Feb 02 2009

Writing Advice of the Day: Don’t Chicken Out

  1. When it comes to developing your characters, be bold. In most cases, it’s safer and more effective to develop character traits clearly rather than take the traits halway.  For example, if the hero is definitely smart or cowardly or whatever, readers will definitely be on your page and it will be easier to use the character to drive the plot.  In contrast, if the hero is just kind of smart or whatever, it often feels like the author is making it up as he goes along.  For example, Dr. Impossible from Soon I Will Be Invincible is kind of the smartest man on Earth, except when he talks like he’s Napoleon Dynamite and inexplicably goes to a funeral attended by hundreds of superheroes.  Mohinder is kind of a scientific genius, except when he inexplicably decides to test his mutant serum on himself without doing any sort of testing first.
  2. Remove everything from your story you aren’t willing to stand by. For example, if you plan to reveal that the last 10 or 20 pages were just a dream or a hallucination, why bother wasting our time with them?  I recommend cutting those pages out, because otherwise readers will probably feel like you’re jerking them around.  I also recommend against having lines of dialogue that the character takes back shortly afterward (“when I said something nasty a line ago, I was just kidding!  Haha!”)  Again, if you aren’t willing to stand by the lines you’ve written, they will probably just confuse and/or annoy the audience.  If the character’s not actually nasty, for example, a line that could suggest he’s nasty is probably a red herring that should be removed.
  3. Actions should have consequences. One common problem, particularly with Mary Sue characters, is that the character’s actions rarely have negative consequences.

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