I desperately want to write something with length and arcs and things like that but the disdain for my characters and my indifference to the situations I put them in has me at a loss. I imagine this might just be a failing of mine, and nature’s way of telling me to stick to shorter stories where all involved die at the end. Or maybe I’m missing something?

Okay, so I sort of address some of your issues in this post–and at the very least, the links I include in said post may be quite useful for you:


I think the most important thing is to figure out WHY you don’t like your characters and WHY you don’t care about your plot points.

Personally, the more I think about the characters, the more I come up with interesting things about them and what they can do. So maybe you need to spend more time at character creation.

Give them little quirks and personalities that you would like to be around in real life. Make them feel real to you.

Maybe one of your characters keeps her hair cut short because she hates washing it, but as a teenager, her mom forces her to enter beauty pageants and grow her hair out.

Or a character off the gender binary wants to go to a private school but doesn’t know whether they should enroll at the all-boys school or the all-girls school.

If you’re still uncertain, look at your friends. Pick 4-6 people you enjoy being around. For each of them, come up with one thing you like and appreciate about them–or what makes them unique and interesting to you–and one thing that annoys you, but you love them too much to say anything about it.

Think about teachers and parents you’ve met. Did you get along right away, or did they give you the cold shoulder? What made these people’s treatment of you different from that of your peers?

Now look at the situations you feel indifferent toward. What is it about them that makes them uninteresting to you? Is it that you can’t think of how your characters would react, so you just end up with wooden dialogue? Or is it that the situations are so mundane and ordinary that you can’t imagine why anyone would want to read about them?

You want interesting plot points? Watch a soap opera. I’m serious. Because most of them have been on the air for decades, they have to come up with ways to keep the show interesting and unique on a daily basis.

Once you have your characters sorted out, you could even come up with a plot that exploits their weaknesses, desires, or fears (as seen above with the beauty-pageant character and the private-school character).

Perhaps you have a character who wants to do a lot of traveling, but you don’t know what to do with him. And he loves football, but he realizes he’s mostly playing in order to make his dad proud. Instead of going to training camp, he sneaks away to go see the Grand Canyon and all of the other wonders of nature he’s dreamed of seeing for years.

It would be easy to determine plot points/situations from there:

  • he overhears his father talking about how he’s living through his son
  • he goes to a practice and realizes his heart just isn’t in it the way it used to be
  • he pretends to be excited about camp
  • he asks his friends if they can get him travel maps
  • one of his friends hates lying and is nervous because they don’t want to get asked what’s going on
  • he leaves to go to the school, where the camp bus is waiting, but he keeps driving past
  • his friend spills the beans after he’s been gone for just a few hours
  • someone tells your main character that they’re on his tail
  • so he has to deviate from his travel plans
  • he ends up meeting some nice strangers who help him out when he is unsure of where to go
  • his parents are completely freaking out, obviously
  • he gets to see all the things he’s wanted to see, but he starts getting frustrated because he doesn’t want to get found
  • maybe he hitch-hikes in order to throw them off his trail
  • and he could get kidnapped or something
  • so he’s been hoping they won’t find him this entire time, and now he’s wishing that they will

And so on!

Just ask yourself: “then what happens?” after every sentence. Yes, every single one. You don’t have to answer it on the page–just ask it and answer it in your mind.

I’ve seen advice that says your plot summary should be able to have “Therefore” and “Because of this” at the start of every sentence. (You obviously shouldn’t send this version to a publisher or anything, but it helps to iron out what happens because of what.”

My big favorite questions are WHY and HOW. Any time something happens in your story, ask yourself WHY it is happening (so you can incorporate motivations and determine if it’s even necessary to include) and HOW it is happening (so you can provide your reader with specific, vivid details).

And last of all, read more books! Read books and write down what you liked about them. Read different books and write down what you didn’t like about them. Even books you enjoy can have faults and issues, and even books you hate can have good components and ideas.

Also, don’t worry if you feel like your story has been done before. Because it has. It is your job as a writer to make it your own, to write it in the way that only you can. You are unique and special and wonderful in your own ways. Make your story something that speaks loudly as your voice.

Relevant links:

  1. http://writeinspiration.tumblr.com/tagged/characters
  2. http://writeinspiration.tumblr.com/tagged/character
  3. http://writeinspiration.tumblr.com/tagged/plots
  4. http://writeinspiration.tumblr.com/tagged/plot
  5. http://writeinspiration.tumblr.com/tagged/plot-problems

And if my help isn’t doing it for you, then feel free to answer some of my questions and write me back. 🙂

Or you can go to this list of other awesome people in the writing community for help!


Best of luck, and I truly hope I’ve helped at least a little bit!

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