Why Writers Should Appreciate Long Shopping Lines

The past few months, my schedule has gotten busy and filled with lots of activities—important things, like school, chores, social interactions, meals—and less important, fun things.  As a result, it’s more difficult to find time to do everything I need or even want to do.  Even my writing has happened less often than I would like.

Sometimes, I get kind of impatient when things take longer than I want, because it’s wasting my time—time I could spend doing other things.  So when the shopping lines are long, for example, the usual thought to cross my mind is, “Ugh, I could be writing/[insert other task here] right now.”

Shopping

You know what, I really could be writing right then.

Think of it like a word war/sprint.

The point of a word war is to try to write as much as you possibly can in a set period of time.  No worries about spelling, grammar—just get as many words down as possible.  Usually, you do word wars with other people, and when the set time is over, you compare word-counts.  My favorite word war lengths are fifteen minutes.  It’s enough time for me to get in the “writing groove”, and really get writing.  In fact, for NaNo 2014, I discovered I could write about ~800 words in that fifteen minutes.

While you’re standing in line, you might not have fifteen minutes.  (I really hope the line isn’t that long.)  Maybe you only have two or three.  Maybe you have five.  And sure, there’s nobody to compete against.

But if I write ~800 words in fifteen minutes, and we pretend that I can keep that speed in five minutes, then I should be able to write 267 words in five minutes.  That’s…a lot of words for five minutes.

Okay, I really can’t write that fast.  Eight hundred words is only for those really good word wars where I’m really trying, and it takes me about five minutes to even get “warmed up”.  So in five minutes by themselves?

I get maybe a paragraph.  Or sometimes just a sentence.

That’s a paragraph or a sentence more than I had before.

Let’s say I can write 50 words in five minutes.  I’m on a long shopping trip with my…say, sister, just because.  Three separate stores.  The first one is pretty quick, no time to really do anything else.  But at the second store, my sister sees an old friend and she starts chatting.  Five minutes.  Fifty words.  The last store, there’s a long line.  Five minutes.  Fifty words.

By the time I get home, I’ve not only done a lot of shopping, but I’ve also written a hundred words!  My personal goal is usually to write about ~500+ words every day, so if I’ve already gotten a hundred, then I’m a fifth of the way to my goal already.

Even in other situations, sometimes just using those five wasted minutes, standing in line, waiting for someone, standing in the elevator.  Who says you can’t make use of it?  Five minutes start to add up after a while—maybe you’ll get your whole quota for the day done in five minute segments.

Of course, I would like to say that setting aside time to write solely is important.  Sometimes, you have to be totally immersed in your world.  If nothing else than just for your sanity.  (Break from reality, anyone?)  There are plenty of times where I can’t actually make use of those few extra minutes, but in order to go any further, I need to be in my world.  And five minutes in my world is…both not enough, and actually kind of frustrating.

So this does not work all the time.  I’d say, it probably doesn’t even work for everyone.

But five minutes.  A single sentence, even.  That’s more than you had before, and all you’re doing is standing in line, anyway.

Showing versus Telling & Subtlety

Sometimes being subtle is more descriptive, I’ve found.  Saying “they were brothers” is specific, but not really descriptive. What kind of relationship do they have? Are they estranged or close?

Showing

I realized that while writing about the siblings in my story. I did say outright that they were two brothers and a sister—but the important part is actually the way they treat each other.  For example, they argue a lot. Especially the older two. And yet they also have pet nicknames for each other. These two things together show both how close they are and yet also how imperfect their relationship is.

Yet it’s also totally subtle. I never pointed out either of these two things (or any of the other ways they treat each other that help suggest their relationship), but it still helps the reader figure out what the dynamics are between the characters, way better than me saying “they’re siblings” does.  Or even “the siblings were close, but they had some issues”.

Actually, this is exactly what showing instead of telling is. I am showing their relationships.

I think there actually is a place for telling, somewhat. In this particular situation, who’s to say that my “showing” won’t leave the reader just assuming they’re really good friends, rather than siblings?  I think I show their being family well enough, but that’s certainly something to consider, hence why I actually do say they are siblings.

I hesitate to let this turn into another “showing versus telling” post, because there’s already so many of them out there.  But it really clicked with me, this time, exactly what showing is.

In all the examples of showing versus telling I’ve seen in the past, it always seems to be smaller things.  Say, emotion.  Show the emotion, don’t just tell me she’s angry.  Right?  We know that.   (On the subject of showing emotions, the Emotion Thesaurus is awesome for helping with that.)

But showing is so much deeper than that.  In fact, it occurred to me, you can show while telling.  Take, for example, a description of a room.  If you describe the room, you’re probably telling.  But while you’re telling me what the room looks like, you can pick your words so that at the same time, you’re showing what the narrator thinks/feels about the room.

Another thing is character arcs.  Or character personalities.  Do we tell our readers upfront that this character is saucy?  Well, maybe, but then what do we do?  Show their sauciness.  And then as the story progresses, again, we show the character development.  What good would development be if it was all told?

Once upon a time, Selena was a spoiled child who had no idea what privileges she had.  Then her father declared bankruptcy and she lost everything.  She got a taste for what life is like at the poverty level, and she found humility.

THE END.

That really isn’t how we develop characters.  Or introduce characters.  Or introduce events.  Or…really any of that.  I’m pretty sure even the “the end” is telling.  (You know, usually we show readers they reached the end by having a back cover after the last page.)

Or world-building!  Isn’t that all showing, as well?  (Of course, there is the occasional world-building info-dump because I think it’s impossible to avoid info-dumps 100%, but still, that isn’t how all of it’s shown.  Or even most.)

Showing goes way deeper than just a simple “her cheeks turned pink and she looked at the ground” instead of “she was ashamed”.  And I think the best showing is so subtle, you don’t necessarily know you’re being shown.

The Character I Wish Existed in More Fiction

There’s this huge push for diversity lately, especially in characters.  More this, more that!  I like some of the changes that I’m seeing, but there’s one character I don’t see often and I wish I did.

The introvert.

Introvert

The biggest problem with introverted characters is that there are attempts to write them.  I’ve read about plenty of characters who are shy or antisocial/asocial or socially-awkward.  There are definitely wallflowers in fiction.

But being a wallflower isn’t what being an introvert is.

Part of the problem, I think, is that a lot of people don’t actually understand what introverts are.  I’ve heard people describe introverts as being those shy or wallflower people.  Someone else I knew thought that it had to do with how well someone could communicate.  Someone else I know thinks of introvertedness as a character flaw that needs to be overcome.

The thing is, being a wallflower or being shy are sometimes effects of being an introvert.  But it isn’t the root of it.

I’m an introvert, and for me, being an introvert isn’t just how I communicate or how I make friends.  It’s true—I hate crowds.  If I enter a room with a lot of people, I tend to stay near the edge of the room.  Usually by a wall.  I’m shy when I meet new people, and sometimes, I have a hard time initiating a conversation with somebody I’m not real familiar with.

But that isn’t what being an introvert is about.

I like being alone, sometimes.  But I hate being lonely.  I have friends, and I need my friends.  Without them, I’d go crazy.  I might have more fictional characters in my head than real friends, but what friends I do have that are real are really close friends.

Sometimes, being an introvert means I will pick one really close friend over a group of people qualifying as “I…think we might be friends?  Maybe?”.  I prefer deep conversations over light and fluffy useless ones.  (That’s not to say I can’t talk about the weather.  In fact, I like to compare the weather from where I live to the weather where some of my non-local friends live.)

Sometimes, being an introvert means breaks from routine are tiring.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to have something a little different happen.  I can go stir-crazy as easy as anybody else.  But if something goes differently one day, then it needs to be normal the next day so I can recover.  I think this goes for most people, actually, but as an introvert, my “downtime” is really important.  I went to a birthday party this afternoon?  Okay, I’ll probably spend the evening holed up in my room with my headphones.  I went on vacation for two weeks?  Great, it was awesome, and now the next week is probably going to be spent mostly at home.  Without the downtime, I get more easily overwhelmed and my stress level rises.

I gravitate towards the walls in a room, but sometimes it’s just so I can see everything going on.  I’m shy at first, but if I warm up to somebody, I can talk until they’re sick of me.  I don’t have a lot of friends, but the ones I do have are important.  I need my routines, and I love breaks from them, but then I need the routines again.

To bring this back around to characters, I think the thing is, there are introverted characters.  But they only just scratch the surface.  They only have a few of the stereotypical “features” of an introvert.  Or, even worse, they’re viewed as having a character flaw and it has to be overcome.

“Oh, don’t worry, by the end of this story, you’re going to be the biggest social butterfly in existence.

Being an introvert isn’t just being shy.  It isn’t a character flaw.  There’s nothing wrong with me.  It’s the way I think.  It’s the way I interact.  Being an introvert can introduce flaws or be coupled with them—like being too shy to make friends—but it isn’t the flaw itself.

I wish there were more truly introverted characters, instead of just shy or asocial ones.

Embracing Change in Your Style

When I first started writing, I knew I was a discovery writer.  I listened to a Writing Excuses episode, and somebody, I don’t even remember who, made a comment about how writers should try both discovery writing and outlining/planning.  I don’t remember the exact reason he said, but I’m sure I could figure it out—they’re two different writing techniques, and sometimes, you can learn from both.  Or maybe that you’ll discover you’re not the one you think you are.  Or, really, it’s just a good thing to try new things, and trying the opposite of what you always do is definitely a new thing, right?  I scoffed, thinking that I wasn’t a planner, and I’d never ever be a planner, and I didn’t need to try being a planner.

Guess what?

I’m a planner.

Yeah, go ahead and laugh.  I’m already laughing.  But you wanna hear something even funnier?  When I was little, I wanted to be one of those artists who can draw something, and then people would go, “Wait, that isn’t a photograph?”  I wanted perfect realism.  I wanted to draw something that really would look like a photograph and people would have to take a second—and third and fourth—look before they realized it wasn’t.

Guess what I draw now?

I really have no idea, but it isn’t realism.

Here’s a lesson for you all, right from my own experience.

Don’t be afraid to explore.  Exploration makes you better at what you do.

Somewhere along the lines, I somehow started planning one of my novels.  I don’t really remember how or why I did it, but I did, and my writing turned out better.  It made me stop and think… Hmm.  Maybe I’m not a pantser after all.

I ended up writing more things that were pantsed and more things that were planned, before I finally realized that, yeah, I’m a planner.  I do discovery write somewhat, and I do enjoy it.  But I plan more often than not lately, because when I plan, I’m more likely to end with not only a slightly better written and less plot-hole-y first draft, but an actually finished first draft (which was a hard thing for me, for a while).

The truth is, if I hadn’t explored the idea of planning, and if I had just stuck with discovery writing, I probably would not be where I am right now.  I would have more half-finished projects where right now they are finished, and I’d probably be a lot more frustrated and discouraged simply because of that fact.  That sounds like fun, right?  Everybody wants to be discouraged.

Explore.

You can’t succeed at something if you don’t try it, right?  Well, try it, and then fail or succeed.  Learn what works.  Learn what doesn’t work.  Are you a planner or a pantser?  Or are you right smack dab in the middle? Do you use elements of both?  Do you outline extensively, or do you have a loose outline?  Do you write an outline, and then defenestrate the outline at the first change you have?

What seems to work best for me is to have a loose outline, just enough that it tells me the general events and plot, and I get to know my characters a little (but not even extensively), and then I discovery write all the rest.  I even discovery write the emotions, strange as that sounds.  I may know of an event that will greatly affect a character, but I don’t even know for sure how it’ll affect them, until I start writing it, and they take it in the direction that’s best for them, and I learn something new about them at the same time.

Even if, in the end, you discover that you’re writing style is exactly what you thought it was to begin with, you’ll still have learned new things and, more importantly, you should have had fun.  (Writing is all fun and games, right?  Riiiiight?)

Don’t resist the change when it finds you.

One of the hardest things I had to accept at first was that…I was wrong.  I had been so completely and totally wrong about myself.  Hard hit to the pride, for one.  I didn’t want to accept I had been wrong, and I didn’t want to give up what I’d been doing before, and I didn’t want to be a planner.  Planners are so boring.  They know their stories in advance and they don’t discover anything and that’s so boring.

(That’s a huge lie, by the way.  Even if you do outline the story to death, perhaps through the Snowflake Method, if it was that boring, nobody would do it.  [And considering the Snowflake Method exists in the first place, well… you see.])

I think in probably all aspects of life, accepting change is hard.  I had the same issues with realizing that I really didn’t want to draw realism (or at least exclusively realism), too.  But change is important.  Change is what allows growth and improvement.

I mean, think about it.  Improvement is change.  If you improve…you’re changing, aren’t you?  You’re changing from bad or mediocre or even good to better.  So if you don’t change, you don’t improve.  Simple as that.

Change wants to be your friend.

Sometimes.

Now go do what works best for you.

Well, that says it all, mostly.  Go do it.  And remember, finding change, seeing change, embracing change—it’s the key to improvement.

So go improve.

And because GIFs make everything better, here’s Ten basically summing up the essence of discovery writing.

Sketching: How Extensive Do I Outline?

One of my favorite things to draw are sketches.  They’re fun, and they can be as quick as you want them to be.  A sketch can be drawn as fast as thirty seconds—or it can take you up to five to ten minutes.

Untitled-1

 

There is only one rule about how to sketch properly.  Use your pencil lightly. You never want to draw a hard line while sketching—because what’s the goal of a sketch? To be erased.  And trust me when I tell you that hard lines do not erase.

Okay, Shim, you’re thinking.  What’s the point in drawing something only to erase it?

I counter that with another question.  What’s the point in writing a first draft if it’s basically a universal truth that all first drafts suck royally and it will have to be edited/rewritten to pieces?  By which I mean, you have to start somewhere.  Sketches aren’t really like first drafts, though.

Sketches are like outlines.

What do outlines do?

Generally, outlines give you an idea of where you’re going.  They also might give you an idea of what won’t work.  They might help you prevent some gaping plot holes, or show you that letting this character do that thing this early in the book might make it hard for that other character to be introduced.

What is the first rule of outlines?  They are not set in stone.

Hmm, does that remind you of anything? Oh yeah, sketches! Sketches aren’t set in stone, either.  In fact, sketches need to be drawn lightly so they can be erased later!

Both sketches and outlines are a guide.  They can be changed, tweaked, or completely thrown out the window.  In fact, they don’t even have to be used in the first place if you don’t want to use them. (I guess it’s possible to draw by the seat of your pants.  Heheh.)

Sketches should be simple.

How does one draw a sketch?  Is there a right way to sketch?

Nope.  A sketch is basically a series of lightly-draw lines that are placed to portray a vague image that can be expanded upon later.  You can sketch in different styles.  You can sketch really fast.  You can take a littler longer and add a few important details to your sketch.

Whoa, lets stop there a moment.  Details?  Details are dangerous.  Details are what should be in the final version, and not necessarily before that.  Why?  If you add too many details, you’ll bog it down.  You’ll clutter it.  You’ll take the simple, easy enjoyment out of it.

Simple.  Simple is the key here.  Remember about sketches and outlines not being set in stone? If you draw too many details, its going to start feeling like it is set in stone. And you don’t want that.

Okay, so, how much is too much? How simple/detailed do you do it?  Lets go back to what a sketch and outline are and what they do.  They’re guides.  Their goals are to show you a direction you can go and what might be the best way to get there.  Sort of like a roadmap, but with hopefully less potential of getting lost.

So how much do you do?

Only sketch/outline enough to figure out where you’re going.

Its a guide! Treat it like one.  Guidelines are not laws.  They can be dismissed or tweaked.  Guidelines are also not so vague you have no idea you’re being guided.

Only you know how much guiding you need before you can get started and succeed.  Maybe it’ll take some experimentation to figure out that perfect amount, but never go under or over that amount.

It’s a guide.

How To Be Unprepared For NaNoWriMo

There are plenty of people who will happily tell you how to prepare for NaNoWriMo and what worked for them. (There are also plenty of people who will have no idea what NaNoWriMo is and when you inform them they will think you are completely crazy for trying to compete in it.) So if you want to know how to prepare for NaNo, ask them (the former, obviously), and you’ll be all set.

But what do you do if you want to be unprepared for NaNoWriMo?

Unprepared.png

For those of you wondering, here’s a handy guide.

Step One: Whatever you do, do not chase after those dwarves!

I mean, really. Going on an adventure with other people? That’s preposterous!

A proper adventurer—and therefore a proper writer—goes alone. A proper adventurer carries all his own supplies, encourages himself, and never asks for help.

Think of it this way. Writing a story is like a roller coaster, right? Well, NaNoWriMo is like a really fast roller coaster. And how do you ride a roller coaster? Holding very tightly onto the seat because there’s nobody beside you to hold onto, and screaming at the top of your lungs into the ear of…that person who isn’t actually sitting next to you.

Isolation is the best. You need nobody. After all, you’re like a one-writer band! You can do all the writing, all the brainstorming, all the encouraging, all the fighting of writer’s block, and all of the procrastinating, too!

Who needs other people?

Step Two: Run, run, as fast as you can, because you’re way more awesome than the gingerbread man!

As soon as November starts, write as fast as you possibly can and don’t stop. Don’t even slow. Just go! Pull some all-nighters.

Think of it this way. You’re hunting a dragon. It’s about, oh, two hundred times your size, but that’s no biggie. The reward—all that gold—is so amazing, you know you can just do it.

So you go up to the dragon and you slice off its tail, getting your sword stuck in that horribly sticky dragon blood that greatly resembles ooze, and then when it wakes and demands to know why you tried to de-tail it, you hurl all of the well-thought out insults you planned out back in October.

Then you realize you have no weapon and you used up all of your snarky comebacks. And it’s also only November 8th. But pshhh! You totally didn’t need to space out those retorts or have an epic duel with the dragon (that mostly involved running away from dragonfire until you had a delightfully clever, if half-fast, plan to eliminate the dragon).

Nah. That’s not necessary.

Step Three: Breakfast is a “fast break” for a reason

Breaks are for losers. You’ll lose valuable time. No, you should just keep going…and going…and going…and going…

And probably going some more…

It’s like this. You’re shoveling snow. Your back hurts. Your hands are numb. You forgot where your feet a—wait, you actually have feet?

Then your best friend offers you a mug of hot cocoa (or some other hot drink). Should you take it?

Of course not. You obviously have an entire month more of shoveling left to go! And you’re always telling yourself to never procrastinate. No procrastinating!

Hot cocoa = definitely procrastinating.

Never mind that those mythical feet you thought you used to have are lost and you aren’t going to find them in this snow.


 

If you follow all of these steps, you’ll be well on your way to a wonderful, totally unprepared NaNoWriMo!

I Will Do This… I Think [On Writing Confidently]

If you listen closely, a lot of people say “uh” or “um” while they’re talking.  It’s a normal hesitation, born from our tendency to speak before we’ve fully formed what we want to say.  In fact, not only that—but we repeat ourselves a lot.  Not necessarily because we feel the need to reiterate our words, but usually both happen because we’re trying to gather our thoughts together enough to finish what we’re saying.

Hold that thought for a moment.

A while ago, I don’t remember when, exactly, but it probably started around mid 2013-ish, I started having issues with my writing.  Something about my writing style felt off, but I had no idea what it was.  A friend offered to critique my novel to help me out, but that didn’t end up panning out, I think probably because of school and stuff.  (Though, I very much appreciated that friend offering to help, and I hope he realizes that.)  Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I needed to just keep going and not worry about what was off.

After all, does the writing style worry so much in draft one?  At that point in time, I didn’t even have a finished first draft to work on, so my concentration needed to be on finishing something, not micro-editing it, yeah?  So I kept going.

Obviously, it’s been a while since 2013.  My plan worked.  I kept writing, and late last year, I finished a project.  I’m still not at the point where I can micro-edit—I’m still barely past two-thirds of the way through draft two, and I know draft three will still have lots of macro-edits, thanks to random plot twists and disobedient characters that made draft two still not totally coherent (but still better than draft one).  However, since that time, my writing style has changed and I feel more confident about it.

In fact, I daresay, I like my voice.  Not to say I can’t stand for improvements, but I feel like I have a good basis.  What changed?

First of all, I had more experience.  Funny what experience can do and how it can change things, even if it’s just the tiny bit that I had.

But what I want to focus on here is—confidence.

I started sounding more confident.

Now, you remember how we were talking about how people naturally hesitate and repeat themselves?  Somewhere along the lines, I noticed this, and I started to insert it into my writing, thinking that if I did so, then I’d make my characters’ speech sound more realistic.

Simultaneously, I did another thing.  For a writer and an artist, I suck at noticing things. I also am really horrible at picking out people’s intentions.  So many times somebody’s said something, and then I found out they actually meant something different than what they said, and, I honestly had no idea until they told me.  Unless it was sarcasm.  Don’t ask me why, but I can pick up sarcasm, but nothing else of that sort.  (And my family likes to use straight-faced sarcasm.  Not easy to do or to pick up on, believe me.  But I’m not half bad at it.)

As a result of that, when I’d write, I’d sometimes wonder if I would fail to pick up on things in my own writing.  For example, I’d have a character, and I’d be pretty sure she was fierce, but… then I’d wonder, what if I was writing it wrong or misunderstanding my own writing, and she was actually just…cruel?  So what I did was instead of writing “fierce”, instead I’d find a way to not use the word at all, or I’d stick an adverb in front of it, and say something like “kind of fierce”.  Then, if she wasn’t fierce, I wouldn’t really be wrong, because I said “kind of fierce” not “fierce“.

It really doesn’t work that way.  For example:

“It’s kind of hot out here.”

“It is not.  It’s actually really nice.”

“I said ‘kind of’ hot.”

“No, it isn’t hot at all!  Feel this breeze; its really nice.”

I have conversations like this with my younger brothers.  It really doesn’t work the way they intend it to—often, it’s just annoying.  And it makes you sound really hesitant.

Now listen to this:

“She—she isn’t here… I think she’s, uh, back at the hotel.”

Versus this:

“She isn’t here; she’s back at the hotel.”

I did both of these things.  And the result was that my writing sounded very, very hesitant and unsure of itself.  Of course it sounded off!  I might as well have been a six year old talking about astrophysics.  Except that that six year old would have still sounded more confident than me.  (Little kids have this strange way of sounding as if they knew exactly what they’re talking about, even when they clearly don’t.)

Do I still do these things?  Yes.    I can’t say I’m past saying “I think” and “kind of” everywhere, but I’m more aware of it, and I’m fixing it.  And I still have plenty of “uh”s and “um”s in my writing, but only where I want a character to sound hesitant.  The above examples—that top one isn’t wrong.  That could be a perfectly fine piece of dialogue.  But it’d be in a very different scene than the second one, wouldn’t it?

Hesitation is a tool, to be used like any other emotion.  But it can be used wrongly or in the wrong situations.  Or just plain overused. And what’s the result of sounding hesitant all the time?

Well, apparently, your writing will sound off.

But you’ll also feel less confident.  Are you sure you know what you’re talking about?  Are you sure that’s what happened?  Are you sure it wasn’t this, instead?

You are the writer.  You are putting the words on the page.  You know what happened for sure.  Even if you feel like your characters are in control of you, you still know what’s going on.  Your job is to communicate this story from the lives of your characters’, and into the imaginations of your readers.  How can you do that if you sound hesitant?

No.  Be confident.  She is at the hotel.  The weather is pleasant.  There is a nice breeze.

Your readers will believe you when you tell them this.  They will not believe you when you tack an “I think” onto the end.

 

All These Voices In My Head Sound Like Me

I’ve always thought that dialogue was my strong suit with writing.  I don’t really know if that’s the case, because I’ve never had anybody tell me that, but when I wrote dialogue, I felt confident about it.  Meanwhile, even still, if I have to describe something, usually I start scowling and write something really bare-bones that I’ll need to add to later because I want to just get past the description and move on already.

Why is it I felt confident with dialogue?

Part of it is that I would sometimes listen to people talking, and I’d take note of it.  I’m not really sure if anybody notices this, but I picked up on that everybody has a different way of speaking.  Sometimes it’s obvious things like—when this person talks, she moves her hands and gestures with everything.  But there’s also smaller differences, in the way they word sentences.  Because there are so many different ways you can say the same thing, and different ways will give it different meaning and different personality.

When I noticed this, I noticed that all of my characters said things the same way—the way I spoke.  They worded things the exact same way I would word it.  And in some ways, I don’t think this was truly a big problem, because they are my characters, but it makes it hard to make them unique.

Because, see.  I think the general rule with dialogue is that if you can get away with no dialogue tag, you don’t use a dialogue tag.  And the way you do that is to make it really obvious who’s talking by what they’re saying.  And if all of the characters sound the same, how can you do this?

You make them sound different.

So I started listening to the different ways people worded things and tried to pick up on it, and make my characters’ voices sound more unique.  To this day, I honestly don’t really know how well I did, but it was an important thing to do, listening to people talk, I think.  And it gave me an interesting skill, too.  I’m pretty good at telling when a character—or a even a real person—doesn’t sound like themselves.

Making characters sound different doesn’t have to be real drastic.  This doesn’t mean dropping all contractions for a regal character, or adding an accent that makes the words unpronounceable, or using “thee” and “thou”.  Not that you can’t do those things, but you don’t use that to make them sound unique.  (I do have a character that doesn’t use any contractions.  It sounds really awkward and stilted, so I wouldn’t recommend it.  But she’s a computer, so I can get away with it, I think.)

Instead, you do it in small ways.  This is like the difference between saying “How are you?” and “What’s up?”  Or when someone calls your name, I’ve heard people respond with “What?” and some respond with “Yeah?” Or even “Huh?”  Or the difference between saying the full “I don’t know” versus “I dunno”.

On the opposite note, as important as it is to make characters have unique voices, it’s also important, I think, to make sure that the characters still all sound like they belong to the same world and that they all fit with your writing style.  I’ve honestly never had a character say “What’s up?” because I never say that.  The phrase never honestly actually crosses my mind.  (Probably doesn’t help that my favorite way to respond to that question is to just smartly report whatever happens to be above my head at the time.  Nobody’s asked me what’s up in a long time, hehe…)

And also.  People tend to talk like whoever they hang around with the most.  So many times I’ve said something, and then thought that I sounded like a friend of mine or even one of my siblings.  It happens.  So remember that with characters.

So to conclude this post, here’s a random dialogue prompt that…sort of relates to this topic.

See, it relates!  Because manners can affect how somebody speaks, right?

Those Pesky Things We Call Tears

A friend recently asked me if I cried while writing sad scenes, and she brought up a quote by Robert Frost.

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.  No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.

So her question was basically, “Is it bad that I don’t cry while writing?  And can I be a good author if I don’t cry while writing?”

The short answer is—no and yes.  The long answer is…well, that’s what this post is.

I feel emotions differently while reading than I feel them while writing.  I’m not completely sure if that’s just me, or if it’s a normal thing, but I do.  For example.  I’m a pretty emotional person.  I cried over the end of Ender’s Game, and I’m not sure that’s really the kind of ending you typically…cry over.  It also took me like two months before I got a grip on my emotions after reading The Book Thief.  (And that is why I will never watch the movie.  If it’s as good as I hear it is, I’ll spend another two months crying and…well.  No thank you.)

But I have never cried while writing, not as far as I can remember.  I’ve gotten awfully sad over something, but I’ve never, while writing, had actual tears come out.

See, the key is that you feel the emotions.  I feel the emotions.  Once, I was writing, and my dad asked me if I was mad at the computer.  I blinked at him, completely confused by the question, and then realized I was in the middle of writing an argument between two characters and I had been giving my monitor the death glare.  And the other day, I added a chapter into my WIP, and as I was writing, I could feel the emotions of my MC so strongly that it literally left me speechless.  And if you know me, “speechlessness” rarely happens unless I’m really flustered.  So.

Think about the other emotions you can write, too. You don’t have to necessarily laugh yourself hoarse when you tell a joke to make your reader do it. You can definitely get away with just a small grin at the joke. (I mean, unless you’re me. I have the kind of humor that I find more humorous than everybody else, so I laugh the hardest at my own jokes. Which I sometimes feel bad about, and sometimes don’t.) And you don’t have to be giving your computer a death glare like I did just for the reader to feel the character’s anger. You could just maybe feel ever so slightly annoyed.

I have to admit to something here.  Sometimes, when I’m writing, I feel whatever my protagonist feels…but sometimes, I just feel like that big ol’ evil author person.  My brothers have informed me that I have a grin that seems to be reserved specifically for when I’m doing something torturous to a character.  (And a quick disclaimer: I don’t enjoy putting my characters into scrapes necessarily.  I enjoy watching them struggle because I enjoy watching them get out of it and watching them grow.  Plus, torturing my potential future readers and my alphas/betas is definitely a bonus.)

Feeling “evil” isn’t necessarily going to get the right emotion into a scene.  I can’t say there won’t be any emotion at all—I really don’t know, to be honest—but if you’re really trying to get a specific emotion, that won’t do it.

The question then becomes how to feel the emotion instead of the…well, evilness.

I’ve found I just have to make myself feel the right emotion for a reason other than whatever’s making the protagonist feel that emotion.  If I want to write a sad scene, I can play sad music, remember my uncle who’s no longer of this earth, and think of that one time my c—um, never mind, let’s not finish that thought.  If I want to feel afraid, I’ll remember exactly the way I felt when we were being evacuated because of the fire.  And so on.  It can even work with happier emotions.  Make yourself feel the emotion, and then write it.

That’s what I do, anyway.

How do I know if it worked?  Well, I give it to one of my betas, and ask them if they felt the emotions.  That’s about the only way I’ve ever been able to tell if I could write emotions well or not.  (In fact, there have been a few times where somebody’s told me that the emotions in a piece were great, and I’m just sitting here thinking, “…really?  I was afraid it had sucked” because I didn’t really feel it myself while rereading it.)

So to sum all of this up.  Do you have to  cry while writing?  No.  The key is that you feel the emotions. The extent of the emotion, and in what way you express it, is up to the individual writer. And reader.

How about for the rest of you?  How do you write emotions in a piece, and how do you know if you got it right?