Psychopathic Characters Without Cliches

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Definitions of psychopathy range from the mentally unhinged (insane) to a spectrum of mild to severe personality traits.  In common parlance ‘psychopath’ is itself a cliche, which makes it very difficult to not produce a character who is a cliche.

To create an interesting psychopathic character, who doesn’t pander to cliches, concentrating on your character’s personality traits. Pick out some personality traits that might be considered psychopathic and define what they mean with regard to your character:

  • How is she dangerous? Is it about power, pain, focus, skill? Why do others (psychopaths always consider themselves to be normal – don’t we all) consider her a psychopath?
  • How is she psychopathic? Is she uninhibited, does she have uncontrollable anger, is she egotistical, deluded? Can she turn the charm on and off like a tap, but have no underlying feelings of empathy?
  • What is her attitude to rules. Are they there to be broken? Applicable to everyone else but not her? Does she apply them ridgidly and unbendingly in all situations without exception/empathy. Or does she apply her own criteria as to which rules should be kept and broken – if so what is that criteria? Is she a good or a bad psychopath?
  • Does she stray more toward the Sociopathic or the psychotic (research the differences – it’s important)?
  • How extreme are these psychopathic character traits, and are there any triggers/situations that increase or activate those traits.

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For a nuanced, more subtle, and therefore less cliched, character, give her only a few truly psychopathic character traits, and some normal character traits – no one is ever stereotypically all bad or all good. The best psychopathic character I have seen recently is Jessica Jones in the Netflix series.

 

Next, work out where the psychopathic character traits come from. Why is she the way she is? What has happened to make her the way she is? Try to write some back story to show how she identified with these traits.

Finally, remember that every villain (if in deed she is a villain) is always the hero of their own story.

  • In her mind she is the one making the right decisions for the right reasons. You need to show this in your writing/scenes so your readers can understand where she is coming from, however twisted her reasons and thinking might be, and even maybe, has some sympathy for her.
  • Always plan out the villains story, from their point of view, as well as the hero’s story.

Now for the magical bit: Forget she’s a psychopath.  Just concentrate on writing a character who displays/shows all those character traits and you should end up with a rounded, nuanced, believable, character.

Have fun.

Nick

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Secrets of Chapter Construction

Each chapter is a mini story in its own right, so to work properly, just like any story, each chapter must have, as a bare minimum, a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Or to put it another way every chapter needs a three line plot. This consists of:

  • A premise – what is the scene about.
  • A complication (one per scene) – (But) what difficulty do the characters have to overcome and how do they overcome this complication.
  • A trigger – How overcoming the complication triggers the next complication that needs to be overcome in the next scene.

Each chapter may be a single scene which follows a simple story arc, or may comprise of several simpler scenes, each with a beginning. Middle, and end, that together form the story arc. I prefer to use a variation on the classic eight-part story arc.

  1. Stasis
  2. Trigger
  3.  Quest
  4.  Complication
  5.  Choice
  6.  Climax
  7.  Reversal
  8.  Resolution

However, unlike the overall Story Arc, most chapters do not end with a Resolution, but with the trigger for the next scene in the flow of the story. This keeps the story moving and the reader turning the pages. The trigger would normally by a consequence of the complication or difficulty tackled in the scene/chapter. If it is the last scene in a chapter, then classically the trigger could be a cliff-hanger to the first scene in the next chapter or the next scene involving that character.

Here is a Scene Flow infographic from my article on Creating Good Scene Flow that applies equally well to structuring chapters.

Dialogue or Description

The amount of dialogue and/or description you use in your novel depends, on your genre, point of view, and audience.

I have been told that publishers flick through the first chapter of a manuscript and if the balance between dialogue and description is not right, they won’t even read the first page. Try this on any physical book, it is easy to do, just flick through the pages and longer paragraphs of description will immediately jump out – not so easy for an electronic book where formatting often requires shorter paragraphs.

Therefore, if you plan to be traditionally published, it is crucial to get the balance right. If you are self-publishing, you can do whatever your audience/you like.

Literary Fiction will definitely require more description than dialogue, as will High Fantasy and Hard Science Fiction, genres.

Young Adult generally requires a faster pace, so more dialogue will help push the story along. Also the description may be attached to the dialogue rather than in separate paragraphs (see below).

The first person present tense point-of-view, in which I’m currently writing my Nina Swift series, requires more dialogue as you are constantly inside the point-of-view character’s head. Also, I find it useful to attach the description to the dialogue instead of identifiers, as this pushes this Young Adult story along even faster. Have a look at examples on my website or on my Wattpad pages to get an idea of what I mean.

Recently I had a go at Text Publishing a short story, which requires pure dialogue. Any description has to be included within the dialogue spoken by a character. challenging, but fun.

If in doubt, always try to achieve an even balance between dialogue and description. When you want the story to increase in pace, use more dialogue/shorter paragraphs, and when you want to slow the story down, used more description/longer paragraphs. If your novel is the same pace throughout, your readers will either get exhausted or bored.

Nick

Mid-Novel Crisis Hacks

Ah, the ‘mid novel crisis’, something most writers experience—wait until you get to the ‘last act crisis’ where you are thoroughly sick of the thing and already planning the next one!

There is nothing wrong with skipping around, (though you will at some stage have to edit end-to-end, to achieve consistency) as long as you know where the story is going and whereabouts you are in the novel. And that, my friend, is the root cause of the ‘mid novel crisis’ (which, of course, doesn’t necessarily happen mid novel): either, you have no idea where the story is going, or it is not going where you thought it would—happens to us all.

What you need to do, is take a serious look at your story structure and decide how the story evolves and where it ends.

Your story should look something like this:

(Diagram by Christiana Wodtke (The Shape of Story))

If you don’t know anything about story structure you may need to do some research at this point.

You probably already have some idea of the Crisis, Climax, & Final Conflict, but given you are only 15k words in, it would suggest you are labouring with the struggle and how that builds tension to the final crisis.

Here are a few tips:

  • Write down a story outline.
  • What needs to be revealed between where you are now in the story and where you need to get to. ‘Reveals’ are the information/character changes, that need to be disclosed/discovered by the characters in each step of the journey. Each ‘Reveal’ scene/set of scenes/chapter, should be more intense/important/dramatic than the one before. By concentrating on the information ‘revealed’ at each stage of the story you can plan your way from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’.
  • Sub/parallel plots, involving minor characters, can also be woven around the reveals of he main story to add interest.

Hope this helps you out of the doldrums.

Nick

4 Proven Keys to Better Writing

giphyI have often been asked how people can improve their creative writing. So here are my 4 proven keys to better writing:

The fourth most important thing to do is to study the craft/techniques/art of writing.

The third most important thing to do, is to study the craft of story telling.  I personally find this to be the hardest part of creative novel writing.

The second most important thing to do, is to join a writing community (there are plenty online), and invite other people to provide positive feedback on your writing.

The absolute, number one, most important thing to do, is provide positive feedback on other people’s writing (with their permission, of course). You will learn far, far more about your own writing this way than you will from other people feeding back on your writing.

Other than that, you just need to practice, practice, practice.

So that is the 4 proven keys to better writing, that I have found to consistently work.

Happy writing,
Nick.

Character Names

1112culture-whatsinanameNames are very important, because they give character without ever writing another word. They also convey the tone of the piece; if your names are a parody or comedic in some way, it lends a lighter tone to the piece you are writing. Finding the perfect name for a character, especially a villain, can take a lot of time and thought. I keep a list of interesting names in my phone/notebook which might come in handy some day. I have been known to change a character’s name during the last draft of a novel, because I have finally found the perfect name.

However, it must be said, that just like people, character can grow into their name. This can effect your entire story/novel if you decide to change a character name at a later date (not recommended).

Obviously I need to knew basic details about my characters: what they look like, what they wear, how they talk, mannerisms, habits, etc. However, when it come to character flaws, I try to provide some back story to explain why they are the way they are or what caused a certain character trait.

Knowing why, helps to paint the character as a more rounded person. They aren’t just a gambler because we need a villain who gambles, they have become a gambler through a certain set of situations/upbringing/etc. If you can come up with three or four little stories/situations that illustrate this character trait, it will add more depth to your charactert – you don’t need to produce these in detail, because you will fill out the details to fit the script, but they are useful to have in reserve.

Nick

If you’re not paying for it, you’re the product

top5influencers_bloggraphic“If you are not paying for it, you are the product.” To what extent is this true for Quora users?

It would be more accurate to say that the product is the content created by Quora writers, whilst Quora readers are the customer for the advertisers. The content attracts the readers (like bees to a honey pot, which provides the customer base for the advertisers. Quora’s value is derived from providing the means to bring readers, writers, and advertisers together.

To what extend Quora readers and writers are being used by Quora is debatable, since both content providers and readers are free to come and go as they please. One would assume that both writers and readers are also deriving something of value from using Quora, otherwise they would go elsewhere.

From a personal perspective, I find the best way to create content for my blog is to address the questions people are actually asking about my niche subjects (Steampunk and Novel Writing). If I can attract people in my niche market to my blog, they may also become interested in the products I am selling (my novels).

Quora is a platform that provides an endless supply of interesting and intriguing questions, which helps me create original, interesting, and unique content for my blog – hopefully increasing my audience and therefore sales (not quite true since all my novels are free at the moment, but you get the idea).

Also, people who read my answers on Quora are sometimes interested enough to visit my blog to see what else I have to say. They also follow me on Twitter or ‘Friend’ me on Goodreads, which increases my overall audience. In this respect, I am using Quora as much as they are using me. This seems like a win-win situation that I am happy to facilitate.

If you feel used, you should ask yourself what value you derive from using Quora: what does Quora provide that you cannot get from elsewhere.

Nick

How To Keep Writing

Image result for writing a novel marathonIf you get bored with your story, you can bet your readers are going to get bored too.

If you are one of these people who constantly starts stories, but never finishes them before moving on to the next exciting ides, then what you need to do is to practice telling stories rather than just beginnings. To achieve that you will need:

  1. To understand story arcs – get on the internet and start investigating, then try to fit some of your stories into an arc (there are plenty of alternatives out there).
  2. Create interesting and compelling characters that you are interested in – someone whose story you want to tell.
  3. Drop the niceties. No one wants to read about goody-goody character to whom nice things happen. Get mean. Create really flawed characters to whom bad things happen and tell the story of how they overcome. If a story starts to get boring for you, throw something really nasty and impossible at your character and say, “Now get out of that.”
  4. Practice writing short stories (2,000 – 10,000) words, that way you will get practice writing complete stories before you (and potentially you reader) gets bored. If you write a series of short stories with the same characters, you could probably string them together later into a complete novel, though, the stories would all need to have a common theme/aim.

Good luck,

Nick

How To Write A Novel

giphySo you have an idea for a great novel.  You eagerly attack the keyboard, but a couple of chapters in you realise you have no idea how to turn this story idea into a novel? What you need is a step-by-step guide on how to write a novel.

You have already take the most important steps to writing your novel:

  1. You had an idea and you started writing.
  2. You have recognised that a story does not make a novel.
  3. You have stopped to reassess what you are doing.

If there was a simple step-by-step guide, we would all be churning out novels, and they would all be the same.

Writing a novel is one of most complicated projects you will ever embark on. No one is born knowing how to write novels; the same as no one is born knowing how to read or write. These are skill we need to learn and develop.

Writing a novel is a learning process. You may be better at telling stories than some other people, or better at grammar, have a larger vocabulary, be better at editing, be willing to sit at a keyboard for extended periods etc, but it is unlikely you will be good at all the skills needed to write a novel at the start of the process, or even know what skills are needed.

Here are a few steps to get you on your way:

First you must understand the Plot:Bgi7g7yCQAAjA87

At the very minimum you need a three line plot. This consists of

  • A Premise – what is the story about.
  • Complication(s) – (But) what difficulties do the characters have to overcome and how do they overcome these complications
  • A Climax – How your characters over the complications and resolve the story.

Keep playing with your three line plot until you have something that grabs you or intrigues you, it’s not easy, but it pay dividends in the end: if the plot grabs you, it will grab your readers too.

Now think about the conflicts you have had in your life and use them as the basis for barriers that your protagonist has to overcome to get what they want. Obviously up-the-anti, and exaggerate the hell out of each situation, but basically that is how you develop the plot.

Next you need to understand your characters:

How your character(s) overcome the complications of the plot forms the main body of your story. Without complications, objections, and hurdles for your characters to overcome, your story will fall flat, because all stories are about how humans overcome conflict. Stories are so hard-wired into human nature, that even stories we think are about something else are ultimately about humans.

In fact, the more difficult you make it for your characters, the more their personalities will be exposed and the more interesting your story will become. Plotting is really all about storytelling and storytelling is all about conflict.

For instance: a Princess is born, grows up, meets the Prince of her dreams, gets married and lives happily ever after is not a very interesting story (unless you are three years old). A Princess grows up overcoming the eccentricities of her parents, meets the Prince of her dreams who turns out to be a monster, but the Princesses’ pure love helps the Princes overcome his Monstrous traits – Beauty and the Beast – is more interesting. Add that the two families are monstrous and compare that against the forbidden pure love of the prince and princess and you have Romeo and Juliet, turn pure love into obsession and you have Twilight. It’s all about what your characters have to overcome and how they go about it that makes your story interesting.

Character and conflict are at the heart of every good story. So here is what you do :

  1. Dream up an interesting character.
  2. Give them some interesting character flaws.
  3. Think of something they really, really want, then put it out of their reach.
  4. Dream up another character with opposite characteristics and have them really, really want the same thing.
  5. Now pit the two characters against each other, or they could be two aspects of the same character.

Now you have a protagonist, an antagonist, a plot, and conflict – all the elements of a good novel.

Now you need to break the plot down into plot points:

Somehow you need to get you from the premise of your plot, through the complication, to the climax, so you will need a story arc.

At this point you may need to learn about story arcs: from a simple three act play (beginning,middle, end), through the classic eight point arc, to the sort of twenty-two point arc used in genre fiction.

Once you have settled on your story arc, you will need to come up with major scenes to populate your the arc. Remember, each scene also needs a simple story arc (I use a modified version of the classic story arc for my scenes).

Next you need some scene progression:

Now you need to tie all the scenes together and plan how you are going to get from one scene major scene to another. The key thing to remember is that every scene in a story arc, subplot, or character development, except the first, must be the direct consequence of what happened in another scene. Often this is the scene before it, but not always.

If you can’t work out a particular scene flow then work backwards. What has to happen in scene Y in order for scene Z to happen, what has to happen in scene X for scene Y to happen, what needs to happen in scene W… you get the idea.

Find out how you are doing:

Join a writing group, either physically or online, where members can read each other’s work and provide constructive feedback, this way you can all learn and grow together. You will soon discover what works and what doesn’t.

Publish your work in progress on somewhere like Wattpad and see what real readers think and how popular it is.

Keep tweaking, changing, and re-writing things until the story works. One of the things you will learn is that there is absolutely nothing that cannot be changed, scrapped, edited or re-written to make a novel work.

And finally:

There is a lot more to writing a novel than that (like editing—wow, a whole subject in itself), but I hope these steps will get you started on the journey so you can discover the other things for yourself as your novel and your skill develop.

I think this diagram I found on the internet sums up the novel writing process quite well:

Image result for How to write a novel

The rest is down to hard work.

Good luck, and keep writing.

Nick

A Dystopian steampunk Author

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