Browsing "fiction writing"
May 12, 2014 - fiction writing    No Comments

Body Language for Writers–How to use it in your fiction

How to use body language in your writing.

We’ve all heard that body language is important, and most communication occurs through body language.

This is mostly true, as far as most experts seem to know, but let’s talk about using body language in your writing.



First, body language is associated with character.  You might create some typical body language that a character has in normal situations.

For example, let’s take a character named Sir George the knight.  He’s a bit of a worrier, and likes to talk, but he usually is very enthusiastic about his knightly quests.  Let’s say that most of the time he smiles and swings his arms.  He also tends to rock back and forth on this feet.  These gestures are unique to George and shows his energy and his restlessness.  We also can see his cheer and enthusiasm, and how he feels about other characters.

You would want to work these in to your story here and there.  Something like this:

“I don’t like the look of that tree,” George said as he shifted his weight from foot to foot.  “Not one bit”

However, those are just some gestures for normal situations.  You also need some that he or she would have when they are upset, angry, impatient, worried, and afraid.  What might old Goergey do when he is afraid for example?  He might, for example, hug his arms to his sides, holding his sides.

George stood in the archway.  He gripped his sword hilt, blade undrawn, until his knuckles  cracked.  His other hand gripped his belt, but he did not breathe, gazing at ogre who slept at the bottom of the cliff.

I think you have the idea.  However, before you start diving in to body language, I would suggest that you do two things.

First, read a book about it.  Allan Pease has a few excellent books that introduce body language.  There are others, of course, but

Allan Pease's Body Language book

Allan Pease’s Body Language book

these are the best.

Second, practice.  Use what you’ve read in the books.  Watch people at a party, at the mall, at work.  Try to read them.  Remember, that body language varies by context, and congruity (certain gestures are used by certain people).

After that, you know enough to put this into practice.  Add some body language to your characters.  It will not only tell the story more vividly, it will also better define your characters.

This is true, but according to psychology today it is a bit more important.  Their article talks about the importance of body language and how it has to be understood in context–the situation it is taking place.

Relationships in Fiction

How do your characters relate to each other?

Why do they act the way they do?

What do they think of the other characters?


by Nam Nguyen

Relationships are important in fiction. Readers are fascinated by how characters communicate to one another, and the best stories show these relationships.

Andrew Burt, the founder of Critters Workshop, has an excellent article on the importance of relationships in fiction, but let’s look at how to show relationships.

First, you need to consider your group of characters. Look at them as a group and draw the relationships between each character to each other character–one by one.  Time consuming, yes, but important.

A simple chart may be good here. (I thought of using a circle chart, but realized that each relationship has at least two facets, so a simple graph is better.)

I will use an example of a fictitious novel in which two boys live with their father and have a mysterious, absent mother. A girl lives with them, sent there by her father, as nobles often did to strengthen ties. The younger boy likes the girl, while the father wants the older boy to wed the girl. The older boy, of course, has other plans.

Let’s pretend this takes place in ancient Japan.  Their names? Absent mother—Kasan, father—Tosan, older brother—Taro, younger brother—Jiro, girl—Aki

What might their relationships be like?

Here is an example of it all graphed out.  (It’s not that well-done, sorry, but this is a demonstration.)  Something like this is simple in excel or the (free) Libre Writer excel substitute.

sample chart

Sample chart showing simple relationships in a fiction story

Two points here:

1.  None of these relationships is simple–there is more than a sentence to them and some will affect others.

2.  Each goes two ways–It isn’t just what Kasan thinks of Tosan, but also what Tosan thinks of Kasan.


Good luck!



Nov 4, 2013 - fiction writing    No Comments

The Science of Dragons


Could dragons be real?

Where did the dragon legend come from?

Most people would probably say dinosaur bones, which is likely. Dragons are known  only in the West but also in the East, and share features–the ability to fly, supernatural qualities, and great strength.


Discover Magazine has an interesting blurb on its web site about the science of dragons, stating that “the natural world offers plenty of scientific basis for some of the creatures’ most fantastical features.”  And they are right.

Dragon claws?  Not unlike these are they?

A clawed allosaur hand

An allosaur hand

Dragon wings? Look at this picture.  It’s natural to mistake this for a dragon baby.

could be a baby dragon

Dragon head?  Take a look at this one.

A dino skull

A dino skull

Think about other mythical creatures.  Many logical (and silly) explanations of their origins exist.  Here’s a few of my favorites:

The cyclops is said to have been created by people who looked at this skull.

Can you guess what this is?  (Mouse over the pic to see the answer)


The kraken.  The giant octopus / squid thing that exists in the deep.  Well, it has been found and even filmed.  Here is a pic of the real thing, taken by a Japanese deep sub.


Even here in Japan, some people say that the legendary tengu (shown below) were created when people ran into shipwrecked Caucasian sailors who had hidden in forests.  (The shogun’s used to kill any foreigners who landed in Japan without permission.)

 Looking at this picture, can’t you imagine a sunburned sailor with a big nose?


by king


We can see or imagine a basis for many fairy tale creatures: The dragon a dinosaur.  The cyclops a mammoth.  Even the mighty big foot has been shown by DNA analysis to be only a bear.

But so what?  I still enjoy imagining Tolkein’s Smaug or Homer’s cyclops.  Speculating where they may have come from only makes me wonder even more.


Using Your Fiction Character’s Pride


Pride can be bad

Pride can be bad

Pride is a powerful emotion that motivates us to do evil or good.  Sometimes it motivates us to do both–Pride for an evil reason can stimulate us do something that benefits others.

Look at some examples.  Scientific American’s article on pride talks about Mark Zuckerberg, creator of Facebook, who did it to “to show up a girl who dumped him and the guys in Harvard‘s most elitist social club. The desire to prove he was smarter than them gave Zuckerberg the motivation he needed to start on a path toward becoming one of the world’s preeminent innovators.”

An evil desire to triumph over others that brings about a good end–Facebook.  (Good is arguable here, of course.)

What about in fiction?

Have we not seen the hand of pride behind many heroes and most villains?  Let’s take a look at some examples.

This is one of my favorite stories.

Here is a good passage from Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne.  The conversation is between Stuart and Mr. Fogg.  Note how pride motivates both men not to back down.

They are talking at a gentlemen’s club, while playing cards:

“I’d like to see you do it in eighty days.”

“It depends on you. Shall we go?”

“Heaven preserve me! But I would wager four thousand pounds that such a journey, made under these conditions, is impossible.”

Mr. Fogg, are you ready?

Mr. Fogg, are you ready?

“Quite possible, on the contrary,” returned Mr. Fogg.

“Well, make it, then!”

“The journey round the world in eighty days?”


“I should like nothing better.”


“At once. Only I warn you that I shall do it at your expense.”

“It’s absurd!” cried Stuart, who was beginning to be annoyed at the persistency of his friend. “Come, let’s go on with the game.”

“Deal over again, then,” said Phileas Fogg. “There’s a false deal.”

Stuart took up the pack with a feverish hand; then suddenly put them down again.

“Well, Mr. Fogg,” said he, “it shall be so: I will wager the four thousand on it.”

“Calm yourself, my dear Stuart,” said Fallentin. “It’s only a joke.”

“When I say I’ll wager,” returned Stuart, “I mean it.”

“All right,” said Mr. Fogg; and, turning to the others, he continued: “I have a deposit of twenty thousand at Baring’s which I will willingly risk upon it.”


This is a great example of pride in use.  Think about it.

Pride has motivated each of these men, and even caused Stuart to lose his cool.  And, each character’s pride has locked them into this result.  If either of these men changed their minds, what would they lose?

Their pride of course.

 This is another good example, from another great classic.

From the Hobbit (the book), this is one of my favorite scenes.  Let’s hope it is in the Hobbit movie as well.  The dragon’s pride drives him to prove to the hobbit, to which he has no need to prove himself, that he is, in fact, invulnerable.  His pride becomes his downfall when Bilbo sees the dragon’s weakness.

Bilbo’s is not immune, though.  His pride also goes to his head when he talks a little too much for his own good.

Let’s take a look:


Bilbo the Baggins

Bilbo Baggins by troubadour93

“I have always understood,” said Bilbo in a frightened squeak, “that dragons were softer underneath, especially in the region of the-er-chest; but doubtless one so fortified has thought of that.”

 The dragon stopped short in his boasting. “Your information is antiquated,” he snapped. “I am armoured above and below with iron scales and hard gems. No blade can pierce me.”

 “I might have guessed it,” said Bilbo. “Truly there can; nowhere be found the equal of Lord Smaug the Impenetrable. What magnificence to possess a waistcoat of fine diamonds!”

 “Yes, it is rare and wonderful, indeed,” said Smaug absurdly pleased. He did not know that the hobbit had already caught a glimpse of his peculiar under-covering on his previous visit, and was itching for a closer view for reasons of his own. The dragon rolled over. “Look!” he said. “What do you say to that?”

 “Dazzlingly marvellous! Perfect! Flawless! Staggering!” exclaimed Bilbo aloud, but what he thought inside was: “Old fool! Why there is a large patch in the hollow of his left breast as bare as a snail out of its shell!”

 After he had seen that Mr. Baggins’ one idea was to get away. “Well, I really must not detain Your Magnificence any longer,” he said, “or keep you from much needed rest. Ponies take some catching, I believe, after a long start. And so do burglars,” he added as a parting shot, as he darted back and fled up the tunnel.

 It was an unfortunate remark, for the dragon spouted terrific flames after him, and fast though he sped up the slope, he had not gone nearly far enough to be comfortable before the ghastly head of Smaug was thrust against the opening behind. Luckily the whole head and jaws could not squeeze in, but the nostrils sent forth fire and vapour to pursue him, and he was nearly overcome, and stumbled blindly on in great pain and fear. He had been feeling rather pleased with the cleverness of his conversation with Smaug, but his mistake at the end shook him into better sense.

 “Never laugh at live dragons, Bilbo you fool!” he said to himself, and it became a favourite saying of his later, and passed into a proverb. “You aren’t nearly through this adventure yet,” he added, and that was pretty true as well.

These are only two examples.

Bilbo running from Smaug

The price of pride

Look around.  You can see pride at work everywhere–in your life, house, job, and all over the TV.  And, of course, in fiction.

And why not?

Your characters will have pride, but it is how they handle it that shows their personality.  Are they cool like Mr. Fogg?  Or, are they full of fire like Stuart?  They might be a shy, meek person like Bilbo with hidden courage that brings out his pride.

Pride.  It has many forms.  Your characters have it.

Use their pride, and yours, well.

Oct 20, 2013 - fiction writing    No Comments

Where–how to make and use great settings in fiction

Setting . . . ..

Once, I thought it was simple.  Just put your characters in a place.  That’s it.

Does it really matter where that place is?

It does.  Or rather, it can, and if you use it well, it will matter very much.

Let’s look at some settings most of us know. Look at Harry Potter.  Hogwarts is an essential setting.  Without it and all its interesting details, well, can you even imagine Harry Potter studying in any other place?

Harry Potter goes to East High School, or even Hollywood Arts High School?

taken by Klearchos Kapoutsis

taken by Klearchos Kapoutsis

I could go on and on here, so let me just mention one more example.  Some of my favorite books and now movies, are the Lord of the Rings.  This tale has been called a Milieu Story, where the setting is the most important aspect of the story, and I suppose that is fair–if you take away Middle Earth, you do not have much left, maybe.

But let us assume that you do not want the setting to carry this much weight, or at best, you want the set

ting to not be the strongest feature of your writing.

What are some good settings?  How can we use them?  Naturally, it depends on your story.

In my story that I am working on, most of the first half happens within a large tower.  I did not really plan to confine it so much, but now, I am glad that I did so.  However, I am continually tweaking and improving the description of the tower because, it too, plays a role in the story.

boring setting, another forest

A boring setting, another forest

Likewise, it is best to think through your scenes and ideas.  Is there a setting or settings that should be emphasized or brought to life?  Boring settings do little for a story.

One example of a boring setting is forests.  They are in almost every fantasy story, and they seem to be always the same, or very similar.  A few stories do a good job with them–the Dark Forest in Harry Potter is okay, though confusing, and Tolkein’s Fangorn is good.

However, forests are usually just that–forests.  Boring.

That is an example of a setting that needs work.

We should think about our settings and work to make them work well.  The more vivid and interesting the setting, the better, as long as they do not overpower the story itself.

Next time, I’ll talk about how to get ideas for great settings.