (From Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat”)
I just finished this book on screenwriting and have highlighted some amazing advice for novelists as well:
1. Save the Cat
This refers to a scene at the beginning of yoru manuscript in which the main character does something that makes the reader root for them them i.e. saving a cat.
This doesn’t have to be something altruistic - it can include smarts or humour or naivety - just something that will make the reader want to follow this character through the story.
Without this scene, you’ll probably end up with a boring character. And no matter how amazing your plot, you need a “followable” character to carry it.
2. The Pope in the Pool
This refers to a scene in which necessary exposition is given whilst the audience is distracted by something more entertaining i.e. having the Pope explain important backstory aspects whilst doing laps in the Vatican Pool.
This is the best way to give readers the information they need whilst still keeping them engaged. Something funny/interesting/moving should happen whilst this necessary exposition is provided.
3. Double Mumbo Jumbo
This refers to the mistake many writers make in asking readers to believe in more than one type of magic/miracle. This suspends reality too much and causes the reader to lose faith in the realism/probability of your story.
So, if you already have magical fairies, don’t throw aliens into the mix as well.
ONE magical element is enough.
4. Laying Pipe
Another error often made is writing a story that needs too much set-up. This means that so much backstory must be explored in the first part of the novel that your catalyst only occurs at page 100 or so.
This will cause readers to lose interest long before they’ve reached the inciting incident. If you don’t get the beginning right and move on the exciting stuff as soon as possible, it doesn’t matter how great your ending is, since few readers will get there.
5. Watch out for that Glacier
This is when the danger in your novel takes too long/perhaps the whole book to get to your characters/to threaten them. Therefore, the reader is aware that there is some eventual threat, but the characters aren’t affected by it throughout the story.
It’s a glacier coming for them rather than a missile. And it dampens the tension.
6. The Covenant of the Arc
Every somewhat important character in the novel should change, except for the bad guy. This is what will ultimately distinguish your good guys from your villain: moral change.
So, take a look at the journey of every primary and secondary character in your manuscript and ensure that they grow/experience some for m of change that is brought about by the events in the story.
7. Keep the Press Out
This is the tip I think should be used with the most circumspection. It’s for you to decide whether you want to follow this piece of advice or not.
This tip calls for leaving media coverage/the press out of your story. If some supernatural/extraterrestrial event occurs in a secluded neighbourhood and remains a family secret, it’s much easier for your reader to believe that it could really have happened than if the whole world is supposedly in on it.
Like I said, use with discretion.
These are all Blake Snyder’s tips (not mine) and are explored in greater detail in the book. So, if you would like more information and more great advice, I suggest grabbing a copy.
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How to write a character-driven plot
The Character-Driven Plot Wheel
1. Emotions drive actions.
Make your hero act on their deepfelt emotions. This not only adds meaning to their actions, but also helps communicate to readers your hero’s core emotional struggle.
2. Actions trigger consequences.
When your hero acts, give their actions consequences that affect the plot, themselves, and/or the surrounding characters. For example, driven by curiosity, maybe your hero opens Pandora’s box; maybe they act recklessly and someone dies; or maybe they stand up for what they believe in, but at great personal cost. Consequences raise the stakes and empower your hero with agency.
3. Consequences compel change.
Use the consequences of your hero’s actions to create a crucible of growth — challenges and situations that force them to take the next step on their character journey. That step may be forward, or backward, and it may be large or small; but something inside them changes.
4. Change influences emotions.
When a character goes through a change, even a small one, allow it to affect them emotionally. Maybe they feel increasingly frustrated or guilty. Maybe they’re afraid, having just taken another step closer to abandoning their old way of seeing the world. Or maybe they finally feel peace.
Regardless of the form it takes, remember to reflect your hero’s change in their emotions. Then let their emotions drive action, to trigger consequences, which will compel further change.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
And there you have it! That’s how you write a character-driven plot.
So what do you say?
Give the wheel a spin.
— — —
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Writing horses in your WIP
We see them all the time - horses in fiction. And there is so much to learn about them that it can be a little overwhelming! But I work with horses a lot so I thought I’d be able to help some of you guys out by going through the basics you’ll need for writing. (by the way, I only ride English style. If somebody wants to do something similar for Western riding, by all means, fire away.)
Horses and ponies - whats the difference?
It’s the height. Horses and ponies are measured in hands - 1 hand = approx 4 inches. A pony is anything below 14.2hh,(hands), a horse is anything taller. Any pony smaller than 14hh would really only be suitable for children. A stockier 14.2hh could hold teens or small adults, but most teens and adults would probably ride horses. 16hh would be an average size.
Stallions, mares and geldings.
A Mare is a female horse. They can be quite moody sometimes - which they show by being uncooperative and putting their ears back. A Stallion is a male horse that has not been castrated. They can be very, very strong willed, and are typically not suitable for the novice rider. A gelding is a male horse that has been gelded/castrated, They often have a more relaxed, placid nature. A colt is a young male, and a filly is a young female.
Training a horse under saddle is called ‘Breaking.’ A horse is typically broken around 3/4 years of age, once it has finished growing. Breaking correctly is a long and patient process - not something that your character can do in a few minutes.
Horses have four gaits. Walk, trot, canter, and gallop - in that order of ascending speed. Nobody trots away from danger. if your characters are fleeing, they are in a flat out gallop.
For describing scenes - you’ll really only need to talk about the reins and the bit. Pressure on the reins (held by the rider) should slow the horse down. The horse feels this pressure acting through the bit.
All you really need to worry about for the saddle are the stirrups, and the girth. The girth is holding the saddle on, and the feet go into the stirrups.
Learning to ride
Is difficult! Your character won’t be a pro withing a couple of days. Its hard on your legs, and learning to balance can be tricky too. Somebody who is very comfortable in the saddle is relaxed and secure, and able to deal with however the horse acts. The rising trot, when the rider goes ‘up and down’ in sync with the horses movement in the trot, can be particularly difficult.
The average gallop is around 45km/h. So, bear i mind that a horse cannot outrun a car or anything like that. Jumping ability varies - a heavier horse will struggle over a 90cm hedge, but a quality animal could easily pop 1.60m (but only with a good rider.) If your character gallops the horse on hard ground, it could easily go lame - they aren’t invincible!
Horses don’t eat the same way as dogs or cats. They are grazers - meaning they need to eat little, and often. Your character giving them a Handel of oats once a day is really not going to keep them alive. They need forage - grass or hay - and a lot of it.
Showing how the horse is feeling can be a really great tool for expressing the ‘mood’ of a scene.
Relaxed - A relaxed horse will have its ears back lazily, but not pinned against its head. It will likely doze off and close its eyes, maybe while resting a hind leg.
Alert - Horses are super smart animals, and many say that they have a sixth sense that lets them know when something is coming. An alert horse stands up straight, and has its ears pricked forward.
Upset - If something bad is happening, the horse won’t be in good mood. It might pin its ears flat back against its skull, and bare its teeth. It will flick its tail irritably, and a horse will kick out or bite at something if its unhappy.
Horses as friends
Horses are deeply empathetic animals. They are herd animals too, and can form deep connections with their people. A horse who is fond of a person may whinny when they see them, and nuzzle their face and neck. A real trust can form between horse and rider. To show this as your story progresses, the horse will become pleased to be with the character, and the character's nerves aboard the horse will begin to fade.
If you have any more specific questions, feel free to message me. All of this is very basic, and I am more than happy to help some fellow writers.
Happy writing, Aoife - @writingguardian
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Quick Tips for Writing Interesting Villains
Give them relationships with other characters. Being a villain doesn’t mean they’re isolated
Give them their own set of morals
Give them something to care about
Consider the reasons why they want to hurt the protagonist
Remember that they are human
Don’t make them evil for the sake of being evil
Keep in mind that a villain doesn’t have to do every horrible thing imaginable
Not every villain was abused. Someone who was spoiled is just as, if not more, likely to lack empathy than someone who was abused
Consider how they rationalize their behavior (blame their victims, make excuses, believe that what they’re doing is right)
Give them a life outside of being a villain. Maybe your protagonist is going shopping and they run into their villain and the villain isn’t interested or up for a fight that day. This really depends on the story, though
Give them a past, present, or future relationship with the protagonist. Again, this depends on the story
Consider making your villain likable
Give the reader a reason to sympathize with them
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Writing ship-able couples
Here are some tips for writing relationships your readers can get behind:
1. Give them reasons to click
The two characters must have things in common - a hobby, a philosophy, a background. There has to be some element that connects them.
Your readers will root for relationships in which the characters fit together better than they would with others.
Also, make their traits compatible. Have them share some characteristics or have their strengths and weaknesses be complementary. Is the one hotheaded? Maybe the other keeps their cool well in situations of conflict.
There are endless possibilities. Just make sure there’s a reason these two people like/love each other.
2. Have them be vulnerable in front of each other
Personally, this is the best way to get me to love a couple.
Have them share secrets, open up about their feelings and tell each other things they haven’t told anyone. Have them cry in front of each other and comfort each other.
This can be taken to a whole new level by having them understand the other’s emotions even without speaking and already offer comfort. Keep in mind that this will probably only be possible with long-established couples.
And having them open up is also a great way for them to discover all the things they have in common/love about each other.
3. Build up the tension
I cannot emphasise this enough: DO NOT MAKE YOUR COUPLES GET TOGETHER TOO QUICKLY.
One of the best elements of a romantic subplot (or even main plot) is the tension. Your readers want to see the pining! They want the build-up.
And no, I’m not saying that you should introduce endless, petty obstacles. That can become tedious and appear forced.
Just give your characters time to sort through their feelings. Make them fall in love slowly. Have them be unsure. Insert SOME obstacles/conflicts.
Have them almost kiss a few times. Not all the time. Too many almost-kisses can become frustrating. But you should throw a few in there.
And, if you feel comfortable with it, add some sexual tension. Have them notice each other’s bodies and imagine what they’d like to do to each other (that sounds more explicit than I intended :) )
4. Write a healthy relationship
This could just be me and my rejection of unhealthy romances, but I will not root for abusive relationships.
Have your characters be kind to each other, support each other and truly care for each other.
If your characters are constantly putting each other down, physically/emotionally abusing each other or going against the other’s wishes, they’re not in a healthy relationship.
A great way to write a healthy relationship whilst still maintaining the tension, is to have the conflict in the relationship be external. Instead of having the conflict be due to internal struggles between the two characters, have obstacles enter from outside.
Your readers should want them to be together and for that, they should be good for each other.
5. Have their friends/family see their chemistry
I find it beyond adorable when two characters are still figuring out their feelings for each other, but the fact that they’re perfect for each other is crystal clear to everyone around them.
Have their friends tease them about the relationship. Have family members ask after the them. Have their loved ones conspire to get them to admit their feelings.
If your other characters are rooting for them, your readers will probably do so as well.
Plus, this means that the chemistry between the two characters is so strong that it’s obvious, which is always good for an exciting romance.
That’s all I’ve got for now. If you have any further questions about writing OTPs or any other aspect of writing, feel free to message me or pop me an ask.
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5 frustrating workshop rules that made me a better writer
Throughout the 15 workshops I joined in college and grad school, I encountered two types of writing rules.
First, there were the best-practice guidelines we've all heard, like "show don't tell." And then there were workshop rules, which the professor put in place not because they’re universal, but because they help you grow within the context of the workshop.
My college's intro writing course had 5 such rules:
No fantasy, supernatural, or sci-fi elements.
No characters crying.
No conflict resolution through deus ex machina.
When I first saw the rules, I was baffled. They felt weirdly specific, and a bit unfair. But when our professor, Vinny, explained their purpose (and assured us he only wanted us to follow the rules during this intro workshop, not the others to come), I realized what I could learn from them.
1. No fantasy, supernatural, or sci-fi elements.
Writers need to be able to craft round characters, with clear arcs. While you can hone those skills writing any type of story, it can be more difficult when juggling fantastical elements, because it's easy to get caught up in the world, or the magic, or the technology, and to make that the focus instead of the characters. So Vinny encouraged us to exclude such elements for the time being, to keep us fully focused on developing strong, dynamic characters.
2. No guns.
Weapons have a place in many stories, but when writers include a gun, they often use it to escalate the plot outside of the realm of personal experience and into what Vinny called "Hollywood experience." He wanted us to learn how to draw from our own observations and perceptions of life, rather than the unrealistic action, violence, and drama we'd seen in movies, so he made this rule to keep us better grounded in our own experiences.
3. No characters crying.
When trying to depict sadness, writers often default to making characters cry. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, tears are just one way to show grief, and they aren’t always the most subtle or emotionally compelling. That’s why Vinny challenged us to find other ways to convey sadness — through little gestures, strained words, fragile interactions, and more. It was difficult, but opened us up to depicting whole new gradients of grief and pain.
4. No conflict resolution through deus ex machina.
This is the only one of the rules I'd say is generally universal. Meaning “God from the machine,” deus ex machina is a plot device where a character's seemingly insurmountable problem is abruptly resolved by an outside force, rather than their own efforts. These endings are bad for various reasons, but Vinny discouraged them because he wanted us to understand how important it was for our characters to confront their struggle and its consequences.
5. No deaths.
Death is inherently dramatic and can be used to good effect, but many writers use death as a crutch to create drama and impact. Writers should be able to craft engaging, meaningful stories, even without killing off their characters, so this rule challenged us to find other methods of giving weight to our stories (such as through internal conflict).
How these rules helped me grow as a writer
First things first, I’ll say it again: apart from #4 (deus ex machina), these rules were never meant to be universally applied. Instead, their purpose was to create temporary barriers and challenges to help us develop key skills and write in new, unfamiliar ways.
For me, the experience was invaluable. I liked the way the rules challenged and stretched my abilities, driving me to write stories I’d have never otherwise attempted. They made me more flexible as a writer, and while I don't follow the rules anymore (I LOVE me some fantasy), I'll always be thankful for how they shaped my writing.
My recommendation to you?
Give some of these rules a shot! Follow them temporarily while writing 2-4 short stories — but remember to always keep their purpose in mind, because the rules themselves will only help if you understand what they’re trying to achieve.
Write with purpose, and you’ll always be growing.
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For more tips on how to craft meaning, build character-driven plots, and grow as a writer, follow my blog.
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physically i'm staring at the ceiling but mentally i'm writing a six book saga complete with it's own tv show and movie series
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Fanfic writer: Okay, this is some of my best work. It’s way better than my other stories. I’m hoping, and partly expecting, some good statistics
The fanfic: 40 hits, 2 subscriptions, 5 kudo’s, 1 bookmark
Fanfic writer: Looks at their poorly written, uninspired, and not as fun to write fanfiction
The fanfic: 26,000 hits, 500 subscriptions, 1,200 kudo’s, 400 bookmarks
Fanfic writer: Is very confused
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trope i will never tire of:
Character A: Tell me something only the REAL you would know.
Character B: [absolutely embarrassing fact about Character A]
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has this been done yet
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