When The Writing Slows…

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Ideas don’t always come thick and fast. When in need of a boost, I might:

Switch to a smaller notebook

Do a digital detox (no access to the internet for a few hours)

Write a scene from a different perspective, e.g. bird’s eye view or as a stranger passing the characters on the street

Tell a classic story but in my own words

Write in white and only switch to black at the end

Go somewhere different, even if it’s just downstairs

Have imaginary conversations with my characters*

Talk into a dictaphone while walking around

 


What about you? Got any good tricks for getting the writing to flow again?

*I try to do this in my head so I don’t look like a crazy person

Where Did All My Female Characters Go?

Like many people, I grew up aware of how often male characters dominated the screen and novel, doing all sorts of cool things. Meanwhile female characters were mere background furniture / “love interest” / “woman who cruelly seduces man but it’s okay, she dies shortly afterwards!”
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I assumed that if I ever wrote fiction I’d be sure to create amazing heroines with agency and heart thumping storylines of their own.

So I was a bit surprised to realise my idea for a second book was packed with men. At this point I was just at the planning stage so had the chance to reevaluate. How much did it really matter to me that women were thin on the ground? More interestingly, might the novel turn out stronger if I gave it all more careful thought?

Many of the characters came to me quickly, their voices and personalities taking shape as soon as I put fingers to keyboard. At the time I was pretty pleased with myself. There’s something incredibly nice when it feels like a story is already inside you and is just waiting to be written. People talk of tapping into the subconscious and letting ideas flow… But what if my subconscious was a lazy ass?

 On reflection I felt like my characters weren’t even interesting men. They were merely tired variations of characters I’d spent years seeing and reading about.

The real problem, then, wasn’t solely to do with having too many male characters. It was more that I’d thoughtlessly reproduced the characters of other people’s fictions, rather than creating them from scratch based on my own actual lived experience or imagination.

Going back to my plan, I started seeing what it felt like to swap each character’s gender and how that affected the story. Women fighting, women doing dangerous things… It all got more exciting as if I was breaking apart all these preconceived notions and coming up with something new.

I’m not arguing that all stories must feature half men, half women. More that we should question the ideas we are fed by mainstream media which we inevitably internalise over the years.

Isn’t fiction about creating our own worlds? Expressing our own truths?

How Do You Name Your Characters?

 

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This week I’ve been mulling over an idea for a novel and a decisive moment came when I named my characters. For me, this made the project feel more real and tangible, the same as giving the novel a working-title. Funnily enough though, I forgot how tricky it is to come up with names so thought I’d put some ideas down here.

1. Base the name on a personality trait or defining quality

For example, Alexia or Alexis which derives from Greek, meaning ‘to defend’. Or the less flattering Cameron which comes from a Scottish surname meaning ‘crooked nose’. This can be a good exercise in distilling what’s most important about each character.

2. Take a trip to the local graveyard

There’s something interesting about thinking of names while walking around, right? You just need to be mindful of what era the novel is set in, otherwise you could wind up with a futuristic sci-fi thriller populated by Gertrudes and Arthurs.

3. Choose names as a form of revenge!

You could pull a ‘Richard Curtis’ and name unpopular characters after people you don’t like, as revenge for past slights and injustices. I do wonder if this might derail the project a little though!

4. Find baby name lists on the internet

This is my go-to method. Although it’s the least exciting, it gets the job done and you can always change the characters’ names later on. Sometimes you just need to start writing.

5. Research the era

If writing historical fiction, it can be useful to look through archive materials such as newspapers, journals and letters. Chances are, this will form part of your wider research anyway. Just beware of all of your character names sounding too dated or being difficult to pronounce. This can be a problem with fantasy worlds as well – an option could be to take a common name and change it slightly to make it your own.


What about you? I’d love to hear how other people name their characters.

My Favourite Writing Resources

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While there’s a lot of good advice out there, certain articles have become my mainstays. Here are a few of my top picks.

Four Ways to Write Backstory That MattersHelping Writers Become Authors

I have a love-hate relationship with backstory, so was interested to find this article on the topic. It gives practical advice on how to strengthen story development.

Instead of simply telling readers all about the backstory upfront, how can you uncover it, bit by bit, at strategic moments throughout the story, in a way that advances the plot?”

 

25 Things You Need to Know About Writing MysteriesBy Susan Spann on TerribleMinds

Chuck Wendig’s website not only gives solid advice but puts so much personality into articles. This list by Susan Spann is one of the best (and most fun) I’ve found on mystery writing. My favourite is number 23 which talks about dropping clues and info where needed at later stages of the writing process:

AND NOW, A LESSON FROM BILL AND TED: IT’S NOT A CRIME TO GO BACK AND HIDE THE KEYS

….Hey, writer? You have a time machine. Go back during the editing phase and drop the keys where you need them.”

 

Revealing the Interiority of CharacterElectric Literature

‘Show don’t tell’ is one of those phrases we hear all the time. What’s less often explained is how to actually do this. Like many of Electric Literature’s articles, this gives a thoughtful insight into how to convey the inner life of a character through the way you describe their surroundings.

In other words, indirection of image is a way to take abstract emotions and project them onto something concrete. Doing so creates the potential to explore interiority at a greater depth than what’s afforded by mere exposition.”

 

Four Kinds of PaceWriter Unboxed

This article reminds us that pace isn’t just about dramatic events and life or death scenarios. Literary fiction, in particular, can involve more subtle and complex forms of change including shifts in the character’s emotions or mindsets.

In each scene, ask: In what way can my protagonist become his or her own complication?”

 

Seven Best Proofreading Tools For WritersBang 2 Write

Lucy V Hay gives plenty of no-nonsense advice on her website, often in the form of short and sweet articles. This one gives a list of online tools for checking grammar and spelling.

The best writers can take long, complicated thoughts and turn them into simple, easy to read sentences. Nobody did this better than Ernest Hemingway…”

 

Ten Killer Chapter BreaksHelping Writers Become Authors

Hooray for new ideas on how to end chapters with a twist or turn. This article can be especially helpful at the editing stages should the last lines of a chapter need some intrigue.

A portentous metaphor.

Example: A solar eclipse over a battlefield.

Inherent Question: Is this an indication of tragedy to come?”

 


What about you? Which writing resources do you return to, over and over? Please feel free to share below.