December is here! Another year has come and gone, and with the holiday season about to shift into high gear, it’s a great time for some more “What If?” Writing Prompts! This week’s batch of prompts once again centers around the theme of the holidays. See what holiday stories you can write from these ideas! Enjoy!
What if… instead of giving presents, Christmas centered around a tradition of doing good deeds?
What if… your family only celebrated a made-up non-commercial holiday like Festivus in December?
What if… you received a mysterious Christmas present from a relative who had passed away?
What if… one Hanukkah, you and your family played a mystery game in which you’d get one new clue every night until someone won?
What if… every year, at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, you had the power to make it January 1st of any year in history, but had to live that entire year until the following New Year’s Eve?
Good luck writing more stories about the holidays!
If you have any “What If?” writing prompt suggestions (for any theme), please feel free to share them in the comments below. Ideas I like may be featured in future “What If?” posts, with full credit and a link to your blog (if you have one)! Also, if you’ve written a piece based on an idea you’ve found here, be sure to link back to the respective “What If?” post. I would love to see what you’ve done with the prompt! Thank you!
It’s the end of November, with only one more day left in NaNoWriMo! If you’ve finished your 50,000-word novel (or definitely will tomorrow), congratulations! There’s no better feeling than accomplishing such a huge goal!
As the month winds down, you’re probably wondering what comes next. What do you do after winning NaNoWriMo? There’s still a ways to go to get your book out there, so to help you find your footing, I’ll break it down into five simple steps. For your reference, here’s a brief post-NaNoWriMo guide to help you get from messy manuscript to published novel! Good luck!
Step 1: Celebrate!
Hey, you just wrote 50,000+ words in a month! That’s nothing to sneeze at! Your novel’s journey is far from over, of course, but you don’t need to worry about publishing or marketing just yet. For now, take a bow and congratulate yourself on achieving something incredible! Go you!
Step 2: Take a break from your manuscript
After 30 days of writing nonstop, you’re probably sick of looking at your manuscript. The good news is that you don’t have to for a while! The writing part is done; now’s the time to let the first draft sit and breathe.
How long exactly varies from writer to writer. Two weeks to a month should be enough, but feel free to take a little more time if you need it (so long as you remember to come back to it). Go back to writing your other stories or just relax with your family over the holiday season. When the time is right to return to your manuscript, you’ll know it.
Step 3: Edit with care
November was the time to rush through your first draft just to get it done. Next comes the editing, which shouldn’t be nearly as rushed.
Once you’ve let your manuscript sit for a while, take it back up for a few thorough rounds of revisions. You don’t have to do it at sloth speed, of course, but don’t feel like you have to pants it like you did in the first round. Polish your work as much as you can until there’s nothing left you can do, then prepare to send it to a professional editor (overlapping with Step 5). Repeat this step every time you get it back until your novel is ready for publication!
Important: Do not skip this step! However proud of it you may (and should) be, your manuscript is not ready to be self-published or submitted to a publisher at the end of November! You must edit it yourself and send it to an editor at least once before declaring your novel complete!
Step 4: Regain your confidence and keep going
The editing phase is the part where many aspiring novelists lose a large chunk of their self-confidence. Whereas writing encourages you to keep moving forward without looking back, editing forces you to confront all the mistakes you made in the first draft. Prepare yourself; it can be a real slap in the face!
Trying to sort out everything from your plot holes and inconsistencies to your run-on sentences and misplaced commas can take a huge toll on your morale, which is why it’s important to step back and take a deep breath. Remember why you wrote this story in the first place. Know that the fear and self-doubt you feel is normal, but you can conquer it. You’ve already come this far, so buckle down and keep going until your final draft is done!
Step 5: Prepare your novel for publication!
Ok, this part actually constitutes a series of steps, but I’ll simplify it here so as not to overwhelm you. Once you’ve done as much as you can yourself, it’s time to reach out to others for help. It may sound scary, especially if you’re an introvert, but there’s no way around it. You can’t make it to the finish line alone!
Get feedback on your early drafts from beta readers: family, friends, and/or online critique groups. Hire an editor to help you polish your manuscript to a readable form (again, this part overlaps with Step 3). Reach out to book agents and publishers (if you’re going the traditional route), or find book formatters, cover designers, and book marketing outlets (if you’re self-publishing).
I know it all seems overwhelming right now, but you can do this! The key is to take it one step at a time. Keep working toward your dream and you’ll be a published author before you know it!
Did you win this year’s NaNoWriMo? Still working on your first draft, or are you ready to start preparing your novel for publication?
Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month
Search for tips on how to be a better writer and you’ll find this piece of advice anywhere: read. It’s no secret that reading is good for you, but no one benefits more from reading books than people who want to write their own. Reading can teach you a lot about the craft of writing, so if you really want to improve your skills, start by expanding your library. Books are among your greatest tools for writing success!
So to elaborate on the second point of my list of good writing habits, here are five ways that reading makes you a better writer. Enjoy, and best of luck in your writing career!
1) Reading teaches you the basics of story structure.
Let’s start with the obvious, shall we? If you want to learn how to write a story, the best way to start is by reading one. It’s as simple as that—so simple, in fact, that we already learned this lesson as children!
Think about the last time you read a fairy tale or watched a Disney movie. Notice that these stories always have a very basic plot structure: Hero enters, Villain causes Conflict, Hero fights Villain, Hero defeats Villain, everyone lives Happily Ever After. Doesn’t get any simpler than that, does it?
Dramatic structure refers to these steps as exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Of course, not all stories will follow exactly the same outline—you don’t always need a villain to create conflict, for example—but regardless of content, they will invariably have structure. Reading many books in various genres will reveal what all stories have in common, and that’s the first step toward becoming a master of fiction!
2) You learn what works in a story (and what doesn’t).
After learning the basics of story structure, the next step is to learn how to write a good story. This is easier said than done, which is why it’s important to read as many good books as possible. Only by understanding what works in other writers’ stories can you figure out how to improve yours.
Now I know what you’re thinking: If art is subjective and everyone has different tastes, how can you know which books are “good”? The only way to be sure is by reading as many as you can and deciding for yourself what makes a story worth reading. An excellent piece of advice for beginning writers is to start by writing what you like, and you can’t know what you like unless you read!
Of course, bad books can be just as eye-opening as good ones. Who among us hasn’t try to slog their way through a terribly written novel with flat characters and boring plot points? I know it sounds like torture, but the good news is that reading a bad book isn’t a complete waste of time: by recognizing the flaws that turn you off to someone else’s story, you’ll know what to avoid in yours. In short: Be the next J.K. Rowling, not the next Stephenie Meyer!
3) You get a better sense of how to write in your genre.
While reading is good in general, reading certain types of stories can be especially beneficial for writers. Every genre has its distinct traits, so reading in your genre of choice can teach you specific writing techniques that you couldn’t pick up from other books.
If you want to write fantasy, read series like Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings to learn how to incorporate magic into your world in a logical and believable way. If you choose dystopian fiction, books like 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, or The Hunger Games will help you understand how to write a future society based on a single drastically different detail. Read Stephen King‘s stories to learn how to write thrilling suspense and horror, or read Jane Austen for a sense of how to write good romantic and historical fiction.
Whatever genre you choose to write in, read those types of books until you feel confident you can write a good story that fits the style… and then keep on reading! So long as you continue indulging in books, you’ll find that you’ll never stop learning for the rest of your writing career. Your stories can only keep getting better!
4) Books expand your imagination.
When I started reading as a little kid, it opened my entire world to hundreds of new possibilities. My love of books inspired me to start writing when I was nine years old, and I’ve never looked back. I couldn’t tell you how many of my favorite story ideas have come from reading; to this day, no matter what kind of stories I write, I can always find some ideas from books I love and influence from my favorite authors in them!
Reading books is a great way to battle writer’s block because books are a rich source of ideas. You don’t have to outright copy other writers’ ideas, of course—in fact, you shouldn’t—but emulating the concepts and styles of writers you admire will help you develop more original ideas of your own in the long run.
So whenever you’re starved for ideas, pick up a novel and see what jumps off the page. You’d be surprised how many creative new ideas are hiding in plain sight on your shelf!
5) Reading replenishes your writing energy.
Despite all the previous points on this list, you don’t really need any other reason to read than the fact that it’s fun! Let’s face it, we all need regular breaks from our work, even when that work is our life’s passion (like writing). If you’re just not feeling the words flow, there’s no shame in stepping away from your story for a while to read someone else’s!
Reading has been proven to relieve stress and reduce anxiety, which is extra helpful for writers. What writer hasn’t felt stressed after hours of struggling with creative blocks or self-doubt, right? (I know I have.) Even if you are feeling relaxed and productive, fiction is a great escape from mundane routine. We’ve all had to recharge after long stretches of writing, and if you’re going to pause anyway, why not use that time to indulge in a hobby that will help you get better at it?
So the next time you feel drained of the energy to write, try picking up a book. You may find it’s just the thing you need to get you back on your writing streak!
What are your thoughts on these benefits of reading? How has reading made you a better writer?
In many ways, fiction writing is a profession without routine. One day you’re outlining your plot and character descriptions, another you’re writing or editing scenes, still another you’re preparing your novel for publication and marketing. It’s a great career path for artists who like to be surprised by their work every day! But there is one thing that separates the truly productive writers from the dreamers and wannabes, and that’s developing good writing habits. If you really want to be a professional writer, you must build these habits; they’re the best way to keep you writing your whole life!
So for those of you who are serious about being productive writers, here are five good writing habits you should start developing today. Enjoy, and best of luck in your writing career!
Good Writing Habit #1: Write every single day.
If you truly want to be a writer, you must write; otherwise you’re just a dreamer with an idea. But it’s not enough to write every once in a while; then you’re just a dreamer who sometimes writes their ideas down. If you’re serious about dedicating your life to writing, you must make writing your life. Not tomorrow, not in a week or a month or a year, today. Make every today a writing day. If that sounds harsh and repetitive, get ready because you’ll hear this advice everywhere until it sinks in: if you want to be a writer, you must write every single day.
Of course, writing every day won’t always be easy (that’s what Habits 4 and 5 are for), but even the smallest steps of progress are better than not getting anything done at all. If you really have trouble writing when you should, try setting a writing schedule or some simple tasks to ensure you stay productive. Write down new ideas, outline your novel, work on a short story or a new scene of your book. Whatever you do, make sure you log some writing time every day until it becomes a habit. Hard as it may seem at first, you’ll soon find that it feels wrong not to write every day. Your future novelist self will thank you!
Good Writing Habit #2: Read as often as possible.
If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. – Stephen King, On Writing
This may sound like a given, but you’d be amazed how many aspiring writers “don’t have time to read.” A thorough search through guest posts on writing blogs will reveal that virtually every editor, at one time or another, has rolled their eyes at a wannabe novelist who didn’t have a good answer to the question, “So what are you reading?” If you never want to be caught off guard by this question, always make time to read!
The point of reading often is to get a better feel for the craft of writing. The more books you read, the more you’ll understand what makes a good story (or a bad one). Not sure where to start? Try picking up a few popular novels in your favorite genre; these will teach you what goes into writing that type of story, or at least give you an idea if it’s the right genre for you. Don’t have a favorite? Try some popular books in a variety of genres until you find one you love! As long as you keep reading, you’ll have the tools and inspiration you need to write!
Good Writing Habit #3: Write now, edit later.
One of the most common mistakes that beginning writers make is to edit while writing. It’s a tough habit to break! I know this because I still do it myself, despite knowing better. Sometimes I’ll even go as far as to not continue a sentence until I’m sure I can get exactly the right wording onto the page the first time. But as I’ve found time and again, that’s not how writing works.
First drafts will always be messy. There’s no way around that. A story is never going to be perfect right out of the gate, and that’s okay. The point of a first draft is just to get the idea out of your head; perfecting it comes later, during the editing phase. The sooner you accept this, the more productive you’ll become in your writing. So don’t worry about getting it right the first time; just keep writing and don’t look back until your first draft is done. Always remember: Done is better than perfect!
Good Writing Habit #4: Set a daily writing goal (and stick to it).
As a writer, there will be days when you simply can’t muster up the energy or motivation to write. That’s where daily writing goals come in. When you know you should write but can’t be sure how much will count as “productive”, it helps to set a daily word count goal. That way, you can write a “bare minimum” on those low-energy days and still feel like you made progress!
Stephen King recommends starting at 1000 words a day, but it’s up to you to figure out what goal works best for you. If you’re way too busy to hit 1000 every day, feel free to lower the bar to a more achievable goal. Got plenty of free time on your hands? Push yourself to write 1500 or 2000 words a day! Not one for word counts? Set a daily goal instead to finish a chapter or edit one more scene. The key is to find the sweet spot of a goal low enough for you to reach every day but still high enough to bring you substantially closer to a finished work of art. Whatever goal you choose, always stay productive!
Good Writing Habit #5: Protect your writing time and space.
Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have “essential” and “long overdue” meetings on those days. – J.K. Rowling
Writing is one of the loneliest professions in the world, but most writers like it that way. The problem is when we don’t have enough time or space to dedicate to our work. That’s why I can’t stress enough the importance of having a designated writing area and schedule. It’s just as important as setting a daily goal; you can’t hope to consistently meet your quota unless you can always get into the right mindset, and one of the best ways to do this is by retreating into a corner where your imagination can flow freely without distractions. If you build the habit of visiting this space at the same time every day, writing will become a lot easier in the long run!
After setting your writing time and space, the next step is to guard them from the rest of your world. Writing time is sacred, and therefore should be treated as such. Close the door and work for at least an hour on a computer with no Internet connection, or for real distraction-free writing, try writing longhand on paper first and editing later as you transcribe your work to a computer. Also make sure to tell your loved ones not to disturb you during your writing time. My boyfriend understands this better than anyone I know: I love him to pieces, but he knows I’ll get crabby if he so much as tries to hug me while I’m “in the zone.” Such is the reality of a writer! Protect your writing time and space and the rest of your world will be better for it!
Do you practice these good writing habits? What other habits would you add to this list?
So you’ve made it through the first week of NaNoWriMo! How’s that novel coming along? Whether you’re a veteran or this is your first NaNoWriMo ever, chances are you’re already starting to feel a little doubt creeping in. Maybe you’ve fallen behind on your goal, or maybe you’re beginning to feel the burnout from all that writing. But the moment your energy falters is when you expose yourself to the poisonous idea that maybe you’re not a real writer after all. Don’t give in to that thought!
So to keep you motivated through at least the next week of NaNoWriMo, here are ten signs that you are a real writer. Remind yourself of some (or all) of these truths every day and know that you can do this! Good luck!
1) Telling stories is one of your best and favorite skills. – Nothing says “I’m a writer” like the gift of telling stories. If your friends and family often read your work and ask you to tell them a tale every time you hang out, you know you’re on the right track!
2) You’d rather spend time in your fictional worlds than your real one. – Where would you rather celebrate the holidays: the office Christmas party or the Yule Ball at Hogwarts? That’s what I thought.
3) The conversations you have with the voices in your head are way more interesting than the ones you have with real people. – Who wants to waste time on small talk when you could be discussing dragons or planning how to stop that alien invasion? The characters in your head will always have something more interesting to contribute to the conversation!
4) You carry a notebook with you everywhere you go. – Inspiration strikes when you least expect it. You gotta be ready to capture those ideas when they come to you!
5) You can find the tiniest flaws in your favorite novels. – Thinking like a writer means reading like a writer. Because you understand the craft, you can read any book and spot the smallest errors from continuity to misused words that most readers can’t. It’s kind of like having a superpower, isn’t it?
6) You never stop brainstorming story ideas. Ever. – You could be in the middle of an important business meeting, out to lunch with friends, or spending the holiday with family, but your creative mind will never shut off completely. Story ideas are everywhere! How could you possibly stop thinking about them?
7) You’re pretty sure your blood is 90% coffee. – How else are you supposed to power through those late-night writing sessions?
8) You’re a master of procrastination. – Sure, everyone procrastinates, but nobody can perfect the art quite like writers can. Writing is hard, ok? Sometimes we need a break to read or snack or play video games. Just five more minutes, I swear!
9) But once you get into that writing groove, you couldn’t stop if a meteor hit you! – Writing time is sacred. You know you’re a writer when even your family and/or significant other know not to disturb you when you’re in the zone. Bonus points if it’s because they know they’ll be punished if they do!
10) Writing is your life! – You love to write! You’ve already committed to writing a novel, haven’t you? What other proof do you need that you’re a real writer?
Have you ever doubted yourself or your writing skills? How do you handle those slips in self-confidence?
Welcome to November, otherwise known to writers as National Novel Writing Month! It’s time once again to shift your writing into high gear by writing a 50,000-word novel in 30 days! Of course, it’s not so easy to take on this challenge without a fair amount of motivation to get you going, and one of my favorite sources of writing inspiration is collections of quotes by well-established writers. Over the past two years, I’ve started November by sharing NaNoWriMo motivation in the form of ten writing quotes from famous authors. Now let’s dive into another set of quotes for inspiration!
So to get you motivated for NaNoWriMo 2017, here are another ten inspirational quotes about writing from famous storytellers. Enjoy, and good luck in this year’s NaNoWriMo!
1) If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. – Stephen King
2) Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things, and which can sometimes pay the rent. – Neil Gaiman
3) After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world. – Philip Pullman
4) All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know. – Ernest Hemingway
5) A word after a word after a word is power. – Margaret Atwood
6) There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you. – Beatrix Potter
7) A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. ― Thomas Mann, Essays of Three Decades
8) I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of. – Joss Whedon
9) You can make anything by writing. – C.S. Lewis
10) Write the kind of story you would like to read. People will give you all sorts of advice about writing, but if you are not writing something you like, no one else will like it either. – Meg Cabot
What are your thoughts on these writing quotes? Any others you’d add to the list for NaNoWriMo?
With Halloween just around the corner, it’s a great time to binge watch scary movies and practice writing horror stories. And the scariest part of a horror story—as well as one of the scariest parts of most stories in general—is usually the antagonist, the villain who embodies the evil of the plot and serves as the main barrier between the hero and victory.
But antagonists can also be the most challenging characters to write. Not only do you need to make them just as interesting as your protagonists in order to carry the story, but you often have to do it in fewer words, as villains usually get less focus and have limited room for character development. Not every writer can pull this off well, but fortunately, there are a few writing tips you can use to turn your villains from flat and boring to fascinating and terrifying.
So in the spirit of Halloween and scary characters, here are three writing tips to help you create villains who are just as interesting as your heroes. Enjoy!
1) Villains should be just as three-dimensional as their heroic counterparts.
Have you ever read a book or watched a movie that starred a kickass hero, but for some reason they never seemed to reach the peak of their awesomeness? Chances are what could have been a great story arc fell flat because of a terribly written villain.
We know that part of telling a good story is creating good characters, but many writers tend to focus all that character-building attention on their protagonists and not enough on their antagonists. (Don’t feel bad if you can relate; I’ve definitely been guilty of this myself.) I’m sure at some point, we’ve all fallen into the trap of making an antagonist “just a bad guy”, but it’s important to remember that villains are people too—well, in the broader sense of “sentient beings”—and much like real people, all characters should be three-dimensional. No exceptions.
Personally, I hate it when a villain has literally zero depth. It may seem like a good idea on the surface to make a bad guy as bad as possible, but no one is purely evil for the sake of being evil, any more than a hero is good just because the story calls for it. If we take exceptional care to give our protagonists clear dreams, goals, strengths, and weaknesses, we should do the same for our antagonists. A hero is only as good as their villain, right?
One of my favorite modern examples of how much depth a villain can have is the 2012 Disney movie Wreck-It Ralph. Given how everyone treats him like a monster and almost no one respects him, Ralph is a good example of a character who was forced into the role of a villain despite not actually deserving it. Of course, after leaving his game and setting out on his own adventure, he does prove to everyone that he’s much more than a “bad guy” in the end. While the movie isn’t about a “villain” per se, Wreck-It Ralph does teach two important lessons about antagonists:
- Villains and conflict are indispensable to storytelling (and therefore must be respected) – Fix-It Felix Jr. is no longer playable without “the bad guy who wrecks the building”
- No one is the villain of their own story – despite being the bad guy of Fix-It Felix Jr., Ralph is clearly the hero of his own adventure
In contrast, my least favorite antagonists are usually the ones whose only defining characteristic is “being evil”. You know who I’m talking about: those one-dimensional a-holes with zero redeeming qualities who can make you fume or gag every time they appear on page or screen, like:
- Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,
- Prince Joffrey from Game of Thrones,
- Count Adhemar from A Knight’s Tale, and
- The villain of any movie written by James Cameron.
It’s one thing to give your character less-than-noble motives; it’s another to go out of your way to make the audience hate them. But then again, even “pure evil” can be interesting when written well (case in point: the villains listed above are all bad people, but not necessarily bad characters). It all comes down to a delicate balance between characterization and storytelling.
So when writing your antagonist, always make sure you give them as much background and attention to detail as you give your heroes. Remember that a good villain has depth and personality, not just “evil plans”. Bonus points if you can make your audience sympathize with the bad guy. After all, hero or villain, we’re all still people. Which brings me to the next point…
2) Nobody starts out as a bad guy, not even villains.
You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain. – Harvey Dent/Two-Face, The Dark Knight (2008)
Although it’s easy to think of the world in terms of good and evil, the fact is that all people start out as blank slates. Every individual has a story to tell, a history behind the person they become. It’s the circumstances of one’s story—and the choices they make in response to those circumstances—that determine if they become a hero or a villain (or neither). In a nutshell, bad guys aren’t born, but made.
A well-known modern example of the making of a villain is Disney’s 2014 Sleeping Beauty retelling, Maleficent. While the 1959 animated movie portrayed this character as little more than a vindictive witch (who seriously could not let go of a grudge), this version of the story digs a little deeper into how the fairy Maleficent became malicious enough to curse an innocent child. Between the beginning of the film and Aurora’s christening, we learn that Maleficent started out kind and idealistic, but her relationship with Stefan turned her bitter and vindictive against humankind. Say what you will about the film’s execution, but at least it establishes a clear backstory and motive for a character who would otherwise be just another run-of-the-mill fairytale villain.
If you feel your antagonist is missing clear motivation for their actions, try giving them a backstory that explains how they became evil. You don’t have to expose their entire life story to the audience, but at least convince us of their reasons for opposing the heroes. Show us what broke them so badly that it turned them to the dark side. Remember, the only people who start out as bad guys are cartoon villains; everyone else has a story.
3) An interesting villain is just as strong, smart, and capable as the hero (if not more).
A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti. – Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Take a second to think about your favorite villains in any books, movies, or TV shows. What do they all have in common (aside from the fact that they’re doing bad things to good people)? Why do you find them so fascinating? Because they’re good at what they do!
The most interesting and popular villains are usually those who challenge the heroes, and it’s obviously not by being total pushovers. Darth Vader mercilessly kills any subordinate who disappoints him and pushes Luke Skywalker to his limit in their first lightsaber duel. Before his downfall, Voldemort was so terrifying that witches and wizards everywhere were afraid to say his name. A large part of what makes Hannibal Lecter so fascinating and frightening is how mysterious and complex he is. Basically, if an antagonist can draw your full attention and steal every scene they’re in, you know they can give the heroes a run for their money!
One of the most popular examples of a brilliant and highly capable villain is the Joker from The Dark Knight. Aside from his unpredictability, a major reason the Joker is so interesting is that he’s one of the few villains who actually challenges Batman. Like the embodiment of chaos itself, he keeps the hero and the entire police force of Gotham guessing and thwarts them so many times that we as the audience can’t help but wonder what he’s going to do next at every turn. Now that’s a well-written villain!
So keep in mind, if you find your heroes aren’t reaching their full potential, the problem might be with your villains. Superpowers and high intelligence aren’t enough to make a great hero; you have to give them someone or something to use those abilities against. Make your antagonists just as strong and smart as the protagonists, then have them push each other to their limits. Only by overcoming a nearly insurmountable obstacle will your hero’s story arc be as satisfying and captivating as it deserves. In more ways than one, an antagonist can make or break your story!
Do you struggle with writing antagonists? What are your thoughts on these tips for writing an interesting villain? What other tips would you add to this list?
It’s the month of Halloween again, so here are some new “What If?” Writing Prompts for you to enjoy! This week’s set of prompts is centered around the genre of horror. What sorts of scary stories can you write from these ideas? Have fun!
What if… every time you had a dream about someone you know, that person died within 24 hours?
What if… you woke up with blood on your hands and no memory of how it got there?
What if… your dog started acting as though it wanted to eat you?
What if… you heard scratching against your bedroom door at night… even though you didn’t own a pet?
What if… the local haunted house attraction turned out to be filled with real monsters?
Good luck spinning some more tales of horror!
If you have any “What If?” writing prompt suggestions (for any theme), please feel free to share them in the comments below. Ideas I like may be featured in future “What If?” posts, with full credit and a link to your blog (if you have one)! Also, if you’ve written a piece based on an idea you’ve found here, be sure to link back to the respective “What If?” post. I would love to see what you’ve done with the prompt! Thank you!
So it’s been a brutal last several weeks, hasn’t it? From a conga line of devastating hurricanes to a humanitarian crisis in a U.S. territory to a mass shooting labeled the worst in American history, it’s almost as if 2017 is trying to set some sort of horrible historical record.
I’ll be honest: it’s times like these when I can’t help but feel glad my blog posts are written and scheduled in advance, because there’s nothing like the world seeming like it’s falling apart to totally kill creativity. The hurricane-every-week situation of September was bad enough, and then what happened in Las Vegas last week broke me. Instead of spiraling into a dizzying rant about all the anger and frustration I feel, however, I’ll let Jimmy Kimmel sum it up better than I ever could:
Honestly, a part of me felt guilty for not saying anything about Las Vegas on my blog last week. I mean, when tragedy strikes, everyone feels obligated to say something before all the buzz dies down, right? And it’s not like I haven’t acknowledged tragic events before; it’s almost become a habit for me to dedicate a poem to the victims of a major attack within a week.
But this time, I just didn’t have the energy. I didn’t like thinking about it, much less talking or writing about it. So I figured I’d just share my thoughts on my personal Facebook page and move on with my blog like everything was normal.
But then I started reflecting on that mentality. Why was I thinking about the latest in a series of national tragedies like it was just another social media meme doomed to fade after a week? Why should we stop talking about the people who have suffered and are still suffering from any recent event just because it’s not the trending topic anymore? Should I not write about an issue that matters because I “missed the boat” and it might upset readers who are trying to forget about it? I don’t think so.
What you’re reading now is the result of days of processing, a sudden urge to vent, and hours of careful editing to get my thoughts straight. Maybe it still needs some work—editing is never truly finishing—but I can only write so much on the subject without losing my mind.
To be clear, this is not a political rant. I’m not trying to shove my thoughts on climate change or gun control in anyone’s face. I’m not even focusing on the events themselves. This is more of a creativity rant, or rather, a lack-of-creativity rant. So here goes nothing.
Recent events have reminded me of how much despair can drain one’s ability to create. As a writer, it’s a strange feeling not to be able to write. Emotion is the fuel of good fiction and poetry, after all, so you’d think real-life tragedy would be perfect material for art. But emotion also affects inspiration, and when there’s simply too much negativity to handle, it takes an incredible effort just to sit at a keyboard and type out a half-decent story.
2017 has been a particularly difficult year for me, not just because of what’s going on in the world, but because of major changes in my personal life. As soon as I finished my Master’s program at the end of 2016, I left home, hopped on a plane to California, and moved in with my long-distance boyfriend of seven years.
For almost a year now, I’ve had a front-row seat to some of the most emotionally exhausting events of my lifetime. To give an idea of how much current events have affected my creativity, I used to have at least three weeks’ worth of blog posts scheduled in advance at all times. Now I’m lucky if I can get up to two weeks ahead.
But a reflection on recent events has also reminded me that despair is only half of a cycle that includes hope. Somehow, every time tragedy strikes, a little light still finds its way through the shadows and rekindles that spark of creativity and inspiration. Whether it’s a blog post, a short story, a poem, or another page of my novel, the will to create always returns.
It’s hard to stay positive when the world insists on knocking you down over and over, but if I’ve learned anything in all the time I’ve been writing, it’s that creativity is one of the greatest manifestations of hope. I may write less than usual sometimes, but I’m always writing, and that definitely counts for something. It means that deep down, hope is still alive and well.
I’ve been told that I’m an empath, a person who feels other people’s emotions. I’m no stranger to being overwhelmed by negative energy, and it’s certainly made its way into my writing more than once. But while some of my most inspired fiction and poetry has come from a place of sadness or anger, I’ve realized that the creativity I feel in those moments is rarely about the emotion itself; more often, it’s about conquering those bad feelings and battling through the darkness to get to the light.
Maybe that’s why despair affects me so much: it feels less like an emotion and more like a void for all the others. It fights dirty, robbing me of the only weapons I have to fight back. But it hasn’t won yet, and as long as hope and creativity remain, I know it never will.
So to all my fellow artists, the best takeaway I can offer you is this: try not to let despair stifle your creative nature, because it’s both your best defense and your strongest weapon. Hold on to your hope and remember that there will always be a light at the end of the darkness. Sometimes a short piece of fiction or a simple poem written from the heart is all the reminder you need to keep moving forward.
On a final note, those of you familiar with my blog know that I share posts about creative writing every single Wednesday, all year round. I almost didn’t share this post today. I could have written all my thoughts out and just kept them to myself and let my blog skip to the Wednesday piece originally planned for today. But obviously, the fact that you’re reading this now means I decided these thoughts were too important not to share. I only hope they’ve resonated with someone in the good way I intended.
Thank you for reading. Stay hopeful, keep fighting for positive change, and please, no matter how hard it seems, never stop creating.
It’s the first week of October, so regular readers of mine, you know the drill: it’s time to dive once again into my all-time favorite story, Romeo & Juliet! In the past, I’ve covered five points in the story that are often missed, the reasons it really is a great love story, a review of the book with both the play and the musical adaptation, and five lessons about love that can be learned from this story. Now I’m ready to cover even more of this timeless classic!
This year, I decided to dig a little deeper into the story and dedicate my annual R&J post to the literary devices that uphold it. So on that note, here are five major themes and motifs in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Enjoy!
1) The Power of Love
But my true love is grown to such excess / I cannot sum up sum of half my wealth. – Juliet Capulet (2.6.33–34)
This one is kind of a given, but it’s such a prominent theme in Romeo & Juliet that it forever warrants a place at the top of the list. Though debates reign about the extent of the roles of fate, hatred, and violence in the play, it’s obvious that love is by far the most powerful force in this story. It brings the young lovers together, motivates them to risk everything to be together, and drives them to their tragic end. So let’s explore how powerful love really is in Romeo & Juliet, shall we?
To start, it’s important to define the type of love that dominates the play. There’s no question that the love in Romeo & Juliet is romantic, but what often gets overlooked is the fact that it’s also amoral. While other poets before him romanticized love as a beautiful and pure emotion, Shakespeare was more interested in portraying it as an intense and violent force that drives people into chaos and overpowers all other priorities, including life itself.
The greatest evidence of love’s intensity in Romeo & Juliet is the wide variety of descriptions and metaphors it receives throughout the play. In the sonnet that makes up Romeo and Juliet’s first conversation, love is described in religious terms, while in the prologue of Act II, the feeling is equated to magic. Its dangers are also mentioned by other characters: Friar Laurence warns Romeo about the fickleness of young love, while Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech outright criticizes the delusions of lovers’ dreams. Juliet even loves Romeo so much that she hardly has enough words to express her feelings all at once. Every character in the play seems to have an opinion on love, yet not one of them manages to describe it completely. It seems love, at least according to Shakespeare, is so powerful that it can’t be contained in any one definition.
Though the love in Romeo & Juliet is romantic, it’s far from idealized. Unlike the cheesy version in the bad poetry Romeo recites about Rosaline, Shakespeare’s depiction of love is a far more passionate and chaotic emotion that can evoke an astonishing amount of beauty and tragedy in a short period of time. No wonder this story is still so popular today; every time I read it, there’s something new to learn about love!
2) The Inevitability of Fate
A greater power than we can contradict / Hath thwarted our intents. – Friar Laurence (5.3.153–54)
If love is the strongest theme in Romeo & Juliet, fate is a close second. From the opening lines of the chorus, it’s made clear to the audience that the young lovers are pretty much doomed from the start. While there is a solid argument that society is really to blame for Romeo and Juliet’s deaths, the fact that Shakespeare peppered his play with references to fate, fortune, and the stars hints at the idea that every circumstance leading up to the main characters’ tragic end was always out of their control.
Notably, the role of fate in this story isn’t just clear to the audience; it’s also evident to the characters themselves. Through the second half of the play, after Mercutio and Tybalt are killed, death always seems to linger in the corner of the lovers’ minds. They’re both haunted by omens—such as each other’s pale faces after spending the night together or Juliet’s vision of Tybalt’s ghost before taking the sleeping potion—and though they try to stave off the looming threat of tragedy, it soon becomes clear that their story can only end in their untimely deaths.
The inevitability of fate is emphasized by the many forms it takes throughout the play:
- The feud between the Capulets and Montagues, which is purposely never explained
- References to fate by the characters – “O, I am fortune’s fool!” (3.1.141), “Then I defy you, stars.” (5.1.24)
- Friar Laurence’s letter failing to reach Romeo
- Romeo dying just before Juliet wakes up
While fate often seems like an external and impersonal divine force driving the characters’ lives, it also manifests as the direct forces influencing Romeo and Juliet’s choices. The rivalry between the noble households culminates in the double murder that complicates the lovers’ marriage, and Capulet’s decision to change the day of the wedding contributes to the rush of events that leads to the final tragedy. Even the protagonists themselves play directly into the hands of fate. The irony of Romeo’s decision to die alongside Juliet is that by trying to defy fate, he inadvertently brings it about: Juliet kills herself as soon as she finds him dead, thus completing the tragic sequence of events set in motion from the play’s very first scene.
Much like love, fate in Romeo & Juliet is an amoral and overpowering force that none of the characters can resist. Despite all their efforts to love each other in peace, Romeo and Juliet can never escape their tragic destiny as the “pair of star-crossed lovers” who “take their life”, immortalizing them as the ill-fated couple of one of the greatest love stories ever told.
3) The Duality of Passion (Love and Violence)
If the entire story of Romeo & Juliet could be summed up in one word, that word would be passion. Almost every scene in the play involves characters succumbing to powerful emotions that drive their actions and, consequently, the plot. Observe:
Act I: Montague and Capulet servants fight each other in the street (establishing the long-standing feud), Romeo agrees to attend the Capulet ball for the chance to see a girl he thinks he loves, Romeo and Juliet meet and fall in love at first sight
- Act II: Romeo risks death by trespassing into the Capulet orchard to see Juliet again, Romeo and Juliet declare their love for each other, Romeo proposes to Juliet the next day (via the Nurse), Romeo and Juliet get married
- Act III: Tybalt challenges Romeo to a duel for crashing the Capulet ball, Mercutio fights Tybalt to defend Romeo’s honor, Tybalt kills Mercutio, Romeo fights and kills Tybalt to avenge Mercutio, Romeo almost kills himself out of guilt, Romeo spends the night with Juliet, Capulet threatens to disown Juliet if she doesn’t marry Paris in two days
- Act IV: Juliet threatens to kill herself if Friar Laurence can’t help her get out of marrying Paris, Capulet gets so excited about Juliet becoming obedient that he moves the wedding up to tomorrow, Juliet drinks the sleeping potion Friar Laurence gives her to fake her death
- Act V: Romeo buys poison to kill himself after hearing that Juliet has died, Paris blocks Romeo from entering the Capulet tomb upon assuming he’s there to vandalize Juliet and Tybalt’s bodies, Romeo kills Paris outside the Capulet tomb, Romeo drinks the poison and dies beside Juliet, Juliet wakes up and stabs herself with Romeo’s dagger, Montague and Capulet reconcile over their children’s deaths
Notice how virtually every important action in this play is caused by some intense emotion, whether it’s overpowering love or violent hatred. What’s especially intriguing about the passion in Romeo & Juliet is that love and violence, however polar they may seem, are constantly intertwined. Indeed, the shadow of death hangs over the play’s characters from the prologue to the final scene, and it always manifests as a consequence of passion, as much in love as in hate.
The connection between love and violence in Romeo & Juliet is most evident in the actions and thoughts of the lovers themselves. Both Romeo and Juliet threaten to kill themselves at the first obstacle to their love, each one imagines the other looking dead the morning after their wedding night, and their intensely passionate “star-crossed love” culminates in their double suicide. While their goal is always to keep their love pure, the fact that they both resort to violence to achieve that end supports the story’s major theme of passion as a powerful and blinding force that few can resist.
By all accounts, passion seems to be the cause of all the conflict and grief in Romeo & Juliet. Then again, without passion, there would be no story in the first place, would there?
4) Light and Darkness
More light and light, more dark and dark our woes. – Romeo Montague (3.5.36)
A particularly prominent motif in Romeo & Juliet is the imagery of light and darkness. This motif manifests most frequently in night and day, as much of the action in the play happens either at night or in the morning. And while it doesn’t necessarily highlight any moral statement, the light and dark imagery of Romeo & Juliet does provide an interesting contrast throughout the story.
The most famous example of this imagery is during the balcony scene when Romeo describes Juliet as the sun, being so beautiful and radiant that she has the power to turn night into day. Another well-known example of this contrast is the morning after their wedding night, when the lovers playfully argue about the time of day before Romeo leaves for Mantua. These scenes highlight differing perspectives of the world and emphasize how Romeo and Juliet seek refuge in their love to oppose the reality that threatens to separate them.
Unlike many other stories that use this motif to symbolize good and evil, the light and darkness in Romeo & Juliet are far more neutral. The lovers favor darkness because it gives them the privacy they desire, yet they see only light in each other. And although it never plays a direct role in their story, the contrast of light and dark does permeate the play until it culminates in a final poetic union: the darkness of Romeo and Juliet’s deaths and the light of hope in their families’ reconciliation.
5) Individuality vs. Social Conformity
While love and fate pull most of the strings in Romeo & Juliet, the lives of the main characters are further complicated by the obstacles imposed by their society. Throughout the story, Romeo and Juliet struggle (with varying degrees of success) to defy the social institutions that oppose their love, such as:
- Family and patriarchy
- Law and social order
- Masculine honor
Yet despite the challenges they face, the young lovers repeatedly prove that their love is stronger than the social norms that threaten to keep them apart. Juliet defies her father’s authority in order to marry the man she loves and remain loyal to him to the end. Romeo compares Juliet to the sun and considers her more beautiful than the goddess of the moon, while Juliet refers to Romeo as the “god of my idolatry” (2.2.114). While still banished, Romeo returns to Verona to see Juliet one last time before he dies. Romeo refuses Tybalt’s challenge for Juliet’s sake (though he later succumbs to the pressure of honor after Mercutio is killed).
By constantly rebelling against their world, Romeo and Juliet establish themselves as individuals who seek to distance themselves from the obligations their public social lives impose upon them. Yet despite their best efforts to rebel through individuality, these social institutions continue to force them further into a corner until they’re left with only one option for escape. If anything, the greatest tragedy of Romeo & Juliet is that as powerful and beautiful as their love is, they can only find peace from their poisonous society through the ultimate form of darkness and privacy: an eternity together in death.
What are your thoughts on these themes and motifs in Romeo & Juliet? Any other interesting themes you would add to this list?