While many of you were word warring last week, I got exactly ZERO words written because I was off playing at the One Year Adventure Novel writing workshop with a bunch of super cool teen writers.
|This lovely flapper, Linnea, scored herself an Advanced Reader Copy of The Lost Girl of Astor Street|
|I felt like such a cool kid when Kathryn came in for her mentoring appointment wearing the same jacket as me! (The lighting is weird because we were in this closet of a room with fluorescent lighting.)|
"How do you make your characters feel so real?"
With main characters, it's all about spending time with that character in the first draft. I often feel like I have a decent idea of who they are when I start the book, but as I write the first draft, I really start to feel like I know them. So I spend edits strengthening how I wrote the character early in the book when I didn't understand them quite as well.
But my secondary characters (which is the way I think of other important characters, like my main character's best friend, the main antagonist/villain, the love interest, etc.) are different because I never write from their point of view. Everything about them comes through the filter of the main character.
The way I get to know my secondary characters is with character journals, which is something I learned from James Scott Bell's The Art of War For Writers. The example I gave several writers was this: One of my characters had a mother who was a strong feminist. In the first draft, that was just a piece of her personality, but not something that was really explored. But when I read through the manuscript for edits, the mother character seemed thin, so I decided to do a character journal for her.
I said to her, "Hey, talk to me about why you think you have such strong feelings about women's issues?" Then—this is the important part—I start writing her answer in first person. It might sound like this: I was an only child. My mother was a very weak woman, and I hated how my father controlled her.
This goes on and on. The trick is to not think too hard about how your character is going to answer, but to just freely write what comes to you. The first time I did this exercise, I was amazed by several things:
- The surprise of what I wrote. The character would say things that I hadn't anticipated. (That sounds weird, but we're all writers here, right?) I think it's because you aren't hemmed in by the plot, and these aren't words for the story, so you feel a freedom to just explore the character's thoughts without thinking, "Is this going to work with what I've imagined the story to be?"
- How long I wrote. My character journals often go on for several pages. Because the character will move fluidly from what their childhood to like to the first time they realized they were different from others to what it was like to change from an adolescent to an adult, and so forth.
- The strength of the impact it had on the story. Not everything makes it into the story. Most of the backstory, really, doesn't make it into the story. But because I have thought this character through, anytime I'm writing dialogue or action or reaction from them, I have in my head what their experiences have been like until now. So their motivations make sense, and that's what readers respond to.
"How do you know where to start a book?"
Lots of writers write their way to the beginning of their book. They figure out that what they thought was chapter three is really chapter one. So that's a way to do it.
That doesn't work for me. I actually don't start writing until I know where I want to start and even what I want my first sentence to be. When I spent time digging into what I'm trying to accomplish in a first scene, I came up with these questions that I use to help me brainstorm the best place to start mt story:
- What's the incident that changes things for the character? I try to back up from that as little as I possibly can. A glimpse of the character's home world, if you will.
- What's a scene that can showcase my character's strength? Readers want to hang out with someone they find interesting. They don't necessarily have to like them (although that's great too) but they need to find them interesting or they're not going to want to hang out with them.
- How can this scene also showcase something my character needs or longs for?
These aren't hard-and-fast rules. Just questions that have helped me!
"How do you know when you're done with a book?"
When asked this, I regurgitated a lot of what I said in this post, How do you know when you're done with edits?
"How do you just write a book? I'm always getting stuck because I want it to be perfect, and I know that's not the best way to do it, but I just can't help it!"
As this question came up over and over in mentoring appointments, I was reminded that releasing our inner editor is a learned skill. Meaning, you have to practice it.
I have not always been good at writing without editing myself. The reason I do it now is because as a young writer, I heard the advice to write a bad first draft, and I decided to give it a try. "With this manuscript," I said to myself, "I'm going to just write the whole thing without editing until the very end."
It was very difficult! I had to recommit to it every day. But I also wrote and finished the book faster than I ever had finished a book before. I discovered that writing a draft this way made me more productive, and after that whenever I was tempted to edit myself as I wrote a first draft, I was then able to remind myself of why I shouldn't.
But it also may not be a system that works for you! See Roseanna White's post on editing as you write.
Happy writing, everyone! How are my 100-for-100 writers doing?