Elusive Characters

I’ve always been a “seat of the pants” writer. When I was writing, writing, writing novels to learn the craft of fiction and in hopes of publication, I simply listened for a character to start talking. I didn’t wait for the whole story to take form; I just started putting it to paper (or screen). But now that I don’t have to write an entire novel before I can sell it, everything has changed. Now I need a storyline to pitch—one strong enough to capture my editor, then the acquisitions committee, then the pub board.

So I thought: how hard can this be? I mean, really. I do some research, come up with a storyline and wah-lah!


For two days I read over my research then stared at the blank screen. Yes, I already had a vague paragraph that intrigued my editor to ask for something longer, but I couldn’t seem to make it stretch. The characters became elusive, like they rounded a corner just ahead of me and I just missed laying a hand on their shoulders from behind. So I took a different approach. I quit trying. I cleaned out part of my office, listening to music, with a notepad at my side.

As my hands worked and my brain pulled thoughts of organizing my office to the forefront, in slipped a thought here, a word there. I jotted. Worked some more. Added another impression.

I feel a bit less stressful now. They are starting to talk. Not “sit down across the table and spill their story” talk, but a word whispered near my ear before they sprint away and hide again. I think they are telling me not to hurry, to be still. Not easy, but necessary.

Good thing I have lots of closets left to be organized!


Richard Mabry said...

Anne, I'm with you. I had written both my first and second published novels before I ever got a contract--no need to write a synopsis. Had to do one for numbers three and four, though, and it was murder.
I prepared one for the first novel in my next series, but as I write the book I'm finding that the characters are whispering in my ear, "No, I don't do that. He does." And "That's silly. Here's how it goes."
So, in my opinion, a synopsis is a requirement that an author hates to write and many editors don't read.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Oh it's so hard for me to be still. But it's true, when I quiet myself that's when the whispers come. And I've found if I try to force traits or personality quirks onto my characters it isn't organic and it reads false as I edit.

~ Wendy

Anne Mateer said...

Ah, Richard. There's the rub. Even when I write a synopsis that hopefully sells, I still might not really know the story yet!

I agree, Wendy. Being still is the hardest thing. Yet another lesson I imagine the Lord is trying to teach me on this new climb.

Heather said...

In the service of writing and its authors, I will sacrifice my house and closets should you need more working material. ;)

Lauren said...

good blog Very intriguing...can't wait to hear more!

Anne Mateer said...

You are a hoot, Heather! And who knows, I may need more than I have . . .

Thanks for stopping by, Lauren!

Marji Laine said...

I actually set my WIP aside yesterday and did some scrapbooking. I didn't really enjoy it, but words started coming when I picked it back up this morning.

It's amazing what a brain-break can do!

Julie Klassen said...

Hi there. How's the brainstorming going today? I'm in the same boat, and I enjoyed your post.

Anne Mateer said...

Yes, Marji, sometimes we forget to give ourselves brain-breaks!

Julie! So nice to know this stuff happens even to awesome writers like you! My brainstorming went some better today. I'm tackling the closet in my office tomorrow and hoping for good things. How about you?