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Monday, September 21, 2020

Arrogance vs. Confidence, Self-deprecation vs. Humility


One of the most popular posts of all time on my writing blog, has surprisingly, little to do with writing. And yet, at the same time, seems to have everything to do with it. When my blog was a baby (less than a year old), I wrote a post about the differences between confidence and arrogance, and humility and self-deprecation. It still gets regular hits.

Which wouldn't be a problem . . . except, since then, I've refined and updated some of my ideas. 

And I'd like people to have the more refined version. 

So this is sort of a repost, but not really a repost, and sort of not about writing, and yet totally about writing. 

Because let's be honest--on our own writing journeys, it can be easy to zigzag all over the place between these characteristics, whether it's because we've just finished a manuscript that is obviously bound to be the next great American novel (or . . . insert whatever country you hail from) or because we've just found out our editor hates our characters. It's like one of my favorite writing memes.

So, I want to talk about the differences between arrogance and confidence, and humility and self-deprecation--and how to discern each.

Monday, September 14, 2020

8 Archetypes of The Hero's Journey


Today we are covering the eight character archetypes of The Hero's Journey.

Archetypes are recurring patterns and figures in storytelling (well, to put in simplified terms). Often a story won't feel "complete" without the proper archetypes.

But keep in mind that archetypes don't have to manifest exactly like this in your manuscript--it's not necessarily a character-for-character thing. In fact, these work more as functions, especially today. You can mix and match and combine them in your cast of characters. Or sometimes the functions may be like masks that different characters wear at different times.


Hero

Obviously this is the protagonist, but we'll go a little deeper into the Hero archetype, than that, of course.

Vogler, who has a whole book on The Hero's Journey specifically for writers, says, "The word hero is Greek, from a root that means 'to protect and to serve.' A Hero is someone who is willing to sacrifice his own needs on behalf of others. . . . At the root the idea of Hero is connected with self-sacrifice."

The Hero is the main person the audience will identify with. He or she provides a context for them to view the rest of the story. In order for this archetype to be effective the Hero needs to be both universal and original--universal enough that the audience can relate to him, but original enough to feel distinct, like a real person.

Another important function is that the Hero shows growth, and usually, he or she grows the most out of all the characters. She is typically the person who takes the most action, or at least, the most significant actions in the story. Through The Hero's Journey, she will face death, real or figurative.



Mentor

This archetype is almost as familiar as the Hero. The Mentor is often seen as a wise old man or woman, but it doesn't have to be. Traditionally, the Mentor is a positive figure who trains the Hero. Both Dramatica and The Hero's Journey touch on the idea that this archetype is similar to God or the conscience or a higher self, in the sense that it encourages the Hero to do what is right. This figure often functions like a parent.

In addition to teaching, the Mentor often gives gifts, maybe a magic pendant that lights up the darkest places, for example. Sometimes these gifts need to be earned by the Hero--he may need to prove he is worthy of them--and almost always they are required to finish the story. The Mentor may drop information that will be important later. She may also provide motivation when the Hero has difficulty moving forward.



Threshold Guardian

Just as the Hero will likely need to prove herself to the Mentor, she will likely also need to prove herself to a Threshold Guardian. As she faces obstacles on her adventure, she may need to get past a guard, rival, or unfriendly creature--not necessarily the antagonist, but someone in the way of the goal. Vogler writes, "At each gateway to a new world there are powerful guardians at the threshold, placed to keep the unworthy from entering."

The Threshold Guardian's purpose is to test the Hero before she can continue. Not all Guardians are defeated--some may be bypassed or turned into an ally. In life, the Threshold Guardian represents the resistance we face when we make up our minds to go a certain direction. This resistance may not be ill-intended--it can come from a best friend who doesn't want us to move away, for example. The friend's resistance tests our resolve--are we willing to still move even when begged not to?



Herald

The Hero starts out in his Ordinary World, until the Call to Adventure arrives. Often that Call to Adventure comes from a Herald.

The Herald announces "the need for a change." Like the Mentor, the Herald will work as a motivator for the Hero. Maybe the Hero knows a change is coming, but it's not validated until the Herald appears.

Other than Act I, a Herald can surface at almost any point in the story, announcing and encouraging the need for change.



Shapeshifter

By nature, this archetype is shifting and unstable. The Hero will meet the Shapeshifter, get one impression, only to discover they are truly something else later. Or their very nature may change several times throughout the Journey. "Shapeshifters change appearance or mood, and are difficult for the Hero and the audience to pin down."

Typically, traditionally, the Shapeshifter is the opposite gender of the Hero, perhaps a love interest. The Hero's Journey borrows heavily from the studies of Carl Jung, and this pattern connects to his concept of the "animus" or "anima"--an archetype representing the male elements in the female unconscious or vice versa. Of course, the Shapeshifter can also work well as the same gender, such as in a buddy comedy or adventure story.

In the narrative, the Shapeshifter functions by bringing in doubt into the Adventure. Because we can't pin down the Shapeshifter, we will feel unsure and ask questions.



Shadow

The Shadow is the antagonistic force. It "represents the energy of the dark side, the unexpressed, unrealized, or rejected aspects of something." It can be the main antagonist but also other villains, enemies, or inner demons of the self.

The Shadow challenges the Hero as a worthy opponent. If the story includes a main villain, that Shadow may illustrate characteristics the Hero rejects within himself, so in a sense it mirrors the Hero while also being the direct opposite of the Hero. Often the best Shadows are humanized in some way.

Shadows are not always negatively rooted. They can also be things unobtained, such as unexplored potential, forgotten dreams, or unexpressed love.

It's the stuff we try to push away into the unconscious. And sometimes that stuff is personified into a character.


Ally

Many heroes need a buddy or a sidekick to help them on their journey. This can be a best friend, a pet, a training partner, a servant, a classmate, or a variety of other things. Having an Ally gives the Hero a comrade to interact with--to bring out human feelings, thematic discussions, and possible problem-solving methods. An Ally will help illuminate aspects of the Hero that the other archetypes cannot.

Allies may ask questions the audience needs to hear but that the Hero would not ask, such as Watson when paired with Sherlock Holmes.

In mythology, it's not uncommon for the Hero to have a spiritual protector, like a guardian angel or the ghost of an ancestor.

The Ally "might represent the unexpressed or un-used parts of the personality that must be brought into action to do their jobs."




Trickster

This archetype exemplifies mischief and the desire to change. The Trickster is typically the comic relief. In the human experience, the Trickster humbles those with big egos and brings others down to earth. They may highlight follies and hypocrisies. "Above all, they bring about healthy change and transformation, often by drawing attention to the imbalance or absurdity of a stagnant psychological situation." They are rebels of social or political conventions--or at least, their actions bring such things into question.

A great Trickster can help balance out long, tense moments in a story. In order to feel suspense most powerfully, you need to contrast it with relief and laughter.



Remember, often today we don't use characters that fit archetypes exactly, but rather these are different character functions to bring into the story. Feel free to mix them up or bring something new to your character. 

Why does this matter? Well, there is a reason these figures appear and reappear throughout human history. They represent different parts of the human experience: encouragement to do right, feelings of doubt, resistance, motivation, imbalance, repressed or unrealized desires. . . . 

Including the different parts, makes a story feel more complete or whole, because it mimics life.

To learn more about this or other archetypes, check out and compare The Hero's Journey's list to Dramatica's list

3 Quick Announcements:

This Wednesday at 6 p.m. MDT, I will be participating in a virtual Hamilton panel through FanX. We will be talking about the film recording and everything Hamilton. Visit the FanX website on Wednesday to watch. 

I've recently added another editing service to my offerings: manuscript evaluation. This is similar to my content editing, but lighter. Basically, I read right through the manuscript and write up an editorial letter where I talk about how the manuscript can be taken to the next level or how the writer can improve, in general. I've done this as a "slimmer" version of my content editing in the past, but haven't advertised this approach lately because I personally think most manuscripts deserve a deeper edit. However, I understand that many people (especially now thanks to covid) are on a tighter budget. This approach is faster and therefore cheaper (but again, not as detailed). For now, I intend to have it listed only temporarily. For everything about my editing services, visit FawksEditing.com.

QueryLetter.com is holding a writing competition. This contest is all about book blurbs. The winner will receive $500. Learn about the contest here. It looks like submissions must be sent by the 15th--so act quick if you want to enter!

Monday, September 7, 2020

How to Focus a Novel: 3 Key Things


 
 
Ever take a look at your story and notice it's wandering here, there, over the river, through the woods, and all the way to grandmother's house?
 
Whether you are brainstorming, writing, or revising, it can be difficult to discern what belongs in your story and what belongs on the cutting floor--what is a good, appropriate idea, and what is a less-than-good, not-quite-appropriate idea.
 
Unless you know about the holy trinity of writing. 
 
What is the holy trinity of writing, you ask?

Well, nothing . . . 

EXCEPT THE THREE KEY ELEMENTS THAT MAKE A STORY EXCELLENT.

(Spoiler: I'm the only one who calls them "the holy trinity of writing," so don't use that term elsewhere unless you want strange looks (which, let's be honest, sometimes makes life more exciting 😉).)

With these three elements, you should--theoretically--be able to evaluate what content belongs in your manuscript and what belongs in the recycle bin (oof, so harsh). 
 
Have I always thought of these three elements as the holy trinity of writing? 

Definitely not.

In fact, years ago, I would have scratched my head at one of them.

But as I've grown and gained experience, I have found this fact to be largely true:

Everything* in the story must connect back into one of these three components.
 
*Well, "everything"--you know how writing "rules" are.

 
Character (arc)

Plot (cause and effect events that make up "what happens")

Theme (what character arc + plot is teaching us about life)
 

99% of what you write should be touching and progressing one of these things, and often, all three. 

Really? 
 
Really.

When you have and know all three components of your story, you are able to brainstorm better or evaluate better. 
 
You are less likely to wander down roads that lead to hundreds of pages needing to be cut.

Knowing each of these three things will help you refine everything you write. The good news is, you don't have to know everything about each of these topics. (Well, at least not until the end, perhaps (though some writers may even argue against that).)

Monday, August 31, 2020

What to Do When You Want to Quit Writing


We've all had it. That dreadful thought that passes through the mind: Maybe I should quit. 

It's often depressing. 

And discouraging. 

And to be totally honest? Completely normal!

So I wanted to do a post talking about it today. But before I get too far into this, I need to explain some things.

There is a difference between "passing thoughts" and "intentional thoughts."

Passing thoughts are what they sound like, thoughts that just enter your head, don't carry a lot of weight, don't really take much root, and pass right through your mind.

All of us have passing thoughts.

When people ask others things like, "Did you ever think of giving up?" and the person replies "No," it's a little misleading. The reality is, all of us, all of us have passing thoughts about quitting. The thought will just naturally come to mind when you are struggling. How can you really go years without it ever crossing your mind? You can't, because inside, you know it's an option.

When someone says they never thought of giving up, what they really mean is, they never thought seriously about giving up. It was never an intentional thought.

All of us will have passing thoughts of doubt and quitting. I know I do!

Most of us will probably even have serious thoughts of quitting. 
 
And really, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Doubt and skepticism are super important parts of the human mind. They keep us safe, alive, and grounded. They help us learn to discern better and to think more critically. They even help us to grow. 
 
I mean, if you never experience doubt and skepticism, then there is a good chance that something is . . . wrong. (But, hey, I'm not a therapist or anything!)
 
And in reality, this is sometimes more of a spectrum than an either-or situation, because there are different levels of seriousness.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Utilizing the 3 Types of Death

 

Last week I was reading a writing book by James Scott Bell, and in it, he made the claim that every story is really about death (or the fight against it). 

I admit, my first reaction was to challenge it. Death? Really? Every story? Really? Even if you are talking about a figurative death, there must be plenty of stories that have nothing to do with such a thing!

But then I kept reading. 

. . . and I changed my mind, in a sense. 

Every story is about death, but there are three types of death: physical, professional, and psychological.
And it can be quite useful to know about them, particularly through the middle of your story (well, at least it was to me). 

So here are the types.

 

Physical

This is pretty much self-explanatory. This is death, death, as we know it. In a lot of stories, the protagonist’s actual life is at risk. Thrillers, survivalist stories, often dystopias . . . You get the idea. But sometimes worse is the prospect of a loved one dying (which can tap into the psychological).


Professional 

I admit, I really want to call this one something else, like “vocational,” because it’s not always about an actual job or profession. But then, I guess if it were called that, we wouldn’t have the three Ps (physical, professional, psychological). A story about professional death may indeed be about the protagonist having his job or profession at risk. But it can also be a vocation or calling at risk, such as possibly being expelled from school, or turning out to be a bad parent, or losing your lifelong dream to be the best ballerina in America. In a sense, this is the protagonist’s life role in danger of dying. So you might find this in stories about lawyers, or artists, or athletes . . .

 

Psychological

A psychological death is when someone dies on the inside. She becomes a shell of a person. What's at risk in the story, is that person's livelihood--who he or she is. In romances, it may begin to feel that if the couple never gets together, they'll suffer an inward death. They'll never be who they were before. And they'll never become who they could have been. 

But it can be about something else too, like a loss of identity or a traumatic shift in a worldview. It can even be something the character has been battling with for his or her whole life, like toxic gender roles, which kill him or her on the inside.


 

For a story to be satisfying, it needs to be about fighting some kind of death.  This is in part because if there is no death, then the stakes aren't high enough. We need high stakes for the story to matter, to have meaning. Because if nothing significant is at stake, then what happens doesn't really matter. Which means the story doesn't really matter.

And many stories will be about the protagonist fighting off more than one death. When looking to strengthen stakes, it might be helpful to look at how to bring in another type of death. 

When it comes to structure, the death will be introduced at the inciting incident. By the end, that death will be confronted in the climax. But the middle. The middle is where the protagonist reacts to and tries to fight off that death (generally speaking, in some form or another). Which means, through the middle, you need to think of ways to escalate that death into something more formidable or painful. 

Maybe in the inciting incident, your protagonist realizes he could die on this journey. 

Then through the middle, you put in more life-threatening things. Or perhaps you escalate it so that not only could he die, but his whole family could. Or perhaps the way he could die becomes more traumatic. Or perhaps the timing he dies could be more damning. This obviously becomes problematic.

But in the climax is when he must face that death in the most dangerous way. Will he succeed? Or fail? Well, that depends on the kind of story you are telling. 

So I guess, yes, in a sense, every story should be about death. Because if something is not at risk of dying--of reaching an end, a judgment, a state that cannot be undone--then the story misses out on reaching its potential. 

So, think about what kind of death is key in your story, and if it is threatening enough. 


Monday, August 17, 2020

Mastering Motifs for Thematic Power


Today I want to talk about a topic that for much of my life I could care less about--no really, I could care less about motifs. From me, they always got the metaphorical shoulder shrug. Like, who cares when there are so many other more important things to focus on in writing?

Turns out (as what often happens) I didn't care about them because I didn't fully understand them.

I also feel that part of this stems from the fact that I don't think we do a very good job teaching theme in our society.

It was only when I started really understanding theme, that I started caring about motifs.

Because no one told me growing up (unless I was asleep during that class somehow) that motifs are used in conjunction with theme.

I was only ever told that a motif was a recurring . . . thing in a story. The "thing" can be an object, an action, a word or phrase, a concept, a sound, a color, a--I think you get why I use the word "thing." But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Instead, let's first start with a topic we are all familiar with: symbolism.

What Symbolism Actually is

I sometimes dislike the word "symbolism" because I feel like it implies the need to "decode" something, as if it's a secret message that you can only get if you are smart or "in the know."

I won't say it's never such a thing, but I will say that often that is not the actual point of symbolism.

Mostly, at its heart, I feel that symbolism is a means to communicate something abstract in a more concrete way (which as writers, is something many of us will be all too familiar with).

Take the U.S. flag for example. I mean, literally, it's just a piece of fabric with some stars and stripes--does it really deserve such respect and tender care? But here's the problem. The ideas U.S.A. is founded on are things that are abstract: liberty and equality. How do you show respect to abstract concepts?

You can't very easily.

So you have to give it concrete form. It's not the fabric that actually matters. It's the abstracts the flag represents.

Symbolism can also communicate multiple things at once, more quickly. For example, we could open the rodeos with a long speech about liberty and equality. Or we could just raise the American flag, which communicates that.

I could write out that it's important to wear your seat belts when sitting down at a ride at Disneyland in a bunch of different languages, or I could just use an image of a person belted in his or her cart. And anyone can understand that.

Language itself is a symbol (a "signifier" if you want to get specific), but I won't get into linguistics.

Symbolism is simply another form of communication, of conveying something that isn't a literal, present, or concrete thing at that time. Not something you need a high IQ to "decode."

And as writers and readers, surely we know or have at least felt the impact of communicating abstract ideas, feelings, and experiences through concrete means (which is largely what storytelling is all about). "Showing" (concrete) is more impactful than "telling" (abstract).

For some, it might be helpful to think of symbolism as just another language. 🤷‍♀️

Monday, August 3, 2020

Vulnerable Vibes vs. God Mode



As you probably all know by now, I do a lot of editing. I also do a lot of writing. Every once in a while I find myself looking at a story where the protagonist is overly sensitive and vulnerable for most of the time. On the other hand, I also sometimes find myself looking at a story where the protagonist is too . . . well . . . powerful or maybe even invincible too much of the time.

But often, the best protagonists and stories show some of both.

And I would surmise that by tapping into both, you can write a more powerful story, because as I've talked about before, it's not hitting the same concept over and over that makes a story more emotionally powerful, it's hitting it and its contrast. It's crossing opposites that makes a story more powerful. Sameness can actually dull the impact.

While I try to avoid gender stereotypes, I will say from my experience, that GENERALLY speaking, if a protagonist is too sensitive and vulnerable too much of the time (and often needs help and rescuing to boot), it's usually written by a female (and just so you know, I've been guilty of this as a lady). And that GENERALLY speaking, if a protagonist is too powerful and invincible too much of the time, it's usually written by a male. However, most stories I look at are rather well balanced.

So why am I talking about this today?

Well, because even if you aren't in the extreme, I believe any writer can benefit from being aware of the two extremes and learning how to utilize each end of the spectrum.

Ideally, we should be seeing your protagonist be both vulnerable and powerful.

While there are some particular points where this is most effective (which I'll get to), it's usually a good idea to have some of this throughout: the beginning, the middle, and the end.

And in a lot of stories, each aspect may become more . . . potent, as the story progresses. So in a sense, the character may face more, stronger vulnerable moments as the story progresses, and simultaneously more powerful moments as the story progresses . . . possibly (you know how it is with writing 😉)