Vlog: 3 Things That Make a Great 1st Line

Tips on how to start your novel. Plus! Famous examples and discussion about how they work.

Vlog: Writing Secondary and Minor Characters

You might know all about your main character, but a world isn’t a world without other people!

Do you have any tips you like to use? Any fun go-to minor characters?

Who Else: Writing Secondary and Minor Characters

Who Else Is There?

Writers know all about our main character–they’re the focus of our story. Often, the story is told in their voice.

But what about everyone else? Unless you’re writing a person-versus-nature like Hatchet, you’re probably going to have other characters.

Minor Characters

These are the people who fill your world. The merchants and crowds you pass on the streets. The lady handing you your receipt. The mooks you kill.

Minor characters and mooks are like furniture, they exist to boost plot or react to major characters.

Tip: Don’t make them cookie cutter stereotypes. If you have a default mental image, question it. Do they have to be male/female? A particular race? A certain age? Physically fit and neurotypical? If not, try to vary it up! The real world is full of variety and your world should be, too!

Some Go-To ‘Minor’ Characters

  • Offstage authority figure – explaining things to the boss is great for info dumps
  • Mothers
  • Love interests – or at least minor flirtations
  • Minor characters with scene stealing personality

When minor characters start resisting your intended plot/role for them, you’ve succeeded in making a strong mental model for them! They’re well on their way to becoming full-blown secondary characters!

Secondary Characters

Otherwise known as major-minor characters, these are your side kicks, your love interests, your besties, or your enemies (except your main villian).

What is a Secondary Character

  • They’re not a point-of-view (POV) character
    • Shorter stories should have fewer POV characters
    • Some suggest that each POV character adds 120 pages to your novel
  • They have enough screen time to deserve a name
    • Conversely, if you give them a name, you should do the work to make them true, 3-dimensional characters with backstories, hopes, and dreams
      • The hopes/dreams/backstories don’t need to be on screen, maybe they shouldn’t, but should inform the characters actions and reactions
  • They’re interesting and well-rounded enough to be qualified to have their own POV sequel.

4 Tips For Making Minor Characters Become Secondary Characters

  1. Make sure you do your homework, don’t make them 2-dimensional, stereotypical, support characters.
  2. Have a character bible so you can keep track of all the details you don’t need on paper (and the ones you do)
  3. Remember, just because you’re interested in everything about your world, doesn’t mean the reader is. Leave out as much as possible. (Leave room for your Secondary character to have her own book)
  4. Remember that their life keeps going, even when they’re not on the page

This post is based on notes from the “Writing Major Minor Characters” panel at #Balticon51. The panelists were Dr Claire McCague, John Walker, Jamaila Brinkley, SM (Steve) Stirling, and Mark Van Name (yes, that’s his real name).

Do you have any tips I missed? Any favorite go-to characters?

5 Tips for Pacing Your Novel

Tips for Avoiding the Saggy Middle

You already know about the 3-Act Structure, you’ve experimented with beat sheets, and you’ve tried using script writing techniques to punch up the drama, but you’ve still got sections of your novel that lag.

Now what?

This was a panel at Balticon51. The panelists were Gail Z. Martin, Ken Schrader, Paul Cooley, and Michael Ventrilla.

1. Every scene needs a beginning, middle, and end

There are two main ways you can look at this.

You can look at it where a scene has:

  1. Conflict
  2. Action
  3. Resolution/Conflict

Or, you can look at it wherein a ‘scene’ is the action part of the chapter and the sequel is the rumination or explanation of what just happened.

  1. “Scene”
  2. “Sequel”

Jim Butcher uses this technique with great success. He interweaves multiple Points of View (POVs), so we’re always anticipating the “sequel” of the other character’s previous “scene”.*

2. Action isn’t always violence

  • tension
  • stress
  • interaction
    • Fighting
    • Arguing

3. All chapters should end unresolved

I know, it sounds like I’m saying we should stop every chapter in the middle of the action, at a climatic moment. She just plummeted from a cliff! He just screamed a confession/plot-point. But there are more subtle ways to do it.

  • Mid-action
  • Raise a new question (in the reader and/or main character’s head)
  • Bring a new/old problem brought to the forefront — make it something that needs to be addressed next

4. If you’re bored, your readers will be bored

Avoid Long sections with no action

  • Cut words/pages from the long, boring section
  • Split them up with
    • Action
    • Conversation

Spice up info-dumps

  • Comic relief
  • Arguments
  • Have something interesting happening! While the information is being conveyed

5. Learn from the experts

Be analytical about the novels you like, the ones where the pace really works for you. Look at them and decide exactly what it is that gives the effect you like.

Reread and outline your aspiration novels. Really study them.

Practice and slowly diminish the time you leave for the “sequel”, and punch up the “scenes”.

Take these techniques and play with them. Don’t be afraid to try something new.

Paying attention to some of my favorite writers, has led me to experiment with chapter length. Without rewriting a word, I’ve found you can often build tension by making shorter and clippier scenes.

What have YOU learned from reading?
What writers do you think get it right? Who gets it wrong?

4 Steps Towards Finding the Right Editor

When you’ve done all you can do on your novel, but you think it could still be better. Or you’re just tired of form letter rejections to your queries: Sometimes, the next step is to hire an editor. But, how do you know if they’re right for you?

‘Judging An Editor’s Work’ was a panel at #balticon51. The panelists were: Joy Ward, Jean Marie Ward, Jamaila Brinkley, Jennifer Levine, and Sue Baiman. I’ve edited the notes to apply to freelance editors for hire, although the panel also addressed editors within a publishing company.

Here are 4 steps towards finding the right editor.

1- Polish It On Your Own First

You’ve finished your novel. You’ve read it over, revised it, copy-edited it. You had beta-readers (volunteer readers) read through. You had a critique partner (another writer) or three give you feedback. You’ve seen how clean and polished you can get your manuscript on your own. (You’ve thought this stage would never end… ) Only now should you even think about getting an editor.

If you send it unpolished to an editor, the line-edits, formatting, small continuity issues will distract them and they won’t be able to pay attention to the details. It will waste their time and your money.

2- Finding An Editor

You’re ready to find an editor, how do you find the right one?

Who To Ask To Edit Your Novel

  • Ask other authors for suggestions
  • Follow authors you like and see who they mention
  • Check the dedication and acknowledgements pages in books similar in voice and style to yours and see who they had. Sometimes they’re private editors, but sometimes it’s an editor who freelances
  • I’m part of the PitchWars community and many of the mentors are freelance editors. Reaching out to their previous mentees is a good way to find suggestions

What Type of Editor Do You Need

There are three main types of editors, as I’ve mentioned before.

  1. Copy Editor – who looks for the writing mechanics. Also, they check for continuity – internal and, where necessary – should also check historical/scientific/etc continuity
  2. Line Editor – who looks for typos, spacing, and punctuation.
  3. Developmental Editor – who looks at the story — focusing on writing as a craft
    • Scenes that don’t support the theme
    • Plot Holes
    • Weak characterization
    • Inconsistent voice
    • Poor pacing

Ask For a Sample Edit

Ask for a sample edit. Any professional editor should be willing to do a sample edit: a query, 5 pages, etc.

This is so you can know if you can work with them – if their time frame works with your schedule, if their voice works for your story, if their editing style is too soft/harsh for you. And it’s also so they can know if they can work with you!

3- Red Flags

You’ve found an editor, but you’re not sure if you can trust them. What do you look out for?

  • Editors who find nothing.
  • Editors who don’t communicate with you – no updates, no feedback, no questions.
    • (Like house contractors – Jamaila Brinkley)
  • Editors who aren’t bringing out the best in your work.
    • This one’s subjective–but so is writing.
    • Are they fixing the words and sentence structure, but somehow missing the vibrancy your world needs?
    • Are they not able to see the brilliance hidden behind the tarnished words you don’t know how to polish?

4- When To Push Back

You’ve found an editor you can work with, you trust them, but this edit just doesn’t feel right to you.

  1. Reflect on their edit. Step back if you need to and sleep on it.
  2. Never reply to the editor in frustration, (especially if you’re not sober). And probably give it a day or two even if you are.
  3. Try to figure out WHY they suggested that edit.
  4. Remember that edits are suggestions, not ‘corrections’. You can take their advice and see it as a starting point.
    • You can change their edit into something that uses your own writing voice
    • You can see what they’re trying to fix and clarify it earlier, so the editor’s confusion is resolved without the suggested edit.
    • You can see the problem that the edit is trying to fix and do it your own way.
    • You can see their edit, decide it doesn’t matter, and skip it.
  5. If you can’t see what they’re trying to fix, ASK.
    • A simple, “What are you trying to show here?” to the editor is always permitted.
    • Don’t be accusatory or defensive. Be open and listen before casting judgement on their edit and their reasoning.
  6. Remember to pick your battles. The editor had reasons for their edits, don’t decide to negotiate on them all.

With a bit of research and due diligence, you should be able to find an editor who takes your novel and makes it shine.

Today’s blogpost is also available on my youtube channel:
Morgan’s Online Blog: In Video Format

What tips and tricks do you have for finding the right editor for you?

Any (anonymous) horror/serendipitous stories you’d like to share?