Saturday, 17 December 2011

Character separation disorder...moving on from your characters

You’ve created your novel, you’ve devoted months or perhaps years to writing it, but then the daunting task of sitting down and starting your next big creation begins, yet somehow you just can’t get into it.

Sometimes writers become so entwined with their characters when writing with them for such a prolonged period that it’s difficult to move on and think about new characters and new stories. Months or years spent sheltering in the skin of their protagonists and antagonists can force a wedge between the writer and their creativity.

But this isn’t unusual for writers.

We grow to understand and love our characters, and sometimes it’s hard to move on from them. Character separation disorder simply means that the bond we have with our well-drawn heroes and villains is sometimes hard to break. When we need to create new characters for new stories and themes, we first have to let go of our first set of characters in order to gain and understanding for the new set of characters.

Of course, this poses a one or two problems, because writers will start thinking things like ‘my new character won’t be like my old character, so how can I possibly write a new one?’ or ‘I miss writing with my old characters’ or ‘I loved the way my hero was in my first novel...’ etc. The moment these thoughts creep in, the creative process might stall.

And if there is an excuse, a writer will find it. 

Why do some writers find it difficult?  

Writers devote time and effort, planning, empathy and creativity within their characters, they have nurtured and watched their characters grow, they have lived through the fictional ups and downs, the highs and lows, and so all these elements are a psychological part of the writer. Those characters will have developed personalities, ways of talking and behaving. They are almost real, and finishing a novel - and therefore finishing with your characters - is rather like seeing children grow up and leave home.

When a writer needs new characters, he or she might make comparisons to the old ones, or simply disguise the same old characters but with new names, however, new stories and themes require new, fresh characters, not old ones masquerading as new. 

How does as writer overcome it?

The best way to overcome this is to allow enough time after completing the novel before sitting down to write the next novel. That time allows you to think afresh, sketch new characters, flesh out storylines for them and get to know them. 

If you don’t give yourself that time, you’ll spend far too much time making comparisons to your old, dearly loved characters and falling into the trap of trying to start a new novel with poorly planned ideas and badly drawn heroes and villains.

It’s also important that you get to the inner workings of your new story before you jump in with both feet – this allows you to form a writing bond with the elements of the story, and more importantly, it allows you to warm to your new characters.

Once you have sketched out new characters, try writing some practice scenes with them. This is a good way for you and them to become acquainted.

You will grow to love your new characters throughout the lifecycle of your new novel, you’ll get to nurture them and go through the emotional highs and lows. They will become an intrinsic part of you, just like the old set of characters, and you’ll enjoy writing with them just as much.

Characters are like family. They come to stay for a while, but eventually they have to leave and go home.

Remember:

  • Allow time from finishing the first novel to starting the next.
  • Discover your new characters, develop them and get to really know them.
  • Plan and get to know the inner workings of your new story.
  • Don’t compare your old characters with your new ones.
  • Write some practice scenes with your new characters to get a sense of who they are.
  • The more time you spend with your new characters, the less likely you are to think of your old ones.


Next week: Can music help the writing process?
 
 

2 comments:

  1. Excellent article, AJ... and some great advice!

    I really have to watch myself, otherwise I start blending characters.

    I recently caught myself doing that with a new story and a new character... taking some of the attributes I really like from one of my established characters and giving them to this new one.

    This is something I have to work on. Your advice here is very timely.

    Thank you.

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  2. Glad it helped Veronica, thanks. In my early writing days I was guilty of this too. It takes a little bit of adjusting, but now I can leave old characters behind and work seamlessly with new ones.

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