Whew, it’s been a pretty busy two weeks! Just a quick update on my Summer Blackout Challenge – I ended up typing up my notes. Handwriting is great, definitely beneficial to figuring out my MC, Greta, but I can’t do it for the whole story. On the plus side, this notebook definitely feels like *her* notebook, using it to figure out everything that revolves around her story. I’ve already found it helpful to start writing on the page and then move it over to the screen to continue.
In the process of typing up all the notes, I hit the end of the first part/act, and from here, the big adventure outside her comfort zone begins. It was great to hit that milestone, except the hurdle started looking like a giant brick wall. I had no idea what was on the other side, only a vague sense of plot. Pretty quickly, my confidence deteriorated, and I lost my grasp on Greta, on her motivations, her dreams, her voice.
I took a day off, and on Thursday, I went down to one of my favorite places, Salem, MA, and wandered around. I soaked it all up in the historical area, imagining where Greta and her adventures would take her in a place like this. This is a pirate story after all, so I took in the smell of the ocean and took a million pictures aboard a historical ship. I also found some books that were kind of serendipitous in terms of what my story needed, discovered my setting needed to be on the backdrop of the Revolutionary War.
Friday and Saturday, I wrote a lot. Typed up notes, added more scenes, fleshed out secondary characters. Read my books from Salem that helped figure out the world better. But I still couldn’t cross that bridge into Big Adventure. It still seemed scary, and by Sunday, I felt out of touch (AGAIN) with Greta. Dang it. This is a problem because she is headstrong, and seeks out adventures, and I’m so….not that type of person. Definitely more risk-averse, but I love reading and writing people who are risk takers, willing to throw it all on the line.
Now I had to bring out the big guns because if I didn’t get writing, start following Greta on her adventure, then I’d start overthinking, which will lead to me chickening out, and moving onto another story. I have that problem often, it kills my writing process. But I didn’t want Greta’s story to be another trashed story. I have to finish this for me.
Then I remembered something critical. During NaNo 2013, I was writing up the story that would become The Claim, a short published by YARN. My MC in this short, Nelle, is fierce, and willing to risk it all during the Alaskan gold rush, and I was struggling to understand Nelle. It was the first time I had written a character who embodied something I wished I could see in myself. Anyways, one of my favorite authors ever, Rachel Aaron, does an annual Q&A in the fantasy forums, and I read it every year. That year, I asked her how do you write a character who is the complete opposite of you as a writer?
This was her response:
“With situations like this, understanding your character’s motivation and how they react to conflict/hardship is really the only solution. You have to get into that person and really understand their thought process… and how it’s different from yours. Have you ever read a book where every character sounded the same? That’s what happens when authors don’t do that.
If you want to really get into this girl’s head, my first suggestion would be to do what you’re already doing and just write her. Write her in conflict, put her under pressure, go though hell with her and get to really know her in that “fox hole buddies” kind of way. Don’t try and tell her what to do. Instead, remember where she comes from and what she wants, and then let her sort things out on her own. And by that, I mean work out how she reacts to problems and then let her do it, even if her approach makes you personally uncomfortable (ie, she’s confrontational and you hate confrontation).
Don’t get me wrong, it’s going to be hard and awkward and probably feel really weird (not to mention crazy) to let an imaginary person tell you what to do, but you’ve got to remember this is as much her story as it is yours. If you don’t respect that and give her room to come into her own, she never will.“
BOOM. There it is. Don’t fret, but it’s okay to be scared. However, If you let the fear quash your protagonist, the story will die. When you’re writing characters who are nothing like you, you have to step aside and let them drive the story.
You know what? When I did that, when I respected Greta’s space and let her lead, I got some surprises along the way, and found a path through the adventure. Maybe it’ll change, but for now this works.