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Growing Up With Thomas

June 4, 2014

Tags: Characterization, story fix, writers block

The story doesn't "feel right"? Not going anywhere? You're wallowing in doubts and can't even seem to get that first page going? Characters seem wooden? Storytelling not fun? Rethinking that job at Burger King? Try this:

Do this for all of your major characters (defined as anyone who helps move the story forward): On a separate document, slip your feet inside your character's baby shoes, and using first person POV have that baby, child, young person, young adult tell the story of his or her life up until they enter your story. It will cure all of the problems listed above in the first paragraph. In addition it will add reality (depth, texture, feelings, events, pimples) to your characters, and provide you with a wealth of background material for whenever your characters get introspective.

No need to include each and every diaper load. For a cue regarding what to include, use your own memory of your own past as a guide: earliest memory, the people you remember, your interactions with them, how you felt about them, first love, first hate, fights, celebrations, whatever was important and revealing.

Why the title, "Growing Up With Thomas?" The first time I did this full bore was with my novel Sea of Glass, whose POV character was Thomas Windom. He is still more real to me than most of the persons I have known for decades. I've also done this with my entire Joe Torio Mystery Series, beginning with The Hangman's Son.

If you haven't grown up with your characters, you don't know them very well. Not knowing your characters is a terrible platform from which to try telling their stories.

Try it out and see the difference it makes both in your story and in your writing day. Yeah, it involves extra writing. But, if you don't like writing you'd best nail down that Burger King gig.

Comments

  1. June 18, 2014 8:22 PM EDT
    Hi Barry,
    After doing this exercise, did your characters 'talk' to you as the story unfolded?
    - Mark
  2. July 7, 2015 10:42 AM EDT
    Okay, I needed to read that. THAT is why this second draft of the novel is not feeling right. I know my character's present, I have an idea about her future, but I don't really know her past. What I do know is this is the first story a character stood up, looked me in the eye and said, Sue, that is NOT going to happen, it's just wrong. Now, I am going to do this instead, so you better catch up...and he was off and running. He didn't hijack the story, he brought it immediacy, clock ticking, heightened the urgency. I love writing. Thanks :-)
    - Susan Wachowski
Catching the big ones.


What About This Blog?


For writers & readers. For writers, this is stuff I've learned, am in the process of discovering, and stuff that is imparted to me by other writers. For readers, I believe the more one knows about what goes into the writing of a story, and into the life of being a writer, the more one appreciates an author's writings.

This is a two-way blog. Your comments on the blogs are welcome, as are your questions. Comments on blogs can be made directly on each blog entry. For questions and comments not related to specific blogs, use the eMail link below.


Barry B. Longyear is the first writer to win the Hugo, Nebula, and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer all in the same year. In addition to his acclaimed Enemy Mine Series, his works include the Circus World and Infinity Hold series, Sea of Glass, other SF & fantasy novels, recovery and writing instruction works, and numerous short stories.