Go With The Flow (or “What Happens When Your Plot Turns to Mush”)

You have an outline, be it skeletal or excruciatingly detailed. You have characters, which have taken you hours upon days to name and flesh out until they are truly a person. Finally, you sit down to write. The first couple dozen pages go smoothly, the plot is going exactly where you want it to and your characters are remaining true to form.

Then, it happens.

Option A: A new twist in the plotline presents itself and won’t go away. You want to change it, but when you do it sounds forced. (Most people leave it there anyway).

Option B: Your character offers some surprising new information that was NOT in the original plan! Who is this new person they’re talking about? And why are they suddenly scared of every shadow? No, this is not what we talked about, character!

From this point on, it seems your outline is virtually useless. Since that one scene changed, the whole story has taken a different direction. No! This is not good! Go back! You try to bring it back onto the original railroad tracks, pushing and pulling the whole way.

This is not how writing should feel. Even though it is work to push through writer’s block at certain points of the story, the plotline should flow naturally. You should be having fun! So, how do you have fun when your plotline is no longer your plotline? That’s easy!

Go with the flow.

If your plotline is changing before your eyes, or your character has so nicely provided information you did not know when you began, go with it! Follow the flow of the story. It will naturally pull you along to the climax and resolution.

I know this is really tough for those who have planned this story from start to finish and want it to be exactly the way you put it down on paper. So, I pose a question. Would you rather have it your way and have it sound forced and stiff, or follow the story where it goes and have everyone love it?

Yes, it’s YOUR baby. And yes, if you so choose you can pull it the direction you want it to go. But stories don’t always work like that. Sometimes they’re mischievous and are trying to tell you what would make it ten times better! Point in case, you should listen to your story and take heed what it is telling you. Should that bad guy really be a good guy in the end? What about that character they briefly mentioned earlier? Should they play a bigger role?

On the other hand, there are those stories that have NO plotline. (Or, as I like to call it, “the mush plotline”.) You started it and then never got around to finishing it, and YIKES! does it need help. You have bits and pieces but nothing seems to fit together, and how in the world did they get onto a boat? Wanna know what you do about those? Yep, you guessed it.

Go with the flow.

It never fails, if you start writing somewhere along the line an idea will spark. Those land lovers will suddenly decide to take a cruise and HEY! There’s your boat! Scenes have a way of attaching themselves and explaining themselves if you listen long enough. So listen up, bub.

No matter if you’re having trouble thinking up plotline or have one that’s completely changed now, going with the flow is always better than forcing your story to be something it is not. When you force, it often comes off shallow and stiff. No one wants that. So loosen up and have fun!

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This week, I’d like to hear about a time when your plotline changed without warning you. What did you do?

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.

The Correction Bug

In my family, we have this beautiful, horrible thing called “the correction bug”. Allow me to explain with an exemplar story.

My brother is talking to me and he says, “you do that really good.”

“Well,” I correct him.

Later, we’re talking about a movie line. “Nobody kissed me, did they?

“Actually, it’s please tell me nobody kissed me.”

There is nothing more annoying than the correction bug when you’re on the receiving end, so we have worked hard to rein it in instead of letting it roam free. When someone gets on a roll correcting someone else, either they or the person they are correcting will slap their wrist/arm/shoulder/leg and say “correction bug” to remind that person that it isn’t always wise to correct other people.

Writers tend to get this way when reading other people’s work. We see a tiny mistake and we pick it apart. This can be both good and destructive. We have to be careful to not harm another writer’s feelings or resolve by picking apart everything they just did. On the other hand, it’s good to know that there is the possibility for you to be able to pick apart your own work and make it better.

Another fun part of the correction bug is that you can read or watch something and pick out what you like and how you would have done it. This is fodder for future works. Write it down. If you find yourself saying, “I would have…” then write down how you would have done it. There’s no telling when it will come in handy.

The correction bug is also good for first draft edits. You sit down, you read your work, and you tear it to pieces to fix it. It’s brutal work, and it hurts, but it is necessary. So, correct correct correct! (Anyone else have a flashback to Charlotte’s web here? “Double T, double E, double R, double I, double F, double I, double C”. I love that goose.)

Unfortunately for us, correction is a part of writing. Grammar, plotline, misspellings. I, for one, hate having to cut up the good work I’ve already done. It’s like tearing out my own heart and soul.

So, how do we deal with this?

Well, my first instinct is to sit down — just me — with a giant bundt cake and a fork. Unfortunately, if I did that every time I had to edit, I would be very, very fat. So I set up a reward program for myself (or, at least, I would like to). Here’s the general idea.

Edit first ten pages = piece of chocolate for me.

Edit first half of book = piece of cake/cheesecake or a giant cookie.

Edit all grammar and misspellings = a piece of jewelry for me.

COMPLETELY edit entire manuscript, grammar, spelling, punctuation, and fix all plot holes = BRAND NEW PAIR OF SHOES!!!

I’m not quite there yet, but I do reward myself with varying desserts and it seems to get me over the hump. Editing isn’t quite so menacing anymore. In fact, sometimes I actually (gulp) enjoy it.

So, even though the correction bug can be a bad thing when used too much, it can be a good thing for our writing. Keep it in its container until the time is right to let it out. (Kind of like those caterpillars you used to catch that never actually made it to butterfly stage).

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Need help editing or have questions about how it should be done? Comment or contact me! I’m giving out free advice this week.

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.

BONUS POST: Forgotten Glory

Seeing as how Resurrection Sunday is fast approaching, I thought I’d share with you a short story I recently wrote on the subject. It’s titled Forgotten Glory, and is one of the works I’m very proud of. Please enjoy it, and share it with others this Easter season.

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Forgotten Glory

copyright 2015, by Megan Fatheree

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His sentence was set, and I watched them beat him again and again, stripping the very skin from the body he had chosen. He didn’t cry out, he didn’t try to run away.

They laid a cross on his back and demanded he carry it, though I knew he didn’t deserve it. He was blameless, and always will be. Yet he took it upon his shoulders and started that long walk to the destiny he had crafted with his own hands.

Along the way he faltered, and fell under the weight of his burden. A man stepped forward, chosen from the crowd, and stepped beside my Lord. With much exertion and a cry of a mortal’s pain, this man lifted the load I would have gladly carried. If only He would say something.

The Lord rose from where he had fallen and rested the weight once again on his shoulders. Even like this, his glory poured forth and touched the ones willing to receive.

The people threw words and launched their anger. I couldn’t understand how quickly they had forgotten all the things their Lord had done. How soon they had turned from his love and overflowing compassion to follow their so-called spiritual leaders.

Others joined me on the way to Golgotha, the Place of the Skull that should not belong to the one who made all of Heaven and Earth. Demons taunted, laughed, and those who had fallen long ago looked on without interest.

With each beat of the hammer that drove metal through his precious skin, a pulse propelled all of us forward. A host of heavenly warriors ready to battle. We would take him up, away from this earthly agony. If only he would say the word.

A sign above his head proclaimed his majesty, and still the people did not recognize him. They mocked him. They asked where we were, why he would not call on us to save him. And I didn’t see their beauty then. Instead of the masterpieces he had molded them to be, I saw only the Serpent, ruler of the mortal realms.

The sky turned dark as night, and thunder clapped in the distance. Lucifer himself arrived to see his great accomplishment.

The sin of all those he loved so dearly appeared to us. Each sin a blemish on his skin. One by one, we saw the sin of the past. The present. The future. A mountain of evil so vast, we could hardly bear to look at him.

“Where is your Father now?” Lucifer taunted, and a sneer distorted his beautiful face.

My Lord lifted his head and shouted through his pain, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

I leapt forward, ready to pull him from this cross, but the others held me back. “Why does he not say the word?” I screamed.

The humans below had not understood his agony, and they offered him the worst of their wine. Thunder cracked and lightning split the clouds, a brief reprieve from the opaque blackness surrounding him.

Then, in a moment of splendor, he gave one last shout. “It is finished!” he decreed, and we watched his spirit rip from its mortal confines.

Lucifer laughed and disappeared to his Hell, and the Demons danced with joy. The fallen ones turned and walked away. But they didn’t see what we saw.

For once in forever, all of heaven cried as we watched him release his mortal being. Rocks split open and the earth shook, crying out for the Messiah they knew. Tombs opened, the dead rose again, and those who had killed him fell to their knees. The curtain in the temple split, and we could hear it tear from miles around. His glory spilled from the Holy of Holies and flooded the entire earth. There was no more separation.

I looked on as a stranger laid the form in a borrowed grave, but I knew he wasn’t there. So I turned my eyes down and watched him descend to the very pit of Hell, where the gates swung open willingly.

Without a warrior in sight, he marched in to the place he had created for the fallen ones.

Lucifer cringed and cowered in fear, but my Lord reached out a hand. No argument could have been made. No agreement could have been reached. Even Lucifer recognized the authority of the Blameless One, whose spotless life meant He never deserved to die. An undeserved death that granted Him authority over the one who thought he had caused His demise.

The heavy keys of death and the grave jingled in His hands, and for one moment in time, all of Hell was silent. Every monster and sinner knew that Jesus had won, and they hadn’t even known there was a battle.

The gates slammed as He left them, and locked in finality. No longer would the Earth be without hope.

I watched him ascend, back to the Earth, and I knew the others saw too.

Spirit met flesh in a flash of blinding light, and the human guards couldn’t stand for the weight of His glory. We moved as one to surround the tomb, and I easily pushed the stone away from the entrance.

Not one of us stood as He stepped into the light of His own Majesty. We all knew the love that He had displayed. For a second time, graves split open and those thought dead rose from their slumber. Each one saw him and each one worshipped. No one would ever understand His great love and mercy better than those who had seen it that day.

As we watched Him ascend to greet His Father, all of heaven rejoiced in that love. For we knew He had defeated the chains of bondage and won freedom for all. We knew this wouldn’t be the last time He showed his glory to the humans He loved best. We knew we would see Him forever seated by His Father in Heaven.

And that he would come back again.

What Did You (Really) Say?

Ah, miscommunication. It’s the heart and soul of conflict.

I chose this topic for this week because I’ve been reading this book (The Fire In Ember by DiAnn Mills) wherein all could be solved if they would just COMMUNICATE!!! But, you know what? I love it.

So, how do we build a world around our characters where they don’t communicate perfectly? And why not have them communicate well?

Everyone has a reason to lie about something. Yes, even you. Think about it. There is always one memory, one embarrassing moment, one part of your most personal feelings that you CANNOT express, even when you need to. This often leads to miscommunication.

If our characters are to be real, then they will miscommunicate. They’ll leave things out (important things), lie to each other to cover up a painful memory. All these things lend to A) Backstory and B) Conflict.

Think on this: If you haven’t told someone an important piece of information, how can you expect them to understand your ations?

If you haven’t told someone you love them, how do you expect them to know and reciprocate your feelings?

If you (or your character) hasn’t told someone that they’re scared for their life because an evil person is chasing them down for the fun of it, HOW IS ANYONE SUPPOSED TO HELP???

People miscommunicate by NOT communicating a lot of times.

Example: Guy sees girl (or vice versa) in a situation that, to them, looks like cheating or criminal behavior. Guy/girl doesn’t go to ask the other one what happened, just assumes they were in the wrong. Relationship suffers greatly.

If that character had just asked what happened, they would have realized the guy/girl was being threatened/played/taken advantage of. And when they finally do realize this (as they should to settle the conflict), they’ll kick themselves and possibly want to go shoot someone.

As humans, our biggest strength and greatest weakness is communication. Therefore, believable characters should have both strength and weaknesses in their social and communication skills.

Some examples:

In the movie Love Comes Softly, it isn’t so much miscommunication as it is failed communication. Marty doesn’t want to leave, but she doesn’t want to stay if Clark doesn’t want her, so she leaves a note in his Bible that doesn’t end up in front of his face. Because it was a stupid idea to slide the note into the book where it can (and did) fall out, Marty thinks he doesn’t want her. SO not the case!

In The Fire In Ember (DiAnn Mills, copyright 2011) the main character has been fed lies all her life. She’s too scared to really communicate why and she doesn’t think she’s worthy of anything. So, instead of telling people what she knows and getting help, she clams up.

A lot of stories depend on miscommunication to run longer than twenty minutes (for movies) or 50 pages (for books). Without something to figure out, we’d have no conflict. And we all know we LOVE conflict. We love watching the characters duke it out or shout it out and we love to see the bad guy get beat. (Except in the rare cases involving fandoms with crazy people who think the villain should have won.)

So, miscommunication. Use it. Love it. Keep it close.

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.

The Villainous Dance of Villainy!

I guarantee not many of you will catch the reference in the title, but it makes me smile, so I’m going to use it. It also fits with what we’re going to talk about today. Did you guess what it is? Yep, that’s right. We’re going to talk about VILLAINS!!! For those extraordinary people who prefer the term “antagonist”, it’s the same thing. The bad guy.

When I say “villain”, I guarantee everyone’s mind goes somewhere different. For some, maybe it’s Moriarty from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series. For others, it may be a comic book character. For the majority of the crazy world out there, they probably instantly think “Disney”. Whatever it is that sparked in your head when I said “villain”, hang on to it. That is probably the bad guy (or girl) you love to hate, and we’re going to plunge ahead and talk about creating them.

But first, a random villainous quote from… a movie we should all recognize:

“I’ll get you, my pretty! And your little dog, too!”

Chills.

Anywho, the first thing I want to say about villains is that — even though they’re usually terribly evil — They tend to be pretty awesome. And, without them, we wouldn’t even have the books and movies we love so much. So, snaps for the villains!

(This is where you snap, it’s like clapping, only quieter)

I think one of the most important things that villains do is TALK! I mean, come on, who hasn’t looked at the page or screen and thrown up their hands and demanded “Quit monologuing, you idiot! This is how they always beat you!”

However, I’m more concerned with opening lines. (The good guy is supposed to beat the villain, so their monologuing doesn’t always concern me, just usually.) Okay, let’s run the reel for opening lines.

Professor James Moriarty (The Final Problem)

“You have less frontal development than I would have expected. It is a dangerous habit to finger loaded firearms in the pocket of one’s dressing-gown.”

Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmatians)

“Anita, darling!”

“How have you been?”

“Miserable, darling, just miserable.”

A villain’s opening words say a lot about what they are or what they are not. Many times, a villain’s opening words are quirky and offbeat, like Moriarty. Other times a villain feigns compassion, but you can always tell.

I put a lot of thought into the first words my villains say, because I want them to be memorable. I also want to immediately show the reader/watcher something about the heart of this character. Whether they’re motivated by selfishness, greed, lost love, or miscommunication, I like to clue the reader/watcher in on this.

Point #2 on villains–

WAIT! Another random villainous quote, from the movie Tangled:

“Mother’s feeling a bit… tired. Would you sing for me?”

That irksome woman.

Okay, Point #2!

Villains are dramatic, it’s in their nature (usually because they’re pretty narcissistic). So, aside from the obvious drama queen situations going on elsewhere, they need a grand entrance. They’re entrance introduces them for you, it shows the reader/watcher that “hey, this is the guy/girl to watch out for”.

My most recent villain entrance was simple, yet fully dramatic. The guy entered via a porch, silhouetted in the doorway. Effective, because then you can reveal him slowly.

My favorite movie villain entrance is probably the guy from the first Sherlock Holmes movie (starring Jude Law and Robert Downey Junior). They waste no time in letting you know that this guy is clinical. Creepy, but awesome.

More great movie villain entrances:

The Avengers

The Chronicles of Narnia: Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe

The Losers

National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets

Taken

There are others, but those are the good ones off the top of my head. Also, pretty much every Marvel movie ever. They’re really good at villain entrances.

Point #3

Take your time to flesh out your villain. Villains are humans, too (usually). They have weaknesses. They have feelings. They relate to people. Villains aren’t always monsters, sometimes they’re just misunderstood. They can be nice to certain people and evil to others. They can have normal lives outside of their day jobs. (The day job, of course, being villainy).

Random Villainous Quote! From Larryboy: The Good, The Bad, and The Eggly

“Maybe it’s diamonds, or rubies… or a fondue set! I love fondue.”

Your villain deserves just as much thought as your hero, and giving him feelings an quirks can actually make him likable. Yes, I said it. A likable villain. It sounds like an oxymoron, but really it’s not. If people dislike him too much, they may put down your writing. And no one wants that.

So, whatever direction you decide to take your villain, or whatever direction your villain takes you, remember to think before you publish. How do they walk, talk? What’s their backstory? How did they get to the point where villainy was their only choice? Or do they enjoy it?

Let me know about your most villainous villains in the comments below, or use the Contact page to email me directly!

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.

The Art of Illusion

You’ll hear me talk A LOT about how much more powerful it is to elude to something than to tell it straight out. To me, it’s almost as important as “Show, Don’t Tell” and quite honestly it’s probably technically covered in that statement. However, it seems some people just don’t quite get it. So let’s expound.

“The closer you look, the less you’ll see” is the theme of a fun little movie called Now You See Me. Most magicians use this trick. Why? Because it works. Magic is all about the art of illusion, and how do people refer to the best books and movies?

“It was magical.”

So let’s take the magician’s theme and apply it to ourselves, writers. There are several different things that demand a “far away” look when we’re writing. I’ll break them down for you and explain what I mean by “far away look”.

#1 – Character descriptions.

You know you’ve read an over expository character description before. “She had hair like… and eyes like… her teeth were… and her ears… don’t forget her hands… did I mention the exact clothes she was wearing?…” And suddenly we feel trapped inside a box. That’s not AT ALL how we pictured her (whoever she is).

When I write, I tend to give one or two traits of my character and leave the rest up to imagination. I’ve found I like this from other authors, which is why I try to follow their lead in my own writing. For example: my character Rosie Callahan, I only told the reader 2 things about her physical appearance. She’s 5’2″ and she has curly hair. I left the rest up to them.

I think you’ll find that if you stick to the important things about the character, like how they react to others and what kind of speech patterns they use, people will fill in the physical description without much help.

#2 – Back Story

I’m not saying don’t tell people what happened in the past, I’m saying expose it slowly. Have the character say something or do something that ELUDES to their backstory. They had a convict dad?

“I won’t be like him.”

Simple as that. And, yes, I’ve used that one. Another one I’ve used: The girl has a history of people leaving her without a word.

“Just… don’t leave without saying goodbye. Okay?”

Think through what your characters are doing. They deserve the thought it takes to weave their backstory in and out through their actions and words.

TIP: you have a backstory too, but you don’t tell everyone you meet. Everything that happened in the past is your backstory, and it reflects itself in what you do and say now, but not in an expository way. It is what it is, and nothing more. You don’t make a big deal about it. So why do your characters whine on and on about their past?

#3 – Relationships

This REALLY goes along with “Show, Don’t Tell”. The best advice I ever received on this subject was “loving someone means never having to say I love you.” SHOW that your characters love each other, or hate each other, or have known each other for a long time by what they do and say.

This all goes back to illusion. With vague answers and short flashes into the backstory, you’re giving the illusion of a full life behind the character, which in turn brings them to life. Why go into all that exposition when you can achieve the same thing by a simple flick of the wrist?

Remember, the closer you look, the less you’ll see.

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.

38 Questions to Ask Every Character

You’ve probably seen a TON of lists of questions that demand “These questions NEED to be asked”. And what’s on them? Mostly stuff that you don’t really need to know to unfold a great character. (NO offense, seriously. I just wish people would stop telling me I need to know what kind of underwear my character wears.)

This list is different.

I know because I read all those other lists out there and picked the things that (I think) every writer should know about their character. Some of them are just for fun, but most really help me narrow down how I’m going to write a specific character. I thought it would be nice, while we’re working with character development, to share these with you.

They’ve helped me build characters, as well as stories. They dig deep into the character’s psyche, so you know where s/he is coming from. And they SERIOUSLY reveal character.

I will also share some of my favorite answers, after the list. So, without further ado, let’s begin.

38 QUESTIONS TO ASK EVERY CHARACTER

1. How old is s/he (physically AND mentally)?

2. Did s/he have a happy childhood? Why or why not?

3. What are their past and present relationships and how do they affect him/her?

4. What does s/he care about?

5. What is s/he obsessed with?

6. What is his/her biggest fear?

7. What is the best thing that ever happened to them? Worst?

8. What is their most embarrassing moment?

9. What is his/her biggest secret?

10. What is the 1 word that defines him/her?

11. What do you know about him/her that s/he doesn’t?

12. What music does s/he sing when no one else is around?

13. What is his/her favorite movie?

14. What is his/her favorite piece of clothing? Shoes?

15. Who is his/her favorite person?

16. What calms him/her?

17. Does s/he play any instruments?

18. What is his/her catchphrase?

19. What is his/her favorite excuse?

20. What is his/her favorite song?

21. What annoys him/her?

22. What is the most beautiful thing s/he has ever seen?

23. What is the worst injury s/he has ever sustained? (in the past)

24. Has anyone close to him/her died?

25. What would s/he wish for if s/he found a genie?

26. What is the most frightening handicap s/he could sustain? (in the present or future)

27. When and where was s/he happiest?

28. What is something s/he can’t resist?

29. What is something people misunderstand about him/her?

30. What is his/her favorite holiday?

31. What are his/her hopes and dreams?

32. What would s/he die for?

33. What would mentally destroy him/her?

34. Why would s/he defend a stranger?

35. What does s/he lie about?

36. Does s/he have a positive or negative body image?

37. What object will s/he never give up?

38. What can s/he do at the end that s/he can’t do at the beginning?

A lot to take in, I know. Let me explain how this works.

It’s OK to think outside the box. Sometimes the answer will just pop out of nowhere, sometimes you’ll really have to think hard to get to the heart of the issue. (P.S. This list is also great to help create backstory).

I’ll give you some examples of some of my characters’ answers. They’re…. interesting, to say the least.

We’ll start with a question where my character dropped a quote in my lap that completely answered the question.

Q: What is his biggest fear?

A: “I am in the desert… This. This right here is my biggest fear.” (He’s afraid of dirt.)

Sometimes, the way your character thinks about something will come out in their answer, or even the way they talk. Like this answer from a Texas boy character.

Q: What is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen?

A: A Texas sunset by the Gulf beach.

Not how I would have put it, but characters do that sometimes.

Sometimes an answer can be as simple as…

Q: What is one thing she can’t resist?

A: A good churro.

Sometimes, your character’s answer will be symbolic. Usually of something in their own life. LIke…

Q: What is her favorite holiday?

A: New Year’s. New beginnings.

(Talk about backstory!)

Lastly, sometimes your character will give an answer that completely shapes how they see themselves, other people, or even the world.

Like this fragile flower:

Q: What was her most embarrassing moment?

A: Found boyfriend with her best friend. On date night.

Ouch. That probably shaped how she views guys and herself. Because of this, she doesn’t have great self-worth. Think about those kinds of experiences. Why the character is who they are.

Do that, and your characters will end up pretty amazing.

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.