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Creating Characters With Flaws, by Kashmira Sheth

When I was growing up I listened to the stories from the Indian epic Mahabharat. Even as a young child it struck me that the heroes were not perfect. They had their weaknesses just like anyone else.

When we write it is easy to identify with a person who possesses good qualities, so why create a main character with a flaw? Shouldn’t he or she be perfect in every way? Wouldn’t a reader want that?

We don’t have a perfect protagonist because it would be like trying to drink a glass full of sugar syrup: too sweet and utterly disgusting. Giving a hero flaws adds much to their personalities. In real life people are a mix of good and bad qualities, and when we mirror those qualities in our stories our readers identify with our characters more deeply and root for them. They worry about them and eagerly flip pages to make sure they are safe at the end.

Another advantage of creating such character is that they are engaging. They amuse and surprise us and sometimes ever make us cringe. If he has a quick temper he adds a fiery element to his dialogues when he is angry. His anger maybe short lived but his words can linger in reader’s mind. Our protagonist adds depth to her character when she can sting with her words, make the reader laugh with her sauciness or delight the reader with her cunningness. No simple, perfect protagonist can stand up to a character with a flawed personality.

The flaw or flaws we select for our characters demand care and sound reasoning. In YA novels our main characters are young. If our fifteen-year-old protagonist has smoldering anger there must be some reason for it. We must answer the question, “Why does he have so much anger?” It might be that he felt ignored and unloved because his older sister was brilliant and took up all his parents’ attention. It might be that his parents were busy fighting and had no time for him. Whatever the reason, we must know it so we feel grounded about our character’s past and understand his present.

The flaws we pick should become part of the story we’re writing. If the novel features a girl who is sassy and loud-mouthed, we could use those very same qualities to get her into trouble. During the course of the story, she may even overcome some of those flaws. However, it is not essential or even desirable to have our character grow out of all their shortcomings. Over the course of the story they grow and change, but in a believable way. They don’t turn completely perfect at the end.

Creating a character that is likable as well as flawed is essential to a story.

They are fun to write about and fun to spend time with. After all that is what we want.

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Kashmira Sheth’s author website: www.kashmirasheth.com

Kashmira Sheth’s bio page

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Keeping CornerBoys without Names     Code Name VerityAcross the UniverseThe Night She DisappearedDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)

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To Outline Or Not To Outline? by Kashmira Sheth

Some writers outline their stories while some don’t. I have listened in awe to some authors talk about how they go about creating a framework for their novel. They know their characters, plot, climax and ending of their stories before they actually start writing their first chapter. For them, making an outline works well because they can see how their characters are going to behave in each situation and how they will come out in the end. With that concrete concept of the story, making chapter outlines works well. It speeds up the writing process and avoids a lot of work that comes with creating the story as you go, including trimming scenes when your characters end up in the wrong places.

Even though this process of outlining seems very scientific and has fewer pitfalls, it may not work for every writer. I know it doesn’t work for me. For writers like me, creating an outline is difficult and time consuming in the first place. Even if we manage to outline our story we might find it impossible to stay within those scenes and chapter summaries. If we waiver from those scenes, we might have to abandon the rest of the outline because changes have a snowballing effect, and the rest of the outline may no longer make sense.

Writers like me do not have chapter outlines or summaries on 5×7 index cards to guide us through our way. As we write, we make wrong turns and put in scenes that add nothing to the plot or character development. In that case, we may have to trim many scenes or even a few chapters and start again. Without a clear idea of where the story is going we might find ourselves in a place we don’t want to be or simply have no clue what happens next. We get stumped. Sometimes, it is frustrating to be in that place. At other times our creativity is challenged and we may find appropriate and even amazing paths out of our predicament.

In this way, once we start writing, we may find that our characters have taken us to unexpected and exciting places. The characters’ journey may bring surprises to us. These are gifts that they didn’t know existed.   If we try to adhere strictly to the outline we might find our creativity stifled because we can’t explore a new situation when it pops up unexpectedly. We might feel we have to mould our characters to behave the way we thought they would before we started writing. Ultimately, we might lose interest in our story and abandon it.

If you are a writer who starts with an idea then nurtures and grows that idea as you write, you may not want to make an outline. On the other hand, you may love the outlining process, and feel that it keeps you in control from the beginning and your goal in sight at all times. There is no one right or wrong way to write.

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Kashmira Sheth’s author website: www.kashmirasheth.com

Kashmira Sheth’s bio page

***

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Keeping CornerBoys without Names     GenesisTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2A Coalition of LionsI Rode a Horse of Milk White JadeShock Point

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Developing Good Writing Habits, by Kashmira Sheth

Unless we are fortunate enough to write full time, finding time to do can be as elusive as catching a dream with a butterfly net. I remember talking about writing for many years before I actually sat down and did it. Something or another was always more important to do than my writing. There was taking care of my children, cooking, cleaning and gardening, so everyday I told myself, I will write tomorrow. For a long time that tomorrow never came.

My writing is important to me. I knew that even before I wrote my first story, because I kept thinking about it. One morning I decided that unless I wrote 500 words I wasn’t going to do anything else that day. I wasn’t even going to shower. Writing had to be a sacred duty that had to be performed before I could do anything else. That idea really helped me get started.

Here are some suggestions for finding writing time that have worked well for me.

Start with a word count

Decide how many words you can write per day and stick to it. For me, the 500-word rule has worked well. 500 words fill up 2 pages and no matter how busy I am I can find time to write those pages. If starting to write was difficult, keeping up with 500 words has been easier. The word-count rule is better than committing to write for two hours. In those two hours you may answer your email, surf the internet, talk on the phone, and still feel like you have fulfilled your two hours.  In contrast, the word count is results-oriented.

Stop in the middle

One trick that I have heard other writers use, and have used myself, is to end the day’s writing in the middle of a scene. That way it is easy to pick up and finish the scene the next day, and then start a new scene. If the scene is long, it can even take a few days to complete.

Try to write at the same time each day

If you keep some kind of writing schedule it makes it easy to get to your writing. When you are making other appointments, commitments or social plans, you know that between 10 and 12:00 it won’t work.  This rule makes it easy to keep writing time special, and to remember to write every day.

Disconnect from everything else

Turn off your internet, phones, and other devices: This is easier said than done, but if you don’t check your email and answer your phone during your writing time you can reach your goal of 500 or even a 1,000 words much faster.

Get up to walk or stretch

This may seem like it’s working against writing but it is good to get up and move about a bit. Sometimes, just throwing a load of laundry in the washer or vacuuming a room can help move the blood in your body. In the spring I like to take a walk in my yard for a few minutes to see what is coming up in the garden.

No rules against writing more

If you find that you are on a roll, keep on writing. There is no rule against writing more than your daily word quota.

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Kashmira Sheth’s author website: www.kashmirasheth.com

Kashmira Sheth’s bio page

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Keeping CornerBoys without Names     Hold Me Closer, NecromancerRooftopDeadly Little Secret

Writing Teen Novels
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On Revising A Novel Manuscript, by Kashmira Sheth

How many times do you revise? The answer varies from writer to writer. Some writers write in their head before they pick up a pen or start typing their first draft. Their stories may come out more polished than those of someone who starts writing without much forethought and sees where the characters take the story.  Even if you are a writer who plots out the entire story, puts down a summary of each chapter on 3×5 index cards and knows exactly what the last sentence of the story is going to be, you still need to revise. There is no escape from revision!

Revision offers us a chance to do more than fix typos and make the right word choices.

It does more than make sure we sharpen our imagery, add sensory details and take out extraneous material.

Revision offers us another chance to re-vision our story – to reimagine “what if”, to see how a theme has evolved and how to make its impact felt by the readers. While writing a story we probably have spent months with our characters, if not longer. We have walked and talked with them, shared the same food and felt the same sense of loss or happiness.  In order to see the story clearly, it is important that, before revising, we gain some distance from our characters. For that big re-vision of the story I find that it is crucial for me to put some time between writing and revising. Once the first draft of the story is done I give my “writer brain” a break.

After a reasonable length of time I go back to the story. I read the first few chapters and think “Wow, this is good” or maybe “This is not so great”. It is tempting to start revising right then and there, but if possible, I hold the urge. I try to read the entire story without making changes, all the while thinking of it as someone else’s novel that I am only reading. At least once, I read the story out loud. That way the clunky sentences jump out, wooden dialogues reveal their chunkiness, and beautiful sentences sing and delight.

Once that reading is done I can think of the shape of the novel. I can think about inserting an entire chapter or taking one out in order to tweak the plot. If I want to tone down a character or even take one of the minor characters out I can do it at this time. I can dig deeper into my characters’ emotional world, plunge them deeper into trouble and make them come out stronger.

For me the subsequent revisions are simpler. I use them to fine-tune paragraphs and dialogues, ponder word choices, and rewrite sentences. I use them to take care of typos and check punctuation. These minor things can be addressed late in the revising process. The important thing to remember is that it can take several tries to get the real re-vision done.

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Kashmira Sheth’s author website: www.kashmirasheth.com

Kashmira Sheth’s bio page

***

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Keeping CornerBoys without Names     Mary, Bloody MaryHurricane SongHappyfaceGlowThe Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)

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The Benefits Of Taking A Break When Writing, by Kashmira Sheth

Writing is more than a task, a job or a chore to finish. As writers we are constantly thinking about our characters, how to get them into trouble and how to get them out of that very same trouble. We don’t simply think about writing when we sit down to write. The thinking goes on while we drive the kids to their classes, have dinner with friends, fold laundry, and plant spring flowers. One part of our brain always seems to be thinking about our stories.

Do we need to calm down these constantly churning ideas in our writerly minds?  For me, the answer is yes, and I suspect it is for others too. Our minds need that break.  Just like a good vacation gets you ready for the upcoming challenges at work, a break from writing prepares you for another creative spurt.

We don’t have to take a long break from writing. We certainly don’t have to go on a long vacation. Every day we can give a few minutes of our time to calm our minds. This can be done with activities such as meditation or long walks. When you are walking, immerse yourself in your surroundings to avoid thinking about your characters and stories. I don’t count watching TV or a movie as a break because they engage and stimulate our minds rather than calm them. The important thing is to rest your brain. Gardening is an activity that works well for me. While I am digging my mind settles down, the cycle of the seasons and the rhythms of the natural world sooth me, and the fresh air calms me. Some may find other exercise such as jogging, skiing, or biking similarly helpful.

If you do take a vacation, you can use that time to step away from your story. When I take a vacation with my family I give myself the chance to be in a new place and enjoy my experience, without worrying about my current story. But I don’t necessarily take a break from my writing. I keep a journal about my trip, including the things we do and see. That way my commitment to write every single day is fulfilled.

How do these breaks help my writing? What I find is that when my mind is still, something new and exciting floats up. It may be a plot solution that I had been trying to find for the past month. The answer suddenly becomes clear when I am not actively trying to figure it out. Sometimes, a new idea about a picture book or a story pops up.

Stepping away from the story I am currently working on gives me a fresh perspective on it. When I return to the story I see it more in its entirety than before. So not only can I solve small problems, but I also feel I can see the entire story in a new light. For all of these reasons, it is important to put away your writing, give your brain a break, and then go back to the story.

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Kashmira Sheth’s author website: www.kashmirasheth.com

Kashmira Sheth’s bio page

***

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Keeping CornerBoys without Names     Winter TownThe RepossessionThe Girl Who Was Supposed to DieHold Me Closer, NecromancerThe Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-Antoinette

Writing Teen Novels
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Narrating Your Story In A Lean Style, by Kashmira Sheth

Many recent novels sometimes seem lean in the way they are written. The reader is in charge of filling in some of the blanks. These kinds of stories are rich in characters and voice but short on extraneous narration. This writing style often helps readers feel a great kinship with the main character. This lean narration is not just used for transitions from one scene to another, or from one physical place to another, but is also used for the emotional journey.

In teen novels this has to be done carefully and judiciously. If done too much, readers may feel like they didn’t get into a character’s emotional world. It could cause the reader to feel apathetic toward the protagonist and he might lose interest in the story.

One way to use lean narration while avoiding the pitfalls is to have fully fleshed out scenes with dialogues and sensory details that are relevant to the interior landscapes of the characters involved. The mood (eg. upbeat, happy, gloomy, tense or sad) can be enhanced with narrative details, dialogue and action tags.

For example, if your main character is having an argument with his parents about not doing well in school, his body language during the argument could carry the scene as much as the words he lashes out at them. At the end of the argument, what your character decides to do can tell readers how he feels about what just happened. Does he take his books out and just stare at them? Does he start studying? Or does he go for a run to clear his head and to get away from his parents?

The setting can also tell the reader a lot.  If your protagonist goes running in a rain shower, this may help show how he is desperate to get out, and maybe his mood turns more gloomy and sour. The setting can influence what your character is feeling, and you can convey this without too much narration. If he goes out for a run on a beautiful, sunny day, it is easier to believe his mood turns better.

How your character responds to the world around them also gives clues to your character’s state of mind. Say he goes out on a drizzly, cold day and, instead of making him feel terrible, it invigorates him. He feels that his argument with his parents is only one small part of his life. Just as he knows the sun will shine again, he knows things will get better with his parents. In this case, his response to the situation may indicate an inner strength and an optimistic nature. All of this can be done in a few sentences. Yet it reveals a lot about the protagonist and moves the story forward.

By using settings, metaphors, active verbs and small details that echo your main character’s feelings and disposition, you can move the story forward in a lean but satisfying way.

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Kashmira Sheth’s author website: www.kashmirasheth.com

Kashmira Sheth’s bio page

***

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Keeping CornerBoys without Names     Code Name VerityTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2VibesHappyfaceHurricane Song

Writing Teen Novels
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Creating A Sense Of Place In A Novel, by Kashmira Sheth

Writing a story that has a rich sense of place makes the setting feel authentic. If the place is unique, our characters stand out against their illuminating backgrounds.

Making the place come alive becomes crucial if our readers are unfamiliar with the setting. This occurs in many types of stories, including historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy and stories set in other cultures. Not only do readers need to connect with the main character and their journey, but they also need to know and understand where that journey takes place.

As a writer, you needs to conceptualize this place in your head. If you simply describe all of it at the beginning of the story, it won’t be effective. Too much information about the place will probably get boring; it might slow down the story, and even make the plot feel irrelevant. The key to introducing a new place is to do it in such a way that the reader finds it relevant and fascinating,

By adding a little information at a time about the setting, readers can slowly drink it in as they read the story, instead of having to gulp it down all at once.

By describing things that need to be explained or that would enhance the story, and skipping the unnecessary details, you can sharpen the pace. If you start describing a moonrise, make sure there is something unique about it and that it has a connection to your story. If the moonrise is somehow linked to the character’s journey, mention it. Otherwise, save your descriptions for something unique to that place or to your story.

The writer should also consider carefully the timing of these details.  If the place or culture is utterly unfamiliar to our readers, details can be thought of as multiple curtains. They can be lifted up one at a time to reveal what we need to know and want to communicate at that specific time in the story.

Besides revealing the right details at the right time, using metaphors and similes can ground readers to a particular place. These metaphors and similes must be tied to the environment your protagonist inhabits. If someone is living in a lush tropical climate, “as sweet as maple syrup,” doesn’t resonate true. Instead, “as sweet as sugarcane juice,” might work well. If the story is set in another culture, some words from the native language can also help give the story an authentic feel. The sounds of a different language can have an almost magical power to transport the reader somewhere else. Using vivid and unique imagery and sounds of language from the place can also create the right atmosphere for the story. These metaphors and imagery plant the reader firmly into our character’s world.

By employing the different techniques mentioned above, you can bring into focus the world of your protagonist and invite the reader to step in.

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Kashmira Sheth’s author website: www.kashmirasheth.com

Kashmira Sheth’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

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Keeping CornerBoys without Names     The Girl Who Was Supposed to DieThe Empty KingdomAugustAngel DustBlue is for Nightmares

Writing Teen Novels
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