As you know from reading the blog, I’m all about learning to write faster. One way to accomplish that is avoiding re-writes. My current novel at about 107,000 words instead of falling short like earlier ones. I give all the credit to writing an outline first. The recommended outline length is one tenth the length of your novel. The original outline for “Book 5” came to about eight thousand words, so the novel was a little short in the early revisions. What have I learned about planning a novel? What’s my plan for the next novel?
Kyokutei Bakin wrote over 470 books, including a 106 book novel. The 106 volume novel took 28 years to complete. That’s about 4 books per year. His other books included 30 long novels. Possibly there are a couple of hundred novellas in there as well. Even if it were only 470 novellas he wrote, we’d still like to know the secret to his writing output. What do we know about him?
Bakin was born in 1767 Japan, so the qualifications for publication were a little different than today. It’s seems like before 1900, if you could write a novel it would get published. That doesn’t change his accomplishment. 470 books is a lot of writing. If he wasn’t good at the start, he would have been eventually. And he was. His novel Nans? Satomi hakkenden (“Satomi and the Eight Dogs”) is considered a classic.
There’s not a lot of information about Bakin, but among the biographical information there is a clue as to how he was able to write so much.
Foreshadowing is planting clues early in a story to give readers some idea what’s coming up. They can’t be certain the clues mean something because everything brought up early isn’t foreshadowing a future event.
Foreshadowing can be as vaporous as mentioning knives a lot early in a story and then having someone killed by a knife at the end. You may only mention one particular knife and it becomes the one used in the murder.
Foreshadowing can also be heavy. Your novel could open with a serial killer at work on a seemingly random victim. As the novel progresses, the victims come closer and closer to the protagonist.
Foreshadowing doesn’t require that the reader gets any kind of clear idea that it was put there for them to see what’s coming.
What’s the best chili? It’s chili that tastes like chili but has something different to it. A twist that makes it your chili. Chili is one of those dishes that can be made many ways. You can change the meats, the cheeses, the vegetables, the beans, and the spices. Stories are similar.
The best stories are ones not quite like any you’ve read before.
How do writers come up with this unique mix? They make changes to one or more of the five main elements of a story: theme, setting, characters, conflict, and plot.
It’s important to develop the personalities of the characters in your stories lest they all end up sounding like slight variations of the same person.
Before exploring personality types, we need to know the important character roles for an effective story. You won’t use them all. For example, you usually won’t need both a hero and anti-hero.
The psychologist Carl Jung believed that we share a collective unconscious within which were archetypal personalities that we use in creating ourselves. While he believed the archetypes were unlimited, he identified a few that are very common. These can be good sources of inspiration for characters.
The list below starts with positive archetypes that may be protagonists, moves along to minor character archetypes, and then lists negative archetypes that may be antagonists. There is no reason you need to use these archetypes in their obvious roles. You may have a story with an anti-hero or an evil archetype who works toward a goal that improves society.
An archetype may do anything. They may be protagonist, antagonist, or a supporting character. Their archetypal character only shows motivation. For example a hero may be championing the legalization of recreational hard drugs or a caregiver may be helping the wounded or emotionally conflicted members of a death squad. The archetypes only explain why characters act in certain ways.
The Thirteen Common Archetypes
Have you ever read a novel where every character sounds like the same person. Did you finish reading it?
There are two prep steps to help your readers imagine distinct characters, and then we’ll look at ways to change how they sound.
Choosing memorable names for your characters is step one. That’s an article in itself, Naming Your Characters. A few quick tips. Find a name that fits the character type or sounds like what they do. Use some long names, some short. Check names in Google to be sure you won’t be sued for libel.
The second step is an easy one. Describe each character as they appear and reference that description when they reappear later in the novel. Readers will remember “the guy with the soul patch” if he’s the only one.
Names and descriptions are a good start at making characters into individuals. The third step is making them sound different. You are naturally going to write similar to how you talk. The easy way to write conversations is to say what you would say. Is that what your characters would say? Some characters will talk like you, but most won’t if you’re any good. And I know you’re good because you’re not just writing. You’re reading blogs with writing tips.
Here are some ways to make your characters sound different.
What does reading have to do with writing? Quite a bit. If you weren’t a reader, you wouldn’t be a writer. It’s hard to imagine what kind of writing a person would produce if they didn’t read. Hard to imagine because it isn’t published. We can see the short version of writing by non-readers in some of the status updates on social networks.
I could do some research into what writers read, but I already know the answer. Writers read everything. How do you decide what to read?
When you set out to write a book, it starts with an idea. It bounces around in your head for minutes, days, or months as it becomes a story. When you’ve thought the idea through to your satisfaction, you write a synopsis of one or more pages. You then expand that synopsis into a chapter by chapter outline. That can be all you need to write your book. But, you shouldn’t stop there. Break each chapter down into scenes.
Why would you want to plan your outline down to the scene level?
By writing the scenes for your chapters you will accomplish four things.
1. You limit how far your first draft moves away from the outline.
2. You will have an easy way to check that each chapter advances the story.
3. You give yourself a way to check that each chapter has tension.
4. You give yourself a way to revise the novel before you write it.
What am I talking about here? Maybe you write your outline as scenes anyway. If so, you already write a good outline. The longer your outline, the stronger it will be. A weak outline is short because the scenes aren’t written.
How about an example?
Maybe you’re going to write the “great American novel” and become rich and famous. Maybe only part of that is why you write. What are the motivations for writing and how much are they worth?
Some motivations are good, others won’t affect your writing at all, and some will help you fail as a writer. Let’s start with the three in the opening sentence.