(Very) General Tips for Writing Action Out of Your Comfort Zone
Anonymous asked you: Do you have any tips on writing action? (Like describing a sex scene or a fight scene?) I mostly write thoughts and dialogue, and I’ve recently realized that when I have to write my characters moving and doing things I’m way out of my comfort zone and I don’t do very well at it.
As far as adding actions into a scene goes, I have a few quick tips:
- Be sure to show and not tell! That is, of course, unless the situation calls for some “telling”.
- Vary your sentence structure. No one wants to read, “He went to the door. He opened it. He looked outside.” Unless this is a deliberate style choice—in which case this style of writing could make your scene feel like anything between surreal and mundane—the repetition of the word choice and sentence structure will slow your scene to a dead crawl.
Instead, try switching things up: “He went to the door, opened it, and looked outside.” Or even, “He went to the door, opening it and looking outside.”
- Describe the full sensory experience. Try to avoid cliched description like, “His skin was like ice.” Instead, go for weird description and see how it works. Look for ways to connect your characters with things they experience or have experienced in their world. “His skin was cold to the touch like our front door’s brass doorknob in the dead of winter. I was afraid my hands would stick, afraid they would come away black and frostbitten.” Describe viscerally, jarringly even, and get your readers’ attention. Don’t be afraid to go for the strange metaphor. If you decide you don’t like it, you can always change it later!
- Expand your comfort zone. If you’re not sure how to go about broadening your horizons, so to speak, then check out the link for some tips to help you out!
- Work on your pacing and style-crafting. Make sure that, after you tackle a topic that is difficult for you, you go back and check your pacing. Of all the aspects of writing, pacing and style choices are often the most affected by changes in comfort level.
Thank you for your question! If you have any comments on this article or other questions about writing, you can message us here!
Sweetening up character description
Anonymous asked you:
This is a bit of a mediocre question, but how do I say my character’s hair? It’s a dirty blonde, but sometimes I think I can just shorten in to “blonde.” Should I include “dirty,” because of the brown coloring?
Anonymous asked you:
Hey there, I have a question! Grammar isn’t a big problem for me, but I just don’t know how to make beautiful comparisons (example: “Her eyes were blue.” => “She had a piece of the sky in her eyes.”). I’ve been reading many books and poems lately in an attempt to improve my writing, but whenever I try to create something of my own, it doesn’t feel right… Do you have any tips regarding this? Thanks in advance!
Alex just held a discussion about description on RFW yesterday. There’re lots of good opinions to find.
WW just posted a great list of links with description examples and how-to’s that made me hit my head off the wall because I ended up going through a fifteen minute phase of “MY DESCRIPTIONS ARE INADEQUATE.” (To which my cure was simply backtracking and changing up descriptions where I should have anyway, and that made me feel a whole lot better.)
So, here are my thoughts:
Description is important. Personally, when eye or hair or skin color is described with simple terms (and often cliché staples), such as pale blond or sky blue, I tend not to remember it. Character description should stick, not dribble away like watery glue. Not only does the writer need to give the reader description worth remembering, the writer also needs to give the reader a reason to remember it.
As an example, it’s one thing to say her flesh had turned gold from years in the sun.
It’s something else to say her flesh had the same tarnished gold color of the wedding band around her ring finger after waiting on the rotting porch under the Dust Bowl sun for her husband to return—a man fifty-two years dead.
It also depends on the POV and your character’s voice. Would the character in question see this woman as described above? Or would they think her skin looked like leather? Would they notice the white spots of early skin cancer? The cracked lips and yellowed teeth of a chain-smoker? The ruddy cheeks of a liver saturated in whiskey? Look through the lenses of your characters, see what they see as they see it, as the two characters interact.
Sometimes, basic descriptions are all that’s needed, especially for throw-away characters that readers won’t ever see again. Sometimes, the character whose eyes we’re seeing through simply isn’t the poetic type, and to write as if they are would be dishonest to that character’s voice. With that said, however, they should still have something interesting to say about what they see. This is what helps make character voice memorable.
Having trouble creating your own descriptions (especially metaphors) is perfectly natural. You see really good writing and you want to write just like that, but your skill level isn’t there yet. This is okay. I was just having this discussion with Victoria the other day, how we start out with utilizing clichés and replicating what we read, and then we grow from there and find our own style. You’re at the point where you’re looking for your own style.
Here’re some tips on developing your style:
- Read the good stuff. Write down the pieces of description that stick with you. Keep a little journal of them.
- Sit in a place that gives you the freedom to think. I can’t write in a public setting, for instance. I need a cozy room with a big window, preferably with a tree or something. I like trees. They’re nice.
- Practice with drabbles or flash fiction. Write whatever comes to mind. Write without thinking. Don’t stop to look back or judge your writing, just write. Make a collection. If you need prompts: here and here and here.
- Write selfishly. I write my first drafts like this, which means I really don’t care how much is too much on the first time around. This is how I can get everything on the page, then pare it down to just the best stuff.
- Before you revise, let it sit. Let it sit for a while. A day, a week, however long you can stand. Then, come back to it and let yourself feel proud of something in what you wrote.
- Revising is just as much a learning process as writing, because now you can teach yourself about word choice and how every word should be specific and carry its weight.
- Repeat the above a million times.
Sometimes I get really killer metaphors, like, “Holy Fish Paste, I can’t believe I wrote that.”
Sometimes I get really cringe-worthy metaphors that make me look at the really good stuff and go, “MY DESCRIPTIONS ARE INADEQUATE.”
But first drafts are allowed to suck.
Repeat this mantra in your head: first drafts are allowed to suck.
First drafts hold your place so you can come back during revision and freshen up that stale metaphor with something more original, more accurate, and more involved with the character or the setting than just a grocery list of terms. And, heck, if you need just a grocery list of terms to hold your place until you can come back a little wiser later, that’s cool. Do that. I do it all the time. Trying to make everything perfect on the first go is frustrating and truly taxing. The most important part is that you get something down.
In essence, practice. Write a lot. Learn to see things better than you already do. Write some more. Revise. This will help you build up on your writing toolbox and give you more creative freedom to hit those awesome descriptions.
Hope that helps you both! Good luck!
“For modern man absolutely everything that exists is put into definite categories. We are labeling machines. We classify the world, and the world classifies us. We have become perceptual jailers of each other. The chain of human thought is powerful. Even our deepest feelings are classified and ordered so that nothing can escape. One example is the way we alienate ourselves from the actual time we are living in, in order to mindlessly go around repeating stereotypes. We have a collection of preset days: Mother’s Day, All Saints’ Day, Valentine Day, birthday anniversaries and weddings…They are like stakes we tie our life to so we won’t get lost, and thus we walk the Earth, revolving around our descriptions like beasts tied by the neck.”—Carlos Castaneda
Writing a Deaf Character
Anonymous asked writing-questions-answered: I have been writing for quite a bit now and have recently started a new story. The main character in this story uses sign language to communicate. What do you think is the best way to represent this?
The best way to represent sign language in a novel is to just say that a word was signed or note that the person used their hands to speak. Dialog can begin with or be followed by “he signed” or “she signed” in place of “he said” and “she said.” If you want the character to say something without using the signed/said tag, you can use italics. Here are some examples:
- “What time are we leaving?” I signed as soon as John looked up.
- I signed the word for “sorry” and hoped that John wasn’t too disappointed.
- As soon as Mandy focused on me, my hands furiously began to detail the saga of my afternoon. You won’t believe who I ran into at Starbucks…
- Andrea slid down from the stool and quickly signed, “Let’s go.”
- With a sad look on her face, Andrea raised her hands. I can’t do this anymore, John. I’m sorry.
- John waited until Andrea’s hands stopped. Then, frowning, his own hands formed the words, “I know. I can’t, either.”
In some cases you might be able to use words like “gestured”, “motioned”, “indicated”, “signaled”, etc.
Facial expressions and general body language can also be important in sign language, and many deaf people speak as they sign. Deaf accents range from barely noticeable to difficult to understand. All of this might be useful as you describe your character speaking, though you’ll want to refrain from describing the hand motion of specific words unless you’re really confident you’re describing it accurately. You should also avoid transliteration, and if your character does speak as they sign, it’s probably best not to render their accent phonetically as this would only add confusion. If you want to get across that your character does speak but is difficult to understand, this can be noted by another character or even the narrator if you think it’s important.
Here’s a great list of novels with deaf characters if you want to see how others have done it. You can also watch video of deaf people speaking on YouTube to get some ideas about facial expressions and body language.
I hope this helps! :)
It is often a conundrum for writers to know how much description to put into their work. They want their readers to be able to conjur up images of the world they’ve created, without stumbling down the path of ‘purple prose’.
Too many fancy analogies or unusual metaphors will only serve to throw your readers out of the world of the book, not welcome them in. I only need to know that ‘he frowned’, not that ‘his thick eyebrows drew together like two furry caterpillars sizing each other up for a duel’.
But too little description can leave readers feeling removed from your story, not giving them the chance to become emotionally involved.
The way to perfect your description is not through intricate details or metaphors, it is through using all of the senses.
When your character walks into a room I don’t care if the wallpaper is pea green or moss green (unless it’s important to the story), I want to feel like I’m stepping into the room myself.
- I want to smell the flowers in the vase
- I want to hear the piano being played
- I want to feel the coldness of the stone tiled floor
- I want to taste the dust on my tongue
- and I want to see the sunlight streaming through the window
Take your reader into the room with you, don’t leave them standing outside looking through the window.
Here is a list of INFJ character traits; these may not necessarily apply to all INFJs.
- value personal integrity and “being true to yourself”
- are on a lifelong search for a unique identity and meaning; spirituality is important to us
- can be hard to get to know, depending on the other person (reciprocity)
- are sometimes seen by others as cold and hard on the outside
- can be difficult to “peg”; sometimes INFJs may not even recognise fellow members of their own type
- may find it easier to express their deepest feelings and sentiments non-verbally or in writing
- abhor evil or injustice, especially that directed towards the innocent or helpless
- are sometimes looked upon by others as naive, mostly due to our idealism
- can be quite gullible; many INFJs build up a protective armour over the years to protect against this and being “used” by others
- enjoy thoughtful discussion but dislike arguing for argument’s sake, as this often degenerates into ugly conflict
- are bookworms, love bookstores and libraries
- are affiliative; get stressed and cannot survive for extended periods without company
- rarely get into conflict, but when it erupts, can be very bitter
- aren’t terribly career-minded
- love personality tests and other self-improvement tools
- love quotes/quotations and are often “philosophers” or “theologists” ;)
- need to confide in others and express opinions and feelings about others: Fe-ing (Feeling extraverted)
- are “Directors” who give advice, though usually more subtly than most other Directors.
- are interested in ESP, paranormal, “new age,” or psychic experiences
- “Mute withdrawal is a major INFJ defense.”
- often have “oceanic” memories where details are recalled through intuitive leaps and thought association