Minor Characters

Recently, in the circles that I’m in, more and more people are asking what to do about minor characters. They want to flush them out, give them their own backstory, their own story, understand their background, and everything that makes them tick, but should they do that? How much attention should we give our minor characters? To address this, let’s look at real life.

There are people you encounter every day that you know nothing about. You go to the gas station, fuel up, go inside to get a snack, and the only words exchanged between you and the cashier are:

“Hello, how are you today?”

“I’m great, thanks.”

“Your total will be $5.98.” A pause as the cashier accepts the cash from you, and then she smiles at you and hands you your purchased item. “Thank you, and have a great day.”

“Thanks. You too.” And you leave.

Now, you know nothing about that girl. You don’t know how old she is, if she’s in high school or college, if she’s married or single or has any kids. You don’t know what her talents are, her skills are, or her dreams. You know absolutely nothing, but you’re okay with that. Why? Because you have someplace to be, and getting stuck in a conversation may distract you from what you have to do.

So having characters you know nothing about is fine in a story. Now, another instance of minor characters would be those people you run into on occasion. You’ve seen them enough times you might know their names and greet them. For instance, my mother and I used to go to the park and walk every morning, and at the same time there was this older couple also walking the trail. Their names were Vic and Sid. We knew nothing more of each other except for our names, and we’d greet each other warmly each time we saw one another:

“Hey! How are you? Been a while since we’ve seen you.”

“Yeah, been busy—family stuff, but it’s nice to be back.”

“It’s great to see you again.”

“You too.” And we’d just keep walking, minding our own business.

Another way we may encounter minor characters in real life may be those people we see on a regular basis and may or may not recall the person’s name, but we have a fair idea of what their personality is like and maybe even their dreams. However, they like to talk with you at the most inopportune times, and you never really want to get too drawn into a conversation. An example of this is a cashier at Wal-Mart who has checked out your items on a regular basis. You can’t recall her name, so you have to keep looking at her tag, which reads ‘Jenny’. She remembers you though even if she doesn’t recall your name. You’re the person who’s published a book. In her eyes, you’re famous, and she likes talking with you in a loud voice. She tries to be nonchalant about your accomplishments, and every time she sees you, she tells you about her plans of making a movie. You encourage her, but really, standing in line at the cashier in Wal-Mart is not the best place for this conversation since there are other people in line waiting for their items to be checked through. However, you never see her outside of Wal-Mart, and every time you talk with her, she keeps saying the same thing, and it’s like she never takes any steps toward fulfilling her dreams. You don’t really have time to invest in this person, but you try to be nice.

Now all these are minor characters you may meet in real life. In stories, your characters will encounter similar characters, and you don’t have to flush them out thoroughly. Giving them a personality is always good, and sometimes minor characters will surprise you by actually contributing majorly to the story in ways you never expected, and that’s all right.

The main thing to keep in mind is, “Is this minor character important to the story? Does this character contribute to the story? Do they contribute in a small way or in a big way?” If it’s a small way, you don’t have to develop them too much. Yes, you as the author might know their entire life story and all their hopes and dreams, but that might not be important to the story you’re writing. It’d be very confusing if you have a story about someone who’s on the run from the law, and he checks into this motel where there’s this guy behind the counter who’s dream is to become a cowboy, and suddenly the story shifts to trying to let him accomplish his dream. Sure, there are ways of making the work, but what about the guy who’s on the run?

You’re not obligated it give every character major screen time. In someone else’s life, you are a minor character, someone who they merely passed by on the sidewalk. Yes, you have a lot of depth, huge dreams, and your own bag of troubles, but to that individual whose life you don’t impact, you’re just another face, and that’s okay.

So, when you’re writing a story, if you don’t know how much you should develop a minor character, look at the story, ask how important the character is to the story and how much they contribute to it. Go ahead and give them some personality or quirk to make them memorable to the reader, but then move on. You could have a memorable minor character, and this could be someone that you decide to come back to later and write his own story, but for the time being, don’t overwhelm your book with too many characters.

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Co-Writing

Co-writing—there are numerous of ways to co-write a story. Some people co-write by swapping chapters while others take turned of one person writing one page and the other person writes the next page, or maybe both writers have a their own main characters and write from their POV’s. I cannot list all the different ways you can co-write because I simply don’t know all of them. However, in this post, I’m going to focus on the co-writing style I have found works best for me and is extremely easy for anyone to do, and this style is Roleplaying Co-Writing.

With Roleplaying Co-Writing, each author gets a set of characters—usually one main character for each writer, and then choose the supporting characters. While it is possible to share a character, it’s simply easier and less stressful if one writer to have possession of the character rather than being concerned with the other writer writing the character wrong.

Once the characters have been spread out evenly between the two writers, you then put the characters in a scenario, and each writer writes the dialogue and action of their own character. This is where the fun begins. Although you know what must happen in the scene, you don’t know how it happens, but you let the characters be themselves while you slowly steer them in the direction of the purpose of the scene. What exactly is exchanged and occurs in these scenes are completely unpredictable, and sometimes it can change the entire course of the story, but that is where the fun lies. Here’s an example I co-wrote with Nan Sampson Bach. She wrote Juan’s character while I wrote Julianne. The bold are hers. The italics are mine (Note: this is the actual raw version of this scene prior to smoothing out the two styles of writing with any editing):

<~>~<~>~<~>

When he stood, he leaned heavily on her, but Julianne didn’t mind. She just looked up at him concerned. “Are you okay?”

“Estoy bien. Sólo necesito un poco de agua.” He shook his head, tried again. Was he slurring his words or was the spinning room now affecting his ears? “I meant to say, I am fine. I just need a little water, that is all.” He tried to push away from her but stumbled and went down on his knees. “Maldición!” God help him, it had never been this bad before. He needed his Gate. He needed to tap into the energy there. He sensed Julianne next to him, trying to help him up and his face burned with shame. He pushed at her feebly, but he had no strength left. “Leave me, Dona. Por favor. You do not need to see this.”

But Julianne insisted. “What is wrong? What do you need? Tell me!” Her heart raced with sudden fear because she sensed this wasn’t simply exhaustion.

His vision was graying. “I need the Gate. I need to make a sacrifice to the Gate. For the energy.” He tried to focus on her face, tried to smile. “I have used it too much, spent too much. It is like a drug, Dona Julianne. It takes its toll.” He shook his head. “You should go. Fetch your Mage Prince. He must know what I know of The First. If I am unable to do this thing, then he must.”

Sasha’s words spun round in his head as he collapsed onto the floor. “The more you use it, the more you need it, Juan-Carlos. And the more you need it, the more it sucks the life out of you.” And then the crafty Macedonian laughed.

Julianne realized he needed power. She had forgotten the magic of the Gate had sustained him, and she sat back briefly before thinning her lips and coming to a decision. “You need power. Does it have to be from the Gate?”

She was speaking, but he was having trouble understanding the words. If only she would speak in Spanish. Damn the English – how had they managed to take over the world?

Julianne decided not to wait for an answer. She was the creator of this realm, and in that way, she was the most powerful person present. Taking a deep breath, Julianne turned him over, so he was lying on his back. She hesitated but then bent over and kissed him.

However, it wasn’t a simple kiss. As soon as their lips touched, Julianne reached onto his mind and the close connection they had, and she poured as much power into him as she could. She sensed his strength returning.

After a moment, she finally pulled back and winced, bringing a hand to her head. “Ow—why didn’t anyone ever say those fairytale kisses leave people with headaches?”

It took him a moment to process what had happened. “What… what did you do?” He assessed himself, found his energy had returned, almost at full force. It was not the same sort of juiced up buzz he used to get from a sacrifice to the Gate, but he felt refreshed and the weakness and exhaustion that had plagued him for months was gone.

<~>~<~>~<~>

As you can see, this style is almost as if co-writing paragraph-by-paragraph, but it’s not quite. Sometimes one writer will write multiple paragraphs to show different thoughts and actions of their characters.

What did we use to write back and forth? Some people use Google Docs, but my preferred means are Facebook Messenger or email, and then I copy and paste what we’ve written into a document. It’s simple, consistent, and readily available.

So this is the basic idea of Roleplaying Co-Writing, but there is a lot of work that must be put into it in order for it to work. You can’t just randomly start co-writing with someone and expect a full-fledged story to emerge…okay, so you can actually do that, and a story will begin to form, but there comes a time where you need to pause and communicate with each other where the story should go. Here are a few things you need to know prior to actually co-writing with someone:

  1. Do you two have similar writing styles?
  2. What are the areas where you are weak but they are strong and vica versa? (are they better at writing fight scenes than you? Are you better at describing a medieval setting than them? Etc.)
  3. Are you both confident in your writing abilities and willing to improvise at a moment’s notice? (if one person is unwilling to allow their character to make a mistake or get hurt, it will be difficult to co-write with such a person.)
  4. Can you communicate well with your co-writer?
  5. Can you be completely honest with them? (if the two main characters are supposed to fall in love, but you feel your co-writer’s MMC is too wooden, your FMC won’t fall for him. So either change the story or delve into the wooden character to uncover unspeakable depths. The two co-writers must be completely honest and willing to work with each other, untangle any complications for the success of the story.)
  6. Determine and agree on goals for the story (Are you writing just for fun or to explore a different genre of writing? Are you hoping to publish the story one day?)

Now, before you begin writing, it is highly recommended the two of you outline the story. It could be a rough outline or a very detailed outline—whatever you want, but the point of this is agreeing on the events and direction of the story. If you can’t agree on that, you will spend a lot of time arguing and not writing. One of you may be more prone to outlining, so let that person pull together the actual outline, but brainstorm it together!

Remember, the outline is only a guide. If you follow it perfectly, fantastic, but rarely does writing ever go exactly how we planned, so you need to improvise and work with what is handed to you. ALWAYS COMMUNICATE. If a story is moving off track from the outline, communicate with the co-writer, bring it to their attention, discuss if you should stay on the outline or not, and if you opt not to stay on the outline, explore the possibilities of the future of this new direction. Once you’ve written an outline, this does not mean you’re locked into it. Stories have minds of their own and will unfold exactly how they want to or else they will give you Writer’s Block.

Now, one thing you should know prior to committing to co-writing using this style is that it is very addictive. You can literally write all day—and still get other stuff done although you might get irritated when there’s an interruption in your life that prevents you from reading what your co-writer sent to you. I co-write a lot on my phone. I go about my day, doing my usual work, then play fetch with my dog, wash the dishes, cook a meal or bake cookies, and converse with people, but then my phone chimes with a reply, and I look at the message, type a reply, and send it, and then I resume whatever work I was doing. It is incredibly fun—too much fun sometimes that it can actually become stressful because all you want to do is write! A solution? Set aside a time of day (an hour or two) when your co-writer and you will write. That way writing won’t get in the way of your real life, and your real life won’t get in the way of your writing.

Does this mean you can’t work on the story throughout the day until that set time? No. If there is a scene approaching where the only characters involved are characters you write, that is called a solo scene, and you may write it whenever you want. It’s good to write it ahead of time, so when the story finally gets to that point, your co-writer isn’t waiting around for you to write that scene. Rather, you can just send it to them once you’ve reached that point, and the two of you can progress to the next scene which you must write together.

So, this is merely one way co-writing. It is incredibly fun. To quote Nan Sampson Bach, whom I’ve been co-writing with recently: Co-writing is an absolute blast. You get a terrific feedback loop, that keeps the energy and interest high, and the level of spontaneity makes the writing feel real. It’s highly addictive.” So if you’re interesting in co-writing and just aren’t sure how to approach it, I highly recommend the Roleplaying Co-Writing style. Once you get a hang of it, you’ll have a blast. Hope you the best!

Interactive Interviews VS Traditional Interviews

Several weeks ago, I introduced a new style of author and character interviews—the Interactive Author Interview and the Interactive Character Interview. In this new style, I do away with the traditional list of questions but instead invite the author into a fictional setting for a comfortable, friendly chat. In the character interview, the author takes us into his world for the interview, and we get to meet and observe the character being interviewed in his own environment. This style makes both the author and the character more real, and here are a few things people said about their experience being interview this way:

I’ve never been a fan of interviews, but once I was warmed up in towards the beginning of Kelly’s interview, I had a blast!” Ted Covey

It was a pleasure to have gone through the process with Kelly…If one has the opportunity, I would strongly recommend other authors set up time to be interviewed by her.”Daryl Ball

Kelly Blanchard’s story style interviews are no end of fun and fascination.”Ryan T. Nelson

Interview with Kelly Blanchard is set apart because interacting with her didn’t feel one bit like I was answering a staid questionnaire.” Vibhuti Bhandarkar

Kelly’s author interviews are a fascinating experience for any author.”Valerie Seimas

And there is much more authors have said about the experience, but I realized there was one other group of people whose opinion of these interviews are vital—the readers. While this style of interviews solves many problems with the standard author and character interviews and thus making the process all the more enjoyable, what would the readers think? So I asked for volunteers.

I took an author I hadn’t interviewed yet—Ronnie Virdi, author of ‘Grave Beginnings‘. I interviewed him with both styles of author interviews then used both styles of character interviews with his character. Then I presented both sets of interviews to 23 volunteer of readers, and I asked them which style they preferred and why. Here are the results:

  • 17 people voted the Interactive Interviews for both the author and character interviews.
  • 6 people voted the Traditional InterviewsOf those 6 people:
    • 2 were leaning towards the Interactive Interview for the author interview
    • 4 voted Traditional Interview for the author interview, but they chose Interactive Interview for the character interview.
  • Out of 23 people, 21 people voted Interactive Interviews for the character interviews.
  • Only 2 people voted for the Traditional Interviews for both author interview & character interview.

To view that as percentages, it would look like this:

Kelly_pies

Here is what readers said about their experience reading these interviews:

I like the interactive style better. Nothing draws another writer in more than a story, and it gives you more to think about than a bulleted list of questions.”Kelly Blechertas

The interactive one gives a lot more feel for the author as a person. It feels like a more intimate and friendly exchange, and it gives me a sense of their potential writing voice.”Megan Reed

I enjoyed the interactive interview more. The regular interview was informative but felt like I was reading it in a magazine or watching it on TV; whereas the interactive engaged not only my intellectual side, but spoke to that part of me that gets lost in stories.”G. Scot Phillips

Interactive interview by far, most prominently for the fact that once he gets into the world, it is easier to phrase the answers in his own comfortable way, complete with mood defining subtext. The whole mechanism is comfy.”Jack Frost

The traditional interview felt all clinical, I don’t really like those. I read interviews to “meet” people. I definitely liked the interactive better because it felt more like meeting a person.”Adrienne Devine

Now, not everyone liked the Interactive, and here are some reasonings of those who preferred the traditional:

I prefer the traditional question and answer. In the interactive one, I find myself searching for the questions and answers, ignoring the rest.”Kim Hutchinson Halcomb

The traditional one. It could be that its just what I’m used to, but I had a hard time paying attention kinda in the interactive one.”Sara Lucinda

If I’m being honest, I am partial to the traditional. I’m not really sure why. There’s nothing wrong with the interactive, it’s fun and engaging, but I think I just prefer the more traditional interview.” Sabrina Danielle

I guess it would depend on WHY I was reading the interview. I definitely felt like I learned more about Ronnie’s writing from the traditional interview though I may have gotten a better sense of who he was from the interactive.” Valerie Seimas

Depends upon my mood honestly. To read the interactive one – the one set like a story – I have to be in the mood and prepared for it. Knowing what style/what to expect, there will be times where I am more receptive to it. If I were to just be gleaming for information, I like the style of the traditional one.” Jennifer Ruvalcaba

So, what is the verdict? Among authors and readers, the Interactive Interviews are largely popular, but there is still a place for the Traditional Interviews. The traditional style interviews are readily available to anyone who wants to conduct interviews. Sample questions are just a Google search away. However, the Interactive approach is much more involved and time-consuming to conduct because each experience is tailored to each author, but it is an option for those who just want to have a more fun interviewing experience. 

To read some Interactive Interviews, you may find them on my other blog, “Meeting with the Muse“. If you’ve published a book and would like me to interview you using this interactive style of interviews, and if you would like the interviews to be promoted on my site, leave a comment, and I’ll be in touch with you.

Draw Your Readers Into Your Story

Imagine your story is a sphere. The entire universe of your story is contained within that sphere. You’ve spent days, weeks, and maybe even months and years becoming familiar with every corner of that universe. You know all the characters and most of their backstories. You know what has happened and what will happen. You know the location of the story and where the characters will end up. Sure, some details might be vague to you now, but you know you’ll work through it.

However, with all that knowledge, there is the danger of forgetting your readers don’t know all that information. Remember, your story is a sphere. You are within it, but your readers are outside of it. Each book you write is a different sphere even if they’re all in the same series. Your task as the writer is to pull your readers into your story like you’re reaching out of the sphere from the inside and snatching the readers to pull them in. This is when the beginning of the story is especially important.

When a reader picks up your book, they are standing outside the sphere, staring at it—maybe they’re circling it trying to determine whether or not to actually invest all that time and energy to become completely engrossed with the story. Is it worth their while? They may give it a chance and open their mind to the words whispered by your tale. They draw closer to see the images of the story flashing across the surface of the sphere. If the images are too blurry or unclear and just glimmers of light, the readers will likely withdraw because it’s too confusing. They don’t want to take the time to sort through a poorly constructed beginning. However, if the images are flashes of ordinary life with mundane every day conversation without a central character to follow or real purpose, this reflects too much of real life, which is what the reader is trying to escape, so this also will turn him away as well.

When you begin a story, it is crucial to set the environment even if the character doesn’t know where exactly she is. Say the character wakes up in a dark room with no memory of how she got there, and she’s not even sure where there is. Just by her being in a room shows us she’s not in a cave, she’s not underwater, she’s not under snow after being overtaken by an avalanche. She’s in some kind of building. There might be no windows, so she could be underground. If there’s a light, then that informs us wherever she is takes place where there’s technology. If it’s a candle, we’re could be led to believe it’s sometime before electricity. There might be furniture or a lack thereof, and this also informs us a bit about the environment. You see, the first question you ask when you wake in a strange place is, “Where am I?” The reader asks the same question when they step into a new story, and you have to give them something concrete to grasp onto if you expect them to follow your lead.

If your story starts off with a chase scene, you still must establish (in brief passing mentions) the environment. Are we in a modern-day city or a medieval village? In a forest? In the desert? On a snowy mountain? Or on the beach? Where are we? When are we? The character you’re following may know exactly what is happening and why, and that information may not be indulged to us readers immediately since there isn’t time for that, but we trust as soon as there’s a pause in the action, we’ll get some kind of information even if it isn’t a lot—at least it’ll be something. We may not even know if the person we’re following is the protagonist or the antagonist. So, set the setting but in passing. If they’re running through an alleyway of a major city, have the character that’s being chased grab some garbage bins and throw them into the alleyway as obstacles for his pursuers. This immediately tells us we’re likely in a modern city. Gunshots could be fired, and this confirms the thought of it being in modern era. Have them race across a street, dodging cars at a stoplight, and the character could look down the street, recognizing a major landmark of the city, and this could identify the location without having to tell us where it is. But keep the action going because we don’t want the character to get hit by a car or shot.

If you’re starting in a full-fledged battle where everyone is fighting, it is important to set the scene. Maybe a soldier is sneaking through buildings or alleyways. Show the destruction of the city—this helps establish the location. Show the lives lost although you don’t have to go into gruesome detail. Maybe the soldier stumbles upon this child that’s hiding, and they have a brief whispered conversation of the child asking for reassuring that everything’s going to be okay, and the soldier says it will be, but then you show in his own mind how he’s doubtful of this and hates that kids have to witness things like this. Even if we don’t know what the fighting is all about or who is fighting whom for what reason, we get drawn into the story because there are concrete images we can relate to.

If you’re the kind of writer who wants to take your reader through dream-worlds where nothing is what it seems and the setting can shift with a mere thought, that’s all right, but before you can confuse your readers like that, you must first gain their trust through a more traditional approach. Even the film ‘Inception’, which is all about dreams and subconsciousness, starts in a seemingly normal environment. As you follow the characters, you come to realize things are not what they seem, and then you’re thrown into a world where people build dreams to plant ideas in other people’s mind. Even though that’s a far-fetched and strange idea, you’re willing to go along for the ride because you’ve become intrigued by the characters and the storyline. This is the kind of trust you must establish with your readers in order to take them into such a bizarre tale. It is possible, but it must be carefully and intentionally crafted. It’s not something you can just throw together and say, “My readers are smart. They’ll figure it out.” No—they won’t, and it’s not because they can’t but rather they don’t care to figure it out since you didn’t make the effort to give them a reason to trust you.

So, when you begin a story, although you may be the most knowledgable person about that sphere of a universe, you must keep in mind that every reader who approaches your book has absolutely no commitment to any book you write if the beginning is poorly presented. Even long-time fans may dwindle away because your work isn’t reaching the old standard you set with your other work.

Also, remember, if you’ve written a series, a reader may go to a book that’s later on in the series without realizing there are books prior to it, but it shouldn’t make a difference. The reader should be able to read that book and slip into that world without a problem. They’ll just have a different viewpoint of the entire story since they started in the middle, but the story should still be clear enough for them to engage with it without a problem. I will discuss recapping from previous stories later, but here we are focusing on the opening of a story.

Keep it clear. You may use all the flowery language you wish, but if it’s not clear, it doesn’t matter. I’m not saying to write ‘simple’ and to dumb down your writing, but rather fine-tune your opening presentation and confidently captivate your audience. It’s a skill—not some superpower you wake up with one day. Sure, for some people, beginnings come easy to them, but even those people need to make sure they start sharp because any skill can rust given time.

Next week we’ll discuss how to recap events from previous books in a series without boring the reader.

New Project Writer’s Block

New Project Writer’s Block—what is that? It’s after you completed your latest project, and after you’ve celebrated such an accomplishment, but you don’t want to go back immediately and revise because you want to put a little distance between that piece of work and yourself. Instead you want to begin a new project. Something fresh—something exciting! Now is the time to put all those story ideas you got while writing your other project to good use!

If only you could remember them.

If only they were half as interesting now as they were when you originally got the idea.

Now you’ve opened a new document and find yourself staring at a blank page and blinking cursor. All those ideas you had back then don’t seem so enticing anymore. So you go back through your older files to find any story you might have left unfinished. Maybe you’ll be prompted to finish it now.

But still, you find yourself uninspired to write—unmotivated. If you had written every day from beginning to end of your last story, you probably feel like you ran a marathon and deserve a break from writing.

Now, this is where the danger of this Writer’s Block lies. The ‘New Project’ Writer’s Block can last a week, a month, a year, or even several years! How does this happen? Let’s break it down.

  1. Completed project means you deserve a break
  2. Enormous mental strain to build a new story/world/cast of characters is wearisome
  3. Uncertainty of which story to write next makes you indecisive and leery

All of these tie closely with one another. If you’ve completed a story, you don’t feel like diving headlong into another mess of conflicts to sort out through the process of writing. You don’t feel like discovering new characters, their personalities, habits, backgrounds, and their involvement with other characters. Even if you’re working on a sequel, restarting the writing engine with a new plot is tiresome. And when you’re tired, you’re not motivated or inspired to write.

Now, just because you’re not inspired to write, does that give you the excuse not to write? Say you take a break. What happens to your writing skills if this Writer’s Block drags on for a year or so? Will you be as sharp and on the ball as you would have been if you kept waiting every day?

“But what am I supposed to write if I don’t feel like writing?” Something—anything—whatever you can think of. It could be a journal entry or a poem, or you could try writing out one of those ideas you got while writing your other story. It might fall flat, but you might discover a character there or a unique plot twist you could use in another story. Go back to the ‘Playground Experience’ and focus on perfecting specific elements of your writing. It’s like having a toolbox. You might not need all the tools, but you want to make sure they don’t rust and dull from lack of use, so sharpen them, polish them. Write a one-shot specifically on creating a relatable antagonist. You never know—it might spark a fantastic idea, and you’re off writing a story again.

Ideas come from anywhere. That is why you have to explore and seek out new ideas, new concepts, new angles to old ideas.

In May 2013 I completed writing my medieval fantasy story. I had been writing 2,000 words a day since I got the idea back in January 2013. Five months later I was really worn out from that marathon of writing. Now, in June 2014 I finally discovered my next story and have been faithfully writing it. However, between May 2013 and June 2014—that’s a little over a year! What did I do in the meanwhile? Wrote—every day. I co-wrote numerous stories with writer friends just for the fun of it. Revised older work. I tried out new ideas hoping it would lead to my next novel. I kept falling flat on my face, but I pushed myself up and told myself, “Write at least 500 words a day—1,000 or 2,000 is preferable.” I didn’t write because I feared not to write. I just knew that if I didn’t write, I’d become irritable to be around. Writing is my way to express myself, my way to stay sane and to understand everything I encounter in life. I didn’t worry about beginning something I couldn’t finish because I knew it would come together in the proper time.

With any form of Writer’s Block but especially the New Project Writer’s Block, real life tends to get in the way, and we may be tempted to use this to justify not writing. Is this all right to do? No. If you’re a writer, you will write—maybe not a lot. You probably won’t like everything you write, but you will write.

Here’s an example of Real Life getting in the way—just to show you I can relate to the struggle. Immediately after I finished my medieval fantasy novel in May 2013, my mom broke her arm in June 2013, and the very next day my sister with her three small children came to visit from England for the summer. That weekend my favorite cat had her first litter of kittens, and the next week my sister’s cat had kittens too. So we had two cats, eight kittens, three small kids, and somebody with a broken arm all in the house. The next week, my mom had surgery on her arm, and I was asked to stay overnight with her instead of my dad staying. On top of this, a good friend of mine had her first baby, but she was sick afterwards, so I was worried about her. Then my sister-in-law was also pregnant and had several false alarms which included me driving two hours to their place to drop off their other son from visiting with us only to be asked, once more unexpectedly, to stay the night with them in case my sister-in-law went into labor that night because they wanted me to watch their son. Then I had to paint and then repaint a room to prepare it for even more guests from England and help a sister pack up and move out of state. At last my sister-in-law had her baby weeks later, and I had to spend the night at their place again, and then finally everything calmed down by September.

This is what it’s like when Real Life interrupts. At times like this, it’s tempting to not write because it’s simply easier that way, but I knew I needed some form of normalcy in my life during this chaos. I brought my laptop or my Alphasmart NEO with me at all times, so I could write. While in the waiting room waiting for my mom’s surgery, I was the only calm and patient one in the room because I was co-writing with a friend. I was able to take everything in stride because I had taken the time to clear my mind, taken the time to see everything from the bigger picture like a story, and from the viewpoint I was able to remain calm.

Regardless of all this, did I get frustrated and discouraged due to the New Project Writer’s Block? Yes—plenty of times. I felt worthless as a writer because I couldn’t focus on any one project, and all the projects I was working on kept stalling. I was worried I wouldn’t find a new story that would propel itself onward with me hanging on for dear life to write it all. But then pieces started coming together—pieces from old, completely unrelated stories began to fit together to form this new idea, and then it took off, and that’s what I’ve been writing these last few months with no end in sight really.

Is there a way to prevent this New Project Writer’s Block? Well, I have a theory, but I have yet to get it to work for me. Maybe it’ll work for you. As you near the end of your massive project, before you complete it, determine what you will write next and prepare it. That way, once you’ve finished the other story, you can jump right into that one (maybe giving yourself a little break if you want). This hasn’t worked for me yet because I find myself unable to work intensely on one project while simultaneously outlining and world-building an entirely new endeavor. That is a lot of mental work, and you risk losing interest in your immediate story because the new one sounds much more enticing. You don’t want that. The readers can sense that in your work. That is why you must dedicate time to each story.

So, is there a solution? Again, if we had some kind of magic solution to any form of Writer’s Block, it wouldn’t be a problem for us anymore. The solution is unique to each writer and your situation. However, you need to determine for yourself what kind of writer you will be. Some have tried to write every day but find they can’t stick to it and end up loathing everything they write. To be honest, it’s hard for me to comprehend that, but I know it is a true struggle for some writers, and I respect that. However, be consistent with your writing if possible. If you have to go back and write fan fiction just to get through the dry spell of ideas, that is fine (write fan fiction for your own stories if you want. That’s always fun to do).

The key to overcoming Writer’s Block is determining exactly where you are in life and writing, recognize it for what it is, keep your imagination engaged, bounce ideas around with friends, and try to write something every day. What you write doesn’t have to be for anyone else’s eyes but your own. It can be random sentences in a notebook, a paragraph, a poem, a song, maybe even the rough sketch of an idea or an outline or even dreams you’ve dreamt. It can be a short story or a fan fiction story or something you co-write with someone. It can be a full novel or even a screenplay. And it can change from day-to-day until a story seizes your mind and refuses to let you go until you’ve penned it.

“What if that never happens, Kelly? What if a story never grabs a hold of me like that?” I wish I knew the answer to that, but all I can say is I’ve felt the same fear before, but a story always came. I just had to be patient for it. In the meanwhile though, you might need to evaluate why you write. If you know that, if you can lay hold on that, then nothing will tear it from you, and you will write.

This may not have given you the answers you were looking for, but maybe it gave you some hope. Keep daydreaming stories, keep listening and watching for inspiration every day around you, and keep writing. Turn that Writer’s Block into a steppingstone to your next great adventure!

When to Step OFF the Outline

I wrote an outline for my story, but I’m stuck. I have Writer’s Block. The characters aren’t agreeing with me. What do I do?” Let’s discuss this.

There are times when the story and the characters simply won’t do what you’ve asked them to. They kick and scream and bite, and you sit back in your chair with arms folded glaring at the computer screen. It’s not supposed to be this way. It’s supposed to be easier than this. After all, you are their author! Why won’t they listen to you?

One very important thing about writing you must remember: when writing a story, you are writing their story—not yours. They’ve gone through it, experienced it, and they know what they’re talking about. You are simply a vehicle for their story to be told to the world. “But they don’t exist! How can they be in such control when they’re just figments of my imagination?” I don’t have the answer to that. I simply know that as writers, we are not in control of the story.

You may get a fantastic idea for a story and carefully outline it. You sit down and begin writing. It’s going well—no problems. Then suddenly you ask a character to do something, and the character crosses her arms, steps back, and glares. Now you’re at crossroads. On one hand, the outline requires the character to do or say a specific thing, but on the other hand the character absolutely refuses. Without the character cooperating, the scene won’t unfold as planned, and there will be a ripple effect throughout the rest of the story. When you talk with the character, she insists you, “That’s not me! I wouldn’t do something like that.”

You sighed and try to reason with her, “But that’s what you told me you were going to do when we wrote the outline!”

She doesn’t back down. “Well, you just didn’t know me well enough back then. Now you know me better, and you should know I wouldn’t do that. Don’t make me.”

Then what am I supposed to do? If you don’t demand to know Blackadder’s real identity after seeing him fight like that, that changes everything! I mean, you’re not going to have a reason to meet with Remus once you get into the city, and I honestly don’t know when Blackadder will ever tell you who he really is, and you know how important that is for the story!”

The character smiles—a knowing smile that makes you feel small. “Just trust me—trust us. The story will work out just fine.”

Now you have a choice. You can throw caution to the wind and trust the character, or you can insist to stick to the outline and force the character to do something out of character. Here’s something to consider when you’re faced with this decision: have you ever tried to make someone do something they didn’t want to do? How smoothly did that end? He was probably glaring at you for the rest of the evening and wouldn’t forgive you for a week. That’s bad. That’s inconvenient, but it’s worse when it’s a character in your head. You can’t just walk out of the room and leave him to cool off. The character is with you every step of the way, talking behind your back, playing your conscience, and just being a pest. Not only that but he also picks fights with other characters in the cast. When one character is thoroughly unhappy, no one is happy

Say you force a character to act out of character and you finish the story. Then what? What you then face is the daunting task of revising that story to prep it for publication, and after such a struggle to write the story, how much are you really going to look forward to diving back into it and fighting some more? You will most likely shelf the book or stick it in a drawer hoping it will sort itself out while you get on to another project, but you know deep in the back of your mind that you will probably never touch that story again. If you do, you’ll start from scrap and redo it completely.

All that time, all those words wasted—simply because you wanted to have your own way and didn’t trust the characters.

So you see, when you’ve outlined a story, but the characters want to change something, it is always in your best interest to go along with them. This is when a detour from the outline is acceptable. They have a way of coming back to the outline and getting back on track. If they don’t bring the story back to the outline, in the end you will be grateful because the story turned out better than you could have imagined. Not only that, but you will be eager to go back and start the revision process which will then lead to publication.

You may plan your story to the smallest of details, but then the story may want to get off track. This can be discouraging especially if you spent a lot of time and energy working on that outline, but life is like that, isn’t it? You can plan out your goals and dreams, and plot out every detail along the way, but then life throws you a curveball, and you have to dodge or get hit. Take it in a stride. Remember, writing is—after all—a reflection of life.