How do I make all my main characters not feel like self-inserts?
This is going to sound counter-intuitive, but make your character a self-insert.
Just let them be.
Let them exist, if only for a little while.
Okay, now that you’ve gotten some of that self-insert character out onto the page, let’s take them apart. Ask yourself:
- How can I differentiate them from myself? What are some qualities I can add that will make the story more compelling? What are some qualities that have no impact on the story whatsoever? How can I change those or switch them out?
- How is their background different than mine? Get into the mindset of your character. You may have been raised in similar environments; maybe not. Think about how their culture, caretakers, friends, and environment shaped them. How do THEY see the world?
- How is the story impacting them? How do they impact the story? What qualities do I need to give them to ensure that the plot seems natural/reasonable? A good example of this is hubris: Walter White ultimately becomes Heisenberg not due to reasons claimed (money for cancer, supporting his family, etc.), but because of hubris. The catalyst is his cancer, but his ultimate downfall occurs because of his hubris.
- How can I make their voice different than mine? Think syntax, dialect, etc. Or you can study others, too. Study other characters, other people, etc. What is the focus of their attention? What are they interested in? Are they timid, loud? Think about how these would affect their narrative voice.
Ultimately, think of this as a dress-up doll game. Your job isn’t to make your character look like you or even look like someone you’d like to be, although your character certainly can be either of those. Think about how you can create a character that best suits your story.
It’s okay if you mess up or diverge from your original intention or plan. That’s what editing is for! It’s also okay to let your character change and choose the direction of your story.
Good luck with your writing! If you have any more questions, please feel free to ask away!
Went to a wonderful write in yesterday with some local writers for the end of NaNoWriMo 📚 I haven’t written, studied or posted in a few weeks because I’ve been struggling with the grief of losing my grandad earlier this month, but this write in really helped me!
When love and attraction blinds you, suddenly you can’t tell the lies from the truth…
Murders in Northwood: The Killer of the woods is now available in Ebook, Paperback and Hardcover versions.
Buy now on Amazon:
the elusive 7 act Structure
Writers, please, please, please, I am begging you
I know we don't vibe with Mary Sues, and I know we like watching characters fail...
But if your character is the world's best assassin, they shouldn't be botching nearly every single step of every single job just because the plot demands it. If your character is one of the greatest fighters to ever live, they can't badly lose every single fight the plot throws at them and then barely win the final confrontation. If your character is a competent military strategist, they need at least a few small successes during the course of the plot. If your character is an experienced leader, they can't be constantly making the kind of missteps that realistically would cause their subordinates to lose confidence in them.
If your character is good at something. Show them being good at it.
traits turned sour
honest - insensitive
persuasive - manipulative
caring - overprotective
confidence - arrogance
fearless - cocky
loyalty - an excuse
devotion - obsession
agreeable - lazy
perfectionism - insatisfaction
reserved - aloof
cautious - skeptical
self loved - selfish
available - distractible
emotional - dramatic
humble - attention-seeking
diligent - imposing
dutiful - submissive
assertive - bossy
strategic - calculated
truthful - cruel
Words to describe facial expressions
Agonized: as if in pain or tormented
Alluring: attractive, in the sense of arousing desire
Appealing: attractive, in the sense of encouraging goodwill and/or interest
Black: angry or sad, or hostile
Blinking: surprise, or lack of concern
Blithe: carefree, lighthearted, or heedlessly indifferent
Brooding: anxious and gloomy
Bug eyed: frightened or surprised
Chagrined: humiliated or disappointed
Cheeky: cocky, insolent
Choleric: hot-tempered, irate
Darkly: with depressed or malevolent feelings
Deadpan: expressionless, to conceal emotion or heighten humor
Despondent: depressed or discouraged
Doleful: sad or afflicted
Dour: stern or obstinate
Dreamy: distracted by daydreaming or fantasizing
Ecstatic: delighted or entranced
Faint: cowardly, weak, or barely perceptible
Fixed: concentrated or immobile
Gazing: staring intently
Glancing: staring briefly as if curious but evasive
Glazed: expressionless due to fatigue or confusion
Grim: fatalistic or pessimistic
Grave: serious, expressing emotion due to loss or sadness
Haunted: frightened, worried, or guilty
Hopeless: depressed by a lack of encouragement or optimism
Hostile: aggressively angry, intimidating, or resistant
Hunted: tense as if worried about pursuit
Jeering: insulting or mocking
Languid: lazy or weak
Leering: sexually suggestive
Mischievous: annoyingly or maliciously playful
Pained: affected with discomfort or pain
Peering: with curiosity or suspicion
Pleading: seeking apology or assistance
Quizzical: questioning or confused
Radiant: bright, happy
Sanguine: bloodthirsty, confident
Vacant: blank or stupid looking
Wan: pale, sickly
Wary: cautious or cunning
Wide eyed: frightened or surprised
Wrathful: indignant or vengeful
Wry: twisted or crooked to express cleverness or a dark or ironic feeling
daily reminder that if you create it, it’s art. it doesn’t have to be perfect. it just has to have bits of you in it <3
how to write convincing dialogue
did you know that show, not tell applies to dialogue, too? while dialogue can be used to further your narrative, it can also be used to showcase your characters. here's how:
-what is your character hiding? most people don't say things at face value. they hide what they mean within their words and tone, but in writing, you can't verbally hear the character's tone. ways to convey non-verbal tone include: contradictions between words and actions, context behind the words (ie. the scenario, character's actions and feelings), syntax (ie. fragments, repetition, awkward phrasing). also consider who the character is hiding information from: is it the reader? the characters? both?
-favorite words or phrases. does your character use a certain phrase or word a lot? do they often put their prepositions at the beginning or the end of the sentence? these are questions to ask when you're arranging the syntax of the dialogue. everyone has a specific way of talking. make sure you give each character a distinguishable voice.
-personality. this is how you can create a distinguishable voice. is your character confident? are they shy or hesitant? do they repeat the phases of others because they have nothing to add to the conversation? are they confrontational or do they beat around the bush? ask questions like these. if your character is confident, they may make bold statements and appear sure of themselves unlike shy characters who use words such as "maybe" or "should" or "think." to boil it down, think active wordage versus passive.
-observe others. don't look solely at television or other books. sit at your local coffee shop and listen in on conversations, then try and break it down. are they hiding anything? do they frequently use any words or phrases? how would you describe their personality? the better you get at breaking down conversations, the better you can create convincing ones, whether shallow, deep, or as a narrative device, because even if you use your dialogue to move your narrative along, it should still be compulsively convincing.
one way to tell if you've ticked all these boxes is if you can tell who is speaking without any tags.
happy writing! if you have any questions about how to implement any of these tips, our ask box is always open.
10 Questions to Ask About your World
What are the common theories about the universe? (Fate, free will, what’s out there? Gods?)
How much does this society know about its world? (how much is explored versus not, are they fully aware of their history or are there things they haven’t discovered yet? What’s beyond their scope?)
What sort of religions or communities exist?
What foods do they eat, what wouldn’t be as normalized?
What traditions do they have? Festivals, celebrations, holidays, etc.
How does the average person spend a Sunday?
Is there a skill that’s expected for people to know? (ex. where I live most people know how to ride a bike) Is there something that would be odd in this society to know?
Do people drive or do they transit or do they walk? How do people get around?
How do people communicate with each other? (Phones, letters, birds, etc.)
What’s something that makes your setting unique or fit specifically for your story?
Plot Devices to Complicate Your Story
You're excited to write an upcoming story, but the plot seems pretty simple from start to finish.
How can you make it more complicated to deepen your themes, lengthen the story, or leave your readers with plot twists that make their jaws drop?
Try a few of these devices 👀
Add motivation to your instigating action
When the princess gets kidnapped at the start of your story, your hero will rescue her, but what's the antagonist's motivation for kidnapping her? If they're in love with the hero and take their jealousy to the extreme or secretly know that the princess asked them for an escape plan to avoid marrying your hero, the plot is much more compelling.
You could add this detail anywhere in your plot, even in the first chapter.
Layer a second motivation underneath an action
After the princess is kidnapped, the hero starts their journey to rescue her. The reader finds out in the second chapter that the hero is being blackmailed to retrieve the princess and return her to their kingdom's biggest rival to start a war.
Amplify the original problem
Your protagonist rescues the princess and brings her home, only to find out that she's had a twin brother all this time who has been taken hostage by the antagonist in retaliation for the princess' escape.
Introduce a second, more evil villain
The antagonist has kidnapped the princess for their own motivation, but the reader discovers in the middle of your story that they serve a more evil villain who holds a personal grudge against the princess' father and wants his whole kingdom to suffer as revenge.
Create conflict that brings your protagonist to their rock bottom
The protagonist rescues the princess, almost reaches their home kingdom, but she escapes. The king sends the protagonist to prison for their failure and sentences them to death in three days. The reader will feel the hopelessness along with your protagonist, which is where you can create something that injects new hope into your plot (like a dramatic jailbreak thanks to the protagonist's best friend).
Make a character betray another
The protagonist reaches the princess with the help of their best friend, but the princess stabs the protagonist in the back by trading their best friend for herself through an unbreakable vow
Reveal an unreliable narrator
Your protagonist agrees to rescue the princess for the sake of the kingdom, but the second or third chapter reveals that they are really on a mission to kill the princess for personal revenge against the king.
Reveal that the villain has known everything the whole time
Your protagonist and princess escape, but the villain factored that into their plan to start a war and have their forces waiting outside of her castle when they arrive home
Introduce sudden regret that changes a character's arc
The protagonist has to leave their best friend behind to ensure the princess' escape, but in leaving them, the protagonist realizes they've been in love with their best friend the entire time. Regret motivates them to head back for their best friend and risk their life twice as soon as the princess is home safe.
Temporarily kill a character
The princess kills the villain with some help from your protagonist, so they think they're safe. On their way back home, the villain sets a trap for them in the woods because they actually survived the attack.
Try using Chekov's gun
Before leaving for the princess, your protagonist gets a potion made by a family member. The directions? "Use it in your moment of greatest need." The protagonist uses it later when they're facing the villain or after hitting rock bottom, so the potion becomes a plot device that instigates your second or third act.
Accelerate the plot
Your reader thinks the plot is all about rescuing the princess, but she returns home in the first 100 pages. The real plot begins by choices or actions made during her rescue, which unravel into a much larger story/world event.
You likely won't be able to use all of these plot devices in a single story. You may not even have the first plot for more than one.
Consider what you're writing and what dynamics your characters/plot present to decide if any of these tricks could enhance your writing.
Bad Pacing Advice
Anything that can go wrong, should go wrong. Right?
This is really common advice for when a plot feels flat or boring. And sometimes, it's really good advice. But sometimes, it the worst advice you could get. It really depends on why the plot is feeling flat.
A plot is made up of beats: events that have to happen in order to move the plot forward. Another way of saying this is, what things need to happen before the story's conflict can be resolved?
When a plot is falling flat, it generally has one of three problems. Either there aren't enough story beats, the story is moving too quickly from one beat to another, or the story is moving too slowly from one beat to another.
Making things go wrong is good advice if there aren't enough story beats. Too few beats means there might be too much space between beats where the story can sag and get boring. In other words, slow pacing. It can also make the conflict seem too easy to resolve, because story beats are often obstacles that need to be overcome before the story can satisfactorily end.
However, if your story is moving too quickly between beats, making things go wrong isn't always the right answer. It can work if you deliberately use a set-back to delay getting between two points that would otherwise be too close. But just making something go wrong for the sake of it will only add more beats to the story, it won't slow them down.
If your story is moving too slowly, making more stuff go wrong is about the worst thing you can do. At best it just makes your story longer. At worst, it adds new beats between your already existing beats, increasing the distance between them even more. It might seem counter intuitive but making things go wrong (killing a character, losing a fight, getting captured, friendship and relationship drama etc.) can actually slow your pacing down more.
I notice this issue a lot in epic fantasy stories. Maybe it's just me, but I find when things are constantly going wrong -- when the plot isn't getting any closer to being resolved because every time the characters try to take a step forward they end up worse off than before -- I get frustrated and bored. I just start thinking "here we go again. Get to the point!!"
Sometimes your characters need to succeed too. Good pacing isn't making your characters fail at every opportunity. It's knowing when to let them fail and when it's time to move forward.