8 Tips For When You’ve Hit A Wall

Photo by Fares Hamouche

Writers get writer’s block for all sorts of reasons. There is but one cause, however.

Fear.

That tricky little bastard doesn’t always show up with that face. It can disguise itself as all sorts of problems, and sometimes you don’t even view its disguise as a problem. Take for example family. It doesn’t exactly seem like a problem because you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Taking care of the people you love. The problem with this is you usually forget to take care of yourself.

Don’t get me wrong–there are times life gets in the way. Emergencies happen. New babies happen. Finals in school happen. You should forgive yourself for literally not having the time to write on some occasions. I didn’t pick up a pen for the first 6 months of my son’s life. Single moming to a new baby was time consuming, and my sleep-deprived brain couldn’t possibly handle the effort it would take to write.

Falling off the wagon is easy, and honestly, it’s normal. What’s not normal is forever giving up your passion because life is happening because news flash: life is always going to happen.

Fear is primal. It’s instinctual. It’s a part of our evolution. It’s supposed to be there, and everyone feels it. The trick is to recognize it for what it is and not let it hold you back.

Tip # 1. Describe your proverbial wall.

Photo by Dave Webb

No, seriously. Describe it. Is it brick? Cement? Stone blocks? Does it have a pattern? Is it made of sheep’s wool? (it’s safe to say I’ve been playing too much Minecraft with my boy.) The point here is to get your creative juices flowing. Describe that wall in detail, down to the cracks and discoloring. I’m assuming it’s been erected for a bit now if you’re here.

Envision what it’s going to take to break it down. Try out a couple tools. Write how hammering it with a pillow does nothing, but you’re seeing some damage with the pickax.

That didn’t work? Okay, tip # 2.

Tip # 2: Dig deep.

Sometimes the only way around a wall is to go under it. Forget about describing the wall. This next exercise involves journaling. Start with the sentence “Why can’t I write?” then state your reasons. Next, think of ways to solve those problems. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family or friends you trust to help carve out time for something equally as important.

These solutions still seem daunting? Write about the worst thing that could happen if you took time to write. Now write about the best thing that could happen if you took time to write. Compare results with a keen eye and see where the probability lies. Chances are, the world will not fall apart if you take the time.

Journaling is therapeutic. It’s listening to yourself as you would listen to the problems of your friends. A lot of people don’t do it, and they are honestly missing out. It’s easy for your mind to go to the worst thing that could happen when you faced your fear, but I recently read a book that talked about taking it to the next level. Deciding what the best thing that could happen if you faced your fear. It was game-changing.

Didn’t help kick start you? Next.

Tip # 3: Edit

Open up your manuscript and go to your favorite or least favorite scene. Read the one before that to know where you are, and then edit that next scene. Don’t worry about how good it is. The point here is to get you back to the story.

Nope, not yet?

Tip # 4: Inspiriation.

Photo by Hello I’m Nik 🇬🇧 

You started that story because something about it interested you. It set your soul on fire. Write a paragraph summary. If you want to keep going, do it. Let your inspiration take you. If your muse doesn’t show up, move on for now.

Tip # 5: Research

Every good story needs some level of research. This ties into tip 4. Your muse may visit again if you do some research on your topic. Read the good, the bad, and the ugly. Let yourself feel as you read. You’ll probably pick up some other ideas for your story, and that is the point. As soon as you feel it, write a small scene around that piece of research. Look at pictures, too. Pictures invoke our creativity and you never know. You could end up using that scene as one in your story. In fact, try writing a scene with that picture.

If that didn’t work, well…you know what I’m about to say.

Tip # 6: Practice stories.

Many people call them fan fiction, but I like to call them practice stories. Pick your favorite book and put yourself in it. Just start writing. The author did the hard work for you, and remember there is no pressure. No one ever has to read it (in fact, I keep my practice stories in a file labeled as top secret. I don’t want those babies getting out!)

Tip # 7: Rest

Photo by Kate Stone Matheson 

Every night as I’m trying to fall asleep, I think about my characters and my story. This sets my writer brain up for incoming ideas. Go over stuff you’ve already written or you already know. Let scenes play in your head. Something big pops up, write it down, otherwise, see what you come up with the next morning. This works for naps, too, if you can fit that sort of thing in.

A study done in 2010 found that deep REM sleep improved creativity and memory. Sleep improves our abilities to make connections. I don’t know about you, but when I have one of those “aha” moments during writing, I’ll do anything to have it again. Best. Material. Ever.

Tip # 8: Read

Reading is probably what inspired you to write. Sometimes I felt as if I’d waste my writing time by reading, so I changed my perspective of it. Reading is another way of practicing. It’s now part of my product time. Not all writers read (astonishingly) but chances are, you’re a reader.

The important thing isn’t how you get back to writing, but that you do. My main tip is to be careful with yourself. Be forgiving. You are only human. Writing isn’t a job, but it is hard. Even the best writers hit walls. I seem to hit a wall around the 75% mark without fail. Know that the one thing standing in your way is you. Thank your fear, but tell it it’s time for it to get in the back seat and let your creativity have the passenger. You’ve got places to go.

Check out my Writer’s Block Series for additional help.

Let us know in the comments below what you do when you hit a wall!

Kayla Reeder is an aspiring author. She studies Creative Writing at SNHU. She resides in central PA with her toddler son and little dog.



5 Writer Challenges

Have you ever questioned the old proverb “misery loves company”? How in the world do you feel better when someone else feels as poorly as you do?

Because you’re human.

Humans have an innate need for social connection and often seek what is familiar. We seek ways to alleviate our feelings, and the best way to do that is by finding people who understand.

Writing is a lonely business. For the most part, writers spend hours on end by themselves. We seek other writers who understand our challenges relating to our writing process.

All writers have their strengths and weaknesses. Let’s take a look at 5 ways writers struggle with their work, and the solutions.

5 Writer Challenges

  • Plot Development
  • Time Management
  • Characters
  • Dialogue
  • Perfectionism

Plot Development

Photo by You X Ventures

Writers are finding several issues accompanying their plots. Some find their entire books happening in the first few pages. They have no idea how to slow it down enough to fill up the rest of their books. Some struggle with certain parts of the story, such as a dragging middle. Some find their entire book is dragging.

Solution:

If you struggle with Dramatic Structure, pick a structure and get familiar with it. Plot your points and base the rest of your work around those. You don’t have to get detailed with plotting, but even I, a pantser, do minimal plotting. My work is better for it.

If you find episodic narrative in your work, cut it. That means unless the day-to-day small stuff is important to plot, delete it from your story. This usually helps with an entire book dragging. What also helps is looking at how many subplots you have. While there is no exact formula for how many subplots you can have, if it doesn’t enhance your plot, cut it. You’ll find there may be things your characters do that don’t enhance your plot. Cut those, too, no matter how much you love them.

If you find your middle dragging, divide it into two sections, making your 3-act structure a 4-act structure. It’ll help you see things more clearly. This is another place where you can cut what doesn’t enhance the plot.

If you find your entire book happening in a few scenes, consider making it a short story or flash fiction piece. Some work isn’t meant to be a full-length novel. Nothing wrong with that.

Time Management

Photo by NeONBRAND

Perhaps you, like many writers, find yourself surfing the web while it’s product time. Maybe you’re on day 20 of research without having written a single word. Or, maybe you can’t stop editing what you do write, getting you very, very, very slowly to the end of your work. Then, you have straight-up procrastination.

Solution

The best solutions I can offer you for time management comes as a three-fold. One: Limit your distractions. Turn off the internet if you have to.

Two: When you’re supposed to be writing, then write. I know, if it were that easy, time management wouldn’t be a thing. Even if you only can fit in ten minutes, trust that the world won’t (probably) fall apart in that time, and everything else can wait. Tell your brain there is a time and place for all other thoughts, but this isn’t that time. Yes, this takes practice.

Three: Forgive yourself for wasting time. If you’re hard on yourself, you’ll feel guilty. Guilt turns off your creative brain. You literally have no time for guilt. Just get yourself back on track.

As for too much editing and research, know that your story won’t be perfect the first couple drafts. Try to relax and just tell the story you’d tell your friends. Research is super fun, and for me, it lasts the entire writing process. How I navigate seemingly endless research is to use placeholders and leave comments to myself while focused on writing.

Procrastinating…it’s truly an art. It doesn’t make you lazy to procrastinate. It makes you human. Usually, procrastination stems from fear of the thing you’re procrastinating. Dig deep into this and figure out what you’re afraid of. Then #ffear and get writing.

Characters

Photo by GMax Studios

Characters are important to your story, especially if it’s character-driven. Find that you have perfect characters? Flat characters? Too many of the same characters? Not enough of a cast? Too much of a cast?

Solutions:

Give your characters real flaws. These flaws should get in their way constantly. The flaws don’t always have to relate to the lie your character believes, but at least one should. Look back at their childhoods and see what traumatic events could shape a flaw. Then use the hell out of it to create conflict. This goes for both perfect and flat characters. Dig deep into their psyche to figure out who they are. Make a list of possible flaws and choose some.

When you find that you have too many of the same characters, it helps to combine some of them into one or two characters. That also goes for too much cast. Remember that the more characters you have, the more chances you have of confusing a reader. A confused reader is not a good thing. Don’t do it.

If you think you don’t have enough cast, think hard about it. There is no formula for how many characters you need. You can have one character if it means your story gets told. If you think it’s important to add some, think of character types that help advance your plot or main characters. Don’t add random ones.

Check out the posts on character building.

Dialogue

Photo by Toa Heftiba

A lot of writers find they are either really good at dialogue, or pretty bad at it. It’s definitely something easy to get wrong. Dialogue is one of the best tools you have in your writing arsenal, and if not used carefully, it can ruin your work.

Writers find they have flat dialogue or a simple exchange bit. Too realistic dialogue is also a huge problem. Other problems include: being formal all the time, glaring dialogue tags, no dialogue tags, phonetic spelling, too much or no narrative, using names too often, summarizing important dialogue, and the opposite, writing out everything.

Solutions

Use silence to create conflict. If your character asks a difficult question or gives a difficult statement, either have the other character use silence or try to change the subject. This also ties into the simple exchange bit (on the nose). Don’t have characters ask questions and then give an answer right away. People don’t talk like that.

Speaking of how people talk, skip the interrupters. The “um” “ers” and stutters, for the most part. Some exchanges call for them but cut when possible. Try not to have your characters be too formal, though, unless it’s part of that character’s personality. Keep in mind that people also speak differently based on who they are talking to. Talking to a spouse will be different than talking to an officer who has just pulled you over.

Using the tag “said” is best for most cases, though feel free to mix it up from time to time. Readers will skip the word said, and that’s what you want. You don’t want them to be pulled from the story because of an obtrusive dialogue tag.

For instance, don’t say:

“I hate you!” she screamed.

The exclamation point says it all. Even better than ‘said’ is using action tags instead of dialogue tags. Example:

John lit his cigarette, his gaze level on Steph,. “I hate you.”

In most cases, you’d never place an action in the same paragraph as someone else’s dialogue so this wouldn’t confuse the reader.

Phonic spelling gets to be a problem when it draws your reader from your work. Use it sparingly. Use narrative to enhance your dialogue, and dialogue to enhance your narrative. It’s all about balance. Skip characters using other character’s names unless it’s for emphasis.

Check out more dialogue tips.

Perfectionism

Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN

Going back to what I said in the plot section. Your first few drafts won’t be perfect. Train your brain to have a switch. There is a time for editing, and it’s not during your first few drafts.

Save your neurotic tendencies for your last draft, and even then, remember the goal is to move forward, not be stuck.

10 Tips for Self-Care

With NaNoWriMo approaching, I wanted to talk about self-care. To not get burned out, you have to have coping strategies. I asked a few of my writing groups (Fiction Writing, Inner Circle Writers’ Group, Zombie Pirate Publishing Writers Group, and Creative Fiction Writing) what they practiced for self-care and wanted to share their answers with you. First, let’s take a look at what self-care is.

“Self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.”
― Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

What is self-care?

Self-care is the act of giving your soul what it needs to replenish. It’s different for everyone, as what works for one person may not work for another, so keep that in mind as you try new ways. Self-care is important for all walks of life, not just writers. Creating art is not what makes you creative. What makes self-care a universal necessity is creativity is deeply woven into the fabric of human nature. Regardless of passion or profession, we are all creative.

Without art, we’re not human. –Augustín Fuentes

Self-care is a habit, which means that even if you claim you don’t have time for it, you can make time. New habits form all the time. The good news is, you don’t have to devote hours to it daily. All you need is 15 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week. See where in your schedule you can fit it in. Get off social media for 15 minutes, fit it in during your children’s naps, on the bus during your way to work, or anywhere else you can.

Types of self-care

There are 5 common types of self-care. Depending on what type of person you are depends on which one you focus on the most, though it’s a good idea to try meeting all of them.

  • Physical
  • Spiritual
  • Social
  • Emotional
  • Mental

10 Tips on self-care

As I stated before, you have to find what works for you. Here are some of the ways fellow members use self-care.

  • Journaling
  • Exercise
  • Creative play
  • Meditation
  • Video games
  • Reading
  • Free writing
  • Yoga
  • Getting off electronics for a bit
  • Eating the right foods

#1: Sleep

Photo by Kate Stone Matheson

As you probably guessed, sleep is important. A good night (or day, depending on your schedule) of sleep can help you reduce stress, improve your memory, help regulate your metabolism, boost your immune system, lower your blood pressure, help your focus, and among other benefits, keep you in a good mood.

#2: Healthy eating

Photo by Adam Śmigielski

You may be surprised to learn the connection between stress and food. More specifically, the connection between stress and your gut. As you know, the brain is in charge of all things emotional and behavioral. Yet, your gut sends some of those signals through neurotransmitters. This is called the gut-brain axis. Can you guess what it’s also connected to?

The immune system, which you probably also know can be affected by stress.

Eat good foods to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Check out healthline for a small list of things you can eat to live a healthy lifestyle and read about the gut-brain axis.

#3: Exercise

Photo by Bruno Nascimento

As with healthy eating, exercise helps reduce stress, anxiety, and depression by the release of feel-good endorphins. A good routine can keep your energy up, keep you fit, and keep you writing.

#4: Journal

Photo by Aaron Burden

You know how we make others feel better by listening to what they have to say? The same applies to you with yourself. Journaling is nothing more than giving yourself attention. See how much more clear-headed you are after a few minutes of journaling.

#5: Spend time with yourself.

Photo by BhAvik SuThar

Just as it’s important to listen to yourself, it’s important to give yourself quality time with, well, yourself. Take yourself on a date, treat yourself to a massage, to dinner, to a movie.

#6: Be Grateful

Photo by Brigitte Tohm

Give thanks, especially for the small things. When you’re having a bad day, stop for a moment and thank the universe (or whichever higher power you believe in) for the current weather, no matter what the weather is like. Rain makes stuff grow, sunshine spreads warmth, storms show power, snow is beautiful. Be grateful for family, for being like them or having the strength to be different. Be grateful for lessons and gifts.

#7: Keep records

Photo by Hope House Press – Leather Diary Studio 

Write down the good things that happened. When you have bad days, you’ll have material to make you happy. Keep track of your goals and priorities, as well. They don’t have to be large ones, and checking off ones you’ve met will give you a boost of confidence.

#8: Get out of your comfort zone

Photo by Tomáš Vydržal

Do what you’re afraid to do. These are often the most worthwhile memory makers. Do what terrifies you like it’s your last day on earth.

#9: Be forgiving

Photo by Felix Koutchinski

Yes, of others, but mostly yourself. Forgive yourself for mistakes, for expectations (yours and what other people think for you), for acting out of character, for not achieving your goals right away.

#10: Say NO

Photo by Andy T

If it doesn’t serve your priorities and goals, say no. You have enough on your plate without doing a ton of favors for others. No need to stretch yourself so thin that you don’t have enough time for what really matters, including self-care. “No” can be a hard thing to say, but you know what? It can also be easy.

One last note: self-care and self-medication are not the same things. One is healthy, one is ignoring what your subconscious is trying to tell you. If you’re struggling, reach out to someone you trust, whether it’s a friend, family member, or health professional. As someone who struggled with substance abuse (which isn’t just drugs), I personally know things can get better.

What do you do for self-care? Leave a comment below!

The Inciting Incident and Key Event

I find a lot of writers aren’t clear on what the inciting incident is, and in those cases, they’ve seldom heard of the Key Event. Both are plot points in the Dramatic Structure, and both usually occur in the first act. It’s possible that the inciting incident occurs before story-time, or at the beginning, but before we get too confused, let’s define exactly what each point is.

Inciting Incident

Photo by John Cameron

The Inciting Incident is plot-related. If you’re a Star Wars nerd, you’ll remember where Princess Leia sends R2-D2 and C3-PO away with plans and a call for help. That’s considered the Inciting Incident. Or when the games are announced on The Hunger Games. The main conflict in your story hasn’t affected the MC yet, but that’s a job for the Key Event.

Key Event

Photo by Markus Spiske

The Key Event is character-related and draws your MC into the plot, oftentimes smacking them in the face. Luke and his uncle’s purchase of R2-D2 and C3-PO draws him into the main conflict, even if he doesn’t know it yet. When Katniss volunteers in her sister’s place is her key event. That one is a bit more in-your-face.

Where do they belong?

Photo by Jacob Miller

As I said, the inciting incident can take place before story-time, such as the setup up the games long before Katniss. This is just a moment where the reader tastes what’s to come. The choice is yours where in the first act you wish to place it, but it often comes before the key event.

The key event takes place half way through the first act, around the 12% mark.

Keep in mind that the Dramatic Structure is more of a guideline than a hard-fast rule. You need to do whatever is best for your story, and if you trust yourself, you’ll often find you put them right where they need to be.

Humans have an innate drive for story-telling, and it’s often only when we overthink it do we mess it up. Also, keep in mind that it all depends where your story starts. If you have no set-up of the ordinary world, you’ll find your two plot points will happen sooner.

My suggestion is to plan them in advance, regardless of where you start. You’ll often go back and change the beginning anyhow. As long as you know what they are, you’re good.

Comment below your favorite inciting incidents and key events!

Writer’s Block: Fear On Steroids.

Photo by Joe Beck

Imagine you’re a new blogger, and your blog is super important to your Author Platform. It’s one of the things that’s going to make agents and publishers notice you. It’s what’s going to start your reader base. It’s what’s going to make or break your career. You have to build it from the ground up, build it out of nothing, and hope you don’t fail. Because if you do, there goes your whole career.

It’s probably not that serious, but in this day and age, it’s pretty important to have an Author Platform. The point is that your anxiety probably rose a bit when you imagined all that pressure building over a blog.

You’ve probably felt it while writing a draft. You probably sat back and thought, “I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing and no one will be interested in a single thing I write.”

And then, poof, you can’t write. Not a single word. You stare at the blank page, maybe delete or scratch out whatever you did write. Devastation follows, self-loathing, depression, the whole works, because of one sentence. One feeling. But, probably a feeling you’ve felt far too many times, and not just in your writing life.

That is fear on steroids.

I promise there are ways to beat this feeling. As we all know, though, we are different people and what works for me may not work for you. We do have one main thing in common, though.

We can change how we think.

Use it or lose it.

Photo by Natasha Connell

First, it’s important to understand the brain. Scientists used to think that our neural pathways (basically a “signal path”) were set by our mid-twenties, never to change. They recently discovered this isn’t the case.

In fact, the opposite is true.

Brains have amazing neuroplasticity, which is the ability to reorganize those signal paths based on experiences.

It’s why some people who were abused or fought in wars develop PTSD. I developed it after domestic violence. It’s also why psychotherapy works (at least for me). Negative experiences can shape our brain, but if we work at it, we can intentionally shape it, too.

Bottom line is: you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Habits

Photo by Natasha Connell

Think of neural pathways like hiking trails. The more you travel a particular trail, the more defined it becomes. If we stop hiking a trail and start another one, the old one starts to grow back and the new one becomes well traveled instead. The strength of neural pathways depends on how much we work at a particular skill. It becomes easier the more we do it (habit).

The great part is that neuroplasticity helps in cases of brain injury. It takes neurons from damaged pathways and helps us cope in new ways, strengthening less used pathways or creating new ones. Like building muscles, it takes time. Takes resiliency. Takes stubbornness.

Which leads me back to changing how we think.

Self-Care

Photo by Jared Rice

We’ve all been guilty of self-sabotage, and being downright mean to ourselves. Let me be the first to say this doesn’t help out creativity. It dries it out, among a whole bunch of other psychological problems.

Ask yourself this: would you be so cruel to someone else as you are to yourself?

If the answer is no, then why treat yourself this way? (If the answer is yes, please do some soul searching. The world has enough ugly.)

You’re so busy trying to be perfect at everything you do, it’s easy to forget to take care of yourself. There is no greater gift than the ability to love yourself, and it’ll do wonders for your creativity.

One of my rules now is I don’t call myself names, not even when I’m so frustrated with myself and my inability to write that I could give up. I also try to not use definitive words when I talk about myself and my actions. “Never” and “always” are not in my vocab. (I’m still trying to reassign those neural pathways, so you’ll catch me still using them from time to time).

Say out loud, “I’m never going to be a good writer”. How does that make you feel? What happened to your mood? Now say with a little attitude, “I am a good writer!” Did it pick you back up?

As I stated, neural pathways aren’t redirected overnight. It takes time, practice, and patience. When you catch yourself being negative, correct yourself. Be nicer to yourself. Be the little engine that could. Shove the fear and negativity off the back of the train. You are worth it. What you’re writing becomes worth it with practice. No one can say things as you can.

Self-care is incredibly important if you want to live a healthy life. Without it, it can truly make or break you.

Training neural pathways is one way to beat writer’s block. Working on being positive will pay off. It’ll change your life.

Some times, losing it is positive, if you’re losing the negativity.

Kayla Reeder is an aspiring author. She studies Creative Writing at SNHU, with a minor in Psychology. She resides in central PA with her toddler son and little dog.

7 Dialogue Tips: What We Do Say

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Would you believe that only 18% of the population favors assertiveness? That means 82% of the population favor a more passive approach. That’s a whole lot of miscommunication and pent up emotion. How did it get this way?

I mentioned in another post on characters that our upbringing has a lot to do with who we are today. This goes for the things we say and don’t say. Our culture is geared more toward collectivism that started the day we entered school.

How a person was raised will affect the way they speak. Where they were raised will affect which words they choose. Even their gender will affect how they speak. Good dialogue is hard to write. My top suggestions are to know your characters and save the fluff.

If the dialogue doesn’t move the plot forward or show character, leave it out. In my other post about dialogue, I explained about the unspoken content, but in the following tips, you’ll learn how to use what characters do say the right way.

Fluffy doesn’t belong here.

Photo by Matthew Henry

You want your dialogue to be natural, and a good way to make this happen is to listen to other people speaking to one another. you’ll notice the way words flow, how different people speak, even if they are from the same area, but you’ll also notice the fluff.

The dreary niceties. Small talk, stammering (unless part of your character’s voice, and even then, don’t overwhelm us), repetition. Fluff is the stuff that doesn’t belong in dialogue.

Voice

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo

Each character should have their own voice. A good way to check this is to write a scene without dialogue tags. If you can make this work in the book, fantastic, but stick to practicing it before you include any. If your characters all speak alike and you can’t tell who is speaking, go back to work. Knowing your characters will help improve your character voices.

Dialect

Dialect and voice tie in, but I wanted to touch on this. Feel free to add a few sparse pieces of dialect to begin with, but don’t overdo it. We only need hints–odd words native to where they come from, the way they put sentences together, action tags, so forth. If you don’t hit us over the head with dialect, we won’t have to reread your dialogue. Thus, interrupting the flow of your work.

Dialogue as tension

Dialogue is a powerful tool if used correctly. One of the best things it can do is raise the tension instantly. It can enhance the mood of the scene (also enhancing conflict when applicable). People rarely say what they mean, so dialogue is a simple way to create misunderstandings.

Preach to me

Photo by Nycholas Benaia

When the author inserts himself/herself into the narrative or dialogue. You’re forcing your theme or central idea on the reader and it shows. You’ve got something you want to say in your work, and that’s perfectly fine, but show the reader, don’t shove it down their throat with pure telling.

Mixing it up

As I’ve said, dialogue is hard. Another mistake newbies make is to rely on dialogue alone. Dialogue is to enhance the narrative, not take its place. Take a look at my other post about dialogue here.

Tag–you’re it

A lot of writers think that it’s repetitive to use the tag “said” but in actuality, we prefer it. That’s not to say that you can’t use other tags, but be wary of tags that repeat what your character just said or the punctuation you just used to end the dialogue line. In the case of a question mark, it is okay to use “asked” but you could easily use “said”, as well. No need to use “yelled” when there is an exclamation point. (Also, use exclamation points sparingly). When you choose to use another adverb as a tag, be sure it’s a strong one.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list. Good dialogue is difficult to write, but hopefully these tips will get you on the right path. Leave a comment below about other dialogue tips you’ve come across. Enjoy!

5 Tips On Brilliant Book Covers

I see thousands of books every day, all day long. There are those ones that automatically grab me. I must have this book just because I like the cover and it was in my preferred genre. I won’t even read the blurb on the back. Then there are the ones that I’ll walk past a dozen times while working, and it’ll continue to catch my eye. Those are the ones I’ll take a minute to read the blurb.

It makes me often wonder how many good books I’ve passed up because I didn’t have enough time and the cover didn’t catch my attention. Sadly, that happens all too often. In the ever-changing, fast world we live in, your cover is your first weapon.

Make it pop

Photo by Sharon Pittaway

I’ve talked before about color psychology in a recent post. Color Psychology is defined as the study of hues as a determinant of human behavior. This means that when our reptilian brain processes a color, we feel an emotion. It varies from person to person, but if we can see color, we feel it.

Fun fact:  The Egyptians and Chinese used colors to heal, a process that is known as chromotherapy 

Satyendra Singh did a study to see how color affected marketing. The results were that 70% of people made up their minds in less than 2 minutes. What your book cover looks like plays a huge part in that decision.

Contrast matters, too, and helps the cover pop.

Don’t Crowd

Photo by Karen Lau

Sometimes too much is just too much. Your cover doesn’t have to be super simple, but don’t overwhelm your reader by having it too busy. Remember: less is more.

Typography

Your font matters. Research what others are doing for the specific genre to see what works and what doesn’t. It might look cool to you, but to those who are trying to figure out the name of your book, it might get frustrating.

Keep it true to genre

Photo by Saffu

This means, in its basics, that you want your readers to tell what sort of genre it is by the cover. You certainly wouldn’t put a murder scene on a romance novel cover.

Size matters

Photo by Saffu

Ask anyone with sight problems: there is almost nothing more frustrating than trying to read something that’s too small. If your reader has to get a magnifying glass to tell what your book’s title is, your font is too small.

Tell us what your favorite book covers are in the comments below!

10 Dialogue tips: What We Don’t Say

10 Dialogue tips: What We Don’t Say

According to Paulette Gillig, nonverbal signals make up 60-65% of our daily communication. That’s more than half, my fellow symbol jotters. Most of these nonverbal signals are unconscious, meaning that we don’t think about them, and aren’t always aware we’re conveying them.

In writing, we often hear “show, don’t tell” and body language (aka, nonverbal signals) are one of the best ways to do that. Though you can certainly revise, plan what your character’s nonverbal skills are when creating them.

Take a look at your current work-in-progress. I just did, and holy moly, the amount of “sighed” and “smiled” and “raised an eyebrow” was enough to make me cringe. (Cringing was also overused.) Do you find you overuse your own go-to’s, as well? Let’s dig into nonverbal communication so we can make our writing more authentic.

Context

Photo by James Douglas

When writing nonverbal signals, we have to remember context. In real life, you wouldn’t assume someone is lying because they can’t meet your eyes. You have to look at the bigger picture because there are many of reasons that someone wouldn’t meet your eyes while speaking, though lying is one of them.

Context to consider:

  • Environment- where is the character and who is the character around?
  • Usual demeanor- how does this character typically behave?
  • Nonverbal communication of others present- how is this character picking up on others around them?

The Magic Number 10

  • Facial expressions
  • Microexpressions
  • Gestures
  • Paralinguistics
  • Posture
  • Proxemics
  • Eye Gaze
  • Haptics
  • Appearance
  • Artifacts

Facial Expressions

We all know basic facial expressions and can usually read them quite easily. We can tell when a person is happy, sad, mad, or bored based on how their faces are contorted.

Microexpressions

Microexpressions are voluntary and involuntary emotional responses that often occur simultaneously and conflict with each other. The amygdala processes stimuli and then the person quickly tries to hide the reaction. Think of someone flinching and then straightening their shoulders to show they aren’t phased.

Gestures

Photo by Hannah Busing

Gestures are cultural, but they are some of the clearest ways for us to decode how a person is feeling. Be sure when using gestures, they are true to your character’s culture. For example, some Native Americans will not use finger pointing to draw attention to someone else. It’s rude.

Paralinguistics

Paralinguistics refer to vocal communication. Think tone of voice, pitch, inflection, and loudness. Someone saying “I love you” for the first time will be different than if those same words are said in desperation to keep a relationship going.

Posture

Photo by Alexandre Lecocq

Open posture indicates friendliness, whereas closed posture indicates hostility or anxiety. Posture tells us a lot about how a person is feeling as well as can indicate a demeanor. Think military style.

Proxemics

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez

Anthropologist Edward T. Hall discovered meaning behind the distance between people as they interact. Four levels to be exact.

  • Intimate distance— 6 to 18 inches
  • Personal distance— 1.5 to 4 feet
  • Social distance— 4 to 12 feet
  • Public distance— 12 to 25 feet

Imagine that a couple dating are close, touching, but around the possibly-someday in-laws, there are at least 4 feet between them. (Note: this will differ in cultures so do your research if needed)

Eye Gaze

Excuse me for this cliche, but the eyes are the window into the soul. Cool, you say, but no one really ever explained how. Fear not, I’m going to remedy that!

Imagine you’re in a conversation, and the other person makes eye contact. Naturally, you assume the person is interested in what you have to say. Too much eye contact, and you may feel this person is a bit intimidating. What kind of monster stares at you for so long?!

Or the other person looks away. Are they even listening? What else has their attention? Are they uncomfortable or trying to hide how they really feel?

Blinking incessantly is another tricky one. Or, for that matter, not blinking enough. Uncomfortable people tend to blink more, where people who are trying to control their eye movements blink less. (Think poker face.)

Pupil size can actually convey attraction or interest. Next time you’re flirting, pay attention to their growing pupils.

Haptics

Haptics is communication via touch. This is another one of those culture-sensitive things. Think someone who is offering sympathy. They might reach out to lay their hand over someone else’s or hug them. People also use haptics as displays of aggression. Someone in a fight might shove another person to get them to back off.

Appearance

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as color psychology. Research shows that what a person wears not only says something about their personality but also can affect someone else’s mood. I like to wear blue because it makes me feel calm, but it also has the same effect on others. People also experience synesthesia (one sense is simultaneously perceived as if by one or more additional senses. Think Taste the Rainbow.)

This brings me to a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading by Dr. Joel Salinas called Mirror Touch.

Artifacts

This fits into appearance, but also includes images since we are in an ever-growing digital world. Notice my header picture is of a feather and this blog is about writing. Doctors wear scrubs. Police Officers wear uniforms. All these artifacts tell us something nonverbal about the person connected to them.

There you have it, fellow symbol jotters. Take these 10 nonverbal signals into account when writing dialogue. Remember, conflict is plot. Don’t be afraid to rely on all the things we don’t say.

Take a look at the other character building posts in the series.

Characters: How Beliefs Shape Reality

Characters: The Lie They Believe

Characters: Getting in their head: Part One

Fun reads and research

Nonverbal Communication in Psychotherapy

Understanding Body Language and Facial Expressions

Types of Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal communication speaks volumes

Nonverbal Communication

https://www.silentcommunication.org/

Non-Verbal Communication in Writing

Cheat Sheets For Writing Body Language

What are some of your go-to nonverbal signals? Leave a comment below!

Characters: The Lie They Believe

Photo by Mike Erskine

Humans crave stories because it makes us feel as if we have control over the world. There are scientific benefits to reading fiction, according to Joseph Carroll at the University of Missouri-St Louis. He states that “It teaches us about other people and it’s a practice in empathy and theory of mind.”

More than that, there has been research done to see how reading or hearing stories affect our brains. The amygdala and medial prefrontal cortex are activated during these times, increasing cognitive thought that lets us empathize with other people.

The key to empathizing with other people is the use of themes in stories. Themes tie in with the lie your character believes, and often can’t be torn apart because this theme creates the plot. It creates the point of your story.

The Lie

Photo by Marc Kleen

A good way to define the theme of your story is to look at the lie your character believes, and vice-versa. Most characters have a change-arc, whether it’s a positive arc or a negative arc. There is a huge lie they’ve believed most of their life, and it’s affected every choice they’ve ever made, large and small scale.

It’s hella (I’ve always wanted to use that word) important to make sure your character’s false belief ties into the theme into a hella way (Okay, that’s out of my system).

Most of us have a lie we believe in real life. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • We are unworthy of love
  • We are bad
  • We are better than others
  • Relationships will always turn out badly
  • Marriage is a scam
  • You can’t trust anyone
  • You don’t need anyone

Check out K.M. Weiland’s site for more on the lie, and a few more examples.

The lie your character believes is just that…a belief. Now, not all characters have a changing arc, but the majority do. They start off believing something, a flaw or a downright lie they were once told about themselves, regardless of how well off they are or how happy they seem to be.

It’s the little voice in the back of their head telling them they can’t do it, or they don’t deserve it. Your character will kick in scream their way out of change because change is uncomfortable. It’s scary. They’d rather believe their lie than go through the growth it’ll take to change.

And it’ll stop them from achieving their biggest plot goal.

Chances are, your character won’t see their lie as a lie. If it were that easy, they’d have attempted to change it long before the story-time, knowing it held them back. It’s a coping mechanism, something felt deep inside to keep them safe. They’re going to hang onto it by the teeth if they must.

Without the Lie, there is no story;

K.M Weiland

It’ll take the experiences your character is going to have throughout the rest of the book for them to confront their lie and therefore, confront the antag. Or not. In negative arc changes, the character fails at confronting their lie, and losing their fight with the antag. Or the lie gets bigger.

The lie teaches the reader something. Not in a preachy way, but humans crave stories with lessons they can relate to, that makes them feel and think.

Cause and Effect

Photo by Bas Emmen

To figure out your character’s lie is not enough. You must figure out the reasoning behind the lie. Brain-storm what could have happened to your character that would make them believe it. This wasn’t a concept they were born with, but rather an experience they had that was so damaging, they refuse to believe anything else.

Think about a time an experienced shaped your beliefs. It can be good or it can be bad, but imagine how strongly you felt during the experience. If it was a bad experience, you probably sought reasoning for it, even if there was no valid one. We all know things sometimes happen that we have no control over.

It’s normal to want to understand why bad things happen to us. In fact, it’s ingrained in our DNA to put a reason to it. Cause and effect. We did this, and this happened as a result of it. Sometimes there is a logical reason behind us. We were ticketed for speeding. We now try not to speed. Some events that happen have no good reasoning, like childhood abuse. Chances are, though, if this happened to you, you believed it was your fault. Now you believe you are innately bad, and when adult abuse happens, you aren’t too surprised.

The lie will affect every aspect of your character’s life once it’s ingrained in them. It’s sad for the character, but it’s all too real. Use it to create conflict and tension. Because it happens in real life, your readers will empathize with your character. And when/if they stop believing in the lie, readers will likely find strength in these moments.

What are some other character lies you’ve read about or viewed? Leave a comment below, and don’t forget to like, share, and follow!

K.L Reeder is an aspiring author. She studies Creative Writing at SNHU, with a minor in Psychology. She resides in central PA with her toddler son and little dog.

Characters: How Beliefs Shape Reality

Photo by Evie S.

You’ve probably heard “change your beliefs, change your life”. There is real science behind this saying. Your beliefs actually influence your actions, which creates your reality. Our characters are no different.

Our belief systems are one of the main driving forces of our every decision, along with personality, genetic make-up, and habits. Each of these factors affects us deeply. We are who we are because of them.

Before we dive in, let’s define exactly what belief systems are and how they shape reality.

The Oxford Dictionary defines them as:

A set of principles or tenets which together form the basis of a religion, philosophy, or moral code.

Your beliefs influence your behavior. For example, if you believe you can’t do something, you either won’t try, will fail, or succeed but believe it was a fluke.

Beliefs also influence how you interact with others. If you believe you’re awkward, the chances of successful social interactions will diminish because you either, again, won’t try, or could be too nervous to think straight. You’ll be known as shy. (We’ve mostly all been there.)

Your beliefs can influence your health. Negative thoughts lead to negative emotions. An onslaught, constant flow of negative emotions can cause depression, among other conditions. It’s been proven that depression can then affect you physically.

At the other end of the spectrum is healthy living. If you believe your body is a temple and enough that you treat it so, you’ll probably exercise, watch what you eat, that type of stuff. People like this are generally happier. This is science-based, too, because exercise combats depression, anxiety, and an array of other conditions.

Eating right keeps the toxins out of your body. Meditation has numerous health benefits, including mental health. Most, if not all, real healthy living increases your dopamine level, the “happy hormone”. Hence, happier life.

People who know self-defense, because they believe it’s essential to their safety, feel a bit more confident. People who exercise, because they believe in mindfulness, are less anxious and less depressed.

Nature Vs. Nurture

Photo by Kayla Maurais

No doubt you’ve heard of this argument. Existentialists believe that free-will plays the biggest part in what shapes a person, that their actions as they live make them who they are. On the other hand, there is the concept of wrapping it all up in a more simple explanation: it’s in our genes. We are the way we are because our DNA tells us so.

I believe it’s a bit more complicated than that. I’m sure you know by now that I stand strongly behind trait heritability (the way we’re raised forms us) and how strong the influence of our society is on us, but it would be unwise to deny that our genes play a part.

After all, it’s the one thing we don’t have control over.

Beliefs Influence Behavior

What your characters believe will influence their every action, but it will also influence every connection they have. From how they treat the other characters to their communication style. Your character’s belief will limit them or make anything possible.

Think about your primary characters. How spiritual are they? Their level of spirituality will influence their decisions and their behavior. What are their traditional beliefs? Has their society conditioned them (probably) and in what way? How does this way form what they believe? Do they believe there is a clear line between gender roles? Is the society they grew up in more or less accepting of individuality or conformity?

Now, for the bigger questions concerning your story. How do your character’s beliefs play a part in your story? Overall, it should be in a big way. Your character’s beliefs created their reality. Many stories are about the hero’s journey, and this often leads to a new type of society. A new type of society will probably challenge every single one of your character’s beliefs, leading to reality-shaking changes.

These beliefs will affect everything from theme to dialogue. Think hard about each of your main character’s belief systems, how it affects the story, and how it affects their interactions.

Think about what your character will learn by the end of the story (which ties into theme) and this will help you figure out your character’s belief system in the beginning and how it shapes their world.

Beliefs Influence Health

Maybe your character as a negative outlook on life because of how past experiences has shaped them. This causes tension in your story between them and other characters. Long-term mental suffering usually creates a chronic physical illness, which plays a part in your story.

This can range from sleep deprivation, which will negatively affect every decision they make, to chronic headaches. This could be a contrast to their almost always happy mood compared to other character’s moods (tensions!). Broken bones will limit your characters for some time, self-inflicted injuries and mind states will make other characters treat that character differently.

We also have non-physical suffering. Stuff like financial problems, loss, and esoteric suffering. All of this can be connected to beliefs, and it can all be useful for tension and conflict in your story. Just make sure it’s authentic to your characters.

What are some of the ways your character’s behave due to their beliefs? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to like, share, and follow!