February Articles

I have a habit of opening scads of tabs in multiple browser windows. (Just ask Jennifer. It drives her crazy.) They pile up and pile up as I come across more and more things that I want to save or share but am too harried (or lazy) to take care of at the time I first encounter them. (The web’s interconnectedness, its greatest asset, can be its greatest curse as well.) Anyway, it has reached a tipping point, and it’s time to purge. So here are some fun writing-related things I’ve discovered in the past month…

First off, we have The Periodic Table Of Storytelling. This gem contains 176 storytelling tropes (themes) from the TV Tropes wiki. While a few of them (eg. ‘Screwed By The Network’) are television-specific, most are applicable to any type of fiction writing. You can even mix and match them into story molecules, samples of which are included for favorites like Star Wars, Dilbert, and Wall-E.

Next is this Character Questionnaire. There are plenty of them out there, but this 50-question one features some especially probing set of questions, such as: #24: What social groups and activities does your character attend? What role do they like to play? What role do they actually play, usually? Sets of questions like this—where each question digs a little deeper—are a great way to reveal information about your character’s motivations.

I once attended a class where the instructor told us that we should first “ask” our character a basic A-level question. Then let “their answer” to that prompt us to ask a slightly deeper B-level question. And then finally ask a follow-up C-level question, and that is where you will truly get to what makes your character tick. I was skeptical at first. After all, it’s not like my character is real—I’m simply asking one portion of my brain to interview another portion of it—but it really does help you to think differently and create ideas.

The best example I can give from my own experience was that I once started interviewing a character by asking what kind of car he drove, which led me to the fact that he only ever bought American-made ones, which led me to the revelation that he was very angry at his country because his son died in Iraq, yet he was very patriotic as well. This inner struggle became the main identity for that character. I had none of that back story in my mind; I was just looking for a generic interview question to start with before I dug into something “more significant,” yet that turned out to be some of the most significant insight I ever got about that character.

Here are 8 Tips on Writing Short Stories, from Kurt Vonnegut. My personal favorite is #5: Start as close to the end as possible. I think this is something that the YA genre has been getting right as of late, and I think that may be contributing to its widespread popularity. All of the major YA stories I’ve read in the past few years  contain the “inciting incident” in the first or second chapter.

In each story, we the meet protagonist a day or two before the coming of age ceremony for her society (Hunger Games, Divergent, Matched) or the moment he is waking up in a strange new place with no memory of the past (Incarceron, The Maze Runner). A major strength of the first Harry Potter book is that we meet Harry just as he’s about to get his letter from Hogwart’s. (A major weakness is that he doesn’t get it until chapter 4.)

I’ll end on a bit of a diabolical note and share with you Why Revenge is Such a Brilliant Plot for Beginner Writers and 10 Ways to Cover Up a Murder.


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