Thursday, July 30, 2009

3 Techniques for Developing Well-Rounded Characters

You'd probably agree that one of the biggest challenges in fiction writing is creating dynamic characters. Even with an original plotline and interesting conflicts, if your characters lack development, everything else will fall flat. It's much easier to forgive a faulty plot with dynamic characters than flat characters within a fascinating story. You're less likely to fall into this hole when you know who you're writing.

Getting to know characters is much the same as making friends. How do make friends? By communicating. It's similar with characters. You need to get them talking just like a real person. How do you do that? There are lots of tricks and techniques out there. Here are three that I've found helpful in creating dynamic, exciting characters.

Technique #1: Character Journals

Why It Works: Getting into a character's head by speaking in his/her voice can help smoke out details you may not get otherwise.

How You Do It: Get started by summarizing the story from his/her viewpoint. You want to write how the character would write - not you. If you don't have a story for this character yet, just start with things you already know. Roll with impulses and don't fear rambling; rambling often leads to gems. Perservere when you feel like you're getting nothing; if you keep writing, you will uncover minor and major details that may change everything.

Give It a Whirl: Spend a session writing a journal in the voice of the main character from your work-in-progress. Choose a part of his/her life you'd like to know more about. Start with something you know and work from there, or go with the first thing that comes to mind. Aim for at least two pages.

Technique #2: Interviewing Characters

Why It Works: Asking targeted questions can help you get behind a character's actions to his/her motives.

How You Do It: You ask questions, your character answers. Like character journals, write the answers in the voice of your character. Answer honestly from his/her viewpoint, not your own. It may help to start with basic questions like age and birthplace and to move into questions that pinpoint a character's feelings about an event or the motivations behind one of his/her actions.

Give It a Whirl: Pick one character you want to know more about. Brainstorm for a few minutes, listing all the questions you can think of to ask. Then, spend the rest of your session answering them. Aim for 10 questions.

Technique #3: Daydreaming

Why It Works: Much like freewriting or free associating, daydreaming about your characters and their lives may help you make new connections or expand on ones you've already made.

How You Do It: Just imagine your character(s) at home or work, at a party or off doing their favorite recreational sport. Picture him/her talking to another character. Let them live in your imagination and go about things as you think they would. There's no paper commitment, so you can have them say and do all kinds of things that you might hesitate to put on the page. Let them act out of character just to see what happens.

Give It a Whirl: Choose one character to spend some time with and place them at a party, a typical day at work, or a night alone. What does your character do? How does he/she react to different people and situations? What does he/she wear or drink or think about? Play out these scenarios in your head, and put your epiphanies on paper.

What are your favorite character development techniques?

Illustration credit, Borqje

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What Happens Next?

When readers ask this question, all they have to do to get the answer is turn the page. When writers ask this question, much more work is in store to find out. Sometimes you get to a point in a story where you've bled your ideas and have no clue where to go from there. Before you stall or move on to another project, try these two techniques to push your story out of the doldrums.

Go Back to the Original Idea
Sometimes to go forward, it helps to go back to the original concept. What got you to this point in the first place? A character? A scene? A snippet of dialogue? Revisit those first images or pages and try to remember your initial feelings about them. What about the idea drove you to write the story? What kept it moving? If you're not sure, go back and analyze. There is a reason you started telling this story. And that may very well help you to figure out where it needs to go next.

Talk to Your Characters
Nothing happens without the characters. When all else fails, go back to them. Spend some time journaling from their points-of-view, interview them, write scenes and conversations that have nothing to do with the story. Let them live in your imagination. Watch them go about daily life and experience interactions and conflicts outside the main story. Your characters are leading anyway so let who they are and what they do lead you to your next move.

What happens next may not be as far off as it feels. Keep writing, thinking, and imagining and you will unleash the next chapter in your story.

Try This>>
Spend a writing session journaling from the POV of your main character. If you've never tried this, have your character talk about the story to get going. Let him/her ramble. It may take more than a page but stick with it and you will unearth something new and possibly unexpected that may just spark an idea for what happens next.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Stick to a Writing Routine During Summer

If it's summer where you live, you may be experiencing the craziness that seems to happen. It's warm and sunny, kids are out of school, people take vacation from work. And you don't want to miss any of it. Where I live, summer lasts about three months (if we're fortunate) and everyone gets a fever to be out of the house or office and onto the beach or at least out shopping. I'm not immune and I find summer a difficult time to keep up with all the essentials, including writing. Here are a few tips that may help you to keep those words coming during the crazy months of summer.

Rearrange Your Writing Schedule
Between vacations, maybe having your children home every day, and just the irresistible weather, your writing routine may suffer. So rethink it. Is there a time of day that would work better during summer? Maybe first thing before other responsibilities or the sun beckons? Or perhaps later, after you've done everything else and things quiet down? Work with your lifestyle, not against it, and you're guaranteed to get more writing done.

Take Your Notebook With You
Bring your notebook when headed to the beach or going away for the weekend. Plop under your umbrella and take advantage of the relaxed environment. If you want a break from your work-in-progress, use a writing prompt or exercise instead. Use the change of pace to fuel current ideas or spark new ones. You may find you not only can but want to squeeze in more time for writing when you're away.

Don't Stress
Summer can be filled with a lot of extras - vacations, weekend getaways, beach or pool days. As a result, you may miss some writing sessions here and there. Stick to your schedule as best you can but don't be too hard on yourself. Make goals you can reach during this time of year. And don't feel endlessly guilty over missing a session once in a while. You can still stay on track, you just may slow down a bit. Eventually, life will shift again and you'll return to your old schedule.

So enjoy the summer months while they last. Benefit from the time you may have off and away. Let it bolster your enthusiasm for your writing projects and help you generate new ideas. Most of all, work with your summer routine and keep writing!
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