I’m just back from a week away in one of my favourite places – Northumberland. Beautiful beaches, wonderful castles, friendly people and, for the most part, gloriously sunny weather. Often when I’m away, I set myself a daily words target, but this time, I decided to see how I felt. And although I didn’t get around to actually writing, I did do a lot of thinking and planning work. Where better to do that than on a deserted beach? I certainly did more steps than words!
I think sometimes it’s too easy to sit down to write without having a clear picture of where we are going.
Some writers, I know, like it like that: they let the muse take them where it will. I can’t do that. I need to know what my protagonist wants, where she’s going, what she’s going to do and how things are going to turn out. Otherwise, I’m likely to go off on all sorts of tangents.
Is that you?
Then, perhaps one of my devices might help a bit. Several people in one of my classes last month asked if I could send them a copy of what I call my Chapter Master. This is just a simple page, asking questions that should be clear in a writer’s mind before starting their next chapter or scene. Here’s what it looks like:
I print out several when I’m working on a novel and fill them in by hand before starting each chapter. I have found this really helps me keep my focus on what’s happening and why.
Here are the questions in the left-hand column:
What is the hook from the previous chapter/scene?
If using multi POVs, whose is it?
What does the protagonist want from this chapter?
Who else appears in this chapter/scene?
Where is this chapter set?
What conflict will there be?
What action will there be?
Will the protagonist achieve their goal?
What is the hook to the next chapter?
What are the protagonist’s new goal/s?
I keep my Chapter Masters, just so I can look back if ever there’s a problem and I can see what my thinking was.
If such planning is not for you, then I totally understand, and I hope the muse does appear!
I’ve also done some work with one of my writing groups recently on one aspect of profiling that often gets overlooked – your characters’ mannerisms or body language, particularly when talking. Have a look around you and see what people are doing as they talk. Too often nowadays, they’ll probably be looking down at their phone! But there are plenty of other quirks and tics that could be put to very good use in your writing. Perhaps you’ve been in a meeting where one person is constantly clicking their ballpoint pen! Or the person you are talking too just stares over your shoulder. Jangling keys in a pocket, hands being run through hair, toe-tapping, looking at their watch, stammering, coughing, frowning, yawning (!) – all these and many more. Click here for a website that lists more than a hundred, but the best ones will be those YOU come up with.
Exercise suggestion: Try to actively notice what YOUR mannerisms are as you talk! It could be quite an eye-opener. I would suggest making notes of what you learn from yourself and others and keep them handy for use in your next story.
After discussing various mannerisms, the exercise we did was to choose a pair of characters and then create a conversation between them, concentrating on what mannerisms each character might display. You’ll find the pairs of characters we used under Prompts.
Other prompts this month are photos from my week away. Please use them as you like, as prompts or thought-provokers.
Whether it’s your muse or a walk along a lovely beach that gets your writing going, I hope you have a wonderful summer.
The photo at the top is of Ladyburn lake in Druridge Country Park near Alnwick, one of my favourite walks.