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Are You Satisfied With the Status Quo?

May 11, 2009 Leave a comment

Half- written stories, rejected submissions, and possible story lines found their way to my desk drawer graveyard through not understanding a couple of rules of the road in this craft.

The first rule is not to take a sabbatical while working on a project.  It is the kiss of death for many a project.  The obits of my characters read:  Died before I lived.  Everytime  I start writing a story and put it down for a few weeks, inertia takes over and I cannot resume. 

If I drop writing, even for as little as six weeks, I see more subtle changes in my characters as they adopt the influences or viewpoints that came into my life during that short time span.  The differences may be subtle, but nevertheless there.   Once changes are made, they, no doubt, alter other parts of the story line, and sometimes it means starting from scratch.

Consistency is the key.  It may take only a three day break to lose interest.  If you write everyday, even if it is for a short period, your interest will not wane, your momentum will not sag.  It takes a tremendous amount of discipline and perseverence to dust off an older piece of work and rework it.

Another observation I made about my writing is that if I don’t know my characters well enough at the onset, I lose interest.  I have to be emotionally engaged to keep the writing from being dull.   If I am not familiar with my characters, they never materialize on the page.  They aren’t bigger than life. Since they never seem involved in their own lives, they all appear to have self-esteem issues.  How boring is that! 

These characters maybe a stereotype without depth, without uniqueness.  They move through their lives aloof, controlling their space without connecting with anyone on or off the page.  Just like a marriage license doesn’t make a marriage, a character even though connected to another character may still have the reader  screaming into the page:  What about passion?  What about love?  What about sacrifice and honor?  Damn it.  Say something.  Do something.  This is exactly what results when your characters are not well established in your head.

So, if you find your characters a little lackluster, do your homework.  Etch out everything about this character.  Create a backstory to establish a reason for his/her behavior.  Add a quirk or two for interest and make it points of challenge in the character’s goal.

I posted a question on a www.LinkedIn.com  group asking whether established writers prefer to develop character over plot or vice versa when beginning a novel.  One respondent likened it to playing the piano.  You can play the melody with your right hand, the harmony and chords with your left, but eventually, you will want to play them together. Together the music is whole, rich and filled with texture.

If I was happy with the status quo, my writing could never get better.  Writing is one craft that you can be learning something new every day of your life.  This is why writers keep writing.

What did you learn last?  Care to share it?

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