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 General

Everyone Is Afraid

Originally I’d planned today’s post to be on co-authoring, but in light of the reaction to COVID-19, I wanted to address the concerns plaguing the world. The fact is, the reactions we’ve seen are massive. Here in the US schools are closed or are having their spring breaks extended. In my state, there has been some talk of postponing the end of the year tests. Employees are sent home for a cough and told not to come back until they’ve been tested. National Emergency has been declared, and people are scared. 

This is reflected across the world. Canada. Ireland. Australia. Schools are closed, large gatherings are cancelled. People are told to self-isolate and travel is heavily restricted.  There are shortages of incredibly questionable items.

In the face of all this, things look grim. There are no concrete answers to what the next steps are even while researchers, scientists and medical professionals work to contain and combat the virus.

There are however, things to keep in mind and reassure yourself with. To start, do a self-assessment.

Are you currently ill? If no, do the things you would normally to stop yourself from getting sick–wash your hands regularly, cough into your elbow, don’t touch your face and if you know someone who is sick, don’t hug or kiss them.

If you are ill, stay at home. Enjoy some of your favorite shows, drink plenty of fluids and follow medical advice.

If you need to stock up, please, please pick up reasonable amounts. Remember that although it doesn’t hurt to be prepared, there is such a thing as being over prepared. Also keep in mind that for those of you buying up large cases of water and toilet paper that you’re not facing a natural disaster, you’re facing an outbreak of a virus. Tap water will still be available. You do not need six months of toilet paper.

In the event you end up having to self-quarantine, even temporarily, there are plenty of ways to socialize without having to be around people. Messaging systems like Skype, Discord and FaceTime give you a way to be around people without having to be near them. You can call and chat with people even while they continue their day-to-day lives. Work from home if you’re able.

Above all else, remember that as scared as you are, everyone else is scared as well. The virus itself may never come anywhere near you or your family, but the actions you and others take out of fear will have a much bigger impact.  Fighting over basic supplies won’t help anyone. Checking in on your vulnerable community members and helping them get the things they need such as cough and cold medications or soap and hand sanitizer will help protect your community as a whole and minimize the spread and any potential deaths from it.

Posted in writing

Internal Conflict, Scenes and Characters

Internal conflict is the result of a character having two opposing goals or desires. These goals might be personal to the character, affecting their arc, or they might impact the main conflict of the plot. Some stories focus on internal conflict as the main conflict.

With internal conflict, ultimately, a character must choose which of their goals or desires is greater. The imporant part is that for the character each option is equally valuable. A classic example is duty versus love: do you serve a sworn duty and follow a family tradition or wish, or follow your heart and an unknown reward? Throughout the story the character may be pushed and pulled towards one choice or the other before finally choosing.

Internal conflict doesn’t just affect big-picture arcs either. On the scene-level, internal conflict can flavor even the quietest of moments. In every scene, your characters should want something particular to advancing the plot. How they feel about what they have to do to achieve that goal could breed internal conflict for that scene.

This also occurs during the ‘fail’ scenes of trial-fail cycles. Your characters may have tried something only to have their plans come crashing down on them. They know they need to keep pushing forward (their first goal), but in the face of failure, it’s tempting to quit (a second desire).

Because of the opposition playing out inside the characters, internal conflict is heavily tied into the emotional arc of the scene. How a character starts a scene and how their personal conflict resolves will affect their mood. Starting off in a poor mood and having the greater choice win out should pick up their mood. Similiarly, starting in a poor mood and being forced to accept the poorer choice will result in a soured character.