Checklist For Scenes

I tell my students every day that it’s very important to get your ideas on paper first. To get your thoughts and descriptions organized, and then revise to polish your writing. Revising is more than just proofreading–looking for grammatical errors, misspelled words–it also has to do with bringing your images to life. To be descriptive enough where your readers will get lost in your story.

Here’s a checklist of story elements that should be involved in every scene. Look over this list in your editing stage.

POINT OF VIEW

  • Do you stick with only one character’s viewpoint? If you have more than one in a scene, have you assigned a scene break, so it’s not confusing for readers (if you want to enter more than one head)?
  • With narration, does it sound the way your character would speak? Or does it sound like you, the author, writing what you think he/she sounds like?
  • Have you brought the character’s personality to life through his/her narration? Using certain verbs, adjectives, etc. can convey the mood your character is in without having to say “he is sad” or “she is troubled”, for example.
  • If you use first person POV, have you stuck with first person POV? If using third person POV, have you stuck with third person POV?

DIALOGUE

  • Have you displayed what characters are saying as well as their body language?
  • Does your beats or character’s narration describe what your character is feeling (as well as having the dialogue express the emotion as well)? If so, determine which one you’d like to eliminate.
  • Does the dialogue sound realistic for your characters?

CHARACTER

  • Did you bring out your characters’ personalities by the way they narrate the events going on around them?
  • Have you given personality to your supporting characters as well as your main ones? Readers don’t know what’s going on in their head–their thoughts–unless a scene break or new chapter, but readers can still get a sense of someone in your story by the way they dress, talk, or how the narrating character perceives them.
  • Have you highlighted the characters motives for why they do what they do?

SETTING

  • Have you described the character’s surroundings? Instead of writing all at once, have you spread out the details of interior design or exterior landscape?
  • Depending on the mood your character is in, is the setting described to reveal that certain emotion?

PLOT

  • Does the scene have a beginning, middle, and ending? Do the events that happen make sense to the character?
  • Have you shown the characters’ motives for their actions?

Keep smiling,

Yawatta Hosby

Testing Your Characters

1.  While writing your short story or novel, you should be comfortable resorting to all sorts of communication.  Not just through conversation, but through answering machines, voicemails, emails, letters, texts, Facebook, etc.  This keeps your story realistic.  Of course, if you’re writing about the past, your characters can’t use all these methods, but you could resort to letters.  People used to write letters much more than they talked on the phone in the olden days.

Here’s an exercise you could try:

Choose one of your main characters and reveal him/her through several means of communication.  Write a note or brief letter.  What’s his/her voicemail greeting sound like?  How does he/she leave messages on other people’s phones?  Write an email and text to another character.

  • When you write this, it doesn’t have to be in paragraph form.  You can just label ‘Note/Letter’ then write it.  Label ‘His/Her Voicemail then write it, so on and so on.  It helps if you have an event or situation already in mind–maybe your characters like to gossip about current events.

2.  Pick two characters (main or supporting ones).  For your first one, only describe where they work.  What does the place look like?  What objects are in the room?  For the second person, describe a place where they relax–either at home, work, or at a hobby.  What objects are in the room?

  • This exercise helps you indirectly introduce your characters.  You get a feel for them by the way they arrange their surroundings, and by the way they treat their possessions.  It also reveals some character traits.  For instance, if your character is resourceful but have too much on their plate right now, make him/her have a messy office.  If she/he is a control freak, make the office or home spotless with every item in its correct spot.

3.  Another way to portray characters is by describing what they do (their work or hobby), and how they do it.  It will make your story realistic with people balancing their passions and responsibilities.

  • Working doesn’t have to be a 9-5 job.  If your character is unemployed, you could show them attempting to find a job through interviews, etc.  Or perhaps they are stay at home mom’s and dad’s–taking care of kids and the household is a job.  Maybe your characters aren’t old enough to work yet or just retired.  Working could mean a hobby and/or interests.  Also, being a student whether in school or at college is a job all in itself.

4.  Pick two or three characters (main or supporting ones) and have them meet, interact with each other.  Perhaps they’re roommates or classmates, or a student and teacher.  Imagine them hanging out.  If your characters are total strangers, have them meet at a car accident, flirt in a bar, or fight for a seat on public transportation.  Choose anyplace–doesn’t matter if it’s normal or an unusual place.

  • If your characters are total opposites, all the better.  It can bring tension and conflict.  Let them talk; they should be themselves.  This could mostly be a talk scene, like a play.  Because conversations between two people liven up when a third person joins sometimes, this is why the third character is optional.

Those four exercises help you test your characters to see if they can come alive in your mind.  You have to be interested enough in order to create them.

Also during the testing stage, you can see if a certain character fits or if you want to create someone totally different.  Not all characters will excite or give you enough passion to invest in them.  It is best to find out in this stage instead of wasting time incorporating them into your novel, then feeling lackluster about it.

Creating characters is my favorite part of the creative writing process.  I always spend the longest time in this area by getting to know the people in my story on a personal, intimate level.

  • I like to think of their tone of voice (do they have an accent?  Do they talk like a snob or surfer?); I like to think of their catchphrases.  Are they approachable in other’s eyes, or are they standoffish?  I spend the majority of my note-taking putting my characters through different obstacles to see how they’d handle it.  I practice with mock journal entries, fake Facebook profiles (not actually creating dozens on the website; I mean drawing them in my notebook), taking them to a karaoke bar, etc.  All these ways, I’m getting to understand my characters better, so when it’s time to begin writing my story, I’m set.

For all the writers out there, is there a certain routine you do to get to know your characters?

Keep smiling,

Yawatta Hosby

How To Create Character Voices

Besides having your own writer’s voice, you must create characters with their own voices.  This is very essential if you write in first person point of view.  To create character voices, you must truly understand the people in your story.  A great blog to read about different personality traits and its effect on people is http://dehypnotize.wordpress.com .

Sometimes a psychological trait has a lot to do with a character’s voice.

  • Professions have a way of sneaking into our lives.  To deal with that, you can describe your characters in their terms, with their professional jargon.  Try to get into that mindset and play with it.
  • If you’re writing a children’s book, you can try to write in a kid’s voice.  Every child has his own grammar, so you’d have some leeway.  You could use superlatives like bestest, mostest.  Use double comparatives–differenter, more better.  Some kids use past tenses like I swimmed, bringed, broughted.  Besides thinking of grammar, it is also good to think in a child’s logic as well.  For instance, kids may misunderstand or be curious about something that an adult wouldn’t pay attention to.
  • Maybe a character has a speech disorder, ADD, or paranoid schizophrenia.  The pattern of thoughts creates this effect instead of a choice of words.  If your character has ADD, you could jump from one topic to another midsentence repeatedly.  If your character has paranoid schizophrenia, you could make her intrepret everything as a conspiracy.  If you want to write gibberish, it wouldn’t be a good read, so you should keep it brief and move on.
  • If you have an elderly character, you could use a wisdom, storyteller’s way of speaking.  Instead of making it predictable, have fun with it and use an idiosyncratic approach.

Sometimes voice comes from an emotion, such as anger, depression, love, hate, fear, etc.

  • If angry, your character could become loud and impulsive; if depressed, quiet and philosophical.
  • Emotions give you a way to think and express your thoughts.  The stronger the emotion, the more energy you could develop in your stories.

Voice depends on attitude as well.  Different attitudes are naive, charming, excited, humble, cool, etc.  It will help you understand your character’s point of view, which depends on where and how your character perceives events.  It will also help you understand how your characters relate to their surroundings.

Whatever you do, make sure to read your work aloud.  Make sure you transformed the words on the page how your character would speak instead of how you would speak.

Keep smiling,

Yawatta Hosby