Tag Archives: creativity

Making Sure Your Protagonist Beats Out Others

The protagonist is one of the most important attributes of a story. If someone doesn’t like your protagonist, for whatever reason, it’s highly unlikely that person will finish your story.

We all can probably conjure up a few short stories or novels we haven’t finished because of our dislike for a protagonist. The most immediate one that comes to my mind is from a young adult science fiction novel, where the protagonist consistently made the opposite of intelligent decisions and yet somehow survived and was lauded as a hero. It didn’t matter how many times other people were injured, captured, or died because of the protagonist’s terrible decision making skills, or how many times the protagonist had to be saved by others, the protagonist was still considered this fabulous, fantastic person, instead of the fool.

Other times, while the plot and backstory may have holes in it, the story can be immensely enjoyable because of the protagonist. One book I read was a young adult dystopian novel where the backstory was horrendous. There were too many inconsistencies to count, however I liked the book because of the protagonist. I found the protagonist funny and relatable. I couldn’t put the book down.

So, how do you create a protagonist that isn’t a flat cliché or someone that people would like to shove off a cliff?

One way is to make sure that the protagonist is integral to the story. That sounds obvious, right? But many times I’ve seen the protagonist being dragged by the story, instead of forging it ahead. While having a reluctant protagonist is one thing, the protagonist must have something else that makes him stand out from all the other potential protagonists for your story.

There’s a reason the protagonist is the protagonist. The story is best told from his point of view. In fact, the story couldn’t be told from any other person’s point of view without diminishing the story in some way. A few years ago, I read a book where one of the secondary characters stole the spotlight from the protagonist. I didn’t care about the protagonist; I wanted to know what was happening to that secondary character. The author might have been better suited using that secondary character as the protagonist.

Another way is to have the protagonist be more than the standard hero-type. When the protagonist takes on the role of hero and goes on a quest to fulfill his hero nature, the writing can turn shallow. It’s fine for a character to be the hero. The vast majority of protagonists end up saving someone or something. However, by avoiding using terms like “hero” and “quest,” you give yourself room to explore your protagonist more in-depth. There’s always more to a character, and every hero is not perfect. People have flaws, goals, dreams, problems…they’re a mixture of virtuous and selfish and driven and condescending and a whole bunch of other stuff that makes them this extraordinary puzzle to piece together.

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Have you ever heard a person in real life state that they’re going on a quest? I’m not talking about children playing make-believe. I’m talking about individuals that are firmly grounded in reality.

It’s rare to hear someone declare they’re going on a quest or that they’re going to be the hero. Most often, people become heroes because a situation demands it. There’s a quote from the TV series Lost Girl. It’s when Kenzi is talking about her personality. She states, “General cowardice with moments of crazy bravery.” This quote holds a lot of meaning because Kenzi sacrifices herself for Bo, the series’ protagonist, on multiple occasions. Kenzi is an incredibly caring and giving individual, but she’s also sarcastic, dramatic, a bit selfish, and a thief. She’s complex, and in the end, she’s also a hero. One that people can relate to.

Having a phenomenal protagonist means delving into the core of human emotion. It doesn’t matter if your story is based in the ABC Galaxy that was discovered in 2206 and was colonized in 2447, and you’re protagonist is a dog-bee-human hybrid. Human emotion and strife and success is essential to a protagonist. The common ground that readers and fictional characters connect on is what makes readers respond to characters.

(Photo courtesy of Courtney Wright.)

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How to Swap Your Brain For a More Creative One

 

Ever have those moments when no light bulbs are going off in your mind? Maybe you have a project due or an article, or maybe you’re staring at a blank sheet of paper or canvas. You desperately need inspiration, but your muse has decided to take a vacation.7848411730_2042b607b4_o

Here are some suggestions to jumpstart your more creative side:

  1. Stop fretting and exercise.

I once had a professor tell me that if I was stuck, I should get up from my computer and walk backward around my house. She said that walking backward used a different section of the brain than sitting and writing, and that by using a different part of my brain, I might just become unstuck.

People who exercise regularly tend to be more creative than those who lead sedentary lives, a study found. Regular exercise stimulates convergent and divergent thinking, two forms of thinking vital to creativity. Convergent thinking is connected with thinking about a single solution for one issue, while divergent thinking is linked to considering various solutions for one issue.

  1. Be positive.

A good mood enables you to think more creatively. Ruby Nadler, a University of Western Ontario graduate student, said, “Generally, positive mood has been found to enhance creative problem solving and flexible yet careful thinking.”

Mood affects “the way we visually process information.” A positive mood widens how much we see and comprehend. By having a wider visual field, we have a larger pool of ideas to generate content from.

  1. Flip the problem on its head.

Focusing on a problem from a new angle inspires you to see and think about the problem differently.

In Real Simple, the idea of cars is used to describe how problem reversal revolutionized all of industry: “Take Henry Ford. In the beginning, carmakers kept the vehicle stationary and had factory workers congregate around it to install parts. Ford’s idea was to keep the workers stationary and move the car from worker to worker. Thus was born the assembly line.”

By only looking at a problem one way, you limit your ability to generate new concepts. By changing up how you look at a problem, you expand your thinking and may not only find a solution, but start off a string of new, exciting ideas.

How do you bring out your more creative side?

(Photo courtesy of MissTessmacher.)

Staying Creative When Life’s Pulling You in 27 Directions

 

Whether work, school, kids, exercising, a sick grandmother, or something else, it’s challenging to juggle so many responsibilities and move writing goals forward. Writing takes a lot of brain power, and after a long day at the office, it’s tempting to push writing off one more day.

5741700549_087e05aa3c_bHow do you avoid that “one more day” turning into a rut? I’ll share some of my methods for staying creative. Feel free to put yours in the comments.

  1. say no

Socializing is fun. Volunteering is fun. Getting lost in the Web is fun. Helping that friend or coworker out, for the sixteenth time, may not be fun, but you do it anyway. After a while, you’ve got too much on your plate. There’s no time to write!

Make writing a priority. Say no to some of your other activities. There’s only so much time in a day. If you want to get that short story or novel finished, you have to weed out some of your other undertakings.

  1. go outside

If you’re creatively blocked, get out of the house. Go for a walk. Play soccer. Do something outside. You’d be surprised at how many ideas may come to you after you’ve spent some time in the great outdoors.

  1. read

Reading helps stir imagination. Fiction, non-fiction, a magazine article, a graphic novel, get out of your head for a while and enter someone else’s imagination. You never know what creative ideas will spark in you.

If you have plenty of ideas, but not the energy to expand them onto paper, reading can help here too. Read something fantastic. Read a work that fires you up, that stirs your emotions. Take those feelings—that power—and write.

  1. talk it out

Sometimes a different method of communication will revive your creative engines. Call up a friend, family member, or someone else you trust. Talk to them about your ideas. Often, their feedback will get you excited, and help flesh out your ideas.

Or, talk out loud to yourself. Walk around your house and talk, use hand gestures, get in the heads of your characters, pretend you’re being interviewed about your writing on TV. This may sound silly, or slightly crazy, but it works.

  1. eat well

What you put into your body direct impacts how you feel. Eat whole grains, veggies, fruits, healthy sources of protein. Eating well makes you feel good, and when you feel good, you’re more creative.

  1. don’t stress

Stress is the bane of everyone’s lives. While some stress is good, too much is harmful. When you feel overwhelming pressure to write, your creativity drops. Practice stress reduction techniques, whichever ones work for you, so when you start getting too stressed, you’ll be able to calm yourself, or guide your stress into something useful.

What tips do you have for staying creative?

(Photo courtesy of Leszek Lesczynski.)

When There’s Nothing Left to Say

2209664070_045c1d57dd_zSometimes it’s just hard to get started. Whether it’s reading, writing, or doing housework, some days your mind seems to want to remain off. Going back to bed feels like the perfect option, because, on occasion, you just seem to be unable to get yourself motivated.

Why am I talking about this?

To be honest, today was one of those days . I rolled out of bed and started my Monday, getting ready for work, feeding the dog, etc. However, the entire time I was in a trance. Not really present. Which isn’t the best state of mind. But for some reason, everything felt heavy today, even the air.

So, by the time I sat down at my computer to work on my thesis…well, you probably already guessed what happened.

Nothing.

After staring at my computer screen, re-reading words that felt like they were sand slipping through my fingers, I shut my computer and decided that I had to somehow get out of this funk.

What did I do?

I made an edamame chickpea salad with an avocado-lime dressing, which to some may sound disgusting, but it was delicious. And, best of all, easy to make.

Still, after such a tasty dinner, my mind was blank. Even reading a book I’d found enjoyable yesterday held no satisfaction for me today. Playing with my dog, going for a walk (it’s about twenty degrees with snow where I live), doing some yoga, researching for my upcoming trip…nothing pulled me free from the haze I was in.

Which, I realized, was okay. Some days are cloudy. No matter what you do you’re stuck. The important thing to remember is that the daze you’re in is temporary. So, if you have moments, like me, where you find no inspiration coming to you, whether it’s that the main character of your story is refusing to come to life or that you can’t remember what you were doing five minutes ago, this feeling of being unfocused will pass. When it does, you’ll discover a backlog of creativity.

What do you do when you’re in a funk?

(Photo courtesy of tetsu-k.)

Writing and Meditation: Opening Yourself Up to Inspiration

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Recently, I returned from a trip to Oregon, where I had my first real experience with meditation. It was intriguing, especially because the individuals around me seemed so much better at meditating than me.

Meditation is not easy. But what it does do is something most other writing advice cannot. Meditation allows for inner exploration.

So much influence bombards us from the outside world that our minds can become clogged. Sitting down and focusing on writing becomes that much harder. Meditation gives your brain a chance to push away all that outer noise and focus inward.

When you’re able to focus on your internal influences, your creativity will increase.

How?

While outer information is vital to writing, (wide spread reading is a huge component to writing well) if you can’t process the information effectively, then your ability to interpret and discover new and fascinating ideas decreases.

Meditation provides the path to untainted creativity. When you’re aware of your thoughts, and are able to have an honest conversation with yourself, ideas will flow much easier.

However, to be successful, meditation needs to become a habit.

How does that happen?

  1. Time.

Make time to meditate, whether that’s going to meditation classes, retreats, listening to an instructive meditation disc, or spending ten minutes, or half an hour, three days a week on your own.

  1. Patience and forgiveness.

It takes time to learn how to meditate, and each person is different. What meditation means to one individual may be very different than what it means to another.

Forgive yourself if you’re unsuccessful when you start meditating. Forgive yourself if you miss a day or two of meditation, or if you hit a rough patch and find you’re unable to internally explore.

By forgiving yourself for your slip-ups, you’re allowing yourself to begin anew the next day. This stops you from stifling your creativity.

You’ll discover that after meditating, you’ll have a calmness in your mind. This is a fantastic time to write. You can focus on your current story or you can free write. Just get the ideas down before the outside world begins to clutter up your brain.

Over time, you’ll find that you carry that internal calmness with you. You’ll process information faster and more efficiently. You’ll be able to interpret both outer and inner stimuli. More ideas, as well as more connections to other discoveries, will come to you.

What do you think about writing and meditation?

(Photo courtesy of Angela Marie Henriette.)

 

 

Don’t Be Like Alice: Ground Readers in Your World

It’s never a great experience feeling like you’re falling down a rabbit hole. It’s even worse when readers aren’t grounded in your story.

What’s meant by grounding?

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The best way to think of grounding is as the thick piece of rope that tethers a hot air balloon filled with hot air to the ground. Without the rope, the balloon would float on up into the sky.

Looking at grounding a different way, it’s the story’s setting. It’s where your story takes place.

International_hot_air_balloon_festival_in_leon_guanajuato_mexico_02There are three ways to ground a story:

Time. There are two main meanings of time in a story. The first is the time over which a story takes place. Does the entirety of the story happen over the course of a week? A month? A year? How about each chapter within the story? Does, say, chapter one occur during the mid-afternoon? What if the protagonist doesn’t know the time of day? Similar to this is the time period in which the story occurs. Many romance novels relate to the time period they occur in. A Victorian romance is not the same as one that takes place in Ancient Greece, and neither of those two romances are the same as a modern day one.

The other meaning of time deals with time in relation to what else is happening in the story. For example, the protagonist has cancer and has three months to live. He has a bucket list and he wishes to complete his list before he dies. Another example is a character who gets infected with a lethal virus and has seventy-two hours to save himself before he dies. A third example is a protagonist who has to find her missing friend and shelter before sundown because that’s when all the supernatural creatures come out to play.

Place. This is the storyboard. It’s what the audience is seeing, where the story is taking place. A good way to think of place is in terms of a movie. If your story was a movie, what would movie goers see on the big screen? The location of the story changes how the story is perceived by readers. A setting in a small mid-Western town is very different than a story taking place in New York. More so, a story occurring on a different, exotic world is significantly different than a story set on Earth.

Event. What is the key event in a given portion of the story? How are other aspects of that story grounded around that main event? For instance, if the main event of a story is a massive explosion at an amusement park, what leads up to that event? Likewise, what follows that event (the primary, secondary, and tertiary fallout(s))? What are the relations of smaller sections of a novel to the goal of the piece?

It’s easy to skimp on the setting of a novel, but without a clear picture of time, place, and event, readers won’t be grounded. So, take the time to flesh out your setting. Make sure readers will be grounded in your story.

How have you helped ground your story?

Kicking Writer’s Block to the Curb

Many writers have experienced writer’s block at some point. Whether it’s not being able to come up with an idea or having a ton of ideas but not being able to commit to any of them. Getting stuck on a specific part of an outline or chapter, hitting a dead end and not knowing where your story took a wrong turn, not being able to find the right words, or having your inner critic shoot you down.

Many think that writer’s block can be overcome through sheer willpower. We want it to go away enough, then it will. However, sheer willpower doesn’t work all the time because there is usually something internal going on that we may be missing.

This internal conflict may be fear. We may have a voice in our head that says we’re not good enough, that we’re never going to get published, that everyone will think our writing is rubbish, or it could be the opposite.

Veronica Roth has dealt with anxiety issues due to caring a lot about what other people think. When she got famous, her anxiety spiked because she was in the public’s eye, and every person that read her work, and some that didn’t, were weighing in their opinions.

Some of those opinions weren’t pretty, especially when it came to Allegiant, the final book in Roth’s Divergent trilogy. Commenters said she destroyed her career, they gave her book one star reviews, and there were even some death threats. Talk about being negative, and wanting someone to conform to what people believe an ending should be.

But before I go too far down that bunny trail, let’s get back to writer’s block.

How do people get unstuck?

First off, understand what’s going on in your head when you get blocked. To do this, you need to become aware, to consider alternatives. It doesn’t help to use trial and error, to wait for inspiration, or to insist on a perfect draft.

Heads up: Perfectionism is a very good way to develop writer’s block.

Work on separating your inner voice from the daily world. If you’re worrying about what to get at the grocery store, whether or not you got an A on your biostatistics test, if your boss was happy with your latest article, if your boyfriend is still mad at you for not calling him back, and the fact that you haven’t had time to workout for three days in a row, you’re going to have a difficult time delving into your creative side.

Some ways to help connect with your inner voice:

  • Take a break from whatever you’re writing and do anything that’s creative. Paint, take pictures, make a scrapbook, woodwork, work on your website or blog.
  • Exercise. Doesn’t have to be strenuous. Get up and dance, practice yoga, go on hike or a walk around the neighborhood. Go for a bike ride. Find something that brings you to a peaceful state.
  • Free write. Take fifteen-twenty minutes to write whatever comes to you. It can be completely random, grammatically incorrect, and with a ton of punctuation errors. Just write.
  • Eliminate distractions. Put the phone away. Log off Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and whatever else you use for social media. Clean up your workspace. Find a quiet place to work. Let your family know that solitude is important to staying focused.

Most importantly, let go of your insecurities. That’s a lot easier said than done. But once you work through your fears and not worry about what others think, you’ll find the creative side of you is readily available.

Two quotes for overcoming writer’s block:

“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day…you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.” – Ernest Hemingway

“I haven’t had trouble with writer’s block. I think it’s because my process involves writing very badly. My first drafts are filled with lurching, clichéd writing, outright flailing around. Writing that doesn’t have a good voice or any voice. But then there will be good moments. It seems writer’s block is often a dislike of writing badly and waiting for writing better to happen.” – Jennifer Egan

Have you ever had writer’s block? How did you overcome it?