Is Your Story Too Complicated? Here Are 9 Signs

Calling a story “complex” is a high compliment. But what is complexity? How can we learn how to write stories that are complex—without skidding across that narrow dividing line into complicated? What’s the difference between a complex story and a complicated story? And is your story too complicated? This a topic I’ve spent quite some […]

How to Write Emotional Scenes (Without Making Them Cringey)

Learning how to write emotional scenes is one of the single most important feats any writer must rise to. We want fiction to make us feel something. I’m not talking just a little twinge of satisfaction here or there. I’m talking full-on emotional experiences: tears, laughter, cheers, even rage on occasion. Scenes in which characters […]

How to Structure Stories With Multiple Main Characters?

One of the most common questions I’m asked is how to structure stories with multiple main characters. If you have two (or more) characters who are equally important to the story and receive equal POV time, how should you balance them when structuring your novel? At its core, story structure is a simple equation: one […]

Capturing Authentic Human Reactions in Fiction

The goal of all memorable fiction is to capture the truth about humanity. Sometimes that truth is weighty and all-encompassing, such as the ubiquitous “good triumphs over evil.” But sometimes the important truths in fiction are found in the tiniest representations of the world around us and the people who inhabit it. When authors faithfully […]

8 Ways to Avoid Cardboard Characters (and Plot Contrivances While You’re At It)

“The plot was contrived, and the characters were cardboard.” Ouch. That’s about as bad as it can get when it comes to negative story reviews. It’s also perhaps one of the most common complaints audiences have about stories. Certainly, it’s one that irritates me the most! Here’s the thing though: cardboard characters often cause plot contrivances—and […]

The Role of the Antagonist in Story Structure, Pt. 2 of 2

One way to think about plot is as a “push-pull between protagonist and antagonist.” Although the protagonist is the character who frames and, indeed, decides the story’s structure, the role of the antagonist in story structure is equally important. Last week, I shared an overview of the antagonist’s role in the first five major structural […]

The Role of the Antagonist in Story Structure, Pt. 1 of 2

If you’re a student of story structure, then you probably have a pretty good idea how each of the major plot beats affects your protagonist—and, indeed, how the protagonist in turn drives the plot beats. But what about the antagonist? What is the role of the antagonist in story structure? Plot can be described in […]

9 Ways to Approach Relationship Dynamics in Fiction

Creating an amazing supporting cast that can offer important relationship dynamics in fiction will also help develop your protagonist. This isn’t just because great supporting characters will add color, drama, and nuance to your story in their own right. It’s also because every supporting character in your story has the ability to bring out new […]

Humanizing the Bad Guy (or, Some Thoughts on Violence in Fiction)

Our sense of story is almost like an extrasensory organ. It enables us to pick up on subtle signals in tone and intent and this allows us to interpret how we should respond when we encounter violence in fiction. These signals are more important than the actual act we are reading about or viewing. This […]

How to Make Your Character’s Choices More Difficult

One of the best things about conflict is that it pushes your characters to act. In every scene, your characters are making choices—big ones and small ones and thereby steering their fate. Some decisions will be obvious and require little to no thought, but others will be muddier, with no clear “better” option, generating inner […]