Thursday, September 08, 2005

Character building and plotting

Janet Elaine Smith is a writer with 14 novels to her credit. I asked her about plotting tools that have worked best for her. She advised that people have told her that her stories are character, rather than plot, driven. She carries with her, everywhere she goes, index cards on which she notes items related to her characters...physical characteristics, personality traits...She may see someone doing something that one of her characters might do--at a restaurant, shopping, church, wherever she goes. She never leaves home without her index cards.

This isn't the first time I've heard about the index cards technique. I tried it once before, but I didn't think I was doing it right, so I let it go to the wayside. But yesterday I took out the index cards and started writing. And when I had finished, I posted to Janet and asked, "Is this what you meant? Because I think I tend to make things more difficult than they need to be."

She wrote back an edited version of my index cards, highlighting the things I needed to eliminate. "You are making this more difficult than it needs to be," she wrote. "I don't focus on the issues. I let the characters tell their story. They know where it's going."

So, OK. Just write the story.

Last year in the novel challenge I took a poster board and drew a graph that started at the beginning, expanded through the middle, and, as the threads of the tapestry were woven together, wound back down again. It was a lengthy task. I took it to show my friend Maureen, a writer in Canfield, Ohio. She took one look at it and said, "That's very nice." I was pretty proud of all that work I had done when I left her house that day.

Maureen e-mailed me. "That was a very nice poster. Now put it away and just write a good story."

Now, here are two writers telling me the same thing. So, I'm writing a good story. I don't have a pile of index cards. I have my 'notes' inside me.

Sometimes, Janet said, she puts herself in the shoes of her characters so she can write the feelings. That reminded me of when I was still in public school. I read a LOT of books. I would choose the character I was most interested in and BE that character throughout the book. So it just follows that I put myself in the shoes of my characters no matter which of my stories I'm writing.

But I have placed a mental block in the midst of my progress. I get to a point where I can't write any more and I can't apply my seat to the chair any longer. I feel the tension in my muscles. I want to write more, but there's this something that prevents me doing what I want to do. And I walk away to come back again another day.

In my e-mail signature I have the line: "Making 2005 mine." Today is Sept. 8. If I've counted right there are 112 days left in 2005. I better be making some tracks.


MysteryKnitter said...

I get your point. I get often blocked too.

MysteryKnitter said...

I know the feeling. In my world it may take weeks, even months. And then all of sudden a burst of creativity hits me, and the keyboard sings almost like through the night.