Using the five senses and passive voice in your novel

This post is the twenty-third in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

As you write the scenes of your novel, you want to draw your reader into your story, into your make-believe world. You want to surround them with details – the sights, the sounds, the smells – of your world.

Using the five senses can enhance your writing and have your scene coming to life. Note: you don’t have to use all five ALL the time but rather interject these into your scene just enough to create realism. A few chosen details are better than a waterfall of information.

Sight

Remember, what your character sees is what your reader sees, and if you fail to describe very much, your reader won’t fully appreciate the scene. However, there is a such thing as too much description. There is no need to describe the cracks and peeling paint on a sign unless it has some relevance to your story.

Smell

The sense of smell can invoke powerful memories; a certain perfume may remind you of someone, or freshly cut grass may bring back memories of your childhood. By adding the sense of smell to your writing, you create a subtle sense of atmosphere and add another layer to your descriptive passages for your reader to enjoy. This is an often-overlooked sense, but it can provide background color to your narrative.

Taste

This is perhaps the most neglected sense in writing. Eating can be a shared, sensual pastime. Arouse your reader’s taste buds. Was the apple pie warm and delicious and make the character remember the pies their grandmother made or was it barely edible and tasted of cardboard?

Hearing

Whether it’s characters or background noise, remember to add a sense of sound to the narrative to help your reader feel the scene. This could be the chirping of birds in the morning or the fog horn of the ships at the harbor.

Touch

You can describe the feel of material of a character’s dress, the feel of a baby’s skin, the roughness of the ropes binding your character’s wrists and so much more to add to your description.

These senses may be just small details of your whole novel but remember it’s all in the details.

Show, Don’t Tell

Writing about senses brings up another common phrase writers often hear – “show, don’t tell.”  This is a technique that uses words to enable the reader to experience the story through action, thoughts, senses, and feelings rather than through the author’s summary or description.

In other words, instead of telling us the character is hungry or scared, show us.

If someone is hungry, he might lick his lips as he stares at a pie, or she may place her hand over her rumbling belly. When a character is scared, he trembles and his heart races. He jumps at strange noises in the darkened house as he grips the flashlight.

To show instead of telling the reader what is happening, you need to use active voice. In fact, most of your writing should be in active voice. But as always there are exceptions to that “rule.” (See below.)

Active vs Passive Voice

Passive voice is where the subject receives the action rather than doing the action. It is dependent upon the use of “to be” verbs such as is, was, am, were and has been. With passive voice there is no action implied. These verbs merely relay action.

Passive Voice Example:

The window was shut quickly by Elizabeth.

Passive voice isn’t necessarily incorrect; it’s just that it isn’t the best way to phrase your thoughts. Sometimes passive voice is awkward or vague. It also can be wordy and it deflects who is doing the action – “mistakes were made”; “shots were fired.”

Caution: Not all “to be” verbs are always passive – I am holding the pen is still active voice since – the subject – am doing the action of holding the pen. To make this passive it would be – The pen is being held by me.

Active voice uses action verbs. The subject is doing the action.

Active Voice Example:

Elizabeth quickly shut the window.

This example is stronger since the subject – Elizabeth – is now doing the action. Using active voice gives your writing more immediacy and puts the reader into the middle of the action. Once the reader is involved in the action, it is harder for them to put down your book.

Reasons to Use Passive Voice

But there are times when you may want to use passive voice in your story. Here are some examples:

When you don’t know who was doing the action.

The jewels were missing.

In this case, the emphasis is on the item taken rather than who took them.

When what was done is more important than who did it.

Uncle Bob was killed today.

What is important is that Uncle Bob has died. It doesn’t matter how or who did it. Later characters may question those things but in the beginning, their only focus may be on the fact that Uncle Bob is dead.

When describing a secondary character through the main character’s POV.

Aunt May was a tall woman with wrinkled skin.

When you want to speed up the story.

Half an hour later, the tents were stowed and the fire dowsed.

A lot of mundane actions are now contained in that one sentence. It would have taken many more words to write that in active voice and nothing really would have been gained for the reader.

These are just a few examples. I am sure there are other instances where you may want or need to use passive voice – for variety’s sake if nothing else. Just do so sparingly.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

#21 – Keeping things realistic in your novel

#22 – Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

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Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

This post is the twenty-second in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

Ahh…it is a new year. This could be the year you finish (or start) your novel. To help you reach that goal, I want to talk about setting writing goals and developing good writing habits. Now if you are one of those people who makes New Year’s resolutions, you can check out my post on 5 New Year’s Resolutions for Writers.

Establishing Writing Goals

Image result for writing goalIn life, something always comes up and unfortunately, it isn’t always writing. To stay on track and complete your novel, you may need to establish some writing goals.

To do this you need to be specific and realistic. Don’t just say you want to write each day. Set yourself a goal of how many hours, words or pages. Some authors like to set daily goals while others set weekly goals.

But no matter which you choose, make sure your goals are realistic. Nothing is more discouraging as never reaching your planned amount of writing because you were too ambitious when setting your goals. You don’t want to set a 25,000 word weekly goal if you can barely get 1000 written each day. You want it to be something that you can actually reach.

Maybe setting a specific word count worries you. In that case, you might want to set a certain amount of time to write. If you do this, you may want to find a block of time that you know you can consistently do some uninterrupted writing. It can be in the mornings before the rest of the family gets up or before you get caught up in your to-do list. Or maybe your time will be in the evening when everyone is in bed or during lunch at your office.  Don’t just find a few spare minutes here and there. Look for a set block of time that you can dedicate to nothing but writing. (To be the most productive with your set time, check out my post on avoiding time wasters.)

Image result for good writing habits

Developing Good Writing Habit

Now that you have established your writing goals, check out these good writing habits to help improve your writing.

1.) Establish a daily writing schedule – A daily writing habit is crucial to improving your writing. It is better to write fifteen minutes a day than to binge for six hours over the weekend.  Much like an athlete, you need daily practice to improve.

2.) Don’t forget to read – You can learn a lot about writing by reading what others have done. You can learn what not to do or what you don’t like as well as pick up ideas for things that did work out well. Pay attention to sentence structure, word choice and how the material flows. Check to see how (or if) the author successfully draws you into the story.

3.) Finish what you start – All too often writers begin something, and then a newer, better idea (or even just life) comes along, and they abandon what they were working on. Shiny, new ideas are always tempting. Don’t give in! Unless you are absolutely stuck on your project, wrap up your current project before moving on. (That doesn’t mean you can’t jot down your idea in a notebook so you can expand on it later. It just means don’t get distracted by the new project.)

4.) Write now, edit later – It is important to just write and not judge what you have written down. (At least not at first.) Even experienced writers don’t crank out perfect first drafts. Set a timer and just write.  And accept that much of what you write in your first draft may not make it into the book. The important thing here is to write. You can worry about word choices and sentence structure later.

5.) Know your craft – As a writer you need to understand thinks like grammar, spelling and punctuation as well as the importance of editing and polishing your work before you show it around. Make sure you learn the rules and then be sure to edit, edit, edit. Consult grammar and style guides if necessary and learn to properly format your documents. You can learn a lot by revising or rewriting what you already wrote.

Improving your writing is hard work. Maintaining a consistent writing schedule is hard especially with so many distractions vying for your attention. But the only way to improve is to practice, practice, practice.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

#21 – Keeping things realistic in your novel

Top 10 Writing/Publishing Posts of 2017

Since this is the beginning of the year, I thought I would recap some of my better posts from 2017. I already did my Top 10 Parenting Posts and my husband’s Top 10 Recipes. Today, I will look at posts on publishing, marketing or writing from 2017.

Publishing/Marketing 

Pen Names: when you might want to consider one

Image result for Pen name

You want the character name to be memorable. Even more so, you want your name to be memorable. You want readers to be able to recommend your books to others.

I host authors every Friday, and I have seen some pretty hard to pronounce names and ones that I imagine are impossible to remember or spell correctly. How do you expect readers to recommend you? How are readers going to be able to search for your books on Amazon when they can’t figure out how to spell – much less pronounce – your name?

This is where a pseudonym or pen name comes into play. A pen name allows authors to select a catchy, memorable name. It allows them to switch genders or even nationalities, which depending upon the circumstances could mean more book sales. (Click here to read more.)

Getting book reviews

Last week, I wrote about whether book reviews were an important marketing strategy. As it turns out, a good, well-written book review can benefit your sales. When choosing between a book with numerous reviews and one with only a few or no reviews, many readers will pick the more “popular” choice.

So how do you go about getting those reviews? (Click here to find out.)

Tips for a well-written book description

Your book is done. You have your eye-catching cover and a great title. But your job is not over. It is time to write what is probably the most important words – the book description. (Find out what does and doesn’t go in a book description by clicking here.)

Choosing Categories and Keywords when publishing with Amazon

When you publish your book on Amazon (through Kindle Direct Publishing), you are allowed to pick two categories and seven keywords. Here are some tips to make those choices work for you and help increase the number of books you sell. (Click here to find out how to increase your exposure on Amazon.)

Writing

Outlining your Novel

snowflake

One of my very first posts was about whether as an author you outline your novel before you write or do you just sent down and write. Basically are you a plotter (outliner) or a pantser (someone who flies by the seat of their pants).

I have never been one to plot out my whole novel in advance. I tend to have an idea what the novel is about and maybe some ideas for some scenes. As I begin to write, I generally plot out what will happen in the next scenes. Since this is a very loose outline, I am free to let the characters drive the story.

Now there are many benefits to have an outline of your novel before you begin. It helps to create a well-developed plot and there is less rewriting involved. If you write just whatever comes to mind, you will most likely have a lot of editing and pruning during subsequent drafts than if you had it planned out in advance. (Click here for outlining methods.)

He said, she said: 4 Tips on Using Dialogue Tags

For readers to know who is speaking, you need dialogue tags such as he said and she replied. And while they are necessary, you don’t need them every time someone speaks. (Check out the tips here.)

9 Questions to Consider When Choosing your Novel’s Setting

eiffel_tower_postcard-01ver

Last week, I gave a recap of some of my posts about writing various scenes in your novel. But before you can write a scene, you need to know where your story is set.

The setting is the location where the events of a scene take place. This could be Las Angeles, a farm in Iowa, the White House, on a space ship, on another world or any of a thousand different places. (To read more, click here.)

Using internal dialogue

One of the biggest advantages of writing a novel versus writing a movie or TV show script is that authors can use internal dialogue as a tool to tell the story.

Internal dialogue is what your character is thinking. It is not the same thing as narration, which is when the person telling the story (the narrator) talks directly to the reader. (Read more by clicking here.)

How many drafts does it take to complete a novel?

You have finally finished your first draft of your story. Now comes the real work. The cutting, the editing, the rewriting, the expanding to make your first work closer into a publishable novel.

So how many drafts does that take? (Find out here.)

Editing your novel with the help of a revision outline

Last week I wrote about the different drafts your story will go through on the way to becoming a novel. During those drafts, you need to strengthen the characters and plot as well as reduce wordiness or strengthen your writing.

To do this, I find it helps to have something to keep me on track and remind me of all the areas that I need to focus on. (To view my revision outline, click here.)

In August, I started a series on writing a novel. Many of the above topics will be (or already were) addressed. There are currently 21 posts in that series. Here is the last post. At the end of it is a list of all the other topics. 

Keeping things realistic in your novel

You are watching an action movie, and during the fight scene, the two sides shoot and shoot and shoot some more. And while you are engrossed in the action, somewhere in the back of your mind you are wondering “Shouldn’t they run out of bullets or at least need to reload?” (To read more or to see the other 20 topics in my writing series, click here. Next week, post number 22 in the series will be posted.)

Keeping things realistic in your novel

This post is the twenty-first in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

You are watching an action movie, and during the fight scene, the two sides shoot and shoot and shoot some more. And while you are engrossed in the action, somewhere in the back of your mind you are wondering “Shouldn’t they run out of bullets or at least need to reload?”

Just like watching that action scene momentarily jars you out of the story, many things in your novel can have the same effect on your reader. And there is nothing worse than reading and enjoying a book when you come across something that pulls you out of the story.

I’m going to give some examples. Many of them are based on fantasy writing situations but hopefully you can correlate them to something in your novel that you need to make sure is believable.

Magic

Magic use to be prevalent only in fantasy novels but more and more, magic shows up in other genres, including romance and suspense.  Magic can certainly enhance a story, but you need to make sure it is believable. You need to clearly define (at least to yourself) what can and cannot be done with magic. There must be limits on magic otherwise the person using magic would always win and there would be no conflict in your story. Magic cannot be the answer to everything. Or as Rumpelstiltskin in ABC’s Once Upon a Time said, “All magic comes with a price.”

There are countless ways to limit magic: power is drawn from magical lines through the ground, and if you aren’t near one then you have no magic; magic is based on knowing spells, so you are limited by your knowledge; magic makes a sound other sorcerers can hear and thus can find you, and the list goes on and on. Decide which rules you want to use and then make sure you stick to them in your story.

Food

In a fantasy world, food is one area that can pull readers out of the story – or at least those readers paying attention.

Yes, this may be another world or time period. And, yes, food choices and eating habits may be different there. But everyone is familiar with food, so you should at least have the food choices make sense. Writers of fantasy novels too often ask us to believe that a roadside meal is cooked in the time it takes to water the horses or set up camp or that fresh fruit is available at all times – even the winter.

A quick search on the internet could spare these mistakes. Take rabbit stew for instance. A quick look reveals that in a modern kitchen, it takes two hours to cook and that doesn’t include prep time. So this isn’t practical for a roadside meal – or at least not a quick one. As with any camping trip, authors need to consider how all the supplies – food, tents, weapons, clothing – are going to be hauled. A lot fits in a car but you can carry less in your saddle bag.

Eating is such a big part of life that you can’t ignore it in your novel. Of course, you need not focus on it unless it advances the plot somehow such as a grain shortage. But do take the time to learn something about some of the foods that you mention so that you don’t jar the reader out of the story with something improbable.

Travel

Another thing I see in many novels is how fast it takes someone to get somewhere. Here again you need to be practical. You don’t want to have your character fly across the country in just four hours when it takes at least seven on a commercial airliner or travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in two hours when it takes six. People in New York will know how long it takes to get across town and will be surprised if your character does it super-fast. And with fantasy writing if your characters are walking long distances, riding a horse to another city, or traveling by wagon, please research how long this will take. (For more you can check out this post.) https://wp.me/p2Dhbj-Dq

Details

To me it is a lot of the things that jar me out the story are part of the little details.

In one book I recently read, a woman won a lot of money. She spent quite a bit of it but supposedly still had millions to invest. I kept thinking that the numbers didn’t work out especially after she bought a large house and paid cash for it.

But it can also be something as simple as wearing a blue shirt one moment and a red one the next. Or have a character join a conversation when they are supposed to be elsewhere.

Being consistent with your details, whether they are about magic, food, travel or what someone is wearing is very important in allowing your reader to be immersed in your make-believe world. And when it comes to areas that you aren’t knowledgeable about (perhaps traveling a long distance on a horse), then make sure you do the research, so you can accurately portray the scene in your novel and not jar your reader out of the story with something as ridiculous as a gun that never runs out of bullets.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

Killing a Character in your Novel

This post is the twentieth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

No matter what type of novel you are writing – thriller, mystery, romance – there may come a time when you need to kill off one or more of your characters. From serial killers to mysterious deaths to killing out of jealousy or survival, murder or death can add to the conflict of your story. And what better way to have your antagonist instill fear than to kill off a few people. Or it could be your protagonist doing the killing to preserve his or her life or that of a loved one.

But no matter who is doing the killing, you still must follow the rules. As with any character action, there needs to be a reason behind it. No one – not even serial killers – kill without a reason. It may not be an obvious reason such as self defense but even mass murderers have a reason for what they do. It is not “just because” or because they are “evil.”

And if they are going to kill off a character in your story, you need to make sure there is a good reason for the character to die. It could be to advance the plot, spurring your protagonist into motion. Or it could be to add realism. No one expects to read a war drama without anyone dying. But it just shouldn’t be because of “shock” value or you need something to happen.

Now killing off a character you have spent time developing can be hard. It can be equally hard for readers when a favorite character dies.

It is much easier to kill off a minor character. Many times, you and the reader are not as attached to them. I always think of a minor character as the first person killed in a horror movie. They are not usually well developed. No one has had a chance to really get to know and like this character before they die. Because readers can spot these insignificant expendable characters I don’t encourage you to add characters just for the purposes of killing them off.

Now killing off a minor character might be easy, but it is something entirely different to kill a main character. Remember, you shouldn’t kill a character just because you or someone else thinks you should. You should only kill off a character if it will advance the story. This could mean that this person’s death contributes to the development of another character or advances the plot in some way. Don’t do this on a whim. Make sure you think of the consequence losing a main character will do to your story and the remaining characters and make sure the cost is worth it.

If you are willing to kill off main characters, you can have your readers expecting the unexpected. They will know that everyone is at risk and that can add tension to your story.

So don’t be afraid to kill of a character but make sure you are doing it for the right reason – to advance your story.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

Dealing with Writer’s Block

This post is the nineteenth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

For the past few weeks, I have been covering how to write a novel. I have covered opening scenes, foreshadowing, dialogue and more. But there will come a time, no matter how detailed a plan you have for your story when a scene just isn’t working.

Or perhaps you are sailing along writing when the next time you sit down, a blank screen stares back at you. Suddenly, you can’t think of what to write next. You don’t feel like you have a creative bone left in your body. You want to throw in the towel. It happens to all of us at some point.

Tips for both of these situations are often similar but I am going to keep them separate anyway. Hopefully, one of these will help you out if you have these common writing problems.

Stuck on a Scene/Scene isn’t Quite Right

You’ve written a scene and it just didn’t turn out the way you imagined. Maybe it doesn’t flow or have the right amount of urgency or tension. Or perhaps you don’t know what is wrong with the scene other than it feels “off.” Sometimes even though we continue to work on something, it just doesn’t get any better.

So here are some tips for when you reach the point where you are stuck and can’t seem to get pass the scene you are working on.

1.) Step Back – Take a break. Go for a walk. Read a book. Watch a movie or even just listen to some music. Basically, take some time to free your mind up. Now this break could be 30 minutes, or it could be a day or two but don’t step away for too long. There is no use losing all your writing momentum.

2.) Keep Writing – Instead of finishing the scene you are working on, go on to the next one and resolve that you will return to the troubling scene later.

3.) Reread/revisit other areas – It might be time to go back a chapter or two and read what you already have written. Reading what is working might just be enough to get you through the problem area.

4.) Examine for an underlying problem – Maybe you have hit this roadblock because of deeper issues in your novel. Or maybe we are trying to force the action to be what we want rather than let our characters live out their own lives.

5.) Let someone else read it – Perhaps the problem is not as glaring or as big as you think. Give it to a friend or a writers’ group member whose opinion you respect and see if they spot the problem or if they possibly can spark an idea on how to fix it.

Tips for Dealing with Writer’s Block

Sometimes, you just can’t seem to get the creative juices flowing. You are staring at the blank screen (or piece of paper). Here are a few tips to get back in the writing groove. As there is no one cure for writer’s block, you may need to try several of these. And just because one worked last time, doesn’t mean it will work the next. Just keep trying until you are back to writing.

1.) Take a break – Sometimes taking your mind off the problem can help. Get up and do something else for about 30 minutes. Get a drink, read the newspaper, take a walk, clean out the closet. Free up your mind and then give it another try.

2.) Change your location/writing method – If you are sitting at your desk and have a laptop, move outside (assuming the weather is nice) or to another room. If you don’t have a laptop or tablet, you can still move to another location and try writing in a journal. I have found that sometime writing long hand frees up my thinking. And I improve the writing when I transcribe it into the computer.

3.) Just write – Open a new file and began typing. Sometimes getting started writing is half the battle so just write whatever comes to mind even if it is unrelated to your story.

4.) Reread yesterday’s work – Perhaps reading what you worked on yesterday (or the day before) will get you back in the groove and spark your creativity to begin writing the next scene.

5.) Work on a different scene – Pick some other scene on your novel to write. No one said you had to write in chronological order. Of course, if you pick a scene too far advanced in your story, you may not know exactly what is happening and whatever you write may have to be reworked to fit into your story but at least you are writing.

6.) Brainstorm on future scenes – Assuming you aren’t working from an outline you can use your writing time to plan ahead. Think about where your story will be going and what obstacles your protagonist (or perhaps your antagonist) will encounter. (If you are a planner and already have this novel outlined then perhaps you can brainstorm future story ideas.)

7.) Call it a day – Sometimes you just have to stop trying and come back the next day. If you try too hard, you can make things worse.

No matter what you try, just realize that writer’s block doesn’t last forever. Try not to stress over it because the more anxious and frustrated you become, the worse it will be. Free up your mind and the creative juices will be flowing before you know it.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

This post is the eighteenth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

As you write your novel, you will write many different scenes. They may be funny, serious, happy or terrifying. There is no way to tell you how to write each of these scenes because there are too many different factors to consider – writing style, genre, plot.

But here are a few scenes that can happen in any story and some tips or things you may want to consider if you are including them in your novel.

Low light/night scenes

When writing a scene in the day time, it is easy to talk about the color of clothes or facial expression of a fellow character. Your main character will be able to describe the flash of light as the sun reflects off the sword blade or the way the water sloshed in the bucket.

But when you are writing a scene in low light – whether it be at outside at night or just in a darkened room – you need to take into account what can actually be seen.

The first step is to be aware that writing a night scene or one in low light that what you might normally describe – grimaces on faces, color of eyes or shirts – will not happen.

A second step that can help make your descriptions more accurate is to visit a similar area to the scene you are writing. If you are writing a scene between two lovers, grab someone and stand in a darkened room to see how much of the other person you can see. If you are writing a fight scene in a dimly lit bar, visit one. (But I don’t suggest you start a fight to complete your research.)

Even just stepping out into your backyard can give you an idea of what your characters will be able to see for an outside scene.

Spending this extra research time will add to the realism of your story. Your reader may not note these details but including something your character can

obviously not notice in the dark can pull the reader out of the story.

 

Fight scene

Since I write fantasy, I guess it is expected that at some point there will be a sword fight or another type of battle taking place. Here are a few tips I use when developing a fight scene. These hold true whether it is someone using a knife, a sword or their fists.

1.) Visualize – This might not be an easy step for some but a lot of what I write is what I visualize in my head. I can picture what is happening and just describe it as I see it.  However, if you have trouble visualizing a fight (say because you have never been in one – and that would probably be most of us), consider the next tip.

2.) Watch a fight – Pick a movie or TV show with a good fight scene. (For a TV series, my husband suggested Buffy the Vampire Slayer and for movies, his suggestions off the top of his head were Under Siege, Bourne Identity and Batman: The Dark Knight and for sword fights, The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But there are many more options out there.)  Of course, since these are TV/movie fights they may not be the most realistic, but you can pick up some good ideas from them.

You also might try looking at videos of sparing in martial arts. I actually used this technique for a knife attack while writing my novel, Destiny. I wanted to see how a person attacking with a knife would move.

3.) Draw a diagram – When I am writing a particularly involved battle scene or one with many participants, I like to draw a map of where everyone is at the beginning of the battle. It helps me keep track of where my characters are and who (or what) they are battling. Pretend you are a basketball coach and draw x’s and o’s on your paper. It really can help you keep track of everything.

 

4.) Act it out – When all else fails, grab a partner and act out the fight scene. This can give you an idea of how each participant would react. For the same knife attack that I mentioned above, one of my characters was going to surprise someone by stepping out of the shadows and stabbing another character in the back. To figure out how she would stab her victim, my husband and I did a little role playing. This let me not only figure out how the attack would happen but what type of injury would occur.

Once you have your fight scene laid out there are a few more things to remember. You need to watch your pacing – fight scenes need to be fast paced. Keep your sentences short. You want to keep the reader’s attention by showing action so don’t include a lot of detail. And remember you don’t have to write every blow that happens.

Humor

No matter what type of novel you are writing, humor can add another layer to the story.

I am not talking about making your story a major laugh-a-minute type affair. I am talking about working in some humor here and there to keep things interesting and realistic. Stories need ups and downs. Humor can help.

But humor is subjective. How many times have you seen a video or heard a joke that you find insanely funny but when you shared it with someone else, you were met with a blank stare or a half-smile?

The trick with humor in your writing is you don’t want to try too hard or make it too obvious that you are trying to be funny. I would suggest having a several people read your “funny” section to see if the majority of them get the humor.

Romance (in a non-romance novel)

Just like with humor, adding romance to a non-romance novel can add realism to your story. But how much you add and how much detail you add will all depend on what you are comfortable with and the overall plot. Whatever amount of romance you add to the story – and any sex scenes – should flow from the events of the story. Remember that every scene needs to advance the story forward or expand the character. So hot, passionate sex just for the sake of adding sex to your story is not a good idea (unless you are writing erotica).

Tips for writing sex scenes

1)      Decide how much you are comfortable writing. Just because others write steamy sex scenes that leave nothing to the imagination doesn’t mean you need to follow suit. Don’t force yourself to write out of your comfort zone. Your discomfort will show in your writing.

2)      Let your characters decide on the level of intimacy. Don’t worry about publisher guidelines or what is popular. There are readers out there who like all sorts of levels of romance and descriptions (or lack thereof) in regards to sex scenes.

3)      However, do give the readers what they expect. When reading a romance novel, you expect romance and at least the hint of something more. If the romance is secondary to your story and doesn’t progress, your reader won’t feel cheated. But if they are expecting a steamy book and there is no steam, then your reader will be upset.

4)      You don’t always have to focus on what is physically happening. Write about what the characters are feeling rather than what they are doing.

No matter the scene you are writing, think it through, act it out or do whatever you need to make it feel real to your reader.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing