Ok, confession time. So, I am sure that anyone who has ever so much as started to write a story has come across some aspect of writing that gives him or her more trouble than the rest. For some it’s scenery, for others it’s making all the plot points flow. For me, it’s characters. I have a terrible time coming up with three-dimensional characters that seem like real people and have typical reactions to the situations I throw them into.
This, of course, is a big problem. Many of my most favorite stories are ones that are character driven so that is the kind of story that I want to write. The problem, therefore, is that I can’t very well write a character driven story if my characters are flat and don’t really have any drive of their own.
This would be why, for many years, I resorted to fanfiction. Fanfiction has the wonderful ability to give you a world and a set of already developed characters to play with. Many people look down on the fanfiction writer, but I see it as a wonderful way to experiment with different writing forms and to learn how to develop a plot.
The problem for me, then, was getting out of fanfiction and actually standing on my own two feet, as it were, and writing something completely my own. I began this transition by adding some original characters into my fanfic. But this was always a little problematic because they were still interacting with already established characters so I wasn’t learning how to make interactions from scratch.
My first few attempts at completely original fiction that weren’t part of a creative writing class or any form of structured assignments didn’t go very well at all. I looked at my characters and saw that they had no depth. They were just going along with the plot that I had given them, making what appeared to be arbitrary decisions with no real reasoning behind them.
Thus I realized I needed another tool. I began to character map before I would start a story. I would list out my characters and then put down certain traits that they had. I would then go back and hypothesize what had happened in their back-story that would have contributed to those traits. This helped a little, but it still felt contrived.
That’s when it hit me; if I’m better at using already developed characters, then why not just keep doing that? I began to look at the people around me, my friends and family and even passing acquaintances. There was a whole treasure trove of characters around me to choose from to work with. So, I needed that snarky strong willed determined character? Model her off of my best friend. Need a flighty absentminded but good-natured character; my friend Liz is perfect for that.
After I got the basic concept of using those around me for inspiration, I started to experiment with mixing and matching personality traits. Take a little bit of my father’s attitude and mix it with my grandpa’s strong devotion to family, then throw in a bit of my grandma’s self sacrificing nature and I have my main character from my last Nano novel. And you know what, it worked! That novel (though still unfinished) was the first one that I reached the 50K goal on.
So I guess what all of this is saying, if there is a part of writing that gets you down, that slows down your creative process and keeps you from reaching a goal, don’t give up. Search for new methods to work through those blocks and you’ll find something that will eventually help you to overcome them.
The lesson that I learned from experimenting is, if you are trying to write realizism, then don’t be afraid to pull things from your own life. Things that you have lived and experienced cannot get any more real than that.