Basics of writingCharactersEditing

Some excellent writing tips

From Rick:

This week I’m going to divert from my “Analyzing your story” series to give you s short list of some excellent writing tips I recently got from my local writer’s group.

Before I get to that, I want to let you know that I just posted an updated “Compound Words List” under the Resources tab on the blog. I’ve added a significant number of new words to the list. It’ll save you a lot of time looking up those words you’re not sure if they should be written as two words, hyphenated, or one word.

The primary reference for this list is the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, but you may find other dictionaries sometimes disagree, in which case you’re free to use the form you prefer. And remember that the language is constantly changing. I advise all writers to look over this list to get a feel for what’s on it. You may be surprised at what you discover.

Now, on to the subject of this post…


Since characters are central to any story, the more you know about your characters, the better you’ll be able to know how they’ll act and react in situations. Two tips will help with that.

(1) Have one or more of your characters take an online personality test. While this might take you some time (and you don’t have to do it for all your characters), you might gain valuable insights about your characters. Alternatively, some of the questions on these tests may help you tweak your characters’ personalities.

After you’ve done this, you may wish to revise your character’s bio, if you’ve done one, or to write one if you haven’t.

(2) Select one of your major characters and take fifteen minutes or so to answer the question “How does this character handle… (where pick an emotion or situation)?” For example, you might ask how your character handles anger. You can adjust this to any situation, like one you know the character will have to deal with at some point. Or when your character gets into a situation, pause and do this exercise as a sidebar to help you determine the outcome.


After each chapter or scene you’ve just written, write a brief synopsis of what took place in that scene: what the scene was about, what was mentioned, what happened, and what was decided. It doesn’t have to be more than a few sentences.

Why do this? If you’re like me and most writers, when we’re making our edits and revisions, we can easily forget where something happened or was mentioned. Here’s a good example. In a novel I’m currently working on, I mentioned the character’s age and some of his background details. Later on, I decided to change the character’s age and I’d forgotten exactly where and how many times I’d mentioned it. Finding this information can sometimes be difficult, but if you keep running synopses of each scene with important details in it, you will have an easier time doing your edits.

Or in another example, let’s say the character’s parents died in some sort of accident and you mention it again without realizing you’d already done so. By keeping these scene synopses, you may avoid such duplication and have an easy way to find out where you previously mentioned the information in case you need to change or remove it.

This brings up another point I’ve encountered. I have recently read more than one novel where the author repeats the same information two or three times, having one character repeat it to different characters. Aside from adding unnecessary words to the novel, it can come off as the writer not trusting the reader to remember. Further, it risks boring the reader by duplicating information unnecessarily, especially if nothing new comes from repeat it. If you absolutely need to repeat some information, make sure the context requires you to do so. For example, if the character’s parents died in a car crash, what purpose is served if he or she tells the same information three different times if no new information is added in the process?


Here’s one last tip that builds on the Part 1 of my “Analyzing your story” series.

Story conflict arises from one or more unmet desires in the character. What creates tension for the reader is the character not being able to achieve his or her goal. More importantly, if readers don’t know what the character wants (the character’s goal), they won’t understand what the story is about.

Some of you may argue that this “rule” applies only to or primarily to genre (plotted) fiction and less so to literary fiction. Those of you who believe that should read the following article:


Until next time,


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