Killing Characters!

Someone has to die in fantasy fiction, right? But why?

Two main reasons for me are…

1 – To have an effect on another character. 

It could be an inciting incident near the beginning of the book. 

It also works to weaken the character just as they’re close to their goals. 

Or, it could send the character spiralling, and another character is forced to step up and prove themselves.

2 – To remind readers of the stakes.

There are so many god-like characters with seemingly unlimited powers these days. They’re immortal, invicible, and this means they can’t die, so there are no stakes.

Killing off a significant character early on makes it clear that they do have weaknesses, and readers feel that threat better.

Sure, some are resurrected or found in the underworld, which is a whole different story.

I don’t mind when it’s an instant resurrection or when the MC goes on a quest to the underworld to get their loved one. But I hate when a deceased character suddenly pops up out of nowhere. 

I’m currently pondering a character’s death myself. It’s a complicated one in that I could use their POV in this limbo that they’re stuck in, or I could have another character sense them so it’s obvious to readers that they’re not fully dead.

I’ve discussed it with others, and I’m still undecided. But I will make it clear right after the supposed death that the character it not entirely dead. That way, I don’t annoy readers with a random resurrection. 

Image by Lothar Dieterich from Pixabay 

All Alone!

Characters might spend time alone, either before or after significant events. Preparing and processing is important for character motivation and consequential actions. It can also keep throughs out of busy scenes where it might distract from the moment.

Here are a few things I like when reading or writing characters on their own. 

  • Keep it short. Long paragraphs of time alone with their thoughts can be boring.
  • Tie it into something active, like exploring or going through old trinkets that prompt memories for the character to think about. 
  • Practicing something potentially useful is another way to make it active and have the character pause once in a while to remind themselves why they’re doing it. 
  • Make it lead up to something like a significant event that the MC is preparing for. What are they’re hopes and fears for the outcome
  • Or have the MC processing something afterwards. How do they feel about it and what are they going to do next? 
  • Maybe have them talk to a pet or inanimate object or someone they lost in an imaginary conversation. 

So there you have it. Ways for an MC to be alone without boring readers with nothing but thoughts. 

Harsh Critiques!

I’ve had mixed experiences with giving and receiving critiques. I try to be honest and encouraging and have many great writing buddies do the same for me. But one thing that bothers me is when people I don’t know critique my work with zero encouragement or when others talk about wanting “harsh” crits or “tear my chapter apart”.

Firstly, let’s look at the word “harsh”.

Cambridge Dictionary says… unpleasant, unkind, cruel, or more severe than is necessary:

Merriam Webster defines it as… unpleasant and difficult to accept or experience

Then there’s “tear it apart” or “rip it to shreds”. I mean, who asks for something like that? 

What these people should be saying is “Be honest. Feel free to nit pick. Point out any and every issue you find that leaves my manuscript lacking.” This is what a “real” critique is all about.

Critters can’t control if a writer is going to be sensitive to negative comments or not, but you don’t have to sugarcoat it either to be constructive. You don’t have to lie or give false praise in order to be encouraging. Honesty and a little tact on any issues go an incredibly long way. There’s also a sever lack of encouragement for new writers. We’re all learning and growing and want to be part of a community that inspires us to be better rather than discouraging us. There should be balance in a good critique.

Critiques should be helpful, productive and exciting to see the potential in your work even if you have a long way to go. For me, that’s part of the fun, taking a draft and polishing it into something I can be proud of and grateful for my writing buddies for getting me there.

However, I get to the point with my writing buddies where we can be blunt without offending one another. I’ve had a couple who apologise for bluntness if they picked on something a lot in a particular chapter, and I was fine with it. That’s a little different because I know them and trust that they’re not saying it to be harsh. They’re saying it because they’re familiar enough with my work to know what I’m capable of.

So stop asking for harsh critiques and start asking for honest ones.

Image by Steve Johnson from Pixabay 

Read Terrible Books!

Yes, I recommend reading terrible books. Why, you ask? Because it helps you learn what not to do as a writer. And that’s even better than learning what to do. It’s highly subjective what to do a how to write. I doubt any two writers will agree on everything even if they agree in general. 

But there are many no-nos that just about every writer would agree with. If not, then I worry for them. And I worry for the author of the series that prompted this post. I don’t even want to say who it is because the writing and story are that bad. I’m not the only one, and some of the Goodreads reviews made my point. I’m currently on book 3, but I have it as an audiobook in my car so I don’t waste my precious reading time. Thank you, audiobooks.

And onto the no-nos based on this particular series. They shouldn’t be a surprise, but they’re a strong reminder how you can ruin an entire series.

  • Don’t bore your readers with backstory or history lessons, especially long conversations that don’t lead anywhere or just keep going round in circles. If the character is learning new things, that’s okay, but bear in mind that your readers might not want to know every single detail that goes beyond answering the essential questions in that moment. 
  • Don’t overdo descriptions to the point they become info-dumps rather than visual exposition unless it’s particularly important to the character on an emotional level. Find a nice balance between descriptions for your readers and the reactions of your characters.
  • Make sure your book stays relatively consistent when it comes to age category. Things like love scenes and swearing, for example, need to be toned down for YA but freer for adult. That’s not to say you should throw sex scenes in every other chapter (unless it’s a romance or erotica, which is a whole different tone) or have overly foul-mouthed characters all the time. And please have character be realistic when it comes to sex. It’s one thing to get a little embarrassed when over-sharing or if another character spills intimate secrets, but getting overly squirmy and making a big deal of someone’s limited experience is more YA than adult. Adults can be immature at times, but keep their immaturity realistic and limited.
  • Don’t overdo character traits to the point they’re in every scene or made a big deal of every time. Traits are important, and it’s okay to have another character point them out occasionally… within reason.
  • Don’t be vague on things that your characters (especially POV characters) should know inside and out unless it’s really not necessary in that scene.
  • On the other hand, don’t save things or hints of things until the final chapter or later book in a series that your characters should know. It’s okay to drop a brief mention of things that don’t mean much at the start, but you need something to set the foundation for when you do need them so it doesn’t feel like cheating or a deus ex machina.
  • Don’t avoid the learning curves. I mostly mean this in relation to magical abilities, but it applies to general skills too. Your characters need to learn to use said skills and even struggle at first, maybe even have a fail or two to make it more effective when their skills finally click. That clicking moment is a big deal for your characters.
  • Don’t forget the plot. I’m a huge fan of character-driven story, but the book needs some semblance of a plot that coincides with the character’s goals. Establish their personal journey from the start, and the main plot should slot in.

Oddly enough, this particular series has a tone of very specific elements that my series has. I was super miffed to read the place names, nicknames, even many character traits and arcs that are identical to mine. I’m not worried though. My story is way better since I don’t do all the stupid things I’ve mentioned above, and there’s an actual plot.

So reading terrible books actually helps you as a writer avoid those major let-downs for readers.

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay 

Therapeutic Writing!

As it’s mental health month, I thought that now is as good a time as any to talk about how writing can be therapeutic. Living with a mental illness sucks, and I get overwhelmed with emotions easily. Sometimes I don’t know how I feel and why, so I get to writing.

I write short pieces as you’ll find in my Embracing Darkness collection and Duet for One based on the darker emotions or completely confusing situations. Then there are my novels, which include moments or reactions from my past that I’ve adapted for my novel. It’s like a creative diary.

One novel in particular started with a dream prompted by some horrible events during an extremely hard time. After realising I had more to write on that, I turned it into a full-length novel. It was very therapeutic for me and helped me deal with a horrific and confusing situation. 

You don’t have to write everything exactly how it happens. That’s the joy of creative writing. Turning it into something abstract or fantastical can be just as helpful if it gets your emotions out. I’m a fantasist, and the only way I know how to deal with my emotions is to make it something fantastical.

My writing helps me put my emotions into something that I can make sense of and process in a creative way. Next time you’re going through a rough time, try writing about it. You never know where it could lead to.

Image by 育银 戚 from Pixabay

Unravelling Writing Advice – Show Don’t Tell!

Another installment from Unravelling Writing Advice series.

Firstly, what is “tell” and what is “show?”

Telling – He was tired. 

Showing – His limbs became heavy, and his eyelids fluttered.

Okay, so that was a quick example. But you get the point. The first example outright tells us how he feels whereas the second describes it, ergo, showing. Showing helps the reader connect with the character’s senses and emotions in a more descriptive way.

Now… there’s a problem here. 

The whole “show, don’t tell,” is bullshit. How can writers show everything without spilling over their word count in the thousands? We’d end up with books the size of suitcases. Look back to the examples. Three words vs eight. If you showed everything, you’d double your narration and then some.

This is where I use the “show vs tell” idea. It implies the exact same thing, that describing senses works better for the reader than showing the senses, but it also accounts for when it’s not necessary. 

One way to avoid this is to be wary of how often you add descriptions. Not every line needs to have this. Sometimes, not even every paragraph needs this, but you should choose those carefully.

The other side of “show, don’t tell” is in scenes. If you want to make backstory or memories more meaningful and avoid info dumps, you can show them in an active scene. But again, it’s adding word count. I try to show what I can in flashbacks, dreams, or a memory without overdoing them to the point they become annoying. Short and sweet and rare are key with these.

Not all backstory needs long explanations or flashbacks, so this is where you can tell the reader in a summary while being careful not to fall into info dump territory. Honestly, I tend to take the whole “This three line paragraph on a key point of history that helps explain how these magical beings came into existence is an info dump,” with a pinch of salt. But what do I know. I only read bestsellers with multiple paragraphs of history lessons that mean nothing to the scene, so surely I can drop three fricking lines. 

So when you’re wondering how to explain through pages and pages of showing, ask yourself if you really have to. Can you show this, or is it better to tell it?

Image by Willgard Krause from Pixabay

One Thought

Weather, Thunderstorm, Flash, Light, Bolt, Storm, Cloud

Just about every writer gets writer’s block sometimes. This is how my overactive brain overcomes it

One thought, one word, one line.

The letters roll on.

They might as well be nothing.

Blankness.

That damn line is flashing its condescension at me.

It knows.

It sees the chaos in my mind.

I hate the thing, hate what its stillness means, but it rolls on. 

More nothing.

Wild thoughts slap away my reach for solace.

Peace evades my every attack and taunts me.

I’d found peace in so many words, comforting solace that hid reality.

Attacking peace.

I laugh at the notion now.

What was I thinking?

Peace? 

Chaos is what I am, and I will wield it as I see fit.

Spill the chaos onto the page, swirl it around until it becomes my voice, my art. Creation is all I have.

I mould and build anew what I break down. 

It is my world, and I am its goddess.

Contact me on Discord for info about my writing ranting group for struggling writers. @lovefantasy#0367

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

Don’t Hate on My Prologue Just Because You Hate Prologues!

I’ve read an array of fiction, mostly fantasy or sci-fi, with prologues. I tend not to be impressed by half of them. They feel like info dumps or pointless backstory that could be weaved into early chapters as the reader needs to know them. And it affects my own prologues while questioning other authors’ motives for their prologues.

Firstly, I believe short and sweet works best for a prologue. That’s not to say I shy away from reading a longer one if it feels worthy. And I’ve read both great and disappointing prologues from three pages to seventeen. I’ve even had critiques on my own prologues start with “I hate prologues and this should be chapter 1.” Okay, that’s not my fault you don’t like prologues. And it’s not chapter one for a reason.

I work hard to make my prologues meaningful. I don’t put it as chapter one because it happens in a time long before the main story starts or is a short scene that doesn’t warrant a whole chapter. Yes, you could skip it and not lose the bigger sense of the story. But I put it there to set the tone, background in an active scene, and something I feel needs to be clear before the main story. It’s short and sweet, so suck it up.

If previous authors have failed to let their prologues appeal to readers, that’s not my fault. If they overdid backstory or world building to the point it was more like a history lesson, again, not my fault.

So to writers and readers, please give prologues a chance just as you give chapter one a chance. Some of us writers put it there for genuine reasons. It’s not our fault other authors failed you.
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Writing Outside your Wheelhouse!

Do it. Seriously, put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see how deeply you can dig. It doesn’t have to be a whole novel. It could be a short story or an occasional POV in a bigger story. 

This is NOT about sensitivity or political correctness. This is about tolerance and understanding beyond what we’ve experienced. One of my own CPs mentioned they were worried about how it would look writing a character of colour and dealing with racism in the book. I get it. It’s a sensitive issue. But it’s all a very real issue that needs representing in fiction just like LGBTQ+, mental illness, disabilities… the list goes on. 

Even in fantasy or sci-fi, there are aliens and magical beings that represent the diversity in life and the prejudices that go along with them. It’s probably easier with fantastical characters because the writer gets to create whatever prejudice they want against that character. But let’s face it, we all know it comes from very real issues.

As a once-aspiring actress, I had to put myself in many characters’ shoes. Their troubles and obstacles boiled down to one thing. How do I overcome them? Each character has their own answer, but if you look hard enough, there is some semblance of reliability.

I do NOT mean to say everyone can fully understand every hardship others go through for whatever reason. 

My point is… why should we be punished for trying? Why is it such a taboo to imagine our skin is another colour, or we have a disability, or our minds are more complex than most? Why are we not allowed to write from a perspective far beyond our own when we’re only trying to bridge the gap?

There is such a thing as a “sensitivity reader” who will offer deeper insight and their reliability to the POV character. These sensitivity readers are there to help writers get their story across while being authentic and mindful that it’s outside our experience.

Write what you know, right? But there’s nothing to say that someone can’t share what they know to help you write what you don’t know. And then you’ll know.  


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

First Chapters Are the Worst!

Quick announcement: I’ve been on blogging hiatus for a couple of weeks due to losing a close family friend. It’s left us all deeply shocked and upset. I’m not sure if I’ll be back to regular posting just yet, but this particular post if more for a writing buddy of mine. I started it a few weeks ago actually, but after critiquing his new chapter one, I questioned my thinking.

It doesn’t take an experienced writer to know that the first pages or first chapter of a novel needs to make an impact. But they can be hard and frustrating to get the right elements across. You have so much to do in order to make your readers want more. But it’s also highly subjective as to what grabs a reader, especially in fantasy.

As a writer with multiple WIPs, I’ve written many chapter ones and I’ve critiqued too many to count. I scrutinise every line and ask myself multiple questions about their necessity, reader interest, and prose etc. My writing buddies do the same for me. We help each other get our chapter ones good enough for readers to want to continue. When I see bestselling books do the very thing my writing buddies and I try to avoid in our openings, it makes me wonder why we bother. 

So I did a little experiment a couple of weeks ago. 

I bought four bestsellers recently, all on my TBR list for months. I couldn’t choose which one to read first, so I read the first chapter of all of them. A couple included preludes/prologues, so I read those too. I like preludes and prologues if they’re done right, but that’s for another conversation.

Honestly, I was quite surprised at many of the chapter one elements that didn’t work for me. 

Let’s start with book number one. 

  • First line was untagged dialogue. 
  • No visuals until page 3. I don’t need every detail down to the crown moulding, but gimme something.
  • Bland narration. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t a particularly interesting voice. I don’t mean to suggest authors use all fancy words and weird structures. But there’s room for creativity in a simple narration.

Book number two.

  • No MC connection whatsoever. 
  • Instant hatred for something the MC had zero interaction with in the chapter apart from watching. It felt for too unfounded for me to side with her in that.
  • Telling. Lots of telling. I hate them. They’re powerful. Ok. 
  • Info dumps. Soooooo many. The ridiculous thing was that there were opportunities to drop things in gradually when the reader needed to know.
  • Too much world building on things I didn’t need to know. And when I read on, there were places the author could do this in later chapters when I actually needed to know. I’d forgotten it all by the time I needed it. But then the author described it all again. Wasted page time for sure.
  • Word repetition all over the place.

Book number three.

  • Started with a dream. I half let it off since it’s a dream of something that actually happened. But it felt too disjointed for an opening page.
  • Short lines of thoughts and quick action. Not really helpful to start me off.
  • The story felt like it started in the wrong place. It started after a major event that affected the MC’s life. The author could easily have added a short chapter leading up to a really quick moment that would require a third of a page, it’s that quick.
  • Lots of filtering.

Book number four. This was much better. Only a couple of things.

  • The author described action but left out details to help me visualise the action. It was far too vague at times.
  • Describing the fantastical races was a bit telling. But I’m just picking on that because I expected better from the author. But it could havebeen done much better.

But you know what? I still want to read more of these books. And it makes me wonder if I’ve become too analytical over getting all these elements right in chapter one. Can interesting worlds be enough even if the prose is lacking? Can exciting events make up for constant info dumps?

I think it can. So while I will keep trying to make my chapter ones work in as many senses as possible, I’m more aware that writers don’t need to hit all the targets to win over a reader.


Image by Markus Winkler from Pixabay