All the chapters for The 5th Grade Challenge are up on YouTube! I had so much fun recording this audio book for Jamaal Fridge. He’s created a fun cast of character’s, I definitely recommend checking out his work!
I think my favourite scenes were between Amber and James, but I loved voicing everyone equally.
Stories like this are fun, exciting, and filled with a wave of emotions! Working on The 5th Grade Challenge reminded me of why I love to read so much! Voicing these characters rekindled that initial joy books used to bring me!
I received a comment last week asking me to revisit and elaborate on my post “raising the stakes” where I talked about struggling with a particular scene I’d been working on with my editor.
To summarize what I’d written in this post, it took me watching cartoons to fully understand how this was done properly. I had to create an atmosphere and situation in which the character’s were truly fearful of what lay ahead.
I decided to do a bit of reading on the subject, because even though I’ve been writing and studying the craft for a long time I like to explore others thoughts on the subject as well. I don’t believe that there is one concrete way of going about every single aspect of this craft. In fact, I feel that each individual eventually finds what works best for them and that only comes after years and years and years of practice.
The first article I read, “5 Surefire Ways To Raise The Stakes Of Your Story” broke down what it means to “raise the stakes,” noting that each story must have them in order to keep the reader invested. Stakes allow for character development, and create a steady pace for the plot. The higher the stakes, the larger the consequences and the larger the consequences the harder it is for a character to make decisions.
It is our actions and decisions as people, that help others characterize us. We are more often than not judged upon our “character” versus solely on things like our appearances. Now, although a character’s appearance in a novel is important it is also important to remember that what the readers connect with in the end, is the character’s personality.
A good example of this is a novel like Catcher in the Rye, which is told in the first person point of view (P.O.V). When reading this in university, I absolutely adored it. I thought Holden was funny, charming almost, despite not being the greatest person. My professor at the time, did a survey, having us do just a quick show of hands, to see who liked the book. She, like myself adored Holden’s character and was shocked to find that the majority of the class absolutely hated the novel.
Why did they hate it?
Well, they hated Holden.
The three of us who liked the book (including the professor), loved him. We thought he was hilarious.
If the reader doesn’t like the character, they won’t like the book and most characterization is not done by what the narrator tells you about the character, but what the character does in contrast to what is being said about them.
This why we have cases where a book has an unreliable narrator, as these narrators are flawed. They tell us what they want us to believe about the character and those around them, but it is through the actions taken by these characters that we piece together the “real” story.
A character’s reaction to the stakes within the story, gives the reader two options: care about the character, or ditch them.
Another article that I looked at was from Well-storied, where they gave a list of 7 main things that one could/should consider when trying to determine what the main stakes of their story are:
1. What does my main character want (e.g. happiness, revenge, forgiveness, love, etc)?
2. How does my main character plan to achieve this? In other words, what is my character’s story goal?
3. WHY does my main character want to achieve this goal? What’s their motivation?
4. How is the path to achieving this goal out of my main character’s comfort zone?
5. What does my main character stand to lose if they don’t achieve their goal?
6. How will my main character’s life, beliefs, etc. change for the worse if they don’t achieve their goal?
7. If my main character fails to achieve their goal, what are the consequences for those my main character loves?
These are definitely great questions to ask when thinking about the plot. Of course, you should develop your character before attempting these questions. Trying to fill these in, without fully understanding who your character is can be extremely difficult, even if the questions seem very straight forward.
Something that I like to do, is create a list of character building questions. I started doing this years ago by making character sheets for my story binders. In these binders I would have a character sheet that had a full body drawing of my character in their favourite outfit. Along with that, I would write down their name, age, family members, personality traits, hobbies, interests, music preferences, favourite colour, favourite food/desert, if they had any pets, favourite subject, favourite movie (if applicable), what languages they spoke, a list of their friends and enemies…and anything else that seemed relevant to the story.
I will say, that those things alone don’t always help you fully understand the voice of your character, which I feel is just as important as knowing what sort of story you want to tell about them.
This article goes on in more detail about the other components that one must consider when raising the stakes, which as I mentioned, require you to understand who your character is. They talk about using the same questions for the stories antagonist, and also looking at things like “is there a time limit for the character” or how a character’s fear of something might cause them to question their goal.
The next article I looked at was by NY Book Editors, titled, How to Raise the Stakes in Your Novel and Create a Gripping Story. This article starts off by warning about the dangers of raising the stakes too much, or piling them on so heavy that things like characterization completely get overlooked by the author. This is definitely an important thing to point out, as when discussing the previous articles, I myself spent a great length of this post emphasizing that characterization and raising the stakes work hand in hand. There needs to be balanced. If the reader has no reason to care about the characters in the story, why should they care that a giant monster is about to devour them?
I have read books where the characters just fall flat. It is just as disappointing as a book where the plot seems to drag on and on for what seems like years. It takes time and practice, but finding a good middle ground is definitely the ideal. I know that as a reader, I need to care about a character in order to care about what happens to them in the story, otherwise I get bored. In a manga I reviewed a little while back, I was extremely bored with the leading character. I could care less if she ended up with the male lead at the end of the series. The side character’s however, were interesting. I’ve been debating on whether or not I’ll continue the series SIMPLY because of them. The issue here is that as a reader, I’m debating. You don’t want your readers to debate whether or not they’ll drop your story. You want them to like it…and having a balance between the stakes and the characters allows for a satisfying read.
The next article, by The Creative Penn touches upon the same thing, but more so in regards to how creating tension in your books, can help to drive up sales. Obviously if you are publishing your work this comes into play, however I personally don’t like to look at my books in terms of sales while I’m still in the stages of writing. I like to enjoy my books, so I look at them from a readers perspective. I always write what I want to read. To me looking at my work, as someone who reads books (usually in the same genres), is the best way to determine whether or not the tension is strong enough. Of course, once you’ve gone through and edited yourself, you’ll pass the manuscript on to your editor, or beta readers or your agent (or even just a friend) for the final test.
Still, regardless of my personal feelings toward that, I agree 100% that as the article states, you want the book to be good enough that readers will recommend it to one another.
I’m always on Twitter or Instagram recommending books. I work part-time in a bookstore, the majority of my job is recommending books! Depending on the genre or section, each of us that work there, know someone on the floor who has extensive knowledge of something that might pique the customers interest.
This article by The Creative Penn, talks about creating “reader glue” which to them means that when a book is well written (the stakes and characters are balanced, etc) it creates an, “intense emotional experience.”
The final article I looked at from WHW (Writers Helping Writers) mentioned how the main plot and sub-plots will have different stakes, each contributing to the story in their own way. I liked that they pointed this out, as I didn’t see much mention of this in the previous articles.
In books that I read about the writing craft back in middle school, specifically those about crafting novels, I paid a lot of close attention to the chapters on sub-plots and their significance to the overall tension of the story. It’s usually within the sub-plots that the reader gets a closer look at the character and how they react to different situations.
I always think about those adventure stories, like The Hunger Games series, where there is this underlying romance sub-plot. Although it plays a small role in comparison to the whole “try not to die!” aspect of the books, it is still significant as it shows the readers how far Katnis is willing to go in order to survive.
Her playing into the wants of the viewers by pretending to fall in love with Peeta so that she can not only keep herself alive, but him as well tells the reader a lot more about who she is, versus what she herself says in the narration. She pretends to love Peeta to keep him alive even though she knows that manipulating him will break his heart.
This one sub-plot tells the reader that Katnis would rather not have to go through the games alone, we even see this with her connection to Rue. Although she keeps much of her thoughts to herself, she is protective. In Rue she sees her younger sister, the one who she would do anything for. In Peeta she sees warmth and innocence. Innocence is probably the one thing Katnis is constantly trying to protect and it might be because she by participating in the games has lost her own. She’s no longer naive about the world around her. She sees the evil being done and the only option she has is to survive…but what is she willing to do to Rue and Peeta, who remind her of the life she once had?
All of these things build tension. A characters actions in relation to those around them throughout different sub-plots.
I personally think that the whole love-triangle thing clouded aspects of Katnis’ character (mainly because of the Team Peeta versus Team Gale), as throughout we constantly see Katnis losing more and more of this innocence in the sub-plots of the three books. Who she ends up with isn’t insignificant but it does show us how deeply Katnis was affected by her participation in the games. She sacrifices more than just love…she sacrifices herself. She loses everything that made her, who she was before she entered the games.
I really like this example and I could go on and on elaborating on it, breaking down each of the books and how the sub-plots contribute to Katnis’ characterization but I won’t. The idea here is mainly to provide an example of how by balancing the stakes both within the main and sub-plots with the character development (who they are at the start and who they are at the end), creates a story that readers will enjoy and probably come back to.
In my case, I’ve made reference to books in this post to use as examples. Someday, someone (maybe even me), could use your book to do the same thing. They might revisit their favourite passages or gush about it to a friend.
I can definitely say that the parts of books that we readers tend to recall are the points where the author raised the stakes.
In a couple of days we’ll be saying goodbye to 2020.
I would say this year most of us were like Cinderella before she met her fairy god-mother. Or Rapunzel perhaps? I never thought I would ever compare myself to a lonely damsel, living a sheltered life…and yet, here we are.
I can honestly say that I did not reach very many of my goals for the year. I spent my birthday in lock down along with every holiday that followed. However, I’ve tried to make the most of it. I wrote, I learned some new songs on the guitar, I recorded a play and an audio book, I played games online with friends and family. I even reached my reading goal for the year…twice!
This year has so much heaviness attached to it, that I would love for it to vanish from existence but part of me also appreciates the time I’ve had to reflect on the world around me.
Books have always been my escape from reality.
As a child, they stopped me from feeling lonely when I started at a new school (for the 3rd time) and I got older, I read to keep my sanity during the days of high school drama, exams and rainy afternoons.
Reading brought me a sense of freedom and joy. It allowed me to explore and open myself up to infinite possibilities.
Now during 2020, I’ve come to realize how books have played such an important role in my life. Whether I was reading them or writing them, they acted as a security blanket, that I could clutch as I fell asleep at night.
When I needed something to hide behind, books were there. When I woke up from a nightmare, I could grab a book from my nightstand and read until my my heart stopped racing. There were even times when reading stopped my heart from breaking. This year, it connected me to new people: people who were new to reading, people who loved the same books I did and people who simply wanted anything to read because they too wanted a temporary distraction from all the pain in the world.
I’m not sad to see 2020 leave us. I can’t say I’m all that enthusiastic for 2021. Hopeful yes…but until my fairy god-mother appears, I won’t be stepping out in a pair of glass slippers. Instead I’ll stick to my pajamas and stay in to read a good book.
Back in June, while waiting for my editor to get back to me with her feedback on my debut, I started working on a new novel outside of my debut series universe.
I initially had a goal of completing the entire thing in under a month, but it had to be put on hold as I had other projects that required my attention.
Now, I know I just finished editing my debut but I’m happiest when I’m writing and I want to finish off the year strong. I want to complete this novel before the year ends!
That is why I’ve decided to go back and edit the first half of the book, up until where I left off. It shouldn’t take me too long. I just want to familiarize myself with the characters again and flesh things out. I did a good job plotting this novel out. I left things off a few scenes before the climax.
I know that it seems a little silly to be giving myself all this extra work to do versus taking time to relax but now that I’m finished editing my debut, and recording my first audiobook I need something creative to do.
I’m hoping to finish editing these pages as soon as possible. Oh and don’t worry I’m still working on the draft for book two with Nicholas, Roland and friends. I just don’t like leaving projects incomplete and need a challenge.
When building my character’s personalities and backstories I like to include as many details as possible. I’ve created character profile pages like the ones in manga, which usually include a list of things like favourite foods, blood type, star sign etc. Not only is it fun but it also allows me to spend quality time with each individual character.
I love watching my characters go from being an idea to a fully fleshed out being…well fully fleshed out on paper (haha).
Each of these types of questions gives me a chance to think about who my characters are. What makes them happy? What frustrates them? Do they have trouble sleeping at night?
I may never use this information, but I find knowing it allows the story to progress naturally. I don’t have to think hard about how each character would respond because I’ve taken the time to get to know them as if they were a close friend.
So…do my character’s have any special hobbies or interests?
Nicholas likes to draw. Many of the things he’s good at he considers hobbies as they were things he used to do with his grandmother. He’s always done them, so he hasn’t acknowledged that he might actually have a talent for them. He can also play music by ear, something that he picked up as a little kid. These are things that actually come up in the novel.
He also loves to explore and make friends with small animals. Mainly frogs or rabbits. He’s known in his family for bringing home new “pets” every once in a while.
Rose likes to read. She’s the type of person who can’t go into a library or a bookstore without walking out with a book. She’ll reread her favourites over and over and will even come up with her own stories to share with her family. Aside from that, Rose collects ribbons that she uses to accessorize with her outfits.
I’m not exactly sure why I always associated her character with ribbons but from day one that’s how I pictured her. I like that she’s a talkative, fashionable bookworm. Even when she reads, likes to read with or to someone. She’s what my Nana would call a little chatterbox…but it’s one of my favourite thing about her character.
Roland plays the piano. He can also play the guitar but it isn’t his favourite instrument. He just likes how portable it is. He quit playing before he reached his twenties and gave up on the idea of being a professional musician. Prior to that he dabbled in writing his own music and was forced by his teacher to sing solos at the school’s Frost pageant. Before that he was shy about playing or singing in public but after he gained a lot of confidence. Performing made him really happy. Now he claims not to have time for it but every so often he’ll sit down and play something.
He doesn’t look anything like Soul when he plays…I thought I should add that. Although it would be funny if he hunched over like that and smiled at the keys.
Dianna likes to travel. She did a lot of it while she was in college, especially between semesters. She’s very adventurous and loves meeting new people, which is mentioned in the first book. She even does some travelling in it! She doesn’t have her own car but if she did, she’d probably spend most of her time on the road. A lot of the time she travels by train. She also learned a new language while she was in university, which comes in handy (but no spoilers!).
I’m not sure if anyone other than Peter would consider this a hobby…but he really likes hanging out at the pub. He likes the food, the people and the music. I don’t believe he’s actually shown hanging out there in the first book but it does mention it a few times. A lot of the time he’ll go there to catch up with old classmates or to kill time. Unlike some of the other character’s Peter has a lot of time on his hands, so he spends it either doing something stupid with Roland (like most bored people), going on the odd date or hanging out at the pub.
Well, I’d say it’s time to get back to work! I’ve been back and forth between recording, work and catching up on my TBR list (which never stops growing!).
I really want to see how much of the sequel I can knock out before the end of the month. If you’d like to see some of my process, I posted some writing vlogs on my YouTube channel.
This one features me painting my home studio, a portion of my manga collection and my sister’s Persona 5 posters haha. The sparkly guy in the thumbnail was made by my niece. He’s a love bug.
Tomorrow is Rose’s birthday so I thought I’d write her a poem. It also started to snow, which made things very fitting. I think snow is pretty but I prefer all the colours of Fall. I do love all the decorations at this time of year though.
After several rounds of edits, I was given the okay to take a break and go back to working on the sequel!
First, I have a recording to complete (which I’m very excited to share) and then I will be dedicating the month of December to rewriting book two.
I initially wanted to begin book two later on in the story but changed my mind during my last two rounds of edits for book one…and so the entire book I wrote during NANOWRIMO last year is going to be redone/revamped. I actually moved parts of it into book one instead and am spreading out the other pieces throughout the story. The rest will be scraped, which is a little sad but I don’t mind. Yes, I worked really hard on it but I know that I can make it even better.
I’m seriously looking forward to writing again next month. I might also dive back into some of my other writing projects while I’m at it. We’ll see!
I often call myself an “over-editor” but I’ve started to wonder if over-editing is actually a thing. Way back I posted a video on my editing process. I broke it down into its simplest form because I know some folks would rather get a quick run down versus spend 40 minutes watching a video when they could be working on their manuscript. Still, that video which I believe is around 4 minutes doesn’t accurately show how much time I actually spend editing.
For me editing also takes part in the planning stages of the novel. At this point you’re researching and deciding what to include in your book. That to me is the same as when you decide to cut chapters or make word substitutions later on when your manuscript is complete.
Then there’s the “okay I’m finished writing” editing…which is reading through your first draft. I do three rounds of this edit. Sometimes more. I want to make sure I didn’t miss any “stupid errors” as I call them, which is basically spelling, grammar or major plot holes. These tend to be the mistakes I made while staying up till 3 am to write after working all day.
This editing also familiarizes me with the text because I am forced to read it over multiple times. I also try to take notes while editing, however I make more notes while working with another editor or a beta-reader. Notes from other peoples feedback is extremely beneficial and I tend to keep it to enhance not only my current work in progress, but all my future projects as well. It can be difficult to realize what areas you need to work on and to top it off you also learn where your strengths are!
But is over-editing a thing? After writing and revising this manuscript as many times as I have…personally I’ve lost count. I’d say to keep things simple I’ve gone over it about 8 times in total. 3 times on my own with the initial first draft. This being the 3rd now while editing with my editor…which makes 6 and within those 3 I read over it on my 3rd edit two extra times before sending it back to my editor yesterday. So yes. 8. Math.
I suppose over-editing could be a thing but to me I’m only doing what I feel is necessary. If it feels like something is off or needs to be corrected, I find a solution for it (or in some cases scrap it and start fresh). To me that is all apart of the editing process…I think however there are probably more efficient ways of editing ones book but each of us are different and will benefit from different forms of editing. I know some folks who don’t edit their own work at all. I simply prefer to edit mine before giving it to someone else to read because I want it to feel “reader friendly”/”ready.”
As a reader I absolutely hate being thrown off by a random spelling error in a book. This has happened more than I’d like to admit. It’s like having someone pinch you while you’re in the middle of a good dream! Little things like that get to me. It doesn’t make me stop reading, but it can pull me from the experience temporarily if I have to go back and reread the same sentence to figure out what’s going on simply because a single word was spelled incorrectly.
I’ve seen this in a lot of traditionally published books I’ve read lately…more so in comics. For me with the comics it is more frustrating simply because it literally lists every person who edited the book, and I’m like “there were 5 spelling mistakes.” One I can forgive but 5? And by a larger company…yikes. Especially since those books are expensive! I love them…and they’ve brought me so much joy over the years but I can’t get over how the last 3 books I’ve purchased from them have had around 3 to 5 spelling errors each. Which then while I’m editing (which I’m almost always editing…unless I’m writing) makes me extremely paranoid about spelling errors in my own manuscript.
So…maybe to answer my own question: There’s editing, not editing at all and editing for hours on end because you’ve suffered from editorial errors as a reader and don’t want to do that to anyone else.
Honestly if I find spelling mistakes in my manuscript I get a little cranky. I’d say I’m fairly calm when it comes to my projects but if I accidentally spell “peach” as “peech” I’m not very peachy.
Anyway, if you’re doing NANOWRIMO this year, how is it going?
Sorry for being a bit quiet lately. I had some stuff going on.
Thankfully things seem to be getting better!
Now onto answering questions 5 and 6 from my post.
Over writer, under writer, or just right?
I do a mixture. Sometimes I write too much and cut out the unnecessary details and other times…mainly when I’m trying not to reveal too much to the reader I’ll under write. I’d love to say that I always get a scene “just right” but even when I’m mostly satisfied with what I’ve written, I still edit them just as I would with any other.
Which is your favourite part of the writing process: planning, drafting or revising?
I absolutely love, love, love the planning process. I probably spend most of my time planning (aside from writing and editing). It’s when I can let my imagination free and build upon the layers of my story!
I like deciding on the settings, the characters, the rules of the world…and then building upon that. Usually I’ll do a mixture of research and imagination at this stage. Sometimes I do even more research during the drafting and revisions!