about the author

About The Author: 7 Examples To Help You Write Yours

Now that you’ve written your book it’s time to write what’s called an about the author. Readers want to know a little about the author whose book they love so much, so this is where your about the author comes in. It’s a professional snippet of who you are, your credentials, and what you’re passionate about.

If you’ve written a book, fiction or nonfiction, an about the author helps your marketing purposes and gives you great content for your social media bios or a short website bio. You can even include your about the author in your media kit and use specific phrases on a business card.

In this article we discuss:

Remember, whether you write fiction or nonfiction, an about the author is a crucial addition to your book. The voice you bring should reflect, at least in part, the genre you write, but be sure to make it professional. 

Let’s dive in!

What Is An About The Author?

Your about the author is a few-sentence biography that articulates who you are and the work you do. In your about the author, you can include a few credentials, hobbies, perhaps the university you graduated from, who your family is, and the state, province, or country you live in. 

We’ll dive into examples of about the authors a bit later, but keep in mind what different points you could jot down. What is an interesting, memorable, or fun fact your readers may be interested in hearing about?

about the author

Why An About The Author Matters

An about the author matters because it is one of the first ways a reader meets you. Even if you are a well-known public speaker, chances are, not every reader has seen you speak in person or met you at a meet-and-great. 

Including an about the author on the back cover of your book (or if you have a hardcover, on the inside, back flap) is a quick way for your reader to get an idea of who you are and why you wrote this book.

Authors want readers to remember their work, to share it with their friends, and for it to impact their lives. One way to do this is by including a memorable about the author so readers feel more connected to you. 

What Should I Say About The Author?

Your name and a personal fact that correlates with why you wrote this particular book is a great place to start. For instance, if you wrote a nonfiction book on how to run a start-up business, majored in Business at Yale, and started your first business at 18, these are some important facts to include. 

While we’ll get into specific examples with real authors, consider this one:

  • John Smith started his first successful business at 18 years old. A Yale graduate with a degree in Business, today he writes on the topic he loves and speaks to audiences at….

From the first sentence, there is a memorable fact about our author John Smith, and just one sentence in, he builds his credibility by stating that he graduated from a prestigious university. 

How Do You Write An About the Author?

Write a compelling about the author by starting with a long, rough draft. Include all your major credentials, how you got your start, any passions that relate to your book’s topic, and something personal to make the reader feel connected with you at a more personal level.

After you have these facts written down, begin to organize them from most crucial to least. For instance, if you wrote a middle-grade fantasy and are a fourth-grade teacher, that’s an important fact to include. 

How Long Should an About the Author Be?

An about the author is usually between 50-150 words.

About The Author Examples 

To help you get a feel for exactly what works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to your own about the author examples, below is a list for you to take notes from. This list is a compilation of real authors who sell books in a variety of genres. 

As you browse through these examples, note which genre most resonates with your own and how you can take inspiration from these successful authors. Of course, it’s important to make your about the author true to you, your voice, and your writing goals, but examples can help you get there.

Here is a list to draw from:

  • #1 – “Veronica Roth is the New York Times bestselling author of Divergent, the first book in a trilogy that she began writing while still a college student. Now a full-time writer, Ms. Roth and her husband call the Chicago area home. You can visit her online at www.veronicarothbooks.com or on Twitter (@VeronicaRoth).” (51 words)

This about the author starts with credentials, goes on to describe the origin of her debut novel, and goes into her personal life: She now works full-time as a writer, is married, and lives in the Chicago area. 

  • #2 – “Glynnis Campbell is a USA Today bestselling author of swashbuckling action-adventure romance. She’s the wife of a rock star, and the mother of two young adults, but she’s also been a ballerina, a typographer, a film composer, a piano player, a singer in an all-girl rock band, and a voice in those violent video games you won’t let your kids play. She does her best writing on cruise ships, in Scottish castles, on her husband’s tour bus, and at home in her sunny southern California garden. Glynnis loves to play medieval matchmaker, transporting readers to a place where the bold heroes have endearing flaws, the women are stronger than they look, the land is lush and untamed, and chivalry is alive and well!” (123 words)

Because Glynnis Campbell isn’t as well-known of an author, her bio needs to be memorable. The way she articulates her author bio makes it sound like her life could be a novel all on its own. 

  • #3 – “Eric Carle invented writing, the airplane, and the internet. He was also the first person to reach the North Pole. He has flown to Mars and back in one day, and was enthusiastically greeted by the Martians. ‘Very strange beings,’ he reported on his return. He has written one thousand highly regarded books; a team of experts is presently attempting to grasp their meaning. ‘It might take a century,’ said the chief expert. Carle is also a great teller of stories — but not all of them are true, for instance those in this book.” (95 words)

Eric Carle’s sense of humor sets his about the author apart. If your genre has any bit of humor in it, consider adding a bit of this type of voice to your own about the author.

  • #4 – “Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, is the recipient of numerous awards for his work, including two ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards for music criticism, a Holtzbrinck Fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin, a Fleck Fellowship from the Banff Centre, and a Letter of Distinction from the American Music Center for significant contributions to the field of contemporary music. The Rest is Noise is his first book.” (69 words)

Alex Ross can’t build his credibility through a list of previously published books, so he reveals why he is so qualified to publish his debut. 

  • #5 – “NY Times & USA Today Bestselling Thriller Author JFPenn.com. Creative Entrepreneur. Podcaster. Professional speaker. INFJ. Travel junkie.” (17 words)

This is a simple, straightforward about the author that does not waste the reader’s time. Starting with her qualifications and including important facts such as her website and occupation is a cut-and-dry way to communicate to her audience in a timely way. 

  • #6 – The about the author for Joyce Carol Oates simply says: “Author.” (1 word)

If you’ve ever heard the writing mantra, “Tighten, tighten, tighten,” you know this is exactly what Joyce Carol Oates did. And somehow, it works.

Next Steps

Further considerations:

In this article, we have primarily focused on the about the author section that you’ll use on the back cover of your book when you publish it. Any time you upload your book to other sites, like Amazon, you’ll usually have the opportunity to upload an about the author section specific to that site. Occasionally, those will have word limits or character limits, so it is a good idea to have about the author segments that are various lengths.

  • On your book, you should stay in the 50-150 words as mentioned above.
  • On Amazon, a large range is acceptable, as low as 50 words up to 400 words.
  • On your personal website, you can go longer: 500-750 words is not uncommon.

For more information on this topic, check out these articles:

Draw from the above tips and let us know how your about the author turns out! Getting close to publishing or trying to figure out how to publish your book? Be sure to check out the training below.

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how to write an epilogue

How to Write an Epilogue: 4 Easy Steps [Examples Included]

When constructing a finalized novel, there’s much more to the book than just the story itself.

Books have many parts, and each serves a special purpose. While you might not include all of the possible sections in your final product, understanding each and knowing why and how they’re used will help you create a full, professional-looking book.

Today, we’re talking how to write an epilogue.

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What is an epilogue?

An epilogue, in fiction, is a supplemental part of a story. It appears after the story, and is often used to wrap up loose ends, or to see where the characters have ended up. It is typically set in the future from the main story.

Sometimes an epilogue can be used to set up or drop hints for the next installment in a series.

Epilogues are not a necessary part of a book, though many books include them.

Epilogues tend to follow certain formulas in certain genres. For example, an epilogue in a romance novel will typically show the main couple married, pregnant, with children, buying a house, or some other event in their future to show that they have, indeed, lived happily ever after.

Epilogue vs. Afterword

A lot of people confuse epilogues with afterwords, which makes sense! They’re both short sections at the end of a novel, and both discuss the story after it’s over.

The difference is that an epilogue is a continuation of the same story, in-universe. An afterword is a note about the story, either from the author themselves or from another relevant person.

In an afterword, an author might talk about their process, their research, why they wrote the story, the story’s relevance to the real world.

An epilogue is about the story and characters of the book itself.

how to write an epilogue

Do you need an epilogue?

Epilogues are not necessary to a book, so in a word, no. However, that doesn’t mean your book wouldn’t be enhanced with an epilogue. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to determine if your book would benefit from having an epilogue:

Will your book have a sequel?

If your book will have a sequel, or is a part of a series, the epilogue is a great place to drop hints about your next publication.

Do you have something to reiterate?

If you have a significant theme or moral you’d like to really hammer in, an epilogue is a potential place to do that. The epilogue is what your reader will be left with, so if you want to strengthen a theme with a resounding note, an epilogue is an option to achieve it.

Are there untied loose ends?

If there are untied ends to finalize, many writers might use an epilogue. I’d be careful to make sure your novel stands on its own, plot lines concluded, to be sure the epilogue isn’t used as a crutch for weak storytelling.

If the story would benefit from a stand-back-and-look-at-it type summary, or a glimpse into the characters’ future, those types of loose ends can be stapled with an epilogue.

Otherwise, your actual story should be satisfyingly wrapped up in the last chapter of the novel.

Is a character follow-up something your readers would enjoy?

In character-driven works, like romance novels, an epilogue is an opportunity to give the audience a little more time with your characters, as well as letting them see how their story after the story ends up.

With romance novels as the example, many readers enjoy seeing where the couple end up after the “happily ever after.” Are they buying a house? Do they have kids? Did they retire to a ranch? How far in the future you set your epilogue is up to you!

How to write an epilogue

If you believe your story would be enhanced with an epilogue, here are a few things to consider.

1. Choose a future point to set the epilogue

When your epilogue happens is important. How far in the future will you jump? Be sure to choose your timeframe intentionally, and use a period that will serve the story. If your epilogue happens too close in time to the end of your last chapter, why wouldn’t it be a scene on its own?

2. Reveal new information

If your epilogue merely repeats the ending of the book, it likely won’t do you much good. Some authors will use an epilogue at the end of a longer novel, like an epic fantasy, to give a sort of overhead snapshot to solidify a theme, or themes. In that case, it’s pretty much repeating information or sentiments that were spread through the book, but doing so long after the initial introductions of those sentiments.

Unless your book or series was notably long and complicated, the epilogue should reveal new information. New information could be anything from a hint of the next book’s premise to a pregnancy reveal for your main couple.

3. Offer a new point of view

Many epilogues are written in third-omniscient, giving the reader a helicopter view of the world, story, or characters. That doesn’t mean all epilogues need to be third-omniscient, but it is typical for there to be a new POV for the epilogue. Perhaps the epilogue is through a character’s POV we haven’t seen in the main body of the book. The same “rule” applies to prologues.

4. Prepare your readers for a sequel

Personally, I believe this is the most solid reasoning for including an epilogue in your book. If you want to set up a premise or teaser for a sequel, an epilogue is a great way to do that.

Some authors utilize epilogues for this reason, while others simply include the first scene or chapter of the next book as a teaser at the end.

Examples of good epilogues

A good epilogue is an extension of the story—it’s not a part of the story. Your story should be complete on its own, and an epilogue is like an accessory. Here are a couple examples of famous epilogues.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games is a series that follows Katniss Everdeen through multiple gladiator-style fights for her life. After the Hunger Games are eradicated, we get this reflective epilogue:

They play in the Meadow. The dancing girl with the dark hair and blue eyes. The boy with blond curls and gray eyes, struggling to keep up with her on his chubby toddler legs. It took five, ten, fifteen years for me to agree. But Peeta wanted them so badly. When I first felt her stirring inside of me, I was consumed with a terror that felt as old as life itself. Only the joy of holding her in my arms could tame it. Carrying him was a little easier, but not much.

The questions are just beginning. The arenas have been completely destroyed, the memorials built, there are no more Hunger Games. But they teach about them at school, and the girl knows we played a role in them. The boy will know in a few years. How can I tell them about that world without frightening them to death? My children, who take the words of the song for granted:

Deep in the meadow, under the willow

A bed of grass, a soft green pillow

Lay down your head, and close your sleepy eyes

And when again they open, the sun will rise.

Here it’s safe, here it’s warm

Here the daisies guard you from every harm

Here your dreams are sweet and tomorrow brings them true

Here is the place where I love you.

My children, who don’t know they play on a graveyard.

Peeta says it will be okay. We have each other. And the book. We can make them understand in a way that will make them braver. But one day I’ll have to explain about my nightmares. Why they came. Why they won’t ever really go away.

I’ll tell them how I survive it. I’ll tell them that on bad mornings, it feels impossible to take pleasure in anything because I’m afraid it could be taken away. That’s when I make a list in my head of every act of goodness I’ve seen someone do. It’s like a game. Repetitive. Even a little tedious after more than twenty years.

But there are much worse games to play.

We see Katniss many years in the future, with her children, and as peaceful as she will probably ever get to be. This epilogue is a strong example of letting the reader peek into the future and see how the characters end up.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The epilogue in The Name of the Wind is popular for something pretty unique—the prologue and epilogue are very similar. Both are poems about silence in three parts, and both end with the same paragraph.

There are many theories about what Rothfuss was attempting to convey with it, but no matter why he did it, he wrote an incredibly strong prologue and epilogue:

IT WAS NIGHT AGAIN. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.

The first part was a hollow, echoing quiet, made by things that were lacking. If there had been horses stabled in the barn they would have stamped and champed and broken it to pieces. If there had been a crowd of guests, even a handful of guests bedded down for the night, their restless breathing and mingled snores would have gently thawed the silence like a warm spring wind. If there had been music…but no, of course there was no music. In fact there were none of these things, and so the silence remained.

Inside the Waystone a man huddled in his deep, sweet-smelling bed. Motionless, waiting for sleep, he lay wide-eyed in the dark. In doing this he added a small, frightened silence to the larger, hollow one. They made an alloy of sorts, a harmony.

The third silence was not an easy thing to notice. If you listened for an hour, you might begin to feel it in the thick stone walls of the empty taproom and in the flat, grey metal of the sword that hung behind the bar. It was in the dim candlelight that filled an upstairs room with dancing shadows. It was in the mad pattern of a crumpled memoir that lay fallen and un-forgotten atop the desk. And it was in the hands of the man who sat there, pointedly ignoring the pages he had written and discarded long ago.

The man had true-red hair, red as flame. His eyes were dark and distant, and he moved with the weary calm that comes from knowing many things.

The Waystone was his, just as the third silence was his. This was appropriate, as it was the greatest silence of the three, wrapping the others inside itself. It was deep and wide as autumn’s ending. It was heavy as a great river-smooth stone. It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die.

Does your book need an epilogue?

In short, most books do not need an epilogue. Epilogues are fantastic for baiting a sequel, and many readers of certain genres love to see how the characters end up further down the road. If either of those apply to your book, you might benefit from an epilogue!

If you haven’t wrapped up plot threads from your main story, you may need to rewrite the ending of your book, rather than stapling it together with an epilogue.

You also shouldn’t feel the need for an epilogue, if it isn’t something that your book requires.

Happy writing!

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Types of Nonfiction

13 Types of Nonfiction (for You To Consider Writing)

If you’re reading this article, chances are you are a nonfiction writer or you hope to become a nonfiction writer. First of all, congratulations! Writing nonfiction is a great way to express yourself, inform your readers, and make an impact on readers around the world. 

Just like any great endeavor, it’s crucial to be informed on what you are doing, understand the different details influencing what you are doing, and articulate the purpose behind what you’re doing. It’s one thing to say you want to write nonfiction. It’s another to know what you want to communicate and why, the type of nonfiction that will help you do so, the subgenre it belongs in, and whether you should consider taking the literary nonfiction route. 

That said, in this article we discuss:

There are many subgenres of nonfiction, and we will discuss them in this article. However, just as there are many subgenres of nonfiction, there are varying reasons to write nonfiction. Before we dive into types of nonfiction, let’s discuss its purpose.

What is the purpose of nonfiction?

While the purpose of nonfiction is largely dependent on the individual author, simply based on the style of writing, nonfiction is written to inform. Information can be written with the core purpose of informing, or it can be written with the core purpose of expressing. Either way, nonfiction informs readers.

If you are a thought leader in a particular field, you may hope to inform your readers by writing impactful nonfiction. However, if you are a lay person and want to express your experience surrounding a particular topic, your core purpose may be to express (you will also inform your readers through your expression).

Sometimes the best way to inform readers is via self-expression.

If you wonder which is best for you, simply keep reading. We discuss types of creative nonfiction as well as nonfiction genres below.

Types of creative nonfiction

There are many types of creative nonfiction, but some include essays, memoir, autobiography, travel writing, and food writing. 


Personal essays are a great way to express yourself and communicate while using your authentic voice. Think of an essay as a condensed autobiography, focused on a specific aspect, moment, or theme of your life. Your personal essay will cover the moment you feel compelled to write about, and that moment will be the central focus. When writing a personal essay, be sure to:

  • Allow your voice to shine through.
  • Be sure that what you write is all fact and not fiction.
  • Use creative writing techniques to make your writing compelling.

Essays are a great type of creative nonfiction to start your nonfiction journey. 


If you choose to write your memoir, it’s likely because you want to use your life experiences to speak to a larger theme. While an autobiography follows the individual’s life from birth to present, a memoir focuses on different life experiences that help inform the reader. 


As briefly mentioned above, an autobiography focuses on the individual’s story from birth to present and is written with the intention of sharing your life story. If you choose to write your autobiography, you are likely a public figure such as a sports figure, a politician, a famous writer, or well-known in another capacity. Because of this, readers will be interested in hearing details of your life and how your experiences informed the person you are today.  

Travel Writing

If you travel a lot for work, or perhaps you are a freelance writer and travel simply because you can, travel writing may be the genre for you. Think of travel writing as a way to collect your interactions with the people you meet and the experiences you gain. This collection becomes a means to share experiences in a thought-out way. Travel writing is a great way to inform through creative means. 

Travel writing is also a great way to employ the power of the senses. Because you have been to the places you write about, you can describe your experience in ways unique to your genre. You can explain the gritty feel of the sand on a particular beach, the tangy smell in the air as you walk through a market, or what it looked like to see the sunrise in person over that particular mountain. You can describe the feeling of sitting down with a cup of espresso on a busy street and striking up a conversation with a stranger. Travel writing can bring a different level of detail, and therefore realism, to your writing. 

Food Writing

Food writing focuses on, surprise, the topic of food, and draws in many different types of writing. As you begin food writing, you may want to consider the aspects that affect food. Culture, geography, lifestyle, friendship, and agriculture are all influential factors. You could focus on the role lifestyle plays in the food we eat, how food can play a large part in a country’s culture, or inform readers on the importance agriculture plays. While food is the central topic, there are countless subtopics you can write about to support it.

Types of nonfiction genres

Just as there are many genres of writing, there are many genres of nonfiction writing. Some of the more common genres include: History, self-help, guides and how-to manuals, and philosophy. 


History is an important nonfiction genre as it helps generations remember the factual accounts of what happened before. While historical fiction is a fiction genre, to be considered historical nonfiction, the facts must be accurately portrayed. While history can be recorded as simply facts, such as in a textbook, it can also be recorded through the writer’s point of view. While points of view differ according to person, when writing historical nonfiction, the facts must be the central focus.


Self-help is a largely influential nonfiction genre. Topics in self-help cover a variety of subjects, from business, to relationships, to habits, to finances, to exercise. This genre is informative but not academically focused.

Guides and how-to manuals

As a writer, if you have played the violin for twenty years, trained under some of the best violinist in the world, and performed as a guest with symphonies around the country, writing a guide on the craft of music with a focus on the violin, would be a great place for you to start. As they say, write what you know! Chandler Bolt’s book, Published: The Proven Path from Blank Page to 10,000 Copies Sold is largely a “how to” book.


Philosophy is similar to academic text but it focuses in varying areas. One is traditional philosophy, which you would find in a university’s classroom. A second type of philosophy is scientific theory, such as the work of Sir Isaac Newton. If you are a writer pursuing philosophy writing, you may choose to focus on more current philosophy, such as analyzing specific occurrences in the world today. 

Types of literary nonfiction

Different forms of literary nonfiction can be used to accomplish different goals. If your goal as a writer is to share a specific experience from your life, you will choose a different literary nonfiction form than someone hoping to inform readers on historical events.

Below is a brief list of literary nonfiction forms:

Personal Essay

A personal essay is creative writing and also falls under the literary nonfiction category. Simply by definition, a personal essay is written from your point of view. This allows you to use your own experiences, employ creative writing techniques, and express and/or inform your readers on a particular topic. 

Lyrical Memoir

Lyrical memoir uses prose in a poetic way. Just as a memoir communicates a specific theme, lyrical memoir uses creative writing techniques to add power to the author’s voice, all while communicating a larger theme. An example of lyrical memoir is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou. In her book, Angelou shares her own life experiences while pointing to a larger theme. 

Narrative Journalism

In narrative journalism, stories cover factual events as a journalist would, but add in narrative that creates a more engaging read. While journalists may recount specific events and take a more factual approach, narrative journalism covers similar events, but adds a twist of creative writing. Adding this type of narrative does not subtract from the facts recounted, but creates a more engaging story for readers. An example of narrative journalism is Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer and The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, by David Grann. 

Narrative History

Narrative history is a subgenre that focuses on historically accurate events, told through a story-based lens, and therefore employs different facets of creative writing. When writing narrative history it is crucial to recount the facts. In historical fiction, the author can switch details up, add a twist, create scenes and characters that did not exist, but in narrative story, every detail must be accurate. The difference between a history textbook and a narrative history book is that the narrative history is told in a story form. An example of narrative history is 12 Years a Slave: A Slave Narrative, by Solomon Northup.

Next Steps

Remember, just as writing fiction involves time spent learning the writing craft and following writing rules, writing nonfiction involves the same. The difference between fiction and nonfiction is that nonfiction is always based in fact. Nonfiction is by nature a real story. Whether you write nonfiction to inform your readers, or from my desire to express an experience you had, nonfiction needs to be factually correct.

As you begin this endeavor, set aside any perfectionism and simply get the words down. While nonfiction can be a difficult genre to tackle, writing is by nature a process that involves edits. Keep track of your research and drafts, employ creative writing techniques, fact-check after you have the first draft written, and enjoy the process.

When writing nonfiction, you not only get to express yourself, but you get to inform your audience on a topic that is important to you.

Now you understand creative nonfiction, the different types of nonfiction genres, as well as types of literary nonfiction.

Now it’s time to choose the type of genre that is best for your story.

After you take this assessment, sit in the quiet and ask yourself what exactly you want to write and why you want to write it. Then, get to work writing!

You’ve got this!

how to stop overwriting

How to Stop Overwriting (And Why It Matters)

Generally speaking, there are two types of writers: overwriters and underwriters.

If you’re an underwriter (not the insurance type), you’ve probably had editors, beta readers, and professors tell you that you need to flesh out your characters, add some padding to your transitions, and add some description and dimension to your scenes. 

But maybe you’ve heard the opposite—that you’re an overwriter, and your work is overwritten. What does that mean? How do you fix that? And how do you avoid overwriting in the future? 

In this article, we’re here to talk about: 

  1. What is overwriting? 
  2. What does it mean if a book is overwritten? 
  3. Why is overwriting bad? 
  4. Examples of overwriting 
  5. How to stop overwriting 

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What is overwriting?

Simply put, overwriting is when a piece of writing has too much going on. This might mean that there are too many plot threads, which make the story confusing to follow, or there might be a bunch of scenes that don’t contribute to the main plot. This might also mean that the prose itself is too wordy or overly descriptive. 

Overwriting vs purple prose 

You may have also heard the term ‘purple prose,’ and if you have, this might all be sounding familiar. What’s the difference between overwriting and purple prose? 

Purple prose is when an author uses excessive or over-the-top language which pulls the reader out of the book. In other words, it draws attention to itself instead of drawing attention to the details it means to describe. Purple prose doesn’t necessarily have to be wordy, but it often is. 

For example: “Her emerald eyes glistened with effervescent tears which trembled along her translucent cheek.” 

The adjectives used here are over the top in a way that makes us more focused on the bad writing than the action at hand. Another indicator for purple prose is meaningless phrases—what does ‘effervescent tears’ mean, anyway? 

Purple prose is usually a form of overwriting. The writer is doing too much and needs to reign it in. Not all overwriting is, necessarily, purple prose, but most purple prose is overwriting. 

What does it mean if a book is overwritten?

Here are a few signs that a book might be overwritten: 

There are superfluous scenes or characters 

Everything in your book should point toward the plot, themes, and goals of the main character. This doesn’t mean there won’t be breaks or asides, but it does mean that you shouldn’t have scenes that don’t matter. 

Scenes should always do something to change the status quo. In an overwritten book, you might find a lot of scenes that change nothing. You could delete the entire scene, and very little or nothing at all would change for the story as a whole. 

Overwritten books also might include redundant characters. How do you know if a character is redundant? It’s the same trick we used with scenes. If you could delete the character and it would have no major impact on the story, the character is probably redundant.

The prose itself is too wordy or forced 

Overwriting can also show itself in prose. If sentences seem like they go on forever, or if descriptions often feel forced and excessive, you’ve probably got overwriting on your hands. This might come in the form of purple prose, but it might also come in the form of too much. The descriptions might be written nicely, but having way too many of them is still overwriting. 

Overwritten passages often don’t know what to focus on when it comes time to describe something, so they describe everything, all the time, ad nauseum. And while there’s a certain amount of leniency given when it comes to style—some authors write more length descriptions than others—an overwritten passage will feel unfocused and boring. 

It’s difficult to get through 

Have you ever found yourself unable to finish a book because you just didn’t feel like you could get through it? No matter how hard you tried to focus, it felt like a slog—-the plot wasn’t going anywhere, the descriptions were nice but there were so many of them, and you just couldn’t pay attention the whole way through? 

This is a sign that a book is overwritten. 

It’s worth noting, again, that some of this chalks up to personal preference. Some people hail Lord of the Rings as the best book ever written, while others just didn’t like how long and descriptive it was. Fantasy, in particular, tends to trend on the more descriptive side in the name of worldbuilding.

Some readers will love it, and others won’t. But if readers within your genre are telling you it’s too much, you should listen to them. 

Why is overwriting bad?

If overwriting can be chalked up to style, then why worry about it? 

Overwriting hides your story 

Remember what I said earlier about the sludge? Overwriting obscures your story, your plot, and your characters. It takes the reader out of what’s going on and forces them to sift through a ton of content (which ultimately doesn’t have any bearing on the story) to get to what you’re trying to say. 

In other words, overwriting will waste a reader’s time. 

Your meaning gets obscured line-to-line 

If your overwriting tends to show itself more in the prose itself, rather than in excessive plot points, you’ll face the same issue. It’s difficult to sort out what an author means when the sentences are too long and too difficult to follow. If this problem continues throughout the book, it means the reader will have a hard time knowing what the book is about, what’s going on, and why they should care. 

Examples of overwriting

I’ve written a few examples here to show you what overwriting might look like in the flesh: 

Example 1 (Too Much Description): 

“He knew what he had to do. The divorce papers on the kitchen table waited for his signature. The air still smelled like lasagna, which his wife had made for dinner. There was just a hint too much oregano, but overall, it smelled good. He’d enjoyed it, and they’d put the leftovers in the fridge to eat throughout the week. It was always a hassle to go down the hall at his office and use the microwave, but he didn’t really mind. Besides, it was a great chance to catch up with his coworkers, who he liked. He carefully stepped across the kitchen in his shoes, which were his least favorite running shoes—he bought them at Target and they always wore out after a few months, but he liked the way they looked.” 

The issue here is that the description takes us away from the scene to exposit about this man’s life. We have to slog through it to get what we want, which is to find out whether he signs the papers. 

Example 2 (Tired, Flowery Description, aka Purple Prose) 

“He knew what he had to do. Destined, perhaps, by fate, architectured by a cruel god of love with an evil streak of vengeance lurking in its heart. The divorce papers loomed surreptitiously on the deep mahogany table. The auburn streaks in the mahogany gleamed ceremoniously in the gorgeous sunset. His every faltering step shuddered on the rug as he cautiously approached.” 

Here, we have a lot of descriptions riddled with cliche, as well as some meaningless descriptions (‘surreptitiously’ doesn’t even make sense here). Instead of wondering what’s going on with the divorce papers, we’re wondering what’s going on with the adjectives and adverbs in this piece. 

How to stop overwriting

Outline your novel and scenes 

Overwriting might stem from not knowing where your story is going, especially if you tend to have lots of dropped plot threads or redundant characters. A great way to prevent this? Outline! Having an idea of where you’re going will make it much easier to steer there. 

It can also help to outline each scene, especially in revisions, to make sure the scene is essential. What’s the goal of the scene? How is the status quo changed? How are the stakes raised? Again, this will help you know what to spend your time on while you’re writing. 

Condense minor characters and subplots 

If you have a ton of subplots and a cast of thirty characters, you might find it helpful to condense them. 

If you have a character, for example, who really only does one or two things, and another character who only does one thing, make them one character. Now that character has a ton of responsibility, and they’re vital to the story! Hurray! 

If you have a ton of subplots, cut any of them that get dropped or which don’t resolve (or make them essential in revisions). You can condense these, too—maybe instead of having a scene where two characters flirt with each other and a separate scene where they rob a bank, maybe they rob a bank and flirt with each other the whole time. Combining the romance subplot and the robbing-a-bank plot will make both of them more interesting, and it’ll cut your word count. 

Side note: exposition is a common overwriting pitfall for specifically fantasy authors, and this hack works wonders for exposition. Instead of having someone stop the plot dead to explain a piece of worldbuilding, incorporate that worldbuilding into a conversation with real stakes—or else, find a way to make the exposition interesting, so the reader isn’t bored. 

Describe what matters 

Lengthy descriptions can be lovely, but they need to be intentional. Pay attention to what you describe, and have a good reason for describing it. If we get a super detailed description of everything in the story, nothing’s going to stick out to the reader. 

Take, for example, this scene from Shrek: Shrek and Donkey walk into the dragon’s lair. We see a lingering shot of the chandelier positioned just over the dragon’s head, which helps us remember the chandelier when later, it’s used to capture the dragon. 

If this scene were written down and every single thing in the room were given the same weight, we wouldn’t remember the chandelier. Later, when the chandelier is used to capture the dragon, we wouldn’t feel satisfied—we would feel like it was random. 

Overwrite all you want… for your first draft 

Last but not least—if you find that you’re getting stuck on your first draft because you’re worried about overwriting, I’m giving you permission to release that fear and write your first draft as lengthy and excessively as you need. 

It is important to improve, and you will, when it comes time to revise. But for your first draft, set aside your concerns and write the story all the way through, however it comes out, with your primary focus being finishing the darn thing. Getting too hung up on making sure you’re perfectly resolving every plot thread and making every character essential will make a draft more frustrating than exciting. 

Remember: fixing overwriting is ultimately just trimming what you already have. If you have a whole lot when you’ve finished your first draft, that’s okay! Just be prepared to do some chopping. 

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Writing a Book for the First Time

Writing a Book For The First Time: 3 Easy Tips to Get Started

Maybe your dream is to become a full-time fiction author. Perhaps you plan to use a nonfiction book as a launching pad for a business or build an online course. Maybe you have a story inside you and want to share it to leave a legacy.

Whatever your writing dream is, it starts with writing a book. While writing a book is an exciting first step, it can be an overwhelming prospect. That’s why in this article we will break down:

Whatever you need guidance on, we’re here to help.

Let’s start with the basic question of why? Why write a book? 

Why Write A Book For The First Time?

If you want to be a full-time writer or use a book for business purposes, it’s imperative to write a book to start this journey. Writing a book is a powerful tool and can be leveraged for direct impact with readers, potential clients, and individuals you would not be able to reach any other way. A book can span the continents and impact areas you may never physically be able to go. 

(Resource: If you’re considering writing a book for your niche business, check out this podcast interview on how AJ Osborne used his book to grow his self-storage business.)

Words are powerful. There’s something about connecting a writer and a reader through black and white words on a page. It seems so simple, but words impact in ways that cannot be described. Words encourage, stories inspire, and the difficult life lessons you’ve learned could impact the trajectory of your reader’s life for years to come. Never underestimate the power of the written word. 

Books can also act as a business card, boost your credibility, and inspire others to listen to what you specifically have to say. It takes time, persistence, and grit to take your idea to the final page. Many people talk about wanting to write a book but few actually finish their first draft. When you write a book for the first time, you become one of the few who takes their dream to a reality. That said, how do you actually go about the writing? Great question. 

Tips For Writing A Book For The First Time

While there are seemingly endless writing rules, there are several tips that will help you get through, and even enjoy, writing your first book.

Identify What Type of Writer You Are, So You Know Your Tendencies

It’s crucial to first identify what kind of writer you are. Do you prefer to plot everything out prior to drafting (a plotter)? Or do you prefer to write to find out what happens? This is often called write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants (commonly referred to as a pantser). Maybe you are a hybrid of both. You outline the major scenes, your inciting incident, climax, and falling action, and write to figure out the rest. Whichever it is for you, identify the way you write most naturally. 

This will allow you to utilize your writing time more effectively each day. More on writing routines in a minute.

Find Community

After identifying if you are a plotter or a pantser, it’s important to surround yourself with a writing community to not only teach you the basics of writing but also encourage you on your journey. It’s easy to start writing a book, it’s another thing entirely to finish. Reach out to writers in your area, join an online writing community (like Self-Publishing School), or form your own writing group, but make sure to surround yourself with writers who will encourage and inspire you. Don’t forget to stay open to their feedback too.

These people will encourage you when you lose steam, don’t want to write, or are struggling with that pesky blank page and blinking cursor.

Hone Your Craft 

And of course, the best tip and most obvious—keep writing! Practice daily.

Learn how to write better, too. Writing is one craft in which no one becomes a master. That’s part of the joy of writing. There are always more creative outlets to explore and ways of communicating to test out. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, mastering the craft is a goal to reach for but we’re all unlikely to attain. Learning the writing rules well can help you become a talented writer who impacts readers and changes lives.

Learn the basic writing rules such as:

The more aware you become of writing rules the more they will subconsciously come alive in your writing. The more seamlessly you incorporate writing rules, the more editing time you’ll save and the faster you will be able to write future books.

How To Start Writing A Book For The First Time

You want to write a book. It’s a short sentence but packed with hours of dedication, late nights, early mornings, and highs and lows. The dedication is worth it, so let’s walk through a step-by-step process to help you get started.

Set A Routine

When writing a book for the first time it’s vital to set a writing routine you can succeed at. Second, it’s imperative to stick with it. If you’re a morning person, consider getting up an hour earlier than usual. If you’re a night owl, consider getting home an hour earlier than you usually do. Devote that extra time to writing your book. Set a deadline and determine how many words or pages you need to write every day to hit your deadline. Stay with the task and don’t let everyday distractions keep you from pursuing your writing dream.

Set A Timer 

An important part of writing is actually typing words on the page. If you have dedicated an hour in the morning to writing, it’s important to honor that full hour. It may be helpful to set an actual timer to ensure you write for a full 60 minutes.

It’s easy to sit down to write and then get up to make a cup of coffee or tea, sharpen a pencil, or grab your computer charger. All of these little distractions take away from your writing time. Before you know it, you’ve lost a full 10 or 15 minutes.

Instead, set a timer for the amount of time you plan to write. If you need to get up and get something, stop the timer. When you sit back down and start writing, begin the timer again. This will ensure you set the precedent early on that when it’s time to write, you write. 

Write, Then Edit

21-time New York Times bestselling author Jerry B. Jenkins says, “I start every writing day by first conducting a heavy edit and rewrite of what I wrote the day before. Don’t try to edit as you write. That’s likely to slow you to a crawl.” 

When writing your first book it’s important to simply get the words down. Anyone can start writing a book but it takes a certain person to write all the way to the end. 

Day one, when you sit down to write, simply write. 

Day two, when you sit down to write, start by editing the work you wrote the day before.

Follow this process until you’ve finished your book.

This will ensure you get the words down. When you follow this method, you’ll finish your first book and it will technically be your second draft. That’s a win!

Engage With Beta Readers

Beta readers are readers who read a book prior to its publication. When choosing beta readers try to find individuals who will not be biased toward your book. Resist the urge to ask your friends and family to read your book and offer feedback. They will likely tell you they enjoy it. If they don’t, they may feel uncomfortable telling you so. Instead, ask for several writers from your writing group if they would be open to reading your book and providing you with honest feedback.

You are the writer so you will make the final call, but having fresh eyes can help open your own eyes to issues that you may have missed. While beta readers are not absolutely necessary, they can provide timely feedback while it’s still possible to make changes.

Mistakes To Avoid When Writing Your First Book 

Just as there are rules to follow when writing your first book, there are mistakes to avoid as well. Being aware of mistakes before you make them can help you avoid spending time and effort redoing your work. The clearer picture you have of the do’s and don’ts of writing, the less frustration you will experience on your journey. 

Avoid Comparison 

While it’s important to read all the books you can in the genre you write, avoid comparing your first effort to someone else’s bestseller. We are all learning and growing in a craft that is impossible to master, and comparison will stall your creative capacity. Learn from the best, but let giving your best be enough.

Avoid Imposter Syndrome

On the topic of comparison, refuse the Imposter Syndrome mindset. Your first book may not be a bestseller (or it may!) but that doesn’t mean you aren’t a writer. Writer’s write. By default, if you write, you are a writer. Refuse the mindset that unless you’re the best of the best you don’t deserve the title of writer. You are not an imposter. You are a student learning the craft. 

Avoid Following All Advice 

We should be open to constructive criticism and embrace feedback, but don’t change your book every time someone suggests you do so. You are the writer and it’s your vision that should prevail. When you publish your book you want it to be with integrity to the story you set out to tell, whether that is a fiction or nonfiction story. Listen to feedback, but follow your writer’s instincts. 

As You Begin…

You are about to start an incredible journey. Writing an entire manuscript cover to cover is no small task and it is inspiring that you chose to undertake it. your journey will likely have twists and turns you don’t expect, lows that catch you off guard, but highs you never dreamed could happen. Writing your first book is a monumental stepping stone to becoming an author.

Remember, after you get this first one under your belt you will never need to say you’re writing your first book again. You will already know what to expect and understand the rules better than you do today. You have found your own pitfalls and determined a way to get out of them. You will have pushed through writer’s block and days you don’t feel inspired, and come out winning.

This is a journey, so embrace every aspect. Set your writing deadline and commit to your goals. Don’t let distractions keep you from your dream. You’ve come this far. You’ve got this!

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Flat Character Arc

Flat Character Arc: How to Write It Well [5 Modern-Day Examples Included]

A flat character arc is a less-common arc used in literary fiction and nonfiction, as well as movies and TV shows. While dynamic character arcs are compelling in their dramatic change, shift, or focus, flat character arcs can be equally powerful when used well.

The term flat character arc can be used interchangeably with the term static character arc. You may be used to crafting dynamic characters with big changes, so let’s dive into flat character arcs and how you can use them to write a compelling story. In this article we discuss:

Remember, good writing, whether fiction or nonfiction, uses a myriad of tools to communicate to readers. Just as it’s difficult to portray a truly heroic protagonist without a truly evil villain, without flat characters, it’s difficult to show the dichotomy of dynamic characters. 

Character Development Cheat Sheet [also printable!]

Fast track your character development in HALF the time.

Keep your characters feeling REAL and organized at the same time with a fully customizable and printable character development worksheet designed to make your characters shine!

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What Is A Flat Character Arc?

The definition of a flat character arc is a bit dependent on who defines it. 

  • The Novel Smithy defines them as, “Flat arcs are still character arcs, but instead of growing and changing as a character, flat arc characters stay the same. Instead, their journey is about learning to uphold their inner truth in a world that doesn’t accept it, allowing them to overcome the external conflict along the way.”
  • Studio Binder defines them as, “Flat characters, often called stock characters, never deviate from their rather simple traits. They are the opposite of ‘round characters’ who have complex personalities and change throughout the course of a story. Flat characters are often used to support main characters in a story.” 
  • Literary Devices defines them as, “A flat character is a type of character in fiction that does not change too much from the start of the narrative to its end.” 
  • Master Class says, “A flat arc is a much less common form of character arc that can mostly be found in action and thriller stories.”

Regardless of your exact definition for a flat character arc, this specific arc can be just as compelling as a dynamic character arc. Sometimes it is more difficult for a character to hold true to who they are in difficult circumstances than it is to give in to change. Of course, the arc you give your character is largely dependent on your story’s plot and the goal of your protagonist. 

For nonfiction, keep the above definitions in mind. If you are writing your memoir, consider what your personal journey has been and what type of arc best demonstrates it. If you’re writing a self-help book or an educational book, the basics of character arc can still be applied to the examples you use and the goals you have for your readers.

What is the message of your book? Do you want readers to walk away changed (dynamic character arc) or stand strong in who they were when they first started your book (flat character arc)?

When To Write A Flat Character Arc?

When to write a character arc depends on the message of your story. If you write fiction, a good place to start is with your protagonist. Do you want him to change by the end of the story, or be the same person as he was on page one? A flat character arc does not mean there is no growth. Sometimes it takes more strength to stay the same than it does to change, especially in difficult circumstances. 

If you write fiction, consider the power a flat character arc may have on your protagonist if he has a dynamic character arc. Sometimes the most powerful way to demonstrate change is by showing a lack of change in another character. This dichotomy acts as a mirror, revealing the opposite in a secondary character and shining a spotlight on the dramatic change of your protagonist. 

For nonfiction, the same is true. If you write a self-help book, consider using varying examples of character arcs, flat and dynamic, to demonstrate the positives and negatives of your message. If you write a book on how to be financially independent, consider demonstrating the power of staying within your budget even when surrounded by people who do not. 

A flat character arc does not need to be any less inspiring than a dynamic character arc. However, a flat character arc can also be used to demonstrate the effects when someone refuses to change even when it is clearly the best choice.

If you write fiction with a theme of redemption, consider incorporating a flat character arc to show the negative effects of not accepting redemption. For nonfiction with a particular theme, consider demonstrating the repercussions of your theme by sharing an example or story of someone who refuses to change. Flat character arcs can be both compelling, revealing, and a combination of the two. 

How To Write A Flat Character Arc?

How you write a flat character arc depends on the character you write it for, as well as your genre and the theme of your book. But now that you have a general understanding of what a flat character arc is, it’s time to determine exactly how to write this particular arc.

Step One: Know Your Genre And Theme

When writing your flat character arc it’s essential to know the rules by which you are playing. A fantasy with a theme of forgiveness will have a much different character arc than a historical fiction with a theme of resilience. Before crafting your characters, make sure you have a healthy understanding of the genre you write, as well as the theme you are aiming for. Writing a flat character looks much different in young adult dystopia than it does in middle-grade fiction.

Step Two: Know Your Character’s Purpose

The purpose driving your character directly impacts his or her character arc. The better you know your character’s purpose (whether protagonist or supporting), the more realistically you can tie it into their character arc.

For example, let’s say you write historical fiction. Your character is a prisoner of war, struggling to survive and maintain their moral code in the midst of desperate circumstances. This is their purpose. Knowing that you want to make them a flat or static (unchanging) character will allow you to lean into their purpose and align it with their arc. If he is eventually freed, having maintained his moral code for the entirety of his time as a prisoner of war, how much stronger will this character be? In this way, sometimes a character’s flat arc shows more than a dynamic arc could.

Step Three: Know Your Story Goal

Your story goal will drive your protagonist’s arc, so it’s important to have a firm grasp of it. Distill your story goal into a simple phrase that concisely covers the core theme (if you’ve written an elevator pitch before, follow this format). The more simply you can define your story goal, the easier it will be to use it to influence your character’s flat arc. Ask yourself:

  • What is the overall plot?
  • Why does it matter to the character?
  • How does the goal influence my character’s arc?

Knowing your goal and distilling it into a simple statement will make writing that much easier. 

Examples Of Characters With Flat Arcs 

Sometimes it’s helpful to have a list of concrete examples to draw from. Whether it’s in the genre you write and helps you specifically, or gives you ideas from movies and TV shows to cross over into your genre, examples can give a specific foundation and help you build with your own creativity. It’s helpful to have something to draw on from writers who have gone before. 

Diana from Wonder Woman is considered a character with a flat arc because, from beginning to end, she is firmly rooted in her conviction that “only love will truly save the world.” Her belief influences soldier Steve Trevor and even brings an end to World War I.

To continue with the superhero example, Steve Rogers from Marvel’s Captain America is also considered a flat character. Cinema Debate says,

“A flat character arc is used for a protagonist that knows the truth about himself from the start; there is no arc to find himself for better or worse. Instead, this character can change the world around them…For Marvel, Captain America holds this status. No matter the consequence, no matter the sacrifice needed, Steve Rogers always does what is right. His morals, ethics and outlook does not change or bend with circumstances.”

If you’ve read Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice, you likely have a love-hate relationship with the protagonist’s cousin, Mr. Collins. Conceited, concerned with appearances, and desperately desirous of a wife, Mr. Collins vainly pursues the female characters in the novel until one settles to marry him. His goal to “select a wife” remains throughout, and once married, he simply settles down, satisfied.

Sherlock Holmes from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is another classic literary example. Holmes is smart, witty, and drives the plot forward with his genius. He does little growing or changing but simply reveals more of who he is through every crime he solves.

J. R. R. Tolkien’s Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings is a wizard who offers sage advice, acts for the good of Middle-Earth, and fights for what he believes in. He is a mentor for the protagonist and a guide for the band of friends traveling to Mordor to destroy the one ring and defeat Sauron for good. While Gandalf does go from Gandalf the Grey to Gandalf the White, his character remains the same throughout.

The Power Of Flat Characters

We all want to stay true to our convictions, beliefs, moral code, and the parts that make up the best of us. That said, just as we try to make our characters human, we are human and often fail to remain strong at times. Flat character arcs are powerful because they demonstrate the ability to remain true even under great suffering, difficult circumstances, peer pressure, or other negative circumstances that affect your protagonist.

While it may seem that dynamic characters get the most page or screen time, when researching in a little more depth, flat characters are just as powerful. Gandalf would not be Gandalf if he was not the steady, wise companion he was. Captain America would not be Captain America if he bent under his convictions when the stress got too high.

As you write your next character, consider creating their arc as a flat arc rather than a dynamic one––it may be more dynamic than you realize. Take your time, do your research and then give it your best. It’s worth it!

Character Development Cheat Sheet [also printable!]

Fast track your character development in HALF the time.

Keep your characters feeling REAL and organized at the same time with a fully customizable and printable character development worksheet designed to make your characters shine!

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Symbolism In Writing blog post image

Symbolism – How To Use Symbols With Confidence In Stories

This article is for writers looking to learn how to use symbolism as a literary device to expand and layer meaning in their stories, by using symbolism in stories.

Symbolism can show hidden meanings and help set tones in the story to help the reader to understand and better connect with your story.

When using symbolism as part of writing your story, a balanced approach is best, so that your reader does not become confused. Symbolism, used well, should continue to advance the story forward.

By the end of this article, you’ll have a better idea of how to find hidden meanings in the art you consume, and you’ll know how to use that hidden meaning in your own work to attract and engage readers. 

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What is symbolism?

A simple definition of symbolism is that symbolism uses people or objects to represent a concept. These objects might be colors, animals, or parts of the setting – like the weather or lighting. 

Symbols are often used to get certain aspects of a story’s mood or tone across to a reader without being too on-the-nose.

Symbolism if often used in story-telling to key the reader into important concepts like death, rebirth, love, or even doom, but the author doesn’t want to spell it out for the reader too plainly. Symbols can be used to impart these concepts to the reader while moving the plot forward.

Symbols can also be used to identify themes and subplots in a story.

Writers might give characters certain symbols which show them at different stages in their journey—following these symbols as a reader will help you understand where the character is in their journey and what sorts of changes they’re going through. 

You can note these symbols on a character development worksheet for fast reference later.

Examples of Symbolism

Most symbols in a story take their roots in universal symbols. First, we’ll talk about some universal symbols and give examples, then we’ll talk about how writers work with those universal symbols in the context of their own stories. 

Universal symbols 

Here are some common universal symbols, broken down by category.

You may notice that some of these have meanings that don’t seem to have anything to do with each other—that’s because one symbol rarely has one agreed-upon meaning. That meaning will often depend on how the symbol presents itself.

For example, the meaning of the color yellow changes depending on the context, and depending on whether it’s a pastel or a vibrant yellow. 

Color symbols 

Black: sophistication, elegance, formality, mourning

White: life, purity, sterility

Red: romance, passion, danger, or lust

Green: prosperity, rebirth, nature 

Yellow: hazard, cowardice, dishonesty, friendship

Brown: groundedness, home, hearth, comfort 

Animal symbols 

Snake: deceit, cunning

Dog: loyalty, friendship

Bear: courage, threats 

Lion: courage, bravery, physical strength 

Flies: decay, rot, death

Raven: prophecy, foreboding

Object symbols 

(A quick note: you’ll notice that object symbols often combine with color symbols.) 

Money: prosperity, wealth

Ladder: ascending, connecting lower and higher concepts like heaven and earth 

Bridge: connectedness, togetherness

Rings/chains: restraint, joining together, commitment

Mirror: one’s own soul, beauty

Bones: death 

Water: life

Symbolism Tip: Water is almost always associated with “life”.

Story-specific symbols 

Writers take symbols like the ones listed above and incorporate them into their own stories when planning out the parts of the story for their book.

Example: The ‘Golden Snitch’ in Harry Potter 

  • ‘Gold’ symbolizes wealth or a prize, and the golden snitch symbolizes enlightenment and victory. 

Example: Night by Elie Wiesel 

  • Throughout this book, the night is used to symbolize death, danger, and doom. Nighttime is dark, and we already associate the darkness with fear and the unknown. 

Example: The green light in The Great Gatsby by Scott F Fitzgerald 

  • The famous green light! We associate green with prosperity and hope, and so does Gatsby. He looks out on the green light and believes he will be reunited with Daisy. However, this dream falls apart. Fitzgerald uses green a lot in this novel to symbolize wealth—notice where it comes up, and what happens to those characters who identify with it the most. 

How to Identify Symbolism in Writing

If you’re completely unfamiliar with symbolism, it might be easiest to start with movies, where directors and screenwriters use visual symbols. Being able to literally see the symbols on screen is super helpful if you’re new to this sort of thing. 

That said, these skills will help you out whether you’re looking for symbols in movies or in your favorite books. 

1. Look for symbolism in the most important scenes 

Go through a movie or book and pick out the most important scenes.

The best spots to find symbols are the introduction or beginning, the inciting incident, the climax, and the resolution. Find the moments with the most dramatic tension and identify the setting, characters, and description

Start by searching for universal symbols. Yes, this means underlining that the curtains in the climax of the novel are blue. It might not mean anything—not every single description is going to have a symbolic meaning, and that’s okay.

Keep an eye out for what symbols pop up at important plot points will help you notice them when they resurface again. 

Speaking of which… 

2. Symbolism is usually found in recurring imagery 

If you have a physical book, highlight every time a specific image or symbol resurfaces. Maybe you notice that one specific setting has water or bones, or specific types of animals always hang around one particular character. 

What sorts of items are associated with different characters? What colors are those items? What happens to those characters, and what happens to those items? Maybe the items change hands, get lost, or take on a new presentation. 

How to use symbolism in your plot

Now that you know how symbolism works and how to spot it, here are a few tips for using symbolism in your own work. 

1. Worry about it on the second draft 

The first and most important tip, for the sake of writing, is to get through your first draft without worrying too much about your symbols. Editing your book can wait.

This is the kind of thing that can get writers tied up in a never-ending first draft, constantly going back to make sure that everything is consistent. 

Write your first draft all the way through, pausing as infrequently as possible.

Then, when you revise, take the time to work on your symbols. Make a sheet of characters, settings, and themes with their associated symbols. 

2. Tie a specific universal meaning to your symbols 

Make sure you keep your symbols consistent across the board.

If green represents money and greed for some characters but life, prosperity, and nature for others, the meaning will get muddled and fall apart.

If rainbows appear in times of sadness, happiness, anger, and excitement, it’s difficult to pin down the significance of that symbol. 

This is where your symbolism planning sheet comes in handy.

Use that list to make sure the symbols you’ve chosen retain their meaning.

The meanings might change and evolve as the characters do, and that’s totally fine! But the meanings shouldn’t change randomly, or out of inconsistency on your part. 

3. Using symbols for foreshadowing 

Symbols are a great way to foreshadow events in your story. After all, the whole point of symbolism is getting across figurative meaning without being too direct.

Stories aren’t fun if the writer is spoon-feeding it to you.

It’s fun to be able to go back and notice that actually, the flies in chapter one signaled that character’s oncoming death. 

If you want to use your symbols to foreshadowing, double-check your symbols when you revise.

Make sure you’ve set that symbol up with that character or theme so that when it reappears later, your reader can recognize it. 

Also, you don’t want to beat your reader over the head with symbolism. Which leads me to… 

How to Avoid Heavy-Handed Symbolism in Your Writing

Say chapter one opens with a horrible storm approaching. A character arrives to the scene in a black car. A flock of ravens descends as he steps out, wearing black from head to toe. A skull and crossbones decorates his bumper. He walks up to our main characters as thunder rumbles, and we’re thinking, oh, gee, I wonder if this guy is going to end up dying or killing someone else. 

This is an example of heavy-handed imagery.

We don’t need all of this to get across a sense of foreboding or doom. We could pick any one of these symbols to suffice on its own. 

It’s also important to be aware of clichés. Sometimes using cliché is helpful, but relying on it to get information across will make the story fall flat.

A dark and stormy night, a black cat crossing a character’s path, a raven squawking in the background, a red-lipped seductress in a little black dress, a sweet little girl in a white dress—these are all cliché images.

If you want to use them, you need to do something with them. 

Maybe the sweet girl in a white dress is actually a murderous villain, or after the black cat crosses a character’s path, that character receives some great news.

In both instances, the writer is aware of the symbol they’re using, but they’re subverting the expectation to make for an interesting, engaging story.

Want to learn more about how and where to use symbolism in your story?

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Outline a Children’s Book – 5 Story Mapping Success Tips

Ready to outline a children’s book?

It might not as simple as you think. Whether you just want to write and publish a children’s book without much care for how it does or if you’re looking to make money with children’s books, you still have to understand this process.

Some folks have made the mistake of making a children’s book author mad, by stating that they would love to write a children’s book someday, since it’s not nearly as hard as writing a real book. 

There’s this idea that since children’s books are, in some ways, simpler than adult fiction, they must be easy to write, and the people who write them must not be particularly talented writers. 

This isn’t true and we’re show why below…

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Learning to write children’s books is a process unto itself, and it’s a skill that needs to be developed just like any other kind of writing. And just like any other kind of writing, it comes with a unique set of challenges. 

For example: outlining. 

Whatever book genre or age group you work with, you’re going to need to at least try to outline your novel

But how can children’s book authors outline theirs? 

The process is similar, but believe it or not, there’s different things children’s book authors need to keep in mind. 

This article will cover some tips and tricks for getting your next children’s book outlined and ready to draft. 

How is a children’s book outline different from a novel? 

This is sort of a trick question. 

The thing is, children’s books are still books—in other words, they’re still stories. 

This means that writers sitting down to outline their children’s books should ultimately be outlining a story in the same way that someone writing adult fiction would. 

Here’s where things differ: in children’s books, the story is much shorter, much more streamlined, and generally contains some kind of message or allegory. The allegory isn’t a requirement for children’s literature, but it’s pretty common. 

What does this mean?

Instead of mapping out countless subplots and fleshing out endless backstory, you’re going to want to keep things short, tight, and super focused on the core components of a story. If you’re writing a children’s book series, it’s even more important to dial in this process so you can outline all of them at once, before starting to write.

What is the basic structure of a children’s book?

Before we get into teaching you how to outline your children’s book, we should cover basic structure.

Like a book has a front and back cover that structure the book (telling you where the book begins and the book ends), it’s important to cover what should be included, before diving into the steps to outline your children’s book.

The basic structure of a children’s book shouldn’t differentiate too much from an adult fiction book. Stories are stories, and all of our stories have a core structure. 

However, you’ll want to really zero in on these core components when writing a children’s book. 

You don’t have a lot of space, so everything needs to be clear, concise, and intentional—there’s not as much room for meandering between acts as there might be in adult fiction, where readers are willing to sit down for three hundred pages and hear you out. 

Let’s go over the basic structure of a children’s book. These pieces will be the bones of your outline. 

Side note: if you’re writing middle grade fiction, you’ve got a little more room to work with things like romantic subplots and side characters. Your outline might not need to look quite as bare-bones as this, and may look a little more like a young adult outline.

When thinking about how to outline your children’s book, remember, your children’s book will have four basic components:

  • Beginning
  • Middle
  • Climax
  • Ending

Let’s get started.

1. Beginning of story

The beginning of your story should introduce the characters, themes, setting of the story, and conflict. We should have a clear sense of the world the characters live in, the rules for the universe, and who our main cast of characters are. 

When starting the outline for your book, remember to start the action sooner rather than later. Many children’s books begin the action as soon as your open the story – typically on page one or page two.

There may be some characters our main cast encounters on their journey, and it’s fine to introduce those in the middle, where the bulk of the story takes place. But all of our main characters should be introduced in the beginning. 

This introduction should be clear in a children’s book. It should be obvious where the story is taking place and what that setting looks like, and it should be stated very clearly who we’ll be following throughout the narrative.

It should also be very clear what sorts of conflict the characters will need to grapple with—is it an internal conflict, like the need to acquire more cookies, or is it an external conflict, like the need to take down a bad guy threatening the village? 

2. Middle of story

This is, for all intents and purposes, your second act. Most of the story will be in the middle. The characters should grapple with the conflict introduced in the first part of the story, and they should work to overcome different challenges in order to meet their goal. 

If you’re writing allegory, ask yourself what sorts of challenges represent their real-world equivalents. 

For example: in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, an enormous toxic self-help ox represents the sort of selfish and aggressive self-help advice that can ruin people’s friendships.

A character following that advice has to grapple with having become too aggressive. 

The obstacles in the middle of the story should tie to your theme, and they should work toward solving the central conflict. 

Don’t be afraid to introduce fun new characters for your main cast to interact with or new settings for your characters to travel through! Just keep it all as simple and easy to follow as possible, so it’s not confusing. 

It should always be crystal-clear why characters are doing what they’re doing. 

3. Story climax

Just like in adult fiction, this is your big hurrah. This is where your characters overcome that central conflict you’ve been building up to the entire time—the monster is defeated, the mouse finds his way home at long last, et cetera. 

Pay special attention to the climax section of your story as you begin to outline a children’s book.

The climax should be a very clear resolution of the conflict introduced in the first part of the story. If you set up an evil groundskeeper, for example, the conflict should involve our characters handling him, and the way they handle him should speak to the message and themes of the book.

Do your characters throw him into a pit? Do they realize he’s just misunderstood and befriend him? 

The way your characters handle the climax should be a culmination of their character arc

For example, a shy character might finally work up the nerve to stand up to her bully, or an aggressive character might learn to be soft and kind to her friends. Not to sound like a broken record, but again, this should be a very clear culmination from the character we met back in the beginning. 

4. Ending and Wrap Up

The ending of your children’s book is going to be the most important part in terms of theme. The ending should immediately follow the climax—the princess marries the prince, and they live happily ever after! 

The way the book ends tells us the overall message and ties up the theme. If the characters defeated the groundskeeper with violence and they’re all celebrating, we’ve learned that violence was an acceptable and understandable way to handle this conflict.

If the characters gather around and vow to stay best friends forever despite the events of the story, we learn that friendship can endure even the toughest hardships. 

A note on morals: while adult fiction tends to question our morality and offer tons of grey space for our principles, children’s fiction tends to be simpler.

This isn’t to say that children’s literature can’t grapple with intense issues, like grief or social injustice issues like racism, and it isn’t to say that children’s literature can’t grapple with those issues with nuance and understanding. 

What I mean here is that children need a simple, clear message that ends the story on a satisfying note. This means that whatever your message is, it shouldn’t be difficult to pick apart. 

How to Outline a Children’s Book With Ease & Impact

Now we know what the basic structure for a children’s book looks like, which means we’re ready to get started! Here are a few tips and tricks to use to make sure your children’s book outline is as good as it can be: 

1. Identify Your Theme 

Before you get started on your plot, identify your theme, especially if you’re setting out to write an allegory. 

What problem are the characters going to solve? What does that problem represent—does it have an analogy to real-world conflict, and if it does, what is that real-world conflict? 

For example: a cruel and vicious groundskeeper might represent a mean parent or an unjust government leader.

These analogies should be kept in terms that children understand and relate to, so it’s best to stick with issues children face. Parental struggles, friendship problems, school problems, etc.

Children also deal with things like grief and trauma, so if you’re writing about something like that, just make sure you’re keeping the child’s perspective in mind as you outline a children’s book. 

2. Know Your Characters 

In a children’s book, it’s especially important to have recognizable, memorable characters. Make sure you have only as many characters as you need to tell the story, since a story with too many characters can get confusing. 

It’s also important to make sure these characters are distinct and motivated. If your book is illustrated, making them visually distinct will be a huge help.

Otherwise, make sure the character’s names don’t look the same (Sarah and Sandra might be a little confusing), and make sure each character has their own strong characterization and motivation. 

It can also be helpful to give characters a unique trait or quirk, like a hairstyle, special power, or catchphrase.

These can get gimmicky, so don’t rely on them for characterization, but if your genre calls for it, play around with it! The ponies in My Little Pony, for example, all have distinct colors, styles, and special powers. 

3. Find Your Conflict 

Once you’ve got your theme and your characters, you’re ready to identify your conflict. 

The conflict should arise naturally from the distinct characters you’ve created and the setting you’ve put them in—if the characters and setting all totally gel with each other and there’s no tension or potential for tension between them, you might want to rework it. 

If your story is going to involve some external conflict, like an alien invasion, you should still have some internal conflict for your character to work through. Maybe your character needs to learn to be brave, for example.

Identify these and keep it in mind for your climax. 

4. Map Out Your Plot Points 

Now that you’ve got all that, it’s time to hit up the basic structure we talked about earlier. 

Go through and map out your beginning, middle, climax, and end. If you’ve only got one of those pieces in mind right now, that’s fine! Write it down and fill in the rest as it comes to you. 

If you’re working with an illustrator, it might be helpful to use a storyboard format to outline. 

Even just sketching some stick figures or describing what you want to go on in the scene can be helpful. 

For tips on this, try looking at movie directors’ and comic book writers’ storyboards for inspiration. 

5. Plan for Variety 

Finally, you should plan a few different endings for your story. Children’s books are short, and you might need to play around with different versions of the story. Maybe in one version, the climax goes differently, or the ending has a more serious or less serious note. 

You don’t have to go crazy, necessarily, but having these alternate versions readily available will be helpful when it comes to getting feedback. 

This way, you can ask your readers which versions they prefer and why, and if you need to head back to the drawing board, you won’t be left with absolutely nothing.

Step-By-Step Process to Outline (and Write) Your Children’s Book

So, how do you outline a children’s book?

Well, the first step is to identify your theme. This will help set up what your story is about and give it direction.

Next, know your characters–this includes their goals and motivations as well as any major conflicts they might be facing.

Then, come up with plot points that illustrate how these different aspects of the story play out over time.

Finally, plan for variety by having subplots or side stories that tie into but don’t overshadow the primary storyline in order to keep readers engaged throughout the entire process!

If this sounds like something you’d enjoy trying yourself, register below for our free online class on writing children’s books where we’ll cover all of this and more!

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Writing an Antagonist: Who They Are and How They Work

Everyone knows that all stories need a hero. But we often overlook that stories need an antagonist, too. 

Think about it like this: every story needs conflict. A story’s not interesting if the hero gets everything they want without any resistance–we need tension, drama, stakes, and compelling characters to keep us invested the whole way through and make the hero’s victory worthwhile. These are the building blocks to writing a great novel.

Enter: antagonists. 

We’re here to talk about the opposition today! We’ll figure out what they are, how they function in stories, and give you some examples of antagonists you may have seen before. We’ll even get into some common misconceptions about them, so if you think you already know everything there is to know about them, stay tuned! 

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What is the best definition of Antagonist? 

An antagonist is a character opposing the protagonist. They’re the character presenting obstacles or challenges that keep the hero or main character from getting what they want. It’s really that simple! An antagonist doesn’t have to be the main villain of a story–there are usually more than one antagonists in any given story. 

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What is the role of the Antagonist? 

Your protagonist has their goal, whether it’s to get together with their significant other, save the world, or overthrow the government. Your anti-hero’s goal is simple: stop the protagonist from getting what they want. 

An antagonist might stop them in a million different ways, and it all depends on the story. In a romance, maybe the antagonist is a bitter ex-boyfriend who doesn’t want to see his ex-girlfriend happy, so he keeps trying to sabotage her new relationship. In a fantasy story, they could be an evil warlock bent on destroying humans for good. 

Like we mentioned earlier, the role isn’t always necessarily the main villain. Your main villain is almost certainly going to be an antagonist–if they aren’t doing anything to trouble your heroes, then they’re probably not a great villain–but anyone who gets in the protagonist’s way is technically an antagonist. 

Is the Antagonist the bad guy? 

So, when we were talking about villains, I listed some examples of antagonists doing some morally bad things. This is pretty typical–heroes are generally good guys, so a bad guy is usually going to be the one to get in their way. 

But this isn’t a hard rule. This character doesn’t have to be evil in a moral sense! If your protagonist is a villainous character who does awful things and the antagonist is trying to stop them, they’re still the antagonist–they’re just morally good or lawful. 

The thing to keep in mind is that bad and good are moral terms that describe the moral value of someone’s actions. The bad guys want to blow up New York, so the Avengers save the day. Dr. Doofenshmirtz wants to blow up the Tri-State area, so Perry stops him. Perry wants to keep the Tri-State area safe, and every single day of his life, Dr. Doofenshmirtz is one heck of an obstacle. 

But maybe there’s the Grinch looking to destroy Christmas. That’s not a super cool thing to do, and the audience knows it, but the Grinch is still our protagonist. We don’t want him to succeed, really, and we’re not rooting for him to rip up that Whoville fun–he’s our protagonist, but he’s not a good guy. Similarly, the Whos down in Whoville are impeding him, so they’re antagonists. They aren’t bad guys, but they are antagonists. 

What is an example of an Antagonist? 

We’ve defined character traits and explained what their role is in a given story–now it’s time to look at some examples! 

Disney Antagonist Examples

Lord Farquaad and Monsieur Hood from Shrek 

Shrek’s goal, from the get-go, is pretty simple and pretty obvious. He wants to be left alone in his swamp to hang out and be gross, and when a bunch of fairytale creatures show up on his land, this becomes impossible. 

It’s true that the fairytale creatures being there prevent him from achieving his goal, but they were sent there by Lord Farquaad–they didn’t come on their own accord. Lord Farquaad is the one kicking them off their own land, refusing to cooperate, and ripping the legs off gingerbread men–he’s the antagonist, not the creatures. He’s also the main antagonist, because he drives the central conflict of the film. 

We also have Monsieur Hood, who’s basically Robin Hood, and who wants to do some highway robbery while Shrek and the gang are coming back from their quest. Monsieur Hood is an antagonist, because he’s literally standing in the way of what our protagonists want. However, he’s not the main antagonist. 

Mother Gothel and the Stabbington Brothers from Tangled 

Disney is famous for its villains for good reason–they’re consistently well-branded and reveling in their misconduct, and it’s a blast to watch. Mother Gothel is no exception! 

Rapunzel wants to leave the tower, explore the world, and figure out who she is. Mother Gothel wants to keep Rapunzel in the tower, prevent her from exploring the world, and keep Rapunzel’s identity a secret. She spends most of the movie trying to hunt Rapunzel down and recapture her. She’s our main antagonist. 

We also have the Stabbington brothers, our secondary antagonists. They want revenge on Flynn for stealing the crown, and they join up with Mother Gothel to achieve this goal. 

Sauron, Orcs, Sarumon, Smeagol from Lord of the Rings 

Naming every character that could fit into this definition in Lord of the Rings would probably take a minute–Lord of the Rings is an enormous series with a half a billion characters. However, it’s a great chance to pick apart some antagonists and differentiate between main, secondary, and miscellaneous. 

Our main antagonist is Sauron. Defeating Sauron is our central goal–he’s doing the most to destroy our protagonists’ hopes and dreams and worlds. We also have Sarumon and Smeagol, secondary antagonists who work to prevent the protagonists from getting that one true ring to Mordor. 

We also have a sea of orcs. These guys are also opposite the protagonist, since they’re working to prevent our characters from defeating evil, which is their goal. 

Again, they’re not categorized as bad guys because they’re fighting for evil–our protagonists just happen to be fighting against that evil. 

Zuko from Avatar: the Last Airbender 

Zuko’s one of the best antagonists ever! Let’s talk about why. 

At the start of the story, his entire purpose is to capture the Avatar. The Avatar is our main protagonist, so this makes Zuko an antagonist. It’s pretty cut and dry for a while… and suddenly, the tables turn. 

Zuko changes his villainous ways, denounces his evil father, and switches sides in the third season. He joins the Gaang, and at this point, he stops opposing the protagonist. He’s no longer preventing Aang from achieving his goals–he’s helping him, which means he’s now a protagonist. 

Firelord Ozai from Avatar: the Last Airbender 

Unlike Zuko, Firelord Ozai sticks to being an opp the entire time. He’s driving the main conflict–his desire to take over and destroy the entire world is exactly what Aang spends the entire show training to prevent. 

Zuko provides an additional challenge, because he’s also trying to capture Aang, but he isn’t the one trying to take over the world. He just wants to get back on his dad’s good side. Ozai, on the other hand, is pretty hell-bent on world domination. 

More Antagonist Examples

Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman 

You might think antagonists don’t exist in literary fiction, but you’d be wrong! Antagonists get more complicated when it comes to more character-driven work. It kind of takes the nuance out of your complex coming-of-age narrative if you’ve got a cloaked villain stroking his beard in the background. 

Willy Loman is a great example of a protagonist who’s also an antagonist. He wants to fulfill the American Dream through his role as a salesman, but he’s also delusional. He’s insecure, he’s volatile, and throughout the entire play, he is his own worst enemy. He prevents himself from achieving his goals, and the drama from the play comes from watching him implode. The American Dream isn’t stable, and neither is Loman. 

In literary fiction, antagonists are usually kind of complicated. You’ll have the protagonist be their own antagonist, or have the antagonist be a misunderstood family member–when in doubt, ask yourself who it is that’s preventing the protagonist from achieving their goals. In Death of a Salesman, it’s Willy Loman. 

The School and Erasers from Maximum Ride 

Maximum Ride’s a book series about bird kids who escape their lab and wreak havoc on America, all the while struggling with their weird existence as bird kids. The lab is known as The School, and that’s our main evil force opposing the bird kids. 

The School constantly pursues the kids in an attempt to recapture them for further scientific tinkering. This creates the main problem the kids face throughout the series: they want their freedom, and the School wants them captured. These guys are our main antagonists. 

We also have Erasers, the goons The School sends to recapture or kill the kids. Erasers aren’t the ones creating that main conflict, but they are definitely posing a problem–these are secondary antagonists. 

Hades and the Minotaur from The Lightning Thief 

Hades stole a lightning bolt from Zeus, and Percy has to go get it back. Hades is our main antagonist in the Lightning Thief! You may have heard Greek Mythology buffs complain about how this series makes Hades into something of a villain, since in traditional Greek mythology, he’s really just hanging out. 

But, one more time: Hades isn’t an the main opposition in this story because he’s evil. He fits the trait because he’s got, and wants to keep, the thing Percy, our protagonist, needs to succeed in his quest. 

The Lightning Thief and the Heroes of Olympus series is full of fun secondary antagonists, but for an easy example, let’s consider the Minotaur. When Percy’s trying to get into Camp Half-Blood, the Minotaur is literally physically in his way, preventing him from achieving this goal. Bam, antagonist. 

Cersei from Game of Thrones 

Remember when I said that literary fiction can create some complicated antagonists? So can any genre, if the author plays their cards right. Cersei’s pretty obviously a villain in Game of Thrones–right? 

Well, it’s complicated. Game of Thrones is told from many characters’ points of view, and almost every character wants to end up on the Iron Throne, Cersei included. She prevents many of our more likeable characters from being on the throne and does a ton of awful stuff to prevent them from even getting close, which does make her an public enemy number 1. 

However, from her own point of view, she’s a protagonist. People like Margaery Tyrell and Ned Stark become antagonists, preventing her from keeping the throne. 

She’s definitely an anti-hero, but she’s also kind of a protagonist, which makes for a fun, complicated reading experience. 

Who is your favorite TV, movie, or book antagonist? Let us know in the comments below!

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A Beginner’s Guide to Writing Realistic Fiction

It’s no secret that right now, genre fiction has the spotlight. For years now, romance has dominated the writing industry in terms of sales, and sci-fi and fantasy have a grip on our media landscape. Some authors have found success in writing to this market and continue to build their audience. Every year we get a new slew of sci-fi blockbusters, high fantasy bestsellers, and YA fantasy making big waves in the art world. 

But honestly, that’s not for everyone. 

Some of us just want to write relatable and realistic fiction about regular people dealing with real issues without worrying about worldbuilding, fake languages, or mythical creatures. And there’s still a place for that sort of story! Writers like Donna Tartt, Markus Zusak, John Green, and Angie Thomas prove that the market for realistic fiction is alive and well. 

That leaves us with a few questions, though. What is realistic fiction, really, and how does it differ from other dragon-and-magic-exempt genres? And more importantly, how do you write it? 

In this article, we’re here to take a closer look at what realistic fiction is, what makes it unique, and how to go about writing realistic fiction of your own. 

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What is realistic fiction?

When we talk about genre, the lines can get blurry pretty quick. Even when we’ve narrowed a book down to a genre, subgenre can keep making it hazy. Does The Fault in Our Stars count as realistic fiction, drama, or tragedy? How do we even start to categorize works like The Secret History, which act as part murder-mystery, part thriller, part coming-of-age, and part realistic fiction? 

Well, the truth is, it depends on how you look at it. 

And when it comes to realistic fiction, it gets complicated. 

At the surface level, realistic fiction is defined as fiction which depicts events which might have occurred to real people in a realistic setting. Basically, if all of it seems like something that could actually happen, you’re dealing with realistic fiction. 

Hold on, you might be thinking: isn’t most fiction realistic fiction, then? What about all those genres like romance, thriller, or crime, where the events could realistically happen? 

Like I said before, these genre divisions aren’t perfect, and there’s some overlap. But other genres like crime, mystery, and romance have their own sets of genre conventions and tropes that readers expect to find. Romance, obviously, will focus on a romance between two (or more) characters. A story about a detective trying to crack a cold case is probably going to be shelved with mysteries at your local library. 

But that’s still pretty vague. Let’s get a little more into how we can identify realistic fiction and set it apart from other genres which use believable character archetypes, real-world events, and real-world issues. Along the way, we’ll pick up some tips for writing our own realistic fiction! 

What to include in realistic fiction 

Let’s look at some criteria for what we should include in realistic fiction. 

1. Contemporary setting

Realistic fiction should be contemporary to the time it was written. Events should happen either in the present or recent past–there isn’t a hard rule for this, but as a guideline, characters should be dealing with issues that pertain to the modern world. It should be relatable to the reader’s present-day problems

2. Believable events

Like we mentioned earlier, characters and events should be believable. This doesn’t mean boring! Lots of extraordinary things can conceivably happen to real-life people, and lots of seemingly everyday things can be described in extraordinary ways. 

For example, a realistic fiction book might describe a boy coming of age in a public school in Texas. Plenty of people grow up in Texas, so this isn’t necessarily extraordinary, but realistic fiction will take a closer look at this narrative and use it to explore real-world issues, family dynamics, et cetera. 

In other words, realistic fiction often makes art out of the everyday, mundane events around us. 

3. Contemporary issues 

Earlier, we talked about how plenty of genres involve stories that take place in our world and which involve believable events. However, the key thing separating realistic fiction from the rest of it is the subject matter. 

While other genres concern themselves with niche parts of the human experience, realistic fiction addresses contemporary issues. Coming-of-age is a pretty common touchstone for realistic fiction–after all, everyone grows up. Realistic fiction might deal with divorce, loss of a loved one, or social issues. 

The main thing to keep in mind is that these issues should be relatable to the reader and relevant to the world at the time of its publication. For example, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas addresses ongoing police brutality, drawing on real-life, contemporary examples to make the issues real and impactful for the reader. 

How can we apply this to our writing? Well, it sounds simple, but keep the subject matter relatable. We mentioned earlier that realistic fiction makes art of the mundane, and that’s true! It also makes art out of current events and contemporary issues. 

What’s a contemporary issue you feel passionate about? What’s a common experience that you want to shed an artistic lens on? To write a compelling realistic fiction novel, you want to find a contemporary experience and put your own unique spin on it. 

4. An everyday message 

If you’ve got a story that takes place in a believable setting with believable characters set in the real world with no fantasy elements, you’re probably working with realistic fiction. But it’s also important that the story has a message that’s pertinent to everyday people. 

This might seem obvious, but think about it–some sci-fi or thriller novels seem to take place in a world just like ours, but at the end, there’s a supernatural twist or a takeaway that’s a little out of this world. Especially in horror, the events are technically grounded in reality, but the takeaway might not be something applicable to day-to-day life. 

A book about realistic fiction might have a character learning to cope with mental illness or grieving the loss of a loved one. As I mentioned, it might be coming of age. This obviously isn’t an exhaustive list of the themes realistic fiction deals with, but they all have in common that readers can take those messages and apply it to their own lives. 

This doesn’t mean the messages have to be morally good, or that you have to be teaching your reader a valuable, applicable lesson! It just means that if you’re setting out to write realistic fiction and your main character ends up solving their problems in a dream state or using magic or discovering a secret society living underneath a mountain–I don’t know, could be anything–you’re probably working with another genre. 

What to avoid in realistic fiction 

So, we’ve talked about the elements you need in your realistic fiction book. Now that you’ve got a good idea of what realistic fiction is, let’s talk about what it isn’t so we can really complete our understanding. 

First and foremost: 

Realistic fiction is not literary fiction… but it’s also the same thing. 

You may have heard of ‘literary fiction’ or been forced to read it in school–what is it, exactly? Literary fiction is fiction that attempts to better understand the human condition. Literary fiction sets out to be capital a Art, the kind of stuff people get Pulitzers and National Book Awards for and the kind of thing critics fawn over forever. 

In other words, literary fiction has literary merit. But, it’s also often realistic fiction. 

The thing is, there’s a ton of debate about what deserves literary merit, what literary merit means, and who awards it. It’s limiting to say that only the books that receive critical acclaim have literary merit, and it’s limiting to imply that genre fiction can’t have literary merit. 

If you’re writing a realistic fiction book and you’re wondering whether it’s literary fiction or realistic fiction, the answer is that it depends on who reads it, what they think, and how they interpret it. In other words, don’t worry about it too much. Literary and realistic fiction are often used interchangeably, technically mean different things, and it doesn’t ultimately matter much. 

The really, really mundane.

Here’s the thing: your book shouldn’t be boring, regardless of the genre

Be Mindful of Your Writing Style

Yes, realistic fiction should deal with everyday, relatable issues. It’s the job of the author, however, to transform those issues into an interesting story for the reader. A book about a man who goes to work every day, participates in a totally normal marriage, and dies happy at seventy-six is technically realistic fiction, but it’s not compelling. 

In any story, there needs to be stakes. Just because there isn’t a political revolution or a dragon invasion or a zombie apocalypse doesn’t mean we can’t feel those stakes! Maybe your character is about to graduate high school and leave their long-term boyfriend. Maybe they’re in a tragic car accident and lose their sibling or parent. 

These things happen to people all the time, and they’re full of conflict and interesting story detail. Make art of the mundane, but don’t make your art mundane! 

Supernatural elements 

You might notice that some realistic fiction has a subplot that might be considered genre fiction. The Fault in Our Stars, for example, has a romance subplot, as does most contemporary YA and most coming-of-age. In stories like Turtles all the Way Down, we have a coming-of-age that’s mixed with a murder mystery. Why does that count as realistic fiction? 

The reason, simply, is that even with those elements, these stories are still believable stories set in realistic settings with takeaways that are applicable to the reader. The message of Turtles all the Way Down isn’t that Aza is a smart detective–the murder mystery isn’t the core dilemma. Growing up is the core dilemma. 

A hard rule, though, is that you absolutely should not have supernatural elements in your realistic fiction story. And if you consider the criteria we’ve discussed, this makes sense. How can a story have a relatable takeaway if the characters solved their problems using magic, or if they had some sort of divine intervention? 

Magic, supernatural creatures, fantasy settings, and that sort of thing have their time and place. And if you’re interested in writing about a world like ours with magical elements, maybe you’d be happy writing urban fantasy or supernatural pieces! But it won’t work for realistic fic. 

Examples of realistic fiction 

One of the best ways we can learn to write anything is to read. So where do we start with examples of realistic fiction? 

If you’re interested in YA or books dealing with teen issues, here’s a quick list of some famous books to get you started: 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky 

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen 

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini 

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo 

If you’re more interested in fiction that deals with more adult issues, here’s a starter pack for that: 

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng 

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple 

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones 

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan 

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet 

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

You know what realistic fiction is, how to write it, and some great examples from a variety of authors to get an idea of how it’s written. You’re ready to go forth and write your own realistic fiction novel! 

Do you have any advice on how to make an engaging, interesting realistic fiction story? Do you prefer realistic fiction to genre fic or vice versa?

Strike up a convo in the comments below!

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