Pirates + interpersonal conflict = emotionally resonant storytelling
Getting to know the characters you’re writing is one thing. It’s a Very Important Thing, and if you’re looking for ways to dig in and uncover the fine details that bring your character to life – from the simple habits that make them tick to the big ideas that shape the way they see themselves and the world around them – I’ve written about that here and here and also here.
But now, armed with in-depth information about your protagonist’s favourite colour, their date of birth, extended family, political affiliation, star signs and all the rest, the question becomes: how do you allow this fully rounded, complex and layered sentient being to reveal themselves to your reader? How do you demonstrate their character development across the course of your narrative, so that the person we meet in the first act is appreciably changed by the time we arrive at the end? How do we manifest that change in a way that’s comprehensible to readers without overstating or devolving into huge chunks of exposition?
I’m glad you asked. And not just because it offers me the excuse to dig into a bit of character analysis in my absolute favourite show. Partly that, too. But it’s relevant, I swear.
Warning: major spoilers follow for Season 1* of Our Flag Means Death. I’m going to be discussing elements of the two central characters’ arcs that are absolutely fundamental to the heart of the story, so if you haven’t seen it and you’re planning to… probably go and watch it before you read on. (You can thank me later.)
How to create depth and engagement... by acting like a two-year-old
This is the hill I will die on: great characters can paper over a flimsy plot, but a great plot can’t disguise underdeveloped characterisation.
Characters are the most important tool in a writer’s arsenal. They’re the mechanism through which a reader enters your world; they’re the vehicle through which your reader will travel the narrative journey you’ve laid out. They don’t have to be likeable (CF: Heathcliff and Cathy in Wuthering Heights, who are just relentlessly awful to everyone they meet, and still manage to take the top spot in a poll of literature’s greatest lovers) and we absolutely do not have to agree with everything they say or do. But they must be recognisable.
Draw readers in with a title that demands engagement
Story titles are important. They’re also the WORST.
I’ve written elsewhere about how a title change was an instrumental part of the overhaul that took one of my decades-old short stories from an unpublishable mess to an acceptance by the first place I submitted it in its revised form. It wasn’t the only major change, of course, but it was significant. A story’s title is its identity, distilled into a single line. Which is not to say that a boring title automatically equals a boring story, but it’s certainly not pulling its weight. And there’s no room for slacking off in those critical first few sentences.
But some stories simply refuse to be named. (Which is how they end up being called The Doll for almost 30 years… but I digress.) So if you’ve found yourself faced with such an unreasonable narrative, here are some tips and tricks for finding the perfect title to intrigue, inspire and entice your readers.
It might not make you money but fanfiction has a value all of its own
Remember that kerfuffle on Twitter a few years back? Where someone tweeted about how fanfiction makes writers worse at writing* and basically the entire #writingcommunity blew up her mentions with tales of exactly why that wasn’t true? I was still on the bird site in those days and I proudly joined the chorus of writers pushing back against the suggestion that fanfiction = bad. Because I’ve seen first hand how the opposite holds true.
Hi, I’m Rachael and I write fanfic. And no, I’m absolutely not going to tell you my pseudonym, but I am going to tell you how it made my writing better. And it’s such an easy win that if you are in any way tempted by the prospect of playing in somebody else’s universe, I wholeheartedly recommend you give it a go. Here’s why
Make 2023 your best writing year yet by avoiding these obstacles
I don’t really hold with New Year’s resolutions. I reckon they’re a bit like waiting for the Ideal Time To Write™ – i.e. a useful tool for futurising, but not for actually Doing The Thing. But new years are about new beginnings, and if you’ve been struggling to move forward with your work in progress, or wanting to start a new project but never quite settling on a way in, there’s something very satisfyingly decisive about the end of one year and the start of another for getting your game face on. So, instead of making a New Year’s Resolution to vaguely “write more,” how about using the blank slate of 2023 to take a look at what might have been holding you back.
Most of these pitfalls happen to most writers at least some of the time, but, as I said in the last post, we’re often quite good at rationalising them away in favour of some other reason why we absolutely, positively, cannot in any way be to blame for the fact that we’re not meeting our writing goals. Hey, we’re creatives. Telling stories is what we do. Doesn’t help get the novel written, though, so if more focused work on your writing is the target, it may help to check in and see if any of the following apply to you.
Read on for the three Ds of writerly procrastination…
Tips, tricks & advice to help your writing shine
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