3 Things Writers should Learn from ‘I Am Legend’ (the book)

I am Legend, by Richard Matheson (1954) has a simple premise. The protagonist, Robert Neville, is the last man on Earth. Everyone else has been turned into vampires. Neville spends his days hunting vampires and scavenging for supplies, and his nights locked up in his house while vampires bang on the walls.

At around 150 pages, it’s a quick read. The story is suspensful and packed with tension, but the novel’s real strength is that it is about more than just getting cheap thrills. It goes deep into into the character of Robert, who is very much an everyman. We see his internal struggles; his quest to make sense of what has happened; and when the book comes to its wonderfully executed, pathos-filled climax, we cry, even though the ending presented is the only realistic way the story could close.

The novel’s main weakness [spoiler] is that some key plot elements and characters (namely that of Ruth) are introduced too late, without adequate forshadowing. For instance, Ruth is introduced 60% of the way through the novel. [end spoiler]

Apart from that, I am Legend is a masterpiece when it comes to suspense, thrills, and making readers care about the main character. Read it!

My Rating: 4 terror-inducing vampires out of 5.

So, there’s my brief review. Now, here’s 3 lessons writers should take away from the book:

Continue reading “3 Things Writers should Learn from ‘I Am Legend’ (the book)”

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6 Things Writers Should Learn from ‘Neuromancer’ by William Gibson

“The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

Written in 1984 by William Gibson, ‘Neuromancer‘ is a cyberpunk sci-fi novel about a hacker recruited to infiltrate one of the world’s largest mega corps. The novel invented the idea of the ‘Matrix,’ created the term ‘cyberspace,’ and won the Hugo, Nebula and Phillip K. Dick Awards. You get the picture – it’s a big deal.

The book lives up to the hype. I went in with huge expectations, but also thought ‘hey, this book was written 33 years ago – it won’t really understand technology. They didn’t even have the internet then!’

I was wrong. The story feels like it could’ve been published this year. With his presentation of virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and the corporation-dominated society of the novel, Gibson’s prediction of the future is spot-on.

I love this novel. This masterwork creates suspense from the first sentence, and keeps it up all the way through.

My rating:

9/10 – an excellent novel!

If you haven’t read ‘Neuromancer,’ read it! Not only will you get a great read, but you’ll learn a bunch about the writing craft. Here are 6 things writers should learn from ‘Neuromancer’:

  1. If you use a 1-word title, make it unique

90% of the time, one-word titles suck. ‘Room,’ and ‘Gone’ are both great books, but they have horrible titles that:

  • Don’t create interest
  • Don’t show the author’s creativity
  • Don’t make readers intrigued.

Continue reading “6 Things Writers Should Learn from ‘Neuromancer’ by William Gibson”

Boost your story’s conflict by asking this 1 question

Conflict is the lifeblood of stories. Conflict drives the plot, shapes characters, and reflects the theme. Conflict leads to suspense, which keeps readers turning your story’s pages.

I’ve written about story conflict before, and today I’m going to give you a simple question. The question is:

Q: How can things get worse for your main character?

Continue reading “Boost your story’s conflict by asking this 1 question”

[Super Useful Link] Craft Amazing Settings with this World-Building Guide

If you want a realistic setting or world for your story, you need to do some world-building. world-building involves defining, exploring and understanding how your story’s world is similar and different to the real world.

Your genre will influence the detail, focus, and level of your world-building. For instance, it’s a convention of fantasy stories to have detailed settings that are quite different from our world. In a romance story, readers don’t need super unique settings. They’re happy for the author to not put as much effort into worldbuilding, because the story’s world is usually a copy of the real world. Understand your genre before you start world-building!

Continue reading “[Super Useful Link] Craft Amazing Settings with this World-Building Guide”

Want to read my story’s 1st draft?

In a recent post, I mentioned how Critique Circle is a great way to get feedback on your stories. I’ve currently got a short story up on the site, titled Androids Can’t Play Catch. If you want to read it (and help me improve it), I’d be ever so grateful!

Check out the story here.

You’ll need to create a free Critique Circle account to view the story. Also, the story will only be up on the website until 13th September, so get in quick!

4 and a half reasons why ‘Courier’ is the best font for writers

With thousands of fonts to choose from, you’ve probably wondered which one is best for writers. Wonder no more: Courier (or ‘Courier New’ on some computers) is the answer:

courier-example-1.png

4 and a half reasons why ‘Courier’ is the best font for writers:

1: It’s different to normal computer fonts

Websites hardly ever use Courier. This makes it a logical choice to use for writing your stories. Why? Well, studies have proven that we read text on computers differently (and with less attention) that printed text in books or newspapers. Thus, using a font that looks different from a computer font means you’ll process your story like it’s printed. This lets you give your story greater focus.

Continue reading “4 and a half reasons why ‘Courier’ is the best font for writers”

5 Reasons Fiction Writers should use Critique Circle

Critique Circle is a free website that helps writers get feedback on their stories. It also lets you critique other writers’ stories. To use the site, you need to create a (free) account.

I’ve used Critique Circle for my WIP novel, and a recent short story. Basically, I posted excerpts from these stories onto Critique Circle, and members of the site gave me feedback.

Editing is all about gaining objectivity so that you can see your story as it truly is. Software like Pro Writing Aid helps you gain objectivity, and Critique Circle also provides objectivity in bucketloads through allowing you to get feedback from other writers.

Here’s 5 reasons you should use Critique Circle:

1. Improves your editing skills

To submit a story to be critiqued, you first need to get ‘credits.’ You get credits by critiquing other writers’ stories. This is a great system, because it develops your critical evaluation skills. What’s more, seeing flaws in another person’s stories might help you realise that those same flaws exist in your story. I know this has happened to yours truly a bunch of times!

Continue reading “5 Reasons Fiction Writers should use Critique Circle”

Character Goals: the Key to Great Conflict

“Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” – Kurt Vonnegut

Character motivation is the key to great stories. If you think about the stories you love, chances are they’re great because everyone in them has clear goals, dreams and desires. The clashes between these goals, dreams and desires creates conflict.

For example, in Game of Thrones, every character has a clear goal. These goals make each character seem more lifelike. They also give readers a reason to root for each of the characters, which is an impressive feat considering that each book in the series features 10+ point of view characters!

Continue reading “Character Goals: the Key to Great Conflict”

Using the 6 Types of Conflict to Create Pitch-Perfect Tension

Conflict is the lifeblood of stories. However, most of the time we think conflict can only happen between characters.

This isn’t the case. In fact, there are many other types of conflict writers can create. But before we get to those, let’s define conflict.

Conflict = result of a force stopping a character getting what they want …

… Which creates tension.

Most of the time, this opposing force will be another character. However, this force could also be a whole bunch of other things. Let’s look at the different types of conflict:

Continue reading “Using the 6 Types of Conflict to Create Pitch-Perfect Tension”

Improve your Prose by Varying Sentence Length

Whatever you’re writing, there’s one sure-fire way to make your prose more engaging:

Vary the length of your sentences.

Rather than explain why this is important, I’m going to give an example:

This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.

 

Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important. – 100 Ways To Improve Your Writing, by Gary Provost

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How ‘Pro Writing Aid’ makes Editing Easier

Editing transforms crappy first drafts into polished stories. To be a good writer, you must be a good editor. I’ve written extensively about how to edit your story, but today, we’re doing something different. Today, I’ll show you a program that does the editing for you. 

It’s called Pro Writing Aid.

Since I brought Pro Writing Aid seven months ago, it’s become essential to my editing process. ProWritingAid is a piece of automatic editing software. No, it won’t write your story, but it will plug into Word and run over 20 types of reports on your writing. Continue reading “How ‘Pro Writing Aid’ makes Editing Easier”

Understanding (and Conquering!) the 4 Parts of Writer’s Block

‘Writer’s Block’ is basically writing-related procrastination. This means that overcoming procrastination = overcoming writer’s block.

In ‘How to be a Knowledge Ninja,’ productivity expert Graham Allcott claims procrastination occurs when we find something:

  1. Difficult
  2. Undefined
  3. Scary
  4. Tedious

Fighting writer’s block comes down to fighting these 4 concepts, which have the handy acronym of DUST. If you can deal with DUST, you can beat writer’s block. Continue reading “Understanding (and Conquering!) the 4 Parts of Writer’s Block”

Why Threatening your Protagonist ISN’T the Best Way to Create Suspense

We often think that suspense = dramatic stakes. The higher the stakes, the higher the suspense. Thus, threatening the character with whom readers have the most connection should create the most suspense, right?

Wrong. Yes, threatening your main character will enhance suspense. However, you’ll never achieve super-high levels of suspense because readers know you won’t really kill your hero halfway through the novel.

So, by all means – threaten your main character. But to achieve even more suspense, don’t threaten your protagonist: threaten the things your protagonist values.

Why You Should Threaten Values:

As I said before, readers know your hero’s probably going to survive. This limits the suspense you can create by endangering your main character.

However, readers don’t know if your hero’s best friend will survive. Or his/her loved one. Or his/her prized 1950s sports car. Or his/her cat.

It doesn’t just have to be people’s lives in danger. Suspense can come from readers not knowing if the protagonist will make it to his daughter’s piano recital on time.

Readers believe valued things could be destroyed much more readily than the protagonist themselves. Thus, suspense increases when you threaten things the protagonist values.

The Two Ingredients of Suspense:

Suspense is really about two things:

  1. Dramatic stakes (i.e. threatening two people is more suspenseful than only threatening one)
  2. Believability of consequences (i.e. it’s more believable that the hero’s best friend will die rather than the hero themselves ->)

Most people only consider number 1 when crafting suspense. I hope this article encourages you to consider the second point as well.

What are your thoughts on suspense? Do you think believability is a key part of suspense? Can you think of any other essential components of suspense? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Photo credit: krystian_o via Visual hunt / CC BY

Becomming a Better Fiction Writer using Passive Learning

The single best way to improve your creative writing is to do lots of creative writing.

However, it can be hard to make time to write short stories, poems or even novels. That’s why you should include as much writing-related passive learning into your day as possible.

Passive learning is essential learning to do a task by performing other similar (yet not identical) tasks. For creative writing, passive learning is a bit like sneaking vegetables into a brownie – it won’t feel like you’re writing fiction, yet your fiction writing will improve.

Continue reading “Becomming a Better Fiction Writer using Passive Learning”

How to Create Effective Character Names

Names are an important part of all good characters. Names can be brave, funny, or menacing, and are an essential part of character creation. Personally, I always need a name for my characters before I can flesh them out, and that’s why today’s post will provide guidelines for crafting memorable, powerful and effective character names.

Consider Character Traits:

Is your character a tad meek, and maybe a little hopeless? If so, name them Neville Longbottom!

Is your character a tough, competant, I’ll-do-it-alone kinda guy? If so, call them Han Solo!

A character’s name is a reader’s first experience of that character. Thus, it makes sense to use names to reflect a character’s personality.

Continue reading “How to Create Effective Character Names”

Editing Tip #6: Prioritise Macro Edits over Micro Edits

Not all forms of editing are created equal. While any type of editing should improve your story, some forms of editing are more powerful, effective and less time-consuming than others.

Macro and Micro Editing:

This is where the idea of macro and micro edits come in. Macro edits refer to big-picture fixes. For instance, re-writing your climax, adding a new character or even changing your whole plot are examples of macro editing. In short, you’re editing your story on a large-scale.

Continue reading “Editing Tip #6: Prioritise Macro Edits over Micro Edits”

Why Realism is Essential

If your story lacks realism, readers will be disappointed.

Why? Well, good novels encourage readers to suspend their disbelief; to believe that the story is real, even though it’s obviously fiction. Without realism, readers will find it hard to think your story is, well, real.

Now, coming from a guy whose most recent story was about spaceships, you’re probably a little confused. Does the need for realism impede you from writing about anything you can’t see or experience?

The answer, of course, is no. Stories about aliens, superheros, or medieval vampires can all be 100% realistic, because realism isn’t about stories being true to our world. It’s about stories being true to themselves.

Continue reading “Why Realism is Essential”

5 Tips for Writing Effective Settings

After character, plot and theme, setting is arguably one of the most important elements of a novel. ‘Setting’ refers to the location for which events occur, and can be used to:

  • Establish mood, tone or theme
  • Reflect character
  • Enhance suspense
  • Foreshadow/provide clues
  1. Use the 5 senses to Immerse Readers

The most effective settings are those that plunge readers into a story’s world. By vividly portraying a setting’s sensory experience, readers’ imaginations will flourish, allowing them to feel like they’re inhabiting your story.

When using the 5 senses (sight, sound, taste, touch and smell), focus on touch, taste and smell. Too often, writers over-focus on sight and sound. This can come from trying to write as if your book was a movie, which has a strong reliance on these two senses. Continue reading “5 Tips for Writing Effective Settings”

5 Reasons To Have a Likeable Antagonist

When most people hear ‘antagonist’, they think of a moustache-twirling megalomaniac who kicks puppies in their spare time. While there’s certainly a place for antagonists that are pure evil incarnate (Darth Vader in A New Hope is a great example), here are some compelling reasons to make your antagonist(s) a little more sympathetic:

  1. ‘Antagonist’ does not equal ‘bad guy’

A common misconception is that all antagonists must be villanous. This isn’t always true. An antagonist is merely a force that opposes your protagonist. Yes, this means it could be an uber-evil villain (like Darth Vader); but it could also be the hero’s parents, who don’t want him joining the army. In this example, the hero’s parents are not ‘evil’ – what they are doing, however, is opposing the protagonist, which makes them antagonists.

Antagonists don’t even have to be human. Non-human antagonists could be:

  • A vicious guard dog that attacks your postal-worker protagonist.
  • A thorny bush your detective-protagonist has to crawl through.
  • A hail storm that damages your taxi-driver-hero’s car.

Antagonists are usually human (because this provides maximum opportunity for conflict). However, there are lots of stories where the primary antagonist is non-human. Castaway, with Tom Hanks, is a great example. Likewise, plenty of survival-style stories feature nature as the main antagonist.

Continue reading “5 Reasons To Have a Likeable Antagonist”

4 Essential Elements of an Effective Love Interest Character

Last week, we looked at how character triangles are a great way to increase the complexity of your characters’ relationships, and how most (good) stories use triangular relationships to increase tension, interest and conflict.

This week, we’ll be looking at the love interest character. Love interests are a staple of some genres, and just like character triangles, they add extra depth to a story – provided they’re well-crafted. Here are 4 essential elements of an effective love interest character.

1. Character first; love interest second

The biggest mistake most people make with writing a love interest is that they create love interests as just that – a source of romantic fulfilment to the main character. This leads to a shallow, uninteresting and one-dimensional character.

By creating a compelling character first – and making them a love interest second – you add realism and depth. Readers will better connect with the love interest – which gives writers plenty of opportunities to hit them right in the feels.

Continue reading “4 Essential Elements of an Effective Love Interest Character”