Oh Baby, Look at that Backstory and Goals

Without knowing the backstory, we wouldn’t know the emotional goals of the character, the why for their tangible goals. Instead we’d be reading and thinking, yeah, he wants this. So what?

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Oh Baby, Look at that Backstory and Goals
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Last week on the podcast and over on our substack, we talked about creating amazing characters and the role of backstory.

I’m going to talk a little bit more about that today.


Again, backstory is the events that happened to your character before the actual main story starts.

So backstory, once you have it, allows you to give your character goals in the beginning of the novel and throughout the novel because it allows you the writer (and reader) to know what forces and history make that character who they are today and drive them.

The Two Goals (Thanks to Backstory) Which Gives Your Character Dimension

One goal is usually physical or tangible. They want something. Let’s say they want to drive a car. They are 15 and want to learn how to drive. That’s a tangible goal. The author wants to get her novel done. The puppy wants a bacon treat.

The other goal is usually emotional. This goal has to do with yearning. This goal is the reason for the tangible goal.

They want to learn how to drive (tangible) because they yearn to get out of their claustrophobic home (emotional).

She wants to get her novel done (tangible) because her brother always said she couldn’t get anything done because she’s lazy and she yearns to prove him wrong (emotional).

The puppy wants a bacon treat (tangible) because he yearns for bacon because that’s what he used to get in his first house before he got lost (emotional).

Without knowing the backstory, we wouldn’t know the emotional goals of the character, the why for their tangible goals. Instead we’d be reading and thinking, yeah, he wants to finish the novel. So what?

Tomorrow over on LIVING HAPPY, I’ll dive in a tiny bit more into this.


Hey, thanks for listening to Write Better Now.

These podcasts and more writing tips are at Carrie’s website, carriejonesbooks.blog. There’s also a donation button there. Even a dollar inspires a happy dance in us, so thank you for your support.

The music you hear is made available through the creative commons and it’s a bit of a shortened track from the fantastic Mr.ruiz and the track is Arctic Air and the album is Winter Haze Summer Daze.

For exclusive paid content, check out Carrie’s substack, LIVING HAPPY and WRITE BETTER NOW. It’s basically like a blog, but better. There’s a free option too without the bonus content but all the regular stuff is there.

Writing Exceptional Characters Part One Backstory

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Writing Exceptional Characters Part One Backstory
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Hey! Join us this week as we talk about writing exceptional characters starting with backstory! It’s quick. It’ll make you a better author. It’s free. 🙂

My poor rescue dogs have pretty rough backstories.

In between starting a new business, a new true-crime podcast, and local news blog, and editing other people’s stories, I’ve actually started my own new book that I’m pretty excited about, but when I was rereading my first chapter, I realized that so far I’d been failing terribly when it came to making my main character.

I-the -writer loved her, but the me that’s an editor? Yeah. I knew we had some work to do.

Thankfully there is a lot of good ideas and advice out there about how to make a character that’s a rock star, a character that people remember and want to hang out with for 50,000 to 100,000 words.

And my character’s big issue?

She had no past. I was so focused on the adventures she was about to have that I didn’t mention that she’d ever existed beyond that first paragraph of the story.

Backstory is a tricky thing because we don’t want it to weigh down the forward motion of the present narrative, right? But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t sprinkle it in and give readers (and ourselves) an understanding of how the character is the way they are now in the book.

The best kind of backstory is one that allows readers to worry or care about them. Think about Harry Potter. He’s abused, unloved, neglected, but still pretty kind. A good majority of the horrors that have happened to him at the hands of his relative happened before the main thrust of the story.

It doesn’t need to be that drastic or dramatic. You do not have to put your characters in cupboards.

In my story’s first pages, the dad and daughter are about to head to Iceland for her senior year because he allegedly has a new job there. The character wants to be a cook. She has a boyfriend. It’s her senior year. That’s all quickly established in my revision as she’s packing their car and sees something nefarious lurking at the edge of the woods. Then her dad gives a little bit of a kicker when he says to her, “You’ve never liked change.”

It hints at the backstory. Obviously there has been a time before where something changed and it didn’t go well.

It also hints at the theme: Change happens. Nothing is forever.

And it also hints at her big lie that she believes about the world: Change is bad.

All those things happen in one tiny bit of dialogue, but also, that one tiny bit of dialogue lets us know that the characters have a shared past. Pretty cool, right?

There’ll be more on my LIVING HAPPY blog tomorrow about this, but if you don’t go check that out, please just remember that you don’t want EVERY SINGLE THING THAT EVER HAPPENED EVER to be revealed in the first ten pages. That bogs the story down. Sprinkle it in like your story is stew that needs just a touch of salt. You’ve got this.


Hey, thanks for listening to Write Better Now.

These podcasts and more writing tips are at Carrie’s website, carriejonesbooks.blog. There’s also a donation button there. Even a dollar inspires a happy dance in us, so thank you for your support.

The music you hear is made available through the creative commons and it’s a bit of a shortened track from the fantastic Mr.ruiz and the track is Arctic Air and the album is Winter Haze Summer Daze.

For exclusive paid content, check out Carrie’s substack, LIVING HAPPY and WRITE BETTER NOW. It’s basically like a blog, but better. There’s a free option too without the bonus content but all the regular stuff is there.

Desire vs danger, it’s what your story is about

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Desire vs danger, it's what your story is about
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Dwight Swain has a book, The Techniques of a Selling Writer, and there’s a chapter (well many) that talk about story structure, but one specifically begins like this:

“All stories are ‘about’ the same thing: desire versus danger.”

Swain

So that’s a really good place to start.

What does your character desire (or as we usually say-want)?

Our characters are either trying to get or keep something and the story happens because there is danger that might keep our little heroes from getting their goals. That danger can be huge (like being called home to an oppressive space) or small (losing peace of mind), but the reader must always feel it there.

Swain says there are five basic elements to all commercially successful stories (and some of them want me to say, ‘Duh, obviously.’ Still, it’s good to look at them) and I’m going to lay those out here.

  • Character
  • Situation
  • Objective
  • Opponent
  • Disaster

Let’s go a tiny bit more in depth, okay?

Character – This is the protagonist. The protagonist must want things. Things have to affect her. She must react to things outside herself. She must oppose the dangers that go against her wants/desires.

Situation – So this is world around the character or as Swain says, “No focal character exists in a vacuum. He operates against a backdrop of trouble that forces him to act. That backdrop, that external state of affairs, is your story situation.”

Objective—So this is what your main character wants. If she doesn’t want anything, there is no story. If she doesn’t want anything, there is nothing for her to fight for and fight against.

Opponent—This is what fights against your character’s wants. The better the opponent, the better the story. Swain writes, “Obstacles personified in a person—who not only resists but fights back—make for more exciting reading.”

Disaster – This is the climax right, the SCARIEST MOST HORRIBLE THING HAS HAPPENED. Your protagonists is in a cage, damn it, starving, cold, on display. It’s always near the end of the story.

Swain suggests writing two sentences to collate all that for your story.

“Sentence 1 is a statement. It establishes character, situation, and objective.

Sentence 2 is a question. It nails down opponent and disaster.”

Swain

Here’s a try.

A local fire fighter in a conservative and sexist department wants a promotion. Will she be able to snag the captain spot that the chief doesn’t want to give her because she’s already too “weird” when she’s suddenly confronted by the magical nature of her family and the monsters they attract.

So, the reader will wonder:

Will they defeat the bad guy, deal with their inner issues and danger, and be happy/succeed in getting their want?

So, will she deal with the chief and the monsters, allow her inner weirdness to shine and get the damn promotion?

A positive character arc the answer is a yes.

A negative character arc the answer is a no.

Most static arcs are also yeses, the character just doesn’t grow.

You want the conflict in there because the conflict tells the reader that there is emotion going on in the story. And that, my friends, is what the story needs.


Hey, thanks for listening to Write Better Now.

These podcasts and more writing tips are at Carrie’s website, carriejonesbooks.blog. There’s also a donation button there. Even a dollar inspires a happy dance in us, so thank you for your support.

The music you hear is made available through the creative commons and it’s a bit of a shortened track from the fantastic Mr.ruiz and the track is Arctic Air and the album is Winter Haze Summer Daze.

For exclusive paid content, check out Carrie’s substack, LIVING HAPPY and WRITE BETTER NOW. It’s basically like a blog, but better. There’s a free option too without the bonus content but all the regular stuff is there.

MAKING THINGS SIZZLE – HOW DO YOU MAKE CHEMISTRY HAPPEN BETWEEN CHARACTERS

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K.M. Weiland writes, “Character chemistry can make all the difference in creating a superior story.”

So, how do you put the chemistry sizzle between characters in your story? That’s a big question for a lot of us writers because a lot of readers want romance and fire and good swoony things between characters even when the book isn’t actually a romance.

Well-storied.com is a great site with a ton of sources and information and it was my first stop when I was trying to figure out what exactly is romantic chemistry. Though I write it a lot, truth is I’m not someone who thinks of my own real-life self as very romantic or even very romanceable.

I am, however, someone who has no qualms about making up a word like romanceable.

So, the wonderful Kristen Kieffler wrote,

“Like all relational chemistry, a key ingredient in romantic chemistry is attraction, the pull that interests one person in another. But the types of attraction that create romantic interest will vary from person to person. In fact, there are four main types of attraction that you can use to craft a romantic profile for your characters. Let’s take a look:

Physical Attraction: a desire to touch and be touched by another person, often in a sexual manner.

Intellectual Attraction: a desire to engage with someone due to their intellect and/or interests.

Social Attraction: a desire to interact with someone because of their social aptitude; their confidence, humor, ambition, likability, and/or particular social personality traits.

Emotional Attraction: a desire to connect with someone on a spiritual level, an attraction often prompted by a person’s emotional capacity, attitude, beliefs, or shared experiences.”

Over on K.M. Weiland’s Helping Writers Become Authors, she has a piece about the five steps to write great chemistry between characters and says,

“When we have great chemistry with someone, we discover an almost instinctive synchronization that allows us to rest into our peak energy while easily batting back and forth the ball of interaction.”

And that happens between all the characters in your story, just in different ways.

So then the question becomes how to do it?

First think of these things:

  1. You have to make it believable. Your reader has to get why these two or three or whatever are falling for each other. So that means you have to have well developed characters.
  2. You want to add dimension to your characters even if they are stereotypes like cop and reporter or um, secretary and his CEO, or teacher and the hot mom.  It isn’t just about the demographics/stereotypes, but the psychographics and what makes them tick.
  3. Think about the kinds of attraction Kieffler talks about and make sure that you have a couple of them going on. Show it, don’t tell it. Nobody wants to read, “Carrie thought Shaun was hot.” They want to read, “Shaun stretched out, climbing onto the extra stove in the garage to get the hummingbird out between the windowpanes. ‘Come on, little guy,’ he whispered. ‘You’ve got this.’ Carrie tried not to stare at Shaun’s biceps flexing and relaxing as he tried to coax the hummingbird into his hand. Carrie failed.”

Pretty good stuff, right? I’m going to be going much more in depth on this on my substack, which you can find here.

Hey, thanks for listening to Write Better Now.

These podcasts and more writing tips are at Carrie’s website, carriejonesbooks.blog. There’s also a donation button there. Even a dollar inspires a happy dance in us, so thank you for your support.

The music you hear is made available through the creative commons and it’s a bit of a shortened track from the fantastic Mr.ruiz and the track is Arctic Air and the album is Winter Haze Summer Daze.

For exclusive paid content, check out Carrie’s substack, LIVING HAPPY and WRITE BETTER NOW. It’s basically like a blog, but better. There’s a free option too without the bonus content but all the regular stuff is there.

WTF EVEN IS A SCENE

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WTF EVEN IS A SCENE
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It’s this element of structure for the story. We all write them, but sometimes it seems like this overlooked aspect of our stories. I’m not sure why this is. It’s not as elemental as the word or punctuation. It’s not as long and sexy as a chapter. It’s not as easily diagramed as a sentence, right?

But it’s so important.

There’s an old book by Raymond Obstfeld called Crafting Scenes and in its first pages, he has a chapter called “What a Scene Is and Isn’t.” In it, he quotes the actress Rosalind Russell who was asked what made a movie great.

She answered, “Moments.”

And Obstfeld compared that thought about movies to our thoughts about scenes. He writes, “The more ‘moments’ a work has, the more powerful it is. Think of each memorable scene as an inner tube designed to keep the larger work afloat.”

And then there is the corollary, “The fewer memorable scenes there are, the quicker that work sinks to the depths of mediocrity.”

So What’s A Scene and How Do You Make It Memorable?

That’s the obvious question, right? A scene is usually action that happens in one setting. But it’s not always. It’s about focus. It can be ten pages or one.

Obstfeld says that a scene does the following:

            Gives reader plot-forwarding information

            Reveals character conflict

            Highlights a character by showing action or a trait

            Creates suspense.

And a memorable scene? What is that?

It’s unexpected.

What does a scene have to have?

A beginning, a middle, and an end.

And the beginning? It’s like a blind date, he says. You have to tell the reader what’s going on and not just expect her to know. It has to hook the reader in, pulling her into its clutches so she wants to keep reading.


Hey, thanks for listening to Write Better Now.

These podcasts and more writing tips are at Carrie’s website, carriejonesbooks.blog. There’s also a donation button there. Even a dollar inspires a happy dance in us, so thank you for your support.

The music you hear is made available through the creative commons and it’s a bit of a shortened track from the fantastic Mr.ruiz and the track is Arctic Air and the album is Winter Haze Summer Daze.

For exclusive paid content, check out Carrie’s substack, LIVING HAPPY and WRITE BETTER NOW. It’s basically like a blog, but better. There’s a free option too without the bonus content but all the regular stuff is there.

A Quick Overview About Point of View

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First, we should define point of view just in case you need a refresher. Truth is, we all often need a refresher even when we don’t want to admit it.

Point of view is all about who is talking and/or telling the story.

YOUR NEXT QUESTION IS:

Is There One Narrator Or Many? And who the heck is it?

That’s really one of the first questions you want to think about. You have to decide if you’re going to have just one point of view in your story or a lot.

A lot of our stories follow one character scene after scene after scene. Things that happen to the story happen to this character. We are invested in that character pretty heavily.

But sometimes, the story is about a person one but not told by that same person. This makes us a little more  worried that Person One might not make it through the story because our subconscious brain thinks, “Um, why isn’t Person One telling the story? DO THEY DIE?!?!”

Or sometimes the events of the story happen to a ton of people. Think of that zombie story that became a movie. We have a lot of different narrators because there we want to show all their stories.

Then, you have to decide which of the main point of views you want to use. They all have good points and bad points, but let’s just set you up with the big three. Each can be determined by the personal pronouns that the narrator uses.

First-Person Point of View.

This is the land of I. It’s all about me. It’s all about my story.

Here’s an example.

I went to the hospital and brought pizza.

Second-Person Point of View.

This is all about you, you, you. Yes, you.

You went to the hospital and brought pizza.

Or to some cooler

You went to the hospital, bringing pizza with you.

Third-Person Point of View

This is all about them and her and him. It can be omniscient or limited omniscient.

Here’s third person limited

Sadie went to the hospital. “I’m bringing pizza,” she thought. I hope they like it.

Or third person omniscient where you aren’t directly in the characters’ heads with internal monologue but know everything about everyone.

Sadie went to the hospital, a pizza box carried in her steady arms, the smell of pepperoni whisking around each person she passed, the orderly, the struggling father, the mother with the heroin-track arms, the gunman. He would kill for that pizza, but how could she know that? To be fair, right now he’d kill for anything and nothing.

There you go! There is also a Fourth Person Point of View, but that one would require its own podcast. So we’ll try to get there next week.


Hey, thanks for listening to Write Better Now.

These podcasts and more writing tips are at Carrie’s website, carriejonesbooks.blog. There’s also a donation button there. Even a dollar inspires a happy dance in us, so thank you for your support.

The music you hear is made available through the creative commons and it’s a bit of a shortened track from the fantastic Mr.ruiz and the track is Arctic Air and the album is Winter Haze Summer Daze.

For exclusive paid content, check out Carrie’s substack, LIVING HAPPY and WRITE BETTER NOW. It’s basically like a blog, but better. There’s a free option too without the bonus content but all the regular stuff is there.

Don’t Be Chunky – Put Your Dialogue in Paragraphs

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Hi, welcome to Write Better Now, a podcast of quick, weekly writing tips meant to help you become a better writer. We’re your hosts with NYT bestselling author Carrie Jones and copyeditor extraordinaire Shaun Farrar. Thank you for joining us.


It’s a super quick writing tip again today. Ready?

When you’re writing dialogue, make every new speaker a new paragraph. If you’re writing kids books? You might as well just keep each dialogue a paragraph of their own?

Why? Our brains are wired to read each paragraph as a new speaker. If we jumble a bunch of different speakers into one paragraph, it slows down the reader’s pace of reading and also can get their brain all hitched up as they try to figure out who is talking and when.

Why else? It makes more white space on the page. The more white space on the page, the less intimidating the text is for the reader—especially the reluctant reader.

So don’t write a paragraph like this:

Carrie said, “Please support our channel.” Shaun nodded and said, “We are insecure.” “That’s true.” They laughed. Shaun added, “Wow. This is boring dialogue to prove a point.”

Instead write the paragraphs like this:

Carrie said, “Please support our channel.”

Shaun nodded and said, “We are insecure.”

“That’s true.”

They laughed.

Shaun added, “Wow. This is boring dialogue to prove a point.”

Pretty easy, right? Now we know who said “that’s true” even though there wasn’t a dialogue tag there. No readers’ brains hitched during the reading of that dialogue and all is good with the world.

For other posts about writing dialogue, check out below:


Hey, thanks for listening to Write Better Now.

These podcasts and more writing tips are at Carrie’s website, carriejonesbooks.blog. There’s also a donation button there. Even a dollar inspires a happy dance in us, so thank you for your support.

The music you hear is made available through the creative commons and it’s a bit of a shortened track from the fantastic Mr.ruiz and the track is Arctic Air and the album is Winter Haze Summer Daze.

For exclusive paid content, check out Carrie’s substack, LIVING HAPPY and WRITE BETTER NOW. It’s basically like a blog, but better. There’s a free option too without the bonus content but all the regular stuff is there.

Three Hot Tips To Make Awesome First Pages

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Hi, welcome to Write Better Now, a podcast of quick, weekly writing tips meant to help you become a better writer. We’re your hosts with NYT bestselling author Carrie Jones and copyeditor extraordinaire Shaun Farrar. Thank you for joining us.


Carrie has been talking to a lot of her authors lately about the beginning of their stories and how to make them awesome. And Carrie has a lot of tips for the writers she works with, but we’re going to be fast here.

Make it Tense AF

You don’t want to make readers in our time wait for the good stuff. Nobody is into waiting right now. It’s all instant gratification all the time. This is even true for most books. Too many details. Too much setting or exposition. And too little tension means that readers aren’t going to want to read on. Your first page should make the reader ask a question that they want the answer to.

Show Us What Your Book and Character Are About

This tip really means we want to see the core of your character and what they are yearning for on the very first page. If your book is a mystery, let us see it. If your book is an erotic novel about a hamster and a gerbil, we need to know that, too. The first thing the reader sees your main character doing? That shows the reader who that character is. If she’s running to rescue someone because she hears yelling? That tells us something about her. If she’s running away because she hears yelling? That tells us something about her, too.

Show Us Where They Hell We Are

Nothing is more annoying than a book that has no grounding elements. Let us readers know where the characters are hanging out. Are we in this century? This world? A cold climate? A warm one? What part of the year is it? Let the reader know where your characters are.

Bonus Tip: You don’t want a prologue unless you really need it and you probably don’t need it. We know! We know! It’s super sexy to start with all that backstory instead of trying to expertly twist it into the forward-moving scenes. But it’s also super lazy. And agents don’t like them if you’re trying to get traditionally published.

Spoiler: You can’t just give up after the first ten pages. You want to make sure that your whole book is fantastic and keeps hooking the reader and making them want to read more.


Hey, thanks for listening to Write Better Now.

These podcasts and more writing tips are at Carrie’s website, carriejonesbooks.blog. There’s also a donation button there. Even a dollar inspires a happy dance in us, so thank you for your support.

The music you hear is made available through the creative commons and it’s a bit of a shortened track from the fantastic Mr.ruiz and the track is Arctic Air and the album is Winter Haze Summer Daze.

For exclusive paid content, check out Carrie’s substack, LIVING HAPPY and WRITE BETTER NOW. It’s basically like a blog, but better. There’s a free option too without the bonus content but all the regular stuff is there.

Never Shut Up: You Get To Write History

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Never Shut Up: You Get To Write History
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Hi, welcome to Write Better Now, a podcast of quick, weekly writing tips meant to help you become a better writer. We’re your hosts with NYT bestselling author Carrie Jones and copyeditor extraordinaire Shaun Farrar. Thank you for joining us.


What is your story? Really? It’s more than you’re a writer. You’re a citizen of your community, your country, your world. You might be a certain race, religion, a sex (or not). You might have a faith, an economic status, a job. You might have hobbies, traits.

But you might not think you have a story especially when you see huge events unfolding in the world. You might think that your voice doesn’t matter, that your viewpoint doesn’t either. You might be used to people shouting you down when you say things they might not agree with or don’t want to hear.

This week we wanted to touch on how big events happen and we find them so harrowing and we think: Who am I to tell this story? I’m not in the Ukraine. I’m not on the frontlines of human rights struggles in Texas or Florida or China. I am not this or I am not that.

But here’s the thing. We are all witnesses or witnesses of witnesses. We all are a part of this world and the moments of this world. And we all get to tell our moments and our stories if we want to. Perspective and voice doesn’t just belong to people in power and it doesn’t not belong to people who see, who can testify, who can witness.

In Tell It Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction, Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola write, “Our role as writers can be that of witness. … Think of yourself as a witness and your writing will take on greater weight and urgency.”

Daisy Hernandez has a great essay where she comes to terms with her aversion to the term ‘witness’ when it comes to literature.

She writes (link below):

“While it may well be that no book has ever prevented genocide or fascism, we still have a necessity for literature to testify to the political conditions of our lives—not only so that we might have a record of those we have lost, but also that we might have a reason to gather with others to read and to continue resisting.”

She prefers the term ‘testimony.’

“In contrast to witness, I love the word testimonio, testimony. I love how it sounds: serious and engaged, aware of itself. Intentional. It says: I have made a decision, and I am here to testify.”

Intention is important. Connections are important. And so are authentic narratives. We learn by story, but we also learn how to be human via stories.

Connections happen because humanity happens. And even if you think that you’re not an important piece to the story that unfolds, you are. We all come through things through our own psychographics and demographics and bubbles and experiences. Each piece and understanding of the stories of our times matter.

George Sand wrote,

“Everyone has his own story, and everyone could arouse interest in the romance of his life if he could but comprehend it.”

Here’s the thing: There are enough buttheads out there in the world trying to prevent people from having a voice and trying to keep others from hearing that voice. It could be a company or government censoring tweets, political statements, books. It could be an ideological group banning books. It could be a sibling shouting at you to “Shut the hell up” when you talk about feminism.

But you can’t. You must not shut the hell up. As long as you can fight, fight. As long as you can write, write. As long as you can survive, survive.


Here are a couple of exercises adapted from Tell It Slant

What event (national or world) do you remember super well? How did you know about it? Were you there? Were you not there? Where were you when you heard about that event? What in your life resonated because of it? Write about it.

What part of you do people think is cool? When you meet people and they are socially aware enough to ask you questions, what do they want to know? Now, imagine your life the way someone two hundred in the years in the future would find interesting. What bits of history would they want to know about? Write about that.


American University has some great writer as witness texts, but there are so many more, but here are some to start you off.

Previous Writer as Witness Texts

  • Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist, by Eli Saslow, winner of the 2019 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Nonfiction.
  • The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert, winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in the General Nonfiction Category
  • Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, by Arlie Russell Hochschild, National Book Award finalist
  • We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation, by Jeff Chang, the Northern California Nonfiction Book of the Year
  • Notes from No Man’s Land, by Eula Biss, winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism.
  • The Good Soldiers, by David Finkel, a “Best Book of the Year” for the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, the Christian Science Monitor, and others, and the winner of the Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism.
  • The Devil’s Highway: A True Story, by Luis Alberto Urrea, a Pulitzer Prize Finalist and winner of the Lannen Literary Award.
  • Savage Inequalities, by Jonathan Kozol, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. 

LINK WE MENTION

https://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2021/01/11/literature-of-witness/ideas/essay/


Hey, thanks for listening to Write Better Now.

These podcasts and more writing tips are at Carrie’s website, carriejonesbooks.blog. There’s also a donation button there. Even a dollar inspires a happy dance in us, so thank you for your support.

The music you hear is made available through the creative commons and it’s a bit of a shortened track from the fantastic Mr.ruiz and the track is Arctic Air and the album is Winter Haze Summer Daze.

For exclusive paid content, check out Carrie’s substack, LIVING HAPPY and WRITE BETTER NOW. It’s basically like a blog, but better. There’s a free option too without the bonus content but all the regular stuff is there.

Other Quick Ways To Develop Your Theme in Your Novel

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Other Quick Ways To Develop Your Theme in Your Novel
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Hi, welcome to Write Better Now, a podcast of quick, weekly writing tips meant to help you become a better writer. We’re your hosts with NYT bestselling author Carrie Jones and copyeditor extraordinaire Shaun Farrar. Thank you for joining us.


So, over here on WRITE BETTER NOW, we’ve had a three-post series about how to develop your theme and what the hell even in a theme and blah, blah, blah.

This last post is really just focusing quickly on how to develop your theme.

Step One:

Think what the hell kind of insight you want your readers to get. Can you show them a new way to think or see or feel about life?

Step Two:

Write that as a statement with a noun and verb. I WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW THAT MIGHT DOES NOT MAKE RIGHT.

Step Three:

Make sure that you aren’t shoving that concept down your reader’s throat like a bad over-moralizing superhero movie, right?

Step Four:

Wonder how to do that. Realize that it’s about being subtle, not being a cringy cliché. But it’s also about your character actually struggling and not believing that concept.

Step Five:

Think about those subplots to help show what that character needs to figure out.

Practical Creative Writing says it well:

A story without a theme is little more than a list of events.”

Wow, right? They even call the theme the pulse of your story.

MasterClass suggests:

First look for something universal that will resonate for people outside our own psychographics.

Then try to think of something that will keep your reader thinking.

All of that is very esoteric and abstract.

I think you should think about your plot and what your character needs to learn. Your story is about a firefighter with a dead eccentric dad who was raised by an uncle who believed magic and weirdness should be avoided at all costs. She’s up for a promotion at a fire department and doesn’t stand out. Something magical happens on a run and things spiral out of control. What is the theme here from just the bits I wrote out.

Theme has to be part of plot and character. It has to make sense.

But MasterClasses’s next suggestion we heartily agree with you want to make sure your theme is throughout the whole story, not just slammed in at the end.

They write:

“As you fill in the details of each act, make sure your main character encounters situations that highlight the theme. If you’re balancing multiple story lines, see if you can make your theme manifest in each of those narrative threads—ideally in a different way in each story line.”


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