Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Day 269 of the 365 Days of Blogging

The author, Dane F. Baylis






There you are, hammering away at that short story,novella, or novel. You can see and hear the characters in your mind's eye as clear as day. But, when you stop to read what you've put down, you realize they all have started to sound exactly the same. Worse yet, they all sound exactly like you!
I know - What's the matter with that, I'm pretty damned interesting. Aren't I? Sorry, Chief, let's face it, if you were as interesting as all that, someone else would be writing a book about you. Oh, and there would probably only be one character in it who sounded like you.
It's a common enough pitfall. In attempting to get the plot down we lose the characters. So how can you avoid this trap?
One way is to stop trying to do all the talking. Let the characters speak for themselves. Before you begin writing out the plot, start a new notebook, or section in an existing one. This is where you are going to get introduced to the characters you want to write about.
Before you make any entries, get as clear a picture in your head as you can of this person you want to portray. See them physically, let them walk around and take note of how they move. Now, start asking them questions. No, I haven't lost my mind! Let them do the answering. Listen to them talk. What's their cadence and inflection? Are they educated? Are they boisterous? Are they tough as nails? Gentle as a kitten?
Don't let the mental editor into this process. Keep it moving in as much a stream of consciousness way as you can manage for five to ten minutes. Does the character want to say something about themselves that you hadn't even considered? Put it down. Do they use a particular slang or vulgar phrasing you find raw and uncouth? So what? They're the ones talking, not you.
What is it that has formed this person? What life events have created their personality and view point? Give them a history. Again, do this in five to ten minute blocks. You might not use a single word of this in your story, but it will solidify and humanize the person you're creating.
Do this for all your major characters and supporting characters who have more than a fleeting appearance in your tale. Let them tell you how they really feel about each other and the plot line they find themselves in. Pay attention if they seem to be looking for a character you haven't glimpsed until now. They may have a crucial relationship or role to play. Make sure your inner editor remains bound and gagged in a closet in the furthest back room of your mind during all of this. They have nothing to say at this point!
Once you have these character journals to a point where each of the people in them is a unique entity and not a cookie cutter reproduction of you, it's time to get them into that first draft. When you're absolutely sure your ready to tell the story it's time for some real speed. Just hit the keys and go. Do not do anymore editing than it takes to keep the story moving and the plot line cohesive.
Never do this while you are getting the story down! Reserve some time at the end of that day's writing session, when the freshness has faded and you have cooled off. This may be after a certain number of words or pages, or after a designated period of time. Whatever your parameter is, stick to it. No major changes are allowed. The idea is to plough through to the bitter end. 
This is that, "Shitty first draft", that Anne Lamott, author of BIRD BY BIRD speaks of. It's going to be rough and ungainly, but it is going to be a potential gem because you haven't had the chance to mess with it yet. It is the story your characters told you, and if you didn't get in the way, all you were doing was taking dictation. Now you can begin to edit and rewrite. That's where the heavy labor begins, and is the real secret to great fiction.
Just a helpful hint from your Uncle Dane.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------, love, write, and shake hands with someone you're just getting to know.
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Dane F. Baylis

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