The art of writing is a complicated web of tricks and processes picked up from a variety of places and unique to every author. Some swear by outlining while others turn up their nose at its structure. Others only write by hand, some dictate, while others use old-fashion typewriter-style keyboards because the metallic clicks spur their creative juices.
For our most recent First Draft Friday, I sat down with veteran authors Judith Lucci and Fiona Quinn to learn their method of writing characters and developing scenes. They pointed to something called the OODA loop. Developed for military use, this decades-old methodology can be used in fiction as a four-step approach to character decision-making. It stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. In our live chat, Judith and Fiona describe how its four components can be applied to writing great fiction characters and scenes.
Here is a one-page handout that summarizes how to use the OODA method in your fiction writing.
The OODA loop breaks down as follows:
1You write what’s happening around the character. It might be unfolding circumstances, interaction with the environment, new information, etc.
What in the scene would your POV character observe amid the action? For example, if your character is a physical therapist, she might take in the robbery suspect’s limping gait. A police officer might observe the suspect’s hand movements.
2This is the most important step in the process. Consider aspects of the character that would shape how they observe a situation. If you have several characters in a scene, each will have their own way of perceiving, deciding and acting. If you have a group, the orientation is the place where the conflict lies.
No two people will have the same orientation. Factors might involve age, ethnic heritage, education, gender, mental acuity, temperament, life experience, health, current relationships and so forth.
3This could be a conscious decision or reflexive reaction. Now’s the time to walk the reader through the thought process—why did your protagonist decide to do A over B? Was it a hard decision? What stood in the way? What was the key factor in making that decision? Morality? Greed? Survival?
4The characters now act and change the external dynamics or emotional valence of a scene. Their actions must result in a change. They’ll be following the same process over and over in an ongoing loop.
There! That completes the OODA loop. For a full breakdown and discussion, be sure to watch the video chat (posted above).
If you’re interested in reading Judith or Fiona’s books — or learning more about the authors who appeared in this video — their information is below.
And if you’d like to watch more author videos, or join in future live events, visit our First Draft Friday page.
Our author guests
Fiona Quinn is a five-time USA Today bestselling author, a Kindle Scout winner, and has been listed as an Amazon Top 100 author in: Romantic Suspense; Mystery, thriller, and suspense; Mysteries, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror.
Quinn writes smart, sexy suspense with a psychic twist in her Iniquus World of books including: Lynx, Strike Force, Uncommon Enemies, Kate Hamilton Mysteries, and FBI Joint Task Force Series. She writes urban fantasy as Fiona Angelica Quinn for her Elemental Witches Series. And, just for fun, she writes the Badge Bunny Booze Mystery Collection with her dear friend, Tina Glasneck. Find out more at www.fionaquinnbooks.com.
Judith Lucci is a Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Amazon bestselling author of fast-paced, riveting thrillers that offer readers believable drama, memorable characters and true suspense. Her books are described as “unputdownable.”
Judith was born and educated in Virginia, where she holds graduate and doctoral degrees from Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia. She is also the author of numerous academic and health-related articles and documents. She loves to communicate with her readers at www.judithlucci.com.