The Gap is Gone

For many years, writing filled a gap in my life.

When they came into my life, the characters kept me company in the dark as I tried to fall asleep in my new apartment, totally alone for the first time.

Later, my brain explored their world as my body did physical tasks long since gone mindless.  Their conversations kept me entertained through the boredom of lines, their adventures gave my mind a place to wander when it had nothing else to do.

A lack of challenge, a shortage of stimulation, led me to writing.  A hobby soon grew, becoming a passion, and I was hooked.

For the past year, I’ve barely written.  Blogs are sparse, characters are quiet, and it’s been perplexing to me.  These are my children, this world one of my own making, a place I am always welcome.  There are still lines to stand in, still quiet moments in the dark, still tasks that don’t require my brain.  Where has the story gone?

This week I realized – the story is not gone, but the gap is no more.  Those empty moments are now occupied with work, with stress, with the many things to which I’ve committed my time and energy.  The chatter that filled my mind now dims in down moments; what was once a fairly level din is now peaks of intensity followed by valleys of quiet.

In searching for and finding a more challenging job, I fear I’ve reduced writing back to an occasional hobby.  I’ll have to decide if I want to pursue ways to bring it back; perhaps I’ll find quiet moments again, as this job becomes more routine, and the characters will speak once more.

A Moment From Another’s Perspective

Something important occurred to me yesterday.  If a child escapes from a slave trader, after he’s invested six years in raising her, he’s going to be a little annoyed.  He’s also probably going to try to get her back.

This actually helped me with Mara’s tale, making it easier to answer a couple of questions that had been bothering me.  It helps with her introduction to a key adult in the next part of her life and also provides a logical reason for her to get new clothing.  There are people looking for her, and she needs to disguise herself.  I think I might also have her dye her hair, at least temporarily.

I’m also pleased that this helped me to put some shape to a new character, Granny Hazel, who teaches Mara how to read. 🙂

 

Seeing the World Differently

A friend of mine offered a suggestion for a post yesterday, based on an adventure we had a couple of days ago.  It was a logical suggestion, but the most interesting thing that came from the conversation was a discovery that we approach writing in two very different ways.

First, a little background.  We went to the shooting range over the weekend, which was a new experience for me.  I had never shot a gun before (except a dart gun in a college class).  He suggested that I think about that trip as a potential basis for a story.

I explained at this point that I do, in fact, need to physically experience my stories in order to write them.  However, those are more often fights, like the dragon battle scene that my sister and I “choreographed” in the swimming pool.

It turns out that he starts with a scenario, like walking through a park at night or visiting a pawn shop, and then develops a character that fits into the scene.  It’s a “what kind of person would…” form of writing, and while I understand it intellectually, my creative side doesn’t get it.  My characters come first, and then I follow them around to see what scenarios they get into.

Of course, when I told him that my characters talk in my head, his response was to ask, “Have you told that to a professional?”  Obviously my form of inspiration is foreign to his creativity.  🙂

Projecting Your Feelings

In Alex & Emma, one of my favorite writing-related movies, the author starts describing a character falling asleep as he himself nods off on the couch.  Tonight I want to follow his example, writing about a character who is sore or exhausted because I am worn out and there is nothing but ache from my hips to the floor.

I know that when I am feeling an emotion, be it frustration or pleasure, pain or joy, it becomes easier to work on scenes where my characters are feeling the same.  Sometimes interactions or conversations develop that I hadn’t planned, as my life leaks into theirs.  In reverse, I can also sometimes pull feelings from my characters; if I develop a section with a character in a good mood or an unhappy one, I sometimes find myself mirroring the same at the completion of that portion of the story.

Perhaps this doesn’t apply to all writers.  After all, not everyone is character-driven like me.  If you are a writer, does this happen to you?  I’d especially be interested in this from any plot-driven folks out there, since it’s always fun to learn more about how other people experience the world.  (It makes you a better writer!)

Getting Rid of a Character

I’ve spent most of today watching episodes of Burn Notice.  (It’s been a nice little Season 6 marathon, thanks to Netflix.)  The last couple of episodes have seen the departure of some of the people we’ve come to know, if not love, and it got me thinking about how we as authors rid ourselves of characters in novels.

What?  You never need to get rid of a character in your story?  Pish.  Peripheral characters wear out their welcome, henchmen have to be disposed of, redshirts need to be sacrificed.  Even beloved secondary characters must be let go if they are preventing our protagonist from reaching a goal or developing independence.  (Dumbledore, anyone?)  These folks don’t always have to die, but they do need to leave the stage.

Here are a few ways that you can help someone to their exit.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, so feel free to add your own in the comments!

Death
Ah, death.  This is a classic way of getting rid of a character, especially if you want them to be permanently gone.  (Of course, depending on your method of killing someone off, you could explain it away and bring them back.  Gandalf, anyone?)  This leaves a lot of room for creativity as well as plot advancement.  Shot by a sniper?  Sure.  Poison in their wine?  Why not?  Nasty lab accident?  If you’ve got a lab handy and don’t mind collateral damage, might as well.  Passed away quietly in their sleep?  Aren’t you a sweetheart.  Besides getting rid of someone for good, it also shows your readers that you’re not afraid of bringing in a little death when you need it.

Otherwise Indisposed
If you’re not interested in killing someone (maybe you need her later, or he just isn’t worth making a scene) there are always methods for making a character unavailable.  She could be injured or ill, and confined to a hospital.  He could get arrested, or be ordered to stay home by a spouse.  I recommend caution if you are contemplating kidnapping; depending on your protagonist, you might become obliged to rescue the hostage.  Overall, though, this method of eliminating someone gives you a lot of latitude.  You can write a scene describing what happened, or just have another character mention it in passing.

Called Away
This one works particularly well for tertiary or peripheral characters.  They have lives outside of that of your main character, and sometimes those lives become more important.  Military personnel can be deployed elsewhere and law enforcement can be reassigned.  People can get new jobs, or their families can move away.  Keep in mind that you can either let them depart gracefully when they are no longer needed, or you can take advantage of this to leave your protagonist in the lurch at a critical time.

Dismissal/Parting Ways
This is the “Later, dude, thanks for your help” or “It was so nice to meet you” option.  Sometimes characters just go their separate ways; lives change, people graduate and go to different colleges, the airplane lands and the friendly chit-chat is over.  If one character works for another, or is subordinate in some way, the boss can let the unnecessary person go from the project (and the story).  Both of these methods can be done either in a friendly way or a hostile one, and it’s up to you as an author to shape the impact on any characters left in the tale.

Honestly, most of the time there is a natural way for you to get your unnecessary characters out of the picture, and you won’t have to analyze the how and why.  You may be asked by a reader to explain the choice, but by then you should be able to consider what you did and discover why (if you don’t know already).  It is fun to think about, though!

Why do they all look like Ben Stiller?

Today I had my first adventure with a tabletop role-playing game.  A friend of mine used to play these games a lot as a kid, and even developed his own version.  (Honestly, is anyone surprised that a nerd like me has nerd friends?)  When I mentioned I had never played, he set up a game with a couple of us so I could give it a try.

Developing my character was a lot of fun.  I had to roll some unusual dice (a d4 and a couple of d10s) many times to discover my basic characteristics, from which I came up with the details.  It also allowed for some very fun contemplation of back story and goals.  Since I enjoy creating characters for my stories, this just became an extension of that.

From there, my friend took over, combining my story and the other player’s story into something that allowed us both to work towards our goals, made some sense, and – at least in this case – had a reasonably quick ending.  Since neither of us were sure that I would want to continue this after today’s foray, he created a story that could be finished in one gaming effort.

Of course, since I didn’t know anything more than my own story – the other guy playing had his own story as well, although he knew more of mine than I did of his – there were a few times that I got a bit confused.  The weirdest part was when nearly every male in the story looked like Ben Stiller.  One of my old coworkers looked like Mr. Stiller, the other player’s character looked like Ben (albeit significantly shorter), and then we got to a farmhouse where two other characters stepped out wearing Ben Stiller’s face!

It turned out that all of the Ben Stillers were aliens in disguise, but it took a bit for me to figure that out.

Needless to say, it was quite fun, and there is a good chance that we will play again.  (Maybe next time we won’t fight aliens!)

Big Gaps in the Timeline

I had to clean up my spare room in preparation for a visit from my parents, and in the process I found my giant Butterflies timeline on the floor.  (The tape gave up, apparently.)

I re-hung it and pondered it for a bit.  There’s a lot of work to be done, which is probably an understatement.  I mean, I’m dismantling a novel and making it into a series, so there’s going to be a lot of work!  There are also some big gaps I still need to fill.

Some of the gaps are easy – there’s a section of time on Gretchen’s line that is labeled only “training with Dad,” but there are already a couple of scenes written and it’s fun to think about different ways she can learn how to fight.  I’m also contemplating a side story for Dad, and maybe one of the brothers, which can twine through that time as well.

Some are more challenging – Andi’s story doesn’t really even get started until she’s four or five.  Gretchen has a house full of brothers, both older and younger, so there are opportunities for stories before she can remember, and Mara’s story is interesting from day one, but Andi has one older brother near in age and a significantly younger little sister.  What stories are there with a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old, that aren’t the usual toddler tales that most parents have?  Even the important parental conversation about her doesn’t happen until she’s a bit older.

I’ll keep thinking about it.  Really, I shouldn’t dwell on it too much – I’m supposed to be working on Mara’s story this year!

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