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Owning Your Story


So, during the course of this roller-coaster ride that we call Rough Drafting, I’ve learned quite a bit about the writing process, but even more about myself. Specifically? I tend to be a lazy writer. I wait until I’m “in the mood” before opening my manuscript; I must have the proper amount of coffee and chocolate circulating my system before I can write; etc. etc…

But there’s one excuse on which I fall back almost constantly: I wait for my characters to “speak to me.”

I never used to think of this as an excuse; I thought this was just the way a writer’s brain worked. “I can’t nail this character’s voice,” we sigh. “She’s just not talking to me. I suppose I’ll have to put this manuscript on hold until she decides she’s ready to tell her story…”

No. This isn’t the way a writer’s brain works. This is a subconscious writer’s block. Because, dear readers – and some of you might be somewhat shocked by this – those characters are fictional. They’re not real. That means that when you can’t nail the MC’s voice, it’s your voice that’s not coming through – and you’re the one who will have to fix it.

Don’t get me wrong; I think there’s something to be said for taking a break when you’re blocked. Sometimes words just won’t come; sometimes a character's voice is elusive and slippery. That’s okay. But to blame your blockage on a person who doesn’t exist…um. Yeah. That’s not going to work.

When you don’t understand your character’s motivations or voice or personality, it’s up to you to find one. It’s not a matter of asking the character; it’s a matter of asking yourself, “What kind of character do I want to write? How will they talk/think/dream/laugh/walk? And how will this affect the plot and themes of this story?”

I don’t think writer’s block is a myth…but sometimes, we find pretty creative ways of blocking ourselves, out of laziness or fear or the infamous I-don’t-have-enough-time syndrome.

We need to stop.

We need to quit asking our characters, “What are you doing? What do you want out of this plot?” and start asking ourselves, “What do I want out of this manuscript?”


~ Kristin Otts
Kristin Briana Otts

Kristin is an aspiring YA author with an abiding love for her dog, ghost hunter tv shows, and rainy days.

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21 comments:

  1. Good post! There are times when you have to force yourself to write and think "No matter how bad this is, it's getting me somewhere because I'm writing."

    Get inspired, remember why you write, and push on :)

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  2. I've found that forcing myself thru and writing even when I'm not in the mood can often bring unexpected surprises. Sometimes we just have to write with no boundaries, just throw our characters together and see what happens.

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  3. "But to blame your blockage on a person who doesn’t exist…um. Yeah. That’s not going to work."

    EXACTLY. So well-put, Kristin! Great post.

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  4. Hardcore props. I hear that excuse from time to time (been guilty of using it myself), and you're exactly right. We're in control, and we can soldier onward.

    It's okay if a rough draft is a little rough - getting it finished and into revision is so important.

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  5. A good way to sidestep writers block is to dig deep into your character's motivation by interviewing him/her. Yeah, I know they're not real, but project. ;) Hey it works for me.

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  6. @Kathi Oram Peterson: Oooh I love the interview technique. It's such a fantastic way to know your character's motivations and not forget them when you're 50,000 words in and struggling.

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  7. Great Post, thank you! The only Plotting I ever do is make an FBI file for each character - I know more about them than will ever go in a book. Now, They will sit around doing nothing as long as I let them - so I mess with them. I am a mean god to my darlings. Let's see what happens when I do this to you - and they speak.
    That is why I am never blocked maybe? I may need to do a bit of research to get a solution correct, or some historical point on the right date, but even if you just dream of them for two days -you must accept that you are still writing. Word count is of no value if you can't make the words breath. Looking off in to space - is writing. grin

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  8. I think I disagree with you. I'd ask my characters what they want, then, pull my god role on them and make it next to impossible for them to get it.

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  9. Wait, so when I get in arguments with my characters because they want to do X and I have Y planned instead--I'm actually arguing with myself? That would explain the strange looks I get in the library . . .

    Spot on post

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  10. @Kathi - I do the same thing, sometimes. I've found that free-writing from the character's pov is helpful too!

    @HowLynn Time - Definitely! Sometimes knowing the character is HOW you create a plot.

    @Kay - I think that's definitely a useful way of writing as well. :)

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  11. "We need to quit asking our characters, 'What are you doing? What do you want out of this plot?' and start asking ourselves, 'What do I want out of this manuscript?'"

    EXACTLY. My characters have been known to play hooky. I need to make sure that one of us shows up for work. :)

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  12. Awesome post! I'll be sure to remember this when I get writer's block. Lol XD

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  13. It's a strange thing, but I don't get blocked. I get stuck. The simple word changes makes all the difference, because being blocked implies a force I can't get around, while stuck implies as soon as I do the right thing I'll pop out of it. So it's far less intimidating, and leads to thinking about the problem, not worrying about being blocked.

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  14. Wow, you gave me a completely new perspective on my WIP that I'm struggling with now. I keep waiting for my protagonist to tell me what to do--but I like your advice WAY better. :)

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  15. Excellent post, Kristin!Favorite point: "I don’t think writer’s block is a myth…but sometimes, we find pretty creative ways of blocking ourselves, out of laziness or fear or the infamous I-don’t-have-enough-time syndrome." Well said.

    Probably my only hope when I don't feel like working is to shut down email and Tweetdeck. :) Distractions will kill the tiny little bit of motivation I possess at such moments.

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  16. I try to avoid forced writing like the dickens. I know I can go back and edit later, but it's so much easier when the writing is already half decent. Still, when push comes to shove, you just have to suck it up and do it sometimes.

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  17. I really needed this post right now! My blog post Monday is about how much I'm struggling with my current manuscript. I'm at a place where I'm just stuck and, as you said, I'm blaming the characters for "not talking." But I get it, it has to come from me! Now...to figure out how to make that happen...

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  18. Excellent, excellent, excellent post! Thank you!

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  19. What a fabulous, kick-in-the-pants post. I'm saving this one. :)

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Item Reviewed: Owning Your Story Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kristin Briana Otts