Sometimes when you are writing you will hit a brick wall no matter what you do. The drills do not work. The character sketches are complete….nothing works. When this happens take the time to improve your knowledge and your skills of your craft. Build a library of skill books that explain the mechanics or plot, structure, character building, etc. Even if you think you already know all there is to know about the writing craft. Dare to know more.
Aaaaaggghhhh!!!!!! Character sketches! They drive me nuts! My process is to know my characters well because I want believable actions from them. So, I always chart out my characters even down to the smallest details like what they like to eat for breakfast even if they never eat breakfast in my story. This can be good and this can be bad. The bad is it takes too freaking long. The good is people believe in the possibility of my characters no matter how outrageous they are because they are not irrational. No matter what your process I highly recommend trying out character sketches and seeing how they enhance your characters in your stories. There is a good guide to doing this:
“Making people believe the unbelievable is no trick; it’s work. … Belief and reader absorption come in the details: An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything.”
—Stephen King, WD (this quote is from an interview with King in our May/June 2009 issue)
“Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.”
—Larry L. King, WD
“Do not think. Dream. If you believe you are thinking when you write, make yourself stop thinking. You are trying to tap a part of yourself that is closest to the dreaming side, the side that is most active when you sleep. You are trying to recover the literal vision of a child. That is what Flannery O’Connor means when she says, “A good story is literal in the same sense that a child’s drawing is literal.” Dream the story up. Make it up. Be fanciful. Follow what comes to you to say and try not to worry about whether or not it’s smart or shows your sensitive nature in the best light or delivers the matters of living that you think you have learned. Just dream it up and let the thing play itself out as it seems to want to. And write it again, and still again, dreaming it though. And then, as you educate yourself each time through more as to what it is, try to be terribly smart about that. Read it with the cold detachment of a doctor looking at an x-ray for a lump. Which is to say, you must learn to re-read your own sentences as a stranger might. And say everything out loud. Listen to how it sounds.”
by Richard Bausch
One thing that I’ve discovered during this challenge is that I do not know my novel’s characters as well as I thought. Now seems a good enough time as any to re-do my character sketches. It’s been quite some time since I’ve worked on my novel and I need a refresh with all my characters so I’m going to schedule time in to redo a fleshing out of each character even the most minor characters. This is a tedious pain in the ass but a very necessary drill so that my characters remain believable throughout my novel. If you want to write believable characters and have those characters remain true to the story, you must know your characters well. Take the time to explore your characters fully before you commit them to paper.
One thing to avoid when you are just starting out as a writer is overwriting to get your point across. Sometimes new writers are not sure how to make their character’s situation sympathetic enough so they throw in the kitchen sink for good measure. An example would be a woman’s husband is having an affair. An experienced writer will realize that the betrayal of infidelity is enough to make the reader sympathize with the victim. An inexperienced writer will make the husband have an affair with another man, catch A.I.D.S and beat his wife after wiping out her bank account and killing her parents. Too much, guys, too much. It becomes comical not sympathetic if you try too hard to elicit tears from your reader. The man screwed around on his wife, that’s enough, especially if you write it in such a way that the reader can feel how much she loved him and did not expect it. No need to use a hurricane when a thunderstorm will do. Resist the urge to do too much. You lose the very sympathy that you are coveting and it makes your writing seem amateurish.
“Recently I was talking to a writer who described something she did whenever she moved to her writing table. I don’t remember exactly what the gesture was—there is something on her desk that she touches before she hits the computer keyboard—but we began to talk about little rituals that one goes through before beginning to write. I, at first, thought I didn’t have a ritual, but then I remembered that I always get up and make a cup of coffee while it is still dark—it must be dark—and then I drink the coffee and watch the light come. And she said, Well, that’s a ritual. And I realized that for me this ritual comprises my preparation to enter a space that I can only call nonsecular . . . Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process. For me, light is the signal in the transition. It’s not being in the light, it’s being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense.
I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is when they are their best, creatively. They need to ask themselves, What does the ideal room look like? Is there music? Is there silence? Is there chaos outside or is there serenity outside? What do I need in order to release my imagination?”
Toni Morrison, The Art of Fiction No. 134
Interviewed by Elissa Schappell, with additional material from Claudia Brodsky Lacour
The Paris Review
In continuing to prepare for the challenge of committing to work on your book everyday you will need to make a commitment to a set number of pages to be completed everyday. This will give you a short goal that will lead to the long goal of finishing your book. Commit to a number that you can definitely handle each and every day. You can always do more than this but it will give you something to work towards. It does not have to be a huge number. One or two pages completed everyday over a four to six week period will yield a better result than a commitment of ten pages every day that only gets completed for a week and then you feel overwhelmed and quit. Commit to what you can do and then do it. Accomplishing this small goal will not only make your confidence soar, it will get you in the habit of writing a set amount everyday, no matter how small. Step three: Commit to a set minimum amount of pages to be completed every day. So, in review: 1. Pick a space to write in everyday. 2. Develop a process for completing your book, (outlines, index cards, etc.,). 3. Commit to a set amount of pages to be completed everyday.
You would think if you are going to commit to finishing your novel the words would have the decency to flow like water from your brain. No such luck. After staring at a blank screen for twenty minutes I had to resort to writing drills to warm up. This is as good a time as any to bring up another important step in finishing your novel: developing your process. What process have you set up to help you finish your book. This is a process that you develop in the beginning of your career that can be used over and over again as your career progresses. Some people outline their entire novel. They have the bare bones of what’s going to happen, who the characters are, etc. Others use index cards and blackboards. Still. others just write whatever comes to mind and follow the flow of the writing. Now is a great time to find and develop what works for you. Whatever your process, once you develop it you can plug in any book idea and complete your book.
I, personally, like to use a loose outline. By loose I mean it has a very flexible layout of what will happen in general in my book. I then proceed to move my story towards these benchmarks. This works for me because it leaves me wiggle room in my narrative to change a story line that may not be working for me. You do you. Experiment with what works for you and don’t be afraid to dump one method and try another. Remember, the goal is to finish your book not perfect your process. The process is only as good as the book it produces. Now, stop surfing the web and go write.
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Outline: