The Try-Fail Cycle: What makes an ending epic.

One of my favorite podcasts, Writing Excuses, introduced me to the idea of the Try-Fail Cycle a while ago, and as someone whose WIP revolves around someone’s competency, it hit pretty close to home.

Summed up, the Try-Fail Cycle is the progression of attempts a character makes toward their goal before achieving it in the end. It’s those failures that keep us rooting for the character and what makes that final win so epic.

This cycle applies to both character and plot development, and when they intersect, it’s this incredible hodge-podge of feels and goosebumps.

Let’s look at last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy as an example. Each of our heroes fails individually as well as a team prior to them coming together to kick total ass in the end. The way the film is plotted, we see that each character has their own issue to overcome because we see them fail as a result. If it weren’t for those fails, the epic ending would feel more like a plot device (looking at you, 2015’s Fantastic Four reboot).

But beyond how useful this concept is in developing our works in progress, I think it also relates to the writing process in general.

We try to write a book >> That first draft isn’t great.

We revise, send to beta readers >> Need to rework some things.

Have a new version of the MS post-beta >> Still need to flesh out and polish.

The glory of the Try-Fail Cycle is that the protagonist usually finds their win in the end. So don’t let your massive revision to-do list intimidate you. It’s just power for the course.

Happy writing!


For more information on the Try-Fail Cycle, check out Writing Excuses, Season 10, Episode 29: Why Should My Characters Fail Spectacularly?. Available on iTunes or their website, www.writingexcuses.com.

Don’t be afraid to let your characters be dark.

So there are a few times during the writing process when my characters do something unexpected. Or they do something expected, but in a completely different way, usually making them WAAAAY darker than I thought they were.

And this isn’t a bad thing.

We all know that a great story begins and ends with a well-developed, fully rounded character. Sometimes, we feel the urge to downplay their flaws and their demons. DON’T!

I recently read the first four books of Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series, and her MC, Celaena Sardothien, is far from being a perfect human being. In fact, Celaena has some of the darkest-rooted demons of any MC I’ve read to date and that’s what makes her so terrifyingly awesome.

For those of you unfamiliar with the series, Throne of Glass is about a teenage assassin who is brought out of slavery to work for a corrupt king, thrusting her into the middle of a conspiracy that could tear the kingdom and her world apart.

There are distinct moments where Maas lets Celaena loose on the people who have harmed her or her loved ones, and each one is darker and more terrifying than the last. Which makes sense, because Celaena is a freaking ASSASSIN (also so many other things, but I refuse to spoil it for you).

Maas offsets Celaena’s demons with how fiercely she loves and how deeply she feels the repercussions of her own actions.

It’s okay that your characters are dark. It’s okay that your characters do things that terrify you. Just be sure that everything each character does derives from his/her core. Terrifying moments of character darkness shouldn’t be there for shock value, but should be a pivotal and necessary moment in that character’s development.

Happy Writing!

If you haven’t started the Throne of Glass series, DO IT! Then email me and we’ll discuss. 🙂 It’s my new favorite series and there’s still two books left! I’m dying in anticipation, but we’re still at least two years from a resolution. Sigh.

3 Tips For Rounding Out Side Characters

Back in May, I received notes from my beta-readers on my current MS. There was a lot of positive feedback, but there were some definite places where I could improve. Specifically, rounding out my non-POV characters. In my head, I knew each character’s ups and downs, favorite ice cream, back stories, etc. But the actual writing didn’t reflect that depth.

There were a few things contributing to that issue: 1. The 1st Person POV, 2. My writerly brain focusing solely on the MC’s experiences while writing, and finally, 3. The very thin narrative.

I’m a big fan of fast-paced novels. It’s my reading preference, so in my baby-writer way, I wrote a slim narrative that wasn’t fair to my side characters.

Which brings me to Tip No. 1…
Don’t be afraid to write from side characters’ POV’s.

This tip goes for all POV styles, but where the actual words go differs. If you write 3rd Person, you might actually be able to use those words depending on how it applies to your plot. But if you write 1st Person (which I do), this will just be an exercise to become more acquainted with your characters.

So here’s the exercise: Take any scene from your WIP and rewrite it from a secondary character’s POV. This is particularly useful for scenes where you introduce a new character or moments of high-emotion (e.g. inciting incidents, romantic scenes, plot-turning points, etc.).

Tip No. 2…
It’s okay if the MC doesn’t control everything.

I realize this is rather a ::face:palm:: kind of tip because “Obviously the MC doesn’t control everything.” But let me explain. Sometimes when you’re writing [specifically 1st Person], you get so absorbed in what the MC is experiencing or what his/her character arc is that you develop blinders against other ideas. This was definitely an issue for me during the pre-beta drafts of my WIP, and it restricted me.

Exercise No. 2: Take a plot point from your MS that is on the verge of being trope-y. What characters are involved? Choose the most important character of that scene [apart from your MC] and let them take the reigns on when/where/how that scene takes place.

Side Note for the above exercise: I did this with my own MS and the scene ended up containing more world/character/plot development than it would have in its original form.

Tip No. 3…
Remember Newton’s Third Law: For every action, there is an opposite or equal reaction.

And suddenly this turned into a science blog. Sorry, writers! 😉

Seriously though, while you’re writing, remember that there are things happening off-stage as well. Every time your MC does/says something, it affects another character. Remember what Kurt Vonnegut said about how each sentence should either advance plot or reveal character? That applies here. So if your MC offends someone on page 50, that someone should come back around to cause an issue later.

Exercise No. 3: Pick a scene with dialogue where the MC makes a decision that affects the person he/she is talking to. Write the fallout of that scene from the perspective of the other person. How does it affect them? How will it affect their relationship with the MC going forward? These words don’t have to end up in the finished MS, but you should integrate what you’ve discovered in how the two characters interact.

What about ya’ll? What tips do you use to flesh out your secondary characters?

Happy writing!

4 Tips in Killing Your Darlings

So last week, I talked about improving your narrative and touched on the idea of killing your darlings. Because this is what I’m currently [painfully] dealing with in my own rewrite, I thought I’d share a little of what’s been working for me.

Tip No. 1 – Identify Your Darlings

Killing your darlings is a little difficult when you don’t realize what they are. Please know I’m not trying to offend your genius, but sometimes your darlings sneak up on you. My most current darling came in the form of a two-sentence moment that had hung on to the MS since draft two.

Now into draft six, I’ve been dredging through Chapter 3 for a bit because I’ve been trying to keep this moment for whatever reason. In the words of YouTuber Grace Helbig, “I don’t know.” Once I realized that it was a darling, it was cut into the graveyard of manuscript outtakes.

Tip No. 2 – Have a Manuscript Outtakes Document

I did not come up with this idea, but it is a concept that I wish I had adopted earlier. The gorgeously talented J.L. Gribble, debut novel Steel Victory comes out this week – order a copy NOW, gave me the idea a few weeks ago during a critique session.

This does a couple of things: 1) You’re still hanging onto your darlings, so killing them from the MS is a little easier, 2) If you do ever have an opportunity to use them, they’re there at the ready, and 3) If by some chance you do get published and acquire a fan-base, you now have outtakes to share with them as easy promotional items.

Tip No. 3 – Follow Kurt Vonnegut’s Rules on Writing

Specifically (and I mentioned this last time) that each sentence should either develop character or advance plot. It took me a while to understand what this really meant because in my little baby writer brain, I looked at my MS and said “but it does develop character; it does advance plot.” In reality, I was focusing on the wrong things, making the beginning narrative slow and boring. It “technically” did what I needed it to – develop the relationships of my two main characters and set the stage for what’s up against them – but I was focusing so much on what made my characters who they were instead of who they are in the moment that the plot was stagnant. This is a hard concept to wrap your head around, but once it clicks, you’ll see the improvements in the writing.

See the full list of Vonnegut’s Rules here.

Tip No. 4 – Have a Trusted Writing Buddy

I think I’ve developed a strange dependency on my uber talented group of writer friends because I know without a doubt that my writing would not be improving without them. Going back to what I was saying before about my headache that is Chapter 3, that darling I didn’t realize was a darling – yeah, my friend and CP Chelsea was kind enough to tell me, “I think that’s going a little far.” Which of course hit a switch in my head, causing an immediate ::face:palm::. I had been struggling with the writing because I was trying to keep something that didn’t belong there. I was trying to save a darling.

Once I transferred said darling over to the graveyard, it opened the way for me to concentrate on the plot movement and figure out how to close out the chapter (which will hopefully happen tonight).

I hope these tips help you as much as they’ve helped me. What about you? Do you have any tips on killing the darlings in your WIP? Share them in the comments below.

Happy Writing!

Leveling Up: What happens when your writing improves mid-WIP

So most of us are in a continuous state of evolution and growth. From personal to political, we’re constantly changing. This is a good thing.

Except when you’re at the forefront of the latest draft of your WIP and you have no idea whether or not what you’re writing is going in the right direction. I want to pull my hair out. This is a thing.

I’ve been writing fiction most of my life, but that doesn’t mean it was good fiction. My first full-length novel ended up in the dark abyss of projects that will never EVER see the light of day. It was written in Middle School, very few things written that young are worth reading without MAJOR revisions, usually a total rewrite.

Over the years, I’ve gone through numerous growth spurts in my writing skill level. From Middle School to High School. High School to College. College to Military. Military to Private Sector. These were all gradual evolutions that I managed to pass through without grow pains. But this latest one, after my first experience with beta-readers, is KICKING MY ASS!

The notes that I received from the betas weren’t harsh enough to warrant a total rewrite, but that’s pretty much what’s taking place. Since writing the vomit draft of the current WIP, I’ve been trying to polish my skills in the narrative arena. I’m great with dialogue, I’m great with pacing, I’m pretty solid on the plotting front, but narrative – a well-crafted, well-rounded, says-everything-you-need-it-to-and-communicates-to-the-reader-what’s-in-your-head narrative – is my nemesis.

Luckily, I have a wonderfully talented and patient group of writer friends who are helping me smooth out some of the kinks. Safe to say I owe them all a giant gift basket when all this is said and done. But here’s what I’ve learned so far in my epic battle with a properly fleshed-out narrative:

1. Take your time. I know how excited you are for the next plot point or big character moment, but when you’re sitting there, revising your work, really sink into each moment. Doing this may create some needed world building or reveal a character gem you had either forgotten or hadn’t discovered yet.

2. Apply Kurt Vonnegut’s rules on writing to your work. Here’s a link. A friend of mine introduced me to these rules a few months ago, but it took a beta-read for them to sink in. If you followed the link, I want to single out rule No. 4, “Every sentence must do one of two things – reveal character or advance the action.” Be meticulous in your placement of information. It’s painful when you first start doing this, but the new draft is totally worth the frustration.

3. Be merciless in your revision. I know we’ve all heard the phrase “kill your darlings,” but I feel the need to bring it up here. I don’t mean kill your characters, the phrase really goes quite deeper than that. Maybe everyone else knew this and I was the slow one, but here’s my two cents anyway. “Darlings” refers to everything in your manuscript, from characters and plots to sentences and word choice. It doesn’t matter if it is the best paragraph you’ve ever written in your entire life. If it doesn’t do anything to support the narrative, axe it.

I’m sure I’ll rant about the pains of writing narrative in future posts, but this is it for now. I’m off to go slave away on the WIP. 🙂

Happy Writing!