What Fictional Relationships Teach Us About Writing Romances

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I know. We already did a relationships post. But we didn’t do one focusing specifically on ROMANCE. So now we’re going to.

I’m not even sorry.

Now, I write science fiction and fantasy, not romance, but I love a good romantic subplot. Emphasis on good. Because, let’s face it, a badly done or even *cough cough* toxic romance in fiction is annoying as all get out.

Problem is, really good romances are complicated to write — at least I find them complicated. I’m always looking to learn more about how to create healthy, realistic, swoon-worthy romances in my stories, and part of how I do that is by drawing inspiration from fiction.

So let’s do this. We’re going to look at several fictional romances, and see what tips we can glean from them.

The Mentalist

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Patrick Jane and Teresa Lisbon remain one of my favorite TV couples, even though the show ended years ago. They’re adorable together, but the appeal goes deeper than that.

One of the things that makes them such a fun couple is their contrasting but complementary traits. Jane is crafty, cynical, pragmatic, and kind of rule-breaker. Lisbon is clever, optimistic, idealistic, and a rule-follower. If they didn’t like each other, these contrasting traits would be ripe sources of conflict (and do cause conflict all the same), but, since they do like each other, their different personalities make them pretty unstoppable when they’re working in partnership. Jane brings the underhandedness, while Lisbon brings the plausible deniability. Just… watch the show. They’re a little bit scary when they work together.

The point of this is that some of the best relationships (in my opinion) involve two characters combining their disparate traits to become one super-person (yes, super-person is a technical term — leave me and my weird phrases alone). Maybe the lovers in your story don’t “complete” each other, but they do combine to form the best version of themselves.

The Lunar Chronicles: Winter

SPOILERS AHEAD!

So… I love Winter and Jacin’s relationship in the Lunar Chronicles. That actually doesn’t have much connection to my point, but I just needed to say it.

*Ahem*

Since Winter is told from multiple POVs, we get to see all the characters from a bunch of different perspectives. And my favorite aspect of that is getting to see the difference between how all the other narrators perceive Winter and Jacin and how the two of them perceive each other.

It’s basically like this:

Other Narrators: Wow, Jacin, is so cold and calculating, and we’re pretty sure he hates absolutely everyone and everything. He already sold us out once, so we don’t trust him either.

Winter: Jacin is a literal ray of sunshine. He loves me so much, and he’s so kind, and nobody bothers to understand him. He’s only cold because he has to be in order to survive in this terrible situation. He sacrifices everything for the people he loves.

Other Narrators: Winter is kind of… weird. She seems pretty crazy, and we’re not super sure can trust her. Besides, her episodes put us all in danger. She’s really sweet and brave, though, and we know she loves her people and wants to help us.

Jacin: WINTER IS EVERYTHING. She’s brave and brilliant and deserves to be queen. She sacrificed her sanity in favor of her principles, and I respect that so much. She’s so much kinder than I will ever be, and I will literally do whatever it takes to protect her.

See? Well, obviously you see because it’s pretty clear. Jacin and Winter love each other, know each other best out of everyone, and tend to think the best of each other. This is made evident by the way they treat each other, think of each other, and speak of each other.

I’m really tired of using the phrase “each other”.

*screams into the void* Okay, moving on.

When you’re writing a romance, remember that love and familiarity cause people’s perceptions to change. The closer two characters get, the more they will understand and know each other. Making that clear through the way you write them will make your reader buy their relationship and love.

Plus, it’s really, really fun and adorable to read.

Agents of SHIELD

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Wow, it’s been a minute since we talked about Marvel. Don’t worry (I’m sure you weren’t worrying), we’ll soon fix that!

In the Agents of SHIELD fandom (of which I am a proud member), Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons are basically the god tier ship. I mean, people ship other couples (*cough cough* Philinda forever), but Fitz and Simmons are THE couple. At least, in my opinion. Again, this doesn’t have much to do with my point, but I needed to say it.

Anyway.

Their relationship is a great example of how to write a sweet, comfortable romance (in which the pair keeps getting thrown into terrible situations and almost losing each other, but not the point) that developed from a close friendship.

Fitz and Simmons know everything about each other. They’re aware of the other’s faults, flaws, dreams, and desires. They are the other’s safe place. They can laugh at and tease each other. They were friends before they were lovers, and they continued to be friends after they fell in love.

Remember that the deeper a romance becomes, the more comfortable the pair is going to get together. Your two characters might have whirlwind, magical beginning to their relationship, but as they get to know each other and settle into their relationship, things are probably going to calm down and become more everyday.

But everyday doesn’t mean boring or un-shippable (another technical term), as we can see with Fitz and Simmons.

Don’t be afraid to let your two lovers be human together. That’s one of the best things about a long-term relationship — two people just being themselves side by side. Let them mess with each other. Let them bicker. Let one of them stage an inquisition to prove that their partner did in fact eat the last of the Nutella, and THEY SAW THEM DO IT.

Yeah, I don’t really know where that last one came from, but the point still stands. Not every romance needs to be swoon worthy — at least not the whole time. Let your couples be dorky best friends too. If that fits with their personalities, of course.

Fiction Informs Fiction

One of the most helpful ways to develop your craft is to study the stories surrounding you — whether books, movies, or television. Ask yourself why you love this particular story, or why this romance warms your heart. Answering can teach you more than you might expect (or maybe you’re way more perceptive than me, and you totally expected it — I don’t know).

What are some of your favorite fictional romances and why? Let me know in the comments below — I’d love to chat!

An Interview with the Main Characters of My WIP

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Welcome back to Mikayla Talks About Her Story Whether You Wanted to Hear About It or Not! Today, we’re going to interview Rory and One from Family of Nobodies, my WIP. Mostly because I want to. So… yeah, let’s do this.

Before we start, I have to give a big shoutout to Julia Witmer. Her interview with Mira Miller from her book, A Wilted Willow (the revised and updated edition is coming out on December 8th of this year — be sure to check it out!), inspired this post, and she was gracious enough to let me steal her questions and her idea. Thanks, Julia!

Her blog will be linked below. Mira’s interview is really fun, so you should check that out as well! =)

Julia’s Interview with Mira Miller

An Interview with One

Q1: Do you prefer living in the city, or in the country?

One: The country, definitely. I don’t like the city. Or, I don’t think I would. I haven’t actually been to a city, so I don’t have much to go on. But, yeah, I wouldn’t like it. It would have all the wrong colors — I mean feelings. I have synesthesia. I said colors when I, uh, meant feelings. Sorry. *looks down at his feet awkwardly*

Q2: How would you describe yourself?

One: Um… *leans over to Rory, who is sitting next to him* Do I have to answer this? I do? *long sigh* Okay. I guess I would describe myself as quiet, non-confrontational, kind of useless… yeah. *Rory whispers something fiercely in his ear* What? But — fine. And artistic and kind and loyal, I guess. According to some people. *grunts as Rory elbows him in the ribs* And not useless, actually. Can we go on to the next question… please?

Q3: What are your greatest strengths?

One: *sighs again and looks hesitant* My telekinesis, I guess. Not much else. * he blocks another elbow blow from Rory* Will you please stop that! Fine, I’m good at helping people too — according to Rory, who should be answering these questions herself if she thinks she can do it so well *glares, and Rory smiles unrepentantly* — and doing what needs to be done, even when I’m scared. *shoots another glare at Rory, apparently forgetting he’s supposed to be non-confrontational* There — you happy?

Q4: What are your greatest weaknesses?

One: *opens his mouth, seeming ready to let loose a long speech, but Rory elbows him again*

Rory: Can we go on to the next question? He can go on about this for hours, and it’s *frowns at One* a bad habit.

Q5: What is your greatest accomplishment?

One: Escaping with my sisters from my old life and coming here — to Saoirse. That was mostly Rory though, so —

*Rory cuts him off, and proceeds to explain the extent of his involvement in the escape in great detail until the interviewer manages to stop her*

Q6: What’s your favorite pastime?

One: Painting or wyvern riding. Although wyvern riding is kind of a new interest, so… painting.

Q7: How do you handle difficult situations?

One: Badly. *Rory glares again, interviewer sighs and waits* I mean, I do my best. And some people say I do pretty well. And my sisters trust me — I don’t know why — so… I guess I don’t do too bad. I just try to do what seems best… and pray… trust God. Yeah.

Q8: Are you a leader or a follower?

One: A follower.

Rory: No, don’t listen to him. He’s a leader, he just won’t admit it.

One: Whose interview is this, Rory?

Rory: I’m just trying to tell them to the actual truth, and you’re just…

*Pair proceeds to bicker for ten minutes before the interviewer can stop them*

An Interview with Rory Forde

Q1: Do you prefer living in the city, or in the country?

Rory: Country. I’ve been in cities, and anyone who enjoys that kind of living is an eejit. I need elbow room. And an open sky. And the ocean, while you’re at it.

One: Are you making a grocery order?

Rory: Shut up, it’s my interview now.

One: You interrupted mine!

*Interviewer hurriedly intervenes before they can start arguing again*

Q2: How would you describe yourself?

Rory: Fierce. Odd. Stubborn. Motherly — but not in nice, soft way. More like a bear. Sometimes I don’t know why people stick with me, but they do. Not all the time, though.

*She looks sad for a moment, but One proceeds to make a long speech, enumerating all the reasons people love Rory, which makes her smile and give him a fond shove*

Q3: What are your greatest strengths?

Rory: I guess the fact that I don’t stand by and let bad things happen. Or, really, I can’t. And helping people… making them see how beautiful everything can be. *she looks down and blushes, and One smiles at her*

Q4: What are your greatest weaknesses?

Rory: Thinking I don’t have any. And pushing people away… I guess. *she looks at One uncomfortably*

Q5: What is your greatest accomplishment?

Rory: Helping One and his sisters escape from the horrible place they were being kept.

One: She didn’t help us. She orchestrated the whole thing. We wouldn’t be here without her.

Rory: Do shut up. We can’t argue again — the interviewer looks like he’s about to hang himself.

One: I’m about to hang myself.

Q6: What’s your favorite pastime?

Rory: Wyvern flying. And spending time with family. And wyvern flying while spending time with family. Yeah, that one — that’s my favorite pastime.

Q7: How do you handle difficult situations?

Rory: I find a weapon. Or I start yelling. *pauses* That’s probably not healthy, is it?

One: Not really, no.

Rory: You’re worse — and I wasn’t asking you.

One: Are you going to find a weapon or yell at me, then? Or yell at me while holding a weapon?

*Rory glares at him*

Q8: Are you a leader or a follower?

Rory: A leader. But mostly because I’m bossy. Are we done now?

*Interviewer nods (looking relieved), closes his notebook, and runs away from the pair as fast as he can*

Thank You for Indulging Me

I hope you enjoyed this interview! I know I did. Thank you again, Julia, for coming up with this!

Tell me all about your own characters in the comments! I’d love to hear about them.

Enola Holmes and Good Female Characters

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So I watched Enola Holmes. And, if I’m being honest, I wasn’t expecting that much — no shade to the writers, producers, and actors! I just figured it was going to be teenage adventure movie with a Strong Female Protagonist that was likable enough but fell into the Epic Girl Who Can Kill a Man Using Her Little Finger trope. Which can be a fun premise, but I’m kind of tired of it, you know?

And that wasn’t what I got. I mean, it wasn’t a flawless movie, and sometimes the message did feel a little on-the-nose.

But the protagonist. THE PROTAGONIST.

*Ahem* What I mean is, I really liked Enola, and I think she’s a great example of how to write a good female character (really, just a good character in general).

And now I’m going to tell you why, hopefully with only some fangirling. Let’s do this. Spoilers ahead!

She is Unique

The first thing I want to talk about is how Enola Holmes is her own character. She doesn’t fall into that typical “strong female character” archetype, but she’s still both strong and an amazing character.

Enola is distinctive. She’s competent, but she’s also goofy. She’s brave, but we see her afraid often. She loves puzzles. She can handle a lot, but she’s not made of stone. She reacts to things emotionally a lot. She is herself — she’s not a message or a character type.

That’s what we writers should give our readers. Not a stale, overused character type, but a fully-fleshed out individual. Which is hard (for me especially), but we can do this! *waves pompoms*

She is Human

Enola may be an exceptional teenager, but she’s still a teenager. And she acts like one. She cries when things go wrong or when she’s upset. She gets mad. She gets frustrated. She gets scared. She’s raw, to the point where sometimes it’s almost painful to watch her (mostly because I want to hug this small child, but that’s not the point).

She’s flawed as well. She can be brusque and a bit of a know-it-all. She makes mistakes and doesn’t win every battle. That’s important, because which one of us flawed humans wants to follow a perfect character? Certainly not me!

We as writers need remember to make our female (and male!) characters people. Give them flaws and fears. Let them fall down and make mistakes. Let them ask for help. Let them cry. Let them be themselves.

Doing this gives your story more weight. If readers believe your girl (or guy) protagonist never loses a battle, they’re never going to worry about her. If nothing ever seems to bother her, it’s going to be harder for them to feel for her when bad things happen. If she doesn’t feel human, why should they care about her?

She is Realistic

Enola isn’t superhuman. Sure, she can fight and such, but she’s still an approximately 120lb. teenage girl. If she goes up against a fully grown man (which she does), she’s at a severe disadvantage, and the movie makes sure to show us that. We see Enola losing, we see her being afraid, and then we see her use her brain and her skills in order to defeat someone stronger than she is. And I… I just love that.

I felt that fight between her and one of the villains in a way I haven’t felt a movie fight before because it was so realistic. It was scary, it was intense, and it made me afraid that she was going to lose. And that made the moment when she triumphed so much better.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Some stories might be served by a female/male character who seems superhuman or who is literally superhuman, but otherwise, we writers should make a point of showing our readers that the characters they are following (whatever their gender) are like them — at least to a point.

We should make them real. Because, personally, I think those are the characters that are the most powerful to read about and grow to love.

We Write People

If you find writing female characters hard, just remember to make them people (which is, oddly, kind of difficult — with male and female characters). Make them individuals, with their own flaws and struggles. Let them fail. Force them to face their weaknesses and use their strengths to overcome them. Create characters that are so human that readers realize that they could die. Make them so real that they jump off the page and into your readers’ hearts.

The Enola Holmes movie wasn’t perfect, but, darn it all, it knew how to make me love Enola, root for her, and feel for her.

Villains Are Characters Too

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Hehe, sorry for the title. I had to.

Anyway.

In my early writing days, villains were hard for me to write. They usually came off as creepy cardboard cutouts. Boring — at least to me.

I want my readers to be intimidated by my villains, and it’s hard (in my opinion) to be afraid of characters that feel like shells.

In real life, we don’t need to know evil people to be scared of them. It’s enough to look at what they do or say. However, in the medium of story, it’s not always that simple. A villain can run around doing all the terrible things he/she wants, but if it feels like he/she is just a tool of the story, rather than a character, this villain you’ve worked so hard on might fall flat.

So. How do we avoid this? It’s both easier and harder than you might think.

Make Them People

You’ve probably heard this adage a hundred times before, but it’s true. Your readers are more likely to be afraid of your villains if they understand what makes them tick. While they don’t necessarily have to be sympathetic, villains should still be human.

Consider showing your readers the path your villain took in becoming evil. It doesn’t have to be some big, tragic backstory, but hinting at their progression from whoever they were in the past to who they are in the present can actually up the fear factor. If the fall is realistic — perhaps even to the point where readers can see themselves potentially following the same path — it makes the villain seem like someone who could jump off the page into real life.

There are different levels of villainy, as you are certainly aware. Make sure to show your readers what “level” your villain lives at. Perhaps he/she is so far gone that he/she will do whatever it takes to accomplish their goals, no matter how evil the deed. Perhaps there are still lines the villain won’t cross. Perhaps he/she is on the cusp of redemption.

Doing this will further humanize your villain. The lower the level, the more likely your readers are to sympathize with him/her. The higher the level, the more chilling the villain becomes — as long as he/she remains a character rather than caricature.

Everyone’s Got Dreams

Your villain shouldn’t be one dimensional. Even the worst person in the world probably still has dreams and personal goals. Of course, those goals might be something along the lines of “kick x number of puppies per day”, but still. Goals!

When you’re creating your villains, be sure to characterize them as well. Figure out the why behind what they do. What motivates them? What’s their ultimate plan? What do they think will bring them happiness?

Make sure the villain isn’t just out to stop the protagonist simply because it’s his/her role in the story. If the protagonist gets a clear, character-consistent goal, then so should the villain.

Treat Them Like the Protagonist of Their Own Story

Your villains won’t think of themselves as villains. So try not to simply characterize them as villains. Of course they’re still evil and all that, but make sure that’s not their only defining character trait.

Give them unique interests, desires, flaws (besides being !evil!), and skills. Ask yourself questions about them. Test their limits. See how far they are willing to go to achieve their goal. Figure out if they have their own moral code. Map out how they change (if they do) over the course of the story.

We as writers put so much work into our main characters, but it’s easy to overlook the villain.

So don’t. Challenge yourself to pay him/her just as much attention as you pay your protagonist.

Exceptions

Not every villain needs to be a multifaceted character, however. Some stories are served better by a villain who is more of a figurehead than a character, or by a villain who is the Ultimate Evil. Don’t let this post stop you from writing those types of villains!

Conclusion

Sorry for the lame heading. I literally couldn’t think of anything else.

Anyway.

Villains are challenging to write, and (for me, at least) it’s easy to fall into the established tropes for the character. My advice is to force yourself to look beyond those tropes — if it services your story, of course. Make your villain a three dimensional person with complex opinions, wants, and motivations. Make him/her someone who both complements and challenges your protagonist.

It’s much easier to be intimidated by someone who is relatable — who readers can connect with. Readers often hate villains for the same reason they love protagonists: characterization.

So, go forth and write terrifyingly human villains, writer! You got this.

My WIP: Family of Nobodies

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Hi! So, here’s the story tour that literally none of you asked for. Okay, that’s not true — ONE person asked for it. She actually suggested this post, so thank you, my friend!

I swear I do have original ideas for blog posts, but, first of all, I’m super lazy and, second of all, everyone on Twitter has such good ideas!

*Ahem* Anyway.

Family of Nobodies

Drat, I hate writing plot summaries. I have only myself to blame for this. Here goes.

One and his two younger sisters, Twist and Zoey, are illegally modified humans. One and Twist have telekinetic powers, and Zoey’s voice is lethal — literally.

They have been raised by their “mother” to be weapons for Saros, a space-faring pirate. He plans to buy them and use them to reconquer Nowhere, the empty space between solar systems that was taken from him and his comrades by the Wanderers, the nomadic people who call Nowhere home.

But when a rival buyer attacks the hidden complex where One and his sisters are kept, everyone’s plans are thrown into confusion. During the chaos, the three siblings are rescued by Rory, a raptor trainer from the frontier planet of Saoirse, which is under the thumb of another displaced pirate.

With Saros and the rival buyer hunting him and his sisters, the siblings decide to take refuge on Saoirse– even though it means risking potential discovery by Alistair, its pirate conqueror.

Rory takes One and his sisters in, promising to protect them as best she can. With the help of the Barrys, Rory’s rambunctious neighbors, the four misfits manage to cobble together something approaching a normal life.

That is, until disaster strikes, and everyone is forced to learn the true price of freedom and the meaning of family.

The Fun Stuff

Okay, now THAT’S done. *breathes a sigh of relief* I’m pretty sure it’s not great, but at least I managed to end it on a vaguely ominous note. Now on to the fun, easy stuff that involves lots of links and things I have no idea if you’re actually interested in but am putting in anyway because it’s my blog post. *cackles*

The Inspiration

A couple of things inspired this story.

The core idea of youths with powers has been rattling around in my head for literal years (probably because of Marvel and because it’s a pretty *cough cough* common trope in YA), but I haven’t been able to fit it into a cohesive novel. Until now, that is. *cue excited squealing*

Another thing that kickstarted FoN was a picture I came across on Pinterest, of a redheaded girl with freckles and pixie cut. I saw it one day, and it really struck me. I wanted to write her story and figure out who she was. Although Rory didn’t end up being the protagonist of Family of Nobodies, she’s still a huge part of why I’m writing this book.

I also really wanted to tell a story about found family. I love that trope so much, so I’m trying my hand at a novel involving it. We shall see how I do.

And dinosaurs. I desperately wanted to write about dinosaurs. And flying. And dinosaurs. Did I mention the dinosaurs?

Story Board

Yes, this is totally self indulgent. But I’m going to link a Pinterest board about my story. You can’t stop me.

IT’S GLORIOUS.

Songs of the Story

Again, none of you asked for this. But I don’t care because I want to share ALL THE THINGS.

*Ahem* So here you go — these are some songs from my writing playlist.

This is kind of the song of Saoirse
A song for One and Rory
Kind of the theme song for the book… very on the nose.
Another song for One and Rory…
Another theme song for the book
Another theme song… man, captioning these is HARD

Okay, I’m done. I mean, there’s a bunch more, but these are some of my favorite ones. Besides, I’m pretty sure y’all don’t want to scroll through the monstrosity that is my full writing playlist.

It’s Out of My System Now

Thank you for sticking around to the end of this post! I love talking about my story — as you can see. Next week I’ll be back to my regularly scheduled content.

Comment below and tell me all about your WIPs! I would love to read about them. And I kind of want to make someone else write a blurb — I’m petty like that.

Why Your Theme Ties Literally Everything Together

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Thanks to one of my Twitter followers for inspiring this post!

Now. Does anyone else kind of have a hate/love relationship with themes in stories?

I know they’re important, and I love stories with good ones that make me feel things. But when it comes to putting them in my own story… well, it’s not easy. Because not only does the theme have to be resonant, but it also has to mean something to you, make sense, not feel preachy, etc.

It’s exhausting. Although, to be the honest, the whole writing process it exhausting. Why do I want to make this my profession again?

Oh, right. I’d go crazy without it.

Anyway.

One of the biggest problems with themes is they can feel shoehorned in if you’re not careful. As if the characters are running through a plot and happen to learn some random “lesson” along the way.

Themes aren’t supposed to feel like that. They should be interwoven with your plot and character arcs. Keeping that in mind can actually make it easier to pick the right themes for your stories.

How Your Plot and Theme Connect

Plot defines theme, and theme defines plot. They should be inextricably linked together.

Let’s say you’re writing about a boy who stows away on a ship and ends up becoming a cabin boy. If you didn’t already have a theme in mind, you can look at the plot to figure out what kind would fit the storyline.

Maybe the theme is courage because the story involves the boy learning the face the wildness of the ocean. Maybe the theme is family, and, over the course of the plot, the boy befriends the sailors, coming to understand what it is to be part of a crew.

Often, the theme might be a big part of the reason you’re telling the story. The plot is the vehicle through which you can convey a truth that is important to you, so it and your theme should fit together like puzzle pieces.

How Your Theme and Character Arcs Connect

When we were figuring out what theme would fit the hypothetical story about the cabin boy, you probably noticed that all of them involved the protagonist changing in some way — learning something. That’s because character arcs are also closely linked with theme.

When deciding on the theme you want to include in your story, examine your main character. What value or trait is he/she lacking? How will he/she change over the course of the story? How will the other characters be involved in this change — if they are involved at all? What will the protagonist have learned by the end of the story?

The cabin boy might be a street urchin who only knows how to care about himself, but, through his experience on the ship and interactions with the kind crew, he learns how to care about and sacrifice for others. Or he might have run away from his family because of some responsibility he didn’t want to face, but he becomes courageous during the course his voyage. Whatever path you choose should relate to the theme.

Of course, not every main character goes through a character arc. Some are static — they don’t change. Instead, they change those around them. In that case, the questions you ask will be slightly different.

For example: What trait does the protagonist have that the other characters/world lack? How will he/she change their comrades/world over the course of the story? What will the other characters/the world learn through his/her example?

(MILDISH SPOILERS FOR THE WONDER WOMAN MOVIE)

In the recent Wonder Woman movie, Diana doesn’t have a huge character arc, but she changes the world and people around her just by being who she is. She believes with her whole heart that humanity is worth saving, and, through her example, Steve (her love interest) comes to believe the same. Rather than learning the truth espoused by the movie, Diana is more of a living embodiment of the movie’s theme.

(END SPOILERS)

As we all know, some characters change for the worst over the course of the story. For protagonists that go through a negative character arc, you might want to make sure that the theme emphasizes their fall from grace. Again, you’re going to want examine your protagonist and ask yourself questions.

For example: What value/belief does he/she stop caring about? How are his/her beliefs different from those of the other characters/the world? How will he/she have changed by the end of the story? Who was he/she at the beginning of the story?

(SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS: REVENGE OF THE SITH)

Now I’ll never be a Jedi apologist, and honestly I think the galaxy would be better off with no more Jedi and no more Sith. However, this film made Obi-Wan, a Jedi, into a representation of the theme in order to highlight Anakin’s fall.

Obi-Wan’s more selfless attitude (shown when he fought his friend and exiled himself to Tatooine for the good of everyone) contrasted with Anakin’s selfish motivations, emphasizing how he had changed from someone driven by love to someone driven by self. He started his journey to the Dark Side because he loved Padme and wanted to protect her, but he ended it as someone who loved only himself and attacked her when he thought she had betrayed him.

Obi-Wan and the other characters were used to draw attention to Anakin’s evil, becoming a symbol for the movie’s theme of light versus dark.

(END SPOILERS)

Whatever kind of character you write, their arc will pack more of a punch if it relates to the theme in a meaningful way.

Theme is Key

Plot and character are all essential elements of story, and they become even more powerful if they are connected to a resonant theme.

Theme informs plot, plot emphasizes theme, and character gives both meaning. Maybe not every story needs this interdependent triad, but a lot of my favorite stories are the ones that have had it. Stories with this trio have weight and the ability to change those who read them — at least in my opinion.

Figuring out your story’s theme can be a headache (trust me, I know), but I hope this post helped you a bit!

Creating Authentic Character Relationships

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For me, writing relationships between characters is either instinctual or highly annoying. Sometimes, I just know which characters will click, and everything comes easily. Other times, I’m stuck staring at two characters going “now, kiss“, and they look at me, asking why. And I don’t have an answer, so I just tell them to quit being impertinent.

I hate when that happens.

Compatibility

Now, obviously, this dilemma usually happens when you, the writer, are trying to push two characters together (in a friendship or a romantic relationship) when you don’t yet know why they should be together. When you don’t yet know what is drawing them to each other.

How do we fix this? Well, first I’d like to direct you to my previous post (yes, that is a shameless plug) on creating characters.

In that post, we talked about how someone’s core values and beliefs define them in many ways. We discussed how deciding what those values and beliefs are, figuring out how they came about, and mapping out how they affect the character’s actions allows you to discover who your character is at a foundational level before you even know what they look like.

Knowing what makes your characters tick is useful for many reasons — one of which is that it makes it simple to figure out with whom they are compatible. All you have to do is examine those values and beliefs you chose for them and make sure they mesh well with the ones you chose for the character they’re going to get close to.

Of course, everything doesn’t have to line up. People are complicated, and we don’t have to always agree on everything to be in a relationship.

The fact remains, however, that characters are not likely to form a close relationship with someone who is so fundamentally different from them that they have nothing in common. Therefore, commonality is important to compatibility. Hehe, I’m very proud of that sentence.

Stargate: Atlantis

Bet you’ve never seen that show used as an example in a blog post. I warned you I was a fangirl.

Anyway, in this show, we have a lot of friendships. Like, a lot. Like, we have maybe two romantic relationships — plus a whole lot of vague romantic longing — and that’s it. Everything else is 99% platonic. And it’s adorable.

*Ahem* Moving on.

These friendships are great examples of characters who appear incompatible forming deep friendships.

Yes, I’m talking about Rodney McKay and Carson Beckett. And Rodney and Lt. Colonel John Sheppard. And McKay with basically everyone… but I digress. Look, you need to watch the show — I’m begging you.

Anyway.

On the surface, Beckett and McKay are very different people. Deep down they can be very different people too — let’s be honest here — but, where it counts, they fit.

Initially, their relationship is really just Beckett being compassionate, as he is wont to be. He reaches out to McKay because he’s the kind of person who’s going to feel sympathy for the bad-tempered loner no one seems to like.

But it ends up growing deeper than simple kindness, and it becomes a friendship when McKay reciprocates. It turns out that this lonely, selfish scientist really did want a friend.

As time progresses, it’s clear that they’re not so different. Beckett may be kind and soft where McKay is abrasive and sharp, but they both believe that it’s their duty to try to save people. Beckett fulfills his duty by being a doctor. McKay fulfills his by being a scientist. They’re both fiercely loyal. They’re both willing to die for their friends, even though McKay tries to pretend he doesn’t care. They’re both trying to be brave in the face of their chaotic new normal — Beckett’s just a bit better at it.

Despite being different people, they match. They strive to accomplish the same goals and have many of the same values.

Another example is the friendship between Teyla Emmagan and Sheppard. Though they have different pasts and were born light years apart, they’re still alike deep down. They both value honor, self-sacrifice, loyalty, leadership, and courage. They’re both willing to do whatever it takes to protect the ones they care about. They fit. It makes perfect sense that they’re best friends.

The romance between McKay and Jennifer Keller is another perfect example. They both want to help people — they just go about it in different ways. They’re both trying to be brave because they believe it’s important, but they’re both just a little bad at it. They both value intelligence — just in different ways.

In fact, an important facet of their relationship is their differences. Jennifer is kind and compassionate (like Beckett), and being around her forces McKay to confront his own shortcomings in that area. She’s also considerate and unselfish, whereas McKay is still working on being those things. She inspires him to become a better man because of their differences.

Hang on to that — how sometimes the differences have more of an effect than the similarities. We’re going to talk about it in a second.

Differences vs. Similarities

People tend to fall in love — romantically or platonically — with people who are similar to them. People who share their values and beliefs and who care about the same things they do.

So when you’re trying to craft any kind of relationship between/among characters, you should examine their core values and beliefs (I bet you’re getting sick of reading that phrase. Look, I’m bad at synonyms, sorry!). Figure out where they line up and ask yourself how they will prompt/affect the relationship.

Now, the really cool bit is that there’s usually bits that won’t line up. Jennifer is naturally kind, and she values kindness. McKay is not, and often thinks kindness is a waste of time.

Those differences don’t stop their relationship, but they do help shape it. Jennifer teaches McKay to be kind, and he finds that he wants to become worthy of her — be a less selfish man.

That’s part of the beautiful dynamic of a good relationship. Yes, it’s great if your characters have things in common, but it’s even better if they also challenge and inspire each other through their differences.

Sometimes the very reason a person is attracted to someone is the differences. A shy person might want to be friends with someone who is confident because the quality they’re missing entices them. Maybe they hope to learn confidence.

A coward might fall in love with a soldier. A liar might make friends with the most honest person they know.

Sometimes the differences aren’t the reason for the relationship, but they’re still going to be very present (as we could see from McKay and Beckett’s friendship). Maybe the similarities make up for the dissimilarities, but that doesn’t make them disappear or stop them from affecting the relationship in some way.

Whether they were the catalyst for the relationship of not, differences between people are rich mines for conflict and character growth *evil writer laughter*. So make sure you figure out what ways these two characters you’re pushing together are not alike, in addition to the ways they are.

Because real people don’t agree on everything, and neither should characters.

The Point

Next time you’re writing any kind of partnership between characters, try asking yourself these questions.

  1. What values and beliefs do these characters share?
  2. What values and beliefs do they not share?
  3. How do they react to the differences?
  4. How do they react to the similarities?
  5. What attracted them to each other?
  6. How do they inspire each other?
  7. How do they challenge each other?

Writing authentic relationships is hard, but I hope this post helps make it a little bit easier.

A Cheat Sheet to Creating Characters

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Let’s get real for a second. Making up characters that feel like actual people with agency is hard. People are complex, so creating fictional ones isn’t a simple task.

The thing about people is that our foundational values and beliefs define us in so many ways. They often drive our decisions, interests, actions, and words. Whether we consciously realize it or not, who we are is built on them.

Now, how can this apply to writing?

I’m SO glad you asked.

If you take an idea you have for a character and answer a few simple questions about who he or she is in their soul, you’ll develop a real understanding about what makes your character tick.

What are these questions?

I’m SO… wait, I already said that. Let’s just move on. *ahem*

The Cheat Sheet

Here are the questions I told you about, and, yes, I am hugely proud of them — thank you for asking.

  1. What are your character’s core values?
  2. What are your character’s core beliefs (these are defined by his/her core values)?
  3. Why do they have these beliefs (think about how their past may have informed or brought about these beliefs)?
  4. How do these values and beliefs influence his/her actions?

There you go. If you answer those questions, you’ll have a rough sketch of a character with agency and complexity. Don’t believe me? That’s okay, I’m going to prove it very obnoxiously in the next section.

Proving It

Let’s take a look at how answering these questions plays out with an established fictional character. First, we’ll answer them for Steve Rogers. Because he’s an interesting character — not because I want to talk about Marvel movies. Just kidding, it’s because I want to talk about Marvel movies.

Steve Rogers

Here goes.

  1. What are your character’s core values?
    • Honor, kindness, courage, loyalty, and personal responsibility
  2. What are your character’s core beliefs (these are defined by his/her core values)?
    • If you can stand up, you should.
    • Never leave anyone behind.
    • Fight for what you believe in, even if people tell you it’s impossible.
    • Keep your promises.
    • Stand with your friends.
    • Actions matter more than words.
    • Don’t compromise.
    • Don’t give up, even if it’s a no win situation.
    • Be willing to sacrifice yourself for your cause or your comrades.
  3. Why do they have these beliefs (think about how their past may have informed or brought about these beliefs)?
    • Because he believes in absolute morality.
    • Because he’s stubborn and determined.
    • Because, in his past, he had a passion to help people even when he wasn’t equipped to, so he’s used to fighting in the face of impossible odds.
    • Because friends and family are everything to him.
  4. How do these values and beliefs influence his/her actions?
    • They make him someone who will never give up.
    • They make him someone who will fight for what he believes in.
    • They make him someone who stands up for the underdog.
    • They make him someone who prizes individuals over the greater good.
    • They make him someone who will stand by his friends.
    • They make him someone who puts others’ needs above his own.

See? Just from answering those questions, we have an idea of who Steve is, at his core. We know what drives him and why.

Tony Stark

Now let’s look at one of my favorite Avengers — Iron Man.

  1. What are your character’s core values?
    • Determination, bravery, loyalty, self-sacrifice, personal responsibility, and cleverness
  2. What are your character’s core beliefs (these are defined by his/her core values)?
    • Don’t give up.
    • Make up for your mistakes.
    • Protect those you love.
    • While you’re at it, protect the world too.
    • If you have the power to help, you should.
  3. Why do they have these beliefs (think about how their past may have informed or brought about these beliefs)?
    • Because of his realization that his weapons were being exploited by the enemy side to hurt people, rather than protect them.
    • Because he realized that he had a responsibility to ensure that his technology didn’t fall into the wrong hands.
    • Because he realized that his pride and recklessness put people in danger, so he does his best to make reparations for those mistakes.
    • Because he cares about other people — despite sometimes trying to make it seem like he doesn’t.
    • Because he’s gone through trauma and seen terrifying things, so now he’s deathly afraid of losing those he cares about.
  4. How do these values and beliefs influence his/her actions?
    • They lead him to create Ultron in an attempt to protect his friends, family, and the world.
    • They make him feel self-loathing because he feels he does not and can never live up to those values and beliefs.
    • They make him someone who seeks to bring world peace, making sure that the responsibility to keep the world safe is no longer in the hands of fallible men like him.

Poor Tony. I think he might be more damaged than Steve, and it makes my fangirl heart hurt.

Anyway, we can see what makes Tony Tony clearly, just from answering those questions.

An Experiment

Let’s see how using this cheat sheet plays out with an unknown character — one that you’ve literally just made up on the spot. Well, one I’ve just made up.

Okay… let’s say the character is a girl, named Emily.

  1. What are your character’s core values?
    • I think I’ll make her core values truthfulness, kindness, fairness, empathy, and loyalty.
  2. What are your character’s core beliefs (these are defined by his/her core values)?
    • You should never tell lies.
    • You never know what another person is going through, so you should be kind.
    • You should treat everyone fairly, no matter what class they are or who their family is.
    • You should never sell out your family or friends.
    • You should always defend your loved ones.
  3. Why do they have these beliefs (think about how their past may have informed or brought about these beliefs)?
    • When she was a kid, her parents went through a super messy divorce, and there was a lot of backstabbing among them and her extended family. Maybe that’s why loyalty is so important to her.
    • She tries to be empathetic because she wonders if her parents would have stayed together if they had ever tried to put themselves in the other person’s shoes.
    • Maybe part of the reason they divorced was because of lies, and they kept lying throughout the divorce process, making it even messier. So now she has vowed to never lie because she’s seen the damage and hurt lying causes.
    • Maybe her family became close to social pariahs because of the divorce, or maybe she felt like the system failed her and her parents during the proceedings. Maybe that makes fairness and kindness very important to her.
  4. How do these values and beliefs influence his/her actions?
    • She makes it a point to never lie, even if it might help her out. Maybe that gets her in trouble sometimes, or it makes her someone that people usually trust implicitly.
    • Since honesty is so important to her, she might end up being very harsh with people who aren’t honest. Maybe her kindness and empathy don’t extend to people like that (do I smell a character arc??).
    • Her desire for fairness and her empathy would probably make her someone who usually tries to give people the benefit of the doubt.
    • She is incredibly loyal to her friends. Maybe her loyalty also translates into fierce anger when anyone crosses her friends. Maybe that makes her someone who holds grudges (I’m seriously feeling a character arc).
    • She’s kind to strangers, even when they’re not kind to her.

As you can see, brainstorming answers to those questions enabled me to quickly flesh out a character with clearly defined values, beliefs, motives, and even goals to an extent. Pretty awesome, right?

Hehe, sorry it’s probably highly unprofessional to pat yourself on the back in a blog post. I’ll try to stop (but likely won’t succeed).

The Point

People are complicated, but deep down, we are all driven by a specific set of values and beliefs that dictate our actions. If you can nail those down for your characters, you can examine their past to figure out why they formed those beliefs and how their core character will drive their actions.

Not to make this a drawing metaphor again, but answering these questions is kind of like using rough shapes to sketch out someone’s features. It gives you the context and foundation you need to fill them out in detail — make them real.

I hope this helps you with your characters!

How I Brainstorm

I made a discovery recently (embarrassingly recently, to be honest). I discovered that deliberate brainstorming is incredibly helpful, especially if you’re an outliner/plotter.

I’ll explain why in a second, but, before I get started, I have to give a huge shoutout to Katytastic from YouTube. Her video on brainstorming is the reason I figured this out at all, and it inspired this post. I’ll link her channel and the specific video at the end of the post. You should check her out!

Why I Brainstorm

Now, I never used to brainstorm, unless you count daydreaming about my story and imagining out scenes, plot points, etc. That was helpful, but whenever I went to outline my plot, I would find gaping holes in it.

I ended up trying to fill them on the fly — essentially pantsing my outline. Which, let me tell you, does not work for me. My plots are houses of cards without brainstorming. Maybe that’s just a “me” problem, but I want to share my new outlining routine, just in case any of you have the same problem I did.

Quick disclaimer: This is my process. It might not work for you. I’m only sharing it in the hopes that it will help you refine your personal process. Which all of you probably knew already, but I like disclaimers. They soothe me.

*Ahem* Anyway, let’s do this.

Stage One: Preparation

First, I start with a story idea.

I let this idea ruminate in my brain for a couple of weeks while I try to figure out major plot points, get a sense of the ending, flesh out my characters a little, get a handle on my setting, and find the story’s theme.

You could technically count this as brainstorming, but I don’t see it that way. For me, brainstorming happens on paper. This is strictly preparation — it’s when I play around with the idea in my mind and see if it can become a novel.

It’s up to you how long you stay in this stage, but I’m typically ready to outline when I have a skeletal plot (never mind the holes — I figure them out when I brainstorm), an idea of who my characters are, a feel for my setting (especially if it’s a fantasy or sci fi story), and maybe a theme.

Stage Two: Brainstorming

Second, I open up a Scrivener document, pull up my brainstorming questionnaire, and fill it out. It might be easy to answer all the questions, or I might have to go back to the preparation stage to work past a roadblock. It all depends on how much I already know about my story.

This stage is where Katytastic’s video comes in. It made something click in my brain, and I was able to come up with brainstorming questions myself, which was perfect. Having personalized questions made all the difference.

I’ll stick my questionnaire at the end of this post, but I highly recommend you watch Kat’s video and try your hand at writing questions yourself. You might be surprised at how well it goes. I was.

Stage Three: Outlining

Third, once I’m finished with my brainstorming, I fill out story structure beat sheets (my favorite ones will be linked below). Then I do character profiles and finish with a scene outline that helps me nail down all the details of the story.

My outlining process might be a little obsessive, but, hey, it works.

Why You Should Try This

Brainstorming, for me, takes the guesswork out of outlining. It’s fluid, it ignites my creativity, and it doesn’t feel as concrete as filling out a beat sheet. It’s kind of like doing a quick sketch before you start the actual drawing.

My advice to you is to give it a shot. Sketch out your story with light lines before you do all the shading and detail work of outlining it. That way, you won’t have so much to erase or fix if you find a problem.


Katytastic’s YouTube

Katytastic’s Brainstorming Video

Another disclaimer: The questions in the document are mostly my own, but they are inspired by Kat’s video. A few of them might be ones she came up with in the video. All the credit for those goes to Kat — I don’t claim them as my own. Okay, the disclaimers are over, and I am soothed.

Abbie Emmons 3-Act Story Structure Beat Sheet https://www.abbiee.com/2019/10/structure-my-novel-with-me/?cookie-state-change=1598625666117

Derek Murphy 25-Chapter Plot Outline

https://www.creativindie.com/plot-outline/

Welcome Storytellers!

Hello, friends! Welcome to my little corner of the Internet. It’s nice to meet you! 

Speaking of meeting people, I should probably introduce myself. *Baymax voice* Hello. I am Mikayla, your personal blogging companion. 

Hehe, sorry. Let me try that again. 

Hi! I’m Mikayla. I’ve loved storytelling for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been writing since I was six — but don’t ask to see any of my old stuff because it is HORRIBLE. Seriously, I’m talking throw-up-in-your-mouth awful. How’s that for positivity?

Ahem. Anyway. 

When I started writing seriously at thirteen, I scoured the Internet for information on storytelling, and I found huge amounts of amazing content. I learned so much from my fellow creators out there in the world of the web.

Now that I’m starting to hone my craft, I want to follow in their footsteps and share what I’ve learned. Maybe my mildly unbalanced musings can help you in your journey just a little bit. I hope so.

I will be posting every Friday, so watch out for a new post next week. If you want to be notified whenever I post, make sure you subscribe to email notifications, and, if for some reason you can’t get enough of me (hehe, I’m not egotistical AT ALL), go ahead and check out my social media handles. I’d love to hear from you!

Happy writing, my friends! Talk to you next week.

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