I’ve decided, come hell or high water, I’m going to start writing here every day. I’m not sure what that’ll look like some days – procrastination is a real thing, at least for this writer. I figure I’ll start today by writing about writing. After all, that’s what I know.
Jerry Jenkins says the term “writer’s block” is a myth. I got mad the first time I read that. Then I read the rest of the piece where he explains what “writer’s block” really is: fear, procrastination, perfectionism, and distraction.
He got me.
Had to quit using that excuse.
So, for a long time, I bailed. I just quit.
I wrote for work, because that’s what I do for a living…but I quit all personal writing. And…well…I may as well have cut off one of my limbs.
Most writers write to figure out what they think. I do. I recently heard Sean Dietrich talk about the commitment he made long ago to write every day, regardless how nonsensical it turns out to be. So, I decided I’m going to follow his example. One of the greatest periods of growth I’ve experienced as a writer happened years ago when I started blogging, so I know he’s onto something. (besides the fact that he’s got an incredible daily column and boatloads of readers)
Two days ago, I made the decision to begin writing here every day. My husband and I had just finished walking our dogs on the Swamp Rabbit Trail – a 22-mile trail that stretches from Greenville to Traveler’s Rest, SC. (more on that another day) We didn’t go 22 miles…in fact, we barely made it a mile before dark, so we decided to call it a night, order [gf] pizza, and head home.
As I sat in the truck waiting for John to pick up the [gf] pizza, I started trying to figure out what I would write about that night. I prayed out loud, asking the Lord to give me something.
Anything, Lord. Just help me see.
Our truck was facing the trail. I’d left my phone at home on purpose (something I highly recommend you try once in a while), so I just sat there quietly, listening to the silence, and my panting dogs.
A few minutes later, as I watched the now empty trail, an elderly man appeared on his bicycle pulling a trailer on which his crippled dog was strapped. That dog looked like he was having the time of his life.
Of all the things I thought I might see that night, a crippled dog being pulled by his elderly owner was not on my radar. But boy, was it powerful.
John came out a few minutes later, we headed home, and like most evenings, I got distracted, and forgot all about the writing.
But that man pulling his dog keeps popping into my memory, so here I am.
I don’t know if God meant for me to see it this way or if it really was just a guy on a bike giving his dog a joy ride, but I can’t help but think about how inadequate we often feel about our ability to do the things He’s called us to. I think He absolutely did mean for me to see the old guy and his dog to remind me…
If you want to be taken seriously as a writer, it’s imperative you become what Jerry calls a ferocious self-editor.
There’s no way around it.
Little irritates an agent or a publisher’s acquisitions editor more than having their time wasted by a writer who doesn’t edit and revise his own work before submitting it for consideration.
Given the vast array of training and resources for doing just that, now available on the internet, there’s no excuse.
You don’t have to be an English grammar expert to write well — but you do have to know how to self-edit. It takes work and perseverance, and most writers face a learning curve.
But in the end it’s worth it, and it can revolutionize your writing and your chance at success.
While learning to recognize and remedy your mistakes, an app like The Hemingway Editor can help save you time and frustration. And it can also make you a better self-editor, and thus, a better writer.
What is the Hemingway Editor?
Ernest Hemingway was a pioneer in a simple, direct writing style, exactly what the Hemingway App seeks to deliver.
It’s a web and desktop self-editing tool created by Adam and Ben Long that highlights the overuse of adverbs and passive voice, and flags wordy sentences — common errors writers make.
It does not, however, highlight most grammatical or spelling errors, and is not intended to function as a comprehensive editor.
The web version of the app is free. The desktop version carries a one-time $19.99 fee and is available for both Mac (OSX 10.9+) and PC (Windows 7+) systems.
How the Hemingway Editor Works
As editing apps go, this one ranks high in the easy-to-use category. Both versions allow you to work in write or edit mode and easily switch between the two.
The writing mode works like any word processor, but it won’t distract you by highlighting misspelled words as you go. To use the online version, simply highlight the sample text, delete it, and paste in or create your own.
But beware: There’s no automatic way to save or back up your work — so unless you copy and paste it into Word or something similar, if you lose your connection, you may lose your work.
You’re better off writing in a separate program and copying and pasting it into the Hemingway App before using the app.
Once you’re ready to edit, click on “Edit” mode in the upper right hand corner.
Edit mode displays formatting options at the top and allows you to view the Hemingway App’s suggested edits (highlighted), which are also summarized in the column on the right.
The varied colors allow you to easily identify each type of error.
In the case of words or short phrases, simply hover above the highlighted area for suggestions to appear.
Once you make the suggested edits, the highlights will disappear.
The Hemingway Editor also gives your writing a readability score, and displays just below it other specifics like word count and reading time.
Blue: highlights weak words, typically adverbs.
E.B. White, the author of Charlotte’s Web and one of the authors of The Elements of Style, suggests you “Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives andadverbs. The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.”
Memorable, believable characters are crucial to every good story.
Consider what makes these literary classics so unforgettable:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien Little Women by Louisa May Alcott Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Each has a cast of flawed characters whose growth—their character arcs—makes all the difference.
Two essential types of characters exist in a story: dynamic and static. Understanding them can help you compel readers to keep turning the pages.
The more challenges, the better the story. The toughest challenges beget the most radical transformations.
Lead characters are usually dynamic, but not always.
Dynamic Character Examples:
Katniss Everdeen: She begins The Hunger Games trying to feed and protect her family following the death of her father.
But when Prim, her sister, is selected as Tribute for District 12, Katniss knows she won’t survive, so she volunteers to take her place alongside the baker’s son Peeta, the chosen male Tribute.
Peeta has had a crush on Katniss since childhood, but does Katniss feel the same way, or does she merely pretend for strategic reasons?
As Katniss and Peeta fight to survive, the twists and turns of the game keep readers wondering if either will. In the end, Katniss becomes a hero who inspires hope (and a rebellion) in her countrymen.
Ebenezer Scrooge: He begins A Christmas Carol selfish, miserly, and miserable, an old man who seems to despise anything good, even carolers trying to spread cheer on Christmas Eve.
But that very night he’s visited by the ghost of his former business partner and then the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. He watches as not a single soul cares enough about him to mourn his death.
In the end, he becomes a generous, gracious, kindhearted gentleman bent on keeping the Christmas Spirit alive for the rest of his life.
Walter White: The main character in the hit AMC series Breaking Bad begins as a high school science teacher who learns he has cancer. His insurance company refuses to cover all his treatments, putting him on the verge of bankruptcy.
He’s already working two jobs and has taken out a second mortgage on his home. A ride-along on a drug bust with his DEA brother-in-law gives Walter an idea: he could use his scientific knowledge to develop quality meth and make a bundle.
A chance encounter with a former student results in an unlikely partnership, and so begins the secret life of Walter White. Not only is he able to quickly meet the financial needs of his family, but his drug business also becomes so lucrative it ultimately destroys everyone involved.
The opposite character arc from Scrooge, for example, White has gone from high school teacher to drug lord.
Dynamic vs. Static Characters
Static characters often get a bad rap, but that’s not always deserved.
While dynamic characters experience life-altering changes, the personalities, behaviors, and morals of static characters remain largely unchanged.
But that doesn’t have to mean they’re boring. It just means they don’t experience a major internal transformation like dynamic characters do.
Static Character Examples:
James Bond: In his 12-novel series, Ian Fleming created the perfect static character. Though he’s a charming, sophisticated, dangerous British Secret Service Agent who fights crime, he personally remains unchanged.
Smaug: The deadly, fire breathing dragon who captures Erebor in The Hobbit, sits atop a golden treasure he’ll protect at any cost.
When Bilbo steals a chalice, Smaug wakes and fights, which results in his ultimate downfall. His character remains unchanged throughout.
Albus Dumbledore: For most of the Harry Potter series, Dumbledore is seen as the beloved grandfatherly Headmaster at Hogwarts.
We readers grow fond of him too, as we learn his backstory, but his character remains unchanged during the series.
Only after his death do we learn more about his sins and virtues, and that he never fully rid himself of the dark side he hid so well.
How to Create a Dynamic Character
1. Give him a history.
Your character’s history—his backstory—shaped him into the person he is today.
The more thoroughly you know him, the easier it’ll be to determine where change can occur during your story.
Things you should know, whether or not you choose to include them:
When and where was he born?
Who are his parents?
Does he have brothers and sisters (include names and ages)?
Did he attend high school? College? Graduate school? Where and for how long?
What’s his political affiliation?
What’s his occupation?
How much does he make?
What are his goals?
What are his skills and talents?
What does his spiritual life look like?
Who are his friends?
Who is his best friend?
Is he single? Dating? Married?
What’s his worldview?
What’s his personality type?
What triggers his anger?
What gives him joy?
What’s he afraid of?
2. Give him human qualities.
To be human is to be flawed and vulnerable.
Even superheroes have weaknesses. Superman’s is Kryptonite. Daredevil’s is a high-pitched sound. Thor is stronger when he has his hammer. The Green Lantern can stop just about anything unless it’s made of wood.
If you want readers to identify with dynamic characters, those characters must have human weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
Just make sure those faults aren’t irreparable—don’t make your protagonist a fearful, wimpy slob who can do nothing right.
3. Give him heroic qualities, too.
Plunge him into terrible trouble and allow him to learn valuable lessons as he tries (and fails) to fight his way out. But eventually allow him to show readers what he’s made of.
Have him develop courage and conviction. Make him grow strong, selfless, honest, and determined. Give him moral integrity.
Maybe he begins as the underdog deathly afraid of spiders or heights, or has an unhealthy addiction. But in the end, he must rise above his flaws, overcome the challenge, and become the hero who keeps readers turning the pages
4. Make sure there’s internal and external conflict.
Conflict is the engine of fiction—and that’s usually external.
But what happens to your character internally is also important. What your hero thinks, feels, and tells himself directly influences his eventual transformation.
Draw upon your own experience to create a whole character, inside and out.
What are your innermost doubts and fears? How do you respond to danger?
Mix and match behaviors from yourself and others to determine your hero’s natural internal and external responses.
If you want to write a story that pulls in readers, you must include compelling characters.
They need to feel:
But that’s difficult to pull off—one reason most stories are unpublishable.
Maybe you’re feeling this tension right now.
Maybe you’ve created a character with an amazing backstory that includes everything from where he was born to his hair and eye color, where he works, who his best friends are, and what hobbies he enjoys.
Yet it’s obvious something is still missing. And you can’t put your finger on what that is.
That’s why I wrote this character archetype guide: to give you a shortcut to giving your characters a set of desires, fears, and struggles that feel familiar—and because of that, believable.
For a character to be believable, he needs to be realistic.
[I use male pronouns inclusively here to represent both genders to avoid the awkward he/she or him/her, fully recognizing that many lead characters are female, as are a majority of readers.]
For him to be realistic, he needs to fit a certain psychological profile. Within that profile, there’s lots of wiggle room—things like motivation, his reaction to the variety of circumstances you’ll plunge him into, his background are all important—but who is he?
What does he fear?
What motivates him?
What does he care about most?
In other words, what makes your character tick? Figure that out, and your character’s archetype will jump off the screen and give your readers a character they’ll love.
The list is nearly endless—show me a human emotion, I’ll show you a tone—but here are the basic ones:
While tones can vary with every character and scene, the overall tone of your story must remain consistent to keep from confusing your reader and hindering your message.
Examples of Tone in Literature
Robert Frost begins his poem The Road Not Taken with a hopeful, contemplative tone.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
By the end, he’s switched to reflection and positivity.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
In The Old Man and the Sea, his final published work, Ernest Hemingway effects a tone of loneliness, sadness, defeat, and discouragement (at least on the part of the boy).
But, you can also read into what’s not said and detect a tone of courage or expectation on the part of the old man. Who continues to fish day after day when they’ve caught nothing?
He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. In the first forty days a boy had been with him. But after forty days without a fish the boy’s parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish the first week.
It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.
In The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis writes this passage with a clear tone of self-pity and sadness that shifts to fear.
‘I do think,’ said Shasta, ‘that I must be the most unfortunate boy that ever lived in the whole world. Everything goes right for everyone except me…I was left behind…I was the one who was sent on…I got left out.’ And being very tired and having nothing inside him, he felt so sorry for himself that the tears rolled down his cheeks.
What put a stop to all this was a sudden fright. Shasta discovered that someone or somebody was walking beside him. It was pitch dark and he could hardly hear any footfalls. What he could hear was breathing. His invisible companion seemed to breathe on a very large scale, and Shasta got the impression that it was a very large creature. And he had come to notice this breathing so gradually that he had really no idea how long it had been there. It was a horrible shock.
How to Develop Your Writing Tone
Have you ever written something you realized later fell flat? Here’s how to avoid this:
1. Remember your audience.
Every reader matters. Write in a straightforward, friendly manner as if having a conversation. Be real and avoid words that require a dictionary.
2. Layer in details.
Convey tone through descriptions that trigger the theater of your reader’s mind rather that being so specific that you leave nothing to his imagination.