How to Write a Female Character

Last week we covered how to write from a male POV and this week we are tackling how to write from a female POV. This may seem intimidating for guys who know women are complex creatures that can be hard to understand, but first and foremost women are people, so don’t feel too intimidated. Here’s a few tips to help.

Make your female character a person first. All of us have a connection to being human and what that means. We share experiences and feelings, so it’s a good place to start when characterizing.

Avoid stereotypes. Girls are all unique and different. Not every girl likes make-up and shopping, talking about boys, freaks out over spiders, gets their nails done, or is helpless. Your character can share any of these characteristics, but don’t make them a cardboard cutout.

Make her three-dimensional. Make sure she has a goal to strive for, fears, flaws, a personality, and an interesting and relevant past. Make her well-rounded and real and complex, like you would make any other character.

Don’t just make her a love interest. She shouldn’t exist just for some other character to win her as a prize. Give her a real goal to work towards in your narrative or cut the character. Nothing is more boring than a two-dimensional space saver.

Don’t make her use her looks to get what she wants. Not all girls are vixens, nor do they want to be, so don’t treat your character like a stereotype.

Understanding girls

  • Girls are emotional beings and talk about their feelings to deal with them. They seek emotional connections and relationships.
  • Girls talk. They have heart-to-hearts, they gossip, they ask about your day, they tell you about theirs. Talking is how they develop relationships. There’s also a lot more subtext when girls talk, which is why when she says she’s “fine” you better watch out.
  • Girls are always thinking about ten things at once and over-thinking and over-analyzing what others say and do. Sometimes they just can’t help it.

Above all, make her a complex character and you can’t go wrong. I suggest reading a few books with a female protagonist to see what other writers are getting right. This should help you tackle your female characters with confidence. Did I miss anything about female characters? Comment below and, as always, happy writing.

Julia

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Improving Your Manuscript Through Revision

I am pleased to host another writer on the blog today. David Wiley is a published fantasy author and has some great advice on what revision is and how to do it. Check out his post below and check out my post about how to write fight scenes on his blog. Happy writing!

 

 

 

It is finished at last. The manuscript you have been slaving over for months or years is finally done and you have written the words “The End” in big, bold letters. The hard part of writing a novel is behind you, right?

 

According to the opinions of most writers, the answer to that would be a resounding “No!”

 

Getting from page one, chapter one to the end of your manuscript is a huge milestone. After all, the book is not a complete book until you make it to that finish line. But nobody writes perfect first drafts. In fact, as Anne Lamott remarks in her book Bird by Bird, most writers will find that they write shitty first drafts. And that is okay if you do, too. I humbly confess that I wrote a shitty first draft of my first manuscript. It came in at just under 36,000 words and was filled with inconsistencies and incomplete ideas. Thankfully, the first draft was not my final draft.

 

When I used to hear the word revision, my mind would go back to the high school years when I would get back a paper with notes in red ink inserted in the margins and in the spaces between the lines. I would imagine missing commas, run-on sentences, forgotten apostrophes in words like “its”, and many other details that were overlooked during the writing process.

 

But I wasn’t thinking about revision when I was thinking of those things. I was thinking of editing. What is the difference between these two?

 

Editing is:

 

  • Sentence-level corrections dealing with spelling, grammar, punctuation, word choice, etc.
  • Targeting mistakes in a paper and fixes them.
  • Polishing an already-revised paper before sending it off for queries or publication.

 

Revision is:

 

  • Dealing with the entire body of work: looking at strengths and weaknesses, organization and flow, consistency, voice, point of view, etc.
  • Likely to involve major changes, such as moving chapters around, cutting complete passages, adding new chapters or information, rewriting weak or confusing parts of the story, expanding upon ideas, etc.
  • Taking a good manuscript and making it better, such as through trimming out the excess or fleshing out the bare spots.

 

When you compare the two processes, one stands out as being more impactful, making meaningful changes to the manuscript. Many people hate editing and I can hardly fault them for that. But I have grown to appreciate the beauty that can be uncovered and refined through the revision process.

 

As an example of how the revision process can function, here is a short passage from my working novel. I have done two revisions since writing the first draft and am preparing to dive in for a third, and final, batch of revisions this summer. By looking at the differences between the first and third draft of this passage should show how the revision process can take a good idea or scene and make it even better.

 

“Maybe you forged these tracks to get me out here,” Ava said. She stared at Edgar, a cold glimmer in her eyes. Edgar looked away, fidgeting under her stare. He looked up to confess when a deep grumble in the distance made them both pause. Ava raised a hand, signaling for silence as she turned toward the noise. The grumble repeated a few moments later, answered by a higher-pitched whistling noise. Ava slipped a knife from her belt, handing it to Edgar before unsheathing her sword. She motioned for him to follow, stealthily moving toward the noises.

They ducked behind a large rock when they were close, listening for a change in the sounds. Hearing nothing, Ava peeked around the edge. “Goblins,” she whispered to Edgar when she pulled back, “three of them are asleep in the clearing. They must be a scouting party.”

“Scouting what?”

“I bet they are checking out the village, to see if we’re undefended now that father is gone. We can’t let them report back or we’ll have the whole horde swarming down on us.”

“But there are three of them and only two of us.”

“There is one on the left, just around the rock. You take him and I will get the other two.”

“I’ve never killed a monster before,” Edgar whispered back, concerned. “What if I miss and it claws my eyes out or rips my heart from my chest?”

“It is sleeping. It’ll be dead before it knows we’re attacking. My father will be surprised when he gets home and sees three goblin heads.”

 

In this first draft, Ava and her friend Edgar stumble upon some sleeping goblins. This occurs in chapter two, after Ava’s father gives her a sword and asks her to protect the village. Ava takes the job seriously, patrolling atop a stone tower until Edgar tricks her to come and look at some tracks to see if they were monster tracks. This leads them into the encounter where a bold Ava is eager to kill her first monsters and show off their heads as trophies.

 

 

Their merriment was cut short by a deep grumble. It sounded distant but the noise was so out of place in the area that it made them both pause. Ava raised a hand, signaling for silence while turning toward the sound. The grumble repeated a few moments later, answered by a higher-pitched whistling sound. Ava slipped a knife from her belt, handing it to Edgar before unsheathing another knife for herself. She was thankful that her father had given these to her on her birthday this year, finally believing that she was old enough to learn to use them to defend herself. She motioned for Edgar to follow as she crept toward the noises.

As they neared the source of the sound they crept along and ducked behind a large rock. They stood still for a moment, not breathing as they listened for a change in the noise. Ava’s strategy would have to change if whatever it was knew they were here. She stood in silence, motionless, eyes closed, taking in the pattern of the sounds. Hearing nothing out of the ordinary, Ava peeked around the edge. “Goblins,” she whispered to Edgar, “two of them are asleep in the clearing. They must be a scouting party.”

“Scouting what?”

“I bet they are checking out the village, to see if we’re undefended now that father and his men are gone. We can’t let them report back or we’ll have the whole horde swarming down on us before dawn breaks.”

“But how are we supposed to keep them from telling the other goblins?”

“We’ll have to kidnap them,” Ava said.

“But we don’t have any rope,” Edgar observed.

Ava considered their options given their current situation. They couldn’t capture the goblins because they had no way to bind them. If they went back to tell the elders the goblins might be gone before they returned. That was, of course, assuming that the elders would even believe them enough to come with them. That was by no means a guarantee since Ava and Edgar had a reputation for playing games involving imaginary monsters. She considered what her father would do in this situation while faced with two sleeping monsters. “I guess we’ll just have to kill them,” Ava said, hoping her voice didn’t carry any of the fear and uncertainty she felt welling up inside her.

“I’ve never killed a monster before,” Edgar whispered back. “What if I miss and it claws my eyes out or rips my heart from my chest?”

“It is sleeping. It’ll be dead before it knows we’re attacking. We have no choice, Edgar. The elders need to be warned but they will never believe us without proof.”

“But they are alive, Ava,” Edgar said. She could see he was wrestling with the morality of the task just as she had a few moments before. Ava knew she had to act fearless, to be firm in her conviction if they were to protect the village. Any sign of weakness and the goblins would escape to raise the alarm. If that happened then everyone in the village could be in danger. She understood, difficult as it was, that they needed to do this in order to save more lives.

“So are silvertails, but that don’t stop us from catching and cooking them for food. This isn’t much different. You take the left one and I’ll take out the one on the right.” Edgar numbly nodded his agreement and the matter was settled.

In the most recent version, things have completely changed. The encounter takes place in the first chapter rather than the second, occurring while Ava and Edgar are playing at Monster Hunter with wooden swords. Ava transitions from eager killer of monsters to someone who grapples with the morality of what they are about to do, eventually making the decision fitting of a huntress. There are still some things in the scene that could use revision, such as more showing instead of telling, but as a whole the action, the timing, and the dialogue (internal and external) are set up fairly well.

Understanding and embracing the revision process has helped me grow as a writer. I no longer dread the task of revisiting a finished story or manuscript, as I have been able to see how each revised draft has improved the writing. Have you found success in revising your writing?

 

* * *

 

David Wiley is an author of science fiction and fantasy stories, choosing to write the stories that he would love to read.

His short fiction has previously been published in Firewords Quarterly, Mystic Signals and a King Arthur anthology by Uffda Press. He also has a short story forthcoming on Sci Phi Journal.  David resides in central Iowa with his wife and their cats and spends his time reading, writing, and playing board games.

CONNECT: Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon

How to Write a Male Character

Writing a guy’s perspective when you’re a woman can be daunting. Men think differently, feel differently, and do things differently so how do we write a male character and a male POV without making a caricature?

Remember that men live in the present and do things one at a time. They will focus on what they’re doing and what is happening here and now, not thinking about a million different things while doing the task at hand. Men are doers. They are action oriented and much more likely to jump in and start doing what needs to be done rather than analyzing their feelings first. Men also state demands more than requests. When ordering at a restaurant, they’re much more likely to say “give me a Coke” as opposed to “I’d like a Coke, please.” They simply state their feelings and thoughts as well.

Men aren’t as talkative as women are so keep dialogue short. Men get to the point and keep it simple when talking. Your dialogue should reflect this. Use strong verbs when describing what your male characters are doing. Have him slam his drink down and stalk out, not just walk out. Just like with dialogue, it’s important to keep guy’s narratives short. Be concise and let the guy talk how he naturally would. But don’t overcomplicate his thinking.

Men are thinkers rather than feelers. They solve problems internally and usually without evaluating their emotions. They find a step-by-step solution to each problem they’re faced with and act upon it. They don’t observe things the way women do either. Instead of remembering specifics they remember general impressions like “I like her” and “she was pretty” but don’t focus on things like eye color to do so. Show Don’t Tell your male character’s feelings. Use gestures, body language, his actions, his dialogue, mannerisms, etc. to show how he feels. Men aren’t as emotionally expressive as women are. It takes a lot to make them cry and they express emotions much less often than women besides anger.

The important thing to keep in mind as you write a male character is that you have to make them a character first with flaws and goals that a reader can relate to. Do not use stereotypes that make a flat caricature of men or write an idealized perfect version of a man. Write a real human being your readers will want to get to know. Just like women, males are complex and diverse and that should reflect in your writing.

These tips should help you get started writing male characters in your stories. Do you have any tips for writing male characters? Any horror stories of reading badly written male characters? Comment below and, as always, happy writing!

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How to Research Effectively

No matter what type of story you’re writing, you’re likely to need to do some research for it. A colleague of mine recently wrote a novel that took place in the Carolinas. One important place in the story was set at a house on the bluffs. The only problem was there were no bluffs in that part of the state. Needless to say, she had some serious rewriting to do. So research is important. It’s also a time suck, frustrating, and chaotic. So how do we make some sense out of researching and make things go more smoothly?

  1. Identify topics that need researching. Figure out exactly what you need to research and make a list. These may be vague topics, like WW2 history, but make sure to write down everything relevant to your story.
  2. Identify tangential topics. Here’s where we get more specific, such as women’s hairstyles during WW2. If there is a tangent that needs to be explored, write it down to research later.
  3. List topics by importance. Not everything will be crucial to your story so you want to avoid spending long hours researching them.
  4. Know your research goals. What needs to go in your story and why are questions you should be asking yourself as you research.
  5. Set aside specific blocks of time for research. This way you don’t eat into your writing time or find yourself researching to procrastinate. Beware of both these reasons.

Once you start researching you want to evaluate the legitimacy of each source you find. Websites that end in .edu or .gov are reliable authorities. Wikipedia shouldn’t be completely accepted as fact if the article isn’t properly cited, but it’s a good place to start to find key words and sources.

Use apps like Evernote to keep and organize your notes. It saves whole website pages for later use and is easily accessible anywhere and easy to use. It also has a great free version.

Once you’re done researching, don’t overwhelm the reader with information once you begin writing. And remember the Show Don’t Tell rule is crucial. You don’t want to bombard your reader with facts. Show the world your characters live in and weave in facts with description. Keep it simple. And remember that you are writing fiction. If there is a fact that you absolutely cannot find, then you are allowed to reasonably use your imagination. Just don’t rely on this cheat too much.

These tips should help you stay abreast of researching. Starting with a plan will keep you on track and on topic, better utilizing your precious time. Do you have any tips for researching? Comment below and happy researching!

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Short Stories

Short stories are a completely different beast than novels are. In some ways they are trickier to write given the fact you have a far more limited amount of words to tell your story. So what are some things to keep in mind?

First you want to start as close to the end as you can. Jump right into the action and excitement and explain as you go. Most people start their short stories too soon. You want to start with a first sentence, first paragraph, first page that hook your reader and pull them into the action right away. Start with tension and the unexpected. Know your characters but leave the backstory out. You as the author need to know far more to write the character than your reader will need to know to follow the story. Each word in a short story is precious, don’t waste any on info dumping. Use dialogue to convey more than just words. And pair dialogue with body gestures to paint a complete picture (think Show Don’t Tell). Use conflict and tension to keep your reader turning pages. What does your character want? What forces are acting against them? Who is working against your protagonist? And all of this must lead to your ultimate climax where things seem at their worst for your protagonist before the turning point where they snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

So how do we write a short story step by step? Let’s start with what you need. First you need a story idea. Whether this is a full concept, piece of dialogue, or a character, pick an idea to develop into your story. Then you need time to write. You want to write a short story as quickly as possible, in one sitting if you can. Now grab a pen and paper or your favorite electronic device and let’s get started.

First we plot the story. Brainstorm and get the idea of the story all down. Imagine telling the story to a friend. Once you’ve figured out your story, it’s time to get to know your characters. Start with your protagonist and fully develop them. What do they look like, what do they do for a living, what are they afraid of, what is their goal, flaw, past like? Answer these questions and more for any main characters in your story, but be wary of having too many characters in a short story. Aim for three or less.

Next, write the perfect first line. Make it as intriguing as possible. Spend time crafting the first sentence and then the first paragraph and then the first page. Hook your reader.

Now develop a scene list. Short stories generally have around seven scenes. Write them down to give yourself a plan for how to get from A to Z.

If you have to do any research for your story, now is the time. Now that you know what your story is, you can research efficiently without altering your plot with plot bunnies and other rampant ideas.

Finally it’s time to write your story. Sit down and write it all in one go or as close to one as you can. Write without editing as you go. Get the story out and get it down. When you are done, let the story sit for a few days. Then go back and edit it with a critical eye. Repeat until your story is as good as you can make it.

And then celebrate because you’ve finished a short story! Definitely something worth celebrating. Reward yourself with a treat and get ready to start the process over again with a new idea.

Do you have any tips for writing short stories? Anything you struggle with? Comment below and, as always, happy writing.

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