Tag Archives: zone

Writing Fiction — Creating Characters

Two things prompted me to write this post. Gulf Coast Writer’s Association (GCWA) is a large organization of writers based in Fort Myers, Florida, which offers speakers, workshops, critique groups, and lots of networking with other writers and people associated with writing. They have been my lifeline to writing since I moved to Florida. The July meeting featured a workshop on creating characters.

The second item that prompted me to write about characters is a book that I purchased and read nearly thirty years ago—How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey. I plucked this book off my shelf one recent night when I ran out of novels for my nightly bedtime reading. It’s as pertinent to fiction writing today as when I first read it. The first chapter is all about characters.

If I can’t get into the head and heart of the protagonist in a novel, I probably won’t finish the book. The story is even better if all the main characters (even the antagonist) are three dimensional. I want to understand where they are coming from. The same goes for writing. I need to get into the head of the character—become the character.

My first attempt at a novel (not published) was written from my point of view. I started by fictionalizing some past events in my life. But the character took over and told a completely different story with events that never happened to me and that I never imagined would. She became a different person than the author, with her own distinct personality.

The idea for my first published novel, The Janus Code, came from wanting to understand a man that I knew. He was a complex personality (bipolar) and I wanted to get inside his head. I started writing without any idea of the story, the plot, the premise, other characters… I let him write the story. Of course, he became a completely different person than the real person about whom I started writing.

With my second published book, Mangrove Madness, (I’d written a few in between) I started with an imaginary character not based upon any particular person. I did have a good sense of her personality. With this story I had a basic idea of a plot, but didn’t know the ending. Again, the character took over the writing and told the story. She decided the plot, the twists and turns, and the ending.

After Mangrove Madness, several people asked if I was writing a sequel. I decided to try, so first I wrote a biography of Ernie Pratt and character sketches of a few other players in the book. I found that I knew them quite well, even though they didn’t exist before I wrote the book.

I know that some writers create their characters in detail before they begin writing a story. Maybe it’s because of the way I write (in the zone) that allows my characters to create themselves. I’m not sure I understand it, but this is how it works for me.

Writing in the Zone

For me, writing is a ‘Zen’ kind of thing. It’s almost a form of meditation. If I’m able to get into the zone, the words flow. When the creative juices are sloshing around in my head, the story takes over and all else shuts down – the story almost writes itself.

If not in this zone, my writing sucks. Or worse than that, I don’t write. When I’m creating a new story, if my mind wanders to other things – the day’s events, problems, work, etc. – then my writing becomes stilted or boring. If I were the reader of these poorly written words, I would put down the story and not bother to finish it.

Other activities in my life have that same meditating effect as writing in the zone. Gardening washes all small talk out of my brain. Painting quiets the mind chatter. Painting pictures is what I mean, but routine tasks like painting walls can do the same. I think for some of my friends, house cleaning accomplishes this quieting effect. I know several women (and a couple of men) who clean like crazy when they are stressed. This doesn’t work for me. Probably because my mind is moaning and groaning about doing a job that I don’t like.

I haven’t flown (piloted) a plane in several years, but this was a task that pushed out all other thought. Flying a small plane takes total concentration in order to keep track of all that is happening. Maybe this was because I didn’t fly often enough for it to become routine.

I know that driving a car is so habitual that my mind wanders to all sorts of other places. I’ve even been known to write haiku in my mind as I drive. This is probably not the best way to drive. I should be paying close attention to everything that is happening on the road. Yet, at some level my mind is totally aware of the road, the car, and all the drivers around me, even though my talkative mind is very busy with non-driving related thoughts. I haven’t had an accident from lack of attention since I was sixteen or seventeen and still a novice.

The above random thinking is what happens when I’m not writing in the zone. Sorry if I’ve bored you today.