New Ideas & Learning from the Pros

I used to think that working on more than one writing project at a time would lead to hundreds of unfinished stories. In a way, I still do. But after trying to write the same novel for almost 2 years, I needed a break.

While at work, I came up with a ‘what if’ that evolved into a story idea:

What if humans are incapable of seeing perfection?

A bunch of other questions popped up after that, until I ended up with a high fantasy story idea (I’m calling it HFI until I find a better name) that feels like a fairy-tale. A dark fairy-tale if that’s possible.

This all sounded great—to me at least—until I realised it needed to be written in 3rd person.

I have very limited experience with writing in 3rd person. I needed help, so I decided to learn from authors with a few books under their belts. I could’ve chosen any experienced writers, but I wanted their books to be in the same genre as mine. It also helped that their characters are around the same age as the ones I’m writing about. I ended up picking Garth Nix, Kristin Cashore, and Sarah J. Maas.

Below are a few notes I made while flicking through their books. (Please remember that the notes taken are not a reflection of the writer’s work. I wrote whatever thoughts ran through my head at the time, including things I needed to remember during the first draft—I get bogged by all the ‘rules’ and forget that I can break them whenever I want).

Sabriel – Garth Nix

  • Allow yourself to use as many adverbs and adjectives as you want in the first draft. Include empty words. Most can be removed during editing. Don’t delete all, or it will feel stilted.
  • Break rules. Use was, had, did, has, etc.
  • Determine the character’s voice and use it. Don’t let the writing be stiff just because it’s 3rd
  • Everyone sees things differently. Let the character’s view of the world speak.
  • Allow yourself to write paragraphs of history and information. It doesn’t all have to be used in dialogue.
  • Include plenty of description. Don’t imply everything and hope the reader is paying attention. Make the world vivid and real in the reader’s mind, even if you have to make it real in yours first.

Graceling – Kristin Cashore

  • Make the writing reflect the character’s mood, task, or motive. When the character is focussed on a task, give the writing tunnel vision.
  • Every character will use a different vocabulary and pause at different places. Some will use long sentences; others will speak in short sentences with very direct content. Includes using contractions and the Oxford ‘and’.
  • The characters will keep track of the weather, season, and time of day if they don’t have access to clocks or calendars. Weather will affect the difficulty of a task and possible outcome.
  • Vary sentence length and syntax (where commas are placed).
  • Give the character an opinion about their superiors, inferiors, and equals. Bring it up when describing scenes with these people.

Throne of Glass – Sarah J. Maas

  • Make the writing feel personal. Imagine you’re writing in 1st person, but with ‘she’/’he’ and character names instead of ‘I’. If that is too difficult, write it in 1st person and convert it to 3rd during revisions.
  • If writing with multiple POV characters, make it clear which character is speaking within the first paragraph. This is especially important when both are in the scene.
  • Doesn’t have to mention a name. Could use a feature, an action, a setting, surrounding characters, or unique voice/quirk of that character.
  • Every character will have their prejudices. They will all be unreliable narrators in some way. Don’t let a character be perfect or have a clear view of the world.
  • Look into their history. Their experiences will shape how they see the world and the people around them.
  • A minor villain can simply be misunderstood. Let the enemy of one character be understood and respected by another
  • This also applies to POV characters. The actions of one POV character will not always be understood by anther POV character.
  • Don’t explain the motives of one character to another unless there is a severe disagreement and they feel obligated to explain themselves. Some may lie to avoid vulnerability.

Have you ever done something similar to this? Do you have any advice or want to include something I missed? Tell me in the comments


Voice Issues

For the last two years, I’ve been trying to write a book I wittily named Out of Time (I like using puns in my titles). So far I’ve written three vastly different chapter outlines, numerous backstory re-writes, and just over 20,000 words of the actual novel. Unfortunately, I’ve had to strip back 12,000 of those words to accommodate the new outlines.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m super happy with the alterations. The plot improved each time I revised, and has become something I’m excited to write.

So, why haven’t I finished the novel?

Voice. I’m struggling to find Kasia’s voice.

In the original plan, Kasia was a character full of hopes and dreams. Sure, her situation was terrible, but she pushed her fears aside to pursue her goals. Kasia pretty much vomited rainbows and butterflies.

As you can imagine, she didn’t make a very good narrator. There were times when she was so positive and eager that I wanted to gouge my eyes out.

Cue backstory re-write.

I made her suffer. In fact, I think I went a little too far in terms of psychological trauma. Oops.

Oh well, she lost that annoying Little Miss Sunshine tone and entered Mr Grumpy territory. I cringed as I typed that analogy. Ugh.

New Kasia is angry—and a little unstable. She has a bad temper and poor impulse control, which occasionally leads to dangerous and life-threatening behaviour.

Ah, much better. I could talk about New Kasia for hours.

What I haven’t been able to do, however, is write as New Kasia. I tried switching to third person limited, to no avail. Next I tried writing a synopsis in first person to get a feel for her voice. While it produced some good material, she sounded far too angsty.

In the end I caved and randomly generated a scene from some site I can no-longer recall. I wanted something unrelated to the story so as to avoid growing attached.

Massive failure.

In an unexpected twist, the scene flowed without effort. I enjoyed writing it so much that I want to include it in the novel (dun duuun). As for her voice, I think I found it. I still haven’t used it in a planned scene, though, so I don’t want to count my chickens just yet. Fingers crossed.

What about you? Are you having trouble with your character’s voice, or do you have a method of finding it?