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It’s mid April already. When did that happen?

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

BREAKING THE ANTI-WRITING BARRIER:

Facing The Beast

by L V Gaudet

Well, I succumbed again to the anti-siren call, that un-mesmerizing numbing of the dull-eyed slack-jawed drooling sloth-like beast which slowly sucks away your will or ability to write. That, and the lack of time.

Thus, the two week hiatus on the blog. Has it been two weeks? Three? It feels like longer. At the same time the weekly posts feel more like near daily posts that I have to push out without feeling them when I can’t get inspired to write.

It’s more than lack of time, isn’t it?

It could be that the time available just is not at the right time. Or you simply cannot find that moment without distractions. You are surrounded by a bedlam of noise and activity that closeting yourself away behind a closed door cannot satisfactorily drown out, if you are fortunate enough to have the ability to lock yourself away somewhere. That would mean you aren’t the mom, most likely. Ha ha, right moms?

The first two paragraphs of this post took me multiple tries over an eight hour stretch, until after bedtime. Then the distractions and interruptions lessened, but didn’t go away.

This is the beast we, as writers, have to face. The distractions of family, pets, friends, boyfriends or girlfriends, and work. The housework, yard work, groceries, and all the other things that come up. The lure of social media, mindless distractions, and simply feeling distracted. It tirelessly conspires against us at times.

There simply isn’t always enough time in the day. Something, like this blog post, that shouldn’t take more than an hour at most, minutes at best, takes a few days or more.

The people in your life may not seem to get it, or you. That this is who you are, what you do. They don’t understand that you yearn for that time alone to write. They want your time for them. That’s okay. Do you eagerly embrace and understand every one of their interests? Having something that is just yours is good. Having separate interests is healthy. It grounds you in who you are. Your specialness.

All is not lost. There is one way to best this beast: perseverance. Embrace the minutes you can and don’t let the lack of blissful time away from all the interruptions and distractions defeat you. Every hard won sentence is a victory.

The other face of this beast is the doldrums. That wretched feeling of sluggish lack of inspiration. It slowly claws its insidious way inside you. You’ve lost your mojo, your drive to write. Your inspiration.

I think of this as the writer’s depression and maybe that isn’t too far off the mark. When you feel good, you feel inspired. And, when you feel inspired, you feel good. That’s the writing high. At its peak it can be exhilarating. In the low points you lack feeling. You might wonder if something is wrong with you. Why you just can’t seem to sit down and write. To want to sit down and write. Your mind is blank and the inspiration and ideas just won’t come.

Whichever face of this multifaceted beast you are facing, take the small wins and cherish them. Every five minutes of writing is progress. Instead of focusing your thoughts on what you are not doing, turn to what you might do. What you can do.

Being a writer is an endless long-term goal. It’s a way of being. It’s what and who you are. Many great books took years from inspiration to completion. It has its highs and lows, the hotspots of inspirational bliss and stretches of breaks. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t written in two days, two years, or two decades. It doesn’t have to mean you quit forever.

And if you can’t manage to write, then edit. Editing and revising has helped me innumerable times to get back on that writing bus. You have nothing to edit? Or perhaps you just can’t bring yourself to pick it up? Then edit something someone else wrote. Critique someone else’s writing. Your favorite author’s perhaps. What did you like or not like about that last book or the one you are currently reading? Did you find mistakes? Something you thought could have been better or you would have done differently? Even the top publishing houses’ teams make mistakes. The top writers are human and thus imperfect too.

I’ll start. I used the word “inspiration” and contractions far too many times in this short bit of writing.

Keep writing, my friends. One word, one sentence, at a time.

March is coming to an end and spring is around the corner. Let’s wake up our minds, hearts, and muses, to a new season of writing.

BREAKING THE ANTI-WRITING BARRIER:

Finding Inspirations to Write

by L V Gaudet

When you just can’t get into the writing mood, finding inspiration can feel impossible. But, without inspiration, your writing is likely to be flat, lacking the vitality and life of its own of great writing.

You can force the prose, but it will feel just as forced to the reader as it does to you. And sometimes that’s what you have to resort to in order to get yourself back on track and producing something, anything, with the hope of fixing it later with the magic of editing.

Inspiration cannot always just be willed to come. Sometimes we have to woo it. Coax it along. Like a shy beast loathe to venture out of the safety of its dark den.

There are things we can do to help it, and us, along.

Relive the inspiring feelings.

Whatever inspired you to write the story, return to it if possible. Was it a location? (Taking a picture of the inspiration at the moment it happens is a good practice for when you cannot return to that place and moment). A song or show you can replay? Anything that can help put you back mentally and emotionally in that moment can trigger that inspiration to return when you have the time to write.

Habit makes a good writing buddy.

Is there a particular spot in your house or time of day you find your muse more open? Forming a habit of writing in a particular spot or time can help train your brain that it’s time to get to work and be creative.

Have a playlist.

Set a playlist that gets you in the mood. Multiple playlists for different writing scene moods can be truly inspirational. I find music without words, or with minimal lyrics or lyrics that are more muted, blending with the music rather than bold, are best. You don’t want those lyrics distracting you from writing.

It can be hard to find a good mood fit in songs with minimal lyrics. I’ve spent too much time searching Spotify without success. The few writing mood music songs I came across that work for me were by accident while watching shows. A few I like are If I Had a Heart by Fever Ray (the Vikings series theme song and the only Fever Ray song that hits the writing mood button), and some of the music from The Walking Dead series like Blackbird Song by Lee DeWyze and Bad Blood by Alison Mosshart and Eric Arjes (search Waking Dead on Spotify).

The sweet thing about Spotify is that once you find your music niche you are likely to find more songs that fit your needs in their recommended songs.

Visual inspirations are helpful.

Sometimes when I’m stuck on a story I make a mock-up of a working cover for inspiration. It goes hand in hand with your working title to remind you what the story is about and drive inspiration, but won’t be used on the final product. The working cover is about creating mood, putting a visual to the emotions of the story’s essence.

Surrounding yourself with images that resound with your story can be great motivation for your muse. Images that also draw out the emotions and mood of the story. That evoke inspiration and a thirst for creativity.

Don’t underestimate the power of smell.

Think back to moments that touched you or vague memories that seem to always be there. Memories that are more feelings than clear. A warm childhood Sunday morning kitchen ripe with the smells of coffee and fresh baked bread. The crisp fall air surrounded by the blaze of colored leaves ready to fall from the trees. Hay and the ever-present smell of farmers burning off the stubble in the fields in the fall, barns, and the easy freshness of open air. Hot summer days with the smell of the lake hanging heavy in the air, or freshly mown grass. The cloying smog of a city, ugly gas and oil smells of cars, or the rot of garbage, decay, and spoiled food. The sharp turpentine and perfume of a rotting orange from your child’s hidden Thanksgiving school craft.

These don’t stick in the mind because of some memorable event. They are smell-triggered memories.

Certain scents can bring on warm feelings, like baking apple pie, and others inspire a romantic or invigorating mood.

What odors can inspire the right emotional ambiance to write about the grimy overheated sweatshop of a workhouse or inner mechanical workings of a steampunk powerplant? How about the overbearing stifling swampy stench of a bog? The dank deep and dark cavern where the remains long gone to dry morbidity of a thousand year old vampire are lain awaiting that ill-fated cave spelunker?

Whatever wakes your inspiration, embrace it and revisit it. Like writing in a particular place or time of day, or writing just ten minutes a day, these inspirational nudges revisited regularly can help train the writing mood to come more easily with their influences.

Keep writing my friends, and share what inspires you to get into the writing mood.

It’s frigging March 2021. More than a year since Covid-19 made its wretched world debut. More than a year since it started spreading across the globe like an insidious plague storyline. A year since it was declared officially a pandemic.

BREAKING THE ANTI-WRITING BARRIER:

Talk The Words Out

by L V Gaudet

Keeping your intentions a secret means no one ever has to know you quit, failed, or slacked off. You can spend months in silent misery bemoaning your inability to write.

Or you can get proactive about committing yourself to writing and opening yourself to talking about it.

Photo by Eliott Reyna on Unsplash

Make yourself accountable to someone who is not you.

Break your silence and talk about it. Not everyone is going to listen, or care. The odd person might even be a jerk enough to be negative. But if you tell enough people, “I’m writing a five thousand word short story,” you will find someone who is going to ask you about it later. Maybe multiple people.

Now you are on the hook.  After telling all those people you are doing it, won’t you feel just a little silly if you don’t even try? The key word here is ‘try’.

It’s okay to not make the word count mark, or the deadline you preached, especially if they were too adventurous. But you can’t exactly tell everyone you are doing something and not even make the effort. How would that look? More important, how would it make you feel?

Now you are accountable to them, even if only in your own mind. It’s an added incentive to push yourself a little more to find your writing voice.

Bounce your ideas off someone.

You have half-formed ideas. Maybe just nigglings of them. They are just there beyond your mental vision like that shadow in your peripheral that moves away with the turning of your head. You sense its presence, but it is teasingly just beyond your reach to grasp it and pull it into view.

No matter what you try, you just can’t seem to pull the ideas together into something coherent, recognizable. Something you can work with.

Maybe there are just too many details that you can’t pull together to make it work. They just won’t come to you.

Find someone to talk about your story ideas with. Someone you can bounce them off of. Other writers are great for that and probably the most understanding. It doesn’t have to be a writer. It can be anyone. You don’t have to like or use their ideas.

The point to this exercise is that just talking to someone and getting feedback can open up that place in your mind where ideas come from. Crack open the door, push aside the barrier just a little, and you open yourself to your own imagination.

Suggestions, good or bad, inspire other ideas. Write them down, work with them, and let them fill up as many pages as you need to. Somewhere in there you will find what you need.

But you still can’t find the ‘right’ idea?

When I’m completely stuck on a story, at some point I let myself consider the unimaginable: something just isn’t working. Actually, it is entirely common.

The problem is, you might not find the ‘right’ idea because something else in the story just doesn’t work.

Go with the next best idea and flag it for review later, and write on. The point is getting past the spot you are stuck on, even if it isn’t what you envisioned for that moment in the story. You can try to get back on track, or follow the new path your story takes. You can fix it later with editing.

By continuing to write, often the problem will become evident. It may be something else in the story needs to be reworked, or that your idea for that moment just didn’t really fit your vision for the overall story.

Create word and idea association tables.

What if you can’t find anyone to bounce ideas off of?

If you really have no one to talk about it with, try making yourself a word association table.

Word association games are not just to give grade school kids something to do when the teacher wants to kill classroom time, or as a vocabulary building exercise.

Start with some basic words associated with your story, genre, or scene. Throw in some completely random words to throw you off being too focused on the overly perfect word for the story.

Our game will have a little twist. You are not just expressing words, you want to capture impressions and feelings too, since that is what writing it about.

Write the words on little slips of paper and as you run through them the idea is to flash them to yourself as quickly as you can, writing down the first word, impression, or feeling that comes to you for each one. Write down any and all of those three the word inspires. A speech to text app might help you with the speed here, so you don’t have to stop to write down each word.

Build your chart however you think will work best for you. Categories along the top and feelings and impressions along the side for example. Put all your words in the box that fits each one best.

To help you get started, here are some word association word generators:

You can take the word association table further and use it to make an idea association table.

The same principle applies. You won’t be able to flash through them as fast as the words. Start by writing down the first idea that comes to you from each word. They don’t need to have any relation to your story. Keep them short and generic. Add any other random ideas that come to you while doing it.

Put the ideas on slips of paper and flash through them just like the word association game, writing down the first impression or new idea you get from them. When you build the chart, you can color code impressions in one color and ideas in another.

Each time you run through your word and idea associations; you expand your tables. It also helps train your brain to be better at coming up with new words and ideas. Like everything, practice makes you better, no matter what you do. After you’ve been dong these exercises for some time, you’ll have an expansive resource of ideas and word associations you can use any time to help spur the creativity.

Write on my friends. We will get through this inspiration drought together. For now, I will try to make this topic my weekly post. Finding that inspiration together, and ways to break through that wretched barrier stopping our creative muses from shining bright.

Update on: p.s. I’m trying out this “Convert to audio” “Create a podcase episode” click-link on the sidebar. Anyone use it? We’ll see that it does. I have no idea what it’s going to do.

This is still a big learning curve, how to edit the sound in Anchor to add pauses, remove unwanted things like, “photo by…”, and improve the flow (Hint: use the + thing to make the sound wave as BIG AS YOU CAN). Unfortunately there seems to be no way to fix words Anchor imports using the wrong word sound or words it skips altogether.

I have been trying out other (free) apps and programs to see if I can find a better text to speech than the importation of WordPress blogs to Anchor. So far the WordPress to Anchor is by far the winner in not sounding like a bad robot.

I also broke down and ordered a not super crazy expensive (because I’m a writer and broke) sound mike and anti-‘PUH” screen to keep the P, T, and TH sounds from exploding on the mike. Next I’ll have to learn how to actually talk without sounding like I have a mental stress speech impediment; without stuttering, stilting, pausing, umming, uhing, or otherwise tripping over my own face or tongue, and sounding actually semi-normal.

It’s frigging March 2021. More than a year since Covid-19 made its wretched world debut. More than a year since it started spreading across the globe like an insidious plague storyline. A year since it was declared officially a pandemic.

BREAKING THE ANTI-WRITING BARRIER:

Make Something Old New

by L V Gaudet

Sometimes breaking through that barrier preventing you from writing is about retraining your brain and your psyche. Tricking it out of that mindset that has convinced you that you cannot write.

Try this exercise: pick an old piece of writing that you haven’t looked at in months or years and re-edit it. Rewrite it as much or little as it needs.

This exercise services a couple of purposes.

It helps get your head back in the game. Yes, the editing game, but that is a step towards writing something new.

It also shows you how your writing has changed and improved from then to now, and that is the first job of every writer: to always seek to improve your craft. Let this get you excited. You improved because practice really does make you better and nobody starts out being great at anything new. Everything takes work and practice to improve and become good at it.

For this exercise I chose a short story published some time ago: Blood.

I presented this version of the story at Horrorcon in 2017 for a short story competition. I lost, obviously, to an author who was both a better writer and had the ability to verbally present his story. I, on the other hand, choked through rushing the words out, eyes glued to the page before me and terrified of looking at the audience (if I can’t see them, they can’t see me, right?), and messed up and skipped lines multiple times in the simple-seeming task of reading in the sheer panic of public speaking.

I didn’t actually change much in the story; just tweaked a few words here and there. But you will see how even small changes can dramatically improve your piece.

Simple changes like:

  • Better word choices for that odd word that doesn’t quit feel right
  • Avoiding repetitive word use (This is a big one! And one I am very guilty of, especially in earlier writing.)
  • Paying attention to the flow, the feel of the piece

Here is the original short story Blood.

Here is the updated version of the short story Blood.

Blood, as so often happens with short fiction, is the inspiration and drive behind a larger project I have in the works: Blood & Canvas. Let us plead with the almighty Muses that Blood & Canvas sees completion and the light (or rather darkness!) of life. I’ve been working on this project for a few years.

Write on my friends. We will get through this inspiration drought together. For now, I will try to make this topic my weekly post. Finding that inspiration together, and ways to break through that wretched barrier stopping our creative muses from shining bright.

Update on: p.s. I’m trying out this “Convert to audio” “Create a podcase episode” click-link on the sidebar. Anyone use it? We’ll see that it does. I have no idea what it’s going to do.

Have you ever used “Anchor” to create podcasts? That is what it brings you to. If you currently have an Anchor account, you will need to create a new one to sync it with your WordPress blog. It is a big of trail and error.

I am completely new to the creating a podcast thing and am learning as I go. Attempts to record my voice are dreadful. I chose the auto-conversion from WordPress blog text to voice. It is not perfect a perfect transition. Some words the pronunciation is for the wrong definition of the same word spelling. It has even skipped over the odd word. And if you use initials in your blog, I recommend something like “L (double space) V (double space) Gaudet” to get the voice pauses correct. You can fix it in your WordPress blog after importing the post to Anchor. Double spacing after sentences is old school. but it helps in the transition to have better spacing between words in the Anchor sound clip.

Don’t create the Anchor account first. It won’t sync your WordPress if you do. I did that and had to delete the Anchor account. When you are publishing the blog post click the link that shows up in your side bar to convert it to a podcast. The page it brings you to is where and when you need to create that new Anchor account in order for it to sync with your WordPress blog.

Two pluses for Anchor:

  • (1) It is available FREE! You don’t have to go with a monthly subscription to use it, and
  • (2) I tried out a few other text to speech auto-conversions available for free and Anchor was the least robot sounding.

Screw Covid and Lockdown, and Get Back to Writing!

by L V Gaudet

It’s frigging March 2021. More than a year since Covid-19 made its wretched world debut. More than a year since it started spreading across the globe like an insidious plague storyline.

A year since lockdowns began. In two weeks (March 19th) it will be one year since my work had us all pack up our desks and haul our computers home to work independent of co-workers who can give that cubicle away mental, emotional, and ‘how do I do this’ work support to each other. Since the world started systematically shutting down businesses, schools, churches, mandating people to stay home and have no in-person contact outside their households.

I do delight in not losing two hours a day relegated to ‘the commute’. 45 to 50 minutes really, as long as there are no delays for accidents, breakdowns, winter road conditions, forced to detour through the city instead of taking the highway around it, or the ever present non-winter road construction that is EVERYWHERE any time it’s not winter. (I’m still trying to figure out what they are really digging for under our roads!) And in being able to spend my lunch break exercising to wake the body from the drudgery of spending hours sitting at a desk. But, it also means I have not seen my co-workers in person in a year. They are all really a very nice bunch of people.

The one year anniversary also means once again feeling the burn of shame for neglecting to check in with those people you once saw every day. We get busy. We forget. It’s simply human nature. But, maybe you are a better person than me, than many of us, and have not neglected keeping tabs on those people. There’s no shame in being human, and by nature faulty, after all how many of them checked in with you? And there is no shame in admitting you yourself can do more than you have. It’s that very acknowledgment that makes you a better person than those oblivious to their own faults.

Along with the physical, mental, physiological, emotional, and in every other way toll our self-isolations have taken on us, for many it has also killed our ability to get into that happy creative place.

Photo by Nsey Benajah on Unsplash

Myself, I haven’t written, or even edited really, for almost a year. Packing up my desk and hauling my work computer home, setting it up, learning the hard way it won’t work on Wi-Fi but only on ethernet (nobody told me that, I had to learn from trial and error when it wouldn’t even try to connect to my internet, I am not tech savvy), all felt so surreal. Starting that first day in the basement hunched over an old coffee table with the ethernet cable stretched across to clothesline any unwary passerby because I was working with a short cable, on the phone with my supervisor and then with IT because after all that I wasn’t even set up for remote access, was a dream I would wake up from at any moment to drive to work.

And then school was cancelled and in addition to working from home the kids were suddenly thrust into e-learning, struggling with that and trapped in home isolation with you, horror stories coming out of Italy and other countries of massive death tolls in their elderly, the region of Hubei, China locked down, an entire city of over a million people in China locked down, massive lineups at groceries stores and the ridiculous run on basic necessities being scooped up and bought out by greedy inconsiderates hoping to get rich selling it at massive markups no one can afford, forcing everyone else to go without.

People becoming afraid to leave their homes for fear of catching the virus. Of spreading it. Or simply of having neighbors give you that side-eye suspicious look suggesting you are contributing to their being stuck in the same horror story you are in.

People growing angry, frustrated, lashing out and hate-filled towards anyone who didn’t share their views on the whole Covid, restrictions, and lockdowns situation.

The horror stories from other countries of large death tolls in nursing homes, the elderly and infirm suffering neglect as their caregivers fall to the virus or to fear, of hospitals and health care systems over capacity and overrun, drowning in a tidal wave of the sick, people ordered to stay home, jobless, urgently needing food they now don’t have the money for, all of that coming home to you, to your nursing homes and hospitals, and to your neighborhoods.

Is it any wonder so many of the already creatives have lost the ability to create? It’s like we are all trapped in a never-ending plotline.

While others pick up new creative hobbies with the time they suddenly have, seeking some form of escape from the walls they are trapped within, our new world too often had the opposite effect on those who already lived for that creativity.

Fear, anxiety, depression. That is the ‘new reality’. Lost jobs, furloughed, laid off, businesses closed, borders closed, and forbidden to see friends and family. The inability to pay your rent or mortgage, fear of losing your home, how can you possibly feed your kids, your pets, without that lost income. Some of us got lucky and could work from home, or have jobs that are in essential services like grocery stores, manufacturing, transportation, the trucking industry, and many more needed to keep the world functioning on its most basic level. While others had jobs in essential services, because every job is essential, that the world can survive for a time without even if the workers and owners can’t, restaurants, selling scented body products and candles, the entertainment industry, and many more.

We are all in a state of shock in one form or another.

Fear, anxiety, and depression are the great killers of the creative muse. They destroy inspiration like last week’s rotting food, moldering, dried up, and deteriorated. It sucks the life out of you. The will. The drive.

This has always been the way.

But eventually you need to push your way through it. Snap back to living. And for us creative types living means creation. Inspiration. That energizing drive to create, let that inspiration fill you, and make you feel alive like nothing else can.

The problem is that some invisible and intangible barrier is stopping you. You can’t name it, like some demon in a horror flick, who can be vanquished and banished by simply uttering their name and demanding they leave you in peace. It can’t be torn down like you probably have been tempted to do with the physical walls keeping you from the world in this wretched Covid lockdown. You can’t even identify it. It’s just… there.

It can be hard to break through that barrier. It can feel impossible.

Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

Instead of telling yourself it’s all or nothing, that you have to sit down and write write write, maybe try working up to the actual writing.

Go back and edit previous work, even if you have no rough drafts.

Write down your story ideas to get them on physical ‘paper’ (or computer/phone/any media, it doesn’t matter what).

Find someone to talk about your story ideas with. Other writers are great for that. And probably the most understanding.

Pick a scene, any scene. Make a list of the scene in a story idea. Where it is; inside, outside, a room. When is it? What exists in the location? What is your backdrop? Props? Who is in that scene, both active characters and backdrop characters? Let that imagery flow in your head.

Do the same for the characters in that scene. List their details, what they are doing, and who they are interacting with.

Make it point form if you have to.

And finally, tell yourself you are just going to turn those point form lists into sentences that don’t have to relate to each other. Allow yourself to do that without it having to be good. Then let yourself string those together, build on them, and you are writing without overthinking about the fact you are writing. It can be rubbish. That’s ok. A lot of first drafts are rubbish. That’s what the magic of editing is for. You’ve got this!

How did I break through that barrier? I’ll let you know when it happens.

Photo by Jilbert Ebrahimi on Unsplash

Like I said, I haven’t written or even edited really in almost a year. From that fateful day I packed up my desk a year ago less two weeks, and drove home feeling numb and like the world just took a bend into the Twilight Zone.

Making a self-promise to commit to others was a first step for me. I already was doing that with volunteering with the Manitoba Writers’ Guild and Horror Writers Association, but this is on a more personal level that requires me to write.

It’s a struggle. I don’t feel the inspiration. But committing myself to write a weekly blog post in hopes of helping others is the start of helping myself. It’s writing. I won’t always succeed in getting it out every week, but that’s not failure, it’s a small setback. Like not writing isn’t a failure. That, too, is a temporary setback.

I am also trying to find the time, hard when you are exiled to your home with your co-habitators and together almost 24/7, and still required to function on the 9-5 job and as a housemate / partner / parent / dog parent, to edit a novel work in progress that is so very close to complete. I’m focusing on just the one right now, although the WIP pile is huge.

I have hope that will lead to finally finishing The Woods and it seeing the light of publication and life. Hope that will lead to more inspiration.

The third goal and self-imposed promise / commitment I made is to force myself to find and submit to publishing calls. Mostly it will be already finished work. I still can’t muster the ‘feel’ to write with inspiration. It doesn’t help that no matter how you tell yourself you will not be discouraged by rejection, it’s not personal and everyone gets many rejections for every submission accepted, that it doesn’t mean the story or your writing is garbage but rather that they simply can’t take all the great stories, every one of those rejections you get is a needle that jabs and deflates you just a little. Maybe a lot. Every rejection seeds self-doubt despite your best efforts to not let it.

Write on my friends. We will get through this inspiration drought together. For now, I will try to make this topic my weekly post. Finding that inspiration together, and ways to break through that wretched barrier stopping our creative muses from shining bright.

P.s. I’m trying out this “Convert to audio” “Create a podcase episode” click-link on the sidebar. Anyone use it? We’ll see that it does. I have no idea what it’s going to do.

Screw Covid and Lockdown, and Get Back to Writing!

by L V Gaudet

It’s frigging March 2021. More than a year since Covid-19 made its wretched world debut. More than a year since it started spreading across the globe like an insidious plague storyline.

A year since lockdowns began. In two weeks (March 19th) it will be one year since my work had us all pack up our desks and haul our computers home to work independent of co-workers who can give that cubicle away mental, emotional, and ‘how do I do this’ work support to each other. Since the world started systematically shutting down businesses, schools, churches, mandating people to stay home and have no in-person contact outside their households.

I do delight in not losing two hours a day relegated to ‘the commute’. 45 to 50 minutes really, as long as there are no delays for accidents, breakdowns, winter road conditions, forced to detour through the city instead of taking the highway around it, or the ever present non-winter road construction that is EVERYWHERE any time it’s not winter. (I’m still trying to figure out what they are really digging for under our roads!) And in being able to spend my lunch break exercising to wake the body from the drudgery of spending hours sitting at a desk. But, it also means I have not seen my co-workers in person in a year. They are all really a very nice bunch of people.

The one year anniversary also means once again feeling the burn of shame for neglecting to check in with those people you once saw every day. We get busy. We forget. It’s simply human nature. But, maybe you are a better person than me, than many of us, and have not neglected keeping tabs on those people. There’s no shame in being human, and by nature faulty, after all how many of them checked in with you? And there is no shame in admitting you yourself can do more than you have. It’s that very acknowledgment that makes you a better person than those oblivious to their own faults.

Along with the physical, mental, physiological, emotional, and in every other way toll our self-isolations have taken on us, for many it has also killed our ability to get into that happy creative place.

Photo by Nsey Benajah on Unsplash

Myself, I haven’t written, or even edited really, for almost a year. Packing up my desk and hauling my work computer home, setting it up, learning the hard way it won’t work on Wi-Fi but only on ethernet (nobody told me that, I had to learn from trial and error when it wouldn’t even try to connect to my internet, I am not tech savvy), all felt so surreal. Starting that first day in the basement hunched over an old coffee table with the ethernet cable stretched across to clothesline any unwary passerby because I was working with a short cable, on the phone with my supervisor and then with IT because after all that I wasn’t even set up for remote access, was a dream I would wake up from at any moment to drive to work.

And then school was cancelled and in addition to working from home the kids were suddenly thrust into e-learning, struggling with that and trapped in home isolation with you, horror stories coming out of Italy and other countries of massive death tolls in their elderly, the region of Hubei, China locked down, an entire city of over a million people in China locked down, massive lineups at groceries stores and the ridiculous run on basic necessities being scooped up and bought out by greedy inconsiderates hoping to get rich selling it at massive markups no one can afford, forcing everyone else to go without.

People becoming afraid to leave their homes for fear of catching the virus. Of spreading it. Or simply of having neighbors give you that side-eye suspicious look suggesting you are contributing to their being stuck in the same horror story you are in.

People growing angry, frustrated, lashing out and hate-filled towards anyone who didn’t share their views on the whole Covid, restrictions, and lockdowns situation.

The horror stories from other countries of large death tolls in nursing homes, the elderly and infirm suffering neglect as their caregivers fall to the virus or to fear, of hospitals and health care systems over capacity and overrun, drowning in a tidal wave of the sick, people ordered to stay home, jobless, urgently needing food they now don’t have the money for, all of that coming home to you, to your nursing homes and hospitals, and to your neighborhoods.

Is it any wonder so many of the already creatives have lost the ability to create? It’s like we are all trapped in a never-ending plotline.

While others pick up new creative hobbies with the time they suddenly have, seeking some form of escape from the walls they are trapped within, our new world too often had the opposite effect on those who already lived for that creativity.

Fear, anxiety, depression. That is the ‘new reality’. Lost jobs, furloughed, laid off, businesses closed, borders closed, and forbidden to see friends and family. The inability to pay your rent or mortgage, fear of losing your home, how can you possibly feed your kids, your pets, without that lost income. Some of us got lucky and could work from home, or have jobs that are in essential services like grocery stores, manufacturing, transportation, the trucking industry, and many more needed to keep the world functioning on its most basic level. While others had jobs in essential services, because every job is essential, that the world can survive for a time without even if the workers and owners can’t, restaurants, selling scented body products and candles, the entertainment industry, and many more.

We are all in a state of shock in one form or another.

Fear, anxiety, and depression are the great killers of the creative muse. They destroy inspiration like last week’s rotting food, moldering, dried up, and deteriorated. It sucks the life out of you. The will. The drive.

This has always been the way.

But eventually you need to push your way through it. Snap back to living. And for us creative types living means creation. Inspiration. That energizing drive to create, let that inspiration fill you, and make you feel alive like nothing else can.

The problem is that some invisible and intangible barrier is stopping you. You can’t name it, like some demon in a horror flick, who can be vanquished and banished by simply uttering their name and demanding they leave you in peace. It can’t be torn down like you probably have been tempted to do with the physical walls keeping you from the world in this wretched Covid lockdown. You can’t even identify it. It’s just… there.

It can be hard to break through that barrier. It can feel impossible.

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Instead of telling yourself it’s all or nothing, that you have to sit down and write write write, maybe try working up to the actual writing.

Go back and edit previous work, even if you have no rough drafts.

Write down your story ideas to get them on physical ‘paper’ (or computer/phone/any media, it doesn’t matter what).

Find someone to talk about your story ideas with. Other writers are great for that. And probably the most understanding.

Pick a scene, any scene. Make a list of the scene in a story idea. Where it is; inside, outside, a room. When is it? What exists in the location? What is your backdrop? Props? Who is in that scene, both active characters and backdrop characters? Let that imagery flow in your head.

Do the same for the characters in that scene. List their details, what they are doing, and who they are interacting with.

Make it point form if you have to.

And finally, tell yourself you are just going to turn those point form lists into sentences that don’t have to relate to each other. Allow yourself to do that without it having to be good. Then let yourself string those together, build on them, and you are writing without overthinking about the fact you are writing. It can be rubbish. That’s ok. A lot of first drafts are rubbish. That’s what the magic of editing is for. You’ve got this!

How did I break through that barrier? I’ll let you know when it happens.

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Like I said, I haven’t written or even edited really in almost a year. From that fateful day I packed up my desk a year ago less two weeks, and drove home feeling numb and like the world just took a bend into the Twilight Zone.

Making a self-promise to commit to others was a first step for me. I already was doing that with volunteering with the Manitoba Writers’ Guild and Horror Writers Association, but this is on a more personal level that requires me to write.

It’s a struggle. I don’t feel the inspiration. But committing myself to write a weekly blog post in hopes of helping others is the start of helping myself. It’s writing. I won’t always succeed in getting it out every week, but that’s not failure, it’s a small setback. Like not writing isn’t a failure. That, too, is a temporary setback.

I am also trying to find the time, hard when you are exiled to your home with your co-habitators and together almost 24/7, and still required to function on the 9-5 job and as a housemate / partner / parent / dog parent, to edit a novel work in progress that is so very close to complete. I’m focusing on just the one right now, although the WIP pile is huge.

I have hope that will lead to finally finishing The Woods and it seeing the light of publication and life. Hope that will lead to more inspiration.

The third goal and self-imposed promise / commitment I made is to force myself to find and submit to publishing calls. Mostly it will be already finished work. I still can’t muster the ‘feel’ to write with inspiration. It doesn’t help that no matter how you tell yourself you will not be discouraged by rejection, it’s not personal and everyone gets many rejections for every submission accepted, that it doesn’t mean the story or your writing is garbage but rather that they simply can’t take all the great stories, every one of those rejections you get is a needle that jabs and deflates you just a little. Maybe a lot. Every rejection seeds self-doubt despite your best efforts to not let it.

Write on my friends. We will get through this inspiration drought together. For now, I will try to make this topic my weekly post. Finding that inspiration together, and ways to break through that wretched barrier stopping our creative muses from shining bright.

P.s. I’m trying out this “Convert to audio” “Create a podcase episode” click-link on the sidebar. Anyone use it? We’ll see that it does. I have no idea what it’s going to do.

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I have a terrible tendency to find possibly likely potentially submittable markets when the clock is already running out on them.

You know what I mean. You spend time searching online, checking if previous markets are currently taking submissions and going down your upcoming list checking which deadline for what is when. You seek new markets and submission calls, but most of what you find are not suitable for you.

Either they just aren’t your genre, the theme isn’t for you, the word count is one you struggle with or have no interest in, or what they publish generally doesn’t fit your writing style. You even doubt they’ll read past the first sentence.

Maybe they take only previously unpublished authors and you’ve been published, self or otherwise, or they take only published authors and you don’t fit the bill. Many still don’t consider being self-published as being a published author because anyone can self-publish. Except where it comes to calling your story published. There, anything and everything where others can read it is considered published, even if you, the author, are not considered so.

Sometimes the market itself announces the call for submissions with a very short deadline to write, edit, edit more, polish, and submit your work.

And then it happens. You almost thought it were some mythological creature by now, but you found it. The beaming golden child of markets: the possibly likely potentially submittable market that feels right for you.

Except, if you are me, you more than likely found it with a week or less, days, maybe even hours, left to the submission deadline. You’re screwed.

If you keep a folder of ready-to-submit work, you might get lucky and happen to have one that fits the call. That’s the sweet spot.

More likely you now have to write your ass off, but life gets in the way. It doesn’t just go idle because you want to meet a submission deadline. You can’t just put work, school, and family on hold every time you have a tight submission call.

I submitted to one contest mid February that put out the call with a short deadline for a topic specific story. I spent what time I could in between everything else writing, struggled, gave up, struggled, gave up, and finally on the deadline date spent the entire evening from signing off the pay-the-bills-day-job to going to bed late to finish the story and send it in.

And then I came across another open submission that looked promising with three days to write 1,000 to 6,000 words from scratch. I came to the game late in finding that one. I threw caution to the wind and started writing, knowing that it was very doubtful I’d be allowed the time needed to get it done. By necessity work, life, family, and all that takes precedence. I did finish and submit that one too, late evening of the deadline date, only because the story happened to come to its natural conclusion on the shorter range of the word count.

This is where my advice comes in:

Screw the submission deadlines and focus on the writing.

Yeah, I know, deadlines, right? That’s the nature of the beast. To meet the deadline you have to write for it.

But, what’s worse? Submitting some too rushed to write and edit well rubbish that may have that publisher filtering your future submissions to the slush pile on auto-pilot as they work to reduce 1,000+ submissions to the hundred or so they are going to read? Or, failing to meet a self-imposed deadline that only you know about?

When I come across one of these markets that feels right for me, short deadline or not, sometimes I get inspired by the story I start writing for it and sometimes I don’t.

If I’m not feeling that stomach-grinding rush of inspiration, the story probably won’t be among my better writing. Especially when I’m rushing it, forcing myself to write what I’m not feeling.

That sweet feeling of inspiration, however, makes the story come alive and drives you with the urgency to write it just for the story itself. That’s the place where better writing comes from.

Put your focus on trying to be inspired by that story you are writing. On writing the story the best you possibly can.

And then on editing it to the best of your abilities. Submission deadline be damned, this is the most important part of that submission. So, don’t force yourself into rushing out rubbish. Don’t submit it despite your misgivings about the story. If your best keeps getting rejected (and it will, many times over because that’s normal), why would they take anything less?

If you fail to meet that submission deadline, life will move on. Just the same as it would have if you never knew it existed, or if they never opened that submission window.

When I am completely uninspired and uninterested in the story I tried to write, I know it’s probably for the best that I never ended up finishing it and sending it in. It’s not among my better writing. It will be relegated to the started and not finished folder for future potential possible if I ever bother revisiting.

The inspiring stories, however, I continue hungering to finish despite the failed deadline. Those, I sink myself into, submerse myself in their dark embrace, and continue to write, edit, edit more, and polish. They will find a place in my ready to submit folder for when that perfect-seeming market comes along.

A missed deadline is not the end. Of you, your writing, or of anything. It was simply an opportunity to sink your teeth into a writing challenge that you can learn from. It was practice to hone your writing skills. And maybe you came out of it with a great story you can submit again and again somewhere else until it finds where it belongs.

Keep writing, my friends.

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Now that you created compelling characters, you need to actually write the characters compellingly.

It’s like planning a rich flavorful moist four-chocolate cake with velvety smooth icing; the whole joining of spongey chocolate cake, warmly melted chocolate inside, and cool silky chocolate icing making your mouth water at the mere thought of it. It doesn’t matter how great you made the plans for that cake if you cannot deliver it via a plate to that waiting guests’ mouth without it falling flat, dry, and bland.

No amount of outlining and character profiling can automatically make those characters pop. Even the best storyline does not alone breathe life into them in the paragraphs of the story. And, trying to explain how to write compellingly is not like listing ideas for your character profiles, showing you types of character arcs, or giving tips on choosing character names.

To write compellingly is to write the characters and story well. It is honing your writing craft, practicing and practicing and practicing. Studying the writing of others who write well. Always working to improve your writing skills and work better.

How do you write compellingly? Captivate your reader. Make it resonate with them. Compel them to keep reading. Make them feel what your characters feel, the same love, hate, and pain. Drive them to yearning for your characters; needing those characters to fail or succeed as though their own life story depends upon it.

Well, it’s bloody hard for many writers. It doesn’t just come naturally. Even writers who have written for years can struggle with it. After years of writing, always working to improve my own writing, I too ask myself if I can write better, and consciously strive to write compellingly. Editing and revising, plotting against characters, keeping notes like some wicked conspirator, and planning in my head even as I write by the seat of my own pants. Going back and changing scenes, chapters, characters, and my outline that I create as I write to keep track of everything.

Each scene is the hook for the next one. The final chapter scene needs to make the reader crave to turn to that next chapter. They are unsettled until they find out what happens next. That is writing compellingly.

Your characters need to captivate the audience. Connect with them and challenge them to see the world through their hearts and eyes.

Conflict makes the reader love and hate your character. Love and hate for your character.

Conquer your character, your reader, their hopes and dreams, but let there be that light of hope on the horizon. Your character and reader can do this together if they just try hard enough. Together.

And when you wrap it all up, leave your reader feeling like they just had a bit of a thrill ride. In my case, it’s an unsettling too slowly rattling ride through the dark creaking haunted house that isn’t all wiggling strips of plastic and worn out animatronics whose dilapidated state is hidden in shadows, smoke, flashing lights, and poor soundtracks of shrieking ghouls, maniacal laughter, and softly dying souls.

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Everything and everyone in a story should be there for a purpose, however small it may be. It might not seem relevant until chapters, or even books, later, but your divine purpose is there.

If a scene or character is truly irrelevant, they can graciously be cut. In addition to setting a scene or mood, or moving it along (whatever would have happened if that extra character, the owl, did not deliver Harry Potter’s letter?), extra characters can add a sense of reality. They can be used to tip the reader off or lead them down the wrong path. Giving them a little life or attitude can add a chuckle in the midst of a tense moment, a divination of something bad to come, or bring home the reality of what the protagonist is experiencing. Don’t undervalue them, make your extras extra.

Extras. In film they are the nameless living bodies used to fill a scene. They mostly have no lines, no more than a few words, if any, may not be paid, and are more part of the set and scenery than the scene itself.

Like the scene setting, extras have a purpose of their own in establishing the mood and driving force of the chosen scenery. They also can have their own personality. Are they angry or calm? Studiously going about their business or laggardly slogging through the day? Mindless automatons moving with easy efficiency?

Giving those nameless and barely mentioned extras a life of their own, treating the group like a character unto itself, can lend a depth to the story and even allow a moment of foreshadowing.

Unless it’s a monolog or limited characters alone without any reference to other peoples’ existences, you likely aren’t going to have a longer story without extras, so you might as well use them.

“The Paperboy” or “Messenger” is a commonly used extra character. Sometimes quite literally, a paperboy standing on the street corner shouting, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” while holding up a newspaper to show its prominent feature story headline screaming off the page to feed the reader or viewers an important piece of information. He might even call out that headline in a nudge to bring your attention to it.

Or their purpose may be for the protagonist, antagonist, or supporting character, to gain possession of that important news, informing them of something they didn’t know or giving proof to what they already suspected.

They aren’t necessarily an actual “paperboy”. It’s anything relaying that information. A newsflash on a television screen, phone call, letter, online search result, or a character sharing the information.

This character or object exists for one purpose only, and perhaps no more than a brief mention: to bridge the story into what is to come. To provide information to the characters, or just to the reader, that would otherwise not exist and cause a plot hole.

“The Mob” as I think of them, is any group of extras that exist just to set the mood. Barely more than background scene, they are a wall of screaming fans meeting a celebrity, jeering and catcalling at victims being dragged to the guillotine, armies waiting to clash on the battlefield, avid supporters, or an enraged mob.

“The Scenery” is a more docile version of the mob. Other people who just happen to be scattered in the coffee shop, other shoppers at the mall, beachgoers, bodies filling theatre seats. They exist because your characters’ world is not one without other humans.

But, what if you take one of those extra characters and make them just a little more?

Learn the secret behind the bodies. Take a step back in time to meet the boy who will create the killer.

In The McAllister Farm, William walks into a small town coffee shop to meet a man. Being a diligently cautious man, he automatically scans the patrons, noting who is there and anything out of place. A pair of men sitting at the counter who look exactly like so many others he’s seen in similar middle of nowhere coffee shops and restaurants. A nervous woman glancing out the window of a window booth. A teenaged boy sitting in a booth.

These extras are there because odds are against finding a completely empty venue and, in his case, anyone overhearing their conversation would be a potential threat to William McAllister and his family. Their existence adds that subtle layer of risk to the meeting.

It is the teenager who becomes just a little more than part of the backdrop. A boy like his own, a little older, sulking, letting his milkshake turn to watered milk. The kid’s mannerisms, bruising below his lip, and haunted eyes that won’t look at anyone. This tells William all he needs to know about the boy. More importantly, this moment within the scene gives the reader an insight into who the cold hard-handed William McAllister is. And in the end of the scene, as the man William met leaves minutes behind William, the scene shifts back to that boy in a reinforcement that William is not just correct in his observation of the boy, but also that William is more than the father the reader previously saw smack his own son. William’s moment of anger over the boy is justified and sense of morals affirmed.

Brief interactions with these extras can be a great source for imprinting on the reader anything from the mood of the scene to your character’s inner layers of personality, to dropping hints of foreshadowing, adding a moment of levity or strain, or reality to the scene. They’re useful in their own sentence or two to shine in the spotlight for informing the reader of something you don’t want the main characters to know. It can be used as a tool to give the scene itself its own sense of personality.

Now go out and write those compelling characters.

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“My characters just won’t do what I want them to!”

“It’s like they take on a life of their own! They won’t listen to me!”

“My characters keeping getting off story!”

Do these sound like familiar thoughts to you? Have you frustratingly, or jokingly, grimaced and made these and similar complaints?

It is inevitable. As you dig deeper into plotting arcs for your story and characters, outlining, detailing character profiles and the story outline, weaving them together, and writing the scenes, expect your characters and their arcs to grow. Ideas will come that make them deeper, more twists and hidden gems. It is the natural progression of the story, whether it is intentional growth or not.

Don’t limit your story and characters by being determined to stick to that outlined plot no matter what. Let yourself grow with your characters and it will make your story richer.

Beyond adding details to a chart or character profile, beyond expanding your story outline, your characters’ personalities evolve. As you get deeper into building and writing the story, your understanding of and relationship with your characters grows and deepens.

Once you are in the midst of it, your characters’ actions based on their personalities don’t always fit neatly into the outline you planned, or even into their initial character profiles.

This is the point where some writers feel the character has taken on a life of their own and run away with the story. They just won’t do what you, the writer, want them to do. They’ve taken over your plot, your story, and sent it off in a completely unplanned direction and you have no idea how to get it back on track.

Even the best laid plans can go awry. The most meticulously detailed and plotted outline can go off track. Nothing feels right. Your characters won’t cooperate and what they are supposed to do doesn’t fit the story anymore.

I guess that’s it. You just have to quit the story and start a new one.

Yeah, no.

I say go with it. Embrace the new direction your characters are pulling you in. But whether you do that or choose to rework them back into your carefully plotted outline, you need to smooth out any course misdirections.

And, sometimes the problem is more than just a character who has outgrown your intentions. Or it could be a combination of a deeper problem and the natural growth of the character.

Regardless of the cause, there are ways to fix the story. Starting with: revisit what you thought your characters and storyline need to be.

Maybe something just isn’t working.

Think of each character as a little puzzle. Every detail of them is a puzzle piece which needs to fit neatly together. Each piece that makes up the character’s profile, their personality and background, relationships and drives, description, and their character arc and personal storyline, all come together to make a complete picture. When one piece changes, it might not fit anymore.

The same goes for each location set in your world, each scene, every event.

Now imagine your story as a 3-D woven puzzle, only each of these pieces are mini puzzles themselves. They are your characters, locations, world, and scenes, each with its perfectly fitted space among the woven storyline threads.

If just one piece of any of these puzzles doesn’t work, a puzzle is falling apart because a piece is missing or doesn’t fit and was force-wedged in, then the whole creation could collapse.

This is easier to fix if you can readily spot the culprit. Yes, it means going back and rewriting. But you don’t want to. You like the way it’s going even better. Or it’s just too much work, too daunting, to go back and figure out what you have to change.

If you’re lucky and know exactly where the problem starts, then you work forward from there. And if you are extraordinarily fortunate, it might be as simple as adding a bridge scene or two, maybe some foreshadowing earlier, and a few tweaks after that so the change makes sense and seems premeditated. Shhh, only you will know.

Worst case, you have to go back and rewrite an entire character or story thread. But if you don’t fix it, you should ask yourself, “Will the reader notice?” Because if it feels off to you, it will scream it to them.

Maybe you’ve gone off course.

You got carried away in the passion of writing and strayed from the outline. Or a character evolved in a way you didn’t plan on.

Okay, you’ve got this. This isn’t so bad. Where did you go off course? Remember, you don’t want to stubbornly limit your story to that pre-planned plot no matter what. Consider what works best, the original plotline or the new?

Backtrack to where you diverged. Either you can rewrite your course correction from there, or you can take a step further back and rework a few scenes, add a few bridge scenes maybe, to make the new direction of the story inevitable.

It’s okay to change the storyline and characters as you go. For the characters, story, and you, the creator, to grow with the writing of the story. The characters change as they progress to their conclusion already. It might even make the surprises more surprising, revelations less obviously predestined, the plot twists more twisted, the reader more intrigued with guessing what will happen next. As long as it works and doesn’t lead the reader down a confusing path, it’s all good. Just be sure to fill in those plot holes.

One problem with these changes, though, may be keeping them and the plot straight. Don’t let yourself get lost because you don’t remember what you changed. Helping you keep on track while you grow with your character’s can be as simple as how you organize your characters and outline.

As you get more in depth with writing and outlining, the character sheets you made will include more important details about the character’s history like their, lineage, the place and circumstances of their birth, and important storyline events: moments that may seem important or insignificant or incongruous but play into the arcs of other characters and the narrative itself regardless of how important or not they seem.

You may want to split character sheets into sections to make particular information easier to find and cross reference. Especially in the case of more in-depth storylines like those commonly found in fantasy, sci-fi, and historical fiction.  Keep it simple and straightforward, and consistent across characters. Something you can find what you want at a glance. Some ideas of sections are:

  • General character information: their name, birth gender, gender identity, general description, likes and dislikes, allergies, disfigurements, and the like.
  • Their lineage and/or genealogy , if it’s important. Even if it isn’t, it could come to matter later,  no matter how short it is.
  • Important moments and events: ups and downs that cause your character to grow, falter, or fall. Things that push the character forward with the story.
  • What they lost or gained: can be items, relationships, people, perceptions, views, anything goes.
  • Relationships: as your story grows more complex, so does your characters’ relationships.
  • Cross references to other characters, events, places, important chapters, etc.
  • How other characters perceive them/perceptions of them change.
  • Geographical history and movements. The point of this is you don’t want to, for example, say character b was at a place and time that contradicts their location at that point mentioned in another chapter. This will probably only be relevant to the deeper twists of certain stories and epic adventures where their movements are relevant later or to sub-plots of the story. Starting with chapter one, it’s a simple plotting of time/place as the characters move through the story. A reference, really, for verifying your accuracy in later chapters. Keep this current and updated as you outline, plot, write, and edit. Being together at this point, Characters A, B, and C would have identical movement plots. Keep it short and simple. You aren’t re-outlining your story here.
  • Anything else relevant.

Splitting plot sheets or your outline chapters into sections can help too.  For me, I like to have a brief description of what happens in each chapter. Again, simplicity here helps. Some ideas of sections or point form notes are:

  • Time and location.
  • Precursor event for chapter.
  • Main event for chapter.
  • Secondary event for chapter.
  • Characters present in chapter.
  • Other characters and chapters affected by the chapter.
  • Story thread chapter leads to.
  • Important chapter notes.
  • Anything else relevant.

The simpler you keep these, the more consistent between character sheets and your outline notes and pages, the easier you make things on yourself. Keep them to what is relevant for that particular story. Because growing with your characters means re-outlining and re-writing parts of your story.

Here is an example of growing with your characters and story.

COMING SOON

The Woods has three intertwined stories. The boys, Jessie and Kevin, who vanished in the woods. Their parents, Henry and June, who both individually and their marriage is changed by it. And Cody, who buys their house thirty years later.

In each of these I need catalytic events to drive them forward and the characters into changing. But, as the characters grew, the events I envisioned changed. And because each separate timeline has an indirect effect on the others, because they don’t directly merge together, I need to reference back and forth between them all. Where one storyline changes, it ripples out into to the others.

Henry’s character growth left me in need of an event to push him closer to the brink of change, drive a bigger wedge between him and June, and their relationship towards that coming precipice. The problem was Henry is the strong silent type, and proving to be too resilient for the needed change. His character became too capable of handling the stress. I had to emotionally break Henry. But how?

I conspired against Henry. What can break a strong man? Finding evidence of your missing boys where they ought not to have been.

The catalytic event became a small green plastic toy solder you can hide inside your fist. This also meant I had to now plant that toy in Jessie and Kevin’s timeline.

The need to push Henry harder in Henry and June’s timeline in chapter 29 meant making a change in Jessie and Kevin’s chapter 48 timeline, a bridge scene added to chapter one to foreshadow, a few scattered seemingly irrelevant mentions of the toy soldiers in other chapters to subtly foretell that soldier’s importance, and it will ripple into Cody’s timeline. I haven’t figured out yet where this particular event affects Cody. Because of the significance, it might be near the end, leading him to take an action that may be his undoing and bringing us full circle back to that foreshadowing with Jesse and Kevin in chapter one.

Without keeping up to date cross-referenced notes, it would be much harder to keep track of and fix a timeline shift like this to keep up with the characters’ growth and story events. Particularly since it has to affect all three storylines.

It would have been easier to rethink the idea and find a simpler fix that doesn’t affect the other timelines. But it might not have had the needed emotional impact on Henry’s character who grew stronger than planned, and would not have had the added bonus of creating a whole new thread tying the three stories closer together.

Embracing Henry’s stronger than planned character growth, he was supposed to be a stagnant character with a flat arc while June and their marriage changed around him, and the addition of the soldier, also turned out to strengthen Jesse and Kevin’s storyline and the book as a whole.

And on the topic characters and Fred’s part in Henry being shown the found G. I. Joe, Fred who is a stagnant bit character of little importance, next week we discuss Making Your Characters Extra.

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