All the reading I have been doing recently, is definitely paying off as I contemplate my recent manuscript and make revisions. Locking it away where I couldn’t look at it for a couple of months also paid off. When I came back to it, I was able to see where I had gotten myself side-tracked. That said, reading intensely is what truly made the difference. Every middle grade, teen and adult novel I read contributed something to my writing.
In the past, I have studied a particular author, dissecting the work so that I could use it for a model. That wasn’t a bad plan, but the problem with it was, it was only ONE example. What I really needed to pump up my writing to a new level was to have LOTS of models. Stephen King, in his book On Writing, makes the comment that he reads voraciously, but not to dissect it, merely to enjoy it. He’s on to something, I think. All of that material goes into your brain and when a problem arises in your manuscript, the Muse pulls up an idea. Try this, the little voice says. Without all that fuel, there is no little voice, or at least, if there is, he’s asleep.
So, back to the topic of actually writing the novel. We’ve written a few scenes to get the creative juices going and that has given us a rough road map of the upcoming journey.
Okay. Good. We type Chapter One and decide to go with the first scene that we created to get the story going. It seems like a good place to start. From that first scene, we have a bit of an idea who the main character is, where she is, and about the problem that is setting up the “inciting” incident. The incident that will set the entire plot into motion. Ah ha! A great idea comes to us for what that incident will be and we keep on writing. But by then some other characters have shown up. Who are they? What are they doing? How does the protagonist know them?
Before getting too far into the story, I do a lot of work to get to know my main character and her background. But I quickly discover that her background is a little thin in relation to the other characters. Next thing I know, the brakes are on, again. No worries. I sketch out some necessary details for a couple of the minor characters and I’m on my way again. Good–right?
Here’s the thing. In all of the fuss to get on with the story, I neglected to develop Lily’s father extensively enough. I spent time on the mother who has passed away, but just gave the dad a “job” and a bit of a wimpy personality and kept on going. Now, I’m half way through revisions and I realize that his career choice and personality are not actually working. Yes, You read that right. I finished a compete first draft fitting the story around this poorly developed father and his random career.
Did you also read “IT’S NOT WORKING!”
With this new perspective and a bunch of well-written novels recently digested, I realize the father is flat. Not only flat, but boring AND a misfit for the role he needs to play. The truth is, I don’t know this guy all that well. He has to make some critical decisions and he and Lily have to learn how to forge a life together. This partially formed wimp is not cutting it. His career choice is all wrong too. With a stronger father, in a different career, I can tie all the bits and pieces of the plot and subplot together in a more satisfying way. As it stands now, I go off on a bit of a side trip that adds more words but less power. So…Wimpy needs a personality transplant and I’m really wishing I had thought this all through better, back in, say, Chapter One.
So, yes. We’re back to the plotter/panster thing. You don’t need an outline of every plot point, my panster friends, but you do need to know a lot of details about your characters, even the supporting cast, if you don’t want to do a whole lot of extra rewriting. Here are a few exercises to help you plump up those flat characters and turn them into real people. If you do some extra work at the front end, you’ll be glad you did!
- Conduct an interview with him: Why did he choose his career? What would he consider his top strength? What are his goals and dreams? Does he have any? What frustrates him the most? What is he most disappointed about? What would he do differently if he got a redo of the past twenty years? (If your character is a kid, imagine that she is being interviewed for a special award.)
- Write some journal entries from your character’s point of view. If there is a scene where your character is coming across a little two dimensional, write a journal entry where the character shares her feelings about what is going on. It’s amazing the things you learn about your character from these private journal entries! All kinds of back story emerges and you are able to better understand your character’s reactions and motivations.
- Try BEING your character for one whole day. Think like your character. Act and react the way your character would in a variety of situations. What does your character do with his hands? What quirks does he show when nervous? It probably won’t be a perfect transformation, but I think you’ll be amazed at what you learn about how your character’s brain works!
The most important part? Have fun!