A New Year For Your Old Characters – Part 1
Remember them? The ones that kept you up at night? That tall drink of water you kept obsessing over during the morning commute? The dark mysterious stranger your mind wandered to as you cooked dinner? The femme fatale who was the perfect mix of danger and allure?
Your imagination danced across his skin, memorized the depths of his eyes and painted mouth-watering pictures of him for you every time you tried to concentrate on something else. You could hear her witty one liners as you brushed your teeth. It was crazy! It was the perfect character, an amazing blend that came to you spontaneously and wouldn't let go.
So where did they go?
Maybe life got in the way. The time of year distracted you with seasonal events and plans. Maybe an illness or financial issue came up and you had to put creative projects on the back burner. As much as you hated, you either had no plot to put with that character or no time to finish their story. But you have never forgotten the thrill of what they brought to the table.
Don’t you miss them?
Hasn’t it been a bit dull around the house these days without that spark you used to get from thinking about those characters? Don’t you get a twinge of it when you sit down to watch a new episode of your latest obsession? Mine is ‘Too Close To Home’ and I’m definitely obsessed! It makes me feel energized and yet a bit regretful that I haven’t been able to touch that kind of obsession with my own characters.
Too Many Excuses
We make excuses to our characters like an errant lover. It can be pathetic. There’s no way we have THAT much laundry going on that we have to be away from our writing for MONTHS! Yet, that’s what we tell ourselves. ‘I’ve just been so busy lately…there’s no time to write.’
And I agree. There IS no time to write anymore! Between growing families, groceries, events, work, traffic, holidays, etc – it’s amazing I have time to put my face on in the morning!
So We Have To Say NO
I don’t mean we have to say no to our writing or our characters, but to one other thing. Now, what that ONE other thing is in your life, I don’t know. Maybe you have to cut out that last sitcom before bed. Maybe you have to say no to one basketball game a week on TV. Perhaps you don’t need to have that third night a week out shopping in town. Evaluate where you invest your time and see if there is something you’re doing that you do out of habit. Maybe it’s time for a change!
NO means YES
By saying no to an activity or show or online game, even just once a week, you can use that time to start saying YES to yourself. Many times, it’s not that we’re literally too busy, it’s that we’re too self-conscious to sit down and invest time in ourselves and our personal passions. What if I DO spend this time writing and nobody likes it? What if it doesn’t sell? What if my family finds out and they don’t support me? What if they start supporting me TOO much and hounding me about my next book?
Swirling Thoughts Can Kill
Oh, how that imagination that should be invested in our characters can sabotage us and dream up all kinds of worrisome ‘maybe’ stories. It’s enough to scare any writer away from their desk! We have to take those swirling thoughts and validate them in a journal to let them out. Otherwise, they will simply stay in our mind, growing in the vast infinity of our imagination. Once they are tangible on paper, they are defined and stated. And, that which is defined, can be RE-defined!
Your New Secret Life
So where to start? After journaling all your worries, which in and of itself might be tough, simply find 30 minutes somewhere in your week that you consciously choose to dedicate to your project, your character, your plot.
“Oh, Mrs. A, I don’t have a plot.” That’s ok. Just watch your character in your head and write down what you see. Don’t worry about plot. Study them, let them get your juices flowing. Even writing a random scene can allow you to reconnect. Don’t worry about series, or cliffhangers just yet. Don’t broadcast that you’re doing this; allow this to be YOUR time!
I Don’t Have A Character
Then just write a scene of yourself walking through the setting of your plot. Don’t describe you as you, leave that out. Write a short scene looking around, browsing a shop, driving through town. As you visualize and explore your setting, you might ‘see’ a character in your minds eye. Don’t worry about thinking of this as a finished piece that will be in your published novel. For right now, just allow this to be just for you and nobody else.
OK, I Did That – I’m Still Stuck
If you’ve sketched out a great character and you feel settled on where and when they will exist, it can still be hard to figure out WHERE you want your story to GO! Check HERE for some of my prompts that you can download for free. See if something on my list sparks your own imagination. You might want to cherry pick what I’ve suggested and create an opening for a short story from my list.
The main thing is to not overthink things. If your idea is only enough to support a novella, there is nothing wrong with that. If it is only enough for a one scene piece of flash fiction, go with that. There are many places that are paying for short stories – don’t feel it has to be a novel length idea!
Take It Slow
The great thing about a short story or even one scene is that it can help you break out of your writer’s block. From there, you might move on to a totally different character or you might find yourself able to move on to a whole new idea once that first scene is written. Getting something on paper helps it get out of your mind, which is often all you need to get the creative flow going again.
It’s crazy how it can work. You would think that you should be able to think of endless ideas without ever writing anything down. And some people are like that; but not all of us. If you’re stuck, write what you’re stuck on. Even if it’s a bad idea. Get it out and get rid of it. Defining it outside of your imagination might be what you need to see in order to stop getting stuck on it.
I Started Out Strong, But…
So you liked the prompt, it generated a page or two (or ten!) pages of a great beginning and now you’re stuck again? Hang in there. Next blog, I’ll talk about what might help. For now, put everything down and walk away from that project and congratulate yourself for starting. Yes, celebrate! You were stuck before and now look at that page of a new beginning!
That character that tantalized you is now on their way! It’s going to happen! The page is no longer blank! Stay tuned for how to not give up on them, now. It CAN be done and you can be the one who can DO it!