Writers often hear the advice, “write what you know,” but my philosophy is, “write what you WANT to know.” A good way to begin discovering your story’s theme is to ask questions because we come to understand who we are and our place in the world by asking questions.
In the 12-minute video below, the creators of the animated movie “Inside Out” share how the theme of their story emerged for them over time as they went on a quest of discovery.
This morning, I was working out at the gym on an elliptical machine, not thinking of anything, when suddenly an intense sadness welled up inside me. Having lost my husband over two years ago, I thought it was another layer of grief so I allowed it to rise up and release but instead of releasing, the feeling became more intense and raw. Tears welled up as I continued to work out. I couldn’t figure out what had triggered the feelings and why they were so incredibly strong. And then a thought flashed through my mind—whose feelings are these?
From years of working with and helping people, I know that sometimes I’ll intuit other’s thoughts and feelings, but I’m usually pretty good at recognizing when this happens and setting up my boundaries. For me, this means doing a specific visualization.
This morning, the thought persisted that the sadness I was feeling wasn’t mine. I looked at the man working out on the machine next to me. He didn’t look sad. He didn’t look as if he was in pain. He seemed fine. Read more
Dialogue is a powerful way to reveal your characters and move your story forward. In The Craft of Character online class through Coursera.org, authors Amy Bloom and Brando Skyhorse discuss the role of dialogue in character development.
The class is part of Wesleyan College’s Craft Your Story Like the Great Writers specialization that takes students through plot, character development, setting and description, and style. The creative writing specialization covers elements of three major creative writing genres: short story, narrative essay, and memoir. The classes start at $79 each, but you can access videos and certain assignments free of charge.
In a video interview, Skyhorse, author of The Madonnas of Echo Park, and Bloom discussed the role of dialogue. Great dialogue should:
Reveal your characters. One of the ways readers get to know characters is from what they say as well as what they do, and more specifically, what they do to one another, Skyhorse said. Dialogue should deepen the reader’s understanding of character or advance the plot. Read more
Thanks to Rhay Christou, author and writing teacher at www.MargieLawson.com, for introducing me to this short video below showing a fun and creative way to develop your characters.
Actor Kevin Cox offers advice to other actors that can be beneficial for writers, too. He says we should be able to express our character physically. He suggests dancing out your scenes—try different styles of dance like hip hop, ballet, tango, salsa, waltz, etc. Give your dance the attitudes of your character. This will help unlock your body and open up your potential to connect with your character. If you have two characters in a scene dance out one character’s part then dance out the other character’s part. How do they differ? What did you learn?
Once you’ve got the dancing down and you’re still in your character’s skin, close your eyes and ask some questions. What do they feel in the moment? How are they moving? What do they taste and hear and smell? If they opened their eyes right now, what would they see?
Watch this 3-minute video and then read on:
I just tried this (in my side yard where no neighbors could see me) and discovered the following:
* My protagonist feels heavy in her body when she’s with the antagonist she is attracted to (she’s not overweight so this is a reflection of her emotional state);
* She feels lighter in her body and soul when she’s with her ex-boyfriend who she is also attracted to.
* The difference is the antagonist leans in on her energy, he is trying to get something from her and wants to control her. Her ex-boyfriend wants her to be herself and to fulfill her potential but only so that it completes her and not him. Wow. Love it. And this is just the surface stuff…I bet if I dig deeper into the dance, I find more.
Try the exercise and tell us what you experienced in the comments below.
Everyone, whether they’re conscious of it or not, has a way of looking at the world that informs who they are and how they deal with life.
As you create fully developed characters, figuring out how they view the world will add depth to your story and even influence your characters’ actions. You can also use this knowledge about your characters to show how they evolve.
In What Jamie Saw by Carolyn Coman, 9-year-old Jamie witnesses domestic violence and hides out with his mom. When a teacher visits him and his mom, and Jamie is told he must go back to school, this is how he reacts:
“How he hated her then. Why would his mother send him away from the trailer, back to the exploded, contaminated world? Why couldn’t they just stay together the way they had been and Earl could bring them food sometimes?”
As the story concludes, Jamie has grown stronger and his mother reassures him that he and his sister Nin are going to be okay. “It didn’t take long to quiet her, and when she had, Patty caught Jamie’s eye and they both laughed again, the way people do who have been through something together.”
In the end, it feels as if Jamie has become more resilient and hopeful and will change his view of the world. Read more
One thing about writing that’s hard for me is being mean to my characters, well at least most of them. I suspect that certain scenes we write are our way of acting out and doing things fictionally that we can’t do in real life. But stories need conflict and so we have to do horrible things to characters at times so they can grow and change and we can advance the story. (Although I draw the line at hurting the dog.)
So what are some guidelines for doing this? Writer K.M. Weiland says the point is to not only up the stakes and create conflict, but to generate character growth and advance the character’s personal arc.
For more details, watch her 2:26-minute video.
For more inspiration from Weiland, follow her
@KMWeiland and visit her website.
In my last post “Writing exercises to help you go deeper” I wrote about developing a writing exercise to help me delve into my story and focus on what my protagonist learned from her experiences and also how she grew from this knowledge or information.
It was pretty easy to come up with what she learned. For example, one of the things she had learned from her life experiences so far was that those who love her, eventually leave her. This is what she comes into the story with and, because she’s afraid of getting hurt, she guards her heart.
Over the course of the story, she learns to trust again. She learns that “leaving” is an illusion and that love is never-ending. Read more