Over the past couple of days, I’ve been filling out character profile information in my spare time because I’ve recently decided that I ought to know everything there is to know about these people. Honestly, I used to scoff at the idea. I hated filling them out and I hated trying to think of stuff for characters who weren’t central to the story. (In other words, I didn’t want to force myself to give a second thought about the characters I wasn’t interested in, so I never did.)
The more I fill these questionnaires out, though, the more the characters start talking to me about themselves, and the less work *I* have to do to figure out who they are. It’s kind of like when the story picks up and they just start talking to each other to the point where I have to scribble down what they’re saying in order to keep up.
Today, I wrote a scene where I revealed something extremely personal about one of the main characters that kind of puts his position about the central problem in perspective for his best friend. What amazes me about this is that I wouldn’t have known how highly affected the character was if I hadn’t first written his information out. It felt like I was doing that thing authors do where they give little snippets about their characters away without revealing everything they know.
It makes me feel really good! It makes me feel like I know everything. I might not be telling the reader everything, but if something comes up in a later scene that’s as personal as this was, then I feel confident about disclosing enough bits to give the reader a bit more of the character’s history.
I hope this makes sense. Something tells me my writing should’ve always been this way, but I really do think that you don’t (or can’t) know a character until you’ve talked to them about themselves, or forced them to open up.
And to think, I never used to like character profiles!
In order for me to keep writing this story convincingly, it needs to be all for me. It needs to be my story and mine alone. I can’t share it with anyone. I need to fall in love with it again.
I’ve spent so much time thinking about getting published that I’ve forgotten the reason I write to begin with. I write because I’m in love with words and stories and the things I make up in my head.
Right now, I have one story that’s been all mine for years. It’s incredibly personal and it’s one I’ve been keeping under the belt since it’s conception, but the reason it feel so good to write is because it’s stayed mine. I haven’t thought about publishing it.
So, forget the publishing world for now. Forget it even exists. Fall in love with the story. Curl up with your notebook and handwrite the whole thing, if you have to. Sleep on it, dream about it, and breathe it in during the times when the words come pouring out.
The story only stops becoming fun when other people are in on it. Now isn’t the time to share it with the world.
I used to love writing the way I loved to read. It used to be brainless. It hasn’t been. I’ve been so confused over the past few years. My stories have been all about other people—their thoughts, their opinions—and they haven’t been about me. They haven’t been what I’ve wanted.
I made a resolution to stop thinking about publishing, but when I did so, I was only doing it the way I used to say a prayer before dinner: a monotonous repeat of words that hardly held any meaning and just needed to be said and reiterated until they were glued into my brain like they belonged there.
A few minutes ago, it hit me: I really love writing in my notebooks and I really love just being in my own little world. I love the solitude, the privacy, the endless hours of just being by myself with my characters and loving them and talking to them and telling their story. For the last two years, at least, it hasn’t been that way. It’s been me, plus them, plus the wide open world, with their judgments and their opinions and the feeling that they could stick their noses into my work.
They couldn’t. It was all me. But my mentality was “what will the rest of the universe think when they hear this line? How are they going to respond? Is this even a good idea?” and forgetting the fact that no one knew what I was writing, or what it meant to me, or who it was about, or anything. The world didn’t actually care, but I knew they’d be there to pick it apart if I sent it over to them.
The second I realized how much I missed being along in the corner of my room, scribbling into a notebook and calling down to my mother that I was coming to dinner twenty minutes after everything was ready, I realized what I’d been doing and what I needed to do. As Stephen King would say, I’d been writing my first drafts with the door open when I should’ve had it firmly closed. As Vonnegut said, I hadn’t been writing to please just one person (me). Instead, I’d opened the window, tried to make love to the world, and my story(ies) had gotten pneumonia.
So that’s what I’m going to to: I’m going to shut the door again and put the lock on the outside. I’m going to write in notebooks and fall in love with my stories and live in them side-by-side with the characters. I’m going back to my desk and my small lamp and I’m going to write into the darkness the way I had once and always wanted to since watching Finding Neverland. (I’m thinking of the scene where Barrie is moving chess pieces around in his study while wearing a robe.)
I’m going to go fall in love with my story again.
So I figured out why I have a problem writing Dusk Part Two. My main character is arrogant and entitled. I think this means she’s immature and needs to learn how to grow up. So I’ve been trying to temper her by making her someone she isn’t. As a result, she hasn’t been talking to me.
I think this is her way of saying I need to let her out of her cage. Thank god I’m allowed to knock her on her ass throughout the book.
I’m also not sure I can write her well. I don’t write arrogant characters often. It’s only a rough draft, but I’m still nervous. At this point, I think I need to just write. She needs to be allowed to be herself (and mess up on a grand scale). I need to help her grow.
I think that’s how I have to do this.
I’m going to wait until I’ve finished writing my novella, Kana, first. Then I can focus.