Solution Saturday: How to Avoid “The Chosen One” Storylines

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It is a storyline that has been recycled time and time again. An unsuspecting main character has always felt “different” from his or her peers. It turns out he or she is not only different, but even more dramatically, “chosen.” The world needs saving, and it’s up to him or her to do it.

There’s no choice in the matter. The choosing has already been done.

Have you, as a reader, ever craved a realistic story that tells of completely random, ordinary people stepping up to do something amazing without being asked for a change? Maybe not. But it does seem like a nice alternative to the characters who become heroes just because they were apparently destined to be.

If you want to try something a little different with your next plot, here are some ways you can keep it exciting and mysterious without a “chosen one” leading the rest of the world to victory.

Solution 1: Make your plot realistic, yet adventurous

Anything can happen in your story—sometimes though, within reason. It’s the unexplainable events and circumstances that cause us to lean on plot elements like “chosen one” characters, who are often for some reason the only ones who can solve an ongoing problem. Try making your story as realistic as possible, but keep it moving. Send your characters on an adventure without forcing yourself to use unrealistic elements to move it along.

This is just a starting point, to help you practice keeping a storyline moving without unrealistic elements. If you’re writing in the fantasy genre, for example, those elements will always be there. But it’s important to learn not to rely on unexplainable things like magic to craft a decent story before you allow yourself to get comfortable using them wisely.

Solution 2: Give your ordinary characters an extraordinary goal 

In real life, everyone has different skills, weaknesses and strengths. While one person might be better at one particular skill than another, no person is exceptionally gifted at everything, which puts everyone on an equal playing field with equal chance of failure or success.

Apply the same principle to your storyline. Instead of giving one character all the credit, split different worthy skills between a group of characters and have them all contribute to achieving the same goal—one that, ideally, none of them could have achieved alone.

Solution 3: Get rid of the all-knowing character

A favorite form of info dump in sci-fi, fantasy and adventure stories is the all-knowing character. He or she seems to have all the answers to our main characters’ questions, including how they can conquer their obstacles (or at least give them subtle hints as to how to do so).

The best way to avoid this cliché is to make everyone equally clueless, even the third-person narrator. No one knows what the future holds or knew that the events that have occurred would happen before they happened. Leave out talk of prophesies. There will be characters who will know things your MC doesn’t, but even they should, in these circumstances, have limits to their overall spectrum of knowledge.

All this being said, there’s nothing wrong with “chosen ones.” We love them, and probably always will. But not every single story needs to have one. Think of The Hunger Games here. In the end, everyone had to work as a team to restore some kind of reasonable order between the districts. Katniss became the Mockingjay later on in the story because of choices she made, not choices made for her.

Give “the chosen one” storyline a rest. See what you can do without it before your brain comes up with a story that requires one (which does happen, and that’s okay). You might surprise yourself.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Solution Saturday: Every Time I Stop Writing, I Can’t Start Up Again

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Well, it happened again. You took a writing break, because you really felt like you needed one. Time away from your story to recharge and think about where you wanted to go with it next.

Except, every time you’ve tried to go back to that story and start again, you haven’t been able to.

Almost like, the minute you set your story aside, all your ideas, all your motivation to keep working on it, vanished.

It’s important to take breaks while writing—days, even weeks. But how do you do that without throwing yourself completely off track?

Here are a few possible solutions. 

Solution 1: Be honest with yourself: why did you stop in the first place? 

Did you lose interest in the story? Get distracted by a new project? Did life just become a volcanic eruption of busyness that forced you to abandon your writing for more pressing matters?

Identifying why you stopped, and why you have stopped in the past if it has happened more than once, might be able to help you figure out how to keep yourself going next time. If you’re trying to do too much, maybe some rearranging of your priorities is in order. Maybe you’re not taking the right kinds of “creativity breaks.” 

Solution 2: Give yourself an incentive to restart, and take it slow

Saying, “I’ll start again tomorrow” isn’t going to get you very far on the productivity track. It’s hard to go a long period of time without writing and then trying to jump back into it. Maybe you need an incentive, something to motivate you to return to your craft even when you don’t want to.

Tell yourself you’re not allowed to do [insert thing that distracts you the most here] until you spend some time writing. Or plan a longer-term reward for the upcoming weekend, if it’s Monday and you want to spend the week easing yourself slowly back into the groove. If you can’t jump right in right away, don’t panic. It’s like running for the first time in six months. It’s not going to be quite as easy the first few tries. 

Solution 3: Write daily in very small “doses” 

If you stopped writing because you burned yourself out and needed a break, you might be doing it wrong. As simple and impossible as it might initially sound, the best defense against stopping and not being able to start again is to never stop.

You do still need to take breaks from writing, or you’re going to mentally drain yourself. Try writing a set amount of words per day, then treat the rest of that day as your “break.” When you wake up the next day, having given your creative brain a rest, you’ll be much more likely to feel recharged and able to do the same thing again—and again, and again.

Don’t forget: if a story is really important to you, even if it takes awhile, it will come back to you. Don’t worry too much and don’t be too hard on yourself. If you have to just start writing, even if it’s not the best, you’ll find your way back to where you were before you stopped.

Take care of yourself, and go write some words tonight.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Solution Saturday: Which Genre Am I Writing In?

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So you’re writing this book, right? It’s going pretty well. There’s a good cast of characters, a few good plot twists, some suspense and a lot of action—it’s definitely something you would read, and hopefully that means someone else might want to read it someday, too.

It’s a great spot to be in, as a writer. But there’s just one problem: in searching for literary agents here and there, you’re not sure who might be good candidates to send queries to. Each agent typically accepts queries about books from certain genres, and well … you don’t exactly know where yours belongs.

You have problems. We have solutions. Writing is hard. Let’s make it a little easier to navigate, shall we?

Solution 1: Determine whom you’re trying to reach

Within each genre are a plethora of sub-genres, but in order to figure out where your story or book belongs, take a few steps back and focus on one thing: who do you picture sitting down to read your work?

Some themes are universal for all age groups, but the age bracket of your characters, the situations you put them in and the range of their development from start to finish can at least help you figure out whether it’s more suited for younger audiences, young adults or strictly adults, as a starting point. This can at least help you determine where your story doesn’t belong, and can help you narrow down where it might fit best. 

Solution 2: Assess what you’re reading

Often the genres we read most frequently are the ones we end up writing in. Mostly because, well, if we’re spending all that time reading this genre or that, it’s probably because we like it. Over time it can become the genre we know best, and therefore, has the potential to become our go-to genre when we turn around and write our own stories.

Perhaps the easiest way to do a genre hunt is to figure out which authors you enjoy, and do a search on them. “So-and-so is a [genre] author who has written …” will usually pop up without too much digging. John Green is a young adult author. It’s not guaranteed or required, but is much more likely, that if you read a lot of John Green novels, your stories will take on more young adult themes. Sort of like a you are what you eat philosophy, except, you write what you read. Maybe.

Solution 3: Keep checking back all month

We’re keeping things fairly general in this post, but as the month goes on, we’re going to take you on a virtual literary genre expedition. GET EXCITED!

We’ll dive deeper into the different types of genres you might be writing in, or might have written in previously and never even knew it. Genres like young adult fiction, for example, have so many sub-genres it can seem impossible to narrow down where your YA book fits. We’re going to make the search a little easier for you.

We hope these solutions can help you at least start to narrow down some possibilities, and if you’re still stuck, we hope you’ll come back and visit soon, for a more in-depth look at what genres are out there, and where you and your stories best belong.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Solution Saturday: Joining an Online Writing Community

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If you’ve never been a part of a writing community online, but are thinking about looking for one to join, it can be difficult at first to figure out where to look, how to participate or even whether or not joining an online community of writers can benefit you personally.

You can find online writing communities anywhere—on social networks such as Facebook groups or on Tumblr; Twitter lists; forums or blogging networks. But it’s not enough just to join a handful and wait for something to happen. Like anything else, if you’re going to find any benefit in joining, you have to strategize. 

Find a group that fits your style

Do some serious searching around. If you’re a creative writer, you’ll obviously want to look for groups that talk about plot, character development and all the fun and quirky (and not-so-fun, not-so-unique) things writers have to deal with when trying to turn a tale into an actual book.

But if you’re interested in branching out, or you want to try writing blog posts or gain experience writing nonfiction articles, you can also find writers on blog networks or apply to join a team of magazine contributors depending on the subject matter you’re interested in writing about. You can learn a lot from working with others who are looking to gain experience in any field of writing.

Bring your ideas, skills and enthusiasm

Everyone joins a writing community for different reasons. Some are brand-new to writing and are looking for supporters and advice from more experienced members. Some just enjoy “meeting” new people and engaging in conversation about writing topics.

The best way to engage with other writers is to treat your membership like a gem. Dive right in! It’s not necessarily smart to comment on every post, go off on unrelated tangents or start arguments, but the more you share your ideas and enthusiasm for writing, the more others will want to connect with and share their own ideas and excitement with you.

Know that you’ll get out of it what you put into it

Joining any kind of online writing community isn’t just about signing up and waiting for the updates and threads to appear that appeal to you the most. At first you might be a little hesitant to join in, and there’s nothing wrong with poking around, seeing what others are posting and getting a good feel for the kinds of topics routinely discussed with your group.

But joining a community just for the sake of joining doesn’t benefit anyone, and if you’re frustrated no one is interacting with you, take some time to really think about what you’re looking for in a writing community. If you just want to find people to read your work, maybe a Facebook group isn’t the right place for you. If you want to be a part of a team, you have to participate, and sometimes that means starting your own conversations and checking back frequently to keep up with threads.

Joining an online writing community can connect you with people who share similar experiences related to writing, whether it be struggles or triumphs. Writing may be an individual experience, but when we come together with others, we’re reminded it’s okay to support each other, build each other up and contribute to one another’s success in this diverse, competitive industry.

Are you part of an online writing community? Do you find it beneficial to your work? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below—we’d love to hear from you!

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Solution Saturday: I Want to Write, but Life Keeps Getting In the Way

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You want to write. You need to write. Yet every time you find yourself starting to get into a good rhythm, a steady, routine, life, as it is well known to do, just “happens.”

Life events—whether planned, like holidays and family get-togethers, or unplanned, such as spontaneous road trips or funerals—disrupt more than just writing time. But when you’re a writer, and your writing time gets upturned, well, that can be just as unsettling.

Busyness is actually a completely different hang-up than life just getting in the way. Yet the methods for solving both barriers are quite similar, it turns out.

Here are our three solutions for keeping on pace with your writing goals, on this lovely holiday weekend (Independence Day for us USA’ers) when we’d all rather be writing, but family, food and fireworks are calling (loudly … so loudly).

Solution 1: Plan ahead as best you can

When things come up you don’t expect, especially if it involves spending quality time with someone close to you, the world won’t stop if your writing does for a while. For the expected, such as a weekend holiday spent with family, spend a little more time writing the weeks before and after your break to make up for lost time.

If a break in your normal writing routine is notorious for throwing you off and knocking out your motivation, be prepared. Know ahead of time it’s going to be more of a challenge to get back into the writing groove, and try not to beat yourself up too much when it does happen.

Solution 2: Write when you can; walk away when you can’t

If life is weighing you down, but you feel the urge to write, set aside a little time and let it happen. In those moments, writing can act as a stress-reliever and take your mind off of school, work, family or whatever else has been occupying your time while away from your desk.

When the words just aren’t coming, don’t force them. Sometimes it’s just not going to happen, and as hard as it is to come to terms with that, it’s just part of the deal. Taking a short break—hours, days, even months—doesn’t mean you love writing any less, that you’re giving up or that you’re never going to start again. Sometimes there are other things you need to take care of first. Your ideas won’t go away. They’ll wait until you’re ready.

Solution 3: Use “I need to write” as an excuse

Not to brag, not to be rude, but to give both yourself and those around you a good reason to spend 30, 10, maybe even just five minutes alone with your laptop, notepad or whatever you use to put your thoughts into words. Your friends and family will understand that, even if you don’t get paid for it, writing is your form of work. Yes, take a little time off. Have fun. Relax. But if you’re itching to write, taking time away to fulfill that need is completely acceptable.

If it’s a holiday, you’re on vacation or you have way too many other things to do, block out 30 minutes of writing time per day. If you have to, do it early in the morning, before the rest of the world wakes up, or late at night, when everyone is sleeping. When brain rush leads to seemingly tireless inspiration, don’t let it go to waste. Sometimes, making small sacrifices for the benefit of your craft is one hundred percent okay.

Life happens. But writing is part of your life. Let neither the predicted nor the unpredictable stand between you and writing those words.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Solution Saturday: I’m Not a Good Enough Writer

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We all have those days when we just don’t feel like what we’re writing is good enough. It’s a natural part of the writing process; a little bit of doubt here and there helps us remember we’re not perfect, and we still have a lot to learn.

But when that doubt stretches on too long, it can make us want to quit. Do not save changes. Delete.

Here are three solutions to slowly building up your confidence and reigniting your love for writing—which is why you started writing in the first place.

Solution 1: Read More Books

If you’re already a writer, it’s pretty likely you’re a reader, too. Reading successful authors’ work, over and over again, might have been what started this confidence drought in the first place. “They’re so good at writing! Why can’t I be that good?”

Don’t forget even your favorite authors have agents and editors who help them take their rough drafts to the next level. They have help; you don’t. All you have is your brain and your hands and finished books as inspiration. Let those books motivate you to keep refining your skills, not the opposite. 

Solution 2: Write More Words

Wait, that doesn’t make sense. I SAID I’M NOT A GOOD ENOUGH WRITER. Why should I keep writing?

Because the only thing that makes anyone not as good at something as they want to be is to stop trying to be better. If you’re not where you want to be in your own personal writing game, the worst thing you can do is take a break. Even if it’s the worst thing you’ve ever written, try.

Over time you’ll learn to catch and fix your own mistakes. You’ll learn what works and what doesn’t. You’ll learn how to write more captivating prose—as long as you keep writing.

Solution 3: Find a Writing Community

Sometimes you just can’t do it alone. Writing itself is an individual activity, but if you feel you need moral support from other writers, that’s not only one hundred percent acceptable, it could help you identify your own weak points and what about your writing isn’t sitting well with you.

There are plenty of ways to find others. If you’re on WordPress, follow other ‘writing bloggers’ and comment on their posts. Wrimos are also a great way to meet writers who might have similar struggles to yours. A good old-fashioned Google search (okay, not that old-fashioned) can give you even more options to virtually connect and find the literary support you need.

As you grow as a writer, you’ll learn how to avoid comparing your work to others’. The truth is, no writer with enough dedication to keep trying is better than another. Everyone has their own voice, their own unique insight. Embrace that. If your writing isn’t just like someone else’s, trust us—that’s a good thing.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.