Posted in character, General

Emotional Arcs

In every scene of your story, your characters should want something. What they want can vary wildly and often contradicts what other characters want. This is a part of creating conflict and tension. Today however, we’re talking a little bit about actions and reactions. More specifically, we’re discussing how emotional arcs work in scenes.

With the exception of a few characters, most of your characters will have some form of emotional movement. As people, our emotions often change in response to external stimuli. Within the context of a scene, that means your characters should have emotional responses as their scene-level goals are blocked, both by obstacles and other characters.

Keep in mind that there’s not a clear cut spectrum of emotions. Rather, they work more or less like a color wheel: shifting and blending into each other almost imperceptibly. Fear can turn into anger just as easily as it can give way to affection. The change is a result of the stimuli from outside.

For example: Your standard ‘monster under the bed’ complaint from many children. Their goal is pretty simple: get rid of whatever is under their bed that’s scaring them. Mom or Dad’s goal is to get some sleep. How the parents handle the complaint often affects the kid’s emotional arc.

Mom or Dad could easily get upset, scoffing at the complaints and dismissing their child’s statements. Kid eventually gives up, fear giving way to hopelessness, or perhaps even anger as they feel unprotected and unloved. This is a good place to ask how that might impact the character arc—do they lose trust in their parents at this point?  

Alternately, Mom or Dad takes a moment to check out the under the bed, reassuring the Kid. Based on the response, the kid’s goal is satisfied, and their emotions taper into love and happiness, leaving them (hopefully) with pleasant dreams. Mom and Dad however, now have to deal with the regret of an half-hour of lost sleep. How would that effect the next morning?

Because each action causes an emotional reaction, this gives you an opportunity to build your scenes off one another and helps tie your character arcs directly into scenes of your story.

As an exercise: Take a scene from your story and label it with the emotional changes your characters go through. What causes their emotions to change? How are they feeling at the end of the scene? Then, when you’re finished, look at the next scene. How does the end of the previous scene impact the next?  

Posted in General

Book in a Week

A couple of years back I heard passing mention of a unique writing challenge. The idea was simple: write an entire draft in a week.

At the time there was absolutely no way I could even conceive of taking on a challenge like that. I had neither the time nor the skills needed for it. Since I last heard about it, my situation has changed and as a result I’m back to take a look at it.

Although I found a few remnants of what looks to have once been an official backed site, I couldn’t find anything concrete when I went looking. The idea of the challenge still appealed though, which left me to figure things out on my own.

Based solely on plausibility, writing a book in a week is more than possible. If we pull in the NaNoWriMo standard of fifty-thousand words to a draft, that breaks down to seven thousand, one hundred and forty-three words daily. Difficult? Absolutely. Impossible? Not quite so much.

Looking again at NaNoWriMo’s forums and participants, there are forums for Overachievers—people who go well over the fifty-thousand goal in a single month. There’s also another challenge: MilWordy. That is, the challenge to write a million words in a single year. Asking around any writing community  and you’ll likely hear at least a few stories from someone who knows someone who wrote their rough draft in seven days or less.

So while writing an entire book in a week sounds incredibly difficult, it might be possible, given the right tools.

The first tool, clearly, is time. I don’t know it could be done around a forty-hour work week, plus family or school commitments. I did all of the following math based on my average typing speed of roughly fifty-five words per minute.

Reaching seven-thousand, one hundred and forty-three words would take roughly two and a quarter hours. It sounds impressive, but remember that’s fifty-five words per minute, for a hundred and thirty minutes without dropping speed or pausing for some reason. Since that’s not likely to happen, it’s rounded up to three hours daily. Times seven days, that’s a minimum of twenty-one hours.

If twenty-one hours sounds doable, the next thing is a solid plan, especially if there’s no possibility of taking a week off to focus solely on writing. While I’m a huge advocate for planning for bad days during NaNo, writing an entire book in a single week doesn’t leave room for zero days. If making seven thousand words a day isn’t an option, you’d need to figure out which days on chosen week you can frontload the words onto—and stick to it.

As far as plans go, the math breaks down nicely and makes it more than possible, which is where we take the hard-left turn out of math and into the biggest obstacle of writing, inside or outside of a challenge:

Inspiration and motivation.

I’ve noted a few times over a couple dozen different posts that I’m much more of a pantser or discovery writer. I prefer to write the story first and then make an outline once I start editing. That said, it’s not a challenge I want to try without an outline.

Not for the first attempt at least.

As it stands however, after a rough February and looking back over my project list, one of the projects I have on there is a major rewrite. A rewrite that does have an outline.

And this week, oddly enough, lined up to give me plenty of free time with relatively few outside obligations.

Since I’ve been wanting to try this particular challenge for a while and things have lined up so well, I decided to bite the bullet and go for it. In the worst case scenario, I end up not having a complete draft at the end of the week (March 6th, if you’re wondering).

I’ll post an update on how things are going (or have gone) on Friday. In the mean time, I’m curious: would you ever try to write a book in a week?

Posted in General

The Importance of Rest

Normally I like to have my posts written at least a couple of days before actually posting them. This way if there’s any extra research I need to do or if I know I’m going to have a busy week, I don’t have to stress about a post last minute.

The exception to that however, is today’s post, and the reason behind it is painfully obvious: I overloaded myself. Between holiday celebrations, my day-job, editing, and trying to prep myself for next year, I forgot to give myself time to rest.

Ultimately it resulted in me sitting down on Sunday with a list of things I wanted to get done and absolutely no energy to do any of it.

Often when we’re working on multiple projects or obligations, we forget that we ourselves are one such obligation. Eating, bathing and sleeping are our most basic needs but as people we have another basic need: rest. As a general rule, humans are anxious creatures but we’re not meant to stay in a constant state of energy consumption. We need to take time to rest and recover. Just like you need to put your phone or laptop on the charger, you need to recharge your own batteries.

And just like that electronic you need to charge, while you can ignore the draining battery for a while, at some point you need to recharge it. Screens dim their brightness to conserve battery, background processes and apps get limited. Your creative abilities are limited when you need rest and your willingness to complete a task is similarly hamstrung.

If, like me, you’re staring at your to-do list and getting none of it done, the easy fix is to take some rest. Take the day and enjoy the hobbies you enjoy just for yourself. Take a walk or a hike, indulge yourself in a long bubble bath, a glass of wine or some other treat. Let yourself rest.

We’re almost through 2020. It’s been an incredibly stressful year trying to manage so much bad news. Take a day or two before the year ends and let yourself recharge.

Posted in General

Why Writing Resolutions Fail

It’s that time of year where we all start looking towards what comes up next. Especially now that 2020 has finally gotten a little bit of good news. While Covid-19 is far from being under control, it’s nice to have some hope that we’re getting there now that a vaccine has been found. 2021 may not bring much in the way of change right away, but it is bringing with it hope. It’s also bringing what is perhaps the only thing that looks the same this year as it has in the past: New Years’ Resolutions.

For those of you who got bitten by the writing bug this year, you might be wondering what sort of resolution to make to keep that writing spirit going. Resolutions themselves are great, and they’re meant to improve your life. Keeping them however, isn’t easy. There’s a few reasons they may fall apart.

Vagueness. If your first instinct when trying to think of a writing related resolution is to shout ‘write a book’ this is your primary problem. A book covers a lot of ground—is it a memoir? Children’s book? Anthology? Epic fantasy saga? To avoid this trap, get specific. Include details like what kind of book and how long. Consider adding a deadline, such as having thirty-thousand words written by the end of March, or something similar.

Unmeasurable. Getting from point a to point b is a lot easier if you can see how close you are. That means using some form of measure makes it easier to achieve your goal. Try putting your goal into a measurable form, such as writing 200 words a day, or finishing one short story a week. This way you can track your progress. Making your goal measurable also makes it more manageable, which makes it easier to stay on track if you have a bad day, week or month.

Unrealistic. Often the goals we want to accomplish aren’t in line with where we are now. In some ways that’s a good thing. A goal should give you something to strive towards and work for. In other ways however, where we want to be can be a little farther than we can reasonably reach in a day, a week, a month or even a year. You’re not likely to go from rarely writing to writing a novella a week every week. Take stock of your skills and set a goal you can realistically reach.

Accountability. Having a goal is good—but having someone to cheer you on through your accomplishments and give you a pep talk when things get rough makes you much likelier to complete your goals. In fact, you’re 65% more likely to succeed if you have someone to help hold you accountable. So make sure when you’re setting your resolutions, you tell someone and buddy up if you need to.

What are some of your writing resolutions? How will you accomplish them in 2021? Let me know in the comments!

Posted in General

Self-Motivation

Ghost writers notwithstanding, there’s very little chance that someone is going to come along to write and edit your story for you. If you want to tell a story, you’ll have to motivate yourself to both get it written and edited.  The question is then how do you motivate yourself?

Want. The most basic part of motivation to do something is a desire—and if you’re reading this trying to figure out how to turn that desire into actual motivation, you’ve got a good start already. If it helps, take a moment to write a sentence about that desire. What do you want? Tack it up somewhere you can see it when you need a reminder.

Schedule time. It’s so, so easy to overload your schedule with other responsibilities and things you want to do. Instead of letting those things encroach on your time, put it down in your calendar to give yourself time for working on your story. At a minimum, try for an hour three times a week.

Limit distractions. I know, I’m guilty of it too. I think I’ll just check my email real quick and then then next thing I know it’s been three hours and I’m eight videos deep on YouTube. Distractions are the worst time leeches. Whatever you find necessary to do, limit your distractions. That might be leaving your phone in another room, or even turning your internet off temporarily.

Set goals. You already know what you want, so turn it into a goal. Remember that goals should be clear. Specificity makes it easier to see yourself progressing towards that end goal. Try ‘writing fifty-thousand words by the end of the next year’ versus ‘write a book.’ One of those is clear and well-defined, giving you a way to measure it and a deadline to get it done by.

Start small. This is a partial caveat to the above. You’re not going to sit down in an day and write the New York Times Bestseller. The insane typing speed you’d need to make that plausible would break your computer. Instead of breaking that, break your big goal down into smaller ones. Pick the smallest possible goal and start with that one. It gets easier to build larger habits out of smaller ones. Once you’ve gotten into a habit, the motivation to get it done comes naturally.

Track progress. Tracking your progress does two things. One, it lets you see when and where you do the best. Because you can see how your progress fluctuates over time, you’ll be able to adjust your schedule once you know that you work better in the mornings over the evenings. Second, being able to see your progress grow over time also feeds your motivation by giving you something to represent the effort you’re putting in.

Reward yourself.  The large disclaimer to this one is that it won’t work for everyone. You might however, find it useful to give yourself a small reward (such as a small treat or something else) for completing your smaller goals. This way you begin associating completing each task or goal with enjoyment, which in turn makes it easier to get started on the next one.

What are your favorite motivational tactics? Let me know in the comments!