Kick-starting the Writing Heart: How Character Development Helps Overcome Writer’s Block…

Hitting The Writer’s Wall…

 stone wall

A common experience for novelists during the marathon of getting the words down on the page is hitting the wall. It can happen at any time. Some people call it writer’s block. It feels like the words have dissipated like oxygen from a long distance runners lungs. The adrenaline rush that carried you so far has crashed. Like a cartoon coyote you fall to the ground and the writing stops dead.

I’m not talking about those times when you’re so busy it’s hard to stick to your writing schedule.

This is about the days when you sit at the page and nothing happens. Nothing. Not one word. You play a game, write emails, watch cats playing piano on Youtube… You can do anything except write. It’s like you’ve lost your story. It breaks your heart. You’re dry. It’ the saddest, most gut-wrenching feeling in the world for a wordsmith.

This is the main reason why so many people give up writing a full-length novel. A project that takes so much time, intelligence and passion can appear to die in whisper of disappointment.

 

It’s a syndrome I’ve observed so often in writers in my classes over the years.  I searched for a cause and found out it’s not a Stopping Point.  It’s a Stop-and-Feel point.  Two very different things.

This is why I’ve developed a method to re-hydrate the writer within! There’s a kind of liquid, creative vitamin, muse-infusion that will kick-start the novelist’s writing heart.

 

Kick-starting the Writing Heart

 Basically, the answer is that you’ve fallen down because you’ve fallen out of love with your story people – yes, even the villains. So you have to re-ignite the fire. And in the end, the fire burns in the characters you’ve created.

I often teach my students that the plot is the mind of story, theme is the soul and character is the heart.  All three of these have to be functioning or the story dies. 

Because theme and plot are based more on cognitive functioning you can think your solving any writing problems with these two.  But character is different.  Character must be intriguing, fascinating and engaging in order to write about them. 

You’ve got to love them or hate them or preferably feel a bit of both for them.  Most of all they’ve got to be good value.  By that I mean they must deserve their place roaming around in your imagination rent free for such a long time.

 

Get closer to them. Get to know them better than your own family. Find out more about them. Breathe life into them and the story lives again, the words flow, the impulse to follow a scene through to the end returns.

 

Here are a few exercises to make this happen:

  • Write a scene in which your MC is behaving in a way that on one else can understand.  You know why they’re doing this, but the minor character[s] around them don’t.  Make it really difficult for your MC to function.  Feel how much it hurts to be misunderstood.  Ratchet up the tension. Use setting to enhance the difficulties.  Use all the senses.
  • Write a piece of dialogue from your MC’s past where she discovers a terrible secret she’ll have to carry for the rest of her life. 
  • Write your MC’s obituary.  Write it first from the point of view of your antagonist.  Then from the point of view of her closest ally.
  • Write about your MC’s first heartbreak.  Make it happen in the most humiliating way possible.  Feel his pain.

You may not use these scenes in your story but they’ll get you closer to your MC. 

Remember, if you can re-kindle the relationship between you and your characters and the writing will follow like the night the day.

It’s the heart of writing.  J x

Novelist’s Quote of the Week…

Fightclubcvr

Book cover of the novel, Fight Club by Chuck Palahnuik.  A great story, a cult novel and a fascinating film.

Introduction to the Quote: Writing is Not Natural…

The purpose of studying the craft of writing is not to clip your creative wings. Poets study form, artists study perspective, dancers study movements, actors study stagecraft and musicians study theory of music. They discuss, analyse and practice methods developed and honed by those who went before. Generally speaking it makes them better at what they do.

Of course it’s possible to acquire the knack of writing a novel that works using the technique of trial and error.

This is sometimes called drafting or writing for year after year in a frenzy of despair, wondering why it doesn’t work, tearing out your hair, throwing away hundreds of thousands of words and making mistake after mistake, receiving rejection after rejection [you can tell I’ve been through this] until in exasperation and madness you finally find out what a story actually is and how to translate it into the symbols we call the written word.

A story essentially is a story. It has structure, form, tonal qualities and reader expectations. For centuries bards and storytellers were revered for their art. In the Celtic Druidic tradition they studied for years at a bardic college. In most cultures stories were handed down through generations and all the teller had to do was remember it, embellish a little and put on a good performance for the audience.

Nowadays, readers expect a novel to be a newly minted story every time. They invest time and energy into reading something created by someone who knows how to shape thoughts into words on the page. Writing creatively is quite new in the evolution of the human species. It isn’t natural. It isn’t the spoken word. And it isn’t a memory test.

This week’s quote is taken from Larry Brooks’ new book Story Physics. It’s a great nubbin of advice about one of the most crucial elements in the study of novel writing. Reading. Oh, and watching films because they are stories too. By the way, this advice works the same for pantsers as well as plotters. Understanding what a story is – is the ultimate craft of the novelist.

The universal story itself is your muse, your foundation, your wings and your passion.

I think the most illuminating, clarifying and empowering thing writers can do to improve their craft is to read or see and then analyse stories in all genres. Break them down into their component parts and milestones with a view toward seeing what makes them tick, and behold the power of story architecture at work. Again, once you know it, once you see it, you can’t unsee it. It’ll be there in every story you read or view going forward…”

Larry Brooks.

Thanks Larry.  J x

Writing a novel is like releasing a baby turtle…

Why is writing a novel like releasing a baby turtle into the ocean?

Because it’s a long trip into dangerous watersturtle release 6.

Small flippers are a reminder that every writer starts a new story idea, novel or book of poems, both weak  and vulnerable as they crawl towards the ocean of time and words ahead of them.

Art comes first – the crazy days of fevered writing, writing wild, freeing the writer within a magic window of time appears so you do the kind of writing you always dreamed of, the kind you do instead of getting dressed, instead of eating the kind where you dive in because the work has grown in you first and then allows you to go swimming down to the depths of itself, putting one word in front of the other, hour after hour.

How do you prepare for this moment?

Free writing on a regular basis is the best way. Writing for five minutes or more without thinking too much, without censoring yourself, your thoughts, images, ideas or judgments.  This stream of consciousness style of writing whatever floats through your head at that moment of writing, if practiced on a regular basis can help improve your writing on all levels.

It’s a ticket to riding the star-ship across the dimensions of your incredible mind and get into the zone of the imagination.  The more you go there the easier it gets. Your muse has your number and you have hers.  In fact, you’re so close you’re practically related.  She’s connected to your everyday life. And that’s how you fall in love with writing.

And it’s also how to get fast at writing.  Like the baby turtles.  At first it’s a harsh world full of predators, currents, storms and fishing nets the size of wandering islands.

But once these delicate creatures grow into huge great full grown leather-backs with the force, power and weight to get a hefty speed going.

The Writer Grows through Free Writing

In the same way, the writer grows through free writing.  Think of it as a portal to the weird dimension of imagination, the wild zone of creative thinking.   This is where art is born.  Creative writing is ignited and fueled by art.

To build a highway to this soulful inner playground, writing freely and fully. In your writer’s notebook, sketch a map of the words that speak your individual language – your personal dialect, framework, visions, dreams, beliefs and fears.   Surf the wave of your inner bard.  Hitch a ride on the wild horse of your poet self.

Whether you’re composing an email, text, song, haiku or 160,000 word novel – the voice you find in free writing is your unique signature on the page. Play around with metaphors, similes and twist cliches until they squeak like a chicken in the grip of a python.

Your true writer’s voice.  The individual spark of creativity lurking inside; elusive, sensitive and wild.  Approach with caution.  Writing this way can seriously improve your writing.