Using Adjectives

60 Second Advice by Anne Brees

Description adds layers to your story. Without description, your plot is just stick figures wandering in a white background. One main component to great description is using the correct adjectives.

Specific is always the best choice. Vague words will only make the blurry background blurrier. Instead of blue, say cobalt. Instead of dark, say inky. Don’t worry too much about this for your first draft. Just work on getting the words down on the page. However, once you are doing your edits, refine your word choice.

Research and consider connotation. Connotation is the emotion connected to each word. Consider the words aroma and stench. Both are essentially the same thing. They both describe a scent. However the meaning and emotional response to each one is very different.

Be aware of when too much is simply too much. Yes, you want to be descriptive. Yes, you want to catch your reader. But spending too much time describing will take away from the plot. Your reader is intelligent. Don’t spend five pages describing your character’s eye color with multiple adjectives. Pick one specific adjective, and stick with it. 

What’s your favorite adjective? 

Writing Your Character’s Backstory

60 Second Advice by Anne  Brees

Backstory is essential because it helps your readers understand your characters. While not all personality traits are caused by something in a person’s past, most of people’s behavior can be explained by their past. A character whose parents had a messy divorce might be wary about love. A character whose sibling died young might be scared to get close to people.

However, when do you tell the reader about the backstory? You can’t spend too much time in the past or else your plot will be lost. Flashbacks are never a great choice, because it’s too easy for a flashback to stretch for chapters. Plus, they can be confusing to the reader whether they are in the present or past.

The best way to  tell backstories is in small quantities, spread out throughout your story. This can also add to the suspense of your story and keep your reader reading, as they look forward to finding out the tragic backstory. Maybe your character meets an old friend and as they talk, you can hint at the past. Maybe something similar to what happened in the past happens to your character, and they revel in the déjà vu. Maybe they meet a new friend, and have to tell the story of their past.

Also, not every character needs a tragic backstory. People can be brave or broken without something horrible or amazing happening.

No matter how you tell your backstory, remember that your reader is intelligent. You don’t have to spell out every single event of their childhood. Your reader can connect the dots. Focus on the present of the story, and only mention the past.

What is your characters’ backstory?

Describing Character Appearance

60 Second Advice by Anne Brees

When it comes to what your character will look like, there seems to be a thousand options. The truth is, your reader probably doesn’t care. They don’t care what color eyes or  your MC has. They don’t care if your character is 5’1″ or 6’1″. Your readers will have their own picture of what your character looks, and will probably forget your descriptions only a few lines later.

Diversity is key. There isn’t enough representation in writing. There are more people with stories to tell than straight white men. However, don’t write with diversity because it’s a trend or you feel like you have to. Research and write it well.

Pick a few appearances details and focus on those. What does your character notice about themselves? What do other characters notice? Maybe it’s a certain scar. (Perhaps a lightning bolt on a forehead?) Maybe it’s a missing finger. Maybe it’s wild curly hair. Maybe it’s a slight limp. Your reader won’t remember all of the aspects of your character that you describe, so choose to mention a few and let those represent your character.

Focus on the stuff that’s more important. Appearance means little. Focus on your character arc and flaws and quirks. That will make your character much more memorable than describing their eye color multiple times.

What is your character’s most defining physical feature?

5 Tips for Choosing Your Title

60 Second Advice by Anne Brees

Choosing your title can be a nerve-wracking process. It is supposed to represent everything that your novel is in just a few words. How could you possibly know the right words to choose?

  1. Look at the titles within your genre. Sometimes looking at similar books can give you inspiration for ways to name your book. For example, a lot of dystopian books have the trend of having one word names. This will also help in the marketing of your book.
  2. Search for synonyms. Sometimes you have the right idea for your title, but it just doesn’t flow smoothly. If you simply google ‘[your word] define’, a list of synonyms will appear below the definition. These can help you find the perfect words for your perfect title.
  3. Experiment with different forms of speech. Once you get the right words, sometimes they still don’t flow. Sometimes you simple need to change the form of speech. Say you wanted your title to be something like “The Honesty Search”. That doesn’t flow very well. Change “search” from a noun into a verb. Now you have “Searching for Honesty”. You could change “honesty” from a noun into an adverb. “Honestly Searching” or “Searching Honestly”. You can get a variety of different titles by simply changing the form of speech.
  4. Define what is most important for your character. Your title should represent your book. Find what is at the heart of your book and try to turn that into the title. If you use this strategy, your readers will have one of those ‘a-ha moments’ when they see how your title fits perfectly into your book.
  5. Make sure there are no similarly titled books. It’s horrible for marketing to have a similarly titled book. People will constantly be confused about which book is the correct one if they don’t know your name.

Remember: If you are getting your book traditionally published, you don’t always get to chose your title. Sometimes the publishers change it. However, your title is generally the first thing that agent see when you query to them. Your title is important, even if it isn’t the final one chosen.

How do you choose your titles?

Active vs. Passive Voice

60 Second Advice by Anne Brees

Any writing blog you go to will tell you to eliminate passive voice to improve your writing. However, a lot of them fail to tell you how to identify  and eliminate passive sentences.

A passive sentence has a subject that isn’t doing the action of the verb. The verb is ‘acting upon’ the subject. Here’s an example below.

The grass was eaten by the horse.

See how the grass isn’t doing the action? The horse is eating, not the grass. So to change it into active, simply make it so that noun doing the action is the subject of the sentence.

The horse ate the grass.

See how much smoother and simpler that sentence is? In most cases, switching the nouns in the sentence and changing the verb to match the new subject will give you an active sentence. Let’s try another one.

The ball was kicked by Timothy. 

Timothy is doing the action, not the ball, so let’s switch the nouns.

Timothy  kicked the ball.

You don’t have to worry too much about writing in active voice on your first draft, but be sure to catch it in your edits.  Writing in active voice will make your prose smoother, more concise, and more professional.

 

Do you tend to use passive or active voice in your writing?

 

Character Flaws

60 Second Advice by Anne Brees

It’s all too easy for your main character to be perfect. You want them to be loyal, kind, honest, funny, empathetic, and so much more because you want your characters to be likable. However if your characters don’t have flaws, they aren’t going to seem lifelike. Few readers like characters who aren’t lifelike.

Your characters should be as real people, and all real people have flaws. We are complex and jealous and mean and dishonest, because we are human and we aren’t perfect all the time. One way you can add and explain flaws are by adding backstory. Events of the past affect people, and not always for the good.

Maybe your MC is jealous because they’ve been working so hard to achieve what another character already has. Maybe they are mean because they don’t have any patience left after everything they’ve dealt with that day. Maybe they are dishonest because they are afraid of what other people might think of them if they are themselves. Maybe they are rude because someone was already mean to them today.

Keep in mind that flaws don’t always have to be explained. Some people are just meaner than others.

In order to appear lifelike, your characters must have flaws. It ends up that most of the time, it’s the flaws that make your characters likable, not the good things.

What is your main character’s flaw? Did something cause them to be this way?

Dynamic vs. Static Characters

60 Second Advice by Anne Brees

The use of dynamic and static characters is essential to leaving your readers satisfied after finishing your story. Dynamic characters are characters who change throughout the story, while static characters do not change. 

Your main character, and most of your other essential characters, should be dynamic characters. In order for your story to feel complete, your character must change. Maybe your shy character finally is brave enough to fight for what she believes in. Your ruthless character learns mercy. Your quarrelsome character leans peace. Your main character must be a dynamic character.

The liar will always be a liar, even though your characters may (unfortunately for them) trust her. The thief will always be a thief. (Once again, unfortunate for your characters.) The kind will always be kind. (A little more fortunate for your characters.) Static characters can also help move along the plot and cause complications.

Is your main character a dynamic character? What is the change that your main character goes through?