3 Ways You’re Killing Your Story’s Tension

As a writer, your job is to torture your readers with tension. The fun of fiction is anticipation, and if your story doesn't have it your readers won't stick around. Here are 3 ways you might be killing your story's tension and losing readers.As a reader, I love to be tortured.

I love the suspense, the waiting, the anticipation as a novel unfolds. It’s my favorite part of reading a story. Sure I love it when the love interests finally get together or the murderer is finally revealed, but the really fun part is the tension: The anticipation of waiting for that moment. Because once it happens, well, that’s that. The conflict is resolved and the story is over.

Oscar Wilde put it aptly when he said:

The suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.

-Oscar Wilde

When I open a book I want the author to make the fun last for as long as possible. I want to be teased, tantalized, and tortured. I want the author to make me unable to resist turning page after page–even if it is 3am.

It’s sort of like Christmas. I was the weird kid who loved waiting for Christmas Day to finally arrive. Sure I loved opening my presents, too, but I loved the anticipation, the mystery, the suspense. Unlike my sister, I never begged to open gifts early. Why would I want to ruin the surprise? Even then I couldn’t resist tension.

Your goal as a writer is to make your novel like Christmas for your readers. Make them wait. Make it agonizing and exciting. Make them curious and eager. Then, when the moment finally arrives, give them what they’ve been waiting for.

So how can you keep the reader’s anticipation high in your novel until that big moment when the conflict is finally resolved? Here are 3 mistakes you’ll need avoid to handle your tension like a pro.

As a writer, your job is to torture your readers with tension. The fun of fiction is anticipation, and if your story doesn't have it your readers won't stick around. Here are 3 ways you might be killing your story's tension and losing readers.

1.You Make Things Too Easy

If your hero isn’t facing any challenges as he works towards his goal, or is overcoming them while hardly batting an eye, things are going to get boring really quick. Your hero needs to struggle. The struggle is what keeps your readers interested. Lack of struggle means lack of conflict, and conflict is what story is all about.

When there’s conflict there will be a winner and loser in the outcome. This leaves your reader to wonder nervously whether the hero will succeed or fail. And although it might go against your instincts to do so, you must let your hero lose sometimes. If your hero wins every battle, the reader will have no doubt he’ll defeat the villain in the end without a problem. And that will destroy your tension.

Sometimes your hero will make the wrong decision. He won’t be fast enough, or strong enough. He will be outwitted by the villain. He won’t be able to save everyone. And that’s okay! It will deepen your hero’s struggle, and make for better fiction. Let your hero lose.

2. Your Characters Are Too Nice

If all of your main characters get along perfectly well throughout the whole story, your novel is going to be a real drag for the reader. Fiction is always more fun when characters are at odds with one another. When they fight, disagree, or mistrust one another it creates conflict, and therefore tension. Readers can’t resist these sorts of dynamics.

As a writer, your job is to torture your readers with tension. The fun of fiction is anticipation, and if your story doesn't have it your readers won't stick around. Here are 3 ways you might be killing your story's tension and losing readers.Think about Sherlock Holmes and John Watson in the BBC series Sherlock. Sure they’re best friends, but Sherlock drives John nuts and they often fight. How boring would the show become if they were perfectly civil and agreeable towards each other in every episode? Yawn.

Or, what about the dynamics of the characters Cassandra Clare throws together in City of Bones?

You have Simon who secretly loves Clary, but Clary doesn’t return his feelings. You have Jace who’s interested in Clary and jealous of Simon. Both Simon and Jace hate each other. Alec doesn’t like Clary or Simon and is irritated with Jace for breaking the rules. Isabell and Simon flirt with each other but Clary resents Isabell for toying with her best friend.

Conflict and tension abounds!

If your characters are all sitting around a campfire holding hands and singing kum ba ya, it will suck all the tension from your story.

3. You Resolve Your Conflicts Too Early

Once, a writer asked if I could give them advice on their story’s middle. Readers had complained that the middle was too slow and boring. The writer couldn’t understand why or how to fix it. After reading the story the issue quickly became clear: the writer had resolved the conflicts too early.

With the conflicts resolved, there was no tension–no anticipation of what was to come. So there was nothing to carry readers through the story’s middle, and that was why they had lost interest. Eventually another conflict was introduced, but you don’t want to risk losing readers even for a moment.

Make sure you draw out your conflicts for as long as possible–if you can, don’t resolve them until the end of the story. And if your story demands that one conflict be resolved, make sure you introduce another either just before or directly after its resolution.

At every point in your story, make sure there is a question on the reader’s mind so that they must keep reading to find the answer. Will the hero slay the dragon? Will the girl find her brother? Will the cop catch the criminal?

Keep readers wondering and you’ll keep them reading.


page turner project side barNeed more help on creating tension? I’ve written an entire e-book on the topic called “The Page-Turner Project”! Click to check it out!

What ruins a story’s tension for you as a reader? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

 

 

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Writing 101: Unraveling Conflict, Tension, and Your Plot

Part 4 in the Writing 101 series for beginning writers! Confused about conflict, tension, and plot? Learn what they are, how they relate, and how you can use them to create a page-turning story.Creating a story is a challenge. Creating one that readers actually complete from beginning to end? That’s even more challenging.

As a beginning writer, it took me years to understand how plot worked, but today I’m going to help you start off on the right foot! We’re going to untangle your plot, conflict, and tension and examine how they all relate. And most importantly, how you can use them to design a page-turning story.

Behind on the Writing 101 series? Click to catch up! Part 1 (The Fundamentals of Story), Part 2 (Writing Term Glossary), and Part 3 (Creating a Successful Hero & Villain).

What is Conflict?

Conflict: a clash between two opposing sides.

Conflict is the foundation of any novel. Without it, you have no story. So how do you create conflict? First, you must give your hero a goal. Only when you know what he is trying to achieve can you put obstacles in his path to keep him from getting what he wants. This clash of the hero’s desire and the forces standing against him are your conflict.

For example, look at the fairy tale Cinderella. What does Cinderella want? To attend the ball. What forces oppose her? Her stepmother. Their opposing goals create the conflict of the story, and the reader will have to keep reading to see who wins in the end.

But, here’s the thing–a hero with a goal isn’t enough to carry your story, no matter how amazing it is. In order for the reader to stick through your entire novel, they must care about your hero. Otherwise, the hero’s goal won’t matter. The reader won’t care if they win or fail.

But with Cinderella, we sympathize with her for several reasons–her father’s death, her stepmother and stepsister’s cruelty, and her days of endless chores. Some readers might even be able to relate to her in some ways. And despite all the abuse, she remains strong and kind and dreams of a better life. We want to see her achieve her goal of attending the ball.

So spend the time developing your hero into a life-like human being we can care about and cheer for!

What is Plot?

When I first started writing, my definition of plot was very vague. I thought a plot was just all the exciting stuff that happened in a story. You know, car chases, kidnappings, murders, sword fights, and all that jazz.

But since then I’ve learned that you can’t string together a bunch of random events together and call it a story, no matter how epic they may be. Your story will lack direction and focus, and it won’t be much of a story at all.

Let me paint you a picture. Your plot is like a ship sailing on the churning, choppy waves of conflict. It could go anywhere; it could easily become lost, or even crash upon the rocks of the shore. Your hero’s goal is the guiding light, the lighthouse that ensures the ships stays on course and reaches its destination safely.

In other words, your plot is the vehicle through which the conflict plays out, and your hero’s goal gives meaning to the conflict and guides the plot.

Plot: the account of the actions the hero takes to achieve his goal, and the obstacles he must overcome along the way.

Remember back in Part I when we defined story?:

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).

Your plot is you hero’s journey. The steps he takes to attain what he wants, the obstacles he meets along the way, and how he fights to overcome them. A ship navigating a treacherous sea, trying to reach its destination.

Together, your hero’s goal and your story’s conflict create tension.

What is Tension?

Tension: the anticipation of what will happen next in a story. Driven by concern and/or curiosity in the reader.

While conflict is the foundation of story, tension is what keeps readers turning pages. Your hero’s goal + your story’s conflict create a question that must be answered throughout the course of the novel. Broadly speaking, that question is: Will the hero achieve his goal? This question creates your novel’s tension, forcing readers to turn pages to find the answer, to discover what will happen to a character they care about.

But that’s very vague, so let’s look at a specific example. In Cinderella, her goal is to attend the royal ball, but her wicked stepmother is the conflict opposing her. This creates the question: Will Cinderella attend the ball?

But good stories create more than one question, aka source of tension. Your goal is to look for ways to get your hero into trouble–to keep him from reaching his goal–and make the trouble increasingly worse as the story goes along.

Cinderella faces several obstacles. First, her stepmother destroys her gown and bans her from attending the ball. The situation seems pretty hopeless, causing readers to wonder if the stepmother has won. How can Cinderella possibly attend the ball now?

Then the fairy godmother shows up, and creates a gown and carriage for Cinderella. That could be the end of the story, but there’s a catch–Cinderella must return home before midnight or the magic will wear off. Now we have a new source of tension: Will Cinderella make it home in time? Will her stepmother or stepsisters will recognize her at the ball?

When Cinderella finally arrives at the ball, she dances with prince. But then the clock begins to strike midnight and she has to make a run for it, leaving her glass slipper behind. Again, a new source of tension is introduced as the prince decides to find the slipper’s owner: Will the prince find Cinderella? Will her stepmother manage to trick him into thinking the slipper belongs to one of Cinderella’s stepsisters? Will Cinderella marry the prince and live happily ever after?

The reader continues to turn the pages out of both worry for Cinderella, a character they love and who they want to win, and curiosity over what will happen next. To create tension throughout your story you must continually create questions. As soon as one question is answered, create another. This will carry your readers through your story and create a page-turner of a novel!

 What’s your biggest struggle with plot or tension? Let me know in the comments below!

P.S. Ready for Part 5? Click here to learn the basics of dialogue!

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Writing 101: The Fundamentals of Story

Before we can write a story, we must first understand how story works. And before we can understand that, we must understand why we read. Learn the fundamentals of story in the first part in a new series for beginning writers! Welcome to the first post in my new series for beginning writers, Writing 101! In this series we’ll cover all the basics you need to know to get started with your first story, such as character, plot, and setting. Today, we’re kicking things off by looking at story itself. So without further ado, let’s hop to it!

Why do We Read?

Before we can write a story, we must first understand how story works. And before we can understand that, we must understand why we read. You might think the answer is obvious. We read for fun, for entertainment, to lose ourselves in a good book. While that may all be true, there’s more behind why we’re so drawn to stories. Actually, there’s even scientific proof to back it up. In her book Wired for Story, Lisa Cron explains, “Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story.”

Think about that. The desire for story is written in our DNA. Even people who don’t like to read can’t resist a good story. There’s a reason why speakers and businessmen use stories in their speeches and product pitches–human beings respond better to story. It’s how we’re designed.

For example, I can tell you that human trafficking is a $32 billion dollar a year industry, that there are 30 million people trapped in modern-day slavery right now, and 80% of them are women and children. These facts might shock you, but the shock will fade and you’ll soon forget.

But what if I told you the story Mealea, a 13-year-old Cambodian girl whose mother sold her to a brothel to pay her family’s debts so they could survive? What if I told you about her fear and pain, how her captors made her feel worthless and beat her when she tried to escape? What if I told you how she still dreams of going to school, but the pimps cheat her out of her earnings so she can never be free?

Her story would stick with you while those statistics slipped away. We connect with people in a way we can’t connect with facts and figures. Even now, you’re probably wondering in the back of your mind what happens to Mealea, and if she manages to escape. To share a story is to share an experience. Through story, we’re able to connect emotionally with another person, whether they’re real or fictional.

But there’s another reason why we’re hardwired for story. It’s through story that we learn about the world around us, how we should act, and how to survive. We learn what to do and what not to do from the experiences of others–whether real or fictional. Since the beginning of time cultures have passed down tales designed to teach future generations important lessons. Think of Grimm’s fairy tales, Aesop’s fables, or Jesus’ parables.

Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker explained, “Fictional narratives supply us with a mental catalog of the fatal conundrums we might face someday and the outcomes of strategies we could deploy in them. What are the options if I were to suspect that my uncle killed my father, took his position, and married my mother?”

There’s a reason why survival stories are so popular–think Robinson Crusoe, The Lovely Bones, The Hunger Games, and The Walking Dead. We like to put ourselves in the character’s place and ask if we would be able to survive in their situation. What would we do in a zombie apocalypse? What would we do if we were kidnapped? What would we do if we were stranded on a deserted island? How would we survive? These stories answer that question, and often without us realizing it our brain is taking note on how to survive these situations.

But survival doesn’t have to be physical. Story also teaches us how to survive socially–how to get the guy, deal with manipulative co-workers, get through our first day of school, make up with an angry friend, etc. Think of Pride and Prejudice, or Jane Eyre. We learn so well through story because we’re designed to think in story. We remember stories, while we tend to forget facts, statistics, or sermons. Our brains soak up stories like a sponge.

So to sum things up, there are 3 main reasons why we crave story:

  1. To connect emotionally to another person and share their experience (whether they’re real or fictional).
  2. To learn about the world around us from the experiences of others to learn how to survive (whether physically or socially).
  3. For entertainment and escape.

What is a Story?

Writing a story is a completely different experience from reading a story. That’s because we’re so used to the masterful, seemingly effortless skill with which authors weave words that we don’t realize how they do it. We’re too busy becoming emotionally engrossed with the hero, sharing her experiences and emotions, to take notice.

In Wired for Story, Lisa Cron points out, “It’s no surprise that we tend to be utterly oblivious to the fact that beneath every captivating story, there is an intricate mesh of interconnected elements holding it together, allowing it to build with seemingly effortless precision.”

Most new writers don’t realize that there is a structure to stories. Heck, just the word “structure” seems to send most writers scurrying (it’s really not that scary, I promise!). But in order to become a good writer, you must be able to dismantle a story like you might a clock. You must learn all of its parts, what they do, and how they work together to make the clock tick.

So, what makes a story a story?

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).

It doesn’t matter how many explosions, sword fights, or rabid vampires you have. Without this structure, you have nothing more than a pile of random events that won’t work as a complete story, no matter how exciting they may be.

So, remember:

Hero + Goal + Plot + Change = Story

Why do you read? What do you think makes a good story? Let me know in the comments below!

Ready for Part 2 in the series? Click here!

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Why You Need to Rethink Your Definition of Plot

A plot isn't just a bunch of exciting events strung together. Learn the 3 elements that create a focused story.I don’t know about you, but my definition of plot has changed since I first started writing.

When I was a new writer making my first foray into the world of novels, my idea of plot was very vague. I thought a plot was just all the stuff that happened in a story. String together a bunch a exciting scenes and BAM, plot. But in reality, it’s a little more complex than that.

You see, you can’t just mash a bunch of random events together and call it a story, no matter how epic they may be. Your story will lack direction and focus, and it won’t be much of a story at all. You need some sort of order, some sort of structure.

“But what if I’m a pantser,” you argue. “We don’t like structure!”

I know the word “structure” is enough to make most writers run away screaming with arms flailing. But it doesn’t matter whether you’re a plotter who plans the story in advance or a panster who writes it on the fly. Once you have a finished product, you will have to structure it in some way so that it creates meaning for the reader.

Allow me to elaborate. Let’s say you have a story about a kick-ass rebel heroine traveling around the universe hunting aliens and blowing them to bits with her laser gun. There’s lots of fights, chases, alien guts, and heck, let’s throw a cute love interest in there too. It’s exciting, adrenaline pumping, and…completely flat.

Sure there’s a bunch of stuff happening, but there’s no plot. There’s no meaning to unify the events that occur. Why is she running around space killing aliens? What is she trying to accomplish? If there’s no point, there’s no plot.

I love how Lisa Cron defines plot in her book Wired for Story as, “the events that relentlessly force the protagonist to deal with her [internal] issue as she pursues her goal.

Read that again. Let it sink it.

Right there, we have the 4 elements crucial for structuring a plot:

  1. The heroine’s goal (what she wants)
  2. The heroine’s issue (the internal conflict that’s keeping her from her goal)
  3. Obstacles in the heroine’s path (the external conflict that’s keeping her from her goal)
  4. The results of dealing with her internal issue (change)

Let’s go back to our alien assassin. Let’s say her parents were murdered by aliens, so she joins a special task force that hunts down rogue aliens throughout the galaxy in the hopes of finding and killing the ones who murdered her family (goal). Because of her bad experience, she’s become prejudiced toward non-human species (internal issue) even though the task force is a mix of humans and aliens.

When she’s assigned a case that might be her parent’s killers she’s eager to go…until she learns her partner (and love interest) is a non-human. They’ll have to learn to work together to hunt down the aliens (external obstacles) and get justice for her parents. Along the way, she’ll have to learn how to overcome her prejudice (change).

Now we have a plot. Our heroine will set off on a mission to seek justice for her parents’ killers, but must overcome her prejudice against aliens in order to accept her partner’s help. All of the exciting things that happen along the way–chases, shoot-outs, skirmishes–should be obstacles that make it harder for her to get what she wants, or force her to confront that internal issue. And, bonus, her internal issue will serve as even more conflict when she begins to fall for her partner.

So, what am I trying to get at here?

I want you to realize that nothing in your story should be random, or just there for the sake of action or excitement. Every scene in your story should work to create meaning, to serve a purpose. When we view our stories through the lens of these 4 elements (goal, internal issue, obstacles, and change), we can narrow our focus and create a story that resonates and stays with readers because it has a point.

This is because story isn’t simply about exciting stuff that happens to someone. A story is about someone who wants something, sets out to obtain it, is faced with obstacles, and changes along the way. Do you know what the point of your story is?

How do you look at plot? Let me know below!

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How to Write a Fairy Tale Retelling

How to Write a Fairy Tale Retelling | Learn how to create a fresh, compelling retelling of a classic fairy tale!I don’t know about you, but I love a good fairy tale retelling. I’m actually writing one right now, and have plot bunnies for several more hopping around my head. There’s just something so fun about taking an old tale and turning it into something new! (Seriously, you’ll get addicted).

If you’ve always wanted to try writing a fairy tale retelling, now is a great time to give it a shot! Retellings are currently popular in the market, both in the publishing and film industry. But how do you pull one off? Here’s my advice for creating a fresh, compelling retelling!

Do Your Research

In order to retell a story, you need to know the original. (And I’m not talking about the Disney versions). Read up on the original fairy tale and any variations it might have. You might be surprised to find the originals are a lot darker than their Disney counterparts!

Next, research existing retellings (both films and books) and take notes. Make sure you know what’s been done already so you don’t accidentally write something that’s too similar. Agents and editors want a fresh story! Also read reviews of these books and films and take notes on the reader’s opinions. What did they like and not like about the retelling? Don’t repeat mistakes other writers might have made.

Don’t Give Readers the Same Story

One of the most important things you’re going to need to decide is how similar (or different) you want your story to be from the original. The key to a successful retelling is to avoid giving readers the same story. We know that story. We can read it anywhere. A retelling that’s too similar can lead to boredom in the reader. We want something that’s new and exciting, but still feels familiar.

You don’t want to follow the original plot to a T. Your story will be predictable, and that will lead to bored readers and pages that don’t get turned because they already know what happens. You’ll need to brainstorm ways to make your plot different! You can include main plot points from the original story, or go in a completely different direction altogether and create your own plot.

Let’s look at some examples of retold fairy tale films that illustrate the different degrees of a retelling.

Original Story: Disney’s Cinderella (2015)

This one isn’t really a retelling–rather, it’s a remake. While I enjoyed this film, I couldn’t help but be somewhat bored. It follows the animated version almost exactly and didn’t introduce anything new.  While it was visually pleasing and Prince Charming was cute, I could have just watched the animated version. This is what you want to avoid–don’t remake a fairy tale, retell it!

Slight Modifications: Snow White and the Huntsman

This retelling was more interesting. Snow White is represented as a warrior trying to reclaim her throne rather than a frightened, fainting damsel who is happy to spend her days singing and cleaning. The Huntsman also takes a larger role, and the romance is with him instead of the Prince. Besides these major changes, the film remains very faithful to the original while taking a darker tone.

A Fresh Look: Maleficent

Of the films listed here, this is by far my favorite. The tale of Sleeping Beauty is retold from the villain Maleficent’s perspective, and reveals why she came to put a curse on an innocent baby. This retelling offers a fresh look at a familiar story, yet still follows the original fairly close.

Completely Revamped: Beastly

This retelling of Beauty and the Beast is drastically different from the original. It’s set in modern day and barely follows the original story line. (This isn’t a bad thing! Marissa Meyer does this with the Lunar Chronicles, creating a new plot that keeps things exciting). Instead, it takes the theme of inner beauty being more important than outer beauty and creates a new plot.

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You will need to find a balance between drawing inspiration from the original tale and your own ideas. This can be tricky. Pay attention to your favorite parts and elements of the original, as well as those that are the most memorable and iconic. For example, Cinderella’s glass slipper, Red Riding Hood’s red cloak, Snow White’s poisoned apple.

This doesn’t mean that you have to include all of these things. And if doing so feels forced or contrived in your plot, then don’t! But pay attention to what gives the fairy tale its distinct feel, and what is endearing and memorable about it.

Also, look at how you might incorporate these elements in a new way. For example, in Cinder by Marissa Meyer (a sci-fi retelling of Cinderella), Cinder is a cyborg with a metal foot. Instead of losing a glass slipper on the palace steps, she loses her metal foot. That was a very clever way to stay true to an original plot element, yet make it new and interesting.

Make It Fresh

So how do you retell a fairy tale in a way that’s new and interesting without rehashing the original? Here are some ideas for you!

#1 Switch the Roles of the Hero and Villain

The t.v. series Once Upon a Time does this with Hook and Peter Pan, making Peter a villain and Hook tortured and brooding, eventually joining the side of the good guys.

You have to be careful with this one, though! Those who have a deep love for a character will hate seeing him become a villain. I’ll confess that at first I found the OUAT switch weird, and I was kind of sad that Peter was evil. But it ended up being really interesting and working well in the story!

#2 Use a New POV

Try telling the story from the perspective of a villain, like in Maleficent. Or, use the POV of a different character. For example, what if you were to retell Snow White from the POV of the Huntsman? A third option could be to use a dual or multi POV, switching back and forth between multiple characters. For example, you could go back and forth between Sleeping Beauty and Prince Philip.

#3 Change the Time Period

Your story doesn’t have to take place in the same time period as the original. You could make it modern like Beastly, or even futuristic like Cinder.

#4 Change the Setting

You don’t have to stick to the original setting, either. What if you took the traditional European fairy tales and put them in a setting like Africa, Asia, South America, or the Middle East?

#5 Use a Different Genre

You can use genre to put a different spin on a fairy tale. What if you made Snow White into a modern thriller? Or Sleeping Beauty Steampunk? A great example of this is Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, which puts a sci-fi spin on classic fairy tales.

#6 Do a Crossover

Both Once Upon a Time and the Lunar Chronicles cross over multiple fairy tale characters and story lines. This can make for an interesting story by exploring how these story lines connect, and how these characters interact with one another.

#7 Make it Dark

You can’t go wrong with going dark! There’s something strangely irresistible about a dark version of the light-hearted happily ever after we’re used to. And after all, the original tales were usually pretty dark themselves!

What are your thoughts on retelling fairy tales? What retellings have and haven’t worked for you?

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What is Theme?: Deconstructing an Elusive Concept

What is Theme? | Are you struggling to understand what #theme is and how it works in your #story? I'm breaking down this confusing concept. You know what used to drive me insane? Theme. I hated it because I could never quite understand it. I would stress over it and research it obsessively but I could never get it to click for me. I’d think I had it, but then, nope. Theme was such an elusive concept.

That was until a week or so ago, when I finally had a breakthrough. (Cue metaphorical light bulb).

I realized I needed to change the way I was defining theme. Everyone kept saying that theme was “what the story is about.” Well what does that even mean? Isn’t the plot what the story’s about? It was just too easy to get confused, and it wasn’t working for me and my way of thinking. I needed something more specific.

After mulling over it, I finally had my aha moment. Here’s my new definition:

  • Theme: a thesis that the story sets out to prove.

Some of you probably winced at the word “thesis.” “How is this more helpful?” you ask. “Theses are confusing!” I used to think so too (God knows I struggled with them in college), but they’re actually pretty simple. Observe:

  • Thesis: a theory that is presented as a premise to be proved.

Any light bulbs going off yet? No? All right, well keep these things in mind as we explore theme more in-depth. Now into the fray!

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What a Theme is (And isn’t)

So, what is theme exactly? It’s a hard concept to grasp because it’s very subtle. So subtle that it’s invisible in your story. Your theme is what your story is saying about humanity–human nature, human behavior, what it means to be human. All that good stuff. It’s basically the “point” you’re trying to make. Some might call this the “lesson” or “moral.”

Now, you’ll often hear people say that the theme of X story was love, loyalty, betrayal, or something of the like. The problem is, these are not themes. I think that this misunderstanding is where a lot of the confusion lies. I know this is in part where I kept getting confused. A noun is not a theme. A theme is what you have to say about love or loyalty or betrayal. It’s very specific.

I love how screenwriter Brian McDonald puts it in his book Invisible Ink:

“Competition” is not a theme. A theme might be, “Competition is sometimes a necessary evil.” Or, “Competition leads to self-destruction.” Saying that your theme is competition is like saying your theme is “red.” It really says nothing at all.

Cue the light bulbs.

How Theme Works

Since the beginning of time, stories have been used to teach lessons. Think of Aesop’s fables, Grimm’s fairy tales, or Jesus’ parables in the Bible. Though we don’t realize it, when we read a story, we are unconsciously looking for guidance, advice, or a revelation about life. That’s why stories with themes resonate so strongly with readers. We get something deeper out of it than entertainment.

Your story’s theme is what you’re trying to “teach” people. But first off, you have to figure out what it is you’re trying to say in your story. What do you want to make readers think about? How do you want to change your reader’s perspective of the world? What do you have to say about humanity?

“But what if I don’t have anything to say?”

Nonsense! Everyone has something to say. Especially writers. You have something to say, you just haven’t found it yet.

Now, remember how I said I like to think of theme as your story’s thesis? This is where that comes into play. First you develop your thesis (your theory about humanity). For example, true love never fades. Now your goal is to set out to prove this to your readers through your story. I love this way of thinking so much more because not only does it explain what a theme is, but it shows you what to do with it. A thesis must be proven.

So how do you get your point across to your readers without sounding preachy? You show instead of tell. No one wants to be preached at. But everyone loves a good story. Show us your theme through the events of your story, and the actions and decisions of your characters. Everything in your story should support your theme, just as you would use evidence to support a thesis.

It’s the story’s job to show us the theme, not the theme’s job to tell us the story.” -Lisa Cron

This is why theme is so tricky. We’re implying our point rather than stating it outright. But this is so important to do! You want theme to be subtle, not in-your-face and clunky. Don’t worry that readers might not “get it.” Some readers might not see it. Others might see something different. And you know what? That’s okay! Art will be interpreted in different ways by different people, and that’s part of the beauty of it.

Don’t frustrate yourself too much over theme. It’s not easy, especially when you’re a new writer! Heck, I’ve been writing for years and it’s still something I struggle with. I know it’s a weak area for me, one I need to work on and improve. But the more you practice, the better you’ll get at it!

What are your thoughts on theme? Have you struggled with it in your stories?

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What Writers Need to Know About Archery

What Writers Need to Know About #Archery | Have an archer in your #story? Here's what you need to know to make sure your scenes are realistic! Plus links to additional sources for your research! Archery is really popular right now. Pop culture is full of archers–Merida, Legolas, Haweye, the Green Arrow, and Katniss Everdeen. If you’re a fantasy writer, odds are you probably have an archer in your story.

If you’ve never shot a bow or don’t know much about archery, this is the guide for you! Details are the key to making your story vivid, so it’s important to get them right. That’s why you need to learn all you can about archery to avoid making embarrassing mistakes readers might catch.

I’ve been practicing archery for several years now and have also done quite a bit of research for my current novel-in-progress, so I thought I would share some of my knowledge with my fellow writers 😉

(Also, if you have archery in your story I’m betting there’s a good chance you probably have horses too. You can check out my writer’s guide to horses here).

Ready for an archery lesson? Let’s begin!

Archery Terms

Anchor point–a point on the face where the archer draws the bow fully back and pauses to aim. Common anchor points are the mouth, nose, or chin (I use the corner of my eye, it doesn’t really matter what you use as long as you’re consistent).

Arrow rest–a device that holds the arrow against the bow until it is released. On modern bows only, traditional archers used their fingers as arrow rests (see above photo).

Limb–the upper and lower ends of a bow

Nock— 1) The act of placing an arrow on the bow. 2) The notch at the end of an arrow where it attaches to the bowstring. 3) The notches on the ends of the bow’s limbs where the bowstring is attached (on traditional bows only).

Draw weight–the amount of pounds of force needed to pull back a bow string to full draw.

Fletching–the feathers at the end of an arrow that stabilize it in flight.

Shaft–the main body of the arrow, the wooden part

Loose–releasing an arrow from the bow.

Quiver–a container that holds the arrows, made of leather and worn on the back or at the hip.

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What Writers Need to Know About Archery

tomsawyer(Why yes, this is me shooting my bow while wearing a dress. Because I’m a badass like that).

1. You can only hold a draw for so long with a traditional bow. I think people forget about this because many archers nowadays use modern compound bows (like the one I’m using above). These types of bows use a gear and pulley system, and are designed to hold the weight for you when you’re at full draw. That means you can hold your draw for ages without tiring.

However, with traditional bows you’re holding that weight all on your own. If you have an English longbow with a 120lb draw weight, that means you are pulling back 120lbs and holding it there.

It’s not going to take long for your arm to start to tire and shake! Shaking is not good for aiming, so archers won’t draw their bow until they’re ready to shoot and won’t take long to aim. So don’t have your character start a lengthy dialogue with her bow drawn!

2. Archery takes practice and strength. Consider your character. What is your character’s age, size and strength? What sort of bow are they using? How long have they been practicing archery? These are all important questions to answer.

A small character with little archery experience won’t be able to shoot a 120lb war bow. But they might be able to handle a recurve or smaller hunting bow with a lighter draw weight. It takes many years to get good at archery, so if your character is a skilled archer make sure he didn’t just pick up a bow yesterday!

3. Don’t have your characters “fire” their bow. In medieval times, the word “loose” or “release” was used when commanding archers. The term “fire” is more modern and relates more to guns and cannons.

So the commands for archers in battle would go: Nock, draw, loose! Also, going back to #1, make sure your generals aren’t having their archers holding their draw for extended periods of time!

4. Shooting a bow is tiring. Especially if you’re firing one arrow after another after another. Of course, if your character is a practiced archer he will have good strength and stamina. But if he is pushed beyond what he is used to, say in a battle, for example, he will grow tired and/or sore. Especially if he has a bow with a heavy draw weight.

Also, pulling back a bowstring with a heavy draw weight continuously will begin to hurt your fingers. Your character may build up callouses over time, but most archers wear a glove to protect their hand if they’re going to be shooting for long periods of time. My bow is only 20lbs, but when I’m out practicing for a long time I’ll wear a glove because I know the string will begin to hurt my fingers.

5. Bows do not creak. When you draw a bow back, it is silent. The creaking you hear in movies is a sound effect invented by Hollywood. So don’t describe it in your story!

6. Arrows do not whistle. This is another sound effect invented by Hollywood, so steer clear of it in your descriptions! To hear the difference between what it sounds like when a bow is shot in a movie vs. real life, watch this scene from the Hunger Games (listen very carefully for the creak when she draws, it’s muted by the arrow scraping against the metal bow) and then watch this video of an English longbow demonstration. Then, watch this video and pay attention to the sounds you DO hear.

7. Arm guards are important. An arm guard (also called a bracer) is a protective piece of leather worn on the forearm of the hand that is holding the bow. Why? Because when you shoot an arrow, the string can slap your arm.

And it hurts. The higher pound draw weight you have, the worse it will hurt, and it can leave a welt or bruise. Bows used for war or hunting have a higher draw weight in order to be effective in killing, so a character using this type of bow would likely wear an arm guard.

You’ll notice above that I am not wearing an arm guard. That is because I was taught to shoot without one by bending my bow arm very slightly at the elbow. Also, my draw weight is only 20lbs. A couple times in the beginning I forgot to bend my elbow and got slapped and it did hurt, but it wasn’t too bad. Now, if I was using a higher poundage bow I would definitely wear an arm guard! Getting slapped by a string at 120lb would NOT be fun!

8. Traditional bows are unstrung when not in use. Again, I think modern archery has made writers/moviemakers forget that back in the day bows were only strung before they were about to be used. Today’s compound bows remain strung even after use, there’s no fiddling with taking the string on and off. Also, medieval archers always carried an extra bowstring on them in case theirs snapped (which can happen!).

9. You can only keep so many arrows in a quiver. It’s really important to keep in mind how many arrows your character has in her quiver as you’re writing fight scenes. Unless her quiver is magic with a limitless supply of arrows, she’s eventually going to run out. About 25 arrows for a large quiver is a good number, 12 for a smaller quiver.

So what happens when your character runs out of arrows? Well, she’ll have to recollect the ones she fired, grab enemy arrows that might be around her, or resort to another weapon. She should at the very least have a dagger on her in case she is caught in a fight without arrows!

Also consider where she gets her arrows from after she runs out. Was she able to collect her own or other arrows after the fight? Does she make more herself? Does she buy them?

10. Bow types and shooting techniques vary among cultures. You will need to consider your character’s culture when you decide to give them a bow. A Mongolian horse bow is very different from an English longbow. Make sure you know the specific type of bow they’re using.

Also, the archer’s draw varies among cultures. In Western cultures, the Mediterranean draw is the most common, with one finger over the arrow and two fingers under. In Eastern cultures, pinched draws and Mongolian draws are common. (To see what these draws look like, click here).

Eastern archers also use thumb rings to protect their fingers while shooting, as a Western archer would use a glove. Additionally, Western archers place their arrows on the left side of the bow, while Eastern archers place their arrows on the right side.

Now, at first glance you may have assumed that the bow in the picture at the very top of this post is an English longbow. Though it is long, it is actually a Japanese yumi hankyū (half bow). The yumi daikyū (great bow) is the longer version and is 7-9 ft. long vs. the 5-6 ft. of the half bow.

So how could I tell it was a Japanese yumi, since it looks really similar to an English long bow? Well, first the ends of the bows limbs are slightly curved. English longbows have no curve at the ends of the limbs. But the main way I could tell was by the way the archer is shooting.

Notice how the arrow is on the right side of the bow, and she is using a pinched draw–Eastern style. If you look at the picture of me shooting, you will see that the arrow is on the left and I am using a Mediterranean draw–Western style.

So, be sure you pay attention to the culture and the type of bow your character is using!

11. Is your character right or left handed? A right-handed person will shoot a right-handed bow. This means that they draw back the arrow with their right hand and use their left to hold the bow. BUT if your character is left-handed, he will draw shoot a left-handed bow, drawing it back with his left hand. Also, right-handed archers place their arrows on the left side of the bow, while left-handed archers place the arrow on the right. So if you are describing a scene be careful with your rights and lefts!

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Getting into Archery

Not only is archery fun, but it’s a great stress reliever! (And I’m not gonna lie, it makes you feel pretty epic). I love it because it’s a combination of physical and mental effort.

Archery is easy to learn (though it takes practice to get good!) and relatively inexpensive. You don’t really need lessons–you learn by practicing, and once you have someone teach you the correct way to shoot you can practice on your own. So all you’ll have to pay for is the equipment.

I bought my bow from a local archery store, where they taught me how to shoot correctly. I would search for archery shops in your area, and when you buy one ask them if they can show you how to shoot it.

If you don’t have any archery stores near you, I would buy a bow off Amazon. Then search for archery clubs in your area, and take a class or two until you know how to shoot correctly. After that you should be good to practice on your own. If you don’t have any archery clubs in your area, search for videos online that teach you proper form. It’s really pretty simple!

I would highly recommend the Gensis bow, which I am using in the photo above. It’s a great beginner’s bow to get your feet wet and start learning archery (and it comes in a bunch of different colors). I’ve had a great experience with mine!

I know traditional bows look really cool, but with a compound you don’t have to mess with learning how to string/unstring it. Traditional bows also come at a higher draw weight (I believe the lowest is 35lb), and since the Genesis has a draw weight of 20lb it’s good for beginners.

Once you build up your confidence (and strength!) you can move up to a traditional bow. I’m hoping to get a traditional bow this year–I think I’m ready to tackle learning how string it, which intimidated me as a beginner.

Helpful Videos on Medieval Archery

And now, for your researching pleasure, a plethora of extra sources just for you 😉

(Also, the guy in the videos below also covers all sort of medieval weaponry, including swords. Check out his channel, he has tons of great info! Plus, he’s British.)

1. What Hollywood gets wrong about bows

2. A point about how bows work

3. Medieval war arrows vs. hunting arrows

4. All about longbows

 

Additional Links for Your Research

Yes, a couple of these sources link to Wikipedia. Don’t judge–it can be a helpful starting point for research. Look through the sources at the bottom of the article for books or websites to check out.

Want more research help? Don’t forget to check out my writer’s guide for horses here.

Do you have archers in your story? Do you practice archery or want to start learning? If you have any questions about archery (for your story or for you) or about buying a bow comment below or give me a shout on social media, I’d be happy to help!

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How Much Time has Passed in Your Story?: How and Why to Keep Track

How Much Time Has Passed in Your Story? | It's important to keep track of your story's timeline to avoid embarrassing mistakes or inconsistencies. Here are some FREE organizers to help you stay on top of things!There’s a lot to keep track of when writing a story…characters, settings, description, pacing, tension, dialogue, and more. It can kinda make your head spin sometimes. (And is probably why writers are a little crazy).

But there’s another really important aspect you should be keeping track of in your novel: the passage of time.

Do you know how much time has passed in your novel? It can be tricky to grasp unless you’ve been keeping track. I know I have no idea how much time has passed in my current WIP. A few days? A week? A few weeks? (Something that will be addressed in the editing stages).

When you’re writing a story, especially one that’s novel-size, you lose your sense of time. It can take anywhere from months to years to finish your novel. To you, it may feel like a lot of time has passed in your story because you’ve spent a lot of time writing it. But that may not be the case!

“But why does it matter?” you ask. “Why should I do the extra work?”

Well. You can run into all sorts of fun little problems if you’re not paying attention. And if your readers find these issues after your book is published? Yeah, that might be a little embarrassing. (And don’t rely on editors to catch these things for you either!)

So what kinds of issues are we talking here?

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Timeline Troubles

Well, the first one is continuity (consistency over a period of time). Let’s say you have a bunch of characters and you’re telling the story in multiple POV, switching back and forth between them all (like Game of Thrones). It can be really easy to get the timelines of your characters tangled up if you’re not careful!

For example, let’s say you have two characters, Sam and Mary, who are supposed to meet at location X in 3 days on Wednesday (it is currently Sunday). You show Sam’s POV, and 2 days pass. On the third day, he goes to meet Mary. Then you show Mary’s POV and 3 days pass, and the next day she goes to meet Sam.

See the problem? Mary’s going to be late for that meeting–an extra day was accidentally added to her timeline! This is just one way your timelines can get messed up when dealing with multi-POV, and an example that actually happened in one of my first stories.

Bah. Headaches!

Another inconsistency that can happen is travel time. You need to know how long it takes to get to every setting that will be used in your story–from point A to point B, point C to point A, etc. etc. For fantasy or historical fiction writers you have the added fun of figuring out how long it takes to travel by foot versus by horse.

If you don’t figure out travel times you may have one character get from A to B in a week and another get from A to B by the same method of transportation in a few days. Thought, planning, and research must be done or you may develop unrealistic travel times as well as inconsistent ones. Which brings me to my next point…

A sloppy timeline in your story can lead to mistakes that kill its believability. Let’s say your story is set in the summer…and months pass…and it’s still summer. Either you’re writing a fantasy world with extended seasons, or you lost track of time in your story.

Other issues that can arise involve character development and romance. Does your character go from being a coward to a soldier in a week? Does your hero ask his girl to marry him after a few days? (As Elsa would say, you can’t marry a man you just met!). Make sure you’re allowing enough time for changes in character or relationships to develop realistically. People don’t just change overnight!

It may feel like you’ve given your characters a lot of time to develop because you’ve spent weeks or months writing these scenes, but actually go in and figure out how much time has passed within the story. You may have written five chapters, but those five chapters may all take place over a couple days!

Keep Your Timeline Organized!

So how can you avoid these issues?

Well lucky for you I’ve created some epic story organizers to help you keep track of your plot’s timeline! You can download the free pdf by following the link below to enter your e-mail. You’ll also gain access to the Secret Archive of Writing Resources which houses all of my free worksheets! Sound good?

timeline bonus

The first organizer you’ll find is for stories with one POV character, and the second is for those with multiple POV. Use these to keep track of how much time has passed per chapter.

The third type of organizer you will find is a plot calendar (for those of you like me who need something more visual!). I highly recommend assigning “dates” for your story even if you don’t mention them in the story itself—it just makes for easy reference and keeping things straight.

On the calendar, write in the chapters on the days they occur. If you’re writing a multi-POV, you should probably keep a calendar for each character, or if you decide to use the same one include the characters’ names next to the chapters. On the previous plot tracking organizer, you will also find a column to enter the “dates” of each chapter.

The last organizer I’ve created will help you keep track of travel times in your story (though not time travel…that’s a whole other headache!). Fill it out and you’ll have the information handy for quick reference instead of scratching your head wondering, “Now how long did it take to get there again?”

I do almost all of my timeline tracking during the editing stages, and that’s what I would recommend. There’s just too much going on when you’re writing the first draft, so I wouldn’t worry about getting your timeline perfect then. But definitely make sure it’s consistent and realistic when you’re editing!

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful I would greatly appreciate it if you would help out this little blog and share it with others! You would be the most epically fantabulous writer friend ever 🙂

Do you keep track of the timeline in your story? Have you ever had any timeline issues? Comment below, I would love to hear from you!

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How to Start Your Story Strong

How to Start Your Story Strong | #Write a beginning that gets to the point and draws readers in. Your #novel should start at the action--the event that sets your story into motion.There’s a lot of pressure when trying to figure out how to start your story. Your beginning is crucial–it can draw in or scare off the reader. So of course you want to make it absolutely perfect! But how do you start a story off the right way? Sure you’ll need to write a gripping opening line that will snag the reader’s attention, but then what?

Your story should start at the action. Now, when I say “action” this doesn’t have to be a car chase, shootout, explosion, or ninja assassins (although ninja assassins are pretty awesome).

The “action” is the event that sets your story into motion. Think of yourself as a movie director…your actors (characters) are all in place, the stage is set, and now you call for the action to begin.

You’ve probably heard people tell you to start with the action before, which I think can be a misleading/confusing term. You don’t want to start with just any action. Or action for the sake of action. I think a more accurate term is the inciting incident. Fancy, eh?

The inciting incident of your story is the event that triggers the rest of the plot. So, if event A didn’t happen, then we wouldn’t have B (your story). To find your inciting incident, look at your story’s ending and ask yourself, what led to this event? Keep tracing the chain of events back until you can’t go any further. Aha! There’s your inciting incident.

Now, an inciting incident can be tricky to pin down. You may end up with more than one. And that’s okay! Pick the best one and structure your story around it. You want to start your story as close to the inciting incident as possible.

Let’s look at some examples.

In The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins lets us know by the end of the first paragraph that something is about to happen:

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.

No exploding cars or machine guns, but the author is getting right to the point. Today is different. This is the day that everything changes for the main character. By the end of the first chapter we have the inciting incident–Prim’s name being drawn in the reaping for the Hunger Games. This causes Katniss to volunteer to take her place, and results in the rest of the story’s events. If Prim’s name hadn’t been drawn, we would have no story.

Let’s look at another example–the first Harry Potter film. Here is the opening scene (for those of you who aren’t big enough nerds to have it memorized 😉 ):

Another pretty calm beginning, but a lot is going on here. Harry’s parents have been murdered by Lord Voldemort, and he is dropped off on his aunt and uncle’s doorstep. This is the day that changes everything for Harry. The inciting incident is the murder of his parents–if Voldemort hadn’t killed them, we would have no story.

As you can see, starting with the action doesn’t require actual physical action. The trick is to get to the point, but arouse interest at the same time. You should have your inciting incident occur by the end your first chapter. Don’t make the reader wait for the story to start! Make them feel as though things are being set in motion from the beginning. The last thing you want is a story that feels stagnant.

When you write your first draft you’ll probably write a lot of unnecessary scenes or back story in the beginning as you develop your characters and story. During the editing stages, hone in on where your story truly starts and get rid of everything that comes before (either by deleting it or weaving it into the story later on if it’s truly relevant).

You can still add in information about your characters and story world in the beginning to set it up for the reader, but don’t make that the sole purpose of the scene and don’t overload us!

And most importantly, don’t make the opening scene exciting just for the heck of it–it has to be relevant to the rest of the story. If the story can be told without that scene, you need to rewrite it. Your beginning shouldn’t be able to stand alone–it needs to be connected and inseparable to the rest of the plot.

Now go write a kick-ass beginning!

What’s the inciting incident of your story or favorite book/movie?

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The Fantasy Writer’s Guide to Horses

A guide to horses for writers, especially those writing fantasy or historical fiction. Ever wonder how far a horse can travel in a day, or how people in the middle ages cared for their horses? Do you know the difference between a nicker and a neigh? Find out and write horses more realistically in your story! If you write fantasy, you probably have a horse or two in your story. Especially if you’re writing medieval fantasy. Or, maybe you’re writing historical fiction. Whatever you’re writing, if there’s a horse in it and you don’t have a clue about horses, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve created this writer’s guide to horses just for you!

I’ve been in love with horses ever since I was a kid. I took riding lessons for years and read way too many books about them, both fictional and non-fictional. When I started writing my first fantasy novel, you had better bet I had horses in it!

But not every writer is a horse person. They always say write what you know, and I knew horses so that was what I wrote. But if you feel confused or lack confidence when writing scenes involving horses, don’t worry! With a little bit of research you can write about horses so well that your readers will think you’ve been living in the saddle your whole life.

Ready to arm yourself with some horse knowledge? Let’s do this.

Physical Description

  • Here is a chart of the parts of a horse (the ones you will likely reference most in your writing will be the flank, hoof, hock, withers, and crest).
  • Here is a guide to horse colorings, and another to markings.
  • Horse genders: mare (female), stallion (male), gelding (neutered male), colt (baby male), filly (baby female).

Care and Needs

  • Keeping a horse was expensive, so most peasants didn’t own one. Sometimes peasants would chip in together to buy a horse and share it.
  • Horses were usually kept in barns, and sometimes peasants just kept them out in the fields with the sheep, cows, etc.
  • Horses were fed hay, oats, and sometimes bran. The amount of food they were given depended on the amount of work they did. They also grazed in pastures in the summer.
  • Horses will forage in the woods for food, eating shrubs, foliage, moss, and even bark.
  • Most horses wore shoes during medieval times, which were made of iron.
  • Horses were groomed with a handful of straw bound together, or a coarse cloth. Metal curry combs were also used. (Modern metal curry comb for comparison).
  • Horses drink 5-10 gallons of water a day. They can only survive 3-6 days without water.
  • Horses cannot puke. So if they eat something toxic, they can’t puke it back up.
  • Horses live to be 25-30 years old.
  • Horses can swim, but some are afraid of water.
  • Horses only sleep for 2 hours a day, and only a few minutes at a time. They usually sleep standing up, but sometimes they will lie down. This is because they are prey animals, so they must be ready to take flight at the first hint of danger.

Behavior

  • Horses are sort of like big dogs. They all have their own personalities and quirks. However, they’re less loyal/protective than dogs–if your character is thrown on the battle field, his horse will likely bolt. It’s their fight or flight survival instincts. However, there are stories of horses protecting their owners, though it’s rare. It might depend on the rider’s bond with the horse and whether the horse sees the rider as part of its “herd.”
  • Horses are herd animals, which means they’re social and prefer to live in a group. If they are being kept on their own without other horses for company, they will often befriend other animals like donkeys, sheep, goats, cows, etc.
  • Horses communicate using snorts, nickers, whinnies, squeals, and neighs. (From softest to loudest). A whinny is similar to a neigh, but a neigh is a little deeper. For more information on why and when horses make certain sounds, click here.
  • Horses communicate mostly through body language, and are pretty quiet animals. (Again, prey animal instincts). For more details about horse body language go here (scroll to the bottom).
  • Every horse is frightened by different things, whether it’s a predator, an unfamiliar object, a loud noise, an unexpected movement, or water. When a horse is frightened or “spooked”, he might shy away, buck, balk, or bolt.

Riding & Traveling

  • Medieval saddles are pretty similar to modern saddles. “War” saddles were a bit “deeper” to offer the rider more security, with the front and back parts rising higher. “Riding” saddles were more slender. However, sometimes war saddles would be used for riding and vice-versa.Click here to learn the parts of the saddle (the ones you would use most in your writing would be the cantle, pommel, seat, and stirrup). Also, this video shows you how to saddle a horse.
  • Medieval bridles are also similar to their modern counterparts. To learn the parts of the bridle, click here.
  • It was common for women to ride astride in medieval times (one leg on either side of the saddle). Side saddles were rarely used, and only by noble ladies.
  • It was common for women to ride horses during travel, and noble women also rode horses during hunts.
  • Horses have four different gaits (the term used to refer to a horse’s speed). From slowest to fastest: walk, trot, canter, and gallop.
  • At a gallop, a horse can reach a speed of 25-30mph. A horse can gallop for a couple of hours before losing steam. So unless your character is riding Shadowfax, avoid epic days-long gallops.
  • The distance a horse can travel in a day depends on the weight and skill of the rider, the age/health of the horse, the weather and terrain, and how much equipment the horse is carrying. A horse could cover 20-40 miles a day and can be pushed beyond this if need be, but will need a day or more to recover afterwards depending on how hard it was pushed. Remember horses aren’t furry motorcycles, they get tired!
  • If your character is riding a horse for the first time or for a longer period of time than they’re used to, they will be sore after. This is often called “saddle sore.” Riding a horse looks easy, but you’re not just sitting there! You’re actually using a lot of muscles in your body. Saddle soreness is something better experienced than described. Which brings me to my final point…

I would highly recommend riding a horse at least once for research, whether it’s a trail ride or lesson. There are things you experience in real life that you can’t learn from a book or article.

Pay attention to your senses. What does the horse and stable smell like? What sounds do you hear? How do the horse’s coat and mane feel? How does the horse move beneath you? If you can’t get on a horse, here’s a video of a rider’s eye view from the saddle.

Even if you’ve never been on a horse you can write scenes involving horses well as long as you do a little research 😉

Have more horse questions? Post them below!

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