The Trick God's Tricks to Introducing Strong Characters

Psh, who likes Tom Hiddleston anyway? *eyes Tumblr apprehensively*

As I know you all have been waiting for this post with such excitement that you haven't left your room in weeks, drawn all your blinds, and lived in a temporary state of eternal darkness, I come bringing the Loki you've been wanting. *smiles at Tumblr*

Look, I made a guide!

tricks to strong characters

trick #1: introduce your character's vital strength when you introduce your character

Whatever your character's important strength or talent that gets them through the story's climax, tell the reader within the first scene they meet your character. Hermione, for instance, shows off her magical knowledge when she first meets Harry and Ron on the Hogwarts Express. Katniss goes hunting in the first chapter. Clary draws/paints in the first chapter.

trick #2: think of this first scene as your reader speed dating your character

The reader wants to know about this character. What they're like. What they want. That first impression is going to stick. 

But be coy. Don't tell the reader so much that they're not interested in a second date.

trick #3: define your character in their first scene

How do you want the readers to see this character? Do you want them to fall in love with them? What about their character is romantically appealing? Do you want them to hate them? 

Don't go crazy. Your villain doesn't need to set a bag of adorable kittens on fire in chapter 1 for your readers to get the idea. In a way, even a seed of feeling is the best sort, as it can sprout and grow throughout the story until it becomes blind fury. Take Joffrey Baratheon, as an example.

trick #4: pick a strong element of your character that will change throughout the story

Give your character an attribute that will change with your story's progression as your character evolves. This depends on your story arc. If you want a character to start out unlikable but become sympathetic, make their unlikeable characteristics strong in the earliest scenes and lessen in the later ones, until they might disappear completely. Think of Sansa Stark, who grew less obsessed with her idyllic lady-like world and became stronger, cunning, and more than sympathetic.

trick #5: give them a quirk

This does not mean your character has to be quirky. They don't need to have a bow-tie obsession (even if bow-ties are cool). They don't need to have an inhuman knowledge of an unusual subject. 

Quirks are simpler. Maybe they have a catch phrase. Or a favorite gesture. Maybe they make up ridiculous curses that makes them sound like a third-grader. Maybe it has something to do with their appearance, like a favorite bracelet or preference for overly baggy shirts. 

But give them something. If you describe a character has having brown hair, blue eyes, and of average height and slightly above average appearance, you've just described around fifty percent of female YA characters. Give the reader something unique to hold on to. Not so unique you had to go scouring Wikipedia for unusual hobbies, but enough that the reader won't forget the character when you introduce them later.

Bonus Points: Make the quirk important in the main plot or a subplot.

Thor's Thoughts: Changing Gears

Good day, people of Earth.

Recently, my alter-ego finished her third full manuscript.

And there was much rejoicing.

She now faces the daunting task of moving from her drafting brain to her revision brain. If you are at the beginning of your writing journey, you may not have had to make this shift yet. But believe me, your time will come. If you avoid it, you're only hurting yourself.

I am a god. I know these things.

What is different about a drafting mindset and a revision mindset depends a great deal on the individual and their process. Take my alter-ego: she drafts with revisions in mind, leaving herself notes throughout the manuscript to make changes later on, insert further detail, or do more research. This makes drafting somewhat easier, because she knows she will not forget anything. It also helps in revisions, because it gives her a place to start.

For some, writing a draft can happen in chunks which are then woven together. For others, it's a straight shot from beginning to end. Pantsers/gardeners tend to want to rewrite whole sections, where plotters/architects prefer to have relatively clean drafts they can make small changes to. Either way, it's nice to have a starting point. This can be as simple as a read-through, or sending it to critique partners. I know one successful author posts her drafts online in password protected posts for readers to comment on as she goes. This allows her to see what things her readers are latching onto, the characters they love and hate, and any confusion they have. This is most definitely an advantage to being a well-known author.

But how do we switch from drafting to editing?

I have heard of author/editors who write in one font and edit in another. Certainly this has merit, as it is an actual visual difference that can trigger your brain's functions. Though I'm sure it takes training. Other strategies are writing something else, or reading a few books to "cleanse the palette" so to speak. Even taking a few days off to catch up on rest can help reset the brain.

For those starting out, it will take some time to discover what works best for you. Trial and error, learning your own process, will be a different journey for you than even your closest writer-friend. Loki and I are brothers, and our strategies for writing are wildly different. I'm sure even the other Avengers can attest to having a whole variety of processes.

But when all is said and done, this switch is an important and necessary one to make. Learning to make it quickly and effectively is important to being a working writer. I would encourage you to share your own strategies in the comments below. And if you are still learning how you work, what are some things you have tried? Have they worked, or not? I am extremely interested to hear.

Good luck, writers.


To Read Or To Eat? Using A Reward System

too fab 4 u

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the idea of a reward system. Personally, I have days when writing’s so hard I can barely motivate myself to do it. It’s not like the days when you’re so busy you can’t get to the computer: it’s the days when the computer’s right there, the document’s open, and the words aren’t flowing.

The only way to motivate myself in these situations is a reward system. I mean, there’s a punishment system too, but that just means taking away the rewards, so they’re basically facets of the same thing. The former sounds less scary.

It works like this: if I write a certain number of words, reach a certain point, or hit a particular goal, I get a reward. If I don’t, with any luck I’ll have the time to keep going until I do, so I still get the reward (it just takes longer). If my time is limited, that adds as an additional motivation. I don’t just have to write 1832 words, I have to do it in the next half-hour.

But it’s very easy for this to lead to unhealthiness and contrary to popular belief, I do somewhat care what I’m putting into my body.

See, the most obvious reward is food. Whether it’s as self-abusive as, “I’m not allowed any dinner until I’ve written this chapter,” (or worse, breakfast) or more self-indulgent, like, “If I write 2k I can have chocolate,” the outcome is the same. Your diet gets messed up.

And, if you’re particularly productive, you’ll soon be very overweight. I remember once during NaNoWriMo they were advocating having a chocolate reward after every 2,000 words or something. I wrote 200,000 words that year, so I feel like that would have ended badly. Fortunately, there are alternatives to this. They’re not quite as effective for limited timescales but man, they can be motivating.

As a writer, reading is super important. You’ve got to read. If you don’t like reading, why are you a writer? So you can’t use that excuse. Most of us came to this because we loved books so much. I ordered a book recently, and it arrived today, but my things-to-do list was a little long. So I made a deal.

For every task on that list I complete, I can read a bit of the book. If it’s a long task (which some of them are) I can read 100 pages. A short task will only get me 50. It can be my reward.

Sometimes you’re exhausted or you haven’t got a book ready to read, but TV can be just as great a motivator. Halfway through a series? You’re not allowed an episode until you meet a deadline. Reward yourself by doing something else and taking a break.tadaaaa

I find this works better than punishment because it creates deadlines or motivations to get things done without the stress associated with ‘failing’. If you don’t manage it on time, just keep going until you do. Maybe you’ll have to put the reading off until tomorrow, but you’ll get to do it.

You have to let yourself do it, though. I’ve a bad habit of overworking, so I’ll offer to reward myself and then keep going, saying I don’t have time. That completely defeats the point of the reward system.

Now, I’m not saying that food doesn’t work as a motivator. It totally does. If you’re still at school or college or whatever, it works for essays and assignments too. You can have cake when you finish. A biscuit halfway through. And I’ve definitely been in the situation of refusing to let myself have breakfast until I hit 10,000 words for that day, though that was during a particularly mental stage of NaNoWriMo 2013 and isn’t recommended.

However, break it up. Today’s reward might be cake, because you’ve got some. Tomorrow there may be no cake left, but a book just came into the library that you’ve been wanting to read. The day after that, another episode of your favourite show might be aired. Each day sit down and think, “How am I going to reward myself for what I do today?”

It helps encourage positive thinking (“Look, I achieved something! Now I get a present”), increase productivity (“I might have read 300 pages today, but I also wrote six thousand words, so it was still productive”), and reduce procrastination (because you’ve got time set aside to read and watch TV, so it’s not wasted). Plus, it’s a great way to make sure you keep up with other hobbies, like reading or watching TV, even while in the depths of working on a novel.

I mean, yeah, sometimes a novel’s going so badly you’ll procrastinate by working on homework or other boring tasks, but a properly set-up reward system can work wonders.

How do you reward yourself, and does it help? Let me know in the comments! And you know why you should actually, for once, talk to me?

cause we're connected

A Premising Idea

The Future
It’s come down to it. You’re written your book, gone through countless stages of revision and critique and you are ready to send your book out to agents. It’s time to write up that query, snag an awesome agent and get a book deal! You’re ready to join the big kids!!

The Present
That’s the dream anyway. Everyone wants that moment of glory when they get the phone call and their world turns upside down with a new book deal. But every author also has to stand in the place where you are right now; the beginning. Right now your future bestseller is no more than an embryo of a book. Your ticket to fame is only an inkling of an idea in your brain ready to be planned, plotted and written like heck.

Where to start you ask? Here’s an idea: with a premise.

“My first goal is to hammer all this (the ideas) down in to premise: a single sentence that conveys the plot and the theme. Do you know what kind of story you’re writing? The premise is where you discover and solidify these decisions.”
--Author K.M. Weiland (Outlining Your Novel

Being able to put your entire story will set a direction and a purpose for your story. Weiland also suggests it will prepare you for future pitching to agents (the future goal) as you want to sell your book. Your premise may change as your story does, but you'll have that basic sentence foundation to hold it together.

The Premise
A premise is only a sentence but it needs to be a powerful one.  It needs to be the synopsis too short to be the jacket flap, but long enough to tell everything on the flap. Your premise is literally your novel in one sentence, so you need to think about all the elements of your story as you craft it.

So start with the What If question that gave birth to your novel idea! Maybe you said, “Hey! What if Aliens were the good guys, and the humans were the ones who needed to be destroyed?” There’s your What-If and the base for premise right there.

However knowing that the aliens are good, maybe a start, but it’s not enough. Your premise should solidify the What-If idea in a plausible working way, while being able to identify characters, conflict and plot; the themes and points that drive the story itself.

“A premise sentence forces you to identify a main character, a central conlflict, and as a result, a general plot. Your What-If gives you an idea; your premise sentence gives you a story.”

Take our alien idea. We’ve got the idea, now we need a character, conflict and plot to be addressed. So take some time to brainstorm and list ideas that come to mind (so many ways to do this), then take the ones that actually fit with your story and smash them together. You want the end result to be a premise that sets the stage for your book and can lead to even more questions.

So with our Alien book idea we might end up with a premise like these:

“I’m writing a science-fiction novel where the aliens are the good guys and one boy finds himself caught up battle where only one race can come out.”

“Alien follows a psychic creature from another planet, who is drafted into the fight for freedom against unruly humans  who seek the ultimate domination of his people.”

“In a world where aliens are the good guys seeking to obliterate the human race, one human girl holds a secret that could be the key to end of it all, if she wasn’t stuck in a prison aboard an alien spacecraft.”

Now those are a little bit ridiculous I might add, but you get the idea. Your premise should be something that describes how you see your story and then sets up a chain of questions to set your story in motion. For example,

“What makes the humans the bad guys?”
”Where are these phychics from?”
“How did the girl get on the alien spaceship in the first place?”

Your premise doesn’t have to be written at the beginning of your novel. You may have all the ideas you need to get your book on track to querying.  But if you’re looking to kick-start an idea into action, you might consider writing one. Who knows where it all will take you.

Later Days, 

Word Count Guide

When I started writing (in a notepad with a leaky biro) I was pretty obsessed with word counts.

How long should my book be?
What's the typical length of a book?
Is this right for my genre?

(Unfortunately, back in the day of the notepad and pen, three hard-hand-written-pages usually accounted to one typed page. I know, extreme bummer.)

So, after scouring the Internet (what else is a hulking monster like me supposed to do while they're holed up in India?), I've compiled a list of the word counts of common books! It might give you a useful guide.

YA Fantasy

Twilight: 118,000 words
Breaking Dawn: 153,000 words
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: 198,000 words
Eragon: 157,000 words
Inkheart: 146,000 words
The Golden Compass: 112,000 words
City of Bones: 130,000 words
Shiver: 94,000 words
A Great and Terrible Beauty: 95,000 words
Tithe: 66,000 words
Wicked Lovely: 73,000 words
The Siege of Macindaw: 79,000 words
Clockwork Prince: 139,000 words
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children: 84,000 words

MG Fantasy

Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone: 77,000 words
Gregor the Overlander:  55,000 words
Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief: 87,000 words
Artemis Fowl: 56,000 words
Book of Three: 46,000
Midnight for Charlie Bone: 65,000
The False Prince: 76,000 words

YA Sci-Fi
Matched: 89,000 words
A Wrinkle in Time:  49,000 words
The Selection80,000 words
Cinder87,000 words
Divergent105,000 words
The Giver: 43,000 words
Across the Universe98,000 words
City of Ember: 59,000 words
Delirium: 114,000 words
I Am Number Four: 100,000
The Hunger Games: 99,000
Mockingjay: 100,000 words

YA Contemporary

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants: 60,000
Looking For Alaska64,000 words
The Key to the Golden Firebird70,000 words
Sloppy Firsts76,000 words
Anna and the French Kiss81,000 words
The Perks of Being a Wallflower: 62,000 words

MG Contemporary
Bridge to Terabithia: 32,000 words
Ruby Holler: 44,000
Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z: 48,000
Charlotte's Web: 53,000 words

Note: I've sourced these from all over the internet. They may not be exact.
Sourced from: Authorial Intent, Hardcovers and Heroines, Super Opinion8ted, Jennifer Represents, Good Books for Kids, and Melody Valadez.

Revising Your Plot Before You Write

Hello there, mortals. I come bearing a suggestion that I wished I had known prior to my first draft (which is still god-like in perfection, of course).

Unfortunately, I know there are plenty of writers out there known as pantsers--they prefer to write as they go without the majority of the plot or details pre-planned. That does not mean you can't read this post (I command you to read this post). But for you plotters out there, this will be particularly helpful.

You should revise your plot before you write.


It never occurred to me to take a red pen to my outline. I was more concerned with finding some coherent form of a plot and then trying to superglue the scattered pieces together as I wrote, like connecting the dots. Part of this problem originated from my not knowing the ending of my story when I started the outline. There is nothing wrong with that, but it makes going back and revising your outline all the more helpful.

A CP of my alter-ego introduced her to this idea, and light bulb! For anyone familiar with the grueling work of moving around chapters, cutting subplots, and beefing up others, perhaps you can see the sense in this.

I know it's frustrating to start revising when you're so ready to start writing. I promise that you'll thank yourselves later. Take that from an immortal being.


Step OneStart with the ending.

Things To Think About: Do you like it? Really like it? Is it satisfying? Is it memorable? What sort of impression does it leave for a reader, and is that what you want? If you plan to write a series, does it imply future books? Does it tie enough of its plot up to still stand alone? Does the majority of your cast participate in this ending?

Step Two: 

Make a list of all your scenes and title them (Nobody will see these titles. It's so you remember what each scene is). Write these on flashcards, sticky notes, a Word doc, or Excel, whichever you prefer.

Note About Scenes: These are not the same as chapters. Some chapters can have several scenes, others can add up to one scene. A scene will be a little plot in itself, meaning it starts with some kind of desire or intention and reaches a conclusion about that at the end.

Step Three: 

List all your subplots as headers. This includes 1) the main plot line; 2) a romantic relationship or friendship, if you have one; 3) a B-Story (as in, a secondary plot line that starts about 1/4 of the way through the story can converges with the main plot at the end). There could be more or less, but don't go overboard, and make sure you have at least two.

- Main plot: The escalating tension between the factions that centers around the Divergent.
- Relationship Plot: Tris and Four
- B-Story: The training to become Dauntless.

Also: Include a card for your main character's arc.

Step Four: 

Put your scenes under each of these headers, in the order in your outline. You'll likely have to make duplicates of your scenes since they might (and should) fit into more than one category. Put each of your subplot sections in chronological order (The order of your scenes in your outline, not necessarily how they are ordered in a strictly time sense.). Your main plot line's category should be the largest.

Step Five: For each header:

1. Does each one have a catalyst within the first scene or two?
2. Does each have a climax? Does its climax coincide with the overall climax?
3. Does each have a resolution?
4. Examine each individual scene as a domino. They should look like this:
     A --> B --> C --> D....
    Each new scene should spur the next one, and it should be impossible to have C without also having     B. No skipping from A to C.
5. If one of the above does not work, think about reordering your scene, changing the cast present, tweaking the subplot, etc.

Step Six: Now combine all your scenes into one giant, chronological line.

1. The domino effect should still exist, even with all your scenes together. There is some room for pauses, of course, but the scenes should not flow disjointedly.
2. Is there a huge gap between A in one subplot and its B? If so, consider reordering your scenes.

And you're done! Be proud of all the work you've put into your manuscript and its improvement before you've even started.

Hopefully this exercise helped you trim the overflow subplots and help paste your story together, and, down the road, you won't need to rewrite chapters to change their order.

Look for a future post about Revising Your Characters Before You Write, by none other than me, your future world ruler.

Thor's Thoughts: The Risk of Writing

Hello, fair readers and fellow Young Adult writers. Today I wish to address something that many of us struggle with. The disappointments that come with being a creative person are many, and we as writers are no different. We create, we put our blood, sweat, and tears into our work, along with our very hearts. 

And then someone rips it to shreds.

I do not speak of constructive criticism such as comes from our critique partners. No, I mean the subjective "It's not for me," or the blunt-faced "Kids shouldn't read this," or perhaps simply, "It is garbage," with no other explanation.

These come to all of us at one point or another. It could be from a friend-of-a-friend, an acquaintance, or someone you have never met. What we must do is decide how to handle it before it happens. 

What type of person are you? How do you deal with rejection and insult? You may not know until it is upon you, but you must try to prepare yourself regardless. Without some preparation you may well find yourself ready to throw your work out a window.

I do not mean to be negative, but realistic. The most important thing to remember in all of this, is to keep writing. If you love to write and tell stories, and it makes you happy to tell the stories you do, then do not EVER let anyone stop you. Never quit just because someone doesn't like it, or doesn't approve, or tells you it's not worth your time. 

Because for you, it is. 

So when those naysayers and trolls come knocking, and even if someone you respect dislikes your work, take a moment to grieve. 

Perhaps throw something, tear a pillow apart, let the emotion out, whatever it may be. Then shrug it off. And go write.