How To Describe Characters Like A Boss

Jasmine had an hourglass figure and blonde hair. She was beautiful. She had smooth, flawless skin and big, baby blue eyes that were a window to her soul. She stood in the doorframe like a model.

Yuck yuck yuck yuck yuck. Blech. That has got to be the most disgusting, shallow character introduction I have ever written because that, my fellow scribes, is an example of everything you should not do if you want to describe characters like a boss.

The above paragraph showcases what I consider to be the five venial sins of writing description. I call them venial because while it is very easy to lean on these tactics as a crutch, you are not doomed to a fiery pit where all bad writers go for using them. Hark, the Stellular Scribe sings, for I bring you glad tidings! There is hope after all, so long as you refrain from the following:


1. Describing Inactively

 

Jasmine had an hourglass figure and blonde hair.

Even if your sole goal is to write a piece without narrative or plot, simply slapping on any ol’ description out of context won’t give an accurate portrayal of the character. Remember, describing looks should serve to enhance the reader’s image of the physical, mental, and practical aspects of the character. A character isn’t her appearance. A character is active and engaged in the story. The way the above sentence sits, Jasmine seems like more of a storefront display than an actual person.

Also, hourglass figure is a horrid cliché and it should be discarded immediately.

Solution: Describe Actively

Jasmine twisted her blonde hair with a lazy finger. Her free hand rested in the curve between her hip and ribcage.


2. Writing Vaguely

 

She was beautiful.

There’s nothing wrong with calling a character beautiful or ugly or old or young. But that’s only in the subjective sense — perhaps when another character is describing her or she is being observed on the basis of beauty alone. Here in this introduction of her character, “beautiful” is too general. A bird can be beautiful. A couch can be beautiful. What determines her beauty?

Solution: Write Specifically

She looked at him much like an artist critiquing a student’s painting — with an air of impressment, but mostly fond amusement at his folly. There was something stunning about the way she studied him.

(Ha! Bet you didn’t see that one coming. Remember, physical characterizations don’t reveal everything.)


3. Overstuffing Adjectives

 

She had smooth, flawless skin and big, baby blue eyes that were a window to her soul.

You’re introducing a character. Not playing thesaurus bingo. Tacking on adjective after adjective can make the description feel forced and unrealistic, and it will quickly cause the reader to lose interest. You are no longer writing about a person — you are writing a laundry list.

In the end, you’ve got to pick the most important traits and stick with them. In our example, describing Jasmine’s “eyes” makes much more contextual sense than informing the reader on her “smooth, flawless skin.”

Solution: Less is More

It was as if her eyes, sheer as sea smoke, revealed her every judgement.


4. Abusing Clichés

 

She had an hourglass figure […].

She had […] eyes that were a window to her soul.

Clichés are the devil. Ok. Maybe they’re not that bad, but it can begin to feel like torture for a reader to read the same recycled, thrown-up, washed-out descriptions over and over and over again.

Solution: Avoid Clichés At All Costs.

That’s right. Just don’t even touch them. Not. A. One.


5. Characterizing Flatly

 

She stood in the doorframe like a model.

And we’re back to describing a storefront display. Try to reveal some emotion in your descriptions. These are people you’re writing about, and most people aren’t very hard to read. Everyone reveals emotion in some way or another.

Solution: Characterize Emotionally

She leaned against the doorframe almost like a model posing for a magazine cover shoot — but somehow, she looked effortless. Completely unaware of her own natural grace. Bored, even.


And thus we go from

Jasmine had an hourglass figure and blonde hair. She was beautiful. She had smooth, flawless skin and big, baby blue eyes that were a window to her soul. She stood in the doorframe like a model.

to

Jasmine twisted her blonde hair with a lazy finger. Her free hand rested in the curve between her hip and ribcage. She looked at him much like an artist critiquing a student’s painting — with an air of impressment, but mostly fond amusement at his folly. There was something stunning about the way she studied him. It was as if her eyes, sheer as sea smoke, revealed her every judgement. She leaned against the doorframe almost like a model posing for a magazine cover shoot — but somehow, she looked effortless. Completely unaware of her own natural grace. Bored, even.

Voila! Now we have a character who the reader can care about, someone he will want to know more about.


Go forth and spread the good news, dear scribes — so that everyone can describe characters like a boss!

© 2016 Stellular Scribe

Writing Kindling #3

Writer’s block may seem like a terminal illness, but sometimes the smallest of sparks can “kindle” your craft. Today I bring you a list of ten 1-2 sentence writing prompts that will help build up your white blood cells and give writer’s block a good kick in the pants. Copy them, tweak them, consider them, leave them. It’s up to you!

  1. These memories aren’t mine.

  2. Thick, curling plumes of smoke. That is all I remember.

  3. This time, she was telling the truth.

  4. “Try it; you’ll love it!”

  5. It was silent until it wasn’t.

  6. Obviously, he was going to have to die.

  7. My death was a strange event.

  8. “Because,” she said, as if that lonely word could answer all of my questions.

  9. His face was a mirror of her own horror.

  10. Her fist slammed the desk like a thunderclap.


I’d love to hear what you come up with. Feel free to share your writing in the comments!

Happy writing! 🙂

How Writing Poetry Has Helped My Fiction

If you pop by my blog often, you might notice that I write a lot of poetry in my spare time. Like, a lot. I think the current count is at well over one hundred poems in just this past year. Lord, whatever you do, do not go back and look at the early stuff. I was fifteen and angsty and I don’t want to talk about it.

With this is mind, it might also surprise you to know that poetry really isn’t my forte. I spend many more hours of the night writing novels, elaborate stories, and all sorts of whimsical fictions.

I picked up poetry by accident.

I’ve been working on my current novel for about a year and a half now (slow and steady wins the race — right?), and about mid-way through it I got to a scene where my main character was supposed to overhear a stranger sing a song that he recognized.

I did the only thing I could do, and whipped out the ol’ rhyming dictionary.

Oh, it was garbage (I can say that now), but something about that shambled-together, trite, melodramatic song opened my eyes to the potential of poetry. That song added an entirely new, visceral dimension to my story: atmosphere, fluidity, voice, movement.

My writing as a whole felt strengthened, so I made it a habit of jotting down poems everyday. As I became more comfortable, I experimented with more forms, styles, and meters. I abandoned a rhyme scheme; I rhymed religiously. I did away with punctuation and capitalization; I carefully molded each section of each sentence.

I know that to some people, poetry can seem scary. It feels like an entirely foreign, much more formidable beast than pure prose.

But I’m here to tell you that poetry really isn’t that different, and writing a little on the side might even help your fiction.


1. Capturing distinct sensations and imagery.

Poetry can be written for many different reasons — but it almost always seeks to convey some sort of image, be it concrete or abstract. Fiction in and of itself is the consolidation of diverse images to create a storyline.

The more poetry I write, the easier I find it to procure similes and metaphors to illustrate objects, meanings, and sensations. The more poetry I write, the more readily I reach into synecdoche, metonymy, and onomatopoeia to personify and paint scenes.

Poetry forces you to discover sharper, more powerful images. In fact, there was an entire movement in the early 2oth century where “imagists” considered the image to be the most important aspect of the written language. William Carlos Williams was well know for his simplistic yet highly evocative poetry. For example, here’s his 1923 poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow.”

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

Now, take away the stanza structure and add some punctuation, and you’ve got a beautiful sentence that could strike color into any prose: “So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow, glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens.”

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2. Perfecting pacing. 

Whether you’re writing free verse or a meticulously metered sonnet, poetry is all about pacing. Every choice must be deliberate yet effortless — not too short, not too long, avoid superfluous words, and use just the right amount of description to get your image across.

When I write stories, I often have difficulty managing the pacing. Sometimes I’ll get so wrapped up in a plotline or a particular paragraph of characterization that the end result will be either too long, too dull, or too disjointed.

Poetry has taught me to let my writing breathe. Every word must have a purpose and serve to move the story forward.

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3. Balancing different emotions. 

I surprised myself with this one — I thought that I had my characters all figured out. I thought that they were well represented as emotionally complex individuals. I thought I was something special for creating such substantial individuals.

Yeah…then I started writing more poetry, and realized just how flat they actually fell.

I wrote poems — lots of small, un-extraordinary poems — that forced me to tap into emotions that I had never considered before. I truly experienced my characters through their eyes, and I delved into dark, unfathomable parts of their hearts and bright, mysterious places alike.

To give an example, here is a poem called “Wrecked” that I wrote over a year and a half ago:

They left me folded in sheets
of sand — wrapped in molding bandages
on the bed of the shore, with the surf
licking my frozen toes.
The gull who weeps for his friends
long dead is much like me — a nomad
with no name and no clan;
a roamer rejected by rose-ravished
words. Here I waste away,
repeatedly bitten by the wind’s sharpened
teeth — left to rot.

I discovered something intensely hopeless about the character this poem was written about. Something savage and vain, yet somehow wistful.

After this poem, I wrote that character anew — and for the better.

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4. Writing with the natural rhythm of speech. 

Rhythm is separate from pacing in that it deals with the fluidity, eloquence, and overall cadence of a piece of writing. In poetry, some semblance of rhythm is almost unavoidable. The same should be said for fiction and other forms of prose.

While you shouldn’t always write “how you talk”, you should always write with the rhythm of speech in mind. What I love about poetry is that it is intended to be read aloud, and therefore must have a certain “flow” about it that cooperates with the voice.

Simply put, the more poetry you write, the more fluently you will consider the world around you and your subject matter at hand. You’ll find your own unique rhythm!

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5. Committing. 

Maybe this is just me, but poetry actually inspired me to write more prose.

I got on a schedule of writing poetry, becoming overcome by a deep impulse to translate my newly realized emotions, sensations, and images into fiction, and buckling down to work on a story.

I’m by no means a poetry connoisseur. I’m also nowhere near being a fully functioning, organized member of society.

But somehow, poetry made me commit. And I will forever be grateful because of it.

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So, what are your thoughts? Do you write poetry? Fiction? Do you find any meaningful connection between the two forms?

Thanks, and happy writing! 🙂

© 2016 Stellular Scribe

 

Top 10 Worldbuilding Resources for Writers

giphy

Imagine that you’ve just sat down to dinner and someone sets an enormous plate of all your favorite foods in front of you. Mmm. For me, it would be baked ziti, my dad’s famous purple potatoes, and bread. Lots and lots of bread.

Supporting everything — from the meaty bits to the peas and corn to the loaded baked potato — is your trusty, sturdy plate. Your plate might be beneath everything, it might be obscured by the pasta or muddied by the gravy, but it’s everywhere, upholding everything, keeping it all together, all the time. Your plate is vital to your dining experience, even though it’s not the part that you actually eat.

In fiction writing, the surrounding world is vital to your reading experience, even though it’s not the center of the actual plot.

The plate is the world, the ziti and potatoes are your plot and characters, and this is my attempt at a worldbuilding metaphor.

Terrible analogies aside (I apologize profusely), I’ve compiled a few of my favorite go-to sites for inspiring rich worlds in my writing. Dig in!


1. For names:

A list of this nature would not be complete if I didn’t introduce you all to FANTASY NAME GENERATORS

Holy mother of Middle Earth, this site never ceases to amaze me. From every fantasy, sci-fi, realistic, and ridiculous character name you can think of to the names of bridges, film studios, space stations, weapons and the like, FANTASY NAME GENERATORS has everything you need to get started on this vast worldbuilding frontier.

If you’re suffering severe writer’s block, they even have description generators of castles, societies, cultures, holidays, and diseases.

2. For beginnings:

Behold the majestic CHAOTIC SHINY, for here all great nations are born!

Ok, but seriously, this site has made me think about worldbuilding in ways that I never thought possible. Here you can build constellations, establish laws, develop civilizations, and map out demographics.

My advice would be to play around with some of the generators until something piques your interest (I found the crowd generator very helpful for writing descriptions of citizens in a village), and then see where it takes you!

hiking
3. For languages:

What’s the saying? “The limits of my language are the limits of my world” [x]. Well, never fear, because now your world can be limitless as you craft languages with SCRIBOLY.

Building a language from scratch is no easy feat, and depending on the depth of which you want to go in your writing, it doesn’t have to be time-consuming! Maybe a character will sprinkle their speech with foreign words, or maybe the language is only used in passing. To keep the meaning and syntax consistent, try out SCRIBOLY by typing in your desired phonemes and translating your text.

No world is dominated by just one language, so if you have more than one culture/civilization, play around with the word patterns and see what unique sounds you can generate.

4. For maps:

Beware! Here be maps at POLYGON MAP GENERATION

If you can’t seem to get a solid image of what the geography of your world looks like, flip through some random map designs until you find one that works for you. Knowing the layout of your world is important for keeping cities, trade routes, and ports consistent as your character traverses the land.

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5. For religions:

Every respectable universe needs to have an abundance of religions to tear it apart. Or maybe it’s one to unite it? You decide at BELIEF SYSTEM GENERATOR.

This site is especially interesting because it breaks down the origins of your world according to beliefs, minor/major deities, nuances in afterlife, morals, rituals, and clergy. Again, I’m not saying that you should copy every detail that you randomly generate — it’s just a great place to start.

What’s more, you can even compare multiple religions side by side to see how they might interact in your potential world.

6. For mythology:

A lot of what shapes culture comes from the wild tangles of imagination and the supernatural. Draw from a plethora of real world myths to inspire your own folklore and legends at ANCIENT MYTHOLOGY.

It was at this site that I first read about Zoroastrianism, and from there was inspired to create a series of fables for my novel. Most of what we create is based off history, so why not take a look at some of Mother Earth’s greatest stories? May it be Japanese mythology or Mesopotamian superstitions, I’m sure that something in the archives of ANCIENT MYTHOLOGY will inspire you.

7. For tropes:

Some writers try to avoid tropes like the plague. I say, take advantage of them! Find something done before and make it your own at TV TROPES.

Explore different world settings (Medieval European Fantasy or Space Opera?), cultural ticks (Martyrdom Culture or Immortality Seeker?), and religious whims (Robot Religion or Easy Evangelism?). Of course, I’m not advocating for anyone to adopt these tropes (they’re called tropes for a reason — because they’re overdone), but I think that sometimes the most ground-breaking, striking worlds are ones that take tropes and twist them.

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8. For questions to answer:

SFWA has composed an extensive and impressive list of questions to keep in mind when worldbuilding. Please, read through the questions. You’d be surprised at some of the seemingly mundane things that really make a world pop.

9. For asking questions:

Can’t come up with the right answer to one of those questions? Go ahead and ask it at STACK EXCHANGE WORLDBUILDING. This is a great site for getting technical. I myself am woefully uninformed on physics, and if not for these forums, my world would probably lack gravity.

10. For music:

What’s a rich world without a rich soundtrack? Head on over to 8TRACKS or another internet radio of your choice and check out the fantasy, writing, and soundtrack tags. Sometimes, the right mood music can get you in the right frame of mind for making up cultures.

Be sure to check out my personal music suggestions on Music Mondays!

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Ah, there’s nothing like a hearty plate of well-done worldbuilding.

Good luck, and happy writing! 🙂

© 2016 Stellular Scribe

Begin at the Beginning: Writing

‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said, very gravely, ‘and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’

-Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

So you’ve got your characters. A good grasp of your plot. Perhaps your mind is even wandering to the sequel. You’re all set to hit the ground running, head first into the first chapter. But then-

the
Perhaps even harder than the end is writing the dreaded beginning. Sometimes, it just doesn’t come naturally. You know what you want, but you don’t know how to get those pesky words on the page without overwhelming, boring, or confusing the reader.

Is there a wrong way to write a beginning?

The short answer: no.

The long answer: no, but- there are elements that characterize a good beginning that need to be taken into account.


1. Get the reader to care.

No one wants to read a story that opens with Mary Sue preparing her breakfast cereal and thinking about watering the porch plants. I’d drop that book in the heartbeat. But who knows? Maybe on the next page Mary Sue packs a hand revolver in her purse and leaves for her work at an underground drug cartel. I’d never know that, because the opening scene didn’t make me care.

Keep the reader guessing. If they’re not curious about what happens next, then you’ll never get them to flip the page.

Waiting for the Next Book

 2. Engage the reader in the world.

Basically, you’ve got to slap your setting in the reader’s face. Don’t overwhelm them, but make sure they know where the character is, because there’s nothing worse than being introduced to a well-rounded character and having no idea where the heck they are. They could be floating in space, for all the reader knew. Immerse them in the time, place, and atmosphere with sensory details and perception through the characters. Remember; show, don’t tell. It’s especially important to avoid purple prose here, because excessive adverbs and flowery, useless words are a big turn-off and distract the reader from the central conflict.

3. Make the tone known.

You have to ask yourself; what do I want the reader to feel? If your writing is light-hearted and witty, and you want the reader to feel light-hearted and witty, then by all means, make the beginning light-hearted and witty. As Alice LaPlante says in her book, “The Making of a Story“,

A common problem one sees in beginning work is that a story will begin in one vein- say, serious and realistic- and then turn to slapstick comedy, or science fiction, or some other kind of tone. Whatever the feeling you want your readers to get from the piece should be apparent from the very first sentence.

There’s nothing wrong with having a dark fantasy with comedic undertones, you just have to maintain a balance throughout your writing- and that includes the first scene.

4. Present characters and their problems. 

Reader, meet my friend, character. This is his/her problem.

Introducing a character is always a big moment, for the reader and the writer, and in the opening scene, its execution is doubly important. The character has to leave an impression on the reader, even if they don’t say anything in that scene. Make the reader feel something about the character, whether it be admiration, embarrassment, anger, or pity. For main characters, hash out the basics of what their situation is/what they’re going through.

Again, this is all about getting the reader to care.

john green5. Keep it active and apparent.

Never, never, nevereverevereverever make the opening scene a festering vat of info dump. I know I said that there’s no wrong way to start a story, but info dumps are a crime against fiction. You may have an elaborate history and rich culture designed for your world and characters, but never use the opening scene to plop it all upon the reader. It’s overwhelming and distracting. If you have backstories and origins, weave them into the plot naturally.

The opening scene should be clear and concise. The reader should know what’s happening and who’s doing what without risk of confusion. Make it enticing and exciting, but don’t drown your reader. Please. For all our sakes.


Whether you’re planting your reader right in the middle of the action or introducing them to your fictional world through a thought-out narrative, the opening is crucial to establishing your story. Don’t treat it like any other scene; give it thought, give it character, give it heart. And remember, first drafts are called ‘first drafts’ for a reason! Take a deep breath, and just write.

Good luck!
hobbit

For all your creative writing needs, I recommend reading “The Making of a Story” by Alice LaPlante. A lot of the advice I give in this post is inspired by her insightful chapters about everything from character development to revision.

The Ever-Present Plea For Diverse Characters in Fiction

Diversity.

We all know that it’s desirable, and necessary to create a society of open-mindedness and acceptance. So why, in 2014, is fiction with diverse characters so hard to come by? In my perusals of the bestselling bookshelf, I’ve found that protagonists are mainly comprised of white, heterosexual, ‘attractive’ characters. That’s not to say that there aren’t books with beautifully diverse characters and concepts (because, trust me, there are many gems out there), it’s just that compared to the norm, they are in short supply.

Before I jump headfirst into the issue of ‘diversity’ in literature, let me say that I’m not condemning authors and the way they write. A big part of writing is the  freedom to express one’s inner musings and designs without risk of conviction. So, please, write to your heart’s content about what you want- but all the same, take into account diversity.

What I classify as a diverse character is (but not limited to) someone who:

  1. comes from a rich and distinct culture
  2. doesn’t fit into society’s limited idea of “beauty”
  3. is racially and ethnically diverse, in both appearance and manner
  4. identifies with a different gender, sexual orientation, etc. (essentially, the LGBTQ community)
  5. defies the standard for gender (example: women taking up leadership roles)
  6. is emotionally varied (in other words, a character who has real emotions, vulnerabilities, and strengths)
  7. has disabilities (whether it be physical or mental)

Obviously, diversity isn’t limited to just race, though race does play an important factor. We live in a world swimming with different cultures, languages, values, and mindsets. So why shouldn’t literature reflect this? As the renowned English crime writer, D. L. Sayers, said:

The vital power of an imaginative work demands a diversity within its unity; and the stronger the diversity the more massive the unity.

Diversity doesn’t diverge characters: it unites them. It’s a bringing together of the beautiful, the ugly, the easy, the tough, the different and the similar elements of life. Writing is in many ways the most powerful relayer we have. When we read, we are impacted. We are impressionable creatures, and whether it be voluntary or not, we absorb what we read. That’s why diverse characters are so important.

This is important in all literature, but especially so in YA. May it be fantasy or science fiction, historical or contemporary, young adult books play an essential role in shaping the younger generation’s minds. Being a young adult myself, I always get excited when I come across a book with a main character of Middle Eastern descent, or one that centers around the life of an individual who is genderqueer. The reason? Life is diverse. The world is diverse. And it’s about time that people start growing up accepting this fact.

Above all, diverse characters shouldn’t be written for the sole purpose of being ‘diverse’. They should be written as people. I’ve come across many novels that throw in a few diverse side characters just to make some statement about ‘culture’ or ‘society’. This is all well and good if done in moderation and good taste- but if you are going to incorporate characters like this, make them more than just a message. Make them people.

When it comes to diversity in fiction, there are no end of arguments and comments that can be made. I could go on for another ten paragraphs about the lack of diversity in fantasy alone, or detail the reasons why some writers don’t feel ‘qualified’ or ‘obligated’ to write diverse characters. But perhaps I’ll leave all that for another post.

In the end, write what you want to write- just remember to write widely and diversely.

Do you think there is a need for diverse books and characters? Do you try to write diversely?

Darker Purpose- an original poem

"Old Assassin" by Lensar
Old Assassin” by Lensar

What do I believe in?
Huh, that’s funny.
Believe.
Like I had a choice what to believe,
like a silver platter
of gleaming chances was
slapped in front of me at my birth,
and I got to pick
the tastiest of the batch.
Believe.
You’ll learn fast that nothing
is ever given to you in life,
none of these copper-colored dreams
and rosy hopes you speak of,
that reek of delusions
long rotted away.
In the real world, you have to
supply for yourself.
There’s nothing to believe in.
There’s the dirt you have
and how you sculpt it.
Nothing more.

What do I believe in?
That question again…
Yes, once I might have longed
for a greater purpose,
striven to be something of a legend.
Tell me true, don’t we all?
Don’t we all want to be the stuff of
lore, written into the undying saga
of the world, forever
to traipse across history’s pages?
Huh, greater purpose
There is nothing greater than what there is-
the stones and the sky and the sea,
and the thoughts in your head.
I long discarded my greater purpose,
and kicked my potential to the wind.
My ambitions darkened as the
tempest teemed with dust.
I don’t believe in anything,
because nothing is fixed.
You’re born and you live
and you die, and your corpse
becomes another man’s garden,
the dirt that he will build his house upon.
What is there to dream of
when your greatest purpose
is to mold a stranger’s bones,
and then abandon your
skin for the worms?
There is nothing but the
darker purpose and those
who reject it.
Nothing more.


I’ve been experimenting a lot with character types lately. Obviously, the narrator of this poem is more than your average “the glass is half empty” kind of guy. For some reason, I’ve always been fascinated with characters who are considered the darker, antagonist-types. Not necessarily villains- but not a hero by any means. I don’t know; there’s just some kind of appeal they have on me, like I want to delve into their minds and discover their motives. If it’s not clear, I wrote this poem from the point of view of a particular character I’ve been working on, so it doesn’t display my own views in any sense!