How to Get the Most Out of Your Sidekick Characters

Sidekick characters can breath life into a story and set your protagonist up for success. But in order to do that, you have to make sure you’re using your sidekick characters to their fullest potential.

However, if you include a sidekick, make sure your sidekick has a clear stake in the outcome of whatever problem your protagonist faces. Next, make sure they have a clear reason to trust and follow your protagonist. Also make sure they have their own backstory, even if not all of it is mentioned. Finally, make sure your sidekick has some effect on the outcome of the story. Whether they’re the ones who figure out one of the mysterious riddles or the ones who save the protagonist at a difficult moment, they need to have a role in the outcome in order to justify their presence.

So, once you know your sidekick is necessary, here are a few ways to make sure you’re using them to the fullest.

1.) Friend/Confidant

Use sidekicks as ways to get information across that the protagonist knows but the reader doesn’t. Maybe there’s a tricky piece of backstory you want to include or some piece of information that the reader will need to know later on. Sidekicks make the perfect sounding block.

2.) Comic Relief

While I’m sure we all wish our main characters were witty all the time, sometimes that role needs to fall to the sidekick. Give them opinions and help them lighten things up.

3.) Hope for the Hopeless

Sidekicks are there in the tough times. They can be the ones to give the protagonist the information or encouragement they need to go on when everything seems ruined.

4.) Access to Information Protagonists Don’t Have

Maybe your protagonist works somewhere where they’ll overhear a key piece of information the protagonist will need. Or maybe they’re off researching someone’s criminal history while the protagonist is off getting into trouble. Whatever it is, sidekicks can be a means of gaining access to information that the protagonist wouldn’t have been able to obtain on their own.

5.) The Company You Keep

Remember that who your protagonist chooses to spend time with says a lot about them as a person. Consider that when you’re creating your sidekick. They also need to balance each other well and have different strengths and weaknesses.

 

If you’re looking for inspiration on how to write a good protagonist, look at the influences in your own lives. Who has picked you up when you were down? Who’s joked with you when things were tough? What characteristics do those people have in common? Take them and meld them into one solid character who nicely compliments the characteristics your protagonist holds dear. You can also watch movies/read books with some of your favorite protagonists. Model your character after them.

Do you have a favorite protagonist? Let me know in the comments!

7 Tips to Get the Most Out of Any Writing Conference

I attended my first writing conference (the Midwest Writers Workshop) back in 2013, and I went in with one goal: to get a literary agent. Every decision I made was calculated on how best to accomplish that goal. Did I leave that conference with a literary agent? No. But I did leave with the knowledge and connections that helped me land one within the next four months. So here are my secrets to how you can get the most out of a writing conference.

1.) Treat it like a job

If you want to actually make money writing, then you have to treat it like a business. Invest in business cards. Start author pages on Facebook and/or create a blog or Twitter account. Make sure people can find/contact you after they leave the conference.

2.) Define your brand

Since you need to treat writing like a job, you need to figure out what your brand is and make sure you’re consistent. This means, if you’re writing picture books and an agent goes to your Twitter and sees nothing but tweets full of profanity, they may be turned off (unless that’s what your picture book is about, of course.) You need to encompass what you’re trying to sell. This means dressing the part, too. If you’re pitching an agent face-to-face, look presentable. However, if your brand is all about goth vampires, don’t be afraid to let that show in your clothing and makeup choices. You have to be the best representative of what you’re pitching them. This also stands true with alcohol consumption. While some people may need some liquid courage before facing agents during a conference’s cocktail hour, you can leave a bad impression if you consume too much. Keep in mind your brand encompasses all that you do and say.

3.) Strategically plan your agent interactions

Many conferences offer a chance to pitch agents. Take advantage of this. Of course, do through research ahead of time to see which agent is the best fit. At some conferences, they also offer everything from query critiques to first 10 pages critiques, often by editors and agents. If that’s the case, it could be worth the money to do both, especially if there were two or three agents who might be a good fit for your story. By doing a pitch with one agent, a query critique with another, and a 10 page critique with a third, you can successfully get feedback from all three and see if they’re interested. If nothing else, when you do query them, you can include that you met them at that specific conference, which always helps.

**Bonus Tip** Sign up for the conference early for the best chance of getting to pitch/have a query critique with the agent or editor you want. Slots often fill up fast!

4.) Find your people

Conferences are one of the best places to meet critique partners. Talk with as many people as you can to find other writers who write in your genre or age group. Take advantage of activities like “Find Your Tribe” to meet people who write what you do. Even if you leave without making any headway with agents, you might just leave with a new critique partner who can help you polish your next work in progress so it catches an agent’s eye. Or, a new writer friend might have an agent already and be willing to put in a good word for you.

5.) Don’t be a wallflower

If you’re shy or introverted, it can be hard to put yourself out there. But if there are opportunities to read your work aloud or have your first sentence critiqued during a session, speak up. You never know what agent has snuck into a session and is listening. The more you put yourself out there, the more you’ll get in return.

6.) Make the most of every opportunity

Having lunch and there’s an empty seat next to that literary agent you know would love your book? Take it! Did an author give a great session on world building? Stop them in the hallway and let them know. You never know what interaction could open a door for you. Be kind and sincere, and don’t be afraid to take chances. (Note: DO NOT approach literary professionals in the bathroom, and do not blind pitch them when you’re standing in the lunch line. Only tell them about your story if they ask, and generally, they will ask because they’re just as eager to find good stories as you are to get published.)

7.) Don’t be afraid to attend different sessions

Are you a fantasy writer? Don’t be afraid to attend a session on writing mysteries. You never know what tips you might pick up about adding suspense and writing about villains. The biggest thing is to go in with an open mind so that you can absorb all the information being thrown at you, and then, when you get back in front of your manuscript, you can sort out how to implement it.

 

Above all, have fun and make friends. Being a writer can be tough and isolating, but going to conferences is one of the best ways to break out of those ruts. Take chances, and maybe in a year or two, you could be that author giving a session on voice or point of view. Good luck, and I hope to see you at Midwest Writers Workshop this year!

 

 

6 Ways to Write a Better Fight Scene

Maybe your story has swashbuckling pirates. Maybe it has aliens invading from outer space. Maybe it only has a boy, a girl, and their families set in rural Connecticut. Whatever your plot or characters, you’re going to need tension. An easy way to do that is to put someone’s safety in danger. How? Through some sort of fight. It might be with words, or it might be with blades. Either way, here are some things to keep in mind.

1.) Know how big the fight is.

  • Is this a massive battle? If so, you need to pick who you’re going to focus on. Jumping around from character to character can slow things down if not done correctly. Your character can glance to see how someone else is holding up, but too much of this takes away from the fight they’re in, making it seem not as difficult since they can keep glancing away from their opponent. If you have multiple main characters, it might be worth it to have separate chapters if you need to jump around between characters.
  • Are only two people involved? If this is the case, you need to make use of good descriptions to make the action leap off the page. This also works for verbal battles (see below).

2.) Be detailed.

  • What kind of weapon are they fighting with? How is their attacker dressed? Is it dark out? Can you see the attacker’s face? All of these can help build up the fight and make it more real.

3.) Avoid only having action. 

  • Having a scene with constant “I swung my blade. He sidestepped. I pressed the attack. He scattered backwards” are boring. Mix up the sentence structures. Make sure you’re not always starting with I/He/She.
  • Also, weave in other details, like those mentioned above- type of blade, internal dialogue, etc.

Example: He pulled out a long blade with a jewel-encrusted hilt, and right smack dab in the middle of all those glittering golden baubles was the Ruby of Radiance. I was so busy staring at it, I narrowly got my sword up in time to stop his advance. Stumbling back into the hallway, I spotted guards rushing toward us.

4.) If the fight is verbal, include setting and what’s going on around them.

  • Say the fight takes place in the kitchen. Maybe a pot is boiling over on the stove and the microwave is going off. These can add tension to an already tense situation. It’s going to be more dynamic if the characters are in the middle of doing something (like the dishes or making dinner) rather than just standing around.

5.) If you want there to be tension, make sure your character is fighting a challenging opponent.

  • If the opponent is weak, it doesn’t make you character look strong.
  • On the flip side, let’s say they’re fighting a henchman/solider. If they struggle to defeat this henchman, they can’t then sometime later magically have the ability to defeat the boss/captain of the guards unless they’ve learned new skills/abilities.

6.) Learn to write action scenes by watching them on TV.

  • If you find you can’t figure out how to choreograph a fight, watch them in movies and TV shows. Mimic the actions blow by blow, but then remember to go back in and add internal dialogue and details.

 

What’s your favorite fight scene you’ve ever seen/read? Let me know in the comments!

 

The 1 Thing Authors Should Be Doing to Improve Their Writing

So many authors read blog post after blog post or book after book about writing, but too few authors put the time and money necessary into conferences.

I attended my first conference back in 2013, and even then, I had to be prodded into it by some writing friends. I didn’t see the point in spending money to learn about writing when I’d already paid to get a Masters degree in Creative Writing.

Boy, was I wrong! The conference I went to was called the Midwest Writers Workshop in Muncie, Indiana. To be honest, I went because I wanted a literary agent, and the conference offered me multiple opportunities to interact with and pitch agents. (Spoiler alert: what I learned at the conference and the feedback I got eventually helped me land my agent.) But the conference did so much more for me than just help me connect with agents.

The conference:

  • Offered great advice on perfecting my query letter.
  • Helped me learn new skills for revising, plotting, world building, character building, and other craft lessons.
  • Inspired me to get on Twitter where I connected with countless writers and publishing professionals.
  • Connected me with multiple critique partners.
  • Allowed me to talk with editors about what they were looking for.
  • Helped me establish relationships with big name authors.
  • Offered free help setting up my blog.

When you look at all the things you can gain by going to a conference, it’s worth the cost because you can’t get some of those things just from reading books about writing.

In that vein, I recognize conferences can be expensive once you add in travel and lodging. So if you can’t swing attending one in person, look for online ones. For example, WriteOnCon is a good one that’s very inexpensive. Another one you should check out that’s coming up soon is offered by the same Midwest Writers Workshop that I went to. It’s called Build a Better Plot with Shirley Jump.

Find out more about it here:

http://www.midwestwriters.org/2017/03/build-better-plot-shirley-jump-mww-ongoing-starts-march-27/

There could also be conferences offered in your state or through your local writing center.

The other conferences I’ll be attending this year as either a participant or panelist/speaker are:

Seven Sentences (presented by Maggie Stiefvater)

Nashville, Tennessee

April 2nd, 2017

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/seven-sentences-nashville-tickets-32341738009

(Note: Other dates and locations available)

 

Midwest Writers Workshop

Muncie, Indiana

July 20-22, 2017

http://www.midwestwriters.org/

 

Ch1Con

Chicago, Illinois

August 5th, 2017

https://chapteroneconference.com/

 

Will you be at any of these conferences or have a conference you want others to know about? Let me know in the comments.

 

How Many Coincidences are too Many in a Novel?

I once attended a conference where a very well-known and well-respected literary agent told us that you were only allowed one big coincidence in a novel. But is that really true? Let’s break it down.

There are different levels to coincidences. Having your heroine run into both her love interest and the man she’s engaged to marry in the same marketplace at the same time is what I would consider a smaller coincidence because they’re in a very well-traveled public place where it’s feasible any of those characters might be found at any given point. Place that scene in the woods, and it feels a little more forced, a little less believable- a little bit too much like a coincidence. And that’s where your problem arises. Anytime something feels too much like a major coincidence, your readers are going to pick up on that.

That’s why that well-respected literary agent suggested you use only one big coincidence because as soon as someone thinks about something being a coincidence, they’re going to be primed to be on the lookout for others. And should they find another coincidence (no matter how big or how small), especially if it’s close to the first, your writing will seem weak and contrived. So you have to use coincidences sparingly and thoughtfully.

 

Another great rule to follow is to use a coincidence when characters are getting into trouble vs. getting out of trouble. Running into the soldiers hunting for your main character in the marketplace or the woods is going to feel a lot less like a coincidence than a secondary character showing up and quickly pulling your character into a safe hiding spot just as the soldiers are about to stumble upon your main character.

To put it plainly, coincidences are better if they happen in order to get your characters into trouble instead of saving them from that trouble. If Cinderella’s fairy godmother had showed up and let her out of the attic so she could try on the shoe at the end of the original Disney movie, it wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying. Let your characters get themselves out of trouble because it will go a long way in showing who they are and how resourceful/clever/smart/driven they are. Let us see your character and not another plot device.

With all that in mind, sticking to one coincidence is pretty good advice because you’re forced to then let your plot do the work of adding tension instead of giving characters easy ways out of complicated and drama-filled situations. This in turn helps with characterization because we get to see the main character in action.

Is there a coincidence in a book that you find just too hard to believe? Discuss it in the comments.

How to Deal with Writer’s Block (featuring a T-Rex)

How do you deal with writer’s block? That’s a question many authors ask. Learn how to overcome writer’s block with these simple tips…presented by a T-rex!

 

Having any other methods you swear by for getting over writer’s block? Share them in the comments!

10 Ways to Build Romance in Your YA Novel

If you’re writing a YA novel, odds are there’s going to be some sort of romance. And it’s not enough to simply have your characters look at one another and instantly know they’re in love. So how can you make sure the romance in the story builds and feels believable? Follow these tips on how to make characters fall in love.

  • Give them something in common

Characters who have something in common will have an immediate bond. Are they both adopted? Did they both grow up in the same small town? Did they lose a parent at a young age? Are they wearing the same band’s T-shirt? All these are little hints that they might get along because they have something that ties them together- something to talk about with one another. For example, in the movie A Cinderella Story, the main characters connect over wanting to escape their overbearing parents/stepparents and go to the same college.

  • Start with small bodily gestures

A touch on the arm, focusing on how he flips back his hair all the time, a small glance as one walks away- especially after they’ve just had a talk about something they have in common. These can go a long way to conveying what a character may be starting to feel.

  • Characters start to change

Maybe where a character would’ve snapped before, they treat the other more gently. Or, perhaps, one gives something up that they would’ve kept for themselves earlier on –food, a blanket, the more comfortable bed. Think of Mr. Darcy going out of his way to help save the reputation on Elizabeth Bennet’s sister in Pride and Prejudice.

  • Nicknames/Inside Jokes

Is your hero still making jokes about the time the heroine fell off her horse? It means he’s thinking about her. Teasing someone can be a way to show you care without having to admit it. Plus, laughing at the same jokes counts as having something in common. Additionally, nicknames used in jest at first can be endearing later on. A new book that I loved but won’t name so it doesn’t ruin anything for anyone does this well with a character named Scarlett who gets called Crimson.

  • Jealousy

Does your character jump to conclusions when they see their crush with someone else? Jealousy can be an easy way to show they care without them having to say it. Think of Hermione not wanting to be around Ron and Lavender Brown in the Harry Potter series.

  • Atmosphere

If you’re writing a high-paced thriller, recognize that it’s hard to fall in love when you’re constantly running for your lives. Make sure you take breaks from the action for characters to bond. The right setting can enhance this- talking at sunset, strolling through the woods, hiding out on a rooftop with a great view, etc. might make for a romantic setting.

  • Shared experience

As I mentioned with high-paced thrillers, it can be hard to find time for love, but having that shared emotional experience can also drum up some passion. Surviving something together can cause people to cling to each other, and going back to my first point, it will give them something in common.

  • Think about the 5 Love Languages

Figure out if your character needs gifts or words of emotional support. Make sure their beloved can respond in turn.

  • Don’t forget about banter and passion

Your characters don’t have to get along at first. That fast-paced, biting banter they use can quickly turn into passion under the right circumstances, like surviving something together and then realizing they’re more alike than they think because….say it with me now…they have something in common. If you’re looking for a good example of this, checkout the book Frostblood.

  • Physical attraction (teamed with something they admire)

It sounds shallow, but physical attraction is something that relationships do need. It’s okay to have a fluttering heartbeat when you look at someone the first time…or the hundredth time. But make sure there’s more to the relationship than just looks; that’s why I put this last on the list. More than this, they’ll need something to admire in the other person because when you see something you like in someone, then you’re more likely to find them attractive. They may not discover what they admire until later in the story, but when they do, that’s when the physical attraction becomes more about what’s inside than outside.

 

Now you’re ready to go out there and start building a relationship. But before you do, stop over in the comments and let me know who your favorite literary couple is! I’ll start. Mine’s Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

How Writing is Like Planning a Trip

Writing a novel can feel like a journey, and in many ways, it is. It takes a good deal of planning, the right itinerary, and getting over a few bumps in the road. In fact, you might just need a vacation from your vacation by the time you’re done with it all!

Here’s a different way to approach writing a novel- think of it like planning a trip:

  • Figure out where you want to go

Whether you’re a plotter or a panster, it’s still important to know your destination, to know where you want your story to end up or be like. Know if it’ll be fantasy or contemporary, MG or YA. Having this general direction will set you up from the start.

  • Who’s going with you?

Knowing who’s going with you, aka who your characters are, is just as important as where you’re going. Can these characters exist in the setting you’re thinking of? Do you have enough of them? Who’s the villain, the one no one will get along with- the one that always claims the front seat on the road trip or insist on taking the room with the better view?

  • Figure out the sites to see

Just as with a trip where you’ll want to do some research ahead of time to know what you’ll want to see, it’s the same with a plot. Make sure there’s enough going on so you know it’s worth making the trip. You don’t want your readers to get bored half way through.

  • Plan for what could go wrong

Just as you need to know whether or not you’ll need to pack malaria pills or bring seasickness medication, it’s best to know what your characters might encounter to bring conflict to the story. However, unlike with real travel where you try to avoid those complications, in your writing, you’re going to want your characters to walk right into them.

  • Be open to new experiences/people

While it’s great to know some major landmarks along your plot, it’s also amazing to be open to new opportunities as they arise in your manuscript. Just as that unplanned side trip down a small winding path might turn out to be the highlight of your vacation, so too might be the unexpected idea that pops into your head part way through your draft.

  • Pack and head out

Once you’ve done your research, pack everything you need in your suitcase and head out and start writing. Don’t let fear hold you back. Go out there and get as much as you can from this journey, I mean draft. It’s okay if you’re an overpacker like me. You can always take something out later. And who knows, you might just need that extra parka when you get caught in a freak rainstorm at Dracula’s castle- trust me, I know from experience.

  • Unpack

Once you return home, unpack everything. Go through bit by bit and see what stinks and needs to go straight to the laundry room and what still looks really great. Also, find out what you didn’t need so you’ll know better next time, too.

  • Share those photos on social media

Once you get back, it’s time to share your experience, or in this case, send your novel off to some great critique partners!

 

After you’ve got that first trip under your belt, then it’s time to start planning your next one. And who knows, maybe all those places you went in the first one sparked the idea for what’s next.

So get out there and starting planning and writing!

6 Common Struggles Writers Face and How to Deal With Them

Writers face issues great and small that have an impact on how well and how often they write. Some are more serious than others, but they all deserve attention in order to make sure you’re the best writer you can be.

1.) Not Having Time to Write

Many writers complain about not having time to write, and this is a major setback. Children, spouses, work always seem to come first.

Solution: If this is the case, then you need to treat writing like an obligation. Mark specific time on your calendar. Get up an hour earlier. Write on your lunch break. Hire a babysitter or join a mom’s group so you have someone who can watch your children every once in a while. It might even take finding a writing buddy that you meet up with once a week so that you’re held accountable. Or, instead of taking bits of time here and there, try blocking off one weekend where you can lock yourself in and write.

 

2.) Never Enough Syndrome

So many writers, published and unpublished, seem to suffer from what is commonly deemed “Never Enough Syndrome.” This can encompass everything from feeling like you’ll never be good enough to wondering if you’ll ever have a good idea again to feeling like you can never share your work with others because you fear what they’ll think.

Solution: First, recognize that bestselling authors feel this way, too. You’re not alone. It’s scary to put yourself out there, so start small. Find someone you trust with your writing- a friend, mentor, family member- anyone you can show it to at the start. Slowly start showing it to more and more people. Or, open a book by an author you love. Pick out one single sentence. Really look at the words. You could’ve written that sentence. It’s just several words strung together. You can do that. Also, surround yourself with other writers who can help pick you up when you’re having doubts, or attend workshops and conferences so you can constantly feel like you’re improving your skills.

 

3.) Anxiety

Along with Never Enough Syndrome, many writers suffer from anxiety and depression. It can be hard to write when symptoms set in. Just getting out of bed can be a victory.

Solution: Do whatever self-care you need. Talk to your doctor, a school counselor, or a psychiatrist. Whatever you do, don’t add to the weight on your chest by worrying about not hitting your current writing goals. Remember that your mental health is more important and needs to be addressed first. And once it has been, you’ll be in a better place to write.

 

4.) Rejection

If you are a writer, at some point in your career, you will have to deal with rejection. It usually comes from agents and editors turning down your book.

Solution: Find what makes you happy. A chocolate bar? A warm bath? A nice long run? Find that thing that will take the edge off your disappointment. Know that it’s not personal. There are so many reasons agents and editors reject a book- everything from already having a client who writes something similar to someone having a bad day and not being in the right frame of mind to read your work. Generally, you will never know why you were rejected, so don’t dwell on it. Instead, always make sure you’re writing something new so you’ve got something else to query or sub if this manuscript isn’t the one that lands you your agent/editor. (More often than you’d suspect, a writer’s first manuscript isn’t the one that lands them their agent/editor anyway.)

 

5.) Loneliness

Writers spend all day thinking about and talking to characters who are only real in their heads. It’s a very lonely profession.

Solution: Join a writer’s group. Write at a coffee shop. Call up your critique partners to chat. Go to a writing conference. Join Twitter and discover all the writers on there. All of these can help you realize you aren’t alone out there in the writing world.

 

6.) Writer’s Block

The plague of writers everywhere, writer’s block seems to rear it’s ugly head at the most inopportune times. Maybe you’re in the middle of a chapter. Or you’ve finished one book and don’t know what to start next. Either way, writer’s block stinks.

Solution: Read. Read a lot. It might just get those creative juices flowing. Or, try brainstorming with a friend or critique partner. Go for a walk around the block to clear your head, or come back tomorrow after you’ve slept on it. Don’t beat yourself up. The more stressed you are, the less likely you’ll be to come up with a good plot point. Maybe a yoga or a meditation class could help if you find yourself falling into that trap.

 

Whatever struggles you face as a writer, know you’re not alone. There’s always hope and help out there. Have other issues you’re struggling with or solutions to the problems above? Post them in the comments!

 

 

Twitter Hashtags Every Writer Should Know

Twitter is a writer’s hub. It’s a place where you can interact with agents on a social level, find critique partners, and enter contests that can give you a leg up in your agent search. It’s also a great way to improve your platform so potential publishers will see you have a built-in audience.

But how can you be sure you’re getting the most out of Twitter? Start by being active using writing related hashtags. These will help you find and connect with others in the writing community.

Here are some popular ones to follow:

  • #amwriting
  • #amreading
  • #amrevising
  • #Writerstip
  • #books
  • #writerslife
  • #writingtip
  • #pubtip

 

There are also some writing exercises where you share a line or two based on a posted theme on certain days of the week:

  • #MuseMon (Monday)
  • #2bittues (Tuesday)
  • #1linewed (Wednesday)
  • #Thurds  (Thursday)
  • #FictFri (Friday)
  • #SlapDashSat (Saturday – no theme)

The theme for many of the above hashtags changes weekly, so be on the lookout for what the upcoming one is. There are additional ones that drill down into things like Science Fiction (#SciFiFri), so be on the lookout for those if that’s what you write.

Finally, one other valuable hashtag that deserves it’s own section is the #MSWL hashtag. It stands for Manuscript Wish List, and agents and editors use it to tweet about what specific projects or ideas they’d like to see land on their desk. This is a great way to find an agent who might be interested in seeing that super unique book you just wrote.

Twitter is also an excellent way to enter contests, so be on the lookout for events, like #PitMad, where you can tweet about your book and get it front of agents scrolling through the feed.

So get out there and start interacting and tweeting! Have any other favorite writing related hashtags? Share them in the comments.