As you write, are your characters going non-stop?

By Greg Turnquist

Greg L. Turnquist worked on the Spring team for over thirteen years and is a senior staff technical content engineer at Cockroach Labs. He was the lead for Spring Data JPA and Spring Web Services. He wrote Packt's best-selling title, Learning Spring Boot 2.0 2nd Edition, and its 3rd Edition follow-up along many others.

January 7, 2013

Courtesy of

Since Saturday, I have sifted through Darklight‘s beat sheet again. I decided to start penciling in some timeline stuff. I wanted to have a feel for what was happening and when. This started from my desire to provide some of the proper descriptions like, “the sun had just set” or “the sun had just popped up”, and other such time-sensitive language.

I realized I couldn’t use such expressions unless I knew what time it was during particular scenes. This demanded I go through my spreadsheet of scenes and eyeball what time it was. Nothing big, just started with what day it was, and around what time pivotal scenes took place.
Well I noticed a BIG issue. After two days of story time, I realized my characters hadn’t slept a wink! Who would believe THAT? You can’t mount a successful response to a tyrannical ruler without a little shut eye, right?
Another thing I noticed was that my villain’s timeline didn’t match up with the heroes, also causing a synchronization issue for when they would clash. Working on the timeline exposed this flaw, so I had to dedicate extra time to working out these issues and still having a confident feeling about the flow.
Not only did I need to have timelines match up, I was realizing that by picking WHEN things would synch up would dictate the tension level. Wherever my three sets of spread out characters met each other would probably be a point of tension. Or rather, if I didn’t make it a point of tension, then I would be passing up a keen opportunity to dial up the tension and excitement of the story.
So this was more than a 10 minute task. I typed stuff, erased, edited, and hacked it out over a few hours, picking the points of tension, timing, and conclusion. I knew that this amount of effort would pay off 100 fold, because when it comes actually time to write those scenes, I won’t be stumbling around. Instead, the excitement has almost been mandated.
I have already written a similar junction with the first disaster of the story. In designing the first disaster, I had three different scenes from three different points of view that hover around that point in time. As I wrote it, I found it very easy to dial up the tension, have overlapping dialog where in each scene everyone observes some of the same things said, and communicate different bits of what is and isn’t seen. That nexus is one of my favorite points so far.
I’m also realizing that in certain parts, where the tension seems to be missing, I may need to go back and add more points of view to enhance the experience. When I wrote one part that I have looking forward to writing for months, I somehow seemed to missing the excitement I experienced earlier. Yup, it’s a real learning experience.
After completing all these improvements to my beat sheet, I worked on several scenes. The last one I had just happened to end where the characters manage to make it somewhere and everyone FINALLY gets to crash after being utterly exhausted,  even if only for a few hours. It felt so real and valid to me, that I too felt ready to take a break, so I didn’t write last night. I felt like I was still resting with my characters.
But you can’t rest forever. Tonight it will be time to dive back in and keep on moving.
Happy writing.


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