Every Author’s Must-Do Checklist

After years of writing (and receiving a mountain load of feedback), I’ve created a guide on how to write better.

Here’s what I’ve learned and try to follow so far. Add your tips to the comments!

STORY INTRODUCTION

  • Introduce setting – where is the reader? Be quick about it, no extensive descriptions
  • Introduce character right away. Who are they? What do they care about (motivation)? Why do I care about them?
  • Now introduce character situation that we’ve all found ourselves in and can relate to. Immediately! This makes the reader feel connected to the character, “Yup, I’ve been there.”
  • Now introduce what’s different about how the character acts in the situation that the reader might not have thought of OR how the situation forces the character to act in a way that the reader would wonder what they would do
    • This lets the reader know what kind of character the main character is and how they differ from them

STORY PROGRESSION

  • Explain what is happening through dialogue or action – do not “tell” back story or what is happening!
  • Don’t tell the reader everything upfront, let them discover where they are.
    • John was scuba diving at the great barrier reef VS swarms of fish danced around John’s arms. He turned to examine the blue corals that clung to the rock cliff.
  • Every page and situation must
    • contain no adverbs
    • contain no descriptive ways to explain dialogue other than, “he said” “she said”
    • Start late
    • Leave early
  • Take time and really think through the setting. This way you’ll be one step ahead of the reader and they’ll think, “that makes total sense where they are, I didn’t think of that yet!”
    • If someone is hiking, think about everything they could possibly bring. If someone is in a new setting, think of everything they could possibly see – then slowly reveal these things.
  • Write freely – then go back and trim everything but what’s absolutely necessary
  • List the most expecting thing that might happen next. DON’T let that happen! It’s too easy
  • At any point in the story, the reader must know what’s at stake and what must be done to solve the main problem. You’ll lose them if the path is ambiguous
  • The main character tries to achieve his/her goal, but the exact opposite happens and he/she has to regroup and form a new plan, being extra vulnerable, but coming out stronger
  • Never let the main character reflect on what’s happened to him/her, until they’re forced to reflect from something bad happening to them
  • In the ending, the character must come back to an original problem/situation. The only difference is that they’ve changed how they acted based on their character arch and what they learned.

MAIN CHARACTER(S)

  • Never force the main character to create situations until they’ve come through their arch. Every situation is forced upon the character and he/she is only forced to choose how to act
  • The main character doesn’t have to succeed, he/she just has to try his/her hardest (until the climax)
  • You character needs a backstory – what makes them who they are today?
  • The main character should be a reflection of the reader and get into situations the reader can see themselves getting into given the setting. The main difference is that the main character is the reader’s ideal. He/she is slightly better at doing what they do than the reader.
  • The main character can get into cliché problems, but never solve them in cliché ways
  • The main character is decisive, not passive.
  • The main character must always be honest with himself/herself. You can’t lie to the reader
  • The reader should always know slightly more than the main character so that they can’t wait for the main character to find out (kinda like how you can’t wait to tell a good friend something you know and they don’t)

SECONDARY CHARACTERS

  • Every secondary character must act in their expected ways
    • if a character is easily angered, they are always easily angered – the reader shouldn’t have to guess how they’ll act
  •  Secondary characters can create situations for the main character

ANTAGONIST

  • The antagonist, no matter how vile, must always have some redeeming quality.

 Traditional Storytelling Framework

  1. Your character is in their comfort zone
  2. They want something they can’t have
  3. To try and get it, they embark on a journey into unfamiliar territory
  4. They realize they’ve entered into something beyond them, but they master it
  5. They are faced with a big decision – get what they want, or do the greater good
  6. Climax! They do everything they can possibly do to do the greater good and pay a heavy price for it
  7. They travel back home
  8. They reach home, but realize they’ve changed

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