Hello hello! It sure has been A Time lately, hasn’t it? I don’t want to delve too far into everything, but I hope you and your loved ones are doing okay. In those first couple of weeks, it was almost impossible to write, or do any of my hobbies, or even read books. And unrelated to the global issues, my grandmother passed away a week ago. It’s been a lot. I’m slowly but surely coming back to some sense of ‘normalcy,’ whatever that means. I hope you are, too, and if not, remember to be kind to yourself.
Now, onto the writing side! In January and February, I was focusing my revisions entirely on worldbuilding and setting. I got through a decent amount of revisions and was feeling really good about my progress — still proud, actually!
Then life went sideways. That particular round went on hold, and around that time, I’d received some incredibly helpful feedback on my first chapter. I’ve had a few rounds of beta readers and other industry feedback now, and while everyone has dug the story, the fast-paced action and the plot, I often heard there was something… missing. Something that wasn’t quite there, but most people had a hard time explaining what exactly it was.
That thing, I finally understand, has been character.
How do you miss character? How do you write a book and NOT have character?? Of course I have character!! Characters PLURAL, even!!!
Well, yes and no. I have a compelling, morally gray lead, and with each round of revisions, she’s gotten better and better, more nuanced, more real. Her voice has really come alive, and I feel like I can picture her sitting next to me, what she’d say, how she’d act.
But, and I almost hate to admit it, I had never really dove into WHY she’s the way she is, not even to myself. She has backstory and a world view, and boy, is she a spitfire! But I never fully stopped to go deeper than that, or to examine how the experiences in her past off-page would come into play on the page.
I also realized I was hardly showing her emotional response to situations, partially because I have been TERRIFIED of telling instead of showing. Telling was a MASSIVE problem in my first manuscript, and because of that experience, I dove into all the materials I could find on showing versus telling (points to Janice Hardy’s Understanding Show, Don’t Tell book, she really saved me). I am incredibly proud of my strides there, but I’ve found that my fear of telling has left my character at a bit of a distance, to myself and to my readers. And because this book is in deep first-person POV, that’s a problem.
So, in early March, when I found I couldn’t quite write and the world was more on fire each day, I paused. I let myself think. Not write, not yet, but just…think.
I thought about my favorite characters and their origin stories. I thought about what compelled me to follow them. I then asked myself, why do I follow my main character? Why am I connected to her?
My initial answer was murkier than I’d like to admit. I decided to stop everything and pick up my new copy of Save the Cat!, focusing specifically on the beginning chapters on character.
That first few chapters alone reeeeeeally opened my eyes. I was asking myself deep character questions, her goals, her trauma–everything that makes her a living, breathing person. I wrote my answers down on paper (laptop closed, manuscript set aside).
I ended up calling one of my best friends (who was also one of my first beta readers) to go over my answers, which further helped me to build out my ideas. I kept thinking on my answers, and a few days later, I decided to write.
Not on my manuscript, not yet. I opened a blank document and decided to write a completely different scene based on my main character, focusing specifically on character depth. There was no pressure, no worries about fitting it into my book; it was just for me.
Honestly, it was the most fun writing I’d had in a while. I wasn’t doing it for any reason other than the love of writing and getting to know my character better. It was incredibly eye-opening; as writers, we put pressure on ourselves so often to write perfectly, to hit the mark, to have it get us an agent or a book deal or whatever it is. That pressure can take the joy out of writing if we’re not careful.
Since then, I’ve continued working on character development, and that spark, that energy to write has been revitalized. I’ve been writing so much more lately and have been so happy to dive back into it!
If you’re having trouble with character depth and development (or you’re looking for broader help), I highly recommend picking up Save The Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, or checking out Susan Dennard’s many helpful online resources. I’ve also just picked up The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, so I can’t wait to dive in. Their other resources have already helped me immensely.
At some point I may do a post that talks more about my advice, but since I’m still learning on my own, I’d rather point you to the experts above!
Wishing you all the best during these times ❤