Use Directed Freewriting to Flesh out Your Characters

I’ve found that my single most useful tool for fleshing out a character – better than any lists or profile sheets – is simply freewriting in the character’s first person voice. But rather than sitting in front of a blank screen only to fill it with details of eye color, hair color and family history, I give my character a topic – usually a topic that ties to my book. Directed freewriting is like journaling but with a prompt.

So, for example, if my novel is about a tween named Sam coming of age, I might freewrite on “What Sam thinks about his first kiss.” Or let’s say Sam’s mom decides to have another baby – who would now be 12 years younger than Sam – I might freewrite about “What Sam thinks of his Mom’s growing belly” or “How Sam imagines life with the new baby.”

Even though the topics may be specific, freewriting allows for tangents, redundancies, brainstorming, voice experimentation and character discovery.

As part of my prep for NaNoWriMo I wrote detailed character sketches for my novel. It’s essential to know your characters well, like you know your best friend or even better, like you know yourself. And once you do, characters will tell you their stories.

While the categories from available character questionnaires provide great food for thought, I found writing narrative descriptions of my characters – freewriting about them – much more useful. Why?

* I can flesh out character thoughts and tangents that might not have a category on the questionnaire.

* I can write on topics that are essential to my story.

* I can explore how characters feel about each other.

* If there’s a story in a character’s background, I can tell that story.

* I can write as ideas spring forth instead of following a rigid list.

* I often write in the voice of my narrator, main character or secondary characters which helps me find the voice of my novel.

But possibly the most significant discovery that’s comes from freewriting in character is …

* Characters reveal the plot. Yes. All my character narratives have inspired not only intriguing but necessary plot lines in my story.

So how do I find topics for my characters to talk about. Basically I list backstory, events, turning points, plot points, settings, and people that I expect to or have already come up in my novel. Then I choose a character – sometimes two or three – and have then freewrite on that topic.

Sometimes I’ll even set a timer or establish a word count. This forces me to dive deeper. It’s often in those final few words that an idea reveals itself and I end up writing more.

Even if the entry appears to be endless babble, I usually find a nugget or two to use in some critical scene. At the very least, freewriting takes me deeper into my character and subordinate characters, allowing me to make necessary connections, in hopes that my readers will connect to my characters as well.

And if you’re feeling really wacky, journal from a point of view that has no relevance to the scene. I’m not asking you to make up a whole new character here, but simply have one of your existing characters write about a person, place, event, idea that, you think, bears no relevance to that character in your story. You might find connections that you never knew were there – and an interesting detail or entire subplot for your novel.

Now, even though I’ve finished my novel, I plan on spending this week freewriting about plot points, scenes and stories that came up in my first draft.

Karen S. Wiesner in her Feb. 2009 Writer’s Digest article “Your Novel Blueprint: Turn your Dream Novel into a Reality by Taking Some Tip from the Worksite” says that

“Goals and motivations are constantly evolving (not changing necessarily, but growing in depth, intensity and scope) to fit character and plot conflicts. Your character’s goals and motivations will evolve every time you introduce a new story spark because he’s modifying his actions based on the course his conflicts are dictating.

Beginning goals and motivations don’t generally change as much as they become refined to the increasing intensity of the conflicts …”

So today, I’ll be diving further into the depths of my characters’ goals and motivations. How? Freewriting, of course.

For a related article on freewriting for character discovery see
Let Characters Reveal Themselves: Freewriting Leads to a Character-Driven Story

Shhhhh! I’m NaNoing.

Sorry it’s been a little quiet around the “Romp” lately. I’ve been NaNoing.

I just hit 30K words and I think I’ve found my ideal daily word count – 2500/day. It keeps me in character for a few hours. It stretches me. It feels hard but doable. It knocks off a couple of short chapters, giving me a solid sense of accomplishment. And it leaves me spent — for the day. But I try to finish each session with some trailing thoughts for tomorrow, so I can pick up easily where I’ve left off.

Hope to be blogging more again soon.

Pay it Forward Friday: David Macinnis Gill and his Halloween Teen Read

Yesterday I stopped by the website of one of my crit buddies, David Macinnis Gill. It had been a while since I’d visited and I was blown away with the “busy-ness” of it all.

I adore “busy” websites because they give me that amusement park feel. Maybe that’s not a fair comparison, because some amusement parks are rather sleazy. But many are exciting, clean and fun. Just like David’s site. It’s completely professional and begs to be explored.

So I clicked from link to link, perusing pages of rich content – especially in his “News” blog which features lots of meaty advice and provocative thought on fiction writing.

And of course I love reading the latest news and reviews for his terrific teen novel SOUL ENCHILADA. If you haven’t gotten a chance to read about Bug’s adventures keeping one step ahead of the Devil himself, Halloween might be the perfect time to pick it up.

David’s second novel is due out next year. But in the meantime, stop by his site – and be ready for a fun ride.

Ask an Agent Panel

Last night, several top agents held a Twitter Q&A panel. Participants included:

Rebecca Sherman, Literary Agent, Writers House

Elana Roth, Literary Agent, Caren Johnson Literary Agency

Colleen Lindsay, Fine Print Literary Management

Sara Kase, Assistant Editor at Sourcebooks

See what they had to say here.

A Thank You Gift for My Blog Followers

Since November is the month of Thanksgiving, I want to say thank you to my loyal followers with a:

Private Picture Book Peek Week Coming November 2nd!
A picture book manuscript critique contest for my blog followers only.

To be eligible, you must be a member of my followers list in the sidebar of this blog.
Enter by submitting your PB WORKING TITLE in the comment section of this blog post anytime (midnight to midnight Mountain Time) on November 2nd. Titles submitted before or after November 2nd will not be considered.

I’ll throw all titles into a hat and pick 1 for critique.

Keep in mind:

* Manuscripts must be 1000 words or less.

* I accept only fiction.

* Level of detail in the critique will vary based on my impression of the caliber of the writing.

* Please understand that I’m not an editor and will not be providing line-editing of your work. My critique will be comprised of suggestions for improving your manuscript. So please send me your most polished piece.

* The winning author must e-mail me his/her manuscript as a Word attachment on the day the winner is announced. The manuscript will be kept completely private. When I receive the manuscript, I’ll let the author know when to expect my critique.

* As with any art form, likes and dislikes are entirely subjective. Please understand that my critiques are only one reader’s/writer’s opinion. It’s always wise to seek feedback from a few different readers. If my ideas resonate with you, they’re yours to use. If you disagree, I encourage you to compare my comments with those of other readers. But in the end, it’s your book. Stay true to your vision.

I look forward to reading your work.
Jean

P.S. For little “fashionistas” everywhere- TOO PURPLEY!Preorder it now!

The Vibrant Triangle Part II

I try to remember now that my words on the page, my manuscripts, even (one day!) my published books are not the finished product. The experience of a child listening to my story completes the process. I just love that idea. It connects me to something bigger than my own self in my own room, writing away.” Tam Smith


Smart stuff, right? Maybe a fresh perspective on picture book writing. Read more about The Vibrant Triangle in Liz Garton Scanlon’s interview with Tam Smith.

The Vibrant Triangle in Picture Books

Why are certain picture books read over and over again? Why do some become beloved bedtime or story time tales? According to Tam Smith, children’s author, the answer is found in The Vibrant Triangle.

This is no Da Vinci Code, folks.

According to Smith, “The Vibrant Triangle is the dynamic between the picture book, the adult reader and the child listener.” What creates the magic when a picture book is read out loud to a child? Read Part 1 of Liz Garton Scanlon’s (author of All the World) interview with Tam.