Character Development Exercise

Hello everybody! Hope everyone is doing well this week. I’m gearing up for the end of my freshman year, running headfirst into three written exams, two final papers, one final presentation (which luckily is already out of the way as of yesterday), and one final performance for my theater class. Wish me luck. I’m definitely going to need it.

Today, I want to talk about character development. I wrote a previous post a couple months ago about creating character profiles (linked here), and I still believe in the effectiveness of this into getting to know a lot about your characters. However, I want to introduce a new exercise that I have found to be even more effective.

This past week, I’ve been focused on fleshing out character development. In my novel, I had relatively strong characters, but their development was choppy and disjointed. More needed to be seen from them in order to make the story feel whole. After a lot of thought, I revisited working on my characters individually.

The Exercise

I discovered this tool while searching for character development exercises online. After working through the questions for a few days, I can speak for its effectiveness.

This link leads to a blog post from 2010 by the creator of the blog, Labotomy of a Writer, Anastasia V. Pergakis. It contains an incredibly detailed character questionnaire that reads like an interview. Working through these questions allows you to answer questions in your character’s voice and allow your character to take full shape.

I have learned more about my main character in the last few days than I could have imagined. I have found three new stories of her past to explore in various places in the book, stories that blend in seamlessly. Suddenly, my fingers would be on autopilot, pulling new ideas out of thin air. I feel like a new writer again.

I highly recommend giving this post a look. I feel like it gets deep into both a character’s personality and their motivations and goals, which as we know is very important to the progression of your story. Happy writing!

How To Turn A First Draft Into A Second Draft

Hey guys! Welcome back to Fluff About Fantasy on this fine Saturday. I’ve been up for hours volunteering at the local farmer’s market and finishing up some homework. I’m really looking forward to writing today; I’m on my second round of revisions moving towards a third completed draft.

So today, I want to talk about how to take the first draft of your novel and turn it into a second draft. Since I’ve just recently finished this process, I thought it would be a good idea to show you some of the steps of moving forward with your story. Don’t worry, we’ll get back to more first drafting and researching processes again!

The Second Draft: The Creation Stage

I read in an article somewhere, though I can’t remember which one right now, that the first draft is to get everything down on paper and the second draft is to make the story look like you knew what you were doing all along. I think that this is a very powerful and very useful way to approach drafting, especially in the early stages. Your second draft is a great time to fix all of those places, large and small, where you knew what you wanted to happen, but didn’t know what to say. This is where your story is really going to come to life.

Step Zero: Take Time Away.

Before you can even think about touching your first draft again, you have to put it away. The minimum time recommended is two weeks. Many authors like to have at least a month away from a draft before they come back. Others say it’s fine to come back whenever you start itching to write again. Regardless of your timeframe, time away from your novel will allow you to look at it with fresh eyes and catch mistakes much more comprehensively. Personally, I put mine aside for two weeks and distracted myself with Christmastime and spending time with family.

Step One: The Readthrough

The first step is to confront your first draft with a reader’s eyes. For this step, you’ll need a pen, a highlighter, your draft, and a comfy place to sit. Once you’ve settled in, it’s time to read! Read your entire draft start to finish with as little interruptions as possible. It helps if you’re a fast reader. If you read slowly, try to finish the book in as little time as possible. Don’t leave long gaps in between readings (i.e. a full day or more).

As you read, take notes. This isn’t really a place to fix typos, though if you’re a nitpicky reviser, it’s okay to make note of them. Mainly, you’re going to be focusing on big and small changes. Larger ones include items like a whole chapter needing to be reworked or you may find you need a whole new chapter! Smaller ones can be word choice, phrasing, or a new passage that would improve description or worldbuilding. Any and all questions you have about your own work or new ideas you want to incorporate should be noted down.

Leave no stone unturned. Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings. If it doesn’t work, even if you love it, get rid of it.

Step Two: The Revision Phase

Once you’ve read through your draft and made all the notes you want to make, you should have a good indication of how much work is ahead of you. Now onto revising. There are many revision methods that authors take to complete their next drafts. I’m going to go over a few options.

1. Chronologically: This is the method that I used. I worked through my changes one chapter at a time, starting from the prologue and ending with the last chapter. Any changes that crossed multiple chapters, I made notes of and made sure to incorporate elements when I got there. I felt like I could see myself progressing much more clearly, and it made me feel closer to the end with each step.

2. Major vs. Minor: Many authors like to focus on making their largest changes first. Plot holes, weak characterization: issues like that are confronted first. These tend to span multiple chapters or even the entire novel. Once major changes are made, then writers confront the smaller issues. These changes usually include items on a chapter by chapter basis.

3. Rewriting: This method is the most time consuming, in my opinion, but some authors find this to be very useful. This method of revision is a conscious choice to start over from the beginning. This is an entire rewrite of your novel. Yes, I know it sounds crazy. But some people do find it easier to incorporate their changes through the natural writing process rather than inserting changes in here and there. Hey, once you’ve done it once, the next one is easier!

Once you’ve finished making all of your changes, big and small, you’ve got yourself a second draft! Isn’t that exciting?!

Making Character Profiles

As requested by my followers, today, I want to focus on creating strong characters that can carry your fantasy story.

Now in terms of what is more important, plot or characters, I have an equivocal opinion.

They are both equally important.

Let me tell you why. Your characters are the ones who are going to drive the story. Their decisions, their thought processes, and their emotions will influence every tiny detail of your plot. More than often than not, your characters will also change the direction of your story entirely, leading you to create new plot points that you may never have thought of before.

When I am creating my main characters, I want them to be as complete as possible. I want to know exactly what they look like, where they come from, and their strengths and weaknesses. Because of this, I rely on this pdf tool from EpiGuide that I discovered around age 13.

The link above will send you to a full length character questionnaire/profile with a fairly comprehensive set of questions geared toward authors looking to get deep inside their character’s heads. Now, when you first open the document, you may think it is insanely long. And truth be told, it is. It takes me a few hours to come up with responses and fill things out. However, when I’m finished, I feel like I have a much better understanding of my characters, and my writing always improves by incorporating little details from this profile.

So. What kind of information are you going to create through this character profile?

  1. Basic information: Name, nicknames, birthday, hometown, basic information about their home, job, and relationships (if applicable)
  2. Physical appearance: very detailed questions about physical features as well as the character’s general style (what type of clothes they wear and any prominent accessories
  3. Speech and Language/Communication: This section is one of my favorites; it’s really interesting and something you wouldn’t normally think about. These questions focused on the way your character communicate. Do they have an accent? Any words or phrases that they traditionally use? What about body language?
  4. Everyday Behavior/Habits: This section is going to include things like what a typical day for your character looks like, any personal habits that they may subscribe to, as well as their skills and hobbies.
  5. Family of Origin: basic information about the character’s family and their relationship to their family.
  6. The Past: Past events and memories that have shaped the way the character is today.
  7. Relationships to Others: This section is very important. Not only do the questions help you discover how your character relates to people they know, but also people in places of authority, strangers, people less fortunate, etc. It also includes questions about how other people view your character: what their reputation is to the outside world.
  8. Mental Attitude and Personal Beliefs: These questions go deep into a character’s personal values, fears, and mental outlook on life. It also helps to identify a character’s core strengths and weaknesses. A personal favorite section of mine, I think this is the most important of the entire questionnaire.
  9. Likes/Favorites: A fun set of identification questions to round out your character’s favorite things.

Now, this is a lot of information to take in. But I would like to point it that this is not mandatory, nor the end-all be-all of character design. It is a tool to help you create and think about what are going to be the driving forces behind your characters that will move the plot forward. Personally, I utilize these solely for my main set of characters: my main character, love interest (if applicable), and important secondary characters who have a constant presence (and even for these, I don’t necessarily answer every question).

What I hope for my readers is that this tool that I am sharing with you will inspire you to dig deeper when creating your characters, help to identify areas you may not have considered during character design, and will help you on your journey to writing a fantastic piece of fantasy literature.

Music as Inspiration

Hello everybody! I got inspired to write a post on music from my boyfriend, Daniel, and some discussions I had on Twitter yesterday with people interested in finding what music inspired people to write.

Music has always inspired me to create. I like picking out crescendos and dips in the music in which the most important moments of a scene lies. Nine times out of ten, I will have music on when I’m writing. It helps me to focus. I created a long playlist for my series that inspire different scenes, different moods, and different environments, and it’s always helped put me in the mood.

I would like to offer a good number of suggested songs for the fantasy genre in particular to help inspire you to create something amazing. I’ve sorted everything below by the type of scene or interaction or character I envision the song representing. I hope you all enjoy my choices and interpretations!

Note: All of these song selections have come from my playlist for my series. Feel free to comment on your opinions of these songs or offer a suggestion to add to the list!

Strong Willed Characters

  • Whatever It Takes by Imagine Dragons
  • Bird Set Free by Sia
  • Unstoppable by Sia
  • Rise Up by Andra Day
  • Something Wild (Acoustic) by Lindsey Stirling
  • Magnetic by Jessie J
  • Yellow Flicker Beat by Lorde
  • Minimal Beat by Lindsey Stirling
  • Moments by Tove Lo

Sad Scenes That Require Your Character to Reflect and Pull Themselves Up By the Bootstraps

  • Some Nights by fun.
  • Goodnight Goodnight by Maroon 5
  • Trade Mistakes by Panic! at the Disco
  • This is Gospel by Panic! at the Disco
  • Don’t You Worry Child by Swedish House Mafia

Breakups

  • Molly (feat. Brendon Urie of Panic! at the Disco) by Lil Dicky

Relationship Tension

  • Irresistible by Fall Out Boy
  • Anything Could Happen by Ellie Goulding
  • Something Better by Audien, Lady Antebellum
  • Infinity by One Direction
  • Love’s Just a Feeling (feat. Rooty) by Lindsey Stirling
  • If I Lose Myself by OneRepublic
  • Alone Together by Fall Out Boy
  • Night Changes by One Direction
  • Coming Back For You by Maroon 5

Passionate Relationships

  • The Last of the Real Ones by Fall Out Boy
  • Good Thing by Sage The Gemini, Nick Jonas

Sexual Tension/Release

  • PILLOWTALK by Zayn

Those “Prove Yourself” Moments

  • The Arena by Lindsey Stirling
  • Immortals by Fall Out Boy
  • Centuries by Fall Out Boy
  • My Song Knows What You Did In The Dark by Fall Out Boy
  • The Phoenix by Fall Out Boy
  • Viva La Vida by Coldplay
  • Just One Yesterday by Fall Out Boy, Foxes
  • No Place Like Home by Todrick Hall

Happy Ending Scene After A Long Struggle

  • Straight Into the Fire by Zedd

Underestimated Characters That Are Destined to Succeed

  • Castle by Halsey

Delicious Villains (very specific type of villain)

  • Bartholomew by The Silent Comedy

Anthems to Character Pairings (can apply to relationships or friendships)

  • Homemade Dynamite (feat. Khalid, Post Malone, and SZA) – REMIX by Lorde
  • Creatures Of The Night by Hardwell, Austin Mahone

Fight Scenes

  • Say Amen (Saturday Night) by Panic! at the Disco

Tips for First Drafts

Hello friends! For today’s post, I would love to talk about first drafts. For many young authors, this can be a bit of a scary concept. Taking an idea, whether you just came up with it or have been toying with it for years, and turning it into a full fledged novel is a daunting task. When you look at the blinking cursor on the blank page, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

But that’s what I’m here for!

I want to give you some helpful tips on writing first drafts based on what I have learned in my NaNoWriMo experience to get you from page 1 all the way to the end.

#1: Get prepared.

Now, depending on whether you’re an outliner or a pantser (see this article to figure out which one you are), this step may or may not apply to you. But in my personal experience, I think it is always a good idea to start out with at least some idea of where you’re going. At the very least, a basic idea of beginning, middle, and end is a good idea as well as knowledge about your main character(s). For fantasy novels, I would also highly, highly recommend having more than a basic knowledge of your universe. It will save you so much time in the long run than creating details out of thin air where you may forget to keep them consistent. If you prefer more detailed preparation, I like to use a plot outline that I have the option of sticking to or deviating from as new ideas come to light. These tactics will serve you well as you begin drafting.

#2: Just start.

The hardest part of drafting is starting.

No, really, it is.

Your head is often filled with doubts. Is this the right idea? Do I know enough about what I want to write to start writing? Am I a good enough writer to start a novel on a whim? What am I doing? It can be difficult to shut off those thoughts, especially if this is your first novel attempt.

But I promise you, you are good enough.

All you have to do is start. You don’t even have to start at the beginning if you don’t want to; you can start from any point in your story where you have inspiration. Just get words down on the page. Which brings me to my next point:

#3: Keep going.

Drafts often end up partially finished, whether due to lack of inspiration or lack of motivation. I have found that a good way to combat this is to just keep writing. Even if you know it’s terrible. These moments can be fixed in the second draft when revisions begin. I read a fantastic tip in an article by Marissa Meyer, the author of Cinder, right before I began Chasing Fae that really stuck with me as I started NaNoWriMo.

Write fast.

That’s all. Write fast. When taken at face value, it may seem a little confusing. But when explained, it becomes a fantastic concept. Essentially, Meyer sets herself a relatively short time frame to complete her first draft. A month is usually a good place to start. Then you stick to that time frame, whatever you have to do. You skip over sections that you can’t seem to connect to another at the moment to places where you have more inspiration. I wrote Chasing Fae from both ends before meeting up in the middle. It’s a lot easier than you would think, and the end result is very satisfying.

And there you have it! My best advice on first drafts. Feel free to comment with any other pieces of advice or stories about your own experience with first drafts!

A Beginner’s Guide to Imagery

This article was a specific request by my sister, Morgan, and I am hoping that it will help out many beginning authors who need a little extra help when it comes to thinking about imagery. I do not claim to be an expert on the subject; in fact, I think incorporating imagery is something that takes a lot of dedication and practice to get it just right. But nevertheless, I would like to share some thoughts on the subject that I believe would help get you in the right mindset.

Setting

One of the most important places to incorporate imagery is when describing setting. You want to be as descriptive as possible. Half of the battle in writing good fantasy stories is making your readers feel fully immersed in your universe. The easiest thing to do is start by incorporating the five senses. I know it sounds incredibly simplistic, but the following questions should showcase why this works so well.

  1. What does your character see from where they are standing? What does the scenery look like? Do they notice the colors and the hues of locations or objects? What people are visible, if any? What are they doing?
  2. What can your character hear? Do they hear people speaking, the bustle of daily life around them? Are they listening to music echo through the streets? If they interact with a certain character, how does their voice change the tone of what is being said?
  3. What smells are lingering? Does the air have a certain scent to it? Is there food or flowers nearby that can waft through your character’s nose?
  4. Don’t forget; the air can have a certain taste too, especially when other scents are involved. Taste should be used sparingly except in cases where you really want to emphasize the environment or if your character is eating (but also should be used sparingly in that case).
  5. What is your character around that is tangible? Do their clothes feel tight and restrictive, or loose and light with fabric that easily slides across their skin? What are they holding? Is it significant enough to be worth mentioning?

Now: something important to remember. Just because you have a lot of information to use doesn’t mean you should use it all. Imagery has to be used appropriately; you don’t want to overload your reader with too much detail. The story becomes too muddled and cluttered. You want to incorporate just enough to shape the world you’re trying to convey: no more, no less.

Characters

When it comes to characters, the best way to incorporate imagery is to capture personality through visual cues.

How does your character walk? Do they carry themselves with confidence, or do they hide with slumped shoulders and a closed off stance? Body language communicates emotion. It is a great way to comply by the “showing not telling” mantra.

Describing communication is also important. Does your character have an accent? Do they emphasize certain syllables on words that is unique? When they are happy, how does their face change when they’re speaking? When they’re listening, what is their neutral face? What happens if someone shocks them?

Again, as with the above section on setting, make sure you keep things clear, but also simple. Clogging characters with physical descriptions or other imagery also detracts from what you are attempting to accomplish in terms of description.

So, there you have it! A simple guide to basic imagery work. I hope to expand on this as the blog expands and as I improve my imagery skills myself.

Know Your Genre Before You Write

Regardless of whether you feel confident in your writing abilities, it is always a good idea to expose yourself as much as possible to the genre you plan to write in. Not only can you test how unique your idea is, but you can also gain a lot of insight to what is popular in the genre and the best writing techniques. For example, you will undoubtedly discover the level of detail necessary to pull of an effective fantasy story, especially in terms of worldbuilding and characterization. There is much to be gained from reading. After all, it’s likely you’re planning on writing a fantasy story because you were inspired by something in that genre in your lifetime.

Now, there’s a lot of information out there about which fantasy books and series are “must-reads”. Some writers even go as far to say that you shouldn’t even attempt writing until you’ve read a certain selection. Personally, I don’t think you should chase after a book that you really don’t want to read or will not finish for whatever reason. And by no means is certain books the end-all, be-all of the fantasy genre. Depending on what you’re working on and your own personal fantasy interests, some popular books may not be for you. They may be so far away from what you want out of your own writing that it makes absolutely no sense to ever pick up the book.

And that’s okay! I’m exactly the same way. In fact, I’ll let you in on a little secret. *glances left, and then right before leaning in to whisper* I couldn’t finish the Game of Thrones series. And… *voice drops down lower* I still haven’t gotten around to reading the Lord of the Rings.

And yet, I reached the threshold where I felt comfortable moving forward with my novel. Every author reaches their comfort level at a different point. You just have to find yours. (And by the way, your threshold can’t be zero. You do need to put it in a little effort.)

Below, I am leaving a list of fantastic fantasy books to look into depending on which sub-genre you plan to write in. Anything I’ve read, I will highlight in bold so you know I practice what I’m preaching. Please remember that this is by no means an exhaustive list; I’m posting what I think I can confidently recommend based on my own reading and reviews online. Feel free to comment if I miss something major you believe should be added in or if I should add another sub-genre! Happy reading!

Epic Fantasy:

  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R Tolkien
  • The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien
  • Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin
  • Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson (I’m about to start this series!)
  • Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas
  • A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas
  • The Inheritance Cycle series by Christopher Paolini
  • The Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima
  • Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis (made it through about half the series

Urban Fantasy:

  • The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare
  • The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
  • The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne
  • Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews

Dark Fantasy:

  • Girls of Paper and Fire series by Natasha Ngan

Historical Fantasy:

  • Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
  • The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare

Are You an Outliner or Pantser?

There’s two traditional types of people when it comes to long form fiction or novel writers: pantsers and outliners.

Pantsers tend to fly by the seat of their pants, as the name suggests. When they come up with an idea, they jump in head first with little to no preparation. Mostly none. They rely primarily on their inspiration and whatever their brain comes up with in the moment to put words down on the page. In my opinion, pantsers are a very special type of writer. I know personally, I couldn’t create half as well if I didn’t give myself at least a very basic outline. But these writers can create gold out of essentially nothing but an idea and a strong belief in said idea. I admire that.

Of course, outliners are incredible writers in their own right. Outlines give writers a little order to the chaos of creativity swirling around in their brains. These can range from a simple bullet point list of plot points to a comprehensive scene-by-scene playbook. For me, my outline guides me down the right path and gives me a base to stand on to embellish and create off of. A little prep work can go a long, long way and sometimes bring you closer to a finished draft faster, depending on how you work.

One tool that I would like to recommend to the outliners is an Excel spreadsheet that I discovered on a fantasy and science fiction blog about a year ago. Click here to see the original post and download the tool to follow along.

This worksheet is the most incredible outline tool I have ever seen, and it is a great way to really flesh out a story.

Here’s how it works: First, you write your story idea in one sentence. Sum up everything in one sentence, and try to keep it a reasonable length. Then, split that idea into three sentences: beginning, middle, and end. These sentences are automatically transferred down to the next section where you will split three into nine (beginning of the beginning, middle of the beginning, end of the beginning, etc). Eventually, nine becomes twenty-seven, and twenty-seven becomes eighty-one full sentences that give you a detailed layout of how your scenes are going to go in your story.

You come up with ideas that you had no idea you had when using this tool. I found myself pulling scenes and characterization moments out of thin air, and they actually fit beautifully with what I was hoping to convey in my novel. I planned out almost the full trilogy that I plan to write with three separate spreadsheets, and it was absolutely crucial to making sure that I could successfully carry long arcs that would not seem repetitive or burn out too early. I would highly recommend it to any serious writer, pantsers and outliners alike.

Which type do you fall into? Comment below and share your experiences.