Writing 101: Choosing the Best Point of View for Your Story

Are you confused about which point of view would be the best fit for your story? Learn about the techniques involved in each one and which is the best fit for you!Years ago, I remember watching a film called Vantage Point. The plot revolved around an assassination attempt on the U.S. President, and in order to catch the would-be assassin government agents had to piece together clues from witnesses.

Each witness had a different point of view of the assassination attempt from their place in the crowd. Each one saw and experienced the moment differently. From a police officer to a news reporter to an ordinary bystander, each had a different story to tell of the same event.

And that, my friend, is point of view–the “lens” or perspective through which a story is told, and in whose voice. But just who is telling the story? In fiction, different points of view use varying techniques to give the reader a different experience. Let’s look at the options available to you as a writer.

First Person Point of View

You’ve probably come across this one before, as it’s one of the most popular points of view (POV) used in fiction, especially in Young Adult novels. In this point of view, the main character is the one telling the story. The story is written in the character’s voice using the pronouns I/me/my.

The advantage of this POV is that the reader is drawn right into the character’s head. We see the world through their eyes and hear their thoughts. It’s a very intimate perspective. As such, however, the reader is limited to what the main character knows or sees, which can be either an advantage or disadvantage depending on the story you’re trying to tell.

Examples: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Second Person Point of View

Second person point of view is when the author speaks directly to the reader using you/your. This places the reader directly into the story as though they are the main character and has a very engaging effect. Let’s look at an example from Leo Tolstoy’s short story trio, The Sevastopol Sketches:

Yes ! disenchantment certainly awaits you, if you are entering Sevastopol for the first time. In vain will you seek, on even a single countenance, for traces of anxiety, discomposure, or even of enthusiasm, readiness for death, decision, — there is nothing of the sort. You will see the tradespeople quietly engaged in the duties of their callings, so that, possibly, you may reproach yourself for superfluous raptures, you may entertain some doubt as to the justice of the ideas regarding the heroism of the defenders of Sevastopol which you have formed from stories, descriptions, and the sights and sounds on the northern side.

As you can see, second person almost turns the reader into a participant in the story.  It also makes the events more personal; it makes us feel as though we have a stake in the story and forces more internal reflection on our thoughts and feelings about what is happening.

This point of view is rarely used, and when it is, it’s usually found in short stories or parts of a novel. It’s extremely difficult to maintain second person throughout an entire novel and do it well. I would only recommend using second person in short stories or literary fiction, which experiments with the art of writing. For commercial fiction written for entertainment, it’s best to skip it.

Though it isn’t popular, authors can and have used second person successfully. For example, Italo Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller uses second person in alternating chapters, and William Faulkner uses it in sections of his novel Absalom, Absalom!. A few brave and talented authors have even written their entire novel in second person, such as Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City.

Find the Right Point of View for Your Story

Third Person Point of View

Another popular point of view which you’re probably familiar with is third person. This is the point of view used most frequently in fiction. In this point of view, the reader becomes an outsider looking in on the story as it’s told from the main character’s perspective using he/she/they.

Although the story is told from the character’s perspective, it’s told in the author’s voice (though there is one exception to this which we’ll get to in a moment!). There are three types of third person: Third Person Omniscient, Third Person Limited, and Deep Point of View.

Third Person Omniscient

“Omciscient” means “all knowing” and that’s exactly what this point of view is.

The story is narrated to the reader in the disembodied voice of an all-knowing, all-seeing god who knows what all of the characters are thinking and feeling at all times. The narrator might even slip into second person occasionally and address the reader (a huge no-no in modern fiction!) or state his own opinions. Omniscient point of view is completely unlimited, and pretty much anything goes.

Here’s a quick example:

“Did you find your keys?” Mary asked, irritated at John’s carelessness. He was always losing everything. Why can’t he be more organized? she thought. He’s always wasting my time. Her jaw clenched in anger.

John ran a hand through his hair. “No. I could have sworn I left them on the kitchen table.” He turned away from her angry face, his own frustration mounting. She thinks I’m an idiot, he thought. Why can’t I remember where they are? Desperation began to creep over him.

Do you see how in omniscient point of view we are in both character’s heads at once? This style of writing was most popular in 19th century literature, but since then reader’s tastes have changes and it’s now less favored in modern-day fiction.

Today, we call this switching back and forth between multiple character’s thoughts within the same scene “head hopping,” and it’s often frowned upon. All of the jumping around can  be disorienting to the reader and leave them confused about whose story this is supposed to be.

But what if you need the perspectives of multiple characters to tell your story? There is another technique for this which is more popular and common modern fiction, which we’ll get to in the last section.

Examples of third person omniscient novels: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Third Person Limited

This is the style of third person that is more popular with modern readers. We remain in one character’s head throughout the story, only seeing things from their perspective. This means we only hear their thoughts, feel what they feel, and know what they know.

Let’s revisit our previous example of Mary and John, for a moment. This time, I’ll limit the point of view to Mary’s perspective only:

“Did you find your keys?” Mary asked, irritated at John’s carelessness. He was always losing everything. Why can’t he be more organized? she thought. He’s always wasting my time. Her jaw clenched in anger.

John ran a hand through his hair. “No. I could have sworn I left them on the kitchen table.” He turned away from her, his lips pressed in a flat line.

Mary sighed. He couldn’t even look her in the eye, he looked like a scolded, cowering dog. Maybe she shouldn’t look so angry. She drew in a deep breath and tried to soften her features. Lord, give me patience.

Do you see the difference? We don’t know what John is thinking or feeling. We experience everything from Mary’s POV and only know what’s going on inside her head. Unlike omniscient POV which is limitless, in this POV we are “limited” to Mary’s perspective.

Examples of limited third person: The Giver by Lois Lowry, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, and A Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones) by George R.R. Martin.

Deep Point of View

Deep point of view is a style of writing that is beginning to grow in popularity. It uses third person pronouns he/she/they, but instead of using the author’s voice the story is told in hero’s voice. This brings the reader deep into the hero’s head and allows them to experience the story through the hero, feeling what they feel.

Essentially, it’s like first person except with he/she instead of I. All “evidence” of the author’s hand (phrases like he said, she felt, he wondered, etc.) are also removed to erase the distance between the reader and hero.

Let’s look at this technique in action.

Example 1 (Third Person Limited):

Kali hurried though the village. She wondered if he was already waiting for her. She lifted her skirts and leapt over a puddle. She knew she should have left earlier, but her mother had kept on talking about the chickens.

Example 2 (Deep POV):

Kali hurried through the village. Was he already waiting for her? She lifted her skirts and leapt over a puddle. She should have left earlier, but her mother had kept on and on about the chickens. Chickens this, and eggs that. Be sure to this, don’t do it like that. Kali’s fidgety impatience had driven the details from her memory. Hopefully they weren’t too important.

Notice the difference between the two examples. The second brings you into Kali’s head by removing “interruptions” by the author like “she wondered” or “she knew.” The second example also uses more of Kali’s voice to reveal her thoughts, feelings, and perceptions–it’s almost as though she is the narrator, yet we stay in third person point of view.

This point of view can be challenging to write and is still emerging in fiction, but it’s quickly gaining popularity in the writing world because of the intimacy it creates between the reader and character.

Multiple Point of View

When you have a story that needs to be told from multiple perspectives, you have two options: you can either use third person omniscient and head hop, or you can use multiple point of view.

Multiple point of view can use third person limited, deep point of view, or first person. It stays in one character’s head at a time per scene or chapter. When the writer needs to switch to a different character’s perspective, they skip a line between scenes or begin a new chapter to signal to the reader that they are changing to a new character. In modern fiction, this technique is the preferred way of telling a story with multiple characters.

Examples: A Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones) by George R.R. Martin, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer.

Which POV is Right for Your Story?

Are you confused about which point of view would be the best fit for your story? Learn about the techniques involved in each one and which is the best fit for you!So now that we’ve explored your options, which one should you choose?

If you’re uncertain, try asking yourself these questions:

  1. How many perspectives do I need to tell this story?
  2. Do I want to create distance or intimacy between the reader and the character?
  3. Do I want to tell the story in my own voice, or the character’s?

If you need multiple perspectives to tell your story you might use multiple POV or experiment with third person omniscient.

If you want to create intimacy between your reader and character, first person or deep point of view are the way to go. Or, you could create intimacy between the author and reader with second person.

Need a little more distance? Try third person limited or omniscient point of view.

If you want your character’s voice to really come through in your story, you’ll want to employ first person or deep point of view. Or, if you prefer to use your own voice, third person limited & omniscient and second person will all allow you to do so.

As you can see, it all depends upon the story you want to tell and how you want to tell it. I don’t think there’s a “right” or “wrong” point of view, but for a new writer I would recommend  maybe starting with third person limited or first person as those as the most common and easiest of the bunch to write.

Many times, the point of view a writer chooses depends on personal preference. Some writers find first person too challenging or invasive, while others love it. Personally, I’ve always preferred third person limited (I’m now moving toward deep POV), but I do occasionally use first person. Sometimes the characters “speak” to me in first person, and sometimes I hear their story in third person.

The beauty of point of view is that each method gives the reader a different experience. As the author, it’s up to you to decide how you want your readers to experience your story. Do you want to draw them into the hero’s head? Make them a participant? Show them different perspectives through multiple characters? The power rests in your hands.

What’s your favorite point of view to read and write? Let me know in the comments below!

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Is Your Character a Mary Sue?

Is your character a Mary Sue? You might be writing one without even realizing it! Learn the warning signs and how to fix them to create a character with more depth and realism. It’s hard for writers to be hard on our characters, to tell them no or make them suffer or give them flaws. Like proud, doting mothers, we want them to be our perfect children who can do no wrong. We want them to be successful. We want to spoil them, and we want readers to love them. Heck, we might even want them to inherent some of our own qualities. But unfortunately, this type of attitude often leads to the creation of a Mary Sue.

What Does a Mary Sue Look Like?

A “Mary Sue” is either a female or male (sometimes called a “Gary Stu”) character who embodies the perfect hero/heroine. Often, she is an idealized version of the author herself. Mary Sues are usually beautiful, talented, have few or no flaws, and are loved by everyone.

The problem is, all this is bestowed upon them without them having to “earn” it. They are effortlessly beautiful; they have special abilities or prodigy-like skills they don’t have to work to develop; other characters want to be their friends or lovers or lavish them with admiration without them doing anything to deserve it. Not only is this unrealistic, but it serves to irritate the reader and often turn her against the Mary Sue.

As for examples of Mary Sues, it’s been argued that characters like Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Rey, Superman, Eragon, Bella Swan, and Edward Cullen fall into this character type.

I’m not going to debate in this article whether they do or don’t, but I would like to point out that some of the characters on this list are loved by many, while others are despised. So a Mary Sue character doesn’t automatically spell doom, but I do think it’s wise to avoid creating one if possible.

Mary Sue Signs and Solutions

Okay, I’m going to share a secret with you: the heroine of my first novel was a Mary Sue. It wasn’t intentional, but as a new, 14-year-old writer I did end up putting a lot of myself into the character. She was also beautiful, talented, and fit into nearly every one of the categories below. When I realized the mistake I had made I gave her a major over-haul in later drafts.

Sometimes–especially if you’re new to writing stories–you might create a Mary Sue without realizing it. But with a little bit of work you can re-shape your character into one with much more depth and realism.

Below are 6 warning signs of a Mary Sue and how to fix them. Note that if your character fits one or two of these categories, that doesn’t mean they’re a Mary Sue. The real trouble comes when your character fits a bunch or all of these categories. So don’t panic if your character has a special talent or is a chosen one!

1. Beautiful, Yet Plain

A Mary Sue usually sees herself as plain or average, but really she’s beautiful or even gorgeous. Guys don’t fail to take notice, and her friends and family reassure her of her beauty even as she laments about how plain she is. Often, she’ll have a special hair or eye color to make her more unique, or exotic features.

Solution: Try to avoid words/phrases that describe characters as beautiful/handsome  unless it’s important to their character or the story. Also, if it’s not important don’t give your heroine gold or violet eyes in an attempt to make her more unique. Not only do these colors not exist in real life, but I feel like it screams trying to hard to make the hero “special.”

Now, when you’re describing a love interest through the eyes of the character who loves them, it’s fine to be more biased about looks because of course when you love someone you’re going to be attracted to them! But don’t go crazy with it. Try to avoid creating a cast of supermodels.

2. Talented

A Mary Sue is extremely talented, often in more than one area. She doesn’t have to work at her skill, it just comes to her naturally.

Solution: This doesn’t mean that you can’t give your hero a talent. It’s good for heroes to have a strength, and in real life people usually have something they’re really good at. But it’s usually one thing, and they have to work very hard at it. Often, there are others who are better at it than they are.

Try to limit your hero’s talent to one thing, make him work for the skill, and consider not making him best person in the world at it. Also, offset his talent by showing other areas in which he struggles. For example, he may be good with a sword but can’t shoot a bow to save his life.

3. Destined

In Fantasy, it’s not uncommon for Mary Sues to have some sort of destiny or prophecy to fulfill. They’re often “The Chosen One,” the only one who can stop the villain or save the world.

Solution: This is the hardest issue to fix because it involves changing your plot. See if you can avoid making your hero The Chosen One. Instead, try to find a way to make him commit to defeating the villain, saving the world, etc. without being cornered into it by destiny.

For example, in The Lord of the Rings, Frodo chooses to take the ring to Mordor and destroy it of his own free will. This makes him a much more admirable and brave character than if some curse or prophecy had made him the only one who could destroy it.

4. Without Flaw

Mary Sues have few or no flaws. They can do no wrong, and are often very moral or “goody-goody.”

Solution: Give your characters real flaws. Being ugly or clumsy are not real flaws. This is often one of the hardest parts of creating a hero because we’re afraid of making him unlikable. But strangely enough, a flawed character is actually more likable because he’s more relatable and more interesting. He has layers, different sides to him that contrast and conflict. Need ideas? Check out this list of character flaws.

5. Loved by All

Mary Sue characters are surrounded by people who adore them–except the villain, of course. They might even have several love interests clamoring for their affection. It doesn’t matter what they do or how rude they’ve been, everyone will still love them. The Mary Sue doesn’t even have to give them a reason or earn their trust/friendship/admiration.

Solution: Of course your hero will be loved by friends, family, and maybe a love interest. But not everyone they meet should automatically like them. It’s just not realistic. Give them enemies besides the villain, or have them meet people who just aren’t fond of them. And make sure there’s a reason why people like him–whether it’s friends, a love interest, or strangers.

6. No Struggle

Everything is easy for the Mary Sue character. She doesn’t have to work for anything. Everything she wants falls into her lap, and defeating the villain is a breeze. If she makes a mistake or does something wrong she doesn’t have to face consequences for her actions.

Solution: Don’t make things easy for your hero! Let him struggle, fail, and make mistakes. Don’t give him everything he wants like some spoiled child. Make it difficult for him to defeat the villain so that he “earns” his happy ending.

Have you come across any Mary Sues in books or films? Have you written any yourself? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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How to Write a Love Triangle Like Jane Austen

Jane Austen wrote some of the most romantic stories in literature. But Austen's love triangles don't look like you typical YA love triangles! Here are 4 subtle differences to help you learn how to write a love triangle like Jane Austen!Lately, I’ve been on a Jane Austen movie binge. I just can’t resist the empire gowns, the cravats, the balls, the wit and humor, and Mr. Darcy (insert swoon here).

But in typical writer fashion, of course I couldn’t just enjoy the stories like a normal person–I had to be curious about how Jane Austen constructed them, too. Much like a builder staring up at a domed ceiling and instead of appreciating the beauty thinking, how did they do that?

Yes, I have a problem, but today it’s to your benefit because I’m going to show you how to write a love triangle like Jane Austen 😉

Jane Austen’s design behind her love triangles struck my curiosity because usually I’m not a fan of love triangles. Usually, I find them annoying and predictable. But I was surprised to find that the love triangles in Austen’s works didn’t bother me, and I was able to enjoy them.

Why was that? What had she done differently?

Of course I couldn’t resist analyzing and breaking it down to try to find an answer, and today I’m going to share my findings with you. It turns out, Jane Austen’s love triangles have subtle differences from the typical love triangles I’ve come across in YA novels and even a lot of romance films. Before we break down those differences, let’s take a peek at a typical YA love triangle.

A Look at a “Typical” YA Love Triangle

Most YA love triangles I’ve encountered look something like this:

The heroine falls in love with two guys at the same time. They are both great guys, though usually one is more edgy, distant, aloof, harder to obtain, etc. and/or has a bad boy side.

Guy #2 is usually the more “practical” choice as he’s “safer” and would be “better for her.” He tends to be the boy-next-door or best friend type.

The heroine agonizes over which guy she should choose as both fight for her heart. She goes back and forth between the two and just can’t make up her mind.

Examining Jane Austen’s Love Triangles

Now, on the other hand, let’s examine the elements of the type of love triangle Jane Austen creates.

1. First, the heroine does not fall in love with both men at the same time. She has feelings for only one at a time. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennett has a crush on Wickham for a while. After she learns his true character her feelings subside, and it is only then that her heart begins to turn towards Darcy.

In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne Dashwood ignores the attentions of Colonel Brandon, thinking him too old and unromantic, and falls in love with the dashing Willoughby. But she realizes what Willoughby is really like when he abandons her and breaks her heart. Eventually, Marianne gradually falls in love with Colonel Brandon.

 2. Not both men are good options. In most YA love triangles both love interests are good options, and for the heroine it’s just a matter of deciding who she loves more and wants to spend her life with.

Jane Austen wrote some of the most romantic stories in literature. But Austen's love triangles don't look like you typical YA love triangles! Here are 4 subtle differences to help you learn how to write a love triangle like Jane Austen!But in Jane Austen’s novels, one man is the “right” choice while one man is the “wrong” choice, and it’s up to the heroine to learn their true character in order to make her decision.

Basically, Austen encourages readers not to decide on a man with your heart or romantic feelings, but to judge and know his character.

In many YA love triangles, often the emphasis is placed on feelings and physical attraction and little is revealed about the character of the love interest. But Austen has her heroines learn the character of the love interest so they have a reason to like them that runs deeper than physical attraction.

3. While one man is meant to be the wrong option, both men might appear to be good options. Austen loves to show that charms and dashing good looks do not reveal a man’s true character, and are not enough to build a lasting love.

For example, in Pride and Prejudice Wickham is very charming, good-humored, and handsome. It seems like he’s a decent man and would make a good love interest–until his true character is revealed. Similarly in Sense and Sensibility, Willoughby is dashing, romantic, and charming, but his character is lacking. And in Emma, Frank Churchill is yet another charming man of shallow character.

Austen loves to create characters who appear to be good love interests because they’re handsome, charming, romantic, etc., but in the end it’s the men who possess qualities that matter such as loyalty, commitment, devotion, compassion, honor, responsibility, etc. who end up winning the heroine’s heart.

4. The heroine is decisive and does not waver back and forth between the love interests. The main reason I have such a hard time with modern YA love triangles is that after a while it drives me nuts when the heroine can’t decide between two guys.

I hate the constant jumping back and forth and eventually I want to grab the heroine and shake her and scream just pick one already! I can put up with it for a while, but if it’s dragged out for too long–or over an entire series–it begins to wear on me.

I think authors feel this increases the tension and in a way it does, but it can also make the heroine seem very fickle or as though she is toying with the two guys. Jane Austen avoids this problem by having her heroines feel for only one man at a time, though two men might be interested in the heroine at the same time.

For example, in Pride and Prejudice Mr. Darcy and Wickham are interested in Elizabeth at the same time, but she is only interested in one of them at any given time. And in Sense and Sensibility, both Colonel Brandon and Willoughby are interested in Marianne at the same time, but she only likes one of them at a time.

I find this slight shift in love triangle dynamics interesting, and I can’t help but wonder what these stories would have looked like had the heroines been interested in both men at once!

Jane Austen wrote some of the most romantic stories in literature. But Austen's love triangles don't look like you typical YA love triangles! Here are 4 subtle differences to help you learn how to write a love triangle like Jane Austen!

Final Thoughts

Even though the differences in the way Jane Austen designs her love triangles are subtle, I feel like their impact is much deeper and emotional than that of many modern love triangles out there today.

Austen’s love triangles aren’t about choosing the hottest guy, or the guy who’s the best kisser or the best in bed, or the guy you have the best chemistry with. They’re about choosing the guy with the best character, a man who will truly love and commit to you. They’re about avoiding rogues in gentleman’s clothing, or villains with the face of a Disney prince.

Personally, I find this type of love triangle more realistic and relatable. The romance it creates also provides more depth because we get to truly know the characters–not just read lengthy descriptions of heated make-out scenes.

Which type of love triangle do you prefer? Are there any other differences between typical YA love triangles and Jane Austen’s that I missed? What do you think Jane Austen’s stories would have been like if they were done in the style of a typical YA love triangle? Leave you thoughts below!

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Writing 101: Creating a Successful Hero and Villain

Part 3 in the Writing 101 series for beginning writers. Learn the roles your hero and villain play in your story, and the elements you need in each one to create successful characters! Welcome to Part 3 of the Writing 101 series for beginning writers! Are you a bit behind? You can catch Part 1 (The Fundamentals of Story) here, and Part 2 (Writing Term Glossary) here.

Today, we’re talking characters. In order to craft a successful, compelling story, you need to understand a) the roles your hero and villain play, and b) what you need to make them work. Let’s get started, shall we?

The Protagonist’s Role

In Part 1 of this series, we said that a story is:

About someone (hero) who wants something (goal), sets out on a journey to attain it (plot), and grows or learns something along the way (change).

Reading a story is about sharing an experience, so you have to decide whose story it is and whose experience we’ll be sharing. Your hero is the character whom your story centers around. He or she offers your readers a point of access to your story by allowing them to  experience events from his/her point of view rather than as a neutral outsider. The hero invites us in and lets us become a part of the story.

Think of your story as the track of a roller coaster–it has ups and downs, twists and turns, and maybe a couple stomach-dropping loops. Your hero is the car of the roller coaster the reader enters to experience the thrills you’ve created. If you don’t let your readers get up close and personal with the hero, then they’ll just be someone standing in line watching the roller coaster go by from a distance but not getting to experience it for themselves.

There are 4 main “ingredients” you need to successfully create a hero: goal, likability, realism, and change.

1. Goal

Your hero’s goal is what drives your story. What does he want? What is he trying to achieve? How your hero sets out to get what he wants becomes your plot. If your hero doesn’t have a goal, your story has no direction. Actually, without a goal you don’t have a story at all. A goal unifies your story’s events and gives them purpose. And if you don’t know what your hero is trying to achieve, you won’t be able to create compelling conflict that stands in his way.

2. Likability

One of the most important parts of creating your hero is to make readers care about him. We don’t stick through a 200+ page story to read about a character we hate! It doesn’t matter how awesome your plot is, if we don’t like your hero we won’t care about whether or not he achieves his goal. And that means game over for your novel.

3. Realism

In order for your hero to feel like a real person, you need to give him flaws, strengths, a personality, a past, etc. The biggest mistake beginning writers make is creating a hero who is too perfect or too strong. Your hero needs flaws and weaknesses to seem human. If he’s handsome, perfect, super smart, and can kick ass like a freaking ninja, your readers won’t be able to identify with him. We relate to flawed characters far more than we relate to perfect characters. And flawed characters are always far more interesting.

4. Change

Most new writers get so wrapped up focusing on getting their hero through the external plot that they tend to forget about the internal. But change is an important part of a satisfying story. Your hero should be different in some way at the end of the novel versus how he was at the beginning. If he was rich, prejudiced, or cowardly on page one and he’s still rich, prejudiced, or cowardly when we read The End, there’s a problem. When people go through big experiences in real life, it changes them. You need to reflect this in your novel.

The Antagonist’s Role

The main role of your story’s villain is to provide your story with conflict. Whatever it is your hero wants, the villain is standing in the way. Actually, your villain wants the opposite of what the hero wants. Both forces are trying their hardest to achieve their goals, which causes them to clash.

The hero wants to save the city. The villain wants to destroy it. The hero wants to destroy the object of the villain’s power. The villain wants to save it. The hero wants to overthrow the villain’s rule. The villain wants to squash the hero’s rebellion.

Your story is about the conflict between the hero and the villain. Your plot shows us how the hero tries to achieve his goal, how the villain tries to stop him, and who wins out in the end.

Similar to creating a hero, there are 4 main “ingredients” you need to create a successful villain: Goal, Loathing, Realism, and Credibility.

1.Goal

Just as with your hero, your villain needs a goal. You need to figure out what he wants and why. He can’t be trying to take over the world or destroy New York City “just because he’s evil.” He needs an actual reason that justifies him going through all the trouble. His goal should oppose your hero’s to create conflict.

2. Loathing

While with your hero you need to create likability, with your villain your aim is to do the opposite. You need readers to hate and fear your villain to get them on that emotional roller coaster, and so it will be satisfying when the hero finally defeats him. But don’t just tell us that he’s evil–show us through his words and actions.

3. Realism

In order for readers to fear your villain, he needs to feel like a real person. That mean giving him strengths, flaws, a past, etc. just like you would with your hero. The biggest mistake new writers make with their villains is making them too evil. In real life, people aren’t so black and white. You want to make your villain (and hero) more grey by giving them a mix of both good and bad qualities.

4. Credibility

Your villain in the main source of conflict in your novel, and therefore  also a huge source of tension. You want to keep readers wondering if the hero will win–if things seem too easy the reader will feel they know the answer, so they’ll stop turning pages. This means you need to create a strong villain who backs up his threats so readers will know he means business. And most importantly, you need to let your hero lose some battles to keep readers anxious!

Need more help with villains? I know they’re the most difficult character to write, so I’ve created a free e-book to help you out!

Ready for Part 4 (Unraveling Tension, Conflict, and Your Plot)? Click here!

What elements do you think go into creating a successful hero and villain?

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Creating Emotional Connections: The Psychology of Emotional Stories (A Guest Post by Faye Kirwin of Writerology)

Learn how to use techniques from psychology to create an emotional bond between your readers and characters. This is a guest post from the lovely Faye Kirwin of Writerology.

Writing is all about people—the characters, the readers, the author, all drawn together by emotion. If you can tie your readers’ emotions to your characters, they’re tied to the story, and it’s that connection that will stay with them long after they’ve finished reading.

But… that’s easier said than done, right? A lot of mystery and uncertainty surrounds those emotional bonds with the reader. Is it something that just happens naturally? Is there a trick to it? How come it works with some characters and not others? How do you create an emotional connection anyway? Psychology offers a solution: peek inside the brain. If you can find out what happens to someone when they’re caught up in a story, the mystery surrounding emotional connection begins to clear.

Professor Paul Zak set about doing just that. He had a group of participants watch a video that told the highly emotional story of a father struggling with the fact that his two-year-old son had only a few months left to live. After the video, Professor Zak found an increase in two neurochemicals produced by participants’ brains: cortisol and oxytocin.

Cortisol, a chemical involved in focusing attention on things that are important, was related to how distressed participants felt. The more distressed they felt, the more cortisol they produced, and the more attention they paid to the video. Oxytocin, a chemical involved in social bonding, was related to how much empathy the participants experienced. The more oxytocin they produced, the more empathetic they felt. If you put these two neurochemicals together, you have the ingredients for an emotional connection—but knowing what happens to make your reader emotionally involved isn’t the end of the story. Now you need to know how to create those circumstances yourself.

Step 1: Capture Your Readers’ Attention

Transportation, that magical moment when readers experience the characters’ emotions for themselves, can only happen if the story holds their attention. How can you ensure you do that? Keep raising the tension. Don’t go easy on your characters. Tension and conflict ramp up distress, which is linked to cortisol, one of the ingredients for emotional connection.

Professor Zak recommends using Freytag’s dramatic arc to pile on the tension and maintain the readers’ interest throughout the story. Let’s take a brief look at it now.

Freytag's Pyramid - Creating Emotional Connections

The dramatic arc is a type of story structure made up of five acts: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and dénouement. Tension increases throughout the rising action act, culminating in the conflict-laden climax of the story, and it’s this elicitation of distress that captures your readers’ attention and prepares them for the next step: empathising with the characters.

Step 2: Elicit Your Readers’ Empathy

Maintaining readers’ interest doesn’t guarantee that they’ll develop an emotional connection with the characters. How many books have you read that had an exciting, relentless, page-turning plot but neglected to develop their cast? With the focus on the external events that happen to the characters, plot-driven stories capture the readers’ attention, but don’t necessarily establish bonds that stick around after reaching ‘The End’. Characters do that, which is why Professor Zak points to character-driven stories as the best way to create emotional connections with readers.

What elements of a character-driven story make it so easy to form a bond?

  1. Memorable characters. Readers don’t care for the shallow, cardboard cut-outs they’ve seen a hundred times before. They want characters who are quirky, flawed, relatable, varied and complex, characters who make a home in their memories and refuse to move out. Your job as a writer is to create characters like these. I recommend a helping of psychology to keep your cast unique and, above all, realistic.
  2. Steady character development. The plot doesn’t just transport characters physically but emotionally too. What happens to them over the course of the story will change them for better or worse, and it’s this development that will engage your readers and spur them on to emotionally invest in your characters. K. M. Weiland has a fantastic and in-depth series on character arc that can help you to do just that.
  3. Engaging and relatable internal conflict. Tension doesn’t just come from external conflict; it comes from the internal variety as well. Having your characters struggle with their self-doubt, weaknesses and inner demons makes them relatable, understandable and ultimately someone readers can empathise with.

Step 3: Combine Attention and Empathy to Create a Connection

Readers form emotional bonds with the characters and the story when you maintain their attention and elicit their empathy. Increase tension throughout the story with exciting external conflicts and draw out empathy with memorable characters, steady development and engaging internal conflict. Do that and you have the ingredients you need to create an emotional connection that will stay with your readers long after they’ve put the book down.

About the Author

Faye Kirwin - WriterologyFaye Kirwin is a writer with a passion for words, minds and tea. She blogs over at Writerology, where she applies the science of psychology to the art of storytelling and teaches authors how to make writing a part of their everyday lives.

When she’s not blogging or running the Writember Workshop, she writes fiction chock-full of magic, clockwork and tea. (Mm, tea.)

10 Signs Your Villain Might be Cheesy

No one likes a cheesy, boring villain! Here are 10 cliches to avoid so you can write a villain readers will fear instead of laugh at.

I’m not going to lie–good villains are damn hard to write. But they’re one of the most important characters in your story (arguably, the most important!), so you need to spend the time getting him right.

As a reader, you’ve probably noticed an abundance of villain cliches in books, but sometimes it’s hard to see these in your own villain. Or, maybe you’re not sure what it is exactly that makes a villain cheesy or cliched. Maybe you’re afraid you have a cheesy villain without even realizing it.

Don’t fret! With a little work (okay, maybe a lot of work), a cheesy villain can be polished into one who’s formidable. Let’s get started, shall we?

1.Theatrical Outfits

The cheesy villain dresses like he’s part of a Broadway show, or a teen going through a Goth phase. His outfits must scream ‘I’m evil.’ His wardrobe consists of black, red, leather, spikes and studs, long capes or coats, and anything printed with skulls. He wants to make sure you know he’s evil, just in case, you know, you couldn’t tell from his smoldering scowl. Bonus points if he’s ugly or disfigured, adding to his edgy appearance.

2. Stage Name

If your villain insists on dressing like a pop star, he’ll probably choose a flamboyant name that will make Lady Gaga jealous. You know, something stylishly evil like Crimson Bane or Lord Dark Skull or Damon Shadow-blood. Wait, are we naming a villain or a bad punk band?

3. Over dramatic

Like a teenager begging for attention, the cheesy villain goes out of his way to make sure you know he’s evil. He razes villages and slaughters innocents for no reason other than to prove that he really really is evil. And you should like, be totally terrified. He’s constantly snarling threats and insults, and doesn’t hesitate to torture or kill random henchman. Are you paying attention yet? No? Maybe some maniacal laughter will make you show him the respect he clearly deserves.

4. Bargain Bin Henchmen

Speaking of ill-fated henchmen, the cheesy villain always seems to employ an abundance of useless minions. They have worse aim than a firing squad of Stormtroopers and are always letting the heroes escape. You would think that someone as powerful and cunning as a villain would find a way to get the best of the best fighting for him. But apparently undying, mindless loyalty is better than competence. And taking over the world these days is expensive, you gotta cut costs somewhere.

5. Gossip Girl

Like a gossipy teen girl, the cheesy villain loves to chat. Especially about his plans. Once he’s captured the hero, he finds it necessary to explain every detail of his master scheme. He can’t help but reveal how he was behind everything, how he managed to trap the hero, and what he plans to do next. He has to brag to the hero about how brilliant and diabolical he is. Because if he doesn’t, then how will the hero appreciate his evilness? While he’s busy chatting away and taunting the hero about how he’s going to kill him, the hero will make his escape.

6. False Swagger

Cheesy villains have a certain swagger about them. They always smirk, sneer, glower, and glare. They have dark smiles and chilling laughs. They boast about how clever they are, and have an arsenal of witty and nasty insults. When they’re not making empty threats, they’re probably plucking the wings off butterflies. But really, this sort of villain is nothing more than a poser–he’s all talk and no game. He may constantly taunt the hero about how he’s going to kill him and destroy everything he loves, but it will never come to pass.

7. Awkward Dialogue

Villains tend to get the worst dialogue. If they’re not shooting off wise cracks, puns, and witty remarks like a comic book super villain, they have an aversion to contractions and speak with an eloquent malice like they’re in a High Fantasy novel…even if the story is set in 21st century New York. They often speak very on-the-nose, saying exactly what they’re thinking and being completely transparent–which most people don’t do, whether they’re evil or good. And of course, they talk way too much.

They also tend to say phrases we’ve heard a hundred times like:

  • You think you can defeat me?
  • You have no idea how long I have planned this moment.
  • Well, well, well.
  • I will take great pleasure in killing you.
  • You will never escape/defeat me/see your lover again.
  • Bonus: addresses the hero as boy/girl instead of using their name.

Cut down on your villain’s witty remarks and taunts, and give him dialogue that is time-period appropriate. And if you feel like you’ve heard a line before, change or cut it!

8. Black and White

One of the main problems with the cheesy villain is that more often than not his character is underdeveloped and flat. He is defined only by his evilness with no grey areas. He only feels anger and hatred and is evil for the sake of being evil. But villains need goals, motives, pasts, and personalities just like heroes. Don’t forget that villains are people too!

9. Overcompensating

The cheesy villain has to try so hard to act and look evil because in reality, he sucks. The hero always gets away unscathed, his plans always fail, his traps never work, his threats never come true. The more he fails, the more anxious he becomes that the hero might not take him seriously, so the harder he tries to prove his evilness. Maybe he shouldn’t have skived off so many Evil 101 classes at the Villain Academy….

10. Cat with a Mouse

If there’s one thing the cheesy villain can’t resist, it’s concocting ridiculous ways for the hero to die. Instead of killing him at once and taking care of the problem, the cheesy villain likes to play with his victim like a cat with a mouse. Why run the hero through with a sword or place a well-aimed bullet in his head? Screw efficiency. This is the moment for the villain to show his twisted creativity.

But once the villain sets up his elaborate death trap, he will scurry off to finish his evil plans, giving the hero an opportunity to escape. Stick around and make sure your most hated enemy dies a gruesome death? Ain’t nobody got time for that. The world won’t take over itself, you know.

When done well, your villain can be one of the most interesting characters in your story. What do you look for in a good villain? Share your thoughts below!

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Character Bios

The Do's and Don'ts of Character Bios | Learn how to #write a solid #character bio without going overboard on unnecessary details. Plus, a FREE worksheet!I love getting to know my characters–it’s one of my favorite parts of writing a story. But it wasn’t always that way! When I first started writing, I stressed out so much over creating life-like characters. Just how much did I need to know about them? I thought that in order to make my characters realistic I needed to know everything about them. And I mean everything.

Have you ever seen those lengthy character questionnaires with endless questions like “what’s his favorite color?” or “what’s in her purse right now?” or even “what color underwear does he wear? Boxers or briefs?”

I’m not making this stuff up, people. (Okay, well maybe I am a little). But seriously, I hate all those lists of silly questions. They’re such a waste of time! And I used to think that I needed to answer them all in order to get to know my character. Oh, naivety.

Some of those questions may be interesting and give you insight into your character, but let’s be real here, how much of that information are you actually going to use? And more importantly, how much should you use? You may not realize it, but having too much information about your character can do more harm than good!

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The Cons of Questionnaires

How so? Because you when you fill out those sorts of bio questionnaires, you end up with loads of unnecessary information. Which does not bode well for your novel. When you create a character bio, you only want information that is relevant to your story–everything else needs to go.

If you have all of these extra details you find interesting but have nothing whatsoever to do with your story, you’re going to be tempted to find ways to try to cram them in. You might add in random scenes or subplots to show this information, but you will only succeed in confusing the reader. They’ll wonder where you’re going with that, and how it’s important to the story.

The answers is nowhere and not at all. But see, that’s how a reader’s mind works–they trust that everything you’re telling them is relevant in some way to the story, and if it is not important now it will be of importance later. If the reader turns the last page and realizes that one scene where Ben showed off his martial arts skills actually wasn’t of any importance of all, they’re going to feel cheated and lose trust in you.

The Secret to a Focused Bio

So how do you create a character bio that works without going overboard (thus saving you time and headaches)? You need to focus on two main points: the origin of your character’s internal issue, and his goal/motivation.

“That’s it?!” you asked, bewildered.

Can it really be that simple? Yes, yes it can. Okay, so yes, you’re going to explore other things like flaws, strengths, personality traits, etc. but these two points are the guiding lights that are basically the basis for your whole story.

Let’s look at an example.

In Frozen, we see how Elsa’s parents feared her powers and taught her that she should hide them and pretend like they weren’t there. This childhood experience is what creates her internal conflict: her struggle with controlling her powers and her shame of being different. Her goal in the story is to let go of everything she’s tried to suppress and finally embrace herself and her powers. These two things are not only the basis for Elsa’s character, but also the plot of the story!

So what are some do’s and dont’s for creating a solid character bio that doesn’t go overboard?

The Do’s

1. Focus on your character’s arc. Your story is essentially about how your character changes as he tries to achieve his goal. Your character bio should focus on what your character was like before the change that will take place in the story. This usually revolves around the internal conflict. For example, is he prejudiced now but will become accepting by the end of the story? Dig around and found out why or where this started.

2. Give every major character a bio. Yes it’s a lot of work, but it’s important work. You need to understand what makes all of your characters tick, what they want, and what’s motivating them. Of course you won’t need to go as in-depth for minor characters as opposed to main characters, and not everything will make it onto the page, but you need to know it in order to make them realistic.

The Don’ts

1. Don’t hold back. Don’t shy away from getting into the psychology of your character. Explore their past and unearth their secrets, sins, and skeletons. What are they hiding that they don’t want to tell you? Dig deep and make them talk.

2. Don’t try to write your bio like it’s your novel. Forget perfection. No one is going to see this except you, so who cares if it’s a hot mess? Scribble, use brief notes only you can decipher, jump around all over your character’s timeline. Anything goes.

A FREE Worksheet for You

I hope you’ll ditch the character questionnaires and pursue a more purposeful method of developing your character bios. To help you get started, I’ve created a free worksheet! And no, it’s not a questionnaire! 😉 The worksheet will focus on the points we covered in this post. You’ll also receive access to my free library of writing resources. Pretty sweet, huh?

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What’s your opinion on character questionnaires? What methods do you use for creating your character bios?

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Does Your Hero Have an Opinion?

Does Your #Hero Have an Opinion? | Your hero's opinions are an important part of his #characterization. Learn what sort of opinions to share and how to show them! “So what did you think?”

We love asking this question to friends, family, and even new acquaintances. Whether it’s about a movie, TV show, book, restaurant, place, concert, or event, we enjoying hearing people’s answer. But why?

We want to know how they experienced it. We want to know their opinion.

Again, why?

Because sharing our experiences brings us closer together, and our opinions reveal more about who we are and our perspective on the world. Everyone experiences things differently, and everyone has a different opinion. It’s in our nature to be curious about what others are thinking and how they see things.

Think about it. Why do we go to the movies with friends? Isn’t it kind of silly? You’re sitting in a dark theater where you can’t talk to each other, so why not just go alone? Because we enjoy having another person there to share the experience of the story.

But perhaps more importantly, after the final credits have rolled we can’t wait to swap our opinions about what we’ve just seen. What did you think of the actor? The special effects? The storyline? We love knowing people’s opinions!

So let me ask you: what are your hero’s opinions? Do you reveal them throughout the story? If not, you should! Let’s examine the why, what, and how of showing your hero’s opinion.

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Why Show Your Hero’s Opinion?

Showing your hero’s opinion is an excellent way to develop his character. This will add another layer of depth that will make him even more realistic.  It also helps your readers get to know who he is and starts to create a bond. His opinions will not only reveal how he sees the world, but will also shape the tone and personality of the writing.

What Opinions Should You Show?

Here’s the crucial bit: only show us your hero’s opinions on things that are relevant to the story!

If government plays an important role, show us his opinion on the government. If his teacher plays a role in a scene, show us his opinion of her. But don’t give us his opinion on things like bubblegum and kittens that have nothing to do with who he is or what’s happening in the story!

Be sure to give us his opinion about any new experiences, events, people, places, etc. he comes into contact with during the story. You’d be surprised how many writers forget to do this!

For example, let’s say the hero finds himself in a top-secret government department that covers up the existence of aliens. He acts surprised for a moment, but then keeps charging headlong through the action of the plot. Wait. Pause. I want to know what the heck the hero is thinking about all this! What is his opinion? Get into the habit of showing your hero’s internal as well as external reactions!

Ultimately, what opinions are and aren’t important is for you to decide. Just remember to keep it relevant!

How Do You Show Your Hero’s Opinion?

If you’re writing in first person this one is easy–you just say what the hero is thinking. But if you’re writing in third person it’s a little trickier.

When you’re writing in third person, try to remember to filter everything through the hero’s point of view. This means the words, similes etc. that you use to describe what your hero is seeing and experiencing should be ones that he would choose himself. Word choice is a more subtle expression of opinion–it lets you know how the character feels about something without actually coming right out and saying it.

You’re also going to want to share what your character’s opinion through their thoughts. Italics work and is what many writers use, but I’m not a fan of them. I think they show the author’s hand in the story and create distance between the reader and character. I prefer weaving the hero’s thoughts right into the narrative. I’ve written an in-depth post on how to do this, which you can read here.

Showing your hero’s opinion is all about looking inward and remembering to balance the external and internal. However, it’s important to keep in mind that your hero’s opinion is more than an emotional reaction–his belief itself will shape his reaction.

Best of luck with your character crafting!

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Are You Making These Point of View Mistakes?

Are You Making These Point of View Mistakes? | Two #POV mistakes you want to avoid in your #story!Point of view is important to your story, and it must be established immediately. Why? Because the reader needs to know whose “head” they’re in, whose story this is. Your hero is the reader’s access point to the story. They will experience the story along with the hero–through his or her point of view.

There are a couple mistakes I’ve seen made frequently with point of view, especially by new writers. I think these come from the writer trying to do too much and trying to show the reader everything.

But that’s the thing about POV–you can’t show the reader everything. To understand what I mean, let’s examine these two POV mistakes.

Mistake #1: Head Hopping

When you’re writing a scene, make sure you only stay in one character’s head at a time. Switching back and forth between characters is known as “head hopping” and it’s jarring to the reader.

So what does this look like? Here’s an example:

Melissa wondered why Tom had asked her to meet him in the middle of the night. She leaned against the tree at the edge of the park, watching him approach.

“Hey,” she said, “Is everything all right?”

Tom took her hands in his. How could he tell her what was happening? He didn’t want to frighten her. “I’m fine. Listen, I need you to leave town for a few days.”

“What do you mean? Why?” What was going on, Melissa wondered.

“I just need you to trust me,” he said, hoping she wouldn’t argue. “Take this.” He pressed the train ticket he had purchased that morning into her hand.

Melissa shook her head. She wasn’t going anywhere until she had answers. Tom saw the look on her face and knew she wasn’t giving up easily.

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It’s like watching a ping pong match, isn’t it? We keep switching back and forth between Melissa and Tom’s head, and not only is it disorienting, but it’s boring.

But why is it boring?

Because we’re being told everything. There’s no work left for the reader. There are no blanks for us to fill in, nothing for us to guess at or wonder. The writer has unintentionally deprived the reader of one of the joys of reading.

When we’re in one character’s head at a time, we’re constantly trying to interpret and figure out what the other character is thinking and feeling by judging their body language, dialogue, and whatever other clues the writer might provide. There’s something tantalizing about trying to figure out the puzzle of a character.

I think writers fall into this habit of head hopping because they want to let the reader know what each character in a scene is thinking/feeling. But it’s just not good having too many characters sharing the stage at once–after a while we may wonder whose story this even is.

Now, of course this doesn’t mean you can’t use more than one POV in your story. Stories with multiple POVs  are fantastic! The rule is to stay in one character’s POV per scene. If you want to change POV, then you need to switch to a new scene.

Mistake #2: Showing the Same Thing Twice

When you’re writing a story where you’re switching back and forth between multiple POVs, there’s one mistake you’re going to want to avoid: Never show the reader the same thing twice. What do I mean by this?

Let’s say you have a scene in which Sarah wins her swim meet competition. Then we switch to the next scene, which is from her boyfriend Matt’s POV…and it shows him watching her compete. We already know the outcome of the competition–we experienced it from Sarah’s POV–so we’re not going to care what happens here.

Never show the same scene from two different POVs. It’s going to kill your story’s tension and momentum. Yes, each character will see and experience it differently and this may be interesting to you, but it’s going to bore your reader. You’re just going to sound repetitive, and the reader is going to start skimming (harsh, I know). But we read because we want to know what happens next, not what has already happened.

As a writer, you have to choose from whose POV it’s best to show each scene. This isn’t easy, and I know it’s tempting to show both, but don’t. You can’t show the reader everything and you shouldn’t–you need to place trust in her that she can fill in the blanks.

Have you made either of these POV mistakes in your writing?

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How to Write Your Character’s Thoughts

Confused about how to #write your character's thoughts? Learn how to bring readers inside your character's head.At some point in your story, you’re probably going to want to let the reader know what your protagonist is thinking. Sharing your hero’s thoughts helps us get to know him better and brings us closer to him. But when you come to that moment you hesitate.

How are you supposed to convey your character’s thoughts on the page? Do you use italics? Quotation marks? End them with the speech tag ‘he thought’?

No, no, and no.

Quotation marks should be used only for words being spoken aloud. The most common method I’ve seen for setting apart thoughts is the use of italics. “He/she thought” at the end of a thought is also pretty common. These methods are alright.

But there’s a better way.

Using Writer Magic to Convey Thoughts

A truly skilled writer can convey his or her character’s thoughts in a way that draws us right into the character’s head without distracting italics or speech tags. “What is this witchcraft?” you ask. Well, let’s take a look.

Example 1:

Kali hurried though the village. She wondered if he was already waiting for her. She lifted her skirts and leapt over a puddle. She knew she should have left earlier, but her mother had kept on talking about the chickens. Sweat trickled down her neck and she wiped it away. She ran a hand through her disheveled hair and wished she had taken the time to fix it before running out the door.

Kali ran past the village outskirts and into the forest. They really needed to find a better meeting place, she thought. When she reached the oak tree and saw Liam standing there her heart fluttered. He’s the only secret I’ve ever had.

Example 2:

Kali hurried through the village. Was he already waiting for her? She lifted her skirts and leapt over a puddle. She should have left earlier, but her mother had kept on and on about the chickens. Chickens this, and eggs that. Be sure to this, don’t do it like that. Kali had been fidgety with impatience and couldn’t much remember the details. Hopefully they weren’t too important.

Sweat trickled down her neck and she wiped it away. She ran a hand through her disheveled hair. Saints! Why hadn’t she taken a moment to fix it? Perhaps he wouldn’t notice. Boys usually didn’t notice things like that…did they? Kali ran past the village outskirts and into the forest. They really needed to find a better meeting place, maybe over by–

She reached the oak and saw Liam standing there. Her heart fluttered. He was her only secret. And she planned on keeping him.

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Over exaggerated, yes, but you get the point. Notice the difference between the two examples. The second one is more engaging, and brings you into Kali’s head more than the first one with all the she wondered, thought, etc. But how? It has more of Kali’s voice–it’s almost as though she is the narrator, yet we stay in third person point of view.

In the second example I took out all of the she wondered, thought, knew, and italics. Why? Because these are all interruptions by the author. They reveal that there’s a puppet master pulling the strings. In the second example I shut up and let Kali speak. I stayed invisible. And that brings the reader closer to the character, allowing them to slip right into her mind.

The Problem with Speech Tags and Italics

Speech tags and italics form a barrier between the character and the reader. Don’t try to separate your character’s thoughts from the narrative. Instead, blend them together seamlessly by filtering everything through your character’s voice. How does  she see the world? Allow her thoughts and opinions to shape the narrative.

I think a lot of writers use speech tags and italics because they’re afraid their readers won’t know what is a thought otherwise. Don’t underestimate your readers’ intelligence! Don’t try so hard to make them “get it.” Readers are smart and can figure things out.

Now, some of you might still be clinging to the italics. “Why can’t I use italics? If the character is speaking in first person doesn’t that draw the reader into their head?” you ask.

Well, there’s certainly no rule that says you can’t use italics. But here are my reasons not to. #1: It can be jarring and somewhat disorienting switching back and forth between third and first person. #2: It still separates the reader from the character, letting us only see her thoughts when you want us to. #3: It prevents you from getting into the habit of using a blended narrative, because you will always want to show thoughts in italics. The story will then likely be told in more of your voice than the character’s.

Distance or Proximity?

Now, these aren’t necessarily bad things. It depends on the story you’re writing. You may want to write a story with an omniscient third person point of view that puts more distance between the reader and hero. It’s up to you!

I have used italics in the past, but I decided that the technique of blending the character’s thoughts into the narrative works better for the stories I tell. I want to bring my readers as close to my hero as possible. I want to tear down all the barriers.

How do you convey your character’s thoughts? Do you think you will try to cut out italics and speech tags?

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