Saturday, August 19, 2017

When you are stumped on moving a plot line forward, what do you do to reinvigorate your imagination?

Ah! Excellent topic this month, the “stuck” plot. In my experience, when you are “stumped” in your story, it’s because something is wrong with the plot. If you try to analyze what’s wrong, and come up with nothing, it’s time to step away and regroup.
Flee the house and the computer. 
Botanic Garden Montreal

Get into nature with a long walk, maybe someplace new or to your favorite park or Audubon preserve.  There is something about using your own feet to cover ground and look at trees, water, birds, critters or flowers that is a very human experience, by which I mean that people have been doing this—walking through nature for millennia.  No idea why, but it does something to the mind. It loosens it.
Montreal Botanic
   If you’re not a nature lover, visit one of your city’s museums.The paintings are stories made with ink and color, the sculptures tell a story in metal or clay. Photography may also inspire you. Walk around, look at art. Become inspired.

Think about your setting. Is it as vibrant as possible? Is the reader always right in the scene? Could it contribute something new to the story?
View from Whitney Museum New York City

Your characters? Look at people. Listen to them talk. Are your characters fully developed or do they need more work?  
A face with character!
But if you are “stuck,” it’s probably the plot.  If you are a “pantser,” which means writing from the seat of your pants with no outline, jump ahead in the story if you can.  Maybe writing a new scene will inform the one you’re finding so stale. If you have an outline or have sketched out your story, you can jump ahead and write one of the “big” scenes. Really dig into it. You can return to the “stuck” scene later.
Another idea! Do some research. Maybe you don’t know enough about what you are trying to write. Possibly knowing more about the situation (again think setting and characters, too) will help you move forward. 
Congo Mask - MFA Boston

Go to a movie, a good movie, not an “explosion” movie. Find something you would never think to, maybe at an art house.  Let yourself get lost in it.
Yet another idea!  Go to a concert.  I find chamber music or something classical sets my mind loose, but you may prefer pop or rock of country.   
Tanglewood Shed at Concert Time

Maybe the scene you’re stuck on doesn’t really belong in your story.  Can you skip it? Is it in the right point of view?  Visualize it in your head. Is there drama? Conflict? Is the plot moving forward? Or is this just filler that you don’t need?  

Watch Out for Rattlesnakes on Restroom Floor  - San Gabriel Mountains - CA

The writers below also have interesting thoughts on this topic:

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Developing Characters for Your Fiction: Always a challenge

Thinking about my characters with co-thinker!
How Do I Develop Characters? 

A great question. A tricky question.

How I develop a character is to steal what I know, research what I don’t, and if anything is left (and there’s always something crucial one can’t find out), make it up. 

Sometimes characters arrive in my imagination well developed.  Other times, if I am riffing off a “real” character, like my mother, I struggle to differentiate the character from the person, to create a true character and not a clone.  A character can arrive with a few characteristics: for example I know that she is a forty-year-old Mennonite widow living in a tiny town in south central Kansas in 1953.  And that’s all I know about her. I give her a name.  Lizzie Ledoux.  Lizzie is my current WIP.

 As a young girl, I spent a summer in this town in the fifties living with my grandmother and working in my uncle’s café.  The July heat, the café patrons, small town life, trips to the city of Newton, trips to the big city of Wichita, even the denim swimsuit I bought came streaming back into memory.  But my character would never wear a swimsuit, would she?  She wouldn’t hang out at the café, either.  She would go to church, dress modestly, tend a garden, and visit family.  But who was she? 

I remembered a statement my grandmother once made.  “Doc Brenneman and his family are back from Africa.”  Africa?  What were they doing there?  Ah, missionaries.  Mennonite missionaries.  Interesting.  With that in my head, I was off to research Mennonite missionaries in Africa.  I found out where the missions were, and that they ran clinics and schools.  In this part of Africa, the official language was French.  So my character spoke French.  I concocted her education, and part of her time in Africa, her backstory as we say in fiction.  She learned to like spicy food and brought home hot pepper seeds.  The children taught her to run distances, because transportation was rare.  She is still a runner.  She learned self-sufficiency and leadership.  Female missionaries who went to Africa were (or became) strong women.  My character liked art, and she brought back a few African masks.  Slowly, in increments, I began to know Lizzie, how she was widowed, how she coped, and her actions when she discovered a dead body in her little town, right in the restaurant parking lot. 

In one book, Chased By Death (now with my agent), a character, Maxine, arrived with a full-blown story.  It was like she was at my shoulder talking to me, as I transcribed her tale. And then?  She said, “well, you can take it from here,” and left my shoulder, with me shouting, “Hey, wait, you can’t just leave! I don’t know what happens to you.”  She told me I would figure it out, and of course with much gnashing of teeth and hard work, I did. Maxine was tough because she had to be.

 We have to put our characters through the wringer.  Because they aren’t real, are they? Listen: after you have written a book and lived with your characters day by day, I guarantee they are real to you.

 Life is strange.  Writing is even stranger.   

Here are other bloggers who are tackling the subject.  Take a gander at what they have to say.