I like to read decorating books.  I don’t have any money to redo my house, but it’s fun to imagine what I would do if I could.  Paint, paper, slipcovers, pillows, flowers and accessories go in and out of style, so I usually end up eventually tossing or recycling magazines and books I’ve saved or bought at library sales.

In the back of one of them, I found a neat little set of pages like graph paper, and another set of pages with furniture shapes.  You were supposed to trace the shapes, cut them out and use them on the graph pages to virtually rearrange your furniture.

Well, I didn’t keep them because I have a computer program that does that.   Being too lazy to sit at my desktop and use it, I’ve also done it in Word.  I made a whole two-page spread of the bank robber’s hideout in Rose’s Hostage, along with Heroine’s apartment.

Why did I do that?

It’s one of my tricks.  The layout helped me to place characters in the space inside my mind when I wrote the Bad Thing that happens in the middle of the book, which takes place in the hideout.  It’s a small, old house and I had a lot going on.  With the computer layout, I had a very clear picture that I could even print out and draw lines on.  I was able to chart the movement of each character in the big action scene.

I found that in real life it didn’t look the same as in my head.  Imagination can remove walls and rearrange stairs, doors, and windows.  Also, when you’re in tight POV with a character, it’s limited to what that person can actually see/hear/feel.   That helped me; I knew if one person was in the kitchen, for example, that it would be difficult to hear from another part of the house, since the floor plan wasn’t open as in a modern dwelling.

Another trick that helps me write is speaking dialogue.  When working out a scene, such as Heroine and her best friend discussing (arguing) about something, I practice out loud what I want my characters to say.  It’s like an improvisational acting exercise, except usually I don’t have anyone but the cat to bounce dialogue around with.  So I’ll go through it when I’m washing the dishes or in the shower.  If I land on something that sounds true to my character and is uncluttered, I’ll write that down.  I usually have to edit it several times, because real speech is full of “wells” and “ums” and other extras that don’t work on the page.

Character worksheets are another trick people sometimes use.  I don’t do these much because I prefer to let my people do stuff organically, in first draft, anyway.  What notes I make aren’t set in stone, because during revision I might change a lot of action and motivations.  However, the sheets are a big help when I can’t get a handle on someone.  Look on the Internet for worksheets you can download and use if you want to try this.

Starting in the middle is the biggest trick of all.  I find it hard to start a project sometimes.  I often know what will happen later on in the book or story, so I’ll skip the beginning and write a scene from farther on.  I jump around and then transition everything together.  In first draft, it doesn’t matter if it’s awkward or clunky, because it will probably be revised and maybe even edited out later.  Sometimes it’s easier to add stuff than take it away.  First draft is simply for getting it down on the page; the niceties can come later.

If you don’t write fiction, some of the tricks can still work.  Others are helpful for both: outlines, lists, timelines—on a big nonfiction or academic project the timeline can be for you instead of characters.   Since events in Rose’s Hostage takes place over a month’s time, I had a calendar on which I wrote notes in each square for what I wanted to happen on each day.

If you have tricks that help you with characters, scenes, or concepts, feel free to share in the comments.

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