Inspiration, Motivation, and Determination

The funny thing is as I write this I personally lack the inspiration and motivation to do write this post, but I am absolutely determined to get it written, and therefore words are being written. In other words, no one is immune from what I’m about to say in this post.

It is commonly said you must be inspired to write, but then that is debunked by the claim that you don’t need inspiration as long as you have the motivation to write.

Want to know the truth?

Some days you just lack both inspiration and motivation to write anything, and the only thing that will make you write is your pure determination to write. Some people have the determination to write every day. Others have already resolved to complete this chapter or that scene this day, and some people are just plain stubborn and absolutely set on writing something during the day.

When you write, you might not like what you’ve written. You might write something else and also not like that, and then you write something else again, and still not like what you’ve written, and you feel like giving up, but don’t. By simply writing, you’ve accomplished a lot more than those who simply don’t write at all. Yes, sometimes you have to write a whole bunch of what you may think is junk, but here could a gem in the midst of all that which you can only uncover if you write everything else. That gem is then used for inspiration and gives you the motivation to write more, and next thing you know, you are thrilled about what you are writing.

Of course it’s not that simple. There are a whole bunch of factors in life that like to complicate everything, so lets break things down and discuss inspiration, motivation, and determination individually.

Now we’ve already discussed determination a bit, but let me say it simply: determination is your will to write regardless of how you’re feeling and what you encounter during the day. It may be 11:45PM and you still haven’t written, and determination is writing something before 12AM just so in your own mind you can tell yourself you’ve achieved a goal you set yourself, and you can be proud of that.

Motivation is closely linked to determination. This is because your determination is your motive to write. When you are resolved to do something, you set goals, you make a plan, and you can see the end in sight. All you have to do is do the hard work to reach it, and that is where motivation comes in. Determination is the light at the end of the tunnel. Motivation is the train on the tracks heading for that light.

It is so much easier to have motivation when it’s linked with determination as well. Imagine not having a goal in sight, and the only thing you have in your mind is, “Well, I’m a writer, so I know I should write, but…” And you can fill in the blank.

Now sometimes, you have to write even when you’re not motivated to write. This simply means you really don’t feel like writing, and you can think of so many other ways to spend your time, but no, that’s when determination will strap you to the chair and refuse to release you until you’ve done what you set out to do. It’s not easy to sit down and begin typing when you lack motivation, but as you write, you may find that motivation just comes—or maybe it won’t, but at least you’ll have the satisfaction in knowing you’ve written something.

Now let’s discuss inspiration. Inspiration is like the Holy Grail for writers. It often comes when it’s not summoned or expected, yet it demands you drop everything you’re doing (regardless of the time or place) to write. When inspiration hits you, it’s like being struck by literary lightning where you must jolt down everything lest you forget it. However, just as lightning is largely unpredictable and cannot be harvested, so you cannot rest all your dreams of becoming a writer on inspiration. When inspiration comes, USE IT, but don’t depend on it. Like determination, inspiration can produce motivation, but unlike determination, inspiration is undependable. It’s like that friend who never announces when he’s going to stop by for a visit and just shows up at your front door one day, but you don’t mind because this friend is awesome! However, just as abruptly and without forewarning, he has to leave, and nothing you say can or will make him stay, but you’re not worried. You know he’ll be back—eventually. In the meanwhile, you’re stuck with your roommate Determination, and that’s okay. At least he’s dependable.

In other words, while inspiration can motivate you to write, you cannot count on inspiration and depend on it to motivate you because you have no idea when it will strike. You can’t conjure inspiration because then it wouldn’t be inspiration, and you can’t trick yourself into believing that it is. However, you can rely on determination to motivate you to write since that is totally depended on you and whether you will to write.

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What is NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo—I cannot believe I hadn’t written a post about this yet! Allow me to remedy that immediately. First we’ll discuss what NaNoWriMo is, what sort of things you can write, and what it means to ‘win’, but then I’ll mention some tricks of the trade.

NaNoWriMo stands for the (inter)National Novel Writing Month, which is a free challenge that takes place every November. There are two branches of this—the official NaNoWriMo site and the Young Writers Program. The official site challenges all writers to write 50,000 words in 30 days, but in the Young Writers Program writers are able to set their own reasonable goals for the month. Many schools have adopted the Young Writers Program into their system to encourage young writers to write since the challenge takes place during the school year, and the site offers many tools for educators. The official site is much more independent and had forums where individuals can interact and regions so people in the same area can get together and write.

The official site: www.nanowrimo.org

Young Writers Program: www.ywp.nanowrimo.org

Now though, with that introduction out of the way, what are you allowed to write? What can you count for the 50,000 words? It can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, script, blog posts—whatever you want it to be (although if it is poetry or a script, you’ll have to write a lot to reach the 50K word count goal), but it has to be written starting November 1st. You can’t just use some old writing you’ve done before just to reach the word count goal. Technically that’s cheating, and yes, even if you did that, no one would ever know—except you, and it’s totally up to you.

How does one win the challenge of NaNoWriMo? What chance do you have to win since there are over several hundred thousand writers participating? Well, good news is everyone has the chance to win because you’re not competing against everyone else. You’re competing against yourself. If you reach your word count goal within the 30 days, you’re gifted with a WINNER’S certificate, which you can print out and brag about your achievement. You’re also given discount codes for numerous writing tools (Scrivener, Aeon Timeline, Createspace, to name a few), but mainly you earn bragging rights and the accomplished feelings that you can write that many words within that timeframe.

Usually on November 25th, validation opens on the site. If you’ve written your 50K words, you copy/paste everything into the validation box, allow the computer to calculate the words just to verify the word count, and if it concludes you indeed have 50K words (or more), it will send you on to the Winner’s page. No one will read what you wrote. No one will see it. No one can steal it. Note: sometimes the program you use to write in may have a different word count than the validation of NaNoWriMo. It’s always a good thing to write a thousand or two thousand words over just to be safe.

Now though, with all the official stuff out of the way, just how do you tackle NaNo? Some people plot their stories ahead of time very carefully. Other people completely wing it. There is no right or wrong way to do it. There is only the way that works—and that way is different for everyone. However, it is a good idea to know what story you’re going to write before November comes.

There are 30 days in November, and the calculations have been done that to reach 50K in 30 days, you need to write 1,667 words a day. Personally, I like round numbers better, so I aim for 2,000 words a day. Depending on my speed of writing that day, I may split the 2,000 words into two sections: one thousand at one time and then another thousand another time, or—if I’m having a slower day or just a busy day with real life—I will split the 2,000 words into four parts: 500 words for each section.

When you’re considering NaNo, and if you have a busy life and lots of commitments, it’s a good idea to know how many words you can type in 15 minutes. This will give you a general idea how long it’d take you to reach your word count that day. For instance, it takes me 15 minutes to write 500 words, so that means it will take me an hour to write 2,000 words, so technically I only need an hour a day in order to complete NaNo. Figure out your pace ahead of time and stick to it as best you can.

NaNo Tip: You can play tricks on your own mind when you’re doing NaNo. Say your goal is to write 2,000 words a day, but the first day you write 2,500 words. Technically, this means you’re 500 words ahead. The following day though you could get away with only writing 1,500 words which brings you total word count to 4,000. That’s a good even number, right? But then in the evening before you go to bed, you hammer out a few hundred words just to get ahead and bring your word count to 4,500. It looks and feels as though you are ahead, but in reality you only wrote 2,000 words that day. You have that little cushion in case a day just totally gets out of control leaving you with little time to write other than the 1,500 you wrote earlier. Just a little trick that might help!

If you need help, there are forums here: http://nanowrimo.org/forums And you can find just about everything there.

If you want to connect with fellow NaNo writers and do Write-In, you can find regions here: http://nanowrimo.org/regions

However, if your region isn’t very active (or even if it is active), and you really want more immediate interaction as well as *word sprint/word wars, you may join the Facebook group of NaNoWriMo Participants here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/NaNoWriMoparticipants/ It is an impressive group of over 21K people, and it is very active, resourceful, and encouraging though it has its moments of insanity. This group is active all year round.

If you’re interested in a more quiet but still active and inspirational group, you’re welcome to join my own Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/AuthorKellyBlanchard/ It is there where I post a lot of pictures that may inspire scenes in your story or even your characters and much more and try to encourage writers.

All in all, NaNoWriMo started as a small writing challenge, but now it is an international writing community, and many NaNo books have been published. You may find an incomplete list of those published works here: http://nanowrimo.org/published-wrimos.

Word of warning though, just because you complete NaNoWriMo, that doesn’t mean your book is ready for publication. It might not even be finished. This is where the community of NaNoWriMo off-site is useful because it’s around all-year and is a tremendous support and resource and can help you every step of the way.

On a random note, it is possible to reach 50K words in a week. It’s even possible to reach 50K in three days, and yes, as impossible as it may sound, it is possible to reach 50K words in one day. I’ve seen it done though I would not recommend it.

And that is NaNoWriMo. It is a free competition though it’s encouraged that people donate to support it because it is free, and it’s an awesome community. If you’ve always wanted to write but just never took the time, this might be exactly what you need to get you started. For those who always write and love writing, this is the one time when writing isn’t such an isolated task although throughout the year there are two challenges known as *Camp NaNo, but that has its own unique traits. NaNoWriMo is a fun and creative event. Every writer should participate in it at least once just for the experience.

Note:

*Word sprint/word war: These are challenges writers present one another. A select time is set (usually 15 minutes), and you have to write as many words as possible in that pocket of time. You’re racing against time, against each other, and against yourself to see who can write the most words written. It’s just a game we writers play with each other to motivate one another to write. This is extremely useful when you’re begin in your word count and want to get caught up.

*Camp NaNo: Usually takes place during the months of April and July (although the months have changed in the past, so checking the site during spring/summer is a good idea: http://campnanowrimo.org/ ) Unlike the official contest, with Camp NaNo, you may set your own goal with word count. Also, you are given the chance to be in a virtual camp with fellow writers where you’re given a chatroom where you can chat, brainstorm, and keep track of each other’s progress.

Co-Writing

Co-writing—there are numerous of ways to co-write a story. Some people co-write by swapping chapters while others take turned of one person writing one page and the other person writes the next page, or maybe both writers have a their own main characters and write from their POV’s. I cannot list all the different ways you can co-write because I simply don’t know all of them. However, in this post, I’m going to focus on the co-writing style I have found works best for me and is extremely easy for anyone to do, and this style is Roleplaying Co-Writing.

With Roleplaying Co-Writing, each author gets a set of characters—usually one main character for each writer, and then choose the supporting characters. While it is possible to share a character, it’s simply easier and less stressful if one writer to have possession of the character rather than being concerned with the other writer writing the character wrong.

Once the characters have been spread out evenly between the two writers, you then put the characters in a scenario, and each writer writes the dialogue and action of their own character. This is where the fun begins. Although you know what must happen in the scene, you don’t know how it happens, but you let the characters be themselves while you slowly steer them in the direction of the purpose of the scene. What exactly is exchanged and occurs in these scenes are completely unpredictable, and sometimes it can change the entire course of the story, but that is where the fun lies. Here’s an example I co-wrote with Nan Sampson Bach. She wrote Juan’s character while I wrote Julianne. The bold are hers. The italics are mine (Note: this is the actual raw version of this scene prior to smoothing out the two styles of writing with any editing):

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When he stood, he leaned heavily on her, but Julianne didn’t mind. She just looked up at him concerned. “Are you okay?”

“Estoy bien. Sólo necesito un poco de agua.” He shook his head, tried again. Was he slurring his words or was the spinning room now affecting his ears? “I meant to say, I am fine. I just need a little water, that is all.” He tried to push away from her but stumbled and went down on his knees. “Maldición!” God help him, it had never been this bad before. He needed his Gate. He needed to tap into the energy there. He sensed Julianne next to him, trying to help him up and his face burned with shame. He pushed at her feebly, but he had no strength left. “Leave me, Dona. Por favor. You do not need to see this.”

But Julianne insisted. “What is wrong? What do you need? Tell me!” Her heart raced with sudden fear because she sensed this wasn’t simply exhaustion.

His vision was graying. “I need the Gate. I need to make a sacrifice to the Gate. For the energy.” He tried to focus on her face, tried to smile. “I have used it too much, spent too much. It is like a drug, Dona Julianne. It takes its toll.” He shook his head. “You should go. Fetch your Mage Prince. He must know what I know of The First. If I am unable to do this thing, then he must.”

Sasha’s words spun round in his head as he collapsed onto the floor. “The more you use it, the more you need it, Juan-Carlos. And the more you need it, the more it sucks the life out of you.” And then the crafty Macedonian laughed.

Julianne realized he needed power. She had forgotten the magic of the Gate had sustained him, and she sat back briefly before thinning her lips and coming to a decision. “You need power. Does it have to be from the Gate?”

She was speaking, but he was having trouble understanding the words. If only she would speak in Spanish. Damn the English – how had they managed to take over the world?

Julianne decided not to wait for an answer. She was the creator of this realm, and in that way, she was the most powerful person present. Taking a deep breath, Julianne turned him over, so he was lying on his back. She hesitated but then bent over and kissed him.

However, it wasn’t a simple kiss. As soon as their lips touched, Julianne reached onto his mind and the close connection they had, and she poured as much power into him as she could. She sensed his strength returning.

After a moment, she finally pulled back and winced, bringing a hand to her head. “Ow—why didn’t anyone ever say those fairytale kisses leave people with headaches?”

It took him a moment to process what had happened. “What… what did you do?” He assessed himself, found his energy had returned, almost at full force. It was not the same sort of juiced up buzz he used to get from a sacrifice to the Gate, but he felt refreshed and the weakness and exhaustion that had plagued him for months was gone.

<~>~<~>~<~>

As you can see, this style is almost as if co-writing paragraph-by-paragraph, but it’s not quite. Sometimes one writer will write multiple paragraphs to show different thoughts and actions of their characters.

What did we use to write back and forth? Some people use Google Docs, but my preferred means are Facebook Messenger or email, and then I copy and paste what we’ve written into a document. It’s simple, consistent, and readily available.

So this is the basic idea of Roleplaying Co-Writing, but there is a lot of work that must be put into it in order for it to work. You can’t just randomly start co-writing with someone and expect a full-fledged story to emerge…okay, so you can actually do that, and a story will begin to form, but there comes a time where you need to pause and communicate with each other where the story should go. Here are a few things you need to know prior to actually co-writing with someone:

  1. Do you two have similar writing styles?
  2. What are the areas where you are weak but they are strong and vica versa? (are they better at writing fight scenes than you? Are you better at describing a medieval setting than them? Etc.)
  3. Are you both confident in your writing abilities and willing to improvise at a moment’s notice? (if one person is unwilling to allow their character to make a mistake or get hurt, it will be difficult to co-write with such a person.)
  4. Can you communicate well with your co-writer?
  5. Can you be completely honest with them? (if the two main characters are supposed to fall in love, but you feel your co-writer’s MMC is too wooden, your FMC won’t fall for him. So either change the story or delve into the wooden character to uncover unspeakable depths. The two co-writers must be completely honest and willing to work with each other, untangle any complications for the success of the story.)
  6. Determine and agree on goals for the story (Are you writing just for fun or to explore a different genre of writing? Are you hoping to publish the story one day?)

Now, before you begin writing, it is highly recommended the two of you outline the story. It could be a rough outline or a very detailed outline—whatever you want, but the point of this is agreeing on the events and direction of the story. If you can’t agree on that, you will spend a lot of time arguing and not writing. One of you may be more prone to outlining, so let that person pull together the actual outline, but brainstorm it together!

Remember, the outline is only a guide. If you follow it perfectly, fantastic, but rarely does writing ever go exactly how we planned, so you need to improvise and work with what is handed to you. ALWAYS COMMUNICATE. If a story is moving off track from the outline, communicate with the co-writer, bring it to their attention, discuss if you should stay on the outline or not, and if you opt not to stay on the outline, explore the possibilities of the future of this new direction. Once you’ve written an outline, this does not mean you’re locked into it. Stories have minds of their own and will unfold exactly how they want to or else they will give you Writer’s Block.

Now, one thing you should know prior to committing to co-writing using this style is that it is very addictive. You can literally write all day—and still get other stuff done although you might get irritated when there’s an interruption in your life that prevents you from reading what your co-writer sent to you. I co-write a lot on my phone. I go about my day, doing my usual work, then play fetch with my dog, wash the dishes, cook a meal or bake cookies, and converse with people, but then my phone chimes with a reply, and I look at the message, type a reply, and send it, and then I resume whatever work I was doing. It is incredibly fun—too much fun sometimes that it can actually become stressful because all you want to do is write! A solution? Set aside a time of day (an hour or two) when your co-writer and you will write. That way writing won’t get in the way of your real life, and your real life won’t get in the way of your writing.

Does this mean you can’t work on the story throughout the day until that set time? No. If there is a scene approaching where the only characters involved are characters you write, that is called a solo scene, and you may write it whenever you want. It’s good to write it ahead of time, so when the story finally gets to that point, your co-writer isn’t waiting around for you to write that scene. Rather, you can just send it to them once you’ve reached that point, and the two of you can progress to the next scene which you must write together.

So, this is merely one way co-writing. It is incredibly fun. To quote Nan Sampson Bach, whom I’ve been co-writing with recently: Co-writing is an absolute blast. You get a terrific feedback loop, that keeps the energy and interest high, and the level of spontaneity makes the writing feel real. It’s highly addictive.” So if you’re interesting in co-writing and just aren’t sure how to approach it, I highly recommend the Roleplaying Co-Writing style. Once you get a hang of it, you’ll have a blast. Hope you the best!

Interactive Interviews VS Traditional Interviews

Several weeks ago, I introduced a new style of author and character interviews—the Interactive Author Interview and the Interactive Character Interview. In this new style, I do away with the traditional list of questions but instead invite the author into a fictional setting for a comfortable, friendly chat. In the character interview, the author takes us into his world for the interview, and we get to meet and observe the character being interviewed in his own environment. This style makes both the author and the character more real, and here are a few things people said about their experience being interview this way:

I’ve never been a fan of interviews, but once I was warmed up in towards the beginning of Kelly’s interview, I had a blast!” Ted Covey

It was a pleasure to have gone through the process with Kelly…If one has the opportunity, I would strongly recommend other authors set up time to be interviewed by her.”Daryl Ball

Kelly Blanchard’s story style interviews are no end of fun and fascination.”Ryan T. Nelson

Interview with Kelly Blanchard is set apart because interacting with her didn’t feel one bit like I was answering a staid questionnaire.” Vibhuti Bhandarkar

Kelly’s author interviews are a fascinating experience for any author.”Valerie Seimas

And there is much more authors have said about the experience, but I realized there was one other group of people whose opinion of these interviews are vital—the readers. While this style of interviews solves many problems with the standard author and character interviews and thus making the process all the more enjoyable, what would the readers think? So I asked for volunteers.

I took an author I hadn’t interviewed yet—Ronnie Virdi, author of ‘Grave Beginnings‘. I interviewed him with both styles of author interviews then used both styles of character interviews with his character. Then I presented both sets of interviews to 23 volunteer of readers, and I asked them which style they preferred and why. Here are the results:

  • 17 people voted the Interactive Interviews for both the author and character interviews.
  • 6 people voted the Traditional InterviewsOf those 6 people:
    • 2 were leaning towards the Interactive Interview for the author interview
    • 4 voted Traditional Interview for the author interview, but they chose Interactive Interview for the character interview.
  • Out of 23 people, 21 people voted Interactive Interviews for the character interviews.
  • Only 2 people voted for the Traditional Interviews for both author interview & character interview.

To view that as percentages, it would look like this:

Kelly_pies

Here is what readers said about their experience reading these interviews:

I like the interactive style better. Nothing draws another writer in more than a story, and it gives you more to think about than a bulleted list of questions.”Kelly Blechertas

The interactive one gives a lot more feel for the author as a person. It feels like a more intimate and friendly exchange, and it gives me a sense of their potential writing voice.”Megan Reed

I enjoyed the interactive interview more. The regular interview was informative but felt like I was reading it in a magazine or watching it on TV; whereas the interactive engaged not only my intellectual side, but spoke to that part of me that gets lost in stories.”G. Scot Phillips

Interactive interview by far, most prominently for the fact that once he gets into the world, it is easier to phrase the answers in his own comfortable way, complete with mood defining subtext. The whole mechanism is comfy.”Jack Frost

The traditional interview felt all clinical, I don’t really like those. I read interviews to “meet” people. I definitely liked the interactive better because it felt more like meeting a person.”Adrienne Devine

Now, not everyone liked the Interactive, and here are some reasonings of those who preferred the traditional:

I prefer the traditional question and answer. In the interactive one, I find myself searching for the questions and answers, ignoring the rest.”Kim Hutchinson Halcomb

The traditional one. It could be that its just what I’m used to, but I had a hard time paying attention kinda in the interactive one.”Sara Lucinda

If I’m being honest, I am partial to the traditional. I’m not really sure why. There’s nothing wrong with the interactive, it’s fun and engaging, but I think I just prefer the more traditional interview.” Sabrina Danielle

I guess it would depend on WHY I was reading the interview. I definitely felt like I learned more about Ronnie’s writing from the traditional interview though I may have gotten a better sense of who he was from the interactive.” Valerie Seimas

Depends upon my mood honestly. To read the interactive one – the one set like a story – I have to be in the mood and prepared for it. Knowing what style/what to expect, there will be times where I am more receptive to it. If I were to just be gleaming for information, I like the style of the traditional one.” Jennifer Ruvalcaba

So, what is the verdict? Among authors and readers, the Interactive Interviews are largely popular, but there is still a place for the Traditional Interviews. The traditional style interviews are readily available to anyone who wants to conduct interviews. Sample questions are just a Google search away. However, the Interactive approach is much more involved and time-consuming to conduct because each experience is tailored to each author, but it is an option for those who just want to have a more fun interviewing experience. 

To read some Interactive Interviews, you may find them on my other blog, “Meeting with the Muse“. If you’ve published a book and would like me to interview you using this interactive style of interviews, and if you would like the interviews to be promoted on my site, leave a comment, and I’ll be in touch with you.

Grace Snoke’s Character Interview Review

This week I am currently running a survey based on readers’ preferences regarding which form of author/character interview they preferred–traditional or my more interactive style. Next week I plan to publish the results of that survey here, but in the meanwhile, one of my interviewees, Grace Snoke, blogged about her experience with the Character Interview, and she gave me permission to share it here. Be sure to read about her experience with the Author Interview.

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(Originally published on Grace Snoke’s blog here: Character Interview with Kelly Blanchard)

A two part interview process, last week I reviewed the author interview Kelly had with me two weeks ago. This week I follow that up with a review of my character interview with her.

Much like the first interview, it’s much like writing a story together, except instead of her setting the scene for it, I set the scene of it, taking on the role of my previously un-named pseudo-antagonist. He’s sort of an antagonist but as the story goes, we’ll quickly learn he’s not the real antagonist – that wasn’t revealed to me until I did the interview with Kelly.

The character, named Marcus Diehl, is an entertainment lawyer who is also a werewolf. Marcus has been a thorn in my side for a while, not really telling me much about himself and I used this interview to help figure out the details by, literally, taking him on as a role and answering the questions she had as him.

In doing this, the character opened up and let me – and her – know a lot more about him than I had previously known.

Outside of the first chapter and preview of my book and me letting her know that he was the antagonist (sorta-antagonist), she knew relatively nothing about the character and this allowed her to ask questions that made me think and figure out the answers about him (or made him reveal them to me).  I’m often of the opinion that my characters write themselves – they often do – just sometimes they need outside help to make it happen.

I have to say I was very pleased with the interview and it has helped me move forward and add chapters into my book now that I know what is going on a bit better.

For examples of other character interviews, check these out:

My interview won’t be available until sometime in January.

Kelly is offering character interviews outside of these that she’s currently doing for $25 an hour of $50 for two hours. If you have a character that just isn’t talking to you, I suggest looking into her offer. It will be money well spent.

Writing Physical Action

Writing physical action in stories—how do we do this? When you’re writing, you write multiple kinds of sentences—narrative, dialogue, description (when it comes to the setting and the environment), but also physical action. How much of this action should you include? When and how often should you include it? Why should you even include it?

Let’s address the ‘why’ first. Our characters are physical beings—they may not be human, and sometimes they may be supernatural, but they still possess the ability to move and interact with their environment and others around them. This interaction then moves the story onward, but it also reveals something about each character. Their mere action can add immediate depth to their personality.

When should this action be insert into a story? Well, my question to you would be: when does the character move? I’m not saying you need to record every little physical movement they make, but there are subtle ones which speak volumes of an individual in any situation. For instance, let’s say you have a character who reluctantly committed a crime, and the police as questioning him—not quite realizing he is the criminal—and they ask a specific question that makes him uncomfortable, so he reaching up and rubs the back of his neck as he shrugs and offers an answer. That mere movement says tells us he’s uncomfortable—that there’s something more beneath the surface. Any eagle-eyed detective would zero in on this and try to slowly corner the man into revealing what makes him so uneasy. Further body language such as nostrils flaring and eyes narrowing indicate to anger while increased blinking hints at something they’re trying to keep hidden. Shifting eyes are uneasiness with the situation while sudden stillness in their bodies and eyes deliberately locking with the detectives and calmly answering each question could be an indication of lying. All of these little physical actions build character. You need to determine who your character is and what he’s feeling at that moment. Is he frightened? Angry? Upset? Nonchalant? All of these will have different body language, and when you use these actions in a scene, the reader will pick up on it, probably not completely understand the exact meaning behind the movement, but they know something is up and can come to conclusions.

So, one good place to put these small physical movements is during a conversation. As an experiment, remove the dialogue tag (said, answered, asked, replied, etc) and insert body language because dialogue tags are redundant as I explained in a previous posts (here and here), but the body language captures the personality of the character, and this is vital for a story.

Now just how much of these physical movements should you include? As much as is important to the story. There is a delicate balance—much like any description in a story. I can’t tell you exactly how much or how little to use because you will have to determine that for yourself. There is no magic formula. However, a few things to keep in mind when trying to determine what physical movements you should include:

  1. the main character: their personality, their mood in that moment of the story, their connection to others in the current scene, and anything they may not want revealed.
  2. the other characters in the scene and their connection to one another
  3. the environment (physical setting)
  4. the atmosphere (mood of the setting/characters)

If you think too hard about this, it will seem daunting. Rather, try to imagine it like a scene in a movie. You can visualize it clearly in your head. Everyone moves at all times even if it’s simply narrowing eyes or taking a deep breath or clenching the jaw. Does this mean you should show every movement of all the characters? No. The ‘camera’ (the character through whom we’re viewing the scene) doesn’t focus on all the characters at once. Whomever we’re looking at is whose body language and physical action you should be concerned with. Now, say you’re focusing on one character but there’s another character behind the one you’re focusing on, so you can see both, but you’re not really focusing on the second character. However, that character in the background could wave his arms or silently start mocking behind the back of the first character. This would draw your attention, and you can show it, but it’s up to you whether or not you let the first character become aware of what’s happening behind his back. If you don’t let him know, that’s all right. It’s just a funny instance that reveals to your reader what that other character really thinks of that first character.

Basic things to think of when trying to determine what physical action to use:

  1. Does it reveal something about the character’s personality? (do they experience a flash of anger when they should be unaffected?)
  2. Do the actions arrange the characters in the room in a manner important for the following actions and scenes? (a character may enter a room and begin a conversation with the other character in the room but walk around to the window to look out. Several things could happen. a) the character at the window could be shot by a sniper, b) someone comes dashing into the room announcing there’s an emergency, so both character race out of the room, but the one furtherest from the door is a little further behind. An ambush could befall them, but because that one character a further behind than expected, he might be able to turn the situation on its head…or maybe he’s the one behind the ambush).
  3. Do the actions add and show necessary tension? (two characters agree to meet for a talk, but they don’t trust each other. They enter the room but then walk around each other—orbiting one another. Sometimes this may be obvious, but other times it may be more subtle as in one character going to the bookshelf in the middle of the conversation and pretend to skim over the book titles while engaging in conversation. The other character goes to the bar on the other side of the room and pours himself a drink. The character at the bookshelf then goes to the window, so the character at the bar moves toward the door.)
  4. Does the action add to the flow of the story or slow it down? (adding every single TINY detail will bog down the story whereas adding only the details important to show what the character is feeling in that moment leading up to the next big action pushing it forward.)

Of course there are many other things to keep in mind when writing this, but I can’t think of everything. However, throughout all this, one important fact to remember: this take practice to master. Don’t think about it too much. Don’t over-worry about it. Be aware of it and try to apply what I’ve said. The more you do it, the easier it’ll become for you, so be patient and don’t stress out. You will do well.

Writing in Chronological Order

The question has come up, “Is it best to write in chronological order or out of sequence?” To be honest, there is no absolute answer to this. For some people, it is best suited to write things in whichever order they want and skip around to different scenes as they see fit. It works for them, and that’s fine. Then there are others who literally go from beginning to end without skipping ahead. I am part of the latter sect, so I can’t vouch for the former. However, I have observed skipping ahead works for certain individuals, so I won’t disregard it completely. I simply can’t go into detail of how it works.

Now, going from beginning to end is simple because it reflects how life is lived. We can’t skip to our favorite parts in life. It is in those little moments, those moments when you don’t even think has any action or any thrill of any kind, that can actually be the most profound and developmental for us in life. Likewise in stories.

You may have a boring part, and then a fun part, and then three boring sections in a row before hitting an awesome section, and you may really, really, really rather not want to write those boring parts. After all, you’ve had a rough day. You want to write something thrilling and exciting just to release all the stress and tension of the day. There is nothing wrong with that. However, if you write all the exciting and fun scenes first, what will you be left with in the end? Boring scenes—absolutely nothing thrilling to look forward to, but you know you need to write those scenes because they’re important. In that case, you have to knuckle down and write boring scene after boring scene after boring scene without much light at the end of the tunnel except for the relief that soon you’ll be done with the book.

That doesn’t sound very appetizing, does it? Now, of course, those people who do skip around when writing have different methods and ways to do it that they may be able to combat this, but when people come to me and say they’re bored with their story, and then I discover they’ve skipped around, it’s very obvious that the reason why they’re bored is because they wrote all the fun scenes first.

So, how do you combat getting bored when writing boring scenes? How do you fight the temptation to skip ahead to the fun scenes? View each scene or chapter as a row of rocks and cookies. You may have a rock first and then a cookie after that and then two rock and after that three cookies, and so on and so forth. The rocks are the boring scenes that you just really want to throw because they can be so frustrating while the cookies are the deliciously fun scenes. So you come to a rock, and you have to work hard to cut that rock to reveal the diamond beneath. When you get done, you’ve accomplished something great and now have a gem where once that rock was, and then you look at the next scene and see it’s a cookie, so you gabble it up easily, and it’s sweeter now than it would have been if you didn’t work on that rock. If you eat all the cookies at once, you’re going to get sick, and you won’t feel like getting up and doing any work. To you then, the rocks will only be rocks in your eyes rather than you seeing the gems beneath the surface.

In other words, treat each fun scene as your personal reward for pressing through that difficult scene. It’ll fuel you enough to get through the next hard scene, but you know beyond that scene you have another reward awaiting you.

Now, if you’re the kind of person who must go back and edit what you just wrote and do this repeatedly, it may be hard for you to progress forward. See, when you write something and then immediately edit it, what you’re doing is one step forward and five mini-steps back, and then one step forward, and again five mini-steps back. You will be progressing albeit slowly, so the temptation to skip ahead to something more enjoyable will be great, so this is something to keep in mind. Also, remember, when you’re writing the first draft, it is a first draft—doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to be completed. You can always (and you will) go back to revise and edit once you’re finished.

So, should you write in chronological order or out of sequence? It’s totally up to you. If you write out of sequence but find you have a hard time completing a story, then try being patient and writing it in chronological order. Does that mean you have to outline the story? No—not necessarily. You may if you wish, but you don’t have to. You may have an idea of future scenes but you’re not quite sure how they’re connected, and that’s okay. Finish writing a scene, pause as though you’re a top of a hill and look out. You can see the future scene out there somewhere, but look down at your feet—what is the very next step you need to take? What is the next scene that is important that you need to write? Write that scene. Then write the next step, and then the next, and then you’ll see that awesome future scene finally drawing near, and you get excited because things are coming together! Then you finally get to write it, and it is epic! But then you find yourself atop another hill looking out again, trying to locate the next future scene you can see. Once you’ve located that, you then look at your feet to determine the very next step you need to take to get to that scene, and go from there.

Does this work all the time? In my personal experience, it has, but that doesn’t mean the story won’t change on me, and that’s part of the fun of writing. You just have to improvise. However, not everyone writes like this, but if you are struggling, this is a method you should consider. I hope it works for you.