Weekly Journal

Writing a Book: Don’t steal your character’s thunder

20th July 2017

Before we begin, let’s make one thing clear: it is not about you. Yes, you read that correctly. As authors, we have a tendency to be egotistical, no matter how vehemently we try to deny it. When writing a book, we get drunk on the power to dictate everything, and often it’s our characters that suffer the most from this. We chain them to our themes and our ironclad outlines, because, according to our egos – we know best. Without meaning to become so, suddenly we are slave drivers, lashing our whips, barking orders, refusing to let our characters breathe, instead forcing them through our rigid beginnings, middles, and ends without leeway.

Don’t do this! You’ll end up with a lifeless story, dead on the page – and no matter how polished you might manage to make it seem, you won’t fool your reader.

So how do you avoid this? Well, for starters: don’t persecute your storylines. And for the love of all that is holy, do not terrorise your characters! You are a writer, not a tyrant. This is their story, not yours, so stop trying to steal their thunder. Believe it or not, this is the easiest thing to do, if you can learn to share the control. Once you’ve mastered the art of not mastering your characters, you’ll become witness to the unveiling of a genius novel. You know how reading a book is so effortless? Writing a book can be too!

Here’s how:

Remember to listen to your character!

Listen up

That’s right, it’s that simple. First things first, you need to listen. They say writers are all crazy, so live up to the label already! Talk to your characters. Out loud, in your head, on paper, however. By talking to them, you open up the opportunity to listen to them in return. If you’re stuck, suffering writer’s block, it’s most likely because you’re dragging the story where it doesn’t want to go. You’re not listening to your characters. They’re probably digging in their heels, trying to redirect the story’s trajectory, but you’re stubbornly plowing on ahead without consulting them.

It is important to spend time with your characters in your head. Make a playlist to fall asleep to before bed – they say that’s the best time for inspiration. Daydream about your story, your characters. As you drift off, listen to what they have to say. Chances are, they’ve got an awesome idea for where to take the story next – and best yet, if it surprises you, it’ll surprise your reader too, and just like that, you’ve got a living, breathing manuscript in your hands. So get talking, get listening, and embrace your insanity! It’s glorious!

“You are a writer, not a tyrant. This is their story, not yours, so stop trying to steal their thunder.”

Live and let live

When writing a book, be wary of where you stick your opinion. It’s true that novels are infused with the writer’s personality and beliefs, which leads to diverse perspectives and eye-opening ideas. But be mindful – your characters might happily support the message you want to communicate, but it’s a fine line between expressing your theme in accordance with their lives and choices, and blatantly using them to drive it home. If you stab too much of your own opinion into the story, your readers will notice.

I once read a book that was beautifully written, until the characters went to see a performance of Grease, and suddenly, through the main character, the author started this long-winded lecture on how terrible the message of Grease was. It didn’t sound like the character’s voice at all; it was so obviously just the author using him to communicate his own opinion, which wrenched me right out of the story. Now that’s all I remember about the book, which is sad, because it was quite good until that. So be wary! Absolutely include your personality and your thoughts on the world to strengthen your theme, but there’s a way to do it that isn’t intrusive. Don’t just use your characters – work with them. You’re a team!

Characters are the driving force of the plot! Let them have control!

Loosen your death grip already!

I was once writing a book where I had this sweepingly romantic plan to bring my two love interests together only at the end of the book – we’re talking a divine, Disney-inspired kiss on the very last page – but my male character had other ideas. The boy had the audacity to grab the girl and kiss her before I was even close to finishing. Needless to say, I was furious with him. At first. And then, I read the scene back. And again, and again. And suddenly I couldn’t read it over enough (see, told you writers are egomaniacs). Because, for one blessed instant, I loosened my death grip. I handed the control over to my characters. This particular boy took advantage, and suddenly the story had a life of its own. It breathed. If you feel like you might be suffocating your characters with your need for control, practice letting go with some writing prompts, such as: putting them in a situation beyond your original plot’s parameters, even if it’s something totally ridiculous!

For example, take your protagonist outside of the story you are already writing and place them in a completely different realm. So, for the sake of this exercise, throw your protagonist in front of a fire-breathing dragon in a fantasy world. What does she/he do? How does he/she escape? Basically, just have some fun with your character! Consider it a lunch break. Step outside of the office for a bit, unleash your character, and go on an adventure to see what he or she teaches you, before returning to work – you’ll be amazed by the results!

Listen, let live, loosen that grip, and come write with us! Join a charming collective of creatives at the Content Castle today – there’s plenty of room for more crazy. Apply here: https://www.contentcastle.asia/apply/ and inspire us with your own tips on writing a book!

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