Thursday, February 27

Point Of View: Elements

Today I'm going to continue talking about the narrator; specifically, about how flexible a third-person narrator can be.


I've found many people use "viewpoint character" and "focal character" interchangeably. I don't, so I thought it would be a good idea to be explicit about what I mean by the following terms.

Storyteller: The writer.

Narrator: The entity that recounts the story. He/she/it may or may not be a character.

Viewpoint character: The character the narrator tells the story through. 

Focal character: The protagonist, the main character of the story.

First-Person Perspective

In first person the narrator and the viewpoint character are one and the same. 

For example:
"Willie McCoy had been a jerk before he died. His being dead didn't change that. He sat across from me, wearing a loud plaid sport jacket. The polyester pants were primary Crayola green. His short, black hair was slicked back from a thin, triangular face. He had always reminded me of a bit player in a gangster movie. The kind that sells information, runs errands, and is expendable." (Guilty Pleasures, Laurell K. Hamilton)
Here there is no distance between the narrator and the viewpoint character, they are one and the same. There is, however, distance in time. The narrator looks back through memory and recounts events that have already taken place.

Also, you will notice that in Guilty Pleasures Anita Blake is not only the narrator and viewpoint character, she is the focal character as well. That is typical of first person narratives, though there are notable exceptions: 
"I had seen little of Holmes lately. My marriage had drifted us away from each other. My own complete happiness, and the home-centred interests which rise up around the man who first finds himself master of his own establishment, were sufficient to absorb all my attention, while Holmes, who loathed every form of society with his whole Bohemian soul, remained in our lodgings in Baker Street, buried among his old books [...]." (A Scandal In Bohemia)
Here, John Watson is the narrator and viewpoint character while Sherlock Holmes is the focal character. Having a separation between the viewpoint and focal characters works well when the storyteller wishes to write in the first person and yet keep certain things hidden from the reader. 

Also, by looking at Sherlock Holmes through John Watson's eyes we find it easier to admire his piercing intelligence and pass off his anti-social behavior as an amusing idiosyncrasy.

Third-Person Perspective

One of the fundamental differences between the first and third person perspectives is that, in third person, the narrator and viewpoint character are not one and the same. While the narrator may have access to the thoughts and feelings of the viewpoint character he/she/it is a separate entity. 

Another difference between the first and third person perspective is that, in third person, the narrator and the viewpoint character aren't as displaced in time. 

Orson Scott Card writes:
"Even though most third-person accounts are told in past tense, they feel quite immediate. There is not necessarily any sense of the narrator remembering the events. They are recounted as they are experienced. There is no distance in time.

"However, with third person there is distance in space. That is, the narrator, though she can dip into one or more minds, is never a person who is actually there. She is always an invisible observer, always at some distance. So first person is distant in time, third person in space. " (Characters And Viewpoint)
As with the first-person perspective, the viewpoint character doesn't have to be the focal character. That said, there is often little reason to separate the two. It's a good idea to make the viewpoint character the one who is the most active--the one who has goals to achieve and obstacles to overcome.

If you, the storyteller, don't wish the reader to learn something the viewpoint character knows, there isn't the same obligation for you to reveal it since the narrator and viewpoint character aren't the same.

Point Of View: The Elements

Now that I've talked a bit about how I'm using words like "focal character" I wan to talk about several elements, or dimensions, or what-cha-m-call-its that go into forming a point of view. These are:

1. Number of heads.

This refers to the number of heads a narrator can peek into, whether at a time or over the course of a story. 

For example, in third person limited a narrator is restricted to peeking into one and only one mind. In third-person omniscient, on the other hand, a narrator can peek into any character's mind.

2. Depth

Depth has to do with the level of penetration into the viewpoint character's mind. 

Subjective versus Objective

If the narrator has access to the thoughts and emotions of the character then the POV is subjective. If the narrator does not have this access then the viewpoint is objective.

Level of Penetration

As I wrote on Monday, depth of penetration has to do with how deeply into the characters current thoughts and emotions the narrator can go. At the deepest level the voice of the narrator melds with the voice of the character. 

Here's an example from Stephen King's book Under The Dome:
"Big Jim also did not ask Who did you sleep with? He had other concerns than whom his son might be diddling; he was just glad the boy hadn't been among the fellows who'd done their business with that nasty piece of trailer trash out of Motton Road. Doing business with that sort of girl was a good way to catch something and get sick.

"He's already sick, a voice in Big Jim's head whispered. It might have been the fading voice of his wife. Just look at him.

"That voice was probably right, but this morning he had greater concerns than Junior Rennie's eating disorder, or whatever it was." 
That last paragraph is in Big Jim's voice. It's the narrator talking--or so it seems to me--from within the consciousness of Big Jim. 

For instance, look at this fragment: "[...] Junior Rennie's eating disorder, or whatever it was." As I discussed on Monday, Stephen King employs an omniscient narrator in Under The Dome. The narrator knows exactly what Junior's illness is and it's not an eating disorder; the narrator would never say this, not like this. 

So what's happened? It seems to me that, here, the narrator has momentarily dipped down so deeply into the thoughts and feelings--the personality--of the character that he/she/it speaks with Big Jim's voice and with all the limitations that implies. 

Usually, though, in third person narratives the narrator doesn't go quite that deep into the consciousness of the character. For example, here is the beautifully written opening paragraphs of Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman:
"The night before he went to London, Richard Mayhew was not enjoying himself.

"He had begun the evening by enjoying himself: he had enjoyed reading the good-bye cards, and receiving the hugs from several not entirely unattractive young ladies of his acquaintance; [...]."
Here the narrator knows the superficial thoughts and feelings of the character; he/she/it knows about what an observant passerby would.

Yikes! 1,200 words and counting. I'll continue this post on Friday. Then we'll discuss a narrator's knowledge (restricted vs unrestricted) and transparency. Good writing!

Photo credit: "Bench at sunset" by Karen Woodward under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0. Photo is based upon Thomas Leuthard's photo, untitled, which he licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.

Monday, February 24

Show vs Tell: Talking About The Narrator

Show vs Tell: Talking About The Narrator

I've been sick.

Not condolence card sick, but sick. First the flu then a nasty cold. Over the past few weeks, I've been turned into a coughing, wheezing, ball of misery. 

But I'm back! Five hours of sleep, baby, and I'm back. (Hopped up on cold medication, but, hey.)

I had a final draft of my Friday post done and ready to go--it was going to be on direct and indirect characterization (in other words, telling versus showing) and using the mnemonic S.T.E.A.L.--when I fell down a very interesting rabbit hole. 

Here's how this post is going to go. First I'll talk a wee bit about characterization then I'll introduce you to a rabbit. Or something. (It's possible I'm still sick.)

Indirect Characterization And S.T.E.A.L.

STEAL is a mnemonic for (a few of) the different ways writers can show (/indirectly characterize) a character's character.

S = Speech. Show character through what a character says.
T = Thought. Show character through what a character thinks.
E = Effect. Show character through the effect a character has on other characters.
A = Action. Show character through what a character does.
L = Looks. Show character through how a character looks.

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but strictly speaking one can't show anything in a written story (movies, yes; novels, no). It is, after all, written. Rather, we use words to paint pictures in our readers minds. 

For example:

i. "Charlie slept," tells an audience, our readership, that a character named Charlie was sleeping. 

ii. "Charlie, mouth agape, snored so loud the bed vibrated," implies that a character named Charlie was sleeping.

The second sentence paints a rudimentary picture where the first does not. The first tells, the second shows.

Narrators and Narrative

Even though a novel isn't a visual medium we tend to see a story as we read it. Words are like colors, a sentence is like a brush-stroke, and a paragraph is like a picture. 

When you read the sentences--(i) and (ii)--above, even though I didn't describe how old Charlie was, what color hair he had, whether he sprawled in bed or lay straight as a board with the covers pulled taught, what kind of bed it was (single, double, queen, king), what the room looked like, and so on, chances are that you, like me, had formed some sort of idea. Not a very precise one, perhaps, but enough to be getting along with. 

In this--in the formation of this mental picture--(ii) gives us marginally more to work from than (i). Generally speaking, indirect characterization gives one's imagination more to work with, more of a guide, than direct characterization. 

My question (and this brings me to the rabbit hole I feel down): Who gives us this guide? Who paints this picture?

Yes, of course, the writer does, but within the mechanics of the story it's the narrator. But what exactly, who exactly, is the narrator? Is he a character? A disembodied voice? A kind of meta-character? (A good article I read while researching this piece was: The Narrator, or Who are you? And why are you telling me this? by Lois Leveen.)

The Narrator

The narrator usually isn't a character, though this depends on the point of view your story is told from.

If you're using the first person then your narrator and your viewpoint character will be one and the same. If you're using the third person (we're going to ignore the seldom used second person) then your narrator will probably not be a character. 

"In third-person narrative, it is obvious that the narrator is merely an unspecified entity or uninvolved person that conveys the story and is not a character of any kind within the story being told." (Narrative Mode)

A narrator is, most often, an unspecified entity rather than an uninvolved person. Yes, I have read stories where the narrator tells of events that happened to people in his past and who takes someone other than himself as the viewpoint character (or it may turn out, at the end, that the narrator was, really, the viewpoint character). That said, what I'm interested in here are those stories in which the narrator is not a character. 

Question: Can The Narrator Have A Personality?

I'm talking about third-person narratives where the narrator is an unspecified entity and is not a character within the story.

I think the answer is "yes." Even though a narrator isn't a fictional person, they can still have a personality of their own. Lois Leveen writes:

"When you read, think about what clues you're given about the identity of the narrator. You may be able to pin down specific aspects of the narrator's identity (age, region, religion, race, gender, etc.) even if they are NOT explicitly stated in the text. For example, if the narrator says "Ethel put the pop in a sack and handed it to the customer," that narrator is not from the same region of the country as a person or character who would say "Ethel put the soda in a bag and handed it to the customer." If the narrator addresses older characters as Mr. or Mrs. and younger characters by first name, you may be able to gauge how old the narrator is — who are her/his elders, contemporaries, etc.?" (The Narrator, or Who are you? And why are you telling me this?)

For example, who is the narrator in Stephen King's delightfully meandering novel, "Under The Dome"? In this story, the narrator is--or seems to me to be--as close to a fully realized person (though not a character) as I've ever seen/read. For example, he speaks directly to the reader:

"Another night is falling on the little town of Chester's Mill; another night under the Dome. But there is no rest for us; we have two meetings to attend, and we also ought to check up on Horace the Corgi before we sleep. [...] 

"So let us go then, you and I, while the evening spreads out against the sky like a patient etherized upon a table. Let us go while the first discolored stars begin to show overhead. [...]"

"[...] let us float through certain half-deserted streets, past the Congo church and the parsonage [...].

"We'll stop for a quick check on Barbie and Rusty, shall we? There'll be no problem getting downstairs; there are only three cops in the ready room, and Stacey Morgin, who's on the desk, is sleeping with her head pillowed on her forearm. The rest of the PD is at Food City, listening to Big Jim's latest stemwinder, but it wouldn't matter if they were all here, because we are invisible. They would feel no more than a faint draft as we glide past them."

"Do we need to listen to his [Big Jim's] speech? Nah. We'll be listening to Big Jim tomorrow night, and that should be enough. Besides, we all know how this one goes; America's two great specialities are demagogues and rock and roll, and we've all heard plenty of both in our time."

It goes on. It's a marvellous scene. We can tell certain things about the narrator from the language he uses ("stemwinder") and by his attitudes toward what's going on in the town (calling Big Jim a demagogue). One of the many things I liked about "Under The Dome" was having a modern story told by an omniscient narrator and seeing how King handled this.

Presentation vs Representation

The question of whether a narrator, even though--strictly speaking--not a character can still have a personality, can still, in a way, be an active participant in the story, is addressed by Orson Scott Card in his excellent book "Character And Viewpoint." He writes:

"There are two ways of relating to the audience during the performance of a story. The difference is clearest in theater. In a representational play, the actors all act as if there were a fourth wall between them and the audience. If they look in the direction of the audience, they give no sign of seeing that anyone is out there looking at them. Instead, they pretend that they're seeing only what would be there if the play were real--another wall of the drawing room, or the rest of the Forest of Arden. This technique helps the audience maintain the illusion of reality (or, as it is commonly called, the willing suspension of disbelief). Though of course the audience knows they are watching a play, the actors do as little as possible to remind them of it."

"Presentational theater, on the other hand, tears down that imaginary fourth wall. The actors don't just admit the audience is there, they make constant contact with the audience. This style is at its extreme in the art of stand-up comedy, where the actor even talks to the audience about the audience's response. [...] The actors and the audience are engaged in continuous conversation."

In this sense, the scene we just looked at from Stephen King's "Under The Dome" would be considered much more presentational than representational. That said, the novel as a whole is (I think) much more representational than presentational.

OSC continues:

"We aren't talking about the difference between romance and realism here. We're talking about the storytellers' relationship with the audience. In fiction, the representational writer never addresses her audience. The narrator never expresses a personal opinion. All the focus is on the events, and everything is expressed through the point of view of a character in the story. In a representational first-person account, the narrator has clearly in mind who it is she's talking to, and it isn't the reading audience."

"On the other hand, fiction can be highly presentational. Kurt Vonnegut is a prime example. He speaks directly to the audience; he refers to himself; the author's hand is so obvious in the story that the reader never forgets that he is reading fiction."

Those quotations were all from chapter 14 of Orson Scott Card's book "Character and Viewpoint." Seriously, if you don't have this book on your reference shelf, think about getting it. I find it indispensable. Card addresses topics few other writers do and makes the information easy to understand. He is a top-notch writer and teacher. 

That's it for today! Sorry for the long post, but this subject of how--for lack of a better term--'thick' we want our narrator, how involved we want him to be in our story, is one I haven't spent enough time thinking about.

Good writing!

Photo credit: "parking conductor" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, February 19

Creating A Logline, Or One Sentence Summary, For Your Story

Creating A Logline, Or One Sentence Summary, For Your Story

When you start out to write a story I find it helps to have an idea--even if it's a broad, general, diaphanous, sort of idea--about what story I'm writing. Writing a logline can give you this.

First, what's a logline? Briefly, it is a sentence that sums up the central conflict in your story. It captures--or attempts to capture--its essence. (Characters, as well as stories, can have loglines. See: Creating Vivid Characters For NaNoWriMo.)

Aspects Of A Logline

1a. Central conflict

What is the central conflict of your story? I think of this as the protagonist's goal, what opposes it, and the stakes of the battle.

For example, this might be a logline for Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark

In a desperate effort to prevent Hitler from using the Ark of the Covenant's mysterious powers to win the war, Indiana Jones embarks on the adventure of a lifetime to find the Ark and bring it to safety.

Or something. It took me three minutes to come up with that logline so I'm sure there are plenty of ways it could be improved, but you get the idea. 

That logline gives the object of Indy's quest (find the ark and bring it back to America), who opposes it (Hitler) as well as the stakes (if Hitler gets his hands on the ark the world is doomed). 

1b. Genre

A great logline also gives the reader an idea of what genre the story is from. In the case of my example, above, the genre would be action/adventure.

1c. Irony

Ideally, the logline should contain an ironic contrast. Henry Watson Fowler, in The King's English, says "any definition of irony [...] must include this, that the surface meaning and the underlying meaning of what is said are not the same." 

Matt Bird (who writes one of my favorite screenwriting blogs Cockeyed Caravan) shared this definition of irony with me in a comment. He wrote:

"The best overall definition I’ve come up with is this: Irony is any gap between expectation and reality. ...But, in practice, this isn’t quite precise enough. Irony, in common usage, usually also has some additional element of mortification to it. The person experiencing the irony is trying to preserve their false expectation, or is actively working to make it come to pass, and then reality upsets their expectation or their efforts."

(To read more about Matt Bird's views on irony see his article, Storyteller's Rulebook #123: There’s More Than One Type of Storytelling Irony.)

Here's one way of looking at how irony pertains to the logline: there should be a marked difference between the protagonist's intended outcome and the actual outcome.

For example:

Die Hard: "A cop comes to L.A. to visit his estranged wife and her office building is taken over by terrorists." (That was Blake Snyder's example from his (great, awesome, fantastic) book Save The Cat!)

What outcome does Officer John McClane want? He wants to effect a reconciliation between him and his wife. What actually happens? Her office building is taken over by terrorists and they are, once again, forced apart.

1d. Compelling mental picture

Blake Snyder writes that your logline should communicate a "compelling mental picture." In other words, make it interesting! Gripping! Make it evocative and emotional. Make the reader want to know more.

A formula

The following formula is from Nathan Bransford's excellent post Query Letter Mad Lib

"[protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting]. But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist's quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist's goal]."

Let's try this out by putting together a logline for Agatha Christie's short story, The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb.

Protagonist's name: 
Hercule Poirot

Description of protagonist: 
Famed detective with an exquisite moustache and world-class grey cells.

London and the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.

Complicating incident:
A number of people excavating a tomb in the Valley of the Kings die from what seems to be an ancient curse.

Protagonist's quest:
Travel to the Valley of the Kings, discover the true cause of the deaths, and bring an end to them.



Here's my first attempt:

"Hercule Poirot is a famous detective with an exquisite moustache and world-class grey cells who craves order and method. But when a number of people excavating a tomb in the Valley of the Kings die from what seems to be an ancient curse, Hercule Poirot must leave his comfortable home to travel to the Valley of the Kings and discover the true cause of the deaths, stop them, and restore order to the world."

Here's another:

"Hercule Poirot, the most sagacious detective of all time (though perhaps not the most modest), is commissioned by Lady Willard to investigate several mysterious deaths caused, she says, by a mummy's curse."

It doesn't fit the formula exactly, but it's not meant to. The formula is meant only as a starting point, a springboard, from which you can weave words to work your own magic.

Have you made a logline for your work in progress? If so, what is it?

Photo credit: "Fog in the Valley, Candle in the Sky" by Zach Dischner under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, February 17

Best Fonts For Genre Book Covers

One of the most difficult things about creating a book cover is selecting a font. I'll try Impact and maybe Engravers MT and then reach for Lucida and then ... you get the idea. It's a hodge-podge of guesswork. Eventually I'll trip over something that works but there's got to be a better way.

Derek Murphy has come to the rescue. 

DM takes some of the guesswork out of selecting a font by arranging them by genre. His article, entitled 300+ Fool-Proof Fonts to use for your Book Cover Design (an epic list of best fonts per genre), is a keeper.

He includes fonts for the following categories:

- Romance
- Science Fiction
- Thriller
- Fantasy
- Horror
- Paranormal Romance

More good news: many of the fonts are free!

In the image, above, I've included Derek Murphy's font recommendations for fantasy. Head over to DM's site to see the others. A valuable article.

If you liked this article you might also like: How To Design A Great Looking Book Cover.

Photo credit: Fantasy Fonts by Derek Murphy over at

Friday, February 14

A Pattern of Character Emotion

Every day I complete a writing exercise to help stretch my writing muscles. Lately, I've been thinking about sharing these exercises with you folks. On YouTube. 

The thought of getting behind both a mic and a camera is scary, but I've decided to experiment, to stretch myself and try it out. At the very least, I might become more comfortable behind a mic! I've embedded the result at the top of this page. What follows is more-or-less a transcript of the video/podcast, above. It is the first time I've tried something quite like this so ... be warned! (grin)

Writing Exercise: A Pattern of Emotion

Today, I decided to try and create an emotionally compelling character in 500 words or less. But that's not all, I wanted to create the character according to the steps Dwight Swain talks about in his book.

So, for better or worse, here are a few of the steps I'm going to use to try and create an emotionally compelling character.

The Pattern of Character Emotion

How do we create an emotionally compelling character? 

1. The stimulus. Something external, observable, happens to a character.

This stimulus should be something external and observable.

Perhaps someone asks your character to marry him or perhaps she's in a car accident or maybe she learns a wildfire is about to engulf her home--and just yesterday she paid off the mortgage! What would she take? What would she leave behind? What would she be glad to leave behind?

Or perhaps someone is going to ask your character for a divorce.

It could be, though, that something nice happens, perhaps your character discovers she's won the lottery! 

2a. This change in your character's state of affairs causes a change in their state of mind.

The main point is that the stimulus doesn't just create a change in the story world, it creates a change in your character. The focal character. 

For example, if the stimulus is a man pointing a gun at your character's chest then focus on how this affects your character. And, initially, your character is going to react emotionally, internally.

Given that your character understands the situation, what would they feel? That will depend on what kind of a person they are. It depends on your character's character. (I wish there were another way of writing that!)

What will her first thought be? Of her child, her pet, of the things she hasn't done. 

2b. External change. The stimulus creates a change in your character's state of affairs.

Continuing my example, folks in real life might have various different reactions depending on the kind of homo fictus they are. A policeman or soldier might attempt to disarm the attacker. A mother with a young child might plead for mercy. A diplomat might try to negotiate.

The important point is that you show a change in the focal character's situation. 

3. Make sure that you show that the character's status quo has been irrevocably changed.

Not all changes in your character throughout the course of the story will be big, life-altering changes. But the change in your character's story world, the change that breaks the character's status quo at the beginning of the story (and here I'm talking specifically about genre stories) should be big, huge, life-shattering. 

Or at least it should be for this exercise!

4. Show the character's status quo before the change and then again after. 

How does one show change? 

A horror movie I watched yesterday showed change in a family's life by showing a child playing with a beloved family pet--a beautiful, friendly, loyal, dog. Something creepy happened that the dog (but none of the humans--silly humans!) reacted to. The dog refused to come into the house that night and was found dead the next morning. We then see the children and their parents reacting to the loss.

It was effective in illustrating a change in the status quo.

Here's another example. Let's say our character is a child waiting in line with her mother at a bank. A man pulls out a handgun, yells for everyone to be quiet and lie on the floor, then he shoots a bullet into the ceiling for emphasis.

That, the man pulling out a gun and shooting it, is the stimulus our character--the child--will react to. Before the man pulled the gun out, the child was bored. Now she's terrified.

Her observable reaction: she hugs her mother, buries her face in the woman's waist, and sobs.

The Exercise

Attempt to create an emotionally compelling character and do this by going through the steps we've just talked about.

1. The stimulus. Have something external, something observable, happen to a character.

2. Show your character react to this stimulus. 

2a. Internal change. Your characters first reaction will be a change of feeling, a change in her state of mind.

2b. External change. The stimulus will also create a change in your character's state of affairs.

3. Make the change a big, irrevocable, change. Make sure your readers know that your character's status quo has been irrevocably changed.

4. Show the character's status quo before the change and then again after. 

Good writing!

Question: What kind of change did you show? 

Wednesday, February 12

Homo Sapiens vs Homo Fictus: What's The Difference?

It is often said that characters are the raw material from which stories are created--and I couldn't agree more--but let's examine this. What, exactly, are these entities who populate our stories and how do they differ from flesh-and-blood people.

Pseudo-Beings, Story People, Homo Fictus

Characters are a pseudo-species of humans that differ from their flesh-and-blood counterparts in (at least) three respects.

1. Characters are fathomable. Understandable. Humans often aren't.

I'm not suggesting that great characters, outstanding characters, don't have contradictory desires or goals. Far from it. 

One of the best characters I've ever come across is Walter White from Breaking Bad. What are his two main cares, his two main drives? To take care of his family and to excel. To take his great big brain out of mothballs and, no matter the consequence, show the world what he can do. To be remembered.

These two desires often come into conflict and it is this conflict that drives the story forward.

When I suggest that humans are often unfathomable I'm talking about people--humans--who want one thing one minute and then the next minute not only want something completely different, but don't even remember having previously wanted anything else. Gah! 

Humans are flaky, their goals can and do change at a whim, they make bad decisions in silly ways that aren't the least interesting. 

I have spent years, years, trying to understand some people, their motivations, what makes them tick, and they're still a mystery. Every time I think I have them pegged they do something unexpected.

How many times have you heard the neighbors of a serial killer say, "He seemed like such a nice man"? 

The key point here is not that characters shouldn't have contradictory drives or desires--they should!--it is that, ultimately--and the sooner the better--we must be able to understand them. As the story continues we'll begin to see more of their layers, and we may--probably will--revise our initial judgements about certain things, but, by the end of the story, we must have the feeling of understanding. We must be satisfied that the kind of choices they made came out of, was a result of, the kind of person they are.

Let's face it, compared with a our favorite characters, the average human is downright boring. Snoozeville.

Love it or hate it, for a character to be interesting and memorable he must be fathomable. Otherwise, as James Frey says, How To Write A Damn Good Novel, the reader will be bored and move on.

2. Characters are exceptional; most humans aren't.

Granted, not all characters are exceptional, but every character I've ever fallen in love with, every character that has lingered with me after the last page, has been exceptional in at least one respect. 

Perhaps it was not how they dressed or acted or, one hopes, smelt, but something about them. This is what Dwight V. Swain calls a tag of attitude. But this has another name as well: a trait. A trait is a behavioural quirk or disposition. Swain writes:

"Tags of attitude--sometimes called traits--mark the habitually apologetic, fearful, irritable, breezy, vain, or shy. Obsequiousness is an attitude, and so is the habit of command. Here, too, are found the men and women preoccupied with a single subject, whether it be golf or babies, business or yard or stamps or fishing. For all preoccupations, in their way, represent habit of thought or view of life.

"The key thing to remember about tags is that their primary purpose is to distinguish . . . to separate one character from another in your reader’s eyes." (Techniques of the Selling Writer)

For example, Mr. Monk (played by Tony Shalhoub) is a former police detective with an obsessive-compulsive disorder whose main goals in life are to find his wife's killer and to get back on the police force. As a character, Mr. Monk is mostly unexceptional. His wardrobe is bland, his culinary tastes do not lean toward the adventurous--just the opposite. And he most decidedly does not have a charismatic personality. 

But Mr. Monk is fanatical about cleanliness and he is an exceptionally--even inhumanly--good detective. His core skill (or trait)--he notices absolutely everything in his environment regardless of whether it's important--is both (and this is his catchphrase) a gift and a curse.

That's interesting. That's a character you can build a series around. Captain Leland Stottlemeyer (played by the talented Ted Levine) often complains that the only thing exceptional about him is that he knows how to get hold of Monk! Ted Levine is a terrific actor, but the character of Captain Stottlemeyer couldn't support a TV series.  He's just not extreme enough.

3. Humans are infinitely complex, characters aren't.

Fictional human beings are simpler and more goal-oriented than ordinary flesh-and-blood people. 

One of the things I like about my friend Michael is that we have the same taste in movies. When we watch a movie I can generally tell which parts he'll find funny, which parts he'll roll his eyes at, which parts will make him cry, and so on. 

But he surprises me. Perhaps he's had a bad day and he's grouchy so he doesn't laugh at things I thought were hilarious or he thinks the hero who sacrificed it all for his true love was an idiot, or ... well, you get the idea. No matter how well we feel we know someone, they surprise us. But, more than that, they surprise us in ways that don't make sense.

I watched The Dark Knight Rises yesterday and ... I don't want to give away any spoilers, but if you've watched that movie you know there's an interesting twist at the end regarding one of the characters. (If you haven't seen it, what are you waiting for? Watch it!) 

That surprise made sense. Like the surprise at the end of The Usual Suspects. After you learned the truth about the character you could look back through the movie and then you'd realize that you'd missed--or misinterpreted--a few things. Fundamentally, it made sense. It was (and this is the important bit) satisfying.

Humans do unexpected things with unsatisfying results in ways that make little or no sense. That's boring. Or maddening. Often both. Characters are blessedly simple. They have fewer desires, fewer goals. And the needs they have are more exaggerated, intense, than the ones had by ordinary humans. 

Question: What is your favorite character? Does he, or she, have an extreme trait? 

Photo credits: "Sister Of Chucky" by peasap under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, February 10

How To Create An Entertaining Protagonist: A Story Checklist

How To Create An Entertaining Protagonist: A Story Checklist

What do you have over your writing desk? Mine is littered with pieces of paper on which I've scribbled bits of (what I think is) sage writing advice. I'll let you be the judge. (grin)

By the way, your protagonist doesn't have to have all these characteristics. I like to look at this list every once in a while and double-check that my protagonist has a fair share of them and, also, to make sure I haven't forgotten anything.

1. Protagonist

Your protagonist should:

a. Have a special talent.
b. Have a strength.
c. Be clever and resourceful.
d. Be wounded.
e. Be pursuing justice or at least have a guiding principle.
f. Have a catch phrase.
g. Have likeable qualities.
h. Be quirky.

1a. Give the protagonist a special talent (/unique ability).

Give the protagonist an ability that no one else has. This doesn't have to be something earth shattering. It can be something trivial such as being able to tie a cherry stem with one's tongue.

1b. Give the protagonist a strength.

The following list is from Character Strengths and Virtues by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman.

i. Wisdom allows one to acquire and use knowledge. Creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective and wisdom.

ii. Courage allows one to accomplish goals in the face of opposition. Bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality.

iii. Humanity allows one to befriend others. Love, kindness, social intelligence.

iv. Justice helps build community. Active citizenship, loyalty, fairness, prudence, self control.

v. Temperance protects against excess. Forgiveness & mercy, humility.

vi. Transcendence helps forge connections to others and provides meaning. Appreciation of beauty, gratitude, hope, humor & playfulness, spirituality.

1c. Make the protagonist clever and resourceful.

It seems to me that most good protagonists are both clever and resourceful. They are intelligent and can fix things, both little and big. They can come up with inventive solutions others would never think of. 

Clever characters are quick-witted. They can come up with a blindingly clever retort but without, perhaps, thinking through all the ramifications of what they've just said. (It can, occasionally, be smart not to say something clever.)  

1d. Give the protagonist a wound

Make sure that, in romance writer Terrel Hoffman's words, "In a hero’s character arc, she is missing something so essential that, if she doesn’t find it by story’s end, she’ll fail to achieve her story goal." (For Great Characters it's All About the Wound)

1e. Give the protagonist a guiding principle.

What is your protagonist's guiding principle? What rule do they live by? Turn this into a saying. Almost a tag line for the character.

For example, Poirot's guiding principle is "I do not approve of murder."

1f. Give the protagonist a catch phrase.

For example, two of Poirot's catch phrases are: "My little grey cells," and "I do not approve of murder."

Monk's catch phrase is "It's a gift and a curse."

1g. Give the protagonist likeable qualities.

I've already listed some strengths a character--or, indeed, a person--could have. I think most of these would go toward making a character likable. 

Another thing that works is to show a character being liked by other characters. 

You can also show your character doing something selfless for someone else. Save a cat!

1h. Give the protagonist a quirk

Give your protagonist a reason to be concerned about something, their clothes for instance. Then give your protagonist a reason to continually pay attention to it.

For example, lets say your protagonist, Zoe, buys an expensive dress she can't afford. She plans to wear it once then return it. Her date takes her out for dinner, but at a place that features mud wrestling! Zoe continually worries about staining the dress.

If you can manage it, the silly quirk should contradict the character's strength. For example, Indiana Jones' strength is courage and his silly quirk is fear of snakes.

2. Stakes

Stakes must be clear. What will the protagonist get if she achieves her goal?  What will she lose if she fails to achieve it? 

Also, the stakes must matter to the protagonist.

3. Motivation

The protagonist's motivation must be clear.

Although it seems not everyone draws a distinction between a protagonist's motivation and his desire I find doing this often helps. 

Here's how I look at it: a protagonist's motivation explains why he desires what he does and his goal is a concrete expression of that desire. 

For example, a child might want to win a spelling bee because the school bully taunts him and calls him stupid. In that case, the character's wish to silence the bully would be the protagonist's motivation. His overriding desire, on the other hand, is for people to think he is smart, and the concrete expression of that desire--his goal--is to win the upcoming spelling championship.

4. Goal

The protagonist needs to solve a well defined problem
The protagonist must take decisive action to get what she wants.
The protagonist must want something desperately
Finally, the thing the protagonist wants should be something so concrete that you could take a picture of her doing it.

5. B-Story

The solution to the B-story often provides the protagonist with the solution she needs to finally resolve her dilemma and achieve her goal. (I talk about the b-story a bit in my article on narrative setting.)

6. Antagonist's Goal

The antagonist's goal should be such that if he achieves it the protagonist cannot. For instance, in Lord of the Rings, if Frodo succeeded in destroying the One Ring then Sauron's quest to destroy Middle-earth would fail. On the other hand, if Sauron got the One Ring back then Middle-earth would be destroyed and Frodo would have failed.

The best article on creating an antagonist I've read so far is Jim Butcher's, "How To Build A Villain." If you read that article, don't forget to take a look at JB's comments in the comments section.

Question: What writing advice do you have tacked on the wall above your writing desk? Please share!

Photo credit: "2014-038 this way up" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, February 7

The Inciting Incident vs The Call To Adventure

The Inciting Incident vs The Call To Adventure

Something I've been meaning to write about for a while is the difference between the Inciting Incident and the Call to Adventure.

This is one of those posts you might not agree with. You might think the Inciting Incident and the Call to Adventure are one and the same. If so, fine. I think there are good and credible arguments to that effect and luminaries such as Christopher Vogler don't emphasize the difference between the two.

If thinking about the Inciting Incident as synonymous with the Call to Adventure works for you, great! Ignore this post. If, however, you're curious about what might be gained by viewing these two events as distinct, or if you feel there might be a good reason for looking at the two differently, I invite you to read on.

The Inciting Incident

I used to believe that the inciting incident was pretty much the same thing as the Call to Adventure. For example, when I wrote the blog post "Larry Brooks On The Structure Of Short Stories," I talked about both under the same heading. I now think there's good reason to keep the two conceptually distinct even though, in practice, they can occur at the same time.

So, let's talk about the Inciting Incident, what are its characteristics?

First of all, the Inciting Incident is the exciting incident--or at least it should be. 

Syd Field writes in Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting:

"You've only got 10 [script] pages to grab the attention of your reader or audience; that's why so many films open with an attention-grabbing sequence like the opening of Jaws [...]. Once you establish this scene or sequence, usually called the inciting incident, you can set up the rest of your story."

"Shakespeare is a master of openings. Either he opens with an action sequence, like the ghost walking the parapet in Hamlet, or the witches foretelling the future in Macbeth, or he uses a scene revealing something about the character: Richard III is hunch-backed and laments about the "winter of our discontent [...]."

"Your story determines the type of opening you choose."

The Inciting Incident does two things; it has two functions. First, it grabs the attention of the audience and, second, it draws the main character (either immediately or after a chain of actions and reactions) into the story.

The Call to Adventure

The Call to Adventure is pretty much what it sounds like.

Christopher Vogler, in The Writer's Journey, writes:
"The hero is presented with a problem, challenge, or adventure to undertake. Once presented with a Call to Adventure, she can no longer remain indefinitely in the comfort of the Ordinary World.

"Perhaps the land is dying, as in the King Arthur stories of the search for the Grail, the only treasure that can heal the wounded land. In Star Wars, the Call to Adventure is Princess Leia's desperate holographic message to wise old Obi-Wan Kenobi, who asks Luke to join in the quest."

"The Call to Adventure establishes the stakes of the game, and makes clear the hero's goal: to win the treasure or the lover, to get revenge or right a wrong, to achieve a dream, confront a challenge, or change a life."

"Typically, in the opening phase of a story, heroes have 'gotten by' somehow. They have handled an imbalanced life through a series of defenses or coping mechanisms. Then all at once some new energy enters the story that makes it impossible for the hero to simply get by any longer. A new person, condition, or information shifts the hero's balance, and nothing will ever be the same. A decision must be made, action taken, the conflict faced. A Call to Adventure has been delivered, often by a character who manifests the archetype of the Herald."

The Difference

The Ordinary World of the hero is relatively static at the beginning of the story. Often, there is something deeply wrong with the hero's normal existence, with the hero's Ordinary World, and he exists in a state of imperfection. One way of looking at this is as a kind of false, local, optima. The hero isn't happy and knows he's not happy but is scared that if he tries to change things will get worse. 

A good example of this is of Neo--or, rather, Mr. Thomas Anderson--in The Matrix. In the beginning Anderson knows that something is wrong; not just with his life but with the world. The problem: he doesn't know what. He's searching.

The hero's stasis, his status quo, the state of equilibrium he exists in, is shattered by the Inciting Incident. Something happens that introduces a change into his world, a change which will--sooner or later--shatter his status quo. The Inciting Incident creates an imbalance, an inequality that the hero must, eventually, address. 

At the beginning of The Matrix words, unbidden, flash on Anderson's computer screen: "Follow the white rabbit." I would argue that this is the inciting incident, the event that sets a series of other events in motion that, eventually, leads to his call to adventure. 

One could argue that Anderson receives a few different calls to adventure, but certainly the event that shatters his status quo and locks him into the adventure occurs at the end of Act One when he is offered the choice between the red pill and the blue pill.

Example: Star Wars IV A New Hope

Although there doesn't seem to be consensus on the point, I'm one of those who think that, in Star Wars IV: A New Hope, the Inciting Incident was when Darth Vader--seeking the plans for the Death Star the Resistance 'acquired'-- attacks and boards Princess Leia's shuttle. 

When Darth Vader attacks Princess Leia's diplomatic craft Vader introduces an imbalance, an imbalance that initiates a chain of events that eventually involve the hero and lead to the Call to Adventure.

Granted, the Call to Adventure doesn't come till much later, but the Inciting Incident (DV boarding the shuttle) has set in motion a series of events which will culminate in the call to adventure (the call occurs when OWK asks Luke Skywalker to help him deliver the plans to the resistance base on Alderaan).


Whether or not you agree with me about the Inciting Incident in Star Wars, I find it fruitful to view the Inciting Incident and the Call to Adventure as conceptually distinct because they serve different, though complementary, functions. 

The Inciting Incident (=exciting incident) functions to a) grab the audience's attention and b) sets the story in motion by breaking the status quo.

The Call to Adventure, on the other hand, connects the hero to the cataclysmic changes in the Ordinary World.

You can see how these two events would often go together.

The bottom line: If how you view the Inciting Incident and Call to Adventure works for you, then great! In the end there's only one rule: use what works for you.

Photo credit: "2014-037 the talk on the cereal box" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, February 5

What Kind of Writer Are You? Part Two of Two

Yesterday (see: What Kind of Writer Are You? Dramatic Action versus Character Development) I talked about two kinds of writers or writing styles: those who preferred stories with a lot of dramatic action (Die Hard, for example) and those who favored tales that focused on the character's emotional development (The Notebook).

Following Martha Alderson's lead, I introduced the first part of a whimsical test one could take, one designed to indicate which kind of writer you may be. The idea is this: if you know you prefer stories jam packed with dramatic action it could be that--either consciously or unconsciously--you aren't focusing enough on developing your character's emotions. 

But it works the other way too. If you are a sucker for a tale chalk full of characters exploring their shifting (/developing /maturing) emotions, then you could have a tendency to give dramatic action short shrift. At least, it might be something to watch for.

So, back to the test:

A Character's Emotional Development

In the following we will look at a character's internal traits (the same character as last time); her feelings, her hopes, her fears.

4. What trait, more than any other, holds your character back from succeeding? What is her greatest fault? 

Continuing my example from yesterday, if Tia's goal is to get enough money to pay for her sister's operation, her greatest fault might be a lack of patience (or perhaps people skills). This is why she hasn't--or can't--go through the normal channels.

5. What is your character's greatest strength? (This is the trait that has the greatest chance of helping the hero attain his goal.)

For example, though impatient, Tia could be charismatic and able to convince people to do things they'd rather not, thinks like helping her rob a bank!

6. What one thing does your character hate above all else?

Perhaps Tia hates the cold depersonalization of any system that could see anyone, especially her sister, as a number. In this case the number being the amount of money the insurance company would have to pay for the operation.

7. What one thing does your character love above all else?

I'm tempted to say that Tia loves family, the bonds of family, above all else, but I think the deeper answer is that she loves freedom. (It's interesting that Tia has become real to me. I feel as though I know her.)

At bottom, Tia can't stand for a nameless, faceless, bureaucracy to decide matters of life and death. She doesn't think it's fair. She doesn't think it's right. She is robbing the bank as much to get the money as to make a point. Perhaps a silly point (robbing a bank isn't a bright idea, especially for someone whose never done anything remotely illegal before), but a point nevertheless.

8. What does your character fear above all else?

Death. And loss. Tia fears the death of those she loves. (I borrowed that from J.K. Rowling & J.R.R. Tolkien.)

9. What secret is your character keeping? (The biggest, most potentially life-changing one.)

Perhaps Tia recently broke up with her fiancee. She told everyone it was because he was cheating on her but the truth was that she was cheating on him.

10. What does your character dream of doing? If this character could do anything, anything at all, what would it be?

All her life Tia dreamt of being a singer but when she was a child her parents didn't have the money to pay for voice lessons. But they had enough money to give her sister voice lessons. Tia had always held that against her sister and now--in an odd twisted sort of way--Tia feels guilty about her sister's illness.

The Test

These questions, from one to ten, were part of a test. Here's the test question(s): 

Which questions were the easiest for you to answer? One to three, or four to ten? Which answers came the quickest? Those that had to do with your character's external goal, with the dramatic action of the story, or those that had to do with your character's internal goal, with your character's emotional development?

Scenes And Sequels

Another way of asking whether you're more comfortable writing scenes chalk full of dramatic action or scenes filled with your character's emotional development might be to question whether you are more comfortable writing scenes or sequels. 

I haven't talked about scenes and sequels in this article, but Jim Butcher has an excellent discussion of both. Also, Dwight V. Swain spends a lot of time discussing scenes and sequels in his marvellous book, Techniques of the Selling Writer.

Briefly, a scene is "a unit of conflict, of struggle, lived through by character and reader. It's a blow-by-blow account of somebody's time-unified effort to attain an immediate goal despite face-to-face opposition." Furthermore, a scene has the following structure: goal, conflict, disaster. That's from Techniques of the Selling Writer.

In a scene the character actively tries to achieve a goal, encounters an obstacle (this results in conflict) and, just when it looks as though he'll attain his goal, the worst happens and it all ends in disaster.

A sequel, on the other hand, is "a unit of transition that links two scenes, like the coupler between two railroad cars. It sets forth your character's reaction to the scene just completed, and provides him with motivation for the scene next to come." Again, that was from Techniques of the Selling Writer. A sequel has the following structure: reaction, dilemma, decision

In a sequel, the character reacts to the disaster at the end of the previous scene (reaction), enumerates--this could be explicit or implicit--the various possible paths he could take, as well as the pros and cons of following each, (dilemma) and, finally, picks one of the paths and begins to pursue a new goal (decision).

The description I just gave of scenes and sequels is just the barest of bare bones. I encourage you to read Jim Butcher's articles and, if you can spare $16 or so, pick up Swain's book.

Dramatic Action and Character Development 

A good, engrossing story (of course) needs both dramatic action and character development, though when a story begins often we need more dramatic action than character development because we want to draw our readers into the story quickly. On the other hand, readers are very likely to lose interest if we don't get them interested in our characters and the only way to do that is to reveal their emotions, their desires, what makes them tick. That's the stuff reader identification is built from.

How to strengthen the emotional development of your character

If you thrive on action and view character development as a necessary evil, Martha Alderson has this tip for you:

Use the person you know best as a template for your characters. Namely, you. You know what you're afraid of, you know your flaws, your fears, your secrets. Use this in your writing. Is that thought scary? Would it be painful? You bet! But that's why Hemingway once said, "Writing is easy, you just open a vein and bleed."

How to strengthen your dramatic action plotline

If, on the other hand, you love books heavy on character development and view dramatic action as an unfortunate necessity, then, as before, try using yourself as an example. What goals do you have? What tasks are you trying to complete? What are the stakes? What will happen if you succeed? If you fail?

Martha Alderson also has this tip:

"Start with the Climax of your story, and work backwards. Using your intuition, pay attention. Link Dramatic Action to the changes in your character's emotional development."

I like the idea of starting from the climax of the story and working backward. (That's also how Dan Wells writes.)

I'm going to try using different color index cards to indicate scenes and sequels, dramatic action versus character development, external versus internal goals.


There seem to be three ways of talking about more-or-less the same thing:

1. Dramatic action versus Character Development.

2. External (/outer) versus internal (/inner) goals.

3. Scenes versus sequels.

The important thing is to find out what kind of story you prefer to write and make sure, in your final product, you have a mix of both dramatic action and internal development. Really, it's all about pacing.

Generally, the pace of a story is adjusted by controlling the length of scenes (dramatic action) and sequels (character development). Experiment. Try adding a bit more character development (Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Character Workbook is great for this) and seeing how it changes the story. Perhaps even try adding a bit of dramatic action and see how it alters the pace. 

Experiment! That's how one grows as a writer. 

Good writing.

Photo credit: "Enthusiasm" by Marina del Castell under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Tuesday, February 4

What Kind of Writer Are You? Dramatic Action versus Character Development

What Kind of Writer Are You? Dramatic Action versus Character Development

Character Driven versus Action Driven Stories

I love stories driven by dramatic action. Stories like Indiana Jones, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, and Paranormal Activity. Yes, sure, I can appreciate other kinds of stories, stories driven by the emotions of the characters, stories driven by their loves and desires and fears and regrets. But given a choice between Die Hard (the first one) and The Notebook, I'll take Die Hard.

I stand by what I've just said but there's another way of looking at this. Stories like Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark, stories that are driven by plot and action, tend to focus on the protagonist's external goal and feature his attempts to attain this goal. Sometimes these heroes (the first Indy movie is a good example) don't even have an internal goal. 

On the other hand, stories like The Notebook focus on a characters' emotions, their loves and hates and fears. These kind of stories, stories fuelled by character development, tend to focus on the protagonist's internal goal and feature their internal transformations.

I think most movies--arguably the 1999 remake of The Mummy falls into this category--are a blend of dramatic action and character development, of the protagonist striving to attain both internal and external goals.

Two Kinds of Writers

There seem to be, broadly speaking, two different kinds of writers to go along with these two different kinds of stories: stories top heavy with action or top heavy with character development. Although, that said, many, perhaps most, stories are a mix of the two styles.

Speaking as someone who gravitates more towards an action style I can appreciate I might need to force myself to slow down occasionally and do a bit more character development, and I can easily imagine that writers who like to writes stories chalk full of their characters' emotional development--of fictional people pursuing their internal goals--occasionally need to remind themselves to throw in a bit of dramatic action to spice things up. 

(Keep in mind that dramatic action tends to increase the pace of a story while exploring a character's emotions, their internal goals and growth, tends to slow the pace of a story. I will say more about this, and about scenes and sequels, in the second and last part of this series.)

Knowing what one's preferences are (as both a reader and a writer) may teach one something about the kind of strengths and, possibly, weaknesses evident in one's writing.

The problem: Not everyone knows what kind of writer they are, whether they favor outward goals and dramatic action or internal goals and character development.

The Test: How To Tell Which Type You Are

I got this idea from the article Character-Driven or Action Driven by Martha Alderson.

I've found that in order to change one first needs to understand oneself, to understand the problem. In this case that means finding out which kind of writer you are. Are you someone who prefers to fill your stories with dramatic action? Are you someone who prefers to showcase your character's emotional development? Or, perhaps, your stories balance perfectly in the middle.

Think of your protagonist for your work in progress. (Alderson describes a protagonist--and I think this is an excellent definition--as "the character who is most changed by the dramatic action"). That said, I think this test can work for any character.

Try to answer these questions as quickly as you can:

Dramatic Action

1. What is your protagonist's overall, external, story goal?

What is the thing they desire most? In concrete terms, how can they fulfill that desire? 

For instance, a character--Tia--might desire great wealth. That's fine, but that isn't specific enough, it's not concrete enough to be a goal. Robbing the bank on 1st and 3rd during July 4th is a goal.

2. What is preventing your character from achieving this goal?

What external force opposes the character achieving what they desire? 

Continuing my example, perhaps a detective has his eye on Tia. He suspects her of planning a big heist and has sworn to catch her in the act and put her in jail--or worse.

3. What are the stakes? What will this character lose if she fails? What will she win if she succeeds?

Perhaps Tia needs the money to pay for her sister's operation. If her sister doesn't get the operation she'll die, forcing her foster children back into a cold, uncaring, system. If Tia does get the money the sister will live and continue to provide a loving home for her foster kids. 

Or perhaps Tia's grandmother is close to losing her house to the bank and she can't bear for that to happen; her grandmother took care of Tia her entire life, now it's time for her to take care of grams. In this case the stakes would be: if Tia fails grandma loses the house her husband built and has to move in to a Dickensian old-folks home. If Tia wins grams gets to keep her house and will die a happy woman surrounded by the memories of a long happy life. 

Character Emotional Development

That's enough for this post. Next time I'll go over questions that will focus on a character's emotional development. Then you can ask yourself: which set of questions were easier to answer? That may indicate which kind of story you find easiest to write.

Update: You can read the second and final part of this series here: What Kind of Writer Are You? Part Two of Two.

Good writing!

Photo credit: "High-Octane Villain" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.