It goes by many names, “some day syndrome”, “one day syndrome”, it is a disease that afflicts want-to-be-authors and yet-to-write-novelists. The symptoms include, but are not limited to, slow writing pace, low productivity, abandoned manuscripts, and lack of writing moral. The cause is simple, thinking that maybe, eventually, someday, you will write a novel, and thinking that it is hard to write a first draft. The remedy is supposed to be writing the first draft with a time limit, preferably less than a year. Usually, people will choose 30 days. The key is completing your book so you know you can do it and can destroy any self doubt. I have completed 50,000 words in a month, but not a whole manuscript, that’s why, this month, I’m dedicating myself to finishing my novel. Maybe then, I can fix my abandon manuscripts.
When you were a kid didn’t you enjoy playing in a field or on the monkey bars or even climbing trees? I sure did, and still do, but my playground has changed quite a bit. For writing purposes, I developed a planet where all dreams go once they’re forgotten. As you might imagine, a lot of things could happen in this world, there are kings and dragons and flying cars, but you might want your own playground. If you write realistic fiction, you might want to make your own city or just slightly alter the one you live in, but the most important part is to have fun. Your playground could have crazy buildings, odd parks, roads with funny names and bipolar weather. Whatever you choose make it your own.
But why should you have this city, planet, or time period saved to mind? Easy, to generate ideas for your characters and for new stories. Close your eyes and go play on your creative playground; what kind of people are there? What wonky things are around to be messed with? What do you hear or smell or feel? Just relax and explore as much as you can, maybe you’ll just find something to inspire you.
Remember, Inspiration doesn’t come to those who wait. You can’t sit down and think about your writing problems, you have to do something else. You need to have fun to be inspired.
What makes humans different than every other animal on earth? What makes us able to work together and accomplish such big projects? The ability to make and use symbols, like art, music, and most importantly language. Many writers are afraid of symbols, maybe they were scared off by being lectured about them in school, but as writers, we use them all the time. Each word is a symbol for the concept or object it describes. So don’t be afraid.
My friend recently introduced the concept of integrating objects into my story to describe the characters feelings. One you might already use would be the weather. The concept is simple enough, but very effective. Choose an object that relates to your character, a tree a picture, a statue, anything will do. Now come up with different stages that object could go through, cracked, droopy, stiff, faded, any descriptive words that can be related to an emotion. Lastly, put in a few paragraphs where the character looks at said object and sees it differently, either due to a change in their perspective or a physical change in their surroundings. Ta-da! You have integrated a symbol.
When you look at a character you have written for, do they jump off the page? Do your own little people interest you? If they don’t, you’re not alone. A lot of people list character traits, and that’s not wrong; Knowing who your characters are and what they stand for is very important. It is, however, quite hard to to come up with entirely new character traits and motives. Dominant emotions are different, it effects how your character thinks and how they look at the world around them. A character could be naturally angry, but how does that effect what they pay attention to? Well they would usually look for the more negative things and their thoughts would linger on what could go wrong. How would a character who is usually relaxed stand differently from one who is scared? If you still have trouble understanding what I mean, take this example.
Jane’s predominate character trait is ‘cleaver’. Stick figure Jane is running after a criminal. She quickly comes up with a trap and uses a stack of crates to jump onto a roof top. She then uses the apples that were inside of said crate to make the criminal run into a dead end by making noise down all the paths Jane does not want the criminal to take. Now infuse an emotion into Jane and see how she changes. Jane is only pretending to be cleaver, she actually very scared and has to try very hard to do anything useful. She ends up chasing the criminal to try to prove herself. While running she is constantly listing off things to remember so she doesn’t fail; Quiet breathing, light steps, he’s chosen three left turns so he’ll probably take a right next, darn he kept going left, gun is on the right. Jane then accidentally runs into the crate. Having lost sight of the criminal, she climbs up onto the roof. When an apple fall from her hood and startles the criminal away, she comes up with her plan and goes back to get the apples. Now imagine a whole book where Jane is clumsily doing cool things; not only dose it make her more interesting to read, it adds a plot layer and easily turns her into a dynamic character.
In contemporary American society, a lot of the characters are exactly the same. Tons of video game characters are ‘the special one’ or ‘the only one that can save the world’ Hollywood depicts the same few type of main characters over and over again, the spy or generally awesome guy that’s skilled or has access to great technology, the romantic type who’s family, past or job won’t let them be in the relationship they want, and let’s not forget, the overly clever and funny person that something bazaar happens to and wow this is a run on sentence. Of course there are exceptions but these are some of the cliche we see over and over in plots. So now for the over simplified version of what I have noticed about a lot of characters that come out of other cultures. They are normal, relatively speaking, or at least, they start out that way. The character is not extremely skilled or very knowledgeable in a topic and for part of the journey is just learning the skills or adjusting to the situation. While America idolizes the unique and very talented, other cultures may focus more on individuals closely related to them. What do you think? Could you make your character be just average?
On the opposite side of what I wrote last week, let me tell you how I come up with a story plot first. For me, it’s had to come up with random plot points out of the blue so I fall back on setting. Places like a facility for testing the ability’s of kids with supernatural powers can easily generate ideas so let’s go to something slightly harder. How about we travel to a bait and tackle shop next to a river in a dead beat town. Some of the best ideas come from questions like; are there ghosts, werewolves, or anything else terrorizing the locals? How good is the fishing there? Do celebrities have hideaway homes in the area? What if you had to trespass on a very angry person’s property to get to the good fish? Then you want to combine these answers with a central theme or an interesting character. With the questions above, I supply you with an out of the blue plot:
Jack Marther, a teenage superstar, just wants to get away from the Hollywood action. He travels to the town his parents retired too and takes up fishing. Not very skilled at the sport but wanting to impress his parents, Jake travels up river, trespassing on old woman Dianna’s property. Not wanting to be caught and remembering the legend of a werewolf in the area, he hides himself in a tree at nearby sound. It is at this point that he sees the great wolf and, in his shock, falls from the tree, hitting his head and becoming unconscious. Jake wakes up at Dianna’s old house as she has taken care of him, but is extremely angry, requiring him to fix the house up as repayment. What happens next? Comment below and tell me if this sparked your creativity.
One of my favorite things is writing for different types of characters. The easiest way for me to write is by having an interesting or funny character do something interesting or funny, and readers like it too. For me the easiest way to do this is by making a true odd ball and seeing how they react to different situations. Combining character traits isn’t very hard. Take a job of hobby, let’s say a politician, combine a dissimilar trait, how about the inability to hide their emotions, and them throw them into an odd world or out of the norm experience, such as a surprise war on sentient vegetables. It’s hard to be disinterested in a character that is completely out of there element. What traits do your favorite characters have?