Friday, February 20, 2015

Getting Excited About A New Story

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a focus on youth and young adult ministry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.


A few weeks back, Emma D made a blog post request of me. Here's what she said:


It absolutely makes sense, Emma. Every author will transition from one story to another in their own way. And just like there's no wrong way to write, there's no wrong way to make this jump.

After I finished the Angel Eyes trilogy, I struggled just as you're struggling now. I brainstormed several different story ideas and even wrote synopses for a few, but after being immersed in the fictional world I created for so long, I had a hard time sinking into another.

Here's what I did:

I took a creative break. My agent suggested I do this. She told me it was normal to go through this phase and that it was important to feed my creative soul however it needed to be fed. So, I read other books and I went to the theatre and I watched entire series' on Netflix. I wandered bookstores and ranked my favorite book covers. I researched things for no other purpose than to satisfy my curiosity. I let myself surf Pinterest for longer than I'll ever admit and I went on road trips because OTHER PLACES inspire me.

I spent time helping others. Just because I was stuck didn't mean everyone was. I had writer friends who wanted my feedback on their stuff and this was an ideal time for me to be of use. Just don't over-commit here. The goal is to give your brain a break so if this requires too much of your creative self, it should be avoided.

I wrote. I didn't abandon writing altogether during this time. I wrote whenever I wanted to about whatever I wanted to write about. I let myself be sloppy and lazy and redundant and I played with characters who seemed interesting to me. 

I brainstormed with friends. Every now and then I'd come up with a story idea, but before investing much time in it, I'd run it by a few friends. There's something powerful about saying ideas out loud. It's similar to the magic of putting words on a page. Both actions make the characters real and that was what I needed most. Characters who felt as real as the ones I'd left behind.

In all of this, I realized how much I liked detective stories. And not just the who-done-it part, but the actual detectives themselves. I found them intriguing and it gave me a place to begin. A character I already knew I'd love before I started building her.

Now, I'll be honest. It took me an entire draft to figure my detective out and at times that was frustrating. I felt I should know her deeply as I wrote her, but that's not how I got to know the characters from the Angel Eyes trilogy. I got to know them and love them as I wrote. I bet that's how you fell in love with your characters too, Emma. It's easy to forget when you look back and see them in their fully realized form. 

Expecting to love characters you're just getting to know as deeply as those whose lives you've fully examined is unrealistic. Give yourself the freedom to grow into that kind of affection.

However you do it, the goal is to remind yourself that there are other stories to be told. Other characters worth falling in love with. There are other worlds worth exploring and you need to find a way to get excited about that again.
 
So tell me writers, what does that for you?

THANK YOU Emma for prompting this blog post. If you guys have topics you'd like to hear my thoughts on, please leave them in the comments section. I'd love to tackle more of what you're looking for.

38 comments:

  1. I'm editing my previous novel right now and it's tough because, although I'm with my awesome characters that I love, I'm not writing them. Just nitpicking through everything they say and do. One thing that has helped me is writing little fun stories with my characters, things that would never happen in the real story, but that are simply for fun.

    Thank you, Mrs. Dittemore! (and thanks for being willing to take our topic suggestions as well!)

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    1. I do this too! (usually when I have writer's block) but it's a lot of fun. I have multiple stories so sometimes it's fun to write about two of my characters from different stories meeting. It makes me excited and helps me remember why I love my character so much =)
      -Deborah

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    2. You do this too, Linea? I absolutely LOVE doing it. I'll admit it robs time I ought to spend writing "for real," but wait, if I have fun, what does it matter? I love my characters way too much to let them go...

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    3. YES!! Little fun stories are awesomeness. :)

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    4. And then you can release those little stories as their own volume which your fans would love! So it is writing for real in any case - a win win situation for everyone! :)

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    5. I never thought of that!

      Oh, Mrs. Dittemore, I have a question now. Symbolism. I'm not very good at it, so I don't attempt it often. How do you use something to symbolize the character's journey, etc. without it hitting the reading over the head and screaming, "I'm a symbol!!"? Thanks again!

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  2. I brainstorm and chat with writer friends too! I also do writing prompts in completely different genres to get the feel of other characters in different times, places, and lives-like a modern day character I'd make sarcastic and a character from the 1800's quiet, reserved, and sensetive.

    Thank you for this post and being willing to answer questions from any of us.

    I have a question that I wanted to have answered (I hope it hasn't been asked yet): how can you tell if you are a good writer or not?

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  3. Oh, wow, thank-you so much for this post! I'm working on a historical fiction series right now, and I know that the day of reckoning is down the road when I reach the end. It will be so hard to say goodbye to them, and I'm going to mark this post for help. Thanks, Shannon!

    ~Schuyler
    www.ladybibliophile.blogspot.com

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    1. I hate ending series. D : I feel your pain!

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  4. Thanks for this post! This is exactly what I needed right now! I wrote the first drafts of my trilogy in a nine-month stretch last year. It was intense, but a good intense. I'm deep in edits for book 1, which makes it difficult to brainstorm about new plot lines and new characters since I'm still very much wrapped up in the minds of my other characters. Thanks for the tips! I don't feel so bad now that I've taken a month off of new writing to let myself just scribble and edit.

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  5. To be honest, my usual response to "I finished a story but I'm still in love with my characters and setting" is "Hey! I'll write a sequel!" And then I just keep writing about the characters until I'm tired of working with them and need a break. Usually, when I start an entirely new project, it's because I have a new idea that sounds more attractive than whatever series I'm working on.

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    1. Lol! This is what I do too. I also have a thick file of ideas for other stories, so I'm never short on ideas. The only time I've had a problem is when I was trying to force my way through a new project, but I've been able to adjust.

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  6. Great question! I sort of blunder through the manuscript, figuring out who my characters are. I would love to know in advance... It would make my first draft so much better.

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  7. Thanks so much! This is just what I needed! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!! (and thanks for answering my question so thoroughly! Very, VERY helpful!:)

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  8. This: "Expecting to love characters you're just getting to know as deeply as those whose lives you've fully examined is unrealistic. Give yourself the freedom to grow into that kind of affection."

    So true, Shannon! I'm one that usually has to write a full first draft of a new book before I really know and love my characters. I think of it like people. You usually don't become best buds with people you just met. It takes time to get to know each other. But every once in a while, there is that rare occasion where instant friendship happens. That's unusual for me and is always a treat, just like in real life. :-)

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  9. Wow, this was so helpful! I'm working on a trilogy of my own right now, but I have other story ideas hanging around that I've tried to dabble in a little. But I found myself completely unable to unattach myself from my trilogy. The characters and story have been something I've been working on for a long time. These are some amazing suggestions, though! Thank you so much for this post, it is extremely helpful!

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  10. Thank you for another great post!!!!

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  11. Thank you oh so very much, Mrs. Dittemore, for writing this!! I suffer from this intensely. In fact I have cried for it before. And I mean like bury-your-head-under-the-covers-and-bawl sort of cry. Letting go of the people you love is one of the most painful things in the world. I will cherish your advice and remember it every time a past character's voice starts whispering in my head.

    Love and hobbit-hugs,
    Hanan A.

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  12. Thank you for such a helpful post! I've never made it to this point, but it seems really scary, especially for someone like me who writes little stories with the characters that have nothing to do with the actual story I started wanting. They feel almost flesh and blood after a while. It hurts moving on!

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  13. Thank you! I just finished drafting my last WIP last week and I've been missing it so much. This post was very helpful as I'm trying to get myself excited about my new WIP.

    ~Robyn Hoode

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  14. I have a little brother who loves writing-- He moves from story to story when he creates new characters, but he's pretty good at writing for seven

    If I have to move on to a new story, I just kind of get out an outline in my head, and start writing it. I have a new one that I'm going to work on while having writers block on other stories, but first, I'm plotting it backwards. I think it might work better for me than just pansting.

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  15. I reached a burnout when I finished my first novel. I'd worked on it for so long and been so absorbed in editing and deepening my characters. When I tried to start a new project, everything felt identical My hero felt the same as my hero from the last book with the same motivations, the same sense of humor, and the same style of talking. I took a break and started reading. I hadn't read more than two books in the eight months I'd been working on my book. Reading again brought me so many ideas and helped me start creating new characters.

    Thanks for doing this post Shannon. It's always good to know it's not just me who has these problems :)

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  16. Great post Shannon! I will defiantly be saving these tips away for later. When writing a book I never start with the characters. I always spend time world building and setting the context. Then I find that my characters naturally flow from that. If I understand the world they come from I have a much easier time writing the character themselves. I have yet to finish a novel (I've been working on the same one for several years and my new years resolution is to finish it up) but I assume that my process would also help me move on from my other characters and write fresh and new characters.

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  17. Thank you for the post, it's very good! Taking breaks from writing is SO useful. For me anyway, it helps me realize how much I really love it. The funny thing is, sometimes during a break I can't wait to write again while other times I don't realize I missed it until I start again. :-) One thing I'm kind of struggling with now is figuring out what I'm supposed to work on next... I have plenty of ideas, the trouble is (mostly) figuring out which ones to write and which ones to wait for. Any suggestions? Thanks again for the post!

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    1. Hi Naomi,

      I know that feeling. Maybe these posts will help:

      http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2011/01/making-sure-your-idea-is-big-enough.html
      http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2015/01/4-questions-to-ask-before-you-write.html
      http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2013/04/what-do-i-write-next.html

      Hope those help you out!

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    2. Thank you, Linea! I'll definitely have to look at those. :)

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  18. I totally understand that burnt out feeling after becoming emotionally invested in a story and then having to start over and write a new one. I think the best thing that I've ever done to combat this is take breaks. It's a fool proof way of filling up the inspiration well again and getting in some reading time, too. Thanks for answering our questions, Shannon. I have two:
    1) Do you have any tips for writing unpredictable endings?
    2) Do you have any tips for writing an unpredictable narrator?

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  19. I have multiple rich and varied storyworlds, so getting into those is no problem. Creating completely different characters to inhabit them is harder. Tips for that specifically would be great, as many of my characters start to look alike after a while.

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  20. Great advice! I either feel like this after finishing a draft, or I end up really want to go write another book. Weird?
    I have another question for you, do you have any advice for a pantseer who simply can't plan anything or if she does ignores all her plans. It's my big problem at the moment. I'd love not to be a pantseer and have more direction, but I've got the problem that I can't follow plans. Any ideas?

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    1. Let the story itself and those in it tell you the direction. I take the mindset that it all has happened already, and you just have to find out what really happened and write it down. Maybe the reason you ignore the plan was because it wasn't what happened, and that is your way of finding out not to force those in your tales to go somewhere they didn't go. I love what Michelangelo said about knowing the figure that came out of his sculpture work was already there before he did anything. He just had to chip away at all the extra stuff around it to set it free. Same with stories. Does that make sense?

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  21. I love this post! "I got to know them and love them as I wrote." Exactly! That is the joy of writing - walking alongside those you meet in the tales you write and recording their adventures, not knowing ahead of time what they are going to do or if you think you know, it could turn out quite different than what you thought! I am most definitely and happily a pantser. I could not be anyone else. I let the story tell itself. I am the recorder, not the creator. I am working on a fantasy right now and have a much larger one in my head that is anxious to come out.

    God bless and hobbity hugs (I am glad to see another one who believes in them) :), Anne Marie :)

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  22. Thank you for the post, Shannon! This was all very good advice. I've been with this group of characters in my historical series for so long, that I know it will be hard to leave when I get to the end. They become very dear to you! Great advice here to keep in mind. :)

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  23. That post could of made me get out of my writers block! thanks Shannon!

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  24. Haha, I need to be thinking about this sooner or later. So far I haven't had to leave my characters yet. (And when the time comes, I've decided I'm doing a spinoff series so I can keep at least a few of my characters. Yea!)
    What I think helps me is already planning another series as you write your first. Then, when you feel as though you don't like your new character as much, you can always go back to your originals. By the time the originals are done, you'll be more familiar with the newbie.

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  25. Thank you so much for this post! I loved it! :) I'm almost done with the second draft of my current WIP and have been thinking about the editing/revising process a lot lately. What methods do you use to edit? How do I know if your characters are too shallow? How do I know if my climax is strong enough? Thanks again for everything!

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  26. I haven't finished a novel yet, but I'm planning on, afterwards, writing a little storyworld in which all my characters get all the joy they deserve to give me peace of mind for all the terrible things I'm doing to them.

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  27. Haha, I was kind of creeped out for a sec! I'm an Emma D, too, but not the one who asked the question! :P Anyhow, yay for detective stories! :D I'm a sucker for a good mystery.

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  28. YOU GUYS! Forgive me for not getting to all your lovely comments sooner. Last week my house was a sick house with everyone under the weather but me. I had to play nursemaid and that sucked up all my time. BUT! Thank you so much for the blog suggestions. I will go through these comments more carefully over the next couple days. *hugs*

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