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#WriteTip: Keeping Track of Your Series

Sam av

Hey, all!

I have always been a planner. And I’m not usually over the top–although I can be–but some amount of planning goes into every one of my stories. It’s usually just a rudimentary outline (see 7-point story structure) and a rough idea of setting, conflict, and characters. Most of the time, that’s enough to keep me on track.

However, as I’ve been diving into Book 2 of my series with ACHILLEA, I’m trying to crack down on a lot of what I know my weaknesses are. Chronology and seasons, how much time does my book actually cover, little hints and breadcrumbs, military details, where I put Rauden’s scars, etc. As my books have evolved, I’ve added a lot of minor characters and I have apparently drifted slightly from where my main characters were. For example, I looked back over my notes on Lyda, Sielle, and Naniha, a group of three friends and Achillea’s first recruits. In my mind now, they’re older than I originally intended. Fun thought experiment, I asked my friends at the Dead Pete Society how old they thought my characters were, and I got a range of reactions:

Kathi said 17-20. Jori said 16-18. Frankie said 20-26. I had them written down as 18-22, and in my mind, they’d become somewhere between 20-24.

Then I asked who they thought was oldest, and who was youngest.

Kathi and Jori agreed Naniha was the oldest, Lyda the youngest. Frankie thought Naniha was the youngest, and Lyda the oldest. Originally, Lyda was the youngest, but now my brain thinks she is the oldest. I find it interesting…Kathi and Jori have a closer handle on where I originally placed my characters, but Frankie seems to share my now-brain.

I clearly had some work to do.

I have character sheets for all of my characters in Scrivener, but as each of my books has its own file, this became a bit of a pain. And yeah, I know I can export/import from one book to another, but even that became a pain as I added and subtracted characters because I had to make sure it was consistent across all of my books.

And since I plan to take the series into at least seven books with a set of spin-offs, I knew I had to be more organized this time. You can’t just race off into the sunset and chase a series without being completely, one hundred percent in control of your setting and your characters. If people fall in love with my series as I hope they will, they’re going to catch on. I need to know this world and these people better than anyone.

So I made another book. A physical one. I have a weakness for office supplies, and that most certainly includes blank journals and notebooks. So I repurposed a journal that my friend got me for Christmas into a character reference. Every character gets a page, even if I only put them in the book to kill them off later. If I need to, I’ll start another journal, but so far this one has everyone in it with about half the pages to spare.

I gave each character the following details:

  • Name, with pronunciation and applicable nicknames
  • Nationality
  • Age at the founding of Vaethrre (my city), including birthday (because I might need that) based on what I think their astrological symbol is. (Okay, look…I don’t REALLY ascribe to this belief…but there are people who read this that might). For example, Lyda sounds like a Virgo, so I put her birthday in that range. This will help me keep their ages straight as the books progress, provided I can keep my damned timeline straight (this is the challenge).
  • The top of each page has their D&D alignment (Lyda is Lawful Good), their Meyers-Briggs personality type indicator (Lyda is an INFP), and who I think would be a good actor/actress for them (right now Lyda is marked as Natalie Dormer…her inability to properly smile because she always smirks is a shoe in, and Natalie looks badass with short hair)
  • Physical appearance, especially important if someone changes theirs later (like Heike does, or when Lyda gets new tattoos).
  • Personality; this is their concrete personality, what is less likely to change. PTSD or character shifts are added in later to the Notes section. Sielle hates apologies and refuses to apologize herself. This won’t change. But her extreme bitterness to the point of potential self-destruction is an added change and will go into the Notes section. That’s something that may eventually be undone. I haven’t decided that yet. For her to suddenly appreciate apologies would be out-of-character, however.
  • Family connections
  • Motivations; What are they trying to achieve? Everyone is motivated by something, even if their ultimate goal is just to be left alone.
  • Conflicts; what adverse forces are working against the character? Lyda takes issue with cruelty, and she steps in when she believes those around her are acting unfair or vindictive.
  • Love interest(s), including whether or not they have an ‘aya’, the equivalent of a True Love in my stories (in ACHILLEA, ‘true love’ is a very real thing. Kind of.).
  • Their opinion of the Warden (more or less ‘God’), if they have one.
  • Secrets; Lyda is a very private person and she keeps a lot of her own desires to herself.
  • Fears; Myen is afraid of heights and horses
  • Dislikes; Heike hates cheese
  • Likes; Kirae has a fondness for conversation and company
  • Skills
  • Weaponry; Heike has 54 different bladed weapons. At some point, I intend to list them all, but I don’t want to accidentally end up with 58 in case anyone is counting.
  • Notes; I left a big blank space here for most of the characters depending on how long I intend to keep them around. Myen and Heike get several pages each, but cameo characters like Carme (who works at the hospital) only get a page.

Then I put a Table of Contents at the front, and voila! I’m good to go! Now I can use this handy dandy notebook for all of my books. And hopefully, I’ll never get lost again!

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print) and short fantasy A SHINY FOR TRICK (forever free for your entertainment!).

Check out the #WriteTip category for more writing advice and tools from Frankie and Sam!


#WriteTIP: All of the Writing Advice I Have, the Mega Post

Sam av

I am on lunch break and I’m in an interesting mood. History tells me that now is a good time to put some words down because it means they are going to come out weird, and weird is good.

For me.

There are so many thousands of writers out there, and post after post about the right and wrong things to do, what to do when you’re stuck, etc. You might ask yourself why you would care to read mine, then? Our aim with this blog is to inspire you. We want to make it impossible for you NOT to write. Remove the fears. Heap on the encouragement. Lead by example.

This is going to be a long post. I’m going to throw down everything I’ve got. Are you ready? Let’s go!

Where Do You Even Begin?

  • Throw out anything you’ve ever been told that is holding you back. If someone mentioned a ‘rule’ of writing that made you feel inept, forget it. If someone told you that you weren’t cut out, forget that, too.
  • Say stupid things. Don’t tell yourself your idea is bad. In your own mind and by yourself, be as weird and as out there as you want. Nothing in your own mind is too weird, too cliche, too overdone, too tropey, too dirty, too controversial, too scary, too fucked up, too anything. You are not TOO. You are you.
  • Imagine every possibility. Re-envision your idea as many ways as you want.
  • Start anywhere. With the character, with the plot, the villain, the setting, a single line of dialogue, a color. Wherever feels right.
  • Go anywhere. Skip around. Write the ending and then the middle and then a smut scene and then a death.
  • It’s okay to work on multiple things. If an idea only holds you for five fleeting minutes, that’s just fine, too.

Do not set limitations on your imagination. Your imagination is far more powerful than you can ever know. Tear away those chains and find out.

Things to Keep in Mind When Writing

  • Writing is hard.
  • Some days are easier than other days.
  • There may be long, pronounced periods of no productivity.
  • You will think you suck at writing.
  • You will want to throw it away.
  • Most writers do not write constantly
  • It doesn’t have to be perfect right now. The written word can be adjusted infinite times.
  • There is no right or wrong way to approach your task.
  • Every story is different, and some need to be written in different ways. They are as tricky and unique as people and require a significant amount of effort to ‘get to know’ them.
  • Set attainable goals. Maybe you can’t write 2000 words every day. Can you write a few hundred? Or can you write three days a week?
  • You will only get better if you keep writing. It’s okay to take breaks, even long breaks, but you won’t improve until you put words down.

Writing is a discipline, but not all of us are rigid enough to keep to it. It’s okay to fall off the wagon once in a while as long as you’re committed to getting back on it. No one can tell your story except for you. You are uniquely qualified to tell it.

Tips for the Writer Mind

  • Removing something from your mind frees it up for more processing. If you have an idea, write it down so you can think of the next one. The more you do this, the more you will think up.
  • Staring at a screen for hours decreases the quality of your work. If it’s not working today, find something else to do.
  • When you can’t write, read.
  • When you can’t read, play a video game or watch a movie.
  • Working on your story does not always mean writing. It might mean drawing pictures, searching pinterest for inspiration, sketching out timelines, scribbling maps, writing scenes for the story you don’t intend to publish, talking to someone about your story, thinking about a problem, or taking care of yourself.
  • Your mind is a delicate, amazing machine and requires a rich environment to thrive. Feed it well. Rest it well. Provide variety to hit all of its good buttons.
  • Reward yourself for good work.

Keep your word machine sharp with practice and discipline. Surround yourself with stories and bask in the magnificence of it all. Stories are everywhere. Soak it up.

Your Environment

  • Protect your writing time.
  • Learn to say “No” sometimes.
  • Remove distractions. This includes kids, pets, spouses, friends, family, the television, obnoxious background noise, and sometimes even disruptive music. Struggling to write through this is not an option. It will burn out your brain as it tries to focus on too many things.
  • Turn off social media. It’s a drug. It floods your mind with numbness and shuts the whole machine down.
  • Your writing space should be easily accessible, comfortable, conducive to writing, and have everything you need in it. Mine has notebooks, folders, binders, pens, pencils, blank paper if I want to draw, a flat, uncluttered surface, speakers for my music, a basket of snacks, and space enough for my laptop. There are books on either side of me if I need to pull one for reference.
  • A lot of people like to write with music. It’s hit or miss for me. I can’t write to music with words I can understand or I start singing and divide my focus. And sometimes, I need the music off completely. I know people who need utter silence, and I know people who can’t write without music.

Your writing space should have everything you need and be the place you go to write and work on writing. Make that the habit, and writing will come more naturally.

Take Care of Yourself

  • Don’t be too self-deprecating. It’s okay to be critical of ways you can improve, but tearing yourself and your ability down is self-defeating.
  • Know yourself. Your limitations, your weaknesses, your strengths. Find your method and stick to it.
  • Try new things. It gets your brain thinking about new stuff.
  • Get out of the house sometimes
  • Change up your routine once in a while. Sometimes that’s all you need to shake something loose.
  • Ask for help. Writers are noncompetitive. Friends can help by offering feedback or bouncing ideas off of. It can be hard to open up, but it’s absolutely critical.
  • Rest.
  • Pamper yourself. Get the good coffee and drink it. Have a bubble bath once in a while. Sit in the dark with music on and shut your eyes. Buy a small gift for yourself you don’t need. Get good pens and notebooks. It’s okay to geek about them, too.

After You are Done Writing

  • Celebrate!
  • DO NOT PUBLISH! Your work of art needs some aftercare.
  • Rest it. Let the words sit for a while and work on something else
  • Go back and edit! Polish up those words and make them shine! Now is the time to make sure you’ve used the right word choice. Editing is how you make sure your story is at its absolute best before sharing it with the world.
  • Beta! You need people to read your story and make sure it’s working. Betas will help you identify strengths and weaknesses and highlight plot holes for you to fix.
  • Keep going! Write more things!
  • At some point, you have to accept where the book is and let it go. Could you keep making it better? Sure! But if you hold onto it forever no one else will ever get to read it. Write ANOTHER book. A BETTER book. Keep moving!

The feel of finishing a manuscript is amazing! Make sure you enjoy it, but don’t get so excited that you release your novel before it is ready.


Ask yourself what you want out of publication, and decide whether traditional or self-publishing is right for you. Don’t let anyone else influence your decision. This is your work. Each pathway has its own share of ups and downs, so choose what you like better. Do your research for both sides. This isn’t a decision you should take lightly.

The publishing world is changing. Get what you want out of the work that you’ve done. Make the right choice, and then never regret it.

There are books that are terrible and books that are amazing. Most likely, you’re somewhere in between. That means yes, you CAN write publication-worthy stories.

Remember…no one can write your story except for you.

You just need to do it! And you absolutely CAN!

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

Check out the #WriteTip category for more writing advice and tools from Frankie and Sam!


#WriteTip Dream Writing: Divisional Spirituals; A Short Story

Frankie Av

I know a lot of writers who use writing exercises to help them practice. While I believe it is a great way to keep up word counts and a useful exercise all round, I never could get into it. Someone gives you a prompt then you go away and write about that prompt. The problem for me is that I either find the prompts boring or unimaginative. The writing exercises I enjoy are based on my dreams and nightmares. I have such crazy dreams that I have a lifetime supply of prompts to write about. Dream writing doesn’t have to be perfect or long winded, it’s simply an exploration of the wildest part of my imagination. This is my latest, written yesterday after an unusual dream the night before. It was very vivid and I remember most of it. The feelings I experienced during the dream stayed with me all day. It all seemed really important, very special and urgent.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy my exploration of my crazy dream!

December 15th, 2151.

In the mid 2050’s scientists finally proved the existence of the soul. They don’t exist in some vague place in your heart or chest as once believed. The soul actually exists in the head, within the brain itself. When the proof was first published it sparked outrage throughout the world and was met with great cynicism. For many years science has been used to negate such fanciful imaginings, disproving God and the bible while destroying archaic beliefs and notions. Yet there they were, telling the world that the soul exists.

People began to wonder that if the soul exists, surely God must do also? In time a new religion was created; Soulism. The greatest teaching of the Soulist Churches was that God existed, and in order to get your soul into his loving embrace, you had to find Him. In a way, it was their way of forcing more pliable scientists to prove God existed once and for all. Not that they did. But what these scientists did prove, was that not every soul is equal. They discovered that some souls were fifty percent smaller than others. They went further and discovered that each of these half-souls, were actually part of another, and so Divisional Spirituals were discovered.  

Divisional Spirituals, or Divuals for short, are created when one soul is split between two bodies. These half-souls can never be complete until the death of the bodies each inhabit. Only then can the two halves become one again. Divuals are not soul-mates, that is something completely different. They are not two souls which were always meant to be together, they are souls torn apart during the universal recycling of spirit and matter–another thing discovered by the scientists. Souls are recycled and reused endlessly. This discovery led some to believe this proved the past-life phenomenon; when a person believes they have lived before. Anyway, no one knows the reason for soul destruction, or even why both halves end up inhabiting two separate corporeal bodies–often hundreds of miles apart. Some have hypothesised that Divuals are created when part of the soul leaves the dead body while the other half tries to remain behind. Perhaps this half has some sentimental notion attached to the old vessel, or perhaps it just can’t shake itself free and so the soul gets torn in two. It is further hypothesized that the fact matched Divuals can differ in age means that the two halves of the soul are recycled differently. Perhaps one half reaches the stage of rebirth many years before the other due to damage caused by the initial tearing. Perhaps the half which gets out first is simply recycled quicker, no one actually knows. The one thing the world does know, is that compatible Divuals die at the same time, presumably so the two halves of the one soul can combine again.

I was eight when I first found out about Divisional Spirituals and what it meant to be and live as one. My mother told me she was one. I remember at the time I didn’t understand what she meant. I thought she was telling me she had a twin sister somewhere. She often spoke about how death would make her soul whole, something else I never understood until I was older. I used to worry that she would die just so she could find her twin sister and leave me behind. But she didn’t. Well, she did die, but not until I was an adult of many years.

I remember thinking she was crazy. Especially when I started to read about the phenomenon myself. I didn’t look into Divuals and the proof of souls discovery until I was in my early teens. I thought it was a load of bullshit. I thought that some group of scientists had either been smoking something strong at the time of the discovery, or else they were playing a very big joke on humanity. But I changed my mind when I learned that I myself am a Divual.

When I was seventeen, my mum took me to the local Soulist church. The leaders of the Soulist church main goal was to reunite Divuals. When I was told I was a Divual, I thought of my mum and wondered if it meant I also had a sister out there who I would one day meet. The leader told me that if I ever did meet my other Divual half, they would trigger the Combination ceremony and join us. I have to admit this made me kinda scared. I mean, sure, it would be nice to meet my other half, but to join with them? What exactly did that mean? Marry them? Be physically joined somehow? It wasn’t until a few years later I discovered exactly what the Combination ceremony actually entailed. I stopped looking for my other half after that.

It is said that around a third of the human population are Divuals. One thing a Divual knows is just how lonely life is. This isn’t something which I can explain to any normal person with a full intact soul. There is no real way to explain it. But it’s as if there is a huge gaping hole deep inside me, filled with cold and lonesomeness. It’s like a pit of despair trapped inside you which continually sucks away your essence until you are nothing but a pathetic depressed individual. There’s just something missing, and without this thing you can barely function. But, you learn to live with it.  So yeah, there are a lot of really sad people in the world.

Once a year, on the anniversary of the discovery of the soul, there is a worldwide celebration. Soulist Day is on the first weekend of August every year and Soulism conventions are held around the world. It is a day in which Divuals come together to acknowledge their partial soul and perhaps heal it if they meet their other half. Combination ceremonies are held during these conventions, which is one reason why I rarely go to them. But, I went to this year’s Soulism convention a few months ago, and I was unlucky enough to meet my other half.

The conventions are a little like sci-fi conventions of old. People of the same mindset with the same interests gather together to enjoy their uniqueness. There are huge stalls with anything from summoning charms to soul talismans said to combine half-souls without the need of a combination ceremony. Now, these things are merely trinkets, they are just curious items with no such powers, but I like them. They come in all kinds of shapes, colours and designs, and I’ve collected them for years. I find them pretty, but not at all useful.

I was standing at a talisman stall when a small boy approached me. He had blond hair and large blue eyes. He was smiling as he tugged my sleeve. I looked around to see if his parents were anywhere, but he seemed to be alone. I asked him if he was lost, and he replied; “Not anymore.” I realised then, as I looked into his unusually wise and bright eyes, that I was looking at my other half, the Divual with the other half of my soul.

His parents appeared a few minutes later. His mother eyed me suspiciously as they dragged the young boy away. I guess they didn’t realise that their son’s other half could be an old woman. I suppose I would be suspicious too, you can’t be too careful these days, especially with kids and strangers. But when that little boy disappeared into the crowd, the loneliness I had felt for years seemed to double with every reluctant footstep he took. I was sure I’d never meet him again. That the chances of our one soul ever being reunited was so slim as to be none. When that little boy’s mum pulled him away, it felt as if that cold hole inside me had grown. Almost as if my own half-soul shrank small with grief.

I didn’t go after them. I mean, how could I ever make a normal soul understand what the problem was, or how it felt to live with only half a soul? It’s inconceivable, unbelievable. Even a person with a huge imagination can’t even begin to understand what it is to live as a Divual. How could I even start to explain to a young boy’s mother that me–a seventy-eight year old woman–was her nine year old son’s perfect match? It would sound seedy, creepy, it would sound so very wrong. It would probably earn me a trip to the hospital with a broken jaw and a police escort to jail once I was treated. And how could I ever expect that mother to allow her precious son to go through a Combination ceremony, for him to die at my side just so his little half-soul could join with its other half? No, I wouldn’t and couldn’t ask nor want such a thing.

I paid for the talisman I had gripped in my hand and left the convention with the understanding that my soul would forever be a simple half, never able to reach its full potential while never fully existing in this life. He was so young, and I was much to close to death for our half-souls to be joined in this life. My half-soul would be recycled without its other half, and so it would continue to exist until such times as both halves came free at the same time, in another life. 

As I walked outside the building and through the car park, I heard someone shouting. When I looked back, I saw the mother of the boy running after me. I was scared, so sure she knew what I was and that she wanted to make sure I never went near her son again. So I turned away and kept on walking. She caught up to me a few seconds later, stopped me going any further by grabbing hold of my arm. She didn’t seem angry, in fact, when I looked at her, she smiled sadly. She said it was customary for Divuals to exchange a gift with their other half. That her son wished to gift something in recognition of his half-soul.

I saw her son run up behind her, those bright eyes shining as he made his way towards us. He handed me a little stuffed brown teddy bear with a black hat on its head. There was a small piece of paper folded up and tucked inside a bow around its neck. He smiled at me then he and his mother went to walk away. I stopped them, gave the boy the talisman I just bought and thanked him. I watched them leave, wanted so very much to join them and enjoy some time with my other half. Because, when we were so close, I felt almost whole, almost complete. As if the dark pit inside of me disappeared.

When I got home, I placed the little bear on my shelf in the living room. Pride of place on the somewhat empty and dusty wood. I took the little piece of paper out and unfolded it, only to find two pieces of paper. The first one was from the boy. He had written it himself, that was clear. He’d tried to make the writing neat and tidy, large rounded letters which were joined in parts, broken in others. It said, “One day soon our soul will be one. I’m glad I met you.”

I didn’t quite know what to make of it. Then I read the second note. The mother had written this one, the handwriting was careful and clear. It said; “Terminal illness will force the day sooner than I can bear. He has some time left, but I’m not ready to let him go. We know who you are. We will come for you when it is time.”

It felt as though my heart shattered into a million pieces. Tears soaked my face as I cried piteously while rereading the two notes over and over. They knew who I was, had found me before I had even looked for them. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for her to see me, knowing what I ultimately represented in her young son’s life.

It’s not often a person knows the day in which they will die. It’s not even often that a person knows how they will die. But I do. And it will be at the side of my other half; the tragically young and most beautiful Divual I’ve ever known.

F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi  MALEVOLENCE

#WriteTip #WeCreate: Double Post Special. Work space and Cutey Bear!

This will be a double post, covering #Writetip Friday and #WeCreate Saturday.

First off, write tip!
One way to get into the writing zone, is making sure you have a work space which helps you focus and concentrate–even generate ideas. The work space in my office looks so terribly messy, but everything is there for a reason.

 photo 1_zpsagmf3wag.jpg

  • There is a skull to the left which remind me of how fleeting life is, and how scary your mind can be.
  • There are some of my action figures dotted around which help me remember fantastic scenes and stories which I can draw on for inspiration.
  • There are my posters, similar to the figures in the feelings and memories they invoke. Of course, Captain Scarlet was always finding himself in peril, much like my own characters!
  • There are my work boards with my character sheets, flow charts and story outline for Emergence, so I don’t get lost in my writing.
  • I have my speakers set up for playing my writing play-lists which help me to concentrate.
  • There is my cup warmer to keep my tea warm while I write as I often forget I made one!
  • My actual space is relatively clear so I don’t get annoyed while typing.
  • My chair is set up at the right height, with cushions on it for comfort.
  • Lighting is set up so I don’t strain my eyes, the monitors are at 50% brightness or lower depending on how dry my eyes are.
 photo 3_zpsdsoks8no.jpg

Some of my little friends! 😀

All of this makes me happy, and I think you need to feel happy in your work space, otherwise your writing will suffer due to your frustration.  Sometimes my work space changes if I feel I need a certain mind set, so I might change it around a little. But, for the most part, all of these items remain in place.

What is your word space like and why? Let me know!

As for #WeCreate, I received this in the mail today, all the way from Hungary. It’s from my dear friend Kitti, and she made it herself as a gift for me.

 photo IMG_20161001_094102_zpsbgvja9bt.jpg

As I’ve said before, art can mean many things to many people, but it all means something. I can look at this lovely little bear and see the work which went into her creation. Every stitch made in a certain way to shape the form of the bear. The choice of yarn used, to give her a smooth and pretty finish. The little bows as added accents, just to make her so cute. But there is more in this little bear than her stuffing and material.
There is love in every little stitch, thanks in every piece of stuffing and she is friendship existing in a material form. Yes she is adorable and cute and well made, but to me, she is more than just a little bear; she is a symbol of friendship. Therefore, I named her Amity, which means; Friendship!
And now, she sits on my work space, next to the skull and the alien from the first Independence Day, to remind me that not everything in life is harsh and depressing. Sometimes, life is beautiful. 🙂

 photo 2_zps8cmkcvr1.jpg

F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi MALEVOLENCE


#WriteTip – Sam’s Writing Process, Part 1: Planning

Sam av

This is a continuation in a series of posts I’ll be doing about my own writing process. If you’re just coming into the conversation, please read this first. I don’t want anyone to feel daunted by my process. As NaNoWriMo forums are fond of describing, there are Planners and Pantsers. By that, they mean there are writers who prefer to write with a plan, and there are writers who prefer to wing it and fly by the seat of their pants.

I am a planner.

If you’re a pantser, planning can be intimidating. That’s why I would prefer if you read my previous #WriteTip post, which seeks to convince you that your own style is superior to mine because it is your style and you’ll get to know it best. I present my own methodology for two reasons:

  1. People sometimes ask about it, and
  2. It might help someone else find their way.

Planners, in General

There are multiple ways a writer can go about planning their work. The first thing you need, obviously, is a kick-ass idea. From there, there are multiple tasks you can do, such as:

  • Drawing maps or sketches of characters, settings, clothes, creatures, etc.
  • Filling out character sheets that add detail and personality to your characters
  • Build a world, like making a character sheet for your setting
  • Browse the internet for images, people, maps, etc. that inspire you relative to this story
  • Outlining/plot mapping
  • Talking with a friend

Any and all ideas are fine. I even change up my method from story to story, but there are similar elements no matter which story I write, so I’ll go into them here.

How I Start: Index!

The very first thing I do is whip up a Google Sheet (Microsoft Excel for Google Drive). I make a skeleton outline for chapter number, chapter name, and chapter description. Sometimes, if I am feeling especially plantastic, I’ll also put a ‘last edit’ date, a timeline marker, estimated percent completion, a section for other notes, and whose perspective I am following if I am writing more than one.

I can do this in Scrivener as well, but I’m still rocking this part of my process old school. In Scrivener, you can make a new page for each chapter, and each chapter has an ‘index card.’ It essentially works the same way, I just don’t love it. I have always been a fan of spreadsheets. They’re simple, easy to use, easy to organize, and easy to modify.

For the chapter description, I just keep it really simple. What am I hoping to accomplish in the chapter? For THE BLOOD OF NERYS (whose master document this is), Chapter one says:

The opening scene is Wex dying of the disease. Berge brings in an ONEG and they bleed him for a transfusion. Wex lives. The donor, who was already close to death, goes into shock and dies, prompting Berge to need to go out and get a new one.

Now see…in the book, ONEGs are called “Primes.” I didn’t want to use modern terminology because I hate that in alternative worlds, so I renamed all of the blood types. For my brain to wrap around it, though, I used the terminology I know best.

From this point, I CAN plan out my entire story. However, that’s not what I do next. I only do the skeleton first…I’m too excited not to plan, but not clear enough on what goes in this document. The next thing I have to do is know my plot.

Plot Scaffold!

I then make a very rough outline of the plot. I use a technique I previously described called The Seven Point Story Structure. Basically, it’s just a physical representation of your beginning, middle, end, and the major events that happen along the way to move the story between them. Very, very simple. Piece of cake really. And it looks like actual, in-depth planning, which feels awesome.

That’s my whole book. A 7-point skeleton and an empty index of chapters. Want to guess what comes next?

Plotting Chapters

I also affectionately refer to this as plot mapping. Frankie likes to use her tables and storyboards. This is basically the same thing but I don’t like to put all the time in to make it pretty. I just slap the words down and go.

I go back to my spreadsheet and I start filling it in. In my mind, I move through the plot quickly as if I am writing the book in less than an hour. My brain sounds a lot like this:

Example story: THE BLOOD OF NERYS

First, Berge carries Wex miles while he’s bleeding all over, dying. Then, he drops Wex on the lab floor, which pisses off Zanje (who’s his hot boss). They get in an argument about why the hell he dropped a dying man in her immaculate laboratory. Wex doesn’t die, but Berge has to go off to regather some supplies, leaving Wex with Zanje. Wex asks for his dog. Zanje hates animals because she thinks they’re dirty. Wex drags his own ass out of bed to go get his dog…

That bit spans about three chapters.

Each section in the outline spreadsheet will get 1-5 sentences maximum with what the chapter is about. It’s just a tiny little bookmark reminder of “Hey, this is what you were going to write here.”

I usually shoot for about 20-40 chapters. My chapters tend to be 1500-5000 words, so that gives me a 30,000-200,000 word range. I would usually aim for about 90,000, which is a moderately sized novel. I don’t limit how long a story will be, but I might try to separate the tale into several books if it grows too big. But word count isn’t a concern yet, so I won’t care until later.

So at this point, I have a plot map, and outline, and a rough sketch of the trajectory of my story.


At this stage in planning, my characters aren’t much. I know their role and their general personality. I don’t really know them as people yet. To give you an idea, at this point in THE BLOOD OF NERYS, I had this:

  • Wex is similar to my roommate. He talks a lot, loves machines and gadgets, is socially awkward, and has a dog. He starts the book by almost dying, and is saved by Berge. He is employed by Berge and Zanje. Generally thinks that what they’re doing is excusable because more lives are saved than lost. His job is to deliver products.
  • Berge is based on my husband. He’s a nihilistic self-serving scumbag who values nothing he can’t enjoy right now. He works for Zanje because he’s good at it and he occasionally is allowed to sleep with her. He has a pet blind weasel named Ashes who is the only living creature he cares about at all. His job is to acquire blood.
  • Zanje is based on me. She’s a sophisticated, cold-hearted, merciless bitch who wants to watch the world burn. She’s also a religious zealot who disdains humanity. She cares about no one at all except for herself. She has a shifty secret agenda that not even Berge knows about. She’s a brilliant mage and blood scientist, and she is the boss. She also has all the money and all the resources, so she’s definitely the boss.
  • Nerys is unbreakable and pure. She is placed in a horrible situation that she adapts to, turning what most would see as a death sentence into an opportunity to leave a positive impact on society. Her capture is the catalyst for the events of the book.

At this point, I was impatiently waiting for NaNoWriMo to begin and I wanted to write, so I learned a new trick. I wrote a mini-fic for each character. For Wex, I wrote a scene between him and his dad. For Berge, I wrote this tiny fragment of his past when he was just starting to run errands for Zanje. For Zanje, I wrote an inner monologue of how disgusting humankind is to her and how much she hates everybody. They were only 2000-4000 words each, but in doing so I got a good feel for the characters before I put them through the novel. Of course, these tiny ficlets are not included in the novel. They were just practice for me.

I also need a details page for my characters. In the details page I flesh out the following:

  • Height, weight, build
  • Hair/eye color, hairstyle if applicable
  • Typical dress
  • Family connections, friend connections, lover(s)
  • Their ‘role’ in the story (ie, major antagonist, voice of reason, comic relief, antihero)
  • Brief history/background of the before-plot time
  • Personality quirks such as rudeness, being quiet/shy, compulsive liar, paranoia
  • Tics, like chewing a lip or biting nails, fidgeting
  • Likes/dislikes, hobbies
  • Aspirations, goals
  • Fears
  • Secrets they may be keeping (and who from)
  • Lies they may be telling (and to whom)
  • Misconceptions they believe, communication errors, mistakes
  • Motivation: what is their major reason for existing?
  • Thoughts/feelings regarding specific, major plot points like character death or political shift
  • Alignment (ie, Lawful Good, Chaotic Evil)
  • Bloodline/culture/ethnicity, if it applies
  • Species, if it applies

There are plenty of resources for character creation scattered all across the Internet. One thing I will say…you can never have a character that you know too much about. The more real a character becomes, the easier they are to write. You can fling them at any situation and know exactly how they will react.

For example:


  • Wex: “Let him be. He’s not hurting anybody.”
  • Berge: *STOMPS*
  • Zanje: *ignores completely*

Additional Planning Tools

Depending on the length and scope of the story I am working on, I might need to be even more prepared and organized. To give you an example, one of the largest fan fiction projects I ever took on was meant to be more than 500,000 words when it was complete. For that story, my cowriter and I had:

  • A map
  • A timeline
  • An outline of war progression and position
  • A character tab
  • A chapter index
  • An index of ‘plot threads,’ which were plot arcs that would carry throughout the novel, and how long they would last.
  • a soundtrack to get inspired
  • fan art to get inspired
  • Several pages of ‘real-time’ conversation between our two characters to cut pieces from for certain scenes

And that’s it!

Planning usually takes me no more than a day or two. I get really excited and just pour it all out. However, I do tweak the plan and add to it as the story becomes clear. The plan changes, sometimes, too. The characters might evolve differently than I intended, or I might come up with something I like better than what I had originally.

The general idea of having a plan is just so I have a better idea of what I expect of the story as a whole without charging forward blindly.

(Actually, I used to be a total pantser. I HATED outlines. The problem with that method is you write yourself up against a wall with no plan to get out. It can be fun…you might solve the problem in new and interesting ways. However, I’ve ultimately rejected that method because it isn’t very productive. I don’t finish anything.)

I also use the plan as a means of tracking details I might otherwise forget. I write down the names of towns and villages I make up on the fly, or all of the tiny nobody characters that walk in and walk out again. I never used to do that…I got frustrated one too many times trying to remember those names, and now I avoid that.

Let me know if you have any questions, or if this was helpful at all. Anything I can do to help, I am absolutely at your service. Who knows…maybe it will end up as another blog post!

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

Check out the #WriteTip category for more writing advice and tools from Frankie and Sam!

#WriteTip: The Mythical ‘Time to Write’

Sam av

#SamWIP on Monday, July 25

For starters, I want to apologize for completely forgetting about my #SamWIP on Monday. I think I got home at like…10 p.m.. Monday is the only day that I absolutely compose the post on the day of, to ensure I capture the full picture of a complete week. Several of these other posts I can compose and schedule ahead of time, as they refer to static incidences. Nonetheless, I do want to provide you with a full update of what I have been up to, but I think it will now have to wait until next Monday. Thank you for your patience!

#WriteTip: The Mythical ‘Time to Write’

I want to start this by being frank: ‘time to write’ simply does not exist. Stop looking for it. Stop waiting for it. Stop scheduling it and praying you are ready to write when it gets here.

I think this is the number one complaint I hear from any writer, even some of my more disciplined writing friends. You know who I don’t hear it from, though? People who regularly publish books. Veteran authors will still complain about the words eluding them, but I don’t often hear them bitch about not finding time to hone their craft. They have a stubbornness, one that separates them from people who “want to write a book someday…”

There is no time to write. Most of us are busy adults. We have friends, holidays, birthdays, kids, grandkids, weddings, bridal showers, baby showers, jobs, other hobbies, families, commute times, movies to watch, TV shows to binge watch, trips to take…Do you remember your last video game release? Your last new book release from your favorite author? When that last movie came out and you dropped everything and went? The time has to be made. It has to edge out all of the other supposedly important things in your life that are getting in the way. That extra time does not otherwise exist. There won’t ever be time for you to do that thing you have always wanted to do.

You just have to do it anyway.

There are no exceptions. Only excuses. Writers who have a story they love that simply must be written will find the time. Some days it will be pleasant. The stars will align, the sun will beam through the window and make your words look like God wrote them, the dogs and the kids will be silent and phone will never ring. Some days it will be miserable. You will stare at the page for hours and hate every single word that you write. But you have to put your butt in the chair and stare.

I once heard a story about a man who writes novels on his commute to work each morning. He only has fifteen minutes each way, but he puts down a handful of words at each trip, and eventually it adds up to a book. Parents with young children can write books. Nurses with busy schedules and long hours can write books. I can write books. You can write books.

It won’t be easy at first. This takes practice, discipline, training. Maybe start with a small exercise. Pick 10 new vocabulary words and write a sentence for each after you get home from work. Try some writing prompts. Set an alarm on your phone at the same time every day. Don’t make plans for that time. Scribble it on a post-it at work when the idea hits. Take a lunch break and free write. Swap out your news time with writing time. Get out if bed when that idea strikes (this, you will never regret). Stay up late. Get up early. Get in the habit of doing this every day. It will get easier.

And when it gets easier, your writing will improve, and it will accumulate. You’ll have a book in no time. And, if you keep at it, maybe someday it will be a good one.

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

#WriteTip: 7-Point Story Structure

Sam av

Being a ‘Pantser’–someone who writes without a plan, ie, ‘flying by the seat of your pants’–can be fun and carefree. However, in my opinion, a certain minimal level of planning becomes necessary to successfully start and complete multiple books. Without a clear ending in mind, it’s all too easy to write yourself into corners you can’t get out of again. I’ve listened to interviews with successful authors, and most seem to agree that having some kind of plan is the key to success. Whether that means a full outline, character sketches, and maps or a simple rough sketch outline is all on you. But to be a writer, I believe a Panster must evolve into a Plantser (a Pantser with a basic plan) at a bare minimum.

I’ve always been a planner, but I can have a tendency to overplan…I spend so much time on the plan that it gets messy and out of control, and then I cannot effectively follow it anyway. I’ve been trying to streamline my process better, to narrow it down to a basic routine. My intention is to have the same basic plan for every novel, but branch out in more detail if I find it necessary.

The first time I ever saw the 7-Point Story Structure featured on Ryan Lanz’s blog (original credit to Dan Wells), I was amazed. It’s beautifully simple, the kind of small planning snack that’s appropriate for Pantsers who need a plan. But it’s still sophisticated enough for Planners to find it useful as well. Ryan Lanz learned of it via Dan Wells. I have 7-Pointed every project I’ve worked on since reading his post on the topic. I hope you find it as useful as I have.

Because Mr. Lanz explained it so clearly, I’m actually going to quote his words rather than repackaging them as my own. Note: Spoilers for a few very well known modern examples.

The Seven-Point System

  • Starting Point
  • Plot Turn 1
  • Pinch 1
  • Midpoint
  • Pinch 2
  • Plot Turn 2
  • Resolution


Assuming that you already have the basic concept of the story worked out, like the major characters, conflicts, and setting, the seven-point system encourages you to start at the end. Not that you have to begin writing at the end, but you need to know how the story ends for the purpose of this exercise.

Resolution: everything in your story leads to this moment. Make sure you know what kind of resolution you want. This isn’t necessarily the last chapter. This is merely the climax of the story.

Two major types of resolution are plot and character. An example of this in the television series Lost would be the plot resolution where Jack defeats the villain appearing as John Locke, and a character resolution is Jack’s personal development to the point where he could accept the responsibility of the island’s protection. They are two separate, yet connected, resolutions. They also have different emotional peaks. They’re going to end in different ways.

To give another example, let’s build the seven-point system with the movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

  • Starting Point:
  • Plot turn 1
  • Pinch 1
  • Midpoint
  • Pinch 2
  • Plot Turn 2
  • Resolution: Harry defeats Voldemort.


Okay. Now that we know where it’s ending, we need to know how the story begins. With the Starting Point, a simple trick is to start with the opposite state. If the character ends strong, he/she typically should start weak, and vice versa. This creates movement and a character arc. That’s why it’s important to know where you are ending so that you can make the beginning as opposite as possible.

For another example, take the television series Breaking Bad. What fascinated me with this series is the slow transition from the rather dorky science teacher to the streetwise drug lord. You almost couldn’t get any further opposite, which is why, in my opinion, it makes the series so interesting. An already badass kingpin becoming a badass kingpin isn’t terribly interesting.


So, to go back to the Harry Potter example, we now know what the Starting Point is because we figured out what the Resolution is:

  • Starting Point: Harry lives a sad existence, with zero power or abilities.
  • Plot turn 1
  • Pinch 1
  • Midpoint
  • Pinch 2
  • Plot Turn 2
  • Resolution: Harry defeats Voldemort.


The Midpoint is the exact center between the two states. It is the point at which the characters begin moving from one state to the other. A lot of times, this is where the character moves from reaction to action. Something changes at this point to bring the character to action, which is an effective Midpoint.

In the first Lord of the Rings movie, the Midpoint where the characters move from reaction to action is at the Council of Elrond where they decide to take the ring to Mordor. The Midpoint doesn’t have to be in the exact middle of the book, and it could take place over several scenes.

  • Starting Point: Harry lives a sad existence, with zero power or abilities.
  • Plot turn 1
  • Pinch 1
  • Midpoint: Harry learns the truth about the Sorcerer’s Stone and swears to protect it from Voldemort.
  • Pinch 2
  • Plot Turn 2
  • Resolution: Harry defeats Voldemort.


Moving on to Plot Turn 1, just as the Midpoint moves you from the beginning to end, Plot Turn 1 moves you from the beginning to the Midpoint. It often hints to the major conflict.

Plot Turn 1 often introduces the protagonist to new people and/or new settings. It can also serve as the “call to adventure” for the protagonist.

  • Starting Point: Harry lives a sad existence, with zero power or abilities.
  • Plot turn 1: Harry becomes a wizard and learns magic.
  • Pinch 1
  • Midpoint: Harry learns the truth about the Sorcerer’s Stone and swears to protect it from Voldemort.
  • Pinch 2
  • Plot Turn 2:
  • Resolution: Harry defeats Voldemort.


Plot Turn 2 moves the story from the Midpoint to the Resolution. At the Midpoint, the character is determined to do something, and in the Resolution, it is accomplished, so Plot Turn 2 is where the protagonist obtains the final thing/skill/knowledge in order to make it happen.

Often times, in supernatural type settings, the final thing needed in order to accomplish the Resolution is discovered to be something that the protagonist had all along, but needed the last piece of the puzzle in order to use it. For Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, she had the ability to return home at any time by tapping her heels. In the Matrix, the ability was already in Neo, as it was in Luke Skywalker in Star Wars.

  • Starting Point: Harry lives a sad existence, with zero power or abilities.
  • Plot turn 1: Harry becomes a wizard and learns magic.
  • Pinch 1
  • Midpoint: Harry learns the truth about the Sorcerer’s Stone and swears to protect it from Voldemort.
  • Pinch 2
  • Plot Turn 2: Harry discovers the stone is in his pocket because his motives are pure.
  • Resolution: Harry defeats Voldemort.


Pinches are my favorite part of this system. Pinches apply pressure when something goes wrong, someone attacks, a problem comes up, or an obstacle is placed in front of the protagonist’s goal. It forces the characters to either spring to action or change the course of their plans (either way is active behavior–which is always good in stories). It is often used to introduce a villain.

Most likely, there are many conflicts in the beginning, but that just bridges the gap until the reader finds out about the main conflict. For example, in a romance, the male protagonist might have some issues at work before bumping into the love of his life (and also the main conflict of the story) at the coffee shop. If the destined couple were to discover each other (and their main conflict) within the first few pages of the story, it would likely feel rushed to you.

  • Starting Point: Harry lives a sad existence, with zero power or abilities.
  • Plot turn 1: Harry becomes a wizard and learns magic.
  • Pinch 1: A troll attacks.
  • Midpoint: Harry learns the truth about the Sorcerer’s Stone and swears to protect it from Voldemort.
  • Pinch 2
  • Plot Turn 2: Harry discovers the stone is in his pocket because his motives are pure.
  • Resolution: Harry defeats Voldemort.


Pinch 2 applies even more pressure and often makes the situation feel hopeless. A plan could fail, a mentor could disappear or die, a villain seems on the brink of victory, or a break-up happens. Often, the harsher the Pinch 2, the sweeter the victory. The lower the valley, the higher the summit. Make sure that Pinch 2 is tougher than the first.

The sense of loss is a very common Pinch 2. In the Lord of the Rings, Frodo loses his mentor in Gandalf. In the movie Batman Begins, the villain shows up, beats up Batman, burns his house, then terrorizes the city. Another example would be showing an unbeatable army at the gates, making the situation for the heroes seem bleak, such as the battle scene at Helms Deep.

  • Starting Point: Harry lives a sad existence, with zero power or abilities.
  • Plot turn 1: Harry becomes a wizard and learns magic.
  • Pinch 1: A troll attacks.
  • Midpoint: Harry learns the truth about the Sorcerer’s Stone and swears to protect it from Voldemort.
  • Pinch 2: Ron and Hermoine fall to the traps in the dungeon, and Harry is left alone.
  • Plot Turn 2: Harry discovers the stone is in his pocket because his motives are pure.
  • Resolution: Harry defeats Voldemort.


If you’d like more examples, let’s look at Pride and Prejudice. By the way, for you romance writers, in a few weeks I will be interviewing a published romance author to discuss the facets of writing romance. So, stay tuned for that.

  • Starting Point: Elizabeth and her sisters are single.
  • Plot turn 1: Darcy and Elizabeth meet and hate each other.
  • Pinch 1: Darcy breaks up Jane and Bingley, then proposes to Elizabeth in a very insulting way.
  • Midpoint: Darcy explains himself in a letter; he’s a noble man trying to protect his friend from perceived impropriety.
  • Pinch 2: Lydia runs off with Wickham, and Elizabeth thinks Darcy will hate her family even more.
  • Plot Turn 2: Darcy helps Elizabeth’s sisters.
  • Resolution: Elizabeth and Darcy get married.


Here’s another example from Othello. This time, the Starting Point and Resolution are flip-flopped in a tragedy format, in regards to sad/happy.

  • Starting Point: Othello and Desdemona are happily married.
  • Plot turn 1: Iago swears to destroy Othello.
  • Pinch 1: Iago plants evidence of an affair.
  • Midpoint: Othello suspects Desdemona of adultery.
  • Pinch 2: Othello kills Desdemona.
  • Plot Turn 2: Othello learns that Desdemona is innocent.
  • Resolution: Othello kills himself.


Here’s one more example. This is in regards to the horror genre with A Tell-Tale Heart:

  • Starting Point: The narrator insists he’s sane.
  • Plot turn 1: The narrator resolves to murder the old man.
  • Pinch 1: The narrator tries eight times but can’t bring himself to do it.
  • Midpoint: The narrator kills the old man.
  • Pinch 2: The police officers come to the house.
  • Plot Turn 2: The narrator can hear the old man’s heart still beating.
  • Resolution: The narrator is insane.

An interesting point to note: notice how the main resolution isn’t about whether he comes to justice or not. It could be a resolution, just perhaps not the main one. It all depends on how the author builds the story.

So, there it is. The much-lauded 7-Point Structure I always go on about in my videos. Recently, I 7-Pointed the three major plot threads in the sequel to Achillea. Since doing that, I’ve found writing it much easier, as I know the checkpoints to keep in mind as I go.

Sometimes I outline. Sometimes I scene-map. I don’t always know how much planning each of my stories needs, but I do believe that every story needs at least a BASIC outline. How is the story going to start? How is it going to end? What is the turning point? What is the conflict? All of that is covered in your 7-Point. Write out your 7 points and hang them in your work station. Those are the sections of your novel, so you can feel a certain amount of achievement when you hit each checkpoint, but still be allowed the freedom to be as rigidly structured or as free as you prefer.


S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

#WriteTip: Character Archetypes


So today, I’m going to present a basic starter course on character building. Here, I’m sharing 32 character ‘archetypes,’ as presented by Tami D. Cowden. They were separated by male/female (which really isn’t necessary, but it’s whatever). There were 8 ‘Hero’ and 8 ‘Villain’ archetypes, with a male/female version of each. A ‘Villain’ archetype is pretty much the dark mirror of a ‘Hero’ archetype. For example, the TYRANT is the dark mirror of the CHIEF. The BLACK WIDOW is the dark mirror of the SEDUCTRESS. I learned all of this from a panel I attended at ACEN (Anime Central, an anime convention near Chicago). I figured it’d be good basic information for any writer. After all, we need our characters!

Some important notes–

  • Characters can fit more than one archetype. I tried to select what I thought were the best examples of a pure form of an archetype.
  • I tried to choose characters I hope many of you have heard of.
  • Characters are complex, so they don’t HAVE to perfectly fit any archetype.
  • When I build a character, I typically start with a basic form of a character but evolve the character outward. Don’t worry about ‘following the rules.’ This isn’t something I like to do, either.
  • There are other examples of ‘character archetypes’ not shown here. This is just one rendition, as outlined by Tami D. Cowden.

And now, onwards!

Here are the HEROES:

The CHIEF: a dynamic leader, he has time for nothing but work. He might have been born to lead, or perhaps he conquered his way to the top, but either way, he’s tough, decisive, goal-oriented. That means he is also a bit overbearing and inflexible. Julius Caesar from Rome is one example. 

The BAD BOY: dangerous to know, he walks on the wild side. This is the rebel, or the boy from the wrong side of the tracks. He’s bitter and volatile, a crushed idealist, but he’s also charismatic and street smart. Wolverine from X-Men, for example. 

The BEST FRIEND: sweet and safe, he never lets anyone down. He’s kind, responsible, decent, a regular Mr. Nice Guy. This man doesn’t enjoy confrontation and can sometimes be unassertive because he doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But he’ll always be there. Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings is a good example. 

The CHARMER: more than a gigolo, he creates fantasies. He’s fun, irresistible, a smooth operator, yet not too responsible or dependable. He might be a playboy or a rogue, but he’s doesn’t commit to a woman easily. I really think James Bond is the perfect example of a Charmer. 

The LOST SOUL: a sensitive being, he understands. Tortured, secretive, brooding, and unforgiving. That’s this man. But he’s also vulnerable. He might be a wanderer or an outcast. In work he’s creative, but probably also a loner. Angel from Angel is the one that comes to mind. 

The PROFESSOR: coolly analytical, he knows every answer. He’s logical, introverted, and inflexible, but genuine about his feelings. At work, he likes cold, hard facts, thank you very much, but he’s also honest and faithful, and won’t let you down. Izzy from Digimon is a perfect example of this. 

The SWASHBUCKLER: Mr. Excitement, he’s an adventure. This guy is action, action, and more action. He’s physical and daring. Fearless, he’s a daredevil, or an explorer. He needs thrills and chills to keep him happy. There are plenty of Swashbucklers to choose from, but I chose Wesley from the Princess Bride.

The WARRIOR: a noble champion, he acts with honor. This man is the reluctant rescuer or the knight in shining armor. He’s noble, tenacious, relentless, and he always sticks up for the underdog. If you need a protector, he’s your guy. He doesn’t buckle under to rules, or and he doesn’t go along just to get along. Merlin from the BBC TV show Merlin probably isn’t the first Warrior to come to mind, but I chose him because he’s more of an unorthodox warrior, as he’s not the stereotypical sword wielding champion many would think of. 

The BOSS: a real go-getter, she climbs the ladder of success. This is a “take charge” female, who accepts nothing but respect. Reaching her goal post the most important thing in life to her, and she isn’t bothered by a few ruffled feathers along the way. Integra from Hellsing is one example. 

The SEDUCTRESS: an enchantress, she gets her way. This is a lady who is long accustomed to sizing up everyone in a room the minute she enters. Mysterious and manipulative, she hides a streak of distrust a mile wide and ten miles deep. Cynicism guides her every action, and her tough sense of survival gives her the means to do whatever is necessary to come out ahead. Jessica Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit, for example. 

The SPUNKY KID: gutsy and true, she is loyal to the end. She is a favorite of many writers, and for good reason. You can’t help but root for her. She’s the girl with moxie. She’s not looking to be at the top of the heap; she just wants to be in her own little niche. She’s the team player, the one who is always ready to lend a hand. Arya Stark from Game of Thrones is THE definition of a Spunky Kid.

The FREE SPIRIT: eternal optimist, she dances to unheard tunes. Playful and fun-loving, she travels through life with a hop, skip and a jump, always stopping to smell the flowers and admire the pretty colors. She acts on a whim and follows her heart, not her head. Radical Edward from Cowboy Bebop is a fantastic example (and yes, ‘Edward’ is a girl). 

The WAIF: a distressed damsel, she bends with the wind. She’s the original damsel in distress. Her child-like innocence evokes a protective urge in the beastliest of heroes. But don’t be fooled, because the WAIF has tremendous strength of will. She won’t fight back; she’ll endure. Sansa Stark is a wonderful example of this, though she finds out pretty quick she messed up, badly, by following her fantasies. 

The LIBRARIAN: controlled and clever, she holds back. She’s prim and proper, but underneath that tight bun lurks a passionate woman. Dressed to repress, she might be the know-it-all whose hand is always up in class, or maybe she is the shy mouse hiding in the library. Hermione Granger from Harry Potter is definitely a Librarian. 

The CRUSADER: a dedicated fighter, she meets her commitments. No shrinking violet, no distressed damsel, here. This lady is on a mission, and she marches right over anyone in her way. Tenacious and headstrong, she brushes off any opposition to her goal. Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games is a Crusader. 

The NURTURER: serene and capable, she nourishes the spirit. Not always Suzy Homemaker, this lady takes care of everyone. She is a wonderful listener, and a joy to have around, this heroine takes care of everyone. She’s serene, capable and optimistic. Winry Rockbell from Fullmetal Alchemist is a great example. 

And now for the VILLAINS:

The TYRANT: the bullying despot, he wants power at any price. He ruthlessly conquers all he surveys, crushing his enemies beneath his feet. People are but pawns to him, and he holds all the power pieces. Hesitate before getting in this man’s way – he’ll think nothing of destroying you. Frank Underwood from House of Cards is a fabulous example. 

The BASTARD: the dispossessed son, he burns with resentment. He can’t have what he wants, so he lashes out to hurt those around him. His deeds are often for effect – he wants to provoke action in others. He proudly announces his rebellious dealings. Don’t be fooled by his boyish demeanor – he’s a bundle of hate. Seifer from Final Fantasy is a pretty good example. 

The DEVIL: the charming fiend, he gives people what he thinks they deserve. Charisma allows him to lure his victims to their own destruction. His ability to discover the moral weaknesses in others serves him well. Close your ears to his cajolery – he’ll tempt you to disaster. Light Yagami from Death Note is an excellent representation of this archetype. 

The TRAITOR: the double agent, he betrays those who trust him most. No one suspects the evil that lurks in his heart. Despite supportive smiles and sympathetic ears, he plots the destruction of his friends. Never turn your back on him — he means you harm. Grima Wormtongue from Lord of the Rings is a lovely example of a Traitor. 

The OUTCAST: the lonely outsider, he wants desperately to belong. Tortured and unforgiving, he has been set off from others, and usually for good cause. He craves redemption, but is willing to gain it by sacrificing others. Waste no sympathy on him – he’ll have none for you. Sylar from Heroes is a good example of an Outcast. 

The EVIL GENIUS: the malevolent mastermind, he loves to show off his superior intelligence. Intellectual inferiors are contemptible to him and that includes just about everyone. Elaborate puzzles and experiments are his trademark. Don’t let him pull your strings – the game is always rigged in his favor. Lex Luthor, Superman’s nemesis, is one of many great choices for an Evil Genius character.

The SADIST: the savage predator, he enjoys cruelty for its own sake. Violence and psychological brutality are games to this man; and he plays those games with daring and skill. Run, don’t walk, away from this man – he’ll tear out your heart, and laugh while doing it. Joffrey Baratheon (and Ramsay Bolton) from Game of Thrones are great examples of sadists. Pretty much everyone hates this little fucker. 

The TERRORIST: the dark knight, he serves a warped code of honor. Self-righteous, he believes in his own virtue, and judges all around him by a strict set of laws. The end will always justify his nefarious means, and no conventional morality will give him pause. Don’t try to appeal to his sense of justice – his does not resemble yours. Tyler Durden from Fight Club encompasses this perfectly. 

The BITCH: the abusive autocrat, she lies, cheats, and steals her way to the top. Her climb to success has left many a heel mark on the backs of others. She doesn’t care about the peons around her – only the achievement of her dreams matters. Forget expecting a helping hand from her – she doesn’t help anyone but herself. Bitch and Cersei Lannister are synonymous. 

The BLACK WIDOW: the beguiling siren, she lures victims into her web. She goes after anyone who has something she wants, and she wants a lot. But she does her best to make the victim want to be deceived. An expert at seduction of every variety, she uses her charms to get her way. Don’t be fooled by her claims of love – it’s all a lie. Lust from Fullmetal Alchemist was created to embody this archetype. 

The BACKSTABBER: the two-faced friend, she delights in duping the unsuspecting. Her sympathetic smiles enable her to learn her victims’ secrets, which she then uses to feather her nest. Her seemingly helpful advice is just the thing to hinder. Put no faith in her – she’ll betray you every time. Regina George from Mean Girls fully embraces the Backstabber archetype. 

The LUNATIC: the unbalanced madwoman, she draws others into her crazy environment. The drum to which she marches misses many a beat, but to her, it is the rest of the world that is out of step. Don’t even try to understand her logic – she is unfathomable. There are few lady villains crazier than Bellatrix Lestrange from Harry Potter. For that matter, most of Helena Bonham Carter’s characters are pretty bizarre and often macabre. 

The PARASITE: the poisonous vine, she collaborates for her own comfort. She goes along with any atrocity, so long as her own security is assured. She sees herself as a victim who had no choice, and blames others for her crimes. Expect no mercy from her – she won’t lift a finger to save anyone but herself. Mystique from X-Men is a good choice for this. She believes there is no place for her in society, and if she is to survive, she must join the side most capable of ensuring her future. 

The SCHEMER: the lethal plotter, she devises the ruin of others. Like a cat with a mouse, she plays with lives. Elaborate plans, intricate schemes; nothing pleases her more than to trap the unwary. Watch out for her complex designs – she means you no good. Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter is a Schemer. 

The FANATIC: the uncompromising extremist, she does wrong in the name of good. She justifies hers action by her intent, and merely shrugs her shoulders at collateral damage. Anyone not an ally is an enemy, and therefore, fair game. Give up any hope of showing her the error of her ways – she firmly believes you are wrong, wrong, wrong. Poison Ivy from Batman is a good example of this, as she will do whatever it takes to restore nature to its former glory. 

The MATRIARCH: the motherly oppressor, she smothers her loved ones. She knows what’s best and will do all in her power to controls the lives of those who surround her – all for their own good. A classic enabler, she sees no fault with her darlings, unless they don’t follow her dictates. Don’t be lured into her family nest – you’ll never get out alive. Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a great example of the smothering Matriarch.


Well, I hope that helps all of you with your writing endeavors! Leave me a comment, and tell me what you think of this. 🙂

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS.