Monday, February 16, 2015

Solving Plot Issues with Character Development

One of the most frequent questions I get from my creative writing students is how to deal with writer’s block. My reply is always the same: that writer’s block isn’t real (as Jennifer Blanchard explains so well in her blog) but merely an excuse for not writing. However, when writing or plotting a novel or any creative work, some problems can arise that can make you feel stuck or unable to move forward, and I discovered a way to solve one such problem recently.

In Stephen King’s fantastic book, On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft, he describes only having what he refers to as “writer’s block” one time, and he realized the solution was to - ironically - create a “new problem.” In his case, he needed to kill off a bunch of his characters in order to make a new tragedy and goal for those left alive, and just a few weeks ago, I made the same discovery – not by killing my characters off, but bringing a new one to life.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been writing at a much slower rate lately because of my current pregnancy. However, since that last post, I have A) been feeling much better, B) finished the sequel to The Heartless City (it is called The Hypnotic City and is currently in the hands of my agent for revisions), and C) started researching and plotting my next novel (another YA historical fantasy unrelated to the others). While plotting, I ran into a snag: I needed the ownership of a building to go to a certain character at the end, but due to issues of legality (as well as simple reality) I couldn’t make it happen. I decided to let the issue go for a while and focus on other parts of the book – specifically character development – and in the process, a brand new character revealed herself to me. I thought about her, wrote about her, and eventually she became a developed, important part of the story, and only then did I realize that her existence also completely solved my building ownership problem! Everything fell into place and I’m now almost finished plotting, because I discovered – like Stephen King – that in order to solve a problem you simply need to create a new one, and – as Anne Lamott reminds us repeatedly in Bird By Bird – plot is something that grows out of character. Character is everything.