Descriptive Writing: Utilizing Your Senses

Before I dive into today’s post, I have a couple announcements. One, I have updated the pricing on my Services page. They are much lower and priced for up to 100,000 words, rather than pricing per word. I will soon be up on fiverr.com as well. Two, I have decided to start writing under my real name: Allison Williford. I hid behind my pseudonym (Skylar Wilson) for some time after receiving threatening messages for sharing my positive experience with ECT. (Seriously, I even had someone tell me to kill myself, saying I was promoting torture.) But I decided I won’t be intimidated by people who have no heart or compassion.

Now that I have made my announcements, let us move on to today’s post about description!

Description is important in a novel. It draws the reader in, and it can help with the suspension of disbelief. Suspension of disbelief happens when we are so drawn into a story, we will believe anything the author tells us. While description alone won’t do this, it certainly adds that wondrous element that enriches your story.

There are many ways to include description in your novel, from your characters, to the setting, to even the food they eat. It can greatly enrich the story itself. There’s nothing quite like those moments, when reading a novel, when you are so engrossed in a story that you can almost experience the story firsthand.

By utilizing the five senses to describe what’s going on in your story, you can really dig into another world. What does your character see? Smell? Hear? Taste? Feel? Think about how you experience the world. What colors do you see? What textures do you feel beneath your fingertips? Do you hear birds, or perhaps a storm brewing outside, with its rolling booms of thunder? Are you drinking tart, tangy lemonade? A cold soda, with its carbonation fizzing on your tongue?

You get the picture.

  1. Writing with Sight
    This is probably the easier of the five senses when it comes to writing. Most of us experience the world through our sight. We see the colors of the rainbow. We see everything that’s in front of us. We see the faces of our loved ones. A great writing exercise is to try picking an ordinary object, anything you see in front of you, and describe it in great detail using only sight.
  2. Writing with Sound
    A common description I see in novels is that of people’s voices. Try describing something that isn’t someone’s voice. Is your character at a concert with screaming guitars and pounding drums? Are they in a forest, where the wind whispers through the trees and rustles the dead leaves on the ground? Are they inside, with the rain pelting the windows with every plink plink plink?
  3. Writing with Taste
    This can be a fun one, but I wouldn’t describe everything that touches your character’s tongue. Like the example above, is your character drinking a cold, fizzy soda? Do they bite their lip until it bleeds, that metallic tinge lingering on their tongue? Is their plate of chicken dry and chewy? Are they eating something hot and spicy?
  4. Writing with Smell
    Most of you probably realize that scent can be a powerful thing. Memories can be tied just to a single smell. Perfume is a common description, but you could describe the smells of other objects: a musty old book, someone’s rank body odor like overpowering wilting onions. Remember that with smell, a little bit goes a long way, so don’t overwhelm your readers with descriptions of scents.
  5. Writing with Touch
    I love writing about touch. What your character feels beneath their fingertips or on their skin can really draw a reader into their world. The scratchy, limp fabric of a hospital blanket. The roughness of an unshaven face, like sandpaper, a stark contrast to the softness of his lips. The way a single touch can raise gooseflesh along your character’s arm.

Like previously mentioned, a great exercise is to pick one thing and describe it in as much detail as possible using your senses.

Again, if you are in need of editing services, I invite you to check out my editing services! For a free, five-page sample edit, you can email your sample (Times New Roman, 12 pt.) to allisonwilliford@cloud.com.

Narrative Structure: The Hero’s Journey

Whenever I think of The Hero’s Journey, I think Star Wars: A New Hope. It encapsulates The Hero’s Journey quite nicely. This narrative structure can be split into three acts, similar to the Three-Act Structure, but with more subplots than just pinch points. In a way, one could even think of the plot points as pinch points within The Hero’s Journey.

Photo by Tiểu Linh

This narrative structure can be broken down into 12 plot points, each of which can be divided into those three acts, as aforementioned. You’ll find that some of the plot points coincide with basic plot structure.

  1. The Ordinary World
    This is your opening. We, as readers, are introduced to the characters, the setting, and what their ordinary lives are like. This is the status quo.
  2. The Call of Adventure
    In the Three-Act Structure, we would call this the inciting incident/event. This is when we hear Leia’s famous line: “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” The Galactic Empire has finally reached the Outer Rim, and has made an impact on Luke’s normal world.
  3. Refusal of the Call
    This is just as it sounds. Luke initially declines the call, instead looking for his new R2 unit just so he doesn’t get in trouble with Uncle Owen. Luke doubts his own abilities, anyway, and claims it’s too far from him for him to be of any help.
  4. Meeting the Mentor
    While stages three and four blend a bit, but Obi-Wan explains the force, Jedi, and a bit about Luke’s father. Luke initially refuses, but after returning home and finding his aunt and uncle murdered, he agrees to train with Obi-Wan.
  5. Crossing the Threshold
    The cantina scene makes up the “Crossing the Threshold” plot point. Someone picks a fight with Luke in the cantina, and he’s utterly out of his element.
  6. Tests, Allies, Enemies
    Luke gains more allies, Han Solo and Chewbacca, who agree to take them to Alderaan. The Stormtroopers try to stop them as they leave.
  7. Approach to the Inmost Cave
    Here, our hero nearly reaches their goal. This is when Luke and the gang come near the Death Star after discovering that Alderaan no longer exists. As the iconic line goes: “I have a bad feeling about this.”
  8. The Ordeal
    Rescuing Princess Leia represents “The Ordeal” for Luke. The Ordeal is a test our hero must overcome. However, Luke also loses something: We witness the death of Obi-Wan.
  9. Reward/Seize the Sword
    In most stories based on The Hero’s Journey, this is where our hero would be rewarded. Something important is obtained by our hero, and victory is in sight.
  10. The Road Back
    Luke joins the rebel fleet as a pilot, and his aim is to destroy the Death Star. Our hero realizes that their initial goal may not be the final hurdle.
  11. Resurrection
    Luke has changed. He learns to trust the force, and he uses it to destroy the Death Star (also thanks to a quick save by Han Solo). This is Luke’s first steps towards becoming a Jedi.
  12. Return with the Elixir
    Basking in their triumph, our hero returns to their ordinary world—or as ordinary as it can be. It doesn’t have to be a literal elixir; it can represent our hero’s success (such as in the form of Leia awarding Luke and Han medals. Also, I never understood why Chewbacca didn’t get one).

These are the 12 plot points in The Hero’s Journey. As we saw, the definitive lines of the different plot points can blur together.

For more information on narrative structure, see my post: The 7 Types of Narrative Structure!

Narrative Structure: Freytag’s Pyramid

Welcome to post #3 in my Narrative Structure Series! Today, we’ll be discussing Freytag’s Pyramid, which was devised by 19th-century German playwright Gustav Freytag (which, technically, he based on Aristotle’s idea of narrative structure as a triangle with exposition, climax, and resolution, mapped out in Poetics).

Photo by Andre Moura from Pexels

As a reminder, narrative structure is a literary element that functions as structural framework for a story. For a more detailed description of narrative structure, visit my blog post, The 7 Types of Narrative Structure.

As you probably already guessed, the main idea of Freytag’s Pyramid is that the story is a pyramid, with the climax at its highest point. We can break it down into six parts, including the exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

  1. Exposition
    In Freytag’s Pyramid, the story begins with Exposition, in which a reader is introduced to the setting, the characters, etc. Your sole focus during the Exposition is to build the world in which the story will be set — and where most of the major action happens. How long your exposition lasts depends on the complexity of your world building, as well as the complexity of the story’s conflict. For example, The Lord of the Rings is full of exposition. Lois Lowry’s The Giver has some exposition in which we get to know the “utopia” that is Jonas’ world.
  2. Inciting Incident
    The exposition should end with the Inciting Incident (sometimes called the Inciting Event). For a more thorough explanation of what the Inciting Incident/Event is, see my post, The Inciting Event. Basically, it is the moment in your character’s life that sets the story in motion, the moment which he cannot come back from.
  3. Rising Action
    The Rising Action will make up the biggest chunk of your story, and it is rife with conflict that builds up to the climax. You’ll often see things getting worse for our protagonist, and it’s all about moves and countermoves. If we were to compare it to the Three-Act Structure, the Rising Action would be Act II of your story. It should include key information about your character’s motives and history, and any themes that are being explored. Also, you can foreshadow the main event: the Climax.
  4. Climax
    The pièce de résistance of your story. Here is where the conflict can no longer hold onto the tension its been grasping, and everything comes crashing down on your protagonist’s head. It’s the major turning point in which the central conflict is addressed. Now, whether the climax lasts one scene or spans several chapters is up to you. It should culminate from the rising action you’ve created, and it should resonate with the story’s themes.
  5. Falling Action
    Here is where we can explore the aftermath of the Climax. How do your characters react to what happened in the Climax? Here, loose ends should be tied up. Think of it as your protagonist’s “new normal” compared to the exposition. Bear in mind that the Falling Action should still engage the reader in some way.
  6. Resolution
    Here is the end of your story, and figuring out where the narrative ends can be tricky. Falling Action and the Resolution tend to be fairly short. Here is where you’ll also decide what happens to your protagonist. Does he die? Does he learn from his mistakes? Does he accept his pain and loss and move on with his life? Perhaps he begins anew? Either way, everything should be tied up in a neat little package, even if you’re leaving the ending open for a sequel.

That’s it for Freytag’s Pyramid. Curious about other forms of narrative structure? Check out my posts, The 7 Types of Narrative Structure and Narrative Structure: The Three-Act Structure. And if you’re looking for an editor, don’t forget that I’m now offering editing services, including copy editing, proofreading, and manuscript critiques! Check out my Services page for pricing and more information.

The Inciting Event

Every event, every plot point in a story should matter, and that especially goes for the Inciting Event. Sure, maybe it’s not the most significant plot point or even the most noticeable, but it’s still important in your overall story structure, which is why I want to talk about it today.

What exactly is the Inciting Event? Basically, it’s the very first plot point that sets your story in motion. It could even seem incredibly insignificant in the lives of your characters, but it’s what tips over that first domino in a long line of dominoes. Essentially, it should change your character’s life forever, no matter how small or big your Inciting Event is. You’ll hear some writing advice say that the Inciting Event needs to be huge and dramatic to change your character’s life forever; I don’t believe this is true. The Inciting Event can be one small notch in your character’s life, but it should be one that they can’t come back from.

Now, the Inciting Event can even happen before the story begins. In The Days Without You, the story opens with Kylie dreading a concert she agreed to attend with her best friend, and there, she meets Adam by mishap. While this is the beginning of the story, the inciting event would technically be Kylie agreeing to attend the concert with Cat, even though this happens before the start of the story. And, your character/s may not even realize that their lives have been ultimately altered! It’s important to remember that the Inciting Event doesn’t have to be realized by your protagonist.

In many cases, however, the Inciting Event happens within the realm of the story. Bear in mind, too, that it may not be the very first thing to happen in your story. in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, we have character building and world building before the Inciting Event happens. Similar goes for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone. Before the Inciting Event happens, we learn all about what horrible people the Dursleys are, not to mention we also see Dumbledore leaving Harry at the Dursley’s doorstep after being rescued from the wreckage of his home.

Some examples of the Inciting Event:

  1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
    In the Hunger Games, we learn all about the dark, evil “game” called The Hunger Games, in which one teenage boy and one teenage girl from each District is selected to compete in a battle to the death, and the winner shall be bathed in riches. Katniss, who is our narrator and protagonist, is devastated when her younger sister, Prim, is selected as the next tribute. In desperation to save her sister, Katniss volunteers as tribute to take Prim’s place. This act of volunteering for her sister is the Inciting Event, as it changes Katniss’ life forever. She can no longer go back to her old life; she must now compete in The Hunger Games, fighting for her life.
  2. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
    As previously mentioned, there’s a ton of backstory in this novel before we get to the Inciting Event: when Hagrid, a half-giant who barges in upon the Dursleys and Harry in their off-shore hut, tells Harry, “Yer a wizard, Harry.” (Can we all agree that this is a classic line of dialogue?) We identify this as the Inciting Event because it changes Harry’s life forever. Why isn’t the event of the never-ending letters the Inciting Event? Because Harry could have chosen to ignore them, or the Dursleys could have kept them hidden from Harry, thus not setting into effect the dominoes to Harry’s learning that he’s a wizard.
  3. The Giver by Lois Lowry
    Can I just say this is one of my favorite books, and has been since I was in, like, fourth grade and I’ve read it a bajillion times? Favoritism aside, we open the story upon Jonas, a 12-year-old boy who lives in a futuristic community that seems like a utopia, but really is a dystopia where babies are “Released to Elsewhere” if they don’t weigh enough. He’s nervous about his career assignment, which he is to receive at the Ceremony of Twelves, because he’s worried he doesn’t fit in anywhere. The Ceremony itself is our Inciting Event, because Jonas learns he has been selected as the next Receiver of Memory, in which the Giver passes down memories of the past world so he can advise the community when it needs to make decisions.

So what should your Inciting Event be? Technically, it can be anything! But, it should make sense with your First Plot Point. That is to say, the Inciting Event should be the first domino that knocks over another, then another, and another, leading to the First Plot Point. In my work-in-progress, The Sound of Snap Dragons, the Inciting Event is that Kylie gets hired as an investigative journalist at The New York Star, a major newspaper in her city, leading her to be assigned a story about a serial killer.

I’d love to hear what the Inciting Event is in your manuscript or published books! Tell me, what are your thoughts on this important plot point?

Finding Your Voice as a Writer

Voice. Find your voice as a writer, they say. What exactly does that mean? You may be struggling to find your own unique voice as a writer and author, trying to find what makes your work different, what makes it stand out. Voice, essentially, is the unique mixture of vocabulary, syntax, tone, and point of view that makes you as a writer. The way you write your story, a way only you can tell your story, should make your readers feel something. It’s almost manipulative, in a way, how we control our readers’ emotions, isn’t it?

Photo by gryffyn m from Pexels

I don’t believe that finding your own unique voice as a writer is an easy thing to do. Many times, in the early days of writing, we try to imitate our favorite authors and writers in an attempt to find who we are as writers. Is there anything wrong with that? Absolutely not. There is, of course, a difference between an author’s voice and character voice. Character voice is something a skilled author can imbibe upon any given character in a story, utilizing a unique tone and choice of vocabulary for said character. You may see more of a character’s voice in a story that’s written in first person, but this can be character’s voice. For example, The Giver (written by the great Lois Lowry) is written from the Jonas’ point of view, a twelve-year-old boy who’s about to receive his assignment in his community, and he’s anxious because he doesn’t really know where he fits in. In the first few pages of the novel, he’s deciding how he wants to describe how he feels at dinner discussion with his family unit. (He decides on apprehensive.) The narration is voiced through Jonas. Every word is carefully written from the point of view of Jonas.

However, one could say that this narration in The Giver is unique to Lowry, making it her voice as a writer. The vocabulary, tone, and point-of-view are unique to Lowry’s style. One definitely wouldn’t confuse it with, say, Ernest Hemingway or Emily Brontë.

Here are a few tips and exercises you can try for finding your voice as a writer:

  1. Be consistent.
    No matter what sort of style you use, what vocabulary or dialect you choose for your story, or even how flowery your description is, be sure to be consistent. If you like long, lengthy descriptions, try to stick to long, lengthy descriptions in your story. The one facet you may decide to vary on is POV. However, I wouldn’t change POV within the same story — that is, if you use first person, stick to first person in the same novel. What I mean is you may decide to use first person in one novel, and third person in another story. Switching between POV types within the same novel may be confusing for readers.
  2. Formal or colloquial?
    Decide whether you want to be formal or informal in your voice. Do you include swearing/cursing in your stories? Big, complex words? Or do you prefer more informal vocabulary and vernacular?
  3. Do you want your stories driven by description or dialogue?
    Some writers like lengthy passages of flowy description, while others prefer their stories to be driven forward more so by dialogue.
  4. Describe your voice (or what you want it to be) in five words.
    This can be a great exercise in figuring out who you want to be as a writer. Really think about what five words you would use to describe your style and voice.
  5. Ask your friends, family, fellow writers or critique partners to describe your voice in five words.
    Same concept as describing yourself, but you’re asking others to describe your writing. You may be truly surprised at the feedback you get.
  6. Analyze your favorite voices in writing.
    Make a list of a few of your favorite author voices and write down what you love most about them. Is it their description? Their dialogue? Their syntax? Their POV? Take what you discover and try to apply it to your own writing, or simply play around with a few scenes in that particular voice you’re trying to imitate.

No matter how you find your voice as a writer, try to be consistent, as it is a way readers can recognize you. However, bear in mind that it can take a lifetime to develop your true voice, so don’t fret if you don’t feel like you’ve quite gotten the hang of it. We’re all on this writing journey, trying to figure ourselves and our stories out.

Writing a Novel: The First Steps

Maybe the thought of writing an entire novel is daunting for you. Maybe you want to write one but don’t have an idea. Or perhaps you have an idea but don’t know where to start. Either way, I know how it is. When I wrote my first book that wasn’t garbage, I didn’t really know where to start. The first first book, the one that was garbage, I wrote by the seat of my pants the entire way, with no planning, no forethought, no nothing. It ended up with no real structured plot, no real goals, no motivations. That’s why I believe in the power of at least a little planning and plotting beforehand, even if you consider yourself a pantser. Just a little forethought can really go a long way in the quality of your novel.

Photo by Karina Curci from Pexels

That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to plot out every little detail of your novel, especially if you enjoy writing by the seat of your pants and seeing where the story and its characters take you. There’s nothing wrong with that. But knowing what your characters’ wants and goals are before you start writing can help you get to your ending a little more quickly — not to mention a little more neatly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of explorative writing, but that’s mostly to learn about my characters and who they are — not as a way to write a novel.

But there is something to be said about writing by the seat of your pants. No matter what gets you writing, be sure to write. You can’t edit a blank page. So whatever gets your fingers to that keyboard (or pen to paper), go for it.

Below are just a few of my own tips that I’ve learned over the years in my writing journey on how to start your novel.

  1. Start with a spark of an idea.
    It can be even a tiny glimpse of a scene, of a character, of a problem. I say spark of an idea, because it doesn’t have to be an entire idea for a novel. It can be just a tiny piece of the puzzle, and that’s what you’ll build your novel around. Prompts can be useful if you’re stuck for sparks, and you can find a ton of prompts on various writing websites.
  2. From that spark, figure out a loose plot.
    This is where character goals and motivations come in handy. By knowing what your character wants, you can throw obstacles in their way to keep them from reaching that ultimate goal. What will happen if your protagonist fails to reach their goal? What do they stand to lose? Essentially, that’s all plot is: the events that happen in a story that keep your character from gaining what they want. Granted, a novel is typically more ornate and intricate than just a bunch of plot points. But learning plot structure can help you mold your story, such as the Three-Act Structure (K.M. Weiland of Helping Writers Become Authors has a great series on this). By learning plot structure, you can predetermine where the major plot points of your story will go, and this can help you determine what plot points need to happen in your story. There’s a reason pre-determined plot structures, like the Three-Act Structure, are so popular; it’s the natural points, the inherent ebb and flow, in a story when audiences expect something major to happen.
  3. Get to writing! (And don’t worry about being perfect.)
    Whether you’re prone to plotting or pantsing, you should have at least an idea of what your characters want, what their goals are, and a loose plot structure. Like I quoted before, you can’t edit a blank page. Don’t worry about finding that perfect word or perfect phrase during your first draft. You can edit that later. Just write.
  4. Edit, rewrite, and rewrite.
    If there’s one big mistake I made on that first “novel”, it’s that I didn’t take the time to edit it. I didn’t go through it to make sure it adhered to proper plot structure of some sort; the characters had vague motivations and goals. In other words? It was a hot mess. Make sure you reread your story, check it for cohesiveness, for good flow. Find beta readers and get feedback. Be a nitpick, but remember that you can’t edit forever.

These are just some beginning steps to writing a novel. I want to be clear that it can be much more detailed and involved than just stringing some words together. Carefully think out your novel. Think of how you could sum up your novel and what it conveys in just a sentence or two.

As a reminder, I’m looking for writers, authors, and bloggers to interview on my new podcast (available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts!), so if you’re interested in being featured, email me at lithiumskylar@yahoo.com or comment on any post on my blog! I’m also now on Twitter and looking for mutual follows, so follow me @SkylarWwrites.

Writing Realistic Friendships

I wanted to talk today specifically about friendships — not romantic relationships. Like any relationship, a friendship has dynamics to it. It is a many layered thing, ever evolving, ever changing. There are ups and downs, good times and bad. Most real friendships are not shallow. It’s about give and take, a two-way street.

Look at your own friendships in life. You probably share the good and the ugly with them, and they support you through it all. But you give back in return, supporting them through good and bad times, through the ups and downs. My best friends had a small trophy made for me on the anniversary of my first suicide attempt, and it reads “For Making Bipolar Her Bitch”, followed by a quote from Carrie Fisher.

You also probably share a lot of the same views, whether socio-economic or political, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your characters have to share the same views on everything. In fact, varying views on different issues can create conflict in your story. For example, in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, Harry’s best friend, Ron, believed Harry put his name in the Goblet of Fire for the TriWizard Tournament, even though it wasn’t true, leading to the two best friends not to talk to each other for some time.

So, here are some tips for writing realistic friendships:

  1. They need something in common.
    Whether it’s a common interest, a shared trait, or a common belief, your characters should have something that draws them together. Ron and Harry both love quidditch, hate doing homework, and both are Gryffindors. There should be at least one thing, one rallying point for your friends to agree upon.
  2. It can’t always be happy-go-lucky and stars and rainbows.
    People fight, and while it’s not a fun thing, it can be a natural part of relationships. People don’t always get along 24/7 with loving stars in their eyes. In my novel, The Days Without You, Cat tries to force Kylie to cheer up after the loss of her mother, and when Cat learns that Kylie is throwing away her relationship with Adam, she walks out of Kylie’s life, telling her, “I’m done trying to make you open your eyes. Call me when you do.”
  3. Make sure you’ve fleshed out your protagonist’s bestie.
    While you’ve probably done extensive research for your story’s protagonist, it’s important to also build up your protagonist’s best friend into a real person — someone your readers will care for or relate to in some way. The best friend shouldn’t be just a best friend; they shouldn’t serve the sole purpose of being the best friend. They should have their own wants and goals, their own faults and flaws. In essence, they should be a well-rounded person.
  4. Give them backstory (if their friendship started before the beginning of your novel).
    In The Days Without You, we learn that Kylie and Cat have been friends since kindergarten, from the first day of school when Cat asked her to play with her at recess. But they’ve had their ups and downs, such as the time when Kylie lost her father in tenth grade, grew depressed, and stopped talking to Cat for a few months while she learned to accept her loss.
  5. Give them meaningful differences.
    While, yes, they should have some things in common, your best friends shouldn’t be the exact same person. Everyone has their differences, and this can be a source of conflict for your story. Where Harry can be firm and — frankly — sassy (“There’s no need to call me sir, professor” remains one of the greatest examples of Harry’s sassiness), Ron can be more timid and laid back.

What are your thoughts on best friends in books or film? There are always great examples out there of best friends! Han Solo and Chewbacca, Frodo and Sam, Harry, Ron and Hermione. What are your favorite friendships in literature and film, and for what reasons?

Story Ideas: Where to Get Them

Sometimes, it feels as though the ideas just won’t come. Your brain is dry of all inspiration. You stare blankly at a blank screen, attempting to will yourself to think of something, anything, to write. Maybe you’ve already written one manuscript and are attempting to write a second one. Maybe you’re worried you only had one good idea in you. I am here to tell you that there’s hope!

Photo by iam hogir from Pexels

Coming up with a story idea is just the first step in novel writing. Without an idea, there’s nothing to write about. Fortunately, inspiration can come from anywhere. I personally enjoy prompts, and currently have six or seven novel ideas written down in my notebook, thanks to various prompts I’ve found on the web. The current first-draft manuscript I’m working on, End of Days (working title), was inspired by an episode of Gotham. A lot of elements of my stories are derived from real-life situations from my own experiences.

So, yes, you can find inspiration from all around you, whether it’s a snippet of conversation you happen to overhear, or someone you see in public for a character idea. The world around you is rife with story ideas; you just have to reach out and snatch them up.

Here are a few places you can look for inspiration:

  1. Story/Dialogue/Character Prompts
    You’ll find tons of these on the internet on various writing websites. You can even find them sorted by genre. They’re little one- or two-line bits of text, usually with a premise of some sort of setting, situation, dialogue, or person. Personally, I find these very helpful for coming up with at least a premise of a novel, even if I haven’t come up with an entire plot yet.
  2. The Classics
    There’s no denying that Little Shop of Horrors is a work of pure musical and story-telling mastery. (Okay, I admit it — it’s my favorite musical, and I’m dying to see the current off-Broadway cast.) I was interested to learn that the stage version (not the movie version!) is based on the Greek tragedy of greed — the idea that greed kills anything and everything around you. The lyrics of Little Shop of Horrors also draw from the 18th century German literary movement, Sturm and Drang, to add to the feel of the play. (“Feel the Sturm and Drang in the air, yeah.”) So, my whole point? The classics, including Roman and Greek mythology, can be great for inspiration.
  3. Ask Yourself: What if?
    Real life is great for finding story inspiration. Whether it’s an interaction you had with a friend, someone you saw in public who was intriguing, or that time you were in the hospital, you can draw from the world around you. Take that one little snippet and ask yourself, “What if?” Some of the greatest story ideas start with a simple question: What if?
  4. Fairy Tales, Fables, or Legends
    Similar to looking to the classics for inspiration, you can find great ideas by taking a peek at fairy tales or old folk tales. Wicked was inspired by The Wizard of Oz and tells the tales of the great witches of Oz.
  5. Analyze the Elements of Fiction
    Consider the important elements that make up fiction: character, plot, setting, style, point-of-view, theme. Pick one and really think about what you would like to read in a work that has that element, whether it’s a certain strong character, a particular setting, a theme that’s personal to you.

There are a lot of places to find inspiration for a story idea; you just have to look around! Of course, coming up with a spark of an idea is just the beginning — you then have to build the story around the elements of fiction.

Where do you get your story ideas?

The Crutch of Show, Don’t Tell

We hear it all the time: show, don’t tell. It’s repeated over and over and drilled into us as writers. But, I don’t believe in “showing” instead of “telling” in every single instance in your writing. Plenty of blogs give advice on how to show instead of tell, so I’m not going to do that here. Instead, I believe in the importance of both showing and telling in your writing, because if you show all the time, in every sentence of your story, your manuscript will end up ten million words long, and who wants to read a book that’s ten million words long? (Okay, maybe there are some people…)

Photo by Agnese Lunecka from Pexels

Some of the greats included telling/exposition in their work. As I’m currently rereading the Harry Potter series, I’ve been enjoying the explicit amount of exposition in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. But it’s placed so well, so artfully, that you barely notice it. Rowling had three books-worth of information to catch you up on, but she leaves the exposition and telling to the important stuff, like explaining why Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black, isn’t in his life.

Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not saying you shouldn’t show at all. I’m all for showing. Showing emotionally charged moments can help draw your reader in. There’s a big difference between “Her eyes stung with tears, but she blinked them away and swallowed the lump rising in her throat.” and “She was sad but tried to hide it.”

Description is important… in the right amount.

For example, there’s no need to give every little detail of a character turning on a light switch, unless, of course, that light switch has significant meaning to your story. No need to describe in detail a character getting changed out of their day clothes. You don’t want to overwhelm your readers with description.

Save your highly detailed descriptions for the story-significant parts. Save showing for the emotional moments, the moments that will draw your reader in and leave them feeling raw. If you’re writing in first person POV, really think about the details your character notices as they move about your story and setting. Think about your own POV, in your own life—you wouldn’t notice details about every little motion you make or about every little thing in your setting. If we tried to describe on paper every single thing in a room, we’d have twenty pages of paper filled with insignificant minutiae that nobody cares about.

So, where exactly does “telling” fall in all of this? Think of it as a continuum. On one end is showing, on the other end is telling. Exposition would fall towards the telling end, while a particular moment that is significant to the plot and emotionally charged (and, therefore, full of detail) would fall towards the showing end.

Ultimately, the amount of description you put into your work is your choice. But finding the right balance between showing and exposition—that’s the real challenge.

When Enough Is Enough for Your Novel

At what point is your novel is done? Completed? Finished? How many revisions and edits are enough? Basically, when is enough, enough?

I recently reread my own self-pubbed novel, The Days Without You, and damnit if I didn’t find another error—a missing word. Even though it was a teeny, tiny preposition that my eyes almost glossed right over, all I could think was, “Well, damn.” Fortunately, I didn’t find any others. But there are still things I consider changing. Long to change. It’s not that I didn’t pour over revisions and edits, round after round, to make my manuscript perfect. I put my heart and soul into revisions, trying to make every scene perfect and meaningful, adding something to the story, taking parts out. I never truly felt like my story was complete. Grueling, it was. But it does beg the question: How do you know when you’re done with revisions?

There are writers out there who will revise a novel for years. I, myself, spent years on The Days Without You. Let me just tell you this: You’ll probably never be fully satisfied with your manuscript, especially if you’re looking into self-publishing. At some point, you have to put it down for good and tell yourself it’s finished, even if you’re concerned about one thing or another. And let me tell you something else: That it’s perfectly fine. That was a hard lesson for me to learn. Perfection is an unattainable goal. Let me tell you something else: You thought that at some point you’d reach that ultimate dream that is a manuscript without needing a single change? You were wrong. A comma here, a semicolon there. You might think, “Maybe I should have changed this or that.”

Like previously mentioned, you need to make the decision to stop making those minute edits and changes. Here are some questions to ask yourself when it comes to making edits or revisions to your story:

Is this edit/revision adding anything to my story’s characterization, plot, etc.?
If the changes you are making alter the manuscript’s plot, characters, character goals, or other major pieces of your story (especially in a major way), you’re probably not done yet with revisions. Work through your characterization, any plot holes or any parts that drag or don’t add anything to the overall story.

Am I looking at my manuscript with fresh eyes?
I believe it’s important to put a manuscript to the side, leaving it untouched, for some time. Whether that’s just a week or several months for you, it’s crucial to be fresh and new again when rereading a story. You’ll be better prepared to find the parts of your novel that need revising or—as much as we hate to admit it sometimes—major rewrites or removal, in some cases. Once you’ve written the first draft, take time to work on other things or hobbies and set your manuscript aside for some time.

Am I simply tinkering or fiddling with my manuscript?
If you’re at the point when you find that you’re only making tiny changes or alterations, it’s probably time to say, “I’m DONE, mother{insert callous, crude, derogatory word that I won’t put here}!” and start looking for professional editors or proofreaders if you’re going the self-pub route, or start researching agents if you’re going the traditional route.

The time comes when you’re not making your book better; you’re only making it different. Still doubting yourself? Find some beta readers and get feedback.

Art is never finished, only abandoned.

Leonardo da Vinci