Ask your character what she wants

If I find myself just writing scenes where characters talk because I like the sound of their voices or the way they are together, I know it’s time to step back for a minute, re-evaluate, and do an exercise to refresh my brain.

One thing I do is get the characters talking about something different and that will actually move the story forward is to ask each of them in the scene this question: What do you want in this situation and why?

Then I let them have at it. I write in first person monologue for as long as each one needs to talk. And I free write. I recommend setting a timer if you haven’t done free writing before or if you really, really believe you won’t be able to get very far.

Commit to at least 5 minutes of free-writing, which means once you start, you don’t stop. You keep the pen/pencil moving on the paper (yes, you have to do this by hand), even when the character is being obstinate and won’t say much. When this happens, just keep writing, even if it’s just I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what to say. Eventually, he/she will say something new and different, and it will probably surprise you.

Try it. It works!


Start watching at 1:35…

Move your character

Creating characters readers will be invested in and resonate with is no easy task. We have to make them step up off the page so readers can take them in with all the senses, experience them as real people. Readers want to know what she looks like, smells like, sounds like, feels like, and in some cases, even what she tastes like. Take her from flat to living and breathing by spending enough time with her. Treat her like someone you care about because before you’re finished with her, you will care about her. Very much.

To get started, keep a character journal. Devote a page or more to each character.

  • Create a name, gender, and age.
  • Describe what she looks like. Give her a hair color, a body shape. Dress her.
  • Fill her apartment, bedroom, and car with things. But do this selectively. What she wears and what she owns tells us who she is.
  • Make her talk. Is her voice high or deep? Loud or soft? The way she speaks tells us how much power she thinks she has in the world.
  • What does her apartment smell like? Her car? What about her hair?
  • And if you kissed her? Her skin? Her mouth? What would you taste? (In a past post I wrote that we have to fall in love with our characters. Sometimes we also have to make love to them.)
  • Move her. Show us how she walks. Laughs. Picks up a wine glass or a cigarette. How she handles a pencil.

After you have her physicality clear in your mind (and this may come in pieces), get to know her and understand what motivates her to want the things she wants and to make the choices she makes.

  • Why does she go to the same coffee shop every day?
  • What does she do while she’s there and why?
  • What does she want, more than anything and why?
  • What, or who, might interfere with her getting her desire?
  • What’s at stake if she doesn’t get what she wants? How will this affect her life, and what new decision will she make when met with an obstacle?

As writers, to tell our characters’ stories, we have to become one with them. We have to let them under our skin as much as we have to climb under theirs. The more time we spend on knowing them from the inside out, the more we can understand what moves them.

And the more we move our characters, the more we move your readers.

Who’s your favorite character?

Writing can improve your sex life

This week, in my Writing Through the Body workshop, we talked about the second chakra, called the Sacral chakra.

This chakra is located in the area of your navel, and is connected to your lower abdomen, low back, large intestine, pelvis, hip area, appendix, bladder, and sexual organs. It’s all about our ability to go with the flow, so while all the chakras are important, you can probably imagine why this one is especially important when it comes to creative flow. Creative flow can mean a lot of things. It can mean artistic flow (writing, composing music, painting), or it can mean actually creating life. This chakra is about self-expression in a very deep sense, and it also aligns with partnership, sexuality, pleasure, and relationships.

In her book Writing in Flow Susan Perry writes about reports she received from writers and how they became sexually aroused when they had experienced a really good writing session. This is no surprise when we consider that this chakra involves creativity, sexuality, and pleasure.

It would stand to reason, then, that if one aspect of our lives in this area is flowing, then the other would, as well. What I’ve observed, though, is that oftentimes, creative people have a difficult time finding that balance between honoring their creative impulses and their relationships, and some people, either consciously or unconsciously, decide they can’t do both and do them well, so they choose to become hermit-like and pursue their art. This is the paradox of the Sacral chakra energy.

Deepak Chopra thinks about the Sacral chakra in this way: He writes, “Creativity is the process of taking the same raw material and creating different Deepak Chopra | wikipedia.comcontexts and relationships between the components. For example, when a composer creates a new piece of music, he is using the same notes in a new relationship with one another other, resulting in the emergence of something that did not exist before.” Considering this, we can see how this can also apply to writing when combining words to create new relationships between them, or with painting when combining colors. It also applies when creating life; when two people combine their DNA, a multitude of possibilities are available.

The Sacral chakra is also about magnetism. When this chakra is open and flow is occurring, magical things can happen. Abundance flows. So this is powerful, powerful energy. The energy of this chakra revolves around creation and procreation. They go hand-in-hand. Creating art. Creating babies. Creating ourselves.

So, write! Get that Sacral chakra flow moving! Get those stories out, and in the process, give your libido a boost. Be careful, though… remember this chakra is about creating. Art. Ourselves. And babies, too.

If you need help priming the pump, I’ve added a couple of sacral chakra video meditations.

The first one is 8min. long and driven by an infectious drum beat.
The second is 2 min. long and is more sedate.

Getting to Know You: Backstory – How much is too much?

In my Writing Through the Body workshop this week, we talked about backstory a little. Backstory is your character’s history. It’s everything that happened before the story you’re telling.

Knowing your character’s backstory will help you make informed decisions about her or his motivations, intentions, and behaviors in the story you tell.

Before we went into production on my feature film, FOUND OBJECTS, I wrote extensive and detailed backstories on all the characters and sent them to the actors who would play the parts. By the time we started production, they had clearly ingested their respective characters and showed up fully embodying them.

Even though we aren’t acting out our characters in fiction writing in the literal sense, in some ways, we are. We have to be able to slip into their skins to portray them with authenticity, and the best way to do this is by thoroughly knowing their backstories.

This doesn’t mean, though, that the backstory will wind up in your story, though. In fact, oftentimes it’s better NOT to include it.

In the video below, KM Weiland quotes Ernest Hemingway:
“Backstory is the nine-tenths of the story under the water.”

Watch the video to see what else she has to say about backstory.

And Libby Hellman has more to say about her process of creating backstory
for the main character in her novel, Easy Innocence.

 How do you create backstory for your characters?