Handwritten Notes

Do you have any saved?

I’m currently in the process of going through everything I own (for reasons). The first things I tackled this morning were the three boxes I’ve been keeping in the back of my closet for the past seven or so years, all filed with cards and other memories from high school through college.

I am surprised at how many handwritten notes I found tucked away in there – for a number of reasons.

For the record, I graduated in 2014 – so it’s not like using paper and pen to write notes to each other was still an everyday necessity. But I’m glad so many of my friends gave me notes, and even more grateful that I kept them all – handwritten things mean so much more to me than anything digital.

It’s so easy to delete emails and text messages and forget about Facebook posts. I couldn’t throw away something handwritten from someone who matters to me if I tried.

It’s the handwriting itself, I think. Everyone’s handwriting is unique. On a screen, everything looks the same. On paper, it’s all different.

All this (of course) got me thinking. What if one of your characters wrote you a note? What would it say? What would you write back, if you could?

Because your characters aren’t just words on a page, you know. To you, they’re people. They have stories. Things happen to them that leave a deep impact on their souls. What if they just want to take a moment to thank you? Or yell at you for being mean? Or both?

Sometimes we forget that in order to write believable fiction, we have to tell stories as if we are recounting the events of a real person’s life. An audience cannot relate to a character who is just another story element being dragged across a sea of pages. They relate to people like them – people who grow and change and make mistakes and, sometimes, succeed.

Treating your characters like friends, like real people – it works. Every time I start to lose interest in a story, I have to take a step back and think about the characters I would be letting down if I gave up on them too soon. I care about them – sure, they’re not technically real, but they are products of my creativity – those things can and should be extremely important to you. That is how you stick with stories even when you’ve hit a creative dry spell (or so it seems).

And if you’re really stuck, and still want to spend time with a story without actually writing anything, go back to creative writing class – figuratively. Sit down and physically write a note in your character’s voice, as if they’re sending you an informal memo about their concerns regarding your story. (I have a little too much fun imagining my characters filing complaints when I throw in a not-so-nice plot twist.)

Does it get you any closer to finishing your novel? Maybe not technically. But it’s better than bowing to your excuses and not writing anything at all “because you don’t feel like it.”

I’ve now fit all of my friends’ notes from college into one little box that I can easily take with me wherever I go. They remind me that the past is not something to avoid – it’s OK to remember the good things that have happened to you, and the people who loved you despite everything. It’s a major writing motivator for me. Because all characters have pasts that shape their futures, and as a writer, I’m (mostly) in control of where my characters end up – whether they like it or not. I’m in full control of where they have been, and how it has changed them.

Change is good. We have characters – real and fictional – to constantly remind us of that. How lucky are we?

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

How to Write a Character Sketch | NANO PREP 2016

It’s kind of addicting, so be careful.


Knowing your characters before you introduce them to potential readers is a time-consuming task. But when you only have so much time to write 1,667 words 30 days in a row, knowing who you’re dealing with before you start becomes extremely important. While you have the time, I would suggest “sketching” at least one of your characters. Not drawing, though I suppose you could do that too. Think of a character sketch as a bulleted list of all the facts you eventually want your reader to know about them.

There are plenty of examples out there from creative writing websites that suggest you outline every aspect of your character in detail, everything from appearance to mannerisms to things they experienced in their childhood. If you want to go into that much detail, you’re welcome to do so. But if you’re short on time and want a simpler, more focused approach to character sketching before November 1 hits, this short guide is for you.

I divide my character sketches into three “levels” – basic details, relationships and history. I find that small physical details like hair/eye color either come as I write or I add them in later. You can add a category for physical details if you want to, though; that one is fairly self-explanatory.

Basic details – things the reader learns within the first few scenes with this character

Everything from name/nickname to jobs, hobbies, daily habits, likes, dislikes. We’ll use one of my main characters (MCs) for next month’s novel as an example here. The book opens, after the prologue, with [character’s name – no, I haven’t decided yet, I hate naming things] sitting in a chair, her feet up on a desk, staring at her name printed at the top of a resume. Everything about this scene conveys things she does not normally do, and is not supposed to do – feet up on her boss’s desk, glancing at his files when he’s not there. We don’t know anything about [name] at this point, except:

  • Her name (printed on top of the resume)
  • Her personality (a rule-follower, though she isn’t now, which becomes significant later)
  • Probably her feelings about her boss/job
  • Drinking habit (she doesn’t, usually)

I like to list details as bullet points because traditional outlining gives me unwanted flashbacks to my freshman college composition course, but that’s just me.

Relationships – connecting one character to other characters you might also sketch

Here you might want to create a sort of diagram that connects characters to one another. For the sake of time, I’ll use simple bullet points again. What’s important is that you specify who the person is, how they are related to your character, your character’s feelings toward that person, where the relationship stands at the start of the novel.

  • Boss – [name/MC] has worked for boss for going on three months (his personal assistant). Boss has gone out of town, boss trusts [name/MC] to house-sit. It is unclear whether or not [name/MC] plans on quitting but all previous jobs she has held in the past 2 years have lasted three months or less.
  • Dr. [name] (I’m bad at names) – went to school with MC. They used to be friends. They have not spoken in 2 years. They meet again for reasons I won’t give away in case for some reason this novel ever gets finished and you read it. He keeps his distance for reasons we find out later. There is no past or future romance between Dr. [name] and MC.

I typically do this for every major character I plan on featuring in a story. I get a little character-happy and always have too many, so I’ll spare you more details.

History – things the reader learns as the novel progresses

Every character has a past. Whether it’s largely significant in the novel or just a small detail, I think it’s best you know as much about what your character has been through as you can. Start from the beginning. Where do they come from. Does their relationship with their parents (or lack thereof) matter to the story? Past relationships that aren’t with other present characters in the novel? Figure out how your character’s past has gotten them to where they are when the novel begins and how it will shape their development actively throughout the novel.

Again, these categories are based on the general themes and story elements I personally tend to focus on in my fiction. Yours might be different. You might add more details like significant locations your character likes to visit or actively avoids. My philosophy is that as much of it should relate to the story as possible. Even if you do come up with more details than you end up using, what you don’t use can serve as inspiration for things you add later.

Some argue that outlining before you start writing a novel kills spontaneity. No one’s saying you have to outline every scene, every piece of dialogue. Getting to know your characters before you spend a month or more with them, though, will significantly increase your chances of hitting 50K this year. I can guarantee it.

I’m really excited for November now. Unless I can’t come up with names for my characters, which will be a bit confusing.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

How to Construct Round Characters


Do your characters go through transformations from the beginning of your story to the end? Do you find yourself, as you’re writing, discovering deeper layers of your characters’ personality even you didn’t know existed?

You may have, without even realizing it, created a round character.

Awhile ago we wrote about why a story with both flat and round characters is important, and how to create the ideal flat character. Now we’ll focus on round characters, and why a good story needs them.

What is a round character?

A round character, in comparison to a flat character, is more complex. He or she goes through some kind of development or shift from start to finish.

Usually, a round character is a main character in a story who deals directly with the plot’s major conflict and is changed because of it. Ron, Harry and Hermione are all round characters in J. K. Rowling’s book series. From the beginning of each book to its end, as well as the series as a whole, each character is, in many ways, completely different than where they began.

Why does a story need character development?

We tell stories for many reasons. We read stories for many, many more. A story exists to give its reader a cast of people, fictional or real, to relate to even in the smallest of ways. A story where someone deals with a major tragedy and doesn’t grow or learn from it isn’t a realistic story. It doesn’t give the reader any hope in handling their own personal tragedies.

As a writer, it’s essential to be able to show that any conflict and resolution will be accompanied by change. That is what we, as humans, want to see in the real world, and when we don’t, we often turn to stories to feed our desires. It’s not a bad thing. In fact, things characters do in the stories we love might even be able to motivate us to promote change in our own surroundings.

How to give a character depth

  • Scatter smaller conflicts underneath a story’s umbrella issue. It’s very rare we’re dealing with only one thing at a time. There are usually multiple things tugging at the back of our minds at once, which usually leads to some form of a breakdown or decision to make a change. A college student juggling too many interests might decide to completely change her major.
  • Compare and contrast relationship dynamics. How we act around our friends might be completely different from how we carry ourselves in front of our families. Make an effort to show how one character handles different relationships in her life and how each contributes to her personality, emotional state, etc.
  • Don’t forget the tipping point. A story, just like real life, will probably have a few ‘tipping points’ before the actual climax of the story unfolds. This shows your character inching closer and closer to that climax. If the turning point of your story is like a car breaking down, a tipping point leading up to that might be the engine light turning on, causing your character to snap in frustration at the Starbucks barista, leading to her questioning her sanity, etc., etc.

To show that major change in your characters throughout your stories requires a lot of time and effort and many different writers’ tools. This is why learning to write better stories as you refine your skills is a long, tough process. But the more you write, the more chances you have to develop these skills, which always leads to better writing. Always.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Common Stock Characters and How to Rewrite Them, Part 1


Characters are the foundation of every story. Maycomb County is just another fictional southern  town without Scout and Jem to give it purpose. The little house on the prairie is quite literally four walls surrounded by grass if you don’t include the Ingalls family.

Often when we’re creating the characters in our stories, we unintentionally default to stereotypes, probably because we’re focused more on telling the story than taking the time to craft unique, diverse, not-at-all-typical characters to bring life to it.

Does that make us “bad” writers? Of course not. Every writer’s first draft is full of stock characters. We’re so attached to them we don’t even realize they’re there. But eventually, to move to the next level of storytelling, we have to learn to rewrite them.

Here are a few common stock characters (stereotypes in character form) and how to begin rewriting those characters to create a fresh, exciting story.

The starving artist

The stereotype: When we create the starving artist (let’s call him Fred) we do so partly because we’re trying to add an aura of realism into the story we’re telling. Fred, for our purposes, is a screenwriter with big dreams. It’s not that he’s not good at screenwriting. In fact, he might be amazing. But his lack of success (or maybe even luck) has forced him to get a “real” job, the funds from which he probably uses to fuel his ambitions.

It’s not “wrong” to portray realistic situations or people like Fred. Stereotypes are stereotypes because real situations and people have been portrayed over and over and over again. But there’s a way to keep it real without sticking to the stereotype.

The rewrite: Take Fred’s seemingly senseless dedication to screenwriting and refusal to “grow up and find another dream” and give that passion a root. Fred doesn’t want to make money, he doesn’t want to be famous, he doesn’t even really even like screenwriting all that much … or wouldn’t, if it weren’t for the root. The reason why he’s trying to keep that dream alive when he knows it’s unrealistic.

That root could be a person or an event or both. Formulating a motive behind the drive turns the starving artist into a bit of a selfless, well-meaning human being. There is a danger of falling prey to different kinds of cliches here (i.e., Fred promised his dying brother he would tell his story and make it a movie one day). But the important thing here is to give your stock character depth. Worry about the exact details when they’re necessary.

The manic pixie dream girl

The stereotype: Marcia skips in time to the heartbeat of her own world. Which would be considered a strong character trait (I am independent! I am true to myself!) if it weren’t for the character she influences in the process. Our story’s protagonist’s life is completely reconstructed due to that influence. The problem here, aside from Marcia’s character being grossly overdone, is that her personality alone becomes enough to trigger character development.

Which, again, isn’t wrong. We’re changed by people we meet all the time. What’s missing here is a series of accompanying story elements to justify both Marcia’s personality and the change in our protagonist (we’ll call him Arthur).

The rewrite: Marcia is a free spirit who can think and act for herself, and Arthur probably can and will learn a lot from the way she thinks and acts. But Marcia needs a deeper reason for thinking and acting the way she does. The manic pixie dream girl, usually, is shallow, as far as characters are concerned. She’s never given a motive for her quirks or her need to break Arthur out of his mold.

Give her one. Have him, through sequences of events, find it. Put a significant event in front of them and propel them through it as the story progresses, until they are emotionally exposed to one another in a way that justifies their growth and their bond.

Think Margo Roth Spiegelman here. If you’re not sure how that relates, check out this MPDG analysis. And if you love John Green, you’re in the right place, because so do we.

We went on a small unintentional rant about MPDGs so we’re going to have to split our original post into multiple parts! Hope you liked it … because there’s more where this came from.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Why You Don’t Need to Know Everything About Your Characters (Yet)

TJ Scott Silhouette Photography
TJ Scott Silhouette Photography

I have been creating stories basically my whole life. I say “creating” because, before I really knew how to write down the stories in my head, I did what any other kid my age would do: I made them up by acting them out. Barbies, Beanie Babies, dress-up: I have all these things to thank for getting me through the early years, until I knew enough about language and forming words to start writing those ideas down and saving them for later.

Yet still, after all this time, I’m amazed at how the same brain somehow manages to come up with different stories that are complete opposites of each other, in every way possible.

I have had the idea for my current novel in my head for awhile, and had to wait until this month to begin allowing it to play out on paper, because I was working on finishing up another story. I didn’t realize before embarking on this new literary journey how much I would end up depending on character development and dialogue to move the story along.

My last book was a YA sci-fi/adventure story, which meant it relied heavily on critical events and the surrounding environment as elements to give the story sustenance. I liked that change, because I usually write in the contemporary YA genre and hadn’t had to think quite so much about imaginary places and mechanisms of the future before.

It was a nice change. But it happened, it’s behind me, and honestly, I’m glad to be back writing in a genre I’m more comfortable in. It’s not that I don’t believe writers need to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zones. I just, I guess, write a lot better in the genre I got my start under in the first place.

For some reason, though, I’m having quite a time adjusting to writing such a character-based story again. It takes place in a small town, both the alternating narrators are teenagers and they and everyone they know end up crossing paths with each other at different points as the story moves along. So basically, it’s my life seven years ago, except much more dramatic and none of the characters are based on me or my life (not exactly).

So why is it so hard to adjust? There are a few key events that the story keeps leading up to: a school play being the major one. But while there’s commentary from both narrators throughout and a few hints to some back story here and there, most of it is just talking. Sitting at lunch, talking. At a pizza place or coffee shop, talking. At first this worried me. Is it boring? Is this even exciting enough to keep me entertained? But somehow it is. Because somehow, all these characters have appeared that even I don’t know enough about, and with the conclusion of every scene, I want to know more about them.

Does that mean the reader would, theoretically, feel the same way? And, more importantly, does it mean I’m somehow doing this gradual character development thing right for once?

As much as I’m all for planning and outlining, I don’t really like the idea of detailed character sketches (writing out traits and facts about the characters in your stories). I think it’s important to know their general personality and how they might typically respond to certain events, but I don’t think it’s necessary to know every single detail about them.

I think, if you don’t know your characters as well as you want to, in a way, that’s a good thing. Building a story and creating characters is sort of like building a relationship with people who don’t exist. The longer you spend with them, the further you get into your story, the more they will reveal pieces of themselves to you. You might use all those pieces and you might not. It’s a journey.

I don’t know about you, but I really enjoy learning things about my characters as I go along. It makes me feel more connected, and it’s quite possible that if I can convey that ever-growing connection as I’m writing, my readers will sense that, and feel as though they’re making new friends, too.

Not that I ever expect anyone to read my stories. But it could happen.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of TJ Scott.

Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.

My Characters Aren’t Getting a Happy Ending


Everyone deserves to experience a happy ending. It might take a few tries to get there. It might take a pretty long time. It might not even actually last for very long, or forever. But at least for one moment, for one chapter, everyone should get an equal chance to know what it’s like.

Except my characters. They won’t.

Not all of them, anyway.

There are plenty of reasons for this, of course: I’m not some heartless, evil literary dictator (and if I were, would I really tell you about it?). I’m writing a soft SF novel, which means I have to make the plot and elements realistic enough for readers to believe it.

It’s not a near-future story, though. It takes place far enough into the future that technological warfare has long since come and gone. It’s a different world. Love is complicated. It wouldn’t make sense for everyone to end up together, in a relational as well as en emotional sense. One of the story’s motifs is that bad things sometimes have to happen before good things can (a gross simplification, sorry to be so vague). You have to lose before you can gain. You have to hurt before you can thrive.

Then there’s the fact that I’m not quite sure where this book falls in terms of prequels/sequels/etc. I do know it’s the first and I do know there are other continued storylines that have to come after. So one major reason this book (the one I’m working on now) doesn’t end happily is because, well, if I ended it on a happy note, there’d be no incentive for anyone else to read more.

I hate putting my characters through rough circumstances. But how else are they going to learn to overcome obstacles? I’m crying right along with them sometimes, trust me. I wish I could keep Character X alive. I wish I could keep character Y alive. I … okay, so a lot of characters end up dead. It’s necessary. Which, again, makes me sound like a bad friend or a mean parent or something.

There is one character who ends up getting something she’s always wanted, but of course there’s a cost.

There’s another character who overcomes one of his biggest fears and becomes a much better person for it.

But the love triangle isn’t resolved; it’s broken into pieces. A mother has to say goodbye. There’s one estranged friendship you might expect to get resolved, but the opposite happens instead.

My main character, the book’s narrator, needs to learn by the end of the book that emotions aren’t black and white. You’re not just either happy or sad. Everyone experiences emotions at different degrees, and certain emotions affect everyone differently. But to fully be able to understand that, she has to learn what happens when you let your emotions do all the thinking for you. That’s not a happy lesson to learn.

I don’t know about you, but I get bored when stories treat happiness like it’s the easiest emotion to feel. Happiness is the hardest. It’s easy to let yourself crumble when things go wrong, as my MC/our narrator finds out. It’s harder to learn to be happy even when it seems there’s nothing to be happy about.

If I just handed out happy endings, there’d be no reason for anyone to read my stories. I write for other people, to give other people something meaningful to read. They deserve better. They deserve the non-happy endings, so later in the series, when there is one, it will be worth the wait.

If I ever get that far. To the ending, I mean. I’m still not finished. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever be.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and health. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi, Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine.  She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink. Follow Meg on Twitter. 

Can Things Our Characters Do Motivate Us to Do Things, Too?


Rhyming titles aside, this is a question inspired by a member of NaNoWriMo’s Facebook group. “Does anyone else find the characters you write motivate you to do things in real life?” she wants to know. I’m giving her all the credit for what has become of this random rant even though I don’t have her permission to use her name (sorry).

It got me thinking though. Do they?

Think about your favorite MCs. They’re never just your average nobody (well, sometimes they start out that way). A story with believable characters can’t exist without progressive character development, because everyone grows and changes when they come face-to-face with a problem and have to, at some point, stumble into its resolution. Your favorite characters are probably the ones who do some pretty awesome stuff to get to where they need to go, or defeat whichever villain they’re battling, or whatever.

What happens when you’re reading a book, and a character overcomes an obstacle you’ve been trying to figure a way around for months? You’re inspired. You suddenly want to put that book down, get up and go crush your real-life obstacle with no fear. Sometimes you can. Sometimes you can’t. But that character’s actions have successfully motivated you to, in some way or another, change your life.

The same thing can happen when we’re writing. Often, unintentionally, our characters end up fighting battles we’re very familiar with, because it is our first instinct to turn to topics and situations we know well in order to draw from our experiences and fuel our prose. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, as long as we expand our horizons every now and again, too. Putting our characters through the same things we went through adds an emotional component we can’t help but infuse into our stories.

When our characters conquer their demons, whatever form that takes on in your current project, we are satisfied, and therefore our readers probably will be, too. If we want our readers to feel motivated to do something positive in real life, in response to something a character has done, we should be able to feel it too.

And then this question comes to mind: why do we write characters that do things that motivate us to do things?

It’s very difficult to write dull characters. Sometimes you have to, maybe it’s just their personality and they’re a foil to your vibrant MC. But I think a lot of times we tend to write inspiring characters because we want to feel inspired, too. We feel good when our characters accomplish something big. It makes us want to stop writing for a second (gasp!) and go accomplish something big, too, right here, right now.

Being inspiring by being inspired? Being inspired to inspire? Just roll with the inspiration and see where it takes you.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and health. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi, Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine.  She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink. Follow Meg on Twitter. 

Too Dear to Kill (Midweek Novel Update #9)


I promised myself I wouldn’t do this.

Keep him alive, I mean.

I’ve had it all planned out for months. Even before I started writing a new version of my story, a prequel to better familiarize myself with the characters and storyline, I knew what I had to do. I knew, eventually, he would have to die.

I knew this book would have to end in tragedy. Tears.

And then, as writers often do, I changed my mind.

I decided I couldn’t let him go.

The story still doesn’t end as happily as some would prefer: you can’t tie up all loose ends and leave the reader in a happily-ever-after haze when there are at least three more books (maybe five) that continue on the same track. You have to leave some things hanging. You have to leave some questions unanswered.

But I just couldn’t let myself be that heartless to a character that’s basically been part of this project from the beginning. We’ve been through a lot together. His role in the later books will change now, which is fine; I’m figuring out his role in the later storylines was one of the barriers keeping it from going the way it needed to. Different characters will take on those roles. He served his purpose in the prequel, and I guess I convinced myself that meant he had to go away and never come back. You know. Literally.

One thing that bothers me about T.V. shows (going off on a tangent here but I’ll bring it back) is when characters disappear for no reason and don’t come back at all. If you think about real life, people go away for a while all the time; sometimes they come back and sometimes they don’t. But a character can’t just disappear and not be missed. So if this main character, as mysterious as he already is, needs a different place in the story, even if that means disappearing, he has to “go out with a bang” right?

Awful choice of words.

Part of me doesn’t want to stray from my original plan. Because, I’ll just say it: it was good, the way I was planning his demise (muahaha?). It was supposed to serve a purpose. It was supposed to, you know. Mean something.

As you may or may not know, sometimes characters do have minds of their own. If he would have done what I asked, and only fallen in love with my narrator, I guess you could say it would have been easier to let him go, because she’s a strong, independent woman and can handle (sort of) that sort of thing.

But then before I realized what was happening, he developed a “relationship,” if you want to call it that, with a character who happens to become important in later books, and also happens to be, well, a toddler. I can’t take a toddler’s father figure away from her. That’s not fair. She needs stability in her life. I can’t even tell you why, because, well, spoilers. Not that you’re ever guaranteed to be able to read the book because, well, it’s not finished yet. And I don’t even have an agent. Who am I? (Nobody.)

At first I was worried about changing my mind. Every character death is significant. It always means something. But maybe, if you look at it a little differently, every character you save from death is significant, too. Maybe he has a bigger “destiny” in the future of this series and I just don’t know it yet.

Okay, so he doesn’t get the girl you’d expect (sorry). He doesn’t exactly get to keep his own identity, either. (Dropping hints like it’s my job). But he doesn’t have to die, even though I’ve been warning him all along it was going to have to end that way.

I don’t know.

I just go where my brain goes.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

A recent graduate with a B.A. in English and a completed major in nutrition, currently seeking a graduate degree in health communication, Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and dietetics. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi (and the mastermind behind this site), Meg is an editor for College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine’s Stone Soup.  She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink magazine. Follow Meg on Twitter.

Three Ways to Kill Off Your First-Person Narrator (without Ending the Story)


If you’re consistently afraid your ideas aren’t original, in all honesty, they aren’t. Every basic storyline you can probably think of has already been written. One of the most challenging, but often the most fun and stimulating, parts of writing is taking a story everyone has read before and reshaping it enough to make it new, exciting and (almost) original.

We don’t see first-person narrators die all too often, and when we do, we usually get some version of The Lovely Bones I’m-dead-but-not-dead-enough-not-to-narrate scenario. If you want to play around with something a little more challenging, and try to make it your own, kill off your first-person narrator—but don’t end the story there. Here are some strategies you can try.

Switch to a new perspective

Sometimes we do see a prologue or a first chapter in a first-person narrator’s perspective before it switches over to the actual main character, but you don’t have to do it this way. One way to draw a reader into your out-of-the-box technique is to allow them to get to know your first person narrator before they, ahem, cease to exist.

You could potentially try to fill half of your story with accounts from one first-person narrator before permanently switching to a different narrator’s POV to finish out. Plot twist! Bet they won’t see that coming. 

Take the reader back in time

Playing with a plot’s chronological order is another method some writers use to keep a reader turning pages. This is one way to keep a story going even though, at some point—probably toward the beginning in this case—you reveal the storyteller is no longer alive, and therefore, more realistically, unable to continue storytelling.

Jump back-and-forth between the point they’re killed off and the events leading up to it. There’s no “I should have known then,” here, so you’re also giving the reader more of an opportunity to infer and scream “NO DON’T GO INTO THE KITCHEN” at the pages.

Bring them back to life 

Okay, this one’s a little iffy, but if you really want to try it, you can make it work with some effort. Jodi Picoult did (spoiler alert). Hey, it worked in the Bible, didn’t it? You don’t have to get fancy—there doesn’t have to be a medical explanation or even a team of people trying to figure out how a dead heart started beating again.

Don’t go into the supernatural if that’s not your intention. Maybe they were only dead for a few minutes and came back, but it feels like they missed out on years. Maybe your angle is to make the reader think your narrator is dead, even though she isn’t.

In general, we’re almost obsessively interested in what happens when we die. As a writer, you’re free to play with the concept as much or as little as you want to. There are ways to take something that’s already been done before and twist it around until it resembles something newer. If you have an unpredictable storyline, strong characters and tap into pathos like a boss, you’ll be fine.

Your narrator might not be … but that’s a sacrifice you’re probably willing to make.

Image courtesy of Kaitrosebd-Stock.

What Is Your Villain’s Motive?


Admit it: you love writing in evil characters.

It’s fun. It’s different. But it can also be challenging, to create a villain that is evil for a good reason—maybe even enough to feel sorry for her. Or him. 

In most (but not all) cases, villains are people, too. There’s always a motive—a reason why they, intentionally or not, do bad things. Adopting the villain lifestyle for the sake of pure evil can work, but it’s just not as realistic. It might turn some readers off.

While you don’t need to please everyone all the time, characterization that is believable is what makes a story readable. Relatable. Likable.

If your story has a villain, but you’re not sure of her or his exact motive for “living the evil life,” here are some questions you can ask yourself to find a reason that works. 

Does her/his personal past result in resentment toward another character or situation?

You can’t just come up with a villain for the sake of having a villain. Not only does your main character sometimes need someone to battle against, but back stories and haunting revelations (no really, I’m your dad, dude) add suspense, mystery and excitement to your main plotline.

Sometimes it’s the “bad guy”’s past that sends him on an evil streak. Let that drive the villain to act irrationally, even if you don’t reveal the exact motive right away (or even if you don’t figure it out right away, either). Roll with it. At some point in the story, hopefully, it will all come together. 

Did your main character do something to tick your villain off?

Not all villains are born evil. Come on, Anakin was cute when he was 10. The most ordinary, harmless characters can be pushed over the edge, even unintentionally, by other characters. Some people are really good at holding grudges. For a long, long time.

The Incredibles comes to mind with this point, but it’s not a new concept. Twist it whichever way works for your story and set of characters. Even better, switch the roles around. Your main character is the villain, and doesn’t know much about her motive other than the fact that she hates so-and-so and wants him dead/captured/etc. 

Is she/he power-hungry, or fearful of losing power she/he already has? 

As we’ve learned from about every hero vs. villain story out there, power can make anyone do things she or he would not normally do. Toss in a need for your character to gain, or maintain, power over something. Even if it’s just for the sake of taking power away from someone else.

We’ve planned out a series of posts over the next few weeks that are a bit more fiction-specific, maybe a little “out there” in some cases, but we’re just trying something different. Even we get bored with doing the same old thing, day after day, every once in a while.

Come back later this week for more on new ways to reveal your villain’s motive to other characters and the reader.

This is going to be a fun week.

Image courtesy of sciencefiction.com.