The Writer’s Blog

How to Write Realistic Action Sequences

woman boxer boxing isolated

Whether you write thrillers or fantasy, you’ll engage your Main Character in battles for life and limb. Nothing beats experience when it comes to describing a sequence of near combat. Take classes in Jiu Jutsu or Krav Maga if your hero uses his body to stand up for himself. You don’t have to engage in a Mixed martial arts cage fight to know how it feels. The beginner’s course in any martial art will help you sort out a few basic questions. I watch clips of Michelle Waterson or Ronda Rousey to learn. The MMA and WWE sports are different from Hollywood fight scenes. The fighters bind each other, and the straight punches which reach the opponent with a thud/smack belong mostly to the movies.

Rebane Nordstrom- my MC in Unholy Warrior, fights dirty and my book features some iconic Russian Systema moves to evade an overpowering assailant. I asked my Defendo instructor to attack me- the things we go through to write! Don’t worry, he went easy on me, but I never forget to raise my hands to shield my chin after that. One hit to the jaw and: lights out. Only in Hollywood do people get hit in the head with a metal pipe and go on kicking. In real life, you’d earn a visit to the ER with a skull fracture and a brain injury.

There’s nothing wrong with creative freedom. If you have dragons and magic in your book, what stops you from inventing new fighting skills? Forget realism but remember a few basic rules which help your readers relate to your MC: the danger is an inherent part of raising the stakes. You must allow your hero to be weaker than the opponent at times.

My MC loses a fight in the crowded, narrow cell. Here’s an excerpt from Unholy Warrior:

“There’s no need to pick up a fight, Miss Nordstrom. Stand down and spare yourself from a beating,” Weisser said with a matter-of-fact voice.

Rebane ignored him and targeted the next man who stepped in: a stumpy, wide-shouldered guard who opened his telescope truncheon with a swift hit. He drew his arm back to smack her, but Rebane evaded with a simple Systema move: stepped aside and nudged him. As he folded on the bunk, she delivered a hook into his kidney and wrenched the truncheon from his grip.

The second guard leaped at her, and her baton slammed into his thigh above the knee incapacitating his leg. His attempt to punch her missed and he slumped on the floor. Guards number three and four bumped into each other in the narrow doorway. The duo hesitated when they saw the injured guards writhing on the floor. They exchanged glances before the bigger one rushed forward. The sequence seemed to amuse Weisser who leaned against the wall.

Rebane backed up until her shoulder blades met the cold cement and lodged herself between the washbasin and the bunk. She tried to leap over the bed and go around the attacker, but her pelvis hit the washbasin, and she crash-landed over the blankets. The bigger guy managed to grab her shirt. She extended her left hand, and the bony base of her palm cracked his nose. He fell on the floor as blood gushed into his cupped hands. The next man got kneed in the stomach. Rebane lost hold of the truncheon while she grabbed his neck and mashed her knee up repeatedly.

The master alarm went off and filled the corridor with a deafening noise. A swarm of men toppled her, but she managed to kick nuts, thighs, and shins. She scratched the faces which came near enough and bit into the flesh of a hairy forearm. Rebane didn’t let go until a crowd of hands and knees pinned her to the floor and forced her jaws open. The first blow landed at her shoulder and watered her eyes. A jackboot stepped on her diaphragm. Tears forced out when she squirmed and battled for air. It took just seconds for her to lose the fight.

“Stop!” she screamed when the violent hands tore her clothing and fists pounded at her ribs.

A boar of a man sat on her stomach and growled into her ear. Rebane spat at him which only angered him more. Weisser’s voice toppled the screams and the commotion. He grabbed the boar by his fatigue collar and tore him away from Rebane, but the next madman mounted her and banged her head against the cement floor.

Choose Your Weapons

A baton can do terrible damage at the hands of a skilled user, but when you get threatened with a knife, the stakes assume a different intensity.

One cut can bleed your hero out, or sever a tendon (which means your arm or leg becomes useless). Blocking someone wielding a blade isn’t simple. Books and videos offer help to a writer. I like to refer to Combat Knives and Knife Combat by Dietmar Pohl & Jim Wagner, but you can find great resources on Youtube as well. If you want to get the hang of sword fights, join a Kendo club or try some Medieval martial arts the European way.

At Arm’s Length

One trick I like to use when I write a battle is grabbing anything at arm’s length in the setting and throwing it at the opponent. This is an essential skill in writing action: you cannot omit the environment even if you don’t want to utilize foreign objects.

Consider these elements:

  • Are your opponents facing each other on an open field or in a tight space?
  • What dangers are present besides the assailant(s)? Can traffic or avalanche kill the hero?
  • What can the MC use to his advantage?
  • The season: darts of wind-hurled snow can stop you from seeing, and the wind will raise clouds of sand. It’s hard to escape in knee-deep snow, and a sweaty combatant is difficult to grab.
  • The time of day: will darkness provide cover or the sun blind you? The atmosphere of the fight is vital!
  • Escape is always an option: can the MC run without being hit in the back by a bullet or an arrow? Remember to zig-zag, which makes the bad guy miss.
  • Can the heroine speak her way out of a threatening situation? Both escape and avoiding the battle altogether are the wisest options if you listen to my Defendo instructor.
  • Use the element of surprise: a trained soldier will see the punch coming if you draw your arm back before you strike.
  • Every kick and punch must be backed up with the rotation of the torso and the weight of your body. There is the correct and the wrong way to do this.

Examples From Hollywood

Charlize Theron, Atomic Blonde, The Stairway Fight Scene:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XarGS1AeEcE

Charlize uses everything she can grab, and the sequence has guns, knives, hot plates, and whatnot. She also fights multiple assailants that are stronger than her.

If you need a fast tempo, watch Matt Damon as Jason Bourne: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFnmq5PPScA

Or Daniel Craig as 007: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7kFoR4m1Y0

Both clips have high energy, and I love the moment when Daniel Craig watches how the attacker dies.

The last clip is from the Kurt Russell movie Breakdown. A car chase evolves into a duel between a semi-trailer and pickup truck. The fighters wield multiple weapons and the use of the deadly bridge, in the end, is a stroke of genius: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ovVlk6jCBY

Don’t Overdo The Details and Mind The Players

Know the capabilities and weaknesses of your hero/heroine before you tap your fight scene. My MCs (so far) are women who get attacked by opponents with a larger mass. Evasive movements allow them to strike back and to go for the opponent’s sensitive parts. When it comes to the laws of physics, a force has both magnitude and direction. If your knight is a big guy, he’ll use his mass as a blunt force weapon. Wearing armor and yielding the long sword is hard work, especially if you’re trying to stay on top of a galloping horse at the same time.

In the receiving end of the blows, anatomy, and physiology come into play. If your book takes place in the Middle Ages, knowing the common battlefield injuries helps you understand the weapons of the era. Find out what a beating causes to the human body. The method isn’t used as torture for nothing! The physiological side becomes increasingly important if you write murder mysteries and the key leads come from the killer’s ammo and the ME’s autopsy report.

Letting the reader glimpse a hidden world is a standard trick in the thriller and mystery genres. For example, the usual “slitting of the throat” in Hollywood style isn’t the way to go if you’re a commando sneaking upon a German guard in WWII. I was quite proud of myself when I wrote the “correct” way. However, my training as a Radiographer caused me to overdo the anatomy lesson. No one wants to know if your MC cuts the external or internal carotid artery of the victim with her knife! When your knowledge broadens, the temptation to write detailed descriptions (which get in the way of action) increases.

Don’t Teach The Bird To Fly Or The Fish To Swim

If something comes naturally to your character, use it. Remember Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man (1976)? The movie shows him running from the start and in the climax, he outruns the Nazi’s henchman. The film is a classic thriller for a reason. I never looked at dentists the same way after Laurence Olivier’s excellent performance as the Villain Dr. Christian Szell. Dustin Hoffman excels as well, and the film has terrific control of tension build-ups and releases all the way through.

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Image: Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man (1976) by Paramount Pictures.

The fight-or-flight response is automated because it helped animals survive the challenges of evolution. The symptoms, which even the most battle-hardened hero experiences, offer a writer many ways to put the reader into the skin of the character:

  • Acceleration of heart and lung action; you breath faster and your heart gallops
  • Paling or flushing, or alternating between both
  • Digestion slows down or stops- long-term stress causes harm
  • General effect on the sphincters of the body (urinary tract and bowel)
  • Constriction of blood vessels
  • The liberation of metabolic energy for muscular action
  • Dilation of blood vessels for muscles- the blood gets directed to the places which you need for resistance or escape.
  • Inhibition of the lacrimal gland (responsible for tear production) and salivation- your mouth becomes dry, and you cannot release tears
  • Dilation of the pupil
  • Relaxation of the bladder- you need to pee, or you wet yourself
  • Loss of hearing- you don’t remember everything afterward!
  • Tunnel vision (loss of peripheral vision)- anyone who has experienced this knows what I’m talking about
  • Overactive or overresponsive reflexes. Adrenaline or noradrenaline facilitate preparation for violent muscular action.
  • Uncontrollable shaking or shivering

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fight-or-flight_response
The subjective experience of danger is unique. Don’t forget to describe the character’s emotions. Remember, the fight-flight reaction impairs some senses and enhances others. The emotional response is delayed in most cases. Allow your heroine to deal with a traumatic memory afterward as she heals from her wounds. The rule of action-reaction, remember?

The natural capabilities of the MC help him deal with a surprise attack. You can train your hero until basic moves flow from his muscle memory—this method is used by law enforcement and the military. But anyone who has experienced a traumatic situation knows the phenomenon of freezing. The same person can fight successfully on one occasion and freeze on the next.

“Fight flight freeze is a description of our responses to threat. In recent years, the fawn response has been added. To fight is to confront the threat aggressively. Flight means you run from the danger. When you freeze, you find yourself unable to move or act against the threat. With fight and flight both unavailable to you, you may find yourself hiding from the danger. Fawn is the response of complying with the attacker to save yourself.”

Source: https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/trauma/

The aftermath of freeze or fawn makes coming to terms with what happened harder, which could be a starting point for your MC’s internal conflict.

Further resources on how to write the pace of action and build tension:

https://www.nownovel.com/blog/writing-action-story-good-pacing/

https://thewritelife.com/writing-action-scenes/

https://writeitsideways.com/7-tension-building-tips-for-writing-action-scenes/
Continue reading “How to Write Realistic Action Sequences”

The Art of Descriptive Writing

A fabulous, forest nymph with long hair

The invocation of literary magic lies in mastering the basic elements of storytelling. I’m sure one of these must be your forte:

  • Emotionally attaching the reader to the main character and creating plausible character arcs
  • Vivid descriptions of the setting, which derives from worldbuilding
  • Being the wizard/witch of atmosphere and mood
  • Creating high stakes and mastering the build-up and release of tension
  • Writing dialogue which grabs the reader by the collar and pulls him into your story never letting go until he reads the last line.

Each of the above-mentioned demand descriptions which release only the necessary information. I respect the northern nature because I hunted with my father. My loving memories of him tone my chapters on untamed fells and sacred ponds. I went overboard in my first draft—nothing wrong with the passages per se, except they dragged on with excruciating detail. The reader wants to get on with the plot. You’ll bleed when you delete carefully crafted passages, as I did, but Kill Your Darlings applies to descriptive writing. If you write fantasy, your text feeds on worldbuilding, and the art of choosing becomes a matter of literary life or death. The same applies to historical fiction. As you researched expertise grows, you risk boring the reader with excessive facts.

The greatest classics of mankind can’t be used as a reference on how much to describe. The literary competition has changed since the times of George Orwell and Vladimir Nabokov. Different genres have separate rules on the desired length, and I write thrillers, so you don’t have to agree with me but let me introduce a few interesting theses.

Start With The POV

All fictional descriptions start with the selection of the Point of View. Remember to filter the setting and background through the eyes of your character. Describe what your character would notice, otherwise, you break the spell and cast the reader out of your magical world.

Third Person

The third person is the weapon of choice for most modern authors, and you can choose between omniscient and limited 3rd. Omniscient 3rd: the narrator knows the thoughts and feelings of all of the characters in the story. Limited 3rd: the narrator knows only the thoughts and feelings of a single character, while other characters are presented only externally.

An example of the third person:

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.

George Orwell, 1984

Notice how Orwell binds the setting to the movement of the MC? He uses verbs to describe. And he wrote dystopian—a genre which demands compelling worldbuilding.

More information: https://www.thebalancecareers.com/third-person-omniscient-point-of-view-1277125

First Person

Although the first person has become unpopular in literary fiction, it’s the right glove if you need to punch the reader with what the MC goes through. The 1st person limits what the main character observes through your descriptive ammo. Be careful and remember to invoke emotions.

An example of the first person:

April

Opposite the fireplace and beside me, the telephone. To the right, the sitting-room door, and the passage. At the end of the passage, the front door. He might come straight here and ring at the front door. “Who’s there?” “Me.” Or he might phone from a transit center as soon as he got here. “I’m back — I’m at the Lutetia to go through the formalities.” There wouldn’t be any warning. He’d phone. He’d arrive. Such things are possible. He’s coming back, anyway. He’s not a special case. There’s no particular reason why he shouldn’t come back. There’s no reason why he should. But it’s possible. He’d ring. “Who’s there?” “Me.” Lots of other things like this do happen. In the end they broke through at Avranches and in the end the Germans withdrew. In the end I survived till the end of the war. I must be careful; it wouldn’t be so very extraordinary if he did come back — it would be normal. I must be careful not to turn it into something extraordinary. The extraordinary is unexpected. I must be sensible: I’m waiting for Robert L., expecting him, and he’s coming back.

The phone rings. “Hello? Any news?” I must remind myself the phone’s used for that sort of thing, too. I mustn’t hang up, I must answer. Mustn’t yell at them to leave me alone. “No, no news.” “Nothing? Not a sign?” “Nothing.” “You know Belsen’s been liberated? Yes, yesterday afternoon…” “I know.” Silence. “You mustn’t get disheartened, you must hold on, you’re not the only one, alas — I know a mother with four children…” “I know, I’m sorry, I haven’t moved from where I was. It’s wrong to move too much, a waste of energy, you have to save all your strength to suffer.

Marguerite Duras, The War: A Memoir. Translated from French by Barbara Bray.

Duras’ short, repetitive sentences convey her traumatic stress. The setting comes through as the objects she touches and the doorway a portal where her imprisoned husband might appear. The text centers on the heroine’s mental state—and that’s the beauty of the 1st person.

The Framework of Sensory Perception

The human species relies on visual perception and that’s why writers tend to concentrate on what the MC sees. A tiger might listen and the dog would rather smell if you wrote their POV. When your character turns into a werewolf, remember to incorporate the canine way of taking in the world.

Our senses fail the objectivity test because the brain translates perceptions to fit the overall world view. If you write historical fiction, the cosmology of the era might define if the MC believes his own eyes or not. If a modern doctor stepped into the scene of exorcizing a demon and gave the patient a cocktail of antipsychotic medicines, how would the people of a Middle Age village react? I’m pretty sure none would explain the miracle with the function of neurotransmitters.

The use of due historical language can make your text hard to wade through. Even if you use modern English for the most part, remember that religious communities didn’t allow cursing out loud. The 21st-century heroine can scream ou F**ck and what not but people were God-abiding folks before the scientific/industrial revolution, and everyone attended the Sunday Mass. The reaction to sensory perception minds time and place.

If you write flashbacks, remember that remembering obeys emotion. The smell is a powerful conveyor of memories across decades, and people tend to weapon-focus during torture and battle. The framework guides you which sensory details to choose into your descriptions.

The Big Five

I’ve addressed the five basic senses before in my blog but here’s a list:

  • Seeing
  • Hearing
  • Smelling
  • Tasting
  • Touching

Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which I quoted in my blog post about worldbuilding? If not, check it out:

https://rebeckajager.com/2018/11/22/give-your-characters-hell-a-crash-course-in-world-building/

Nothing stops you from making up senses of your own (Spiderman). If you write within the fantasy or supernatural genre, your MC exercises a variety of abilities like levitation (what would he see from the bird’s POV?) and foreboding (find a unique way to write the MC’s sensory experience during the premonition.)

“Allowing our characters to use their senses will take our writing to the next level. We hear it all the time: show—don’t tell. This is when we make our words come alive as we invite our readers to experience our story—not just read about it.”

Source: https://thewriteediting.blogspot.com/2016/03/using-sensory-perception-in-your-writing.html

List of Other Senses

  • Pressure: if someone grabs you, you can feel it.
  • Itch: everyone knows this one.
  • Thermoception: the ability to sense heat and cold. Follow this sense into writing physical reactions.
  • Sound: sound doesn’t mean only hearing, but detecting vibrations.
  • Proprioception: This sense gives you the ability to tell where your body parts are, relative to other body parts.
  • Tension Sensors: muscle tension. This one is important if your character experienced a beating or battle.
  • Nociception: In a word, pain. There are multiple types of agony and don’t forget the psychological dimension.
  • Equilibrioception: The sense that allows you to keep your balance and sense body movement in terms of acceleration and directional changes. This sense also allows for perceiving gravity.
  • Stretch Receptors: These are found in such places as the lungs, bladder, stomach, and the gastrointestinal tract. A type of stretch receptor, that senses dilation of blood vessels, is also often involved in headaches. Welcome migraine!
  • Chemoreceptors: These trigger an area of the medulla in the brain that is involved in detecting blood born hormones and drugs. When your character vomits, this automated sense is firing.
  • Thirst
  • Hunger
  • Magnetoception: the ability to detect magnetic fields.
  • Time: and this one is beneficial for a writer!

Source: http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2010/07/humans-have-a-lot-more-than-five-senses/

Make Description an Active Part of The Story

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Descriptions that just sit there are generally known as “narrative lumps.” The medicine for them is show, don’t tell, but remember that you can go overboard with showing. You need traditional narration to move your plot forward, to foreshadow events and to give the readers a sense of character. Avoid info dumps and sprinkle the description evenly. Remember to bind the descriptive parts into action.

Ways to make the description part of the action:

  • Choose the best descriptors and delete the rest
  • Describe what your characters would notice while they do something else, move or speak
  • Use strong, concrete words to describe—active verbs are your allies.
  • Choose which senses fit the scene. What if your character gets blindfolded?
  • Start from basics while you write the first draft and refine through revisions. Make a note to check the use of other senses beyond seeing.

Use Character POVs For a New Angle

Your writing might become repetitive as the plot progresses past page 250. Use the introduction of new characters to change the way you describe. Strong secondary characters have their separate opinions and help you introduce a new side of the MC. Write a scene where the significant other or sidekick disagrees with the MC on which way they should turn. How does the antagonist perceive the events? It takes skill to rotate POV but check out other writers who master the skill. Also, if your world is extremely violent and cruel (like mine), the reader might attach to a person similar to herself.

Foil and Mirror Characters

Foil characters share few or no values or traits. Maybe one character is lazy and boring, and his best friend is energetic and a go-getter. These are foil characters. Put them together, and they’ll highlight each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The most common foil characters are the heroes and villains, who stand for different values and want to achieve separate goals.

Mirror characters are used for a similar purpose. They tend to share several qualities and are used to complement and highlight each other’s traits. Common mirror characters embark on parallel plots, sometimes to achieve a single goal, which tests them and highlights their traits in different ways.

Source: https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/literary-devices/

Mirror Characters and Compassion

  • Using clearly stated comparisons allow readers to see what the protagonist sees and better understand the inner conflict and, therefore, theme.
  • Presenting at least two mirror characters will give the protagonist more opportunities to learn and will strengthen his/her evolution with the theme at hand.
  • Remember that the chief role of mirror characters is to show how they’re thematic opposites.
  • A character arc succeeds when readers see how a protagonist’s behaviors and thinking patterns have changed.

Source: https://diymfa.com/reading/how-mirror-characters-can-illustrate-literary-themes

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Survival Package for Co-authors

Sword wielding bloody viking soldier with warrior queen

When you write a book alone you’re single: nobody cares if you don’t take out the trash, or if you sleep until noon surrounded by beer cans. A writer’s block lasting for three months will drive you crazy, but it won’t delay anyone else’s career.

The case of joint-authoring reminds a marriage. You have a common goal (I hope), and you’re prepared to work together. You also annoy each other sometimes, and small matters can cause huge fights. Afterward, you go on writing the book like nothing happened.

Is Co-authoring a book the right choice for you?

Writing a book together with your natural rivals demands that you trust and honor your colleagues. Choose people whose writing style appeals to you. But what if one of you makes it big with his own product while you’re still struggling with the joint project? The feeling of envy belongs to the literary business. Put jealousy aside and work harder with him. And if the co-operation doesn’t work out, have a plan B ready.

Co-authoring is a serious commitment which shouldn’t be entered lightly. Stay true to your writing buddies through thick and thin. Be honest with them. You have equal rights and duties.

Plus factors of the pact

  • You only have to write a part of the text because other writers do their part.
  • You have expert help at hand. People who know your plot offer great tips. Each one notices different things.
  • Your pals have the drive to help you because without you succeeding, they won’t cross the finish line.
  • You have several people with their unique fanbase shouting your message across social media. Coordinate your efforts.
  • Splitting the costs for editing and book cover. You don’t have to pay for everything without someone participating.
  • You have different strengths and weaknesses. Together you make a stronger unit than alone. One of you knows weapons like a professional SWAT officer, another one creates a killer emotional impact…

Minus factors

  • You split the money you get, and the money is far from a jackpot, to begin with.
  • Amazon doesn’t have a feature to divide the authorship of a book. You must decide which one of you portrays the book on her author page.
  • Sometimes joint authorship means re-writing something which would have been a simple thing by yourself. The plus sides are so big that this is a small nuisance.
  • One of you will write more than the others.
  • Risks of departing and all amounts to nothing

Tips for Survival

  • You must have experience, something to bring to the table. Don’t expect anyone to teach you the basics of creative writing for free.
  •  If someone gives non-constructive commentary, be honest about it; otherwise, you’re going to have a violent fall out at some point.
  • Agree on SoMe postings and PR: what to tell and when? Ask your partners before you post.
  • Write a roadmap and a scene list for the book. This way you minimize rewriting because you don’t develop the plot into conflicting directions.
  • Agree who writes which part beforehand. Divide the workload evenly.
  • Create character wrap sheets for all major characters. The co-authors must know each other’s characters like their own pockets if the same characters run through the book.
  • Share material openly with your writing buddies. Teach others, and they’ll teach you. If you guard your treasured content, how can you expect others to put it all out?
  • Split the costs evenly. The same goes with incoming money, like royalties.
  • Agree on copyright.
  • Negotiate and present justified & clear arguments.

Enter this challenge with an attitude for adventure. It won’t be a walk in the park, I can promise you that. Strike a deal on deadlines, and I’m not talking about synchronizing word counts. Be flexible. Each writer has a different style and mentality. But if your writing buddy gets in trouble with a plot twist, or loses motivation, step in to help. Each one of you will face several writer’s blocks on the way.

Encourage each other to go on. Say out loud when you struggle. This is the most crucial piece of advice I can give you.

What can go seriously wrong?

Unfortunately, everything can go wrong. Usually, life intervenes. What if one of you gets hit by a car and cannot work for months? On a less morbid note, can your motivation take long breaks from the joint project, and pick up writing like nothing happened?

You are likely to disagree about different publishing routes and other life-and-death questions. If you own 50-50% rights of characters and plot, who has the final say? I mean this one can stop publishing after several years of hard work.

What do you consider a deal-breaker? Speak your mind through the whole process. Voice doubts in time!

People have spouses, children and day jobs. Writers usually face losing their job as a possibility to write more, but sometimes the opposite happens: you must work two or three jobs to support your loved ones. You won’t have time to write—or sleep. What happens to joint joint-authorship if one of you cannot deliver, not even after lenient deadlines? It’s human nature to hang on to something we love although we have no power to go on. Writers are incredibly ambitious and letting go is harder if you’re friends with your writing buddies.

What if the one who has to drop out is you?

My advice is this: stay in contact with your former writing buddies. Keep them updated on your situation. Another chance to co-operate might dawn in your future. To avoid a mental meltdown, be honest to your writing colleagues. Request a time-out or stop participating if you must. The others will understand your predicament.

Tools of Co-operation

Call each other if you live in the same country. I, on the other hand, live at the Northern end of Europe. I use mostly email and shared Word files to communicate. Skype is an excellent option because on the live video you see the reactions of others.

Do your writing on Google Docs where everyone can edit and leave comments. Be open-minded about editing. Google Drive and Online Word are good choices- both allow you to synchronize your laptop edition into the shared Cloud. The internet overflows with workshop software, both for PC and IOS operating systems. With the various mobile phone apps, you can edit or comment on other people’s text on the go.

Keep track of your changes. Have a specific file for the final draft. One of you might know the correct format for a finished manuscript, or you can buy the service.

Use a professional editor of high quality. The capability to give ruthless critique diminishes when you become friends with your co-authors. An editor will polish the rough edges and get rid of excess wordiness. The route of choice to publishing makes no difference: well-edited is half-sold in the Indie world as well.

Search Engine Optimization for Writers

balance

Search Engine Optimization means boosting natural visibility. The aim is to lift your website, blog, etc. as high as possible in the keyword search result which describes your product. Web traffic is driven by the major commercial search engines, Google, Bing, and Yahoo.

Reasons why you must work with SEO:

  • Most consumers never visit the second page of search engine results. You must get to the first page.
  • The majority of users utilize search engines before they buy a product
  • Direct relevant traffic to your website: people who want to read your genre and who will love your blurb.
  • Yes, I know IT isn’t your top priority. SEO demands patience, but the results benefit you in the long run.

The door to the world of search engine optimization doesn’t open quickly. If it did, optimization wouldn’t be big business.  You can find top companies who will do the job for you–for money. In this article, I explain a few key concepts. Applying optimization means sitting on your butt to untangle a difficult dilemma. But you’ve already overcome the most significant obstacle by writing a book! Use the same iron determination to make your creation visible to the world. Make a habit of looking into your SEO performance now and then.

Keywords

“Your SEO keywords are the essential words and phrases in your web content that make it possible for people to find your site via search engines. A website that is well optimized for search engines “speaks the same language” as its potential visitor base with keywords for SEO that help connect searchers to your site.”

Source: https://www.wordstream.com/seo-keyword

Writing a list of keywords is the decisive step in your search engine optimization initiative. The best keyword research tool is just a spreadsheet. I’m sure you use “book” among your keywords, but that doesn’t set you apart from the competition. Self-publishing has revolutionized the volume of new books.

“Here’s the problem with self-publishing: no one cares about your book. That’s it in a nutshell. There are somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone, depending on which stats you believe. Many of those – perhaps as many as half or even more – are self-published. On average, they sell less than 250 copies each. Your book won’t stand out. Hilary Clinton’s will. Yours won’t.”

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/nickmorgan/2013/01/08/thinking-of-self-publishing-your-book-in-2013-heres-what-you-need-to-know/#2304f25d14bb

But that won’t stop you from trying? It sure as hell won’t stop me. That’s why finding you from the sea of other writers is a necessity.

Remember to include your keyword in the title, in the first 300 words and topmost headlines. In the body of the text, use variations of your keyword. The point is to think about keywords when you write a blog post, create a new page on your WordPress or other hosting sites. You use hashtags when you post on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you didn’t, start doing it now. Watching which content comes up under each hashtag will open a new world for you. It’s the same thing with keywords. And remember to spy on your competitors!

Find out more about SEO:

9 Secrets of Professional SEO Article Writers: https://www.contentfac.com/7-secrets-of-professional-seo-writers/

Sources for Newbies: https://moz.com/beginners-guide-to-seo

What Attracts People to You

Remember to follow up and modify your actions accordingly. See which of your posts get most likes and forwardings. Produce more content which “sells.” I’ve done this on a small scale and my smiley face—yes, good old me—produces most likes when I do something I love: fiddle my guns, run with my dogs, photograph the Finnish nature. A person behind the pen name can be the most exciting thing to your readers. Sometimes, my Huskies get more likes than I do. So what? They belong to the same brand.

The Google keywords heroine post-apocalypse arctic produces one of my author pages as a search result. My work on this was minimal. Yet I ended up on the first result page. The point being that those ordinary words describe The Unholy Warrior, my novel in the making. That’s why I wrote the words into the body of my page’s text.

“When it comes to web pages, Metadata and meta tags refer to the title and description of a web page that are encoded into the page but not actually displayed on the screen with the page. The real consumer of this invisible data and HTML code are the search engines, as this data provides important information to search engines about the content and purpose of the web page.”

Source: https://www.webpresencesolutions.net/metadata-meta-tags-web-page-titles-page-descriptions-explained/

Do study, what attracts people to you. Writers similar to you: what are they doing better? Please don’t compare yourself to Lee Child or David Baldacci. Just Googling thriller writers produces their broad smiles along with Stephen King. These people are insanely famous, and they have otherworldly resources to take care of their SEO. Look into people a bit above your own level, writers who are easy to find. And don’t procrastinate optimization until you’ve published. You’ll waste most of the punch in a book launch. But it’s never too late to start.

Site Tools

WordPress, especially if you paid for the business version, offers you different plugins for free. The pro versions cost but provide a wide range of functions.

SEO_Yoast

Yoast and other top SEO plugins for WordPress: https://neilpatel.com/blog/10-wordpress-plugins-to-turn-your-site-into-an-seo-powerhouse/

Use the plugin of your choice and let the wizard guide you into applying for a Google search engine authentication code (which is just Google’s way of making sure you own the site). https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/35179?hl=en

Just by doing this with Yoast, I surpassed a few ladies bearing the same name. Plus I attacked multiple fronts: social media ranks high in search results.

Rebecka_search_results

Searching Google with my full name is just an example. A name is specific. More common search terms produce more competition, but as a writer, you need to be known by your pen name or Christian name. Search yourself from time to time!

Internal Content Linking

Internal links are any links that connect your webpages to one another. You must offer content which serves the customer. He must find what he wants easy and quick.

“Search engines put emphasis on rewarding positive user experiences as they care about their end customer – the searcher. When the searcher uses Google or Bing and finds what they are looking for at the top of the search results, the site is giving their user value.”

That means your site needs to be easy to navigate and the content well written. Don’t think what you want to say, but what your reader needs to hear! And please don’t push.

Five essential best practices for internal linking structure:

  • Put the user first
  • Manage internal link value and flow
  • Structure around content topics
  • Utilize unique content and canonicals
  • Indexing and prioritization

Source: https://www.searchenginejournal.com/seo-internal-links-best-practices/214886/

External Content Linking

“In fact, an external or hyperlink is any link that was posted on another website but points to your web resource. Same way, when you insert a link to another resource on your site – it is called an external or outbound link.”

Source: https://sitechecker.pro/external-links/

Use external linking to direct traffic onto your author site. Use social media with references to relevant content on your blog. Don’t spam. The material must be exciting and allow your followers to spread it out of their free will, and their followers to do the same.

You remember when you learned to engage the reader’s emotions with your writing? Do the same with web content!

Everyone who forwards what you want is your helper in SEO. The more links lead to your page, the higher the ranking it deserves in search engines. That’s why blogging is so useful for a writer. Feature guest writers on your blog. Appear on someone else’s author page and spread the link around.

Final Reminder

I’m just a stupid person who writes as a hobby. If I could get the hang of basic SEO to scratch the surface, so can you.  With $69 per month, a team of experts can do it for you. Where’s the fun in that? Besides, they don’t know your book the way an author knows his child. They won’t be passionate about the product! You spent every free moment for the past months/years writing your story. You know what your readers want to hear!

Remember to use paid advertising in social media to promote your published book and to encourage people to write reviews. Start experimenting (in good time before going live) with Facebook ads, for example. Use small money and measure your results. Refine your actions accordingly. Every system offers great statistics tools nowadays. Take a peek where your fans come from and how they ended up on your site.

Happy search engine optimization!

PS: If you intend to publish traditionally, don’t think the publishing company will do this for you because they won’t.

Character Development to The Extreme

frozen moment

This time I’ll address the critical questions in developing your MC, or the other central characters of your WIP. I’ve talked about character questionnaires before, but if you haven’t read my blog, you can check out this one: https://www.novel-software.com/theultimatecharacterquestionnaire#basic

Or: https://www.freelancewriting.com/creative-writing/questions-for-creating-character-development/

What you see when you read a book is the tip of the iceberg. A fraction of character development ends up in the final text. The more work you put into building your character, the more natural he/she is during dialogue, action, and reaction.

Most writers start the difficult task of character creation from the physical features:

  • The color of eyes, hair, and skin.
  • Age, sex
  • Voice
  • Body type
  • Hands
  • Facial expressions

Choosing who goes through the difficult path of your story is a major decision.

“Am I still on the path of truth? Have I found fair equivalents into which to transpose the habits, the professions, the relations of feelings? For an act has by no means the same meaning if it is performed by a rich or a poor man, by a bachelor or a father of six, by an old man or a young girl.”

Joseph Kessel, Army of Shadows.

When you meet a person for the first time, you pay attention to their physical features like hair and eye color. When you meet a love interest, you’re bound to notice eye color, but what if you’re applying for a job? Do you remember afterward what the person interviewing you looked like? I’d bet you didn’t take note of his eye color but you might recognize his voice, or mannerisms during the interview because you read his movements subliminally. You searched for clues: did he like you or did he hate your guts?

The situation

If you sit in the interrogation room and you face a powerful opponent who holds all the cards, what do you observe?

I see the body language of my opponent. I search for signs that he exaggerates what he knows. I’d wait for his hand to form a fist, in which case, I’d raise my arm to block a hit. Okay, the interrogation scenes in my books are bloodbaths, but your local sheriff might go easier on the suspect. Again, this depends on your worldbuilding.

Body language is essential

I cannot stress this one enough. I use the interrogation as an example because the power balance is unequal and offers the writer possibilities to bring out the worst and the best in people.

The body language depends on the character’s goals: does your hero have something to hide? What’s at stake? The fate of his comrades? If your MC is a professional soldier who received SERE training, he filters his reactions. If your heroine stands amidst her enemies, she might use different means to survive or impress her opponents. Her goal in the scene defines her responses.

Who is the attacker and who tries to block him? These positions cause our body language to change. Is your suspect a serial killer or a wrongly-accused ex-spouse? High- and low-power poses in the images below are just examples. The interpretation of body language is a science, and if you write a crime novel, studying this field pays.

Screen-Shot-2013-04-17-at-4.50.09-PM.png

Screen-Shot-2013-04-17-at-4.50.28-PM.png

Source: https://blog.bufferapp.com/improve-my-body-language-secrets

The same unspoken language rises to the surface if two persons negotiate a deal in the middle of a bazaar, or if a husband and wife engage in an argument. What their mouths say, and what their bodies tell, are two different things. Body language is ancient—it predates speech. Our brains interpret these patterns instinctively, whether you like it or not.

In Retrospect

Your character wasn’t born ready. He learned a few tricks along the way and his family and friends had an effect on him. He belongs to society: defending the status quo or fighting to topple it. That’s why the questions about his past are essential. Character questionnaires will guide you to develop a history for your MC.

Examples of questions which dig deeper:

  • What are his biggest secrets?
  • How does he display affection?
  • How competitive is he?
  • What are his political views?
  • What will he stand up for?

You might never offer the reader a complete history,  but you’ll choose a few star moments for painful flashbacks or golden memories… bitter chalk of defeat which fills your heroine with anger at the right moment. Build a past, and use it.

Each person comes with a past and future: an arc of development. You can’t create believable literary characters without the dimension of time, the essence of change. We age. We might become different persons because of painful trauma. What we expect from the future says a lot about our personality.

The Action

The writer faces a terrible dilemma. You must fit so much into a single scene and remember your plot outline. Most of your troubles might not even survive into the final manuscript.

Tips for writing dialogue that connects your characters to their world:

  • Use background action to add tone and mood
  • Add movement to dialogue to keep the story moving
  • Use mid-dialogue actions for tense interruption
  • Reveal character relationships through movement and action
  • Add dramatic emphasis to characters’ emotions in a scene
  • Use movement, gesture and action to reveal personality

The Now Novel article is pure genius. Source: https://www.nownovel.com/blog/movement-action-in-dialogue/

The job is impossible, I know. I’ve shed tears on my keyboard because the puzzle refuses to decode. That’s why I turn to writer thesauruses:

Emotion-Thesaurus-2nd-Edition.jpg

https://www.amazon.com/Emotion-Thesaurus-Writers-Character-Expression/dp/1475004958

masterlists

https://www.amazon.com/MASTER-LISTS-WRITERS-Thesauruses-Character-ebook/dp/B016U2K20O

The scene and the character are inseparable. Otherwise, your character becomes an info dump upon entrance, and his presence remains shallow throughout the chain of events: the scenes.

I also advise you to write your characters bit by bit. Polishing through rewriting makes them perfect. What is a thin film, in the beginning, can evolve into a master portrait of a human being after the edits. The readers will love or hate your character. Both are equally desirable because you want to arouse an emotional response.

If you get stuck, take a look at an iconic character in your favorite author’s book. What traits catch your eye? Make a list.

The Art of Choosing

As you write a scene, you see every little detail with your mind’s eye. You notice the light reflecting from the heroine’s honey blonde hair, and you know she’s got blisters in her palm from wielding the massive sword. You feel the temptation to write every single detail into her movements, and the objects she uses, because you want to convey the movie which plays in your head.

But here comes the hard part. You should concentrate on significant action: on the parts which move your story forward and tell the reader what she needs to know. Remember to leave room for the reader’s imagination.

Trust your readers.

One of the most misunderstood rules among newbie writers is “Show, don’t tell.” Mastering that law is a basic lesson in writing, but you can’t show everything! Your book would stretch on forever as the plot would go nowhere. You must choose your battles. Picking what to tell is something you’ll learn only by writing and rewriting. Also, peer critique, beta-readers, and a skilled editor will help you get there. Separating the important stuff from useless junk is impossible if you sit in your hermit’s chamber alone.

The things which matter most to you might be the wrong ones! Hence the rule: “Kill your darlings.”

As you see, the theme of character development runs through the fabric of the book. Every essential element of storytelling has something to do with the character. Even the setting, which you might think is a standalone complex, must be shown through the eyes of the point-of-view character. If you show something the heroine couldn’t possibly observe, you break the spell of the POV.

Character Movements

When the character travels through the scenes, describing his movement is essential. When you’re on page 305 of your manuscript, you’ll feel the temptation to repeat the same key motions. Turn to the thesaurus for inspiration. Open your favorite book and write down the mannerisms of the characters amid different situations.

An excellent article by K. M. Weiland on character movements, with examples:

https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/common-writing-mistakes-describing-character-movements/#

And remember:

“You’ll note that correctly describing character movements doesn’t necessarily mean you have to describe every single detail.”

—K.M. Weiland