Weekly Writing Update: October Week 3

My first proof copy of “Pithea” came last Monday. Not gonna lie, it brought tears to my eyes to see the story I’ve worked on for over 6 years as a tangible, full-length book for the first time. Then I couldn’t see well enough to examine the cover, so my husband looked at it, and sadly informed me that it didn’t look good.

Pithea proof 1

It’s really blurry, which was disappointing, but I’ve already identified a possible reason for this issue and remade the cover. Unfortunately, there’s no real way to know if it’s good enough until I get another proof copy. I’ll chalk this up to a learning experience, because if the next cover comes out good, I know how to make the cover from the get-go next time. If it’s still blurry…I’ll have to troubleshoot further.

I’ve been working furiously on the final full revision of “Pithea”, most of what I’m changing being awkward wording that I discover by reading the text out loud. I am 2/3 of the way through this revision, after which I’ll put changes into the computer, make sure the formatting is still good, and order another proof copy.

Pithea proof 3

Pithea proof 2

Blurry or not, it looks great on the shelf with other books!

I haven’t done much more prep for NaNoWriMo. I keep carrying around the notebook in which I wrote some character interviews in preparation of writing the outline for the book I plan to write, thinking reading back through those interviews will help get prepared for writing the story. But “Pithea” has taken all of my free time. If I keep the pace I’ve been on, I’ll be done with the final revision of “Pithea by Wednesday, and then I’ll be waiting for another proof copy. Hopefully that will give me the last week of Preptober to focus on my NaNoNovel (working title: “Ophaela”).

Writing Wednesday: Character Interviews

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This is my first Insecure Writer’s Support Group post, and I’m very excited! It is also a post for my own weekly feature that I call Writing Wednesday. So let’s get to it!

WW

In my writing past, I remember hearing other writers talk about their characters haranguing them. Complaining about their lack of page time, about unpleasant things that happened to them, or about who knows what else…but they always seemed to be complaining. I remember always being a mixture of jealous and certain that those writers were making it all up. While I didn’t believe that it was very likely that their characters just jumped into their thoughts out of nowhere to start talking to them, now I can see the plausibility—the writer might have been thinking about their story at that time, or just letting their mind wander in general. And now, I have seen the amazing benefits of talking to my characters.

There are likely many different ways people refer to this phenomenon. For me, it usually involves a discussion that is led along by me asking questions of my characters. Thus, I use the term “character interview.” And understand that the way I go about having these discussions with my characters are by no means the only way to do it. It is what works best for me, and you should definitely figure out what works for you (if this method works for you at all).

I will dispense with the history of how I came to utilize this technique in my writing, and just explain how helpful it can be. In the different stages of writing (which I would break down into dreaming, planning, writing, and revising), character interviews have been most useful to me during planning and revising stages. During the dreaming phase, you likely wouldn’t even have characters very clearly in mind. If you have enough to start talking to your characters about, you might be more in the planning stage. During the writing stage, well…you’re writing. Unless you run into a block and decide to stop and hash it out, you won’t likely be stopping the prose to have a chat.

So now you may be wondering how to start. Or what kinds of things to talk to or ask your characters about. Usually at the point that I decide it’s time to start one of these discussions, I am struggling with some kind of plot hole, or a question about how to proceed in a scene, how to get something to happen that I really want to see happen in the story, how to fill out a story, or even which character should actually be the protagonist or main character in a story. And then I literally just pose these questions to the characters I think can help me the most, and go from there.

The next question might be how you know which character(s) would be the best to talk to for the questions you have in mind. Sometimes it’s obvious, but sometimes it requires thinking outside the box. Earlier this year, I was struggling to rework the plot of one of my books, which has a murder-mystery element to it, and when I wrote the first draft, it came out incredibly weak. I had a long conversation with the main character of that book, but still couldn’t figure out what I was missing in the middle of that story. I was considering setting it aside for a while, but decided to talk to a different character instead first—the antagonist. By the time I was done (a week and a half later), I had not only filled in that saggy middle, but realized that this person was not the main antagonist. Such a productive interview!

Now for the tangible question—where/how to conduct the interview. I’ve done them multiple ways—all in my head, recording myself audibly in some way, typing the conversation on a computer or my Neo, and writing it in a notebook. I don’t recommend doing it only in your head unless you have a great memory; I prefer to be able to look back on it somehow later. I recorded myself with a headset and Audacity one time, but decided that listening to the conversation later was just too weird, so I’m not doing that again. Typing it out works, as long as you make sure to clearly designate who is saying what. My preferred method is to write the conversations out longhand, though, and even a step further, I like to use a different color pen for each person talking (including myself). It makes it so much easier to read over again later, which I do a lot. Plus, I really like the tactile element of writing by hand.

A few more tips about conducting these interviews:

  • Give yourself the freedom to explore without worrying about accuracy. I have had interviews where, by the time I got to the end, things we discussed at the beginning were obsolete, because the plot took a turn during the discussion. That’s okay.
  • I use the term “interview,” but often I don’t ask questions for a while, instead just carrying on an actual conversation. But since the basic idea behind this (for me, at least) is that the characters know more about their story than I do, because it’s their story, I am generally coaxing the truth out of them.
  • If you have more than one character involved, they might start talking to each other, instead of you, and that’s okay too.
  • Don’t get too caught up in the nebulous world your characters are inhabiting for these interviews. They are outside of the time and space bubble of their stories. And yet, I find that it helps me to think of the times that I interact with them as a continuation of time in itself, and even reference back to previous discussions (like having one character say I’d just yell at him again if he told me his theory about something in particular, because yes, I’d gotten frustrated with him in a previous interview).
  • It might feel weird at first to do this, because of course you know these characters aren’t real, but they really can feel real. And in truth, if you don’t think of your characters as their own people (rather than just part of you), then maybe they won’t come across as real to the reader.

If you think talking to your characters might help you with your own writing, but still aren’t sure how to start, pick a character that you think might have some helpful insight, and just start out by asking, “What do you think of the story so far?” or “What would you change if you could?” You might be surprised what comes out.

In case anyone is interested in what most of my interviews looks like, below is a picture of the beginning of one of them, the one I mentioned above with the antagonist of the murder-mystery story (and an example of one where what I wrote at the beginning became incorrect by the time I was done). Purple is me, red is the antagonist. It took me to the end of the page to get past her refusal to help (which was totally true to her character), but after that, I immediately started to gain insight into the story. I’ve blocked out a few spots due to possible spoilers. Also, I use erasable pens, which are just amazing!

character interview

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Daily Writing Check-in: June 13, 2019

Words/Time:  1 hour, 30 minutes working on pre-writing for Book 3 of “Pursuit of Power” trilogy, as well as beginning the “final” revision of “Pithea.”

I finished the character interview that helped me basically hash out more than half of the main plot of this book. And I can’t believe it, but I think I do have enough further ideas for this storyline for a 4th book in this arc.

This has led me to think that I don’t necessarily want to think of this arc as a trilogy (or tetralogy, as the case may be) within the greater series. Instead, maybe they should just be part of the series that happen to coincide more directly with each other than some of the other books.

I then went on to finish the early outline for this book (which still has no name, but I haven’t really put much thought into it yet either), and wrote down the ideas I have for the follow-up book so I don’t forget later. That ended goal #1 in my current list (which only contains 2 goals).

1. Plan Book 3 of “Pursuit of Power” trilogy

2. Final revision of “Pithea” – All of my writing goals this year have been for one final goal: to know what, if any changes, future book drafts may force in “Pithea,” so I can get those things changed now, before attempting to publish this book again. I want to make sure it’s exactly what it needs to be, as book 1 in this series of books. I do have a list of things that I want to change, and one of them will possibly change the structure in such a way to make it more marketable.

Though I now have ideas for another book at the end of the current list of Pithea books (+1, because the book I just finished outlining isn’t even on that list yet), it’s just going to have to fit into what already exists in “Pithea,” because I can’t put off revising and going forward with trying to publish it. Any longer, and it’ll just feel like stalling. So today I started on what will hopefully be a final revision to “Pithea”, at least regarding changes prompted by me, rather than by someone else like an editor, and look into publishing options.

Daily Writing Check-in: June 11, 2019

Words/Time:  35 minutes working on pre-writing for Book 3 of “Pursuit of Power” trilogy.

I continued the character interview that I’ve been working on for several days now. I thought it would be done before now, but big questions keep coming up that have to be solved for this plot to work out. I answered a bit more today, but still need to work out a bit more. I’m ironing out the details for a Big Escape, and trying to find the balance between too easy and so hard it’s unbelievable they escaped. But the escape is not necessarily the climax I thought it was going to be anymore, so I don’t think it has to be as grand as I had imagined.

I considered doing no work today, because I’m tired from another morning of VBS. But I knew it was important to at least get some work in, especially since taking even a 1-day break when I’m struggling so much to get the plot out can easily lead to a long hiatus, which I do not want!

Daily Writing Check-in: June 10, 2019

Words/Time:  1 hour working on pre-writing for Book 3 of “Pursuit of Power” trilogy.

I did a lot of brainstorming on the issue that came up yesterday. I’m slowly making my way through the huge questions I’m facing. I also discovered what would have been a huge plot hole in the outline I have so far, so had to fix that, which involved further geography lessons of the region in which this story takes place.

I answered some of the more pressing and complicated questions and got back to the character interview I’ve been working on, only to come up with another question about how to proceed. I’ll tackle that tomorrow.

I’m volunteering as a crew leader at my church’s VBS all this week, so I have to get up early every morning and spend 3 hours with a group of kids. It wipes me out every year.

On the plus side, my job, which I quit 2 1/2 months ago but have been following through on some projects since then, is finally really winding down. I am looking at no work, outside of possibly answering some questions, for the rest of this week. Hopefully the extra time (which will admittedly mostly be spent on catching up housework and relaxing) will afford at least a little extra writing time, and will help me break through these issues.

Daily Writing Check-in: June 9, 2019

Words/Time:  1 hour working on pre-writing for Book 3 of “Pursuit of Power” trilogy.

I was about to continue the character interview I’ve been working on for the past few days, when I realized I didn’t know how to proceed. I am ready for a pivotal scene that has been in some way looming for years, but I didn’t know the details.

I spent some time working out the geography of the area that this will take place, and then realized that I had a huge question to ask. This thing that I have always assumed would happen in my books…will it happen? Does it need to happen? Can it happen?

Events that have led up to this, events in other books that didn’t exist when I first imagined this sort of “ending” to a huge story arc, have twisted the situation enough that I am questioning what should actually happen. And as of the time I quit for the night, even brainstorming on paper wasn’t helping me any. I may have to be a bit more creative in trying to get past this one.

Daily Writing Check-in: June 8, 2019

Words/Time:  1 hour, 41 minutes working on pre-writing for Book 3 of “Pursuit of Power” trilogy.

I continued the character interview that I started a few days ago. This interview has brought to light an entire geographical area in my story world that was always a bit of a blurry spot in my mind. I’m really happy for what has come out of it. We’re now discussing what might be the climax of the book, or it might lead to the climax of this book…to be honest, I’m starting to wonder if I can fit everything that’s going to happen in this book, or if there should actually be 4 books in this story arc. I will probably wait to make that decision when I write this story though, and see how long it comes out.

Daily Writing Check-in: June 7, 2019

Words/Time:  41 minutes working on pre-writing for Book 3 of “Pursuit of Power” trilogy.

I really wanted to work longer today, but it was not to happen. I continued with the character interview with a character I can’t put a name to here for spoiler reasons. We got to talk about his personal life, which was pretty fun. Then we went on to talk about the actual situation that is happening in the book. I think this interview will only go on another day or two, and hopefully at that point, I’ll be able to finish the outline for this book, and move on to another task.

Daily Writing Check-in: June 6, 2019

Words/Time:  54 minutes working on pre-writing for Book 3 of “Pursuit of Power” trilogy.

I continued the character interview with the man who shall remain nameless, and spent the entire time on that. I don’t have much else to say today (which is pretty surprising for me). But I will at least say that I’ve really been enjoying this conversation and only just finally got to his personal story, after spending most of today talking about the place he’s been living as a whole, and another character in relation to that.

Daily Writing Check-in: June 5, 2019

Words/Time:  1 hour, 16 minutes working on pre-writing for Book 3 of “Pursuit of Power” trilogy.

I thought for a while last night about my issue where the main sub-plot doesn’t actually connect to the book’s main plot at all. And I hit on a way to make them connect, which I think makes the story even more intriguing! So I wrote that into the outline, and then hit on another huge question that goes back to the very beginning of planning out my story world. I took some time away from my writing to think about this question, and then came back and wrote out the question and brainstormed answers.

I think I’ve come to a decision on this matter, though there’s still one small question that niggles at my brain. I’m moving on for now though. I added a little more to my outline, and then came to what will probably be the lead-up to the climax…but I don’t really know what’s going to happen. I can set it aside and figure that when it’s time to write, since the rest of the story up to that spot might point the way to the next step, but I don’t want to leave it alone yet.

So I decided it’s again time to do a type of pre-writing that has literally never failed me yet–a character interview. And it didn’t take me long to know exactly who the interview should be with…but I can’t even say who it is without being a huge spoiler. He’ll most likely be an integral part of this book’s climax though, and is a character that is relatively  unknown to me. So it’s time to get to know him!