Character archetypes: How to enrich your novel’s cast

Hi fellow writer.

 This week I continue re editing my novel, tightening and cleaning it before returning it to the publisher. My writing coach suggested a new format for introducing the prime characters. Having completed this I am satisfied it will read easier. Upon reading this weeks NowNovel blog just now, it is satisfying to re identify the characters according to this informative information. I pass it on hoping you will learn more of your craft as well. Glennis Browne

Character archetypes: How to enrich your novel’s castThe best-loved fiction for children, teens and adults shares characters who feel familiar. This is because effective characters often have strong archetypal qualities. They have combinations of fears and goals – character psychology – we’ve seen before. What are character archetypes, exactly, and how can you use them to make your novel’s cast more interesting?

Defining character archetypes

The first definition of the word ‘archetype’ is ‘a very typical example of a certain person or thing.’ (OED). The second is ‘an original which has been imitated’ or ‘prototype’ (OED).

‘Character archetypes’ are thus the blueprints for characters that we draw on. There’s a pool of stock characters writers adapt and vary. In Harry Potter, for example, we see the classic (even clichéd) fantasy figure of ‘the chosen orphan-meets-hero’.

A third definition of archetype comes from psychoanalysis, the study of human psychology. Carl Jung described archetypes as the mental images inherited from ancestors that fill our collective unconscious minds as human beings who have rich networks of mental and emotional associations.

Why are character archetypes useful for writers?

Archetypes recur and repeat in fiction because they mimic real people’s similarities and differences.

Take, for example, A.A. Milne’s famous children’s series featuring the easygoing bear Winnie the Pooh. Each character is a vivid archetype, a bundle of distinctive personality traits. Pooh is the archetypal phlegmatic or easy-going character. The self-described ‘bear of little brain’ plods along, seldom ruffled. Milne contrasts this with Pooh’s friend Piglet, who is timid and usually in a state of high anxiety or panic. The two friends contrast with another inhabitant of Milne’s world, Rabbit, who is bossy and hot-tempered.

What Milne’s characters illustrate (and why they feel so real and ‘knowable’) is the dominant, archetypal aspects of our personalities. You might have a friend who is a nervous wreck like piglet; another like rabbit who is bossy and quick to anger.

So how do you use character archetypes to build a diverse story cast?

1: Combine characters with different dominant archetypal qualities

People’s personalities can be divided into four basic emotional types:

Sanguine: Sanguine or upbeat people look on the bright side – they’re ‘glass half full’ types who tend towards cheerfulness and usually bounce back easily from setbacks.

Melancholic: Melancholic people and characters are the opposite end of the spectrum: They dwell more on the past and are more the ‘glass half empty’ types. They’re more sensitive to life’s knocks than their sanguine counterparts.

Phlegmatic: Phlegmatic or easy-going types come across as lower in energy than sanguine types, but have more of a level emotional balance than melancholic or sanguine people.

Choleric: Hot-tempered choleric people are feisty and fiery, quick to react when irritated. Like sanguine people, they’re high-energy, yet they have more of the negative outlook of a melancholic person.

These are of course shorthand. We know real people are complex, often two or more contradictory things at once. People also change. Yet they are useful categories for focusing on how fictional characters differ in their temperaments and shortcomings.

When you combine different archetypes you can get volatile character relationships. For example, in the Winnie the Pooh series, choleric Rabbit is often irritated by phlegmatic Pooh’s easygoing but impractical nature. In one story, Pooh eats too much while visiting Rabbit and gets stuck in his burrow’s entrance, to Rabbit’s immense frustration.

To distinguish your characters and set up conflict (or attraction between opposites), make sure you use multiple archetypes as you flesh out your cast.

2: Use character archetypes to plan characters’ goals

In a novel or story, characters’ goals are crucial. They give the story purpose, drive and direction. They tell us why characters make specific choices that lead to scenarios.

Carl Jung, in theorizing archetypes, defined twelve types of personality. He defined these in terms of people’s motivations and drives. It’s worthwhile reading Carl Golden’s concise summary of these archetypes here.

Here is an infographic of each character archetype’s most common goal and fear:

Think of a well-known character from fiction. How do they combine the above characteristics?

Take one of YA’s most famous characters, Harry Potter from J.K. Rowling’s hit fantasy series. At the start, Harry lives the ‘Orphan’ archetype’s greatest fear. His spiteful aunt and uncle exclude him. Out of fear of his difference, they constantly emphasize his non-belonging and demand gratitude while abusing him emotionally.

Yet when Harry enters Hogwarts School, he finds an inclusive world of friendship, which fulfills the Orphan archetype’s core goal: belonging. This in turn gives him courage and support, both of which help him assume the ‘Hero’ role and confront the series’ villain.

When you create primary characters for your book, think about how they could combine elements of the above archetypes. Is your protagonist an Explorer, for example, who craves freedom and thus avoids close relationships because they’re afraid of being tied down?
3: Make archetypal character goals, fears, talents and flaws interact

Fictional characters are believable when they have goals, fears, talents and weaknesses like us. These elements interact with each other, and with other characters’ own attributes. A character whose weakness is fear of losing freedom, for example, might respond negatively to a Lover or Caregiver type who strives for attachment and close relationships.

These interactions between contrasting archetypes make stories compelling, ring true.

Take the protagonist and antagonist in Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962). Anti-hero Randle McMurphy chooses to serve a sentence for battery and gambling at a psychiatric hospital rather than go to prison. Randle, the Rebel archetype, encounters the iron-fisted head nurse, Mildred Ratched, who controls her patients using rewards and shame. Ratched is a quintessential ‘Ruler’ archetype.

These two archetypes – Ruler and Rebel – are each other’s nemesis. The story shows the conflict and drama that results when two opposite character archetypes are thrown together. Randle disrupts life in the psychiatric ward, encouraging patients to rebel, and this builds to eventual major conflict.

In Randle, we also see the internal conflict within an archetype. Nurse Ratched’s dogged determination to curb Randle’s rebellion stokes the Rebel type’s greatest fear – loss of power. This eventually leads to Randle revealing the Rebel’s type’s shadow side (criminal action) when he attempts to strangle Ratched.

The story thus shows us each element of the Rebel archetype, from the Rebel’s talent for charismatic rebellion to the shadow, violent side of rebellion.

As you sketch characters for a story, think about their archetypal strengths and weaknesses. Like Kesey, reveal your characters’ core goals, fears and weaknesses at key points in your story arc. This will create complex, rich, compelling characters.

Ready to improve your character writing? Join Now Novel and get helpful feedback on your character creation.

Good exposition examples: Narrating your story’s background

Thank you again NowNovel for these pearls. Again I consider your suggestions as I process the delivery of my series – The Fortune Seekers. Each edit brings improvements. Thanks to this strong writing coaching. 

Good exposition examples: Narrating your story’s background

What do we mean when we talk about ‘exposition’ in stories? ‘Narrative exposition’ is important information that gives readers your story’s background (e.g. character backstory or historical setting). Read effective exposition examples from celebrated novels:

1: Craft vivid exposition using dialogue

Writers sometimes use ‘exposition’ as a synonym for ‘info-dumping’. Info-dumping, however, is when two characters share info both already know for the reader’s benefit. It reads false because in real life, people never say to each other ‘As you know, we were both born in Arkansas.’ Good exposition gives important story details without being hammy or fake.

Stephen King’s classic horror novel The Shining gives a strong example of the good kind. King’s opening gives us plenty of character and setting exposition without info-dumping. In the opening chapter, ‘Job Interview’, the protagonist Jack Torrance is interviewed by a man named Ullman for the winter caretaker position at the creepy Overlook Hotel:

‘Ullman had asked a question he hadn’t caught. That was bad; Ullman was the type of man who would file such lapses away in a mental Rolodex for later consideration.

“I’m sorry?”

“I asked if your wife fully understands what you would be taking on here. And there’s your son, of course.” He glanced down at the application in front of him. “Daniel. Your wife isn’t a bit intimidated by the idea?”

“Wendy is an extraordinary woman.”

“And your son is also extraordinary?” (p. 2)

King gives us character exposition via dialogue. We learn Jack has a wife and son. We also get setting exposition. King sows the idea of the hotel being ominous when Ullman asks if Jack’s wife will be intimidated. Further, Jack’s son does prove extraordinary, as his paranormal abilities and terrifying visions later reveal. King thus uses setting and character exposition to foreshadow the frightening developments in his story.

If you use dialogue for exposition, make sure it fills in information central to your plot. By page two of The Shining, we already know King’s setting is intimidating and have been introduced to the story’s central characters.

2: Create the history of a place: Read historical exposition examples

The Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez blends personal and social history brilliantly in his novels. His novel Cien años de soledad (translated as ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’) opens with historical exposition:

‘Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs.’ (p. 3)

Note how expertly Marquez blends his character’s past (and foreshadowing of his dramatic future) with history and setting. Marquez moves seamlessly from describing an intimate memory of the Colonel’s father to describing their hometown Macondo. We get a sense of its size and surrounds.

Similarly, use characters’ present and past in exposition (and even future) to flesh out historical details of their lives and merge this with description of your settings.

3: Write expository setting description with rich atmosphere

Creating an immersive setting is important. It helps us picture the scene where events unfold, heightening their impact. Toni Morrison’s devastating, Pulitzer-winning novel about the cruelties of slavery, Beloved, opens with clear expository setting description. Morrison creates the haunted atmosphere of a home that holds traumatic history:

‘124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children. For years each put up with the spite in his own way, but by 1873 Sethe and her daughter Denver were its only victims. The grandmother, Baby Suggs, was dead, and the sons, Howard and Buglar, had run away by the time they were thirteen years old – as soon as merely looking in a mirror shattered it.’ (p. 2)

Morrison uses personification (the writing technique of giving an inanimate object human-like character) to show her setting’s atmosphere. The home, like an embittered person, is ‘spiteful’. The author creates a strong sense of the history of place. She shows how experiences and memories gather over time, colouring how we relate to places like home.

Like Morrison, make your setting exposition characterful. Show the atmosphere of your setting, the memories, fears or joys it holds for your characters.

4: Show your characters’ personalities using exposition

Where possible, show characters’ development. Your characters’ choices and interactions with others as your story unfolds should show readers crucial information about them. Reveal their flaws, loves, hates, passions, goals, fears.

Sometimes expository information is as useful as showing, however. You can share a characters’ outlook in a paragraph rather than a whole scene.

Margaret Atwood’s novel Cat’s Eye tells the story of an artist, Elaine Risley. Elaine returns to her childhood stomping grounds in Toronto at the start of the book, for a retrospective of her work. This leads her to remember her childhood (via flashbacks) and the complex friendship she had with another girl, Cordelia, a bully or ‘frenemy’.

Atwood writes vivid flashback scenes that show her characters’ natures. When the novel shifts from childhood flashbacks to the older Elaine, however, there is more exposition. Here, Atwood uses first person narration in the present tense. For example:

‘This is the middle of my life. I think of it as a place, like the middle of a river, the middle of a bridge, halfway across, halfway over. I’m supposed to have accumulated things by now: possessions, responsibilities, achievements, experience and wisdom. I’m supposed to be a person of substance. But since coming back here I don’t feel weightier. I feel lighter, as if I’m shedding matter, losing molecules, calcium from my bones, cells from my blood…’

This exposition example works because the introspection in these ‘present-day-Elaine’ passages contrasts with the vivid showing in scenes from Elaine’s childhood.

Similarly, blend scenes that show with briefer pieces of exposition that condense information about your characters’ personalities. Showing gives the reader concrete examples. Yet well-written exposition can summarize and strengthen or broaden the reader’s understanding of characters’ natures.

5: Describe important events that took place before your novel begins

There are countless exposition examples showing how to open a novel with concise description of a pivotal event that is the backbone of the story. In mystery novels in particular, authors often open by describing puzzling, dramatic events that the rest of the novel attempts to explain.

This is the case in Jeffrey Eugenides novel The Virgin Suicides. Boys who live across the street from the beautiful Lisbon sisters narrate the story in first person plural, as they (now older) try to make sense of the sisters’ teenage suicides. We read of the sisters’ suicides through exposition in the first paragraph:

‘On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide – it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese – the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope.’ (p. 1)

This dark exposition gives us the core information: A group of sisters, the story’s central characters, all commit suicide. Yet it leaves us with the same question that perplexes the novel’s narrators: Why? The question of motivation.

Through flashbacks showing the girls’ increasing isolation and rebellious behaviour, Eugenides shows the build-up to this event, even though the narrators never find a definitive reason for the girls’ actions and retain the bewilderment and trauma of this event.

Like Eugenides, use exposition to show the reader an earlier event crucial to your story. Sow curiosity so that the reader has every reason to seek answers to her questions.

What is an omniscient narrator? Narrative examples and tips

Hello again. Once again one of my favourite bloggers and writing coaches has had me thinking.  Im sure you will benefit in your writing after reading this blog as well. Thank you Bridget from Now Novel
 Narrative examples and tips

‘Narration’ means ‘the action or process of telling a story’ (OED). There are many choices for how you narrate a story. For example, whose viewpoint is the focus? Or is the narrator a detached omniscient narrator, simply recording events like a CCTV camera?
Read examples of omniscient narration along with tips for using this style of narrative

Defining the omniscient narrator

The word ‘omniscient’ means ‘all-knowing’, from the latin omnia meaning ‘all’ and scientia, meaning ‘knowledge’. There is a long tradition of deities in stories being ‘all-knowing’. The Gods of the ancient Greeks, for example, or the Gods of modern religions.
Ursula le Guin prefers to call the omniscient narrator the ‘involved author’ in Steering the Craft:

‘Involved author is the most openly, obviously manipulative of the points of view. But the voice of the narrator who knows the whole story, tells it because it is important, and is profoundly involved with all the characters, cannot be dismissed as old-fashioned or uncool. It’s not only the oldest and the most widely used storytelling voice, it’s also the most versatile, flexible, and complex of the points of view—and probably, at this point, the most difficult for the writer.’ (p. 87)
Omniscient narration differs from first person or ‘limited third person’ narration. An omniscient narrator can tell or show the reader what each character thinks and feels in a scene, freely, because she/he/it is not one of them.
So how do you use omniscient narration effectively?

1: Compare and contrast characters’ personalities using the omniscient narrator

Because the omniscient narrator is not an actor in the story, you may move between and contrast characters’ private feelings.
The classic novel Middlemarch (1872) by George Eliot is a good source of examples. The book’s omniscient narration shows how to characterize well even without the immediate intimacy of first person POV.
In the chosen example, the two central characters, sisters Dorothea and Celia Brooke, divide their late mother’s jewelry. Using omniscient third person, Eliot contrasts Celia’s more materialistic nature with Dorothea’s pious, idealistic one.

Celia wants specific jewelry but kindly offers the items to Dorothea. Yet Dorothea refuses most of the items, except for a ring and bracelet. The elder sister tries ‘to justify her delight in the colors’ spiritually. The scene continues.

“Shall you wear them in company?” said Celia, who was watching her with real curiosity as to what she would do.

‘Dorothea glanced quickly at her sister. […] “Perhaps,” she said, rather haughtily. “I cannot tell to what level I may sink.”
‘Celia blushed, and was unhappy: she saw that she had offended her sister, and dared not say even anything pretty about the gift of the ornaments which she put back into the box and carried away. Dorothea too was unhappy […] questioning the purity of her own feeling and speech in the scene which had ended with that little explosion.’
Eliot tells us directly that both sisters are unhappy. This isn’t the kind of ‘telling’ we should rewrite to show more, though. It shows both sisters’ feelings and deepens their characterization.
Eliot shows us via omniscient narration how different the two sisters are. While Celia thinks about the emotional, interpersonal effects of her actions, Dorothea focuses on her own ideals (‘purity’ and spiritual perfection) and whether or not she honours them.

2: Using omniscient narration to show readers your fictional world’s history

Omniscient narration also lets you give a broader, objective slice of your world’s history.

In Reedsy’s helpful post on omniscient narration, they discuss Sir Terry Pratchett’s use. Pratchett’s Discworld fantasy series uses a historian-like omniscient narrator. Here, Pratchett describes Discworld’s city Ankh Morpork in the first book, The Colour of Magic (1983):
‘The twin city of proud Ankh and pestilent Morpork, of which all the other cities of time and space are, as it were, mere reflections, has stood many assualts in its long and crowded history and has always risen to flourish again. So the fire and its subsequent flood, which destroyed everything left that was not flammable and added a particularly noisome flux to the survivors’ problems, did not mark its end. Rather it was a fiery punctuation mark, a coal-like comma, or salamander semicolon, in a continuing story.’
This backstory quickly shifts to describe the present, when a mysterious character arrives on a cargo ship, seen by a beggar at the docks:
‘[The ship] carried a cargo of pink pearls, milk-nuts, pumice, some official letters for the Patrician of Ankh, and a man.

‘It was the man who engaged the attention of Blind Hugh, one of the beggars on early duty at Pearl Dock. He nudged Cripple Wa in the ribs, and pointed wordlessly.’ (pp. 7-8)

Omniscient narration enables Pratchett to move quickly between a bird’s eye view of the city’s history and the present time of the story, showing the city’s comings and goings through a large cast of secondary characters.

Move between focal points – setting and character – using omniscient narration this way to show broader details of life in a city or society.

3: Use multiple points of view in omniscient narration to increase tension

Another useful element of omniscient narration is how it may increase dramatic tension. An omniscient narrator, like a swivelling CCTV camera, can show, in turn, each character’s reaction to a dramatic event.
For example, here, in Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1869), the narrator describes the character Pierre visiting his father. We’ve just read that Pierre was expelled from the city of St. Petersburg for tying a policeman to a bear:

‘Though he expected that the story of his escapade would be already known in Moscow and that the ladies about his father – who were never favourably disposed towards him – would have used it to turn the count against him, he nevertheless on the day of his arrival went to his father’s part of the house.

‘Pierre was received as if he were a corpse or a leper. The eldest princess paused in her reading and silently stared at him with frightened eyes; the second assumed precisely the same expression; while the youngest, the one with the mole, who was of a cheerful and lively disposition, bent over her frame to hide a smile probably evoked by the amusing scene she foresaw.’ (pp. 55-56)
Tolstoy increases the tension of Pierre’s return by first telling us about the frosty reception he expects. After this, Tolstoy shows the response of each character without favouring one specific viewpoint.

This builds tension and suspense since we wonder how each character will react to Pierre’s return. Like Tolstoy, use the omniscient narrator’s ability to describe what each character is feeling to build anticipation and suspense.

4: Use omniscient narration to give readers a more objective view

In a story in first person point of view, we believe what the narrator interprets (unless we find out they’re an unreliable narrator). Omniscient narration, by comparison, is often more objective. Without a character-meets-narrator telling us what events mean, we’re freer to make up our own minds.

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter (1850), for example, the narrator does not explicitly condone or condemn the adultery of Hester Prynne, the protagonist.
In the book, puritan society shuns Hester for having a child out of wedlock. Hester has to wear a red ‘A’ over her dress to shame her for her adultery.
Hawthorne tells the novel using the involved author. Showing us multiple characters’ words and deeds, he allows us to draw our own conclusions. We see the hypocrisy of a society that demands ‘decency’ but makes vicious, indecent spectacles out of its wrongdoers.
Here, for example, Hawthorne describes the general response to Hester and its psychological toll on her, without explicitly condemning either:
‘Hester Prynne set forth towards the place appointed for her punishment. A crowd of eager and curious schoolboys, understanding little of the matter in hand, except that it gave them a half-holiday, ran before her progress, turning their heads continually to stare into her face and at the winking baby in her arms, and at the ignominious letter on her breast.
‘It was no great distance, in those days, from the prison door to the market-place. Measured by the prisoner’s experience, however, it might be […] agony from every footstep of those that thronged to see her, as if her heart had been flung into the street for them all to spurn and trample upon.’
Instead of focusing solely on Hester’s experience, Hawthorne shuttles back and forth between her psychological state and the vulgar public ogling at her shaming.
By showing the attitudes and emotions of the society that ostracizes Hester, alongside Hester’s own suffering, Hawthorne shows both sides. This approach enables us to have a more objective awareness of the situation, not only Hester’s ‘wrongdoing’ but also the way group punishment commits its own lusts and wrongs.
Tips for choosing between limited and omniscient point of view

When should you use limited and when should you use omniscient?

As the above examples show, omniscient narration is useful because you can:

– Show multiple characters’ thoughts in a scene or chapter without privileging one viewpoint
– Compare and contrast characters’ personalities and emotions

– Use omniscient narration to create interesting backstory for your world

– Use omniscient narration to build tension and give readers greater freedom to interpret individual characters’ actions

Because limited third person narration limits available information to what the viewpoint character knows, it’s useful for stories when the gulf between characters’ personal interpretations and feelings are important.

For example, in a novel like A Home at the End of the World (1990) by Michael Cunningham, alternating chapters told (in limited third person) share the viewpoints of each character in a love triangle. No character/narrator has direct access to what the others are thinking or feeling. Cunningham shows us his characters’ loneliness and desire as they try to understand each others’ situations and choices.

Omniscient third person, by contrast, gives you the freedom to move between historical, long time and the present time of individual characters’ experiences, even within a single page. Use this type of narration to show multiple characters’ experiences of a single event or scene, or use it to give the reader impartial, ‘historian-like’ backstory.

Writing a multi-character novel? Sketch character details using the helpful prompts in the ‘Character’ section of our Idea Finder tool.

5 ways to start a story: Choosing a bold beginning

Hi fellow writers. Once again nownovel has blogged helpful stuff to bring our novels alive – from the very beginning.


Great authors show us there are many ways to start a story. You could begin a novel with a narrator/character introducing himself, like Salinger’s Holden Caufield or Dickens’ David Copperfield. Or you could begin in the thick of action, as Ray Bradbury’s does in his classic novel, Fahrenheit 451.
Read 5 types of story beginnings and tips for making your own effective:

1: Introducing readers to a memorable narrator-protagonist
This is a popular way to start a story about a character coming of age or grappling with internal conflict. These novels typically use first person narration. From the first line, the reader gets to know a characterful narrator.

For example, Salinger’s Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye (1951) has a strong voice and clear, disaffected teen persona:

‘If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.’

This opening is effective because we get a strong sense of the character’s personality in his terse use of curse words, slang and adjectives (‘crap’, ‘lousy’). Being addressed directly by the narrator creates a sense of closeness and familiarity. This effect is similar to Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Reader, I married him’ in Jane Eyre.

Another strong example of this story opening type, the protagonist/narrator introduction, is Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (1955). Nabokov begins his novel with his depraved anti-hero, Humbert Humbert, musing on the name of Lolita, the young object of his obsession:

‘Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.’

Nabokov’s opening is strong because personality and character psychology are present from the first line. When you start a story with your main character introducing themselves, remember to:

Give them a distinctive voice: The grandiose language of Humbert Humbert fits the character, as do Salinger’s teen’s own cynical words.

Show what matters to your character/narrator from the start: Holden values authenticity (‘if you want to know the truth’). We get a visceral sense of Humbert’s creepy obsession with Lolita through his rapture at even saying her name.

2: Beginning a novel with crucial memories

Often novels open with narrators recalling memories that are core to the plot. This is especially common in novels where a single, unforgettable event casts its shadow over the rest of the book (e.g. the murder in a murder mystery).

Framing an event in your story through a character’s memory gives it weight. When you begin your novel with your main character remembering an earlier scene, it’s thus important to choose the right scene.

Choose a scene that shows a dilemma or choice, or a powerfully emotional experience that is bound to have consequences for your character. For example, Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (2003) opens with the 15-year-old narrator Christopher finding his neighbour’s murdered dog:

‘It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs Shears’ house. Its eyes were closed. It looked as if it was running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they’re chasing a cat in a dream. But the dog was not running or asleep. The dog was dead. There was a garden fork sticking out of the dog.’

Haddon’s opening is effective because it builds up to the revelation that the dog was killed violently. It’s effective because it raises questions we want answered.

When you begin with your narrator recalling a key memory, remember to:

Choose a scene that immediately starts giving the reader keys to understand the rest of the book. Haddon’s narrator proceeds to hug the bleeding dog, for example, so that we start to realise that Christopher is unusual

Show the reader the memory: Haddon does not just say ‘Christopher found his neighbour’s dog, killed with a garden fork.’ We discover the dog through Christopher’s eyes, and this increases the scene’s impact

3: Starting a book with ambiguous action

A little bit of mystery or confusion at the start of your novel can help to reel readers in. At the same time, make sure your opening isn’t so mystifying that the reader bails in frustration. Even if the purpose or reasons for your ambiguous opening aren’t clear at first, the action itself must sustain readers’ interest until there is more clarity.

Consider the opening of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451:

‘It was a pleasure to burn.

‘It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venemous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history.’

The first sentence is ambiguous – who, or what, is burning? The next slowly fills in context: We learn a character is using kerosene to burn something, to destroy ‘history’, but we still don’t know what exactly. We only learn by the end of the paragraph that the character Montag is burning books.

This way of beginning a story is effective because Bradbury prolongs a mixture of suspense and confusion, yet the character’s action itself is clear.

If you begin a book with ambiguous, teasing action:

Give the reader answers to at least one (or some) of the ‘5 w’s’. We might not immediately know who is doing the burning (or what they’re burning), but Bradbury gives us a strong why: Pleasure. The relish with which Montag burns the books is clear

By the end of the first paragraph, give the reader a little more clarity, as Bradbury does

4: Leading into your story with a purposeful prologue

‘Prologue’ literally means the ‘before word’. This separate introductory or prefatory section in a novel has several uses:

Giving broad historical context that paves the way for the main story

Showing a scene or event preceding the main narrative, whose consequences ripple through the following story

Donna Tartt uses the second type of prologue to excellent effect in her mystery novel The Secret History (1992). Her prologue tells us that a character is murdered, that the narrator is somehow complicit, and that he will narrate the events that led up to the murder in the coming narrative.

This teaser makes it clear that motive, rather than identity, is the main mystery behind the killing. Tartt’s prologue wastes no time in revealing key information that shapes our expectations for the main story:

‘The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation. He’d been dead for ten days before they found him, you know.’

By immediately framing the story around Bunny’s murder and its aftermath, Tartt’s prologue directs our attention to the ground the coming story will cover. Not the fact of Bunny’s death but the swirl of events that spin out from this crime. It marks out a path into reading and making sense of the story.

Do you want to include a prologue in your book? Ask:

Do the events in the first section of your book need telling before the main action. If yes, why? In Tartt’s case, giving away key events in the prologue is smart, structurally. Because the identity of the murder victim (and at least one person responsible) is revealed early, the main narrative of the story is free to focus on character motivations and consequences and not just crime-solving

Would your story flow better if you told earlier events via character flashbacks or a prologue? Try writing a scene as a prologue, then write the same scene as a flashback. Which fits the scene better?

5: Strong ways to start a story: Opening with the unexpected

Often the most memorable story openings surprise us and make us pause for a moment.

Take Bradbury’s beginning to Fahrenheit 451 above, ‘It was a pleasure to burn.’ It’s unexpected. This is partially because of its inner contradiction. We know that getting a burn from a hot plate is painful, and the idea of pleasure is thus surprising. The ambiguity of ‘it’ means we don’t know initially whether the narrator is describing an odd pleasure in burning himself or burning something else.

Examples from famous books reveal this has always been one of the popular ways to start a story. For example, Dodie Smith opens I Capture the Castle (1949):

‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.’

The narrator Cassandra’s choice of sitting place is unusual, intriguing us to read the next sentence. Whichever way you choose to begin your novel, getting the reader to read the second sentence is the first, crucial feat.

What ways authors begin novels do you enjoy the most? Start your own novel now: brainstorm story themes, settings and characters and get helpful feedback from the Now Novel community.
See you again soon, Glennis


Novel: The Fortune Seekers – Dan and Charlotte


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Do you know what the theme of your latest novel is? Wait. What?

Hi dear reader.

Today I grappled with the actual theme in my novel ‘The Fortune Seekers – Dan and Charlotte.

It may seem to be about a couple seeking their fortunes. In reality it  is, but it depends on what your definition of ‘fortune’ is.

My attempt to give you the first novel’s theme is:

Is it possible to change your mind about the truths you held to be self-evident?

Enjoy todays blogg from ProWriting Aid.
You’ve got your character arc and story arc with plot points all figured out. But do you know what the theme of your latest novel is? Wait. What?What is theme anyway?
Some writers relate the theme of their story as its moral, but that’s a little too simplistic. While authors might try to teach readers something, the vast majority of us just want to make a statement about the human condition.

Some familiar themes you’ve heard before:

Love hurts

Love conquers all

Greed is bad

Life is fleeting: carpe diem

You always hurt those closest to you

Hope springs eternal

Money cannot make you happy

Follow your heart

Follow your dreams

Blood is thicker than water

Friends are the family you have chosen

What theme is not

Theme is not your character arc, nor is it the plot or what happens to your character. It’s actually the essence that ties those two together. If someone asks you “what is your book about?” you don’t respond with scene-by-scene detail, or the changes your character goes through.

You think of your character and what essential thing she or he comes to understand through the course of the book.

If you can’t do that, you don’t have a firm grasp on your story’s theme.

Why theme is important

A story without an overarching statement about humanity—whether humanity sucks or it’s great—is just a lot of action without meaning. Readers get hooked on stories because it makes them think deeper thoughts, and break-out novels make people question what they believe about humanity and maybe even change their opinion.

As a writer, you don’t necessarily have to believe in the theme of your story. At your core, you may be a hopeless optimist, but your story wants people to know that hope is an illusion.

Examples of theme

See if you can identify a book by its theme:

Revenge is best served cold (hint: The Count of Monte Cristo)

Innocence is lost when confronted with evil/immoral acts (hint: To Kill a Mockingbird)

Totalitarian governments create horrors for people (hint: 1984)

Women’s suffering and the double standard in a patriarchal society (hint: Anna Karenina)

Mankind and human suffering is our business (hint: A Christmas Carol)

Without civilization, we’re all a bunch of savages (hint: Lord of the Flies)

How to “do” theme

A story with theme may smack you right between your eyes, coming fully formed with a strong plot and character development. There’s a really old movie, Irreconcilable Differences, where the main character has an epiphany. She sees a fully formed novel about her rat of an ex-husband, and flies to the typewriter. She types, “He said it would last forever.” Voila. Instant theme. Love stinks. We can all get behind that.

Some writers realize their story’s theme as they write. What might be muddled at first seems to coalesce the further we get into the writing process. Then we can choose words and phrasing that supports this theme.

Other writers don’t figure out their theme until the end. Then they go back through during the second draft and start adding elements to enhance and flesh out the theme.

Be careful though. Don’t bludgeon your reader over the head with your theme. You’ll come off as preachy and heavy-handed. Have confidence in your reader that they will be able to find the deeper meaning in your words.

Final thoughts
What makes a break-out novel so exciting to read? I challenge you that theme is the deciding factor. Theme is what sticks with readers long after the ending.

It’s what makes you wonder if you haven’t been thinking wrongly about life all along. Maybe it impacts you enough to change your mind about the truths you held to be self-evident. Your theme is what makes your story universal.

I trust you enjoyed reading this thoughtful blogg from ProWriting Aid

Advice from Kurt Vonnegut that Every Writer Needs to Read

Hi from Glennis.

Today I am forwarding an interesting post from Kurt Vonnegut. A few ideas here have me thinking. Perhaps you may or may not agree with Kurt in them all. Enjoy. 

I can give you professional writing advice until the cows come home, but at the end of the day, I’m not a bestselling author or a member of America’s literary canon. You know who is? Kurt Vonnegut, that’s who.

Kurt Vonnegut, author of such classics as Slaughterhouse Five and Breakfast of Champions, stands today as one of the 20th century’s most important American writers. I can’t think of anyone better placed to give literary advice, and, thankfully, he agreed with me.

These eight tips were originally written by Vonnegut to apply exclusively to writers of short stories, but I reckon they’re just as useful for writers of longer fiction. Here they are:

1. “Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.”

This one seems simple: your reader (a total stranger) must not feel like they’re wasting time wading through unnecessary details, events, or descriptions—they must feel constantly engaged. If you give them an excuse to get up and wander off, they’ll do it.

This tip is about keeping your story focused. Your plot must be structured in such a way that the central conflict is always in view (here’s more on how to structure your plot). Even tangential storylines need to be relevant.

2. “Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.”

This helps to keep readers engaged and on-side. Unsurprisingly, if everyone in your book is repellent, the reader will be repelled!

If a reader likes even one character in your story, they will feel invested in what happens to that character. This keeps them engaged and keeps them reading.

Who would have made it through all seven Harry Potter books if Harry, Ron, and Hermione were all insufferable brats?

3. “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”

This one is HUGE. Too often in short stories and novels, as well as on TV and in films, you see characters who arrive solely to fill some plot hole or who do nothing other than complement the protagonist.

For example, I was editing a fantasy novel recently where a new monster with some new adventurer-defeating ability would appear intermittently, only to be thwarted by some new arrival who would turn up unannounced, cast a magic spell to defeat the monster, and then disappear, never to be heard from again.

Why did he turn up? Who was he? What did he hope to gain by attacking this monster that wasn’t troubling him?

Your characters, even if they are monsters, should be believable as people—they should all have hopes, dreams, motives… even if that motive is, as Vonnegut says, a glass of water.

George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series is good for this. All of his characters have established motives that justify their horrible actions: Arya wants revenge on those who’ve wronged her family, Cersei wants to protect her children and exercise her power, and Hot Pie wants to make nice pastries.

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4. “Every sentence must do one of two things: reveal character or advance the action.”

This is particularly true for short stories but is also something to remember for novels. No line should be wasted—you have to be ruthless with your prose. Don’t be afraid to prune and hack whole sentences off. After all, if you don’t, your editor will!

For example, sometimes I’ll see descriptive paragraphs overloaded with flowery prose:

Steven walked slowly and quietly into the kitchen. The units were glossy white and the worktop was a speckled grey. Behind the silver sink, seven small potted plants lined the window sill and brilliant sunshine weaved through the emerald green leaves, casting shadows on the patterned linoleum floor.

Now, as a descriptive paragraph this certainly conjures a vivid picture, but the writer should ask himself/herself what exactly such description is achieving. Is the kitchen a significant space in the plot? Do we really need to know about the units, the worktop, or the potted plants? Can we really justify two adverbs?

If the answer to these questions is no, the paragraph could be much improved:

Steven crept into the kitchen.

In a short story, that’s probably enough.
5. “Start as close to the end as possible.”

I was surprised by this one, but it makes sense. Short stories often fail through biting off more than they can chew. A good short story is intimate, limited in scope, and detailed in its characters, settings, and events.

Take John Cheever’s ‘Reunion’ as an example. It starts only a few hours from the end and focuses on only two characters in a few bars.

The story follows the narrator as he meets his estranged father for a drink, but the narrator’s father gets the pair kicked out of every bar they visit by being abusive to waiters. The story ends when they run out of time and don’t get to enjoy a drink together after all. The narrator goes to catch his train, leaves his father shouting at a newsagent, and is borne away. The story ends with the incredibly potent line: “and that was the last time I saw my father.”

6. “Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”

Every story needs an “all is lost” moment (or several!).TV audiences everywhere have learned the power of sadism through Game of Thrones, but this kind of cruelty isn’t exclusive to George R.R. Martin.

Terrible events make for good drama, and suffering serves to render characters vulnerable—and, as any good writer knows, it is only when a person is vulnerable that they can truly be known.

7. “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”

This tip is even more important today than it was in Vonnegut’s time. It’s about writing for yourself or for one person—never write for the sake of following a trend. As Strunk and White wrote in Elements of Style:

Start sniffing at the air, or glancing at the trend machine, and you are as good as dead, although you may make a nice living.

Don’t be a sellout—write true, and write for yourself.

8. “Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.”

This is perhaps a surprising tip, and one that might not be suitable for writers of thrillers or horror fiction, but providing information aids in world-building, helps render events and characters believable, and, perhaps most importantly, will make any plot holes or instances of deus ex machina glaringly clear.

Of course, some trailblazers can get away with ignoring all of these tips—Kurt had this to say of Flannery O’Connor:

The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor. She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.

Well, back to the drawing board then.

Blog thanks to ProWritingAid  for this writing tip blogg

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Actionable tips to create Irestistable Headlines That Readers Love

11 Ways to Create Irresistible Headlines That Readers Love, a blog written by

Helen Nesterenko  – the founder of that is all about finding amazing writers and creating great content.

Blog appears as a guest post on

Create irresistible headlines

One of the easiest ways to get people to read your articles or blog posts is to write irresistible headlines.

It’s not enough to just write headlines that sound clever.

They have to get clicks.

How do you write headlines that get clicks?

Well, you’re in the right place to find that out. Here are 11 ways to help you write headlines that get clicks.

What’s the Benefit?

After you’ve written that amazing article, make sure that your headline convinces readers that they need to read your post over someone else’s.

To convince them that your post is exactly what they’ve been looking for, describe how they will benefit from reading it.

For instance, will reading your post help them do something quicker? More efficiently? In easy-to-follow steps?
Here are some examples:

How to Double Your Blog Traffic in 7 Easy Steps

Top 10 Simple Blogging Techniques to Stand Out From the Crowd

5 Tips on Finding the Best Freelance Writer for Your Blog

Be specific when you describe benefits. Tell readers exactly how they will benefit from reading your post.

For instance, instead of writing Top 10 Writing Tips, specify what kind of writing tips they are and how they will help readers.

Are they actionable tips? Proven tips? Data-driven tips?

Does the “writing” refer to blog writing? Copywriting? Academic writing?

Will using the tips help improve general writing skills? Or online writing skills?

As you can see, it’s difficult to know exactly what you will learn from a post with a vague headline.
So, make your headlines more specific, because adding those extra few words can make a big difference.

Are You Aware of This Odd Tip?

As you well know, list posts are one of the most popular types of blog posts.

For that reason, you may think that they’ve been overdone, and that people are tired of seeing the same list posts over and over.

But, there’s a reason why bloggers are still using them: They still succeed in getting those clicks. And writing headlines for them are easy.
Here are some examples:

25 Best Tools for Promoting Your Content

Top 10 Actionable Copywriting Tips

Think about how many points you want to include in your list, because the number you choose matters.

You’ve probably already heard that lists with odd numbers perform better than lists with even ones. But did you know that, according to research by RJMetrics, the number 25 performs the best in “best of” lists?

And according to research by BuzzSumo, the number 10 performs the best in general lists, as they attracted the most social shares.

The next best numbers were 23, 16, and 24.

May the Force be With You (and Your Headline)

Of course, you want to use the best words in your headline to draw readers in.

So, why not use power words?

Think about the kind of readers you’re targeting, and what words will resonate with them the most.

Then, use those strong, persuasive words to trigger specific emotions in readers to persuade them to click on your headline.

For example, if you want to make readers angry about a problem that you want to address, consider using power words that provoke anger in the headline.

Here are some more examples, targeting different emotions and desires:

Fear: 10 Little-Known Blogging Mistakes: Are You Still Making Them?

Simplicity: Easy-as-Pie Guide to Boosting Blog Traffic in No Time

Urgency: 5 New SEO Strategies You Need to Know About Now

What About Controversial or Unconventional?
Tired of using the same “how to” and list post headlines?

  Mix it up with a few unexpected headlines every so often.

Not only can this help you get clicks, but it’s also fun.

You could use controversial statements in headlines to shock readers into clicking on your post to find out more. For example, could you resist clicking on 9 Stupid Mistakes You’re Still Making in Your Writing?

Or, you could be unconventional. Do something different to stand out from the crowd.
For example, instead of writing a “how to” post, you could write a “how not to” post instead, such as How Not to Write Compelling Headlines.

For some great examples of unconventional headlines, check out the post Do The Wrong Thing: The Benefits Of Writing Unconventional Headlines.

Are You Making This Mistake?
If you write your headline for search engines, you need to think again.

We all know that using keywords effectively can boost your SEO, but stuffing your headlines full of keywords just for search engines is not a good idea.

Remember that you’re writing for actual people, not search engines.

And those people don’t want a string of keywords for a headline. They want an interesting headline that ultimately tells them that, if they click on it, it will be worth it.

Knock’em Down, Then Lift’em Up

One way to get readers to click is to present a problem and offer a solution.

For example, if you’re writing a headline for a post about common mistakes people make when writing for the web, write 10 Mistakes You Make When Writing for the Web and How to Avoid Them.

Here’s another example:

25 Tips for Beginner Bloggers: How Not To Make the Same Mistakes I Made

Of course, you can also imply what the problem is without explicitly saying it in the headline. If you do include the problem though, remember to tell readers you have a solution as well.

They’ll be less likely to click on a post about problems that they encounter if it doesn’t tell them how to solve them.

Go to the Ultimate

Do you have an ultimate guide to something? Or a complete checklist to go through before doing something?
Use words like “ultimate”, “definitive”, “comprehensive”, and “best” in the headlines for your best resources.

Here are some examples:
The Ultimate Guide to Call to Actions
The Best Blog Post Checklist

The Ultimate Copywriting Cheat Sheet

A Comprehensive Collection of the Best Copywriting Formulas

Offer an Exclusive Invitation

Who doesn’t enjoy being part of an exclusive group?

Write headlines promising exclusivity that readers can’t resist clicking on.

You could appeal to a specific target audience who can relate to the post. For example, instead of writing 11 Common Writing Problems, you could write 11 Things Only Copywriters Will Understand.
You could also use power words that promise exclusivity, such as “secret”, “behind the scenes” and “exclusive”.
Here are some examples:
Exclusive Interviews: 5 Copywriting Experts Reveal Their Secrets to Success

10 SEO Secrets from the Pros

Be the First to Try These New Blogging Tools

Want to Have a Sneak Peek?

To intrigue the reader and compel them to click on your blog post, pick an interesting fact or statistic from the post to use in your headline.

You could also make an interesting, but vague, comment about something in the post, 

such as 9 Steps That Increased My Blog Traffic by 300% (You Won’t Believe Number 5!).

Or, you could use an ellipsis to trail off and leave the reader guessing…

Here’s an example:

Survey of 300 Bloggers: 85% Say Their #1 Tip is…

Just give readers enough information to grab their attention and make them want to find out more.

How to Test Your Headlines

This one is easy.

But it’s also an easy one to forget.

Even though these tips will help you write better headlines, they can’t guarantee anything.

So, make sure you test your headlines yourself before you publish them. Because a headline could work well on one blog, but not work as well on a different blog.

Experiment, and write multiple headlines for the same post that you can compare before deciding which one your readers will like the best.

So, writing headlines is as easy as that?


Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all perfect way to write headlines, so of course it will take some time and effort, but it’ll be worth it.

Just make sure to balance your headline with your content.

They both need to be amazing.

And you have to only promise in the headline what you deliver in the content, because what’s the point in getting clicks if readers don’t stay to read the actual content

Know any other ways to craft irresistible headlines? Please share your thoughts in the comments.