5 Writer Challenges

Have you ever questioned the old proverb “misery loves company”? How in the world do you feel better when someone else feels as poorly as you do?

Because you’re human.

Humans have an innate need for social connection and often seek what is familiar. We seek ways to alleviate our feelings, and the best way to do that is by finding people who understand.

Writing is a lonely business. For the most part, writers spend hours on end by themselves. We seek other writers who understand our challenges relating to our writing process.

All writers have their strengths and weaknesses. Let’s take a look at 5 ways writers struggle with their work, and the solutions.

5 Writer Challenges

  • Plot Development
  • Time Management
  • Characters
  • Dialogue
  • Perfectionism

Plot Development

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Writers are finding several issues accompanying their plots. Some find their entire books happening in the first few pages. They have no idea how to slow it down enough to fill up the rest of their books. Some struggle with certain parts of the story, such as a dragging middle. Some find their entire book is dragging.

Solution:

If you struggle with Dramatic Structure, pick a structure and get familiar with it. Plot your points and base the rest of your work around those. You don’t have to get detailed with plotting, but even I, a pantser, do minimal plotting. My work is better for it.

If you find episodic narrative in your work, cut it. That means unless the day-to-day small stuff is important to plot, delete it from your story. This usually helps with an entire book dragging. What also helps is looking at how many subplots you have. While there is no exact formula for how many subplots you can have, if it doesn’t enhance your plot, cut it. You’ll find there may be things your characters do that don’t enhance your plot. Cut those, too, no matter how much you love them.

If you find your middle dragging, divide it into two sections, making your 3-act structure a 4-act structure. It’ll help you see things more clearly. This is another place where you can cut what doesn’t enhance the plot.

If you find your entire book happening in a few scenes, consider making it a short story or flash fiction piece. Some work isn’t meant to be a full-length novel. Nothing wrong with that.

Time Management

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Perhaps you, like many writers, find yourself surfing the web while it’s product time. Maybe you’re on day 20 of research without having written a single word. Or, maybe you can’t stop editing what you do write, getting you very, very, very slowly to the end of your work. Then, you have straight-up procrastination.

Solution

The best solutions I can offer you for time management comes as a three-fold. One: Limit your distractions. Turn off the internet if you have to.

Two: When you’re supposed to be writing, then write. I know, if it were that easy, time management wouldn’t be a thing. Even if you only can fit in ten minutes, trust that the world won’t (probably) fall apart in that time, and everything else can wait. Tell your brain there is a time and place for all other thoughts, but this isn’t that time. Yes, this takes practice.

Three: Forgive yourself for wasting time. If you’re hard on yourself, you’ll feel guilty. Guilt turns off your creative brain. You literally have no time for guilt. Just get yourself back on track.

As for too much editing and research, know that your story won’t be perfect the first couple drafts. Try to relax and just tell the story you’d tell your friends. Research is super fun, and for me, it lasts the entire writing process. How I navigate seemingly endless research is to use placeholders and leave comments to myself while focused on writing.

Procrastinating…it’s truly an art. It doesn’t make you lazy to procrastinate. It makes you human. Usually, procrastination stems from fear of the thing you’re procrastinating. Dig deep into this and figure out what you’re afraid of. Then #ffear and get writing.

Characters

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Characters are important to your story, especially if it’s character-driven. Find that you have perfect characters? Flat characters? Too many of the same characters? Not enough of a cast? Too much of a cast?

Solutions:

Give your characters real flaws. These flaws should get in their way constantly. The flaws don’t always have to relate to the lie your character believes, but at least one should. Look back at their childhoods and see what traumatic events could shape a flaw. Then use the hell out of it to create conflict. This goes for both perfect and flat characters. Dig deep into their psyche to figure out who they are. Make a list of possible flaws and choose some.

When you find that you have too many of the same characters, it helps to combine some of them into one or two characters. That also goes for too much cast. Remember that the more characters you have, the more chances you have of confusing a reader. A confused reader is not a good thing. Don’t do it.

If you think you don’t have enough cast, think hard about it. There is no formula for how many characters you need. You can have one character if it means your story gets told. If you think it’s important to add some, think of character types that help advance your plot or main characters. Don’t add random ones.

Check out the posts on character building.

Dialogue

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A lot of writers find they are either really good at dialogue, or pretty bad at it. It’s definitely something easy to get wrong. Dialogue is one of the best tools you have in your writing arsenal, and if not used carefully, it can ruin your work.

Writers find they have flat dialogue or a simple exchange bit. Too realistic dialogue is also a huge problem. Other problems include: being formal all the time, glaring dialogue tags, no dialogue tags, phonetic spelling, too much or no narrative, using names too often, summarizing important dialogue, and the opposite, writing out everything.

Solutions

Use silence to create conflict. If your character asks a difficult question or gives a difficult statement, either have the other character use silence or try to change the subject. This also ties into the simple exchange bit (on the nose). Don’t have characters ask questions and then give an answer right away. People don’t talk like that.

Speaking of how people talk, skip the interrupters. The “um” “ers” and stutters, for the most part. Some exchanges call for them but cut when possible. Try not to have your characters be too formal, though, unless it’s part of that character’s personality. Keep in mind that people also speak differently based on who they are talking to. Talking to a spouse will be different than talking to an officer who has just pulled you over.

Using the tag “said” is best for most cases, though feel free to mix it up from time to time. Readers will skip the word said, and that’s what you want. You don’t want them to be pulled from the story because of an obtrusive dialogue tag.

For instance, don’t say:

“I hate you!” she screamed.

The exclamation point says it all. Even better than ‘said’ is using action tags instead of dialogue tags. Example:

John lit his cigarette, his gaze level on Steph,. “I hate you.”

In most cases, you’d never place an action in the same paragraph as someone else’s dialogue so this wouldn’t confuse the reader.

Phonic spelling gets to be a problem when it draws your reader from your work. Use it sparingly. Use narrative to enhance your dialogue, and dialogue to enhance your narrative. It’s all about balance. Skip characters using other character’s names unless it’s for emphasis.

Check out more dialogue tips.

Perfectionism

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Going back to what I said in the plot section. Your first few drafts won’t be perfect. Train your brain to have a switch. There is a time for editing, and it’s not during your first few drafts.

Save your neurotic tendencies for your last draft, and even then, remember the goal is to move forward, not be stuck.

7 Dialogue Tips: What We Do Say

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Would you believe that only 18% of the population favors assertiveness? That means 82% of the population favor a more passive approach. That’s a whole lot of miscommunication and pent up emotion. How did it get this way?

I mentioned in another post on characters that our upbringing has a lot to do with who we are today. This goes for the things we say and don’t say. Our culture is geared more toward collectivism that started the day we entered school.

How a person was raised will affect the way they speak. Where they were raised will affect which words they choose. Even their gender will affect how they speak. Good dialogue is hard to write. My top suggestions are to know your characters and save the fluff.

If the dialogue doesn’t move the plot forward or show character, leave it out. In my other post about dialogue, I explained about the unspoken content, but in the following tips, you’ll learn how to use what characters do say the right way.

Fluffy doesn’t belong here.

Photo by Matthew Henry

You want your dialogue to be natural, and a good way to make this happen is to listen to other people speaking to one another. you’ll notice the way words flow, how different people speak, even if they are from the same area, but you’ll also notice the fluff.

The dreary niceties. Small talk, stammering (unless part of your character’s voice, and even then, don’t overwhelm us), repetition. Fluff is the stuff that doesn’t belong in dialogue.

Voice

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Each character should have their own voice. A good way to check this is to write a scene without dialogue tags. If you can make this work in the book, fantastic, but stick to practicing it before you include any. If your characters all speak alike and you can’t tell who is speaking, go back to work. Knowing your characters will help improve your character voices.

Dialect

Dialect and voice tie in, but I wanted to touch on this. Feel free to add a few sparse pieces of dialect to begin with, but don’t overdo it. We only need hints–odd words native to where they come from, the way they put sentences together, action tags, so forth. If you don’t hit us over the head with dialect, we won’t have to reread your dialogue. Thus, interrupting the flow of your work.

Dialogue as tension

Dialogue is a powerful tool if used correctly. One of the best things it can do is raise the tension instantly. It can enhance the mood of the scene (also enhancing conflict when applicable). People rarely say what they mean, so dialogue is a simple way to create misunderstandings.

Preach to me

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When the author inserts himself/herself into the narrative or dialogue. You’re forcing your theme or central idea on the reader and it shows. You’ve got something you want to say in your work, and that’s perfectly fine, but show the reader, don’t shove it down their throat with pure telling.

Mixing it up

As I’ve said, dialogue is hard. Another mistake newbies make is to rely on dialogue alone. Dialogue is to enhance the narrative, not take its place. Take a look at my other post about dialogue here.

Tag–you’re it

A lot of writers think that it’s repetitive to use the tag “said” but in actuality, we prefer it. That’s not to say that you can’t use other tags, but be wary of tags that repeat what your character just said or the punctuation you just used to end the dialogue line. In the case of a question mark, it is okay to use “asked” but you could easily use “said”, as well. No need to use “yelled” when there is an exclamation point. (Also, use exclamation points sparingly). When you choose to use another adverb as a tag, be sure it’s a strong one.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list. Good dialogue is difficult to write, but hopefully these tips will get you on the right path. Leave a comment below about other dialogue tips you’ve come across. Enjoy!

10 Dialogue tips: What We Don’t Say

10 Dialogue tips: What We Don’t Say

According to Paulette Gillig, nonverbal signals make up 60-65% of our daily communication. That’s more than half, my fellow symbol jotters. Most of these nonverbal signals are unconscious, meaning that we don’t think about them, and aren’t always aware we’re conveying them.

In writing, we often hear “show, don’t tell” and body language (aka, nonverbal signals) are one of the best ways to do that. Though you can certainly revise, plan what your character’s nonverbal skills are when creating them.

Take a look at your current work-in-progress. I just did, and holy moly, the amount of “sighed” and “smiled” and “raised an eyebrow” was enough to make me cringe. (Cringing was also overused.) Do you find you overuse your own go-to’s, as well? Let’s dig into nonverbal communication so we can make our writing more authentic.

Context

Photo by James Douglas

When writing nonverbal signals, we have to remember context. In real life, you wouldn’t assume someone is lying because they can’t meet your eyes. You have to look at the bigger picture because there are many of reasons that someone wouldn’t meet your eyes while speaking, though lying is one of them.

Context to consider:

  • Environment- where is the character and who is the character around?
  • Usual demeanor- how does this character typically behave?
  • Nonverbal communication of others present- how is this character picking up on others around them?

The Magic Number 10

  • Facial expressions
  • Microexpressions
  • Gestures
  • Paralinguistics
  • Posture
  • Proxemics
  • Eye Gaze
  • Haptics
  • Appearance
  • Artifacts

Facial Expressions

We all know basic facial expressions and can usually read them quite easily. We can tell when a person is happy, sad, mad, or bored based on how their faces are contorted.

Microexpressions

Microexpressions are voluntary and involuntary emotional responses that often occur simultaneously and conflict with each other. The amygdala processes stimuli and then the person quickly tries to hide the reaction. Think of someone flinching and then straightening their shoulders to show they aren’t phased.

Gestures

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Gestures are cultural, but they are some of the clearest ways for us to decode how a person is feeling. Be sure when using gestures, they are true to your character’s culture. For example, some Native Americans will not use finger pointing to draw attention to someone else. It’s rude.

Paralinguistics

Paralinguistics refer to vocal communication. Think tone of voice, pitch, inflection, and loudness. Someone saying “I love you” for the first time will be different than if those same words are said in desperation to keep a relationship going.

Posture

Photo by Alexandre Lecocq

Open posture indicates friendliness, whereas closed posture indicates hostility or anxiety. Posture tells us a lot about how a person is feeling as well as can indicate a demeanor. Think military style.

Proxemics

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez

Anthropologist Edward T. Hall discovered meaning behind the distance between people as they interact. Four levels to be exact.

  • Intimate distance— 6 to 18 inches
  • Personal distance— 1.5 to 4 feet
  • Social distance— 4 to 12 feet
  • Public distance— 12 to 25 feet

Imagine that a couple dating are close, touching, but around the possibly-someday in-laws, there are at least 4 feet between them. (Note: this will differ in cultures so do your research if needed)

Eye Gaze

Excuse me for this cliche, but the eyes are the window into the soul. Cool, you say, but no one really ever explained how. Fear not, I’m going to remedy that!

Imagine you’re in a conversation, and the other person makes eye contact. Naturally, you assume the person is interested in what you have to say. Too much eye contact, and you may feel this person is a bit intimidating. What kind of monster stares at you for so long?!

Or the other person looks away. Are they even listening? What else has their attention? Are they uncomfortable or trying to hide how they really feel?

Blinking incessantly is another tricky one. Or, for that matter, not blinking enough. Uncomfortable people tend to blink more, where people who are trying to control their eye movements blink less. (Think poker face.)

Pupil size can actually convey attraction or interest. Next time you’re flirting, pay attention to their growing pupils.

Haptics

Haptics is communication via touch. This is another one of those culture-sensitive things. Think someone who is offering sympathy. They might reach out to lay their hand over someone else’s or hug them. People also use haptics as displays of aggression. Someone in a fight might shove another person to get them to back off.

Appearance

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as color psychology. Research shows that what a person wears not only says something about their personality but also can affect someone else’s mood. I like to wear blue because it makes me feel calm, but it also has the same effect on others. People also experience synesthesia (one sense is simultaneously perceived as if by one or more additional senses. Think Taste the Rainbow.)

This brings me to a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading by Dr. Joel Salinas called Mirror Touch.

Artifacts

This fits into appearance, but also includes images since we are in an ever-growing digital world. Notice my header picture is of a feather and this blog is about writing. Doctors wear scrubs. Police Officers wear uniforms. All these artifacts tell us something nonverbal about the person connected to them.

There you have it, fellow symbol jotters. Take these 10 nonverbal signals into account when writing dialogue. Remember, conflict is plot. Don’t be afraid to rely on all the things we don’t say.

Take a look at the other character building posts in the series.

Characters: How Beliefs Shape Reality

Characters: The Lie They Believe

Characters: Getting in their head: Part One

Fun reads and research

Nonverbal Communication in Psychotherapy

Understanding Body Language and Facial Expressions

Types of Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal communication speaks volumes

Nonverbal Communication

https://www.silentcommunication.org/

Non-Verbal Communication in Writing

Cheat Sheets For Writing Body Language

What are some of your go-to nonverbal signals? Leave a comment below!