Posted in General, writing


Picture this scenario: You’re writing. You’ve got a good flow going and the words are coming easily. You have uninterrupted time in which to get the story down and then suddenly you hit your third page and then–

You need a ____.

Writing grinds to a halt when you’re searching for names and words. Maybe it’s just a word you’ve forgotten for the moment. Maybe it’s a side character that you didn’t think would need a name, but it sounds more natural if he does have one. Maybe you finally realized you need a name for the town your characters are in. Whatever it is you need, you’re stuck until you find it, and that can kill your writing flow and eat up precious time when you’re writing.

There is a small trick that can be used to avoid those unpleasant moments when you don’t have the word you need. It’s called a placeholder. You can use it in place of the word you want so you’re not stuck searching for one.

When selecting a placeholder, make it a word you don’t use often. For places I liked to use UNNAMED (all caps) or PLACE. This makes it both easier to see and search for. Similarly, characters might be NAMELESS or PERSON. Word processors often have a ‘find and replace’ function, which allows you to effortlessly go back and turn UNNAMED into Townsville or wherever your characters are. Similarly, NAMELESS becomes Bob, Bill, Stew and PERSON easily turns into Carrie, Leanne, Rochelle or whoever else they need to be.

What are some of your placeholders?

Posted in Exercises, writing

How Acting Applies to Character Description

Although an initial look might make it seem as if acting and writing are two vastly different arts there are tools in an actor’s kit  writers can borrow. Several of those come in handy for developing characters. For today, I’m only focusing on character description.

For an actor, costumes and makeup are only part of what they can count on to help change their appearance. Another item they might be taught in, is the leading center. In other words: what part of the body pulls a character forward? This goes a little deeper than just thinking about which foot to put forward first, it also helps define a character based on where their center of gravity is. Both a heavily pregnant woman and a rotund man will lead with their stomachs, leaning back slightly to offset the added weight at the front of their frames. The difference here however, is how that weight is carried: pregnancies tend to have supported weight, resulting in the waddle of an expectant mother. Excess weight from too many beers results in a shuffle as that weight drags on the body.

There are other ways of expressing this too. The daydreaming child leads with her heart, both literally and figuratively. The headstrong warrior puts their brave face forward first. An old man with a heavy weight lets his shoulders push him forward. Each of these people has a reason for the way they move: be that skipping joyously all over the place, or sidling along with a cane.

For writers, thinking about what would lead a character forward gives you a good base for their outward description that goes beyond short, skinny, brunette, blue eyes, etc. This gives you a way to describe their actions and fix them in your readers mind: how they walk and how they stand.

Not only that, it also gives you opportunities to work description in besides mirror scenes or self-comparison. Describing a character striding into the room to throw papers on his desk becomes a memorable opening. Similarly as a quieter character ducks their head and tries to make their stature smaller in a crowded elevator stands out more than someone looking in the mirror.

As an exercise: Observe people around you and how they move and stand. What part of their body sticks out most when they’re standing? How does their leading center affect how they walk?

Posted in General, writing

Keeping Your Notes

At some point in the writing process—be that before you even start the first draft, or when you start polishing it—you’re going to create notes. What exactly those notes include changes based on your style, the genre and where you are in the process. Regardless of what’s in them, you’ll need a way to keep them organized, of which there are plenty of ways to choose from.

Story Bibles are one way. These are hard copy notes, often kept in binders and organized into different sections. Often they can be great for keeping track of series as well as for any notes you make while in the different stages of writing, revising and editing.

Notekeeping software is becoming more and more common. Things like OneNote, Evernote, Google Keep and many others are widely available across a range of prices from the free to the pricey. These can allow you to organize your notes all under one story, setting, time period or whatever else works for you. This can be invaluable for large amounts of research and for expansive world building.

Speaking of software, writing programs such as Scrivener and the Novel Factory can be used to keep some notes right from the start. This can help keep making forward progress as well as make managing notes on plot, setting and even characters much easier.

There’s also no reason you can’t use multiple ways of keeping notes. For the actual editing notes such as my outlines and character arcs, I use binders to contain those, but when it comes to world building and setting notes, I keep it in OneNote for quick reference. What do you use to organize your notes?


Posted in General

The Importance of Backing Up

Unfortunately today’s post comes as a reminder that things happen and that while we can’t prevent terrible things from happening, it never hurts to be prepared.

Over the weekend, my sister’s computer suffered some form of malfunction which wiped an entire folder and several additional files from the hard drive. The folder in question that suffered the most damage was in fact the folder containing all of her writing from the last ten years or so. Some of these were files brought over from previous computers, some of these were stories she’d only just started, or mere ideas she was saving for later.

The very unfortunate part of this is that she does not have back-ups of any of the lost files. The only reason she was able to technically ‘save’ one of the salvaged pieces happened because she’d temporarily stored another copy on a flash drive previously. Everything else existed as a single copy on one computer.

Ten years of writing is gone and lost to whatever crash, malfunction, glitch or other disaster caused them to be deleted in the first place. The lesson here is simple:

Back up your work frequently.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to email yourself a copy. You can either copy and paste the entire text into the body of the email, or attach it and then send it to yourself. This gives you the option to access your writing through the same places you access your email.

Another option might be using a service like Google Drive or even Microsoft’s OneDrive. If you have a gmail account, you already have access to Google Drive which boasts the use of 15 gigs of storage for free. Similarly, if you have a Microsoft account such as through Skype or even for the latest version of windows, you should have access to OneDrive online, which comes with a slimmer 5 gigs of storage. Both of these work with .doc or .docx files and have access to a word processor for those instances where you need both.

Don’t be afraid to use flash (USB) drives and other storage devices. Many of these can be attached to keys or easily stored in a wallet or purse. With a range of sizes and styles to choose from, you can easily find one to suit your needs and budget.

Finally, hard copies are invaluable protection against computer failure. Even in the event of total file loss, having a hard copy means you have something to work off of, even if you end up having to retype your manuscript. If you don’t have your own printer, some libraries offer limited printing, while many office stores also have a copy and print center where you can have everything printed out for a small fee.

Back up your files and if possible, do so in multiple ways. You can’t always prevent a problem, but you can be prepared for it.


Posted in writing

Starting on Edits

Arguably, writers actually spend relatively little time writing. There are a lot of other things to be done in the process of building a story. Characters need naming, places need researching. Fights need choreographing. That one sentence in chapter three probably needs rewriting.

A large amount of time is spent on editing and rewriting. When facing a mountain of words to go through it can feel a little daunting, and finding somewhere to start can be difficult. Here’s a few places to try starting.

Read through your manuscript and make notes as you go. This can help you see what absolutely needs fixing at this point, and what can be saved for a later draft.

Outline your plot again. Try doing this from memory, and then check it against your MS to see where you might have extraneous scenes, events, or where you might need to flesh out some scenes again.

Break it down into multiple drafts and pick a focus for each one. Perhaps in one draft you’re focusing on getting all the character backstories in, and the details. In the next you might worry about plot structure. In the final draft, go back and clean up your voice, word choice and yes, grammar.