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50 Posts tagged with the characters tag
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The questions

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger Jan 24, 2018

 

Really bad writers tell readers how great their characters are. Writing is about showing your readers how great your characters are, and the quality of your characters hinge on one thing. This one thing is actually an innate skill that successful writers possess. In a lot of books, authors construct a story based on this one thing.

 

This one thing is really a series of things, but it is the same concept repeated over and over again. The quality of your characters depends on the questions they have to face. If you're writing a mystery novel, it's chock full of questions. How your characters deal with these questions is the linchpin to their development.


And it's not just mysteries. Every genre of fiction is nothing more than a series of questions your characters face from page to page and chapter to chapter. Your readers learn about what your characters are really made of as each question is explored. The conflicts that drive plot provide your characters with the big questions, but smaller questions arise from the journey dealing with these conflicts.


These questions don't just exist in fiction. We all face unspoken questions every day of our lives, some small, some big, and the way we deal with these questions reveal our character. The stories we write simply mirror reality, most likely on a much grander scale and with much bigger stakes, but the concept is essentially the same.


If you want to write better, more engaging characters, pay attention to the questions you face in a day or week, and then put your characters in your shoes. Where would they diverge from your decision making? Where would they make the same decisions? What does that show you about their character?


-Richard


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Torture your characters

 

What would your characters do?

 

 

 

 

1,073 Views 3 Comments Permalink Tags: books, self-publishing, writing, characters, fiction, plot
2

If I taught a class in writing, the following would be the outline for my syllabus:

 

1. Character – The care you take in crafting your characters is probably the most important time and talent you will spend writing. The goal is to create characters with whom your readers will make an emotional connection. That means you need to have more than a passing knowledge of what makes your characters tick. You need to do a deep dive on their background and relationships.

 

2. Plot – The temptation will be to show off and demonstrate to your readers how clever you are, but resist that temptation. Keep your main plot simple. Limit the number of twists and turns to just a few. Remember, character is what's driving this book. The plot should serve the characters not the other way around.

 

3. Subplots – This is where I have fun with secondary characters. I give them their own adventures within the story, a strategy that gives them much more depth. I believe it's crucial that your readers not only connect with the main characters but with supporting characters, too.

 

4. Conflict – There have to be clear stakes for your characters if they don't succeed, and those stakes have to be personal. The potential loss has to be painful and life-altering. Not only will that drive you to be more creative when things get tough, it will draw your readers in even more. The greater the stakes for a character they've connected with, the greater their interest.

 

5. Endings – You've caused your readers to bond with your characters. Give them an ending that reflects real life. What happens in real life? It goes on. Whatever happened to your main character, life doesn't end when the book does. Give a hint at what's to come next, even if you're not writing a series.  

 

Why did I share this with you? Am I trying to tell you how to write? No. I want you to do the same. Create a five-topic outline for a syllabus, not because I want you to teach a class, but I want you to be able to identify your own writing philosophy. Once you know that, you'll write with more confidence and approach each project with much more energy and enthusiasm.

 

-Richard

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Your writing philosophy

Your how-to-be-a-novelist syllabus

1,831 Views 2 Comments Permalink Tags: books, self-publishing, indie, writing, characters, drafts, plot, author_advice, writing_help
1

 

He Here's a little exercise to help you get to know your characters. What would your character do when faced with the boring old frustrations of regular life? Strip away the heightened conflict they face in your book and give them a sense of the mundane. When you know how they react to real life, you know how they react to extraordinary fictional life events.

 

  1. Traffic: They say climbing behind the wheel of a car can test the character of any person. For our purposes, we are going to test the character of actual characters. How do they handle traffic? What do they do when they're cut off or get stuck behind a slowpoke on a two-lane highway?
  2. Elevators: Elevators are essentially boxes of awkwardness. How do your characters respond to stepping onto an elevator with strangers? How to they respond when the elevator breaks down for hours?
  3. Lack of coffee: We coffee drinkers have had that horrible moment where we wake up, shuffle into the kitchen, and realize there is no coffee to be had. It's a nightmare. How would your characters respond to such a gut-wrenching disappointment? If it's not coffee, how would they respond to being denied access to any vices they rely on in their daily routines?
  4. Loud talkers: You're in a movie theater, and the person behind you lacks the ability to keep his or her voice down during the showing. You know how you would handle such a situation, but how would your characters handle it?
  5. Wrong number: Someone calls you in the middle of the night and wakes you up. It's a wrong number, but the person on the other end of the line doesn't believe you, so they become belligerent and even call back several more times to further annoy you. How do your characters respond to such a situation?


 

By placing your characters in ordinary situations, you get a deeper understanding of who they are. When you can see them deal with minor annoyances, details about your characters arise that can add surprising depth to your characters' development.


 

-Richard

 

 

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Write an Obituary for Your Characters

 

The Stranger in the Room

 

 

 

 

1,798 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: authors, writing, characters, character_development, writing_exercises, characterization
0

A character stew

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger Jun 20, 2016

I wrote a play last year that is, I'm happy to say, going to be produced this coming January. I bring it up here because during one of the many public readings, I got the inevitable question about what inspired me to write the story. Specifically, they wanted to know if my characters were based on people I knew.


I cringed at this question even though I knew it was coming. The story is about three siblings: a sister and two brothers. My wife just happens to have two brothers. The story takes place at a vacation home on a lake. My wife's brothers, their wives, and the two of us just happened to have vacationed together on a rental property on a lake. One would think that based on this information you could draw a straight line between the characters in my play and my wife's family. One would think that, but one would be wrong.


The vacation and the family structure in the play were obviously inspired by real life, but the characters in the play and their backstories bear no resemblance to the source of inspiration. I took that week together, and I said what if it were six people stuck in a house together, all with secrets and all with conflicting personalities. That is something that could be interesting. If I chose to write about my wife's family, it would be a boring play full of people being supportive of one another, offering zero conflict to capture the audience's attention.


With this in mind, I answered the question thusly: I don't create characters based on anyone I know. I write characters based on everyone I know. That is the best way I can describe the character development process. I start with a germ of an idea of what a character is like, and then I let my subconscious beg and borrow from all the people I've met in my life, and I create a character stew.


 

-Richard


 

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A Kramer by Any Other Name

 

When Writing, Don't Outsmart Yourself

 

936 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, author, writing, characters, character_development
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Culture profile

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger May 23, 2016

I have plans for a book that, in part at least, takes place in Bolivia. I'm a huge Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid fan, and it's my way of paying homage to the classic film. I have a major hurdle to overcome first. My knowledge of the country and region is based solely on the 1969 film starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford.

 

Obviously, that means I have some studying to do. My goal as a writer is to avoid creating characters that are stereotypes. My view on stereotypes is that they don't provide the kind of depth one needs to develop a character readers will really connect with. Instead, I want to develop Bolivian characters that are modeled using cultural norms and cultural deviations that test those norms.

 

Now, I currently don't have the resources to travel to Bolivia and do a field study. I will have to rely on books, articles, and videos to find the knowledge I seek. I will create a file on my computer that will be called "Bolivian Culture," and I will start collecting material. Before I even sketch out the plot for the book, I will create character profiles for the Bolivians who will be in my book. I'll do a general outline for secondary and background characters, and I'll do a more detailed summary of the main Bolivian characters. That's where the cultural deviations will come into play. Conflict is crucial to creating multidimensional characters. The practices outside of what is widely accepted as a cultural norm are a great place to find conflict to fully develop a character.

 

When writing characters that come from a different culture than you, steer clear of stereotypes. Dive deeper and do your homework in order to create a culture profile that will give your characters depth.

 

-Richard

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Give your characters virtual depth

Start a dialogue with your characters

969 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: writing, characters, craft, character_development, writing_advice, character_arcs
2

When I first signed with a literary agent several years ago, she told me to read as much as I could because it would improve my own writing. I never forgot that advice, and while I have always loved to read, after that I began to read with a different eye.

 

I enjoy a variety of genres and always have a book on my nightstand (or on my Kindle), and with each one I learn something that positively affects my own work. Sometimes it's the way an author uses details such as colors, sounds, or smells to enrich a description, or the way I'm drawn into a chapter by a subtle hint that something terrible is going to happen, or how I find myself caring about a particular character due to the way the author shares interesting nuggets about his or her past. (I've said here before that quirks make characters real, and one reason I so strongly believe that is because of how I've responded to characters as a reader, not just because of how my readers have responded to characters I've created.)

 

Another way reading helps me is by expanding my vocabulary. Much like the way I speak, with each novel I write I find myself reaching for the same words and phrases because they're familiar to me, and the force of habit is strong! Now I keep a notebook by my bed when I'm reading and jot down words or descriptions that jump out at me as unusual, interesting, or flat-out unfamiliar. I love the Kindle because I can look up a word's meaning simply by pressing the screen--and when I'm reading a paperback I keep a good ol' fashioned dictionary handy.

 

They say to be a writer you should (try to) write every day. Toss in some reading, and you're on your way!

 

-Maria

 

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Maria Murnane is a paid CreateSpace contributor and the best-selling author of the Waverly Bryson series, Cassidy Lane, Katwalk, and Wait for the Rain. She also provides consulting services on book publishing and marketing. Have questions for Maria? You can find her at www.mariamurnane.com.

 

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Want to Improve Your Writing? Read!

Does Writing Change the Author?

1,915 Views 2 Comments Permalink Tags: self_publishing, books, self-publishing, writing, characters, reading, author_advice, writting_exercises
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I'm going to commit a literary faux paus today and discuss an element of story in a different medium, one that traditionally is not met with favor among novelists. That medium is television. Now, in case you just groaned and rolled your eyes, let me explain that today's television programming is varied and much grittier than it once was. There's a lot of high quality narrative writing at nearly every stop on the dial or phone app or streaming service, however television is consumed these days.

 

The show I want to talk about, Breaking Bad, ended its run a few years ago, but it's one of my favorites. I've said repeatedly that watching that series from beginning to end is like taking a Master's class in character development for any type of storyteller. Walter White, the protagonist, may be one of the most fully realized characters I've ever encountered, but I want to talk about another character, the villain, Gustavo "Gus" Fring.

 

Gus is menacing. He's stoic. He's brutal. He's duplicitous. He's everything you want in a villain and more. The creators of the show did something brilliant with Gus' villainy. They hid it under a cool exterior that could even be soft at times. I think he yelled once during the entire time he was on the show. He did bad things, but he did them in an almost businesslike manner. The creators allowed you to see his tragic past and witness what turned him down the psychopathic road. They gave you a reason to root for him. They managed to make you feel uneasy about him and sympathetic toward him at the same time. It helped that his nemesis was a somewhat volatile good guy that you weren't always sure was the good guy.

 

So, today's Breaking Bad lesson is that your bad guy has to be just as complicated as your protagonist. Yes, he's the heavy, but that doesn't mean you skimp on his dimensions. Find something that will give the readers pause, where they may even find themselves hoping he (or she) survives.

 

-Richard

 

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The Basic Elements of a Character Arc

Taking a Character from Good to Bad

1,556 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: novel, author, writing, characters, storytelling, character_development, character_arc, writing_characters, villians, scene_writing
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The Series

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger Oct 14, 2015

Don't you just love a good novel series? It's so comforting to know that once you complete a book full of characters you've come to love over the course of a story that they will be back in a new adventure, facing new challenges, and providing you with more entertainment. The novel series is great as a reader, but as a writer it can be incredibly taxing. Think about it: one of the primary elements of a novel is the character arc, a device where you take characters from point A, through conflict after conflict, and then land them on point B, where they have changed. They have a new set of values, and they see the world in a whole new way. That's difficult enough to do in a single story, but in a series--it seems impossible.

 

So what is a poor writer to do? How do you reinvent a new character arc each time you write a new story featuring the same characters? Here's the easiest way to handle the dilemma. Don't obsess over it. In real life, actual people face different challenges all the time, and depending on the outcome, our values are tweaked along the way to reflect our new experiences. That doesn't make us wishy-washy or unstable, it makes us human. If you're not learning from living, you're not really living.

 

Allow your characters the same leeway to change and grow and become born anew numerous times throughout a series. Don't stick to one dogmatic character structure. Give your character the opportunity to learn and live from book to book in your series.

 

-Richard

 

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Plotting a Book Series

Writing a Series? Tips from a Superstar

1,552 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: authors, characters, series, character_development, writing_tips, author_advice, characters_arc
4

I once hated the most crucial aspect of writing a book: rewriting a book. Writing a book is a huge investment of time, and it also requires a significant emotional investment. I mean we authors are experiencing many different lives going through conflict after conflict. That kind of thing takes its toll. When I finished a first draft, the last thing I wanted to do was reshape the manuscript.

 

But as the years (now decades) have passed, rewriting has become my favorite part of writing a book. For one thing, the knowledge going in to a project that mistakes will be corrected in rewrites is so freeing. It helps take a little bit of the sting of perfection out of the first draft. Not only do I not mind if there are holes in a book after the first writing, I happily expect them.

 

Another thing I've realized is, in a very internal way, I create relationships with these imaginary characters that I think up in my head. We spend hours, days, weeks, months together. Rewriting a book allows me to get to know them better. It allows me to recognize why they were so special to me and helps me dive deeper into their strengths and flaws. It gives me the opportunity to give them depth.

 

The final thing that has helped me to embrace rewriting is the appreciation I have for a challenge. To essentially rethink parts of a story that took me so long to write is a real challenge that pushes me to develop as an artist.

 

Rewriting is an opportunity to relax, reconnect, and rethink. How can I not embrace it?

 

-Richard

 

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Use Two Brains for Writing and Rewriting

AAUGH! Rewrites!

5,448 Views 4 Comments Permalink Tags: authors, author, writers, revisions, writing, characters, drafts, writing_process, craft
2

I know this is a blog in which we usually talk about writing novels, but allow me to use a movie as an example to illustrate my point that stories don't always need a twist to be entertaining. Imagine if you will, there are three astronauts on a mission to the moon, but their spacecraft is damaged en route, and not only does the mission have to be scrubbed, but the chances of getting the astronauts home safely are slim to none. Now stop imagining it because you don't have to. It actually happened, and Hollywood made a movie about it.

 

Think about it. While what happened on the Apollo 13 mission to the moon was enthralling, it was a well-known story that had been recounted in great detail in books and the media. How did they make something so well documented seem like a story that had never been told?

 

They focused on character. We got to know the folks at mission control. We got to know the families of the astronauts, and they even humanized the larger-than-life characters of the astronauts themselves to make them more relatable. They took the known events of the failed mission and built the tension around the actions and reactions of the folks involved. As an audience, we weren't wondering what would happen. We were wondering how it would happen. It is a tale without a twist, but it is a tale full of suspense. That is a neat trick.

 

-Richard

 

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Defining Characters through Action, Not Description

Character Development Lessons from Breaking Bad

2,861 Views 2 Comments Permalink Tags: authors, author, self-publishing, writers, writing, characters, character_development, author_tips, author_advice, authro
1

You write with passion. You rewrite with purpose. That is to say, your first draft is spun with reckless abandon. The words click onto the page as fast as you can tap your fingers across the keyboard. They are delivered from a place that is located deep within the right hemisphere of your brain. You write what you see. You don't think about what you write. Rewriting? Not so much.

 

The left hemisphere of your old grey matter gets involved during rewrites and starts to apply logic to the free flow of thought that had created such a beautiful, wandering mess. Your top priority during rewrites is to keep everything that has a purpose in the story. Everything else, no matter how well written, must go.

 

While all the elements of a story are interconnected, as you rewrite, you might want to give each chapter a "Purpose Rating" and grade each element separately on a scale from one to five. Anything that gets less than a three should be cut.

 

Establish your "Purpose Rating" by considering these elements:

 

  • Plot purpose: Does the material move the plot forward or shed light on certain story elements that solidify the foundation of the plot?

  • Character purpose: Does the material give relevant insight into aspects of character? Does it give your character depth that steers away from clichés? Does it provide a compelling piece of character development that is unexpected and new, without being distracting?

  • Setting purpose: Does the material set the proper mood? Does it paint a picture that fits the theme and genre of your story? Does it break the rules without disrupting the story?

  • Dialogue purpose: Is the material necessary? Some dialogue is used as an "exploratory" device. Meaning, when it was first written it may have been connective tissue for an upcoming subplot or character revelation. In a lot of cases, those future elements either never materialize or are eliminated. Be on the lookout for these holes.

  • Subplot Purpose: Is your subplot a minor detour from the story or a complete diversion? If it's too far removed from the plot, it's doing more harm than good.

You will find that rewriting is a much harder process than writing. It should be. You're applying logic to an artistic endeavor. You have to be ruthless in your cuts. Applying a "Purpose Rating" may help you look at your story more objectively.   

 

-Richard

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Two Mistakes Indie Authors Should Avoid

The Purpose of Subplots

7,871 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: authors, writers, setting, writing, characters, drafts, plot, dialogue, rewriting, writing_help, subplot
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The Plot Plight

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger Apr 22, 2015

My favorite book is an obscure title first released in 1933 called God's Little Acre by Erskine Caldwell. Well, it's obscure now. When it was released, it was actually both a commercial hit and the subject of controversy because it was deemed vulgar by some. By today's standards, it's not nearly as provocative as it was in the 1930s.

 

I write about it today because I can make the argument that the book is without a main plot. The catalyst for the action in the beginning is the patriarch of a deeply impoverished family's obsessive search for gold on his dying farm. It's a fruitless endeavor that ruins the farmland. This search for riches serves as a backdrop to the lives of the family members and the hardships that weave them together. There's an illicit affair that tears the family apart. There's a strike at a nearby cotton mill that ends in tragedy. There's a murder. The book is basically a scrapbook of events that paints the sad portrait of a family plagued by poverty. The futile search for gold is less a plot than it is a shadow cast by the family's endless misfortune.

 

A plot is described as the main event of a book that gives a story meaning. Other events, subplots, give a story depth. My dissection of God's Little Acre has me questioning my sanity. A book, I've been taught, must have a clearly defined plot. I've been encouraged to establish the plot early in a story. And I've been told repeatedly that a book cannot end without some sort of resolution to that plot. Caldwell did none of those things in God's Little Acre, but he managed to write a compelling, truly enriching story. How is that possible?

 

So, here's my question to you, dear writer, what is your philosophy on plot? Where is it established in your story? How clearly defined is it? Can you think of a book that contains a muddled plot, but still manages to deliver a gripping story?

 

 

-Richard

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The Importance of Plot Points

The Purpose of Subplots

2,379 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: books, authors, author, writing, characters, plot, development, craft, writing_tips, plot_point
2

We all know subplots are basically a device to give your story a word count that will make it a book-worthy document, right? Wrong. Subplots weren't created to fatten up stories to please consumers. At least, they shouldn't be.

 

Here is what subplots can really do for your book:

 

  • Subplots allow you to add depth to your characters. Your plot may revolve around a murder mystery, but a subplot involving a troubled marriage or a struggle with alcoholism gives you the opportunity to dive deeper into a character's life. Your characters have a place in your plot and can even drive the plot. Giving them subplots gives them their own place in the story.

  • Subplots can serve as a thread to tie books in a series together. A subplot that snakes through the background of one book can grow into the main plot for the next book. It gives your story layers that can shift from book to book.

  • Subplots give your story a reality that would otherwise be vacant. Real life is messy. Books are a series of carefully constructed events. Subplots give the illusion of chaos. They make things seem real-world crazy and messy.

I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't use subplots to beef up your book. I am, however, suggesting you don't consider upping your word count as beefing up your book. Readers will see it for what it is: padding. Subplots should be used to give your characters and story depth. That is how you beef up your book.

 

-Richard

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Turning Subplots into Plots

The Importance of Plot Points

9,454 Views 2 Comments Permalink Tags: books, writing, characters, craft, writing_style, writing_tips, writing_advice, pace, plot_points, subplot
2

Not long ago, I attended a writer's workshop where writers had their material read aloud while they sat and listened to critiques from the audience without the ability to defend their work. It was a frightening experience, but it was completely exhilarating at the same time. I received great feedback that helped me address some problem areas in a story I'd been working on.

 

The number one complaint expressed by the "critics"; was that most of the readings contained too much exposition. In many cases, I felt like the criticism was unwarranted. Not in my particular piece, but in those of the other writers. I may have been in part responsible for the avalanche of exposition criticism because I had addressed it in my own piece before I was critiqued. Every piece after mine featured an issue with exposition. It occurred to me that a lot of the people there that night, writers and critics alike, didn't really understand what exposition is, and when it crosses the line into extraneous.

 

Narratively speaking, exposition in its simplest form is explaining background information. It is a necessary device to establish a motive and character details. For instance, a character may walk with a limp because he suffered a permanent injury saving a baby from a burning building. His heroics occurred before the story contained within the book, but it's important because it helps the reader understand his character. He's the kind of guy that saves babies from burning buildings. Exposition, used sparingly, can even be used to describe a character's inner turmoil and unspoken thoughts.

 

I felt like most of the criticism in the workshop wasn't about exposition, but extraneous information, passages that did nothing to further the story or give character insight. I wanted to hear the details of a fight between a father and son that led to mutual animosity because when the passage was read, I felt the emotional toll in the aftermath. That was useful exposition. I didn't want to hear a mother explain to her family what they were having for dinner that night. That was extraneous information that added nothing to the story.

 

I realize I may be dipping into the realm of semantics here, but not all exposition is bad. As a writer and critic, ask yourself if the "exposition" in question gives you insight into the emotional state of a character or if it drives the plot forward. If it doesn't, it's extraneous information that doesn't do anything but frustrate the reader. Cut it and move on.     

 

-Richard

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How to Get and Stay Motivated

My Beta Readers Experience

2,921 Views 2 Comments Permalink Tags: writing, advice, characters, writing_advice, author_tips, author_advice
5

Why Do You Write?

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger Jan 21, 2015

As an author you often get the question, "How did you come up with that idea?" And for me it's impossible to answer. I have no clue where the ideas for my books come from. There are a few times I can pinpoint an origin to a story, but those times are few and far between. For me, it is much easier to answer another question I've gotten on a number of occasions: "Why do you write?"

 

Let me start by giving the reasons that don't come into play when I evaluate my desire to write. I was not born with an innate ability to write. I wrote just terribly in the beginning. It was embarrassingly bad. Over time I got better, but no reasonable person would have looked at my early stuff and recognized a genius hiding in my clunky prose.

 

I have no illusion that my writing will change the world. There are too many moving parts to this planet for me to believe that I can create a movement and open people's eyes to a new way of thinking. That is a power I don't want nor believe I can develop. That's not to say I don't think other writers can change the world. I absolutely think they can. I just don't think I'm one of those writers.

 

I write for one simple reason: I want to know what happens next. That's it. I'm internally bombarded with "what if" questions daily. You know those moments when you witness an everyday occurrence with a predictable outcome, and wonder what if something different happened? Those moments for me turn into a relentless curiosity, and I'm driven to explore where that "what if" scenario takes me.

 

That is why I write. I'm curious to know why you write. What motivates you to wake up every day and add words to the story in your head?   

 

-Richard

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Is Writing a Talent or a Skill?

Gaining Perspective When Writing

2,206 Views 5 Comments Permalink Tags: authors, self-publishing, indie, writing, characters, craft, writing_advice, author_advice
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