How to Format Your Novel Properly Before Querying Agents

How to format a novel 2So you’ve finally finished writing your novel and have edited the heck out of it. You’re exhausted, and probably over caffeinated and sleep deprived, but the pains of your efforts have been well worth it.

You cradle your newborn manuscript you’ve brought into this world. You’ve now reached the moment of truth–you’re ready to submit to agents.

It’s a scary thing sending your defenseless little manuscript out into the world. Agents and editors can be vicious, and the last thing you want is for your baby to get rejected. So before you start querying, it’s important you take the time to properly format your manuscript to give it it’s best chance of getting adopted by a publisher.

This is not a step you do not want to skip over! I know you’re itching to submit to agents, but wouldn’t it be a shame for all of your hard work to be for nothing because you were too lazy to do a little formatting?

“But do agents even really care about formatting? Aren’t they just interested in my story?” you ask.

Oh yes. Trust me, agents care. And they take notice of sloppy formatting. It will earn your manuscript a one-way ticket to the slush pile. Why?

First, poor formatting can make your story difficult to read. If an agent has a whole stack of manuscripts on their desk to sort through, they’re not going to take the time to struggle through yours. You don’t want to annoy the person who could get your story published!

Second, your formatting reveals who you are as a writer. If your manuscript is properly formatted, the agent will think “Oh, this writer knows what they’re doing. They’ve done their research and have taken the time to present themselves as a professional.”

But if your manuscript is a hot mess, it sends up a red flag and signals to agents that you’re an amateur and/or lazy. “Man,” they’ll think, “If the formatting is this big of a mess I don’t even want to know what the writing looks like. It’s probably a train wreck.”

Plus, it’s just rude to send an agent a sloppy manuscript! Don’t waste their time.

If the idea of formatting freaks you out, relax. It’s not as complicated as it sounds–and I’m here to help you out! I got your back. 😉 I’m going to show you how to format your manuscript professionally according to industry standards so you’ll get on the good side of agents. Ready? Let’s do this!

Proper Manuscript Formatting

Step 1: Always, always check the agent’s publishing guidelines first! Mostly they all tend to be pretty much the same, but sometimes they vary. So do your research and adjust your manuscript accordingly.

Step 2: Set your font to black, size 12 Times New Roman font. (Do NOT try to be artistic and make your manuscript stand out by using weird fonts).

Step 3: Set your margins to 1 inch on all sides.

Step 4: Create a title page. Type your name, address, phone number, and email in the upper left-hand corner of the first page, single spaced. Then, place the word count of your story under your email or at the top of the page on the right (round off the word count to the nearest thousand or five hundred). Optional: include your genre or sub-genre above or below the word count.

Next, about halfway down the page, type your story’s title and center it. The title can be capitalized normally or in all caps. Skip a line, type ‘by,’ skip another line, and type your name.

Step 5: On a new page, begin your story. You will start each chapter on a new page 1/3 of the way down (about 6 double-spaced lines), and center the chapter’s title (the title can be capitalized normally or in all caps). Then, skip two lines before starting the body of the chapter. The first paragraph of your chapters or new scenes can either be indented or left flush.

Step 6: Create a header on each page excluding the title page. It should include your last name, the title of your story (or keywords if it’s too long), and the page number. Separate your name, title, and page number with a / and align the header to the right. (Also, make sure your chapter lengths are reasonable. 12-17 double-spaced pages is a good range).

Step 7: Double space your entire manuscript.

Step 8: Make sure all of your paragraphs have a 1/2 inch indent. This is equal to 5 spaces, or make things easy on yourself and use the tab key 😉

Step 9: To indicate a scene break, insert a # between paragraphs and center it. Asterisks *** are also acceptable.

Step 10: To emphasize words, use italics. Don’t underline or bold your words.

Step 11: At the end of your manuscript, insert a # sign or type “The End” and center it. This lets the agent know there aren’t any missing pages.

Step 12: If sending your manuscript through snail mail, don’t staple or bind your pages in any way.

“Um, okay, great but what the heck does this all look like?” you wonder.

Well, allow me to show you.

The title page:

Title Page Example

The manuscript pages:

Chapter Example

See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?

Now, if you look around online and see variations of the format above, don’t panic or get confused!

There can be slight variations, though nothing real drastic. (For example, some recommend Courier font, but others say it’s outdated. Really, either Courier or Times New Roman is acceptable). This format isn’t the one and only way to do it. I think that’s why writers get confused and stress out over formatting.

Just remember to always check the agent’s guidelines first. And as long as you are presenting your manuscript in a professional format like the one I’ve shown you above, you’ll be fine. Don’t sweat small variations you might see online.

You’re now ready to send out your beautiful baby manuscript! Check out my list of 100 YA agents to get you started.

Still confused? Have questions? Need help? Leave me your comments below!

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How to Use Word Choice to Set the Mood of Your Story

word choiceDo you pay attention to mood in your writing? If not, you should!

It’s a subtle and very powerful tool for writers. And not something you want to overlook! By setting the mood of a scene, you can manipulate how you want the reader to feel. It’s like the Jedi mind trick of writing. Pretty cool, huh?

So just how can a writer take advantage of this awesome power? There are several techniques you can use. Let’s get started!

What is Mood?

When you hear “mood” you might be confused or intimated and think it’s some vague literary term. Maybe your English teach forced you to analyze the mood of different novels in the past and you’re now wary of the word. But don’t panic–it’s really simple. Here’s the definition of mood from Dictionary.com:

A state or quality of feeling at a particular time.

When applied to your story, mood means what a certain scene makes a reader feel. The mood of your story should be directed by the feelings of your characters.

Mood Comes from Character

Before you set the mood for your story, reflect on how your character is feeling. What are his thoughts or feelings about this place or moment? Is he awed, frightened, curious, or sad? Sure you could select any mood at random for your scene, but that’s not the point.

The purpose of creating a mood for a scene is to allow the reader to experience the story as the character does. If the character is frightened then you should work to create fear in the reader.

When you don’t match characters’ feelings with the mood, it can hurt your story. If your character is lost in the wilderness and you’re describing the beauty of nature, it won’t flow as well–imagine trying to jam together two puzzle pieces that don’t fit. Your reader might wonder why the character is admiring the trees and squirrels when he’s lost in the middle of nowhere. This will also keep the reader from fully feeling the character’s panic and fear at being lost.

You should also consider your character’s personality, as different people will experience the same place in different ways. For example, for Character A a circus is exciting, but for Character B it’s terrifying, and for Character C it’s a bore. If you love the circus, don’t describe it in a positive way if your character hates it!

So basically, the reader’s feelings of a scene should be filtered through the POV character so the reader can experience the story as the character does.

Techniques for Setting Mood

There are three basic ways to create the mood for a scene: details, similes, and vocabulary choice. Let me show you a couple examples of these techniques in action.

Example #1:

The pine boughs tickled Snow White’s arms as she wandered through the forest. Robins sang and flitted from branch to branch overhead, and a rabbit scampered past. She paused to admire a Dogwood adorned in white blooms so that it looked as though its branches cradled fluffs of cloud. She plucked a blossom and stroked its petals, which were as soft as a mouse’s fur. A squirrel nestled in one of the branches peered at her from behind its bushy tail.

Example #2:

Bare branches scratched at Snow White’s arms as she stumbled through the forest, and. A raven cawed and swooped over her head, startling her. Twisted tree roots snatched at her feet like the fingers of a corpse emerging from a grave, and dragged her to the ground. The damp earth stained her blue dress like thunderclouds smudging out a summer sky. She swallowed back her tears as a wolf’s wail pierced the cold air.

These examples are pretty overdone and melodramatic, but you get the point. Both convey a specific mood, which reflects what the character is feeling and draws the reader in to share her experience.

  • Details

What does your character notice? Different people will notice different things, so it will depend on her personality. You don’t have to include every detail your character might notice. Choose specific details that will be most helpful for setting the mood you want.

In the first example to make the scene feel warm and fuzzy, I mentioned details like robins, bunnies, squirrels, and a tree in bloom. These are also details an animal-lover like Snow White would probably notice.

In the second example, I chose to describe the details of a raven, wolf, twisted tree roots, and damp dirt. These are all things a frightened Snow White might notice while struggling through a forest.

  • Similes

The second technique you can use to convey mood is similes. Comparing one thing to another can evoke emotion and give the reader a vivid picture of how the character is feeling/perceiving the scene.

In the same way you would consider what details your character might notice, consider what he/she might use as a comparison for something. For example, an art lover might express themselves through art comparisons, or a sports player might make athletic comparisons.

In the first example I compared the spring blossoms to fluffs of cloud, and the petals to a mouse’s fur. In the second, I compared tree roots to a corpse’s fingers, and the dirt staining her dress to thunderclouds blotting out a clear sky. The comparisons in each example reflect the character’s mood.

  • Vocabulary choice

The last tactic you can use is vocabulary choice. Consider what words you will include to create a specific mood and how a reader will react to them emotionally.

Notice how in the first example I used words like tickled, sang, flitted, scampered, admire, adorned, blossom, fluffs, bloom, stroked, soft, nestled, and bushy. Each of these word conveys a feeling of tranquility.

In the second example, I used bare, scratched, stumbled, swooped, startling, twisted, snatched, dragged, damp, wail, pierced, and cold. Notice how these words make you feel…not very pleasant, right?

It takes practice to become aware of and intentional with your word choice but it’s well worth the effort. Words are powerful, and you should take advantage of your word choice to manipulate how you want the reader to feel about a scene.

Do you pay attention to mood in your writing? What techniques do you use to set the mood?

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How to Use Paragraphs to Control Pacing

paragraph pacing 2Many writers may not pay attention to paragraphs, especially when starting out, but they hold a subtle power over your novel.

But don’t underestimate them–paragraphs can invite a reader into your novel or drive them away. And if you learn how to manipulate them, you can use their power to your advantage.

Beware Unwieldy Paragraphs

When you pick up a book at the store and thumb through the pages only to find unbroken blocks of text spanning an entire page or more, how do you feel? I don’t know about you, but when I see back-to-back giant paragraphs, I don’t get the warm and fuzzies.

Giant paragraphs are hard on the eyes. All that text going on and on and on…it’s intimidating to readers and can scare them off.  Your readers might think your book will be a tough read and decide to drift away to something easier. The last thing you want is to make your novel look like a textbook!

White Space is Your Friend

Using paragraph breaks more frequently creates more white space, which invites readers to linger on the page. Readers need white space because it gives the eye a place to rest.  That’s why when you skim through a book, you’re probably drawn right to the dialogue–switching between speakers offers more white space.

When you’re writing, look for subtle shifts in topic where you can break paragraphs. Let me show you what I mean using Edgar Allen Poe’s the Tell-Tale Heart. Here is the original without paragraph breaks:

Example 1

“I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it –oh so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly –very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man’s sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! would a madman have been so wise as this, And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously-oh, so cautiously –cautiously (for the hinges creaked) –I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights –every night just at midnight –but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.”

That’s a giant paragraph if I ever saw one. Now, here’s the same paragraph again, but with breaks:

Example 2

“I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him.

And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it –oh so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head.

Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly –very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man’s sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed.

Ha! would a madman have been so wise as this, And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously-oh, so cautiously –cautiously (for the hinges creaked) –I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye.

And this I did for seven long nights –every night just at midnight –but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night.

So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.”

Paragraph Lengths

Which one would you rather read? I’m betting the second example. It’s easier to read and less intimidating. But how exactly does it work its magic?

By controlling the pacing.

Readers hate giant paragraphs because it takes longer to get through them–it can feel like forever. White space allows the eye to move through more quickly. And in our modern times, readers are impatient and like things fast.

But how long is too long? I’d aim for an average paragraph length of 3-4 lines, but don’t go any longer than 7 or 8 lines. And you can never go too short–you can even do single-line paragraphs for dramatic impact.

Controlling Pacing

Now that you understand the subtle effects paragraphs have on readers you can use them to your advantage. Paragraphs are an effective technique for controlling pacing, and one you definitely shouldn’t overlook.

When you want to slow things down in your story, like making a romantic moment linger, lengthen your paragraphs. It will take your reader longer to get through them, and make them feel like the scene is lasting longer.

When you want to speed things up, keep your paragraphs short and punchy. This is perfect for action scenes. More white space and fewer words means your reader will be flying through the pages, and the scene will feel like it’s moving quickly. The shorter you go, the faster things will move–you can even go down to single lines if you want.

Do you take advantage of paragraphs in your writing?

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How to Format Dialogue Like a Pro

How to format dialogueDialogue can be a tricky little beastie to format, especially when you’re a new writer. I remember scratching my head over where to put the punctuation marks, and studying published novels to try to find my answers.

But there were still confusing bits that left me boggled. Like how did I put a speech tag in the middle of some dialogue? Or how did I start a new paragraph in the middle of a character’s lengthy speech?

If you’re wrestling with these questions you’ve come to the right place! I’m going to show you how to format dialogue like a pro so that you won’t even flinch when you come across a tricky situation. And more importantly, you’ll learn to avoid mistakes that will make an agent or editor flinch and toss your manuscript aside.

To help us navigate the journey, we will be traveling along with the Doctor.

Let’s begin, shall we?

Punctuation

First, let’s take care of those pesky quotation marks. The quotation marks will enclose anything that a character is speaking out loud. Because they signal to the reader that the words are being spoken, don’t use them for thoughts. Italicize thoughts instead. All ending punctuation marks always go inside the quotations–whether it is a question mark, period, exclamation point, comma, or dash.

Right:

“Never say trapped, just… inconveniently circumstanced.”

Wrong:

“Never say trapped, just… inconveniently circumstanced“.

Adding Speech Tags

Speech tags are used to signal to the reader who is speaking. They include words like said, asked, whispered, shouted, etc. When you end a line of dialogue with a speech tag, you punctuate it by using a comma, question mark or exclamation point. You do not use a period. (I know it’s weird). The word following the closed quotations is always lower case UNLESS it is a name.

Right:

“There’s something that doesn’t make sense. Let’s go and poke it with a stick,” the Doctor said.

“There’s something that doesn’t make sense. Let’s go and poke it with a stick! the Doctor said.

Wrong:

“There’s something that doesn’t make sense. Let’s go and poke it with a stick.” the Doctor said.

“There’s something that doesn’t make sense. Let’s go and poke it with a stick”, the Doctor said.

“There’s something that doesn’t make sense. Let’s go and poke it with a stick!” The Doctor said.

Split Dialogue

What if you want to split up your dialogue and put your speech tag in the middle? There are two ways to do this. The first is to add in your speech tag between two complete thoughts. You will add your punctuation and close the quotation where you want to insert your speech tag. At the end of the tag, add a period. Now, continue your dialogue with new quotation marks and capitalize the sentence. Like so:

“We’re all stories, in the end,” the Doctor said. “Just make it a good one, eh?”

The second way is similar to the first, except you will be adding a speech tag in the middle of a thought. This means instead of putting a period after ‘said’ you will put a comma, and instead of capitalizing the first word of the next part of dialogue you will make it lowercase:

“Come on, Rory! It isn’t rocket science,” the Doctor said, “it’s just quantum physics!”

Dashes and Ellipses

When using a dash or ellipses to end a line of dialogue, treat it like you would a comma. You can add a speech tag at the end if you like, but don’t use a comma after the dash or ellipses.

Right:

“You don’t want to take over the universe…” the Doctor said.

“You don’t want to take over the universe–” the Doctor said.

Wrong:

“You don’t want to take over the universe…,” the Doctor said.

“You don’t want to take over the universe–,” the Doctor said.

Paragraphs Within Dialogue

When you start a new paragraph in the middle of some dialogue, you don’t close the quotations. This is sort of confusing, so let me just show you:

I’ll be a story in your head. That’s okay. We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?

‘Cause it was, you know. It was the best. The daft old man who stole a magic box and ran away. Did I ever tell you that I stole it? Well I borrowed it. I was always going to take it back.

See how the first paragraph of dialogue ends open, without closing the quotation? This is because your character is going to continue speaking in the next paragraph. In the new paragraph, begin with another open quotation mark. When your character has finished speaking, you close the quotations as in the end of the second paragraph.

Multiple Speakers

When you have multiple characters speaking, always start a new paragraph to indicate a new speaker. If you have any descriptions of a character’s actions along with their dialogue, keep it in the same paragraph. This helps to avoid confusing the reader. You will also notice that characters’ actions can be used in place of speech tags to let the reader know who is speaking.

Right:

“You do have a plan.” Amy paused and glanced at the Doctor. “Don’t you?”

The Doctor shrugged. “No. It’s a thing, it’s like a plan but there’s more greyness.”

Wrong:

“You do have a plan.” Amy paused and glanced at the Doctor. “Don’t you?” The Doctor shrugged.

“No. It’s a thing, it’s like a plan but there’s more greyness.”

Dialogue can be confusing at first, but with practice it will become instinctive. I don’t even pause anymore to think about punctuation and formatting while writing. And now that you know how to handle all the tricky bits you can go forth and conquer it yourself!

Have more questions on how to format dialogue? Post them below and I’ll be happy to help you out 🙂 blog signature

How to Make Readers Care

how to make readers careWhy do readers read? What makes a story stick with them after they’ve turned the final page?

The secret lies in the characters. Sure the story might be interesting, but it’s the characters we connect with and experience it through.

They become our friends and we love to care about them. They make us laugh, cry, get angry, and fear for their well-being.

We keep reading a story because we care about the characters, and therefore care about what happens to them. If the reader doesn’t care about your characters, she won’t care to finish your novel. Which is not what you want!

So how do you make readers care about fictional people?

You engage their emotions.

“In order for a reader to connect with a story, he must feel that he has a stake in the character’s plight and must care about the outcome.” — from Emotion Tension, and Conflict by Cheryl St. John

No matter how spectacular of a plot you have, your story will fall flat if your reader cannot connect with the characters on an emotional level. What keeps a reader turning the pages is the desire to find out what will happen to the characters that she cares about.

So how do you make a reader care about your character so that she will root for him/her to achieve his/her goal? You must make your characters sympathetic, relatable, likeable, flawed, and interesting. Let’s look at an example—Ana from Frozen.

Sympathetic

Straight away we see that Ana is isolated from her sister, whom she loves. When the girls’ parents die they are left alone. With no friends and a sister who won’t speak to her for reasons she doesn’t understand, Ana is lonely and desperate for love.

Likable

Ana has a fun personality—she’s bubbly, outgoing, and optimistic. She also has a strong love for her sister, even though Elsa has shut her out for so many years.

Note that not all characters have to be “nice” to be likable. For example, Katniss isn’t sociable or friendly, but she has positive qualities. Your character needs at least one positive quality to make readers like them, and you need to show it as early as possible.

Relatable

Ana is just like any girl—she loves chocolate and dreams of meeting “the one.” She’s also a bit of a dork.

Flawed

Ana isn’t perfect. She’s a little naive (you can’t marry a man you just met!) and she also tends to be clumsy and has a habit of babbling. She can also be a little over-confident at times. No one wants to read about a perfect character—perfect is boring! Ana’s flaws make her charming and realistic.

Interesting

Ana’s quirky personality makes her interesting and likable.

All of these qualities make us care about Ana. We want her to achieve her goal of bringing her sister Elsa home and repairing their relationship. We root for her along every step of the way.

Let’s look at another example.

Let’s say you’re reading a story about a Halloween party. Turns out there’s a real vampire in the room, and it murders a young woman. Interesting, exciting maybe, but other than that you’re indifferent about the situation because you don’t know the woman.

Let’s say beforehand you were shown that the woman is a single mother of two small children. She recently divorced her abusive husband and her girlfriends have talked her into going out with them tonight. Then she is murdered. Now some feelings might be stirred.

Think back to the last book you didn’t like. For me, it was The Maze Runner by James Dashner. Why didn’t you like the book?

I’m willing to bet you had an issue with the characters. The concept for The Maze Runner was interesting, but the characters were flat and I couldn’t connect with them emotionally. I didn’t care about them, so I didn’t care about what happened to them and I skimmed.

Conflict will not matter if the reader doesn’t care about your characters. So take the time to flesh out your characters, give them personalities, strengths, flaws, interests, and pasts so that your reader will connect with them and care about their fate.

What characters do you care about in books you’ve read? What makes you care about them?

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How to Write from a Girl’s POV

Girl POVEarlier this week we looked at How to Write From a Guy’s POV. This time, we’re going to explore how to write from a girl’s POV.

Fellas, I’m going to try to help you out the best I can here. I know a lot of you are confused by us females and the thought of getting into a girl’s head to write a story from her perspective might be kind of scary.

But I’m going to try to help you understand us girls a little better, and give you pointers for writing convincing female characters.

Now, into the fray!

Person First, Girl Second

To help take some of the pressure off, remember that a girl is a person just like a guy. Be sure to write a person first and a girl second. Sure we may see some things differently, but we’re connected by the human experience—we’ve all experienced pain, loss, joy, fear, excitement, etc.

Though sometimes it may seem like we come from another planet, girls are human too! 😉

Avoid Gender Stereotypes

Not all girls are good at cooking, wear makeup, love fashion, freak out over bugs, obsesses over their weight, cry at sappy movies, suck at math or science, are clueless about cars, can’t use power tools, are helpless damsels in distress…shall I continue?

This doesn’t mean you can’t have a girl character be any of these things. Just be aware of the stereotypes and add more to her character than a labeled identity. Which brings me to my next point…

Create a Character with Depth

Give your heroine more than a pretty face–develop her character and personality. What was her childhood like? What’s her worst fear? Her dreams for the future? What does she like and dislike? What are her talents? Her interests? Make her more than the hero’s love interest or a damsel for him to save.

And please don’t make her impossible, super-model gorgeous. You know how you hate when female authors do this with their male characters? Yeah, we don’t like it either when the tables are flipped. We want a female character we can relate to. And unattainable beauty is not relateable.

Some Things for Guys to Consider About Girls…

**DISCLAIMER: Girls are unique individuals just like guys. Not all of these will apply to every girl, just like some things (like being athletic or good at math) don’t apply to all guys. So get to know your character first.**

Emotions

I know there’s probably nothing more terrifying than girls and their emotions 😉 We can’t help it; we tend to be more emotionally driven like guys tend to be more physically driven. We crave an emotional connection and intimacy, which is why girls value friendships so much.

Girls like to talk about their feelings–it’s how we deal with them. Most of us are more comfortable with letting our emotions show than guys. We want to be understood, and we want to share our innermost selves with you. It’s how we make a connection and deepen a friendship or relationship.

Girl Talk

Girls love to talk. We gossip, we talk about boys, we have heart-to-hearts, and we share the dumbest little details like what we ate that day. To us, talking is how we get to know a person and form a bond with them. Guys bond through physical roughhousing and sports, girls bond through talking and sharing emotions.

For us, silence can be uncomfortable. Why aren’t you talking to me? Is something wrong? Are you mad? Did I do something? For a girl, silence might signal a rift in the bond.

Girls also aren’t as direct as guys–we don’t always come out and say what we’re thinking. Which is why if a girl snaps at you that she’s “fine” you should assume she’s anything but.

And by the way, if there is a cute guy in the room you had better bet if we are with our girl friends we will probably whisper and giggle about him and point him out to each other if we can get away with it without being caught.

Over-thinking

Girls have a lot of stuff going on in their brains. When a guy tells me sometimes he can simply think about “nothing,” I can’t comprehend that. My head is always full, my thoughts are always darting from one thing to the next.

Picture an internet browser with 20 tabs open. Yep, that’s the female mind.

But not only do we think about a lot of stuff, we also tend to over-think anything and everything. From what we should wear today, what color we should dye our hair, what book we should buy, to…does he like me?

I don’t think there’s anything girls over-analyze more than a guy’s behavior.

If we like a guy, we will look for any excuse to give us hope that me might like us back. Even if that means making excuses for his words and actions or interpreting them the way we want to hear/see them. (If you want to see a funny representation of this, watch the movie He’s Just Not That Into You. Good insight into the female thought process 😉 ).

Traveling in Packs

So this completely bewilders guys. Why do girls always go to the bathroom together? Why are they always traveling in packs? Sometimes, girls don’t even understand it themselves.

But basically, it’s not just a social comfort thing  and our need for friendship, it’s also a safety thing (even if we aren’t aware of it). This is hard for a guy to understand, but sometimes being a girl feels like being prey. Guys “hunt” and “chase” us…and unfortunately sometimes even stalk us.

Girls have to be more careful than guys because as much as I hate to say it, I know for me at least there is that fear in the back of your mind of being attacked and raped. Now of course I don’t think about this all the time, but there are certain situations when I become very cautious.

For example, when I have a night class I don’t walk out to my car alone. Girls are taught to stick together, use the buddy system, avoid dark alleys, don’t go running at night, don’t walk alone at night. We carry mace or walk to our cars with our keys threaded between our fingers as weapons.

We’re also discouraged from traveling alone. As a girl who wants to see the world, this really gets under my skin. I hate feeling limited because of my gender. In fact, it pisses me off. But I have to face the facts: I have to be careful because a guy is physically stronger than me. If he wants to hurt me, I’m at a disadvantage.

So basically, try to understand the vulnerability girls may sometimes feel.

Other Tips

Talk to the girls in your life and don’t be afraid to ask them questions! Observe us, watch some chick-flicks, try to get into our minds.

Also, read books from the POV of female characters. That will help you to get a feel for writing female characters more than anything! (I’d also recommend The Fault in Our Stars by John Green–he writes the female character very well.)

And be patient. It may take practice and time for you to feel comfortable writing another gender. And if you still have doubts, have a girl read your story. She will be able to point out any faults and you will be able to learn from your mistakes.

Any other questions about writing female characters? Post them below!

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How to Write from a Guy’s POV

how to write from a guys pov

We definitely need more male protagonists in YA, but as a lot of writers are women it can be challenging to write from a guy’s POV. But ladies, I promise it’s not as scary as it seems!

I thought writing from the opposite gender is an important topic to cover, so I’ll be doing it in two parts–one for male POV, and one for female POV.

Today we’re going to explore how to write from a guy’s POV if you’re a girl. Obviously I have no idea what it’s like to be inside a guy’s head, so I asked my friend Brett to help me out! (Check out his awesome blog here).

He was kind enough to answer my questions with some really awesome insights into a guy’s mind that you ladies will find helpful (and maybe even surprising) in your writing. So I’ll shut up now and let you get to the good stuff 😉

What goes on in a guy’s head? 

BRETT: The same things that go through most people’s heads. Responsibilities, deadlines, family, life. Sometimes, there’s just–nothing.

What do you think are some of the differences between how guys/girls think? How we approach a problem? A dangerous situation?

BRETT: In general, I believe girls are more likely to think empathetically (I’ll avoid using the word ’emotionally’ because of the bad connotations). Guys are (generally) more pragmatic–for every problem, there is a solution, but often the consequences don’t matter as much as simply solving the issue to begin with.

It’s generally true that girls approach a problem more logically–they can often see ways around a problem or solutions that guys just simply missed. Exactly how, I’ll never know. I think most guys just try the direct, brute-force way first.

With regards to a dangerous situation, I think all guys would like to assume they’d be the first to act bravely. Whether it’s a by-product of Hollywood’s era of stereotypical action guys, I think most men/guys would look for a physical way to end conflict–the quickest, most direct method you can imagine.

Depending on a guy’s natural physique–a big buff guy versus a smaller guy–it might be a direct de-escalation using physical contact, or via using an environmental object: anything blunt, heavy, or sharp.

How do guys deal with their feelings, especially anger and sadness? When should guy characters cry?

BRETT: Most guys like to imagine they don’t have those things called ‘feelings.’ It’s assumed that men should just bury their emotions and move on–this differs with personality traits, but the ‘push it deep down’ approach works 90% of the time. The remaining 10% of the time, it’s bottled up until it eventually bursts.

Guy characters should cry, but it takes a lot to push a guy to such an emotional breakdown–particularly one that isn’t anger. That’s the difference. You push a guy, he’ll get angry; you break a guy, he’ll cry.

So think out of the box here–you can’t just tear something away, that will only elicit a physical reaction (see above), whereas crippling a guy with something psychologically damaging will bring out the tears.

Men are different, but not complete robots. Losing a loved one will always make someone cry, but guys usually hold back their emotions as long as possible.

Do guys really think about sex all the time? How do they see girls? How much should we stress how guys notice girls?

BRETT: To the first question–don’t believe everything you read in Cosmo magazine. Men don’t obsess about sex, and if they do, they’re not the type of guy you want to hang out with.

To the second question–guys always notice girls. In the same way that guys always notice every threatening-looking guy in a room, or the same way they notice if there’s a television.

The second look–the double-take–that’s the big one. The first look doesn’t count, that’s instinctual. The second look means we’re interested, or at least, willing to double-check.

As for girls noticing guys…most girls immediately get the wrong impression, that a guy looking at them is instantly in love. He might be attracted to you, he might also think you’re out of his league.

Don’t forget that one–as a guy, the general rule of thumb is, “Unless you know otherwise, she’s taken.” To that extent, guys can look at girls, imagine what it might be like with her in a relationship, but then tell themselves a dozen reasons that wouldn’t work.

And again, speaking for almost all guys out there–please, girls take the first step. It’s very hard for us to gauge reactions and emotions, and subtle hints are almost entirely lost on us. Let us know if you have a boyfriend, let us know if you like us. Most guys don’t like the ‘chase’–please, just be upfront.

How do guys interact with other guys vs. girls?

BRETT: Guy conversations generally involve the least amount of words possible. Most guys only have two or three things in common with each other–sport, work, music, games, food; outside of that, there’s very little to talk about. Gossip is off the table–no guy has ever wanted to talk about ‘what happened last weekend’ unless it involved one of the five prescribed categories.

For talking with girls…it varies heavily on personality. Some guys are very shy around girls, some guys are full of confidence and swagger. Down the middle line, there’s people like me who just try to be amicable and get a laugh out of you, whether you’re a guy or a girl.

Depending on whether the guy thinks the girl may or may not like him affects how they approach the conversation. It’s not usual for guys to have platonic friendships with girls–either they’re hoping something might happen, or they’re so deep in the friendzone that they now consider you ‘one of the guys’ (which isn’t necessarily a compliment).

Tips for male dialogue?

BRETT: To the point. Guys have something to say, and they’ll say it. Conversations typically are on a topic that’s probably not all that important, until it eventually dies down when nobody has anything left to say.

If two guys disagree on something–watch out. Most guys are pretty hot-headed, and you can expect some flaring tensions and arguments over decisions or directions. Everyone has an opinion, and theirs is better than yours.

What about body language, gestures, mannerisms etc.?

BRETT: Almost all guys are defensive all the time. Lots of crossed arms, lots of small head-nods in agreement. Friendly guys will go for the back-slap or hair-ruffle (though ruffling is a bit demeaning, it’s the older-brother-little-brother gesture).

With girls, it’s far more awkward. Maybe some casual, testing-the-water touches. Otherwise, guys are typically quite self-conscious around girls, more so than most YA novels would have you believe.

Any gender stereotypes to avoid?

BRETT: All men are buff, awesome dudes who know how to fix cars and fight people. Also, avoid the ‘awesome hunk with giant muscles who’s also super funny and smart.’ Sure there are some smart people who are fit, but you don’t get everything in life.

All guys don’t know how to fix cars or jimmy locks. Create a character who isn’t absolutely perfect–everyone has flaws. Try for realistic guys who have actual weaknesses. 

Any misconceptions to avoid?

BRETT: The misconception that guys are oblivious to girls’ feelings. We understand, we just don’t know what to do about it.

Also avoid the ‘skinny dudes are awkward nerds.’ I’m pretty lightweight, but not a nerd. Believe it or not, girls can fall in love with a guy who isn’t Fabio. Endlessly reading novels about the super-awesome-muscles-guy who gets the gorgeous girl gets old fast, and doesn’t represent the real world’s concept of love–which is far more than just big muscles and square jaws.

Any tips for balancing the physical and internal aspects of a guy character? I feel like there’s a danger of making him all physical with no emotion.

BRETT: Same as above, really. Balance is the key–big buff guys aren’t completely oblivious, they just don’t know how to respond; on the other side, non-physical guys can be smart and perceptive.

And guys are complex–we have feelings, emotions, pasts that we bury and don’t talk about. Try opening a guy up, explore him. Why is he big and buff? Is it because his father was a footballer and pressured his son into becoming a quarterback? Does the guy regret slacking off on his education to pursue that physical image?

And the skinny guy–what’s his past been? Bullied, had his self-esteem cut because the world tells him that only strong, awesome guys get the girls? Does he harbor resentment towards those people?

Have you ever read any books with male characters by women authors that were poor representations? i.e. What NOT to do?

BRETT: Almost (emphasis on almost) every YA novel written by a female author portrays the ‘perfect guy’ with the rippling muscles, chiseled jaw, moody eyes, and gentle touch.

Fiction isn’t meant to be a complete fantasy–it should be realistic, and not create dreamboat characters who can do no wrong, who have no flaws physically or mentally.

If you want a balanced guy character, read YA’s written by MALE authors, who know this better. Think Thomas or Newt from The Maze Runner–lean, determined, equal parts brave and afraid. Think Connor from Unwind–strong, good-looking but blinded by his own goals, and occasionally insensitive.

There are two ‘good’ examples from a female author–Peeta from The Hunger Games comes to mind. Although Gale is portrayed as the standard, awesome-buff guy, Peeta is..not. He has core strength, but he’s just a baker’s son, never actively shows us any specific attributes indicating he’s a hunk. He’s just a guy who mistakenly loves a girl out of his league. A rather perfect character for me.

And J.K. Rowling of course did an outstanding job with Ron Weasley. Harry…not so much. But Ron proved that even the most awkward, bumbling guy can grow, can become a sports star, can get the girl, without having the ‘hero’ swoop in and steal the show.

And on a final note–please, please, please write a CHARACTER first. Write a human being with goals, desires, secrets, resentment, and happiness. Write a PERSON that the reader can empathize with. Readers want to be entertained, and they want the character to achieve their goal; whether they’re a guy or a girl, it doesn’t matter.

Wow–thanks, Brett!!! So there you have it ladies! Hopefully this valuable insight will help you create awesome male characters and make you more confident about writing from their POV. Any thoughts or questions? Post them below–Brett will be swinging by the blog to answer them 🙂

UP NEXT: On Saturday we’ll look at how to write from a female character’s POV if you’re a guy. Hope to see you then!

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