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Four Ways to Structure a Novel

Every writer has a different process, a different way of creating, and every story is unique in the way it’s told. What all of them have in common are basic structure rules. In this post we’re going to explore four different types of plotting a story structure; it’s then up to you how you use them.

To develop any of these structures it’s important to remember to advance each scene so that the plot and/or character are moving in a forward momentum. You can do this by asking these questions of every scene and/or chapter: How? Who? What? Where? When? And Why? Some other things to consider are what is the Inciting Incident, what kick starts your story? Take a look at one of my earlier posts How to Plan Your Protagonists Journey, where I go into detail about stakes, conflict and their awakening moment.

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The Three Act Structure.

The first act is the setup. It’s roughly a quarter of your novel and reveals the Protagonist in his usual setting, followed by the Inciting Incident, the catalyst that starts everything off and raises the stakes.

The second act is all about confrontation. Taking up fifty percent of your story, the protagonist faces obstacles that raise the tension, promotes the character to challenge himself and his beliefs, pushing them towards their goal. The obstacles will continue to build up until the Climax of Act Two.

The final act is all about resolution. The last quarter of the story will contain the Final Climax. Then the action will begin to descend, obstacles will be overcome leading to the Denouement.


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The Hero’s Journey.

Through this method also known as, the monomyth, the writer plots the protagonist’s path through nine stages, starting in their homeland, venturing out with guidance, facing difficulties, until they win a victory and return home. In this method, the writer employs The Full Circle Ending, which we covered in last weeks post: Six Superb Ways to End a Novel

Introduction to the hero’s world
Call to action
Crossing the threshold
Meet the Mentor
First challenge
Temptation
Dark inner moment
Final battle
Return home

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The Mirror Structure.

This method divides the story in two, the first half consists ever increasing obstacles for the protagonist. And the second half revisits them in reverse order, bringing resolution to the conflicts. Ultimately ending, once again, back where the protagonist originally started.

The complexity of this divide is left entirely up to the writer. Do they set each problem in a different setting, or with a different antagonist for a dramatic flare? Or keep it subtle, only working the conflict and resolutions?

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The Goal to Decision Cycle.

This method can either be used to develop your character arc, or it can be applied to the plotting process. It’s a flexible way to create structure.

Part 1: The cycle begins.

At the beginning of a scene, your character will have a goal they want to achieve.

The conflict will be introduced as an obstacle preventing your character from achieving their goal. Thus they will be faced with an opportunity to grow and develop or they’ll be called to an action.

The outcome will, unfortunately, result in failure. Disaster strikes despite their best efforts.

Part 2: Leading to reaction/ lessons.

The character reacts emotionally, promoting personal growth.

The dilemma is based on what action they should take next. They’ve learned from their failures and they grasp the opportunity to do better next time.

Once they’ve made a decision, the character is then provided with either a new goal or takes new steps in order to achieve their goal.

This whole cycle then starts again, over and over, until the character has arrived at the end of their story.

Author Lorraine Ambers YA fantasy romance

Some writers outline every detail of their novel: The Plotters. Others take a concept and begin moulding the story as it grows around the lives of their characters: The Pansters. And finally, there are the type of writers who like to take the middle road, roughly sketching a structure and leaving the rest to their imagination: The Plansters.

Which type of writer are you? And what methods do you use to structure your novels? Please share your comments, you know I love hearing from you.

Thanks for stopping by. Until next time, Much Love.

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© Author Lorraine Ambers and http://www.lorraineambers.com, 2019.

 

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Six Superb Ways To End A Novel

The ending of a novel needs to leave the reader satisfied and should reflect the pace and tone of the rest of the story. The truth is, endings are hard. The writer must conclude all subplots and bring clarity and resolution to the conflicts the characters face.

I’m going to share six of the most effective methods for concluding your novel.

 

To be continued…

This method is often used to entice the reader into continuing on with a series. So that the ending creates anticipation instead of resolution. I think this works best when the overarching plot remains and the characters continue onwards with their journey, for example, a looming war.

Warning: Conclude the subplots and character journeys set out for this particular story or the reader will feel cheated.

The full circle ending.

This happens when the story ends where it started and is hinted at in the first chapter.
Either with a retrospective narrator telling/ remembering the tale. For example, in The Hobbit Bilbo Baggins starts the story by reflecting back on his journey and ends the story in the same place after reminiscing about his time with the ring.

Or the last scene can simply take place in the same setting, thus mirroring the first scene.

Warning: Maintain suspense – don’t over hint at the stories outcome.

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Satisfied Ending.

This is my favourite, where all plots are concluded, all answers are answered and the characters have grown, conquered gained a  moral perspective. Typical genres are romance, mysteries and children’s lit.

Remember: Happily-ever-after isn’t the only way to create a satisfactory ending for the reader.

The Twist Ending.

Where the conclusion is a complete surprise catching the reader off guard. The dramatic twist is revealed in the last few pages. It can offer anew insight, shifting the perception of the whole novel by getting the reader to replay the events and come to a different conclusion that was previously implied. Maybe the hero is still alive? Or perhaps something a character believed in, is revealed to be a lie; or visa versa. Maybe the villain is the hero’s father… Luke!

Warning: The ending must be realistic. It must work in tandem with your characters journey, their personality and the elements of the story. It must make sense and steer clear of clichés.

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The Implied Ending?

Life can be messy, and our novel can reflect this. Perhaps you want to leave the reader pondering about the outcome of a plot and the characters. If done well, the story arc should hint at a few possible conclusions and leave the rest to the reader’s imagination.

Warning: This requires balance so as not to leave the reader feeling cheated or confused.

The Crystal Ball Ending.

Here we allow the readers to glimpse into the future of the characters, maybe months or years ahead. The epilogue allows us to see how everything turned out. However, it must maintain the tone and pace of the story and continue to build an emotional connection with the reader.

Warning: This should not resolve the story arc.

Consider some of your favourite endings and what made them memorable for you. This can be done through films, tv series or even a treasured book. So if you’re watching Netflix, take mental notes of what works for you.

Author Lorraine Ambers - fantasy romance writer

Tell me, what’s your favourite type of ending? You know I love hearing from you.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time, Much Love.

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© Author Lorraine Ambers and http://www.lorraineambers.com, 2019.
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The Power of Perseverance

Passion fills us with a burning desire to create, to manifest, to complete the things that bring us joy. It’s the passion that drives love, allowing us to learn, grow and develop. But what happens when that passion dries up, it no longer fills you with desire because the love has grown cold?

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It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a business venture, romantic partner or in my case writing a novel, the outcome is still the same… boredom, procrastination and maybe a bit of resentment.

The options are set; do you continue onwards swimming against the tide? Or do you bundle all of your hopes and dreams into a boat and let the water carry it off into the distance?

This is where the Power of Perseverance comes in: It’s not easy, and it’s not a golden moment of clarity and joy. This is the part where we graft for what we once believed in, safe in the knowledge that all the effort we’ve put in is worth something valuable.

Yes, maybe changes are needed to bring it into alignment with who you are today, or how your business works in an ever-evolving world. Maybe that novel won’t get published, maybe we accept that in some way we failed.

But all is not lost. Take a long hard look at the journey you’ve been on, see where all of your past experiences have enabled you to grow.

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My first novel is something I’m incredibly proud of. Unfortunately, it was not picked up by an agent, and I’m fine with that. Why? Because of how much I learned throughout that process. The same applies to my second and third novels, they offer a glimmer of hope. A stepping stone to where one day I will be, whilst allowing me to improve and become great at my craft.

If I dropped my pen and vowed to never write another word, then nothing would ever be achieved.

Here are some great quotes to keep you motivated and help you on your way:

“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” – Harriet Beecher Stowe.

“Pain is temporary. it may last a minute, an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.” – Lance Armstrong.

Stay strong, keep going and rememberI believe in you!

Author Lorraine Ambers - fantasy romance writer

Do you have a favourite quote based on the theme – Don’t quit? If so, please share it. You know I love hearing from you.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time, Much Love.

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© Author Lorraine Ambers and http://www.lorraineambers.com, 2019.
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The Incredible Power of Writing

Writing is an art form, and all art forms have the ability to transform, inspire and motivate. It’s much more than conveying a story because woven into the fabric of a novel is the artist’s soul, a gateway to their innermost secrets, fears, and darkest desires.

Have you ever wondered why writing is good therapy? If a novel can transport the reader into another world, another perspective, can writing heal the reader too?

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Journaling is great therapy, it allows the writer to unload emotions, to delve deeper and discover aspects of themselves that they never knew existed. It’s a private, safe place to share the shadow side of themselves without fear of being reprimanded. It releases stress. There is no right or wrong way; pen to paper, on the laptop, or making notes on your smartphone, whatever works for you. The important part is gaining access to the thoughts that threaten to drown us.

Remember to take care of yourself. If your emotions are overbearing and too powerful to deal with alone, then please seek help from a family member, friend or trained professional.

Instead of journaling, I place a protagonist into a conflict-rich environment and write a story. There I have all the elements in place to seek out what’s holding me back and portray them through the character. Now, it would silly of me to create the main character of myself, and to be honest, I don’t think it would work. But through the well-developed, complex character, I can identify with them. Aspects like, how harrowing their journey is, how justifiable their anger is, and how to show them compassion despite all of their flaws. This is an incredibly satisfying learning tool.

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Writing allows the writer to feel, and it can be tremendously painful, but the consequence of hiding from those emotions is far more traumatic. This is why writers suffering from Complex PTSD, like myself, are encouraged to write.

But what about healing? And what about healing others with our words?

As a reader, I’m most impacted if I identify and connect with the character. I follow their journey with eager expectations, and if the writer has understood my struggles, reflected them back at me, and shown me that I can conquer regardless of my struggles, then I feel empowered, validated and it justifies my pain. Showing me that it’s okay to feel, it’s okay to express myself, it’s okay to be me.

That’s how we heal.

Author Lorraine Ambers - fantasy romance writer

What benefits do you get from reading and writing? What have you discovered about yourself along the way? Share your experiences, you know I love hearing from you.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time, Much Love.

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© Author Lorraine Ambers and http://www.lorraineambers.com, 2019.
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How to Plan your protagonists journey

Throughout everyone’s journey, there are hopes, aspirations, and dreams; and in order for any of those things to come to fruition, certain steps need to be taken to get to the chosen goal. The superficial goal.

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Now here’s the tricky part, the unseen truth behind those desires: What we want, isn’t what we need. That’s because subconsciously, the things we’re hoping to manifest are in fact a band-aid of wishful thinking. The inherent lie we tell ourselves is that when we achieve X, Y or Z somehow we’ll feel better, be whole and be blissfully happy.

But in reality, a better-paid job, a bigger house or faster car will never fill the void we’re trying to escape. This applies to our characters too. Therefore its simply the superficial goal – to figure out what our character needs, we’ll need to delve further and enter the first stage of our character’s arc.

As we begin to align the needs of the character, we come up against conflict and what stands in their path. How will they overcome this, what do they need to learn and how will they adapt? What is their motivation to do this? This, in part, will have a direct correlation to their personality traits, but also the external or internal factors; which is where the plot and the character meets.

Last week I explored the concept of how to hook readers from the first line through curiosity and conflict. Here we play with a similar concept of how to hook readers through character, conflict, and stakes.

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What drives your character to succeed, what’s on the line if they fail and more importantly why should the reader care?

Creating a believable character that the reader can cheer for is the first step, the rest lies in the plot. The intriguing storyline that toys with something similar to this: Conflict, stakes and a failed attempt to solve the outcome, followed by a realization that what they’ve been doing isn’t working, the opportunity to try again and learn from their failures and ultimately their final decision: – Do they Awaken and grow, or remain the same and how does this decision affect the outcome of the story.

For a more in-depth look at these concepts, I recommend visiting the fantastic blog by K.M.Weiland www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com

Author Lorraine Ambers - fantasy romance writer

What do you think about this weeks post? Share your thoughts and tips, you know I love hearing from you.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time, Much Love.

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© Author Lorraine Ambers and http://www.lorraineambers.com, 2019.
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How to Hook a Reader from the First Sentence.

We all know first impressions count, from the title to the very first sentence. So if you lose the reader at this point, chances are they won’t be coming back again. Whoever said ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ probably was not in the writing industry. The first line needs to be brilliant, presenting something curious, shocking or entertaining, and it must be an example of your best writing.
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Fear not, writing buddies; you’re not alone in editing that all important line for the trillionth time. It’s something most of us struggle with at some point.

Here are some examples of excellent first lines, they hook your attention long enough for you to think, ‘oh, what’s happening here?’ Lets’ take a look, perhaps you’ll recognise a few.

“It took seven years to get the letter right.”

“Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told that she would kill her true love.”

“The screw through Cinder’s ankle had rusted, the engraved cross marks worn to a mangled circle.”

“I remember lying in the snow, a small red spot of warm going cold, surrounded by wolves.”

“I hate having to dress like a man.”

“After a year of slavery in the Salt Mines of Endovier, Celaena Sardothien was accustomed to being escorted everywhere in shackles and at sword-point.”

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So what are the magic ingredients for crafting a great line?

They encourage a sense of curiosity or shock: Why does she have to dress like a man? Why does she have a rusted screw in her ankle? What was so important that it took seven years to write?

They present the reader with conflict: Will she escape slavery? Why does she have to kill her first love and will she get away with it? Will the wolves kill her?

By combining curiosity and conflict you drop the reader straight into the action, where things are about to start happening, getting to the heart of the story as soon as possible.

While it’s tempting to lure the reader in with beautiful descriptions and lengthy prose, you run the risk of losing the reader’s interest before they’ve had a chance to meet your character.

The same might be said for opening with dialogue; the reader hasn’t had a chance to become orientated with the story, let alone become invested in your character. Why should they care what they’re talking about?

Alternatively, opening with inner dialogue gives a deeper perspective, potentially allowing the reader to become accustomed to your MC through their thoughts and actions.

Don’t forget to check out your favourite novel and see if any of their first lines grab your attention.

Author Lorraine Ambers - fantasy romance writer

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time, Much Love.

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© Author Lorraine Ambers and http://www.lorraineambers.com, 2019.

 

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing Dialogue

The best way to immerse a reader into your story is directly through your character’s, experiences. Their senses and surroundings, but also their internal thoughts and reactions: Therefore, dialogue is an important tool for any writer.

We’ve already taken a closer look at How to Create Vivid Settings and How to Write Persuasive Content in your novel, so don’t forget to check those out.

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Here is my list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to writing effective dialogue.

Do – keep your character’s voice consistent: Every character thinks and acts in different ways, reflect this through what they say, they should have a unique pattern of speech or vocabulary. Equally as powerful, is what they don’t say. A long, drawn-out pause or internal reflection can work wonders.

Don’t – bog down the conversation with irrelevant fillers, like small talk or little noises that we tend to use; ‘Erm, um, well, yeh…’ there’s no room for it in your novel. Everything said and done must drive the plot forward with purpose.

Do – add conflict and tension to dialogue to keep the reader hooked.

Don’t – Litter your dialogue with people’s names, this is usually only done when a character is trying to get someone’s attention or to make a point.

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Do – punctuate and formulate your dialogue. Keep your manuscript consistent with the style of speech quotes used and remember to start a new line when there’s a new speaker.

Don’t – forget the importance of speech Tags. If the reader has backtrack to discover who’s speaking then you’ve lost engagement., a cardinal sin in the writing world. By adding a simple, she said or he said, at the beginning or end of the dialogue can make a huge difference. But keep them to a minimum, only use if the reader can’t tell who’s speaking.

Do – use Action Beats to show what your character is doing/ thinking by adding action and gestures.

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Don’t – convey your characters emotions with adverbs like, said angrily, sulkily, or sadly. This is telling, instead, show through the dialogue and action beats.

‘Get out.’ Ben curled his fists and grit his teeth. Or ‘Go away.’ Ben slumped further into his seat and stared at the floor.

Do – use the preference of said over other speech verbs such as, exclaimed, breathed, stuttered or cried. Keep it simple and let the dialogue and action do the talking.

Don’t – use dialogue as an opportunity for exposition: This is where the character explains the plot. It’s the worst kind of telling over showing.

Do – take advantage of the opportunity to reveal character insights; what does there speech tell the reader about their age, culture or background. In The Magicians by Lev Grossman, Janet makes pop culture references during her dialogue, not only does this reveal the era she grew up in, but it also reveals her witty sense of humour.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman Review Fantasy Author

Don’t – over use jargon, slang, or accents: It can become jarring to the reader. Whilst the odd Scottish infliction can be enduring ‘do you ken?’ Too much becomes a reader’s battlefield as they try to decipher each and every spoken sentence. Equally, slang dates and becomes irrelevant. Different cultures use different turn of phrases, so what works in one part of the world will not make sense in another part.

Do – check your dialogue by reading it out loud to see if it sounds natural and like something your character would say. It never hurts to act it out, so have some fun and get creative.

Author Lorraine Ambers - fantasy romance writer

Do you have any tips about writing dialogue? If so, please share them. You know I love hearing from you.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time, Much Love.

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© Author Lorraine Ambers and http://www.lorraineambers.com, 2018.
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Creating Simple Character Profiles

We all love things that make our lives a little easier. Especially, when being a writer can sometimes begin to feel like creative chaos:

How many characters do I have?

Where were they born?

Wait! What colour did I say their eyes were?

So many questions, so little time… and how many scraps of paper, notebooks or random computer files have I used to catalogue all this info?

Fear not, to help us all become a little more organised, I’ve created some fun worksheets that can be filled in and filed away to kickstart your WIP bible.

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If you’re confused by what a writers bible looks like, then head on over to Kate’s fantastic blog to find out why you should have a series bible and what to include in them. Her posts are a wonderful resource for any writer, full of insightful, practical writing and editing tips.

Of course, characters are more than just appearances, they need to develop a distinct personality based on their fictional experiences and journey. To navigate that, I’ve developed another worksheet that delves a little deeper.

While not all of this information will be used in the novel, it will give you, the creator, a better grasp of who this character is, what makes them tick.

You might like to refer to one of my other post, How to Create Believable Villains, which will hopefully inspire you while developing your antagonist.

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I hope you found them helpful and I hope you figure out a way to print them out!!
Author Lorraine Ambers - fantasy romance writer

Let me know if I’ve missed something important and remember to keep an eye out for more worksheets in the future. I’m currently working on character family charts and Goal-Conflict-Stakes worksheets.

Until next time, Much Love.

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© Author Lorraine Ambers and http://www.lorraineambers.com, 2018.
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How to Write Rich and Vivid Settings

The setting of your novel is just as important as character development and dialogue. It needs to accurately reflect the period or define the world-building making it as vibrating and sensory as possible. It’s much more than painting a picture, its a fine art of evoking the five senses to bring the story alive, immersing the reader into the world you’ve created.

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Whilst it’s tempting to fill your pages with purple prose and lengthy descriptions, be mindful that those approaches tend to bog a story down. Foreshadowing is a great tool that allows the writer to drip feed upcoming events; a carefully placed dagger might elude to a murder or a broken lock might reveal how a derelict house is broken into. However, relevance is vital, if that dagger isn’t going to be used to drive the plot forward don’t use it for the sake of embellishing a scene. Aside from the odd red herring to mislead your reader, everything should have a purpose, even if it is only to show how affluent your character is or to reveal aspects of their personality.

To help develop the story and anchor the reader, include details such as the time of day, weather, place, or season. For example: An apple tree in early bloom would hint at spring. Some of the specifics could be done through character description and clothing, but others can be hinted at while your character moves through the setting. Instead show the streetlamps flaring to life as the sun dips below the high-rise buildings. Perhaps car lights reflect off of the slick tarmac to reveal a rainy night.

Another great writing technique is to add symbolism, we see symbols every day and take them for granted: A heart means love. Red signals passion or anger. And even names and places can have a meaning behind them. We can go further using similes, such as, as brave as a lion. Or by using metaphors: Imagine a character returning home to take care of an elderly parent, to find their childhood farm in a run-down dilapidated condition, much like the health of their loved one.

Use the landscape or worldbuilding as an obstacle for your character to overcome. An anxious character might fear large cities full of people. What would happen if he had to travel to a big city to meet with his dream agent? OK, so that’s one of my potential obstacles, but you can start to understand how facing that fear would be a great challenge.

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Lastly, let’s not forget the advantages the five senses play when crafting a novel. They can be used to foreshadow, show the passing of time, reveal landscapes that build plot and play with symbolism. But never underestimate the importance of evoking emotions in your readers, all of which can be done by arousing the five senses as the character’s move through the story.

 

Author Lorraine Ambers - fantasy romance writer

What technique do you need to work on? And which is your preferred method of evoking emotions in your reader? Please comment, you know I love hearing from you.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time, Much Love.

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© Author Lorraine Ambers and http://www.lorraineambers.com, 2019.
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How to Create Believable Villians.

Antagonist forces are paramount to a story and while they can sometimes be represented by a theme, such as, prejudice or oppression. Or even an internal struggle, such as, mental health or limiting paradigms , they are usually represented in the form of a person.

So how do we stop this character from becoming a one-dimensional caricature representation?

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The best tip for any writer learning their craft is to read, read a bit more, and then keep reading. Study how these villains have been created; what works, what doesn’t and what you in turn would do. Another great research tool, is to study villains in movies and TV shows. Remember, inspiration comes from many sources. For more tips on finding inspiration why not click the link and check out my previous post?

First of all, remember that every single character in your story believes they are the hero. Yes, even the bad ones.

Just as your protagonist has goals, hopes and dreams, so does the antagonist. To create conflict, the villain and hero will challenge each other, doing anything in their power to stop the other from gaining their goal, because it will usually block their own journey. Play on this, use it to your advantage, imagine the villain and hero are magnetised polar opposites, doing everything in their power to repel the other whilst being constantly bonded together.

Interconnect both of Goal-Conflict-Stakes journey for maximum effect.

Whether a person is good or bad they will have a set of core values. Keep them authentic by sticking to those rules.

Villains need positive traits, just as hero’s need negative traits, it’s what makes them appear human.

Allow readers to empathise with the villain, even if they disagree. Envisage their full story, their journey and ask:

• What or who do they love?
• What are their struggles?
• What happened to them to make them behave in such a way?

Don’t fall into the trap of creating a villain that’s a psychopath or has a borderline personality disorder. This is stereotyping and, in my opinion, does more harm by labelling people struggling with such disorders as evil or somehow less than others.

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Show the reader that your antagonist wasn’t always bad. Perhaps personality faults, environmental circumstances or both drove them into the villain they are today. A three-dimensional villain is never cruel, manipulative and destructive just for effect, there’s a reason behind it, so allow the reader to explore this.

Describe your villain. Not only what their physical features are like, but show any ticks or traits they might have. What manner do they hold themselves in? What do they wear? Again, don’t be tempted to stereotype; not all villains need a scar, a limp, a black cloak or death mask. In real life they’re often undistinguishable, or perhaps even charismatic.

The villain and the hero mirror each other, through similarities but also through contrast. Thus the villain will expose certain truths about the hero, that they didn’t want to admit. And vice versa, whereas the villain won’t overcome this revelation, the hero will grow and evolve into the saviour. Thus being able to conquer all that was set out before them.

Author Lorraine Ambers - fantasy romance writer

Do you have any tips on how to create believable villains? What do think of my very first Infographic?

Please share your thoughts, you know I love hearing from you.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time, Much Love.

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© Author Lorraine Ambers and http://www.lorraineambers.com, 2019.