How to Write Better Stories

better stories

A few insights to help you write better stories.

You know that feeling you get when you read a novel and become completely lost in it? You can’t put it down, so you lose track of time. When you finally finish, you wish it would just keep going.

Isn’t that the kind of story you want to write?

Over the past year, I’ve read only a few books that I couldn’t put down. Unfortunately, several of the books I started to read didn’t keep my interest past the first few chapters. There was a time when I forced myself to finish every book I started, no matter how boring it was. But I don’t have time for that anymore. My book pile is big and my reading list is long, so if I’m not compelled by the time the second act gets underway, I move on and find something more intriguing.

As a reader, I’m on a perpetual quest for better stories. What does that mean for writers?  Read More

Stock and Cloned Characters in Storytelling

stock characters

Are you using stock characters in your stories?

I was recently reading a novel, and a few chapters in, I realized I had mixed up two of the main characters. In fact, I had been reading them as if they were a single character. I’m a pretty sharp reader, and this has never happened before, so I tried to determine why I’d made the mistake. Was I tired? Hungry? Not paying attention?

I went back and reviewed the text and noticed that these two characters were indistinct. They were so alike that without carefully noting which one was acting in any given scene, it was impossible to differentiate them from each other. They were essentially the same character. Even their names sounded alike.

This got me to thinking about the importance of building a cast of characters who are unique and distinct from each other instead of a cast of stock characters who are mere clones of one another.  Read More

Archetypal Characters in Storytelling

archetypal characters in storytelling

Archetypal characters for fiction writers.

The hero, the mentor, the sidekick. We’re all familiar with archetypal characters in storytelling. We’ve seen them before. We know the roles they play.

Archetypal characters shouldn’t be confused with stock characters or stereotypical characters. Although we’ve seen all these characters before and will surely see them again, stock and stereotypical characters are based on character traits; archetypes are based on the characters’ function or purpose within a story. Read More

Story is Conflict

story is conflict

Find out how conflict drives any story.

If a story were a bus, conflict would be the driver.

Conflict steers a story, moves it forward, reverses it, stops it in its tracks, and slows or accelerates the pacing.

More importantly, conflict keeps readers glued to the page. Readers want to see how the characters will deal with conflict. Will they find solutions to their problems? Overcome their challenges? Resolve their issues?

Stories contain conflicts large and small, from an impending threat that would wipe out life on planet Earth to minor scuffles in which characters can’t agree on what to have for dinner. When well crafted and worked deftly into the plot, any kind of conflict can be interesting.  Read More

Five Things Your Characters Need

five things characters need

Find out what your characters need.

Many writers and readers will agree that the most important element of any story is its characters. There are certainly exceptions: some plot-driven stories are quite compelling and successful. However, readers form their deepest connections to stories through the characters by developing relationships with them and caring about what happens to them.

Naturally, we want our characters to be realistic. We want them to resonate, to come alive in readers’ imaginations. We work to give them distinct voices and personalities, extensive backstories, and vivid descriptions. We do all of this so readers will develop an emotional bond with our characters.

All of these aspects of characters make them seem more like real people. But there are five essential things that often get overlooked, and these are the critical ingredients of the characters’ function within a story. Read More

Creating Authentic Character Relationships

character relationships

Are the character relationships in your story authentic?

As storytellers, we often look for ways to make our characters as lifelike as possible: we give them internal struggles, external goals, difficult challenges, and hard choices to make, all while raising the stakes and doling out consequences for every action our characters take.

Today let’s examine an oft-overlooked element of storytelling: character relationships. Read More

Originality in Storytelling

originality in storytelling

Has everything been done before?

Most storytellers strive to write fresh, original stories. They’re hoping to come up with an idea that’s never been done before.

Is that even possible?

Most stories are built with universal structures, or they use elements that can be found in the plethora of stories that already exists. That’s why readers can often predict the outcome of a plot (we’ve seen that plot structure before) or why some characters feel familiar, cliché, or stereotypical (we’ve seen those characters and their problems before).

But if it’s true that every story contains elements of stories that came before, then why do some stories feel original, even if they’re not?  Read More

Plot vs. Character in Storytelling

fiction writing plot and character

Fiction writing: plot vs. character.

Have you ever struggled with a story idea only to give up because it seems like every plot has already been done? Maybe you focus on character development to make up for a weak or formulaic plot.

Or maybe you focus on plot, only to end up with characters that feel flat, stereotypical, or unsympathetic. But your plot is riveting, and that makes up for lackluster characters.

Some stories are plot-driven: they take us through twists and turns that keep readers glued to a story. Others are character-driven: readers keep turning the pages because they’ve become attached to the characters and need to find out what happens to them. But some of the best stories strike a balance between a compelling plot and intriguing characters. Read More

How to Identify the Protagonist in a Story

how to identify the protagonist

Can you identify the protagonist?

In most stories, the protagonist is obvious: Harry Potter, Lisbeth Salander, and Katniss Everdeen are unquestionably the protagonists of their respective stories. But sometimes the protagonist isn’t so obvious.

In some cases, a false protagonist is planted to intentionally mislead the audience, but the story later reveals another character to be the true protagonist. In other cases, primary characters get strong roles within a story, making the true protagonist difficult to suss out.

George R.R. Martin is beloved and infamous for killing off main characters in his series A Song of Ice and Fire, and readers are often mislead or confused about which character is the protagonist at any given moment in the epic historical fantasy tale.

If we’re not sure which character is the protagonist, how do we go about identifying the protagonist? Read More

Futuristic Inspiration for Speculative Fiction

creative writing prompts

Get inspired by the future.

How would people in the Middle Ages respond to a television? What would someone from the 1700s think of a helicopter? What would a person from the early twentieth century think of a computer, or more specifically, the Internet?

They would think these things were magical — either illusions or genuine supernatural occurrences. They might even believe the persons yielding the magical objects were witches, wizards, or gods.

But you and I both know that’s not the case. Read More