3 Tips for Showing Character Emotion

Ah, character emotion. It’s one of the hardest things to write right. It’s also one of the most important. You can have a deep, complex character, a compelling, well-crafted plot, and the setting descriptions nailed down to the tiniest details. But if you can’t write character emotion in a compelling way, your book will be only half as rich as it could be.

second-edition21As you may already know, if you’ve been hanging around the writing world for a while, Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi of Writers Helping Writers have just released a new book! So, to celebrate The Emotion Thesaurus: Second EditionI’ve compiled several tips I’ve discovered while on my own writing journey.

1. Don’t Resort to the Face

Many authors, myself included, tend to go straight to the face for signs of emotion. In my first drafts, all my characters smile, frown, and glare; their eyes shoot daggers and glisten with tears and shift away slyly. It’s true that the face does show emotion, but other parts of the body are equally good–or even better at it. When was in my Sherlock phase (if we’re being honest, I never grew out of it), I learned to watch people’s feet to deduce their emotions. Crazy, right?

unhappy-389944_640That’s not to say you can’t use facial expressions. When done right, these can be powerful descriptions. Take the following passage for example. I’ve read this book a total of one time, and that was two or three years ago, and yet I still remember how much this description stuck out to me:

[A] forehead with a singular capacity . . . of lifting and knitting itself into an expression that was not quite one of perplexity, or wonder, or alarm, or merely of bight fixed attention, though it included all four the expressions[.]

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities


Just to be clear, I wouldn’t suggest actually writing descriptions like that (unless you’re actually Charles Dickens); the point is, it is possible to write good emotion through the face.

2. What is your character thinking?

Any good psychologist will tell you that there is a thought behind every emotion. It’s not always a conscious thought–in fact, unconscious thoughts and underlying beliefs are often more powerful. The Emotion Thesaurus (including the Second Edition) has a section all about thoughts and mental responses.

This isn’t something you do every single time your character feels an emotion. It also doesn’t have to be internal monologue (though it certainly can be). In other words, you don’t want a character who’s all emotion and no conscious thought, nor do you want a character who’s all thoughts and no feelings. That would just seem… odd.

3. Every Character is Different

Just because Ron Weasley has the emotional range of a teaspoon… yeah you get the picture. Every character will probably have a different emotional range. On top of that, some people tend to be very private about their emotions, while others spill them openly. And guys and girls experience emotions differently. (I hadn’t quite nailed this down when I wrote my first novel. You do not wanna read it.)

And, of course, different characters will express the same emotion differently. Just as a quick example, I have one character who tends to snap at people when he gets angry, but when presented with the same situation, another of my characters will have a full-blown temper tantrum.

The best advice I can give you is to get to know your characters. Showing emotion is just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath every emotion and reaction is a history, a backstory, a wound, a set of beliefs. Of course, there’s no way I can get into all of that today! (Hint: Angela and Becca have a bunch of other thesauruses that talk about all that!)

Giveaway!

One last thing here: there’s an epic giveaway going on right now!

To celebrate the new book and its dedicated readers, Angela and Becca have an unbelievable giveaway on right now: one person will win a free writing retreat, conference, workshop, or professional membership to a writing organization, winner’s choice (up to $500 US, with some other conditions which are listed on the WHW site).

What conference would you attend if the fee was already paid for…or would you choose a retreat? Something else? Decisions, decisions! This giveaway ends on February 26th, so hurry over and enter!

Are you excited about the new Emotion Thesaurus?

Do you have any tips on showing character emotion?

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The Victory in Surrender

I wanted to make the title an oxymoron to grab your attention. If you’re reading this, it worked. Now instead of my usual storytelling style, I’m going to begin with the end:

When we surrender our lives to Christ, we are surrendering to the One who has already overcome the world.

Surrender is an interesting word. Its meaning is almost never ambiguous, and in most cases it has the same outcome. But it has either good or bad connotations, depending on what context it’s being used in.

Surrender means giving up. Losing the battle. Letting the other side take you. How many times have we heard the words “SURRENDER OR DIE!” shouted at the opposing side during a battle? Surrendering is what happens when one side isn’t strong enough to keep fighting. Surrender is quietly laying down your weapons at the opposing side’s feet and saying “I’m yours.”

This is something that’s been on my mind a lot lately. For the past year or so, actually. Even though I’ve been dwelling on this idea, and God has shown me lots of things, it just hit me a couple weeks ago: I am not in control of my life. Period.

If you asked me, I wouldn’t say I’m a very controlling person. I never thought this lesson would be “for me.” But if I’m honest with myself, I have plans. Good plans, even. Plans for my life, plans for my future. And I want to control them.

I had a plan for college. I had it all figured out–nope, God shoved me in a completely different direction. I had plans for this amazing book I was going to write–never mind, God definitely had his own plans for that one. I worry about a lot of things. I have anxiety. This one was the hardest, because sometimes it’s easier for me to trust God with the big things in my life–like college–but not the little things, like what if I make a mistake while playing the piano at church.

Usually when I have no control over something, it freaks me out. But lately, I have found peace in it. I can rest in the fact that I have no control, because I am resting in the One who holds all the control. Surrender may seem counterintuitive, but really, it’s what frees us to trust.

And with this surrender comes victory. Because Christ has already overcome the world; he has already atoned for your sin; he has already paid for your life; he has already defeated death.

What if, instead of fighting the battle for control, we surrendered?
What if, instead of worrying, we surrendered our worries to God? What if, instead of trying to control the outcomes of our plans, we surrendered to the One who already knows exactly what we need?

What if we surrendered our entire lives to Him, in faith, knowing that He’s in complete control?

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
(Luke 9:23-24)

Cover Reveal: The ??? Thesaurus

I have a secret to spill!

For the last month, I’ve been part of a Street Team for Angela and Becca at Writers Helping Writers, who are launching their new writing book on February 19th. Because they are known for showing, not telling, they decided it would be fun to keep the thesaurus book’s topic a secret until the book cover reveal…WHICH IS TODAY!

If you don’t know who these amazing people are, you’ve gotta check them out! Many of you are probably familiar with their Emotion Thesaurus, which, not kidding here, was the book that singlehandedly helped my writing take off like a stick of dynamite after the flame burns down. (Also, I just realized that’s an oddly specific simile.) Not to brag on them or anything… okay, yes, I am bragging on them. That’s what I’m here for today.

Well, they didn’t stop after the Emotion Thesaurus. They published five more thesauruses, and they have even more that aren’t published. (Some of them are accessible online!)

It’s been hard keeping quiet about this (like, really, really hard), so I am THRILLED I can finally announce that The Emotion Thesaurus Second Edition is coming!

Isn’t that cover just beautiful?

This is a seriously cool book, guys. The original Emotion Thesaurus released in 2012 and became a must-have resource for many writers because every entry has a list of body language, thoughts, and visceral sensations for 75 different emotions. I read through them for fun. Did you know that showing character emotion on the page is one of the hardest things for a writer to do? It’s true!

And why is the second edition so special, you ask? Well, it turns out that so many people have asked Angela and Becca to add more emotions over the years that they decided to create a second edition. It contains 55 NEW entries, bringing the total to 130 emotions.

This book is almost DOUBLE IN SIZE and there’s a lot more new content, so I definitely recommend checking it out. And you can. Right now.

Preorder Alert!

This book is available for preorder, so you can find all the details about this new book’s contents by visiting Amazon, Kobo, Indiebound, and Apple Books (iBooks), or swinging by Writers Helping Writers. You can view the full list of emotions included in this new book, too.

One last thing…Angela & Becca have a special gift for writers HERE. If you like free education, stop by and check it out. (It’s only available for a limited time!)

Have you ever used the Emotion Thesaurus?

Share in the comments your best tips about showing character emotion!

…and a Happy New Year!

Here it is: the obligatory New Year’s post about memories, lessons learned, and resolutions.

Nope. Nope, nope, nope, not doing any of that, thank you very much. Today, I am here to tell you about a little word that I have come to love. Today, I am going to tell you about the magic contained in this three-letter word and what the magic means.

And the word is: Eve.

No, not like the woman Eve. I mean New Year’s Eve (hint: it’s today). Why is the eve of things so much better than the actual things themselves? Like, New Year’s Eve is full of celebrations, fireworks, parties, and Times Square. New Year’s Day is… um… well? Everybody sleeps in?

It’s the same with Christmas Eve, which happens to be my favorite holiday. Christmas Eve is a magical day, and somehow, even in the rush of hyper-excited children and tired parents, the song “Silent Night” still feels perfect for that night. It’s in that moment when you’re lying in bed trying to fall asleep, and suddenly, everything gets still, and you wonder if the entire world is pausing to catch its breath in anticipation.

That’s the real word I want to focus on: anticipation. As a writer, I am hopelessly in love with words and their definitions. Anticipation means “to look forward to something excitedly,” which is probably obvious because you’ve probably used that word before. But there is another definition that I like even better, because it captures the exact thing I’ve been trying to describe to you this whole time:

the introduction in a composition of part of a chord which is about to follow in full

(Oxford English Dictionary)


This definition is only applicable to music theory, but go back and read it again. Anticipation, in this sense, is literally a taste of what is to come. A glimpse. A fleeting shadow of the true form.

That’s why I like New Year’s Eve. It’s the anticipation of the year to come. It’s the anticipation of all the new adventures I’ll have. And if there’s anything I’ve learned this year, it’s that my own plans are hardly ever the same as God’s plans. This year was one sweeping adventure for me as far as writing goes (and I’ll tell you about that later).

I don’t know why some people say “good riddance” to the old year. I’m sorry if 2018 was a bad year for you, but for me, it was an adventure. A very good adventure which I did not plan at all.

So that’s my take on New Year’s Eve. The anticipation of adventure. Don’t get caught up in all your intricate plans. And if you know me at all, you’d probably never expect me to sat that. Because I’m a planning planner who plans things. It’s great to have a goal (all adventures have an end goal, a place you’re trying to get), but the road along the way? That’s where all the story happens. And sometimes, God has a completely different ending in mind, and ultimately, that one’s even better.

So. There you have it. Happy New Year! And right now, I am definitely anticipating all the new adventures of 2019. 😉

What are you doing for New Year’s Eve? Do you have any resolutions?

My Honest Review of “Beyond the Circle”

Hey, everyone! After much recovery from NaNoWriMo, I’m back to blogging. And today, I’m going to give you my honest opinion of Ted Dekker’s newest adult series: it’s a two-book series called “Beyond the Circle.”

I did a review on the first book, The 49th Mystic, which you can read by clicking here. The sequel, Rise of the Mystics, came out in October, and I was so excited, I read it in a matter of days. However, I was… not very impressed (I’m cringing as I’m typing this). Don’t get me wrong: Ted Dekker is a brilliant author, and Rise of the Mystics is some great storytelling. But I wasn’t very happy when I got to “The End.”

There won’t be any spoilers in this post, but if you’re VERY sensitive to sentences that very vaguely talk about things that might could possibly maybe happen, then I’d suggest reading the book first. 😉

Now, I went into Rise of the Mystics very hopeful and very excited. The 49th Mystic was amazing and promising and, simply put, awesome! (The villain was pretty epic too!!) I’ve got no problems with that one. Rise of the Mystics, however…

Let me start with the stuff I did like.

The storytelling. Ted has a natural gift for storytelling, and it shines through in this one. And overall, it was a great story. The characters were complex, the protagonist had a great character arc, all that stuff writers are supposed to say about other people’s books.

The story itself. It’s a gripping story, minus the fact that the beginning is really confusing. It’s definitely fast-paced and has that traditional thrilling Dekker suspense vibe. I won’t tell you too much about it, seeing as it’s a sequel and the story is just a continuation of The 49th Mystic. Plus, I promised there wouldn’t be any spoilers.

My problem is with the theology. (gasp!) If you’re unfamiliar with the series, theology plays a huge part in the story. Characters quote Scripture right and left and have huge, life-changing encounters with God. Which is great. Because encounters with God are very real things, and Scripture is of course the Word of God, and thus it is the source of all Truth. Ted’s not denying any of that, but the way he started interpreting parts of the Bible made me wonder what he was leading up to.

At first I just stopped reading for a second and made a mental note about it. No big deal. But as the story went on, the problem just got bigger… and bigger… 

And bigger.

And let me say, I was NOT happy with the way it ended.

Green was better.

And if you’ve been in the Dekker fandom for any length of time, you’ll know that the ending of Green is something we Do. Not. Talk. About.

At first, it seemed like Ted was trying to present a certain truth from the Bible, but the way he explained it didn’t quite feel right. Sure enough, it led to problems later in the book. Major problems. Like I-can-literally-point-to-a-hundred-specific-Bible-verses-that-directly-contradict-you kind of problems. Does the Bible say we should love everyone? Yes, because God made everyone, and all human beings are made in his image. Jesus personally told us to love our enemies. But that does not imply everything else that happened in the story… which I will not tell you about, because #spoilers. 

So… those are my thoughts. I enjoyed “Beyond the Circle” in general, but I am definitely still upset about the theology presented in it. All in all, I was disappointed. It’s a great story, it had great potential. It could have gone amazing places.

As a side note, Ted and his daughter Kara just came out with a children’s series called “The Dream Traveler’s Quest.” I actually really liked that series, but it was literally the same story, and thus some of the same theology. They presented deep truths in a way that kids can understand – a feat I admire – but once again, I started to question their theology at the end. It did have a better ending than Rise of the Mystics, though, so I was pleasantly surprised.

Have you read “Beyond the Circle?” What did you think?

3 Common Clichés and Where They Came From

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all! (Depending on when you read this, it might be more like Happy almost-Thanksgiving.) Today, I am going to talk about three very common clichés in fiction. Surprisingly, all of them can also be found in the Bible. Not that that’s a bad thing, because the Bible isn’t fiction. It’s Truth. But it’s interesting to notice.

1. Ancient prophecies about the Chosen One.

Gosh, how many times have we seen this? It’s so common, I actually get disappointed when my favorite books do it. “Seriously? Another prophecy? I didn’t see that coming…” Prophecies are cool and all (especially in Macbeth), but really? Really? Authors can’t be a bit more creative?

And why do the prophecies always have to be ancient? Like, just why? And they’re always about some mysterious, powerful “Chosen One?”

Maybe the reason is because deep down, we long for a story like that. The earliest prophecy about Jesus actually occurred in the Garden of Eden, right after Adam and Eve sinned. And all throughout the Old Testament, we get glimpses of this Chosen One, this Messiah who is to come. There are actually hundreds prophecies about him. 

This brings us right into our next cliché…

2. The Chosen One is just your average Joe.

Once we actually meet the Chosen One (usually the main character), he’s nothing special. He’s the farmboy. The orphan. The nobody. He’s got no special powers, no magic, no knowledge of this greater world all around him, and nobody ever pays him any attention. He’s no one.

Not on the surface, at least.

Once he finds out who he really is, though… That’s when the story really starts to get exciting. By exciting, of course I mean “eye-rolling.” Because it’s so predictable.

But if we look at Jesus, the Bible actually says he was an ordinary guy. He wasn’t particularly good-looking, he was the son of a carpenter, he wasn’t rich or popular. His closest friends were fishermen, tax collectors, and other completely ordinary people.

I think you know where this is going… Jesus was also fully God, given incredible power by his Father, and he eventually saved the world. That’s putting it in the simplest possible terms, but yeah. He died, so we could live…

…which brings us to our next point:

3. If a dead body vanishes, it’s not really dead.

How many times have we seen this one? It doesn’t only apply to the Chosen One, though it certainly does many times (I won’t spoil anything, but I’m sure you can think of plenty of examples). Even villains. “Oh, is the villain dead? Bummer. Well, nobody saw his body, so… yeah, definitely alive.”

As a little side note to all the Sherlock fans out there… this is precisely why I refuse to believe Moriarty is really dead. I mean, who actually saw his body? Just Sherlock? Anyway…

Jesus, of course, was resurrected – and the story was spread that his body was stolen. Interesting, considering the Romans took practically every safety precaution imaginable…

Yeah. The bottom line is, if a dead body mysteriously disappears, then they’re not dead. Or in some cases, they’ve come back from being dead.

So that’s my take on clichés. I think it’s interesting that many of them can be found in the Bible. That just goes to show that there is only one Story, and deep down, all of us want to hear it again and again and again.

Do y’all have any Thanksgiving plans?

What do you think about clichés?

The Sequel Game

Hi, everyone!! NaNoWriMo’s halfway over, it’s less than a week till Thanksgiving, and Christmas decorations are popping up all over the place. (Like, why? I’m a HUGE fan of Christmas, but I draw the line at getting a tree before Thanksgiving.)

At the end of this post I’ll have a little tip about NaNoWriMo, but first, I need to talk about something. One thing I’ve noticed about the writing world is that there is a plethora of advice floating around on the Internet. Everybody wants to tell you how to write a book. Which is great, because there’s actually a lot of really great advice out there… how to structure a plot, how to develop a character, how to add in backstory, how to do worldbuilding…

But one thing I’ve noticed that nobody can explain is that most of the writing advice I’ve ever seen is for either writing standalone books or the first book in a series.

What do you do with the rest of the series?

The first thing you need to realize about sequels is that there are different kinds of series. Probably the most common type is where each book picks up where the other one left off – think A Series of Unfortunate Events, or the Harry Potter saga. The other kind is where all the books are related, but you can honestly start anywhere and read them in any order because they don’t relate to each other much. The Nancy Drew series is a good example. 

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we need to look at the very first thing you’ll come to when reading a sequel – the beginning. (duh.) In a first or standalone book, you’ll want to introduce the reader to the main character, give them a reason to like them/root for them/get emotionally attached to them. I’ll assume you’ve heard all that a million times and don’t need a reminder. 

It’s different with sequels. In a sequel, the reader already knows the main character, and they must have cared about them enough to pick up the sequel. It’s a good idea to restate a few basic facts about the protagonist – especially if it’s a series like Nancy Drew, where you don’t know which book the reader will pick up first.

The next point is backstory. It’s difficult for me to give advice on backstory, especially for how to handle it in sequels, because every series is structured differently. Unless the main character’s backstory is a mystery and a central part of the plot, you’ve probably already shared most of it, if not all of it, with the reader.  In sequels, we don’t need to be reminded of all the details. Just go over the main stuff.

And this makes sense, because people naturally think about the important parts of their past. Like in Harry Potter we learn in every single book that Harry is an orphan because his parents were murdered by Voldemort. That’s important. The fact that Dudley bullied him is not quite as important.

Plot structure is the big one. Of course each individual book should have its own climax and everything, and the main character should have a character arc. But in a series, this is multi-faceted. The series needs to have a plot structure as a whole. There should be one point where we reach the climax of the whole series. Like an individual book, the series should have a definite turning point somewhere around the middle. The same idea applies to character arcs.

Of course, I’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to writing sequels… there is SO much more to think about! Real quick, let me give you a survival tip for NaNoWriMo…

If you’re behind (like me), you need to find a way to get those words written. What I’ve done is set a timer for thirty minutes and start writing. Don’t do anything else. Don’t check Facebook, don’t look at Harry Potter memes, don’t do the dishes or fold the laundry. Just write. At the end of thirty minutes, check to see how many words you wrote.

Then, take a ten to fifteen minute break (maybe it’s finally time to fold that laundry), then do it again. Write for thirty minutes. Don’t think about all the typos you’re making, don’t think about how stupid the scene probably sounds, just write.

You can keep going with that cycle for as long as you want. Usually what happens for me is that I get more and more words written every time. Sometimes I can even get up to 2000 words per hour. It’s a very exciting way to see your word count grow!

That’s all I have for now (I should probably get back to my NaNo novel…). But let me know in the comments if you have any advice to share about writing a sequel. And best of luck to you if you’re doing NaNoWriMo!

Have you ever written a book series?

Are you doing NaNoWriMo?

#NaNoPrep: Last-Minute Panic

AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH! (<– me screaming) NaNoWriMo starts in THREE DAYS!!! And guess who’s been slacking on their #NaNoPrep posts?? Yep, you guessed it. Me. I had a good reason, though. I was on vacation.

So what do you do when you realize November is literally right around the corner? Well…

KEEP CALM

No. Please don’t freak out. It only gets better from here.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. A quarter of the way through November you’ll hit a wall and feel like giving up. Your characters won’t talk to you, your plot has worn seventeen holes in itself, and worst of all, you’re five thousand words behind schedule. You think Halloween is the perfect time for horror movies? WAIT TILL NEXT MONTH. YOU’LL BE LIVING ONE.

Okay but also:

  • You are embarking on a journey only the bravest dare begin
  • You are defying all odds and achieving the impossible
  • You are pushing past what you thought were your own limitations
  • You are stretching yourself and growing because of it
  • You are finishing what you started
  • You are writing an entire NOVEL in a MONTH

Doesn’t that sound nice? Take it from me. I’m not a NaNo veteran, this is only my third year participating, but NaNoWriMo can be a game-changer when it comes to your writing habits. There is something very satisfying in not giving up. And the satisfaction is purely a personal one – when you realize what you’re actually doing, you feel a great sense of accomplishment. And if it’s hard to keep going, even better. Just don’t give up.

And it’s okay to freak out a little bit. In fact, it’s probably necessary. That’s why NaNoWriMo works the way it does. The intensity is so high, the odds are so impossible, that you don’t even care anymore. At some point, you stop caring that the story is crap and you write it anyway. Maybe it’s just my personality, but when something is impossible, it makes me try even harder. And I usually find out that whatever the thing was wasn’t so impossible after all.

last-minute panicI actually think that this is among the more important topics during NaNoPrep. I’ve seen maaaaaaaany posts about how to get your story ready, but almost none about how to get your mind ready. NaNoWriMo is like running; the hardest part is in your mind. It’s psychological.

Logistically, it’s not that hard (and it’s a lot less physically exerting than running) – you can set aside an hour or so a day for writing. And… that’s it. It’s as simple as rearranging a few things on your schedule and sitting down and focusing.

The rest of it is in your head. Most of it’s determination. Confidence is also helpful, but not 100% necessary. How determined are you to finish?

Notice what I said there? I said finish. I didn’t say win. Winning is awesome, but finishing is an even nobler goal. To win, you have to write 50,000 words by November 30. But to finish means to keep going. Even if you fail. Even if you don’t win, will you keep writing, or will you give up and never go back to the story again?

NaNoWriMo is just the beginning of a book-writing journey. I like it because it forces me to get the story down on paper, a process that would take months under normal circumstances. It’s more motivating, too! Imagine trying to run a marathon by yourself instead of with a bunch of other people.

So there it is. No matter where your story takes you next month, no matter how much your characters hate you, don’t give up. I’ll be honest with you. It’s hard. Exhausting. You will ask yourself why you ever signed up for it. But the reward of seeing yourself finish is so worth it. And when it’s over, you’ll realize that the impossible wasn’t so impossible after all.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year?

How do you overcome mental obstacles for writing?

#NaNoPrep: A Writing Survival Kit

Ah, it’s October now, isn’t it? You know what that means. Fall weather, pumpkins, and Halloween. Oh and also NaNoWriMo is less than a month away. Which means it’s NaNoPrep Month!!!

I did a NaNoPrep series last year, and everyone seemed to like it, so I thought I’d bring it back this year. I love the thrill of NaNoWriMo. The anticipation just gets bigger every year! For the past two years, I’ve kind of gotten anxious toward the end of October, because I never have any idea what I’m going to be writing until a week or so before it starts. For some reason, this year is different. I’ve been planning this project for months, and if all goes as planned, it’s gonna be a sequel to Inferno’s Melody (last year’s project).

Today I have a little survival kit for you. If you plan on participating, these tips might be helpful.

a writing survival kit

  • HealthThis is a big one. Let’s start with physical health. It may seem obvious, but writing is easier when you take care of yourself. Try to avoid staring at a screen for four hours at a time. It makes your eyes tired. Get up and exercise once in a while. Drink water. You know, the obvious stuff.

Mental health is important too. Take breaks and do stuff that’s completely unrelated to the story. Otherwise, your family might think you’ve gone insane. “Who is that you’re talking to?” they might ask, having just overheard you murmuring condolences to some invisible being. “Oh, nobody,” you respond. “I’m just apologizing to poor Kirk for what I’m about to do to him.” 

Your spiritual health is even more important than the other two. Don’t neglect your Bible reading just because you’re writing a new novel. Seriously. This is important. Spend time with the Lord.

  • Chocolate. I said this last year, I’ll say it again: chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. Best noveling snack there is. Dark chocolate has health benefits, too, so you don’t have to feel guilty about eating too much. Just wrote yourself into a corner? Your characters decided they don’t like you anymore? Take some advice from Professor Lupin and eat the chocolate. You’ll feel better.
  • Goals. My friend once gave me this advice. NaNoWriMo is structured in such a way so that it breaks down into manageable daily goals. To reach 50,000 words by the end of the month, you have to write approximately 1667 words per day. This is manageable, but may seem overwhelming at times. Instead of daily goals, try aiming for weekly goals. I like to have a number in the back of my head that I know I need to reach by the end of the week. That way, if I don’t quite make my daily goal, it won’t feel like I’m behind too much.
  • Focus. You know when your brain works best for writing. If at all possible, write at the same time every day. That way, you’ll get into a rhythm and be able to focus more easily. Also, that leaves you the rest of the day to do normal stuff and not worry about when you’ll get your writing done. Personally, I write my best stuff late at night, but I’ve met other writers who like to get up early, or write over lunch or a mid-afternoon snack.
  • Tools. I’m talking about your favorite pens (hey, it’s important! I can’t write without my dark blue ballpoint pen!), a special notebook (I like to decorate the cover of mine with scrapbook paper), a computer and your favorite word processing program, and of course your favorite book series to read when you get blocked and need a burst of inspiration.

So, if you’re embarking on an epic writing journey this November, best of luck!  May the creative force be with you. May the words be ever in your favor. I plan on doing several more posts for the #NaNoPrep series, so check back in a few days! (And yes, there must be a hashtag in front of it. It makes it look cool and official.)

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year?

If you have any other survival tips, let me know in the comments!

The Pitiable Antagonist

Gollum. The Phantom of the Opera. Draco Malfoy. Severus Snape.

What do all of these have in common? They’re all antagonists, of course.

And, probably, we have another emotion associated with them besides hate.

Sometimes, we love to hate the villain (Umbridge, anyone?). If they’re evil enough, we might love being terrified. Occasionally, we might even decide we love them, in a weird sort of way (Moriarty!!!). But it is rarer to pity the villain. Why?

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Well, first off, pitiable villains (or antagonists) aren’t right for every story. Certain stories may require certain sorts of villains, depending on the plot and the themes present. I’m going to skip giving you an explanation and assume you can decide for yourself what kind of villain you need. Let’s say you want to create a villain your readers will develop a certain empathy for…

1. Backstory. Please don’t make this a clichéd backstory; we don’t need another villain who is incapable of love because of some dark event from his past. (That is to say, it’s not wrong to write a backstory like that, I just think it would be neat if you were more creative.)

snape2Backstory is key, because that’s usually what makes us pity the villain in the first place. Think how much our attitude changed toward the Phantom once we learned what happened to him. And Snape. I actually hated Snape for the first 6 ¾ books. And even when Harry learned his whole backstory, I still didn’t like him… but there was an empathy present that I had never had for him before.

2. Empathy is different than pity. I know I sometimes use the words interchangeably, but honestly they’re different. Empathy is being able to understand another person, to feel their emotions even. Pity is feeling sorry for someone. A lot of times, the two go hand-in-hand.

But when it comes to villains, empathy is usually already present (or should be). We need to be able to empathize in at least some way with the villain, even if we don’t agree with him or approve of his moral choices. We don’t have to love him, we don’t even have to pity him. But give the villain something the readers will identify with; it can even be something as small as being addicted to bacon (because isn’t everyone addicted to bacon, deep down?).

Pity, when directed toward the villain, plays a completely different role than empathy. Pity unlocks something in our hearts that allows us to feel compassion for someone whom we thought was unlovable. Of course, everyone experiences emotions differently, but I think that’s what generally happens.

For example, Gollum. I wouldn’t necessarily call him a villain, but he’s definitely not a loyal sidekick either. He lies and deceives, and even goes so far as to try to get Frodo killed. Plus, he’s after the Ring, which is never good news no matter who you are. But Gollum is also a very tortured character, twisted and demented by his lust for the Ring. He was not so different from a Hobbit once, and the Sméagol side of him still longs for the way things used to be.

3. Make sure pity doesn’t take away the villain’s strengths. Unless that’s the whole point you’re doing it, of course. Every character has a mix of both strengths and weaknesses. It’s really easy to give the villain too much strength and not enough weakness, but pity can sometimes have a way of flipping that around.

For example (and this is a completely unofficial, off-the-record statement) my villain has… certain persons involved with his backstory that have not yet… been revealed. In fact, I haven’t even decided if I want to write it that way or not. But just plotting out my poor villain’s tragic past has made my pity meter start beeping like crazy (actually, I think it exploded once, it was so bad). Unfortunately, if I choose to actually write about said events, I’m going to have to find a way to not completely strip my villain of everything that makes him the depraved, fearsome, epic bad guy that he is.

That’s all the tips I have for you today, but I love villains (especially when they give you the feels), so I might just have to start writing more about them.

Do you have a favorite villain that you pity?

(Or a favorite villain in general?)