Plotting or Pantsing: The Cluster Compromise

I am a man of science.

I believe in order, in logic, in planning and outlining and testing hypotheses with a careful recording of each step of the process.

And then there's this other guy that lives inside of me. He's big, he's green, and he doesn't like to plan. Hulk smash plans. Hulk looks at my careful plot outlines and does this:


And any writer knows that sometimes fate or the natural progress of your narrative, no matter how carefully planned it is, will do that to you, too: you're writing and suddenly an unforeseen idea makes it onto the page and takes your careful plot and thrashes it like a dog with a chew toy. But still, I like a plan. I like to know where I am headed, even though life has a way of throwing up detour signs at us.

So how do I reconcile my need to plan and plot with the Big Green Pants-er Guy inside who just wants to thrash?

I do a little of both.

I have a very basic outline of my WIP, but to be honest, I don't even know exactly how it's going to end. At first, this lack of a plan would hit me in the middle of the night with the force of a thousand gamma rays. What the heck am I doing? I would ask, and think I need a plan. This free fall first draft is going to make me nuttier than Loki on his worst day. But sometimes there are advantages to having an alter ego that lives purely for the moment, for winging it and seeing what happens. Sure, he decimates whole cities, but he also gets stuff done. So with this WIP, I brought out the Hulk.

All stories are made up of a series of scenes held together by an overall narrative arc and when I tried to tell him that he just grunted, "Hulk write backwards." Knowing I would have to fix a lot of the grammar in his draft, I nonetheless let him go at a few scenes and we developed the technique of scene clustering. Together we are writing this draft as a series of scenes, one scene at a time, and seeing where it goes. This is probably only possible (or tolerable for me) because I had a very rough outline in mind, and I've found that when I can concentrate on a scene at a time, I'm not as overwhelmed by the big picture, the whole storyline.

On a series of index cards, I wrote down  all of the things that I knew had to happen in this book, which is somewhat complicated because it moves forward and backward in time. And then I began to choose a scene at a time and just write it, then move on to another one. Instead of the neat document files on my laptop that I've had for previous books, ones with labels like "Chapter One", "Chapter Twelve", I now have a series of much shorter doc files with names like "J tells B at party" or "after the snake scene", which make no sense to anyone else on the planet, but who cares? Stark is not above snooping through my files, but I don't think anyone else is. The first draft, as Hemingway reminds us, is always, um, crap.

I can see the whole thing taking shape already. When I see how the pieces fit into the whole, I make notes and then I'll merge files to put the scenes together. I print each scene out as I go along and put each one in a binder, and because they're short docs (compared to a whole chapter), I can very easily literally shuffle them around into proper order in the binder and then eventually merge the files into the proper order. The macro picture is emerging from the micro, I'm producing a draft while feeling less pressure to have it all ordered from word one, and Hulk is relatively happy, although he still feels there should be 95% more thrashing in the book than I care to add.

So if you're feeling a bit overwhelmed by your outline and the pressure to fulfill it, breaking the entire narrative and the plan into smaller chunks works. Take it from a scientist who demands order and a big green guy who's all about breaking things into chunks. It may appear to be madness, as the line from Hamlet goes, but there be a method in it. And so far, it's working pretty well.

Best of luck with whatever planning method you choose.

What’s Your Point?

So this month at YAvengers we’re being organised folks who are talking about decisions to make before you write. Point of view, tense, yada yada. I get it. It’s important. But hey, it’s not exactly the most interesting part of writing is it? And if you’re anything like me, you probably already have a vague idea of how you want to tell the story because you’ve got a scene or two in your head and there are words floating around and yeah, you know what you’re doing.

JARVIS likes projecting words everywhere, so I may be getting confused, but I’m pretty sure that’s how writing works.

how bout that

I’m going to talk about considering the theme and messages of your novel. You may not think that’s something to do before you start, but trust me, your future self will thank you. It’ll also make outlining / plotting easier, and with any luck, it might just help you make some of the other decisions more easily, particularly things like tense.

The message of the novel: sounds fairly self-explanatory. What are you trying to say? With dystopia this is very often a criticism of our own society, but there are variations. Maybe what the novel’s saying is if we don’t do something about climate change soon, we’ll end up losing half the population to rising sea levels. Or maybe what it’s saying is our media obsession with death and gore is going to lead us to watch people die on live TV. Who knows?

So the message is kind of the point you’re making. It’s often easier to pick out in stuff like dystopia, because they’re much more obvious about it. They’re pointing something out about our society, so that’s usually going to be central to the message.

Got it.


But themes? Well, they’re often misunderstood, so my definition here’s gonna be if a high schooler was writing an essay on your novel, what would they be looking at? Picking out a couple of examples, “class” and “social position” in The Great Gatsby or “religion” in Tess of the d’Urbervilles are astonishingly overdone in essays, but at least you know what you’re talking about.

And this is where it gets interesting. Once you start thinking about the themes (and I really do find it helps to think about people writing essays on it, so if you want to try thinking up some essay titles, that can help prompt questions about what’s really important to the book you’re writing), you can make other decisions from a more informed position.

In a book I was recently working on, one of the main themes was the claustrophobic environment where the protagonist grows up. She’s got little hope of a future that’s worth anything, she’s got no way out of the situation she’s in, she’s frequently isolated… She also spends quite a lot of the novel in one room, which adds to how ‘trapped’ she, and therefore the reader, feels. And she lacks autonomy: other people are always controlling and manipulating her because she’s useful to them.

This contributed to the fact that I decided to write the novel in third person (the sense of an observer watching her life and controlling her), present tense (nothing beyond the immediate moment and the omnipresent possibility of death, which couldn’t be conveyed as easily through past tense). It’s an unusual tense to choose, but it also added to the fast-paced, cinematic feel of the book. I wanted to write it a little more like a script than a novel, and while I’m not sure I achieved that in the first draft, the idea was there.

The tense and the POV contributes to establishing the theme of being trapped and robbed of autonomy, so the fact that I knew those were themes before I started helped.

Themes can seem like something that you’ll only come across in litfic, but actually they’re everywhere. In fantasy, there’s a massively obvious one: good vs evil. It’s everywhere. But other writers choose to subvert it by making it much less clear-cut, and that in itself creates another theme of moral ambiguity. For the former, a single POV can work, because the reader won’t really be siding with “evil” so there’s little point in showing that perspective; for the latter, multiple POVs allow the reader to see the different facets of the story and to understand everyone’s motivations.

Yeah, I’m talking about Game of Thrones. When am I not talking about Game of Thrones? Come on, dude, you should’ve figured that one out already.

tony stark

So if you’re not sure what point you’re trying to make, the themes might help you work it out. Sit down and think, “What would a high schooler be asked to write about when reading this book?” (Or a college student or a middle schooler, depending on your audience. That’s a point: know your target audience, too.)

In my novel, it might’ve been, “To what extent is Isabel’s life dictated by the claustrophobic environment of the city of Espera?” or some crap like that, and then you’d get half a dozen terrible essays on her lack of qualifications and one brilliant one about the ever-present threats that create her paranoia and force her to make stupid decisions, as shown by the use of third person present tense. And another, for a different novel, might be, “Is Alex’s path shaped more by his curse or by his personality?” and then you can discuss free will and identity and predestination and all that crap.

he was an idiot

The real answer to the essay question about Alex… which is only entertaining if you know who he is, which you don’t, because he’s hiding in my head. But it makes me laugh, and that’s what matters. Y’all are the extras here.

And by the time you’ve done that, you know your novel a lot better than you thought. Plus, it really helps when you get to a fork in the road as far as plot’s concerned, because you can think, “Which direction should this character take to better explore those themes?” and everything works out better.


So sit down and have a good solid think about the themes you’re portraying (good vs evil, environment, corruption, decadence, identity, self-expression, free will, class and social hierarchy, power…you name it), and I can promise you that planning your novel will feel easier.

Not easy, because planning sucks, but it’ll work. Promise you. It’s gonna be great. Not least because next month we’re talking about outlining, so you’ve got the YAvengers holding your hand through the process. You really couldn’t have more help.

too fab 4 u

Don’t fancy writing essays on your novel? Nah, neither did I. But working out the questions alone made me really think about the points I was making and the themes I was exploring, and that was enough. So it can help to think of it like that.

Go forth, readers, and discover themes. You may well find them in WIPs where you least expected them. “Oh, magic is actually a metaphor for being gay and the whole thing is about self-expression in the face of rigorous oppression? How does that even work? I’ve already got queer characters!” “Do not question, my child. Just do it. It’ll be awesome.” “Okay…”

Themes are everywhere. You might not even know what you’re really writing until you go looking for them, but it’s only once you do that you can really create something that’s intelligent as well as fun / exciting / whatever it is you kids write books for these days.

-- Iron Man

Genre, Target Age, and UFOs

Have you ever read a book in which everything seems like a normal high school romance-- with teenage angst, awkward conversations, the whole shebang-- and near the end, a UFO crashes into the school and takes out the love interest?  'Cause I haven't.

That sort of story can't get published, because it plays with the reader's expectations in a nasty way.  Everyone who's read this far expects a neat romantic ending-- everyone who wanted aliens crashing in has already left.  It's not the best of both worlds, but rather the perfect way to estrange everyone.

And yet, this is what happens when I get bored with a story.  I'm originally a pantser, so when I'm feeling stuck, I add something really interesting.  For me, that usually involves something unbelievable that I can explore.  This gets to be a huge problem when I'm trying to write contemporary fiction, or nonfiction historical approach essays.  (Nothing says Anglo-Saxon culture like a kraken that cancels the Norman Conquest.  It's historical, honestly.)

When I'm writing a first draft, I have a couple options to keep myself in line.  I can think really hard about what I'm going to write and outline, or I can select a genre for myself.  Usually, it's the latter.

Picking a genre has its upsides and downsides, as with anything.  The upsides are excellent-- I don't find myself writing the beginning of a Victorian murder mystery when all I really want is a pirate adventure.  Brainstorming is a breeze, since I automatically tie every idea I get into my chosen genre, instead of running in all directions as I get different plot bunnies.  Writing itself is more straightforward, with no errant plot twists.

Unfortunately, picking a genre beforehand is restrictive.  Stories are multifaceted-- never meant to be classified very strictly.  A good story can have several elements combining into a very different whole.  A murder, a romance, and a rather large bunny can either be animal fiction for middle grade, psychological horror for adults, or futuristic dystopian for young adults.  The possibilities are endless, and any idea can lend itself to any genre.  Perhaps, then, to pick one genre for the entire story is useless.

If good stories are really just conglomerations of other styles of stories, what about genre-mixing?  Steampunk, a glorious mixture of historical fiction and sci-fi.  Dystopian, a slightly darker concoction of sci-fi and cultural philosophy.  Paranormal, a cloying syrup of love and fantasy.  The genre classification system has far more than 31 flavors, and you can mix as many as you want... as long as you plan it from the start.  If not, it gets to be a jumble that confuses everyone.

Here's the thing.  You can pick a single genre to stick with, or you can decide not to.  You can decide to mix and meld genres into your own personal style, but if you experiment with that, it must be done intentionally.  That means choosing beforehand what you want to do.  You don't have to outline your plot, or dig into all your characters, or create a story bible for your setting.  But if you decide which genres you're going to bend and blend, you can come out with a unique story that doesn't throw in UFOs unannounced.

Or you can do what I do and write paranormal, dystopian, sci-fi, horror, thrillers, mysteries, romance, and lots and lots of pirates, and call it all fantasy.  It's never steered me wrong yet.

Another item on the subject of genre is age group.  Target ages aren't important to some, but if you've decided to write a book for little cousin Johnny's birthday, you can't include some of your usual items.  For instance, an adult book could easily have friends betraying each other, the love interest dying (with or without UFOs), and a bittersweet ending.  For children, however, friends tend to stay friends, even if they make mistakes once in a while.  All the good guys come out okay, unless they're really old and had served their purpose.  And everything has to turn out happily, or else you have a mob of angry kids on your hand, and even I in my spangly outfit can't handle one of those on a good day.

On the flip side, there aren't many adults who will be completely satisfied with a no-sharp-edges story-- especially not young adults.  As teens grow up, they seek to distance themselves from the silliness of their childhood, which makes them eschew the yippy-skippy middle grade fiction and turn toward dark, angsty things that reflect their dark, angsty souls.  Okay, I'm stereotyping, but still-- what works for one age group, while it can work for another, isn't always the best.

Solution?  Simple.  Pick yourself an age to shoot for.  Start reading around that age's section of the library, find out the conventions and the rules.  Trust me, it's easier to write for an age group intentionally than to go back and edit out all the betrayal and death and cursing.  While it's true that kids can handle a surprising amount of dark topics, they aren't ready for anything, so this is something to bear in mind.

This post was meant to promote genre- and age-group-awareness.  If you prefer to stick to a single genre and a single age group, that's fine-- you probably don't need this post.  But if you're like me and you want to try every single flavor of entertainment, it might help you to keep things narrowed down as to genre and target age.  At the very least, it'll keep you from crashing your UFO in the wrong genre.

~Captain America

Thor's Thoughts: Pre-Writing Methods

Greetings, fellow writers! I hope your end of week is going well.

I have little time in which to write this. I, myself, have been rather occupied taking care of my alter-ego. She is now with child, and has also suffered from a terrible illness as of late. Her children are running amok in Asgard. I requested Loki to keep an eye on them while I write, but... I am unsure whether he will hinder or help their destructive natures.

Forgive me, back to the topic of writing.

Today I would like to speak to you about Pre-Writing. This encompasses a great many things, including the decisions my fellow YAvengers have and will speak on this month. Point of view, tense, mood, tone, style, genre, etcetera, are all decisions that can, and often should, be made prior to writing the first draft. But there are other things to be done then as well. Here are a few you may want to try:

1. Outlining

An outline can be of benefit to any type of writer. Whether you choose to go in depth and write a page for each chapter, or only a line or two, knowing what comes next and where you are going is often beneficial. Since we've discussed this before, and likely will again, that is all I shall say here.

2. Idea Test

This is a chapter or two you write in order to discover the narrative voice of the story, or just to get a look at the world you've imagined. Writing it out can give you a better idea of how much you'll enjoy writing a full seventy thousand or more words. How much you'll enjoy spending time with the characters. How easy or challenging it might be for you. All this is good to know before truly diving in.

3. World Building

A small amount of world building is necessary for any story, and more for others. Where does it take place? What does the world look like? Are there plants or animals a human would find unfamiliar? Who are the characters? What are their challenges? (My post from last month is a good overview of this.) If it takes place in another world, how is it different from Earth? Is there magic? How does it work? Is the government important to the plot? Why? Who are the key players? All of these questions can be helpful to answer before you begin, so you're not left to decide them in the middle of drafting -- which can take up your time.

4. Research

If you are writing science fiction or historical fiction in particular, research is something that must be done before you draft. Knowing the key events, dates, and significant people of the time, or the science involved in your world is extremely important. Be sure to keep from getting bogged down, of course, but a good few days worth of research will never hurt your story. You will likely find things while drafting that you need to research more in-depth, but I encourage you to make a note of it and move on -- again, so it will not slow your progress.

(Make sure you know what you're doing.)

5. Tone Text

As a disclaimer, I know some authors are vehemently against this because it can be distracting. A Tone Text is a novel you read in between writing your text. When you're tired of looking at a screen or sitting a certain way, you can take a break to read a book. If, for example, you are writing a regency-style novel, reading Jane Austen to keep your head in the tone of your story could be helpful. It is best if your tone text is a book you've already read and are not on the edge of your seat about. Get too drawn in, and you may not want to go back to writing.

As NaNoWriMo is fast approaching, I hope these methods of pre-writing and preparation will be of help to you. And now, if you'll excuse me, I believe Loki has recruited my alter-ego's children for some evil scheme, and I must stop them.

Good luck.


Choosing a Point of View and Tense

So much depends on perspective. The victor often pens the history books, and a different story can be told from the eyes of the defeated. When telling your story, it's important to find the mode that translates best for your novel. Point of view and tense can change the pacing of the novel, even modify the voice. This is an important decision to make while writing your novel.

Let's brush up on tenses. Since there is no future tense in English, only modal (will, may, can, should, etc) and progressive tense (going, finding, punching, etc), there are no books written entirely in future tense.  Quick refresher:

Present: The Hulk smashes.
Past: The Hulk smashed.

Got it? Good.

First Person:

In first person, we’re directly inside the head of the point of view person. Typically, the main character is the one telling the story. The advantage of first person POV is, as a reader, you’re directly in the character’s brain. You know what they know. Their motivations make sense. Being that close to a character has its drawbacks. If they’re not engaging enough, you’ll lose readers. An average protagonist has a chance of falling flat to readers and is sometimes unable to carry the story.

“I roundhouse kick Loki in the throat. It brings me immense satisfaction.”

Twilight Saga, Between by Megan Whitmer, and Hunger Games Trilogy are all in this tense. It’s really big right now, so chances are any book you pick up will be first person present. It’s not a natural tense, so it can be jarring to a new reader. It is excellent for increasing the urgency and tension in a story. Everything is happening now and it gives the driving pace a novel sometimes needs.

“I roundhouse kicked Loki in the throat. It brought me immense satisfaction.”

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. First person past tense is considered one of two natural storyteller voices.

First person with multiple viewpoints is tricky. The voices need to be distinctive, and you risk losing the appeal of a character when the reader finally gets a chance to peek inside his or her head. There is beauty in mystery. Be careful not to lose that for your character by giving us too much.

Second Person:

Second person is great for giving directions to the nearest grocery store and “Choose your own Adventure” novels, but it’s hard to pull off in a longer form. There are some excellent short stories in second, and I’ve heard on literary fiction that use it. But that’s not my gig.

“You roundhouse kick Loki in the throat. It brings you immense satisfaction.”

“You roundhouse kicked Loki in the throat. It brought you immense satisfaction.”

Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney employs second person and does it well. It’s not YA, but it’s worth a read if you’re interested in and intense study of craft.


Third Person:

Third person is a little more complicated. Third person offers a distance between the reader and the character, focusing more on the action of the story and less on the character’s thoughts and personality. The reader has a chance to see the big picture, and world building comes out more naturally.

There are multiple modes:

Objective: The narrator doesn’t reveal any of the character’s thoughts or feelings. The reader must draw conclusions solely on the actions and dialogue of the character.

Limited: The narrator reveals the thoughts and feelings of one character through explicit narration. The reader may still infer, but the viewpoint character’s thoughts and feelings are still revealed. This is the most widely used of the third person modes. 

Omiscient: This is the god point of view. The narrator is aware of what is going on everywhere, both internally and externally. Think Pride and Prejudice. This viewpoint has more or less fallen out of favor.

“She roundhouse kicked Loki in the throat. It brought her immense satisfaction.”

This is the second natural storyteller voice. Third person past is everywhere. Throne of Glass is a great example of this. It’s close and uses multiple viewpoints.  The Giver, The Maze Runner, Harry Potter.

“She roundhouse kicks Loki in the throat. It brings her immense satisfaction.”

This is uncommon. I personally haven’t read any books in third person present. The Wake books by Lisa McMann and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern are an example. There is a risk in doing anything unusual, in that you can push the reader out of the story.

It’s easier to switch between viewpoint characters in third person. There’s no guessing what the other characters are thinking and doing. The world exists beyond the mind of the character. It’s very important, however, to avoid head hopping. If you come in close on a character, stay with that character until there’s a section break or a new chapter. Head hopping is a rookie mistake. (Third person does head hop, but that’s the nature of the mode.) There is also such a thing as too many viewpoints. Combine and trim where you can.

Once you know the rules, you can break them. If a natural storyteller voice fits best for your narrative, write it that way. You'll have plenty of examples to read and study. Some stories demand more challenging points of view. 

It is possible to have it in the point of view of a periphery character, like in The Great Gatsby, though Nick tells the story in both first and third person. The Kingkiller Chronicles are both in first and third, and absolutely flawless. Read these books. The Virgin Suicides is in first person plural in the past tense. The Book Thief is first person omniscient. 

Remember, we are creators. We can do almost anything. Find what works and execute it well.



Fun With Multiple POVs

Hi, everyone. As it turns out, I was supposed to post this post on the...third? However, some very important "saving the world" things came up, and I didn't have time to check up on my emails and realize that I should have posted.

However, now that I AM here, I wanted to talk about something very exciting, and that's multiple point of views in writing.

 Point of View is Important

You need consider the Point of View of your story before you start drafting. Do you want to write in first-person or third-person? (Or second-person, if you're really edgy.) Who is the right character to tell the story? Is there only one? It's definitely something to decide.

After all, you could go back afterward and change the POV in revisions. But, it would be so much easier to get that out of the way to begin with, so you don't have to worry about it later. If you're unsure, play around with different drafts of a few pages or a chapter, to get a feel of what you like best.

Just thinking of having to go through the manuscript to change every he to an I is bad enough, not to mention needing to rewrite half of the thoughts and descriptions. Or what if, after the draft, you decide you want to tell the story from a completely different narrative?

Yikes. I've had to clean up some pretty big messes in my time, yet that seems like one of the worst. So, it's a good idea to think of these things before you jump headfirst into drafting.

Now, you just need to decide

Is Writing in Multiple POVs RIGHT For My Manuscript?

It's hard to say, as it ultimately comes down to what you like and prefer. Of course, there is a very easy way to decide this, and it all comes down to asking yourself one question:
Who needs to tell the story?

Not who could possibly tell an interesting version of the story nor who is my absolute favorite character (because it doesn't have to be your protagonist). Who needs to tell the story?

This doesn't have to be one person. However, if you absolutely cannot narrow your list down from seven people, it might be beneficial to use an omniscient narrator.

If you narrow it down to two or three people, multiple POVs may be for you.

The biggest reason NOT to AVOID multiple point of views is because someone tells you they don't like them. Yes, I have heard people say they dislike a book solely because it has multiple point of views, but that's stupid. In fact, I dislike a person solely because they judge books for ridiculous reasons.

What do they know? Besides, there are plenty of great books written from more than one point of view. I know, for a fact, that Agent Maria Hill cannot get enough of Marie Lu's Legend trilogy (even though she may not admit it.)

So, if you like your multiple point of view, go for it

Just Remember a Few Things First

  1. This, right here, is the golden rule of writing in multiple POVs. Your characters must be unique from each other.When this rule is broken, it's the worst. Your characters should, regardless of POV, have unique personalities, but it's especially bad if you're trying to write in multiple point of views, as it causes the narratives to run together, which sort of defeats the purpose. If you open up to a random page, read a paragraph or two of narrative and cannot tell which character it came from, there is a problem. You are getting into the minds of two different characters so have fun with it. Let them be different! All too often, I'll see books that have dialogue completely unique to character, but narratives that sound exactly the same. This likely means that you're lacking a strong voice in the narrative. It can be fixed, but it cannot be ignored. Believe me.
  2. Don't create another point of view for the sole purpose of exposition.Yeah, I get it. You need to explain the bad guy's response to the hero team forming, and it's a feat that seems nearly impossible without switching over to the bad guy for a scene - just to let us know about this plot development. I get it. But don't do it. Your point of view needs to be more than just exposition. There can be another way to move the plot forward. (Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see a multiple POV with the hero and the villain. (If that's your novel/favorite novel, let me know) But not just because it is convenient.)
  3. Did I mention the importance of getting to know your characters?
    Know them all. Know them all well, and equally well. If not, you'll break rule number #1, and rule #1 cannot be broken. If you break rule #1, you only get four things.

But don't worry about it too much. When done correctly, writing in multiple point of views can add an incredible layer to your story that you wouldn't be able to see otherwise.

Plus, it can be tons of fun. Say what you want, but that's the most important thing.

Unless your idea of fun is making all your characters sound the same. Because that's not nearly as fun as the alternative. I promise.

-Agent Coulson

Mood, Tone, and Style: Incorporating your Inspiration and Enthusiasm in the First Draft

Let's Make Revisions Fun

Since September's theme is decisions to make before starting the first draft, I thought, as the first post, I would begin with something a tad more unconventional. We've all heard writers complain about revisions--they're boring, they're difficult. And a lot of tips about outlining and such before writing the first draft are awesome suggestions that you should certainly use, I can't but help notice one thing--they're all about minimizing the pain of revisions, not actually making them fun.

This, in no way, means revisions won't be work. Every aspect of writing is work. But by reflecting on a few key ideas on your inspiration for your story before you start, it will be easier to

  • Make your mental picture come to life in your writing
  • Make your finished draft seem more like you wrote it when you revisit it
  • Retain the spark that made you write it in the first place

Key Terms

Our ultimate goal is to make sure your first draft captures that exact image and feel for your story that exists in your head. Ours tools will be three writing terms that reside more in the nitty gritty of writing, rather than characters, plot, and world-building, but will essentially help improve all of them.

Let's think of your story as a photograph.

Mood: The Filter

Mood is the underlying sense of unease, cheerfulness, horror, etc. that is the product of word choice and descriptions. It is the filter of a photograph--sepia, monotone, black & white, etc. Think of "mood lighting."

Tone: The Spotlight

Tone is the way you as an author treat a certain subject in your story (grief, love, etc.). Think of it as the choice of spotlight--both the what you want your audience to focus on and the how, as in the color of the light, the size, and the level of brightness.

Style: Textures, Upside-Down, Whatever Else You Want to Do To Your Photo

Style is the way that you as the author use language, sentence structure, or anything to tell your story. Think of how Andy Warhol's signature four versions of the same photo creating a square. Or all the different styles of painting--mosaic, cubism, oil painting, etc.

The Reflection

Picture your story idea. How do you want it to feel to the reader? Beyond the characters, the plot, the world, how do you want your language to bring your story to life? 

Go through each of our terms individually, both considering their role in the entire story and in specific scenes. Maybe think of how some of your favorite authors treated these same ideas?

Now that you have an idea of the mood, tone, and style you want, let's examine how you can manipulate them to match that idea.


  • Pick a color scheme for your book, particularly your setting (Don't only use those colors, but consider having them pop up several times throughout).
  • Put pressure on the verbs in your descriptions - search for ones that elicit an emotional response, even at the risk of sounding gross (You should totally have gross sentences if you want to unnerve the reader).
  • When describing the surroundings, focus on only the weird and out of place. Avoid general summaries of the setting and opt for details.
  • Use the weather.
  • Choose names of characters and places that give a sense of who/what they are
  • When using similes/metaphors, use comparisons that relate to the mood you'd like (ex. if you want happy go for butterflies, creepy go for worms).


  • Choose descriptions and images that match the emotion of your scene.
  • Decide whether or what the language to sound more casual or formal, and when
  • Consider whether the pacing of your scene helps/hinders the tone
  • Check the rhythm of your sentences to see if they match the tone
  • Use your characters' reactions and words to express the tone (ironic, blasé, angry)
  • Consider slang, dialect, and cursing


  • How do you want the page to look? Big paragraphs? Or lots of broken ones that move fast?
  • Consider giving sentences their own paragraph for emphasis.
  • How deep into the narrator's head is your point of view? How can you use style to achieve that?
  • What are some literary techniques you'd like to use? (metaphors, personification, hyperbole)
  • How can you incorporate all five senses?
  • Avoid clichés
  • Reread the writers whose styles have wowed you and determine how they did it


Hopefully these terms gave your some things to think about before you begin writing. Sure, as you cut and add chapters, characters, etc, you will lose a lot of your first draft, but if you begin with these and maintain them, you won't lose the spark that urged you to write your story in the first place.

August Wrap-Up: Characters, Creamsicles, and the Coming Month

August was quite the month.  Once again, I, Captain America, get to wrap it up for you with links, gifs, tweets, and pictures galore.  In case you didn't already know, August was the month for Characters and Character Development.  It's a broad topic, so I can't promise we hit everything, but like the Hulk, we hit just about everything we could.

The month begins with a lovely post from Hawkeye, about naming characters.  You may not realize it, but two days before he posted, it was his birthday.  What's a better birthday gift than writing a thousand words about naming characters?  (Oh, right.  Explosive arrows.  Well, Hawkeye is Hawkeye.)  Birthdays aside, the post delved into the importance of names, how they work for quick characterization, and a lot of resources for finding the perfect name.  I'll be revisiting this post before NaNoWriMo, for sure.

Bruce Banner, whose lime-colored brawn graces the gif above, followed up with an excellent how-to on backstory.  How do you balance the troubles of the past with the adventures of the present?  How do you make sure the reader doesn't feel left out by obscure references?  How do you keep from dumping the entire thing on a reader's head like a bucket of Loki?  ALL THE QUESTIONS ARE ANSWERED.

We interrupt this programming to bring you another funny picture of Thor, having a creamsicle, as released by the @YAvengers Twitter feed.  You're welcome.

Despite Thor's antics, Agent Coulson takes a serious (and frankly, brilliant) note with his post on side characters.  Not everyone can be a main character, but everyone should be a good character.  (Not necessarily morally good, as we'll see later, but well-written.  Calm down, Loki.)  Coulson delves into the problems of making side characters people instead of cardboard cutouts, which many new writers (including me) forget.

What advice does the god of thunder himself have for us mortals?  He suggests asking questions to fill in the personalities of all your characters.  From questionnaires to interviews to simply writing and seeing where the character goes, Thor's advice rings true.  Personally, I have had some great success with exactly this method of filling in characters.  Listen to this guy, even if he does enjoy a creamsicle now and again.

It's Tony Stark's turn to post, with moral ambiguity abounding.  Citing George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire at every turn, he pulls morals into the light and dissects them with glee.  It was quite a show.  For me, who can't understand Stark on a normal basis, this post was a great window into his soul.  I don't think he intended it that way.  But nevertheless, it was a helpful post for when you want someone to do something like... well, this:

Black Widow pulls out a similar topic, but with a different spin: character darkness.  Instead of focusing on moral ambiguity, she focuses on secrets; why some must be kept hidden, why others must, inevitably, come to light.  It's a fascinating concept, described perfectly by an expert at keeping such secrets.  (I know I'm not alone in wondering— Budapest?  If you don't want me to wonder about it, stop hinting.)

I don't think Loki had a choice about his topic— he's uniquely qualified to talk about villains.  And with villains being such integral parts of any story, I'm glad he picked it up.  He goes in-depth, looking at what a villain should and shouldn't be, how they see themselves, and how to subvert several of the topics from earlier this month to suit such an evil character.  It's pretty awesome to see his views on it.

And am I once again the last man standing between Loki and the end of the world?  Well, the end of the month, at least.  I posted about creating untrustworthy characters by utilizing backstory, secrets, moral ambiguity, villains, and several other concepts the others already described.  It was a fun post, and I realized new stuff while writing it— I'm going to use all those character types sometime soon.

Although we hit a lot of topics this month, we didn't hit all of them.  What about making characters engaging?  What about having characters change throughout the story?  We focused a lot on the creation of characters and a little on their development, but not enough.  I don't think I'm alone in saying we'll have another character month eventually.  This topic is far too broad for only one month.

As the first month with all the YAvengers officially assembled, I had a blast.  I hope you've read all the posts from this month, and if you haven't, you should check them out.  If they don't do you any good now, they will in a couple months, when you're in a whole new stage of the writing process.  Speaking of which, I should let you get back to your WIPs.  As always, thank you all for reading.  Next month promises awesomeness as Pre-Writing Decisions month, where we tackle tense, viewpoint, and all the other fun, technical stuff you might have to worry about before you dive into a story.  Be there, and keep writing.  The world needs your words.

~Captain America

We're writing.  Totally.