Let Your Book’s Characters Lead The Way

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book's characters

Much of the joy and discovery of creative writing comes from the process itself. I found inspiration and motivation from the very characters I created.

When I first decided to write a book, I took the NaNoWriMo challenge of completing a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. It was a substantial endeavor, and I thought I knew what my biggest hurdles would be. The sheer discipline required to write 1,667 words every day for 30 days seemed one obvious issue.

But for me, it was less about discipline and more about being a magician. How else can you produce the necessary time to write every day?

I tried. I woke up early, I stayed up late. I snatched time, writing in my car while my son was at soccer practice. I wrote in a hotel room while on the road. I carved out time in the middle of the day, only to have it stolen away by the heating repairman who needed my assistance and seemed to know as much about my boiler as I did.

Point is, I’ve still got a life, a job, two high-school kids, a wife, and volunteer positions that suck up time like no paying job does. And some variation of this is true for many of you embarking on writing a novel. So wherever you are on your journey, take a moment to celebrate your writing accomplishments. Whatever your goals, whatever your formula, wherever you are in the process, celebrate your creativity and dedication.

Writing begets writing

So yes, my concern about making the time to write every day was borne out. But other concerns vanished – or were at least greatly diminished – by the writing process itself. I was bolstered by the encouragement of my beta readers: it seems the story and characters I created piqued their interest and they appeared to be invested in their trials and travels. Maybe this story is worth telling, after all.

And, as the late Warren Adler described:

“The way in which I write is to let my characters come alive in my head and interact with each other, create conflict with each other, and work out their own destinies. I know this sounds out there but writers will know what I’m talking about.”

I know what he’s talking about! I had considered myself something of a “Pantser:” No outline, no plot summary, just flying by the seat of my trousers. And that remained true through the first draft of my first book… mostly. I didn’t have a written outline, but the truth is the structure of the story had existed in my head for some time. I started writing it many years ago, after it sprang to life as a bedtime story I made up to entertain my son.

Your characters will do the talking

Catalog Hana BannerThe first attempt at writing the story turned out to be the start of a rough draft, and I thought maybe I had the first 5,000 words of this story mapped out. Turns out, I had a lot more worked out in my head than that. As I eclipsed 20,000 words, I found myself in virgin territory, discovering places in the story I had not conceived before I set out to write the book.

If I were ever worried about running out of ideas, that concern was quickly allayed. In fleshing out the action, describing the environment, and putting myself in the shoes of my characters, the story continually revealed itself to me. A description, a phrase in the dialogue, a character’s observations — all these things were fuel for the next page. I was amazed to find new ideas waiting there, in the pages I had already written. It’s almost as though they were gifts from the characters — from the story — that I created. My fictional creations kept giving things to me. Like Adler says, it really does sound out there, but I guess writers have to be a bit out there. Perhaps that’s what the arts are all about: channeling the information that’s “out there” and translating it.

Let your story take over

Any concerns that my interest would flag or that this creative writing endeavor would become a chore were also dispelled as I wrote (not quite every day, but as often as I could). I found myself thinking about the story and the characters all the time: when I mowed the lawn or was folding laundry, or in the moments between my head hitting the pillow and sleep taking over, the story played in my head.

Some of the story’s best ideas came from these moments, but even more inspiration came while at the keyboard. Not that every session was a flurry of continuous typing – hell, I’m a writer and an editor, but my typing technique is crap. I also spend a good amount of time reading over my work, tweaking it, mining it for ideas, making sure I’m not over-using the same descriptors or words.

That’s also been part of my journey as a songwriter. There’s always a lot of revisiting the work in progress, refining it along the way. Perhaps some of that is infatuation with my creation, but usually I’m listening or reading with the intention of finding the flaw. Uncovering mediocrity or inconsistencies that have crept into the work.

Write, rewrite, and move on

And, as Mr. Adler said: “I firmly believe that the key to good writing is rewriting. When I write a novel, I go back to it every single day and I try to produce at least five pages. I’ll write five pages one day then go back the next day, start from the beginning and rewrite.”

But then, there’s the point where you need to move on. In fact, I’ve revised this post enough. Per the advice of a writing coach, I need to draft an outline of the next two books I’ve got planned for the series. I’m going to have to arrange my schedule to make time for that.

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Develop Your Story By Listening To Your Cast
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Writing three-dimensional characters
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