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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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process

So, I’m feeling a bit kerfluffled…….

….about my Current Work In Progress. Although approximately two-thirds written, I’m at a point where the story is starting to balk and refuse to move forward. The characters are trapped on the staircase in a forgotten and abandoned house, someone is at the front door, and the only way out is back the way they came – upstairs.

I know what’s going to happen after this bit, who it involves and the eventual wrap-up that is the final page, but I’m not sure of how I’m going to get there. Or what connects the current bulk of the manuscript to the final pages.

I also don’t want to write it.

Which is probably why the story has balked at this particular point and why I’m feeling kerfluffled. I don’t know why I don’t want to write this next section of the story, but I can feel it every time I sit down to work.

I’m avoiding it, I want to avoid it. Badly. But, like the characters in the story, I’m trapped. The only way out is not through an upstairs window, but moving forward and trusting the words that come out of my pen to show me the way.

Besides, it’s not like anything terrible is going to happen beyond betrayal, self-discovery and falling in love.

So, I’m working on a scene……..

……….in one of my Current Works in Progress and I found myself cringing, blushing furiously, and muttering “Oh, my God, I can’t believe I just wrote that” several times under my breath. It was a scene of pure sensation, one that required me to get inside the character’s head, to immerse myself into her experiences. It was difficult, agonizing, frightening and I wanted to bolt, to avoid writing it.

This is not the first time this has happened to me – indeed, this fight-or-flight reaction occurs with almost consistent regularity. This is particularly the case when the scene in question either threatens to touch old wounds or inspire feelings that I’m not in a position to resolve. It’s neither bad nor good – it simply is. It’s my path as a writer.

What allowed me to finally get the scene down, on paper, was to treat it as an intellectual exercise. I had to distance myself from what was occurring with the character, her self-awareness and her own journey of discovery. By using that approach, I was able to get past my reservations (or discomfort, both work and both apply) and get the bare bones written.

When I go back and revise, polish and make this particular story shine with its own merit, I’ll have the framework ready for me to expand upon. I may still have reservations, discomfort and fear, but the fact that I’ve got something to work with will give me the courage to go further, to challenge myself even more and to fully embrace the sensations and feelings this story evokes.

Good stories, regardless of genre, make you feel everything – emotionally, physically, intellectually. To make that happen in your own work, you need to find the little tricks and tools that will facilitate it. There is no right or wrong way, just your way.

Which, of course, goes back to reading and continually pushing oneself to be a better writer, but that’s another blog for another day.

So, meeting the characters in my stories…….

………is a lot like meeting people in life. I get the first impressions of who they are by how they present themselves in their manner of dress, hair and grooming. As I get to know them better, I learn how they think, what their views are, their likes and dislikes, their sense of voice and style and personality.

Sometimes characters, like people, are hard to pin down until they actually show up. Some are mercurial. Some are as they seem to be and others are duplicitous. The last type usually ends up being the villain because, you know, villains require duplicity to achieve whatever goal they may have.

Case in point: My second book, ‘The Pike Horse’ (2012).
Because I don’t want to spoil the reveal for anyone who hasn’t yet read it, I won’t be identifying the character by name. In my book, one of the characters gains the trust of the narrator, Josie March, and proceeds to manipulate her reality before betraying her in an ugly and violent manner.
This particular character did not start out to be such a nasty piece of work. But the more I worked on the story, the more I became aware that he was not who he at first appeared to be. It was more an intuitive feeling that grew into a conscious realization.

In my Current Work In Progress, another character has gone through at least seven name changes. In addition to that, his nationality went from American to British, which altered his speech patterns. This, in turn, influenced his mannerisms and even his coloring went from blond to dark. All this occurred before he even showed up in the story. It came out of my notes as the story developed and I got to know the character’s motivations and his ethics from the point of view of other characters.

Having detailed biographies of your characters, right down to the time of birth, can be helpful. I often give my characters birth dates, which can have some influence on their perceptions of the world, but I don’t often put a lot of thought into it, unless absolutely necessary.

Case in point: My Current Work In Progress.
I specifically designed an historical timeline and a family tree for this story, to keep track of a particular family and which generation some members came from. A supernatural-themed story, I’ve worked out a system of magic that can be seen in my first novel, ‘Secrets & Howls’ (pub. 2011; re-issued 2013).
I chose to have certain characters born in a month under a particular Zodiac sign that belongs to a specific element, which reflected their dominant skill. I’m only starting to see where this thread is leading and I’m agog with curiosity to see how it all plays out.

I actually prefer this not-knowing of my characters. I enjoy the discovery of how to get them into or out of situations that arise in the course of the story. It’s a completely organic process, where a thought will chase a thought and lead me to discover the answer that I’d been unaware I was looking for. To keep the discovery going, I keep a journal and jot down any questions that arise. There are always questions.
As I write and re-write, the questions will either change focus or be answered. I’ve always used the five W’s and one H of journalism to formulate these questions (Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?), and they have served me very well.

Don’t be afraid to try any method in getting to know your characters, their wants and their goals. Borrow methods used by other authors and see if they work. Sometimes using another artistic method helps jog the writer’s block loose or opens a train of thought you hadn’t tried before. Don’t worry if one method doesn’t work for you. Find another and try that. Repeat as needed. Writing is a process and there is no one correct way to do it.

The only incorrect way to write is to not write.

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