Friday, April 29, 2016

Dun Dun Dun!! Dialogue!!

Alright everyone, strap in. This is going to be a very detailed, technical post.

Dialogue is a struggle for everyone. And it's not necessarily the words that your characters are saying that are the problem. It might be the way you are putting them down on the page.

Oh, yes, we're going in-depth with dialogue. Prepare yourself.

Why is Dialogue So Important?

There is no way I can list everything that makes dialogue so important in a story. It helps set the tone, helps define your character's personality, education, etc., helps advance the story, helps create drama, it is one of the most commonly-used ways to further the story, and much, much more.

Because it is so important, we are going to be discussing a lot about dialogue itself and then formatting (which is the scary part).


Before we get into the more technical things...

  • Each character's dialogue should get its own paragraph and indentation
  • Each line of dialogue must be in open and then closed quotations (there is one exception, which we will cover further down)

Okay, let's go!

Talk the Talk

A few things:

  • Humans rarely speak in complete sentences
  • Education plays a huge part in speech patterns
  • Profession also plays a part in speech patterns
  • Humans speak differently depending on who they are talking to

With those out of the way, let's discuss style of speech.

While this does heavily depend on your story and your characters, there are a few things to keep in mind when deciding the style of your character's speech.

If your character has a slurred speech or rough speech patterns that cause you to contract words a lot, be careful how much you do that.


You can see that the first sentence takes longer to read because there are almost no spaces between the words. Using contracted words can set the tone for your character's speech patterns, but too much will slow the pace of your story down as your reader tries to understand what is written on the page.

The second option is easier to read, and even though it may seem to proper for your character to say a complete word ("shouldn't" or "did") if the rest of the sentence is fragmented in stylized English, your readers will still understand the style of the character. Do not distort their speech so much that your reader has to slow down every time they speak. You want them to stumble on it, not fall.

Now, the opposite of that, do not throw in random large words in your character's vocabulary to make them sound smarter.

I'm going to use a very famous example of this.

Image result for twilight back cover

Twi-hards, it's alright, I'm not going to bash Twilight. Relax.

I will say that the word "irrevocably" feels thrown in there at random, particularly when it's supposed to be coming out of the mind of a seventeen-year-old girl. The point is, it is not a word one runs into on a normal basis, and it gives the reader pause. There is a difference between sounding intelligence, and sounding like you're trying too hard.

If you do not know any beautiful, multi-syllabic words for your very intelligent character to say, that's okay. You probably don't need them anyway. There are other techniques, like using complete sentences, or many complex sentences, that will help your reader understand the intelligence of your character. Do not liberally use the thesaurus in an attempt to make your character sound smarter. It will come across as unnatural and forced and it will throw your readers for a loop.

As for cursing in dialogue (which I am not at all opposed to), generally, those with lower education levels are seen to be the ones who curse the most. That does not mean that it is true, as there are many very educated professionals in the world that would make sailors blush, but in dialogue, a lot of swear words can come across as low-class, crass, and even off-putting.

As someone who does not have a clean mouth, I can't believe I'm suggesting this, but try to limit your curse words in dialogue unless it is particular to your story or a character who grew up a little rougher. After a while, it can become taxing and irritating to your reader if your character is throwing curse words around every sentence. Use those words sparingly (particularly the stronger ones) so that they still have their punch when they show up.

Remember, there are still people who get offended by excessive swearing...

Image result for shocked gif

Now, a final little speech pattern thing:

What if there is another language mixed into the dialogue?

In that case, I would suggest italicizing the word that is not in English.

Example: Dimension Guardian - Book 3 - Fate

In this example, the word "danra" is the character's native tongue for "father." Italicizing that word allows the reader to separate it from the sentence, and distinguish that it is another language. If it is one word, most of the time the context will tell the reader what the word means. If you are worried about that, here are a few exposition examples that might help you discuss what those words mean.

"You must come with me, danra," he said, using the formal word for father to convey the seriousness of the situation. 


He was startled to hear the formal word for father, and his stomach flipped in apprehension.

Just some examples, as neither of these are actually in the book.

Now, what if the entire sentence is in another language?

I do not suggest you force your reader to read a sentence in a language that they do not know or understand. It can confuse them and feel a little like a slap in the face, as if telling them that they are not allowed to understand the story they are reading. Don't just put random words together in a made-up language and force your readers to try and discern them.

If they are speaking in another language, put the entire sentence in italics within the quotation marks, in English, or whatever language is the primary language of the book.

Example: Significant - Coming Soon (rough draft sentence disclaimer!)

This, again, allows your reader to separate that sentence from the others around it, and with some added exposition, you can explain that it was in another language, and that was why it was italicized.

Now....on to the fun part.......

Transitive, Intransitive & Dialogue

It took me a very long time writing dialogue before I realized that I was formatting it wrong.

I'm sure that you understand that everything inside the quotation marks needs to have the appropriate punctuation based on the sentence. However, at closing quotation, there are some rules that need to be obeyed.

This has to do with Transitive and Intransitive Verbs.

I can tell I've already scared you, but stick with it! It's easier than you think!

Most sentences in English follow the SVO format where a Subject (I) does something Verb-like (drank) with an Object (water). I drank water is an SVO sentence.

However, verbs fall into different categories. For the purposes of dialogue, I'm going to focus only on transitive and intransitive verbs as they pertain to this subject.

Transitive Verbs are verbs that always need an object. For example: "say."

On it's own "I said" is not a complete sentence. It's a fragment because "said" is a transitive verb, and there is no direct object in the sentence. There is a list of these verbs, and you can Google a longer list if you need to, but most of the time, native English speakers intuitively know when a verb needs an object, even if they don't know the terms behind it.

List of some common transitive verbs:

  • Ask, Attend, Believe, Buy, Consider, Contact, Describe, Get, Join, Love, Say, Suggest, Take, Want.

Conversely, Intransitive Verbs do not need a direct object. Since this is a little difficult to describe, I'm going to give some examples. The italicized words are the intransitive verb.

  • "Do you know what happened?"
  • "Did it rain?"
  • "Suddenly, he appeared."

Often, these verbs are found at the end of the sentence, and they are an action done by the subject, but they do not need an object.

List of some common intransitive verbs:

  • Appear, Arrive, Come, Die, Fall, Happen, Wait. 

Of course, there are many verbs (quite a lot, actually) that can be used both transitively and intransitively depending on the context of the sentence (e.g. "eat"). This is because English is a horridly confusing language that just pretends to have rules to follow.

Now, I know what you're thinking.

What the hell does this have to do with dialogue??!!

Here's the truth: Most speaking verbs are Transitive Verbs, meaning that they need an object.

"She asked." "He said." "They exclaimed." These are not complete sentences.

The thing about dialogue is that everything inside the quotation marks is the object of the sentence. The person (Subject) said (verb) "the thing"(object).

Of course, that is not how novels are written, so I will now explain how to format dialogue in your novel. 

Examples taken from the rough draft of The Significant (coming soon)

The comma inside the quotation is the most important part of formatting a simple sentence with dialogue. This shows that what is in the quotation is complete, but the entire sentence in the novel, is not complete, which is why you must use lower case unless the first word outside the quotation is a proper noun (i.e., a character's name)

Can the dialogue be complete on its own? Of course!

The complete sentence is marked by a star. Any dialogue can be a complete sentence as long as there are no speaking verbs after or before it, and there is proper punctuation inside the close-quotation mark. However, be sure that your reader knows who is speaking. We will go into that a little later in the post. 

Now, what if it's not a statement inside the quotations? What if it's a question? Or an exclamation of some kind?

Same rules apply. 

Make sense?

Have I lost you yet?

Great! Let's keep going!

The great thing about fiction writing is that we always try to find new and pretty ways to say things. However, this means that we can get our verbs confused and it can become a bit strange. For instance, say you don't want to write that your character agrees with something that another character has said using those exact words. Following the information I shoved at you above, you might decide that this is the format to use. 

Nope. Nope. Nope. Don't do that. 

Because you cannot nod words. Nodding is associated with your head, not with your speech. 

Also, nodding is an intransitive verb. The reason it's an intransitive verb is because it is automatically associated with your head. You do not need to say "he nodded his head" because if you said "he nodded" readers know the exact action. What else can you nod??

This is what you need to do in that case. 

If this is the case, why even put "she nodded" next to the dialogue? Why not put that in a separate paragraph? Because this is a way for you to help your reader understand who is speaking without the saying over and over and over again "she said." [Again, we'll get to distinguishing who is speaking later.]

There are some words that are trickier to figure out on this issue. For instance, can you "gasp" words? Can you "sigh" words? I think you can sigh words. I do it all the time. But that is for you to decide. I think everyone can agree, however, that you cannot "nod" words.

So, what about when you want to put "she said" in the middle of a sentence for emphatic value?

This is a very simple example. Interrupting dialogue like this is done for emphasis. Other times, it is used to prepare the reader, or build tension. [Quick Tip: Always end sentences and paragraphs on their strongest point. Sometimes, having "she said" at the end diminishes the punch of the dialogue.]

This form of interruption could be simple, like above, or complex, like below. 

For more complicated examples, like this one, it can be difficult to determine when to use commas versus periods, but a good way to tell if the first bit of dialogue is complete or not is to see if there is a name. If the name stands by itself, like the first example of this, and there is going to be something said directly afterward, then it is not complete. This is only different if your character is calling the character to get their attention and the other character has to turn around or acknowledge the first character before dialogue can continue. 

Now, one last odd-ball. 

Aren't we done yet?!

Say you have a character that has a very long speech to give. This speech takes up a couple pages and the same character speaks uninterrupted the entire time. 

First of all, you cannot have that speech remain one enormous paragraph that spans for pages. A paragraph break allows you to give your reader a break and reorient themselves among all the words. You need to give your reader a point to find themselves, or they will get lost in the sea. Find the parts where there are subtle changes in the speech and make new paragraphs there. 

But how does that change your dialogue formatting?

Since I do not have a speech in The Significant, and the only speech in Dimension Guardian is in Book 6 and contains an incredible amount of spoilers, I'm pulling this example from Inside, Part 2 (you can start reading Inside, here!)

Example: Inside-Part 2

This is the only time you can get away with having no close-quotation at the end of a paragraph of speech. 

Of course, it is a good idea to remind the reader of who is speaking at least once every paragraph. The way I suggest you do this is, at the end of the first sentence of the new paragraph, you end with a comma and put "he continued," or something similar. This also allows your reader to take a breath before continuing on. 

**The reason the above speech doesn't have any reminders like that is because the character giving this "speech" is actually mute, and he's writing it down, not speaking.

Talking of which........

Distinguishing Voices

Nope! We're not done yet!

We're getting close! I promise!

The final things to think about when formatting your dialogue is how often to say "he said" and "she said." I will make a different post on different, pretty words for "said" later on and when to use them, but for now, let's just focus on making sure you know when to let your reader know which character is speaking. 

First it depends on the number of characters you have in the scene. If there are only two characters speaking back and forth, you do not need to always follow dialogue with who is speaking. I bring back the example from above!

Kailynn and Raphael are the only two in this scene. She speaks, and he responds. Since there is no one else in the room when this exchange is going on, there is no need to put anything indicating that Raphael is saying the second line. It's implied. This keeps words from over-cluttering your page, and keeps you from sounding repetitive when you keep saying "he said" "she said."

So, what if there is more than one character?

Then, you need to put who is speaking for each line of dialogue.

That does not mean there are not ways to change it up. Using more colorful words than "said" help, as do action words, such as "nodded" (just be sure you format it correctly!). But, there are many more techniques out there. One that I like to use looks like this:

"This was expected." 

"...are you going to elaborate?" Dalton asked Keito when the older man did not continue.

(That was made up. That's no where in the books) 

When one character is saying something in response to another character, even if there is a group of characters around, you can have them reply to that particular character, like in that example. 

You made it! That's what I have to say about dialogue!

I'm sure some of you are saying, "I have half of my manuscript done already and I've been doing this wrong the whole time!! Now I have to go back and write it all again!"

Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down!

If you know you have dialogue formatted incorrectly, listen to me.

It's okay.

I promise, it's alright. For now, just get your draft done. Don't worry about the technical stuff! That's what editing is for!! 

This takes time and practice to get right. I still make this mistake all the damn time! It's okay not to be perfect! Just write the story you have inside you. All that technical crap can happen later. This post isn't going anywhere, you can refer to it at any time. 

Happy writing everyone!!

If you have any questions about writing, publishing, editing, or anything in general, feel free to post to my Facebook (click the link below!) or tweet your question to me @kjamidon.

Don't forget to follow me on social media by clicking the links below and check out my own novels!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Playing God, Creator of Worlds

I bet when asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, "creator of worlds" was not a very popular pick.

And I'll tell you why it wasn't.

It's fucking hard. 

Really. Fucking. Hard. 

But writers do it all the time. And for some reason, we keep coming back for more. Don't ask me why. I couldn't tell you. It's insanity. 

Just like developing characters, developing your world is very important and doing it well can make writing much easier. 

So, when you are playing god, here are the basics.

A S.E.C.R.E.T.

Yep, an acronym that stands for: Area of Focus, Society, Economy, Class, Religion, Enchantment. and Terrain.

Ready to dive in? Let's go!


Area of Focus

No matter where you set your story, you are not going to incorporate absolutely everything about the planet on which your story is based. Planets are huge. Good luck seeing all of it in the story. 

That is why it is important to figure out the area where you are going to focus--this could mean country, city, town, city block, whatever you think is the best setting for your story. From there, I suggest going out two "spheres" (basically a sphere of influence). For example, if you are focusing on one city, develop the surrounding towns, cities, and regions that border or overlap with that city. Then develop the basics of the country or region where that city is located. If you're on a larger scale where an entire country is the focus, then develop the countries that share a border with the one you are focused on, and then develop the basic relations between those countries and the rest of the planet. 

The reason you should develop two spheres out is so that you have a bit of a buffer for your own knowledge of the story. This allows you to have that omniscient, god-like view of everything which gives you better control of the story and prepares you to handle any organic plot points that decide to pop up like weeds. 



Society is an all-encompassing term that includes culture, history, values, etc. Basically, this is the framework of the world your character will be living in. So, here are some questions you need to ask to start determining your society.

  • Who runs your society? Is it a dictator? An elected official? It is a council of Elders? Is it a different species of creature ruling over your character? Is your character part of the species ruling over another species? What is the hierarchy of power? How does your character interact/feel about that high power?
  • What sort of military does your society have? Is there a formal military or vigilante groups? Is everyone out for themselves? Is it an organized, stand-in-line military? Are the weapons advanced? Are they primitive? How will this affect your character?
  • What time-frame are you in? Is it a feudal period or a modern period? Are there swords everywhere or guns? What sort of transportation do they use--cars or horses? Is the class structure more prominent because of a feudal time period or are the classes broader because of a modern period? What technology is in place for your character to use?
  • How does this society interact with its people? Are the working people looked down upon while the higher classes rule? Is everyone considered mostly equal? Is there a drastic socio-economic difference between your classes? Is there racism? Is there classism? What is the general makeup of the people in your society? How do they interact with those who are similar? How do they react to those who are different?
  • How does the age of your character play into the society? Are they younger and therefore more forgiving of transgressions against the country than the older generation? Are they in the prime of their life and have everything going for them because of the society? Does their society push for marriage and children at a certain age? Does the age of your character change the way society views them?
  • How big/small is your society? Is it a very strong powerhouse that has been functioning for hundreds of years? Is it a newer society that is still trying to figure things out? Has the society always followed a certain pattern for thousands of years? Is the population booming/dwindling? Why is the population the size it is?
  • What effect does the main threat of the story have on the society? Does society have any laws that help or hinder your character in fighting/defeating the antagonist? Does the society even know about the threat? Does the society care about the threat?

Yes, that is a lot to ponder, but no society has a simple setup. These are all things you have to consider. For instance, if your character is a superhero and there is a super-villain destroying cities, that would not likely go unnoticed by the society or its people. I think there would be a lot of laws regarding public safety and the defeat of this super-villain, which could both help and hinder your superhero.

Also, it is important, if there is a custom that your character is against and trying to change, you know how long that custom has been going on.

Here's the thing about society, when it's younger and newer, its easier to change. When it's older and deeply rooted into its people's minds, then it's very difficult to change things. The basic rule I follow with this is the rule of three generations. Granted, there is no set number for a "generation," but say it is eighteen years. Fifty-four years is a long time for most mortal characters. Anything older than fifty-four years in a society is going to be difficult to change. So, if you have something that has been in place for over seventy years, to the point where the grandparents of the main character were only infants when it was established, it's going to be very difficult to change that part of society. By that point, people are raised with the custom/tradition/ideology, and it's going to be far more difficult to change that for the entire society. Your character might change, but if she seeks to change the rest of the world and your society just goes right along with it, then your reader is going to be asking "why?" even if it is the right thing to do.

Obviously, that is geared more toward the dystopian authors out there, but there are societal implications in all stories. That is why it is important to figure out your society and how your character fits into it. Because if your character is shy and meek around police, you might what to explain why the police strike fear in her or in those of her class in society. Or, if she's a rebel and outspoken, going against the norms of kinda need to explain what those norms are so that it can be clear she's breaking them. 

Even though these seem like overkill on questions and determining your society, it's much easier than you might think. A lot of things are based on our own experiences, which means that we understand our society and we decide what our society would look like if something changed. Using basic cause and effect reasoning when building your society will make it much easier than you probably realize. 



Economy might not seem that important if you are never going to be talking about money in the story, but trust me, it is very important. Particularly in today's age, money is a huge motivator for people. 

Of course, it is easier if you are setting your story in the world we already live in or a time period where you can look up the currency in history. 

But, of course, writers rarely make it easy on themselves. 

Here are a couple examples of currency ideas and how they affect your worlds. These are only examples of the number of angles that must be taken when developing your world. 


This depends entirely on your apocalypse. In my opinion, in an apocalyptic world, items needed to survive are going to be in highest demand--food, clothing, weapons, etc. Therefore, I doubt anyone would be interested in money when it came to these items. More likely than not, there would be a barter or exchange for services, protection, or other survival items. Particularly in this case, this currency would be a huge motivation. If your character has just found a way to grow carrots after nearly fifty years of people barely surviving on mutated animal meat and tree bark, your character has a very valuable thing.

Of course, you could always make another legal tender system such as dollar bills or something else that is exchanged like paper money for goods, depending on how your apocalypse goes. The reason this could work in post-apocalyptic writing is because, more often than not, the apocalypse happens on earth, so you can change something on earth to be your currency and have it act like paper money. 

Precious Metal Currency

This could be set in just about every story, but might seem particularly ideal for medieval/fantasy stories where there is a more defined class system. What makes this ideal is the limited availability of the precious metals around.

However, it doesn't have to just be metals. Maybe there is a particular stone that has certain healing powers that is very valuable. Or perhaps even a type of shell that is used for currency. This form of currency in the economy basically acts like the paper-money would today, only it's in limited supply because it's not always being printed. 

Goods Currency

This kinda falls in line with the precious metals, only this would be more an exchange of goods for another exchange of goods--like seven sheep for three cows. This would be a little bit of a barter system, which would mean you would need to set up a market or a haggling system where characters could go and get what they needed. This was very common in feudal ages where pots and vases were paid for in food and hide.

Depending on your story, this could also be used a place for information to be given to your character (and audience) or where a lot of the gossip/trouble happens if it is where most of your society goes to get their food and other goods. 

Quick Tip:

Deciding the currency alone is not enough. You also need to discuss the kind of motivation money has for your society and your characters. And, on top of that, you need to decide if the economy is in a good position or a bad one at the time of your novel. This could change the way your character views the classes of society, or even everyday tasks, such as preparing meals, or going to work. 



A social hierarchy is crucial. There are rules to be obeyed in every society depending on class and power. While this may seem elitist and your character can do whatever the hell she wants because everyone is equal, you are lying to yourself.

Now, maybe your character does do whatever the hell she wants because she's a rebel, and that's fine, but you need to determine what she is rebelling against by discussing what the norms are in that society, and what her norms would be depending on the class that she was born into.

Class also determines the education and opportunity given to your character. If your character was born into lower-classes but she clawed her way to the top, then it's even more important you build your class structure so that your readers understand what an amazing feat that is. If your character was born into the upper classes and found out that her family was in on a high-class sport of watching gladiator-style fights to the death, and she wanted nothing to do with that, maybe she finds a way to get the lower classes to revolt against the upper classes. 

The point is, there is always a difference between the different groups of society, and how someone acts depends on their class, their opportunities, and their education. This is why it is an important facet to determine. 



This does not mean that you have to fill in a little check box saying that your world is Christian, or Pagan, or any other known religion. If you want to base it in a religion in our world, then do so (appropriately), but if you are making a religion up, you need to decide what the beliefs of that religion are and how they change interactions in your world. 

I'm going to give a real-world example for this. 

For anyone who has taken foreign language classes in a classroom setting, they will tell you that one of the first things they ask the teacher how to say is "bless you." Why? Because when people sneeze in that class, you want to be able to say bless you in the foreign language and feel cool. 

But you are always compelled to say bless you. It has been apart of your culture for a very long time. 

Unless you're Japanese.

In Japan, you do not acknowledge when another person sneezes. 

Really think about that a moment, all you people who have been blessed over and over again your entire lives. Really think about that. 

If no one says anything when you sneeze, you bless yourself, right? See how ingrained it is? 

Historically, when someone sneezed, religion stated that the body was trying to expel a demon. That is why we say bless you when someone sneezes. Japan did not have this introduced en-mass into their society until Admiral Perry came over in the gunship and opened the country (hey! A history lesson!), which is why the Japanese do not acknowledge when someone sneezes. 

Religion in your world needs to be precise. You need to decide how far-reaching it is. Maybe it's the villain? Everyone wants to fight against a radical religion? Or maybe it's one of the major motivators for your character? Or, maybe it's not that important? 

But it is something to determine when you are developing your worlds. Religion is very important to humans, so it is important to understand that aspect of your story. 



This is a tricky area to advise on. In short terms, it is deciding if your world has magic or not. 

The hard part about this is that I highly recommend you determine why there is magic and more or less how it works. For instance, I would love to know exactly how you can control The Force. Of course, you do not have to explain it. You're the god. You don't necessarily have to explain yourself. 

If you want it to be a "because I'm the author, therefore I'm god, and I say so," then that is your choice. But it helps to determine how the magic works because it engages your reader more in the story. An example of when it might be helpful is when your character is unable to do the magic that you have shown previously. If you have no explanation of how the powers work, then the reader is left wondering why the character couldn't perform. 

Keep your reader informed so that you do not have them checking out of the story to try and figure out that information. 

Also, if your character is magic, explain why they are and others are not (if that is the case). You need to decide how strong the magic aspect is in your story. It will help you in explaining things in the actual novel and your readers will appreciate that you did not take the easy way out of just saying that you were the writer and it was because you said so. 



This could be a very important or very mundane part of world building depending on your story. Terrain is nothing more than the physical layout of your world. Some people prefer drawing maps of areas, others would rather use a real-world example of their setting. It just depends on your story.

Now, if you're in a city, then the city is your terrain, and it's a city. It has to follow the rules of a city--tall buildings, heavy traffic, roads, etc. If it's a country village, than getting water could mean going all the way to the stream, which would mean a lot more work on behalf of your character.

This also determines travel. You have to ask how far away everything is. You have to know what their mode of transportation is. You have to understand how they are going to get from point A to point B. In a modern-day city, simple, you drive, you fly, you get a hotel, no big deal. In a fantastical world like a fairy tale where everyone is on horseback, things either take a lot longer to get to, or they are a lot closer together.

Terrain also determines any natural obstacles your characters might face in their everyday lives (examples: flooding, drought, grazing lands, sanitation).

Again, this could be very important, or not as important as other facets of world building, but it is still something that you need to think about.

Alright, that's what I have on basic world-building! I know there was a lot of information there, but it's easier than you think, particularly when you get started.

If you don't know if you're developing the world enough, continue to ask the question "why?" When things are a certain way, ask why they are, and keep answering yourself. You'll get to a very well-developed society that way.

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Friday, April 22, 2016

Character Development

You do not have a story without characters.

Image result for shrug gif

They carry your story. They keep your readers interested. They are the life-blood of your book. 

Therefore, it really pays off in the end to take the time and develop them properly. This will help with the flow of the story, and make writing easier down the road. 

This is going to be a series of posts because creating characters is never easy, and there are a lot of things to consider when creating your kids. There are a lot of facets to character development that need to be explored. Some things need to be addressed early in the writing process and other things can be figured out as you go through the novel.

I must confess, building characters is one of my strengths.

I may struggle with everything else but creating characters is something that I feel very adept at doing. Therefore, this is one of my favorite parts of writing. For that reason, I will not be making up characters as I have been doing in previous posts for examples. I will be dragging my kids out here and telling all the embarrassing things about them!

Let's begin!

Meeting Your Main Characters for the First Time!

This is a fascinating moment in the creative process. 

Everyone is different, of course, but for me, all my stories begin with "what-if" questions. What if America were to go through a Second Revolution because everyone let their hatred get the best of them (the premise for Inside)? What if we were to find out we were not alone in the universe, but it's not aliens, it's magic beings (premise for the Dimension Guardian series)? What if technology were so rampant, we stopped speaking to one another entirely (premise for The Significant)?

Basically, when I have a what-if scenario, I decide to plop a character in the middle of the mess and see what happens. 

To elaborate, I try and figure out how different people would react in those worlds. I go through a bunch of different ideas about how certain types of people would react. 

How do I choose who will be my character?

They sort of do it on their own...

The one that has the most interesting interaction with the what-if world develops faster, and therefore, becomes the main character. At this point, I decide some very basic things about them:
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Status/Place in the Society (story)
Once I have determined a main character, I start building the world more, which is where the other characters often pop up like daisies to advance the story. 

However, this is not always the way to start your stories.

A character might show up and demand a story be written about them. At that point, they tell you the story they want put down on paper and you are at their mercy. 

But! Even in this case, it's likely that you know almost nothing about what they look like, what their past is, or anything beyond their name and where they want to go in the story. 

Again, my advice for just starting out is to just focus on their gender, age, and place in the story. 

When you first meet your characters this is likely all they'll tell you anyway. They might seem a bit elusive at this point, but they grow simultaneously with the development of the world (or they should), so it's not surprising that you won't know much else, yet. 

SIM-ing Your Kids

As you develop your world, you should start to decide what your characters look like physically. Why do it when developing the world? Don't physical attributes come last because you shouldn't be so shallow as to judge anyone by first glance?


You need to determine what your character looks like early on. Here are some reasons why:

Age & Gender Already Determine Some Things

As you should already know the Age and Gender of your characters, there are some things that come inherent with those determinations (not always, of course!). An example (from Dimension Guardian): I have a race of creatures called demons that look physically human, but are far more powerful and, therefore, live for thousands (sometimes millions) of years without showing their age. This was important in determining characters physical characteristics because some of them are very old, but look to be about 30.

First Impressions Speak Volumes

Yes, it is shallow to react based on anyone's physical appearance alone, but all first impressions are physical-based. You need to be able to explain what your characters look like so that your reader can imagine them. 

But more importantly than hair or eye color is the body build. For instance, if they work at a desk job, but they are ripped, that means you have to explain why a character who sits on his ass all day looks the way he does--and that develops his character more because it might give him a hobby of going to the gym at night, or maybe he's fighting crime once he's off the clock from his day job. 

See how it develops your characters?? 

Also, it can help explain the world the characters are in. If the character is not human, it's even more important that you determine what they look like early. Think of the Na'vi in Avatar. 

Their hands, their proportions, their skin tone, their hair, everything is a reflection of the environment that they live in. Your characters have to interact with their world. So if they are predatory creatures and they're nocturnal, their skin is likely darker to better sneak up on their prey. It is a way to describe a world and the way the character lives within that world (world-building FTW!).

But this does not just apply to characters of fantastic origin, but all races and ethnic backgrounds for humans. Each race comes with different social implications, different cultures in some countries, different prejudices, etc. This helps develop the past of your character (we'll get to that in a bit).

An Example from the introduction of Keito in the Dimension Guardian Series:

"He had sharp golden eyes and his entire frame was built to live in a world where everyone fought for survival—a lesson Keito had obviously learned the hard way."

This allows you to explain what your character looks like, the world, and the character himself. That is why physical appearance should be determined early.

Physical Characteristics Might Have Changed Based on Their Past

I'm talking about scars and injuries. 

These change your character's appearance, and if you decide that your character has some gnarly scars, you best determine how they got them and how that changed them as people. 

This will help determine some of your character's backstory.

Which brings me to my next point.

Be Omniscient

Be All-Knowing when it comes to your characters.

This is where character development can become tricky.

What do I mean by omniscient? I mean: You. Must. Know. Everything.

Absolutely. Everything

Here are some things that I make it my business to know about my character:

Name, Parents' Names, Siblings, Relationship with Parents & Siblings, Grandparents, Children, Hair & Eye Color, Skin Color, Age, Height, Weight, Sexual Orientation, Date of Birth (or season, at least), Education, Favorite Color, Favorite Food, Level of Physical Activity, Occupation, Reason for Joining Said Occupation, Income, Phobias (and the reason the character has those phobias), Languages Spoken, Marital Status, Age of Lost Virginity, Preferred Clothing Style, General Speech Pattern, Pessimistic or Optimistic, Any Traumas, Dreams & Motivations, Loyalties, Religious Beliefs, Rebellious or Complacent, Against or For "the System."

And much, much more.

Some of these things develop with the story. For instance, in the Dimension Guardian series, it never came up how old the characters were when they lost their virginity. It was not important. But I know it anyway. Their clothing style was touched on only in their character descriptions, but otherwise it never came up.

However, in Inside, it was very important I knew when my main character lost her virginity (since it happened in the book), and her preferred style was modest dress because she had to feel uncomfortable and awkward dressing all sexy-like.

Be Omniscient, But Don't Give It All

Don't reveal everything about your character in the book. As I stated above, sometimes, it's not necessary. Other times, you have every intention of revealing it, but for some reason, it never comes up in the story. It still is a part of the character that you put on the page. It's still important to know so that you can create a 3-dimensional character.

Quick Tip:

When starting a new story, it might not be a bad idea to keep a cheat sheet nearby of your characters. This does not have to be sheets and sheets of information on them. As you develop them, you will be able to remember most of it anyway. However, it is not a bad idea to keep a record of some of the other details, such as parents' names and hair and eye color. 

Here is a screenshot of the cheat sheet I use (super basic) for some of my characters. This particular one is for the Dimension Guardian series. 

There is a section below for hand-written notes, should I need to write something in that I know I will forget. I have blocked bits of information that are spoilers to the story, but you get the basic idea. 

These are also things you can print out and put in a binder in alphabetical order in order to keep everything straight in a manner that does not require you to search for it on your computer.

However, some prefer to do an "interview" sort of cheat sheet. I have one that I tried to use a few times, but the "cheat sheet" ended up being five pages long and by the time I found what I was looking for in the cheat sheet, I had broken my creative focus and it took me longer to get back in the story. 

If you want to use a really long interview-like sheet to develop your characters completely, then that is totally acceptable! Not everything works for everyone. You need to learn what works best for you and then adapt that into your creative routine.

Just for funzies, I have added a page on this blog called "Writer Goodies." There, I will post links to the two different templates I just described (my short cheat sheet and the long interview sheet) so that you can practice with those and see if either of them work for you. 

Their Trauma Shapes Them

In my opinion, this is one of the most crucial things to do when developing your characters.

I think it's a well established rule that the most tortured character, or the character that clearly has the worst life, is always the author's favorite.

Why? If they're the favorite, why make them suffer?

Image result for sadistic gif

There are a lot of reasons authors do this.

One reason is because it gives the character the sympathy of the reader. The more you're shocked at what they have managed to endure, the more you sympathize with them and you are amazed by them. This brings you closer to the character, builds an emotional response to them, and gets you invested further in the story.

Another reason is because it develops the characters in a different direction than other characters. This sets that particular character apart from other characters in the story and makes them stand out in the reader's mind.

A third reason is because it changes their actions, sometimes drastically, which changes the story in some way. This allows the character to become more dynamic and allows them to direct the flow of the story.

Traumas are extremely important in determining your character's actions.

Those who have the misfortune of knowing me in day-to-day life have probably heard my very intense, annoying rant on Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey. There are a lot of reasons that that story has been picked apart (or torn apart) and gained such a strange mixture of admiration and hatred, but what got under my skin was the lack of care in developing Christian's past traumas. Since it was such a large part of the story and the relationship in the story, I could not get past how poorly he was developed.

That is why I am going to do an entirely separate post just on traumatizing your characters. It really does shape who they are, and it is important to keep it believable within the confines of the story so that the reader can maintain an unbroken suspension of disbelief.

Don't Underestimate the Power of Culture

Take  culture into deep consideration for your characters. Creating a culture/society in a book is worth a few posts on its own, but I think it's important to mention it here because this is where a lot of writers can fall short.

Culture is something we are all unaware of in our day-to-day lives. We are born and raised with certain societal expectations that are so ingrained into our subconscious that we act on it without thinking. Your characters will have to do the same for the culture you create.

The problem is that most do not realize how much culture plays into every little thing we do.

I have been very fortunate to have been in two very drastic cases of culture clash. I always did my best to step back whenever I was surprised by something abroad and determine why reacted as I did. I always asked: What in my culture/upbringing made me believe that this is not normal behavior?

The best example I can think of is in Japan where it was very common to see casual touching between two men or two women, but it was very strange to see public displays of affection between a male-female couple. It was a learning curve for all Americans (particularly the men) to have their Japanese friends come up and wrap their arm around their shoulders and walk with them like that.

Something as simple as that might not play into your novel, but it also might.

Culture will play the biggest part in your novel when it comes to your social hierarchy (there will be a post on building society and culture later). If you are in a democracy, then your character will act differently than if he were living under a dictatorship. And even then, it would depend on his position in that society. Someone in much higher social status would act differently to the country being threatened with war than a low-class worker.

This is why it is important to determine your character in all facets and then figure out how culture changes his behaviors around other people and within his society.

Don't Forget Your Side Characters

Alright, so I've told you to go into painstaking detail when developing your main characters, and now I'm going to tell you to do it again with every character.

Every character?

Well, those characters that you mention once in the entire novel probably don't need that much development.

But every character that shows up more than once or for an extended period of time, yes.

Your side characters are just as important as your main characters. In some ways, they are more important. They are the ones that show how your main character interacts with people that are close to them, people that are adversaries, whether they have trust issues, or allow everyone into their lives. Side Characters show your character in all lights.

And, in some cases, they are there to progress the story where your main characters cannot. They can be a bit of a deus-ex-machina when you need help getting the story to move to a certain point.

The other great thing about developing your side characters to the same extent as your main characters is that it opens up the doors to more stories and more series and more of this hell that is called writing a novel.

-glares at certain characters from the Dimension Guardian Series-

Anyway! Those are some broad strokes on developing characters. There will be more posts about this topic, including developing believable cultures, societies, traumatizing your characters properly, and bringing them to life so you don't have to work as hard.

Until then, don't forget to follow me on social media and check out my own novels! If you have any questions about writing, publishing, or anything at all, feel free to post to my Facebook page, or tweet your question to me @kjamidon.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

It All Depends on Your Point of View

So, you have a story idea, you have some character you're ready to plop down in a mostly-developed world and see where they go. You have some conflict ready for them to face, and you have decided to drop them in a scene where they are being uprooted from everything they know to move to a new, strange place.

How do you get the first words down on the page?

That depends on the perspective that you choose.

There are several options broadly categorized as First, Second, and Third Person Narration. These perspectives are very powerful tools in storytelling. Be sure you pick the one that best fits your needs.

Let's break them down.

First Person

First person narration is when the main character tells the story through the us of first-person "I" and "me." This forces the reader into the perspective of the main character.

Example: Inside, Part 1

“Thank you again,” I whispered hurriedly, waiting for him to unlock the doors so I could escape.

“You best be on your guard, Little Lily,” Dana whispered. “You are far more delectable than you realize.” His hand went to my knee and I jumped, but I could not move further. His hand went up my leg, tracing my inner thigh and coming to rest just before the apex of my legs. I shivered and his mouth went to my neck, carefully kissing my racing pulse.

“Just remember something…” he breathed. “You. Are. Mine.”

There are many ways to use this perspective. It is particularly common in the YA genre and romance genres. Most dystopians that are popular these days were written in first person. 

Why use this perspective?

The best reason to use this perspective is when you want to limit what your readers knows. If you are bound to the shoes and perspective of one character, your reader only knows what your character knows at that time. For instance, in Inside, as Lily was planning her revolution, we only saw what she saw and knew what she knew. We did not see any countermeasures taken by Dana until they were already happening and Lily had to react to them.

This allows for greater shock value in certain stories. It also can simplify a complicated rivalry or a story with many moving parts so that you do not overwhelm your reader as they try to keep up with who is doing what at what time. Remember, you are there to tell a story, not to let your reader see every little thing in the world. If they know everything, where is the suspense or tension?

Another reason to use first person is so that you can build a stronger relationship between your audience and the main character. Using first person allows you to stay in a character's mind and you can see their dreams and hopes and fears and memories, and that can give your reader a lot of insight into who that character is and help them relate to that character.

But you have to be careful with inner dialogue with first-person main characters. Sometimes, it can get to be too much, and when that happens, often readers will talk about how whiny your character is. It does not matter if most people over-think situations and do have an enormous amount of inner dialogue, your readers will call the character out as whiny, too emotional, or oversensitive. This is, unfortunately, very true with female protagonists over male protagonists. [You can read about the differences between writing male and female protagonists here.]

Now, being in First Person does not mean you cannot go into first person with another character in a different chapter in the same book. For instance, if you spend the first three chapters in the perspective of Susan, but you really want to give Susan a break for a while and focus on what's going on with Anne, you can change perspectives in the new chapter. 

My advice on this is to not overdo it. When you're constantly switching back and forth, it can be easy for the two stories to blur for your readers and they forget who is doing what. Always have a header or some sort of indication when you switch perspectives, also. And do not forget to tell your readers when you switch back to your first story. 

I would avoid having a story with more than two characters using First-Person to tell the story. Again, it gets convoluted very quickly and can become confusing to the point where your reader will lose interest. 

Second Person

Second person narration is not a common form in novel writing. It uses the "you" perspective, meaning the writer, "me," is telling the reader, "you," what "you" are doing to advance the story.

This is a very difficult technique to pull off in fiction writing. It's a little invasive for a reader and can come across as harsh and mean if not done correctly. It is meant to sound like a dialogue between the author and the reader, but depending on your story, it could be very difficult to accomplish.


"You are a sculptor. You climb a great ladder; you pour grease all over a growing longleaf pine. Next, you build a hollow cylinder like a cofferdam around the entire pine, and grease its inside walls. You climb your ladder and spend the next week pouring wet plaster into the cofferdam...Now open the walls of the damn, split the plaster, saw down the tree, remove it, discard, and your intricate sculpture is read: this is the shape of part of the air."

From Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard.

The reason this is a difficult form to use is because you are forcing the reader to have memories and feeling that they might not, rather than having them relate to a character in first person, or having them observe the story from third person. Second person shoves your reader into the story and it might not be a comfortable place for them, particularly if they are trying to relate the story to themselves and cannot because they have never been in those situations, or they know they would act differently than the "you" in the story.

My experience with Second Person is limited, as I have only told one short story that hit me out of the blue one day and is currently stuffed in a drawer somewhere. If you're up for a challenge, I would suggest writing short stories in this perspective. Long novels are probably not going to translate well when written in second person.

Third Person

Third person narration is one of the most common means of writing fiction, and it is broken down into three subcategories. The premise of this narration style is to use the "he, she, it, they," style and watch the story unfold from a removed position.

The subcategories will break it down further.

Third-Person Limited

Third-Person Limited perspective is a bit like First-Person in the sense that the story follows one character as they progress through the story. However, it is removed from the inner thoughts of the main character. Basically, you're talking one of the characters as they go through all the hell in the story.

Why use this style? Sometimes, being in a character's head can be too much for the story. When you're in a character's head, you actually have to spend some time on what's in there. When your character is shocked about something, you have to explain the character more in first person than in third person.

For example. 

First-Person: "I was shocked that they would say something so ostentatious. Did they not remember that I had been there? I had to take several moments to think of the best way to respond."

Third-Person: "He was shocked. When he found his tongue again, he replied..."

I know what people are going to say.

You could just say "I was shocked. When I found my tongue again, I said..." Your argument is invalid. You have no idea what the hell you're talking about!

Alright, it's true, you do not have to elaborate on your character's inner thoughts, but it helps flush out the story when you are in a character's head. Sometimes, if you don't say anything about how the character feels when they are the one telling the story, it feels stunted and incomplete. 

The third-person buffer removes you from the character's inner dialogue, but the limited perspective still focuses on that one character's actions in the story. This allows you to focus on your one character while also allowing for your reader to know more exposition information that might not be available to your character. Deciding between this perspective and first-person comes down to story, genre, personal preference, and ease to the writer. 

Third-Person Multiple

This is very similar to third-person limited perspective in the sense that it still uses the "he, she, it, they" style. However, this time, instead of stalking one character, you get to stalk several!

The trouble with this perspective, if you decide to follow multiple characters from a third-person perspective, you have to be sure that your reader can keep up with where you are in the story. 

I used this perspective in the Dimension Guardian Series. [Shameless Plug - read here!]

Why did I use it for that story?

Well, I have five main characters in that story that meet up quite often to work together to fight the big baddie that's causing trouble everywhere. Every now and then, things would happen when one of them was alone and I wanted to touch on that, so I would follow one of the five around depending on what kind of trouble they were getting into.

However, that is not the only reason. 

There were times where my main characters were sitting around doing research, or they were resting from a big fight. In other words, they were doing things that did not need to be described in the story because they were boring filler things. Now, I could have just done a chapter break and jumped ahead a few days to get past all that boring stuff, but to break up the story and keep some momentum going without the reader feeling like they had just lost three days with the characters, I would jump over to what my villains were up to (more accurately, the villain's henchmen. Seriously, if there is any reason to read that series, it is to see those two characters. I promise, they are worth it). 

Being able to leap around to different areas of the stories and follow the big-name characters gave me more options to keep the story going without giving my reader all the information like in Third-Person Omniscient. 

Speaking of which...

Third-Person Omniscient

The final subcategory of Third-Person narration is Third-Person Omniscient. 

Distinguishing this from Third-Person multiple is a little tricky, but you have to remember that information is key. 

Third-Person Omniscient is the same format as the other third-person categories ("he, she, it, they"), and you can hop around as you please in the story following different characters as you please. 

So what distinguishes Omniscient from Multiple.

The way exposition is given. 

In Multiple, you are following characters around, but you do not see everything in the world around them, only what they are going through and how they react to it. There would be no suspense if you told your readers about the trap your characters were going in before they went into it, right?

Omniscient means that you, the author, gives your reader all the information. There is nothing held back from them. They become all-knowing. This includes what other characters are thinking that are not in the spotlight, or even things that are occurring entirely outside the characters' knowledge that will come to fruition later.

Those are the categories of Point of View and Perspective when writing your story.

So which one do you pick?

Hate to tell you, there is no formula. You can only think about how you want to convey the story, how much you want your reader to know, and how you want them to interact with the story, and your own comfort level in writing.

The best part about this is, you can try one perspective and find out that it's too broad/narrow for your needs, and you can change it. By then, you understand the story better and you have determined how you want it told. Just because you decided to start in Third-Person Omniscient doesn't mean you are sentenced to that. You can go back and write the beginning (or wherever you started) again in a different perspective to see if it fits your story better.

When you find the right one, you will know it.

I'm Sensing Some Tension...

Just a quick touch on choosing the tense of your story.

Tense format is a different beast that will be discussed in depth in other posts (mostly when it comes to editing). However, when writing your story, it is important to think about your tense, even if only briefly.

The most common format for writing stories is to used past tense (no matter the perspective). How can you tell tense if you're really bad with that sort of thing? Look at the dialogue.

Present tense: "she says."

Past tense: "she said."

Sometimes, certain tenses play into your story, such as telling everything in present tense because you have a surprise ending where the character telling the story dies and it doesn't make sense that that character is talking from beyond the grave to tell this story. However, more often than not, tense is due to the preference of the writer. Some writers are more comfortable in present tense (I am not one of them), and others are more comfortable in past tense.

Regardless of the tense you choose when writing, be sure that you stick to that same tense through the entire novel. When writing your first draft, you do not have to be perfect about it, but knowing which tense you are in will save you a huge headache later in the editing process. Trust me.

Now, as always, there are certain exceptions. However, if you are changing tense in a story, be sure there is a deliberate reason and pattern. I did it in Inside, Part 3. Yes, for anyone who has read Inside, Part 3, all that nonsense at the end with the tenses was deliberate. And it was torture to edit. Therefore, if you are going to do it for a style point, then be sure you are very careful. Changing tenses can be very confusing and irritating to your reader.

Alright everyone! Hope you have some great fun with your budding (or continuing) projects! Anyone have a favorite perspective to write in?

If you have any questions about writing, publishing, or anything in general, feel free to click the Facebook link below and message me. Or tweet your question to me @kjamidon

Don't forget to follow me on social media by clicking the links below and check out my own novels!