Centering on Character

woman writing in notebook

On Tuesday, March 13, I submitted the synopsis and first three chapters of my novel, Passage of Promise, to a publisher for which I felt my genre and style of writing would be a good fit.  According to their website’s submission guidelines, I should hear something within one to two weeks.  So I am in the nervous and excited waiting mode.  I also realize rejection is a normal and somewhat expected outcome in the process of submitting your manuscript to publishers/editors/agents, but I will deal with that at that time.

Meanwhile, I’ve delved back into my work in progress the past three days, and it feels good to be back in the lives of my characters, watching what they do, how they handle situations, and learning how to make them more developed.

Speaking of characters, what makes them interesting?  Are there several components that connect you to the characters?  Perhaps you relate to one of them, and the challenges they have mirror your own.  Is it that they are well-crafted, three-dimensional, and real to you?  Maybe you like one of the characters because they’re broken, clumsy, and endearing that way?

Well, for me, those elements are part of what I like about characters in the books I read.  I especially like characters with quirky personalities and unusual habits.  This particular trait is what I’d like to incorporate into my characters in my stories.

Do you need a lot of physical details describing how the characters look, or are a few basic features with maybe one unusual one sufficient?  It’s the latter for me.  I suppose the detailed descriptions depend upon the genre in which you read.

Characters drive the plot/storyline, and because of this, they are very important.  Through the fiction and creative writing workshops of my university courses, I’ve learned this vital fact, and carving out a well-defined and well-developed character takes practice.  For some authors, it’s not too difficult, but for others, it is quite a challenge.  I’m somewhere between not too difficult and a little bit of a challenge.  When I first started writing in my teen years, my characters were pretty much one or two-dimensional and lacked depth.  I’d like to think I’ve gotten a bit better since picking up writing again in 2014.

Therefore, in creating characters, you might want to:

  1. Have them possess quirky personalities with perhaps some type of pesky habit.
  2. Give ’em flaws.  Nobody can relate to someone who’s perfect inside and out.
  3. Produce words that come from their mouths that are natural, realistic, and perhaps echo a dialect in the area in which they live.
  4. Make sure each character is distinct to a certain degree.  If you can get to the epic point of writing dialogue with no tags and the reader knows the people speaking because of the way they talk, their language, and voice, you’re a star!
  5. Describe their looks with enough detail to give the reader at least a general idea of the appearance of the character, unless you’re writing in a genre like Romance where it seems that the more detail there is, the better.

These recommendations came from my memory through studying material and books I’ve read for my classes.  I hope they are helpful to my fellow writers as they have been for me.  It takes some practice, some work to create believable and relatable characters, but we can do it! Happy writing!

 

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How to Keep Writing When You’ve Run Out of Steam in Your Work in Progress

painting of author stuck

There’s the topic of daily writing that is discussed and wrote about often to give us writers encouragement.  This is important because the more you write and read, the better your writing becomes.  But there is another aspect of writing that I’ve run into many times in the past but hadn’t thought about it until yesterday.  It was brought up in a Facebook writing group in which I’m a member.  This pertains to how to continue writing your work in progress without losing steam.

What happens when you write a few chapters and all of a sudden your mind goes blank, even though you know where you want your story to go.  Thinking about it and executing it are two different animals.  My present work in progress is a complex story in my view, as I am writing it from three different characters’ perspectives and they all tie into the main plot that strings their lives together.  Also, I’m writing in third person point of view.  I thought I wrote only in third person point of view in my teens and early twenties, but I didn’t have the knowledge of what that actually meant until my fiction writing course at SNHU and my online critique group over the past couple of years, so my stories were probably more omniscient points of view.  The fiction writing course, which I’m in right now, has helped me to understand it, but I am still in the process of practicing and trying to produce it.

writing scrabble blocks

On to the subject at hand–losing steam while in the midst of writing your novel, novella, or even your short story.  First, I want to add one more piece of information, which won’t really be novel (pun intended) to us writers, but I’m going there anyway!  Creating a story and writing it is a lot more difficult than I thought years ago.  Once you learn the elements of character, plot, setting/place, and structure, you realize it takes a lot more effort and technique and skill to write than you ever thought.  So, as you trudge forward in your chapters, you unexpectedly hit road bumps.  Those road bumps are your creative juices and ideas sputtering to a stop.  What do you do?

What I used to do and still do that sometimes works just on its own is reread the chapter I just wrote to stimulate the thoughts and continuation of the story and where I want it to go.  But I’ve incorporated something else that I believe really helps keep me on the greased tracks of continued creative writing.  I write pages of notes.  I’ve gotten into the habit of doing that.  It was discussed often in John Dufresne’s book I’m reading for my fiction writing workshop class that I mentioned I’m presently in.  So, just yesterday after writing a lot the day before, I hit that road block.  My mind was jumbled with the characters, the plot, like cut-out words from newspaper articles all haphazardly shuffled together in a disorganized heap.  How do I write the next chapter? Who is the next chapter about?  Am I continuing with the same character, or do I move on to the other one?  It needs to move the plot along.  What am I doing?

spiral notebook and pen

I begin writing more notes that turn out to be around four pages in my trusty spiral notebook.  Notes on what the next chapter will be about and who’s in it.  This expands to connected characters and what they are doing and why.  Questions appear in my scribblings, and I need to have answers for the story to make sense and to move forward, so I offer different responses and see which one sticks…which ones are most plausible and most believable.  Sometimes research is needed in this depending on the subject matter.  In any case, the jotting of notes continues until all those words about the characters, their actions, how they move the plot along, and the questions are answered satisfactorily, gives me enough ammunition to create my next chapter.  I will use this strategy/technique for each chapter if the flow of the next sequence of events isn’t happening or the gas tank of creativity is empty.

If you run into these road blocks in your writing, what do you do?  Was my process helpful to you?  Have you tried that already?  Please share your thoughts, fellow writers. 🙂

 

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