Posted in Exercises

Characterization

There are three fundamental aspects that every single story has, regardless of good, bad, popular or unknown. Without those three pieces, you don’t have a story. They include plot, setting and characters. Those three elements are impossible to escape. Your characters are who the story is about, your plot is what happens during the story and your setting is where the story happens.

While I could delve into why it’s impossible to write a story without all three of those present, today I want to focus on characters. They’re often the main and central focus of the story for your readers. Making characters distinct for one another relies heavily on characterization.

Characterization itself is the distinct features each character has. This goes beyond just physical features and into personality traits and habitual quirks. These are your defining features that help your characters stand out from one another.

Speech is a huge place for characterization to come through. The way people talk often reflects the environment they’re most often surrounded by and were raised in. As an exercise, you can write down a list of common words with multiple synonyms (think car, soda, mother, etc) and determine which ones your characters would use. Would one of them use Mom while another uses Momma, or even Mother? Is it a vehicle or an auto?

Phrasing is important in speech as well. If you have someone who’s learned a second language, how they learned it will impact how they speak it. Someone who learned organically through immersion would have picked up more slang words and may still have some chunks missing from their vocabulary. Someone who learned through traditional schooling may have a more formal structure, but struggle with idioms and expressions.

As an exercise for phrasing, think about any idioms, expressions or sayings that might crop up. Think about how each character might use a variation of that central expression.

Habits are often linked to subconscious things that can tell us a lot about personalities. Someone who chews their nails might be very nervous or they can be bored. Similarly, someone who shuffles their feet a when walking might be less inclined to rush about to do things.

Even in the foods we dislike, some characters will try to mask the taste by mixing that food in, while others prefer to eat it first and get the worst over with. Still other characters will separate it from the other foods and try to avoid more than a few bites of it at all.

As an exercise, consider three subconscious habits your character might have. These are things they probably do without thinking. Does he wipe his feet before coming through a door? Does she do certain chores or tasks in a specific order? Do they have a specific reaction to being reprimanded? Will they only do certain things when they’re tired/hungry/scared?

Self-Expression covers how characters portray themselves. Someone who takes pride in their appearance might be vain, or they could be masking self-esteem problems. Similarly, someone who speaks their mind freely might be confident, or they may feel as if they have to constantly explain their thoughts and actions to avoid being judged.

Because self-expression is so easily varied, it might help for you to consider how your characters express themselves and why they do in a particular way. Examine things like how they dress, how much work they put into keeping their spaces (include housing, vehicles and work areas) tidy, how often they speak up and what sort of hobbies they enjoy outside of their work or job.

Posted in General, writing

Stats and Tracking Progress

One of the things I’ve been seeing a lot of posts on as we roll over the start of 2020 is wrap-up posts, and that got me thinking. Although I do my monthly recaps, I’ve never really paid much attention to how much I’m writing throughout the year. I’m usually pretty good about keeping track of where I’m at and what I’m doing in my planner, but that doesn’t give me the option to review the year as a whole.

Out of curiosity, I’ve set up a tracker in Excel. I already keep track of my daily word count in my planner but I also wanted to keep track of where those words are being written. I already have project list set up to track what state each project is in and keep an eye on how large my WIP list is so I ended up adding a new page to that. Full Tracker

I don’t need to track much, mostly just the monthly totals. I’ll have to remember to update and add in the daily counts as I go. I’ve also included three categories of project: Completed, Started and Editing. I’ve also included rules for myself about what counts for each category. Although it’s basic, I’m happy. I can’t wait to see what it looks like at the end of the year.

How do you track your writing stats?

Posted in General

In Between Projects

Writing and editing are constant states for me. It’s very rare that I find myself not in one or the other. In the last couple of days however, I’ve found myself in between projects. Although I have plenty of things to be working on, because of how busy my schedule has gotten with the approaching holiday season, I haven’t actually picked up my next project.

While it feels weird to sit down when I have a few minutes and realize I don’t have an active project, it’s also given me a chance to organize and categorize what I want to do with my current projects.

Because it’s a long list I won’t delve into the details here, but two of the big things I want to work on are easy to see.

One: Editing speed and comfort are still trailing behind my writing a fresh project speed. As a result, my rough drafts and new projects outnumber my second drafts and works-in-progress by ten to one, quite literally. It’s a problem and one I am to fix.

Secondly: I love the sci-fi and fantasy genres, but I want to expand what I’m comfortable writing. The two genres I’ve steered clearest of so far are romance and mystery. To me, they’re the hardest to write. Capturing the complexities of a mystery plot takes a lot of concentration and organization. Romance scares me strictly because the focus is entirely on the emotional journey of two people falling in love.

Although it’s early for me to set up my goals for the next year, I’m keeping those two things in mind. For what’s left of this month, I want to try and stay focused on editing. I just have to decide which one to start editing.

Where are you at with your projects?

Posted in General

Measuring Progress

I’m one of those people that keeps almost obsessive track of my word count. I like seeing how much I’ve added at the end of the day. Some portions of the writing process take time, and that time often feels like it’s wasted when you’re plodding through something the size of a manuscript. Marking the progress helps curb some of that frustration by giving you a mark of how much you’ve accomplished. While writing something, keeping track of that is easy. It’s during editing that it gets a little harder to measure progress.

With editing word count does work to some extent if you’re tracking the number of words changed. It’s easy enough to note how much your word count changes from when you start editing and where it ends at the end of the day. One problem I’ve encountered while doing that is during early edits, when entire sections can be cut and rewritten resulting in a negative change. During later drafts when there’s mostly fine tuning to be done instead of big changes, the change coming up can be minimal.

Another option might be pages. They’re easy enough to number and counting the number of pages you’ve edited through today negates any inconsistencies incurred when dealing with word count. The problem is with formatting. A double-spaced manuscript will have a lot more pages than something single-spaced, and certain fonts and font sizes will get more words on one page than others. As long as your formatting is consistent during your editing, the problem is solved. If neither pages nor words works one final option is to measure the amount of time.

Counting the minutes and hours spent revising a piece makes it easier for you to set goals and deadlines for yourself. Keeping track does become an issue if you don’t have the option of setting down a given amount of time for editing.

Regardless of what option you use, selecting a measure can help if you find yourself frustrated with your writing process.