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How to Write Compelling Secondary Characters

This week I’ve received a comment about secondary characters, and more specifically, how many characters should support your protagonist? In truth, every story is individual; Game of Thrones notoriously has a large cast of characters, whilst The Martian focuses solely on the plight of the protagonist for the best part of the story.

Therefore the plot holds the key to such questions, a better question to consider would be; how can I create context for the MC struggles? What internal or external circumstances, characters or environment will best serve and/or antagonise my protagonist? How can you help develop your protagonists story arc?

Secondary characters can provide powerful purposes within our stories. They can help to advance the plot in ways the protagonist cannot. They create conflict that stymies the protagonists journey. They can help to deepen the theme through dialogue, backstory and actions. Whilst help to reveal elements of worldbuilding through their individual point of view.

Here is a guide of the types of characters who may accompany your protagonist on their journey.

The sidekick – This character can also be the protagonists friend, or family member. Whilst they accompany the hero on his quest, they may well hinder, create conflict, become their confidant and most importantly add an element of comedy or surprise, just like Ron Wesley in Harry Potter.

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The friend – The nurturing companion who is always available to lend a shoulder to cry on. They help the hero to realise their own path, to be there after conflicts to give them the strength to continue onwards. Hagrid from Harry Potter is a great example.

The mentor – The wise soul who gives council, hints at vital clues whilst offering training and experience to the young apprentice. Remember not to make the story too easy, your mentor should lead the protagonist to the answers without actually telling him how to solve the problems.

The love interest – Create romance and tension within the story by adding an element of romance. It stirs internal conflict driving your protagonist to explore new emotions.  You could raise the stakes by forcing your protagonist to sacrifice something in order to save them. Or if romance is not central to your plot, maybe their love interest is merely a way to round out your character, a way to introduce their backstory and reveal another side to their personality.

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The healer – When your character gets injured, or faces a time of great healing, they will require someone who can aid them. This type of character helps the protagonist recover and strengthen up before they move on with their journey. This flexible character will add a fresh dimension to the story as your protagonist fights to overcome their injury/ illness.

The Herold – This character will call the protagonist into action, starting them on their journey. They give instructions in the beginning, like Gandalf who sets Bilbo Baggins off in The Hobbit. Often the protagonists ignores, rebels, or simply persists the call to action until they’re forced to act.

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The antagonist – Unlike all of the influencer characters the antagonists purpose is to create conflict, to prevent your protagonist from reaching his goals, to stay one step ahead until the climax of the story. Ultimately allowing the protagonist to grow, to improve, to reach a point where they can defeat or overcome the antagonist. They may take form as the bully, the irate boss, the murder your trying to track, or the power crazy queen who needs to be usurp.

The family – Families come in all forms, some supportive and others abusive. Inside each family the dynamic will vary depending on the types of characters involved. You may encounter the herald, the friend, the side kick, the antagonist and a love interest all within one family. We see such dynamic interactions in Hunger games when Katniss sacrifices herself to save her sister.

Author Lorraine Ambers - fantasy romance writer

Have fun, get creative and play around with these side characters as a way to introduce conflict, obstacles, tension, support and stability.

Tell me, how many characters does your WIP have? And apart from your protagonist, who is your favourite and why? Don’t be shy, share your ideas, 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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Developing Conflict and Resolution in your stories

Characters are the heart of a story, the plot is its skeleton, but the blood running through its veins is conflict. Without it, your characters have nothing to fight for, no arc will develop, and your plot will wither and die. In this post, we’ll explore the internal and external conflict to resolution elements that could be evoked to create a truly dynamic novel .

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The protagonists traits need to be carefully selected for each story. Their backstory will colour their personality, and mould their goals. It’s important to understand where their character journey starts, so that you can plan for their reactions by understand their limiting beliefs. You should know what they want, and what needs are hidden beneath.  

Within the protagonist is the delicate balance of their life’s story, and before the plots even started, there might be an internal conflict brewing beneath the surface. In other words, the conflict is Person vs Self. Do they struggle with a mental illness? Are they harbouring a deep, dark secret?

Perhaps the conflict is Person vs Society. Is your character desperate to escape the seemingly perfect, yet utterly dull family life. But if they leave to seek fame and fortune, they’ll be shunned by the community they’ve grown up in?

Other types of conflict to consider are: Person vs Paranormal = A spooky ghost story. Person vs Environment = A thrilling adventure where the character has to survive a hostile, unfamiliar environment. Person vs Technology = like the movie Terminator!!

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When we consider these questions, a shadow character will immerge, and from that, we can build a nuanced character using all of their backstory/traits/goals.  Once the conflict has been targeted, make it personal, give an emotional connection to the character, that way the reader will be invested in the resolution too.

Make the conflict specific to your character; creating a league championship with the idea of your hero and villain playing on opposite sides isn’t engaging. But show the reader why the characters believe winning will fulfil an unmet need and you’ve captured their attention.

We could use the same techniques to build our antagonist, possibly, with the intent of creating a character that will purposefully challenge our protagonist, Person vs Person. Perhaps, they both have the same goal, but with very different ways of obtaining it. If the protagonist is socially awkward, a brash and obnoxious antagonist would naturally create a conflict.

Keep creating tension by adding layers of conflict. Every obstacle creates an opportunity for triumph or failure. Keep raising the stakes, build barriers that prevent your protagonist from gaining his goals unless he overcomes the impossible. The pressure of time will ratchet up the pace of your novel. In order for your hero to win, they’ll have to suffer first. And remember to keep the conflict believable for your genre/world/plot.

Author Lorraine Ambers - fantasy romance writer

I love Person vs Person conflict, it works wonders in the romance genre, but I also use Person vs Society. What’s your preferred conflict method? Share your writing style with me, 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 Define Themes in your Novels

Under the surface of every story is a Theme. But what is a Theme? And how do we develop one for our novel? You may have already drafted the novel without much thought to Theme, and that’s fine. This post will help you identify them so that they can be used to strengthen the story during revisions.

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When we think of fairy-tales, we think about morals it’s trying to portray. Theme is similar, as in it’s an underlining message to the reader, expressed through your character’s arc. The plot is what happens in your story, but the Theme is why it happens.

During your character’s journey, certain Themes will keep coming up through their goals, the conflict and then, the resolution. How do they overcome their character flaws? What holds them back from achieving their goals? What are they afraid of, and how do you force them there? How do they differ from the beginning of the story to the end? Their inner transformation may naturally hold the key to any Themes.

The polar opposite of each Theme might be used in a story to add depth and tension. Consider your favourite story and identify some of the conflicting Themes from the infographic below.

Another way to identify Theme is to consider what topics you’re trying to convey, in my Mischief and Mayhem I focus on the abuse of power and redemption. Through our writing, we express our views of the world, even if it’s subconscious at first. What is the prevailing mood/tone of the whole story? What messages have you conveyed about human nature and the world we live in. Do the events leave a sufficient and impressionable imprint upon your protagonist? The answer to your Theme may lie in there.

Of course, there may be many underlying Themes. You need only consider some of your favourite stories to explore and identify Themes. Take Cinderella, I would say the most significant Theme is good vs. evil. However there are also Themes of friendship, Death, and love. Every character’s journey will undoubtedly be complex. One Theme might weave through the entire story, while others only appear in a chapter or a scene.

Author Lorraine Ambers - fantasy romance writer

What is your favourite Theme to write about? And does this differ from the type of Themes you prefer to read about? You know I love hearing from you, so please share your experiences.

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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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.
How to Write a Synopsis Novel Story

How to Write a Synopsis

The thought of writing a synopsis is enough to make dread swirl in our guts. After months of plotting, writing and editing – we’re finally faced with five things that stops us in our tracks.

  • Novel title
  • Pitch/Logline
  • Blurb
  • Synopsis

In this week’s blog, I’ll be breaking down the elements needed for synopsis writing. Hopefully – removing your fear of how to craft one. It’s not hard… honest. It’s simply a different process.

One thing I discovered while writing my first synopsis, is that literary agents and publishers wants the complete story. So don’t leave them hanging with your story. Reveal the climax and ending.

The one page synopsis is intended to communicate to agents and publishers that you have a complete plot and character arc. They’ll be able to identify if the story works as a whole.

EE card Synopsis Writing Novel Craft Story

Tell the story. Keep it simple. I like to skim through my novel jotting down notes of plot points: Action & Emotion. From the notes, I begin to shape my synopsis. The notes highlight the important story elements. Always write your synopsis in 3rd person, even if the novel is 1st person and write in present tense.

Think of this as more of a technical paper, it’s a factual explanation of the events that drive your story. Don’t evoke your writing style and voice.

Set the stage by providing the setting and introduce your main characters (Protagonist and antagonist). Always introduce each characters NAME in full capitals, the first time they’re mentioned. Then include where the story starts and identify the inciting moment. But keep it simple. Use a few well-chosen words to evoke meaning.

  • Person
  • Time/Place
  • Action
  • Consequence

From there we begin to flesh out the details by revealing what the protagonist and antagonist are planning to do. Showing how, why and when are they going to do this. Don’t include side quests, additional characters or plot twists – unless they’re vital in explaining the story arc. There will be practically no backstory or description, it will clutter the synopsis.

Finally, it’s time to reveal how the story ends and how it was achieved. Remember to link it back to the inciting moment.

Author Lorraine Ambers YA fantasy romance

© Author Lorraine Ambers and http://www.lorraineambers.com, 2018.