Creative Writing BlogStarting, Plotting, & Theme
Quarantine. We are all stuck with barely anywhere to go and too much time at home. If there was ever a time to start that book you’ve been thinking about writing for years – it’s now. I am an English and Professional Writing student who has somehow managed to write two books, so I know how daunting a task it truly is to finish one – let alone write the first page. Through my classes and experience, I have a few handy tips to share with you to help you start your creative writing journey! From starting to plotting and developing your characters, to proper grammar and word choice and the most unnerving problem of all – writer’s block – this weekly blog is here to help!
STARTING YOUR NOVEL
The beginning of your writing is arguably the most important part of the piece. If you don’t grab your reader immediately, they won’t stick around to see how the story falls into place. Many writers make the mistake of thinking their opening needs to be full of development and explanations. On the contrary – the best way to start your creative writing is with a bang. Start in the middle of a conflict, grab the reader’s attention so you can reel them in before you need to do all your development. A classic trope to avoid is something along the lines of; “She woke up from her dream, sunlight washing in through the window. It was time to begin her day.” This is far too mundane. Nothing about it tells the reader that this will be a unique experience. Begin with action!
Afterward, you can do your information dump. Expose the most relevant information to upcoming events, introduce your main character, and begin describing your scene. In addition to not holding off on the action, don’t hold off on the dialogue either. Pounce right in – it would be a great idea to give most of your information through dialogue. Make sure that when you are dumping information on your readers that you aren’t doing it in long, unending paragraphs. Dialogue provides a natural break in discouraging text walls.
To begin writing your novel or creative writing piece, it helps to have an outline to guide you. Do not feel like this guide limits you in any way – this is your writing! Everything is malleable and can be changed as your ideas grow and evolve. Use outlines to help find a starting point to jump off of. It helps to feel that you have a direction.
The following structure guide is the general formula for any fiction piece. Following it won’t make your story seem boring or repetitive – readers come to expect a formula like this and often feel let down when the beats they are familiar with aren’t hit. Use this guide to plot the answers to these questions – when you’re finished, you’ll have the general idea of your novel already finished. It will make moving from one step to the next far easier.
We’ve touched on the concrete factors in fiction writing that are important for starting your piece. Now, it is time to comment on the abstract, which is just as important. Your story needs a theme.
What is a theme? It is that unspoken deeper layer of a novel that gives it true meaning. It is the greatest message meant for the reader to interpret for themselves. We’ve talked about the who, what, where, and how’s of forging a story, but a theme is the why. The more complex and deep your theme is, the more unique and interesting your novel will become. However, there is something to be said for classic themes such as; love, hope, revenge, friendship, or family. A theme in your story creates another level of meaning. The theme is what will stick with your readers. It is the entire purpose of your writing. To find your theme, ask yourself what are you trying to tell your readers?
Ending your piece can be the hardest task of all. Does it need a twist? Do you want to take your readers by surprise? Do you want to show them something that’s never been done before?
The truly important thing for an ending is for it to be satisfying. That doesn’t mean it has to be happy. An ending can be happy, sad, ambiguous, and a mirage of other things, as long as it’s satisfying. Resist the urge to end your story with shock value – your reader will not appreciate this. Twists and turns are good but you need to make sure you’ve properly set up for that ending or else your reader will not resonate with it.
Below are common examples of endings. Using one of these may help you create an ending for your novel that is satisfying. Using templates that already exist takes advantage of genre. Genre creates a set of rules for a certain type of fiction – when you read a fantasy novel, you know what to expect. It’s why you pick it up. Same with mystery, or nonfiction, or romance. There are certain expectations that come with reading from a certain genre, and in the same way there is a genre of different endings. By taking advantage of what people are already familiar with, you are more likely to produce an ending that your audience will enjoy.
Surprise and cliffhanger endings are risky – they can be the most unique endings but risk angering your reader. Be sure you did a sufficient job building up that ending if you wish to pursue it. Endings such as a circular, reflection or emotion endings are often more common which will create a sense of comfort but may run the risk of being too generic. Make sure to add your own personal flavor to an ending like this to make it your own.
Characters make a novel. In my personal opinion, I think characters are the most important part of any piece of writing – even more than the plot or the setting. You can have an average or trope-filled plot but if it has engaging characters that your readers are invested in then you will have a dedicated audience. For example; if you are to write a zombie apocalypse novel, what is going to set you apart? This idea has been done a thousand times. What is going to make it special is the characters. You want your readers to be invested in their survival and development. Another example; FRIENDS is a global phenomenon that hasn’t lost its popularity since the 90s, but what is it really about? Nothing, really. Six friends living in New York is a vague plot – what makes it so great is the characters. You want to know if Ross and Rachel end up together, you want to find out what Chandler’s job actually is, you want to see if Joey ever makes it big. Your characters are special because they are what keeps your audience around for a sequel. Not to mention, to make a character believable you have to put a piece of yourself into them, which makes them even more exceptional.
POINT OF VIEW
The first thing you will need to decide on is the point of view you wish to write in. Each view serves different genres and storylines in different ways. Point of views includes first person, second person, third person, and omniscient.
First-person uses pronouns such as “I, me, myself”. You are writing from the perspective of one character. Ex. Today I made my bed, it makes me feel like I accomplished something before I even started the day. First-person can establish a rapport with the reader. It creates identification and is filled with personal opinions and interpretations. Be cautious however, you need to stay in character or else your reader will fall out of the fantasy. It is equally as important to make sure your supporting characters are still interesting.
Second-person uses pronouns such as “you, your”. Ex. You made your bed today, it gives you a sense of accomplishment before you even start the day. Second-person point of view pulls your reader directly into the action. This can be good in a “choose your own adventure” kind of environment. However, this is the least used of the point of views and is seen as a bit of a risky choice. It is creative and unique, but it may alienate readers who don’t appreciate the change from the norm.
Third-person uses pronouns such as “she, we, it”. It is a narrative that refers to several different characters but often only has access to certain viewpoints. It often follows one character at a time and it is limited to what that character sees and interacts with. Ex. She made her bed today. It gave her a sense of accomplishment before she even started the day. This is a common way to write but it does limit you to one viewpoint often in a similar way to first person.
The omniscient viewpoint uses the same pronouns as third person but the narrator is all-seeing and all-knowing, able to jump from character to character and knows what all of them are thinking or feeling. Ex. Making the bed in the morning gives her a sense of accomplishment. Little does she know her best friend thinks it’s silly to make your bed when it will soon be messed up again. This viewpoint is good because it allows the writer to explore several different points of view and contrasts the character’s emotions and opinions against each other. If you are not careful however, you can risk confusing your audience with too many switches. They may not be clear on who they are following and might get the characters mixed up.
It is important for your story that your character grows and changes over time. This is an all too common human trait that every reader can relate to. As we age and have experiences, we learn and we change. This must happen to your character as well. Some changes may be physical, emotional, or spiritual. It will help you to develop your character by creating a character chart with many of the basic aspects of their personality. It will help you understand your character on a deeper level and decide which direction you want to take them in.
The best way to inspire development is to give your character a fatal flaw or two. Their biggest weakness or toxic trait that must be conquered, and is helped and overcome by their adventures. Making your characters layered and flawed is critical to having a satisfying developmental journey. Without flaws, how does someone evolve?
When it comes to development, it is all about planting small seeds and watching it grow. Immediate changes are not satisfying or believable to the reader. For example; your character is a new hero who has never picked up a sword. You want them to develop into one of the most capable warriors in the land. It is unwise to write a line such as “he trained for years and years and he became one of the best”. This is too vast a change for your reader to digest, it doesn’t feel believable enough. Consider taking your reader through snippets of those years and include training sessions. Show your reader the hardship that your warrior endured and they will connect with the journey.
FLAWS AND REALISM
As I mentioned in development, your character needs to be flawed. If your character is infallible – no one will relate to them. It’s about finding the right balance between making your character relatable, but not unlikeable. Choose two or three negative traits and balance them out with good ones. All real people have flaws and making your characters flawed gives them a sense of realism. For example, Tony Stark is as big a phenomenon as he is because he’s so genuinely human; he makes mistakes, he’s arrogant, he has tremendous guilt. We identify these human flaws in Tony that make us feel equal to him, so we root for him and vicariously root for ourselves. Take a look at your favourite character – why are they your favourite? You may learn more about yourself then you think by looking a little closer.
Some interesting and common character flaws are arrogance like with Tony Stark, we see he has a cocky attitude which could turn people off to him but many find it endearing and enjoy watching his character go from being arrogant and self-obsessed to being selfless. Being prone to anger is another, Anakin Skywalker is an easily emotional hero whose traumas have led him to be quick to anger. This eventually leads him to the dark side, but even as a villain people love him for his flaw. Immaturity is another popular one, especially with young protagonists such as Harry Potter or Eragon. They start young and immature but grow along the journey, which connects audiences to them because they both start in the same category of understanding and get to learn along with them.
Flaws are important because they reflect the real world, and bringing elements of reality into your writing creates a sense of relatability that will tie your readers to your characters and keep them coming back for more.
WRITING WITH COLOUR
As I already discussed, reflecting the real world is important within your writing and especially regarding your characters. That means it is important to represent people of all ages, colours, disabilities, sexualities, and differences. If the majority of your characters are white, male, and straight, you are alienating a lot of your readers. Now, that’s not to say that people of all kinds can’t identify with someone different from them, they absolutely can and do. However, people tend to be drawn initially by someone who looks like them in some way. People are always looking for themselves in a character, which is why making sure your characters are diverse is as important as making sure they are flawed.
The first step is to make your characters varied and diverse. The harder part is making it realistic. The best way to do this is to write what you know – meaning having a wide group of friends and acquaintances of all different varieties will influence your writing in a realistic way.
When writing minority characters it is important to familiarize yourself with harmful tropes. This does justice to the communities you are writing for but also for your writing so you are not repeating themes that have already been done a thousand times over. For example, the LGBTQ+ community experiences many of the same tropes. The first being queerbaiting, which involves ‘teasing’ that a character is a part of the community in some way but never mentioning or showing it in any real way or with any major characters. This is often done to try and appease both the LGBTQ+ community and the homophobes, but often ends up doing neither. An example of this is in Endgame, where at the beginning of the movie Steve Rogers speaks with a man in a help group who mentions he has a husband. This was advertised as “the first gay man in Marvel” but all he had was a passing bit part that was blink and you miss it. It was hardly representative. Why not represent one of the many LGBTQ+ heroes from the comics on screen? Another example of a harmful trope is ‘bury your gays’. It is the tendency for writers to introduce gay characters and quickly kill them or their love interests, often soon after a love scene. Examples include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the 100, Atomic Blonde and Degrassi. It perpetuates the idea that LGBTQ+ people will never have the happy ending and that their characters are easily expendable.
Another trope to mention is one experienced by Asian women in the media. It happens all the time, and probably more than you realize. It’s often done to symbolize rebellion and can be seen in Pacific Rim, Gilmore Girls, Glee, Big Hero Six, Scott Pilgrim, X-Men, and many more. This trope implied that most often the majority of Asian women with their natural hair are meek and dependent, they need a streak in their hair to show they are an individual. It can also cause harmful beauty standards for Asian women. These are only a few examples of tropes involving things such as race and sexuality, there are plenty more that are important to familiarize yourself with so you can not participate in them further.
When writing skin color, it is important to make sure you are describing all of your characters thusly, not only your coloured characters. This perpetuates the idea that being white is the default. Learn creative and non-offensive ways to describe the way all your characters look and use the same system for all of them. I heavily recommend checking out this post, https://writingwithcolor.tumblr.com/post/96830966357/writing-with-color-description-guide-words-for, which provides tons of good examples. A mistake often made is to compare black skin to foods such as chocolate, coco, and caramel. This fetishizes skin colour and furthermore; its cliche.
The best way to write with colour is to seek out advice and posts from P.O.C and LGBTQ+ people. The best information comes directly from the source.
I hope you learned how to develop your characters into interesting and realistic individuals through these many steps.
This week is dedicated to two important topics that you will come face to face with once you get into the meat of your writing. We touched briefly on tropes last week in mentioning how harmful some can be, however, there are many that are simply cliche or are genuinely useful. Our discussion of common tropes will lead us into tropes regarding the death of characters and how to properly go about the delicate art of murder so you keep your readers on their toes without alienating them.
A trope is defined as “commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés in creative works.” Tropes are neither inherently bad nor good. Tropes can be useful devices for bringing in an audience that already knows what they enjoy. Some cliches are cliches for a reason – most people like them! You may use tropes purposefully or even unconsciously, as they are used in most every inspiration you have drawn from. Tropes can also be a matter of personal preference, there are some that people hate and others that they love.
Using tropes is like trying to cook something new. Oftentimes we work off of a recipe already given to us, and unless we add our own twists and quirks to make it or own, people are going to taste it and think this is good, but it tastes a lot like something I’ve already had. Or, worse, they won’t like the taste of it at all and instead compare your cooking to a great you couldn’t hope to compete with. The point is that you should feel free to use and reuse as many tropes as you see fit, but make sure to make them your own.
The topic of tropes is rather broad. I’ll give you a few examples so you can understand what I’m talking about. For example, “the chosen one” is a common trope that we see all the time. Star Wars, Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Percy Jackson. Using it can create a sense of familiarity or exhaustion of the trope depending on how you write it. Others include secret royalty, love triangles, and the pure evil bad guy. Tropes can come down to personal preference as well. I happen to love a good revenge trope where the protagonist is out to avenge their fallen family or friend. I, however, absolutely hate the trope where the protagonist constantly passes out during every conflict. I’m sure you can conjure up a list of tropes that you personally love and hate. Know that when you use them, they will have the effect of either appealing to people or pushing them away.
If you wish to use tropes to your advantage, consider genre-based tropes. Tropes and cliches of the genre create a sense of familiarity to the reader. When it comes to the purchase of new books, research tells us that all that tends to matter is the subject and the reputation of the author. Searching by subject is the main way people discover new books. Why is this? Let’s use me as an example. I am a lover of sci-fi and fantasy novels, I tend to like them more than I like non-fiction or mystery or romance. I know that I have liked books in that genre therefore I walk into the sci-fi and fantasy section hoping I will find something similar. The tropes shared between the books in the sci-fi and fantasy genre create a similarity between them that draws me their way. Have you ever gone “wow, I really liked this book, I wish I could find something else like it”? That is why we search by genre, and the use of tropes strengthens the ties between books of the same genre.
When wishing to break tropes for the sake of being fresh and introducing something new to the genre – beware. This could make your story a revolutionary masterpiece or it could leave your readers feeling like you made a promise that you didn’t fulfill. When breaking a trope make sure you have properly prepared the reader for the occasion. Instant surprises for shock value will not go over well with most readers. Prepare, plan, and plant seeds.
There are many tropes specific to characters. There are some you have seen a thousand times; the angry jock, the popular pretty girl, the clumsy geek, the ‘ordinary’ protagonist, the girl who doesn’t know how beautiful she is. Character tropes are slightly less useful than genre tropes but still have their place.
A familiar character trope is that of the ‘old man’ mentor figure. Examples include Brom from Eragon, Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars, or Dumbledore from Harry Potter. The archetype often includes an aloof older man who becomes the mentor to the main protagonist, usually resembling a father-like figure. They often die in service or protection of the main character. Using a familiar trope may link your readers to that character automatically because they may compare them to a character that they already love, creating fond feelings for them before they even get to know the character. As mentioned before though, it could become too repetitive and boring to see the same character over and over, especially when their fate is clear.
An example of successfully turning a trope on its head was done in The Vampire Diaries with the character Caroline Forbes. When introduced, Caroline was the typical blonde ‘popular pretty girl’ trope, but as the show went on and she suffered through several life-changing events – Caroline became a caring, emotional, mother-like figure on the show who was known for her big heart. She still kept her traits of being a little too honest or controlling but went through enough development that she became a fan favourite. This went over so well because the transition was realistic and Caroline retained many of her less favorable qualities. As we spoke of last week, imbuing your characters with flaws is important and makes them realistic. When challenging tropes, use the tips provided last week to create a character that defies stereotypes but is still relatable.
We lightly discussed some tropes last week when we talked about writing with colour. I would like to reiterate that it is important to familiarize yourself with harmful tropes to avoid them in the future. For example; the Asian character being the brainiac or good at karate, the African-American character selling drugs or rapping to get out of poverty, or the middle-eastern character that is a terrorist. Sometimes using these tropes is important to your story, but be sure that you are giving your characters other traits that make them unique individuals and also be sure that you are not using this archetype every time you use a character of a certain ethnicity.
Sometimes defying tropes can lead to an overcorrection that becomes a trope itself. This is fine, but make sure to douse your character with its own nodes of originality. For example, the ‘damsel in distress’ trope can be harmful by implying that women cannot protect themselves and they are but helpless maidens waiting for a man to fix their problems. This can be overcorrected by the emotionless warrior woman trope, the girl who doesn’t lose a fight and doesn’t need a man. Most women fall somewhere in the middle.
THE DELICATE ART OF MURDER
Your story may be light on death or it might be full of it. Either way, odds are there might be at least one death in your story. If you do intend on killing a character (or five) it is important to know how to do it. The art of killing is a delicate one, you want your readers to feel emotional but not so much that they put down the book and never pick it up again. The key is narrative satisfaction – the death needs to make sense and push the story forward. Killing for the mere sake of killing is a quick way to lose your audience.
An example of a good death is that of Eddard Stark in Game of Thrones. Ned’s death was shocking and emotional but if you pay attention – it was well led up to. While the death hurt and shocked those watching, it spurred on the story in such a strong way. His death caused a war in its wake, turning the Stark’s against the Lannisters and charging the next three seasons of the show forward. A bad example comes from the same show seasons later when the screenwriters decided to kill off Barristan Selmy, a skilled swordsman who left the king’s guard to find Daenerys Targaryen across the sea and serve her. He is killed in a random attack and barely mentioned thereafter. The death did not occur in the books. This was a death done for shock value that did not justify the purpose of Barristan’s journey in the story, leaving his death feeling meaningless and upsetting the watcher with no fulfillment to follow.
The important thing to remember is never to kill characters for mere shock value. It will initially create the reaction you wanted but soon after it will leave your readers with a bitter taste in their mouths. This can be a common problem with side characters being introduced simply to create emotional turmoil for the lead. While it does have somewhat of a purpose, it doesn’t give that character enough substance to stand on their own, so how is the death meant to impact the reader? If you need your main character to be impacted by loss but have no intention of developing their loved one, the best thing to do it kill them right at the beginning of the story.
COMMON DEATH TROPES
Like anything else, death in fiction has its tropes as well. You can either avoid or embrace them, but make sure either way that you are doing something fitting for the character. Some examples include; the heroic sacrifice, the accidental death (the stray bullet), the “any last words”, or the “anyone can die” trope. All tropey deaths have their purpose, you simply need to ensure that you are using the trope you’ve chosen correctly. The ‘anyone can die’ trope being used correctly is also best portrayed by the death of Ned Stark in Game of Thrones, whose death informed watchers that no one was safe since he was the perceived main character at the time. This worked because the characters surrounding him were strong enough to support the weight of his loss by being characters of equal caliber. This would not have worked if, say, J.K Rowling decided to kill Harry Potter in the third book to establish that anyone can die. The story must be able to carry on without that character. You can explore more death tropes by following this link; https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DeathTropes, which you can use to look for ideas or to know what to avoid.
Tropes can be a tool or a detriment depending on how you use them. The best way to know the difference between the two is to get educated on them! Become familiar with the tropes in the genre you are writing in and remember, kill your characters artfully!
Through the past three weeks we have learned how to begin your story, create your characters and make your story your own. This has been the substance of your writing but there is another factor that proves to be just as important. We talked about what to write, but now we are going to talk about how to write. Grammar and word choice are what is going to make your story polished and readable. Without a proper grasp of both, even the most brilliant of stories will become lost in the details. Grammar and word choice determine how pleasant of a read your story is. Presentation truly does matter. This week we will be exploring proper punctuation, parts of speech, and word choice. Some of the things I will be reiterating to you may seem like things you already know but it is always good to brush up on the most important aspects of language. This information will help strengthen your writing and make it a pleasant read.
You may feel like these are things that you already know and you’ve known them for a long time, but trust me when I say it is always good to brush up. I constantly forget myself with my grammar! I can be what they call a “comma fiend.” I can be known for putting those bad boys where they do not belong. For that reason I want to focus on commas for a moment because I know many writers that struggle with commas in a similar way. Before we proceed, I want to define the term ‘clause’ to help you understand what I’m talking about. Clause: a group of words that function as one part of speech by including a subject and a verb.
- Use commas in a series. This is the function of the comma that most people know well. When listing something, use a comma. For example: I went to the market and got oranges, apples, and pears.
- Use a comma before coordinating conjunctions that join independent clauses (meaning words like but, yet, so, and, etc). Example: I went to the market, but they were out of grapes.
- Use a comma after introductory clauses. Example: Having taken so long at the market, I missed my yoga class.
- Use a comma in the middle of a sentence to set off clauses. Example: That day, which was a Wednesday, was the only day of the week I had my yoga class.
- Use commas to separate your sentence structure from a quotation. To my friend Becky I lamented, “I took too long at the market!”
As you can see, commas have quite a few functions. It’s important to learn to remember them all and use them properly. Regard the chart below for explanations for other common punctuation.
PARTS OF LANGUAGE
There are some parts of language I am sure you remember all too well from grade school – such as nouns, pronouns and verbs. I left a chart below so you can remind yourself about other important parts of language such as adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections. It’s important to know your parts of language and how they contribute to the effectiveness of your writing. For now, I want to focus on the use of adverbs.
You may have heard over the years not to use adverbs in your writing. I disagree with this statement, it is far too final. Oftentimes the problems with adverbs is that they are used far too liberally and can clutter your sentences. While this can be true, I think it is an injustice to avoid adverbs all together. They can make your writing interesting and powerful. Adverbs modify a verb to tell you how someone did something, which can be rather handy. You simply need to know how to use it properly. The first step is not to oversaturate your writing with adverbs. The second is to learn how to use them in an effective way. To explain this, I would like to cite Roy Peter Clark who wrote the book Writing Tools. He says; “to understand the differences between a good adverb and a bad adverb, consider these two sentences: “She smiled happily” and “She smiled sadly. Which one works best? The first seems weak because “smiled” contains the meaning of “happily.” On the other hand, “sadly” changes the meaning.”
Your word choice matters. Your ideas might be fantastic but if you can’t properly describe them, your vision will get lost and your readers will get bored. Choosing the right words and knowing a healthy variety will make your writing dynamic, interesting, and will keep your readers invested. Below I have put many word options to help grow your vocabulary and give you some ideas. Now do not mistake me, I’m not asking you to use the biggest and most flowery words you know. Using a frequent amount of big, unfamiliar words can leave your sentences feeling crowded and convoluted. You don’t want to confuse your readers, you want to give your sentences diversity and flavor. Word choice is about variety.
A solid tip is to remember to not use words that you don’t fully understand. You may use a word in the wrong way and it will yank your reader out of the fantasy. I know what you might be thinking, “How am I to use word variety if I don’t know a lot of words?” The best way to expand your vocabulary is to read, read, read! Seeing words in context will help you naturally understand the words and pick them up easily to apply to your own writing. It also helps to look at how words are used in a sentence instead of only by their definition. Definition can get lost in individual interpretation, but seeing it used in practice will help you understand through the power of context. This is why reading is such an effective way to grow your vocabulary.
I am going to give you two sentences and you decide which one feels more effective.
- I walked into the ballroom and everything sparkled. The ceiling was grand and spectacular, the floors sparkled, and the spiral staircase was a spectacular view!
- I walked into the ballroom and everything glistened. The ceiling was impressive and awe-inspiring, the floor twinkled, and the spiral staircase was picturesque.
The second one, right? Variety makes your description of a scene more effective. If you keep describing everything the same way, each item loses its individuality and makes it hard for the reader to imagine your scene the way you intend it. It will all blur into one undetailed image in their heads.
ALTERNATIVES FOR “SAID”
Said is the most overused word in any novel: mystery, romance, fantasy, non-fiction – it does not discriminate. While said can be effective when used in moderation, you must learn how to replace the word said with better, more expressive alternatives. The overuse of the word said will bore your readers to death and it will leave out important emotion in your character’s tone. Using a synonym for said will better express how your character is feeling, acting, and speaking. Below I have attached several alternatives for the word said.
Now that you know the basics about making your writing presentable, know how important it is to review your own work. Don’t worry about your grammar and word choice too much when you begin to write but go back and edit your own work. It is incredibly important to get an editor or have a friend read over your work as well because there will always be things that you missed. We tend to “auto-fill” when we read our own work because we know what we were trying to say. Others unfamiliar with the writing will have an easier time catching and correcting your mistakes. Use this information to improve the appearance of your writing. I encourage you to look further into the art of grammar and word choice to keep improving!
We’ve touched on many factors within writing that will give you the tools to help put together an interesting piece of prose. However, what good are those tools if you can’t use them because of one annoying, prodding demon that won’t hop off of your shoulder? Yes, I’m talking about a writer’s worst enemy – writer’s block. It is a universal barrier that all writer’s face no matter what the genre. For my last installment in our writing workshop, I wanted to touch on the many tactics that I and other people have developed for overcoming writer’s block. I’m hoping by making an extensive enough list that you’ll find at least one thing that works for you to get you back to writing!
This is my favourite and by far the most effective way to tackle writer’s block. Writer’s block can stem from overthinking. When we write, some of us tend to stop after every sentence and examine for grammar, spelling, and logical errors. This might leave you feeling exhausted, uninspired, and stumped. The best way to get words down on the page is to free write! Freewriting is a prewriting tactic were you write continuously for a certain amount of time without paying any mind to the conventions or mechanics of writing. Let your thoughts freefall onto the page without worrying about correcting your mistakes. Your only priority is getting your ideas down on paper. By forcing yourself to let go, you will have a much easier time writing. It is far easier to free write and then go back later and edit your work. This technique allowed me to write a book in four months that I had been trying to finish for five years. Letting go of the fear of error is going to do wonders for your writing and leave writer’s block in the dust.
TAKE A BREAK
This is one of the more obvious suggestions to overcome your writer’s block, I’m sure you’ve heard it before. Sometimes, there’s a reason something is suggested so often. Taking a break might be just the thing you need to regain your inspiration! Taking a break can mean many different things, it depends on what gives you joy. This tactic is good because you can adapt it to your own needs. I often like to sleep on it – I find sleep to be the perfect reset button and sometimes when I think about my writing before I sleep, I will dream about it and reignite my passion. My other tactic is to get up and go make a cup of tea. The ritual of it gives me a moment to take a breath and meditate on what I want to do next. I take it with me when I go sit back down and it allows me second long breaks in between writing. Another great way to take a break is to go out for a walk or a hike and reconnect with nature. Even yoga or just stretching could be exactly what you need to reboot your brain. Moving your body is oddly enough sometimes the best way to help rejuvenate your mind.
DISCONNECT FROM DISTRACTIONS
This option may seem a little obvious as well but it does help. We live in a world of so many distractions and if you’re the type of person that has a hard time multitasking, then disconnecting from everything around you might be what will help your writer’s block. Find an isolated room and turn off all of your electronics. No TV, no phone, no music. It’s the best way to make yourself focus in a world of so many distractions.
However, sometimes, a complete detox isn’t possible. Maybe you own a business or have kids and you need your phone to be on in case of emergency calls, but leaving it on will always tempt you to check your Facebook. I have the perfect solution for that as well. Download the app Forest onto your phone! The app gives you many little trees and bushes to plant that take anywhere from 30-120 minutes. Once you plant it, you cannot touch your phone, or else the tree will die. It’s great for writing, studying, or getting work done. As a bonus, with every tree you plant you gain coins that you can use to plant a real tree!
Sometimes, the place just isn’t right. We all have a writing sweet spot and it’s often different for all of us. Some of us need a completely silent room like a library, but some of us also need privacy so our room is best. Some of us need the hustle and bustle as background noise to focus, so a cafe might be your place of choice. If you aren’t sure what yours is, find out! Move around! I prefer to write somewhere peaceful with a little bit of background noise, such as my living room, outside on a bench, or in my apartment lobby.
Sometimes, however, for whatever reason moving to the location you want isn’t an option. Maybe you yearn for a location like a beach or a field that you can’t easily get to. Maybe you find peace in a certain type of weather that isn’t currently happening. Maybe you want to go out to your favourite cafe but COVID won’t allow you to safely leave the confines of your home. I have a solution for that as well! You can find all kinds of helpful background noises on youtube that help simulate whatever environment you find most beneficial to your creativity. Here are some of my favorites:
Busy Paris Cafe: https://youtu.be/_fD2z_NIFbs
Thunder Storm: https://youtu.be/gVKEM4K8J8A
Lo-Fi Hip Hop: https://youtu.be/1cLVxLwptLw
Relaxing Kalimba: https://youtu.be/1cLVxLwptLw
There are plenty more options like this that will make you feel like you are immersed in the best environment for your creativity!
At times you may have the urge and ability to write but you simply cannot develop your idea enough to get it down onto the page. Don’t waste the urge to write! Sometimes starting will open up a dam that cannot be capped. The best way to get your juices flowing is to try some writing prompts! You can easily find lists of writing prompts online but I will provide one of my favourites for you to look at. These can also be great self-reflection exercises that are as good for your mental health as they are for your writer’s block.
RETURN TO YOUR INSPIRATIONS
All writers have inspirations for their writing. All of our ideas came from somewhere. You may have one, two, or dozens. I find the best way to connect with my creativity for a certain idea is to return to the things that originally inspired it. Using myself as an example, my writings are often inspired by the films that shaped me the most as a child such as Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Picking up a Lord of the Rings book or marathoning the Star Wars movies helps me reconnect with the boost of creativity they once gave me. Music is a great inspiration for me as well, I often return to my favourite band Red or my favourite artist, Lana Del Rey, and let the inspiration pour off of me. It also might help to create a playlist of songs that remind you of the piece you are trying to write and listen to it whenever you need to remember your roots.
When you’re feeling stuck in your story it might help to develop some background information instead. Write character bios, try and find pictures to symbolize what you think they look like, develop an in-depth account of the history of your story, and much more! Developing the lore of your story will help you find your urge to write once again. It will give you a more in-depth look at your characters and story that will inspire you to keep on writing! I do this all the time when I’m stumped. These can be details that never make it into the story in an obvious way but they will give your story depth.
INTERACTING WITH OTHER WRITERS
When you fail to find any inspiration looking inwards – look to the outside world! Consult your writer friends, ask how they overcome writer’s block! If you don’t have any friends who share your love of writing, there are many sites all over the web that build communities of writers such as Wattpad, fanfiction.net, and roleplaying sites. If they don’t have any helpful tips, there are other ways to work with writers to help unblock your creativity. You can ask them to take a look at their writing or take a look at theirs. You can write together by doing something such as a role-playing exercise, where you both create a plot and a character and go back and forth to create a story together. Use the infectious inspiration from other writers to find yours again!
There are many different ways to tackle writer’s block. They might all work for you, maybe only some will, or maybe they only work sometimes. When all else fails, time can be the best solution. Give your writer’s block time and soon enough you will see the light at the end of the tunnel. Every writer’s process is a little different so please take the tips I gave you and try them all and put your spin on them to make them fit you! I left a few more ideas below!
Writer’s block isn’t as hopeless as you might think. You can overcome it, and with all the other tips and tools we’ve talked about, you are going to create amazing stories.
Book Review of the Week
Serpent & Dove is a flawless and unique story about love, magic, and witches and witch-hunters alike. A stealthy witch running from a dark past is forced into holy matrimony with a Chasseur (a witch-hunting man of the church) without him knowing what she is. As time goes on, they turn from enemies to lovers in a thrilling romance that will keep you on your toes. The setting is the fictional world of Belterra which is heavily based on New Orleans history and mythology. Filled with gray characters, a unique magic system, and a plot that never slows down, Serpent & Dove is a must-read for any lover of fantasy.
Two years ago, Louise le Blanc fled her coven and took shelter in the city of Cesarine, forsaking all magic and living off whatever she could steal. There, witches like Lou are hunted. They are feared. And they are burned.
As a huntsman of the Church, Reid Diggory has lived his life by one principle: Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. But when Lou pulls a wicked stunt, the two are forced into an impossible situation—marriage.
Lou, unable to ignore her growing feelings, yet powerless to change what she is, must make a choice. And love makes fools of us all.
Plot – 5/5: Serpent & Dove is action-packed from beginning to end. Not a word is wasted. The story cycles from the perspectives of Lou and Reid, a witch and a chasseur – the opposite sides of the conflict. The characters are so different and it makes the story a fuller experience to see both sides of the conflict. It paints the story in shades of gray – it is evil and good on both sides, character flaws such as selfishness and wrath that push the story forward in a holistic way. The plot is full of twists and turns that will shock you and keep you on your toes, and a romance that will sweep you away.
Worldbuilding – 5/5: Serpent & Dove takes place in a fictional land called Belterra that is inspired by New Orleans. The influence of the rich culture of New Orleans and its French origins are everywhere in this book. The names, the spells; Mahurin does an exquisite job piecing together a fantastic world. This book also has one of the most unique magic systems I have read about. There are two types of witches; the dames blanches and the dames rouges. The dames blanches work with a magic system that is based on balance. They see patterns and what they can do is basically only limited by their imagination and what they are willing to trade. The main character Lou gave up some of her memories to erase herself from someone’s mind, diminished her own hearing to do so to others, and suggested that to change the colour of her hair she could do so by transferring the brown of her hair to her eyes. The dame rouges however are blood witches and they mix their blood with different ingredients to do different spells. I love the world of this book and I’d only like to see more and more – and luckily, the world expands even further in the sequel.
Character Intrigue – 5/5: I adore the characters in this novel. Lou is a fantastic heroine that breaks the mold. She is snarky, funny, brave, and sometimes downright crude. She doesn’t care what people think about her and she has some great character foils. She’s not all good or bad, she’s shades of gray like anyone else and those are my favorite characters. She is a dame blanche running from a dark and dangerous past that is threatening to catch up with her.
Ried is the romantic love interest. He is a Chasseur – trained to hunt down and kill witches. Through a series of unfortunate events, Reid and Lou are forced into marriage without him knowing what she is. The ‘forced marriage’ trope is honestly one of my favourites and this book does it to perfection.
Side characters such as Coco and Ansel are incredibly likable. Coco is an interesting blood witch who has great characterization outside of being Lou’s best friend, which isn’t often common for the POC best friend of the white lead. Ansel is unfathomably adorable and I challenge anyone to not like this little cinnamon roll.
Antagonistic characters like The Archbishop and Morgane are deep and interesting, especially with the Archbishop it is impossible to understand just how complex his character is until you reread the book from the start. The only character missing some flair is Jean Luc, but he is a background antagonist for Reid who didn’t have a big role in this book.
The Caveat: This book is labeled a young adult fiction, it is even published by Harper Teen, but I honestly didn’t find it to be on the ‘young adult’ level, but more so a new adult fiction. The level of violence and sexual content is a little higher than I usually see in the adult genre. I don’t think it is much of a problem, but it might be for those who are concerned about what their teenagers are reading. There is nothing too worrying about this book I just think it pushes the normal boundaries of the genre.
Total Rating – 5/5
Previous Weekly Book Reviews
Chain of Gold is a new book in the Shadowhunters Chronicles. Set in London, 1903, Chain of Gold is an exciting tale of Nephilim, vampires, warlocks, and werewolves in a unique Urban Fantasy that brings an early 1900s London to life with references to real places and buildings from the time as well as fictional settings. Chronologically, it takes place in between the Infernal Devices trilogy and the Mortal Instruments series and has scores of connections to characters from all other books in this amazing, interconnected world akin to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Chain of Gold is a great LGBTQ+ friendly book, with 4 of 8 main characters belonging to the LGBTQ+ community. Each character is unique unto themselves and their dynamism is what makes the book as good as it is.
Cordelia Carstairs is a Shadowhunter, a warrior trained since childhood to battle demons. When her father is accused of a terrible crime, she and her brother travel to London in hopes of preventing the family’s ruin. Cordelia’s mother wants to marry her off, but Cordelia is determined to be a hero rather than a bride. Soon Cordelia encounters childhood friends James and Lucie Herondale and is drawn into their world of glittering ballrooms, secret assignations, and supernatural salons, where vampires and warlocks mingle with mermaids and magicians. All the while, she must hide her secret love for James, who is sworn to marry someone else.
But Cordelia’s new life is blown apart when a shocking series of demon attacks devastate London. These monsters are nothing like those Shadowhunters have fought before—these demons walk in daylight, strike down the unwary with incurable poison, and seem impossible to kill. London is immediately quarantined. Trapped in the city, Cordelia and her friends discover that their own connection to a dark legacy has gifted them with incredible powers—and will soon learn the true cruel price of being a hero.
Plot: The plot is a little generic, but it is the characters and the worldbuilding that make the book as good as it is. The plot involves the usual – oddly powerful demons emerging and the main heroes must find a way to defeat them and unravel the mystery of their sudden appearance.
Worldbuilding: The Shadowhunters universe is well-established and thoroughly interesting. Rooted in eternally interesting Christian mythology mixed with the common day supernatural genre, it is both unique and classic to the genre of urban fantasy.
Character Intrigue: Cassandra Clare has had years to enhance her character building and it shows in this book. There is a diverse set of characters all wonderfully interconnected through friendship, love, and family. Each is different and interesting. The main character Cordelia is an electrifying heroine from Persia. The supporting lead, James, has a unique power and heritage new to this universe. Matthew, James’s best friend, is eccentric and hides behind humor and alcohol to guard a secret. Anna is entrancing, genderfluid, and an interesting look into the supernatural underworld of this London setting. All the characters have intricate backstories that influence their behavior and there is a character here for anyone to relate to.
The Caveat: As amazing as this book is, jumping into this book if you haven’t read any others in the universe may be a bit confusing and will take away some of the magic of the novel. For this reason, I would greatly recommend reading the other books, which are all fantastic. However, for those who are not used to eating up a whole series without difficulty, this might seem like a daunting task. I would recommend reading the series in chronological order as opposed to release order, in which case this book (and its sequel) could be read after the prequels. The original series would also be fine.
Total Rating – 8/10
To help figure out which ones to read, this is the chronological order (which I prefer) because easter eggs in the other series become rewarding when you know the characters from the past. As well, common family names generations after connect you more to the characters in the original series (The Mortal Instruments.)
The Infernal Devices
(One of the best love stories I have ever read, and the only original love triangle in the genre)
The Last Hours
(Third Book yet to be released, therefore this is okay to read last)
The Mortal Instruments
The Dark Artifices
(Lady Midnight is my favourite book of all time)
- The Mortal Instruments
- The Infernal Devices
- The Dark Artifices
- The Last Hours
Altogether, I am settling on an 8/10 rating for this book. The points deducted are due to a generally simple plot and the tedious nature for new readers to catch up on a whole universe of other books to get the whole experience. I greatly enjoyed this book and will read it many times over and bought it for my own personal bookshelf, and the sequel is just as good and worthy of a purchase and a read.