Every writer experiences a block on occasion, a point in your writing where you just aren't sure where to go next. I've written before about how to unblock a creative stall. Sometimes it's about the plot, but sometimes it's about the character.
Unstick your writing with a little drawing.
If you've distanced yourself from your character, you might need time to see her more clearly.
Sketching characters, making maps of settings, and practicing dialogue out loud are not new tricks for writers. You simply need to find the one that works best for you.
Try it. Grab a sketchpad or sheet of paper, pencil or pen, and sketch your character. Try to capture her root emotions, her angst, her concern, her hopes, fears, and dreams. Draw her high school graduation picture or her face in the mirror when she wakes up. Create a series of portraits.
Once you've got her, ask a friend or stranger to tell you what they see. What emotions does the image evoke? If they see things you didn't intend, consider why they're visible in what you drew. If you meant her to appear scared, but the stranger sees anger, maybe that's her root emotion. Work from there. Why might she be angry?
Drawing your character brings her to life. Set her next to you as you write and see what else she has to say about her journey through your story.
Share your drawings and thoughts with us.
If you've read SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS or can recall the tale THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES, you know the magic such items can add to a story.
No matter if you are writing realistic fiction or fantasy, you can employ the mystery of a tee shirt, apron, or boots in your plot. Consider the many uses of an item of clothing as a metaphor.
If your character wears many old or worn items, it can suggest a weariness.
If you focus on shoes often, it reveals the theme of a journey.
You can also reveal information through what a character doesn't wear. The girl who won't put on a dress. The man who only wears bow ties. The child who wears his yellow rainslicker everywhere.
Clothing can reveal character and theme. An old pair of boots can reflect a character's tired journey. A beloved baseball cap can reveal a character's interests.
In my current manuscript, my MC wears a red ski vest (think Marty McFly). When I'm stuck in my plot, I have the vest do some work. It can rip, causing my MC to find someone to repair it. In the case of my MC (Kathryn), she's having a hard time talking to her mom. Now we have a reason for the two to communicate.
Clothing can get lost. That might lead your character to encounter someone. You've been wondering how to connect your MC with that mysterious little boy in the park. If she has to go back to the park and search for her lost item, the two can interact naturally.
Here are some other possible uses of clothes in a story.
Bought or sold. If your MC needs a new outfit for the dance, he might spot his girlfriend with another guy at the store.
Lost or found. If your MC loses their sweater, she might run into her love interest in the school lost and found area.
Torn or repaired. If your MC rips her skirt, she'll need to go home to change. She might walk in on something at home when no one had expected her.
Found new or used. If your MC visits a consignment shop, he might find his grandmother's missing wedding gown.
Soiled or cleaned. If your MC spills mustard on his shirt at work, he might need to leave the office and avoid an explosion that kills his co-workers.
Your imagination is spinning now.
How will you use clothing in your story? Share your ideas below.
Five years ago, the middle school where I teach fell behind. We were placed in the nation's Program Improvement status.
We had four years to get out, each year the state would raise our goal by ten percent. Imagine struggling in a marathon because you twisted your ankle. All your competitors' ankles are fine. They quickly get around corners, grab water and power snacks. You limp along, too late for a snack, too uncoordinated to grab the water.
In addition, your competitors have had personal trainers, healthy diets, secure home environments. You have not. You struggle. They don't. You get left behind.
Now imagine that every lap you run is ten feet longer than the one before. Come on, you can do it.
No, you can't.
Problem is, all runners aren't alike.
Neither are all kids. That's why the Common Core is killing creativity in our children.
I teach Creative Writing. It's my one elective. It's the one point in the day where all of my students in the room move at their own pace. There are no benchmarks. There are no tests.
There is plenty of instruction and modeling by their teacher, but when it's time to write, it's all them. They have choice and voice in what they say, how they say it, how far they take it.
I accept all their work; they all pass.
This class is about taking the teacher's passion and nurturing it in our students. Every student in school takes this Fifth Period Elective. It's Pass/Fail. Nary a one fails. Nearly every kid says Fifth Period is their favorite class.
They learn chess, juggling, golf, coding, knitting, crafts, animal care, creative writing, and more.
Common Core is killing creativity, but we are bringing it back, one period at a time.
If you have a student in your house, find out what they're writing in class. Then ask them what they'd really like to write about.
If they're not journaling their own ideas, buy your child a journal (a simple composition book will do), and sit together at the end of each day and write.
Use Natalie Goldberg's rules of writing to get you started.
Creativity is not common; it needs to be nurtured.
Nurture your child's creativity before it dries to the core.
Most writers at some point will have filled out a character interview sheet. These are great resources for digging into the heart of your character. However, it isn't always easy to interview an imaginary person.
You might save yourself time and frustration by interviewing real people now to use for characters later.
Better yet, you might even interview yourself.
How can an interview help?
When creating a new character, it isn't enough to know what they want to achieve in the story. You need to know their background, their fears, hopes, and dreams. Imagine this character is someone in your life, what would you want to know about them to help you understand these hopes and dreams and fears?
Below are a few questions to get you started. Use them on yourself, and consider writing a short description of you the character. What stands out? Your troubled childhood? Your hope to be a famous author? Your fear of running out of money before the rent's due?
Getting to know you will make it easier to know your future characters.
1. Family: list your birth order, number of siblings, parents' marital/living status, and your most vivid childhood memory.
2. Interests: describe your favorite past-time and why you chose it or who influenced you.
3. Favorites: color, music, food, season, celebrity, athlete, shape, vegetable, country.
4. Coke or Pepsi: Would you rather...live by the sea or mountains; be famous or influential; dance in public or dive off a cliff; be married or single; live in a large house with no kids or in a small house with lots of kids...
5. Fears: what scares you the most?
6. Hopes: what would make you the happiest right now?
Start with these few questions and make lists about you. Read through your responses and change one or two things. Then write a short scene using yourself as a character (in your current work or as its own piece of writing).
This is a great exercise to explore character development and create richer and more real people in your stories.
Share your explorations and epiphanies with us!