Weekly Writing Update: October Week 2

I got the interior of “Pithea” formatted for paperback with minor difficulties, and after some real frustrations with the cover, ordered my first proof copy. It’s set to arrive tomorrow!! Once I have it in my hands, I’ll start reading through it with an eye for final details that need changed while also making sure the formatting is good. Visually speaking, I’m more concerned about the cover coming out good, so I’m really anxious to see it for the first time.

After I ordered the proof copy on Tuesday, I tried to turn my attention to prepping for NaNoWriMo. But that was when I realized that I only had a week until my next writers group meeting at my local library. Last month, I volunteered to lead a talk on writer’s block this month, and I hadn’t done any prep for that. So I spent a couple of evenings making notes and preparing a handout. I think I’m basically set for that now.

I have done a little of the prepping I had planned for NaNo, but I need to make sure to focus on that more in the coming weeks. There are just over 2 weeks left of Preptober, and I still need to go over the outline I made 4 months ago for the story I’m writing this year and flesh it out. Also re-read the first draft and new plans for the story that comes before. And read a couple of character interviews I wrote as part of the planning stage for this story. I’ll have to find a way to balance my writing time between “Pithea” and 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!

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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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Writing Wednesday: Joy of Discovery (or A Cure for Writer’s Block)

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Some time in the last couple of years, even as I struggled to maintain a writing habit (and for a while, failed completely), I have realize something that I didn’t know in my first 10 years of writing–at least not consciously: the joy of discovery is my absolute favorite thing about writing. I’ve also found discovery in writing to be the exact opposite, and in some ways the cure, for writer’s block.

Discovery, at least to me, is when things click or become more clear. A character pops up that wasn’t planned, but is clearly the answer to everything. You come up with a backstory that actually makes the character’s current actions make sense. You figure out how to fill in the saggy middle with actual, interesting plot. These are just some examples of those moments that can be exhilarating, exciting, and can even cause a rush of adrenaline.

Some people call this a “Eureka moment” or an “‘Aha!’ moment.” I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t bring up NaNoWriMo and mention that they have a badge that participants can award themselves if this happens during their writing in November.

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This is my favorite badge…

Why is this my favorite thing about writing? Probably because of how often it comes when I’m at a particularly low point in my writing. This is not always the case, but more often than not, the biggest, or at least most exhilarating moments of discovery come when I’m experiencing what most would consider “writer’s block.”

I have discovered that writer’s block most often happens when I’m struggling to break through a confusing, uncertain, or even boring section of a story. This can happen during any stage of writing–dreaming, planning, writing, or even revising. When that happens, I turn to a variety of tricks to try to figure out what I’m missing. Sometimes it leads to an “Aha!” moment, sometimes just a calmer, more basic answer to my question so I can move on. And to be clear, the joy of discovery is not only relegated to the exciting moments. Though discovery is almost always at least a little exciting to me.

Before I close, I’ll mention a few tricks that I use to try to coax those moments of discovery. I’ll address some more in-depth in future Writing Wednesday posts, but here are a few that don’t require as much explanation:

  • freewrite (especially with a prompt)
  • change your writing medium (for example, from computer/device to handwriting, or vice versa)
  • change your writing environment
  • listen to some music that reminds you of what you’re writing
  • read
  • keep asking yourself the questions you need to answer while going about the rest of your day
  • don’t decide to give up and come back when “inspiration strikes”

What about you? What tricks do you use to break through when you’re stuck? Have you had your own “Aha!” moments? What is your favorite thing about writing?

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.