Writing Tip – Sticking to Your Plot (Or not)!

Neridah had another writing question for me this week.

Sometimes when I have written a structured Plot Diagram and Chapter Outline for longer books, when I sit down to actually write it, some of my characters start to do things outside of these carefully made plans. This sounds crazy and I spend a fair bit of time trying to reign them back in or I go back to the Chapter Outline and modify it. In your opinion is this normal for writers?

Taupo BayNeridah, I have to assure you that you are not crazy and you are definitely not alone. Characters often start to develop a mind of their own and create dilemmas for us.

I find that when characters take me in a completely new direction it’s usually because I’ve got to know them better and they are telling me, “This is what I would really do if I were a real person. This is how I would really act.”

So in my opinion, this scenario is quite normal for writers – especially those who know their characters well or are getting to know them better.

I’m not sure what other people think about this, but my advice would be to embrace the actions of contrary characters – let them take you in the direction they want to go. Allow their world to be turned on its axis.

If you think that the direction your character is heading will add tension or conflict or enhance your story in some other way then go with it. If that means you have to adjust your plot outline then that’s what I would do.

Unknown-6I had an extreme case of this with my YA thriller series that I was awarded my May Gibbs Fellowship for.  One of my minor characters got so active and rebellious that she has ended up with a book of her own.

Writing a novel is constant process of evolution. As you progress, characters change, plots change and even you as a writer can change.

In some respects, a character is like an adventurous child – you have to give them the freedom to explore.

But unlike a child, your character should be encouraged to venture into danger. The more danger, the more at risk they are, the better.

Neridah, I hope this answers your question.

Have fun with your characters – let them loose, I say:)

If anyone would like to share their opinion or experience, feel free to comment at the end of this post. If you have a writing question of your own to ask, you can also use the comments section.

Thanks for your great questions Neridah.

Happy writing:)

Dee

How to Get to Know Your Main Character – Part 2

Last week we learned some basic things about our main character. Now we have to look beyond the mask.

We have to look not just at the face our main character presents to the world, we have to look at who they really are.

Now we’re going to delve deep into our main character’s mind, thoughts and beliefs. This interview session may make them quite uncomfortable…and may be quite revealing to you, their creator.
The interview continues:

  1. Do you have any special belief systems?
  2. What do you look for in a friend?
  3. What do you look for in a partner?
  4. What are your talents and skills?
  5. Do any of these talents or skills have a down side?
  6. What are the things you like most about yourself?
  7. What are the things you like least about yourself?
  8. What was your first sexual experience?
  9. How did you feel about it?
  10. How would you describe your childhood?
  11. What are some experiences from your childhood that have affected the sort of person you are now?
  12. How do you feel about discipline?
  13. Are you someone who fits in with society or someone who fights it?
  14. How would you spend a typical day?
  15. What do you want more than anything in the world?
  16. What is the best thing that could happen to you?

In this session of getting to know my main character, I start to think about the qualities that define them.
For example, they might strongly believe in ‘truth’ – honesty could be a fundamental element of their belief system – a part of who they are. I look at the reverse of this quality and its implications.

What if they were too honest? What if they confessed to something that they should have kept quiet about?

A character’s strongest quality can also be the thing that brings them undone.

Here’s what I mean:
REVERSE CHARACTER TRAITS
There are two sides to every character traits

GOOD THINGS ABOUT CERTAIN TRAITS

  • Perfectionist – things get done properly
  • Super responsible – makes someone reliable
  • Family loyalty – helps family
  • Keeps their cool – useful in a crisis
  • Predictable, reliable – makes people comfortable around her.
  • Strong moral values – makes a character trustworthy
  • Intense – makes character focussed
  • Bossy – gets things done

BAD THINGS ABOUT THESE SAME TRAITS

  • Perfectionist – compulsive behaviour, causes stress
  • Super responsible – unable to have fun
  • Family loyalty – enables self destructive behaviour to continue in members of the family
  • Keeps their cool – bottles up feelings, especially anger. Can be seen as unfeeling
  • Predictable, reliable – reacts badly to change
  • Strong moral values – judges others
  • Intense – makes her sensitive to criticism and addicted to dramaBossy – makes her controlling

Depending on how long your story is, you could spend a lot of time with these characters so enjoy getting to know them.

The more you know your characters and how they behave, the more interesting and believable they will be for your readers.

Happy writing:)

Dee

P.S. next time we’ll be looking at how to fix an unlikeable character

How to Get to Know Your Main Character – Part 1

To write with authenticity, you need to get inside your main character’s head. You need to know how they will react to certain people and circumstances. You need to know how they would handle adversity and what makes them who they are.

The first thing I do is interview my main character. You can even find a picture of your main character or draw them yourself.

I look upon this first phase as the preliminary interview…and I don’t need to answer all the questions straight away. Sometimes, for instance, I don’t name a character until well into writing the story when I feel I know them better and a name that fits them might occur to me.

I don’t often describe what my characters look like, but I want to be able to see them in my head when I’m writing about them. So here’s what I ask them first:

  1. What is your name and nickname?
  2. What is your age, gender and religion?
  3. What is your mother’s name, age and profession?
  4. How would you describe your relationship with your mother?
  5. How would you describe your relationship with your father?
  6. What is your father’s name, age and profession?
  7. What are your sibling’s names and ages?
  8. What are your sibling’s most annoying traits?
  9. What do you like about your siblings?
  10. If you had a secret, who would you tell it to?
  11. What are you afraid of?
  12. What makes you happy?
  13. What is your favourite food?
  14. What food makes you want to puke?
  15. What is your favourite form of entertainment?
  16. Who is your best friend?
  17. Who is your worst enemy?
  18. Describe how you look?
  19. Describe how you think others see you?
  20. Do you have any special interests?

Record their answers on tape or in writing. (It is okay to speak aloud to yourself with this activity).

You can do this same activity for your villain too. By now you should be getting a bit of a picture of your character in your head, but now you need to delve deeper – look at what really makes them tick.

That’s what we’ll be looking at in our next post.

If you have any tips on how you get to know your characters, feel free to share them with us.

Happy writing:)

Dee

MAKE YOUR CHARACTERS MOVE – TUESDAY WRITING TIP

I started my scribing life as a playwright creating murder comedies like The Body in the Buggy Room and Up The Creek. It was something I did for fun. I joined an amateur theatre group and I learned all about stage direction, what the audience could see and how much the actors really  needed to know.

But thanks to two writerly friends I recently realised that you need to toss the stage direction out the window when you’re writing a novel – you need to immerse yourself in the scene.

Alison Reynolds, author of the very popular Ranger In Danger series and many other great reads and Bren MacDibble author of numerous compelling books and short stories for children and young adults both had some invaluable advice for me.

Alison said:

I wanted the scene with black roots to be more menacing and I’ve marked other scenes where I’ve wanted more drama.

When I looked back at the scenes Alison was talking about, I could see what she meant. I had put people in places instead of allowing them to go there of their own free will – to find their own way to react to what was happening around them. These scenes were static – they lacked emotion, they lacked realism, they lacked drama and they lacked spark.

Bren said,

Descriptions on the move as the characters interact with the landscapes, rooms, building may need to be focussed on as well as watching that the stage direction doesn’t overwhelm the narrative or become robotic.

They were both right. You need to let your characters make their own moves and inhabit the world you have created for them.

WHAT NOT TO DO – FROM AN EARLIER DRAFT

To show you what I mean, here’s an example of  a static scene – even though the characters are moving, it’s forced and not dynamic enough – not enough emotion and tension for the scene.

Dad looks at me miserably “That’s just what I’m afraid of. You don’t see what he’s doing to you – to all of us. It has to stop somewhere. He has to start taking responsibility for his actions.”

Mum tries to side step past him. “We are responsible for his actions. It’s what we let happen that caused this.”

Dad moves to the side. “Go then. Just go. But if you leave now, don’t bother coming back.”

HOW I REWROTE IT

Dad has just about stirred the bottom out of his coffee cup. He lifts it to his mouth and peers at me through the steam. “That’s what I’m afraid of. You don’t see what he’s doing to you – to all of us.”

The oven timer rings. Mum slams or hand on it and the ringing stops, but the vibrations still echo through the room. Dad stands next to me while I take my pizza out of the oven. It looks cooked but I don’t feel like eating it now.

“Shit!’ I burn my finger on the tray and just about drop the pizza on Dad’s foot.

“Sarah!” Mum jangles the car keys in her hand.

Dad takes the pizza from me and puts it on the sink. I run my finger under the cold tape and Dad turns to Mum. “See what Ed does to this family.”

“This wasn’t Ed’s fault, Dad. I burnt myself.”

Dad takes the pizza cutter from the drawer and starts slicing,  just about cuts a hole in the tray. “This business with Ed has to stop somewhere. He has to take responsibility for his actions.”

Mum slams a plate on the bench next to Dad. “But we’re responsible for this! We’re the ones who let it happen.”

Let what happen? I keep running my finger under the cold tap, try to stop the pain.

Dad slides the sawed pizza onto the plate and slams it down hard on the kitchen table. He points to the door. “Go then, just go,” he yells at Mum. “But if you leave now, don’t bother coming back.”

In this new scene I tried to incorporate more of what you would expect to be going on during the conversation – the background stuff – the sort of detail that helps put the reader into the scene and make it more real.

Thanks Alison and Bren for your help.

I hope that sharing this with my blog readers might have helped you too.

Happy writing:)

Dee

MY AMAZING MAY GIBBS ADVENTURE – DAY 6

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about writing, it’s that there ARE no rules, and that often you can’t predict what’s going to happen next in your story – and there are definitely no certainties as far as the writing process goes.

With my new YA psychological thriller series that I’m working on for my May Gibbs Fellowship, I was determined to meticulously research, and carefully plan the whole thing out before putting pen to paper.

But, my main character, Lia had other ideas. After staying confined in my head for the last few months, she burst out this morning and started telling her story – whether I wanted her to or not – the result is that I now have the start of book one in the series – and Lia is not stopping there. She’s determined to tell me exactly what REALLY happened to her older sister, Mindy.

I did have to politely ask her to step aside this morning so I could clear my head for the last two Heroes and Villains workshops.

All students from the three schools seemed to immerse themselves in the workshop. They came up with some intriguing plots, some great characters and some fascinating questions for me. Also great to see so many teachers enthusiastically supporting their student’s writing endeavours.

A Smile costs you nothing to produce, put one on and you’ll feel priceless (quote from The Over Happy Bus Driver)

I couldn’t resist walking past Glen’s Coffee Barrow again this morning. Today’s quote was a bit twee, but seeing as I’m a big fan of the smile, I thought I’d share it anyway.

So it’s been a big week with 10 Heroes and Villains workshops, but so rewarding to hear kids say, “This is fun” and for the teachers to thank you as they leave and tell you, “The kids got so much out of that.”

Next week it’s fingers to the keyboard – working with Lia and cohorts to get their story out of my head and onto the computer.

Happy writing.

Dee:-)