Writing Tutorial

By Megan O'Shea

North Castle is proud to present this comprehensive set of ever-expanding tutorials that focus on helping you to improve your writing skills. Certainly when I myself first started out, and many others, I only had the general knowledge that I'd learnt at school and looking back on my earlier work, I really could have done with a tutorial like this to keep handy! It's been written and compiled by North Castle veteran and longtime friend Megan O'Shea, who has kindly shared her extensive fountain of knowledge to put this little article together.

I've put the tutorials into various sections so you can quick jump to the section that you're interested below, and this will be constantly updated as Megan writes new guides. For the latest version, please be sure to check in the fanfiction discussion forum at the North Castle Messageboards, and if there's anything else you'd like to see added to this, or simply need a helping hand, please do not hesitate to email Megan.

~ Lady Juliet

Disclaimer: This is a rough set of rules. I don't claim to know all, so if you find mistakes or have an opinion, please e-mail, and I'll edit accordingly. Hope this helps someone just starting out! All Microsoft bashing is based on personal experience, and should not be seen as official slander to any one person or group; all here is done with a touch of parody.

~ Megan O'Shea

Back To Basics

Technically Speaking…(Grammar)

Today's little bit's gonna be a little shorter and a bit more formal than the norm. I feel like a teacher in a classroom, but I figured this'll help some unsuspecting people out in the future, so I might as well include it. As the title says, I'm gonna lecture on grammar. It's a pet peeve of mine, so if at any point this breaks down and becomes some form of misguided ranting, please excuse me and allot it to a fit of geeky passion. I'm occasionally good for one of those. Now...

As we float about this wide world of written antics and character adventures, we'll happen to stop and have a gander at something we consider to be well-written. The characters are nice, the plot's keeping us riveted to our seats like superglue's been spread to the chair when we weren't looking, and the real world is a distant memory. However, sometimes even the best writers make their mistakes because they're unaware of some things. Grammar, ya'll. Grammar. If you're like me(a stickler and natural editor), mistakes in this department irk you. If you're not(well-adjusted and sane), you might want to pay attention anyway, because this is important. Grammar often has a lot to do with what you mean when you write, and confusing it often clouds your meaning, or just irritates people. Here are some common mistakes, pointed out in quotes.


It's VS Its---Okay. It's is a contraction of "it is", and is used as follows. If you're unsure, just ask yourself, "If I say 'it is', does it sound right in the sentence?" Example:
It's cloudy out today. Contraction of it and is.
Its, on the other hand, denotes ownership when the thing it belongs to is genderless. Example:
The tree lost its branch in the storm.

For some of ya, it's preaching to the choir, for others it's a handy-dandy reminder to be careful as you go along. Don't be relying on Microsoft Word(or any other editing program, for that matter) to pick up everything--like a lot of Microsoft, the program is a semi-reliable piece of garbage at best. We can all shake our fists at and curse Gates after this session's over. I have a couple common mistakes outlined below, where we have what I refer to as the Brothers Grimm, three words that sound alike but are used in different ways. Pencils up, folks, here we go!


Their, there, and they're--These can be a pain to keep track of. All righty. Their is an ownership word, so it's used a little something like this:
The house on the corner is their beach home.

Now for there. It's telling someone where to go, used like this:
The place she is looking for is over [i]there.

Now for the last in this particular line-up, they're. It's another one of those contractions(yes, I can hear assorted groans and muttering as we speak, hold on, I'm getting there). It's used a little something like:
They're going to the concert Saturday. The same basic rules apply to the infamous your(ownership), and you're(contraction word).

Those above are some of the more common. My fingers hurt from typing and turning the special font tags on and off. Yeah, I know this breaks from the normal tutorial junk I put up, but I just happened to think of this. Next one'll be on setting and plot, so I can get back to the good ole swing of things. As I try to decide what to include in the next blurb, I'll be hiding from Microsoft fans and people who think I'm being a pompous jerk by writing these things. It's all for a good cause, put the wet noodles you're looking to flog me with away!

Structure and Form

This one's about structuring your story before you do it, so that you'll have a basic outline to follow as you work. Unlike me, you'll have an easy time getting what you want on paper and not have it stuck in your head. Usually, having a file on your computer or a notebook(something cheap, like you'd use in a class setting), works out fine. Personal preference there. However, after you have an idea set in your head, it's time to sharpen the pencil and get to work.

Now's the time to get your main ideas and points you want to make in the story out on paper, so you don't forget later. Time to whip that flabby idea into something concrete, and know what you want to do in the beginning, middle, and end of your story. As you might have heard your teachers lecture in English class, all stories have some distinct parts you may want to adhere to as you go along. Never thought you'd hear of them once you went your merry way out of class, huh? Well, evil me's brought them back.

Opening--This is where you want to set up most of the main characters, inform your readers of the setting, introduce some of the main problem in the plot, and start the adventure off.
Rising action--The rest of the supporting and important characters should be brought in here, and they should all realize (surprise, surprise), that the problem they set out to stop is a lot bigger than they first thought. If you have a villain, introuduce some of their main motivations here a little more, and flesh out their Evil Plot.
Climax--By this time, the characters have come up with a solution to the problem, but they might be finding that making it work isn't exactly going the way they want it. The villain has implemented the Evil Plot and is gloating over the results--by the end of this part they should be ready to confront the villain and (maybe) defeat him/her.
Falling action--The villain is either defeated, dead, or has fled, and so now the time to work out subplot problems has come. Corny romances, characters that didn't get along over some misunderstanding, and the like is usually played out around now. If they went on a trip to meet the villain, they're on the way home. All's pretty much sunshine and light with the world. If you like it that way.
Ending--There was a fancy French word for this I can't recall, but this is pretty much self-explanatory. Characters come home, relate their adventures, turn out okay from the adventure (most of the time), and perhaps here another problem that can be the main idea behind the next story can be introduced.

Character Tutorial

Character Making

Boiling it down to the basics, your main character should be a good place to start when you're doing any piece of written work. It's something you should take some time to consider before you actually do any writing, and while a lot of character development takes place during the course of a story, having a few basic questions answered beforehand will serve you in the long run.

First, what will your main character look like? Thin, in need of a trip to the gym, someplace in between? And what about age? Still in grade school, or old enough to be sending children or grandchildren there? Does s/he have any nicknames, and does s/he like it/them? Or does s/he despise them because it's an insult? Could the name be based on looks that are not eye-friendly(or are?)? And what about a job, or in some cases, former job, if your character was laid off or retired? Hair and eye color?

Does your character have an attitude toward life, or is s/he content with the status quo? What about the way s/he dresses, speaks, what sort of background did s/he come from? Does s/he have a secret from the past that isn't good to share in mixed company? Does s/he have emotional trauma from a past incident? Is s/he shy and finds making friends difficult? Or is your character the life of any party? As you can see, there are many questions to consider, and it may take some time to get some working answers to them. Maybe it'll take a few versions of a character before you can nail down something you can see yourself writing about. What country does your little pride and joy hail from? What language does s/he speak, is s/he bilingual?

Sometimes, the plot will help define your character. If it's a police murder mystery, maybe a hard-boiled cop will be the proper character to fit in there, and if it's a fantasy, an elf that works spells will be appropriate. What happens, as I'll say time and time again, is largely up to you. If anyone has any thoughts or questions, feel free to e-mail me at En4sa@aol.com

Character Naming

Yet another tutorial on characters! They're quite an important subject, so I'm devoting a fair chunk to 'em. This one will focus on what to name your darling little creation, and how names sometimes play a part in a work of fiction. It'd be rather inappropriate to have all the people you've created running around with names like 'Character A' and so forth, unless you're doing a parody of some sort, and even that's going to confuse the sin out of whoever's reading your masterpiece. Now, how to go about deciding a name? There are a few different methods, and all a matter of personal choice. Some people prefer taking names from people they know in life, others being clever and stringing up a name out of no-place, while there are yet others that swear by baby name books. Me, I'm the last category(I once was even asked if I was pregnant because I was taking such a book from the library!).

You don't need to spend any money to find baby names though; common sense would nowadays inform us that there are search engines that list a ton of sites dedicated to the cause. A lot of people like to call their bundles of fictional joy something that has some relevance to the story. For example, if you're writing a fantasy story whose main character is a witch that can control fire, you may want to name her something that means 'fire.' Sites with baby names often translate meanings for names you put in their search features. You can look it up by country of origin, as well as a bunch of other wonky features I'll let ya see for yourself. J

The second method is making up names. This can be done by sticking a bunch of letters together, blending two names to make one, or slightly altering a name that already exists to fit your purposes. I could try out a few examples here, but I'm none too good at it, and prefer going with already existing names. But hey, don't let my preferences stop you from doing what you want. If you're having trouble with making up a name, ask someone to help you out. Two heads are often better than one, after all. Interesting bit of info: Did you know that before 'Peter Pan' was written, the girl name 'Wendy' wasn't around?

Sometimes even classical pieces can offer a helpful boost when you're stumped in what to call your hero or heroine. Have a look at mythology books, Shakespearian plays, and the like. Sometimes they can also influence what your character's personality turns out to be, usually in the case that you're putting allusions from other sources in your writing. More on that when I cover plot lines and twists, though. In the meantime, a butchered 'Romeo and Juliet' quote to ponder over:

What's in a name? That what we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet... But would probably make a lousy thing to call a character. ;)

Mary-Sue Syndrome

Now for the next installment of the exciting tutorial I've been doing! Okay, well, maybe not exciting, but hopefully mildly informative. This topic's going to center around Mary Sues, and their male counterparts, the name for which currently slips from my addled little head. Now, what exactly is a Mary Sue? I'm sure while reading fanfic, you've seen them, the author-created character that has these 'awesome unbeatable powers and all the cannon characters love them' type of thing. Another popular one is that they're the 'bearer of some awesome and forbidden power even the best cannon character can't get' in a series. More or less, they're a walking hero stereotype that gets most of the focus in a written work, usually fanfic.

But fear not, intrepid authors! There are ways to avoid making this mistake. It's important to remember that while you're writing, you're doing it about a person that's just like you in a lot of ways--your character has fears and wants just like anyone else, can behave stupidly sometimes, and has a past that affects what he/she does presently. Keeping that in mind, pause while you write every once in awhile. Are you making your character sound a little too perfect? Might want to throw in a flaw. To make a well-rounded character(and this, ladies and laddies, is vital), you need to make your character take the fall every once in awhile. Show that he/she has weaknesses that could be exploited by the nasties.

Another common thing you'll probably see while browsing these Shakespearian odes to glory(aka bad fanfics), is that the cannon characters, the ones that belong there in the first place, are portrayed completely wrong. They don't act like they do in the cannon work, and generally all bow down to worship(in one form or another), the author-made Mary Sue, or male-counterpart-whose-name-I-forget because they're so powerful. Folks, for the love of God, go do your homework before you embark on doing a fanfic. Sit there and watch hours of the TV show you're working from, or read the book several times. Sure, you may scare people, start to smell like Limburger cheese, and live a life of relative hermitude, but it's all for a good cause! ;)If you're doing a fanfic based on the characters of someone with whom you have actual physical, phone or IM contact, don't be afraid to ask them what Character X would do in Situation Y. That way, you have a general idea of what you're doing. If you don't have that chance, then aim to be as accurate as possible. Believe it or not, fanfic doesn't have to be synonymous with 'suck city.'

As before, if anybody's got questions or wants to say that I got something inaccurate or am generally full of what makes the grass green in December, feel free to e-mail me. J


Well, figured I'd touch on this topic for a bit. Seems like everyone knows how to make the perfect good guy--take a bit of charisma, the usual good looks and the 'never say never' attitude, and toss him into a situation.

Watch as he fights his way out(or in some cases, her), and save the planet from destruction, rescue the person in distress, or save the oppressed from certain doom. But what about those upstanding, wonderful citizens that start all the mayhem in the first place? Yep, I'm talking about those lovable bad folks that crawl out from the darkness and terrorize the good folks, the Snidely Whiplash to the Dudley Doright.

Often, the bad guys are seen as less human(we're assuming for the sake of this post that they are indeed human or may have been once), and their actions are based on a need for power, fame, etc. But keep in mind before you write up your own villain, there are things that motivate him or her just like me and you. They have feelings, needs, and of course, desires. The line of good and evil sometimes isn't so clear cut, and the 'bad' guy and the 'good' guy could be at odds thanks to a difference in opinion or on how to do things. Because he has the less popular opinion, he's seen as the 'bad' guy.

But surely he has reasons for why he does as he does? Maybe he's a thief, or she's an underhanded gold-digger. What motivated their behavior? Of course, they weren't born that way. What taught them to wish harm on people? It could be something as dramatic as the fact that he lost his family in a brutal war, thus vowing revenge against the side that murdered his family(dramatic, I know, but stay with me here), or she grew up in poverty and loneliness and under it all, they could have been decent people if given the chance. But for whatever the reason, they weren't, and so now you have to enter a conflict so there can be opposing sides.

Sometimes people don't wish to do bad, but because of their circumstances, they had no choice. Did she feel a part of her humanity die when she agreed to kill for money because she was so poor? Does she do it now to relieve some hate she feels for one reason or another? Did he break the law to save someone close to him, but is misunderstood by the law that wants to see him hang? Above all, it's important to keep all the characters you write about 3D, as human as you can, instead of paper-people. The more he/she can be identified with, the better your character is, good or evil.

At the moment, I'm making an offer to have a look at people's beginning writings, offer some advice, help where someone might be stuck, that kind of thing. If anyone needs help with this, I'd be more than happy to help. Just make a post on the message board or e-mail.

Setting The Scene


I've been churning these things out quickly, mainly been trying to do topics as I think of 'em. This 'un's going to help you set up a world for your little prides and joys to inhabit, fight, love, live, and in some cases, expire in. The setting of your fiction ties into what sorts of technology and other sorts of commodities will be available in your world, and perhaps what sorts of language they use(do they speak in 'ye olde English' or something a little more modern? I'll be doing a write-up in dialogue tips soon). What sort of world do you envision them living in? Like ours with a few or no changes, something medieval, or something in the distant future? A lot depends on what genre you want to set your story in, and what direction you want to move your plot. Or is it a sort of combination, a society rooted in the crumbling past while striving toward a radically different and prosperous future? Is the setting in a different dimension or world altogether, where laws and rules in our world don't apply? Are there two factions living side-by-side, but with different ideas on how things should be run?

If you're thinking along the lines of an older setting, bet your last corset or top hat you're not going to see much in the way of convenient things(the fridge was quite a few years off in the 15th century, after all!), and if you're making it a sci-fi spaceship adventure, there won't be much in the way of old world charm. Or will there? In some instances, mixing what your characters may or may not find will spice the story up a tad. Maybe some places are more advanced than others? Better medications and such, better methods of getting around(using 'shoe-leather express' had to get old eventually!;))? Is religion a large basis for what actions people take, do they distrust what would be considered 'modern' treatments? If something went wrong and someone was in dire need of a doctor, a spaceship works a whole lot faster than a horse's hooves in most cases. Perhaps this affected your plot?

The possibilities are for the most part up to you. A lot of what goes into a tale is up to the person writing it, and thinking a few things through can save you some backspacing and swearing fits(I've been there myself, trust me in this one!). Any ideas or thoughts? Feel free to e-mail En4sa@aol.com.


And I'm on a roll! This tutorial focuses in on the atmosphere your fic will set, and how it affects the characters and in some cases may even guide what they think and feel, hence some actions they might do.

What shall I say about the atmosphere...? It aids a reader in stepping into your world a little more, having an idea of what your character sees, smells, hears, all the sensory stuff. What's it like in that room s/he's just gone into, dark, light, dim? What about the other people there? What are they doing, saying? Obviously, a bright sunny day will pick up the spirits, and a gloomy day will help in bringing them down. Or maybe not, depending on your character. That's up to you. I'm going to have to draw up one on character interaction next, but for the moment we're going to focus on just this. Here's a little bit of an exercise for ya'll. Write about, oh say, a paragraph. Have the same characters doing mostly the same thing, only make the atmosphere drastically different for each little scene. Have a look-see at the results. What changed?

How do you set up a proper atmosphere? A lot lies in details, drapes across windows or flung open to emit the summer's sun, the smell of perfume versus the smell of dust and long years locked away. Looks like I need to come up with an example for this 'un, another done by the seat of my pants(too lazy to look in the store of writing I have on this forsaken computer. :P).


She pushed the door open, pausing for a moment to inhale the rich scent of lavender perfume. It pervaded the room, saturating the senses, and as she came further within the lavish chamber, she could see that it was the richly dressed Lady Harriet that was the source. Clothed in scarlet robes of ornate silk, she radiated a presence of command, causing the young woman that so boldly defied her council and sought her anyway to catch her breath in awe. Illuminating the lush carpet in squares was the dazzling spring sun, its light only just becoming faint with the ending of the day. A light, gentle tapping, and Fawnie could see that tapered fingers played lightly, impatiently. with the upholstered chair arm. About the lady, handmaidens rushed, hoping to please their employer, their conversations rushed and breathless.

No dialogue, just some sensory details. Now to radically change the scene for the inverse.


From within, there was the sharp tang that denoted sickness, making the youth wrinkle her nose in disgust. Dust commingled with the odor, telling her that this particular wing of the mansion had not seen use in years. Pushing the door open on squeaking hinges, she brushed her way past a few hurried servants, some weeping, others pale and nervous. None knew what was coming to pass. Fawnie stood uncertainly, hovering in the doorway, but did not go unnoticed by the lady. Eyes bright with contagion sought her, and the lady's fingers, stained with the herbal medications she had been dosed with, hardly raised from the pillow at her arm and beckoned the bewildered youth to come. As Fawnie stepped forth, Harriet coughed, a harsh sound that reverberated from the walls. From outside, the thunder growled a warning, and rain whispered against the glass panes.

There ya go, see the change? One paints quite a different picture than the other. Don't need to be as detailed as I was, but it's a good idea to pay a little attention to the atmosphere you want to set, so the reader has an idea what the tone for the scene is going to be.

Language and Conversations

Character Conversations

By now, the drill's been set. I think up a topic, pretend to know what I'm talking about, and show you fine people some examples so I don't sound like I'm a complete nutcase. Well, now that I have the template, here's the topic of my next stint. Characters, what makes you hate 'em, love 'em, write about 'em? Why, the way they interact with each other and their surroundings, of course! The way you have an individual('cause by now you've pretty much gone through in your head or on paper what your character's personality, setting, and atmosphere should be) interact with the other beings you've made can add a lot to a story. The reality is, there are people that are our friends, some people that we don't care a flying Fig Newton about, and those we'd like to send to Mars on a one way trip. The same thing applies to characters. They have people they'd rather avoid, and some that're bosom buddies. Before you set out to make your idea come to life, think about how you want your character to behave around the others. Is someone surly going to be attracted to that shy one in the corner, or revile him/her as a coward? Does the dashing hero end up with the lady he dreams of, or does he end up marrying the one he was first promised to? Examples:


Claudia set her jaw, glowering into the eyes of the other female vampire. From behind her sunglasses, she could recognize this one as a possible elder, at least a few hundred years old to her paltry ten as such a being. In total, her life and afterlife amounted to a simple 35, while this one had to be a probable four-hundred. Nonetheless, this didn't prevent her from openly venting her scorn.

"Think you know so much, eh Mary? Got news for you, life's changed in the past few hundred years. No sense in fighting the fact that old ways are being outmoded, so get with the program." Mary's eyes were consumed by rage, and she reached for the knife on the counter behind her, her teeth showing in a vulpine display of anger. "You're just a baby compared to me," she hissed, holding up the gleaming object. Claudia shrugged, examining her fingernails in the poor illumination of the humming fluorescent lights. She was getting to quite dislike this woman's haughty attitude. "I have one question for you, then," she began softly, and for a second, curiosity took the place of murder-lust. "And what might that be?"

Quietly, Claudia sang the old nursery-rhyme, her own irises shining in mockery. "Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow...?"

If your character dislikes or hates another, why? An old grudge, some delicate personal matters, love unrequited? Stolen love, property, money? The reasons are endless and in your hands. The same applies to friendship and love. Now I'm going to write a romance scene. That's something I don't normally do, so it might be rusty.


Quietly, Anna threaded her hands through Istas's, her expression pensive. "What are you thinking?" he asked quietly into the midnight air, and her thin shoulders jerked in a shrug. "A lot of things...I mean, you helped save me...I can't begin to thank you enough just for that." Istas's crimson eyes lit with joy, and he pulled her gently against him, kissing the top of her head. "It wasn't a problem...I don't know what I'd do if things had gone wrong and we couldn't have helped you..." The two spoke in hushed tones to one another; the horizon above glittered with stars whose light seemed to be made for them.

Blah, mush, but it proves a point. There are reasons behind why characters interact the way they do. This all ties into what I've been espousing before about motivations and the like. I know I probably overlooked something that needs addressing here, so if anyone wants to add anything, as always, please do! Mary, by the way, is Justin's character, I'm borrowing for this tutorial!

Speaking in Tongues

I found this obscure subject to write about, since it seems a lot of people at one point or another consider this as they go and write. When you're making a fantasy world, do you sometimes wonder if perhaps your characters should speak another language? Several different ones? Should there be dialects of one language? You're getting pretty detailed and involved there. What if you're not sure on how to make a language, though? How to begin?

Usually it helps if you know more than one language, but it's not a necessity. Studying the mechanics of a language you're going to use as a basis will be of a great help, however. How complex do you plan on making your invented language? A good and well known example on how deep this can run is JRR Tolkien's Elvish; it is detailed in a few supplementary books to his series how he invented it. Take a look at languages such as Latin, and how its structure works. Do words that describe an object go after the object, i.e., instead of 'red socks' it calls them 'socks red'? What would your language sound like if spoken? Do the vowels and consonants sound different than the language that's more widely spoken in the book? Is it a dead language that only a select few might know?

Another important component is whether or not you choose to have your invented language expressed in a written form as well as a spoken form. All languages have some way of being spoken, no matter how primitive; it's a large basis for communication. Depending on the sort of society and history you're planning on setting up, though, it may or may not have a written equivalent. This is especially true in older societies that may not have had the, for lack of better term, skills to express things in a written fashion. And if you have a dead language, how did it die? Or did it simply get transformed and used as something different? Look at the jump form Latin to English or Spanish, for example. Spanish follows Latin's rules a little more closely than English, because English has snippets of other languages melded into it. Is that true for your language as well? Does it follow the rules of an older language, or is it hugely different now due to culture mixes?

Either way, have fun making up your language, no matter how radical it is. Decide who speaks it and when. Religious services may be expressed in an uncommon language for ceremony's sake. Spells may have a different tongue expressing them altogether. One culture may have split from another and now speaks something totally different. It's all up to you, ladies and gents.

Watching The Language

Through the haze that allergies have thrown up across my senses, I'm reading some fanfic. I don't do that too often nowadays, but when I do, the editor in me is keen for any mistakes, as usual. The grammar's going good, the characters are good enough that I want to find out what they're up to. Their mission is to find a missing object that can grant the bearer long life and---Wait a second. Dear God. Hold everything. One of the characters, who's supposed to be living in a semi-midieval setting, has just said something obscene.

"Awesome, that's so cool!" I'm staring at the page, thinking, wondering. Is 'awesome' a word from ancient dialect that has been recently revived in our everyday tongue? I don't think so; but then I never was a language expert. Some people wouldn't consider what their characters say a big deal, and if you're one of those people that don't have qualms with using modern buzzwords in ye olde settings, cool. Ignore the rest of this and go do your thing. I personally am a little more of a stickler, and try to keep the language pretty much standard with what time period I'm doing.

Keep in mind as you type--the sort of language you use will set an atmosphere, a mood, for your story. If you use lots of crude language and that sort of thing, it sets an edgier mood; if you use formal words without contractions it'll say something about the character that uses that kind of speech. If you're doing a story that takes place in a foreign land, do your characters banter back and forth in that place's native language? Sometimes, doing a story requires some research, so don't be afraid to get in there up to your elbows and make it happen. I know it sounds a lot like going to that prison for youth, school, and doing that despised task, essay writing, but unlike school where your teachers, professors, et cetera, will have the god-like power of handing out a grade, this isn't anything like that.

Say you want to, for example, get yourself involved in a project using Shakespeare's old English. You want to do a fiction story based on Shakespeare and one of his plays, but you want to give it an authentic feel. At this point, though, you have no idea how to do that, so you go to your library and try to find what you can. You end up with a mountain of books about the man, his life, and what he wrote, as well as some volumes on what some old English phrases were and what they mean, which should be the main focus of your research. This should give you some backbone, so taking them out and having a notebook handy should be of great assistance. Before you go, though, make sure to use that notebook to jot down some questions you hope your research can answer.

Mixing historical knowledge with fiction can be a tough business, but like anything else, it takes work. Yes, the 4 letter 'w-word.' Gotta do it if you want a good story, folks. That's another tutorial altogether, however. In the meantime, have an 'awesome' time planning out your 'cool' story.

Genres, Themes & Storylines

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

With the shades drawn and night but an hour off, the young woman sits typing, the tapping of the keyboard the only sound in the hollow darkness. The door behind her comes open, and he enters, knife in hand. She doesn't know he's coming, and...

Little teaser, heh heh. Now I'm going to take a dip into the whole genre scene. I ran out of things to say on general topics, so now onto something more specific. Something we can all, heh, sink our teeth into. When you're planning a horror piece, and you'll hear this over and over from numerous people, the unknown is a BIG influence in scaring an audience. Think about what would scare you more--something you can see, or something shrouded in mystery? It's not all about blood and gore all the time, but letting your audience see into what's in your head as you go along. In many cases, atmosphere is important. Where's the story taking place? A house up on the hill where a murder is said to have happened, or is it something a little less sinister-seeming on the outside?

What about your main character(s)? Are they sweet, unassuming, perfect to spring some trap on? Or are they a little more hardened by life, not that easy to scare? Are there unknown goings-on lurking just beneath the surface, or do the characters have to dig to find out what the heck's going on? Sometimes, mystery and suspense go hand in hand when trying out this genre. Shady dealings are an occasional must.

Usually, it's best to hold off on the downright gory stuff until the end, when the folks you're spinning a tale about have a pretty good idea of what's happening. However, if you have the urge to be evil early, space out the bloody parts so that the audience gets one hint at a time as to what the behind-the-scenes happenings are. I've read a few tutorials that say it's probably not best to go with old horror standby creatures, such as vampires, warewolves, and witches--I say that if you can put an original and new spin on them to make them worth reading about, by all means go ahead! They're your stories, you decide what happens and who and what's included, don't let nay-sayers say otherwise.

Also, read the works of a few others to see how they plot out the suspense and how they handle the general settings. Stephen King, HP Lovecraft, whatever flips your switch. Remember, it doesn't need to be scary per se, creepy can handle in a pinch. Questions? Feel free to ask!

Love and Marriage

Though the urge to be physically sick is strong on this one, we all knew it had to come up sometime. Another name for the four letter word this topic covers is, "the L-word," something I don't write about often. However, there are some of you out there that like including this..element in your stories, so I'll brave my own disgust and plunge in. Here goes nothing.

Okay. Romance. Love between two people. It's something that comes up in one capacity or another in most stories. However, there's more to it than meets the eye. Usually romance in a story is handled in two fashions. We have the romance novel, which tends to be a little light on realistic plot, and then the sort of story or novel where romance kind of creeps its way in and creates additional problems for the cast. If I employ lovey-dove stuff into my stories, I usually opt for the latter, but if you're bent on doing a romance novel, you sick individual, here are a few tips.

In spite of what you may see on store and library shelves, it's usually not a good idea to start off the story with a scantily clad lady falling into the arms of a big strong man. Taking shortcuts while making a character can often lead to problems later, and people won't take your story too seriously. Maybe you should think about weaving in a message, something deeper, into the plot as you go. The hero and heroine can fall all over each other and kiss just so many times before all their drool and the sap gets overwhelming. Space out the romantic encounters, and hinge the main part of your plot on something a little more dependable. Does the hero have emotional problems, or is the heroine's family having it out for him? It's sometimes easy to fall back on the whole Southern Belle stereotype, but it's in how your characters handle their problems and what sort of problems they have that makes for an original, fresh sort of novel.

Another good tip is not to have your main characters fall all to mush even after they first realize that they have feelings for each other. Have a look around, folks. Do you see most well-adjusted people(note the use of words here), go to pieces and think of nothing else but love? People still have responsibilities and problems in life that they need to deal with in spite of love, so while a part of them is on Cloud 9, the other part needs to stay grounded in happy reality. An example:


She dropped the phone back into its cradle, feeling the first tears start to well. Her mother had been brought in to the hospital earlier that day, and while the test results had yet to come in, the situation wasn't looking at all promising. She knew it was time to get in the car and go see what was going on up at Mercy General, but a part of her felt shattered, and she knew she couldn't do it alone. She found the scrap of paper with the number on it and dialed. One ring, two, then he picked up.

"Elaine? What's wrong?"
"M-My mother, she's in the intensive care u-unit..." She sniffed back heavily. She had to be strong for her own sake, too.
"I'll be right there. Stay home."
"No, no, Jack, I'll meet you at the hospital."
Before he could reply, she hung up and grabbed her jingling keys, then headed for the door.

The woman can actually be strong in a romance novel, and do things for herself, imagine that! The two can support each other, but they're also independent people that can think for themselves as well as have arguments. It's all about keeping it real.

Gaze Into The Crystal Ball

Lots of people wonder at what the future will hold. Often in fantasy related works, our intrepid heroes and heroines feel the same way. Unlike in our world, however, everyone who is a fortune teller seems to know something of the future for a small fee. An arm, a leg, apound of flesh, it doesn't matter to these mystics. Usually, it's accurate information as a general rule. Some sort of phrophecy has been carved into a stone, or a bunch of old people whose days of glory have long passed walk around flapping their toothless gums about an artefact or chosen hero. Somehow, they too seem to be right when the villian comes along to destroy all the folks in that world hold dear.

Psychic visions are also another part of seeing into the future, and the people gifted with a 'second sight' are often looked to in times of uncertainty or trouble. These people may or may not want these powers; sometimes they prove to be a pain the neck. Is your character the sort that wants special powers, or does s/he have them and wish that the people bugging him/her would just get lost? In some societies, having power like that is considered a great blessing, and in others quite the opposite. How does your character feel about having this power, and what does s/he do to help/hinder people with it? Would your character be a loner and troubled about seeing a possible future, or would s/he go around trying to warn people before danger strikes? Can your character control this power, or would special training be required? Can s/he do it at will while awake, or would s/he need to be asleep? A lot of this is up to you.


His head throbbed with the knowledge, and the fire danced in front of his stunned eyes as he sat up in bed, rubbing at his eyes. Jared's forehead was pearled in sweat, and he could feel it trickle down his body in rivulets. He swallowed the stone in his throat and ran a hand through his fair hair, looking out the window beside his bed.

No red flickering, no screams of innocents as they escaped a conflagration. He let out a sigh of relief and felt his tense muscles relax. So unlike his sister Julia, who would have tried to warn the townsfolk, Jared preferred to keep his abilities a secret. If the temple elders knew, he could be cast out in the wilderness just as his sibling had. He didn't know where she was or even if she lived still, and no reaching out with his power could tell him one way or the other. In the other rooms, he could hear people stirring, and he realized it was only the middle of the night. The other occupants of the inn would all be asleep.

"Maybe just a dream this time," the young man whispered to himself as he lay back down into the embrace of the cool sheets. He felt his heart pound, and did not sleep until nearly dawn, all the while wondering what he could do.

Just a little example. Would all psychic revelations/fortunes be accurate, or would there be mistakes? Would old prophecies be interpreted wrong as they're passed down through time? I sometimes think that it would be interesting to have a mistake in an old phrophecy; just because people are psychic doesn't mean they're always right. My friends pointed this out while another was discussing her novel manuscript, and this is an idea that she will be employing. In some cases, this will change how characters see their world and their history. Maybe what was revered as an artefact of powerful might was all a sham used to bluff away an enemy and no one ever found out until your characters attempted to use it? Maybe the one that was supposed to carry out the all-important mission was mistaken for someone else and overlooked?

A lot of this, and I'll say again, is up to you. This is my mantra. I'm not the author, you are. Your choice. Your name might not be Luke, and you can't use the Force. But you can write and do a fine dang job of it.

Plot Devices


I figured I'd do up a little post for people that are trying to decide which point of view to write in, third or first person. There are advantages and lack thereof to each; I usually don't use second person because it's somewhat of an awkward style. That is, unless you know what you're doing with it. J
All righty, third person. This is a good style because you can 'play God' with events and happenings more; in first person you need to, of course, limit yourself to what the character sees, thinks, feels, etc. Detail can be more lush. A short example:


He was quiet in the dim twilight, his efforts thus far unrewarded. He had his dagger at his side, glimmering in the dying sunlight; the sky appeared to be smeared in blood. His heart was beating quickly in his chest, and he knew that his task, with the upcoming evening, was going to be made all the more difficult. Sweat glimmered on his pale skin, and he absently swiped at it with a hand before moving onward. Crickets sang and the last of the birds chorused in the trees. For the good of his country, he had to complete his task. Meanwhile, in the grove of trees, a figure watched his every movement, intent on hindering him...(You can go on from there with a different character)

In first person, though you have more of a restriction, it can provide more insight to what a character is thinking or feeling. It can be a little more personal than third person, and shifting between characters is less. This is usually a hard style for a lot of people to get good at, and generally takes more practice to get good at. Second verse, same as the first, but with a different voice this time.


I could feel my nerves humming as I walked softly over the grass, already wet with dew. My dagger was out, and sweat kept me from finding a proper grip on the hilt. It was becoming harder to see before me, making me wish I had a lantern in the other hand. They'd know, then. Then I'd be caught, and could never complete what I'd set out to do...



Here's another post about getting a nascent fanfic up and running. A lot of people surrender to the evil of writer's block because as they write, they run out of ideas. Sure, you have some steam starting the thing out, but what happens when you need to transition between two plot ideas? Time to stop and think here, what do you want to do? How do you want to open it and keep somebody's limited attention span? Soon, you're stuck, and you face the grim reality that it's time to save the file and try it again later. A couple different ways to accomplish a good transition: Have an opening line to pull someone in, or get inside a character's head and try to illustrate what they're thinking or feeling. Make it semi-mysterious to keep the audience hooked. Since I don't want to get in trouble for using other people's stuff without permission, I'm admittedly plugging a part of my friend Justin's and my collaboration. Hey, a little plugging never hurt, did it?

This is toward the end of a part, done by Justin:


Juliet came forward to see two people standing in the lab talking, one a female who she had some recollection of seeing before in her life and the other a male who she knew all to well, her green eyes went wide with shook, "Roger Lexington!" she exclaimed.
"The terrorist?" Justin asked.
Juliet nodded, "He worked with me at MI6—he practically trained me until…well until we became involved."
Justin knelt down, "Oh, one of those," said Justin as he knelt down, he cupped his hand over his ear and spoke into the communicator, "Can you hear me, Kathleen?" asked Justin.
Kathleen sighed as she came onto the wrist view screen, "Loud and clear, what's going on up there?"
"We were caught already, but we handled it," said Justin.
Kathy nodded, "Well that's good to know," she said, "What else have you got to report?"
"We found one of the terrorist leaders; he's talking with another woman…" Justin was cut off by Juliet calling out.
"Of course, Oi remember the girl too, that's Otacon's sister!" Juliet cut in.
Kathy seemed a little preoccupied, "Alright, when you get her out of there ask her where Abdel is and then we're going to need you to leave her there, and get her out on the way back," said Kathy.
"You're the girl with the plan," Justin said.
Kathy spoke up again, "You need to keep on moving Justin," she said, "There's a lot more for you to do."

I was asked to do the next part, so I came up with a way to tie them together. In this, another character is thinking of one mentioned above, right before he goes in to unleash havoc on the unsuspecting good guys inside.


Her(Kathy's) blood, over his tongue, flowed unceasingly, a repast. He shut his eyes and permitted himself to savor it, the metallic crimson beauty. She, weak with swoon in his arms, murmuring his name in defeat as she surrendered all to him, head resting against his shoulder, golden strands of her hair soft against his cheek. The final beats of her pattering heart light and tender in his senses, then her breath shuddering its last…
His eyelids flickered open, and he realized he had been daydreaming once more. She lived yet, beautiful and defiant, his inspiration for being, his deepest love and greatest hate. Red hot revulsion shot through his every fiber at remembrance of her betrayal, and the chocolate colored eyes shot open for a brief moment, glazed with memories and rheumy with grief.

Twisting the Plot

Ever read something you're absolutely hooked on? I mean, the sort of caught where you feel like you're in the writer's story while Mom's on the other side of the door screaming at you, and you can't hear, and the fire alarm's going off? Yep, I think we've all been there at least once. What is it that keeps you so enraptured? Plot, the way the prose works just so? Both? Elements combine to form some gripping writing, as as the writer it's important to keep that in mind.

As you sit with the glow of the computer illuminating your sweat-beaded brow, trying to come up with a plot, try to keep some pointers in your head. Now that you have a main character and some sidekicks worked out, at least I hope you do, there should be a rough plot idea to go with them. I'm not saying it needs to be chipped in stone and made as final as the Ten Commandments, but have a general idea of where you're headed. Have some events you want to occur in the beginning, the middle, and the end. Even if you have but a few things planned, it's important to make these your focus as you go along. Give yourself something to cling to. The beginning and the endings aren't too hard, but sometimes the middle of a story can be a battle to wade through. Brew yourself some coffee and slog it out, go turn the blasted computer off and go for a walk, then come back with a fresh mind set. Sometimes walking away helps. Do what you can to keep yourself immersed in the plot, because if you have a passion for what you're doing, it'll show.

As for plot twists, those surprise bits that throw the reader and have them sit back in (hopeful) awe of your mad writing skills, they can be a little tricky and often require some time and bouts of rage to sort out. A notebook or a file in the computer, maybe even in some cases a blog online, can keep track of all the nitty-gritty you've possibly forgotten about, and I recommend them, although I don't use them as religiously as I ought to myself.

The secret to plot twists is to make them something the reader wouldn't expect(duh), but to also make them plausible. Throwing small hints to suggest the plot is moving one way when in reality it's going another is a useful tool, but be careful in using it. Don't have your dark wizard who hates the world suddenly become some burst of sunshine who acted like he was doing something evil but was really gearing up for world peace all along. That's going to screw up your character and your plot. Making a plot happen is a balance, as every writer with some experience under his/her belt pretty much knows. Maybe your wizard can still hate the world, but instead of blowing it up like everyone else(including your reader) figured, maybe he was actually doing something to save the world from a bigger evil so he can maybe take it over himself later? A lot depends on your characters' seperate motivations.

What makes them tick, and what are their goals? Are they as bad as they seem, or do they have a nice side under it all? Sometimes, one character will view another as sinister and will act accordingly, when in reality they were being paranoid. But, as a writer, you have to let the audience feel the character's paranoia so that they'll be equally as shocked when--surprise, the one they hated wasn't so bad after all.

A lot of this comes with time and experience, so don't be discouraged if you can't nail it the way you envisioned right away. It's also important to have someone else read your product and point out any plot holes/other mistakes you've made. These helpful, nice people are called beta readers, and it's a good idea to get someone you like and trust to help you out here. People who will say everything you do is 'wonderful' usually aren't a good idea to pick. You need someone you can still like after they've taken what you've done, the product of your soul and written child, and ripped it to ribbons.

Other Help

Writer's Block

Well, kids, let's have a seat. It's time for The Talk. There comes a time after we've all been writing awhile that we start to get...certain feelings. These feelings often dictate how we set things up, write our characters, things of that nature. But, one day, as we sit down to pull up our word processing documents and lay out the scene we've had in our heads for so long, nothing happens. The big goose egg graces the screen, and we are left bereft of inspiration. Now, I know this is a scary time in a career, whether it's professional or just a hobby. But relax, it's perfectly natural, and sometimes a natural part of growing into becoming a good writer.

It's called writer's block(cue dramatic and cheesy horror music here), and it's often the scourge of anyone looking to put something meaningful on paper. It's the lovely feeling that what you're writing is crap, if you can get anything out on screen at all. The urge to hit the 'close program' button and let what you have done disappear is strong. You call yourself a terrible hack who'll never work in this town again. This is often an emotional time for a lot of people, and the urge to give up altogether may seem appealing.

Resist! Take arms and fight against that sea of turmoil! There are ways you can fight PWS(Pre-Writing Syndrome). First, find something that relaxes you. In my case a good drink(of soda, you corrupt people!), and a dark room helps, takes my mind off of what I'm caught on. For you, a walk may do the trick, or listen to some music. Whatever helps you out is good. The main reason writer's block occurs is because you're concentrating too intently on what you're trying to accomplish. Sometimes, a certain piece may be to blame for this sudden attack of apathy or blockage.

In cases such as those, if all else fails, it may be a good idea to lay aside what you're currently working on and switch gears. Now might be a good time to clean the mold from your fridge, or help Grandma bathe Fluffy. Or take your annoying kid brother/sister to the zoo, and later claim that a lightning attack of inspiration left him/her in dangerous proximity to the gorilla cage as you dashed home. Or, if you have a another idea kicking around in the back of your head, for a short story, novel opening or poem, break open a new file and have at it. Just be careful you don't mire yourself in quicksand by having too many projects at one time, which seems to be a personal pitfall of mine.

Still having problems? Take it slow, tell yourself that there'll be plenty of drafts to this particular work, and there are erasers on the ends of pencils for a reason, as well as a backspace button on your keyboard. Pace yourself, and envision things one step at a time. So what if the result isn't your best? Save what you've done and lay it aside for awhile. You never know what may inspire you later.

After the demon of PWS is slain, you may also develop feelings, a need to partner off with another writer. This too, is normal. This is what we call a collaboration, or co-writing. ;) But more on that later, another time, another blurb. Anyone have anything to add?

Lost in Translation?

Yes, I ripped off a movie title for this one. But after awhile of trying to think of topics and drawing blanks, as well as being too busy to organize my thoughts in general, I've hit on a goodie. Sit back and enjoy, folks.

This is going to cover conversion of a fanfic to something along original lines. Yep, there are people out there that eventually decide they may want to publish a story without worrying about copyright infringement, or want to try their hand at coming up with something from scratch. In some cases, the only thing seperating a piece of work from totally original and fanfic is the use of characters or setting that belong to someone else.

So, how to do it? There's a generally more accepted way, and a way, that, in my opinion, doesn't work as well. You can take the same manuscript, delete all fanfic references, and replace names as well as a few minor plot points to keep the story original, without changing the overall wording. More or less, you're using the same thing without making a massive effort. This is the way that isn't generally accepted by an audience, especially if the same people have read your fanfic, then what you've tried to pass off as 'original'. The whole concept of being a writer, in my opinion, is trying to improve yourself, so if you're using the same stuff, ask yourself: Is that really improving, or taking an easier way out? I've seen people that have done this, then wonder why an audience isn't receptive. Hmm, let's really hash our brains to figure THIS one out.

There's also the more difficult option of starting all over, sometimes using the same basic characters you created as part of your fanfic and throwing them into totally different situations, and tailoring them to match the new setting. Different dialogue, different problems, different plot. In short, a whole new piece with altered characters that are in some ways the same, and in others, different. This is usually a good thing when trying to introduce an audience that have been fans of your fanfic into your new stuff. It gives them something familiar to cling to, as well as easing them into the fresh things you want to express. It may be more difficult to garner an audience, but if nothing else, you get a sense of self-satisfaction for a job well done. It's worth the extra effort. Of course, this is all my opinion, so do what works for you.


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