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Stocks and Clichés

There is no such thing as an "original" character in the same way there's no such thing as an "original" story. All characters fall under a stock category. Every story has a Hero, a Villain, Love Interest, Best-Friend, Evil Lieutenant, etc. Your character might combine these stocks (such as the Love Interest is also the Best Friend) or they could be just one—such as a die-hard, through and through Hero—but every character, even the Town Drunk and Grumpy Bartender, have a basis in Stock.
That is not a bad thing.
In fact, it's actually a good thing. Every now and then, a person will branch out and think "I don't want a clichéd character, I want something original!" and try to go against the norm by making their Hero character actually turn out to be the Villain and, because of that, the Villain wins in the end. Can you think of a single book/movie/play/game that ends that way? The Hero and the Villain may die together, the Hero might actually be t…
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Speak Clearly!

Dialogue is one of the hardest things for writers to write and a difficulty that is not exclusive to new writers. Finding your characters' individual voices is extremely difficult, and more often than not, they end up sounding just like every other character in your story, which then makes it difficult for your reader to determine who is speaking when. Especially if you have two characters that are already very similar. For example:
Bob and Dillon are brothers, three years apart, in their mid-twenties. Bob is a lawyer and Dillon is an aspiring professional skateboarder.
"Hey, we need milk. Could you get some on your way home?"
"Sure. Do you have a preference?"
"2%, but I'm supposed to be cutting on fat. Get skim."
Could you tell who was who? How about in this one:
"You left your room a mess. Again."
"You're not Mom, bro. Chill out."
"I may not be Mom, but for the time being you're living in my house. If you don't like …

A Box Has Two Sides

No, that title is not the beginning of a really bad joke (although it easily could be ^-^), it's the way you need to think of your stories. In plain language, that means you don't have to worry about using a stock plot such as Boy meets Girl, Boy falls for Girl, Boy and Girl start dating, Boy and Girl have a misunderstanding, Boy and Girl reconcile and ride off into the sunset. If you think about it, that is the basic plot-line of almost every RomCom on the market. The reason is that people like clichés. They like being able to predict how the story is going to end. Which is why you always know what you're going to get when you go to the movies or the bookstore and walk into a specific genre section. In fact, you can break almost every genre down into one, basic plot:  Science-Fiction/Fantasy There's a Big Bad who is oppressing the people. An unlikely Hero rises from the ashes, gathers a group of friends, confronts the Big Bad and loses, regroups, receives training fr…

Finding Your Voice

There are few things worse than picking up a book and trying to muddle your way through a boring/unlikable narrator. You could have the greatest story in the world, but it will all be for naught if your reader is trying to figure out why we're following Judith Day around because she's so bland, boring, and/or annoying.
A lot of new writers think that only First Person stories have an actual narrative voice. It's in First Person that you're trapped inside the character's mind and have to conform to their view of life and reality, so the person talking had better be very interesting. The problem is, it isn't just First Person narratives that have a voice. ALL points of view are written in voice, either by the voice of the character or by the voice of the omniscient narrator, there is always, always, ALWAYS a voice.
In a Third Person story, especially in a very distant or omniscient third, the narrative voice is a reflection of the writer. It gives us the impression…

Rules of the World

Every well-constructed World runs on rules. The mark of a truly great World is when your reader doesn't necessarily realize what those rules are. Everything has to be planned out before you ever start writing so that, if you want to write about something, you don't have to make up slap-dash rules on the fly. Now this doesn't mean that you have to write a 300-page appendix and attach it to the last book in your trilogy so that people know the History of your World and how the people evolved from mindless Neanderthals to a booming metropolis; odds are your readers won't care (not every writer can be Tolkien). But if you don't need to write a history book then what do you need? 
1) Write the History: Yes, yes that's completely contrary to what I just said, BUT what I'm talking about is more than just several textbooks filled with dates or dots on a map. History is what defines a culture. If you have a large world with multiple cultures then that's fine, b…

First Readers

A huge part of writing is finding someone impartial to read your work before anyone else sees it. That person needs to be your biggest critic because anything that gets passed them (a poorly constructed sentence, a whiny unlikable hero, a misspelled word) will go out to your second, third and etc. readers as well. First Readers are the people that tell you where your prose doesn't make sense, what needs more description (or less description as is sometimes the case), what needs to be clarified or expanded upon and when you have some well-beloved sentence/paragraph/etc. that is supremely unnecessary and really just needs to be cut.
No one ever just finds a perfect First Reader so it is your job to guide them into being what you need them to be. The first few times they read through a new manuscript make sure you double space and then print it out so the Reader can write comments or draw circles or stars or whatever else they might need to do to draw your attention. Train them to loo…

Character History

So in case you haven't already noticed, I'm doing a very quick, very brief overview of the main points of story creation. Once I've hit most, if not all, of the highs, I'll then proceed to give more in-depth analysis according to my own experience. Please to do not take anything I say as "law", I'm still learning myself. I can, however, present the theories that I have established in my years as an undergrad and graduate student in accordance to what does and doesn't work.
And now, Character.
After World Building, the characters you create are the most important part of the story. You could have the world's most generic and over-used plot, but with good, strong, and engaging characters almost no one will notice, and those that do won't care. The best way to accomplish this is to create characters that people can relate to while still keeping them unique. So how do you start? With the obvious.
The first thing anyone notices about another human bei…