My life has been crazy recently. We bought a new house, painted almost every room, did other repairs, packed, moved out of the rental and into the new house, cleaned the rental, and unpacked. (Not that we’re done!) A new house always requires some “editing.” That’s not in the right place; that doesn’t fit well. Sometimes it needs additions: a shelf here, some hooks there. Other items are removed. There are adjustments. It’s a Work-in-Progress with still more unpacking, fixing and painting to do.
My writing, of course, is affected by my life. When things get so busy, less writing gets done. Current projects get put on hold. Blogging definitely goes by the wayside. Unfortunately, I get out of the habit of writing. But not like many other habits–flossing my teeth–when things in my life quiet down, something in me starts bugging me: “Write. Write something. What about the work-in-progress? What’s that character going to do next? Write something for your blog. Recommend another good book. Write!” And I’m thankful for those nudges.
However, there are benefits to being away from my writing for a while. I get filled up with new experiences. Some experiences I’d rather not have, I’ll admit. My most recent one was a broken ankle requiring surgery. It’s too soon to know whether that will directly go into a book or story, but I have learned some things that will definitely affect my outlook and my life and, I’m sure at some point, my writing.
I’ve learned that handicapped access is not always so accessible. Have you ever thought there were “too many” handicapped parking spaces in a parking lot? I have. But not anymore. I haven’t been able to walk for 3 weeks now and have another 3 and a half before there’s a possibility to walk. I’ve been fortunate to have a knee walker to use, which is way better than crutches, but it is still exhausting. I have a temporary parking permit to use handicapped spots. I don’t go out much, but I’m finding handicapped spots aren’t always where they are needed. Or they are filled. And when we do go out and get a parking spot, those little wheels on the knee walker jar or stick at every bump and crack in the asphalt or pavement. Going up a ramp is work. Going down a ramp is scary. (What if I get going too fast and lose control and fall?!) My handicap will be over soon. But many people don’t get a “you’ll be free of it” time. I hope when I’m back on my two feet, I’ll be more empathetic.
I’ve been on the receiving end of stares. I’m old enough it doesn’t really bother me, but I know some people it would. Borrowing a mall wheelchair to do some Christmas shopping, my husband was pushing me through an area and a woman told her little kids, “Don’t stare.” If she hadn’t been whipping by so fast, I would have liked to explain to the kids why I was in a wheelchair. Not for me, but for them and their understanding. I hope she explained more later.
But here again is where writing comes in. I want my words to do more than entertain. I want them to be useful in some way. Maybe readers through my characters’ experiences will learn something new, or learn empathy, or be encouraged because others have had similar experiences. And I’ve just had more experiences to throw into my personal resource file.
So, all that said, I can’t complain about a crazy life. Well, I shouldn’t complain.
But didn’t I say I was a “Work-in-Progress?”
Picture courtesy of Mary R. Vogt on morguefile.com
Have you ever found yourself telling a kid, “Don’t talk with food in your mouth,” and then realized you were doing the same? I once caught myself out when I reread an article I’d written on character development. Among the suggestions were questions to ask yourself about the character. I realized I couldn’t answer any of them for the main character on my current work-in-progress. Ouch! I wish I could say I was only on page one of my novel.
I know some writers write totally organically and learn their character as they go, but I know I need more. So why do I keep trying to do without the preparation? I wish I knew. I may have to make a sign to go above my computer, “Do you know who your character is?”
Or maybe it’s that I always have to get to a certain stage in a story before I care enough about all those details of my character to find them out. Of course, that definitely can cause major rewriting.
I’ve heard writers explain how they write very detailed bios of their characters, major and minor, before writing any of the story. Others fill out complex charts. For me that would be telling the character who they are more than discovering who they are.
On one work-in-progress I discovered my main character’s initials didn’t stand for what I thought they did. I’d given JD his name a long time ago, when his story idea was only a glimmer of an idea. I decided the J stood for Joshua. When pre-planning a scene in my head, another character asked JD what his initials stood for. He answered, “Jonah David.” Whoa! Time out! Where did that come from? But it felt . . . right.
So where does that leave me? Not totally in control.
But I think I need to work on a balance for this dichotomy. Some pre-planning, some organic, followed by more planning, followed by more organic. And, flexibility.
So don’t do as I say, or as I do. Instead figure out the best way for you to work out this issue of character development in your own work. Though if you have any tips, I’d love to hear them.