Posted in Exercises

Exercise: Quiet Moments

Dialogue is a powerful tool, but it’s very rare that anyone—even characters—will come out and say exactly what they think or feel at any given moment. Instead, body language and action can help convey these things.

As an exercise: Take a moment and write a slice-of-life flash fiction, showing how your characters interact with each other. What are some of the little, daily ways they show they care about each other? How might their innocuous habits be used to show dislike of each other? Which of these things are done deliberately, and which do your characters do without consciously thinking about it?

Posted in character, Exercises

The Emotion Wheel

Of the three cornerstones of storytelling, characters have to put up with a lot. Not only do they have to respond and react to the movements of plot, but they do so within the constrains of their setting. Their motives are constantly questioned and everyone almost always wants to know what their goal is.

It’s no wonder your characters should and do feel a lot of things. From joy to disgust to rage and even hopelessness, your characters have an entire gamut of possible emotions. As a writer, your job is to help portray those emotions. Body language absolutely should be something you familiarize yourself with, and so should the array of human emotion.

For that, I recommend an emotion wheel.

You might also see this referred to as the wheel of feelings. In essence, it breaks every emotion down into its basic elements—Embarrassment is rooted in hurt, which has roots in anger. Confidence takes a base in pride, which in turn stems from happiness..

Essentially this functions as an extended thesaurus, not only giving you an accurate word for what your character is feeling, but giving you an idea of why they might be feeling that way, and how they might express it. Both disgust and boredom can be conveyed by having a character support their head on one hand, either with a sneer in place (disgust) or a blank expression (bored).

Keep in mind that emotions are fluid and aren’t necessarily bound to follow a logical order. Not only does sadness turn into fear, it can also turn into disgust or even hope. Just as easily, happiness can turn into anger.

As an exercise: Go to any stock photo site such as pixabay or unsplash and search for a base emotion—anger, fear, sadness, happiness, disgust or surprise. Pick out three different images and analyze them. What are some of the similarities in the models’ body languages? What are some differences? What higher-level emotions might each model be feeling? Write down those cues and clues as a reference the next time you have a character feeling a particular emotion.

Posted in writing

Writing as Exploration

One of the most alluring things about reading fiction is the glimpse it gives us into other worlds and possibilities. Although most of us probably won’t get into a swordfight with a tyrant, or travel to another world, we can read about the possibility of doing just that.

Unfortunately for us writers, we still have to come up with some idea of what that possibility might mean. The trifecta of writing includes characters, setting and plot. We might have an idea of one or even two, but what happens when we just don’t have any ideas for that third part? This is where you might find something like flash fiction coming in handy. Take the ideas for plot, setting or character you have, and start asking questions.

Think of things like how an average joe, everyday character might be forced to take part in your main conflict. What’s the first major law someone from another country or world might break, intentionally or unintentionally? What do the basics of life like grocery shopping, housekeeping and even hygiene look like for your everyday people? Jot down at least three or four questions and write a page of a scenario that answers those questions.

This even works for fiction stories that take place in the real world, without the addition of magic or anything else. Start asking questions about who might uncover a secret? What secrets might they uncover, either from their family and friends, at their job, or from a passing stranger. How do they discover these secrets? How do they handle this new information? How does it affect their life?

If you’re really struggling, it might also help to take a scene or a chapter from another story you’ve enjoyed, and rewrite it as if it’s happening to your characters in your setting. Use that other scene as a skeleton structure. Copy the basic elements such as number of characters present, general location (like house or hospital) and major goals or events of the scene.

Even though these exploratory pieces may never make it into the story itself, it still gives you as the writer a good way to immerse yourself in the possibilities of your story. Your readers may only get a glimpse of the story’s possibilities, but the more details you can find, the more enticing the glimpse will be.

Posted in Exercises

Exercise: Inserts

Characters are often the first thing a reader falls in love with. Building a detailed and dynamic character can be difficult. Thankfully, there’s plenty of ways to practice.

As an exercise: Pick someone you know in real-life. Describe them as the main character in a story. Think about how they act, walk, talk and any habits or quirks they have. You can also try writing them as a villain for an added challenge.

Then: Insert them into a short story. Try rewriting a fairy tale to feature them or even putting them in the place of a character in a show or book you enjoyed. How does the story change to accommodate them? How do they solve some of the conflicts of the story?

Posted in writing

Story Bibles

If you’re a writer and you’re in the midst of editing, or even writing a series, you probably want a place to keep track of all the details of your story. It’s incredibly useful, especially if you want to write a series. Bonus points: if you do a lot of roleplaying and need or want to write your own campaign, having a story bible set up for your in-world conflicts, NPCs and lore makes it easier to keep your campaign more or less on track (sorry, but I can’t promise the same of your players).

A story bible is essentially a document or several documents that keeps the details of your story or stories together. This prevents things like character details changing unexpectedly halfway through the story. It also helps keep worldbuilding and relevant setting details in one place so you don’t have to go hunting for particular details.

There’s several ways you can keep a story bible. If you’d prefer a hardcopy, a binder or multi-subject notebook is a good option. This way you can section your bible off as necessary. Digital options include things like Microsoft OneNote or Evernote, or even something like World Anvil or Notebook.ai to keep your bible sorted and on track. Depending on your preference and how you work best, you may find one option better than the other. I personally prefer to keep a digital copy of my notes in OneNote because of the search function.

Although your story bible should work for you, there’s a few sections you may find helpful to keep in it.

Character Notes. This is a good place to keep things like detailed descriptions, character sketches, backstories and family trees. I usually create a small section for each character so I can keep track of their character arc during edits.

Setting Notes. Depending on the genre you’re working in, this can easily become a massive portion of your story bible. Everything from notes on legal systems to lore can be placed in your setting notes. For speculative writers, this spreads to include bestiaries, cultural analysis, maps and even engineering schematics as necessary.

Story Notes. Editing and writing in general tends to create a multitude of different notes—outlines, and even thematic notations. Having a story-specific section makes it easier to keep all your editing tools in one place. A lot of my plotting notes end up here, but I also try to keep a list of any flash pieces relevant to the story, world or characters here.  This way if I need to reference something for a flashback or thematic reason, I can easily reference back to the original piece.

What are some of the things you keep in your story bibles? How do you prefer to keep them?