Dive into the Mind of a Character

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It all comes down, in the end, to the character. We readers or not, are fundamentally attracted to people. Humans are social creatures. Plot is fine and dandy, it’s necessary for any narrative, but it is the characters which we find ourselves sympathizing and despising the most. Even in stories with non-human perspectives such as animals, it is the humanity in them which we orient too. Here are aspects to consider when developing a character: 

 

1. Avoid the clichés.  

There are enough sad orphan stories out there. Get creative and make an interesting person, not something you’ve seen a thousand times. There are more than enough dumb blondes, motorcycle riding bad boy, and green eyes gingers. Strive for unique. Use real people, and you don’t have to be obvious if that’s what you’re worried about, because sometimes the most interesting character is the girl on the bus two seats over from you with the busted-up violin and a maniacal grin. Let real people inspire you.   

2. Think about their past.  

The past shapes everyone. So, make sure your character isn’t one dimensional by allowing them to have a history. Our pasts form many of the most interesting parts of our personalities, fears, and what we love. It’s important to know where your character comes from just as much as it is to know where they’re going. This allows your character to change throughout their story which is important in any piece of literature. 

3. The great name debate.  

Some people say names don’t matter when it comes to literary characters but I think it does. If Sir Conan Arthur Doyle had called Sherlock Holmes John Williams, he probably would have been a very different character. We need to be conscious of what we’re naming our characters. For instance, if you’re writing a book that takes place in France about a french girl, perhaps consider using a French name. If you’re writing fantasy get a little whimsical with your character’s names. Just keep context in mind.  

4. Let your character surprise you.  

 Leave room in your writing for your characters to surprise you. You don’t need to know every little tiny thing about them. If you give yourself characters with some space, you could develop them as you go which can result in someone more interesting than you initially thought.   

 

Think hard, push yourself, and make your character’s great.     

 
 
 


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Katelin is a writer with a passion for historical fiction and hockey. Born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario she can often be found riding the O-Train with a Pepsi, at least one copy of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and a developing character in the empty seat across from her. 

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katelin laurin

Katelin is a writer with a passion for historical fiction and hockey. Born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario she can often be found riding the O-Train with a Pepsi, at least one copy of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and a developing character in the empty seat across from her.

On Editing

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I don’t know about you, but I hate editing my work. I hate the fiddly little job, no matter how necessary it is to the creative process– I just want to move on to my next project. I have to grin and bear it, though, and what follows is some of the things I do to make editing more bearable.

First, as much as I can, I don’t edit while I write a piece. I mentioned it before in my last post, but it bears repeating. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, something just ruins the flow of your entire piece and if you don’t fix it anything that comes after it will be right. Other times, something better comes to mind, and you have to delete a passage and re-write it in a new way. Both of those are okay. But trying to spot-edit yourself as you write is a nightmare. You can fix mechanical issues in the second draft. You don’t have to put yourself through the ordeal of picking out misplaced apostrophes, spelling errors or overuse hyphens. It’s okay. It’ll still be there tomorrow.

Second, kill your darlings. That line you like? That bit of dialogue? That one turn of phrase? Throw it out. Burn it. Whatever it is, it’ll do more harm than good. You’ll make every effort to keep it in, whether or not it fits, and you’ll get frustrated bending over backward to strap a story to a clever pun about shellfish. Your editor will appreciate it too if they don’t have to fight you over something you can’t stand to remove but needs to be gotten rid of like that old sweatshirt you’ve had since middle school. Why do you still have that? It’s full of holes and barely fits you.

Third, get someone else to look at your work. Don’t let yourself be the only one editing your work. Here at the Blank Notebook, I’m fortunate to be on a team with two very talented writers and editors who butcher/ruin/improve my posts before they get put online. Your fellow authors are always excellent people to help you, as long as you’re willing to help them when they ask in turn. It’s not cool to leave people swinging in the breeze. They are your greatest resource – they know how writing works better than anyone else, and they know how to rework your phrases without losing the idea you want. Also valuable are your friends and relatives – they’ll always be happy to read what you show them, and they’ll catch all the things that would trip up a reader after publishing.

Do me, and yourself a favour. Edit your work, even though you’d rather not, and follow my advice. Your work will be all the better for it.


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Cameron Jones is a hot mess, emphasis on both “hot” and “mess.” He most often writes fantasy short stories, but sometimes writes realistic fantasy to mix things up a bit. He dislikes sunlight, sudden loud noises, and writer’s block. The most surefire way to his heart is to show him pictures of cute animals.

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Cameron Jones

Cameron Jones is a hot mess, emphasis on both “hot” and “mess.” He most often writes fantasy short stories, but sometimes writes realistic fantasy to mix things up a bit. He dislikes sunlight, sudden loud noises, and writer’s block. The most surefire way to his heart is to show him pictures of cute animals.

Googling Google = Research?

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What’s more tasking than googling Google? Research, which is in a sense googling Google is. Everyone’s dealt with research in one form or another. Whether you’re studying genetics or slapping “Italy” into some search bar for your third-grade poster, we’ve all faced it. Now researching means sitting in front of a computer sorting through links in Google instead of books like my parents did in school. Both of which can be dry. But, researching can be a whole lot more interesting if you keep a few key points in mind:  

  

1.  Dive into your interests.  

I don’t care what you have to nosedive into and usually, no one else will either. Maybe you’re really into skydiving, or you’re really into No. 2 pencils. If you’re writing a paper so long as it’s relevant, reasonably interesting, and grammatically correct (or as close as you can come), then you’ll get the mark. Writing anything is always better when you’re interested, and you’d be surprised by the connections you can make when you put on your thinking caps. Get a little passionate- even if it’s all about the No. 2 pencil (I won’t judge, promise).  

2. Put down the books and turn off the screens.   

Go outside and meet some people, especially if you’re looking for some inspiration. I’m not saying get in the white van or take the candy; just that other people are full of exciting things you’ve never even thought of. Real life experience is valuable- just like an interview. People are the source of all information. We do the research. We make the discoveries (even if we don’t always get the credit). Digging into something is worth it, and you might also find a new passion along the way.  

3. Dear God, triple check your sources. 

Don’t believe everything you read on the internet (or hear from the mysterious “Well, they say” I promise, it’s necessary.) People aren’t reliable narrators. You have to think critically about what people say because there are always at least two sides to a story. Make sure the information you’re getting is citable- or quotable. Don’t let people tell you what to think. Be your own person and question things.    
  

Just remember, when googling Google, you could get some bias information. You’re asking Google about itself after all (and breaking the internet). Think critically, and maybe Bing Google?  

 


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Katelin is a writer with a passion for historical fiction and hockey. Born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario she can often be found riding the O-Train with a Pepsi, at least one copy of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and a developing character in the empty seat across from her. 

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katelin laurin

Katelin is a writer with a passion for historical fiction and hockey. Born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario she can often be found riding the O-Train with a Pepsi, at least one copy of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and a developing character in the empty seat across from her.

A Look at Genre: Fantasy and Science Fiction

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It’s not real life. Its science fiction and fantasy, and it's easy to get lost in a galaxy far far away. Spaceships and dragons can carry a person's imagination to unknown worlds. Festivals with ancient forest elves and giant worms likely to devour you on some distant planet. Oh yeah, this is sci-fi and fantasy. The worlds are bizarre places, created by whimsical minds, where anything is possible.

It’s hard though, with so many different versions of each creature in both science fiction and fantasy, and so many different clichés to avoid or make use of. Everyone wants their story to stand out, and there’s a terrifying possibility of overloading your story with unnecessary lore.

No reader wants to get dragged down by in-depth descriptions of a space pirate that they never meet.

It’s fine though, lore in a story is wonderful in moderation. Little bits of information that might, or might not, become relevant to your plot later are all well and good.

I don’t want to scare anyone away from starting an epic fantasy novel or journey through space, so there are a few things I want to leave you with:

1. Read like crazy.

Read other peoples’ work. There are so many ideas that you can get from other authors. I’m not saying steal the worlds or the characters; I’m saying use it as research and take inspiration.

2. Question things.

I’m not saying question authority, but especially in science-fiction, you have to have some crazy ideas. One of my favourite conversations I’ve had with a fellow science-fiction lover was while we were watching one of the new Star Wars movies. We started questioning if they had bees on whatever planet they were on. The next question was “if they don’t, what pollinates the flowers?” We never came up with a solid answer, but it was an inspiring conversation, that taught me the delicacies of world-building. You don’t have to have an answer to these questions, but sometimes it’s fun to think of the little things.

3. Have fun.

Let’s be honest, if you aren’t having fun wondering whether or not your gremlins are cannibals, you might not be writing in the right genre. Give magic realism or cyberpunk a shot. Or just keep it classic with elves and dwarves. You can’t go wrong with a little rivalry like Legolas and Gimli from the Lord of the Rings.


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As a kid, Alyssa liked to dream of dragons taking over the world. Now that she’s grown up, she just writes about them. As well as writing fantasy and science fiction, she’s a dedicated musician who also loves journals and colourful pens.

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Alyssa Gelata

As a kid, Alyssa liked to dream of dragons taking over the world. Now that she’s grown up, she just writes about them. As well as writing fantasy and sci-fi, she’s a dedicated musician who also loves gaming, journals, and colourful pens.

A Look at Genre: Historical Fiction

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Creating a well-written novel is a balancing act, but some genres are more troublesome to navigate. Knowing which rules to follow and which to break can be difficult. Historical fiction writers face some of the greatest challenges.

There are specific rules one must consider when taking on the task of writing this kind of literature. Research will go a long way in this genre. Knowing the time, place, and people you are writing about during the particular era you work with is crucial. Readers (especially readers that are also writers) like to know they can trust the author to deliver accurate information. Sometimes, small things can pull a reader out of the world, like cars from a year too early driving down the road, or wrongly valued currency being passed by traders. So pay attention to the little things as much as the larger points.

However, the ‘fiction’ in this genre also allows you some give and take. For instance, in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, time travel is one of the story's main subjects. In these multi-genre books, she uses the fictional aspect to fill small gaps in her novels. History constricts the writer, but we are also allowed to use it to our advantage with some practice.

Now, there are two common ways to write historical fiction. The first, and most common in my opinion, is using an earlier period (generally the time periods around major events such as wars are the most common) and adding fictional people to face the complications of the time. The second involves writing from the perspective of people who actually lived and telling a story that could have occurred.

When I read historical fiction, I don’t want to get caught up in dated issues and old ways of thinking. When I’m reading historical fiction (the first time), I just want to get lost in another time. Often, this is what readers expect from this kind of writing. It can be difficult to keep a story set in the past timeless and universal, but it is not impossible. People still read Shakespeare because his themes are timeless. The key to good historical fiction is finding something that all readers can relate to which is why historical fiction novels (or TV shows, movies, etc.) are usually multi-genre now. Love, hate, and so on are often very significant in these novels because they are something everyone has brushed in life at one time or another.

A lot of the time people are intimidated by the idea of diving head first into a period they aren’t a part of because it is foreign ground. Overcoming this fear and exploring history is the best means of learning and becoming comfortable with writing historical fiction. It’s easier than you’d think to fall in love with another time.


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Katelin is a writer with a passion for historical fiction and hockey. Born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario she can often be found riding the O-Train with a Pepsi, at least one copy of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and a developing character in the empty seat across from her. 

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katelin laurin

Katelin is a writer with a passion for historical fiction and hockey. Born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario she can often be found riding the O-Train with a Pepsi, at least one copy of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and a developing character in the empty seat across from her.

Paper vs. Tech

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Everybody has a different writing process. Some prefer having a pad of paper, wrapped in a blanket with a drink of choice, staring out the window. Others would rather have a screen in front of them, music blaring in their ears, typing away. Is writing on paper better than writing with technology? How does reading play into the writing process? Let’s explore it all, and you can decide.

Writing on paper can feel more satisfying and can be easier to connect aspects of your writing that would be harder to organize anywhere else. I use paper to draw complex diagrams and sort my thoughts that would take too much time to make on my computer. Writing on paper does have benefits, however writing long passages or stories seem easier with a keyboard.

Not only is typing a faster way to write (for me at least), but spellcheck software has made editing easier, and it's legible. My penmanship is terrible.

When it comes to reading, however, I am the opposite.

I love the idea of e-readers, having books on the go without having to carry around hefty paper copies. The downside is having to charge them. Being stranded with no way of charging your “book” would irritate me. I also dislike reading on screens for extended periods of time. My eyes start to water, I get headaches, and I like being able to detox from technology sometimes.

Something about holding a paper book is so soothing to me. Sitting down with a glass of white wine and reading a novel, feeling the paper in my hands as I flip the pages, feels more relaxing than being glued to another screen.

Both paper and technology have pros and cons, I like a little bit of both in my reading and writing lifestyle. Finding a suitable balance of what works for you is essential to be relaxed and enjoy literature.


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Jenna Matchem is a second-year Professional Writing student at Algonquin College. In her spare time, she can be found listening to anything from country to metal, dancing around her kitchen, or playing video games. Jenna aspires to become an author of fantasy/teen novels by the time she turns 30.

Jenna Matchem

Jenna Matchem is a second-year Professional Writing student at Algonquin College. In her spare time, she can be found listening to anything from country to metal, dancing around her kitchen, or playing video games. Jenna aspires to become an author of fantasy/teen novels by the time she turns 30.

Am I Organized?

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There’s an important question not too many writers ask themselves: “Am I organized?” Some of them are, with notes sorted by characters, plot, research, setting, etc. Some, however, aren’t. There are pens and pencils strewn across their desk, half-empty mugs of coffee everywhere, loose pages and snack wrappers in the drawers of their desks.

Sometimes it’s flipped. A writer can seem organized on the outside, but on their computer there are folders inside folders, all titled “untitled” with few variations. I find a mess on my desk (or in my computer) reflects into my writing, turning it all into incoherent jumbles. If this sounds anything like you, read on, dear writer. Maybe your writer's block can be broken by a clean workspace.

If you’re reading this. . . you aren’t writing. So, I’ll start with some motivation. Gather up your mugs, clean them, and make yourself a fresh pot of coffee (tea or hot chocolate work too). Feeling better already? Now take those pens and put them in something; a cheap holder, a jar, one of those clean mugs, just get them out of your way. Beautiful. Those snack wrappers need to go, that one seems easy enough, you know what to do. Finally, those loose papers will take some time. If they’re important, file them this instant. There’s no point in losing important documents. If the paper is blank, put them to good use. Make some origami, or write more notes. Just be careful they don’t pile up again!

Now that you have a clean writing space, does your mind feel clear? Mine would. Let’s get down to the tough part. Go into your writing folders. Are they a mess? Do your folders and documents look like you’ve simply slapped your keyboard and hoped for the best? Then you’ve got some work to do. This part is harder to coach from the internet. It depends on your preference, organization style, and how in-depth you want everything. I like going by projects. One big folder for the project and all the drafts, and a few small folders inside for planning documents such as character sheets and setting descriptions.

I promise: once you have these places organized it’ll be like a big breath of fresh air. No more searching for a clean mug or for the description of your character’s house that you just can’t remember where you put.

Now, all you must do is write! Best of luck!


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As a kid, Alyssa liked to dream of dragons taking over the world. Now that she’s grown up, she just writes about them. As well as writing fantasy and sci-fi, she’s a dedicated musician who also loves journals and colourful pens.

Comment

Alyssa Gelata

As a kid, Alyssa liked to dream of dragons taking over the world. Now that she’s grown up, she just writes about them. As well as writing fantasy and sci-fi, she’s a dedicated musician who also loves gaming, journals, and colourful pens.

Let's Start Writing

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Hey, writing is tough! We all know it, we’ve struggled to find the right word or attempted to bash a sentence into the right shape. Don't worry, I’m not the writing police. You can write however you want to; I’m just here to give you some tips that might help.

           I always start with an idea, as obvious as that seems to be. If you sit down at your desk without something to work from, you’re going to have an awful time. I usually write all my ideas down as soon as I can, so they aren't just floating around in my head. A prompt or a blurb will do, and it’ll make it a lot easier to organize your ideas the way you want them (hey, remember that post on organization a few days ago?).  I also Google writing prompts from time to time when the ideas I’ve already written down don’t strike the right chord with me. Either way, pick an idea that inspires you and go from there.

           Once you have an idea, put it on your page. Never, EVER leave your page blank as soon as you open your notebook, or you open a document on your computer, write something down. It can be your opening sentence, a paragraph describing your idea, an outline, a stream of nonsense, anything. It doesn’t matter what you put down, but a blank page is one of the most intimidating things any writer will ever see. Your mind will be just as bare, and there is no more frustrating feeling for a writer.

           Go into your work without expecting anything. Don’t expect perfection from yourself right away, and don’t bother editing while you work. For now, until you finish your first draft, you don’t need to worry about editing. You may see problems while you work – leave them for later. You will just drive yourself mad worrying about every little error. You don’t have to work magic every single day. But, with this in mind, you can keep working at it until it is magic.

           By no means are these tips the only way to write. They might not be how you like to write, and that’s okay – we’re all different. But, hopefully, this helps someone out there.


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Cameron Jones is a hot mess, emphasis on both “hot” and “mess.” He most often writes fantasy short stories, but sometimes writes realistic fantasy to mix things up a bit. He dislikes sunlight, sudden loud noises, and writer’s block. The most surefire way to his heart is to show him pictures of cute animals.

Comment

Cameron Jones

Cameron Jones is a hot mess, emphasis on both “hot” and “mess.” He most often writes fantasy short stories, but sometimes writes realistic fantasy to mix things up a bit. He dislikes sunlight, sudden loud noises, and writer’s block. The most surefire way to his heart is to show him pictures of cute animals.

A Look In Our Book

Here at The Blank Notebook, we strive to provide our readers with current thoughts and ideas on what it means to be a writer today. Touching on all subjects from organization to genre, we flip through everything helpful that we’ve learned as readers and writers since picking up that first book that ever made a difference.

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Jenna Matchem

Jenna Matchem is a second-year Professional Writing student at Algonquin College. In her spare time, she can be found listening to anything from country to metal, dancing around her kitchen, or playing video games. Jenna aspires to become an author of fantasy/teen novels by the time she turns 30.