Writers block, defined as “a usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work,” is a plague that we’ve all dealt with at one point or another in our writing careers. Ideas are hard to come by sometimes. Ideas are like fireflies; they flit in and out of mental vision, but they are hard to catch.
Keeping this in mind, a writing prompt will be offered here every Sunday (in different formats, of course). The length of what you write is your decision entirely. It is my hope that these prompts will spark creativity and kickstart the writing process.
This week’s prompt: Create a character around this sentence: Nobody has ever loved me as much as I have loved him. Do not use this sentence in the fragment of fiction you write. Resist the temptation this exercise offers for a completely self-indulgent character. Think of this sentence as a kind of mathematical formula. is the person who utters this sentence speaking of all the friends and loved ones he has known in his life? Or is she focusing on one person who did not return love satisfactorily? Consider the strong possibility that whoever would say something like this is unreliable. — Taken from “The 3 A.M. Epiphany” by Brian Kiteley.
[How did this prompt help you? Please feel free to let me know in the comments below, or send an email!]
Last spring when I was taking my workshop in novel writing, one of our required books was “Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass. As you’d expect, there’s a chapter about characters. They need to be out of the ordinary; characters are what makes your plot interesting
At the end of the chapter (at the end of every chapter, actually), Maass has a checklist. Because Raising the stakes in your writing is such an important part of the writing process, I wanted to post it here. Not everyone has read the book (I do recommend picking it up), and the checklist is an important one.
BREAKOUT Checklist: Characters
All stories are character driven.
Engrossing characters are out of the ordinary.
Readers’ sympathy for characters comes from characters’ strengths.
Larger-than-life characters say what we cannot say, do what we cannot do, change in ways that we cannot change.
Larger-than-life characters have conflicting sides and are conscious of self.
Dark protagonists appeal only when they have sympathetic sides; e.g., they struggle to change or have hidden sensitivity.
The highest character qualities are self-sacrifice and forgiveness.
Build a cast for contrast.
Build complex character relationships by combining roles.
Choose a narrator based on who is changed most by the story’s events.
Build depth of character with tools like character biographies, author-character dialogues, etc.
Differentiate characters with character charts.
Breakout characters are deep and many-sided.
[Was this post helpful? Would you like to see more of these checklists in the future? How do you raise the stakes in your own writing? Let’s discuss it in the comments!]
Welcome back for another installment of the weekly theme I like to call “WIP Wednesday,” in which I report on the general progress of my own writing. I invite you to adopt this theme on your own blog or if you feel so inclined, share your own progress in the comments. Please bear with me over the next couple of weeks as I find an appropriate structure for these posts.
What I’m Doing (Overall):
I’ve started a short story of sorts for class. I have a complete story within the three pages I have written—something I’ve never done before. Up until this point all of my “short stories” were far too long and never had a real ending. As it stands, this story is written in first person. For class in two weeks, it needs to be rewritten through the point of view of another character in the story. That will be a bus driver (because he is the other character in my story).
It’s unclear whether or not I’ll use this story for my first workshop on October 12th. I would like to, but am unsure of how to change it so it’s not the same as it is now. I may write something entirely different. A friend also suggested rewriting it through the point of view of the killer in my novel, which I find intriguing. We’ll see. In any case, I’d like to use this piece in my novel somewhere.
My workshop dates for my Research & Short Story class are set. The first is October 12th; the second is November 9th. I’m very much looking forward to both of them.
Where I’m At (Novel-Wise):
Chapter seven is proving to be a bit harder to revise than I originally thought, but I’m slowly working through it. At this point, I’m about halfway through the first set of revisions for the chapter as a whole.
Writing an effective interrogation scene between my protagonist and a police detective is proving difficult as well. The interrogation itself seems to be structured okay, but the questions are too weak, I think. There needs to be more of them, too. At this point, I almost feel like I ended the chapter how I did just to be done with it. Writing should not be this way, and I’m going to remedy it soon, I hope.
I’ve begun outlining a few more future chapters. As is the case with many of my outlines, I’m sure they’ll change once I get to those chapters. Having the structure for now, though, is a comforting thing.
[How is your writing coming along? How are you keeping yourself on track? Share in the comments!]
It’s been a couple of weeks, but I can finally get this theme, a little something I like to call “WIP Wednesday” off the ground. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I wanted to take a day out of the week to report on the progress of my own writing, novel work or otherwise.
What I’ve Been Doing
The last time I did a substantial amount of work on my novel (or any work at all, rather) was at the beginning of May when I was trying to reach the 40-page limit for the final portfolio of my novel writing class I was taking. Over the past couple of months, I took some steps in what I consider to be the right direction as far as research and outside reading goes.
Re-reading “Columbine” by Dave Cullen. The first time I read the entire thing in two days (his portrayal of that entire incident was just so amazingly well done); this time, I’m taking my time, highlighting/sticky-posting things I think may be beneficial in working on my own story. Much of what I’m focusing on with this is character traits. It’s hard to develop a calm, cool, and collected psychopathic killer. The shooters at Columbine are tremendously helpful in that respect. I am not modeling my character after them, really, but taking clues instead. The book is also helpful in that it explains the aftermath of a school shooting tragedy. In that respect, it’s all about world building and any help I can find, I’m grateful for.
Researching Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I think this is almost a must when writing a story like mine. I’ve always thought tragedy and PTSD run hand-in-hand. Again, thanks to Dave Cullen, I’ve found some great resources on the matter. I’ve done my own research and am waiting to hear back about an “interview request” of sorts with a few Psychology/Counseling professors at UW-Milwaukee and Mount Mary College.
Researching Psychopathy. This one is a bit more difficult to deal with. As with anything like this (PTSD included), there are varying level pf degrees and just an incredible amount of information to sift through in general. It’s been fun, though. Mount Mary offers a graduate level course in psychopathology. I’m entertaining the idea of taking it, possibly next summer. This is something that I plan to ask about when/if I hear back about the aforementioned interview requests.
Researching Bibliotherapy. I haven’t gotten too far into this just yet. Writing as healing is an interesting subject. I’ve been sifting through the book “Writing as a Way of Healing” by Louise De Salvo. I’ll be reading the entire book (probably twice!), and I recommend it. I’m looking forward to researching this and for a few reasons beyond the scope of my novel.
Where I’m At
This past Sunday, I finally, with encouragement from the #amwriting community on Twitter (I recommend taking a look there. Such wonderful encouragement!) and some other close friends, I tackled the revisions for my six chapters that had been sitting around since the end of May. It wasn’t easy. Revisions never are. A few of the chapters needed little work, which I’m still very happy about. Many of the issues dealt with the passage of time between the shooting and the time the police arrived at my main character’s apartment. It’s something I’ve been struggling with lately, but I think I’ve gotten it to a point that makes more sense and that I can be happy with.
Writing forward. I won’t lie…it scares me. Even though I have basic outlines for future chapters, I still always feel a bit lost. I know it’s all part of the process, but sometimes I think it’s enough to keep me from sitting down to actually write. I’m getting through it, though. If I can force myself to sit down and start writing, after the first page or two, I feel fine.
On Monday, I sat down and finally, for the first time since sometime last spring, met my daily goal of 1,500 words. My goal tends to stretch between 1,000-1,500 words, and I keep it that high because it forces me to work.
I started chapter seven. Right now, it’s sitting at thirteen pages and I have a feeling that I’m nowhere near being done with it. At the very least, I expect it to run another five pages, which will make it the longest chapter I have thus far. I’ve already marked areas that need work. I’m excited to get back into this.
Because I’ve gotten horrible at keeping all of my writing files in one organized folder (I’m working on it, I promise!), I was unable to post interview questions a few days ago when I wrote the initial entry on character interviews. I’ve located my “master list” of questions that I use when developing characters and have created a PDF for anyone who may be interested.
You don’t have to use all of the questions. I rarely do. Pick and choose what works best for the character you’re writing. Make different lists from the questions if you want to. The key is to find the set of questions that will help you learn the most about your characters. It’s a trial and error process at first, but it’s gets easier as you go along.